What Are Our Alternatives--If Fossil Fuels Are Such a Problem?

This is a guest post by Gail the Actuary.

1. I love my SUV. Why can't we continue to use oil and gas as in the past?

George W. Bush has given us one reason why we need to make changes - Unstable foreign oil supply. Al Gore has given us another reason - Climate change.

There is a third reason that trumps the first two - WE DON'T REALLY HAVE A CHOICE. Demand for both oil and natural gas continues to rise each year, as the result of China, India and other countries wanting to adopt a lifestyle more like that in the United States. As we saw in Oil Quiz - Test Your Knowledge, world oil supply is likely to decline in the near future. With demand increasing and supply decreasing, there is certain to be a significant gap in the not too distant future.

Natural gas is similar. Like oil, we started with a finite quantity of it, and it is now depleting. The main difference is that we are dealing primarily with a gap between North American supply and demand, rather than world supply and demand, because natural gas is difficult to transport. Demand is rising, because natural gas is viewed as a less-polluting source of energy.

Natural gas supply is likely to decline in the next few years, because most of the larger, more productive sites have already been tapped. New natural gas wells are getting smaller and smaller, so that more and more new wells need to come on line each year, just to stay even. For a while, we were able to make up our shortfall with imports from Canada, but these have begun to decline. In the next few years, both US production and imports from Canada will be declining. It is doubtful that liquified natural gas imports from overseas will be able to fill the gap.

(7 more questions and answers under the fold...along with a study guide! Go Gail Go!)

2. How much of the fuel we use is oil? How much is natural gas?

For the United States, 40% of our energy use is petroleum and 23% is natural gas, as shown in Figure 1. In total, these fuels which are expected to be in short supply comprise 63% of our energy supply.

Fuel distribution by type

Another 23% is coal, which is the other fossil fuel. Because of its high carbon content, it generates more carbon dioxide than petroleum and natural gas, contributing to global warming. If climate change is a major issue, coal usage should be reduced as well. Together, the three fossil fuels comprise 86% of our fuel supply.

The remaining fuels are nuclear at 8%, and renewables at 6%. The largest renewable is hydro-electric. Other renewables include wood, landfill gas, biofuels, geothermal, wind, solar, and many other new types of energy. Since renewables total only 6%, all are very small in comparison to fossil fuels.

3. Won't ethanol cover our fossil fuel shortfall? I know we are growing a lot of corn for ethanol and it is supposed to be a clean fuel.

A few years ago, corn ethanol looked like a very good idea. It would provide an additional market for farmers' corn, thereby helping to hold the price up. Also, as a fuel additive, it would act as a substitute for MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether), which makes gasoline burn cleaner, but does not easily biodegrade, so tends to pollute the groundwater.

While corn ethanol works as a replacement for MTBE, it does very little to increase the liquid fuel supply. It takes a huge amount of corn to produce a small amount of ethanol (20% of the 2006 corn crop added the equivalent of 2.4% to the US gasoline supply energy level.) When the fossil fuels used in growing corn and making ethanol are considered, the net energy gain to the fuel supply in 2006 was virtually nothing (0.4% or even negative, depending on the study).

Ethanol from corn has increased greatly in recent years, because of the significant subsidies it receives. The wisdom of increasing corn ethanol production further is now being questioned because of its poor net energy gain, its indirect impact on food costs, and its adverse environmental impacts (including soil erosion and aquifer depletion, due to its high water usage).

4. How about Brazilian ethanol from sugar cane? Will this cover our fossil fuel shortage?

Brazilian sugar cane ethanol is a little better than corn ethanol, but is still unlikely to be more than a small part of the solution to the fossil fuel shortage. It is better than corn ethanol, in that it requires less fossil fuel input, because manual labor is used to harvest the sugar cane and because the unused stalks ("bagasse") are burned to provide the heat for the ethanol processing.

It is likely to be only a partial solution to the fuel shortage for many reasons. The amount of sugar ethanol produced in Brazil currently is similar to the amount of corn ethanol produced in the United States. Even if Brazil doubled its production, and sent the entire increased production to the United States, we would be talking about only a 2% to 3% increase in our gasoline supply.

Furthermore, we are again taking about a foreign source of fuel. Climate change issues have been raised regarding the clearing of land for the use in planting more acres of sugar cane. The United States cannot easily follow this sugar cane model, because we do not have much land suitable for growing sugar cane, our growing season is shorter, and our minimum wage would result in much higher labor costs.

5. Could we solve our problem by replacing our SUVs with very energy-efficient models, like Priuses?

This would certainly be a step in the right direction. A couple of things to keep in mind - First, it would be very difficult to do this in practice, except over many years. Once SUVs are viewed as problematic, their resale value will drop greatly, so that they will have little trade in value. Manufacturers will need to produce a huge number of the high milage cars - many more than they would normally sell in a single year. It would take them several years to manufacture the number of cars needed.

Another point to consider is that even if we solve our fuel shortage with respect to transportation, we will still have major shortages in other areas. Figure 2 shows energy use in the United States, divided among buildings, industrial, and transportation. Surprisingly, transportation is the smallest of the three.

Energy Use

One reason for the high amount of energy used in buildings is that our houses are very large, and we expect them to be heated and cooled to a constant temperature year around. Another area where a large amount of energy is used is in producing our food -- diesel is used for tractors and transportation; natural gas is used to make fertilizer. Manufacturing goods for sale, whether they are cars or appliances or new houses, takes a large amount of energy as well. We will either need to expand our energy sources to meet the needs of these sectors, or we will need to find ways to use the available energy more efficiently.

6. What are our best options for offsetting expected shortfalls in oil and natural gas production?

In Oil Quiz Question 10, we learned that implementing even a known technology on a large scale takes 10 to 20 years. Since implementing a new technology takes even longer, and since declines in oil and gas production are expected in the next few years, our best options for offsetting the shortfall are technologies that already are available. These include:

  • Coal - "Coal to liquid" technology for producing liquid fuel has been available since World War II, but technology for sequestering carbon dioxide (necessary to prevent global warming) has not yet been perfected.
  • Nuclear - Can be expanded, but waste disposal is an issue.
  • Hydroelectric - Most good sites for dams already taken, but a few smaller sites may be available.
  • Waste products used as liquid and gas sources, including landfill gas and biofuels from waste products can likely be expanded.
  • Geothermal heat pumps. Can only be used in certain locations.
  • Wind. Can be expanded.
  • Thermal solar energy and photovoltaic solar energy. Can be expanded.
  • Biomass such as wood burned for fuel. Difficult to expand significantly.
  • Biofuels from food crops, such as ethanol. At best, a very small part of the solution.

Some technologies which may be developed in the next few years include:

  • Biofuels from plant material other than foods, including algae.
  • Improved batteries, to permit electric cars. May possibly be powered by solar panels on roofs of garages.
  • Improved electrical storage, to permit more extensive use of wind energy.
  • Electrical power from more distributed sources, to reduce power loss in line transmission.
  • Technologies to capture wave energy and tidal energy.

Some of these possible technologies will be discussed more in later posts. It might be noted that hydrogen powered vehicles appear to many years away, so are unlikely to be part of any solution. Hydrogen is very bulky, making fuel storage in a vehicle difficult.

7. What is the likelihood that the technologies described in (6) will allow the US energy supply to continue to grow?

Not very high, considering the portion of energy supply that is declining, and the sources available to make up the shortfall. We are expecting a decline in petroleum and natural gas production. These sources together comprise 63% of the US energy supply. This leaves only 37% of energy resources which might be increased (Figure 1).

The largest of the remaining resources is coal, which comprises 23% of the total. While we have all heard stories that the United States has 200 years worth of coal in reserves, some recent analyses suggest that this estimate is very much overstated, and that coal production may also decline in a few years. Even if there is an adequate supply, it is difficult to increase coal production quickly, because of the need to build additional railroad capacity to transport the greater supply. There are also global warming issues with increasing coal production.

Nuclear energy can probably be increased, but lead times for new facilities are very long and there are waste disposal issues.

If we exclude coal and nuclear, we are down to renewables, which comprise only 6% of the energy supply (Figure 1). Starting from such a small base, it is difficult to increase production enough to make up for a shortfall in the oil and gas supply.

8. What can be done, if the various sources for increased energy production do not fully offset the decline in oil and gas production? If this happens, our total energy supply is likely to decline, instead of continuing to increase.

Conservation will likely need to be a part of any future energy plan, to make the best use of the energy that is available. We currently are very wasteful in the way we use energy, so there are likely ways to reduce energy usage, without hardship.

This also will be discussed at greater length in a future post.

To Learn More

Ethanol and Biofuels: Agriculture, Infrastructure, and Market Constraints Related to Expanded Production Report by Congressional Research Service, published March 16, 2007.

Richard Heinberg's Summary of the Coal Situation, published March 22, 2007.

Crude Oil: Uncertainty about Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production GAO Report published February 2007.

Questions for Discussion

1a. In Oil Quiz (Question 7), we said that most geologist predict that oil production will begin to decline between now and 2012, but some predict the decline will begin as late as 2020. We said that governmental agencies, like the US Energy Information Agency, are projecting that oil production growth will continue until at least 2030. Some of the independent oil companies are also projecting long-term growth in production.

Print out pages 13, 47, and 48 of the GAO report listed in the "To Learn More" section. Mark each of the graph items on page 13 as "governmental agency", "oil company", or "probably geologist", based on the information on pages 47 and 48. Also, print out page 8 of the Hirsch Report, prepared for the Department of Energy in 2005. Based on the projections shown in these reports, would you agree or disagree with our description of the situation?

1b. Is there any reason why an oil company might want to show rising oil production for an extended period? A government agency? If you were preparing the GAO report, would you give equal weight to the predictions of the oil companies, governmental agencies, and independent geologists?

2. The GAO report was issued to the public on March 28, 2007. How much press coverage do you expect it to get? Why?

3. Divide up into two groups. Based on what you have learned in the press and what you have learned here, debate whether corn ethanol production should be expanded.

4. In total, what percentage of the gap between supply and demand for oil and natural gas do you expect to be made up by alternatives of the types listed in Question 6? How much of the gap will be made up by conservation? What will happen if neither of these are very successful?

I hope you will help Gail get as many readers for this as you can. Thanks.

I'm glad that this reminder is of lower profile than in the past, but do we really need these at all? Do we see any benefit from them? Other than frowning in slight annoyance at the repeated badgering, I completely ignore them and would rather they just disappear.

Opinion noted.

It is a kind reminder. That's all.

Look, the goal is to get these folks as many readers as possible and grow the site.

If you do not wish to take 15 seconds of your day to click a button and help in that endeavor that's fine.

I thought it was quite sympathetic, actually. It never stopped me from ignoring the button - nor makes its absence me ignoring them.

I don't ignore the button, just the message. And it's only the fact that it's on nearly ever post that I find a little...wasteful. Heck, if the reminder was just done every so often, I'd be happy as a lark.

In no way am I saying that the site doesn't deserve promoting. But I am curious if the reminder's presence correlates to increased views.

Maybe do the reminder every couple of weeks; that should do.

Antoinetta III

It worked for me. I completely ignored the reddit and digg buttons (they are at the top of the story, before I read it).
This reminded me of them and I judged the article worthy of a digg.

There are a lot of crap posts around. That reminder is not one of them.

You bring up a good point. It would be handy to have the reddit and digg buttons follow the article. By all rights, they should only follow the article, because you should really have read the article before promoting it, but pragmatism might trump righteousnous here.

This article is a mishmash of assumptions... coulds and shoulds. Where's the kitchen sink? I'm a geologist who must live on another planet as I've never been privy to many of the statistics and facts that 'geologists say'.

One comment: (would write more but difficult to concentrate with a seal staring at me. We used to eat seal flipper pie where I grew up in Newfondland and that photo makes me hungry). The USA is not the world and the USA will be 'a' player in future in the energy debate and related issues such as global warming. Articles that start of with the USA... the USA... the USA... and then extrapololate some world conclusions are myopic. It's almost irrelevent how the USA approaches coal use (which, despite the article will expand significantly.) What's relevent is how China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan,etc. use coal.

My Icelandic friends have a dislike for anything that eats Icelandic fish (except humans that pay Icelanders for Icelandic fish :-)

I have eaten Minke whale (not endangered, but competes by eating fish). The fewer seals, the more fish for us !

Icelanders do wear fur without shame.

And seal flipper pie sounds good !


Ah! It's jellyologist! You are the fellow that insists there is PLENTY of oil, aren't you? And you are the fellow who Stuart reminded that world discoveries peaked in the early 1960s. You geologists must surely be off your game if world discoveries have gone down, down, down for 40+ years! Why, I'd say that must be sheer incompetence, especially since there must be SO MUCH OIL out there!

You should haul your butt back to work, jellyologist. You and your wife have a lot of oil to find in the next few years. Or maybe you are not a competent geologist at all, eh? Well, whatever you are, you are NOT finding much oil lately, are you? And neither are your geologist friends.

*end sarcasm, for the sarcasm impaired*

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

I'm getting the feeling that since this fellow (and/or his "geologist" wife) seem to want to spout opinions without either facts or data to back them up, and have used the "appeal to authority" dodge in their posts, what we have here is just another troll. Again, TODers, kindly just ignore them and they will go away.

Gail the Actuary, thanks for an excellent summary of the Peak Energy situation. One suggestion if its not too late-your article needs to link to Dave Cohen's Running with the Red Queen about the North American natural gas situation.

For the last 9 months I've been primarily working on "unconventional" natural gas-putting together leases on the Mississipian-Silurian shale gas trend in far West Texas, Hudspeth County. Unconventional gas has become the new conventional-about 1/3rd of the current US production is from unconventional sources-shale, coal bed methane and tight sand and lime reservoirs. Over 2/3rds of the current onshore gas development activity is in unconventional gas, and these kinds of wells are very expensive to drill and operate compared to traditional reservoirs. Prices will have to remain very high in order to make any profits.
The majors have begun to get very involved in unconventional gas-Exxon,Shell and Connoco-Phillips all have big blocks and are buying more leases and drilling, and half the independents in the US seem to have unconventional gas plays.

Bob, part of what I read into the unconventional gas exploration developments is a recognition that the Barnett Shale play isn't unique. For that reason, I am more optomistic about natural gas than oil.

As you indicate, it won't be cheap, and we may not have enough rigs to bring it on line soon enough, but there appears to be some upside ...

I plan to add some more segments on different energy-related topics, including natural gas. I have been a little reluctant to go back to edit segments at this point, because the links have dates in them. I am afraid that if I edit a segment, old links to the segment will not work.

I have been working with some folks at Kennesaw State University. The plan is eventually to put together a "regular" web site, with teaching materials for high schools and colleges. We hope that the material will be helpful to the general public, as well as students.

The segment shown today is the second one I put up. The first one was Oil Quiz - Test Your Knowledge.

My biggest problem with alternatives to oil is that Peak Oil is a global problem and we can no longer isolate ourselves from the rest of the world.

I see little or nothing in remediation efforts that would address the problems of the third world. In fact if you estimate costs and EROI reductions for moving to alternatives its not clear we can save ourselves without a lot of pain.

To take one case of a border country Mexico if they suffer serious problems from peak oil we will not escape.

The reason this is critical is that if we wish to even try to address the problems of a global power down we need to start yesterday esp if peak oil is already at our doorstep.

I'm not convinced attempts at local power down in the face of a deteriorating world economy will be successful. This sort of bigoted me first approach is what got us into the mess in the first places.

Sorry for the strong language but I don't think people are willing to face the problem we must solve. I'm not impressed with whats been proposed as solutions so far they are a joke.

So lets start with problem 1.

How do you feed 6 billion people when your running out of oil ?

Then worry about getting rid of the SUV and air conditioning a bit later. We can always ride bicycles and bring back horses. Or god forbid walk.

In the interim tax gas to the max EU gas taxes are to low a exponentially increasing tax scheme is better that results in 1000% tax by 2020. Federalize taxies and make them part of the mass transit system and use mileage based cards for their use. Lower the cost for shared taxies.
The biggest reason mass transit works well in other countries is taxis are cheap without cheap taxies you will never get people out of their cars. The current glut of SUV's can be converted for example.
If we can't do the obvious and make gasoline painful to buy then we are toast. For power plants slap aggressive exponential CO2 taxes on them. Turn most of our highways into toll roads.

Finally work on making taxies EV and use some of above tax money to fund alternatives. If we can't tax to get converted
thats a huge problem since we have too. Simply doing the taxies and taxes as shown above will go a long way to solving our problems and provide the basis for letting the free market find the right solutions without any expensive grandiose schemes.

But again figure out what we are going to do with 6 billion people first any local plan depends on this if we don't have a global strategy none of the above probably matters.

We can always ride bicycles and bring back horses. Or god forbid walk.

This Blast Back to the Past (horses, bicycles, rick shaws) may no longer be viable. There are too many of us and not enough horses. Besides, horse manure may present a problem in terms of global warming and stench in the city. Bicycles are not an option for older people who live in the snow belt.

Surely there are futuristic ideas, such as switching to electric powered transporation and reworking our streets to include charge/ discharge ports at every stop light for our PHEV's.

Well older people will simply have to tough it out.

