Energy Resources and Conversion Technologies for the 21st Century

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A variety of energy sources will compete to provide the energy services that humans will require over the next 100 years. The balance of these sources will depend upon the availability of fossil fuels and the development of new technologies including renewable energy technologies, and will be one of the keys in projecting greenhouse gas emissions. There is uncertainty about each of the energy sources. With oil, for example, there are two alternate views of future reserves, one that reserves are geologically limited and that supplies will decline within a decade or two, the other that there are enormous quantities of hydrocarbon in the earth’s crust and that reserves are a function of developing technology and price. With solar voltaics, as a second example, there is optimism that the technology will become increasingly competitive, but there is uncertainty about the rate at which costs can come down and about ultimate cost levels. This paper reviews the reserves of fossil fuels and the prospects for nuclear power and the renewables. It also reviews the main energy conversion technologies that are available now or are expected to become increasingly available through time. However, it should be noted that, over a time horizon of 100 years, there may be quite radical changes in both production and conversion technologies that cannot be predicted and it is quite possible for some as yet unheard of technology to be developed and to transform the markets. The paper has been written to aid the development of new scenarios for the emission of greenhouse gases for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.