Monday, March 11, 2013

Global Warming Versus Global Energy Needs

Two huge energy-related goals are on a collision course in this century. The first is to bring electricity an additional 1.3 billion people who still don’t have it. The second is to curtail fossil fuel use and keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. The first requires increasing the amount of energy the world uses, including fossil fuels. The second requires harnessing cleaner power sources, using energy more efficiently, and even conserving power. So is it possible to do both at once?  We think so, but the core of balancing these two demands is nuclear power combined with aggressive wind and solar back up with natural gas.  We will also need to convert carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas plants into transportation fuel.


The red line above shows how much energy the world consumes today, about 500 quadrillion BTUs. The next line up shows the Energy Information Agency’s projections for how much energy the world will use in 2035, about 800 quads. We’re already living in a world in which energy use is growing fast and it’s difficult to tackle climate change. But the lines above it show how much harder the task would get if the average person in the world used as much energy as Americans.

If we want to limit the amount of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere and hit that 2°C goal, we’ll have to replace about 80 percent of our current fossil-fuel use with carbon-free energy and then use only carbon-free energy to meet our future needs. But if we want everyone in the world to have as much access to energy as the average Bulgarian, then we’ll need twice as much carbon-free power. And so on.

The two goals of providing much more energy and reducing greenhouse gases are in conflict with each other. Getting more ambitious on one puts a lot more pressure on the other.  (Wash Post, 3/10/2013)

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