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   Colloquium at Stanford
An In-Depth Look at "The Unfinished Revolution"
Session 1
State of the world's energy supply
Ed Kinderman
video clip. 1.*

About the energy industry, it is large, essential, and growing. It may not be the largest, but it certainly underlies all human activity in the industrial world. At the current rates of growth, the energy industry will increase by a factor of three-and-a-half between now and 2050. However, problems loom; reaching such goals will not be easy. The problems are large and they¬'re not easily solved. But, they need attention now if we are to succeed in solving them in adequate time. I¬'m going to speak briefly about the general area now, in the next few minutes. But, we will discuss this later in more detail. 2

One of the major problems is our dependency upon oil. It amounts to 40 percent of our total energy use; mainly because it¬'s one of the most flexible of all the fuels and energy resources we have. But, the problem is that oil, like all fossil fuels, is limited in extent. It¬'s formed over many centuries, and is being formed still, but at very, very low rates compared to its rates of use. In addition to being our most flexible and desirable fuel, we have the problem that oil is unevenly distributed around the world, like all other fossil fuels. And oil is particularly concentrated in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, which, today at least, are areas of considerable conflict and turmoil. 3

So, we must ask the question: what are we going to do when, or as, oil begins to come in short supply? Are we going to substitute other fossil fuels, such as gas? Or, coal? Well, gas is more difficult to use, although it is cleaner, overall, than oil. And, coal is reasonably easy to use; falling, perhaps, between oil and gas. But, it is much dirtier than the other two. If we don¬'t do that, we have some choices. The first, and most touted is the reduction in the rate of growth of our demand for energy. This is easily said, but very difficult to do on a worldwide scale. Especially since we have a developing world with a large population that is beginning to demand the amenities that energy supplies to the developed world. If we don¬'t succeed in cutting our growth in energy demand by substantial amounts, then we must depend very heavily on alternatives that are very little used today. 4

Related energy supplies, today, are primarily those from hydro power, which contributes roughly ten percent of the total commercial energy used in the world. The others are truly negligible, together amounting to no more than .4 percent. They have several impediments to their use. Their technical development is necessary. But, perhaps the most important one is the fact that they generally require large land areas. For example, if one were to grow enough biomass to supply the energies now supplied to the world by oil, one would have to grow crops at very high rates of yield over the entire continental United States. Another difficulty is the lack of availability. Biomass can be grown and stored, but those technologies that depend upon direct sunlight, such as photovoltaic cells or solar-thermal technologies only operate well when the sun is shining. Wind power varies with time, but in a different way. And, none of them can be guaranteed to operate and supply energy at times when people wish to use it. Certainly, solar technology at nighttime is not feasible without energy storage, which adds complexity to any system, as well as cost. Nuclear power also supplies about ten percent of the world¬'s energy supply when we count it on a primary energy basis. Its technology is further developed than most of the solar technologies, but it definitely faces a different set of social and political problems that must be resolved if its use is to grow, and if it is to become a significant source for the future. 5

I¬'ve been very up-front in pointing out there are problems. And, I¬'ve suggested they need to be solved rather soon. At least, we need to begin to solve them soon. One difficulty in this is the fact that we do not have a well-informed discourse or dialogue among various people. The first difficulty is one of the units and degree of understanding of these units that various people have. It¬'s very confusing when we read of barrels of oil, or tons of oil, or barrels of oil per day, and we put thousands and millions connected to them. Some people don¬'t recognize the difference between the thousand and million when they make a conversion. I¬'ve seen it in technical publications. The way we have tried to solve this problem is to invent a new unit, the cubic mile of oil. This represents about one trillion gallons of oil. And, we¬'ve used that equivalent energy content to represent all other sources of energy, whether they be solar, nuclear, gas, or coal. But this unit will not solve the problem. This unit may make discussion easier. It is essential that we begin dialogue that considers the needs of humanity as a whole, of the environment, and of all aspects of society. Energy is the key to our modern society. 6
 

Following video clip: 7

Voice: ¬. the cubic mile of oil is the amount of oil that the world uses each year. 7A

D.E.: And, how many more cubic miles do we think there are?  7B

Ed Kinderman: Lots of argument about that. But the conservative estimate would be slightly less than forty. And, if we use oil at increasing rate that we¬'re doing now, the world will run out in about forty, less than forty years. Twenty-five, thirty years. 7C

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