World energy consumption, and its meaning for us

By July 1, 2020Other

For several years now I have paid attention to the supply and demand factors for the production of energy. It seems to me that the standard of living we enjoy in Australia and developing countries aspire to, is based on an abundance of cheap and reliable energy. I have mentioned in at least one earlier essay the wonderful museum in Ceduna, in South Australia, which offers visitors a working example of every machine, and there are dozens of them, used before the arrival of electricity. A lot of old guys maintain these machines, and they are properly proud of them too. I remember one or two of the machines from my childhood. Electricity made most of them obsolete quite quickly. You pressed a switch and an electric motor did all the work. Electric motors were simple and easy to repair, too, as well as cheap to replace.

More recently we have been subjected to a great cry from those fixated on ‘alternative energy’ sources. To save the planet we must wean ourselves off fossil fuels and replace them with ‘sustainable’ energy sources, largely wind and solar. There are problems with this project, for wind and solar suffer from intermittency and need back-up, which has to be provided by fossil fuels. Both wind and solar need lots of land to be at all useful, because their energy density is weak. Nonetheless, the cry continues, and it is most useful to see what in fact the components of energy supply actually are. The British Petroleum (BP) oil company has been publishing statistics on this subject since 1951, and it recently brought out its 2020 Statistical Review of World Energy, which you can read here. I have to accept that the BP data are as close to correct as they can be, and there is a great deal about their methodology in the Review. The data allow both snapshots of a given point in time, like 2019, and also a long-term trend.  

Now you might think that an oil company would be forthright in pointing out the great utility of oil, if only for transport, let alone for the generation of electricity. But no. BP is careful to be politically correct. The CEO of BP is Bernard Looney (I make no comment), says that BP is aiming to be a net-zero emissions company by 2050. More:“The world’s carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero”.
Alas, his charts and tables, as below,
Energy consumption sources
don’t suggest that anything much in the way of a rapid transition is happening now, or likely to happen soon. Over the past twenty-five years world consumption of primary energy has almost doubled, but its components are proportionately much the same as they were in 1994. The consumption of coal, oil and gas has increased quite impressively; nuclear energy has not, and is much the same; there is somewhat more hydroelectricity, and renewables, which were tiny in 1994, are now producing somewhat less than nuclear power stations. Even if you extend the trend for a further twenty-five years it seems highly unlikely to me that there will be any such rapid transition.
 That is just to assume that current trends remain constant. I have doubts that such constancy is possible. Batteries can store a little energy for a short time, while something else is switched on and kicks in, but they don’t generate power, despite what many people seem to think. There seems to be increasing resistance around the world to the plonking of wind turbines and solar arrays on otherwise useful land, both for aesthetic grounds and in the case of turbines medical grounds as well. Rooftop solar is becoming an inconvenient source of grid power. And the life of solar cells and wind turbines is becoming a worry. Those consumers who opted for solar arrays when there was a government inducement to buy them will find out soon whether or not the long-term investment actually does pay off. Developing countries able to do so are investing in coal as well as renewables. Just about any country that has the raw material is searching for and exploiting oil and gas. There is no way that a poor country can get rich quickly by opting for renewables. They want to have the same living standards as we do. Why wouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t they?
 I’ve used the BP data because they are historic, and can be arrived at reasonably accurately. Projections are the devil, for so much depends on techn0logical advances of many kinds, and on whether or not ‘peak oil’ is arriving, has arrived or will arrive in some short-term future. Since the demise of oil as a cheap energy source has been predicted, wrongly so far, since the 1950s, it is hard to know what to think. But most projections I have seen build on the 2019 figures that BP provided, and continue the trend in a sort of linear fashion. Here is an example. 

Its projections, be it noted, started fifteen years ago! Its projection of renewable availability was more up-beat than the reality of 2019, but the big three, coal, oil and gas, were much where they were predicted to be in 2005. My guess is that its projections for 2035 will be pretty similar to the reality in that year, only fourteen or so years away. May I live to see it! If alive I’ll be waiting for the preparation of Queen’s celebratory telegram, if she still sends them.
 If you want to see a graph of ‘peak oil’ here’s one.

