Energy crisis

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An energy crisis is any great bottleneck (or price rise) in the supply of energy resources to an economy. It usually refers to the shortage of oil and additionally to electricity or other natural resources. An energy crisis may be referred to as an oil crisis, petroleum crisis, energy shortage, electricity shortage or electricity crisis.


Market failure is possible when monopoly manipulation of markets occurs. A crisis can develop due to industrial actions like union organized strikes and government embargoes. The cause may be over-consumption, ageing infrastructure and sometimes bottlenecks at oil refineries and port facilities restrict fuel supply. An emergency may emerge during unusually cold winters.

Pipeline failures and other accidents may cause minor interruptions to energy supplies. A crisis could possibly emerge after damage from severe storm. The British 2005 oil terminal fire and shortages due to Hurricane Katrina were mostly remediated quickly causing only minor fuel shortages.[citation needed] Attacks by terrorist or militia on important infrastructure are a potential problem for energy consumers, with a successful strike on a Middle East facility potentially causing global shortages. Political events, for example, when governments change due to regime change, monarchy collapse, military occupation, and coups can disrupt oil and gas production and create shortages.

Historical crises

While not entering a full crisis, political riots that occurred during the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests were initially sparked by rising energy prices. Likewise the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute and the Russia-Belarus energy dispute have been mostly resolved before entering a prolonged crisis stage.

Emerging shortages

File:Kuwait city 1996.jpg
Kuwait's Al Burqan Oil Field, the world's second largest oil field, is starting to run out of oil.[1]

Crises that currently exist include:

  • Oil price increases since 2003 - Cause: increasing demand from the U.S and China, the falling state of the U.S. dollar, and stagnation of production due to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Iraq is #3 in the world (after Saudi Arabia and Iran) for its conventional oil reserves. However some observers have stated the global oil production peak occurred in December 2005. Most interpretations of Hubbert peak theory predict large increases in oil prices as a result of oil production reaching a peak and then starting an irreversible decline; if this is correct, then the peaking of oil production could be viewed as the fundamental cause of oil price increases since 2003, with other factors such as the Iraq war having more influence on the timing of the price increases rather than their ultimate severity (i.e., if the war delays some production by Iraq for a few years, this could cause peak oil to occur somewhat sooner, but if Iraq's recoverable oil reaches the market eventually, the world's post-peak production decline will not be as abrupt as it might have been if Iraq had produced flat out. Thus to a peak oil theorist, the Iraq war could actually be seen as partly mitigating the oil peak that would have occurred anyway). Media accounts of oil price increases occasionally cite various factors as "causes," suggesting a greater level of understanding and agreement than actually exists among experts about the state of the exceedingly complex petroleum industry.
  • 2008 Central Asia energy crisis, caused by abnormally cold temperatures and low water levels in an area dependent on hydroelectric power
  • South African electrical crisis

The South African crisis, which may last to 2012, lead to large price rises for platinum in February 2008[2] and reduced gold production. Despite having significant hydrocarbon reserves, in February 2008 the President of Pakistan announced plans to tackle energy shortages that were reaching crisis stage.[3] At the same time the South African President was appeasing fears of a prolonged electricity crisis in South Africa. [4]


China experienced severe energy shortages towards the end of 2005 and again in early 2008. During the latter crisis they suffered severe damage to power networks along with diesel and coal shortages.[5] Supplies of electricity in Guangdong province, the manufacturing hub of China, are predicted to fall short by an estimated 10 GW.[6]

Social and economic effects

Template:Mainarticle The macroeconomic implications of a supply shock-induced energy crisis are large, because energy is the resource used to exploit all other resources. When energy markets fail, an energy shortage develops. Electricity consumers may experience intentionally-engineered rolling blackouts which are released during periods of insufficient supply, regardless of the cause.

Industrialized nations are dependent on oil, and efforts to restrict the supply of oil would have an adverse effect on the economies of oil producers. For the consumer, the price of natural gas, gasoline (petrol) and diesel for cars and other vehicles rises. An early response from stakeholders is the call for reports, investigations and commissions into the price of fuels. There are also movements towards the development of more sustainable urban infrastructure.

File:New Vehicle Purchase Preference.svg
In 2006, US survey respondents were willing to pay more for a plug-in hybrid car

In the market, new technology and energy efficiency measures become desirable for consumers seeking to decrease transport costs.[7] Examples include

Other responses include the development of non-conventional oil sources such as synthetic fuel from places like the Athabasca Oil Sands, more renewable energy commercialization and use of alternative propulsion. There may be a Relocation trend towards local foods and possibly microgeneration, solar thermal collectors and other green energy sources.

