Australia: What to do, what to do about our energy situation?


In my last post I suggested that over the next 5 years Australia’s ability to import oil will be severely constrained. We won’t be able to just switch suppliers, because that is what everybody will be trying to do – we need smarter solutions and they need to start now. In this post I look for the responses that we need to make.

There is no better group of people to answer this question than the TOD community. The calamity that we had warned of seems to be occurring, and the words "Peak Oil" now appear in mainstream media news articles on a regular basis. Our warning was heard late - probably too late for some - but it is being heard.

It is now time to turn our minds to defining solutions. This area has been approached by several TOD contributors (with valuable insights ranging from specific technical approaches to the more general ELP approach). I propose that we now need to organise and categorize the full range of actions needed. If we are going to call on politicians and business leaders to act, we need to define what actions are required. It is not enough to scare people - we need to provide a call to arms, not a call to panic.

smashed petrol

Obviously solutions will need to address political, social and economic issues. In addition solutions need to be framed within the context of the environmental problems that we face. Clearly the scope of this question is immense. But a start must be made, so here are some thought-starters:

The First Effects

If oil is constrained, what will be the effect in Australia?

In 2005 the US Department of Energy commissioned a study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to look specifically at the impact of high oil prices. In the conclusion this study finds that:

This analysis also confirms that the three components of oil dependence costs (wealth transfer, potential GDP loss, and macroeconomic adjustment costs) are approximately equal in size. Thus, focusing on the costs of oil price shocks alone and ignoring wealth transfer and the persisting effects of high oil prices on potential GDP losses would underestimate the true costs of oil dependence by about a factor of 3.

Constrained oil leads to higher oil prices, and high oil costs have three economic consequences:
1. Impact on GDP
2. Transfer of wealth from importing nations to exporting nations
3. Macroeconomic costs

The first pain that we feel will be economic pain, and it will be felt in those three areas.

blowing money

The Next Effects

What comes after the economic impacts?

If the economic impact of high oil prices includes a transfer of wealth to the oil producing nations, then there will come a time when large, powerful importing nations will conclude that this transfer of wealth is not in their national interest – and that a military solution is a better option.

Although we are not an oil exporter, we are an energy exporter. Australia exports coal, natural gas and uranium. We have one of the highest ratios of energy resources per capita, (also arable land per capita, mineral resources, etc), so it might be wise for us to watch what happens to oil exporters, as our own situation may have some similarities at a later date.

What Are The Solutions Here in Australia?

There are those who tell me that we are doomed by the fact that, with a population rapidly approaching 7 billion, the Earth has already exceeded its carrying capacity. I have this answer: The population of Australia is only 21 million. Yes, we have a shortage of water and oil, but these shortages will only lead to certain disaster if we do nothing.

There are multiple areas where solutions must be found. Below is a list of broad areas that must be addressed and a few points about how to address them. I suspect that the list is far from complete and I have no doubt that the TOD readership is well equipped to add to this list.

Solutions: Technical.

Like it or not, we cannot transition to a renewable energy base in a day. Both non-renewable and renewable energy sources will be required for decades to come.

Environmental issues must be addressed. Power solutions that require large amounts of fresh water are just as crazy as water solutions that use large amounts of high-quality power (such as desalination), and neither can be entertained.

Overcoming the Constraint in Liquid Fuels

Above all, we must remember that this is a liquid fuel emergency. Liquid fuels such as petrol, and diesel are easily transported (no wires required) and very energy dense (45 kg of petrol will take a car about 500 km, while 45 kg of lithium batteries will only take it a fraction of that distance). These capabilities make liquid fuels hard to replace.

However technological solutions are already practicable:

- Battery/electric cars. Removing the requirement for liquid fuel by developing battery-powered cars is a partial answer as it gives us the capacity to move people and goods on short journeys to destinations outside of public transport routes. Some battery cars are already in limited production, and GM claims that it will be bringing out a large-production car (the Chevrolet Volt) in 2010. Hybrid cars and PHEVs also provide a partial solution. Although electric cars offer part of the solution, we will still need the capacity to move large loads for long distances.

- CNG vehicles. Australia has significant gas deposits. LNG and CNG are likely to be part of the Australian solution.

- Synthetic fuels. Producing liquid fuels from our gas and coal deposits (CTL and GTL) is another part of the likely solution, but there will be an environmental cost. We will need to find a way to soak up the CO2, and ways to address the other environmental issues.

- Solar power. Australia is richly endowed with sunlight. Solar Thermal and Photovoltaic (including thin film) technologies are both likely to be part of a solution. Solar generally delivers electricity, not a liquid fuel, but this energy can fill needs that would otherwise be provided by fossil fuels.

- Algae oil. Algae oil is one of my current crusades. In the geological past algae proved to be a great sink for CO2. Australia has enormous potential for growing algae to offset the CO2 produced by GTL and CTL processes. The oil can then be removed from the algae, leaving a significant amount of waste (around 70%) to be sequestered. Sequestering will probably be done by charring the waste (possibly by fast pyrolization) in a solar thermal furnace, then using the char as a soil enhancer.

Which solution do we need? None of the above solutions is a complete answer to the liquid fuel issue. We will need all of them.

Increase energy efficiency to cut energy dependence

Reducing power requirements also reduces water requirements. The quantity of water that is consumed by power generation is rarely appreciated. A single 60 watt bulb can consume nearly 1 liter of water of water per hour if left on.

Increasing energy efficiency will require more than just turning off the light switches. Whole new technologies may be required:

- Improving train infrastructure. There are existing lines that are currently unused. Restoring these lines offers a cost-effective approach to increasing transport efficiency. Unfortunately, this process will take decades, and there will never be a train to everywhere.

- Improved sea/water transport. Water transport (River and ocean) is extremely energy-efficient.

- Air transport by dirigibles is an old technology that is making a comeback. Dirigibles that look like giant wings is an emerging technology that shows great promise.

- Improvements in sail technology make local water transport even more attractive, sail powered river ferries are a possibility wherever winds are reliable.

- Sea transport powered by giant kites is a technology already being implemented

kite sail

Solutions: Changing The Economic Paradigm

The current Fractional Reserve Banking system requires growth in order to supply the extra money required to service interest on debt. If energy is constrained and growth is not possible, an intolerable strain is placed on this system. A Steady-State economic system may need to be put in place. Once again, this is a big change – it may take time, and is likely to be politically unpalatable.

Solutions: Business

Business is already feeling the pinch, making this a difficult time to be proactive. However action is required. Goldman Sachs has been consistently right with oil price predictions and are now forecasting a “Price Super-spike” of $200/barrel. The events following that are hard to predict, but that there will be effects is not really in doubt. Businesses need to address the issues now, rather than wait for them to reach full impact. Now is not the time to be running lean inventories and a just-in-time supply chain. Agility and resilience will be the key to surviving the associated effects.

- Conduct an inventory to establish vulnerability to a liquid fuel shortfall. The most likely area will be transport. Is your business dependent on transport? To what extent are your staff dependent on transport? Are your business partners dependent on transport? Your supply and distribution?

- Develop redundancies and move to alternatives.
- Increase inventory to allow for supply interruptions
- Locate any single points of failure and assess the vulnerability
- Create scenarios. Workshop if necessary.
- Plan mitigation.

Can your staff work from home? Do you have IT Infrastructure in place to support a large number of staff working from home? Has your HR signed off on working from home as an OH&S option?

Solutions: Government/political.

Links to oil producers will be required. We need to remember that we are a food exporter at a time when a food crisis is emerging across the world. Most of the oil producers are food importers.

If they want our food, then our farmers need their oil.

It might seem that we can just choose one oil importing country and offer them food in exchange for their oil, but unfortunately, many of these countries are quite unstable. For this reason, it would be wise to diversify as much as possible, so that we are not dependent on one source.

Many of our current sources of oil have no requirement for our food, but there are a few logical targets. The logical targets are:

- Iraq. We already have a history of supplying food to Iraq. It might be time to create an explicit link between food and oil, perhaps introducing the concept of a “Most Favored Trading Partner” status, with associated discount wheat in return for guaranteed oil. Sadly, this country is not stable, reinforcing the need to diversify.

- Angola. Angola is not a traditional supplier of oil to Australia. However they have relatively new fields with expanding production. And they have a food problem. Sadly, this is another country with stability problems, so the need for diversification of supply is again underlined.

- The Philippines. This country is one of our current oil suppliers, and they have a current (acute) food problem. Now might be a good time to negotiate a long-term food for oil trade relationship.

- UAE. Another of our usual oil suppliers, UAE currently imports over $145 million/year worth of Australian wheat, meat, fruit, dairy and grains. Once again, it would be relatively easy to link oil with food.

There is one potential flaw in this plan. Several of the oil exporting nations know that food is a significant vulnerability, and they are seeking to address this problem by buying farmland in foreign nations. If this trend becomes widespread, then Australia’s leverage as a food producer would be significantly reduced. The amount of wealth available to Middle Eastern nations is significant. They could certainly buy enough farmland to guarantee food security if they prioritized this as a goal.

This makes negotiations with nations such as Angola and the Philippines even more important.

We also need to form alliances in order to minimize our profile as a resource-rich, sparsely-populated target. In a time when the world is recognizing the emergence of several new super-powers, it is hard to know how to achieve this, and it will undoubtedly require a delicate touch.

Military planning and procurement needs to be considered. If a price of $225/barrel for oil is assumed, what impact will this have?

The current trend towards large, heavy vehicles and the profligate use of fuel to support troops must be reversed. In some cases this may be as simple as replacing steel armour with composites (eg. replacing the steel in the Bushmaster armoured car with Kevlar composites), but in other cases it will require new strategies and tactics (more use of “light fighter” troops, more emphasis on air defense, rather than air support, etc).

Solutions: Environmental

The most pressing environmental problems in Australia include climate change, greenhouse Gas emissions and water scarcity.

Greenhouse gasses

Reducing emissions will not be enough. We need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and we need to start now. Algae has already been mentioned as a promising way to achieve this goal.

Saving Water

Water is a problem here in Australia. The latest solution is desalination plants. However desalination uses so much power that it has been likened to “bottling electricity”.

If reducing our energy requirements and CO2 footprints is a priority, then we may have to face the reality of recycled water.

Desalination is one of the most glaring examples of solving a problem by making another problem worse, but it is certainly not the only one. The fact that we flush our sewage out into the ocean is another example that will leave future generations speechless in disbelief.

Solutions: Localization

Cheap oil made it possible to move goods immense distances at minimal cost. This allowed economies of scale to outcompete the advantages enjoyed by local producers. This trend will need to be unwound in some areas. In some cases localization of production may even devolve down to individual families.

Localization: A worked example.

“Victory Gardens” is a concept that emerged in response to the resource constraints that the government faced during WWII. Significant resources were freed up simply by removing the necessity to produce and distribute some of the more difficult-to-handle vegetables.

The key to success is to identify which vegetables save the most energy if grown at home, and which benefit more from the economies of scale offered by industrial agriculture. As a simple illustration of the difference, consider grains and leafy vegetables. Should we localize wheat growing? Or lettuce growing? Or both?

Harvesting a home-grown lettuce and preparing it for consumption consists of going out to the back yard, picking it, bringing it in, and washing it. A farm-grown lettuce, on the other hand, requires sophisticated and very energy-intensive processes just to transport it intact. The head of lettuce must be carefully packaged to minimize damage to leaves and then it must be transported rapidly, in temperature-controlled vehicles. Encouraging people to grow lettuce at home offers clear advantages. It is easy to grow, harvest and prepare.

However the reverse is true for grains such as wheat, rice or oats.

It is not very practical to grow your own wheat in an average backyard garden. The amount of land needed to grow enough wheat for a family will usually exceed the amount of land the family has available. In addition, wheat is hard to process. Harvesting, separating wheat from chaff, and grinding are all processes that benefit from economies of scale. But, unlike lettuce, once wheat has been grown and processed it is very easy to transport and store.

Clearly lettuce is a candidate for home-growing, but wheat benefits from the economies of scale offered by Industrial Agriculture.

WWII - Grow Your Own Vegetables

The energy cost of producing and delivering food was the subject of a study that occurred after the first “oil shock” of 1973. A significant finding from this study was that massive inputs of energy are necessary to produce and deliver meat.

In addition to growing vegetables at home, if even a small percentage of the energy load associated with meat production could be avoided, the energy savings would be significant. There are obviously three strategies in approaching this goal:

1. Encourage people to eat less meat
2. Encourage people to eat less energy-intensive meat (i.e. move away from beef, to meats that require less energy, such as chicken)
3. Encourage people to go back to traditional practices such as keeping chickens, rabbits or similar animals in their back yard.

Localization: Generalizing the Principle

The example of lettuce and wheat was provided above, but this approach can be applied to all foodstuffs, and indeed all energy using activities. It is worth noting that this approach addresses two problems at once – it reduces CO2 emissions and energy requirements.

When considering if a given activity should be localized in response to energy constraint, the questions to be asked are:

- What resources and energy does a given activity need, and can this activity be further broken down (e.g. breaking energy consumption down by food type reveals that meat and vegetables may benefit from changes, but grains probably would not).

- Is there a need for this activity to be done and is the need a priority when compared to other needs?

- Can the need be met by completely different, more effective processes (e.g. moving some percentage of protein production away from cattle and towards the localized raising of smaller animals).

- If the current process is to continue, can it be done more effectively (by using less material, less energy, reusing or recycling of components, etc)?

- If the activity is heavily centralized then, given that we face an increasingly energy and carbon constrained environment, would it make sense to decentralize the activity?

Fostering Social Solutions at the Local Level

People’s behavior needs to change. In addition we need to deal with the social consequences of economic and environmental difficulties that we face.

We need to educate the public early and enlist them as part of the solution.

We need to encourage people to analyse energy usage and rationalize it. The personal use of energy must be viewed as a social issue. Activities such as walking or cycling to the train station must be viewed as a social obligation.

Local social units must be fostered at every level – for everything from carpooling to swapping seedlings and gardening tips.

Local task forces need to be encouraged. If correctly handled the costs should be minimal. Many people are almost evangelical about their hobbies, and would welcome the chance to set up localized groups that address issues such as:

- Vegetable gardening
- Bicycle building and maintenance
- Modifying your house to reduce energy needs
- Creating a no-dig garden bed
- Backyard permaculture

In general the local knowledge exists and the infrastructure exists. The only intervention needed is organizing and promoting the activities.

As part of a move to localization of production it may be necessary to encourage local councils to do an inventory of local strengths and weaknesses. Are there any goods and services that should be produced locally that are not? This will require identifying activities and deciding on an appropriate level of localization for each activity. For example, it might be appropriate to expect an electronic and computer repair capability at the local level, but it would be inappropriate to expect a computer production facility at the local level.

Local councils should also address related questions: Are there any locally produced goods or services that are vulnerable to a disruption in the supply chain? What would be the impact?

Many local areas have regular “Computer Swap Meets”, or similar organized markets. It would be wise to foster these events and try to broaden the base of locally-produced goods and services available. Doing this should reduce the strain on infrastructure at the wider level, by reducing the necessity to bring in these goods and services.


Our society has evolved into a "network of systems" and it now faces a corresponding network of problems. The danger is that our tightly-coupled, mutually-dependant society could suffer from a sudden, cascading collapse. This happened, to a limited extent, in the Russian collapse of a decade ago - but Russia's systems were loosely coupled with a lot of built-in resilience. Russia did not have the lean, "just in time" inventories and single-point-of-failure systems that we now depend on.

Our ability to meet the challenge will depend on our ability to do three things:

1. Decouple the dependencies in our system and build in resilience. Resilience has fallen out of favour, we currently favour "efficiency" instead, but there is a danger inherent in this efficiency. Just-in-time inventories and single points of failure offer great economic advantages when they work, but they are not the correct model for the turbulent times ahead.
2. Remodel our society and economy in line with the new situation
3. Solve the technical challenges (probably the easiest of the three to achieve)

Achieving this is not going to be easy. The problem permeates every level of our society, so it is time to take an inventory of the solutions – at every level of our society.


A very good summary of the problems we face. It is encumbent on our cities to save as much liquid fuels as possible so that rural areas where no alternative exists are not disadvanatged.

One major area has to be Melbourne, Sydney Brisabane rail alignments to encourage faster transit times for freight by rail. This has to be a serious national priority.

We cannot afford to continue with road building as if its business as usual. The dollars need to flow to rail.

True. I seriously considered a "What not to do" section. Building new airports at a time when airlines are cutting back flights or going out of business? No.
Building new roads? Better make sure it is easy to retrofit them for streetcars or light rail.

Here are a couple of "not to do" things i have been preaching on about:

An immediate ban on sales of gas-guzzlers so that even the rich can't avoid this. For example, ban sales of new cars that emit more than 255g CO2/km with a plan to reduce this every year.
Stop expansion of airports and roads with immediate effect.
Electrify all railways – do not order new diesel engines.
Do not allow consumer goods to be produced with poor performance. People often tend to just look at the initial price and others who have no interest in the running costs just the up-front costs e.g. landlords, builders.

For removing the CO2 from the air some people are trying to figure out if it can be done by planting trees,look at:,5358.html

The electrification of railways only works at reducing emissions if we get rid of coal-fired plants. Currently in Australia electrified railways are responsible for more emissions per passenger or tonne-kilometre than diesel rail because of where the electricity's coming from.


Electric traction is 4 - 5 times more efficient than ICE traction. Even though the burning of Coal produces more CO2/kWh than Oil, I doubt it's 4 - 5 times as much.

Generating a kWh of electricity from coal (one-through, no combined cycle/gasification/whatever) emits about a kilo of CO2, basically 1:1. I don't have the figures for trains handy, but a EVs (car) regularly get 200Wh/km, so effectivly emit 1 kilo of CO2 for every 5km travelled, or 20kg/100km.

