Low Carbon Economy, 2011, 2, 49-53
doi:10.4236/lce.2011.22008 Published Online June 2011 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/lce)
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Socio-Economic Development and Primary Energy
Sources Substitution towards Decarbonization
João Carlos de Oliveira Matias, Tessaleno Campos Devezas
1Technological Forecasting and Industrial Management Research Group (TeFIM) Covilhã, Portugal; 2Department of Electrome-
chanical Engineering, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal.
Email: matias@ubi.pt; tessalen@ubi.pt
Received March 1st, 2011; revised April 15th, 2011; accepted May 10th, 2011.
Scanning the last 250 years, we can observe five great technological transformations that happened in the socio-eco-
nomic development. On the other hand, there is a relationship between the socio-economic development and the substi-
tution process of primary energy sources. Since the industrial revolution, there has been a smooth but gro wing substitu -
tion among primary energy sources. First the switch from wood to coal, then this last one by oil and natural gas. These
are non-solid fossils, which leads to a decrease of the carbonic intensity. These substitutions implied some important
technological transformations. Bearing in mind a sustainable development of energy systems and using technological
forecasting tolls, this study points out to the leadership of the alternative energies among the primary energy sources
until 2050-2070. In this sense, even with the predictable overall increase of energy consumption, this study also shows
that through the substitution dynamic it is possible not only to reduce th e carbonic in tensity, but also to reduce the car-
bonic emission in absolute terms from 2040-2060 on.
Keywords: Primary Energy Source Substitu tion, Technological Transformation, Socio-Economic Development,
Sustainable Development, Carbonic Intensity, Decarbonization
1. Introduction
Sustainable development can be defined as the develop-
ment observed in the present without harming the up-
coming generations. Energy is easily considered to be an
important element of today’s society. The energetic ne-
cessities are lead by the growth of the population, the
economic development and the technologic increase.
However, it is know that about a third of the world
population still has not any access to any kind of com-
mercial energy. This brings as consequence the inability
of satisfying the majority of their basic needs. There is
however the moral commitment to make available this
commercial energy to about those two million people.
This way, even if there were great technological pro-
gresses, the energy consumption would continue to in-
crease. Thus, there must be created the necessary condi-
tions to the upcoming generations, becoming essential
that the primary preoccupations be focused in terms of
basic energetic resources (primary energy sources), i.e.,
Fossil Fuels (Coal, Oil and Natural Gas), Nuclear Energy
(Fission and Fusion) and the Renewable Energies (Bio-
mass, Hydroelectric, Wind, Solar, and Geothermal,
among others).
Figure 1 presents the evolution of the primary energy
sources market share. It is convenient to enhance two
great transitions that were responsible for the structural
transformations occurred in the energetic systems. Firstly,
the steam engine (associated to coal) and, secondly, the
increase of the diversification of the final use technolo-
gies and the energy sources diversification. The first tran-
sition is related with the first and second technological
transformations, while the second transition is, even if
not exclusively, linked with the third and fourth techno-
logical transformations, standing out the electricity as
means of energy transportation and internal combustion
engine associate to oil. These transformations appeared
intermittently within a period of about a half-century an d
are linked with waves in the economic activity, and that
result from the convergent development on several fields
during the past 250 years [1,2]. The first transformation
(1770-1800) was linked with the sub stitution of wood for
coal as a primary energy source, with consequences in
iron-making, in fuelling the first steam engine, in build-
ing the first canals and in mechanizing cotton spinning.
The second transformation (1830-1850) was related to
Socio-Economic Development and Primary Energy Sources Substitution towards Decarbonization
Figure 1. Market share of primary energy sources evolu t ion.
the use of the steam power to the textile industry and to
transportation (railways and steam boat). This transfor-
mation, along with the first one, is associated to the “1st
Industrial Revolution”. The third transformation
(1860-1900) was a complex one: it centered itself on
steel making and on the mechanization of manufacturing,
on illumination, telephones, electrification and on the
internal combustion engines. It was also characterized by
the beginning of the substitu tion of coal by oil as primary
energy source, being called the “2nd Industrial Revolu-
tion”. The fourth transformation (1930-1950) was cen-
tered on synthetic materials and electronics. Finally, the
fifth beginning around 1980, centers itself on the con-
vergence of computers and telecommunications. This is
to say, the first three had a greater influence on industry,
being nicknamed as “industrial revolutions”. However,
the fourth transformation had larger impact on the con-
sumer, given the great amount of new products. The fifth
one will influence the industry as much as the consu mer,
due to the emergence of new products and industrial
technologies (also new industries) that will lead this
Figure 1 also shows some points that must be enhanced.
