Energy Debate in Switzerland

Today, I attended a public debate organized by the four Swiss Academies of Sciences. A position paper entitled: Rethinking Energy - Efficient Use and Conversion of Energy: Contribution to Sustainable Development in Switzerland that had been prepared by the four academies over the past year was to be debated by experts and the broad public. Unfortunately, the position paper itself is only available in German and in French, but both versions contain a three-page summary in English. A broad range of experts were invited to the debate, including scientists, economists, CEOs of energy companies, as well as some politicians.

Emphasis of the position paper (and today’s debate) was on greenhouse gas emissions associated with the consumption of fossil fuels. The per capita energy consumption of Switzerland currently is 6.1 kW, not including grey energy, i.e., energy that is being consumed abroad in the production of goods destined for export to Switzerland. At the current energy mix, this corresponds to roughly 6 tons of CO2 per person being emitted into the air. Including the grey energy, the per capita CO2 emissions would be around 10.7 tons.

In order to keep the effects on climate change (global warming) below 2oC, Switzerland should reduce its CO2 emissions from 6 tons to 1 ton per person by the end of the century. This would require an annual decrease of emissions in the order of 2.5%. The debate concerned itself with how this reduction by a factor of 6 can be accomplished without destroying our economy in the process.

All speakers agreed that Peak Oil is a reality. However, the scientists were careful in their statements. The position paper claims that:

“The majority [of researchers] expect that Peak Oil will take place sometime between 2015 and 2035. After that point in time, supply of conventional oil will decrease [BP].”

That is, the Swiss scientists responsible for the position paper rely on the correctness of information generated by oil producing companies.

Interestingly enough, the most outspoken and progressive speakers were the two politicians on the panel. One among them, Rudolf Rechsteiner, social-democratic party (SP) Basel, is both an economist and journalist by education. He is President of the Energy Consortium of the city of Liestal; he is a member of the House of Representatives (Nationalrat) of Switzerland; and as a Representative, he is a member of the chamber’s Committee on Environment, Zoning, and Energy and of the Committee of Social Security and Health. He stated in no uncertain terms that Peak Oil is taking place here and now, and that there is not only Peak Oil to be concerned about, but also Peak Uranium, and Peak Everything (he must have read Heinberg). He is strictly against constructing new nuclear power plants, because it would take 18 years for such a plant to come on-line, if and when it can be built at all (in Switzerland, such an endeavor would have to be approved by the people at the booth, which is unlikely to happen in the current political climate). In his view, we don’t have 18 years to spare. We need a solution much faster, because an energy gap is already projected for 2012. For this reason, he advocates massive investments in wind and solar power now, as wind farms can become operational much faster. Such a power plant could be operational after 18 months, rather than 18 years.

The other politician on the panel was Michael Kaufmann, also SP. Kaufmann is an agricultural engineer and also a journalist by education. He was Speaker of the Press of the Swiss Government from 1992 to 1998. In that position, he was responsible for the topics energy, traffic, environment, zoning, and agriculture. Since 2004, he is Director of “Energy Switzerland” and Vice-president of the Swiss Department of Energy. He was a bit less outspoken than Rechsteiner, but he also stated clearly that energy decisions are needed urgently, that there is no time to be lost. The energy debate may be the most urgent and imminent concern of Swiss politics. He explained what the Swiss government is currently doing to address this issue. His committee also prepared a position paper on energy recently that hasn’t been published yet. This position paper will be sent shortly to the Federal Council (Bundesrat) for discussion, and hopefully, the Federal Councilors will adopt some of its recommendations and send them to the two chambers (the Swiss legislative branch has a similar structure to that of the U.S.) for debate and approval.

All of the panelists agreed on the need of a drastic reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels, and that the most promising (and most easily realizable) measures are based on increasing the efficiency of energy use at all levels. Cars should be made more fuel-efficient (to this end, they need to be made lighter, not necessarily smaller); dwellings should be better insulated (min-energy housing); and the ratings of appliances should be adjusted on an annual basis to new improvements of the available technology. Thus, replacing one type of energy by another is less promising than reducing the need for energy consumption by technological improvements.

The scientists didn’t have much good to say about the instrument of buying CO2 emission credits. These credits may look good on paper, but they don’t solve the problem of the technological gap between the first and the third world at all. They only accomplish to pay off developing nations for not developing industries of their own. This is counter-productive. We need to be able to solve the CO2 emission problem in the first world and become so clean that we can allow the third world to, at least initially, develop industries that produce goods in a somewhat less energy-efficient manner. The longer-term goal would then be to help these nations, using our own technological advances, to become cleaner also.

The most positive aspect of this afternoon was the realization that, at least here in Switzerland, politicians and scientists are willing and able to sit down together and jointly address this difficult problem in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation.

François E. Cellier
Institute of Computational Science
ETH Zurich


There are people who say that to reduce or at least limit the growth of CO2 pollution, you have to focus on China & India. What good does it do to reduce GHG emissions in CH if China opens one or two coal fired powerplants per week for the next 10-15 years?

Since the Swiss (and other countries too of coarse) are rich enough to invest the money, we should go to china and build their powerplants. Or at least make them significantly less polluting.

To me, that seems the cheapest way forward. So I am a bit surprised that people are so negative about carbon trading. After all, carbon trading is no more than the mechanics behind this idea.

I wonder what the structure of the grey energy is, the 4.7 tonnes of CO2. How much of that energy embodied in Swiss imports comes from coal power stations in China? One of the main drivers for China building all those power stations is counties like Switzerland buying Chinese manufactured goods. Swiss electricity has a far lower carbon content than Chinese energy - maybe a smart move, from a carbon point of view, is to bring back energy intensive manufacturing from China to Switzerland. This could be achieved with carbon based import tariffs.


Putting up tariff barriers reduces the wealth of the people. There are numerous comparative advantages that china has wrt manufacturing, not only cheap energy. Your proposal would cut that off, impovering both the chinese and the swiss. That's not what we want. It would be easier just to clean up these polluting plants.

