A Real Time Example of Energy Quality- How Wind Turbines are Subsidized by Fossil Fuels

Global oil depletion is not immune to the Law of Receding Horizons, the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns, nor it seems to the Law of Unintended Consequences. The Grangemouth refinery shutdown has apparently caused work on a new wind farm in Scotland to shut down for lack of diesel fuel. Though at this stage this is a short-term snafu, it's a real time example of how lack of systems analysis of our energy problem will lead to unanticipated problems.

Tomorrow we will highlight another in a series of analysis on Energy Return on (Energy) Investment. Though measuring an energy projects profit and cost in terms of energy is very important, all energy sources are not the same, and the word 'alternative' does not connote 'equality'. In effect, quality matters. Despite some attractive substitutes to oil and gas from an energy return perspective, ALL fuel sources are now heavily subsidized by an infrastructure built and maintained by cheap and constantly available liquid fuels.

In the comment section of theoildrums coverage of the Grangemouth refinery shutdown, we find that a diesel shortage has caused construction to stop on a $300 million wind farm.(hat tip to Undertow)

MORE than 100 construction workers could face the dole after the fuel crisis brought their project to a halt.

The drivers for Glasgowbased AB2000 were grounded at the new wind farm at Fenwick Moor, Ayrshire, on Thursday after contractors Morrison Construction were unable to find more diesel.

The job was restarted on Friday but bosses fear the limited fuel supply will soon run out and lead to job cuts.

Ted Reilly, of AB2000, said: "We have 70-odd vehicles stuck there because we are hiring men and vehicles to a contractor which can't supply diesel. That situation can't go on any longer.

This highlights an ongoing theme discussed on this website about wide boundaries and energy quality. We need energy to perform work. How we define 'work' is dependent upon how our society is structured. A handful of decades ago, crude oil, despite being extremely powerful and right under their feet, would not have meant much to Saud tribespeople in the Arabian desert, who valued fast, healthy horses as the 'energy quality' that powered their society. Similarly, today we are utterly dependent on crude oil and its refined end products of gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and heating oil.

The global flux of fossil and renewable fuels. (Source: Smil, V. 2006. "21st century energy: Some sobering thoughts.'' OECD Observer 258/59: 22-23.)Click to Enlarge

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

There are large amounts of solar energy hitting the planet. The potential scale of alternative energy is massive (at least when measured in its unharnessed state). It IS possible to replace a fossil fuel infrastructure with nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, etc. but we will need a 20 year headstart and a change in the demand system. Just like most people were unaware of how much systemic risk existed in the financial markets until recently, there is similar unquantified systemic risk in the energy markets. We need diesel fuel, cheaply and consistently available to move parts and components around for wind tubines and solar panel production. We need large amounts of natural gas and electricity to produce crude oil. We need well maintained asphalt roads and clean drinking water and municipal infrastrucuture to keep employees moving to their jobs at alternative energy manufacture. We need hospitals and healthy insurance companies for employees to feel secure and safe in their jobs, etc. There are many many interconnected threads within modern society that all link back to cheap oil and gas.

A great concern of mine is the likelihood of falling into the "Tragedy of the Energy Investing Commons". As the energy crisis deepens, more money, expertise and resources will be thrown at any energy alternative that produces energy, irrespective of its quality, density, energy surplus or environmental impacts. Many of these technologies will be dead ends (energy sinks). Many will produce some energy. Some will procure new forms of energy valuable to future society, and at meaningful scale. However, all will drain resources, both liquid fuels and non-energy inputs away from non-energy society. If their energy contributions are marginal, or of differing quality than we depend on, this will accelerate the usage of our remaining high quality fossil stocks. The wind farm in Scotland will undoubtedly restart once the shortages are over, but this example highlights how systemic our energy systems are. If energy production/consumption was well-diversified, and/or redundant, a shortage in diesel would not lead to problems with wind turbine construction.

At what point does time become as limiting an input as crude oil? Until we can make wind turbines from wind, this civilization may be increasingly subject to Murphy's Law.

(for an excellent primer on the importance of energy quantity and quantity in human energy transitions, see Professor Cutler Clevelands Energy Transitions Past and Future)

Thanks for a timely reminder that energy density is important.
This again indicates that a mix of energy sources is desirable, and it would be an interesting exercise to calculate what the relative proportions of nuclear and renewables would have to be to maintain a similar energy density to today in the absence of FF, taking into account the superior density of uranium to FF.
Solar in many regions would seem to nicely cover many of the peak power requirements which are more difficult with nuclear power, and the costs are now getting fairly reasonable for peak use.

The other thing we could do with is liquid fuels, and although it is by no means clear that the technology will be successful the fuel from algae programs are perhaps the only ones which potentially could deal with that.

I bet those guys in the UK wish they had just a little biodiesel now. In any case, if we are going to see solutions to the problem we're going to need alternative fuel heavy transport and manufacturing equipment ASAP. And we will still need the wind farms...

IMO, this piece strengthens the case for a crash switch to electrified transportation. Nate's stated need for a diverse fuel base fits electric quite well. You can input any generating capacity to power the grid.

I also agree that we will scramble for new energy and make some bad choices along the way. Among the worst choices, IMO, include sinking massive amounts of energy and money into diminishing returns FF infrastructure. Simmons' shiny new oil industry makes no sense to me in view of a post peak oil world. What will the shiny new pipes pump?

As for Simmons' OTEC -- sounds like a great idea if we could rapidly develop a heat to ammonia conversion infrastructure in our oceans. Now I'd like to see some shiny pipes on that! Simmons is the investment banker after all -- hint, hint.

In any case, I think wind, solar, nuclear, and possibly OTEC are potential solutions. The obvious problem at the moment is FF scarcity. Wasting energy to squeeze more oil from increasingly unyielding FF rocks seems like a quick way to cascading failure.

"Wasting energy to squeeze more oil from increasingly unyielding FF rocks seems like a quick way to cascading failure."

Yes agreed in spades.
While we could continue to extract negative EROEI oil (as measured only using barrels of oil to get barrels of oil) by using higher EROEI renewables at some point it will surely dawn on us that we'd be better off just using the electricity directly!

The same argument could be applied to low EOREI biofuels. We could easily grow sugarcane in big greenhouses with heating powered by windmills, but WHY???

Electric streetcars, trains, cars and trucks are all much more efficient than diesel powered ones.

I think the issue is that we're only nearly there for it to be dollar for dollar equivalent.
We don't, for example, currently have a 200 mile range electric SUV for $30,000 or a subcompact 4 seater electric car for $20,000 yet but we're certainly within an order of magnitude.

Personally I just hope we can get electric transport mass market before 2012 or thereabouts because it looks like afterwards things are going to be a lot harder.

The whole energy / economy / resource management problem we are facing reminds me of trying to fix a bug in a million lines of code - there is rarely ever a single line of code you can pin point and fix to solve the problem. You have to approach it on a higher level.

When you combine a multitude of simple operations the resulting beast is far more complex than our minds generally imagine. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

And herein lies our problem. We were educated to look at the parts of the world - to define, dissect, study the bits - sometimes combining a few together to see how they interact, but never really understand the full complexity of the whole system. And so we try to fix the parts that don't look like they are working. And we scratch our heads in wonder as the whole does not change in the way we think it should.

It's not Murphy's Law - it's our general lack of understanding of complex systems.

I agree, we have to think in "food chains" of companies. If I was Richard Rainwater, I would purchase a whole ecology around wind power, and co-locate them. A construction company. A blade and turbine manufacturer. Fields for bio diesel. Etc. Such an ecology could survive (or still have growth) while the rest of the economy declines. It might not be profitable at first, but in true OPEC fashion, when you are the last provider standing, you can name the price.

But I don't think you have to be a billionaire to form the relationships needed post peak. Some are very close to existing. A coal power plant could help pay to electrify the rail lines from the mine to the coal plant. The coal plant could work with local farmers coop's to implement a B20 program for the mine machinery in exchange for a non-interruptible contract on the grain silo's (or something like that).

Hospital administration could work to get a combined heat and power plant sited near the hospital. I am sure there are many ways. It just needs work and effort that was not needed before.

In the "collapse Gap" Orlov points out that the Soviet Industries that best survived the collapse were those that had created mini-economies. They were mostly self sufficient.

In my own reading of annual reports of companies that provide nat gas related drilling products, those that are vertically integrated are better surviving the high prices of steel and other commodities.

Excellent, NZ. The part about Murphy's Law is brilliant.

Though, strictly speaking, civilization is not a stable complex system. Examples of stable, self-organized complex systems would be the human body, or a tribe of humans.

Civilization is an unstable chaotic system. Its instability is continually and increasingly shored-up through the taking of resources outside of civilization, through the appropriation of resources not yet under human domination and exploitation. First we dominated the plants and animals for food production. Then the natural resources like trees for wood. Then the minerals and ores, and later fossil fuels. And all along the way, we were attempting to exploit each other.

The cacophony of civilization is chaos incarnate. It is inherently unstable and will collapse in a rather magnificent and decimating way.

An understanding of complex systems will be useful in rebuilding a self-organized and stable society post-collapse. This will be a neat magic trick, given that people currently don't understand self-organized complexity while we're still all awash in cheap energy.

Why don't we understand complex systems? Here is only a partial answer which is, in and of itself, complex.
1. Vanity. Chaos and complexity stand in stark defiance to (a) the illusion of human control and (b) the illusion of human independence from the system in which we reside.

2. Being overwhelmed. Understanding chaos and complexity requires a great deal of time to take long looks into the bowels of the universe. Time which we don't have, because (a) we're too busy addressing current crises created by our previous linear and incomplete "solutions" and (b) too tired after the 8-, 10-, and 12-hour workdays during which we implement the solutions which don't work.

3. Functional isolation. On many levels, the cohesion of civilization is an illusion, because the cohesion is not self-organized along evolved tribal lines of family, shared environments, or shared experiences. We lack connection with our fellow humans and with the living environments around us. If you live in a metropolitan area, what I call an ecological dead zone, there are almost no opportunities to connect with other non-human living things besides disease vectors like birds, rodents, and insects. The structure of civilization is held together by (a) increasing flows of food, resources, and increasingly cheaper energy, (b) the illusion of money, and (c) incomplete social relationships and distractions a.k.a. "synthetic entertainment and plastic crap".

If I weren't too tired and overwhelmed myself, I would now flesh this out and begin to string this unstable chaotic system together through our illusions and our environmental exploitation. Maybe later. For now, though, maybe this is enough for other complex system thinkers to chew on. :)

Nate, what you point at here is pivotal!

We must make wind turbines FROM wind turbines, energy wise that is. And THIS is the very time for trial and error for these efforts as there is still much fossil energy around to “lend a hand from” in the learning process. The fact that companies and governments are not seeing this value-point today is because we are still in the state of BAU - stock exchange and revenue are running the game - and the “bogyman“ Climate change is blurring the energy-issue further! (I believe in CC though, but it’s a bogyman in this regard)

Since most of the world is busy with CO2 handling and such …….. all new green/renewable systems are argued and commissioned due to this – and NOT the energy-problems themselves (peak fossils) Murphy is already lurking around here.

I have been trying to “spam” various discussions in the Norwegian press where REC (a big Norwegian PV-solar cell company) is hailed as the savior for our energy future world-wide and beyond ….. to little avail. Much of my spamming goes towards the idea that REC immediately should install a large PV-manufacturing plant in one of them Saharan countries with all-day-sun 365 and thereby run all they’re needed processes with own-made PV cells …. At least as far as possible….

Where would that take them? The answers from such a test-facility would give THE-WHOLE-WIDE-WORLD a very important answer IMO : Should it stay or should it go…. PVs that is ?

PS : The REC-company is in the initial stages of building new plants in the high cost country of USA and the costly-mini-state-lack-of-land-place Singapore ,of all places. (freedom from taxation for a few years was the driver for this stunt) All energy-processes will be run the traditional way … fossil, nuke, gass .... NO SOLAR-ENERGY USED BY THIS SOLAR-COMPANY (NO sarcanol added)

Personally I believe that PVs are an EROEI-fatamorgana ! from what I’ve read so far

The fantasies some people indulge never cease to amaze me.
I take it some genius in Norway has come up with the plan of siting solar resources in politicly unstable regions which we can't yet build economically, backing it up with barely-proven technology, then building massive transmission lines to the far north of Europe to power Norway?

Heath-Robinson is not in it.

As a more general point though, it is clear that PV power is now reaching an economic breakthrough point, where it can make a massive contribution to peak power load in hot climates.

The idea of using it in utterly unsuitable circumstances and transporting it vast distances for round-the-clock power just illustrates that you are dealing with ideologues, not sensible people.

There are more scams in renewables than anything else I have come across.

A lot of people feel that a renewable energy scam bubble will replace subprime securitization scamming (and before that the internet scam companies bubble).

Hi Dave. Ehh.. I dunno, but your first paragraph, was that for me ?

Secondly you say "....it is clear that PV power is now reaching an economic breakthrough point..." possibly so, but if PVs are not EROEI positive it is a scam... although not "on purpose" B/C they never bothered to analyze EROEI for that process nor did the various governmental energy-safety board’s demand so, so there we go. Renewable today are there to serve Climate Issues (only IMO) !

