The World Energy Modeling Project

The following is a guest post about the need for global energy systems modeling, by ASPO-USA co-founder Dick Lawrence. Mr. Lawrence has a degree in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. After a career at Digital Equipment and Intel he is focusing on the world energy model and starting a solar hot-water business in Massachusetts. In 1986 he read "Beyond Oil" (the original) which was his introduction to resource depletion, Hubbert's peak, and the power of computers to model the behavior of complex systems. In May 2004 he proposed a project to model global energy flow at the ASPO meeting in Berlin.

In the 1980s, Robert Kaufmann co-authored, with 3 others, a study of energy flow through the U.S. economy in Beyond Oil (last updated in 1992). That study was the inspiration for a proposal to model energy flow at the global level, first shown to ASPO members and attendees at the 2004 Berlin conference. After several years of presentations and proposal refinement, a project to model world energy flow is now underway. Modeling teams will develop the North America model (United States, Mexico, and Canada) over the summer of 2007, performing initial model runs in September. They will then expand the scope of the model to the global level, completing development by (approximately) mid-2008.

The World Energy Modeling Project

Energy is at the foundation of every aspect of our present globalized economy. Without adequate energy, the well-being of our still-growing world population, increasingly urbanized and industrialized, faces the prospect of reduced standards of living, declining access to food and clean water supplies, and contraction of global trade and GDP.

In the next decade and beyond, decisions will be made at national-policy (and, possibly, global) levels that have consequences to large segments of the Earth’s human population and to the world environment. These decisions will directly and indirectly impact energy and resource availability, human well-being, and the sustainability of the environment on which all economies ultimately depend.

Understanding the complex relationships between energy, the economy, human living standards, and national policy decisions is a difficult task. Well-informed observers often arrive at opposite conclusions, even when in possession of the same collection of facts. How can we cut through the morass of conflicting opinions and develop a better understanding of the consequences of policy decisions?

Increasingly, researchers turn to computer-based dynamic-systems modeling techniques when they are trying to understand complicated systems. 35 years ago, colleagues of Jay Forrester at MIT published the results of a study 35 years ago called Limits to Growth, which attempted to look at the global human population and its relationships to resources, food supply, pollution, and more.

In the 1980s, Robert Kaufmann co-authored, with 3 others, a study of energy flow through the U.S. economy in Beyond Oil (last updated in 1992). That study was the inspiration for our proposal to model energy flow at the global level, first shown to ASPO members and attendees at the 2004 Berlin conference.

After several years of presentations and proposal refinement, a project to model world energy flow is now underway. Following our presentation at ASPO-USA’s Boston conference in October 2006, we developed a Request for Proposals and distributed this to organizations and academic groups considered to have the resources and skill sets to implement such a model. After reviewing the proposals, ASPO-USA decided to merge the capabilities of two responders into a combined project team. ASPO-USA brought the two groups together in mid-May of 2007 and officially launched the project.

The two teams are:
• Millennium Institute – main model development, building on the foundation of their T21-USA model, which has substantial energy components;
• State University of New York – Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) – creation of the “energy core” of the model, including EROI database and feedback paths. ESF will also develop new graphical user interfaces.

The teams will develop the North America model (United States, Mexico, and Canada) over the summer of 2007, performing initial model runs in September. They will then expand the scope of the model to the global level, completing development by (approximately) mid-2008.


We want the model to be capable of answering the following questions:

• Given the finite and future limited availability of fossil fuels, with growing supply-demand mismatch, what is the best use to which we can put remaining supplies of “cheap” oil and gas?

• How much of our present and near-term fossil-fuel supply should be diverted to developing sustainable / renewable energy resources in a way that minimizes negative impacts on food production, water supply, per-capita energy availability, and quality of life for residents in developed, developing and under-developed nations? What would be the consequences of delaying accelerated or “crash” programs by a decade? Two decades? (see “the Hirsch Report”)

• What are the net-energy consequences for a variety of likely mixes of energy sources (i.e. a specified mix of conventional fossil fuels, biofuels, nuclear, and renewable, for example)?

• How much can biofuels (ethanol, biodiesel) be reasonably expected to contribute to energy supply without negatively impacting food supply or prices?

• To what extent do limits on water availability restrict energy development from unconventional sources (both fossil-fuel based and renewable)?

• What is the CO2 emissions impact for likely future energy scenarios? (CO2 emissions will be tracked for all scenario runs).

• What is the energy cost and “carbon footprint” of CO2 sequestration proposals? Are they realistic?

• Is a “hydrogen economy” feasible? What are the net-energy and environmental implications of different approaches to hydrogen production? What would be the consequences of a “crash program” basing most transportation uses on hydrogen and fuel cells? How would that compare with an all-electric transportation scenario?

• Can we substitute energy products based on tar sands, shale oil and coal (CTL) for conventional liquid fuels? If so, how long would these resources actually last at different growth rates?

• What is the interaction of energy supply, demand, and price – how will energy price respond to supply-demand mismatch for world supplies of oil and natural gas? What’s the elasticity of demand as energy prices go into new (higher) territory?

• As wealth flows into energy-exporting nations from energy importers, standards of living and demand for products and energy rises in the exporting countries. What are the consequences for availability of energy supply, and energy costs, for importing nations?

These are, of course, preliminary questions. Over time, new questions will be put to the model. A comprehensive and well-tested model will be able to answer new questions as they arise with only minimal modifications, if any.

The model incorporates complex relationships between energy, the economy, agriculture, industry, transportation, and the environment, including tracking CO2 emissions for all scenarios. Like the groundbreaking Limits to Growth more than three decades earlier, its results are not predictions of future events, but provide insight into the consequences of economic and energy policy decisions. The model is a policy-making tool that permits investigators to better understand the impacts of regulation, financial investment and incentives, and energy policy, and to analyze the consequences of developing various future mixes of energy source.

In addition, varying estimates of fossil fuel supply may constitute different scenarios – for example, using ASPO’s estimate of recoverable oil and gas, vs. those of USGS/EIA, are two scenarios we can run to explore the consequences of those supply estimates – are fossil resources in “Scenario X” sufficient to enable investment in renewable sources while simultaneously supplying the exploding energy needs of a growing global consumer society? Or does competition between investment in future energy supply and “everything else” force difficult decisions about how to ration energy and economic capital?

During a scenario run, decisions are made which influence the outcome. The results will be collected and analyzed to understand which decisions yield preferred outcomes. We intend to disseminate the results of model runs to a broad audience of academics, energy researchers, the public, companies in the energy industry, and (most importantly) to policy-makers at all levels of government.

Recent studies, like “The Hirsch Report” commissioned by U.S. DOE, and released in early 2005, warn of potentially serious consequences if we fail to respond in time to the threat of depletion of fossil fuel supplies. A model of world energy flow will permit a more detailed investigation of these scenarios and what energy policy decisions, and timing of implementation, will best reduce the impact of depletion.

Climate change is obviously a critical topic now getting enormous media and political attention. While it will not attempt to model the complex relationships between anthropogenic CO2 emissions, climate, and the human economy, the model will monitor CO2 emissions for all scenarios. The consequences of those emissions – temperature changes, regional and global weather changes, agricultural impacts – may be factored into some scenarios. In those cases the necessary data will be imported from results of dedicated climate-change models. Those impacts will then, via various feedback paths, affect other portions of the model – for example, modifying agricultural output as a consequence of changing long-term weather and rainfall patterns.

The model will account for and track flows of energy and materials based on physical laws (i.e. energy and matter cannot be created from nothing). It will access a database of EROI (energy return on energy invested) for all forms of energy – conventional, renewable, and unconventional. The model will show what is possible, given known constraints on energy availability, material resources, and financial capital.

We will develop the world energy model as an “open source” project – anyone with Internet access will be able to run the model and view the results of scenario runs.

One goal of the project is to develop a simple game-like user interface that makes the model accessible to those without experience in modeling complex systems. Others with more expertise will be able to go into the model, understand how it works (“transparency” is another goal), and develop their own scenarios. Model users from around the world will be able to communicate with each other using a web site dedicated to model discussion, modification, and operation.

There will be a presentation of the results of preliminary scenario runs at ASPO-USA conference, Houston, in October.

Public announcement of the predecessor to T21-North America was on Monday, July 16th at New America Foundation in Washington DC. TOD readers can view the presentations including my discussion of the motives for modeling world energy flow here and clicking on the embedded YouTube link.

The Limits to Growth –Donnela Meadows, Dennis Meadows et al – Universe Books 1972

Beyond the Limits – Donnela Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers – Chelsea Green Publishing Co. 1992 – ISBN 0-930031-55-5

Beyond Oil – Gever, Kaufmann, Skole, Vorosmarty - Carrying Capacity, Inc. 1986
ISBN 0-88730-075-8(PB)

Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management – Robert Hirsch, Roger Bezdek, Robert Wendling – February 2005; available online at:

This is spectacular! One more great reason to be in Houston October 17-20th at the Hilton Americas!

Bob Ebersole

Interesting, but there appear to be many unanswered questions. For instance you say the model will include decisions during the run that affect outcomes, but not where these will come from. It also appears as if this doesn't include any of the political and economic aspects that significantly affect energy usage and outcome.

As a for instance, the price of oil affects real world usage in a highly non linear way, but the price has to rise to a level to effect demand destruction sufficient to bring supply and demand into equilibrium at all times. Therefore sensible modelling of energy and energy choices is determined intimately by game theory, historic expectations, market uncertainty, general economic situations, etc.

In short, the question involves many interrelated complex adaptive systems, and game playing, but I can't see signs that all the required elements are there to make the such a model reflect reality. Such a model may say that 'tar sands' are the answer, without recognising that scaling timelines are insufficient for the expected complex decline rate slope - and the political fallout.

You might be able to tell I've considered this whole modelling area, and I'm not convinced you can get where you want to get from here with that approach. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Im going to keep the post near the top for a few days so that the members of the Modeling Project can respond to questions.

For my part, I agree that modeling energy requires to some extent modeling human nature, which is of course difficult. How will geopolitical events impact/trump geology? How will the coming credit swoon impact oil and gas investments? How will efficiency and or conservation impact energy usage, etc?

However, at current trajectory, we rely on the market to answer important questions like these - this modeling effort, and others like it are an important step in the right direction of viewing the market as part of a large system, with energy being a central variable.

I'd agree going global is the right direction to take, it's the only time you really reach a truly closed system. I'd also agree that starting from a resources and a physical limits constraint is right (we're not likely to change these).

However I'd contend that as we hit peak/demand<>supply crossover the system enters a new phase and becomes highly complex, non-linear, and possibly out of control entirely. Taking nice proportional behaviours as a basis seems troubling.

