Human Energy Consumption and the Energy Source Growth Path

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AWR's picture
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Human Energy Consumption and the Energy Source Growth Path
  • We are now burning 10 times as much energy as a century ago to provide the goods and services we consume.
  • Energy consumption is still increasing rapidly, with an approximate 550 exajoules (523 Quadrillion BTUs) consumed at the primary energy level in 2010.
  • Of this total 80% was provided by fossil fuels, 11.3% by bio-energy mainly from wood combustion, 5.5% from nuclear, 2.2% from hydro, and 0.4% from other renewable energy sources.
  • The historic time for each energy source to grow from 1 to 10 exajoules in primary energy production was 12 years for nuclear, 33 years for crude oil, 39 years for natural gas, 52 years for coal, and 59 years for hydro-power.

It probably won't come as a big surprise that -- in the face of exponential population growth and unsustainably high standards of living -- humans continue to set new records for energy consumption.  Note the chart titled "Energy Source Growth path comparison 1 to 10 exajoules."  It shows, for example, that oil took ~34 years to grow from 1 to 10 exajoules of energy production.  This complements Chris' work and illustrates how long a new energy source (or an old one that has not reached scale) can take before it delivers enough energy to be influential...and why it is not realistic to hope that "renewables" or some new technology will appear and scale up quickly enough to offset peaking fossil fuels against the backdrop of ever-increasing energy usage.

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