I do not know on what data and estimates the decline is based. Note that the real peak was not to be 2017 but about now. That seems to be the case for most global estimates of peak oil. It is always coming. Even in 2050 the decline in global production looks to be somewhat short of twenty per cent. What we will all be doing then is moot.
To return to the present, the future and our own country, I can see little point in our trying to lead the world, or be among the big players, in ‘decarbonising’ Australia and showing the way to the otherwise benighted. Yes, I recognise that it is the fashionable thing to do, and that our governments talk about it in a muddled sort of way. But we have abundant coal, enough to supply our electricity for a couple of centuries at least. We can afford to buy our oil from overseas. We have plenty of gas, if we were sensible enough to reserve the best of it for ourselves.
Of course, to do that we would have to say, as confidently as we could, that there is no climate emergency, that the small increases in CO2 in the atmosphere over the past thirty years have coincided with a greening of the planet and a rise in food production, that natural variation is very much a part of climate change, and that the notion of ‘climate sensitivity’ doesn’t seem to be born out by observations and argument, and more similar caveats.
I don’t see this happening any time soon. But the more I study actual data the more I want to argue that the climate activists are having themselves, and the rest of us, on. The sooner we all wake up, the better.

Apology: My operating system has been changed, and I am still unsure of how to use the new version. The present bolding has no significance, and the graphs could be better, I agree. I’m still learning!

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • Karabar says:

    Folks are waking up to the fact that the entire CAGW scare was the biggest hoax in human history. With prominent alarmists such as the two Michaels (Moore and Shellenberger) throw the scam under the bus, the light breaks through the darkness. There will come a “tipping point” of accurate information at which a majority discover it has been conned. It can’t happen soon enough.,

  • JMO says:

    It is about time these climate alarmist, beligerents, catastrophists and doommongers ( yes I also can use words starting with “d” ) read ( and I mean READ) the source documents. This is the lecture ” On Radiation” by John Tyndell FRS on Tuesday 16 May 1865 to the Royal Society. He is the discoverer of the IR absorption properties of numerous gasses by experimentation ( yes, a rare word in climate “science” and the climate a,b,c and d crowd). At chapter 13 he described water vapour as “…exercises a very potent action.” and ” aqueous vapour is especially opaque”. He correctly identified water vapour as THE gas “protecting its (Earth) surface from the deadly chill which it would otherwise sustain”.
    As far as CO2 , he described it at chapter 14 as “ of the feeblest of absorbers of the radiant heater by solid sources”, which he referred to as the “calorific rays” .
    After seeing Planet of the Humans” and now the public apology from Michael Shellenberger, I suggest the climate alarmists etc prepare their humble pie. It will be a large one!

  • Neville says:

    A good article Don and I couldn’t agree more with your conclusion.
    Perhaps co2 is providing some extra forcing but it doesn’t really matter, because the developing countries want all the fossil fuels they can find for their citizens over the coming decades, whether we like it or not.
    So called net zero emissions is just another fraud and we should vote against these con merchants at every opportunity.
    BTW I also hope you get your telegram from Her / His Majesty at the allotted time.

  • Neville says:

    BTW here’s that co2 emissions graph AGAIN from Wikipedia since 1970.
    Look at China, other countries and India ( just starting) and please start to wake up.
    And please understand that SH countries emit about 7% of all Human co2 emissions and CSIRO states that the SH emissions are already NET ZERO. See CSIRO Cape Grim Tassie.

  • John Stankevicius says:

    Great work Don. Does any one know of any research being undertaken that oil is not the product of broken down plant matter but from sulphur compressed at great pressure within the earths crust and seeping out through fissures. I think this is right – Dr Hubble was the more recent scientist to forward this theory. Looking forward to Alice and Neville contributions on this topic.

    The four sun spots are doing their job – lower temps and higher rainfall so far across Australia.

  • Boambee John says:

    As long as China, India and other developing nations continue on their current course (and there are no solid indicators that they will change course), then anything Australia does is pointless virtue signalling. I might give some confortably well off alarmists a warm feeling, but (even if the alarmists are correct), the effect will be invisible. It will certainly make life more difficult for poor people in Australia.

