the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

What People Don’t Want to Know About Energy

Posted by Jeff Id on April 15, 2012

Guest Post by Thomas Fuller

I’m well on my way to winning a small wager with a friend about my new blogging venture, 3,000 Quads ( http://3000quads.com/). It’s an unusual bet–I’m betting that I will be religiously ignored by the members of the climate consensus. We’ve never gotten along–I’ve had real battles with Joe Romm, Tim Lambert, Chris Colose, Michael Tobis and the minions that venture forth from their sites to hound and harass those of us who don’t agree with them. But that’s not the reason.

And it’s not because the central message of my weblog conflicts in any way with climate science. I have written 65 posts charting the future of energy consumption for the rest of the century (well, partially–I’m a long ways from finished). And the numbers are sobering and show us why we need to take this climate stuff seriously. The title is a clue–I predict that the world will be burning 3,000 quads every year in 2075, and can pretty much show in detail how we’ll be using 1,000 quads a year in 2030. (For reference, the world burned 500 quads in 2010.) This is far higher than the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration projects–their total is 721 quads in 2030. The difference between their estimate and mine is roughly equivalent to the amount of energy consumed by both the US and China last year. And I keep pounding on the point that if all of that extra energy is provided by coal, the effects on our climate will be severe.

Nor is it because I am relatively obscure and only lightly published. I put up the Excel spreadsheets that show my work (they are definitely not as pretty as Jeff’s work, but the numbers are there). They could grab ‘em and go and not even credit me.

So why was I so sure that the environmentalists trying to persuade us to use less energy and emit less CO2 would ignore evidence that supports their case?

Because it’s too much. They have a neatly programmed scenario that stages cuts in emissions with implementations of orchestrated alternative energy solutions, with utilities building wind farms on and offshore and solar farms in remote deserts (and passing the capital costs through to consumers), with guaranteed fee rises and profits that make them complaisant and compliant in  a grand reordering of our energy generation and transmission system.

Showing that their plans are not nearly enough is not welcome. It’s as if Socolow’s pie wedges got dropped on the floor. Building x number of windfarms will still leave us short! Ooops. They won’t even be able to concede to reality and build enough nuclear power plants–not enough, not quickly enough (and what about the staffing?)

The developing world is developing. They’re going to use a boatload of coal. But many countries that are officially part of the developed world–Turkey, Mexico, etc. are going to increase in the same way.

However, because these frankly frightening figures (three f’s–ain’t that cool?) don’t fit into the master plans of those pushing solutions down the throat of a largely indifferent public, these figures have to be ignored. (Doesn’t mean they aren’t being read–I can see…)

So once again the chance to have a real conversation about these issues is passed over so that politically correct messaging can continue without inconvenient interruption. And I’ll be happy to win my bet. But I would have been happier to lose.


16 Responses to “What People Don’t Want to Know About Energy”

  1. stan said

    Tom,

    Predictions are difficult, especially of the future. Malthus, Erlich, and their chicken little brethren through history have warned us of whale oil crises, horse manure crises, and dozens of other catastrophic futures that never happened. Environmentalists are particularly susceptible to the malady. In light of history and our experience, it shouldn’t be a surprise that knowledgeable, level-headed people choose not to get too worked up about the imagined disasters of generations hence.

  2. stevefitzpatrick said

    Tom,
    What they are rejecting is the concept that people will become richer in aggregate, and that growth in wealth will bring about stupendous growth in energy use. It is ‘people becoming richer’ that they object to. The sad part of this is that the obvious need for growth in energy production to improve the lives of people is, if not of no consequence to them, a secondary consideration. The question must be how to produce the future energy that will be needed within the constraints of economic reality and potential future impacts of increasing atmospheric CO2. The insistence on windmills and solar cells would be amusing, save for the potential economic harm and environmental damage that this ’tilting at windmills’ will cause. The idiotic rejection of nuclear power by those concerned about GHG warming simply shows that they are incapable of facing a world of reality; they live in a fantasy world.

  3. Leonard Weinstein said

    The upcoming problems indicated will force technological innovation that may prevent the bleak scenerio indicated. It is clear that development of much better energy storage devices would help both electric cars (and hybrids), and solar energy on local scales, but solar is not nearly up to the whole job. Wind is a loser for many reasons, and is not going to
    be a major factor. Nuclear (possibly with emphasis on more fail safe versions and long lasting capability such as Thorium salt versions) will be developed more, although this implimentation may lag in time for a while, and temporary shortage may occur. New enrgy sources may be developed such as the e-cat (although I am not yet convinced that this is a valid technology). I would be alert to the problems coming up, but not be quite as pessimistic as you seem to be.

