Thursday morning at Clean Tech 2007

Apologies for the delay, but dinner with Stuart Staniford (great guy!) took up most of Thursday evening and there's little power and even less connectivity in Yosemite.  (Great waterfalls and cool geology and other stuff, though.)  Now that I'm landed in Kansas with a bit of connectivity for a couple days, I can give you more of what I saw!

8:30:  Lawrence DuBois

The first session I caught was with Lawrence DuBois of SRI International.  SRI is a contract R&D organization which has its fingers in many pies.  This gives them a great deal of expertise in many areas, some of which are applicable to energy.

DuBois noted that alternative energy systems use massive amounts of materials compared to at least some conventional systems (gravity dams excepted, I suppose).  He cited some numbers I didn't write down fast enough.  He then went on to other developments.

The first one he mentioned was... a Direct Carbon Fuel Cell (DCFC)!  I was rather surprised to hear SRI claiming credit for this, but this matter was clarified later.  The attraction of the DCFC is that the coal market has very different dynamics from oil and gas, and coal is still a great deal cheaper per BTU than the others.  Coal is still a major energy source (as little as some of us like it) and forms a $150 billion/year market (I believe this is world-wide).

The SRI DCFC is a different technology from the Cooper unit, using a solid-oxide electrolyte and a carbon-liquid carbonate anode.  This helps boost its current capacity to as much as 350 mA/cm², though efficiency isn't quite as good at 70%.  One major virtue of the DCFC is that it produces nearly pure CO2.  CO2 separation is the major cost in sequestration schemes, and eliminating this step improves both the economics and the energy return.

This cell shares with the Cooper technology the ability to use coal, petcoke or biomass (charcoal) for fuel.  DuBois also mentioned tar as a fuel (presumably converted to coke), which would perhaps give coal some competition from tar sands and eliminate the need to upgrade the tar to syncrude.

SRI also has a CO2 capture system with improved characteristics over amine sorbent systems.  It is well-suited for use with water-gas shift systems, and features:

  • Relatively high-temperature operation:  350°C
  • No sorbent or solvent
  • Thermally stable for at least 300 hours

He then went into the economics of sequestration.

Operation  Cost/tonne
Separation  $30-$50
Compression  $8-$10
Pipeline  $0.70-$4/100 km
Injection  $2-$8
TOTAL  $41-$70

The DOE's goal is $30/ton.  With 5 billion tons/year of CO2 to deal with, this could be a $150 billion market.  The transport sector is nearly as big as the electric sector (per my notes, but I'm no longer certain what this refers to or how significant it is).

DuBois then moved on to solar PV and particularly its silicon supply.  The slicon PV industry has for years taken its feedstock from the scrap and excess of the semiconductor sector.  With the recent explosive growth of PV and the revival of semiconductors, these supplies are no longer adequate.  Fortunately, PV does not require the same level of purity as semiconductors and can use much cheaper grades of silicon; the problem ere now was that the market was too small to justify an industry just to supply it, but this has changed.

SRI's entry is a new chemical process using simple reactors to convert sodium fluorosilicate (Na2SiF6) to NaF and elemental silicon.  This is done by reaction of the raw material with metallic sodium:

Na2SiF6 ->  SiF4 + 2 NaF
SiF4 + 4 Na ->  Si + 4 NaF

The sodium fluoride can be removed from the mixture by dissolving it in water, leaving silicon.  This process was developed in the early 1980's, but the low price of energy made it uneconomical at the time.  It has been waiting in the wings until the situation changed, and it has.  This cheap process ought to put to rest the claims that PV doesn't pay back its invested energy.

Though my notes hint at fascinating things, I don't recall the details of the following Q&A well enough to write about them.  This is a pity.  I'll have to do audio recording next time.

10:30  Efficiency panel

The 10:30 session had a whole panel of speakers on efficiency issues.  The list was long, so I'll link it rather than list it.

Ben Finkelor of the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center performed the introductions and said a few things about his own work.  The UCDavis EEC has an emphasis on commercialization.  It is part of the business school (much better for getting managers to buy in than if it was part of engineering or sciences) and specializes in technology diffusion.  If there's anything we need, it's for the available technologies to get diffused into the world as fast as we can.

John Kuhnart of American River Ventures was next.  ARV is a venture-capital firm.  My notes on his presentation are limited to his observations that efficiency (or lack thereof) is a big problem, and government involvment is required to help address it.  I get the feeling that this is in the form of policy initiatives and incentives.

Next came Gerald Brady of Siemens.  My notes only state that he said that energy was a $620 billion business.

Drew Clark of IBM Venture Capital had some surprises.  First was that IBM even had a venture-capital unit, but he said that it was small.  It works with entrepreneurs and looks for innovation.  It has an energy and utility vertical unit, and a Big Green unit specializing in water management, supply chain management and energy analytics.

Jonathan Livingston of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) noted that California rewarded utilities for services performed, not just energy delivered.  If PG&E can get the job done by boosting efficiency instead of delivering more kWh or BTU, then they can get paid more for actually using less.  PG&E has a portfolio manager for each sector and administers funds on behalf of the ratepayers.

David Berokoff of Sempra Utilities (owned by San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas) talked about their modest VC program, run by a 15-man team.  He spoke at greater length later.

Doug Lawson of Incuity Software spoke briefly.  Incuity produces software serving mostly manufacturers for whom efficiency is not a core competency.  Their product is essentially knowledge and the software to deliver it usably.

Jim Parks of Sacremento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) mentioned that his company served 550,000 customers with electric service.

After a brief note from Kuhnart on efficiency plays, Doug Lawson took the floor for an extended discsussion of one of Incuity's installations.  This happened to be, not at a manufacturer, but at Rice University in Houston.  Why discuss Rice?  Because it was simple enough to cover more of the salient issues during his limited time, and give a more complete picture of what was accomplished and how.

Among the points he made:

  • Big energy consumers are COMPLEX.
  • Fixing efficiency issues requires understanding.
  • Without understanding, there is often no improvement.
  • Incuity serves about 100 customers per year [lots of room in that market! – EP].
  • Reduced waste leads to greater efficiency and profit.
  • Rice U. has a number of cooling and cogeneration plants, but needs to normalize the operation of these facilities for the weather and the usage of the buildings.
  • The major questions are:
    1. How to operate the plants and buildings, and
    2. How are the buildings behaving?
    Abormal behavior of a building is a problem which cannot be fixed until it is detected, so early detection can bring large savings.
  • The people who actually run the physical plant (he used the term "knuckledraggers") tended to run things inefficiently.  Without access to data, their modus operandi was to clock in and turn everything on full to be ready for whatever might happen that day.  Of course, whatever wasn't actually needed was just burning money.
  • Incuity's $300,000 software package wound up saving around $1 million/year in operating costs:  a return of investment in just 3 months (spread unevenly across the calendar, I suppose).
  • The benefits accrue from smarter operation of the system.  Unused spaces can be left alone, while space required for activities can be pre-conditioned to minimize the cost of energy.  Cogeneration can be employed to sell power if and only if the market price of electricity is favorable.
  • The information system has had a radical effect on response time to problems.  Formerly, an open door or window or stuck steam valve might not be detected and corrected for weeks.  With the new software, the response time for such problems can be reduced to minutes.  The less time energy-wasting problems continue, the less energy and money are lost to them.

Livingston mentioned that efficiency is now the cheapest play in the market, and PG&E has a 30-year history in the business.

The floor returned to Berokoff, who went into a case study of an investment that ARV made in ovens (of all things!).  ARV had initially taken a look at TurboChef, but the due dilligence work didn't show a worthwhile investment and they held off.  However, another opportunity turned up in a small company called GAT.  GAT's inventor-entrepreneur head was working on a microwave-convection technology for ultra-speed cooking, and ARV put money into it.  A little while later, the CEO's of GAT and Turbo Chef met by accident, and this led to Turbo Chef buying GAT.  ARV cashed out with a 230% gain, and if you've recently enjoyed a toasted sandwich from Subway you've seen the results.

And that's the end of my notes from Wednesday morning at Clean Tech 2007, and my time for writing.  The rest will have to wait until I'm back home.

Recently on this site, there has been some debunking of the economics of large-scale algae farming. Reading your description of carbon fuel cells, I wonder what the economics look like if you co-locate a fuel cell plant and an algae plant and get a $30 per ton subsidy on the CO2 absorbed?

I don't have enough background in business economics to say much, but the possibilities fascinate me.  Capturing CO2 for $30/ton ($110/ton of carbon) is just 5.5¢/lb of carbon.  A gallon of diesel contains roughly 6.6 pounds of carbon, for a cost of about 36¢/gallon; a gallon of ethanol contains about 5.9 pounds of carbon for a cost of 32¢/gallon.  The value of the fuel product is far more than the cost of the carbon.  How the other costs stack up is something I don't know, but I'd sure like to!

This is a great article, thanks for writing it EP. Together with Chris' article on UK solar we've been spoiled for solutions-oriented articles lately.

Keep 'em coming, they're a much needed relief from doomer articles which simply feed back into themselves. Go engineers! :)

I am surprised at the Jiminy Cricket, wish upon a star, mentality that many here seem to espouse. Wishful thinking does not produce energy. The best that can come from engineering is improved efficiency. That's it. Period. Engineering will not put more oil, coal, gas, or uranium in the ground.


That's a fact. It is not "doomer" talk to point out the physical truth of a universe ruled by physics. No amount of cheerleading for the "engineers" will overthrow the physics of the universe. Won't happen.

My feeling is the cornucopians, which does include the engineers, are doomers, the worst kind. Rather than face up to the simple physics of a sphere in space, they prefer to blow air up the credulous's skirts, telling them they can keep growing the population, keep driving their bloatmobiles, and just ignore reality. By telling the hoi polloi these happy tales of plenty, the engineers, the true doomers, are setting people up for a really hard bitch slap from reality. The "doom" that people like myself shop around serves as warning, helps them, hopefully, to realize that fossil fuel is finite and that if they want to back out of the techno cul de sac and head down a more realistic road while the fuel is still cheap, now is the time.

The tech we need to be studying is complementary tech that works with nature rather than short-circuiting it. We should develop a heirarchy:

First level: pure nature. Just harvest from the most complex, well-researched machine we will ever see -- Earth.

Second level: guiding tech that shifts nature into a particular natural course. For example: Where non-native plants have disrupted the eco-system, remove them and reestablish as best as possible the pre-existing biome.

Third level: Tech that disrupts nature but will ultimately lead back to a stable natural environment.

This siimple ranking will prove helpful.

Hi Cherenkov,

Thanks for your comments.

1) re: "The tech we need to be studying is complementary tech that works with nature rather than short-circuiting it."

I'm interested in your example in "2". Could you possibly give examples for the other levels you mention?

Also, I'm wondering what you suggest, given:

A. The current infrastructure that exists today in the real world. How would you apply your principles here?

B. The current economic arrangements of money, debt, etc. Can you reconcile these with your three guidelines?

At first glance, it seems to me that simply doing things like "no more road, no more airport expansion", "more wind, solar, and research" are examples which fill the criteria of your major point, namely, "...if they want to back out of the techno cul de sac and head down a more realistic road while the fuel is still cheap, now is the time."

Still, not sure exactly how these would fit with current assumptions, so wondering how you see it.

2) re: "Just harvest from the most complex, well-researched machine we will ever see -- Earth."

How would you you incorporate avoidance of over-harvesting?

Unfortunately, virtually everyone in the engineer camp always seems to ask the same questions:

Given that we have invested in all of this infrastructure, how can we possibly abandon it?

Well. I can imagine a fellow on Easter Island looking up at the last tree, listening to the local doomer who wants the fool to preserve the tree in order to harvest the seeds and replant the island. That fool then looks about at all the really big heads and says, "How can we give all this up?" And he starts chopping.

Money and debt are created under a fiat system that presumes that population and energy aquisition will grow forever. This is, of course, bollocks. Complete economist spoo. But, as long as the oil can be found and the population run up, the pyramid scheme will work right up until it doesn't. Then what? Catastrophe, I expect. Runaway inflation. Lives ruined, businesses crushed, hopes dashed. You know, doom. That anyone would be concerned about money and debt when real actual work in the real actual world needs to be done speaks volumes about the human spirit. Think of all the people who have died trying to enrich themselves. The miners who die every day for a bit of yellow metal. Think about it!! Ahhhhhh. That's human idiocy hard at work there.

How will economics work in the future? Here. I have an orange. You have a tin whistle. Trade? See. That ain't so hard, darling.

As far as the current infrastructure, tear it down. I can't remember which economist suggested it, but he said we might as well bury money and pay people to dig it up. Money is conceptual. In a post-oil economy, especially a chaotic humongous clusterfuck of an economy, you want to employ people to do the work we need to do to restore the earth. Restore the wetlands. These are very, very important. Enrich the soils using techniques that do not stripmine nutrients and create deserts. Get people out on the farm.

If you really want to see what we need to do, go to They have a lovely film on what Cuba did when it went through peak oil. Now, if we follow in their footsteps, we may have a chance. But we cannot stop there. We need to devolve the tech world as much as possible. We need to relocalize.

You ask, "How would you incorporate avoidance of over-harvesting?"

As best you can. Unfortunately, nature already has a plan for that. It's called -- starvation. Works quite well. In no time we will reach a stable population, or at least a bouncy range, and lots of our problems will be solved.

