Becoming Spacefaring: America’s Path Forward in Space

II.       The Vital Importance of Affordable Energy Security

The abundance of energy in America, particularly inexpensive gasoline, has made Americans unappreciative of the importance of energy security. A reasonable person understands that ignoring vital needs has serious harmful consequences, but this is exactly what most people do with respect to energy security. They take for granted that they will have electricity, natural gas, and gasoline at prices they find affordable. Thus, the appropriate starting point to understand the need for space-based sustainable energy is to establish the importance of affordable energy security. Everyone understands the vital need for water security, food security, and shelter from the weather. Everyone now needs to understand firmly why energy security is also vital.

A.      How energy influences how we live

Anthropologists study how people live or have lived. They seek to find out what makes civilizations work or fail. This research now shows that the affordable availability of energy plays a major role in civilizations surviving or collapsing. Without sufficient food (human-consumed energy), the population will starve. Without sufficient electricity and fuels, a modern industrial society will collapse. White’s Law of Cultural Survival is at the center of America’s energy security crisis and its future cultural survival. Yet, few understand its significance or have even heard of it. Hence, to understand the central premise of this paper of the need for America to address its energy insecurity politically, it is very important to understand White’s Law. Fortunately, it is easy to grasp.

Using his studies of ancient civilizations, the fundamental energy-related paradigm of modern civilization was defined by American anthropologist Leslie White in the 1940s. He defined what is referred to herein as While’s Law of Cultural Survival. This law defines the paradigm—a society’s rules for success—relating energy and technology to the society’s standard of living.

The starting point is to understand clearly what White means by “culture”. He defined culture as the “tools, implements, utensils, clothing, ornaments, customs, institutions, police, rituals, games, works of art, language, etc.”[1] In other words, culture is our standard of living. A civilization ascending is increasing its standard of living; a civilization in decline is losing its standard of living. Think of the decline of the Roman civilization where, in a very short time, the Romans lost the “how to” knowledge and capacity to function in ways that they had developed over centuries.

Now for his use of “energy.” Energy, as White uses this term, is “the capacity for performing work.”[2] White uses this term in a very general way. For most of human history, the work he speaks of was derived from the muscles of humans and animals. Food was the source of this energy. Today, it is modern fuels and electricity.

White’s research into ancient civilizations found a critical relationship between the level of culture of a civilization and the availability of affordable energy. He established that “Other factors remaining constant, culture evolves as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year is increased, or as the efficiency of the instrumental means of putting the energy to work is increased.”[3] “Instrumental means” is technology.

This is summarized in Wikipedia as:

  1. Technology is an attempt to solve the problems of survival.
  2. This attempt ultimately means capturing enough energy and diverting it for human needs.
  3. Societies that capture more energy and use it more efficiently have an advantage over other societies.
  4. Therefore, these different societies are more advanced in an evolutionary sense.

White’s Law is expressed in the form of a symbolic relationship:

Energyper capita • Technology → Culture or standard of living

White’s Law is not a true mathematical relationship. The symbol “•” does not signify multiplication but only “interaction.” The law indicates that the use of suitable forms of energy, using appropriate technologies, produces the civilization’s culture. Especially in modern times, White’s Law is essentially the law of cultural survival governing all modern civilizations, including America. As will be discussed, it often determines if a nation goes to war.

As seen in White’s definition, energy per capita—how much energy is used per person per year—is the proper metric to which attention must be paid. The standard of living is an expression of how well the average person lives. Hence, White’s Law is related to how much energy is used directly and indirectly by the average person.

A good way to look at White’s Law is by rewriting it incrementally, relating how changes in energy used per capita and changes in the technology available produce changes in the standard of living.

ΔEper capita • ΔT → ΔCstandard of living

Using White’s Law, the relationship between energy, technology, and warfare can be examined.

B.      Taking the threat of future fossil fuel wars seriously

Throughout most of human history, the ability of a civilization to ascend against its rivals was closely tied to its ability to produce sufficient excess food to sustain its army and, in times of peace, to undertake government construction efforts, increasing the standard of living. Egypt became a leading nation five thousand years ago as it harnessed the vast food production capability of the Nile River valley to provide food wealth to its rulers. This was used to develop a powerful nation, fielding strong armies and undertaking vast building programs. Later civilizations clearly understood the importance of having large, secure food resources by conquering Egypt first in order to use Egypt’s grain production to feed their armies. Alexander the Great did this, as did the Romans. In those times, an army literally traveled on its stomach.

In the 1800s, the technology of steam power ushered in the industrial age. Steam power freed human civilization from the limits of muscle power or water power, enabling greater economic or military output per unit of human effort. After a fairly brief period where wood was the primary fuel, affordable supplies of wood fuel were soon exhausted and the world transitioned to fossil fuels to power the industrial age—first coal, then oil, and finally natural gas. Using White’s Law, the increasing per-capita use of fossil fuels and improving mechanical powered technologies is expressed as:

ΔEfossil fuels • ΔTmechanical power → ΔCstandard of living/military capability

Unfortunately, the distribution of fossil fuels is based on the growing conditions on continents hundreds of millions of years ago. What the transition to fossil fuels meant was that most of the world’s developed nations—historically having existed in locations favorable to pre-industrial agrarian cultures—were suddenly in the wrong place. Nations wishing to modernize and industrialize found themselves domestically short of the modern energy and other natural resources necessary to become technological nations embracing the new ΔE and ΔT. What they needed, they soon realized, was to be elsewhere or, more accurately, to extend their political and military control elsewhere. In short, they needed empires. This situation became especially acute when oil became the primary fuel for transportation, making mechanized land and air warfare common in the early 1900s. Nations going to war on horses—as had been done for thousands of years—were easily dominated by nations having oil and mechanized warfare capabilities. Oil and mechanized warfare elevated the military culture of some nations while leaving the have-nots at their mercy.

