Rodger dodger you old codger

Update: Just for clarity’s sake, I do not in any way think that Roger stole my idea or plagiarized my report. I honestly don’t, and I’ll put a ‘Willis Eschenbach’ style of memoir post explaining why. Roger emailed me assuring me that was the case and I believe him.

Over at the Breakthrough Institute, Roger Pielke has published an interesting article that basically replicates the work I’ve done  here at 3,000 Quads.

In arriving at his projected totals for future energy consumption, he uses the exact same methodology as I did in my report–picking a country that has ‘x’ level of energy consumption and calculating the result if the developing world reaches that level of prosperity. It’s sobering stuff.

I sent Roger the report a year ago in November of 2011 and a couple of weeks back he mentioned that he was working on something similar. He came up with similar answers, although he doesn’t use a timeline for achievement the way I did–I predicted 947 quads by 2030, roughly 2000 quads by 2050 and 3000 quads by 2075. (Not that I’m claiming the idea is my intellectual property–Dan Nocera has been writing in a similar vein for several years as well. But a hat tip would have been nice.)

Here’s his chart:


And here’s one of mine:table-10-various-projection-totals-china-india-indonesia-and-brazilGood to know great minds think alike.

China’s Coal Consumption Approaches Total of Rest of World

It’s not always that I agree with Time. But this time I do, even if they’re a bit late to the party.

“As the data shows, China is now burning almost as much coal as the rest of the world—combined. And despite impressive support from Beijing for renewable energy and a dawning understanding about the dangers of air pollution, coal use in China is poised to continue rising, if slower than it has in recent years. That’s deadly for the Chinese people—see the truly horrific air pollution in Beijing this past month—and it’s dangerous for the rest of the world. Coal already accounts for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the biggest causes of man-made climate change. Combine that with the direct damage that air pollution from coal combustion does to human health, and there’s a reason why some have called coal the enemy of the human race.”

Read more:

The developing world outpaces the DOE’s predictions… by a lot

Regular readers will remember that I predicted that China would be using 247 quads by 2030, far more than the Department of Energy’s forecast of 163 quads.  Is it possible they will be using even more than my pessimistic prediction?

“Data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics show the total energy consumed in China in 2011 (including 3.48 billion tons standard coal) increasing by 7 percent year-on-year. Experts estimate that the growth rate of energy consumption in 2012 will drop below 5 percent, hitting a 10-year low since 2002. Meanwhile, coal imports have increased by 60 percent to 290 million tons in 2012.”

Chinese miners process coal from a mine

The U.S. DOE’s International Energy Outlook for 2011 (they canceled their 2012 edition) predicted an average annual growth rate for China’s energy consumption at 2.3% through 2035.

If China continues to increase energy consumption at 7% annually, by 2030 their consumption could reach 316 quads.

India’s growth in energy consumption has averaged 8% per year for the past decade–the DOE predicted their growth would be slower than China’s. If they continue at their present pace they will reach 237 quads by 2030.

The two countries alone will consume more energy than the entire world did in 2012.

Forget toys, Lenovo computers and iPhones from China. And forget willing call center workers and Bollywood films from India. What they will be offering the world for the next few decades consists of pollution, black soot to float up to the Arctic and growing amounts of CO2.

I don’t blame them a bit for what they’re doing. I do hope they do it fast enough so their leaders can become as conscious of environmental impacts as some in the developed world. Many of their citizens already are–some have even moved ahead of the West in environmental consciousness.

I do blame us for ignoring what’s happening. If we’re not careful we’ll hit the 3,000 quad barrier before 2075. And it will be coming (mostly) from coal.

Look, people–I understand that the fight on climate change has real reasons behind it. I feel fairly certain that some activists have wildly exaggerated what they claim climate has already done due to global warming. I have come to believe that atmospheric sensitivity is lower than some activists claim.

But really–are we going to ignore the coal that India and China will burn to generate more energy than the entire world consumed this year?

One country is doing it right regarding coal…

…and that country is the United States of America.

From the New York Times: “A total of 55 plants have closed or have announced plans to shut down, according to a count by the Sierra Club. That will leave 395 coal-burning plants in the United States, compared with 522 in 2010, according to the Sierra Club.”

…”Nationwide, coal production dropped this year by an estimated 7 percent even as exports grew to Asia and Europe, according to the Energy Department.”

Now that’s cookin’ with gas… Let’s hope it spreads quickly throughout the world. China has more restrictive mileage standards for its cars than the U.S. Maybe they’ll do the same with coal.

Entering 2013 and Beyond

Energy growth in 2013 will be tightly coupled to economic growth and that will remain true for at least a decade. Supply fades as a factor while getting the correct fuel portfolio balance will be a key to quality of life worldwide for the foreseeable future.

We have once again returned to a world where energy discussions are dominated by demand. It’s a very different world than that where all the focus is on supply.

As has been a recurrent theme on this blog, I need to note that many have not recognized this sea change. Organizations ranging from the U.S. Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are still basing their forecasts on potential supply bottlenecks rather than watching how demand is calling forth new supplies from all over the world.

The stories on the DOE’s EIA webpage tell part of the story–from their perspective, trying to give their ‘customers’ (us) what they want. A story of supply. ‘The Availability of Petroleum and Petroleum Products From C0untries Other Than Iran.’ ‘Crude Oil Inventories.’ ‘Weekly Coal Production.’

This focus on supply has led these agencies to underestimate the growth of energy for the future. Regular readers will see me banging the drum again on this.

Energy supply has changed. China is currently building 308 hydroelectric facilities–large dams to generate electricity–in 70 countries worldwide.

Growth in U.S. energy has reached the top of the hill and now has surpassed the very modest growth in energy consumption in this country.

The world has 66 nuclear power plants under construction, 26 in China alone.

While the U.S. plays in its own sandbox with fracked natural gas, Australia, the Ukraine, Israel and plans in Brazil are changing everybody’s ideas about electricity generation and even automotive fuel.

Renewable energy continues to grow, providing almost 17% of all energy used in 2012.

Basically, folks, increased demand from the developing world called forth successful efforts to increase supply.

This is great news–the developing countries will have access to the energy they need to develop up to and perhaps beyond the living standards of the rich world. I am ecstatic.

This is terrifying news, as well. Despite the growth in non-emissive energy sources, the primary sources for fuel remain coal and petroleum. The annual growth rate in coal consumption since 1999 is 4.4%.


This weblog is titled 3,000 Quads because unconstrained growth will lead to that level of energy being consumed by 2075, far more than the supply-oriented organizations are projecting now.


Starting a New Blog About Climate Change

Well, I am going to split my blogging time. I find that I want to write more about climate change, but I don’t want to do it here. I want to keep this blog’s focus on energy consumption, so I have started a new weblog called The Lukewarmer’s Way. Feel free to drop by and say hi.

