Analyzing the DOE’s Recent U.S Energy Consumption Projections
Before we try and do any serious thinking (and while my brain still is recharging after my recent project), let’s look through the Department of Energy’s report, Annual Energy Outlook 2012 with Projections to 2035 and get the numbers racked up.
Let’s start with macroeconomic figures. The DOE’s Reference Case (the center projection on which they base their analyses, by and large) shows the U.S. GDP growing from $13.318 trillion in 2011 to $24.539 trillion in 2035, a growth rate of 2.5% (those are all in 2005 dollars, btw). As they forecast consumption growing at a slower rate–2.3%–they apparently don’t think we’re going to go out and spend all that extra money.
Well, they’re certainly not going overboard with enthusiasm about our future. A 2.5% growth rate is low. It’s not out of line with what others predict about our future, mind you. But for example, 2010 had growth of 3% and I don’t think anybody was thinking we were utilizing all our economic capacity that year. In fact, U.S. GDP was higher than 2.5% in 5 of the last 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.
And I’m starting to notice some things that bother me. The next thing I want to check is population, which is normally the most significant driver of energy usage. But although they say on page 25 that they project U.S. population to increase by 25% over the period covered by their report, they don’t give a total or the reference number that the 25% is added to. And I see that happening throughout the report–percentages without base numbers. They didn’t do that in prior years. This troubles me.
But okay–the U.S. Census Bureau’s mid-year estimate for 2011 was 311,591,917 and a 25% increase would be 77,897,979 for a total of 389,381,896. That’s a growth rate of 0.93%.
So when I get back into thinking mode, my first question is likely to be, if you think population is going to grow by 0.93% annually and you think that GDP is going to grow by 2.5% annually, is it realistic to project (as the report does) that energy will grow by 0.3% annually?
Look at the above numbers. Income increases from $13 trillion to $24 trillion. Population increases from 311 million to 389 million. And the DOE is telling us that energy consumption will grow from 98 quads to 107 quads.
That’s a whole lot of non-consuming going on.
Well, I’m sure I will see the light after some July rest and relaxation.
3000 Quads is about energy for the 21st century. The world’s population is now estimated to peak at between 9 and 10 billion people somewhere around 2075. If they use energy at the same rate as the average American, they will consume 3,000 quadrillion btus. That isn’t written in stone–the Danes use half as much energy per person as Americans and they have a pretty good life. The developing world could aim for a Danish lifestyle instead of Yankee over-exuberance. But if it comes to pass, then we face a dilemma. If most of that energy is provided by burning coal, we face something close to disaster. My name is Tom Fuller. I work at a solar power company called Sungevity, a premiere provider of solar power to homeowners in the United States.
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