World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts

Figure 1 shows the huge increase in world energy consumption that has taken place in roughly the last 200 years. This rise in energy consumption is primarily from increased fossil fuel use.

Figure 1. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent

With energy consumption rising as rapidly as shown in Figure 1, it is hard to see what is happening when viewed at the level of the individual. To get a different view, Figure 2 shows average consumption per person, using world population estimates by Angus Maddison.

Figure 2. Per capita world energy consumption, calculated by dividing world energy consumption shown in Figure 1 by population estimates, based on Angus Maddison data.

On a per capita basis, there is a huge spurt of growth between World War II and 1970. There is also a small spurt about the time of World War I, and a new spurt in growth recently, as a result of growing coal usage in Asia.

In this post, I provide additional charts showing long-term changes in energy supply, together with some observations regarding implications. One such implication is how  economists can be misled by past patterns, if they do not realize that past patterns reflect very different energy growth patterns than we will likely see in the future.

World per Capita Energy Consumption

Let’s look first at Figure 2. Prior to 1900, energy per capita did not rise very much with the addition of coal energy, suggesting that the early use of coal mostly offset other fuel uses, or permitted larger families. There was a small increase in energy consumption per capita during World War I, but a dip during the depression prior to World War II.

Between World War II and 1970, there was a huge ramp-up in energy consumption per capita.  There are several reasons why this might happen:

  • During this period, European countries and Japan were rebuilding after World War II.
  • There was a need to find jobs for returning US soldiers, so that the country would not fall back into the recession it was in prior to World War II.
  • The US had a large oil industry that it wanted to develop, in order to provide jobs and tax revenue.
  • Major infrastructure development projects were put into place during this period, including the Eisenhower Interstate System and substantial improvements to the electrical transmission system.
  • To facilitate purchases both by companies and by consumers, the government encouraged the use of debt to pay for the new goods. Figure 3, below, from my post, The United States’ 65-Year Debt Bubble, shows that non-governmental debt did indeed rise during this period.

Figure 3. US Non-Governmental Debt, Divided by GDP, based on US Federal Reserve and US Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

World population also expanded greatly during the period from 1820 to 2010:

Figure 4. World Population, based primarily Angus Maddison estimates, interpolated where necessary.

Figure 4 shows that there is a distinct “bend” in the graph about 1950, when population started rising faster, at the same time that energy consumption started rising more quickly.

If we look at 10-year percentage changes in world population and energy use, this is the pattern we see:

Figure 5. Decade percentage increases in energy use compared to population growth, using amounts from Figures 2 and 4.

Figure 5 shows that a significant increase in the use of energy first occurred about the time of World War I. A second spurt in energy use started about the time of World War II. Population increased a bit with the first spurt in energy use, but did not really take off until the second spurt. Part of the population rise after World War II may be related to the invention of antibiotics–Penicillin (1942), Streptomycin (1943), and Tetracycline (1955). Use of energy to upgrade water and sewer services, and to sterilize milk and to refrigerate meat, may have made a difference as well. Life expectancy in the US grew from 49 in 1900 to 70 in 1960, contributing to population growth.

Since 1970, the rate of increase in world population has declined. One reason for this decline may be the use of oral contraceptives. These were first approved for use in the United States in 1960. Other reasons might include more education for women, and more women entering into the paid work force.

A person can see that in the most recent decade (2000 to 2010), per capita energy use is again rising rapidly. Let’s look at some detail, to see better what is happening.

Detail Underlying Growth in World Energy

Figure 2 above shows energy from the various fuels “stacked” on top of each other. It is easier to see what is happening with individual fuels if we look at them separately, as in Figure 6, below. In Figure 6, I also make a change in the biofuel definition. I omit broadly defined biofuels (which would include animal feed and whale oil, among other things) used in Figure 2, and instead show a grouping of modern energy sources from BP statistical data. What I show as “BP-Other” includes ethanol and other modern biofuels, wind, geothermal, and solar.

Figure 6. Per capita consumption of various fuels, separately, rather than stacked, as in Figure 2.

We can see from Figure 6 that per capita consumption of oil peaked in the 1970 to 1980 time period, and has since been declining. The fuel that has primarily risen to take its place is natural gas, and to a lesser extent, nuclear. Substitution was made in several areas including home heating and electricity generation.

