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The Energy Challenge. CONTEXT. SCALE. Humanity’s Top 10 Problems for Next 50 Years. CONTEXT: The Nobel Laureate’s View. Energy Water Food Environment Poverty Terrorism and War Disease Education Democracy Population. Richard E. Smalley, “Our Energy Challenge”.

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humanity s top 10 problems for next 50 years
Humanity’s Top 10 Problems for Next 50 Years

CONTEXT: The Nobel Laureate’s View

  • Energy
  • Water
  • Food
  • Environment
  • Poverty
  • Terrorism and War
  • Disease
  • Education
  • Democracy
  • Population

Richard E. Smalley, “Our Energy Challenge”

CONTEXT: The “Miller Lite” Summary

More energy, less CO2

“Tastes great, less filling”

SCALE: How much more energy?

How much less CO2?

How long?

What new technology?

What new infrastructure?

Energy Summary

Energy is one of the Grand Challenges of our time

Energy is not a monolithic issue

supply, demand,conservation, application, scale, location, independence, environment, climate change, GDP, carbon intensity, infrastructure, technology, policy, sustainability, public acceptance…

Fossil fuels will be important throughout this century

Renewables are growing rapidly, but from a very small base

Efficiency/conservation has the best payback

Each barrel of oil saved keeps $ in our pockets and ~1000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere!

BUT we cannot save our way to meeting the world’s future energy needs.

Energy – World Scale Dimensions

1 exajoule (EJ) = 10 Joules

1 Quadrillion BTU (Quad) = 10 BTU

1 Terawatt (TW)=10 Gigawatts=10 Megawatts=10 kilowatts






1 TWyr ≈ 30 Quads ≈ 30 EJ

World energy consumption ≈ 400 Quads/yr

US Energy Consumption ≈ 100 Quads/yr

Energy content of 1 cubic foot of natural gas = 1000 BTU

Energy content of 1 gallon of gasoline = 125,000 BTU

US daily consumption: 20 million barrels of oil

60 billion cubic feet of natural gas

3 million tons of coal

“We are not going to have energy independence as long as the US relies on the internal combustion engine.”

James R. Schlesinger

former Secretary of Energy

Coal use will increase under any foreseeable scenario because it is cheap and abundant.

CO2 capture and sequestration is the critical enabling technology that would reduce CO2 emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world’s pressing energy needs.”

- MIT report, “The Future of Coal” March 2007

Renewables will not play a large role in primary power generation unless/until:

–technological/cost breakthroughs are achieved, or

–unpriced externalities are introduced (e.g., environmentally driven carbon taxes)

Nate Lewis, Caltech

us energy mix
US Energy Mix

Electricity Generation (~40% of total):

50% Coal, 18% Natural gas, 3% Petroleum

Transportation Fuels (~30 % of total):

96% Petroleum

Very little overlap between energy sources for these two dominant sectors!

World Energy Statistics and Projections

+ 1.6%/yr

- 1.0%/yr

N. S. Lewis and D. G. Nocera, PNAS, 103, 15729 (2006)

Supply Perspective:

At minimum, we need to triple global energy supply in this century.

Total Primary Power vs. Year

1990: 12 TW 2050: 28 TW

More Energy, but Less CO2

World in 2100 will need:

3X current energy production

<1/3 current CO2 emissions

= 10X less CO2 emitted per unit of energy used

Carbon-Free Primary Power Need

= 7.4GtC

= 1.9GtC

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) @ Summit on America’s Energy Future 3/13/08

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) @ Summit on America’s Energy Future 3/13/08

Potential of Renewable Energy Resources
  • Wind
  • - Has potential to meet a large fraction of electricity needs
  • - Reliability, storage, transmission issues
  • Solar
  • -Has potential to meet a significant fraction of electricity needs
  • - Suitable for distributed generation
  • - Reliability, storage issues
  • Biomass
  • - Has potential to replace fraction of petroleum for transportation
  • - Questionable energy benefit for corn ethanol
  • - Land and water issues, competition with food production
There is no single energy source or technology that will “solve” our energy and environmental needs

We need to develop a range of technologies to fuller potential

Technology alone is likely not enough

Efficiency/conservation has the best payback

BUT we cannot save our way to meeting the world’s future energy needs.