I do not expect any engineer to want to participate in the deevolution of the tech paradigm. That would go against his or her character. It just saddens me to see people who make some sort of claim for rational thinking make such boneheaded, magical-thinking mistakes as the lot here seems to make on a daily basis.

I understand why. They compartmentalize. The man who invented asbestos never stopped to think, "Is this healthy for humans?" No, that was not his problem. His job was to make a good fireproofing material. The man who financed it did not worry about the health problems associated with it. Nor did the marketer, the salesperson, the architect who used it, the boilermakers who loved it. No. It was another scientist, specializing in health, who realized, "Wait a minute. This crap is highly toxic." Of course by then, it was too late. Many people died extremely horrible deaths by the time it was banned. Thousands of buildings were contaminated, school children put at risk.

Why? Because engineers have tunnel vision. They do not think holistically. While at Cessna, I never once heard an engineer wonder about the toxicity of methyl ethyl ketone. Nor wonder about the effect of contrails on the upper atmosphere. Nor about their contribution to global warming. They could give a damn about sealer poisoning those who sealed the wings. No. They worried about this or that screw, or whether a mis-drilled hole would result in the scrapping of a wing.

Until engineers stop thinking they can fix things with more half-assed, non-holistic, measures that end up causing more problems than they fix, we are screwed.

I think chimps make great engineers. They take a part of nature, a stick, and use it to fish termites from termite mounds. Once sated, the chimp drops the stick and goes off for a nice nap. No harm, no foul.

That is some primo engineering there.

Thanks, Cherenkov.
I thought the mean IQ was a little too high here at TOD also, so your intelligent comments certainly helped in the regression while broadening the sigma. But that's just some dumb-ass chimp,..I mean...Ph.D. physicist, talking. Didn't you mention something about physics?
BTW, what's with this chimp stuff?

Thanks, John Macklin.

More irony at work here. Never seems to stop. You take a swipe at my intelligence and then reveal you fail to understand what I say.

Primo irony. Thanks. I needed the laugh.

Love to take the time to talk you off the bridge you mounted, but been there and the reception's poor. Hey, let's thank the dumb-ass ee's who created this web thing so we can commune and, as we said in the seventies, express ourseves.
And what's with the chimp thing?

I see you still fail to understand. After a bit, such irony is no longer fun. It's just sad.

Yes, let's thank the people at Cern who invented this thing.

Let us pray:

Our scientist, who art in the lab, hallowed by thy name. Let us not challenge him lest he make fun or feel responsible for bad things. Let us not ask questions that are not technical in nature, lest he grow angry and start throwing around sharp jargon. Let us not enter into his sacred sanctuary, THE INTERNET, ommmmm, lest he brand us as hypocrites.

Oh, great scientist, who paves over eden, please forgive us our sins. Give us this day our daily carcinogen, that we may partake and know of your creation.

Oh, great scientist please do not smite us when we challenge your godhood. Please let us gather at your feet and shout hosannahs for all you have done for us. You deserve our worship. For without you we would be lost in the wilderness.

"Um, what is wilderness?"

"Shut up, Jimmy. Don't question the priest. He might smite you and make you quit using THE INTERNET, oommmmmmm. You know how sensitive they are when you challenge their almighty authority."

"Yes, mommy."


Hmmm. I like that prayer. Pretty creative, Cherenkov. BTW, john macklin is my name, and you can google, pubmed, or any other search engine to see where I've been and what I do. Would you like to bare your soul, no, name, so we're at some parity.
I still want to discuss this chimp thing.


Why do people argue with credentials rather than with actual words aimed at the argument?

Kinda like Pons and Fleischmann telling their detractors to go google their creds as if that somehow legitimates cold-fusion.

No. I'm not even going to bother checking your creds. You want to impress me? Argue my points. Do so logically, answering my concerns about the long-term future of a technological society in light of finite resources, global climate change, the oceans dying, population growth, and fresh water shortages. Present a good argument that is not filled with wishful thinking, and I will gain respect for you.

No free lunch. Not even for Phd. scientists.

Cherenkov asked another poster,

"You want to impress me? Argue my points. Do so logically, answering my concerns about the long-term future of a technological society in light of finite resources, global climate change, the oceans dying, population growth, and fresh water shortages. Present a good argument that is not filled with wishful thinking, and I will gain respect for you."

Can't say I want to impress you, and your respect is not going to put any potatos on my plate, but you did throw down such an interesting line of reasoning (of a sort).....why does it follow that a "technological society" must lead to "global climate change, the oceans dying, population growth, and fresh water shortages."? That's a clever rhetorical trick, by the way, showing you may not retain amateur status at this ;-), to group into a congeries "finite resources (a given, if you leave out solar), global climate change (a given, it happens anyway {though man could have a serious effect}, the oceans dying {the whole ocean? Did I miss my Greenpeace newsletter for one month too many?!), population growth {always a problem, and technical society seems to have the opposite effect, the technically advanced nations driving down birthrate) plus provides the only tools outside of chastity, infanticide, or abortion to deal with it}, and fresh water shortages {again, maybe a given, maybe not, and caused by...(which? Population growth, {obviously}, climate change (depending}, the oceans dying (that's salt water, hard to clearly make the connection}, finite resources (well, yeah, fresh water!}...

We could go on and on, but why waste the time. What we see is a rhetorical device, in which a "congeries" of catastrophe is treated as a "catagory".

The idea of grouping a "catagory" is that they have some clearly definitional characteristics and interrelationships in common. Otherwise, there is little point in grouping "technical society" into a congeries with a laundry list of "bad bad things", some related to "technical society", some in a negative way, some in a positive way, and some not at all, and treating it as catagory, unless....your trying to fool somebody that does not know better ;-)

In which case the question would be" Why?

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

Roger Conner says, "why does it follow that a "technological society" must lead to "global climate change, the oceans dying, population growth, and fresh water shortages."? That's a clever rhetorical trick, by the way."

Well, once again, poor reading skills rears its ugly head. I asked about technology in light of these disasters. Though the IPCC has clearly found we are responsible for global warming, I did not say so. What I am asking is what are the knock-on consequences of tech? This requires very deep thought, inquiry, and an open-mind (something often lacking on this site.)

This is not a rhetorical trick. These concerns actually exist. These are problems which affect technological decisions right down to the decision to go ahead with a technology. If you fail to consider technology without considering the world around you, you are a fool.

Your attempts at caging my argument through your semi-intelligent understanding of the rhetorical arts is amusing, but ultimately does not argue the point.

The question remains. What is the long-term future of a technological society in light of finite resources, global climate change, the oceans dying, population growth, and fresh water shortages?


Now feeling all warm and fuzzy with a boost of confidence by you evaluation of my post as evidence of a "semi-intelligent understanding of the rhetorical arts" that is at least amusing, I could not resist a reply, and one to say that I found in your reply post evidence that I do agree with you a bit more than you may think (I would not dare say that "we agree" knowing that saying you agree with anyone would be presumption on my part).

I agree absolutely with your sentence, "If you fail to consider technology without considering the world around you, you are a fool."
Exactly true.

The inverse of it is also true by the way: "If you fail to consider the world around you without considering technology, you are a fool."

Because if technology can be used, someone, somewhere WILL try to use it, and thus the effects of their technology will have to be calculated into the effects on your world. You or I alone do not get to make the decision as to "whether or not" to go ahead with a technology. Isn't it fun sharing a planet?

"What is the long-term future of a technological society in light of finite resources, global climate change, the oceans dying, population growth, and fresh water shortages?"

Cherenkov, you must see why I viewed the question as rhetorical: If you make a list of five bad items, then ask, "what is the sum?", there is only one answer isn't there? bad X 5=bad. The structure of the question gives no other possible answer. It is the nature of a rhetorical question that the question itself provides the answer.

But if we take each point individually, and allow for more items to be added to the list, or some to be discounted for the moment while we deal with the ones we can have the greatest effect on, we have not a dead end rhetorical argument, but possible improvements in the situation, at least for a foreseeable amount of time, and by the way, we have to put a time frame on things. I do not know if you can, but I cannot deal with the variables 500 years from now, the conditions will almost certainly be too far removed from any reality I can know (Columbus did not spend a great amount of time thinking about the effect of traffic jams on North America when he found it!)

Just to play around though, and assuming you intended the question to be real and not rhetorical, let's look at "the question" remaining:

"What is the long-term future of a technological society in light of finite resources, global climate change, the oceans dying, population growth, and fresh water shortages?"
Let's look at the next century, out to about 2107, that being about the end of lifetime for even a baby boomers grandchildren, easily midlife for his or her great grandchildren.

Now we have some tough questions on the issues you describe:
Finite resources-This is a given. But we don't know how finite. Should we attempt to find out? We don't know where they are? Should we stay hard at work on international arrangements to find out and fairly distribute resources? Notice that both of these questions sound rhetorical! The answer seems to be yes to both, at least to most people. But both would require at least some degree of technology, for communications and Earth science monitoring, wouldn't they? Recycling to avoid waste? One would think so. Alternative methods of construction and production to reduce consumption of resources to do the same job? One would think so. But again, we are into some elegant technological solutions if we can find them.

The Earth's rescources are indeed limited. However, we do recieve a major outside source of energy from the sun. Can it be used to help us? One would think so. Can solar energy can be used in combination with Earth bound resources? One would think so. Would it be possible to do at all if we dismantle anything similiar to a technical society? Not on any scale to make life decent for billions of people.

Climate change: We play the same game out: The climate changes with or without human activity, science tells us this, but human activity can make it worse and exceed what the Earth can adjust to. But does it have to? If technology can be developed that is for the most part (it will never be perfect) carbon neutral, would it be acceptable, or would it be renounced on philosophical grounds that it is, in fact, technology?

Population growth: Is it a given? It is always interesting that Malthusian intellectuals show a graph, something like "population growth since the discovery of oil", and sure enough, up it goes. However, medical and chemical birth control was born only in the 1960's (!). Population growth is a RISK, but not a given over the long haul. What will the populatin growth curve look like as real and modern birth control makes it's way throughout the world for the first time in human history (!)? Who knows.

Ocean's dying and fresh water shortages: I have grouped these together for one reason: Most of the damage to fresh water and oceans seems to be as much a problem of bad or lacking technology, not technology in general, and most have been caused by stupidity and greed. There is no real indication yet that these are not easily technically managable if we want to make the effort. We may not do it. We may choose, as we have done up to now, to treat oceans and freshwater sources as dumps. That is not a technical problem, it is an issue of choices made by humans for political and economic reasons.

Note that I have not went off on any "Buck Rogers" fantasies. But space is still out there. Humans have proven they can go. The deep oceans are still out there. Humans are proving they can go. Fusion does work in nature. Can humans harness it? Who knows, and it may not happen quick enough to be of real help, inside our 2017 window.

But as you can see Cherenkov, we have enough "homework" assignments to keep us busy for the weekend! Or, do we want to act the role of the child, and throw the work on bunk bed, and go do something more fun, like tow the boat to the lake and water ski, or jet over to the islands to chase some skirts (as if there are not plenty of bored and lonely gals in our own hometowns), do we want to say as a society, like the child says to homework, "This is tooooo HARD!" "This isn't going to do any good!!" "This is a waste of time, it won't help!"
"Why do I have to learn this crap, I'm not going to do this for a living, let somebody else learn it!"

The modern societies may try to dress up their love of neo-primitivism and anarcho deep green primitivism in intellectual and rhetorical arguments.

But the truth is, it is really the philosophy of the pouting child. "I CAN'T"!"

As as the old guys used to say, "Can't never did shiit."

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

What I am asking is what are the knock-on consequences of tech?...

This is not a rhetorical trick....

Yes it is.  It is a question that you yourself cannot even begin to answer, and it alone makes a mockery of your use of Cerenkov's name.  And the implicit claim of "catastrophe" is trivially refuted because I can point to an existence proof to the contrary.

That existence proof is photosynthesis, a "technology" (in the same sense that evolution is "intelligent" as it generates options and selects the superior ones).  It's been around for the better part of a billion years now, and shows no signs of losing its usefulness.  Some of humanity's best courses of action involve optimizing our use of existing photosynthetic organisms and creating new ones.

Photosynthesis isn't the end.  We can already beat the 10% efficiency of algae with 27% efficient silicon PV cells, and if we can't use quantum dots to break the 50% barrier in PV maybe we can learn enough about the quantum behavior of chlorophyll to turn it into an electric converter instead of a chemical one.  The photonic energy conversion efficiency of human devices is already well above that of higher plants, will soon exceed that of single-celled plants, and may boost the planetary product of captured solar energy far beyond what Nature managed to do for herself.

One product of the last three centuries of unsustainable industrial revolution was a huge amount of an undepletable resource:  knowledge.  Knowledge cannot be used up, and its usefulness increases more rapidly than it accumulates.  On the one hand, we learn to capture more and more renewable energy (algae, PV, photochemistry); on the other hand, we learn to do more with the energy we have.  Eventually we'll reach another plateau like photosynthesis more or less topped out before, but it'll be at a substantially higher level and it'll all be ours.

I have to quote Roger here:

"If you fail to consider the world around you without considering technology, you are a fool."

Truer words were never written.

Fresh water is not a finite resource. It is part of a cycle of evaporation, condensation, precipitation and percolation. The fresh water problem is one of people not being where the fresh water is and the miserly, militaristic attitudes of the very wealthy. Aquifers could be recharged during periods of heavy rain and stored for use during droughts years later. Fresh water could be manufactured from the ocean and saline aquifers via desalination and recycled from sewage using similar processes. Fresh water can be extracted from even desert air. It is just a matter of capital investment and compassion for the poor. Fresh water can also be used more efficiently especially by agriculture. Hydroponics could greatly improve the efficiency of water used in food production as well as producing more food closer to the point of use.

