Sunday, June 7, 2009

US Gov't Projects Energy Demands to Increase 44%

While CO2 emissions will increase 39% over 2006 levels.
World marketed energy consumption is projected to grow by 44% between 2006 and 2030, driven by strong long-term economic growth in the developing nations of the world, according to the reference case projection from the International Energy Outlook 2009 (IEO2009) released today by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

World carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise from 29.0 billion metric tons in 2006 to 33.1 billion metric tons in 2015 and 40.4 billion metric tons in 2030—an increase of 39% over the projection period. The IEO2009 reference case does not include specific policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions

With strong economic growth and continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels expected for most of the non-OECD economies, much of the increase in carbon dioxide emissions is projected to occur among the developing, non-OECD nations. In 2006, non-OECD emissions exceeded OECD emissions by 14%. In 2030, however, non-OECD emissions are projected to exceed OECD emissions by 77%.

As I pointed out in a previous posting, current climate models (which have served as the basis for forming legislation designed to combat global warming) are wrong, and demonstrate that we've underestimated the amount of damage that's being done by our current emissions. I'm not going to claim that these estimates of projected energy growth are wrong, but if we want a "clean" source of energy to power the future, we're going to have to find a lot of it, and quickly.

Biofuels are often touted as being a way to reduce our carbon footprint. That overlooks a significant problem with them, however.
Study Finds Water Footprint for Bioenergy Larger Than Other Forms of Energy; Bioelectricity the Smallest, Biodiesel the Largest

Researchers at the University of Twente, Netherlands have calculated the water footprints (WFs) of bioenergy from 12 crops that currently contribute the most to global agricultural production: barley, cassava, maize, potato, rapeseed, rice, rye, sorghum, soybean, sugar beet, sugar cane, and wheat. In addition, their study includes jatropha, an energy crop.

In general they found that bioelectricity is more water-efficient than first-generation biofuels (due largely to the ability to use the entire biomass to produce energy, rather than just the starch or oil fraction of the yield for liquid fuel production). They also found that the WF of bioethanol on a m3 of water per GJ of fuel basis appears to be smaller than that of biodiesel. Their results appeared 2 June in an open access paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

This is bad news, because supplies are dwindling.
Global Environmental Outlook 4, edited by Mirjam Schomaker and published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in October 2007 claims, “Available water resources continue to decline as a result of excessive withdrawal of both surface and groundwater, as well as decreased water run-off due to reduced precipitation and increased evaporation attributed to global warming”.

So, biofuels do not look to be the savior of us as many people once thought. One can speculate that fusion power will finally hit that breakthrough we've been promised for the past 50+ years, but betting on it seems like a foolish proposition when the survival of the species is at stake. Solar and wind are viable, of course, but not without their own environmental problems.
It begins with agreeing which sensitive areas should remain undeveloped. Wind and solar power are pollution free, but they are not impact free. They leave an industrial footprint on the land, and some pristine places would be forever altered by their presence.

That's why my friends at NRDC got together with Google Earth and started mapping out public lands where renewable development is not appropriate. Some of the spots colored in on the map are obvious--national parks, wilderness areas, and national monuments where energy development is already prohibited by law or federal policy.

But the map also illustrates places where development should be avoided, even if it isn't illegal. These include the hundreds of state parks that visitors rely on for hiking and other recreation. They also include proposed wilderness areas being considered by Congress, such as the 9.5 million acres of stunning scenery in Southern Utah that I hope gains protection through America's Red Rock Wilderness Act.

The remarkable thing is that even when you set these areas aside, there is plenty of land to develop solar and wind projects. The state of California recently did a similar mapping process and found that when it removed all the environmentally sensitive lands, California still has renewable potential of about 500,000 MW--that's greater than the state's peak demand.
So, solar and wind could exceed California's current peak demand levels, without being sited on environmentally sensitive land, but what about their peak demand in 20 years? Will it be enough then? How about 50 years? One thing is certain, energy demands are not going to be decreasing, so long as our technological society continues to advance.

Yes, devices will become more efficient, and use less energy, but we'll have more devices in the future, not less, and things which presently do not use energy, will no doubt have energy demanding circuits added to them. Books have never been powered, and now we have the Kindles from Amazon which use a modest amount of power. Of course, their demands are more than off-set by the savings provided by not having to print and ship physical books around (and as someone who has worked in the publishing industry in the past, I can state that immense amounts of energy are wasted by book companies and retailers). However, for one to use a Kindle, you need some kind of cellphone connection (the towers require energy) or an internet connection, and unlike a printing press which can be shutdown for periods of time, must always be on, if they're going to be meaningfully useful.

Perhaps one day we'll have a device which is an "all-in-one" PC/phone/book reader/MP3 player/game device/etc, but we'll also have other things we can't even imagine now. Perhaps our walls will be video monitors, or we'll be able to borrow the processing power in our dishwashers and other appliances when we need to do some heavy duty number crunching. What good does it do you to reduce the power demand of a device, if the number of devices needing power outstrips the savings by an order of magnitude or larger?

Space, however, offers us a rather benign source of solar power. Orbiting panels can generate power without worry of weather or the dark of night, and require no land (while the antenna arrays to receive the beamed power do take up space, building a space elevator, having power fed down the main cable, and then distributed from there, takes up almost no land by comparison). Of course, someone living on Mars wouldn't have to worry about having a large carbon footprint or if their solar panels were installed on an environmentally sensitive stretch of land.


  1. And if the models are wrong and we are really headed for cooling?

    There may be a fusion project that can help. We will have a yes no answer in two years or less.

    Bussard's IEC Fusion Technology (Polywell Fusion) Explained

    Why hasn't Polywell Fusion been fully funded by the Obama administration?

  2. Did I mention that if Polywell works it can be turned into an almost ideal heavy lift vehicle?

    And Earth to Mars in 37 days.

  3. It is exceedingly unlikely that the Earth is heading for cooling, and a fusion reactor should allow for Mars in significantly less than 37 days. With 1 G acceleration, one can reach Mars in only a couple of days to a week, depending upon where Earth and Mars are in their orbits at any given time.