PS: Norway is the lucky land , even after PO .... we are still 100% served by hydro-stations for el. (minus some rare peak situations), some reshuffling within industry and we could be served the next 100 years on tha same amount (120 twh/year at 4,7 million people)

Nope, the first paragraph was directed at those you were critiquing.
I don't really think that PV is in trouble from EROEI calculations, just from people trying to site it in daft places without sunshine or store it for baseload or transport it thousands of miles.
Let's get the darn thing working where it is most suitable first.

What I'm seeing in Seattle are incremental additions of PV into the urban infrastructure, notably:


and SpeedInfo radar


It's interesting that PV is being deployed to enable new scenarios, instead of retrofitting existing ones.

Well don't overlook the thousands upon thousands of Highway Info Signs that are now on PV/Batt instead of running off a little, probably dirty as hell 2-cycle generator. Portable, Durable and Programmable (ie, countless messages in one piece of hardware)

It does enable new applications, with the access to truly independent power. Some will be as nuts as the times we live in. It's inevitable.. but the PV can be salvaged for better uses down the line.


Here, in Switz. PV is being touted to light gardens, lovely and scenic amongst the plants; entryways, walkways, commercial signs, forest paths, at night. (Previously unlighted, on the whole.) All the stores are filled with small solar devices and they are selling like hot cakes. Most (all I saw) are made in China. It is the new cool green - acid green - thing.

My neighbor bought some and already threw them out. Had to pay recycling tax, ha ha.

Yarrrgghh.. you caught me on my favorite pet peeve. Those little solar "Pathway Lights".. Ok, my turn to kvetch! Instead of putting Solar into something actually needed, this is a 'created need'.. which might be ok, but for the cheapness of the construction and how many I see which have died and end up making the technology become equated with Nonfunctioning stuff floating around in the garden shed..

Useful alternates.. Maybe putting your TV/Stereo remotes with little panels into a holder on the windowsill, alongside the Ipod, flashlight, and the Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer.. all items I have recently had to deal with dead little batteries in.

Also, however, I have made my Voltmeter run on Solar charged AA batts instead of Mercury Watch Cells, and my Address Book, (HP 200LX) is also a new 'Window Chotchke'

Baby Steps!

Considering the PV is in the very early stages of exponential growth, the current power contributions of the existing PV is tiny and of little importance. What is important at this phase is that PV manufacturing is profitable enough to generate rapid progress. Looked at from that respect, these frivolous applications are actually doing us a big favor. In essence they are helping to subsidize the early development effort.

I've come round to the idea of solar PV on cars, which initially I thought was daft as the contribution to powering the car as it is driving would be tiny.
What I hadn't thought about was that it can run the air-con in hot climates, making the car cool when you get back into it and saving you leaving the battery working hard.

The EROEI of current PV technology is its Achilles heel. An enormous amount of energy is required to produce crystalline silicon; I hear estimates of 2 to 5 years of 365 use to recover that energy (citation needed).

Many current research efforts on the PV front (amorphous silicon, organic dye-sensitized, etc.) revolve around bringing down production energy requirements (cost), as well as complexity of processing--spraying on materials vs. CMOS processing, for example. Such cells are not expected to be terribly efficient (10-15% vs. 25-30%), but the reduction in production energy (cost) would more than make up for this.

But Pmike;
If you get a return of embedded manufacturing energy in 2-5 years, and the panel is pushing out watts for some 25-30 years just to get down to maybe 85% of it's initial rating, that sounds like a very positive energy return, doesn't it? Maybe 5:1, 20:1, depending on when you choose to stop counting the dwindling output.. (I've seen NREL numbers pretty close to what you stated) Many owners of older panels have attested to this lifespan, while some makes/models/conditions surely will fade sooner. I see this as it's strength, not it's weakness.

And then, the materials are recyclable, averting the need to mine and refine that much more PolySilicon..

The 'efficiency' really only relates to how much roofspace/acreage you need, at this point. The pricing is based more on the watts produced, while it does ultimately have a bearing on the amount of material required to produce the panel, too. As far as lifespan and the resulting EROI, I am unsure that the flexible thin panels will prove to be as durable as rigid ones, so unless they really ARE that much cheaper not only to produce, but for US to buy (you charge 'Watt' the market will bear, after all), the economy of them might be a wash. We'll see.

Bob (Edited to make the EROIE more Glowing)

I have run the numbers and I don't think solar panels are cost effective at all. Electricity here where I am is 14 cents per kilo-watt-hour. Solar panels are ten dollars a watt. That works out that if you get 5 hours of clear sky EVERY DAY, it will take 39 years for the solar panels to pay for themselves, before they start earning a 'power profit'. Until solar panel prices drop precipitously, or the grid fails, grid electricity is the only economical option.

Of course that figure doesn't take into account that electricity prices will rise (probably greatly) over that period, but it also doesn't take into account cloudy days, degradation of the panel's output over time, or some panels not exceeding their expected 25 year lifespan.

Where did you get or calculate the $10/watt figure? Most PV panels are running $5/Watt. And then there are locales that heavily subsidize them.

Look at http://solarbuzz.com/ this gives you the cost of the panels (& lots more) which are typically 50% of the total price. The panels have been around $4.80/watt for ages so an all-up cost of $10 seems about right. Subsidies are another matter.

Solar Electric would surely have a tough run competing head to head against an industrial scale system that is fuelled by disarmingly cheap sources. The argument is not that it is a big savings today, but that you are 'locking in' at a price that will be a bargain tomorrow. It's a hedged-bet, no question, but beyond buying in at that higher KWH rate, you also get a power source that you control, you can carry from home to home, and turns on by itself as soon as the sun is up.

It is an investment, so we should look at it that way, and not talk about 'payback', but rate of return on investment, and real value.



Certainly, if we assume a 30-35 year lifespan, then an EROEI of 5-20 could be achieved. And if power density is important, it will be very hard to do better than poly-silicon in the PV arena. Note, however, that your annual return is still very low, so a small scale operation in particular carries with it a good deal of risk.

Another positive aspect of poly-silicon PV technology is that it actually exists (!!). One thing that can certainly be said about research is that it is extremely resource intensive. I wonder how long it could be sustained in a world of EROEI = 10 (Nate's point above about running out of time).

That said, the hope with these newer cells is to bring production energy down by at least an order of magnitude. Assuming we can achieve comparable durability (an open problem, but tractable), this would put EROEI closer to 50-200. Now we're talkin'!

Let's hope for the best. M-

Current (2006) energy payback times for Southern Europe (similar to the average US solar resource) are 1.5, 2 and 2.5 years for ribbon, multi- and mono-silicon panels repsectively. Future (2009) payback times should be under a year for ribbon and multicrystaline silicon. http://www.nrel.gov/pv/thin_film/docs/lce2006.pdf

Current silicon cells are about 19% efficient rather than 25-30% efficient. CdTe has lower efficiency but a better current payback time. 40% efficeint silicon substrate cells are being commercialized now by DuPont. http://www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2008/jul/solar072307.html

For these, the method of concetration of sunlight will likely set the ultimately achievable energy payback time since the use of silicon is substantially reduced in these systems. Higher efficiency does tend to reduce the payback time for a given technology. The physical limit on efficiency is about 80% so we are already about half way there.

Field experience for silicon and accelerated aging testing for thin film has provided data to make the assumption of a 30 year lifespan of panels with less than 20% loss of original efficiency well supported. Thus, an EROEI of at least 30 should be assumed for solar power.

In terms of energy delivered per unit mass transported, silicon is about 200 times better than coal so that we'd be better off devoting diesel to installing solar or wind than to mining and delivering coal to power plants.


Thin Lizzy "Don't Believe A Word , cus' words can tell lies ...."


That's my stand on PV so far, referring to my reply hereunder.
Don't listen to what they say, look at what they do (!)

The EROI of PV is further compounded when you consider that much of the growth in the PV industry is in China, with some factories gearing up to produce 1GWp of arrays per annum.

Much of the energy input into the process is in the form of Chinese (or Australian) coal burnt in powerstations at about 28% average efficiency.

It can be calculated that about 3.5 tonnes of Chinese coal goes into the production of a 1kW PV array.

This appears to be an ideal method of exporting our pollution.

If PVs were made using hydro or wind power, in Norway for example, and then exported to replace dirty coal in China, then the situation would be very different.

Hypothetically, can you build a solar pV breeder factory?

A pV factory sited in a desert, that is built and started using a modest injection of fossil fuel, and then continues to run and grow using solely power obtained from its excess pV panel production.

The installation would eventually grow to the point where it would be converting desert sand and solar energy into pV, which in turn would become a net exporter of electricity, providing jobs and living space in a desert region. This is tera-forming in our own back yard.

Could you generate a whole new town economy around a PV breeder plant in a desert? Or are the losses associated with PV too great that the concept is unsustainable? Compare with early computer simulations of population sustainability - like Conway's "Life" from the 1970s.

paal myrtvedt said:

Personally I believe that PVs are an EROEI-fatamorgana ! from what I’ve read so far

What have you been reading? The following source states that the EROEI is greater than one after 1 to 5 years in the field for mono, poly and amorphous silicon cells:

Net Energy Analysis for Sustainable Energy Production from Silicon Based Solar Cells, Joshua Pearce, June 2002.

The study does not include the energy used to recycle or dispose of the photovoltaic system. I think it refers to grid-tied systems, so it does not include the energy needed to manufacture, transport and recycle batteries for systems that use them.

My polycrystalline PV panels continue to output undiminished power after 17 years. I replaced my first array of batteries after 14 years. The mounting hardware, electronics and wiring have never been nor needed replacement.

As the paper states:

It is readily apparent from Figures 1-3 that all silicon based
solar cells in any type of design and placed anywhere in the
U.S. will pay for themselves in terms of energy over their
lifetime. This is counter to the resilient myth that solar cells
will never be viable because they cannot ever make up for their
embodied energy.

"The study does not include the energy used to recycle or dispose of the photovoltaic system."

And in terms of EROEI, wouldn't it be fair to say that the recycling energies would be applied to the Panel that this wasted one is turned into? This would be an interesting number to see, to compare PV's EROEI from mined materials or recycled PolySilicon. Disposal belongs to the first cycle.

This would also be applicable to recycled Nuclear fuel, as opposed to fuel that must be permanently disposed of AND protected, which is a cost on the initial use, I would say.



The energy needed to make a solar panel from recycled stock is about one third that needed to make it fresh. So, EROEI is boosted by about a factor of three upon recycling. One should therefor assume a solar EROEI above 90 starting around 2050.

Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has a pretty low energy yield and is quite complex because using uranium makes very dangerous waste that does not occur in nature and is difficult to handle.


Please post some of your solar expertise and references in Charlie Halls guest post today if you get a chance.

Thanks Chris;
I only mentioned the Nuclear side (which I oppose, personally) to consider the aspects that should and should not be included in an EROEI analysis.. thought experiment and playing fair with the Nuke proponents, I guess.


BlueTwilight – The times are changing. Today is the most important point in time.

Your linked “truth” is way back from 2002 and those numbers are circulated ever since – if you look into the amazing processes that make-up the entire PV-production cycle, you will understand it takes a lot of energy. In short, crunching mountain, crunch further, during the purifying process the wafers were in the aggregate state of gas, thereafter frozen back into solid state according to an accurate procedure …. And so forth.

I’ve been reading some articles lately composed by university professors, and the like (sorry no link) which indicate the problems for PVs.

But, my take on the PV industry is strait forward! Why is there NO (to my knowledge) PV manufacturing plant in Sahara or in Arizona …… proving their EROEI-worthiness? B/C if there was such a plant, it could ultimately prove for the whole-wide-world that PVs could “re-produce itself - based on itself” …

THIS PROOF would actually "save the Planet" – think hard (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

- There would never be need of anything else ............ JUST CLEAN SOLAR ELECTRICAL ENERGY MADE BY ITSELF - WITH A LARGE SUREPLUSS TO US THE PEOPLE …. EVERYTING WE DO TODAY CAN BE DONE WITH ELECTRIC POWER …. Minus the airlines …….. It is in the vicinity of the perpetual machine, or at least a perpetual repetitive procedure … "sun & silicon is infinite ... what are we waiting for ?" .

Until that happens I will be dubious to the idea of solar panels … based on abundant resource of silicon! You can agree or disagree , time will ultimately force us to see.

That's a misleading proposition. The siting of PV factories is going to be based today on where the Labor, the Money, and the right Tax environment are to be found.. and probably in proximity to the 'equipment that supports the equipment' as well. Being near the Sun and the Sand will probably have some economies, maybe great ones.. but that won't drive a business model yet.

Maybe Silcon Valley or Phoenix-type loc's will come up with a CSP/PV powered plant through their power purchasing deals, but the real answer to that challenge is 'Can PV's provide a surplus?', 'Can PV be manufactured from Electrical Power (and Solar Heat?) to the degree that their MFR is effectively freed from fossil inputs? I don't think it's important at all that the power come directly from PV's.. Wind and Wave and Geothermal are just as valid. Making a truly 'Closed Loop' would be cute, but a bit of a parlor trick.


