Colorado is rich in natural resources. Beginning 150 years ago we mined gold and silver. Today we harvest coal, oil and gas, as well as other minerals, in great quantities. The state was built on the extraction of these valuable resources. There are tens of thousands of mines and oil and gas wells. Where do we go from here given our growing population, environmental degradation and human caused climate change?
We must reduce the combustion of fossil fuels and ultimately supplant fossil fuels entirely. Today, government subsidies offset the higher cost of energy from wind turbines and photovoltaics and pay for the conversion of half of our corn production to alcohol for use in motor vehicles. Despite this costly effort less than 1% of our electrical energy is generated by solar cells and about 4% using wind. Alcohol made from corn has little impact on motor vehicle carbon dioxide emissions; this fuel was intended to overcome our dependence on imported oil, not to reduce carbon dioxide emission.
U.S. population is expected to increase 20% by 2050 and we can anticipate that these added citizens will consume energy at the same rate as our current population. That means we will need even more energy in 2050, not less. Efficiency improvements such as high mileage cars will help but we cannot expect citizens to reduce their level of luxury and their energy demand. It's a free country. People can buy what they want, even if it uses more resources.
I expect that solar will increase to serve perhaps 20% of our electrical energy needs by 2050 and wind may generate 15%. Our hydroelectric power plants will continue to produce as they do today but will not increase because we no longer accept the damming of our rivers. We can hope their contribution will be 7% in 2050. That adds up to less than half our electric power coming from these sources. Over half our energy must come from fossil fuels or nuclear energy in 2050.
Both energy sources have downsides. Fossil fuels add to climate change. Nuclear power plants use highly radioactive fuel that are potential hazards in transport, disposal and in the event of power plant malfunction. Fossil fuel power plants sufficient for our 2050 needs already exist and so no major investment is needed to continue using coal and gas. Nuclear, however, needs new power plant designs and new construction. We know how to develop nuclear power plants that are passively safe and that minimize waste disposal issues. That requires a major investment to become reality. These advanced nuclear facilities will meet out power needs far into the future and will not contribute to climate change.