Changing patterns of energy consumption

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There is a very good chance that you will be asked to describe a map in your final examinations. It is not possible to remember every country in the world, so using your compass points and continents can be a simple way to describe distribution patterns. When describing look for concentrations, trends, anomalies and voids (areas of nothing). Also remember to use figures and the correct units in your descriptions.

Good Describing Words

Even distribution: When something is distributed in a regular and orderly pattern. It is very unlikely that you will find this in reality.

Uneven distribution: Where there is no pattern, you may get areas of concentration and areas of nothing (voids).

Concentration: When there is a large amount of the thing that you are talking about in one specific location.

Clustering: When there are groups of the things that you are talking about.

Random: When there is absolutely no pattern, things are all over the

Sparsely: When there is not much of the thing you are describing in a certain area (often per km2), normally used to talk about population.

Densely: When there is a lot of the object you are describing in a certain location (often per km2). Again normally used to describe people.

If your map includes any type of data, you should include it in your description - remember the correct unit.

Key Oil Terms:

Peak oil: The point when maximum extraction of oil is reached and after which point the extraction of oil will reduce. Although peak oil production has been reached in some countries like the UK and the US, it is unclear whether global peak oil has been reached yet.

OPEC: OPEC stands for the organisation for petroleum exporting countries. It has 12 members and controls over 40% of the world's oil supply and over 20% of the gas supply. Its headquarters are in Vienna, Austria.

Monopoly: Any organisation, individual or company who controls enough market share to be able to influence the market place e.g. be able to reduce supply in order to increase prices.

Cartel: A formal (explicit) agreement among competing firms. It is a formal organisation of producers and manufacturers that agree to fix prices, marketing, and production. In the past OPEC has been accused of being a cartel.

Corporate Colonialism: Relates to the involvement of TNCs in the practice of colonialism. TNCs can have significant power over small LEDCs. LEDCs will often fear questioning the role of TNCs because they do not want to lose investment.

Brent Crude and Light Sweet Crude: These are two of the biggest classifications of oil and are used to fix prices. Brent crude is traded in London and Light Sweet Crude in New York.

Even though most major economies of the world still depend heavily on oil, many countries are now trying to reduce their dependency. Below is a summary of some of the reasons why they are doing this, including some related articles. Despite many countries trying to reduce their dependency,countries, especially the US could not currently function without oil. Because of their dependency, the US have been accused of going to war with Iraq over the supply of oil.

A Crude case for War - Washington Post article

Factors that have influenced the demand and production of oil

Political Reasons:

International relations: If your country depends on foreign imports of oil, it is very important that you are able to maintain good relations. This is not always possible as highlighted by the relationship between the US and Venezuela.

Venezuela threatens to stop US oil exports - Washington Post article

Political instability: Many countries that are rich in oil are politically unstable. Political instability can effect supplies and cause price increases. Libya has had recent political problems and countries like Iran and Iraq are not totally stable.

Political instability creates business risk in Iran - Times article

Emissions quotas: International agreements like Kyoto are setting greenhouse gas emission quotas. Individual regions like the EU and the UK are also setting targets. With targets to meet more countries are looking to invest in alternatives (renewable energy that pollutes less).

UK to miss carbon emissions targets - Guardian article

Carbon tax: If carbon taxes are introduced it will greatly increase the value of oil products, making alternatives relatively cheaper and more attractive.

EU plans carbon tax - BBC article

NGO pressure: NGOs are becoming increasingly vocal in their fight against fossil fuels and promotion of greener alternatives. As more consumers listen to NGOs, governments and energy companies are likely to find alternatives.

Social Reasons:

Human cost of protecting supplies: Many argue that the only reason the US invaded Iraq was in search of new supply of oil. Whatever, the reason the US has lost many of its soldiers protecting supply lines, not to mention thousands of Iraqi's who have lost their lives in the ongoing occupation.

Index of US troop deaths in Iraq - USA Today

Public Image: Because of rising prices at the pump (garages), the link to global warming and oil spills are all giving the oil industry a bad image. Because of this countries and energy companies are looking for alternatives.

BP boycott - BBC article

Public health: Oil used in vehicles, planes and industry all contribute to air pollution, which can have a negative effect on the health of people - especially asthma.

