Monthly Archives: February 2012

The OECD Energy Conundrum

As far back as 2003, the OECD noticed that the economies of its members were moving apart, not converging. At the time, all the talk was about productivity due to adoption of information and communications technologies–some (notably the U.S.) were doing it better than others, and were making hay while the sun shone.

Fast forward a decade and the storyline is similar in some ways–the OECD countries are not converging–but the reasons why seem to be shifting. Everybody has jumped on the IT revolution, clasping it to their collective bosom. But not only are countries not getting more similar, they seem to be getting more different.

Actually, the explanation is pretty simple. Some countries that joined the OECD in more recent decades are not at all similar to the original membership. But the differences have consequences. Talking about the OECD as a monolithic bloc really doesn’t make sense any more.

And nowhere is this truer than when people talk about energy. And once again, the desire to analyze at a macro rather than a micro level is leading prognosticators and analysts perilously close to the same error they have made (and I hope to have highlighted here) about the developing (read: non-OECD) world. Just as we saw that China, India, Indonesia and others are set to grow much faster than agencies such as the Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency have predicted, so too will OECD members such as Mexico and Turkey. The slow (0.3% annual) growth that these agencies forecast for the OECD as a whole look woefully inadequate when looking at the younger, still developing developed countries.

PriceWaterhouse Coopers, in their paper ‘The World in 2050,’ predicted that Mexico would grow at the same rate (3.9% annually) as China through 2050. They predict that economic growth in Turkey would actually be faster, at 4.2% annually. That’s why the two countries were included in their new classification, the Emerging Seven, joining the usual suspects–China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and (oops!) Russia.

I personally believe both Turkey and Mexico should be included in the OECD. But I also believe that they both need and want to develop as much as China does. And if they do, their energy growth will not be the paltry 0.3% growth predicted for them. If their economies grow as quickly as China, so too will their energy consumption.

Forty years of growth at a very rapid pace leads to some staggering totals at the end of the period. the PWC paper says the Emerging 7 will have economies larger than the G7 by 2050. Pretty safe to say that their energy use will be larger as well.


Mexico is expected to see its population rise from 112 million in 2010 to 135 million in 2030, and 153 million by 2050. Their GDP is expected to grow from $1 trillion in 2010 and, according to Goldman Sachs, this will reach $9 trillion by 2050.

In 2006, Mexico consumed 7.4 quads per year.

They will be richer than we Americans are today. They will have access to the fuel they both need and want.

If they then decide to use energy at the rate we are today (323 mbtus per person), the 153 million Mexicans will consume 49.4 quads per year. That’s a compound annual growth rate of 4.1% per year.


Turkey’s population is forecast to rise from 73.7 million in 2010 to 93.7 million in 2030, and 86.4 million by 2050. Their GDP is expected to grow from $735 billion in 2010 to $5.3 trillion in 2050. Again, they will be rich enough to consume energy as profligately as Americans, should they so choose.

Turkey’s energy consumption was 4 quads in 2006. If they do choose to consume energy as Americans do today, they will burn 30 quads in 2050. That’s a 4.6% CAGR.

It’s all very well to note that Eastern Europe (and much of Western Europe as well) is going to experience population declines that may lower energy consumption, or at least growth in energy consumption. But the OECD now has dynamic and growing countries ranging from Chile and Australia to Turkey and Mexico.

To ascribe to the group as a whole a slow percentage growth is missing the picture.

Transportation Fuel Consumption in the U.S., as it is today

We’re actually at a fairly crucial decision point regarding our use of energy in the U.S. right now. Tom Friedman is discussing whether or not the U.S. should join OPEC, now that we’re bringing more oil and gas out of the ground.

But after two decades of fighting over environmental issues and global warming, the U.S. is energetically trying to lower fuel consumption, and that very much includes the gasoline at the pump.

The U.S. used about 30 quads burning liquid fuels for transportation last year. That’s almost one-third of all the energy used in the U.S. in 2011. It is also almost one-third of all fuel used for transportation in the world in 2011. That’s a lot of gasoline.

We used to be pretty good at improving gas mileage.

(Hat tip for this chart and the next to Early Warning.) In fact, from 1975 to 1990 mileage increased from 12 mpg to 18mpg. That’s the same percentage that President Obama and the EPA want us to improve by over the next 15 years. Is that realistic? The last 20 years show that we’ve only increased from 18mpg to 22 mpg, not nearly as impressive.