    Much like the old joke about wetting yourself in a dark suit. Sometimes you get a warm feeling, but generally no-one notices. Except that those who can no longer afford to heat or cool their homes will notice the lack of interest in their plight by the woke wealthy.

    Tar, feathers, some assembly required.

  • Aynsley Kellow says:

    I think most observers are waking up to the inevitability of coal, gas or nuclear as being essential to a reliable electricity system.

    The drawbacks of renewables are only too apparent: especially intermittency, low density (which means vast areas of land required for solar or wind) and system costs associated with extra transmission lines needed because capacity factors for wind in Australia are only around 30%. The capacity is needed when the wind is blowing and widespread, but then they sit idle when it is not (and especially at night when the sun doesn’t shine).

    The real crunch comes with the ‘choke point’, which Rafe Champion has been writing about. What happens when the sun goes down, the wind is not blowing, and demand rises as people come home? There are also enormous problems with system stability, exacerbated by a large amount of rooftop solar on the system, which can produce substantial voltage instability. Our heat pump occasionally refuses to start, and when I run the diagnostics, it tells me voltage instability is the problem. It won’t start in order to protect itself.

    And a system without the inertia of large synchronous generators leads to frequency variability. The real function of the Tesla battery in SA is to correct for this. The costs of battery back-up and pumped storage are substantial, yet they are needed as the proportion of renewables on the grid increases. Both are only around 80-85% efficient, so not only do they not produce energy, they consume it.

    I did quite a bit of work subjecting engineers to critical scrutiny (See, for example, Transforming Power: The Politics of Electricity Planning, Cambridge University Press, 1996), and eventually concluding that there was not an issue of technocracy. They favoured their pet projects (a kind of ‘Edifice Complex’) because they were supported by their political masters, and change was possible.

    The same situation applies now. The political process is driving this and the commanding heights appear to be occupied by lawyers and rent seekers who have little appreciation of the realties of electric power systems engineers.

  • Karabar says:

    JMO, it was Eunice Foote who primarily made this discovery in 1856, and Tyndall collaborated. What they didn’t seem to realise is that beyond a concentration of about 280 ppm (and we are at 410 now) the absorption contribution of CO2 is completely overshadowed by the water vapour.
    The scam cleverly goads politicians into believing that “emissions” have any part to play in the issue at all. It was a clever ploy to ignore the work of Foote and Tyndall while yakking about Svante Arrhenius whose work was essentially disproved by Coleridge in 1925.
    How effective this evil propaganda has been! Very few of the unwashed are aware that “reducing emissions” is sheer stuff and nonsense, at least where CO2 is concerned, and modern equipment with scrubbers emit very little else besides water vapour.
    The CAGW scam is well and truly the biggest hoax in human history, and has affected more people even than the ridiculous “Daemonology” of King James.

    • JMO says:

      Thanks Karabar, I thought someone else also discovered CO2 IR absorption properties (but did not get around to find out). JT experimented some years before he made that lecture “On Radiation”. Arrehenius can be considered to be the 1st climate catastrophist, to his credit he did eventually tone down his climate sensitivity ( temp rise per doubling of CO2 concentration) from 6 C to 4 C degrees. From what I heard he was not a particularly nice person to know, as are most climate alarmists. As you pointed out Coleridge debunked him, so we could consider him to be one of the early climate realist (or sceptic/ denier according to the climate catastrophists).
      If you look at the IR absorption spectra of CO2 and H2O vapour, their respective ppm atmospheric concentration and compare with Earth IR radiating into space, you will come to the question “what is the problem?” Only CO2’s 15 micron 100% absorption line ( 1.9, 2.7, 4.3 microns are the others ) is relevant and 60 -70% (roughly 2/3) of that is absorbed by water vapour anyway, and H2O vapour is 10 to 20 times ( or more) higher atmospheric concentration than CO2. When you apply Wiens displacement law ( black body radiation) this equates to BB temperature of MINUS 80 C (ie 193 Kelvin), which provides a radiation pressure of 1.09 w/ sqm. But remember we are dealing with an absorption line IR emission not a broad one from a BB, so the energy intensity is a lot lower, in this case approx 1/5 if you look at the area under the absorption spectra curve on a logarithmic (to the base 2) X- axis scale. Just think of a 100 watt incandescent bulb ( broad range black body radiator) and a 18 -20 watt fluro bulb ( narrow range radiation wavelengths) same brightness but incandescent bulb will burn your hand whereas the fluro will feel warm. All this reduces CO2 warming effect by approx 1/5 × 1/3 ×1/15 (halfway between 1/10 and 1/20) =1 /250 th of 1.09 watts/sqm which equals 0.00436 watts/sqm. The Sun emits 1365 w/sqm at Earth’s distance. Gosh a lot of extra warming in that one!

