C2C – the Emerging Energy Technologies Summit – day 1

So there I was, hiding out in the midst of some 500 entrepreneurs and business leaders (including the odd student and faculty member) who we were told would wander in and out as the Conference looked to create a pathway to “The Next Industrial Revolution,” this time in Energy. The two-day meeting/Summit is being held on the campus at the University of California-Santa Barbara, and seemed to be a good place to see what some of the more creative thinkers (the speakers include two Nobel Laureates) see as the technology to get us out of our current mess.

The first thing we learned is that they are no better than the rest of us at getting things done on time, but that minor quibble aside, I gather I was not the only one who felt something of a split between the tone of the first two papers presented, and much that followed.

The first paper was given by Paul Roberts who brought a perception of public attitude to the issue to preface the debate. He pointed out that the recent drop in oil prices has given the public the feeling that they “got through the problem”, and that many still have that “Faith Based Energy” belief, with solutions being “out there” and solutions being provided by divine intervention. In reality the situation has got worse over the past 5 years, demand is going up in many ways faster, but in a different form, than was anticipated. The result is that the American public, and that of most of the rest of the world do not see the problem. Car purchases are still at the heavier end of the spectrum.

He noted, as did some others I talked with, that the demands for oil in the future revolve less about “where will China get it’s oil,” than “where will America get it’s oil.” China has been very diligent in going around the world lining up long-term supplies. And with the available “float” between demand and available supply having dropped from 4 mbd to somewhere under 2 mbd, this intermediate term question is no longer a theoretical issue.

The supply of that oil is increasingly under geopolitical control, and politics control investment. And American policy has not really helped, he asked “If Saudi Arabia held free elections – that really were – tomorrow, who do you think they would elect?” And offered the hint that it would be unlikely to be Secretary Condoleeza Rice. He noted that even if the Iraq conflict were to be totally resolved tomorrow, our oil problems would not significantly change. And, further, we have reached a point that anything that disrupts supply threatens our future. Even with today’s higher technical tools for the oil industry there is little cause for optimism, and this is not a problem that is amenable to a “patch.” Outside that industry new technology is still struggling to get established. Given the incubation period to widespread application being a likely 20 – 30 years, we cannot afford to wait to make the necessary investments.

He was followed by Severin Borenstein who gave even more of a “downer” speech than Paul’s. He divided energy into sources and storage, and pointed out that hydrogen qualifies under storage (as does gasoline). The sources are fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar, wind and the renewables. And increasingly those sources must address three criteria: cost efficient supply, environmental impact, and geopolitical ramifications. In the last case he noted that while oil is a world market, natural gas is still largely a continental market, electricity is more of a local market. And as an illustration he noted that “there is plenty of coal in the United States,” is only true if we don’t have to worry about politics and the environment.

While he was the first to raise the issue of global warming, it became a topic that was then referred to by virtually every speaker that followed – and there were comments later that one should expect the Senate to vote out a bill on this issue but that it would be unlikely to pass through the House, and would face an almost certain Presidential veto. Fossil fuels are, at present, the cheapest option around and the likelihood is that we will continue with this status quo, for this is a global issue that goes beyond local action.

We are at a point where the choice becomes mitigation or adaptation, and whether it is paying a higher price for gas, or moving to higher ground as the tides rise, we are more likely to adapt than to change.

The program was then switched from that planned to allow Amory Lovins to speak, and largely go over some of the ground covered in his book on “Winning the Oil End Game.” He pointed out that, contrary to the earlier speech, the cheapest and most rewarding step is that of conservation and energy saving. He noted that companies such as IBM and DuPont have saved billions of dollars, by investing in energy saving approaches. And then he rhetorically asked if it would be possible to have the US save 3% of it’s energy use by a change in attitude. He noted that the US has done this in the past (the oil shocks of the ‘70s). China has made energy efficiency a prime target, and has achieved levels of up to 8% increase in efficiency, and when one notes that the US wastes 50% of its oil and gas, and 75% of the energy used in creating and using electricity, there is lots of scope for improvement. The key investment should be made in transportation, and he worked through the calculation that showed that a car really only usefully applies 0.3% of the energy it consumes in doing useful work. In the midst of this discussion and in noting how we could save much of our energy consumption (he illustrated this by commenting on the number of banana crops he gets from the plants in his house ) he did slip in that he has very high expectations for cellulosic ethanol – an opinion he did not really further discuss.

One of his themes has been the use of lighter materials to make vehicles, and the many advantages that this will bring, and he illustrated this by banging on a sample of a composite material, and having it ring like a bell. Times have changed, and he noted that Boeing have switched to making composite aircraft, and looked to the time when automobiles might be made the same way. Some changes are not so dramatic. Consider pumping systems, he noted that he has achieved savings of up to 75% of energy costs in a plant by having them use fat short, straight pipes in their plumbing, and replacing the elbows with Y-joints to reduce turbulence. Simple, but effective steps when one changes one’s orientation to the needed answer to a problem. He was not that impressed with the chances for improving the size of the nuclear industry. His comment was along the lines of “you can electro-stimulate the heart of a corpse, and it may jump around, but it will still be dead.”

In the question session that followed he and Paul Roberts answered questions from the floor, that elucidated the following opinions.
There is not enough natural gas to refine oil from tar sands, but LNG has some value as a bridge fuel, though it will be very sensitive to the availability of regasification plants. Shell’s oil shale venture is unlikely to work, but good for them, for trying.
The best use for coal is with steam to generate hydrogen.
When asked if wind farms change local weather he got a chuckle by just saying “no!”
And he noted that while the first two speakers were grim, because they were looking back, he was more optimistic, because he was looking forward.

And that proved to be the distinction between the speakers. For after the first two, the immediacy of the fossil energy supply issue was not a great concern in the short term, but instead global warming, and the longer term view of the problem became more the focus of the speakers. There was less a sense of urgency in the answers, and there was the clear implication that we had all the time needed to develop and implement these answers.

A somewhat different view was given by Stephen Golden of Catalytic Solutions who divided ideas into technology, as something that produced commercial value, and science, those that did not. His view was toward the immediate use of ideas to improve car, with his answer reverting to the work of Otto and Diesel, who gave us the answers. He recognized the problems of diesel exhaust, but the 2-year payback on change, and the presence of diesel hybrids in Europe suggest that this is the way to go.

Joe Powell from Shell pointed out that it is economics that control the oil business, and that while it is a very price competitive business, it is also one that has had to learn some hard lessons. In 1984 the company was approaching an answer to improving the absolute amount of oil they could get from a reservoir, by following the initial water flood with a soap or micellar flood or wash which could increase recovery. However, just as they were getting a handle on the problem the price of oil dropped and the program died. So now oil prices are back up, and the question becomes one of selecting which of the alternatives that face the company will provide the right investment in the face of a changing political climate. He came back to the problems of supply by adding the potential fossil energy resources, including oil, coal, oil shale, oil sands and natural gas, and compared them to current usage, to project a peak in all fossil energy supply within the next 30 years.

