Last week, Part 1 of predictions on the energy industry from the 1968 entitled Toward the Year 2018: A Dozen Eminent Leaders in Science and Technology Look 50 Years Into the Future appeared in this space. The chapter on energy was written 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.
Below are four more of Scarlott’s 1968 observations and predictions about energy 50 years in the future, along with an assessment of his accuracy:
Prediction: Fusion power, still a question mark, is more likely than not to be practical and, if so, would mean a vast extension of available energy.
Reality: Fusion energy – in essence, recreating the process that powers the sun and harnessing it – has been the goal of physicists since before Scarlott’s essay.
Worldwide efforts to harness fusion currently focus on two multibillion-dollar facilities: the ITER fusion reactor in France and the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California. However, researchers at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have announced a process, known as magnetized liner inertial fusion (MagLIF) and first proposed 2 years ago, has passed the first of three tests, putting it on track to reach the “break-even” point: a key milestone in which a process produces more energy than needed to trigger the fusion reaction. While not yet practical as Scarlott predicted, fusion power may not be that far away.
Prediction: The U.S. should continue to have ample amounts of energy at acceptable cost to meet greatly augmented demand.
Reality: Current electricity rates in the U.S average 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. In 1968, rates were at 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. Two cents in 1968 had the same buying power as 13 cents in 2012, so that’s certainly acceptable. However, periodic power outages beg the question of ample amounts of energy.
Prediction: Importation of large quantities of energy, destructive of our balance of payments, should not be necessary. Thus, the United States supply of energy as a factor in foreign policy should not be substantially different than at present.
Reality: U.S. oil imports have generally increased for decades, with the exception of the early 1980s and between 2005-2010. During those periods, we saw high oil prices, economic volatility, and more attention paid to energy policy. U.S. oil imports fell each year between 2005 and 2010 to reach just under 50% of U.S. liquid fuel consumption, its lowest level since 1997. The U.S. now imports some 9.2 million barrels of crude per day compared with 7 million barrels per day in 1968. U.S. domestic production was at an estimated 3 million barrels per day in ’68, compared with 5.4 million barrels per day today. From a political standpoint, the instability in the Middle East has impacted imports numerous times over the past 30 years and substantially impacted U.S. foreign policy and U.S. balance of payments.
Prediction: The electric automobile will return or a fuel-cell automobile will arrive, to alleviate air pollution.
Reality: Millions of hybrids and all-electric cars are on the roads of America today. The Honda FCX Clarity, a fuel cell-powered vehicle, is in production with an estimated 200 cars expected to be leased over the next three years.
Scarlott makes the Dean’s Honor Roll with a GPA of 3.0 with one Incomplete. But remember, he still has until 2018 to raise his grades.
Reg Rowe is editor of Energy Viewpoints.
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