Summary – We We Still Use Fossil Fuels Instead Of Renewable Energy
Obviously the complete picture of why a country or region still uses fossil fuels can be more complex/detailed depending on the specific country or region
But, in general, fossil fuels have been an abundant/readily available, cheap, and reliable source of energy with well developed technology and infrastructure for countries to build their economies and societies with
Much of the focus, investment and government support has been for fossil fuels in the past for these reasons (amongst others)
However, over the last decade, investment in renewable energy has been climbing quickly, and the use of coal as an energy source is declining in several world leading countries
Countries that have already moved away from coal have gone towards using a majority of, or a combination of, natural gas, nuclear and renewables, for electricity
*Note – this guide mainly focuses on coal as a fossil fuel.
Oil as a fossil fuel in the transport sector has some of it’s own barriers when considering a switch to hybrid, electric and other alternative fuel vehicles.
Why We’ve Used Fossil Fuels In The Past
– Have Traditionally Been Profitable For Investors & Energy Suppliers
Older coal plants for example were highly profitable for those who invested in, built and operated them.
But, this has also traditionally come at the cost of society and the environment because of the range of health and environmental problems that coal mining and coal power plant emissions cause.
This is changing because new regulations mean that new coal power plants have to be fitted with anti pollution and anti emission devices and systems – which is increasing costs and reducing profits.
Carbon and pollution taxes are also making coal plants less profitable.
– Provided Cheap Electricity
Cheap power plants meant cheap electricity for consumers.
Cheaper electricity prices were also influenced by how abundant and easily available coal was.
– Incentivized & Subsidised
Fossil fuels have traditionally been subsidised and incentivized far more than cleaner forms of energy in the past by the governments of many countries.
This leads to more development and ultimately more energy from fossil fuel sources.
Consider this from Cleantechnica.com: “fossil fuels have received government subsidies for 100 or so years. These days, fossil fuel subsidies reportedly total approximately $5 trillion globally each year. Despite tremendous health costs, climate costs, and countless premature deaths caused by pollution … . Renewable energy also receives subsidies, but not to the same degree.”
reneweconomy.com.au also outlines the extent of subsidies for fossil fuel in Australia (link provided in resources list below)
Fossil fuel energy has always been reliable.
This is due to many factors such as well established infrastructure and technology, down to the power density and other performance features of fossil fuels.
– Provided Baseload & Peak Energy Demand
Energy sources need to be able to meet baseload and peak power demand, especially in highly populated areas or areas where there is a high demand for energy.
Fossil fuels are so good at this that they are still used today to compliment renewables in an energy mix to meet baseload and peak energy demand.
– Easily Accessible Everywhere – Abundant Supplies
Developed countries might import some of their energy, which can be cheap and easy.
But, many of them also had abundant and accessible supplies they could mine domestically and use.
– Well Developed Technology, & Infrastructure Set Up For It
Fossil fuel technology is well developed, and infrastructure like power grids, transmission lines, pipelines, and more, are well set up to transport and deliver fossil fuel energy.
– Renewable Technology & Economies Of Scale Just Weren’t There Yet
In the past, renewable technology may not have been adequate for energy requirements in certain ways in certain countries, and the economies of scale for capital and ultimately a renewable energy service simply weren’t there yet.
Demand, investment and economic growth all drive cheaper and more competitive renewable energy prices comparatively to renewables.
– Uncertainty Surrounding Renewables
In the past, there was far more uncertainty and less support for renewables in the mainstream public.
– Wasn’t As Much Pressure On Energy Suppliers & Governments In The Past To Hold Polluters Accountable
There wasn’t as much awareness in the past on the dangers of fossil fuel energy.
As a result, there was less pressure on governments, investors and energy suppliers to start providing safer, healthier and ultimately more sustainable and cleaner forms of energy.
Why We Still Use Fossil Fuels Today Instead Of Renewables Today
Secondly, obviously, in poorer countries, lack of proper infrastructure and funding can be an issue.
Thirdly, there are various reasons why developed countries still use differing levels and types of fossil fuels in their overall energy mix.
We’ve already written two guides which explain these reasons quite well:
These guides outlines the general barriers to using more renewable energy, and how/why China (the highest coal using country in the world) might struggle in it’s transition away from coal.
1. Various BMR articles