The oil cost example is an interesting one. We know that price will rise to push out demand. However we also know that the impact of price rises on demand is connected to what the price history is, what else money is being spent on, which countries have the least leeway. Throw in some exportland, some 'non renegotiable' wars and some planned economic warfare and its difficult to know of oil will be $70 or $700 in only one year's time. I can make an argument for either. That in itself casts all other relationships in the model into question (can't scale solar PV if the economy collapses).

I'd be happier to see such a model married up to a 'wargame' with some really sneaky players (which is something I've been thinking about). That might delineate the parameters of the gamespace.

You mean combining it with a Department of Defense wargame simulation, like this?

Well, that's nice marketing spin for an agent based sim, but I was thinking more of sneaky humans working out the tricks of the new game scenario - akin to this:,3604,786992,00.html

We all know that one of the expected behaviours of a post peak world is for producers to artificially constrict supply even further, to push up prices and maintain reserves even longer. What other behaviours are likely? Are alternatives strangled at birth to keep the lights on today? What's credible with realistic decision types?

After all, the Easter islanders could have turned the last trees into boats and escaped, rather than burn them for firewood and to create statutes.

I have also given thought to an agent based modeling approach to understand the behavioral response (or lack thereof) to peak oil.

Think for a minute about the major players (agents) in such a model--and what drives them. There are oil companies, who seek to maximize shareholder value. Higher prices generate short-term profits, but long-term value depends on the value of their reserves.

Then there are oil producing (net exporting) countries, who depend on oil revenues to maintain their economies. Their access to oil also gives them a bargaining chip in the world, but also makes them vulnerable to invasion by large, oil consuming countries (i.e. the next agent described).

Major oil consuming (net importing) countries have their own set of agendas. Their economies are / were built by cheap oil. Without cheap oil, their massive economies come to a screetching halt. Leaders in these countries may (or may not) understand the gravity of the energy situation, however, are personally motivated to stay in power. The need for votes may contrain what they are able or willing to do.

Then there are investors, who seek to maximize short and long term financial returns. However, their decisions are only as good as the information they are provided. In the case of oil, much of this information is provided by estimates and forecasts by major oil companies, oil exporters and oil consuming nations.

For each of the described agents (and there are more), several key question stand out. 1. Are each of these agents aware of the peak oil threat? 2. If so, what is their likely response based on what motivates them? 3. How do the combined responses work together to explain our current situation? 4. What are the likely scenarios going forward?

Simple rules, but complex outcomes to be sure!


Edit - I left out one of the most important agents--John or Jane Q Public.

GaryP and others,
I will borrow a line from Meadows & Meadows in "Limits to Growth" since it's eminently applicable here: the results of these modeling efforts are NOT PREDICTIONS, but rather project the consequences of a specific combination of starting conditions and certain events that take place, or decisions that are made, in the course of a scenario run.

Clearly we can't, and will not attempt to, anticipate international political events and social movements. We can't model what George Bush or Vladamir Putin are thinking, and all that moves nations to make war or peace. Furthermore we can't predict breakthroughs in the development or price of enzymes for cellulosic ethanol, or anticipate a novel application of nanotech to boost solar PV efficiency or make its power price-competitive with hydroelectric or coal-based electrical power.

But, with real-world constraints and best-available EROI data built in, the model can tell us what is possible if we, as a nation or group of nations, decided on specific directions and policies and our progress is then bounded by those constraints. Do you want to pave the Mojave Desert with silicon solar cells? How much polysilicon will that take, how much silver for the contacts, and is there the physical and financial capital to accomplish that? If you propose to expand the output of tar sands to quadruple its present levels, what are the implications for water and natural gas in Canada? How much CO2 will be emitted? How fast can we really ramp up biofuels given the competition between fuel and food for hectares of farmland?

Variations in starting conditions are exemplified by (for example) comparing scenario runs using the ASPO estimates for oil and gas reserves and undiscovered, vs. EIA or CERA data.

Here's another way of looking at it: there's a lot of hype out there, and "world models" in the heads of John and Jane Q. Citizen, that convinces them that everything's going to be hunky-dory because John read about a new solar PV material that gets 42% efficiency in Popular Science. It's part and parcel of his world belief structure, which is non-numerical, vastly incomplete, and quite incapable of projecting the consequences (including all the "unintended" ones) of energy policy decisions. A world energy model should be able to do a better job in most respects, and should generate a collection of results that people can begin to agree on. It won't stop all the arguments, but it should at least focus them and help promote critical thinking.

The project must acknowledge that when we project substantial declines in flows of fossil fuels due to depletion, we're entering a supply / demand regime for which we have little history to compare with, and to develop relationships between energy supply, price, and elasticity of demand. Estimates of the linkage strengths between GDP and energy also become increasingly problematic as we move into uncharted energy-supply territory.

This is a big multi-year project. We will need additional funding to expand its scope to global (from North America), and we want to challenge the best minds in the business to look at what we're doing, and help us make it better. It won't answer every question, but I believe it will be a valuable tool for policy decisions and to educate ourselves about our energy choices.

We will launch a new site in the next week or two for comments and discussion dedicated to the energy model. I will work with Nate and others to make sure the links and other information are available to TheOilDrum readers.

Looking forward to all your comments!

- Dick Lawrence

We will develop the world energy model as an “open source” project – anyone with Internet access will be able to run the model and view the results of scenario runs.

That's not what "open source" means. Open source would mean that saavy users could get the source and hack it - add in whatever other parameters they wanted. Want to blow this wide open? Do that.

LTG3 kept talking about their model, sounding like it would be available somewhere. Maybe it is now, but it was not when I first got the book. Lost opportunity - not because I'd have done much with it - but someone much smarter than I would have.

Estimates of the linkage strengths between GDP and energy also become increasingly problematic as we move into uncharted energy-supply territory.

GDP won't be helpful. You will have to develop a different benchmark. Maybe a "footprint" or a composite of resources, sinks and throughputs. GDP masks that - turning sinks into benefits (where prices go up) and ignoring resources (clean air and water). If you use GDP and dollars, you might find there is enough in all those hedge funds to pave the Sahara with solar cells. The EROEI of a hedge fund and derivative, global finance - that's going to be interesting.

cfm in Gray, ME

The World3 model is available on CD. I picked it up from Amazon.

Jon Freise

Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

I purchased the World3 model CD, but was rather disappointed. The main item is a program that lets you choose one of the 10 canned scenarios and run it. This lets you look at the scenarios in more detail (you can get various charts or all the raw numbers) and compare them.

But you can't alter the model at all. Given the complexity of the model, this is perhaps a reasonable choice. I doubt it is easy to alter just a few initial values and parameters in such a complex model in a way that makes sense, unless you understand the entire model and have had some training in this type of modeling.

You can look at the model, sort of. But all you get is a large picture of tons of circles and arrows, with indecipherable variable names like "del ind out pc 40". No legend for what the various pieces are, no explanation of what the boxes, circles, and arrows mean (beyond the variable names).

It does seem to be open source. If you have a spare $1899 you can get a copy of Stella, the simulation software the model runs on. (You can also get a free save-disabled trial version that expires in 30 days).

What would I like to see? More detailed explanations of: the model elements and how they fit together. Probably the LTG folks have papers in journals that go over all this stuff -- I admit I haven't searched for it yet.

I consider these modeling efforts to be critically important for high-level decision makers to "get it" that everything is interrelated and you can't just try to force one problem (energy for example) to go away and ignore the others.

But for these models to have the requisite credibility they MUST be open for scrutiny. I expect that experts in different fields will scrutinize how the model treats their field, and render an opinion on how realistic the model is in that sub-area (e.g. population, or agriculture, or energy).

And generalists (like many of us at TheOilDrum) who have some appreciation of modeling should be able to get into the details as well.

It sounds like Mr. Lawrence has these goals in mind:

One goal of the project is to develop a simple game-like user interface that makes the model accessible to those without experience in modeling complex systems. Others with more expertise will be able to go into the model, understand how it works (“transparency” is another goal), and develop their own scenarios. Model users from around the world will be able to communicate with each other using a web site dedicated to model discussion, modification, and operation.

I'm interested in the "more expertise" version. However, the game version could be important for spreading the word. Have you considered contacting Will Wright, the creator of The Sims videogame? He did a game called SimEarth in 1990.

Finally, here is a disclaimer paragraph from the LTG CDROM:

The ten scenarios published in the book and presented on the CD are World3-03 scenarios. If you import the equations into STELLA and make changes in the model to conduct experiments with other assumptions, you are not any more working with World3-03, and you should not represent your results as coming from our model.

You can see their point. They don't want people altering their model and then claiming the results are "from the LTG World3 model". Openness has its consequences.

Don't try to predict the future. Get ready for it.

The Limits to Growth study was published with the intent of shaking the world and raise awareness about sustainability issues.
At the recent International System Dynamics conference (Boston Jul 29, Aug 3), Jay Forrester, Jorgen Sanders, and Dennis Meadows have repeated once again that their intent was to stimulate a discussion among different groups. They also admitted that they completely failed and could not reach their main goal (i.e. change policy making) because most of the people (mainly scientists and academia) kept undermining their study without trying to understand it.

Nowadays we can certainly do better, maybe without gaining much visibility, but assuring transparency and openness.

Simulation models usually are not open source because most of the people can easily misunderstand their results and simulate unrealistic scenarios that can undermine models' validity.

What we are doing with this model is to use full and extended variable names and provide tools (the user interface) that allow to review the main structure of the model at no cost.
A full documentation of the USA model is already available (about 500 pages) and will be updated in occasion of the release of the North America model.

In spite of all the effort we put in this project, I expect furious criticism from some reviewers of the model. Modelers speak different (modeling) languages, economists have their own concepts and theories, etc. Unless we use a common framework and we try to understand each other there will be no collaboration on interrelated but still diverse issues.



Dear All,

My name is Andrea Bassi and I am one of the modelers working at this project. I will be constantly checking the discussion on this thread and will try to answer all questions. I may not be able to answer every single question or comment on every sentence, my apologies for that. Please fell free to write me an email if needed, though it would be good to keep the discussion on this forum to allow everyone to follow the discussion.

The tool chosen by ASPO-USA consist in an integrated model linking Society, Economy and Environment into one framework. The Millennium Institute has developed the T21 model over the past 24 years, in collaboration in the early phases with various professors and practitioners (e.g. MIT, Dartmouth College, Albany NY, etc.) More info at

T21 differs from optimization models in many ways, in fact it does not simply aim at optimizing the energy flow to minimize costs but is adds behavioral components (it looks both at the demand and supply side). The structure of the system analyzed is represented within a broad framework and causal relationship and feedback loops are the foundation of the methodology used. For this reason the model does not heavily rely on data and can capture transitions. A preliminary report on T21-USA is available at with an extensive explanation of the behavior of a few simulation runs.

