US Electricity Supply Vulnerabilities

We on The Oil Drum spend so much time worrying about oil supply that we tend to think that electrical supply is relatively safe in comparison. If we stop to think about the issues, I think that we will find that the electrical situation is not much better than the oil situation. The likelihood of widespread electrical outages in next five to ten years is uncomfortably high.

We may already be starting to see some beginning examples of electrical shortages, such as this recent story regarding Maine. Residents were being asked to conserve electricity because of a natural gas shortage related to supply disruption and cold weather. Maine has a relatively tight electrical supply and heavy dependence on natural gas, so it is at high risk for this type of disruption. I expect to see more outages like this in the coming months and years, especially in high-risk areas.

In this post, we will look at some areas of vulnerability for the US electrical supply. While this analysis is restricted to the United States, some of the issues discussed may also be relevant to other countries.

(More beneath the fold)

1. Inadequate natural gas supplies

We don't have as good projections regarding future natural gas supplies as oil supplies, but it is pretty clear that the US is headed for a decline in available natural gas. Our current production is flat, and we are dependent on imports and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to meet our needs:

Figure 1

We keep having to drill more and more, to keep our current production flat:

Figure 2

The question becomes one of how much drilling we can do for natural gas, before costs exceed the value of the natural gas produced. Heading Out wrote a post recently pointing out that gas production from the Barnett Shale does not seem to be economic at today's prices. Is there some analysis we at TOD can do, perhaps using the natural gas per foot drilled figures from Figure 2, to put a limit on how much drilling it makes sense for natural gas? The real question comes down to energy return -- at what point are we spending too much energy to make the effort worthwhile.

Imports do not seem to be a solution either. Canada recently announced that its natural gas exports are expected to decline because of reduced drilling and decline issues.

Some people hope that LNG imports will be a solution. This seems unlikely. LNG production is not expanding rapidly enough to provide the quantity we would require. In addition, a huge amount of new infrastructure would be required, which has not been built.

The states most vulnerable to natural gas shortages are heavy users of natural gas, especially those at the end of supply lines. Some states meeting this description are Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and Rhode Island. (See Figure 7 at the end of the post for state natural gas percentages.)

2. Temporary disruption of fuel supplies, particularly natural gas supply.

This is closely related to inadequate supply. The tighter the supply, the more important a small outage in natural gas supplies becomes. Short unplanned maintenance in a field, or a pipeline problem, can be enough of a disruption to cause a problem, if supplies are very tight. On the coal side, closure of a major railroad can disrupt coal supplies to a number of power plants simultaneously.

3. Inadequate nuclear fuel.

The majority of uranium used to run U. S. nuclear reactors is imported:

Figure 3

There is a considerable amount of controversy regarding whether there will be a gap in the available fuel for nuclear reactors in the next few years.

According to Sanders Research Associates, a major source of imports is fuel created from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons. EIA data shows that in 2006, about 23% of US total nuclear fuel needs was from Russia. According to Sanders, our agreement for importing this material will end in 2013, and it is unlikely to be renewed. Other countries are also using dismantled Russian nuclear weapons as a source of fuel, so there could be an impact on competition for imports as will as a direct impact on supply.

According to the World Nuclear Organization (WNO), uranium production in recent years has been relatively flat, while world demand is much higher. WNO indicates current uranium production amounts to only 61% of world demand.

Figure 4

Demand for uranium is likely to continue to grow in the future, because there are many plants planned or under construction in Asia (18 reactors under construction, and 112 planned or proposed, according to the WNO).

Most people believe that there are ways of working around the likely shortfall in supply. Some options include recycling US nuclear weapons; recycling used nuclear fuel; building new mines in places where there is lower-grade ore; and adapting nuclear power plants to use another input, such as thorium. The question as I see it is whether enough will be done in a short enough time frame to avoid having to close reactors for lack of fuel. A solution that will work in 2020 will not be of much help in 2010 or 2015.

The EIA Uranium Marketing Annual Report shows the following schedule of contracts for future supply for the United States:

Figure 5

Since uranium use in 2006 totaled 66.5 million pounds of U3O8 equivalent, and future contracted amounts are much lower than this, there is a gap that will need to be filled, in some way. If not, some plants may have to be taken off line.

The states with the highest percentages of electricity from nuclear power are Vermont, New Jersey, South Carolina, Illinois, and Connecticut. (See Figure 7 at the end of this post for the distribution of fuels used in each state). Other states using nuclear power might also be subject to electricity shortages, if their nuclear reactors are not able to obtain fuel.

4. Power plants temporarily off line, or decommissioned, for reasons other than fuel shortages

Of the various types of power plants that can be taken off-line, the ones that are biggest and likeliest to have the most impact are nuclear plants. Nuclear plants generate so much power that having one of them off line, even for a short time, is likely to be a problem. There are any number of reasons for nuclear plant outages, including

• Maintenance, planned or unplanned
• Earthquake
• Water supply problem - not enough, or output too hot for river
• Terrorist attack
• Permanent decommissioning

With our nuclear plants now quite old, the number of maintenance issues is likely to be higher, and thus the number of unplanned outages greater.

With respect to non-nuclear plants, one threat I see is that water shortages may take a group of plants (of various types) off-line simultaneously. This kind of risk has the highest probability where there are water shortages, such as the Southwest and more recently, Atlanta. Hydroelectric plants (generally located more in the North) are particularly susceptible to problems in times of drought.

5. Deregulation of Electric Utilities

Deregulation is often cited as a reason for increased power outages. In states with deregulation, the newly regulated industry has little incentive to build new power plants, to prevent the occasional black-out. Matt Simmons has been quoted as saying that deregulation has made Maine more vulnerable to blackouts than it would otherwise be "because the private sector will not finance a plant to supply peak energy for the 'rare' cold snap".

What tends to happen in deregulated states is that as the need for power grows, inadequate new capacity is added, leaving the state with less power than it really needs when demand is high. The states which have been de-regulated are mostly in the North-East. This is a link to an EIA map showing states' current status.

6. Inadequate base production capacity.

Traditionally, coal and nuclear power have been used to provide "base power"-- that is, a constant level of power that is sufficient for normal demand levels, but that needs to be supplemented with "peaking power" (usually natural gas or hydroelectric) at times when electrical needs are higher. Since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1990, there has been considerable opposition to building new coal fired power plants. As a result, few new coal plants have been built, even in regulated states. There has also been opposition to nuclear plants, so none have been added.

With virtually no coal or nuclear capacity being added, base production capacity has drifted downward relative to demand, making utilities more dependent on peaking capacity. The "solution" has been to add many natural gas plants since 1990. Natural gas power plants are attractive to utilities, because

• They are less polluting than coal, both with respect to CO2 and other pollutants
• The plants are relatively cheap and quick to build
• The EIA still forecasts relatively plentiful supplies

Going forward, it is not entirely clear what will happen to fix the current deficiency in base capacity and to compensate for old plants which will need to be retired. The EIA forecasts that many coal plants will be built in the future. The National Coal Council (NCC) (similar to the National Petroleum Council, but for coal) recommends that the country build a large number of coal plants, and try to sequester the CO2 (even though it is not clear that this can be done on any significant scale).

I suspect that despite these projections/recommendations, there is a significant chance that very little in the way of base electrical power plants will be built in the next few years. People will continue to object to coal and nuclear. It will become clear that natural gas is not really an option, either, because of supply issues. Electric utilities will try to add renewables such as wood chip burning plants and geothermal as base production, but will be difficult to scale these up to the needed level. (Solar and wind are not suitable as base capacity.) According to EIA data, renewables other than hydroelectric generated only 2% of total electric supply in 2006, so the starting base is very low.

Figure 6

Because of these issues, it seems likely to me that base capacity is likely to continue to erode, making utilities more and more vulnerable to power outages.

7. Workforce close to retirement age.

A recent article in EnergyBizOnlline says:

Workforce levels in the electric utility industry have dropped more than 20 percent since 1990, while power generation has increased by more than 30 percent. A little less than half of the industry’s roughly 400,000 workers are eligible for retirement in the next five to 10 years, without nearly enough recruits to take their place.

It sounds like the workforce problems we have seen in the oil and gas industry also apply to the electric industry.

8. Inadequate maintenance of the grid.

The grid is now in serious need of maintenance and upgrading, made worse by deregulation. Attendees at a recent "Grid" conference were asked to judge the likelihood of a major power outage in the next five years, using a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being "most likely." The average of the responses was an 8.

The same article quoted in Point 7 above had this to say about the grid:

The average age of power transformers in service is 40 years, which also happens to be the average lifespan of this equipment. Combine the crying need for maintenance with a shrinking workforce, and we may find that the 2005 blackout that affected parts of Canada and the northeastern United States might have been a dress rehearsal for what’s to come. Deregulation and restructuring of the industry created downward pressure on recruitment, training and maintenance, and the bill is now coming due.

There is discussion of moving from an analog to a digital grid with new transformers and new meters capable of two-way communication. All of this will be very expensive, and require a lot of manpower. With all of the pressures on the electricity industry, I am skeptical that the resources will be found to make this needed upgrade.

9. Spillover impact of oil shortages.

Suppose oil shortages affect the world first. How long will it be before the electric utilities are affected? I suspect not very long, due to Liebig's Law of the Minimum. If any necessary item needed for production is missing, production will stop.

If there are shortages of gasoline, workers may not be able to get to work. If there are shortages of diesel, needed parts may not be delivered, and needed maintenance of the grid may not be performed.

If there are financial impacts from oil shortages, these will affect utilities, just like everyone else. They will find it harder to raise rates to fiance all of the new infrastructure that is needed. They may even find it difficult to pay their workers.

In a few places like Hawaii, there may be direct impacts on electrical production from a drop in oil production. Figure 7 below indicates that 78% of Hawaii's fuel for electricity in 2006 was petroleum.

When we put the strain of peak oil on electric utilities together with the other strains on electric utilities, I expect our electrical system will degrade significantly. I expect that we will begin to see fairly frequent and widespread electrical power outages, if these have not already begun because of issues such as natural gas or uranium shortages. I expect that the electrical supply that continues will be less reliable, and less able to handle peak demands. In some parts of the country, electric service may only be available for a few hours a day. With this limited electrical supply, I question whether grid-tied solutions to our oil problems, such as plug-in electric vehicles, will be feasible for very long.


I put together a table of electrical production by fuel source by state using EIA data:

Figure 7

Figure 7 data can be downloaded from this page An Excel version of the exhibit and summary data can be found here.

The non-hydro renewables includes a wide range of renewables, including waste wood used as fuel for electrical power plants and geothermal. I believe the non-hydro renewables for Maine are high as a percentage of the total because of waste wood; California non-hydro renewables are high because of geothermal. Negatives in the "Other" column are OK - they reflect geo-thermal pumped storage, which is a negative reflecting the energy lost in the process.

Additional Supplementary Material

1. Analysis of California's 2000-2001 electrical problems by the World Nuclear Organization.

2. Coal: America's Energy Future published by the National Coal Council in 2006. The report talks about declines in oil and natural gas, and the need to use coal for many purposes: electric generation; coal-to-liquid; and coal-to-gas.

