Some Congressional Action on Energy?

Sometimes it is hard to grasp the size of the problem that is now facing the world. One way is, perhaps, to relate it to time. A hundred thousand seconds is just under 28 hours; a million seconds is eleven and a half days, and both are graspable numbers. A billion seconds is, however, 31.7 years, which is almost half a lifetime, and on a different scale of perception. So it is with the world energy supply, it is easy to talk about the necessary changes in individual lifestyle, or to debate whether a single power station/wind farm should or should not be built. Those issues are relatively easy to appreciate and debate. But trying to convey the problems when crude oil and natural gas supplies will drop by over a billion barrels of oil equivalent in a year carries the debate beyond the numbers that are as easy to grasp or assimilate.

This past week I was asked (outside this forum) to give an opinion on H.R. 364, a bill in the US Congress “to provide for the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy.” This seems to follow the earlier H.R. 507 “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States, in collaboration with other international allies, should establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency that was incorporated in the "Man on the Moon" project to address the inevitable challenges of "Peak Oil". This was developed by Congressman Bartlett, who began by making speeches on the floor about Peak Oil, and who joined with Congressman Udall to found the Congressional “Peak Oil” Caucus and to co-sponsor the resolution. Congressman Bartlett is a co-sponsor of H.R. 364.

So I am going to seize this opportunity to give some thoughts on research funding in general, and some possible political realities. But let me start by saying that I think that the bill is a very good idea.

The fossil fuel extraction industry is relatively conservative in regards to research, with a small percentage of their finances being directed toward the topic. Further their definition includes exploration, and much of the research that is funded is aimed purely at solving immediate problems and supply needs, rather than “out-of-the-box” concepts that could have a greater payback but which require a longer term investment. Given the competing tasks of research and teaching an industry executive last week left me in no doubt as to his belief that the second was paramount and the former not that necessary in a university department.

Collectively around the industry there is not a great deal of concern with the long term prognosis. Demand is high, and the needs for production today (and in the next couple of years) take precedence over worrying about where the barrels of oil or tons of coal will come from in a decade or so. There are not enough knowledgeable engineers being graduated from universities around the world to work on today’s issues, and today’s technologies are working, so why fix something that isn’t broke?

A second senior executive (it was that sort of week) discussed the political realities of the coming couple of years. There is, foregoing the collaboration that the above bills illustrate in the House, a considerable difference between Democratic and Republican positions on Energy. Bear in mind, for example, that the next President will appoint the members and heads of a number of oversight committees and agencies that regulate the industries. Given the range of opinions among the currently announced candidates, would you be willing to commit the monies now to start a new venture, while unsure that, with the advent of a new Administration, you might not be faced with a complete reversal of approval, or a wall of new regulations within two years. Better to hold off on that investment until the future gets a little clearer. Both these opinions, you may note, do not sense any concern about the supply of any form of fossil fuel within the near-term.

That having been said, there is a current effort underway in renewable energy that focuses, at different levels of intensity, on wind, solar, hydro-electric and the biofuels. But it is here that my opening comment becomes relevant. We are still at a point where the relative merits of different approaches are being debated. This debate too often spends too much energy on running down the different alternatives – not being willing to recognize the improvements that will come about through research investment – rather than understanding that it will not be too long before we need not one of these, or the other, but rather all of them. It also can assume that, because the Federal Government is backing a technology at the production plant level, the developmental problems needed for economic production have been solved. Therefore, the proponents of that ideology would argue that there is no need for investment in alternative sources, since, with enough investment, approach C will provide all the energy we need.

Unfortunately, particularly with renewable sources that rely on bio-feedstock, the impact of the recent weather on the fruit trees as well as grains shows the dangers of an over-dependence on harvests. It is an event that has occured, the effects are recognized, but the general public (and the dependent wildlife) will not see and pay the cost of the weather until the fall and winter. We must have a broad range of supply alternatives that include all potential sources being considered and developed. And given the problems that some can generate, then research should be carried out to develop a realistic solution. (Closing power plants that are needed to provide the services that sustain life is not a realistic solution). Further just because company/university A is carrying out research in sub-topic B of concept C does not mean that the real answer lies in that line of investigation. Many times it is only through going down multiple paths that the way forward can be detected. Running “lean and mean” research efforts can too often result in waste if the investigation does not initially start out on a broad investigative base.

Hopefully, from this you will realize that I think that the basic idea of an ARPA-Energy program is a really good idea. We need to have a new commitment to finding alternative ideas that are not constrained by having to live within the definitions of the existing boundaries within the Department of Energy. But, having said that, there is a concern with modeling it too closely on DARPA. (The Department of Defense version). There has been an increasing trend by Federal Agencies to believe that problems can be solved thorough funding a very limited number of Research Centers. The premise being that if enough money is thrown at a select few, that the answer will be forthcoming. This often ends up giving those that are well-connected an inside track, and generally means that those that are not, regardless of the worth of their ideas, do not get funded.

As one illustration of this during the days of the last Energy Crisis the response was to give large chunks of money to “our brightest scientists” – which were considered to be those at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Well, apart from a little work on lunar and Martian mining, at the time they had no idea about fossil fuel extraction, and how to enhance it. But they got the money, and so spent time trying to learn about the business, while those more knowledgeable in this particular area did not.

Now there is nothing wrong with getting bright people to take a new look at a situation – often new creative approaches can be formed – but it is inefficient and we really may not have the mindset to conceive of the silver bb of an idea that comes from a chemist in Idaho, or a minerals processing person in Baton Rouge. Thus, what I would hope would happen if the idea is brought to pass (in itself perhaps questionable), is that some provision be made to solicit and fund (say at $100,000 for a year) a broad suite of ideas. The premise being that most will be found not to work, but by encouraging creative thought, the ones that do can be winnowed and encouraged. (Along the lines of the Phase 1 and Phase 2 funding that the SBIR program follows at NSF, but with a much smaller threshold to be met for Phase 1 funding). Do I expect that to happen? Well, No! But Spring might finally be here and for an afternoon it is nice to dream.

Oh, and if you get the chance, put in a good word for H.R. 364. It would not hurt to contact your Member of Congress, your senator, or anyone in the executive branch who might listen. It never hurts. (click "write your representative") (click "find your senators") (The Executive Office of the President, links)


Thanks for the article and for sharing your thoughts. When I see these types of moves to look for new technolgy my first reaction is optomistism. when I think a little longer I wonder if Technology can save us. To me, the primary question is, Are we in Overshoot? I believe that this is a conversation worth having. If so, all of the technology in the world will not mitigate the final result. In fact, alternative means to keep going like we are in a non-negotiable life style even in third world countries will probably make things worse.

We have 6.5 billion people and I believe a large number of them will endure a great deal of suffering. With technical achievements to circumvent Peak Oil Crisis, eventually we will have 8 or 9 Billion when the crash does occur. The end result is a greater net amount of suffering. I suppose Human nature dictates that is ok, as long as I am not the one who suffers. New technologies may allow us to delay the recognition that the fundamental problem is we have just too many people.

Thanks again for sharing,


Too many "technological" solutions these days. It would be a nice pork barrel project for someone I suppose. In terms of effectiveness, how about if we think about ancient technology instead? If houses were 1950s-sized and made of superinsulating hay bales -- hay bale houses from 100 years ago are still standing -- they would require virtually no fuel to heat. Build them within walking distance of local trains (150 year old technology) instead of scattered all over the countryside -- just look at any town/city in Europe built before 1950 -- and you wouldn't need a car. OK, I'll take compact-fluorescent lighting instead of whale oil lamps. No need to be too retro about it.

How about if we think about how the Romans lived in Rome? That was 2000 years before the internal combustion engine. Then we can add a sprinkling of new technology like the internet, solar panels, good plumbing, a decent rail line, etc. It's not really all that hard.

If super athletes can ride across america(raam) in 7-10 days, on there bike's... then surely we could all live much better on 1/2, 1/3, even 1/8 th the oil., if we REALLY tried

Between the times of the Romans to 1910, the streets were choked with the toxic exhaust from everybody's personal transportation vehicles. Their engines of course are known as as a horse.

