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Page added on August 27, 2016

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We’re nearing peak energy

We’re nearing peak energy thumbnail

The world has hit peak energy, in one sense.

Based on per capita consumption — on an individual basis — there isn’t much more growth in the amount we can consume, according to Bernstein’s Neil Beveridge and team in a note on Friday.

That’s not to say the fossil fuels that have powered the global economy since the industrial revolution are going away anytime soon.

In fact, global energy demand will grow by another 30% before it peaks in 40 years, by Bernstein’s estimate. But the pace of that rise has been slowing for some years, and will continue to.

Here’s Bernstein (emphasis added):

While energy demand has increased from 70 trillion BTU per person per year to just over 80 trillion BTU per person, there are signs that this growth has stalled (Exhibit 10). Over the past 3 years, per capita energy consumption has actually declined. While per capita energy consumption reached a plateau in the 1970’s as a result of high energy prices, a step changed occurred in the 2000’s with the emergence of China. Whether India can do the same in the future remains to be seen.

On the basis of IEA projections of energy demand out to 2040 (New Policies Scenario), energy demand per capita is likely to remain at current levels for the next 25 years. In other [words], peak per capita energy consumption may have already arrived. After 200 years of continuous growth in per capita consumption since the start of the industrial revolution, this is a remarkable moment for the world.

Screen Shot 2016 08 26 at 3.48.24 PM Bernstein

To understand why energy demand has slowed, Bernstein first examined energy intensity, or the amount that’s consumed per unit of gross domestic product. The higher a country’s energy intensity, the more efficient it is at translating that usage into economic growth.

There has been a secular drop in energy intensity in developed economies. That happened, in part, as they relied more on services and less on industry for growth. China, the world’s biggest consumer, is the poster child of this shift.

Screen Shot 2016 08 26 at 3.23.50 PM Bernstein

So what’s driving energy demand lower?

The growth of the world’s population is slowing. So even if countries get better at using energy to grow their economies, demand growth would continue to slow, Bernstein said.

Also, we’re finding cleaner and cheaper alternatives to technologies we’ve used for centuries, even though some of them have been hard sells.

For example, a lot of the government incentives that helped electric-car makers have shrunk in the last few years, as Business Insider’s Benjamin Zhang noted. That’s meant electric cars have not been an existential threat to gas-powered vehicles.

But as traditional energy sources become more efficient — with cars going further on less gas, for instance — consumption growth would also fall, Bernstein said.

From the note:

“Peak in energy consumption will come when declines in energy intensity of the global economy exceed economic growth. This will be a seminal moment in mankind’s history. Based on more reasonable estimates, global growth is likely to remain above 2.5% p.a. through to 2050. Beyond this point however, given the decline in population growth, we would expect global growth to fall below this. This will trigger peak energy.”

By Bernstein’s forecasts, coal will peak first around 2020, followed by oil in 2030, and the top for overall consumption two decades later.

So overall peak energy is still at least 30 years away, but per capita consumption may not have more room to increase.

Business Insider



20 Comments on "We’re nearing peak energy"

  1. Makati1 on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 9:33 am 

    We passed peak energy, per capita, decades ago. Now there is less and less for each of us every day.

    Nuff said.

  2. penury on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 9:41 am 

    This appears to anticipate a return to “normal” growth for the world consumption. An iffy prospect at best and a less likely prospect than falling energy use. The cost of energy is increasing rapidly if one includes the social and environmental costs of producing said energy, And no solar will not save the world. Perhaps 5% can be expected to survive, the math is against the humans. Energy will exist and be used, however the excessive use for totally useless pursuits (i,e “Pokemon Go”) will fade into history.

  3. Don Stewart on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 10:36 am 

    shortonoil; Alice Friedeman; John Michael Greer; Pattern Languages

    I would like to summarize some conclusions from recent (and much older) reading. First exhibit is Alice Friedeman’s article on the tonnage of materials which have to be worked over to sustain our society:
    http://energyskeptic.com/2016/limits-to-growth-2016-united-nations-report-provides-best-evidence-yet/

    Second exhibit is Alice’s assessment of the potential for electrifying trucks:
    http://energyskeptic.com/2016/all-of-california-electricity-per-year-to-power-16000-catenary-trucks-on-2400-to-8275-miles-of-highway/

    Third exhibit is all the stuff that shortonoil has posted relative to the declining ability of the oil industry to provide fuels which are capable of doing the work of powering the trucks.