Dangers of a Data Monoculture

For almost a year I have been trying to alert readers to the strong possibility that  organizations charged with estimating future energy usage are consistently underestimating totals. I think the source of their error lies in miscalculating the take-up of energy in the developing world, compounded by their ignoring current latent demand and, perhaps most importantly, their stubborn refusal  to acknowledge that energy demand is not very elastic. It’s the last bill to go unpaid, so to speak.

Because of these errors, I think they have underestimated short term energy demand (through 2030) by a third. And I’ve spent a lot of time here showing why and discussing the possible consequences.

How do organizations like the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, the International Energy Administration, World Resources Institute, the IMF, the World Bank and companies like Exxon, BP and others who produce energy estimates get tied up in knots about things like this?

I think the answer, implied by the title of this post, is fairly easy to illustrate and explains a lot of problems with forecasting both within and outside the energy sector.

Take the DOE’s EIA. They spent a lot of time and energy developing a model of future growth of energy. I’m sure they were diligent and thought hard about it. (I think the defect is that it’s based on energy supplies, not demand, and that it thinks that people will quit using energy if it gets expensive.)

But the problem with their recent forecasts lies in their model-dependent analysis. After spending all that time and energy building their model, obviously they’re going to use it a lot. Sadly, it seems that they’ve tunneled their vision onto the model to the exclusion of a lot of data in the real world. (This is then exacerbated by the confirmation bias of looking at friendly analysis of the same sources by other organizations and feeling relieved when they arrive at similar results.)

Model dependency crops up in other areas as well. Economics, climate change–both are examples where tunnel vision is hurting analysis. We saw in my recent post that nobody had published a simple mash-up of CO2 emissions and recent temperature trends and my modest posting of the two together got quite a reaction. In finance, many of the great and the good seem determined to ignore Nassim Nicholas Taleb in charting paths to economic recovery, with one side making the (almost forgiveable) error of wanting to adopt one-half of the Keynesian prescription (deficit spending for investment in the face of a liquidity trap) without making a good faith commitment to practicing the other half (creating a budget surplus) when times are good.

The other side (the ECB and U.S. Republicans) are making the far more grievous error of looking at deficit numbers in isolation, thinking that the gross totals and their increase are reasons to abandon social programs and reduce debt at any cost. It makes me wonder if any of them have ever had a mortgage on a home. The cost to borrow money for governments with floating currencies has never been lower and the U.S. and the UK in particular should be spending their way to recovery. It will be tougher for the Eurozone countries, but they need to find a way.

In climate change discussions both activists and skeptics have found a comfort zone of data they are willing to use to advance their arguments. Activists like models, as real world observations are not exact enough to help them make their case. Skeptics like statistical rules and laws, which highlight the deficiencies and call arguments into question. Neither side has spent enough time examining the sources of data used by the other team. Activists still, in the waning days of 2012, show a surprising naivete and ignorance about statistics, while skeptics stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that models can be useful, if users keep their limitations in mind and a copy of The Black Swan on their desks.


The other fields that suffer from the same tunnel vision–healthcare, gun control, genetically modified organisms and their utility/safety or lack thereof–tend to comprise, with those examined above, most of the things we fight about.

I don’t consider that surprising. I don’t consider it unintentional. I do consider it as potentially fatal to the cause of solving any of the real problems that confront modern society.

Recapitulation and Rededication

My last post got linked, republished and talked about, apparently. We got a lot of traffic as a result.

I suppose I should be tempted to sink back into the morass of the climate wars and go for the big traffic that might justify my adding ads to the site. For now I’m going to resist. There are too many places where people can go to talk about climate change, and too few where energy is the focus. And I think this might be the only one with a micro focus on energy consumption.

Energy consumption. The worry of mine that gave birth to this weblog is that we are underestimating future energy consumption and as a result are sleepwalking into a world where coal becomes (again) the default fuel used to power the rise of the developing world. We’re not doing the infrastructure planning that will allow nuclear, hydroelectric, wind/solar/biofuels and even natural gas to take some of the burden off of old king coal.

Specifically, in the near term I project that the world will use 947 quads in 2035, far more than the 712 estimated by the DOE EIA, the IEA and the U.N. I also project it will only get worse after 2035, leading to an incredible 3,000 quads every year by 2075.

Of course this will have an effect on climate–even if atmospheric sensitivity is as low as I think (and hope), the brute force effect of the emissions associated with that much consumption of coal will impact our climate.

I’ve tried to show it and discuss it. So far, more than 22,000 visits to this blog have maybe convinced a few hundred people that I have a case. I hope so.

On to today’s topic. The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration has published their Early Release of the U.S. Annual Energy Outlook for 2013.

U.S. Energy Production 1980 2040

Some key points:

  • Domestic production of crude oil is increasing and is expected to continue to increase, reaching 7.5 million barrels per day by 2019
  • Our consumption of natural gas is also expected to increase, from 6.8 trillion cubic feet per year in 2011 to 7.8 trillion cubic feet in 2019
  • They have increased their projections of generation from solar and wind, from 13% of the total in 2011 to 16% in 2040. The EIA is not so optimistic about advanced biofuels, lowering the predicted output from all biomass from their 2012 prediction of 5.4 quads to 4.2 quads by 2035
  • With improved efficiency of energy use and a shift away from the most carbon-intensive fuels, U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide
    (CO2) emissions remain more than 5 percent below their 2005 level through 2040
  • They have upped their prediction of GDP growth per year, from 2.5% to 2.6% CAGR through 2040.
  • As for the reason I was so eager to look at the report… they obviously don’t agree with me. They predict that total energy consumption will rise by a total of 7% by 2035, from 98 quads in 2011 to 104 quads in 2035 and then by 6% to 2040 to a total of 108 quads. (I think it will be higher.)
  • Their justification still centers around their belief that energy intensity will decline as total U.S. population increases by 29 percent from 2011 to 2040, but energy use grows by only 10 percent, with energy use per capita declining by 15 percent from 2011 to 2040. I want some of what they’re smoking

Overall, I still think they’re looking too much at the inputs to their models–pricing and supply constraints, availability etc., instead of accepting that the demand for fuel is not very price sensitive and will be driven by population and GDP growth. Energy efficiency will surely help us out. But we’ve picked a lot of the low hanging fruit from that tree, and future progress in energy efficiency will be progressively more difficult.

It is when you combine the analysis of different data sources…

I apologize once again for the usual reasons. First, for the length of time since last I posted–we’ve moved and that was more disruptive this time than the 44 other moves I’ve made as an adult.

Second, for returning to direct discussion of climate change, something that is closely connected to energy consumption but so controversial as to impede rather than inspire rational discussion. But as I don’t see this elsewhere I want to write this here.