As World War I (1914-1918) unfolded and the advantages of oil-fueled warfare became clear, those without oil quickly recognized their weakness. Beginning with World War II, the military control of oil has become the central theme of military hostilities. Control the oil and your military has its hand at the throat of all the other nations dependent on that oil supply. Germany, with limited domestic oil resources, understood this. Its military invasions of North Africa and Russia early in what became World War II were aimed at seizing the oil fields of the Middle East and southern Russia. By controlling the oil, Germany could have forced other nations, such as Britain and Russia, to suffer the consequences of dramatic ΔE decline, directly impacting their ability to wage war. Even though these nations still retained the mechanized warfare ΔT, this was just junk without oil. Germany tried to use White’s Law of Cultural Survival as a tool of warfare. Millions of lives were lost in this attempt.

Japan, also with few domestic oil resources, as well as most other needed industrial natural resources, undertook military conquest of the Pacific to secure the needed oil and other resources. Japan, which did not begin to modernize until the 1860s, quickly recognized its natural resource shortcomings. By the early 1900s, to the surprise of many, it had become the preeminent modern military force in the western Pacific by defeating the Russian military in two decisive land and naval engagements.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was directly tied to its need for oil. In the 1930s, the United States was the world’s primary exporter of oil, supplying the bulk of Japan’s oil. Cutting off Japan’s oil was a measure used by President Roosevelt to try to force Japan to curtail its military conquests, especially after brutal attacks in China. Instead, what this oil embargo accomplished—most likely unavoidably—was an expansion of war in the Pacific, as the then highly militaristic Japan was unwilling to cede to these demands. Japan hoped that a quick strike on the US Navy, then stationed at Pearl Harbor, would cripple US military capability in the Pacific, giving Japan the upper hand. The attack failed because the US Navy’s aircraft carriers were out to sea at the time of the attack. Millions died in the Pacific theater as Japan, driven by White’s Law of Cultural Survival, tried to secure its vital oil and other vital industrial resources.

With the end of World War II, Middle East oil became a central focus of the Cold War between the United States/NATO and the former Soviet Union. By the end of World War II, the United States recognized that Middle East oil would be needed to replace declining domestic oil resources. The Soviet Union, even though it had substantial oil resources and is a major oil exporter today, also recognized that by controlling the Middle East politically it could control/influence the countries becoming increasingly dependent on these immense oil resources, including the United States. From the 1950s on, although often cloaked as religious conflicts, much of the turmoil in the Middle East has really been about the control of oil and the world political power this enables. Millions have died in the various wars and conflicts that have taken place in the Middle East. In a region of the world that has little industry, oil is the foundation of national and individual wealth and political power.

The anticipated US need for Middle East oil, dating back to World War II, came true in 1970. That was the year when domestic oil production peaked—as projected by American geochemist M. King Hubbard in the 1950s. He introduced the concept of “peak oil”. This is when locating and exploiting new oil and gas deposits lags behind supplying a growing domestic oil demand due to an increasing population and an increasing oil-fueled standard of living—two-car households, suburban living, better cars, interstate highways, etc. Although the United States had been importing Middle East oil into some markets since the 1950s, domestic production was still then increasing. After domestic production peaked in 1970, the imported percentage of total oil consumed rose dramatically—from 9% of total fossil fuel use in 1970 to 18% in 1973, just three years later. For the first time in their history, Americans were substantially energy insecure, bringing White’s Law quickly into play.

In 1973, as the third Arab-Israeli war broke out, Arab oil-producing countries used the growing US dependency on imported Middle East oil to punish the United States for supporting Israel following the surprise Arab attack. The United States initiated a massive arms airlift to replenish Israeli stocks of arms. Within two days, Arab oil producers, using the same rationale as did President Roosevelt when he embargoed oil to Japan, placed an embargo on exports of oil to the United States, creating a domestic oil supply crisis. It is now fairly well understood that the rapid response of the United States to support Israel, when it was suffering early heavy losses, was undertaken to prevent Israel from using its nuclear weapons in its defense. The Arab countries, perhaps not understanding the seriousness of the situation, attempted to use White’s Law of Cultural Survival against the United States by creating a significant ΔE reduction to harm the US economy. This brought substantial oil price inflation in the United States, long gas lines, the threat of gas rationing, and a temporary recession just four years after the United States had been substantially energy secure! The awareness that the US president decided to have the United States endure this to prevent the likely use of nuclear weapons has only recently come to light.

In 1979, Iran again came to center stage as the monarchy, supported by the Western countries, was overthrown by revolutionary forces supported by the former Soviet Union. American hostages were taken at the US Embassy, precipitating hostilities between the US government and the new Iranian government that have continued ever since. One consequence of the revolution was that Iranian oil production fell dramatically. As Iran was then a major world oil supplier, this created a worldwide oil supply shortage. In 1978, imported oil provided 24% of the total US fossil fuel consumed. To counter domestic shortages, price controls on domestic oil were lifted. The market price of oil rose 250% within two years, creating a major recession, high unemployment, high inflation, and high interest rates. The economic impact of the recession lasted nearly a decade. At the bottom of the recession in 1982, imported oil had fallen to 11% of total fossil fuel use, while total fossil fuel energy use declined 13% from 1978 to 1982. US unemployment rose to 11% in 1982 from just under 6% at the start of the crisis in 1979. The impact of White’s Law on the US standard of living and nearly all American families was very much evident.

It is very important to understand the US economy’s sensitivity to market-driven price increases resulting from even modest per capita ΔE reductions as the era of affordable fossil fuels ends. The oil supply crisis of 1979, as well as that of 1973, showed that White’s Law is clearly negatively impacting an energy-insecure America. US per-capita energy consumption historically peaked at the start of both the 1973 and the 1979 oil supply crises. Per-capita energy use—a measure of economic health—fell immediately after the 1973 crisis as the recession and higher prices took hold. As the economy came out of that first recession, per-capita energy use had climbed back to just above the 1973 level when the Iranian crisis started a second recession. By 1983, as the second recession dragged on, per-capita energy use had fallen 13% from the 1979 peak.

