By David James
‘The sun can provide more energy in an hour than the
entire world uses in a year.’
The global fossil fuel industry is composed of numerous companies involved in various aspects of exploration, production, refining, and distribution of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. The industry is quite diverse and includes both large multinational corporations and smaller regional players.
The number of companies and their degree of control over the industry can change over time due to mergers, acquisitions, market dynamics and shifts in energy trends. Moreover, the term ‘control’ can be interpreted in different ways, whether it’s based on production volume, market share, revenue, or other factors.
In 2021, a relatively small number of major international oil companies, often referred to as supermajors, were considered significant players in the global fossil fuel industry. These companies included:
- Royal Dutch Shell
- BP (British Petroleum)
- Total Energies (formerly Total)
Additionally, there were numerous other companies operating in various capacities and regions around the world. There are also state-owned companies in various countries that have a significant impact on the global fossil fuel industry, such as Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia and Gazprom in Russia.
The Earth consumes a substantial amount of fossil fuels each year, primarily for energy production, transportation and industrial processes. Fossil fuel consumption is typically measured in terms of energy units, such as gigajoules (GJ) or million metric tons of oil equivalent (MTOE).
Global fossil fuel consumption can vary from year to year based on factors like economic growth, energy demand, technological advancements and government policies. However, to provide you with a rough estimate based on historical data, here are approximate global fossil fuel consumption figures.
- Oil: Approximately 96 million barrels per day (bpd), which translates to roughly 35 billion barrels per year.
- Coal: Roughly 3.8 billion metric tons per year.
- Natural Gas: Approximately 3.9 trillion cubic meters per year.
Visualising the quantities of global fossil fuel consumption in terms of size can be challenging, as they represent enormous volumes and masses.
However, here are some comparisons to help grasp the scale:
- Oil: Imagine a sphere with a diameter of about 1.63 kilometres (1.01 miles). This sphere would represent the volume of oil consumed annually, assuming each barrel is 159 litres.
- Coal: Visualise a cube with sides measuring approximately 1.37 kilometres (0.85 miles). This cube would represent the mass of coal consumed annually, given the estimated consumption of 3.8 billion metric tons.
- Natural Gas: Envision a cube with sides roughly 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) in length. This cube would represent the volume of natural gas consumed annually, assuming each cubic meter of natural gas occupies a space of 1 metre on each side.
The extraction of fossil fuels from the Earth’s crust can create voids and spaces within the crust itself. When oil, natural gas, or coal is extracted from geological formations, it can leave behind empty spaces that were previously occupied by these resources. These spaces are often referred to as subsidence, voids, or cavities.
Here are a few ways in which fossil fuel extraction can lead to the creation of voids or spaces:
- Oil and Gas Reservoirs: When oil and natural gas are extracted from underground reservoirs, the removal of these resources can lead to subsidence or compaction of the rock formations that held them. This subsidence can cause the surrounding rock layers to collapse and create voids.
- Coal Mining: Underground coal mining involves the extraction of coal seams from beneath the Earth’s surface. As coal is removed, the surrounding rock layers can collapse, creating voids known as subsidence craters. These voids can lead to surface sinking and ground instability.
- Natural Gas Storage: In some cases, underground rock formations are used to store natural gas. When gas is withdrawn from these storage reservoirs, it can create a decrease in pressure that results in a reduction in the volume of the rock formation, potentially leading to subsidence and the creation of voids.
The overall impact on the Earth’s crust is relatively small compared to the size and depth of the crust itself. However, in regions with extensive fossil fuel extraction activities, localised subsidence and ground instability can have environmental and societal implications.
The carbon impact usually refers to the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels. These activities include energy production, transportation, industrial processes and deforestation. The release of greenhouse gases contributes to global warming and climate change.
The carbon impact is often measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), which accounts for the various greenhouse gases’ differing levels of potency in terms of their heat-trapping capabilities. The primary greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases.
Fossil fuel combustion is a major contributor to the carbon impact. When fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are burned for energy, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This CO2 traps heat, leading to an increase in global temperatures and a range of climate-related effects, including more frequent and intense heatwaves, sea level rise and disruptions in ecosystems.
The carbon impact can be reduced through various means, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, improving energy efficiency, adopting sustainable land use practices and implementing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to mitigate the impact of climate change and work towards a more sustainable and resilient future.
The idea of containing carbon dioxide (CO2) within voids or underground spaces, such as those left by fossil fuel extraction, is related to a concept called carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon sequestration. Carbon capture and storage involves capturing CO2 emissions from industrial processes, power plants and other sources and then injecting and storing them underground in geological formations.
While the concept of storing CO2 in voids created by fossil fuel extraction might seem feasible at first, there are several challenges and considerations:
- Suitable Geological Formations: The voids or underground spaces left by fossil fuel extraction might not always be suitable for long-term CO2 storage. Suitable geological formations for effective carbon storage typically include porous rock structures that can securely hold the CO2 without leakage over long periods.