Why all this about PV solar. Surely a better option is thermal solar power using mirrors and a Stirling Engine. That is the way of the solar future.

In urban areas there is little room to locate the tracking systems required by concentrator systems. Do you want big parabolic dishes on poles in your yard replacing trees or do you want a new roof?

I'm not saying I believe there will be a "solar future" except in the sense that the sun won't go out soon, and it'll be what earth critters like us have to work with.

However, one thing which occurs to me - that I haven't seen discussed - is that the future may hold high-altitude nuke detonations which throw off EMP. I'm no expert at all, but it seems to me like PV cells would tend to be fried by such, while CSP could be hardened against it. Might even have a "good day" with that extra fusion energy. (kidding).

The thing I like about solar PV in small scale - and I have bought some this month - is that they're about like a time machine: in 25 years one will be able to get out the watts which were expended during the cheap-energy years to make them, and then some. Until then, they're a lot safer to store, and more stable, than barrels of gasoline. Probably best to consider them functionally a kind of storage battery: made now while 95% of energy is being wasted, used later.

And say, there's an EROEI-related consideration in there somewhere: anything made now which is temporally, materially, pollutionally(?) and energetically competing with NASCAR races and salad shooters has a very low bar set to justify itself. In that offbeat energy sense, PV made now is pretty much 'free' compared to PV made once bare-bottomed mad-max motorcycle fiends are after your energy.



Although I do not know for certain, I suspect that EMP (ElectroMagnetic Pulse) from an high altitude nuke detonation would not damage a PV panel because it is designed to emit power from the photovoltaic effect. X and gamma radiation would simply make more electricity. Since integrated circuits and transistors are vulnerable to EMP, the electronics in both PV's and concentrated solar power systems would be damaged rendering both of them useless except for DC applications running directly from the panels regulated by batteries (if available).

Well, this isn't the thread for it (sorry nate), but solar panels seem like the sort of thing which wouldn't like EMP much. Of course, anything with long wires wouldn't either. Still, one of the things I like about CSP is that it could probably be maintained and replicated with a 1920's tech base or earlier, not really requiring chip manufacture, etc. Doesn't matter now, but it may in 500 years. Wind turbines may not have to make wind turbines, but the level of complexity in all aspects of materials science and materials availability should be expected to drop pretty far. Designing something that could be maintained after a civilizational crash is a good standard to aim for... and would probably be a nice conceptual sieve through which to winnow new infrastructure buildout notions. (Might be an interesting notion to post around sometime. In terms of solar tracking, I'm reminded of B.F. Skinner's design using pigeons in guided missiles to track targets....)

paal myrtvedt said:

Why is there NO (to my knowledge) PV manufacturing plant in Sahara or in Arizona

The idea of creating centralized PV arrays in deserts is not the best approach. The power output of mono and polycrystalline PV's decreases with temperature. It is better to find a cool, sunny environment. Taking property, construction of and losses from long distance transmission lines are undesirable. It is better to put grid-tied PV panels on people's roofs allowing the electricity to be produced and consumed locally. Terrorists would have more difficulty destroying our electric supply than flying an airplane into a nuclear fission power reactor.

Deserts are a better place to locate solar trough collectors and heliostats because they thrive on the heat. I think thin film PV's perform better in the heat, but their efficiency of about 5% is pitiful. Tree Hugger reports 19.9%: New Thin Film Solar Efficiency Record (March 26, 2008), so maybe there is some hope. If someone would combine PV's with a residential solar heating system, the EROEI would probably improve.

Before Solarex was bought out by British Petroleum circa 2002, the roof of their manufacturing plant was covered with PV panels that provided partial power to run the factory. That improves the EROEI of my PV panels manufactured by Solarex. I am not sure what BP did to the factory.

Now I will read part 4 of Nate Hagens's series.

you fail to see my gist BlueTwilight! Read your blockquote again (my words)

paal myrtvedt,

Unless I completely misunderstand your challenge, you are suggesting that a PV manufacturing plant should be located in a desert and powered 100% by its products located in the same desert as a proof that it is sustainable.

One does not need to locate a PV manufacturing plant in a desert. A desert is not the ideal place to locate a PV array. The energy required to manufacture, transport and install a PV array is not exclusively located at the manufacturing plant. Silicon, aluminum and glass are manufactured and transported to the PV manufacturing plant. The EROEI calculations include the energy to mine the raw materials and process them. They include the energy needed to transport the materials and mount an array on the roof of a house. The studies that found low EROEI's for PV's, studied large commercial arrays that included the energy embodied in the concrete piers for the tracking systems and used inflated energy estimates for workers and servicemen. Some questionably equated energy produced from different sources. You are wrong about the EROEI of a PV panel being less than one. The EROEI of residential PV systems is very likely higher than 8 without even considering the improvement gained from recycling the silicon.

Whether all of the processes needed to make, transport and install PV systems can be completely freed from dependence on crude oil, is a topic separate from PV EROEI. The raw materials needed to make chemicals, plastics and transportation fuel need to be completely freed from fossil fuels to make a system genuinely sustainable. For example, can all of the parts of a semi-trailer truck be economically manufactured from substitutes without crude oil? We will find out on the falling edge of peak oil.

Yes this is what I meant,

Unless I completely misunderstand your challenge, you are suggesting that a PV manufacturing plant should be located in a desert and powered 100% by its products located in the same desert as a proof that it is sustainable.

… but your understanding of that never came well across in your reply - you were talking of sunny deserts being the wrong place for such manufacturing , long transmissions, PVs are for private houses ..... and terror. So PVs cant be used in sunny desserts?....huh ?!? ... ohh yes shit (!) I was taking driving lessons when they gave that PV-briefing during science-class.

What has this to do with “my challenge” for the PV industry to come clean and prove themselves EROEI worthy? When is the time to start my stunt …. After fossils ? Or when fusion is ready ? Or maybe between those two ? What I say is of philosophical character and such is not everyone’s cup of tea..
I say it again and I mean it : PV manufacturing should take place in desserts ! silicon is all over the planet, so rawmaterials are always nearby ! so is THAT energy !

Your EROEI of 8 for PVs just saved the world, did you know that? Not only energywise but we can stop CO2 worries as well ! Double Thx mate, on behalf of mankind!
Please let your prime minister or president know tomorrow …. b/c they are deep into some wrong and scary woods … scratching their heads on this matter. And congrats beforehand with your statue in the park !

paal myrtvedt,
For the record I am located in Arizona, USA, but not in the dessert.

Have you considered the economic aspects of your challenge to the PV industry? Electricity from PV panels is still more expensive than from coal, nuclear fission and wind. A PV manufacturer would have to raise the investment capital to not only build the factory in the dessert but also manufacture and install all of the PV panels up front. The southern dessert of Arizona is electrically powered by the Palo Verde nuclear fission power plant, the largest one in the U.S. Currently a PV array can not compete with that cheap power. A PV manufacturer still has to compete with the rest of the world that is running on cheaper fossil fuels. Since your challenge can not currently pass a financial reality check, I think it will be time when the cost of fossil fuels rises high enough to allow it to pass the reality check. In the meantime manufacturers will use the cheaper fossil energy to manufacture PV's giving us an installed base to cushion the blow as we slide down the curve after peak oil.

Because the junction boxes on my PV panels are plastic and the backing behind the PV cells looks like some type of plastic, the PV panels presently available have a material dependence on crude oil. Durable electrical insulators that are free from crude oil would need to be used for all parts of the PV panels, the wiring and electronics. Your challenge is not economically feasible until crude oil becomes scarce and more expensive than today.

I am not convinced by the local production model advanced by some on TOD. Rail can be electrified, and ships can use sails to provide long distance transport of goods. Wind turbines located in nearby farm fields could be used to electrify the rail lines as they pass by rather than constructing transmission lines that extend to the coasts. Jet engines can run from liquefied hydrogen electrolyzed from water. The model assumes that some combination of population reduction, conservation, efficiency, walking, bicycling, electricity, ethanol and biodiesel are not able to provide the remaining transportation needs. The barriers seem more financial than technological.

BT , I can agree with all of what you here write. You are talking about little bit of this and little bit of that….. I came up with the philosophical concept of having the PV industry make their own stuff, based on their own homemade energy (after all their entire purpose of existence is to make energy no ? )

Whether this is possible or not based on financial ideas or cheap fossils today - IS NOT PART OF MY PICTURE – understand ? Or weather such a factory cannot be situated in sunny desserts for this or that reason is not interesting ….

They make energy, for God’s sake, so let them make their own energy … to reproduce - and let’s see if there is any surplus after they are finished! And yes, there must be a political incitement today to have it tested out, but in having this tested out today we are getting a head start for the future ….. At least we will know whether IT IS POSSIBLE OR NOT !!!!!! As said, I'm afraid it will fail. (Through-concentrators, Stirling are simpler tech. .... so I'll give that better odds)

PS! I am NOT swallowing your EROEI=8 ……. Those numbers are NOT including all energy-expenditures, that EREOEI is done with the $ in mind and NOT kWhrs

*) Also see memmel's reply hereunder, he got my point!

paal myrtvedt,

The EROEI for a PV array installed on the roof of a house is higher than a centralized array installed around the PV manufacturing plant located in a dessert. In the link that I posted in Charles Hall's other thread about EROEI for PV's:
Energy Payback of Roof Mounted Photovoltaic Cells (Energy Bulletin, Colin Bankier and Steve Gale, June 16, 2006),
there is a comment that EROEI for a centralized commercial PV array is pretty low if not less than 1. The energy embodied in the concrete piers, buildings and permanent maintenance crew is high. Energy loss and energy consumed from constructing long distance transmission lines drags it down too. In your challenge the energy consumption related to long distance transmission lines is removed, but the concrete and steel need to install tracking systems is present. The energy cost of constructing buildings and maintenance workers is combined with the factory. To power a factory the efficiency of and energy embodied in electrical storage technology would have to be included.

When it comes to calculating the EROEI for grid-tied PV's mounted on the roofs of houses, the studies are counting the energy needed to transport and process the raw materials, the energy needed to run the factory and the energy needed to transport & install the finished product. They do not include the energy needed to construct the house. There is dispute about how much energy is embodied in the worker. Some of the studies improperly equate different energy sources, such as equating 1 Joule of gasoline to 1 Joule of electricity to determine the amount of work that can be done. I am not sure if the studies include the energy needed to construct the factory. There is an issue about how to calculate the energy needed to process the silicon. When the silicon is obtained from rejected stock from the manufacture of integrated circuits, most of the studies subtract out the energy used in extra processing steps required for IC's. They properly calculate the energy that would be needed of the silicon was processed specifically to make PV cells. These issues cause the wide ranging EROEI's for PV's.

I am arguing that your challenge to the PV industry to prove their sustainability contains preconceived conditions that place them at a disadvantage. It is not optimal in terms of EROEI to use PV panels as you suggest. I also dispute your criticism that the models with a high EROEI for PV's are not including all of the energy expenditures. The studies that report low EROEI's (long pay back times) are the ones making mistakes. Since you indicated earlier that you do not have any citations, it is hard to resolve our difference of opinion because we can not critique the assumptions of a particular model.

I found a presentation to critique: The Real Environmental Impacts of Crystalline Silicon Modules: An Analysis Based on Up-to-date Manufacturers Data, E.A. Alsema and M.J. de Wild-Scholten, presented at the 20th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference, Barcelona, Spain, June 6-10, 2005.

In computing the energy pay-back time for a grid-tied PV array mounted on a house, they do not include the following:

1. the energy needed to construct and maintain the factory.

2. the human energy needed for installation, such as food and education.

3. the energy needed to make and transport the tools required for installation.

4. the energy used to construct the house which is part of the mount.

5. the energy for recycling or disposing.

Because they reference a previous study for the details of the energy related to the balance-of-system components, it is not clear whether they include the energy needed to transport the PV panels. I am undecided whether the energy embodied in the house should be included, in whole or part, as energy invested in PV's.

In southern Europe they indicate the following pay-back times:

manufacturing process pay-back time
ribbon 1.5 yr
polycrystalline 2.0 yr
monocrystalline 2.5 yr

Judging by the neglected energy investments these pay-back times are too low.

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Blue Twilight then the PV plant can be located close to where cells are used.
Having two double or triple the size of the solar array before your self sufficient should not be a big issue.

Silicon is not a issue and geranium would have to be moved anyway.

Instead of hauling silicon around just haul a MUCH smaller amount of needed dopant around.

If a village can not afford its own small PV plant then you have just hit on the reason why PV won't work for most of the world. You need this massively parallel manufacturing capacity to build, expand and replace the PV cells.
If its not possible to develop PV in this manner than its not a solution.

As far as the plants themselves goes same rules apply all components that can be made local should be only a critical component kit should be hauled around.

Teach a man to fish.

Horses where not the world best form of transportation but they had something we have lost anyone could breed them with a very reasonable set of requirements. Post peak this bootstrapability if you will is in my opinion critical to any real solution. Real nanotech actually has a lot of these properties in fact the universal assembler concept is at the heart of nanotech.