Coal consumption per capita stayed pretty much flat (meaning that coal consumption rose about fast as population growth) until the last decade, namely the period after 2000. In the period since 2000, there has been a huge rise in coal consumption in China and in other developing nations, particularly in Asia. This increase in coal consumption seems to be related to the increase in manufacturing in Asia following the liberalization of world trade that began with the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995, and the addition of China to the organization in 2001.

If we look at per capita energy consumption since 1965 by country based on BP data, we find very different patterns:

Per capita energy consumption by country to 2010

Figure 7. Per capita energy consumption for selected countries, based on BP Statistical Data energy consumption and Angus Maddison population estimates. FSU refers to the Former Soviet Union. Europe refers to a list of 12 large countries.

Figure 7 shows that since the 1970s, energy patterns have patterns have varied. US energy consumption per capita has declined, while Europe’s energy consumption per capita has tended to remain relatively flat. China’s energy consumption per capita has greatly increased in recent years. The passage of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 may have contributed to rising Asian coal consumption because it encouraged countries to reduce their own CO2 emissions, but did not discourage countries from importing goods made in countries using coal as their primary fuel for electricity.

Correlations with Employment

If we look at the United States line on Figure 7,  we can see that the most recent peak in US per capita consumption of energy was in the year 2000. It is striking that the percentage of the US population with jobs also peaked in 2000 (Figure 8).

Figure 8. US number of people employed divided by population. Two series are shown: One is for non-farm employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the other is from the Social Security administration.

A person would expect energy consumption to be correlated with the number of jobs for a couple of reasons. First, jobs often involve using vehicles or machines that require fuels of some sort, so the jobs themselves require energy. In addition, people with jobs have the income to buy goods that require energy. Thus, the fact that people in the US have jobs raises the demand for goods and services requiring energy.

If we look at US median wages through 2010 from the Social Security administration, we see a flattening since 2000, and an actual decrease in inflation adjusted wages since 2007 (Figure 9):

Figure 9. US Median Wages based on Social Security data.

If changes in international trade caused US wage earners to be more in direct competition with wage earners from other countries, it would not be surprising if a smaller percentage of the US population has jobs, and that median wages dropped in real terms between 2007 and 2010.

Annual per Capita Increases in World Energy Consumption 

Figure 10 (below) shows world per capita energy consumption on a year-by-year basis, similar to Figure 7.

Figure 10. Year by year per capita energy consumption, based on BP statistical data, converted to joules.

Figure 10 shows that world per capita energy consumption was increasing until the late 70s, hitting a peak in 1977. There was a fairly long period until about 2000 where per-capita energy consumption was on a plateau. This was a period where consumers were shifting from oil to electricity where possible, a process that was typically more efficient. It was only in the last decade when production goods of many sorts started shifting to Asia and living standards in Asia starting rising that world energy consumption per capita has again begun increasing.

CO2 Emissions per Capita

I wrote a couple of posts earlier about why CO2 emissions seem to be rising as fast as GDP  since 2000 (Is it really possible to decouple GDP growth from CO2 emissions growth? and Thoughts on why energy use and CO2 emissions are rising as fast as GDP), and the increase in per capita consumption would seem to be related. One of the graphs from the second post is shown below as Figure 11.

Figure 11. Carbon dioxide emissions by the three major areas described (Southeast Asia, Middle East, Remainder), based on BP Statistical Data

These emissions are not on a per-capita basis, but the graph illustrates what happens when the production of goods and services is increasingly outsourced to Asia, where coal is used as the primary fuel. Emissions tend to rise there, even if they remain flat in other countries.

If we compare the growth of CO2 emissions and the growth of energy use, both on a per capita basis (Figure 12), we see that the CO2 emissions grew more slowly than energy consumption in the 1970 to 1990 period, so the lines increasingly diverged.

Figure 12. Per capita energy consumption and CO2 emissions, based on BP statistical data.

This divergence appears to result from the changing fuel mix (more nuclear and more natural gas, relative to coal) during the period.  Since 2000, the two lines are approximately parallel, indicating no further CO2 savings given the greater use of coal again. Wind and solar contributions are not large enough to make an appreciable difference in CO2 levels.