The physics behind the theory of global warming are solid. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, we’re emitting industrial levels of it, a significant portion remains in the atmosphere for a fairly long time. This retards the cooling of the Earth and temperatures warm as a result.

One of the few non-controversial datasets in climate change is the Keeling curve, the graph of the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere reproduced here:


We see concentrations rising steadily from 315 parts per million in 1960 to 395 ppm last year. It’s close to 400 ppm now.

Human emissions of CO2 caused by burning of fossil fuels and production of cement have risen similarly:



Emissions have climbed at an even higher rate than concentrations.

And the third data source to look at (for simplicity’s sake–we could actually look at dozens of data sources) is temperature changes. This chart shows the global average temperature change from a ‘normal’ 30-year range from 1950-1980. It comes from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, led by scientist James Hansen.

GISS global temperature anomalies

This shows a fairly constant rise in temperatures since 1978.

Once again, you don’t have to be a climate scientist to think that there seems to be a connection. The physical theory published first by Svante Arrhenius over 100 years ago and elaborated on by a century’s worth of scientists has observational evidence that tends to confirm it. I certainly believe in it.

In fact, I believe that global temperatures will probably rise by about 2 degrees Celsius over the course of this century. The difference in estimated temperature rises from different sources almost always comes from the differences in estimated atmospheric sensitivity to concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. Having extra CO2 in the atmosphere warms the atmosphere, which is presumed to produce more water vapor, which is also a greenhouse gas and would contribute more warming than the CO2 by itself. How much extra warming would ensue is pretty much the heart and soul of the debate over global warming.

Those who think that there isn’t much of an additional effect (that sensitivity of the atmosphere is low) have been chuckling very publicly because temperatures haven’t risen very much (if at all) since the big El Nino year of 1998. This is not hugely surprising, as the shape of the data is uneven, a sawtooth with ups and downs that can last a decade or longer. But it is happening at an inconvenient time politically for those who are worried that sensitivity is high. They are trying to get the world to prepare for warming of 4.5C or higher, without much success.

Here’s what temperatures look like more recently.


By itself, this chart doesn’t explain very much. As I said, it is not uncommon or unexpected for the temperature record to have flat or declining periods that last a decade or more.

However, I have a problem. The Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) has estimates of how much CO2 humans have emitted since 1750. (Confusingly, they convert the CO2 to tons of carbon with a fixed formula.) That chart is the first one way up there at the top of the post. It rises dramatically

But looking at the data global.1751_2009 (3), one thing jumps out at me. CDIAC writes “Since 1751 approximately 356 billion metric tonnes of carbon have been released to the atmosphere from the consumption of fossil fuels and cement production.” And they helpfully provide an Excel spreadsheet showing their estimates by year.

And almost one-third of that number, 110 billion metric tonnes, have occurred since that time in 1998 when temperatures reached their temporary plateau.

1998 6644
1999 6611
2000 6766
2001 6929
2002 6998
2003 7421
2004 7812
2005 8106
2006 8372
2007 8572
2008 8769
2009 8738

Because heat moves somewhat sluggishly through the earth’s oceans, and because there is a lag factor in other earth systems, we do not expect a hair-trigger reaction to increases in CO2 emissions and concentrations.

But one-third of all human emissions of CO2 have occurred since 1998. And temperatures haven’t budged as a result.

This does not ‘disprove’ global warming–at all. I still believe that temperatures will climb this century, mostly as a result of the brute force effect of the 3,000 quads of energy we will burn every year starting in 2075–the reason I started this weblog.

However it makes it exceedingly difficult to use the past 15 years as evidence of a very high sensitivity of the atmosphere to CO2 concentrations. And it makes me feel more comfortable about my ‘lukewarm’ estimate of 2C temperature rises as opposed to the more alarming 4.5C rises put forward by some of those who are most active in the movement to reduce emissions drastically.

And it makes me wonder about why people don’t include relevant data when they discuss these issues. Is it really that politically incorrect to show real data, even if that data doesn’t advance your case?


Coal Trains to Coltrane

It’s Friday. That’s my only excuse.

Picture a train. It is composed of coal cars, the very coal cars James Hansen used as a metaphor harkening back to the Holocaust.

The coal cars are full–100 tons of coal in each and there are 100 cars to the mile. It’s a very long train. It stretches from Albuquerque New Mexico to Anchorage in Alaska.

The energy we get by burning all the coal in this train equals one quadrillion BTUs. We call it a quad.

Now picture 54 of these trains lined up side by side, each filled with 38 million tons of coal, each stretching from Albuquerque to Alaska.

And you can start your weekend on either an optimistic or pessimistic note–is your glass half-empty or half-full?

If you want to look on the bright side of life, you can make those 54 trains disappear. In fact, we did. That’s how much energy the world got last year from renewable sources–hydroelectric power, wind, solar, biomass and biofuels.

If being of good cheer is too much for you today, don’t worry–be gloomy. Once those 54 trains are magickally disappeared from the landscape, you have an unobstructed view of the 480 Infinity Trains that we used last year that were provided by sources that were not renewable.

Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, have a good weekend.

Barack Obama’s Second Term, Climate Change and Energy Consumption

Congratulations, Mr. President. Now let’s get to work.

Because you mentioned climate change one time in your acceptance speech, the writers and readers for whom that subject is of paramount importance (on either side) have let 1,000 flowers bloom in less than a day.

Andrew Revkin did the best job of it, talking through many of the items that should be on the agenda for your next four years. But he was hardly alone. Keith Kloor chimed in, as did the politics blog on my hometown newspaper, the SF Gate, which catalogued responses from the Energy and Environmental Great and Good.

I will be shorter and simpler. You will not be able to do anything useful regarding climate change if you do not look at energy consumption at the same time. With that in mind, the first step is screamingly obvious.

Institute a carbon tax at the low level of $12 / ton of CO2. Make it revenue neutral, lowering social security taxes on both employers and employees by the amount raised from the carbon tax. Add a provision that will re-evaluate the monetary value of the tax every ten years based on benchmark levels of CO2 concentrations, U.S. CO2 emissions per capita and global sea surface temperatures.

Do not hypothecate revenues to energy efficiency or renewables, or anything else. If you want Republican support, make the tax revenue neutral.

If you do this and this alone, you will have done more to solve the problems of climate change than any other government body or multinational institution. If you do this and this alone, it will have a real-world impact, serve as an example for the world and prove our commitment to climate change and responsible governance.

There are 100 other things you could do. But each of them come with caveats and trade-offs that will cause more controversy and delay in passage and implementation.

Do this one thing. Do it now.

Go Vote!