Pollution could cause asthma - BBC article

Exploitation of workers and countries: In many countries dangerous jobs are carried out by poor unskilled workers. As well as exploitation of workers, many countries are exploited for their wealth and the temptation of oil wealth can lead to the creation of kleptocratic governments. The Niger Delta in Nigeria has massive reserves, but the area still remains poor because of local corruption and economic leakage,

Corruption costs Nigeria 40% of oil wealth - Boston Globe article

Nigeria oil spills: Dutch case against Shell to begin - BBC article

Environmental Reasons:

Greenhouse effect and global warming: Fossil fuels are all major contributors to the greenhouse effect. To try and reduce the effects of global warming, many countries are trying to reduce their dependency on oil.

Oil spills: When large quantities of oil are transported by sea or pipeline, there is always the risk of accidents. The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 is one of the most tragic examples of the short and long-term damage an oil spill can cause. The more recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a more recent example.

Examining the long-term legacy of Exxon Valdez oil spill - BBC article

BP oil Spill effects won't be known for decades - BBC article

Damaged caused by extraction: The recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is just one example of how extraction can lead to environmental damage. The Niger delta in Nigeria has also seen large-scale environmental damage caused by extraction.

BP oil spill, US's worst environmental disaster - BBC article

Nigeria - world oil pollution capital

Chevron fined $8 billion over Amazon pollution - BBC article

Economic Reasons:

Transportation costs: Because the cost of oil is so high, transporting oil is also extremely expensive. Recently there have been increased transportation worries, with pirates operating off the Horn of Africa (near Somalia) and threats over the closure of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

Oil Tanker Hijacked off Oman - BBC article

Worries over Suez Canal Closure - BBC article

Price of oil: The price of oil is very vulnerable to changes in demand and oil. With current disruptions to supply and growing demand the price of oil is currently over $100 a barrel. As the price of oil increases the cost of alternatives become much more attractive.

Egypt crisis pushes oil over $100 a barrel - Guardian article

Demand for oil: As the world's population exceeds 7 billion people and as countries become richer, the demand for oil (and the price) will steadily increase. Increased demand will be particularly pronounced from emerging markets like China.

Demand for oil from China increases - BBC article

Oil Prices Hit Fresh High - BBC article

Finite supply: Oil is finite, estimates vary but many people believe that we have nearly reached maximum production (peak oil) and over the coming decades we will see a decrease in supply. As supply decreases countries will be forced to look for alternatives.

Oil supplies are running out - Independent article

Domestic supplies: Many countries like the UK are seeing their own supplies of oil run out. This has turned the UK from a net exporter to a net importer. Because of this the UK is looking for alternative sources of energy.

UK turns from net exporter to net importer - Independent article

Increases in extraction costs: As world oil supplies run out, companies are having to extract oil from deeper underground and in more inhospitable places. These increased extraction costs will ultimately the cost of oil is more expensive, making it less attractive.

Extraction costs increase by 55% - article

Investment in alternatives: As the supply of oil runs out, energy companies and countries are investing in alternatives. This is becoming increasingly profitable with the price of oil, but with the knowledge that oil will run out, many want to become market leaders.

EU calls for investment to double in alternatives - Bloomberg article

1970's Oil Crisis

This is a little less contemporary example, but the price of oil spiked (increased rapidly and hit new highs) twice during the 1970's. Although the price rises were caused by two different things, the period is generally known as the 1970's oil crisis. During this period there were both real and perceived oil shortages in most MEDCs, especially the US. Between October 1973 and March 1974 OAPEC (Organisation for Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) enforced an oil embargo in protest of the US government rearming Israel to fight in the Yom Kippur War. The graph below, show that during this period there was a massive increase in prices. Later in 1979, prices rose still further as oil production in Iran was severely disrupted. Production was disrupted because of the 1979 when the Shah was overthrown. To help save oil in the US there was some rationing and a new lower speed limit of 55mph was introduced. The oil shortages and high prices did mean that the US and other oil reliant countries started to look for alternatives (renewables).

