The Delusions of Davos and Dubai – Part One: Achieving Universal Energy Security

Wind and solar energy cannot lift humanity into prosperity. But as an impressive fleet of private jets has recently migrated from the COP 28 Summit in Dubai to the World Economic Forum in Davos, carrying the hoi polloi of the world from one elitist summit to another, this delusion was the dominant sentiment. In this three-part analysis, what can accurately be described as a collective, perhaps willful delusion will be exposed in excruciating detail. It will be dry and tedious reading. And perhaps that’s why journalists, activists, bureaucrats, and politicians have accepted the delusion. So buckle up. Here’s the other side of the story.

Part One will quantify how much global energy production will need to increase if humanity is to have any hope of achieving universal energy security, much less energy abundance. Part Two will calculate the infeasible degree to which wind and solar energy production will have to increase in order to hit that minimum target while still fulfilling the goals of COP 28. Part Three will conclude by examining non-fossil fuel alternatives to wind and solar and, in so doing, demonstrate why global energy security is impossible to achieve without increasing, not decreasing, reliance on coal, oil, and gas.

An article published in the New York Post shortly after the war in Ukraine began in early 2022 nicely encapsulated what might be described as the “energy realist” perspective in the ongoing debate over climate and energy. In his article entitled “If the Ukraine war hasn’t scared the West straight on energy, nothing will,” author Rich Lowry reminded us, “The world hasn’t embraced fossil fuels out of hatred of the planet but because they are so incredibly useful.”

Even if some claim there is only an alleged consensus on the potentially catastrophic threat represented by fossil fuels, there is widespread agreement on the direct connection between energy and prosperity. With that in mind, and to make clear how critical it is to produce more energy worldwide, much more, here’s an immutable fact, based on data reported in the 2023 edition of the Energy Institute’s Statistical Review of World Energy: For everyone on earth to have access to half the energy per capita that Americans consume, global energy production will have to double.

To be precise, since this is a statistic that carries huge implications, in 2022, according to the World Bank, total world population was 7.954 billion. In 2022, according to the Energy Institute, total world energy consumption was 604.0 exajoules. In that same year, there were 333.3 million Americans, consuming a total of 95.9 exajoules. That means that in 2022, the average American consumed 288 gigajoules, while the other 7.62 billion people in the world consumed, per capita, a mere 67 gigajoules.

This is not difficult math. It isn’t necessary to understand that a billion gigajoules equals an exajoule, or that most energy economists now convert all forms of measurable energy use—coal, gas, oil, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, biofuel, hydro, and nuclear—into joules to have a common unit for analysis. It is only necessary to know that these units and conversion ratios adhere to well-established, credible methodologies that are accepted worldwide and that 288 gigajoules, which the average American consumed in 2022, is more than four times as much energy as what people in the rest of the world consumed in 2022, 67 gigajoules.

In further pursuit of precision, and to let this sink in, consider the exact amount by which global energy production would have to increase based on various estimates of the levels at which the global population will peak. If the world population had stayed at 2022 levels, and if everyone (including Americans) consumed half as much energy per capita as Americans consumed in that year, global energy production would have to increase by 89 percent. That is, it would only have to nearly double. But the global population continues to increase.

As of January 2024, the global population is already estimated at 8.1 billion, and despite dwindling birth rates everywhere on earth except in Africa, parts of the Middle East, and Central America, the United Nations currently projects the global population to peak at 11.2 billion before the end of this century.

Again, the math is not difficult. If the global population reaches 9 billion, as it almost certainly will, for everyone on earth (including Americans) to use half as much energy as Americans did in 2022, global energy production would have to increase by 114 percent—more than doubling. At a global population of 10 billion, under these same constraints, energy production would have to increase by 138 percent over 2022 levels.

How Will Global Energy Production Double?

There is some good news in all this. Because the first question anyone still willing to wade through these numbers ought to ask is: How on earth will Americans, or anyone else for that matter, enjoy a so-called First World quality of life if they only have access to half as much energy as they currently use? The answer to this question lies in the distinction between energy inputs and energy services, which constitutes the strongest case for electrifying the economy.