The model is based on differential equations and it is characterized by nonlinearity, delays and a dynamic behavior created through the accumulation of flows into stocks (e.g. identified reserve -stock- oil recovery -flow- and cumulative production -stock-).
The structure of the model is built on causal relationships. Causality is the foundation of the model and correlation is one of its outputs.
Thanks to this approach, the model aims at representing reality by accounting for feedback loops (both reinforcing and balancing) observable in nature. Simulating new scenarios is also very easy and it takes about 10 seconds to simulate a 70 years period on a regular laptop (the USA model is available on MI’s website, no need to buy ay software to install it and run it). The model is transparent and we can always track changes and justify the behavior of the model.

Just to give you an idea of how the model works, population dynamics are generated by the accumulation of births, deaths, and migration into the stock of population (this stock is disaggregated into 82 age cohorts to calculate fertile women, labor force, social security and medicare beneficiaries, etc). Fertility (and births) is influenced by, among others, income, which together with emissions influences also mortality. Oil price, for instance, is influenced by the availability or oil reserves (both in the short term and in the longer term) in the US and the rest of the world (ROW), by demand/supply balance. Oil price has an impact on the economy, through total factor productivity, and on energy demand for electricity, oil and its substitutes.

T21 start simulating in 1980 and ends in 2050. The structure of the models aims at reproducing historical data until 2006 and then projecting future trends until 2050. Short-term oscillations are not the focus on this modeling exercise, we are looking at medium and longer term implications and project 5 to 10 years trends.

One of the goals of this project is to produce a policy tool able to inform policy making. For this reason a number of policy variables are included in the model and users can test their own assumptions and policies. The outcome of these changes will then be compared to the baseline scenario for the four main spheres of the model: Energy, Society, Economy and the Environment.
Since some of you mentioned games, we have been thinking of creating a game, SimCity-like, where users have to create their own future at the national and global level. The difference between the ASPO-USA model and a game, is basically the interface. SimCity and similar games are based on causality, the same foundation of the methodology used here. Users of T21-North America can simulate different assumptions and policies, we are working at a fully interactive interface (thanks to the ESF team for all the good work done so far!) and hopefully we will be able to work at a real videogame (most probably we will be working at a serious game).
Agent based is certainly an interesting methodology to do so, but it does not allow to understand where the behavior of the model comes from (please let me know if you would like to have a paper explaining the differences and similarities of system dynamics and agent based modeling). In fact, ABM builds on emergence, such an intriguing phenomena. On the other hand, our approach consist in transparency and full replicability, therefore we always want to know what facts generated a change with respect to the base scenario.

As Dick mentioned, we cannot forecast breakthrough in technology improvement of political crises. What we can do is to allow you to simulate such events in every given year of the simulation (2007 to 2050 –past events cannot be changes, but initial conditions such as total oil in place can be modified). Major improvements in oil recovery or energy efficiency (on top of what is simulated endogenously by the model) can be tested. In addition, in the T21-USA report you can find the simulation of the loss of 15% of world oil recoverable reserves (let’s say due a crisis in the Middle East). The consequences shown by the model are many: jump on oil price, higher exploration and recovery (due to the higher profitability of such investments), decline in GDP growth and energy demand, peak oil taking place earlier in time (with respect to the base case), faster transition towards renewable resources (a 5 years delay is considered to account for capacity and infrastructure building) and long term negative economic implications.

As any other model, T21 is a simplified representation of reality and it is not perfect (there is no such thing as a perfect model). This is still a work in progress and a preliminary North America version will be presented in Houston in October. Both the Millennium Institute and the ESF team are working hard to refine and improve the structure of the model and also collecting good data series.

To clarify a point on “open source”: anyone can have access to the source code of the model. In order to change it, you need to have Vensim (which has a very intuitive and user friendly interface) or be a good programmer in C. Dick was erroneously referring to the user version, which allows users to simulate various assumptions and policies without buying any software.

The model calculates carbon footprint and biocapacity. A large range of indicators can be used to “speak the language of different groups”.

John Freise and all, the World 3 model is also available for free for those who have Vensim for Ventana Systems. Let me know if you need more info on this.

Any reference or data that you think may be useful would be very helpful. We want to build an consistent model, able to identify unintended consequences and future paths of today’s choices. In order to do so we need to bring together very different schools of though and make them communicate with a single framework. We believe that T21 is such a tool, and will do our best to reach our goals.

We greatly appreciate your contribution and feedback, please keep posting and please asking questions. This is very helpful and will help us come up with a good model!

Andrea Bassi,

Millennium Institute

OK, I'll throw one suggestion in here. Template a model of a prototype country, the various factors, interconnections within the country, etc. Then instantiate it for each country around the globe - with decision making on a per country basis and interconnections between individual country elements overlaid on top.

That way not only can you easily built the model from bottom up in an OO way to take account of the different situations of each country (reserves, fuel usage, sunlight, philosophy) - you can put a human in charge of each countries options and play an energy 'wargame' relatively easily.

You just to the point!
This is very similar to the project plan we are developing. The idea was to start with a North America model because the USA model was already being developed and because being an ASPO-USA project it would be nice to have a North America module well defined and hopefully used in the US.

The next step, Phase 2, include the creation of 5 additional regional models, aggregated and showing the big picture.

Phase 3 would consist in the creation of national models.

Both national and regional models are based on a starting framework and are then customized to represent specific country issues/characteristics.

The best outcome of the whole project would be to have students working from all over the world collecting data and updating the models year by year.

Hello Ms. Bassi,

Could you recommend any introductory textbooks in this field? (With math included please). Do you know of any detailed explanations of the World3 model? What kind of background is needed to work in this field?

BTW, for any TOD'ers who might want to learn more about computer models in general, check my website: Contains simple physics simulations, interactive and real-time, with full math explanations and source code.

Don't try to predict the future. Get ready for it.

There are many books that can be useful to learn System Dynamics. The one I would recommend is certainly Business Dynamics (John D. Sterman).

This is considered to be THE book by most practicioners and professors. It contains an extensive explanation of the foundations of the methodology, it is well written and easy to follow.

There is no specific indication on the background. System Dynamics (SD) is a methodology, not a science, therefore it can be applied to a variety of fields. At the University of Bergen, Norway, where a full 2 years Master degree is offered, there are students coming from all over the world and with all educational backgrounds: economics, engineering, psychology, environmental science, sociology, etc.

SD aims at representing the structure of the system analyzed: this can be a supply chain, our brain, the economy, oil production, etc.

ps. It's Mr. Bassi (I am Italian)

I've checked the T-21 software available on your website (very nice work BTW):

You are predicting prices above $50 only after 2015 (it seems that your historical data stops in 2003-2004, already prices will probably average $70 for 2007):

World production will peak around 2022 at 36 Gb/year (~99 mbpd) which is assuming an URR around 2.8-3.0 Tb, the post peak decline seems also pretty steep:

1. How did you model the different oil production sources (tar sands, shale oil, etc.)?
2. Can you produce error intervals?

Thank you for taking the time to look at the work already done on the USA model.

My answer to your questions follow:
1) Unconventional oil is not in the model yet, it will be included in the North America model, with tar sands in Canada mainly. Nevertheless, if you are aware of a good report or data series on production, reserves, and cost of unconventional oil, please forward it and I will try to add it before the presentation in October.
The graph you see is only showing conventional oil and liquid gas.

2) Every output of the model can be exported in MS Excel, therefore we can produce error interval. A large set of statistical tools are also available (e.g. R2)

A few comments on the graph for those who have not read the report:
a) Oil price is in real dollars (2000 is the base year). This is one of the reasons why the oil price seems lower in 2007 than it already is.
b) With T21 we project medium to longer term (5 to 10 years trends). As a consequence we look at the average price over a period longer than a year and we do not represent short term oscillations. Oil price already reached $70/bbl last year, but the average annual price in real terms was just a little above $50/barrel.
c)Historical data stop in 2007 (using the average of the first 6 months of the current year). Vertical lines in the graph show 5 years intervals.
d) We decided not to represent the oil price shock of the 80s. This is due to the fact that we want to represent the structure of the system analyzed and that shock was generated by exogenous decisions/events. Nevertheless shocks can be introduced to the model as we show towards the end of our report.
e) World oil production can change significantly when simulating different quantities of oil originally in place. Consequently URR changes as well. We ran a sensitivity analysis (Monte Carlo simulation) to show what would be the case of higher (USGS and Cambridge) or lower (ASPO) resource in place. More on this will be presented in the new report coming out in October.
f) the decline depends on technology (influenced by, among others, investment) and reserves available. The base run assumes that biofuels are available as needed, but with a 5-years delay for capacity building. This partially explains why production declines this quickly.

A nice feature of the model is that you can test different assumptions and policies and create your own scenario in less than 20 seconds. I encourage you to play with the model and to look at our presentation (July 16, New America Foundation). This would help you understand how the model works and how you can get the best out of it.

Thank you again for taking the time to review our work, any comment or suggestion on how to improve it is highly welcome!



d) We decided not to represent the oil price shock of the 80s. This is due to the fact that we want to represent the structure of the system analyzed and that shock was generated by exogenous decisions/events. Nevertheless shocks can be introduced to the model as we show towards the end of our report.

I would dispute exogenous, particularly of a global model. The very relationships and behaviours you seek to model and understand are mediated by such decisions/events. I would go so far as to say if they are not in your model at a ground floor level, then your model will only demonstrate gradual, differential, processes. The important factors in the domain you are seeking to understand will be mediated by shocks and discontinuities.

As a 'for instance', a decision to implement a widescale coal-to-liquids programme will not be a differential effect, it will be driven by a shock event that changes the political and economic landscape. That shock event will in itself be driven by other events. Even though these are discrete events, the circumstances and timings will be tightly controlled so as to make it essentially non random.

Your model needs to deal with that.

A model cannot project a political transition or random events (unless the causes for such events can clearly be identified). What we can do is to be create a flexible model that can be easily modified beforehand (if users want to simulate various scenarios) or when such events happen.
Tipping points and minor shocks are still represented, but as you mentioned, are a result of other effects and not exogenous decisions.

In addition, if the shock has a short/medium term impact and the system follows long term trends, our approach results to be still valid.
When we refer to long term projections we want to show what are the long term implications of certain actions (e.g. policies that trigger long term change). It takes time for policies to be effective and we want to show general trends: which direction will the system take if we apply this policy?

