Replacing Oil Ain’t Easy
The proprietor of the FiveCentNickel blog quantifies in a way I haven’t seen previously just how enormous the challenge of ending our dependence on oil — a favorite canard of politicians on both sides of the aisle — really is. Drawing on a piece by CNET’s Michael Kanellos, he lays out the numbers.
Essentially, world energy consumption for 2006 (the last year for which comprehensive data were available) was approximately cubic mile of oil (CMO) plus “the equivalent of three CMOs from all energy sources.”
What are the alternatives for replacing that first CMO?
Assuming annual electricity capture of 2.1 megawatts per solar panel, we’d have to place them on 4.2 billion rooftops. In other words, we’d have to install on them on 250,000 roofs per day for the next 50 years to have enough solar panels to offset our current annual oil usage (and this ignores things like coal; see below).
What about wind power generators? You’d need 3 million to equal one CMO. That would require the installation of 1,200 per week for the next 50 years.
A large hydroelectric dam can generate roughly 18 gigawatts of power per year. Thus, to offset one CMO of energy, we’d have to build 200 major hydroelectric dams. The problem? There aren’t enough rivers left in the world to dam up.
Solar thermal power
It would require 7,700 solar thermal plants to offset one CMO. That would require the construction of 150 plants per year for 50 years. Unfortunately, just one has been built in the past 15 years.
Nuclear power plants
It would take 2,500 nuclear power plants producing 900 megawatts to produce the equivalent of one CMO worth of energy. In other words, we’d have to build one a week for 50 years. It’s also worth noting that nuclear power isn’t exactly renewable.
Oh, and energy demands are escalating at a rapid rate, with one estimate cited that we’ll need six CMOs to meet that demand thirty years from now.
Carpooling and better lightbulbs probably aren’t going to cut it. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t conserve, implement available alternatives where practicable, and continue to explore other options. It’s going to be tremendously difficult.
Via Jim Henley’s shared Google Reader feed