The idea that everybody was in walking distance to a train is just untrue. Everybody wanted and used personal transportation even before the automobile.

Everybody wanted and used personal transportation even before the automobile


I live in the Lower Garden District, the upper middle class area when developed 1830s-1860 (I live in a second building on the lot, built 1890). One can still see the occasional marble step imbedded into the sidewalk to make it easier to mount into a carriage (about 1/block). Presumeably, this was for a taxi of the day. There is only one carriage house extant in the district (but multiple slave quarters).

The Garden District was the home of millionaires (in 1840 silver and gold dollars !) and many of the homes look it ! Yet (and I have counted) perhaps 1/8th have evidence of a carriage house.

Why ?

The St. Charles Streetcar Line opened in 1834 (later the Prytania and Magazine lines as well). Plus a supremely walkable neighborhood.

Best Hopes,


First you build the railroad, and then you build the neighborhood around it. Then everyone is within walking distance of the train. This was the pattern of "suburban" development pre-Henry Ford.

If you go to urban areas in the rest of the developed world -- Paris, Milan, Frankfurt, Oslo, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. -- people may still have cars but most of the transportation is done by train or sometimes bus. They only drive the cars every other weekend. That's one reason why the rest of the developed world uses 50% the energy-per-capita than people in the US. They aren't shivering in the dark either.

As a boy in 1910 in Germany, my father collected the horse manure from the streets of his town and sold it to local greenhouses. Most people at that time moved about by streetcar, but horses were important in commerce.

There were just a couple hundred million human beings on planet earth during the Roman empire. That's the entire globe. Today there are nearly 7 billion. There is no feasible way to return to a level of living akin to the Romans without killing off about 97% of the population. If you fail to understand this, then you fail to understand the core problem.

And worse, despite the way the Romans lived, Rome still collapsed, largely due to resource issues. Rome is not a viable model for the world, even if you do remove 97% of the population.

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

I generally oppose "gadgetbahn", new (mainly urban) transportation technologies.

Why ?

As I have stated elsewhere, I would have supported funding them during Carter's second term; whilst convential rail solutions were being built out at good speed around the country.

Today, they are just a distraction from what needs to be done. They cannot work out the bugs & prove themselves in less than two decades (more likely three).

A good example of "breakthrough gadgetbahn" is the Westinghouse MetroMover in Miami. Adapt low cost bus technology, electrify it, build low cost structures OVER the streets of downtown Miami and run automated (no labor) electric mini-buses all around downtown Miami. Big name behind it. What is not to love ? So Miami built it.

For a variety of real world reasons, an unmitigated disaster !

That said, it would be worth refining and real world testing lower cost means of building Urban Rail cheaper. Portland (2002 $) could build track for $300/foot in street, 3 blocks every 3 weeks. New Orleans built VERY robust (500 year expected service life), VERY low maintenance but elegant streetcars in house. 24 for $1.5 million (2002-04) each (marginal cost ~$1 million after the first five). LR-55 needs a widescale trial to prove itself in service.

"Research" into what changes are needed in US regulation & procurement in order to economically build much more rail much faster is BADLY needed. The French can do it is 3 or 4 years from a "Oui" in Paris to ribbon cutting. But, of course, they have the renowned French "Can Do" spirit, unlike the infamous American bureacucracy !

But new technology is not the key to solving our transportation issues post-Peak Oil (we just do not have time for a "breakthrough" IMHO). Simply building what we have, on the shelf, is !

Best Hopes,


I am not as pessimestic as you regarding new technologies. I knew that algae has already been identified as a means for producing vegetable oil from the CO2 of utility plants. However, a demonstration plant was recently started up to demonstrate the technology on a commercial scale. See:

I think that this technology can be fast-tracked to provide large volumes of vegetable oil. While other sources of vegetable oil (soy, rapeseed) only produce on the order of a 100 gallons per acre/year, algae can produce on the order of 10,000 gallons per acre per year - a very large output.

I don't think that we can avoid high energy prices in the shortterm (less than 10 years), but perhaps we can avoid the most hefty economic impacts that would otherwise occur during the following decades.


Thank you for your post.

What's you're opinion on the X Prize Foundation? Better, worse route to spawn creativity?

The X-Prize is a showboat fire works display for the uber-rich. Only they can afford to fund the multi-million dollar teams for chasing after the showman's "prize".

It would be nice if government actually gave out corruption-free grants to folks who are doing honest research in solving the energy problem. Regretably, grants go to those who are connected and those who know how to fill in those endless bureaucratic forms.

What do you think about Al Gore's "Electranet"? (More here.)

I'm all for prizes. It keeps government out of the how and let's them focus on the what of energy technology -- which is usually less politicized.

One would expect that, as a survival mechanism, population increase would slow to fit the resource supply. Are there species that fit this idea in the animal kingdom? If mushrooms do it why can't we?

I believe Deer spontaneously abort when they are under resource stress. Best hopes for spontaneous abortions.

Or a fire at the Viagra plant...has anyone done a sperm count comparing the New York male and the average Appalachian mountain man? (hirsute-separate category)

Lots of species can fit poor environment. Our problem is that we aren't at a poor one yet.

Because we're not mushrooms?

Seriously, I urge you to assess the behaviors and consequences of overshoot in the vast majority of mammalian species and then come back here and tell me that humans are special and will somehow be exempt from the same consequences. Or will you join the ranks of those who can proudly say "We fool ourselves" despite the evidence in front of your nose?

If humans are not special and not exempt, then what do you see as the logical conclusion? Be careful though. If you think about such questions too long you may be forced into Jumping Off the Fence.

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

Read your two articles 'we fool ourselves', 'and jumping Off the fence' and find them very reasonable. I would add that possibly greater centralization, movement back to city life, would lower the rate which the population is growing.

About bio-diesel, I don't know how the energy values would compare but there might be some idea to use anaerobic methane production from all forms of human waste, particularly in a city situation. I may be wrong in my thinking but I tend to shudder when the talk of growing things to convert to liquid fuels rises. It stems from the idea that unless there is some way that the conversion results at least in a net equal energy position, without land destruction, it would be better to directly use the feedstock; as in ethanol, burn the corn directly for their BTU's rather than loose them in conversion.

You are right we are not mushrooms, there will be clever little mushrooms long after we have gone. ATB.

CrystalRadio, re: " I would add that possibly greater centralization, movement back to city life, would lower the rate which the population is growing. "

It may lower reproduction rates, but in a energy constrained future, I would not want to be in a city. Consolidation of population only works if the logistics of keeping a city alive don't break down. If the logistics fail you would literally be in deep doo-doo. Recall New Orleans/Katrina? That would be the fate of every city where logistics failed.

If I had to depend on my local environment for shelter, food, water, waste disposal, etc. , then survival in reasonable comfort would be infinitely easier in a rural setting.

Then you are arguing for a global population no greater than 700 million, which was the global population right before the beginning of the industrial era. And, further, that population lived in absolute squalor for the vast majority with short, ugly, diseased, and brutish lives interrupted only by the occasional war that rumbled through the countryside.

If you want comfort, you have to drive global population around 100 million, something approaching the 20 million in North America before the Europeans came would be near max.

So tell me - who are you going to kill to get your population down to where it needs to be for you to have safety and decency in a rural life?

Oh, you're not going to address this problem? Well then nature will address it. And your rural abode is no more proof against what nature will throw at us than a city is. If you naively think "life in the country" is going to save your ass, then you have no idea of what may be coming, if we cannot stabilize population and then stabilize the ecosystem around us.

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

While I hope not by my son's generation but maybe in that magical 7th generation we could aspire to 700 million... Greece had a golden age with only a million, or was that half a million?... dunno coz my civilize is almos 7 billious an after 3 is many and P.O. is generally understood as merely an abbreviation for get lost jerk.

Cities have been around for 5500 years. Only an American would believe that cities didn't exist until after World War II. Some of them were pretty grotty, but we have better plumbing these days.

