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I recently saw this question and I immediately thought that the discussion was too limited to current energy production, it simply assumes that the amount of energy we use today is the amount of energy we currently need. But the biggest part of the world population live in countries that do not produce enough energy to cover their demand.

So I was wondering how big should be a solar panel array in order to supply the world energy needs. But I guess that first one should determine what could be the energy need compared to the current production. Predicting real energy need, by the time the solar array would be ready, I think is impossible because it should take into account technological changes population growth and additional demands like desalination due to the exhaustion of fresh water. But at least a rough estimate could be made on the hypothesis of no population growth and simply the developing countries aligning to the developed ones. I saw this list which gives an idea of how skewed is the production. So my question now is:

if the developing countries want to reach a per capita energy consumption similar to that of China, which seems reasonable, how much the current energy consumption would grow?

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  • $\begingroup$ Or, to reduce global warming, how much should developed countries reduce their energy use? $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Aug 10 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ @SolarMike That's another question. Actually I was thinking to prepare another question noting the difference between the US and the European countries, I was wondering whether such difference is partly explained by energy waste and if there is room for reduction in the US. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Aug 10 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ Where is the list/reference of per capita energy production by each country? Your list is the "energy consumption" per capita. $\endgroup$
    – r13
    Aug 10 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ @r13 You are right, but rather than changing the list I just realised it is better to change the question. It will be a little bit clearer. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Aug 11 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ Although not necessarily part of the question, I'd point out that Chinese per capita energy use carries a much heavier industrial-use component than other countries, since such a high fraction of the world's manufactured goods are built in China. So for example if all the hundreds of devices and consumable items each person uses were accounted for (in energy use) in their home country, the per capita energy numbers would look different. In other words, given the current distribution of industrial activity, it is not logical to raise all developing countries to Chinese per-capita energy use $\endgroup$
    – Pete W
    Aug 11 at 16:26
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I did some simple calculations using the data source used for this list. it is not precise because it is incomplete, but it can give an idea. If the energy usage grew in the developing countries up to Chinese levels as asked in the question the overall energy use would become 1.4 times the current energy use. Therefore the solar array mentioned in the answer to the original question to cover the basic energy need would have to cover between 37 and 38% of the Shara desert.

However that is a lower bound, after all China can produce enough energy to meet the needs of their industry and less than half of the country population. If we took as a reference Italy which is the developed country with the smallest consumption the increase would be small from 1.4 to 1.5 times the current energy use. But Italy's energy use shrank by almost 15% due to a long term deindustrialisation. If we took as a reference Japan which is another developed country where the energy use is as efficient as possible the current energy use would double and the solar array would have to cover 54% of the Sahara.

Still this estimate is conservative because prodicing between $3,418,437 km^2$ and $4,883,482 km^2$ of solar panels takes time if we took into account population growth and new necessities like extensive water desalination by the time the solar array would be ready the actual energy demand would be way higher.

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  • $\begingroup$ So, why not work it out with the energy consumption of a person in the United States... :) $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 13 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ @SolarMike I did it, my result is that the total energy need would be 3.5 times the current production. I didn't mention it because I considered it impossible to achieve. It would require almost the entire Sahara including all the mountains areas and leaving no gap, a humongous dark area under the panels. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Sep 13 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ So, everyone has to make an effort except USA... $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 13 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ @SolarMike Actually even 54% would very difficult. Considering that you cannot cover up everything and you need some gaps any way the actual array covering 54% would take the entire area plus the Arabic peninsula. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Sep 13 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ Think different: every roof that catches the sun has to have panels on.. $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 13 at 12:33
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Energy use is not a problem. Efficiency and cleanliness should be the goal. Our planet will not even achieve the status of a type-I civilization until we harness all the energy of our sun. A type-II civilization harnesses the energy of its galaxy.

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-type-i-ii-iii-iv-v-civilization/amp

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  • $\begingroup$ Selling dreams is easy. But before that I was just trying to asses the current situation. As of now we produce as much energy as we can, we waste a part of it and we distribute the rest to a part of the population and we leave the rest in the cold. So my question is only about how much is the energy need with the current technologies and with the current attitude. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Sep 20 at 13:23
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China's Per capita energy use is 3,968 kilowatt-hours per year (14.28 Gigajoules) Sub-Saharan Africa: 500 kwh per capita. Global electric consumption in Africa is 700 Terawatt hours China: 7,500 Terawatt-hours Africa would have to build 10x as many power plants

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