Clearing out shelves of old books in preparation for moving, I came across a book from 1968 entitled Toward the Year 2018: A Dozen Eminent Leaders in Science and Technology Look 50 Years Into the Future. Interestingly, there was a chapter on energy penned by Charles A. Scarlott, editor of publications for the Solar Energy Society, an executive of the Stanford Research Institute, and for many years an employee of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. In his essay, he tells why he believes the world’s sources of energy will be able to meet the sharply increased demands of 2018.
Below are some of Scarlott’s 1968 observations and predictions about energy 50 years in the future, along with an assessment of his accuracy:
Prediction: Coal reserves will still be large in 2018, with hundreds of years of reserves.
Reality: While the standard response for decades has been “the U.S. has 250 years of coal reserves,” some experts believe the U.S. coal supplies won’t stretch a hundred years into the future, with a supply issue developing in as few as 10-20 years. So, depending on whom you believe, Scarlott was right or wrong.
Prediction: Petroleum and natural gas will probably be far short of demand, which will be three to four times greater than at present.
Reality: Proved reserves of U.S. oil and natural gas in 2010 rose by the highest amounts ever recorded since the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) began publishing proved reserves estimates in 1977. Net additions to proved reserves of crude oil plus lease condensate in 2010 totaled 2.9 billion barrels, surpassing the previous high of 1.8 billion barrels added in 2009 by 63 percent.
Net additions of wet natural gas in 2010 totaled 33.8 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), nearly 5 Tcf (17 percent) higher than the previous record of 28.8 Tcf, also added in 2009.
Prediction: Liquid and gaseous energy should be available at reasonable cost from other services, such as from oil shale, coal or possibly – with the development of new techniques – from wells now considered uneconomic to operate.
Reality: New extraction methods (hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling) have resulted in the reopening of abandoned wells and extraction of petroleum and natural gas (shale gas, tight gas and coal seam gas) from oil shale.
Prediction: Energy from waterpower, solar radiation, the wind, tides, or earth heat will figure large in the totals.
Reality: In 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable sources of power generation (water, wind, biomass wood, biomass waste, geothermal and solar) accounted for approximately 13% of the total, well behind coal (42%), natural gas (25%) and nuclear (19%) but significant compared to 1968.
Prediction: Power from nuclear plants should be available in large amounts at low cost.
Reality: Nuclear plants provide approximately 19% of power generation. Following the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents, construction of nuclear power plants is at a virtual standstill. Costs are likely to go up for currently operating and new nuclear power plants.
Prediction: Individual solar power plants for home use may materialize. Solar air-conditioned homes are a distinct possibility.
Reality: Solar power is readily available for residential use in generating electricity to handle a homeowner’s total power requirements.
Check in next week for Part 2 of Scarlott’s predictions from 1968.
Reg Rowe is editor of Energy Viewpoints.
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