In the film you compare energy resources by how many people each could power. Is that based on the energy consumption of a US citizen?
Actually, it’s a global average. The unit we use, 20,000,000 watt-hours, is the all-in energy consumption per global citizen per year. The average US citizen uses about 95,000,000 and a Western European less than 80,000,000. There are some very poor countries where people use almost none, and some very energy-rich small populations, like Qatar, that use up to 140,000,000.
This unit is not perfect by any means. It does not account for carbon, or water, or land used, or many other things. But it does allow us to tie energy consumption to the individual, an important sub-theme of the film, and also compare various forms of energy using a common unit. This comparison speaks to the challenge of energy density and scale. The response to the person-unit has been overwhelmingly positive.
Why didn’t you include emerging technology, such as fusion, hydrogen fuel cells, advanced batteries, or tidal power?
We love new technology as much as the next person! But these and others are still experimental. In the world of energy it takes at least 30 years to go from experimental, to commercial, to deployed at the enormous scale to begin to change the global energy mix. These technologies may one day transform our energy system, but it would likely be several decades. MIT researchers, for instance, think we’re 50 years away from a commercial fusion reactor. Dr. Steve Koonin talks more about slow energy transitions here; Jesse Ausubel envisions an economy built entirely on hydrogen and electricity by 2100, here; and you can see more in our video on scale.
Why aren’t there more women in the film?
We tried! Dr. Tinker has a long history of promoting and supporting women in science and energy, and has keynoted the Women’s Global Leadership Conference twice. We wanted to be sure we interviewed the highest ranking leaders in the energy world, and unfortunately women and minorities are not as well represented in this tier today as we hope they will be in the future. There are, however, a growing number in the middle ranks of energy, and rising. A similar film done 20 years from now would have a much different make up. For a complete list of interviewees, please see the press kit.
What data did you use to create the projection at the end?
Importantly, the forecast is not what we advocate should happen, but what we think is most likely to happen. We call it a description, not a prescription. It’s based on data and trends that Dr. Tinker (and many others) have assembled and studied over more than 30 years. The historical data comes mostly from the International Energy Agency and the US DOE’s Energy Information Administration checked against other sources, including leading energy companies, national labs, and academics who model energy forecasts in detail. Our future energy description sees a lower overall use of energy globally than do other forecasts, as we believe efficiency will play a larger role. But the challenge to supply this much energy is still significant.
As with any forecast, our future energy description is not “correct,” but it does provide a feel for the time frames and challenges involved with the transition. The forecast has also been benchmarked against resource availability. For example, from 2010 through 2080, 2 trillion barrels of oil and 11,000 TcF of natural gas are consumed. Most resource analyses show that this level of global resource base exists and will be relatively affordable.
Several scenes mention CO2 and climate change, but the projection doesn’t.
We do not attempt to solve the carbon challenge in this film, but rather simply present the energy options and their current challenges. Many of our experts discussed reducing carbon emissions in their interviews; you can see edited full versions here. We used those comments in the film where we determined CO2 could be a key decision driver in a resource’s future, such as for coal, our largest CO2 emitter. For resources where it plays less of a role, geothermal for instance, we focused on the more influential driver, regionality.
In our future energy description, we expect the continuation of strong multi-decade trends. In terms of CO2, we predict gradual decarbonization of the energy system -- which began in the 19th century when coal replaced wood and continued in the 20th when oil became dominant -- to continue in the 21st as natural gas, nuclear and other alternatives become dominant. This is based on the improved utility of those resources, rising supply, continued renewable subsidies and regional CO2 concerns.
Some viewers are frustrated by (and on occasion angry about) the pace of change from carbon fuels to non-carbon fuels in our description, and the carbon emissions associated with this future. This transition pace is driven by several things:
Where did the funding for this project come from?
From educational, geology and earth science nonprofits, several foundations, and more than 50 private donations, from large to very small. This diverse funding group came together in support of a nonpartisan, practical energy education, with the understanding that we would not allow funders to influence content or have any creative control whatsoever, to ensure objectivity and impartiality. You can read more about funding here.