Seriously. They are going to get wiped out anyway if we do nothing. If they are on fixed incomes they face a uncertain future no matter what we do. Your solution does not help them in the least its a pipe dream.

Before we spend the tax money I proposed on techno dreamland we need to provide housing and transport for the poor and the old relocating them if necessary. As you see we have our own equivalent of the third world inside the US. Or you can drive your pretty hybrid through Compton when gas hits 7 dollars a gallon.

Once you grasp the real situation I think you will see we need to solve our biggest problems first with what we have and only then can we use whatever resources remain to try and create a better life.

Nothing against hybrids mind you but your not solving the real problems we face. Hybrids without crushing gas taxes to prevent the tragedy of the commons are useless. And crushing gas taxes result in the same problem for the old and poor. Hybrids do nothing but allow the wealthy to continue to live a better lifestyle.

Now if you wait until the money for gasoline is going into the true cost and not taxes you have nothing for the old and poor. Look at the EU they have high fuel taxes and they old and poor there are not dying. Nothing wrong with moving to better technology but recognize its not a solution.

"Well older people will simply have to tough it out.

Seriously. They are going to get wiped out anyway if we do nothing. If they are on fixed incomes they face a uncertain future no matter what we do."

Seems to me there are some assumptions here that are only valid prior to "the stuff hitting the fan" which merit further consideration:

"If they are on fixed incomes..." "Fixed Incomes" implies the continuation of some combination of the "welfare state", stock market, etc in a form that will "work" to a degree necessary to provide a survival income for these folks independant of their adult children This seems highly doubtfull to me if we move to a state long term global economic shrinkage post P.O.

One of the many traditional social arrangments that the "energy slaves" have allowed us to discard is that caring for ones parents in their old age is a obligation of adult children i.e. the "extended" family living under one roof, or at least within walking distance of each other

I agree this is the problem we need to solve not how some schmuck is going to get to work. Solutions start with looking at the issues with the weakest members of or society. If we can't take care of them in the future then no amount of technical wizardry is going to help.

So if you wan't to look local.

1.) How do we feed house and provide transport for the poor and old as peak oil unfolds.
2.) How do we encourage the people that are healthy to use human powered transport. We need to become very cycle friendly and work hard to bring back horses/mules where possible. If you really think about they once did a pretty good job why not bring them back ?

Thus the very first thing you do is allow people to live using zero energy outside of human power to live.

No electric trolleys etc.

After you have this plan in place then you can look at how technology can make life a bit easier. But done correctly everyone should be able to live a happy life without using any external power for transport unless they need to travel long distance. But during their daily life they should never need anything but their own two feet.

Now as far as energy use at home goes. First we don't need everyone to have a huge freezer. If you have local markets you can buy what you need daily. Again the design should allow people to live a nice life without a refrigerator at home.

Next solar panels should be enough to power a minimum amount of communication technology if you want it.

Overall you see where I'm going people should be able to live a good life with a few PV cells to power the lights and clean hot/cold water. Everything else should be in walking distance.

So you start with a plan to support the minimum energy life style thats pleasant and solve the issues with the poorest work out from there. The key is to support a lifestyle that requires no external energy sources outside of food. This allows us to use almost all our energy for needed public transport and manufacturing/business use.

One of the things my wife and I did back in my bus driving days was raise two independent intelligent young ladies. My daughters were my first economic priority and when they have children of their own I expect them to put their children's welfare ahead of mine. The next generation is always more important than the last though American politicians seem to think otherwise. As a society we have sorely shortchanged our children in order to save elderly millionaires a few bucks on taxes.

Some of us older folks have better survival skills than the younger set.

For sure in many cases! I'm just suggesting that the sort of "money economy" model in which we now find ourselves, in which a large percentage of "older folks" depend on "investment income", pension funds and other such things for their income may become less viable, insofar as these things are in large part an artifact of exponential growth based economies, in my opinion

"Bicycles are not an option for older people who live in the snow belt."

They could always use tricycles. We're in the "snowbelt" and have an 80+ year old woman in town who uses her tricycle for transportation. Besides, most of the year we don't have any snow. Most of the "older people" around here could really use some exercise.

And there are futuristic ideas - Segways and light rail. Or are only ideas involving thousands of pounds of personally directed metal shell an option?

I live in Chicago, and I see older people riding bicycles year round except during the most bitter of days in the winter, or when the roads are icy. I guess it's a matter of false perceptions/expectations that older people, colder climates, and bicycles are somehow incompatible.

Now I don't expect that every senior will be capable of riding a bicycle, but many will and do. Aging is not an automatic handicap.

Now for those elderly who's lives are artificially maintained at great expense by modern medical technologies... a grim fate may await them.

the grim reaper will certainly cure many of their energy addiction.

The snow belt seems to be receding. Didn't NYC used to be in the snow belt. Well, not this January. I live in the "snow belt" in Colorado but are winters are getting shorter faster. April is the new June and used to be our biggest snow month. Well, no snow last year and I don't have much hope for this year either. I have a diary entry for 1999 that talks about the snow we got in June. Haven't seen that for awhile nor do I expect to see it ever again.

I'm always suprised on this site when I see how little people realize the incredible amount of generating capacity that would be needed to replace petroleum with electricity. And that about half of our (USA) electric generation is from coal. No solution there........

If one trades 20 BTUs of diesel for 1 BTU of electricity to move a bit less freight around, it seems doable to me.

And if 2,000 pax-mpg Urban Rail also reduces the demand for transportation significantly, with lower energy demand housing, that also seems doable to me.

I can see a system that works as a whole.

Best Hopes,


[Do] people realize the incredible amount of generating capacity that would be needed to replace petroleum with electricity [?]

I think there are some people who do realize ....

The point is that electricity can be "produced" (actually converted) from a variety of other energy sources and transmitted at near the speed of light via wires.

As the title of this post asks, what are the alternatives?

I'm always suprised on this site when I see how little people realize the incredible amount of generating capacity that would be needed to replace petroleum with electricity.

It's not incredible, it's quite reasonable.  And I not only realized it, I calculated it the better part of 3 years ago.

If you wanted to replace 20%-efficient piston engines with 60%-efficient oil-burning combined-cycle gas turbines, you could cut oil consumption while still running the transport system on oil.  However, wind, solar PV and nuclear would all be competitive with piston engines running on $100/bbl oil.

Surely there are futuristic ideas, such as switching to electric powered transporation and reworking our streets to include charge/ discharge ports at every stop light for our PHEV's.

Looking at the predictions of peak coal and peak gas, you have to wonder if there will be many driving cars in the future, electric or otherwise. You may end up seeing bus stops at every stop light.

How do you feed 6 billion people when your running out of oil ?

This is the big unsolvable problem. We should have done everything we possibly could to prevent us from becoming so overpopulated, including forced sterilizations. It's too late now.

I've got huge gardens, greenhouse, hand tools, gardening skills, milk cow on pasture, scythes for mowing hay. But I'm going to be surrounded by starving people when the economy collapses. There's nothing I can do for them, I'll have trouble just feeding my two person household.

All you have to do is think about it and you realize how hopeless the situation is. But we're humans, and I'm sure we'll keep trying to to come up with solutions until the bitter end.

Keep trying to come up with solutions?!?

Some humans may be doing that, but on the whole most people in "developed" societies are happy to allow, or actively work to exacerbate (knowingly or unknowingly), the conditions that cause the suffering in the first place. As long as their quality of life is good, they are happy.

You could say the problems are simply too overwhelming for any one person to be able to do much about it - and that is true - however, political discussion in wealthy countries primarily has to do with who gets even more wealthy in that country. There is almost never any concern for the fundamental systemic problems faced by the majority of the world's human population. Too many see it as a zero sum game - we win when others lose.

MILLIONS of people live in slums all over the world TODAY. We (the "comfortable" people of the "first" world) could do something about that. We choose not to. MILLIONS of people are malnourished TODAY. We could do something about that. We choose not to.

Does it really make much of a difference if geological realities force even greater problems than the problems we ourselves create? The majority of human beings today live in deplorable conditions. In future, the majority of human beings will live in deplorable conditions. The only difference being there will be fewer human beings.

Sorry for that ray of sunshine, but I am tired of the hypocrisy*. Talking of peak oil and global warming as a big problem because of the effect they will have on poor people is, in most cases, simply hypocritical. If it was the poor (and, in too many people's minds, racially inferior) people exclusively doing the suffering, most people would not care about peak oil or global warming. As proof I simply present to you today's energy-intensive, highly polluting societies. (Canada and the United States in particular.)

*In general. I don't mean to attack you or other people who sincerely care about the planet and human suffering, wherever it occurs.

I agree but the problem is that I think as peak oil and global warming unfold our ability to hide from the real problem diminish. Also a lot of people don't realize that our western nations have third world poverty problems internally now. Somehow we manage to ignore the vast slums filled with illegal immigrant and just plain poor surrounding us today. Its like these places don't even exist.

Peak Oil and Global Warming will either force use to become even more obvious in our hypocrisy or we will actually finally address the problems we face.

I work with not for profit agencies in Chicago who focus on the homeless and the poor. My expectation is that there will be more and more homeless and poor as the economies of the west deteriorate under the burden of energy scarcity/prices, and climate change.

Chicago is horribly underserved now and most certainly that situation will not improve at all in the future. Oddly the US is in the throws of an ill-conceived, politically motivated, "10 year plan" to end homelessness, which has absolutely no chance of success given its lack of funding. Politicians will find ways to claim victory while the problem will only get worse.

The bigger issue its sad to say is not helping these people but ensuring they don't riot if conditions worsen.

You can solve the riot problem by either removing the cause or force.

Commiting a crime pays when you have nothing to lose. Even jail is better than starvation or freezing to death.

If we lose all sense of community in the future, and large numbers are disenfranchised: we can expect violence. If on the other hand, we can establish a sense of community and work together, then things may work out. It wont be America as we knew it in the 1990s, but I'm not sure that will be altogether bad either.

I agree but right now I fear few people even understand the problems we need to face much less work on solutions.

I think you hit on the key point when you mention community. We will not get through this by trying to setup tiny survivalist enclaves. We need to find a way to get through this together or very few of us will get through this.

You are dead on, JustZisGuy...is it a coincidence that I am reading Derrick Jensen's Endgame right about now?

I think you should pick up Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"
Good Read.
Jeff Jones

It's rough, but not hopeless. I'm sorry that your thinking about it ends up in hopelessness. I don't agree that this is the only conclusion, but I'm not surprised, and many more will end up with this dread as we go along.

We're certainly all on one, finite Planet, but we're not all on one boat. The vast array of places where humans live today will become increasingly fractured, which will be devastating for some who rely too thoroughly on imports, but will also be restorative and protective for those places that are being depleted by exports. Meanwhile, the tools and techniques we've devised over the last few centuries have been disseminated worldwide, (in varying degrees) as have literacy and multi-lingual skills.

I'm not concerning myself with Warlords, Famines or other causes of Dieoffs. I fully expect them. It's a good day to die, but I may just keep dodging what bullets I can, while I can. It will happen in one place, but not in all, and not forever. You keep your eyes open and do your best.. find allies and keep your Good Wolf well fed.

I don't for a minute buy this suggestion that 'Ingenuity and Inventiveness' have deserted us through some scatological reading of the Patent Office Database. Rubbish! The combinations of tools and materials that we now know how to work with is not going to disappear, even if there are a bunch of civil wars, Dictatorships, whatever Haranguing Hordes scouring the scene..

It'll be the best of times and the worst of times.

'What's so great about discovery? It's a destructive, invasive process.. What you call progress, I call the rape of the natural world.' ... 'Life.. Finds a way..'
Ian Malcolm, Rock Star, Scientist.. Jurassic Park

including forced sterilizations.

I sure hope you've already voluntarily had yourself sterilized.


Yup. I have not contributed to the problem.

You will also have trouble staving off the starving people.


I agree that feeding 6 billion people is probably the biggest issue, but it is hard to tackle this first, (or even very early on), for an audience of young people, or for an audience recently exposed to the peak oil story.

I recently wrote an article for actuaries that is to be published in the next few weeks called "Our Finite World: Implications for Actuaries". Since actuaries are used to looking at mortality tables and financial implication, I talk about the implications of overshoot. I also talk about financial implications for insurance companies and pension plans.

In order to keep feeding the 6 million as best possible, it would seem like we should give agriculture top priority, with what energy is available. I am not certain what we need to do to make this happen.

Maintaining the food supply is important. Probably one of the most important things we could do is to introduce sustainable agriculture where possible. We need to wean ourselves off fertilizer and more important well water. The biggest problem here is actually water. This is not and easy problem to solve since irrigation from ground water is probably the biggest part of the success of the green revolution. Its not a easy problem to solve by any means but whats important is to recognize and focus on the real problems we need to solve.
I agree its tough to jump right to the heart of the problem but you have to make this leap or we are going to have a very very tough time. As I said below cheap oil allowed us to basically paper over these problems and keep them contained we did not solve anything. Once the crutch of cheap oil is gone we have no choice but to solve these tough problems. Just about every single problem we have turned a blind eye towards over the decades since WWII is going to grow rapidly over the next few years.

To bring the situation home. Whats going to happen in America if we are faced with a civil/guerrilla war on our southern border. Eventually we will see heavily armed bandits crossing the border and piracy at sea.

I suspect Venezuela would be more than happy to finance and arm bandits attacking the US directly. And what will the US have to do to stop this. Invade Venezuela great then what will the Chinese do? And you have my Nuclear proxy scenario.
The point is we cannot hide as most of the world goes down.

Also remember WWI did not start at the center of Europe. And Germany did not invade France to start WWII. Don't forget the Mongols. In short the big wars start with conflict at the edges and build and the powerful are forced to take positions. Peak oil fueled civil and regional war covering almost half the world will sooner or later drag in everyone.

And finally here in America we have the seeds in place to turn into a Neo-Nazi state acts like the patriot laws have eroded civil liberties and we have illegal immigration esp from Mexico instead of Jews but we are not in great shape politically to prevent dissolution of democracy as we face some of the biggest problems the world has known since WWII.
The worlds political and social institution esp in the third world will be stressed and broken.

Of course we can keep tilting million dollar windmills and patting ourselves on the back about how smart we are. But looking back it was our own arrogance that got us to here today I guess its only fitting that it will eventually be our undoing.

In order to keep feeding the 6 million as best possible, it would seem like we should give agriculture top priority, with what energy is available. I am not certain what we need to do to make this happen.

I suspect they will give agriculture priority for what energy supplies are available, for a while. But you are going to have an economic implosion, and skyrocketing food prices, which means more and more people won't be able to buy food. That's when you get social breakdown and violence.

I practice and teach sustainable small-scale agriculture. I live in a rural, socially progressive state (Vermont). The vast majority of people living here are not farmers, not even serious gardeners, and many don't even have access to farmable land. And we're probably a lot better off than most places in the U.S. I'm trying to figure out how I can keep my own neighborhood fed. I live in a rural area but there are lots of other houses around within walking distance. I had a neighborhood meeting with five of my neighbors last year and talked about Peak Oil. Only one of them is doing anything to prepare to feed himself. It takes years and years of practice to learn how to produce food consistently. If people haven't started now it's probably too late.

So how well is my sustainable mini-farm going to fare when the stuff hits the fan? Are my unprepared neighbors going to just curl up and die while I sit here munching on my home-grown potatoes? And what about all the masses of people in the cities who will have no access to food? They're only a tank full of gas away.

I don't expect we'll go quietly into the long night though being humans and all.

Hey Solardude, I left a six figure job covering the caribbean for a food distribution company to come to Vermont and live sustainably. I am in a small footprint house in a medium sized town with 6 acres to work with. I am also involved in the Addison County Conservation Congress and their "Fueling our Community- Building local, sustainable energy solutions" What part of the state are you in?
Jeff Jones


I've mentioned Vandana Shiva several times but if you have missed it here is her site.


You will find here no lover of the green revolution nor of western corporate agri-business. Which is lucky because neither of those work.

India has an agricultural past that spans millenniums and all the tools we need and as well it even has something relatively unknown in the West, humility.

Thanks. I have read a little of her material before.

I think water is going to be a big issue in India in the future (made worse by privatization). Also the ability of farmers to save their seed and plant it the next year. May be a problem here, too.

I am surprised that you did not touch on the concepts in:


Implied in the longer view application of this strategy is a reforming of our Urban housing, business and commerical patterns. Rebuilding smaller MUCH more energy efficient (and smaller) housing, office and shopping areas gives a chance to "do it right".

Yes, it will take time but "first effects" could be seen in a half dozen years.

Best Hopes,


Nice article Alan.

Electrified rail always reminds me of the old Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul and Pacific. They electrified back 1915-1920, from Harlow, MT to Avery, Id and Othello, Wa to Tacoma, Wa.

"do it right"- the Milwaukee blew it. Voted in early 1973 to de-electrify, where their own studies showed electrifying the Avery to Othello link would save it. By time the de-electrification was complete in 74, the oil crisis was in full swing, electric engines ran for half of diesels, and the price of copper had crashed, negating much of their scrap sales.

I agree that expansion of rail is an extremely good idea.