3. EnergyBiz Magazine. Many interesting articles about electric industry. Online version seems to be free.

4. Carnegie Mellon Industry Center Research papers on electricity issues.

With regard to wind and baseload power, please see the recent Stanford Study, SUPPLYING BASELOAD POWER AND REDUCING TRANSMISSION REQUIREMENTS BY INTERCONNECTING WIND FARMS at

Here is an abstract from the study:

Wind is the world’s fastest growing electric energy source. Because it is intermittent, though, wind is not used to supply baseload electric power today. Interconnecting wind farms through the transmission grid is a simple and effective way of reducing deliverable wind power swings caused by wind intermittency. As more farms are interconnected in an array, wind speed correlation among sites decreases and so does the probability that all sites experience the same wind regime at the same time. Consequently, the array behaves more and more similarly to a single farm with steady wind speed and thus steady deliverable wind power.
In this study, benefits of interconnecting wind farms were evaluated for 19 sites, located in the Midwestern United States, with annual average wind speeds at 80 m above ground, the hub height of modern wind turbines, greater than 6.9 m/s (class 3 or greater).
It was found that an average of 33% and a maximum of 47% of yearly-averaged wind power from interconnected farms can be used as reliable, baseload electric power. Equally significant, interconnecting multiple wind farms to a common point, then connecting that point to a far-away city can allow the long-distance portion of transmission capacity to be reduced, for example, by 20% with only a 1.6% loss of energy.


The vulnerabilities you refer to are real, and not just in the United States. However, they don't just apply to the electricity industry. There is a pattern here that can be applied to other utilities. The state of many secondary roads and bridges is also questionable. Then there's the condition of the sewers which have been allowed to decay and been patched-up for years. Water supply is another area which has been starved of adequate funding, the ammount of drinking water lost through leaks in the system is astronomic. Look at most public transport. I could go on, but the point is the recurring pattern one sees over and over again.

What's happened is that, basically, these areas have been starved of the necessary investment and funds, and the resources transferred to the pockets of shareholders or in order to reduce taxes. Over the last thirty years we've chosen to prioritize individual consumption of consumer goods, which we decided to call "feedom", while at the same time the infrastructure of society was slowly allowed to decay, ironically, storing up massive "expenditure bombs" for the future, when we may not have the money to restore the system.

It's like spending one's money on a party, instead of on a pension fund, but on a national scale!

I agree. It is funny (maybe a better word is tragic) how one finds exactly the same problems, as one looks around from area to area.

Even our problem of not adding new skilled workers is in some ways similar. We have found it possible to just cover what needs to be done with our existing older workforce, without investing in new workers. Our younger folks are expected to work at McDonald's and become physicians/lawyers/script writers and all manners of service providers. Young folks going into engineering have found jobs lacking for quite a few years, and we are starting to figure out why.


Excellent work this is exactly what I have been looking for.

I am currently working on a similar issue for UK electricity. I should be ready to publish in a few weeks.

The mix of primary energy and vulnerabilities are some what different in the UK but infrastructure issues are very similar. It would be an understatement to say 7-8 years out electricity generation is looking challenging in the UK.


A similar problem exists with a lot of colleges and universities. College presidents aren't interested in allocating resources to unglamorous behind-the-scenes stuff like roofs, plumbing, wiring, HVAC, structural repairs, etc. Instead, they want to build impressive-looking new buildings, add innovative new programs that will be written about in the press, and give scholarships to athletes that will help their teams achieve a winning season. These are the glitzy, showy things that will impress the alumni, and donors, and boards of trustees. Meanwhile, the deferred maintenance accumulates, and the campus slowly crumbles. By the time the maintenance can be deferred no longer and the bills become due, the college presidents that should have attended to it are long since retired -- probably with their name attached to a building or an endowed chair or a statue on the central green.

Well put. Some 17 years ago I collaborated on an article for Information Week magazine called BLACKOUT. All utilities are required to post with their state public utility commission an annual statement of their normal capacity, and peak capacity, as well as their projections for the next five years. Collecting this is 1990 was a chore because of no internet access, today it faily easy. What you quickly find is that nearly every utility is in negative territory(not enough power)at peak usage and has to buy it off some other utility that isn't experiencing a similar crunch. Our forecasts in the article pretty much bore out in real life some five to seven years down the road. The other problem was created by the wonderful problem solving group, Congress in the early 1990s, with an Energy Act that was going to give us all kinds of benefits. Basically it focuses on the three pieces of a utility, generation, transmission, and distribution. Congress thought there was not enough competition, so they decided in all their wisdom, to allow a utility to only own 2 of the 3 pieces. Most utilities quickly shed their transmission capabilities by selling it to a 3rd party. As you can well imagine, transmission isn't a great revenue generator, so the transmission portion seems to be a single point of failure in this whole scenario. But wait, we have a savior that steped up, ENRON. Within two years California was on its knees with rolling brownouts and blackouts. I am reminded of the old saying by Will Rogers on the radio back in the 30's when he closed out his broadcast by saying to his audience, "You should be able to sleep well tonight ladies and gentlemen, Congress is not in session"

Reduced to a bumper sticker, the new industry mantra is:

Privatize the profits,
Socialize the costs.

In the wake of the Enron collapse, very little attention has been paid to the regulatory distortions put in place by Enron and other utility industry lobbyists.

Thanks for doing this summary, Gail.

I live in NH. Earlier this year a top executive of Public Service New Hampshire, our major electrical supplier, printed an article in the Concord newspaper stating that we faced problems in 2-3 years unless we started building more plants immediately.

As far as I know, these warnings have fallen on deaf ears.

New Hampshire is one of the deregulated states, so this is likely part of the reason for the lack of new plants.

The other is a question of what to build. Lots of natural plants have been built around the country, but people are starting to catch on that the supply might not really be there.

Hi Gail,

Actually, reserve growth for natural gas is ahead of demand growth.


Chris - can you clarify the point quantitatively?

Yes, new discoveries of gas reserves are growing more rapidly than demand is increasing. This means that future supply is assured so long as the reserves are put into production. I think that the recent problems with natural gas supply and higher prices have spurred new exploration. The proved reserves increased 3% in 2006 to over 211 trillion cubic feet.


It's not the size of the tank, it's the size of the tap. And the unconventional gas has EROI problems. Note the recent decline in NG E&P in Canada and the decline in production expected to come from that.

but isn't consumption about 2TCF a month? if so, then isn't the draw down about 10% p.a.? is the reserve increase after the 10% deducted?

Some reserves are technological but not financial reserves. Alaska natural gas is fairly cheap to develop but not cheap enough to ship south in a pipeline and compete with concentrating solar photovoltaic.

any reference data for this line of argument you can point to?

Yeah, they are asking for a subsidy for the pipeline and a guarantee that they will get a "reasonable" profit.
Sort of like the other energy industries, come to think of it. Solar is still using subsidies, and so is wind. Coal and nuclear are past the immediate subsidies and living on past subsidies, at least.
We have been building unsubsidised gas pipelines in the lower 48 for a long time, now. Unsubsidised railroads for coal, too. I note that the coal miners in Alaska aren't asking for a subsidised railroad, yet. Probably because it's cheaper to ship by sea.

Here are Q1 2007 imports and exports in Bcf along with changes from Q1 2006.

Canadian Imports
LNG Imports
Mexican Imports
Total Imports
Canadian Exports
Mexican Exports
LNG Exports (Japan)
Total Exports
up 5.0%
up 65.5%
up 616.0%
up 12.9%
up 25.7%
down 7.7%
down 12.6%
up 10.4%

Looks like net import growth could explain some of it but presumably most use is from domestic production so reserve use would have to be subtracted in the growth figures. The dry natural gas is only about 30% of reserves so you are really seeing only 3% or so draw down I think.


Strangely production walks into the wrong direction (in your link).

If I recall, we were relying on mature fields when we began to notice a problem and prices began to rise. Presumably the production numbers reflect this. I don't know how all this will balance out with the planned LNG import facilities. Hopefully we'll be off of fossil fuels before much of this will go into production. At least we can say that there is no good reason to build a coal plant since domestic gas reserves are abundant.


A very large point about NG demand is the great number of NG dependant industries that closed up and offshored, which alleviated the pressure on demand, which in turn caused prices to fall and E&P to be drastically cutback. Without that demand destruction today's situation would be very different.

"Solar and wind are not suitable as base capacity"

Actually, it's just the reverse. They're more variable, so they're not as good for peak capacity (though they can provide some capacity credit). Wind and solar can replace coal and gas KWH's.

Wind was 20% of new capacity in 2006, and is doubling about every 2 years. Requests for 125GW of wind capacity interconnections have been submitted to US ISO's.

The shortage in generating capacity, about which we often hear warnings, is for peak capacity. There are several good solutions for peak capacity. Eventually solar will grow to the point of providing peak capacity, as is planned in California for the near-term. More importantly, time-of-day metering would shift demand away from the peak. The 2005 energy bill required utilities to make time-of-day metering available by now: your utility should be able to give it to you on your request, even if they haven't publicized it. In California, both SCE and PG&E are rolling it out to all of their customers.

There really isn't a technical/economic problem - instead, it's a regulatory problem. The main problem here is that utilities have financial incentives to build, rather than manage demand, or facilitate efficiency. When pressures rise to stop building new capacity, the utilities just butt their head against the barrier and complain (primarily with dire press releases), like a puppy at the front door, instead turning to more efficient alternatives.

One of the problems recently is that only a tiny amount of capacity has been added countrywide in recent years. If you look at this link, you will see that the total capacity added in 2006 from all sources was only 8,195 megawatts. Other renewables added 2,908 of this, which seems to be consistent with your 20% wind numbers.

If we want to keep the grid operating the way we are used to having it operate, we will need to add quite a bit more than 8,195 megawatts per year - perhaps triple that amount. Part of our problem is that many of our coal plants are very old, and need to be retired. Some of them are very difficult to modify to meet current clean air stands. Part of the new capacity is to compensate for these old plants which will be taken off line, to meet emission standards. I understand that 2010 is a threshold year in meeting new emission standards.

"If we want to keep the grid operating the way we are used to having it operate, we will need to add quite a bit more than 8,195 megawatts per year - perhaps triple that amount."

First, wind could easily grow to 25GW per year in new capacity in less than 10 years.

Second, why do we want so much new capacity (except to replace inefficent/FF generation)? Current capacity is around 1,000GW, more than 2x average demand of 450GW. Now, it's true that much of that is peaker gas plants, but why not shift demand away from peak and promote efficiency?

I discussed time-shifting before. There are also enormous benefits available from efficiency: Toronto users of a meter which conveniently displays real-time energy use reduce their useage about 15%. Most appliances and lighting can be replaced with much higher efficiency, and very cost-effectively.

That would be much easier and faster to do, and more cost and CO2 effective, wouldn't it?

Assume we can do that, eventually you reach a point where no more conservation can be done. Everyone is using new lights, they have shifted their use, other than personal use and business use shut down, what else is left?

What then comes into play is population growth adding to the demand. If the growth in population is faster than conservation, then more output is needed. Question is, will that increased output construction plus replacement output construction keep up with population growth?

Richard Wakefield

If we (here in the USA) actually reached that point (where no more conservation is possible) I'd be delighted.

We're an order of magnitude away from that...

"eventually you reach a point where no more conservation can be done. "

1st, you really don't. By the time one set of technology is installed, new tech has created new low-hanging fruit. For instance, by the time everyone has installed CFL's, high-efficiency general illumination LED's will be ready.

2nd, even if we get to a point of diminishing returns relative to new generation, by that time wind/solar will be more than large and cheap enough to provide our needs.

