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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Energy Predictions for 2012

The Energy Nerd considers announcing a list of predictions for the coming year — and then changes his mind

In the future, housewives will clean their living rooms with a garden hose. That was one of many predictions made in “Miracles You’ll See in the Next Fifty Years,” an article published in the February 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine. The prediction was eventually realized by Frances Gabe of Newberg, Oregon, who invented the “self-cleaning house.”
Image Credit: Popular Mechanics

As the sun sets on 2011 and we all turn our eyes to 2012, it’s time for journalists and consultants to publish their predictions for the coming year. I was briefly tempted to create such a list — something along the lines of “energy prices will be higher, the planet will be warmer, and many regions will be affected by drought” — until I remembered that I’ve always been bad at predicting.

For example, back in the late 1970s, I was convinced that energy prices would rise steeply during the 1980s. I was wrong.

I’m not the only one with a bad forecasting track record. Most people, “experts” included, are terrible at predicting the future. So instead of presenting my own predictions, I’ve decided to take a look at the accuracy of past predictions made by other authors and experts.

Here are some predictions I’ve gathered, beginning with the most recent.

Predictions made in 2009: Smart meters will lead to 30% energy savings

An article published in Business Week in November 2009 predicted that by the end of 2010, “Smart grids/meters will take the world by storm. Annual global spending on the technology will jump to $33 billion by 2014 vs. $12 billion in 2008. That could increase electricity grids’ efficiency two-fold and reduce consumers’ energy consumption by 30%.” Or not.

Predictions made in 2003: Oil at $20 a barrel

Billionaire Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, predicted in February 2003 that, as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, oil prices would fall from the then-current level of $32 a barrel to only $20 a barrel. Said Murdoch, “The whole world will benefit from cheaper oil which will be a bigger stimulus than anything else.”

Soon after Murdoch made his prediction, however, oil prices began climbing. The average price of a barrel of oil…

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  1. user-659915 | | #1

    My prediction
    My prediction for 2012 is that GBA will continue to be the very best forum on the internet for sharing information and knowledge on green building in North America. Thank you Martin for all your dedicated work in curating such a fine resource. You do a stellar job and we're lucky to have you.

    Oh, and what fun to have a look-back at the successes and failures of past prognosticators. Some of them are impressively dumb - though I know some folks (three kids under five, as well as three dogs, two cats) who would probably love the hose-down living room.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Hosing down the living room
    I'm not sure whether she was inspired by the 1950 article in Popular Mechanics, but Frances Gabe of Newburg, Oregon actually built a concrete-block house that could be hosed down. Every room has a floor drain.

    For more information on Gabe's self-cleaning house, see:
    Son of Carwash, the Self-Cleaning House

    Frances Gabe's Self-Cleaning House

  3. user-788447 | | #3

    happy new year
    Happy new year Martin and GBAers.
    These last two blogs are much appreciated.

    Yes, energy prices have proven not to be an impetus for progressive measures to protect the environment and I don't know if they ever will be. In Minneapolis we experienced a short exercise in inverted block pricing for natural gas to incentivize energy conservation. It was quickly dropped and the reason given was that it unintentionally disadvantaged lower income people who lived in some of the least energy efficient housing stock.

    The two concepts that seem strongest in terms of keeping our attention on the continuing environmental degradation due to our modern societies consumptive practices are climatic change and global warming. As Martin pointed out the predictions for CO2 levels to date have been substantiated so it is probably more productive to leverage CO2 level increases than energy price increases as an impetus to improve building practices.

    I like the World Resource Institute's (WRI) use of the concept 'ecosystem services'. This concept makes possible a growing body of scientific knowledge concerning the definition and tracking of critical ecosystems that provide physical and chemical processes that support the well being of biotic systems as we know them today. Over time (if the research is funded) the degradation of these ecosystems can be measured as well as the consequences of the degradation.

    So maybe we should try to find an alternative to a reliance on predictions about increasing energy prices. Instead let's figure out how produce consensus and assign value to 'ecosystem services' or the carbon tax.

  4. GBA Editor
    Allison A. Bailes III, PhD | | #4

    Nice idea!
    Good review of past predictions, Martin, and I'm glad to see you mentioned Hubbert's US oil production prediction. That was pretty amazing. Heinlein also was amazing on the telephony front but not so good with housing, it turns out.

    I think the main problem with predictions, though, is that people take them too seriously. Here's how I handled that: Energy Vanguard's 25 Ridiculous, Made-up Predictions for 2012. There's even one about you in there, Martin.

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Response to Allison Bailes
    As soon as I get the phone call from Dr. Feist, I'll let you know. Thanks for the laughs.

  6. tinagleisner | | #6

    Some People Can See (Predict?) the Future
    Some pretty amazing predictions, especially about oil & phones. Thanks for pulling the story together as it shows we do have to be mindful of what the future holds.

  7. lindenboy | | #7

    Delightful Post!
    Thanks for this delightful post. I now have to share with all of my facebook friends! And somebody explain why we aren't using more of the Ocean's tides as energy production. Seems like that might be one of the most predictable, long-term renewable energy sources we have available to us.

    Keep up the interesting dialog!

  8. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    Response to Jason Burk
    You wrote, "And somebody explain why we aren't using more of the ocean's tides as energy production?"

    The main reason is that it is tough to build equipment that is durable enough to withstand the corrosive effects of salt water and the physical abuse of tides and storms -- and to do so is extremely expensive. So far, tidal power plants are so expensive that they can't compete with more conventional methods of power generation.

    Here is more information:

  9. inCEnDytMA | | #9

    smart meters
    You must know by now of the huge backlash against smart meters all over the country. They are being blamed for spying on you, cheating and raising utility bills, and causing cancer. See
    Communities are actually passing ordiances to prohibit the power companies from installing smart meters. People are padlocking their meters (which are property of the power company) to prevent installing the new meters.

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