...and we could genetically alter the human head so that it would be flat and would give standing room for people with that increased carrying capacity of this shuddering world. Water is not a finite resource? Have you ever thought of talking to Rube Goldberg? You might just catch him there in his box of infinite time. But then does time have an end (another finite resource?) in an infinite universe, or is the universe warped and blowing smoke up it's derriere (allusion courtesy of J Kunstler) and finite as well? Oh mystery upon mystery. What fun.

Of course the Earth is finite but the the moon still has time to orbit the Earth another 60,000,000,000 times. Fresh water has gone through billions of cycles in the lifetime of the world and will go through billions of more cycles. Some of that H2O will be split by photosynthesis to make sugar and free oxygen. Later respiration will
oxydize that sugar and recombined water will be released.
Rube Goldberg has been dead for many years and I missed meeting that very imaginitive man in person. Problems need solutions and solutions come from imagination and scientific analysis of those imaginings.

No they don't.

They come, if at all, from first defining the problem.

Dear John,

Chimp thing? Seems simple enough, maybe this is not what Cherenkov means, it is what was brought to my mind. In a finite system there is no solution to over-use of that system to be made though making the 'stick' ever more complex.

Engineering makes the simple complicated, that is the beast's nature. To make life easy engineering produces complexities that make the likelihood of life on the planet impossible. Worse we can't put the stick down. We don't stop digging.

As far as this net thing, Phoo I would rather talk person to person but we have been engineered into a hermit style of life that separates and destroys any civil life. Why are you here john macklin, if engineering makes all so lovely why aren't you doing things with your wife and friends,, your tribe, instead of stuck here on this engineered box of half life? Same as me I think. The tribe has been dissolved, all much too busy sucking on individual ding dongs of tech. No wonder Western birthrate drops.

Money and debt are created under a fiat system that presumes that population and energy aquisition will grow forever.

Money and debt assumes no such thing. Money has no fixed relation to population or energy, or anything else.
I'd be interested to know why you think otherwise?

Post move down.

Cherenkov, I would like to add my two cents' worth to your perspective.

As a nod to the technophiles, I would be delighted to see our "leaders" actually lead, and put the kind of money being squandered on a military response to PO into renewables. Wind and tidal electricity utilized by electric rail are probably worth a try as stopgap measures. However, IMO these would still be at best a way to ease humanity's transtion to a truly sustainable future.

I concur that a sustainable future must utilize the "well-researched machine" that has been perfected over a billion years or so:

1) human population must come WAY down,

2) humans need to learn to be satisfied with the production from the self-repairing, self-replicating, no-non-biodegradeable-waste solar collection system the planet has already perfected - photosynthetic plants.


Errol in Miami

Does it ever occur to you to wonder, as an English professor, how well positioned you are to lecture engineers and physicists on the implications of, well, physics and engineering? If I were in your position, I might display a little bit less certainty that I surely knew much more than the people who had actually spent some time studying those disciplines..

As a physicist, you should consider our friend "irony." He is hard at work here. I know it is an "English" term, but it would describe the delicious fun we are having quite well.

For, you see, that an English instructor has a better grip on physics than the lot here does, that's irony.

There is no free lunch. I believe I've heard many a physicist say that. Am I incorrect? Energy is not the sole problem on a finite sphere in space, am I correct? Let's name a few things that engineers and physicists cannot pull out of their collective wazoos. Land. Water. Aluminum. Iron. Tantulum. Iridium. Uranium. Fish. Bio-diversity. As you can imagine, on a sphere in space, the list of things that are finite on said sphere must, now correct my grasp of physics here if I am off, necessarily include EVERYTHING. So, if we run out of Iron, we can't just run to the lab and whip some up, can we? So, let's say we do find that magical energy bullet. We will call it, Nukcoabiowinshalidium. Having applied the bullet, we now have plenty of energy to use up the rest of the necessary ingredients to life. Land, who needs it!! We can just boil up some algae!! Clean drinking water? Bah, we'll just desalinate the oceans! (Never mind the effects on the biota there.) Out of copper? Why we'll just use plastic for our pipes!!

These overarching issues never seem to figure in the conversations held here. No one ever runs the problem out to its logical conclusion or examine everything that said "solution" will affect and how. The holistic view of reality seems to escape the engineer tribe. You see, I do not need to know any formulae, or how to use a graphing calculator, or how close we are to finding the Higgs particle. That is your tunnel vision at work. That is the scientist/priest mentality hard at work. It is the presumption that knowing how to put on the blinders in order to achieve tunnel vision is somehow a good thing. All I need to know is the fundamentals. Sphere. Finite.

I guess the real question is: What is your endgame, Stuart?

How many people? 6.8 billion? 10 billion? 1 trillion?

Will this be a mobile society traveling around the planet in planes and trains and automobiles? Will we all be hooked up to our crackberries sending text messages to each other about our wonderful lives now that there is no drinking water? That the oceans are dead? That we live in a runaway greenhouse effect? Will we be living close to the land? If so, how did we get there? Do you see a world with bio-diversity, or are we shooting for pure dominance -- to become the ONLY species on the planet?

My guess is, like so many of this tribe, your thinking extends only about as far as ten years from now. Maybe twenty. After that, what do you care?

Have you ever heard of the Heechee?

Hmmmmm. I think, Houston, we have a problem.

that an English instructor has a better grip on physics than the lot here does, that's irony.

For an English instructor to believe he has a better grip on physics than the lot here does, that's self-delusion.

Have you ever heard of the Heechee?

Fictional creatures in the "Gateway" series of novels by Frederik Pohl (I read them avidly).  Fiction is something I would expect you to know about, but telling the difference between technology and balonium isn't... and so far your substitution of handwaving for calculation makes my bets look pretty good.

I agree totally with Stuart about mitigating PO on both the supply and the demand side, and that the doomers are plain wrong. Dooming (PO & GW) is a mood. Perhaps it’s a displaced emotion from the growing sense of mortality of the 60’s kids (of which I’m one). From boomer to doomer...

Remember 20% of oil is still used for electricity production which gives a big cushion. On the supply side sunlight dwarfs all other energy sources and this industry is only getting started. The solar industry is charging scarcity prices at the moment because of the shortage of silicon. Costs will come way down when the volume gets serious. A solar farm is a machine that turns capital into cash flow; get the numbers right and literally trillions of dollars will come your way.

On the demand side the scope for energy savings is vast. All the technology exists for zero net energy buildings. We don’t need 200hp moving 2 tons of steel for transport. It’s just something you do at a particular 'price of oil/price of time'.

Let’s take a look at one aspect of oil demand.

The following table shows oil production, consumption and imports in millions of barrels per day and the population for North America. The last column is daily consumption * 365 / population giving barrels per person per year. Obviously Mexico has some catching up to do.

2005 (millions) Production Consumption Imports Population bbl/person/PA
USA 6.830 20.655 13.825 302 25.0
Canada 3.047 2.241 -0.806 33 24.5
Mexico 3.759 1.978 -1.781 103 7.0
Total North America 13.636 24.875 11.239 438 20.7

Source: Oil, BP Statistical Review 2005 data; Population, Wikipedia 2005 data. Values are rounded.

Now let’s look at the comparable figures for Western Europe. I’ve deliberately left out the countries in Eastern Europe to arrive at the worst case in both regions.

2005 (millions) Production Consumption Imports Population bbl/person/PA
Belgium & Luxembourg 0.000 0.809 0.809 11 27.3
Denmark 0.377 0.189 -0.188 5 12.7
Finland 0.000 0.233 0.233 5 16.1
France 0.000 1.961 1.961 62 11.6
Germany 0.000 2.586 2.586 82 11.5
Greece 0.000 0.429 0.429 11 14.7
Republic of Ireland 0.000 0.196 0.196 4 16.9
Italy 0.118 1.809 1.692 59 11.2
Netherlands 0.000 1.071 1.071 16 23.8
Norway 2.969 0.213 -2.756 5 16.3
Portugal 1.808 0.320 -1.488 11 11.0
Spain 0.000 1.618 1.618 45 13.2
Sweden 0.000 0.315 0.315 9 12.6
Switzerland 0.000 0.262 0.262 8 12.7
United Kingdom 1.808 1.790 -0.018 60 10.9
Total Europe 7.080 13.800 6.721 393 12.8

Source: Oil, BP Statistical Review 2005 data; Population, Wikipedia 2005 data. Values are rounded.

Notice the wide variability of oil consumption in both regions. A few points:

1. Belgium and Luxembourg consume more oil per person than the US. I would love to hear Washington using these numbers back at Belgium the next time the eurocrats harangue the US about oil and global warming.
2. You can still drive your 1001hp Bugatti Veyron at 250mph on the German autobahns so it’s not all micro cars over there (here for me). Think of all those 400hp BMWs, Mercedes and Porsches, not the mention the 600hp Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Of course these are ‘top’ cars for ‘top’ people so that’s ok.
3. There is similar degree days. Norway, Finland Sweden and Central Europe in winter, Italy, Greece and Spain in summer.
4. I believe we do comparable miles but haven't found any figures.

Now let’s see what happens if we give the whole of North America the same oil consumption per person as Western Europe. We are going to be really generous to Mexico by giving them the same consumption as Canada and the US. I’m sure they could handle it.

The following table shows North American consumption at European rates and the resulting imports. The consumption column is EU barrels/person/year * population / 365 giving millions of barrels per day.

2005 millions Production bbl/person/PA Population Consumption Imports
USA 6.830 12.8 302 10.584 3.754
Canada 3.047 12.8 33 1.171 -1.876
Mexico 3.759 12.8 103 3.621 -0.138
Total North America 13.636 12.8 438 15.377 1.741

This leaves net oil imports of 1.741 million barrels per day. Ethanol and biodiesel can cover that easily. Obviously Mexican production is down since 2005 but Canada is up.

What we are looking at is major US policy failure. That may be because the lobbyists are producers who equate oil with revenues. Consumers, who equate oil with cost, are not nearly as well organized. And someone should be treating oil imports as a cost to the economy but trade deficits aren’t fashionable subjects on Wall Street at the moment.

Peak oil will not be the end of the world so get over it. Just let the price mechanism and the engineers do their stuff!

A very interesting post.

Thanks Andy. I just see so much that can be done. A few more recent examples:

1. The Melbourne city government has just built an office block that uses 85% less energy.
2. 8% of UK electricity consumption is running electronic stuff on standby. Why don't they fit a battery, solenoid and a bit of circuitry so the remote actually turns the thing on and off?
3. I saw the Vectrix electric motorbike in London a couple of weeks ago. Recharges cost 3 pounds ($6) for 1000miles. A bit pricey at 7000+ pounds for the bike but cheaper than a petrol scooter after 3 years. Electric vehicles are exempt from road tax, congestion charge and parking fees in London.

It just goes on and on. There is enough existing technology to see us through the next 30 years. The really big risk is reduced food production from climate change but that's a different story.

"Now let’s see what happens if we give the whole of North America the same oil consumption per person as Western Europe."

And then, let's see China, India, Africa, and the rest of the world also have the same oil consumption per person as Western Europe.

Hmm...not quite a rosy picture anymore.

I agree with you that a lot can be done in the U.S. (unfortunately, our whole infrastructure based on the car will make sure that any such transition would be in decades, not just years). However, look at the rest of the world. I always have a sad chuckle when people point to overpopulation and say, "people in developing countries don't use nearly as much fuel as Americans do, so overpopulation is not a threat...We just need to cut down." (Not that you, yourself, have said anything of the sort.) That presupposes that Africans do not want a better life, or that Americans somehow can bring their lifestyles willingly down to that of Africans. And then when the population doubles yet again, we'll again have the same problems, only with double the people to share in (and create) the misery.

Although I know that the U.S. COULD somehow bring its use of oil down in the next few decades (even with a vast supply), I sadly think that instead, other countries would just use more oil and become more like Western Europe like I said above. However, yes, I'm sure that we could do with less oil than we have now (for a time, and to an extent). That's what we did in the early 1980s, for example...

No offense. I'm all for science helping us solve problems. But we can't ONLY rely on science. Those who are doomers no matter what and those who think that anything is possible are both needed in this world, because there ARE great opportunities on the horizon, but there also has to be some idea that not everything is possible. As for science that makes the earth a better place, I'm all for it. Bring on any ideas!

I agree that you do have an infrastructure problem in the US but that does have a depreciation rate. I live in a small town in England and can walk to the shops or to the railway station from where I commute to London. I'm also old enough to remember a single coal fire to heat the whole house. It was lit once a day. Now I wear a T-shirt inside in winter.

The economist John Maynard Keynes is famous for saying 'in the long run we are all dead'. That was in reply to people who said the 1930's depression should be allowed to run its course. I'm curious where the doom and gloom really comes from. I suffer from it myself at times but put it down to age. I know I wouldn't be this way if I was young, rich and beautiful with a blonde at my side.

Instead, I try and look at the numbers on total available energy available. 160 x 160 miles of concentrated solar thermal can provide all the electricity the world uses. There is much more desert than that so 10 billion humans really could have decent lifestyles, especially when you add in a 3 fold improvement in energy efficiency which looks possible.