Looking at the BP website, Petrol emits 2.3kg/Litre. If a modern ICEV get's 9.4L/100km (2008 Pertol Mondeo), that's... 21.62kg/100km. Almost even.
Diesel emits 2.63kg/km. The Diesel Mondeo gets 7.4L/100km, so that's 17.28kg/100km. Better, but still almost even.

Over 25,000km, the difference between Coal (EV) and Petrol is 405kg of CO2 in favour of coal, and between Coal and Diesel is 680kg in favour of diesel.
Over the cars lifetime, say, ten years, and assuming it's maintained properly (hah!), the differences would be 4050kg and 6800kg respectivly.

These figures would indicate that you are right, and that it would be better to buy Diesels rather than Electrics. However, the scope to improve the efficiency and reduce emissions is much, much greater for electrics than it is for diesels. Shutting down a Coal plant and replacing it with CSP+PS yields an instant improvement. I don't like the odds of having much Diesel in ten or twenty years anyway.

Thus, I don't advocate killing off Diesels, but rather putting the emphasis on Electrics and cleaner generation.

Subsitiuting Oil fuels with something else is still problematical. We can use Anhydrous Ammonia (generated with Green electricity, Nitrogen from the Air, and the last step of the Haber Process) in ICEVs without, apparently, too much modification, but we might as well just use the electricity directly if we can.

Once a train is moving, it doesn't take much energy to keep it there. Where electric traction shines is in tractive power (ie, getting stuff moving). You just have to look at the QLD coal fields to see the motive preference.

It may be worthwhile to realign the railways, but given the tractive benefits, it may be better to focus on simply electrifying the lines.

You're underestimating emissions due to coal-fired electricity generation. It's not 1kg CO2e/kWhr, more like 1.3 kg CO2e/kWhr.

According to the National Greenhouse Office,

Estimated emissions from stationary energy combustion
were 279.4 Mt CO2-e in 2005, equal to 50.0% of net national

But we have to consider not simply the emissions compared to electricity generated, but emissions compared to electricity actually reaching the lines above the tracks. If for example a power station emits 1,000kg of CO2e while producing 1,000kWh, but 250kWh are used by the power station, lost in transmission and so on, so that only 750kWh reaches the electric train, then we must in all fairness look at the total emissions of 1,000kg CO2e compared to the useful energy of 750kWh. So instead of 1kg CO2e/kWh we get 1.33CO2e/kWh.

The UIC, drawing on printed sources, says,

In 2006 Australia's power stations produced 255 billion kilowatt hours (TWh) of electricity (243 TWh public supply + 12 TWh for non-grid autoproducers), 65% more than the 1990 level and growing at 3.3% pa.

Of this gross amount, about 18 TWh is used by the power stations themselves, leaving 237 TWh actually sent out (net production). Then about 17 TWh is lost or used in transmission and 9-10 more in energy sector consumption, leaving 210 TWh for final consumption - or 187 TWh apart from aluminium exports.(Vencorp suggest that typically net TWh are about 10% less than gross TWh, with transmission and distribution losses often being 10%.)

So we get that of all electricity generated, 83.3% goes on to be actually used for some end purpose. But we can look at more raw numbers if you prefer. To be generous to electricity and its emissions, we can compare 2006 generation with 2005 emissions.

So we have 279.4Mt CO2e emissions for 210 billion kWh useful electricity, and thus 279.4/210 = 1.33 kg CO2e/kWh. That's for all electricity sources - coal's obviously higher, wind turbines obviously less.

So going on your figures of 200Wh/km, electric cars hose electricity comes from our current mostly-coal generation mix will have effective emissions of 0.2*1.33*100 = 26.6kg CO2e/100km. There is thus no greenhouse emissions advantage in electrifying transport if the electricity generation remains in its current high fossil fuel mix.

The other thing to consider is that electric vehicles generally require more energy - and thus usually more emissions - to produce than internal combustion vehicles.

[original source: Institute for Life Cycle Environmental Analysis, site apparently now defunct, however the study was led by this guy at Seikei University]

I don't know of any studies of complete life-cycle analysis of electric vs diesel or other trains, but I don't see why they'd be that different to electric vs petrol etc automobiles. A train's diesel or electric engine is not magically different from a car's. So I'd expect to see the same results: that electric vehicles have more emissions than fossil fuel driven vehicles in manufacture, but that emissions during use depend on how you get the electricity.

Basically, it's as I said: if you get your electricity from fossil fuels, it makes not much difference to total emissions whether the fossil fuels are burned in a power station or on the vehicle. But if you get your electricity from renewables then electric's the clear winner overall.

Thus, it's not enough to electrify transport, we need to reduce emissions due to electricity generation. Or else we're just shuffling the pollution to a different spot, overall it's pretty much the same.

Thus, it's not enough to electrify transport, we need to reduce emissions due to electricity generation. Or else we're just shuffling the pollution to a different spot, overall it's pretty much the same.

A powerfull argument.

I think this post of yours and my previous post are agreeing with each other? I.e. no net benefit as things stand but the potential for enormous improvements in the future if we electrify.

I have no idea if the LCA you cite took into account that EVs generally last longer than ICEVs.

But if you're including line losses in your calculations for Electricity, you should also include transportation losses for fossil fuels (from, say, the refinery to the vehicles tank). It's only intellectually honest. Otherwise we're comparing Oranges with Mandarins (almost the same thing, but not quite). We could go all the way bac to Mine -> Rail and Resiviour -> Rail, but things start getting fuzzy.

One advantage the electric traction has over motor vehicles or domestic users is that the lines use higher voltages, so line losses are reduced.

Agreed. There are people in high places who are pushing forthis. Tim Fischer (ex deputy PM) is one of them but unfortuneately all Australian governments are now edded to the idea of small governemnt and Public Private Partnerships for any infrastructure. The public componenet is now only put in as land seizure and enabling legislation bu the money has to come from the private sector. Private enterprise will only invest in something that has a chance of making a profit which owning of rail track does not. Thats why governments had to build it in the first palce.

This is the fundamental reason that Peak Oil cannot be acknowledged by government. It would require them to act in ways that the institutions of government are no longer equipped to do. Every skill is now outsourced to somewhere else so the collective knowledge required to coalesce into wisdom at the top, is no longer possible. Governments just aren't strong enough anymore to make bold decisions in case it upsets the god of the markets.

One major area has to be Melbourne, Sydney Brisabane rail alignments to encourage faster transit times for freight by rail. This has to be a serious national priority.

Given that most of us seem to expect, at the vesy least, lowered economic activity post-peak, I doubt transit times are all that important for most freight.
People will still probably want to travel faster, so realigning the lines and allowing 105kmh travel for (electric) passenger tains might well be an option.

We cannot afford to continue with road building as if its business as usual

Agreed. Any road project that hasn't already broken ground and/or won't be finished in five years should be abandoned.

My understanding (from a TOD comment a while ago) is that algal oil needs a lot of phosphorus (and peak phosphorus was 20 years ago). However I guess that it is still in the waste after the oil is removed. So if the waste can be made into a bulkier but equivalent substitute fertilizer that can be used by farmers, then running the phosphorus through the algal oil process first won't be too bad. There is the question of whether there will be enough phosphorus production to make useful amounts of oil, or alternatively can the phosphorus be completely extracted from the waste and reused?

I also read somewhere that dirigibles are not more fuel efficient than propeller planes?

If there is the widely predicted economic recession in energy importing countries, then the chance that governments will impose more pain to prevent global warming is nil. That will let Australia off the hook to follow the government's plans for GTL and CTL. Of course they'll say "CCS will be added as soon as we've got the bugs out". Australia could easily convert transport to CNG, reducing pollution of many sorts including CO2. The previous government tried this but found the chicken and egg problem too hard and gave up.

Also on global warming: there is a suggestion there will be a 10 year break in actual temperature rises. If that is combined with more winters like the last one in central Asia then there will be a few more people worrying about the end of this interglacial. That's what worries me.

My understanding (from a TOD comment a while ago) is that algal oil needs a lot of phosphorus (and peak phosphorus was 20 years ago).

Phosphorus, iron, and other nutrients. The smart way to address this is to grow the algae in sewage, brackish water, water with a high salinity, or a mixture of any or all of these. The ideal place would be in outback areas with lots of sunshine, some distance from towns, where there is access to town effluent and other sources of low-quality water. Remember that the intent is to pull CO2 out of the air, so the algae sludge must be sequestered. The phosphorus will not be removed and reused, but the sequestered ash will probably end up on a farm somewhere, so the phosphorus will probably stay in use (and may end up in a cycle: algae->ash->farm->food->sewage->algae ).

I also read somewhere that dirigibles are not more fuel efficient than propeller planes?

You could be right. My research in this area was superficial. I remember concluding that dirigibles offered a huge improvement over jet travel, but I did not compare them to prop-driven aircraft.

If there is the widely predicted economic recession in energy importing countries, then the chance that governments will impose more pain to prevent global warming is nil. That will let Australia off the hook to follow the government's plans for GTL and CTL.

This is one of my darkest fears. Carbon Capture and Sequestering is economic suicide for any company that is trying to do it at the point of production. CCS at point of production (given current technologies) does not make sense. However pulling CO2 out of the air using algae is very fast - it has been a reliable way to change global CO2 levels for the last few hundred million years... algae reproduces faster than we do. This might be the cheap way out.

I am concerned about that too. However I think there is a possibility (not a probability) that we may face a rapid collapse of the Greenland ice sheet in few years causing sea levels to start rising by a significant amount.

I have no idea what the global response will be as low lying areas, including in cities such as New York and London, as well as significant areas in the non Western countries might induce a panic cut back on coal use, leading to impossible economic conditions.

Dealing with PO in these circumstances will be impossible.

Interesting Saildog, to find someone else that thinks it's a possibility that Greenland could have a partial collapse and flood low lying coastal regions. If that does happen it would be the best case scenario as far as providing a potential way to stop global warming. If enough fresh water were to be released in a partial collapse, it would slow or stop the thermohaline conveyor, and the weather would shift into a short or long term ice age. Since the oceans hold a thousand times more thermal energy than the atmosphere, water temperature rules the weather (as evidenced by La Nina this past winter). The result would be a growing ice sheet in the north and super hot hurricane and tornadic driven weather at the equator. The areas of the Earth conducive to human civilization would diminish, however the planet would be saved from the methane hydrates along the continental shelves releasing into the atmosphere, which are 25 times more potent than CO2 in their green house effect. If all that methane did release without the induction of an ice age, then the Earth would become such a hot environment, human existence would be a small fraction of today's population.

I also read somewhere that dirigibles are not more fuel efficient than propeller planes?

They may not be more fuel efficient, but they can almost certainly carry more cargo.

Public education program about peak oil and global warming and its interdependencies; nation needs to be put on a war footing; change of value system; participation of public is absolutely essential; prepare motorists for car-pooling because this is the only "solution" if an oil crisis were to hit tomorrow

Immediate moratorium on new freeways, toll-ways, airport and port expansions, car dependent shopping centres and subdivisions, multi-level cars parks etc.

3.1 Set aside – by legislation – oil and gas fields for diesel, petrol and CNG supplies to civil works needed to mitigate the impact of peak oil and to de-carbonize our economy
3.2 Build up Strategic Oil Reserve; prepare fuel rationing plans

Re-industrialization of Australia on the basis of renewable energies; focus on essential tools, products and parts

Abandon unrealistic car dreams; electrification of land transport system is required which must be more efficient by an order of magnitude; urban rail on all free-ways (Transperth) and major roads; all genuinely renewable energies produce electricity, not fuels. Time is now running out for these solutions; too late for large scale rail tunnel projects

Bio fuels to run farming machinery, trucks and other vehicles to transport agricultural produce and implements; revive rural rail lines

Develop compressed natural gas (CNG) for buses, trucks, construction and mining machinery

Replacement program for all coal fired power plants; re-tool car factories and suppliers (BEFORE they go out of business after peak oil) to mass-produce components for wind farms, solar power plants, solar water heaters.A 1,000 MW coal fired power plant requires the continuous sequestration 150 Kb/d of liquid CO2. NSW alone has 12,500 MW installed. Australian oil handling capacity around 500 Kb/d. 1,000s of km of CO2 pipelines needed. Huge challenge. Difficult while oil production is declining. May come too late to fix climate.

Drastic power down and energy efficiency. Permanent Earth Hour.

Interstate rail development and electrification; both passenger and freight; replace domestic flights with night trains; coastal shipping for freight

I think you hit the nail on the head with Task 1. While as Aeldric points out that the term "Peak Oil " has now become mainstream, the general public is simply not conscious of the scope and ramifications of the problems we face. They are not prepared for the sacrifices and pain that is coming. This is clearly evidenced by yesterdays announcement by the Liberal party of a policy for reduction in the fuel excise. The Liberals would not have taken this action if they did not trully believe there will be substantial votes in it for them.

Until the public are sufficiently concerned over the future problems we face, no politician will take the subsequent action we all know are required.

I don't think we have time to wait for anything unproven, ie CCS, algae oil, CIGS, granite geothermal, wavepower or cheap electric cars. Localisation will come slowly since we still have a commuter economy and mindset. The quickest measures might be road to rail switching, CNG for heavy vehicles and assistance in home energy conservation. Specifically commuter rail should be maxed out as well as split mode long distance freight. Encourage pushbikes on trains and buses. Fleet operators should get fuel or company tax breaks for CNG conversion. Both homes and businesses should get help with cutting energy use using a mixture of carbon cop makeovers, smart meters and time-of-use shifting. Electricity retailers should install various solar apps out of their own pocket then get it back slowly from the customer.

Composting and water saving by councils and farmers should get help. Apply both carrot and stick to the coal scourge with a no b-s carbon cap plus handouts for renewables. I say order the first nuke plant (perhaps BHP could build one at Whyalla) and if a miracle power source crops up in the mean time then cancel it. That's just for starters.

We don't have to wait for cheap electric cars, they're here now. What we need are changes in the design rules and road regulations to allow them to be used.

In many jurisdictions these very light electric cars are classified as motobikes (or even their own category - quadricycles) but this is not possible under the australian road rules (which define motorbike in a restrictive way).

We need to revisit our legislation to allow us to use the technical solutions which already exist.

I don't care if I have to wear a motorbike helmet in my "car".

A link to these cheap electric cars please ?

Jmygann, this link provides a list of most of 'em:

Can petrol motorscooters use your EV lane on the freeway, too? If we're talking about high payload ratios and energy efficiency, scooters cost typically 20-50% of the EV purchase cost quoted on the City EVs page; are already fully developed and street legal; can flow with the traffic better than the 65kph Riva and Piaggio; and have lower CO2 emissions per km travelled (if the plug-ins are being recharged with coal-generated electricity).

The big issue with scooters is their safety on roads dominated by 4WDs and trucks. A dedicated lane would be just peachy.

This is an area I have thought about for a long time. I remember seeing a race car that was faster than any other on the track and it only had a very small capacity engine, something like 1.2L. It was light and made of the kind of materials that shatter on impact with a zone around the driver acting as a safety cell keeping the driver relatively safe rather than subjecting him/her to the danger of heavy metals.

If society was moved away from the traditional concept of what a personal car is, could we still use internal combustion engines in our vehicles but at a dramatically reduced scale?

Getting heavy transport off our roads would dramatically reduce the need for such high levels of safety measures. Very small one or two seater 'cars' for every day use, with dedicated lanes/roads during a transition phase, could very well become chic and cool to own. I'm thinking along the lines of the dedicated bus lanes that are scattered around Sydney. If the people plodding along in their old Commodores in peak hour on the M5 (Sydney Motorway) see tiny vehicles whizzing along unresticted past them, they may think quickly about updating. We need to get away from the idea that 'bigger is better' to 'smaller is better'.

Modern technology could allow these cars to talk to each other further reducing the likelihood of them crashing into each other. These cars would be very cheap to manufacture, therefore the selling price would be much lower. Running costs would be very small with less parts to repair, fuel costs would be lower because of more fuel efficient engines and lighter vehicles.

Making large vehicles prohibitavely expensive to run, such as increasing registration on 4WDs and any vehicle above a certain capacity would certainly push people into smaller vehicles. The hip pocket is the greatest driver for any change.

"""There is no better group of people to answer this question than the TOD community."""

A better group would be the National Academy of Sciences. TOD is heavily weighted with technoxers who believe that solar, wind, etc. will bail us out of this mess. Most technofixes yield electric power, which is not what we need. And worse, these solar, wind, oilgae (a failed liquid approach/see below) approaches will waste much oil, natural gas and coal, as well as capital. We need a focus on contingency planning and risk management.

The crisis is here now. As soon as oil production declines, recession sets in and we will have plenty of spare electric power, that is until the oil needed to support the power grid drops to the point where it won't support the grid. Then everything stops and nothing functions. That time is not far off.

The concept of producing biodiesel from algae (also called oilgae, or algal biodiesel) shows some promise of providing limited amounts of liquid fuels, though there are major obstacles:

And the billions (or trillions) of dollars of capital investment needed for large scale these ventures will be unobtainable in an era of high inflation, high capital costs, and high energy costs (oil and natural gas energy would be needed to build the infrastructure of these mega-projects.

We are where we are, and the National Academy of Sciences will provide a working team of the best scientists from diverse fields to make recommendations about energy policy. Clifford J. Wirth

The concept of producing biodiesel from algae (also called oilgae, or algal biodiesel) shows some promise of providing limited amounts of liquid fuels, though there are major obstacles:

I agree, but my proposal was not to produce biodiesel from algae. I was obviously unclear. My proposal is to get CO2 out of the air, and do it quickly. The biodiesel is a nice bonus - but on its own the production of biodiesel from algae is probably not economically viable.

If (as seems likely) we go down the path of CTL anf GTL, then we need a way of sequestering CO2. (The alternative is moving my son to venus, since the climate is going to be nicer there.) Algae has truly amazing doubling times. It can pull CO2 out of the air fast.

