The Energy Collective Group

This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

9,844 Members

Article Post

The Role of Energy Intensity in Global Decarbonization: How Fast Can We Cut Energy Use?

Full Spectrum: Energy Analysis and Commentary with Jesse Jenkins

This research note was originally published at Clean Air Task Force. Click here to download this note as a PDF

By Jesse D. Jenkins & Armond M. Cohen

Summary:

  • Energy intensity improvements, or declines in the amount of energy consumption per unit of economic output, must play a critical role in efforts to decarbonize the global economy.
  • Global decarbonization scenarios depend on a wide range of energy intensity improvement rates.
  • Several scenarios which rely heavily on renewable energy and exclude other technologies from consideration (i.e. nuclear or carbon capture and storage), depend on a dramatic acceleration in energy intensity improvement compared to historical rates.
  • Policy making has only limited influence over the mechanisms behind changes in energy intensity. Further research is needed to carefully unpack the mechanisms behind historical rates of change in energy intensity in order to benchmark global decarbonization strategies.
  • Until then, scenarios calling for a step-change acceleration in energy intensity rates should be treated with caution. 

Avoiding extreme or dangerous climate change will likely require the nearly complete decarbonization of the global energy system during this century, with 50-90% reductions in global CO2 emissions by 2050 (GEA, 2012; IPCC, 2014; Loftus et al., 2015). These deep cuts in emissions must be achieved against a backdrop of growing global population and significant projected increases in demand for energy and energy-related services.

Driving global emissions down while economic prosperity expands and demand for energy services grows requires an unprecedented acceleration in the decarbonization of the global economy (Kaya, 1989). The quantity of CO2 emitted per unit of economic activity, or the carbon intensity of the global economy, must decline at a rate of 4-10%/year, depending on assumptions about the pace of economic expansion and population growth (Loftus et al., 2015). By contrast, global carbon intensity declined at a rate of just 0.9%/year from 1990 to 2005, despite significant policy efforts in some countries (EIA, 2010). 

Cutting CO2 while keeping the economy growing will require improvements in the energy intensity of the economy — that is, declines in the amount of energy consumption per unit of economic output (i.e., GDP). It should come as no surprise, then, that energy intensity improvements feature prominently in almost all published scenarios proposing strategies to decarbonize the global economy and drive down emissions. 

Energy intensity can be measured in one of two ways: (1) as the ratio of “primary” energy supplied, such as coal, oil, or renewable energy inputs, to GDP; or (2) as the ratio of the consumption of “final” energy, or usable forms of energy such as heat or electricity, to GDP. Regardless of which measure is used, published global decarbonization scenarios consistent with stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at the equivalent of 430-480 parts per million of CO2 all require dramatically accelerating the annual average rate of energy intensity improvement. Indeed, the rates envisioned in these scenarios stand in marked contrast with the historical rate of progress in energy intensity.

Loftus et al. (2015) critically review 17 global decarbonization scenarios, finding sustained primary energy intensity improvements rates between 1.6% and 3.6%/year. Likewise, Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2014) presents a range of potential decarbonization strategies which rely on different combinations of energy intensity improvements and decarbonization of energy supplies (see Figure 1). These scenarios depend on improvements in final energy intensity at sustained rates between 1.0% and 3.6%/year over the next 50 years.

Figure 1. REDUCTIONS IN ENERGY INTENSITY AND CARBON INTENSITY OF ENERGY SUPPLY IN IPCC WORKING GROUP III CLIMATE STABILIZATION SCENARIOS

REDUCTIONS IN ENERGY INTENSITY AND CARBON INTENSITY OF ENERGY SUPPLY

Development of carbon-intensity of energy supply (CO2/energy) vs. final energy-intensity (final energy/GDP) reduction relative to 2010 in selected baseline and mitigation scenarios reaching 530 to 580 ppm and 430 to 480 ppm CO2-eq concentrations in 2100 (left panel) and relative to baseline in the same scenarios (right panel). Consecutive dots represent 10-year time steps starting in 2010 at the origin and going out to 2100. Graphic source: IPCC (2014, WG III, Chpt. 6, p. 39).

