Can renewables even keep up with ballooning energy demands?

The Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation, said that by 2030, “the combination of economic growth and population increases can be expected to lead to a rise in primary energy demand of about 50 percent worldwide.” Renewables, he says, will find it hard to keep up with the rise, and still only contribute a similar percentage to now – unless investment is massively increased. A recent report on nuclear power calculated that to increase nuclear’s current 17 percent share of world electricity to just 19 percent by 2050 would require three times more capacity — 1,000-1,500 more plants worldwide. What’s your reaction to his assertion? — David T, Machynlleth, United Kingdom

When I worked as a Senate aide in the 1970’s during two major oil embargoes, the energy industries stated that the United States would have 50 percent more energy in the year 2000 than we use today. Two years ago, the National Energy Plan released by the Bush Administration stated the USA would need 1300 new electric power plants alone. So the MIT nuclear study and the Exxon projections are not surprising that these interest groups should articulate a “business as usual” growth plan. But reality never meets these outlandish generalizations. The meat is in the assumptions and they fail to recognize many things, the most obvious being energy efficiency. With innovations in lighting that can generate the same lumens for a small percentage of the energy we use for this purpose today, and actual market growth of advanced water heating technologies from solar thermal, ground-coupled heat pumps and cogeneration which obviates the need for electric power at all, and amazing advances in space cooling and heating — all will dramatically cut energy demand even as the global population gets hooked up at a brisk rate. I never bought “the sky is falling” mentality for energy demand, and neither does the investment community that would have to actually make a profit from these supposed thousands of new electric generation plants. A few recent good energy reports on global energy demand: More demand could be met through renewables, while preventing the need for 300 power plants and GHG emissions equivalent to 80 million vehicles according to the U.S. EPA. 87478274&accnum=1&topics= The Renewable Energy Transition: Can It Really Happen?, by Donald W. Aitken – Solar Today, January-February 2005 The climate stabilization challenge: Can renewable energy sources meet the target? by Donald W. Aitken, Lynn L. Billman and Stanley R. Bull – Renewable Energy World, November-December 2004
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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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