I have to quibble with you, though. It would be much cheaper to replace personal vehicles with PHEV's, and insulate & retrofit buildings with air & ground heat pumps (and selectively replace some buildings), than to relocate all of our current building use to denser urban areas. Heck, it would be cheaper to add resistance electrical heating, if we had to (perish the thought!).

We could all move to cities, and transit-oriented development. If done properly it would be a nice way to live. Heck, it's the way I choose to live now, and I hope/expect that we will gradually move in that direction. But, it would be much, much more expensive to do that on a crash basis for everybody, compared to just electrifying our current system.

It depends upon timeframe.

Housing built in 2000 will need major repairs starting in the 2020-2030 time frame (new construction has gotten consistently cheaper and less durable, decade by decade, since 1945 as builders got smarter). The operating costs (including repair) for most US housing can exceed their replacement cost + new operating cost (the classical definition of scrap decision).

Perhaps 1/3rd of Americans would chose the option that I outlined today IF IT WERE READILY AVAILABLE ! Go post-Peak Oil a half dozen years and that % will grow significantly.

I disagree about the "cheaper". PHEVs have limited life spans (battery life is still unknown) but all cars get into accidents, most have problems with salt, almost none have the durability of my 1982 M-B 240D :-) OTOH, Urban Rail has extraordinary life spans. Industry standard in the US is bus life (they are built MUCH tougher than PHEVs) of 12 to 15 years; rail cars 30 to 40 years and I use 1923/24 built streetcars :-)

I used an 1897 built subway everyday during ASPO-Boston, I live close to an 1834 streetcar line.

Once ridership density gets high enough, (even without reducing "gold plating" common today; 1% for "Art in Transit" is a small part of it) "first cost" for Urban Rail will be lower than PHEVs.

And PHEVs support a high energy density Urban form; Urban Rail creates low energy density TOD.

I do NOT believe in 100% of anything (except scrapping 100% of the H2 & H3 Hunner, Escalades, Expeditions, etc.) as a solution. If, in 2037, half of Americans lived in energy efficient housing within a mile of an Urban Rail stop or station, I would be satisfied (and hopefully they would be as well).

PHEVs will also be part of the solution, but hopefully a smaller part than Urban Rail since they preserve a high energy use Urban form.

Best Hopes,


" The operating costs (including repair) for most US housing can exceed their replacement cost + new operating cost (the classical definition of scrap decision)."

I'm afraid I'm not following your logic. Are you suggesting that heating costs will rise, and that it will be cheaper to demolish housing (and build new) than to insulate and install electric heat pumps??

Are you suggesting that if replacement were necessary, it would be cheaper to rebuild low-heating-cost housing in dense urban areas than it would be in suburban areas??

"I disagree about the "cheaper"."

Perhaps trains are cheaper than PHEV's. I certainly agree that they're a better way to commute. But...that doesn't seem to be the question at hand. People have already shown that they like personal transportation, despite it's drawbacks & expense.

The question is, are the total lifecycle costs of PHEV's combined with expensive gasoline going to be significantly higher than current ICE vehicles? It seems clear to me that they will not: They may have slightly higher capital cost, but maintenance and fuel costs will be lower than those of today's ICE vehicles.

How would it pay to move into denser, urban areas with much higher purchase costs?

I think I agree with you on these issues.

When it comes to building new houses and trains, we are going to have to consider (at least) two constraints:

1. How much energy and other resources will be available for use for new houses and trains in a given year, given our other commitments (production of energy, agriculture, military, upkeep of basic roads, new PHEV cars etc.) and the resources available to us? I expect this will be relatively low - probably less than today.

2. How long should we amortize the cost of the new houses/new trains over? I would argue a relatively short period, unless we can get a good handle on where adequate energy and fresh water is going to come from in the future.

I also think we should be looking at the relative cost of alternatives. My guess is that it would be much cheaper to retrofit houses to be more energy efficient than to build new ones. It is doubtful we will need all of the current housing stock in the future, if families can be persuaded to share quarters. Housing that is very energy inefficient, or poorly located, can be torn down. Thus, it is hard to believe we will need a lot of new housing.

I think some trains may have a place, but I expect it will be mostly for long distance travel. A detailed analysis would be needed in each case. I agree that people will want their own transportation if possible - even if it is PHEV motor bikes.


Thanks. In thinking about your response, it occurs to me that that perhaps you have incorporated some fairly pessimistic assumptions into your model of what may happen, energy-wise. I think it would be good to examine those assumptions carefully.

For instance, can the US reduce it's oil use without going into a deep, prolonged recession?

The answer can be seen from 1979-1984, when GDP rose despite a substantial drop in oil use, and interest rates around 18% (due partly to oil, but at least as much due to inflation left over from the Vietnam war).

Recently oil prices tripled, and growth in world oil consumption flattened out, without a big drop in economic growth.

There is a great deal of energy use that is of very marginal importance to the economy, and a lot of alternatives that have already become, or will become economic at slightly higher oil prices.

Electricity won't become dramatically more expensive, and will be adequately supplied, at least in the US.

PHEV's will make a dramatic difference in gasoline consumption.

If PO hits fast & hard we could have quite a lot of economic pain, but it would be transitional. High energy prices would send investment to alternatives and efficiency improvements, and we would get through it.

The IEA projects continued oil consumption growth. I suspect that even at current prices that consumption would plateau for several years, and then begin to drop, with accelerating speed. We may never know if producers have peaked or not...

A few points.

Adaptive reuse (I live in an 1890s house (not quite a mansion) cut into now 6 apartments) will be a large part of the totality of adaption.

The resource requirements to build,say, a double shotgun house, are not large. Two 450 to 600 sq ft homes sharing a common wall. At current prices (in an area with a dire shortage of construction labor) I was given a bid of $75,000 ($37,500/unit) for quality construction with high energy efficiency for the climate (R-30 walls, R-40 ceiling, sheathed in 3/4" plywood for wind resistance), tankless water heater, elevated 4'). A bit more for wheelchair access. Wall unit heat pumps with gas wall heating.

A 2x2 fourplex (two double shotguns atop each other) will cost a bit more/unit (stairs, more complex framing) but be more energy and land efficient.

If 2/3rd of the resources devoted to housing today (trees will not stop growing post-peak Oil, labor will not be a problem), then the # of units/year should be able to increase (double the # on 2/3rds the resources ?)

I agree that people will want their own transportation if possible

You have bought into the sprawl American mentality.

Not true today for a significant minority of Americans although I will grant that it is true for a majority today.

Build walkable TOD for the minority that want it TODAY (T = transportation i.e. Urban Rail), design the community for walking & bicycling (a viable alternative if 99% of your trips are 4 miles or less and Urban Rail is there for bad weather and longer trips). It is, quite frankly, a better lifestyle (Try it, you will like it :-)

Once parking is a hassle, it is a joy to walk down the street (actually a social event with a bit of sight seeing), the streets are 28' feet wide with parking on both sides of a one-way street (this leaves more room for people), it is easy to walk 2.5 blocks to the streetcar stop and get there without the hassle of parking, then the need for a private car diminishes. You can have one, but it may be 4 days between uses (a quick trip to an out-of-the-way store 5 miles away to pick up a bulky item for a car-less neighbor).

Pre-Katrina, I was the only one of 5 tenants with my own car and I burned @ 6 gallons/month. Another reason to preserve New Orleans, show people how it should be done :-)

In essence, I propose building the carrot (Urban Rail) and aid the related TOD with zoning, perhaps financing and let nature take it's course. Post-Peak Oil can do the rest !

I have noted that next to the stations along Portland's Blue Light Rail Line, the first housing built was 2 to 3 stories tall. Now the newest housing is 5 & 6 stories tall and they have vetoed the building of taller towers next to other stops.

A "natural" progression would be the occasional luxury condo tower right next to the station (with shopping on the first 1 or 2 floors), but more often 5 & 6 story buildings (again, shopping on the ground floor and either housing or employment above) with 3& 4 stories one and two blocks way and then 1 to 3 stories high density for 6 to 8 blocks out.

Just do not create much room for the auto, and it will atrophy.

One observation; Miami 2004 (a couple of years after announcement of massive 30 year 103 mile Miami Metro master plan, funded). I saw 15 of 23 construction cranes within 3 blocks of a Metro station and evidence of more site preparation for other high rises. Not 23 of 23 it is true; but the focus of development had clearly changed.

Best Hopes,


"Two 450 to 600 sq ft homes sharing a common wall."

So we're talking about a big reduction from the average house of roughly 1,500+ SQ FT.

"I have noted that next to the stations along Portland's Blue Light Rail Line, the first housing built was 2 to 3 stories tall. Now the newest housing is 5 & 6 stories tall and they have vetoed the building of taller towers next to other stops."

This veto is an example of unsatisfied demand near the station, which will result in higher prices for housing near the station.

Urban housing is 2 to 5x as expensive as suburban housing. There are a lot of alternatives which will be much cheaper than moving into a city, such as improved insulation, upgrade to a heat pump, a more efficient vehicle, etc, etc. Heck, even paying for PV (at today's inflated prices) would be cheaper.

I'm willing to pay a big premium for an urban lifestyle, and I'm all for carrots to help other people realize the lifestyle improvements thereof, but I don't think energy cost will be the stick that forces people into the city.

I'm afraid I couldn't get to everything in the first two segments.


I just did a word search through the article as well as all the comments by all of us well educated souls. The word was ration and the winner was generation, and rationing was not mentioned at all.

Sort of says something about the idea of conservation doesn't it?

I do talk about rationing in the in Question 9 of the Oil Quiz , and also in the Discussion Question 1 of the Oil Quiz.

Rationing is fairly easy to implement. If we haven't planned otherwise, it is an option we can handle.

Hi Gail,

Yes I did find that word 'Ration', all I had to do was walk down two flights of basement stairs, look under the janitors pail and mop in the broom closet marked 'poison beware', and there it was, cold quivering and neglected.

In your statement:

Rationing is fairly easy to implement. If we haven't planned otherwise, it is an option we can handle.

Who is this 'WE'? You seem to possess some arcane knowledge here, would you elucidate please.

Rationing easy to implement? If the situation is as dire as we are led to believe then why hasn't it been implemented?

Thanks for your reply, sorry if it raises more questions.

In general I agree with this post. I have some quibbles:

"some recent analyses suggest that this estimate is very much overstated, and that coal production may also decline in a few years."

Strictly speaking this statement is true, but I think if you read the comments on this on the recent TOD coal supply article, you'll see that these analyses are mistaken, and that any supply problems are several decades out (beyond the time period of the transition to renewables discussed below). The CO2 problem is certainly large enough to create problems for coal. I would change the emphasis from supply problems to CO2.

"we are down to renewables, which comprise only 6% of the energy supply (Figure 1). Starting from such a small base, it is difficult to increase production enough to make up for a shortfall in the oil and gas supply."

This is a bit misleading. Wind is 44% of new planned electrical generation for 2007, per the Nuclear Energy Institute. See the NEI report, page 8:


You'll see that in 2007 wind is 44% of new generation, adjusted for capacity factor (please note that 2008 and beyond is beyond the planning window for wind, so it doesn't tell us much).

Wind could easily provide 100% in 5 years, and start replacing coal & gas after that. This is clearly a transitional problem.

No question it's a significant transitional problem: homeowners will need to shift from natural gas & fuel oil heating to air & ground-based heat pumps, and transportation will have to electrify. As you note, it will take several years to ramp up PHEV's, and then even if all new vehicles are high mileage it will take 6 years to replace 50% of vehicle miles travelled. But, it can be done.

No matter how many windmills we build, we'll always need other sources to cope with intermittency.

Not really. Build enough of them, and you could overwhelm the intermittency. That would be a trifle expensive...

Now if you were to say "if we build enough windmills to provide the power we need, we'll still need backup from other sources", then that would probably be technically true, but it would be misleading.

Remember, wind isn't the only generation source that has variance. In fact, all sources do. Most of it (maintenance, refueling, etc) can be scheduled, but not all. Nuclear can be tripped very suddenly - it doesn't happen all that often, but when it does the plant is offline for more than one day. The size of nuclear plants, and the duration of outages amplifies the impact of the variance, such that a small market like Ireland, for instance, has ruled out nuclear.

The key is managing the variance, and reducing it to tolerable levels. This can be done in many ways, and in much the same way as is done to match nuclear's flat output with the variation in demand.

You need:

1) Geographical diversity, including expanded long-distance transmission, perhaps with HVDC that has roughly 5% loss per 1000 miles). Additional LDT would make the grid more robust, and reduce the variation of wind by increasing geographic diversity and reducing the ratio of variance to mean production;

2) Demand management, similar to the kind of daytime demand charges that moved so much industrial/commercial consumption to the night time, thus creating "baseload".

"Baseload" itself is a bit of a misconception. Humans live in the light, and in effect have evolved to use solar energy. "Natural" night time energy use is very low. A large % of what we call "baseload" is Industrial/Commercial demand which has been shifted from daytime to night time by very simple Demand Side Management (DSM): charging higher rates, or "demand charges" for peak daytime usage.

DSM could be easily expanded. The first, obvious place to start is eliminating flat pricing for residential. A second is going to dynamic pricing, to reflect variable costs.

"negawatts" in the form of reduced demand as a result of DSM is also very cheap.The most obvious use is with plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEV's), such as the Chevy Volt series hybrid that could be charged at night and during peak production periods. PHEV storage will be cost-justified by the vehicle owner, and reduced rates for scheduled charging will be a bonus. As PHEV's expand they will provide an enormous synergy with variable sources like wind and solar;

3) Storage, such as the Ludington, MI pumped storage facility that has time-shifted nuclear production for 30 years, PHEV’s, flow batteries (as currently used in Ireland), and compressed air (see article in next post); and

4) Backup generation capacity, such as inexpensive gas turbines for the rare extended outage, powered by gasified biomass (which is very efficient for power generation, even though very, very inefficient for liquid fuels). Remember, capacity is very cheap, if you don't have to use it often. The cost of diesel and natural gas generators is almost entirely in the fuel.

This is one big reason pumped storage hasn't been more widely used: until very recently natural gas peak capacity has been dirt cheap, and so relatively large-scale, long-term projects couldn't be justified. They often had to be paired with other large projects, like nuclear plants.

So, the upshot of the above is that wind doesn't have to be 100% reliable, just reliable enough.

As a system this would be significantly cheaper than coal, once you added in coal's external costs. Whether it would be cheaper than nuclear depends on how you value nuclear's external costs, especially the Price-Anderson liability cap, weapons proliferation risk, and opportunity costs for foregone investment in renewables.

What some nuclear advocates have described as irrational NIMBYism and unreasonable regulatory delay is really the political process, lurching about in an effort to put a value on those external costs.

Flow batteries aren't really used on Ireland's HV grid except in a very limited way at one or two installations. Wind energy is causing all sorts of problems with the dynamical stability of the grid - but widespread used of flow batteries might certainly help this in the future.
At the moment every megawatt of wind energy needs to be backed up by a megawatt of fossil fuels (in Ireland at least) - because the wind is so unreliable. I was talking to an engineer earlier who said that there was no wind generation at all today- zilch - even though installed capacity is hundreds of megawatts.

I hate the phrase but we'll really need a total paradigm shift if we start losing fossil fuels - both in terms of energy generation and consumption patterns, as was stated earlier.

The power engineers in Ireland mostly favour nuclear as an alternative - but I guess that has its own problems...

No question, flow batteries are pretty new. They've only been installed at one place in Ireland, but it's working out pretty well.

The thing about Ireland is that it's pretty small, and IIRC the interconnection with the English isle is also pretty small. I'm not surprised to hear that wind's system capacity contribution is small, though I suspect that the engineer you were talking to was exaggerating or misinformed when he said it was absolutely zero.

I'd be interested in Irish wind stats.

I had a quick look at http://www.eirgrid.ie which has all the power statistics - wind had a minimum of 13MW today out of installed capacity of about 1000MW - so not quite zero - but down near the noise floor!. There's a big high pressure over Ireland today (quite unusual) so not much wind generation. You might find some wind statistics at that eirgird site in some of the publications.

I believe there are plans for another HV DC link to the UK in the future - maybe 500MW or so...We'll be able to avail of Tony Blair's proposed nuclear power program.

A small island in this neck of the woods uses windpower to charge flow batteries (vanadium redox) that cost about $us300,000 per kwh I believe. A battery bank of even 10 Mwh would be a huge capital cost though I think interest and depreciation should be less than 1c per kwh. For these kind of upfront outlays nuke plants look more appealing in spite of ongoing fuel and security needs.

"flow batteries (vanadium redox) that cost about $us300,000 per kwh "

I think that would be $300k/MWH, not kwh.

General Compresson has a very clever proposal for reducing or eliminating the intermittency of wind power.

Here's a recent article about it: Saving wind power for later.