That's an assumption and I hope you are right, but what about the population component in this? Or is that a no-no subject?

Richard Wakefield

"what about the population component in this?"

Pop growth in the US is only about 1% per year - in 15 years that's only 16% growth (compounded). PO and GW will require much greater changes than that, in that time period.

If the US could get rid of all the misplaced sympathy for illegal immigrants (especially for their children, whose "citizenship" is the proceeds of a crime and should be revoked), we could deport ~20 million and have a negative population tick in the space of a couple years.  This would have very large positive side effects, as the costs for prisons, remedial/ESL education, and a host of other expenses dropped steeply and allowed effort to be put into our real issues.

Other way around.
We want to deport the parents of immigrants, not the children. The parents are the ones who are getting social security and medicare. The children are the ones who will be paying my social security and medicare. They are also the ones who are acculturated to American norms.
Australia has one of the toughest immigration standards. Most of us here don't meet it. Their attitude towards family reunion is that you can always hop a plane home and meet dad for Thanksgiving or Christmas or Eid El Fitra or whatever, but your dad didn't pay social security or medicare taxes and he isn't going to their hospital or nursing home.

The parents are the ones who are getting social security and medicare.

Sorry, that's backwards.  The parents are ineligible for Medicare, welfare and everything else unless and until their status is normalized.  However, their US-born children are immediately eligible for WIC and other assistance programs, which subsidize the parents.  Further, those children tend to be ill-educated and poor earners; if you want your Social Security subsidized, you want to admit Chinese.

Sorry, that's forwards. They really do bring their parents over by filling out a form promissing to support them, or by having them work in the family business and then retiring them in social security.

And they drain the SS Trust Fund even faster, because they are low earners (which are subsidized by higher earners in the SS scheme) and, having immigrated as adults, have paid into the system for even fewer years.

Even the average immigrant is not a significant benefit, per the Center for Immigration Studies:

  • Census projections are buttressed by Social Security Administration (SAA) estimates showing that, over the next 75 years, net annual legal immigration of 800,000 a year versus 350,000 would create a benefit equal to only 0.77 percent of the program’s projected expenditures.
  • It is not clear that even this tiny benefit exists, because SSA assumes legal immigrants will have earnings and resulting tax payments as high as natives from the moment they arrive, which is contrary to a large body of research.

The immediate costs are high too:

Camarota's data showed that the average taxes paid by Mexican immigrants in California amount to about $1,535 per year, while native-born Californians pay $5,600 in taxes.

While Mexican immigrants pay one-third the taxes of native Californians on average, they also consume roughly three times more welfare, Camarota said.

The CIS data showed that 41.5 percent of Mexican immigrants used "major welfare programs" like Medicaid and food stamps, while those same welfare programs were used by only 14.2 percent of native Californians.

"There's a very big difference between what Mexican immigrants are supposed to pay in taxes and what natives are supposed to pay," said Camarota. "This fact, coupled with their extremely high use of public services, means that there's a very high cost for cheap labor."

If you really believe that these immigrants are going to pay your Social Security (most of them would qualify for EITC and pay even less than their income would suggest), you've been sold a bill of goods.

Brilliant, lets just wall off the US. Then we'll be just fine. The rest of the world may have population problems, food problems, energy problems but who cares?

Better yet, lets get rid of all the children of children of illegal immegrants, all those Irish Americans, Italian Americans etc etc. Or did you only mean brown people?

Ah, race bating always comes up in these discussions. Allowing Mexico to export it's overpopulation problem to the US only exacerbates the tragedy of the commons. We will turn the entire planet into a radioactive cesspool before we're finished.

That's because its basically a racist argument.

I'm not saying unrestricted immigration is the answer to resource depletion. But Engineer Poet seems to want to wall off the US and just let Mexico rot. I'm assuming of course there will be a hole in that wall through which we can continue to import their oil.

Engineer Poet seems to want to wall off the US and just let Mexico rot.

Sorry, you have it backwards.  The export of workers so they can send remittances back to Mexico is part of the rot.  Mexico is tied with Costa Rica for the richest nation in Latin America, but all the wealth is tied up by monopolists like Carlos Slim.  If Mexico couldn't export people, the elites would have to concentrate on creating jobs and developing resources at home.

I'm assuming of course there will be a hole in that wall through which we can continue to import their oil.

Mexico will shortly have no oil to export, which is another reason why the US needs the breathing room created by re-patriating all our illegal immigrants (and maybe some undesirable people admitted legally).

Mexico will shortly have no oil to export, which is another reason why the US needs the breathing room created by re-patriating all our illegal immigrants (and maybe some undesirable people admitted legally).

EP, it is exactly this attitude that I am objecting to. The idea that the US can buy "breathing room" at the expense of other nations.

Let the brown people starve in the dark. We'll be just fine here behind our fence building our solar panels and wind farms. After, of course, we deport all those brown people to their side of the fence where they belong.

it is exactly this attitude that I am objecting to. The idea that the US can buy "breathing room" at the expense of other nations.

But it's just fine for them to buy "breathing room" at our expense?  Recall that illegal immigration is just that, illegal; the only reason it has been allowed to continue is because employers and rich people have found it convenient and profitable to import cheap, docile labor and keep US citizens from getting ahead.

As an engineer who has lost several jobs to H1-B's, I'm part of the victim class.  Part of this is at my personal expense.

No it isn't "fine for them to buy "breathing room" at our expense".

That's the problem with resource depletion. There is no "just fine" answer when there aren't enough resources to go around.

Just watch out there. Make sure you are on the right side "our expense" and you aren't one of "them".

Don't ever let the government declare you or your family "illegal". Never mind all you want to do is feed your family or make a living. If you become "illegal" you are screwed and will get no sympathy at all from the likes of "us".

You lost a job to an H1B worker? Farking Darkie. He should've stayed in India and starved with his family like he deserves. Look at my crappy CRT TV. I could've had a flat screen TV with that promotion.

That's the problem with resource depletion. There is no "just fine" answer when there aren't enough resources to go around.

Most of these people had jobs where they came from.  Many of them had land that they farmed.  Let them go back to them.

Just watch out there. Make sure you are on the right side "our expense" and you aren't one of "them".

I'm not moving to someone else's country against their laws and demanding my "rights".

Don't ever let the government declare you or your family "illegal".

They're perfectly legal... back in their home countries.

You lost a job to an H1B worker? Farking Darkie. He should've stayed in India and starved with his family like he deserves.

I heard at least one project was a clusterf**k, but management thought they were getting a cheap indentured servant who couldn't change jobs without throwing out his Green card application and having to start over.

Besides, you make it sound like India doesn't need these people.  If India's laws or social ethos makes it hard to build an industry there, why not fix India and benefit a billion instead of dragging down professional wages and destroying the middle class here?

Recall that illegal immigration is just that, illegal

You seem to be confusing legality and morality. Lots of highly legal actions are fundamentally immoral. When every person who works for a U.S. corporation in a foreign country gets the exact same purchasing power as U.S. employee for the same amount of work, it will be time to preach to other countries about illegal immigration and not before.

Now that you drag morality into it, it isn't moral for people to come into someone else's country, demand services they don't come close to paying for and claim that any action against public hazards like uninsured and drunken drivers is "racist" because it affects them disproportionately.

(The irony of someone using the "racist" epithet while ignoring, supporting or even being a member of the "National Council of The Race" is pretty thick too.  And do I need to mention the hypocrisy of Mexicans who want free entry to the USA, but aggressively deport Guatemalans who enter illegally?)

Illegal immigration is driven by a simple fact. Labor is more highly rewarded in some countries than in others. Every time you buy a product that was made with cheap labor in some other global location you are encouraging immigration both legal and illegal. I do not doubt that the Mexican government is corrupt and hypocritcal, but waxing morally indignant about poor Mexicans who feel that their labor is just as valuable as anyone else's and do not see why an accident of birth should condemn them to extreme poverty is absurd.

waxing morally indignant about poor Mexicans who feel that their labor is just as valuable as anyone else's and do not see why an accident of birth should condemn them to extreme poverty is absurd.

You imply that Mexico's situation is immutable.  I don't accept that, and put the onus on Mexico's political and economic elites to fix the problems they've created.  Part of that is not letting them throw those problems onto people in other nations, myself included.

I do not believe that Mexico's situation is immutable, nor do I believe in a wide open border. We should do everything in our power to encourage intelligent reform in Mexico. But the idea that that the problems of Mexico and of the United States should be solved completely separately by the two countries is nonsense. We are part of an interconnected global economy. If we work for companies who pay employees in foreign subsidiaries lower pay than U.S. employees, or buy products produced by low wage rate foreign labor, or vote for politicians who happily promote dumping subsidized U.S. agricultural produce in developing country country markets then we are part of the economic problems of developing countries. In order for a global economy to be reasonably just a universal principle of equal pay for equal work has to be established. And it is not just a question of justice either. Failure to promote such a principle is exerting strong downward pressure on pay levels and job quality in this country, as your own experience has shown you.

If all the Irish and Italians are descendants of illegals, why's there all this fuss about Ellis Island and the official vetting processes (which began overseas) which were completed there?

You are trying to create a moral equation where there is no equality.

Two points.

1. There are lots and lots of "Americans" descended from illegal immigrants. Not everybody's ancestors came in via ellis island.

2. The whole point of Ellis Island was basically unrestricted immigration. If we had the equivilant of Ellis island today we wouldn't have an "illegal" immigration problem.

Know why Kennedy fights so hard against immigration "reform"? Its because a large chunk of his constituancy are either illegal or descended from illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigration doesn't exist for the benefit of the immigrants - it's for the benefit of their employers.

I think the average mexican would prefer to stay home, and have good education and an open economy.

If we're sincere about helping the average Mexican, we'd push for reform in Mexico: help Mexico improve it's education, de-regulate small business, reform the government, etc.

That would be a far better solution than building a fence.

Its been noted several time here that Mexico looks like an early stage Zimbabwe. I shudder to think of the immigration problem the US will have if Mexico completely collapses.

But then again, how would you prevent a nation like Mexico from collapsing post peak?

If we were sincere about helping other countries, we might not have the 'standard of living' we do.

Illegal immigrants and their descendents are 99% post WWI, because before 1920 it was very difficult to be an illegal immigrant. Basically you had to be an Arab, an East Indian, a Chinese, or a Japanese. Everybody else was legal if they were reasonably self supporting.
Afterwards we didn't get many illegal immigrants because we kept rounding up and deporting the Mexicans, and because immigration by passenger liner was easy to monitor. Immigration by plane is what caused the great leap upward by overstayers, etc.

Wakefield's original question was not answered. Immigration control and populaiton control are not one and the same thing. The Chinese have the right answer with the one child policy. I presume tax incentives will be made in US/Canada to the same effect so long as democratic principles hold.

Obviously all nations have the right to control immigration, including the US. It is however unreslitic for someone like myself, living in Europe to believe it should be easy to do this as America has a huge border compared to Europe directly in contact with extremely poor Mexico. A wall like the Berlin wall with constant monitoring, massive deportations of illegals seems logical if a great depression sets in as extra food will go to the mouths of locals and starvation should be somebody else's problem. As long as there is a growing pie nobody is worried if somebody gets some too. However that will not be the case anymore soon enough. A Mexican passport does not give the right to US residency(my wife and I both had to do a lotof paperwork and wait quite a while to get the right to live as EU citizens both indepently of one another and have no sympathy for illegals getting a free ride). International law will be enforced. Hard times ahead with little sympathy for strangers. Will such policies be extremely popular or just seen by the population as a necessary evil and then people will ignore what is happening in a civil war and starvation to the south, like the Europeans looked the other way out of fear for themsleves when jews were brought to freight heading east. That is the question how the average guy accepts the situation and how really necessary it is for the survival of the nation to take that decision towards the southern neighbours for USA/Canada. Right now people argue a lot, but times are relativiely good. Later the arguments will be less as a full belly and a job are argument enough and charity starts at home. Racism is a nice concept to be ignored and the church is visited on Sundays if at all so conscience does not bite so much.