Quite sensible CJ.
Australia has 21 million people spread over enormous distances.......completely unsustainable.

Victoria and Tasmania could easily accommodate the whole population.
They have abundant hydro which could be supplemented with renewables if a mass migration was to eventuate.
Like the rest of the world, populations will begin to move just as soon as their own locale becomes unsustainable. They will of course move to where they see a chance for them to obtain work.

When the people depart and the rivers recover, Australia can easily support the 20 odd million people, with the assistance of oil and the ICE.
Australia can't survive by trying to feed the world.
Vast tracts of land which are given over to wheat, rice, rape, cotton, sugar sheep and cattle have devastated the river regions.

Of course the sensible and painful realities of what must be done will be confused with technological evangelism.
Billions of dollars on electrification, which will rust and fail due to a lack of patronage and funding for maintenance is a probable outcome.

The questions are asked...what must we do to avert or mitigate the coming crises? The answers are build billions of electric cars, build trams and electrify the railways, build windmills all over the place, solar panels on every roof.
Are these projects advanced because they make the proponents feel good or what? I really think it's because of human nature, it's self preservation a form of narcissism and a disregard for future generations.

The cry goes out "it may not work but we have to try something, we should expend everything we have and attempt to stave off the coming crisis". They want to try and preserve as much and for as long as possible, that what we have now for themselves. They don't want to even share the pain.
Are they assuming a shortage of oil won't affect business and employment? If I thought that I would certainly propose such projects.
But I sincerely feel the economy which depends on growth and rampant consumerism will most likely collapse.

If that is the case, what will be the need for electric cars and enormous electrical rail networks?
Where will the oil and money come from to maintain roads and railways? Who is going to use the railways to generate a revenue stream to pay for wages and maintenance?
They can only have a short term mitigating effect.

The inevitable (to me) chronic economic downturn, will leave them as a monument to our generation of excess and wanton disregard for future generations.
Conservation, power down and a method to keep the population from growing is my forlorn wish.
We need pain now for everyone, to give our children and children's children a chance.

Can't we please try and leave some clean air to breathe, healthy oceans, seas, lakes and rivers, fauna and flora, life in the soil and minerals to mine for our grandchildren and their grandchildren?

Australia has 21 million people spread over enormous distances.......completely unsustainable.

Most of the population is in the 5 major cities though. These themselves could quite easily (if vocally opposed) be compacted into a smaller area, perhaps 1/4 of their current size without overclowding, but there's no need to transport everyone to Victoria and Tasmania. Britain did that 200 years ago, and look where it's gotten us. :)

I don't believe that I'm a cornucopian. I think that unless serious measures are taken right now, we (and the world in general) are in for a really tough time. I have a girlfriend, and I'm not happy about prospects for her personal safety during a Hard Crash. A managed, measured crash, over a 20 - 50 year period is a much better option, humanely (if you put aside Humanity and popular morality, a hard crash is probably the way to go. Although, a hard crash suggest to me we'll end up burning everything we can on the way down, in a desperate attempt to prop up our current unsusatinable life, instead of moving what we can save to cleaner methods of generation).

Hi Cliff,

I'm glad to see you propose this again. Here are my questions:

1. "A better group would be the National Academy of Sciences."

Could you please write up *exactly* what it is you propose they do?

Because I see many potential problems - as many as you see here at TOD. Namely, (and first) - what is the direction they will be given and by whom?

How can you make sure they have enough information to cover the crucial issues you see here?

How do you know they will not simply skip the essential point you appear to be making that a switch to renewables is not desirable (Is this your main point, BTW?)

2. re: "We need a focus on contingency planning and risk management."

What is the content - or some examples of content - of what you mean by "contingency planning" and "risk management"?

Could you possibly please provide some examples?

Could you please expand on this?

3. "Most technofixes yield electric power, which is not what we need."

Why is it not what we need? Yes, we need LTF - overwhelmingly.

However, *if* we had electric power and the infrastructure to support it, and everything else to maintain something resembling a "steady-state" economy or "sustainable" economy...i.e., I'm not saying it's possible to have infinite growth on finite planet, etc....

What I'm saying is, there's an argument to be made for electricity generated by renewables: When oil is over, what will be have? Nothing? (In the way of power or energy sources.)

The *only* possible energy source is renewables (esp. solar of different kinds).

So, then the issue becomes - do we want "something" (in the way of energy input from the natural world to human world) - or not?

Could you please speak to this line of argument?

I think you mean the Australian Academy of Science.

The National Academy of Sciences is an American Institution, and would be unlikely to spend its time and resources worrying about Australian problems.

You really cannot expect a man of such profound insight as one in favour of "clean coal" to worry about such trivial details as the names of the institutions he's recommending!

Hi Kaishu,

I didn't see where CJ is in favor in "clean coal" in his post. Could you possibly please point it out if so?

I do see he didn't specify the right name of the institution. Though if it's a good idea, we can run with it anyway...?

Hi North,

Thanks for writing as I'm interested in this. It's possible both institutions could do a study and compare results, which would most likely have areas of overlap.

Do you think this proposal is a good one?

If so, could you possibly give me your take on the questions I asked CJ above?

A better group would be the National Academy of Sciences.

We can't do that here in Oz. Our brand new 'green' government (Complete with a new Minister for Scotching-suggestions-from-the-Australia2020-Summit-to-ban-new-Coal-Power-Plants-without-CCS) just slashed the budgets for the CSIRO and ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation), and put into legislation $500m for CCS.

At least they're handing out low-interest (albiet means-tested) loans to install PV and insulation.

Hi Bellistner,

re: "We can't do that here in Oz."


1) What is the process by which a topic is assigned for study? Who proposes? who decides?

2) Given that Samsen Bakhtiari spoke to the Australian parliament and was well-received (as I understand it), isn't there some interest on the part of someone(s)?

3) A clear and well-publicized request for such a study...what would be the downside? If the "deciders" did not take it up, then at some point it will be clear they should or should have?

Putting out a proposal/request, signed by say...a good number of scientists, academics, politicians and whomever else might be seen as the "influencers of the deciders" - relatively easy to do.

Or what do you think?

1) Within the CSIRO and ANSTO? No idea.

2) No.

3) Unsure. If the 'deciders' do not take an idea up, then by the time it becomes obvious they should have, it'll be too late. Humans are not good at long-term planning. Our electorol cycle is just under three years. We only get about 18 months of actual Governing between an post-election 'sitting around' and the next Election build-up.

I think a Open Proposal is a good idea. unfortunately, it's been tried before (although, admitadly, not with this Govt), with little success. We recently had a Australia2020 Summit, a gathering of Australias' 'best and brightest' (including Cate Blanchette...) to idea-storm the 'future growth' of Australias' economy and population. In light of Peak Fossil Fuels, it was destined to be a failure from the outset. Although the Youth 2020 Summit apparently was very, um, forthright, about Light Rail and Public Transit instead of building more roads and encouraging a Car Culture, the main Summit came out with amazingly little. Penny Wong, our Minister for Climate Change, scotched an attempt for one sub-group at the Summit to include as one of their three 'policy platforms' a banning of any new Coal Power Plants that did not include CCS. Our Minister for The Environment and The Arts, Peter 'The Time Has Come' Garrett approved a new coal loader the next day!

Although I did not vote for Labor (I preferenced Green ahead of them), I had faith that a buerocrat like Rudd would look at various reports, then make a robust decision based on the facts before him. He has singularly failed to do this so far, and the recent Budget spending allocations do not give me hope this will change.

The important thing is that Australia energy import/export is balanced. In this way Australia can buy oil, by selling coal.

The USA situation is much worse, regarding this (imports way too much energy in total).

How, do you that? Free up the coal and don't waste it for electricity generation in a land full of solar. Other countries less gifted, such as Japan will need the coal more.

Then, do coal gasification with CSP steam generation. Convert the coal to methanol. Using solar steam, the methanol will consist of 30% solar energy. Export this methanol to get an ever better energy import/export balance. Or start driving your cars with methanol.


Except that Australian coal burned overseas (80% of production) comes back to bite us as climate woes. The new federal government refuses to see this. The part of Australia I live in may soon report the driest warmest autumn on record. Maybe we should tell coal customers like Japan they can have extra yellowcake if they cut back on coal.

I'd suggest that the right approach is just to do what you know how to do, and confine things you are not sure of to research projects.
Immediately it would involve mainly conservation, the start of attempts to re-introduce city rail systems, and alteration of zoning laws to encourage offices, shops and manufacturing closer to where people live.
In addition, an awful lot could be done with simple technology, with the encouragement of green roof technology which would both insulate against heat and cold and decrease the temperature of urban areas as a whole.
A lot can be done to reduce the temperature of an area with white paint.
Residential solar thermal should be compulsory in new builds as it is in Israel, Greece and Spain.
Much could be done by installing water tanks to make use of rainfall and use it as grey water.

EV cars and delivery vehicles are just getting ready for the prime time, and cities throughout Australia should begin setting up a network of charging points like in Denmark and Israel:

In some respect the major cities in Australia can be likened to a small country like Israel, and for each of them the challenge of setting up charging points should be similar.

All this should help buy time for more profound measures.

I wrote this in reference to the US, but suitably re-scaled I can't see why it would not apply to Australia, in particular because both have an excellent solar resource and a good wind resource:

At the moment the main renewables resource is wind power, which does indeed need back-up, not at 100% but in increasing quantities as penetration increases.
However, although solar power is not economic at the moment I have recently become convinced that solar power will shortly (by 2012-15) be viable in many areas of the US, providing that you play to it's strengths and use it in hot regions where peak demand is mostly when the sun is up and cooling is the main problem.
To avoid the extra costs associated with rooftop installation then Nanosolar may have a good approach:
Nanosolar Blog » Municipal Solar Power Plants

Please note the multiple advantages of this approach, with the scale big enough to be easily serviced, readily accessible as it is ground mounted, and not needing extensive transmission lines, or indeed steppers ass the power comes out at 20volts ready for local use.

Advances by multiple companies and technologies seem to show that in this sort of time frame we could hope for a cost of around $1/watt.

For residential and commercial use amorphous silicon or thin film technologies can be built into building materials, and it si a lot easier taking thee tiles with you when you move than uninstalling a mounted system.

Peak capacity of the US grid is around 1TW, and the average load is about 460GW, of which baseload might be around 300GW(my estimate)

For this base-load you would need around 200 of the latest 1.6GW reactors, or a twin reactor on each present site.
At $9bn per reactor that would be around £1.8trn, over a realistic 30 year build that would be $60bn per year, a fraction of oil import costs.

That would only take care of electricity suppply, so what about natural gas etc, supplies of which look like being tight and expensive?

For the space heating part of requirements air-source heat pumps could multiply the effectiveness of eh energy input by a factor of 2.5 for old properties, up to 4 for new build, and tighter insulation standards could further reduce usage by large amounts.
Residential solar thermal could provide in excess of 50% of hot water almost everywhere.

I would see around 30 years as being the sort of time period to very substantially, although not completely, alter the US supply and use of energy landscape.

So why go this route rather than the cheaper coal option?
I would clarify that I do not see coal disappearing overnight, but the reason is basically because I have never seen an ICC project I think is realistic.

I don't go in much for 'Grand Plans' and hence am not talking about converting totally to PV in 5 years or anything like it - that is one of my reasons for favouring nuclear for base-load, that we know that it can be done, and we know how to do it, since the French are doing it at present.

That is the reason that is my solid proposal, but I would also not discount geothermal for base-load in some regions, and possibly solar thermal, and would advocate vigorous research into those areas, but we are not far along enough with them to rely on them as yet.

For similar reasons I would at present discount solar PV for baseload, and in northern areas with poor winter sunshine.
But things can change!

If you use nuclear or geothermal for baseload, you don't have to fiddle with storing solar for nightime, and that is what makes it cost effective.

Some might not like using the nuclear option, but at the moment you put up costs vastly by going for solar, although it is great for peak use.
Of course, you could stick with coal instead.

Anyway, this is my stab at something that might get you through - the options are a lot more attractive than in the UK

Hello Aeldric,

Great keyposting start! As you get standard gauge, heavy RR & TOD built out--add very light, narrow gauge minitrains to build railbed for subsequent SpiderWebRiding-- much better than having to revert back to the Nuahtl Tlameme transport scheme. Strategic reserves of bicycles and wheelbarrows, too--Recall the Chinese considered these secret logistic weapons. Convert natgas into stockpiled H-B N urea or ammonia-- better use of this energy than burning it away in personal cars. Use those kites pulling ships to also pull heavy NPK loads to the middle areas of large farmland/pasture sections--beats doing it with wheelbarrows.

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

As an Australian living in South-East Queensland, I think this is an excellent start to formulating a plan.

There are those who tell me that we are doomed by the fact that, with a population rapidly approaching 7 billion, the Earth has already exceeded its carrying capacity. I have this answer: The population of Australia is only 21 million.

However, we cannot plan as if we were alone in the world. I believe that when the problems really start, we are going to have a refugee problem. We traditionally have a refugee problem when troubles arise. We must include this possibility in our plans now, also.

I understand people probably don't want to sound too 'doomerish', and perhaps I am a 'doomer', but I would like to include plans for the worst, as well.

Great paper on Australias potential bioresourses: Moghtaderi, B., Sheng, C., and Wall, T. F. (2006). "An overview of the Australian biomass resources and utilization technologies," BioRes. 1(1), 93-115.

As a pulp and paper guy I don't agree with all the information they give regarding black liquor and pulping as a majority of that energy is used to produce the pulp. Also your kraft two pulp mills are located in the middle of nowhere, Tumut, and Maryvale (thats not so bad). Possibly a future one in Tasmania.

Best regards

PS:Hopefully I didn't double post.

PS: Hope I didn't double post my comment didn't show up.

I notice that coal trains pull up at the Norske Skog mill in Tas .. maybe they are not self sufficient in energy after all. A couple of unknowns with paper and biomass
1) are 60% rainfall deficiencies here to stay?
2) will demand for BTL outbid paper?
For example I can see Gunn's new Tamar mill switching to Choren type Sundiesel because demand is insatiable.

No Norse Skog would definitely not be self-sufficient in energy.

There are two types of pulping chemical and mechanical (also semi-chemical which is a mix of both).

In chemical pulping you use chemicals to dissolve the lignin and some hemicelluloses from the pulp. This lignin and hemicellulose can then be burned in a reocvery boiler which generates the steam and power for the plant. Yield per dry ton of wood is like 40-45%.

Mechanical uses high powered refiners to grind up the wood, leaving the lignin with the cellulose. High yield 90+, but you don't burn the lignin and recover energy. Also the refiners take a lot of energy.

I'm not sure about Norske Skog in Tassie but their new mainland plant will be a very large drawer of power from the grid - getting up towards aluminium smelter or steel mill size...

The large "mechanical" pulp mills in Sweden draw 100 - 270 MW. They are essentially machines for exporting electricity in the form of pulp while trading less wood use per ton of pulp for more electricity use.

Their future probably depends on the demand for papper and if wood or electricity will be the worst bottleneck. Physically its is a lot faster to expand electricity production then wood production.

The chemical pulp plants that dissolve the lignin have started a process of diversification where the black liquor is used to produce electricity, concentrated biomass fuel to replace coal or oil and soon biofuels via gasification.

The biomass use for heating has expanded greatly and manny combined heat and power plants are being built that feed heat into the district heating systems that provides about 50% of the total heating needs in Sweden.

We are also close to a go ahead for a small number of medium sized gasification plants that make synthesis gas of both the ligning and celulose and then turns it into methanol, DME, methane or diesel.

The increased need for biomass and thus intensified forestry is one of the major conflicts between different environmental goals.

And during this development we are getting a "surplus" of electricty from upgrades of nuclear powerplants and large investments in renewables. Will this give lower electricity prices, a calmer development of the electricity price or will the increases in electricity exports give a high price and then even more investments in production?

The competition will be intresting to follow. It feels very good to have plenty of fairly cheap energy in the form of electricity to fallback to from oil wherever it is possible.

Sweden seems to be one of the best placed countries (if not the best) around to deal with less oil - partly because they have a good range of natural resources, but mostly because they have a forward thinking populace (and thus government).

And yet, when you talk to people here in Oz about the lifestyle, efficiency, ecological impact, and resilliance of the Scandanavian countries, the response is often along the lines of "bloody Commies"...

The Australian populace is just not as egalitarian or forward-thinking as it used to be. :(

The best way to prevent a shortage is with more supplies.

The most economical methods for Australia are oil shale and ethanol.

Australia should restart the Stuart Oil Shales operation which had been forecast to produce 200,000 barrels of oil(20% of Australia's 1000000 barrel per day consumption) in 2006
under its original blueprint. Australia's shale oil reserves are estimated at 24 billion barrels(a 75 year supply of Australia's present 2007 consumption).

I mentioned this before.

As I also mentioned that Australia produces 30 million tons of sugar cane(sugar is not a food) that could be used to make 3 billion gallons of ethanol(40 million barrels of oil eqivalent per year-130,000 daily boe ).

Together this is 330,000 boe or 1/3 current daily consumption.

Beyond this oil or methanol can be made from coal although at a much higher price in capital.

For environmentalists these are probably not desirable methods, however if peak oil is an emergency situation(which I believe it is) and the alternative is a total paralysis of the economy in which case no action is possible as greater and greater demands overwelm society, I think the environmentalists should hold their noses and
push strongly for these backup measures.

If the environmentalists decide they don't want to encourage oil shale they can carbon tax it out of existence once it starts producing or bury the CO2. At least they will have their emergency needs met.

If you want to go down the "increasing supply" path then CNG and GTL make a lot more sense.

I suppose Austalians owns a lot of CNG cars.
The cost of a 1 mbpd GTL plant would be around $100 billion
dollars about 15% of the GDP.
How would any of that make 'a lot more sense'?

