Coal

An Optimistic Energy/GDP Forecast to 2050, Based on Data since 1820

Off the Keyboard of Gail Tverberg
Posted originally on Our Finite World on July 26, 2012 by

We talk about the possibility of reducing fossil fuel use by 80% by 2050 and ramping up renewables at the same time, to help prevent climate change. If we did this, what would such a change mean for GDP, based on historical Energy and GDP relationships back to 1820?

Back in March, I showed you this graph in my post, World Energy Consumption since 1820 in Charts.

Figure 1. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects and together with BP Statistical Data on 1965 and subsequent. The biofuel category also includes wind, solar, and other new renewables.

Graphically, what an 80% reduction in fossil fuels would mean is shown in Figure 2, below. I have also assumed that  non-fossil fuels (some combination of wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, nuclear, and hydro) could be ramped up by 72%, so that total energy consumption “only” decreases by 50%.

Figure 2. Forecast of world energy consumption, assuming fossil fuel consumption decreases by 80% by 2050, and non fossil fuels increase so that total fuel consumption decreases by “only” 50%. Amounts before black line are actual; amounts after black lines are forecast in this scenario.

We can use actual historical population amounts plus the UN’s forecast of population growth to 2050 to convert these amounts to per capita energy equivalents, shown in Figure 3, below.

Figure 3. Forecast of per capita energy consumption, using the energy estimates in Figure 2 divided by world population estimates by the UN. Amounts before the black line are actual; after the black line are estimates.

In Figure 3, we see that per capita energy use has historically risen, or at least not declined. You may have heard about recent declines in energy consumption in Europe and the US, but these declines have been more than offset by increases in energy consumption in China, India, and the rest of the “developing” world.

With the assumptions chosen, the world per capita energy consumption in 2050 is about equal to the world per capita energy consumption in 1905.

I applied regression analysis to create what I would consider a best-case estimate of future GDP if a decrease in energy supply of the magnitude shown were to take place. The reason I consider it a best-case scenario is because it assumes that the patterns we saw on the up-slope will continue on the down-slope. For example, it assumes that financial systems will continue to operate as today, international trade will continue as in the past, and that there will not be major problems with overthrown governments or interruptions to electrical power. It also assumes that we will continue to transition to a service economy, and that there will be continued growth in energy efficiency.

Based on the regression analysis:

  • World economic growth would average a negative 0.59% per year between now and 2050, meaning that the world would be more or less in perpetual recession between now and 2050. Given past relationships, this would be especially the case for Europe and the United States.
  • Per capita GDP would drop by 42% for the world between 2010 and 2050, on average. The decrease would likely be greater in higher income countries, such as the United States and Europe, because a more equitable sharing of resources between rich and poor nations would be needed, if the poor nations are to have enough of the basics.

I personally think a voluntary worldwide reduction in fossil fuels is very unlikely, partly because voluntary changes of this sort are virtually impossible to achieve, and partly because I think we are headed toward a near-term financial crash, which is largely the result of high oil prices causing recession in oil importers (like the PIIGS).

The reason I am looking at this scenario is two-fold:

(1) Many people are talking about voluntary reduction of fossil fuels and ramping up renewables, so looking at a best case scenario (that is, major systems hold together and energy efficiency growth continues) for this plan is useful, and

(2) If  we encounter a financial crash in the near term, I expect that one result will be at least a 50% reduction in energy consumption by 2050 because of financial and trade difficulties, so this scenario in some ways gives an “upper bound” regarding the outcome of such a financial crash.

 

Close Connection Between Energy Growth, Population Growth, and Economic Growth

Historical estimates of energy consumption, population, and GDP are available for many years.  These estimates are not available for every year, but we have estimates for them for several dates going back through history. Here, I am relying primarily on population and GDP estimates of Angus Maddison, and energy estimates of Vaclav Smil, supplemented by more recent data (mostly for 2008 to 2010) by BP, the EIA, and USDA Economic Research Service.