The two oil-supply crises in America in the 1970s and the severe economic recessions they triggered are now largely forgotten. Recent Middle East conflicts in which the United States directly and substantially engaged are now viewed from the perspective of war and anti-war and not about the central political conflict to control vital Middle East oil resources. Most Americans simply do not understand that nations engage in deadly serious conflict to obtain or preserve their control of oil and that the history of past conflicts is a harbinger of what is to come as all affordable fossil fuels, not just oil, are exhausted in the coming decades. History ignored is often history repeated. It is obvious that any future fossil fuel scarcity will trigger warfare—perhaps nuclear warfare—as nations scramble to be among the winners controlling what available fossil fuels remain. The need for a better energy security “Plan B” is obvious.

C.      Immigration policy and energy security

Modern humans began to migrate from Africa as long as 100,000 years ago by some estimates. Australia was reached around 45,000 years ago and, by current understanding, the Americas were first reached perhaps as long as 40,000 years ago. Except for some small part of southern Africa that is likely our ancestral home, humans everywhere else are immigrants or the decedents of immigrants.

While human migration certainly came from an urge to explore, most previous human migration was likely undertaken in search of better security—improved protection from the weather and threats, potable water, and, especially, reliable food sources. Too many humans in one area extracted food at a rate exceeding natural replenishment rates. Soon hunger set in and everyone then had to migrate anew seeking new food sources. Eventually, humans became territorial, forcing those outside their tribe to migrate elsewhere to protect the tribe’s food supplies. Elbow room to live was a survival instinct.

Three fundamental food-producing ΔTs enabled an increased population density—fishing, food animal domestication, and plant cultivation. These increased the per-capita food supply (ΔE) per unit of human effort. The increased ΔE enabled greater numbers of humans to live off a given area of fertile land, enabling an improved ΔC in the form of increased permanence and growing population size. With a rising per-capita food energy availability and greater security against famine, humans had the time to create more ΔT, enabling even more ΔC.

The key to any society’s long-term success is a family with the ability to give birth to and raise the next generation. The amount of land necessary per family established the acceptable population density. To the extent of available fertile land, migrants were likely welcomed as they strengthened the civilization by increasing the number of people, total land area in food production, and diversity of skills. And, of course, highly skilled migrants—merchants, artisans, healers, warriors, etc.—were also likely welcomed because the improved food ΔT produced excess food enabling these skilled migrants to be fed in payment for their skills.

The invention of steam power, followed by electricity and the internal combustion engine, transformed human civilization because they enabled far greater food production per unit of human effort. The result was that the percentage of the population required to produce food fell dramatically. However, the “price” was the creation of an entire new energy dependency—that of the non-renewable fossil fuels necessary to fuel the engines. During the time when human and animal food powered civilization, this energy supply was renewable. The low population density, established by the annual food-production capacity of the land, also meant that obtaining wood for fuel was not generally an issue. However, with the advent of steam power, wood fuel became scarce, forcing the industrializing nations to transition to coal as a replacement.[4] Oil, in the form of kerosene for lighting and gasoline for engines, and natural gas for lighting and heating followed. For modern civilizations, the critical “food” supply became non-renewable fossil fuels. As discussed above, a world war was largely fought to control the preeminent fossil fuel—oil.

D.      Migration now has a negative impact on modern civilizations

This change in civilization’s “food supply” from human and animal food to non-renewable industrial fuel changed how migration impacts a society. Migration now adds demand for energy to an economic unit, such as a nation, without adding capacity to expand the non-renewable fossil fuel resources being used. This is an important difference from when human and animal food was the primary energy source. In other words, a modern new immigrant, unlike our immigrant ancestors, does not add to the nation’s fossil fuel resources, but only increases the drawdown of these resources, creating a negative impact on the nation’s energy security. This change in circumstance is not well recognized.

A corollary is the drought now severely impacting the western United States. Nature supplies potable water through rainfall and snow melt. These western states have historically had droughts, both short-term and long-term, due to weather changes. Some droughts have lasted for hundreds of years well before humans occupied these areas in significant numbers and well before the use of fossil fuels. Water engineering projects undertaken nearly a century ago created reservoirs, dams on distant rivers, and pipelines to redistribute water to enable short-term droughts to be covered. However, regional population growth, primarily through migration into the region, has increased the drawdown rate of the available storage, while insufficient rainfall and snowfall has failed to correct this situation. Drought, and the famine it generally causes, is a historical reason why civilizations collapse. Immigration during good times, which increases the local population, also increases the likelihood of turning an otherwise moderate drought into one with severe consequences for everyone. Hence. significant net immigration into such drought-prone areas is very clearly a poor policy for the simple reason that these new immigrants do not bring new vital supplies of water with them.

E.      The negative impact of immigration on US energy security is substantial

Just as the western United States is seeing the negative impact of net immigration-driven population growth on the sufficiency of its engineered water supplies, the same is happening to the United States overall with respect to the decrease in the longevity of its non-renewable fossil fuel endowment.

White’s Law stated in terms of per-capita energy use is:

Eper capita • T → Cstandard of living

The standard of living is a function of the available affordable energy per person (per capita) per year. Obviously, the greater the total population, the greater the total annual energy needed by the nation to sustain its standard of living.

Eper capita × population total = Annual energy needed by nation

For any country dependent on fossil fuels, population growth due to immigration increases its total future energy needs. Thus, for a nation primarily utilizing domestic fossil fuels, immigration creates a faster drawdown of the remaining non-renewable fossil fuel endowment, advancing the time when fossil fuels are no longer affordable. This will decrease the standard of living of everyone. The conclusion is drawn that the transition from an agrarian society to an industrial society switched the impact of net immigration from positive to negative in terms of energy security. This makes US immigration policy a national security issue.