Er yeah, like shale oil will be cheap, or even possible.

CNG conversion ain't that hard. We have a lot of LPG vehicles here, and if we can do LPG we can do CNG.

Reading your previous comments you seem negative on 'snake oil', but the fact is the Stuart Oil Shale pilot plant produced 1.5 million barrels of shale oil between 2000 and 2004.

That's a few barrels. Nobody's going to produce a million barrels of oil at ~$30 a barrel world crude prices as a stunt to 'deceive'.

If you're serious about peaking world oil maybe you'd better give oil shale another look.

The reason I called it snake oil is because it is a low EROI method for creating fuel that creates an environmental disaster in its wake.

We can do much, much better than this - we shouldn't be wasting our time and capital on shale oil.

If you want the facts on the EROEI of oil shale, here's an analysis by the USDOE, which gives an EROEI of >10 for mined oil shale, just a little under the 10.5 for conventional oil shale. If you want minimal environmental damage look at in-situ oil shale methods with EROEI between 2.9 and 6.9. Couple those methods with large scale solar and you get a economic(over the long run) and environmentally clear fuel source which could last a century or more.

If Australia uses oil the way the US does about half of every barrel of oil goes for gasoline, a quarter goes for diesel and a tenth goes for jet fuel-kerosene. Assuming you could replace all cars with electric cars(golf carts) you still have all the trucks, ships, trains and planes that will need large amounts of liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

If you go into Peak Oil with a closed mind do you really think you're going to survive?

Good luck!

If Australia uses oil the way the US does about half of every barrel of oil goes for gasoline, a quarter goes for diesel and a tenth goes for jet fuel-kerosene. Assuming you could replace all cars with electric cars(golf carts) you still have all the trucks, ships, trains and planes that will need large amounts of liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

You said it yourself. Half of every barrel goes as petrol. If all the cars are converted to Electric, we only need half the Oil (so 500,000bpd atm). Economic downturn will reduce that further. Moving transport to rail will reduce it again (and we can recycle the now-unused semi-trailers into overhead wire pylons for the railways :D ). Air travel will be the first thing to go. Progressivly move rail locomotion from ICE to sparks.

I don't think all the cars will be converted anyway. Maybe by 2015 we'll have 100,000 on the road, assuming PO hasn't really started to bite yet, but that'll be the max.

If you want minimal environmental damage look at in-situ oil shale methods with EROEI between 2.9 and 6.9.

Or you could focus on building out wind and solar resources with an EROI in the 30-50 range without the "minimal" environmental damage.

At the same time making a big effort to electrify transport, consolidate urban areas and make more efficient use of energy in general.

One is an attempt to keep the unsustainable status quo going a little longer (while gnoring global warming entirely), the other to actually solve our problems.

Your recommendation is short-sighted and dangerous.

Your solar/wind of range 30-50 is greatly exaggerated.
Hall's references gives the following EROEIs;

PV solar 3-10 operational

Wind 18 operational

Neither of these will produce liquid fuels.

Outside Melbourne, there is less than 50 miles of electrified commuter rail plus 85% of the country's electricity comes from coal. You're starting from zero.

If the country is flat on its back economically, none of these 'long-sighted' choices will get built.

That's the greatest danger anyone could imagine.
Like walking off of a cliff blindfolded.

The country is a net energy exporter and has plenty of alternatives to get it through the transition.

Hall is wrong about PV going forward (both CPV and thin film) and in any case I'm referring to solar thermal / CSP. The EROI number is 30 - 50.

Nuclear is a dead end - we need to forget about it and move forward.

Outside Melbourne, there is less than 50 miles of electrified commuter rail plus

Brisbanes' entire commuter rail network is electrified, and Sydney has a significant amount of sparks for its rails as well. Of all the states, QLD is most advances with electrification, with sparks halfway up the coast and out to most of the coalfields.

Perth's rail network is electrified too.

So are some parts of Sydney for that matter.

But nuclear trolls aren't really interested in accuracy - its all about trying to blind people with 'science" and spread as much FUD as possible.

They do do some pretty cool conspiracy theories though - check this out - apparently high interest rates of the Volcker era were all about killing off nuclear power :

I see Big Gav that you will continue to post but have chosen to ignore the research and information which contradicts your opinion.

Book on Australia and New Zealand public transportation It is from the early, mid-90s but there has been no significant change in the situation.

Public transportation trips in Auckland over time

Comparison of some other cities over times
Perth -7.1% per capita ridership since 1981 versus 2005.
Portland and Brisbane are among the cities with more public transport per capita since 1981.

Perth and Adelaide and Auckland all are among the cities with less mass transit per person. How much would it cost and how long would it take to get up to the higher levels. Add 60km of rail per person. In each low transit city.

Comparing transit and commuter trips for USA, Australia, Canada, europe and Asia.

Transportation in Australian and New Zealand cities

Stronger versus weaker rail cities in Australia and New Zealand

2005 view of public transportation in many cities

Public transportation for cities in 2001-2005.

So copy Vienna and 50 years of 1% of city GDP (or more for a shorter period of time, this would be trillions of dollars on a global scale.) on public rail plus all decisions needed to transform city planning and layouts for higher public transportation usage to get closer to the higher commuter usage rates. Note: the highest usage rates are 20-30% in Europe. Maybe some highly dense asian cities are doing better. The Philippines with a lot of jeepnees. (Local made jeep/buses where people with less money ride at to 20 to a vehicle, some hanging on the outside. Two jeepnees crashing together can result in 30-50 deaths.)

So up from 3-5% up to 20-30%. That still leaves 70-80% driving cars.

So 40% of oil for cars goes to 30%. US 22 million barrels of oil per day goes to 19-20 million barrels of oil per day. After decades of a massive public transportation system overhaul.

Anyone else can choose to reinterprit or reanalyze the data or to actually research and provide some other information which they can try to show is more applicable.

I see that once again you have assembled a vast amount of out of date and misleading information in an attempt to try and prove something that is wrong.

I said that Perth has electric rail. It does.

The amount of electric rail it has has in fact expanded greatly in recent years - I've seen it with my own eyes and even ridden on it.

You can watch a video of it here if you don't believe me :

More info here :,_Perth

Or you can just keep reading books from the early 1990's and telling me "nothing has changed".

Frankly, the fact that you don't know what you are talking about has become clearer and clearer the more you post.

Why don't you check your facts before posting blizzards of nonsense ?

From my link above from the New Zealand transportation ministry for 2005.

City Perth
Total Annual patronage (M), 2005 95 million

This figure matches the Perth transit authority number

Percentage (%) change in Total annual patronage since 1981
48.4% (So yes there was an overall increase in Perth in mass transit usage)

Annual patronage per capita, 2005
65 trips per person

Percentage (%) change in annual patronage per capita since 1981
-7.1% per capita,_Western_Australia#Demographics
Population of Perth (1981) 809,036
Population of Perth (2006) 1,445,079

78% Population increase. But transit usage only went up 48%.

Population of Perth 1,554,769 (June 2007)

Because the growth in mass transit was less then the population increase in Perth. Your anecdotal sense of what is happening is wrong as per usual. I checked my facts and you did not as per usual.

I am right and you are wrong as per usual.

You are possibly the most obtuse idiot I have ever come across.

I am using data from this year, not 2005.

I don't know why you persist in using old data and arguing the obviously false - are you retarded or just incredibly argumentative ?

I said Perth has electric transport - it does.

The amount of electric transport in Perth has expanded dramatically in recent years - I have seen it and the links I provided explain this clearly - what part of "new train lines" don't you understand ?

You are simply a troll - in future your idiotic comments will be deleted.


Transportation and related issues, such as city design, are largely within the realm of government planning today, and thus not much changes unless the government changes it. I would emphasize building train lines and allowing development near train stations (within two miles) to be dense and walkable. This is true in both urban and rural areas. This would be funded primarily by diverting funds from existing priorities, such as new road building, convention or sports stadium building, airport building etc., and a certain amount of debt. Remember that train systems will have revenue, so they can support debt financing.

Second, after a certain amount of usable train infrastructure was in place, thus giving people a transportation option besides personal automobiles, I would encourage train use/discourage auto use by raising taxes on gasoline to 100% of the wholesale cost, with a 5-year phase-in. Thus, $3.00 Nymex gasoline would be taxed at $3.00 for a total of $6.00. This tax revenue would replace some payroll taxes, such that lower-income earners don't face an excessive tax burden. Note that this tax would be easily avoided simply by not using a car. Also, incomes below the household median (for example income for a four-person household below the median four-person household) would face no income tax. Farther on down the line, I would begin to phase out some roads to reduce road maintenance costs.

Third, I would encourage the recognition of the likelihood that petroleum availability will be in permanent decline. This would get people to think about fuel cost/availability several years into the future, which thus justifies conversion to new systems today, rather than just expecting that the "oil spike will come down soon."

Fourth, the German mandate on insulation for new construction seems sensible.

Everything else can be handled by people's natural reaction to higher prices.

None of this would be particularly difficult, indeed no more difficult than what governments of India or China are doing every day.

By the way, I don't think it would necessarily be so difficult to change suburban strip-mall sprawl into dense, walkable neighborhoods. It would mostly consist of converting roadway/parking lot/useless greenery space into usable space. I've often thought that many super-disgusting crap suburban neighborhoods could be "cured" simply by selling off the roadways for property development, and making the sidewalks into the streets. Many sidewalks today are about the same size as the streets in traditional European cities.

"There's no There There," it has been said of the postwar suburbs. You can make a Nowhere into a There by putting Something There. A Something is a destination, like a home, office, park or store. A Nowhere is a non-destination, like a roadway, parking lot, or useless greenery (such as is found around the parking lot, around the highway offramp, surrounding the suburban office park, etc.).

You silly people, Brendan has already solved the problem with his 5c/L cut to the fuel excise :)

Seriously though, you've focussed on the technical solutions above, but what really needs to happen first is wholesale reform of the tax system.

I would propose the following:
1. Put a price on carbon, either through an ETS or a carbon tax.
2. Hand back the proceeds from the ETS/carbon tax as income tax cuts (focussed at the bottom end) and increased welfare payments. Even Kevin's p*ss weak ETS will raise around $10 billion per annum according to Malcolm T.
3. Feebates based on CO2 emissions for all motor vehicles and appliances, so that Prius/solar hot water is cheaper than the Commodore/electric hot water.
4. Roll all the future funds into a "clean energy fund" and start building critical infrastucture (rail, renewable energy etc) that can keep us going in a world with extremely high energy prices.

I think that would do for starters. I'm not really a fan of a gazillion little rebates, subsidies, and government programs like "solar cities". I reckon you could do away with most of those and have more to spend on the simple carrots and sticks above. Investors and the sheeple would soon get the message.

Of course, none of this will ever happen while we're blessed with politicians such as Brendan.

You silly people, Brendan has already solved the problem with his 5c/L cut to the fuel excise :)

Seriously, though ...

If Brendan would ever actually cut the excise tax, it would certainly help, for it would improve the odds that speed limits could begin to be seriously enforced. Although maybe in Australia they have, in fact, been being enforced?

How shall motoring gain nuclear cachet?

Don't worry about CO2. Mauna Loa is rolling over as we speak. April, 2008 might very well be the highest CO2 ppm reading of your lifetime. (Seasonally-adjusted, Jan 08' was the peak.)

Look into "Sweet Sorghum."

Ooooh we have denialists here do we?

I'm not "Denying" anything. I'm quite sure they measured it correctly.


It's very misleading to say "Mauna Loa is rolling over as we speak" and then link the reader to a hard-to-read TEXT table of the CO2 levels.

A simple glance at the graphical results shows that your assertion is (ahem!) skating on very thin ice!

April 2008 is the HIGHEST raw CO2 measurement ever recorded at Mauna Loa, at 387ppm. The seasonally adjusted trendline *does* show a small downward blip, but there are similar blips in 2004 and 2006 as well. I wonder if you were calling a "rollover" in those years too?

Surely a CO2 rollover would involve firstly burning a lot less Fossil Fuel (which we're not) and chopping down a lot less forest (which we're not)? (Also there are serious lags in the global system, such as defrosting mammoth poo in Siberia etc., so a rollover is unlikely to follow promptly even when we do get around to cutting emissions. Over the last few years the annual CO2 growth rate has been ACCELERATING rather than peaking out, despite the earnest CO2 reduction efforts of quite a few people on this planet.)

As for "not worrying"; NASA's Hansen says 350ppm should be the absolute upper limit to avoid climate catastrophe ( We're currently at 387 and accelerating.

Hi Aeldric;
One comparison you make WRT Electric Cars and energy density needs to be clarified, I believe..

45 kg of petrol will take a car about 500 km, while 45 kg of lithium batteries will only take it a fraction of that distance

While I understand that this point refers simply to the amount of weight (in batteries, for example) that limits the useful range of the vehicle per charge/filling, this battery pack's weight and expense is nonetheless a constant in the vehicle. It's comparable to the tank, not to the gas. The battery pack might move you 160,000 km for those 45kg. The electric charge (and where it comes from) is essentially weightless and replaceable in very clean ways.

It is still a limitation when compared to the conveniences of a consumable, cheap fuel, of course.

More ideal perhaps (as thought-experiments go), but probably unattainable could be power rails that Electric-vehicles can connect to on main roadways, requiring then only a minor amount of storage capacity on the vehicle, meaning less weight moved, and so less vehicle structure required.. and therefore even LESS weight moved, so FAR less power required. This could even be vehicles that are pedaled on the minor roads, but link up with power on the 'Arteries' for the longer stretches .. Okay.. I'll quit now.


Hi Jokuhl. I just bought a Prius, and I am looking into turning it into a PHEV, so I obviously agree with your underlying view - electric vehicles have potential and will make economic sense at high fuel costs.

My language was imprecise. This is what I was trying to say: In terms of energy density a kg of petrol packs more punch than a kg of batteries. It is true that the batteries can be recharged, but then an empty fuel tank can be refilled.

My Prius can drive me around 3-5 km on batteries before they need a recharge. My battery pack weighs around 50 kg.

My fuel tank also weighs around 50 kg. It can drive me around 800-900 km before it needs a refill.

Assuming current battery technology, the weight of the batteries provides a range limit. An electric vehicle does not have a 900 km range - the range is usually less than 150 km. This forces a recharge (or a replacement of the entire battery pack if you are unwilling to wait 30 minutes for the batteries to recharge) every 90 minutes if you are travelling at highway speeds. A nuisance, but not a show-stopper.


You gloss over it, but the distinction between 45kg that once burned is gone forever and 45kg which remains useful for years is an important one.

Between a battery and a solar panel or wind turbine, your car can travel for hundreds of thousands of kilometres while consuming no resources and producing no pollution. That the fuel once burned is gone forever is a most vital point, and one I would think would not be glossed over on a website about peak oil.

Not that I think we'll ever all be zipping about in private cars whatever they're powered by. Whatever the power source, using a tonne of metal to move one person will never as efficient as using ten tonnes to move one hundred people. But still, there it is. Fuel once burned is gone forever. Batteries get recharged.

You are right. I glossed over it. Maybe I shouldn't have - but the text for this story was cut from over 9000 words to less than 3500. Some stuff had to go. I guess I consider that part of the argument so obvious that, well... I went out and bought an electric vehicle. So I am not going to disagree with you now am I? :-)

You did? I thought they weren't available in Australia, apart from a few scooters.

I mention upthread that I bought a Prius and I am looking into the pack that turns it into a PHEV. PHEV is a special case of EV, but it is an EV.

Any Vehcle that uses rubber on road is bad. Rubber on road requires a lot of friction for Grip, Friction is bad and requires a lot of energy to overcome it. As the the Prius, think of the 100 barrels of oil it takes to produce it, and thats before you put one drop of fuel into the tank. The problem is the car, not how it is powered.

Special case of EV--yes, it's one that has to carry an ICE around on its back wherever it goes.

Regarding PHEVs:

Personal automobiles are expensive. Today, a cheap car will cost you $7000 a year after tax, all-in. Compare to $72 a month for a monthly New York City subway and bus pass.

PHEVs are much more expensive than gasoline autos, for various reasons. Let's call it $10,000 a year all-in.

It is possible that, with higher gas prices, PHEVs will be cheaper than gasoline cars for many uses. However, the PHEV will still cost $10,000+ all-in, and be limited to some crap distance like 50 miles. Thus we see that the utility is LESS than a gasoline car and the cost is MORE. The engineering of battery-powered cars is a spiral of doom: you need hundreds of pounds of batteries, which means two thousand pounds of steel to carry the batteries, which means enormous amounts of power needed to move the whole 3000-lb package, which means limited range.

Now, consider the train option: $72 a month = $864 per year. You save $9,000, plus more because of all sort of auto ancilliaries like a garage. You take the $9,000 and have yourself a good time, maybe even renting an electric car for a couple weekends a year, total cost $200.

You are confusing PHEVs and EVs.
On the PHEV you also have an internal combustion engine, so you are not limited to 50 miles, it is just that the engine will fire up and it will operate as a normal car after the battery runs low.
The range is also less than 50 miles on electric. The volt is likely to do the biggest unassisted, and that will do around 40 miles before the engine takes over, but on a regular commute it would reduce consumption a lot.

EVs are indeed range limited, in the case of the Th!nk to around 120km
UKP14,000 TH!NK city electric car ready for showrooms

There is no doubt that it is a more expensive option than an ICC, but maintenance is just about nil, although you do have to pay around £140/month for the hire of the battery.

Trains would be cheaper, but I understand the issue is that in many areas of Australia you would have to build the lines first, which will not be cheap and will take time, so for a lot of people your choice is not a possible one at present.

"Today, a cheap car will cost you $7000 a year after tax, all-in.."