      There is a small extra CO2 warming effect however. Adding a carbon atom to O2 increases the molecular weight by 37 %, this slightly increases atmospheric pressure which increases temperature (PV =nRT).

      As a former alarmist, I agree with you. Climate alarmism / catastrophism will go down as one the almighty scams of the late 20th/early 21st centuries.

  • It’s interesting how BP and other corporations with oil wells and coal mines profess belief in “the science”. There’s increasing calls from boardrooms to place company advertising with media outlets with environmental credentials before popular reach. Why they run with the hare and chase with the hounds is hard to fathom, but there must be an economic agenda somewhere

  • spangled drongo says:

    Good stuff Don. Yes it is more than overdue for all academies of science to speak out on the way the IPCC and the associated activist climate movement have become highly politicised. Sceptical scientists are being silenced awa F/F industries being made to agree with the climate waffle.

    “National Academies of Science should speak out against climate alarmism, not support it. This is the major message in a recent letter from Professor Guus Berkhout, president of CLINTEL, to the new head of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The integrity of science is at stake.”

  • david purcell says:

    Hi John S

    Not sure that Dr Hubble is correct.
    Take for example the black shale shale beds in Pennsylvania in the USA. These types of beds, not limited to the US, have high organic content and have been chemically altered in an oxygen free environment for the last 150 million years. These shale beds are many thousands of feet below the deepest water supply aquifers so “fracking” these beds to release the oil and gas in a controlled way has not resulted in contamination of the groundwater no matter what alarmists might say.
    Traditional oil recovery rates stand at about 50% and even if recovery rates for shale oil are a bit less, some have estimated that so far only about 10% of the worlds reserves (recoverable volumes) have been exhausted. Environmentalists don’t like to hear this stuff!

  • Boambee John says:

    Via Jo Nova. EVs are not the answer if the idea is to improve the world.

    “new report from UNCTAD, warns that the raw materials used in electric car batteries, are highly concentrated in a small number of countries, which raises a number of concerns.

    …two-thirds of all cobalt production happens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 20 per cent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from artisanal mines, where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in extremely dangerous conditions in the mines for meagre income.

    And in Chile, lithium mining uses nearly 65% of the water in the country’s Salar de Atamaca region, one of the driest desert areas in the world, to pump out brines from drilled wells. This has forced local quinoa farmers and llama herders to migrate and abandon ancestral settlements. It has also contributed to environment degradation, landscape damage and soil contamination, groundwater depletion and pollution.”

    Andthey rely on fossil fuelled or nuclear power for recharging. Then there is the question of final disposal of batteries, something that also affects solar and wind generators.

    Stu, if you are lurking out there, don’t forget to “tut tut”!

  • Neville says:

    Chris Kenny interviews Michael Shellenberger about his new book “Apocalypse Never” and it is definitely worth 10 minutes of your time.
    I’m convinced this bloke is genuine and has wrestled with his conscious for a long time. Of course he’s understood the data/evidence for many years but refused to condemn the fraudulent Malthusian donkeys until now.
    He now considers that so called Green energy is a disaster for the environment and for very poor people around the world.
    Just look at the S&W idiocy in the poorest countries and the German + EU stupidity over the last few decades. Then look at soaring co2 emissions from China and developing countries over the same period. Unfortunately all pain for ZERO gain and Lomborg’s team now claims this is costing 1 to 2 trillion $ per year. Will these fools ever wake up?

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