Some Facts About Energy

he industrial age, namely using coal, oil and gas to generate power instead of human and animal muscle, and wind and solar have lifted billions out of poverty. Before the industrial age, civilization was a thin veneer on top of a vast mound of human misery, that civilization maintained by such things as slavery, colonies, and tyranny. The recent calls to reject fossil fuel and go back to the former ways motivates one to see in a quantitative way just how important fossil fuel is and how we rely on it. It takes some numbers, which generally bore people as compared to generalities and preposterous claims, but numbers are important, and in fact are simpler to understand than the vague generalities.

First let us look at the power that the world uses. BP is one of many organizations that publishes this data. Below is their graph of the power used by different parts of the world at various years and with projections for the future. The unit on the vertical axis is billions of tons per year of oil equivalent. Since this is not the usual units we think of, just think of a billion tons of oil per year as approximately equal to a trillion Watts, or a terawatt (TW). These Watts are the same units we are all use to, for instance we know what a 100-Watt light bulb is. Keep it on for 10 hours and you have used a kilowatt hour of energy and added about a dime to your electric bill. Here we will reduce all units of power to Watts, so everything will be in the same units and we can compare the power usage of one aspect of our lives to another.

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