Jobs in the Energy Business

To steal a phrase “It is the best of times, it is the worst of times,” although the rest of the opening to A Tale of Two Cities (“It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,”) may also be appropriate. It is also interesting, and will become more so as the new Administration seeks to find a way forward out of the compounding problems that now face it. The WSJ has noted the statements by President-elect Obama earlier:

On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama argued that spending $150 billion over the next decade to boost energy efficiency would help create five million jobs. The jobs would include insulation installers, to make houses more energy-efficient, wind-turbine builders, to displace coal-fired electricity, and construction workers, to build greener buildings and upgrade the electrical grid.

It goes on to note that if renewable energy is only brought on-line to displace conventional coal power, then the net job losses from existing industries may well offset the gains in wind power. That topic brought a discussion in comments a couple of days ago. It is, however, perhaps worth pursuing in a little more detail.

There has been, for example, a suggestion that employing more folk in the wind industry will reduce employment, due to a drop in demand from the coal and related industries. And with such sentiments it becomes apparent, again, that many folk just don’t, as yet, appreciate the coming problems in the magnitude of the shortage of supply of fuel. As Leanan noted, the old Maytag plant in Newton is now building turbine blades, ultimately to employ 500 folk.
Newton boasts two wind energy firms, and Iowa is one of the leading wind producing states in the country. TPI joins wind turbine manufacturing facilities in Cedar Rapids (Clipper Windpower), West Branch (Acciona Energy North America) and Fort Madison (Siemens Power Generation).

Yet in terms of significant impact into the national need it is still going to be quite small, in the near term.

In the recent election Missouri voted and passed their own target for the future:

Shall Missouri law be amended to require investor-owned electric utilities, cooperative utilities, and certain municipal utilities to generate or purchase electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydropower with the renewable energy sources equaling at least 2% of retail sales by 2011 increasing incrementally to at least 15% by 2021, including at least 2% from solar energy; and restricting to no more than 1% any rate increase to consumers for this renewable energy?

It passed overwhelmingly and brings Missouri into line with more than half the rest of the states. At present Missouri gets more than 80% of its power from coal, but has seen significant investment in wind over the past few years.

Tom Carnahan, president of Wind Capital Group, leads the charge here developing the state’s first wind farms. Wind Capital began erecting Suzlon S88 turbines in Gentry County in June 2006. Today dozens of towers rise from the state’s breezy northwestern plains where sleek white blades spin high above grazing cattle and row crops. Four projects totaling about 163 megawatts of capacity are complete. Their high-tech pinwheels generate electricity used by both nearby towns and cities hundreds of miles away. They represent about $200 million in investment by Wind Capital and financing partner John Deere Wind Energy, but that’s just the beginning, according to Carnahan.

Taken with the unique selling of the technology by Boone Pickens there is already a tremendous impetus behind moves to grow the industry and, in turn, displace, not initially coal, but rather natural gas. (Though the Pickens program itself is in a little bit of a bind because of the credit crunch.) Whether the natural gas will still be around to be displaced remains an unanswered question, since current development of the Marcellus shale is still getting under way, and the operational lifetime of the wells is still to be determined. Interestingly the estimate for the 12 horizontal wells that Atlas is currently drilling is around $25 million. They plan on drilling another dozen after these 12 are complete.

Yet wind is already causing some reduction, if only slight on a national scale, in coal use.

Dairyland has since developed an alternative plan that reduces the byproducts by using a different coal blend, said Chuck Sans Crainte, vice president, generation. However, the new, lower-energy coal blend will reduce the electricity output of the Genoa power plant, which will be offset by power purchased from a new wind farm in Iowa, purchased power from a biomass-fueled plant being developed in Cassville and Dairyland's share of power generated by a new power generator near Wausau, he said in a statement.

Wind itself is not without its critics, and sites that criticize the industry are likely to grow in numbers. Talking to a colleague from Germany recently, he mentioned that concerns there seemed to be on the increase as the industry has grown larger.

Yet, even if the industry is to grow as much as projected over the years, it is unlikely in the short-term to either effect changes in fossil fuel industrial employment or in fossil fuel energy production, by itself. Yet within the next four years, it has probably the most potential for significant impact on both power and employment of the renewable options. Certainly a study of Australian conditions suggested the potential for the future.

. . .as a result of automation, employment in the coal mining industry fell by 45% between 1987 and 2002. Moreover, as a result of the restructuring of the electricity industry as a whole, employment in the industry plunged by 50% during the 1990s. By serving as a substitute for coal power, the wind power industry, with 50% local content in dollar terms, already creates two to three times the number of direct, local job-years per kWh generated than coal power. . .

Given the investments that are currently being made in the installation of new farms it will be interesting to see how additional Federal investment can significantly impact that growth rate. More to the point may be investments in the grid to take advantage of this potential power source, since the grid will act as the “battery of last resort” when for a variety of reasons the weather won’t co-operate.

Apparently there may or may not be problems with them operating, for example, in a blizzard, which is good, since New Zealand has joined Tibet and Alaska, to name but two, in having unexpectedly heavy snows and storms this year. In Manitoba 10 of the 63 turbines were transiently affected as winds got above 72 km/hr. On the other hand, as more of the nation comes to rely on their power, the grid must be sufficient to supply power when the wind is either too strong or non-existent.

And for much of that power over the next couple of decades, I strongly suspect we will still have to plan on the use of coal for most of the electric power that we need. Though the industry may not use the tens of thousands of men that it did when I started, it is likely to continue to need an increasing number, as the energy problems around the world become more evident. It will remain difficult to overcome the problem of scale, particularly as the liquid fuels supply diminishes, and efforts, and thus employment, to find larger numbers of increasingly smaller production sites increase.

Which leaves me wondering where all the five million new jobs will go - though I also suspect that this may depend on who does the counting.

Oil Production Will Not Be Cut

It's a classic example of Prisoner's Dilemma (Link Via Wikipedia)

The only way they will cut production is when they are forced and the only way they will be forced is if they have no where to store the oil they pump.

Owner Earnings At Blogspot

cutting production may not be by design. for example if a field is in decline and the operator has to ration capital, the work to restore production may go undone for now.

i fully believe the saudis will cut simply because they like to have excess capacity.

this may be an opportunity for many to do maintenance work that has been put off during the recent blow and go.

all factors that have nothing to do with storage capacity.

I think you're right. It seems to me that oil will become increasingly difficult to find, reach, extract, and process. That, in turn, would seem to imply that there would be more, albeit possibly different, work in the oil industry, not less. At least not for a long time to come.

Frankly, coal and gas have the same dynamic over time, as do all other finite resources. Until the cost of additional labor or technology or energy makes the recovery economically unfeasible, they will continue to do what they do.

It's a classic example of Prisoner's Dilemma

No - it's an example of Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma, as whichever countries you're talking about (OPEC/consumers/whoever) can freely react to the actions taken by each other.

This is important, as Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma has very different properties than a single run of the game; from your own link:

"Amongst results shown by Nobel Prize winner Robert Aumann in his 1959 paper, rational players repeatedly interacting for indefinitely long games can sustain the cooperative outcome.
Axelrod discovered that when these encounters were repeated over a long period of time with many players, each with different strategies, greedy strategies tended to do very poorly in the long run while more altruistic strategies did better, as judged purely by self-interest."

By serving as a substitute for coal power, the wind power industry, with 50% local content in dollar terms, already creates two to three times the number of direct, local job-years per kWh generated than coal power

This is really what it boils down to, and it's a pretty straightforward argument. Some people just don't have the gift of reason; others are just dishonest, or have an interest in being dishonest.
Let's hope this group continues to shrink in the future.