American vehicles are heavier and less efficient than equivalent vehicles in Europe. Europe’s fleet of cars averages 35 mpg, while America’s average is about 22 mpg. (Higher fuel prices incentivised innovation among car manufacturers and frugal prudence in European car buyers.) If we could magically raise our average mileage to European levels the amount of energy we would save would be more than 10 quads. That’s, umm, 80 billion U.S. gallons of gasoline. A year. U.S.refineries get about 19.4 gallons of gas out of a barrel of oil, so that’s 4 billion barrels a year, or 11.3 million barrels a day we wouldn’t burn. That’s how much we imported, total, in 2010.

So it’s realistic. It’s possible. And it would certainly help our balance of trade figures. And it would free up supply for the developing world, which badly needs it.

But here’s the thing. In 1975, when CAFE regulations were introduced mandating mileage improvements, mileage improved. But after the crisis, the price of oil dropped and the regulations sort of went away. Mileage stopped improving. If America is producing this oil domestically–even if prices don’t drop–will domestic energy companies resist higher mileage more strongly?

Kind of a lot more riding on this than the usual back and forth between the Energy Cowboys and the Environmental Brigades…

One Month Anniversary

Well, I’ve been doing this for a month and despite the lack of posting in recent days, I’m still loving it. I’ve managed to get 5,567  hits and 221 comments.

The report I started this blog to publicize has been downloaded by 20 of you–I hope more will take the plunge. In the meantime, I’ve learned more about global use of energy, which stubbornly continues to grow at 5% per year while everyone wants it to grow at half that rate.

And I’ll continue to beat that drum on this blog. Planners, politicians, economists and plain ol’ citizens are not getting the information we need to make good decisions that involve energy. This planet is going to use a lot more energy by 2030 (which is just around the corner) than the prognosticators have figured.

This means that those planning for one future will have to deal with another. And that means coal. The easy to get, easy to burn, easy to transport fuel that has worked so well for humanity over the past two centuries (except for those minor problems with health, habitat and the atmosphere…).

If we don’t prepare for the real amount of energy we need we will have no choice.

What China is doing to prepare for its energy future

China will need a lot of energy in the medium term future. I calculated their consumption at 247 quads in 2030, up from 100 quads last year.

China is working heroically to assure supplies of oil and coal. They are eagerly awaiting completion of Mongolia’s mega-mine, Tavan Tolgoi, as Mongolia is slated to produce 240 million tons of coal a year by 2040. None of that coal is expected to sit on the shelves gathering dust. China will burn it.

China has invested $15 billion in Canadian tar sands projects, happy to snap up the oil that is too dirty for American tastes.

China currently has 14 nuclear power plants, with 27 under construction. They have plans for a further 150 plants, and intend to build about 4 a year until they get to that figure.

China has other needs than energy–fresh water being among them. So China is working to kill two birds with one stone. “China already has half the world’s large HEP dams (25,800), which produce 213 GW of power. And while the west has mostly stopped building dams—the U.S. has only produced 80 GW of HEP in its history—China is forging ahead: Along the Yangtze River and its tributaries, 100 large dams are either being planned or built, and 43 additional dams are in the works for the Lancang (the Upper Mekong), Nu, Hongshui and Jiulong Rivers in China’s southwest.”

China is planning for a big future.

How Long Can China Grow At This Rate?

The debate about future growth in energy consumption is obviously informed by, if not centered on, the spectacular growth in China.

China’s economy took off in 1978 and it is still growing:

China’s growth since 2005 has been just as spectacular, averaging about 10% per year.

But looking ahead towards 2030, 2050 and 2075 (which is the purpose of this weblog), we run into a dreamy, ‘yeah but’ quality in discussions about China. If you Google the phrase ‘Can China Sustain Growth’, you get more than 5 million search returns, and a lot of the links go to reasoned arguments making the case that China cannot, in fact, keep growing at the same rate.

And maybe they can’t. I note that people have been pessimistic about China’s growth for twenty years without being right yet, but if their thinking is sound, it may just mean that they were premature in their bearishness. And that happens a lot.