From these there can be stood out the following ones:
· The long and gradual substitution among the primary
energy sources, such as the substitution of wood (tra-
ditional renew a bl e fuel) f or f ossil fuels.
· The domain of coal during a long period of time,
reaching more than two thirds of the consumed pri-
mary energy.
· The almost simultaneous introduction of oil and natu-
ral gas, this last firstly as a product resultan t of the oil
production and later as a primar y energy source.
· The peak of oil consumption in the seventies, coinci-
dent with the oil crisis.
· Finally, some turbulence in the consumption dynamo-
ics of the primary energy sources during the last two
On the other hand, in spite of the increase of carbon
emissions to the atmosphere in consequence of the fuels
fossil consumption, the carbon emitted by consumed
energy unit (carbonic intensity, tC/toe) is decreasing.
This is not more than the reflex of the primary energy
sources substitution along the last two centuries. First,
the substitution of wood (1.25 tC/toe) for coal (1.08
tC/toe), and this last one for NSF [Non Solid Fossils-oil
(0.84 tC/toe) and, lately, natural gas (0.64 tC/toe)].
It is noticed, this way, the role of geopolitical dynam-
ics in the transition from wood to coal and from coal to
oil (NSF – Non Solid Fossils). It becomes notable the
case of the British hegemony in the coal-based regime,
while the expansion of oil led to the geopolitical and
economic power of the USA, in the post-World War II
period, since the 3rd technological transformation was a
transition period. In post-World War II period (around
twenty five years), the USA dominated in technological
terms, having happened there the most important techni-
cal progresses. In that period, the technological politics
and science and technology investments supported the
several researches, mainly of national and space defense
interest, facing the “Cold War” against East, principally,
against the already extinguished Soviet Union. And in
future, how will it be?
Bearing in mind the earlier energy shifts and the im-
portant role of geopolitical, commercial and social dy-
namics in past, probably in future the conventional en-
ergy systems will shift in favor of an alternative-based
regime, in which the renewable energies and the nuclear
energy are included (the short/medium term just the fis-
sion). In order to understand the poten tial for the relative
world-rapid diffusion of these new energy technologies it
is important to und erstand the long wave dynamics, hav-
ing associated regime shifts in the past. Social behaviors
changes and environmental issues can lead to a renew-
able-based regime. But, will they be convergent with
geopolitical and co mmercial interests?
2. Scenarios
Making use of two technological forecast tools, namely
the logistics curve (quantitative technique) and the Del-
phi technique (qualitative and judgmental technique),
three long-term scenarios [3] were built: an exploratory
one, using the substitution logistics (determinists), an
Delphi-based indicative one, and another one resulting
from combination of the two previous one (hybrid sce-
nario). Notice that, and bearing in mind some presuppo-
sitions related with the technologies diffusion time, oil
and natural gas are grouped (NSF) in logistic substitution,
as like as alternative totality en ergies (ren ewab le energ ies
without tradition a l wood and nuclear energy).
For the Delphi-based scenario were selected 180 in-
ternational energy experts. In 1st roun d answered 78 pan-
elists, and in the end of the 3rd round the final panel was
opyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Socio-Economic Development and Primary Energy Sources Substitution towards Decarbonization51
summarized to 68 exp erts (50% of Western Europe, 16%
of North America, 13% of Asia and Oceania, 12% of
South America, 6% of Eastern Europe and 3% of Africa).
This article presents only the combined scenario, due
to the incorporation of a complementarity between two
different techniques. However, notice that one of the
reasons for the Delphi technique use (group judgmental
technique) was to verify if it is possible to represent the
energy systems behavior trough logistic substitution
among primary energy sources. In the comparison be-
tween exploratory scenario and Delphi-based one it is
verified a change dynamics convergence, but there isn’t a
convergence of “occurrence timing”. In other words, the
indications of the Delphi survey confirm the dynamics of
the logistic substitution, even if considering different
time spans, despite of the differences are not very sig-
nificant [3]. Thus, the hybrid scenario goal is to use the
information integration of several sources on different
ways in a simple presentation, being grouped the ex-
trapolations results and experts’ appreciation. In this way,
it was built a scenario that uses a combination between
the logistic substitution and the Delph i-based indications.
Unlike what it was done for the exploratory scenario
(deterministic), there were not chosen identification pe-
riods (reference periods for forecasting) for the best data
fitting. For each primary energy source, or energy
sources groups, it was considered the identification pe-
riod, which represents the dynamics substitution future,
bearing in mind Delphi-based orientations, as well as
other kind of indications [3]. Figure 2 shows the substi-
tution between primary energy sources, while Table 1
presents the market share forecasting for the next dec-
However, and in spite of only being explicitly pre-
sented the hybrid scenario, through the three scenarios it
is possible to point out the following indications [3]:
Figure 2. Logistic substitution between primary energy
sources (1860-1999) and the market share forecasting for
hybrid scenario [3].
