Thursday, November 19, 2009


Downward Energy Spiral

A news story about the difficulty of getting new power plants built in Germany illustrates the downward energy spiral and the great arduous struggle that countries will experience in extricating themselves from its downward pull. Around the world, governments and businesses anticipate the need for more power to fuel further economic growth — providing there is ever a “recovery.” The prolonged recession, crushing debt, and credit crunch are curbing the flow of funding needed to invest in more generating capacity, more oil field development, and other energy production. Although world energy production and consumption have been going up little by little, because world population keeps growing, per capita production actually peaked a long time ago, in 1979 (PDF). That means we have been in a downward spiral since then, but many of us don’t notice because energy consumption is unevenly distributed around the globe.

Difficulty in building new energy-production capacity will further exacerbate the downward spiral. In addition to a broad swath of the globe already experiencing endemic power shortages, the problem could readily spread to OECD countries and easily disrupt their now-fragile economies. While crash programs to build new generating capacity might help, economic stress makes funds unavailable, and not enough generating capacity endangers the economic growth that might create the needed money, so we have a vicious circle feeding the downward spiral.

Therefore in addition to the threat of too-expensive oil, we have another threat in the failure to boost electricity production. Both are very bad news for modern societies.

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