Sustainability on a knife edge
Up to now most of the book has focused on the detail across a range of renewable energy technologies. As a conclusion I should like to place the drive for renewable energy in its wider context. It is time to confront the dilemma inherent in all renewable sources of energy and that is that they have to compete with abundant, cheap fossil fuels. The IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) states that ‘there are abundant fossil fuel reserves that will not limit carbon emissions during the 21st century’. (Report from Working Group III.) It goes on to say that ‘At least up to 2020, energy supply and conversion will remain dominated by relatively cheap and abundant fossil fuels’. In this it agrees with the industry forecasters like Professor Morris Adelman of MIT: ‘For the next 25-50 years, the oil available to the market is, for all intents and purposes, inﬁnite’ (Economist Energy Survey 2001). We now have the added anxiety over the plans to tap untold reserves of underground coal by igniting it and drawing off methane. It is called underground coal gasiﬁcation (UGC). The verdict of New Scientist on this development is: ‘Whatever the local, short term beneﬁts of adopting UGC, in the long run liberating even a fraction of the carbon stored in the world’s subterranean coal reserves could create one hell of an environmental nightmare’ (Fred Pearce, 1 June 2002).