Challenges of the 21st Century: Energy
From the discovery of fire and the harnessing of wind through to the industrial revolution and the dawn of the nuclear age, energy resources have been critical for the wellbeing of humankind and to our economies and social improvement. Indeed, many would contend that every great change in living standards has had a revolution in energy use at its heart.By the end of the 19th century, the lifestyles of the majority of Europeans and Americans had been changed utterly by the steam engine and the use of coal. By the middle of the 20th, they had been transformed again by the internal combustion engine and large-scale electricity generation.As Steven Chu, the US energy secretary, puts it, each modern American has the equivalent of 100 servants working for them, thanks to the use of oil, gas and electricity. A similar revolution is sweeping through emerging economies.It is already becoming apparent that two forces will shape the world s energy system this century: On the one hand, the need to secure energy supplies in a world of rapidly growing demand will increasingly influence policy-making and geostrategic positioning. The US military's on-going presence in the Gulf region and China's growing role in Africa are illustrations of this trend.On the other hand, the international scientific community has reached a near-consensus on climate-change being man-made, leading to an increasing acknowledgement of the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This has led to rapid development of "alternative" and renewable energy sources, a trend which some see as the beginning of a shift of paradigm away from oil, coal and gas. The on-going debates about energy are manifold and complex. Therefore this technical note cannot seek to totally summarize or clarify the different contentious issues. What this note does attempt to achieve, however, is an overview of these issues and of key facts related to the vast subject of energy.