How an Economist Might Be Misled

If an economist views the period between World War II and 1970 as “normal” in terms of what to expect in the future, he/she is likely to be misled. The period of rapid energy growth following World War II is not likely to be repeated. The rapid energy growth allowed much manual work to be performed by machine (for example, using a back hoe instead of digging ditches by hand). Thus, there appeared to be considerable growth in human efficiency, but such growth is not likely to be repeated in the future. Also, the rate of GDP growth was likely higher than could be expected in the future.

Even the period between 1980 and 2000 may be misleading for predicting future patterns because this period occurred before the huge increase in international trade. Once international trade with less developed nations increases, we can expect these nations will want to increase their energy consumption in any way that is possible, including using more coal.

Another false inference might be that per capita oil consumption has declined in the past (Figure 6), so future declines should not be a problem. For one thing, the past drop in oil availability may very well have contributed to the employment issues noted above during the 2000 to 2010 period in the United States. For another, oil issues may very well have contributed to the Iraq war, and even to World War II. Furthermore, there may be Liebig’s Law of the Minimum issues, because most vehicles use gasoline or diesel for fuel and cannot run without it. Figure 2 also illustrates that a transition from one fuel to another takes many, many years–we have not at this point transitioned away from coal, and nuclear is still only a small percentage of world energy consumption.

The small amounts of new renewables to date should be of concern to economists if they are counting on these for the future. For one thing, ramping up new renewables to amounts which can be expected to make a significant contribution is likely to take many years. For another, new renewables require fossil fuels for their creation, so they are very much tied to the current system.

The fact that things haven’t fallen apart so far doesn’t give the assurance that things never will fall apart. Individual countries behave very differently. While some countries may continue to grow using coal, other countries will flounder when hit by high oil and natural gas prices. It is quite possible that some countries will encounter major difficulties in the years ahead, even though they have so far been untouched. The precarious debt situations of a number of countries leave them vulnerable to disruptions.

137 thoughts on “World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts

  1. “For another, oil issues may very well have contributed to the Iraq war.”
    — Actually, it was the primary reason for that war. All the major oil companies are extracting oil there right now and Iraq’s economy has been privatized in order to open their markets to the multinational corporations and grease the palms of a handful of government officials.

    Western Oil Firms Remain as US Exits Iraq:
    “Prior to the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, US and other western oil companies were all but completely shut out of Iraq’s oil market,” oil industry analyst Antonia Juhasz told Al Jazeera. “But thanks to the invasion and occupation, the companies are now back inside Iraq and producing oil there for the first time since being forced out of the country in 1973.”
    http://dahrjamail.net/western-oil-firms-remain-as-us-exits-iraq

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kwczbTqaCs

    Extracting and exploiting the resources of weaker foreign people/lands is always accompanied by self-serving, fabricated narratives in order to appease the moral consciousness of those doing the exploiting and domination.

    • I agree that oil was the primary reason behind the war. I felt that if various other sites were copying the post over, I shouldn’t be too adamant on the subject, since some may object. I didn’t have time or space to explain why. The fact that the US didn’t really walk off with more oil argues against it.

      • That position doesn’t hold up.

        Tony Blair was likely the only man in the world who could have stopped GW Bush from proceeding after CIA **AND** MI6 analyses indicated the WMD threat was there. Tony Blair was leading a country with no particular oil stress and the North Sea was still a nice source of UK influx. He evaluated the evidence and signed on. He did so because he believed it was wisest for UK national security to do so — and let’s remember Blair was always thought to be relatively left wing before then.

        The war was because of erroneous intelligence data (and frankly, there is some evidence that it was not erroneous and the weapons were transported out) and hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. There doesn’t always have to be subtle meaning. Oil stresses weren’t on the radar screen in 2001. The price was low double digits.

        • It seems like there was always talk of “the war will pay for itself” because of the oil. Without this belief, it is hard to believe that as much money would have been spent, as was.

          Your view is one of the reasons I said “may.”

        • That’s laughable…..
          “Documents leaked by WikiLeaks on Tuesday (19) prove once again that the “war” in Iraq was a big hoax – concocted by the capitalist powers and amplified by the corporate media. They show that the British government, in collusion with the U.S., discussed the sharing of oil from the invaded country a year before the invasion.

