Energy in 2050

Modern life is largely dependent on non-renewable sources of energy. Do we need to make changes now to have a sustainable future for our species? to avoid changing the climate too rapidly for us and other species to adapt? What kind of future would we like to inhabit?

This is part 2 of the U.S. Energy Budget project.

Groups of 3 people (well, 2-4 are acceptable) which are not *completely* the same as your 'briefing paper' groups will form to work on this.

Planning U.S. energy sources for the 21st century

The assignments in the last two weeks include...

  1. Ask questions online about the energy briefing papers (at least 2).
  2. Respond to the carbon mitigation wedges reading.
  3. Discuss among the folks in your group your concerns and hopes related to the way the U.S. generates energy. Pay attention to issues of finite resources and greenhouse gas emissions. Read and digest the resources below.
  4. Complete the 'wedges' worksheet on Friday as a group.
  5. Complete the energy sources spreadsheet based on your group’s desires for the future.
  6. Compose a poster explaining your groups’ outlook for energy use, including specific policies for any flagged items (items that will not come about without some kind of intervention or policy) and how they will affect our lifestyles.
  7. Vote after the final poster session on the most attractive/realizable scenarios.


Complete the spreadsheet

Download a copy of this Excel spreadsheet. Here's the spreadsheet orientation (Orientation.doc in MS-word format) we'll do during lab time.

You will need to determine the amounts of each source of energy to be used in the U.S. (blue numbers) starting in 2010 and thereafter in 5-year intervals through the year 2060. Also fill in what you anticipate for exports (red numbers).

As you do this, keep an eye on:

  • The U.S. resources of coal, natural gas, and petroleum, indicated in green. These numbers may not become negative.
  • The total population, determined by the annual percentage growth rate in orange. I've filled in for you the projections of the U.S. Census Bureau. But if you think one of your policies will have an effect on these numbers you can change the numbers in the "Annual Population % Growth Rate" row starting in 2010.


  • The energy per capita. This has increased throughout the years but has stayed pretty much the same since 1980. Decreases in the 'energy per capita' mean that either people's quality of life has gone down, or by means of conservation we've achieved greater energy efficiency: getting more benefit out of the same amount of fuels. Conservation does not show up as a row in the spreadsheet. But you can write up an explanation (estimates are good!) for why conservation measures might allow the population to live a similar lifestyle even with a reduced per-capita energy usage.
  • The greenhouse gas emissions your plan implies: The spreadsheet shows the Kyoto and Copenhagen targets. Reaching carbon-dioxide levels of 350 ppm might be possible, according to James Hansen, et. al. by burning no coal without carbon capture. We'll explore what kind of carbon emissions this allows for...


One aspect that you will be evaluated on is how well you can provide energy sources to meet energy needs on a continuing basis without causing abrupt changes in people’s lifestyles. One way that you'll show this is by completing the spreadsheet. The other is...

Your group should discuss the policies or other circumstances you are depending on to achieve the kind of energy dependence for the United States in the next 40 years as modelled in your spreadsheet:

  • What plans or policies do you have for using fossil fuels?
  • What plans or policies do you have to use more nonfossil fuel energy sources?
  • What plans or policies do you have to reduce the amount of energy used through conservation measures?
  • What plans or policies do you have for future population growth?

It is expected that, unless drastic/disruptive policies are implemented, changes in the use of fossil fuels, nonfossil fuels, energy per capita, and annual population percentage growth will be small. If you have any abrupt changes in these numbers you should justify these in your description of your policies.

Abrupt change? Our best precedent for a new technology is nuclear fission, with an early profile (in 5 yr intervals) of 0.1, 0.3, 1.6, and thereafter growth of no more than about `2 \times 10^{18}`J per 5 yrs.

Drops could perhaps be slightly larger... how about `3 \times 10^{18}` before they become 'abrupt'.

Finally, what does the world of 2050 look like as a result of the policies you've put in place and the energy sources you've used along the way?

Compose a poster

Topics you will address in your poster (see the rubric for more detail):

  • Your vision of the world of 2050.
  • Policies or other forces that will help your vision become more likely to occur.
  • Implications of your policies and vision, both positive and negative.

Much of what you write may be structured as bulleted lists.

Include graphs from your energy spreadsheet, and any other helpful charts and visual aids to make your case.

Include a list of references. Use excellent grammar and spelling.