Pathways to Cleaner Energy: Hydrocarbons, Hydrogen and Renewables
Renewables complement fossil fuels and other sources in meeting the world’s energy requirements. However, use of all forms of energy affect the environment in some way. In comparing different forms of energy and the ways in which they are applied, we must consider the environmental impact over the full cycle and all the associated costs.
Liquid hydrocarbon fuels have a large advantage in fueling passenger vehicles, so alternative energy technologies will provide greater competition for hydrocarbons in stationary electric power generation and heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses.
Hydrocarbons currently play a minority role in electric power generation. In the year 2000, for example, coal fueled 39 percent of worldwide electricity generation, followed by renewables (mostly hydroelectric) at 19 percent, natural gas (17 percent), nuclear (17 percent), and oil (8 percent). (Source: International Energy Agency, Renewables for Power Generation 2003.) In recent years, natural gas-fired power generation has been increasing because it is cleaner than coal. However, mitigation technology including CO2 sequestration along with concerns about energy security may revive competition from coal.
As advances are being made in hydrogen and renewables, major improvements are also occurring, which reduce the environmental impact of traditional energy development and use. New internal combustion engine technology and hybrids have significantly reduced the emissions from hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles.
Oil and gas companies provide products the marketplace demands, which may include hydrogen and various types of renewable energy, but it is the customers, who ultimately consider multiple factors including environmental impact, convenience and cost and make the decision as to what to purchase.