  4. gallopingcamel said

    About a year ago I fired up my crystal ball to get a glimpse of Florida in 2100 on the assumption that the Greenies were in charge. One of my concerns was that I had assumed too high a growth rate for electrical consumption:
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/05/15/solar-power-in-florida/

    Given that electrical power consumption in Florida grew at an average rate of 3.6% per annum from 1980 to 2005, I guessed that the growth rate would be 1.9% from 2010 to 2100 given that the population growth is forecast at 1.2% p.a.

    I decided to make a “sanity check” by comparing my wild guesses with Tom Fuller’s analysis here:
    http://3000quads.com/2012/03/28/energy-consumption-in-the-oecd-part-c-it-works/

    I was somewhat heartened to find that Tom forecast a growth rate of 1.77% from 2010 to 2030 but he is talking about total energy whereas I am discussing electricty consumption. His estimate applies to the entire USA and mine only to Florida. I wonder what assumptions he has made about the Greenies influence on energy consumption?

    I disagree with his views on CO2 but we can discuss that another day.

  5. gallopingcamel said

    Stan and Leonard Weinstein,

    You nailed it! Human ingenuity came up with an alternative to the whale oil that was used for lighting and it turned out to be much cheaper. The automobile came to the rescue just as New York City was ankle deep in horse manure.

    Now we need something to replace the fossil fuels and as Leonard points out Molten Salt Reactors are waiting in the wings with their potential for fueling an industrialized society for millennia.

    What puzzles me is that many folks who don’t see CO2 as a pollutant or a threat are in favor of nuclear power while the Greenies, with a few exceptions (e.g. James Hansen, James Lovelock and Patrick Moore) are against it.

  6. stan said

    Say’s Law from classical economics was mischaracterized by Keynesians as “supply creates its own demand.” Let’s recast the old bromide — necessity is the mother of invention — in the same style. “Problems create their own solutions” or “problems inspire their own solutions”.

    Regardless of how one wants to phrase it, the essential point is that humans have a long track record of coming up with ways to deal with the problems they face. I suppose we could look at the differences in the way people respond to the potential issue Tom Fuller raises as reflecting optimism vs. pessimism. I am confident that human ingenuity will manage to deal with whatever arises in the future. I’m an optimist.

    If a government role needs to be considered, I would posit that it should be focused on making sure that the ingenious innovators of the future have sufficient economic incentives to ply their craft. If we make sure that the proper policy is in effect (re: patent law, respect for property rights, economic freedom, tax rates, regulation, etc), the development of future solutions for future problems will not be impeded.

    If I am pessimistic about anything, it is the ability of government to be effective in trying to dictate solutions. In that regard, I am in agreement with Will Rogers — “be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”

  7. ul said

    “I have written 65 posts charting the future of energy consumption”

    and others don´t agree with your “evidence”, because it ´s too much ?

    BuhahhhHaaaHaaHaa, that is funny !

    It´s perfectly Ok to guess what might be happening in the future, but it´s bizzare to complain about the other guys crystal ball not showing the same thing.

    as Stan puts it:…”humans have a long track record of coming up with ways to deal with the problems they face.”, compare that to the track record of human predictions.

  8. gregschiller said

    Tom, I was rather surprised to see you suggest that future energy needs might be met by burning coal. Why coal? Gas is cheaper and perhaps more plentiful.

    Is it because coal is easier to transport?

    I am also curious about your views on new super-critical boiler technology. I have read about using super-critical carbon-dioxide, it appears to be viable and promises to be 40% more efficient.

    How would a transformation to highly efficient gas generation plants impact your projections? Perhaps the idea is naive given the capital expenses but one would think conversion to more efficient plants would pay for itself.

  9. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Energy consumption is the most critical factor in increasing the standard of living and quality of life for man. Energy efficiency in production and use make for an even better life because we then can afford to consume even more energy. If we arbitrarily decide to reduce our energy consumption say through command economies and/or strong central governments we can expect our standards of living and quality of life to diminish significantly.