I’m not competent to evaluate the real future of China’s economy. I suspect that they’ll continue to grow robustly but have periods where growth slows dramatically. That’s sort of what happens to countries after they pass a certain point in development.

But in terms of energy consumption, I’m not really sure that the state of a country’s economy at any given point is the most important metric. Although energy use slowed during the most recent recession, and actually declined for a couple of years in the U.S. and some European countries, if you look at the history of American energy use, you’ll note one thing:

Our energy use climbed dramatically from 1900 to 1975. That period included the Great Depression, two world wars and several recessions. I think once a developing country gets a taste for energy, it’s tough to let go.

The Future of Energy

Although I’m extremely proud of the work I did in ‘Energy Consumption in the Developing World 2030‘, it’s really a baby step towards developing a global view on the future of energy for the planet.

Next steps for me are to extend the forecasting through to at least 2075 for the developing world and to start on the developed world thereafter. I’ve spent some time over the past month trying to understand the drivers of energy consumption in the developed world to try and get an intuitive feel of which way the cat is going to jump.

The ‘developed world’ as I use the phrase is limited to members of the OECD. This is merely a convention I use because international energy statistics are conveniently broken out between OECD and non-OECD nations and used as a proxy for ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations. But it’s relatively easy to identify subgroups within each category that don’t look like the rest of the members.

For example, within the 34 OECD nations we see that 4 countries–Chile, Mexico, Turkey and the U.S.–are slated to grow in different ways than the other members, in part simply because their population is projected to grow significantly over the first half of this century, while other OECD members will see either stable or declining population levels. This means that for some measures it will be a bit confusing to treat the OECD as a homogenous unit.

For example, while the 30 other members of the OECD are wealthy, stable and could perhaps best be described as the ‘reclining world’, the 4 countries I just mentioned actually account for 42% of the overall GDP for the OECD, mostly due to the inclusion of the U.S. as a developed-but-still-growing-country (Quick–someone think of a good acronym!). The same is true for population. The U.S., Turkey, Mexico and Chile account for 40% of the OECD’s population. To make it trickier, as new countries are added into the OECD club, there’s a good chance that they will look more like the 4 outliers than the recliners that have the most seats at the table.

In my paper, I differentiated between the non-OECD nations by noting that some (mostly in Asia and Africa and Latin America) were growing quickly, and I calculated a 5% annual growth rate for their energy consumption through 2030 (and speculated that that rate would hold through 2075). I suspect the same segmentation will be appropriate for the developed world as well, and I may end up abandoning the convenience of OECD vs. non-OECD nations and creating my own groups. (It would be nice if I could use just two groups, but I’m not an optimist about that.) And I’m pretty certain that I will find myself at odds with the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration again. I may be writing a similar paper saying that while the majority of OECD countries may follow their very-low-growth projections of 0.3% per year energy consumption, the countries that matter most will be growing more quickly.

But they play the game on the field and I’ll actually have to do the work before making the case. Feel free to chime in and help me construct the right framework for doing this. It’s going to take at least a month, so we all have time to think about it.

New Nukes: News to Use

The announcement that two nuclear power plants have been approved for construction in Georgia is likely to be the biggest energy news of the year.

The most obvious reason is that it will add clean and dependable baseline energy to Georgia’s power mix for close to a century. Each AP 1000 reactor will produce about 1,154 megawatts of electricity. As Georgia is one of the top consumers of electricity in the country, and because much of their electricity is provided by coal, this is welcome news. The two new reactors will provide more than a quarter of the state’s electricity needs. Georgia consumed about 1 quad in energy in 2009, and they  burned about 1 million short tons of coal in getting it.

However, despite Scientific American’s protestation in the linked article above, the larger impact is in breaking the logjam in getting new nuclear back into our energy mix. These two plants are the first to be approved since 1978. Nuclear currently provides about 20% of our electricity, but a lot of the existing fleet of plants are aging and need to be replaced. We also should seriously consider commissioning more nuclear plants to increase their overall percentage of our portfolio of fuels.

This may sound a bit strange–the DOE EIA projects that America’s long term energy consumption is not going to increase dramatically–from last year’s 98 quads to between 105 and 111 quads in 2030. However, if we are smart, the mix of fuels used to provide that energy will change drastically during that period, and in ways that the EIA doesn’t seem to take into account.

