Cars or Wind Turbines? Time to Choose ?

With the recent financial turmoil, many companies and industries are finding themselves in deteriorating financial straits. Yesterday the CEOs of the 'Big Three' auto makers testified before Congress on why they should be the latest recipients of taxpayer funds, specifically a $25 billion injection from the government to keep their businesses afloat. At the same time, renewable energy infrastructure buildout is facing similar problems. 66 out of 262 approved wind farms have either been outright canceled or postponed. Some tough choices will likely have to be made. It has been our historical political trajectory to put out immediate fires and neglect smoke on the horizon. But at what point, if ever, is there an 'a-ha' (or 'uh-oh') moment, when we collectively realize we don't have the resources to continue ALL businesses. Some entire industries can, should and will fail.

Below the thread are some brief comments, and an open thread on the automobile industry bailout situation.

"Hummer?" "or Light and Heat?"


There are several levels to this question (as to most questions).

Let me preface this short piece with an email I just got from my mother. Though I don't participate in 'Christmas' american style any longer, my Mum still pretends that I do:

Dear Nathan, don't give gift cards from the following stores:

> Circuit City (filed Chapter 11)

> Ann Taylor- 117 stores nationwide closing

> Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug ,and Catherine's to close 150 stores nationwide

> Eddie Bauer to close stores 27 stores and more after January

> Cache will close all stores

> Talbots closing down specialty stores

> J. Jill closing all stores (owned by Talbots)

> Pacific Sunwear (also owned by Talbots)

> GAP closing 85 stores

> Footlocker closing 140 stores mo re to close after January

> Wickes Furniture closing down

> Levitz closing down remaining stores

> Bombay closing remaining stores

> Zales closing down 82 stores and 105 after January

> Whitehall closing all stores

> Piercing Pagoda closing all stores

> Disney closing 98 stores and will close more after January.

> Home Depot closing 15 stores 1 in NJ ( New Brunswick )

> Macys to close 9 stores after January

> Linens and Things closing all stores

> Movie Galley Closing all stores - Includes Hollywood video

> Pep Boys Closing 33 stores

> Sprint/Nextel closing 133 stores

> JC Penney closing a number of stores after January

> Ethan Allen closing down 12 stores.

> Wilson Leather closing down all stores

> Sharper Image closing down all stores

> K B Toys closing 356 stores

> Loews to close down some stores

> Dillard's to close some stores

With that sobering (though some might say refreshing) backdrop, lets assess whether its possible or desirable to continue to divert investment into our 3 major auto makers or cut our losses and begin wholescale investment in renewable infrastructure.

Firstly, we have to look at the feasibility of each industry on its own merits. Can the automakers propose a coherent businessplan that will not require government bailout money in the future? Electric cars are at the center of the bailout discussion.

What are the economics of wind farms, both to the industry, and to the long term holders of the energy harnessing equipment (energy return)? Especially in a business landscape penalizing carbon, wind power can be profitable. Wind expert Paul Gipe at ASPO-Sacramento ran through some numbers suggesting that with the industrial capacity of the U.S. heavy duty truck manufacturing industry, all the wind turbines needed to replace all U.S. electric generation capacity could be built in about 10 years—(basically the Gore plan).
Secondly, there are the issues of growth, infrastructure and comparative advantage. For the longest time we (the USA via the Washington Consensus) have campaigned against import substitution policies in Latin America and other places around the world to accelerate the size of the global trade pie. As resources (or 'money') become more scarce, it stands to reason that we will incrementally produce a larger % of basic goods closer to home face shortfall risk.

Thirdly, the last generation has moved, via unnoticeable baby steps, a long ways from recognition that 'we can't do it all', though recent events should provide a contrary example. It seems our entitlement culture is very fluent with the words 'more' and 'cheaper', and less familiar with 'either-or' or 'none'. The pride or shame associated with letting an industry fail almost seems like a national scarlet letter of failure. Akin to 'losing face' in Japan or China.

Lastly, we get to the the heart of the issue surrounding a choice between supporting and promoting the auto industry and supporting and promoting renewable energy infrastructure. These two industries are in sharp contrast with eachother in the upcoming changing social landscape. Whether they are profitable to shareholders or not, one is primarily on the consumption side of our resource ledger (liability) and the other is on the asset side, a producer of a basic need.

The political signs of energy change have started. President-elect Obama has significant challenges ahead, as do we all. I suspect the next administrations policy choices are already well underway. If the financial crises are any roadmap, it paradoxically seems that those who fail first, are almost better off, as the 'cost' of failing is being bought out or bailed out (with exceptions like Lehman). Each of these 'crises' can be an opportunity for change. Perhaps General Motors and Ford can be downsized and the equipment and infrastructure modified to large scale assembly of turbines and towers, or some such? Can we afford to divert resource (labor, energy, materials, etc) into all of our current industries? Do we have the courage to admit we can't do everything? In the opinion of this writer, we should somehow steer the % of our population who consumes and produces little, more in a direction of producing, and consuming less. This may be an unpopular diet.

The title of this post is a rhetorical question, but an example of one of the types of choices we might begin to face. In the long run, we will be much further ahead by first deciding what our 'ends' should be before trying to determine the appropriate means. It is likely that more wind turbines alone won't get us where we need to go. And more cars may take us further.

Motorists pay fossil fuel tax. Wind turbines live off it.

Building the mobile tax-gathering mechanisms is always going to be a bigger industry than spending token amounts of the revenue that is gathered. So we cannot choose only one or only the other; we can only choose between (the car industry and the wind turbine industry) and (just the car industry).

--- G.R.L. Cowan, author of 'How fire can be tamed' --

Motorists pay fossil fuel tax. Wind turbines live off it.

Perhaps in your country, but not in the US. Yes, there is a road fuel tax, but that goes for paying for a tiny fraction the road network that they require.

Motorists pay fossil fuel tax. Wind turbines live off it.

Perhaps in your country, but not in the US. Yes, there is a road fuel tax, but that goes for paying for a tiny fraction the road network that they require.

That just means that in the seesaw battle between American governments and the motorist, the motorist is momentarily ahead. City Hall must work more diligently to make so it's ten miles to anywhere, and if you have two errands, the second is ten miles farther on. It must fail to enforce speed limits, and its employees -- employees of all levels of government -- must be seen disregarding them. Mass media reporting of road fatalities must be in a very different style, a much less sensational one, from its reporting of other violent deaths.

(I'm not sure how government can make media outlets behave in this way. Does anyone know? CBC radio, publically owned, reports traffic tie-ups with the frequent unemphatic use of the phrase, "very serious accident". Maybe private media aren't so squeamish/venal. Not so squeanal. How about that, a new word.)

Let's try a thought experiment. An inexpensive retrofit comes along that enables cars and trucks to run on no gasoline and no diesel. Are they from then on forbidden to use public roads, or do we decide that public roads are a public good that should be paid for in the same way as, for instance, libraries and cruise missiles?

It seems to me roads are a public good whose benefits flow to more of society than just those who burn fossil fuel derivatives on them, and these benefits exceed their cost. If, as above said, this in turn exceeds their yield of public fossil fuel revenue, the pretence that that revenue is taken to pay for roads is not just a driver of insane government behaviour, it is simply false. Governments tax fossil-derived motor fuels because they can. If they could not, roads would still get funded. Not only would they get funded, they would work better, because the regulatory emphasis on deniably maximizing fossil fuel sales to their users would be absent.

--- G.R.L. Cowan ('How fire can be tamed')

The retooling of old factories in the rust belt and the construction of new ones in the wind belt and the possible relocation and training of maybe 100,000 workers will require a substantial investment. By not building so many large vehicles the cost of materials for the wind industry would be less. The electricity sold from the wind turbines could repay the investment at little cost to the taxpayers. Could the same be said for the auto industry?

Are there other energy related products which could give us more bang for the buck? I've read the claim that on a megawatt basis nukes use less steel and concrete than wind power. What about negawatts? Could making everybody's roof white reduce the need for coal burning quicker and cheaper than new wind farms? What about using the aluminum that now goes into beverage cans instead be used for the HVDC grid development?

In my opinion there should be (not that there will be) a massive retooling and retraining of most of what manufacturing we have left, from making luxury goods like new cars to building the machines for the new green infrastructure we will need in the much longer term.

We can survive with the cars we already have. Just look at places like Cuba, where they are still driving cars built in the 50s and 60s. This is why I equate "new cars" to "luxury goods." In WWII, factories were switched from producing new cars to building airplanes and tanks, for several years. We still got around.

Moreover, there is a great potential for a cottage industry of electric vehicle conversion shops to turn existing cars into 100% electric cars. Go to for more than a thousand examples of this. I am also converting my own car at home, for a budget of $7K on top of the cost of a used car. A decent conversion can be done by one of these shops for $10-15K. Starting from a used car that still has a body in good shape at $5-10K, you still pay about half of what you would pay for a $40K new GM Volt. And the cost of a conversion would drop if it became a big enough industry. These electric drivetrains can and do last far longer than the gasoline technology they replace... AND they are much cheaper to run from day-to-day.

The grid currently has enough spare capacity at night to charge up at least a hundred million electric cars like these. It might entail burning more coal and gas in the short run, but it would be during off-peak hours, so no new plants or power grids would have to be built.

Having more electric cars would free up precious oil, steel and other resources, to invest in building the green energy infrastructure we need in the long run. Windmills, solar power plants, ocean energy, geothermal, and even nukes. (I don't expect uranium to last much longer than coal, but nukes may contribute less C02 than coal, and it never hurts to diversify a bit).

Many have also talked about tying electric vehicles' batteries into the grid to act as a giant store of energy for when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. This kills two birds with one stone. I can see the potential, but this is more forward-looking and in my opinion, not as firmly grounded in affordable current technology. By this I mean, I can't yet buy off the shelf components that are efficient enough to make this energy round-trip worthwhile, at a reasonable price. Everything else I have mentioned this far, however, is proven and reasonably affordable technology.

I'm not completely optimistic that we will as a society engage in the necessary steps to make a technological fix like this happen. Even if we did, we would have to get used to a lower standard of living and would learn to conserve a lot more than we do. I am fully supportive of other efforts to reduce our dependence on energy, including localization, permaculture, the transition initiatives, and so on. But in my mind, there is a feasible path, using TODAY's existing technology, to an oil-free yet still sufficiently technological world.

It just requires leadership and a society-wide focus and drive, while ignoring the temptation to take advantage of temporarily lower oil prices as the transition continues to destroy demand. It requires overcoming and ignoring entrenched special interests such as the automobile and oil industries, or finding some kind of win-win scenario where they can still benefit during the transition (such as by retooling for green infrastructure). I'm hoping this happens, but not expecting it by any means...

But you can do your own conversion and get the ball rolling locally. Look for your local EAA (Electric Auto Association) chapter at, and attend their meetings. You may be able to buy an EV from one of the members, if you are not mechanically inclined. You can get tips and local help if you choose to convert your own car. This can be one aspect of the Great Reskilling that the Transition Initiatives talk about. At the very least, you can support their cause, along with your favorite other local initiatives in public transportation, food production, community building, and so on.

You've spelled out why we should build wind turbines in Detroit and I heartily agree. I'll add coal mining areas (West Virginia, etc) to the list of locations, and I'd also throw in solar thermal and geothermal power equipment manufacturing.

EV conversions are certainly possible, and I've had them under consideration for some time, though my vision is now for something in the 3-wheeler category to obtain a very high mpg equivalent, noting that a 3-wheeler is considered a motorcycle and does not have the same crash protection requirements. There are lots of 3-wheeler projects underway right now, and I'd like to note that the GM Lean Machine achieved 200 mpg in 1981 (and leaned into corners like a motorcycle).

Now this thread has come full circle; why not convert Big 3 manufacturing to renewable energy equipment and very high mpg vehicles? The supply of light trucks we have now will last at least 20 years.

Because if Detroit won't build these cars, others will;

130 mpg Aptera (see Popular Mechanics review)


157 MPG Loremo

100 MPG VentureOne

"157mpg Loremo"- Looking carefully at that photo, there's a guy leaning over to fill it up on the right hand edge of frame. Either he's a giant, or that's a scale model of the car, or "You cannot be serious, it's designed for hobbits!"

If I had to choose between those cars and wind turbines, I'd choose the turbines every time!

Seriously though, I think that there are some vehicles we have already that can do better than those cars:

Fuel Efficiency of Trains

They're 12 times more efficient than even small cars on the road today and that doesn't even consider the possibility of building electrified rail that can be powered directly by wind turbine infrastructure.

Then it comes down to commuters. Which commute looks better to you?


I'm all for trains, though the spread of suburbia means that we have low density populations outside the city, so while some rail infrastructure will work (especially if people bike to stations), there would still be some need for personal vehicles in areas impractical for rail (unless such places are abandoned). Each of the above vehicles could be used in a carpooling arrangement, further increasing their net energy efficiency.

If we had it to do all over again, this approach would be far superior. It's what I've been pushing in my county, with mixed results.

Hello TODers,

I still have some concerns about all these wonderful options, primarily of scale and longevity...

Wind Turbines
Turbines have a shelf-life of a human-generation or so / we need a lot of them and a lot of crude to build and replace / even the windiest place on Earth isn't windy 100% of the time (what is the windiest place on Earth, BTW?)

Electric Cars
Batteries are expensive / many of the components may soon join the "endangered list" / battery technology moves incrementally, not exponentially / batteries have a shelf-life of one-fifth of a human generation

Time (Countdown to 2050?)
The clock's ticking... Is there enough time to scale up? / would a wind-turbine, or electric car (or solar-array, or nuclear power-station, or whatever) built today still be up and running four or five decades from now?

More and more people added to the system every year, wanting more and more stuff (little of which is produced locally) / we're all watching our dollars at the moment, and will for some time.

I'd like to think that a world with less than a billion people (all friendly, loving and environmentally aware, of course) might be a lovely place to live. But that's for dreamers.

Regards, Matt B
Far more concerned than this time last year

Hi Joe,
Some of the figures you are using seem to be a little inaccurate.

For wind turbines a commonly used lifetime by the industry to work out when they will need replacing is around 20 years I believe.
It should be borne in mind though that there will be maintenance during that time, which may include heavy expenditure if some of the major equipment goes, but OTOH when it comes time to replace it then you will already have the foundations, access roads, grid interconnect etc built in.
Maintenance for off-shore installations is likely to be more expensive.

Battery technologies have a longevity which is also pretty much as long as a piece of string, depending on the configuration and usage, and also which battery technology you are talking about.
To confine our discussion to car batteries, some of the latest lithium batteries have a life-span of over 10,000 cycles, which if you work that out means that they will probably be going strong for 20 years or so in most uses.
Even lead-acid when oversized and backed with capacitors has given plug-in hybrids a over a 100,000 mile lifetime:

If you have a look at Gail's article and the responses to it the real concern is if we have a high enough EROEI energy source and the infrastructure to support it, given those things then it should be possible to replace kit as it wears out.
If we don't we are screwed.

Thanks, Dave.

I guess my point was, unless something's made out of stone, we'll have to keep replacing stuff forever. And forever on a finite planet with billions of non-carbon neutral consumers seems like bad math.

Regards, Matt B

I guess my point was, unless something's made out of stone, we'll have to keep replacing stuff forever. And forever on a finite planet with billions of non-carbon neutral consumers seems like bad math.

True, but not the most reasonable assessment, as nothing is infinitely sustainable. "Forever" is unattainable - thermodynamically - meaning that the only reasonable time horizon to look at is "long enough", which is inherently subjective.

One way to look at this is that the resource constraints of the western world are very different from the constraints it had 1,000 years ago. Very little that a government could have done in 1008AD to conserve resources would have had a significant positive effect on our available resource base today; accordingly, one wonders if our own efforts might not be too relevant to 3008AD, assuming the next thousand years pass as well as the last thousand did.

Based on that, I would argue that "sustainable for the next thousand years" is a reasonable upper bound for "long enough", at least for planning purposes, and in many cases "long enough" will be considerably shorter.

Pretty much necessarily, more detailed plans will have shorter horizons; however, one way to combine detail with longer horizons is to artificially limit the total resources budget. If, for example, a plan with a 50-year time horizon would only use up 20% of a certain resource, then it's probably reasonable to assume that that plan is sustainable (with respect to that resource) for 200-300 years, but possibly much more (if better technology or better plans are developed and adopted).

Thanks Pitt for the reply,

I'm still stuck on "sustainable growth" - that is, consuming more and more of the raw materials that are finite (I realise you didn't mention growth, but it's relevant I think).

If you told me we could build a wind turbine with x resources only ONCE, then that machine could maintain/repair/replace itself hundreds of times over with zero input from elsewhere, I'd be far more optimistic. But I understand self-sustaining man-made "things" are unachievable, so I must conclude that ultimately a wind turbine (for example) IS NOT a renewable energy source.

So as things stand, I doubt we have a thousand years of sustainability in us. Let alone "growth".

Regards, Matt B
PS. I'm not an arrow-clicker... Still trying to get my head around all this!

Self-sustaining man-made things may be impossible, but as long as our ecosystem has a net influx of energy from the sun, it is possible to maintain a level of complexity above total entropy (chaos).

When the wind turbine reaches its end of life, if there are humans left on the planet with enough know-how, its parts and raw materials can be recycled.

You're right, anything that is a simply linear process (inputs from the environment, outputs to the landfill) is unsustainable. But if we can turn our linear process into a circular one, via recycling, then sustainability in that particular subsystem is possible.

"Sustainable growth" is an oxymoron. We do have to manage somehow to stabilize the population. That's where the scariest challenge really lies, because in all instances in the past that has been accomplished by disease and/or war.

Pitt, Joe, Sci:

This may be picky, but perhaps part of the problem is the use of oxymoron. I would include "Sustainable Development", a variant.

Similarly, Global Warming is only sound bite worthy, as it fails dismally at even suggesting the complexity of climate change. At best they are a poor choice of words, at worst, they are bait and switch or platitudes.

A meme that may be worth propagating is "sustainable change".

To me, sustainable change means that we can continue to evolve and develop but within the constraints of our resources. It may make the future more palatable, rather than the bleak prospect of picking over landfills and slopping hogs 'til the end of time. True, population is an ugly issue, but perhaps that is simply a sad part of the transition.

When I combine the remarkable things we have created over many centuries, in a highly resource limited environment, with what we have learned since, perhaps it just might be OK. Not BAU by any means, but not bleak subsistence either.