He sees enzymatic hydrolysis as being the path forward on cellulosic fuels, and the generation of syngas from biofuels as also being an answer. He felt that the GTL program for natural gas from Qatar was the way to go, and that hydrogen generation would ultimately go through the syngas production route since this would allow the carbon to be captured. And, down the road, gas hydrates – despite a very significant current technical set of problems - would yield the greatest new supply. He anticipated an EROI for the oil shale program as probably being around 3:1. He also noted that CO2 sequestration in an oil reservoir increases overall return, and “dry-cleans” the reservoir quite well. Shell has some 416 MW of wind turbines operating, with the greatest complaint being about noise, and the solar advances are likely to come from the copper-indium-diselenide approach. However, in reviewing all these options, the final choice will be made on the basis of energy profit, and he did not see any major breakthrough technologies on the horizon.

Mark Jones , of Dow Chemical, noted that it is a daunting task to face a change in the underlying foundation of one’s industry. He noted that the increase in the cost of the oil and natural gas drove the US from being a chemical exporter to a net importer after 2001, and that his industry, that makes many things from hydrocarbons, must now look for alternate sources from which to get that supply. He reviewed the costs and benefits of some of the choices that face his industry.

Alan Heeger was the first Laureate to address the meeting, and he talked about the work that was being done, by his group and the associated company Konarka , in developing solar cells that are printed onto plastic sheet (and brought a roll along). Current efficiencies are about 5.6%, but he pointed out a route forward that has the potential to increase efficiency above 15%, which is the current critical threshold.

Joan Ogden then talked about the Hydrogen Pathways program at UC-Davis, and quoted a National Academy report that, in time, it is likely that hydrogen will become as cheap as natural gas. Hydrogen is already reaching the point that enough for a 300 mile trip can be stored in a car, and some of the cars are very attractive not only to look at, but also to drive. But, to move forward, and to convince the manufacturers to invest, one must define who will be the first to drive these cars, who will buy them, and why, and how many stations should be installed to adequately supply those customers. The task becomes one of finding ways of making the car a “niftier” buy than the current hybrid. She expects that the source of hydrogen will be natural gas, with a target of supplying 10 million cars by 2025. (This will increase supply needs by 10%). Yet while this is a long-term goal, in order to get there, there remains a need to define an attractive short-term strategy to ensure that we make the progress we need to get there.

Michal Moore brought politics into the debate, pointing out that the pressure points that control the efficacy of electric grids, and their sources of power, flow through the chambers that host the hearings run by local state and federal legislators. From his perspective technological innovation must be something that works now, and which can replace existing technology with clear benefit, and which can be sold to the legislators, a difficult task. It requires long-term champions to understand the issues and shepherd the project, yet legislators will only fund items that provide benefit within their current term of office. Consumers want energy whenever they flip a switch, and are not really concerned about where power will come from in the future. But what most folk fail to realize is the role of capital in all this debate. Without a long-term assured return the capital will not be there. (This point was made again later by a venture capitalist, and also brought up in a discussion I had with another speaker at the reception). Those who change, or imply change to the rules for the future, make that future uncertain, and make it very difficult to ensure the availability of the necessary capital. Bear in mind that time matters, both in terms of being ready when the supply is needed, and in terms of getting the supply available so that the legislator can get credit within their term of office. And don’t forget that a reliably supply of energy is not an optional choice.

The final speaker was Bengt Kasemo from Sweden,who talked about some of the Swedish initiatives, and their hope to be free of nuclear power, while concurrently reducing dependence on oil and natural gas. That choice is made easier by the availability of rivers that can provide hydro-power, and the forests that cover much of the country. He mentioned their plan to provide a book on energy that was written in the chamber where Nobel Laureates are chosen, but which is aimed at children. He thinks they may have succeeding in creating one, but is not yet sure. The reainder of his talk dealt with the more futuristic applications of nano-technology, and he mentioned the interesting ability of shaped particles to control light through resonating at different frequencies as a function of size, and how this gets more interesting when the particles are elongated and can thus resonate in different modes, that generate different lights.

The podium was then turned over to the final panel, chaired by our second Laureate, Walter Kohn who led a panel that reviewed some of the day’s discussions. It was led off by Paul Davis of Titan Oil, who have a microbial process for enhanced oil recovery. He pointed out that 80% of the worlds oilfields are depleting but that 65% of the original oil in place (OOIP) cannot be recovered - some 6.2 trillion barrels. If only 10% of that were recoverable then the world would gain an additional 20 years worth of supply. Unfortunately we have passed beyond the years of cheap oil supply and production now is challenged to keep up with supply. Hal La Flash who also spoke last year, noted that algae gave a better ROI than most other biofuels and also that California is already ahead of most states in addressing the concerns about legislators that Michal Moore had discussed. The third panelist was Chuck McDermott a venture capitalist, who pointed out some of the issues that draw capital. He saw solar as leading, biofuels second, and clean coal (if it can overcome the environmental issues) as third.

In the discussion Walter Kohn pointed out that the developing world is at a critical point in regard to fuel supply, but feel that they are being robbed of their fair share, and are thus owed for the lost opportunity. He also said that we are bad at conservation. The sum of $35 a ton was quoted as the cost for carbon sequestration, and, in the final theme of the evening it was agreed that the politics of climate change had undergone a complete make-over within the past 12 months. Since this will impact the economics of coal power plants it makes them less attractive to banks and funding institutions, who do not like uncertainty in their investments. Thus the financing may not be there for many plants that are now planned.

And so to bed, before another full day tomorrow.

Its unfortunate that the US politicians lack the political imagination and will to actually change enough policies to improve our soceity. Whats wrong with mandating that all automobiles sold new must be diesel-electric plug in hybrids after a one year transition period? Whats wrong with a $50 a barrel import tax with the poceeds used to subsidise the construction of mass transit and the installation of wind and solar? Whats wrong with trying to buy back foreign ownership of our national debt with an import tax?
Under the Bush League the American can-do spirit has been replaced with American Can't do.

Mandating technologies is likely to be a bad way to go*.

The market will pick the best technologies.

What you need is a target for the market to shoot at: which is where tradeable carbon permits or carbon taxes come in.

The sorts of abrupt levels of taxation you suggest would cause massive unemployment.

Import taxes (tariffs) would cause trade wars, which would cripple American industry and American companies (American exports are bigger than you might think: Citibank and Pfizer are big exporters (in terms of flowing profits and employment back to the US-- -examples of companies you might not think of at first thought).

If the US is worried about its national debt, it needs to save more and spend less. The Current Account deficit is mathematically Net National Savings minus Investment on Gross Fixed Assets. That difference has to be financed from abroad.

The reason the US doesn't do the above is it would have been politically painful. GWB wanted a tax cut, and a Middle Eastern War, and to heck with government deficits.

* exception in energy conservation, where setting standards can drive reductions in use. But not to pick end application technologies, but the efficiency standards that things must meet.