Investing in chinese clean powerplants is not easy. Politically it will be very difficult to sell to the public, especially when it becomes clear (in a decade or so) that we have not only a GHG problem, but also a very real energy crisis.


I agree that accounting for imports as carbon emissions is important. I think that individual countries can do this using a carbon tax or individual carbon rationing. I would think that it would be best to apply these to both domestic and foreign products without distinction. Longer transits for goods will lead to some preference for domestic products, but a bit of innovation in shipping put the onus on the exporting country to do better or become less competitive. Thus, innovation is encouraged both within and without.



I agree that this would be a good idea, but this is not how carbon trading generally works at the current time. As one of the participants explained, carbon trading would allow the Swiss to continue driving around in the heaviest and most fuel-inefficient SUVs. All we would need to do is to increase the price of gas by 10 Cents per liter, and use that money to buy carbon credits from any country that is not currently at its CO2 emission limit yet. Problem solved ... errh not.

By the way, carbon capture in coal-burning power plants is still a not fully solved problem. Several technologies for "washing" the carbon out of the exhaust of such power plants are known, but they increase the price of electricity generated in this fashion by roughly 7 Cents/kWh. In addition, huge amounts of carbon are being generated that need to get stored somehow, and we don't know yet how to do that.

Could we pump the CO2 into oil wells, for example? How would we guarantee that the CO2 disposed in this fashion really stays underground? Could we pump the CO2 into salt deposits in the ground? How could we guarantee that the CO2 stays there? Should we try to bind the carbon to some type of rock? This would require gigantic earth movements.

At the current time, we don't have either the technical knowhow nor a legal framework for properly and permanently disposing of captured carbon.

The coal power fired plants currently being built in China have on average a 28% thermal efficiency. Then there are the distribution losses, especially over long distances and these can account for some 8%.

In the west the average thermal efficiency of a modern pulverised fuel (PF) plant is about 38%.

There are several emerging coal technologies such as supercritical boilers and Integrated Gasification, combined cycle which are considerably more efficient and have a significat effect in reducing the CO2 emissions.

These raise the thermal efficiency of the plant to very close to 50% making it comparable in efficiency with combined cycle gas turbine.

Put simply, an IGCC plant could deliver power to the end user at twice the efficiency and half the coal consumption of the typical Chinese plant.

We should be assisting the Chinese in providing them access to these modern designs, and also investing in them in the west to replace our aging coal fired plant.

After all - why is China burning all this coal? To make cheap manufactured goods for the West. Consider it part of a trading deal, cheap goods in exchange for state of the art energy efficiency.

The modern coal technologies are described here:


Good thinking. And while we're add it we should pay for the replacement of Russia's old non-CCGT gas power stations with state of the art CCGTs. This would be truly win-win as Russia would need to use less gas internally, be able to sell more and Europe would have increased supplies available. The relationship between Russia and the EU could only improve. Even "gifting" Russia the CCGTs might end up being a smart move.

Chris, List,

When I think of your recent post about the nuclear cliff that we are facing, with no relief until the early 2020s, then we really must consider the coal technologies that bring about fuel savings and implement them now, both in the developing Far East, India and the lazy west.

Between the USA and China, they burn 2.3 billion tonnes of coal per year.

Can this be sustained over the next decade or so?

Would it not be better to start building supercritical coal plants ASAP so that we at least have some stop-gap, before the propose new nuclear plants come on line in 2020 or so.

Most of the UK coal plants are getting fairly old too, built in the 1960s and 1970s. Drax is having a rolling program of turbine blade replacement to make its steam plant more efficient.

What about all the CCGT gas sheds thrown up in the 1990s - how many of them will be fully serviceable by 2015 - especially with the cost saving advantages of gas being a thing of the past? What is the typical service life of a 600MW gas shed?

Regarding China, its development and the need for electrical power.

You can be sure that the Chinese are more open to suggestions for a technology transfer which cold help them significantly reduce their coal consumption over the next decade. Its much easier to build a clean coal plant in Shanghai, Shenzhen or Beijing than spend 8 years debating in the west, who's back yard the new generation nuclear plants will be situated.

If the West wants to continue to have access to cheap manufactured goods, then they should at least help pay for modern efficient factories and the accompanying modern efficient power plant.

Power plants should now have reached the point where they are an "off the peg" item built to a generic approved design. Standardisation of design of a supercritical coal fired plant would mean that they could be rapidly deployed where they are most needed.

We are all facing a crisis. Now is the time for action on a globalscale. We have the technology available to reduce fossil fuel consumptions both for power generation and surface based transportation.

Why don't we just get on with it, or is there something else round the corner, that is causing our world politicians to procrastinate??

Don't you think we could fully utilize on the available capital right here at home. Jesus, we can't even get a tax credit for solar extended in this country. And you think we are going to get money to help Russia cut its carbon emissions. Very funny.

No need for gifting since it is already happening:

I would rather we spend our money at home to build nuclear plants, upgrade houses with better insulation, install ground source heat pumps, fund research on photovoltaics, and other measures that reduce our energy usage and provide us with energy from more sustainable sources.

We should spend the money on building our own nuclear reactors.

Even with the best technology, if China continues to build coal plants at this pace, the increased efficiency won't mean much with respect to what needs to be done; reduce carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050 or earlier, not to mention the reductions that need to occur now. And I haven't even mentioned the 150 plants the U.S. has on the drawing board (although a few may have been taken off).

Promises of better technology are just a way for the coal companies to lure us into a continuation of the past. They want to sell coal, period. All else is mainly PR.

Most certainly. If you wish to increase the fuel-efficiency of the power plant, you need to increase its operational temperature. This requires better control technology ... and it reduces the life span of the power plant. Yet, this is a good thing, because a more fuel-efficient power plant also puts out less CO2 per kWh of generated electricity.


And besides, as we speak and by the end of the week, China will have built at least one more coal fired, not carbon capture ready, power plant probably without the latest pollution control equipment much less any hope of capturing carbon.