The following flowchart from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory provides an intuitive visualization of the difference between energy inputs and energy services. The most recent available chart is dated 2011, when total world energy flow (please don’t be alarmed, the units used on this chart are petajoules, abbreviated as PJ. Every 1,000 petajoules is equal to one exajoule) was estimated at 534 exajoules. But those 534 exajoules were energy inputs, depicted on the left side of the flowchart, not energy services, which are depicted on the right side of the flowchart.

Apart from the fact that these datasets reveal total global energy production between 2011 and 2022 to have only increased by 13 percent in over a decade, which is not an encouraging rate of growth if our objective is to double global energy production, the critical variables to examine on this flowchart are how, despite inputting 534 exajoules worth of mostly coal, petroleum, and natural gas fuel, 290 exajoules of that was “rejected energy,” and only 210 exajoules were actual “energy services.”

What this means is that only 40 percent of the energy we burned, boiled, generated, or otherwise extracted from natural sources was ultimately enjoyed as heating and cooling in our homes and businesses, traction for our cars and trucks, propulsion for our airplanes, electricity for our appliances, computers, communications, media, and so on. The rest was lost to heat and friction.

The technological state of the global energy economy today is such that 60 percent of the energy we put into the system is lost. More recent corroboration of this assumption comes from the 2023 edition of the Statistical Review of Global Energy, where in the appendix they state their energy conversion efficiency assumptions as follows: “2000-2017: a linear increase from 36% to 40%… the assumption [is] that efficiency will increase linearly to 45% by 2050.”

Using new energy technologies to greatly improve conversion efficiency spells an opportunity with world-changing potential. If we could lift our efficiency from 40 to 80 percent, then in order to enjoy the same level of energy services we currently consume, we would only have to supply a raw energy input of 25 percent in excess of what we intend to consume in services, instead of the current 60 percent.

Expressed in actual units of energy, that means that in 2022, at 40 percent efficiency, the 604 exajoules of raw energy input into the economy yielded energy services of 242 exajoules. If the devices we use to convert energy inputs into energy services were to double to a conversion efficiency of 80 percent, everyone in the world would already have access to twice as much usable energy.

The technologies that are purported to have this potential include EVs and batteries, which can convert electricity into traction, including the charge/discharge cycle of the battery and taking into account regenerative braking, at around 80 percent, whereas it is rare for any vehicle with an internal combustion engine to achieve better than 40 percent efficiency. Similarly, electrification proponents claim the latest heat-pump technology utilizes electricity for space heating far more efficiently than natural gas heaters.

While there is ongoing debate over just how much efficiency is gained by moving from an energy economy based primarily on fossil fuel combustion to one based primarily on electricity, it is clear that the efficiency of many energy services can be greatly improved by going electric. The promise of extraordinary gains in energy efficiency is the reason it may be realistic to set a total world energy production target at around 1,000 exajoules, which is not quite double the currently estimated 604 exajoules set in 2022. The next chart shows how this works out numerically.There are huge assumptions in this chart. All of them error in the direction of potentially underestimating how much total global energy may be adequate to lift all of humanity into prosperity. The global population may exceed 10 billion. Retooling the entire energy economy of the world to achieve 80 percent efficiency between raw inputs and end-user energy services would be an extraordinary achievement. And even if we did succeed in deploying new technologies everywhere in order to harvest 80 percent of our raw energy input in the form of end-user energy services, it is extremely unlikely we could do this without using coal, oil, and gas.

Increasing global energy production to 1,000 exajoules from the current 604 in just 26 years is a Herculean task, arguably impossible without resorting to an all-of-the-above energy development strategy. Part two will present the current global fuel mix and, using the guidelines agreed upon at the recent COP 28 summit in Dubai, present their proposed future global fuel mix. These calculations will demonstrate that the amount of wind and solar expansion necessary to adhere to COP 28 guidelines while still producing the minimum total energy worldwide is far greater than is generally understood or acknowledged.

More to the point, the calculations in the next installment will demonstrate the absolute absurdity of pretending that reliance on wind and solar energy is a viable strategy. The reader may then determine if the catastrophic consequences of adhering to an energy strategy that is an obvious failure might merit a more forceful repudiation of the entire “net zero” agenda. Adaptation, not “net zero,” is the only rational response to whatever theories of climate may remain in vogue.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

Photo: Digital generated image of multiple environmental rectangular cross sections with different types of energy supply. Sustainable city concept.

