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What shall we do when it's oil gone?

Richard Bowen | 09:03 UK time, Friday, 5 May 2006

Petrol prices are at all-time highsAs you know here on World Have Your Say we love our "specials". That's to say, programmes where we get under the skin of a topic and really break it down. Well, today we've got another one for you.

We want you to imagine a time when the world's oil supply is nearly gone. Time to make a choice. What type of energy do you want to succeed to oil? Nuclear, solar, biofuels, hydrogen, wind or waste?

We've got representatives from each of these different energy sources to put their cases to you, and we want you to put your questions, fears and ideas to them. If you can't wait for the programme to have your say, join the debate online now.

But before you do, read what our experts have got to say and see if you're convinced.

The case for Nuclear Energy - BRUNO COMBY - Chairman of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy

We're in favour of all clean energies including, before anything else, energy conservation and renewables. But biomass requires energy to produce it, and all cultivable surfaces available on Earth would not suffice to replace oil. Wind and solar power are intermittent, unpredictable and dilute, therefore they simply cannot replace oil and gas to power our cities and industry.
Given that hydroelectric resources are built pretty much to capacity and coal is the greatest polluter (+15,000 people die in coal mines each year), nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable solution.
Nuclear is safe, clean, reliable, competitive, produces very little
CO2 and no sulphur or nitrogen oxides. Because uranium is a million times more compact than fossil fuels -and the minuscule amount of nuclear waste produced is confined- nuclear energy has zero impact on the ecosystems. It can replace our dwindling supplies of oil and gas. In fact, there's no choice: it's the only way our civilisation can survive the end of oil and gas. Those who pretend the contrary are dreamers or mistaken, but certainly not environmentalists.

The case for Solar Energy - KEN SHEINKOPF - Florida Solar Energy Centre


Solar energy is simply the use of the sun to provide heat for water or electricity for power.
One basic form is solar thermal energy, which uses roof-top solar collectors to heat water for home use or for heating water in swimming pools and spas. The technology has changed little in principle in more than 100 years but has changed greatly in quality of materials and design and installation. Today solar water heating is practical, economic and well-proven in all types of climates around the world.
The other form is solar electricity (photovoltaics). Of all the solar energy technologies, photovoltaics shows the greatest promise for worldwide acceptance and application. Its universal appeal lies in the fact that solar cells generate electricity from the sun. Working photovoltaics have no moving parts, are relatively simple in design, need very little maintenance and are environmentally benign. They simply and silently produce electricity whenever they are exposed to light. Their use grew significantly after their development for the space program started 50 years ago to a point where the costs are dropping to make them economic in many applications today.

The case for Biomass and Biofuels - DR KEITH TOVEY - University of East Anglia

Biomass and Biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol offer an important solution to the post oil era. Unlike other renewable energy sources which are affected by weather or tidal conditions where the supply may not coincide with demand, the biofuels and biomass inherently provide a storage which allows them to be used as an when they are required much as in the way most people use energy at present. Most renewable energy sources provide either electricity or heat, but the biofuels can not only provide these, but also can be used as a substitute transport fuel. Bioethanol can be used as a petrol substitute and there are now cars on the market that can use any blend of petrol and bioethanol.
Biofuels and biomass provide a versatile fuel which should not be ignored in the post oil era. It must also be remembered that around 5% of fossil fuel is not used for energy, but as a feed stock for the chemical industry. When oil eventually runs out biofuels can be used to provide the necessary feed stocks.

The case for Wind Energy - ALISON HILL - British Wind Energy Association

We live in an age where the consequences of climate change are one of the greatest threats we face. We're now also facing an energy crisis where the future source and price of our energy supplies is increasingly uncertain.
Meanwhile the world is wealthy in wind resources - enough wind blows across the continents to power the entire world. Today, tomorrow and forever.
Wind energy offers a leading solution - to security of supply, energy independence, rising demand, and mitigation of climate change - from a fuel that will never run out:

· no external energy dependence
· no energy imports
· no fuel costs
· no fuel price risk
· no exploration
· no extraction
· no refining
· no pipelines
· no resource constraints
· no carbon dioxide emissions
· no radioactive waste

Can you say no to that?

The case for Hydrogen Energy - STEVEN GILCHRIST - Vice President of Canadian Hydrogen Energy Company

Within the next fifty years, rising costs and dwindling supplies of traditional fuels will force a fundamental realignment in energy generation and consumption. While different parts of the globe will be able to harness wind, solar, geothermal or biomass energy, only one fuel will be commonly available in all markets and for both fixed and mobile applications, and that is hydrogen. While other sources may supply electricity, they are poorly positioned to supply the energy needs of cars, trucks, buses, off-road equipment, marine and most locomotives. Only a fuel which is easily produced, transported and distributed and, if possible, able to easily adapt to the existing fuelling infrastructure, will be a credible candidate for replacing fossil fuels and the sole candidate is hydrogen. Ideally partnered with electricity from other green sources, with no noxious emissions and with the ability to make virtually every economy energy independent, hydrogen technologies offer the brightest, most cost-effective and most realistic vision of our energy future.

The case for a Diversity of Renewables - DR MAE WAN HO - Institute of Science and Society.

Having recently completed an energy review as part of my work for the Institute of Science in Society, we concluded the following. Nuclear energy should be ruled out on grounds of safety, world security, and economics; also because it is a finite, non-renewable resource, and gives energy returns and savings on carbon emissions no better than gas-fired heat and power co-generation. We also do not support energy crops for biofuels, especially not in poor Third World countries, unless it can be shown to truly satisfy our criteria of sustainability. Therefore we lend our support to a diversity of renewables, such as solar, hydrogen, wind and tidal. In particular we support advancements in energy from waste technologies: producing biogas from organic wastes and using green algae for capturing CO2 from the exhaust of power plant. The emphasis is on local production at the point of use, based on resources available.
Most of all, we propose integrating food and energy production in zero-waste, zero-emission farms for local self-sufficiency in food and energy. That's how to beat climate change and thrive in a post-fossil fuel economy.
For anymore information go to our website http://www.i-sis.org.uk/index.php

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