Asian Economies, Not Concern over Climate Change, End Fossil Fuel Dominance
The expansion of Asian populations and economies is expected to have unprecedented and unpredictable impacts on world resources. The task of meeting future energy needs is daunting. The Chinese have made the use of renewables their preferred option to increase energy production and availability. What may not be obvious is that their installation rate for renewable energy equates to installing either 10 large hydroelectric dams, or 86 nuclear plants, or 342 coal power plants in one year. Implementing this number of sizable capital projects for any of these technologies in one year in one region is exceedingly problematic, if not impossible. The rationale and underlying strategy as it relates to meeting future energy needs are both interesting and useful. It is unlikely that fossil fuels could meet both energy and installation rate requirements that meet the needs of the Chinese.
Is there a concerted foreign effort to cripple the fossil fuel industry? If not, then maybe the talk of the end of fossil fuel dominance is the product of radical environmentalist fringe elements bent on imposing the use of renewables no matter what the cost. Fortunately, the answer is “neither.” The era of fossil fuel dominance is in its twilight hours. This industry which seemed to have a long, imperturbable reign is hitting its crescendo and is now in the throes of an inexorable march from the pinnacle of economic supremacy. It is important to realize that fossil fuels are not disappearing from the scene as a key cog necessary for societal functionality. Prudent sustainability practices cannot advocate sudden and drastic changes to key elements that support the operation of civilization’s machinery. Evolutionary, not quantum, changes are preferred given the operative complexity of sustainability mechanisms. Fossil fuels will remain a significant component of energy portfolios for the near future. What is uncertain is how fast the renewables steamroller will overtake old economy energy resources and to what degree. One can, however, be assured that this changing of the guard will transpire. The era of fossil fuel dominance was preordained to end at its inception. The factors that determine the relative levels of fossil fuel and renewable energy resources that will be utilized are primarily economically driven supply and demand. There are also subtle characteristics of the different energy sources regarding both resource-efficiency and resource interlinkage features that must be considered and addressed.
Impact of Asian Economies on World Energy Demand
Basic economics, particularly supply and demand challenges, will rear its ugly head in the world economy in most industries, but the energy industry will be particularly hit hard. In October, 2015, the middle class of China eclipsed that of the US (http://tiny.cc/19zxmy). The graph shows the projected increases in the middle classes of China and India. These data get put into perspective when one grasps that the total population of the middle class of China and India that is projected for 2030 is almost 5X the current total population of the US.
Courtesy, Frank Holmes, Business Insider, June 18, 2017
Other aspects of the energy supply situation must be considered. For example, the impact of societal class or technological sophistication on population energy consumption. The reality is that populations that are more affluent will have a higher per capita energy demand than populations that are less affluent or less technologically sophisticated. Given that middle class populations are projected to increase in a linear-parabolic trend, it means that aggregate Asian energy demand may almost grow exponentially. Dr. Earl Cook (Cook, E., “The Flow of Energy in an Industrial Society”, Scientific American, September, 1971) made an analysis of per capita energy requirements for various technological levels of civilization. Per capita or per person energy requirements are the total amount of energy for food, transportation, and other support features that a person consumes at a specific level of technological sophistication. The graph shown was developed using Cook’s information (Rozich, A., Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming, Super Nexus Press, West Chester, PA, 2015). Primitive man only needed about 2,000 dietary calories per capita per day which corresponds to 2,000 Kcal per capita per day. Increased technological sophistication of human societies raises energy consumption at increasing rates as shown in the figure.
Societal Daily Energy Consumption per Capita per Day
It is interesting to use Cook’s numbers to analyze the potential impacts on energy consumption of societal class transitions such as the ones that are projected for Asia, particularly China and India. First, let us “ground truth” Dr. Cook’s numbers. Current US annual energy consumption stands at around 97.4 QUAD (quadrillion BTUs, http://tiny.cc/8e4ymy) with a population of about 323 million. One can grind through the numbers and determine that the current US energy consumption stands at about 208,200 kcal/capita/day (Note that the graph is in thousands of kcals). Since the US is a technological society, this calculation, which is based on actual US population and energy data, aligns well with Cook’s methodology. The same exercise can be done for China using population and energy consumption data for 2016. China’s current population is about 1.64 billion and its annual energy consumption is about 4.36 billion tons coal equivalent (http://tiny.cc/b8czmy ). These numbers result in an energy consumption per capita of 51,000 kcal/capita/day which puts China in the Industrial level of civilization. An analysis for India using 2014 numbers (http://tiny.cc/s5wzmy) yields a figure of 17,500 kcal/capita/day placing them in the Advanced Agricultural level of civilization using Cook’s methodology.