Pardon? ..and $10k/yr for a PHEV.. Econguy, I'm trying to figure out where you're getting the basis for this. I am all in favor of getting a Metro pass, though the nearest station to me is about 300 miles south.. my girls are enjoying the NYC Subways this weekend at least. But the way you construct this argument works against your point with such unfounded assertions.

In particular, the peevish attitude of statements like "..and be limited to some crap distance like 50 miles." .. Considering that a sober assessment would show that this crap distance would cover the daily travel needs of a VAST segment of the driving population. As transportation expense gets worse, it will only increase the numbers of people who could bring their most regular Travel needs down into this range, as others come down further into Mass-Transit, Bike and Walk solutions..


Just looked up the numbers from last year for our Subaru Legacy. (about 30mpg hwy)

12,000 miles, and $1500 in gas, as far as my records show.. but which matches up to some 25 mpg {city/local} times 480 gallons) .. it's possible we did another $1500 in service, registration/excise and repairs.. but by no means another $5500 in 'other expenses'..

car was bought outright for $12k in 2002 at maybe 79k miles. Prob 140k miles now.


Point taken regarding PHEV vs EV. Makes some sense to plug in for short rides, and use the engine for longer rides.

Regarding cost to own:

2009 Toyota Camry

Yahoo 5-yr total cost to own: $42,912
average annual for first five years: $8,582.40

If you're traveling less than 25 miles (50 miles round trip) -- and that is a maximum, the realistic limit is more like 18 miles I'd guess considering battery deterioration and so forth, a scooter is a more sensible option most of the time. You could buy about eight scooters for the price of a plug-in upgrade. And twenty cheap Chinese electric scooters!

But the overall point is, a PHEV or any EV is more expensive and less useful than a gasoline automobile, at gasoline prices below $8 a gallon or so (judging by European use). Or, they would already exist en masse. So, you're taking a very expensive and wasteful system (personal cars and mass roadways) and replacing it with an even more expensive system (personal PHEV/EV cars and mass roadways).

The potential advantages of this switch are very marginal. Basically replacing Kunstler's "Cheap Motoring Fiesta" with "Expensive Motoring Fiesta".

Hi Econguy, I'm still not sure if you have got your head around the way a PHEV works, or if you are talking about a EV when you are referring to the effective 18 mile range.
In any case, it is in error.
If you were driving a PHEV, the engine would recharge the battery when it kicks in, just like in any other car.
If you are driving an EV, you can plug it in at work, as long as they provide a plug of course, and still recharge.
I know that is during peak electricity use in Australia, but in my view within a few years (2012-2015) PV power will be cheap enough so that peak load in many locations could be taken care of with it.
The Th!nk has a 23kw battery pack, so you would need just over a 2kw system to recharge it during your work-day, of, including lunch, say 9hours - it actually works out to around 2.5kw, but not all cars are likely to be totally flat.
So if you work in an enterprise with 1000 employees who use an electric car to get to work, which is an outside assumption, you would need around a 2MW PV system to charge the cars up.
If that was built fairly locally to the office, you would not need to burden the grid much or step the power down from 11,000volts, as it could run at 20volts.
In a ground-mounted system that might cost around $4million or so in the time frame we are talking about - present costs might be around $10 million.
PV ideas only run into a lot of trouble and expense when you try to use it for things like baseload - storing it is very expensive.
At 50 miles a day for 200 days a year if you amortised the PV set-up over 8 years not counting interest your cost is about 20cents/mile for fuel.
But what about the interest? Well, I also have not counted that the enterprise would have 2MW of power available for the other 165 days of the year which could be sold, nor have I put a value on the rest of the plants lifetime of at least 25 years after it is paid for.

Regarding 'battery deterioration and so forth' it should be borne in mind that these are very early days and Th!nk is being very conservative in their projections of battery life, as they don't want to be caught short.
For many batteries, for instance the 123 which is one of the contenders for the volt the projection is for many thousands of recharges, although it is early days for that to be guaranteed:

Lead acid batteries backed up by capacitors are already proven to be able to power a car for over 100,000 miles:

These would also be way cheaper than lithium batteries

You can even get 150mpg on a SUV:

It seems to me that your dismissal of EV and PHEV cars is very premature, and is based on very early examples of a new technology.

Improvements in battery technology are coming from many quarters:
Technology Review: Super-Charging Lithium Batteries

To reach the full potential of a 10 times higher charge the cathode will need redesigning too, but at the moment around 3 times is in our grasp.

Well, I will admit that I think that personal automobile dependency in general is a dead end (I'm with Kunstler on that) -- and I lived without a car for five years, so I've tried it both ways. A system which is based on a more expensive, more complex version of personal automobile dependency is a super-dead-end if you ask me.

If your goal, on the other hand, is to preserve personal automobile dependency at all costs, then the PHEV system might be one of the best ways of doing that.

Sounds like a lot of "don't touch my SUV" types in Australia. I suppose people who like suburbia should be allowed to live in suburbia if they want to.

Personally I don't live in suburbia or like it, and am in favour of walkable and human-scale environments, but I am even more in favour of keeping eating, and anything which might mean that we are likely to be able to keep together some semblance of a technological civilisation over-rides any aesthetic objections I might have.
Any ideas such as some seem to entertain that with 6.5 billion people in the world things can transform into some sort of Woodstock with peace and harmony in the event of major dislocations appear to me entirely unrealistic, so on that point I would go along with the doomers.
We keep pedalling or fall off.

Sounds like a lot of "don't touch my SUV" types in Australia.

'A lot' would be an accurate statement. And they're very vocally protective about their 'investment'. One person, in a Letter To The Editor of a Sunshine Coast newspaper, called them 'wank tanks'. Well, didn't the Urban Assault Vehicle supporters rise up in anger. It seemed that every second LTTE for the next two weeks was in support of a car that aims its radiator at the head area of people driving smaller cars, because they are, and I quote, "symbols of adventures yet to be had". Mate, you don't know how true that's going to be. :D

If all drivers are equally incompetant (and this is Queensland, where the ability to properly negotiate a roaundabout is apparently optional), a UAV is more dangerous than a 'regular' car.

4WDs have their place. Every second driveway in suburbia isn't that place.

Thanks for the explanation of costs.

I still reach some different conclusions and value-judgements about EV's, while by and large I agree that the 'motoring paradigm' needs must change. That said, we will still have roads and will push ourselves and our stuff around on them. Characterizing having and using roads as simply a useless 'Fiesta' is a fine, Calvinistic shaming, and is surely no surprise coming from Kunstler. We need roads, and yet we also need to personally use them for far fewer miles than we currently do.

Maybe many will become 'Ghost Roads' and break up and re-grass and forest themselves.. but they aren't necessarily evil, and they aren't going away altogether. (Unless we do, which I doubt.)

Scooters are fine. For some. Trikes and Various intermediate cart-designs will also be useful.. and sometimes, you just need a car. Maybe it's a rental for most who choose not to own anymore, maybe an extended family all owns a vehicle or three jointly, but saying

"a PHEV or any EV is more expensive and less useful than a gasoline automobile.."

..doesn't only depend on gas costing more, but also of being available at all. If this is, in fact "Peak Lite", we'll start seeing more empty and closed Forecourts/Gas Stations.. the PHEV owner at least has a second way to get around, and now can go into the Taxi business if their previous job has up and left. That means More useful, not Less..

Pedicabs will have a new shine to them too, I suppose.


Edited for clarity

Most estimates of the cost of some thing include the cost of buying it in the first place, spread over the years of its use to you.

So if you buy a car in 2001 for $13,000 then sell it in 2008 for $5,000, it cost you $8,000 to have the car over those eight years, or $1,000 a year - before you drive it an inch. If you borrowed money to buy it, of course we must add a few thousand for the interest on the loan.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics study of household spending tells us that spending on transport for the average Australian household is A$139.25, of which $125.08 is on motor vehicles. That's A$6,504.16 annually.

This is an average across 7.8 million households, of course. There will be some spending nothing on a car - they don't have one - and a few spending a lot more. In general, a new car bought in 2008 will cost you more than one bought some years ago, all the various safety features and so on push the price up. So while US$7,000 annually seems a bit high, it's quite plausible for a new car bought today.

The Royal Automobile Corps of Victoria releases a car operating cost estimate each year.

The calculations include the cost of financing the vehicle, depreciation, scheduled services, registration, insurance, fuel, tyres, etc. The calculations are provided as a guide to the cost of owning and operating a vehicle over a five year, 75,000 km (15,000 km per year) period.

Their estimates range from a Toyota Corolla on about A$155 a week up to a Toyota Landcruiser on A$335 a week. That in practice people buying the smaller cars tend to hold onto them longer and those buying the larger vehicles tend not to get loans for them but pay in cash lowers the figures quite a bit, giving us the A$125 a week national average when you factor in all the households with no vehicle at all.

When you consider the work hours you have to put in to earn that $6,500 or so, and the traffic delays and so on, it turns out that, in Australia at least, cars are the most expensive and slowest mode of transport.

IMO, in the long run, Australia needs to develop a plan to effect "reverse desertification" in a sustainable way. A strategic plan would include the selection of strategic locations for enclaves along the coastline and deploy methods such as described at and that take advantage of the locations along the coast to produce food and electricity without fossil fuel input.

The cities there would be designed from the ground up to maximize rail, biking (covered pathways) or low-power scooters for personal transportation. The "economies of scale" would be applied to the consumer end. Each person does not need one of everything. Building would not be individual houses, but complexes built around a vortex evacuating/conditioning systems and shared walls.

Excess electrical power consumption could be curtailed by having community availability of things like Wide-screen TV's, which could be limited to one per hundred people. Small local movie theaters/pubs/social gathering places could become popular again.

Fresh water could be obtained by ideas in the seawatergreenhouse site, in various combinations with the AVE, which can power refrigeration systems using the cheap power provided.

Moving to these enclaves should be encouraged by the government with lifelong guarantees of employment and adequate food availability. Little by little, obviously with some sacrifice, the desert could be pushed back from the sea, and Australia could become the "green continent" instead of the "Desert Continent."

This is the "only" plan that, IMO has a chance to be implemented without large investments that can accomplish the objectives you desire.

This is an "outside the box" plan--those of you who think along conventional lines will dismiss this. It is my hope that there are a few astute, influential individuals who will take this and run with it.

This is a plan that does not require government input - as PO becomes obvious, groups of people can just do it. There is an economically viable path from start to finish.

However.... How much risk does climate change + rising sea levels represent to this plan? If you have (say) a 1 meter rise in sea level over the next ten years (extreme but conceivable, given what is happening around Greeland right now) and you throw in extreme weather and associated storm surges, what does this do to your greenhouse?

I might note that my greenhouse was completely destroyed in the freak wind gusts that occurred in Melbourne recently.

To mitigate against risk you will need to locate your greenhouse away from the coast, or locate it on high ground. Either way your pumping problem is made more difficult. You will also need to build it tough, to survive freak wind gusts.

I am not saying it can't be done, I am just "thinking out load" about how you would do it, what compromises would be forced on you, and how that would impact on the economics of getting it done.

If you ever decide to do it, let me know.... I might want to "buy in" as part of a partnership :-)

Just heard on the radio,Rudd is means testing PV rebate to families earning less than 100k...what a prick.

This is Chairman Rudds ideology coming out. Tax the rich, pat the poor on the head.

Yes, that's a bit rich (sorry). On the flipside, at least they're now means-testing the Baby Bonus, and not paying it as a lump sum, so deadsh**s can't use the BB to buy Foxtel and a Plasma (but they can still pay it off fortnightly at harvey Normal). The BB shouldn't exist at all, but if it does, it should be 'stuff for baby', not money, and be capped at 2 kids.

We can't use cane sugar for ethanol because sugar is a major food source for most of the world. You pull sugar out of a dish and you have to add more calories from somewhere. Meat calories are more expensive than sugar calories in terms of energy, water, and money.

There has not been a peak in oil yet. We do have a demand problem.
Latest stats release May 12 got Feb 2008 from

Here is my energy plan (US focus, each country would have a similar outline but would be adapted to each situation. ie. Israel and Denmark are able to implement electric cars sooner because they are smaller and denser places. Probably New Zealand too. Not quite as well but close)

Short term
Efficiency and drilling for regular and enhanced recovery, enact policies that discourage coal and fossil fuel and encourages nuclear and renewables. Try to reduce fuel usage 2-4% per year and try to increase oil from drilling and biofuels by 3-6% per year.

Mid Term
Big nuclear buildup and thermoelectric and transmission efficiency Triple nuclear power by 2020 by using new uprate technology and advanced thermoelectrics and some new plants. (25% from nuclear instead of 8.2% and 17% less fossil fuel. I would reduce coal first - 30,000 deaths from coal air pollution, 60,000 deaths from combined coal and fossil fuel air pollution in the USA. Plus moving 1.2 billion tons of coal is 40% of freight rail traffic and 10% of diesel fuel usage.)
Can get up to six times more nuclear by 2030. Displace all coal and a lot of oil.

Mid-Long Term
Very advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion and better renewables (geothermal, wind [kitegen, superconducting wind turbines], solar [concentrated solar in municipal or rural power configurations. My favorite is CoolEarth's solar balloons], genetically modified organisms for biofuel)

big energy picture (US focus, for the world multiply by 4 times)

Commonly known as Peak Lite. Just a little teaser for the main attraction I'm afraid. It is quite possible for oil production to grow even as we have huge problems due to it not being able to grow fast enough to keep up with demand. Demand is not fungible either. If you have more demand closer to the source, that will be satisfied first before it is exported to distant customers. It really doesn't matter what the commodity is, that's just how it goes.

Your plan exhibits a fair bit of confidence in new technology which is fine to wish for but the grownups around here have to consider putting food on the table as the top priority. If you really want to make soemof these things happen I suggest you first do a PhD in Nuclear Fusion and then come back and build it. I'm sure there are plent of TODérs here who will halp critique your research.

My plan has links to the research and it has numbers for how much is to be achieved from each part of it. And it has the basis of looking at the historical data.

Where is the data and details from the "grownups" here ? When people talk about more transit what are current usage rates, what are the adoption rates for transit when they are promoted. I have previously presented this information at theoildrum. My comments are searchable.

What is the exact adoption levels, deployment times and impact of the localization plans ? How many decades to change zoning in all the different jurisdictions and to change development. These are decade long plans with minimal impact. Look at any actual transit plan. Like for Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area. they are many billions of dollars over decades and trying to budge mass transit usage a few percent.

Energy efficiency has been improving relative to GDP generated for several decades.
Power uprates of nuclear reactors are real

Here is the latest that has been approved and will start this summer adding 124MW this summer.

Westinghouse, MIT and national labs are working on the 50% power uprate which has been demonstrated to work.

Thermoelectrics work and are part of over 100 million in DOE funding and are being brought about by GE, Cummins, Caterpillar and other companies.
Where a conventional electric heating and cooling system requires up to 4,500 watts to maintain the desired temperature inside a car, a thermoelectric system would use 3,000 watts if the car is full of passengers or less than 700 watts if the driver is alone, according to estimates from the Department of Energy.

If you are going to start talking about situations 10+ years in the future then it is stupid to not look at the technology that will clearly be available or ones which should have more money devoted to them if they will make a bigger difference.

50% nuclear power uprates would have a bigger impact than almost all ideas in regards to solar and wind power. It would have more impact than trying to convince people to use more public transit. It would make more difference than a 100% efficient light bulb.

Thermoelectrics that are 60% efficient versus current gas and diesel engines and steam with 20-35% efficiency would have more impact than most other energy technology. Advanced thermoelectrics would also make more refridgerators. They are already used for beer coolers.

While I support investing in research for new tech, it seems awfully credulous of you to lean so heavily on unproven tech promises, while pointing to car crazy LA and San Fran in our time of 'still cheap' gas as your proof that transit improvements are unhelpful. LA especially, since they had their transit setup amputated for the very purpose of creating an Autopian Paradise.

Have you been hearing about transit ridership now that gas is approaching a $4.00 avg.? What about DC's metro, or all the investments in France.. or are they not applicable?

In any case, you present a false choice. It's not 'either /or' .. we need new generation (of whatever sorts we can cook up) AND we need transportation solutions.


If people are not willing to go for a particular option or there are decade long infrastructure project changes needed, then those options are as infeasible and sometimes more infeasible than technology. Or they could have some impact but not as much as people think. It seems awfully credulous of the pro-mass transit people to think that is a silver bullet without actually analyzing mass transit.

So the places that already have successful mass transit but still have oil usage. Are they going to become even more efficient and use a lot less oil ? If they do then what will that impact be ?

# Consuming Nation 2006
1 United States 20,588 (thousand bpd)
2 China 7,274
3 Japan 5,222
4 Russia 3,103
5 Germany 2,630
6 India 2,534
7 Canada 2,218
8 Brazil 2,183
9 South Korea 2,157
10 Saudi Arabia (OPEC) 2,068
11 Mexico 2,030
12 France 1,972
13 United Kingdom 1,816
14 Italy 1,709
15 Iran (OPEC) 1,627

If the transit options are the way to go then people should put up some numbers about how much they expect to save with it and over what timeframes and which states, countries and regions.

Just over half of the oil in the USA is used for cars and trucks.
The rest is used for planes, trains, ships, heating, factories/industries, roads, agriculture etc...

So mass transit does not help with freight, planes, trains, heating etc...

So of the 40% of oil used for cars, then how much will be saved and over what timeframe ? Will there be no taxis ?

Describe the proposed plan with at least a numerical outline.

Nationwide in 1990, mass transit carried only 5.3 percent of commuting trips, down from 6.4 percent in 1980, and an even smaller percentage of total trips.

Transit usage is up 5% in many areas and 10-15% in some places as of May 2008.
so that means let us say 15% across the board.
5.3% becomes 6.1% of commuter trips. So 0.8% becomes more efficient.
So 40% becomes 39.4% (the people may still have to get to the park and ride) but let us be optimistic and say 39.3%.