F.       The United States has limited useful fossil fuel resources remaining

The Earth has extensive remaining fossil fuel resources. However, only that portion able to be recovered safely, legally, and affordably using available technologies counts towards satisfying White’s Law.

The USGS tracks US natural resources and makes projections of how much known and yet-to-be-discovered oil, coal, and natural gas resources are accessible for recovery using available technologies. This is known as the “technically recoverable resources.” In simple terms, this projection constitutes the natural endowment of fossil fuels available to meet America’s future White’s Law of Cultural Survival needs.

What about those people on TV saying that the United States has lots of fossil fuel? Yes, the United States has lots of fossil fuels. What it does not have, as will be seen, is lots of technically recoverable resources.

What about discoveries of additional fossil fuel resources? The USGS includes an expert assessment of yet-to-be-discovered resources in its estimate of technically recoverable resources. Hence, even though new discoveries are made, these are included already in the remaining endowment estimate.

What about improvements in fossil fuel recovery ΔT? Certainly, improved recovery ΔT will increase the size of the technically recoverable resources. Take, for example, the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and natural gas shale deposits. This technology, now deployed for less than a decade, has substantially increased the size of technically recoverable US oil and, particularly, natural gas resources. The first fracking of oil wells began shortly after World War II, but it was not profitable. It took nearly fifty years of research and development to bring this ΔT out of the lab into profitable commercial use. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that a comparable technology being started today may not see substantial commercial use for many decades. From a strategic energy security planning perspective, while new fossil fuel recovery ΔT should be pursued, it is not reasonable to “bet the farm” on it. Sound energy security strategic planning must have a reasonable confidence of success and most certainly must avoid presumptions that things will just work out. California’s drought shows that things do not just work out.

In 2011, the Congressional Research Service published the USGS 2010 projection of the size of the domestic technically recoverable fossil fuel resources or endowment. (As this does not include the affordability of the fuels brought to the market, this is an optimistic projection of the size of the affordable fossil fuel endowment.) Per the USGS, in 2011 the United States then had 1,366.8 billion BOE of technically recoverable fossil fuels—just about 1.4 trillion BOE.[5] While this sounds like an almost unlimited supply, for a growing nation of over 300 million, it is not.

A BOE is a simple measure of energy representing the amount of thermal energy in 42 US gallons of oil. All energy sources, not only coal and natural gas, but also wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, etc., can be expressed in terms of how many equivalent BOE they supply to the consumer.

Currently, the United States is consuming about 18 billion BOE of energy each year with about 85% or about 15 billion BOE coming from fossil fuels. At the current rate of fossil fuel use, assuming that all of this is taken from domestic sources, the total endowment of US technically recoverable fossil fuel resources would last 89 years—only to the end of this century.

18 billion/year × 0.85 = 15.3 billion BOE/year of fossil fuels

1,366.8 billion BOE ÷ 15.3 billion BOE/year = 89 years

Thus, the roughly 1.4 trillion BOE fossil fuel endowment—including resources not yet discovered and resources that are likely unaffordable to produce—will run out around 2100, provided the size of the US population does not increase and assuming the current standard of living is maintained. This is within the lifetime of today’s children and grandchildren. Clearly, their future is not energy secure at today’s standard of living and with a continued substantial reliance on fossil fuels. Assertions that the United States has lots of fossil fuels are clearly very misleading.

What about imports? As discussed above, the United States became substantially dependent on imported oil in the early 1970s and this has not benefited US national security. Fortunately, at least for a while fracking has substantially increased domestic oil and natural gas production, reducing natural gas and oil imports while lowering consumer prices. This has made the United States more energy secure. Why would it benefit the United States to increase its dependency on oil and gas imports in the future as the primary means of shoring up diminishing domestic supplies? Clearly, it would not.

G.      Continued immigration will dramatically increase energy insecurity

In 1999, the US Census Bureau made several projections of the growth of the US population through 2100 based on various levels of immigration. Two cases are relevant to national energy security planning:

  1. With the most likely fertility and mortality rates, but with zero immigration, starting at 274 million in 2000, the US population would likely climb to 377 million by 2100.
  2. With the most likely fertility and mortality rates combined with the most likely net immigration using then current immigration policies, the US population would likely climb to 571 million by 2100.

The first case shows that the earlier ballpark estimate of an 89-year life of US technically recoverable fossil fuel resources is optimistic, because even with zero immigration, the US population will grow by about 27% by 2100. The second case is even more alarming. Likely net immigration substantially increases the population in 2100, making clear that America’s fossil fuel endowment will last far less than a century. US immigration policy has a very significant impact on future US energy security and, consequently, US national security.

From 2008-2012 the Census Bureau updated its forecast, but only for 50 years. A private demographic analysis company used this data to create a model matching the Census Bureau projections and then used this model to extend the projections to 2100.[6] The starting point was the 309.3 million US population established in the 2010 census.

Six levels of net immigration were modeled with these results:

  • With zero net immigration, the US population peaks in around 2050 at 358 million and declines to 343 million in 2100.
  • With an annual net immigration of 500,000, the population in 2100 increases by 72 million to 415 million and continues to increase thereafter.
  • With an annual net immigration of 1 million, the population in 2100 increases by 143 million to 486 million and continues to increase thereafter.
  • With an annual net immigration of 1.5 million, the population in 2100 increases by 217 million to 560 million and continues to increase thereafter.
  • With an annual net immigration of 2 million, the population in 2100 increases by 286 million to 629 million and continues to increase thereafter.
  • With the Census Bureau’s most likely level of immigration of just under 2 million per year, the population in 2100 increases by about 275 million to 617.5 million and continues to increase thereafter.