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Renewable Energy

Because of many of the factors listed above, renewable alternatives are becoming increasingly popular. Below is a quick summary of some of the most common forms of renewable energy.
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SOLAR:Using the power of the sun to either heat water or generate electricity. Solar power cells convert sunlight into electricity, using the energy of speeding photons to create an electrical current within a solar panel.
  • It is a clean form of energy
  • It is a infinite resource
  • Panels can be used locally e.g. on top of someones house
  • It can be used to heat water and generate electricity.
  • It is expensive to make solar panels
  • The sun does not shine all the time
  • They can't be used at night
  • It is hard store surplus energy
  • Supply does not always equal demand
WIND: Using the wind to move a wind turbine to drive a generator and create electricity.
  • It is a clean form of energy
  • It is an infinite resource
  • It can be used on a local scale e.g. in your back garden
  • Technology is proven
  • Visual pollution (NIMBY - see below)
  • Noise pollution
  • Wind is unreliable
  • It is hard to store surplus energy
TIDAL: Using the motion of incoming and outgoing tide to create energy
  • It is a clean form of energy
  • It is an infinite resource, tides happen twice a day.
  • Ideal for island countries.
  • It can block important shipping routes
  • May interfere with some animals e.g. sea otters and seals
  • Limited number of sites
  • Useless for landlocked countries
  • High start up costs
  • may be damaged by tropical storms
WAVE: Using the motion of the waves to generate electricity.
  • It is a clean form of energy
  • It is a infinite resource
  • Ideal for island countries.
  • Again it can block shipping routes and interfere with animals
  • Again not suitable for landlocked countries
  • The strength of waves can vary
  • May be damaged by tropical storms
GEOTHERMAL: Geothermal uses thermal energy from the earth to heat water. The water can be used as a source of hot water or the steam released can be used to drive turbines.
  • It is a clean renewable form of energy.
  • It is a finite resource.
  • Can be used to heat water and generate electricity.
  • Geothermal energy can be created constantly and is not dependent on the weather.
  • Limited number of suitable locations
  • An areas tectonic activity can change, suddenly making it redundant or less efficient.
BIOMASS: The use of biological matter to create energy. It is a renewable form of energy, but because the mater is often burnt it still releases greenhouse gases
  • It is a renewable form of energy as long as people replant crops.
  • It is cheap and the resources can be grown locally
  • It can still release greenhouse gases.
  • Areas can be deforested to grow crops for energy generation.
  • If crops are used for energy production it can lead to an increase in food prices.
HEP (Hydroelectric power): Using the power of falling water in rivers to drive generators. At the moment dams have to be built to create HEP power.
  • It is a clean form of energy
  • It is finite as long as rivers are managed properly.
  • The built dam can also prevent flooding.
  • The reservoir behind the dam can be a store of water.
  • Only a limited number of suitable rivers
  • Can hamper navigation up and down river
  • Reservoirs may force resettlement
For information about biofuels go to: Degradation through raw material production.

Renewwables can fuel society say world climate advisors - BBC article

Biofuels - green energy or grim reaper - BBC article

Biofuels need to be certified for sustainability - BBC article

Biofuels targets are unethical says Nuffield Report - BBC article

Food Prices: World Bank warns that millions face poverty - BBC article

World's biggest offshore windfarm opens off Kent - BBC article

Britain's renewable energy targets are physically impossible - Guardian article

NIMBY: Not in my back yard - This is a phenomenon happening in many countries. It is basically when people support ideas e.g. wind turbines are a good idea, but they don't want them built near their own house.

Winning over the NIMBY blockade - BBC article

The Nuclear Debate

Nuclear power is not a renewable energy source because it uses uranium which is finite. However, the estimated supply of uranium is much greater than fossil fuels and when used to produced energy, creates a lot less greenhouse gases. At the moment France and Lithuania are the biggest users of energy, accounting for nearly 80% of their energy mix.
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  • The technology to make nuclear power already exists.
  • There is a plentiful supply of uranium, enough to last hundreds of years.
  • Nuclear energy releases very low amounts of greenhouse gases.
  • It reduces the dependency on oil, coal and gas producing countries
  • There is always the risk of nuclear accidents like the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan.
  • There is a risk that nuclear power stations will become terrorist targets or that nuclear material will fall into the hands of terrorists.
  • Transporting nuclear material and nuclear waste is risky and expensive.
  • Nuclear power stations only have a limited life period and the cost of decommissioning them is expensive.
  • There is a belief that living next to nuclear power stations can increase the risk of cancers (leukemia).
  • People don't want nuclear power stations built near where they live i.e. NIMBY
  • Mining for uranium is dangerous and can be polluting.
  • Nuclear waste remains radioactive for thousands of years.
Chernobyl accident - BBC article

