Energy Security


390 billion teraWatts for perhaps 12 billion years

The idea that energy is somehow scarce is fundamentally wrong, though some certainly thrive on that perception.

Our planet intercepts around 175,000 teraWatts (1tW = a billion kW) in solar radiation.  Our global energy consumption is currently around 13tW — not 13,000, just 13.  Should demand ever exceed this fabulous supply, we can venture into space and recover a proportion of the 390 billion teraWatts Sol generates.

We can expect our star to keep on delivering this bounty for perhaps another eight billion years.

The problem is not one of supply but one of delivery.  There’s plenty of energy available, but it’s hard to carry.

Another myth purveyed by those who stand to profit from it is that solar energy is hard to recover.  The truth here is that, in comparison with investment in the technology of exploiting unsustainable supplies, almost no research or development has been undertaken.  In the half century following World War II, the US Government alone spent around $150bn on the development of nuclear power, none of which has ever been repaid.  Not only is nuclear power dependent, once again, on finite resources beneath foreign fields, it is also far from portable.

The cost of oil dependency is now clear for all to see.  It is measured in the death and appalling injury of heroic young men and women in a foreign war (only a fool would deny that the invasion of Iraq was about security of oil supply), severe pollution, and the destruction of ecosystems (oceanic, coastal, and land).

Global consumption of oil is currently running at about 30 billion barrels (bbls) a year, from a resource of around 1,700-2,250 bbls.  So it’ll all be over in 60-80 years, except that there are new boys in town, who want to play the same game.  Consumption in the (so called) developed world is also still rising.

Road transport is currently responsible for around half our oil consumption.  Improvements in vehicle efficiency have been outpaced by an increase in mileage.  Clearly, such gluttony will stop, voluntarily or otherwise, within a few short decades.

Rail uses more than seven times less energy per passenger-kilometre.  Foot and bike need nothing more than a slightly bigger breakfast.  So there is no denying at least one alternative lifestyle — the one our car-less ancestors knew.

Solar energy might cost a bit more, when you neglect all external costs, but it is inexhaustible.  And nothing, and no one, has to die in its recovery.

You may enjoy : Monolithic Oil (ignore warning, there is nothing here to offend anyone, except perhaps an oil executive)