The Census Bureau’s most likely 2100 population of 617.5 million is nearly twice the 2010 census of 309.3 million. This makes the average population from 2010-2100 1.5 times that of 2010. Thus, the corresponding increase in the rate of fossil fuel use means that the 1.4 trillion BOE of the US fossil fuel endowment will only last 60 years to 2070—a loss of 30 years—if today’s standard of living is maintained.

(309.3 million in 2010 + 617.5 million in 2100) ÷ 2 = 463.4 million

463.4 million ÷ 309.3 million = 1.5

1,366.8 billion BOE ÷ (15.3 billion BOE/year ´ 1.5) = 60 years

While not addressed so far in the public political debate on immigration policy, net immigration, both legal and illegal, significantly impacts the future population size of the United States and must, via White’s Law of Cultural Survival, impact its future standard of living as the supply of affordable fossil fuels ends more quickly. In a free market, diminishing supply brings price inflation and economic recession as experienced in the 1973 and 1979 oil supply crises. There is a price to be paid for irresponsible immigration policy and, with respect to energy security, that price is likely to be very costly and dangerous.

H.      The impact of energy conservation is likely to be marginal

To keep from complicating the preceding calculations, the per-capita energy use was assumed to be constant through 2100. Measured in terms of BOE/year, US per-capita energy use peaked in 1979 at 62.1 BOE/year. From 2001-2007, when energy prices were fairly stable, just prior to the start of the current recession in 2008, the average was 58.1 BOE/year. At the 2010 population of 309.3 million, this comes to nearly 18 billion BOE/year of total energy consumption.

309.3 million population × 58.1 BOE/year = 17.97 billion BOE/year

The decline in per-capita energy use during times of economic prosperity has been slow. Over the nearly 30 years since 1979, the average per-capita energy use declined by only about 6% total—or only about 0.26% per year. This very minimal rate of reduction is especially noteworthy given the significant public and legal attention paid to energy conservation and improved energy use efficiency.

(62.1 – 58.1) ÷ 62.1 = 6.4%

0.064 ÷ (2004-1979) = 0.26%/year

While it is reasonable to expect further improvements in energy use efficiencies, at the same time the ΔT and ΔC of non-energy goods and services will require increases in per-capita energy use for larger cars, second cars, larger homes, second homes, travel, increased use of electronics and data handling, etc. Energy efficiency improvements are being converted into gains in the standard of living—exactly the same as has been happening since the start of the Industrial Age.[7]

With this in mind, per-capita energy use is optimistically assumed to decline steadily from 58 BOE/year in 2010 to 50 BOE/year in 2100. While there is uncertainty in this value, it must also be recognized that the Census Bureau’s methodology-based projection of 617.5 million in 2100 is also uncertain. Both are, however, reasonable to use for this discussion.

I.         Likely net immigration will double the cost of switching to sustainable energy

Modern civilization requires energy in two primary forms—electrical power generated to meet the immediate demand, called dispatched electricity, and a convenient and safe form of fuel for transportation, heating, and industrial processing. Thus, the new sustainable energy infrastructure replacing fossil fuels will need to provide on-demand dispatched electrical power and a fuel as well. The primary replacement for fossil fuels will be electrical power produced from sustainable solar and/or nuclear energy sources. Hydrogen, produced by the electrolysis of water using this sustainable electricity, will become the primary fuel.[8]

To help quantify this transition and the impact of immigration, a hypothetical all-nuclear energy infrastructure is modeled. A 1-GW nuclear power plant is typical of the size used by utilities. Such a 1-GW plant, operating 95% of the year, will generate 8,322 GW-hours (GWh) of electrical energy each year. This is equivalent to 5 million BOE/year.[9] This value is used to determine how many nuclear power plants would be needed to meet future US energy needs using only nuclear power.

1-GW x 365 days/year × 24 hours/day x 0.95 = 8,322 GWh

To establish a baseline, the US population in 2100 with zero net immigration will be used. With 343 million in 2100 using 50 BOE/year per capita, the gross energy need would be about 17 billion BOE/year. Note that this is less than the total US energy consumed in 2010.

343 million population × 50 BOE/year = 17.15 billion BOE/year

In 2100, 3,430 1-GW nuclear power plants would be needed to sustain a standard of living comparable to today. Each 1-GW plant would meet the needs of 100,000 people.

17.15 billion BOE/year ÷ 5 million BOE/plant-year = 3,430 1-GW plants

Now, using the Census Bureau’s most likely net immigration assumption, for a US population of 617.5 million in 2100, the total annual energy need would be almost twice as large at 31 billion BOE/yr. Hence, 6,180 1-GW nuclear power plants would need to be operating in 2100—of which 2,750 would be due to immigration-driven population growth.

617.5 million population × 50 BOE/year = 30.9 billion BOE/year

30.9 billion BOE/year ÷ 5 million BOE/plant-year = 6,180 1-GW plants

6,180 1-GW plants – 3,430 1-GW plants = 2,750 1-GW plants

This most likely level of net immigration-driven population growth not only depletes the remaining US technically recoverable fossil fuels more rapidly, but it also nearly doubles, by 2100, the size of the sustainable energy infrastructure needed to replace these fossil fuels. This is another reason why US immigration policy is a key—but, currently missing— part of a national energy security planning.

J.       Immigration will cost about $240 billion per year on average

In 2013, the US Department of Energy estimated that the overnight capital cost to build a new nuclear power plant was about $5.5 billion per GW. To this amount, $1.5 billion is added for land, construction financing, hydrogen electrolysis and storage, etc. The ballpark cost is then $7 billion per GW. To build an all-nuclear energy infrastructure for 617.5 million in 2100 would cost roughly $43 trillion. The portion of this cost that is due to new immigration is about $19 trillion through 2100 or an average annual immigration premium of $241 billion each year from 2020 through 2100.

