Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sustainable Energy Consumption

The world primary energy consumption increases by about 2% per anum or doubles in roughly 36 years.

From 1970 when we consumed about 215 Quadrillion Btu in 2006 we were consuming an estimated 464 Quadrillion Btu. At this rate the world will demand an additional 215 Quadrillion Btu by 2021!

Global responses?

We have just 15 years to provide for as much increase in available energy as was being consumed by the entire world just 36 years ago! Unless of course we are able to chose a path that decreases global energy consumption with whatever consequences that may entail.

Unfortunately global responses to ensuring sustained energy percapita seem amazingly obtuse at addressing real issues (See for example: UN Commission on Sustainable Development) and in creating options for responding to the clearly unsustainable future.

Key questions

The key questions that need urgent attention to create a sustainable energy consumption are:

  • How much time do we have before we are unable to meet the economy's energy needs? We may be unable to meet the need because meeting it would destroy our environment or we have simply peaked the rates at which we can produce energy from the current sources. I am not even looking at geo-political constraints.

  • How long does it take our current global and local systems to respond to meet these needs?

So if we have say 10 years, say, before our energy systems break down or cannot deliver the economy's need (locally this can be sooner or longer) and it takes our systems (governments, utilities, businesses and citizens) more than 10 years to respond with a cope strategy we are on an unsustainable trajectory.

Principles for creating a sustainable path

Clearly the response time being larger than the respite available would be an unsustainable in any sector. In the entire sustainability debate policy makers have clearly missed this point. For sustainable development to happen each government has to move to increasing the respite time and decreasing the response time.

Increasing respite will require local respite policy: for the energy sector local demand management is one such option. Each local region will also need to build its response policy that decreases the time it takes to respond to the scenario. This could be generation, distribution options, it could be information and feedback options, it could be through coupling or decoupling different energy systems.

The key action agenda for sustainable development is therefore to create and implement local respite and response policies else we can just be like Alice in wonderland running faster and faster to try to stay in the same place!
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