Taking the example of the 80s, what are in your opinion the main causes for the price shock? Are they structural?

Mr. Lawrence wrote:

...the results of these modeling efforts are NOT PREDICTIONS, but rather project the consequences of a specific combination of starting conditions and certain events that take place, or decisions that are made, in the course of a scenario run.

Let me paraphrase, and then give my objection. What you (and Dennis Meadows et al) mean to say is roughly:

"We aren't trying to make exact predictions of the future. We only want to show how everything is interrelated, and you can't go on forever at the current rate."

There are a couple problems here. I get it, that you don't want to be tied to specific predictions about specific events at specific dates. You aren't even trying to do that.

But if there is no predictive power, why should anyone pay attention at all?

Mr. Lawrence, you need to face it: these models DO make predictions! They are just very different sorts of predictions from what people are used to.

If, in the 1970s, LTG (Limits To Growth) did not present it's "standard run" showing collapse happening around 2050, then nobody would have ever heard of LTG.

I understand that there were all kinds of distortion in the press of the LTG results. Obviously you want to avoid that. But the best way to do so is to tackle this head-on.

The prediction that the "standard run" makes is this: if we continue with BAU (business as usual) then our future is collapse.

Meadows et al hurry to provide disclaimers. "We did not consider it (the standard run) to be the most probable future, and we certainly didn't present it as a prediction. It was just a place to start, a base for comparison." (p. 168 of LTG- 30 yr update)

I think this is a mistake. I understand the difficulty in communicating what these models do through the blunt instrument of the press. But please, don't water down your results in this way.

Of course, BAU is unlikely. It is likely that some of the measures that LTG describes will take place to some degree. And of course exact prediction is not possible.

I encourage you to find some other ways to say this. Maybe something like this: "The default collapse scenario is in no way a specific prediction about timing. But it is a general prediction, that if we continue BAU then we run up against limits and the consequences are severe. Most importantly, it is a tool for people to use to imagine the likely effects of policy changes."

Meadows et al boil it down to four bullet points following this sentence (p. 177 of LTG-30)

In summary, here are the central assumptions in the World3 model that give it a tendency to overshoot and collapse. If you wish to disagree with our model, our thesis, our book, or our conclusions, these are the points to contest:

(emphasis is theirs). They go on to list the essential features of the model: growth is desired & tends to be exponential; there are limits to sources and sinks; signals are distorted, delayed or denied; limits are erodable when overstressed, and there are strong non-linearities.

If these points could become widely known it would be a good start to having a future.

Best wishes for your project. I eagerly look forward to seeing the results.

Don't try to predict the future. Get ready for it.

I agree with your argumentations, though there are some additional comments to make.

Modelers use to talk about "projections" and not "estimations" to acknowledge the limitations of their models. Also, in this specific case (global energy model) we look at medium to long term trends, that is why we will most probably not capture every single data point from 1980 to 2006. As a consequence, talking about estimations is not 100% correct.

At the same time, as you said, we do make projections for the future hoping that the results of the model can contribute to change some of today's policy making mechanisms.

A second though is about the use of a model. If we simulate a scenario and publish an article on it, most of the readers will assume that that scenario represents our point of view. The consequence is then straight forward: some like it and some others discard it, no discussion.
On the other hand, with T21 we want to let the users play their own scenarios and engage confrontation.
We would like to build a non partisan, objective model and allow different users to discuss about their assumptions and suggested policies. This one of the reasons why, in my opinion, it is good to focus on projections, making sure that there is no misunderstanding about the results of the model.
If then ASPO-USA or any other organization wants to publish a scenario that represents their ideas, that can be done but as you said it has to be stated clearly.

Copied from a Drumbeat post:

My simplistic Export Land Model (ELM), for a hypothetical country, shows that from peak production and peak exports, only about 10% of future production would be exported, with consumption equal to 50% of production at peak. Starting from peak production/peak exports in the ELM, net exports during the peak year would represent about 18% of all remaining future net exports.

Regarding real data, my guess is that we are now consuming, worldwide on an annual basis, between 5% and 10% of all the oil that will ever be exported.

Note that the decline rate in net exports should accelerate with time.
Russian Car Sales & Net Oil Exports
Posted by Khebab on June 9, 2007 - 8:46am
This a guest post by Jeffrey J. Brown (westexas)


The following story about booming Russian car sales is a perfect example of the “Export Land” Model, where rising domestic consumption in exporting countries can overwhelm increases in oil production, resulting in lower net oil exports.

As I warned in January, 2006 (see my article, “Net Oil Exports Revisited”), net oil exports by all of the top three net oil exporters (Saudi Arabia, Russia and Norway) fell from 2005 to 2006 (EIA data). Based on the following article, since 2002, foreign car sales in Russia have been increasing at the rate of about 50% per year (doubling about every 1.4 years). I wonder what effect this is having on gasoline consumption in Russia?

I would like to interact with the modelers on my proposals.

1) My -10% Plan (I understated the savings since my proposed infrastructure has Elasticity of Supply)

and a subset with more details

My own estimate is that after a 4 to 5 year "delay" just Electrified Rail can offset -1.5% oil use with a roughly 20 BTUs of oil to 1 BTU of electricity (18 to 1 is an equally good #). This is a modified BAU approach with modest declines in oil availability and investing about $70 billion/year.

If things get worse than that, "adjustments can be made" with USA 1897-1916 as a model of a low energy maximum effort response (ties of concrete or recycled plastic instead of wood). Lots of labor, little oil.

2) My unpublished efforts for designing a non-GHG North American electrical grid.

My eMail is in the link to my name.

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake


You're right that the Export Land hypothesis of your's and Khebab's is a simplistic explanation, and Ace's Import Land hypothesis is another simplistic hypothesis, although it's an important advance.

The problem is that any scientific theory makes assumptions before we gather data, it's a problem of perspective. It takes keen judgement just to know what data is essential to frame a question. And, on something as complex as this, the situation changes very rapidly as the data is gathered.

Here's an example. I think that Pemex's announcement that they will have no oil to export in seven years, and Venezuela's announcement that their exports will end in two years are perfect support that your Export Land Theory is correct. But, the 5% rate of decline that you used in your model is inaccurate, and the Pemex and PDVSA figures are not correct either. They are both dependent on internal consumption expansion, which will go on only if we avoid a depression, and accurate modeling of their field depletion rates, and country depletion rates, plus the changing economics as the sales price increases because shortages, or decreases because of recession/depression in the customer's economies.

In other words, it's so complex that the problem resembles modeling a hurricane landfall spot and intensity forecast as the storm is headed our way.

The geopolitical considerations color our perceptions too. We are very likely to lose all our Mideast bases if we leave Iraq, and its quite possible that no American company will be allowed to purchase Mideast oil. They may decide to sell all the remaining exports to the Chinese, who haven't interfered in their politics. If there is a very limited supply, the OPEC members could pick and choose their customers, just like the US did when we cut off exports to the Japanese and Germans before WWII.

Is the CIA and the military modeling that? They damn sure need to be. How can a model like the Export land hypothesis include that type of scenario, especially when the problem is happening in real time?

So any rate, as Oat Willie said, "Onward through the fog". I'm just glad we have fine minds like yours, Khebab's, Stuart's and Nate's working on various aspects of the problem. Meanwhile, the US congress and president dither away with no comprehension of the serious nature of the problem.

Bob Ebersole

Thank you westexas, for continuing to remind us of the terror of peak exports. Which is true, and a whole lot more scary than peak oil - or even peak net energy from oil.

"America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting." William S. Burroughs

I'm currently finishing a paper that I will present parts of at ASPO on a framework for alternative energy supply. We need to consider scale (scale encompasses what we refer to here as EROI, net energy, energy suplus, and energy gain in the Tainteresque sense, etc), flow rates (and scale times flow equals power), timing, environmental impacts, and energy quality. Quality is a very nuanced concept and includes such things as gravimetric density, volumetric density (precluding using hydrogen with current technology), geographic distribution, volatility and intermittency, and existing fixed societal infrastructure.

How many BTUs we have and how many we can get to market to provide energy services are important questions, but all BTUs are not created equal. A cheetah will expend energy to kill and eat an antelope, but would have a very low, probably sub-unity energy return when faced with a horse. A 2nd century tribesman in Saudi Arabia would have little use for refined gasoline but great use for a horse. If I had to ride a horse to visit my girlfriend, I'd never make it, but can make it in a few hours using liquid petroleum or gasahol, etc.

This Modeling Project is a great and important idea. But also a tall task. Its a shame that some arm of the government can't fund this venture with resources, both financial and human.

Hello TODers,

Big Kudos to Dick Lawrence and ASPO for this giant modeling effort. As an ex-DEC & ex-INTEL employee myself: I can understand the enormous difficulty of the software and hardware requirements to supercluster/supercomputer this simulation effort.

IMO, this effort is essential to help fulfill Asimov's Foundation concepts of predictive collapse and directed decline to help optimize the traverse through the Bottleneck Squeeze.

Another fundamental Asimov concept was that the First Foundation was to be hidden.

If the Pentagon/CIA/NSA, in covert cooperation with the global PTB [MI-6?, KGB?, UN?, NATO?, China's chiefs?, global milgov industrial complex? etc,etc??] has their own giant and hidden modeling program already ongoing: I would consider this to be Asimov's 'First Foundation', and the ASPO effort to be Asimov's 'Second Foundation'. Imagine the penalties for trying to hack the source code for military computational logistics planning.

Since I am a huge fan of universal Peakoil Outreach, maybe an open-source Foundation could be much more efficient at bootstrapping the Paradigm Shift and the sequential and cascading Overshoot blowback ramifications.

The resulting competition between the First and Second Foundations was very useful in the ground-breaking and truly landmark Asimov book series. Maybe the same dynamic applies to our little blue marble--Who Knows???

EDIT: please don't compare me with 'The Mule':

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

IIRC, The first foundation was public, but remote at the edge of the galaxy. The second foundation was hidden, even from the first foundation.

i would like to throw some interesting q's out there.

how are future developments in metallurgical silicon processing going to be modelled?

I ask this because the limiting agent in PV production is the 1ppt - 1ppm defect level silicon shortage. If 1ppm defect levels become 10x less costly, then man oh man will solar take off.

Future Maximum wind turbine size? i believe the record is 6MW rated capacity, at 140 m radius.

Care to comment on power companies not accepting overage from wind turbines? (this is actually why capacity factor is limited to ~34% if the overages were acceptable, then 55% capacity factor could be achieved) If overages become accepted, within a couple months the world realized wind generation will step function up ~60% in one swoop.

everyone feel free to comment.