Let's be real. It does not matter what Switzerland or the rest of Europe does as long as we permit this steady march to Armageddon to continue. Maybe we are making ourselves feel good through our personal virtue but unless we stop these coal plants now, we are totally screwed.

Even with the United States on board, which is a big if, and even if we all started walking and riding bicycles tomorrow morning, this problem simply cannot be solved without China and India on board. I understand China's point of view. We, in the Western world has been spewing out this crap since the industrial revolution. Telling them to stop now is unfair.

But what is the alternative. Switzerland could simply disappear tomorrow and it wouldn't make a bit of difference in the future temperature of the planet.

I agree with tstreet about the scale of China's expansion. China is growing a Britain's worth of electric generation capacity every year.

But Peak Coal will eventually force the Chinese to shift to nuclear, photovoltaics, and wind.

People will do what works within what is known. Our critical task is to make known sustainable infrastructure.

There are people who say that to reduce or at least limit the growth of CO2 pollution, you have to focus on China & India. What good does it do to reduce GHG emissions in CH if China opens one or two coal fired powerplants per week for the next 10-15 years?

I want to turn this question around and ask: Why is it that so few people recognize that every human on the planet should be accorded the same human rights? Although there is nothing in any charter that says this: Surely one of the most fundamental human rights should be the right to have equal access to energy as any other human? It is not up to the Chinese, nor the Indians to make cuts in their carbon emissions. Global warming is the responsibility of the wealthy and the first world should be shouldering the bulk of the burden of carbon reductions. Any other suggestion is pure discrimination.

Global warming is the responsibility of the wealthy and the first world should be shouldering the bulk of the burden of carbon reductions

From an interview:

SPIEGEL: Which nation on earth is most responsible for global warming?

[NASA climatologist] Hansen: Some US politicians are making the argument that China is soon going to be the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and that's true. Within a few years, they will pass the US. But climate change depends upon the cumulative emissions over time because much of the CO2 we emitted in 1850 is still here and it's still damaging. So it's not only about the present emissions. Therefore, the US is responsible for more than three times the amount of emissions than any other country, with China and Russia being next, and Germany and Great Britain after that.,1518,476275,00.html

From another interview:
[Australian ABC TV's]KERRY O'BRIEN: What is the most recent evidence of what's really going on with the ice caps, the Arctic and the Antarctic?

JAMES HANSEN: There are two things that are cause of concern. First of all, if we look at the history of the Earth, we know that at the warmest interglacial periods, which were probably less than 1 degree Celsius warmer than today, it was still basically the same planet. Sea level was perhaps a few metres higher. But if we go back to the time when the Earth was two or three degrees Celsius warmer, that's about three million years ago, sea level was about 25 metres higher, so that tells us we had better keep additional warming less than about one degree. And the other piece of evidence is not from the history of the Earth but from looking at the ice sheets themselves, and what we see is that the disintegration of ice sheets is a wet process and it can proceed quite rapidly. We see that the ice streams have doubled in their speed on Greenland in the last few years and even more concern is west Antarctica because it's now losing mass at about the same rate as Greenland, and west Antarctica, the ice sheet is sitting on rock that is below sea level. So it is potentially much more in danger of collapsing and so we have both the evidence on the ice sheets and from the history of the Earth and it tells us that we're pretty close to a tipping point, so we've got to be very concerned about the ice sheets.....

KERRY O'BRIEN: You said just a couple of weeks ago that there should be a moratorium on building coal fired power plants until the technology to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions is available. But you must know that that's politically unacceptable in many countries China, America, Australia for that matter, because of coal industry jobs and impact on the economy.

JAMES HANSEN: Well, it's going to be realised within the next 10 years or so that we have no choice. We're going to have to bulldoze the old style coal fired power plants.

Maybe that realisation will come when the Arctic summer sea ice is gone in 2013:

Causes of Changes in Arctic Sea Ice; by Wieslaw Maslowski (Naval Postgraduate School)

"if we look at the history of the Earth, we know that at the warmest interglacial periods, which were probably less than 1 degree Celsius warmer than today, it was still basically the same planet. Sea level was perhaps a few metres higher. But if we go back to the time when the Earth was two or three degrees Celsius warmer, that's about three million years ago, sea level was about 25 metres higher, so that tells us we had better keep additional warming less than about one degree."

If anyone believes there is a single driver to climate change and that that is CO2 they are deluded. Comments like the above seem to settle on the idea tht Co2 in the troposphere and lower is like a thermostat ona boiler and just needs tweaking - simply by burning less fossil fuels or even sequestering etc.,

Would that it were that simple.

The othere components of fossil fuel combustion provide the race with even worse consequencs as a trip to China / Hing Kong will radily demonstrate.

Broadly good to be able to see what other countries one doesn't readily think about are doing. I like the idea of GREY Co2 emissions - new to me. Cabion trading is a species of snake oil it merely moves the problem elsewhere - just as California is moving coal fired power generation to poor sparsely populated Wyoming.

Interesting views of swiss on time to build nuclear plants and the forthcoming Uranium Peak.... far sighted french saw this years ago - hence COGEMA.

Yes, the West, especially the United States should get on track to radically reduce their carbon emissions. But that will be of little use if China and India continue to build these coal plants. We simply can't make up the difference. Yes, in some ways it is unfair. But how would you suggest the world make the necessary cuts? What good are human rights on a dead planet?

What good does it do to reduce GHG emissions in CH if China opens one or two coal fired powerplants per week for the next 10-15 years?

It seems to me if you were on the Titanic, waiting for China to build a lifeboat before you build yours is a weak decision.

In the niche of highly repetitive congested travel we are less that 10% efficient. At the start, moving a ton to move a person is wasteful. Secondly, every Start-Stop requires power to reestablish kinetic energy. We are constantly consuming power at the square of the velocity change.

PEC (Parasitic Energy Consumption, or Parasitic Energy Waste) is a simple ratio which cancels the velocity squared complexities. PEC equals the moving mass, divided by the mass of cargo/passenergs, times the number of Start-Stops.

"Beam me up Scotty" would be perfect use of energy. Move only what you want, one stop from origin to destination.