So how much can be wrung out of that solution ?
Double ridership in 2009 ? 2010 ?

Btw: last time I checked LA and SF bay area are part of the USA. You cannot just ignore parts of the country or world that you do not like if you are going to apply a real workable solution. You have to focus on the hardest nuts to crack for oil usage for the most impact. Making France 20% more efficient would save 390,000 bpd. Making the USA 2% more oil efficient saves 400,000 bpd.

Gasoline consumption declined in 1974, for a savings of about 255,000 barrels per day (BPD) of petroleum, and it was estimated that in 1983, the lower speed limits accounted for savings of about 167,000 BPD. Oil usage has increased since then so a lower speed limit would save 250,000 bpd.

7 million bpd for cars and trucks in 1973 vs 12 million bpd now

I am all for mass transit and efficiency gains. They are part of my energy plan for the short and mid term. But I do not expect more than 5-10% overall savings out of them and it would take time to get to those levels. the first 5% is relatively easy. the next 5% is tougher and each extra amount is tougher and takes longer.

It seems awfully credulous of the pro-mass transit people to think that is a silver bullet without actually analyzing mass transit.

So the places that already have successful mass transit but still have oil usage. Are they going to become even more efficient and use a lot less oil ? If they do then what will that impact be ?

Good Rant.

But when you start with a 'Silver Bullet' line, it's clear that you didn't hear me say 'False Choice' above. Who is calling this a Silver Bullet? It's hyperbole, and simply a discussion killer.

As far as the places that already have successful transit going.. they have an option for when the situation changes dramatically, and we're here at the Oil Drum because we anticipate that it WILL change, even if the facts on the ground even today are still harder to point to. Most folks out there won't or can't shift to transit, and don't see the reason they should. You can cite all sorts of measly ridership figures from the 1990's, and it does nothing to address what is around the corner, and how to make hundreds of midsize cities moderately functional.

Cherry Picking LA, which is especially unprepared at numerous levels to adapt to a reasonable Transit solution is not 'representing the USA', it's trying to boost your point by taking the worst case. LA will be a tough nut.. I'd guess it will shrink back into separate cities again.. and it will find more transit solutions.

Your kids are not going to even notice that there's shredded wheat in the cupboard if there is still a quarter box of frosted flakes in front of it. Transit and Rail investments are expensive cereals that don't taste as good as private cars, so their benefits won't be appreciated or utilized or even all that calculable until we're a bit further down the road.


How much benefit from mass transit ? How long to get those gains ?
Is anyone pushing going to answer those questions ?
I keep supplying data and research and explaining the details for my conclusions.
Responses have been handwaving and generalized naysaying and Oildrum this and Oildrum that. I have
been in the Oildrum discussions for over one year. I know what the Oildrum discussions and articles are. I also know that there has been no detailed plan proposed with mass transit or with localization with timeframes and impact analysis. If there is specific criticism of a specific technology that I believe will work. Uprating nuclear fission reactors, thermoelectrics etc... then put some more details and references or specific issues to back up the "I don't believe in technology for energy plans".

The list in the original article (or a follow up to it) needs to have an attempt at timeframes, adoption rates, impact savings estimates.

The smallest easiest steps I can think of

Fix fringe benefits tax:
I think it's taken as given that moving traffic off private road transport and into public (preferably rail) transport is a good idea. There's a very small change to our FBT (fringe benefit tax) laws which could make an impact on this. It's simple, and no-one has yet come up with any objections to it. It doesn't cost much, and it could be put in place for next financial year at essentially no cost.

That should help increase public transport usage, and hence give the motivation and money to finance further investment.

The trans-Australian grid connect
Peak solar power in the Australian north west is almost perfectly matched with peak power consumption in the south east (i.e. a hot summer's afternoon with the air-conditioning turned on is when the sun shines highest on the Pilbara). At the moment, solar power plants are being built in places like Mildura because it is close to existing grid capacity, which is a pity because they aren't the idea places. The idea would be to hold a reverse dutch auction for the rights to build and charge for transmission on the interconnect. This will make it much simpler to ramp up capacity (wind, solar and tidal) as we need it for the growth in battery-powered cars, desalination and cracking water for hydrogen fuel cells.

I don't think the trans-Australia grid is really necessary. Places like Mildura may not have the insolation of the Northwest, but it's more than adequate to build peaking solar plants for the SE grid.

My suggestion would be ( this could be done rather rapidly) to start a mini-bus system. With all the computing power that we have today such a system could be optimized to tune the number of buses required, size and their routs.

I saw something like this is Western Siberia minus the computational aspect. The buses ran frequently during time of max need and took one to almost anywhere with a few change overs. Decreasing the load of single passenger travel would free up space and reduce gasoline demand. However those whose business depends on people using cars would certainly not be for such a revolution in travel.

Australia is increasing their immigration so the government is on the right track. With more minds you'll be better equipped to figure out how to deal with resource shortages.

I'm going to need a bigger glass for all this Sarcanol. :)

I see our major problem as thinking too big for our cranial space. For instance, we are getting all our water from huge dam systems. I can capture more water than I use from my urban units roof and the paved areas of my driveway. We bought a 1500 litre rainwater tank and it filled up in 1 day of light showers.

Bear with me here: The Garden of Eden was made perfect, ie nature is perfect. It is us that have fukd up the planet and ourselves by thinking we are above nature.

The numbers I am getting from Permaculture indicate that I can support my small family on one sixth of an acre, no smorgasboard but very healthy organic fruit, veg, eggs and fish occasionally, an they all taste heaps better than the crap in supermarkets.

The fundermental thing we need to do is to go back to nature.

I believe this argument could be extrapolated to many of our problems.

When I'm in a thoughtfull mood I'll write an article, I am too busy processing biomass harvested from two Jakaranda trees infested with parasitic ivy. It looks like I'm going to get enough high quality compost to completely replace all my topsoil (sandy horrible dry west coast dust). Have you ever tried stopping Jakarandas and Ivy growing, cannot be done.

We ary extremely wealthy and we don't even know it.

I have said it before and no doubt I'll say it again;



You had me right up to "A NEW ASTROLOGICAL AGE IS DAWNING,...."

If you had said a new economic age is dawning then I'm right there :}

I cannot describe a colour to a blind person

Can I just say, from a very fundamental level, you're wrong.

1) There's no "nature is perfect" - nature is disinterested, random and unthinking.

2) Conquering the universe is still very much on, and possible. Give it a decade or two and it'll be practical. Whether we get that decade or two, that's the question.

3) Astrological..... well says it all really.

Speaking without knowledge of a specific discipline me thinks buddy.

I appreciate what you are trying to say, I think. We do have around us the potential to live a very rich life. Nature is extremely giving and forgiving, when you are not working at cross-purposes to it all the time.

I heard once in relation to envirnmental cleanups, a quote that said 'You don't actually have to clean up the rivers. They clean themselves. You just have to stop dumping the dirty stuff into them.'

I'm sure some will quibble with that but the point does have merit just the same.

There's some odd point in our cultural development where I think we've now so abstracted ourselves, that a fantasy wall stands between us and our world, our mother.. this bizarre notion that 'we don't really belong here..' maybe we descended from aliens who landed from 'that other world somewhere'and left us .. and here we are. 'In the land of Nod, in the East of Eden..'

It's a tough crowd if you want to speak in 'Mythos', not 'Logos'. Metaphor and symbolic talk are very mushy and prone to all sorts of misunderstandings. Look at how hard it is just to keep sarcasm separated from serious statements..

Keep the faith, brotha..


Thank you for elucidating my point somewhat. It takes some time to construct a paragraph that is without ambiguity and that time is better used in other pursuits; so I just shoot from the hip.

The cynicism of the logicians does not bother me, the people that poo poo Permaculture are a bloody menace and have not even investigated it.

I urge all to use the emperical method of Science to test Permaculture.

Experiment and Observe.

Lucifer B App Sc (Physics/Mathamatics), Adv Dip Eng, Adv Dip Naturopathy, Adv Cert Computer Network Engineering.

No, the logicians don't bother me one bit.

Hello TODers

Having lurked for over a year, this will be my first post. Here it goes.

I've been waiting for this kind of article and the timing in general. Six months ago I was thinking it was a few years away but things have ramped up faster than I thought. I propose we kill 2 birds. Bird one: public awareness, Bird two: mitigation planning. The execution: Gatherings of interested parties should meet in cities and towns at a prominent location. Say Martin Place for Sydney Australia. This would occur around the world on the same day. Said parties will conduct a wiki style meeting focused on mitigation plans. Theses should continue regularly (say every 2 months?) and outcomes posted on TOD.

I'm prepared to give it a shot! For my daughter & kin and for yours.


Another long time lurker, first time poster.

This is a great idea. I'd welcome the chance to meet like minded folks and discuss what can be done on a local level. This site is amazing -- generous people taking the time to share in-depth research and real-world insights. Having been stuck at the depression stage for some time, though, I'd like to move on to some form of useful action. Maybe your proposal would help toward that.

Actually doing something for ones-self is the best way out of depression in my experience.

Lets get planning, is one of my emails: always keen to act

I've never been happier since I started my Permaculture Garden. My old bones are aching a bit as I have to bring soil abused for 50 years back to life, after that the trees, chickens, worms, fish and bacteria will do 99% of the work for me, easy money.

Will do. I hail from St. Louis, MO, but the idea of semi-coordinated meetings around the world, in some form or other, holds some appeal. There was some discussion of what TOD:L could look like on the May 7 DrumBeat -- I'll probably contact Prof. Goose per that thread as well. Thanks, everyone.

Good points and top idea. Evidently there are a number of people here based in W.A. or Queensland (not surprisingly, I guess). It seems the current influx of money and the resource-based affluence of these states could be both a blessing and curse. A blessing because the money is there, a curse because plenty leads to inaction and money does not necessarily fuel funding for the necessary projects. Stone heads are carved instead.
Hopefully Australia will learn from the inaction of other countries and make changes now which take the country beyond the goals put forth by the feelgood Ruddbus. Australia is in very good shape to master these challenges if appropriate moves are made I think.

Contact the ASPO in your state and put it to them. (in Victoria Phil is your man). Then organise the people in your state. You can make it happen.

Good to see some response for my half baked idea. The main purpose of the public meeting would be to attract attention from the MSM and ppl in general. However it should be focused and as productive as possible. Probably the best way to record the mitigation plans for each local area is on a single web based mitigation wiki. Though a sexier name might help. This would provide a place to share solutions and reasoning for and against certain actions. More importantly this would allow individuals unable to attend physically to contribute. Unfortunately our overlords are not going to do anything until its to late, we need to push them. The new government here in OZ couldn't even push through it's ban on plastic shopping bags, stop building roads? not a chance in hell. I'll come up with a basic outline and send it to the ASPO's. Any help would be appreciated, I'm typing with one finger having just come off my pushy and broken my arm. Learning how to ride again :P Feel free to contact me steven.j.moody AT

I agree with most of what you say however I would like to point out with this quote from your post how easy it is to fall into the trap of looking for solutions that are contrary to the necessary paradigm shifts that all we need to be making. My motto is "Ride a Bike or Take a Hike ;-) and no I am not suggesting that as a solution to the problems we face even though I do it myself.

Overcoming the Constraint in Liquid Fuels

Above all, we must remember that this is a liquid fuel emergency. Liquid fuels such as petrol, and diesel are easily transported (no wires required) and very energy dense (45 kg of petrol will take a car about 500 km, while 45 kg of lithium batteries will only take it a fraction of that distance). These capabilities make liquid fuels hard to replace.

However technological solutions are already practicable:

- Battery/electric cars. Removing the requirement for liquid fuel by developing battery-powered cars is a partial answer as it gives us the capacity to move people and goods on short journeys to destinations outside of public transport routes. Some battery cars are already in limited production, and GM claims that it will be bringing out a large-production car (the Chevrolet Volt) in 2010. Hybrid cars and PHEVs also provide a partial solution. Although electric cars offer part of the solution, we will still need the capacity to move large loads for long distances.

Two words: Fractal Wrongness!

I agree for example that we still need the capacity to move large loads for long distances, long distance fossil fuel powered maritime and rail transport will probably still make economic sense despite Peak Oil. However I can think of absolutely no good reason whatsoever to travel 500 miles in a private automobile. So why in gods name do we even need to worry about technology that will acheive that and set up an unacheivable (at least in the near term) goal?

First and foremost we must stop trying to look for the same kinds of solutions that got us into this mess in the first place. We must also choose leaders who understand both the complex natural and artificial interacting systems of which we are an integral part. We can no longer afford ignorant self serving politicians and economists who don't have even the slightest concept of basic sciences such as ecology and geology.

Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. by Donella H. Meadows. Addresses this better than I could ever hope to do so.

Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in "leverage points." These are places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.

The systems community has a lot of lore about leverage points. Those of us who were trained by the great Jay Forrester at MIT have absorbed one of his favorite stories. "People know intuitively where leverage points are. Time after time I've done an analysis of a company, and I've figured out a leverage point. Then I've gone to the company and discovered that everyone is pushing it in the wrong direction !"

The classic example of that backward intuition was Forrester's first world model. Asked by the Club of Rome to show how major global problems—poverty and hunger, environmental destruction, resource depletion, urban deterioration, unemployment—are related and how they might be solved, Forrester came out with a clear leverage point: Growth. Both population and economic growth. Growth has costs—among which are poverty and hunger, environmental destruction—the whole list of problems we are trying to solve with growth!

The world's leaders are correctly fixated on economic growth as the answer to virtually all problems, but they're pushing with all their might in the wrong direction.

Hi FMagyar,

I agree for example that we still need the capacity to move large loads for long distances, long distance fossil fuel powered maritime and rail transport will probably still make economic sense despite Peak Oil. However I can think of absolutely no good reason whatsoever to travel 500 miles in a private automobile. So why in gods name do we even need to worry about technology that will acheive that and set up an unacheivable (at least in the near term) goal?

You’re not from Australia are you? Let me describe the problem: Imagine a country the same size as the lower 48 states of the US but with less than 10% of the population (Don’t believe me about the size of Australia? Look at a map). It is mostly arid, infertile land – often grazing 1 head of cattle to several acres.... Now imagine how big the farms have to be. We used to have a cattle station in Australia that was the size of Texas (that was actually too big to be manageable, so it got split in two... sad – it used to be a great thing to mention to Texans when they came to Australia and told us how big Texas is).

Farmers need to go into town every two months and get supplies. This is important to me, because if the farmer doesn’t get supplies neither do I. Do I need to mention that it is a LONG way to his nearest train station? The farmer needs a vehicle that can move him a few hundred km, then get him home.

I don’t recall ever mentioning the figure 500 miles (I’m Australian, we use km), but I mention PHEVs, which have a range in that order, and yes - PHEVs are the sort of vehicle that might solve this class of problem.

"The tyranny of distance" is a phrase that was probably invented to describe Australia. I use a farmer as an example because everyone can visualize the problem, but farmers aren’t the only people who need to move huge distances across essentially empty terrain (imagine the doctor that makes housecalls on the outback farmers, the guy who fixes outback phones, etc, etc).

For this reason, PHEVs (or a similar longer-range personal vehicle) will be part of the solution. The problem is complex; the solution will not be a simple network of public transport with personal vehicles strictly forbidden. That solution is too inflexible.


aeldric writes:

"It [Australia] is mostly arid, infertile land – often grazing 1 head of cattle to several acres...."

That's because those areas are not suitable for grazing cattle at all. That's an imported method from a wet climate. As others have previously noted on the site, that type of cattle farming amounts to the exporting of water which is a very precious commodity in Australia. The same is true for many crops grown in Australia. If they were economical, then the government would not provide support for the farmers. Almost all farming currently undertaken in Australia is unsustainable and uneconomical. Be it fuel, fertiliser or water - the constraints will come back to bite farmers. The irrigation of crops from the Murray Darling basin amounts to theft of the future drinking water for today's profits. Don't pray for rain - pray people will understand their folly and pursue something different and more sustainable.

As far as I know though, most fuel isn't burned in tractors in Australia but in personal cars within the handful of cities where people are travelling less than 100 km and the approaches suggested by HvyOilGuy make a lot of sense, but as was pointed out, people don't tend to think along these lines because it might mean personal sacrifice and compromise, community and social proximity. Presumably this is parsed as restriction of freedom and personal space by many Australians who have come to value the social isolation and perceived independence provided by exurban sprawl.

For this reason I think that successful long-term steps will start from the ground up and not come from the federal government. And indeed, I applaud the call for a gathering of ideas at a local level on this site. State governments such as W.A. can probably play a bigger role as they are enjoying surpluses, have more leeway and looking to investment in future infrastructure.

Most solutions to our ills exist today - many have been stated in this thread. In Australia this is clearer than many other places because there is less noise. It is a question of *facing* the solutions where we seem to fail.

Some sanity!

Electric (commuter only) cars will work in dense cities,
all other transport HAS to use chemical storage; biofuels, CTL, oil, etc. CNG takes up too much room for transport, LNG
is just too weird and expensive.

It seems as if the 'sustainable' solution is to cram the population into mega-cities and pray the sun comes up.
Do you think Australia has to look like Switzerland or France?
Do you really to change the character of the whole country?
Do you NEED a blank slate or just some liquid fuels?

Renewables wind/solar should replace coal in power generation with some FF backup. Much more efficient hybrid cars can be done now. Increase the availability of E85, clean CTL with CCS, oil shale, etc.

Hi Aeldric,

You’re not from Australia are you?

Nope. Born in Sao Paulo Brazil to nomadic Hungarian parents, sorta consider my self a citizen of the world though. I'm fluent in metric and do know how to navigate and have examined a map or two (even seen one of Australia) As for my slip up reference to miles, well I'll hope you forgive me for that one I have been living in the US for a rather long time now. Having grown up in Brazil I'm pretty familiar with what might be referred to as wide open spaces and even a 1000 Km journey is not such a foreign concept to me personally.