6,180 1-GW plants × $7 billion/plant = $43.26 trillion

2,750 1-GW plants for immigration x $7 billion/plant = $19.25 trillion

$19.25 trillion ÷ (2100 – 2020) = $241 billion/year

K.      Terrestrial nuclear energy Is not a viable solution

Uranium U-235-based nuclear fission has been commercialized since the 1970s. While the above discussion described the US energy needs in terms of a hypothetical all-nuclear energy infrastructure, replacing fossil fuels with thousands of terrestrial nuclear power plants is not a viable option for these reasons:

  • The US only has sufficient U-235 to fuel about 135 1-GW nuclear reactors for the typical 60-year life of a new plant.
  • Breeding the fissile U-238 isotope into plutonium Pu-239 would provide almost an unlimited amount of fuel.[10] However, Pu-239 is the plutonium isotope used to make nuclear weapons. Thus, a domestic Pu-239-based nuclear industry opens the door to easy foreign nuclear weapon proliferation when foreign countries implement their own plutonium-based nuclear energy industries.
  • Breeding thorium into U-233, the other fissionable uranium isotope, would also provide an almost unlimited amount of fuel. However, U-233 can also be used to make nuclear weapons, just as U-235 and Pu-239. Hence, this is also a path to nuclear proliferation.
  • Nuclear power plants are thermal power plants, meaning that about 70% of the nuclear energy released ends up as waste heat dumped into the terrestrial environment. This requires a large river, a large lake, or the ocean to provide the necessary cooling. Also, nuclear power plants must be located away from areas prone to earthquakes and tsunamis and located away from populated areas. It is unlikely that the United States has sufficient locations for thousands of nuclear power plants. It has only 104 GW of nuclear energy today.
  • No acceptable nuclear waste disposal method has yet been identified and put into practice.[11] The federal government’s effort to build an underground waste burial site in Nevada has been stopped, leaving extremely hazardous nuclear waste in temporary storage. Many of the waste radioactive isotopes must be safely contained for tens of thousands of years. Building large numbers of additional nuclear power plants without a disposal solution does not appear reasonable.
  • Fusion nuclear energy is a possible future replacement for fission nuclear energy. The practicality of fusion energy has not yet been demonstrated. Also, fusion plants would still be thermal power plants needing large rivers, lakes, or the ocean for cooling. Hence, locating thousands of large fusion power plants in the United States will be difficult.

L.       Wind and ground solar power are not politically acceptable solutions

The current focus on sustainable energy is with building wind and ground solar farms. Many people have been misled to believe that using these terrestrial sustainable energy sources to replace fossil fuels is quite practical. In reality, as shown in the following, the substantial land area needed for solar and wind farms to produce sufficient energy to replace fossil fuels likely makes these politically unacceptable solutions.

Wind energy

Current commercial wind farms use wind turbines that stand nearly 500 feet tall at the tip of the turbine blades. With good wind speeds, these turbines will each produce 2.5 MW (0.0025 GW) of electrical power—the turbine’s nameplate output power. Of course, as everyone understands, wind conditions continually vary at any location minute-to-minute as well as seasonally, and even year-to-year. This variability means that wind electricity cannot be a primary source of on-demand dispatchable electricity to supply power to a utility’s grid. The method that has been adopted by utilities is to use wind electricity when it is available to substitute for electricity generated by other means, such as natural gas-fueled generators. The key point is that wind power, as it is now implemented, is not a reliable means of producing on-demand electricity.

The “capacity factor”, expressed as a percentage, is the percentage of the wind turbine’s nameplate output power generally available during a given period of time such as a month or year. The US Department of Energy reports that from 2009-2013, the average capacity factor for wind farms was 32%. Wind turbine performance is still improving, so a capacity factor of 40% is reasonable to use for future projections. Using this value, a 2.5-MW wind turbine can be expected to produce 8.76 GWh of wind-electricity each year on average.

2.5 MW × 365 days × 24 hours/day × 0.40 = 8,760 MWh

8,760 MWh ÷ 1 GWh/1000 MWh = 8.76 GWh

This wind-electricity, of course, is variable electricity produced whenever the wind blows, not necessarily when the customer needs the electricity. The necessary engineering solution to be able to produce on-demand dispatched electricity is first to convert all of the variable wind-electricity into hydrogen fuel using electrolysis. The hydrogen fuel is then used, as needed, directly by the end consumer as a replacement for oil and natural gas and by utilities to fuel gas turbine generators to provide dispatched electricity.

As calculated previously, the likely US population of 617.5 million in 2100 will require 31 billion BOE of energy each year. This gross energy is divided into dispatched electricity and fuels. In 2007, before the 2008 start of the current prolonged recession, the US used 17.42 billion BOE of energy. Of this, 40% was used to produce 4.16 million GWh of dispatched electricity. Scaling this up, in 2100 the United States will likely need 7.4 million GWh of dispatched electricity.

4.16 million GWh × (30.9 ÷ 17.42) = 7.4 million GWh

Using projections of the future efficiency of large-scale electrolysis, the conversion of variable wind-electricity into utility-dispatched electricity is estimated to be 46% efficient.[12] This means that it eventually takes 2.17 GWh of variable wind-electricity to produce 1 GWh of dispatched electricity.

1 ÷ 0.46 = 2.17

In 2100, about 16 million GWh of wind-electricity will be needed to provide 7.4 million GWh of dispatched electricity.

7.4 million GWh of dispatched electricity ÷ 0.46 = 16.1 million GWh of wind-electricity

Of the 30.9 billion BOE of gross energy needed in 2100, from US historical data, 60% would be used as fuel. This equals 18.5 billion BOE of hydrogen.

30.9 billion BOE × 0.60 = 18.54 billion BOE of hydrogen

In this hypothetical all-wind energy infrastructure, wind-electricity is also used to produce the needed hydrogen fuel. Producing 1 BOE of hydrogen fuel (lower heating value) from electricity, using projections of future electrolysis efficiencies, is estimated to require 2443 kWh (0.002443 GWh).