LED lighting has some benefits such as durability but it is not more efficent than CFL's. I am speaking of lumens/watt. Its relative lifespan is good however.

Regarding wind/solar I disagree. I am quite aware of what advances have been made and are in the works and I think that is a wildly optimistic and unfounded statement. Let me add that I run solar PV myself and have for a decade.


At the present rate of efficiency growth, LEDs won't be available for years. Could be a breakthrough sometime, but you can't bet on it. You may have another cycle of CFL before you go to LEDs.

Not sure I agree with this comment.

I brought a Led flashlight 4 years ago. The same batteries are still powering it to this day. It is still as bright now as when new. The light is far more intense than with a regular tungsten bulb.

The Led bulb has never failed.

Its powered by two AA batteries. Not nicads nor rechargables.Just plain jane batteries.

I now had two of them..the only problem is the cap on the back broke when I dropped it.

As to AC power to Leds? You could be right there. But for DC? I'll take the Led flashlights anyday.

"LED lighting has some benefits such as durability but it is not more efficent than CFL's. "

True, but in 10 years that's very likely to change.

"Regarding wind/solar I disagree. "

And why is that? Wind is already cheaper than natural gas, and cheaper than new coal (have you seen the cost of new plants??), and growing very, very quickly.

"I run solar PV myself and have for a decade"

10 years ago PV was much more expensive to manufacture. Costs have dropped, though not prices, as demand has kept way ahead of supply.

We are at least 2 orders of magnitude away from "not being able to conserve more". When the maximum acceptable nighttime illumination is a 25mW nightlight/booklight (so you don't trip and fall), when all hot water is heated using solar (and just pumped electrically), when TV is watched on a 1W visor-mounted display, and a 10W computer with a 7" screen is a luxury--then we may reach "maximum conservation".

Personally, I wonder if electricity will ever reach $10/kwH (in today's money), but I hope that, as long as we let market pricing determine its cost, it will at least remain available for those applications. + maybe communal cooking. I hate cooking, let someone else do it efficiently.


If we want to keep the grid operating the way we are used to having it operate, we will need to add quite a bit more than 8,195 megawatts per year - perhaps triple that amount.

Gail, there is almost a 4:1 per-capita difference in electrical consumption between the highest per-capita consumption state (Wyoming) and the lowest (California). California's per-capita consumption is just over half that of the U.S. as a whole, and is under half that of Texas. Surely the vast majority of the states will be able to emulate California to at least some extent and reduce their per-capita consumption faster than their populations are growing.

California's secret to low electrical production is to site their coal power plants in Wyoming and get their electricity by wire.

"California's secret to low electrical production is to site their coal power plants in Wyoming and get their electricity by wire."

That's production. The earlier post was about consumption.

Actually, there was a proposal to do just that but the state government shut it down by imposing a requirement that state utilities could only distribute power that met or exceeded air quality standards equivalent to a combined cycle gas turbine burning natural gas with catalytic converters.

The sweet part of the Wyoming deal was that there is transmission access to the Pacific Intertie.

Warren Buffet has jumped in and now is now proposing a new nuke in Idaho along those same transmission lines.

No, California's secret is the absence of heavy industry and the mild climate.

Wyoming has severe climate and low population, which mostly works in heavy industries - mineral extraction and processing are quite energy intensive activities.

A more correct indicator would be residential use per capita, but even this is not capturing the difference in climate and the related heating/cooling needs.

there's still a fair amount of automotaive and aerospace in California. And the petrochemical industry is quite energy intensive.

They have fair weather i.e. less heating & cooling - still tehy've kept their per capita energy footprint flat whereas its grown considerably in the US.

9% of Wyoming's electricity is used for residential. I didn't look up other states for comparison numbers. While all states can do more on the conservation front, I don't think California has any secrets. As Levin points out, it's mainly due to our mild climate and lack of heavy industry. The states with the highest per capita electricity usage have high air conditioning loads. Electricity intensive businesses will locate where electricity is the cheapest. That isn't California.

Public conservation efforts at the ground level must me making some difference. The public utility's offer rebates for solar and the state offers tax breaks. Water is scarce so forced conservation is not unknown. The local DWP distributed free energy savings light bulbs at one point to anyone who wanted one.

Public campaigns for power reductions and asking people to us major appliances after 6pm made headlines when the Enron deregulation debacle was happening.

The problem I see is the information pipeline asking people to make small steps to conserve seems to be regional.

We have PG&E and had time of use (TOU) metering for over 20 years. Peak time is 12 noon to 6PM weekdays. We've been happy to a large degree with one of exception; irrigation.

Baseline usage is designed around typical home usage not someone who has significant irrigataion. Besides our regular garden, we have ~50 fruit trees and 48 grape vines. The well pump is 2hp and I can easily use 40kW for each irrigation. This pushes us into a higher rate since we exceed the baseline for off-peak usage. I could have a separate meter for the well but it would involve trenching for a new line, meter hub, etc. But all-in-all, TOU metering has been a good deal for us.

One advantage we do have is our PV system. We always swtich off the gird during peak during weekdays when it's sunny. It's always fun to run the AC or water heater off the grid since they actually give us the biggest savings - especially during peak hours.


Wind and solar can replace coal and gas KWH's.

There really isn't a technical/economic problem - instead, it's a regulatory problem.

In my view there are significant technical problems associated with replacing coal and gas KWH’s by wind and solar, mainly related to the problem of intermittency. The California summertime and solar energy seem to be made for each other, but many geographical locations have lots of short timescale variations in insolation during the summer. One possibility for dealing with short timescale variations is sodium sulfur (NAS) batteries. NGK Insulators which is currently the sole manufacturer of these batteries claims that with high volume manufacturing costs could drop to U.S. $140/kWh. At 90% depth of discharge the batteries will last for 4500 cycles. The roundtrip efficiency in AC mode is 75%. Thus the cost per kWh is 140/(4500×0.9×0.75) = $0.046. Of course you have to add on the cost of interest, operation and maintenance costs, utility company profits, plus the cost of the base renewable generation per kWh divided by 0.75. If wind costs a $0.04/kWh then $0.053 must be added for the base generation costs. These costs are significant relative to current U.S. industrial user electricity prices of about $0.045, but not necessarily a civilization breaker. If, as many posters on TOD have claimed, all current manufacturing costs have significant fossil fuel subsidies then these costs may rise significantly in the not too distant future.

However, I am even more concerned about the problems associated with renewable energy variations on longer time scales. People using NAS batteries are compensating for day/night variations in electricity price and are not planning on long storage times, for good reason. At one cycle per day 4500 cycles represents a 12 year lifetime. For variations on a 10 or 100 day time scale 4500 cycles would represent a 120 and 1200 year lifetime respectively. The up front capital cost for such a low energy density storage medium on these long time scales would be prohibitive. Therefore unless the variation in availability of intermittent renewable resources conveniently matches demand variation then we have a significant problem which can be met only by building lots of excess capacity and throwing away the energy we cannot use in the short term. You have pointed out previously that in many climates demand and insolation are both highest in the summer. However, this claim applies to a world in which space heating is done primarily with natural gas. When natural gas supplies shrink and we have to start heating with ground source heat pumps then this convenient winter/summer demand difference may go away. I suppose one could always fall back on the supposed seasonal complementarity of solar and wind energy, although I would like to see some hard data related to this claim. I know that in central California where I live the windiest time of year is in the summer. If wind is going to complement California solar energy in the winter we are going we are going to have to import it from somewhere else.

Shorter time scales are important as well. Two weeks of intensely sunny (or windy) weather followed by two weeks of cloudy (or windless weather) present significant storage problems. We could try to compensate for variations on such time scales by a super grid which fires energy around a very large geographical area and thus flattens out the availability of renewable energy. However, such a super grid will be an expensive infrastructure project, and I am not sure how we are going to simultaneously finance it and also maintain the economic growth which is the primary and unvarying goal of our current economic system. I am far from convinced that the current growth rates of wind and solar energy can be maintained when the real costs of integrating such variable power sources into the grid begins to manifest itself.

In my view there are significant technical problems associated with replacing coal and gas KWH’s by wind and solar, mainly related to the problem of intermittency.

These are easily dealt with using ice-storage A/C to allow one major load to follow generation, rather than the reverse.

I have a xerox of a paper on solar power and blackouts. The author of the paper just looked up the date of all the blackouts caused by overload (power lines get hot and sag when you put too much power through them) and then googled the satellite picture of the blackout area at the date and time.
Every blackout from overdemand (as distinguished from ice storms taking out the transmission lines) was during clear days in summer. No clouds, no rain, no dust storms, nothing. Always clear skies in the summer.
Blackouts are expensive. We could have built ten gigawatts of distributed solar fields and got them free by avoiding the industrial costs of blackouts, not even counting office, retail, or household costs.

I can only recommend the type of switch they made beginning of WWII by stopping ciivlian automobile production overnight in favor of military production. If the consumer society crashes due to the credit crisis anyway it might be wise to do a keynesian experiment with alternate energy grid build-out. Maybe oil will be cheap as demand will go way down globally but PO will be apparent and short of a war the economy won't recover so infrastructure pojects like in Japan in the 90s seem likely. Roads to nowhere would be a waste of time as the Japanese have discovered. Obviously though the entire infrastructure is at the end of its rope in the industrial countries so personal car driving and production of nonessential consumer goods could be eliminated in favour of necessary infrastructure renewal and a total renewable enrgy system with corresponding grid.

This would be the POWERDOWN NEW DEAL of the 2010s.

Wind farms are a form of sprawl that happens to produce rather than consume power. A stand alone windmill is a thing of beauty IMO. In a small cluster around a commercial building is fine, but a field of cookie cutter windmills cluttering the landscape
in endless repetition represents the utter and complete destruction of open space. There is simply no way around this. The Altamont farm, to take the example that most are familiar with, is an abomination.Here we have covered the archetypal Stienbeckian landscape w/ hundreds,upon hundreds of identical windmills. For what purpose? SO that we can power more inefficient sprawl and tract housing? The whole discussion of replacing capacity at any cost is inherently perverse. You simply can not call yourself "green" if you are advocating something like this.


"Here we have covered the archetypal Stienbeckian landscape w/ hundreds,upon hundreds of identical windmills. For what purpose?"

No question, greater efficiency/conservation is the best idea. OTOH, no matter how efficient we get, we'll still need generation. Don't you think that the harm to the "viewshed" is much, much less important than the harm done by coal??

Is the echo of Richard Duncan's Olduvai Theory here merely coincidental?

If so, it's awfully creepy.

I agree. In 2008, we appear to be facing problems with food supplies, oil supplies and electricity. I wonder if (probably when) we will see an American president calling for a nationwide Victory Garden program.