Having said all that I want to make clear (in case you may have gotten the wrong impression) that the point I was trying to make was simply, that we absolutely need to leave wide open the possibility, that everything we have accepted as BAU may need to be completely discarded.

We may need to build completely new systems from scratch. So clinging to the paradigms of the kind of growth based economic models that allowed us to think of a 500 km car trip to town for supplies, as normal are simply not going to help us come up with new models.

Maybe it might mean that 30 farmers will network and drive a diesel bus with a large trailer into town to get supplies and they will have driven their personal electric vehicles to the central garage where the community bus is kept.

Hey, I don't have a clue what the new systems will be like other than they can't be like it is now and the sooner most of us get that the easier it will be to implement change.

Maybe I still have time to sail down to that great barrier reef of yours,which I hear is little bigger than the one in my own Floridian back yard and enjoy a few ice cold Fosters and some nice big shrimp on the barbie. I do wish you well.

Cheers mate!

Fernando Magyar

Hi Fernando,

the point I was trying to make was simply, that we absolutely need to leave wide open the possibility, that everything we have accepted as BAU may need to be completely discarded.

We may need to build completely new systems from scratch. So clinging to the paradigms of the kind of growth based economic models that allowed us to think of a 500 km car trip to town for supplies, as normal are simply not going to help us come up with new models.

Maybe it might mean that 30 farmers will network and drive a diesel bus with a large trailer into town to get supplies and they will have driven their personal electric vehicles to the central garage where the community bus is kept.

Hey, I don't have a clue what the new systems will be like other than they can't be like it is now and the sooner most of us get that the easier it will be to implement change.

Agree 100%.

Come see the barrier reef while you can. As for the Fosters.... the Great Barrier Reef is in Queensland - drinking a Victorian beer in Queensland is still a hanging offence I believe :-)

Cheers mate,

Bring your own Fosters. The stuff we brew here isn't fit to give to your dog.

Tasmanian 'niche' brews, on the other hand, I hear are quite nice.

Can I just point out

its well worth the read, even if I don't necessarily agree with the ordering of Leverage Points.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 the Also Tuesday, the Senate voted 97-1 to direct President Bush to stop adding to the nation's strategic petroleum reserve. Some lawmakers feel that these shipments, which average 70,000 barrels a day, are pushing oil prices higher. The administration argues that that amount is a pittance compared to the 21 million barrels of oil the U.S. consumes each day.

. How can the supply side be fixed given a finite planet ? The amount of energy available from renewable sources is more than XXXXXX times our current consumption. There is also a lot of scope for making our use of energy much more efficient. Thus I don't see that there is any meaningful supply constraint, though there may be challenges ramping up replacements as fast as fossil fuels dwindle, depending on the decline rate.

3. Do I see conservation as unnecessary ? No - conservation is a very cost effective way of dealing with less energy. However it isn't the only way and there are limits to how much more efficient we can become in energy use or in "doing without" things we want or need.

As a broad brush description of how to solve our problems I'd say these are the important ones :
1. Adjusting building codes to make new buildings highly energy efficient.
2. In appropriate areas, making solar hot water and rainwater capture part of the building code.

3. Encouraging denser urban development, with better public transport (the whole "transport oriented design" paradigm, with a focus on building walkable neighbourhoods)
4. Moving to electric transport - both individual and public

5. Building as much solar, wind, geothermal, ocean and biogas based power infrastructure as needed. Build in enough storage to deal with any intermittency issues. Expand the grids and interconnect them. Make the grid smarter - manage demand to match supply instead of always trying to generate sufficient power to meet demand.

6. Increase the use of recycling, eventually moving to a "cradle to cradle" / "design for disassembly" / "internet of things" industrial paradigm, so that we can give up the current extraction based system of manufacturing.
7. Adopt various other efficiency measures as appropriate (cogeneration, increased vehicle fuel efficiency standards etc)

That said, I find myself without enthusiasm for the Oil Depletion Protocol

"Peak-oil is a reality, and it makes global warming look like a trivial problem. The immediacy of peak oil takes so long before we can do anything to prepare for how to go about using less oil - we might be lucky enough to have it 4/5 years away but it isn't decades away - I say the likelihood of that is 1%," .

If we see $200, $300 or $500 a barrel in the next few years (and yes I think developed economies can cope with that without collapsing) the demand side will take care of itself, and there will be enormous incentive to develop alternatives.
Lets hope those alternatives don't include CTL, oil sands and shale oil.

- Battery/electric cars. Removing the requirement for liquid fuel by developing battery-powered cars is a partial answer as it gives us the capacity to move people and goods on short journeys to destinations outside of public transport routes.

Inserting comment to all from,,,ENERWISE 3,,,, As a former owner of a MACK TRUCK and two 40 foot trailers,,,-Battery/electric trucks will only work to haul goods on flat land and only on very short distances however they may be recharged at their destanations, the down side is they will be very very heavy and that is very distructive to roadways. Please I have a question,,,, is not hydrogen a possable transportation fuel that can be made with electricity? thanks.

the drumbeat: july 20 2007.,,,2007,,,,,,2007,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
The price of New York crude struck a fresh 11-month high point on Friday, above 76 dollars a barrel, owing to tight US supplies, while London's Brent oil traded close to its historic high.

As baby boomers, we grew up with easy access to the car, and we will do what ever it takes to hang on to this privilege — which some already view as a basic right. But as many seniors are already finding out to their discomfort, suburbia is no place to grow old, testing the common assumption that we all gracefully "age in place."

As a former owner of a MACK TRUCK and two 40 foot trailers,,,-Battery/electric trucks will only work to haul goods on flat land and only on very short distances however they may be recharged at their destanations, the down side is they will be very very heavy and that is very distructive to roadways. Please I have a question,,,, is not hydrogen a possable transportation fuel that can be made with electricity? thanks.

Possible, but damnably difficult. The problem is that you loose vast amounts of energy in making the hydrogen, and in storing it since the molecules are so small and tend to leak, and in using the fuel.

It might be better to make synthetic liquid fuels, as at least it is easy to store.

Another technology that might be 'good enough' is oxidising zinc in a recyclable battery - not a great solution, but it would just about do.

With current technology there is no good answer at the moment, and this might be a residual use of fossil fuel - after all, it won't just runout, there will be some about, it will just be very expensive.

Similar problems occur with your advocacy of renewables for baseload use - they cost at the moment would be huge, as you would have to build a lot of excess capacity, and storage and transmission, with the quantities of each varying according to the resource chosen.

If you don't fancy nuclear for baseload, then the answer might in reality be to carry on running coal plants.

In any case, building renewables for the rest of the power requirements, all the peak load and so on, would fully occupy the industry.

Trying to use renewables to supply base-load though with current technology is a tough and expensive call.

Fear of nuclear energy seems deeply ingrained in the Australian psyche, perpetrated by luminaries such as rock star turned politician Peter Garrett who now seems to approve a new coal loader every other week.

The response to the baseload problem ranges from use of expensive gas to holding out for solar thermal and nonvolcanic geothermal. Neither exorbitant cost nor lack of progress seems to deter the true believers. They just know there is a solution to the baseload problem that is neither coal nor nuclear. The crazy thing is that Australia appears to have 40% of the world's easily recovered uranium. There was even a laser enrichment process devised here but that seems to have stalled. The catch is that Westexas theory raises its head again; if Australia went nuke it would keep half the uranium for itself though necessarily having to cut a deal for offshore enrichment.

Yeah, we are supposed to power ourselves on the sunshine here in the UK - in the winter.
Presumably the difference is to be made up by clean thoughts.

The weird thing is that some of the people who are most unconvinced that technology is able to provide safe nuclear power, even though it has been doing it for donkeys years, have utter faith in it's ability to solve incredibly difficult problems at the drop of a hat when it comes to renewables.

PV and residential solar thermal are fine resources for Australia for peak power, but their current capabilities should not be exaggerated.

Geothermal or something might be able to do baseload power sometime, but we haven't got a clue how at the moment.

Wishful thinking is not going to do the job.

Ignorance, misinformation and FUD - a sorry combination.

1. There are these things called power grids. They can transport electricity a long way - all the way from Mildura to Melbourne, or from Algeria to Bristol. Its not that hard.

2. There is lots of geothermal power providing baseload power in locations around the world right now, and new projects are being announced every week. Why this is considered some mystery technology of the future when it has been around for 100 years says a lot about your level of objectivity.

3. If you count decommissioning costs (and I know you don't), nuclear is more expensive than CSP right now. Case closed.

Yep, there is FUD alright - but not in the direction you imply.

1. Power grids are fine. They do cost money though.

2. Of course there are geothermal plants, There are not the hot dry rock ones under discussion for baseload in Australia though. if the society in question was Iceland, fine, but it is not, and doesn't have the same resources.
You may be happy to risk your society on unproven technology which may or may not work out, but others may prefer to base plans on things that are proven.
If HDR works, fine, and I am all for it.
As a serious proposal now to run everything on, it doesn't make first base - you persist in not allowing for the fact that technologies need to go through a proving process.

3. Decommissioning costs are about £0.50MWh in the UK, as they accumulate over the years they are relatively inexpensive.
Previous reactors were not designed with decommissioning in mind.
CSP - fine, but where in the world you get the idea that it is currently cheaper than nuclear I can't imagine - check out rates in France and the information we have about current costs for the Spanish CSP plants - they are vastly expensive.
They may come down, and hopefully will, but once more you are jumping the gun.

None of this is to say that it is not already clear that renewables have not got a major part to play in the provision of power - they have, and in an Australian environment with excellent solar resources it is possible to firmly look forward to providing most peaking power with solar - and incidentally much of it locally and not requiring expensive transmission or stepping down from 11,000volts.
Wind has also got a major part to play, and experience will show how much can be successfully integrated with the grid, particularly since enabling technologies such as batteries are rapidly changing.

The jury is still out on both CSP and HDR geothermal, and you really do the causes you seek to advocate no good by exaggerating their present readiness.

For some reason you appear to have an idee fixee regarding nuclear power, and seek to press other, sensible in the right place, technologies into roles they are unsuited for at the present time.

You would be better off sticking with coal if you really can't overcome your prejudices regarding nuclear, after all, although I am not familiar with the exact figures in Australia, you are presumably only talking of around 10GW baseload, as we are in agreement that renewables should do just fine for peak power..

Trying to force them to cover base load as well at the moment puts the costs up into the stratosphere.

Here we go again (glad to see you have conceded that power grids and traditional geothermal power exist and that we don't have to argue that out).

CSP is already here and is in the process of ramping up construction and driving down costs - it isn't experimental.

Geothermal power provides rather a lot of baseload power in New Zealand and there are many other plants under construction or planning around the Pacific Rim and elsewhere. The MIT study reports that it can supply a significant proportion of power in many countries, including the US. HDR / HFR could be a (large) bonus if it it works.

Once again you obfuscate nuclear decommissioning costs - these rnage from $7000 per kW nuclear project in the US to $12000 per kW in the UK - far greater than CSP plant costs.

Nuclear isn't price competitive with wind or CSP.

These (along with geothermal and hopefully ocean power and biogas) are the way forward - we don't need to waste time trying to go back to a mythical "power too cheap to meter" fantasy.

Wind and CSP are not baseload power.

Wind 500MW for $1.8 billion for the UK, Converted for operating load would be the same as $1.8 billion for a 170MW nuclear reactor.

“Although the PCCI has been on an upward trend since 2000, a surge that began in 2005 has pushed costs up 76 percent in the past three years,” according to Scott. “The latest increases have been driven by continued high activity levels globally, especially for nuclear plants, with continued tightness in the equipment and engineering markets, as well as historically high levels for raw materials.” Excluding nuclear plants, costs have risen 79 percent since 2000, she noted

All power costs are up

From the Sept 2007 Batelle, Edison foundation report. Nuclear power costs have been staying more stable than other kinds of energy. Nuclear is the lowest line, which means prices moved the least.

China contracted for $5.3 billion for four AP1000 in 2007. Construction started. The contract was for $1,130/kw

four AP1000 in the USA, contract in 2008 $13.7 billion, $2927/kw

The overnight costs quoted in the FPL are from $6.7 billion, or $2,444/kW, to $9.8 billion, or $3,582/kW.

In March 2008 Progress Energy published estimates for building two new Westinghouse AP1000 units on a greenfield site in Florida. If built within 18 months of each other, overnight capital cost for the first would be $5144 per kilowatt and the second $3376/kW. The costs include land, licence application, initial core load, cooling towers, owner's costs, insurance and taxes, escalation and contingencies. This would appear to be a wider scope for overnight capital cost than usual. Interest adds about one third to the combined figure - $3.2 billion, and infrastructure - notably 320 km of transmission lines - about another $3 billion. The units are expected on line in 2016 and 2017 and are expected to save customers some $930 million per year relative to natural gas-fired generation.

For new nuclear plants decommissioning would not be for 70-90 years. 4 years for licensing, 6 years to build and the 60-80 years for operations before decommissioning. So a smaller amount of money is set aside and it would earn risk free interest. You expect to get some returns from your retirement savings right before you need them decades later.

164MW uprate.

Xcel energy uprate $1815/kw

PSEG told the NRC it planned to file for a 20-year extension of the original 40-year operating licenses for Hope Creek and both Salem units in September 2009.

40 years + 20 year extensions = 60 years.

I don't expect the UK will build more Magnox reactors like their current batch which have higher decommissioning costs. Most reactors around the world can be decommission for less.

An OECD survey published in 2003 reported US dollar (2001) costs by reactor type. For western PWRs, most were $200-500/kWe, for VVERs costs were around $330/kWe, for BWRs $300-550/kWe, for CANDU $270-430/kWe. For gas-cooled reactors the costs were much higher due to the greater amount of radioactive materials involved, reaching $2600/kWe for some UK Magnox reactors.

Wind and solar power can be "baseload" - just add one or more of:

1. Storage
2. Demand management
3. Geographical diversity

In any case, nuclear power plants go out of service too, whether it be for fuel rod replacement, lack of water, earthquakes, meltdown or any other one of a number of reasons - they too are intermittent.

And taking a 2000MW unit out of action suddenly is a big shock for the grid as a whole to absorb.

For new nuclear plants decommissioning would not be for 70-90 years. 4 years for licensing, 6 years to build and the 60-80 years for operations before decommissioning. So a smaller amount of money is set aside and it would earn risk free interest. You expect to get some returns from your retirement savings right before you need them decades later.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Classic - thats really funny.

So the operator just puts a few cents to the side and the magic of compound interest will solve his decommissioning cost problem ?

What a joke - you mean that the taxpayer will be lumbered with the bill - just one more subsidy for the nuclear industry - one of the world's biggest drains of taxpayer dollars for 60 years and counting.

Here's an idea for you - in a world where the population will plateau get older, making a return above inflation for 80 years continuously is a big ask. I'd be betting that if a large scale nuclear build out occurred, this would frequently not be the case for many (or more likely most) plant operators.

They should put all the money required for decommissioning in a trust fund up front - the fund should then just have to match inflation (hopefully) to cover the cost of decommissioning. Then it might actually happen.

And that destroys this silly "nuclear power is cheap" idea...

I would prefer that the next generation of nuclear reactors pay enough to their waste funds that the money flow equals the cost for decomissioning the current powerplants. Thus they can get decommisioned in good order even if the funds fail due to some financial disorder. Electricity is a dependable hard currency.

You are choosing not to notice that I already proved that the largest offshore windproject in the UK is more expensive than nuclear power already. You make some statements and then I proved it wrong and then you move on to other false unjustified statements.

In USA, utilities are collecting 0.1 to 0.2 cents/kWh to fund decommissioning. They must then report regularly to the NRC on the status of their decommissioning funds. As of 2001, $23.7 billion of the total estimated cost of decommissioning all US nuclear power plants had been collected, leaving a liability of about $11.6 billion to be covered over the operating lives of 104 reactors (on basis of average $320 million per unit). They operate like pension funds. The fact that you find that obvious truth funny shows how ignorant you are.

Add 0.2 cents/kwh and nuclear is still competitive. Which is why there are 35 nuclear reactors being built now with 91 more in advanced licensing and planning and expected to be completed within 8 years. 130 GW of new power. Plus every french reactor will have been power uprated by several percent and US reactors will add 1.8+ GW from uprating.

Levelized cost comparisons for energy
Natural gas is 3.8 to 5.9 cents(US)/kwh
Coal is 3.5 to 4.4 cents(US)/kwh
Nuclear is 2.5 to 4.1 cents (US)/kwh

CSP and wind prices vary by location (sun and wind conditions). They can have good prices but CSP is still tiny.

Energy costs with externatilities (bottom line all energy is subsidized, get over it the citizen always pays either with taxes or with utility bills, what did you expect the energy fairy)

In the US the operating load factor for nuclear plants exceed 90% versus about 30% for wind.

I believe that nuclear waste, unburned fuel should be kept on site for a few decades until new nuclear power plants with high burn rates are created to use the long term uranium and plutonium.

========Better burnup of nuclear fuel means less waste

50 GWd/t standard burn up could go up to 65 GWd/t while still 5% enrichment Up to 100GWd/t burnup could be reached with existing reactors but would need 8-10% enrichment.

A larger US design, the Modular Helium Reactor (MHR , formerly the GT-MHR), will be built as modules of up to 600 MWt. In its electrical application each would directly drive a gas turbine at 47% thermal efficiency, giving 280 MWe. It can also be used for hydrogen production (100,000 t/yr claimed) and other high temperature process heat applications. Half the core is replaced every 18 months. Burn-up is up to 220 GWd/t, and coolant outlet temperature is 850°C with a target of 1000°C.