It goes on to note that if renewable energy is only brought on-line to displace conventional coal power, then the net job losses from existing industries may well offset the gains in wind power.

Just a few words about the situation in the oil industry. When I was in the North Sea - in fact I was still there at this time last year - we had horrible manpower shortages. Many projects were delayed because there simply weren't enough people to execute them. While that has eased a bit as oil and gas prices have fallen and projects have been postponed or cancelled, I can see jobs being added in the alternative energy sector without impacting jobs in the oil industry in a one to one fashion. Were the industry at full employment levels, I would agree with the premise.

A little over a year ago I wrote an essay documenting the situation in Scotland:

Peak Manpower

Note that because the average oil industry worker is in their 50's, we may be facing more severe shortages within 10 years.

Two of the things I most worry about are shortages of petroleum engineers and shortages of nuclear engineers. Steel and other raw materials are relatively easy to get--experienced engineers are not. If I were emperor, I'd hire back the retired engineers to teach a greatly expanded cohort of engineering students in universities.

It takes a decade to educate and train on the job an engineer in the energy industry. I wonder how many experienced engineers the U.S. will be able to import, because we are not producing nearly enough in domestic universities. Indeed, many of our engineering students in the U.S. are foreigners who will go back to their native countries.

Engineering used to be a high-status profession, and the best students went into fields such as chemical engineering. Of course, when oil prices took a tumble, then there were no jobs for the chemical or petroleum engineers, so perhaps the "feast or famine" nature of the business has driven away many potential students.

Engineers keep industrial society going. In my opinion, none of our future problems is worse than the looming lack of engineers in various energy businesses.

Engineers keep industrial society going. In my opinion, none of our future problems is worse than the looming lack of engineers in various energy businesses.

I'm not sure it is the single greatest problem, but it certainly makes it onto my shortlist. I think the upside of our current economic turmoil may be a significant attitude change among the young. Hopefully the percieved value of jobs that actually create something of values, rather than fight over it -or simply entertain will soon be on the rise. Given the unexpected change in the US, from anti-intellectual government, to intellectual government, we will have to wait and see what transpires.

Don, enemy, what you're calling for is selfless altruism: Young people can work less hard in college and get better jobs with more upward mobility if they eschew engineering altogether.

I know it's different in Germany, but here in the US of A the rewards go to those who manipulate resources, not those who create them. Salary, promotions, and plain old control over your destiny are withheld from those who are viewed as interchangeable cogs in the great profit-making machine. Technical specialists, no matter how highly trained and experienced, are still viewed as the Enlisted Class by the Officer Corps.

After all, a GM or a VW isn't in business to make cars, their only raison d'être is making money, and cars are nothing more than a waste product of that enterprise. The means to the end is therefore to pinch back your expenses - meaning payroll - as much as possible while continuing to roll product out the door. Who cares if it's a short-sighted approach? Any Board of Directors that lets profits sag because they're investing in the future will be out the door long before their approach is vindicated.

None of this should be news to anyone here - I learned these lessons myself the hard way. You'd a thunk that a Stanford Ph.D. in Chemistry and a dozen patents would engender a little respect after thirty years, but you'd be wrong. So now I've abandoned all productive work, and my income has risen dramatically ever since. I can't get over this cognitive dissonance as I'm tugged between the extremes of judgment in "wasting my life" vs. seeing my work used to kill innocent people and enrich company leaders who are little more than hideous caricatures of bloated self-indulgence.

I'm sorry; was that harsh? As Lily Tomlin said, "No matter how cynical you get, it's impossible to keep up."

Don, enemy, what you're calling for is selfless altruism: Young people can work less hard in college and get better jobs with more upward mobility if they eschew engineering altogether.

I think Don, and I expect many of these nonproductive jobs to go away. That still remains to be seen. But clearly many jobs in the financial system are going away. Thats a rather substantial attitude change of course. There will surely be resistance to it.

Don't forget the huge unproductive brain-drain from Uncle Sam's Military-Industrial-Political Complex. Ike is rolling in his grave. Uncle Sugar is absolutely desperate to hire more Federal Civil Servants (Formerly known as General Schedule, or 'GS' employees, now NSPS {Nt'l Security Personnel System)...Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Savanna River, Hanaford, Pacific National Labs, and on and on. And then there are the contractors...lions and tigers and bear oh my! The vast majorities of these scientists and engineers need to be US citizens, and they are working on better ways to kill folks instead of better ways to conserve energy and provide more environmentally friendly energy and so forth. If that isn't bad enough, I authenticate that the 'managers' in this gigantic unproductive enterprise make far more than most of the PhD scientists and engineers...for making and presenting Power Point slides and such.

I don't want to hear the foderol that there aren't enough scientists and engineers to work in solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear energy, efficiency technologies, and power transmission...if we were to pull the throttle back 25% on our atrocious 'National (in)Security' budgets, we could do all that and more! Of course, Uncle Sam, and his 'Don't tax me one nickel (unless it is for 'National Defense' then we will give you everything you want and ignore you losing track of $2T over 15 years) taxpayers would have to re-allocate this level of effort to these energy and other sustainability technologies.

We spend more on 'National Defense' than the rest of the world combined, and have for some time now, with no letup in sight. Obama and his coterie of Democrats will not have the _alls to reduce the 'Defense' budget by even 10%...they know that the right-wing attack dog machine would pounce and the scared grandmas and soccer moms with the faded 'support our troops' magnets and stickers would run for safe have under the Republican's 'Big Daddy' 'Defense' umbrella, and all would be well again in Military-Industrial-Political Complex-Land. If the people needed extra convincing, then another 'attack' would magically happen.

Talk about cognitive dissonance...I dearly would love to work in the sustainable energy industries...where are they? They are but a mote of dust next to the M-I-P Complex job base. M-I-P Complex jobs pay a lot more and unfortunately will be around forever (or until our society collapses).

We spend more on 'National Defense' than the rest of the world combined..

Oh, how I wish we could come to our senses. But in Luntz type opinion sampling, "keeping America strong" polls better than anything else. And remember the primaries, where Hillary, and Obama felt obliged to out-tough each other. This security fetish is deeply embedded within the culture. Politicians chip away at it at their peril.

I remember when things first started going south in Iraq. In conservative circles, it was routinely blamed on Clinton, for cutting the military. And the popularity of military conflict themes in the entertainment media just re-inforces the meme -that the best/only way to solve conflict is violence. And of course it is also so much better plotwise to have all your opponents being totally evil, wouldn't want any moral dilemmas to intrude on the satisfaction of killing the bad guys.

We have actually tried to do that (hire retired engineers as faculty) but not with a lot of success. It continues to be very difficult to find, let alone recruit good folk for faculty positions in the extractive fuels business (mining, nuclear petroleum). At the same time it is becoming very difficult to find good qualified graduate students, and the American industry has not had a good history of supporting meaningful research at Universities, which compounds both problems. Add to which my class sizes are about doubling (one of the reasons I am no longer as controversial) and you may realize why those of us getting up to about that age aren't thinking as much of more teaching, but rather of the wood stove, and the hot chocolate, and the gentle music of violins in the background.

The lack of good graduate students is critical--especially a few years down the line when we will need to dramatically increase the number of engineers that we are educating.

Forty or more years ago, when I was in the MBA program at U.C., Berkeley, we had a number of engineers in the program. They were tired of being second class citizens and wanted to move up into management, where they would get more money and a lot more respect.