Valuethinker, all modern economics is an answer to Karl Marx. Our society defines wealth capital and capital, and "markets" aren't desscribed by sacred texts. In fact we limit many markets out of social necessity. Banning the sale of gasoline engines isn't any different than banning the sale of machine guns or heroin.
As far as tax levels on imported oil causing unemployment, I can't see any relation. About 1/2 of any given barrel of oil is refined into gasoline, so at 42 gallons a barrel a $50/bbl imported oil tax would add less than $2.00/gallon to gasoline prices, less than most of the countries in Europe charge in gasoline consumption taxes.
What you are truly failing to consider is that if we do nothing the next major supply disruption is very likely to shoot oil prices above $100/bbl, only the money won't be benefiting the USA at all. If we would take our lumps now and put the money into changing our transportation fuel consumption now, we are in control. The price of imported crude would drop like a rock as supply outstripped consumption, and if we use the money to buy down our national debt and to conserve energy, we benefit, not Venezuella, Russia, the middle eastern potentates or Nigerian thugs.

OK trivial points first:

- Machine guns are legally sold in some states ;-).

- Legalisation of heroin is the coming thing. Switzerland, Holland and Germany are already there on an experimental basis. The UK had legalised heroin until the 1970s, then there was a scandal, and we are once again revisiting the question, having had a successful legalised heroin prescription programme in Merseyside in the early 90s, which was shut down under pressure from the US State Department. Within 20 years, heroin will be (again) legalised, available to addicts on controlled programmes-- the flood of cheap Afghan heroin almost guarantees this, as the law enforcement system cannot cope.

- You can't actually ban gasoline. The way the refineries are configured, they produce a fixed fraction of gasoline v. diesel (the fraction is variable, but not hugely so without complete reconstruction of the refinery system). So in Europe, where new diesel cars are 1/2 of sales, we have a shortage of diesel fuel, and diesel fuel prices are higher than gasoline prices (despite lower fuel duties)

Now to consequential matters.

- $50/bl is $365bn US a year.

Of that you would be handing $146bn pa in subsidy to domestic oil producers (US production 8 m b/d, consumption 12m b/d)-- the amount by which domestic producers would be able to raise their prices. There is no reason to subsidise domestic oil producers to that extent.

All that would happen is US domestic production would rise (so US oil supplies would be exhausted sooner).

This has happened before of course. From the 1930s to the 1970s, US domestic producers received a higher price than oil importers. I don't remember the exact impact, but it was as much as 100% (at that time $1/bl). It was to protect the domestic US oil industry.

The consequence of that is that when oil prices shot up during the 70s, the US had less oil yet to produce (exhaustible resource) than it would under previous circumstances.

- impact of a $50 rise in domestic oil prices, that US trading partners do not face

Essentially, any industry that is dependent on oil as an input (this probably includes aviation, but certainly packaging, plastics, chemicals, toys, auto trim etc.) will relocate production offshore.

The shock would cause substantial unemployment. Also the Fed would have to raise interest rates to fight the inflationary shock.

You also have some really serious effects regarding domestic heating for the poor. Not to mention public transport (again used primarily by the poor).

A gasoline tax, per se, would have more limited effects. Because gasoline is almost entirely used in the US economy for personal transportation, and there is quite a bit of slack there in terms of consumption/ efficiency.

- if the US thinks oil independence is a genuinely good idea, then it needs to act within the real world:

- although the US only imports 15% of its oil from the Middle East, oil is a purely fungible commodity. In short, it doesn't matter where it comes from, if you consume it, there is a problem

- it's irrelevant, except in conditions of severe supply disruption, whether the US imports oil, or produces it domestically. Better to import it now, if you think in the future oil is going to be more scarce (my key argument against drilling the ANWR)

- if the US is serious about reducing oil consumption, then the place to look is indeed personal transport. Higher gasoline taxes would help. So would CAFE standards (economically inefficient, but they have other merits). Ditto better urban planning and more public transport. R&D on fuel efficient vehicles is especially important

- technology will have a big piece of this. The US needs plug in diesel electric hybrid vehicles: the government could encourage the creation of markets for these by paying for civic governments and public transport authorities, etc. to have them. To the extent that transportation can be met by technologies that use electricity, this could be the big win on gasoline conservation.

- I can't really think of another area of the US economy, other than personal transport, where oil is obviously inefficiently used. In each other area, the consumer is primarily a company, and companies face market forces. Arguably US cities could be less spread out, there might be more use of railways rather than truck freight (but the railways are strained to the breaking point, right now). People fly too much (hard to give that up). The chemical industry uses a lot of gas as a feedstock.

- if you are worried about US overseas debt, then the solution is both as obvious as it is difficult. US increase in net overseas debt is equal to its current account deficit

Current Account Deficit = Net National Savings - Gross National Investment

you either invest less (bad idea-- that's future productivity in that capital spending) or save more. You save more by spending less as companies, consumers, or government.

The obvious one is the US government. Raise taxes! In particular, raise income taxes. The US deficit will fall, so will the current account deficit. The US will borrow less from abroad.

I might add find a way out of Iraq. That $100bn a year is straight onto US overseas borrowings.


Consumption 20m b/d (not 12)

Domestic production 8m b/d

Imports 12m b/d

I would be amongst those who would wonder whether it is sensible to count Canada as 'imports'. NAFTA effectively means Canadians and Americans rank equally with respect to access to their national resources, and the two countries are so integrated economically that a shortage (or surplus) of a commodity affects one as t'other.

Unfortunately American softwood lumber producers do not quite see things the same way ;-).

Imports are currently about 14 million barrels per day, and total consumption about 22 mmbd in the US. About 70% of oil production is used for transportation fuel, primarily gasoline for cars/light trucks.

But the main point I'm argueing is that an import tax on oil aimed at national security has a much better chance of being passed and signed in the current political climate than a carbon tax. If we really want to get something done we are going to have to address the politics realisticially, and we can count on American xenophobia and paranoia.

The market will pick the most profitable technologies, not the "best". I guess you are correct as long as you define "best" as "most profitable". This is the fundamental drawback to any laissez-faire market-based approach. A nice collection of research has been pointing this out for about 28 years now (see Environmental Sociology, the Treadmill of Production), but its sort of bad for business as usual.

I googled "Environmental sociology the treadmill of production" and came up with some terrific links. to the book by Allan Schnaiberg to online sites related to the work being done to explore these ideas.

Thanks for the tip!

That's the stuff, glad you found it useful. The journal "Organization & Environment" (the top Env. SOC journal) published a special issue on this topic in September of 2004 (Volume 17, Number 3).

I'll check it out -- maybe in the local University library.

FYI, "Profitable" means that people prefer the product produced by the industry more than they prefer the inputs. If automobiles weren't profitable that would means that people would pay more for all the resources used to assemble the car (materials, labor, plant and equipment components, land, etc) than for the car that the resources were used to assemble. The typical environmental advocate has a car and a house but prefers all the resources that other people would prefer to have put to use in their cars be left in the ground. Really, most advocate's problem with laissez-faire economics is all the "other people" who are making decisions about what they would prefer that the advocates don't prefer.