2443 kWh/BOE × 1 MWh/1000 kWh × 1 GWh/1000 MWh = 0.002443 GWh/BOE

To produce 18.54 billion BOE of hydrogen will require 44.61 million GWh of wind-electricity.

18.54 billion BOE × 0.002443 GWh/BOE = 45.29 million GWh of wind-electricity

To meet the energy needs of 617.5 million in 2100, the wind-electricity required to provide dispatched electricity and hydrogen fuel are summed to yield the total GWh of variable wind electricity needed. To provide 30.9 billion BOE of energy using wind power will require about 61 million GWh of wind-electricity.

16.1 million GWh + 45.29 million GWh = 61.39 million GWh in 2100

With each 2.5-MW wind turbines producing 8.76 GWh of wind-electricity per year, about 7 million of these 500-foot-tall wind turbines would need to be operating in 2100.

61.39 million GWh ÷ 8.76 GWh per turbine = 7 million turbines

The physics of extracting power from the wind places a cap on how many megawatts of nameplate power can be placed per square mile. This means that crowding in more wind turbines does not proportionally increase the amount of wind-electricity produced per square mile.[13] When using 2.5-MW turbines, five turbines can be placed per square mile. Thus, 1.4 million square miles of wind farms would be needed to meet the energy needs of 617.5 million Americans in 2100. The land area required is just under one half of the land area of the entire continental United States

7 million turbines ÷ 5 turbines/square mile = 1.4 million square miles

The total installed nameplate wind power in 2100 would be 17,500 GW compared with the 6,180 GW of nuclear power needed.

7 million turbines × 2.5 MW/turbine ÷ 1 GW/1000 MW = 17,500 GW

As of 2013, the United States had 60.7 GW of nameplate wind power installed. While this sounds like a great deal, it is only 0.35% of what will be needed in 2100—less than 1%. Assuming a start in 2020 to build the necessary wind farms to reach 17,500 GW by 2100, each year 219 GW of new wind farms must be built. This means that a capacity equal to 3X the current total installed capacity must be added each year. Also, with an expected component life of 25-30 years, most of the early wind farms—turbines, electrical transmission system, etc.—must be replaced at least once by 2100. Finally, as the population continues to expand due to continued immigration, the building of new wind farms does not stop in 2100.

60.7 GW ÷ 17,500 GW = 0.35%

17,500 GW ÷ (2100 – 2020) = 219 GW/year of new wind farms

The large size of these turbines creates the impression that each will be able to meet the energy needs of a large number of people easily. This is not the case. In 2100, each wind turbine would provide the energy needed by around 88 people using the 50 BOE/year per-capita energy use assumed for 2100. In other words, a 500-foot-tall turbine would be needed for about every 40 homes. Each square mile of wind farms would provide for only 440 people. For comparison, a typical 1-GW nuclear power plant requires two square miles of land and provides the energy for 100,000 people.

30.9 billion BOE ÷ 7 million turbines = 4,414 BOE/turbine

4,414 BOE/turbine ÷ 50 BOE/person = 88 people/turbine

88 people/turbine × 5 turbines/square mile = 440 people served per square mile

To understand the impact of immigration, what happens if the population in 2100 stays at the zero net immigration value of 343 million people? Wind farms totaling 777,000 square miles would be needed in 2100.

343 million with zero immigration ÷ 617.5 million with likely immigration = 0.555

1.4 million square miles × 0.555 = 777,000 square miles (for 343 million)

Even with the lower population level, wind power is an impractical energy source. The primary reason is that the best areas of the continental United States for wind farms are the central states from north Texas to the Canadian border. This is America’s breadbasket. Installing nearly 800,000 square miles of 500-foot-tall wind turbines would place wind farms on virtually all land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. This would severely impact agriculture, the rural environment and standard of living, general aviation, and many forms of wildlife.

Ground solar energy

Ground solar energy is the other highly touted form of sustainable energy. Like wind energy, it also produces variable solar-electricity. In this case the variability is due to the day-night cycle as well as seasonal variations in the length of the available daylight and, of course, weather. Thus, the variable electricity from solar farms must be handled the same as wind-electricity—first converting the solar-electricity to hydrogen using electrolysis and then using the hydrogen for end consumer fuel and for generating dispatchable electricity at the utilities.

While the US Department of Energy identified a capacity factor of 40% as being a reasonable target for wind energy, the corresponding value for ground solar farms is only 20%, primarily due to the day-night cycle. The amount of solar-electricity needed to meet the 2100 energy needs of 617.5 million people is the same as that for wind-electricity—61.39 million GWh. However, due to the lower capacity factor, the installed nameplate power must be twice that of wind farms—35,000 GW of ground solar nameplate AC power.[14]

17,500 GW of wind power × (0.40 ÷ 0.20) = 35,000 GW of nameplate solar power

To estimate how many square miles of ground solar farms will be needed, the starting point is to establish a baseline using large solar farms built in recent years in the American Southwest where the available ground insolation is the best in the country. These solar farms are averaging 81 MW per square mile of nameplate AC power. For comparison, wind farms have about 12.5 MW per square mile of nameplate AC power.

As the location of solar farms expands beyond these best insolation areas to meet the 2100 energy needs, the available average insolation will decrease primarily due to increased weather losses, e.g., cloud cover. Taking this into account, a value of 72.5 MW AC (0.0725 GW) per square mile is a reasonable value to use for calculating how many square miles of solar farms will be needed.

To meet the 2100 energy needs of 617.5 million people, 483,000 sq. mi. of land, primarily in the southwestern United States, must be leveled, scraped clean of vegetation, covered in gravel to control erosion and weeds/brush, and planted with solar photovoltaic arrays. The comparable area for a zero net immigration population of 343 million people in 2100 is 268,000 square miles. For comparison, the area of Texas is 269,000 square miles.