As well we not only still have the opposable thumb which has been around things even longer, we have slaves we call the electric drill and the Skilsaw which are much more dependable than Solly the sullen.

.....yeah, yeah......I'll get back to ya' when I see a zebra taking a birth control pill.....:-)

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

There are not that many zebras left in the world today. In fact, if you add up ALL of the primates, except for homo sapiens, there are an estimated 300,000 of them TOTAL around the world, Roger. Yet there are 200,000 homo sapiens born per day. Something is badly wrong here, Roger, and it is not the other primates, is it?

Despite the rise of contraception there has been no significant slowdown in global birth rates. The government lackeys who do these studies "assume" that people will eventually become as wealthy as the west and reduce their birth rates, yet even in the US we still have a 1% growth rate. That's from 300 million in 2006 to 600 million in 2076 to 1.2 billion in 2146.

And unlike oil, we have a very clear handle on population growth yet nothing is being done to stop it. Yet population growth is a far larger problem than peak oil.

Thankfully though, peak oil will help solve the population problem, Roger, though I doubt you will approve of the solution.

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

I doubt there is a direct connection between birthrates and wealth since birthrates and total fertility have been dropping in virtually all nations regardless of religion, politics, economics, education, or anything else. Very likely it will be too little, too late to avert major die-offs but I'd like to at least see some factual accuracy when discussing the matter.

World Birthrates by region

World TFR by region

Global population was 3,040,617,514 in 1960, 4,447,068,714 in 1980, 6,073,265,234 in 2000, and 6,605,046,992 projected for mid-year 2007.

If you care to do the math, that's a 1.92% growth rate from 1960 to 1980, a 1.74% growth from 1960 to 2000, and a 1.66% growth rate from 1960 to 2007. It's coming down but it's still well above doubling every 70 years. At current rates it will double again (to almost 13 billion people) by 2050.

UN projections call for world population to cap out near 9 billion by 2050. I don't see the birth rate falling fast enough to achieve that yet.

What are the units of your graph? What is your data source? I've given you mine - the US Census Bureau.

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


Does look pretty hopeless, maybe all we can realistically do is something in the form of leaving a Rosetta stone. Which can be very easily done we'll just put some bleachers out in the sun and leave it out on route 61.

To put that in context: starting with drawings it would not be a stretch to describe in sequence basic technology that would allow the relatively speedy recapture of the knowledge our age of energy has produced, no matter how far we mighty have fallen or even if it is us that are around. Maybe pill popping Zebras will pick up the threads...they are pretty zippy dressers as well, no?

The information comes from World Resources Institute at

I would guess that they are the same data gathered by and used by the UN given that the dates begin ~1950.

Sorry about the units. I think the birthrate is number of live births/1000 population. Total fertility is avg. number of children per woman of child-bearing age. TFR is the main leading indicator of future birth rates.

Given the non-linear behavior of the rates, leveling off of population by 2050 seems a reasonable assumption (though I haven't done this kind of math in 40 years, I suspect the 2050 date was arrived at mathematically). The assumption is obviously based only on the math and likely does not take into account Peak Oil, peak food, global warming impacts, pandemics, and on and on, all of which IMO become more likely as time goes on.

My general take on the trends is that humans do respond to overcrowdedness and shortages of resources by limiting family size, just likely not quickly enough.


Humans are smarter than yeast, but not by enough.

BEST tag line yet ! LMAO !

Funny because it is true.

Best Hopes for a wide delta between yeast & human behavior,



I once saw a documentary 'Rat City' on TV circa 1980. I do not know how valid the science was but it apparently was an experiment in population density using rats. The rats were given unlimited access to food and water with the only stricture being the size of the 'city', about the size of an average living room. What was shown was the behavior of the rats as population increased until a certain density was reached when there was an automatic and complete die off of all the rats. Like I say I don't know how valid this research was.

BTW I do like your 'designation' as ET but has anyone mentioned that doing a word search to find you is difficult?
Also am trying this in what is called 'reply in new window' so don't know what this will look like anyway beaming somewhere...

If you study biology, mammals, and overshoot, you become aware of General Adaptation Syndrome. GA Syndrome occurs whenever mammals are under stress. One side effect of GAS is lowered fertility. GAS appears to kick in within populations in overshoot before the peak of the population is reached. This causes population curves to slow and level out near the peak rather than experiencing a sudden drop. (Note that this slowing is also a function of the contest for available resources.)

Are people responding? Or are their bodies responding to the overall stress of absurd human densities? And don't say these are not absurd. Are you even in a position to rationally consider this if you were born and have lived your entire existence inside the context of a biological overshoot event?

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

Thanks for the post.

Although I have not been politically very active, I intend to write my congressmen/women on this bill.

There is no question that we need some major push forward. A "Man on the Moon" type effort would be a start. I'm not optimistic with this administration, but maybe the tide is turning.

Thank goodness for people like Congressman Bartlett.

Regarding the comment about the "gadgetbahn," there is no doubt that whatever efforts are initiated, some of the money will be wasted. It's inevitable. But, we can't do nothing in the face of the possibility of imminent Peak Oil and deteriorating energy security. Embarking on a massive effort where, say, only 50% of it turns out to be useful is lightyears ahead of doing nothing at all. I might add that for the money thrown away with incompetence in Iraq, we could have launched at least a couple large efforts in alternative energy and transport.

We know how to spend many billions with only the waste that normally comes from gov't contracts (and that can minimized) on solutions that we KNOW work TODAY !

I have developed a list of $135 to $175 billion of "Ready to Go", "On The Shelf" Urban Rail projects. We can electrify our freight railroads as fast as we can string wire (say 25,000 miles of high volume rail lines @ $2.5 - $3 million/mile) without gov't contracting or research (other than translating German, French, Japanese & Russian); just incentives.

With billions that are not being spent on mature technologies that can provide the US with a non-oil transportation backbone; why waste $$ and time looking for something "better" that will not be widespread for decades ?

Once we are spending @ $50+ billion/year in proven solutions, then R&D for long term improvements makes sense. Until then, R & D should not be our highest priority.

We have viable solutions available today, we are just not building them ! Instead we pretend that there are no solutions "on the shelf"# and we must look for them.

Best Hopes for Rational Planning,


# Electrified rail is NOT the totality of all solutions that we need. But it is hard to justify investing $ for long term (decades +) potential solutions whilst ignoring what can be done today.

The results to date of gov't energy research are quite disappointing. The one major success in renewable energy since 1973; wind turbines, owes little or nothing to gov't sponsered reasearch grants.

HV DC transmission, pumped storage (hydro) and wind turbines are all workable technologies today. Pumped storage (air) MIGHT work economically.

Pumped storage (hydro) is mature; very little improvement is possible. HV DC can be improved some still and wind turbines are still on a learning curve but commerical interests have, and will, steadily improve them.

Other than some pumped storage (air) R & D, there does not seem much of a role for gov't R & D is expanding the most readily available renewable energy future.

Best Hopes,


No R&D really necessary for compressed or liquid gas storage. The tech is pretty well worked out as far as equipment.

If there are a lot of off the shelf technologies that we can use today, then absolutely, we should be using them.

In parallel, though, why not have some R&D on new solutions, knowing that whatever is on the shelf today is unlikely to completely bail us out of peak oil and global warming?

When NYC thinks it may have cobbled together funding to build 22% of the 2nd Avenue subway (with 1/3rd federal funding), the Los Angeles Mayor is trying to find funding for extending the Red Line subway at least as far as UCLA, the connection between the North Station and the South Station of Boston remains a distant dream, Minneapolis tell the SW suburbs it will be 2014 at the earliest before they get light rail (despite their urgent requests). no US railroad is seriously planning to electrify (they need to confirm oil will stay high before making the capital investment) etyc. etc. etc.: I see R & D as a lower priority for the reasons noted.

An analogy; annual checkups, colonoscopy, exercise and a low fat diet are ALL good for you. But stopping arterial bleeding is a better use of your health care $. The energy waste in the US is bleeding us dry today (see Balance of Trade) and will likely kill us tomorrow, long before any R & D results can see widespread use.

