As I get older and softer I find energy takes on a different meaning, but that's not what I have in mind here. I have recently found some interesting blogs with some interesting comments. I dropped in a comment on a post dealing with energy, among other things and another blogger left a thoughtful and interesting response. I responded to that but as this has also come up on Teh Squeaky Wheel and some other blogs by people on that forum, I thought I might put down some thoughts here. I tend to get long winded, as my patient friends know all too well, so I will try to get that out of my system here. Energy is the key to modern industrial civilization. The production, distribution, and use of energy is what fuels our economy today and without abundant, inexpensive energy we can not support the quality of life we have come to expect. For most of a century, coal powered western industrial society. It powered industry, transportation, and the military. It was cheap and abundant, well suited to powering mass transport such as trains and ships, powering industrial furnaces, and powering stationary steam engines as industrial prime movers or to generate electricity. It was relatively low tech in it's production, distribution and preparation. Dig it up, break it up, and throw it on the fire. It could even be used for home heating and it could be processed to produce lamp gas or coal tar.
Around a hundred years ago, oil began to supplant coal. It required more elaborate infrastructure to mine, refine, store, transport, and distribute, but it's refined products had much higher energy content and could be used in more sophisticated ways, allowing the introduction of the various types of internal combustion engines. This made possible individual self contained transport, machines, tools, and generators. This also made flight possible. Coal was not abandoned and the oil infrastructure developed. The oil infrastructure was built as technological progress and need made it practical. Coal fueled and powered this transition and is still in use today in those applications where it remains practical.
For most of the last century, oil was the key to industrial, economic, and military power. In the last half of the century only one viable rival has been developed. This is nuclear fission. Ironically it is strong in the same areas that coal was strong, ships and stationary power plants for generating electricity using steam engines. It does not have coal's advantage of low tech production and use. It does have good potential to generate electricity cleanly, safely, and economically. In our navy and in much of the modern world, hundreds of reactors are serving in this way every day and have been for decades. Oil is still needed for it's energy density and it's versatility for portable power production, plus nuclear fission uses scarce material and produces dangerous, long lasting waste that is hard to secure, store, and dispose of. The time for a better answer is approaching.
At this point the only technologies that have shown the potential for replacing oil as our prime energy source are geothermal and nuclear fusion. Both are virtually unlimited and almost non polluting. Unfortunately, neither is ready yet. Other energy producers such as solar, biofuel, wind turbines, and tidal are simply not practical as more than supplements to the others. None are ready to assume a significant share of the energy needs of our society in the near future. To give our industry and science time and resources to develop and produce the energy sources for the mid and long term needs of our society we must look to the resources we have now. This means nuclear fission, coal, and oil. We can not stop the exploration and exploitation of these resources without a collapse of our economy, our society, and our ability to defend ourselves and our interests in this very competitive world.
That's my outlook on energy today, for what it's worth. I'll go into more detail on specific areas or in response to comments if any. The sun is coming up so I hope I am coherent. Thanks.