Wind and solar will not be able to power it
At the dawn of the 21st century, the National Academy of Sciences published a retrospective on the previous century’s most important inventions. The top three on the list were, in this order: the electric grid, the automobile, and the airplane.
In the book’s afterword, the late Arthur C. Clarke, last century’s most sagacious technology seer, wrote about how easy it is for us to take historical accomplishments “so completely for granted.” He noted in particular that the “harnessing and taming of electricity, first for communications and then for power, is the event that divides our age from all those that have gone before.” Engineers achieved the amazing feat of building a nation-spanning group of electricity grids that now provide power to nearly everyone and everything, anytime, while consuming less than 2 percent of the gross domestic product.
Some things have changed since that list was published. Not only has kilowatt-hour demand increased, but also the nature of demand has changed. Despite an epic recession that stifled growth, U.S. electricity use increased by an amount greater than adding a United Kingdom’s worth of demand. Also, despite greater efficiency, especially in lighting and cooling, residential use of electricity rose by 25 percent and commercial use by about 20 percent. Only industrial use declined, by about 10 percent, much of that from policies that drove manufacturing and mining offshore.
Mark P. Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a faculty fellow at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, and author of the recent report, “The ‘New Energy Economy’: An Exercise in Magical Thinking.” Follow him on Twitter here.
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