During the first half of the twentieth century engineers had a lot of status, and many boys (and a few girls) dreamed about becoming engineers; they were the heroes of science fiction stories in the forties and the fifties. Indeed, "Astounding Science Fiction" was written largely by, for, and about engineers in an exciting future.

But since the end of the sixties, finance and law have been the prestige areas--as a result of which we have hundreds of thousands of useless parasitic lawyers and similar numbers of MBAs in finance; these are the people who drove great banks and brokerage houses into the ground.

My guess is that we will have to import huge numbers of engineers, because we are not producing anywhere near enough of them in the U.S.

hundreds of thousands of useless parasitic lawyers and similar numbers of MBAs in finance

You say "parasite" like it's a bad thing. Remember, parasitism is one of the more successful forms of mutualism; a certain percentage of humans are always trying to "achieve" this form. A lot of "religious workers" are just as parasitic as MBAs and lawyers.

parasitism is one of the more successful forms of mutualism

Parasitism and mutualism are mutually exclusive; parasitism harms the host, mutualism helps both.

A lot of "religious workers" are just as parasitic as MBAs and lawyers.

I don't see much use for religion, but churches haven't managed to worm themselves into every corner of business and trade the way the MBAs and lawyers have.

Parasitism and mutualism are mutually exclusive; parasitism harms the host, mutualism helps both.

If we look at parasitism among lifeforms, it often evolves into something resembling mutualism. I think the distinction is not so clear cut. Even some forms that look like pure parasitism, can sometimes be observed to help the host -perhaps only in unusual circumstances. The parasites may defend the host against an occasional external threat. In any case, it is in the interest of the parasite, that the host survive, and possibly even prosper. So even for initially pure parasitic relationships in human societies, and not just in nature, there exists the possibility to negotiate a more cooperative relationship.

Don -

Engineering was never really a high-status profession in the US. Glorified mechanics was all they ever were. In fact, very little of engineering is, or was, even a true profession. The vast majority of engineers have been employees of medium to large corporations or large engineering and construction firms. Some, but not very many, engineers have gone into business for themselves as consultants, but that situation usually eventually degenerates into being a contract employee to one or two large corporations. It's really tough to make it on your own as an engineer.

As an engineer spawned out of the last throes of the slide-rule era, I can not in good conscience advise any young American person to go into engineering.

Why the hell bother? The academic curriculum is a bitch; most of the work you will be doing will be boring, tedious, and soul-numbing; the company you work for will treat you as an expendable commodity; and you will always be under the threat of being replaced by some imported Indian or Paki work-visa engineer. Is this worth pulling all-nighters for a heat transfer exam?

No wonder so many bright young Americans have wasted their God-given talents pursuing the golden calf on Wall Street rather than trying to do something of tangible use by becoming an engineer (though most engineers seldom do anything truly useful, but rather function to keep the corporate cogs well lubricated and turning).

I have seen many excellent engineers strive to become 'management', get a half-assed MBA from some second-rate college, and then become mediocre, marginally competent 'managers'. Why do people tend to denigrate what they are truly good at yet envy that which they have no talent for?

The only sort of engineering I could ever get enthused about was the sort of grass-roots stuff practiced in and around the Victorian Era. Things were new, possibilities seemed endless, and faith in the wonders of technology was absolute. Though we soon learned better, that still must have been a great time to be an engineer. I also admire those heady days of the early space race.

But today, who knows? Engineers have very little to do with the control of resourses and are thus not in a position to call the shots. Those who do call the shots (mostly politically oriented lawyers and financial types) are generally completely ignorant of scientific physical realities.

All this hardly matters, as we are going have a whole mess of very talented unemployed engineers before too long.

My experience was a bit better. That is probably a result of computing being a fairly new field which is still rapidly changing. It is also an important core competency for much of engineering and science. But it too is becoming more tedious. Where before we were attacking new things, and a few clever ideas could take you far. More and more now it is just complexity wrapped in complexity, covering up more complexity.


I disagree on many levels. The only thing I didn't enjoy about being an undergraduate engineering student was the astronomical cost. The academic side of it all was fascinating and has provided me alot of knowledge I feel could help me survive fairly soon. The challenge of studying long hours was part of the reason I went.

In the not so distant future, those skill will become far more valuable than accounting or finance. Money does you no good if you don't know how to effectively utilize resources in a tangible way. Call it leverage. The leverage that engineers have over management will increase very soon, especially considering the shortages that we're talking about. This might first be manifest by increases in salaries relative to other positions.

Just from an ethical standpoint it was better to choose engineering over finance or management. The fact is, the future doesn't come easy, and it takes intelligence, diligence, and planning to make it happen.

I'm confident that my mundane cube shaped day-cage will soon be replaced by something far more stimulating (albeit far more perilous).

Ah, the optimism of youth. As an older engineer, my experience says you're wrong. The guys presently with the prestige and the money will not go silently into the night; as joule said the remains of engineering as a profession will be thrown overboard to keep the financial types afloat. The coming wave of layoffs should show pretty quickly where we're going.

The only sort of engineering I could ever get enthused about was the sort of grass-roots stuff practiced in and around the Victorian Era.

If you get stuck with Victorian-era technology, don't complain! ;)

most engineers seldom do anything truly useful, but rather function to keep the corporate cogs well lubricated and turning

I must not know most engineers, then.  Most every engineering job I've ever seen anyone do was involved with making things work to legal requirements and customer expectations, and hiding the details so it all looks seamless and is easy to operate.

Those who do call the shots (mostly politically oriented lawyers and financial types) are generally completely ignorant of scientific physical realities.

Those realities are coming to the fore, and enterprises led by people who neither understand them nor have advisors who do will fail miserably unless they are subsidized.

are going have a whole mess of very talented unemployed engineers before too long.

And lots of them have garages.  Expect interesting results.

Interesting comments Don. I have been teaching Senior Science and Maths for over 30 years and I'm afraid the situation is bleak. Interest in the former has been minimal for many years as students have taken the soft options of service industries or
economics- even those that went onto Science-related degrees ended up being stolen
by the finance industries' promise of high wages and status. Perhaps some retraining
for the best of these may offer some promise.

I loved maths and science in high school, and am at present doing an undergrad in Actuarial studies. It's true that my decision to choose the more finance based maths was purely based on money, I could have chosen pure maths or a science degree. I regret my choice now as I've realized how utterly pointless and what a sham finance really is. Hoping to now do a Masters in something that would actually be useful in a post-peak world but there is the sense that I've wasted precious time. If I'd known back than what I know now...sigh. Lots of my friends are not getting jobs in finance/ banking, really smart guys ,their talent wasted on a field thats set to diminish greatly.

Lets see; there are 6 billion people on earth and increasing at some ridiculous rate, but companies can't hire people in the following fields:

nurse, pilot, doctor, plumber, oil field worker, cobbler, petroleum geologist, farm workers, wind turbine installers & maintenance, solar installers, construction, carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, labourers, engineers (nuclear, civil, chemical).

That took 30 seconds, I suspect others could add a few.

Just curious, but what are all those people doing?

Are there that many estheticians, video game designers and stock brokers out there?

A very large fraction of the 6 billion are literally not intelligent enough to perform the high-end jobs (national average IQ as low as 70, when you need a minimum of 120 for a technical job).  You can get all the rough carpenters and landscapers you want (a lot have gone back to Mexico).  Petroleum geologists and nuclear engineers are going to be kinda scarce unless and until the country stops treating them as disposable commodities which can be fired and hired to suit the immediate market conditions; people with the brains to do those jobs also have the brains to go where they're treated better.

