Guest post by Thomas Fuller
I have been broadly correct about two important things in my career as an analyst. (I wasn’t the only one and I wasn’t the first–just far enough ahead of the curve to make a difference.)
The two things were the demographic decline of much of Europe and the rapid adoption of the internet following the release of the world wide web. I was not studying or researching either topic at the time–the two phenomena leapt out of other research I was conducting and were obviously more important than what I was doing at the time, so I dropped what I was doing and started looking at them exclusively.
So now it’s time to try for the trifecta. (No, I really don’t care about that at all–but this is the third Capital Letter Issue that has jumped out at me, so what the hey…)
Inadequate projections of latent demand for energy are leading to poor decisions now and are muddying the debate about both climate change and energy policy for the rest of the century.
The U.S. Department of Energy and the United Nations both project global consumption of energy at 680 and 703 quads respectively by the period 2030-2035 (a ‘quad’ is one quadrillion btus, roughly the energy you could liberate from 36 million tons of coal).
However, consumption trends, if extended, are far higher–they could reach 2,100 quads by 2030, if adequate energy was available consistently and at decent prices. This is because of the confluence of several important demographic trends.
The overall population is rising–it will be about 8.1 billion in 2030, the equivalent of adding another China to the planet. The comparison is fairly apt, as most of these new humans will be born into societies that look like China does now, or like China did 15 or 20 years ago.
These new humans will be stepping onto the energy ladder and consuming vastly higher quantities of energy than did their parents–if it’s available. They will be moving from farms with no electricity into slums with a minimum of electricity–but shortly thereafter, development and globalization will start them on the road to refrigeration, television, washer/dryers, computers, motor scooters, cars, ad infinitum.
These new humans will be joined by yet another virtual China–existing people who benefit from the same processes of development and globalization and jump on the energy ladder with both feet and both hands.
Obviously, many of both type will actually be in China. But even more will be in places like Indonesia, Brazil, the Philippines, large swathes of Africa and the rest of the developing world.
They will want what they perceive as a modern lifestyle–in America that amounts to 327 billion btus per person per year in energy consumption. In Denmark, it’s a much more modest 161 billion btus. But in either case, latent demand for energy will far exceed the 700 quads currently projected by the DOE and the UN.
Assume 7 billion people will be on the energy ladder (changing from wood and animal dung on their way to coal, petroleum, natural gas, nuclear and hopefully arriving some day soon at the promised land of renewable energy). This means there are 1 billion people we have failed. (And I don’t want to ignore them–I just want to present believable numbers for this exercise.)
If those 7 billion consume energy as Americans do it comes to 2,289 quads. (The total will obviously be less, as they won’t all be near the top of the ladder by 2030). If they adopt a Danish model and develop towards that (efficient use of combined heat and power, high taxes on gas, generally high prices for energy, conscious drive to conserve), global energy demand will be 1,127 quads.
Although I would wish that people new to the modern world would automatically choose the far better Danish model, I predict that they will opt for the easier, softer American model and their energy needs will skyrocket.
However, in either case, we will need far more energy than is currently predicted. If they do not get it, they will not fully participate in what the modern world has to offer–education, good healthcare, clean air and water. Nor will they participate in the modern economy, further enriching the rich world with purchases of video games and expensive perfumes. We all will lose, although the losses of the poor will be heartbreaking.
It may well be that the DOE and the UN have correctly identified what governments are willing to build and provide in the way of new energy–but if they are correct, we are condemning billions of people to needlessly live a wretched existence that they would avoid if they could. Because using energy is not just a sign of success at development, or a reward for doing it right or a ‘welcome to the club’–it is often the key mechanism that enables development.
The poor–the two new Chinas–will fight and scheme to get the energy they need. They will burn coal, oil, whatever is available to escape the life sentence of the poor–lives that are nasty, brutish and short.
This conversation is not really about global warming at all. But it is certainly relevant to discussions of our planet’s future climate. China has doubled its energy consumption since 2000. There are two new ‘Chinas’ eager to do exactly the same, mimicking our behaviour of the last two centuries and following the original China’s current example.
The sources and quantities of energy we make available to the world will determine what our planet will look like in the medium term.
There’s no getting around that.
Thomas Fuller http://www.redbubble.com/people/hfuller