I have an idea for a new bumper sticker: "James Howard Kunstler is an optimist"

I would like to see the bumper sticker "James Howard Kunstler is an Actor" :D

Thats just mean.

I wonder if (probably when) we will see an American president calling for a nationwide Victory Garden program.

Not as long as we elect presidents from parties that are bought and controled by corporate interests. A couple of phone calls and campaign donations from a few agribusiness and supermarket companies would kill any talk of a Victory Garden program.

I detest this, but this is the way it is now.

Excellent work. Long overdue on TOD.

With respect to natural gas, some pressure has been removed from the domestic supply market by the closing of fertilizer manufacturers in the U.S., with imports making up the difference. Hence, we are now less dependent upon domestic natural gas for fertilizer, but more dependent upon oil supplies to get it here.

This quote is from a recent article sent out by the American Farm Bureau,

“The U.S. imported about 57 percent of its nitrogen last year, compared to 31 percent in the 1999/2000 growing season. One reason for the import increase is rooted in the price of natural gas, nitrogen fertilizer’s key ingredient. Trinidad, a tiny island in the Caribbean, has an abundant supply of natural gas, and it manufactures anhydrous ammonia more cheaply than the U.S. Trinidad is expected to be this country’s largest supplier of anhydrous for some time to come, while other popular nitrogen fertilizers such as urea are imported from Russia and Eastern Europe.”

Great job. I will be looking forward to more TOD articles
on this issue.

Well done.


As usual, you, Prof. Goose, Jason and others on this list, continue to ignore the 800 lb. electrical energy gorilla sitting in the living room. It eats waste heat and Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE--see source map at OSU website) renewed daily by the sun each day, providing us (potentially) with a life-saving resource which is inexpensive electrical energy.

It's creator, L.M. Michaud,P.Eng., (the Wizard of On.,CA) has developed a roadmap ( for it's implementation--just follow the (spiralling) yellow-brick road.

We have the knowledge--we don't need more diplomas. Though corporations don't, we each have a heart--watching the die-off won't be much fun. What seems to be lacking is the courage to take a stand and insist that its full- scale development commence.

"Somewhere, over the rainbow,
skies are blue...

Where troubles melt like lemon drops,
Away above the chimney tops,
That's where you'll find me." (E.Y. Harburg)

"First they ignore you,
Then they laught at you,
Then they fight you,
Then, You Win." (M. Gandhi)

"we are now less dependent upon domestic natural gas for fertilizer, but more dependent upon oil supplies to get it here. "

Water shipping is very, very energy efficient.

Water shipping may be very, very energy efficient. That still leaves other questions: Will enough be made? Will the value of the dollar be high enough for us to buy what we want? Do we want to depend of unstable foreign suppliers for everything?

Well, the nice thing about ammonia fertilizer is that's really just hydrogen combined with the ordinary air around you, and it's easy to make hydrogen from electricity and water (seawater works well).

It's hard to store and transport hydrogen, but it's easy to store and transport fertilizer, and we're going to have a fair amount of cheap, night-time electricity.

So, domestic fertilizer won't be a problem, should we want it.

Let me put it another way. Two thirds of America's food production comes from fertiliser and three fifths of the fertiliser comes through a few dozen bulk import facilities.
This makes me nervous. This makes me look at moving to Australia. We can get along with half as much crude oil a lot easier than we can get along with half as much food.

"We can get along with half as much crude oil a lot easier than we can get along with half as much food."

Actually, we can get along quite nicely with half of much of both.

As far as food goes, 90% of grains are used for feeding livestock. Cut your meat intake by 55%, and cut demand for grain by 50%.

Probably 25% of fertilizer consumption in the US is for lawns - lawns have 4x the acreage as grains...

You are talking about some other country, probably the Netherlands, for livestock, and probably San Marino for lawns. We have a lot of farmland in America and it is fertilised to the point of toxicity. Go up in an airplane and look down sometime. The lawns that get all that fertiliser are used to graze cows in Texas and like that. Now lime, compost, bark, sand, clay, soil amendments are valuable for lawns, but are not nitrate fertilisers. Nitrate fertilisers is what we worry about. We have potash and phosphate and sulfur to spare.

"You are talking about some other country, probably the Netherlands, for livestock, and probably San Marino for lawns. "

No, the vast majority of grains (corn, soy, etc) in the US are fed to livestock. For instance, some corn goes to corn syrup (which, IMHO, is usually an unnecessary and obesity causing additive), and some to ethanol, but maybe 10% of corn production goes to direct consumption by people in corn meal, corn flakes, etc. Meat production is very inefficient - perhaps 10% of the calory input remains in the meat (those cows do occasionally use some energy to walk around, and breathe....). If you eliminated meat consumption you could multiply the grain calories available for direct consumption by people by roughly 5 times.

And, yes, there's about 275M acres of farmland in the US, and about 1B acres of non-farm, non-grazing lawns (residences, parks, golf clubs, etc - I haven't seen the actual data on this, but this is what others have posted - actual data, anyone?). Those lawns don't use nearly as much nitrate fertilizer per acre, but they use some, and by dint of sheer size it's meaningful. My wild guess was that they use 25% of US fertilizer, but it could be more - anyone have data on fertilizer usage for lawns like this?

You just outlined an extremely profitable startup concept that will also be a slamdunk for gov. sub.

Once the big bucks start rolling in you incorporate renewables....

Soooooo, what are you waiting for?

Jason...I just gave a copy of End of Suburbia to the new CEO of UVMC. I need to do more educating; he thinks we have 400 years of coal, and that Anwar will save us, but I'm hitting him with a lot of papers, too (a few general, a few on PO and medicine; I'll give him stuff on peak uranium and coal tonight). He's open to learning; just moved out from Ohio, and we have already taught him about recycling :>)

Do you or Dr. B have any contacts down there? I'd really like to start greening up the place.

Mike da Rat

Sure. Would like to talk to you. My wife tries to educate all the time in the medical profession.

My number is in the phone book, so please call.

Will do

If you plot the generating capacity of various fuel types over time (using a stacked line graph in Excel, for example), renewables just barely show-up in the last few years. I'll see if I can post that graphic a little later.

What IS striking (at least when I project in the courses I teach) is the remarkable jump in natural gas capacity (NG as the primary fuel) since the late 1999. The jump from the 775 GW generating capacity in 1998 to 1026 GW in 2005 was almost entirely due to the addition of NG turbines (236 GW of the 251 GW added from 1999-2005. I'm working on the 2006 numbers right now. The backup fuel for these units is distillate fuel in the form of kerosene/diesel/No.2).

Almost all of the additional capacity is simple-cycle turbines more suited to peak load then base-generation (we've come a long way in turbine technology and the extremly high efficiency of simple cycle turbines and combined-cycle machines, makes them look attractive compared to the standard steam cycle for generating electricity). They have the advantage of relatively short start-up times and acting as part of the spinning reserve that is there "just in case."

What is generally not appreciated is the amount of tuning that is required for these machines to run well for changing gas conditions and a big concern is what happens when these machines meet up with gas conditions that are different than their current tuning (i.e., LNG). Flame stability can present a problem.

Still, demand growth is the real problem and even the ability to drop NG turbines in relatively quickly will not alleviate the problem of the strain on the T&D system that increaseing load will produce. At current growth rates we will have to double the size of the generating system and the strengthen the T&D system to double the capacity in just about 30 years. As a representative of Duke Energy told a group of people this past summer: "this is impossible and somebody is going to have to say 'NO!'."

If you look at this link, virtually all of the new capacity added since 1995 is natural gas.

I wasn't aware of the problem with different types of gas, like LNG. I understand that if the pressure in the pipes drops too low, because of too little gas, we will have a problem.

There is a SMALL technical issue with LNG. In the US, there is a standard for heat content of pipeline natural gas - I think it something like 1060 BTU/cubic foot (but don't quote me) with some tightly controlled variance (plus/minus 30 BTU, say). All the end users can design their equipment to this standard. It really defines how much methane, ethane, butane, and non-combustibles are present.

Due to the liquefaction process, as-delivered LNG is enriched in the heavier, higher BTU stuff like butane. That makes LNG have a higher heat content. Nitrogen, a common non-combustible, is also preferentially rejected as its liquefaction temperature is lower than methane's.

It can also change the octane rating for internal combustion engines and flame velocities in gas turbines.

Widespread importation of LNG could indeed cause some redesign or retuning at the end-users' equipment.

I don't see how that would be a deal-breaker though.

It makes me wonder why the regasification plants don't use the LNG to distill out the excess butane.  Seems simple enough, and it's not like they'd have to expend energy to cool the still!

I was wunderring why they don't just add nitrogen.

Probably flame speed or the like.

LNG is not a "deal-breaker" per se. It is one more degree of complexity associated with ever larger and more efficient CTs. It affects the formation of acoustic waves in the combustion cans and the resulting effects on the blades in the first blade/buckets of the expander section. BTW, you were close on the "standard" heat content of NG (1030 Btu/scf).

These medium-to-high-bypass turbofan designs with their single crystal blade design allow for the extremely tight tolerances in the machine that add to the overall efficiency. If we want to give up a little efficiency for a bit more tolerance, we can. It's just a choice that has to be made at the outset of equipment selection.

One project I worked on a a number of years ago in coal-country was a little 25 MW simple cycle CT using coal mine gas (using a P&W aero derived power-plant). Gas quality was all over the place and consequently the machine selected was one that had lower efficiency and yet could take the fuel abuse (as well as sitting on top of a mountain to help the collection flow of gas from the underground mines). It was also a designed around a "black start" but that was just another degree of complexity to deal with.

As for LNG, it's just one more thing to plan for when dealing with some of these 300 MW+, land-based rotating monsters.

I too believe that NG is one of the biggest immediate issues facing the US - simply bc the US electrical grid is so dependent upon NG. Several years ago, I started a thread on PO.Com titled "Review of the Olduvai Gorge" where I tried to tack evidence of problems facing the US grid and grid systems around the world. As with all topics, you will have to bear with some tangents along the way, but I've done my best to track this issue for the last couple of years.

If you're interested, you may venture a look at that thread. In the beginning, I only linked to articles and didn't quote from them. However, many articles eventually were lost and thus later I've tried to quote more or post the entire article.

You will find when I first started the topic, many people just wanted to argue if Duncan was right, when my goal was to simply monitor the facts as they unfolded. If you can peruse through the first pages of those debates, you will find that later the thread got back to its intended purpose, which was a place for people to post articles dealing with evidence of "the Gorge."

Interesting! I will want to look at that.

Gail, very good post as it probably reflects a situation just as important, maybe more so, than oil depletion. While reduced transportation fuel will be painful, we can survive if the depletion rate is not precipitous. Electric power is different, generation and distribution follows the instantaneous load. Slightly less generation than load is called a "Blackout". Electricity load is much more complex than just "baseload" and "peaking". Many comments regarding "peaking" are actually referring to "mid-range". True "peaking" is what occurs between 5am-9am and 4pm-9pm on a daily basis. Mid-range handles the longer term daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal variations. In all cases, dispatchability, and reliability are paramount. Based on the above definitions solar and wind do not provide good peaking generation as both have poor capability during the hours of the day quoted. Also using KWH for describing power generation is misleading. It is fine as a simple way to accumulate power usage for billing purposes but can't measure reliable and dispatchable electric power.

" In all cases, dispatchability, and reliability are paramount."

That overstates the case, and is misleading. Dispatchability, and reliability are desirable, but you have to consider the whole system.