I know of another line of work in the U.S. critical to the functioning of civilization, and is a kind of energy harvesting, where the workforce is aging (average 60 years old) and training of replacements is poor, with an additional disadvantage...the pay is horrible.

Anybody want to guess what that profession might be?

That's easy. Farming.


Antoinetta III

Soylent the movie, the Soylent Corporation Oceanographic Survey Report of 2025 was kept secret from the people and documented that the oceans were dying. In real world 2008 these reports have been public and document phenomena that are actually happening.,9171,877387,00.html

There are more, go find them yourself if you are interested.

But, we are successfully distracted by bread and circuses: Pro and College sports, Olympics, video game consoles, MP3 players, MySpace, FaceBook, the 'War on Christmas', the continual war on gay people and the abortion controversy, White House Intern BJs, Survivor and Dancing with the Stars, the latest scoop on what Caribou Barbie said/did/wore/will do, etc.

Once again, as with sustainable energy issues, the Democrat sheeple have been bitten in the arse one too many times by the opposition and will not push any kind of meaningful environmental agenda...for blowhards such as Limbaugh will use their three-hour-per day sermons to the brain-dead to scream about left-wing, liberal, feminazi, environazi, socialists, communist, secret Muslim extremists out to take away your GOD GIVEN RIGHTS (Rush's shouting, not mine) to consume all you like because the 'free market' of glorious capitalism, in the greatest country on Earth, as favored by GOD, will prevail. And the flocks in the pews in the great, mall-sized mega-churches will sing hallelujah and revel in the gospels of prosperity (He who believeth in me will surely get a McMansion and a new SUV!)! And the folks in the tiny little churches in the sticks will say that God will provide, and if he doesn't, it must be time for Revelation anyway, and the believers will all go to a better place and this Earth matters not.

Of course we don't have enough scientists and engineers. Two broad forces have killed them off: 1) Self-absorption in the lazy pleasures of consumption, avoiding any semblance of hard work studying science and engineering, and of fast-track make a buck (wall-street, import tainted crap from PRC prison laborers and child laborers)management/finance career fantasies promulgated by the business mags and by Hollywood movies, and 2)The disavowing of science by the fundamentalist religious right.

Gutter bums.

But I expect to see a bunch of young folks joining us any day now.


... critical to the functioning of civilization?

Absolutely. Who else will beautify yer cities by picking up cigarette butts and recyclable litter like beer bottles?

Future jobs = expansion of the electrical grid.

If ordinary citizens were producing electricity and selling it to the utilities for extra income, they would regard this as a sacrament, even if it wasn't a lot of income. Look at the way people obsess over the stocks in their 401ks - they support policies that hurt themselves as workers because they think they'd come out ahead as stockholders.

Then their political weight would defeat resistance from the coal lobby, and extra jobs from producing and installing the wind turbines and solar arrays would come. It's actually not the most efficient way to go about all this, but it's good politics.

That's exactly what we have here meanwhile in Germany. There are roughly 1 Million on rooftop PV installations and ca. 22,000 MW windpower. Not only the PV installations are privately owned and financed by the in feed law, the wind turbines are still mainly owned by private investors.
The political support can be found in any kind of political party because the existing industry benefits more and more and no party wants to slash a business where far more than 100.000 families have their income.
I don't know exact numbers but environmental techologies in the renewable market are really a good business, especially when regarding the export business.

Meanwhile even the large utiliy companies invest in wind energy. There are around 50 offshore wind farms planned in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Once these are finished and the new transmission lines are installed, there will be around 1/3 or even more share in renewable energy here in Germany.

There are many jobs in this business. Farmers can earn more money and this money keeps inside the country and in the rural area instead in Russia or the Near East....

It would be good for the world and the USA (environmentally and economically) if the same is going to happen there.

Hey Marotti32,

I can really understnd what you are saying. I am one of those with PV on my roof.
I can generate double the electricity I need ( on yearly basis).
Storage is the only problem. A lot of folks here cite that as the reason why PV won't work. But we are so close. Today I just finished replacing fridges and freezer's that use 4 times the power that the new ones need. 12 hours without power and the freezer is still ok ( stored coolant).

It is not such a large step before I do not need RWE to burn brown coal to generate my electric.

And jobs, we are in this problem now because people are being "occupied" and not being put to work.

Instead of clipping poodles toe nails, let them insulate houses.

It will be difficult, but I am sure we can transition to a renewable power source as long as we don't expect ........ well what do we expect ?

It would be great if you would clarify a few things so that the rest of us can have more idea of the situation.
1)How much power do you generate, what does it cost (installation, maintenance etc) and what is the profile over the year?
2)What is your usage, and it's profile?
3)Where do you live? (it makes a lot of difference to solar, obviously)

Any info would be very helpful - thanks!

@ DaveMart.

The PV system is rated at 6.4 KWp. Where I live (in Germany at the same latitude as London, England) I can expect to generate a little over 6,000 KWh in a year.
I currently use a little over 4,000 KWh in a year. I am working on reducing that, hence the more efficient fridges. To reduce some what more I could ditch the tropical auquarium, but my wife is not agreeable to this ;-)
Hot water for the washing machine, dishwasher and kitchen comes from electric.
Cost of the PV system was €38,000 including tax. The government will repay 19% of the tax bill (VAT in England).
Maintenance is practically zero. Electronics can and do break, we will just have to wait and see.

As I said before, storage is the problem. I will generate much more in summer than in winter. Although, on a fine winters day I can also generate 20 KWh.

Here in Germany it rains a lot in winter, so maybe hydro is a good support system. In the summer when there is less rain, all the extra PV electricity could be stored using hydro. I am no expert on these things. I just get the feeling we are so close to finding real solutions.

Where did I get the €38,000 ? Easy, a year ago I sold my stocks to buy the PV system. I think my PV system is worth far more now than any of the stocks I had. I guess I can thank TOD for that decision.

Thanks for the info.
It sounds to me as though you are using something else, perhaps gas, for the heating in your house?

Unfortunately storage is a real issue, and does not even apply to the difference between summer and winter, save for systems which do the heating by having a tank of water underneath the property, usually a block of flats - it is common in Sweden.

It is useful to have pioneers such as your self, but the costs are still horrific, and if the power is generated in the summer and far less so than in the winter the total efficiency of the electricity system can actually be reduced, as it will eat into the base load capacity and means more burn of variable load plant, usually gas.

However, many people live in areas where the chief problem is too much heat in summer, rather than the cold on winter, and in those areas some forms of solar are starting to approach economic usability for peak load.

To give an idea of current solar costs compared to other resources, off-shore wind in the UK is now reckoned to cost about £3.2 million MW, after intermittency that comes to around £9 million/MW of actual power supplied.

You use less than 1kw of non-intermittent supply, 6000kwh vs 8760 hours in the year, so roughly speaking your power if generated by off-shore wind might cost around Euros 8,000 for the installed capacity - you would then have to add back up, transmission costs and profit, but you might come out to around Euros 20,000 or so for power from this source, but it peaks in the winter, not the summer.

as it will eat into the base load capacity

Base load is set by minimum demand. Minimum demand is almost always on a mild spring NIGHT, at 3 to 4 AM. Zero solar production then, so solar cannot "eat into" base load.

Since combined cycle natural gas is significantly MORE efficient than coal, a switch from coal to NG will increase efficiency, not reduce it. Germany has good long term contracts with Norway and Russia for NG.


