Tools of the Post Oil Energy Technology: The Computers of the 21st Century
Today, the global energy production is about 0.5 ZJ/yr (zettajoule = 1021 Joules) or 500 Q (Q=1015 BTU)1,2 and by the end of the century, it will probably reach 1.0 ZJ/yr. About 82% of today’s energy is supplied by fossil sources, about 6% each by nuclear, hydraulic and biomass sources, while renewable sources provide less than 1%. The proved exhaustible reserves are listed in Note 1) and the at the end of this article. At today’s production rate the total reserves of all types of fossil and uranium resources, will be exhausted in a couple of centuries and it is my estimate that in order to make the transition to renewable energy reasonably smooth, it must be done by the end of this century.
The global GDP today is about $75 trillion3 . The cost of the complete conversion to renewable energy at a production rate of 1,0 ZJ/yr would cost the equivalent of 2 to 3 GDP-years of the planet or nearly 3% of the global GDP for a century. This is a staggering sum, roughly equaling the global military expenditure4. Some argue that such an investment can be justified, because it would create full employment and an economic boom for a century. This argument is beyond the scope of this article.
The goal of this article is to describe the technologies that can drastically reduce the cost of conversion by implementing recent inventions and starting mass production. There is historical precedent to support this prediction. Just remember that in 1945, the first computer ENIAC weighed tons and filled a large room and than remember what innovation and mass production did! My goal with this article is to show that today’s renewable energy technology is at the “ENIAC state” and that we can not only repeat the computer success story during the next 65 years, but that we already know how to repeat it!
Before describing the inventions that already exist and will be the computers of the 21st century, let me quickly review the stages of mankind’s “energy history” ( Figure 1). During the pre-industrial age, the food energy from the vegetation plus water and oxygen supplies were sufficient to support life on the planet. This energy supply was sufficient to meet the needs for maintaining the lifestyle and population of the planet, while the composition of the planet’s atmosphere and it’s temperature remained relatively stable.
In the present industrial age, more and more energy is obtained from the diminishing fossil and uranium deposits (shows in red in Figure 1). Using this exhaustible energy supply has to come to an end, because otherwise, when these deposits are exhausted. either the demand (life style and population) has to drop or a new energy source must replace the present one. Therefore, if we want to maintain our life style and meet the energy needs of the exploding population, than by the time the exhaustible deposits are gone, we must have converted to a solar-hydrogen based energy economy, using the free, clean and inexhaustible energy supply of the Sun.
|Pre-industrial age until about 1700 AD this process was “continuous”|
|During the industrial age between about 1700 – 2200 this process became an unsustainable „batch” process as mankind started to depend on exhaustible fuel deposits|
|In the post-industrial age after about 2200 this process can again become „continuous” if mankind converts to using inexhaustible solar energy to generate the hydrogen|
1) Proved exhaustible energy deposits: Included in this listing is U238 which hopefully will not be used as it’s end product is the extremely dangerous Plutonium239. Excluded from the list are fusion reactors, shale oil and methane hydrates at bottom of the oceans as I do not consider them feasible or economical. The numbers are given in zettajoules (ZJ = 1021 Joules) and are approximate5:
Uranium 238: 29 ZJ
Coal: 20 ZJ
Oil: 8 ZJ
Gas: 8 ZJ
Uranium 235 0.8 ZJ
TOTAL: under 70 ZJ
2) Approximate yearly renewable energy sources of the planet5:
Solar: 5,500 ZJ/yr
Wind: 870 Z J/yr
Geothermal: 32 ZJ/yr
Hydraulic: 7.2 ZJ/yr
- “International Energy Outlook 2007″. United States Department of Energy – Washington, DC. http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/index.html.
- International Energy Agency. (2006) World Energy Outlook 2006. ISBN 92-64-10989-7
- IMF ‘’World Economic Outlook, April 2009 http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2009/01/index.htm
- Chapter 5 of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)’s 2010 Year Book
- See source references in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orders_of_magnitude_(energy)