|Economia & Energia
No 18 January-March 2000
|THE NEW ENERGY AGE
Humanity has reached year 2000 without fulfilling some of the predictions made at the middle of this century that is coming to a close. Advances are remarkable in some areas - communication, computing and medicine, for example - whose predictions have been surpassed. However, even though significant, predictions concerning transport and mainly energy fell short of expectations.
Frustrated predictions should be understood as being those relative to space flight, lunar exploration and the arrival of man at Mars and those ingenious aerial transportation means that filled our imagination and with which we would travel faster, safely and with no pollution above large cities in astonishing aerial highways.
The reason for this "delay" lies on the technical and mainly economic non-feasibility of new forms of energy. Practically all our present energy needs are satisfied in "Jurassic" ways, not compatible with the progress of the end of the XX century and that hoped for the next one.
All those primary needs are satisfied by mineral coal, used since long ago and by petroleum, a form of energy that already started to be used in large scale last century, soon to be called the century before the last one. More recently, petroleum has been complemented with natural gas that is of the same nature. Even though gas has more qualities compared to oil - its combustion is cleaner and it does not pollute the local environment - it contributes to the global greenhouse effect. They all are non-renewable energy sources of organic origin and resulting from mineral extraction activities.
Another source is that of hydraulic energy that although renewable has limited physical reserves in what concerns new generation projects and has relatively small capability to be transported to long distances. More recently nuclear fission emerged, depending on radioactive minerals. All of them are in small or large scale, with no exception, environmentally dangerous due to gaseous emissions - provoking changes in the geophysical space - and due to the risk of accidents.
Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, in the nuclear area, the recent fuel oil spill at Guanabara Bay and possibly the surge of yellow fever due to migration of monkeys and mosquitoes to the vicinities of urban centers on account of reservoir filling of a hydroelectric power plant in the state of Goiás, are pathetic examples that give support to the mentioned arguments.
The new century is approaching with no signs of a revolutionary change in the world energy panorama which will be seriously deleterious to the evolution of mankind in what concerns reaching new plateaus of knowledge such as extra-planetary development (the already mentioned space flight) and even the inter-planetary one ( larger knowledge of oceanic and subterraneous depths). All of it must necessarily take into account the obligatory environmental cautions.
The large economical empires created by these energy sources, specially the large petroleum corporations, by defending the present situation, may be creating barriers to new energy frontiers. If it depends only on the commercial and market interests, this rupture may never come. The investment in new energy sources is far greater than that necessary for maintaining the status quo of exploitation and use of the traditional sources now utilized.
The cyclic ascending and descending movement of petroleum prices, most of it politically administrated, satisfies the dominating interests, either making nonviable new forms of energy or channeling huge fluxes of money to the present owners of traditional energy sources.
The approaching century may bring new facts for this area. New communication technologies, new materials, optimization of motors and investments in energy conservation will allow for less energy consumption and represent a concrete fact. This is a large change force acting on the demand side. On the offer side, some obstacles to the supply of traditional sources may turn viable larger investments in "new" energy. The political/ideological movements are the most important barriers. For this change, environmental pressures will possibly be more important than the expected depletion of the "old" energy.
Will the "new" energy forms be solar, hydrogen, safe nuclear fusion or a new type of bio-energy ? Or will it be a combination of them? A simple speculation from the rather stagnated present situation is a difficult task.
The XXI century shall be the century of this revolutionary change. According to the World Energy Council and other experts on the subject, petroleum will rule until the fifties of the next century. Due to the acceleration of historical development, this period may be shortened. Natural gas may have perhaps a longer life.
As a closing remark, it should be remembered that the subject of this article was logically focused on a historical dimension where a quarter of a century is the minimum period to be analyzed. When we think of Brazil and its excellent petroleum, gas and even radioactive minerals, there is sufficient time in the medium run, to take advantage of the opportunities in the half of the next century in the most competent way, unless what was speculated here will became another unfulfilled prediction.
Itapoã, Vila Velha (ES), January, 2.000.