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The importance of scaling energy

The importance of scaling energy

Future360 is pleased to present this energy series in conjunction with the Switch Energy Project -- a campaign to educate global citizens about the science of energy. When it comes to energy, scale matters. With population growth and personal consumption on the rise, we need scalable energy solutions for our survival. Luckily, human beings have enormous potential to innovate and create new energy sources for the future.

Scale is the one energy challenge that drives all others. And we are the solution. You and I. The world of energy is slow to change because the scale of infrastructure is so massive. It often takes a decade to build facilities, longer to pay off their debt, then they last for 25, 50 or even 100 years.

This means that taking a game-changing technology from the lab, to rolling it out at the huge industrial scale where it can make a difference, takes dozens of years. We saw this time and again in countries that had transformed their energy systems.

It took Iceland 35 years to get half its energy from geothermal. France, 30 years to get 80% of their electricity from nuclear. Denmark, 35 years to get 20% of their electricity from wind.

Because the scale of energy is so huge, emissions are also often huge. Large enough that they can have long lasting impacts, on a global scale. The same goes for water use. And other kinds of environmental impacts. Big challenges to be sure. And the scale of energy is huge, for two simple reasons.

The first is population. In the film we measure energy not in kilowatts or barrels – but in people. Because there are 5.4 billion energy consumers on this planet, and another 1.6 billion who don’t yet have electricity – but desperately want it. The number of energy consumers will continue to rise.

The second reason is how much energy we each consume. The global average is 20 million watt hours per year. The US average is almost 5 times that. Population, times personal consumption. That’s the reason for the staggering scale of energy.

We are the challenge. We are also the solution. We can manage scale, by managing demand. See the film, and other parts of the website, for more on efficiency.