A Visual Lesson in Energy Density

I normally try to stay away from posting complicated charts and graphs, for the simple reason that they are hard to decode. But the chart below, from Max Roser, the project director of the terrific “Our World in Data” site housed at Oxford University, is just too brilliant not to pass along. It shows in two panels how pathetic is the energy contribution of wind and solar power, and why more dense forms of electricity prevail in the real world. The neat thing about the chart is that it matches up electricity production with demand—specifically how many people the specific source can supply. If you take this in for a while, it is absolutely devastating to the green energy misfits.

You will probably want to click to enlarge this chart, but notice the salient fact that the right-hand side of the chart is blown up from the tiny lower-right hand corner of the left side of the chart—I’ve added a circle to highlight this:

Roser and co-author Hannah Ritchie offer a complete explanation here, but these two sections stand out:

The labeled horizontal lines on these charts aim to give a sense of perspective on electricity consumption levels across the world. For example, in the chart below a very large hydro or nuclear plant could produce enough electricity to meet the demands of 100 million people in Ghana; a large hydro, nuclear, or coal plant could provide for 10 million average global citizens, and average-sized plant would meet demands of ten million in Brazil.

The left-hand chart is dominated by hydropower, nuclear, coal and geothermal production. The output of onshore and offshore wind, and solar photovoltaic (PV) farms currently lie below 10,000 MWh per day, which you see at the bottom of the left-hand chart. The right-hand chart provides a magnification of the bottom section of this chart, extending only from zero to 10,000 MWh. Just as in the left-hand chart, the range of daily electricity outputs from wind and solar PV farms are shown by the arrows, with specific farms represented by stars. Again, we have provided a sense of perspective on how this relates to electricity consumption needs across a range of countries using the labeled horizontal lines.


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