If Germany produces too much solar PV electricity, they can trade with France for nuke electricity late at night (France imports power during most summer days) or Swiss/Austrian/Norwegian hydroelectric power.

I agree that Germany needs new nukes instead of new coal powered plants, but they can also use more solar power as a supplement.

Hmm, perhaps different climates influence things.
In the UK at a similar latitude to Germany if not absolutely at the lowest point, a summer day is darn near as low as it gets.
There is not a lot of air conditioning here.

You point on the efficiency of gas is a good one, but what supplies of gas will be available in future is less certain, as is it's cost.

If you are talking about shunting production around a European grid, then it makes way more sense to put the solar collectors In Spain, Southern France and Italy than Germany.

With good water supplies Germany is a fine location for nuclear power plants, far better than some of the drier countries to the South.


It sounds to me as though you are using something else, perhaps gas, for the heating in your house?

To heat my house I use wood with gas as backup. I can even cook on the wood stove. However, most cooking is done with electric.

but the costs are still horrific

OK, my PV system is not cheap, but there are lots of people that don't think twice about paying €30,000 - 40,000 for a tin box with 4 wheels that will rust to bits within 15 years. After 20 years I still expect my panels to be producing power.

solar costs compared to other resources, off-shore wind in the UK

So, build off-shore wind. Everything helps. There is no silver bullet, just lots of plain bullets. If we fire enough of them it might just work.

Don't get me wrong, I am not dissing your efforts.
Regardless of the ultimate practicalities of solar energy production in Germany, the effort put into it will help an awful lot of people in sunnier climates, ad perhaps Germany can make some profitable sales and get some of it's money back.

It does not seem to me valid though if one attempts to ascertain the practicality of an energy system to compare it to things like people wasting money of massive cars, but to the more relevant energy alternatives.

For a start, it seems that the massive loading of debt which financed those monster trucks is rapidly unwinding, so we are in a world of much harder choices, where every Euro will count.

The second reason is that hopefully we can come up with solutions cheap enough such that poorer people, who could no way afford a SUV, will still be able to stay warm.

I generally took your comments as saying it's all well and good but it's too expensive.

I see it this way, it's my money and I can spend it how I want. Much better I spend it on PV rather than buying myself a nice little 911 Porsche. If I can make the attitude change and a whole bunch of others ( that have the spare cash) make the change, then we are making progress. We are not going to change the choices on where we get our energy from starting with people who have no money. The ones with money have to start the process.

By the way, I would like to stick a wind turbine in my garden. It's just the neighbours won't co-operate with that one. There are cases where local groups buy a wind turbine collectively in Germany. They seem to do well and end up buying the next and the next...

To the extent that it is your money, fine, but my understanding is that in fact solar installations are heavily subsidised in Germany, both in the form of tax subsidies and very high feed in tariffs.

So in practise, particularly since the power companies have to buy the electric when it is very little use to them in the summer, and return it in the winter, when they need their generating capacity, it is clear that substantial sums of money are changing hands, which arguably would be better employed in insulating the houses of the less well-off better, building more wind turbines, or indeed in virtually any other way than subsidising solar.

I do however acknowledge that the money put into solar in Germany has developed the technology far beyond where it would otherwise be. My guess is that this will primarily be useful in places where it is sunny though.

Keeping warm isn't all that difficult; sweaters, long underwear and thick socks have been used for ages.

Add some modern conveniences like electric blankets and heated gloves, and you could sit around in a house held just warm enough to keep the plumbing thawed and only get chilly while undressed (and with some strategic use of radiant heaters, not even then).

Hmmm, you just gave me an idea for the Space Blankets I bought intending to use as mirrors.

As an engineering problem keeping warm might not be a problem. As a practical matter in a damp climate with an ageing population it is difficult, with money in short supply doubly so.
With power supplies intermittent putting faith in electric blankets etc might be problematic.

I remember as a child in the 50's the clothes drying by the open fire, which warmed the form and not the back.
Many houses have not got chimneys now, and the pits are closed.
If older people have been caught out in the rain, how do they get their things properly dry without the use of tumble driers etc?

I agree that many compromises to conserve energy will be made, and am trying to collate a few of the measures which can be taken, but have little doubt that the suffering will be great in a not very smooth transition.

Some surprising results might obtain, as for instance in the past in Britain many people ate out, as they had no cooking facilities, although of course this bore little resemblance to having a meal out now, but took place at all sorts of stalls rather like hot-dog stands today.

Food kitchens might make a large come-back, as it is much more fuel efficient to cook in bulk than in family size quantities.

What's the problem with damp?  You can heat a drying rack with far less energy than it takes to heat a house.

Intermittent power supplies will affect central heat just as much as electric blankets.  However, the savings from pinpointing the heat will reduce the load on the electric system, and it's far easier to make a battery backup for an electric blanket than a house.

It is useful to have pioneers such as your self, but the costs [for solar] are still horrific

That's a relative statement. Here in the US, some people purchase large pickups and SUVs. Some also purchase large 4000+ square foot homes with marble fireplaces, granite countertops, home theaters, multi-level decks, etc, etc, where the expenses above and beyond a simple 1200 square foot home run into the $100,000s. My 2kW PV system cost less than $20,000, and I carefully selected highly energy efficient appliances and use them conservatively. I've easily paid for my system by not purchasing a $30k SUV that would cost $3000/yr in gas, and purchasing a Honda Insight instead.

I have a problem with Obama's math. If you divide $15 billion by 5 million it works out to only $3000 per job. That isn't even enough to pay for health insurance. It might cover training costs. He must be counting on substantial investment from the private sector with the federal portion being seed money.

I don't think he said 5 million jobs would be created per year. More like 5 million over the ten years for $150 million. Anyway, even that may be too low of an investment. However, just because the government subsidy does not cover the full cost of the additional job does not mean that the additional job will not be created. They could be envisioning that private capital would be sharing the cost of the additional job. Solar is currently subsidized in the state of Colorado and nationwide for that matter. This incentivizes individuals and businesses to outlay funds that, combined with the subsidy, create additional jobs. The majority of the outlay, in this instance, comes from the private economy. The government expenditure causes a total outlay that would otherwise not be expended.

Having said all that, it is a tricky exercise to compute the net effect of any expenditure that incentivizes specific types of investments. Money spend on one activity is money not spent on some other activity. That other activity may have nothing to do with industry.

There would clearly need to be a large multiplier effect for $3K per created job to do the trick. And please nore that is $3K once per job, not a $3K per job per year subsidy, which would cost many times more. I think his numbers are too small by several fold. Contrast $150B over ten years, with IEA's $13T (for oil) over a somewhat longer period. We already have significant venture capital going into alternatives of all types, and I expect that that will be a larger force than government in this arena. The government money should be spent in those places where private capital is not likely to go -at least initially, and for research, and standard setting. Direct subsidies for production IMHO are not a good way to utilize limited seed capital.

The link provided by Heading Out to a website that is very critical of the wind power industry was an interesting read. Primarily because the sources citied ranged in age from the late 1990s to 2004, with a couple in 2005. It is possible the site has not been updated since the end of 2005 or beginning of 2006.

My sense is this site, linked to above, and likely others, are stuck in the past and the authors are loathe to update them as the technology behind wind power improves each year, making some of their arguments irrelevant.

Energy decisions need to be based on current technology, and technology that is in the process of solving existing problems but not yet implemented. However, you run a serious risk by predicting the future too far out in time so caution should limit enthusiasm.