Figures 2 and 3 compare the sustained rates in primary and final energy intensity improvements called for in these representative decarbonization scenarios with historical changes in energy intensity (presented as five-year rolling averages). Consistent with Loftus, et al. (2015), we group decarbonization scenarios into four groups, based on the stringency of energy intensity improvement rates required. Figures 2 and 3 show the range of energy intensity rates consistent with both “Group 1” scenarios, which all foresee sustained growth in global energy demand, and “Group 4” scenarios, which envision absolute declines in global energy use due to efficiency improvements. In general, Group 4 scenarios depend to a greater degree on demand reductions and include a more limited range of primary energy sources (i.e., primarily renewables) while excluding other technologies from consideration (Loftus et al., 2015), while Group 1 scenarios achieve more rapid decarbonization of energy supplies (IPCC, 2014) and include a greater diversity of low-carbon primary energy sources(i.e., nuclear and fossil energy with carbon capture and sequestration) (Loftus et al., 2015).
 
As these figures illustrate, primary energy intensity historically improved at an average rate of 1.3%/year from 1980-2000, but progress has slowed in recent years. The rate of improvement averaged just 0.3%/year from 2000-2012 and even began to reverse progress after 2008. Likewise, final energy intensity improved at 1.6%/year from 1980-2000 but at a rate of just 0.6%/year after 2000.
 
Compared to these historical rates, even the decarbonization scenarios envisioning the least aggressive cuts in energy usage (“Group 1” in the Figures 2 and 3) depend on sustaining energy intensity declines at rates matching the most rapid declines seen over the last 40 years and much faster than the average energy intensity improvement rate over the last decade.

Figure 2. GLOBAL TRENDS IN PRIMARY ENERGY INTENSITY: HISTORICAL RATES AND PROPOSED RATES IN DECARBONIZATION SCENARIOS 

GLOBAL TRENDS IN PRIMARY ENERGY INTENSITY

Figure 3. GLOBAL TRENDS IN FINAL ENERGY INTENSITY: HISTORICAL RATES AND PROPOSED RATES IN DECARBONIZATION SCENARIOS 

GLOBAL TRENDS IN FINAL ENERGY INTENSITY

Historical primary and final energy data from IEA (2015). Historical GDP data from World Bank (2015). Prospective primary energy intensity rates from scenarios in Loftus et al. (2015) and final energy intensity rates from IPCC (2014, WG III, Chpt. 6, p. 39).

By contrast, scenarios which depend heavily on energy intensity improvements to hold global energy demand in check despite growing populations and affluence (“Group 4” scenarios) require roughly doubling the historical final energy intensity rate achieved from 1980-2000 and nearly tripling the primary energy intensity rate experienced over that period. 

Furthermore, final energy intensity improvement would need to progress at up to six times the average rate experienced from 2000-2012 while primary energy intensity gains would need to see a twelve-fold acceleration (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. HISTORICAL AND PROPOSED AVERAGE ANNUAL PRIMARY (LEFT) AND FINAL (RIGHT) ENERGY INTENSITY IMPROVEMENT RATES 

HISTORICAL AND PROPOSED ENERGY INTENSITY IMPROVEMENT RATES

Historical primary and final energy data from IEA (2015). Historical GDP data from World Bank (2015). Prospective primary energy intensity rates from scenarios in Loftus et al. (2015) and final energy intensity rates from IPCC (2014, WG III, Chpt. 6, p. 39).

Is a dramatic acceleration of energy intensity improvement possible? To answer this question, we must consider that a number of different mechanisms drive the rate of change in global energy intensity, including:

  1. Sectoral shifts in the composition of the global economy, such as the increasing importance of services as a share of global GDP, which tend to consume much less energy per unit of economic activity than heavy industry or agriculture;
  2. Substitution of other economic inputs for energy, such as an increased reliance on capital or labor in productive processes in lieu of energy inputs; and
  3. Improvements in primary to final energy conversion efficiency, or the efficiency at which “primary” energy supplies, such as coal, oil, or renewable energy inputs, are converted to usable, “final” forms of energy such as heat or electricity; 
  4. Improvements in end-use energy efficiency, or the amount of final energy inputs needed to deliver a given energy service, such as heating, cooling, transportation, or industrial process energy inputs.