Although nanotech is cool the ideas it embodies can be scaled up to village tech. If a solution does not meet this criteria then it is absolutely worthless post peak. Believe it or not the much maligned corn ethanol coupled with soybeans could meet these criteria. We would need to carefully balance how much land was allocated and how you purify/distill etc needs to be renewable but they can work in a post peak world. The technology is easy to master and meets this base criteria.

At the end of the day your talking about solar,wind,hydro,plants etc these resources are available in abundance in one form or another over the entire planet. A society really based of of them need not have wealth concentrated by refusing to design the way for any one to harvest the energy. Done correctly everyone has enough power for a nice lifestyle.

"We must make wind turbines FROM wind turbines, energy wise that is"

I think it can't be done. If it would be possible that is indeed the only way to achieve real alternative energy. Nate's real time example above, and the observation that the blades of windturbines are usually made of oil, and the rest of the raw material needed for its' construction is mined and processed by oil, makes me pretty doomerish though.

PaulusP I'm on the same page as you.

As oil dwindles and gets more scarce and expensive .... is that the time to start doing "real renewable" ? No sure not, but there is a window of opportunities right now but the timeframe of that opening is not particularly long, seen in a generational scale, PO and all that…

It is strange that, say the UN doesn’t have an IQ-panel looking into these matters IMO. Or OTOH maybe they have, but it’s not audible from my neck of the woods.

I think it CAN be done.
Even if the blades are derived from oil right now (they are some form of plastic) there is absolutely no reason whatsoever we can't make plastic from bio-stock and use renewable energy as the energy-feed to power the necessary chemical processes to transform the bio-stock into plastic.

My biggest concern is that we don't get the momentum going. If we don't build enough before serious depletion starts we may see a collapse and then all the output from our renewables would be used up and not enough devoted to "breeding" new renewable sources to make any kind of difference in the short term.

As other posters upstream have noted, the best way to get this going is by a "breeder" type of process whereby you use the energy of say a handful of windmills to power a windmill plant.
The compound interest of returned energy would enable construction of an entire economy's worth of windmills with only the investment in energy to build the original windmills.

Of course, we have yet to try something like that because it doesn't make a lot of sense from a financial investment perspective: there would be a huge lead time and payback before the investors got their money back.

Exactly Dan ! Who will break the ugly circle? you say these wise words ..

A-My biggest concern is that we don't get the momentum going. ….AND…. B- because it doesn't make a lot of sense from a financial investment perspective !

Capitalism doesn’t bother to let A meet B!
But ultimately, since the efforts towards A must happen at some stage in time (due to depleting/ed fossils), B must die at some stage in time. I think A and B will have to confluence, and that date will be the time shift for the next paradigm.

The world as a whole - regardless of time – would be better served in keeping all crude-oil ONLY as feedstock for plastic and other renewable/recyclable products.
But reality is different, and WE- the stupid tribe - , will fume it all away till the very last drop! After that someone’s grandkids (with a degree) have to sit down and reinvent the wheel …

The idea of requiring PV or wind or whatever to build itself in a feedback loop is just a silly debate trick, used to denigrate the solution. Since grid electricity is fungible, and parts/materials for renewable technologies come from a variety of highly dispersed locales, the idea is absurd. What matters is that eventually after about a century the new energy technologies be capable of being part of a self sustaining system. These debate tricks need to be recognized for what they are -a dishonest method designed to fool the unwary into believing an otherwise wrong fact.

Hmm enemy ?

The idea of requiring PV or wind or whatever to build itself in a feedback loop is just a silly debate trick .... blah ............ the idea is absurd.

Maybe so, and I partly agree, but not for the practical reason that you argue. I think it is completely impossible!

But I must admit that the idea of observing blasting operations taking place on hard rock .... Caterpillars, drilling eq.,Dumper trucks and so forth done solely with solar or wind. I will see this b/c it intrigues me :-)
And one more thing I would like to see (when crude is gone)... which substance will Mr. “future enemy of state” use to make WT wings? (I mean after the possibility of using fiberglass is gone…)

And enemy, there are no debate tricks nor dishonest methods ... jeeez.

Your requirements are making your outlook more pessimistic than is warranted. At this point we are trying to figure out how to start moving towards a sustainable society, we won't solve all the problems at the outset, but as we go along, and as the needs become closer in time. To answer the question about needing oil for turbine blades. Oil production isn't going to zero for quite a long time. Even fifty or a hundred years from now there will still be nontrivial amounts of oil produced (assuming civilization hasn't collapsed, and there are still uses for the oil). Of course as readers of TOD know, there won't be enough oil for its use as a common fuel. But there will be enough for specialized usage, such as specialty fuels for niche markets, and as a materials feedstock. It is also noted that biological sources are sufficient in scale to replace oil for material feedstock. Exactly which feedstock wins at any given time will depend upon the most economical methods at the time. In any case, the wind buildout should mirror the hydropower buildout. Within 50 years we will have used up nearly all of the promising wind sites, and further needs will be to maintain/replace existing turbines.

Sorry if you took my comments as a personal attack. That wasn't the intent. Its just that Id like to help in whatever way I can to upgrade the thinking processes of TOD members. We all need to be doing that continuously. Too often -especially on sites other than TOD, the side of a debate with facts on its side loses due to the acceptance of deceptive argumentation methods. I hope TOD members to be better equipped for these debates -especially as they venture into the net beyond TOD in their efforts to spark needed change.

Enemy I am reciving your message – but I honestly disagree. Obviously I see more clouds on the same sky than you do...

I guess it’s all boils down to our personal perceptions of things – you like red color whereas I like blue! We can simply not agree because there are too many options to select from, based on my understandings vs. yours. So there we sit ! 
Interesting ….

Its just that Id like to help in whatever way I can to upgrade the thinking processes of TOD members.

He-he and so do I, and as for the personal attack issue, I'm armed to my teeth.

"Even fifty or a hundred years from now there will still be nontrivial amounts of oil produced (assuming civilization hasn't collapsed, and there are still uses for the oil)."

I find that a very questionable assumption. A hundred years ago one could easily obtain oil by poking in the ground. From now on it can only be obtained by extremely complex technology, itself dependent on a lot of cheap energy and associated social infrastructure. Surely within 20 or so years of peak, there will no longer be the means to run an advanced oil field with which to extract future oil (let alone get to it and transport from it). And so rather than the long tail of Hubbert's curve, there will be an abrupt drop to absolute zero --THE END OF OIL! -- probably within 20 years (my non-expert guesstimate). (Apologies for the caps and for posting this so after-time.)

Exactly Dan Browne you are on the right track. And better reduce the work down to something that can be done in a simple machine shop in some poor country.

Eventually you will have some vital components that are difficult to manufacture for example bearings. Also alloys and catalysts require advanced technologies.

But lets take windmills you probably can make a very good one out of bamboo or spruce. Remember the Spruce Goose. Carbon based composites can probably be made using surprisingly simple approaches. Same for glass fiber. I don't know about natural glues.

Bamboo for use in airplanes 1910

Natural glues.


Common blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) hangs tough after a night adhering to otherwise "non-stick" Teflon®.

Glass wood and ceramics can replace many components esp in energy collectors.

Simple black pipes filled with ammonia water make great energy collectors.
You can make a entire ammonia cycle fridge out of glass. Fresnel lenses can be made from a variety of materials.

Many plastics can be scrounged and reused.

So the key is working through the engineering requirements matching as much as possible with the local materials or plants animals compatible with the climate. And eliminating as many components as possible that require higher tech manufacturing facilities. Many complex control circuits can be made using fluidics even micro channel ones could be produced using a mask similar to how old records where made or using etch methods.


Engineering designs have to be simplified how to make measuring tools and tools from tools needs to be provided say starting with a simple whip lathe and hand drill.

So I think that we can develop technologies that allow people to develop a high standard of living in almost all of the earths climates. You would have to couple this with realistic birth control and sustainable living each culture can migrate to a sustainable version of its preceding culture. Vasectomies are a relatively simple operation and can with work become a part of becoming a elder.

This is how you have to start thinking to really solve our coming problems.

Of course it can be done.

We don't have to make wind turbines and the rest of the sustainable energy portfolio from wind turbines and the rest of the energy portfolio now, but rather on an ongoing basis as the wind turbines we make now reach the end of their useful life and have to be replaced.

Of course it can't be done from within an oil-fired economy, but that is not a requirement for a sustainable energy economy. What is required, rather, is that once we build it, it can reproduce itself.

IOW, despite the silly framing in the title, using existing infrastructure to produce an item with a five-fold or higher EROI is not "subsidizing" that energy resource. It is investing a non-renewable resource into the generation of a larger and ongoing amount of renewable resource.

The idea that sustainable energy has to be bootstrapped on the basis of infrastructure already created within a sustainable energy economy is just critically naive, since the challenge we face is not the challenge of getting a sustainable energy economy from scratch, but transitioning to a sustainable energy economy from an unsustainable energy economy.

Given the egregious energy waste built into our economies, providing the resources required to produce a sustainable energy infrastructure can be provided by diverting energy currently wasted. It is by no means political simple, and there no reason to have confidence that the political will can be mustered to do it, but there are no insurmountable technical challenges to building a sustainable energy economy that has sufficient yield to then reproduce itself and provide a sustainable energy income to be used by the balance of the economy.

And the new energy economy that we have to build will certainly not be a simple re-enactment of the last two energy economies, "just with different fuel" ... but looking back over the coal fed and oil fed economies and all that accompanied them, why would we want to re-enact that?

You missed the point.

The point is if there are steep decline rates in available oil exports in next 5 years or so, that it will severely constrain the buildout of renewables.

It is not just the availability of FF energy inputs needed for the renewable energy build out that is going to be a problem. The availability of investment capital to finance the renewable energy build out will also be a problem.

In the case of FF energy, it is not just that the resource is starting down the depletion curve, it is also that renewables will be competing against other demands. You've got the BAU economy, then you've got growing economies like China and India. It also requires an investment of energy to become more efficient in our consumption of energy. Finally, as EROIs go down, the desperate rear guard effort to moderate the inexorable depletion of FFs will require increasing energy inputs. While it should be obvious to us that renewables should get top priority, there is no guarantee that it will work out that way. It certainly hasn't up to now.

There is also the investment capital problem. Investment capital is also going to become a depleting resource due to a declining economy (due to depleting FF). On top of that, once again renewables are in competition with other demands for that depleting capital. There are going to be those that will want to make an all-out effort to find and extract more FFs, and that will be hugely costly. Others will want to build nukes as rapidaly as possible, and those aren't cheap either. Energy conservation and efficiency projects require large capital investments as well; Alan Drake's EOT is exhibit one. We've also got a crumbling infrastructure, and overstretched imperial military, unfunded liabilities for social security and medicare, etc., etc. And of course, the BRIC countries and the rest of the developing world continue to rquire huge capital investments, all on top of the BAU baseline. Once again, it should be obvious that renewables should be the number one priority and get first call on whatever investment capital is available. Once again, there is no guarantee that it will work out that way. There certainly has not been nearly enough capital investment in renewables up to now.

Big changes in how we allocate resources needed to be made twenty years ago. There is little reason to hope that anything will happen at this point that goes beyond the category of "too little, too late". The future will be worse than it theoretically might have been, because that is the opportunity cost that goes with our failure to make the right choices while we could.

Investment capital is also going to become a depleting resource due to a declining economy

yeah, companies like exxon probably won't have any money. SOMEONE is always going to have money and if there is this big thirst for power someone will make the investment because the return will be there.

This shows you don't understand the problem. Money is an abstract concept and has value because we agree to exchange fiat currency for real things. It was not always this way and may not always be so. Energy is what allows us to do work. As long as we have surplus energy, money is the most efficient and convenient way of effecting transactions, but will money hold its appeal when we face permanent declines in available energy? I think not. That this will happen is not yet a certainty, but please don't think that money itself is valuable due to some natural law. Remember for 99.9% of our species history we lived off of the daily solar flows hitting the earth - and we were very few.

Why is Exxon doing massive share buybacks? Why are they not replacing their reserves each year? Why are they not spending all those billions on more deep water exploration, in new areas etc. Once the EROI of oil approaches one (and well before that because there are non-energy inputs), drilling for oil will not make sense, at $200 a barrel, at $2 million a barrel. (Unless the energy we use to get it is of dramatically lower quality as defined by our 'economic system').

There will be NO economic returns (in aggregate) with declining overall energy surplus unless they are created by efficiency or conservation.

This shows you don't understand the problem. Money is an abstract concept. Energy is what allows us to do work.

money is an abstract? seriously...

whoever has the money will have the energy. if there is money to be made in new energy sources energy companies like exxon and the swfunds will invest in them. some day exxon might not be an oil company but a solar/wind and geothermal company. thye will have the money to do it.

increasingly windmills and solar will piggyback on earlier investment of wind and solar put up by an earlier use of oil.

It is really the other way around. Whoever has the goods will have the money.

You can have millions of dollars, if nobody wants it anymore, it will make little difference.

Yes, money is an abstract.