I know it's just words but think of "Yes we can". That phrase seems to have potential.

I must to stop now or I'll have to turn in my doomer membership.

We do have to manage somehow to stabilize the population. That's where the scariest challenge really lies, because in all instances in the past that has been accomplished by disease and/or war.

Most demographics agree that population will level off (or at least slow down to a very low growth rate) somewhere between 9-12 billion people, and this appears to be a result of a number of demographic and economic developments that are not actively the result of any population policy.

So there's some reason for hope on that front.

Turbines have a shelf-life of a human-generation or so / we need a lot of them and a lot of crude to build and replace / even the windiest place on Earth isn't windy 100% of the time (what is the windiest place on Earth, BTW?)

It's debatable, but Mt. Washington in New Hampshire has been called the windiest place on Earth, for good reason. I've been up it, and it is extremely windy. It's also got the highest ever recorded wind speed on Earth, at 231 MPH.

Check out the weather up there right now.

And yes, it is 100% windy up there 100% of the time. Most of the buildings are literally chained to the mountaintop!

The only thing it, it would still be a terrible place for a large scale wind turbine, considering the harsh temperatures and precipitation.

Joe: I ocean sail and I'd heard that Cape Denison(sp?) in the Antarctic south of Tasmania was the windiest and I remember hearing of an average wind speed of 50 mph, making anchoring a bit of a challenge, going ashore in the skiff potentially suicidal. I guess sustained 60 to 90 mph is not unusual.

even the windiest place on Earth isn't windy 100% of the time

Which is why we need a diversified electricity generation base. Wind + pumped storage + Solar PV + Solar Thermal + Nuclear + whatever else we can get our hands on.

Batteries are expensive

There are way around this (leasing, for example).

battery technology moves incrementally, not exponentially

Like most other technologies.

batteries have a shelf-life of one-fifth of a human generation

But are almost fully recyclable. Lithium batteries, for example: when the battery is EOL (80% of original capacity), it's still usable, or, if you choose to recycle it then, all the Lithium is still in the battery, waiting for reuse.

would a wind-turbine, or electric car (or solar-array, or nuclear power-station, or whatever) built today still be up and running four or five decades from now?

Electric cars (as we know the car) won't be, for the simple reason that we won't have roads (as we know them). For personal transport, I expect we'll have lightweight vehicles like Velomobiles or regular bicycles. Backed up by 1 or 2 kW of batteries, these can take you pretty much anywhere.

Actually, the illustration you chose to convey your point demonstrates why trains are not always particularly efficient.
When they run pretty empty, as is usually the case outside of rush hour, the efficiency plummets, both in energy terms and in terms of capital tied up.

What is needed is a balanced transport system rather than a 'train good, car bad' mentality.

That is not to say that the present system, with it's gross over-emphasis on the car, is not absurd, of course, especially in places like the states.

I would rather my ambulance came on four wheels, even if it is in future powered by electricity, for instance, rather than wait to be transported by horse-drawn carriage to the train.

trains are not always particularly efficient. When they run pretty empty, as is usually the case outside of rush hour, the efficiency plummets, both in energy terms and in terms of capital tied up.

But elsewhere in this thread it was demonstrated that at such times, 60 percent of the passengers are fabulous babes.

Capital tied up? Um ... OK ...

--- G.R.L. Cowan ('How fire can be tamed')

"You cannot be serious, it's designed for hobbits!"

Not at all. The seating is much lower, in order to reduce the cross sectional area (to lower drag). It's also a 2+2, as there are two rear-facing seats for children in the back.

It's not a big car, though it really shouldn't be, as big cars got us into the problem we have now. Slow incremental changes in fuel economy won't help whatsoever. So either we're driving vehicles like this (when not biking, walking, or taking mass transit), or our driving will be sharply curtailed when the decline deepens. I'm 6'2", and the Loremo is one vehicle I am considering for my next purchase (after the Honda Insight expires).

The entry into the vehicle is via a flip up front end for the front passengers, and hatchback for rear passengers.

Not something anyone with any claustrophobia issues would be remotely willing to endure. Yuck.

Then get a convertible or ride a motorcycle... or stick with BAU.

Most people don't have claustrophobia, and it's a psychological thing which can be overcome with training.

Peak Oil is less psychological however, and with an attitude like yours, it'll be quite impossible to overcome.

Lots of us six-foot European hobbits ride vehicles a good deal smaller. Here's a sample:

Quite a lot of forward-looking USAmericans are using them now too. Here's young (six-foot-something) Sam Whittingham driving his to an 82+MPH world speed record at Battle Mountain:

These cars make you want to rush out and buy one of each, that might be a problem - think ugly cars and sexy wind turbines.

I too think that conversions solve a lot of problems...

1) they get CO2 out of older, dirty cars, that we are fond of for a variety of reasons
2) the conversion industry can become a large scale, ground-up, diversified employment opportunity for anyone with the chops to start up a biz,
3) converting large numbers of old cars & trucks would generate demand for energy storage devices such as batteries & ultracaps that require large scale deployment to drive down costs...
4) basically, conversions can be a driver for some positive feedbacking as far as the environment, economy, and social sphere is concerned.

Scientastic, or any other number crunchers... are there any off the shelf components that would allow one to have a micro V2G home setup? I.e., an EV vehicle in the garage with a large enough battery pack to drive the household needs yet be mostly self sustaining with PV & microturbine energy sources at the home site? I've been seeing articles about lamp post style helical turbines that are well suited for urban use, so it seems that the technology is here, we just need some bundling and financing.

are there any off the shelf components that would allow one to have a micro V2G home setup? I.e., an EV vehicle in the garage with a large enough battery pack to drive the household needs yet be mostly self sustaining with PV & microturbine energy sources at the home site?

That's a tall order.

First: EV in garage with large enough battery pack to drive the household needs?
Ans: That depends on what the household "needs" are. And what the concept is when the car drives off? Better to have separate battery packs for the house and car.

Second: Self sustaining with PV and microturbine energy sources?
Ans: Depends on how much energy is 'needed' and how much is generated, along with sizing of the battery pack. There is no one answer here.

It has been done at several Solar Decathlons with Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV).

I don't think there are currently off-the-shelf components that would make V2G worth the effort. I could be wrong; the folks that may know the best are probably in the home solar industry. Ask about grid-tied systems with battery backup.

With any V2G scheme, you still end up with a net loss of energy making the round-trip, so the only way it would be worth the effort is if the utility agreed to sell you the off-peak electricity at a low price, and buy it back at a sufficiently higher price during times of peak demand.

Remember, too, that in my EV conversion I am relying totally on proven, off-the-shelf components and technologies. Many groups are researching V2G, so appropriate new technology may be in the works. I'm just not solidly convinced it would be worth the effort... yet. It sounds feasible, but at the moment it's vaporware.

The final point I'd add on this is that with converted EVs using lead-acid batteries, the capacity may not be big enough to be able to feed much back into the grid. A much more practical idea to start with would be allowing the utility to tell your car when to charge... and perhaps, when needed, feeding the electricity back into your own home only, not back into the grid itself.

You don't really need to charge/discharge the vehicles battery for V2G just yet. Think about the potential for G2V. The other way around, you know, a very large demand that is to a large extent schedulable (so can be throttled up or shedded), is very useful for any grid. Doesn't degrade the battery, doesn't lose energy, because there is no round trip. When there's more power in the grid, charge the vehicles faster. If there's less power, charge them slower. Vehicles can be charged very fast with lithium batteries but most of them will be parked most of the time so can be plugged in to serve as schedulable demand. Just 'say' to your vehicle when you want it to be charged xx percent, and the smart grid plays around with the charge rate, as long as it's charged to the consumer set conditions.

The potential for a large schedulable demand is reason enough to get started with a smart grid.

For example, take a look at a typical wind production pattern over a day. Spikes and valleys! Provided there's adequate transmission capacity (an area that needs major work, most will agree) those spikes can be absorbed by the pluged-in vehicle fleet. Saves natural gas and diesel peaking. Most vehicles are parked 20+ hours/day, and plugging the vehicle in as long as possible gets the owner/user the lowest per kWh tariff since there would be some kind of lowest cost algorithm to regulate the flow of energy. So a lot of people will plug in as often as they can. Requires a smart grid, but the cost of a smart grid to the nation would be a tiny and have extremely good return on investment.

You are correct. Before we get to V2G, there's TONS of room to play with just the timing of charging. And anyways, the technology we would need to do this (basically, either letting the utility tell your charger when to charge, or otherwise indicating when a valley occurs) will still be needed later if we do go to V2G.

Exactly, so we should get started in earnest rather than fooling around with a million here, pilot project there... smart grid can be done with off the shelf components.

There's lot of other nice things a smart grid can accomodate, such as ice storage for air conditioning, hot water storage for space heating and domestic hot water, which can be used as fully functional 'charge discharge' cheap grid storage. Call it AC2G or SH2G or something. All off the shelf components, no rare materials, only takes a cubic meter or two in your garage or garden shed. Pays for itself in just a few years, sometimes even less, through software controlled lowest cost buying of electricity.

Can't we have both (the unlikely American wet dream)? :

The main question in this article is whether we can have both or not... and it hints that we probably can't.

Again, I argue we don't need both (green power and new cars). We can continue to use the cars we have on the road, and even start converting many of them to electric cars, rather than junking them and building new electric cars at twice the cost and far more than twice the energy use. We then dedicate our resources to building the windmills and other green energy sources we need.

So in your picture above, instead of a Hummer (a horrible car to convert to an EV), we would have a comfortable family sedan probably 3-6 years old, converted at a local shop (more $$$ that don't leave our shores). Sorry, it's not as much bling, but it's practical. And the country's mood is already swinging away from such conspicuous consumption.

We would have to care for our cars and make them run longer, but that's easier with an electric drivetrain, which almost never breaks down and requires very little maintenance. And as a result, in the long run, we would have the windmills to power them.

Wouldn't it be cheaper just to pour some alcohol into the gas tank?

No, it wouldn't be cheaper. Have you checked the price of alcohol lately?

Wholesale price: $1.68/gal.

Battery Pack: $10,000.00 to $20,000.00

You're talking about NiCad or possibly lithium batteries.

My battery pack will be around $2,000. Over its lifetime it will likely cost $0.05 per mile.

Yes, I'm using lead-acid batteries. Yes, it limits my range to 40-50 miles per day. No, that's not a problem because I can drive the other car (still gasoline) for longer trips. No, it won't work for everyone. But it will work for enough people to make a difference.

Cost of electricity per mile: about $0.03.

Cost of maintenance, oil changes, etc.: many times lower than gasoline cars.

Bottom line: electric conversions SAVE money now, on existing technology that a hobbyist like myself can work with, on a time scale of a few years.

My cost to convert my car, including the cost of the used car I started with, will be about $12K. Compare that to $40K for a GM Volt.

Not that GM Volts won't have a market. I think it's a great technology for those who need to have a car that can drive long distances and don't have another car or can't borrow one; while still saving a lot by using electricity for the first 40 miles.

Still, as a practical matter, I'd rather buy/convert a $12-15K electric car and a $10K used gasoline car.

Another option for some is a $2000 electric motorcycle conversion, such as the El Ninja;

I recently sold my Kawasaki Ninja. It's fun, but after a couple close calls I decided not being comatized and having the use of both my legs was much more fun.

High speed motorcycles aren't safe.

Even though I've been a bit obsessed with EV cars for that last 10 yrs--following all of the many promising hits and misses along the way, I will most likely choose not to take on the large debt for a new car, in what is likely to be a shaky long term economy, regardless of how cool and efficient it is (loooooove the Aptera). Instead, I've lowered my costs and carbon footprint by commuting to work on my electric assist bike ( see ) and will continue to drive my 16 yr old gas guzzling pickup when needed for as long as it will run. A 50 mph 'city' car at $10-15,000 could change my thinking....

Looks kinda funny.

Maybe I'll buy an electric scooter, there's a bloke in my neighbourhood that sells 100 km range electric scooters. Affordable, energy efficient, nimble in traffic. Great for commuting.

Compare that to $2.00 to pour a gallon of e85 in my tank.

Have you considered the ethanol resource, food vs fuel, fertilizer use, water use, EROEI, and ecosystem impact issues?

Have you considered the ethanol resource, food vs fuel, fertilizer use, water use, EROEI, and ecosystem impact issues?

Yeah, the only one that's "Real" is "fertilizer," and it's coming down the road with, or without ethanol. Peak Oil is a hiccup; Peak "Phosphate" will be a Monster Game-Changer.

Do you know anything at all about ethanol fuel production, or are you just being deliberately obtuse?

You really should start reading the literature. You've got a lot of catching up to do.

I'm willing to learn; Enlighten me.

Pick one of the above, and tell me all about it.

Scientastic, $2,000 for deep cycle lead-acid batteries will get you about 26 kW·hr of storage when they are new. If you can manage a 45 mile range from one charge and electricity costs $.10 / kW·hr, it would cost $2.60 for one full charge and 5.8 cents per mile. If you include the cost of the batteries and you are lucky enough to get 50,000 miles out of them, then an extra 4 cents should be added to the cost of the fuel and "fuel tank" for a total of 9.8 cents per mile. Deep cycling the batteries daily will destroy them in 5 years or less. During this time they will store a decreasing amount of energy reducing your range and increasing your cost of fuel. Those batteries combined will weigh about 1,000 pounds. Since the converted vehicle was not originally designed to be electric, it will use the new fuel inefficiently. Your numbers seem optimistic, and I think you will be in for a rude awakening when you get real world data.

You are correct in a lot of what you say. Performance does decrease over the life of the batteries. In fact there are several other factors in battery life and available energy.

Here are the actual calculations I'm using, from well-worn formulas used in the EV community.

With the Trojan T-1275, I can get 12 batteries of 12 volts each, for a total of 144 volts, for just a bit over $2000 (about $2300 after taxes in my area). I've priced those locally already.

The specs say that I should be able to get about 600 cycles out of them with care, to 80% depth of discharge. These are deep-cycle batteries, designed for this application, and Trojan has a reputation in the EV world of exceeding its specs. Some in my local EAA chapter are running them for 5+ years, driving almost daily. Still, I'm using Trojan's own numbers.

The kWh of the pack is 21.6, not 26. And that is the 20-hour rating. Due to Peukert's law (, the total available energy decreases the faster you discharge the batteries:

Pack kWh, after Peukert, 80% discharge
20 mph 40 mph 60 mph 80 mph
14.0 kWh 11.3 kWh 9.6 kWh 8.3 kWh

Air resistance increases the faster you drive. This is true of all vehicles, but becomes very noticeable when your range is already limited. Combined with the Peukert effect described above, for my compact vehicle with a drag coefficient of 0.33, I come up with these range numbers:

Range, after Peukert, 80% discharge
20 mph 40 mph 60 mph 80 mph
102 miles 62 miles 37 miles 23 miles

This table shows how drastically range falls off the faster you go. Obviously you can't go very far driving like a maniac down the freeway. But this is an around-town car, which will probably average around 40 mph, with some short legs at 55-60 mph. So the total range should be around 40 miles, to 80% discharge. This is a commonly observed range with real-life converted EVs.

Most of my driving should actually be to less than 50% of discharge, which will extend the life of the batteries significantly. EV-ers say this is the best way to get the longest life, and the most miles, out of the pack. (See Here is a graph of the typical relationship between cycles and depth of discharge:

As you can see, at 50% depth of discharge, you should be able to get 1000 cycles out of the average deep-discharge battery. Trojan's curve is a bit higher than this, and real-life experience from the folks in my local EV club confirm it. That's how I can figure that the cost of the battery pack comes out to about 5-6 cents per mile before it needs replacement.

The key to not being disappointed is to set expectations properly.

When I discuss these numbers with people who still have the mentality that they can hop in their car and go anywhere without thinking, all the while driving well above the speed limit, they seem very skeptical that it could be practical with such "severe" limitations. But when you consider a partially "powered-down" world, where driving is more limited due to the lack of oil or its excessively high price, then this provides a practical way to still get around enough to make most suburbia at least tolerably livable. (Again, it's not that I'm emotionally attached to suburbia... it's just that we don't have a choice to wave a wand and make it all disappear.)

To put it another way, this is not practical for someone who needs to commute 40 miles each way at highway speeds, even if they have a place to plug in at work. A commute of 20-30 miles, perhaps. So for the fifth time, it's not for everyone. But it covers the needs of enough people that it is practical to convert a significant portion of our existing fleet. It is estimated that 80% of our drives are less than 40 miles per day. If you live in a big city, that probably sounds laughable, but for many people living in medium-sized cities or small towns, probably 100% of their drives (short of leaving town) are less than 40 miles.

The folks in my local Electric Auto Association chapter that have converted cars are all very happy with them. They do what they are meant to do, very well. They cover the range they are meant to cover, every day, reliably, with no oil changes, no mechanical engine breakdowns, very smoothly and quietly. Membership has spiked in the last year (including myself) and there are probably as many conversions underway now as there are already converted cars, at this point.

The gas prices of this summer really gave a lot of people a rude awakening, to use your phrase. Even though gas prices are falling now, enough people are skeptical and are looking for another way to get around. If it comes down to using an EV vs. not being able to afford to drive far at all anyways because of the price of gas... I think the choice is clear.

Business as usual will not be occurring, even with electric vehicles. But as I have said in so many other posts in this article, they give us the ability to continue to get around for basic needs. The other missing piece is renewable energy... thus, the reason I think the auto industry should at least partially be converted to building wind turbines, and the sooner the better.

A fine post on the present status of EV's.

In addition to the points you make, it seems clear that the economics of EV cars will be altered greatly by the use of ultra-capacitors, which can extend longevity manifold as they reduce or eliminate the rapid discharge which causes the wear - under acceleration the capacitors cut in.

Here are the people who powered the AFS hybrids on the subject:

Goes to show you we can do better if we really try. There are others doing the same thing too, and promising new developments in the battery structure itself (see, for example).

However, my whole point is that EVs make sense NOW, with existing technology, for a significant number of people, though not for everyone. EV-ers have heard about magic battery technology for years, and have grown tired of waiting. So they've chosen to use what is already commonly available.

Any new advances would just be gravy.