Tourism trends change and ownership of gas-guzzlers vary, both because of increases to fuel costs which are passed on to customers. Items which were not so popular gain favour, such as nuclear power plants and the blanket sleeper, a garment to keep children warm. Building construction techniques change to reduce heating costs, potentially through increased insulation. Template:Seealso

Crisis management

An electricity shortage is felt most by those who depend on electricity for their heating, cooking and water supply. In these circumstances a sustained energy crisis may become a humanitarian crisis.

If an energy shortage is prolonged a crisis management phase is enforced by authorities. Energy audits may be conducted to monitor usage. Various curfews with the intention of increasing energy conservation may be initated to reduce consumption. To conserve power during the Central Asia energy crisis, authorities in Tajikistan ordered bars and cafes to operate by candlelight.[8] Warnings issued that peak demand power supply might not be sustained.

In the worst kind of energy crisis energy rationing and fuel rationing may be incurred. Panic buying may beset outlets as awareness of shortages spread. Facilities close down to save on heating oil; and factories cut production and lay off workers. The risk of stagflation increases.

Mitigation of an energy crisis

File:Kernkraftwerk Krümmel.jpg
Nuclear power in Germany and other countries is promoted under the banner of energy security despite the likelihood of peak uranium.

Template:Mainarticle Government funding for alternative energy is more likely to increase during an energy crisis, so too are incentives for oil exploration. For example funding for research into inertial confinement fusion technology increased during 1970's.

Energy policy may be reformed leading to greater energy intensity, for example in Iran with the 2007 Gas Rationing Plan in Iran, Canada and the National Energy Program and in the USA with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. In Europe the oil phase-out in Sweden is an initiative a government has taken to provide energy security. Another mitigation measure is the setup of a cache of secure fuel reserves like the United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve, in case of national emergency. Chinese energy policy includes specific targets within their 5 year plans.

Andrew McKillop has been a proponent of a contract and converge model or capping scheme, to mitigate both emissions of greenhouse gases and a peak oil crisis. The imposition of a carbon tax would have mitigating effects on an oil crisis.[citation needed] The Oil Depletion Protocol has been developed by Richard Heinberg to implement a powerdown during a peak oil crisis. While many sustainable development and energy policy organisations have advocated reforms to energy development from the 1970s, some cater to a specific crisis in energy supply including Energy-Questand the International Association for Energy Economics. The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas examine the timing and likely effects of peak oil.

Ecologist William Rees believes that

To avoid a serious energy crisis in coming decades, citizens in the industrial countries should actually be urging their governments to come to international agreement on a persistent, orderly, predictable, and steepening series of oil and natural gas price hikes over the next two decades.

Due to a lack of political viability on the issue, government mandated fuel prices hikes are unlikely and the unresolved dilemma of fossil fuel dependence is becoming a wicked problem. A global soft energy path seems improbable, due to the rebound effect. Conclusions that the world is heading towards an unprecedented large and potentially devastating global energy crisis due to a decline in the availability of cheap oil lead to calls for a decreasing dependency on fossil fuel.


Future and alternative sources of energy

Template:Renewable energy sources In response to an energy crisis the principles of green energy and sustainable living movements gain popularity. This has led to increasing interest in alternate power/fuel research such as fuel cell technology, liquid nitrogen economy, hydrogen fuel, biomethanol, biodiesel, Karrick process, solar energy, geothermal energy, tidal energy, wave power, and wind energy, and fusion power.

To date, only hydroelectricity and nuclear power have been significant alternatives to fossil fuel. Hydrogen gas is currently produced at a net energy loss from natural gas, which is also experiencing declining production in North America and elsewhere. When not produced from natural gas, hydrogen still needs another source of energy to create it, also at a loss during the process. This has led to hydrogen being regarded as a 'carrier' of energy, like electricity, rather than a 'source'. The unproven dehydrogenating process has also been suggested for the use water as an energy source.

Efficiency mechanisms such as Negawatt power can encourage significantly more effective use of current generating capacity. It is a term used to describe the trading of increased efficiency, using consumption efficiency to increase available market supply rather than by increasing plant generation capacity. As such, it is a demand-side as opposed to a supply-side measure.


Although technology has made oil extraction more efficient, the world is having to struggle to provide oil by using increasingly costly and less productive methods such as deep sea drilling, and developing environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The world's population continues to grow at a quarter of a million people per day, increasing the consumption of energy. The per capita energy consumption of China, India and other developing nations continues to increase as the people living in these countries adopt more energy intensive lifestyles. At present a small part of the world's population consumes a large part of its resources, with the United States and its population of 300 million people consuming far more oil than China with its population of 1.3 billion people.