          According to news published in the British newspaper, The Independent, the documents leaked by WikiLeaks show that plans to export the oil reserves of Iraq were discussed by British government ministers and major international oil principals a year before Britain accepted, along with the United States, the plan to invade Iraqi soil.”

          The newspaper notes that the serious denunciation of the existence of the prior plan had already happened in March 2003. At the time, both Shell and BP denied that they had been meeting in secret at Downing Street, home of the British government, to discuss the sharing of oil. The prime minister at the time, the doormat Tony Blair, called the allegations “completely absurd.” Memoranda published in The Independent, dated October and November 2002, give details about the meetings. In one of them, five months before the invasion, Elizabeth Symons, Minister of Commerce, affirms to BP that the government wanted British energy companies to receive part of the enormous benefits of oil and gas in Iraq as a reward for the military aid given by Blair to the United States to change the Iraqi regime.”
          http://www.eutimes.net/2011/04/wikileaks-the-looting-of-iraqs-oil/
          http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-memos-expose-link-between-oil-firms-and-invasion-of-iraq-2269610.html

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMPyDsLvPoM

          Try reading some books by Mark Curtis or John Perkins.

          • Wikileaks…yes, a source to be trusted in between their stealing of information, selectively editing it and omitting whatever they see fit. And Wikileaks has NO AGENDA WHATSOEVER, right? They are basically just as non-bias as NPR…which everyone knows is a completely absurd position. Whenever you are ready to join the ADULT world…we will all be here.

            • Also to comment on what Owens said: “Tony Blair was likely the only man in the world who could have stopped GW Bush from proceeding after CIA **AND** MI6 analyses indicated the WMD threat was there.”
              —– Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Charles J. Hanley personally went to Iraq in January 2003 and found no WMD after visiting every sight named by Bush officials.
              …..
              For some people, not even a sledge hammer to the head would convince them of the truth. Oil blinds everyone to the dirty realities of the world.

            • Apparently Oil blinds you too….from a rationale, logical and non-hypocritical mind!

            • Sorry, I don’t trust nefarious internet organization whose agenda is as terrible if not more than the governments they claim to be morally better than. They ARE NOT. I’d take the status quo over Wikileaks, Anonymous, or any of your other fellow “we don’t play by the rules and make the world like we want it or else” organizations. You are just pro-tyrants by nature. The MAJORITY rejects you. Now go play some more video games.

            • What can you say about people that don’t read the link you provide, except to say that they don’t read for comprehension. Dahr Jamail, Mark Curtis, and Charles J. Hanley are all highly respected investigative journalists who have nothing to do with WikiLeaks or Anonymous.
              I’m all ears. Provide me with links and proof of the weapons of mass destruction and the “democracy” we have installed in that war-ravaged country.

            • Your link is full of opinions, lack of evidence and outright fabrications. You are a liar.

            • Break it down for me. Like I said, I’m all ears. Tell me your version of things on the ground. Are all the major oil companies presently extracting oil from within Iraq? Did we establish “Democracy” in Iraq or just a sham vassal state for the U.S. Empire’s energy and geopolitical interests? How many millions of people were killed and maimed in this venture? I’ve got more questions for you once you answer those.

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  3. Well, I feel sorry for the generations ahead.The four generations of the 20th century have benefited from the Fossil Fuel Fiesta as these graphs show.

    But what these graphs also show is that there is no viable readily available energy alternative to the massive FF use. None. Not even nuclear, From The Economist, Nuclear power; The Dream That Failed http://www.economist.com/node/21549936

    And China’s coal consumption (3.88 billion tons) is now nearly half of the total world consumption of coal (8 billion tons) http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-03-09/china-coal-update

    Without China the global per capita consumption of coal would not look so rosy.

    When 1 massive country dominates a global graph like this it would be interesting to plot graphs with China excluded as well. to give a more accurate view of real energy availability to other sections of the world.

    As Gail has shown in Graph 6 we are well beyond Peak Oil wrt per capita availability. Declining per capita oil consumption is being replaced with coal & natural gas When these Fossil Fuels peak as they will in the next few years or decades there seems to be very little alternative to Power Down.