When predicting a variable it's necessary to keep all the other parameters the same but real life isn't like that. The automobile as it is, is a creation of the oil industry as it is. If one changes the other will too. 100 years ago most automobiles were battery powered. The future oil supply situation will modify demand, change relative prices so efficiency becomes profitable and so on.

I have to go now. Will check back later.

Alan provides a perfect example of the magical thinking that pervades this site.

He points to the amount of solar energy available, the amount of desert unused by said solar panels, then extrapolates that to mean why of course we could have ten billion people on the planet. Just a few thousand problems with that. What about fresh water?

(I guess I should answer the wingnuts who think that a water cycle is the same as an infinite supply of water. You see, Thoman Deplume, we do only have x amount of fresh water. However, when you have an increasing population that uses an increasing amount of water that gets stored in our little water sac bodies, that water gets taken out of circulation for a while. More importantly, the water is simply unavailable as you suggest. For instance, in the Southwest United States, water is not so abundant. Hmmmm. Perhaps they should apply for a permit to plug into the water cycle and siphon off more of it? Then there are the aquifers. The Ogallala aquifer is immense, but its level is dropping precipitously, so much so, it is not clear that farmers in the high plains will have enough water to continue raping the land. Sad, really. If you go to the Middle East, you will find that water is an extremely valuable and hard to come by substance. If you go to China, you will find that they are already peaking in their water supply. Industry also takes water out of the cycle so it is no longer available to humans or animals and plants. All of this despite the "water-cycle.")

Back to Alan. More of the thousands of problems with his magical thinking: What about land? Fertile land? We are destroying land at an impressive rate not only in third world countries, but in the first world. I know that agrichar is advocated, and may even prove useful enough to make a difference in a smaller more locally oriented society such as the Amazonian tribal societies who first used it. But, I suspect that this will prove to be too energy expensive to do on a centralized basis. This means we are back to local.

What about metals? You have read the reports in the "New Scientist" detailing the quite simple and inevitable fact that we are running out of the metals that make high tech society possible? Haven't you?

What about the oceans? They are dying. Scientists now estimate that over half of all fish in the ocean will be dead in a few years. Have you see the dead zone from an airplane over the Mississippi delta? I have. Quite impressive. Have you watched the delightful film produced by the Australian Broadcasting Company about the story of crude? If you do, then you might see the disastrous result of an anoxic ocean.

Then, of course, there is global warming. Many people have their best fits of magical thinking when it comes to this particular nightmare. Yes. Let's sequester carbon. Let's do. Does this cost energy? Does it? Of course it does. What are we going to do? Burn coal to find the energy to do so? Set up nukes everywhere? What about the radioactive nukes that have to be subsequently decommissioned?

Damn people. THINK. Nothing happens in a vacuum. NOTHING.

Finally Alan brushes up against what I'm saying in his closing remark: When predicting a variable it's necessary to keep all the other parameters the same but real life isn't like that.

Yes, that is my point. It works on paper, it works in the lab, it may even work for awhile in the real world. The question is what are the knock-on effects? What about the energy not being absorbed by the sand? Where does that go? Is it like reflective sea ice or are the wavelengths different? Will it change local weather patterns? Will the energy costs of mining the materials, moving the materials, building the trucks to move and mine the materials, building the plant equipment to make the cells, mining the material to make the plant equipment, building the trucks to mine the material to make the plant equipment, pumping the water for the process, lighting the building, moving the workers around, shipping the cells, installing the cells, maintaining the cells----can all of these energy needy processes be paid for energy-wise by the energy produced by these cells and by these cells alone? After all is said and done, how much surplus energy is left? What about the growing population? Doesn't it want just as much energy as everyone else?

In ALan's post we see a clear example of what I call "Engineer Tunnel Vision," or ETV. In this post, he focuses only on what can be done. He does not consider at all any of the ramifications. Particularly interesting is the statement, "100 years ago most automobiles were battery powered." This harkening back to the past to show that things change and we soon have bigger, better, faster, as if this is a good thing, is another symptom of ETV. They see technological history as a train track shooting through time. First comes this discovery, which leads to that discovery, which builds to this widget, which leads us to personal robots who speak like British butlers. They do not see the sides of the track where we see the detritus of tech's remorseless trek. He does not see the pollution, the global warming, the poisoned streams, the foul air, the trash, the plastic floating in the ocean. No. He sees the track ahead. The shiny new track leading to the shiny new future.

That is ETV.

What about the oceans? They are dying. Scientists now estimate that over half of all fish in the ocean will be dead in a few years.

Largely the product of too-inefficient technologies.  Nitrates, other pollutants, warming and CO2-driven acidification are changing conditions faster than sea life can adapt.  The solution is to use better tech and change conditions back again.

Have you see the dead zone from an airplane over the Mississippi delta? I have. Quite impressive.

All the product of excessive nitrate runoff from the Midwest cornfields.  Terra preta may solve that problem in one go; by trapping excess nitrate before it can run off, it might slash fertilizer costs at the same time that it cleans up the water.

That particular technology was invented as much as 2000 or more years ago in the Amazon basin, but the knowledge was lost.  Now that we've regained it, we can press it into use in places that its inventors could not have dreamed of.

Such innumerancy. You cannot just add up averages and come up with a per capita consumption rate. The averages for each continent is the total cunsumption divided by the total population. Bad math destroys your credibility.

The maths is CORRECT. Barrels per day * 365 = total 2005 oil / total population. How do you think BP arrived at barrels per day if not by dividing total consumption by days?

US 25 barrels per person versus 12.8 in Western Europe and don't think you have a higher average standard of living. You don't. That's the extent of US policy failure.

The best that can come from engineering is improved efficiency. That's it. Period. Engineering will not put more oil, coal, gas, or uranium in the ground.


We'll peak and run out of what, exactly?

Sunlight for the thermal plants and the PV's made from the new cheap silicon?

Wind for the wind turbines?  There's several times current human energy consumption in wind alone.

How about charcoal for the DCFC's?  I can see the supply going up and down a bit as weather affects the growing season, but run out?

I get the distinct feeling that you want a collapse to happen in the worst way (double entendre intended) and engineers are threatening to both take your dream away and make utter fools of you and your ilk at  Pardon me if I have no sympathy for you.


Once again you fail to run out the simulation. You seem to think the population has stopped growing and that all other resources are infinite. Your solution is operating in a vacuum. Where are the rest of the variables?

No, I do not want the collapse to happen in the worst way. I want it to happen in the BEST way!!!

There will be a collapse. The only question is will we be smart enough to use the remaining cheap energy supplies to work our way back to a more sustainable lifestyle or will we stupidly keep trying to save the failed paradigm?

What do you want? If you want automobiles, then you want the entire ball of polluted, earth-destroying wax. Remember, new autos mean using up our resources, our finite resources. Is there enough stuff -- iron, aluminum, copper, etc. to build this new generation of autos? What about the next generation? Correct me if I'm wrong, but most auto's do not last forever. You do realise it costs energy to make autos. You do realize it costs energy to maintain roads? You do realize it costs energy to recycle said autos? All of this energy is going to come from photo-voltaics?

My dream is of a green earth with blue skies. Is that not your dream? I dream of oceans filled with fish and not gigantic gyres the size of Texas where our plastic crap revolves slowly. Is that not your dream? I dream of trout streams with actual trout in clear, clean water. Is that not your dream? I dream of clean drinking water. Is that not your dream? I dream of my children eating enough to avoid starvation. Is that not your dream? I dream of cropland that increases in fertility. Is that not your dream?

In my dream, there is no intervening, competing vision that calls for some part of the earth to die in order to satisfy a macho need to control. In my dream we are not the reason the earth exists. We are simply lucky to be alive on such a beautiful, well-designed entity.

I have dreams. Good dreams. Don't ever accuse me of not wanting the best for humanity. I suggest you look into your own soul first.

I have the same dreams, but I try not to go at people like a raving idiot. You know, it puts people off. We are all in this together.

Engineers can't control population growth. You will have to talk to the 6 billion non-engineers about that.

I dream of my children eating enough to avoid starvation.

Yeah, it's all about your procreative ability, isn't it? You sir, are the problem.

Now, that's irony.

Yes, I had children. Would you like their address so you can go kill them?

Yes, I had children. Would you like their address so you can go kill them?

I find that remark very offensive, on several levels.


The future of the planet is important. Not letting those who would destroy it get a free pass is important. Calling people magical thinkers when they are magical thinkers, that is important.

In fact, it is so important, not to get upset by these destroyers would be criminally immoral.

You keep patting each other on the back while the house burns down around you. Keep smiling through your magical thinking and techno posturing.

And above all, keep pushing away the idea of a clean, verdant planet. That REALLY makes sense.

Population has in fact stopped growing in many places. The idea that population is in a irreversible growth trend is false. Maybe we need an article on this.

The energy problems we face, while large, are tractable. We can and will solve them by tying efforts together across different engineering disciplines. Collapse is a possibility but only a remote one. This is the mundane reality of our situation.

I wonder why our population wouldn't grow right to the limit that any new alternative energy systems can support too?

Cherenkov said:

You do realise it costs energy to make autos. You do realize it costs energy to maintain roads? You do realize it costs energy to recycle said autos? All of this energy is going to come from photo-voltaics?

It takes energy to overcome entropy. Since a renewable system has to supply the energy to repair itself, a huge population to support will limit the extra energy needed to keep the system going. Uh oh.

Once again you fail to run out the simulation.

You are not simulating, you are handwaving.  Why do you demand of others what you have not done — and probably cannot do — yourself?

You seem to think the population has stopped growing and that all other resources are infinite.

I've got a flash for you:  European indigenous birthrates are now well below replacement, so is Japan's, and the US would be stable if it was not for rampant immigration (most of it illegal).  As for resources, we're turning things like silicon dioxide (glass) and CHON materials (from phenolic to epoxies and carbon fiber) into major parts of our society.  How do we run out of the raw materials for Buckytubes?

Your solution is operating in a vacuum. Where are the rest of the variables?

My solution is for the US and Europe to deport the unassimilable or otherwise troublesome aliens (including the removal of "birthright citizenship" in the USA) and then deal with the remaining issues using the breathing room created thereby.

No, I do not want the collapse to happen in the worst way. I want it to happen in the BEST way!!!

Deporting the Mexicans from the US, where they have a TFR of about 4, back to Mexico where they have a TFR of about 2.4, may collapse Mexico but it will reduce the overall size of the problem considerably.

And on that note I'm shutting down and leaving Kentucky.  See all of you later.

The technology equals lower populations argument is one of my favorite magical thinking canards.

Let's run this little scenario out to its logical conclusion.

Since most of the world does not enjoy our standard of population growth killing tech, then I assume you would spread our profligate ways to the rest of the world? That means a billion Chinese all driving autos, trucks, etc. This means 750 million Indians all driving autos, trucks, etc. It means they will all use just as much energy as we do through nukes, coal, natural gas. This means they will use as much or more of our peaking metals. This means that people formerly employed in peasant activities, such as growing food in a non-energy intensive way, will have to leave the farm to get jobs to pay for their autos and extravagent energy lifestyles. This means farms will have to be mechanized. This means tractors. This means more energy being used. It means chemical fertilizers. It means less diversity in the environment.

BUT, most importantly, it means someone, somewhere must go without. Why?

And I quote, "About 15 percent of the world's population resides in industrialized countries, yet the people of these nations consume 85 percent of the world's resources.

It would require the equivalent of three planet Earths to sustain the current population at the standard of living of most industrialized countries like the United States. This figure increases to six Earths in the event of a doubling in the current population with the same living standard—12 Earths if both the population and standard of living double."

This would be obvious to anyone who cares to actually spark up a few brain cells, but it always seems to elude the techno-worshippers. Why is that? Is it an inconvenient truth?

Does this mean then that you are advocating we somehow meet in the middle?

You do realize that if technology equals decreasing populations, then we will eventually die off. At some point, you must ask yourself, why are populations shrinking in industrialized countries? Is it the estrogen mimics in the environment? Is it the pollution? Is it the stress? Is it the poor quality of the industrial food supply? Is it what some people call the psychotic meme?

Is it because in an environment where you no longer need children to farm your land, you forgo those children?

Hmmm. If so, then who farms your land? Without natural fertilizer produced on the farm by careful management of animal waste and the recycling of biomass, the farm goes dead. Since everyone abandoned the land to feed their autos, who feeds the cows? Feedlots. So, we need to add annhydrous ammonia to the soil to make it perform. Thus we kill the soil. Eventually, the land becomes sterile. Then the natural gas feedstock runs out. Then, I presume, the population crashes further.

I see!!!! This is your plan to kill off the world's population!!! Give them all industrial technology and they will poison their environment to such an extent they will die off!!!


I guess my next question would be who would want to be among the last few standing in the stinking ruins of your crashed industrial society?

Long term, the cirlce must be closed. Human society must live within the constraints of a limited planet and a renewable resource stream. Long term I think we would all like to preserve our natural patrimony, with most of our species still alive and our ecosystems healthy. Most of us would also like to preserve as much of our cultural patrimony as possible -- the books the libraries and museums, the arts and music and artifacts that have enriched our lives. Most of us would prefer to not have to totally abandon and forget about all the scientific and technological advances that have improved human life, even if we do need to figure out how to make and run them on tiny energy and material inputs.

Note that the above future does not necessarilly imply billions of people tooling around at high speeds in cars weighing tons. It does not imply exponential rates of growth in populations, economies, or any other statistics. It does imply something better than absolute misery and deprivation.

The question is: how to get from here to there?

