To Understand The Challenge, You Need To Understand Energy

A British Thermal Unit (BTU) is the amount of energy needed to heat a pint of water from 39 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s about the amount of energy consumed by burning a wooden match.

We currently measure energy consumption by counting ‘quads.’ A quad is one quadrillion BTUs. It is about the amount of energy consumed by burning the contents of a train full of coal that has 100 tons of coal in each car. The train would stretch for 3,780 miles, from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Anchorage, Alaska.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that in 2018 the world consumed 597 quads. That’s 597 of those Infinity Trains full of coal.

And in fact, 161 of those imaginary trains actually ended up being filled with coal. This is how we fueled the 597 quads the world burned:

Liquids: 199.9

Natural gas: 131.4

Coal: 160.8

Nuclear: 27.8

Other: 77.9

Of the 597 quads the world burned, about 100 were burned in the USA. China burned more–we’re number two. This is what we burned to get that 100.13 quads of energy:

Liquids: 38.35

Natural gas: 30.42

Coal: 13.17

Nuclear: 8.46

Renewable Energy: 8.65

The EIA is kind enough to make a stab at projecting future consumption. Twelve years from now, when the Green New Deal is supposed to have converted all of America’s energy to renewable sources, the EIA has a business as usual projection:

Liquids: 35.85

Natural gas: 32.96

Coal: 11.37

Nuclear: 6.95

Renewable: 10.82

Total: 99.16

That’s the challenge we face. We want to find an additional 89 quads of renewable energy in 12 years.

This is a heroic goal, on the scale of a Manhattan Project or going to the moon. But we accomplished both of those–is it physically possible to accomplish this one?

Renewable energy would need to grow by 20% a year to reach 99.16 quads.

We’ll address this fundamental question in another post–this one has gone on long enough. But we’ll close on an optimistic note–since 2010, solar power in the US has grown on average by 50% a year. If it were to continue at that rate for 12 years, the delivered power we get from solar would rise from the 2018 level of 0.91 quads to 118 quads. We’ll also discuss whether or not that is possible in a later post.

Tip of the Day: Vote for candidates that take all this stuff seriously. There are a lot of them, Democrats, Republicans and Independents. If you don’t know where they stand, email and ask them. If they get enough emails they might even take it more seriously.


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