Roughly half of all the electricity generated in the USA is “lost is translation.” This is an old result – published in a wonderful graph by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2009. In a way this is good news: The US has energy to waste — and waste energy that can be recovered with relatively small investments.
Roughly 80% of all the petroleum used in the transportation sector was also wasted in useless heat. This is good news too – it tells you that as we switch to electric vehicles we can save up to half of the energy currently used to move us around. Electric motors don’t generate nearly as much heat as gasoline engines do. They also don’t waste energy idling. They even save money making less noise. With a more efficient electricity distribution system, the energy used in the transport sector when we switch to electricity could fall to a third of current levels. Distributed generation – as in solar power, for example – cuts distribution losses greatly, reducing the total amount that has to be generated.
In case you think, as Mr. Harper appears to think, that the end of coal is not coming, you need to know that worldwide growth of solar PV capacity since 1992 fits an exponential curve. The growth rate has been 29%. Since US solar provided about 1% of us power in 2008, we can use the very reliable growth rate to estimate how much of the USA’s total power needs will be met by solar power in 2029. The number we get is 163%! That is more than enough to replace coal, natural gas and petroleum, and still expand energy consumption for every American.
Can we do the same in Canada? Probably – but the US figures are available partly because the US has been paying for research on how to do it. Are there lots of details I have left out? Sure – but the large numbers are what tell the main story, and the main story is clear – get ready for an electrified world.