Wed, 07 Jun 2006

Govt looking into diversified energy sourcing amid oil crisis

Benget Simbolon Tnb., The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A growing awareness around the world that the era of cheap oil is over appears to be finally sinking in.

This awareness has been strengthened by the fact that oil prices are continuing to increase, and currently stand at over US$70 per barrel on the international market.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported last year that the world was facing "a permanent oil shock", and predicted that high oil prices would persist for the next two decades.

Government leaders, industrialists and even individuals all now seem to realize that serious efforts are required to develop alternative sources of energy to make up for the hydrocarbon deficit.

The Chevron Oil Company in Wales, the U.K., launched a public community involvement initiative last year to start addressing the urgent energy problem on the Internet and European newspapers:

"The era of easy oil is over. What we all do next will determine how well we meet the energy needs of the entire world in this century and beyond ... Many of the world's oil and gas fields are maturing. And new energy discoveries are mainly occurring in places where resources are difficult to extract physically, technically, economically and politically. We call upon scientists and educators, politicians and policy makers, environmentalists, leaders of industries and each one of you to be part of reshaping the next era of energy."

George W. Bush, the president of the United States, the world's largest consumer of oil, said that his country must develop policies to make it less dependent on oil and other fossil fuels, imports of which account for about 60 percent of the country's total consumption.

He has proposed a series of energy initiatives to diversify energy sources away from the dominance of fossil fuels.

"And in the years ahead, technology will allow us to create entirely new sources of energy in ways earlier generations could never dream," he said.

So far, the U.S. ethanol industry produces about 15 billion liters a year.

Meanwhile, the European Union has called for new action to develop biofuels, warning that soaring oil prices and a recent gas spat with Russia highlighted the risks of relying on traditional power sources.

Its executive arm, the European Commission, urged EU governments to take measures to expand large-scale consumer use of alternative energy sources by developing "second generation" fuels that were more efficient and cheaper than those currently available.

EU Farm and Rural Development Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel noted that now was the best time to push the case for biofuels.

"Crude oil prices remain high. We face stringent targets under the Kyoto Protocol. And the recent controversy over imports of Russian gas has underlined the importance of increasing Europe's energy self-sufficiency," she said.

In many European countries, biofuels have been used as a way of diversifying energy sources and cleaning up the environment. In Germany, for example, biodiesel blends are used to power trains and electricity plants.

Australia, a major agricultural producer, has announced that it will promote the use of ethanol and other biofuels as they are environmentally friendly and will boost demand for its farm produce.

Japan, one of the world's largest oil consumers, has set itself the ambitious goal of replacing a fifth of its oil needs with biofuels or gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuels by 2030.

The country's energy agency has been working for more than two years to iron out long-term energy policy guidelines aimed at enhancing national security for the resource-poor country.

So far the government has focused on limiting Japan's dependence on crude oil -- almost all of which is imported -- to 40 percent of total energy needs from about 50 percent currently.

Japan has signed biofuel deals with Brazil, the world's leader in biofuel production and use, and Malaysia, the world's largest producer of palm oil, which can be used to produce biodiesel.

Japan will import ethanol and biodiesel from Brazil, and will help Malaysia to develop its palm oil-based biofuel industry.

In Brazil, which has been developing its biofuel industry since the 1970s, bio-ethanol now accounts for 40 percent of the fuel used in the country.

Malaysia has long produced biodiesel from palm oil. Currently, it is building a number of palm oil refineries in Europe to process its palm oil before it is sold to biodiesel production plants.

China, the world's third biggest biofuel producer, is a leader in the production of gasohol -- a mix of gasoline and ethanol -- with farmers in some areas being required to expand their production of wheat, corn, sugarcane and potatoes to feed the ethanol plants.

Thailand, which has been promoting the use of gasohol for the last two years, has seen its gasohol use increase to a quarter of premium petrol consumption due to the fact that it is much cheaper.

There have also been efforts to develop new technologies that would allow the industrial and transportation sectors to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

Automaker Volkswagon has created the fuel efficient, diesel-powered VW Lupo, which is lightweight and has a 1.2 liter (turbocharged) engine that switches off automatically when stopped for longer than four seconds and automatically restarts when the driver's foot is taken off the brake.

Other major automakers, such as Daimler Chrysler, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Peugeot, Suzuki, and Toyota, have also been producing gasoline-electric hybrid cars.

In the U.S., where almost half of the world's total of 500 million cars are to be found, an organization called CalCars is working on a project to produce batteries that can be recharged for hybrid cars.

In the U.K., engineering firm IMP Ltd in Wales claims to have invented a revolutionary new electric engine, and believes that these engines can be used as the sole driving force for all-electric cars.

Thus, all the indicators suggest that the world is now moving away from an economy firmly based on hydrocarbons to an economy based on widely-diversified energy sources.