    In a libertarian world, which I do not expect to see existing any time soon, AGW would be handled as a matter of protecting individual property rights and one would have to have good evidence that one entity was harming another before any tort action could be pushed forward in rewarding damages or in ceasing actions on the part of those doing damage. Left to a free market, protection of legitimate property rights and without some government council picking winners and losers I would expect more innovation in what energy sources are used and how those energies are produced and consumed. I am certain that no one or one group knows presently how that will be accomplished. In a command economy one could see a council deciding on a plan of attack that would continue to be pursued regardless of failures and we would have all the impediments of crony capitalism.

    http://www.wou.edu/las/physci/GS361/electricity%20generation/HistoricalPerspectives.htm

    http://www.masterresource.org/2010/10/energy-efficiency-saunders/

    “The good news is that increased light consumption has historically been tied to higher productivity and quality of life. The bad news is that energy efficient lighting should not be relied upon as means of reducing aggregate energy consumption, and therefore emissions. We thus write: “These conclusions suggest a subtle but important shift in how one views the baseline consequence of the increased energy efficiency associated with SSL. The consequence is not a simple ‘engineering’ decrease in energy consumption with consumption of light fixed, but rather an increase in human productivity and quality of life due to an increase in consumption of light.” This phenomenon has come to be known as the energy “rebound” effect.”

    The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy Peter Huber , Mark P. Mills

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Bottomless-Well-Twilight-ebook/dp/B001C4P3UA/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1/186-1381142-8788705?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

  10. Neil said

    Thomas, I think there are a range of drivers for why energy in general gets little broad public attention other than price. One is that it is all derived demand, so the general public think not about where it came from but what it is costing them to achieve something, heat the house, get to the store, manufacture a widget etc. Another is that it is just too complicated for most people. Not because it is that complicated, but because why do you need to know how an electricity market or grid works, when all you really want is your TV to go? Plus humans have a great capacity to apply ex-post justification to why they got things wrong, but at the same time will argue how good we all are at anticipating outcomes. The reality is we tend to react when we notice something going wrong (or right, look at how speculation works, look at the housing markets around the world). Thinking ahead is a luxury when survival is our key driver.

    Most people regard energy as not their problem, but their right. Hence why we NIMBYs and BANANAs, but then they join the complaints if the lights stop.

    Then we get to your observation. It is all too hard and inconvenient for most people including climate people to understand how it all fits together. Just build wind farms they say. But what does it do to the grid, the need for back-up, the need for grid expansion, the effective utilisation etc. Move to bio-fuels, but does food production get expanded or diverted? I could go on and on!

    Neil

  11. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Neil said
    April 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    “Then we get to your observation. It is all too hard and inconvenient for most people including climate people to understand how it all fits together. Just build wind farms they say. But what does it do to the grid, the need for back-up, the need for grid expansion, the effective utilisation etc. Move to bio-fuels, but does food production get expanded or diverted? I could go on and on!”

    If we were to let the free market operate and protect individual property rights it would be of little consequence whether the average Joe and Jane or climate scientists understood “how it all fits together”. The difficulty of figuring out and anticipating how all it fits together by edict is why a command economy fails in these matters; it instead requires the creative destruction of free markets and man’s innovative capabilities to figure how it will fit together.

    • There is a real fear of the free market in most of the world. I find it odd that people don’t realize that the department of energy is not required for the provision of energy.

      We don’t even need to make global decisions. The product ‘energy’ is as much crack cocaine as any drug. People will pay, people will provide. Like magic, energy allows manipulation of your surroundings at will though, and it should be no surprise that the governments of our world have long resisted that sort of freedom.

    • Neil said

      I agree, it is the picking of “winners” by people who can’t or don’t want to understand why their “truth” is actually mis-informed that create the problems. Subsidizing wind farms, PV farms etc just creates a cost. A cost that at first is hidden by the law of large numbers. Then the consequential problems start, such as grid integration and the initial proponents have moved on or blame vested interests or in the USA big oil etc for placing “road blocks”. I have spent large parts of the last twenty years developing and evolving electricity markets and I firmly believe the primary purpose is to create the basis for competition to occur, not pick the best outcome. People who wish to direct or centrally plan of course can’t handle the thought that the market in aggregate may have a different view and that vested interests are usually loudest, might not be telling them the truth, just want they want to hear.

      Being a good capitalist myself, I am more than happy to arbitrage idiots and their (taxpayers) money, that in itself is the free market at work.

  12. John said

    “tevefitzpatrick said

    April 15, 2012 at 10:27 am
    Tom,
    It is ‘people becoming richer’ that they object to”

    I think it is people in any quantity that they object to.

  13. Ralph B said

    But fusion is only 10 years away…

    • omanuel said

      Abundant energy is stored as rest mass at centers of heavy atoms, some planets, ordinary stars, and galaxies.

      Here is the pattern that emerges when I connect the dots that led to global climate scandal: http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/#comment-35

      Naked Apes frightened for 67 years by the “nuclear fires” that consumed Hiroshima on 6 Aug 1945, when man first released energy from the cores of uranium atoms in anger.

      The rights of citizens and the integrity of science were sacrificed to save them.

      Oliver K. Manuel

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