I would note, for instance, that nuclear isn't dispatchable (though it's pretty reliable, at least in the US): "dispatchable" means that you can turn it up and down, and as a practical matter one doesn't want to ever turn down nuclear voluntarily. They do it in France to follow the load, but at a substantial cost - it's never done in the US.

What is important is that the variability of one's generation is manageable, and that depends on a host of factors.

"using KWH for describing power generation is misleading"

No, it's just a part of the picture. If wind can handle, say, 20% of the KWH's, that pretty directly reduced coal and natural gas useage.

Slightly less generation than load is called a "Blackout".

One tragic issue is that people behave in so self-destructive a way. If load is nearing the capacity and TPTB call for conservation to avoid a blackout, the response in actual usage, though sometimes significant, is fairly small. If most people would cooperate and do simple things like turn off unneeded lights (not a great sacrifice) such crises could be averted. But they don't.

This is an example of human nature getting in the way. In a sense all of the peak-this and peak-that issues are psychological (and social and political) problems more than technical ones.

To quote a recent guest editorial here in Vermont:

Most households can use far less electricity without much loss of comfort and utility. Fluorescent bulbs, front loading washing machines, and the latest energy-saving refrigerators make a big difference. Turning lights (and TVs) off when leaving a room is not onerous. Lighting the outdoors will go out of fashion. Drying clothes on a line will come back into fashion. Air conditioning will be recognized as a luxury -- fans use far less energy. Planting deciduous trees on the south side of houses will make them more comfortable, and shades, shutters and awnings can help. Propping open the doors of air-conditioned businesses will become as socially unacceptable as the emptying of chamber pots into the street.

"This is an example of human nature getting in the way."

Yes, but not in the way you put it.

People don't conserve because there has been no signal, either through pricing, regulation or otherwise, that they should do so.

Why is that so? Because it takes a while for people, including policy makers, voters, members of the media, etc to assimilate new info. Perhaps more importantly, it takes a while for society to figure out how to make change without hurting some people disproportionately, and those people hurt disproportionately will usually object to bearing all of the cost of the change (e.g., FF industries, car companies, utilities, etc.). The people hurt include not only investors and top managers, but a lot of working people as well, something that activists often forget.

The fact that the people resisting change often do so in ways that are counterproductive to the interests of the society (dishonesty, manipulation of the policy making process, etc) doesn't change the fact that they are real people, and should be taken into account. Much change would happen faster if activists and policy makers would remember that.

At my local Walmart last week I noticed something new in the freezer section. As I walked down the aisle the lights in the freezers came on. They are now motion activated. Considering how many supermarkets the country has that have few people in them much of the time this motion sensor thing could make quite a difference. Where can I get one for my daughter's bedroom?

I saw one at our local Harbor Freight.
Couldn't find it online though.



effency issue solved.

At my local Walmart last week I noticed something new in the freezer section. As I walked down the aisle the lights in the freezers came on. They are now motion activated. Considering how many supermarkets the country has that have few people in them much of the time this motion sensor thing could make quite a difference. Where can I get one for my daughter's bedroom?

It's called an "Occupancy sensor switch" and replaces a standard wall switch.

Any decent electrical parts place i.e. Home Depot will have them in various styles for about $20, online places like this:

Electric power is different, generation and distribution follows the instantaneous load. Slightly less generation than load is called a "Blackout".

No, slightly less generation than nominal load happens every day.  What it does is cause a sag in system frequency.  Reduced system frequency causes all induction motors to run slightly slower, which in turn reduces their power consumption.

"slightly less generation than nominal load happens every day. What it does is cause a sag in system frequency. "

Doesn't it also reduce voltage, thus reducing power consumption by anything dependent on voltage, like incandescent lights?

Voltage is often reduced by changing transformer taps (and drawing more inductive current will cause voltage to sag also), but that's not inherent to the system.  It is counter-intuitive, but an AC distribution system transmits power proportional to its frequency and supports its system voltage with imaginary power generated by capacitive reactance (volt-amps reactive, or VARs); change a big inductive load to a capacitive load and your voltage will go UP with no change in actual power transmitted.

Today this is undergrad material, but it took the genius of Tesla to see it in the equations.  Peons like me stand on the shoulders of giants.

there must be something wrong either with the material or with the undergrad.

What it does is cause a sag in system frequency.

if it is this simple then power companies don't even need to spend a fortune to dynamically balance the network load all the time.

from wiki:
In power supply networks, the power generation and the electrical load (demand) must be very close to equal every second to avoid overloading of network components, which can severely damage them.

You should know better than to cite Wikipedia as an authoritative source.

That said, the quote is largely true:  generation and demand (+losses) are equal over the span of a few cycles.  However, there is a few megawatts of demand variation on the time scale of seconds in a typical sub-grid, and the operators can do essentially nothing about it.  Nor do they have to; small variations are soaked up by the rotating machinery at both the supply and demand ends, doing the job with physics.  Grid frequency changes along with the supply/demand balance, and the power flow through transmission lines varies according to the phase difference between the ends.  It works as long as the margins aren't cut too fine.

never thought this is a place for people to get info (or misinfo) from an "authoritative source". at least wiki is a more widely accessed and critically edited place. you can go there to do your editing if you think what being quoted contains only halftruth.

In general about load reduction via consumers there are political and technical answers. If a technical solution is available that somehow has a feedback monitor on household consumption that rations KWH to households at peak times this could save the political argument and individiual conditioning of the consumer towards a conservation mentality. Otherwise a varied price mechanism for consumption at peak times could be instituted if feedback mechanisms could dtermine when people had consumed a unit of electricity.

Your concerns about natural gas are spot-on. One North American field that is growing in production is Wyoming. A pipeline to California was built a few years ago and a major one east to Chicago is under construction. A third to Oregon has just been approved. There is a rush to suck it empty ASAP and it won't last long. All others are old and in decline.

Likewise, there is a lot of activity for new LNG production and terminals. Here on the West Coast, we have begun to tap Indonesia but competition for increased deliveries comes from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, etc, etc. The next big supplier will be Sakalin Island, recently taken over by Putin's government. Austrialia's Gorgon field is also gearing up but it is expected to be much smaller.

Since California is increasingly dependent on natural gas for its electric supply, that implies that we Californians will be begging Putin to keep our lights on in a few years. A more urgent addiction I can't imagine.

Your analysis of uranium supplies needs further reading on the history or geology of uranium extraction. We've had decades of stagnant demand and a concerted effort (remember the Yellowcake Cartel?) to restrict new supplies to maintain prices. We are now facing a long overdue surge in demand. The ore bodies are out there in abundance - it is now an issue of building new mines and milling facilities. Enrichment capacity expansion is underway already, including new laser technology.

I expect a few years of high yellowcake prices followed by a crash as new mines come on line. Remember, yellowcake is a commodity and this is how commodity markets behave.

BTW, the Russians have just signed an agreement to ship excess plutonium to the US for blending into MOX reactor fuel. The US government has already build a MOX fuel facility. today, 10% of America's electricity is fueled by dismantled Russian nuclear warheads and submarine cores.

For a good overview of the nuclear fuel business, I recommend these sites:

" it is now an issue of building new mines and milling facilities. Enrichment capacity expansion is underway already, including new laser technology."

Gail's argument seems to be that capex lag will create temporary shortages. What do you think?

I don't think that any nuclear power plant will miss production due to lack of uranium. The process takes years from mine to fuel load and there are substantial government inventories. Existing plants have secured supplies many years out and new plants take even longer to build than mines and mills.

What we are seeing is spot market prices while most uranium is produced under long term contract.

Building a new mine shouldn't take longer than a couple of years and expansion of existing mines can be done even quicker. Building a new power plant can take from 5 to 10 years.

In the worst case, depleted uranium can be upgraded with admixed weapon grade materials to make the 5% or so enrichment needed.

The US and Russia have lots and lots of depleted uranium and lots and lots of unused and surplus warheads. Don't forget all those obsolete nuclear submarines - each one has several tons of highly enriched uranium in their cores.

"..there are substantial government inventories. Existing plants have secured supplies many years out.."

So, you're saying the feds and utilities have planned ahead? That's nice to hear. Do you have any further info/links on that?

According to the Uranium Information Center (

"There was very little uranium exploration between 1985 and 2005, so the significant increase in exploration effort that we are now seeing could readily double the known economic resources. On the basis of analogies with other metal minerals, a doubling of price from present levels could be expected to create about a tenfold increase in measured resources, over time."

Also, every new nuclear plant application is required to perform an environmental report that address fuel cycle impacts. Here's three:

Now, ask yourself, is Wall Street going to plop down $6 to 9 BILLION dollars for a power plant if there is any risk of not having fuel to run it before the mortgages are paid off?

"a doubling of price from present levels could be expected to create about a tenfold increase in measured resources, over time."

That makes sense to me, but I'm really curious about the government inventories, and supplies for existing plants, especially given the ongoing difference between production and consumption due to the military overhang. Might you have more info?

" environmental report that address fuel cycle impacts"

I took a look, and didn't see anything about procurement.

" is Wall Street going to plop down $6 to 9 BILLION dollars for a power plant if there is any risk of not having fuel to run it "

Well, Wall Street didn't do it's due diligence on mortgage backed securities. Heck, most of what we do at TOD is checking up on "authorities" who tell us "trust me". It makes sense to me that utilities would have worked hard to guarantee timely procurement, but it would be nice to see some evidence.

Another factor in yellowcake demand is separation tails.

Most uranium is "thrown away" as depleted in U-235. But it is not completely depleted but might be reduced to, say 0.025% from natural's 0.711%.

One can use less natural as-mined uranium by lowering the tails concentration. That substitutes more separation work units (SWUs) for raw uranium.

SWUs are getting cheaper with advances in isotopic separation technology and increased international competition. Such a move would increase the load on the chemical processing equipment for gasification and defloridation but those are straightforward chemical processes.

Look to Wikipedia for a reasonable estimate of over 1.1 million tonnes world-wide:

So if we reduced the tails from 0.025% U-235 to 0.000% U-235 we can get what 3% more U-235. OTOH there's lots of depleted uranium sitting around we can rework it the need arises.

You mean we can get 30% more U235 out of the stuff we are mining, and the rest of the U235 out of the stuff we mined over the last 60 years.

I'm not entirely sure this should be online as its a published book but hey-ho (I just bought a copy myself):


"The Great Uranium Investment Boom" pdf is what you linked too, not something about PGE exploration. That's copyright violation.

I am probably quite naive here but isn't the first requirement for business management is to establish a market?

Does not a business require a return on investment?
I know if I was going to spend a lot of money establishing a business or a nuclear plant I would make sure I had a ready and growing market for my commodity.

Who here thinks that the future economy will be vibrant enough to keep businesses running and economic growth sufficient to ensure utilities get a profitable return on investment?

Personally I think the economic outlook is bleak, money will be tight and there will be absolutely no chance for a return on investment. A nuclear fuel supply is moot.

I agree that "building a new mine shouldn't take longer than a couple of years" but that is not the way it usually works out, especially for uranium (the same issue that affects radwaste disposal). The NIMBY folks really come out in force, even from places 100 miles away. The permitting alone typically can take many many years (and Nevada has been fighting against radwaste burial at the Nevada Test Site for at least 25 years, so far with great success). Expansion of existing mines, to the point of exhaustion, seems far more practical. Unfortunately, for uranium, almost no existing mines exist any more. Hence the attractiveness of deweaponizing uranium, at least in the short term.

