Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves

This figure can be used to visually engage your students on the topic of the world’s energy reserves.  Published in the April 2009 issue of The Solar Update, the newsletter of the International Energy Agency’s Solar Heating and Cooling Programme, this figure shows total recoverable reserves for finite energy resources (fossil fuels and uranium) and yearly potential for renewables. Ask your students what information they think the authors are trying to convey in this visual as they compare finite energy reserves to renewables.  A key point the authors convey in this article, titled The world’s energy reserves: a fundamental look, is that the amount of energy available from the sun is more than 200 times larger than all the others combined.

Your students could then critically evaluate the authors’ conclusion that “logic alone would indicate that the planetary energy future will be solar-based. There will of course be challenges, managing this locally variable — but globally stable and predictable — resource, in particular developing the necessary storage technologies and infrastructures. However, solar energy – as embodied by dispersed [photovoltaic] and [concentrated solar power] — is the only quasi-ready-to-deploy resource that is both large enough and acceptable enough to carry the planet for the long haul.”

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