Energy resources, aka fuels, are the most sought-after commodities in the whole world.
Countries are ready to go to war to get access to oil reserves and coal deposits. Self-sufficiency in energy resources is considered the barometer to measure the development levels, prosperity, and power enjoyed by countries on the world stage.
What makes energy resources so vital to our progress?
To be more specific, why are we finding it hard to let go of our dependency on fossil fuels despite knowing the damages they are causing?
Why are we facing so much resistance in embracing renewable energy technologies?
We need to find answers to these questions sooner rather than later. If we continue to ignore the warnings and refuse to part ways with fossil fuels, we are putting our own survival and that of this beautiful planet we all call home at peril.
This article explores this delicate yet unavoidable topic and comes up with some answers for you. The more we understand our reasons for holding on to fossil fuels, the better our chances of weaning them out and welcoming renewable fuels as replacements.
Why are fossil fuels important to us?
To understand this fully, we need to answer these questions.
What are fossil fuels used for?
An energy resource is anything that can be used to produce heat, electricity, move objects, or power life. And, fuel is something that stores energy. Coal, oil, and natural gas are the prominent fossil fuels in use. The lesser-known fossil fuels are bitumen, oil shales, heavy oils, and tar sands. These are extracted through mining and drilling.
Fossil fuels are mostly used in power generation, heating, and transportation. Fossil fuels, when burned in the presence of oxygen in the air, produce heat. This heat generated can be used directly to satisfy our heating needs as in home furnaces or to boil water and produce steam, which in turn can turn the rotor blades of a generator to produce electricity.
In the case of gas turbines, as in a jet aircraft, the heat produced by fossil fuels is used to raise the temperature and pressure of the combustion products to provide it extra motive power.
Oil or crude oil is mostly used in the generation of electricity and as fuel in transportation. The by-products of oil are used in the manufacture of plastics, chemicals, lubricants, medicines, tars, and waxes. Fertilizers and pesticides are either made directly from oil or come as their by-product.
Coal is used in thermal power plants to generate electricity. It is also used in steel and pharmaceutical industries and the manufacture of cement and paper.
Natural gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels. It is mostly used in air-conditioning, as fuel for cooking, to heat buildings, and in water heating. It is used to generate electricity in steel and glass foundries and aluminum smelters. It is used in transportation in the form of CNG and LNG. Natural gas also has uses in the manufacture of paints, plastics, fertilizers, and dyes.
You may also want to take a look at our guide on Advantages and Disadvantages of Natural Gas for more information.
What are the benefits of fossil fuels?
Nowadays it is more common to come across the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels that we often lose track of its benefits.
- Ease of use
- Ease of access
- Easy to transport
- Ability to generate large amounts of electricity
- Abundance as of now, despite being a finite resource
- Well-established infrastructure and safety protocols for handling
- Beneficial by-products obtained on refining oil
- Job creation
- And, more than anything else, our knowledge of the products and the technology
Now, we have a fair idea of how deeply embedded fossil fuel energy is in our lives. This is one of the most prominent reasons why we are finding it hard to let them go.
5 Reasons Why We Use Fossil Fuels Instead of Renewable Energy
There is no simple and straightforward answer to this complicated question. For more than 200 years we continued to use fossil energy without being aware of the damage it was doing to our environment as well as ourselves. By then, their applications, uses, technologies, and penetration in our lives became so deep and established that it was not easy to discard them overnight.
It has been a long and uphill battle for environmentalists to raise awareness about the harms of burning fossil fuels. Often in the past fifty years, their warnings and pleas fell on deaf ears. However, recent climatic events have been an eye-opener for those who are still skeptical about the “dirtiness” of fossil fuel energy.
Let’s see why we are so reluctant to let go of fossil energy.
1. More cost-effective than alternatives
The applications of fossil fuels are on a large scale, such as power generation, transportation, or manufacturing. Even a slight difference in the cost of fuels used can have a huge impact on the profitability or even viability of the operation.
Since the industrial revolution, industries and economies have been created around fossil fuels and their applications. If fossil fuels are taken out of this equation, the entire system may collapse. To prevent this from happening and to ensure a smooth transition to alternative energy resources, we need to come up with a clear and credible plan.