- Site Selection: Identifying and characterising suitable storage sites is complex and requires careful assessment of factors such as the geological stability of the formation, the risk of leakage and the potential impact on surrounding environments.
- Engineering Challenges: Injecting CO2 into underground formations requires specialised engineering to ensure that the gas is injected safely, doesn’t migrate and doesn’t cause unintended geological or environmental effects.
- Monitoring and Verification: Long-term monitoring and verification are essential to ensure that the stored CO2 remains contained and doesn’t leak back into the atmosphere or surrounding ecosystems.
- Regulatory and Social Considerations: Developing and implementing CCS projects involves navigating regulatory frameworks, obtaining permits and addressing potential concerns from local communities and environmental groups.
While carbon capture and storage is a promising technology for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, its practical implementation faces challenges and uncertainties. Researchers and industries are actively working on developing and refining CCS technologies to make them more effective and economically viable.
The concept of storing carbon dioxide in underground voids has potential, each site would need to be carefully evaluated for its suitability and potential environmental impacts. Additionally, CCS is just one part of a broader strategy to address climate change, which also includes reducing emissions, transitioning to renewable energy sources and adopting sustainable practices.
The role of fossil fuels in our future energy mix is a complex and debated topic. Fossil fuels have been the primary source of energy for much of modern history, providing energy for electricity generation, transportation, industrial processes and more. However, their use has also been a significant contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.
Here are some key points to consider regarding the potential role of fossil fuels in the future:
- Transition to Renewable Energy: There is a growing global consensus that transitioning away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power is crucial for mitigating climate change. Renewable energy sources are abundant, have lower or no greenhouse gas emissions and are becoming increasingly cost-competitive.
- Carbon Mitigation: If fossil fuels are to play a role in the future, it would likely involve technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) to capture and store carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion. This would require significant advancements in CCS technology and infrastructure.
- Fossil Fuel Reserves: There are still large reserves of fossil fuels that could potentially be extracted and used. However, tapping into these reserves would need to be balanced with emissions reduction efforts and the imperative to limit global temperature rise.
- Energy Transition Challenges: Transitioning away from fossil fuels involves challenges related to infrastructure, energy security and economic impacts on regions and industries that rely heavily on fossil fuels. These challenges need to be carefully managed to ensure a just and equitable transition.
- Innovation and Research: Continued research and innovation are crucial for developing cleaner and more efficient ways to use fossil fuels, as well as for advancing renewable energy technologies.
- Global Policies: International agreements like the Paris Agreement emphasise the need to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Meeting these goals requires substantial reductions in fossil fuel consumption and emissions.
Ultimately, the future role of fossil fuels will depend on a combination of factors, including technological advancements, policy decisions, societal priorities and the urgency to address climate change. Many experts agree that to achieve a sustainable future, the world needs to shift towards a predominantly renewable energy-based system, while also addressing the challenges associated with fossil fuel use.
Renewable energy sources have the potential to contribute significantly to the world’s energy needs. The exact percentage varies based on technological advancements, geographical location and the availability of resources.
For example, solar energy has immense potential because the ‘Sun provides more energy in an hour than the entire world uses in a year. ’Wind energy also has substantial potential, especially in regions with consistent wind patterns. Hydroelectric power is widely used and can contribute significantly, especially in areas with suitable water resources. Geothermal energy is harnessed from the Earth’s heat and can provide a consistent source of power. Biomass energy utilises organic materials for fuel and can contribute as well.
Collectively, these renewable sources could potentially provide a significant proportion of the Earth’s energy requirements. However, transitioning to a predominantly renewable energy-based system involves addressing technical, economic, and infrastructural challenges.
The energy requirements of the world are complex and multifaceted, encompassing electricity, transportation, heating and industrial processes.
- Solar Energy: Solar energy has immense potential due to the vast amount of energy the sun emits. Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic cells, convert sunlight directly into electricity. Theoretically, solar energy could meet a significant portion of global energy demand. However, the intermittent nature of sunlight and the need for energy storage and distribution infrastructure are challenges that need to be addressed for solar energy to play a major role.
- Wind Energy: Wind energy is another abundant resource that could contribute significantly to global energy needs. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of the wind into electricity. Wind energy has been growing rapidly in many regions and advancements in turbine technology have improved efficiency and capacity. Like solar energy, wind energy’s availability is variable and requires storage solutions.
- Hydroelectric Power: Hydroelectric power, generated from flowing water, has been a major renewable energy source for decades. It has the capacity to provide a significant portion of the Earth’s energy demand, especially in areas with suitable water resources and topography. Large-scale hydroelectric projects have been successful in providing reliable and consistent power.
- Geothermal Energy: Geothermal energy harnesses heat from the Earth’s interior to generate electricity. This source is relatively consistent and can provide baseload power. However, its widespread utilization depends on the geothermal resources available in a particular region.
- Biomass Energy: Biomass energy involves using organic materials like wood, agricultural residues and waste to produce heat or electricity. While it can play a role in the energy mix, its potential is limited due to factors such as land availability, competition with food production and environmental considerations.