Notable Replies

  1. In looking at the chart supplied by Mr. Ring and by comparing the energy inputs versus outputs, a couple of things stand out-----

    Nuclear energy has an energy input of 28,000 petajoules with an output of 12,500 petajoules—or a conversion rate of 44.6 %

    Adding together petroleum + refining/liquefaction, the energy input is 500,000 pj’s with an output of 152,900 pj’s -----a conversion rate of 30.6 %

    Solar----the numbers for solar are odd. The chart show 990 pj’s for input and 885 pj’s for output, which gives a result of 99.4 %----which doesn’t seem right. Does this figure only reflect basically free energy from the sun while not including the cost of building and installing the panels in terms of energy input? I don’t know. AND we also know the efficiency of solar panels has increased in the last 12 years. Further confusing me is that solar panels (today) are only 15% to 20% efficient in converting solar to electrical energy.

    Natural gas + processing/gasification requires 260,000 pj’s input for 112,600 pj’s output which gives a ratio of 43.3 % (which is within a cat’s whisker of nuclear energy.

    And finally, “dirty” coal-----requires 190,000 pj’s to dig it up, crush and then ship it, giving 145,000 pj’s of output for a ratio of 76.3 %

    So, from the data provided It seems clear to me, to meet the world’s energy needs, coal is still king followed by petroleum, natural gas, and nuclear. Any hopes placed on solar and wind are mere pipe dreams.

    Note—to avoid confusion, the ratios I calculated from the chart are just energy inputs to outputs as provided by Lawrence Livermore. They do not reflect energy efficiencies by type. Look at the figures for solar as example as compared to the actual efficiency of a typical solar panel.

  2. Avatar for Unsk Unsk says:

    Absolutely brilliant post by Edward Ring in which he explored issues no one else is talking about.

    Unspoken in this post but clearly implicated is the disastrous choice for most of the world’s population to try to achieve some sort of net zero energy outcome demanded by the climate change Alarmists.

    Against this need to dramatically increase worldwide energy production, America’s standing and credibility in the world has taken an enormous hit as the “Global South” has awaken to America”s hypocritical and self serving approach to a “rule based international order” exemplified by the Biden Administration’s disastrous approach to financial sanctions against Russia that violate it’s own rules, it’s disdain for world food production as a result of it’s Ukraine War and the financial manipulations by the Fed and others designed to benefit solely large corporate interests at the expense of these other countries as well as it’s own middle and lower classes. This looming worldwide anger against America is only going to intensify as the full understanding of the CIA and NIH’s involvement in development of COVID and the horrible medical implications of Big Pharma’s disastrous Vax it pushed on the world are better understood.

    The world is spinning out of control with new wars and lethal threats popping up all over the world with also serious long term supply chain issues arising in tandem. To resolve these conflicts and indeed just simply to protect it’s own citizens defense and financial interests America need to abruptly reject the absolutely insane policies pursued by it’s elites.

  3. Mr. Ring is making an inarguable scientific and statistical argument, but that is not the where this battle is being fought. If it were, then Mr. Ring and others would win hands down.

    Regrettably, the bureaucrats and politicians say the science is settled, the statistics are irrelevant, and fear and alarm must rule the day. A “crisis” must be averted, the economy must be scuttled, and citizens must give up their internal combustion engine cars and trucks for inefficient and inconvenient mass transit, plus relinquish their comfortably heated and cooled homes for cramped, crowded and poorly–if at all–climate controlled apartments and high rises.

    Those who are in charge of energy policy are not interested in new technologies that will increase energy efficiency, improve and increase energy production and transmission, while lowering the cost. Unfortunately, their interest is in de-population thru rationing based on expensive, inefficient and inconsistent means of energy production. Think of it as a kind of slow-motion genocide.

    Consequently, when we approach–and ultimately accept–this debate from that perspective, then the inevitable conclusion is that the presentation of logical, factual arguments is not how this battle must be fought.

  4. I love serendipity. A similarly themed short article just dropped at Powerline Blog a little bit ago. It had embedded a six minute video from Kite and Key Media. The video explains in a very succinct form what Mr. Ring’s chart from the folks at Lawrence Livermore do—and in much more understandable way.

    Here it is. Enjoy-----

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