Potential sites for wind power projects create considerable controversy; controversy that is often based on outdated or incorrect data. It is human nature to base arguments, pro and con, on as much data as you can muster, without taking a critical look at it to see if it is indeed worth including (something we never do on TOD;). The result being confusion amongst those who don't contribute directly to the argument but yet have a say in proposed wind projects at the local, state and sometimes national level.

I'm hoping one of the contributors at TOD is interested in writing an article which reviews the history of wind power in the 21st century and presents an up to date explanation of how far we have come, what existing problems remain, and what the immediate future holds for wind power; perhaps using the article linked to above as a starting point. I tried searching for "wind power" on the TOD website to see if this had been done recently and was, obviously, overwhelmed by the results.

In the mean time I'm going to drive up to the wind farm North of Plattsburgh, NY to see just how loud they really are:)

You should look under my name, as I have written most about wind. Most of my wind articles are listed (in their European Tribune version, but all the more recent ones have been crossposted on TOD) on this page:


Thanks Jerome. There is enough info provided to keep me busy all weekend:)

The ugliness of a wind farm is certainly not outdated. I like the way the solitary wind generator looks, but there is something about the repetition of a farm that I just find unworkable,aesthetically.

I find it an order of magnitude more appealing that decapitated mountains, belching smokestacks, and endless slag heaps.


I for one find the massed synchrony of their movement not just appealing, but stunning. The wind farms have always been the high point, so to speak, in my trips over Altamont Pass.

Ditto, for a wind farm on I-80 in Wyoming. I pull off the highway to get close to them; the sound, to me, is as comforting as a mountain stream or the ocean. Waves and waves of energy flowing over me.

Just occasionally I would like to see a mining site shown after it has been reclaimed, rather when it is in the middle of the mining operation.

When I was much much younger we used to go here for skinnydipping and other, um, eccentric activities:,-87.309551&spn=0.0371...

Notice how green the hills are now.

I have seen reclaimed land in Kentucky before, during and after strip mining Reclaimed land has far less value (economic value, environmental value, aesthetic value) than the land before.


Presumably for every mining site that closes, another one opens. But as long as it is in someone else's backyard...

Unless topsoil is
- scraped off before mining begins
- stockpiled in a manner that precludes erosion, and
- spread evenly upon the entire surface during 'reclamation'

then the surface 'soil' is extremely nutrient-poor, and all too often, invasive species (e.g., Autumn Olive, K31 Fescue, Serecea lespedeza) are used to give the appearance of normalcy. I'd like to see how many reclaimed areas with high heavy metals concentrations are being used to grow crops, support livestock, or are returned to their pre-stripmined condition. There are efforts underway to try restore 'reclaimed' sites to ones that support original wildlife at $200 to $400 per acre, but how many of the 400+ mountaintops in Appalachia alone can or will be restored in such a manner? It would be easier to reclaim existing strip mines in a more responsible manner to begin with. In the long run, it's better to not mine that way at all.

circa 1900, those mountaintops produced as much food/acre as a wheat field with the only human effort being gathering the food (chestnuts) or just letting pigs forage for them.

Over a half century of effort to breed a blight resistant chestnut (with a parallel GM (using wheat genes) blight resistant chestnut also underway), we are within sight (10 years ?) of reintroduction of the American Chestnut into it's original range.

(Check out the photo in the middle with the man standing between two chestnut trees)

These Appalachian mountaintops were once prime habitat for Castanea dentata (almost a mono-culture on mountain tops) that produced large quantities of food (as well as fine wood). After strip mining and "reclaiming" it is doubtful if a chestnut will grow there.

We have destroyed a food source for millennium.


"..are stuck in the past and the authors are loathe to update them as the technology behind wind power improves each year, making some of their arguments irrelevant."

Just what technology is going to make the wind blow 24/7? What technology will make a wind turbine's output be at 100% when the wind is barely blowing? What recent technology allows stand by generation to actually be standing by and not already running? Is there any new technology that makes wind power not dependent upon subsidies? (Or legal mandates.) Has new technology changed the fact that facilities worldwide generally use 30-70 acres per megawatt, i.e., about 120-280 acres for every megawatt of likely average output (25% capacity factor). Please elaborate on just what arguments are now "irrelevant."

HVDC and pumped storage makes wind blow exactly when we need it.

Higher towers and bigger wind turbines exploit more power from prime locations. Just raising the tower 10 m stereotypically increases production by 8%-11% or so.

Wind is cheaper than natural gas fired electricity in windy areas when NG is $10+ thousand cu ft. (Break-even varies with a variety of factors). However, 30+% compounded growth rates## in wind (VERY socially desirable !) do require subsidies. Subsidies that get lost in rounding errors for costing Iraq or the bailouts.

*The per acre metric is almost meaningless. Farming and many other activities can continue underneath the WTs, allowing dual use of the land.

## Nuclear power (the uncriticized favorite of most of those that oppose wind) had MUCH larger subsidies and followed a similar growth curve to wind. Just give wind the same subsidies (inflation adjusted) and institutional support (Price Anderson not required for wind, but a national HV DC grid with pumped storage as a substitute for unlimited insurance coverage for free).


What technology will bestow people such as you with the gift of reason?

Regarding energy-related jobs, I think it is important to make a clear distinction between jobs associated with construction and jobs associated with operations. The former represents mostly a transient labor demand, while the latter is permanent.

For example, the building of an oil refinery generates a very large number of engineering and construction jobs. However, once it is up and running the operation of that refinery requires only a relatively small number of employees. (The refining and process industries are not very labor-intensive compared to many other industries.)

The distinction is probably even sharper for large-scale wind power. Once the turbines have been built and installed on their support structures, the amount labor required to operate and maintain even a large wind farm is relatively small.

The labor associated with PV solar is mostly a combination of manufacturing labor and installation labor. Also not very labor-intensive.

These comments are not meant as a criticism of alternative energy, but rather an attempt to point out that it would be unrealistic to expect that all those soon-to-be-unemployed auto workers are going to be put to work on wind and solar projects. Let's face it, given both the current state of the economy and our political priorities, alternative energy will be implemented at only a certain rate of capital expenditure and no faster. The notion of that creating a vast number of new jobs is wishful thinking.

These comments are not meant as a criticism of alternative energy, but rather an attempt to point out that it would be unrealistic to expect that all those soon-to-be-unemployed auto workers are going to be put to work on wind and solar projects. Let's face it, given both the current state of the economy and our political priorities, alternative energy will be implemented at only a certain rate of capital expenditure and no faster. The notion of that creating a vast number of new jobs is wishful thinking.

In the case of overcapacity in the auto industry (I do not think the sales volume will recover to previous levels), is a case where some public investment could pay off handsomely. From the standpoint of tax revenues versus expenditures, the government will lose significant revenue, and incur significant expenses per laid off employee. That means that a computation of cost benefit from the creation (of retention) of a job will look much more favorable to the government, than to private industry (for whom the externality caused by the unemployed is not a factor).

You of of course correct, that at least half of jobs created by say wind energy will not be involved in manufacturing. The auto industry has pretty strong expertise in mechanical engineering and manufacturing, which with some effort should be transferable to things like wind turbine manufacturing, and manufacturing support for a national power grid etc. But of course, the bulk of the operational jobs will be distributed throughout the country. I hope we have the wisdom to try a convert some of this manufacturing capability, both human, and physical towards such purposes, rather than to squander public funds on a futile effort to prop up BAU.

The notion of that creating a vast number of new jobs is wishful thinking.

I concur. It will take a few years for the general realization to occur but it will eventually become clear that millions of those people now being fired will never again have any sort of manufacturing job similar to what we have today.

