Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Energy Bar For Thoughts

Let’s take a look at energy consumption. No particular reason, but because I feel this is as a good of a place to start than any.

Our collective demand for energy has been ever rising. There are few stock market crashes and bubble bursts in our timeline to slow the energy demand a bit, but we are resilient creatures aren’t we? We keep crawling out from under the previous recessions and building the GDP block game piece by piece, faster and faster.

Today, as the world’s GDPs rise on average by 3.2% per year, and in some places (China) where 7% is considered astonishingly slow, our global energy consumption will increase by 1.4% per year in the next twenty or so years according to a Bloomberg Sustainalytics Industry Report. At some point in the distant past, we would say that developed countries accounted for the largest share of energy consumption as if laying guilt is somehow making us feel better that much of the developing world hasn’t caught up to our level of unsustainable bad habits. But that’s changing. In 2007, energy use amongst non-OECD nations exceeded their OECD counterparts for the first time. China’s energy demand has increased by 150% and is now the world’s largest consumer of power. India is on pace to match China’s demand on resources by 2035. The Middle East is also expected to become a significantly energy intensive region and its vast natural reserves do not help curb the consumption habits.

Water in the context of power consumption is also being overlooked. Our current technologies, from burning fossil fuel to fracking to nuclear power, are some of the most water intensive operations known to man. The U.S. electricity demand requires an estimated 136 billion gallons of water per day. Each kWh of energy requires an average of 25 gallons of water. According to a Forbes magazine article, your iPhone can use up to 1kWh of power each year. That’s 25 gallons of water per person per year for Siri! According to the United Nations, 2/3 of the world’s population could be living under water-stress by 2025.

Water and energy consumption are also connected in another very intimate and devastating way. It often involves large spills requiring vast manpower to clean up and huge fines and bad PR for companies (*cough* BP).

For all these reasons and then some, including the highly debated and scientifically established thing known as “climate change”, regulators around the world are passing legislation to reduce the impact of our energy demand and method of production. The Canadians set goals to produce 90% of its electricity from low-emitting technologies by 2020. Europeans and the Japanese have put in place strict environmental control laws and have been successful in controlling acid rain and urban smog. The Chinese have aggressive clean production and circular economy laws in addition to its various environmental protection laws. Their effectiveness is impeded by a lack for social and political will and shall remain open to judgment of its success. These regulatory challenges translate to increased operational costs including major investment capital on new equipment and compliance costs paid to useless lawyers like me. Please, save yourself the penny and let us do something more beneficial for a change.

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