Actual danger of different energy sources

world

Below are some numbers I grabbed from NextBigFuture.

You can have a ball with these numbers in conversation. Death rates don’t correlate well with how much people fear each power source. This huge discrepancy proves that people aren’t actually thinking this through but are being emotional and fearing the unknown.

In a world were people buy everything pre-made and take all our convenient services for granted, this is hardly surprising. People are afraid of flying more-so than driving and that’s not logical either (me for instance).

So it’s a real conversation picker-upper.

Death rate by energy source. TWh is a unit of energy (Tera Watt Hour).

Energy Source Death Rate (per TWh)
Coal – world average    161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China            278
Coal – USA               15
Oil                      36  (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas               4  (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass          12
Peat                     12
Solar (rooftop)           0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind                      0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro                     0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro - world w. Banqiao  1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear                   0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

But there is something more sinister and subtle going on here.

Digging

Coal, Natural Gas, Oil and Peat add up to 83%. That’s easy, you dig stuff up and you burn it.

Nuclear is 6% so that’s 89% from digging stuff up. The other 11% is hydro and trace amounts of Wind and Solar.

It takes ages for these fuel sources to be created by nature.

If you’re digging stuff up that takes ages to create, the supply will become sparse over time. Could we run out. That’s what the peak oil theory suggests. This is peak oil:

The flaw in the peak oil argument is that it assumes the price elasticity of oil is zero and also that it’s the only source of energy. So we could see a softer event than is predicted by peak oil. Perhaps it’s become know as “Peakaboo Oil” (game rules here).

Density

The stuff we dig up is dense in energy content. So it’s easy to use a lot of energy. And we are truly hooked. And it’s completely taken for granted.

Burger

For instance if you need to stuff your face with a burger, you may jump in your car and drive (bringing a few tonnes of metal with you), probably waste more fuel by riding the gas and the brake, get your burger then return. Your car engine might average 20hp over 20 minutes (assuming you’ll drive 10 minutes to get your burger). 20hp is 15,000 Watts. A person is good to pedal about 70 watts (sustained). So you’d need 214 people to be peddling to create that energy in real time. If you had to do it yourself, you could do it in about 70 hours. This is of course assuming you have a good way to store the energy. This thought experiment does’t include the air conditioning in the venue and other energy intense conveniences.

Toast

Did you know that if you had to peddle a generator to make your toast in the morning it would actually take about 10 people to get enough wattage to make the toast? You’d have to befriend your neighbors. To make toast for the 10 people, it would probably take 10 minutes or so. Thanks I’ll just munch on raw bulgar wheat.

The Punch Line

If we had to generate our own energy, we’d think twice. I guess those Amish communities don’t seem so backwards after all?

1) We’re going to run out.

2) We’re using a lot of energy so this is going to hurt.

What to do?

1) Use less.

2) Think.

3) Tell your friends.

One thought on “Actual danger of different energy sources

  1. Very interesting post. I would add one point at the end, which is, “support nuclear energy!!”

    You are right, we have to dig up uranium. But when there’s a million-fold difference in the amount of energy that comes out of uranium and what comes out of everything else, the impacts of digging uranium are something in the order of a millionth of those from digging fossil fuels. The environmental impact of the nuclear fuel cycle versus that of all fossil fuels is literally minuscule.

    Coupled with the facts that (1) uranium is one of the most abundant metals in the earth’s crust and (2) we can and do manufacture — or “breed” — plutonium-239, a highly fissile element, using neutrons from uranium fission, we’re not in danger of running out of fissile material any time soon.

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