The next time mileage averages are published for the U.S. fleet, expect to be surprised at how much better mileage the country is getting as a whole. More hybrid cars are being sold, conventional cars are responding to their competition by arriving equipped with more fuel efficient engines, and all-electric cars are starting to arrive on the lots of dealerships.

It will take time for electric cars to have an impact–between 15 and 30 years. And that’s being optimistic about improvements in battery technology. And realistically, all-electric cars will do better in some regions than in other, colder ones. But as the fleet begins to change over to electric (and it will–government fleets, rental companies and large corporations looking to burnish their reputation will essentially make the market), we will begin to use less oil and more electricity.

It’d be a pity if that electricity was coming from a coal-fired plant.

The two new nuclear plants just approved are part of a roll-out of five new plants in total (well, one isn’t new–it’s just been tied up in the regulatory jungle for a long time). If we got the science and the safety right (not a trivial question), then this could be the start of something big.

Fly ash, mercury and black lung in an era of 3,000 quads

Coal plants are cleaner than they used to be–up to 77% cleaner, depending on how it’s measured–and the EPA in the U.S. is fighting to get them to be even cleaner. Coal mining is safer than it used to be–and we’re fighting to make it even safer.

But coal mining still produces mercury, which is really a poison. It still produces fly ash, which is not only unhealthy in the air, but gets stacked up in dumps that are not stable–too many of them end up sliding into rivers and streams. It is still dangerous. Too many miners are killed or injured at work, and too many suffer the aftereffects long after they’ve left the mines.

We use a lot of coal in the United States. It is burnt as the fuel providing about 45% of our electricity. Our environmental standards, while not the best in the world, are good at trying to limit the damage caused by our need for coal. But these environmental standards carry their own cost, and that cost is borne by both government and industry.

In developing countries the need for fuel is growing so quickly that they haven’t had the time to develop standards to protect their citizenry from the effects of pollution and lax safety rules. Coal is a big part of their fuel mix and that’s only going to grow. China, which is looking everywhere for energy solutions, is serious about going green, building wind and solar and nuclear as quickly as it feasibly can. But their dependence on coal will be ongoing throughout the century.

Old King Coal supplies about 21% of America’s energy needs overall. It supplies about 69% of China’s. And whereas America’s future energy growth will be moderate, China’s will be explosive. I have calculated here that their energy consumption will grow from 100 quads to 247 quads by 2030. And their use of coal will grow from 69% to 70% over that time. The same is likely to hold true throughout Asia, as quickly developing countries latch on to the fuel that has the least expensive sticker price.

But even to the extent that they are aware of the hidden costs of coal, they are for the moment willing to bear the pain associated with mining deaths, mercury in the air and water, etc., etc., as life without adequate energy just isn’t worth living.

So as we move to a future (in 2075) where we are likely to consume six times as much energy as we do today, and most of it will be in developing countries reliant on coal and without the mechanisms to make coal as safe as it is here, I guess the only silver lining is that the U.S. is focusing on an industry sector that will be hugely relevant to the people undergoing this dramatic transformation:



More about the Philippines and Energy

It’s no accident that Charles Darwin found so much of interest in the Galapagos Islands. Islands are natural laboratories and experimentation is frequent and vivid in isolated environments.

It’s true for human energy consumption as well. Many islands have to import all their fuel, such as Hawaii. There are a lucky few like the Dutch Antilles, where per capita energy consumption is double that of America–731 mbtus per person per year, mostly because they were fortunate enough to find oil and build an oil refinery on Curacao. There are some, like New Zealand, with low populations on the Ring of Fire that might find a fortunate combination of environmentally friendly fuels to serve their needs. And some, like Madagascar, that will be so constrained by poverty as to leave one perplexed on how they will meet their current, let alone their future energy needs.

The Philippine Islands (there are 7,000 of them comprising a land area a bit larger than Arizona) are home to 101 million people.  It is considered close to a middle income country, with a GDP of $4,000 per person, but in fact many of the metrics found in the CIA’s World Factbook look more like those of a poor country–maternal mortality, infant mortality–all the aspects of poverty found worldwide in the absence of access to energy. (That’s a concept I’ll be turning to over time, not that it’s something I invented.)