Food, animals, minerals, ores, and fuels are not abstracts. Money is the abstract tool that allows for the complex exchange of these real, physical items between people in order to perform useful work, get things done, and provide mutual support.

Available food is useful without money. Money is useless without available food.

Where is the internal shortfall which prevents this from being understood?

for 99,9% of mankinds time on this planet we did "all fine" without money - when monies came into the picture things changed. Most animals still don't use money, exept for a stray monkey.

But ... but ... humans are not animals, Paal! We're special!


Oh yes we are, and oh no we're not. ;)

Everyone thinks there is a big thirst for more oil now that should drive a big new round of investments in arctic, offshore, tar sands, oil shale, tertiary recovery, etc., yet people are starting to notice that big oil is not making the investments they theoretically should be making. It seems they can't believe that the higher prices aren't just a temporary thing and will be going down soon. How far down the depletion curve are we going to have to go before this psychology changes, and the market actually starts working the way it theoretically should work?

How can financial capital constrain a nation on creating new infrastructure if it has the actual resources required for the infrastructure?

Financial capital is a collection of permissions issues under a set of social institutions. If financial capital is the sole constraint, then the solution is to create new financial institutions so that it is no longer a constraint.

Real resources can be a binding constraint ... and if foreign exchange is required to acquire imported material, that can extend to binding external finance constraints. However, beyond that, accepting that there is a financial capital constraint is simply agreeing to act as if our hands are tied.

My post was apparently deleted.

Oh Well,


alan - not so.

we are still working through some software/server upgrades.

so please repost from memory...;-)

Try again, Alan - the site is pretty glitchy at the moment, it may have just got lost in the wash.
And your posts are always interesting and valuable, even when we have our differences! :-0)

I've been having troubles too. Thought it was just my sloppy typing, but maybe not.

I keep trying to remind myself to save a copy before trying to post - it is usually the long involve posts with buckets of references and quotes that get lost....

I always write my response in “wordperfect” editor, because I need the spell check.
After I post , I make sure that it is posted OK, before I close the “wordperfect” .

"I always write my response in “wordperfect” editor, because I need the spell check.
After I post , I make sure that it is posted OK, before I close the “wordperfect” ."

Exactly correct docscience, I write mine in Word and then copy them before deleting the Word document, just one case wherein redundancy proves it's value!


If we don't shortly test a 'closed energy loop' manufacturing model for producing Alt energy equipment, we will lose the window of having an energy platform (fossil fuels) which could support us temporarily while we make inevitable manufacturing mistakes.

I can actually see the train leaving the station folks.

The 'energy cushion' for getting our shitogether is rapidly turning into a 'whoopie cushion'.

The old time farming equivalent would be 'eating the seed corn'

(In the case of ethanol, burning the seed corn)

See my post above. At some point, someone is going to have to take charge and say "No, we can't expend more money and energy on other things besides renewables, because we have to build out renewables FIRST while we still can."

And no, it ain't gonna be Hillary or Obama or John.

You have apparently chosen to disregard the comments in Nate's post about energy density, and in the link he gave.
Show me a renewable with higher energy density than FF at any reasonable cost and that is fine.
Otherwise from the arguments given nuclear power would seem more suitable.
If you are going in another direction, then some rebuttal of the points about energy density is surely needed to support your argument.

The reason to build out renewables with all deliberate haste is not because of energy density, but because they are renewable. Eventually, they will be all we have left. I'd prefer to have more rather than less of them. Wouldn't you?

Dave is saying use that 'buildout fund' to build Nuclear first.

To me, that is unacceptable, in part because of the kind of complexities that make Nuclear even MORE dependent on 'That spare parts truck having diesel enough to deliver it's stuff to the reactor'.. as was so immediately pointed out when it momentarily caught up a wind project. How many trucks, factories, refineries, mines and their consequent, complex supply lines are needed to keep a mass of windturbines going, as opposed to a broad nuclear industry? I would suggest a lot less for wind and its cousins..


Building wind turbines and so on is also massively dependent on a complex supply chain, as you have to mine massive quantities of iron, produce concrete and so on, in fact in much greater quantity than for nuclear power.
This is one of the implications of using a less dense energy source - you have to build a hell of a lot of plant to get the power.

Actually, I am not necessarily saying build nuclear first - my first priority would be conservation, which is much the cheapest way to operate.
For baseload I would build nuclear, and likely wind power or solar for much of the peaking power in suitable areas.
IOW I would simply do whatever we know how to do as cheaply ass possible, which is important where resources are constrained.

...in much greater quantity than for nuclear power

BUT with much lower quality control.

Recycled beer cans can be used for new beer cans, aluminum siding and many other non-critical applications, but NOT aircraft (which require FAR greater quality assurance and quality control).

Recycled SUVs can be used for wind turbines (perhaps not the WT gear box) but not in nukes (even cat walks around the nuke I believe).

Msss is simply NOT a good way to measure material inputs. Nukes require MUCH more critical and limited quantity parts (see 500 ton forgings with unforgiving specifications on grain size, metallurgy, etc.)

The USA can build more MW of Wind turbines than new nukes in the next decade (even with a 2.8 adjustment for capacity factor). Perhaps by a factor of ten, certainly by a factor of 5.


I have a very different assessment of wind power in the States and in Europe.
The resource in the States is simply much better.
You are also correct in saying that mass alone is not the only metric to be considered in a build.
However, my point was that the requirements for a wind build are non-trivial, and that it still depends on a complex industrial process.
The US nuclear industry has been allowed to decay to such an extent that you are certainly correct that in the next decade much greater capacity in wind can be built.
Hopefully though the ramping up for a new nuclear build will progress though, together with a more rational regulatory framework, so that in the time-frame of 10-20 years the nuclear build will become very significant.

In the time frame of just over 5 years, I see solar power as taking a large part of US build, as it tracks so well for peak use in many areas of the US.
I was not willing to put too much confidence in it until recently, as although cost trends were hopeful I don't believe in counting chickens before they are hatched, but announcements like First Solar's of cost now make it clear that it will be competitive for this use very shortly with rising costs for fossil fuels.

Sorry, posted this in the wrong place!
A time span of a few hundred or a few thousand years does me nicely, thanks - or even 50 years to give us a chance to develop better renewables.
This is anyway a different argument, and the point of low energy density needs addressing if you wish to argue that absolute priority should be given to renewables.

...And no, it ain't gonna be Hillary or Obama or John...

Do you smell sulfur burning?

Actually, what I keep hearing in the back of my mind is that old tire commercial jingle: "Sooner or later, you'll have Generals."

A time span of a few hundred or a few thousand years does me nicely, thanks - or even 50 years to give us a chance to develop better renewables.
This is anyway a different argument, and the point of low energy density needs addressing if you wish to argue that absolute priority should be given to renewables.

"See my post above. At some point, someone is going to have to take charge and say "No, we can't expend more money and energy on other things besides renewables, because we have to build out renewables FIRST while we still can.""

The question arises though:
Where is the point at which we can no longer spare any of our declining fossil fuels to create breeder plants for renewables?
My argument is that just one plant can beget more plants if it is dedicated to it.

How many do we need to build and on what timescale to make a difference?

The problem is from a quality perspective its tough to beat fossil fuels.

Just figuring the stored solar energy vs say plant matter you get in my opinion numbers like 100:1 or 10:1. This is why you would want to correct a simple EROI calculation to probably be negative once you drop below 10:1 returns.

Quality arguments allow you to use a fuel that has a negative simple EROI because of quality increases but this use case does not fit using liquid organic fuels for growth.

For example using liquid fuels where substitution does not make sense but the return on investment is high is still feasible even with a negative EROI fuel.

As and example if you consider a airplane and its utility it makes sense to continue to use liquid fuels in airplanes even if the EROI of the fuel itself is negative. Flying would be expensive and generally accessible to most.

You can make the same arguments for heavy equipment food production etc. As long as the result is highly valued then the fuel factor can be discounted if you will.

What I think a lot of people miss is this is vastly different from using organic fuels in a SUV to pick up the kids from soccer practice.

Also you can see that infrastructure such as most roads are unsupported in the case of valuable organic fuels. It seems to me its actually cheaper to fly the few that can afford to go fast and look at electrified rail for the rest.

Even given a move to electric cars the road problem still seems to make suburban lifestyles unsustainable as lower and lower EROI fuels are used to try and maintain the infrastructure.

We are just now entering the point that any further expansion and maintenance of our roads must be done with expensive low EROI fuels. And this has to continue under general economic contraction as more of the GDP is devoted to food/fuel etc. In short the tax base is rapidly shrinking and costs are skyrocketing.

Reallocating resources under these conditions to critical alternative energy projects that are not boondoggles requires even more enlightenment if you will.

In short you get yourself in a situation that to maintain the current status quo quickly overwhelms the economy and any attempts to introduce alternatives and worse redirect investment/resources only worsens the situation.

For example lets consider the wind project currently delayed because of a temporary shortage. Once persistent shortages become common the urge to not redirect resources to longer term renewable projects becomes strong.

Consider the SPR in the US. Right now a lot of political pressure exists to not continue to fill the SPR. Lets say we have a hurricane this summer and the SPR is drained to relieve prices. We can expect that later after this event we have a good chance that the SPR will not be refilled in a timely manner. Thus if a hurricane hits the year after or some other calamity strikes the SPR will not be available the second time around.

So you can see that you get into this sort of short term gain at the expense of long term pain type situation and generally the short term will win. This makes a problem solvable today i.e using our current oil resources to build wind turbines potentially effectively unsolvable at some point in the future. For example with wind the best regions are often in poorly accessible regions. In the future we may simply not have the resources to build the roads to install the turbines. Eventually the society make cache enough resources to accomplish the task but you can see that it could take a looong time to accomplish something later thats feasible today.

It just seems to me that by waiting until market forces can support moving off of oil we are simply selecting for the case that only the most powerful and wealthy can continue to live a "modern" lifestyle. Resources accessible to the common people seem to retreat rapidly along with infrastructure.

This is the trap if you will that exists in most 3rd world countries and its not been solved by market forces and I see no reason that we won't fall into the same quagmire.

"For example lets consider the wind project currently delayed because of a temporary shortage. Once persistent shortages become common the urge to not redirect resources to longer term renewable projects becomes strong."

Is that what you really meant to say? It was a long post, so maybe I lost track of the context, but it seems to me that if other high-density sources like Diesel were clearly less and less reliable, that people would put extraordinary efforts into dragging those windmill parts to the site however possible, no?

Of course there would be numerous other pressing demands for the sporadic fuels, but surely also a recognition that the opportunity to 'grab that wind' would have become invaluable, and must not be missed.

One of the aspects of something like windpower and the resulting electricity is that it is a powersource that A)one CAN build at an individual level with scrap technology, and B) that the power output of multiple sources like these can be joined to direct all that available power to a single point-source.. so a modest, paralleled input can provide a condensed output, if needed. This makes it concievable for multitudes of sub-industrial scaled turbines, hydroplants, solar-sterlings, etc to exist, both to make consumers less stranded individually without utility-scaled supplies, and for them to join forces (so to speak) when the advantage of this collected power is needed.

It's one thing to have the momentary setback because all your trucks happen to be Diesel, and another entirely when some essential components are simply unproducible without the overall energy infrastructure. The Pentium chip might be unsustainable. How about Glass, High Strength Steel, Decent Insulators for electrical cable? Even though the 'flow rate' of energy coming from a renewable sounds as doomed as the reduced capacity of Oil on the downslope, it still seems to have the higher ground, as it is not completely consumed, even at the end of its useful life, so to rejuvenate that source should not require a complete resurrection of ALL new materials to extend the output..



It's one thing to have the momentary setback because all your trucks happen to be Diesel..

I would even go further: What we are experiencing now is "only" a systems shock. There was no plan B, but it won't take long for plan B to be developed. Once the Diesel problem becomes chronic, there will be plan Bs working all over the place. Thinking historic: Germany ran out of fuel during WWII and turned its vast coal mines into a liquid fuels mine. How long did it take them to do that? Hardly any time at all.
OK, Scottland's not at war, YET.
But it would not surprise me if wind became national priority quite soon, especially if the diesel incident repeats itsself.
And if it costs too much to pipe the wind (improve the grid) to the distant cities, it might suddenly make sense to

move the infrastucture to the source of power

meaning moving manufacturing and building houses near the wind farms, for instance.

The industrial revolution began on Hydropower:
yes, waterwheels turned the spinning jennies/
that made the yarn /
that clothed the industrialist/
that rented the boat /
to import the sugar /
to fatten the maid /
who lived in the house that Jack built.

And, of course, he built it next to the factory on the river turning the mill on the wet English/Scottish landscape...

I have no fear that we COULD easily overcome the depletion of fossil fuels and this will receive prio 1. We will bite and scratch our way through. Some of us biting and scratching while some of us get bit and scratched..

Sorry. Maybe it's just the dreary German weather outside my window...

Cheers, Dom

Portland is looking very German today. (Nass und Grau)

I might get one more chance to see Europe, not necessarily assuming it's my last, but being prepped for it, just in case.. I just got word that I might be working on a Euro Poker tour, (typo for which was going to be 'Poker rout', fitting the tenor of this sort of job in my current weltschmertz..) but I'll take it. If we're going to keep heads out of water at this point, it'll take jumping into what lifeboats come along.. might clear the card AND get us going on some Solar Hot Water this summer!