Thanks for the link, Laurence:
People have posted to this site the notion of using nonproducing offshore oil platforms and their pipelines to ship wind energy in the form of compressed air from sea to shore. Sounds great, especially if that huge infrastructure is already in place. But I didn't see anything in the CNET article about efficiency of compressing and then releasing the gas. It's not a trivial loss, because of the Joule-Thompson heating/cooling on compression/decompression, even if the rest of the system were perfect. And then there's the price and availability of suitably sealed reservoirs for the compressed gas. Alternatives to gas compression include pumping water uphill, which is attractive from the standpoint of harvesting extra irrigation energy.
Still, the problem is one of capacity as much as it is of reducing oil/gas use. When a big ole high-pressure dome parks over the middle of the country (the way it does every Summer), we'll see peak electricity demand at the same time as a wide-area windless environment. Then all those conventional power plants will have to work together to fill the gap. Keeping all that spare capacity on standby is not trivial, either. Nor do I see likening windless days with periodic power-plant maintenance as a fair comparison, given our helplessness to control or affect the former. Nuke plants may scram at any time, but there's no correlation between them, so there's no serious liklihood that a bunch will go down simultaneously. Contrast that with regional weather, which is very likely to create windless conditions spanning, say, the entire Northeast US coast.
The nationwide power grid does indeed permit local demand to be met from afar, but it simply doesn't have the capacity to send some huge fraction of our electricity needs from one coast to the other. And as many have pointed out on this site, global (or in this case, national) networks provide efficiency at the cost of robustness, and the whole point of distributed energy sources like wind is the way they enable a graceful degradation of the network as it runs dry.
Then there are all the other observations posted regularly to this site about how infrastructure cost rises as energy costs rise. They lead me to conclude that it's not feasible to create a new energy infrastructure on a scale needed to service the whole nation in an environment of rapidly declining energy availability.
"The weather was not our responsibility." - Kate Hepburn, in The African Queen

"I didn't see anything in the CNET article about efficiency of compressing and then releasing the gas. "

Energy is lost during compression as heat. If you decompress in several stages you can heat the air from the environment, and have a very efficient system.

"When a big ole high-pressure dome parks over the middle of the country (the way it does every Summer), we'll see peak electricity demand at the same time as a wide-area windless environment. "

This will be a nice synergy with solar.

"Keeping all that spare capacity on standby is not trivial, either. "

No, but you won't need 100% backup. If you don't use it often the fuel cost will be low. True, there will be some economic losses from premature obsolescence of capacity that will be under-used....

"Nuke plants may scram at any time, but there's no correlation between them, so there's no serious liklihood that a bunch will go down simultaneously. Contrast that with regional weather, which is very likely to create windless conditions spanning, say, the entire Northeast US coast."

Entirely windless conditions, spanning the entire Northeast US coast? Not that likely. If you disagree, I'd be very interested in actual numbers. A study for the UK, which is much smaller (and probably comparable to the Northeast US coast) found much less variance than you expect.

"The nationwide power grid does indeed permit local demand to be met from afar, but it simply doesn't have the capacity to send some huge fraction of our electricity needs from one coast to the other. "

No, we will have to invest in that. As you note, that would increase robustness. True, there would be a cost. I would estimate that a 100% renewable grid would cost 20-30% more than our current one. Given that our current grid doesn't internalize a lot of very large costs, I think that we would be doing very well, and actually have a system that, including all costs, costs less than our current one. It's certainly a very, very far cry from "mad max".

"the whole point of distributed energy sources like wind is the way they enable a graceful degradation of the network as it runs dry."

That may be the point to some who expect a "mad max" scenario. Others just see it as a plentiful, clean power source.

"there are all the other observations posted regularly to this site about how infrastructure cost rises as energy costs rise. "

And, in general, these observations are unsupported by actual analysis. Yes, some commodities like concrete & steel have risen somewhat in cost lately. That has little to do with energy inputs, and everything to do with cycles of commodity cost, investment & business (aggravated by Chinese demand). We shouldn't exaggerate the importance of energy costs. Nor should we generalize the case of peak oil to everything else: it's a pretty unusual situation.

I once took a quick look at what a compressed gas power storage might look like. Centrifugal compressors and expanders can now get an overall adiabatic efficiency in the high 80's. It looks like you could get a power recovery of around 60%+. From what I know of battery systems, by the time you include the charging circuit and battery losses you are around 70%.

There'd also be a few side benefits; when the system was "charging", your losses would come out as hot water, when "discharging", you'd have a source of chilled water.

"From what I know of battery systems, by the time you include the charging circuit and battery losses you are around 70%."

I think that applies to NIMH. Lithium-ion seems to be the best. Round trip efficiency (wall to wheel) in a PHEV is IIRC about 90%.

Might be worth using compressed or liquid gas with batteries. For a crash program there are a hell of a lot of used compression equipment already in existence.

But the storage vessels are going to be scarce.

I'm surprised the article makes no mention of photovoltaic panels based on the CIGS technology. Currently two companies I know of (Solarnano and Flisom) are ramping up to produce what is likely to become the cheapest source of electrical energy known to mankind. They recon that by 2009 they'll undercut the price of electricity from coal.

I think CIGS will play a huge part in solving our energy dilemma.

At this point Solarnano projects the beginning of production in 2007,and Flisom projects production in 2009.

Wind is the major renewable player right now, with 44% of planned new US generation in 2007 (solar has perhaps .5%). I think it will take 8-10 years for solar to get near where wind is now, at current growth rates in the range of the current 40% per year.

No question that 30 years from now we will have mostly transitioned away fossil fuel electrical generation. It's the next 10 years that's problematic for transportation and heating of buildings.

I expect the growth of solar to be much higher than it is right now. CIGS vastly reduces the need for expensive silicon and generally promises to scale very well for large production volume (think printing press technology). I'm very optimistic solar will take off in a big way between now and 2019. Beyond that I expect even more dramatic technology to appear on the horizon to help us with energy extraction and storage.

hhmmm. Well, yes, I would have to agree.

I guess my point is that we have several viable alternatives. Some people are skeptical about things that haven't "arrived", and wind has clearly done so.

In general, I think we don't have to worry about electrical supply, at least in the US. Wind is here; solar is coming; and there's enough coal to see us through the next several decade transition to renewables - we WILL use it if we have to.

The problem is electrifying vehicles and heating of buildings. We will do it, but there will be pain.

Heat can be generated from electricity rather easily. Either via a heat pump or electric resistance heat or a combination of the two (something I'm going to install in my new house).

As for powering cars with electricity - that's a lot more difficult although new nanotech batteries are coming along and are promising to make pure EV cars finally viable. Unfortunately this is a whole infrastructure upgrade as charging stations would have to rapidly supplement existing gas stations and that would require massive investments in upgrading the electrical grid and electrical power generation.

"Unfortunately this is a whole infrastructure upgrade as charging stations would have to rapidly supplement existing gas stations and that would require massive investments in upgrading the electrical grid and electrical power generation."

Well, it is a challenge, but it's not that big.

First, most people have garages (not all, it's true). PHEV's wouldn't need recharging stations outside one's house.

2nd, electricity is everywhere - you just have to add the interface to the car. It could be done at gas stations (as was done for the GM EV-1), and at parking meters & large parking garages, as it is in Canada and Minnesota currently for engine warming.

3rd, the grid can handle it just fine. Most charging would be at night, and because electric engines are so much more efficient than EV's the increase in consumption wouldn't be that large.

"Some people are skeptical about things that haven't "arrived" "

-in the same way that many are sceptical about whether Peak Oil has arrived?

I've no doubt that once an energy crisis gets into full swing money will be thrown at every possible alternative. Things will remain sticky during the ramp-up phase of the alternative but humans are resourceful and should cope. A good dose of demand destruction is perhaps what is needed to shake out the 'unproductive excesses' in the current system.

Some things that havn't arrived that might help form the basis for the "renewable age" (post shake out -say 2020+):

a) Solar film -massive scaleabilty, ultra low cost. Large scale 'solar farms' springing up everywhere.
b) Inertial Electrostatic Fusion -pipe dream or planet saver? -Watch the Google video
c) Fusion -OK, this ones a very long way off but it could help re-ramp up again to much higher concentrated energy levels/usage in society from around 2050+
d) Sea Algea (see the other post/link)
e) OTEC -Ocean Thermal Energy (my favourity pipe-dream: www.otecnews.org )

That's just a handful off the top of my head. There must be thousands of sites talking about hundreds of potentially good ideas. Massive scaleabilty, low impact, high EROEI -we need to start giving some of these things a shot and filtering them until we find a solution and I predict that is just what will happen. However in the meantime I will continue to watch out and prepare for the upcoming 'messy transition phase'.

Regards, Nick.

I've been watching the CIGS technology unfold. Here's my list of companies investing:
Norsk Hydro
CIS Solar
A pretty impressive list and the U.S. govt is committing about 1/3 of its solar R&D funds to CIGS (that last is from memory so take it with a grain of salt)

This article intends just to be a general introduction to alternatives. I plan to do a segment on solar, but haven't gotten that far yet.

I'd be happy to give you pre-publication comments, if you think that would be helpful, for material on wind, solar & EV/PHEV's.


As I get into more and more detailed material, it is helpful to have input from people more knowledgeable than myself. (Actuaries do not have any special training in any of these things.)

My e-mail is GailTverberg at comcast dot net. I found an address for you when I clicked on your name.

That will be good. My main thought while reading it was why solar was omitted as an alternative when it seems to be one of the best alternatives. If every home had even a 1kW array think how far that would go to reducing the need for central power generating stations.

I think solar has the best potential for solving our energy problems. No heroics are involved. It is just a matter of solving the puzzle. How do we structure atoms in the right configuration to capture solar energy at a low cost? Once we crack that nut we'll have enormous amounts of power available.

Eventually solar power must be tied with energy storage but that too is a solvable problem.

I don't mean to gloss over these two problems lightly. They may turn out to be very difficult problems. However, it you went back in time and someone told you man would never fly you could argue that in fact it was possible to fly. You could argue from basic physical principles that it was possible to build a machine light enough with enough power from an on board engine that it could achieve flight. On the other hand, if someone said man will never go faster than the speed of light or that man will never invent an anti-gravit device at this point we'd have to agree with them in the sense that we don't have any inkling that such things are even allowed in this universe. Solar power and energy storage are not difficult problems of this order.

I have no idea if this is real but...

Japanese scientists have a large-scale ethanol manufacturing plan

Plans are already under way to build a 3,860-square-mile seaweed farm in the middle of the Sea of Japan. A farm that size could churn out 5.3 billion gallons of bioethanol a year, the scientists say, which is enough to meet a full one-third of Japan's gasoline requirements for a year.

False statement, Keithster.

Here is an original article discussing this concept. It is NOTHING more than a concept. There are no plans. There is no capital.

The group is also conducting research on how to develop the production plants and attract investment.

This is an idea, much like fusion, and it hasn't gone anywhere yet. So please refrain from your pie-in-the-sky ethanol bullcrap yarns again. You completely misstated the reality of this project, which is barely an idea just starting on research on how to even build such a production plant.

To put this in perspective, this is very early academic research into the problem. They don't even know if they can make it work yet, yet you are here framing this as a plant due to come online shortly, as if the building was due to commence any day now.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

You completely misstated the reality of this project

No I didn't. I said this:

I have no idea if this is real but...

Yeah, it might have helped reassure & clarify things for GZ if you had put the article text in quotes.

Let's quote Keithster, just for references sake, shall we?

Plans are already under way to build a 3,860-square-mile seaweed farm in the middle of the Sea of Japan.

Not the article but YOU said that "[p]lans are already underway to build a 3,860-square-mile seaweed farm", didn't you? That may have been said in the article but you didn't quote it, you wrote it as if you were saying this yourself. In other words, you were attempting to "frame" this discussion in terms of an already existing plan to build when the "plan" is to research and see if they can even get capital in the first place.

This is not a solution, yet. It's trying to become one but it might fail. It might succeed. But it is most emphatically NOT a solution as it stands.

This raises the entire question of why you are attempting to frame bare bones research as real production. Given your past history here, this is a valid question to ask too.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

The text you are attributing to me is word for word from the article, it is not me speaking.

I suggest you learn to use the >blockquote< tag then, or at least how to use quotation marks. I also note that you jumped on this one article without even researching it, again because of your fondness for ethanol. It only took me 30 seconds to find a clearer explanation of the topic. You could have referenced it as research in progress but you didn't. You presented it as a fait accompli, without checking your source.

Do you want ethanol to work so badly that you are unwilling to check your facts? If you had presented it as a research issue, I'd have either not said anything or even agreed that this is research that desperately needs to be done. But presented as a fully formed plan to build a plant when they don't even know if they can bring this to production smacks of irresponsible commentary, at the very least.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

The main components of seaweed are fucoidan and alginic acid. While an enzyme for breaking down fucoidan has already been discovered, the scientists are looking for an enzyme that breaks down alginic acid. They are also looking at the possibility of using genetic modification technology.

Does seem to be a pie in the sky sort of project doesn't it?

This sort of hyped up crap gets very tiring. Because of junk like this I've begun dismissing any alternatives out of hand.

Same as with all that GM Volt hype. It was just a PR move to counter "Who killed the electric car?" GM has shown little real initiative to build it, and no other large car maker will touch it with a ten foot pole. But now everyone claiming PHEV will save the day just point to as proof.

The only plan that seems remotely feasible to me is Alan's move to rail but I don't see anyone championing that.

Sorry for the rant. I just get so tired digging though all this crap. Why is the responsibility to debunk this obvious garbage on me? and the people who promote this pseudo science are free to do it again and again.

"genetic modification technology" is a big no-no in my book. Too damn many risks. Risks that once set loose are irreversible.

As if things aren't bad enough from all the unintended consequnces of our technological prowress, this messing with the building blocks of natural selection is insane.

"Same as with all that GM Volt hype. It was just a PR move to counter "Who killed the electric car?" GM has shown little real initiative to build it"

What makes you say that? They have a 3 year project plan, which is very normal in the car industry. Battery pack engineering appears to be on a normal, roughly 18 month development path. GM says that they'll have to build the Volt to get PR credit. That's true, and I think they know it. They also say that it's a key project for the future of the company. That's also true, and, again, I think they really do know it.

" and no other large car maker will touch it with a ten foot pole. "

Again, what makes you say that? Toyota says they're planning to extend the all-electric range of the Prius in 2008, and working on plugin hybrids.

All of the car companies are afraid of EV's. It's a very different business model, with different design, engineering, manufacturing, fueling and post-sales maintenance dynamics, and they're not excited about that. But...they know that things are changing, and they're realizing that they have to change with it.

Conservation will likely need to be a part of any future energy plan, to make the best use of the energy that is available. We currently are very wasteful in the way we use energy, so there are likely ways to reduce energy usage, without hardship.

You've got fingerprints, ten witnesses to the act, and a confession and you say Jack is likely guilty? Nothing is more certain than the need, not just for conservation, but for a a drastic scaling back of the human footprint on the planet. Hardship there will certainly be, already IS, for those with low incomes dependent on cars to get to work. In the third world, forget about it -- bigtime suffering NOW.

One chart did surprise me: I thought transportation consumed a larger share of the pie. In one sense that's
good, because so much can be done to conserve in home heating so easily, easing our descent. And so much more can be done with some effort. In general, our wastefulness makes a gradual descent theoretically possible were there a government here interested in solving these problems.

The are lots of possibilities for savings in transportation too, but after a certain point down the slope it becomes increasingly hard because of all the stuff Kunstler points out. At a certain point, our whole way of life will need to be restructured.

What about resource wars. IF as Baktiari says, oil will be at 55MMBPD in 10 yrs then I see a competition for oil just like mankind has always done. We will go to war for oil. We are already in a proxy war about oil.

Do you really think that China is just going to let us have all the oil we want without a fight. No. They will assert themselves when they need to. 100 million soldiers pourinng into the M.E. would be pretty hard to stop.

Of course there are always nukes...

Figure 2 shows energy use in the United States, divided among buildings, industrial, and transportation. Surprisingly, transportation is the smallest of the three.

Transportation is the smallest on that chart, it's true. But that figure generally includes vehicles only. Roadway construction, operation and maintenance isn't included.

(The exception is transit systems, which statistics include the energy used to run stations, track lighting and signaling, maintenance, etc.)

The UK Highways Agency has studied energy used in highway construction. The agency says, "On average, the fuel consumed annually by vehicles travelling on a stretch of highway is equivalent to all the energy consumed in initial construction." (Source: Building Better Roads: Towards Sustainable Construction.) Maintenance and operations are in addition to that.

I've looked for US statistics but have been unsuccessful so far -- where can that information be found?

Transportation is the smallest slice in that pie chart because the pie includes ALL energy sources - oil, NG, coal, etc. If the pie was just petroleum then Transportation would be the largest slice.

Also on embodied energy in building the roadways vs the energy driving over them the line quoted fom the UK study says,
"On average, the fuel consumed annually by vehicles travelling on a stretch of highway is equivalent to all the energy consumed in initial construction."

The "consumed annually" part is the tricky piece. In other words, building the road costs one years worth of travelling energy. So the longer you used the road the better return on that upfront energy investment. Which means building roads now when a large decrease in personal vehicular travel is on the horizon is probably not a very good idea...

Greg in MO
Easy Digging: The best garden tools you've NEVER heard of...
Dig faster than a shovel, with less effort!

Jesus wept, the rain forests are on fire the plankton and algae of the sea are being adversly affected and Nuclear gets dismissed with:

Nuclear energy can probably be increased, but lead times for new facilities are very long and there are waste disposal issues.