Cars (moving a ton to move a person) and trains (moving 3 tons to move a person) are especially wasteful.

Personal Rapid Transit, such as will open at Heathrow this year are radically better.


An "entrepreneur" pushing his product.

"Gadgetbahn" with minimal if any real world economic success.


ULTra at Heathrow is not mine. Vectus Sweden is not mine.

If are serious about mitigating the consequences of Peak Oil and Climate Change you have to look at the fundamentals realistically.

Your contempt for ideas not your own is indicative of why little has been done to mitigate Peak Oil and Climate Change. You make your decisions with your emotions. Attacking the idea of reducing Parasitic Mass is to say that the mass of the vehicles we move does not make a difference. Do you understand fundamental kinetic physics?

If we already had the solution to Peak Oil, we would have been executing it. We need inexpensive, simple solutions that can attract people from their cars.

My reason for posting PEC information is it is now vital to take realistic action to mitigate the consequences of Peak Oil. My hope is there are people in the Peak Oil community interested in doing small practical things that will grow into solutions.

So far it has been a waste of time. But I remain hopeful.

Keep up the hope.
Not everybody thinks your ideas are crazy. :-)

Thanks. We need more action on more ideas. Economic Darwin, try a lot of stuff and keep what works.

Reinforcing current failures will fail.

You do have a commercial interest in your version of PRT.

So saying you are not an entrepreneur pumping your product in disingenuous just because you link to competitors products.

BTW, how is your soon to open (as you yourself announced) Mall of America PRT coming along ?

Your self invented "issue" of Parasitic Mass is not an issue ! Regenerative braking (recycle the energy from each stop) and the low friction of rolling steel on rolling steel make the issue meaningless.

The USA spends 0.19% of it's electricity to run the NorthEast Corridor (Semi-High Speed Amtrak from DC to Boston), the massive NYC subways, the Long Island RR, subways in Chicago, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami and Light Rail (trams to you Swiss) in dozens of cities. 0.19% !! We could move most of the USA (with their Parasitic Mass) for a couple of percent of our electrical use. What's the big deal !?!

I have seen the multiple PRT economic failures (Morgantown & Miami come to mind) and see no reason that yours should not be as bad, if not worse.

My reason for posting PEC information is it is now vital to take realistic action to mitigate the consequences of Peak Oil.

And that is PRECISELY why unproven (with almost surely unworkable economics) should be completely ignored in the USA. We do not have the time, money or energy to waste making you rich (perhaps your true reason for posting ?) on systems that will later be junked.

I have seen real, problem solving Light Rail systems lose at the ballot box because of PRT & monorail snake oil salesmen promising the moon as "Better". The day after the ballots were counted, they had packed their bags and were gone forever. And only sprawl and the automobile were left.

Best Hopes for REAL solutions,


I think existing heavy and light rail are going to be some of our greatest allies in the next 3-5 years. We are going to provide feeder networks to them.

As for Morgantown being a failure, you are absolutely wrong. You declare a failure without regard to the fact that it has delivered 110 million injury-free passenger miles. The people love Morgantown's PRT , yet you know better than they do? That is using your emotions to make a decision that is not supported by 37 years of experience.

As for the physics, it does cost less to move less. No amount of ranting can change that.

As for unproven technologies, our current infrastructure is the cause of Climate Change and Peak Oil. More of what is not working, will likely result in more of what is not working.

We built our current infrastructure. We can build better.

Morgantown PRT took about a decade to get the operational bugs out and deliver reliable service. Morgantown had such high costs that the Feds refused to pay for a promised expansion, but Sen. Byrd and a lawsuit finally shook loss the money. Operating costs per pax-mile are high.

And most telling of all, a second one was never built.

Morgantown was an economic failure and should not be repeated.


As for the physics, it does cost less to move less. No amount of ranting can change that.

BS !!

Operating costs of operational PRT are QUITE high !


You disagree that it costs less to move less?

Patent the means. I am willing to pay to license such brilliance.

Morgantown's startup problems were startup problems. Is it your position that trains never have had cost overruns?

Back to Morgantown being a failure. Yes, the Federal government no longer subsidizes it. So if I understand your position correctly, a transport system is a failure if it can operate without federal subsidies?

Mr. James is busy pushing his project. Notice how he ignores rollerblades or bicycles on his 'parasitic load' and has to go with mythical things like 'beaming' or 'jpods'.

Notice how he ignores rollerblades or bicycles on his 'parasitic load' and has to go with mythical things like 'beaming' or 'jpods'.

And the myths are even mis-cited. As any Star Trek fan could tell you whenever the Enterprise suffered a power drain from the warp drive system the transporters were the first thing to become unusable, since they required a huge amount of power to operate.

Hope we never have to worry about peak di-Lithium... :-)

PEC has to do with relative efficiency not absolute power use.

Moving zero parasitic mass, and avoiding repetitive start-stops is important.

If you have a train that weights 3 tons per every person it seats, you must have the heaviest train in the world...?

The newest norwergian train for short and medium distances, the type 72, weights 160 tons and seats 306.

That's 0,52 tons for every seat. Half full it's still only 1,04 tons/person. At 3 tons/person it's only 17% full.

The older trains are lighter still, ~0,37 tons/seat for the type 69.

I bet this beats even the JPod. And look at all those cheery people, see commuting can be fun!

A densely packed commuter train can get to about 800 pounds per passenger. This train is probably in the 600 pounds per passenger.

JPods weight 400 pounds, so when fully occupied, the vehicle to passenger allocation is about 100 pounds.

PEC is the ratio of moving mass to desired mass times stop starts. If all these people are going to the same place (one Start-stop) then absolutely this train approached the energy efficiency of PRT. Under these circumstances trains are perfectly competitive with PRT.

Love the picture. It illustrates that people can find a way to improve efficiency.

You might think this is funny, but it is probably closer to being what the future will actually look like than most of us care to admit.

Many people might eventually consider themselves fortunate to have it even THAT good!

