By grouping appropriate items together in summary fashion, we see that 48% of energy is used in the home, in one form or another. The next big use is the 44% that is used at work in various forms. Finally, a final 8% is used in transport.

On Energy Supply, Human Population, Earth's Climate, and Financial Prosperity

Gary P. Hoffman |

On Energy Supply
By grouping appropriate items together in summary fashion, we see that 48% of energy is used in the home, in one form or another.
The next big use is the 44% that is used at work in various forms.
Finally, a final 8% is used in transport.
On Energy Supply, Human Population, Earth’s Climate, and Financial Prosperity
The Challenge of Balancing these Competing Factors and Solving the Problems, all Together.
Gary P. Hoffman

These are the central and defining issues of our time. To whit, how do we ensure an adequate supply of essential energy is delivered equitably to a rising human population on earth in a manner that will ensure a decent quality of life to each person, avoid catastrophic harm to the planet, and enhance the prosperity of the citizenry ?


As the title implies, we have chosen to divide the subject matter into categories we feel are the best we can use to make the situation clear. These categories are Energy Supply, Human Population, Earth's Climate, and the Prosperity of Human Society.

It is evident that at present these factors are out of balance. Efforts to correct some elements are starting to come into place, but are operating at cross purposes in many cases. Some are too narrow in focus. All are inadequate for the scope of the problem.

We'll go on in this paper to examine an integrated, yet very simple, approach to the solution. We are going to try and keep the science simple, but correct, and the numbers to a minimum, but accurate and appropriate.

For various practical reasons, the authors are going to use supply and population numbers that apply at present to the United States. Data are easier to obtain, more complete and accurate, and more familiar to the authors. However it will readily be seen that extension of the solutions to the entire world is only a matter of degree.

We proceed now to examine each topic in turn in more detail. Then will follow the discussion of the solution.

Energy Supply

The first thing to know about energy is that for sure, we need enough ! Furthermore, your definition of energy needs to include all the important energy uses and forms. For instance, one must cover heating and cooling, energy used at work, lighting, energy used to grow, distribute and prepare food, energy for transportation, and so forth. Everything, people, machines, animals and so forth, all run on energy.

So how much is enough ? As a preliminary answer, good only for today, we use, in the US, energy at the rate of from 3 to 4 terawatts of energy for all purposes combined, at all times, on average.

The second thing to know about energy is that your supply of energy must be secure. Disruptions in production or distribution for instance, must be held to an absolute minimum and such disruptions must be addressed quickly if and when they occur. As an aside to this it is obvious that control of your sources of supply is preferable. If this cannot be completely attained, it is a secondary goal to at least move your sources away from the least stable suppliers.

Another thing to know about your energy supply is that it must be sustainable. This word can mean many things, but here we mean that the source must meet at least two major tests. One is that you must be able to draw upon it over generations without depleting the supply. The second is that the very act of using the supply must not destroy that which it is supplying - us !

Availability is another important issue. The energy supply must reach out and be available to all persons in all locations in a reasonably equitable manner. If a segment of a population is deprived of a significant supply of available energy, it is obvious that they will be severely disadvantaged compared to others who are not.

Your energy supply must be reliable. This applies in particular to the energy infrastructure. It must be modern, adequate in capacity, well maintained, and robust against disturbances. Those disturbances occurring in one region should not be allowed to affect either adjacent or distant other regions.

Your sources of energy must be diverse. One must not rely too exclusively on a single source or technology. Neither should energy come mostly from one or a few regions. Thus diversity in this sense applies both to types of energy and to geographic diversity.

Finally, our energy sources, and our actual use of energy, should do no harm. Release of harmful byproducts should be avoided. Disruption of the environment should be avoided. And depletion of an entire source, completely denying its use to future generations is not acceptable either. Needless to say, use of energy should not destroy the very populations who rely upon it for life.

Human Population

The first thing to know about the human population is that it is large ! These days, in the US alone, estimates of the population tend to be around 300,000,000 persons.

The second thing to know about the population is that it is growing. The amount varies very widely from region to region. No attempt is made here to say just how fast the population is increasing except to say that it is a big number. Nor is it likely that the rate of growth will slow any time in the foreseeable future.

Another important point is that a very large percentage of the population lives at a level of quality of life that most would agree is too low. In the broadest terms, this generally means that this population lacks sufficient access to energy resources already, which they could otherwise use to improve their lot it life.

Perhaps the single most important point of all is that Population drives Energy Demand.

Each and every single person must be continuously supplied with at least a minimum wattage of energy at all times (including food, shelter, heat, cooling, water, workplace, etc) or they will die. The number of people times the absolute minimum energy needed per person defines the lowest acceptable energy production rate.

But this rate per person must increase significantly if more persons are to reach acceptable standards of living. It must increase still further as more persons are added to the population. It must be understood that no efforts at conservation can ever stand in the face of this inexorable growth in demand. Energy supplies must rise to face the population.

It bears repeating that the quality of life of each person depends absolutely on the amount of energy that can be delivered to them on a continuous basis.

The Earth's Climate

The first, most obvious point here is that the climate is changing ! Not a day goes by that we don't read that something melted, died, froze, moved north or south, and so on.

The next point is that the climate is becoming less stable. The rate of change, and the types of changes are increasing more rapidly than scientists thought even last year.

The third point is that the climate has already become more violent. There are record storms. There are record floods and droughts. There are record high and low temperatures. Fires rage through the forests. Some low lying lands are already being lost to the rising Sea. A vital point is that the average temperature of the planet is rising. This is called global warming. Ironically, it does not mean that all areas of the planet become warmer. Some actually get quite a bit colder. But the average is rising, and the rate of rise is accelerating.