All of these processes contribute to reductions in the amount of energy necessary to support a given amount of economic activity. Yet only a few of these mechanisms can be affected by energy and climate policy levers. We will consider each mechanism in turn.

Sectoral changes in the makeup of the global economy have little to do with climate or energy policy, yet are an important driver of energy intensity trends (see Baksi & Green, 2007; Ma & Stern, 2008; Mulder & de Groot, 2013; Voigt et al., 2014; Wing, 2008). Energy taxes or carbon pricing may induce substitution of capital, labor, or other inputs in lieu of energy, but the efficacy of these policies is complicated by the many other factors driving the relative price and productivity of goods and services in the global economy and the complementary nature of energy and many other factors of production (see Kim & Heo, 2013; Vega-Carvera & Medina, 2000). In general, both of these mechanisms are affected by complex economic trends influenced by a wide range of factors far outside the scope of decarbonization policy

As Figure 5 illustrates, primary to final conversion intensity has been gradually worsening over the past four decades, with more and more primary energy required to produce a given quantity of useful final energy. If this trend continues, it will make it even more difficult to achieve the rates of primary energy intensity declines necessary to confront climate change. 

Figure 5. GLOBAL HISTORICAL TRENDS IN PRIMARY TO FINAL ENERGY CONVERSION INTENSITY 

GLOBAL HISTORICAL TRENDS IN PRIMARY TO FINAL ENERGY CONVERSION INTENSITY

Historical primary and final energy data from IEA (2015).

Going forward, a substantial transition from fossil-fueled power stations to nuclear and renewable electricity or an increase in the use of combined heat and power plants could help reverse this trend. On the other hand, electrification of heating, cooling, or cooking could reduce primary to final energy intensity, as using fuels to produce heat directly is typically more efficient than converting primary energy first to electricity and then to heat. Likewise, installation of carbon capture and storage at fossil-fueled power stations would reduce the efficiency of these plants, increasing the primary to final energy intensity of electricity generation. In short, the impact of decarbonization policies on primary to final energy conversion could be mixed, and in any case, has more to do with supply-side energy policies than the end-use efficiency policies typically associated with improvements in energy intensity.

Finally, end-use energy efficiency is the frequent focus of climate and energy policy making. Yet even here, the policy lever at our disposal may be smaller than it first seems. Indeed, actors in the global economy are constantly pursuing efforts to improve the productivity of inputs to production, energy included. In short, we have a basic economic incentive to progressively squeeze more and more GDP out of a unit of energy, all else equal. As such, there is a long-term trend of improvement in the energy intensity of end-use economic activities, irrespective of energy policies (IPCC, 2014). From a policy-making perspective, this background rate of energy efficiency improvement is “autonomous” or “exogenous” to policy efforts. 

From a climate policy perspective, this reality cuts both ways. On the one hand, decarbonization efforts can safely count on continued help from these autonomous efficiency improvements. Some portion of historical final energy intensity improvement rates are likely to continue into the future, irrespective of climate policy. On the other hand, the ability of policies to affect the rate of energy efficiency improvement is correspondingly diminished to the extent that much improvement is already “baked in” to business-as-usual trends and cannot be counted twice (Pielke, Wigley & Green, 2008).

In sum, after factoring in all of the mechanisms behind historical energy intensity improvement rates, it is difficult to find the policy “signal” in these “noisy” trends. Only a fraction of the overall final energy intensity improvement rates seen historically have anything to do with the wide range of end-use energy efficiency or climate policies pursued by a variety of nations over the past four decades. How large a lever then do policy makers hold as they seek to accelerate energy intensity improvements? The answer to this question is speculative, but of critical importance. Indeed, further research to decompose the mechanisms behind global energy intensity trends and identify those factors over which policy measures have influence could be of critical importance to designing effective decarbonization strategies.