Best Hopes for Rational Planning,


Having spent a number of years in chem research, process development and as a plant manager, I'm certainly not against new tech or change. Nor am I against using current technology. However, having said that, it drives me up the wall that all of these actions are to maintain business as usual; what I am calling Status Quo Lite.

They are not addressing the underlying issue that the current, consumption/growth paradigm cannot be maintained REGARDLESS of technology. As is mentioned in several other posts, we are in overshoot. The only rational view of the future is some kind of dieoff.


Amen, Todd:
Using tech to keep the music playing a little longer is analogous to drilling, pumping, and wringing every last drop from al-Ghawar before we accept a realistic price hike: It squanders what little preparation time we have left.

But what kind of business model would involve the major corporate powers teaching us how to wean ourselves from their products? We'll have affordable, distributed solar power when the sun is licensed.

"Until you change the way money works, you change nothing." - Mike Ruppert

Hi nels,

Thanks and
re: "But what kind of business model would involve the major corporate powers teaching us how to wean ourselves from their products? We'll have affordable, distributed solar power when the sun is licensed."

1) One option - change the legal status of corporations.

2) I'm wondering...wouldn't the first manufacturers of affordable solar power make money (even using the current paradigm)?

3) And then regulate to achieve distributed energy?

4)Anyway, do you have any insights on how to "change the way money works"?


What is required re: locomotives for shift to electrified?


I was told by a consulting engineer in 2005, that electrifying a single track should take @ $2 million/mile in open country and $2.5 million/mile for double track. Add distrubition from the grid, new or rebuilt# locos, "special cases" and the costs go up some.

But The Russians finished electrifying the Trans-Siberian RR in 2002, so there are no technological nreakthroughs required.

Electrification also expands track capacity by 20% to 25% with faster acceleration & braking. Capacity that we may need post_peak Oil.

Best Hopes,


# Locomotives today are diesel-electric. so it is not a major feat to make them all electric.

"Locomotives today are diesel-electric. so it is not a major feat to make them all electric."

I'm looking for cost-estimates/technical papers for this changeover. Any leads would be appreciated.

I have talked with the VP Engineering of Brookville Equipment. Brookville, among other products, is the last small loco maker in the US.

He felt is would be fairly straight forward rebuild. Leave everything below the platform pretty much as is (perhaps worth changing the motor voltage, probably not unless motor was old & worn). Strip off diesel motor & gen set, fuel tanks. Install electrical panograph (for pickup from trolley wire), transformer, resistor grid for when regeneration power could not be accepted back into trolley wire (rarely used), new controls, new cab, new paint. Lighter weight loco MIGHT require additional ballast for traction. He would have to pencil it out; but guess is less than $500,000, more than $250,000 for a series of a couple of dozen, all alike.

Best Hopes,


Could the panograph, transformer, & resistor grid not be installed in a small "tender" directly behind the Loco? Then you could have a rig that could operate on elec. where available, or diesel when not... Might have some merit until a significant amount of electric trackage is built...

Or pantograph?

I don't mean to nitpick, Alan, but it took me a few minutes searching on Wikipedia to figure out what it is, as I was unfamiliar with the terminology for the parts of an electric train. :)

Sorry for the typo :-((

I DO know how to spell it, just edittting is not my strong suit.

Best Hopes for Better Typing,



to improve the US rail system will not thousands of mile of track be required, plus a new system to tie the trains together. I don't have a CEO to ask, but I do have a friend that works for the railroad, and drives engines in the yard and around town to hook up cars etc.

For years he has said that putting on additional trains for passenger traffic would not work because the rail system is running basically flat out and the traffic can't be handled.

The railroads have laid off thousands of skilled workers and many are retiring. I would think that its comparable to the oil industry and skilled people.

Steel is expensive and energy intensive to make. The cost of new track is going to be huge.

The laborers and machines to lay this track are not available in quantity. The railroads today are having trouble keeping all the track in maintenance. Laying track is hard job, even with the machines of today. It is one of the few jobs that open up on the railroads, as the turnover is there.

Building a rail system for passenger traffic in the US is going to be a monstrous, expensive, and political nightmare. Will the freight haulers want to be a part of it. If the freight goes away, why will passengers have a reason to travel.

The cost of the track and the quantity of steel is a major obstacle isn't it.

The price of steel is beyond belief. I went to the store for a piece of 20 foot conduit, and almost cried. Go to home Depot and check in your neck of the woods. My electrician friends say customers can't belief the price either, and go into shock, or is that just an electricians joke.

Quid Clarius Astris
Ubi Bene ibi patria

In 2002 the price for midweight track (135 lb/ft from memory) on good concrete ties was $100/track foot.

I asked a contractor who does most of the local rail work in New Orleans (we have six different Class I RRs, plus a Class III and refineries, port, etc.) about 5 months ago. He said $125 to $130/ track foot now.

The solution to higher capacity is 1) better signals 2) More sidings & turnouts 3) more tracks 4) electrification (+20% to +25% increase in capacity due to faster acceleration & braking allows closer spoacing of trains) 5) better track allowing faster speeds.

PS: Steel is still cheaper than oil; and last *MUCH* longer.

Best Hopes,


Im not arguing with you Alan. I think we should have kept and start a rail system. I love to travel by train and think Europe has it right down to a science. catching a connecting train is an art form in some stations.

If thats the price I am very surprised at that cost. Seems way to cheap compared to steel cost rises from the "shelf".

The other problem is new ROW, very expensive, and new bridges and the creating the ROW would be hugely expensive.

Would be nice, but people think they can will still be able to drive their cars in 50 years on highways made of some new substance.

Quid Clarius Astris
Ubi Bene ibi patria

The results to date of gov't energy research are quite disappointing. The one major success in renewable energy since 1973; wind turbines, owes little or nothing to gov't sponsered reasearch grants.

Sure it does.

Those research grants happened to be for wings which were connected to a 200-2000 mph fuselage.

The point is that specific wind-turbine funding was very short of the necessary amount to get up to commercial levels of success. It took all the funding in composite materials and aeroelastic modeling designed for aeronautical applications, and probably quite a bit of mechanical engineering invested in turbine and engine technology.

Photovoltaic solar owes much to the capital invested in semiconductor processing, both private and public investment.

With billions that are not being spent on mature technologies that can provide the US with a non-oil transportation backbone; why waste $$ and time looking for something "better" that will not be widespread for decades ?

When you substitute energy for transporation (as we'll need both) doesn't the obvious conclusion arise that we ought to produce many more nuclear fission plants, now?

Hi mb,

Thanks and interesting reasoning.

re: "When you substitute energy for transportation (as we'll need both) doesn't the obvious conclusion arise that we ought to produce many more nuclear fission plants, now?"

1) What are you ideas about a plan of what to do, given that we most likely have not much time?

2) Has anyone actually looked at costs of nuclear v. other things? The thing about, say, solar is - no waste problem to speak of, is there?

So, I'm not so sure that nuke plants fit an agreed-upon criteria of "tried and true". Do they?

My impression is that nuke plant proponents use new designs as the basis for their optimism. (I'm sure you know much more about this than I do.)

3) What's your take on this solar "in process" -

The Konarka work was discussed a little at the Santa Barbara Conference I wrote about recently. It was one of the reasons I had gone to the conference, since the Video they had produced made it look very promising.

Unfortunately the efficiencies quoted were less than I had hoped, and while there was a path towards higher levels, they aren't there yet.


The one major success in renewable energy since 1973; wind turbines, owes little or nothing to gov't sponsered reasearch grants.

Hey folks, a lot has been done with alternatives, but we all are forgetting the grid. since throwing up turbines all over, I know where 1.5 million $ machines are sitting in the mud rusting! The local area grid is out of capacity to carry them, stupid upsteam downstream analysis work not done. So electric buses or trains would put additional strain on the grid till they get it fixed.

Didn't most of the big advances in wind generator efficiency come from NASA wind tunnel research efforts. These efforts really generated the large scale wind generators that are commonplace today.