One can estimate the impact of the Chinese and Indian economies transitioning to the middle class by using the US per capita energy consumption number of 208,200 kcal/capita/day as a target to transition to a technological society to support a burgeoning middle class. The Chinese and Indian baseline numbers are 51,000 kcal/capita/day and 17,500 kcal/capita/day, respectively. The middle-class populations of China and India are expected to increase by 1 billion and 0.50 billion, respectively by about 2030. These figures produce a projected increase in energy consumption just for the middle classes of 230 QUAD/year and 125 QUAD/year for China and India, respectively. It should be noted that the assumption is that there is in effective a “quantum” jump of 1.5 billion people to the technological level whereas the reality is that this transition occurs over time. The combination, however, results in a total increase in the energy consumption rate of 355 QUAD/year by the year 2030 primarily attributed to the increase in the Chinese and Indian middle class.
Framing the Challenge Using the Data from Three Gorges Dam
These projections for future energy consumption and how to address future needs get put in perspective by using data from the Three Gorges Dam (http://tiny.cc/w04zmy) project that was installed in China. The dam was designed to have an installed capacity of about 22,000 MW (megawatts) of power but its actual maximum is about 18,300 MW and a realistic design output is about 16,000 MW. This massive project took years to complete and was finished at a cost estimated to be over $30 billion US. It is useful to use the design basis information from this project as a point of reference for analyzing the implications of the projected increase in energy consumption due to the projected increase in the middle class. The design criteria for the dam project and the power output was projected to satisfy the energy consumption rates for 60 million people. Using the actual maximum energy output, one can frame the results on a Cook graph. The anticipated maximum energy output of 18,300 MW for a population of 60 million people meets a per capita consumption rate of only 5,900 kcal/capita/day which is graphically shown on the Cook plot on the previous page. The analysis shows that expectations of the design were not met from an energy supply perspective. It needs to be emphasized that the energy production for the dam was fairly on target. The disconnect occurred because the inferred design criteria noting that the dam could supply energy needs for 60 million people underestimated the daily per capita energy consumption rate. It should be emphasized that the design of this project began in the 1980s in the early days of the sustainability era. Nevertheless, one needs to consider carefully when defining and quantifying the engineering criteria when it comes to sustainability initiatives, especially those that involve large scale capital projects.
Important Lessons of the Chinese Experience
The Three Gorges Dam project is not, by any means, a failure. Quite the contrary, there were numerous goals apart from the energy production targets that drove this project. As far as the energy aspect is concerned, the dam has demonstrated it can generate copious amounts of power. The monthly vagaries are due to the variations in river flow. The dam achieved almost 88% of maximum power output in one month. However, the production disparities from the target or expected performance levels make designing solutions for sustainability challenging. For example, how does one grapple with the task of providing enough capacity to provide an additional 355 QUAD of energy annually? The magnitude of the challenge is best illustrated in terms of the number of new installations that would be needed to meet the increased energy consumption demand. The results to say the least are sobering. A summary of the analysis of this information is provided in the table below.
Table 1. Number Facilities Needed to Add 355 QUAD/year of Capacity in 15 Years*
What is learned from Table 1? First, the reality is that the number of installations is staggering and their timely implementation is unattainable. Even if the financial resources were available, it is highly likely that the world and the target regions cannot hope to muster the resources that are needed to engineer, site, and construct these systems. Furthermore, the myriad of ancillary issues such as environmental impact assessments, acquiring land and related access, equipment selection, and the like will be overwhelming. There is another significant issue that hampers this effort. It is the stark reality that most of these installations, particularly coal and nuclear, will have huge water demands and have interlinked resources. In these circumstances, one resource requires the supply of the other resource. The interlinkage feature is one that is often overlooked, but one that is becoming more and more exigent as increased societal functionality takes root in more human populations. Interlinked resources can cripple existing or planned resource production systems. Perhaps another tact is in order instead of building thousands of large-scale centralized facilities requiring fossil fuels. As a side note, although hydropower plants are technically green, they are still huge centralized facilities requiring the same installation complexities as fossil fuel plants.
