Energy Dimensions

As suggested at the end of the previous discussion, humanity is now very dependent on energy, which permeates all aspects of the modern world, especially in the developed economies. The following chart simply provides a breakdown of energy usage, although it does not really reflect the dependency of the global economy or the political stability of nation-states on the increasing use of energy.

Of course, the usage of energy has undoubtedly come at a price of increased CO2 emissions, which we might characterise in terms of the next chart. Here the figures on the left are in millions of tonnes of CO2 shown for each sector on the right. While each sector is contributing to increasing CO2 emissions, they are all dependent on energy production. However, we might now begin to see the scope of the problem of negating the 40% increase in CO2 level since 1750, as it would appear to require a solution that addresses the issue across so many different sectors

Of course, energy usage also depends on energy production and the following energy projection was produced by the US Energy Information Administration in 2013, which can be cross-referenced on Wikipedia for more details. While all sorts of changes might affect this project, for the purposes of this discussion, we shall assume that it is a reasonable starting point.

In the chart above, we might realise that the percentage use of fossil fuels does not change appreciably, even when extrapolated out to 2040, i.e. 78% compared to 15% in the form of renewables. However, we might question this breakdown a little further using the next chart, which uses slightly different percentages, but provides more details of the scope of renewable energy sources. As this issue is discussed in more detail under the heading ‘Brave New Worlds’, it will simply be stated that of the 10-15% contributed by renewables to the total, only about 3% might be directly linked to solar and wind, although it might be accepted that this will grow in the future.

Of course, if we accept the argument that technology is accelerating, we might also have to consider a more optimistic breakdown of the renewable contribution, although this is only a possibility not a certainty. However, even if new technological break-throughs were achieved in the developed economies in the coming decades, we might still have to accept a time-lag before such break-throughs were fully deployed, especially in the developing economies. The next chart now shows the 2014 CO2 emissions, which we might correlate to energy use, against GDP/capita for a spread of economies, where it is highlighted that both axes are plotted on logarithmic scales.

So, on the vertical logarithmic scale of CO2 emissions, we can see that prosperous economies may easily be producing over 100 times the amount of CO2 than poor economies. However, the horizontal logarithmic scale of GDP/capita suggests that prosperity has, at least historically, only been achieved when CO2 emissions are increased. Therefore, we might conclude from this outline that technology has to provide a CO2 solution across all sectors outlined, while maintaining economic growth. Of course, for those on the low-end of this prosperity scale, the increased use of fossil fuels may appear as the only solution for a better life, provided they can develop the necessary large-scale production and distribution infrastructures. In this respect, the previous success of the earlier industrial revolution might appear as an obvious model to follow. So, unless the developed economies help, or conspire against, the developing economies, they may actually increase their CO2 emission by orders of magnitude in the coming decades, especially if we factor in their higher birth rates.