These are all ominous signs for the future. They threaten not only human existence and prosperity but the existence of many thousands of other species on earth.

Very recent scientific evidence, in peer reviewed, highly researched reports have now clearly established that this result is virtually certain to have been caused by human activity, with a probability in excess of 90%. Subsequent research only reinforces this conclusion which has reached that status essentially of fact.

Virtually all agree that the production of energy by the burning of fossil fuels is the culprit. This releases carbon that has been stored for millennia in an extremely brief period of time, and thus has resulted in the sudden release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This holds in the heat from the sun. The well known greenhouse effect.

Financial Prosperity

Perhaps this could be better expressed as quality of life. The point is that if possible, we would like all persons to live better, more fulfilling lives. Recent reports of women in certain countries self-immolating themselves, thus committing suicide rather than live their pitiful lives, surely expresses how low the quality of life has become in some places. We must do better.

This first thing to know is that quality of life is directly tied to the need for energy. For energy is the first, most basic, ingredient in support of every form of human endeavor. Nothing can be accomplished without the right amount of energy, in the right form, in the right place, and at the right time.

Some persons in some places are going without almost any energy supply. Not surprisingly, most of these people die young. They live badly during their short lives.

Other persons and places with access to vast amounts of certain types of energy are amassing great wealth, more or less at the expense of others. We cannot simply mandate the redistribution of this wealth. It would not solve the energy issues even if we could.

This basic set of problems would be completely solved by the provision of ample supplies, reasonably well distributed.

How to Balance the Factors and Resolve the Problems

In order to find a balance among the various options and factors, and find a solution, it is first of all vital to know how a typical family uses their energy, so that changes can be prioritized effectively. It is our belief that the typical family has a grossly distorted image of where and how their energy use occurs.

For this data we again draw upon a sample US family, for which such a study was recently compiled. (References available upon request). The data which follow are an extract from that report.

First consider chart one below - breakdown by end use.

Chart One

In understanding Chart One it is imperative to remember that these data represent ALL energy used by this family, whether at home, at work, or traveling between these points.

The First thing to know is that the family uses 33% of its energy for heating or cooling.

The Second thing to know is that the family uses 25% of its energy in obtaining a suitable food supply.

The Third thing to know is that 16% of the families energy is expended at their place of work as their proportionate share of the energy used in production.

The next point is that a surprisingly small 7% of their energy is used in transport - almost negligible in the larger scheme of things.

The final point to know is that all other sources combined almost don't matter either.

Next consider chart two below, breakdown by home, work, and transport.

Chart Two

By grouping appropriate items together in summary fashion, we see that 48% of energy is used in the home, in one form or another.

The next big use is the 44% that is used at work in various forms.

Finally, a final 8% is used in transport.

This again emphasizes the large roles played by work and home, and the lack of influence of the transport sector. The entire elimination of transport would have little effect one the large scheme of things.

We again want to emphasize that supporting data are available on request.

What are the resulting priorities ?

It is clear from these data that our efforts must center on providing energy for use at home and in the workplace primarily.

Secondly, it is also clear that most energy is used for heating/cooling, food production and distribution, and production of goods and provision of services in the workplace. These together account for the vast majority of demand.

How do we meet this demand ?

It is clear that the energy supply must be increased appropriately, in forms that will best serve these specific needs.

Certainly the very best form in which the energy can be delivered to the end user in these areas of need is in the form of electricity.

Since fossil fuels are so very damaging, and in dwindling supply, and since nuclear options are almost out of the question, not to mention insecure, the answer must lie mainly elsewhere.

Fortunately, the US, and all other countries, possess huge untapped reserves of renewable energies. These aggregate to more that 10,000 times the current rate of demand. Obviously this means that if we were to tap only 0.1% of the available resource, we would have at hand 10 times our current energy needs. This would be ample for generations to come.

Tapping 0.1% of the resource is very doable. And by having a 10 to 1 over design, there would be no shortage during periods of low sun, or wind, for instance.

The renewable sources would be as diverse as possible, including wind, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, biomass, geothermal, hydro, highly efficient heat engines of various types, and so forth. Plus the locations of these generating resources would be spread out widely to even out distribution, smooth variability, and lessen the need for a massive grid. Of course some enhancement of the grid would be needed, as would some amount of energy storage.

This is a vastly more productive use of financial and human resources than spending money to import dwindling fuels, fight over access to fuel, and combat carbon dioxide poisoning of the planet. What would happen if we made the switch to renewables?

First of all we would eventually be able to tap at least 10 times the energy we use today, and more if we wished.

Many excellent paying jobs would be created.

Manufacturing would be working overtime to produce renewable energy equipment.

Profits would be made by all concerned.

The Quality of life of everyone would improve.

Global warming would be stopped in its tracks.

There would be no oil wars.

We would have fossil resources to use in the future for better purposes like making pharmaceuticals, lubricating oils, and the like.

The Conclusion ?

Is it not clear ? Put the resources of people and governments behind this effort and do everyone on the planet a huge favor.

Gary Hoffman is an Aerospace engineer, with specialties in Thermodynamics, and in Dynamics (like in vibrations, acoustics and structures). He has also done graduate level work in Electrical Engineering. He worked in these fields at 3M company, Kodak, and Nexpress Solutions for about 25 years, and then went on to form his own company. He is now an engineering consultant running this company, specializing in Thermodynamics, Dynamics, and with a particular focus directly on renewable energy. That is his principle concern, sources of such energy, methods for its conversion, and condition monitoring (like on wind turbines for example.) You will find his name on about 4 patents, with the latest being on a very high efficiency heat engine. Other patents are pending.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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