Q: Do you think alternative ways of energy production are a good idea?
A: It is clear that the World has to find other forms of energy that will assist the development and improvement in the quality of life. The signs are becoming clearer everyday that the current usage of fossil fuels is leading global warming as a result of greenhouse gas (GHG) production. All developing nation people aspire to a life style that in current terms is hugely energy intensive and if we think that the problem is bad now, if the billions of people in the developing world move a small way towards the desired lifestyle, the problem will be very much worse. As a result alternative forms (or non fossil fuel forms) of producing energy that have a limited impact on the environment are a necessity.
Q: How is Engen involved?
A: In this regard Engen is currently exploring how we may support future fuels so that we can play our role in facilitating the development of the industry locally. There is of course significant debate around the benefits that biofuels bring to the reduction of GHG emissions. We are also starting to look at the various aspects of alternative energy so as to understand what future opportunities there may be for us in this area.
In addition Engen has also started to explore the possibilities of becoming involved in various forms of alternative energy like solar, wind and wave. This is however very exploratory at this stage with no clear plans developed.
Q: What is the effect of alternatives on your business?
A: Currently Engen’s core business is driven by the sales of fossil fuels. So directionally a move away from fossil fuels would appear to be a bad thing for Engen. However, we believe that the move to alternative energy forms is going to take time and fossil fuels will still have a very important role to play in the energy mix for many years to come. That said, we have no intention of simply standing back and watching how the energy usage pattern changes – we intend to follow this shift so that we will be able to supply the required mix of energy into the future, while striving to limit our impact on the environment wherever possible.
In February 2006, Banks and Schaffler produced a report for Earthlife Africa on “The potential contribution of renewable energy in South Africa”. The report essentially considers 3 Renewable Energy scenarios – a Business as usual case, a Progressive Renewable scenario and a High Renewable scenario. An interesting feature of this report is that in both the Progressive and High scenarios the usage of alternative forms of energy only start to become significant between 2010 and 2015.
Q: Where is the future of energy production headed?
A: This is an extremely difficult question – however, the one answer is away from fossil fuels. For domestic use solar water heating and the use of solar panels for lighting is likely to become more important in parts of the world that have the appropriate sun exposure. For industrial and commercial demands, electricity from nuclear generation would appear to be the best way to go, assuming that we need to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. For transportation fuels, the long term dream is hydrogen. There are unfortunately a few important technical challenges that have to be solved – for example how do you store hydrogen in a car so that you can travel several hundreds of kilometres before refuelling ? If we solve the storage problem the next may be – how do we generate the hydrogen needed ? Again the answer may be by splitting the water molecule using electricity that has been generated by nuclear power (this is the only way to do it today without increasing the GHG emissions) but at present it requires 2 units of electrical energy to produce 1 unit of hydrogen energy.
Q: Do you have any other thoughts or comments?
A: The massive dependence the World has today on fossil fuels is perhaps not always well understood. Currently the World consumption of crude oil is approximately 86 million barrels per day or 13.5 billion litres per day (this is half the crude oil South Africa consumes in a year). Unfortunately there are no alternatives forms of energy that can provide this amount of energy in the same manner at present i.e. with the same level of energy density and a similar cost structure. As a result we all have a significant challenge to improve the efficiency with which we use fossil fuels today, as well as exploring new and effective means of replacing these fossil fuels.
The team would like to thank Mr. Wright for all his help and assistance