First, we need to build general societal consensus that the above "there" is where we want to go. Presently, such consensus does not exist, as the above exchange illustrates. Absent such a consensus, and effective leadership to move society in the right direction, we'll just drift. We won't just magically get to the above "there" by the invisible hand of the free market; the free market doesn't care where we end up or how we get there.

There are some technologies that will be more helpful than others for building the pathway from here to there. Some technologies will not be helpful at all, even counterproductive. Our main problem, however, is not primarilly a technological problem -- it is a political and social problem.

How do we get from here to there? I don't have the answer. I do know that each of us can decide to be part of the answer, or we can each decide to continue to be part of the problem.

Probably a stupid question, but if the separation of CO2 is responsible for most of the costs of sequestration why not skip that step: sequester all of the flue gases instead?

Well, if it is a stupid question then add me to the "stupid list", I'd like to hear an opinion from one of our "in the know" folks on that one too!

Oh, don't worry John. I just checked the stupid list and your name is already there. No need to add it twice.

EngineerPoet, Thanks for going and thanks for writing it up!
I'm really encouraged by the prospects for solar, I'd like to put it at my house in Galveston, feed the excess into the grid.But I'm a babe in the woods at figuring how much I need, what's economicially feasable.

You're so kind...

Probably a stupid question, but if the separation of CO2 is responsible for most of the costs of sequestration why not skip that step: sequester all of the flue gases instead?

Because the amount of CO2 in the exhaust gases is only something like 10%. Thus if you don't separate, you need to multiply all the other costs by ten. (Cooling the exhaust gases to a liquid so it can be injected, might also become more problematic). Further, the presence of NOx and water in the exhaust, would be corrosive to pipelines, etc. (Even if CO2 is quite corrosive in itself).

The oxyfuel-process of CO2-separation takes advantage of the fact that the exhaust gases (of this process) are almost pure CO2 and H2O. But the cost of separating O2 for combustion is not negligible either.

From memory, China injected flue gas (CO2 & N2 plus some H2O and that bit of Argon) from a coal plant into an aging oil field with good results. Increased volume if one does not mind the extra nitrogen (such as Mexico uses for Cantarell, throwing off unneeded oxygen).

But yes, air is 4/5s nitrogen and 1% argon (rough numbers) and that adds to the energy of compression for injection and fills up underground space quickly.

OTOH, water is easy to remove from flue gas.


The air going into combustion is about 78% nitrogen by volume.  A bit of it is converted into nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2) but most of it goes right through as N2.  N2 doesn't condense at ambient temperatures, so instead of compressing and moving a liquid you are talking about vastly greater volumes for handling and storage.

One way around this is to get the nitrogen out of the combustion process.  This is called oxy-fuel combustion, and it requires an air separation operation at the outset.  At least one of the speakers I heard mentioned the development of membranes to make this process cheaper and more energy-efficient.

The most effective method of carbon sequestration is to bury massive quantities of unoxidized biomass in deep geologic strata.

Unoxidized biomass will degrade to many other things, including methane.  Methane is a GHG.

Deep burial of solids is an extremely energy-intensive activity.  For sequestration on the order of thousands of years, the shallow burial (soil admixture) of pyrolytic carbon is going to be much easier and add to productivity as well.

When my Google search for "Inquity Software" only turned up 3 results, I thought "Wow, talk about stealth mode!" but the reality seems to be much more prosaic - a typo by the conference organizers.

The actual company is most likely

Good catch, I think I've corrected all the errors in the story.

My impression is that direct carbon fuel cells are some way from prime time. If I understand correctly the coal (or whatever) has to be very finely ground and mixed with electrolyte that has to be recovered and 'refreshed'. Fuell cells are loaded and fired in batches not continuously. Sulphur is a problem. On top of that are the usual costs of CO2 capture and disposal. Unless I've got this seriously wrong I still think the best thing for coal is to leave it in the ground.

I do agree with the comment about the materials requirement for clean generation. Ditto water conservation and climate-proof food production. We aren't setting aside enough of our high EROEI legacy to provide for looming material needs.

Also the temperature range of operation is too high 750-850 C.
The magic number I remember is 650 C or so this is the temperature at which you can use stainless steel for construction. I'm pretty sure 750-850 puts you into the exotic or problematic class of materials for construction.

I found this as the melting point of stainless steel.
With a melting point of 1420degC
So not sure why the 650 magic number I've seen several times for solid oxide fuel cells.

Considering the sulfur issue its not clear that this is a magic bullet over gasification methods in real world use cases. Since the design seems to be the same as a normal solid oxide fuel cell it looks like more hype of the observation that finally ground carbon works than some sort of break through discovery.

These are normal cells.
Note it seems that the electrical interconnects are the real problem at the higher temperatures.

Note this explains in detail the magic temperature in this case they say its 700C I've seen 650 as I mentioned.

I simply don't see the advantage of skipping gasification and then dealing with molten salts. The initial gasification could easily be done at the coal mine coal gas used to be widely used. We can easily go back to it esp if we go into SOFC instead of trying to use the it directly as before.

For people that have to have gas stoves I suspect you can do methane synthesis from the coal gas for this one use case fairly easily every thing else could be electric and thus no poisonous carbon monoxide in the house. And you can mix in NG the SOFC can handle quite a mix so you can run off any reduced carbon gas or even liquids piped to the SOFC.

As far as capturing CO2 emissions from fossil fuels goes its probably the most bogus argument ever made making corn ethanol look reasonable. When we are down to burning coal on a large scale we simply won't have the luxury of considering sequestration. SOFC/gasification is better technology for conversion of coal/boimass to energy but thats a completely different issue from large scale sequestration projects.

I think that going to gas thats NG Coal gas or biomas gasification coupled with distributed SOFC either at the home or as small plants that might do some sequestration say via algae/peat ponds to muck to organic soils makes sense.
Potentially the plant could be combined with waste water treatment plants and some of the C02 would be absorbed in a lagoon mentioned above combined with a step in treating the water. If its covered the methane could be captured and cycled back into the power plant.
The point is SOFC offer high efficiency and its a lot easier to capture say 25-50% of the C02 emissions via simple process such as the above then try and do 100%.
Depending on the capture rate you could do 25% or more fossil plus biogas and actually be carbon neutral. While pure bio gas would be carbon negative. The above muck ponds could also easily accept solid organic waste to increase methane production. In this case if the methane/boigas production exceeds the plants electric needs it could also be a source for other plants. So you have some very nice load balancing metrics via pipelines of gas and electric lines coupled with unified waste water like treatments.
And of course the other output would be purified water.

You wanted to know why 650C is the magic number for Stainless steel. I can answer that. At 650C, stainless steel becomes "sensitized" to corrosion due to a change in the minerals in the steel. Sensitization is a major problem in welding and maintenance of all stainless steel pipes and vessels, used in industry like refineries. Its the main cause of refinery leaks, too. If you have to work with something that hot, you're going to have problems with using that material.

Read about it here:

*Remember that 9/10ths of the population are good and decent, but 1/10th gets all the press.* - The Heretic

Thanks !
You see 650 all over as a holy grail but know one says exactly why :) I even read that article and missed that this is the key problem :)

The major point is that any silver bullet that requires a operating temperature over 650 C or probably even better 500 C can probably be dismissed. I've had that rule of thumb for a while and so far anything that breaks it does not seem to make it past the R&D stage.

Thanks again !

I would like to see some numbers on the comparison of materials for wind power versus coal fired power plants. Mr. Dubois of SRI comapany was quoted as saying alternative energy sources "require massive amounts of materials". I would like to know how much per kilowatt wind requires (with battery back up) for a small user like a house. Then compare with the utility company and associated transmission lines, RR tracks from coal fields and RR cars for trains.

My guess is that wind does not require a lot more than the utility co, even when combined with photo voltaics and maybe a simple battery storage system.

Any URL's for this?

Re "I would like to see some numbers on the comparison of materials for wind power versus coal fired power plants"

Resistance to wind power from traditional power producers must be expected :-)

In the link below is a full Life cycle analysis of an onshore/offshore 3 MW wind generator, placed in Denmark.
The weight of the 3 mW generator is some 500 tons steel/concrete offshore- and ca 1500 tons onshore ( table 1 page 8).
For comparison 500 tons correspond to 2 average US brick homes. !
And the CO2 emission for producing 1 kWh from a 3 MW wind generator is approx 5 gram CO2!
To put this in perspective. One mile with a US car = 500 gram CO2.
Traditional coal fired plants have some 100 times higher "emissions" than wind generators
Re " massive amounts of material"
The amount of material is really unimportant see below.
Page 35 top in the link you can see that the energy paybacktime for offshore and onshore wind generators of this size is less than 7 months ! With a 20 year lifetime the energy payback (EROEI, if you like) ( for large wind generators are >30 times. This also means that the energy spent on all materials metals- steel, concrete, fibre reinforced wings etc and powerlines to an onshore transformator for grid connection is included.

So most imaginable problems with wind generators are miniscule. The largest problem- technically is the integration into the grid. However recently, grid operators in Denmark argued, that > 50% wind power could be integrated with minor problems in the Danish grid.
Kind regards/ And1

Thanks for the info. The stats are surprisingly much in favor of wind power.

Lesson is don't take some experts "blanket" statements as fact (Mr. Dubois of SRI).

A geology professor recently commented to me that the volumetric equivalent of world-wide geologic formations that meet carbon sequestration requirements amounts to about 5% of the annual production of anthropogenic CO2. Does anyone know of studies that have attempted to approximate the total global storage capacity v.a.v. annual production? I suppose such an effort might use an approach similar to the U.S. Geological Survey's _World Petroleum Assessment 2000_.

This is a very good question. I don't know the answer, but the geology professor's answer doesn't sound quite right. It seems like there would be many places where there was a trap that could have been an oil/gas field, but no source rock to charge it - I would guess the majority of potential reservoirs never got charged. And then it would seem like the amount of carbon one could store in a given reservoir would have to be in the same general ballpark as the amount of carbon that would have been in it as methane.

Whether there's enough close to sources of CO2 is another question.

SRI's entry is a new chemical process using simple reactors to convert sodium fluorosilicate (Na2SiF6) to NaF and elemental silicon. This is done by reaction of the raw material with metallic sodium:

Na2SiF6 → SiF4 + 2 NaF
SiF4 + 4 Na → Si + 4 NaF

As it stands, this is still an open cycle. You have fluorosilicate and sodium metal as inputs and sodium fluoride as a byproduct. Note that separating fluorine from any compound, or separating sodium from any compound, still require quite a bit of energy. Perhaps more energy than you'd normally invest to separate, say, oxygen from silica?

From Wikipedia:

Silicon is commercially prepared by the reaction of high-purity silica with wood, charcoal, and coal, in an electric arc furnace using carbon electrodes. At temperatures over 1900°C, the carbon reduces the silica to silicon according to the chemical equation

SiO2 + C → Si + CO2

Liquid silicon collects in the bottom of the furnace, ...

This process, although messy and producing CO2 as a byproduct, at least starts with silica, eh :^) AFAIK there are no natural deposits of sodium fluorosilicate.

OTOH, a possible advantage of the fluorosilicate process is that you could purify it with conventional room temperature wet-chemical methods, while carbon-arc reduction makes silicon with a lot of other transition elements mixed into it, requiring subsequent exotic purification steps involving things like silane.

Why yes....we can use exotic engineering to solve the PO problem.

Not going to happen.



Its over folks.

If we had started in 1980's we might have a chance. But it's too late now.

Get it through your monkey's too LATE.

All these "fixes" might someday prove helpful but they won't be of ANY benefit in the next 10 yrs. None at all.

And that is the crux of the problem.

When in 10 yrs oil productionis down to 60MMBPD people will have alot more worries than if we can turn molten salt into coal gas or rocket fuel or if cheap solar cells will be practical in 5 yrs...

The future is here now.

Deal with it.

Actually, 1 - (60/84)^(1/10) = 3.3% combined annual decline rate, which is no big deal from a technical standpoint. Our problems have far more to do with convincing the public to take the problem seriously and act than they do with a lack of viable technical options.

It's interesting how doomers seem to get actually ANNOYED when anyone discusses possible solutions. It's like they really don't want the problem to get solved and so they try to silence discussion of solutions with GREAT CERTAINTY in CAPITAL LETTERS.


The longish exerpt below is from the Hirsh report, begining at page 22. Would you care to comment on the apparent divergence of opionion between you and the reports authors in respect of the extent to which achiving year over year reductions on the order of 4% are "no big deal"? As I read Hirsh he seems to be saying this is a "deep" problem, or have I / he missed something in your opinion?

Exerpt follows:

Energy efficiency improvements and technological changes are typically
incorporated into products and services slowly, and their rate of market
penetration is based on customer preferences and costs. In the 1974-1983
period, oil prices ratcheted up to newer, higher levels, which lead to significant
energy efficiency improvements, energy fuel switching, and other more general
technological changes. Some changes came about due to legislative mandates
(corporate average fuel economy standards, CAFE) or subsidies (solar energy
and energy efficiency tax credits), but many were the result of economic
decisions to reduce long-term costs. Under a normal course of replacement
based on historical trends, oil-consuming capital stock has been replaced in the
U.S. over a period of 15 to 50 years and has cost consumers and businesses
trillions of dollars, as discussed below.

Automobiles represent the largest single oil-consuming capital stock in the U.S.
130 million autos consume 4.9 MM bpd, or 25 percent of total consumption, ... Autos remain in the U.S. transportation fleet, or rolling
stock, for a long time. While the financial-based current-cost, average age of
autos is only 3.4 years, the average age of the stock is currently nine years.