The Atomic Bomb was produced in the span of several years from next to nothing but a few equations -- and we can't put bricks and mortar together? (am I on an engineer infested site or not?).

To be even more argumentative I would suggest we give the terrorist who blows up pipelines, oil wells and especially coal fired electrical generation plants a Medal - Hero of the World.

Other than that good effort Gail

Nuclear ain't "clean":

Does nuclear energy produce no CO2 ?
by Dave Kimble at www.peakoil.org.au

Proponents of nuclear power always say that one of the big benefits of nuclear power
is that it produces no Carbon dioxide (CO2).

This is completely untrue, as a moment's consideration will demonstrate that fossil fuels, especially oil in the form of gasoline and diesel, are essential to every stage of the nuclear cycle, and CO2 is given off whenever these are used.

(Picture of a huge terraced hole in the Earth)

This is Ranger Uranium Mine's Pit Number 1.
All of the material removed from this hole, over-burden and ore, was moved by truck.

(Picture of a behemonth dump truck filled with ore)

These trucks run on diesel. It would be interesting to know how much diesel is used for how much ore in a year at Ranger.

If we are to increase the number of nuclear power stations, we also need to increase the number of these trucks (which obviously take a lot of fossil fuel energy to build), and the volume of diesel fuel. Currently Australia imports 26% of its diesel consumption, and this figure is rising as our oil production falls.

The tyres on these trucks are also particularly energy-intensive to make, and there is a world-wide short of these tyres.

(and on through the fuel cycle...)


No nuclear 'ain't clean' but then what is clean, not wind or water or sun they all take energy to set up and that energy for the moment is, of course, coming from fossil fuels. The time required to move to another type of grid using W W S is not available.

We can do nuclear, for the nonce, gradually shifting to wind water and sun. Maybe nuclear fusion will eventually fulfill it's promise of cheap and clean power (and we can go on to other things like casual trips to Bermuda and the Maldives {oops now where did they go?} then on to other things like peak copper and aluminum etc...you bring out the misanthropic in me clifman).

This is a great topic and one that is hotly debated. On one side are groups that show calculations that when mining uranium at low concentrations from hard granite that the total process uses more energy than it produces. On the other side are groups that document existing mines and purport to show that the would be bankrupt if they were so inefficient.

It is really hard to tell. Like ethanol production nuclear power is heavily subsidized and it is very difficult to document all of the energy flows involved.

Personally, I'd like to see us enact vigorous conservation efforts and life style changes and as a last resort try to build more nuclear plants.


Me too but is there time, I don't know. I come from Marlboro country,(actually Players non filter) and I stopped smoking twenty years ago after twenty years of hardcore, so maybe we can all change our lifestyles. But as far as I know SUV's are still being sold and luxury cars are advertised during TV eco programs, this as if the world was going to end, so I don't know.

I think we have quite a few years of high quality Uranium ore and that is what I am banking on to make the transition to the sustainable. Unfortunately not many see things that way.

If it were just a question of learning to speak French correctly I would move to France (What is it there, about 80% nuke?) But the worlds weather is not confined to individual countries. I mentioned above that the situation in the southern rain forests has become so dire that they catch fire now...unbelievable and El Ninio is working it's way towards becoming a permanent feature which means the death of those forests and 20% of the carbon sequestering will be shot. Do you want to depend on guys like me kicking the smoking habit or in the present currency; giving up their cars and trips to Pago Pago rather than go nuclear?

Stop the smoking, go Nuclear?

"The United States cannot easily follow this sugar cane model, because we do not have much land suitable for growing sugar cane, our growing season is shorter, and our minimum wage would result in much higher labor costs."

Use municipal sewage to fertilize. Force Prisoners (we have a huge number in the US) to work the fields.

FL LA & TX have suitable land.

There is still room for lots of biofuel in the US anyway. Simple collection of all waste streams could accomplish quite a bit.


Use municipal sewage to fertilize. Force Prisoners (we have a huge number in the US) to work the fields.

Ah yes, let's bring back slavery. In fact, I expect that it will work so well that we'll soon be facing "peak slaves," but no problem, we'll just make a lot more things illegal so that we can have more prisoners. Anyway, there's always illegal aliens - rather than just sending them home, we can first imprison them for one to two decades and put them to work. It's time they stopped getting a free ride.

"Ah yes, let's bring back slavery"

Did we ever get rid of it? Taxes and credit card interest. How much of your work is for anothers profit?

Anyway I realize you are making fun of my post...

but why not force condemned men to toil away?


Hello Matt!

Anyway I realize you are making fun of my post...
but why not force condemned men to toil away?

Because, once you create an economic incentive for slavery, you automatically create pressure to supply the slave trade. And say goodbye to parole and probation. As it is, prisons are already turning into a business due to privatization. Until recently, I was living in Idaho, and I was appalled to learn that prisons there have started charging prisoners for the privilege of being incarcerated. All of a sudden, counties were lobbing to having prisons located within their borders. Now that private companies have entered the prison business, there is pressure to build prisons and fill them to "increase shareholder value."

Of course, only heinous criminals go to prison, right? I wish I could believe that, but in the USA, which has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the prisoners, the prisons are filling up with people who either did nothing wrong, or committed a victimless crime like smoking pot.
Now thanks to "zero tolerance", longer sentences are being handed out for petty crimes. I see America moving towards a police state, while the population cheers.

Here is a very good article about the prison situation in the USA that I hope you will read:

America’s Injustice System Is Criminal
by Paul Craig Roberts

Don't think that you are immune Matt. Well, not unless you're filthy rich and politically well-connected.

best regards,

Robert, Good response, however allow me,

Read this one. You will see why the prison has the population it does.

Cathrine Austin Fitts

#9 Cornell Corrections

That was #9 in a series(bottom of page has prev/next).

The next:

#10 The Clinton Administration:
Progressives for For-Profit Prisons.


will show what many believe, that there is hardly a difference in the two parties.

Here's the begining.



I have always maintained that the United States is an exceedingly dangerous country, even for rigorous law abiders.
The links serve to justify that view.

Interesting that the first link (by "ozonehole") is an Paul Craig Roberts, who based on his biodata at the end of the link was in Ronald Reagan's cabinet.

The handing out of Prison construction and operation to private companies seems to have been orchestrated by Gorelick (of Clinton's admin. and 9/11 commission fame) and Al Gore.

Location Independent Solar/Geothermal Hybrid

The SHPEGS project is an initiative to design and build a system that uses a combination of direct and indirect solar collection to generate electricity and store thermal energy in an economical, environmentally friendly, scalable, reliable, efficient and location independent manner using common construction materials.

Sounds interesting. Is anyone working on a demonstration version of this technology?

I was surprised at how much geothermal energy is in current use. The biggest use appears to be in the electric power sector. According to this chart , the amount of energy in btus generated by geothermal was higher than the energy from alcohol fuels (primarily ethanol) in 2004.

The SHPEGS idea is very new (a few months old), but is very rapidly moving out of the concept stage and in the past few months there have been several serious commercial inquiries into investment and development of the system.

My personal goals and the goals for the project have a not-for-profit information and idea gathering focus. The intent is to attempt to keep the original thought, general system design and deployment projects information publicly available and allow commercial ventures to have a revenue stream in deploying and operating the system, rather than a single entity controlling the IP. My belief is that the system is relatively simple and the R&D investment is small enough that ventures will embark on building and deploying the system with a business model around selling energy products. In the worst case, the idea has been published widely on the Internet since August 2006, and that has to establish prior art.

On the very small scale demonstration project the components are all commercially available. In the simplest form, the system is an air exchange heat pump pool heater with an absorption cycle rather than mechanical compressor and a convection tower rather than forced air fans. There are many vendors of binary heat recovery power systems that may be adapted to the system. Ground thermal loops are established for structure heating.

In the Northern U.S. and Canada, there are not that many other options for renewable power generation. New hydroelectric is very limited and although there have been many wind turbine installations and will be many more, they are limited to 10-20% of the grid total. Although the summer solar isolation in the midwest is high, the low isolation and temperature in winter make traditional direct solar unfeasible.

One of the major difficulties with promoting the concept of this system is that the technology sits between power generation, HVAC, geothermal, OTEC, etc. and mechanical engineers generally don't have the broad skill set to understand the system. Physics and chemistry academics and chemical engineers seem to get the concept easily but it has been a battle to get some mechanical engineers that haven't had exposure to industrial absorption heat upgraders and heat pumps to understand that the system is always moving heat from hot to cold and is a steam engine not an air conditioner.

In addition to the base load power generation, the seasonal thermal storage has high value for structure heating in northern climates. In Regina, Canada, although most newer homes are R-2000 compliant, most families use as much energy for home heating as electricity and transportation combined. Integrating the SHPEGS system with bio-methane and ethanol production would lower the fossil fuel inputs of these products.

He claims about 4% thermal efficiency from the final setup, and thinks this will make money.  In contrast, Luz had a similar solar-concentrating powerplant setup achieving 20%, and went bankrupt some years back.  The conclusion regarding the viability of SHPEGS is left as an exercise for the reader.

I just wanted to make an aside comment as a longtime (silent) user about all of the proto-environmentalist doomer talk we see here, namely:

It is wishful thinking.

People like Kunstler and his epigones (who are legion around here) basically hold humanity in contempt, and look upon some future of scarcity, suffering, starvation, with essentially unconcealed glee while pretending to bemoan humanity's insufficient awareness of the problems soon to beset it (excepting themselves, the superior people, of course), its paltry efforts at preparation, etc.

I call it Apocalyptic Personality Disorder (APD).

All of the “alternatives” that might actually mitigate some of the effects of peak oil, coal, nuclear, etc., tend to be either dismissed or downplayed, while those that make their proponents feel morally superior (conservation (even conservation through the forced demand destruction of mass privation), wind/solar, etc.) are presented as the only ones having any reality (for various complicated reasons that are basically rationalizations added after the fact to justify conclusions arrived at emotionally).


I’m willing to state publicly what most people around here feel but mask with feigned terror:

I can’t wait for the peak, in oil, natural gas, etc.


There’s a lot of money to be made on the other side. (And I’ve got the brass to protect it. Mobs of desperate, dumbfounded morons don’t scare me. After all, I live in the United States.)

All of the rest of it is wasted air.

Erik Meyer

I completely agree with you Erik. Excellent post.

I think that might be a little harsh.

I think many people who welcome energy scarcity & economic collapse do so out of a misguided desire to kill off a consumer society. They should recognize that satisfaction of basic needs is a stage that should be succeeded by a stage of self-actualization, improved mental health, etc that necessarily succeeds the first (as described by Maslow's hierarchy of needs). Recent research has found that happiness comes from more income, up to about $10,000 per year per capita. After that, it levels off.

Unfortunately, the basic stage has lasted a little too long, because it takes time to realize that simply consuming more won't fulfill these higher needs, and different strategies are needed.

So, these people have gotten the idea that the 2nd stage (higher, more spiritual/esthetics_ & should be brought about by eliminating the 1st (consumer abundance), and going back to poverty & scarcity.

Seems like a bad strategy to me.

Plus, of course, there are a lot of people in the world still in stage 1, who desperately need a better life via the satisfaction of basic economic needs. This anti-consumer approach is pretty US-centric...


I don’t know that I accept the validity of Maslow’s hierarchy, at least, not its universal validity. My initial background was in Austrian Economics, which, I think correctly, essentially recognizes an individual-specific hierarchy of needs, then wants, with diminishing marginal returns going up the scale. Needs/wants in this model are infinite, though the imaginary construct of perfect satisfaction is approached asymptotically, any level of satisfaction, as they say, only fully existing anyway at the moment of exchange/transaction (afterglow is recognized, but difficult to build into the system, except to the extent that it fades).

Self-actualization/improved mental health, and other such abstractions, may be (and doubtless are), wanted by many who have sated their more mundane desires, but such wants must at least in part be a function of both IQ and personality (below a certain IQ threshold they can not be meaningful, and having passed that, will not be to a great many personality types who only conceive of “self-actualization” in terms of material accumulation/competition).

The name of the game, in general, for humans is not, as I see it now, so much “want-satisfaction” per se, as status competition (once the immediate, unavoidable, physical wants are met) (if we conceive of status as a form of abstract “want” then we can fit it properly into the Austrian hierarchy, but it gets a bit awkward to discuss in those terms). For the most part, this is accomplished through material accumulation/consumption (and explains why accumulation/consumption so quickly become relative in focus rather than absolute), but it does not necessarily, of course, have to be: most of what are expressed as “higher” motivations are merely less/non material ways of competing for status, or ways of competing for status differently conceived.

It is amusing to me how many people will act in ways that are not only obviously contrary to their material interests, but jeopardize their lives and those if their families, to obtain the “higher” satisfaction of having realized (if only internally) the enhanced status associated with such otherwise (generally) incomprehensible sacrifice.

I do believe much of the status is self-conceived more than socially conferred (ie, these people are driven by the need to feel better than others, to exult in the moral superiority obtained by having acted righteously or refrained from sin, etc.), though they tend to find each other and build echo chambers to validate these inner assessments (how much of the internet can be described this way…?)

Many, if not most, of these people are regularly counterproductive to their own stated values, because the values are not essential in themselves, what is essential is this combination of felt moral superiority obtained through the appearance of having these values and the ratification of this superiority by their own discovered sub-society. Hence, we have the “environmentalists” prattling endlessly about “conservation” and “efficient land-use” who will do nothing whatsoever to address population growth, or rather, who are violently hostile to any attempt to stem population growth, which is causing most of the problems they pretend to be combating.

I mean, it’s all very obvious: even if you do succeed, for example, in lowering per capita consumption, if you don’t stop the population from growing, any realized savings will eventually be overwhelmed and absolute consumption will rise. The Oil Drum has had some good posts on that topic.

The Birkenstock types living in huts made of recycled tires (“sustainable!” “off-grid!”) are not seriously trying to address actual social problems in the world, rather, they want to a) feel better about themselves; b) be accepted and valued within their chosen peer group.
(While they may pretend to be “setting an example” or “exploring alternative, sustainable ways of living” the example they usually succeed in setting tends to be frightful enough to deny them meaningful converts, which, as I’ve been saying, is rarely the point, merely the rationalization. Of course, as we’ve also discussed at length on this site, if they really were successful in their efforts to proselytize for conservation on any meaningful scale, which is to say, if they did reduce demand for energy measurably, they would just lower the price of energy, making it easier for those outside the flock to continue their profligate ways.)

Anyway, I think you are being kinder to these people than they deserve. To me, they claim to want to “kill off a consumer society” not because they are trying to save the members of that society from vapid, banal pursuits (guiding them to a sort of Buddhist awareness beyond mere material want gratification), but because they view those people as inferior to themselves, Those Who Are Above The Wants of This World, and want them to suffer (or at least want their own superior status recognized.

You are certainly right in identifying this approach as centered on the United States, or at least the “West” (it is rare indeed to find denunciations of those in the Third World who actually are living in the supposedly spiritually fulfilling conditions of scarcity and impoverishment for attempting to improve their material condition). That’s reserved for us, because the status game is in the West; nobody ever won any points by showing that he could underlive a Kalahari bushman.

I have to say, though, $10,000 a year! Status competition aside for a minute, I must find money itself more of a kick than you…. I like the things that money can buy.. books, music, sports cars, independence…. and of course, status, if nothing else, even if only conferred by money, brings women. Hard to do that on 10k/year.
All the best,
Erik Meyer

Cheers for being able to put this into PC terms.
The problem obviously is overpopulation, especially in the US with the complete breakdown of border controls.

Thanks. Yes, Europe too... In the Third World, overpopulation is demographically foregone, in the West, it is solely the product of public policy.
Which is to say, choice. We can choose otherwise.

"I do believe much of the status is self-conceived more than socially conferred (ie, these people are driven by the need to feel better than others, to exult in the moral superiority obtained by having acted righteously or refrained from sin, etc.), though they tend to find each other and build echo chambers to validate these inner assessments (how much of the internet can be described this way…?)"

This reminds me of a joke. A guy was getting a tour of heaven. Behind each door he saw a different kind of heaven. Behind one door was a sort of castle with very high walls so that no one could see in or out. He asked "Who is in there?" The reply was "Those are the evangelicals. They'd be so upset if they knew anyone else was here."

I think that much of that desire is to topple the overconsumption induced by our current society, not the satisfaction of basic necessities.

As for the basic economic needs of other people: we're using an enormous amount of resources now. The current system obviously does not succeed in bringing them where they are most needed. A little shake-up is in order.

I feel so much better now that I've been diagnosed over the net. Thanks Hans, you've saved me a lot of money.

Comments like this say at least as much about the source as they do about the subject. While psychological predispositions obviously play a role in the soft conclusions we draw from the data, the fact that some draw pessimistic conclusions from pessimistic data (e.g. curves with negative slopes) is hardly grounds for diagnosis of a personality disorder.

"Hold humanity in contempt"? "Unconcealed glee"? "Superior people"? I think you're projecting. Maybe you should see an Internet psychiatrist.

Well, hmmm....have you read Kunstler much? You begin to understand where this comment came from...

I was half joking, though I do think, if APD applied to anyone, it'd be Kunstler, against whom, if only indirectly, most of my comments were levied. We'll say he's a representative of what I was describing, and, to the extent you identify with (or seem otherwise similar to) him (or his type), I'm putting you in that category (though nothing I said had anything to do with you personally at all).