Clearly you have a reasoned basis, both theoretical and practical, for your estimates. I have 17 years of experience with my off-grid residential photovoltaic system using deep cycle lead-acid batteries. I can confirm the left side of the cycles vs. depth of discharge graph agrees with the longevity of my previous battery array. With an average daily depth of discharge of around 10% my batteries lasted about 14 years (5,300 days).

A new lead-acid battery is about 80% efficient in storing electricity over an interval of a few days. If a 21.6 kW·hr battery pack is cycled to 50%, one would need 13.5 kW·hr of electricity to replace it. With a range of 40 miles and electricity costing $.10 / kW·hr, the cost would be 3.4 cents / mile based on the data you have presented. I am assuming you meant to say a 40 mile distance with a 50% discharge, rather than "40 miles, to 80% discharge."

Because you state the presented data agrees with the real world experience of members of your EV club, I am not saying the data presented in the table labeled "Range, after Peukert, 80% discharge" is incorrect, but am curious why it deviates from theory. For normal incidence wind resistance is directly proportional to the square of the wind speed and to a lesser magnitude directly proportional to the density of air (which for this application is predominately a function of temperature and elevation). Including Peukert's law I would expect the ranges to decline faster with higher speeds than presented in the table. Starting from the range of 102 miles at 20 mi/hr and assuming constant air density, I would theoretically calculate the range for a speed of 80 mi/hr to be:

((20 mi/hr / 80 mi/hr)2 (8.3 kW·hr / 14.0 kW·)) 102 mi = 3.8 miles.

What is wrong with my theory?

If you can convince me, I might just convert my compact pickup to electric rather than wait for the automobile manufactures to produce plug-in series hybrid vehicles (PHEV). I need a distance of 50 to 60 miles with an 80% discharge once per month assuming I can charge the batteries at both ends. A payload of 1,500 pounds should be included. Rural America presents a challenge to the viability of EV's.

I'm not sure exactly why the theory you use deviates so drastically, but my best guess is that you are using air resistance as the only factor in the range for 20 mph. In fact, at 20 mph, the rolling resistance of the car itself is more of a factor than air resistance.

A rule of thumb in the EV community is that under 30 mph, you could electrify a brick-shaped car and it wouldn't make much difference in the performance. Above 30 mph, the air resistance begins to dominate-- and clearly, at 80 mph, it is many times higher than the rolling resistance alone. For that reason, it's not practical to drive regularly at that speed, though many EV conversions certainly are capable of reaching such speeds.

Go to and see some of the real-world range, acceleration and speed numbers. Also, see the book for the formulas I used.

Yes, neglecting rolling resistance probably explains the discrepancy. Thank-you for the links.

As for extending the range of an EV the typical method is to use a trailer with extra batteries. Locating batteries in the pickup bed is not an option because the space is needed for cargo. A few could be located under the bed, but many would reduce the maximum payload weight.

Compact pickup trucks are some of the easiest to convert, mainly because they already have a frame built to carry heavy loads (the batteries) and they have lots of space to put the batteries (under or in the bed).

Your requirements, though, are probably too demanding for the current crop of lead-acids, unless you drive under 40 mph the whole way.

The head of our local EAA chapter has started to use lithium batteries. In some analyses, they come out cheaper due to their longer life, greater capacity, and lower weight. But they are very expensive up-front, and they require a battery monitoring system. He invested in $6000 of them for his conversion, along with probably $2000 for battery monitoring and equalization. He hasn't pushed them to their full range yet though... he doesn't want to risk getting stranded, because unlike lead-acids, when they run out of power, the voltage literally almost drops off a cliff. For now, I'd say lead acids are the safe bet, if they can handle your range.

I know your heart is in the right place but the "big picture" appears to be beyond your understanding. Try to move your thinking beyond your small world.

I urge you to stand on an highway overpass for thirty minutes.
Marvel at the variety and amount of vehicles passing underneath...........all burning fuel and blithely going about their business.

Delivery vehicles, service vehicles, motor cycles, commuters, emergency vehicles, trucks, cranes, plumbers, carpenters, doctors, janitors, police, vans, buses, loaders, diggers................

Now try to imagine how we are going to keep them all rolling.
(You will imagine them all whizzing by on battery power).

Your plan for some people to use ev's is a joke and it is elitist.

It's it no leap of vision to imagine some people using ev's. It's a leap of faith to expect it to mean anything to those who really need them though.
Stop the rhetoric and self aggrandizing.
Stop this BS of electric cars saving the day.

Start working on a plan to keep everyone employed and fed. That would be too hard a problem for you though so you latch onto what you think can be done, it doesn't mean anything but it can be done.

People out of work, denied a future, worrying about feeding their families and with time on their hands to think, is a very scary proposition in my imagination. Then again you can't imagine that, you think everything will be fine as do many others.
I understand though, it's a function of denial.

You just got out of prison or something?

I deserved that.
I should think even a little, before I flap my idiotic gums.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to check out in detail how people and goods have got moved, not just in present day American suburbia, before declaring with what you imagine to be conclusive authority that it can't be done.

For a start in what all of us here feel will be the coming slump, much of the goods presently produced and moved about will not be being made or bought, which reduces transport needs by a great but unknown factor.

Secondly, almost all of the long distance lorries can be taken off of the roads by using rail - this is not a theory, but a fact, as we did it before and can do it again, by pick and shovel if needs be.

In most of the world most of the time people have managed to move around until recently without cars.
Plumbers, for instance, in Rome move around on scooters. They could do the same, albeit with more difficulty, even in more widely dispersed areas.

In Bristol, where I live, plumbers wo are in their fifties started off carrying tools in a bag over their shoulders, and they could do so again.

Again, oil will not just stop, so at a greatly reduced rate deliveries could still be undertaken with much of the present fleet, as long as everyone is not using cars to get to work and run around.

You then declare electric cars and delivery vehicles to be impossible.
What do you know that Toyota do not?
They are not only do-able, but delivery fleets in the UK have substantial numbers of them, growing daily.

What can't be done in present financial circumstances at least in most areas of the world is to straightforwardly substitute EV cars for ICE cars and retain all the present functionality.
Then again, no-one is saying you can, so if that is what you are arguing then you have created a straw man.

A multitude of different bikes, trikes, golf-cart like vehicles etc are certainly buildable, and buyable at reasonable cost:

Most long-distance commuting will likely go out of the window, and transport will resemble Vietnam rather than modern US suburbia, but there is no reason that a fair degree of personal mobility should not remain.

Try to move your thinking beyond your small world... Your plan for some people to use ev's is a joke and it is elitist.

If you yourself want to get all elitist on me, I'll do the same.

In fact, I was where you are, just a few months ago. I've been trying to tell you this. I've MOVED BEYOND your simplified view of peak oil. I'm already at least a step ahead of you. My world is BIGGER than yours. You're still stuck at the stage of "OMG we're totally FU and the S is about to HTF." Believe me, there are stages of Peak Oil awareness beyond this stage.

Try that on for elitism and self-aggrandizement.

Actually, all I'm doing is expressing the way I see things. I could be wrong or right but everyone has a different point of view. This is mine, and I hope to persuade people not to buy into all the doomer worst-case scenarios, because they are not inevitable, and they seem primarily to breed despair and helplessness.

OK, now that that's done...

In my other posts I've explained why I think the worst-case doomer scenarios are NOT inevitable. Did I ever say they wouldn't happen? I've said several times they COULD happen... but only if we sit around and do nothing.

Did I ever say electric cars would save the day? No, they are just one small piece of the puzzle. Why am I harping so much on EVs in this post? Because THE ARTICLE IS ABOUT ENERGY AND VEHICLES. Sorry if that made you think I only care about this one thing.

To address one of your points. You said "You will imagine them all whizzing by on battery power." No, I imagine the roads will eventually be much emptier than they are now, though not totally shut down. Much will be replaced by rail and by much lighter vehicles. Our current fleet is very wasteful. But my whole reasoning with converting EVs is just a transition. Just like described in Part 1 of the Suburbia series going on right now, we don't have the capital to create a whole new fleet of light, efficient EVs, and totally revamped distribution network, etc. So converting the existing fleet of vehicles we have, will allow us to make do while the long transition process occurs.

So again, converted EVs are just one piece of the puzzle. The rest of the puzzle involves:

  • Massive creation of renewable energy infrastructure (which I am still convinced can offer a net positive EROEI, until you or cjwirth can actually give me some hard evidence otherwise...)
  • Redesigning our whole industrial process from a linear to a circular process (see for what I mean)
  • Severely curtailing our excessive lifestyles to a comfortable but minimalistic way of living
  • Re-learning skills we knew generations ago, including producing as much of our food on our own as possible
  • Smaller local farms where less energy-intensive tools (and thus, feasible to run on electricity) make sense
  • More distributed power generation: wind turbines and solar cells on each farm, and on as many roofs as possible
  • Redesigning the distribution network to use far more rail and small electric trucks, since shipping by 18-wheel trucks will probably be extinct
  • Pursuing potentially viable biofuel options such as algal biodiesel, just in case they pan out
  • Much, much more... see the Transition Initiatives ( for example

You're continually equating this vision with business as usual, when it is actually quite a drastic change. If you've read Community Solution's "Plan C", what I'm hoping will happen is something between what they call Plan B and Plan C.

There's no guarantee this will work, but it won't work unless we try. I also don't think that everyone will get on board for this kind of vision, but it is likely that events may force a lot of it to happen. Some parts will require leadership (and those are the parts most at risk of not happening, but some parts will just naturally occur (such as the scaling back of lifestyles... this is starting already).

Finally, once again, what is your idea of preparation? I'm still waiting to hear what YOU think we should be doing, in concrete terms.

People out of work, denied a future, worrying about feeding their families and with time on their hands to think, is a very scary proposition in my imagination. Then again you can't imagine that, you think everything will be fine as do many others.
I understand though, it's a function of denial.

We're back to elitism. How do you know what I can imagine? How do you know I'm in denial? How do you know I haven't moved past denial to your stage of doomerism, then past your doomer vision to a more balanced view that YOU can't imagine, because you think oil is some kind of god that we can't possibly live without (or at least, have some technology without)?

I know fine well what people will go through. I've lived in a third-world country where things are pretty desperate for a lot of people. It's just that I've realized that even though we'll go through such hard times, it's not a given that everything will go to hell. You guys constantly bring up the example of Katrina. The first flaw of that I've pointed out already, which is that the crisis won't hit that suddenly. But beyond that, why don't you bring up the examples of earthquakes in California, or other natural disasters where people actually helped each other out, and some of the positive aspects of human nature came out? Do you think that's Pollyanna-ish? Sure, humans can be horrid to each other. But we are also very resilient and we may just pull through.

In sum, the "doom is inevitable" worldview is too simplistic, and there's no reason we should buy into that and just give up on everything we've built or accomplished in the last century.

Try out the "Gas / Electric Vehicle Cost Comparison" calculator at

Under most fair assumptions, the EV comes out costing less to run. Here are my assumptions and results:

Miles Driven Per Year: 8,000

Gasser Costs

Gasoline Cost per Gallon$2.30
Miles per Gallon of Gasser24
Cost of Oil Change$25
Frequency of Oil Change (miles)3000
Inspection Cost (per Year)$38
Yearly Misc. Costs (radiator fluid, etc)$100
Engine Lifetime (Miles)100,000
Cost of New Engine$2,000

Electric Costs
Cost per KW/H of Electricity$0.13
Watt HR/Mile of Electric250
Charger Efficiency0.85
Battery Efficiency0.85
Inspection Cost (per Year)$8
Yearly Misc. Costs (Distilled water, etc)$50
Battery Pack Replacement Cost$2,300
Battery Pack Lifetime (Years)5
Motor Lifetime (Miles)500,000
Cost of New Motor$2,000
Controller Lifetime (Miles)500,000
Controller Cost$1,500
Charger Lifetime (Miles)500,000
Charger Cost$1,200

Gas Calculations
Gas Used Per Year (Gallons)333.33
Gas Cost Per Year$766.67
Oil Cost Per Year$66.67
All Other Costs Per Year$138.00
Total Costs Per Year$971.33

Operating Costs per Mile$0.121
Cost per Year with Engine Costs$1131.33
Cost per Mile with Engine Costs$0.141

Electric Calculations
KW/Hr Used per Year (Efficiency Adjusted)2768.17

Cost per Year for Electricty$359.86
Total Other Cost Per Year $58.00
Battery Replacement Amortized per Year$460.00
Total Cost per Year$877.86
Operating Cost per Mile$0.110
Cost Per Year with Motor Costs$909.86

Cost Per Mile with Motor Costs$0.114
Cost Per Year with Controller Costs$933.86
Cost Per Mile with Controller Costs$0.117
Cost Per Year with Charger Costs$953.06
Cost Per Mile with Charger Costs$0.119

 Winner!! 15.76% Cheaper.

And this is with $2.30 gas. If it goes back to $4.00 per gallon...

My electricity costs about $0.13 per kWh. This is from a utility that sells 100% wind electricity; that means, wind energy is already feasible and cost-competitive.

I can buy gasoline for around $1.70 right now.

Does your gas car run at all on alcohol? If so, does it get as many MPG as it does on gasoline (not likely)? If everyone started pouring alcohol in their tanks, would the price of alcohol stay where it is now?

Does your gas car run at all on alcohol?


does it get as many MPG as it does on gasoline?

No, but I thought the idea was that we were going to "run out" of gasoline.

would the price of alcohol stay where it is now?

Don't know; it might get cheaper. Will the price of batteries stay the same when we're producing 75 Million Battery Packs/yr?

A common objection to Peak Oil is that it claims we are "running out" of oil. Far from it, though I think a lot of the "doomers" get carried away and end up conveying that idea.

No, Peak Oil means we'll have continually less to work with... over a fairly long period of time. So we'll have to adjust, which I think we will.

Lithium batteries would certainly not be affordable if everyone started using them. (They aren't affordable now!). There's already talk of a peak in lithium production.

But lead-acid batteries are already in widespread use; they are already recycled at well above a rate of 95%; and even if they doubled in price they would likely still be cheaper to run over their lifetimes than fossil fuels. I haven't looked into "peak lead" but it certainly seems to already be a large, successful, well-established, and fairly sustainable industry.

As with anything, in battery technology you can wait... and wait... and WAIT... for the perfect technology to arrive. Or, you can be practical and just go with what is there already. I'm tired of waiting for Detroit and for new wonder batteries. On the other hand, people have been converting cars since the 1970s and they are running just fine for many everyday trips, and SAVING people money.

We're running 240,000,000 cars on 8% ethanol now. That's the equivalent of about 20 Million Cars running on straight ethanol.

BTW, I'm in favor of bailing out the "Big 3." They're starting to bring more, and more of the smaller cars out to run on E85. The HHR, the Impala, the Sebring; plus, they're doing a flexfuel fusion, and G6 in the Spring, along with a compact.

Do you think ethanol is sustainable? Do you think it's a net energy gain?

I'm not convinced that ethanol is a game-changer or a solution to the Peak Oil problem. The arguments have been hashed out in great detail elsewhere and by others; I don't want to repeat them here.

Even electric cars may not be sustainable if we can't generate enough renewable energy.

But based on my analysis and reading in the electric car field, and running the numbers for my own conversion, electric cars make a heck of a lot more sense as a personal AND a large-scale solution than running our cars on ethanol. It's a bigger shift in technology, and some sacrifices and adjustments have to be made. Such as getting used to the fact that you can't just drive all day on a whim. That may require some planning ahead, using a second car for longer trips, etc., and may not work for everyone. But it will work for enough people to make a difference.

At any rate, if Peak Oil forces such changes on us anyways in the long run, I'd rather be prepared with something that in my analysis, will work much better than ethanol.

Did I mention it will SAVE ME MONEY even today?

Do you think ethanol is sustainable?

Sure, as long as the sun shines, and it rains every now and then.

Do you think it's a net energy gain?

Yeah, it's a net energy gain. Not Great now, but it'll be a lot better as time goes on. The big thing is getting nat gas out of the processing loop. That's starting already.

How much land would it take to replace even half our current consumption with corn ethanol? By all accounts I've heard, it's far more land than we can afford to spare. That's why I think ethanol from corn is a dead end, even if it's a net energy gain.

When it comes to biofuels, my money is (literally) on algae biodiesel. It's not proven yet, but if someone finds a way to make it work, it appears to have far more productivity on less land than any other biofuel crop. In fact, it could be produced on marginal land that has little other use. Again, it's speculative but worth pursuing. I've invested a small amount in several algal biodiesel-related companies.

How much land would it take to replace even half our current consumption with corn ethanol?

Not nearly as much on one might think by reading much of the current "literature."

The key is DDGs. A bushel of corn (cattle feed) used for ethanol processing yields approx. 18 lbs. of Distillers Grains; and, a lb of ddgs is a replacement for .95 lbs of corn, PLUS approx. .3 lbs of soybean meal. This means you get back about 23 lbs of corn equivalent cattle feed for every 56 lbs (1 bushel) you process for ethanol. 56 lbs - 23 lbs = 33 lbs (33/56 = .59) Call it .6

With the new Monsanto "preferred processor" seed they're getting right at 3 gallons of ethanol for every one bushel of corn processed. And they're getting back .40 corn equivalent which means they're, in essence, getting 3 gallons of ethanol from .6 bushels of corn.

The yield this year is 154 bu/acre. that means they're getting 154 x 3 / .60 = 770 gal/acre. Now, if we're, currently, using 135 Billion Gallons of Gasoline we would divide 67.5 Billion by 770 for an answer of 88 Million Acres. This would, obviously, be very doable for a country that has decreased it's rowcropped land from 400 Million Acres to 250 in the last half century.

Of course, we're not going to do that. The present law cuts corn ethanol off at 15 Billion Gallons. That will use about 19 Million Acres (out of a rowcropped 250 Million Acres) year after next. You can figure on this number dropping by about 3.5% annually as seed technology improves. That's not too bad in a country that pays it's farmers Not to Plant 34 Million Acres, eh?

Monsanto already controls too much of the world's seed and food market, and continues to quietly buy out heritage seed companies, for example. We'll end up with too much monoculture. And now we want to turn over fuel production to them as well?

The yield this year is 154 bu/acre. that means they're getting 154 x 3 / .60 = 770 gal/acre.

Bad math. You may get 0.4 bushels of feed in addition to 3 gallons of ethanol, but that doesn't mean you can get any more gallons per acre. 154 bushels/acre x 3 gallons/bushel = 462 gallons/acre. It wouldn't matter if you got a million tons of dried distiller grains from each acre, that still wouldn't give you any more ethanol.