    It is staggering to me that so many people are being misled by the Business As Usual corporations & politicians that the future will be just as rosy as the recent pas of the 20th century. It t is more likely to resemble the past of the19th century, if we are lucky.

    Excellent post Gail. Lots of work. Thank you.

    • Thanks! I couldn’t see any way to power down from these graphs either.

      I had thoughts about other graphs I could include, but try to limit myself to slightly over 2,000 words and 10 to 12 graphs, per post, since that probably is near the upper limit of readers’ attention span. Some graphs landed on the cutting room floor.

      How long the fossil fuel party lasts really depends on economics. China is already needing coal imports to keep its consumption rising. These are more expensive, and may not be able to grow rapidly enough. The natural gas situation depends on LNG ships and building all of the other infrastructure, all of which is expensive. Countries like Japan using large amounts must also be able to pay the high prices without running large trade deficits.

      I am afraid we are reaching party over in not too long, because of the financial problems importers will encounter.

      • “that probably is near the upper limit of readers’ attention span.” I fully agree, Gail. I like to recommend your posts to some sceptical friends and family, but I doubt they read as much of them as I hope for. Short and to the point scores well. Many thanks for all your excellent work.

  4. Very good article! I like the economists mislead part very much. However I thing there are “economy growth theory” believer and alternative economist. Most of the economists are specialists – so they do not see the whole picture – they were taught to think in terms of economy growth – so they may not be able to think differently.
    I think another excellent article was the “money as a proxy” – in connection to this the economists have ability to see the system through this proxy. ( Money means fiat money.)
    The figures and explanations are exellent also!

    Two quotations:
    “Today the money is the God and economists are the priests”
    “If Someone think in economy grow that is either economist or foolish”

    • It seems like if a person has never thought about the need for energy to run the economy, it is hard to see that this concept is fundamental. We are now seeing more and more articles about high oil prices affecting the economy, so maybe part of the problem will eventually start to sink in.

      • My favourite definition of The Economy is “Humans using Energy to convert Resources into Goods & Services (&ultimately into Waste).

        This definition applies to all economies from small tribes to large modern countries to the global economy.

        As Fossil Fuels become more expensive to extract &/or begin to run out, then in the absence of some new miraculous high density energy source, the global economy can only go in one direction.

  5. Good article.
    I wonder if anyone is left who actually understands its implications?

  6. Per capita data is almost always pretty powerful stuff.

    In this case, I’d suggest it is not surprising. As population grows, another thing does not. Calories/acre. That number can increase via Monsanto and Potash, but it isn’t spiking like population curves.

    As soon as one caps calories/acre, then food has to transport. You can’t eat local anymore. Too many people in the region. Food has to come in from places there are fewer people. That means oil.

    Don’t care much about “energy”. Certainly don’t care about CO2 emissions. Only oil matters. The rest is probably fundraising material pointed at environmentalist wallets. The per capita XXXXX use charts would be better if purely oil. China’s per capita oil use is 10% of the US’s, and that is the source of inevitable war.

    • You are right that the oil numbers are more important than the total numbers, for the reasons you mention. You can see that the per capita oil numbers are dropping quite a bit. I think some people look at the drop that has occurred to date, and assume that a further drop would be no problem. That is clearly not true, especially if it is quick.

      • I’ve been putting some time into this. I think there is an error in the modeling done by . . . whoever.

        GDP sensitivity to oil price has the double whammy of suppressed activity + price deflator index impact, and that’s a big deal because rent’s moderating effect on CPI is not weighted as heavily in the Price Deflator , but the more important item I think is modeled wrong is things like what you’ve just alluded to, consumption to GDP or consumption to lifestyle or consumption to whatever ratio. I am more or less certain all models have a contstant or at most a linear function for the relevant coefficients, and I think this is wrong.

        It’s analagous to business overhead. Coefficients for survival as a function of oil consumption are 1.0 up to a threshold and then it falls from 1.0. We’ve been in the less than 1.0 realm for a few years now. If we are forced lower by scarcity, we’re going to see survival impact.

        • I’m gonna reply to myself because the phrasing is poor and catharsis rules some days.

          GDP is the formula everyone knows, but what is less known is each parameter of the formula is adjusted by the GDP Price Deflator. This is NOT the Consumer Price Index. GDP uses a different inflation index. The GDP price index weights rent lower in impact than CPI does, and as a result of this, oil/gasoline price has more impact on it.