Recent studies show that one half of the1990-model year cars will remain on the
road 17 years later in 2007. At normal replacement rates, consumers will spend
an estimated $1.3 trillion (constant 2003 dollars) over the next 10-15 years just to
replace one-half the stock of automobiles.

A similar situation exists with light trucks (vans, pick-ups, and SUVs), which
consume 3.6 MM bpd of oil, accounting for 18 percent of total oil consumption.
Light trucks are depreciated on a faster schedule, and their financial-based
current-cost average age is 2.9 years. However, the average physical age of the
rolling stock is seven years, and the median lifetime of light trucks is 16 years. At
current replacement rates, one-half of the 80-million light trucks will be replaced
in the next 9-14 years at a cost of $1 trillion.

Seven million heavy trucks (including buses, highway trucks, and off-highway
trucks) represent the third largest consumer of oil at 3.0 MM bpd, 16 percent of
total consumption. The current-cost average age of heavy trucks is 5.0 years,

Because of the lack of national average "replacement value" estimates, current-cost net capital
stock provides a suitable substitute for the estimates. Given the capital equipment depreciation
schedule used, the total replacement value of the capital stock is projected to be 4.5 times higher
than the current-cost net value

The estimate of net stock includes an adjustment for depreciation, defined as the decline in value
of the stock of assets due to wear and tear, obsolescence, accidental damage, and aging. For
most types of assets, estimates of depreciation are based on a geometric decline in value. but the median lifetime of this equipment is 28 years. The disparity in the
average age and the median lifetime estimates indicate that a significant number
of vehicles are 40-60 years old. At normal replacement levels, one-half of the
heavy truck stock will be replaced by businesses in the next 15-20 years at a
cost of $1.5 trillion.

The fourth-largest consumer of oil is the airlines, which consume the equivalent
of 1.1 MM bpd, representing six percent of U.S. consumption. The 8,500 aircraft
have a current-cost average age of 9.1 years, and a median lifetime of 22
years. Airline deregulation and the events of September 11, 2001, have had
significant effects on the industry, its ownership, and recent business decisions.
At recent rates, airlines will replace one-half of their stock over the next 15-20
years at a cost of $250 billion.

These four capital stock categories cover most transportation modes and
represent 65 percent of the consumption of oil in the U.S. The three largest
categories of autos, light trucks, and heavy trucks all utilize the internal
combustion engine, whether gasoline- or diesel-burning. Clearly, advancements
in energy efficiency and replacement in this capital stock (for instance, electrichybrid
engines) would help mitigate the economic impacts of rising oil prices
caused by world oil peaking. However, as described, the normal replacement
rates of this equipment will require 10-20 years and cost trillions of dollars.

We cannot conceive of any affordable government-sponsored "crash program" to
accelerate normal replacement schedules so as to incorporate higher energy
efficiency technologies into the privately-owned transportation sector; significant
improvements in energy efficiency will thus be inherently time-consuming (of the
order of a decade or more).

After the oil shocks of the 1970's, US gasoline consumption sagged very significantly.  This happened despite the impact of new pollution controls (which decreased efficiency somewhat).

The US vehicle fleet is currently even more biased towards large, heavy vehicles than it was in 1977, meaning that a move toward cars like the Prius will have an even greater proportional impact.  On top of this, we have some excellent new technologies to address vehicle energy consumption (both the amount and the medium), and possibilities outside of vehicles altogether, e.g. telecommuting and a return to urban patterns which rely much less on driving.  I think we should just slap a high and escalating tax on fossil fuels, use the revenue to reduce taxes on e.g. wages, and let people work out the best solutions.

Part of the sag in gasoline consumption after the 1980 oil price shock was due to economics. By the spring of 1982 a severe recession had taken hold and US unemployment was over 10% nation wide and over 15% in some areas of the country. This lack of employment plus many factory closings produced a good percentage of the reduction of oil usage in the US.

The balance (not sure of percentage) was due to switching to more fuel efficient technology. My guess is that most of the immediate declines in oil usage in 1982 through 1984 were due to economic decline. Long term effect of more energy efficient technology caused oil consumption to remain depressed for several years, even after the economy recovered and unemployment dropped to less than 6% by the late 1980s.

I agree the rolling stock will take 10-20 years to completely replace, and I don't disagree with their figures on how much it will cost to replace it (though I haven't analyzed it). However, the point is we are going to replace that rolling stock anyway, peak oil or no. The trillions of dollars are not extra costs. What is needed is to replace the stock with vehicles that are significantly more energy efficient than the ones in use now. At least for the auto/light truck sector, 4% annual improvements in deployed fleet fuel economy were achieved in multiple years in the 70s, and there seems no reason to suppose it cannot be done again now, once people clearly understand that the problem is not temporary, and if/when fuel prices get high enough to provide the necessary motivation.

I seem to have a somewhat richer imagination than they do on the subject of government crash programs. If we were really motivated, there's a bunch of things we could do. Like mandatory retirement of vehicles with poor fuel economy after a limited lifetime, and mandatory fuel economy standards for new vehicles. Admittedlly, there's no way this is going to get us to 15% annual improvements, but I bet we could get to 6% if we really really had to.

The US personal vehicle fleet is so unbelievably inefficient now that there is vast scope for improvement in it. Our problem at the moment is we are still pursuing complete nonsense (like corn ethanol and suing OPEC) instead of buckling down and doing what needs to be done.

As one that studied automotive engineering and efficiencies of vehicle engines I will predict that the initial vehicle efficiency improvements will be easy. Trying to get the annual fleet to perform 6% better each year for several years will be hard to do without greatly increasing the cost of the vehicles. Diesel engines could boost the fuel economy by 25% but they typically cost $2000 to $3000 more per vehicle besides having the disadvantage of lower acceleration.

Because the larger cars, light trucks and SUV's provide the greatest profit for the US auto companies (and probably also for Toyota) they have a great incentive to use technolgy to improve the fuel economy of these popular and expensive vehicles which they are already doing with variable valving, more gear ratios in the transmissions and offering smaller engines. But, I doubt that we will see improvements of 6% every year for more than two or three years. After that it means going to smaller cars/light trucks or incentivizing people to use mass transit.

And lastly I don't think the public would accept forced discontinuance of those vehicles that get poor gas milage. When auto emmisions reductions were forced on the auto makers by the US EPA and California, they only applied to new cars. Old cars that polluted more were accepted and allowed to be licensed, with the hope that they would eventually be retired. Same will be true for fuel inefficient autos/light trucks. Only way to handle getting gas hogs off the road is to give a tax credit for buying a more efficient car/light truck.

Trying to get the annual fleet to perform 6% better each year for several years will be hard to do without greatly increasing the cost of the vehicles.

Only if all else remains equal. Replacing a 2 ton SUV with a 6% more efficient 2 ton SUV is hard. But completely unnecessary in 80% of cases.

If most personal transport needs can be covered by replacement vehicles with half the rolling weight of the current vehicle (and I bet they can), then the potential for increased efficiency is enormous.

Just need to provide strong enough incentives. e.g. steeply progressive annual passenger-vehicle registration fee based on rolling weight.

I have been staying up late researching the French tram building boom. They can, and often do, go from financial decision to ribbon-cutting in 3 to 4 years.

Below are the French towns of 100,000 or more without tram lines or plans for them.

Limoges (they have Electric trolley buses)
Metz (nearby Nancy opened one in 2000)

The following towns have unfunded plans

Le Havre

And the following cities and towns have Urban Rail (several under 100K population)

Valenciennes (under construction)
Le Mans (just opened)
St. Etienne

And La Rochelle has a factory test track with limited public use.

Note that the Metropolitan area population can be twice or three times the city population and many tram lines go into nearby villages.

A slightly dated quote (2005) mentioned 120 km of tram lines (almost all extensions or additional lines) under construction in France at that time. A review of plans indicates that the pace is at least that high today, if not higher.

The number of French that can get around without oil is quite high, even if they drive today. A strategic asset par excellence. Rail has an elasticity of supply that high fuel mileage cars lack.

Other than border crossings, only 100 km of TGV plans are left unfinished. A nationwide network of high speed rail.

Plus large scale bicycle rental programs in Paris & Lyon.

Best Hopes for French Non-Oil Transportation,


I work in Lyon, and in a typical month I use the train, metro, public bicycles, sometimes tram and bus. Unfortunately I live outside the metropolitan area and commute mostly by car.

Despite the very positive points outlined by Alan, this is the weak point in the French transport schema : urban flight, especially in the past couple of decades, has created vast zones of individual suburban houses around the cities (up to 50 km). Inner cities have been upgraded since then, but urban real estate has become prohibitively expensive as a consequence, ruling out an inversion of the tendency for most people.

The big squeeze will happen as transport costs escalate. I feel it myself.

One of the differences between new trams in France & UK is their location.

The French (with a few exceptions) take a busy bus route that goes through the city center. They take a traffic lane (HORRORS !!) and dedicate it to the new tram (with traffic signal priority) and rework the area around the tram for pedestrians. Stops every 500 m or so. They also often beautify the area. Results are an immediate 25% increase in ridership over the bus line and lower unit costs to operate than the prior bus.

The Brits take old rail lines out to the suburbs and convert them to trams. No partnership with the buses, no urban changes, stops every 1 to 1.5 km. Uneven ridership results. Lower per km costs to build than the French, but higher operating costs (apparently due to lower density service).
No significant changes in Urban form.

Adding "British" style service would better serve the outlying suburbs, but I doubt that the French will do that.

Of course, not everyone is served by the new trams, but it does provide an alternative for towns and cities to coalesce around.

And once one tram line is installed, it is easier to add a second, and a third. This is precisely what is happening.

Post-Peak Oil, the French will have to build more tram lines faster. But speeding up to, say, 250 new km/year is entirely doable given their "running start". And, IMHO, adding 250 km of new tram lines every year plus other reasonable actions will keep France ahead of the depletion curve.

Best Hopes for Running Starts in Mitigating Peak Oil,


I have been staying up late researching the French tram building boom. They can, and often do, go from financial decision to ribbon-cutting in 3 to 4 years.

Yes, but the French have a centralized, technocratic form of government. They can just make decisions and move forward on things like this. In the USA, our government is mostly dysfunctional, especially at the national level.

It isn't really a technological or economic problem, it is really a political and social problem.

Yes, but the French have a centralized, technocratic form of government

I also thought that "going in".

Reality for these small cities and towns.

Candidate X for Mayor says "Elect me and I will build you a tram line".

Mayor wins and gets a 6 year term. France has a payroll tax of 1.75% (max) on payrolls of 10+ people for public transportation.

The Mayor choses a tram route and gets a cost estimate. The Mayor takes this tax money and goes to Paris for matching funds and loans against future tax revenue.

The Mayor gets financing and starts laying track and pushes for completion. S/he also pushes for beautification and ped friendly environment along the route (personal monument and an enduring credit to their party).

Next election, a candidate promises "Elect me and I will build a second tram line from X to Y".

Paris does not direct but encourages and facilitates (there is a French Standard for trams and tram lines).

Best Hopes for French Bureaucrats (My GOD, what has the world come to !)


Here's a recommendation and perhaps additional evidence to substantiate Ghawar's state.
On watching the excellent and fascinating ABC video the incredible journey of oil, (the best introduction and summary of our oil and climate predicaments I've seen, bringing together some remarkable footage, M King Hubbert 14:20 into part 2, and supported with interviews with Ken Deffeyes, Jeremy Leggett, Colin Campbell, the last surviving veteran of the 1930s Saudi exploration team discussing his finds, culminating in GhawarRecords ) I came across a scene showing a Linux Ghawar model, 27:30 into part 2. The video and perhaps the model are contemporary.

Hi Stuart,

Thanks for all your work.

Just a short q on this:

re: "...and if/when fuel prices get high enough to provide the necessary motivation."

What's your take on the "receding horizons" argument; i.e., higher fuel prices will also impact the manufacturing side of it? (Perhaps purchasing power, as well.) (Not relevant in this case? Or,...?)

The oil crises in the 70s were big bang events which came suddenly and were apparent to everyone, forcing and motivating for adaptive change. In contrast, our current bumpy production plateau is a slow process, not necessarily signalling to the public at large that change is ahead and timely preparation needed. In the contrary, we have been conditioned to believe in perpetual growth and are convinced that our market economy is invincible. Moreover, we think that the same enormous technological progress - as witnessed while miniaturizing our electronic gadgets - can be duplicated when it comes to new sources of energy.

That's not a speculation, that's an observation.  We're actually seeing that technological progress.  Wind energy, solar PV, all kinds of new fuel cells... they're all somewhere between the labs and going into large-scale production.

Not all of them have to pan out.  It only takes one or two technologies in any given area to suffice for most things.

Spot on Stuart! There are lots of possible solutions, its almost impossible to predict which will dominate, but its a fascinating topic!

"It's like they really don't want the problem to get solved and so they try to silence discussion of solutions...."

As you know Stuart, it's a very real and increasingly powerful philosophy, and has been known for at least decades if not centuries...the "noble savage" myth, Jean-Jacques Rousseau writ large, the Luddites, John Ruskin's neo-Gothic flights of fancy, and now the more modern anarcho-primitivist, Gren Anarchist, and "Deep Green" movement, predicted by Alvin Toffler in "The Third Wave" in what he called "The Yearning For A New Dark Age."