I tend to share most of the doomer's conclusions about things like production trends, just not necessarily their interpretation of the magnitude of the likely consequences of those trends... or maybe the feeling that all of those consequences are my problem.

Hans: I understand your complaints about Kunstler, but IMHO he is the only loud voice clarifying what actually is going to happen to the USA. IMO all this talk of somehow permanently preserving the sprawling nature of USA society with other fuel sources is nonsense. In 30 years the USA will be far more urban than it is currently whether the population wants it or not- personal transport will be too expensive for the average citizen. Apartment/condo dwelling, rarely travelling more than 10 miles from your principal residence will become the norm- just like for current day residents of Manhattan (or Alan in NO).

Calm down, calm down, don't you know we are all going to die... and you run around like a madman waving his dictionary and dumfoundingly moronizing.

I think you probably have some ideas here worth presenting but how about a little respect for your reader. I have enough trouble on this site, with engineers and their necessarily mathematically complicated ways of presenting what often turn out to be really quite simple and valid ideas.

Actually the problem is people don't want to face our real problems. I don't consider myself a doomer I just think that external forces i.e peak oil gw etc are dire enough that we must finally figure out how to live on this planet in a sustainable manner.

I've not seen a single one of the technical solutions presented that will save us after peak oil with and explanation on how it would be deployed in India or Africa.

If the assumption is 3/4's of the world will fall into a dark age and we will live happily ever after I'm simply not buying it.

I'm not a doomer I just want people to come up with real answers not crap about how windmills in Kansas are going to same the day.

So tell me if your so optimistic what the hell are we going to do about Africa India and China once we are down to 55 mbd and facing the effects of global warming.
If you don't have a answer for this then your not offering a solution to our problem.

If its showing me we can seal our borders and hide while millions starve to death without getting drawn into nuclear war fine. For the poor that live here already I guess we need to set up death camps like the Nazi's or you think they will peacefully go to living in cardboard boxes while they starve ?

Can you not see the insanity of thinking about technical approaches that allow 1% of the worlds population to a nice life as SOLUTIONS ? The ability of people to neatly ignore the fact that billions may die in the next 20 years is simply astounding not to mention they believe they will somehow escape this mess.

Maybe we will pull it off but I just can't see the technical wonderland not turning into a modern version of Nazi Germany considering the atrocities that would be required to create it.


You're absolutely right: Africa is going to be hard-hit by peak oil. So will many developing nations.

OTOH, China and India have the resources to deploy wind turbines, solar and PHEV's.

The more the OECD nations develop cheap alternatives, the better off the rest of the world will be, both because the OECD nations will be using less, and because they will be making alternatives feasible.

"I'm not a doomer I just want people to come up with real answers not crap about how windmills in Kansas are going to same the day."

I'm not sure how to answer that. Windmills aren't crap. Do you have a specific reason for believing that they are? I'd be happy to address it.

"Can you not see the insanity of thinking about technical approaches that allow 1% of the worlds population to a nice life as SOLUTIONS ? "

The point is, that these technical solutions will work just as well as fossil fuels, and will work for everybody, not just 1%.

Whats the cost of the windmills what tooling is required factory startup costs. Can these factories be deployed in the third world. Generators etc etc.

Assume the US has to build all our own windmills and say all the ones for Africa how much is this going to cost ? Can we stabilize the governments etc their to prevent them from collapsing so we can even begin to introduce alternative energy. More important can we develop windmills with better cost to benefit ratios and low capitol costs. Can unskilled labor be used are the designs free ? If your serious about solving this problem for the world its the capitol cost that are the real problem.

On top of this we have the regular array of African issues to deal with this is just one more in a very long list.

If people presenting these solutions would even begin to frame them in these terms I'd take them seriously.

I'm working on a simple black sponge solar water evaporator its not efficient but its dirt cheap. The water is condensed into underground pipes the net effect is to pull a vacuum but it could readily be combined with a heat pump or Stirling engine. The point is its a super cheap solution.
For wind energy kites/tethered solar hot air balloons look like a cheap solution. Not sure I'm right or wrong in the concepts I'm just saying we need to come up with really cheap simple ways to generate power from wind/solar than can be manufactured in third world countries. They don't have to be the best solution they just need to have very low capitol costs and use unskilled labor. It would be nice if they could be made from wood textiles etc materials readily available in the third world.
Methods like the Roman chimney based system could be combined with a cheap small fan like generator.


I've not seen a single proposal on this board in over a year that would begin to work in Africa. So I don't agree with your assertion.

I see where you're going. You want to develop really cheap energy sources for places like Africa.

You've got an important point. The thing is, it's not about peak oil. The problem is that Africa can't afford even cheap fossil fuels.

Wind power is cheaper than the bunker fuel, diesel and kerosene which are common forms of power in Africa. In fact, even solar is cheaper than the kerosene lamps commonly used for lighting.

So, I agree with you on the need for cheap power for Africa. Just don't think that this is a new problem, or confuse it with peak oil problems.

Again I think your making a mistake. These are not new problems I agree but we have been able to ignore them because we had cheap oil so we did not have to address them. Once you remove cheap oil from these regions the problems that have been ignored and allowed to fester for decades come back with a vengeance. These societies will self destruct and we will not escape if we do nothing.

I'm not confusing anything I think a lot of people don't understand the problem we need to solve. And peak oil is at the heart of the problem.

Building million dollar windmills is not a solution.

Well, I agree Africa is a big problem.

OTOH, it was almost as big 3 years ago, when oil was cheap. Although expensive oil will hurt, Zimbabwe will self-destruct either way.

Look at Nigeria. It has all the oil it needs, and it's in terrible shape. Look at Somalia, which has been in chaos through expensive oil as well as cheap.

Windmills aren't a solution, because energy isn't the core problem. Sure, expensive oil will make it worse. But...we can't ignore Africa either way.

Finally, Africa isn't the world. It isnt' 3/4 of the world. It's about 10% of the world, and I can't think of another part of the world that is in such bad shape.

I think your underestimating the importance of diesel generators kerosene fertilizer etc in Africa. I'm not saying the problem is peak oil I'm saying the removal of cheap energy will lead to their unsolved intrinsic problems growing.

Africa is a powder keg the loss of cheap oil is the match.

And they are just the first next the problems will move into Asia Bangladesh and Nepal are already suffering problems because of the loss of cheap oil. I'm sure Indonesia and even the Philippines could be next on the list.


This is a problem that will spread rapidly through the third world and from there too our very borders.
In all these nations and more worsening fuel supply issues will inflame old rivalries and destabilize the governments.

I think a lot of people recognize that peak oil will be tough on the US for a lot of countries it will be beyond tough since it will compound existing problems to the point of collapse.

Your a smart person I just don't think you and a lot of people really understand the implications of peak oil.
Most doomers are myopic focusing on suburbia which is a minor issue at best. Peak oil is a worldwide problem if you look at the whole world then you can start to see we have a
very serious problem in front of us.


So tell me if your so optimistic what the hell are we going to do about Africa India and China once we are down to 55 mbd and facing the effects of global warming.

Myself, I don't think they are even on the Elite's agenda other than as sources of oil. The pond will shrink until not only will they be gasping on the shore so will we.

If its showing me we can seal our borders and hide while millions starve to death without getting drawn into nuclear war fine. For the poor that live here already I guess we need to set up death camps like the Nazi's or you think they will peacefully go to living in cardboard boxes while they starve ?

Guess what? the US has the highest prison pop per capita right now and increasing so I would imagine there will come a point for certain 'lifeboat legislation' to present itself.

I'm not confusing anything I think a lot of people don't understand the problem we need to solve. And peak oil is at the heart of the problem.

Isn't the real problem not peak oil but CO² and the greenhousing of the planet?

Your a smart person I just don't think you and a lot of people really understand the implications of peak oil.

It implies, if we get really lucky, that there will be such an economic meltdown that we will be happy to find our bums in the dark age of no oil that might follow. Much to the delight of organic lifeforms all over the world.

Not quite I'm not a doomer I'm guess I'm just saying lets be honest for once about our future the issues are in order of relative importance.

1.) Peak Oil and high oil prices will undermine poor unstable countries leading to collapse and war and famine.

2.) These same countries are resource rich and wealthier countries will be involved to gain control over the resources.

3.) These entanglements will lead to direct confrontation limited Nuclear war via proxy is highly probable.

4.) Internally the poorest member of the wealthier countries will almost certainly riot. Military governments will almost certainly form in the wealthier countries with a hatred agenda against immigrants similar to the way the Nazi's scapegoated Jews and other non Aryans during WWII. As conditions worsen expect concentration camps and eventually
new final solutions to be created it will probably simply consist of dumping unwanted people in desolate places although outright genocide is possible. This will start with illegal immigrants and move through the population as more are found undesirable. The incredible arrogance of most people living in western nations will provide fertile soil for this new round of genocide.

5.) Reasonable conservation in the wealthy countries can greatly diminish oil usage. More aggressive conservation would allow a significant reduction in energy usage with no
change in technologies outside of stringent restriction on new technologies.

6.) The wealthiest countries have or can build technology to lessen the effects of peak oil and keep a reasonably functional society going worse case is extensive use of nuclear and coal where available.

7.) Alternative technologies available today and near horizon technologies will eventually allow high tech civilization to continue growth that is not energy intensive and destructive.

So the least important issue is the one most people focus on. The only way to avoid the top problems is to get serious about developing cheap low tech solar wind energy sources and even nuclear power plants for the third world. And of course real work on population sustainable agriculture etc.
Otherwise I think we will become if we are lucky unhappy islands in a see of misery. I think its worth it to focus on helping the poorest first we have plenty of time to make ourselves comfortable and the goals are not mutually exclusive but the primary and overriding goal should be to do everything we can to forestall the collapse of the third world.


I had hoped that you would talk to CO² and the greenhousing of the planet in relationship to PO.

Myself, I would like to see work done and quickly using nuclear in particular because
1. It fits our grid
2. It has innate familiarity for bureaucrats and politicians to handle its implementation
3. It has the need scale of power

Unfortunately there is little stomach for it on this continent as you can see here in Gail's article (I made comment above)

All the rest is mere distraction and window dressing with pretty backgrounds of windmills for politicians of all parties especially the Greens to mince in front of.

Nobody in their right mind WANTS to be a Doomer. They go very reluctantly and if there were good reason given to do otherwise they would gladly be Cornucopians and join in the Hallelujahs.

Memmel, you have put your finger on an aspect of peak oil that we do tend to overlook a lot here. I confess that I haven't really focused a lot of thought on the reaction of the "less developed" areas of the world when energy/food availability fails. You are right that the fallout from the rest of the world may well overwhelm any preparations we make here. I find that the scariest thing I have heard lately.

I think you stated the complexity and scope of the problem very well.

One small side. I worked in the Plastic industry and we were buying millions of pounds of plastic resin as raw material each year. The additives were also critical and were also petroleum based.

Those companies(the suppliers, Eastman, Exxon, etc) no longer produce polyethylene, and polyprop resins in the US.

The current medical infrastructure(especially in 3rd world nations) revolve around plastic disposible everything. I don't think a current hospital could go back in it's present form if they had to reuse glassware instead of plastic.

Those feedstocks may not be available in the future. I don't know the pecking order of which petroleum products will no longer be made because of the economics.

You cannot make polyethylene out of a solar panel, or from wind. (someone will bring up making plastic from corn and there we go... Plastic, Fuel, and Feedstock...)

I'm saying the removal of cheap energy will lead to their unsolved intrinsic problems growing.

It's pickup sticks, with each stick representing a different problem.
Everytime you pick up one, it hits an unanticipated problem, chain reaction that we cannot predict.

It seems massive though.

Complex systems breakdown chaotically/unpredictablely.

A BB dropped into a carborator's throat ventri. You don't exactly what's gonna break first, but you know....


Oh, and where's my electric airplane?

You cannot make polyethylene out of a solar panel, or from wind.

But a little bit of syngas (which can be made from biomass) does it just fine:

2 CO + 4 H2 -> C2H4 + 2 H2O

Per-capita consumption of resins in the USA is on the order of 300 lb/yr.  This can be easily supplied from bio-feedstocks.

Look here: SHPEGS

"I'm not a doomer I just want people to come up with real answers not crap about how windmills in Kansas are going to same the day."

I'm not sure how to answer that. Windmills aren't crap. Do you have a specific reason for believing that they are? I'd be happy to address it.

Maybe windmills in Kansas would help quite a bit, and ditto for nuclear power, solar, a modern railway system, strict fuel economy requirements on cars, etc, etc. The problem is: when is it going to happen? Is our government leading the charge? Unfortunately, I see almost nothing happening. Our illustrious leaders are waiting for the "magic of the marketplace" to regurgitate a solution just in time to save our asses.

What's making me a doomer is not that there is a dearth of solutions on offer. It's just that nobody with the political power is willing to implement any of these solutions. You're lucky if they even give these ideas lip service. We can't wait for the solution to fall out of the sky, we need to get busy now. Indeed, the time to deal with this problem was 30 years ago. But then those of us who talked about this 30 years ago were dismissed as "doomers" and laughed at. And those of us talking about it now are also dismissed as doomers and are being laughed at (and told that we are suffering from psychological problems). I predict that the laughing and ridicule will stop when gasoline in the USA hits $5 per gallon. And then people will be saying, "but why weren't we warned, when there was still time to do something."

"The problem is: when is it going to happen? Is our government leading the charge? Unfortunately, I see almost nothing happening."

Well, I agree that we're not moving as fast as we should, and that the federal government isn't doing what it should.

OTOH, things are happening. For instance, as I said above, wind is here: It's 44% of new planned electrical generation for 2007, per the Nuclear Energy Institute. See the NEI report, page 8:


You'll see that in 2007 wind is 44% of new generation, adjusted for capacity factor (please note that 2008 and beyond is beyond the planning window for wind, so it doesn't tell us much).

Wind could easily provide 100% in 5 years, and start replacing coal & gas after that.

Hybrids are here, at 1.8% of new cars, and growing reasonably quickly. PHEV's will be here in 3 years.

That's not nothing. We'd be better off if these things had happened 10 years ago...but something is happening.

Which is one reason why the timing of PO matters. If we have a plateau for 5 years, and 2-4% decline after that, we're really not in bad shape at all. Of course, the steeper and sooner the peak, the more painful.

The other thing is: these things are here, and can be accelerated once people realize the problem. The choices now are: mildly painful or very painful transition. But, there's no reason to think that a transition to alternatives isn't possible.

OTOH, things are happening. For instance, as I said above, wind is here: It's 44% of new planned electrical generation for 2007, per the Nuclear Energy Institute. See the NEI report, page 8:


You keep throwing that fact around like its supposed to make me optimistic.

To my eyes its just proof of how screwed we are.

Wind is less than half of new capacity in the US despite the fact we are in the biggest boom of wind expansion ever.

It also show me that about half of new capacity is gas/coal (with solar trailing behind landfill gas).

This is new capacity only, just making up for population growth. Not replacing a single watt of established capacity. And its still less than half!

And this is just the US only. What percentage of the world's new capacity is wind? Is there a single country in the world that has replaced a single gas, oil, or coal plant with wind?

You say wind could easily be 100% of new capacity in 5 years? Do you just mean for the US? Cause China and India are building a new coal plant once a week. And IIRC there are something like 150 proposed coal plants in the US alone. And your linked pdf shows coal usage exploding in 09 and then doubling in 10.

Not only do I remain unconvinced, but I now more strongly than every more convinced that nothing is gonna change till its too late. (Oh and BTW its already too late.)

Africa is hard-hit. Not going to be. Nor are we in the US going to build windmills for ourselves and for anyone else, esp colored people. If African nations want to buy overpriced windmills that don't work at excessive rates of interest, we might be able to help. Slaves we could probably figure out a use for and rationalize, though....

Look at how US and its imperial partners behave. We're going to turn on a dime and act otherwise? Perhaps if Vermont splits and the Union dissolves. Dream on.

cfm in Gray, ME

Africa has always been a catastrophe, and it's even worse now because the Africans cannot, or will not, do anything to control their population growth.

Doubtless the Africans would themselves be consumed with anguish over our plight were the roles somehow reversed.

Or maybe not. Solutions, to the extent they exist, always apply most immediately at home. If they can be shared with others, as they have been for quite some time now with Africa and the rest of the Third World, so be it. If not, then that cannot be helped.

I hear this type of thing from environmentalists all the time, that we cannot address population growth here (which, as everywhere in the West, is entirely immigration driven), because population is growing elsewhere. Bob Bartlett, late editor of the Wall Street Journal Editorial page, once famously remarked, “the destiny of Europe was decided in North Africa.” (ie by massive increases in the birth rate of North Africans). That’s the elite consensus.

I don’t share it.

Sealing the borders is not hiding, it’s protecting what is yours. The rest of the world understands this.

The poor we will always have with us, but if their numbers were not artificially allowed to explode exponentially in our own countries, we could see that their basic needs were met. What we cannot do is meet the needs of all the poor on the face of the planet (to think this is even possible in a resource constrained world with an exploding birthrate is arrogant to the point of madness), and if we try to do that while simultaneously allowing them to pour into our countries in limitless numbers, we really will be overwhelmed and ground under. That’s the way of the world.