Accordingly, 135 billion gallons of gasoline / 2/3 energy density = 200 billion gallons of ethanol / 462 gal/acre = 440 million acres, which is about 20% larger than the 380 million acres currently devoted to crops in the US.

When the calculation is done correctly, the result suggests that replacing all US gasoline with corn ethanol is not such a good idea.

The "Math" is correct, Pitt.

Pitt, you've gotta understand that 80+% of field corn is used to feed livestock (mostly cattle.) Now, here's the point.

The most commonly asked question is, "How many More Acres will we have to plant to get X amount of ethanol. Obviously, if the co-product is a replacement for the corn (or soybeans) that would have been raised (or is being raised) on that land it plays into the equation.

Simple example: I'm raising 1 acre of field corn to feed to cattle. I want to produce 462 gallons of ethanol. How many additional acres must I plant? One? No. Then I would have 1.4 acres of cattle feed. The answer, of course, is I have to grow 1.6 acres of field corn. I take one acre (154 bu,) convert it to ethanol, and add the .4 acres (61.6 bue) to the corn from the .6 acre (92.4 bu) and I'm in business.

Don't forget the 115 Octane Rating. With proper compression, such as Saab attains in their biopower engines using a variable ratio turbocharger, I can provide more HP, and/or fuel efficiency/gal with ethanol than you can with gasoline.

And, besides, Nobody, Absolutely NOBODY, is suggesting that All, or Half, or Even a Quarter of our gasoline should be replaced with Corn Ethanol. Law sets it at about 10%, or 15 Billion Gallons. The rest will be done with other crops, technologies, etc.

I mean, That's in the Law! Why keep throwing up the Strawman of "You can't do it all with Corn." Corn was a good first step. Our farmers were expert at raising it; and we've been making whiskey out of it for hundreds of years. Now we'll move on to other things. Switch grass, sweet sorghum, sugar cane, municipal solid waste, forestry waste, corn cobs, whatever.

Now, on to BidDiesel.

you've gotta understand that 80+% of field corn is used to feed livestock

Which is utterly irrelevant to why your calculations are wrong. 154bu/acre at 3 gallons/bu will never give you 770 gallons per acre.

(As a point of interest, 68% of US corn is used for livestock feed (47% domestically, 19% exported), 24% for ethanol, and 9% for human food (corn syrup and such))

I'm raising 1 acre of field corn to feed to cattle. I want to produce 462 gallons of ethanol. How many additional acres must I plant? One? No. Then I would have 1.4 acres of cattle feed. The answer, of course, is I have to grow 1.6 acres of field corn.

At which point you have 1.6 acres under cultivation to produce 462 gallons of ethanol. When the total crop area in the country is a limiting factor, that 1.6 acres matters.

I can provide more HP, and/or fuel efficiency/gal with ethanol than you can with gasoline.

Octane is not energy; engines can be tuned to be more efficient for one fuel or another, but a gallon of ethanol has 2/3 the energy content of a gallon of gasoline.

Why keep throwing up the Strawman of "You can't do it all with Corn."

I don't know, why did you throw up that strawman?

You claimed it "would, obviously, be very doable", and now you're complaining that we're even discussing it? Are people not supposed to fact-check your claims?

The fact of the matter is that 22% of the US corn crop in 2007 was used to produce 425kb/d of ethanol (6.5B gallons), which has the energy content of about 300kb/d of oil, or about 1.5% of US oil consumption. Scaling that up, the entire corn crop would replace 6-7% of US oil consumption, strongly suggesting that corn ethanol will play at most a minor role in weaning the US off oil.

At which point you have 1.6 acres under cultivation to produce 462 gallons of ethanol. When the total crop area in the country is a limiting factor, that 1.6 acres matters.

NO, at this point I have 1.6 acres under cultivation to feed cattle the equivalent of 154 bu. of corn, and produce 462 gallons of ethanol. If I didn't desire the ethanol I would have 1.0 Acre of corn under cultivation. I've added .6 Acres to accomplish my secondary goal of producing 462 gallons of ethanol.

24% for ethanol

NO, 24% for Ethanol, AND Distillers Grains

Octane is not energy;

No, but it controls how much of the energy can be used. A hershey bar has btus, but it's worthless in a Volvo.

The "Fact Is" 22% of the corn crop was used to produce Ethanol, and Distillers Grains. And, the Fact is that that ethanol in a "Mid-level" Blend will just about replace gasoline 1:1.

The Fact is we'll replace about 10% of our Gasoline with Corn Ethanol. Not much more, Not much less. The rest of our ethanol will come from other sources. 10% = 10%.

We're already doing 8%. Just two more to go, and the pain will be over. Then you can rail at something else. Did I mention Corn was $3.38/bu, yesterday?

I've added .6 Acres to accomplish my secondary goal of producing 462 gallons of ethanol.

Yes, but that doesn't change the fact that 1 acre can produce no more than 462 gallons.

If you're trying to replace 135B gallons of gasoline, then the correct measure is 462 gallons of ethanol per 1.0 acres, resulting in 440M acres needed. Certainly, lots of feed grains are also produced, but that doesn't change the fact that less than 440M acres will produce less fuel energy than 135B gallons of gasoline.

That is the calculation you were trying to do, and that I was responding to. All of the subsequent talk of distillers grains is entirely irrelevant to the simple calculation of how many acres of corn it would take to replace those 135B gallons of gasoline.

the Fact is that that ethanol in a "Mid-level" Blend will just about replace gasoline 1:1.

Your evidence for this is?

Ethanol has lower energy content, and anecdotal evidence from posters on this site has suggested that ethanol blends tend to give lower mileage, so the onus is on you to back up the claim that that lower energy content does not translate into lower capacity to propel a vehicle.

You might be right, but you can't expect anyone to take your word for it.

We're already doing 8%. Just two more to go, and the pain will be over. Then you can rail at something else.

You appear to be confused.

You posted flawed and misleading math.
I corrected your flawed and misleading math.
You started ranting and obfuscating.
I persisted in correcting your original flawed and misleading math.

If I'm railing against anything - and keep in mind who's been throwing around bold and all-caps - it's your flawed and misleading math.

(That's not to say that corn ethanol isn't a bad idea - it is, for a number of reasons. It's just not a particular interest of mine, especially considering there are people here who do make a point of regularly making solid quantitative arguments against it.)

My Math was perfect. The only thing flawed was your thinking. I can't force you to understand what you refuse to understand.

the Fact is that that ethanol in a "Mid-level" Blend will just about replace gasoline 1:1. Your evidence for this is?

Mid-level Blend Mileage Test.

Then, there's This One.

Okay, I'm through.

"Okay, I'm through."

Thank Goodness.

Thanks Pitt.

A hershey bar has btus, but it's worthless in a Volvo.

From bits I've been gleaning here and there, but mostly from, comparative E85 mileage seems to be currently at or slightly above 80 percent. With room for improvement.


There ought to be a fertilizer drum. Which could also address its role in unresolved issues of food production under severe economical conditions.

"How much land would it take to replace even half our current consumption with corn ethanol? By all accounts I've heard, it's far more land than we can afford to spare. That's why I think ethanol from corn is a dead end, even if it's a net energy gain."

Making ethanol out of corn is a brain-dead idea, they only do it because of the grain subsidies. There are much better feedstocks -- cattails, buffalo-gourd, sugarbeets, sorghum, sugarcane, etc. Cattails give you 1500 gallons an acre with no fertilizer, no herbicides, and you only plant it once. Corn, at best, with huge amounts of fertilizer and herbicides, might do 400 gallons an acre.
Best scenario -- grow cattails at every sewage treatment plant as secondary or tertiary water cleanser, you will get at least 2500 gallons per acre of ethanol and extremely clean water.

Lead acid batteries lose a tremendous amount of juice at low temperatures. I'm having a momentary blank spot here, but do lead acid batteries heat up internally as current is drawn from them? If not, your 40 mile range could end up being 5 miles on a 0 degree day.


Home converters have solved this problem. You just put batteries in an insulated box, with a heater pad underneath them. When they are in the garage charging up, the heater pad heats them. While driving, they stay warm enough on their own due to the insulation and some warming as they pump out the juice. If you have to leave them in a cold parking lot for several hours, you can switch on the heater pad. It doesn't take much juice to keep the batteries warm inside an insulated box.

I'd be careful with insulating those batteries without doing some basic calcs. Lead acids don't have too high an efficiency (compared to most lithium based chemistries) so there's quite a bit of heat. I'd put a digital thermometer in the insulated box and wire it to a big fan just to be sure your battery doesn't get too hot.

If you just drive gently it's much less of a problem though.


We are running out of oil very quickly. Standard scenarios put us virtually out of oil by 2075, but long before that oil production will cease.

You should read my comments and other comments following mine at

And long before that the collapse will come, see my comments and those by Rockman and Davebygolly here:

Said by cjwirth:
...virtually out of oil by 2075....

Perhaps we will be out of light sweet crude oil in 67 years, but with lower production rates than present, there are many more remaining petroleum resources. Few vehicles manufactured today will exist in 67 years. We need to transition during the interim, not go cold turkey. PHEV's and EV's are good transitional vehicles. Electric trains and ships will probably be able to outlive the depletion of crude oil.

As for your belief that the electric grid can not survive the depletion of crude oil due to the inability to maintain paved roads, here are a few solutions:

Long distance power lines and wind turbines can be installed in railroad easements and serviced by electric trains. The tracks would also be used to transfer freight and passengers. Solar thermal to electric systems could also be installed where the tracks pass through desert. This would satisfy Al Gore's vision of long distance interconnected wind turbines. Wind turbines installed off-shore would obviously be serviced by ships which could be powered by all sorts of things, such as sails, hydrogen, batteries, photovoltaic panels, fission reactors or fusion reactors. Install photovoltaic panels on rooftops. Servicemen will be able to get to the buildings because occupants will keep the roads clear and maintained even if they are dirt roads. Remote high voltage power lines usually have a dirt road beneath them. Instead of using a tractor the servicemen could carry picks and shovels and do some real work to clear the road as necessary. I have had to repair roads by such means before I could continue traveling along them. Imagine what U.S. highway 66 was like passing through the Mojave desert before it was paved. It was hard, but people successfully drove vehicles of less rugged construction than today along it.

As I said upthread, any mad-made machine has a shelf-life of no more than a few decades, so must eventually be replaced. So it follows, how can a wind turbine, particularly one at sea, be seen as a renewable alternative?

Please, I'm trying to visualise my grand-children's best-case future.

Regards, Matt B

There's no such thing as renewable. When the hydrogen atoms in the sun fuse into helium, the hydrogen is gone. That is not renewable.

But let's not be pedantic about semantics. Since the sun is going to shine and the wind is going to blow whether we use it nor not, the question would be: will many next generations be able to do this without, in our judgement (we don't know theirs yet), unacceptable burdens to themselves and their environments and the natural resource base?

Well, wind generators don't use a lot of rare materials, except for the permanent magnets. We could use non permanent magnets if that's a problem though. Iron will do. And copper could be somewhat of an issue, maybe. However, the lion's share of the materials used can be almost fully recycled. Modern lifecycle studies use about 90% of the steel and more than 95% of the copper as a recyling percentage, and it's improving as recycling technology becomes more innovative and governments continue to stimulate recycling efforts.

There would be more mining impacts to get the wind fleet going, as they use large amounts of mineral derived materials. But due to recycling, this wouldn't be a continuous burden, especially if we can stop energy demand growth (I think we can and at least should try really hard). And at any rate, the fossil fuels saved would mean those wouldn't have to be extracted, so saves impact.

The impact on wildlife is not big, some birds do get killed but orders of magnitude less than for example windows and buildings. Not to mention cats... I hear that bats have become a concern; their echo positioning allows them to escape the blades, but even if they fly near the blades, their fragile lungs are damaged by the pressure differences, and they can die. Proper siting solves most problems (no windparks in major migratory bird flows or near large bat colonies etc).

There are a lot of benefits in wind power, and it's relatively affordable even under higher penetrations of grid energy. So could be a big part of the solution. At the very least, going for 10-20 percent of global electric demand is a doable target. After that, well, we'll see. In principle, a lot more can be accomodated in grids, but there's not a lot of experience with very high percentages wind in the grid total mix. All the more reason to get that experience I'd say...

Compliments to Cyril and too proud to reedit my post.

best-case future, please

If you'll bear with more qualitative than authoritative answers, as I'm doing that for free ... and will cowardly beam away at the first claim thereof.

A renewable machine is commonly called a perpetuum mobile, so that's not the right way of looking at it.

The first renewable resource here is curtesy of Aeolus. For his wrath, see earlier drums here, but that's another story. Second and third renewable resources are the humans and capital engaged in the construction of wind turbines. Well, sort of, for number three at the moment.

The required materials have been getting more expensive recently with the commodities push, but less so than for most other generation technologies. In fact, less than for any I can think of. Another goodie is that there are there are different options of materials for important components like towers and blades. For instance I have vague recollections of balsa being started to be used for blades; steel, copper, concrete, and yes, carbon chains are the most used ones. And contrary to what may appear from the two latter ones life cycle analysis is all thumbs up and peaks are not really an issue, besides perhaps for copper (substituable by alu?) and some more exotic stuff I don't have the nerve to look up now, and anyway a lot of things probably need to go down the drain first before anything serious'll start hitting the wind industry. They already had some stiff gales to handle and have stunned all foes by the party they had getting through them. And the pace. A particular fun part is remembering a former French finance minister say that it wuz not a few windmills that are going to make a diff. So in absence of any hint to the contrary I'd go with the bold statement that resource-wise nothing would refrain you from producing these type of machines to create a 100000 TWH/year for at least a hundred years. And while its no less hard work than at GM there's quite a few things about the industry that make it nicer.

Now to the nasty part:

Contrary to reccuring statements the winds always blow for those not living in a small place, thanks to the invention of alternative current. And I do not need to convince anybody of the advantage of having a decent grid, do I? Besides possibly another former French finance minister in a weird urban myth. Or of setting up one as a matter of earning all these monies in some of the places where they have been so graciously created of late. There are also options for using wind energy in small places.

Yes, the ones at sea are not yet grownups and as dangerous to handle as a bright and sexy mid-aged teen. My troubled bank just couldn't cope with one anymore, but its been drinking too much and as always its the kids that get to suffer from such hangovers.

Nasty part done.

Besides what wouldn't ya do to please fox hunters; and Germans seem to get serious about setting them up by next year and as it often does, that should get done with any argument. One of my pet ideas is to combine these parks with marine renewables.

I'll start answering questions that haven't been asked if I go on from here. Just one addition to things that have been mentioned here by others. Desalination. Not yet and not straightforward, but hopefully asap.


On Earth renewable and sustainable do not mean lasting forever. In 4 billion years Sun will become a red giant engulfing and destroying Earth which places a finite time interval on anything we do here.

Zinc used to galvanize a steel pole is definitely in short supply, but other materials could be used for the mount. Some man made structures have persisted for hundreds and thousands of years. They tend to be made from stone, like a castle or pyramid. Creosoted wood is often used to support power lines, and trees will continue to grow provided we do not wreck the environment. Concrete for a pier is durable and plentiful. As Cyril R.'s remarks cover the remainder well, I will stop here.

E85 is $1.69 at the stations near me. And my old '91 Toyota 4x4 runs great on it. More power and cleaner burning. Make it yourself practically for free if you don't count your time.

There is a need for new cars to be produced at almost the rate they are today. Cars driven in the cold climates can't last much more than 12 years before the cost to maintain them exceeds their remaining value. Salt not only ruins the body and frame, it also does a job on expensive parts that are exposed to the weather.

As cars age, they are sold to people who can't afford to buy new cars. Because they have limited resources, when an engine or transmission goes the car is often towed to the junkyard. Even if they can afford to put in a rebuilt or used engine or transmission, because of the age of the car there are typically a host of other problems that will soon require expensive repairs. State motor vehicle inspection laws don't allow for emission standards to be ignored. The often high cost to bring an old car up to those standards is another reason they end up at the junkyard. That's why there is a thriving black market in inspection stickers.

It's ironic that our quest for clean air increases the number of vehicles that die an early death:(

It is possible to get over 400,000 miles out of a car (on the original engine and transmission) if properly driven and maintained (even in the north). The problem is there are precious few people that know how, and can afford, to do that.

By simply inflating tires monthly to 4 psi over the recommended pressure (unless that exceeds the maximum psi on the sidewall) we can save an incredible amount of fuel. Perhaps as much as 2.5% of the total fuel we use each year. But, as a nation, we can't accomplish such a simple job as managing tire pressures. Instead we expect someone to painlessly come up with replacements for fossil fuels so we won't have to learn how to use a tire pressure gauge and get down on our knees.

By the way, your spare tire will lose about 7 psi per year. Don't forget to check it annually.

Salt and corrosion are certainly big problems.

However, as you point out, most cars are junked far earlier than they would have to be if they were well maintained.

If you add to that the idea of converting them to electric drive, and you take good care of the rest of the body, etc., then you can get at least twice the life out of them that most people do. Again, electric drivetrains are FAR more reliable and maintenance-free than the gasoline drivetrains they replace.

As for the cost of conversion? The converted car is still cheaper than a new car... and it uses up a lot less resources to produce.

BTW, Scientastic, I'm kinda yanking your chain, a little. I, really think your conversion idea is fine; and, it might be cheaper than alcohol. (then again, maybe not :) )

I, personally, think we have a LOT of options; and we should explore them all.

Thanks for the challenges, it's not a problem for me. I'm convinced by the numbers I've run, and that's why I still think ethanol is a dead end, and Detroit should basically go full-bore on projects like the Volt.

Obviously it's expensive now the way they are approaching it; and they may not have enough money to survive long enough to improve the technology and bring costs down low enough to make it affordable to the average person. In that sense I can see the merit in bailing them out. But only under the condition that they REALLY change the game, far more than just offering flex fuel on most of their models.

I'd like to see Volt-like drives in all models instead. The advantage there is you really do have the best of both worlds: drive 40 miles on electric, but drive all you want if you have to, on gas. That's the main limitation with these converted vehicles; you have to keep a gasoline car around for long trips.

Given the current economic situation, and the time it will take to replace our existing inventory of cars in service, conversions seem to make a lot more sense than trying to get everyone to buy a new electric car. Long-term, if electric cars take off, the market for conversions will clearly go away.