PeakPlus Bob etc. The problem is peak oil will ignite social problems. Its not a issue of mitigation. Anyone that visits this site often enough cannot help but be aware of all the issues that we are being challenged with.

However thats not the problem we have to solve. What we have to deal with are people who are ignorant of the real causes for example most people in the US blame Big Oil or OPEC etc for high oil prices. Bankers for collapse of housing etc. Anyone but themselves. These people in general are already suffering from a mild case of paranoid delusional mental illness. As things get worse we will have the majority of the population effectively insane.

You have a bunch of crazed soccer moms and banker clerks to deal with.

A lot of these people won't make it they will fall through the cracks into poverty since neither their eduction or their mental state is capable of dealing with the issues. Understand these are incredibly self centered people.

This is a breeding ground for the rise of despots offering solutions and in a lot of places maybe basically all you will have some crazed ruler leading his people agianst some common enemy that the root of all the problems.

Now on the other side people that recolonize peak oil and attempt to act in a sane manner and develop alternatives will be faced with the issues of enormous numbers of refugees flowing around the globe. Its simply impossible for them to devote energy to expanding a non-oil based society and take care of these hoards of hungry and homeless.

So these people will be dangerously close to falling int the trap of the ends justify the means. Although better than societies lead by a lunatic because in the future they might expand to allow the remaining population to live a good life any society willing to turn its back on billions and allow them to starve cannot be consider good. In most cases these societies will be made of the same people that plundered the resources in the first place to live a suburban exisistance.

From the perspective of the billions that will die I'm not sure that the differences between a society that adopts renewable and one that reverts to a feudal life style is all that large. In both cases the societies are indirectly responsible for the death of billions.

"You have a bunch of crazed soccer moms and banker clerks to deal with."

I don't buy it. Faced with hard realities, a lot of people can also pull themselves together. Crackups happen, sure, but they are not universal nor are they everlasting.. Riots are blips on the screen.. people get tired fast, and new equilibriums set in.. these will vary widely from place to place.

'19th Century' 'Feudal Lifestyle' 'Fascism' 'Non-heirarchical Autonmous Collective'.. We have all of these already in varying forms today, as well as most other systems we could name. Trying to surmise how we'll be living is a bit of a red herring against "We'll have jobs/work to do that can be helped with Power Sources. Let's build some that we know will help."

Sure there will be social problems. How will it not be helpful to have 'some' energy sources available to free our hands up a bit to deal with these social problems?

Crazed in the sense of people willing to believe anyone making a offer to good to be true. My point is as you look at the social dynamics they fact that we are even now hiding the problems we face and spinning them in the main stream media you get a pretty good idea that what ever happens we will face social engineering thats intended to empower a elite class of some sort.

I assure a lot of people that live under ruthless governments focus on doing there job. You probably will make a good engineer for even the most evil form of government. Windmills are not going to solve the problem that got us into this mess.

Obviously your completely missing the point but most people do. We are facing a high probability that billions will starve face widespread war and disease over the next 20 years that the problem we should focus on averting. If you going to build windmills then for every windmill placed in the US ship one to Africa or some other poor region.

I've not read all the posts of course but I do watch people proposing solution after solution and I've never seen a single post that even suggested this.

Thus your solutions are not real solutions.
Worse like I said few even understand the problem.
If you want to take a world of six billion people through a major drop in energy availability, food etc all the problems we are facing. The wealthiest nations have to treat the poorest as equals and provide for them just like they would their own citizens. Barring this eventually as regions lose the ability to function economically starting with the poorest eventually you will be dealing with some pretty crazy people that have been brain washed by some crazed leader.

Open your eyes look at whats happening politically in the Middle East and Venezuela what do you think the Communist government will do when China eventually falters admit they made a mistake ?

Closer to home for most posters the EU or US governments ?

You think building high tech windmills for the rich is going to solve this ?
We let this problem fester for centuries and never solved it with plenty of resources at our disposal. If the wealthy pull back and try and take care of themselves first it will blow.

You think building high tech windmills for the rich is going to solve this ?

Well, actually, yes. Most economies are built for the rich - at least more for them than for the powerless. Rome was built for the Patricians and lasted a thousand years...

The problem is peak oil will ignite social problems.

This is exactly the variable that I think none of us can fit into the equation. I am a student of power (eh, "history") and see that revolutions are real, that social termoil can and does happen, that Rome took hundreds of years to fall apart. Why?
Cause power does not give up power easily.

Technically speaking, we should have few (long lasting) problems with mitigation.
I am NOT going to assume that the social side will destroy all our possibilities.
I am NOT going to assume an Orwellian Future.
It might happen. But I doubt everywhere and to the worst possible degree.

And once the new MEME has taken root SOMEWHERE, it will spread quickly, creating a new order.

Memmel, I know your concerns on this issue are real. But I would suggest that total social collapse is a very POOR assumption for the world to come.

Compare our future with the Great Depression. Was there Revolution in the US at the time?

Why the hell not?

Cheers, Dom

I think this is the new big idea..that it all depends on timing. We not only have to cut back on fossil fuel use for consumption but set aside plenty for investment ie as embodied energy. Then when fossil fuels have run out we want
1) clean energy at replacement level
2) less than 450 ppm CO2e
3) some spare capacity.

Drawing graphs and timelines suggest 'we' could possibly just make it but unfortunately 'we' are driven by antagonistic forces. One of those forces is belief in technology breakthroughs that may never eventuate. Suppose non-fossil energy has a payback (=embodied/annual) of 8 years. Then aside from compounding effects we need to invest 50% of all fossil output for 16 years to replace 'dirty' with 'clean'. That's not going to happen.

Every planet has one shot to reach the stars. If the first shot fails, then not even the cockroaches have a second chance. I think it was Hubble that pointed that out - someone correct me on the attribution.

We don't have to build windmills from windmills - at least not the early generations - but later generations must be buildable from later technologies.

The horses in the desert produce energy and work - force * distance. It's just not so useful in a global technosociety that is built on the uniform type of energy provided by oil. It seems to me a boundary issue. Political, economic and technological boundaries should be coterminous - otherwise the rich extend their footprint to destroy the poor - AND ALL THE HORSES - and the environment out of sight and out of mind. There cannot be horse powered construction equipment next to fossil powered equipment. Likewise there cannot be wind powered equipment next to fossil powered equipment. [Outside of very short transitions.]

cfm in Gray, ME

“It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology.

This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.”

- Sir Frederic Hoyle, British Astronomer, 1964

I believe you meant Sir Frederic Hoyle, the late British astronomer.

Technology is not a necessary correlate or outcome or indicator of intelligence. The Cetacea, for example, express intelligence musically. It's nothing but ape hubris to claim that technological innovation is the necessary outcome and indicator of intelligence. A truly intelligent species would thrive while foregoing technological tinkering. To destroy the biosphere of one's home planet via technological tinkering is a hallmark of cosmic stupidity, not intelligence.

You can always twist the definition of intelligence enough to make anyone look either like an idiot or a genius.

Usually, they manage it themselves....

There is no absolute definition of "intelligence" and the term is poorly used for the most part.

The mid-sized cetacea are roughly equivalent to humans in cognitive power, used differently. And they've done it for many millions of years. I hope some of 'em survive us; peak oil is coming none too soon for them.

I've always felt that intelligence was the ability to dream. Mathematics, Music, Art, Dance etc. Sometimes its called creativity but thats really a expression of a dream. I wonder if the cetacea express this as complex sonic images. Unlike us in a lot of ways they can act as a media player.

I think that these people are not exactly right.


Since you can take a web page and its obvious that tags trigger a far larger information transfer than the content of the tags. In general one html tag of about say 100 bytes translates to say 300-1000 bytes of decompressed rendered payload.

I suspect that the whale songs trigger this same sort of player effect closer to how a smell can trigger a childhood memory.

But you can see the ability to dream either in the abstract or from memory seems to be at the heart of intelligence. Anyone with dogs has seen them dream of the big cat chase in their sleep.

The cetacea have impressive minds. I've worked with them in some pretty advanced contexts. There is definitely stuff going on in there.

Over relatively long distances, you'd want communication redundancy, and the messages may not need to be all that information dense. Even Einstein probably sometimes just waved. And of course, Paul Revere managed a fairly complex message triggered by a prearranged binary trigger.

The mid-sized cetaceans, IMO, adjust their communication bandwidth drastically due to distance, as well as the frequencies used, due to the physical characteristics of sound. And they can "see" in sound and cross-modally transfer that to vision with mind manipulation of the image, which is a kind of 'intelligence' we'll never have. (what does a cube sound like?) If you've ever listened to a broadcast TV picture signal using an FM radio... that's what I feel like when listening to dolphins communicating up close. I don't have the hardware to decode it.

I think my border collies have a better dream life than I do. And dolphins must dream with only half their mind at a time; pretty alien, but they have a decent sense of fun. Nobody knows what whales may do with their brains... but they're big & complex, and it seems Bowheads may be able to live 300 years or so. Indeed, there may be an individual bowhead whale alive out there who has lived through the entire fossil fuel age, and will see it largely end. That'll be some song, if it's told.

Give the planet a few hundred million years without our thus-far destructive force and there will be some more oil for the dolphins, or horses, or elephants to use, initiated by our driving the climate into global warming, which will cause oceanic dead-zones, which will cause dead algae to accumulate without decomposition, which will be concentrated into more petroleum.

Provided that their complex societal systems are built from the bottom-up with adaptive self-organization and resilience, rather than of durable hierarchy and efficiency from the top-down.

Provided, in other words, that they don't make the same mistakes we did.

But it is nearly impossible that humanity will reach the stars.

No, we blew our chance at the stars, if chance there was, and that was a sin against abundant life that could have been.

I think Sir Fred Hoyle was right about there only being one shot for any species to do it; and we've blown it at this point. It's still probably thermodynamically possible but not evolutionarily.

I hope there will be descendants of cetacea. Unlikely elephants will survive, or that horses would need larger brains. In a million years there may be jokes and introspection, but probably not machines.

Cathedrals are built in the midst of difficult conditions. And, they have inspired further building. We have used very very little of the energy that is available to us so even a bit of a slump from oil running out is not a big deal on the question of the stars. But, a trip to the nearest star would take as long as a cathedral build to accomplish so you need to look quite a way forwards. I can not think of anything we are doing now, other than pursuing the canonization of some Saints and perhaps some of the work of the Nature Conservancy or university endowments, that is laid out on such a timescale. 1000 year plans lost their sparkle after WWII and only those who speak of the seventh generation are bold about that kind of thing now.


Greetings from Oz.

300 muscles are working in-sync just so I can stand still.
75% of a loaf of bread can be made up of anything other than grain flour.
The point: Solutions to Big Problems are usually complex and if there's no profit at the end of the day, why would Big Business even bother?

Particularly as PO is still just a notion to most.

ALL fuel sources are now heavily subsidized by an infrastructure built and maintained by cheap and constantly available liquid fuels.

I have a huge problem with the cheap oil argument so many make. oil has not always been cheap so why does everyone keep repeating that? it's certainly not cheap now. the price of oil has risen and fallen since it was first drilled. the cheap oil argument is a straw man.

If you can buy an oil barrel at 120$ today and at the same time you know there is 5000 to 20 000 manhours worth of energy inside it .... (dependent on who you ask)

A- Would you rather buy 40 Big Mac and do the hardwork yourself or
B- Take the oilbarrel and put it onto some machinery ?

When will oil appear cheap to you john15?

Oil, for the amount of latent work it can accomplish is INCREDIBLY cheap at $4 a gallon. Even at $40 a gallon.

ah, another button of mine. the problem with the comparisons is that none of those fill my tank and none of those are used in the volume that gasoline is. part of the price may include factors like advertising or anything else that has more to do with something other than the final product.

the only two things that could come close are water from the tap and milk. milk is in some places about the same price and I would argue that it's very important and could be underpriced like gasoline. water is essential for life and is almost free in many areas of the country compared to it's importance.

It's the crazy world of apple and orange comparisons. This time not even in the fruit category.

Can't do that! This is nothing but a rhetorical trick. Things that are different can not be compared. The whole purpose of comparison is to find things that are sufficiently similar so that a valid inference can be made about an unknown.

Comparing things that are different is a joke. Oscar Wilde was famous for it. It proves nothing. It shows either an attempt at deception or stupidity. For Wilde it was funny. Maybe putting strange things in a car's gas tank is funny to some but not to me.

The idea that money is an abstraction, but energy is not is clearly false. Energy is as much an abstraction as money if not more. At least money can be easily counted and even carried around in your pocket. Try that with energy.

Like metal, energy is a generalized concept which does not exist in the real world. It is an abstraction. As soon as metal, for example, becomes real it has to take a form such as iron, gold or some amalgam. When it does it takes on the characteristics of that form such as price, weight and electrical properties.

