The short version of this post is simple: We are in a bit of trouble.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency projects that the world will consume 819 quads of energy in 2040.
A ‘quad’ is one quadrillion BTUs. A BTU is the amount of energy required to heat one pint of water by one degree Fahrenheit. It’s about the same amount of energy as in burning a wooden match. One quadrillion of them is about the same amount of energy as in a train full of coal, a very long train. Each car in the train would contain 100 tons of coal. The train would extend 3,789 miles.
The world consumed a projected total 558.7 quads in 2014, according to the EIA. 160 of those quads were fueled by coal. By 2040, again using the EIA estimates, that will grow to 219.5 quads from coal.
That’s a scary figure. Most of that coal will come from China (121.5 quads in 2040), India (22.4) and the U.S. (20.4), a total of 164.3 quads. That’s 75% of 2040 coal consumption from just 3 countries.
I have just finished analyzing EIA numbers for the 5 biggest consumers of energy, China, the U.S., Russia, India and Japan. During this analysis I looked at their plans to increase energy production from nuclear, hydropower, wind and solar.
These countries have published plans for future energy infrastructure. Taken at their word, they will build energy plants that are non-emissive (including nuclear). Using heroic assumptions (that everything that is planned will be built, something that has never happened), the 5 top energy consuming countries will get 97.35 quads from non-emissive sources out of a total of 404.8 quads they will be consuming. Which leaves three-quarters of their energy coming from fossil fuels. In the best case scenario, a lot of that will come from natural gas. In the worst case scenario, most of it comes from coal.
Those who are hoping that green energy takes over need to realize that this is what is planned for construction. The only deus ex machina available would be for unplanned (that is, residential) solar rooftops to grow at a very high rate. We know how many nuclear power plants and dams are going to be built. And make no mistake, these plans are ambitious–China’s nuclear power program and hydroelectric construction are making government planners and environmentalists very nervous. India is reacting to their energy issues by trying to make it easier–to dig coal out of Indian ground. It is difficult to imagine the USA finding the political will to increase either nuclear or hydropower construction.
All of the attention and announced new construction will have the effect of maintaining the status quo regarding green energy as a percentage of the total. Sadly, the total will grow rapidly.
The top 5 nations will produce 61% of all human fossil fuel emissions in 2040. The second 5 will only produce 10%. It is only the top 5 who can move the needle on the balance of their energy portfolios to make a difference.
At the present it is explicitly clear that they have no plans to do so.
As it happens, I believe the situation is even worse than I have described it. My calculations show that energy consumption will increase more rapidly than does the EIA. My projections show world energy consumption rising to 965 quads by 2040, as opposed to the EIA figure of 819.
I show my figures here. I hope someone will tell me I missed a decimal point or forgot one important factor. I really do.