Growth, GDP and energy consumption: the energy sources

Energy and Economic Growth: A BRIEF SUMMARY! by Remi Guillet. 2nd part: sources of energy, fossil or not.

Read Part 1: energy consumption and economic growth, Part 3: taxes and the economic solution?.

The use of fossil fuels in the world ...

A closer examination teaches us that in reality about 95% of the fossil "energy" material is transformed into energy, the rest also having a very important role on growth and economic development because at the base of a transformation industry. Multi-facies "petrochemical" and often with high added value: plastics, composites and other by-products of the polymerization of naphtha extracted from petroleum… going as far as the ultimate tars for our roads. Thus, a person born after 1980 has lived almost exclusively in a domestic environment made of plastic in all its forms!

But among the different forms taken by fossil energy, petroleum is undeniably the most sought-after form still today, for its liquid form, its stability under normal atmospheric conditions of pressure and temperature, for its energy density (energy per unit of volume and weight), the “storability” or capacity to be loaded onto the fuels that are extracted from them. Oil is the energy par excellence for land, sea and even air transport, covering up to 95% of the energy needs of global transport! (This also corresponds to 52% of total oil consumption and 23% of total world energy consumption).

To support our point and the strategic importance of oil, it will be recalled that, until the mid-50s, finding a natural gas deposit instead of the sought-after oil was a curse ... and there was nothing more than to burn the cursed gas in the flare! (France was the first country in Europe to develop natural gas with the Lacq field, the exploitation of which began at that time).

oil use in the world by sector

The uses of oil in the world (according to 1999 data from the Energy Observatory)

The state of fossil energy reserves ...

The fossil energy consumed is not renewed (at least on our time scale), it is a stock, to be considered as a boon offered by nature ... A stock from which we have drawn (and we continue to do!) without counting! And since every reservoir has a bottom, this stock is running out and some today have become anxious to know the moment when the well will dry up, the moment when the exploitation of the manna will begin to decline, the moment of the peak. - oil. In fact, if the question is debated among experts, all think that the children who are born today will live, in adulthood, this moment ... then the shortage and all that that could induce tensions of different natures and in particular geopolitical ... So basically, peak oil in 15 or 30 years does not change the problem, neither for our generation, nor for the following ones!

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But, according to our point of view, and perhaps fortunately, the ecological constraint must reasonably oblige us to "changes of course" which will affect in particular our craze for oil well before peak - oil… (or other peak-gas and peak-coal announced for later)

Here are some indications on the stocks and their possible evolution (indications collected on the site Manicore-Jancovici).

At the end of 2005, the “high” end of the range of the world's ultimate fossil fuel reserves amounted to around 4 Gtep (000 billion tonnes of oil equivalent), broken down as follows:

a) About 800 Gtep of "proven" reserves

proven global reserves = fossil resources

* or around 9 Gtep of fossil energy per year
** for example oil shale and other natural bitumens

b) We could add 3 Gtep of so-called “additional” reserves: these reserves consist of the extractable fraction of all the hydrocarbons contained in reservoirs to be confirmed (to be “discovered”), as well as in reservoirs already discovered and which will be put into operation when the technique has progressed ...)
Regarding other energy sources, today 4% of the total… (tomorrow the coverage of almost all of our energy needs!)

Nuclear electricity

We rarely talk about uranium reserves: 100 years or… 1000 years?

According to the French Nuclear Energy Society: “Used in current reactors, the uranium resource is, like the petroleum resource as it is appreciated today, on a century scale. On the other hand, thanks to fast neutron reactors, it could cover our needs on the scale of several millennia… ”.

What about "renewables"

Apart from the production of residential hot water and space heating (via solar panels for example…), renewable energies are mainly intended to produce electricity… often expensive electricity!

Comparison of electricity production costs

According to "primary" energy sources (in cts of € / kWh)

Table drawn up from UNDP and DGEMP data; costs not taking into account "externalities" or indirect costs such as nuisances, etc.

Comparative of the cost of electrical energy according to its source, renewable or not

Val. low. of the bF = in relation to the lowest value of the “lower end of the range”

Val. low. of the hF = compared to the lowest value of the "highs of the range"

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For example, photovoltaics being between 25 and 125 cts of € / kWh, it is therefore between 12,5 times Rb and 35,7 times Rh.