After an initial examination of Figures 4 above, for example, one might easily conclude that accelerating final energy intensity to the rates envisioned by Group 1 decarbonization scenarios is trivial and the much faster rates envisioned by Group 4 scenarios could be accomplished with “only” a doubling or tripling of historical rates. Yet consider a speculative case where energy and climate policy efforts have influence over factors accounting for just one third of the historical energy intensity improvement rates experienced over recent decades. In that case, accelerating to the rates envisioned in the most aggressive (Group 4) scenarios would entail a 3.4 to 4.8-fold increase in the efficacy of policy efforts relative to 1980-2000 historical averages and a 12.5 to 16-fold increase in policy impact compared to 2000-2012 rates (see Figure 6). The relative importance of mechanisms over which policy has influence thus dramatically changes the outlook on the feasibility of scenarios envisioning rapid energy intensity improvements.

Figure 6. RELATIVE INCREASE IN POLICY EFFICACY REQUIRED TO ACCELERATE ENERGY INTENSITY TRENDS: A SPECULATIVE EXAMPLE  

RELATIVE INCREASE IN POLICY EFFICACY REQUIRED TO ACCELERATE ENERGY INTENSITY TRENDS

Historical primary and final energy data from IEA (2015). Historical GDP data from World Bank (2015). Prospective final energy intensity rates from IPCC (2014, WG III, Chpt. 6, p. 39). Share of historical and future trends due to mechanisms exogenous to or influenced by policy speculative and depicted for illustrative example only.

In conclusion, energy intensity improvements must play a critical role in efforts to decarbonize the global economy. Global decarbonization scenarios depend on a wide range of energy intensity improvement rates, some of which entail a dramatic acceleration compared to historical rates of improvement. As policy making has only limited influence over the mechanisms behind changes in energy intensity, critical attention should be paid to the ability of policy to accelerate energy intensity improvements. Further research should carefully unpack the mechanisms behind historical rates of change in energy intensity to further benchmark and calibrate global decarbonization strategies. Until then, scenarios calling for a step-change acceleration in energy intensity rates should be treated with caution. 

Click here to download this note as a PDF.

References

Baksi, S. & Green, C. (2007). Calculating economy-wide energy intensity decline rate: The role of sectoral output and energy shares. Energy Policy 35(12): 6457–6466. 

EIA (2010). International Energy Outlook. Washington, DC: U.S. Energy Information Administration, DOE/ EIA-0484. 

GEA (2012). Global Energy Assessment: Toward a Sustainable Future. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

IEA (2015). World Energy Statistics and Balances. Paris, France: International Energy Agency.

IPCC (2014). Climate change 2014: mitigation of climate change. In: Edenhofer O, Pichs-Madruga R, Sokona Y, Farahani E, Kadner S, Seyboth K, Adler A, Baum I, Brunner S, Eickemeier P, et al., eds. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Kaya, Y., 1989. Impact of carbon dioxide emission control on GNP growth: interpretation of proposed scenarios. IPCC Response Strategies Working Group Memorandum. 

Kim, J., & Heo, E. (2013). Asymmetric substitutability between energy and capital: Evidence from the manufacturing sectors in 10 OECD countries. Energy Economics 40: 81-89.

Loftus, P.J., Cohen, A.M., Long, J.C.S., & Jenkins, J.D. (2015). A critical review of global decarbonization scenarios: what do they tell us about feasibility? Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 6(1): 93-12. DOI: 10.1002/wcc.324

Ma C., & Stern, D.I. (2008). China’s changing energy intensity trend: A decomposition analysis. Energy Economics 30(3): 1037–1053.

Mulder, P. & de Groot, H.L.F (2012). Structural change and convergence of energy intensity across OECD countries, 1970–2005. Energy Economics 34(6): 1910–1921. 

Pielke Jr., R., Wigley, T., & Green, C. (2008). Dangerous assumptions. Nature 452: 531-532

Vega-Cervera, J.A., & Medina, J. (2000). Energy as a productive input: The underlying technology for Portugal and Spain. Energy 25(8): 757–775.

Voigt, S., De Cian, E., Schymura, M., & Verdolini, E. (2014). Energy intensity developments in 40 major economies: Structural change or technology improvement? Energy Economics 41: 47-62. 

