The demand for oil worldwide has grown over the years, and this trend is meant to continue in the coming decades. This is because of the increase in industries and technologies that require large amounts of fuel for operation. As the demand continues to rise the oil deposits continue to be exploited at a rate that is much higher than it is replenished, this means that the oil deposits are being depleted (Dunkerley and Ramsay, 1982).
Countries, which depend on oil are getting worried because they are not certain of the availability of this source of energy in future, also, the prices of oil has been escalating over the years, and this is affecting the economy of these countries (Duncan, 2007).
Moreover, there is the issue of environmental pollution; oil exploitation, transportation and utilization pollute the environment through emission of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide. These gases have increased, in concentration in the atmosphere contributing to the green house effect and global warming.
With all the economic and environmental problems caused by depending on oil for energy supply, should nation continue using oil or should they seek other alternative sources of energy that are more sustainable? The questions that follow are whether the alternative sources are economically viable and enough to meet the demand for energy. Looking at each of these sources, and collectively will they end oil dependency.
Wind energy is a renewable source of energy from wind; this energy is harnessed using wind turbines for electricity generation. This source can also be used in drawing of water from boreholes and driving big machines.
This source of energy is considered to be friendly to the environment; it does not produce pollutants as in the case of oil (Dunkerley & Ramsay, 1982). However, people who are concerned with the environmental aesthetics argue that turbines give undesirable appearance to the environment because they are tall and concentrated in one area.
Wind is a source that is free flowing and the cost of harnessing is considered to be low or zero; once the harnessing equipments have been installed, cost of generation is close to zero. This is cheap when compared to oil whose price escalates each year; any country with wind source will save a lot if it utilizes it. The only requirements are the equipments, transmission lines and, regulating and metering equipments.
However, developing countries with viable wind sources find it difficult to replace oil with wind energy because of the cost of installation; the equipments are too expensive, and expertise has to be imported, and for them, they prefer to continue depending on oil energy (Duncan, 2007). Wind energy is not consistent in its flow this means that generation is not consistent; this implies that it is not reliable. It this source is adopted it will affect production in industries thus affecting a county’s economy.
Sometimes the wind source can be situated in a location that is too far from the national grid and connecting such points to the grid is extremely expensive. Wind resources in such locations remain underutilized despite its high potential for energy production, however, according to Duncan, this is a lame excuse because places that are far away from the grid can be connected as stand-alone stations and be used to power the area close to the station (Duncan, 2007).
Wind energy installations bring about competition for land which might be used for forests and farming. Although some people argue that farming can be done under the wind turbines without any effect on electricity generation, others still think that it is not proper. The wind turbines have also been accused of causing death to birds through collisions; they are tall, and they obstruct birds as they fly, Duncan insists that this problem can be solved by putting things that can attract the attention of birds as they fly so as to reduce cases of collision.
Wind energy can only reduce oil dependency in countries that have high potentials, and if issues like high cost of initial installation can be dealt with, for instance developing countries can choose to give way to a private investor (Duncan, 2007).
Solar energy source is another alternative to oil. This source is free and environmental friendly; it produces no pollutants during its harnessing and utilization and its uses are numerous.
Solar energy can be harnessed using several kinds of technology such as solar thermal and photovoltaic. Solar thermal systems are used in heating water, air conditioning and process heat, while photovoltaic systems are used for electricity generation (Duncan, 2007).
Solar thermal is the most common technology that can be used to replace kerosene and diesel in heating water and heating reagents in industries. One the heating equipments have been installed cost of operation is nearly zero, although the efficiency of these systems are known to be low due to losses.
Photovoltaic is slowly being embraced for production of electricity, although the amount of energy produced by large numbers of solar cells is very small and considering the cost of assembling and installation of these systems, many nations prefer to use oil in generation of electricity (Grunbaum, 1978). There are other technologies like the use of solar ponds and solar farm; this is used for large-scale production of electricity.
The solar ponds and solar farms are constructed in areas that are not inhabited by people; therefore, they do not interfere with the settlement and farming land. However, constructing them in such areas far away from the grid make it expensive for connecting transmission lines, and connecting them as standalone stations is not convenient because the they are situated far away from the settlement areas.
Solar source is not available throughout the year, during winter the resource is not available for use, and this means that it is not reliable for energy production throughout the year; this means that a nation using solar as an energy resource will have to look for an alternative.
Some nations prefer not to deal with the inconveniences; therefore, they opt to go for the most reliable despite its high cost and environmental pollution, which is oil (Grunbaum, 1978). This shows that solar as an alternative source of energy cannot fully replace oil; however, it can supplement it during the summer.
Biomass source is another alternative, although it cannot be found naturally; trees and energy crops are planted, harvested and planted again (Duncan, 2007). This ensures that the resource is continuous and reliable. The use of biomass as a source of energy is full of controversies; first, energy plants are said to occupy land that is meant for food production (Duncan, 2007).
This puts a nation in a dilemma of providing food for its population and satisfying the energy demand using energy crops. Countries with a large population that demands more food prefer using oil for energy production and save the land food production.
Biomass can be used for cooking, heating water, process heat and electricity generation and all these processes lead to the production of carbon dioxide and sometimes carbon monoxide; these gases are harmful to the environment and, therefore, biomass source is not environmental friendly. The amount of energy produced from energy crops and trees is small compared to the size of land used for planting energy crops and trees; this is not economical enough considering the value of land.
