Reading Assignment - Energy Primer
Please review the Energy Explained portion of the USA Dept. of Energy's Energy Information Administration website.
When you are reading, I want you to focus on Forms of energy, Sources of energy, and Supply (production) vs. Demand (consumption) of energy. These four terms are simple but very specific. One thing that you can use to remember them: energy is neither created nor destroyed, but can be transformed from one form to another, and we call our sources of energy resources. The economics of energy is also directly discussed in terms of supply and demand.
Energy Demand in USA Society
We believe the global demand for energy in its various forms will keep rising, spurred on by an expected increase in population and industrialization of many developing countries. Policy makers, entrepreneurs, and scientists will be faced with serious questions on how to produce and deliver required energy to consumers. But focusing in on the USA, how does a country use energy where local population growth is smaller and energy use has been outsourced to other developing nations?
Trends in the past few centuries:
1880 to 1920:
- Farming work displaced by machines (industry).
- USA urban population grows from 28% to 50%.
- Fossil fuel combustion (coal) equal to biofuel combustion (wood).
1950-1980 (Post WWII):
- US urban population growth slows.
- Cars and highways lead people to the suburbs.
- Manufacturing decreases (outsourcing energy).
- Renewable energy surpasses nuclear power: exponential growth of the renewable industry kicks in hard!
- Wind surfaces as a large renewable energy player.
- Solar emerging: Decentralized solar power is rapidly expanding on rooftops ("behind the meter")
Video: Energy Flow (2:30)
Watch the following video showing the ways we use energy in the USA and around the globe.
Video: Energy Needs (4:37)
In the past century, society has been dependent on combustible products such as coal, natural gas, and petroleum products as the fuels of choice. While these energy sources are relatively cheap, they are not always available or located where we most need them, and they are non-renewable. In addition to this, there are real concerns about the effects burning these products could have on human health and safety as well as large impacts on the environment in general. The following are geofuels (resources from the Earth that are non-renewable).
- Coal (fossil fuel)
- Petroleum derivatives (fossil fuel)
- Natural Gas (fossil fuel)
- Nuclear (fissile fuel)
Nuclear energy is an additional geofuel that does not have a major CO2 impact and is a major resource in countries like France. However, it has a strong "yuck factor" for the majority of society in Germany and the USA. It has the additional challenge of undesirable proliferation of fissile material for arms use. Again, there are numerous countries including the USA that make use of nuclear power for low-CO2 energy, but infrequent, high-visibility events such as Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukashima Daiichi continue to influence popular will to invest and develop the resource.
Renewable energy sources provide a suitable alternative to using fossil fuel combustion (which generates CO2) to meet our energy needs. The well-planned use of renewable energy sources such as solar energy must form a part of the portfolio of energy sources. There are numerous real challenges for renewables like solar, such as intermittency and diurnal cycles (night-day), as well as the ability to identify economic opportunities, which is why we are putting a lot of energy into understanding the solar resource and the related economics in this course.
Energy production and CO2 production—link to population
The following links use Gapminder World to show the increases in cumulative CO2 production through time associated with population growth. Click on the link and press "Play" in the bottom left:
- Cumulative CO2 production (logarithmic y-axis) vs. Population
- Annual CO2 production (again, logarithmic y-axis) vs. Population
You can explore this tool later and create your own plots with respect to time. For example, if you were to plot energy production (Supply) or use (Demand) you would see the same trend, or if you were to plot cumulative CO2 (log) vs. total energy production (log), they would show a rough linear correlation. But, for now, I want you to see where there are links between population, energy production, and CO2 production. Why is the USA more or less stable in its CO2 production?