This is not a good way to argue. If someone says a train is coming and we better get off the tracks, do you call him/her a doomer or do you take a look down the tracks? If there's no train coming, then you get don't have to get off the tracks -- otherwise yes. Those of us who think the human footprint on the planet has to be scaled back need to be dealt with on the basis of facts.

Few, if any of us, are absolute doomers. Humanity can survive, but not the way we in the first world have been living, even if China and India don't catch up. We say get started now so decline in resource consumption won't be so abrupt and painful. I'm as addicted to all the crap we prize as much as the next person -- well, not really -- but certainly I would have a hard time adjusting to living a third world life. I dont't think a life without all this stuff is better. I just think we can't sustain it. If for some reason I lost a lot income, I would reduce my spending -- and not because less spending is virtuous.

The way you argue is an easy way to avoid dealing with the facts or even putting forward a counter argument. TOD is about one aspect of sustainability -- energy. Peak or near peak is posited on the basis of data. The same is true of other parts of the earth's carrying capacity. There's plenty of room for reasoned and data-driven debate. Why not try that?

Unfortunately, at times my style can get a bit opaque... I personally love this site, and check it repeatedly every day. I don't disagree with the core conclusions that most of those referred to as Peak Oilers have come to, though I do think the magnitude of the "catastrophe" is a bit overstated at times, and at times more than a bit.

My view is that we can all say whatever we'd like, but the world will go as the world goes regardless, and where it will not go is in the direction of voluntarily "powering down." Furthermore, whether we want the human footprint to be scaled back or not, it won’t be, for simple reasons of demographics, though it could have been in the West had the West not embarked upon a suicidal project of mass Third World immigration after the true catastrophe of the last War (1914-1945). (That’s too far off topic to delve into at length on this site, but it is how I see things.)

My counterargument to those I’ve characterized as ‘doomers’ is that the world is too large for you to waste your time obsessing over action plans to ‘save it’ from whatever is coming. Those of us who have read the trends have an obligation to ourselves and our families to do what is necessary to adapt to these trends (and I’d say profit from them), but more than that, we can’t do.

I think that we can, with appropriate planning and a bit of creative action, thrive in the world that is coming, even if the world at large sinks back into the abyss it only crawled out of in the last few centuries.

And try to have a good time too. Most people live as they always have, abject, impoverished, despairing, and miserable. That’s the human condition. It doesn’t have to be ours as individuals.

Nothing wrong with this sentiment short term. A lot of the solutions presents are simply ways to transition the wealthiest economies with the minimum disruption. The US has enough coal to transition even if it does not immediately adopt alternative energy sources. And nuclear will play a big role.
Solar I think will have a technical break through later that will allow it to be widely viable into the third world.
We certainly can and should and eventually must transition our economies.

My point is that we have a really big problem coming over a lot of the world and we don't actually know for sure how we i.e the western economies will be affected.

The problem is that throughout history when you have widespread problems and turmoil you eventually get widespread war. Nuclear options will become more viable over time. In a world of many destroyed nations economic transition approaches for the wealthy are not enough to ensure peace if anything success will simply fan the flames.

I disagree that we can't solve the problems of the third world if I look at the historic meddling we have done repeatedly esp in Africa I see no reason to believe that we have even really tried. I think your attitude which is shared I believe by many is arrogant and false.
And I'm as certain that this attitude will eventually lead to us faltering if we don't change. No society can withstand constant warfare when one side has nothing to lose.
Look at Vietnam the US spent a lot of time dropping bombs on jungle simply because their was nothing good left to blow up. This did not win the war. And finally although you may technically succeed in saving your country its almost certain to militarize and become controlled by NeoNazi regimes.

I can't say I see how it's arrogant for me to say that there are things we cannot do, even if, or maybe especially if, the "we" in question is read in the broadest possible way to include the entire Western world.

I've always been an anti-imperialist in part because I think the task of imperial world improving is both wrong and hopeless. All I want is to let the world go its way, while keeping it outside. That seems reasonable enough.

All I can say is I find that often people like you tend to be very confident that technology will save us and just as certain that their is no way technology could save the third world.

The double standard is astounding. And it gets down to a unwillingness to invest at a basic level simple greed and bigotry.

We all live on this planet and we all depend on each other.
And to date we have not really tried to help the third world.

And finally you can't hide.

I don't recall saying anything about technology "saving" anyone, First, Second or Third world... Here's a question, though, memmel: Why are we always expected to "save" them? Just because they exist? Why don't they "save" us? Or at least themselves?
Why is it always my problem?
The ingratitude of these people for all that they have received already (incalculable sums of money, all the technology, created by us, of the modern world), and their limitless expectation that we have the responsibility to immunize them against the necessary and unavoidable consequences of their own mistakes... it staggers the mind.


Just when I was getting to like you for changing your style to a more readable form you go and make statements too wrongheaded to be believed; please say it isn't so. (see bad post below)

I can see no gratitude we deserve from the 'third world' or even the 'second world' (whatever that is now). No gratitude starting with the 'First People' who in our ignorance we called Indians nor in the Indians, who we now call East Indians because we screwed up in this naming business from the first time we intruded upon them. (please excuse this run on sentence).

We don't really like what we got (suburbia, smog traffic, no time to smell the flowers etc) so why would any third worlder in his right mind be grateful for the big plate of what we have given them?

I can only hope you have your tongue placed firmly in your cheek.

Nothing can save us now, look at this:


come complete with PVC thatch. Check out the garden shed.

One problem with your scenario is that the First World is highly dependent on the resources of the Third. The rest ofthe world is more and more ready to fight to retain or regain control of their diminishing resources.

There's a bunch of other problems, many of which have been laid out by Kunstler, Heinberg and others.


Looks like we both got a good sleep last night. If you look at my first post yesterday it was a bit of a rave. Who knows what the 'magnitude of the catastrophe' is, I find it varies in my consciousness from day to day. My lowest estimation is that there will still be life of some sort. While I don't wish ill for our species I think that like individuals species come and go but the trend is always to a more complete consciousness of it all.

At best though, a lot of people are going to be doing hard time and all we can do there is what we can, while trying not to get too excited (or depressed) about it.

Have a good time Hans I'm trying my best to do that too. I also want to hear more of what you think about whatever.

I kind of like the laundry list/FAQ idea...I saved this post by SamuM from a while back...

[new] SamuM on Friday November 24, 2006 at 4:45 AM EST Comments top
Great post.

We have a small group locally in Finland, who are facing the exact same issues as everybody else talking about PO:

How to deal with the counter arguments (and for us: also how to learn from them).

For our own use, we've gathered an initial 'Frequent Counter Arguments' or FCA:

Here is a quick draft / summary. It can and should be extended.

Also, all counter arguments should be analysed based on proven information and disproved, IF possible. If it can't be disproved, it may have some validity (even if only partial). We try to take an analytical approach.

If somebody knows already of a similar list in one place with proper counter arguments, using graphs for illustration and calculations from proven data, we'd sure be glad to read it.

We've seen many pages dealing with one or more of the below, sometimes using data or even helpful illustrations, but not a single place, that does it all: - all counter arguments in logical order - disproof against each counter argument (if possible) - ... using proven data and calculations - with illustrations to show the magnitude and help people understand - all in clear, concise English. Easy for anybody to understand - no shouting, no blaming, no doom scenarios (these can't be proven)
We think it would be immensely useful. At least in the climate/culture we face here locally.

Frequent Counter Arguments against Peak Oil and it's significance

0. How come it's not all over the front page - it can't be true
- i.e. 'crackpot conspiracy' argument

1. Oil is a renewable resource, hence it will not run out (ever)
- i.e. 'abiotic oil' argument

2. Estimates about the timing of Peak are wrong, because:

2.1. There's more oil than pessimists (or even optimists like IEA or CERA) claim. Hence, PO is at least 50+ years away - with plenty of time to find alternative sources for all uses of oil.
- i.e. 'cornucopia' argument

2.2. Oil peaking or reserves/resources estimates are inaccurate and cannot be trusted, because there is such a huge range of variance in the reserve & peaking estimates between various sources. Hence, PO is probably just an inaccurate event some time in the future, which is likely to be very far into the future.
- i.e. 'estimation is inaccurate' argument

2.3. People in the PO community are untrustworthy and they're estimates cannot be trusted. Either because they've been wrong before on the date of peaking or because they have a hidden agenda.
- i.e. 'ad hominem' argument

2.4. Technology of prospecting, drilling, recovery and refinement is advancing so rapidly, that we will find more, get more out of what we find and even improve recovery of the wells already in decline. Hence, all of this combined will just push the peak so much further into the future that we have again enough time to switch to alternatives.
- i.e. 'oil technology will fix it' argument

3. Free market mechanism of supply and demand will prevent oil from becoming a critical scarce resource. When the demand is too high for the supply to meet, prices will rise so high that alternatives become profitable to be produced or even invented. Hence, any long enough supply side slump will cause alternative energy source supply and new invention to substitute the amount of oil market is demanding.
- i.e. 'market will fix it (overnight)' argument

4. Alternative energy sources are will replace oil (continuation from 3)
- i.e. 'easy replacement' argument

4.1. Hydrogen cells will be in every car
- i.e. 'hydrogen revolution' argument

4.2. We can grow bio-diesel to substitute for oil
- i.e. 'we'll just grow the alternatives' argument

4.3. We can process ethanol (out of farm produce or food) as a substitute
- i.e. 'we'll just process the alternative fuels' argument

4.4. We'll make oil from coal
- i.e. 'Fischer-Tropsch' argument

4.5. We'll make oil from (natural) gas or use gas as a substitute
- i.e. 'we'll use gas - plenty of it' argument

4.6. Electricity will replace oil - it's cleaner too (no electricity source specified)
- i.e. 'we'll switch to batteries and electric motors' argument

4.7. Solar energy is the future
- i.e. 'more light arrives on earth every day than we can use' argument

4.8. Wind energy is the future
- i.e. 'if we could harness all the winds...' argument

4.9. Biomass (burning) is the futuree
- i.e. 'wood pellets, felt, etc.' argument

4.10. Unconventional oil of Venezuela and Canada will meet our needs
- i.e. 'tar sands and oil shale' argument

4.11. We'll build more nuclear energy power plants (fission)
- i.e. 'we'll build hundreds of new fission power plants' argument

4.12. We'll just use hydrogen nuclear energy (fusion)
- i.e. 'isn't the ITER almost ready and it provides endless amounts of clean energy' argument

4.13. Geothermal energy is plentiful
- i.e. 'we'll at least heat our houses using geo-energy' argument

4.14. Tidal wave energy is the future
- i.e. 'we could just tap into all those wave' argument

4.1x. New source of energy X will solve it - somebody will invent something
- i.e. 'energy out of nothing' argument

5. We will conserve as much energy as the oil production depletes. We can do this easily, while national and global economy still keeps growing healthily and climate becomes greener (less CO2 and methane to air). We can do this without big, systemic and significant change to our culture or economy.
- i.e. 'business almost as usual' argument

6. Oil not used directly to energy production (e.g. fertilizers, pesticides, plastics, medicine, etc.) will be replaced by synthetic/biological sources, or completely new materials from materials science.
- i.e. 'technology will solve the raw material problem' argument

PS Just to make sure people understand we are not trying to re-invent the wheel. There's plenty of books, ASPO slides, presentations, videos, web sites and articles about this, but it's spread all over and when put together it is generally way too much for any single individual to dive into. If we want more people to understand this, we need clear, understandable and approachable list of counter arguments with data against them. This really needs a Wiki page, if it doesn't exist already.
[ Reply to This ]

I like your list. Another one I heard a while back was, "If it were true, George W. Bush surely would have told us about it."

As I indicated in a response up above, the plan is eventually to put together an educational website (together with Kennesaw State University) that would provide energy-related material for high schools and colleges. The material would also be available to the general public. We will probably include material that is in PDF format that can be used as handouts, and perhaps some material for teachers that is only available with a password.

We will try to look at a number of alternative energy sources in more detail. I expect that since we are aiming the material at a fairly young audience, we will try not to be overly pessimistic.

I think there is room for a lot of different kinds of material to be published. A Wiki would seem to work best where there is not too much argument what the facts are.


First Great Job. I too am glad to see more women post.

Also, have you looked at what these folks have done and are doing?


There might be synergy there somewhere.


Thanks for the idea. Haven't looked there much recently.

Pull anything you want from the FAQ on my blog.  Also look at the reference library.

Hello Gail,

Good job! I hope your keypost brings alot more females to TOD to help foster balance. Copy of my Digg:

This is an excellent article for Peakoil newbies and experts alike. Hopefully, lots more women will start getting involved in Peakoil to help promote the spread of Peakoil Outreach. The key question is when will the world finally recognize that the current direction will lead to disaster? When will Tiger Woods lead the charge to plow golf courses into vegetable gardens? When will Justin Timberlake seek to plant trees around a lake? When will the Google founders give up their personal 747s? How soon before the world's billionaires emulate Richard Rainwater? When will the Duggar family stop having kids; isn't 21 kids enough? When will the world adopt a minimum of common sense to optimize our decline? Please continue to spread Peakoil Outreach to friends and family. The future belongs to the young--always has, always will-- it is the destiny of today's young adults to jumpstart the efforts at Detritus Powerdown and Biosolar Powerup. Do what you can to minimize future violence-- 150 million bicycles and wheelbarrows are better than 150 million rifles and machetes!

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Does anyone ever mention population growth as a problem in this matter? We increase our population 50% over the last 35 or so years. Would the pie be any smaller if we hadn't? Planning to increase another 100million over the next 30 or so years. Do we have the energy for that effort?

I think it's time to end immigration, and end the government subsidy of children over and above the first.

Clearly population growth is an issue. We saw in Nate Hagen's post yesterday how net energy can be expected to drop more quickly when we factor in the impact of declining EROEI. If we also factor in the fact that population is rising, the per person amount of net energy will be declining even faster. At the same level of total oil production (say 55 mbpd), the net energy per person will be much lower on the downside of the peak than on the upside.

We can talk about families having only one child, but the idea would not be popular. If somehow it were started now, it still would be a long time before there would be a big impact on population.

I am afraid that after peak oil, we will have a lot of people with no method of birth control. There will be few activities to do for entertainment. If we do not have a strong government leading the way, it is quite possible the birth rate will actually increase.

Thanks for the reply. Can you address immigration? I have read that immigration currently accounts for more of our population growth than births/deaths (2/3 to 1/3). If we stopped immigration immediately it would have an immediate and undeniable effect on population. We would "lose" around 1.5 million people a year - 1 million legal + .5 million illegal. And then their is the "compounding" that takes place. Had Ted Kennedy not gotten Congress to reopen immigration in the mid 1960's we'd have tens of millions less people in this country. And a need for a significantly lower amount of oil, coal and natural gas each and every day.

We can talk about families having only one child, but the idea would not be popular. If somehow it were started now, it still would be a long time before there would be a big impact on population.

I am not saying don't allow it. But don't subsidize it. Don't give any credits or deductions for children past the first. Charge for public education for children after the first. Even stopping it at the second child would be a big help. It may seem radical to people now, but it won't in hindsight.

It seems like a reduction in the birth rate would have an immediate impact. If it has to have an immediate big impact before we do it, then it would be difficult to justify doing a lot of things that can help. Windmills don't have an immediate big impact, nor does solar, nor does wave or tidal. Hybrid cars also don't have an immediate big impact.

I hear people like Simmons talking about conservation being out best hope. Well if we figure out how to conserve energy consumption 25% per person over the next 30 years we'll be using the exact same amount we do now if we allow population to grow the 100 million they are predicting.

The immigration question is one I prefer to stay away from.

I can understand your point of view. On the other hand, we live in one world, and the real issue is too many people in total, wherever they are located. Keeping them in their current country may help solve the United States' problem, but it doesn't solve the world's problem.

Furthermore, we have connections to the rest of the world. You and I would not be in the United States today, if it weren't for immigration some years ago. We are going to continue to need oil and fertilizer from the Middle East and quite a few other things from other countries. Research in solving some of our current problems is being done in universities around the world. We would do well to improve our relations with other countries. I'm afraid that cutting off all immigration would send yet another very negative message to these other countries about the United States.

But as things deteriorate, we may very well see countries cutting off immigration from other countries -- then states cutting off immigration from other states -- then local areas cutting off immigration from other areas, so as to better match resources with population.

On the other hand, we live in one world, and the real issue is too many people in total, wherever they are located. Keeping them in their current country may help solve the United States' problem, but it doesn't solve the world's problem.

When they come to the United States from anywhere they will end up using more energy than if they had stayed home. If they come from an undeveloped country where most of our immigration is from they will really use a lot more energy. So migration to the United States makes the world's energy situation worse.

Furthermore, we have connections to the rest of the world. You and I would not be in the United States today, if it weren't for immigration some years ago.

And were it not for the hard to romanticize slaughter of the people who already lived here who did not want the Europeans "immigrating". Your statement is very troubling because you have said implicitly (and this is of course echoed by countless others), that we must always have immigration. It can never stop because it once happened.

