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Review of Scenarios of Future U.S. Energy Use

journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2012, 00:00 by James Just, Lester B. Lave

The future is unknown and largely unknowable. If there is any doubt about this statement, consider a hypothetical ten-year energy forecast made, say in 1969. Could the eightfold increase in OPEC prices have been foreseen? What would have been the forecasts about the energy impacts of wars in Southeast Asia, Africa, or the Middle East?

We are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. Not only must innumerable decisions be made that require anticipating the future, but also the totality of these decisions has immense impacts on the future. A new blast furnace will last 50--100 years and a nuclear reactor 30 years; the rate at which the world's stock of inexpensive fossil fuels is used has implications for all the future. To handle this dilemma, we often make assumptions about the future. Perhaps the most common assumption is that it will be like the present. Thus, if a blast furnace would be profitable today, it is assumed that it would continue to be profitable over most of its lifetime (1). Since energy has always been abundant in the United States, recently at diminishing real price, one could assume that energy will continue to be abundant in the future at prices no higher than today's.




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