Sunday, July 27, 2014

Prepare for High Energy Growth, Climate Experts Warn

Oil field pump jacks (Credit: Future Energy Growth/shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
World leaders are failing to come to grips with the implications of rapidly rising energy consumption for climate change, climate experts said at last week’s Breakthrough Dialogue.

“If everyone in the world were to consume energy at Germany’s highly efficient levels,” explained Roger Pielke, Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, “global energy consumption would need to triple or quadruple.  How do we provide the energy equivalent of adding 800 Virginias while meeting climate goals?”

The percentage of energy the world gets from zero-carbon sources has been flat for 20 years, Pielke, Jr. noted.  “In 2014, 13 percent of the world’s energy came from carbon-free sources — mainly hydro and nuclear,” said Pielke, Jr.  “That 13 percent hasn’t changed in 20 years.  If you want to actual stabilize carbon dioxide – then that 13 percent needs to be above 90 percent.”

Achieving the target of atmospheric concentrations of 450 parts per million while meeting business-as-usual energy demand requires one gigawatt — the size of one nuclear reactor — of zero-carbon new energy every day.

“That reality is uncomfortable and challenging,” Pielke, Jr., said, “but we are moving toward high-energy planet very fast.”

Jesse Ausubel of The Rockfeller University cautioned against thinking that the rise of the rest means energy consumption at levels exceeding that of the West.  While energy consumption will continue to grow, “later adopters” such as China and India will consume at lower levels because they build leaner, more efficient systems.

In the United States, the absolute use of over many materials, including steel, paper, water, have peaked.  The rate of growth for US electricity is also declining, according to Ausubel.  Right now, India and China have rapidly increased energy consumption, much like the United States did in the 20th century, but because they are later adopters, their use of energy can also be expected to decline.

We have to be cautious about what we mean by a high-energy planet,” said Ausubel.  “We could very well have a high-energy services planet without using large amounts of materials like petroleum.”

Prepare for High Energy Growth, Climate Experts Warn

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