The energy ball is in our court

Human beings use different kinds of energy for different purposes all over the planet every hour of the day and night.

About one-third of the human-produced energy is used for transportation which requires energy that is easily stored and ready for use at any time – petrol for your car, or the battery for your Toyota Prius are just two examples.

Other energy is used to produce electricity to power our homes, businesses and industry.

While still different types of energy are burned to produce thermal energy, as is the case in many home heating appliances.

To help understand the vastly complicated energy picture on the Earth it helps to have a measurement of energy equivalence to put things into a comparable form.

The terawatt year was constructed for this very purpose. Basically, 1 terawatt-year, (or TWy) is equal to 8766 terawatt hours of energy.

Others refer to 1 terawatt-year as 29.9 quad for their particular calculations. A 1 Terawatt power plant – is the same as a 1000 Gigawatt power plant. Each generates 30 quads of energy a year. Five billion barrels of oil can also yield the equivalent of 30 quads of energy when burned efficiently.

For our purposes, we will use the Terawatt year.

It is important to state (no matter how the energy was collected) that the total energy consumption by humans for all purposes (including all forms of transportation) on the Earth in 2009, reached 16 Terawatt years.

It is estimated (no matter how that energy will be collected) that the total energy consumption by humans for all purposes (including all forms of transportation) on the Earth in 2050, will reach 28 Terawatt years.

What energy shall we use between now and 2050? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Our choices are laid out before us just like at the shoe store – all we have to do is choose! So, lets see what’s available.

It turns out that the two main kinds of energy available are – non-renewable and renewable.

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Non-renewable energy:
Again, remembering our 2009 energy consumption total of 16 Terawatt years and steadily increasing each decade, we see that the finite,  non-renewable energy sources totals 1445 Terawatts. That’s the total supply of energy from those sources – which is equal to 90.3 years of energy at 2009 consumption rates. Once consumed, these non-renewable energy sources will be gone forever.

There are some who claim that there are actually 1655 Terawatts of total energy available, which would allow for 103.44 years of energy consumption at 2009 usage rates. Again, once consumed these non-renewable energy sources will be completely exhausted.

It is quite likely that there are 1655 Terawatts available from all non-renewable sources, but once we use all of it up, what will we do when the year 2050 arrives? Our only choice then would be to suddenly change every bit of energy production to wind, solar and tidal all at once – and everywhere on the planet. By any standard, that would be a plan destined to failure.

Renewable energy:
Keeping in mind the 2009 energy consumption total of 16 Terawatts per year, but steadily increasing electrical demand year by year – we see that renewable energy sources (that is, energy which never runs out – but continues to produce energy decade after decade) totals 23,034.2 Terawatts per year. That’s 1439 times more energy available to us than we required in 2009 – with all forms of transportation included!

There are claims of 23095.7 Terawatts per year available for collection and use by humans, which is 1443 times more than we used in 2009. This kind of energy would be available every year until the sun burns out, the ocean’s freeze and the wind stops blowing, etc.

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What’s the difference some might ask? Why worry? Even in the worse-case scenario, we are covered for about 90 years – but only IF we continued to burn energy at the 2009 consumption rates – not likely. Energy usage will continue to increase due to the rapidly modernising developing countries across the globe.

One, the actual cost per energy unit. Costs for renewable energy have been falling dramatically so far this decade – and it looks set to continue. In fact, some kinds of renewable energy are already reaching price parity with coal and large-scale nuclear power.

Two, even now, early into the sustainable energy economy, nations are beginning to see cost savings when compared to conventional energy, by virtue of something called ‘Merit Order‘ ranking, which is a program that utility companies use to decide which energy source to use during the course of the day. For example, when the Sun is shining, it is far more cost-effective to produce 1 GW of electricity from solar panels sitting in a field – than it is from coal which costs US$375.00 per ton delivered to China from the U.S. and Canada, times (many thousands of tons of coal) to produce that 1 GW of electricity.

To read a good discussion of this visit:

Three, the costs associated with certain kinds of energy use must be factored in as China’s leaders now realise that  410,000 people per year die from pollution of the air, water and soil.

The energy ball is in our court. What will we decide to do?

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