Saturday, October 01, 2005

Fossil Fuels Set to Become Relics, Says Research Group

WASHINGTON - Energy drawn from the wind, tide, sun, Earth's heat, and farm waste is poised to begin replacing oil and other fossil fuels, a prominent research group said Wednesday in a wake-up call to industry executives and government officials worldwide.

''Energy markets are about to experience a seismic shift,'' Christopher Flavin, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute, said in a speech to oil executives and energy ministers in Johannesburg, South Africa, site of the 18th World Petroleum Congress.

''The question for oil executives is whether you're in the oil business or the energy business.''

The conference's 5,000 participants included ExxonMobil President Rex Tillerson and Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi, Worldwatch said.

To be sure, oil accounts for about 30 percent of the world's energy use while renewable energy sources make up a slim two percent. However, according to Flavin, the market share of renewable energy sources was growing apace.

Unlike fossil fuels, of which there is a limited supply, renewable energy--including solar, wind, and geothermal power and biofuels--is derived from sources that are continually replaced.

Most renewable energies are non-polluting. By contrast, scientists say the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming, which in turn drives the increased incidence and intensity of major storms such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Flavin spoke against a backdrop of soaring oil prices and demand. World oil consumption increased by 3.4 percent in 2004, the fastest rise in 16 years, Worldwatch said earlier this year in a report citing U.N., industry, and other sources.

However, the research group added, oil production is falling in 33 of the 48 largest oil-producing countries. These include six of the 11 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

In the continental United States, the think tank said, oil production peaked at eight million barrels per day in 1970 and fell to 2.9 million barrels daily last year.

Production of biofuels, wind power, and solar energy are all growing at rates of 20-30 percent per year, compared with growth rates of around two percent for oil and gas, Flavin said.

The costs of renewable energy were falling fast, news reports Wednesday quoted Flavin as telling the conference. Wind power cost 46 cents per kilowatt-hour in 1980 but now costs less than six cents.

New energy sources are attracting roughly $30 billion in investment annually, he added, with Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, and California leading the emerging market.

''Already, 35 million homes in China get their hot water from solar collectors. That is more than the rest of the world combined,'' Flavin told the Reuters news agency in Johannesburg.

''There are prospects for real take-offs in solar and wind power in China, and not just hot water for homes but in industry,'' he added. ''State-owned industries and private companies there are investing heavily in renewables.''

Renewable sources account for 25 percent of Sweden's energy use and 45 percent in Norway. The United States lagged behind, with only 4.2 percent of its energy consumption coming from renewable sources.

Energy companies and governments were driving growth in renewables, Flavin said, with firms including Royal Dutch Shell Group, BP, and Mitsubishi among the major players.

Additionally, 48 countries now have policies and incentives promoting renewable energy, he added.

Copyright © 2005

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