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Where Will Our Electricity Come From in 2034?

hamster electricity

We’re constantly reporting on plans to build mammoth solar, wind, and geothermal installations. But in the end, will our increasing reliance on alternative energy even put a dent in overall power use? That’s the question consulting firm Black & Veatch endeavored to answer recently. What the firm found is not all that surprising: the United States’ primary source of electricity in 2034 will be natural gas–the least polluting fossil fuel, but a fossil fuel nonetheless.

There is some good news, however. Coal-fired plants will make up just 23% of the mix, and renewables will grow from 54,000 megawatts to 165,000 megawatts, or 13% of overall power production. The switch to increased renewables won’t be enough to reach Obama’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, but the President’s growing focus on nuclear power could help bridge the gap.

But do we have enough natural gas to keep our power pumping? In an interview with Scientific American, Mark Griffith, head of Black & Veatch’s power market analysis, weighed in:

We’re assuming that issues related to gas shales, environmental issues about groundwater, and the [general] use of water get solved. Those look like solvable issues that don’t take a technological breakthrough. It’s an expense that’s incurred. I don’t see gas shales having an insurmountable environmental problem that is expensive to fix. Of course, there are the unknown unknowns–you don’t know…Gas-shale wells produce quickly and die young. You have to keep on drilling.

So he sort of avoided the question. But with electricity needs expected to grow by 30% over the next 25 years, we better hope that there’s enough cheap natural gas in the ground to keep us satiated.

[Via Scientific American]

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