For this site a simple contextualization of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission is a very useful as an indicator of what can be achieved in various future power generation and energy saving scenarios. It is the aim of this article to as simply as possible convey the key statistics related to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
It is almost certainly the case that we are having an effect on our planet with CO2 emission but is also clear that natural fluctuations do occur which confuse the picture, The graph below shows this fluctuation over the past 2000 years in the North Atlantic and shows the so called “the medieval warm period” in this region. Temperatures are higher now and more importantly are globally higher; it is also the case that the rate of increase is greater. This is a reasonably strong indicator that we are at the very least contributing to temperature change and we should not sit on our hands and assume all will be well if we do nothing. Pragmatically another reason for addressing reliance on fossil fuels is that they will run out.
Another term people use is “save the planet”; just as a note, no matter what we do to the planet, the planet will be fine; it is our civilisation that is or will be in trouble. History tells us that no civilisation lasts forever, when our civilisation declines the planet will regenerate and over millions of years new species will evolve to replace today’s mass extinctions, I guess the major difference will be that the planets store of fossil fuels will be gone for a few 10’s of millions of years so future civilisations or intelligent species, will have to think of new ways to fly to Ibiza!
Anyway on with some facts:-
Total energy consumption in the world is growing by 2% every year, roughly doubling every 35 years. In 2003 consumption was 421 quadrillion BTU1, it is projected to be 563 quadrillion BTU units in 2015 and in 2030 it will be 722 quadrillion BTU, this trend is shown in the graph below.
This is the first point; demand is going up with increased population, industrialisation and mobility. This will remain the case. Whether power is generated in a power station or to run a car or an aircraft, currently 80% is generated using fossil fuels, and therefore emits CO2 when it is burned, and this is projected to still be the case in the foreseeable future, so far from reducing CO2 emission in the next 40 years we will double them! Have a look at the content in atimeforchange.org for more on this.
The UK is aiming to reduce our 1990 CO2 emission by 12.5% by 2010 by all sorts or techniques and by 26% by 2020, we are apparently ahead of kyoto targets at the moment. Fantastic, but what is the point, if other nameless large territories are doing the opposite? To put this into context It will take about six months for China to wipe out all UK reductions that are projected for the next ten years, Take a look at the graph below which makes the point I think. China will build another two Coal fired power station and neutralise what we have done. "But we are giving a lead to the world" is often the counter to this argument, well maybe?
The only larger scale alternatives to fossil fuels are nuclear and hydroelectric, and these have their own unique environmental problems, not least of all nuclear waste. There are two form of Nuclear power, fission and fusion, I cannot abide the idea of more fission reactors and the 100,000 year nuclear waste legacy we will leave on our planet, this to me is worse than CO2. Fusion energy will be virtually clean, but unfortunately it cannot yet be sustained in a reactor, this is a problem! The research to make this a viable power generation technology is massively under invested and a viable power generation solution is estimated to be 50 years away at the rate we are going at. We could be so much further ahead here but I think politicians see the nuclear label and assume it is dirty technology. Invest here I would say!
The other route is to appeal to a user's wallet particularly as the price of energy goes up and focus on energy generation and energy waste at the domestic level. For this approach to make a viable contribution solutions must be cost effect and financially repay the user. The manufacture of products to serve this market must also repay the energy of manufacture and supply logistics, this is often overlooked and if not considered it is self defeating. To an extent this is what this site is about to explore things that we can all do and afford in a domestic setting worldwide.
Note 1: How Large is a Quadrillion BTU?
It is approximately equal to the amount of energy in 45 million tons of coal, or 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or 170 million barrels of crude oil. In terms of electricity, 1 quad is equal to 293 Terawatt-hours (TWh)