Energy is the same type of generalized concept. It does not exist in nature. Even though units of energy can be counted, it is still an abstraction. Energy in the real world exits in various forms with various characteristics that units of energy do not recognize just as pounds of metal do not recognize malleability or electrical properties.

All energy is not created equal as units of measurement would imply.
Some metals are cheap like iron, others are expensive like gold. Units of energy ignore this and treat all as equal. They are not. Some energy forms are renewable and some are not. To treat energy in the abstract form as the problem misses the distinction between the abstract and the real. It is a real form of energy, liquid fuel for transport, that is the main current problem.

Furthermore energy in the general form is not finite, unlike metal in the general abstract from. A new supply arrives from the sun daily. It powers the earth. The immediate crises is the inability of man to capture this energy efficiently. The earth has evolved over millions of years a method to do this. It is called photosynthesis.

Markets treat renewable energy as less valuable than non renewable. This is because markets are in the business of allocating scarce resources. If something is free there is no need to allocate it.

The crises, in a sense, is a crises of the market where only by creating very high prices for the scarce energy forms in which markets deal can incentive be made to change to the more plentiful energy forms arriving daily which markets generally ignore.

There is no shortage of energy in it's generalized abstract form. The problem is liquid fossil fuel for transport. Over generalizing a problem is not helpful because it makes specific steps needed to deal with it difficult to understand.

Fortunately energy, unlike metal, can be changed from one form to another relatively easily. It should be the function of markets and the government to enable this, not hamper it.

Fortunately energy, unlike metal, can be changed from one form to another relatively easily.

Yes, and in each and every step of this transformation, you lose some of it. It is called thermodynamics.

X, you make some of the most bizarre statements.

1) You CAN compare unlike things. In fact, that is what comparison is, finding out what they have in common, as opposed to how they differ. Apples and Oranges may be different, but either will keep your body going, they both contain energy, water and some other good stuff. I do tend to agree when, say Simmons trots out his 'Coffee price as compared to oil' .. the ones above are at least somewhat more 'necessities', but I'll stay agnostic on their use here.

2) Energy is real. Where you say 'Abstract', maybe you're talking about the Arbitrary units we measure energy in, but that doesn't make the energy simply a symbol or a thought. The sun still strikes the leaf and enables photosynthesis, heats the rocks or the water, etc. That energy is there.

3) Money IS the Abstract. That is its purpose. An idea, a symbol. It is purely a 'Representation of Value', and that value ONLY EXISTS as part of an agreement between multiple people and groups of people that it should, and that different products, tasks, volumes of energy, periods of time and so on are going to have relative value in a common system.. SO THAT,

.. you can trade X Apples for Y Oranges -when you are comparison shopping.


At least money can be easily counted and even carried around in your pocket.

What you put in your pocket and count isn't money; it's currency. That currency represents money only because your society agrees that it does.

Like metal, energy is a generalized concept which does not exist in the real world. It is an abstraction. As soon as metal, for example, becomes real it has to take a form such as iron

Metal is a taxonomic description of a class of materials.

Energy is the same type of generalized concept. It does not exist in nature.

Physics disagrees with you. Energy is a physical phenomenon that does work. If we accept Einstein's theories and the equation E=mc^2 then Energy is as real as and equivalent to matter.


It IS possible to replace a fossil fuel infrastructure with nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, etc. but we will need a 20 year headstart and a change in the demand system.

ah, another frequently used straw man- we needed to start doing things decades ago? oh really? how could we possibly know that? where is the study? hirsch seems to want to just ramp up oil and coal and continue BAU.

here is a hint, we'll adapt probably just a little late to avoid pain but certainly not too late.

Avoid pain? I now see mass layoffs in several industries that are fossil fuel/oil intensive or depend on a strong economy supported by oil. Look at aviation, thousands of layoffs announced and probably tens of thousands more to come this year. Same is true with the auto industry.

The best thing our US government can do right now is to manage the pain by planning for a prioritizing of fuel allocation in the transport industry, users of 75% of the oil. Or start by taxing imported oil and giving rebates to the fuel efficient users. Unfortunately the usual response of the government is to assist those that deserve the least help. I recently heard a former chief executive of American Airlines say that airlines deserve greater subsidies because the US must keep a first class airline system to be competitive in the world market.

The State of Missouri is currently encouraging a jet aircraft manufacturer to build a plant here with $400 million in subsidies. The City of St. Louis will soon float bonds to improve the airport for handling more traffic at a cost of $250 million to the taxpayers. And the State highway department is looking at a $2 billion plan to build exclusive truck lanes between our largest cities, St. louis and Kansas City (255 miles apart). This is not atypical for any city or state in the US. The governments will continue investing in the energy wasteful forms of transport until their is no fossil fuel left to build new & upgrade existing highways or airports.

Both capital investment money and oil energy will be mostly unavailable to shift to the renewable forms of fuel for the energy efficient forms of transport, electric rail, water borne freight, and limited use of electric cars. We have squandered the past and will continue to squander the future until many options are unatainable. The pain will be excruciating.

I thought this would be useful for me to repost here.

When oil was cheap, it was not economically feasible to build the alternate energy substitutes like windmills and solar panels, because the payback time was too long compared to outright wasting the carbon fuels, by outright burning them for our energy needs.

As the price of energy is now rising rapidly, the price of steel and copper are rising just as fast, and those resource prices have more then doubled in the last few years.

Since most of us do not have unlimited funds, What this means is that as for overall afford-ability, even if we wanted to , we can now only afford to build a half as many alternatives as we could have done a few years ago, before the prises had doubled.

As energy prices continue to rise, resource prices continue to rise.
That means as energy prices rise, we can only afford to build proportionately less then we could initially have.

At some point , we can NOT afford to build the minimum amount of needed alternatives.

The energy crises soon turns into an afford-ability crises.
When I talk to people about the need to build solar and alternate, they say it cost way too much.

That seams to tell me that we may have passed that minimum afford-ability barrier quit a ways back, and the best we must strive for is to try to minimize the coming crash.

This is the link to it.
and "Dryki" had a good posting right under it.

You can make diesel from windpower at lower than the present price of oil source diesel, once you factor in the amount of money we are spending on the military force necessary to control the oil supply. So if the powers that be want to exclude construction (was it all construction, or only windpower construction?) from diesel supplies, then I guess we can't build any more oil production facilities, either, right?
I figure that they will get their thumbs out and get diesel to the windpower site as soon as a politician someplace finds out what some idiot civil servant did.

The way you put it, it sounds like to the consumer, this choice is simply ALWAYS too expensive, which I would say is an accurate observation. I have been comparing it to Advanced education lately, as one of the few Long-range expenditures people will still spend 'real money' on. They'll save, they'll sacrifice, go to extreme lengths to achieve this understood value. (Those that do, this is to say.. 'if the shoe fits..')

I also equate it to 'an ounce of prevention', which AT the time of prevention, it seems to me usually appears to be a hassle and a waste of time and money NO MATTER what it costs.

It's a matter of both 'future visioning' and of accepting such preparations as valuable in and of themselves. I can see how Germany is better willing to make such a sober judgement, and is willing to 'Swallow that big (one ounce) pill', while we in our reverie of 'Freedom and Liberty' are often loathe to be so Grownup and Serious.

Our Perpetual Teenage mentality, and an allergy to being too 'Sober'..


Those fossel fuels were cheaper because massive externalities (including, but not limited to, CO2 driven GCC) were not internalized in the price. The whole FF era represents a massive intergenerational injustice, where the present and immediate past generations have essentially told the future generations to "go to hell", and have gone beyond that to assure that is exactly what their lives will be like.

Not to diminish your example of Pain-Mismanagement, but don't forget "Operation Iraqi Liberation" and similar misadventures.

John's 'Greenvisor Blinders' may not be taking into consideration the kinds of pain that are really being incurred by the shortsigtedness of hoping the Markets and Bullish Hero-types would tell us when to start installing energy-wise systems, instead of following concerned but ridiculed leaders back when the writing was first on the walls.

It's not a 'little pain', John, and it's more than a 'little late'. You just don't have to feel it yourself, or acknowledge the cause, since it gets outsourced as a 'Patriots Tax' on the poor, both ours and theirs.

The Great and Powerful Market has spoken.. pay no attention to the mass-graves.


"The Great and Powerful Market has spoken.. pay no attention to the mass-graves."

are you serious? could you be any more dramatic?

"You just don't have to feel it yourself, or acknowledge the cause, since it gets outsourced as a 'Patriots Tax' on the poor, both ours and theirs."

yeah, somehow higher prices only hurt the poor...meanwhile I read today about food pantries seeing more and more middle class people.

John's 'Greenvisor Blinders' may not be taking into consideration the kinds of pain that are really being incurred by the shortsigtedness of hoping the Markets and Bullish Hero-types would tell us when to start installing energy-wise systems,"

short-sightedness of the markets? the only thing worse than the markets is a market interferred with. we know that, just look at the USSR.

the problem is that what if you spent all your money on early mitigation and you don't have money left over for the time when you really need it AND a new development has taken place that is much better than your early mitigation projects?

the problem is that what if you spent all your money on early mitigation and you don't have money left over for the time when you really need it AND a new development has taken place that is much better than your early mitigation projects?

And you ask Bob if he's serious?

That would have been shamelessly melodramatic if there weren't Mass Graves as a result of this and several other wars that keyed directly on the access to oil.

This war IS the market talking. "War is a Racket", as the soldier said. It is profitable, as long as you can outsource the death, the blame, the pollutants, the cost.

Your food-pantry example is classic. Would you stop to consider that someone who is 'Middle Class', and has found themselves and their kids in line at a food pantry is not REALLY middle class any more? I personally 'identify' as middle class, I talk that way, I look that way (maybe, to some).. who knows what the 'reality' is.

Is the USSR really your closest example of 'Markets interfered with' (Exxon Tax Breaks, NAFTA, Capital Gains Tax Breaks, Interstate Highway System, Corn Subsidies)

People who spend money on Early mitigation very likely don't spend ALL of it, since they are clearly 'forward looking' folks and are wiser than that with their money.. they can also probably judge if something actually works as they are choosing to invest in it, or to pick up more of it..

What if, in refusing to be a doomer, and you SAVE all your money, and as prices start to skyrocket, your money's value plummets, and the market bombs? Making preparations IS investment. It is simply 'Diversifying your Portfolio', and your interest is paid to you in Hot Water, Kilowatts and Tomatoes.


Both capital investment money and oil energy will be mostly unavailable to shift to the renewable forms of fuel for the energy efficient forms of transport, electric rail, water borne freight, and limited use of electric cars. We have squandered the past and will continue to squander the future until many options are unatainable. The pain will be excruciating.

Exactly right, and well put. Best to just count on that being the way things will be, and plan accordingly. Fortunately for me, since I'm in my mid fifties and have no kids, I only have a planning horizon of two or three decades to worry about, so just maybe I can miss the worst of that pain, if I'm lucky. It is the youngsters I really feel sorry for.

ah, another frequently used straw man- we needed to start doing things decades ago? oh really? how could we possibly know that? where is the study? hirsch seems to want to just ramp up oil and coal and continue BAU.

here is a hint, we'll adapt probably just a little late to avoid pain but certainly not too late.

I strongly suggest you review your history. From Marion King Hubbert to Admiral Rickover to the Club of Rome to Henry Kissinger to Jimmy Carter, we've been repeatedly warned about energy issues decades ago. The fact is we didn't give a damn then and we don't appear to give a damn now, your endless tiresome nonsense nothwithstanding. Your "hint" is you, wishing upon a star, whistling past the graveyard, hoping against hope that someone other than you pulls your rabbit ass out of the fire yet again.

I strongly suggest you review your history. From Marion King Hubbert to Admiral Rickover to the Club of Rome to Henry Kissinger to Jimmy Carter, we've been repeatedly warned about energy issues decades ago.

decades ago is another way of saying they were wrong.

John15, can you email me or us so we can discuss without having to add to postings ?
I have my email in my profile.

It would be beneficial if more people would put their email in their profile.

You are a real piece of work, john15. First you complain that no one warned us years ago then when I provide examples you say that years ago proves they were wrong. Well, once again you are demonstrating your ignorance. All of these people and organizations pointed towards the very late 20th century to the very early 21st century as the time period in which such issues would arise.


It seems like years ago that I started posting on TOD although it's actually only been two years.

One of the earliest posts I wrote was an argument in favor of doing a study to assure that the "four C's" could be maintained in the face of declining oil/gas supplies.

For those not used to the terminology, the four C's refer to(a)Command(b)Control(c)Coordination(d)Communication.

The very underpinning of an organization or culture is that it retain the above qualities. The amount of energy consumed to maintain the for C's should be put as top priority. Interestingly, as a total percentage of energy consumed in a culture, it is really not that much.

So much energy in the U.S. is consumed by waste and recreational transportation. In a situation of energy emergency, it makes no sense not to be able to transport crucial spare parts to fundamental communication industries while at the same time providing energy to power boaters to play on the lakes of America, for example.

Communication and coordination are fundamental in making any kind of major energy transition. If we hope to move away from fossil fuels, we must see to it that Universities, government agencies, utilities, and energy planners retain communication.

