Published in GralsWelt 48/2008
Machines have increased human performance to the unbelievable - around 55 “energy slaves” are currently working non-stop for each of us. And the hunger for energy continues to grow, at the expense of the environment. What options do we have if we do not want to overload the earth's ecosystem any further?
Before the "iron angels" came ...
In the 19th and 20th centuries people spoke of the "iron angels", the machines that help humanity. For many millennia, people had to struggle with the heaviest physical work, from pumping water to hauling loads. Water mills or windmills only helped to a small extent as energy suppliers. Most of the work had to be done with human and animal muscle power.
Today one can only be amazed how canals, roads, bridges, pyramids, temples, water pipes, dams, tunnels, castles, cathedrals, palaces, and cathedrals were built with such primitive means, which we still admire today.
Then powerful helpers appeared who, however, did not relieve the people of the hardest work. Because the first heat engines were "roaring devils" that seemed to have sprung from hell and were used for destruction: cannons.
It then took centuries until the mechanization path followed with these thundering monsters led to the helpful "iron angels".
From the 18th century on, machines powered by external energy gradually took over the hardest work: Steam engines that use fossil fuels brought the end of dull, tiring slave labor, with which many people had to exhaust themselves and ruin their bodies through overload .
The “iron angels”, driven by thermal power machines, increased human performance to an unbelievable level. That was the huge boost that sparked the industrial revolution.
An undreamt-of prosperity for all seemed within reach, and mankind was apparently well on the way to finally subjugating the earth. After a transition period (initially still characterized by exploitation) everyone - at least in the industrialized countries - should live more comfortably, better, and more easily.
How many “slaves” work for us?
As almost always, the given possibilities were used excessively; also that of modern technology.
Today it is no longer about making work easier, but about increasing production, increasing consumption, increasing profit. Associated with this economic growth, which is considered necessary, is a continuously increasing demand for energy. Because all the helpful, friendly, often superfluous helpers during transport, in industry, in trade, in the household or at work, need energy. Energy that is usually not produced in a natural way and that pollutes the environment.
For decades, this energy that we have used almost continuously, often thoughtlessly and not infrequently wasted, has been converted into human labor. In this way it becomes clear how many “slaves” theoretically work for us.
For example, a strong “energy slave” would work hard for 12 hours each day without a break. A “slave strength” could then be generously set at 200 watts (about 1/4 PS) (6). That would be 2.4 kilowatt hours (kWh) over a 12-hour working day and 876 kWh over a year. It remains to be seen whether a person could keep up this performance for years and deliver technically usable energy; it's just a comparative figure.
The energy consumption of mankind is currently a little more than 13 terawatts (TW; 1 TW = 1 billion watt!) Or 312 tera watt hours (TWh) per day or 114,000 tera watt hours per year - with an upward trend! According to a forecast by the “International Energy Outlook”, global energy consumption is expected to increase by 71 percent between 2003 and 2030!
For today's energy turnover, 130 billion energy slaves would have to struggle 12 hours a day. With 6 billion people this would mean an energy turnover of around 2.2 kW per capita on average, which would correspond to the output of 22 extremely hard-working energy slaves. (In Italy, about a third of the 7.5 million inhabitants were slaves during the Roman Empire. At that time, a wealthy family might have five slaves at their disposal.)
So, per capita, we take up the work of the following number of energy slaves, who ensure our comfort and prosperity:
Number of energy slaves per inhabitant: (4)
United Arab Emirates 216
Germany / Switzerland 55
Greece / Italy 41
World average 22
We are clearly overloading the earth!
In issue 43 of the “Grail World” we asked: “How many people can the earth take?"(Here under" Ecology "); because the product of the resource consumption per capita and the number of people should be below the load limit of the earth's ecosystem in the long term.
Now we also have to ask: “How many energy slaves can the earth tolerate?”; because we cannot expect nature to produce unlimited energy, especially not from fossil fuels.
If one assumes the energy mix that is common today, in which over 80 percent comes from non-renewable energy sources, then the ecologist should be allowed to Wolfram Ziegler According to Central Europe and parts of the USA, expect an environmental load limit of around 12 Giga-Joule (3.3 MWh) per square kilometer and day. On a world average, the resilience of the environment is decidedly lower and one may only assume half that. These numbers are good approximations.
If one calculates with an ice-free land area of 134 million square kilometers and a limit load of 6 giga-joules per square kilometer and day, the current type of energy supply results in a maximum load capacity of the biosphere of around 9.3 tera-watt. However, the current world energy consumption is over 13 tera watts and thus well above the determined load limit for the earth!
A huge flow of energy
All life on our planet depends on the flow of energy from sun-earth-space. Only a tiny fraction of this energy that flows continuously into the earth (1,080 exa-watt hours per year, corresponding to an average output of 123,300 tera-watts) is used - for by far the largest production there is: photosynthesis in plants.
