Fossil fuels have become the most commonly used source of energy, not because of their efficiencies, but primarily due to the ease in extracting the energy from the source and the seemingly endless supply. Arguably other factors outside the energy source itself have a significant influence on the buoyancy of the industry, but those factors are not the focus of this text. The big question is, are we running out of energy? And the answer is a resounding, no. The current energy crisis from a simplistic view can be divided into four components:
- security of supply
- environmental impact
- energy consumption
- growth in energy consumption
The major economies of the globe are built on a steady flow of fossil fuels and any suggestion of an interruption of that flow, not only threatens the country’s economic performance, but also security. Any defence force on this planet is reliant on oil and heaps of it. Clearly, regardless of the pressing nature of environmental tragedy, governments will seek to ensure security before considering this or any other issue. Australia has another burning issue and that is, that it is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and the coal lobby has a massive impact on the government’s energy policy and Australia’s economy, uranium is similar. There is no doubt, that if we turn off coal tomorrow, there would be a massive balance of trade problem for Australia, not to mention ensuing unemployment. Nevertheless, this component of the equation itself cannot be ignored or used to justify the environmental impact coal burning is having on all humanity. Other countries have similar dilemmas, particularly where the current energy regime has become imbedded. For example; in the Maldives the principle energy source is 100% fossil fuel, where 100% of the reticulated electrical supply is produced by diesel fired generation. The clear warning here is that the wellbeing of the community is locked to a steady stream of oil imports, the availability of oil and the price of that oil.
Some advocate nuclear energy as being the obvious solution to the problem. Nuclear power generation is a disaster in itself, particularly when associated with the dangers of mining uranium, the dangers transporting it, the fossil fuel used to mine it and the 25,000 plus years associated with the problem of managing waste products. It is estimated that the left over waste problem, after all of the nuclear energy has been spent in the world, would last at least 30,000 years. Think about it, what a legacy to future generations. There are principally two types of nuclear reactors, the burner reactor and the breeder reactor. The burner reactor simply uses the enriched uranium as a fuel which as a fuel has about the same reserves as coal. The breeder reactor offers up to 10 times more energy, but goes through a number of potentially unstable decay states in releasing the energy. Both reactors have the same waste problem. The major advantage suggested as being the driving force behind the nuclear lobby is the lack of greenhouse emissions associated with power generation and the ability to generate energy in a capacity and abundance, comparative to coal and diesel.
Power Station Information Board
Coal fired power stations are about 35% efficient and nuclear power stations not much better! Note that the actual efficiency is load dependant and the efficiency quoted is an approximate. Furthermore the cooling towers of a power plant either nuclear or coal require huge amounts of water for cooling, with an evaporation in the vicinity of 300 litres per second (L/s).