In the real world, it seems like things can take longer than theory would suggest. If you factor in a major recession and difficulty finding money for loans, it can make the timing even longer.

I'm not aware of any LNG terminals on the west coast. Whether such things are a good idea is a different issue.

Ensenada in Mexico is jointly owned by Southern California Edison and an oil company. Destination is California for the bulk of it.

LNG comes from Indonesia with a planned expansion to bring in Russian gas.

BHP's proposal to build a terminal in 10 miles off Malibu was shot down by the Coastal Commission. It was to import Gorgon gas from offshore Australia.

There's a small terminal in Alaska that EXPORTS LNG to Japan.

Thanks. Costa Azul is under construction but it looks like it will start operating next year.

The ore bodies are out there in abundance - it is now an issue of building new mines and milling facilities.

That is starting here too. The Bancroft area in Ontario, north east of Toronto, had several small U ore deposits that were mined for our reactors. Most of them were exhausted, but some deposits were left as uneconomical. Now there has been some renewed interest and drilling is going on again.

Though there is some civil resistance. Seems some native band is complaining that drilling is happening on disputed land and are seeking a court injunction to stop progress on any deposits.

I could add an opinion here, but I won't.

Richard Wakefield

See my NIMBY comment above.


The article from Maine said specifically that the low supply was not weather related. Had there not been some transmission down for maintenance, I'm sure that Hydro-Quebec would have been more than happy to step in with supply. They are very aggressive. The Sierra Club is worried that Vermont is not paying enough attention to bringing wind and solar on line because expansion of hydro in Quebec will be damaging but the shutdown of the decrepit Vermont Yankee plant will encourage it. From Hyrdo Quebec's web site I see their main growth plans for generation is in wind like most of North America so I'm not sure the Sierra Club worries are well founded.


I read on the BNN station that Quebec sold all it's wind turbines to Canadian Hydro

So now that part is privately owned selling to Quebec, who will then sell to Vermont.

Richard Wakefield

I think they have outstanding tenders for about 2.5 GW right now. If Vermont Yankee makes it to 2012, they should be covered. Probably 2009 would not be any kind of issue. Most of Quebec Hydro is in hydro so they are in very good shape to grow wind.


We've had a succession of attempts to Site new LNG Terminals along our coastline, in recent years, I think all of them have been quite correctly NIMBY'd away.. but it does have me wondering what the Threat of an "Energy Watch Weekend" on one of our first good cold snaps of winter would do to the likelihood of getting some town to approve the next one..


These folks: fight LNG along the Pacific Rim.

You seem to be making the argument that since Uranium production has been declining, it must be because the producer cannot produce enough to meet demand. I do not think that is the case. There are two facts to consider on this. First, Uranium demand is not price elastic. Nuclear fuel costs are 4% of costs and Uranium is 25% of fuel costs making Uranium costs 1% of costs. If Uranium were free, it would reduce the power plant costs by 1% which is not enough to increase demand. Even if it were, it would take many years for this effect to increase demand because it takes a while to build the plants.

Second, in recent years, the FSU has been dumping weapons materials in the commercial fuel market. This accounts for the difference between demand and production. This fuel can undercut the newly produced Uranium because the production cost is already sunk and the suppliers (i.e. the Russian government) do not need to recoup the production cost. In fact at least some of it is highly enriched, to like 90% (enrichment cost is about 50% of fuel costs) and can be blended down with a large quantity of unenriched Uranium to make the 2-3% enriched needed for reactors.

The net of this is that the weapons material can win all the martket share it can supply before the mining companies can win any. So the reason new production is down is because the producers are filling all the demand that they can compete for and they cannot drive more demand by producing more and lowering the price. From this we cannot conclude that the situation suggests that the producers could not produce enough to satisfy growing demand.

Gail's argument seems to be that capex lag will create temporary shortages. What do you think?

The Uranium mining companies have been taking a beating for years from the weapons material dumping, not to mention the effective moratorium in nuclear power that now appears to be ending. This has undoubtedly effected their investment and exploration (which has also suppressed their reserves appreciation). But they almost certainly know the size of those weapons stockpiles and of the nuclear boom that is developing and have time to figure out how they are going to supply it. Will there be short term shortages if the ramp up is really dramatic or faster than they anticipate? Probably. The key is that these are normal business issues. It is not like the oil industry which is facing unavoidable shortages due to resource exhaustion. There do not appear to be unmanageable resource constraints on Uranium production.

"Will there be short term shortages if the ramp up is really dramatic or faster than they anticipate? Probably. "

Well, the question is, is there a reasonable possibility of curtailment of nuclear electrical generation due to such shortages. Joseph Somsel, above, concludes not. What do you think?

It is very easy to answer this question.

It takes 5 to 10 years for a new nuclear plant to be built. It takes a couple of months to reopen an old mine and maybe 1-2 years to develop a new one. It is easy to project future demand and do what needs to be done to meet it.

The US is full of closed U mines, a legacy from the bust in the 80s and 90s, when at some point U price was below $7/pound - and these have only recently begun to reopen. The destabilizing factor restraining this is actually supply - there is still a huge stockpile of weapon-grade U in Russia and miners are not exactly certain the price won't plummet again in the short to medium term.

Perspective Uranium shortages are mostly in the eyes of speculators on the U market.

It's not that easy to reopen an old uranium mine. Usually ownership has changed, or defaulted back to the tribe or federal government. These old uranium mines operated mainly in the 1950's, when the cold war had just begun, "duck and cover" drills happened weekly in elementary schools, everyone was encouraged to build a fallout shelter in their back yard, and the government was guaranteeing to buy any and all uranium produced at a fixed price (making it "as good as gold", effectively). You could watch above-ground nuclear weapons tests live on morning TV from the Nevada Test Site - a great national achievement. There was even a uranium mine shaft and headframe visible less than a mile away from the visitor center at Grand Canyon National Park. Very patriotic. How likely do you think it is that uranium mine, for example, will reopen? See my NIMBY post about permitting above.

The spot price could go up a lot and some marginal plants might not get all the fuel they need for a while. If it got serious the US Government could start dumping their stockpiles, too. Throwing money at the problem would help with both the development of known resources and finding more. It could be a problem for a few years but I do not expect it to be.

"If there are shortages of gasoline, workers may not be able to get to work. If there are shortages of diesel, needed parts may not be delivered, and needed maintenance of the grid may not be performed."

Car pooling can get people to work with 25% of the fuel. US commuters don't use it because it's inconvenient, but it's unrealistic to think that any industries will shut down because their staff can't get there.

Fuel consumption for delivery of parts and supplies (not including generating fuel) likely amounts to less than .1% of utility costs. Utilities will be able to out-bid others to pay for such things easily.

Now, it's conceivable that a poorly administered rationing system might create temporary shortages, and it's even possible that we'd be so short-sighted as to not create allocations for critical industries. OTOH, I think the US experience with rationing in the 70's was so negative that we're unlikely to repeat our mistakes. And, if we do, I think we'll figure them out fairly quickly.

I've known utilities to send a van out to pickup their workers at home, especially shift workers. They will do whatever it takes to keep your light on.

"I've known utilities to send a van out to pickup their workers at home, especially shift workers. They will do whatever it takes to keep your light on."

Yes. Also, utilities are moving fairly quickly to hybrid/EV light and heavy vehicles - I think they love the idea of powering their own vehicles.

"I think they love the idea of powering their own vehicles."

it's like the cooks eating their own food at a restaurant.

Your point about electricity deregulation is timely. The consumer never benefits. In fact, I can only think of one group that benefits from deregulation - consultants. And like rats, where you find one consultant, you can be sure there are another ten lurking close by : ) God knows how many billions have been squandered on setting up deregulated markets, when the vertically integrated utilities were doing a perfectly good job.

Gail: in a couple of places where the article says "non-renewables" I think you meant "non-hydro renewables".

Otherwise great!

A very welcome post Gail. Really, it is tiresome to note that when ‘oil runs out’ some think electric vehicles, bicycles, rail, etc. are just around the corner, as if electricity was the next gift of the gods, rained down on humans by, what? Thunder and lightning? Plug it in to a socket?? it will go. Too few miles? OK, have to make a halt...

Hydroelectric power has been cut by water shortages, or ‘drought’, all over the world - Vietnam, Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, India, Colombia, Greece, China, Iran, Haiti, etc. GW and energy...

The workforce problem is excruciating; a direct outcome of a flat-earth policy (present conditions will prevail and making a fast buck on top of it is what counts), itself resting on present systems of gvmt., and quasi religious beliefs in crazed free marketism, thus thrash and burn this case the burn being slow decay which can be ignored for some time.

"some think electric vehicles, bicycles, rail, etc. are just around the corner, as if electricity was the next gift of the gods, rained down on humans"

I would personally bet my money on horses, if I had any money

no, no horse either. horses need food which will be grown on a farm but farm's won't exist because they run on oil!

what's missing from the doomers is technology and demand destruction. in surveys car buyers basically ignored MPG when they bought a car. now it's top 5 among concerns and SUV sales are going down and I think MPG is going up. people like kunstler totally disregard both. he ignores technology and doesn't really talk about demand destruction.

peak oil means a rise in prices which means new technologies come into play. hybrid cars were a dream even 3 years ago. now that gas prices are higher we'll see advances. electric cars are probably not too far off. conservation will mitigate peak oil, but dont' minsunderstand me, peak oil will be a problem. it will be reflected in higher prices. higher prices lead to demand destruction. suddenly people will car pool, buy a more fuel-efficient car, EV/PHEV or will simply sell their car.

the future is most likely hybrids, PHEVs and EV. disaster on the kunstler scale just means higher prices and more technology and conservation.

imagine if in 10 years you're carpooling in a 125mpg PHEV? you realize the amount of oil you're not using?

I would bet in 5 years most new cars sold are hybrids, then 10 years from now most new cars sold are PHEVs and 15 years from now it could be EVs. that is dependent on gas prices.

If I had to make a bet I would multiply your timelines by two. It takes a while for paradigm shifts to kick in.

However I'm amazed at this constant focus on cars. Cars account for only 45% of oil usage in US and much less than that worldwide. It is not cars that will be the real kicker it will be the rising energy costs trickling through the economy.

But everything is relative - if you think it will be bad in US, then wait and see what it will be in less wealthy countries... it will be a virtual extermination.

you could be right. I'd need to know what gasoline prices will be in 5 years though. My hunch is higher. this will speed up the process. I hope we skip hybrids and go right to PHEV. I think we're going to have a recession here which means reduced consumption in the US. the emerging markets and those people with growing incomes will probably consume energy at the margins and keep prices high. the low-hanging fruit is in the US beause we use so much energy per capita. a recession would help drive that down.

Thing change quickly. 2003-2005 in US housing were shortage years and now 2005-20?? are years of too much supply. suddenly people don't need a 5,000sqf house and 2 condos. same with US per capita energy consumption.

Where's the beef?! We're still waiting for a real drop in demand. Today was the first real cold day in Manhattan and it was gridlock. Everyone forgot about the bus.

How is the grid going to handle this transition to electric? Is it realistic to think we will be able to pile 50% onto the grid in the time frame you are talking about?


ban cars or ration themto emergency or high level govt. workers and force everyone else onto public transit, like vans or buses powered by electric. Bicycles could be used to get to a central bus/train stop.