    Fourth exhibit is from John Michael Greer’s new book Dark Age America. Specifically, page 186. Greer talks about the way literature and painting can take a person from an immediate experience, through an abstraction process using words or paint, and back to the real world. He uses a specific example of Impressionist painting, which taught people to see in a different way by deconstructing the process of vision and mental models, but coming back to moods and emotions which are very real. I have recently corresponded with someone who is working on bringing systems science into the mainstream of education. I see the effort as related to the Pattern Languages which Christopher Alexander popularized some decades ago. It’s similar to what the Impressionists did: take some raw experience, run it through a mental model which simplifies the experience enough to enable one to manipulate it; and then come back to the real world with more refined ideas about what may be possible. (Footnote One) And this relates to shortonoil’s elegant model describing the end of the Age of Oil. I don’t care to debate the details. But anyone who can follow Alice Friedeman’s work in the first two exhibits and can see what is currently happening to the oil business should be paying attention. The Etp model describes a plausible mechanism. Like all models, it should be examined and critiqued. But only a fool would dismiss it out of hand.

    The fifth exhibit is also from Greer, page 187. He is contrasting the work of the Impressionists with modern advertising, particularly using modern visual media. ‘Now think about what happens when that same process is hijacked, using modern technology, for the purpose of marketing. That’s what advertising does, and more generally what the mass media do….The goal of the operation is to keep you away from immediate experience, in a haze of abstractions, so that a deliberately distorted mediation can be put in its place.’ So…the media do not want us to come back to the real world. A recent example occurred on PBS, where an interview with Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president, was edited to remove her implicit criticism of Hillary Clinton. Stein had said that ‘Americans deserve to understand their choices’, or something to that effect. But if PBS and the rest of the media is only dealing out distorted images, then only a very few of us really smart people (you and me and perhaps someone else) will actually understand what they are choosing.

    The sixth exhibit is also from Greer, page 217. ‘What makes this even more challenging is that very few people in the modern industrial world actually produce goods and services for consumers, much less for themselves, by applying energy to raw materials’. This is the intermediation phenomenon that I wrote about a couple of days ago, which drew a comment from shortonoil. Greer on page 219: ‘The surplus that supports all those people in management, finance, and so on is a luxury that nonindustrial societies don’t have.’ If our society actually depends heavily on manipulating tons of raw materials which need to be transported, and if the industries which supply the fuel to do the transportation are gasping for air, and if we are currently supporting a whole raft of intermediaries whose job it is to keep us from looking squarely at reality….

    Then, Houston, we might have a problem.

    Don Stewart
    Footnote One: The specific correspondence was about Nick Lane’s detailed description of how the symbiosis of two prokaryotes to form the eukaryotic cell resulted in enormous multiplication of free energy, but also required a lot of infrastructure and prompted fundamental changes such as sexual reproduction, senescence, and death. My contention is that the need for two autonomous actors to cooperate to achieve a demanding task with little room for error is a ‘pattern’ in the sense that Christopher Alexander described. Once the pattern is understood, it can be perceived in a wide variety of real world situations, such as business partnerships, marriages, sexual partnerships, conversation, etc. The perception of the pattern, in turn, increases our ability to deal intelligently with the actual situation we are in.

  4. shortonoil on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 1:21 pm 

    “So it is for us to decide which is real, and which is an illusion.”

  5. penury on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 1:44 pm 

    Peak energy, are we talking available? or that which is consumed? As reported by others, the coal that we are mining contains less energy than previous, the liquid fuels contain less usable energy than before. So by one metric perhaps we have already passed “peak” and are rapidly approaching a pivot point.

  6. shortonoil on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 4:14 pm 

    “Peak energy, are we talking available? or that which is consumed? As reported by others, the coal that we are mining contains less energy than previous, the liquid fuels contain less usable energy than before. So by one metric perhaps we have already passed “peak” and are rapidly approaching a pivot point.”

    I would strongly suspect that you are correct. Maximum net energy per capita is long behind us.

  7. Sissyfuss on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 4:20 pm 

    Mak, there’s less and less for more and more of us each day. That exponential doohickey, ya know.