I think the reason that the power companies do not accept overage is that their base load generators, using mostly coal, make them a profit. But coal generators take a long time to build up generating capacity- I've heard about a day from a cold start, and they take a while to wind down, probably about a day again. So they have to keep their base load generator operating at at least 1/2 capacity all the time to be effective to provide a back up power.

That's one of the main reasons I favor nuclear for a base load generator, its a shorter time to full capacity. But its a big failing with wind-you have to have more capacity at peak winds than you can sell, so that at slow wind speeds you are providing the minimum to the system.

But I also think that to use the extra power generated, we need some work that can be intermittent. Something like pumped water storage, or desalinisation of salt water and brackish water, or possibly hydrogen manufacture by electrolysis. Bob Ebersole

consider if the grid maintained large vacuum chamber low friction flywheels like those that NASA uses (except they are several hundred times more massive). Currently large flywheels are used for pulsed power supplies.

These flywheels hold energy at low costs and high densities. (Specific power is rated to the motor, specific energy is >1MJ/kg, the greatest of any battery system.)

For a 60% doubling in capacity (heck even giving 20% of the increased capacity to costs involved with the flywheels) you still make out like a bandit in the long run.

I'm glad you brought up water desalination, makes sense to me, either that or even air fractionation plants, all these plants could run quite comfortably on the excess.

i fully agree that nuclear is the baseload. hydro is typically not large enough for most countries, (canada, norway, sweden, finland and probably brazil excepted)

I would also like to point out that if one side of the continent has large wind, the other probably won't so electricity can simply be sent off. The system is chaotic, but spread out enough inputs and it smooths out.

" if the overages were acceptable, then 55% capacity factor could be achieved"

I haven't heard of that. I thought wind farms commonly produced up to 85% of their peak output, and that utilities accepted that input.

Could you provide more detail, perhaps links, on that?

FWIW, I briefly participated in this project earlier this year. I was contacted by Dick Lawrence about potentially contributing my experience as a multimedia developer on the "game-like" interface mentioned in the article. Towards that end I set up an informal blog here and laid out my thoughts on what direction the game design should take ("Design Thoughts I - IV").

I'm honestly a little surprised to see this project is still kicking, after participating in one or two conference calls I suddenly stopped receiving any e-mails from them. I had assumed the project had gone defunct, but now I can see that I was merely dropped from it without notice.

No worries, I still think it's a great idea and I wish them the best of luck, especially in overcoming the overwhelmingly negative stigma attached that other modeling project: "The Limits To Growth".


Perhaps I run in different circles (well, actually I know I do), but I thought some people were favorably impressed by Limits to Growth analysis.

So was I, but from what I've seen that puts us in the minority. I've lost count the number of times I've seen otherwise intelligent people writing on the nature of our predicament (energy and otherwise) who meticulously list all of the reasons why they think LTG "got it wrong". Usually in the same paragraph that they "debunk" Malthus.


Are there any online links to this reference? Possibly downloadable and free. That's asking a lot, I know.

Can you be more specific? I'm not sure which reference you are, um, referring to.


Here is a review (try google limits to growth review for more)

Jon Freise

Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

That's it...thank you!

Me too...I was wondering what had become of it! I remember suggesting a SIM game around this data at the first ASPO-USA conference in 2005. My own efforts to round up resources & work on data models ended in dead ends though, so I'm very glad to see this effort is still under way, whoever's doing it. If they can make it really stand up and do tricks, it could be just the thing we need to change the dialogue about energy. Best hopes for its success!

Energy consultant, writer, blogger

I'm glad to hear someone is attempting this sort of detailed global model. Looking forward to seeing the results.

This a great endeavor, looking forward. //

Psychologists have been trying to model real human behavior in a complex world (as opposed to eg. risk taking in a delimited, invented, lab type situation; micro-behaviors in a pre-set frame; social influence with scenarios where subjects are patsies, and so on..) well, since they became psychologists.

They have: a) cut situations down (which always implies pre-conditions or starting conditions) in the hope of b) uncovering ‘rules’, generalities, principles, or even ‘laws’ similar to physical ones. That has given us a hodge podge of weak ‘constants,' such as classical conditioning (Pavlov), the description of ‘paranoid thought’, various learning curves, limits /thresholds (limits to perception, for. ex), common fallacies (eg. standard mistakes in conditional reasoning), the list could go on, and on.

Because of the ‘scientification’ (wd?) of psychology, a stab at respectability within traditions that are at heart structuralist and rest on quantification for method, thru borrowing from the physical sciences, qualitative studies have been brushed to the side, or kicked away elsewhere, for ex. to literary studies, history, marketing.

The relevant fields are social (group) psychology, organizational psychology, and the study of persuasion, propaganda, influence. But the body of work here imho cannot furnish predictions in labile real-world situations that are grounded on past results or theory; it is seat-of-the-pants with cherry picking...and it is usually those who know the real world domain and somehow have good gut feelings and/or some insider info who make the correct predictions, just as in everyday life.

So....: gamers, actors, deciders, etc. working in a space which is virtual, or has few real life consequences (some dollars may be won or lost but one’s pyjamas and hamster will not be raptured) may show trends, or point to interesting decision making phenomena, may contribute to understanding the ‘reasoning’ applied, may reveal scams, tricks, not thought of before, etc. but their actions will not mirror real-life decisions at all.

Pretty obvious somewhat tangential sorry for length hope of interest all the same.

Tainter, Diamond - they consider themselves anthropologists. Add that to list of fields. The dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative exists there too.

Perhaps some portfolio theory could enter into the model as well. Research on human risk preferences has been honed and refined in academic financial circles. We dont just care about mean return but care about risk. Including a 'risk adjusted return' in your model may be more meaningful than a certain amount of energy production availability. Utilities would probably much prefer 100 BTUs of consistent energy than 300 BTUs every other period. So 'asset allocation' and portfolio theory, which have been refined to measure perhaps how humans respond to what they most 'care' about, might be of value. Clearly this would apply to base load nuclear/wind/etc. Perhaps this is being done already.

Hi Nate,

Very good suggestion, it would be interesting to add a risk analysis to the model.

Do you have any reference material on the topic? Are you aware of any attempt to model risk at a national and global level?

I would certainly like to talk more about this topic.



(Anthropologists. yes.)

Yes that is offshoot of game theory and social psychology. (Or independent, but then I am a psychologist!) However the role of ‘risk’, and its calculation or import to humans, operates here in a very circumscribed domain, an area where all kinds of rules apply, and where volatility or change can be estimated, or guessed at, it is believed. It is armchair risk (like a game) although it can have dire real life consequences, such as going broke.

It is risk instanciated in a symbolic medium - money which represents value.
I’m not trying to reject or dismiss, much of this work is fascinating and mathematically complex, highly interesting, just stating it is narrow in application, and tells us little about decision making in-on-the-ground life such as deciding to subsidize ethanol plants or not, rationing health care in this or that way, or not, changing primary school education, or even individual decisions such as that to marry, buy a certain car, take up organic farming...etc. And the reaction to ‘peak oil’ rests in a large part on the second type of decisions.

I’m not denying that ‘economics’ play a big role, only that it is worthwhile to think about distinctions and separations. Full disclosure: I do believe that the ‘capitalistic’ race for ‘profit’ (heh, all those inverted commas) often get in the way of principled, long term decisions.

One famous (Nobel laureate) and very good author whom I like is Daniel Khaneman, a good ex. of the complexity from the ‘academic’ end on these kinds of issues.

Daniel, wiki

on edit - one typo

Nate, another excellent report. I cannot fault the report, and the need for projections and modeling is great indeed. However, I feel like any efforts we make on the energy front are moot if we do nothing to limit population growth and eventually get it down to a sustainable level. I know this has been discussed in previous TOD articles. Like bacteria, we will always expand to suck up all available energy unless governments collectively agree to manage world population.

No where in the world do I see much spine to do the right things regarding energy policy and CO2 gas emissions, much less address the religious and taboo issues surrounding population management. The day will come within my grandchildren's lifetime when the consequences of inaction will hurt far worse than trying to grab the bull by the horns today.


Limits To Growth - the 30 Year Update addresses the issues you bring up. They don't envision population "control". Instead, they rely on what they call "the demographic transition". It means that when a country gets rich enough, the birth rate drops. This is explicitly included in their World3 model. The solutions they propose rely on developing countries to develop and reach this demographic transition (along with a bunch of other wide-ranging policy changes).

I agree there is no spine now, and we are as yeast. But as the situation becomes more and more obvious who knows? Perhaps we can move up from yeast to mollusk?

Don't try to predict the future. Get ready for it.

Everybody here is constantly bagging on yeast, but where would you be without bread and beer?

I know many believe our hope is to raise the third world to first world lifestyles and wealth. Unfortunately, we are already overshooting the sustainable resource capacity of the planet. These population control via wealth models ignore the resource limitations. I would say we as a species are acting more like locusts than yeast. When we are done, the ground will be bare unless we at least become vertebrates. Anyway, I'm hungry and need a beer.

Hi Kevin,

I agree with you and it is true that we need an holistic approach to identify some important issues. The global model will address some of the problems you mention. Nevertheless, I think that the Limits to Growth is better suited for general analysis of such issues.

It has to be noted that as in the Limits to Growth fertility decreases with higher income and education, also life expectancy increases with higher income.

There are many issues on the same line, one of which is the following: what if China starts consuming the same energy per capita as the US?

We will attempt, over the course of the whole project, to give some insights on this.

Sounds like a immense undertaking with so many variables it would be terribly susseptible to GIGO. Remembering the general level of interest of the average american voter, once this model is produced, what, realistically, will we be able to do with it?

The user interface of the model allows users to trace every single change taking place when simulating a new scenario. Of course users will have to read the guide and a general documentation of the model to better understand how it works.

As for how can the model be used, there are many options. A game could be distributed, or a series of analyses can be carried out.

For your information, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett and his staff are using T21-USA to compare the effects of implementing different bills (more specifically those on CAFE and RPS) an there is rising interest in using the model for various purposes.

Nate, I'm curious how the model will handle several basic questions: 1) techological change, 2) cost reduction by economies of scale (e.g., cost reductions for wind, solar & batteries as the industries grow), and 3)substitution?

As an example of substitution: PHEV's are cheaper than ICE's when gasoline rises above $1.75/gallon. How will the model handle the move to PHEV/EV's?

Hi Nick,

Generally technology is modeled in two ways: through an accumulation of investments and depreciation into a stock (using a cost function too), and exogenously determined by the users.
The latter is used to simulate technological breakthorughs that cannot be projected at priori.