That was supposed to be sarcastic, but I guess I failed.
No I don't see that picture so funny after all, for various reasons.
There are a great number of people injured in these types of transportation every year. People living on the railroad tracks. Poverty is not fun at all.
Another thing in that picture thats disturbing is that they in fact are commuting. Who invented this ridiculous concept anyways? Sleep at one place, work at another place sometimes many a miles away. Hence waste your days traveling from one spot to another.
As for the future, I'm doubtful that it will get to that point as pictured. We can't afford long-range commuting in the future if things are headed where I think they are. People just have to live within cycling or maybe light-rail distances from work.

If the objective is to move seats, your logic is good. If the objective is to move people then empty seats equates to waste.

Every Start-Stop requires power to rebuilt kinetic energy. So even if every seat were occupied, you still waste power times the number of start-stops on the route.

In nature all delivery mechanisms, like blood, stream resource to need, on-demand. You have 20 trillion small red cells. Batch processes are not competitive. You do have batch processes in nature but they are reserved for waste products.

Taken to extremes your logic leads back to walking/running. No excess weight, just what we need to move. I still have to subscribe to the "if it sounds too good, it probably is". There is always a trade off. With rail (vs. say cars) we trade flexibility for energy efficiency. What trade-off does PRT offer? I'm guessing that it is expensive equipment since it seems to offer both flexibility and efficiency of energy use. Usually those type of systems bake in the energy use up front (e.g. using high energy input raw materials so they are light, etc.)

If PRT doesn't make a trade-off it is very unlikely to be a REAL solution. I'm not saying impossible, but when we dig to the bottom of each of these revolutionary ideas we always run into the thermodynamic wall.

There are always trade offs. There is always engineering. But there is also innovation.

Current transportation is amazingly inefficient. Here is a chart from Livermore Labs showing 80% of transportation energy goes directly to waste (drives Climate Change).

Increased efficiency can be taken as profit. There is a lot of room for efficiency. That is why US DOT, Study PB-244854, recommended Personal Rapid Transit as the way to combat oil embargoes in 1975. That is why Morgantown's PRT was built. That is why British Airport Authority is installing it at Heathrow. That is why Posco invested in Vectus.

If available energy is fixed or depleting get better with what you have. Are there trade-offs, yes. You can only go where the networks are. But then you cannot drive your car where there are no roads.

There is a huge profit in preempting waste. It is simple technology. It is a Physical-Internet.

The fact that no subsidies are required to build the networks and they will generate a profit for those that build them will encourage them to be built quickly and with private capital.

Yes, of course.

The fuel-efficiency of cars is at roughly 20%. It can be almost doubled by building better motors. According to the Carnot cycle, the maximum efficiency of a regular gas engine is somewhere close to 40%. However to reach that efficiency, you need to run the motor at full power. Yet, we run our engines most of the time very close to their idle speed, i.e., at a speed where they are least efficient.

The reason is that we like car engines to be hopelessly over-dimensioned so that we can accelerate rapidly. It is during those times of rapid acceleration that the engine runs most efficiently.

One way to improve on the situation is to use hybrid cars. The gas engine of a hybrid car is much smaller and runs almost constantly (while it runs) at full speed. It is used primarily to recharge the batteries, whereas the power for fast acceleration comes out of the electric engine. Furthermore, some of the power lost during deceleration can also be used to recharge the batteries.

Consequently, a hybrid car (even if it is not a plug-in hybrid) can achieve a fuel-efficiency factor of close to 40%.

There are many things that can be done to increase efficiency. I think we will need them all.

This isn't about lifeboats. We will all be on the same sinking boat regardless. Yes, the U.S. must act. Having acted, however, we, with the Europeans and Asians must get the Chinese to act.

My intent with "lifeboats" was to encourage immediate and local action.

Lifeboats will not save the world, but they may save those you care about. If enough people act far enough in advance to save themselves, the next 40 years will be less ugly then they are likely to be.

Francois - thankyou for this interesting report.

For me the most hopeful aspect of it is the implicit acceptance of the global climate policy framework of "Contraction and Convergence" - In discussing the need for global cuts to respect the 2dC ceiling, and for industrialized nations to reform their emissions while allowing developing nations to continue fossil-fuelled growth for a while, the prospect is of a degree of convergence towards per capita parity of emissions entitlements, i.e. "C&C".

Richard is I think right to support the trading of those entitlements for technology transfer, (as a means to maximize the endurable global rate of change out of fossil fuel dependence) but, (V LARGE but) until we have achieved the requisite Treaty of the Atmospheric Commons", not only will carbon trading lack any effective regulation or accreditation, it is also effectively dealing in stolen goods.

I'm puzzled by the tardiness of the projected cuts proposed at the meeting. The 2dC target is widely recognized, but it is time sensitive to 2050 - cooking the permafrost for an extra 50 years to 2100 makes an utter nonsense of it.
Where the proposed 2.5% p.a cut fits in I don't quite see.

Moreover, no less an authority than Hansen now points out the folly of the 2dC / 450ppmv CO2 target, given the diverse feedback loops' current acceleration - from this perspective he proposes a target of 350ppmv.

However, one such loop, that of elevated CO2 causing the microbial decomposition of peat bogs globally and leading to the exponential increase of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in watercourses (from whence it rapidly outgasses) was first recorded back in 1960, when we had about 320ppmv CO2. Thus Hansen's 350 is itself evidently unsafe.

In sum, we plainly need to peak and then rapidly reduce airborne CO2 as fast and as far as humanly possible, and that surely is the supreme priority given our farms' dependence on climatic stability.

Achieving that recovery requires the Treaty asap, which, IMHO, in turn requires further widespread demand for the policy framework of Contraction & Convergence.



Reducing emissions is very difficult. People in government are so accustomed to fossil fuel tax revenue that they are very confident the people won't allow nuclear construction, so confident they wouldn't dream of putting it to a vote.

Reducing net emissions is easier. CO2 has been observed taking the initiative and sequestering itself as rock.