Predictability, efficiency, ease of access and use, and cost-effectiveness are the main stumbling blocks in the process. Unless the proposed or available alternatives are not as reliable or efficient or cost-effective as fossil fuels, there is bound to be reluctance and resistance in embracing them.
Even when renewable energy is highly incentivized and promoted, its widespread acceptance and use depend on influential fossil fuel companies. Being major stakeholders in the energy sector due to their influence and wealth, without their acceptance and cooperation, the plans for the transition are hard to succeed.
Despite being a finite resource, the cost of fossil fuels continues to remain low. The reasons attributed to this are numerous, including inaccurate assessment of existing reserves and better technology available today.
2. Familiarity and ease of use
We have been using fossil fuel energy for the past 250 years or more. The detractors and skeptics ask, “Why to discard a known technology and adopt an unknown one?”
And, this is a valid question that cannot be brushed off as a lame excuse. Forget about large industries, even for a regular consumer, this transition is hard. Take the car for instance. People hesitate to exchange their petrol/diesel car for an electric one as it involves many changes. They need to remember to charge the car, whereas earlier, they could just drive into a gas station and fill it up.
Adapting to new energy resources requires a lot of mental adjustments for the end-users. While some dread that solar or wind farms near their homes can be harmful, there is also a possibility that power generation and distribution may undergo a drastic overhaul as a part of the transition to renewable fuels.
3. Ignorance of consequences
Lack of awareness about the harmful effects of fossil fuels and the benefits of switching to renewable fuels are major obstacles to the transition. Most of us enjoy the benefits of fossil fuels without being aware of how they are mined/drilled, refined, transported, and used to generate electricity.
As the bulk of the world population doesn’t have first-hand knowledge about the consequences of using fossil fuels, they remain unconcerned. As long as their needs are being met, they don’t think that they should bother or get involved in the debate.
Many consider climate change a hoax. Unless all the stakeholders are made aware of the harmful impacts of fossil fuels, the road to a fossil-fuel-free world is arduous.
4. Need for revamp of infrastructure
As mentioned earlier, economies and industries have been built around fossil fuels. Now, a transition to alternative fuels means a complete revamp of existing infrastructure. This is both expensive and scary.
Be it the machinery used in industries or the vehicles used by the common man, everything is designed and built for using fossil fuels. Switching to renewable energy technologies requires discarding all of these and acquiring new ones.
Another major source of concern is the energy production and distribution pattern. In most developed countries, this is achieved with the help of well-established power plants and refineries and distributed through power grid lines and gas pipelines. Both production and distribution have been designed for efficiency and ease of use for the end-user.
The present infrastructure and distribution system can be maintained only with limited inputs from renewable energy. The intermittence and other restrictions of renewable energy necessitate a technology change to accommodate a higher percentage of renewable energy. This kind of infrastructure overhaul may be too costly and cumbersome.
5. Constraints in accessing renewable energy
Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower come free of cost, are clean, and sustainable. However, they are location specific, intermittent, and come with logistical constraints. All these and more make renewable energy technologies hard to access for many people around the world.
The availability of renewable energy sources forms only one part of the reason for their inaccessibility. The other being the cost involved. Setting up a renewable energy system at home is an expensive choice and many people who are ready for the switch are unable to afford it.
Even as the cost of renewable energy sources varies vastly across the world, a lack of incentives and government support can tip the scales in favor of fossil fuels.
Besides the arguments detailed above, there is also the myth that renewables are not capable of replacing fossil fuels. Arguments are making the rounds that renewables take up too much space, they are not scalable, and storage is expensive. There is no point in denying that fossil fuels are more efficient than renewables. More reliable, more convenient to use, and better in many more ways.
However, the pertinent point here is not about how good fossil fuels are or how inefficient renewables are, or even how hard it is to make the transition. The only pertinent question before us today is “To be or not to be”. Whether to live or to die. If we continue our addiction to fossil fuels, no doubt, we are going down the path of self-destruction.
- Fossil Fuels Vs Renewable Energy: The Battle for Our Future
- 6 Arguments Against Renewable Energy
- Why Is Burning Fossil Fuels Bad For The Environment
- Cost of Renewable Energy vs Fossil Fuels
- 14 Disadvantages of Using Fossil Fuels
- Coal: Disadvantages and Advantages
- Why Are Fossil Fuels Considered Nonrenewable Resources?