Now it's ok that communities can make regulations regarding the environment or otherwise but sometimes people make things too abstract and it tends to obscure the practical problems. They talk about "profits" and "greed" and "society" like they are animistic spirits inhabiting factories and suburbs.

The fallacy of the free market: the market is not free. Much consumption is a necessity to be part of society and/or to sustain oneself. Most labor on the market is offerred by people who don't have a choice but to offer their labor, and they don't have a choice but to buy food and living space on the market with their earnings. All this in short term, so they cannot accumulate capital, and cannot invest to change their situation.

The problem is pricing the externality (literally, an externality is a positive or negative cost imposed on others, which is not priced into the good or action).

The point about carbon taxes (or auctioned carbon permits) is to eliminate the externality.

That principle (see Ronald Coase -- you can google his Nobel Prize lecture) is the underpinning of all environmental economics.

In the case of toxins (benzene, or MTBE in groundwater) where there is no acceptable environmental limit, you do have to have a regulatory approach. Similarly if pollution is highly localised.

Market-based energy decisions are fine, and gets where we want to go if and only if we put the full price on the energy, including such things as environmental effects. Then, profit is a good thing to aim for, and may the most profitable (in a real sense) win.

Without full pricing, markets can't possibly make good decisions, more or less by definition. Does anybody even need to say this? Does anybody listen?

I would mandate that all new vehicles get as least 40mpg average, regardless of body type or technology. Set a longer term goal that minimum would be 50 mpg with executive discretion to raise the number higher than that but not lower. No separate standards for SUVs or similar such nonsense. Eliminate any tax breaks for vehicles getting less than 40mpg. Don't mandate technology; mandate performance. Also, could we transition,anyway, to all vehicles using diesel?

As long as we are mandating things, we need to set carbon emissions standards for all structures, whether they be residential, commercial, or industrial. We obsess too much about autos and forget that we are screwed if we don't do something radical about heating, cooling, and water heating.

We also need to set more rigorous standards for appliances, including heating and ac equipment. Mandate that standards be continously raised to meet state of the art, similar to what Japan does.

Along the lines of the import tax, we need to permanently ensure that gas never goes below $4 per gallon by keeping taxes high enough to counter the fluctuation of the market. To the extent that the import tax has an effect, less money will go to the foreign oil producers and more money will be kept here at home. I would favor some sort of rebate for the middle and lower income groups to compensate for the higher taxes, but this issue needs to be studied further to determine if people would realize they were getting their money back and, therefore, conserve less. I still tend to favor a rationing system whereby people are permitted to trade energy credits. While the government can issue the credits, it doesn't have to be directly involved in the trading except to ensure fair dealing and to manage the sorts of things it would normally regulate for any market.

An energy credit market could also be used to provide a more effective way for people to achieve carbon neutrality. As it is, one pretty much has to blindly trust those in the carbon neutrality business to be actually be doing things that truly offset carbon production. Although I bought a Terrapass last year, I still have trouble believing it is really offsetting the carbon produced by my Prius. If it is that easy and cheap, we can solve global warming tomorrow morning. With an energy credit market, I or an organization can buy credits from someone else which will show a clear offset to my energy use. For me to fly to Europe, someone else will have to cut back on their consumption.

I would argue that the energy problem is not a technical but rather a political problem. The advantage of mandating technologies is the limited resistance of the public to such approaches. In addition, if one subsides all non-fossil fuel forms of energy production, and there are not that many, one is not really picking technologies.

Nevertheless, the simplest and probably only mechanism that will limit fossil fuel consumption in the long run is increasing the cost. The question then becomes how to persuade the public to accept a carbon tax, given that the future catastrophe has not yet caused them significant pain.

My suggestion is revenue neutral, escalating carbon tax that is completely returned to the taxpayers as rebate, proportional to the social security payments each individual has made. Receiving rebates shortly before each round of carbon tax increase should decrease public resistance.

By using this tax to partially offset the social security tax, this proposal mitigates the regressive nature of the carbon tax by reducing the even more regressive social security tax.

Most young voters will love the tax as it provides a muscular method of reducing CO2 emissions, while reducing their social security payments.

Both the elderly and the poor will benefit, as the increasing costs of automobiles will drive towns and cities (who-oo-oo, maybe even the federal government) to support mass transit.

By reducing demand for oil, it is likely this plan will reduce the cost of oil, decreasing wealth transfer from Americans to oil exporting countries.

The trick here is to find a formula that is politically feasible.


Hi Daniel, and Robert D.,

Thanks and a Q: You write "I would argue that the energy problem is not a technical but rather a political problem." While, further down, Robert proided a link to his paper on a "...Steady State" (No Growth) Society".

At the same time, Feb. 8 "Hellasious" provided an outline of an economic-transition plan involving expanding the money supply. H asked for questions (I have many, but perhaps posted too late, as he/she didn't reply).

Here's my question. In view of the truism supplied by Dryki, namely,

"The heavy math thinkers have done the math.
Exponential growth vs. finite resources doesn't work."

And, at the same time, the last sentence of Robert's paper says "The growth model must fail at some point...we can start taking steps now to plan for such a day..."

Q: What steps?

Q: Toward what end? ie., Do you have any idea of how this can function or if it's possible to retain anything we'd like to see kept?

Dear Aniya,

Ahh, that is lot of questions and I am a biochemist. I cannot imagine that growth in the sense of bigger houses and more widgets can continue indefinitely. In my personal life I have walked the walk by not making a lot of money – minimal personal financial success was an easy goal to meet.

My suggestion was more limited. Peak oil and global warming are clear risks with apparent solutions IF political will can be found. We have to pay more for energy, I think it is that simple. On this one issue, sustainability might then be possible.


Daniel, we're on the same page. Decreasing carbon and acheiving energy independence are'nt mutually exclusive. But calling for a carbon tax won't work because its too esoteric to appeal to the mass of voters and stinks of Liberalism to the right wing controlled media. The wing nuts own the means of communication, so we'll have to end run them.
The foreign oil dependency of the USA truly threatens our national security and our economy. We are importing 14 million barrels a day at over $50/ bbl and spending NINE BILLION DOLLARS A MONTH on a brutal, senseless resource war where we are clearly the aggressor. That's why Americans hate the Major oil companies. It has destroyed our morals and our self image as good guys.
An oil import tax using the proceeds to fund renewable energy and reduce our national debt attacks the basic problem of living beyond our means, but I also really like your idea of Social Security rebates. And if the funding also included windmills and solar on every roof, we'd be able to shut down coal plants plus cut everyone's utility bills and add to their sense of being in contol of their own lives, or self-reliance to use the term of Emerson. And it would make a whole lot of good paying US jobs to boot.
I'm in oil and gas exploration and production, I'm a landman. We could make this more politicially palatable by putting a price ceiling on domestic oil prices of say $60/bbl. Since domestic oil oduction would be exempt from an import tax, this would remove a threat of price volatility from oil production, helping the industry. And since it would cause a crash in offshore prices, it would help the developing world too while depriving the oil exporters of revenue.
I'm sure a lot of my business colleagues would find my sugestion crazy and threatening. But sometimes we all have to sacrifice for the public good, and global warming and bankruptcy of the US economy are real no joke threats. Its not Liberal or Conservative, its a threat to the beautiful blue green planet we all share.

