Guest Post by Thomas Fuller
This is a great time to talk about energy use worldwide. Not because it’s topical, or politically important, or anything like that. It’s a great time because the math is easier now than ever before, and easier than it ever will be again.
It’s similar to a time a few years ago when there were almost exactly 100 million households in the United States. It made a lot of calculations really easy to do. And this year, the United States Department of Energy calculates that the world used 500 quads of energy. Ah, the symmetry.
Even more conveniently, the United States and China will each use roughly 100 quads. Comparisons, contrasts–you don’t even need a calculator! A quad is a quadrillion British Thermal Units, and is roughly equivalent to the energy liberated from 36 million tons of coal. It’s a lot of energy, and 500 of those quads is really a mind stretcher. (For those of you who are counting, about 52 of those quads came from renewable energy. Of those 52 quads, about 50 came from hydroelectric power… urkk…)
In 2035, the DOE figures the world will consume about 683 quads, give or take. The UN, more ambitiously, thinks it’ll come in at about 703 quads. Either way, they anticipate a 40% growth in energy requirements. Is it okay if I say I think they’re both wrong?
Here’s why: The UN (and pretty much everybody else) believes that the world’s population will be at or around 8 billion in 2035. The UN (and pretty much everybody else) believes that world GDP will grow by about 3% per year between now and then–which is pretty much what it has been doing for quite a while. But most of that growth is projected to occur in the developing world. And most of that growth will be very energy intensive.
Here in the U.S., our energy consumption per person has been declining for a while, now. We’re down from 337 million btu’s per person to 323 mbtu’s per capita. But it’s going in the other direction in the developing world. They need the energy to actually, well, develop. And then they want the energy to enjoy the fruits of their development. Makes sense–that’s exactly what we did here.
Price Waterhouse Coopers has projected GDP growth to 2050 for major economies. For the U.S., they predict per capita growth in GDP from $40,339 in 2005 to $88,443 in 2050. Most of the very well developed countries show the same level of growth–a bit better than doubling.
The Department of Energy has energy use per person for many of the same countries. So let’s look at China. Before I start, remember that China has doubled its energy use since 2000. And they’re not done yet.
Their 2005 GDP per capita was $1,664 and their energy usage per capita was 58.8 mbtu’s. Their 2050 GDP per capita is projected to be $23,534, similar to Spain’s present GDP per person. Spain’s energy use is 164 mbtu’s. So who wants to predict China’s energy use per person in 2050? In 2035?
We’re always picking on China, and we don’t need to. The scary part is we can do the exact same thing for Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and India. The developing world is developing. They are going to be energy-sucking monsters for the next 80 years–just like we were.
My calculations show that, if we succeed in persuading the developing world to use energy efficient technologies wherever possible, switching from coal to natural gas, adopting wind and solar, buying best of breed turbines, etc., the world’s energy consumption in 2035 will be about 1,100 quads. However, if they proceed as they are (mostly) doing now, throwing up dirty coal to avoid blackouts and brownouts, cobbling together solutions however they can, world energy use in 2035 might well approach 2,000 quads–or even surpass it.
Imagine a world of 8.1 billion people, 7 billion of whom are using energy at the same rate as we do here in America–323 million btu’s per head. (3.23 x 7, for Joe Romm). That’s over 2,100 quads. It is at this point that some ugly questions appear. If we burn coal to obtain this energy, that’s 2,100 x 36 million tons of coal. If we withhold energy from these people, we condemn them to lives of starvation and poverty. If we subsidize clean energy solutions for them, we are spending our hard earned tax money on the poorest of the poor, many of whom live in countries that are not friendly to us. Oh, wait… we’re already doing that, aren’t we?
I favor the third solution. Using your and my tax dollars to help the poor afford electricity that comes from natural gas, nuclear and other cleaner solutions, so they can afford to buy our video games and see our movies (and, well, pay for them…). I do not expect my idea of the best solution to be very popular. Not with climate alarmists, who already don’t like natural gas or nuclear, and want to limit energy consumption by everybody except for themselves. Probably not with many readers here, who have seen taxpayer money go up in smoke on so many poorly-designed projects. But I think it’s our duty to ourselves, as well as the poorest of the poor.