Tue Feb 28th, 2006 at 12:34:18 PM EST
With resources dwindling, finding alternative fuel sources is a major theme in the beginning of the new century, but one can hardly title it a new problem. Ever since the creation of the steam engine, alternative power sources have been tested - from solar power to the recently introduced fuel cells, all are carefully monitored by the big players.
The role of the European Union as a representative of all the comprising nation states comes as no surprise, especially as we are talking about a part of the economy, which amasses a large portion of the global market. The actual problem, which the European Union faces, is the lack of large fossil fuel deposits in any of the current member states. Logically, the European Union will have to rely on import, bargaining for lower prices of the already scarce fuel resources, turning to Russia or OPEC. Another argument would be the fact that the majority of the fuel exporting states use U.S. dollars as an exchange unit and recent attempts to employ the Euro were unsuccessful.
Currently there is a discussion that the European Union needs to turn to alternative fuel sources as soon as possible, as to be able to remain economically unaffected by the fluctuating fuel prices on the global market. Most of the current alternative fuel technologies are either expensive or inefficient. For example, electrically powered cars were considered to be the next step in powering everyday transport vehicles, but the increased electricity consumption means higher load on the electrical power plants, of which only the nuclear plants have the capacity to sustain such a high consumer demand and at the same time exhibit a small environmental footprint. This creates another problem - not all member states will be willing to build nuclear power plants on their territories, and focusing all the power production in one member state (a good example would be France) will seriously polarize the political climate within the borders of the European Union.
As another big player, trying to find an ecological and powerful energy source, China just released a new power plant:
"Started in the 1980s, China's nuclear power industry now has generators with a total installed capacity of 6.7 million kW, with 10 generators under construction with combined capacity of some 9.3 million kW. Currently, nuclear power accounts for 2.3 percent of electricity generated nationwide annually, yet the proporation has reached 13 percent in economically developed Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, as against the 16-percent average of the world."
This news item should act as a warning that the European Union has to take seriously the need for an alternative fuel source, as we can see China trying to dampen the impact of any eventual fuel crisis.
The Alternative Fuel Directory is a large collection of alternative fuel sites, available online for the interested reader. One of the most discussed methods for generating alternative power is the windmill technology. One such windmill is capable of generating about 500kW of power (enough for a household), but fails as a serious power producer when compared to a nuclear power plant, which generates roughly 1000mW, or in other words, 2000 times the power output of a windmill. Although windmills were initially thought as harmless to the environment, many ornithologists reported windmills to disturb the annual migration of different birds. One such recent case was that of the city of Burgas, in Bulgaria, where Japanese contractors planned, with the cooperation of the Burgas municipality, to build a series of windmills along the coastline of the city - but the project was hindered, as the local ornithologists organized a protest, claiming the windmills will be built exactly in the migrating area of protected species, which nest in the local "Atanasovsko" lake, protected by the Bulgarian law as a reservation for rare or endangered birds.
Lastly, one of the most viable options for future alternative fuel is the so called "bio fuel" or "bio diesel". Paul Hodson, from the Commission's Transport and Energy DG, explains:
"'There is one fuel that we are certain will be on the market, it's biofuels', he says. `We don't know when', he argues, but as oil prices continue to go up and stocks continue to decrease, `we will end up adopting them'. In his opinion, biofuels are `dead easy' to develop, and `don't really require major adaptation to cars'. Moreover, he argues, they offer opportunities to poorer countries and offer EU farmers alternative sources of income'."
Whatever the choice of an alternative fuel technology, it is high time for the European government to organize a strong policy towards promoting alternative fuel sources. This will allow a head start, which will provide a much needed protection from eventual fuel shortages, whether caused by economical or political problems.