Wing, I.S. (2008). Explaining the declining energy intensity of the U.S. economy. Resource and Energy Economics 30(1): 21-49.

World Bank (2015). World Development Indicators: GDP (current US$). Accessed 2/21/2015.

Content Discussion

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 17, 2015

Jesse, much interesting food for thought here.

I think it’s important we keep our eyes on the prize. If economic development (GDP) is “baked in” as a primary goal, along with that comes increased consumption, making our problem more difficult. Idealistically, we should set improving the average U.N. World Happiness Index or the OECD Better Life Index as our goal, and see which paths which might lead there (people who consume more are not necessarily better off than those with better health, or people who are better educated).

Realistically, raising that index is going to involve more economic growth, and require greater amounts of energy. But does that assumption necessarily bake in more carbon emissions? You write:

Going forward, a substantial transition from fossil-fueled power stations to nuclear and renewable electricity or an increase in the use of combined heat and power plants could help reverse this trend [declining primary to final conversion intensity]. On the other hand, electrification of heating, cooling, or cooking could reduce primary to final energy intensity, as using fuels to produce heat directly is typically more efficient than converting primary energy first to electricity and then to heat.

I.e., a low primary to final energy intensity ratio will result in fewer carbon emissions. Nuclear energy, however, creates no significant carbon emissions at all, making efficiency largely a moot point (we could use a lot more energy without harming the enviornment):

…The development of new technologies to increase energy efficiency and to produce reliable and affordable energy with minimal greenhouse gas emission to the Earth’s atmosphere is a high priority in the U.S. and in many other countries. It is essential that these efforts be encouraged and enhanced. However, the probability of success and the timescale for realization of these technologies is highly uncertain. The economic stability and national security of the United States over the coming decades cannot be secured by assuming optimistically that these new technologies will succeed in time to avoid a major discontinuity in the supply of oil and gas from foreign and potentially hostile sources. Further, it is not acceptable, nor is it possible, that the U.S. continues to burn fossil fuels indefinitely at present levels, thereby putting in clear jeopardy the planet on which we have evolved.

The Urgent Need For Increased Nuclear Power (MIT Faculty Newsletter)

Lewis Perelman's picture
Lewis Perelman on March 19, 2015

Excellent analysis, Jesse. But I was a bit surprised that (unless I missed something) you did not mention the implications of rebound effects, which you have addressed elsewhere: “So let’s be clear: rebound effects are not a problem for energy efficiency. But failing to take rebound seriously would be a huge problem for climate mitigation.”

Your analysis here shows that increasing energy intensity has only limited prospects for aiding decarbonization. Adding rebound effects to the mix would seem to amplify that conclusion.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 23, 2015
  • Bob,
  • Cruise ships exist that transport about 6000 people.
  • How does that fit in with any happiness index?

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 25, 2015

Jesse, 

Satellite measurements since 1979 show warming is greater in more populated areas and less in less populated areas.

Climate scientists average these readings to conclude there is global warming, and blame it on CO2.

However, manmade factors, such as deforestation, urbanization, industrial agriculture, increased cloudcover due to pollution, etc., and natural factors, such as coming out of the Little Ice Age, also contribute to global warming.

Significant CO2 reductions likely would not reduce the various OTHER manmade factors, unless the CO2 reductions would significantly reduce GWP and population, which would be likely, if no OTHER low-cost energy sources became abundantly available.

Any CO2 reductions certainly will not reduce the natural factors.

Also, part of the CO2/methane increase causing part of the GW was likely due to natural factors.

To achieve a partway reduction of all manmade factors, a minimal energy-consuming, gross product consuming lifestyle, such as yoga-style, navel-gazing, by about 10 billion people would need to be practiced to ensure the OTHER fauna and flora also have a chance to survive and thrive In THEIR unspoiled environments.

In general, people and their modernity spreading all over the environment has led to the OTHER fauna and flora being drastically deduced in numbers (they do not have healthcare systems) and increased rates of species extinctions.