In combination, these renewable energy sources have the potential to meet a substantial portion of the Earth’s energy demand. However, transitioning to a renewable energy-dominant future requires overcoming challenges related to intermittency, energy storage, grid integration, infrastructure investment, policy support and technological advancements.
It’s worth noting that the energy landscape is dynamic, and advancements in technology and changes in energy policies can significantly impact the potential of these renewable sources.
The choice between renewable and fossil fuel-based business models will depend on factors such as your values, market trends, technological advancements and regulatory environment. Here are some points to consider for both options.
Fossil Fuel Business
- Market Considerations: Despite the push towards renewable energy, fossil fuels still dominate global energy consumption. There may be niche markets or regions where fossil fuels remain in demand.
- Energy Security: Fossil fuels can provide a reliable and consistent energy source, which can be crucial for industries and regions with complex energy needs.
- Transition Technologies: Some businesses are exploring cleaner technologies within the fossil fuel sector, such as more efficient extraction methods or carbon capture and storage, to reduce emissions.
- Existing Infrastructure: The energy infrastructure for fossil fuels is already established in many places, potentially allowing for quicker market entry and utilisation of existing assets.
- Economic Factors: The economics of fossil fuel production and consumption can vary based on factors like global demand, geopolitics and technological advancements.
Renewable Energy Business
- Market Demand and Growth: Renewable energy is experiencing rapid growth due to increasing concerns about climate change and the declining costs of technologies like solar and wind. Choosing renewables positions your business in a growing market.
- Environmental Impact: Renewable energy sources have a lower environmental impact compared to fossil fuels. You can market your business as contributing to a cleaner and more sustainable future.
- Technological Innovation: The renewable energy sector is dynamic and innovative, offering opportunities to develop and implement cutting-edge technologies.
- Regulatory Support: Many governments and regions offer incentives, subsidies and policies that support the growth of renewable energy, which can be advantageous for your business.
- Long-Term Sustainability: Renewable resources like sunlight and wind are essentially infinite, ensuring a long-term and consistent energy supply.
A holistic view of energy for planet Earth encompasses a comprehensive understanding of the various sources of energy, their interactions, environmental impacts and the challenges and opportunities associated with energy production, distribution and consumption.
Here are key aspects to consider:
- Diverse Energy Sources: The Earth receives energy from a wide range of sources, including solar radiation, geothermal heat, gravitational forces (as in tides) and nuclear processes. Harnessing this diversity is crucial for ensuring a resilient and sustainable energy future.
- Renewable Energy: Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass are environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels. They offer the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate climate change and decrease dependence on finite resources.
- Fossil Fuels: Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) have been the primary energy sources for centuries. However, their combustion releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants, contributing to air pollution, global warming and environmental degradation.
- Energy Transition: The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is a critical step in addressing climate change and achieving sustainable development. This transition involves technological innovation, policy support, investment and public engagement.
- Energy Efficiency: Improving energy efficiency across sectors such as transportation, buildings and industrial processes is essential for reducing energy waste and optimizing resource use.
- Energy Access: Ensuring universal access to clean and affordable energy is vital for eradicating poverty and promoting equitable development. Many regions still lack reliable energy access, which affects education, healthcare and economic opportunities.
- Interconnected Systems: Energy is closely intertwined with water, food and ecosystems. Energy production can impact water resources and land use for energy crops can affect biodiversity and agriculture. A holistic approach considers these interconnections.
- Technological Advancements: Ongoing research and innovation are driving the development of more efficient renewable energy technologies, energy storage solutions and smart grid systems that enhance energy reliability and resilience.
- Environmental Impact: Energy production and consumption have environmental consequences, including air and water pollution, habitat disruption and resource depletion. A holistic approach emphasises minimizing negative impacts and adopting sustainable practices.
- Policy and Regulation: Governments play a critical role in shaping energy policies that encourage the transition to clean energy, promote energy conservation and establish frameworks for international cooperation.
- Global Collaboration: Addressing energy challenges requires international cooperation to share knowledge, resources and best practices. Initiatives like the Paris Agreement aim to unite nations in combatting climate change through collective efforts.
- Circular Economy: A holistic energy approach aligns with the principles of a circular economy, where resources are used efficiently, waste is minimized and materials are recycled and reused to reduce environmental impact.
- Community Engagement: Engaging local communities, stakeholders and indigenous peoples in energy planning and decision-making processes is essential for creating sustainable solutions that respect cultural values and local needs.
- Education and Awareness: Raising public awareness about the importance of sustainable energy choices empowers individuals to make informed decisions, reduce energy consumption and advocate for clean energy policies.
A holistic view of energy recognises that energy systems are deeply interconnected with ecological, social, economic and technological systems. By adopting sustainable practices, embracing innovative technologies and working collaboratively on a global scale, humanity can navigate the complex energy landscape while preserving the health of the planet for current and future generations.