I'm afraid that cutting off all immigration would send yet another very negative message to these other countries about the United States.

Japan has no meaningful immigration. I have never heard of a country not wanting to trade with Japan because they have no immigration. I have not read that countries did not want to trade with the United States before Ted Kennedy got Congress to turn on immigration from the Third World in 1965.

But as things deteriorate, we may very well see countries cutting off immigration from other countries -- then states cutting off immigration from other states -- then local areas cutting off immigration from other areas, so as to better match resources with population.

In the California Bay Area years ago there was a 2 year drought that caused water use restrictions to be imposed. In the second year of the drought they stopped issuing building permits. After the drought they begin issuing them like crazy again. Apparently they either felt that that was the only drought that will ever take place, or there was some momentary sense that took place in people's brains where they saw that population growth is not good when you have scarce resources.

The Peak Oil movement is not unique in not speaking about population issues. The Sierra Club and other environmentalists do the same thing. Immigration and large families are sacred, romanticized, untouchable topics.

There is so much we can do to make existing homes more energy efficient. I have cut the heating energy use in half for my own home, just by air sealing, adding some insulation and installing a 95% gas furmace. This house, built in 1978 is now almost twice as efficient as new homes being built today. I have more tricks up my sleeve that will further reduce energy use, as more efficiency measures are introduced, a larger and larger share of the heating is provided by passive solar, currently about 25%.
I would suggest if your budget allows, make some efficiency improvements to your home now. The building industry is in a down cycle and efficiency upgrades will be much more expensive when energy becomes tight.

I think that making homes more energy efficient will be a growth area for employment in the future. Southface here in Atlanta is an organization that trains people in doing energy audits and making modifications of the type you mentioned.

Regarding ethanol, I have read elsewhere (EV World) that the addition of ethanol to gasoline actually reduces one's gas mileage more than would be explained by the lower energy content of the addition. E.G., if one uses E10, the reduction in gas mileage isn't just a function of the reduced energy content of the 10% added. If true, this would make ethanol even more marginal that commonly assumed.

On the other hand, the author of this allegation, an auto columnist who claims he actually measured the difference using different blends and different autos, could have had something wrong with his methodology or just blowing smoke. I don't know. Can anyone out there scientifically confirm or deny the validity of this allegation?

My understanding is that this is basically true. Some of the cars have not been tuned correctly for the new ethanol base fuels. A good bit of our mileage increases esp in the heavier cars comes from the advanced tuning systems. It will be a while before you get the same mileage out of E10 and esp E85 that you got before. I'd have to guess at least 2-3 years before we get all the bugs worked out. It really depends on the car model/engine model. Some seem to have no problems.
Older models obviously will be worse. I suspect their are new tuning guidelines that could help older cars get better mileage with E10. I'd not be surprised if you did not get better mileage using one of the performance tuned computer setups in a older car.

"It will be a while before you get the same mileage out of E10 and esp E85 that you got before."

Not to be rude but it could be a very long while.

Energy content of gasoline is about 132MJ/gallon.
Energy content of ethanol is about 89MJ/gallong.

Since ethanol based fuel has less energy per volume than gasoline using ethanol will always reduce your mileage unless your use of gasoline was horribly inefficient.

I meant besides the obvious lower energy density problem.
The engine needs to be tuned for the fuel its different enough from gasoline to cause problems. Oxygen sensors need to be calibrated correctly etc plus I suspect the computer needs to correctly detect the fuel. I'd not be surprised of the profiles are not exactly right. I'd have to guess they are hand tuned profiles for the known fuel blends. Also I think in general you want higher compression for ethanol than for gasoline so I think your going to have additional losses for a while.

Like I said in the first post I'd not be surprised to see better fuel economy if you use one of the performance computer setups.
I have heard a lot of stories of cars running poorly on E85 so I'd not be surprised to learn that a lot of manufactures did not do enough to support E10 outside of dealing with the corrosive effects of ethanol.


We are building a 35Mwe solar power plant at Otjiwarongo, Namibia. This plant is to run 24/7. We will store energy as
as heat in an insulated tank filled with alumina spheres.

To make this plant produce power at EUR$ 0.035/kwh. I designed a radically new heliostat costing EUR$52/m2. I didn't invent the components or ideas of this unit, I simply thought out of the box and worked out a 121m2 unit with a
frame mass of 600Kg and a reflective surface mass of 200Kg.
Balancing the unit dynamically about its rotational axis, and statically too, permitted a reduction in the cost of the
tracker. What surprised me was that no one at NREL or anywhere had encapsulated the controller onto an SBC using
an MPU. Even though the algorithms have been worked out
for 2 decades.

My point is..... if the USA invested the money spent to control oil and the world, into renewables, and promoted them to the world, the world view of the US would be vastly different, and we'd be well on the way to something more sustainable.

Unfortunately, history has shown the present course to be the norm for the US. Jared Diamond in "Collapse" discusses Easter Island's collapse, and asks the rhetorical question, "What did they think when they cut the last tree to erect the last statue?". Today the statues are Aircraft Carrier battle groups and fighter wings, and the trees are barrels of oil.

I am too old to see the ultimate consequence of this profligacy, but I fear for my children.

Regarding the work of Stuart and Fractional Flow. They support their theses with facts and figures. Dave and CERA with bombast. Bombast won't produce oil, won't solve anything. Rolling up one's sleeves will.

Warmest regards,

Dr. George W. Oprisko, Executive Director
Public Research Institute(Namibia)

Very interesting that you have found a new (but in some ways old) way of storing energy. I'd like to try to put together for young people some of the things that are being done today. Hopefully, we can inspire them to expand on what is being done and find new solutions as well.

Thanks for your post its people like you that bring cheer too this bleak world. The way you explained your design with its focus on cost is exactly how we all must begin to think.

Global warming from a former petroleum geologist's viewpoint

Kelvin S. Rodolfo

To understand greenhouse warming from human-generated carbon dioxide
requires a proper geological grasp of two things: First, the
photosynthesis-respiration cycle, the most important element of
Earth's delicately balanced surface environment; second, the enormity
of geological time over which the world's petroleum accumulated, in
contrast to the one and a half century during which we have burned
half of it.

Photosynthesis transforms sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into
hydrocarbons containing stored chemical energy, with a "byproduct" of
free oxygen. The stored energy is released by respiration, whereby
animals and fungi power their existence by "burning" the hydrocarbons
with oxygen, releasing "waste" water and carbon dioxide, and thus
completing the cycle.

The photosynthesis-respiration cycle is very efficient, but small
Amounts of hydrocarbons escape respiration by being buried in swamp
deposits or in oceanic sediments.

Deep burial of the swamps transforms the organic material into coal.
When the oceanic hydrocarbons are buried to depths of about 2 to 5
kilometers, the elevated pressures and temperatures slowly cook them
into oil and methane, which migrate upward, being of low density. The
petroleum is trapped if it enters the pores in sands or limestones
that are enclosed on the top and sides by impermeable rocks.

Given enough time, all coal and petroleum eventually must undergo one
of two fates. Either they are buried so deeply that Earth's internal
heat rips the hydrocarbon molecules apart, or uplift and erosion of
the carbon-bearing rocks releases the coal and petroleum back into the
surface environment. The Canadian and Venezuelan tar sands are oil
deposits exposed by erosion that have lost their volatile components.

Natural processes over the great lengths of geological time have
achieved a rough balance between carbon storage and release, leaving
the global environmental balance essentially undisturbed, leaving a
quasi-steady-state amount of carbon stored in Earth's crust.

Ignoring coal and methane to look only at oil, the best geological
estimates are: since about 600 million years ago, when the oldest oil
we use was formed, the Earth has stored only about two trillion
barrels. On average, this is little more than 3,000 barrels annually.

The most prolific oil-generating period was the 20 million years or so
of late Jurassic to mid Cretaceous time, from about 110 to 90 million
years ago, when more than half of the world's oil – including all in
the Middle East – was stored. Even during that period, the Earth
stored only about 50,000 barrels annually.

At present, Humanity burns about 29 billion barrels a year. That is
what the Earth has stored, on average, over about nine million years.

In other words, the carbon dioxide that Nature took out of the
atmosphere and tucked away as oil in rocks over nine million years, we
return to the air in one year. Over the last one and a half centuries
– the blink of an eye in geological terms – we have burned a trillion
barrels of oil and have dumped its carbon dioxide waste back into the air.

Even if TWICE as much oil has accumulated in the Earth's crust as our
best estimates - a totally unrealistic figure that not even the most
wildly optimistic "cornucopians" claim, we would be pumping into the
air in one year the carbon dioxide that nature had sequestered in the
rocks for over four million years.

Comparable amounts of carbon dioxide are also pumped into the
atmosphere by burning coal and methane. To the total 6.5 billions of
carbon returned to the air every year, deforestation also adds another
1-2 billion tons.

Thus is Humanity inflicting on Earth's delicately balanced living
environment one of the most severe traumas it has ever had to endure.
The resulting fever is what we call Anthropogenic Global Warming.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may be only tiny symptoms of that trauma.

The Earth occasionally undergoes a severe trauma, such as the impact
of the Chixulub meteorite, ten kilometers in diameter, that 65 million
years ago caused massive extinctions of oceanic and terrestrial life
including the dinosaurs. Burning a trillion barrels of oil plus an
equivalent amount of coal and natural gas in less than two centuries
is a geological catastrophe of similar magnitude.

Given enough time after catastrophe, the Earth's surface environment
and its life have always managed to restore equilibrium, including
equable temperatures. They will do so again, regardless of whether
humankind survives or not.

But such a recovery cannot possibly begin while humanity continues to
accelerate its use of fossil fuels.

Even if we were to stop all fossil-fuel combustion today, it will
still take a very long time for our global environment and ecosystems
to recover.

Kelvin S. Rodolfo
Professor Emeritus
Dept. of Earth & Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois at Chicago
845 W. Taylor St.
Chicago IL 60607 U.S.A.

Therein lies the basis for the killer line

we're using oil 9 million times faster than
Mother Nature can make it

Thanks very much for your summary. It is very helpful. I have read various pieces of it in different places before, but having it together in a single place, from an authoritative author is helpful.

excellent summary, very well stated , very enlightning! thank you! please continue posting.

Hello Goprisko,

Welcome to TOD! Do you have any knowledge of how many of the African leadership and businessmen are aware of Peakoil? I have sent emails to Zimbabwe and South Africa, but never got a reply. The sitemeter by country visit doesn't show a measurable percentage of African TODers:


Thxs for any info.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

We don't need to piss them off :)

Actually they may be willing to take the matter to the UN.
The evidence is strong enough to warrant the UN at least looking into the matter. Considering the scope of the problem Peak Oil like Global Warming is something the UN is designed to address.

Dr. Oprisko- I would sure like to see a photo of this thing. I do not understand your description. You must have many many concentrators to get that power output!

You did not include an eMail address with your bio. My eMail is in mine. If you have a chance, send me yours,

Best Hopes,


Thx for this post Gail. I will be following future events as I am very interestd in educational materials (12-18 years). What I would like to see is a cheap book - and I don't despair ..but for reasons I can't fathom the PO community is not keen on books, I've been ridiculed often! (I don't mind.)

I think part of the problem is that things are changing quickly. Publishing a book in the traditional fashion takes quite a while.

I agree that we need a textbook. We will have to see what can be done.

"Geothermal heat pumps. Can only be used in certain locations."

Gail, are you sure? Geothermal heat-pumps for space heating/cooling can be used in many places and don't require high ground temperatures. Geothermal power plants to generate electricity do and the number of locations for those is rare.

See www.climatemaster.com
or www.waterfurnace.com
or even Trane.

Thanks. I haven't run into geothermal heat pumps in my own life, so assumed they could only be used in some locations.

I would imagine the front-end cost (digging up the yard and doing the installation) would be relatively high, but once it was in place, the energy use would be relatively low.

Geothermal can be used in many, but not all places.

Very low ground water temperatures make extracting heat inefficent; little better than resistance electrical heat. (Note: using unit for a/c in summer puts heat into the ground, some of which may remain for winter use).

Solid rock typically costs too much to install and has relatively low thermal conductivity. Likewise, some areas with dry soil and low water tables (deserts) may not be good sources to extract heat from.

New Orleans is a poor site as well. Ground temperatures are too high for efficient cooling use and our heating needs are minimal. And the soil is too unstable.

Other dense Urban environments can support only occasional or supplemental use (Manhatten has rock & density !).

My SWAG is that 3/4ths of American hoimes are at least marginal candidates for geothermal heat.

Best Hopes,


I suggested to a friend in Peabody MA (now 100% natural gas, north of Boston) that she go to:

1) Geothermal heat pump large enough to cool her in the summer but not enough for all winter heat. This maximizes value of capacity (she has smallish yard as well).

2) Good wood furnace in basement (use fans to circulate bulk wood heat and even out heat w/geothermal heat).

3) Smaller gas furnace to supplement geothermal heat on cold days.

She can adjust her heating requirements to costs (NG, electricity, wood) and keep from freezing no matter what !

Best Hopes,



The most common way for installing ground source heat pumps in Sweden is by drilling a hole into solid bedrock. If you got ground water movement thru the hole you get better heating capacity. But if the hole has no or very small ground water movement it becommes possible to heat it with a reasonably sized solar panel during summertime that also provides hot water and then extract the heat during winter by making the work a little easier for the heat pump.

I found some statistics on www.scb.se for installed heating systems in small houses in Sweden in 2005:
Electricity 31% (probably resistive + air source heat pumps)
Electricity + oil 4%
Electricity + biofuel 21%
Only oil 6%
Oil + biofuel 2%
Only biofuel 11%
District heating 8%
Groud and sea source heat pumps 7%
Other 10% (probably includes unknown)

It could be intresting to compare with apartment houses 2005:
Oil 2%
District heating 77%
Electricity 3%
combinations with heat pump 8%
Other 10%

And for the heck of it, everything else exept industry:
Oil 4%
District heating 59%
electricity 7%
Oil + electricity 3%
Other 27%

District heating, heat pumps and pellet burning is booming.
Heating oil use is going extinct.
Natural gas heating is only established in a handful of municipialities.
Garbage incineration for district heating and some electricity production is closing on 100% of garbage generated.
Most district heating is from garbage, biomass, industrial wast heat, large scale heat pump and oil for peak load.

Solid rock is not a problem. In fact, while speaking with the drillers who did my wells, they preferred rock for it was apparently easier to drill. We hit ground water, so thermal transfer is pretty good for us.

Most all ground heat pumps are sized for cooling needs and not heating. A secondary heating source is almost always required.

What is the ground temperature in New Orleans 10-20 feet down? 50 ft down? Do you have numbers?

There are actually geothermal pumps in Manhattan. Saw this within the last 6 months in NYT in the real estate section as one came up for sale. Again, solid rock is NOT a problem. I can confirm mine works as advertised here in Fairfield Cnty, CT.

Cost and thermal conductivity (absent ground water) work against solid rock. And there is simply not enough rock under Manhatten for everyone to use geothermal heat pumps.

It has been years since I checked ground water temps in New Orleans (all the same regardless of depth). Upper 70s F from memory. Pumping losses made energy efficiency comparable to air source air conditioning.

Best Hopes,


Interesting, thanks for the temperature information.

Have to agree ground heat-pumps are not the obvious choice and have high installation costs which make this technology "marginal" as you say, but going forward, it is hard to see any solution solving all the problems--particularly in Manhattan.

We went with geothermal heat pumps because they are "not oil or natural gas" and represent our backstop. (Our power input here in CT is primarily nuclear in the off-peak.) Despite the expense, I'm happy with the result. There's not that nagging feeling of wasting energy when the geothermal is on. It appears that that particular feeling is more fossil fuel related than energy usage related. We have found we keep the house warmer now in the winter as a result and don't feel bad about it.

Best value as a source seems to be solar water and air heaters, but the storage issue requires supplemental sources (in retrofits as virtually all of the nation will require).

What's the story on the "find" in Manhattan?
Jeff Jones

I'm afraid it was just a good story for April 1.

Excuse me for injecting a bit of optimism into the conversation.....

How to Predict the Future
(excerpt taken from Inc. magazine 2/07)

by Ray Kurzwell

...Today we produce 14 trillion watts of power, 78 percent of which comes from fossil fuels. We have, however, plenty of energy in our midst. About 10 (to the 17th power) watts of sunlight fall on the earth, or roughly 10,000 times more energy than we regularly consume. Solar panels do a poor job of capturing this energy because they are inefficient, expensive, heavy, and difficult to integrate with building materials. Today production of solar power costs on average $8 per watt, much more than other energy sources.

The economics of solar power are poised to change dramatically however, as a new generation of solar panels made with nanomaterials comes of age. Developed by a series of venture-backed companies eagerly jockeying to disrupt that $1.9 trillion worldwide oil industry, these innovative panels are projected to drop in price within a few years. And whether or not any of the known businesses now developing them are successful, once we have full-scale molecular nanotechnology based manufacturing, we'll be off to the races.

....In 20 years, I believe solar panels will be as inexpensive as a penny per square meter.....Converting 0.0003 percent of all sunlight hitting the earth, which will be feasible at that time, will let us meet 100 percent of our energy needs two decades from now....