Saturday, August 2, 2008

Brother, can you spare 22 terawatts?

I just ran across a good article on ReasonOnline by Ronald Bailey "Brother, can you spare 22 terawatts?" - with great "big picture" figures from Daniel Nocera, a professor at MIT. He looks at current figures, and extrapolates them out to the year 2050 with a global population base of 9 billion.

He also compares world energy consumption at three levels: 1] U.S. levels; 2] Western European levels; and 3] Indian subcontinent levels. I find this very useful in getting my head around the "quality of life" and "living standards" issues.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

However, Daniel Nocera, a professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes a sobering analysis of the challenge of supplying adequate energy to the world in 2050. In his article, "On the Future of Global Energy" in the current issue of Daedalus (unfortunately not online), Nocera begins with the amount of energy currently being used on a per capita basis in various countries and then extrapolates what that usage implies for a world of 9 billion people in 2050. For example, in 2002 the United States used 3.3 terawatts (TW), China 1.5 TW, India 0.46 TW, Africa 0.45 TW and so forth. Totaling it all up, Nocera finds, "the global population burned energy at a rate of 13.5 TW." A terawatt equals one trillion watts.

Nocera calculates that if 9 billion people in 2050 used energy at the rate that Americans do today that the world would have to generate 102.2 TW of power—more than seven times current production. If people adopted the energy lifestyle of Western Europe, power production would need to rise to 45.5 terawatts. On the other hand if the world's 9 billion in 2050 adopted India's current living standards, the world would need to produce only 4 TW of power. Nocera suggests, assuming heroic conservation measures that would enable affluent American lifestyles, that "conservative estimates of energy use place our global energy need at 28-35 TW in 2050." This means that the world will need an additional 15-22 TW of energy over the current base of 13.5 TW.

Here is Ronald Bailey's conclusion:

Maybe Nocera is right that solar power is the way to go, but history teaches us to scrap the Apollo Project model for technology R&D. Federal bureaucrats are simply not smart enough to pick winning energy technologies. Instead, eliminate all energy subsidies, set a price for carbon, and then let tens of thousands of energy researchers and entrepreneurs develop and test various new technologies in the market. No one knows now how humanity will fuel the 21st century, but Apollo and Manhattan Project-style Federal energy research projects will prove to be a huge waste of time, money and talent.

I agree, we need to keep the Federal government out of this. They haven't managed to come up with a comprehensive energy policy to date, and they have managed to screw up virtually every aspect of "government", all while wasting our tax dollars.

Plus, they would probably give the contract to Halliburton and put Dick Cheney in charge.

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