NASA had nothing to do with it. Gov't R & D had nothing to do with the modern wind turbine.

I have followed the development of the technology for over 20 years, and it was all from Denmark. Just a few years ago, the 4 largest (and #6) wind turbine manufacturers were all Danish companies.

They developed and perfected the "Danish wind turbine". 3 blades, up wind, max output @ about half max speed, typically 4 or 6 pole generator, etc.

Denmark did not spend massive sums (in fact almost nothing) on R & D. They used legal forms where a co-op could own a WT, they compilated and published operating results by model, they gave wind generated electricity a premium price.

That is why I question gov't R & D spending on energy. So little to show yet.

best Hopes,


Ah, Alan, Alan:
Sorry I missed replying to your posts here today before now, but I had to travel and spend the day discussing some of the alternative ways in which me might solve some of the fossil fuel problems coming down the pike.

As I noted to the Freshman class this semester, during the time that they are in college it is quite likely that we will reach a point that crude oil supply will not be able to meet demand levels at todays price, and we will also see Peak Oil production; within fifteen to twenty years the world supply of natural gas will taper off, as natural gas availability in this country will, during their college years. Before they retire we will likely reach Peak Coal.

So what are we going to do to replace all these fuels? Sticking your head in the sand and suggesting that we have all the answers that we need mirrors the thinking of the fossil energy executive who wondered why we gave importance to research at a university - we should spend more time teaching and forget that frivolous stuff. Never had created anything of any use! (This to a Department that has provided significant technical improvements to the industry through their research, some of which was done while he was a student here. But don't let facts interfere with opinion).

Based on Federal Funding GE has run a diesel locomotive for 700 hours on a coal water slurry without the need for transition of the fuel through any other process other than grinding the coal down to 5 microns and cleaning it. Doesn't need the installation of electric lines, or the inefficient conversion of coal to electricity. (Oops I am being naughty again).

Yes the process I am advocating is terribly inefficient, but we need to find answers. Well, some of you do, by the time we reach Peak Coal I will be long gone, but that doesn't stop me advocating a search for answers. Thus processes that encourage the airing of these ideas, and some development of them is worth it even if it only brings forth one or two real winners - because we need to find them. And relying on the experts who have "been there, done that, tried that, didn't like it" means that new ideas have a hard time gaining air space. I had one idea sat upon by a Federal official for years, since "if he couldn't make it work, no-one could." It is now a multi-billion dollar industry growing at more than 25% a year.

Waiting until it is screamingly obvious that we have a problem is, as the Hirsch report showed, merely advocating chaos. We need to encourage the search for answers rather than decry it. (Note the comment in the post about spending time chewing on each other rather than on the problem).

Sorry I will be away from the laptop for another couple of days, but glad to discuss this further.


Hello HO,

Thanks for bringing this discussion to the table.

re: "I had one idea sat upon by a Federal official for years, since "if he couldn't make it work, no-one could." It is now a multi-billion dollar industry growing at more than 25% a year."

I'm really curious. (Can you reveal?)

re: "We need to encourage the search for answers rather than decry it."

How about incorporating Alan's ideas into the funding?

In other words, what about an energy policy that does *now* the things that can be done, in regard to conservation, for example, and in addressing the three areas of US energy use (housing, transportation, industry) - a list of priorities, and the funding to do them?

Mine has "water purification and transport tied to a distributed renewable source) as a very important first step.

I'll try and drop you a note off-line to answer your curiosity.

In regard to policy there are several different stages that are required. In the immediate short term the technology that we have in place requires that we provide the fuel it is designed to use - because we can't change the equipment fast enough for any other alternative to work.

This takes three distinct efforts, one to see if we can't resolve current problems and increase the production and usability/acceptability of the current fuel supply to keep the system operating.

The second part is to find alternate fuels that might replace the existing fuels that operate the existing technolgy to keep it going as the existing fuel supplies become depleted.

The third is to replace the technology so that it is more efficient and effective and does not rely on the fossil fuels currently being used, which are all depleting.

We have to work on all three of these, but my point with the beginning of the post is that we really aren't comprehending the size of the problem that we have to address. We don't have enough answers, nor enough time and we uregently need more research in all areas to get us to where we need to go.

It is the global picture that is the most worrisome, because where that is going is often hidden behind the focus of a debate on a local issue.

Hi again HO,

And thanks again.

re: "Sticking your head in the sand and suggesting that we have all the answers that we need..."

My reading of what Alan was saying:

We do not necessarily have "all" the answers we need.

We do have (probably) very many - we have a great deal.

Did you take it a different way?

Do you advocate *not* putting in place the answers we *do* have? If so, how come?

To overlook the answers we *do* have borders on...(I want to say "criminality".) Well, given the urgency of the problem, it seems best to use the energy/money we have now to do the things we *can do* - and do them now. Would you agree? Or, do you see it differently.

What if "peak" is here? This means the time is very short to take mitigating actions.

I do not see it as an "either/or" problem. Do you?

I do see the necessity, (especially given the work of Stuart and many others), of having priorities. It also seems to me to be absolutely crucial to link areas of funding (AKA, areas of effort).

In other words, without a strong and immediate conservation plan, is not R and D something of a diversion? In the sense, we would not be in the position of addressing the issue head on.

Time and money are limited. There may be plenty of both. Or, there may be almost none of either, depending on where we are.

What do we most need?


Also, you know...I so much wish we could have deep understanding. There are some ways a forum is limited.

By "sticking your head" - are you concerned that Alan will not - or does not - appreciate the benefits of research?

And research is something that means a great deal to you?

In general, I'd say Alan is definitely someone who works actively in the best interest of those around him. (As far as I can tell.) Which to me, is kind of the opposite of the image of "head in sand."

I value research. I also think that without the structure in place to support and fund research, it's going to take some heavy, early losses. So, it seems to me, we need both.

And to do what can be done ASAP, as a start.

In other words, without a strong and immediate conservation plan, is not R and D something of a diversion? In the sense, we would not be in the position of addressing the issue head on.

Time and money are limited. There may be plenty of both. Or, there may be almost none of either, depending on where we are.

What do we most need?

Precisely my point.

A L L my life I have been strongly for R & D funding, thus it feels very strange for my intellect to lead me to opposition. One point is that belief in "breakthroughs" and technofixes is VERY strong. Massive R & D spending can reassure them that "something is being done" as post-Peak Oil unravels our economy and even our society and nothing practical is being done.

Need I remind everyone that "more research" has been the sole response by the Bush Administration to both Global Warming and our "oil addiction" ?

More R & D spending is the political excuse to do nothing effective and practical and delays any effective response due to our faith in new (but not existing) technology.

Perhaps I should rephrase my position. I think that we now need to spend monies on the "D" (Development) of R & D after the astounding success of the "R" (research) of the two proposals below.

"Development Proposal #1"

Develop a technology that adapts existing infrastructure to different energy sources and can displace 10% of US oil use (15% of transportation oil use) on a ratio of 20 BTUs of diesel to 1 BTU of electricity. A positive side effect is an increase in capacity of 20% to 25%.

"Development Proposal #2"

Develop a technology to replace or supplement the private car and city bus AND induce people to voluntarily change the Urban form they live in into a significantly more energy efficient living arrangement (with greater use of walking and bicycling). The second effect has been demonstrated in prototypes to be larger than the first effect.

Long term prototypes have demonstrated that the first effect demonstrates 2,000 pax-mpg equilavent in electricity (replacing gasoline)

Upper bounds on the implementation of this technology are being debated, but the maximum appears to be at least 1/3rd of US oil use (1/2 of transportation oil use) being replaced .

Now, not all R & D proposals are funded. There is a competition with only the best proposals being funded.

I submit that my two proposals, given their advanced state of development and VERY positive initial results deserve funding. In fact, I think they deserve funding before any less promising technologies recieve funding. Only after #1 and #2 have been fully funded, should any other, far less developed and far less promising proposals be funded.