I made the argument many months ago here on this board that TOD would at some point have to take sides and choose, because the primitivist movement does not accept comprimise. For them, any modern technical solution or even attempt at one is viewed as life support that will only serve to salvage a culture they consider hateful and aesthetically and morally abhorrent to the very core.

I have also made the case that this is a battle that I think moderates, modernists, technicians, and science in general is starting to lose, especially here on TOD.

Many months ago, I was shaken and went on a bit of "diatribe" (I admit readily that's what it was) about this issue on TOD after Ken Deffeyes made his famous, or infamous remark about "Stone age by 2030". It was such an insane remark from a person regarded as a serious spokesperson on the peak oil and oil depletion issue that I was taken completely aback, as I was sure any moderate would be, and found the remark by Deffeyes astounding.

Almost a year later, Leanan, in another discussion found, dug out my post, and repeated it and used it against me to demonstrate to me my insincerity and irrationality. It woke me up to how this game was played, and the fact that I was on the loosing side.

It was frankly a surprising and hurtful shot, given Deffeyes outragous remarks, and given the type of "thought" we see here not daily, but hourly now.

Some ask "Why is it we cannot use the tools we know we have now, why cannot we seem to get anything in the way of a solution underway?"

I am more and more convinced each day that what we are seeing, and are, whether we know it or not, taking sides in, is a philosophical, an aesthetic struggle, and not a technical or scientific one. We are trying now to justify (or refute) human destiny as more than a hunter gatherer. It is a valid philosophical question to ask "Why should man aspire to more than the level at which we lived as a species for hundreds of thousands, millions of years?

More troubling, what is to become of the losers in this dispute? What will become of the ones who wanted to be more than primitives, or the inverse, what will become of those who wanted to be nothing more than primitives, depending upon which side ends up controlling the guidence of human destiny? There is no denying that there are down sides to both philosophies.

This is not about science. This is about philosophy. What do we as human beings want to be, want to do with our lives here on Earth?

I have cast my vote, in my actions, in my writings, in many hours of thought. That does not make it the right vote, it simply makes it my vote. From that moment on, it was no longer about goals, that was decided. It would be about methods, techniques and tools to attempt to achieve those goals with the greatest possible regard for all humanity, and yes, for myself. As much as it is hated, is denied, humans are individuals. What I want does matter, at least to me.

Others are casting their votes now, whether they know it or not. And TOD, as an entity, is casting it's vote. Like all of us, it will have to live with it's choice.

I can tell you now, for myself, that the conditions of "sustainability" as defined by the neo primitivist, the anarcho primitivist, the "deep green" philosophy, is anything but sustainable.

The late great Congressperson Barbara Jordon once asked, "When we say we must change, we must ask ourselves: change, from what, to what?

Change is coming. From what, to what?
I do not know. But I do know that it will have much more to do with what we want to be, what we see as the goals and the correct mode of living for human beings, than it will have to do with the limits of human abilities, or the exact volume of oil or gas in the Earth.
(edited for corrections)
Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Those who have warned about peak oil for many years without success seem to develop their own ways how to cope with not being heard. One way is to predict doomsday scenarios and that of course is really counter-productive.

"doomsday scenarios .. considered counter-productive"

That is a good point, as experience of Global Warming show, exaggerated claims generate apathy.

The initial findings suggest that those shown doom-laden messages tended to believe the problem could come to a head further into the future. This group also felt there was little they could do to affect the planet's future.

"Not only is this not a good way of presenting climate change science, but even in trying to effect change, it's self-defeating," Professor Hulme said.

Thank you for your post. I also read with interest your wiki link on primitivism.

I'm actually schizo on this whole subject - college drop-out, lived in hippie community for 10 years, in previous profession manager in cororate strategy for F500 in IT industry, and currently director and resident treehugger at an engineering firm focussed on inculcating firm and customers with whole systems/high performance design framework and perspective.

On the one hand, despite my lack of formal credentials, I have always excelled at and enjoyed working with engineers, designers, financial analysts, and other creative professionals in wrestling with tactical and strategic challenges of all sorts, sizes, and desciptions.

On the other hand I resent the world as it is (an unhealthy but quite common relationship with reality) and want/expect/need to see the whole affair tumble down. The resentment is an odd, dangerous and dehumanizing cocktail of fear, envy, frustration and hatred based on the world not giving me what I so desperately need, desire, and long for.

The challenge of our time seems to be able to bridge the outer world of physics and the inner pyschic realms in a way that offers widespread hope in generating new possibilities, is deeply grounded in physical reality and is open to the intense variety, diversity and skillfulness (or lack therof) in expression.

Yes all is not black or white. It could be grayish. I have also pondered what will happen, and read a lot of others thoughts. Sometimes i have been to the doomer side, but now i am a little more optimistic. Life doesn´t end with PO, anyway not for all of us. I don´t belive in the Olduvai theori.
I believe we will manage it somehowe and get a new kind of living. But before that we will have a couple of decades of suffering. Further more we will surely have a greater depression and an economic collapse.

The biggest problem as i se it, is the overpopulation and the finite recources of not only oil, and our ability to feed ourselves.

So somekind of die-off lies in the cards.

But i don´t se PO as negative, on the contrary i believe that it is a good thing. We can´t go on like this on our planet.

All in all i look forward to the exiting times ahead, and i am glad that i have the good fortune to be around to se how it unfolds.(And i hope to avoid belonging to the die-off crowd, cross my fingers).



You cannot vote in the physics you like.

Physics does not care about your choices. It does not care about Ken Deffeyes' choices.

I love technology. I'd like to enjoy these fantastical devices forever, but I'm not stupid, nor am I delusional.

I do not say we should be primitivist, anarcho-whatsit, deep green, or any other pigeonhole. What I look at is the simple limits we have before us.

What I detest is the simple-minded, our way or the highway, mode of thinking that states that we must either choose to stay the technological course or devolve into a neoneolithic era. Quite frankly the lack of imagination here is stunning. Why can't we develop the same level of understanding as the so-called primitives had. They knew every tree, bush, flower, bug, animal, and bird in the forest. They knew in what conditions each lived, what each fed off of, how much light it needed, the range of its travel, what use each plant and animal could be put to, and they managed that system quite well. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with using the earth in the most efficient and least energy intensive way possible?

Are you saying we can't be happy without tech? What is tech? I think that throwing a rock at a rabbit is tech. So is firing a .22 rifle at the rabbit. The question is what is required for each technology to exist. In the former, you need a rock. End of story. How much energy must be cultivated, how many support people are needed for the rifle and ammunition to exist? We could also use lasers to take potshots at rabbits. The questions still remain. How much supporting tech is necessary to enable the use of that laser?

You also talk of "losers" as if this were some sort of creepy sporting event. I hate that mentality. It is that same black and white paradigm, the zero-sum game.

To restore the earth means the species wins. The planet wins. The rest of the inhabitants win. Who in their right mind could call that losing?

This almost fascistic need to control everything seems to lie in the heart of every engineer and scientist. It is not good enough to notice that a particular part of the ecosystem works just fine and we can live off of it, no, we have to make scads of money selling useless crap like bottled water and lucite toilet seats with money embedded in them.

The collapse will not be televised. You will experience degrading lives even as new techno-crap like the Iphone comes online. Your air will get dirtier, the summers longer, hotter. Some places will suffer drought. Others will suffer extremely violent storms. Electricity will become less and less a sure thing. Natural gas will cost more, ditto oil. The 250 years of coal thing will finally be accepted as the myth it is. Food prices will soar. Shortages will ensue. And during all this, you will see scientist after scientist touting their latest invention to save us: air-powered cars, catalysts you drop into salt water to create hydrogen, shale oil cookers imbedded in the ground, yet none of these things seem to come on line, or work very well in the real world. The economy sags, then collapses.

After a few years, when the depleted soils no longer have the crutch of fossil fuel-based technology, the food supply suddenly drops. People try to plant gardens, but there is not enough heirloom seeds to go around. The poorly trained people cannot produce enough food. The seeds they save are worthless due to the greed of seed companies. Then come the food riots. The government steps in and ships malcontents off to Halliburton built camps where prisoners labor to produce food for the rest of the US. This fails miserably.

Millions die.

Ronco announces a new chia pet.

The votes are in and the mindless repetition of Jiminy Cricket's rubber plant song is heard all across the land.

Then we go hat in hand to Mother Nature and beg forgiveness. We ask to be readmitted to nature, and Mother Nature being the good mother she is, says, of course. And we get to work building a life that feeds us for another generation.

Cherenkov says,

"You cannot vote in the physics you like."

I found an interesting word in my energy research: Petawatt

A Petawatt, they say, is 10 to the 15th power watts. It looks like this:

10,000,000,000,000,000 Watts

It is said that the Earth recieves from the Sun 174.0 Petawatts, of which about 89 gets to the surface of the Earth. I tried to do the math, but my calculator refused to count out to those levels.

A Terrawatt, they say, is 10 to the 12th power, or
10,000,000,000,000 Watts

Humans consume only 1.7 Terrawatts in electrical production, and about 15 Terrawatts in world consumption yearly.

Global net primary production in biomass production via photosynthesis is about
75 Terrawatts.

The amount of solar energy intercepted by the Earth every minute is greater than the amount of energy the world uses in fossil fuels each year.

We have ALWAYS voted for the physics we liked.
We voted for oil because it was easy, profitable, and the engines made such a great noise.

We ignored electric cars and solar energy because it was a bore, it sounded too "techie" and girlie to suit us.

We claim to know "the limits" of physics. We haven't a clue.

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

We claim to know "the limits" of physics. We haven't a clue.

Have to disagree with you there, Roger.

We have some pretty good idea of the limits of physics under the conditions we can easily produce.  However, the limits of what's possible inside that envelope is so huge compared to our current needs it may as well not exist for the present.

Our problems have far more to do with convincing the public to take the problem seriously and act than they do with a lack of viable technical options.

Having studied PO for a few years, I come to the same conclusion. The real problems are in areas like society and the human brain, which have no easy answers.

Our problems have far more to do with convincing the public to take the problem seriously and act than they do with a lack of viable technical options.

Quoted for truth. That is the core problem we have, not engineering, not materials, not proving our positions (because the facts speak for themselves). The core problem is people - psychology, sociology, and politics. If the best technical solutions always happen regardless then why did betamax lose to VHS? Because of people. Solve the people problem and the rest is very doable. But solving the people problem is not nearly so easy as some would think.

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

"Our problems have far more to do with convincing the public to take the problem seriously and act than they do with a lack of viable technical options."

Are they still viable technical options if the behavior of human populations & societies render them unviable?

How can you seperate technical issues of society-changing scale from the societies where they must occur?

In the case of peak oil, how is public behavior NOT a "technical problem?"

I understand what you are saying but I don't necessarily agree. To me, technical problems are those whose solutions can be defined by science and engineering. Thus, people problems are political issues, not technical issues.

I agree that it may not be possible to separate them in practice but when we divide the problem up we can clearly see the technical issues separate from the political ones. If something is not technically feasible then you cannot do it no matter how much political might you put behind it.

On the other hand, something can be technically doable but still not get done for political (people) reasons.

Real working solutions will require both technical solutions (which I believe are very doable) and political solutions (which I believe are much harder to implement).

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

when we divide the problem up we can clearly see the technical issues separate from the political ones

Mother Nature does not divide herself into special classes.

Human behavior (that which you label as "political") and thermodynamics (that which you might label as "technical") are all part of an undivided whole.

We human critters do not see anything "clearly". Our monkey brains fool us into thinking that our limited tunnel visions are "clear" visions. Nothing is further from the truth.

We go out of our way to develop tunnel visions and hubris about our tunnel abilities by attending institutions of "higher" learning. Some of us become political scientists, some chemical scientists, some electrical, some economics and business administration. You get the picture. Then we march off to conquer the universe and "solve" problems with our individual "clear" visions of how the universe is put together.

Hello Korg,

Thanks for your response. I'm wondering from the comments below, if the way it's phrased (the emotions) are what bothers Stuart.

In any case, here's my question. Could I re-phrase your statement (and please correct me if I misunderstand)as:

"Any technologies that are not currently in place and proven to be workable will not be of help in the next ten years, given the assumption of 'peak now or soon.'"

Given that, then

re: "Deal with it."

What do you recommend?

What, in all seriousness, are the actions you think people should take - as individuals, communities, nations? US, for example.


In an attempt to win new followers to the doomster cause, Korg coins new term of endearment" "monkey brains".

The results of this new public relation effort are as yet undetermined.


Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

All these "fixes" might someday prove helpful but they won't be of ANY benefit ...

Science class. You should take one some time. "Hard" science, not economics :) The neat thing about it is, it can help you tell the difference between a crank with a perpetual motion machine and someone with a feasible engineering idea.

It has also allowed us to come to the conclusion that a hard rain is a-gonna fall on humanity, even though the sun is shining right now... still, it might make sense to start making some preparations.

It is an open cycle, but sodium fluorosilicate is a byproduct of the fertilizer industry (a waste product, AAMOF - lots and lots of it around) and it's not like we can deplete the oceans of sodium.

If you want to electrolyze the NaF to make HF and etch SiO2 for raw material, feel free to knock yourself out but I doubt you'll be profitable as long as easier feedstocks (fertilizer waste, feldspars?) are available.  Of course, the next thing is going to be organic PV and it doesn't look like we can run out of CHON-group elements anytime soon.

Interesting. I wasn't aware of the industrial excess of Na2SiF6.