We can latch onto this flow of energy and use the sun's energy for ourselves. We also have a little geothermal energy (from nuclear reactions in the earth's interior) and tidal energy (gravitation of the moon and the sun) available.
With the exception of nuclear energy, all other energies that can be used originate either indirectly (wood, coal, crude oil, natural gas) or directly (water, wind, ocean waves) from radiation from the sun. Despite their solar origin, the use of the last three energy sources is not always unproblematic, for example if river power plants reduce the flow rate too much or the construction of a large dam leads to harmful environmental changes.
The current world energy demand would cover a little more than a ten-thousandth of the solar energy reaching the earth's surface. Mathematically, for example, ten percent of the area of the Sahara would be enough to supply all of humanity with solar energy.
So there would be energy in abundance. So far we have only concentrated on the "wrong", non-nature-friendly fossil fuels.
What should I do?
What options we have left
The overloading of ecosystems is largely caused by the burning of non-renewable raw materials (crude oil, natural gas, coal). We have to part with that. These fossil fuels are also involved in greenhouse gas emissions and are therefore jointly responsible for climate change.
What we can then use are essentially:
· Solar power
· Hydropower, wind energy
Renewable raw materials (wood and other biomass)
· Tidal power plants
· Wave power plants
· Nuclear energy
We should refrain from expanding nuclear energy, it is too risky and the disposal of radioactive waste has not been clarified. Since uranium is a scarce raw material, today's nuclear power plants would only be temporary solutions anyway. Breeder reactors, which should solve the nuclear fuel problem, are not working satisfactorily, and fusion power plants remain utopian for the time being.
Water, wind, geothermal energy, tides and ocean waves can make an important contribution to the energy supply, but will not be enough.
Even renewable raw materials cannot solve our energy problem on their own. Agricultural land is needed that will be needed more urgently in the long term for food production. For example, only half of the European energy demand could be satisfied with energy crops on the entire arable land of the EU! At best, very sparsely populated countries could try to build their energy supply entirely on renewable raw materials.
In the specialist literature, the data for the arable land that could be available for the production of “green energy” and for the possible yields vary greatly. Depending on the approach, more or less optimistic forecasts can be made. For example, one “Spiegel” author (in issue 8/2007) believes that the global demand for mineral oil can be met with oil plants (even if it is nowhere near as cheap as with petroleum!). However, Spiegel already had to correct and admit this optimistic view in issue 4/2008:
“To fill the tank of an off-road vehicle with a volume of almost one hundred liters, an ethanol manufacturer has to process around a quarter of a ton of wheat. With this, a baker could bake around 460 kilograms of bread, which has a total nutritional value of around one million kilocalories: that's enough to fill a person for a year. " (P. 69).
So this alternative is: do we want “bread for the world” or “fuel for the world”?
When burning renewable raw materials, similar pollutants arise as when burning coal, only the climate-damaging carbon dioxide surplus is eliminated. In addition, energy generated in a natural way can also cause damage if it is used carelessly, for example, hard-to-break plastics are produced, harmful chemicals are produced, etc. The rest of nature has to be absorbed.
The inevitable conversion of the energy supply to eco-energy and a more efficient use of energy will cost time and money. The technologies required are generally known, but there is still a lot of development work to be done. The further developed energy converters required must also be produced with low energy consumption, without poisons and without harmful waste.
Considerable investments will be necessary until a nature-friendly energy supply can be available across the board. This will initially increase energy costs. For example, solar cells or wind turbines are not yet able to supply electricity at prices that can compete with conventional power plants.
The necessary storage of unevenly occurring energies (solar, wind and tidal energy) brings further problems. The type of transport of the solar energy, which may have been obtained in deserts, to the urban areas (as electrical current through superconducting cables or in the form of hydrogen?) Is also a question that has not yet been decided. It is also still open how motor vehicles, ships and aircraft can best be operated with energy that is compatible with nature.
Solar energy and more efficient use of energy!
Conclusion: Inexpensive energy in abundance has so far been the engine for rapid industrialization and a prerequisite for prosperity in industrialized countries.
But the era of cheap energy is coming to an end and the still widespread waste of energy must stop. There is not much time left for the urgently needed reorientation.
In order to escape an impending energy and environmental crisis, the motto applies:
Solar energy and more efficient use of energy! -
You can also read the article under "Ecology"How much we overload our earth„.
(1) Handrichs Franz, Der Weg aus der Tretmühle, VDI, Düsseldorf 1966.
(2) Dürr Hans-Peter, For a civil society, DTV, Munich 2000.
(3) Ziegler Wolfram, Are there too many Europeans? Gaia magazine, 4/1994.
(7) http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energie Pflanzen.