Our prosperity cannot do without fossil fuels

Our societies and prosperity were built in the 20th century using fossil fuels as an energy source. Fossil fuels Solar stockSolar energy stored hundreds of millions of years ago. Fossil fuels can be considered a great natural technology for efficient and long-term energy storage.

The nature and structure of our society seem to be closely linked to the properties of that stored solar energy. As a result, society as we know it today cannot survive without fossil fuels.

Solar energy stocks in our current society

Let’s get properties Solar stock (fossil fuels) and our current society. Fossil fuels are generally available, reliable, dosable, compact, easy to transport, and easy to store.

This is mainly due to the unusually high volumetric energy density of about 35 gigajoules per cubic meter (in liquid or solid form) of fossil fuels. This extremely high value makes it possible to drive 100 km per hour with a fully loaded passenger car 2000 kg on one 50-liter tank of gasoline or diesel. The very high value also makes it possible for the Netherlands to obtain and store enough natural gas for the entire winter.

These practical examples from our daily lives illustrate the characteristics of our current society: continuity, reliability, manageability, time, cost-effectiveness and the well-being of all people and businesses.

Fossil fuels serve these social characteristics well, and the opposite seems to apply as well: availability creates need, and our contemporary needs are developed based on the availability and characteristics of fossil fuels.

This close connection between our current social needs and the characteristics of fossil fuels is critical to current and future energy policy.

And the sunshine today?

solar fluxes They are the energy flows that the sun now radiates to the earth every day. solar fluxes Made up of light and heat, it causes winds, rivers to flow, and plants to grow. It can be exploited in different ways: wind turbines, solar electric panels, solar thermal panels, hydroelectric and biomass. Do not use other energy methods such as geothermal energy, tidal energy and nuclear energy solar flux But get out of the ground.

The current energy policy is mainly aimed at replacement Solar stock via solar flux He shifted from harnessing energy stored in the past to using energy that came to us now or more recently from the sun. running out of fossil fuels; Wind, sun, hydro, and biomass are present. Nuclear power is controversial and insufficient anyway, geothermal and tidal power are geographically limited on a global scale.

The fact that the current energy policy mainly aims to solar flux Is quite remarkable, because the characteristics of solar flux It does not fit with our current social needs (continuity, reliability, manageability, time, cost-effectiveness and the well-being of all people and businesses).

characteristics of solar flows

The sun and wind operate everywhere on Earth, but they are variable and unpredictable on an hourly and daily basis. These sun and wind characteristics do not match the social need for continuity, reliability and manageability. Hydropower and biomass do best to meet these needs, but fail with geographic constraints and environmental impact: hydropower requires large differences in elevation in specific geographic conditions, and biomass costs a lot of landscape and biodiversity.

Moreover, every deficiency solar flux The main characteristic of Solar stock: high volumetric energy density. A cubic meter of moving air or water, or a square meter of solar radiation, contains less than 1 percent of the energy in a cubic meter of liquid or solid fossil fuels. so require solar flux Plenty of space and materials to use.

Commonly used argument solar flux Being prolific is just as true as it is irrelevant. Abundance is not the critical success factor. Energy intensity, continuity, reliability, manageability and cost-effectiveness are the critical success factors in our current society. In other words: it is not about the amount of energy from the source, but rather what is required to use that source. The latter is determined mainly by energy density.

Scientific analysis

Eindhoven University of Technology has linked the energy density of our energy sources with the development of our society. Over the millennia, we have moved from human power (ship slaves and porters) to animal power (oxen and horses), wind power (galleons and windmills), hydropower (watermills and tanks), fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and nuclear power. Energy (uranium and plutonium). With each step, the energy intensity of our resources increases more than tenfold, and with it our social development.

The horse replaces more than ten people, drives plows and carts. A windmill replaces more than a dozen horses and makes land reclamation possible. Fossil power plants are replacing hundreds of windmills, powering public transportation, homes and industries. One ton of enriched uranium replaces more than 50,000 tons of fossil fuels, with minimal energy waste and environmental impact.

Energy density core

intrinsic energy density Solar stock And the solar flux It is a physical property that we cannot change with technology and innovation. For example, we can focus sunlight into a single point using a magnifying glass or mirror field, but the total area for harvesting a certain amount of sunlight cannot be reduced.

The mirror field of a CSP plant should have a surface area similar to that of a solar panel that produces the same amount of energy. We can also concentrate the potential energy of a river basin in one location by means of a reservoir. But such a reservoir should be very large, and therefore destroys part of the natural catchment area.

Low-density solar energy fluxes in a high-density community

All of this suggests that the intrinsic energy density – that is, the original energy content per cubic meter or square metre – of an energy source is directly related to how well that energy source can serve our current technology-driven, energy-consuming society.

Our cities, our industries, our agriculture, our transportation and our data centers require a lot of power and energy in a small space. This cannot be effectively filled with low density solar flux It requires massive surface areas (and huge amounts of materials, often rare materials such as lithium, cobalt, copper, and neodymium).

Exploit solar flux Unlike electronics, it cannot be miniaturized, because the energy side benefits are physical rather than technological in nature.

Trying to minimize the exploitation of solar fluxes is like designing a perpetually moving machine or dropping an apple: it’s physically impossible, and obviously impossible. See also the hack analysis by Professor Simon Michaux on this topic.


My first book, The Green Illusion, describes in detail why our contemporary society cannot be built on it solar flux, with quantitative calculations, examples, and illustrations. My second book – Green Opportunity – shows that providing energy on a large scale is more urgent and effective than replacing fossil fuels through expansion. solar flux eligibility. We can discuss it endlessly, although the facts and figures speak for themselves.

In any case, it is unwise not to seriously consider the possibility that our current society cannot continue without fossil fuels. Current national and international energy policy lacks this serious consideration.

Comparison: what the fossil provides (much), what society demands (much) and what the sun, wind, water, etc. can provide (less).

Martin Van Andel Exciting articles on climate, climate policy and energy policy are published every few weeks in the Weekly Week.

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