Energy | 27. December 2010 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken

Energy question of the week: Will our appetite for energy continue to increase?

Our energy demand can be split into three main areas: electricity, heating, and fuel for mobility. In Germany, every person needs about 6000 watts of power to maintain his or her affluent, mobile way of life. Americans use almost twice that amount. Compare that with people in developing countries, like Chad, who only have 11 watts at their disposal. Is there a need for more and more energy?

According to rough estimates of the amount of usable energy available worldwide, each of the almost seven billion inhabitants of Earth could have about 2000 watts of power to use. It is technically feasible to achieve a high standard of living using this amount of energy, but such a fair distribution is an overly utopian vision in this day and age; industrial nations could achieve it in the short term only by making sacrifices in areas such as mobility or expensive imported goods.

Energiesparbox: Das Niederländische Umweltministerium verteilte diese Energiesparboxen an 10.000 Haushalte, mit dem Ziel, Energieeinsparpotentiale besser auszunutzen. Enthalten ein waren unter anderem Energiesparleuchten und ein Gerät, das den Standby-Betrieb von Fernsehgeräten unterbindet. Quelle: Mtcv.

Energy saving box: The Dutch Environment Ministry distributed these energy saving boxes to 10,000 households, with the aim to encourage the use of means to energy saving technologies. They included energy saving lamps and a device that cuts short the standby mode of television sets. Source: Mtcv.

Germany's energy demand seems to have peaked

We are living in the age of the highest energy demand in human history. However, at least in Germany, the peak in demand seems to have passed. In 2008, for example, the gross electricity demand fell for the first time, by 0.5 percent, and the trend continued in 2009. Since 2007, Germany's total annual energy demand, including fuel, has stabilised at around 14,200 petajoules. A clear downward trend has not yet been confirmed, but there has been a gradual rise in the percentage of renewable energy sources to cover this demand, reaching almost nine percent in 2009 — the trend is a slow increase.

It is not easy to see what the future holds, but it is clear that the energy demand in Germany is currently stagnating and is being met by a growing share of sustainable and climate-friendly sources. On the other hand, the potential for reducing this demand is being addressed only tentatively. Even low impact energy-saving measures, such as the EU-wide ban on conventional light bulbs, are hotly debated but implemented slowly. Restricting mobility based on fossil fuels is regarded as a practical impossibility. Despite this, there are small signs of progress in Germany – particularly under pressure from climate change. However, we are still a long way from a fundamental energy revolution and a balanced global distribution of energy.

Year of Science – The Future of Energy: A different question every week, 1 answer and 150 comments

In the 'The Future of Energy' Year of Science, DLR has prepared a question each week on the topic of energy, answered by the science journalist Jan Oliver Löfken. Users were invited to post their questions and comment on the blog, and we responded as they came in. We received almost 150 contributions, questions and answers on the blog. We wanted to keep the range of topics as broad as possible, from the EU’s energy strategy to unusual research projects like a t-shirt that is also a power source. The aim this year was to examine energy topics in different ways, keeping it exciting, insightful and accessible to all.

Many thanks to all our readers for their interest and contributions. The entries posted over the year on DLR’s energy blog will remain available in English and German.

Top image source: Marcus Obal



About the author

Energy journalist Jan Oliver Löfken writes among other things, for the Technologie Review, Wissenschaft aktuell, Tagesspiegel, Berliner Zeitung and P.M. Magazin on issues involving energy research and industry. For DLR, he answered the Energy question of the week during the Year of Energy 2010. to authorpage