Will we have enough energy and electricity for our future needs?
In this guide, we look to provide a summary to that question, by looking at current energy usage rates, and also what energy production and use might look like in the future based on various factors.
Summary – A Forecast Of Energy & Electricity Production & Usage Into The Future
Whether we are going to have enough energy in the future is probably the wrong question to ask.
We will certainly have MORE energy produced in the future – but, whether it is distributed evenly across the world is another issue altogether, as well as how we use that energy, and what for (on a society based level, and individually with the lifestyles we live)
Many people in developed countries today have enough energy for their basic needs, but billions in developing countries don’t. Energy requirements and capabilities are location specific.
Even if standard of living continues to increase across the world – whether a country has enough energy depends on how they generate that energy (with what sources and how efficient they are), and the type of lifestyles they live. The higher the standard of living, generally, the higher the energy requirements.
We also have to consider with future energy use the impact this will have on sustainability factors like greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, and other factors like economic growth.
Some other main points to consider with future energy production and usage are:
- Energy involves both electricity, and energy used in transportation i.e. fuel in our cars (both use fossil fuels heavily)
- Throughout human history, especially the last hundred years, our energy consumption has always been rising fast
- Energy consumption and production differs by country, especially between developed (like the US) and developing countries (like the poorer parts of Asia, Africa, and South America)
- On a global scale, most of the growth in energy consumption is going to come from developing countries in the future to close the gap to energy used in developed countries per capita (many people still don’t have access to household electricity – they burn wood and other organic matter in open fires to cook and heat)
- Whether a specific city has enough energy can depend on how many people live in a particular city, and how they supply and produce their energy to the people that live there i.e. what is your energy mix profile, and what is it’s capacity? What is your energy infrastructure like? How advanced and efficient is your technology – especially for renewables and nuclear energy? It’s similar to water supply in a city – the supply of energy needs to be built and planned for around the requirements/demand of that city – both with the individuals that live there residentially, and the sectors of each industry that use the energy too.
- There may be development of technology in the future that allows us to generate more energy from the same amount of resources or increase the energy production potential of a particular type of energy production (e.g. the same amount of uranium) – but a lot of this is uncertain at this stage, or subject to research and further investment.
- We can still use energy more efficiently in homes and in different modes of transport – efficiently using energy and investing in how we can do this better can help with sustainability of energy use
- How many resources are left for energy production via burning certain fuels can determine how much energy we will get in the future (e.g. how much coal is left in the ground, or uranium in the ground and oceans). Sustainability and management of fuel resources is key here.
- The sun, wind, water and other natural factors and weather patterns can vary how much energy we get from renewable energy in the future
- General population growth is also a factor too – we aren’t 100% sure how big the population gets by 2100 – some estimates vary between 10 million to 13 million. More people means a greater demand on energy production
- We have to be mindful that increased energy demand means a bigger carbon footprint – we have to be aware of what impact this has on climate change and our overall carbon budget
- An increased demand for energy may also mean a bigger water footprint (for cooling of turbines etc.) – so, water can be a limiting factor to energy production if we don’t conserve it
- Energy use usually follows in lock step with economic development and growth of a country
- Improvement in standard of living and disposable income tends to increase energy consumption – we eat more, buy more, and need more energy to maintain a certain standard of lifestyle
- Increase in the number of people owning a car (and number of total cars on the road in the future and what types of cars they are – fossil fuel or electric vehicles) and the spreading of urbanisation (more dwellings overall, more people living solo, and smaller numbers of people choosing to share a home, higher individual energy use in cities) are also increasing energy consumption
- Energy production and use is certainly going to increase in the future – the question is how?
- The question we face is where the extra energy is going to come from in the future as nuclear and renewable energy has so far not contributed to a big increase in total energy provided – the fraction of global energy provided by fossil fuels is about the same [in 2017] (86 percent) as it was in 2002 (anthropocenemagazine.org)
- [When asking if we have enough energy and electricity today (let alone the future) … consider this …] during the 20th century, annual energy use rose 17 fold … but, today, a complete lack of access to electricity still prevents a billion people from getting good medical care, running refrigerators, and turning on reading lights and radios. Most of the 2 billion poorest people still burn wood, charcoal, dung, or leftovers from farming to cook their food. Those open fires cause respiratory problems that kill 4 million every year, mainly women and children.
How Much Energy & Electricity Does The World & The United States Currently Use?
- The world average per capita consumption of primary energy in 2016 was about 76.8 million Btu.
- In 2017, total U.S. primary energy consumption per person (or per capita consumption) was about 300 million British thermal units (Btu).
- the average American consumes 149 million Btu — or 37 million kcal — a year in residential and transportation-related energy
- … An average American’s residential and transportation energy consumption would require the burning of over 15,000 pounds of coal a year. That equals out to about 41 pounds of coal a day
- Today…the typical American (per person) uses 9.5 kilowatts (kW), averaged over the year. [the equivalent to 18 electric-stove burners running nonstop on high, all day, every day]
- In 2016 … the amount of power needed to keep human civilisation going was 18 trillion watts … and this number includes all commercially traded fuels and renewable sources
How Much Energy & Electricity Will We Use In The Future, & Will We Have Enough?
- Per capita energy consumption today averages just 2.5 kW worldwide. Lifting all of humanity to the current US standard of living by 2100—an average of 9.5 kW per person, probably a conservative projection—thus means generating more than 51 TW of energy on top of everything we already produce today.
- … [it is estimated] the year 2100 will thus see demand reach 70 TW. Take every coal-fired generator, nuclear power plant, wind turbine, and solar farm and then multiply it by four [- that’s how much extra energy production capacity we will need]
- … this doesn’t take into consideration population growth or urbanization though.
- … with population growth accounted for, we will be using between 95–123 TW of energy annually in the year 2100
- Urbanisation boosts individual energy use per person with higher household and transport (from more cars) energy use. When we take into account future rate of urbanisation, the energy use requirements could be even higher
- If history is anything to go by – we will more energy in the future – it’s just a matter of how we do it – not if.
So, when projecting how much energy and electricity we will use in the future, you have to consider:
- closing of the gap between per capita use of people in developed vs developing countries
- Population growth
- Urbanisation (more people moving to cities and using more energy)
- Increase in number of cars on the road and the types of cars they are
Whether we will have enough energy is location specific – it depends on variables in a particular country, stage, city, town etc. (such as the number of people that require energy, and how that energy is produced and delivered to these people).
A whole society approach is going to be needed to deliver energy in the future – including but not limited to government, investors, energy suppliers, key decision makers, the residential sector, the agricultural sector and the various parts of the commercial/industrial sector (including transport – cars and trucks mainly, but also boats, planes etc.).