Rebuilding After COVID-19

Through the ages, lethal viruses continually attacked homo sapiens. While at personal levels the attacks can be devastating, they’ve not slowed human population growth. For instance, the Spanish Epidemic of 1918 killed about 2% of the global human population, a horribly huge number. Yet, on looking solely at population growth rate, this pandemic had no visible effect.

Currently our species is being attacked by another virus, COVID-19. Through great determination and effort we seem to be slowly countering its deadly effect. In consequence, we see many leaders setting post pandemic return-to-work targets. Often, they borrow now to pay later to keep our population busily consuming resources as demanded by the markets. In consequence, as COVID-19 surrenders, we expect to see our species return to business as usual meaning more people and higher consumption, especially energy consumption.

In 2019, our primary energy consumption exceeded 583 exajoules annually; sourced mostly from non-renewable sources. On average, each person’s annual energy consumption exceeded 75 gigajoules. This is a huge amount, being over 1.5 times greater than the average in 1965 and obviously a huge increase over preindustrial times. But the supply of fossil fuels will end. So, when we build back better after COVID-19, wouldn’t we be wise to enable lifestyles for the future 10 billion inhabitants that doesn’t rely upon fossil fuels?
Tree recycling

Electric Vehicles

Going green is our new mantra. This mantra espouses sustainability. While a clear definition of sustainability awaits, we do know that some things seem more sustainable than others. For example, electric vehicles get proclaimed as the new, sustainable transportation, i.e. they don’t emit green house gases. Let’s see if this satisfies our mantra.

Humans are enamored by vehicles. We have over 1.2billion in operation today. But transportation needs energy, about 1.1×1020Joules annually, much of which is for vehicles. Further, we should surpass 2billion vehicles by the year 2035 hence more energy is needed. As transportation is key to our GDP, then human prosperity may well depend upon continued infatuation.

Today, we produce 1×1020Joules of electricity. Fossil fuels generate about 63% of this. Fossil fuels are not sustainable. Currently, electric vehicles consume an insignificant amount of electricity. But, to meet our mantra, we need to remove fossil fuels from electrical production. And to meet future energy demand for vehicles, we need to at least double electricity production. This future for electricity isn’t sustainable.

From the above, can you see whether electric vehicles satisfy the mantra? Going green by replacing petrol burning cars with electric vehicles wouldn’t reduce energy consumption. It may sustain the GDP, at least temporarily. We ask, “Can we maintain personal transportation in our mantra and still go green?”

Solar Power Generation

Solar power generation is on a growth spurt. In 2018, it produced over 584 TWh of energy. Its capacity is nearly doubling every two years. Some see solar power as being the solution for global energy needs.

However solar power comes with costs. For one, there’s the need to fabricate panels, construct the collector facilities and then maintain operations. For another, all life forms below the solar panels will die-off as the Sun is their only source of energy and the panels capture all the sunlight. Thus, solar power usage needs to be rationalized with costs of other energy supplies.

Can we scale our energy challenge? Certainly; let’s see. In 2018, we consumed over 160,000 TWh of primary energy and it is increasing by about 1.5% annually. If solar power supplies all this then we’d need cover about 14 million square kilometres of land with solar arrays and then maintain operations.

This operational area is huge, greater than all of Europe. Further, implementing this solution would drastically, negatively affect the Earth’s biodiversity. Thus solar power generation has its place in the global energy supply mix but we need other, less costly, means to satisfy our energy challenge.

Akademik Lomonosov

Fire! Controlling this wonderful, exothermic, chemical reaction enabled humans to vault over all lifeforms and become dominant on planet Earth. Some argue that our ancestors had control of fire over a million years ago. Not quite as long ago, we learned to use similar chemical reactions to access the energy stored in fossil fuels like petroleum. Very recently, we learned to split large atoms into smaller ones via controlled nuclear reactions. And we used the resulting energy release to further our domination on Earth.

With nuclear energy, we have controlled, ready access to very, very large amounts of energy. We’ve built large nuclear power reactors beside many population centres for this very reason. We also build floating reactors to bring accessible energy to demanding places. For almost ten years MH-1A supplied 10MWe to the Panama Canal Zone. Now, the floating Akademik Lomonosov ($232M), a brand new endeavour, will provide a similar service in that it can use nuclear fission to provide 70MWe to whichever port it is alongside. Currently it’s slated to replace the Bilibino nuclear reactor (164.8GW.h) nearby Pevek (65°N,170°E).

We recognize that our civilization needs energy to progress. Actually, we need very large amounts of readily accessible energy simply to sustain ourselves as the Akademik Lomonosov demonstrates. Over the last few decades, and centuries, we’ve become accustomed to consuming ever more readily accessible and cost efficient energy. But quantities of fossil fuels and of nuclear fuel are limited on Earth. What becomes of our civilization if the consumption trend continues but the energy supplies fail? Can we rely upon fire to maintain our civilization?

Moscow Times
Akademik Lomonosov

Bucket List

The lucky young have their whole lives ahead of them. They can dream of adventures and plan for them in the future. Great times. However, as we age and we realize that there are only a limited number of days before we are too old to travel then planning becomes serious. Often we create a Bucket List; a list of things we want to do before we die. Many, if not all, items on the list consist of travel. To be a tourist. That’s lucky.

Tourism has become quite an industry. One source has it generating $7.6trillion in 2014. Close to 10% of global GDP. Another sources sets international tourist arrivals at 1.4 billion in 2018; that’s about 20% of the global population. Tourism generates 319 million jobs world wide; that’s about 10% of the estimated global employment. All told, tourism is expansive and growing.

Now let’s appreciate what tourism is all about. Tourism is leisure. Tourism is neither a necessity nor a right. We don’t need to be a tourist to survive. Tourism is a luxury. And after all, a Bucket List is all about ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’. Now what does this ‘want’ cost us in energy? Let’s draw a direct comparison between energy and money. Therefor, if tourism uses 10% of GDP then we claim that it uses 10% of global annual energy usage. This amounts to 5.67e19 Joules which is almost equal to the world’s total electrical energy consumption. Think about it. We are effectively allocating all of world’s electrical production to tourism.

If the supply of clean, useful energy was limitless then using a good portion of it for leisure doesn’t represent a problem. And today, with little concern for energy future’s there seems to be little concern about how we allocate its usage. But what happens when the supply of energy diminishes? How should we discriminate between needs and wants? Are we ready to remove items from our Bucket List so that future generations can prosper?

 

Raw