Various types of technology are represented by the model: exploration, development, recovery, energy efficiency, CAFE, labor.

As for PHEV's (which are not in the model yet but will be probably added soon) the shift may be regulated by profitability (therefore prices). Energy prices are endogenously calculated by the model (apart for some renewable energy technologies, or which we use the "best" data available) and it is therefore possible to show how demand and investment will shift to new technologies when it is profitable. An infrastructure construction delay is usually taken into consideration.

If you have report or reliable data source on PHEV, could you please forward the references to me? Thank you.

"As for PHEV's (which are not in the model yet but will be probably added soon)"

I believe that substitution of electricity for oil is the key strategy for Peak Oil, and PHEV's are the clear next step on this path, so....this is a key item.

I'll see what I can find for PHEV's. Much of it is scattered or proprietary, which means that providing straitforward "authoritative" links isn't easy. For instance, you won't find it on a DOE or IEA site. Much info is at site, which I believe is independent of GM.

The key to PHEV's is the understanding that the auxiliary generator allows one to have an EV with a moderately sized battery pack that is optimally used - an EV with a larger battery pack doesn't use the additional battery capacity very often, and so that's a large capital expenditure with much lower ROI.

Lead-acid batteries are commonly available for $65 per KWH, with lives of 400 cycles at roughly 80% depth of discharge. That gives a cost per KWH-discharge of $.20, and battery cost per mile of about $.05 (.25 kwh per mile). Add electricity cost of about $.025 per mile (at the US average of $.10 per KWH), and your cost is about $.075 per mile, or about half of the average cost per mile for US ICE vehicles at $3.25 (the breakeven point is at about $1.75).

The latest batteries are about 5-10 times more expensive, and have a cycle life that is 10+ times as long, giving roughly the same costs, but greater convenience, as the batteries don't have to be changed during the life of the vehicle.

The GM Volt is expected 2009 or 2010, and GM plans to ramp up production very, very quickly.

Hybrids are 2% of the US light-duty vehicle market, growing at 55% per year, and the large majority are designed to allow conversion to plug-in hybrids with a very simple installation.

I'll add more as I can, and post it as an edit to this comment.

And what about modeling two policy choices using existing and mature technology ?

1) a) Electrifying inter-city frieght railroads and expanding their capacity (in part by putting back in tracks removed in the last 40 years,. i.e. single track to double tracks double to triple track on the heaviest routes).

b) Shifting a majority of freight from heavy trucks to electric rail; trading 20 BTUs of end-use diesel for 1 BTU of end-use electricity.

c) Shifting part of the 50 to 400 mile intercity passenger travel market to rail.

2) Building Urban Rail on a scale comparable to 1897-1916 when the USA built subways in it's largest cities and streetcars in 500 cities and towns (most over 25,000 population). The USA had about 1/3rd the population and 3% of today's GNP, so a comparable effort today would would significantly more.

The is good data on the indirect energy savings due to changes in urban form triggered by Urban Rail (i.e. TOD) in a non-stressed energy environment. One can only suppose that the indirect savings would be significantly greater in a post-Peak Oil environment.

Again, a 20 BTU gasoline to 1 BTU electricity ratio is appropriate.

Best Hopes for Exploring Energy Policy Options,


P.S. I made the estimate today that the USA could reach 2007 levels of EU Urban Rail use in 15 years with a) a crash program that I outlined and b) the external impetus of post-Peak Oil. I referenced the changes in Urban Form from 1950 to 1970 in the USA.

"what about modeling two policy choices using existing and mature technology"

Electric vehicles (EV's) are extremely existing and mature. Heck, they predated gasoline/diesel (ICE) vehicles.

They're cheaper than ICE's when gas passes $1.75, using extremely mature lead-acid batteries. Vehicles like the GM/Chevy Volt are using batteries that will be even better, but old, existing batteries are more than good enough - they're just not as convenient (lead-acid requires a battery change every year or two).

Nothing is more tried and tested than EV's, and PHEV's are a trivial engineering exercise. Why haven't they been used before? Well, how long has gas been $1.75??

Nothing is more tried and tested than EV's

The St. Charles Streetcar Line 2.5 blocks from me opened in 1834 and electrified in the early 1890s.

I agree that EVs (see http://www, ) are a mature technology and just require a small degree of "tinkering" to better meet consumer expectations.

But railroads. including electric RRs, have an operating and design history that dwarfs EVs by several order of magnitude.

Best Hopes for non-oil transportation,



I think we're really agreeing here. Both electric trains, and EV/PHEV's are practical, time-tested solutions for Peak Oil. Trains will largely replace trucks for long-distance freight, and EV/PHEV's and trains can carry passengers wherever they need to go.

Have you noticed in recent interviews that A123 says their EV battery life can lose 1/3rd if temperatures are not managed correctly. And that GM is considering using a liquid cooling system in the Volt. And that the idea came up of having a solar panel on the roof to run a cooling fan while the Volt is parked in hot parking lots. And that A123 is 6 to 12 months away from even having a prototype pack for the Volt. All this came from A123's co-founder and GM Volt's project manager.

I've spent a lot of time researching A123's competitor Altairnano -- partly because A123 has been so quiet until recently (disclosure: I own stock in ALTI). But these recent comments from GM/A123 are not encouraging. I thought they must be further along. Do you have anything different on this?

"in recent interviews that A123 says their EV battery life can lose 1/3rd if temperatures are not managed correctly"

That's to be expected. That's one of the big reasons why laptop batteries perform so badly. OTOH, temperature management in a large platform like a vehicle is much, much easier.

"GM is considering using a liquid cooling system"

Tesla uses liquid cooling, using older, hotter running li-ions. Air cooling would be convenient, and a bit less expensive, but it's not a big deal.

"the idea came up of having a solar panel on the roof to run a cooling fan while the Volt is parked in hot parking lots"

I'd appreciate a link on that. A123systems batteries actually improve a bit better at higher temps (optimal is 70 degrees centigrade, though they're rated to 30 below), so I think it's unlikely that something like this is actually necessary. OTOH, I'm sure solar panels on PHEV's are coming - it wouldn't provide a large % of power, but it would make sense (and be fun).

"A123 is 6 to 12 months away from even having a prototype pack for the Volt"

I believe they expect to have a prototype by the end of the year - check for further info.

I haven't seen any indications of significant problems or delays for the A123systems battery pack for the Volt.

"solar panel on roof for cooling fan"

It was on the website in text after talking to the GM volt development manager. So it could have been something GM said directly to or something "inferred".

"optimal 70 degrees" -- 140F

Interesting. Is that best operating temp? Or best for lifetime? Both?


No problems per se. I like the 15 year lifetime target. I just thought they were much farther along.

""optimal 70 degrees" -- 140F - Interesting. Is that best operating temp? Or best for lifetime? Both?"

It's the operating temp that gives the highest power output. I don't know the effect on lifetime.

"I just thought they were much farther along."

I'm not sure what you mean. They've indicated that they expect to have a prototype by the end of the year:

"...Tony Pozawatz, GM’s Volt vehicle line director. Mr. Pozawatz does not say the Volt will definitely arrive, but certainly makes allusions close to that end. He is also quoted as saying that GM will have prototype battery packs in hand from the two suppliers by the end of this year."

That seems consistent with a fast-moving, on-time program.

For the record:

I am one of the people working on this project, but this is the first time I have been involved in a "blog" (If that is what this is). I am the leader of the SUNY modeling group and have been doing energy analysis since 1968, and on oil since 1975-1980. Our results have been published in many papers including several key ones in Science in the early 1980s (PDFs on my web site--Google Charles Hall energy). My more brilliant colleague, friend and former student Robert Kaufmann seems to get all the early accolades from Dick Lawrence (which is wonderful in my opinion) but remember he was not there first! I believe that I was the first to come up explicitly with the term EROI (for migrating fish then oil) although Howard Odum and Kenneth Boulding certainly understood it and its importance.

I want to respond to a few of these comments, for the record. I probably will not again until it is time for formal presentations/reviewed publications.

1) a lot of people respond in a way implying (to me anyway) that human volition will have a lot to do with the future of e.g. oil production. Well of course people's volition can start wars, blow up tankers, restrict trade and so on but contrary to many economists' view the empirical record gives little or no evidence that e.g. increased drilling rates (beyond the minimum) have much to do with the rate at which we find or produce petroleum. Thus the economist's assumption that higher prices will lead to higher drilling rates will lead to more finding/production has often not been born out, for example in US in 1980s or globally since 2000.
2) much increased technology or human action historically has been mostly just throwing more energy at the problem (think agriculture or enhanced oil recovery). That can seriously restrict the possibilities of technology in e.g. getting more oil or gas. Enhanced oil technology may mostly just get existing oil faster, and have little to do with ultimate yield.
4) There are NO substitutes for oil and gas (petroleum) quantitatively and qualitatively (both energy density and EROI).
3) It is amazing to me to see all the negative comments about the accuracy of the limits to growth model (which may or may not be a good predictor of our future from here) that have been posted by its critics, especially economists. Just go back to the original figure 34, get a ruler and draw your own time line on the x axis, (something that unfortunately Forrester's technology did not allow at the time) and see where we are for 2007. With some minimal assumptions ("resources" means oil and gas, or copper, or high quality wood, and "pollution" means global CO2, SOx, NOx etc.) 35 years later the model is very close to, generally within a relatively few percent, of ALL parameters predicted. Certainly the trends are right on. What economic model has that 35 year track record? Where do the economists get the idea that this model has failed? Because the violent oscillations have not started? They are not supposed to until 2012-2025 or so. How do they get away with their criticism?
4) We at ESF are developing very simple models emphasizing the basics using, basically, an Odum-based approach with some neat graphics from our students. We are coordinating with the more complex TR-21 model of the Millenium group. We should be in a good position of examining general trends if the simple and the more complex models give similar results, putting to some large degree the GIGO fears to rest I believe.

Charlie Hall

4) There are NO substitutes for oil and gas (petroleum) quantitatively and qualitatively (both energy density and EROI)

I think that is overstated, although not precisely wrong.

The energy density of electrical infrastructure is quite high., but it is a different sort of density.

The Trans-Siberian Railway once filled a vital transportation role using diesel. Today it uses electricity, largely from hydroelectric sources.

What is the energy density of the new (and better) motive source vs. the old one ? Given that the new infrastructure can move massive volumes of freight for a number of decades with minimal maintenance (certainly less than producing oil, refining it and transporting it) and without depletion, how does one compare diesel to hydroelectric power for running a railroad ?

I would argue that over a long period of time, hydro operated railroads have higehr energy density than diesel operated railroads.