My dream car would be an affordable "Voltish" type car with a small e85-optimized engine.

Best of Both worlds.

Mine too.

Scientastic- Great work. Keep it up. Don't forget the idea of battery switching, rather than recharging. This is what I have been daydreaming about for my own sort of minimal needs- a very simple light vehicle with built-in quick battery switch at home, and at office, so I never have any delay from recharge. And, since I am a stirling engine R&D type, a little stirling on board that burns a small amount of compressed wood gas to give me heat and a bit of recharge capacity. It makes no noise or vibration -just fuel in, heat and electricity out.

The idea of battery switch allows a system in which a battery specialist company is taking the job of keeping the batteries up to date, and the user is just paying for the service and is not hit with an occasional big bill for replacement.

So when I am done playing around in the lab, I get a battery switch, and an equally fast switch of a small compressed gas bottle, and off I go all charged up and ready to spin off the icy road and over the cliff into the trees. Fini. Next?

Truth to tell, my favorite transport idea is a car club, in which I get any transport service by a cell phone. Any time, any place. So in essence, I own a fleet of vehicles- and drivers if I want, which I do, being pretty creaky these days.

How much alcohol are you planning to use for cars?

How much alcohol are you planning to use for cars?

I haven't the foggiest. Present law calls for 36 Billion Gallons in the U.S. I imagine we'll do that. That puts us into the 2020's. From there we'll just see what develops. Technology is "moving fast." My crystal ball gets real blurry out around 2025, or so. :)

Sounds plausible. The impact wouldn't be trivial but is likely preferable to societal collapse we could agree. Crystal balls are dangerous things. Palantiri. Better go for something we know that can work decently even without improvements, plugin conversions plus ethanol. And obviously, less cars (or at least less driving). Let's face it, using 2000 kg of car to transport 50-100 kg of person with net energy efficiencies of 15-25% and then using that idea as wholesale commuter transportation, wasn't the brightest idea mankind has come up with.

You're right though, because technology is moving so fast, and scientific insights may improve, targets will likely change a lot over the years. Not a bad thing, all is change, we'll have to live with that. But at least we know we're getting somewhere if certain developments fail to materialize... maybe I've just seen too many biofuel disappointments. With lead acid, you know what you've got. Which is to say, crappy but OTOH it works well enough. We may have to live with crappy if peakoil is happening sooner rather than later.

Almost. Switch the stupid liquid fuel hose (the electric-synfuel idea is energetically retarded) with an electric plug and your much closer to feasibility.

And switch the stupid multi ton vehicle with a lightweight electric scooter or electric bicycle (lazy pedals), or electric car if you really must have one. Then we're talking.

Thermodynamics is an important part of sustainability. It is worrisome that companies like SES and the NA U college of... engineering and natural sciences (sic) don't get that part. If they don't get it, how can we expect the averagejoe to?

Exactly. I'm not advocating switching to electric so everyone can continue to blithely drive around as much as they want with huge SUVs. That lifestyle just doesn't work well at all with electric vehicles.

People should be using electric bicycles, scooters, small 2-seaters, etc. as much as they can, and electric cars if they must. We still need to get around to some degree. The good news is there's already a bunch of cars on the road that could be easily converted and made to last for another 10 years at least with good care. This should give us time and resources to a) build up our renewable energy infrastructure and b) transition our communities as quickly as possible to the point where bicycles, scooters, etc. are more practical, and our livelihoods don't depend so much on products from halfway around the world, big-box stores halfway across the city, and jobs several zip codes away.

There's no real technical problem with this. It's not relying on magic technology that has yet to be invented. It's more affordable to convert a used car to electric than it is to buy a new oil-powered car, and the new electric drivetrain will easily outlast the new ICE drivetrain.

As always, it's mainly a people problem. The best way I see for an individual to confront that problem head-on is to lead by example.


In terms of Cars vs. Windmills, the issue for me keeps coming back to what's next. What path do we take from here to where we need to be, which is a sustainable society. What does that look like? We basically must stop mining and return to harvesting, where:

1) All products are made from sustainable sources,
2) All manufacturing processes leave no lasting pollution,
3) All discarded products, waste, etc., is 100 %recycled,
4) The energy used to do the above is the minimum required, and,
5) The energy used above is from 100% sustainable sources.

So, how do we get from these 5 gross generalizations to deciding what to do at the nail and shovel level? As we all here feel, there is a closing window of opportunity measured in carbon emissions and dwindling fossil fuels that won't stay open for very long. So we need to get it mostly right this next time. We no longer have the luxury to be led down blind allies by well funded industry lobbies.

So for starters, we can't get there without knowing

1) The Embodied Energy (EE) in what we make
2) The Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI) for our power systems and goods

Dr. Charles Hall has spend decades researching published values for our basic energy systems with what he feels are not very reliable results (See Why EROI Matters (Part 1 of 6)

The result is that without this basic information, we will spend lots of time arguing about whether to build biofuel plants and diesel cars or windmills and solar arrays to power electric cars, and then discovering we didn't get it right.

So my first step is not arguing over Hummers vs. GE 3.5 MW towers, but instead have “TheOilDrum” author an open letter to all of the professional engineering organizations explaining the dire need and ask them to:

1) Create standard methods to determine EE and EROEI so values can be measured against each other, and,
2) Create review and standards bodies to maintain accepted values.

That way, we can choose the system(s) to build based on measured values, rather than logical arguments, and we can then discern properly between the many paths that stretch out before us.

Pragmatic, you live up to your handle.

Hi Nate,

First, wind turbines and solar panels yield electric energy which is not what we need -- liquid fuels for tractors/combines, heavy trucks, trains, and ships, as well as energy for heating and fertilizer too.

Second, the planning, development, manufacture, and maintenance of alternative energies consumes/wastes fossil energies. Proponents of alternative energies provide an analysis of net energy produced over the life cycle of a project or device, known as a life-cycle-analysis (LCA).

Invariably, such assessments are incomplete in accounting for only a portion of the energy inputs. For example for the typical LCA of a solar panel, the energy input is usually confined to the energy required to produce and construct the panels, photovoltaic cells, glass, and pylons.

What analysts do not included is all of the energy used in all of the processes required to plan, develop, manufacture, transport, store, install, and maintain the panels, including: the energy used to mine the ores; process the ores; mine the silica for glass; transport the ores; mine the coal; manufacture various parts in diverse locations; transport those parts via ships and trucks from numerous diverse global locations; build, heat, and provide electric power for the factories and offices where all of the components and parts are designed, constructed, marketed, stored, and delivered; install and maintain major solar panel installations with gasoline operated vehicles and petrochemical-based cleaners; AND the salaries and stock dividends of all employees and stock holders for all of these processes that are then spent, thus consuming fossil energy in the products and services purchased.

Because there are many confounded energy input variables (for example the transport of solar panel components may be transported with unrelated products), it is difficult to quantify the real energy inputs/costs of solar panels.

The high dollar cost of solar panels, however, is a rough economic estimate of these energy inputs. This explains why researchers in the industry

conclude that “the initial costs [of solar panels] are about 2.5 times the value of the electricity produced” over the 25 year lifespan of the panels.

In sum, accounting for “all of the energy inputs” (AEI) is necessary for an accurate LCA.

We can call this “complete energy returned on energy invested” or C-EROEI, and the C-EROEI for solar panels stinks.

Third, there is no plan for the infrastructure of the electric economy. Where will the trillions of dollars/Euros for the make over come from? Where are the plans for infrastructure? Where will the energy come from? Even today, with cheap energy, alternatives have major investment problems:{74F9D1AD-46D8-4BA9-8B2A-CB15C097425B}&siteid=rss

The Energy Watch Group (funded by the German Parliament) concludes much the same about alternative energies in PEAK OIL COULD TRIGGER MELTDOWN OF SOCIETY:

“By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame.”

We could waste much time, oil, and investment on developing alternatives, only to find out later that they can’t provide the energy required, and that it is the wrong type of energy.

Without ample oil, we are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel trucks for maintenance of bridges, cleaning culverts to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables, all from far away. With the highways out, there will be no food coming in from “outside,” and without the power grid virtually nothing works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated systems.

A major question for TOD editors: the TOD website promises: "Discussions about energy and our future."

Why are there so many posts about solar/wind, which is not a real future, and so few posts about preparations for Peak Oil impacts -- when there is no oil -- which is the real future?

Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D.
Peak Oil Associates International

"Why are there so many posts about solar/wind, which is not a real future, and so few posts about preparations for Peak Oil impacts -- when there is no oil -- which is the real future?"

Well probably shouldn't but I'm going to try this. First thing is to take a look at all the research about the simple addition of some solar tech in 3'd world countries. a simple solar light can radically change how a whole village works. There are many areas in the world that do not have a centralized infrastructure. No electric grid. Never been built. There are some good odds we might lose our own.

Now, I'm pretty set, don't need electric to heat the house, water pumping is nice but I do have a working hand pump. But I do like light at night, at least for part of it. I can be more productive for more of the day with a simple light. A few other devices kicking around here I might like to power up every once in a while. Very low tech solar and wind can do that. Something as simple as an Air X.

So IMHO the real future looks very much like just about any third world country you want to look at, areas of something similar to BAU, and vast tracts of just basic survival.

That why I talk about wind and solar.

Don in Maine O.C.G. , Old, cranky, geezer. Chuckle.

We obviously can't massively convert everything from fossil fuels to electric power right away.

However, we can make selective steps in that direction in areas in which it's feasible, such as electric cars for driving within a range of about 50 miles per day (commutes for many people, plus some errand-running). This frees up oil for industries that may take longer to transition, such as shipping, agriculture (tractors), etc.

In the long-run, we will have to live with a smaller energy budget, even with renewable sources. What this means for driving, is probably a lot shorter commutes. (A positive improvement in some respects.) What this means for agriculture is a reversal of the "bigger is better" approach, and a gradual return to smaller, more sustainable farms where lower-energy approaches work. (And yes, there are electric tractors; they are clearly not going to cut it for giant farms, but are already in use at some small organic farms.) What this means for commerce is probably a lot less globalism and a lot more local production. What this means for shipping, is probably a lot more rail and a lot more small delivery trucks, again, in the long-term picture, running probably on electricity.

The conversion of existing cars that are driven less than 50 miles a day on average, is just the most obvious starting point. This frees up oil and buys us time to work on the longer-term transitions in other industries.

As has been pointed out, the biggest problem is still one of human nature. That's why I think we can't keep waiting around for the guys at the top, or for the rest of society, to lead the way. We can start by converting our own cars, and supporting, promoting and investing in local conversion shops. I don't have much hope in Detroit to solve this in a practical way, even if their survival is at stake. But I do know many of us have looked at the feasibility of a converted electric car, and found that it makes sense for 80% of our driving needs.

It's true that wind and solar currently take up a lot of non-renewable resources to produce. I disagree that it is a net loss, and I believe TOD has published numbers, that show wind power at least is a net positive energy gain. If we cut consumption, raise efficiency, and shift away from oil starting with cars and expanding to other industries, we can move the oil resources to produce green energy infrastructure which I am convinced is worth the investment.

Besides, what is the alternative? Wait for society to crash? I know the potential for this; I've been through a doomer phase. I know it is still a strong possibility that we could have a "die-off" or any of the other scenarios that keep doomers awake at night. And fear is a strong motivator, so it's good to continue to discuss these possibilities. I'm fully aware, for example, that World War III is very likely to occur in the next decade or two.

But I refuse to let fear paralyze me, when I can still see options on the table. And one destructive aspect of the fatalism brought by such fear is not only that it can prevent us from taking action, but in some cases, may cause us to dismiss the possibility of ANY path that avoids catastrophe.

I went ahead and actually read the link you posted about the cost benefits of solar PVs. In dollar terms, assuming electricity prices remain relatively stable, yes, the current crop of PVs do cost more than they save over 20-25 years.

However, the report directly contradicts the idea that in energy terms, PVs are a loss. In energy terms, they claim it is a GAIN in only 2 years. Here is the paragraph:

The pair carried out a cost-benefit analysis and found that the total energy produced over a two-year period outweighs the energy used in manufacture, installation, and maintenance. Their analysis also shows that the manufacture and use of PV panels produces less pollution than fossil fuel based electricity generation... The ... analysis holds even in countries with medium sunshine. This makes PV panels a viable alternative energy supply... [emphasis mine]

The conclusion:

In their assessment of the three different PV panel types on the south-facing roof of a school in Ferrara, northern Italy, the team found that the energy produced by the panels over their lifetimes considerably overcomes the energy needed during manufacture. In fact, energy costs are recovered within two years in this medium sunshine climate. The team also showed that carbon dioxide emissions are significantly lower over the PV panel lifetime from cradle-to-grave compared with conventional electricity generation. Economic costs, the team found, would only be recouped if the panels remained fully functional for more than twenty years.

If our assumption is that the cost of fossil-fuel-based electricity will rise, then even in dollar terms PVs may make sense. Pair that with new developments in thin-film solar, dye sublimation, etc. and I see no reason to disparage the potential that solar electricity offers.

Even beyond that, commercial solar plants are now operating which use the sun to heat steam to turn regular turbines. These may not yet compete with coal and gas, cost-wise, but there is certainly far more to solar than just the current crop of silicon crystal PVs.

Hi Scientastic,

Are you going to use incomplete EROEI (as do the authors in the article cited) or the complete energy returned on energy invested or C-EROEI that I discussed above.

The C-EROEI is negative for solar panels and wind turbines too (much aluminum and capital investment/energy).

Do you want to waste oil and natural gas to get electric power, which is not useful and which does not put food on the table, nor heat the house, nor fertilize crops? Soon, in the growing Greater Depression of Peak Oil we will have spare electric power as factories, commercial centers, and offices close.

The electric economy is not sustainable without oil. Much oil is needed for highway maintenance (diesel in snowplowing, employees driving to work, culvert maintenance to prevent road washouts, road bed construction, resurfacing, bridge repair and maintenance, highway patrol, etc.) When gas stations are closed, people will not be able to get to work to do highway maintenance. The power grid depends on the highways for maintenance, new transformers, cable, huge pylons. When the highways fail, so too will the power grid.

Then the electric economy is dead, and all of the solar panels and wind turbines will stand idle as monuments to a lack of thinking, planning, and analysis.

The Energy Watch Group, which is funded by the German Parliament, seems to be saying that the alternative energies, including nuclear, won't do it. Germany like much of Europe has been investing a lot in wind turbines. How is it that they are cautioning us here?

If there is no credit for building a few power plants:

where will the credit come from for the trillion dollar electric economy -- millions of heavy trucks, millions of recharge stations, millions of cars that people can't buy as the old car has no trade in value) thousands of train conversions, million of trams and thousands of mile of cable and millions of pylons etc, etc.

The electrification of agriculture is not practical. Electric tractors/combines would require recharges after 2 or 3 hours of operation and then take 6 hours to recharge.

Do you suggest moving in the direction of a trillion dollar economy without studying if it will work without oil to maintain it? Where are your plans for capital, investment, and energy and what will the infrastructure look like?

Don't you think it would be a good idea to start planning for the day after the Last Power Blackout? That days is coming soon.

The whole impression I get from your posts is that we should just give up all technology and "plan" for a future without anything that uses energy, because it's inevitable. This may not be what you are really saying but that's how it comes across.

You say the "Last Power Blackout" is coming "soon". How soon do you estimate it to be? A year? A decade? Three decades?

No, I don't buy into the worst-case doomer scenarios. Been there, done that, and realized what is wrong with the thinking. Sure, we won't be able to count on oil in 2075. But if we transition properly, we won't care because we won't NEED it.

You make it sound like NOTHING can be done without oil-- again, sorry if I'm misreading your message. I disagree. A lot can be done without a drop of oil. Right now our infrastructure including electric power grid depends on oil because we use so much oil for transport. But transport can occur without oil. It may not be as cheap, and we may not be able to do as much of it. I completely agree that we will have to cut back. But the Olduvai scenarios just don't convince me anymore... I never found any convincing reason why this total blackout is completely unavoidable.

The main flaws in these worst-case scenarios, is assuming 1) nothing can be done without oil and 2) oil will "run out" much faster than anyone can cope with.

It took us 100+ years to get to the peak. It probably won't take us another 100 years down on the other side, especially because of population, etc. However, it's not going to run out tomorrow. It will last several decades at least. If we get our butts in gear that should be enough time to avoid the Last Power Blackout.

And I find the Export Land Model flawed for several reasons. Yes, it's a good tool to estimate how oil exports will fall faster than the actual peaking. However, it is too simplistic in that it fails to account for the economic recession it would cause in the exporting country as their primary source of income falls. This may not apply in all countries. But in many countries, as exports fall toward zero, their domestic economy would suffer, thus cutting their internal demand, freeing up more for export. Again, ELM is helpful to some degree, but is not the full picture.

So, yes, we are in a pickle. But no, I don't see this as the end of the world, and I don't see the Last Power Blackout (TM) as inevitable by any stretch of the imagination. It may occur, but only if we don't get off our butts and work hard at the problem on all levels.

Finally, I find that it is because of these excessively negative pictures painted by some Peak Oilers, that many don't take us seriously. It is partly because of this that we are accused of claiming oil will "run out" in the very near future, when clearly it will not and is not.

Are you going to use incomplete EROEI (as do the authors in the article cited) or the complete energy returned on energy invested or C-EROEI that I discussed above.

The C-EROEI is negative for solar panels and wind turbines too (much aluminum and capital investment/energy).

Since you disagree with their analysis, I would like to see your numbers and sources. Convince me.

CJ, it's frustrating to attempt talking sense to people still in denial.
They see a future of BAU and profits for new inventions and scientific discovery.
Since James Watt's invention we have unknowingly been on the road to oblivion. I despair that most are still unknowing.

I wish they would look around, open their eyes and contemplate for a minute or so on what is happening right now.

The crap is still on the way to the fan and they think business can engineer a silver bullet and a way to prevent it hitting. We need to understand the predicament we are now in was created in the first place by engineering practices based on cheap fossil energy. I doubt we can prevent TSHTF but maybe we could reduce the splatter but it will not be achieved by denuding the planet and denying future generations a fighting chance.

The problem is, to facilitate mitigation, we will all have to give up much of what makes us comfortable. We have to lower or alter our expectations of what we need to make us happy.