I pretty much agree.

My own thought is that the Alaska personal dividend offers a good model.

The reason being not everyone pays Social Security. A tax credit (say at half rate for under 16s) ensures that every legal resident of the US is being reached (retired included). To benefit, all one has to do is structure a lifestyle that burns less carbon than the average American.

Auction the rights to carbon emission-- if you do this at the gas pipeline/ oil refinery/ coal mine level you only have 3 or 4 thousand entities to monitor. Give existing polluters say 50% of the permits for free which reduces the transition shock. (actually I would start it at 90%, and ratchet it down over say 10 years).

Distribute the revenue from the auction (net of monitoring and enforcement costs) as a credit to each legal resident of the US.

Say the price level was $100/tonne. That works out to about $200bn, so say $100bn to distribute. (of course consumption of carbon would fall over time from that, that would be the whole point)

The personal dividend is then about $333 per person. A household with 2 adults and 2 children might get $1200 pa, which is enough to offset increases in heating and electricity bills, if not all of the increase in gasoline bills.

Good write up.
I've always followed the technology side of the house, but I hadn't consider the role of capital.

HO, Noting the difference between the first two Roberts/Borenstein vs. Lovins divide, how would assess the ethos of entire conference along these lines? My guess is that Lovins would carry the day.

BTW, very interesting and helpful post.

Great post! Thanks for allowing TODers a glimpse into this conference!

The role of capital is an interesting concept. Mostly people are talking about the role of dollars thrown at various projects, and that is important.

The role of natural capital is by far the most important issue, in my opinion.

We've been throwing our real capital -- natural capital -- away with complete abandon.

So how do we get from ignoring natural capital to stewarding and husbanding natural capital so that we can continue tio reap dividends from it in the future?

"Real Cost" or "True Cost" acounting and assessment must come to the fore if our economy is to be grounded in reality.

Right now I think that market data and analysis screens out the most important information and areas of concern.

Insurance people of course are slowly getting a handle on this. Investment people are much slower in this way -- information about the importance of natural capital is just starting to trickle down.

We are far, far, from where we need to be and the economy we've developed may indeed be so divorced from reality that it is a "suicidal" and "psychotic" economy.

I'll be curious to see if many comments are made in this seminar that address the urgency of the need for radical, immediate, and concrete changes as opposed to techo-speak and market-speak "Pie In The Sky In the Sweet By And By" boosterism.

With respect to the urgency of the current situation, I think Matt Simmons is taking the right lead in saying the crisis is now; peak oil is here. Even if there is doubt, from a planning and implementing point of view, it is better for people to understand the urgency.

I know that there is a feeling that maybe Saudia Arabia and Angola and US deep water will give us a few more years, so lets say that peak is expected to be 2012 or so - that way we won't be embarrassed if we call the peak too soon. I think there is as more to be lost by saying the peak is too late than calling it too early. When we say the peak is 2012 or so, people assume that we have lots of time to find and implement solutions, so why worry. 2012 is still a crisis timeframe, but people don't understand that.

Awareness of the urgency of our situation WRT peak oil and global climate change is trickling down in such a painfully slow way so far.

I hope for a "tipping point" that will speed the process of change before the impacts of either PO or GCC hit much harder.

Hi Gail,

Re: urgency... Matt Simmons spoke recently about going on a "war footing". One of the speakers at this conference, Byron Washom, spoke informally after his talk and used the exact same phrase. I was curious and asked... he said he had not heard Matt's use of it. I'd really like to hear more from both of them about exactly what they mean. How they see this. What this entails.

Byron's concern seemed to be focussed on the increasing energy use of the developing world. The main illustration of his talk was of the "South Pole Up" orientation of the globe, and he also (in response to a Q informally) seems to believe there's so much room for efficiency improvement in the US, that "peak" is not really an immediate concern *for the US* - is my impression. (Again, would like to verify, if given the opportunity.)

I wonder if we could compile some questions about this "war footing" and invite answers from Matt, Byron and others.

Thanks for the report on the conference, it sounded very interesting and your report was very inclusive, good for a re-read, and I will have to do some time chasing out some of the names and topics to see where the path leads. I notice that Biofuel was mentioned only in passing glance, and almost no mention of biotech/microbiological development in the biofuels trade. Bio fuel seems to have become somehow all about ethanol, but other things are happening, to wit a post I did for my own little group the other night....below

Recently, I have discussed my fascination with bio-butanol, a fascination that I owe partly to TOD’s own resident petro-alchemist Robert Rapiar.

For those not in the know about what bio-butanol is, go to Wikipedia first for a look a butanol in general, and they will lead you on a merry path (if you like this sort of thing) into the world of alcohols of 1, 2, 3 and 4 carbon type. Our bio-butanol is the 4 carbon type, a very special little molecule indeed, in that it mimics many of the characteristics of gasoline, and in fact seems to be able to act as a one to one replacement for gasoline without modification of the existing infrastructure. From there, as if a microbial produced alcohol that acts like gasoline was not strange enough, we follow the chase to our rich friends, now bedfellows in what they call the “2nd generation bio-fuel” trade, BP (British Petroleum) and Dupont Corp., the giant American chemical firm.

BP and Dupont have partnered on a biofuels project, with the stated goal to introduce bio-butanol into the United Kingdom as a motor fuel additive by late 2007. That’s very fast on development and introduction as these things go, and the prospect of a new biofuel of great promise that soon has many people turning heads, and doing some quick Googling online, as many who have long studied the energy trade were caught unawares on this one, asking “what the helll is butanol and where do you get it, what does it come from, etc., etc. (I place myself i the unaware class until recently, so the thrill of the chase and the detective hunt is half the fun!).

The most promising crop for the production of bio-butanol right now seems to be the sugar beet. Bio-butanol however can be produced from just about any starch or sugar yielding input, such as harvested crops like corn or sugar cane, (it has this in common with the 2 carbon alcohol many love to hate, ethanol) but butanol can also be fermented from waste product, such as cheese and diary whey, lumbar waste, etc., but it goes without saying that the higher the sugar content and the cheaper the crop, the better the yield both financially and from the EROEI perspective. This is where many see bio-butanol as having a big jump on ethanol (plus the above mentioned infrastructure compatibility with a world already built for gasoline.

Back to the sugar beet. This is a crop that produces a root that is almost 30 percent by weight glucose, grows relatively well in almost any coolish climate, and is less demanding on water, soil, and fertilizer input than corn, the chosen source crop for the ethanol industry.