As said earlier elsewhere,

Q. a) how much silicate it would take per ton of CO2, (b) a reasonable assurance that there is enough material to do what you say is needed ... (c) how long it would take, and (d) why there wouldn't be any other adverse environmental impacts from this silicate dispersal? Generally when you spray things into the environment, something happens, somewhere, to something.

A. Section 7.2 of
( ) deals with your points 'a' and 'b'.

It "deals ... with so-called mineral carbonation, where high
concentration CO2 from a capture step (see Chapter 3)
is brought into contact with metal oxide bearing materials
with the purpose of fixing the CO2 as carbonates".

It does not address intentionally causing
atmospherically dilute CO2 to contact the materials outdoors,
and this, I think, is an oversight.
They justify it with these words in section 7.2.2:

Even at the low partial pressure of atmospheric CO2 and at ambient temperature, carbonation of metal oxide bearing minerals occurs spontaneously, though on geological time scales ...

Limitations arise from the formation of silica or carbonate layers on the mineral surface during carbonation that tend to hinder further reaction ...

Also known as "passivation".
As previously said, experience with mine tailings
is showing us, in answer to your 'c', that the particular
geological time scale in question is, as I suspected but did
not know in February, years to tens of years.

We need only increase the surface area to defeat the passivation,
and the energy required to do that, I calculated at

If we believe extra CO2 in the atmosphere is doing harm,
it's not reasonable to require, as you do in 'd', that
"there wouldn't be any other adverse environmental impacts",
just that they be small compared to the harm of leaving
the CO2 up.

That harm doesn't have to be much for large amounts of
MgCO3 and SiO2, or CaCO3 and SiO2, to be less harmful still.
Section 7.2.5:

magnesium carbonate and silica may find uses as soil enhancers, roadfill or filler for mining operations. Eventually mineral carbonation would have to operate at scales that would saturate any product or byproduct market ...

A few hundred km^3 dispersed over tens of millions of km^2
of desert, or hundreds of millions of km^2 of ocean,
would be unobtrusive. It would be enough soil enhancer
to make a 1-cm layer, if unmixed -- although it could not
remain unmixed, because it would precipitate over a period
of years -- or a 1-mm-deep layer on the ocean, again, if unmixed.

Similarly, in a remedial effort to make harmless 100 or 200
gigatonnes of past CO2 emissions, it's OK to put in more
energy than was initially gained by emitting them;
but as it turns out, the extra energy required is only 14
percent, if the original emission was from burning pure carbon.

How shall the car gain nuclear cachet?

It is good to develop and publicize methodologies for the eventual removal of atmospheric CO2. Whether it be enhanced Silicate ewathering and/or capture and sequestration of biofuel generated CO2. We have to acknowledge that such processes will be expensive. Should we choose to go this route, these processes will be a significant future tax. In no way does the possibility os such schemes mean we get a free pass on producing CO2 emmisions. What they do do, is give us the possibility that we can avert climate diasaster, even after the emissions have happened -but at a likely high future cost.

A couple of contentious points here.

Reducing net emissions is easier...and why the temptation is to exaggerate credits and offsets. The terms 'fraud' and 'Enron style accounting' seem to get used a lot. The fact that offsets are a fraction of the cost (say 10%) of cutting back gross emissions guarantees they will be used dishonestly.

Enhanced silicate weathering; this is just anecdotal but forestry people seem to believe that excessive magnesium inhibits growth. For example the line 'Serpentine soil is itself renowned as a site for rare plants' was on one website.

I think we have to cut emissions when and where they occur.

Partly, serpentine soils are poor owing to high heavy metal content, which could be a problem when using serpintine as carbon sink. Wollastonite may work better.


Dear Professor Cellier,
Having attended the meeting on Jan. 10, I was also astonished about the official statement by Dr.Berg using this time horizon

“The majority [of researchers] expect that Peak Oil will take place sometime between 2015 and 2035. After that point in time, supply of conventional oil will decrease [BP].”

while at the same time Rechsteiner made it clear that Peak Oil is now. I don't know if there is anything like a public poll in Switzerland concerning awareness for energy scarcity - the 'energy debate' launched by the public utilities is only concerned with electricity. My guess would be less than 5% being conscious of any serious problem, except global warming of course. Wouldn't it be worth while launching a peak oil article right now in one of the larger newspapers to get things started? I am constantly writing reader's comments to NZZ but so far they are not willing to publish anything in that direction.

Peter Dörfler, Zürich (CH)

Wouldn't it be worth while launching a peak oil article right now in one of the larger newspapers to get things started? I am constantly writing reader's comments to NZZ but so far they are not willing to publish anything in that direction.

I am not surprised. Even here at ETH Zurich there are people who "actively discourage" the discussion of Peak Oil, to say it mildly. The story isn't palatable, and consequently, it's better to look the other way. I assume that the editors of NZZ, upon receiving such comments, consult with "suitable" scientists here at ETH, who recommend not to go with the story.

Yet, not all is lost. Peak Oil has become mainstream news in recent months internationally, and also NZZ won't be able to remain in a state of denial forever.

The reported statement by our President GW Bush that "Saudi Arabia can produce very little additional oil" could possibly be used as "new proof". Add recent statements by the CEO of General Motors and Total Oil. And the New York Times on the Export Land Model.

Perhaps argue "Peak Oil Exports" (WTs ELM). Even if oil production increases, exports will not (see Russia 2006). This is a "new" angle and will allow them an important new discovery.

Just Thoughts,


At least Switzerland has the Trans-Alp program and related rail improvements.

The Tribune de Genève has regularly published letters about Peak Oil and even Peak Everything. They have also published articles about peak oil. These have varied from Heinbergian to mild quotes from the industry. (They apparently have no editorial policy, and individual journos just report what they fancy.) Le Temps has been all over the board as well, with some very critical articles. They do this by using the 'interview' or 'invited guest formula', thereby presenting 'all sides'. Except in their economic pages, where the conventional mantras are put forth, which makes the whole rather schizophrenic, which is actually quite nice, as some readers will notice that.

Why not offer an article about that very meeting?

Note. The two papers mentioned are the two main French-language dailies in Switzerland.