          Therefore, the US GDP computation is affect by oil in two ways. 1) Overall economic activity is degraded because money is sucked out of the borders of an oil importing country and 2) The price deflator on all parameters of the GDP equation erodes their positive influences. Thus, generally speaking, people are not computing the GDP delta as a function of oil price correctly. I have seen about 80 different rules of thumb for this, like “$10 of oil price rise equates to 0.2% GDP” (silly, far lower than reality) or “20 cents a gallon for gasoline is 0.5% GDP growth” (probably also low).

          The rest of my babble is about non linearity in the elasticity presumptions. Not so much price elasticity but rather a non linearity in the level of lifestyle as a function of oil consumption. You have a spectrum of lifestyle from bare survival, then fancier foods, then maybe a bus to work instead of walking, then carpooling to work, then driving to work, then more than one car in the family, then RV drive across America summer vacations, then 2 week tours of Europe, then 4 weeks on an Antarctic cruise, then servants. What I am suggesting is the drop from servants to 2 week tours of Europe occurs with X barrels less oil consumption, but the drop from 2 week tours of Europe to the multi car family happens with just X/2 less consumption.

          Meaning, each “equivalent” lifestyle decline occurs with a smaller loss of oil consumption ability. It’s non linear. As we get down towards bare survival, it may only take a couple fewer barrels to push down a level than the 100s of barrels it took to lose a level at the higher end.

          • Excellent insight: although whether the lifestyle decay nonlinearity is geometric or whatever is as irrelevant as to what the coefficients might be. It also offers a glimmer of hope for a «soft landing» being physico-economically practical if politically impossible.

          • Another thought that has occurred to me is that GDP counts an increase in oil cost multiple times, in some sense, because it is not just the higher cost of oil that goes in. If the higher cost of oil leads to a higher cost of food, that goes in as well. If it leads to a higher cost of transported goods, that goes in as well. So the oil impact on the economy occurs in multiple places. There will of course be offsetting declines in spending in other segments of the economy.

        • I haven’t thought about it in the way you have, but I agree that simple modeling is likely not to work very well.

          One of the issues in modeling is the various feedbacks to the economy, as oil prices rise higher. This can lead to very wide-ranging impacts, including a reduction in home prices and difficulty in debt repayment. Also, the amount of oil added to the system over time is not necessarily proportional to the amount extracted, if more of the oil extracted is used within the system itself, because of higher energy needs as lower quality oil is extracted.

          Another issue is the oil price pattern since 2004 seems to be very different from prior to that time. Modeling needs a long time-series, however, and doesn’t consider the fact that a supply constrained system is fairly different from one which is not.

          • That’s legit thinking. The non linearity need not be 2nd order. It can be 3rd or 4th or more. One usually presumes that 2nd and 3rd and 4th order effects have diminishing impacts in a model, but there’s no reason mathematically this must be so.

            The folks getting foreclosed and booted stop spending unpaid mortgage payments on iPads and blamo, Apple gets crushed. Maybe it’s no accident there has been such effort to “keep people in their homes” regardless of whether or not they are paying anything at all to a bank while there. The Administration reasons correctly that the FASB change of 2009 that removed obligation from banks to mark MBS value to market does indeed firewall bank reported results for at least the near future and therefore reinforces the illusion of their alleged solvency. But if people have to pay their mortgage payment, then that is an overt iPad that is not bought. Best, they reason, to leave all this alone until after November.

            A population living somewhere for free can suddenly afford to fill their tanks.

            • “A population living somewhere for free can suddenly afford to fill their tanks” — That is a good point. We have a lot of folks still living for free, I expect.

  7. Solar can fill all of the non-transportation energy gap. Tom Murphy has “done the math” on his blog (see http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/02/the-way-is-shut/ ). There is plenty of solar power available just on the surface of the Earth and Solar Power Satellites can be used to collect orders of magnitude more power and beam it to Earth for our electricity needs.

    The big problem comes in transportation, where fossil fuels have such an advantage in packing huge amounts of energy into a compact space. Even there, it is reasonable to believe that enough hydrogen can be generated using solar power to fill that gap as well (Murphy probably disagrees with this view). The pessimistic view assumes that there are no advances in energy for transportation, but the past should tell us that advances are the norm, especially when the pressure is on to fill the gaps.