If the future population were 1 billion, then more energy and gross product could be consumed per person than under the yoga-style, navel-gazing scenario.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 24, 2015

Willem, to the best of my knowledge cruise ships aren’t included in either the World Happiness Index or the OECD Better LIfe Index. Nor are Faberge eggs, Beluga caviar, or Waterford crystal.

The calculation of happiness is admittedly an imprecise science, and if you were to insist any of the above was a critical component of your happiness, who am I to judge? I suggest you pen an endless stream of letters (handwritten are most effective) to both agencies, alerting them to their oversight.

Cruise ships are mostly absent from my calculation of happiness, although I did spend an enjoyable two weeks on one in the summer of 1991 observing a total solar eclipse off the coast of Mazatlan. They’re atrocious sources of carbon pollution, but they needn’t be. The world’s biggest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, weighs 225,000 gross tons; outfitted with 4 Westinghouse A4W marine nuclear reactors it could zip 6000 people about the Caribbean in royal style, and with no carbon emissions.

A carbon-deficient lifestyle doesn’t have to be one deficient in energy, or happiness. 

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on March 25, 2015

I don’t think antropogenic co2 emissions are as insignificant a problem as you seem to suggest, but I agree that it is not the only problem facing humanity in this century.

I also agree a 1 billion people world would be far easier to sustain (including an ample measure of unspoiled nature) than one with 10 billion. By easier I mean that it would be simpler to do. Sustaining a 10 billion people world is more complex, meaning it requires more sophisticated policy and technology to keep everybody happy and the environment from being trashed too much. But it can be done in my reckoning. For that matter, I see no reason a 100 billion person world could not be sustained in principle.

No reason except for one. I believe that if humanity fails to keep fossils in the ground, then climate change will impact human development to such a degree that achieving a credible happy steady state global economy in this century or the next becomes implausible. Furthermore, the depletion of fossil fuels will exacerbate climate related economic problems and put the hoped-for happy steady state out of reach still more.

So that is why i believe the climate/energy nexus is the key issue this century. Will we move forward toward a credible happy steady state ruled by a popular will to optimise human quality of life for all forever, or will we live to see the unimaginable: Peak Civilisation, a moment in time beyond which all measures of human progress begin to decline irreversibly back toward levels last seen centuries ago, and then stay that way due to the complete exhaustion of those planetary services which allowed modern civilisation to appear in the first place.

Will the (much ridiculed) Limits To Growth force themselves on us sooner or later while we slash and burn our way forward as we have done, or will we organise our business so that we can create so much wealth cleanly that we can all seek to meet our needs and aspirations sustainably and with zero population growth.

Enabling inexhaustible, clean and cheap energy is the fundamental requirement this century, in recognition of the fact that many other issues not directly related to energy supply wI’ll also need to be resolved. 

 

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 25, 2015

Joris,

Presently, I am in Paris, France. Buildings, vehicles, people, pollution, as far as the eye can see and practically no fauna and flora.

The environment is being trashed NOW, more people and more GWP will make it even worse.

100 billion people, in principle? You must be joking!

We have gone way beyond a sustainable way forward in Europe, the US and China, all as part of a mad rush to spread modernity to the far corners of the world, made possible by abundant, low-cost fossil energy since about 1800, when the population was one billion.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on March 25, 2015

The air pollution problem in Paris, as with other cities is simply solved: stop burning hydrocarbon fuel!  Their pollution is vehicle dominated, with probably some contribution from biomass burning.  Over a twenty year period, they (and for that matter we) could replace all of our vehicles with BEVs, hydrogen FCVs, and ammonia powered ICE vehicles.  Batteries will be great for garage-kept cars, ammonia fuel works for everything else (trucks, buses, constuction equipment, and street-kept cars); hydrogen has name recognition.  

Ammonia can be used with certain types of fuel cells, or can be burned in modified internal combustion engines with zero particulate emissions (soot), zero hydro-carbon emissions, and very low NOx (ammonia is used in power plant SCR exhaust systems for NOx control).  Ammonia can be stored in low-pressure tanks with triple the energy density of 5000 psi hydrogen.  See NH3 Fuel Association.

