The New Global Oil Market: Understanding Energy Issues in the World Economy

By Siamack Shojai | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
Environmental Imperatives and Renewable Sources of Energy Clive L. Spash and Andrew Young

Energy in accessible forms is central to modern-day existence with industrial economies based upon the use of fossil fuels in ever-increasing quantities. The United Kingdom is a typical example of this dependence, with 95 percent of final energy consumption derived from fossil fuels ( Department of Energy 1992). The insecurity of foreign oil supplies (exemplified by OPEC price rises, the Iranian revolution, and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq) and growing awareness of the social costs of fossil fuel use have encouraged the development of alternative energy sources. This second incentive is analyzed here.

The chapter divides energy sources into fossil fuels and nuclear power, as the conventional sources, and renewable and geothermal energy, as the alternatives. While conventional and geothermal sources use energy capital (i.e., a finite stock), so reducing future options, renewable energy sources employ energy income (i.e., the stock remains constant). At present utilizing capital appears to be most efficient; however, the true cost of fossil fuel use is misrepresented by market prices. For example, fossil fuel combustion produces emissions that degrade the environment and impose costs on society--for example, through poorer health. Thus, pricing is inaccurate and excessive energy use occurs from polluting sources. The hypothesis we wish to investigate here is that renewable energy sources are falsely seen as too expensive because their external benefits to society, such as energy capital maintenance and lower pollution, are ignored. We review the environmental impacts of each energy source, and use this to draw out key features of the debate over the potential for fossil fuel substitution by renewable energy sources.

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