Further explanations: in order to facilitate the price comparison, the author has related each mini / max of cost range to the 2 least important costs, in high and low estimate.

That is to say:
- Rb, lowest low estimate = 2 (reached for hydraulics)
- Rh, highest lowest estimate = 3.5 (reached for nuclear power).

Thus this allows to see at a glance if an energy has "chances" to be competitive compared to the others. For example on photovoltaics, this is far from being the case.

The often very wide ranges can be explained by the variety of sites and infrastructure costs (construction, operation, human resources, etc.).

Hydraulic energy

The best sites for traditional hydraulics (dams) are in use today. Among the great unknowns of today, we will evoke the uncertainty about climate change and their consequences on hydrology, the ability to obtain (democratic) acceptance of the destruction of new natural sites for this purpose!

There are then micro-hydraulics or run-of-river turbines… whose potential is immense!


This electricity production technique is 12 to 36 times more expensive than traditional hydraulic or nuclear power. It requires a large footprint. Its application poses the problem of electricity storage ...
So, great hopes are based on lithium battery technology. Through batteries, electric and photovoltaic cars therefore have linked destinies… with the same tensions concerning the lithium supply (in limited quantities and poorly distributed: Bolivia, Tibet…).

Wind power and "hydraulics"

In this case, the production of electricity is 2,5 to 3,7 times more expensive than hydro or nuclear electricity. In addition, we are beginning to understand the noise pollution from onshore wind turbines. In the case of submerged hydraulic technology, it is very likely that local marine ecosystems will be disturbed.
So two technologies to follow ...

The biomass

Even if wood is not the only “biomass” resource, trees and other forests represent a double stake. A source of energy (and construction materials), they also constitute “the terrestrial carbon sink”, after the oceans *. So it is important to remember that a felled adult tree will not be replaced from the point of view of its photosynthetic capacity and therefore of CO2 absorption until after several decades. And this remark takes on the greatest importance when we are told that we have only 15 years to react and thus limit global warming to a few degrees (we are not very precise on the number!).
So, wouldn't being reasonable assume that, as of today, there is a global moratorium of at least 15 years on deforestation?
* Although their warming thwarts this increase, the oceans see their acidity increase with the atmospheric CO2 content, inducing a significant risk for the development of plankton and ultimately for the entire living chain. The major risk is a runaway warming.

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Biofuels are also expensive to produce. To launch them (make them competitive), many states are ready to tax them (see part 3: development on taxes, so we will have an idea of ​​the average cost of their production!). Furthermore, and for certain regions of the world and certain “sectors”, the carbon footprint of the “biofuel operation” is very controversial!
But recurring news on this theme reminds us of the most fundamental issue of biofuel: with it and after “Drink or Drive”, the time has come to Eat or Drive! ".

In reality, for its application as a fuel, the petroleum substitution route remains to be found. So, we now turn to (micro) algae ... and "Algofuel" inaugurates (already!) The third generation of biofuel. This is a strategic issue of the utmost importance.

Other "futuribles": methane hydrates.

Methane hydrates are less publicized. However, already around the year 2000 we heard at the Californian Institute of Oceanography Scripps (La Jolla) that there were 3000 years of reserves of methane hydrates in the great submarine depths (it s 'acts of 6 to 7 molecules of water which, under the prevailing temperature and pressure conditions, trap a molecule of methane).

This information can be found today, for example, on the “mediatheque de la mer” site:
“… On our planet, the seabed and permafrost contain some 10 billion tons of methane hydrates, twice the reserves of oil, natural gas and coal combined. As these reserves are dispersed in the sediments, they cannot be extracted by conventional drilling, and mining and routing techniques must be developed. It is estimated that the quantity of this resource in the sea around Japan alone is equivalent to 000 years of national consumption of natural gas… ”.

So, we will add: Why not imagine, rather than “extract”, “consume” these methane hydrates, in situ, by robots producing electricity on site while the O2 would also be taken on site possibly from the atmosphere, the CO2 released at the same depths dissolved by seawater and then re-transformed by photosynthesis by the aquatic flora… thus having little chance of reaching the atmosphere!

- Learn more and discuss the forums: Energy and GDP Synthesis
- Read the Part 3: Energy taxes around the world. Towards a new economic model?

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