Umm, despite what my friend writes here…

” I am spending this election on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania and am exposed to both media markets.  I watched TV for 1 hour yesterday and saw over 20 Romney ads telling me how bad Obama was.  I saw no Obama ads and no ads telling me what Romney would do. My thoughts:

1. Obama does not deserve a 2nd chance.
2. Romney does not deserve a first chance.
3. Biden scares me every time he opens his mouth about foreign policy.
4. Ryan scares me every time he opens his mouth.
5. I can’t listen to any of the 3rd party candidates for 15 minutes without thinking that they are completely out of touch with reality.
6. My Democratic senator belongs in the Republican Party.
7. His Republican challenger belongs in the nut house.
8. My congressman — wait — who is my congressman?  I’ve been redistricted. My new district looks like a spiney anteater facing south east.  I’m in the thin part of the tail.  It’s about half a mile wide and five miles long and mostly white Republican.  The fat part of the tail isn’t white Republican.  My congressman brags about how he helped the fracking industry skirt the regulations. His challenger wrote a paper on how bombing mid eastern countries is a good thing, but liberals should vote for him because he’s gay and black.
9. A candidate for state senate is promising to restore cuts to health and education. His opponent inferred that he was a Marxist.
10. The candidate for state rep in my district is actually named “Bizzarro.”  He can’t keep his bumper stickers in stock.  A local reporter wrote an article on the “Bizzarro campaign.”  I thought he was talking about the national election.
11.  I keep remembering Pat Paulsen, Stag Party candidate for president, 1968 and 1988.  “What’s all this talk about lowering the voting age.  Another election like this, they should lower the drinking age.”
Go pull the lever and help create the future. Maybe a future that doesn’t resemble  what my friend wrote above. I’ll be voting for the incumbent for president–you’re free to join me or cancel my vote–just get out there.

How Would Nate Silver View Energy Consumption?

If you’re following the American political election campaign closely, you’ve probably run across Nate Silver’s weblog (now subsumed under the NY Times rubric) called Five Thirty Eight (named for the 438 Congressional  and 100 Senatorial seats that are contested).  He is one of 7 or 8 forecasters that were smart enough to invest time and energy into looking at races at a  more local level (as well as national polls) than most news organizations, who were content to take the output of national polls and pass them on to news consumers. Nate Silver and his competitors seem to be doing a better job of predicting past results and frankly I trust them much more than the national polls alone.

The reason Mr. Silver and those like him are beating the big pollsters is that looking at polls together and including polls of smaller geographic regions like states allows for more granularity in the results achieved. Where a Gallup poll or Pew survey can tell you what 1,000 people respond across the U.S., some state polls get 1,000 responses for the individual unit. That’s better. So Mr. Silver can not only get more accurate information about the country’s opinion, he can tell us how the Electoral College results are shaping up.

There’s a parallel between what Mr. Silver has done with U.S. politics and what I am trying to do with global energy consumption. The forecasts most people are familiar with are large, model-driven efforts from organizations like the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration or the International Energy Agency. They incorporate a lot of inputs about fuel supplies, changing portfolios and projected prices and create supply-driven forecasts.

However, many of their results are reported at the regional level, which tends to hide the very different market dynamics between, say, South Korea and Indonesia, or South Africa and Zimbabwe.

This figure shows the difference in quadrillion BTUs (Quads) projected for consumption in 4 countries. The DOE’s EIA figures are compared with the projections from national or independent organizations, and my estimates are in the right hand column. The estimates are for 2030.

I think Nate Silver would say that a more granular look would provide more accurate results. As it happens, many countries have government departments or independent countries that provide estimates of future energy needs.

Those estimates are very different to what the models from large organizations project. My suspicion is because the local estimates understand that fuel consumption is driven by more urgent needs and a willingness to pay than the global estimates that consider fuel availability at what they think is an affordable price.

Because the local estimates are in fact very close to the totals I came up with in my report Energy Consumption in the Developing World in 2030, I am naturally predisposed to favor their figures. But I think that logic as well as my personal bias argues in favor of trusting the boots on the ground. The territory they cover is smaller. They spend just as much time getting their country’s figures as the mega-model makers do for the world. They understand their people and their markets better.

And now I can say, well, Nate Silver would do it my way if he were to do it at all!


India’s Ambitious Plans for Coal

I have written before that India has lots of coal–and they do. I have also written that they have had a heckuva time getting it out of the ground–and they have. Corruption, lethargy, too much regulation… all have conspired to keep much of the population in India as energy starved as they are malnourished.

As noted on Climatewire, however, “India is poised to contend with China as the globe’s top consumer of coal, with 455 power plants preparing to come online, a prominent environmental research group has concluded. The coal plants in India’s pipeline — almost 100 more than China is preparing to build — would deliver 519,396 megawatts of installed generating capacity. That is only slightly less than pending new capacity in China, which remains the undisputed king of coal consumption.” The story is based on unreleased data from the World Resource Institute–I hope the data escapes soon.

Choosing the lesser of two evils is part of modern life. The lesser of two evils is to burn coal, dirty as it may be, to bring energy to India. I hope that solar and wind power can make this period short and that hydroelectric power plays a larger role as well.

According to the WRI analysis, more than 34,000 MW of coal capacity is slated to come online in Vietnam, 30,000 MW in Turkey, and 22,000 MW in South Africa.

For these countries, albeit for different reasons, there is the opportunity for at least partial substitution in fuel sources–hydro for Vietnam, solar and wind in Turkey and all of the above for South Africa.

But for India, as with China, we’re going to have to bite the bullet and live with a generation of massive increases in the use of coal. It won’t be pretty. It will exacerbate not just conventional pollution but anthropogenic climate change (although we can hope that the particles emitted will counter the effects of some of the CO2).

But it just isn’t going to be pretty.


Global Markets and Technologies for Photovoltaic Systems

I’m happy to announce the publication of my most recent report, Global Markets and Technologies for Photovoltaic Systems, by the research company BCC Research.

You won’t be finding it in your local bookstore–the purchase price is $4,850, although you can get bite sized chunks at a much lower price. The report has actually been in the post-production process for some months, now and I felt it useful to sit down and read what I had written.

If the caveats I put in the report are included, it stands up pretty well. The photovoltaic industry has been in a dramatic state of turmoil, and I was a little concerned that my report would have been out of date on the date of publication–something I included in the report.

My short summary of the contents would probably be “The global market for photovoltaics will see five years of strong growth, but that growth will be profitless for almost all involved in the industry.” One thesis I advance is that it’s time for the rest of the logistical chain in PV to work as hard at lowering prices as module makers and polysilicon producers have over the past few years. There is still low-hanging fruit in shortening and lowering the cost of installation, permitting and some elements of the balance of systems.

