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.

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