From John Shannon who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]borderstan.com
What energy shall we use between now and 2050? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Our choices are laid out before us just like at the shoe store – all we have to do is choose! So, lets see what’s available.
It turns out that there are two kinds of energy. Non-renewable and renewable.
Our worldwide 2009 energy consumption including all forms of transportation, was 16 Terawatt-years. We can see from the Perez & Perez graphic that the finite, non-renewable energy sources are estimated to total 1445 – 1655 Terawatt-years. The total energy available from those sources is equal to 90.3 – 103.44 years of energy usage at 2009 rates of consumption.
Once consumed, this kind of energy will be gone forever.
Keeping in mind the 2009 energy consumption total of 16 Terawatts per year, we see that renewable energy sources total 23,034.2 – 23095.7 Terawatts per year. That’s 1439 – 1443 times more energy than we required in 2009 – including all forms of transportation.
This kind of energy would be available every year until the sun burns out, the ocean’s freeze and the wind stops blowing, etc..
What’s the difference some might ask? Why worry? Even in the worst-case scenario, we’re covered for 90 years if we continue to burn energy at 2009 energy consumption rates.
One, the actual cost per energy unit. Costs for renewable energy have been falling dramatically and it looks set to continue. Some kinds of renewable energy are already reaching price parity with coal and nuclear power.
Two, sustainable energy per-kilowatt-hour cost savings are becoming apparent when compared to conventional energy, because of something called “Merit Order” ranking, which is a program designed to help utility companies choose from the different kinds of energy available at different times of the day.
Three, the costs associated with certain kinds of energy use must be factored in as China’s leaders realize that 410,000 people per year die from pollution of the air, water and soil.
Energy usage will continue to increase in developed nations with their 1-billion citizens. In developing nations, energy requirements will continue to increase exponentially along with their 6-billion citizens. Almost 3-billion more developing world citizens are expected by 2050.
To be… or not to be… Green? Isn’t the answer obvious?