William Catton has emphasised the link between population size and energy supply, concluding that

The faster the present generation draws down the fossil energy legacy upon which persistently exuberant lifestyles now depend, the less opportunity posterity will have to live in anything like the same way or the same numbers. Yet most contemporary political proposals for solving problems of economic stagnation or inequity amount to plans for speeding up the rate of drawdown of non-renewable resources.

David Pimentel professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, has called for massive reduction in world populations in order to avoid a permanent global energy crisis. The implication is that cheap oil has has created a human overshoot beyond Earth's carrying capacity which inevitably lead to an energy crisis. David Price postulates that population growth occurs when a higher quality form of energy is commercialised. [9] Template:Seealso

File:Imported Crude Oil as a Percent of US Consumption 1950-2003.jpg
For nearly 60 years the US dependence on imported oil has grown significantly.

Matthew Simmons and Julian Darley amongst others, have examined the economic effects of an energy crisis. Historian, and sociologist Franz Schurmann links an energy crisis with a deflating American dollar. He has stated that

If a dollar free-fall should take place, Americans will confront an energy crisis that will make the October 1973 oil shortage seem a mild nuisance.

According to Christopher Falvin, geopolitical factors has resulted in current energy system, based on fossil fuels, to be a risk management issue that undermines global security.[citation needed] Considering the significant source of greenhouse gas emissions accumulating in the atmosphere, fossil fuel energy is being viewed as increasingly socially irresponsible. Joseph Tainter is an expert on societal collapse and energy supply who draws attention to the complexity of modern society and our ability to problem solve the wider issue of environmental degradation.[10]

National population suffering from undernourishment as percentage.


According to Kenneth S. Deffeyes agricultural production is heavily dependent on hydrocarbons for energy, in the form of petroleum to power machinery and transport goods to market. Another important input is fertilizer usage that is highly dependent on natural gas for its production and sometimes for fueled irrigation. Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%. The energy for the Green Revolution was provided almost always by fossil fuels.[citation needed] The 20th century population explosion is strongly correlated with the discovery and extraction of hydrocarbons.

The decision to develop a biofuel industry through subsidies and tariffs in the USA has increased food costs globally. Lester R. Brown states [11] that by converting grains into fuel for cars

..the world is facing the most severe food price inflation in history as grain and soybean prices climb to all-time highs,



Ron Swenson has described a looming peak oil crisis as a calamity unparalleled in human history.[citation needed] The peaking of world hydrocarbon production, known as peak oil may test Malthus critics. Michael C. Ruppert has discussed energy crises in relation to the petrodollar, oil imperialism and police states. Template:Seealso

Cultural references

The film titled The End of Suburbia analyses the effects on the USA of an energy crisis from a global peaking in oil production. Another movie called Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash documents peak oil.

The book The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil examined the effect of cold war oil shortages during the Special Period. Michael Klare author of Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, has been writing about energy resource conflicts for many years. Other writers who have written extensively on the topic include Jeremy Leggett author of Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis, James Howard Kunstler is known for his psychology of previous investment theory and the permanent long emergency scenario. Richard C. Duncan is noted for the Olduvai theory on energy limits of the Industrial Revolution. The former geologists Dale Allen Pfeiffer[12] and Colin Campbell have documented the likely effects of a peak oil energy crisis.

The 2007 book Energy and American Society disputes an energy crisis exists.

Fictional scenarios have been explored in;

See also



  1. Kuwait's biggest field starts to run out of oil
  2. "Energy crisis upsets platinum market". Nature. Retrieved 2008-02-21.
  3. "Musharraf for emergency measures to overcome energy crisis". Associated Press of Pakistan. Retrieved 2008-02-10.
  4. "Mbeki in pledge on energy crisis". Financial Times. Retrieved 2008-02-10.
  5. "Coal shortage has China living on the edge". Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  6. "China's Guangdong faces severe power shortage". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  7. High Oil Prices Boost Energy Efficiency. January 30, 2008 Planet Ark.
  8. "Crisis Looms as Bitter Cold, Blackouts Hit Tajikistan". NPR. Retrieved 2008-02-10.
  9. David Price. "Population and Energy". Retrieved 2008-02-13.
  10. Joseph A. Tainter. "Complexity, Problem Solving, and Sustainable Societies". Getting Down To Earth: Practical Applications of Ecological Economics. Island Press. Retrieved 2008-02-13.
  11. "Ethanol craze adds to hunger pangs of world's poor". Retrieved 2008-02-14.
  12. Dale Allen Pfeiffer. "Eating Fossil Fuels". From the Wilderness. Retrieved 2008-02-14.

External links

Template:Peak oil

af:Energiekrisis da:Energikrise de:Energiekrise he:משבר האנרגיה