As for EROI, I also think that both hydroelectricity and wind turbines (and possibly nuclear reactors if operated for 60 years) have higher EROIs than current average oil production (perhaps nto as good as oil produced in teh 1950s & 1960s).

And, in a more complex case. what is the EROi of electrified freight intercity railroads and Urban Rail ?

I would argue that the NYC subway system certainly took a considerable amount of energy to build, but the EROI from it's operation for a century plus expected future operation has an astounding EROI.

The newer and less comprehensive Washington DC Metro (WMATA) can be though of as an oil field that saves (rather than produces) 90,000 barrels/day and uses a minimal amount of electricity to operate (which can be sourced from nuclear, hydro, wind as well as fossil fuels). The nice thing about DC Metro is that it never depletes and grows over time.

I suspect that the EROI for building DC Metro is at least in the high triple digits to four digits.

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

"There are NO substitutes for oil and gas (petroleum) quantitatively and qualitatively (both energy density and EROI)."

This is, in fact, entirely out of date - it was true for the first LTG, but it's completely false now.

Energy density? How energy dense is oil bearing rock (which is the thing which is analogous to raw wind or light energy)? Spatial density? It would take about 500,000 wind turbines to replace all US electrical generation, while 500,000 oil wells produce only 40% of our oil. Sufficient density for transportation? Batteries don't have to be as dense as liquid fuel, given that an EV/PHEV is about 6 times as efficient (energy/km)as the average US Internal Combustion Engine vehicle. In fact, a PHEV is cheaper to run than an ICE when gasoline is over $1.75/gallon, taking into account battery costs.

E-ROI? Wind E-ROI is around 50, and solar is well above 30 and rising quickly - this isn't clear because published data is old, as researchers stopped publishing when solar E-ROI was "high enough" - around 5-15. OTOH, surely anything over 10 is high enough.

This is a really fundamental misconception, which I've also seen from Dennis Meadows. It deeply hurts LTG's credibility.

I think he means that energy density of gasoline or diesel or kerosene is higher than any replacement. Thus petroleum is ideal for almost all uses. And we don't really have a viable replacement for aircraft.

LTG makes no assumptions about energy density. Quite the opposite, it is overly rosy about substitution and free markets. It assumes the market will find perfect substitutions for any specific declining resource, and that those substitutes can be implemented instantly. This delays the collapse of the non-renewables for a long time, but not forever.

Several LTG scenarios look at long term sustainability. They include recycling of non-renewables. I expect most people assumed they meant aluminum cans. But another form of recycling is building PV and Wind out of fossil fuels.

It seems one of the goals of LTG was to build the simplest model that was still meaningful. The book is worth reading.

Jon Freise

Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

"I think he means that energy density of gasoline or diesel or kerosene is higher than any replacement. Thus petroleum is ideal for almost all uses."

I can't argue with that, but that's a much, much more limited statement. It doesn't suggest any fundamental barriers to replacing oil, as the original statement suggests. I would like some reassurance on this point, as I've heard Dennis Meadows say the same thing. This is such a central point that it needs clarification.

"And we don't really have a viable replacement for aircraft."

Well, we don't have a competitive replacement. As aviation is only about 10% of our liquid fuel use, that seems solvable with some kind of bio-fuel or synthetic fuel. OTOH, civilization won't collapse without it.

"This delays the collapse of the non-renewables for a long time, but not forever. "

hmmm. Excluding energy, I take it, if wind & solar can provide all the energy we need?

Energy is an awfully big part of any analysis such as this. For instance, an "ecological footprint" analysis I saw lately had Carbon as 50% of the overall footprint.

The last two are particularly good questions. I would hope that the CIA does "what if" analysis like this about world oil, but in light of what we have learned about the CIA, my expectations may be too high.

I do not care as much about peak oil in the physical sense as I am about its equivalent in the geopolitical and economic sense. If the world still has oil but you can not get enough, what happens?

This is obviously a huge undertaking. There is also a similar project called EmSim:

The code is open source and the project seems to be still alive:

I did not want to get into a sandbox fight but with respect to my statement: "There are NO substitutes quantitatively and qualitatively for oil" which seems to have exercised some people consider that (for e.g. the US) about 40 quads of our energy comes from oil, maybe 9 from nuclear (heat values) and far less than 1 from any kind of liquid biomass etc., also far less than 1 from windmills etc how in the world would we get anything like 40 quads of high quality alternatives from these other sources in the forseeable future? Sure we can run a train or two on electricity, and I hope many more in the future. But 40 quads worth? Get real.

This is a very handwaving, non-quantitative statement, and it's not realistic.

For instance, we'd only need about 10 quads of electricity to replace 40 of oil. We'd only need to expand kwh electrical generation by about 20%, and generation capacity by about 5%, to electrify all light duty vehicles - easy to do with wind, or coal or nuclear if need be.

More tomorrow...

The numbers quoted by Nick appear to be for EVs, which are efficient but not as efficient as electrified rail. There a roughly 20 to 1 ratio (oil to electricity) is more appropriate rather than 4 to 1.

In the case of freight I will quote from the comments section of the ASPO article I wrote:

Could you provide some references and an explanation of the 20 to 1 difference between trucks and trains ?

As indicted in the article, the 20 to 1 ratio is the multiple of two factors. About 8 to 1 efficiency gain by transferring from diesel trucks to modern diesel-electric locomotives pulling trains.

And a 2.5 to 3 Btus of diesel to one Btu of electricity trade by going from diesel-electric locomotives to all electric locomotives.

Gil Carmichael, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration under the first President Bush stated in Forbes “A double-stack freight train can replace as many as 300 trucks and achieve nine times the fuel efficiency of highway movement of the same tonnage volume.”

Note that this is double stack containers. Single stack containers are not quite as efficient and “piggy back” trailers are significantly less efficient (perhaps 4 to 1). Piggy back traffic is stable to shrinking slightly as intermodal container traffic is expanding rapidly.

The overall 2002 statistics quoted in the article (below) give an 8.15 to 1 diesel fuel advantage to rail vs. truck per ton-mile. Of course, the freight mix (40% of rail ton-miles are coal) is quite different.

Railroads carried 27.8% of the ton-miles with 220,000 barrels/day while trucks carried 32.1% of the ton-miles with 2,070,000 b/day (2002 data)

In addition, there are issues of circuitry (does rail travel more miles to get from A to B than truck ?) and the relative percentages of empty backhaul. There is concern that 2007 pollution controls will hurt heavy truck mileage. If so, this will increase the ratio.

I believe that nine to one is “best case’, eight to one is a defensible ratio for efficiency gains for truck to rail freight transfers, but seven to one is equally defensible. Six to one is approaching the “worst case” IMO.

US locomotives, except for a few switchyard locos, are diesel-electrics. A diesel engine drives an electrical generator, which transmits power a few feet to an electrical motor.

An electric locomotive draws 25 kV or 50 kV AC power from the grid (specially built for the railroad), transforms it to a lower voltage and drives an electrical motor.

The grid should lose 3% or 4% or so getting to the locomotive and another 1% transforming on the locomotive.

By contrast, a standard diesel engine has a theoretical maximum efficiency of 56% (link below) and is doing quite well to get 40% real world efficiency (Btus diesel in, Btus shaft power out). Add to this the efficiency of generators in the 2 MW class (94% might be typical) and grid power can deliver electricity with s 4% or 5% loss, versus a 62.4% or so loss in diesel Btus to electricity to the motor Btus.

The ratio of 0.95 to 0.376 is 2.52 to 1. This equates well with the “rule of thumb” of 2.5 Btus of diesel to 1 Btu electricity on rural plains quoted in the article.

In mountainous areas and built-up areas, the ratio is higher (3 to 1) due to regenerative braking. As the locomotive slows, the motors turn into generators and feed power back into the grid. Obviously, the more a locomotive brakes, the more power that is “recycled” on an electric loco but wasted as heat in a diesel-electric loco. More recycled power creates a higher ratio. The increase from 2.5 to 1 to 3 to 1 seems reasonable, if 20% of the energy is recycled when braking.

So 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 to 1 multiplied by 2.5 or 3 to 1 gives “about 20”. Detailed studies may show that actual efficiency ratios might be 17.8 to 1 or 21 to 1. In either case, well worth doing !

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

The case for Urban Rail is more complex because a majority of the savings come from changes in Urban form, Transit Orientated Devlopment. There is a fairly good correlation between gasoline used /capita and the percentage that use Urban Rail to commute. And Washington DC fell from the non-rail cohort to the high % rail cohort over time as DC Metro was completed.

Another is visualization. Transportation today uses 0.19% of US electricity. We run New York City's subways, as well as Chicago's, Washington DCs, Philly's, Boston's, et al as well as every light rail line in the nation plus Amtrak's NorthEast Corridor and the Long Island Railroad off of that 0.19% (and ALL of the named cities have lower oil use/capita). Now picture how much Urban Rail would be needed to use 2% or 5% of US electricity. And how those new cities would be transformed by more, much more Urban Rail.

Miami has firm funded plans to put 90% of the population (as now distributed) within 3 miles of a Rapid Rail (elevated subway) station and slightly over half within 2 miles. 103 miles planned in toto.

In a Post-Peak Oil World, and with transforming TOD (In 2004 I saw 15 of 23 building cranes within 3 blocks of a Metro station), most Miamians could live with a bicycle (some electric) and not a car, although many may prefer a NEV (neighborhood EV) such as

Their plans
Medium brown are 2016+ lines.

Consider the effect of Washington DC and Miami type building programs in every major and mid-size American city. Streetcars in smaller towns. Now add 50% to 200% more Urban Rail to every city that has a good system today (NYC, DC, Boston, Chicago, Philly). Add some congestion charges and other taxes on car use. Abandon large sections of Suburbia and abandon Exurbia almost in it's entirety (a natural economic shift comparable to 1950-1970 shift in USA). Calculate residual oil use in a post-Peak Oil World.

The first Step (of about 4) is detailed (by city) in:

Best Hopes for Replacing 12 Quads of Oil with 0.6 Quads of electricity,

Alan Drake

As to the potential for wind

I agree with all of this, except one bit: "Abandon large sections of Suburbia and abandon Exurbia almost in it's entirety (a natural economic shift comparable to 1950-1970 shift in USA). "

This really isn't necessary. Energy costs (including any costs to deal with Peak Oil, such as more insulation, or going to PHEV's and heat pumps) are much less significant than the additional costs of dense urban living. That's why suburbia happened - it wasn't fashion, it was basic economics, and that just isn't going to reverse.

