I was recently asked to review a draft of a book in which there was reference to “…rising energy demand, global climate change and limited energy supplies…” Are energy supplies limited? The short answer is “no.” There is no shortage of energy in the universe and energy supplies are not limited. This is more than a technicality. There may be a shortage of socially desirable energy supplies currently available, but as an absolute statement, there is no shortage of energy supplies. The author of the book asked me to explain. Here is my response:
Concerning the needs of the human race, there is no shortage of energy in the universe and there never will be. The amount of energy that exists is incomprehensibly beyond what we could ever use.
Some forms of energy are currently more easily accessible and economical than others, such as coal, oil, natural gas, hydro and nuclear. Other forms of energy are currently less accessible and economical, like solar, wind, ultra-deep geothermal, shale oil and tidal energy.
While some forms of energy are currently easily accessible and economical, they may be less socially desirable. Coal, for example, when combusted, emits soot, mercury and CO2. Because of concerns over the impact of these emissions (along with other issues), coal has become less socially desirable. Oil, natural gas, hydro and nuclear each have their own set of trade-offs, some of which are more socially undesirable than others. We are learning some of the socially undesirable second order implications of wind energy, like bird kills, intermittency, energy sprawl and its negative impact on landscape aesthetics.
So, there is no shortage of energy available. Each form of energy comes with trade-offs and has its own balance sheet of socially desirable and undesirable attributes. How we rate the trade-offs changes over time. But at any point in time, some forms of energy are more or less socially desirable than others.
Copyright 2010 by Avalon Energy Services, LLC.