We need to begin mitigating immediately and attempting a power down, no more engineering and dreaming of economic growth and a new beginning of full employment and electric cars and trains to take us to our place of employment.

I predict a change of heart when the guru's above lose THEIR jobs. At the moment it's just statistics and other poor dumb fools out of work. When it is they, a pretty uncomfortable realization will set in. Then they will understand their best asset is a strong back and a willingness to work anywhere, at anything, long and hard.

Now having ranted all that I know we will NOT willingly take the hard road.
The hard road will be forced upon us when it's too late. We'll travel down it kicking and screaming bemoaning lost opportunities and bad decisions.

I used to be a doomer too. I still don't believe BAU is possible, nor is perpetual economic growth, etc. There are limits to growth. But I also don't believe total collapse is inevitable, nor is a return to a world of no technology and 100% manual labor.

What is this hard road you talk about? I'd like to hear a vision of the future instead of bemoaning denial. Fatalism stinks too, as does talking over people's heads.

Is it a wasted effort to even discuss continuing to have some cars at all? What will be the alternative? We can't just wave a wand and make suburbia disappear, as much as we all may hate aspects of it.

Sure, we can live in a world without cars. We may eventually get there. I think I would actually like it, as long as other means of transportation were available. But I don't see it happening overnight in any kind of orderly transition. It may happen if sudden collapse occurs, which is a likelihood I agree we can't discount.

But if you see any possibility of a transition period, a relatively orderly "powering down," you should allow for the possibility of a role for EVs, for some part of that transition. People, society, infrastructure, and communities are not ready for the sudden disappearance of the automobile.

By "lost opportunities and bad decisions," if you are referring to converting cars to EVs and trying to build more renewable energy infrastructure, we'll have to disagree. You'll have to show me in detail where my assumptions are wrong, and not just rant about denial. However, if you are referring to any attempt to save the auto industry so we can continue buying new cars every 4 years, then I totally agree.

Yeah "assumptions" are a dime a dozen.
You are simply another poster mouthing all the ideals of what we should and supposedly can do. You fail to equate it with what we will do. You ignore human nature and the consequences for populations, underfed and with waning hope.

You and your ilk are a very, very dangerous people. Your views of the future are simply elitist.
There is a looming economic collapse never before seen and you see the preservation of the motor vehicle being a hedge. I bet you regard yourself as a visionary but in fact you all you see is a future based on the world as you presently know it. That's not visionary, it's stupidity.

Why don't you present an economic view of the future you envisage.
Show us the political climate and the employment. When you have all that sorted try again with your "assumptions".

Do you understand what twenty or thirty percent unemployment will mean?
It will mean the competition for jobs and work will be enormous. The ability to be in the right place at the right time, the willingness to not be selective and to work long hours will see a majority still struggling to feed themselves and their families.

That's the future I see and part of the reason I am a doomer, another part is knowing people like you have voice.
There has to be a near universal acceptance by the developed world that the situation we face is nothing less than dire.
Right now proactive engineering based on assumptions is inefficient and wasteful. The time for that type of "visionary" thinking passed forty years ago.
All we have left now is a chance to conserve and be able to react as circumstance dictate.

Elitist describes you quite well, actually. "You are simply another poster mouthing ideals..." "You and your ilk are a very, very dangerous people..."

I've been quite candid about the people problem. It's likely we will see WWIII by 2020 in my estimation.

But that doesn't mean I will sit back and do nothing, or that I think all is lost. Your posts only give despair, which leads to inaction and fatalism. Tell me how that is any better?

Again, if you have such a better vision into the future, why don't you tell us what it will look like AND what you (and we) should do about it? I'm still waiting...

You fail to equate it with what we will do.

And what, pray tell, gives you such certainty about what people in the future will choose to do?

It is rather ironic to see someone called "elitist" and "stupid" for not swallowing the speaker's iron-clad certainty about choices people will make in the future. Someone once described this peculiar blindness quite well:

I bet you regard yourself as a visionary but in fact you all you see is a future based on the world as you presently know it. That's not visionary, it's stupidity.

Indeed. It's not "visionary" to be convinced you can see the future. Very rarely is it anything other than self-delusion.

"The problem is, to facilitate mitigation, we will all have to give up much of what makes us comfortable. We have to lower or alter our expectations of what we need to make us happy."

Nicely stated Bandits, there were untold generations well before oil. Read a little history, not even that far back, people lived and loved and enjoyed life without oil, without cars, great deeds were done and much great thought happened. Indeed the basis of much we know. I spent some years, living with hand pumped water and an outhouse. I was very comfortable and many times joyful. Backing your butt up to the woodstove after a few hours working at 20 below is bliss. Pegging acorns at the pig, watching them chase them and then having a Xmas pork roast.

Think it's all about expectations. There is also an edge of what makes me better than you. Like a broadcast, I have this car I'm better than you, my house is bigger I'm better than you. I make more money, I'm better than you. I shit in a hole the ground, everyone is better than me. Really hard for some to give that up.

It really isn't that great a fall. The wind in the trees will always be there, and I will always have the stars at night.

Don in Maine

Cheers Don
I think the older generation have an appreciation of what we face.
Some experience of going to bed hungry, only getting one or two toys for Christmas or birthdays and making our own fun. I don't think we expected to receive everything we wished for.

Children (generalizing) nowadays have grown up with the expectation of contentment being their birthright. Entertainment is a video game, a computer, rock concert and movie theater. Fast food to them is like wearing a watch.

Each generation expects more from life than the last, each generation of parents expects their children to do better than they did. A sustainable lifestyle was/is never a consideration.

Over the last thirty years or so our children have grown up with unrealistic expectations of what they can achieve and an equally unreal appreciation of what the future holds.
They appear to me to be overwhelmingly narcissistic.

At home and school they are told "nothing is impossible", "there is no such thing as can't", "the world is your oyster", "take what you want", "nobody can tell you what to do" and many more.

I don't think it will be pretty when they discover their world is not living up to what they have been promised.
I wonder how they will react.

Now this is a post I can agree with. Our generation is definitely not ready for the world that faces us. I think, Bandits and cjwirth, that we agree to a certain degree. Where I get off is just with the idea that all the advances of the last 100+ years are going to completely unravel before our eyes. Yes, we are facing unprecedented hard times, which may make the Great Depression look easy to some. We are actually already there-- in third world countries. It just hasn't hit us here yet. Yes, we are facing the loss of the primary easy source of energy, and many other resources. Yes, we will have to re-learn a lot of stuff our grandparents used to know. A lot of changes will occur.

Remember, I was a doomer too. I have read probably a lot of the stuff you have read, bought most of the arguments you buy. It's not for lack of exposure to the problems we face that I disagree with you. Just a while back, I kept thinking to myself, this is all over and gone in 2-5 years. Better buy a gun, some tools and seeds, and go head for the hills, or something like that.

But since then I've realized there is a lot that can be done without oil, if we give ourselves the chance to transition properly. That's why I'm starting to get involved in the whole Transition Initiative effort, which I presume you would be familiar with and have a positive opinion of. One of the great things about it is that it approaches the whole big knot of problems with a positive vision of the future. That is inspiring and energizing rather than causing despair and fatalism.

Will our grandchildren be driving cars? Frankly, I don't know. And, if they aren't, I won't mind, if they have adequate provisions to live well otherwise. But now? We are totally dependent on transportation. The good thing is that OIL IS NOT GOING TO RUN OUT TOMORROW, NEXT YEAR, OR IN A DECADE. This is what doomers tend to forget. Yes it will decline, but if push comes to shove, we can get by on 1/2 as much, or less, as we did in the Great Depression, without eating each other up.

This still gives us some time, though it is short, to transition in a more orderly way. Cars and other forms of transportation still have a role to play. We buy ourselves more time by converting some to electricity. The "Last Blackout" is not inevitable. It is possible to continue to have some renewable energy in a sustainable fashion. Even if it's far less than what we currently are used to, it is enough to provide for some technology.

You seem to be waiting for "near universal" acceptance of the dire predicament we are in and what we need to do about it. That may never happen. Even if it does, there will never be "near universal" agreement on what to do about it. We can't wait for top-down action, even though they are sorely needed. Instead we need to do what we can at our own level. Go to the next practical and feasible action we can take, and hopefully inspire others by example. For me, this means converting my car to an EV, planting as much food in my back yard as possible, recycling, reducing consumption, getting out of debt, and talking about it to everyone I know. Right now I don't have too many options for buying local products, but when I do have a choice I prefer the local. This kind of bottom-up action may just have the potential to snowball, and create the kind of change-- gradually-- that we need.

It may fail, too. But as far as I can tell, it's a whole lot better than despairing and doing nothing. Once again, that's just the way I read your approach, apologies if it's a misunderstanding. You probably have your own solution in mind, but since I haven't heard it I can't comment on it.

Said by cjwirth:
The C-EROEI is negative for solar panels and wind turbines too (much aluminum and capital investment/energy).

I do not know the details of calculating C-EROEI, but if it is similar to EROEI, then it can not be negative.

There are frameless options for PV panels which avoid the aluminum frame, for example the BP 3160L, the unframed laminate version of the BP 3160S. They save maybe $15 dollars per panel which makes me suspect you are greatly exaggerating the energy needed to make an aluminum U-frame.

Using the retail price of a photovoltaic panel to determine its embodied energy is a fundamentally flawed methodology because there are more components to the price of a commodity than the cost of the energy to manufacture, distribute and install it.

Here is a general overview of various published studies:
Energy Payback of Roof Mounted Photovoltaic Cells, Energy Bulletin, Colin Bankier and Steve Gale, June 16, 2006. Alsema’s figures of an energy payback time of about 3 years includes the "... Aluminium frames on all modules, which account for a large amount of the embodied energy...." The authors of this article, using a method based on a national fuel share per person, 1,000 MJ / worker / day, to adjust Alsema's findings, arrived at a payback time of 3.8 years.

Shooting from the hip, one of the things hardest for humans to acquire is the sense for proportions. Almost everybody will agree to that and explaining it doesn't really seem tough, and yet ...

What tends to help me a lot in such troubled waters is my understanding of the mathematical definition of distance.


They give Ph.D.s to anyone these days.

Oh good, I'd like one of them.

Seriously though, most Ph.D. are well earned. However, there's a tiny but very vocal PhD community (if we could call it that) with gallingly anti scientific attitudes on certain subjects (biofuels, wind, solar, liquid fuels vs electricity in this case, climate change is another common one) that put the title to shame for all the other Ph.D.s.

there's a tiny but very vocal PhD community (if we could call it that) with gallingly anti scientific attitudes on certain subjects

A PhD means one is an expert on something, not on everything. Folks with PhDs are still just folks, and any large enough group of people is going to have a share of cranks, not to mention the earnest-but-terribly-deluded.

People with PhDs tend to be worth listening to, but not simply because they have a PhD. The reason is just that, due to their training and experience, someone with a PhD should be able to put together a stronger-than-average argument. Accordingly, it's utterly irrelevant whether the person you're talking to online has a PhD, a BSc, or even an SSC; whatever their background, all that matters is the argument they present.

As a general rule of thumb, if having a PhD is an important part of someone's argument, they have no argument.

A PhD means one is an expert on something, not on everything. Folks with PhDs are still just folks, and any large enough group of people is going to have a share of cranks, not to mention the earnest-but-terribly-deluded.

You're so right, and that's exactly my point. Why was I being sarcastic? Take a look at his post. The guy writes this:

A major question for TOD editors: the TOD website promises: "Discussions about energy and our future."

Why are there so many posts about solar/wind, which is not a real future, and so few posts about preparations for Peak Oil impacts -- when there is no oil -- which is the real future?

Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D.
Peak Oil Associates International

Solar and wind not the real future? Not a scientific argument - it's not falsifiable and the statement is too broad to be of any scientific value anyway. The little empirical data we do have suggests exponential growth towards significant percentage of global primary energy. Wind is already significant by some measures.

And no oil? There is no evidence for that at all. In fact the literature is quite divided on the date of peak and the rate of decline. "the real future". Right. Gee, how can we link solar and wind to mobility? It clearly takes more than a Ph.D. for some people. The guy's a joke so far. You'd almost wonder if he would suggest more liquid fuels...

And then came the signature: Ph.D. and a 'professional' in an energy related field. So we expect to see a rational, scientifically structured line of debate. Which is strongly absent.

How can he write that signature under such a post? I'd sink through the floor in embarrasment.

It would be interesting to know who issued the PhD to someone who apparently cannot understand what constitutes a rational argument, or the structure of debate.
This appears to be a qualification on a similar level to the frequently impressive apparent academic credentials of Nigerians e-mailing to offer unprecedented opportunities to claim large sums of money simply by giving one's bank details.

Absolutely. I used to work in a university myself years ago. What annoyed me greatly was when someone with a title in one science area would give his/her 'opinion' (presented as 'facts') about a totally different sciences subject they evidently did not know much about. That's misuse of an academic title, shameful errors were the result. If these people feel a need to write about things they don't have much experience in, fine, that is their right, but they shouldn't use the academic title unless it's their area of study.

But this is even worse. The idea behind a PhD is that you're good at doing structural research. How then, did this guy get his PhD? He doesn't even understand his own sources about PV LCAs. Of course they include silicon mining and refining energy requirements, it'd be a pretty lousy LCA if didn't. Then again if the LCA is written by someone similar to 'PhD' clifford over here...

@ Nate's OP:

Yes: smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient cars, including hybrids and full electric-powered vehicles.

Yes: Optimally sited, efficient, reliable mass-produced windmills and concomitant build-out of electric transmission lines, along with major investments in more energy efficient appliances and lighting.

In parallel with using more efficient things (cars, appliances, lighting, etc) should be downsizing...using less services and consuming fewer things to begin with: carpooling, bundling trips, walking and biking more, set the A/C to higher temps and heat to lower temps, turn the lights and TVs off when not being used, etc. etc.

These conceptually simple (nothing here involves inventing warp drive or wonderanium) steps would have profound benefits, but would require enormous mind-set shifts for most Americans. Once again, it is the mind-set change that is highly non-trivial, not so much the engineering to make these things happen.

@ cjwirth: Your points detailing the energy required for each step in the value chain for producing PV solar panels and windmills appear valid; they are also valid for anything produced such as bananas, bicycles, I-Pods...everything.

Given that people will not accept the premise of reverting to stone age, or even 1700s living styles and standards, I think your C-EROEI argument could be made across the board wide and deep to argue against making anything beyond a lean-to and an axe.

We live in the world where we strive to make better choices today than we made yesterday...I am big detractor of letting 'perfect' inordinately delay 'better' and leaving us with BAU.

Rather than yearn for utopia, we should plan and execute the possible.

Start with reducing oil consumption with the first huge goal of not needing any more imported oil...a huge leap in itself.

Solar PV and wind turbines use no fuel to operate, hence they emit no pollution while operating and exact no penalty for environmental damage for fuel extraction and processing and transport (and US military in the Middle East). Yes, there is a (IMO manageable) bird and bat-kill issue; yes, some people don't like the look and meager sounds of windmills; yes, some folks will cry the blues that the striped Western Gecko will suffer from being in the shade of those miles and miles of solar PV panels. Yes, it takes energy to extract and process the minerals and transport the hardware etc, and all this produces second and third order knock-on energy and resource consumption effects.

Bottom line: People need some energy, and solar PV and wind (there are other contenders, but I am sticking to the OP and your examples) seem like much better choices than coal-fired electric generators and gas/diesel-guzzling vehicles. Nothing (including PV and wind power) is perfect, but these choices have big advantages over fossil fuel use. You assert that electricity is the 'wrong form of energy' it not possible to widely adopt plug-in hybrid vehicles and all-electric vehicles and electric long, medium, and short distance trains, trolleys, and buses that switch between pantograph electric supply and batteries for side excursions 'off the line'? Can we not move towards making electricity a more widely-used form of energy transport? Yes, trucks and tractors won't be electric, and there will be other needs for liquid fuels and petrochemicals. But the point is we should begin to reduce our consumption of oil and coal. Yes, there are issues about producing the batteries needed for partial and full electric vehicles.

Before I would throw away the idea of building PV and wind power, I would target some more obvious extravagances to stop wasting energy and minerals on: Excessive military weaponry and fuel to send them flying, plowing through the seas, driving across the world to kill people and break their stuff; NASCAR; Casinos; professional sports and their coliseums; many-multi-billion Olympic extravaganzas; hedge funds and day-traders; People Magazine; we could go on with this list for quite a while...

I am not trying to refute your analysis of the energy-input factors, but to make the case that we have to move out along the continuum towards our big hairy audacious goal by implementing a continual series of discrete and achievable steps. Stated differently, I am have not wrapped my cranium around what you are proposing to move away from BAU towards a more sustainable economy.

People who may be potential agents of change becoming lost in the mire is just what the forces supporting BAU want to see.

@ Nate's OP:

Good post Moon Watcher. As has been pointed out before, one of the first steps that should be taken is to put a large tax on auto fuel that is based on the price of the fuel, not the volume of fuel used. The money collected by this tax would be earmarked exclusively for development of renewable energy (specifically EV and wind) and implementing energy conservation steps such as insulating roofs, walls and windows and installing solar water heaters, etc. The small current tax based on volume of fuel should be left in place and provide tax money for states and government.

The new tax would discourage excessive use of fuel and aid a transition to renewable energies. It is clear that petroleum is a limited resource and rapidly reaching a point of declining production. In contrast it is also clear that wind and photon-based energy is here to stay for a long time, based on several billion years of fossil records.

Another tax that should be put in place is a massive tax on energy inefficient appliances. The worse the efficiency, the higher the tax. This tax could be small at first but become very large in a few years. This would result in a very quick loss of business for inefficient appliances manufactures and a big incentive to make appliances as efficient as possible.

Regarding bailing out the auto industry. I say in no way should this be done. The industry should be allowed to go into receivership. The auto industry has refused to see the writing on the wall for years. It has brainwashed consumers into buying ever bigger, less efficient vehicles for years - in spite of the demand of many for smaller more efficient vehicles and in spite of the looming shortages of liquid fuel. The current mis-managers of the auto industry should not be rewarded for their selfish deeds and they should very definitely not be involved in the restructuring process. As smaller vehicles replace the large, the auto industries favorite argument that small cars are unsafe in collisions with the large will become moot. Their argument is valid but it is the trend for ever bigger vehicles that has made it valid. If left to their own ways, I suspect that the auto industry would start saying that SUVs should be replaced by Hummers because the SUVs are unsafe when in collision with Hummers.