Sugar beet has another advantage. It’s cheap. In fact, only subsidies have made the survival of much of the sugar beet farming community able to continue the trade. In Europe, which currently badly needs some new supply of liquid fuel, they also badly need to reduce the subsidy payments to sugar beet farmers. From the U.K., we get the story:

With the U.K., we get the perfect test market for bio-butanol, and sugar beet as fuel. As TOD readers know, the British North Sea is in production decline, a decline that now seems permanent and perhaps catastrophic if it accelerates to any great degree. We have a nation that is a farming nation, and has a net surplus of cheap sugar beet, in fact, such a surplus that once subsidies are removed, sugar beet becomes almost agricultural waste as it comes out of the ground. For sugar beet farmers, a market is needed, and fast. For BP and Dupont, a raw sugar source for bio-fuel is needed, and fast. For the world, we have a test case to watch, and see if ethanol now has a new competitor. This should be interesting.

There are still discomforting questions hanging out there. How much nitrogen is required for sugar beet production at a given level? This means a great deal, because most nitrogen fertilizer is of natural gas extraction, and Britain is declining on nat gas production as well as oil production. Can BP/Dupont overcome the cost to volume issues that have long limited bio-butanol? No so long ago, a standard number of 7% Butanol per volume of water was accepted as the norm, meaning that butanol would still need a fair amount of distilling down after fermentation. Can we make use of the other byproducts, the Acetone and Hydrogen by product? The possibilities seem great of advances using some of these in “compound” loops to create even newer and more interesting blends of fuels, perhaps even fuels to go into advanced fuel cells, but we are at the front end of developments here.

Either way, we are seeing the reshaping of the biofuel debate. The ethanol supporters, which had only the fossil fuel competition a few years ago to concern itself with, no has to worry about a possible “format war” in the biofuel trade, competing against not only oil and suffering from higher natural gas prices (a real conundrum here...higher oil prices make ethanol more competitive, but oil and natural gas often rise in tandem, and higher natural gas prices, due to the need for fertilizer and distilling make ethanol less competitive!)

Many eyes in America are now turned to Britain. The U.S. has a large sugar beet growing industry in it’s northern states who are also in need of a growing market. Dupont’s money and expertise can make things happen. And the gasoline retailers lick their chops at the prospect of an alcohol that can be placed in their current tanks and pumps without the massive infrastructure modifications required by ethanol. Would folks like Vinod Khosla and Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen jump ship on the corn growers? They have to be doing some heavy thinking and investigating right now.

In the liquid fuels trade, the term “all liquids” is beginning to take on new meaning, and we are at the very front of this game. The fun is just now getting started!

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom.

Roger Conner Jr.

Science vs. technology. The thought that what we need now is applied technology is a good one indeed. We have the science. Below, some forgotten technology. I always wonder if one of the heavy math types have ever tried to do a calculation on how much fuel could "created" that is to say saved, by capturing the combined deceleration braking on the vehicles of America.


An old idea comes back to life:


The technology:

Do take the time to check out the animations of how it works, fascinating.

As a brief aside, check out the website in general, more fascination!

The tinkers join the game:


Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only cubic mile from freedom.

The discussion between energy storage and energy production is very relevent to possible savings and efficiency in the use of already produced energy. The principle issue facing the introduction of solar/wind is variability.

Can electric power be stored on a large scale? Technically, yes. The questions are all financial. Check the fascinating discussion below, and link to the prior posts by the same author on this discussion:

Here's the basis for a whole conference in itself! We need a discussion somewhere of application of emerging technology we already have, but for whatever reason (mostly capital, as the conference you attended mentioned).

Roger Conner
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom.

Large scale electrical power cannot be stored. It must be generated at the time it is used to very precise frequencies and voltages and balanced to the millisecond. To use the more correct term, electro-magnetic energy, cannot be stored in any significant way without those generators turning at the power station. Whilst some voltage or energy can be stored in capacitors, this is generally used to balance phase voltages in the grid but in no way could it provide a large balanced power supply

Down Under, did you read Roger's link to Energy Pulse? (great link by the Roger, thanks). The article describes all sorts of storage schemes, not just capacitors. And the comments are worth reading too, especially those on PHEVs.

Yes I did read it but I still stand by what I said. He did not say storing water or air or anything else. He said electrcial power - if by that he meant electrical energy, it can't be stored somewhere on a large scale for later use on a large scale. It's not possible.

Large scale electrical power CAN be stored !


One of many pumped storage hydroelectric plants to store electrical energy. Bath County has 81% cycle efficiency (rework increased this from 79.8%).

Best Hopes,


The heavy math thinkers have done the math.

Exponential growth vs. finite resources doesn't work.

cfm in Gray, ME

Roger, GREAT POST!!!
A reason to be more optimistic. Could convert cars as they are without replacing the whole fleet.

The problem is that the basic assumptions are never questioned. In the case of the developed nations the most important is that we need to continue with a consumerist/capitalist economic model.

This is based upon two axioms. First, that a continual supply of raw materials will be available at a cheap enough price and second, that firms continue to need to grow.

As we now see the assumptions about raw materials are starting to be an issue. Much of the world is already facing water and arable land constraints. The need for growth is based upon the capitalist model of borrowing money and then paying it back plus the interest generated by growth.

The ecological economists such as Herman Daly have proven that continual growth is impossible in a finite system like the Earth. Now we have to get the politicians and economists to understand this.

What the industrialized countries need to do is to plan for a sustainable economic model. Here are two essays on this. The first by Daly outlining the problem and the second one of mine explaining the economic adjustments needed.


Planning for a No Growth Economy

There are a different set of issues in the developing world where a minimum standard of living does not yet exist.

I haven't had time to read either essay but, to me, the "growth economy" (including population growth) is the elephant in the room. I've argued on many posts that the most important thing to address is how we arrive at a stable-state economy. All of the efforts being put forth attempt to maintain the status quo via AE will fail.

This, of course, leads to concerns about population. We've been down that road so I won't rehash it.

Hi Todd,

I'm interested in your question: "I've argued on many posts that the most important thing to address is how we arrive at a stable-state economy."

I read David D's essay, and it seems to lay out a "way to get there", although I didn't really grasp what the "stable-state" economy might look like...(perhaps I missed it.). He speaks about a 50% tax, to be re-distributed to those who are in the stages of life-cycle that prevent or preclude (paying) productive employment. (If I understand it correctly.)

Q: What does "it" look like once we're there? Does it retain any of the features we consider desireable?

Shell has some 416 MW of wind turbines operating, with the greatest complaint being about noise, and the solar advances are likely to come from the copper-indium-diselenide approach.

The former Shell Solar Solar factories which produce solar cells on silicium basis have been taken over one year ago by a german company. This was heavily discussed, because Shell obviously missed in investments in its factories and ran out of of solar grade supply. Without this their factories were not anymore able to produce. They only kept their copper-indium-diselenide research programme. Therefore probably this opinion.

