Waiting for the peak (and hoping it’s not too late)

The year 2018 will be remembered at length in Portugal: in the small European country, in fact, in March of last year, all the national energy demand has been covered by renewable sources. Indeed, they produced 103% of the electricity consumed in the whole country at the same time.
Portugal is not the only country that has achieved such important results: in May 2017, in fact, Scotland had produced a quantity of energy from renewable sources equal to 95% of the national needs in the same period. Wind power alone had provided 46% of Scottish energy consumption. Italy, which is the third country in the European Union for the production of energy from renewable sources, since 2015, and on at least 5 occasions, has produced a large amount of energy from renewable sources, at least 50% of national energy needs. Italy, together with Portugal and other countries of the European Union, shares the objective of leaving coal definitively by 2025. In a few years, therefore, the most controversial and polluting source of fossil energy, namely black coal, will be only a memory in some EU countries, with the definitive exit of the European Union from coal which is set at 2050.
In the United States of America, too, great efforts are being made to increase the production of energy from renewable sources. And some states, such as Vermont (99.6% of energy produced from renewable sources in 2017) are already almost entirely renewable. Even the largest and most important states, starting with California (47% of consumption from renewable sources in 2017), are making important efforts to get out of the slavery of fossil fuels.
And finally, China and Japan, other major world markets, are also investing heavily in saving, efficiency of electrical systems and the production of energy from renewable sources. As a result, for some years now, Japan has been the only G20 economy in which the level of CO2 emissions decreases in absolute terms, despite the growth of the economy.
You all right, then? Unfortunately, no, because in 2017 and 2018 investments in fossil fuels have returned to surpass those in renewable sources, globally. In 2018 the Indian energy giant Adani, since 2012 owner of extensive land in Queensland, North of Australia, has obtained the green light for the exploitation of an immense mine of thermal coal which is just below the surface of its land. With this cheap coal, the Indian giant wants to power hundreds of millions of Indians, Australians and Bengalis. In this way, the fate of three countries, hosting a quarter of the world’s population, and two economic powers of the G20, would be tied to coal for many years to come.
Why can’t we get rid of fossil energy sources? Mainly for economic and financial reasons, although technical obstacles are not negligible, mainly due to the difficulties of long-term storage of the energy produced. This particularly penalises renewable energy sources, which have an inconsistent trend due to atmospheric factors. However, with predictive and intelligent control systems, smart grids and new fuel cells, technical obstacles to the spread of renewable energies will be progressively overcome.
The real problems remain the economic and financial ones. From an economic point of view, there are entire sectors that have been designed and built to depend on fossil fuels, such as steel and automotive. Therefore changing the type of energy supply cannot be simple, nor fast.
From a financial point of view, if possible, the obstacles are even greater. Many investment funds, many financial institutions and banks have oil or coal companies in their portfolios. The financial investments of the Sovereign Funds of the fossil fuel producing countries range everywhere, from real estate to sport, from tourism to manufacturing industry. And they include, of course, banks and financial institutions at all levels globally. Finally, national interests must be taken into account: at least nine G20 member countries have important interests in the raw materials sector, including fossil fuels. Anyone who understands a few financial markets knows very well that the king of fossil fuels, that is oil, has a heavy influence on the price of all other raw materials. As a result, a country like South Africa, which produces very little oil, but on the other hand has so much coal, iron, diamonds, gold and so on, has an interest in keeping oil prices high. The same applies to Australia and Canada, which are also very active on the ecological front.
And yet, perhaps, the very greed and selfishness of supporters of fossil fuels may be the cause of their end. It was 1956 when the American scientist Marion King hubbert published a theory that he intended to predict, based on data relating to the “mining history” of a mining field, the date of maximum production of the resource extracted in the field, as well as for a set of fields or a whole region. The maximum point of production, beyond which production can only decrease, is called a “peak of hubbert”.
Well, several studies indicate that we are now close to reaching this famous peak, and that the demand for energy is growing year by year. The combined effect of growing demand, and a supply that cannot keep up, creates the ideal space for the growth of alternative, clean and sustainable forms of energy. Just like those derived from wind, sun and water.
The future of humanity is therefore green and sustainable, and in 2019 investments in plants producing energy from renewable sources have returned to exceed those in fossil sources, exhaustible and polluting. In other words, no future.

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