"Is it realistic to think we will be able to pile 50% onto the grid in the time frame you are talking about?"

Sure. You could electrify all light vehicles, and only add about 20% to the grid. Most charging would be at night, and there's sufficient night excess generation & distribution capacity to handle about 3/4 of the new load. Given that it will take at least 15 years to make this transition, that's plenty of time to grow the grid by 5%.

Hydroelectric power has been cut by water shortages, or ‘drought’, all over the world - Vietnam, Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, India, Colombia, Greece, China, Iran, Haiti, etc.

Hydro power has seen substantial growth in recent years.

Of the countries you mention, all have shown growth in hydro power in the most recent year for which data is available (2005 or 2006) with the exceptions of Haiti (no change) and Columbia (1% decline). Overall, the group of countries you mention has seen quite large growth in generated hydro power in the last year or two.

Isolated stories of drought can give a misleading picture. The situation is not as you believe it is.

In the US, hydroelectric has decreased from 10% of electric supply in 1990 to 7% in 2006 - partly do to closures, partly due to failure to add new dams to keep up with the overall growth. I don't think drought was a major part of this, but could be wrong.

In the USA, isn't the problem that there are very few suitable places left to build dams? That is, wasn't the period of "peak dams" (as it were) a long time ago (during the heyday of the TVA)? It's hardly new technology.

Hydroelectric production has been curtailed due to drought in several US states this year. In fact, a recent item about the drought in North Carolina mentioned the need for citizens to conserve electricity AND water. A very big future problem for California will be reduced hydroelectric generation due to climate change as less snowpack is anticipated and earlier runoff caused by increased rainfall will create storage problems for late summer generation. This problem was recognized by California 20 years-ago and many studies and papers are available such as this one,

The situation is WORSE than you believe.

Hydro is probably a bigger issue than what my post would suggest. I see that Exhibit 7 shows that California gets 22% of its electricity from hydro. If climate change makes things hotter/dryer, this could go down.

In Atlanta, you keep hearing about the water shortage. Compared to dry parts of the country, we actually get quite a bit of rain. The problem is that we are not getting enough to keep all of the power plants going, besides all of our other needs (home use, irrigation). A recent newspaper article said that 50% of our water goes to power plants. We have been able to keep them going so far, but if longer-term drought continues, we may have a problem. The problems in the Southwest must be even worse.

Out here in the West, WAPA has seen low hydro production due to drought the last few years. Read their annual report here:

I note that they have been required to buy power at $53/MWhr to meet their delivery contracts. That means "Buy dear and sell cheap."

Typical government economics!

Yes you are quite right my post was a short on the global view - I was concentrated on the effects of drought on *existing structures*, which *is* very real.

Hydro-electric has been growing world wide. One needs to balance the ‘new’ with the ‘old’ ...What are the exact figrures for Greece, for ex? Beyond the hype? Anyway...

It does apply to other countries. The grid is in for failure. This is Olduvai all over.

And mind this: the food shortages are looming...

As with electricity, first it is in isolated spots, than it cascades down.

Never fear, alternate energy sources are just around the corner! Like electric eels in this demonstration project!

Hi everyone!

High prices for gasoline and natural gas alone could challenge the grid, at least if we are caught off guard by the consequences. Since electric prices tend to rise at a controlled rate, if natural gas or oil prices really jumped it could be in many people's financial interest to substitute electric power. If natural gas prices (or heating oil prices) jump enough people may be tempted to plug in electric space heaters to save money, for example. During an extended cold snap especially this could be a problem.

A more chronic version of the problem would be people switching their gas ranges, water heaters, even BBQs to electric (I believe my folks have an electric BBQ somewhere). High prices for gasoline could encourage everything from lawnmowers to bikes to cars (plug-in electric cars are now legal in Canada, for example) to go electric. Ten or even twenty cents per kwh might start to seem like a pretty good deal. And if enough people start to "electrify" all at once, the electric system would, I imagine, groan.

"And if enough people start to "electrify" all at once, the electric system would, I imagine, groan."

that's a good point. studies show if we plugged in cars at night that would reduce the burden. same could be said for lawnmowers and anything that needs charging. prices will have to be high to plug in at night or else people won't bother. lawnmovers could go from gasoline to push-mowers that use no gasoline.

eventually some new houses or replaced roofs(or siding) might cause homes to become mini power plants. I watched a show on solar shingles and solar paint. even the window could be solar collectors. JHK said solar would not work on a large scale because of silicone shortages. guess what, they are working on ways to not use silicone because it's expense. price signals cause innovation.

would there be a bigger payoff during peak oil than innovations that solve our power and energy problems?

though i hate the pollution from electricity[coal] in our area] & believing shortages are soon in oil FF i have already begun converting to electric for woodsplitter[runs off aircompressor, spot heating to augment wood & cooking as well.

in past yrs. i went the other way NG/propane anywhere i could - due to pollution[ i know coal can be clean, but even a little flyash hitting my sweaty neck gave me a rash in a power plant where i worked - can you say acid rain/ sulfuric acid].

i have also begun to think of propane tanks[& gas]
as hazards/bombs in a period of social unrest.

gail u are right about the grid , our 60-70 yr. old lines were recently replaced & it took several of us neighbors raising cane as we had typically brief, but weekly outages the last yr.

Two things:

  1. Silicone is used to make fake titties.  Silicon is used to make PV cells.
  2. Thin-film amorphous silicon PV essentially eliminates the shortage problem, because it uses so much less per watt.

I've been watching people talk about JHK for quite some time (don't have the patience to read him regularly), and one thing I noted long ago is his lack of imagination, perhaps due to not reading enough science fiction.  I think that post is as true today as it was 2.5 years ago.

I know in Georgia there has already been some pressure in the direction of going from gas to electric. A couple of years ago, I went to the local store to buy a replacement for my gas dryer. The sales clerk explained that this would be silly:

1. The price of gas dryers is higher than electric.
2. Operating costs in Georgia were higher than electric.

Having read about the possibility of future natural gas shortages, I thought maybe it wasn't such a bad idea, and bought an electric drier.

If you look at apartment buildings around here, they seem to be all-electric. The climate is relatively mild, so electric heat isn't too outrageous. (I doubt that they use heat pumps, either.) The tenant pays the electric cost, so the building owner may not be too worried about the cost.


I'm kind of disappointed by this article. It doesn't seem up to your usual standard. Usually for an article like this, it needs to be placed in context. There is no review of either base load or peak load growth curves, no review of the 1'st derivative of these curves or discussion of the factors that are relevant in the changes to these curves, no analysis of retirement rates of either base or peak capacity, no linkage of growth rates to economic activity or changing end usage, no comparison of electrical pricing (that presumably determines supply growth) to other energy pricing, no study of the way improved metering alters base/peak load ratios, and no look at transmission capacity vs load.

Without this context, the study reads rather like a bit of industry scare mongering. Ok, perhaps that is a bit harsh, but the point is that without context, the concerns basically serve only to heighten anxiety, and not to increase understanding.

I await a further contextual analysis.



Clearly there is too much to cover in one article. I started out thinking that I would say I would do a series on electricity, but decided I didn't have all the pieces of the series laid out yet.

I ended up picking out one corner of the problem to try and lay out. I will probably try to pick out some other parts later. I may even formally make a series someday.

Electricity is one of those areas where federalism comes up short. We have a mixture of 50 different sets of regulation in a world of international electrical connections. These utilities were created in a time before there were interconections between different cities in the same state. In 2003 a line failure in Ohio knocked out power in two countries for several hours. As someone commented nobody wants to be responsible for the wires but everybody wants to use them. Perhaps its time to set up a well regulated national monopoly to just take care of the wires. Everybody pitches in a few pennies per kwh and the entire network gets upgraded to connect all the new renewable generators being constructed. But to quote my wife,"Nobody ever listens to what I say."

Yours sounds like a good idea!

Without a plan and everyone working together, the dollars we spend on the grid now really don't get as much benefit as they would with better planning.

Note that at that time Maine did not go down because it was poorly connected. So the cry was that Maine needed to be better connected. Solutions like a huge grid monopoly make things worse. My guess is that the ratepayers will foot the bill for interconnects; after all, they will reap the benefit.

cfm in Gray, ME

Hello Gail- I cherish your analisis.

Thank you very much.

I would ask, is there an acturarial annalsis of the viability of fusion?

IMO it is our last hope. (albiet a dirty one).

Hydro-Quebec plans to build 4,500 MW of hydro-electric generating capacity in the next 10 years, as well as 4,000 of wind power.

See the link below:

Here's a map of electricity production in Quebec and Labrador, which is mainly hydro-electric:

Here's a map of Quebec wind energy potential (PDF), which is located mainly in the North:

Remember, Quebec is 3 times the size of France.

Makes me want to think about moving to Quebec. Where does your heat come from? Or will people be looking at heat pumps?

Until the 70's most people in Quebec heated with oil, but since then most have converted to electricity or natural gas. Two LNG projects are under study. Most of our oil comes from the North Sea.

Hydro-Quebec does subsidize geothermal heat pump systems:

By law Hydro rates are set to correspond to average production costs plus a mark-up, and are the same across the province. This means that at peak production electricity is being sold to consumers below cost. It is politically difficult for HQ to increase rates.

Once more, I want to make everyone aware of a great website and free magazine (you do have to registier):

Disclaimer: I am no way involved with the group or magazine, but found in doing research, and was impressed. If you go to the reprints tabs, you can get any and all back issues for free. It's like a small library of issues concerning distributed electric production and distributed generation, discussing wind, solar, co-generation, CHP (combined heat and power) electric power storage by battery (the newest issue, not yet up on the website, has a great article on flywheel storage, which is further along in develompment than I had realized).

The new "smart grid" that must be developed will be much more complex but hopefully much more efficient and able to withstand weather events, or possible hostile attack. These articles are great starting places in learning how fast developments and changes are occuring.


Thanks! I'll check it out.

I see we are using a lot of NG for electrical generation, much of this capacity was added when NG was cheaper, I presume. At what NG price does this source of power become uneconomical, thereby extending the supply of gas for other purposes?

A surprising amount of this NG was added when prices were high. I just saw a new NG plant announced (to be finished in 2011) while I was writing the article. LNG is quite expensive, and it is also being considered for power plants.

As long as NG is relatively non-polluting and cheaper to bid than the alternatives, it will be popular. I understand that in the deregulated states, utilities are able to charge at the marginal cost of the last required fuel, which is usually NG.So a lot of very high priced capacity is being added.

At what point does it stop? Energy has historically been way underpriced relative to its true benefit. I think the question is whether any of the alternatives are considered acceptable - nuclear or coal primarily. The EIA is now forecasting large increases in coal capacity.

Thanks Gail, for the article and the reply.

The demand response and peak leveling capability of the NG turbines is very attractive to the utilities whatever the price of gas so it seems, if they can pass on the cost of generation to the ratepayers. The option that makes the most sense in my view is conservation, we could do with less electricity if we move towards more efficient use. Conservation is the "demand side" of the equation and brings the term "rate decoupling" into the conversation. We are essentially asking the utilities to produce less power but preserve their profit making capabilty with rate decoupling, so we will pay more per unit of energy as consumers, but hopefully use less.

Will a region having a stable and well maintained grid and plenty of electricity production but not the cheapest kWh in the world attract electricity using industries?

Wich ones are movable to unload overloaded grids? Computer centers? Some kinds of chemical plants? Automated metal milling? Any other?