If we compute average annual growth rates for various historical periods, we get the following indications:

Figure 4. Average annual growth rates during selected periods, selected based on data availability, for population growth, energy growth, and real GDP growth.

We can see from Figure 4 that energy growth and GDP growth seem to move in the same direction at the same time. Regression analysis (Figure 5, below) shows that they are highly correlated, with an r squared of 0.74.

Figure 5. Regression analysis of average annual percent change in world energy vs world GDP, with world energy percent change the independent variable.

Energy in some form is needed if movement is to take place, or if substances are to be heated. Since actions of these types are prerequisites for the kinds of activities that give rise to economic growth, it would seem as though the direction of causation would primarily be:

Energy growth gives rise to economic growth.

Rather than the reverse.

I used the regression equation in Figure 5 to compute how much yearly economic growth can be expected between 2010 and 2050, if energy consumption drops by 50%. (Calculation: On average, the decline is expected to be (50% ^(1/40)-1) = -1.72%. Plugging this value into the regression formula shown gives -0.59% per year, which is in the range of recession.) In the period 1820 to 2010, there has never been a data point this low, so it is not clear whether the regression line really makes sense applied to decreases in this manner.

In some sense, the difference between -1.72% and -0.59% per year (equal to 1.13%)  is the amount of gain in GDP that can be expected from increased energy efficiency and a continued switch to a service economy. While arguments can be made that we will redouble our efforts toward greater efficiency if we have less fuel, any transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles, or more efficient electricity generation, has a cost involved, and uses fuel, so may be less common, rather than more common in the future.

The issue of whether we can really continue transitioning to a service economy when much less fuel in total is available is also debatable. If people are poorer, they will cut back on discretionary items. Many goods are necessities: food, clothing, basic transportation. Services tend to be more optional–getting one’s hair cut more frequently, attending additional years at a university, or sending grandma to an Assisted Living Center. So the direction for the future may be toward a mix that includes fewer, rather than more, services, so will be more energy intensive. Thus, the 1.13% “gain” in GDP due to greater efficiency and greater use of “services” rather than “goods” may shrink or disappear altogether.

The time periods in the Figure 5 regression analysis are of different lengths, with the early periods much longer than the later ones. The effect of this is to give much greater weight to recent periods than to older periods. Also, the big savings in energy change relative to GDP change seems to come in the 1980 to 1990 and 1990 to 2000 periods, when we were aggressively moving into a service economy and were working hard to reduce oil consumption. If we exclude those time periods (Figure 6, below), the regression analysis shows a better fit (r squared = .82).

Figure 6. Regression analysis of average annual percent change in world energy vs world GDP excluding the periods 1980 to 1990 and 1990 to 2000, with world energy percent change the independent variable.

If we use the regression line in Figure 6 to estimate what the average annual growth rate would be with energy consumption contracting by -1.72% per year (on average) between 2010 and 2050, the corresponding average GDP change (on an inflation adjusted basis) would be contraction of -1.07% per year, rather than contraction of -0.59% per year, figured based on the regression analysis shown in Figure 5. Thus, the world economy would even to a greater extent be in “recession territory” between now and 2050.

Population Growth Estimates

In my calculation in the introduction, I used the UN’s projection of population of 9.3 billion people by 2050 worldwide, or an increase of 36.2% between 2010 and 2050, in reaching the estimated 42% decline in world per capita GDP by 2050. (Calculation: Forty years of GDP “growth” averaging minus 0.59% per year would produce total world GDP in 2050 of 79.0% of that in 2010. Per capita GDP is then (.790/ 1.362=.580) times 2010′s per capita income. I described this above as a 42% decline in per capita GDP, since (.580 – 1.000 = 42%).)

Population growth doesn’t look to be very great in Figure 4, since it shows annual averages, but we can see from Figure 7 (below) what a huge difference it really makes. Population now is almost seven times as large as in 1820.

Figure 7. World Population, based on Angus Maddison estimates, interpolated where necessary.

