Updated 13/10/2009, based on post comments. Bottom line: 2050 power demand will be ~10 TWe of electrical generating power — a 5-fold increase on today’s levels, requiring the construction of ~680 MWe per day from 2010 to 2050.
Before we look in detail at the various low-carbon energy technologies that may provide the means to move away from fossil fuels, it is worthwhile considering what our future energy targets are likely to be. That is, what are plausible energy demand scenarios?
In the developed world (US, Europe, Japan, Australia and so on), we’ve enjoyed a high standard of living, linked to a readily available supply of cheap energy, based mostly on fossil fuels. Indeed, it can be argued that this has encouraged energy profligacy, and we really could be more efficient in the mileage we get out of our cars, the power usage of our fridges, lights and electrical appliances, and in the design of our buildings to reduce demands for heating and cooling. There is clearly room for improvement, and sensible energy efficiency measures should be actively pursued. More on that in later posts.
In the bigger, global picture, however, there is no realistic prospect that we can use less energy in the future. There are three obvious reasons for this.
1) Most of the world’s population – collectively, the developing world – is extremely energy poor. Over a third of all humanity, some 2.5 billion people, have no access to electricity whatsoever. For those that do, their long-term aspirations for energy growth, to achieve something equating that used today by the developed world, is a powerful motivation for development. For a nation like India, with over 1 billion people, that would mean a twenty-fold increase in per capita energy use.
2) As the oil runs out, we need to replace it if we are to keep our vehicles going. Oil is both a convenient energy carrier, and an energy source (we ‘mine’ it). In the future, we’ll have to create our new energy carriers, be they chemical batteries or oil-substitutes like methanol or hydrogen. On a grand scale, that’s going to take a lot of extra electrical energy! This counts for all countries.
3) With a growing human population (which we hope will stabilise by mid-century at less than 10 billion) and the burgeoning impacts of climate change and other forms of environmental damage, there will be escalating future demands for clean water (at least in part supplied artificially, through desalination and waste water treatment), more intensive agriculture which is not based on ongoing displacement of natural landscapes like rainforests, and perhaps, direct geo-engineering to cool the planet, which might be needed if global warming proceeds at the upper end of current forecasts.