Vehicle pollution can also be reduced greatly by replacing diesel vehicles with natural gas power (which produce very low particulates).  But frac’ing has been banned in France, and gas is largely an imported fuel.

Another technology that can reduce air pollution is use of district heating networks, especially when the energy source is nuclear combined-heat-and-power plants.   Sweden for example gets about 50% of domestic space heating from DH networks. 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 26, 2015

Nathan,

A 20 year period to replace all fossil-fired IC vehicles with alternative-powered vehicles is more likely about 40 years as old car plants are modified, alternative power supply and distribution systems are built up, production of older vehicles is ramped down, production of alternative vehicles is ramped up.

Whereas this CAN be done, it would take reallocating a good chunk of the world’s defense budgets to do just that.

Also, the transition and steady state activities would not be pollution free; there would be some mitigation, not elimination. It would have to happen all over the world to be meaningful.

That would take care of PART of the transportation pollution problem. The REST of the world’s transportation pollution problem, and the other parts of the world’s pollution problem we have not discussed.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on March 26, 2015

Wilhelm –

Most of U.S. auto industry manufacturing goes idle every year in July for retooling of plants.  While these annual changes typically involve incremental changes, larger changes don’t require 40 years either.  And the above discussion is only about changes to the drive train.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on March 26, 2015

“..since about 1800, when the population was one billion.”

And when forests of France, Britain, and much of the U.S. east coasts were almost completely demolished; when soon after articles began to appear forecasting 10 m deep horse manure on the streets of London in the near term.

It was the innovation of the six billion that followed the first  billion which reversed these problems.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on March 26, 2015

“...replace all fossil-fired IC vehicles with alternative-powered vehicles is more likely about 40 years

Granted, allowing more time does make it easier (it’s particularly desirable to have a few decades to decide whether to keep burning petroleum fuels).   To me, a striking feature of the proposal is the utter lack of technical risk in the suggestion of ammonia fuel to replace essentially all diesel in heavy-duty trucks.  We have demonstrated the required engine modifications, we understand the safety/handling issues with this fuel when used by professionals (it is very commonly used for fertilizer), we understand the public safety issues for transporting it (safer than gasoline in real world train wrecks), and it doesn’t require magic ingredients like platinum or lithium.

It would have to happen all over the world to be meaningful.”

If it just happened in China and India, or just fossil fuel importing countries, that would be a huge win.  That would tip the balance, and force the rest of the world to make much more significant reductions in emissions of CO2 and other pollutants than would otherwise occur.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 27, 2015

Mark,

The phase out of wood fuel and phase in of ABUNDANT fossil fuel as a the primary fuel, starting about 1800, opened all sorts of doors towards modernity, including enabling a population explosion that had been held in check by higher mortality and shorter longevity.

Around 1800, most of DEVELOPED Europe was largely deforested, the wood economy HAD to come to an end, as horse-drawn wagons had to go further and further to get wood.

In the US, deforestation of the eastern US was in progress; there was so much of it, the supply seemed endless.

Today, the eastern US is largely deforested and what grew back is a pale copy of what was there before (trees get sick quicker, die younger, just as people did before 1800), because of soil erosion and depletion, and chemical degradation from pollution; it took about 10,000 years to create that soil.

Britain had acces to wood from Scandinavia and Russia to build ships, etc; Russia at that time included Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lituania, half of Poland, and parts of Sweden.

Britain used its fleets to blockade Europe. Napoleon, lacking wood and ships, did not like that, and marched into Russia to get them to stop trading with the British. He started out with 600,000 men, ended up with very long supply lines and a lack of horses, stayed in Moscow for a month, came back with 20,000 men, and without wood! He is still a celebrated hero in France!

Instead of horse stuff on dirt roads and on some paved streets in 1800 (much of it used as NATURAL fertilizer), the current population managed to thoroughly trash the environment, including most of the flora and fauna habitats, that led to their de facto disappearance in many places of the world.

The current population contributed to global warming, due to worldwide deforestation, urbanization, industrial agriculture and pollution, all made possible by mostly fossil fuels that were 65% and 67.3% of all energy generation in 2002 and 2013, respectively, i.e., for the past 12 years, despite trillion dollar investments in RE systems.