Since we have historical data, it is possible to calculate an estimate based on regression analysis of the expected population change between 2010 and 2050. If we look at population increases compared to energy growth by period (Figure 8), population growth is moderately correlated with energy growth, with an r squared of 0.55.

Figure 8. Regression analysis of population growth compared to energy growth, based on annual averages, with energy growth the independent variable.

One of the issues in forecasting population using regression analysis is that in the period since 1820, we don’t have any examples of negative energy growth for long enough periods that they actually appear in the averages used in this analysis. Even if this model fit very well (which it doesn’t), it still wouldn’t necessarily be predictive during periods of energy contraction. Using the regression equation shown in Figure 8, population growth would still be positive with an annual contraction of energy of 1.72% per year, but just barely. The indicated population growth rate would slow to 0.09% per year, or total growth of 3.8% over the 40 year period, bringing world population to 7.1 billion in 2050.

Energy per Capita

While I did not use Energy per Capita in this forecast, we can look at historical growth rates in Energy per Capita, compared to growth rates in total energy consumed by society. Here, we get a surprisingly stable relationship:

Figure 9. Comparison of average growth in total world energy consumed with the average amount consumed per person, for periods since 1820.

Figure 10 shows the corresponding regression analysis, with the highest correlation we have seen, an r squared equal to .87.

Figure 10. Regression analysis comparing total average increase in world energy with average increase in energy per capita, with average increase in world energy the independent variable.

It is interesting to note that this regression line seems to indicate that with flat (0.0% growth) in total energy, energy per capita would decrease by -0.59% per year. This seems to occur because population growth more than offsets efficiency growth, as women continue to give birth to more babies than required to survive to adulthood.

Can We Really Hold On to the Industrial Age, with Virtually No Fossil Fuel Use?

This is one of the big questions. “Renewable energy” was given the name it was, partly as a marketing tool. Nearly all of it is very dependent on the fossil fuel system. For example, wind turbines and solar PV panels require fossil fuels for their manufacture, transport, and maintenance. Even nuclear energy requires fossil fuels for its maintenance, and for decommissioning old power plants, as well as for mining, transporting, and processing uranium. Electric cars require fossil fuel inputs as well.

The renewable energy that is not fossil fuel dependent (mostly wood and other biomass that can be burned), is in danger of being used at faster than a sustainable rate, if fossil fuels are not available. There are few energy possibilities that are less fossil fuel dependent, such as solar thermal (hot water bottles left in the sun to warm) and biofuels made in small quantities for local use.  Better insulation is also a possibility. But it is doubtful these solutions can make up for the huge loss of fossil fuels.

We can talk about rationing fuel, but in practice, rationing is extremely difficult, once the amount of fuel becomes very low. How does one ration lubricating oil? Inputs for making medicines? To keep business processes working together, each part of every supply chain must have the fuel it needs. Even repairmen must have the fuel needed to get to work, for example. Trying to set up a rationing system that handles all of these issues would be nearly impossible.

GDP and Population History Back to 1 AD

Angus Maddison, in the same data set that I used back to 1820, also gives an estimate of population and GDP back to 1 AD. If we look at a history of average annual growth rates in world GDP (inflation adjusted) and in population growth, this is the pattern we see:

Figure 11. Average annual growth in GDP in energy and in population, for selected periods back to the year 1 AD.

Figure 11 shows that the use of fossil fuels since 1820 has allowed GDP to rise faster than population, for pretty much the first time. Prior to 1820, the vast majority of world GDP growth was absorbed by population growth.

If we compare the later time periods to the earlier ones, Figure 11 shows a pattern of increasing growth rates for both population and GDP.  We know that in the 1000 to 1500 and 1500 to 1820 time periods, early energy sources (peat moss, water power, wind power, animal labor) became more widespread. These changes no doubt contributed to the rising growth rates. The biggest change, however, came with the addition of fossil fuels, in the period after 1820.