The energy produced from bio-fuels cannot be used directly in locomotives, it is mixed with diesel; this means that bio-fuels cannot be fully replace oil (Agrawal et al, 2007). Also, bio-fuels emit carbon dioxide during utilization; this makes them harmful to the environment. Biomass source of energy can only be used to supplement oil because of competition energy crops has with food farming and human settlement.
Hydropower is another alternative for nations with big and permanent rivers. This resource is environmental friendly; it emits no pollutants to the environment. Countries, which have big rivers, can produce a large amount of electricity for use and most of the industries can access this electricity through the national grid (Grunbaum, 1978).
Although, power produced from this source is affected by the volume of water in the rivers, which is affected by the amount of rainfall. When the volume of water is low the power production lowers and this means that a nation cannot meet its energy demand during this time; therefore, another alternative should be the sort to meet the demand. In such cases, a nation opts for oil which is the immediate and reliable source of energy, although it is expensive.
The operation costs of hydropower is small as compared to a power plant that use diesel or coal; one a hydropower is put up the only costs it has are maintenance costs and administrative cost, the cost of production is zero.
This makes the power produced by hydro-plant to be cheaper, and one it is installed, the plant can run for close to 20 years without a major over-hole; this means that it more economical compared to oil. However, nations with hydropower resource can shy away from utilizing this resource because of the cost of equipments and installation and the time it takes from installation to the first production. If these countries consider long term benefits of a hydro-plant, then the initial costs cannot hinder then from exploiting the resource.
Power produced from hydro-plants cannot directly be connected to locomotives unless they have electrical systems. This means that the transport sector still require oil, hence human dependence on oil cannot be wiped off entirely using hydropower as an alternative source (Agrawal et al, 2007).
Hydropower plants also compete for water with human beings and animals; when water is diverted for power production, people living down the stream or river complain that they are being denied access to water, and yet the diverted water is taken back into the river after it has been used for power generation. This is not a big issue; it can be solved by talking to the people down the stream to help them understand.
Nuclear material is a source of power that can solve almost 90% of a nation’s energy problems; the energy produced is large in quantity (Sovacool, 2007). Nuclear energy is a type of energy many nations wish to have to totally reduce its oil dependence; however, the risks that come with it are greater than the cost of dealing with impacts of oil usage.
Countries such as Australia have the nuclear material deposits, but they do not exploit them fully; this is because of the effects of nuclear material both to the environment and to human health (Grunbaum, 1978).
During mining the gas, dust and water from the mines contain radioactive material and when the miners are in contact with this material they have high chances of developing cancers and respiratory related illness. Safety precautions have been put in place, but in case of a small mistake, the impacts are always severe. Safety measures put in place are not 100% effective and most people do not like risking their lives; this has led to the closure of some of the mines (Sovacool, 2007).
The nuclear material cannot be exported by these countries because very few countries take the risk of constructing nuclear plants. The impacts associated with accidents in nuclear plants are so severe that nations keep off, an example is what happened in Chernobyl nuclear power plant; many people died from direct contact with the radioactive material from the plant, and those who were not near the plant were in contact through the air and its effects are still being felt up to now (Sovacool, 2007).
Almost all the water bodies and plants were affected killing animals and marine life (Grunbaum, 1978). Despite the high protective measures put in place in a nuclear plant, there is still a high risk in case an accident occurs.
Many countries are not ready tom risk the lives if their citizens just to meet its energy demand and reduce their dependence on oil as a source of energy, therefore, when oil is compared to nuclear source as an alternative, oil remains the best option, even in terms of environmental impact.
There are many alternative sources of energy to oil, most of these sources are environmental friendly, for example, solar, wind and hydro, however, the costs for installation and purchasing equipments used in harnessing energy from these sources are too high for some countries, especially developing countries. This hinders the exploitation of these resources and making people depend on oil (Heiman and Solomon, 2004).
The countries that have managed to exploit these resources also find them unreliable because of inconsistency in the flow of wind in case of wind, variation in seasons in case of solar and variation in volume of water in case of hydro, and because of this they still have to supplement the sources with oil to ensure continuous supply of energy.
Other alternative sources such as nuclear are the best alternatives for oil because of the large amounts of energy produced; however, the risks involved are too high to be ignored, therefore, many countries shy away from adopting nuclear energy (Sovacool, 2007).
Each country, therefore, can several alternative methods to cut down its dependence on oil, for instance, a country with both hydro and solar sources can use solar power to supplement hydro during the summer and hydro to supplement solar during winter and since oil cannot be entirely cut off, the remaining small part of demand can be met by oil, and this way the nation will not entirely depend on oil.
Agrawal, R. et al. (2007). Sustainable Fuel for the Transportation Sector. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104 (12), pp. 4828-4833.
Duncan, R. (2007). World Energy Production and Population Growth. Population and environment, 22 (5), pp. 503-522.
Dunkerley,J. & Ramsay, W. (1982). Energy and the Oil-Importing Developing Countries. Science, 216 (46), pp. 590-595.
Grunbaum, R. (1978). Alternative Energy Sources. Ambio, 7 (2), pp. 49-55.
Heiman, M. & Solomon, B. (2004). Power to the People: Electric Utility Restructuring and the Commitment to the Renewable Energyy. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 94 (1), pp. 94-116.
Sovacool, B. (2007). Coal and Nuclear Technologies: Creating a False Dichotomy for American Energy Policy. Policy sciences, 40 (2), pp. 101-122