Regarding losses of jobs - this will be an undeniable result of receivership but with restructuring and developing other businesses, in addition to auto manufacturing, new jobs can be created. Other businesses include getting involved in the development of alternate energy sources and getting involved in electrifying much of the main railroad transportation system. Also, it should be pointed out that many foreign car manufactures have much of their production based in the US. These same foreign manufactures have seen the writing on the wall much more clearly then the BIG 3 and have been providing the market with alternate choices of vehicles with higher mileage. These industries will continue to thrive and hire more US workers to meet the inevitable demand for higher efficiencies vehicles.

Hi MoonWatcher,

What I am trying to avoid is a return to the stone age, by focusing on

preparations for Peak Oil impacts -- when there is no oil -- which is the real future?.

Without oil, the solar/wind/nulear alternatives will have a short lifetime. And the trillion dollar electric economy makeover would drain precious oil and natural gas reserves. The credit is not available to do it.

A wiser approach is to use the time and available energy resources while they are cheap and study and prepare for how we will live without oil, natural gas, coal, and electric power. That is the reality we face. No one here answers the questions I posed in the comment above on how you get implement and then maintain the electric economy.

Until those questions are answered, folks are fooling themselves and blindly using up precious time, capital, creativity, and energy.

The continued focus on solar/wind/nuclear and other alternatives gives journalists and the public false hopes that we don't need to change direction rapidly.

Time is running out.

I can see your point that the focus on alternatives gives journalists false hopes of Business As Usual, just greener.

That in itself is no reason to stop pursuing these alternatives as real possibilities.

We do need to communicate the urgency of the problem, AND the fact that business as usual will NOT be happening, that we will have to all sacrifice and cut back. But here's where you and I disagree. I don't see any fundamental reason we can't keep a reasonably technological society-- by that, I don't mean what we have now, but that we will have electricity available (a lot less of it), some efficient machines to do some work for us, some computers, some cars (though smaller, and eventually, a lot less of them), enough modern transport (again, more public transport, more electric trains, etc.).

Ideally I would like to see smaller relocalized communities, more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, local food, and so forth, all right away. However, the reality is that suburbia happened, and it won't just disappear. We will have to transition gradually away, and make do with some of it for a long time. For the same reason we can't afford to buy all new electric cars but could probably afford to convert many of them to electric, we can't build all new communities but will have to find a way to make suburbia work for now. That is why the car won't disappear right away, unless we have a total collapse scenario. And that is why I'm harping on this electric vehicle conversion bit. I don't see us doing electric vehicle conversions for much more than a few decades, just during the transition period.

My whole point is that I see ways to transition to a "reasonably" decent and technological end-point. I don't believe that the alternatives to oil have fundamental limitations in themselves that lead to inevitable total collapse. The problem mentioned several times over is people: population, wars, and lack of leadership.

Since you say "time is running out" and that we need to change direction rapidly (with which I agree), in what direction would your ideal plan take us? If all alternatives are futile, what does your future world look like?

The meltdown is already causing retrenchment, reduced consumption of resources, and will do more. But it will do so in ways than are more than just uncomfortable for people. And we know that much more retrenchment is inevitable, beyond that caused by the current meltdown, because of PO and other resource depletions.

Therefore, since retrenchment is inevitable but painful retrenchment is not, that's what further investment should be directed at: planned, humane retrenchment.

Putting money into rescuing the auto industry is nuts from this perspective. Putting money into redirecting some of this productive capacity to building buses, vans, trains, etc. that can be of use (in the intermediate term) in linking up and rebuilding small towns, in contract ing the suburbs, and so forth is not nuts, nor is rescuing the pensions of the auto workers, and so forth.

Putting money into renewables should come second to restructuring and retrenching so that we consume less energy. Because there is so much energy waste in our society, there are so many things that need to do to address that before we make a big push for renewables. We ultimately will need a sustainable energy base. But pursuing renewables with the idea that we can somehow avoid or put off retrenchment is also nuts -- worse, it's extremely dangerous.

But that's what the program is: another New Deal. Success is impossible because we lack the resource base this time around. Of course, what really worked, better than the New Deal, was war. And, unfortunately, that may be Plan B this time around too. But one way or another we'll eventually get serious about survival and will start working on a planned retrenchment.

You make a lot of sense.

This is why I'm totally against bailing out the auto industry. Why bail them out now, when they will just fail again next year? It's the same mentality of trying to re-inflate the (dot-com, real-estate, credit, insert X) bubble to avoid a recession, which has brought us now to a mega bubble and a mega-recession.

Let them go bankrupt. In my idealized suggested plan we wouldn't need any new cars for awhile (see my earlier posts); those manufacturing resources should be refocused on producing the green energy infrastructure. In reality, they would probably get bailed out a few times, THEN go bankrupt, restructure, and after slashing a few brands and models, continue to try to get us to buy unnecessary new cars.

As you suggest, we should invest in public transportation, relocalizing, conserving, humane retrenchment, etc. Some retrenchment is inevitable. But at least some of the productivity should be shifted, as soon as possible, to building renewable energy infrastructure. I don't think it's necessary that the retrenchment continue indefinitely. There should be some equilibrium at which we can live relatively comfortably on modest resources that don't tax the planet beyond its abilities.

That is of course an idealized target I suggest we should aim for. We probably won't hit it the way we want (population and war will be the biggest obstacles) but if we don't aim for something better, we will certainly get something worse.

But isn't the auto industry us? It is not a thing. It is hundreds of thousands of employees, shareholders, and retirees on pensions. Bankruptcy will cause irrevocable damage to 99.9% of the people it supports. What we are all really pissed about is the top level executives.

The auto industry does not need to go bankrupt. It needs leadership that understands reality. In this case, reality means cutting costs, starting at the top and working down to the bottom. We can save a lot of heartache and money by simply replacing the top management with leaders who have the ability to get the job done. They in turn will fire incompetent middle managers and replace them with leaders. Then those middle managers will fire incompetent low level managers and replace them with leaders. Once that is done it will be time to talk to the unions.

We don't have a money problem here, we have a people problem. The question is does Congress and the President have the balls to put the right people in place at the top to run the auto companies instead of throwing billions of dollars at the problem that we know won't solve it.

Bankruptcy may be one way to restructure the industry.

Of course we should be concerned about the employees. But not by throwing good money after bad, or propping up what is likely destined to fail later anyways.

Maybe some of these people would be better employed making wind turbines, and we'd be better off for it in the long run too.

The auto industry is faced with a much larger problem than just management. The models offered are not appealing to the customers; the American auto makers are too late to the game of energy efficiency; and on top of that, we have the credit crunch that simply means that we will be buying fewer new cars no matter what happens. Even Toyota is suffering.

In this kind of environment, something has to be amputated to save the core. Even if they were to come out with the Volt tomorrow, and price it at $30K instead of $40K, they wouldn't be able to sell enough to save them in their current form. Don't get me wrong, I think some part of the industry needs to be "saved," especially the parts that will make the $20-30K electric car a reality. But a bailout of the Big 3 in their current form strikes me as counterproductive.

I'll elaborate further. New leadership and management in the auto industry gives you the opportunity to do just what everyone wants. Produce a new generation of cars and trucks at a PRICE which allows them to be purchased by the MAJORITY of people. Only the existing car companies have the EXPERTISE, EXPERIENCE and INFRASTRUCTURE in place to do this. Again, the key word is AFFORDABILITY.

Vehicle manufacturing is based on economics of SCALE and EFFICIENCY, just as it was in Henry Ford's day. That is the key to QUICKLY producing the MILLIONS of new generation cars and trucks we need. The infrastructure investment for a startup company who can make even a tenth of the vehicles we need is simply is too high to be economically feasible. It is the equivalent of constructing a nuclear power plant. (I'm guessing here, just trying to get my point across.) It would take years to build that infrastructure and years before enough cars and trucks were produced to even cover the cash flow requirements of the new company.

We know in theory what we need to build the next generation of cars and trucks. We have the infrastructure in place today (after retooling) to build them. We have a trained workforce in place. What we don't have is the mandate to do it along with a substantial replacement of management throughout all levels of the companies, starting at the top. Old companies have plenty of deadwood management which is useless, expensive, and detrimental to innovation. Look at what IBM had to do years ago in the 1980's. They purged the deadwood throughout all levels of management and their white collar workforce because of the tremendous cost savings and the need to remain competive. As for the unions, they will renegotiate if the alternative is no members.

The question we need to answer up front is do we try and keep all three or just two auto manufacturers. My vote is two.

From a business perspective, not a "it would be nice" perspective, which is discussed without regard for the economics, we have no choice. We use and change what we already have or Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai will own the largest and most valuable manufacturing we have left in this country and many more of us will be working in places where we say "do you want fries with that?"

And keep in mind that there is no compelling reason for the foreign auto manufacturers to invest in additional manufacturing capability in the U.S. If they are to invest billions of dollars to ramp up enough production to replace the volume of vehicles produced by the big three you can be assured they will do it in countries where the labor expense is a quarter or less than in the U.S. My belief is the primary reason they built plants in the U.S. was out of political necessity it they were to be allowed to substantially increase their market share.

As I understand it, bankruptcy does NOT mean the total shut-down of all their factories, and cessation of all business. It means they get to default on some of their debts and contracts, and that is important in really renegotiating the union contracts. They can restructure after shedding the bad debt and contracts, and may actually come out stronger. I could be wrong about this but this is what I have read.

A bailout lets business continue as usual, to a greater degree than bankruptcy. In other words, if radical change is needed, a bailout will only delay it and in the long run put it further out of reach.

With much compassion: No way can we maintain this "black vision" of individual transport for the masses. If you want to keep your factories then start figuring out how to make other stuff in them.

I'm sorry.

Scientastic (et al)

Good points.

PO and the financial meltdown are linked in discussion in terms of cause and effect but one point that I have not seen mentioned is that they are very similar phenomena. We are exiting a period where vast amounts of energy and money were totally illusory. With energy, we failed to recognize it as an endowment and the money never existed in the first place. In both cases, contraction is not a choice, it is inevitable.

Bailing out GM etc. is an emotional/political response and may slightly soften a very hard landing but the fact is that many people will lose their jobs. The industry per se is in decline and the mindset of the Big Three is very badly warped (GM recently announced a Cadillac Escalade Hybrid! If that isn't an example of the "negotiation phase", I don't know what is.)

My point is; bailing out GM is not the same as bailing out the auto industry. Simply put, GM is a failed venture that has put more effort into lobbying and advertising than adaptation. In order for us to move forward, it must fail. As for the industry, trying prop up something that is inherently unsustainable may give us the warm fuzzies but wastes valuable time, money and energy.

I have sympathy for the workers but I have more sympathy for those living on a subsistence level that never gorged themselves in the first place.

It's not clear which has the bigger emission reduction effect, a dollar spent on car industry bailouts or wind farms. The new cars could be low emissions and the wind power might not displace any coal burning. However I think it is likely that the wind farms will have longer lasting benefit. When the car has been junked (perhaps due to $200 oil) the wind turbines should still be turning. Someone will say 'but oil is not $200'.

The bailout problem should be dissected into several opposing criteria; car jobs vs other publicly supported jobs, retaining the existing gas guzzler fleet vs fast replacement with green cars, immediate benefits vs what will be appreciated in ten years. If necessary give the car majors a slice of the alternative ..picture a wind turbine with a Ford sticker.

You havn't made a very good case that a "new deal" could only support either a dramatic expansion of wind energy or save the US auto industry.
For wind energy some of the planned project have been canceled or delayed. This is not all due to financing, some is due to delays in electricity grid expansion, 30%price increases.
The world wide recession, is reducing steel prices and some delays will probably reduce overall prices of new wind power projects. Note that almost NO new coal fired plants have been build. Its not a question of wind or cars, its wind or coal fired electricity. NG fired electricity is going to be needed to back up wind and provide peak demand.

A "new deal" type response would have to tackle a number of issues, as far as the US car industry is concerned, change is needed, and the financial problems seem to be offering a perfect mechanism for a new US administration to totally re-structure, to insure that ONLY fuel efficient vehicles( based on EU and Japan standards) are manufactured, and that the future of vehicle propulsion will be, electricity, CNG, biofuels, in fact anything but oil.

The rational for support wind power( for example feed in tariffs) is to help reduce coal fired electricity. Other sources of energy, solar, geothermal and nuclear should also be supported, but for now, wind is worthy of the greatest slice of support because it can provide a large number of jobs, can be expanded quickly from a fairly good base. Supporting an expanded electric power grid to high wind and solar regions would be just as important as further direct support for wind.

Thus, I don't see this as a wind or auto industry but rather wind and auto industry as part of an energy security package.

I didn't make a very good case at all, but promised the other eds. I'd put up a piece on auto industry bailout for Fri night. As you can see, it was hastily put together. But our readers have filled in the details reasonably well! I don't know the answers, other than I suspect we have to address our end means first, before throwing more resources (not just energy) into conspicuous consumption that doesn't make us better of and clearly is hogging intergenerational and interspecies wealth.

Here's one more or less intentional perspective at the neoclassical big picture from Paul Krugman's blog:

our emergence from the era when massive fiscal stimulus is needed may hinge crucially on getting the world financial situation, not just our own, under control.

That's after stating a few days before in an editorial opinion:

fiscal responsibility is a virtue we’ll need to relearn as soon as this crisis is past.

Says Kea: Responsibility is good, but comes after control.

One tip to help out with 'Lucifer''s whish would be to ask the professor if he would offer that as a thesis subject, assuming the probably needed interest in pyramids. Though not without warning of possible side-effects of such a venture.

My two cent, more from the unformed rather than the economics side of things: The diagonalization of physics.. Coupled with the insistance that this time round resource use gets closer attention.


Hi Nate,

I think you may be asking the wrong question. It is not an either/or. It is, "what things must we produce which will not destroy us"?

Just maybe windmills and automobiles cannot co-exist as long as we strive to have 6 billion people driving automobiles within a Global economy

This economic dynasty started in 1792 and has reached the average life of all historical dynasties. Is this the end?

Just maybe the Reagan changes in the 1980's mutated our "Free Market Global" system to a point where it was no longer functional for the 21 century, with exponential population growth and consumption.

I see the US with only one chance at survival before the war. Yankee go home and stop buying foreign crap. Re-create a "real" manufacturing industry which is specific for 100 years of US survival, making only those things which have century long advantages.

Close Mc Donalds, close Wal Mart, lets get back to the Mom and Pop businesses which make families in control of their own destinies, which puts children through university, which buys one pair of good shoes for each member of the family, and which buys one small economical family "transportation".

We have lost our way. We have all been bought off with cheap crap and the dream of unlimited future earnings. (It is now proving to be a great swindle, solely to part us and our money).

The banks own us. We have lost our soul. The religious have had to sacrifice their God. The family has had to sacrifice their family values.

If ever there was a failed economic/social model this is it.


During WWII my job, among others, was to keep the family '36 Chevy running, which I did, fairly well, since it was a simple piece of iron and there were lots of dead ones around to cannabalize. There was a fix-it man down the street who fixed any household stuff, no questions asked, usually for less than one buck. We traded work on things like digging potatoes and canning. We told stories on the screen porch for evening amusement. Everybody had a garden, chickens, and some pigs. And two or three guns. All the food scraps went to the C&P. Step out on the porch, give it a big swing over the fence, and enjoy the fight as they gobble it up.

I had lots of friends, lots of amusement, and no money, which I did not miss, since I never had any. When I wanted to go somewhere, I used my bike or hitchhiked. I never had any unhappy experiences hitching rides, and met a lot of interesting, and sometimes just plain weird people. I got a good education at near zero cost to me (GI bill). and had a happy life after that doing engineering things.

So. Was that so tough? No. And it was not because I was swilling oil. my sum total of barrels of oil used was and is mighty low compared to US average.

But I gotta say, the people around me now are pretty near helpless compared to the ordinary person of that time. And a damn sight fatter. And, it seems to me, less happy.

This is what gives me hope. Because I have lived overseas in a third world country, I know what it is to live with MUCH less. It's not so bad. Not that I WANT to go to that lifestyle, but it won't be the end of the world if it does.

The problem starts if the transition to that world is too sudden for society to absorb. That's a real possibility, as are resource wars, collapse of complex systems, etc.

But if we tap into our resourcefulness, we can do as you did: make do with whatever we can find. We can hitch rides, carpool, do the Smart Jitney thing, convert our cars to electric drive, grow our own gardens, and so on. I don't buy total collapse as an inevitable thing. We'll be mighty taxed in adjusting, but I still think there is enough time and oil to adjust (NOT so we can continue BAU, but so we can decrease to a sustainable but still somewhat technological lifestyle).

I do grow vegetables and fruit trees in my back yard. I should probably buy a gun soon, just in case. I use as little electricity as possible. I'm converting my gasoline car to electric. When prices come down enough, as I believe they will, I may buy solar panels for my roof. Now, if many other individuals, and our society as a whole, can do as I am doing, I don't see why the Last Power Outage is inevitable.

Nothing will change, as it says in that quote by Voltaire I see quite a few times on this site, Men argue, Nature acts. In the end the politicians will relent, save the car industry until things finally break down. Wind will be put on the backburner till the economy improves.

Nate, good idea to put the Consumption Pyramid.
Of course one might discuss the position of some examples. I think especially the position of Cars is interesting, as this depends very much on the situation of each person:
Someone who lives in a place like Manhattan, with perfect public transport and many things in walkable distance certainly doesn't need a car - having one is rather a Luxury.
But someone who lives in a remote location or in a suburb without reasonable public transport (perhaps he cannot afford to live a more convenient location) may simply depend on a vehicle for everything: get to work, shopping etc. Without it he / she might even starve. For him it is a basic need.
But of course nobody needs a luxury SUV with air conditioning etc.
So to be more precise the item "car" could be split up into "SUV" (luxury) and "Mobility" (basic need).

I think Energy as such is certainly to be allocated as a Basic Need. And some sort of hydrocarbons as Important Goods (at least for a modern society).

And as for the Golden Retrievers: If the TOD is the World's Energy Watchdog then the TOD is certainly a Basic Need.
We are certainly out for a massive tax rebate ;-)

Thanks. That is from the old post I did on Trade and Transportation. Things have changed in 3 years but I would still put Golden Retrievers on the most basic level (or some sort of animal companion). I have 3 dogs, 3 cats, 5 horses, 2 goats, 12 chickens, and 23 TOD contributors...;-) Makes for interesting days.