Here’s what BCC chose to write about the report:

  • Global revenues from solar cells and modules totaled nearly $38.7 billion in 2011 and should decline to $28.6 billion in 2012. Total revenues are expected to reach $78.1 billion in 2017 after increasing at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.3%.
  • Europe holds the largest share of  the market and  should  increase from  nearly $16.7 billion  in 2012 to $35.1 billion in 2017, a CAGR of 16.1%.
  • Asia is expected to increase from nearly $8 billion in 2012 to $27 billion in 2017, a CAGR of 27.6%.

Modern PV technology dates back to the 1950s and the advent of the space program in the 1960s, but the concerted effort to develop this technology for industry and consumer use began during the oil embargoes of the 1970s.  However, the eventual stabilization of oil prices had a dampening effect on investment, tax credits and government funding for research and development.

Companies in the PV business have focused on reaching grid parity—where electricity generated by solar power is equal to or below the cost of electricity from competing sources—as a way to broaden the scope of PV.  Nations and individual states began to offer serious incentives such as tariffs and tax credits for solar customers.  Consequently, we were interested in looking at this industry once again to chart its potential.

Since 1978, the installed cost of solar electricity has charted a downward path strongly reminiscent of declines in the cost/performance ratios found for computer memory and MIPS (million instructions per second, a common metric for performance in the computer industry).  From $5/kwh in 1978, the cost of electricity generated by solar power has dropped to $0.20/kwh in 2010.  A simple extension of this curve would bring the cost of electricity delivered by solar sources to parity with other generating sources by 2015.  Although few believe the performance of solar power improvements can match the dramatic improvements in computer technology, it has only to continue for three more years to make an impact on the marketplace. A lot is riding on the short-term performance of solar power and many are keenly interested in the results.

Let’s Look At India’s Energy Consumption Again

India’s Central Statistics Office has published their Energy Statistics 2012 document, a provisional assessment of the state of play for the country. It’s interesting, to say the least.

They lead off with an energy map of nuclear power generation–and India has 52 plants with 6,780 MW capacity either up and running or under construction. Nuclear power capacity grew 4.8% in 2011.

When the report covers renewable energy–wind and solar–it concentrates on potential, referring to an estimated wind power potential of 49132 MW (55%), SHP (small-hydro power) potential of 15,385 MW (17%), Biomass power potential of 17,538 MW(20%) and 5000 MW (6%) from bagasse-based cogeneration in sugar mills. That’s because actual renewable production is fairly low. India is 10th in the world for solar, but it amounts to about 600 MW installed last year. When it comes to current capacity, “The total installed capacity of grid interactive renewable power, which was 16817 MW as on 31.03.2010  had gone up to 19971 MW as on 31.03.2011 indicating growth of 18.75% during the period. Out of the total installed generation capacity of renewable power as on 31-03-2011, wind power accounted for about 71%, followed by small hydro power (15.2%) and Biomass power (13.3%).

For electricity generation, the report says, “The total installed capacity for electricity generation in the country has increased from 16,271 MW as on 31.03.1971 to 206,526 MW as on 31.03.2011, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.4% . There has been an increase in generating capacity of 18654 MW over the last one year, which is 10% more than the capacity of last year.” (My bold.)

The sad tale of the tape is next–India dreams of nuclear and renewables, but their feet are firmly planted in coal. “At the end of March 2011, thermal power plants accounted for an overwhelming 64% of the total installed capacity in the country, with an installed capacity of 131.2 thousand MW. Hydro power plants come next with an installed capacity of 37.6 thousand MW, accounting for 18.2% of the total installed Capacity. Besides, non-utilities accounted for 15.9% (32.9 Thousand MW) of the total installed generation capacity. The share of Nuclear energy was only 2.31% (4.78 MW).”

What the Report Didn’t Cover

India is the 5th largest energy consumer in the world and its people wish mightily that it ranked higher. Their energy consumption in 2009 was 21.7 quads, not nearly enough for their huge (and growing) population. Their per capita energy consumption is on a par with Swaziland.

India imports about 75% of its oil. In fact, one-third of all India’s imports consist of oil. That is expected to rise to 80%, as energy consumption rises. India’s need to import gas is not as bad, but it is also rising–from 25% of their needs to half by 2015, according to the Financial Times.

Oh–by the way. That link to India importing 75% of its oil? The title of the article is “India’s Energy Consumption Set to Double by 2031.” So I’m not the only one…

And coal? Readers will remember that I am concerned about coal powering the rise of the developing world. Well, India has a lot of coal to burn–“Coal production in the country during the year 2010-11 was 533 million tonnes (MTs) as compared to 532 MTs during 2009-10, registering a growth of 0.12%. Considering the trend of production from 1970-71 to 2010-11, it is observed that coal production in India was about 73 MTs during 1970-71, which increased to 533 MTs during 2010-11, with a CAGR of 5%.”

And India has more where that came from–“India has a good reserve of coal and lignite. As on 31.03.11 the estimated reserves of coal was around 286 billion tones, an addition of 9 billion over the last year,” according to India’s Energy Statistics 2012. Their reserves actually grew 3%, primarily because India’s bureaucracy and corruption make it very hard to get coal out of the ground. But that’s okay, I guess. Because India’s imports of coal grew by 31% this year… And just to cheer you all up, “India’s coal imports are likely to touch a whopping 185 million tonnes (MT) by 2017, almost 20% of the international dry-fuel trade amid widening demand-supply deficit, according to Planning Commission.”

More on China’s Energy Consumption (Not that I’m obsessed or anything…)

I finally got a look at BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, which has actually been out since June.

There’s a lot in there. BP notes that the growth in world energy consumption fell to 2.5% in 2011, compared to 5.1% in 2010. They also note that 71% of the growth in energy consumption was in China.

Worldwide use of coal increased by 5.4% in 2011. China’s use of coal grew by 9.7%. China dug out half (49.5%) of all the coal used last year.

They also imported a lot. 185 million tons last year. That’s projected to rise to 1 billion tons by 2030. That’s a lot of coal.

But it’s not all dark news–“China consumed 615.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity generated by clean energy sources in the first eight months of the year, Shanghai Daily reported, citing the State Electricity Regulatory Commission. The figure took up 19.3 percent of domestic total on-grid power during the period, up 1.1 percentage points annually, the commission said. Electricity produced from hydropower, wind power and nuclear power rose 20.6 percent, 32.4 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively, to 489 billion kWh, 63.5 billion kWh and 63.3 billion kWh in the eight months.”

Revisiting China’s Energy Consumption

It’s worth another look, especially as the DOE EIA has published a new country analysis on China and energy.

Shall we start with the good news? “China’s government plans to boost nuclear capacity to at least 70 GW by 2020. As of mid-2012, China had 15 operating reactors and 30 reactors with over 33 GW of capacity under construction, about half of the global nuclear power capacity being built.”