Estimating Future Energy Production Needs for the New Middle Class
The Chinese experience and their efforts toward sustainability are interesting, encouraging, and enlightening. China’s response to their energy challenges has been to embrace renewables, particularly solar and wind. To date, they have 78 GW of solar (http://tiny.cc/ms10my) and 169 GW of wind (http://tiny.cc/so10my) installed, respectively. What is also noteworthy is how they appear to be positioning their energy portfolio and how those efforts are reverberating in world energy markets, particularly the renewables markets. Clearly, coal shoulders most of the energy burden at the current time, but China’s coal usage has been dropping. As coal use has dropped, both solar and wind installation rates continue to increase.
The task at hand is meeting the looming energy middle-class demand. China’s current rate for implementing new installations for solar and wind are about 43 GW/year and 21 GW/year, respectively. These rates were determined via analysis of graphical data obtained from China Water Risk (http://tiny.cc/bgw1my). The overall energy consumption projections are showing an increase of about 230 QUAD in 15 years or an average increase in capacity per year of 15 QUAD/year. The current new installation rates for solar and wind work out to about 2 QUAD/year which is admirable, but still shows a “new energy installation gap” to meet the target projected demand.
Courtesy, Our Finite World, April 11, 2013, Energy Per Cap Per Year
The question now is what to do next. First, it is useful to revisit the assumptions that were used to determine the requirement target for additional energy installation of 230 QUAD. The primary assumption is the need to transition from a base (2016) demand of 51,000 kcal/capita/day for China to the US rate of 208,000 kcal/capita/day for 1 billion people entering the middle class. Is this assumption “written in stone” and invariable? The answer is no. The US energy consumption footprint as depicted on the Cook plot shown previously is worth another look. The graph (http://tiny.cc/j345my ) above shows the annual per capita energy demand for several countries for 2010. The US has a high consumption rate at 300 MMBTU/capita/year which is roughly 208,000 kcal/capita/day. However, countries such as France, Germany, UK, and Italy have demands that together average about 150 MMBTU/capita/year which is 104,000 kcal/capita/day as shown in the Cook plot on page 2. These countries all fall into the Technological Society category but at a much lower consumption rate than that of the US. Using the average consumption rate of 104,000 kcal/capita/day for the middle class, China’s target for future energy demand is reduced to 77 QUAD/year by the year 2030. Over 15 years, China must install about 5 QUAD/year, not 15 QUAD/year which was the result when the US energy per capita basis was employed for the calculation. Given that new systems are being installed at a rate of 2 QUAD/year, the 5 QUAD/year target for new installations is very achievable. This shows renewables can provide a superior path to meet energy requirements for societal functionality.
A Final Note
A final note is in order regarding Table 1 which shows the number of facilities needed for different technologies to add 355 QUAD/year to meet the energy targets for the middle-class expansion. Table 2 show below is similar except that the number of installations, etc. are targeted to meet an energy goal of 77 QUAD/year which is the refined energy goal that was determined using data from countries other than the US.
Table 2. Number Facilities to Add 77 QUAD/year of Capacity in 15 Years*
It is interesting to frame the rate of renewables installation in terms of large, mostly fossil fuel, facilities. For China to match the renewables installation rate of 2 QUAD/year, one would need to install to match the renewable energy installation rate in one year:
- · 4 Hydroelectric Plants the Size of Three Gorges Dam, or
- · 133 Coal Power Plants, or
- · 33 Nuclear Plants
What is the likelihood of installing dozens of these large-scale facilities in one year in one region? Renewables are here to stay for economic reasons. It is unlikely that fossil fuels could meet both energy and installation rate requirements for this situation.