Guest post by David Middleton
- In the midst of a coal shortage in 1917, one writer predicted that solar energy would replace coal by 2017.
- Coal is still very much in use, but perhaps his premonition was just a few decades short of the target. Solar power is growing at such a rate that we won’t have to wait another 100 years for the prediction to come true.
In the course of a century, people made a lot of predictions about the future of technology.
Some were right—like H.G. Wells who, in 1903, described metal-hulled warships on land that could be considered the precursor to military tanks today; or George Orwell’s vision of 1984 (written in 1949), where the world was monitored by an interconnected web of security cameras; even John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, who wrote his version of 2010 back in 1969, and it basically described the reality of 2013.
Others were way off—like Ken Olsen who said no one would ever want a computer in their home back in 1977. Or the President of the Michigan Savings Bank who said horses were here to stay and automobiles would be nothing but a fad.
Some, however, foresaw a future that stood at the cusp of possibility; like the writer who wrote a piece for the Lincoln Evening Journal called Looking Forward. In it, he describes 2017 as a world that is no longer dependent on coal for energy. The author envisioned a future where technology would be able to harvest energy from the sun and run it through pipes for electricity.
Obviously, we’re not quite there yet.
The rest of the article is just a bunch of nonsensical babble about climate change and solar power. However, the irony of the “In Brief” bullet points is simply priceless: Including a future failed prediction in an article about a past failed prediction!
Coal is still very much in use, but perhaps his premonition was just a few decades short of the target. Solar power is growing at such a rate that we won’t have to wait another 100 years for the prediction to come true.
Three fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—have provided more than 80% of total U.S. energy consumption for more than 100 years. In 2015, fossil fuels made up 81.5% of total U.S. energy consumption, the lowest fossil fuel share in the past century. In EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016 Reference case projections, which reflect current laws and policies, that percentage declines to 76.6% by 2040. Policy changes or technology breakthroughs that go beyond the trend improvements included in the Reference case could significantly change that projection.
In 2015, the renewable share of energy consumption in the United States was its largest since the 1930s at nearly 10%. The greatest growth in renewables over the past decade has been in solar and wind electricity generation.Liquid biofuels have also increased in recent years, contributing to the growing renewable share of total energy consumption.
In EIA’s Reference case projection, petroleum consumption remains similar to current levels through 2040, as fuel economy improvements and other changes in the transportation sector offset growth in population and travel. Coal consumption continues to decline, especially in the electric power sector. Natural gas consumption increases in the industrial sector and the electric power sector.
Some electric fuels, such as nuclear and hydroelectric, remain relatively flat in the Reference case, with little change in capacity or generation through 2040. Biomass, which includes wood as well as liquid biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, remain relatively flat, as wood use declines and biofuel use increases slightly. In contrast, wind and solar are among the fastest-growing energy sources in the projection, ultimately surpassing biomass and nuclear, and nearly exceeding coal consumption in the Reference case projection by 2040.
Based the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s, Monthly Energy Review, Annual Energy Outlook 2016, it looks as if coal will still be in use well into the 22nd Century…
Of course, the EIA’s forecast included Obama’s soon-to-be-erased Clean Power Plan.
And the EIA forecast is just for these tenuously United States. The rest of the world will also continue to burn coal..