We have two Grand Slam home runs as alternatives, ready for full scale development. Why spend monies on the prospect of "singles" and maybe "doubles" whilst ignoring these two ?

Best Hopes,


PS: Your emulsified coal example is still a LONG way from widespread use IMHO (I have done research on fluorocarbon emulsions in saline solution). Stability of the emulsion in a variety of circumstances. ? Due strictly to Brownian motion and effects of momentum transfer, denser particles tend to concentrate next to the walls, so the energy value of the fuel will vary somewhat over time without constant (and energy consuming) agitation. Wear on the injectors and fuel pumps is an unresolved issue AFAIK.

How much energy is required to microgrind and clean the coal ? What surfactants are required ? What is the pollution of coal burning locos ? And they will still not be as efficient as electric locos for three reasons; no regenerative braking, they do not expand track capacity with faster acceleration and braking and they cannot run off of clean sources of energy, only coal.

In keeping with Alan's comments, I think the core problem here is that there is widespread agreement amongst those observing the data that peak will occur in something less than 20 years. If this is a consensus, then the problem is not R&D. R&D should be aimed at improving our energy situation but if we are within the 20 year window, our primary focus ought to be mitigation - the application of proven technologies to solve the existing problems as best we can. R&D might later provide us with more biofuels or fusion or something else but our primary focus has to be mitigation right now. This is not occurring.

Urging more R&D is not a bad thing, please don't get me wrong. But unless mitigation begins now, the R&D will likely be for nothing.

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

There is one thread over at Grist where they are talking about which solutions (to GW) are "cheap" and which are too costly.

The discussions here often head into the same framed box regarding the "solutions" to PO.

Because they are interelated, the following is re-posted here:

The Price of "Sweat"

Once we start framing our discussions into ones that look at what forms of exploitable energy are "cheap" and which are more "costly", we thrust ourselves through the Alice-in-Wonderland Mirror and fool ourselves into believing that the noises we alone make are actually true. Exactly how "cheap" is it to pursue an energy policy that dooms this planet to an early demise?

Mother Nature does not perform her accounting according to the say so of a bunch of freakly mutated apes; the kind we call "accountants". She does not stop adding to the count of in-atmosphere GHG's just because our human accountants declare those to be "externalities". She does not stop requiring that the laws of energy conservation and entropy be obeyed.

We humans have a serious mental disease. It's called believing our own bull shit.

Any energy exploitation policy that continues to pump noxious and planet killing gases into the atmosphere is a very "costly" one. We are just too dumb to see how costly.

I'll try and remember to send you a copy off-line of the work that was done, and which largely addressed and resolved the issues that you have brought up - injectors for eg are now diamond - it works and in other industries is in industrial use. The point of mentioning the 700 hours of testing was to show that it has been done with a real locomotive for a meaningful amount of time.

In regard to the issue of ideas - again I come back to a grasp of the size of the problem. If we will have gone through the Peak of three of the major fossil fuels in the working lifetime of our students, what are they going to be using in their retirement years?

Shouldn't we be looking for more alternatives - no matter how crazy they might sound (I was once described in a front page column of the WSJ as "Crazy Dave down the hall"). This is not asking for a program exclusively for one idea, but rather for all. And re the current sministration statements on "technology will get us out of this situation" - if you look at what they do rather than what they say, their beliefs appear somewhat different.


The US Taxpayer, via the early 1980s tax credits did a lot to create the Danish industry--they shipped a lot of turbines to California during 1980-1985 and the industry scaled-up a lot in those years

VERY True ! The Great California Wind Rush was invaluable in helping the Danes expand and improve their technology (I started watching the industry then). We would NOT be where we are today without the help of those state (and federal ?) subsidies.

*BUT* these were not R & D dollars, but subsidy dollars. A key difference. California was not funding Cal Tech or any of their other superb universities to come up with better wind turbine designs, but offering commercial subsidies for implementation.

Today, many of those 1980s wind farms are being dismantled and replaced with much larger WTs. A new 4.5 GW (from memory) transmission line is under development to one such California wind site to accept the increased output.

Best Hopes,


While I think it is good for government to contribute a certain amount of money towards new energy technology, I think it has to be recognised that supply side changes are simply not enough with today's coal and gasoline prices. For both peak oil as well as climate change the demand for energy must be slowed. The government's role here is to achieve this in the least harmful way. If this is implemented properly (though proper pricing) then alternative clean energy sources will come out of the private sector in a more efficient manner than through the use of any government subsidies.

"For both peak oil as well as climate change the demand for energy must be slowed. The government's role here is to achieve this in the least harmful way."

If so ...

I wonder if this agency is effective ??

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

For N. California ....

A local Professor and member of IPCC will be on KFPR’s interview and call-in program (88.9 FM) Monday evening, April 16 from 8 to 9 p.m.

One technology I'm excited about, even though it is unfortunately probably decades away, is self-driving cars. DARPA is having a robot car race this November in which cars will have to drive themselves through an urban environment, avoiding other cars, stopping at stop signs, etc.

How could this help with energy usage? In several ways. For one thing, it would let us get by with fewer cars. Most cars just sit idle all day. An autocar could drop you off at work and then drive back home and be available for trips there during the day. Many two car families could become one car families, making it more economical for them to upgrade to better mileage vehicles as it became possible.

Another difference is on-road traffic efficiency. Autocars could drive much closer together on the road due to their faster reflexes and inter-car radio communication alerting each car to the plans of its neighbors. Studies have found that today, even on congested highways 90% of the pavement space is unused. Tighter traffic patterns will reduce wind resistance and shorten commute times. We could easily see a 50% reduction in gas usage just from this effect.

Truthfully it's just such a cool idea, cars that drive themselves... I really hope we see it someday.

Sylvester Stallone and the chick from Speed liked the one in the movie about the future, they even sang songs like "Hot dogs, Armour hot dogs, the one kids like to bite". while the car drove them around.

ahhh the future, technology, it will save us.

Quid Clarius Astris
Ubi Bene ibi patria


I hate to have to ask you this, but did you accidently hit the wrong key and jump track.....surely you must know that this is not exactly the forum that such talk would be popular at! :-)

I once did a short post on hydraulic hybrid drive, and was roundly cut to pieces for the thought that anything remotely resembling the privately owned automobile could survive!

But, viewing technology as something like a giant multi-national sport (one of the greatest ones eveer invented, but I know that view is very unpopular here too!), I cannot help, like you, being fascinated with the technology involved!

In conjunction with this is the idea of electric highways, in which a cable would be enbedded in the interstate highway, and cars driving over it would ahve a pickup that run above the surface of the road and pick up current.

This would give a lane of electric power for interstate travel and commerce that would blanket the nation running on electric power, (we will return to the power production momentarily), that would retain the cohesion of the nation in the event of post peak oil oil supply collapse:

It is fascinating to look at a map of the Interstate highway system and see that such an embedded electric power provision would not be undoable. It would be a big project however.

It is also interesting that information about this subject on the web turned out to be very hard to find, below being one of the few links that even seems to make the effort to actually work out the math and some of the ideas involved:

Now, let's talk sociology.
In the mid 1990's, General Motors, among others demonstrated variations on the automated car driven by electric power imbedded in the highway. It made the normal popular press, and was the hot item in places like Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, etc.

Then, for all practical purposes, the idea vanished. In the 1990's, gasoline and Diesel were givaway cheap, and frankly, no one saw any real need for a radical program of this type. It also goes without saying that those who hated the whole automotive/self owned transportation idea hated the possibility of it's finding yet a new way to survive. GM's involvement only made matters worse. Many nations have a "not invented here" mentality, that is, if it wasn't invented in their country, it must be crap. The Americans are unique: We have an "if it's invented by Americans, it must be crap" mentality, a self loathing that is all but impossible to understand (I attribute it to Puritan guilt complex), but either way, any idea that is endorsed by GM will be hated to the max by many self proclaimed "progressive" types.

But here's the point: The decline in oil production does not have to mean the end of a modern transport system. Technically, one has little to do with the other. The end of a modern, high speed, flexible transport system is a CHOICE. We will end it NOT because we have to, but because we choose to as a nation and a culture.

