Where will we get our electricity when the oil and coal are gone? Why should I care?
I wrote Out of the Cradle to draw attention to a disaster looming on the horizon. Electrical energy is the one thing our civilization cannot live without and sooner or later, the oil and the coal will be gone. We must be prepared. Nuclear isn't the answer on many levels and the conventional earthbound alternative energy sources are simply not capable of sustaining our current energy demand.
So what are we to do? I suggest we think big now so that we don't crash big later. Building a system of satellites capable of delivering 50 trillion-kilowatt-hours of pollution-free solar power from space every year will not only solve our energy problems for thousands of years, the feat of doing it will also produce a robust global economy. Talk about a job making powerhouse. Building the infrastructure alone will be an economic boon for centuries to come.
Opening up space for human activities will be like Columbus rediscovering America but instead of just another continent, we will open up other worlds for our children to conquer. Open up the High Frontier and we open up our children's children to endless new horizons. If we don't do this while we can, we doom our descendants to fighting over dwindling resources.
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Abundant cheap electricity is a key element in getting and maintaining high human living standards around the globe. Stated another way, electricity is the foundation of modern technology. Without it, we go back to sailing ships and the horse. Anyone who thinks for a moment that we could feed and clothe our 21st century population using 18th century technology is nuts. Everything in your world depends on electricity either directly or indirectly. The food you eat, the water you drink, the car you drive, are all possible because of electricity. This cannot be overstated. Electricity is civilization.
The world consumed 20.1 trillion kilowatt hours of energy in 2010, up over 3% from the year before. Of this, 13.9 trillion kw-hrs comes from hydrocarbons, 2.6 trillion from nuclear, and 3.1 trillion from hydroelectric. Earth-bound renewables hardly make a dent. The EIA predicts world net electrical consumption will increase to 25.5 trillion kw-hrs by 2020 and 35.2 trillion kw-hrs by 2035. Even if you don’t fully understand the enormity of the numbers, just remember that we are using more energy today than we did yesterday, by a lot. I repeat, where will we get our electricity when the oil and coal are gone?