Good article here in German from TAZ which recognizes exactly the problem. People ask when does the oil run out but don't understand PO is about a reduced energy flow.

We are addicted to oil; our streets are race tracks; our young die each night on our roads pushing the limits on the remarkably engineered cars we all drive. These cars however survive only with a drink of the planets dwindling supply of hydrocarbons.
Yet nobody takes a blind bit of notice!
Yet we see none of the importance that we must place on conservation in our media.
National radio NZ 15/1 did give Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green Party) more than a sound bite on the subject of ethanol and bio fuels that are causing the rainforest to be taken over by mono crops of palm oil plants and causing Mexicans to forgo eating corn.

Thanks, Francois, I had wondered about that meet.

Polllution and emissions in China. The added value of stuff manufactured (that is, often assembled, with the parts being made elsewhere and imported to China, look at the iPhone for example) goes about roughly half to China, the other half to ‘foreign’ companies. In short, the Chinese don’t make too much money out of it all. People are often surprised to hear this, as they think China is getting rich (balance of payments), stealing jobs from the West, has become the factory of the world, etc. etc. Second, what is also often forgotten, is that the garbage created (millions of tons of electronic crap for example) are sent back to China. It is cheaper for rich countries to do this than deal with it at home. (10% of the cost according to Le Temps of today 15 jan.) I don’t know what % of what kinds of stuff is actually de-assembled or treated in China, but it must be huge. Much of it is - burnt in the open air. So, the whole cycle - not just coal mines, should be taken into account.

Fairer trade? Anyone? The Chinese Gvmt. has made some small efforts - but who is to pay? Where is the money for clean(ER) plants / factories / etc. to come from? All that grey carbon is the West’s, or the consumer’s, responsibility as well. Emissions and pollution are exported, and that is very visible at the end of the life cycle of the products.

I was just wondering... many of the studies done on weather in the U.S. during the few days following 9/11 (2001) indicate that aircraft water vapor con-trails add significantly to atmospheric heat retention.

One question I've never heard raised: How much do con-trails add to the warming seen in the Earth's Polar regions? That much water vapor added daily into the upper atmosphere (which would otherwise be "bone-dry") must be contributing to some significant degree. Is it enough to explain the rapid warming that is currently seen?

As I understand it the magnitude of contrail impact is still a fairly open question. There are 4 types of effect, Contrails, and cirrus clouds that are "seeded" by contrails, decrease temp. by reflecting sunlight from their upper surface (say in the same way that snow and ice in the polar regions do) and at the same time retain heat by bouncing it back to earth from their lower surface (in the same way that it is warmer at ground level on a cloudy winter night than on a cloudless one). Also the soot from aircraft exhaust contributes to "global dimming" making it a cooling agent. And lastly the CO2 in the exhaust is a warming agent as with CO2 from other sources.

I believe the current IPCC numbers put the net forcing from "simple" linear contrails i.e. the ones that don't go on to generate larger cirrus clouds, at 0.01 watts per M^2 globally out of a total human forcing of about 1.6 watts per M^2

More info here:

The "Dimming Effect" probably wouldn't be that great in the Winter months (daylong darkness)... so the green-house effect of the water vapor would be the primary driver... so I think.

Bonjour, François!

There is one area in which those of you in Switzerland and those of us in my area of the Southern Appalachians face a similar challenge. Here, we have very good wind potential, but it is all along the mountain ridgelines. I suspect that the situation is very similar over there. It is inherent in the way in which the atmosphere interacts with mountain ranges.

In my state (North Carolina) we have very strong ridgeline protection laws; these pretty much prohibit all development, including the erection of wind generators. These were adopted both from an environmental protection basis and also to protect viewsheds, thus protecting the tourism industry. I would be surprised if you didn't have similar laws protecting your own mountaintops, for exactly the same reasons. (You have grander mountains than ours, of course -- although a couple of hundred of million years ago, that was not the case! Nevertheless, we are just as fond and proud of our mountains as the Swiss are of theirs.)

So, if you are going to have to make massive investments in wind now, how are you going to get around this obstacle? I am anxious to know, because we face exactly the same obstacle.


Not really.

I know about your ridge protection laws. I used to live in Tucson, Arizona for more than 20 years. There we had similar laws. The valley bottom is at 2400 ft above sea level. Anything higher than 2750 ft belongs to Tucson Mountain Park and is off-limits for any type of construction. The only dwellings located at higher altitudes are those that were built in the early 1900s, i.e., before the zoning laws were enacted. My wife and I used to live at 2720 ft :-)

We don't have ridge protection laws here in Switzerland. Every mountain top that is worth hiking or climbing to features a restaurant, and many of the mountains have cable cars to carry also the less sportive among the tourists to the top.

Yet, the end effect is the same. In particular the mountain regions of Switzerland live off tourism. There is hardly anything else they do. Large wind mills are considered ugly, and therefore, any suggestion to construct a wind mill anywhere near where tourists are will be voted down.

Consequently, whereas many European countries (Austria, Germany, Denmark, Spain) have gone heavily into wind power during recent years, Switzerland has hardly any wind mills yet, and this is unlikely to change any time soon.

Well, that sort of confirms what I suspected, though I am surprised that the Swiss don't have tough ridgeline protection laws. They don't need them, evidently.

I have been interested, recently, in some of these ideas about airborne wind generators mounted on tethered kites or balloons. The theory is that the winds are steadier and stronger 1000 feet above the ground. That might be even more the case above the ridgelines. The thought occurs to me that a slinder tether up to something 1000 feet above the peak might be less visually objectionable; indeed, at a distance it might not even be visible. I am thinking that the tether could even be anchored at a location just below the ridgetop protection zone, thus technically getting around the restrictions; that is kind of a deceitful way of doing it though, and laws could easily be changed to close that loophole. Finally, I am thinking that if the device does crash, these are typically uninhabited areas.

Any thoughts or discussion wrt this approach over there?

First, you would have problems with aircraft colliding with the tethers. Here in Switzerland, we have fairly frequently accidents with helicopters colliding with the cables of cable cars. Second, you would need to somehow bring the power down.