Or the bad news? “Coal supplied the vast majority (70 percent) of China’s total energy consumption of 90 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2009. Oil is the second-largest source, accounting for 19 percent of the country’s total energy consumption.”

Is there hope? “The Chinese government set a target to raise non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 11.4 percent of the energy mix by 2015 as part of its new 12th Five Year Plan.”

Or despair? “In 2011, China consumed an estimated 4 billion short tons of coal, representing about half of the world total. Coal consumption is about 3 times higher than it was in 2000, reversing the decline seen from 1996 to 2000.”

In 2009 China consumed 96.9 quads. In 2012 their total is estimated to reach 110.7. That’s a compound annual growth rate of 4.54%. That’s twice as fast as the DOE has predicted going forward.

I’ll remind readers that my estimate for energy consumption in 2035 for China is 247 quads–more than twice what the DOE estimates. Recent growth supports my higher estimates.

Even if China succeeds in building the 150 nuclear plants they aspire to over the next 50 years, they will still be burning more coal in 2035 than the entire world burns now.

The Chinese economy, as I predicted, will start to struggle and even sputter at times between now and then. But if the history of other developing countries is any example, that won’t affect energy consumption nearly as much as one might think. In the United States, that Great Depression? Didn’t affect our energy consumption curve.

That’s a lot of coal.

Fuel and Energy Poverty in the Developing and Developed World

Energy consumption is the central focus of this weblog. I have been following statistics and forecasts of energy consumption because I think it hasn’t received enough attention and because I think that consumption is going to increase far more than estimated.

“Between 1990 and 2008, close to 2 billion people worldwide gained access to electricity. But the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that more than 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity, while the United Nations estimates that another 1 billion have unreliable access.” So wrote the WorldWatch Institute in January of 2012.

Providing access to electricity to those 2 billion people helped caused global energy consumption to soar, from 283 quads in 1980 to 504.7 quads in 2008. Many of those who have access to some electricity want to use more but cannot afford it at the moment. That’s called energy poverty.

Worldwatch continues: “At least 2.7 billion people, and possibly more than 3 billion, lack access to modern fuels for cooking and heating. They rely instead on traditional biomass sources, such as firewood, charcoal, manure, and crop residues, that can emit harmful indoor air pollutants when burned. These pollutants cause nearly 2 million premature deaths worldwide each year, an estimated 44 percent of them in children. Among adult deaths, 60 percent are women. ”

This has to be a focus for what we’re doing. Despite fears of global warming related to energy consumption, these people need help.

On another note, there are plenty of people in the developed world who also are hit by rising energy costs. They typically don’t curtail energy consumption too much, but do without other important items to keep the heat on and the lights burning.

This is more commonly known as fuel poverty, and it afflicts more than 600,000 in Germany and more than 4 million homes in the UK. Estimates for the U.S. are close to 16 million people in fuel poverty, defined as spending more than 10% of one’s income on fuel. Rising electricity rates and higher costs for liquid fuels are the primary culprits.

Although it’s a matter of life or death for those in the developing countries, it’s hugely important in the developed world as well.

The UK statistics give a hint–“Some 7,800 people die during winter because they can’t afford to heat their homes properly, says fuel poverty expert Professor Christine Liddell of the University of Ulster. That works out at 65 deaths a day.”

Energy and fuel poverty statistics for the world are not in any place that I have been able to find. If any of you can point me to statistics, I’d love to look at this in greater detail.

It needs it.

Long Hot Summer?

One good way of looking at weather in the developed world is by looking at energy consumption. It tells you how much air conditioning people are using in the summer and how much heating they’re willing to pay for in the winter.

Last year Japan was patriotically conserving energy, as they had shut down most of their nuclear generating capacity because of the Fukushima earthquake/tsunami, and hadn’t yet figured out how to replace it.

So the fact that power demand rose 2.1% in August compared to the previous year is not a big deal–Japan is importing lots of oil and it’s a rich country.

However, in developing countries such as China, variations in energy consumption have more to do with economic conditions than responses to the weather.  China’s  energy consumption between March and June grew by ‘only’ 5% per month compared to the same months a year ago. This caused great concern amongst China watchers. They don’t believe China’s statistics about the economy, so they watch energy consumption as a useful proxy for what is happening in the larger economy.

Energy consumption in the United States is, well, interesting. We keep better statistics than most places and can say things about our energy consumption that other countries cannot.

In May 2012, for example, the U.S. consumed 7.675 quads, slightly up from May 2011’s 7.609, but slightly less than May 2010’s 7.678.

I’m looking at this because I’ve been reading discussion about hot summers and their causes (is it climate change, natural variability or some combination of the two).

With that in mind I offer a link to a chart of Heating Degree Days by Month from 1949 through 2010. This is a metric used widely to estimate demand for energy. The link is here:

Since 1949, the records for highest demand for each month has been 1978 or earlier, with the exception for December, when the record was 1989. There is lower demand for heating in recent years than previously measured. This tracks global warming theory–the number of very cold days in winter has been expected to decrease.

However, the records for lowest demand for each month has only 3 of recent vintage–November’s record for lowest demand was in 2001, January’s in 2006 and March in 2000. Two records were set in the 50′s and one in the 60′s. Recent years have not been uniformly warmer than those in the modern record as measured by the DOE. Interesting.

Cooling degree days use a similar metric to measure demand for energy for air conditioning. The Department of Energy also publishes a record of CDD’s from 1949 through 2010.

Here the data shows that recent years have been warmer in the U.S., with record high demand for 5 of the 7 months measured being recorded in the past decade. See: of the records for low demand are relatively ancient, with the most recent record low month being 1992.

It has been getting warmer recently. But it doesn’t seem to be happening according to plan. Global warming theory has been clear that it should be happening primarily in the winter months. Explanations or educated guesses are welcome.

Energy As A Constraint To Growth

In 1972, the publication of the book The Limits to Growth framed the agenda for discussion of the future of the human race for the next 40 years. The book’s focus on population, pollution, non-renewable resources, food and industrial output became the basic parameters to measure.

Forty years later and we can all see that they got their predictions wrong, a point made by Bjorn Lomborg recently in an essay in Foreign Affairs, where he echoes Julian Simon’s thesis that human innovation renders those five horseman of the Apocalypse irrelevant.

Because I’m an optimistic believer in the human mind and the technology it creates, Simon’s thesis and Lomborg’s repetition of it resonate with me (although Jerry Pournelle did it better in 1984 in my opinion, with his book A Step Further Out). I really do believe that we are entering a new age full of potential and the promise of a good life, rather than stumbling gasping through the end of the last good years of humanity.

But because the predictions of doom in The Limits to Growth were being proven wrong, it only recently occurred to me that the book was measuring the wrong things. Okay, so it took me 40 years to figure it out. In my defense I will note that most still haven’t figured it out…

If the sum quantity of resources is not the issue, what is? Obviously it is access to those resources.