Iran nuclear debate - BBC article

Germany nuclear power plants to close by 2022 - BBC article

The fear of nuclear - BBC article

IAEA: The International Atomic Energy Agency is the UN agency in charge of promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Fukashima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster

The Fukashima Daiichi nuclear plant is located on the east coast of the Japanese island of Honshu and has 6 reactors. It is situated about 200km north of the capital city, Tokyo. On the 11th March 2011, Japan was hit by a huge 9.0 earthquake. The earthquake was located offshore and caused a massive tsunami that hit the north east coast of Honshu. The tsunami is believed to have killed over 15,000 people as well as triggering the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The nuclear plant was designed to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis, but not of the magnitude of March 11th. When the tsunami hit the plant it cut the connection between the reactors and the power grid. The giant wave also flooded the room containing the emergency generators so pumps circulating cool water around the reactors failed. In the following days reactors 1, 2 and 3 experienced full meltdowns, despite efforts made to cool them by pumping in seawater.

The meltdowns allowed radiation to be released into neighbouring areas, forcing the government to set up a 20km exclusion zone. People living up to 30km were told to stay indoors and then later urged to evacuate. In total about 150,000 local residents had to leave their homes. The nuclear accident was initially classified a level 4 on the ‘International Nuclear Events Scale’ but was quickly upgraded to 7. Level 7 is the highest level, the Chernobyl accident is the only other incident to be classified 7.

Since the accident no food has been allowed to be grown within the exclusion zone and some fishing grounds offshore have been abandoned because of radiation fears. Japan has also shut down all 54 of its nuclear reactors while it decides on its future energy policies. It is believed that the nuclear plant could take 40 years to dismantle and that land in the area could remain radioactive for decades.
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Japan earthquake: Explosion at Fukushima nuclear plant - BBC article

Fukushima accident: disaster response failed - report - BBC article

Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant one year on - BBC article

To read about the Chernobyl nuclear accident, go to: Human-induced Hazard.

Three Gorges Dam (HEP)

LOCATION: The Three Gorges Dam is the world's largest HEP and is located on the Yangtse river in central China.

SIZE: The Three Gorges Dam is over 2km wide, 100 metres high and 100 metres thick. The reservoir behind the dam is over 600km long and discharges over 700 cubic kilometres of water annually.

ELECTRICITY: The dam has 26 turbines and generates up to 18,000 MW annually.

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  • It means China can reduce its dependency on oil. China suffers greatly from air pollution.
  • It creates a sense of great national pride - The Three Gorges Dam produces 50% more than the next biggest dam.
  • It produces over 18,000 MW of clean renewable energy.
  • It will protect over 10 million residents downstream from the risk of flooding.
  • It has improved navigation on the previously dangerous navigation. Large boats can no go as far upstream as Chongqing (at one point the fastest growing city in the world).
  • Construction, running and maintenance has created thousands of jobs and increased skill levels.
  • It has become a tourist destination and can create leisure opportunities in the reservoir like fishing and sailing.
  • The reservoir can store water, which is useful during dry periods,
  • The dam causes sedimentation behind and stops alluvium reaching the floodplain downstream.
  • The increased river traffic is blamed for the extinction of the Yangtse river dolphin. The Yangtse alligator is also threatened along with the giant sturgeon which can not reach its breeding grounds.
  • The region is seismically active so there is always risk of dam failure. If this happened millions of lives would be at risk.
  • The reduced discharge and velocity of the Yangtse downstream, may causing greater deposition at its mouth, creating a delta and hampering navigation.
  • The flooding of the reservoir forced over 1.3 million people to be relocated.
  • Much fertile land was lost under the flooding reservoir. People were relocated to less fertile areas.
  • It has cost as much as $70 billion to build.
  • Many archeological treasures were drowned including the Zhang Fei Temple.
  • The relocation of 1.3 million people has caused deforestation to take place higher up the valley sides.
  • Rivers downstream of the dam can still cause flooding.
China - True cost of coal - BBC article

Three Gorges Dam completed - BBC article

Yangtse dolphin driven to extinction - Guardian article

China's Three Gorges Dam may displace another 100,000 - BBC article

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