Cheap energy, plentiful water

In my 2015 book, “Britain and the World in 2050,” I made several startling predictions, startling because they went against many assumptions popular among the chatterati. While the dinosaurs and dodos gained massive coverage because the media couldn’t resist them – some even did drawings – there were two significant predictions that offer more far-reaching consequences.

The first is that we will not run out of energy. Despite alarmist cries of “peak oil,” I take the view that we’ll be leaving most of it in the ground by 2050, or maybe using it for its complex chemistry. We won’t be burning much of it. My reasoning is that fracked gas is plentiful and cheap, and mostly not controlled by politically unstable countries. It is less polluting, and will have replaced coal and most of oil for power stations. We have hundreds of years of reserves.

The steady fall in the price of photovoltaic solar energy is another contributing factor. Solar and gas will be big, and vehicles that use petrol or diesel will have been banned from most cities. Electric vehicles charged from power stations using gas and photovoltaic solar will be the norm. And energy will be plentiful and very cheap.

That leads to my other prediction, that water will be plentiful. Talk of “water wars” is as alarmist and as wrong as “peak oil.” There is plenty of water; it covers most of the planet. The task is to get it drinkable and to get it where it is needed. That takes energy. Osmotic desalination is expensive because it is energy intensive. If energy is cheap, it becomes viable on a massive scale. With cheap gas and solar, many desalination plants can be built along coastlines to purify seawater. Furthermore, the energy to move it around will also be cheap, and it will be possible to pipe it long distances much as oil is piped today. Indeed, some of the same pipes might be used when they are no longer pumping oil.

Optimism doesn’t sell; alarmism does. We’ll no doubt continue to read about the world running out of energy and water. But it isn’t going to happen.