The Worldwide Energy Struggle
Competing forces are struggling to push the world’s energy consumption in different directions.
- The population is growing. People–even new people–need energy
- GDP is (usually) growing. Creating that GDP (usually) requires energy. The new wealth that is then created by that GDP usually is consumed–and that takes energy. From private planes for the rich to a bigger house for the middle class to a used motorcycle for the poor, when you get wealthier it usually translates into acquisition of stuff that uses energy.
- Technology improves and the stuff that uses energy gets more efficient and uses less energy
- Education about energy use and its effect on the environment gradually reaches and convinces more people
Which of these forces is stronger? Almost always it is the net change in GDP.
Which has the most momentum and is least susceptible to change in the short term? Almost always it is population growth.
Which is most constant? Without a doubt it is improvement in efficiency due to innovation, which has held as a moderating force for more than 200 years. Given enough time, it will emerge as the dominant factor.
Which is the newest and most capricious? Education about energy usage. People are tough to teach, tough to persuade, tough to change. It has to come from inside.
But since people are notoriously hard to convince about how many children they should have, even more notoriously acquisitive, and can only adopt the technologies they can afford, the last bit–educating people about energy consumption–is what we need to be doing right now.
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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