  8. Boat on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 5:00 pm 

    Per capita energy peak just means we were were far more wasteful in the past. Steel intensity has dropped over 35 percent not only because of a much more efficient heating process but something as easy as recycling. These savings do not show up in gdp but less fuel used and less materials mined is a win win.

  9. Don Stewart on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 5:40 pm 

    Boat
    See my first reference above. One excerpt:
    ‘Global material efficiency started to decline around 2000, so now the global economy needs more materials per unit of GDP than it did at the turn of the century. ‘

    Don Stewart

  10. onlooker on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 6:20 pm 

    Never mind peak energy we are peak everything. Read the book by Heinberg on it

  11. Makati1 on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 6:24 pm 

    Sissy, even if the human population froze, there would be less and less for those who remain. We are, as a species, in a race to the bottom, or extinction, if you will. The only unknown is how long and how painful. I don’t see the race lasting until 2100.

  12. Makati1 on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 6:25 pm 

    onlooker, we may not be at peak stupidity. I give you the American race for the Presidency as an example. ^_^

  13. onlooker on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 6:27 pm 

    Yes and climate change is now a force beyond humanities control that assures our downfall

  14. onlooker on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 6:30 pm 

    What did Einstein say Mak, something to the effect that they’re were two things infinite one the Universe and two human stupidity. Oh and that he was not quite sure about the Universe haha

  15. rockman on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 6:47 pm 

    FYI: Peak energy is not peak Btu’s per capita or peak Btu’s per bbl of oil or ton of coal. Nor is it the Btu’s of the oil or coal in the ground that isn’t being consumed. But it does include Btu’s from alt energy and biological sources.

    It’s the maximum number of Btu’s consumed by mankind. And, like global PO, can only be identified with certainty in the review mirror many decades down the road.

    But, hey, that’s no reason to not argue about a metric that can’t be proved anytime soon. LOL.

  16. Don Stewart on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 8:34 pm 

    Essay from Robert Ayres outlining the main arguments in his new book:
    https://ruayres.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BFenergy-complexity-wealth-creation/

    Very learned discussion with some interesting speculation about the future.

    Don Stewart

  17. Makati1 on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 9:22 pm 

    FYI: ” One study found that the internet consumed 1,815 TWh of electricity in 2012 – which corresponded to 8% of global electricity production in that year. … “If we were to try to power the (2012) internet with pedal-powered generators, each producing 70 watt of electric power, we would need 8.2 billion people pedalling in three shifts of eight hours for 365 days per year. (Electricity consumption of end-use devices is included in these numbers, so the pedallers can use their smartphones or laptops while on the job)….. 1,815 TWh equals three times the electricity supplied by all wind and solar energy plants in 2012, worldwide.”[1] … ”

    http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/blog/2016/08/27/fantasies-of-socialism-with-an-ipad/

    I am sure energy usage by the internet is much higher now than it was in 2012. And you still believe that the internet is forever? LOL

  18. Sissyfuss on Sat, 27th Aug 2016 10:38 pm 

    Don S, I highly recommend that Ayres article to everyone. Extremely cogent and enlightening, it basically gives outline to history from the Big Bang to our modern day dilemmas. The man is brilliant.

  19. shortonoil on Sun, 28th Aug 2016 6:54 am 

    ‘Global material efficiency started to decline around 2000, so now the global economy needs more materials per unit of GDP than it did at the turn of the century. ‘

    The problem is that the energy to produce a unit of metal is growing exponentially. This is the result of declining ore qualities. Just over my career the number of tons of ore needed to produce a pound of copper has grown by more than a factor of ten. The same phenomena is occurring to petroleum. The amount of energy needed to produce a ton of petroleum has grown 913% over the last 55 years. The planet earth is rapidly becoming resource poor. Its ability to feed, house and care for 7.3 billion people has just about come to an end.

    http://www.jayhanson.org/MoreCurves.html

  20. JuanP on Sun, 28th Aug 2016 7:54 am 

    “Based on more reasonable estimates, global growth is likely to remain above 2.5% p.a. through to 2050.” I think that the chances of the economy growing until 2050 are more or less 0%. LOL! But I am not an “expert” like these fools. I am just a fool aware of his foolishness and that is why I have never claimed to be an expert on anything. I have learnt that what I ignore is a lot more than what I know so I will let others claim to be experts. I tend to ignore experts as a rule because I have found them to be full of shit.

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