Looking back, the question seems to become: How many people can the world support, at what standard of living, with a given quantity of fuel? If our per capita energy consumption drops to the level it was in 1905, can we realistically expect to have robust international trade, and will other systems hold together? While it is easy to make estimates that make the transition sound easy, when  a person looks at the historical data, making the transition to using less fuel looks quite difficult, even in a best-case scenario. One thing is clear: It is very difficult to keep up with rising world population.

Riding the Rails on The Last Great Frontier

Discuss this post in the Frostbite Falls Daily Rant

As we come to the close of the Age of Oil and the automobile, the Older Technology of the Railroads is often held up as a possible solution, at least in the medium term.  Jimmy Kuntsler in particular is a fan of this idea.  In this article, I’m going to look at the many variables involved with a conversion back to Rail technology as an intermediate level solution to the more general collapse of other Transport Technologies more recently evolved, namely Air and Truck.

Today I took a trip with my students on the Alaska Railroad which runs a right of way from Seward all the way up to Fairbanks. We just did a small part of the trip, from Wasilla to Talkeetna. This right of way was carved out beginning in 1903, and has gone through a succession of Bankruptcies, and currently is Goobermint Owned by the State of Alaska, which bought it fromDa Federal Goobermint in 1985, which bought it out of Private ownership in 1967, after the 1964 Earthquake basically trashed the Anchorage Hub.

From Wikipedia

History

An Alaska Railroad steam locomotive crossing the Tanana River on the ice at Nenana just prior to completion of the railroad in 1923.

An Alaska Railroad passenger train rolling between Anchorage, Denali National Park and Fairbanks.

An Alaska Railroad EMD SD70MAC locomotive pulling into Denali Station.

In 1903 a company called the Alaska Central Railroad began to build a rail line beginning at Seward, near the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, northward. The company built 51 miles (82 km) of track by 1909 and went into receivership. This route carried passengers, freight and mail to the upper Turnagain Arm. From there, goods were taken by boat at high tide, and by dog team or pack train to Eklutna and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. In 1909, another company, the Alaska Northern Railroad Company, bought the rail line and extended it another 21 miles (34 km) northward. From the new end, goods were floated down the Turnagain Arm in small boats. The Alaska Northern Railroad went into receivership in 1914.

About this time, the United States government was planning a railroad route from Seward to the interior town of Fairbanks. President Taft authorized a commission to survey a route in 1912. The line would be more than 470 miles long and provide an all-weather route to the interior.[8] In 1914, the government bought the Alaska Northern Railroad and moved its headquarters to “Ship Creek,” later called Anchorage. The government began to extend the rail line northward.

A 1915 photograph of the railroad under construction.

In 1917, the Tanana Valley Railroad in Fairbanks was heading into bankruptcy. It owned a small 45-mile (72 km) 3 ft  (914 mm) (narrow-gauge) line that serviced the towns of Fairbanks and the mining communities in the area as well as the boat docks on the Tanana River near Fairbanks.

The government bought the Tanana Valley Railroad, principally for its terminal facilities. The government extended the south portion of the track to Nenana and later converted the extension to standard gauge.

In 1923 they built the 700-foot (213 m) Mears Memorial Bridge across the Tanana River at Nenana. This was the final link in the Alaska Railroad and at the time, was the second longest single-span steel railroad bridge in the country. U. S. President Warren G. Harding drove the golden spike that completed the railroad on July 15, 1923, on the north side of the bridge. The railroad was part of the US Department of the Interior.

The railroad was greatly affected by the Good Friday Earthquake which struck southern Alaska in 1964. The yard and trackage around Seward buckled and the trackage along Turnagain Arm was damaged by floodwaters and landslides. It took several months to restore full service along the line.[9]

In 1967, the railroad was transferred to the Federal Railroad Administration, an agency within the newly created US Department of Transportation.

In 1985, the state of Alaska bought the railroad from the U.S. government for $22.3 million, based on a valuation determined by the US Railway Association. The state immediately invested over $70 million on improvements and repairs that made up for years of deferred maintenance. The purchase agreement prohibits the Alaska Railroad from paying dividends or otherwise returning capital to the state of Alaska (unlike the other Alaska quasi-entities: Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC), and Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA)).

