The Search for a Perfect Fuel

Different fuel / generation technologies have different characteristics and they play different roles in the fuel mix. The appropriate combination of fuel types can provide a diversified energy solution as well as add to overall supply reliability and affordability with the benefit of fuel diversity.

Energy resources can be basically classified as Fossil Fuels and Non-Fossil Fuels. Different forms of power generation can result in different types of environmental impacts – even with cleaner forms of energy. Fossil fuel and/or combustion-based technologies tend to be associated with air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions and some water and waste impacts too. Cleaner energy, on the other hand, creates land use, biodiversity and waste disposal challenges. Let's begin with some background on the major characteristics of different types of fuels:

Where Does Electricity Come From?

Source: IEA Energy Statistics

Fossil Fuels

Coal:

Coal-fired generation provides high reliability, a quick response to meet changes in demand and a relatively low generation cost. However, its high carbon emissions are the major drawback.

Natural Gas:

It provides high reliability, large scale generation and a quick response to meet changes in electricity demand at around half of coal’s carbon emissions. Gas prices have historically been higher than coal and may continue to rise.

Oil:

The ease of transport and storage made oil an ideal fuel for power generation for most of the 20th century. Given that its generation cost is relatively high, it is now mostly used as backup in power generation.

Non-Fossil Fuels

Nuclear Energy:

It has the advantages of high reliability, large scale based-load generation, virtually zero carbon emissions and at a competitive generation cost but requires careful management of operational safety and waste disposal.

Others:

Renewable and waste energy sources such as geothermal, solar, wind, biofuels and waste, as well as heat energy are under this category. They play a niche role in the world’s fuel mix. They are gaining popularity due to their emissions-free attribute, especially for proven technologies such as hydro, wind and solar. However current drawbacks include the higher generation cost, the large land footprint required and their intermittent nature (e.g. no generation at night for solar panels) that require backup from conventional generation.