I’m hugely pleased that the Green Revolution and now, GMOs have made it possible for us to produce more crops than needed to feed everyone on this planet and even everyone who will be on this planet when population reaches 9.4 billion. But people are starving today with resources cruelly just out of reach or being consumed by pests or rotting on its way to market.

The fact that The Great Reforestation is taking place across much of the world is wonderful–but the fact is that where it is needed most it has yet to occur.

While population growth has been tamed in country after country, in the poorest parts of the world that extra pair of hands is still a family’s best insurance policy against an uncertain future.

This weblog is about energy, which isn’t even part of the grand metrics by which The Limits To Growth measured us and found us wanting. They counted oil and natural gas, of course, and incorrectly thought we would run out (and started a cottage industry of people betting on Peak Oil). But they didn’t look at energy.

We have the capability to provide enough energy for all the people on this planet, should we choose to do so. We could always have done it with coal. We could have done it with nuclear power, as the French have proven. We could do it today with a modern portfolio that includes natural gas, solar, wind and fossil fuels and nuclear power. I don’t know why we choose not to do so.

Because I would argue that if you give people energy, you really don’t need to give them much of anything else (although I’m not arguing for the cessation of food, medical or educational assistance). If the poor have light, the children (and equally as important, the women) will study and learn, and family sizes will decrease and incomes will increase. If the village has refrigeration, vaccines will keep and food will be stored and health will improve dramatically. If the region has power, industry will develop and so too will infrastructure.

It appears to me that energy is the key constraint to human development. Or at least it is the last remaining hurdle to successful development. The dilemma is simple. Energy availability is the real measure of development. And it is one that really doesn’t get measured. The world needs energy to get wealthy. And the world spends its wealth on energy.

The proof is watching what developing countries have done as their incomes expanded. What do they spend their new found treasure on? Washing machines. Refrigerators. Automobiles or motorcycles. Radios and televisions. Air conditioning–Kuwait uses 66% of all the energy it consumes on air conditioning…

Energy is as important to human development as air, and just as taken for granted. People don’t go out and spend their first paycheck on energy. They spend it on the appliance that changes their life. Because they can plug it in and turn it on.

We measure the symptoms of energy availability and its lack. But energy itself is an afterthought, not even included in the sober analyses and high level prognostications of the great and mighty.

But if we fixed the issue of access to energy, we could probably pack up our do-gooder fix-it kits and head on home. Because the people we’ve been trying to help could handle the rest on their own.

Global Warming, the DOE and Energy Consumption

Neither this blog nor this post are  about climate change and global warming. However, as the DOE’s recent projections for energy consumption through 2035 make some implicit assumptions about population shifts and the use of energy for space cooling, I have been wondering about what those assumptions are, how they were formed and what they imply.

The DOE has a raft of documents dealing with global warming and/or climate change. They analyze legislation and regulations and their potential impacts on fuel supplies and the mix of energy available. They calculate past, present and projected CO2 emissions. They study energy efficiency. In fact, they have 13,3o0 returns for the search term climate change.

However, I was unable to find one document dealing with their thinking on how climate change might affect energy consumption. The implicit assumption in what I’ve read is that governments state and federal will use pricing mechanisms to affect the cost to the consumer of energy and hope to control consumption. They seem to feel that energy efficiency can be pushed on to consumers, even at higher prices. But I see no signs of analysis of what we the people will do in response to global warming in any area of our lives, nor how that might affect energy consumption.

This was forcibly brought to my attention when analyzing their projections of residential energy consumption through 2035 in their Annual Energy Outlook 2012, which comes with projections through 2035.

In their report, the DOE estimates residential energy consumption will grow very slowly, at 0.2% annually, despite much higher growth in population (1% annually), household formation (.93% annually) and GDP (which doubles over the projection period).

There are two key assumptions that drive this low ball estimate of energy consumption in homes and apartments–the first being heroic improvements in energy efficiency, which I find surreal. (Energy efficiency gets harder the longer you do it, because you naturally do the easy stuff first. And the DOE estimates that energy efficiency will improve twice as fast in the next 25 years as it did between 1980 and 2005.)

More troubling, the second assumption is that people will move to “warmer and drier climates” which will reduce the need for space heating in homes. This would be an extension of the Snowbird effect, where retirees in colder climes relocate to sunnier places, something that was very real and pronounced over the past 60 years.

Never mind that they don’t show an increase in energy used for space cooling. What I want to know is, if global climate change is projected to produce killing heat and megadroughts in large parts of the U.S., why would people move there?

If people don’t move there in large numbers, the DOE’s projections will suffer. If people instead are forced by global warming to leave the affected areas, the DOE’s projections will fall apart. And yet there is no discussion of this in the report itself, nor in the recently released Assumptions to the report.

I have doubts about the dire predictions of global warming. I guess that’s my right as an individual citizen. But should a department of the U.S. Federal Government just ignore the work done by the EPA, NASA, the NOAA, the, umm, other parts of the Department of Energy… in preparing the core data planners everywhere will use to decide how energy will best meet our needs?

The concept of joined-up government is one I learned while living in the UK. It isn’t perfectly executed there. But it doesn’t seem to have made it across the pond at all.

U.S. Commercial Energy Consumption Through 2035

Here we continue our look at the DOE EIA’s projections of U.S. energy consumption through 2035. In this post we look at what they foresee happening in the commercial sector (essentially composed of offices and stores).

Almost immediately we encounter issues that can leave us scratching our collective heads, especially when we compare what is written about this sector with what we have discussed earlier regarding residential energy consumption.

According to the Department of Energy, energy consumption in the commercial sector will increase from 18.3 quads in 2011 to 21.5 quads in 2035, a CAGR percentage of 0.67.

The DOE estimates growth of 26.9% (0.93% annually) in commercial floor space over the period covered by this report, very similar to what they project for new household formation (25%). And they estimate even greater gains in energy efficiency in offices than in residences (7% per square foot, compared to 6% overall in residences). And yet, where they anticipate residential energy consumption to decline slightly, they predict commercial energy consumption to increase 18% over all by 2035. I’m not sure both estimates can be accurate…

They identify the core components of energy consumption in the commercial sector as space heating, ventilation, air conditioning, water heating, lighting, cooking, and refrigeration, which are pretty much the same as residential, and they attribute 60% of commercial energy consumption to these items. And they predict that that will fall to 53% over the next 25 years thanks to improvements in energy efficiency. In a case study (one of several focus issues that leads off their report) they identify the sources of the improvements they hope to see in energy efficiency as high-efficiency variable air volume ventilation systems, LED lighting, ground-source heat pumps, high-efficiency rooftop heat pumps, centrifugal chillers, and solar water heaters. However, they caveat this list by saying the obvious, that “those technologies are relatively costly, however, and thus unlikely to gain wide adoption in commercial applications without improved economics.”