What will all those millions do?

The only job sink I can see large enough is food production. Roll the timeline below in reverse and then I think we'll be on the right track. From The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy:

American agriculture and rural life underwent a tremendous transformation in the 20th century. Early 20th century agriculture was labor intensive, and it took place on a large number of small, diversified farms in rural areas where more than half of the U.S. population lived. These farms employed close to half of the U.S. workforce, along with 22 million work animals, and produced an average of five different commodities. The agricultural sector of the 21st century, on the other hand, is concentrated on a small number of large, specialized farms in rural areas where less than a fourth of the U.S. population lives. These highly productive and mechanized farms employ a tiny share of U.S. workers and use 5 million tractors in place of the horses and mules of earlier days.

1900 — 41 percent of workforce employed in agriculture

1930 — 21.5 percent of workforce employed in agriculture;
Agricultural GDP as a share of total GDP, 7.7 percent

1945 — 16 percent of the total labor force employed in agriculture;
Agricultural GDP as a share of total GDP, 6.8 percent

1970 — 4 percent of employed labor force worked in agriculture;
Agricultural GDP as a share of total GDP, 2.3 percent

2000/02 — 1.9 percent of employed labor force worked in agriculture (2000); Agricultural GDP as a share of total GDP (2002),0.7 percent

U.S. Rural and Farm Population

Tip of the hat to Obama Wants to Employ Millions

Yesterday I met a young woman (3 years out of college) with a degree in agriculture who had made a splash in custom grazing of sheep within vineyards and orchards. For decades power mowers would be used, and so the breeds of sheep that do this job well almost went extinct. So now she is making meat and providing a useful service that displaces fuel use.

And she reported that when she visits people in the Bay Area, other young people, they get so excited when they hear what sort of job she has, remarking that she's "treated like a rock star" at parties. She was a somewhat shy, introverted person, so it seemed a little embarrassing to her, but she was also pleased because she understands how dismal ag has been in the minds of recent generations.

aangel -

My knowledge of agriculture is admittedly pretty weak, but I sometimes wonder when I see statistics, like the one you presented above, showing the amazing drop in the percentage of people employed in agriculture.

Could it be that back in the bad old days many of those people weren't really 'employed' in agriculture in the same sense that one is say employed in the oil industry or the electronics industry?

Up till WW II and slightly beyond there was a tremendous amount of rural poverty in the US. Particularly in the South, many of the families of these poor people had been engaged in more or less subsistence farming since the time of the American Revolution and hadn't improved their lot by much. They weren't so much 'employed' in agriculture as they were trapped in a situation where they found themselves eeking out a meager living through agriculture. (Aside from some 1960s-style hippie types, not too many people I know of willingly become subsistence farmers.)

During WW I and later during WW II, there was a huge migration of poor people from the rural south to the industrial sections of the Northeast and Midwest. These people were no longer 'employed' in agriculture, to badly stretch the term. So, I think the fact that agriculture has gotten far more efficient forms only part of the story. The rest of the story has a lot to do with socioeconomic forces. ('How ya gonna keep em down on the farm.....!', and that sort of thing.)

To Airdale and the rest of you ag people out there: do I have it at least partly right?

My take is that your assessment is correct. We are (were?) watching the same sort of migration out of rural areas in China now as more jobs become available in factories.

But the fact remains that we are about to have a permanent glut in labor in almost every field and this is going to be a wrenching century to live through. These people need to do something, whether it is fulfilling or not.

I live in mainland China. Factories are shutting down by their thousands. It
remains to be seen what effect the economic stimulus package will have. The
central government is getting nervous.

Hi, Chickenlegs. Thanks for the update. I've been reading about what's happening there...I don't envy you for where you live. Are you going to stay?

Economic Policy Journal:

If Obama thinks he is going to increase energy productivity and at the same time increase the number employed by in the energy industry by "millions" he doesn't understand that the growth of America has occurred because of the increased use of capital which resulted in less labor intensive industries.

Most of the capital has been spent shifting jobs offshore:

How much capital can be seen here:

Since 1985, every year's trade balance with China has been a deficit. Since the supply chain is looped overseas, the 'growth' or productivity that is measured at the domestic end of the chain is meaningless.

As far as employing millions; every city and town in America needs a streetcar system; subways are needed in all big cities; the 'dangling wires' that net across the country need to be removed underground, America needs city and town centers built to replace the sprawl; developed areas near the sea- coast need to be relocated inland; dead suburbs need to be rooted up and turned into farms; wild areas need expansion and management. There are opportunities in ecology, agronomy, hydrology, nuclear engineering, general management, mechanical engineering, and in all crafts. All of these jobs relate to 'alternative energy'.

America is a country where people don't bother knowing much about or liking where they live since they are always moving soon. A new, less mobile America will need people who can design and build communities that people will like to live in for a long period, because they are not so damnably ugly!

It will take millions to mine the interstates for asphalt, to be burned as fuel ...


What you're describing is the difference between building permanent infrastructure and the disposability and planned obsolescence of a consumer culture. Not much to do with energy, conventional or alternative.

The USA needs to move from a consumption driven economy to one with a larger % of GDP devoted to long lived energy efficient/renewable energy capital investment.

From vague memory, the US GDP is 67% consumer consumption (housing is a good % of the remainder). Switching the fractions around so that consumer consumption was 55%, housing was mainly TOD, and 12% of GDP was devoted to wind, geothermal, solar, HVDC, pumped storage, electrified rail in all forms, retrofitting insulation and other efficiency measures would be a viable and much preferred economic model.

After 20 to 25 years, the wind turbines need to be replaced, HVDC lines in 50-60 years, etc. (pumped storage lasts centuries) so future generations can busy themselves with improving and replacing the long lived infrastructure they inherited. (SBB, SwissRail, would be an example. 31 billion Swiss francs to significantly improve their already superb rail system. The hydroelectric plants driving the rail system are being refurbished and their efficiency improved and capacity increased).

One need not worry about running out of viable projects. If we build all the WTs we can possibly use, we can build a high speed rail system across the nation.

Long term capital investments, unlike consumption, create future wealth and well being.

Best Hopes for Long Lived Energy Related Capital Investment,


This is why any tax cuts should be canceled as they will have less multiplier effects than direct investment and will largely be devoted to retiring debt and buying baubles from what is left of the Chinese manufacturing base. The original rationale for Obama's tax cuts was the high price of gas. This is no longer operative. A promise is a promise but the conditions on the ground have changed. Free marketers will object as they almost always favor tax cuts over government investment. But then free marketers don't care much for the future either.

Alan. Thanks so much for this contribution. It makes me, a very lazy guy, feel better since you have said what I was thinking should be said.

I have a little daydream of solar thermal everywhere sited on roofs and pumping water to towers scattered all over the place. Wind and other sources can of course also pump those towers, so every town could have a big lit up sign saying, for example, Ourtown has X megawatt-hrs of power stored at the moment, so we can use lots, (or little).

And of course, the HVDC grid is vital, as well as the high speed rail.

Jobs? we got tons and tons of jobs. What we don't seem to have is simple common sense and will to use it.

BTW, I am still having fun working on solar thermal, and if I do say so myself, making some real progress on $/kW and $/kW-hr. And no silicon, and no nasty chemicals involved. All we have to do is take those tens of thousands of GM. Ford and Chrysler people and put them to work on all this good new stuff.

My car is 20 years old, and still good. So we quit making cars for 20 years and do the good stuff. Everybody's better off, as well as skinnier.