What many who wish for such a thing do not understand is the the national connectedness that first came with railroad travel and commerce, and then continued and expanded with automotive transport will surely end with the ending of transportation on a national scale. It essentially ends the idea of a large unified nation when the citizens cannot communicate and travel in the borders of the nation.
"The medium is the message", said Marshall McLuhan. One of the most powerful mediums of carrying a message in history is the automobile, and interstate transport. They have created not only a culture, but an ideology, an aesthetic, a unique national identity.

It is not about technology, the technology needed to maintain national transportaton is just not that demanding. The energy for the system can be provided by thousands upon thousands of miles real estate that exists in the medium and along the sides of the interstate, from sunbelt solar to plains wind. In is not inconcievable that a small set of nuclear plants could be built to provide baseline power (not my favorite choice, but an option)

General Motors first interstate highway artistic impressions were shown in the heart of the depression, at the World's Fair of 1938. Folks laughed. We are going to build that!? We're in a freakin' DEPRESSION! Even with the delay of a massive world war, only 20 years later......

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

Hi Roger,

Thanks and I'm curious about what Alan might have to say about the electric lane. Is this like an electric train, only with many individual cars? It sounds like the automated cars wouldn't zoom around each other (crash, etc.), would they?

Some years ago people noticed that the number of whales in the ocean was declining. A worldwide crisis of lack of whale blubber oil to light their lamps at night might ensue. Some were building storage facilities to store the stuff in anticipation of a whale oil panic as whale oil production had peaked. The hunt for whales had taken sailors and their crews to near the Antartic ice shelf and most of the whales were gone, nor were there enough seals to make up for the whale deficit. There were not enough beehives for the candle manufacturers. There was not enough lard to burn in lamps to satisfy the needs of the growing urban populations. Olive oil was selling for several times the price of whale oil and people would rather go to sleep when it got dark than light their lamps with olive oil.

Then someone drilled a well in Pennsylvania and found rock oil. Soon this novel substance was refined to kerosene and the rock oil people lit up the dark night with their kerosene lanterns. Yankee ingenuity made a way where there was no way before.

If you do not get enough oil, you have to learn to live without enough oil, else invent a way to harness some other form of energy.

Man, this is beyond wierd....did somebody turn loose of a cyber spreading "optimistic" drug.....normally, I am the only fool hanging out on the limb with the yankee ingenuity stuff....:-)

You know what? I think people are beginning to get tired of getting their chain jerked by this "oil is the god of all gods" crap, (you know, all those articles and geniuses that "prove" that the only possible source of energy and hydrocarbons in the universe is, conveniently, provided by the oil companies.....the whooooole fvckin' universe, and the oil companies control the only source of hydrogen and energy? give us a break....

People are starting, just starting, to see through it.....(even some "peakers")

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Let's think abot this:

20% of all the world's electricity comes from hydropower. Let's just think that, with a little work, solar and wind could contribute 50% as much as today's hydro, or 10% of today's total, for a total of 30% of today's electricity generation from hydro, solar and wind.

Could the world live on 30% of today's electricity generation? I used to live in an apartment in New Jersey. We used about 4kw/h per day. Admittedly, we had a gas stove and a radiator-heater. Other than that, however, there were no special hardships. Now, I'm in a Connecticut McMansion. My power use is up to 26kw/h per day, including an electric stove, electric water pumps, many, many lights, and an electric room heater.

I have a friend nearby with a three-bedroom townhouse. He has electric heat. In the winter, he uses 300 kwh/day. Nearly a hundred times as much as me in my New Jersey apartment -- although we have essentially the same urban lifestyle.

OK, what if electricity was $1 per kw/h instead of $0.20 (up from $0.12) today? My New Jersey electric bill would be about 4kwh/d*30 days = $120 per month. OK, not that big a deal. I'd probably get a more efficient refrigerator and get it down to 3 kwh/day. My friend would have a bill of 300kwh/day*30 days=$9,000. Maybe he would find a better way of doing things. With a little insulation he wouldn't have to use much of anything for heat, electric or fossil fuel or whatever.

A lot of electricity is used in industry. If the costs of industry went up, then the cost of manufactured products would also go up. Then we wouldn't be able to buy as much stuff.

Anything but that!

Meanwhile, the cost of things that don't use electricity wouldn't be affected by the electricity price rise. A guitar teacher or a hairstylist or a doctor wouldn't have to raise their prices (much), so their services would become relatively more attractive than manufactured/energy intensive goods. So, the economy might become more "people oriented" rather than "things/manufacturing/energy oriented." Instead of having huge, grossly energy-intensive houses/manufactured goods, we might have cheap/small/efficient houses/manufactured goods and lots of guitar lessons and nifty haircuts.

Maybe we have already built the energy system of the future. Just a thought.

Econoguy: Heresy. Oil consumption = growth = wealth creation = happiness/heaven on earth. You must be new to TOD.

"Could the world live on 30% of today's electricity generation?"

Of course we could , we have done it before.

My mother's generation did it.

If you got up at daybreak your would be ready to sleep at night. Plenty of time during the day to get things done.

I like an optimistic diversion as much as the next guy.
BUT: We're ignoring the knock-on effects of higher energy: Your guitar teacher can't get strings, the doctor can't make it to his house calls and conferences, your vegetables are astronomical and unobtainable, and worst of all is the recognition that this is the inescapable shape of things to come. According to Dante, above the entrance to Hades it says: "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." That's the worst part of all.
AND: You're presuming some kind of graceful degradation of capacity as things wind down. The disenfranchised won't go gentle into that dark night. As long as the masses are in possession of ammo and a sense of entitlement, there's going to be a struggle over what remains. Admittedly, it'll stay offshore for as long as TPTB can manage it, but it'll just make our shock that much worse when it finally arrives.
That said, I truly believe it'll all work out in the end - but that end will come long after you and I are dust.

Nelsone: Just one example- the local Japanese restaurant gives me the same great meal at the same price with oil at $64 as they did when oil was $10.

That makes your restaurant relatively more attractive than whatever joys come from driving a 6,000 lb automobile. So you spend your money on restaurants rather than gasoline, and your energy use goes down without you even thinking about it.

This is my first contribution to this forum, after lurking and enjoying for several months now. Thanks to all participants for an excellent resource!

This comment isn't exactly relevant to the post, but I'm using it as a hook for a topic I'd like to see discussed: I have a hypothesis (well, at least a guess) that an important factor in the long-term success of any alternative energy technology will be whether it can be developed in a distributed, localized fashion (distributed development, distributed production, distributed control).

Certainly the current major energy resources don't have that characteristic, and it seems to me that from the viewpoint of the current major energy companies, any resource having it will be much less desirable -- whatever the next prime source(s) of energy turn out to be, I'd guess that they want to control them.

From the viewpoint of the rest of us, however, and for long-term survivability, I'd say that it's a highly desirable characteristic of any sustainable energy resource. A couple of obvious reasons:
- less distance from production site to usage site, thus less energy loss in transportation;
- the ability to put it in use in a "viral" fashion, without waiting for large amounts of financing and political and corporate will to undertake development.

As an example, I'm intrigued by the current "bottom-up" development of biodiesel. In Los Angeles, for instance, there are several small companies doing diesel conversions and generating fuels from all sorts of feedstocks.

So, is this worth a post by someone with the privilege to do so? Would others like to explore it?


"the long-term success of any alternative energy technology will be whether it can be developed in a distributed, localized fashion (distributed development, distributed production, distributed control)."

I agree ... but you would have to forget the biodiesel

Fine idea. A whopping tax on fossil fuel is a better one, of course. Not that they're mutually exclusive.

Not to belabor the obvious, I'm sure it has been discussed here many times.

I am begining to believe that some politician needs to stand up an tell us the truth.

Maybe someone needs to tell it like Kunsler who responds to Friedman .......

"Friedman believes that we can keep on running our Happy Motoring utopia if we just switch fuels.
Friedman gives no indication that he understands the fundamentals of the global oil situation."

