Before the current situation is described, it is interesting to consider what the potential of renewable energy supply in the world could be. The table below shows the total potential:
(1000 000 000 000 W)
Divided by the present human
consumption of energy (15 TW)
Solar power Wind power Hydro power Geothermal power
NB: The figures are shown in TW, which is a power unit. Normally the consumption is given in TWh, which is an energy unit. One TW corresponds to 8,760 TWh per year.
The world consumes on average 15 TW, which is 15 000 GW or around 2 kW per person. As a comparison, each human consumes around 60 W in his own body.
This means that only a fraction of the energy we consume comes from our food production. This is an enormous increase as historically previous generations mainly consumed food and some wood for heating.
The table shows that a major potential sustainable energy source is solar energy. If we could make effective use of this, there would not be any energy problems in the world. The two main problems with solar power, however, are that it requires a large surface area to produce sufficient electricity and that earlier other sources of fuel have been cheaper to obtain.
Wind energy is a form of solar power where nature has helped to concentrate the energy. Wind is the second biggest potential energy source. The problem is that wind is less concentrated than hydro and that the best wind locations are located at sea or in mountains far away from the consumers. Thus, this creates a logistical issue of getting the energy to the consumers effectively.