One of their primary natural resources is timber. One of the threats to their environment is deforestation. The Philippines imports 310,000 barrels of oil every day. Oil is expensive, the Filipinos are not rich, the wood gets burned. But the Philippines are also lucky enough to have access to geo-thermal power resources, and 15% of their electricity comes from hydropower.

However, islands have it tough in modern times. Although the Philippines are expected to grow in population from 100 to 140 million by 2030, their GDP is not expected to take off like some of the other countries in Asia. Per capita growth is expected to only have a CAGR of 2.6%.

From the outside, it looks as though a major constraint to development in the Philippines is lack of access to energy. Too much of their money goes to oil imports, they are too poor to really build a renewable infrastructure, every penny they spend on energy is a penny not spent improving the health of their citizens. It’s a trap other islands and isolated communities face, and the partial solution that the Philippines is adopting–a diaspora of workers to countries who need the labor–is a stopgap measure at best.

For the purposes of this blog, the important thing is to note what looks very much like a latent demand for energy–cheap energy–that, if available would trigger a massive spike in energy usage as it powered the Philippines to a rapid development that would catch them up to world standards in a hot heartbeat. I wrote yesterday that the Philippines had a per capita energy consumption of 14 mbtus annually, a scandalously low figure. But the people are too intelligent, literate, active and ambitious to be satisfied with that.

Whether that energy is provided by hydro, solar, geothermal, ocean thermal, wind or fossil fuels, they will get the energy they need.

When the numbers get real

I don’t know why this happened. I was planning on doing a post on the Philippines–I had included their statistics in the report published on the side of this weblog, and read the numbers I am about to present, and nothing happened to me then. I had read about renewable energy in the Philippines, especially their progress with geothermal energy, and nothing happened to me.

So today I was thinking I would check and see if there are new statistics about energy consumption there that would back up my thesis, that energy growth is happening faster than anyone predicted.

And now I’m just sitting here staring at the screen. Because the Philippine Islands, home to 94 million people, uses 1.3 quads per year. That works out to 14 mbtus per person per year. This vibrant country full of bright and energetic people are energy starved and after looking at stats for richer countries (we in the U.S. use about 340 mbtus per person per year, about 100 quads in total) it just gives me a new perspective on what poverty really is. The energy I use in two weeks has to last a Filipino all year long.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been there and know a lot of Filipinos here in the States.

And I do know there are countries that make the Philippines look rich in energy (Mali averages 1 mbtu per person per year). And the fact that the Philippines doubled their energy use between 1980 and 2000 somehow makes it seem worse.

But this got real in a hurry. For me at least.

Mountain high

Although we all should cheer the fact that energy derived from solar power increased dramatically in 2011, champions of alternative energy aren’t quick to boast about the total power it supplied. That’s because it didn’t supply very much.

Solar power capacity (not delivery) increased from 18 gigawatts to 24 gigawatts between 2010 and 2011. The world’s energy consumption was 15 terawatts.

So one burning question about solar is will growth be arithmetic or logarythmic. If the pace is 1, 2, 3, 4, we’ll need to get our coal-digging shovels out. If on the other hand it’s 1, 2, 4, 8 then the magic of compound growth will have solar providing significant energy.

Since all the figures for solar are always given in watts capacity, let’s stay with that measurement instead of my preferred quad.

If energy consumption does double by 2075, we’ll need about 30 terawatts. A bit more than 1,000 times growth. (Oh, don’t gulp yet…  it’s undignified. Whimper, moan and beg for mercy…)

If the past–since 1978–is any indication, we’ll actually get there. Solar has increased in capacity by an average of 36% annually–and we only need an increase of 11.6% every year to get there.

Here’s historical performance, courtesy of Professor Emanuel Sachs at MIT:

Now, nobody should think that innovation and penetration can improve at an incredibly high rate forever. Moore’s Law doesn’t cover every industry, and the logistical chain for microprocessors is infinitely more complex (and therefore amenable to continuous improvement) than the chain for solar power.

But it doesn’t have to improve forever–if it improves for four more years it’ll be cheaper than electricity provided by coal in most places and it’ll be off to the races. Increased installations of solar will cease to be driven by improvements and begin to be driven by comparative advantage.

We won’t mind.