35,000 GW ÷ 0.0725 GW/square miles = 482,759 square miles (for 617.5 million)

482,759 square miles × 0.555 = 267,931 square miles (for 343 million)

Due to the terrain of many of the southwestern states, only about 20-25% of the land is suitable for solar farms. Hence, virtually all flat land in southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and western Texas would need to be covered with solar farms regardless of the land’s current use. It is unlikely this would be politically or environmentally acceptable.

To install 483,000 square miles of solar farms by 2100, starting in 2020, an average of about 6,000 square miles of new solar farms must be built each and every year through 2020. With an expected lifetime of 30 years, much of this solar infrastructure will need to be rebuilt one or more times before 2100. It is also important to understand that, with immigration, the size of the US population does not level off by 2100, but continues to expand meaning more land must be converted to solar farms in the 22nd century.

482,759 square miles ÷ (2100 – 2020) = 6,034 square miles per year

M.     Terrestrial renewable energy sources are simply not practical to replace fossil fuels

From these estimates of the size of ground solar and wind farms needed to power America in 2100, two more terrestrial sustainable energy options can be scratched from the list as being impractical. Conventional fission nuclear energy has already been shown as impractical. In the same vein, expanded hydroelectricity, geothermal-electricity, biomass, wave-electricity, and tidal-electricity will have little measurable impact. There are no plausible terrestrial solutions to replace fossil fuels especially if immigration continues. Yet, the clock is ticking on when the remaining US technically recoverable fossil fuels will be exhausted.

White’s Law of Cultural Survival shows that to preserve American culture, economic prosperity, and national security, America’s energy infrastructure must provide 50-58 BOE/year of affordable energy. Only about 15% or about 9 BOE/year now come from renewable and nuclear energy. America’s standard of living will fall as the level of affordable energy per capita falls. Hence, if terrestrial renewable and nuclear options cannot be counted on to replace diminishing supplies of affordable fossil fuels, then America’s cultural collapse is inevitable without a viable political and engineering solution. Plan A—the political naiveté of presuming that terrestrial renewable and nuclear energy can be counted on to replace fossil fuels—is a failure. Plan B must now kick in. While this is hard for some to comprehend, when all terrestrial potential solutions have been eliminated as being impractical, attention must focus on the one remaining doable engineering solution—space-based power.

N.      Space-based power is the remaining solution to make America energy secure

010216_1750_TemptitleBe1.pngFigure 1. Notional illustration of a space-based solar power station. Source – NASA.

Space-based power is where solar energy is collected or nuclear energy is generated in space, most likely in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO), and transmitted to large ground receiving stations using microwave radio transmission. This space-based power would be generated almost continuously.[15] Ground receiving stations collect this transmitted power, convert it into AC power, and send it to the utilities’ power grids. This would be baseload electrical power equivalent to what is generated by coal-fired and nuclear power plants today. This space-based electrical power can also be used to produce hydrogen fuel for transportation, heating, and industrial processing. Stored hydrogen fuel would provide a strategic reserve for backup gas turbine electricity generation should a receiving station go offline.

The design of the transmission system keeps the peak power level in the transmission beam at about one third of the equatorial noonday insolation. With this design, about 10 square miles of land of the ground receiving station is required for each 1 GW of output AC power. Thus, about 60,000 square miles of ground receiving stations would be required to deliver roughly 6,000 GW of AC power to the power grids. This is far less than the 483,000 square miles needed for ground solar energy or the 1.4 million square miles needed for wind farms. Also, these receiving stations can be located in parts of the country where the land use and environmental impact is suitable for this use.

Each space-based solar power station in GEO will likely generate 5 GW of electrical power. If this is done with large flat photovoltaic solar arrays, each GW of output power at the ground station requires about 1.7 square miles of space solar arrays in GEO. To obtain 5 GW of output on the ground, the space solar power platform will require about 8.5 square miles of solar arrays. To provide 6,180 GW, for a population of 617.5 million in 2100, would require 1,200 5-GW platforms totaling about 10,500 square miles of space solar arrays. This falls to about 5,800 square miles of space solar arrays needed for a 2100 population of 343 million.

5 GW × 1.7 square miles/GW = 8.5 square miles of space solar arrays

6,180 GW × 1.7 square miles/GW = 10,506 square miles of solar arrays

10,506 platforms × 0.555 = 5,831 square miles (for 343 million)

O.      Space-based power will be a significant national undertaking

Clearly, undertaking space-based power will require a revolution in space industrialization to build and operate, before the end of this century, up to 1,200 space power platforms, each the size of Manhattan. (The world’s energy needs will require 5-6 times this number.) The current approach of launching satellites to GEO and hoping that they deploy and function properly and never require hands-on repair will obviously not work. The size, complexity, and, especially, the need for assured space-based power will make this very much a human undertaking. While this is contrary to the thinking of many now working to make space-based power practical—focusing on robotic, self-assembly, and human telepresence approaches—there are no terrestrial analogs of such a human-designed system functioning in this manner. Certainly, substantial robotic and telepresence will be used, but to achieve assured space-based power, humans will be living and working throughout the Earth-Moon system in large numbers. This is the proven way to get critical tasks properly done.

As the reality of space-based power being the only practicable solution to replacing fossil fuels and maintaining America’s standard of living becomes understood, without doubt the American public will become excited about becoming a true human commercial spacefaring nation building and operating this new space-based power industry. Just as the 19th century was the age of steamships and railroads and the 20th century was the age of aeronautical flight—both ages bringing substantial technological and social changes—the 21st century will be the start of the age of true human spaceflight of the kind Americans have dreamed about since the 1950s. Not only will we build a substantial space-based power industry, but we will also then use a portion of this renewable power literally to power the expansion of human civilization throughout the central solar system and provide for the defense of the planet against asteroid impacts.