That still leaves Na reduction as an energy investment, but it makes the process you described a lot more attractive. And it doesn't emit carbon dioxide, other than whatever already came from the industrial process that created the fluorosilicate.

cool idea.

Silane is not exotic in my opinion. Also direct electrochemical reduction of Si02 to Silicon is possible.

And other numerous references. In general for solar a organic/microcrystalline style cell will probably be the winner over the long term.

I think that the key for large scale use is cost per watt not the efficiency of the solar cell itself once its reasonable.
A 10% efficient cell at a tenth of the cost of todays silicon cells is better than a 30% efficient cell.
The area of the cell is far less critical.

In my opinion the titanium dioxide/organic dye solar cells are by far the the number one technology for large scale deployment.

A 10% efficient cell at a tenth of the cost of todays silicon cells is better than a 30% efficient cell.

Memmel, I generally agree but metric should be levelized cost of electricity:
($first cost + $O&M + $discount)/(lifetime kWh output).

A 10% efficient cell at a tenth the price that lasts a tenth that of a silicon cell addresses the first cost but not the levelized cost.

The SRI DCFC is a different technology from the Cooper unit, using a solid-oxide electrolyte and a carbon-liquid carbonate anode. This helps boost its current capacity to as much as 350 mA/cm², though efficiency isn't quite as good at 70%.

I don't understand that. Milliamps per area? Efficiency at 70%? 70% of what? Draw? TOD needs some sort of editorial policy covering background information. No need to put it in the article if it is "standard" - better to link to an established reference or wiki, perhaps.

Homer-Dixon and KMO - in an interview linked to in a Drumbeat of the past few days - spoke of novel ways for people to work together. For an article like this to work, it needs that background information and that would be part of what the system they suggest might include. If I can't understand the science/technology as in this article, the author is probably writing for a too "refined" set of humanoids!

It's an editorial issue; there needs to be sidebar or linked reference article making sense of what is being discussed. How that gets "reviewed" I don't know.

cfm in Gray, ME

Those were figures I wrote down straight from the talk.  I assume 70% is the fraction of chemical energy converted to electricity (balance to heat, and there is no heat of condensation to be considered for CO2).

Power density of a fuel cell is directly proportional to the current density (cell voltage can change due to other factors).  IIRC, Cooper et al. got about 80 mA/cm² so this could be a very big improvement.  Greater power density means reduced bulk and cost even if fuel costs a bit more.

Thanks, E-P, for taking the time to write this up and posting it.
Do you remember anyone talking about ground-source (aka geoexchange) heat pumps for A/C and heating? Seems it's the lost child of the renewables community of resources, judging by it's minor incentives at State and Federal levels and lack of discussion in panels I've sat through.

Such things were mentioned, but I don't recall hearing enough discussion in depth to be worth trying to cover.

ground source heat pumps are perhaps more favoured in Europe. The UK governments latest revision to renewable grants favours them over wind, solar PV and solar thermal, for good reason from my domestic research: Here's an earlier post.
Our ground water heat pump system will be installed this month. I'll report later on its real performance and efficiency.

Here's the first installment, relating my findings as I attempt to fashion practical solutions for future family life with the options at hand.
Over the last few weeks I've been more earnestly attempting to put the fundamental pieces in place to assure our wellbeing as post peak realities dawn.
1. Heating, Electricity and Hot Water, Water-
2. Planting - Food and Energy
3. Transport
4. Livelihood, Money
5. General Provisions, spares, education, security

1. Heating, Electricity and Hot Water-
In Order of Priority

1.1 Insulation-
Dull but worthy. Currently a 100m2 groundfloor over an unheated, cellar with garage door, is a huge heat sink, undermining any efforts to realise an independant economical warm house. Solution: 17 layer aluminium, polyester, cotton, insulation blanket,EP30, 7 off 15m2 rolls, 780Euros(special offer Brico Depot).

1.2 Heating System - Geothermal (The French definition - taking heat from groundwater, not as more commonly understood tapping core heat)
Cost 25000 Euros (without 50% tax credits available for French tax payers towards the heat pump capital cost) installed serving 200m2 floor space, approximately 400m3 volume, including Heat Pump (pompe a chaleur) , groundwater bore hole pump, radiators. Coefficient of performance nominally 5.7, ie 5.7kW heat output/kW consumption, based on groundwater at 11C, room temperature 21C. Heat Output 13.8kW. Replacing 25year old delapidated electric convection heaters and electric under floor heating- Coefficient of Performance 1, Max consumption 12kW (300Euros/month to shiver in Winter).

1.2.2 Limitations of application: requires a groundwater flow (handily in our case an underground stream passes near the property at 30m depth, 5m3/hr flowrate, so says the silver ball and chain swinging diviner- supposedly never fails....)
1.2.3 Bonus - the bore hole pump should provide a natural unmetered supply of water, which may prove to be invaluable especially if tests show the water to be potable.

1.2.4 Alternatives - Air- heat exchanger heat pump, as featured in your average Motel room. Disadvantages, lower coefficient of performance (4.3 median), especially when you need it with cold Winter air. The hum of fans. Advantage, reversible for air conditioning in Summer.

1.2.5 Conclusions
A heat pump system can only be considered to be a short to medium term solution, say 5 years up to 25 years. Limited by either the system components life (, pumps, compressors, heat exchangers, refrigerant charge etc.) or (even though electrical consumption is slashed) the grid (still required, see electrical generation section below)
along with the French nuclear stations . whichever goes first..

1.3 HotWater (getting into?)
I had anticipated ordering a solar thermal system (two panels each comprising 30 black vacuum tubes 2 off ~2mx2m) for atleast the water for baths/showets/kitchen. Two versions were available, One at 9200Euros installed was supplemented by an air exchanger heat pump mounted on the storage tank for hot water even when the sun don't shine. However it relied on interior installation with air temperatures above 10C, not feasible in our chilly cellar.
The other option at 7500Euros installed had the same panels, but backed up by an electrical element in the storage tank. The renewables company were frank enough to admit that in Brittany for 5 months of the year the electrical element would be standing
in for the sun. So despite the 80% efficiency for solar conversion (far higher than solar voltaic 15% max) the retrofit option didn't make economic sense. Maybe we'll return to option one installed in the warmth of the house, when the existing water tank gives up the ghost.

1.4 Wind - (Blow me down, its all hot air)
The renewables company was offering a vertical axis wind turbine, with a 10kW rating, for 30000 Euros installed. In France planning permission isn't required for turbines under 12m height.
Their demonstration model appeared to be installed in a good location, exposed on the top of motorway banking. However, on enquiring on the actual output obtained, I was surprised to be told, 1000kW hours per year. ie. 125Watts
on average, just enough to sustain two conventional filament light bulbs. Looking at the accompanying brochure the, paucity of power, was obvious. 1.3kW at 54Km/h 33mph,
4.4kW at 90km/h 56mph, 10kW at 140km/h 87mph. I suspect that even when my neighbours pine tree was blown down rearranging his cars this winter, the wind speed on our patch at 12m elevation wouldn't generate enough power to boil a kettle.
An annual inspection was required for the contraption, and the guarantee was 3years.
On top of all that you need a battery bank to profitably (????) use the power.

1.5 Solar Photo Volataic - (not tonight Josephine)
18m2, 2.94kW, 23200 Euros roof installed (Solar World)
Annual KW hours for the system in Brittany mounted on a South facing roof, 3000. At least the guarantee is 25 years, and the kW/Euros is vastly better than wind. however Winter sun, aint too strong at Brittany's lattitude, so another power generation method would be essential. The trouble with relying directly on the sun for generation is the need for electricity arises because the suns not shining.....
The French government pays 55cents (5 times the standard domestic rate) for each kW hour sold back to the grid, but still the economics don't quite add up. However, with the advances in solar PV, organic surface treated films, threatening to emerge from the labs, at forecast costs 20% or lower of current silicon cells in 2 years, maybe .....

1.6 Batteries
An essential complement to solar PV and wind. Battery packs seem to be the least sustainable element of all the electricity generating kit. Even if the battery are not discharged more than 40% in cycles, their life is likely to be 5 to 10 years. Just when you most need them, in cold conditions, their capacity is compromised. If your desperate enough to use their full capacity regularly, then their life could drop to a year.

1.7 Wood
We have installed a 14kW wood burning stove in the living room for 450Euros, which makes a fine warming roar.

Will our 1 acre (5000m2) patch be enough for food for a family of 4 (or more) and fire wood?????

The best solar battery by far

Growing buying, Chopping, cutting wood, drying wood,

I'm in the happy position of working in the oil and gas service industry, I have a pleasant daily cycle to work in the Hague, Holland. However
I suspect the Dutch population density is unsustainable post peak.
Hence we're working on our rural retreat in Brittany France.

After reviewing the options, for power and heating, and making some serious steps towards sustainable living, I still see an unbridgeable gap which will lead inexorably to a population crash. In temperate climates, we will be entirely dependant on what can be grown on the available land, population will return to equilibrium with natures capacity.
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notintodenial on April 14, 2007 - 5:33am | Permalink | Subthread ^

Thank you, Records, for your home scale, real-world report. I'll link to it the next time a cournacopian pops up here with some simplistic techno-fix.

And thank you West Texas, for stimulating discussion on PO preparedness. Your efforts will make some lives better.
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AlanfromBigEasy on April 14, 2007 - 10:41am | Permalink | Subthread ^

Some technical points.

Why can't ground water source heatpumps (geothermal) be used for cooling as well as heating ? All it takes is a reversing freon valve.

Have you considered an Edison battery ? Lives of 50 years have been noted.

If heat pumps and the grid go, so do the things that use electricity (after the old ones wear out).

Have you planted fruit and nut trees and berry bushes ? The old man's farming :-)

Have you looked at ways to increase the walls & roof insulation ? And new, better windows ? Insulating shades (two layers of fabric hex cells work well) ?

Best Hopes,

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records on April 14, 2007 - 4:41pm | Permalink | Subthread ^


A heat pump system could indeed be designed for cooling as well as heating, the compressor configuration is swapped so the evaporator becomes condenser and visa versa, as per the air to air exchanger systems found in most motel rooms. however the system we have bought relies upon
water circulation through high surface area radiators (water circulating temperature is only around 42C to achieve 21C room temperature. The low circulating temperature helps realise the better 5.7 COP by minimising evap/cond temp difference and hence the compressor pressure ratio). If it was attempted to work our system in reverse, the radiator temperature difference required to give comparable cooling (ie. 21C) would have to have the water circulating round the house at 0C, flow would be 'compromised'....

I did miss one key part of our heating strategy - passive heating, it was late last night.
A large conservatory is on the shopping list, which, should capture weaker winter sun with appropriate selection of dark floor matting and wall curtains, and minimise our wood demand .

I've not come across the Edison battery. I'll look into that further.

Our windows are double glazed, and the house is only 25years old, so whilst not marvellous the insulation is a reasonable standard. We are initially plugging the biggest heat sink (sorry about the pun) the cellar ceiling/ground floor and hoping this makes a marked effect.

We have planted, apple, pear, cherry, peach and nectarine so far. The ground in our part of Brittany is quite acid, so we'll have to import significant amounts of lime to make our
vegetables happy. A 10m by 5m poly tunnel, is on the agenda for our next visit to the rural retreat, we may be able to
obtain two crops a year.

One other generating scheme we have considered-
We have a stream running round the boundary of our land, which I had hoped might be just possible to generate a little electricity from especially in Winter when solar was weak and occasional. however the zero head water turbines (as dragged behind yachts) applicability is very marginal, with the flow velocity (maximum 5mph), and the depth (0.5m)width (1.5m)of our stream. The stream does at least ensure that half of our land isn't prone to drying out.

So all in all, the outlook is challenging without the grid. Matthew Simmons is correct, serious research is required for alternative large scale energy generation such as oceanic sources. There maybe mileage in generating using ocean vents, perhaps the waters thermacline can be used to generate. However theres plenty of technical issues to resolve, storage/transmission inparticular, there maybe unforeseen perils in such schemes too, I wouldn't want to try to harness or do anything impacting on the Gulf stream for instance, which seems to have slowed markedly 30%+ in the last thirty years. If that ground to a halt then it really is game over.
As an aside, I did purchase the Renewable Energy handbook, but I note that all the 'independent' off grid homes feature big diesel/gas generators (15kW etc.), substantial tracts of forest, and battery back up racks......... I hope they've bought thick duvets...


I'll be very interested in following up your experience with the geothermal. I'd do it myself but it doesn't seem compatible with my old fuel/wood central heating, would need to replace everything. I have a neighbour who did the shallow ground-loop version when he built his house, I should discuss the economics with him. (I'm living in the Massif Central, I have grid tied PV already.)

Canada has a $3500 grant for Ground Source Heat Pumps (aka Earth Energy Systems), which is matched in Saskatchewan for a total $7000 of grants (pdf) for a ground source heat pump installation.

Maybe there needs to be a standard for 'general
purpose combustion gas' with prescribed ranges of
different blended components. For example CO2 0-5%, methane 0-100% and suitable percentages for carbon monoxide, hydrogen, water vapour and cold weather organic condensates. This blend would result from producers injecting at various nodes into a pipeline grid that could be safely accessed by households and most industries.

Producers would be carbon taxed according to
fossil or biological origin assuming the latter was sustainable. The retailer decides how to slug customers. Thus coal gas, natural gas or steam reformed hydrogen would be carbon taxed, but not methane and syngas from biomass or solar hydrogen. Think of it as E85 but not for liquids.