The Great Migration and Its Energy Burden

There is no wall big enough to contain the great migration that is now in the process of changing the world.

This migration isn’t from Mexico to the U.S., or from Pakistan to the UK, or North Africa to Greece and Italy. It is happening within the borders of the countries of the developing world and consists of people leaving the farm for the city lights.

According to the FAO, in 1960 about 400 million people lived in cities. That number grew to 2.9 billion in 2008 and is expected to reach 4.9 billion in 2030.

That has an impact on energy consumption. Many in the developing world will be abandoning the burning of dung and firewood for the greater fuel density found in coal.  They will be turning on a light switch for the first time, and the consumption of electricity will extend to televisions, washing machines, computers and refrigerators. A study in Bhutan found that only 40% of rural households had electricity. 91% of their energy needs were met by firewood. Their biggest single need for fuel was for cooking. The biggest energy use in cities is for personal transportation, followed by washing machines.

Funnily enough, the overall trend is true even in the U.S.,  where rural households consume about 10% less energy than  do urban ones.  Update: Don’t want to start any urban legends here–I was looking at aggregate consumption, not per household or per capita. Big Whoops. Thanks BillC for calling it to my attention.

Perhaps more to the point, in China an urban household consumes 60% more than a rural one.

And the numbers get tougher. Currently, half of China’s population lives in cities. That is projected to grow to 75% by 2030–and that’s 75% of  a much larger population than they have today. And it’s just as true throughout the developing world:

Economist 2011

A larger number of people. A larger percentage of whom are moving to an urban environment where energy is more easily available–and less expensive. A larger number of people moving into the stage of the economic cycle where they can acquire the amenities that make life worth living–all of which consume energy.

I sometimes wonder if 3,000 quads is in fact an underestimate.

U.S. Energy History and Numbers

The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration has a graph showing U.S. energy consumption since 1775:

In 1880, the U.S. used about 5 quads in total. In 2010, the DOE’s revised (downward) estimate was 98 quads. The compound annual growth for those 130 years was 2.32%, which is almost exactly what the DOE EIA projects for the developing world between now and 2035. But growth was not evenly spaced throughout this period.

The great energy development phase for the United States occurred between 1900 and 1975, when energy consumption grew from 9.5 quads to 72 quads, a CAGR percentage of 3.71. However, this growth started after the U.S. was halfway finished with the grand demographic transition, the move away from agriculture as the primary means of existence for most of the population. By 1900, the percentage of Americans farming for a living had already fallen from 90% to 40%.

That transition has yet to take place in most of the developing world. Because it is their stated intention to telescope this process into a shorter timeframe than that used by the U.S. (and the rest of the developed world), their consumption of energy will increase at a faster percentage. But that’s another story.

A Return to Serfdom

Jean-François Mouhot, writing in the UK’s Guardian (a former employer of mine) has written an essay entitled “Once, Men Abused Slaves. Now We Abuse Fossil Fuels.” (h/t to Collide-a-Scape)

In it he writes that his students were frankly incredulous that humanity could tolerate a practice as barbaric as slavery. He then connected the use of fossil fuels to slavery, writing , “Intriguing similarities between slavery and our current dependence on fossil-fuel-powered machines struck me: both perform roughly the same functions in society (doing the hard and dirty work that no one wants to do), both were considered for a long time to be acceptable by the majority and both came to be increasingly challenged as the harm they caused became more visible.”

He goes on to elaborate on the analogy, making a rather tortured case that fossil fuels is a crime in the same way that slavery was a crime. He hopes that society awakens a moral collective conscience to fight fossil fuel use in the same way that abolitionists created a consensus against slavery.

It is amazing that a professor of history could so clearly miss one of the glories of human history. (To be fair, he is aware of what fossil fuels contributed to the reduction of slavery, but he clearly equates the two as moral crime.) Slavery, a fixture of human existence for millenia, left the stage at the same time that we learned how to use fossil fuels. That’s not a coincidence. Slavery  became less economically competitive with free labor as labor saving devices made it feasible for fewer people to do so much more work that it was possible to pay them, thereby removing much of the moral stigma and high costs attached to large-scale endeavors previously only made practical by forced labor. It became cheaper to pay 10 workers than house, feed and guard 100.