Another full-size HTR design is Areva's Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) being put forward by Areva NP. It is based on the MHR and has also involved Fuji. Reference design is 600 MW (thermal) with prismatic block fuel like the MHR. HTRs can potentially use thorium-based fuels, such as HEU or LEU with Th, U-233 with Th, and Pu with Th. Most of the experience with thorium fuels has been in HTRs. General Atomics say that the MHR has a neutron spectrum is such and the TRISO fuel so stable that the reactor can be powered fully with separated transuranic wastes (neptunium, plutonium, americium and curium) from light water reactor used fuel. The fertile actinides enable reactivity control and very high burn-up can be achieved with it - over 500 GWd/t - the Deep Burn concept and hence DB-MHR design. Over 95% of the Pu-239 and 60% of other actinides are destroyed in a single pass.

Accelerator enhanced constant reprocessing [like the funded accelerator reactor project in Europe) would enable Ultra high burnup of 700 GWd/t. [pg 96-102 discusses Possible Transmutation Strategies Based on Pebble Bed ADS (accelerator driven systems) Reactors for a Nuclear Fuel Cycle without Pu Recycling in Critical Reactors.]

Hmmmm - what is the current capacity of the US nuclear industry - 96 GW ?

At $7000 per kW to decommission, I don't think the cost is $35 billion (ie. the one you quote they are collecting to fund decommissioning) - why the enormous shortfall ?

Who will pay the rest ?

And why is the money left in the hands of the companies - what happens when the next Enron comes along and all the money vanishes into thin air ?

Back to the taxpayer again.

This is just a boondoggle - always has been, always will be.

CSP can scale up to meet our energy needs - we don't need to waste time and money on this and leave an enormous debt to the future.

Let me repeat again

An OECD survey published in 2003 reported US dollar (2001) costs for DECOMMISSIONING by reactor type.
For western PWRs (pressure water reactors like most US plants), most were $200-500/kWe,
for BWRs (Boiler Water Reactors) $300-550/kWe, for CANDU $270-430/kWe.

For gas-cooled reactors the costs were much higher due to the greater amount of radioactive materials involved, reaching $2600/kWe for some UK Magnox reactors.

So 97GW would be 97 million kWe @ $400 (the 200-550 range). $39 billion.

Wind at the end of 2007, 95GW would be generating about 150TWh.
In 2007, Solar power was at 12.4 GW or about 12.6 TWh. Most of it was PV and not CSP

Concentrated solar power market 2007-2020

5.8 GW of Solar CSP projects are in planning stages worldwide, and the lion’s share is
expected to come online by 2012. These two projects represent the rebirth of the industry since the
original SEGs plants were constructed 20 years ago.

Regulatory hurdles in Spain and the United States present the greatest
short term challenge: Spain’s €0.26 feed in tariff is currently limited to 500 MW,
and the US Investment Tax Credit is up for renewal in 2008.

The feed in tariff is per kwh. 40 cent US per kwh for feed in tariff support. The pro-CSP market study is complaining that the giveaway of spanish tax dollars is too limited to build much CSP. Taxpayer support for CSP...again.

Nuclear provided over 800 TWh last year in the USA alone.
Nuclear provided 2619 TWh in 2004 worldwide.
So CSP is at 6-8 TWh in 2012. Less than one nuclear plant.
How long to displace nuclear ? How long to provide all our energy needs ?
CSP is a rounding error from now until 2020.

This is what happens when you try to make a plan without research and without working through the numbers

What is the growth rate of solar compared to nuclear ?

How many nuclear plants can be built in 12 years compared to CSP plants ?

No one wants them - I bet if you tried to build a new nuclear plant in Australia you'd still be fighting to get it constructed in 2020.

In 20 years time, new nuclear power generation, worldwide, will be a rounding error compared to new solar power generation.

You are suffering from a strange form of reversalism - this isn't the 1950's.

Nuclear power is a dinsosaur and the new, clean energy technologies that are emerging are mammals. What we are going to see will be similar to the PC boom - what was once a rarity and only existed in large, centralised facilities will be superceded with ubiquitous energy generation - and the old model will be mostly relegated to museums....

What a great series of comments from most of the posts and article.

Peak oil is going mainstream as a concept but not an understanding.

Natural gas can be used to power cars as an intrum fuel source with a lot of its delivery structure in place, though as Barry Jones said "the car is the enemy"

But untill then electric cars could (possibly) be made to do decent distance as long as a standardized battery removal and fit sysem is made so that whole battery banks can be swapped with minium fuss and petrol stations become charge stations so in effect you own the vehicle but hire the power and pay per kW (or Ah)

Most of the large (huge)Cattle Stations are owned by large companys or holdings who will become easy buy out targets for Multi Nationals (with out boarders) which could lead to a repeat of the Ireland experiance during the potato famine, that is there was plenty of food but is was spoken for to pay for contracts and taxes from/for private English owned farms, and it was mostly shipped to England as presold produce.
As the crops failed the surplus disapeared but the contracts still had to be filled, taxes to pay etc, creating the short fall in the country of origin, with the subsequent disaster for the local population. To add insult, that local population tended the fields and did the planting and growing. watch this space if we "SELL THE FARM"as it were.
Problem is we are.

Mainstream media are already reporting that land is on the purchase list by offshore soverign countries in many and far flung places including Australia. I can see it now, a well managed food production facilty is going well while the locals have made a fist of their crop and look over the fence and say thats ours. But at least we wont have the shame of growing the food to see it exported. The land owners will use their own nationals to do the farming and management, for full control.

I dont know the exact % but Australias food production has a very large forign owned component already most of our milk, rum, beer and alot of the wine is foriegn owned not to mention house hold brand name food labels on the shelf in stores. This is a process that has been going on for decades but could have dramatic impact on local costs if markets (Owners) get greedy.

The Government is going to means test the solar array inststalation contrubution pay back, fantastic! now the people who can afford to do something towards power consumption reduction have just lost their incentive.

Last week BG (British Gas) started talks on mergers and take overs of local energy suppliers, are they doing that for us ...or them.

China is looking to become a larger stake holder in the our largest mining companys, now while they are public companys, I dont see how a similtanious owner and a buyer will benifit the general publics tax recipts to help pay for inferstuctre changes in the oncomming "reallocation of everything".

In 1980 I heard a radio news comment that the CSIRO had done the math and determined that the maximum sustainable population for Australia was 25 million. It was by chance I heard that broadcast but I have never heard about it again.

There will need to be robust policy discussion to ensure we dont sell our self out.... inadvertantly.....or deliberatly.

In 1980 I heard a radio news comment that the CSIRO had done the math and determined that the maximum sustainable population for Australia was 25 million. It was by chance I heard that broadcast but I have never heard about it again.

A later CSIRO report from 2002 can be found here:

Future Dilemmas: Options to 2050 for Australia's population, technology, resources and environment

I remember the Sydney Morning Herald presented this report with a 1st page headline "We'll be OK with 50 million", completely misrepresenting the contents of the report which warned of serious resource constraints for the physical economy of Australia. Barney Foran was one of the authors.

Now we don't even have enough water for 4.5 million Sydneysiders and the situation is worse elsehwere, e.g. in Adelaide.

"Future dilemmas" is still worth a read even after 6 years.

IMO we have to reduce immigration to try for a soft landing.


Thanks for an excellent, thought-provoking post that has generated the best set of comments I have ever seen in my brief lurking career.

My reactions are that Australia is in an extraordinarily comfortable position regarding energy compared with almost any other country in the world.
- We have abundant fossil fuel resources to keep ourselves going through transition stages and to use as bargaining chips for essential imports
- We have adequate food resources even allowing for rainfall changes and fertiliser shortages
- We have world-best wind, solar, wave and probably hot-rock geothermal resources
- We have a can-do culture once the nation agrees there is a big problem to be solved

Think about it. Would you rather be in Japan, the UK, the USA, Canada or almost any other country when TSHTF?

I think it is easy to over-state Australia's internal tyranny of distance issues. Radical rethinking of domestic transport will happen fast when oil shortages start to bite, and we will quickly learn to do things differently - turn the clock back 60-100 years and send more freight via coastal shipping and rail for example. Of course there will be awkward infrastructure gaps and shortages of ships, rail wagons, etc, etc. We will get around such problems.

The remote farmer issue can be over-emphasised because the number of people in that category is very small. A large proportion of today's fuel use is personal transport as indicated by the ABARE petroleum fuels use data for 2005-06 below, and most of us live in cities.

Sector PJ Percent
Transport subtotal 1,302 69%
Road transport 1,019 of which Passenger vehicles 642, Light trucks 158, Big trucks 200, Buses 19
Rail transport 27
Water transport 54
Air transport 202
Industry 244 13%
Mining 147 8%
Agriculture 86 5%
Lubes, bitumen, solvents 63 3%
Commerce & services 25 1.3%
Residential (mainly LPG) 12 0.6%
Total 1,879 100%

My reading of the global oil depletion picture suggests that the world, given luck, could maintain about half of today's 85 million barrels/day for at least two or three decades to come. The above usage profile suggests to me that a sufficiently motivated Australia can manage an orderly transition to much lower oil use and much more dependence on largely renewable electricity sources over a 20-year transition period. Renewable electricity generation technologies are available now - there is no mystery about them. In the absence of a cost on carbon, technologies like wind, solar, etc, are currently more expensive than burning gas or coal. Specific technology choices for electricity generation and for transportation will unfold quickly once the need is inescapable. Of course there will be import supply and cost issues with fancy battery technologies, solar cells and the like. Solve them when we hit them.

You are right about the importance of resilience, and I believe we in Australia can be sufficiently resilient. You also are right about the technical challenges being easiest.

The key issue right now is the absence of a compelling "peak and depletion" storyline that generates community engagement and the ground-swell of emotional commitment that is needed to drive political and business "leaders" to take notice and do things. There are encouraging signs but we are not there yet. From 15 years of global warming experience we know what doesn't work - gloom, doom, facts, figures and finger-pointing without connection to people's day-to-day lives. I suspect a dramatic oil shortage shock will be needed to make depletion understood by everybody and part of daily conversation.

Cheers, Mark

Help! Can anyone tell me how to post a jpg or a data table that stays readable without all the columns collapsing?
Tks, Mark

If the image is on the web somewhere you can display it here (and most other places) by using HTML, like so:

<*A HREF="">Text you want diplayed<*/A> <-- as a link
<*IMG SRC=""*> <-- as an image
<*A HREF=""><*IMG SRC=""*><*/A> <-- as an image that links to another page or a bigger version of the image

In all cases, remove the '*' from my examples.

Thanks for that comment Anawhata

Shipping is where the future lies for Australia, IMy family has been involved in naval architecture for generations, and I have been building electric powered boats for 20 years, From canoes, to retro fitting almost any water craft you care to name, Most really big Ships are electric, and the internal combustion engines are just generators. The reason why they dont take advantage of solar and wind is because of time constraints on the shipping rather than costs. Electric refits are most suitable for any displacement hull vessel, and are bot only very easy to do, but save thousands of dollars in maintenance costs. The technology for this is there and has been on the shelf for about 10 years. If people can except unexpected shipping delays randomly of uo to 2 weeks, we could do all our shipping without using a single drop of oil. For private transportation, from canoes to car sized boats with displacement hulls, you are looking at a maximum speed of about 15 kph, with a daily run time of about 4 hours without needing to use an external power source. So if you live near the water do the math, and se if this is a feasable alternative.

If you wait until the "real" crisis comes it will be too late, as panic decisions will be made.

I've talked about the "long-term" solution, which is to use the seawatergreenhouse technique and AVEs to push back the desert from enclaves at the sea from where the higher partial pressure (fugacity or activity) of water can be used to push the "dry-line" (point of 40% RH) from the shore to more inland locations. One good enclave would be the southwest where better management of the existing watershed could start to do this. In the short term, it will probably be necessary to reduce food crop production for export from the region. From the south, Eyre, and the west (Shark Bay), the "sea water solution" could be part of the solution, pumping seawater inland, using cheap power from AVE installations. It's also possible to use this as a "geoengineering solution" by producing cloud cover to lower evaporation rates.

Now, I propose a practical, economic, short-term solution for electricity production. If Australia has the same problem as the US,your demand maximized in the summer at the hottest hours of the day. You probably have simple-cycle natural gas fired plants to meet this demand, with efficiency of ~30%. Well, for about the same price as the turbine plant, it would be easy to pipe the hot tailgas directly into a new Atmospheric Vortex Engine, equipped with it's own, air powered turbines. The tailgas would be diluted with air, having its own CAPE.

Not only would the power output be nearly doubled with the "free" waste heat, you would also be harvesting "free" convective energy from the troposphere. All this power would coincide with peak demand, so no additional "reserve" capacity would be required.

Also, you don't need HDR (yet) by combining an AVE with existing low-temp geothermal resources, which are abundant, you can produce power from both the geothermal and CAPE in one unit.

pumping seawater inland

I'm not sure we should be trying to save ourselves at the further expense of inland environments.

If the Greenland Ice Sheet collapses the outback might be submerged anyway. ;)

I think you fundamentally misunderstand what I am suggesting. About one-third to one half of the sea water would be evaporated, with the concentrate returned to the sea, also by pipeline. At the beginning, were only talking about sending seawater a few kilometers inland where seawater greenhouses could thrive. As the "dry line" is pushed inland, perhaps in certain locations some solar ponds could also be established, as long as they could never mix with fresh ground water supplies. One study showed that the Dead Sea water quality would be improved if mixed with water from the Mediterranean.

Why pump in millions of tons of CO2 (and particulate) using combustion gas turbines? I don't understand. Yes, it's much better than coal but it still puts you into the finite-fossil game chaising your tail.

With it's huge coast line, the country is ideal for nuclear energy. I know there is a certain ingrained opposition to this from most Aussies, but an irrational fear is not a justification for inaction...and inaction is what the current gov't plans: just burn more coal. Nuclear plants could eliminate 50% of your CO2 emissions. Very LITTLE CO2 is produced from modern uranium mining techniques and more and more of this could be electrified.

As someone noted, the advanced liquid fluoride thorium reactors would produce their own fuel. Waste is only .1% of that of standard current generation (III) reactors. No proliferation issues. It takes ONE TON of natural thorium to run one of these reactors at 1000 MWs for a year...ONE TON per YEAR!. That's four guys with shovels digging enough of Australia's abundent thorium resource between breakfast and lunch to run a reactor for a year. Really.

You can then use th high temperature process heat from these reactors, which can be scaled DOWN to 5 MWs if you wanted, and use it in production of liquid fuels. Heat can be a wonderful thing. The waste heat from the turbine, which is much hotter than from a conventional steam turbine since the hot gas doesn't have to be cooled that much, can desalinate salt water *as a byproduct!*.


With it's huge coast line, the country is ideal for nuclear energy.

There seems to be a typo in your comment - maybe it should have read "With its huge coast line, the country is ideal for wind and wave energy".

Or maybe you meant, "With its huge swathes of desert, the country is ideal for solar thermal power"...

Surely no one wants to continue the extract, burn, deal with waste issues problems model of energy production for much longer ?

Why choose more expensive and unreliable wind and solar over nuclear? It makes no sense. Additionally, you can't run the grid on these sources, maybe 20% for wind, 30% for solar, without the huge expense of heat storage capability.

The long coast line along with the majority of the population along the same coast line makes nuclear ideal.

Waste, as it is everywhere, is only waste is you want to get rid of it. Reprocessing, recylcing and soon, reuse directly into reactors is one way to reduce the volume and reactivity of this spent fuel. Eventually, with alread-proven MSRs, one produces .1% of the waste that current nuclear plants do, and it's only dangerous for 300 years. Very easy to manage. Currently spent fuel is managed, unlike, say, the waste that comes from the highly toxic solar cell industry or, from geothermal (which, I'm for, because the vast tons of waste, mostly sulpher and heavy metals...can be managed) and other forms of renewables that few like to talk about.

Oz can go nuclear within in 20 years and shut ever coal plant down. Period.

David Walters

What part of "cutting fuel consumption in half" for a given output of electricity is not understandable to you? I used the example of peaking gas turbines as just one of many, because it happens to coincide with peak demand. I have mentioned in the past that it is also applicable to wast heat produced at nuclear plants, or any other heat producer for that matter.

It's not required to build new plants of any kind to apply this technology (Atmosopheric Vortex Engine). The investment requirement and time frame to receive incremental power is the lowest (by far) of any technology available.

For those of you who don't understand WHY this works, see my article at:

Then you might understand how important it is to stop tip-toeing around the 800 lb energy gorilla sitting in the room.

If you Australians would like to invite the inventor of the AVE, Louis M. Michad, to give a presentation in front of your best atmospheric scientists, I would be willing to pledge $50 to defray the cost. Any other contributers out there?

If Australia has a problem with liquid fuels go back to the Scientific Advisory Panel you assembeled in the 1970's and take their advice for a mix of methanol and gasoline known as m-85. If you wish to update this coal derived fuel add some Di methyl ether which you can also make easily from your coal reserves.

The sequestration of the carbon dioxide off gases is your only real issue and you can handle this for a price aqnd still have m0otor fule well below current costs.

Copy the Chinese as they are Gun Ho on this rather simple transformation. The US is just stupid and inhibited/controlled by the petroleum industry. Thank your Pres. Bush for nothing in the national interest.

Resilience has fallen out of favour, we currently favour "efficiency" instead, but there is a danger inherent in this efficiency. Just-in-time inventories and single points of failure offer great economic advantages when they work, but they are not the correct model for the turbulent times ahead.

This point about favoring resilience over efficiency is well taken, but it ingores the underlying cause which drives us to choose the latter over the former: We are all tring to get individually richer as fast as we can. The growth paradigm has to be changed if we have any hope of adapting to the energy crisis. As long as the path to material security of individuals and families lies in 'storing up wealth' then the desire for economic growth will continue unabated. Only when our future security depends on the community and not on our individual wealth accumulating activities will we give proper priority to preserving and enhancing the value of the commons.