Table 1. Market share forecasting for hybrid scenario [3].
Year Source202520402045 2050 2065 20752100
Wood <1%<1%<1% <1% <1% <1%<1%
Coal 6% 3% 2.5% 2% <1% <1%<1%
NSF 75%68%64.5% 61% 50% 41%22%
Altematives19%29%33% 37% 50% 59%78%
- Wood will have its “dusk” (market share 1%), as
traditional energy, by 2010-2015.
- Coal will have its “dusk” between 2040 and 2060.
- Among the NSF, natural gas can surpass oil by
2040-2050, but it will be difficultly assumed as main
primary energy, if the alternative energies are considered
in the totality, being assumed as a NSF “up-g rad e”, being
assumed as a transition fuel.
- NSF can stay in the leadership up until 2050-2070,
moment in which they will be surpassed by the group of
the alternative energies.
- Nuclear fission will remain as a source of energy,
even having the possibility to increase its market share,
being very importan t for the consolidation of the alterna-
tive energies, even if not in short terms.
- Nuclear fusion, as commercial energy, will be diffi-
cultly available before 2050-2060.
- In short terms, the most effective way to reduce the
greenhouse effect is to improve the fossil fuels combus-
tion efficiency.
3. The Future
In agreement with the considered and recommended val-
ues by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), specifically Wood (1.25 tC/toe), Coal (1.08 tC/toe),
Petroleum (0.84 tC/toe) and Natural Gas (0.64 tC/toe) [4-
6], the carbonic intensity evolution is presented in Figure
3, either for the period understood between 1850 and
2000, as for the hybrid scenario. On the other hand, the
same figure shows a certain disturbance around 1980 -
1990. This is not more than a small reduction on the de-
crease rate, due to the relative increase of coal and wood
Bearing in mind the carbonic intensity reduction pre-
sented by Figure 3 for the hybrid scenario, Figure 4 pre-
sents the absolute carbon emissions evolution for the
three IIASA scenarios, (A – Higher Energy Consumption
(41 Gtoe in 2100), B – Medium Energy Consumption (35
Gtoe in 2100), C – Lower Energy Consumption (21 Gtoe
in 2100) [7]). For that, the carbonic intensity values cal-
culated for the hybrid scenario were multiplied by the
primary energy consumption values presented by each
IIASA scenarios. As it can be observed for the three II-
ASA scenarios, there is an inflection in the 2040-2060
period, corresponding either to the natural gas leadership
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Socio-Economic Development and Primary Energy Sources Substitution towards Decarbonization
Figure 3. Carbonic Intensity of world energy consumption
Figure 4. Carbon emissions evolution perspective of the
energetic use for the IIASA scenarios A, B, C, in agreement
with the carbonic intens ity evolution for the hybrid scenario.
among the fossil fuels (2040), as to the coal virtual dis-
appearance (2060). On the other hand, it can also be ob-
served that through the substitu tio n dynamic it is po ssible
not only to reduce the carbonic intensity, but also to re-
duce the carbonic emission in absolute terms from
2040-2060 on, even with the predictable overall increase
of energy consumption. For that, it will contribute the
substitution for primary energy sources with smaller
carbon emission, such as the natural gas, and for carbon
free primary energies sources, such as the alternative
energies (the wood in the new designation of solid bio-
mass is not carbon free, but it will be neutral with the
proportional forestation to its consumption).
4. Conclusions
The substitution for the alternative energies can be
slower in case of smaller state intervention than it was in
the past. By that time, we will have a key point: on one
side, it may exists a less geopolitical interest by state
investment in the alternativ es, unlik e what happened with
the British hegemony (coal) and American hegemony
(oil). This may not motivate the private investment, due
to the great “payback-time” of the alternatives, which
have a great initial investment, unlike nowadays fossil
fuels. But, on the other hand, it may exists a gr eat bet on
alternative energies, du e to the need of the resources anti-
In a “market economy”, the competition is very strong,
and as the companies have to satisfy their shareholders,
they opt for activities with reduced paybacks. Like this,
the energy market liberalization is dangerous for the al-
ternative ener gies, being doubtful its future [8,9]. But th e
State, on one way or on another, will have to be, just like
in the past during the rise of coal and oil and nowadays
with the natural gas, th e main instigator of the alternative
energies. This due to the environmental problems associ-
ated to the energy use, besides the elimination of external
dependences and the energy technologies importance in
the economy. The state support will be the equilibrium
point in a liberalized market, guiding and stimulating the
investors, even in terms of investments in R&D. So, pri-
vate investors by itself won't bet on innovation in alter-
native technologies. On the other hand, they will have to
apply rates and tariffs, due to the externalities associated
to each energy source. The current conditions are not
attractive for the investors, given the high capitals and
long constructio n periods with returns, if not doubtful, at
least slower. But the alternative energies will be an es-
sential factor, besides the combat to the emissions of
fossil fuels combustion, in a combat po litic to the insecu-
rity of the energy markets, nowadays oil-dependent.
