The Transition to Electricity
Over the next thirty years, global energy consumption per capita will increase from about 13 barrels per oil per capita to 50 barrels per oil per capita. At the same time energy type will move from 37% oil to less than 3%. Electricity from non-carbon sources will increase to 85%. The remaining 10% will be electricity created from carbon sources, primarily natural gas.
Total energy consumption in barrel of oil equivalent will reach 350 million barrels per day by 2040 at which point it will begin to stabilize. Oil consumption will rise from its current 84 million barrels per day to about 125 million barrels per day in 2025 and then will begin to fall rapidly as fuel switching to electricity takes hold. By 2040 world oil consumption will be about 25 million barrels per day. It will continue to fall from there. Eventually, the only 'oil' reserves that will be utilized will likely be jet fuel synthesized from natural gas and specialized usage in industrial processes.
From the point of view of the consumer, by 2030 those people who have moved to a boutique village, virtually all energy consumption will be in the form of electricity. Automobiles will be robotically driven obtaining their electricity through wireless energy transfer from a power source in the roadway.
In tropical and subtropical environments little heating will be required. Few villages will be built locations that are too cold for heat pumps. For those that are, the cost of heating will be a primary additional expense. However, with prevailing household incomes approaching 600,000 2012USD, it will not be a primary decision criterion.
Many industrial processes, such as the smelting of aluminum, are already done with electricity. Many industrial processes that are not typically performed using electricity as the energy source, in many cases, for example iron smelting, can be. There will undoubtedly be a few processes that rely not just on the heat generated but upon the chemical properties of oil, gas and coal. However, they will place minimal demand upon the remaining resource.
EGS: The Primary Base Load of the Information Age
In 2006 a select panel under the auspices of MIT and funded by DOE set about to do a comprehensive consideration of the potential of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS). As we saw in our consideration of future energy demand and the transition to an electricity economy, the U.S. will ultimately consume about 150 quads per year of energy. The report concludes that the U.S. resource base is 13,000,000 quads. It very conservatively estimates the recoverable resource at 300,000 quads. How much is renewable is not entirely clear, but it clearly will greatly exceed our needs. This earlier report estimated the resource base at 70,000,000 quads. Either way, clearly, the demand is infinitesimal compared to the supply.
Price is also estimated to be very competitive. This report found a projected price range of 5.4¢ to 6.4¢ (2006 USD). This report,while apparently based on much of the same research draws the same conclusion, but emphasizes that because Geothermal costs are driven by capital costs, its costs will increase less than energy sources that are dependent upon increasing operational and fuel costs. Here we see that the DOE is setting a goal of less than 5¢ per KwH by 2040.
The resource itself matches demand best in in the Western U.S. with a few isolated resources in Texas, Louisiana, Illinois,etc. and in Europe, save for the U.K. and the C.I.S. The resource base in Asia and Africa are not well studied. Australia has significant shallow resources as well, primarily in the East Central and north Central regions. The South America resource is also not well studied. Though highly preliminary, in total, we can expect that up to 70% of baseload will ultimately be satisfied by EGS.
There are several problems and open issues that may slow the development of EGS. First is induced seismic events. There is relatively good evidence showing that they do occur and a couple of test wells have been stopped due to induced seismicity. This report presents a relatively well balanced summary of the issue. The reader will note that induced seismicity is correlated with many activities such as dam reservoirs (up to 6.4), oil and gas drilling (up to 7.0) and waste disposal(up to 5.4). The report concludes that induced seismicity will and and should not present a serious impediment to EGS development.
An important aspect of this issue is the lack of knowledge about precisely what is happening. In other words, does EGS induce seismic activity that would not have otherwise occured or is it simply triggering a normal seismic event that may have been more damaging had it been left to take place at a later time. Perhaps EGS is akin to a controlled induction of an avalanche.
This, most recent report and extensive report from the DOE puts the issue of induced seismicity in perspective. Like many other risks associated with beneficial technologies, there will undoubtedly be regulations and safety protocols that will be developed and followed. However, the energy resource, itself, will be ultimately developed.
The Transition to Electricity