“The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stones and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” – Ahmed Zaki Yamani (Oil Minister, Saudi Arabia).
There is a common perception that non-renewables, unlike renewable, are inexhaustible. There are rather two types of sources: stocks and flows. Stocks are the resources that are quantifiable and limited. Flows are the resources that vary and are by nature, unlimited. A big question arises: are fossil fuels stocks?
Even though they do get replenished, the simple answer is that the rate of usage far exceeds the formation of fossils. In technical terms, this is the reserve/production ratio (R/P). It is the ratio of the total reserves and the current annual production rate of the resource. Thus, it gives us the total years any resource would last for a country.
In hindsight, the energy industry is extremely complicated and it is nearly impossible to quantify the number of years a resource might last in a country. It is influenced by politics, funding, discoveries, innovation and other factors to a great extent.
Consider this: in 1977, The United States President, Jimmy Carter, went on TV and declared that the biggest crisis that we were going to face in our lifetime was going to be running out of oil. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, we have been burning more of it almost every year since 1977. But we have more oil now than we did in 1977. There isn’t a shortage right now. This is due to technological developments in extraction and innovation.
Recently, even huge tech companies like Google and Microsoft have joined the oil industry. They’re using machine learning and AI to help empower the oil industry to make discoveries. But for how long? There are many different time models to predict the period of fossil production in our country. The R/P ratio is constant. This means the demand for energy resources is more or less constant. The timespan calculated for India is around 246 years. That looks fairly long for coal. However, if the production is increased exponentially at a rate of 6% while the reserves are fixed, we only get 53 Years.
Another fact that is even more distressing is that the coal available in India is low-grade, which constitutes as a major pollutant across the world. According to the IPCC, we must cut the global carbon dioxide emissions entirely before 2050 to stop global warming. However, the question remains: when will we run out of non-renewables?
Now that we know the complexity of asking this question, we modify it to: are we running out of non-renewables? The image perfectly answers this question:
As predicted by Hubbert’s Peak Theory, we’re already on the decline of discovery. It might take a scientific breakthrough or a miracle (such as a huge oil field) to sustain this level of growth. The same is true for other resources too, which is why there has been considerable investment in renewable and nuclear energy. Believe it or not, alternative energy is the future.
About The Author: Vignesh is an engineering student who’s curious about everything above and below the sun. An Engineer by the day and electronic musician by night.