Thus, and bearing mind the nuclear fears, as well as
financial factors, the renewable energies group will have
an essential role in the two coming structural waves. In
this wave (5th), on an innovative structural form, and, in
the following one, in a structural form of consolidation
[10], the alternative energies can reach the leadership as
the main primary energy sources during the second half
of this century. But, for th at, the state interv en tion will b e
fundamental, because in the past none of the substitutions
were stimulated by the resources depletion, but by tech-
nological and social needs, which lead to great structural
changes, from which it cannot be dissociated environ-
mental factors. Like this, for the continuity of the substi-
tution process there should be more importan t economic,
geopolitical, environmental and social issues than re-
sources depletion.
Now, we cannot be waiting for the NSF depletion to
proceed to the substitution for the renewable energies,
because this is going to take place by the end of this cen-
tury. This paper presents a new way of looking into the
future of primary energy sources. A proper substitution
dynamics amongst the primary energy sources was de-
opyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Socio-Economic Development and Primary Energy Sources Substitution towards Decarbonization
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
monstrated using an innovative combination between a
quantitative tec hnique (logistic substitu tion), insensible to
outward influences, with a judgmental technique (Del-
phi), capable of forecasting tendencies. Bearing in mind
this dynamics it is possible to point out a progressive
substitution of the non-so lid fossil fu els by the alternativ e
For the coal-based regime, oil-based regime and, in a
certain way, in the beginning of nuclear investigation,
there was present geopolitical and world hegemony. On
its turn, in the case of the renewable energies, and re-
maining alternatives, it will be for a question of defense
of “external non-dependence”, when at this moment most
of the NS reserves are in Middle East and Caspian Sea.
In this context, during the last years the USA has been
having a military and economic position in this region in
a “Resources War” perspective. In this context, for the
most countries, mainly by a question of defence rather
than by a question of dominance in the resources war, the
renewable energies constitute the best alternative. How-
ever, in order to do so, institutional innovation will be
crucial. On the other hand, even if the great radical inno-
vations happen at the more developed countries, other
important developments (even if of smaller impact) can
happen at countries of smaller development. In other
words, the development countries can have an important
paper in the research/diffusion of the renewable alterna-
tive energies, due to the financial and social problems of
nuclear energy, in spite of the possibility of never be de-
spised as an alternative. In th is sense, it is believable that
we are moving toward alternative energies and, conse-
quently, through the substitution dynamics, it is possible
not only to reduce the carbonic intensity, as well as the
absolute emission of carbon around 2040-2060.
[1] R. U. Ayres, “Technological Transformations and Long
Waves – Part I,” Technological Forecasting and Social
Change, Vol. 37, No. 1, 1990, pp. 1-37.
[2] R. U. Ayres, “Technological Transformations and Long
Waves – Part II,” Technological Forecasting and Social
Change, Vol. 37, No. 1, 1990, pp. 111-137.
[3] J. C. O. Matias, “Scenarios Building for the Primary En-
ergy sources,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Beira In-
terior, Covilhã, 2003.
[4] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
“Greenhouse Gas Inventory: Reporting Instructions,” Vol.
1, IPCC/OCDE/IEA, London, 1997.
[5] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
“Greenhouse Gas Inventory: Workbook,” Vol. 2, IPCC/
OCDE/IEA, London, 1997.
[6] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
“Greenhouse Gas Inventory: References Manual,” Vol. 3,
IPCC/OCDE/IEA, London, 1997.
[7] L. Schrattenholzer, “Energy Demand and Su pply , 1900-2100,”
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis,
Laxenburg, 1998.
[8] G. P. Hammond, “Energy, Environment and Sustainable
Development: A UK Perspective,” Engineering, Vol. 78,
No. 4, 2000, pp. 304-323.
[9] J. J. Dooley, “Unintended Consequences: Energy R&D in
Deregulated Market,” Energy Policy, Vol. 26, No. 7, pp.
547-555. doi:10.1016/S0301-4215(97)00166-3
[10] T. C. Devezas and J. T. Corredine, “The Biological De-
terminants of Long Wave Behaviour in Socio-Economic
Growth and Development,” Technological Forecasting
and Social Change, Vol. 68, No. 1, 2001, pp. 1-57.