 

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 27, 2015

Mark,

I suggest you consult with some automotive engineers for further information.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on March 27, 2015

Today, the eastern US is largely deforested “

Perhaps you mean there’s less forest than in precolumbian America, or that the old growth forests (averaging 200-300 year old trees) have been felled.  It is not the case that the eastern US, today, is “deforested.” After the demolition of US forests in the 18th and early 19th centuries, forest cover later doubled in many eastern states from 1850 to present times (figure 13).  Maine dropped to around 55% of its original forest cover and today is at some 90% (figure 1).  In general, forest cover across the US continues to  increase at a couple tenths of a percent per year. So too in the like of France.  Clearly present US forests are younger than they were in 1600 but they are on trend to become as old as they once were, absent some massive biomass harvest folly. 

http://oi57.tinypic.com/wi3v44.jpg

Failing to distinguish between the continued deforestation in some parts of the world and the recovery of forest cover in much of the developed world, and to recognize the reasons for the difference,  is likely to prolong periods of deforestation. 


Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 27, 2015

Mark,

I live in Vermont, know families that have been in the logging business since about 1850; I buy their firewood.

All say the soil is eroded due to earlier clearcutting which removed about 85-90 percent of Vermont’s forest, and eroded much of the soil that took about 10,000 years to build up.

All say the soil gets depleted due to harvesting wood.

All say the new growth is not anywhere near to what grew before, and back it up with family photographs.

All say trees get sicker earlier and die sooner.

What grew back is only a pale copy of what was there before and that is true for the forest fauna and flora as well.

In addition, there are large areas, previously forested, now covered with urbanization and industrial agriculture where there is practically no fauna and flora; vast herds of buffalo roamed the Great Plains,  miles-long clouds of passenger pigeons darkened the skies, fish was abundant NEAR Cape Cod, Massachusetts and in rivers and bays.

Modernity and overpopulation in action.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on March 29, 2015

“…vast herds of buffalo roamed the Great Plains, and miles-long clouds of passenger pigeons darkened the skies, fish was abundant NEAR Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Modernity and overpopulation in action.”

Consider that there are other causes at work than indicated in your anecdotal narrative about the despoilation of an earlier Eden by vast populations, because the examples you give such as the near annilation of the Great Plains buffalo, denuding Vermont to 35% forrest cover, near shore fish depletion, were all the work of the 18th and 19th century ~one billion you mention as an ideal.  

For a counter example to your fossil fuels narrative, see Haiti or similar countries.  Fossil fuel technology is obtainable by all in the 21st century.  So too the fuels themselves even with no domestic reserves (see e.g. Japan, Singapore). Yet  Haiti’s energy consumption is 25% fossil versus 84% in the US; Haiti’s fertility rate is double that of the US,  child mortality rate under five is 10 times that of that of the US.  

Cheap energy is important to modern industrial civilization, but it is not the only enabler.  If Haiti is any example, then cheap abundant energy is not fundamental but derivative of other drivers. 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on April 9, 2015

However, a total replacement of IC engine car production with non-IC engine care production in 20 years time would not mean an all non-IC vehicle fleet in year 21 … it takes a substantial period of time for the fleet to turn over.

And a change in the drive train that implies a change in the fuel supply for fueled vehicles implies a supporting fuel delivery system ~ this might be more straightforward for city buses. fixed route delivery trucks, or other vehicles that can fuel at their home depot, but for flexible route vehicles that fuel up en-route, an adequate fuel supply system can be trickier.

It may be that the transition could be accelerated with some form of flex fueled IC vehicles, to be able to sell vehicles into the fleet in advance of fuel transition and then in turn be able to phase out fossil fuels before all vehicles that used some share of fossil fuel when new have rotated out of the motor vehicle fleet.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on April 9, 2015

Bruce, good point, you’re correct.  Turning over all 250 million vehicles at 12 million per year would take some decades.  Though since most of the miles are driven by a small minority of the vehicles, most of the emissions reductions would happen up front.  Newer cars and commercial vehicles like taxis do the heavier miles per vehicle.