We see this perhaps most clearly by removing the political flash point of slavery and looking at paid domestic service. During the period after the abolition of slavery, the number of families wealthy enough to afford domestic servants grew dramatically. And the number of domestic servants grew as well.

In the decades between 1900 and 1940, the number of domestic servants in the United States grew from 1.5 million to 2 million. However, the ratio of servants to 1,000 families dropped from 94 per 1,000 families to 60. Similar drops occurred in both Germany and Great Britain.

(There’s a bit of chicken and egg circularity here. As industrialization replaced agriculture as the main engine of employment, factory jobs which paid more than domestic service were more easily available. But those factories ran on fossil fuels as well.)

What Professor Mouhot is doing is worse than chicken-and-egging. He is ignoring the role that fossil fuels played in liberating populations from the drudgery of domestic service. (It is now instrumental in liberating the grandchildren of servants from the drudgery of manufacturing.)

I don’t know why Professor Mouhot is separating fossil fuel usage from the rest of the technology innovations that spurred human development. Perhaps the current enthusiasm to reduce their usage (which I share wholeheartedly) has colored his thinking. But the use of fossil fuels freed us. Professor Mouthot seems to think we should abandon fossil fuels on moral grounds whether or not we can replace them.

And that’s just crazy. Develop alternatives? Yes. Reduce waste? Yes. Improve efficiencies? Yes. But throw away the engines that freed all men and women (not just slaves) from a lifetime of servitude and drudgery?


Parallels from history–the pace of adoption and conversion

I think the case made here for a doubling of energy use by 2030 is both strong and intuitive–in the developing world, energy consumption has been growing quite strongly, more strongly than projected, and shows no sign of slowing. Because it appears that the developing world’s energy use will grow at 5% per year as opposed to 2.3% a year, world energy consumption should reach close to 1,000 quads by 2030, as opposed to the 500 it used in 2010 or the 721 projected by the EIA for 2030.

So far, only Willis Eschenbach has kicked back on those numbers–and it’s really the sources, not the logic or calculations, that has him quizzical about what we’re discussing here.

But although I have asserted that this growth will continue, reaching 2,000 quads (or so) in 2050 and 3,000 quads (or so) by 2075, I have not shown my work yet. Well, that’s because I haven’t done the work yet–or not at the same level as I did showing growth through 2030.

Because there’s a lot of work involved, it’s going to take some time. Here at the outset, I’m going to explain why the hypothesis is logical enough to merit this exploration.

We’ll do this by working backwards and then by looking at history. Let’s assume that the UN’s medium projection of population for 2075 is close enough to work with–that there will be about 9.5 billion souls on this planet at that time. Let’s acknowledge human failings enough to admit that there will still be a Bottom Billion that we haven’t succeeded in liberating from the ranks of the very poor.

There will then be 8.5 billion people in various phases of the process we call development. They will be using more energy than they do now, and they will be increasing their energy usage dramatically. Let’s arbitrarily assign them an energy usage equivalent to what Americans use today–about 323 million btus per person–and look in horror at the total: 2,745 quads, and add another 100 quads burnt messily and inefficiently by the Bottom Billion. A grand total of 2,845 quads every year.

As most of this energy will be probably provided by coal, this result is close to catastrophic. So it is worth investigating.

The world’s energy use grew from a grand total of 21 quads in 1900 to 500 quads in 2010, a growth rate of 2.92% over 110 years. Although that’s higher than the EIA projects for the rest of this century, it’s lower than the 5% I use for the developing world. But that 2.92% was adequate only to develop the lifestyles used by people in the rich countries, now totaling 1.2 billion. To extend the miracle of modern life to an additional 7 billion human beings, and to do it in the next 65 years instead of 110, growth will have to be faster in those parts of the world that want so desperately to join us at the top of the pyramid. So, while the EIA is probably safe in their assumption of slow growth in the rich world (they think it will be about 0.3% per year), their assumption of 2.3% CAGR for the developing world will not provide the energy they need to develop to the same level projected by numerous institutions, ranging from the World Bank to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The alternatives are stark. Either the world will not develop as fast as everybody thinks, or the world will need a lot more energy for that development to actually happen.

So I guess it’s worth doing the work.

Let’s look next at how energy consumption increased in the U.S., since we’re using its per capita consumption as a benchmark.