Monday, March 15, 2010

our energy supply - some basics

The Oil Drum | If a person were to listen to Energy Secretary Steven Chu or National Geographic's Aftermath: World Without Oil, one might think that our energy problems are fairly minor and distant. We can easily add sufficiently renewable energy to substitute for fossil fuels in a fairly short time frame. All we need to do is put our minds (and pocketbooks) to it.

But if one looks at the situation more closely, one discovers that the situation is quite different. Our energy problems are close at hand, and solutions using what are optimistically called "renewables" are distant and may very well sink the country further into recession.

Figure 1- US energy consumption by source, based Energy Information Administration (EIA) Monthly Energy Review Table 1.3.
*Year 2009 estimated based on data through November.
US energy consumption is already down quite a bit--some might say due to recession, but it seems even more likely that the result is the other way around--high energy prices squeezed the financial system. This in turn caused credit availability to drop and demand for oil, gas, and coal to drop. We have put a huge amount of effort and subsidies into wind and solar, but they hardly show up on the chart. Ethanol isn't shown separately in the chart this data was taken from--instead it is combined with wood and with other biofuels in a category called "biomass" in the EIA data. The biomass line has thickened a bit, but it is still pretty insignificant.