As far as I can tell, the next years, the silicium based solar cell is still state-of-the-arts technology. The largest solar cells producers currently invest a lot of money in expanding their capacities. The CIS cells will get some market share, but because it is based as well on some rare materials, it will not be a product which will fit for a mass market.

This opinion, postulated by a man from Shell, is therefore only understandable because this is their only venture left in the solar cell industry.

Hi Heading Out,

Thanks for this write-up! I thought it was interesting that Chuck McDermott said explicitly he'd studied the issue for two years, and decided "peak oil" was real. (I forget exactly how he worded it.)

At least two of "us" (I mean, I feel attached, anyway) seemed to possess a "TOD-reader/infrequent-poster"-radar as we happened upon each other right away at the reception, never having met before. I'm looking forward to your next installment.

The answer to kick starting technology solutions and reducing CO2 is a carbon tax. Carbon trading permits are a very poor substitute second place choice.

Ideally the world would agree a single price for carbon that will be applied on a uniform basis per barrel of oil, per ton of coal or per btu of natural gas. Oil and gas may need a multiplier for Peak Oil as they produce much less carbon than coal. However the starting point is coal. The price must be high - the stuff really should stay in the ground.

Any country that steps out of line will have import tariffs applied to its exports by other countries on a punitive basis.

The carbon trading scheme is much more complex to introduce, difficult to monitor and much more costly.

Of course individual countries should remain free to raise or lower other taxes. Hopefully ones own country would reduce other taxes so that the introduction of the carbon tax would be revenue netral. That way the ecobomy does not have "extra costs" imposed.

Hi Saildog,

Thanks and could you elaborate? By "price" - do you mean "tax"? Or, who keeps the extra "profit" on the price? (Which I assume you mean to be higher than is current.)

1) Is the goal to reduce consumption, then?

2) Re: "The price must be high - the stuff really should stay in the ground." Are you referring only to coal, or to coal, oil and NG (the whole works)?

3) If everyone agrees on higher, evenly distributed prices across the board and globally - what would this change, exactly?

Dear SailDog,

I agree as I indicated above - the problem is political. How to make the public accept this tax.

There's a classic paper about pollution permits v. pollution taxes.

Weizman, M.L. "Prices vs. Quantities". Review of Economic Studies 41(4): 477-499.


is an excellent summary of the 2 approaches.

Roughly the difference is about uncertainty of desired outcome:

permits are preferred if:

- you want to quantitatively fix the amount of effluent (a tax can't do this) eg 7 bn tonnes pa of carbon

taxes are preferred if:

- you don't know what the right amount of allowable effluent is

It's arguable that taxes might be easier to enforce. On the other hand, taxes may be politically less acceptable.

The Kyoto Treaty was set on the basis that each country would agree to a quantitative target, but choose its own set of policy instruments to achieve it.

A global agreement on how to price carbon may be impossible. Conversely, if we nail the top 20% of emitting countries, we account for over 80% of human CO2 emissions.

The bad news is that one of those countries is the USA, and its President is GW Bush, and his Vice President is a former oil man and Congressman representing the leading coal mining state in the Union ;-).

How high does a carbon tax have to be to cause a 10,20,40, and 80% reduction in carbon emissions? Put another way, how high does a gas tax have to be to cause a 20% reduction in the use of gasoline. My guess would be about $10 per gallon. Given the inelastic nature of the demand of gas and other carbon emitting products, I think that we would have to impose truly astronomical taxes in order to get very little impact.

I don't think we know how high taxes need to be to have much of an impact on our consumption. We do know, however, that the most recent significant increases in gas prices had very little impact.

The problem is a straight tax on carbon or gasoline, for example, is that everyone takes the hit on a per ton or gallon basis. There is no distinction between the most frugal and the most profligate, as they all pay the same amount for the marginal pound or the marginal gallon. It is regressive. It is all well and good to say we will provide rebates, but we will have to do more than provide rebates becaue many citizens will actually require payments in excess of their income or social security tax to make up the difference.

The tax route is so inefficient mainly because we simply don't know how high the tax should be. No doubt, the tax would start off rather low. It will take years before we get it right; that is, it will take years before it is high enough to really have much of an impact. We may experience a massive disruption of the economy without much benefit.

I think carbon or gasoline rationing is more straightforward. It forces the policy make r/regulator to state upfront how much carbon we are allowed to emit and how much of a reduction that will be. Unlike a tax based system, those who are frugal will benefit twice. They will save because they are buying less gasoline, for example, and they will profit because they can sell their excess credits. The profligate will also be impacted twice, negatively. They will pay more because they are consuming more and they will pay premium prices for carbon or gasoline above their number of rationed credits. The price of the extra credits, traded in a free market, could become astronomical. Built into the system is a strong disincentive for profligacy. Yes, the truly rich will continue to consume as before, but at a very heavy price because they are paying more at the margin, a lot more than the frugal or merely conservative.

Actually, I think a scheme where people can trade their credits would be less costly than a taxing scheme because the taxing scheme would have to be constantly adjusted to get the level of taxes right. With taxes, we are flying blind and fighting a system that is highly inelastic. We don't have the time to spend several years or even a decade dicking around with taxes. At the first sign of trouble the tax rises will be suspended or the program will be abandoned altogether.

Under a taxing scheme, the level of taxes will be debated ad nauseum every time the issue comes up. Look what happened with the last price rise in gasoline. There was talk everywhere of even reducing or eliminating the excise tax on gas.

Analytically a tradeable permit scheme and a per unit tax have the identical effects *if* there is no uncertainty.

The point about a per unit tax is that if you then economise, you pay less tax. It won't cause a reduction in consumption (ie emission) without doing that.

As to how high it has to be, we don't know. What we do know is that $100/tonne of Carbon triggers entry by all the leading non-carbon energy technologies for power generation: nuclear, wind, potentially carbon capture and storage.

I agree the problem with a tax is we don't know at what level it would achieve the required reduction in CO2 emission.

On transport the demand elasticity of gasoline is estimated to be 0.1 in the short run.

ie a 100% rise in the price of gasoline has a 10% reduction in demand

In the long run, 0.3 to 0.5 ie 30-50% drop in gasoline consumption.

There are many other cheaper measures to reduce CO2 (such as saving the rainforest) that can kick in at $30/tonne of carbon, or even lower. In the case of improvements to household energy efficiency, they might kick in even lower than that (because you save what you are already spending on energy).

Dear Tstreet,

If one evershoots on an escalating revenue neutral carbon tax one has still traded an income tax (ie reducing the social security tax) for consumption tax on nonrenewable resource. This is as close as one comes to a certain economic win. Further, I don't think it is possible to reduce CO2 emmissions to much.

A bit off, but has anyone ever suggested shutting down all the supermarkets one day a week? Stay home and relax- get rid of the stresses of life- save a LOT of fuel & provide a better quality of family life for many. After all everyone only has so many disposible dollars. Do we need stores open 24/7 to do so??