I think key to the entire idea of a green jobs revolution is the concept of retraining. Even a substantial ramp-up of high school, trade school, college, and university training programs will not provide enough people to fill the need, given the extent of the effort required.

The simple fact is that, going forward, an increasing percentage of the global workforce will be needed in the energy sector. This will, pretty much by definition, require other sectors to shrink. These people, many of whom will not have directly applicable experience, will need to be able to get affordable (read, cheap or free) retraining in order to help address the manpower shortages Robert Rapier references above. Governments will need to help people so that they can afford radical changes out of careers that may have no future in a post-peak oil world and into careers that can contribute to the future that we need to address. This kind of training, especially for people in currently unrelated fields, would be prohibitively expensive and/or time-consuming. Government programs will be necessary to make these transitions possible, because they will be necessary.


The article's inline link to Australia is defective, but here's my observation on local windpower. The wind resource on Tasmania's west coast is awesome, surely many gigawatts on average. In fact visitors complain of feeling depressed and nauseous with the relentess Roaring Forties winds. As a bonus there is extensive nearby transmission and pumped storage capability with a network of hydro dams. A mining revival in the area may be faltering as Chinese demand slows. Thus there are skilled locals available for work.

There was talk this week of building a second underwater HVDC cable to the Australian mainland, the purpose being to 'promote renewable energy'. However they said that with the previous cable the effect was to sell hydro peaking power at high spot prices and re-import lignite power at low prices.

For this to go ahead the government must not lose its nerve on carbon pricing and must not bankrupt itself with bailouts for bank executives. If done right there could be both real emissions cuts and hundreds of long term green jobs. But maybe governments are incapable of thinking that far ahead.

with the previous cable the effect was to sell hydro peaking power at high spot prices and re-import lignite power at low prices.

Displacing the highest-cost (peaking) power instead of the highest-impact (lignite) power makes financial sense, and will remain that way until there's something like a carbon tax.  However, adding wind farms would change the local generation deficit to surplus, and another cable would allow much more energy to be exported than imported.

Some relevant factoids. The existing cable of about 300km underwater was sold to a Singapore investor for about $A1.2 bn. I impute that to $300m for power electronics and $3m per kilometre. The line rental is about $A92m per year which if attributed solely to electricity imports works out about 5c per kwh, well above the 3c zinc and aluminium smelters allegedly pay. I believe the coastline could accommodate hundreds of large turbines with wind speeds virtually never dropping below minimum, so it is a big resource. The big problem is finding the money.

Wind energy is certainly not labor intensive.

Obama's comment don't really push seem to be for new fuel sources or new technology. Obama said he would put $25 billion loan out for US Automakers for re-tooling, but now Bush is saying this:

Bush backs federal aid for Big 3 without fuel strings

He wants Congress to allow carmakers to use $25B in energy funds to shore up finances, Dems push access to $700B bailout

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

President Bush wants Congress to move quickly to grant Detroit's Big Three automakers access to a $25 billion federal loan program by not requiring that the money be used to upgrade factories to build more fuel-efficient vehicles

And yet the Oil Drum has this comment.

“What people need to hear loud and clear is that we're running out of energy in America.”
—George W. Bush, May 2001

Isn't it a dead-end to allow automakers not to improve or re-tool but just get a loan for nothing, if indeed we are running out of energy?

Bush is lying to us once again. There is no Peak Oil right now. It true the US doesn't have as much oil as it once had but the world does have plenty of it and when Clinton was President, we got most of it from the Mideast, as it was not profitable enough to do domestic drilling here in the US.

Coal and oil are dependent on lots of manual labor too, but so much for wind energy tech, however new forms of technology, in the development and design of new engines - than, the maintaining for better modes of transportation would provide some work.

The thing about Bush wanting no strings for the automaker loan is simply a repeated of a stagnation in science for the lone benefit of big oil.

I don't think we want to bailout the US Automakers repeatedly after failing time and again for mere cosmetic changes to autobody design but never energy technology under the hood. Right now the automakers are saying this:

Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC need U.S. financial assistance before President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20, the head of the United Auto Workers said.

They don't want to re-tool and thus, the American taxpayer should NOT want to give US Automakers a loan without a re-tooling requirement, if GM, Ford and Chrysler don't want to step up to the plate, they should file bankruptcy and let someone with the desire to create a better auto be given a chance to startup a new business.

First thing that came to me when Bush stated he supported doing something for the big 3 now was, get it through without fuel requirements. He has to know it doesn't matter, things are going to change for us. It is just a matter of weather we'll be forced to change, or control our own destiny. the first choice sounds so much less painful.

Great discussion!

Bush is trying to tie it to Colombia FTA. We need the Biodiesel that Colombia can, possibly, produce.

Colombia? What, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, or any other country can't do it but Colombia can do it all by itself?

Why, it just happens that Colombia is the only far-right state left in South America. The base from which the CIA of the future will endeavor to send spies, assassins and saboteurs for the capitalist Reconquista.

But the capitalist depression will drag Colombia's economy down the tubes and its population will follow all its neighbors before the Republicans can get back in charge of the CIA, unless it's thrown a lifeline.

These bastards never stop with their schemes.

Look at the Map. It's a Large country sitting right on the Equator (basically.)

All of the Good biodiesel (Oil) bushes/trees grow in this Tropical region. They can also ship to the West Coast, as well as the East.

In short, they can produce a "Ton" of vegetable oil, and ship it wherever it's needed.

Why, it just happens that Colombia is the only far-right state left in South America.
But the capitalist depression will drag Colombia's economy down the tubes and its population will follow all its neighbors

So, the capitalist depression will drag the only far-right state where the other left-state neighbors are already?

Thanks for confirming that capitalism (except for a few depressions) is better then the continuous depressed state caused by leftism.

Let the 'Big 3' die. USG should then offer incentives to start-up car companies to manufacture efficient vehicles...40 MPG minimum.

For all those folks who will scream about needing their Suburbans, Expeditions, etc. for their five kids: It's not our fault you had more than two. Get with the sustainability program.

Even Toyota is covered in failure: I just stopped at the biggest Toyota dealer in this 1M+ metroplex. Their lot was over-stuffed with unsold vehicles, most of them behemoth Sequoiaa and Tundras with several-thousand-dollar discounts painted on the windshields. I found ONE white Prius in the multi-acre lot, looked it over, and started to leave, when a salesman in a golf cart whizzed up. I told him I wasn't going to be in the market for at least two years, and he told me the Prius was going to be 'a whole different car by then.' I asked if it would be plug-in, and he got all enthusiastic and said 'yes, if the next administration removes some obstacles that are currently in the way."

Letting the so-called 'Big 3' fail would be a great wakeup call to changing BAU expectations.

I found ONE white Prius in the multi-acre lot..

Even for Prius's, they are desperate for customers. I had looked at them a few months back (we already have one). But the combination of my wife not wanting to be so low to the ground, and the fact that in a deflationary recession cash is king (maybe I can make a very good investment?), we decided to wait. In any case, they are still leaving messages on the answering machine. They are desperate for any kind of sale.

Society is better off if the coal miners are unemployed, and we have to adapt to whatever power we can get from less intensive carbon sources.

The marginal carbon injected into the atmosphere has a half-life around a half millennium (some variance in estimates, but many human generations in any case). We are quite literally soiling our own nest for centuries to come with our carbon and several other GHG emissions (methane at least disappears in a human lifetime).

The suffering of the coal miners, and the rest of society as we adapt to lower carbon, pales in comparison to what forced climate change will cause those that follow us.

Best Hopes for a Fast Winddown in Coal Mining,