I'm not sure if Malhotra was referring to American Football or what the rest of the world calls football, but both stadiums are quite large. Wembley Stadium photo: Lawrie Cate.
Got your attention now? That amount of oil equivalent, three cubic miles, is how much the world uses in a year if you take into account all sources of energy, says Ripudaman Malhotra of SRI International's Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory in Greentech Media. What's more, is that by 2050 at current rates of increase the world will consume nine cubic miles of oil.
Pretty sobering, but what is more sobering (it does indeed feel like cold water thrown on the renewable energy industry) is that to replace that amount of energy usage with renewable sources is nigh impossible. Here's Malhotra on the challenge laid before us in a nutshell:Renewable Energy May Not Be Enough
While it is true that there is enough solar energy potential to meet such an increase in demand, to deploy enough solar technology to capture it will be very very difficult. To create the same amount of energy as one cubic mile of oil from solar power in the next 50 years would require some "4.2 billion 2 kW rooftop systems, or 250,000 installed every single day over that timeframe." If terms of large solar thermal power plants it would take 7,700 900 MW facilities—3 built per week over the next 50 years.
To get just one cubic mile oil equivalent would require 1,200 1.6 MW wind turbines going up every week over the next 50 years.
Using biofuels, Malhotra using soybean biodiesel as the example, to make up the energy in one cubic mile of oil would require an 85-fold increase in land put under cultivation.
Nuclear power doesn't fare any better in Malhotra's analysis: to create the energy in one cubic mile of oil would require 2,500 new nuclear plants—one a week for 50 years.
Doom and gloom aside, no one is suggesting that only one energy source be used to move us towards carbon-neutral fuels (and Malhotra's example of soybean biodiesel could quickly made ludicrous if anyone succeeds in producing true commercial quantities of algae-based biofuel), but the numbers are still staggering. And this is where Malhotra touched upon what I think is the road less travelled: Energy efficiency and even more importantly energy demand reduction.
One Billion CFLs Would Save 1 Cubic Mile of Oil
Malhotra pointed out that replacing one billion incandescent lightbulbs with CFLs would save one cubic mile of oil per year; if all building renovations were done with energy efficiency in mind in India and China then perhaps two more cubic miles of oil could be saved. That's a high bar but one which can be cleared with technologies that exist today by the individual.
We Need to Reduce Energy Demand...
Beyond this I think we all need to address energy demand reduction and deeply consider ways to radically reduce our energy usage. How many things which were considered luxuries two decades ago are considered absolute necessities now? (I'm thinking particularly of air conditioning, but also of the fact that so many things seem to have needless power sources in them.)
Perhaps those things should go back to being considered luxuries? Unless you have a genuine medical condition, not using air conditioning is not a health problem, nor is being a bit sweatier a reduced standard of living; but not using air conditioning does seriously reduce energy demand.
...To Find a Middle Ground Between Energy Poverty & Energy Gluttony
Past a very meager (by developed world standards) use of energy and material consumption there is little direct correlation between increased consumption and personal satisfaction in life. I'm not suggesting, as a commenter once accused me, of wanting people to live in rags and scrape in the mud (or something like that) for food—not by a long shot. But surely there is middle ground between genuine material poverty and the energy gluttony becoming increasingly prevalent?
We constantly talk about painless choices that will let us keep our standard of living, but in terms of energy usage in particular, perhaps we should reevaluate that standard so that it simply uses less energy even if at first it is a bit painful. And if we don't make that choice willingly, perhaps it will be made for us.
As Malhotra said in the original Greentech Media piece:
The question is what about the rest [of the energy that efficiency can't offset]? Those solutions will have to come from the supply side now—and as we've seen, we have absolutely nothing on the supply side to meet this right now.
More at: Greentech Media.
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