 

File:Alaska Railroad Map.PNGIf you look at the Map of the AK Railroad and what part of the State it actually covers, it is quite small really.  It just goes around 470 miles in a REALLY big patch of land.  Despite the great WEALTH of minerals in Alaska which even this short track of rail can transport, it STILL is not a really profitable venture overall, and less profitable all the time as the Energy to run it becomes ever more expensive.  Maintenance costs each year are horrendous, because the freeze-thaw cycle plays havoc with the tracks, and really the whole railroad track itself can only be used for maybe 6 months of the year.

Nevertheless, despite the fact it isn’t really Profitable and never has been, it is still LESS energy and materials consumptive than the road system is, as limited ALSO as this is up here in Alaska.  Laying right of way for even a 2 Lane road is quadruple what a Rail Track takes, and then it all has to be graded and paved over.  A Rail Track only takes Gravel, some wood ties, thin metal rails and spikes to hold them in place.  It is way simpler to build and less energy consumptive than Roadways are to build.

On the trip up, the conductor who has been riding this Railway for some 40 years pitched out stories along the way over the Intercom.  He throws out Newspapers along the way to people who have cabins and even McMansions along the route that are pretty much inaccessible by roads.  A bit of an anachronism now since just about for the whole route I was able to access 4G Wireless Internet so all those cabins also can access the net this way.

Anyhow, for the most part even in the fairly populated stretch between Wasilla and Talkeetna, this railroad line is the ONLY tie to “civilization” these folks have on a daily basis, and only for about half the year.  Rest of the time, they are pretty much cut off, and most of them will bring in their Supplies during the summer months by a variety of Oil powered means, 4 wheelers and Float Planes mostly since there are lakes all over the place to land a float plane on.  Once the fuel is no longer available for that transport, it seems unlikely to me that just the Railroad can supply these folks, though maybe it can with some adjustments.

What the railroad is mainly operating on now is the Tourist Trade, of which we were a small local part.  For each of us, it cost $70 to take the railroad all of about 50 miles of its total route, a 1.5 hour trip overall roughly.  Basically not a whole lot different length of travel than you would take on the LIRR Commuter Train if you live middle of Long Island.  That was for a ONE WAY trip, we took a Schoolbus back.

Obviously, without the Tourist Trade and people paying these exorbitant prices for the chance to look out the windows at the great beauty of the Last Great Frontier, making this Railroad run at a profit is probably impossible, at least under current Global monetary parameters anyhow.

I do suspect the Alaska Railroad will last longer than the Road system will though.  It can still be powered by Coal and Steam, in fact there is a plan in the works I believe to bring a Steam Powered Engine back on the tracks to pull a Tourist Train on this line.  Right now though, all the Trains both for Tourists and for Coal from the Healy Mine are pulled by Diesel-Electric Locomotives.  Impressive Machines they are also. It may be possible to keep these behemoths running for a while since there still is some Oil left on the Slope and perhaps some more also in ANWR, though without a huge infrastructure project to build pipelines into ANWR, even if the Oil is there getting it OUT will be close to impossible.  If the Oil can be retrieved, there is also a small Refinery around Fairbanks which can supply the rairoad with Diesel.  But of course also, there are all the Maintenance issues with these Locomotives, and I am not sure the local Foundries and metal shops are capable of doing a lot more than superficial repairs right now.

The isues with the climate and so forth are not as extreme with the rail system down in the Lower 48, but the system is of course also much larger.  Trying to maintain all this track and all the cars to pull MOSTLY bulk commodities will be extremely difficult, and getting either Diesel or Coal even to these trains will also become increasingly more expensive and difficult.  It may last longer than the Carz and Trucks, but it still always is and was a system that was subsidized by Cheap Energy, and in fact NEVER made a REAL Profit at anytime in its existence, even right at the beginning.  Building this system created a HUGE overhang of Debt, and Railroad Companies have been going Bust perpetually since the first Transcontinetal Railroad was built.  In the end, the remaining Railroad system that exists on a Passenger Level is Goobermint Owned pretty much exclusively now. Private Entrepreneurs don’t buy passenger railroads.  Even buying Commodity Shipping Railroads is a dicey proposition, ask Warren Buffet about that one with Burlington-Northern.