Great point!(24/7) It used to be @12-14/6. Shoppers would need to stock up a little more during the week for the closed day although thinking a couple of days ahead might cause some people stress. ;)

It's unclear it would save much energy though.

The air con and the chillers presumably still have to run (to preserve food). The lights can be turned down (some of them).

Would there be fewer journeys to the supermarket? I must admit I fall into the camp of I go when I have to-- if it's open fewer hours, *I* am inconvenienced, but it doesn't make much odds, I'll still go about as often as I do.

It would reduce competition and increase profits for supermarkets.

You could close *all* shopping malls on Sundays. Since malls are entertainment as well as shopping, then presumably there would be fewer trips to the mall

*but* people might drive somewhere else, instead.

The 'quick win' I can identify is trying to get people to work 4 days a week from work ie telecommute 1 day a week. *that* could save 10% of total gasoline bills (on the assumption that half of gasoline consumption is commuting).

Of course, people might then drive to the mall more often ;-).

Zara's (2.5 blocks away) is open 9 AM to 6 PM six days a week and is usually my first choice for groceries. Two other neighborhood groceries (4 and 5 blocks away) are open on Sundays (limited afternoon hours for one) as is Walmart (my second choice) 6 blocks away. Walmart hours have slowly increased since Katrina and are up to 7 AM to 8 PM seven days.week.

BTW, New Orleans is the most 24 hour city in the US (except possibly Las Vegas). People walking the streets of my neighborhood at all hours.

Best Hopes for walking to your groceries :-)


Good point. I guess from where I live we have to combine as many trips as possible as "town" is 20 miles one way. The other option is going broke or spending your entire life "on the road". Shopping for us is a first class pain in the ass(!). $300.00+ "visit's" to Costco are common. Friends of my son where amazed at the quantity of food we keep in the house at all times. "It like a store in here" they would say looking in the cupboard. Hey, 40 miles is a long way when the mood hits for a tuna sandwich with pickles. :)
My wife lived in town for a few years when she was younger and said that they too fell into the shop daily mode. I think after an initial bunch of whining americans would adapt. I'm sure the president would send me to the gulags for saying shut down all stores on Sunday. Might make for an interesting debate between the religous right and his oil buddies. Hmmm who would win, I wonder....

This is a North American thing. The rest of us have smaller homes and fridges.

My wife is still amazed that I think you never buy anything in a store that is not in 3.

The problem in the 2 career family is that just being able to shop on Saturdays is a nightmare (everyone else is doing it). When I came to the UK, Sunday shopping was illegal, about all that was open was small very highly priced newspaper shops with some canned goods- I know what of I speak.

Now that you can shop on Sunday for 5 hours, it makes Saturday just about bearable (if you go *early* ie from when it opens (9am) until about 10.30). I can do Oxford Street on a Saturday, and be finished by 10.30.

Of Oxford Street on a Thursday night (late opening night) or Saturday afternoon, Jean Paul Sartre wrote 'hell is other people' ;-).

Germany the shops used to be closed Saturday afternoons as well. The German model was, of course, that no woman with children worked (it's still looked down on, to the point where a leading newspaper could criticise the family minister (who has 6 kids) for being a bad mother. In North America that newspaper would be lynched). So it didn't matter if everything was closed from 2pm on Saturday-- the hausfrau should have done the shopping when the kids were at school.

I think the Germans have eased up.

Ah, another good point. Back in closed on Sunday was the norm more moms stayed at home. Now it is rare to see it the other way around.
Buying in 3's - Well this is the Costco method if thier is such a thing. We like it because we stock up anyway and it is generally priced better.
Off peak shopping - boy that is a time saver. Mid morning, mid week seems best here.
There is a store that advertises that they are open 25 hrs a day. I hate this kind of hype. Why not 26 or 32 its all B.S. anyway. Next thing they will be open 8 days a week too.

Or rather charge you five quarters a dollar ;)

The legislation here allows shopkeepers to open whenever they want, but up to a fixed limit per week. That way, flexibility is allowed without opening the door for a non-stop shopping orgy.

Hi US TODers,

Here's a thought. It will be easier for the US to reduce it's oil consumption than it will be for the UK (where I live).

Comparing the US and UK per capita oil production and consumption is simplistic. Temperatures are much hotter or colder through the year and distances are much greater but the McMansions and 3 ton SUVs don't help. On the other hand we're not so badly off here in the UK and we do fly a lot.

I thought it would be instructive to swap the figures for the two countries to see what the US oil deficit would be if you had UK levels of consumption. The figures are from the latest BP statistical review for 2005 in mbpd:

Country Prod Cons Pop(m) Equiv Imports%
US 6.83 20.7 300 8.95 10.24
UK 1.81 1.8 60 4.13 129.85

The US Equiv value (8.95mbd) is US oil consumption at the UK per capita consumption rate.

So, if the US had the same per capita oil consumption as the UK then you would be importing 10.24% or your oil needs. Throw in Canada and Mexico, and North America is a net exporter of oil. Wow! How hard was that?

The UK on the other hand would be sending out the gunboats (again) and invading the Middle East (again)...

You really need to adjust for GDP per capita. On a purchasing power parity basis (rather than the current exchange rate which is ridiculous) I think Brits have about 65% of the USian per capita GDP.

Americans have homes which I would guess are twice as large on average (remember, most American homes have a finished basement, most British homes don't even have a cellar). It is hotter (and more humid!) in summer-- most Brits don't have air con (yet!). And it's a lot colder in most of the USA in winter.

Americans have more cars. American cities are more spread out than British cities. America itself is a vastly bigger country-- Lands End to John O' Groats is only 700 miles, and 90% of the population lives in the southern half of that-- so it's as if America was New York plus New England.

New York has London levels of public transport use (I think about half of NYC commuters use public transport), but no other American city comes anywhere close nor is likely to (the downtown core is no longer the majority of the jobs in any US urban centre).

There are some obvious savings (diesel cars, smaller cars, etc.).

But getting Americans down to British levels of energy consumption will be hard work.

I don't see a viable way to do permits or a cap and trade system for gasoline. I also think some sort of ration card is even less politically viable than a gas or carbon tax. Given the apparent agreement that energy prices (at least fossil fuel generated) must go up, the issue of political feasibility appears to be the question.

While I agree that national security is a sales point, wouldn’t an oil import tax violate free trade agreements. The Alaskan style rebate does have the advantage of generality and addresses the issue of regression.

The revenue neutral escalating carbon tax returned as a social security rebate was based on a concept of generational responsibility that I thought would increase its appeal. The current social security system is just a crime against our kids. Thus combining the two proposals explicitly allows the connection between environmental and financial generational responsibility to be made. Although an escalating carbon tax would eventually restructure our communities the initial impact would be modest – and people would still get their social security rebates. As electric and heating CO2 taxes would be somewhat hidden, most would get back more money than paid for the visible gasoline tax. If Americans believed the tax would be revenue neutral and address the social security mess, I still think the proposal could be sold. On the other hand we are dealing with human psychology here.