Just as an example, they predict space cooling to decrease from 1.83 quads in 2011 to 1.60 quads in 2011. This, after space cooling just increased from 1.5 quads to that 1.83 number in 2 years. Once again, we ponder the dilemma–they believe that population shifts to warmer climes. But space cooling decreases…

The bottom line for their report seems to be that the 26.9% increase in new commercial buildings will consist of highly energy efficient structures taking thorough advantage of all available methods for reducing energy consumption. And maybe that will happen. Maybe builders across the country will ignore the economic difficulties facing it and use more expensive technology in a sector that faces far fewer regulatory constraints than industrial construction. Maybe the demographic trend that is sending more people back to the city will somehow lead to less expensive (????) commercial buildings. Maybe the demographic trend they postulate regarding residential energy use, the large scale movement of people to warmer climates, will lead somehow to lower energy consumption, although air conditioning would seem to negate whatever gains are made due to lower space heating…

Certainly I hope they’re right–that a 25% increase in population, a doubling of GDP and a 26.9% in new commercial floor space will only result in an 18% increase in energy consumption. But as with residential and transportation, it means everything has to go right–that we will double the rate by which we improved energy efficiency over the past two decades.

Here’s hoping.

Transportation Fuel Consumption Through 2035

More than a quarter (26 of 98 quads) of our energy consumption in 2011 was for transportation. The vast majority (64%) was for light duty vehicles–the family cars. This was followed by heavy duty vehicles (19%), air travel (10%), marine (5%) and rail (2%).

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration predicts that energy consumption for transportation will grow at an annual rate of 0.1%, from 27.6 quads to 28.6 quads. This is revised downward from their 2011 estimate of growth at 0.5% to 32 quads in 2035.

In my previous post I charted their assumptions for macro-economic drivers (population increase at 1% annually, GDP growth at 2.5% annually, 25% growth in household formation), all of which made me skeptical that the EIA could be ultimately correct about residential energy use. All of those factors apply to transportation as well.

But there are other factors at play in the transportation sector. Legislation mandates improvements in gas mileage for light duty vehicles (LDV), which the EIA duly notes. They forecast energy consumption for LDVs to drop 3.2% overall between now and 2035. But the better mileage is only one of the reasons they cite. The other is that they believe personal travel demand will rise more slowly than in recent decades.

I can easily believe that fuel efficiency will climb to comply with the law. There’s plenty of room for improvements and the government’s attempt to shift to measuring greenhouse gas emissions as opposed to fuel consumption may accelerate that trend. But the EIA offers absolutely no evidence to indicate why they think personal travel will grow more slowly. Population change doesn’t slow down. GDP grows at 2.5% per year. In fact, in their section on residential energy consumption they postulate something like a mass migration to warmer and drier climates as a reason why space heating will decline. But such a migration in the past has entailed vigorous personal travel as people return to visit the families they left behind.

Perhaps more significantly, with more domestic oil being brought to the surface, with growing numbers of cars converting to natural gas or hybrid- and all-electric  status, someone is going to have to explain to me why prices at the pump will not become less of a factor in determining the utilization of vehicles. This is in sharp contrast to the EIA’s forecasts, which see a real increase in prices of 48% for gas between now and 2035. And even though they predict personal incomes will rise by 81% during the same time frame, $5 a gallon gas would probably moderate driving just a bit. But is that realistic?

The EIA provides the following estimates for light duty vehicles for now and 2035:

  • The number of licensed drivers increases from 210 to 269 million
  • The miles driven per driver per year increases from 12,700 to 13,300
  • But total fuel consumption drops from 16.7 quads to 16.1 quads because…
  • Vehicle efficiency in miles per gallon improves 38%, from 20.4 mpg to 28.2

The EIA’s figures strongly suggest that Americans will drive their light vehicles almost 1 trillion more miles in 2035 and use 3% less gas.

I don’t see it happening that way. I think they were thinking more clearly in their 2011 estimates.

What Doesn’t Add up in the DOE’s Energy Consumption Estimates?

On April 26, 2012, the acting administrator of the DOE’s Energy Information Administration, Howard Gruenspecht, gave a presentation to the Institute of Clean Air Companies.

Working from reference case for the U.S. Annual Energy Outlook for 2012, Mr. Gruenspecht highlighted some of the very issues that have me asking questions about the feasibility of achieving the Reference Case’s forecasts, which show American energy consumption rising at a very low rate of 0.3% CAGR through 2035–from 98 quads last year to 107 quads in 2035.

Both the slides from his presentation and the AEO2012 report rely heavily on increases in energy efficiency to overcome other trends that would seem to drive energy consumption higher.

In particular, as I noted previously, the DOE forecasts growth in residential consumption of electricity at 0.2% annually, despite steady growth in population, the number of households and income. Specifically,

  • The EIA expects the number of households to grow at 1% annually, from 117 million households today to 145.6 million households in 2035 (and each of those households will have a refrigerator, TV, washing machine…)
  • The average square footage of these households will rise by 100 square feet, from 1660 to 1760 (with all the air in those larger houses to heat and cool each winter and summer…)
  • In the AEO2012 Reference case, residential sector energy intensity, defined as average energy use per household per year, declines by 19.8 percent, to 81.9 million Btu per year in 2035 (in 2011, elivered energy consumption was 101 million Btu’s per household)

In regards to the last bullet point, U.S. residential energy intensity declined only 9% from 1980 to 2005–and the easy wins for energy efficiency come first. It gets tougher after the low hanging fruit have been picked.

What drives their calculation of more efficient energy usage is first,  space heating, the largest factor in residential energy consumption, which they postulate will decline by 0.4% annually and second, higher prices–they forecast a 1% annual increase in real prices for energy…

Aside from energy efficiency, they cite one other factor contributing to lower use of energy in the residential sector: “Population shifts to warmer and drier climates also contribute to a reduction in demand for space heating.” (What will they do if global warming means more air conditioning… and everybody makes enough money to be able to afford it?)

From their report: “Real GDP grows by an average of 2.6 percent per year from 2010 to 2035 in the AEO2012 Reference case, 0.1 percent per year lower than in the AEO2011 Reference case. The nation’s population, labor force, and productivity grow at annual rates of 0.9 percent, 0.7 percent, and 1.9 percent, respectively, from 2010 to 2035.”

The population will grow by 25% over the period covered by this report, from 311 million to 389 million. The country’s GDP will almost double, to $24 trillion in 2005 dollars.

More houses. More people. Larger houses. More income to spend on energy bills. It’s going to take a heckuvalot of energy efficiency to counter that.

I don’t see it. Next we’ll look at transportation.