    Right now, one of the problems with wind and solar is intermittency, but a US company has developed large capacitors which can store electricity as cheaply as lithium-ion (Li-on) batteries. These capacitors have the advantage of being able to be recharged orders of magnitudes more times than Li-on batteries (i.e., millions versus thousands of times). And, these capacitors work just as well at low temperatures where Li-on batteries have to be heated to continue working. This solves the intermittency problems with wind and solar.

  8. Here is something I have been thinking about: Someone was stating that food production will never be a problem because America wastes so much food already we have plenty of slack. I wonder that our food system needs a certain amount of volume to work, it wouldn’t make sense to ship 1 pig from Arkansas to New York. If demand drops enough, then our long distance food distribution doesn’t make economic sense anymore.

    • It seems like there are a lot of weak links in our food distribution system. Everyone depends on a few seed distributors. Farmers need to pay their loans back. The system for bringing food to market needs to work. There needs to be enough fertilizer for crops. There needs to be fuel for the big equipment. I don’t know which part will fail.

    • The biggest impact of global warming is not only an increase in temperature, but also a huge increase in droughts which will hit many agricultural producing areas hard. Aiguo Dai of NCAR used the best models available to come up with a composite projection of drought levels (Palmer Drought Severity Index) for each year this century. You can view these projections at http://youtu.be/zEuhg71ttOc He said, “By the 2030s, the results indicated that some regions in the United States and overseas could experience particularly severe conditions, with average decadal readings potentially dropping to -4 to -6 in much of the central and western United States as well as several regions overseas, and -8 or lower in parts of the Mediterranean. By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States, could face readings in the range of -8 to -10, and much of the Mediterranean could fall to -15 to -20. Such readings would be almost unprecedented.”

    • Oh heavens no. Transport efficiency in the age of oil is far, far better than pre oil.

      Oil fuels refrigeration on trains. Simply that. The “cattle car” was how beef transported from Omaha to NYC pre-oil. 60% of the mass of a steer cannot be eaten, but all of it was transported because pre-oil, refrigeration was not doable on the train in summer. In the age of oil, we transport butchered beef (and hogs, and chickens) that is frozen so bacteria can’t grow and rot it.

      There is no slack. If there’s no oil, you return to transporting mass (60%) that no one will eat.

  9. Isn’t the obvious conclusion here that natural gas will be the next energy wave?

    Natural gas is insanely cheap in the US. This is the result of better extraction technologies, which allow shale gas to be extracted with very reasonable EROI.

    As a relatively “pure” FF, natural gas is also very efficient in generating power. It is easily twice as efficient as coal in generating electricity. It can power automobiles and trucks reasonably well, and it is inexpensive to create “hybrid” natural gas/gasoline vehicles that can switch between either fuel. People are comfortable with natural gas lines being piped directly into their homes, where gas can be used for home heating, water heating, clothes dryers, and fueling natural gas vehicles.

    It seems odd to ignore this booming fuel. The US is not unique in it’s ownership of shales. Shale formations exist throughout the world, and their extraction is just beginning.

    Although there are some environmental concerns over shale development, these issues are of little relevance to strong mineral rights counties like the US and Canada, nor are they especially relevant to countries with weak environmental regulations like China, Argentina and Mexico. This is a big resource whose “peak” is multiple decades in the future.

    A “power down” seems incredibly unlikely within the next 2-3 decades, as shales have their run. Perhaps when the shales have been fully tapped such concerns might be relevant.

    • I am not convinced of this:

      1. Shale gas is really very expensive to produce. Those doing it are not getting enough money to cover their costs, at current prices.

      2. The pricing mechanism doesn’t really work. Prices jump all over in response to changes in supply. Sellers almost need long-term contracts to get a high enough price for the natural gas.

      3. I am not convinced that natural gas will take over much of what is currently done by oil, because of supply limits and the cost of conversion.

      4. Shale gas has “issues”–amount of water used, possible spilled “produced water,” possible escaping methane pollution to atmosphere, fear of fracking.