Regardless of ABSOLUTE profitability in Railroads though, on a Societal level with so many people in so many places we still do need some means to move goods to them, and Railroads can do this way better than Trucks and Planes can, to be sure.  Fact is, that like large Ships, Locomotives can be designed to run on Bunker Fuel, which is basically Unrefined Oil. Cars and Trucks and Planes can never run on Bunker Fuel.  Because of the SCALE of a Lcoomotive, it can burn virtually anything, and in fact could even be Nuke Powered.  Not that I support that idea, I am just saying it is way more flexible in it’s energy sourcing than the later transport schemes are.

As I walked around Talkeetna, it was very pleasant.  Even had its own Brewery!  For the exceedingly small population that lives in Talkeetna (even less than where I live in the lower Mat-Su Valley), I think they prbably can be self sufficient in most things and need little from the outside world to be delivered to them by train, even if the train only came through once a month or so during the summer months.  There IS plenty of energy to run trains along this 470 mile track for a long time to come, if you use Bunker fuel and the Coal in the Healy Mines to run Steam driven turbines instead of Diesel-Electric. It won’t last FOREVER, but it can provie a transtitionary mechanism for moving the comodities and trade goods as necessary between comunities.  NOT a People Mover.  Like the Carz, trains are a big waste of energy to move Peoples around, and peoples do not NEED to move around so much over such great distances.  perhaps it should be as it once was, a Once in Lifetime thing to make a Great Journey out beyond your Little Town, and that which only a few Adventurous Souls would undertake at all to begin with.  WHY do you realy need to leave the Little Town of Talkeetna anyhow?  Or the Little Town of Anatevka for that matter either?

Unfortunately of course, the Little Town of Talkeetna will suffer here quite soon as the Tourist Trade drops off the Map, and while overall I think it could be Self-Sufficient, MOST of the people currently living there are not READY for such a life yet.  So what is most likely to occur is that Talkeetna will in fact DEPOPULATE,and the Railroad if it manages to continue onward will stop there No More.  Many Cabins are going Empty now as the economics spin downward.

Talkeetna and places like it though, while they will not be comfortable or all that pleasant once this spin down really gets rolling are WAY better places to be than the Big Shities.  Truly, this is the LAST GREAT FRONTIER.  In my heart, I believe that anyone who wil make it through the Zero Point will be living in places like this, at the far edge of industrial civilization bordering on the full primitive.  I am GLAD I am here now, I am GLAD the course of my life brought me to this wonderful place where there remains some semblance of the purity that once existed on this Planet.  So much is GONE now, and it will not be repaired in even the lifetimes of our Grandchildren in the places Industrialization and Capitalism have already destroyed it.  Not gone here though, not completely, not YET on the LAST GREAT FRONTIER.

RE

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FWIW, the overarching narrative in the mainstream news this week is that the global economy may have [...]

I think of 1999 as the year that inflation-adjusted oil prices hit a bottom. It is also the year tha [...]

Living around 5300' elevation, the only flood we'll likely see is refugees. Although, that [...]

For those safe from the rising seas, the ocean acidification will fcuk you up instead [...]

Here's an article: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-imo-shipping-factbox/factbox-imo-2020-a-m [...]

What is the shift away from bunker fuels? [...]

Yeah, when the water heater goes out the day after you just put new tires on one of the cars, etc... [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

The effect of urbanization on microclimatic conditions is known as “urban heat islands”. [...]

Forecasting extreme precipitations is one of the main priorities of hydrology in Latin America and t [...]

The objective of this work is the development of an automated and objective identification scheme of [...]