Suburbia may actually be better energy-wise, as suburban homes have more than enough space for PV sufficient for all of their needs. Even now, enough PV to run a house and power a car would be cheaper than moving into a dense urban core, and PV is getting cheaper mighty fast.

Exurbia is simply not sustainable in any large measure.

Some Suburbia is, most is not. Consider the large areas of pavement, lengths of water and sewer pipe required/capita. The energy required to service low density development (police, fire, UPS & pizza deliveries, street lights, postal service, snow clearing, etc.) will woprk against this model post-Peak Oil.

And high rise Manhattan has significant non-oil energy requirements as well. But I think my area of New Orleans is on a very low point in energy demand (1 to 3 story development, low sq ft/person, low % of land area devoted to the automobile). Although an argument can be made that Queens type development (3 to 5 story) is the "low point" in energy requirements.

Extra space for PV (optimally orientated) can be found within easy transmission distance of Urban areas with too high density to meet domestic needs.

A Boston type model (I discussed earlier this week) is certainly viable. 100 walkable small villages/towns (10k to 35K population for most) clustered around commuter rail stations that feed into Boston. The recent sprawl on the edges and between these small villages may not be. Perhaps replace that sprawl with 2 and 3 story condos & apartments in these small towns a hundred yards or so from the station.

I think we differ in degree and not overall direction.

Best Hopes,


“I think we differ in degree and not overall direction.”

Absolutely. I think you’d like to stress trains, & Transit Oriented Development over PHEV/EV’s because you’re aware that it can be a much nicer, lower stress lifestyle. I like to remind people about PHEV/EV’s because I don’t want anyone jumping to the conclusion that civilization is doomed where trains & TOD aren’t practical.

"Exurbia is simply not sustainable in any large measure."

Well, it will certainly be under greater pressure, energy-wise. The price differential between exurban and suburban homes might be $100K vs $150K. I suspect that will still more than pay for any investments for efficiency & electrification, but it would certainly greatly slow down exurban growth.

“Consider the large areas of pavement, lengths of water and sewer pipe required/capita. The energy required to service low density development (police, fire, UPS & pizza deliveries, street lights, postal service, snow clearing, etc.) will woprk against this model post-Peak Oil.”

It would be interesting to see stats. I suspect the energy costs of these things aren’t that high, and certainly local delivery and service vehicles could be electrified.

“high rise Manhattan has significant non-oil energy requirements as well”

Yikes! Have you looked at the cost of living in Manhattan???? No one is going to move there, or anywhere close, to reduce their cost of living.

“ my area of New Orleans is on a very low point in energy demand “

Sure. And your cost of living is low in part because NO has been so depopulated.

“Extra space for PV (optimally orientated) can be found within easy transmission distance of Urban areas with too high density to meet domestic needs.”

Oh sure, urban areas can import energy. I have no question that urban areas are viable post-peak. The point, though, is that suburbs may have an advantage, rather than being disadvantaged.

“A Boston type model (I discussed earlier this week) is certainly viable.”

Sure, and I’m sure it will be a very nice life-style. But will the residential units right next to the train stations be cheap? No, there will be a healthy premium.

I like to remind people about PHEV/EV’s because I don’t want anyone jumping to the conclusion that civilization is doomed where trains & TOD aren’t practical

I have a contra-fear. That the ONLY mitigation tried will be hybrids, then PHEVs and EVs (and ethanol).

So far, my fear appears to be more justified :-(

Best Hopes for Better Public P{olicy,


I understand, and agree. I would love to see your train proposals implemented: life would be much better.

High speed rail from city center to city center? Heaven.

Though, even if Amtrak were twice as fast, and perfect in every way, I wouldn't be able to use it it in the way I would like until they reverse their "no pets" policy. Sigh.

Still, I think we have to fully inform people, and let them know that PHEV's are a perfectly good option, even if trains would be nicer for many things, and in many ways. After all, most people won't be able to afford to live in dense urban areas without great sacrifice.

That's why suburbia happened - it wasn't fashion, it was basic economics, and that just isn't going to reverse

Actually, it was a series of gov't policies. Early VA loans were very easy for new construction, difficult for older construction (Gov't did not want to slip back into Great Depression), massive highway construction, desegregation and white flight, drawing school boundaries so that Suburban schools got much more $/student, insurance (cheaper to insurance to live in suburbs and drive into city than live in city) (see also homeowners insurance), city taxes paid for streets for suburbanites to drive on, etc.

Once the "herd" got moving to the Suburbs, it gained it's own momentum. The same is likely to happen in reverse.

Much of that "cheaper in Suburbia" is because of subsidies by the cities & central gov't, not basic economics.


The Interstate Highway System and road building in general had a lot to do with the creation of suburbia. Levitt and others building mass housing tracts also attracted buyers. The idea was to live in the country, which was seen as much more desirable than living in the city.

I believe that we can preserve the suburb and still reduce our footprint. Living closer to work and working closer to where you live can be done without high density housing in the city. Telecommuting, hybrids, rail and other methods can be used to get people to and from.

I would agree that there did not seem to be much planning involved in the decisions. It was more consumer and builder driven. I do not believe many people asked the questions about what all this would do directly or indirectly to quality of life, energy security or other factors. Air pollution, fuel usage, highway costs, noise abatement, driver burnout, traffic congestion all were products of the suburb that were only recognized AFTER the fact.

Much of this (highways & cheap auto transportation) didn't favor suburbs, just made them possible: "uncorking" cities.

Home prices are much, much higher in dense urban areas. That won't change if energy costs become slightly lower in the city, in fact it would get worse.

How can you justify moving from a $200k house to a $500k house to save $2,000 per year in HVAC & transportation??? I don't think people will consider downsizing to be any less of a burden than the high price, if they want the space for their kids to play in, and to provide privacy for family members.

It's not just fashion: city living is much, much more expensive. Housing is the main thing, but food & other basic supplies are significantly more expensive in any dense urban area.

How can you justify moving from a $200k house to a $500k house to save $2,000 per year in HVAC & transportation ?

It may be $40K McMansion to $250K Condo. (BTW, with roughly 133 suburban Boston stations (55 to North Station, 78 to South Station, I counted them), space around them will not be at a massive premium. The several hundred apartments near the Salem MA station were not at a premium.

Reasons to Move:

A quarter to a third of the homes are abandoned, and look it. Squatters are beginning to move in.

The Suburban schools are bad.

Property taxes are high to support poor quality services (police, fire, no more library).

Streets are potholed and city cannot afford asphalt to repair them (asphalt = very heavy oil).

Crime is up and getting worse.

McMansion needs repairs and postponing them has made things worse. And more repairs seem likely in the near future; more than the house is worth.

Postal delivery is down to 3 days/week.

Air conditioning, plumbers, roofers charge a premium to "go out there".

Electrical service is unreliable.

Closest grocery store shut down, as have dry cleaners.

Cost of adding insulation is more than you can afford for so many square feet surface area. Utility bills are so high you sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter.

People ask "Aren't you scared to live there" and "Sorry to see you stuck out in the 'burbs".

Wife wants to "move out of here".

BTW, I quite disagree about being more expensive for food (just ate corn on cob for lunch, picked this morning for lunch :-) 45 cents at Zara's. They were on sale last week; 4 for $1.

The same dynamic that the gov't fostered post-WW II can return, but in reverse.

Best Hopes for an Orderly Transition,


"It may be $40K McMansion to $250K Condo."

I presume you meant $400K.

This is my point exactly: you're talking about a condo that is probably 25% the square feet, and with no land. That's an enormous reduction. Now, some people live in a lot more space than they need, but that's a pretty small % of the population. For the rest, that's an enormous sacrifice. People are going to leave their family & friends, change schools, and move into something much, much smaller, rather than buying a Prius or a PHEV? Just to avoid the tiny inconvenience of plugging in their car at night??

"A quarter to a third of the homes are abandoned..."

But, why would that happen??? Not because of high energy costs. The houses that can be insulated and electrified would be. Those few that couldn't be would be replaced long before developers managed to sell these homeowners on property in the city core that cost 3x as much.

"BTW, I quite disagree about being more expensive for food (just ate corn on cob for lunch, picked this morning for lunch :-) 45 cents at Zara's. They were on sale last week; 4 for $1."

New Orleans isn't a useful point of comparison: it's no longer a dense urban area. Compare the cost of milk at a grocery store to the cost of milk at a suburban market: in almost any major city in the US, it will be much higher in the city: grocery stores are smaller with higher overhead, and even in large supermarkets prices are significantly higher in the city, due to higher costs: rent, taxes, transportation costs, all much higher.

"The same dynamic that the gov't fostered post-WW II can return, but in reverse."

But why? Not because of a small energy cost differential. Not because of government policy, which shows no signs of changing.

I meant $40,000 McMansion.

You are apparently not familiar with the Urban History of the destruction of our central cities and downtown commerce.

There is a "herd" mentality is real estate. Just listen to any Realtor talking about the "hot" areas. Or contemplate why anyone (more that 1.2% of the population at least) would, of their own free and INDEPENDENT choice, chose avocado colored appliances. Yet a majority of new homes came with either avocado or harvest gold appliances and some simply TERRIBLE looking shag carpets.

Most Americans make herd decisions regarding housing.

About 30% of Americans today want to move to TOD. Fulfill that need and vacancies appear all over suburbia. Even 15% vacancy drives down home areas, and realtors will steer you away from them. Americans used to move, on average, once every six years (I do not have current data), so it will be fairly easy for a "bad area" to empty out. Panic is also a good driver for change.

Remember Cramer's 7 million foreclosures ?

And as Americans once went for ranch homes with avocado appliances and orange shag rugs, they will (post-Peak Oil) brag about their walk score #s and non-oil commutes (with far greater underlying logic). Lower property values translate into lower tax revenues and poorer schools (the demographics will change as well).

Lead-acid batteries will easily support EVs for 4 mile commutes, but not 40 miles.

Most of the items I listed were historic examples that built Suburbia and Exurbia while destroyed fine neighborhoods and downtowns. They will work in reverse as well, with the added burden of the reality of excessive energy use.

Best Hopes for the Decline of Suburbia coupled with Greater Energy Efficiency,


BTW, the decline in density in New Orleans has resulted in higher prices. But our grocery and other prices are still in-line with close in suburbs and lower than further out Exurbs. Every other day I can buy sweet corn that was on the stalk that morning at my corner grocery store (2nd generation) for 45 cents/ear (on sale a couple of weeks ago for a quarter). The fresher sweet corn is, the better :-)

Is anyone familiar with the game "Balance of the Planet" by Chris Crawford? You can find it here:

You influence the state of the planet in 9 turns by setting tax rates and subsidies, mostly for energy types. Points are scored according to a customizable bias.