      • 1. “Shale gas is really very expensive to produce. ” Well, that argument perhaps seemed credible two years ago. But natural gas has been cheap since then, and the production numbers just keep going up. So, clearly, it cannot be all that expensive.

        2. “. Sellers almost need long-term contracts to get a high enough price for the natural gas.”

        Are you unaware that there is a futures market for natural gas? Such contracts exist at many levels.

        3. “I am not convinced that natural gas will take over much of what is currently done by oil, because of supply limits and the cost of conversion.”. The US certainly seems to be doing well during the past 24 months of “cheap gas, pricey oil”.

        4. “Shale gas has “issues”–amount of water used, possible spilled “produced water,” possible escaping methane pollution to atmosphere, fear of fracking.” Mountain top removal coal mining has the same issues, (except perhaps 100X as worse) and no-one is slowing that down. Mineral rights in this country are incredibly strong, and the landowners clearly want to get paid. Again, this isn’t a theory, it’s a fact – fracking is not slowing down it’s accelerating, and many prominent Democrats (not the least Obama himself) have jumped on board.

        At any rate, we shall see, but the you’ve been printing “shale skepticism” for the last 4 years, and during that time the price of gas has gone straight down and the production numbers have gone straight up.

        • I work in the industry and I can tell you that shale gas has NOT been profitable since it dipped below $6 per btu. Production only was going up the last few years due to the fact that most companies hedge their production several years out with financial contracts. As of 2012 most shale gas operators like Cheseapeke and others have announced major cutbacks in drilling new shale gas as these hedges are coming to and end and the real price is hitting hard.

          • Isn’t Chevron ramping their Macellus production up?

            And isn’t Chesepake making a multi-billion dollar investment in the Ohio Utica?

            Are you anticipating a big drop in overall natural gas production numbers next year? I’m not.. but we shall see.

            At any rate, 3-4 years ago the break even price was supposed to be $8 per btu. Now we hear $6 per btu. Sounds like progress to me.

            Even $6 gas is a huge. They’re buying it for twice that (or more) in Europe and Japan, no? Oil at $120 has the dollar-per-energy equivalence to gas at $20, right?

            So a $6 gas ceiling still seem pretty good for the US consumer. But I wouldn’t bet on $6 gas within the next 2 years… you can make your own bets.

            • Yes the Marcellus is different because of proximity to the largest U.S. gas market which is the northeast coast and NYC. Companies want to hold and drill this acreage due to the premium price you get over spot (right now I believe it’s around $3 buck per btu. Many oil and gas companies have to drill just to hold their acreage as it’s part of their contracts with the landowners and they essentially become their own worse enemy. I am anticipating that production will absolutely have to come down else producers will wither and die. The current gas projects at $2.50 per btu are being subsidized entirely by $100 plus oil but that is not sustainable. I know because we run our models on thus assumption.

              I understand that gas is a lot more expensive in Europe and in China but Europe is also in the early stages of a depression with the highest petrol prices on record and gas around $13 per btu. The problem is finding balance, gas used to just be a bonus to finding oil and was otherwise just flared off as a nusiance. It will always be an inferior energy source to oil as it’s less energy dense and not in liquid form.

            • “The current gas projects at $2.50 per btu are being subsidized entirely by $100 plus oil but that is not sustainable”

              What is not sustainable? $100 plus oil? Great, cheaper oil is also good for the economy.

              I don’t see the “doom” event, at least not for the USA. If oil stays high, it subsidizes cheap nat gas and drives a US industrial advantage. If oil drops, we all enjoy the benefit of cheaper oil.

              Is there some event where by oil stays high and natural gas goes significantly higher? Seems far-fetched to me.

              Now, if you were Japan, with no shales to drill, or Europe, with government controlled mineral rights, it would be different, right? But here in the USA, if you want to drill out your gas/oil, it’s basically unstoppable. Worst case, you appeal any “ban fracking” restriction up to Johnny Roberts and here is merry band of Supreme Capitalists, and they go all Penn. Co V Mahon.

              But there are so many drill-friendly governors sitting on shale ground that such actions aren’t even needed.

          • Thanks for your input. There are a lot of estimates that go into profitability when there is a plan to extract natural gas from a well for 30 or more years. I would think the real break even price could even be quite a bit higher than $6 per Btu, with different assumptions.

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