Regarding 'energy watchdog', I'm sorry I made that remark. It was intended to be funny. There are many individuals and organizations that are aware we are not on a sustainable or desirable path. I like to think that the discussions here look at the issues holistically, and therefore look beyond the single issue concerns of most people working on a particular problem (biodiversity, carbon sequestration, energy efficiency, etc.) Also, the fact that we make no money and have no money makes it easier for us to 'not lose our jobs' for telling the truth, though I suspect as world events deteriorate, that the circle of people who 'agree' with things being said here will become smaller, rather than bigger. We shall see. It's a journey with hope for a better destination, but not one in mind.

It's a journey with hope for a better destination, but not one in mind.

Could we (have we) modelled ahead, say 50 years, to get a general overview of what we will have then and then proceed towards constructing a society on that model.

Just an impression, but ..

My neigbor is an engineer in a large company here in Germany that produces ball-bearings and other similar stuff, mostly for the car industry. Some weeks ago he told me he is going to change the division in that company. He said: "We don't see much of a future for cars - we are changing to wind turbines now."

(Well, I shall not omit that he added: "But also there, all what glistens is not gold".)

Speaking of bailout ... the "US" auto industry outsources a significant part of its work to foreign countries.

So why doesn't it outsource its bailout begs to those countries as well? Don't go, hat in hand, only to the American taxpayers. There are so many other places (with economically more "efficient" labor pools) that you can go to for begging for some bailout money. It's time to walk the talk about globalizing your activities.

I've touched on this in several past posts, but it bears repeating: we can greatly expand electricity supplies through the application of more energy-efficient technologies and do so at a cost far below that of wind, solar or conventional fossil fuels.

For example, on Thursday, we upgraded the lighting in a small distribution centre. The main racking area was originally illuminated with thirty-seven 400-watt HIDs drawing a total of 16.8 kW. These were older, probe start steelers with lamps all nearing the end of their nominal life, so light levels were quite low -- in the range of 8 to 10 foot candles.

We replaced these with fifty-five 4-lamp T8 high bay fluorescents that draw, in total, 7.9 kW, for a net savings of 8.9 kW. In addition, light levels increased by over 400 per cent (in retrospect, we could have cut the number of replacement fixtures in half and still come out ahead).

The cost per kW saved -- materials and labour -- came in at just under $900.00 CDN ($700.00 US) and this "new" capacity was brought into service in just three days. Plus, there are no site selection issues, no maintenance costs (that becomes the responsibility of the customer), no downtime for service or unexpected outages, no transmission or distribution losses and it will always be online during peak times (i.e., normal business hours).

There was another 400-watt HID in the front air lock (a 50-foot sq. area with wall-to-wall glass) that operated 24/7. We replaced this with a 2-lamp T8 industrial reflector that draws 49-watts. The cost per kW in this case was $125.00 CDN (i.e., 0.4 kW @ ~ $50.00). Note that you would require a minimum of eight 200-watt PV panels operating at full output an average of six hours per day to equal the energy saved by replacing this one fixture.

You can view before and after pictures of this work at: (PDF format)

Edit: Substituted alternate file hosting site due to service outage


I'm impressed. Hopefully a few decision makers reading this will be also, and more successes will occur as a result.

Thanks, PX. Earlier in the week we upgraded a 24-hour convenience store, one of several we will be overhauling for a local grocery chain. The cost per kW saved in this example is about half that of this warehouse (no new fixtures required) and due to the extended hours of operation, the ten-year cost per kWh comes in at less than one cent!

Here, the 4-lamp T12 troffers that were originally drawing 160-watts each are now T8 and running at 74-watts; the outside canopy lamps that were 60-watt PAR38s were replaced with 16-watt CFL reflectors; and, the twenty-one 50-watt GU halogen track heads that illuminated various signage and the sandwich counter have been replaced with thirteen 23-watt, hard glass CFL PAR38s (eight heads were removed). Lastly, two exit signs that had operated at 30-watts each were both retrofitted with a 2-watt LED kits. All work was completed by one man in one half-day.

The PDF file at contains before and after pictures (note we temporarily installed 50-watt PAR20s in some of the track heads as our 23-watt CFLs were short shipped).


My problem with Nate's post is that it presents an either/or situation without defining the context of the decision. As far as I can see, there is an assumption that BAU or BAU Lite will continue but it isn't explicitly stated.

I have stated several times that it is pointless to debate various actions without providing a context. I would argue that neither cars or wind generators make sense until we have a clear understanding of why we need them. At this time, in reality, we need some of each because we have yet to even attempt to define the future of society.

FWIW, here was my take on a possible future


It's not there Todd

Probably the answer is not either or. Probably we even require cars to support the shift to renewable energy sources!? A dramatic increase in the renewable energy share in our energy mix will require some fundamental shifts in our technology base. The essential consumers of fossil fuels a) mobility b) climatisation and c) electricity generation require all an incredible boost in (life cycle) efficiency, therefor:

a) in the medium term a ban of the internal combustion engine (ICE) becomes necessary (similar to banning incandescent lamps but much more effective). We should start with leaving the ICE at the power station and 'fill up' EVs. All our analysis show, that from an efficiency point of view one should avoid to move an ICE around on wheels.

b) change our building regulations: Todays state of the art buildings do actually neither require heating nor cooling. The insulation and clever energy management (using passiv solar, heat losses, ...) make any additional heating requirement redundant; in my area (currently freezing Switzerland) for instance at virtually no additional cost.

c) Carnot reigns also here, albeit todays efficiencies are quite impressive (a modern NG unit surpasses 70% conversion efficiency). Nevertheless a departure from coal/gas might be urgent as C-sequestration might not work. The obvious shift to solar (direct irradiation or indirect i.e. wind, hydro, ...) will accentuate the problem of intermittency which might partly be solved by large/global grids and partly be local storage.

Among the most efficient storage technologies are batteries with Lithium as a very promising candidate to come close to energy/power storage densities of hydro carbons. And this is where the wind turbines and cars might need and promote each other: the energy storage in the form of batteries in EVs

Now that we all know what WE need to do, what are WE actually doing besides typing (blowing wind) on the internet? I gather from all of the above, one outfit changed bulbs and another fellow is converting or thinking about converting a old car to electric. These examples are "Doing". I bought a new bulb that uses 16 watts for a couple bucks and lasts "up to seven years". It failed after one year which confirms the "up to seven year" warranty. Had it gone out in thirty minutes it would still have been OK for the warranty.

Many of us sent e-mails to our congress critters about how to spend $700 billion which would have put a nice PV array on every separate house in the US. I found out the "WE" part of every mention above like "We should make this rather than that" doesn't pull much traction in the real world. What are YOU doing is the only thing that can change.

I talk to people about energy problems ahead and they really don't give much of a damn. "I got mine, let them find their own oil" attitude prevails so it amounts to wasted effort over and over again. Even those that agree that it is a serious problem won't actually do one thing. It is up to someone else to do something and keep me as I am used to being kept.

"There is no trolly to the soccer field so I will have to drive my GMC Tahoe forever it looks like."

If you want it done, you gotta do it. "WE" (government) won't do it has been proven IMHO again and again.

We live in the high desert. Water is a problem. A solar pannel, DC electric pump in the well and some conservation is the answer. Just do it while we can and let all you folks on TOD compute how much energy is wasted thereby. Only thing that bothers me is $2000 seems a lot up front for a couple hundred gallons of water per day but if the grid goes down I can sell water for a couple bucks a gallon (bring your own container) and get the money back in no time.

I'm not just converting or thinking of converting, I have all the parts ordered, some already in hand. I have bought the tools, drawn up the schematics, etc. I'm a member of the local Electric Auto Association chapter, which is very encouraging, because you get to see and drive ACTUAL electric cars made by people just like you.

No, if things work out, I may change careers and open up a conversion shop and sell electric cars. So you see, I definitely have a dog in this hunt which biases my opinions. But I'm DOING something. And I've seen it done already, so I know it's practical.

If you believe as cjwirth does, that electricity will also fail, then it's pointless. But if you believe that by conserving and by converting cars to electric drive now, you will free up enough oil to produce the renewable energy infrastructure we need to keep the lights from eventually going out, then it makes total sense.

Here's the kicker, though: Even if you don't believe in peak oil at all, but foresee gasoline going above $3.00 a gallon in the next 5 years, then a converted electric car already makes FINANCIAL sense NOW, especially if you can convert it at home. (The usual caveats apply; if you frequently drive more than 40 miles a day, it may not yet be for you.)

Hopefully not too many tens of billions will go to the auto industry in the US prior to what seems to me to be it's inevitable collapse.

This seems to me certain on several levels.

Firstly, the management just do not 'get it' - as a Brit I know a long, sad, history of the Government trying to resurrect the dead - it can't work.

The second level on which it cannot work is due to the physical constraints on the fuel for them, of which us TOD'ers are aware.

These two levels seems likely to be beaten to it though by the sheer pace and scale of the financial collapse, which in my view is gathering ever greater speed.

I can see catastrophic failure of many parts of the financial system soon.

Some of you here know that I am an advocate of EV technology.
However, some seem to think that this is to advocate BAU.

That is not at all the way I see things working.

Ideally, I would see car and delivery vehicle production of EV's at maybe a tenth of current levels, so that there are plenty of emergency vehicles, taxis, cars to pick up by the hour or the day, and delivery vehicles enough to get a reduced level of goods to where they are needed from the railhead.
Other options are likely to be a lot more basic, with a variety of bikes, trikes atc.

Even this level of activity is perhaps not likely for a few years, as after the staggering blow that the world's financial system is to encounter, make do and mend will be the order of the day.

Any vehicle builders rising from the ashes would be radically different to the present, and have a focus inconceivable to the Detroit big 3.

It is still not clear whether some of the oversea manufacturers will be able to survive, as it seems possible that companies like peak oil aware Toyota may be able to scrape through, but I would suggest after very drastic downsizing.

I don't think much will happen on wind power in the West either.
We had a TOD post today about falling electricity demand, and Here In Halifax has posted about the relative efficiency of conservation vs building anything.

So from where I am sitting it looks as though the West will be in the position of a floored boxer,w ho may stagger up on the count of 9 but is too groggy for anything much, just making do with whatever is to hand.

Things may be different in China, as they would need massive expansion just to stand still, and the decline of the West will free some resources even in our straightened circumstances for them to do so.

Conceivable France and Germany might manage a somewhat better result, certainly as compared to the Anglo-Saxon countries.

With around $4500 billion of bank commitments the UK looks as though it could go anytime, and that is a large enough amount that it could take everyone else out with it.

I'd see house prices in the UK as having another 50-70% to fall, and can't see how the financial system could possible stand that.


Pretty much as I see it too.

My only adder is that Ireland will probably go first and in the long term the Chunnel puts England, Scotland and Wales in a much better position.

You may be right about Ireland, but on it's own that is probably not enough to take down the world financial system as it is not big enough.
OTOH Ireland crashing might drag down the UK, and then.....

We are playing dominoes.

Yes, the ideal is an electric vehicle economy, but. I do not see mention of one option that could be utilized in the decades long transition to electric vehicles. I see no mention of a hybrid dual fuel vehicle. I would not buy an electric hybrid at this time but would buy a dual fuel natural gas/gasoline or natural gas/diesel vehicle if the vehicle was equipped with a small pressurized natural gas cylinder that could give me 50-60 mile range. Most of my use would be on natural gas and still could take the multi hundred mile trip on liquid fuel. The hybrid vehicle would include a compressor for refueling at home during the night similar to recharging the electric vehicle batteries.

In addition, existing vehicles can be converted to dual fuel at lower cost than installing batteries in an existing vehicle. Clever engineers can devise a binary (0+1+2+4+8 parallel flow valves) gas fuel injection system and use the current electronic fuel injection system for supplemental fuel and fine control of engine output. Even farmers will utilize dual fuel nat gas/diesel tractors for the utility tractors with light usage. Farmers might start brewing their own nat gas digesters.

Marketing of both dual-fuel hybrids and electric hybrids allows the market to select technology during the transition to the ultimate system (whatever the combination is). The lower cost and faster implementation of dual-fuel engines can increase the rate we reduce our liquid fuel consumption.

Again, it looks a lot easier (to me) to plant a few acres of Chinese tallow trees, and pour the oil from the berries into the tank. Mixes perfectly with the diesel, and gets about 600 gallons/acre.

One acre of tallow trees = 200 acres fuel usage at a 50/50 mix.

Do you have any solid references on those claims? What are the nutrient, water, and energy inputs?


I yahooed "chinese tallow tree/biodiesel" and up popped a whole bunch of links.

THIS is one.

Drought-Resistant, Insect-Resistant, very little to No fertilizer. Live forever. Hardy. They grow all over Louisiana, and parts of Texas, Mississippi, etc.

Developing hybrids and electric vehicles is alll very commendable but the Big 3 Motor firms have the problem that they are going bust now. GM & Ford already build efficient small cars in Europe, GM Corsa and Ford Fiesta. So if the US adopted EU standards ,imported these vehicles while retooling US factories and suppliers, the cash flow in these companies might be increased rapidly. The average MPG figures for US vehicles improves and you have a little time to develop hybrids and eletric vehicles. Producing the vehicles might not be very profitable but cash flow must be a major problem at the moment.

You have highlighted the critical point; why is it that the not so Big 3, can meet the EU's 2012 standards of 45 mpg but only deliver 27mpg in US?
Impending financial collapse is the one opportunity to force very rapid improvements in fuel efficiency standards in US equivalent or better than EU. It doesn't have to cost any more to support the Big 3 making 50mpg vehicles than making 22mpg vehicles. The recession is a perfect time to shut down most production and re-tool.

US gallons are smaller than UK gallons but US miles are the same as
UK ones.
A close friend in UK has learned to drive carefully and gets 75 - 80 UK mpg in his Citroen C3 diesel on his daily commute.
For EU comparisons (Km/L), 45 mpg US gallon is 19.134 km per litre (mpg x 0.4252)
My friend's 80 mpg Citroen very careful drive on a UK gallon is 28km/L (mpg x 0.3540).
45 mpg US if it happened, would be respectable.

The problem is, in my area Diesel is about 57% More Expensive than gasoline.

Said by mccymru:
So if the US adopted EU standards ,imported these vehicles while retooling US factories and suppliers, the cash flow in these companies might be increased rapidly. The average MPG figures for US vehicles improves and you have a little time to develop hybrids and eletric vehicles. Producing the vehicles might not be very profitable but cash flow must be a major problem at the moment.

The business model of GM with its crushing obligation to unproductive pensioners means the corporation can not continue with small profits. It must have obscene profits from selling overpriced SUV's to Americans with access to cheap credit. The debt to freeloaders must be erased to successfully do what you suggest. Sell GM's assets, such as the Volt, and let the rest go bankrupt.

For the record, cost to convert F-250 to run on NG or regular gasoline at the flip of a switch is $6,000US, which includes having it done by those in the conversion business. Downside, gizmo to fill NG tank at home is an additional $6,000US. Perhaps one presently useless Big 3 assembly lines could be retooled to take advantage of economies of scale. A good candidate for plant manager would be one of us from the SE who were out of fuel for six weeks due to Ike.

One thing I have suggested, if you are really into the idea of bailing out the automakers, is to combine it with the wind power idea. There is a lot of wind potential offshore in Lake Michigan. The FedGov could build three large offshore wind farms, and give one to each automaker. Kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

The title of this post is a rhetorical question, but an example of one of the types of choices we might begin to face.

It's worth noting that about 16M cars were produced in the US last year; at an average of somewhere around $20,000 each, that's about $320B.

All of the wind power turbines that have ever been produced anywhere in the world total up to around 120GW; at $2,000/kW, that about $240B.

Moreover, somewhere around 13M cars will be produced in the US this year; those 3M fewer cars would have been about $60B of manufacturing, or roughly 50% more than would be required to double the current US wind power capacity.

Just for perspective.

Thanks for the perspective, Pitt.

It really shows what a bizarre and out-sized role cars play in our economy and society.

I am of both camps here. I have an electric car (Zenn, cost $11,000) which I love, but it was a compromise with my wife between getting another infernal combustion engine car (to replace the one we had which is on its last legs) and going car-free. I preferred the latter for our family, but family life is about compromise.

I prefer that the country go car free, but next best is including some electric vehicles on the way to our ultimately car-less future. Large swaths of the exurbs and suburbs will need to be depopulated. This process is already underway. What's left will have to be more compact and agriculture based, like every other non-nomadic settlement pattern in human history. This will make various kinds of public transport more workable. But not without much careful planning.

The first, second, third....down to at least twentieth things we need to do is to learn to get by with a whole lot less stuff using a whole lot less energy. Ultimately, everything else, whether EVs or PVs, is a distraction. Focusing more than something considerably less than 1/20th of our attention on them is a mis-allocation of our resources, included the precious time and energy of those using this site.

The obsession of some enviro's and others on alternative energy is the green equivalent of Dick Cheney's obsession with production over conservation. Tech solutions of nearly any stripe too easily merely serve as baubles that dazzle our eyes, when we need to be tending the garden, organizing our communities, and educating ourselves and others.

On an individual level, the path is laid out for you on sites such as

Eat as close to a local, organic vegan diet as you can, especially if you don't raise or kill your own meat/dairy or get it from local, sustainable sources. Garden as much as you can.

Live in small/high-occupancy dwellings with good energy efficiency...

Don't fly; mostly walk, bike, and use mass transit for travel; and limit car travel to nothing or as close as you can to that (my personal goal is to average under 10 miles/week).

Work to spread the word on resource-limit and environmental issues.

Don't have children, or limit your self to one that you have late in life and train in living sustainably and as an educator/activist (=responsible citizen).

On a community level...I know of no one site. Suggestions?


All the ethanol plants built, or under construction, in the U.S. would be about $24 Billion.

If, by replacing 8% of our gasoline with ethanol, we caused the price of gasoline to drop by $0.20/gal that would save $28 Billion.


If I bring in my old car for smelting, will I get myself a brand new wind turbine?

Now that would be an interesting campaign!


But the Hummer has a heater and lights....

Heck, we could power our homes with the heat (and hopefully a bit of light) generated just on these forums! ;-)

More seriously, we could probably accomplish more if we posted less, myself included, though I have just started, really...