Plants have 99% efficiency in conversion of sunlight. We (and our animals) convert them to heat and motion energy by eating. The rest is superflous. Skins for clothes and eat raw foods. Passive solar housing and dung for cooking/heating.

What Congress could do with an Energy ARPA is look at things like hydrogen and ethanol and nukes from an angle divorced from political and business agendas. Projecting outcomes by elimination of options would be the most cost effective thing such an agency could do. The bad ideas need to be taken off the table and why they are bad ideas needs to be widely known.
There is so much that should have been done over the last 30 years but wasn't because mavens of the marketplace have ruled the roost. In spite of this impediment wind power has grown into a serious industry. Because of this impediment the electric power grid has rotted. Market forces have led us to throw away 2/3 of the fuel used in generating electricity. Just imagine how much more nat gas would be left if every new building put up in the last 30 years had its own little power plant that provided both heating/cooling and electricity for that building. Not the best idea but much better than what we have been doing.
An Energy ARPA could look into moratoria on manufacturing some products so those materials could be used for that HVDC grid, a new rail system, and renewable energy projects. For instance, doing without aluminum pop cans in order to build that HVDC grid won't be that much of a hardship. Steel for rails instead of luxury SUVs as long as we also find ways to employ laid off auto workers. Somebody will need to build new rolling stock. Objective analysis for ideas like this need to be provided to policy makers and more importantly to the voters. Considering the MSM bias against complex issues (the GAO peak oil report, IPPC report) in favor of who's the father of a dead playmate's baby needs to be worked around. How? Beats me.

Hi Thomas,

Thank you.

re: "What Congress could do with an Energy ARPA is look at things like hydrogen and ethanol and nukes from an angle divorced from political and business agendas. Projecting outcomes by elimination of options would be the most cost effective thing such an agency could do."

Could you please (please) possibly expand this, and explain it further? Write it up and post it again, perhaps (if the editors don't mind my suggesting it) as a guest article?
Or, explain it further and re-post on a new DB?

In other words, okay,

1) Can you describe in positive terms what an "angle divorced from political and business agendas" looks like?

What are the advantages of this new angle?

How does it work?

I'm absolutely serious. This seems like a crucial point.

2) "Projecting" *what* "outcomes" - and how?

Do you see what I mean?

Let's not worry about MSM. (At least for a moment.) (My thesis about TV is that nothing people see sticks anyway, so even if something was presented in detail, it wouldn't matter, but this is just my personal thesis.)

3) "Objective analysis for ideas like this need to be provided to policy makers and more importantly to the voters."


Can you tell us (write up) how this is organized?

Can we do (at least some of) this here?

4) To me, it seems most critical to link an immediate conservation plan and other plans (TOD retrofit, etc.) to any ARPA - for reasons stated upthread.

As the world's biggest energy customer the Pentagon has done studies on how it will be supplied with fuel in the coming decades. These studies are usually done by lower rank officers at the War College and have been unclassified and shared with academia. The sole agenda was the Pentagon's needs, not the politicians' needs, not some business group's needs, just the Pentagon. What I found interesting in the one study I read on-line was how strongly it disagreed with the EIA's peak oil denial. Their conclusion was peak oil is between 2005 and 2010. Perhaps this reveals the power of politicians and business at EIA.
Peak oil is a threat to the well being of most Americans as great as WWII and requires something similar to the War Production Board of WWII. What makes our situation worse is that in 1942 most of the manufactured goods Americans used were made in America. There was still idle production capacity left over fron the Depression that could quickly be brought back on line. There was a willingness to do without many consumer goods because of the war. The auto industry quickly changed what it produced in less than a year. The same people who built Buicks were soon building bombers. This retraining occured at a time when 75% of auto workers were high school dropouts. An entirely new industrial sector was created for the Manhattan Project which employed as many people in 1945 as the entire auto industry in 1941. A great amount of propaganda was used at that time to convince the common folk to make those changes in their personal lives without which winning the war would have been impossible.
As for getting around the MSM problem we have the public schools available. Telling 5-10 year old children the truth about tobacco probably led enough parents to quit smoking and enough to not starting turned out to be stronger that the tobacco industry's marketing efforts. Most of America's support for environmental issues has come through our public schools. Some of those who were in high school when the first Earth Day was held are now corporate and government policy makers. The only reason I started recycling is because of what my children prodded me into doing. Energy ARPA could create age appropriate teaching materials which in turn is carried home to their voting parents.
For Congress to create such an agency with these powers and mandates will likely be as controversial as the abortion debate due to the monied interests involved. Perhaps it is we who need to create those educational materials for our schools and not wait for Congress.

HI Thomas,

Good points.

If you can get started on either of these...

re: education. If you look at the UC Santa Barbara Emerging Energies Technologies Conferences, one of the speakers provided an example of a booklet being produced by the ***(I forget, but you can find it) - gov. Ask them if you can translate it. That my 2 cent suggestion.

The idea for energy ARPA sounds good, although the Apollo Alliance appears to me to be taking something of a wrong track.

It looks like it's up to the "people" to get these things organized and off the ground.

Let me/us know if you can make some progress.

My *DRAFT* of Ready to go Urban Rail Projects

Several changes in wording (and the editor revised the New Orleans list DOWN ! :-((( before it is ready for prime time.

Mulhouse, France (see graphic) has a population of 111,300 and that needs to be added.

Any suggestions welcome !

I believe it is relevant to this thread so I am bringing it out "half baked".

Best hopes,


I didn't see Arlington's Columbia Pike line in your list.

It's on track, so to speak.

It is part of the Washington DC list of projects:

Washington (DC)
Tyson's Corner-Dulles extension, Purple Line, 40 miles of streetcar lines in DC, Columbia Pike light rail

There has been talk of a DC Metro extension of the Green Line out to BWI airport, but the route is too uncertain, too little planning and engineering has been done to make the list.

Perhaps they could start construction in 36 months on the Green Line extension to BWI, but I know too little.

"Construction" is defined as physical dirt being moved, not engineering work, securing the ROW, getting the EIS filed & approved. bidding the contracts or any other "white collar" activity.

I set 36 months as a somewhat arbitrary cut-off. In my experience, a brand new project cannot pass all of the hurdles to construction this quickly. Substantial preliminary work needs to have been done to start construction in 36 months. Some streetcar projects (streetcars are the easiest to build) could start from nothing and start construction within 36 months, but it would be hard for them to do so.

Dated information, in some cases dating back to the mid-1990s, will require time to review and update, but I put those projects inside the 36 month window.

Time to completion will vary with the complexity of the project. The Red Line extension in Los Angeles should be one of the longest to complete. It is also one of the two most important Urban Rail projects in the US. 5 to 6 years (including the "up to 36 months" time to start construction) to open to UCLA and an optimistic 2 more years to Santa Monica (the Sea).

Best Hopes,


green man

How much are we dependent on oil?

As oil production starts to descend the downward slope of Hubbert’s bell curve, what is going to replace it? We are told that it will take at least 20 years to get renewables up to a third of total energy needs. The implications are increasingly severe fuel shortages.

Prof. Jeffrey Sachs in this week’s BBC Reith lecture estimated that the world economy depends on fossil fuels for more than 80% of commercial energy use. It may be nearer 90%

It would be helpful for planning strategies to know what percentage of the total energy consumption oil presently represents – for transport, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, building, domestic etc. Can anyone help here?

It is hard to see how we shall get through these times without stringent rationing (especially for car use), and also hard to see how we can avoid severe economic dislocation and social chaos; and this without geopolitical incidents that could cut off oil shipments, and climatic disruption. Do you see Richard Heinberg’s Oil Depletion Protocol ever getting off the ground?

Hi green,

Good Q and A. I'd just encourage you to continue.

The numbers are available - I don't have them, but I think they're easy enough to find. My guess is the EIA websites (for all their wrongness on future estimates) - have accurate stats on current use. Take a look at Simmons lectures. Ask a librarian at a major research library for help.

I'd suggest just keep at it and report back to us.