What might be more promising are cheap blow-through wind turbines that are built into the façades of houses just below the gable. Here in Switzerland, houses usually have slanted roofs because of the snow, and the space below the gable is dead space anyway. This could be a viable alternative to photovoltaics especially for houses that aren't in the wind shade of other structures. Such wind turbines could even be made to look attractive.

Yes, but it must be remembered that the implications of increasing oil prices and shortages are going to hurt all types of air transport worse than any other sector, air being the most energy-intensive form of transport. I think we can safely assume that by the time that we are really going to need this wind power, there will be far fewer aircraft aloft. A string of LED lights along the tether - perhaps activated by some sort of proximity warning device- should help, especially during nighttime hours.

The tethers would have to actually be wires to conduct the electricity to the ground.

Is this the same meeting where EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs has acknowledged peak oil?

EU energy chief warns about 'peak oil':

Piebalgs referred to varying predictions about when the oil production peak will be reached, with some experts saying it will be in 20 years and others arguing that the world is already at peak production.

Highlighting the potential gravity of the problem, Piebalgs noted that the oil crisis of the 1970s presented a discrepancy between oil supply and demand of only 5%, but that in a post-peak oil scenario, the gap between supply capacity and demand could widen by 4% annually, leading to a 20% gap within five years.

No, it isn't. This was strictly a Swiss affair.

With respect to so called grey energy, taking the position that China should be able to continue to expand their electricity base with coal so they can produce even more goods for export is just exporting the problem from the consuming to the producing countries. Unfortunately, co2 cannot be exported.

Life is unfair. And the nature of development is unfair. Tell that our grandchildren, if there are any after global warming gets through with us. Regardless, of course, the United States had to gets its house in order first and cannot wait for China and India to take the first steps.

Thank you for posting this. I was just at a talk at a nearby university was told by the speaker that carbon-based fuels are essentially "infinite" and that prices will soon drop for oil/gasoline (groan). Unreal.

Hi Francois

This is a good forum. Read your post with interest. Your comments are well informed!

I am not surprised. Even here at ETH Zurich there are people who "actively discourage" the discussion of Peak Oil, to say it mildly.

There seems to be a serious attitude problem at ETHZ. Here's link to an escalating episode:

Thanks for the link. I wasn't aware of this. I don't know Dr. von Rohr personally.

Let me be a bit more specific about my earlier comment.

Here at ETH, we hold a bi-weekly seminar, called the Energy Science Colloqium. The programs of this seminar series of the last spring and fall semesters are still on-line. Some of the talks are given in English, while others are offered in German.

This is a very interesting and highly popular series of talks. There are usually somewhere between 100 and 200 attendees. I myself participate whenever I am in town.

The seminar series offers a broad spectrum of talks about innovative techniques for energy production. The speakers are free to talk about the EROEI and about the implications of particular techniques, but talking about the reasons why we need these new techniques in the first place is being frowned upon.

Let me give you an example. Last spring, Dr. Rainer Zah of EMPA Switzerland presented a talk about different types of bio-fuels and the implications of their production. EMPA had received funding by the Swiss government for an extensive research study on the implications of producing bio-fuels with the aim of advising the Swiss government what if anything should be done in this respect here in Switzerland.

Dr. Zah presented a highly interesting and very solid piece of research. After his talk, I approached him, suggesting to him to write a paper about his research study for the Oil Drum, which he subsequently did.

During his talk, Dr. Zah committed the "sin" of trying to motivate his research by talking about Peak Oil and the dwindling reserves of fossil fuels. After he had ended his talk, the moderator thanked him for a highly interesting talk. The only criticism that he had was that Dr. Zah shouldn't have mentioned Peak Oil. We all know that Peak Oil won't take place for a long time. We have enough energy for centuries to come.

This attitude seems to be prevalent among the organizers of the Energy Science Colloquium, and this is what I was referring to. If an editor of NZZ needs advice about a story on energy supply, these are most likely the people that he shall turn to for help.

Thanks for the additional information.

I have been mulling over the moderator’s criticism of Dr Zah’s reference to Peak Oil. In fact it’s given rise to two questions, which I hope you can answer:

1. Do the Swiss Government and/or industrial complex have significant holdings in one or more of the six supermajors?

2. To the best of your knowledge, are any of the top ten [non state owned] oil companies investing substantially, say, 25% or more of their gross income, in the renewables?

1. Do the Swiss Government and/or industrial complex have significant holdings in one or more of the six supermajors?

No, definitely not. However, Swiss politics is invariably (by its very structure) a politics of compromise.

When the Swiss government decides to issue a statement about energy, for example, they convene a panel of specialists to advise them on what to say. On any such panel, they'll make sure to include representatives of all stakeholders (interest groups), and the panelists are being told that they all must sign on to the document that they submit to the Swiss government for it to be considered.

The logical consequence of this strategy is that any official statement will always either represent the smallest common denominator of all possible opinions, or a compromise statement that the panelists were able to agree upon. Quite clearly this happened also in the case of the document referenced in my article.

To the best of your knowledge, are any of the top ten [non state owned] oil companies investing substantially, say, 25% or more of their gross income, in the renewables?

I may be the wrong person to ask that question, but I would be surprised if any oil company were to invest anywhere near 25% of their gross income in renewables. More likely, they invest less than 10% in alternate technologies.

Two years ago, both BP and Shell made efforts to advocate their investment in solar technology. Meanwhile, both companies made a turnaround. Shell now claims to invest heavily in the exploration of Canadian oil sands, whereas BP stated recently that they don't see a future for themselves outside fossil fuels.

Finally, what the oil companies really do is everybody's guess, because they surely won't tell us what they are thinking.

BP stated recently that they don't see a future for themselves outside fossil fuels.

what the oil companies really do is everybody's guess

I guess we've got to accept there's a big little secret the outsiders don't know about. Ultimately, either there's some truth to BP's Peter Davies statement about the oil reserves, or BP will be out of business soon. Or perhaps a bit of both?