With this type of planning it is easy to see that telephone, internet, television and radio are of extreme importance. To maintain these, the electric power grid must be seen as the absolute underpinning technology to be maintained.

Likewise, basic efficiency transportation: Rail and barge first, then crucial trucking, police and emergency response, abulances, and bus systems.

We should work downward from the most crucial to the least, with recreational driving, boating and air traffic considered the least.

A couple of years ago when I made this argument it was of course ignored. But using such a system, the four C's could be maintained using the energy that we have inside the U.S., at least for some period of time. The grid is mostly coal driven, with additional nuclear and hydropower, and the rest is natural gas. The only place that the grid is truly relient on oil is for Diesel in trains and barges to haul the coal, and for spare parts. These should be strategically placed NOW while we have the fuel to do it.

The U.S. also still produces a considerable amount of oil. If the waste/recreation consumption is reduced it could last longer than some may think in providing the basic "four C's" needed to continue planning and transitioning to an economy that is less oil based.

The above is only the tip of the iceberg of what can be done to "streamline" national energy consumption. What will be needed then is a comprehensive plan, a VERY large scale one, to begin IMMEDIATELY transitioning to a renewable based grid, and to transition the crucial transportation system of the nation to a grid based system.

The assurance of continuing the "four C's" is a job for the government. Setting national priorities is what they are supposed to do. The recent remarks by Obama and Clinton demonstrate than while they are running for election they can propose NOTHING useful or even sane (Clinton's idea of using a windfall profit's tax to suspend the gasoline tax for the summer borders on madness that can only lead to catastrophic waste consumption).

We then need to move to a renewable based grid/transport system. This must be a system that will scale FAST and scale BIG with the government acting as coordinator/guarantor. Alan Drake's electrified rail system, combined with a massive scale thermal solar concentrating mirror system in the Southwest would assure the grid and basic transportation would be maintained. Much of this system could be placed on unused military property and abandoned areas of military bases, and work outward from there. The pressure on natural gas consumption could be reduced while excess electric production could be maintained, assuring that the internet and telecommunications system would be maintained and strenthened. Basic transportation would be maintained, and liquid fuel would be prioritized to agriculture production and transport.

This would be a huge program. The closest model would by the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) system, and the electric rail system would be much like the Interstate Highway System, with the U.S. government enforcing the need for a national electric rail spine, and coordinating with the major remaining rail companies (there are only a handful) The system once designed would NOT be voluntary, sorry, but we are talking about a national emergency here.

Using the above system, we could easily outrun the declining oil/gas supply and bring U.S. consumption down much faster than supplies dry up (by far) but it would require a national will the likes of which we have not seen since WWII. We must recall that even if you accept the absolute assurance that Peak Oil is NOW, there is still as much oil out there to be burned as has been burned in the oil age to date. The plan outlined above could begin to cut oil consumption immediately, and would lay down the birth of a large scale renewable grid/transport system that would require NO OIL AND LITTLE NATURAL GAS once the capital investments were made, and it would be a system that could run well over a third of a century with nothing but very basic maintainence. This is a system that would be drawing solar energy in vast quantities, and thus provide massive imput of kilowatts into the system. If you accept that energy is the driver of wealth, we are talking about freeing up MASSIVE amounts of money over the next three decades using such a system. If we use WWII, the TVA and the Interstate Highway System as examples, the above transition could be done in 20 to 30 years, a relatively short timespan when we are discussiong the preservation of a culture.

Will it be done? That is not question. Some combination of the above program perhaps combined with a spine of nuclear power plants are the only way to provide scalable power in a relatively immediate time frame and retain financial survival for a nation. Something like the above MUST BE DONE.

Roger Conner Jr.

I have been reading at this site quite intensively since I found it a few months ago, and really appreciate the depth of discussion and insight I've found here. This is my first post.

I agree with Roger Conner about the need for replacing transportation in the US with some sort of electrified rail, but wonder if anyone has done some assessment of what this would actually entail. Steel is expensive, and has been getting more so over the past few years for the same reasons many other commodities (mainly construction in india/china). If the US did engage in a serious rail rebuilding program, would it overwhelm global metal supply?

If the US did engage in a serious rail rebuilding program, would it overwhelm global metal supply?

No. A few % at most (taken from steel currently used for autos for example).

Heavy rail is about 150 lbs/yard (average of several standard weights). Two per track yard. Extra for ties, bridges, overhead trolley wire. A million tons will go quite far and USA production is still over 50 million tons/year (from old memory). Figure 10 years ....


Alan whats that in SUV per mile of track :)

Seriously if we scrapped our SUV's we probably have plenty of steel copper aluminum etc to completely rebuild our rail network.

Once suburbia collapses we while be up to our ears in raw materials.

Except for oil of course.


Steel production (million tonnes) 2007
1343.5 million metric tons (mmt)
World - 1,343.5
United States - 97.2
People's Republic of China - 489.0

Steel for tracks -
Approximately 300 US tons of steel per mile
For one set of tracks across US from coast to coast, about 1 million tons.

How many miles of track is needed to connect every community for an efficient electrified rail system ?

Since road paving will become obsolete in the near future due to high cost of oil products, how many miles of track will we need for in city transit systems ?

...how many miles of track will we need for in city transit systems ?

New Orleans once had 222 miles of streetcar tracks (slightly lighter weight rail than freight rail track).

However, this meant that whoever lived in 1920 where I do today had 4 streetcar lines (operated by at least 2 different companies) within 2.5 blocks. (St. Charles, Prytania, Magazine and Jackson and evidence of one more).

I did a plan for pre-Katrina New Orleans and found that 35 miles of new track (plus existing 13 miles) would service almost all of the city of 435,000 (peak population 650,000, saturation perhaps 800,000# without high rises) with some neighborhood shuttle buses and a few express buses. 90% streetcars, 10% buses very roughly.

I could see an extra 50 miles of streetcar lines after that 48 miles, but my crystal ball gets "fuzzy".

New Orleans has FAR better "bones" for streetcars than do the post-WW II suburbs around New Orleans.

Mulhouse France, pop 110,900, metro 259,000 (from memory) plans to have 34 miles of tram lines in 2012. More than half outside city limits.

I hope that helps.


# Our water and sewer systems are sized to cope (barely) with Mardi Gras, well over a million people.

The USA has about 178,000 miles of railroads today. An upper limit on double tracking (to increase speed, reliability and capacity) would be 33,000 miles. Probably less.

Add rolling stock (a trend towards Aluminum freight cars BTW).

Yes, a lot of steel, but doable in a decade. Every new line that opens, or is expanded, will help (remember the 80/20 rule).


Then the spell starts to break
The albatross falls from his neck
Sinks down like lead into the sea
Then down in falls comes the rain.

The spell broke when he really understood all the wonders around him.

Pull A String, A Puppet Moves

each man must realize
that it can all disappear very
the cat, the woman, the job,
the front tire,
the bed, the walls, the
room; all our necessities
including love,
rest on foundations of sand -
and any given cause,
no matter how unrelated:
the death of a boy in Hong Kong
or a blizzard in Omaha ...
can serve as your undoing.
all your chinaware crashing to the
kitchen floor, your girl will enter
and you'll be standing, drunk,
in the center of it and she'll ask:
my god, what's the matter?
and you'll answer: I don't know,
I don't know ...

Charles Bukowski

a place that can come up with a Bukowski can never be totally without charm.


is there a link to a definition of the key PO related 'Laws' that sometimes get spoken about here at TOD? If not I think it would be a useful addition -e.g. 'Law of diminishing horizons', etc.

On another note I tried to post in the Nuclear EROI the other day and like some above lost quite a long post by not saving first. The gist of my argument was that the EROI looks a lot better if you do not fully take account of the long sludgy brown tail (cleanup) in that lifetime EROI diagram and given the old 'Hyperbolic Discount Function' I think it highly likely that given a crisis people will look to the more immediate solution of massively expanding nukes as they have good high 'short term EROI' and "lets worry about the cleanup issues in the future..." -and this is exactly what happened back in the 70s wasn't it...


The Scottish example is trivial in effect, and of value only as a "parable". The wind turbines should be delayed by a week or less and their in service life will not be shortened.

ALL fuel sources are now heavily subsidized by an infrastructure built and maintained by cheap and constantly available liquid fuels.

It is quite possible to have an almost all electric coal mine (electric mining machines and electric conveyors) and transport by electric trains (Black Mesa & Lake Powell in the USA).

Likewise, natural gas can be produced and transporting with electric power.

None the less, because it can be done means little if today's transportation system uses only liquid fuels and a chronic shortage of liquid fuels develops.

Thus my support for a Non-Oil Transportation system operating in parallel to our existing Oil Based Transportation system.

Best Hopes for Non-Oil Transportation,


It is quite possible to have an almost all electric coal mine (electric mining machines and electric conveyors) and transport by electric trains (Black Mesa & Lake Powell in the USA).

Have you ever actually seen Black Mesa? Seen the devastation, heard the stories of Navajo families removed by force from their homes so the mesa could be strip mined? The damming of Marble Canyon for the creation of "Lake Foul" was an abomination. A national disgrace. Fortunately, the lake is silting in & its usable life as a hydroelectric resource is drawing to a close. As AGW diminishes the snowpack in the Rockies, the nasty sewage settling pond that drowned a national wonder will soon be defunct.

Citing abominations such as the ethnic cleansing & environmental rape of Black Mesa and the damning of the Colorado to support your electric train fantasy is no way to win converts to it, Alan.

Agreed, Alan. We can do that but we are not yet doing that. It's the difference between could and would. It's a test of psychology, sociology, and political will. And so far we continue to fail, gloriously.

Here is a simplified model of a sustainable energy conversion system. The idea is simple enough, as some here have noted. You need to have a conversion process that can produce enough excess free energy to feed back into the manufacturing process to replace the unit at the end of its useful life (as well as maintain it during) on top of the energy used by consumers. I am developing a computer model of this systems approach. Collaborators are always welcome.



The other aspect of this is the continuing widening of the gap between the rich and poor. Setting aside the impacts of the credit crisis for the moment, as available liquid fuels become scarcer and more expensive, they will act as a regressive tax, and accelerate the GINI coefficient. At some point this will lead to a larger % of the population unable to afford the 'transitional' infrastructure of hybrid cars, solar panels, etc. In very real ways, social equity has to be considered in future energy plans, otherwise the new energy infrastructure won't be able to built or maintained.

What future are we planning for?...

I am struck by the fact that this most basic of questions isn't the real topic under discussion. Essentially, there is an underlying meme of BAU. Does anyone (Well, a few do.) seriously expect that the future will be a continuation of our throwaway, consumer society or some derivative of it?

Kunstler speaks about the resources wasted with suburbia. It seems to me that the same thing is likely to occur vis-a-vis energy if we proceed without prior thought.


Problem is, Todd, that every potential 'future' BB-solution proposed here is regularly reacted to as if it wants to promise a rosy, unchallenged BAU future.

It's not an assumption I would apply to anyone here without hearing it explicitly. I think even Antidoomer and John15 know that there is something amiss with the situation, and that there's some changes coming.


from the OP:

A great concern of mine is the likelihood of falling into the "Tragedy of the Energy Investing Commons". As the energy crisis deepens, more money, expertise and resources will be thrown at any energy alternative that produces energy, irrespective of its quality, density, energy surplus or environmental impacts. Many of these technologies will be dead ends (energy sinks)..

Yes, will be, and are.

However, rational analysis is based on an implicit assumption of ‘common good’ or ‘science tells us that..’ e.g. EROEI. Not germane. None of these assumptions or calcs. are of any interest to certain powerful bodies. Obtaining an energetic punch, or rocket energy, has no cost; human, environmental input, count for nothing, let it roll. Anything that can serve.

Ethanol from corn - no matter the idiocy, the damage or whatever - Depleted Uranium, against international law, or coal burnt for electricity - and so on - if it can be produced and put to use for domination, go for it. What it ‘costs’ in other terms is of no consequence or interest.

Alternative energy project also serve to keep ppl quiet, hype belief in technofixes, offer subsidies that garner voters, etc.

"Alternative energy projects also serve to keep ppl quiet, hype belief in technofixes, offer subsidies that garner voters, etc.


Just like the "economic incentive checks” that are being handed out.

It’s nothing more than HUSH MONEY.

"Despite some attractive substitutes to oil and gas from an energy return perspective, ALL fuel sources are now heavily subsidized by an infrastructure built and maintained by cheap and constantly available liquid fuels."

Absolutely key insight, Nate. And one which -- it seems to me -- an awful lot of 'opinion-leaders' and politicians in key positions of power are nowhere near grasping; equally alarming, it seems likely that most of the key power players amongst the super-rich, CEOs of big corporations, etc., also don't get this.

This could be a crucial idea that specialist, spear-point volunteer apparats like TOD need to explain repeatedly to these power-wielders -- and to the general public, natch -- until it takes root.

This is a real time example of how lack of systems analysis of our energy problem will lead to unanticipated problems.

No, its nothing, its only a burp in a supply chain that tells us almost nothing about market priotirization of fuel supplies and the relative worth of different energy production investments.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner misquoted yet again!

It should be:-

Water,water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink