Some Thoughts on the Obama Energy Agenda from the Perspective of Net Energy

The Obama-Biden comprehensive a New Energy for America Plan is designed to:

  1. Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.
  2. Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.
  3. Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars -- cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon -- on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America.
  4. Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
  5. Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050

The Obama energy agenda focuses on - and these are not mutually exclusive - efficiency, electrification, and the promotion of alternative energy resources. Its five main goals are set up in a way so that success in any one of the five individual areas will reinforce the other 4, helping the overall agenda achieve success. For example, creating 25% of the U.S. electricity production from renewable resources (goal #4) will aid in decreasing the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80% (goal #5).

The energy agenda is a welcomed change showing a future outlook that is based, at least to some [small] extent, on the physical realities of the natural resource world. However, from the perspective of net energy, some potential problems do exist. My goal here is to discuss some possible shortcomings of the new administrations energy agenda from the perspective of net energy.

1) Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future

With a recession in full swing and the recent announcement of thousands of job losses at major companies within the United States, creating jobs has become mission number 1 of the new Obama administration. In the meantime, the collapse of the stock market has made raising capital the number one problem for the alternative energy sector. The primary goal of the Obama plan is to bolster the alternative energy sector of the economy by injecting $150 billion dollars of capital into alternative energy companies/programs, and in doing so create 5 million [permanent] jobs.

The situation, as seen from the perspective of net energy, is as follows: any alternative technology with a reasonably high EROI is usually profitable, and if something is profitable it will not have trouble sustaining growth long after the 150 billion dollars is spent. For example, the growth of wind farms (EROI ≈ 18:1) in the U.S. has outpaced every other country in the world for the past 4 years, and in 2008 the U.S. passed Germany with the World’s largest installed wind power capacity. With a little help to bolster new wind power companies in these tough economic times, I believe that the moderately high EROI of wind power could translate to sustained profits and this industry should grow into the distant future, and as a result create long-lasting jobs. The same probably could be said for solar, geothermal, and bioenergy (for burning – but not ethanol).

On the other hand, lets look at alternative energy technologies with very low EROI’s. Corn-based ethanol is argued to have an EROI between 1.2 and 1.6 to 1. These low EROI values mean that the corn-ethanol industry is operating at the margin of positive energy returns, and because of that fact, the industry as a whole is vulnerable to shocks. For example, Verasun, one of the largest ethanol companies in the U.S., filed recently for bankruptcy, Aventine Renewable Energy and Pacific Ethanol have both lost about 80% of their value, BioFuel Energy lost 46 million dollars on poor hedges on commodity prices, and the list goes on... The financial collapse and the reduction in the price of oil had a large negative impact for these companies, which is exactly the point: negative disruptions in financial markets or in the price of oil will have magnified impacts in this industry due to the fact that the energy surplus contained within the ethanol product is marginal at best. Ironically, the large increase in energy prices that encouraged alternatives probably had something to do with the financial collapse that made them no longer feasible economically.

2) Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined

Decreasing the amount of oil we import from unstable regions is always a good idea from a political standpoint, but that may not hold true from a net energy perspective. It is a good idea from the net energy perspective if the decrease in imports from Venezuela and the Middle East is met by a similar decrease in consumption within the United States. It is a bad idea if the decrease is compensated by an increase in imports from “friendly” countries, that have generally, at least when compared to the Middle East, poorer quality resources that emit much more CO2.

For example, Canada is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States, and much of their future oil production resides in the tar sands of northern Alberta. The EROI of developing oil from the tar sands is between 2 to 5:1. Compare that with oil from the Middle East, which has an EROI of roughly 20:1.

This large difference in EROI impacts the difference between “gross” and “net” oil deliverables. Using an equation from Mulder and Hagens (2008), I can estimate the gross energy extracted to deliver one unit of net energy for any EROI value. The equation is:

Gross Extraction = EROI / (EROI – 1)

Using this metric, to deliver one net unit of oil from the Middle East would require the gross extraction of 1.05 barrels of oil equivalent (boe), while in Canada the same net delivery would require the gross extraction of 1.25 boe. In the end, Canada would need to extract roughly 20% more boe than the Middle East to deliver the same amount of net oil to the U.S. Currently the U.S. imports 790 million barrels per year from the Middle East (defined here as the “Persian Gulf”, including: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). The gross extraction cost of this fuel in the Middle East is 40 million boe, while in Canada it would be 198 million boe, a difference of 158 million boe. Low EROIs quickly add up to high extraction costs, and although the low EROIs do not currently impact price, they will certainly impact the net ultimate recoverable oil from any given basin. For example, the tar sands have roughly 170 billion barrels of proved reserves, and extracting that oil at an EROI of 5:1 will mean that 42.5 billion boe will be used just to extract and deliver the other 127.5.

3) Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars -- cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon -- on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America

Plug-in hybrid cars are an efficiency improvement for our transportation system as a whole, and matched with the production of electricity from renewable technologies, they represent a large step away from a fossil-fuel intensive transportation system.

Electricity has a higher quality than oil or gasoline in that it can be converted into mechanical work at higher efficiencies than can internal combustion engines, which are limited to Carnot efficiencies, and it can be transported long distances much easier than oil or gasoline. For these reasons the high-speed trains in Europe and Japan use electricity for power rather than fossil fuels directly. Hence electricity driven transport is an efficiency improvement over the internal combustion engine.

Most important, however, is that electricity can be produced from wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewable sources. Currently, however, much of the electricity in the U.S. is produced from fossil fuels, and without a switch to renewable sources of electricity, a move to electric vehicles will only shift the emission of greenhouse gases from the tailpipe to the smokestack.

From a net energy perspective, electric vehicles make sense as they increase efficiency, but the biggest variable in this equation is making the electricity grid technologically capable of effectively transmitting wind and solar power to car batteries without large transmission (entropic) losses. We need to undertake much more comprehensive EROI assessments if we are to understand these relations well.

4) Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025

The 2012 goal will not be difficult to meet, as 9% of the nameplate capacity of the electrical system in the U.S. is produced from renewable resources already (renewable defined as: hydroelectricity, wind, solar, and geothermal).

Continually increasing the amount of electricity that comes from renewable sources will indeed make meeting all the other goals much easier, and much like the conclusion from number 3, the important aspect from the net energy perspective is whether the U.S. can establish an electricity infrastructure that will allow for effective transmission of electricity from places of production to places of consumption, because places where the sun shines the most or the wind blows the hardest are usually places were people don’t live. Questions like the following become overwhelmingly important: what is the energy cost of upgrading transmission lines, and how will that affect the EROI of the renewable energy technologies that utilize those lines?

Spatial Map of U.S. Potential Wind Power

5) Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050

A successful cap and trade program is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I am wary, however, that too much emphasis is being placed on the future of carbon capture “technology” while decreasing consumption is being overlooked.

Much attention has been given to carbon capture technologies, such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), without much regard for its impact on production efficiency or the extreme costs of building such facilities. CCS technology decreases the power output of a plant by about 30% (see Michael Webber). In other words, the U.S. would have to burn 30% more fuel just to maintain the same level of power output. I am also skeptical of storing pressurized carbon dioxide underground – see Law of Unintended Consequences. In the end, maybe trading carbon-dioxide emissions for lower efficiency is the best option, but it will come at a high net energy cost.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (Science, 2007)

"Nobody in either party -- including supposed independents such as Bernie Sanders or John McCain, not to mention President Obama -- has a position for directing public resources and effort at any of the things I mentioned above: future food security, future travel-and-transport security, or the future security of livable, walkable dwelling places based on local networks of economic interdependency. This striking poverty of imagination may lead to change that will tear the nation to pieces."

Today in Kunstlers' Clusterf*ck Nation Chronicle.

Kunstler's blog this morning seems to reflect some dissonance between, on the one hand, what looks mostly like at least a decent overall energy plan from the Obama administration, and on the other hand, the extent to which that plan is reflected in the current House and Senate stimulus packages. I can understand why the two things might be different, as the goals of the former are long-term and the goals of the latter are short-term. But it worries me that the sticker shock of an $800 billion-dollar stimulus package, and also the false sense of security it might create if it works in the short term, will make it more difficult for Obama to chase it with actual legislation, policy and funding that are truly visionary. In other words, the stimulus package has some good stuff in it, but overall are we just filling up on more junk food, decreasing our appetite for real nutrition later?

Yeah, I copied and pasted Kunstler's entire post into this emailed request for my own personal economic crisis story. I doubt if it will have any impact but maybe it might at least plant a seed of doubt in the mind of someone screening the replies...

Share your story about how this economic crisis is affecting you and your family and join your fellow Americans in supporting bold action to speed our recovery:

I plan on sending some kind of reply, (maybe various posts from the editors and contributors of TOD), every time they ask for my input. Who knows someone out there might start thinking, though I obviously won't be holding my breath.

Very well said.

I am wary, however, that too much emphasis is being placed on the future of carbon capture “technology” while decreasing consumption is being overlooked.

Said in the context of C&T policy for reducing CO2. However, I agree completely that there is simply too little being said about the need to conserve. And here I don't just mean insulating houses (that is part of the plan as I understand it), which is really just an increase in efficiency of buildings. No, the conservation I refer to is reducing our use of energy on frivolity and discretionary products and services.

Obama stated, in his inaugural address, that some kind of sacrifice would be required of Americans to get our country on a solid footing. In my opinion, we are partly in the economic mess because we have become a borrow-and-consume society where a goodly portion of that spending is discretionary (an SUV vs. a fuel-efficient car, for example). In dollar terms, which can be roughly translated into energy consumed, think how many billions of dollars are spent on over-the-top entertainment (NASCAR is my favorite kicking boy but NFL comes in close second). We've become a service-dominated economy where most of those services are completely discretionary. That is, if you don't buy into the notion that life is all about spending on stuff and McDonalds burgers.

I've started a blog series called "Steps toward an energy solution" in which I am laying out my own version of an energy pathway to sustainability. The first entry is at Question Everything; scroll down to Jan. 30 (if the post can't be found use the Jan. index to find it in the archive). Fair warning though, I predicate this pathway on the notion that an economy based on growth is no longer an option. We do not want to recover the old economy. We should want to establish a new relationship with the Ecos -- a steady-state economy where social justice and equity are served. There are many, generally painful, steps on the way to that end. But the pain will be caused by our psychological blocks to giving up what we perceive as entitlement to material wealth. That, of course, is a whole 'nother story.

On the subject of renewable sources of electricity, I basically agree with your analysis, but question whether these sources are truly renewable in a strict, long-term sustainability sense. Right now these sources are subsidized (in manufacture and deployment) by fossil fuels, for the most part. Until we can show that the conversion capital and transmission facilities (e.g. wind farms and grid) are capable of producing enough excess energy to provide for maintenance and replacement (i.e. self-sustaining) above that consumed in the economy, we cannot say they are truly renewable sources. Does your EROI analysis go that deep? (Actually it is a trick question since that is one of the things I hope to investigate when I visit you guys next fall!)



Our analysis does not go that deep, unfortunately. As I say in the post, much more in-depth EROI estimates are needed to look at transmission capacities etc...

I hope we can devote some time to that effort next fall. But I am looking forward to your future posts here. One of the most important topics we can be discussing (IMHO, OK maybe not so H).

Keep up the good work.


Just look at all the wind map blue from south central Alaska out through the Aleutians. Scaling may not make it obvious but that region is somewhere between 1200-1600 miles long (compared to the Oregon/California blue area that looks to be less than 300 miles long). So if we are looking for the true magic bullet it will be learning how to efficiently and safely transport big time juice long distance without wires, that has to be a least a century farther out than slow fusion. I'm not counting on this policy giving us that kind of time. Seems we may need a lot of fission to manage the 80% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2050, not to mention a whole new consumption paradigm.

But the Aleutians, near endless black sand beaches, volcanic landscapes-a few degrees global warming and they could be more pleasant than the Hawaiian Islands. Darn, warming could change the wind currents, for a second the future looked so bright.

According to Bill Nye the sport with the worst carbon footprint and therefore consumes the most energy is baseball. Pro baseball plays the most games and at the major league level at least the average fan travels 26 miles back and forth to the game. There are 3 levels of minor league baseball in hundreds of cities in North America with all that travel by teams and fans. On top of that most baseball games are night games with all that high power lighting.

A little mass transit, population consolidation and team/locale reconfiguration and that footoprint will be reduced--the anti-sport or anti-sport spectacle attitude will never play well to the big audience, though Roman gladiator style sport probably could be done much more sustainably and somewhat reduce the population as well. It certainly deserves serious consideration.

Wasn't there something about funding for a new government program for breeding lions? :-)

George et al - The issue of the depth of ERIO (guy's) analysis is fundamental! I was recently directed to an examination of the prospects for nuclear expansion by Dr. J.M. Pearce of Queen's University (Kingston, ON). Dr. Pearce has published several journal articles on what he calls "Energy Cannibalism" - the energy drawn from that produced by new installations in order to maintain "growth" in that sector. A recent paper is:

"Thermodynamic Limitations to Nuclear Energy Deployment as a Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Technology", International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology 2(1), pp. 113-130, 2008

The PDF is available here:

As I read this paper, Dr. Pearce is most interested in addressing claims that nuclear energy is "carbon free" - claims that have been well smashed at this site and others. His analysis is particularly interesting (IMHO) in putting numbers on the increased energy inputs required to mine lower-grade ores for uranium, and in calculating the actual quantity of nuclear required to replace carbon-based (c. 10.5% per annum globally for the next 40 years). Much of the increase is due to the energy needed (needing to be cannabalised) in order to build more nuclear plants (and to supply them with uranium). Eventually, of course, one will hit net zero returns. (What was that about extraction from ocean water?)

(Thanks to David E. of torontopeakoil [Feb. 1] for the reference.)

Best hopes for depth in analysis.


Unfortunately Dr. Pearce does not extend his investigation to the carbon consequences of switching from a uranium based fuel cycle to a thorium based fuel cycle. Thorium can be converted to fissionable U-233 are ratios of 1 to 1 in thermal reactors, and at a higher ratio in Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactors. The Indians plan to use a system of LMFBRs and CANDU type heavy water reactors. The indians can mine thorium simply by picking up beach sand in South India, loading it into dump trucks and hauling it to refineries. The EROEI in the Indian Thorium based nuclear system would be very high, no subsurface mining would be required for over a thousand years, and India can have a high energy thorium based economy, that would give the average indian a standard of living similar to that now enjoyed in the United States or Wester Europe.

The LFTR operates even more efficiently than the Indian nuclear system, would produce even less CO2, and no subsurface mining for thorium would be required for several thousand years.

A recent paper is:

"Thermodynamic Limitations to Nuclear Energy Deployment as a Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Technology", International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology 2(1), pp. 113-130, 2008

The man's either an idiot or a con-man.  Look at the abstract:

Abstract: To both replace fossil-fuel-energy use and meet the future energy demands, nuclear energy production would have to increase by 10.5% per year from 2010 to 2050. This large growth rate creates a cannibalistic effect, where nuclear energy must be used to supply the energy for future nuclear power plants. This study showed that the limit of ore grade to offset greenhouse gas emissions is significantly higher than the purely thermodynamic limit set by energy payback times found in the literature. In addition, any use of nuclear energy directly contributes heat to the Earth, which the Earth must radiate into space by raising its temperature to maintain thermodynamic equilibrium. This is a relatively small effect, but as energy consumption grows it must be considered for a world powered by nucl ear energy. The results of this study demand modesty in claims of `emission-free nuclear energy' as a panacea for global climate destabilisation.

How is it erroneous, misleading and/or fraudulent?  Let me count the ways:

  1. To both replace fossil-fuel-energy use and meet the future energy demands, nuclear energy production would have to increase by 10.5% per year from 2010 to 2050. This large growth rate creates a cannibalistic effect, where nuclear energy must be used to supply the energy for future nuclear power plants.

    This is wrong not once, but twice:

    • Nuclear energy provides roughly 8% of total US energy requirements.  To replace all primary energy by 2050, it would have to expand at only 6.3% per year.
    • It would be true for any replacement energy source, and the majority of current plants would be replaced by 2050 anyway.

  2. This study showed that the limit of ore grade to offset greenhouse gas emissions is significantly higher than the purely thermodynamic limit set by energy payback times found in the literature.

    We can safely assume that this study uses a once-through LWR cycle, because the USA and perhaps much of the world could run for several centuries on uranium that's already been mined using fast-breeder reactors.  Given that these enormous amounts of uranium were mined for weapons use without making a huge bump in world energy consumption, it's also likely that the projections of energy requirements for mining are unduly pessimistic.

  3. In addition, any use of nuclear energy directly contributes heat to the Earth, which the Earth must radiate into space by raising its temperature to maintain thermodynamic equilibrium. This is a relatively small effect, but as energy consumption grows it must be considered for a world powered by nucl ear energy.

    The influence of greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel combustion (1°C today, perhaps 3-5°C to come) utterly swamps the trivial contribution from direct human energy use (~0.01°C).  This is trivially provable via the blackbody equation, and use of this claim by someone who should know better proves beyond all doubt that the intent of the author is to mislead.

Perhaps you should publish a paper in a peer reviewed journal to that effect.

Maybe in that paper we could be shown how much in today's money it cost to achieve the 8% nuclear.
Where the funding came from, what was the revenue gained and what are the ongoing costs.

Tell us how much it will cost to build out 6.5% nuclear per year to 2050 and where the funding will come from and where the revenue will come from to fund ongoing costs.

Any calculation has to include retired reactors. New nukes to replace old nukes.

Past nuke building left about 50 partially completed reactors/piles of junk around the USA, and several more that retired quite early.

In retrospective, the existing nukes were "bad deals" economically; mainly because of the failed builds and horrific cost overruns.

The free market prices for used nukes have been small % of their inflation adjusted book values.


Some of those "retired" reactors either have been or are being "un-retired".  Brown's Ferry Unit 1 comes to mind.

Yes, there were bad deals.  The original conception of the Midland Cogeneration Venture failed due to fraud in the construction (improper soil preparation by a contractor) plus retroactive requirements changes by the NRC, but that's not an indictment of nuclear power; it could happpen to literally any project (Big Dig, anyone?).

Zimmer, TMI, Trojan, Bellefonte, Black Fox, WHOOPS 1,3,4,5 and dozens and dozens more !! About 50 nukes started construction and were abandoned ! Watts Bar 1 & 2 will be/are completed after decades of invested capital sitting there rusting. There is "talk" about Bellefonte using portions of the built infrastructure (non-safety related admin building & warehouse, the slab, cooling tower) but most of them are complete 100% wasted writeoffs ! About 50 abandoned, partially completed nukes !

BF1 is the *ONLY* "retired" nuke to reactivated that I know of, and no others are even possible now. Dismantled.


The 75% complete Satsop plant is now a little used "amusement park". Cheaper than demolition of a 3/4 completed nuke.

Best Hopes for never repeating the "Rush to Nukes" mistakes,


AlanfromBigEasy. there is more than talk of using the the shuttered Bellefonte construction site. TVA has filed an application to build to new reactors on the site, and in addition it is seriously planning to take advantage of the several billion dollars it has aleardy invested in construction at Bellefonte by completing the original two reactors. The reason TVA is doing this is obvious. During the first year of operation of its Watts bar Unit 1, TVA was able to add $800 million to its income from that one unit. Since TVA only spent $2 billion on its reconstruction, the TVA investment in Browws Ferry Unit 1, will be repaid in under 3 years. Such a rate of return makes even new reactors economically doable, and the rehabilitation of retired reactors an extremely attractive proposition.

the TVA investment in Browns Ferry Unit 1, will be repaid in under 3 years.

BS !!

TVA invested about $1 billion from 1966 to 1973 to build BF1 (I toured it when it was under construction). It operated from Dec. 20, 1973 till as fire on March 22, 1975 (16 months with low capacity factor). Patched and restarted in 1977.

Then ALL THREE BROWNS FERRY REACTORS were shut down in 1985 for "managerial and operational issues". BF2 stayed shut down till 1991 (six years), BF3 till 1995 (ten years) and BF1 June, 2007 (twenty-two years mothballed).

TVA cannot borrow money at 0% interest. The original costs of construction have accumulated massive interest costs. Browns Ferry 1 has been a major money loser for TVA (and poor capacity factor throughout). From 1974 through 2008 (34 years !) BF1 was nominally operating for just over ten years, but poor capacity factor make actual generation closer to seven years (out of 34 years).

TVA gave up it's construction permit on Bellefonte in 2006. Given the rumored poor quality of construction at Bellefonte (And the manufacturer, Babcock & Wilcox of TMI fame is long out of the nuke business), the odds are "not good" for NRC approval to restart.

Non-safety related construction (admin building, cafeteria, warehouses, parking lot, cooling towers, transmission lines) are likely to be reused at Bellefonte and will save some money.

Bellefonte 1 was 88% complete and $2.9 billion (TVA guess) to complete, Bellefonte 2 was 58% completed and $4.1 billion GUESS to complete. these numbers do NOT support your hypothectical construction costs for all new nukes.

Watts Bar 1 took 23 years and $6.9 billion to complete
Watts Bar 2 was 80% complete, $2.5 billion estimate to complete (started)


the rehabilitation of retired reactors an extremely attractive proposition.

Not in the USA !! EVERY decommissioned plant is being disassembled and cannot be restated. ZERO chance of a license.

I was a bit sad to see the Trojan cooling tower demolished (shut down after just 16 years of operation) go down. I thought that parts (such as the cooling tower) could be reused for a new nuke. Bad design bad repairs uneconomic at Trojan.

One last sad note about nuke economics from Trojan.

It is expected that demolition of the plant will cost as least as much as its construction.[

Last line at


I am familiar with the history of Browns ferry. TVA had no return on its its investment in Browns Ferry any time in its operation prior to last year?

I seriously doubt that TVA covered their compounded interest costs for any year at BF1 except for the first 16 months of operation before the fire.

$1 billion in 1973 with interest "adds up".


i assume TVA regarded its investment in Browns Ferry 1 as a write off during its prolonged shut down period between 1985 and 2002. As you are no doubt aware, TVA had a multitude of problems between after 1973 which effected its ability to manage its overly ambitious reactor plans. I am not sure that S. David Freeman offered TVA the best possible leadership in the management of its problems with building new reactors. Current management seems to be doing a better job. It seems to me that one factor in the very high estimated cost utilities are now attaching to new nuclear projects isthe desire to not get flat footed by inflation as they were in the 1970's and 80's. If you are goint to recite history, you ought to look at the question of what current actors might have learned from the past, rather than to assume that that past patterns will always be repeated in the future.

I think such assumptions of "better management" as unwarranted and unproven in making realistic policy plans.

Murphy does live and simply assuming that he does not/assuming him away leads to unrealistic and unbelievable proposals.

BTW, given the on-going disaster of nuke building at TVA, pulling the plug on 11 nukes was TVA's only viable alternative to avoid bankruptcy.

You appear to not realize the fundamental lesson learned from the nuke building fiasco; new nuclear construction rate cannot exceed the personnel and industrial base that can comfortably support it. Another "Rush to Nuke" will very likely have the same result (see 75% complete Satsop nuke "entertainment park" that no one visits).


Oh I think that legitimate questions about the quality oof management that an anti-nuclear fanatic like S. David Freedman gave to TVA's nuclear program which was a wreck when Freedman left TVA.

Such characterizations are 1) untrue 2) irrelevant and 3) self defeating.

Chairmen of the Board do NOT "manage" anything, the board as a whole (not just the Chair) just set policy and hire Presidents.

TVA management got in WAY over their heads (TOO many nukes, too many problems, not enough good experienced managers) and was sinking very badly and Freeman rightfully pulled the plug to keep from killing TVA.#

"anti-nuclear fanatic" ??? What proof for that claim ?

A nuke building industry that fails to recognize that they committed hari-kari and blames others (those evil ...) for their own faults is doomed to repeat the same errors.

# At the time, I thought TVA should have kept building at least one new nuke out of the 11. Kind of like WHOOPS #2 was completed in that comparable fiasco (or did anti-nuke fanatics infiltrate that nuke only organization as well ?)


TVA invested about $1 billion from 1966 to 1973 to build BF1 (I toured it when it was under construction).

Note the initial date:  1966.

That was very early in the ramp-up of nuclear power in the USA, and there has been a lot of experience accumulated since then.  Yet despite everything that was not known at the time, it was a good business move to put BF1 back on-line.  The 40 years of experience accumulated since then have shown how to operate these plants, and how to build better ones.

EVERY decommissioned plant is being disassembled and cannot be restated. ZERO chance of a license.

The ones at end of life should be, but they've paid their investments back (the earlier, smaller ones paid it back in experience, like Big Rock Point).

Even the pieces of some plants that will never operate are now productive; one of the reactor pressure vessel heads from Midland is now at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio, and the steam turbines have been running for years (albeit fired by gas).

They were paid back in times of great economic growth, population expansion and energy demand.

Do you care to forecast the economic outlook for "payback" now. I suggest you buy shares in the utility, as they jump first.

Maybe just tossing out the numbers is sufficient or saying "they should".......... trust me I know best.
Real world politics and economic fundamentals are trifling when all you have to do is show there is enough iron ore in the ground to start the ball rolling.

How it will be achieved wouldn't be your concern...would it. Telling us it can will do.

I know it's troll reply but that's how your cornucopian ideals make me feel.

I've been an owner (and reinvestor) in utilities for quite some time, thank you.  I'm in for the long haul.

Well that figures......"an owner".
I suppose you gotta look after #1, X has less gall than you.


When you write about plug in hybrids obtaining "150 MPG", please also include the primary energy used to produce and transport the electricity, most of which is now generated from coal. The claims that these cars produce such a high value of MPG usually ignores the contribution from the electric generation system, which you lay out in other parts of your comment. EROEI alone may miss the fact that those plug in cars will be heavier and thus will produce a lower MPG value when running on gasoline (or diesel).

The newer high tech engines using the latest combination of available technologies can produce rather high efficiencies, but this benefit would be wasted if larger versions of those engines were stuffed into larger cars, which would negate the advantage. We already know how to achieve better than 50 MPG with existing technology, I wonder if the plugins will actually be an improvement in real world usage, given the battery problems and the increased first cost.

E. Swanson

While you might think of me on TOD as 'EROI Guy', that baton has been passed to David Murphy, one of Charles Halls Phd students, and author of above. I have in turn become 'Fat McDonalds Guy'.

And I agree with your comment regarding car size. And would add that electric cars, despite higher mileage will use much more water unless electricity is generated from wind/solar.

One point I believe you implied is that the 150mpg rating system is not clear; does this mean when ever the engine is running, or does this allow 20-40 miles on electric over a 100 mile range? The will be some that can be genuine 150mpg (such as the Aptera), but some rating system needs to be established in order for us to compare apples and oranges.

the fact that those plug in cars will be heavier and thus will produce a lower MPG value when running on gasoline (or diesel).

I wouldn't necessarily assume this is the case. Which cars specifically are you referring to? What are you comparing them to?

A serial hybrid doesn't need as large an engine, and can save weight in that regard; the engine runs much more efficiently, as it operates strictly at peak efficiency RPM. You are right, of course, that automakers may reduce their potential gains by putting in engines that are larger than necessary (i.e., such as a 1.4L in the GM Volt).

Most of the plug-in hybrids will be purpose-built, so they won't be able to be compared to stock models, except on a passenger and trunk compartment sizing basis.

The early discussions I ran across regarding plugin hybrids were the result of efforts to modify existing hybrids by increasing the battery storage, i.e., adding more batteries similar to the OEM ones and changing the computer code used to charge the battery bank. That would increase the distance that the vehicle could travel as a pure electric before the gasoline engine would switch on. The calculations of MPG which resulted only included the gasoline used to cover the entire distance, thus the claim of "150 MPG". Suppose one commutes a round trip of 45 miles, the first 30 being under electric power, the last 15 being under gasoline at 50 MPG. Voila, 150 MPG!!

Rather typical computer land hype and salesmanship, I'm sorry to say.

E. Swanson

Yes, that's the way the 150 MPG rating is calculated, and it depends very much on the driving cycle. If you recharged every night and only made short trips in the all-electric range, you'd get infinite MPG!

Still, from a CO2 perspective, shifting emissions from tailpipe to smokestack isn't bad. The thermal efficiency of power plants is so high, even recharging a car from a coal plant is roughly equivalent to burning gasoline in the same size car. As peak oil people we know that peak oil is primarily a liquid fuels crisis. We need to shift as much transportation as possible to electricity even if the first electric vehicles will be luxury playthings of the rich. Of course, we'll hit other resource constraints if we "solve" the liquid fuels problem. The pessimist in me says we'll never build enough plugins and EVs to make a dent in car sales, and we're better off skipping expensive electric cars and planning for the post-Happy Motoring stage that follows. OTOH I also have friends in the EV world and wish them the best of luck.

I'm too lazy to repost a link to a survey that tracked exactly how much power a plug-in hybrid gets off the battery but it was rather disappointing. About 33% of city miles and 7% of highway miles.
Also a lot has to do with how you drive(down the battery).
Figuring on that basis a plug-in hybrid would end up with going from say 50 mpg(hybrid) overall to 65 mpg(plug-in hybrid) over all.
But the hi-tech optimists insist that close to 90% of city miles would come off the battery.
The only reason I would buy a plug-in hybrid would be..because it is a HYBRID and gets twice the mpg as a standard car.
Who would pay $10000 more for a car with a big battery that saves maybe $250 per year in gas costs?

When someone says that their plug in hybrid gets 150mpg they are either breathtakingly ignorant or deliberately deceptive. Considering that petrol isn't being used to travel those miles, you can't claim mpg. It would be like if I claimed my Corolla gets more than 1000 miles per kilowatt hour because it uses that much electricity during the time it traveled that distance.

All these ideas will come to NAUGHT in the face of peak credit. Where is the 150 billion going to come from when the bond market dislocates and interest rates are at 20-30%? When unemployment is at 30-40%, people will be more worried about the stability of the country as opposed to fancy energy initiatives.

America already faces 15.4% unemployment according to U6 (Not seasonally Adjusted). Obama's team of elite bankers and economists are going to destroy the global economy with breath taking speed. It's time for people to prepare for what's coming rather than these fancy articles.

It's time for TOD to wake up and realize it's too late to solve this crisis, there's no money and there's no political initiative to solve these crisis.

1) What you outline is certainly ONE possible path
2) We are trying to get across first principles, not necessarily to Obama, but to community leaders or those who will advise community and regional leaders in the future
3) Given interest, knowledge, and willingness to discuss and share these ideas, would you rather our staff instead build bomb shelters and short Treasuries to pay for them? To each his own.

It is not enough to 'announce' that what is happening is erroneous. It is also not enough to 'show' what path to follow because there are many. The best we can hope for here is holding open the forum for those smarter and more influential than ourselves to connect the dots and effect change - whether that comes from top down or bottom up or not at all is an open question. Peak credit is a blessing in disguise given our most recent trajectory because:

a)it leaves more quality resources in the ground while
b)people figure out for themselves that the conspicuous 'more is better' route was a cul-de-sac with a grim reaper at the end of it.

Without peak credit we'd have gone on our merry way until we hit peak credit, or peak water, or peak electricity or some other limiting input. Given energy, time and evolutionary iterations, it was logical that economics would reach a criticality beyond which point chaos (as in no recognizable pulses or patterns) was reached - and because our culture values and optimizes money over all else, that peak credit would be reached first. (for that matter, Peak Oil may NEVER be recognized as such - as other concerns may always dominate and supply drops will be matched by demand drops so the 'geology' will always be trumped by politics - you know above ground factors and all)

It's a chance to change course for some, and for others to complain that there are no solutions. Reading between the lines, there ARE solutions...

Hello Mr Hagens,

1) What you outline is certainly ONE possible path

I am pretty sure that the path I've outlined is well on it's way. Everyday we see all this tomfoolery in the markets. The collective idea of economists and politicians is to bankrupt the world as fast as possible.

Logic dictates that the problem of over borrowing and overspending can't be solved by overspending and over borrowing. It's a global phenomenon though, the US is definitely not alone in this, politicians love to spend, pork is their job!

I agree with most of what you say and I do indeed hope that TOD staff have taken time to protect themselves and with your financial acumen you have indeed shorted treasuries.

What I don't agree with is the notion of solutions at this point. Just the other day, in one of the threads you mentioned that for you to get solar panels and batteries would cost you 58,000 usd and thats including subsidies? (that someone has to pay for).

It's quite obvious to me that solar, wind, nuclear etc will never take off from the ground. They are simply not scalable. It was Gever et all who mentioned that the world would require 70% of it's current energy use to be diverted to creating infrastructure today, for a post oil economy for 10-15 years.

World GDP stands at 50 trillion? so that would be 35 trillion each year for 10-15 years?
Matt Simmons also announced and I recall you wrote this, 100 trillion was needed to replace current infrastructure due to rusting, while stocks right across the world were worth 33 trillion. Add to that the 26 trillion or so that the IEA was saying needs to be put in to find new oil and that sort of stuff.

That's about 500 trillion right there? First of all where is that money going to come from now that the world faces a deflationary depression. What about the fact that even if we somehow manage to scale up "renewables" and beat the laws of thermodynamics, where is the money going to come from and how can society live on 70% less energy availability for food, travel, transport etc.

I've read nearly all of your main articles and it is clear humans are designed to want more and more. Societies don't evolve to lower levels of living, they collapse to that point.

VK, Your point about the cost of both renewables is well taken. My own assessment is that it would cost at least 9000 per KW to produce reliable power from Texas wind. By reliable, I mean assured 24 X 7, or 16 X 5 power. I have reviewed the cost with batteries, pumped storage, and CAES. They all look dismal. ST is even more expensive because the cost of ST installations is higher, and the capacity factor for ST even under the best of circumstances is half that of West Texas Wind. Conventional nuclear is not significantly less expensive than reliable West texas wind. However, Thorium fueled Molten Salt Reactors - LFTRs - have the potential of coming online at a fraction of the costs. Significant savings can be obtained because the LFTR is far less complex than conventional reactors, because LFTR technology is scalable, and serial production will lower LFTR costs. Because LFTRs operate at much higher temperatures than conventional reactors, the thermal efficiency of small LFTRs will be higher than that of large conventional reactors. LFTRs can be built using low cost materials. Thus low cost serial factory production of LFTRs is possible, as is transportation of completed LFTRs by truck, rail or barge. LFTRs can be safely sited underground, and will not require operating staff.

Thus it is not unreasonable to believe that LFTRs ca be brought on line at a cost of $2000 per KW or less. Since it has been proposed that old coal electrical plant sites be recycled as LFTR sites, grid hookup will be basically free.

My own assessment is that it would cost at least 9000 per KW to produce reliable power from Texas wind. By reliable, I mean assured 24 X 7, or 16 X 5 power. I have reviewed the cost with batteries, pumped storage, and CAES. They all look dismal.

Perhaps if you shared your findings with us, we could evaluate them to gauge your opinion on this matter.

Thorium fueled Molten Salt Reactors - LFTRs - have the potential of coming online at a fraction of the costs.

Please share vetted cost projections, so we can examine them. How many of these reactors are currently operational, prototypes included?

How close are LFTRs to obtaining NRC approval? What is the most optimistic estimate of when 45 LFTRs could be built, given the R&D still required, the NRC cycle, the productization cycle, and industry ramp up? What would be a more realistic estimate?

Also, please discuss the load following characteristics of LFTRs.

Will, the cost of reliable West Texas wind with batteies:
Pumped Storage costs with renewables:
The cost of West Texas Wind and CAES:

My assessment of the cost of LFTR construction is based on an assessment of saving in compaiison to conventional nuclear costs. For examople, as much as 30% of the cost of a conventional nuclear plant is interest charges that begin thr moment parts are ordered. And continues, often for 5 years or longer. Interest can exceed 30^ of conventional capital costs. If a LFTR can be factory built in 3 months or less, and set up on site in another three months, interest costs would be from 1/6th to 1/10tgh that of an ordinary nuclear project.

Factory construction would require less labor than on site construction. Westinghouse has extimated that construction of the AP-1000 reactor requires between 12 Million to 16 million hours of Labor. The LFTR will require far fewer hours of laboy because it is a d=far less complex nachine. Compaired to the conventional reactors, the LFTR does not require a 8" thick steel pressure vesssel, steam generators, and condensors. The LFRT does not require control rods, ro cooling water routed through the core. Plumbing requirments are minimal compared to conventional reactors. Reactor controls are minimal. Safety is either almost entirely or entirely passive, basic reactor operational features are also reactor safety features, operations are passively controled, and thus safety features are passive. No operator input is required so opeaator controls are minimal. Instrumentation requiremenrts are small, thus costs related to instrumentation is minimalized. Power densities for LFTRs are much higher than for conventional reactors, lowering materials input requirements. Low cost materials such as graphite, are a feature of reactor core design, and an alternative to the use of graphite for the core structure would be to have no core structure at all. LFTRs would require less plumbing thean conventional reactors by at least a magnitude of one. LFTRs would similarly require far less electrical cables.

Underground siting would cost less than building a massive above ground containment structure, while having a superior safety and security features. Recycling old power plants would save many construction expenses, for example the turbine hall could be recycled. Grid connections would already be in place at power plant sites. Power generating turbines could be mass produced.

Given these numerous and potentially very large savings it is plausible that capitol costs for LFTRs would be a fraction of the cost of conventional reactors. A figure of 1/4 the cost of conventional reactors does not seem unreasonable, but a more exact determination of cost would require a detailed product design.

The NRC has stated that it iis currently giving low priority to small reactor designs, and no LFTR design has been presented to the NRC for consideration. An exact LFTR design existed in the 1970's, but current thinking about LFTR size, construction methods, siting, power conversion systems, core design, are different than those of the 1970's. These would necessitate a from scratch design. R % D including the construction of a commercial prototype would probably run $10 billion or so. The project would cost far less than completion of the IFR would. A mini-Manhattan project approach beginning in 2012, could build an operational prototype within 5 years, and a LFTR factory within 8 years.

The liquid salt in the LFTR core expands as it heats. As it expands some liquid salt overflows the core, carying with it fissionable fuel. As fissionable fuel leaves the core, the chain reaction in the core slows. At maximum core heat, enough fissionable fuel leaves the core to bring the fissionable mass left in the core down below the amount needed to maintain criticality, The chain reaction stops. Core salys retain heat, and heat is also replenished by the radioactive decay of fission products within the core.

Power demands draw heat awar from the core. Heat from the core powers closed cycle gas turbines. As core temperature declines core salts shrinks, and more salt is drawn backinto the core, this increase the fissionable mass beyond the point of criticality. The greater the electrical demand the LFTR is respond too, the more heat is drawn from the core, and the chain reaction withing the core is consequently increased. The limitation of power output, is determined by the limitations of the turbine generating system.

Sunce a LFTR's salts are at maximum heat when a LFTR is on standby, The LFTR can produce maximum power as quickly as its turbins can go to full generating speed under load. Thus the LFTR can not only load follow but can serve as peak reserve capacity.

In the case of decreased load demand, less heat is drawn from the core, the core salt expands with heat, core salt ans fission mass flow out of the core, until the core reaches maximum heat, at which case fission stops, and the reactor is automatically shifts int standby mode.

When the rubber meets the road no doubt some of these costs will jump, but that should not stop us from giving a very promising tech some true pursuit. If it works over the long haul these cost projections could end up on the high side. We have spent a hell of lot more (than we need to kick start LFTR now) on stuff that looked less promising to start with.

First, let's look at your pumped storage costs.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District study, 2002

The 1992 study looked at the costs and benefits of a 250-MW powerhouse and
a 400-MW alternative. The estimated cost ranged from $231 million to $298
million. That translates into roughly $700 to $900 a kilowatt.

Dec 2008 CPI was 2.102 and Dec 1992 CPI was 1.403, so that would be $1050 to $1350 per kW in today's dollars. You assumed $3700 per kW based on one plant built in 1972.

it is plausible that capitol costs for LFTRs would be a fraction of the cost of conventional reactors. A figure of 1/4 the cost of conventional reactors does not seem unreasonable, but a more exact determination of cost would require a detailed product design

No design, and a lot of vague assumptions; I'm afraid that's not the basis for a cost assessment. And you didn't even factor in operational costs. far, far higher with nuclear than wind or pumped storage.

The NRC has stated that it iis currently giving low priority to small reactor designs, and no LFTR design has been presented to the NRC for consideration

So this is little more than a pipe dream; why are you bringing it up as an alternative at this time?

Come back when the NRC has approved a real design.

Although life extension is pushing nukes to 60 years (with major rebuilds/repairs), pumped storage should typically last centuries to millennium.

Beyond the planning horizon for current financial planning, but it should not be for societal planning.

Best Hopes for Long Lived infrastructure,


Pumped storage should last for centuries, but unfortunately all to often their dams fail, making pump storage facilities far more dangerous than reactors.

When were the last times that pumped storage facilities failed in developed countries? When was the last time a reactor failed in a developed country? Hint: count Russia as developed.

Will Stewart: When were the last times that pumped storage facilities failed in developed countries?
December 14, 2005
When was the last time a reactor failed in a developed country? Hint: count Russia as developed.

Will, It seems that you were unaware of the problem.

I certainly was unfamiliar with this 'problem' (a software bug), as I'm willing to bet most other people here were. "No fatalities reported".

Of course, the last time a reactor failed, as noted above, quite a different tale unfolds [1];

There were 31 fatalities as of May 1987, all of whom were at the power plant, and most of whom were firemen fighting the blazes following the explosion. 237 persons were "removed to hospitals with acute radiation syndrome. About 500 were hospitalized altogether, including bus drivers who evacuated residents." An estimated 24,000 of the 116,000 evacuees received fairly serious radiation doses of about 45 rem. Thyroid doses from Iodine-131 as high as 250 rem were measured in children from Lelev, 9 km from reactor.

Levi gives an estimated long term total exposure is 29 million person rems with an excess of 3000 cancer deaths above the 9.5 million cancer deaths projected in the same population. Largest effect from cesium. The later estimates by Anspaugh, et al. suggest 93 million person rem and a projection of 17000 additional fatal radiogenic cancers out of a total of 123 million cancer deaths. 97% of the health effects are projected to be in the Soviet Union and Europe

The problem was more than a software bug. The dam itself was in poor condition before the accident, and the dam collapsed nearly killing a family who lived in the flood path.

Empirical data from the Chernobyl area suggests some extra cases of treatable cancer, but no cancer related deaths attributable to the disaster. Had the Chernobyl reactor been designed to Western standards the accident would not have happened at all, and if the Chernobyl reactor had the same sort of containment that the Three Mile Island reactor had, the release of radioactive isotopes would have been limited to safely dispersed radioactive gases, as was the case at Thre Mile Island. Chernobyl proved nothing about American reactors, and the recitation of details of this failure of uniquely Soviet technology is a thoughtless anti-nuclear ritual. Will your obvious ignorance of the Taum Sauk disaster demonstrates complete your ignorance of real non nuclear safety issues related to energy production. What is more whebn confented with your ignorance you attempted to minimize the problem by reducing a dam collapse to a software bug. Your understanding of energy issues is distorted by your anti-nuclear fanaticism.

And you wonder why no one takes you seriously...

Will, your passive solar series has certainly helped me focus future building plans if they happen (when you are talking sunk costs of a third of a lifetime or more in someone's home the options can be skewed). Thanks for all the hard work, and I do agree Hamilton, Madison and Jay all had their own axes to grind but when taken together they certainly dealt in an extremely down to earth way with concept of self government and its limitations (didn't respond to your reply for lack of time a couple months ago and the post was archived before I got back to it).

To this post:

Anything we do on the scale we are now at has consequences, not moving along at this scale could have even more dire consequences (could is the operative word I know). Nuclear needs to be a substantial part of the mix for a while, unless we keep ramping up coal faster and faster, I believe. Charles does come off one sided but when all the more or less factual presentations here are taken together the mix is fairly balanced. Kind of like the Federalist.

When people propose time shifting the flow of the entire Great Lakes and that rerouting them for pumped hydro could be done with minimum enviromental consequences the reader must take pause as well. Not your suggestion but it has been a recent TOD post. Quite the mix of ideas for sure.

Charles does come off one sided but when all the more or less factual presentations here are taken together the mix is fairly balanced.

My issue is with the "less factual presentations", so I will challenge any such and provide debunking information every time.

I've always stated that I believe a mix of nuclear and renewables is the best approach; Charles, on the other hand, doesn't, and has been vociferously pushing MSRs that he admits are optimistically at least 13 years away from a factory being ready to start building MSRs, assuming all the pieces fall into place nicely.

I believe an energy transition needs to take place starting much sooner than that. I'm fine with MSRs being a part of the solution when they are able, but I wouldn't put my eggs in that one basket. And I certainly believe they need to be taken out of the coal basket, so we have to start somewhere NOW, and renewables with pumped storage (or CAES, etc) is one of the best ways to do so, along with new standardized nuclear plants.

Yesterday would have been better than NOW that is for sure.

What I haven't seen at TOD yet (I've only been a regular a few months) is good site specifics on pumped storage coupled to to wind or other renewables. A lot of wind would by necessity come from high evaporation regions as would much solar, evaporation adding to pumped hydro storage difficulties. The ababandoned mine scenario was mentioned for both compressed air storage and pumped hydro, some mines may prove useful but I have a feeling there aren't enough nice clean salt caverns to go around.

You have a much better handle on the renewable issue than I do so I wondered if you knew if any serious work was being done on the North American siting necessary for the considerable pumped storage we will need to build. There seems to be a transmission efficiency issue that plays into the storage site/initial power colection site equation, or is that a phony issue, I couldn't make that out as the debates wound deeper?

I've been in heavy commercial construction for the last 20 years and the two things I haven't been involved in that I thought would be interesting are dams and movie sets (not heavy but quite the show). I kind of had given up on dams as they are so out of favor these days, but if renewables were pushing out all kinds of power that we needed to store, it would seem some acceptable dam locations could be found since we would be pumping the water up not blocking already free flowing rivers. Those pesky transmission lines of course are always problematic.

Will, My pumped Storage cost account is based on LEAPS plans, and very public discussions of those plans. The $1.1 billion figure came from LEAPS plans. Depending on who you believe the LEAPS project would cost $2200 Per KW, or X3,670 per KW. the LEAPS project would have a capacity factor of .50. A nuclear plant in contrast woul today cost $5000 Per KW, and would have a capacity factor of .90. If you add the capital cost of the windmills that produce the original elec tricity to the capital cost of the pumped Storage facility, the pumped storage power is going to be far more expensive.

Many of the cost saving features of the LFTR are not cvaigue, and are common to all Molten Salt Reactors. Thus the potential for cost saving are not at all a pipe dream. The NRC will undoubtedly come with increasing presure to alter its attitude and priorities toward small reactors.

You simply do NOT understand utility economics.

Nukes require MASSIVE amounts of spinning reserve, wind *NO* spinning reserve (according to rules I am familiar with), pumped storage supplies spinning reserve to nukes (which they require) at almost no energy cost. Without hydro reserve and/or pumped storage, nukes require coal or NG plants to operate at partial load and inefficiently (burning more fuel) just to maintain the spinning reserve they require.

Your "capacity factor" analysis is meaningless. Pumped storage is superb load following generation, nukes have ZERO load following capability. Peak power is worth several times what base load 3 AM power is. And pumped storage will last several times longer than nukes.

The free market price of used nukes are MUCH less than what your fantasy cost estimates are. So they are, in a free market, even with subsidies, not worth building.

A nuclear plant in contrast would today cost $5000 Per KW, and would have a capacity factor of .90.

Unprovable and quite likely WRONG !!

Your 90% capacity factor is also an exaggeration. New nukes do NOT reach that ! A decade or so of operations is required to reach that level in every case I can think of.

And that # is for proven designs (the ONLY type that should be built, except perhaps in uninhabited parts of Idaho) not some novel design.

I support a slow, safe, economic build-out of new nukes, even if the first ones are uneconomic (>50% probability) BUT ONLY PROVEN DESIGNS !! combined with a Rush to Wind.

NIMBY!!! any molten salt reactor ! I will STRONGLY oppose any within 150 miles of me.

Best Hopes for Better Understanding of the Real World,


AlanfromBigEasy, It is you who doesnot understand the economics of energy. Massive renewables projects, costing many billions of dollars are being planed and in some cases are underway in California and Texas. Multi-billion doollar renewable projects are in fact directly comprable to reactors in power output and cost. You are also poorly informed about reactor construction. Reported current cost for reactors in Asia run as low as %1600 per KW, far below the $5000 I estimated for American reactors. Your anti-nuclear, pro-renewables poropaganda efforts are faith based rather than fact based. What is a proven design. Two Molten Salt Reactor protptypes were sucessfully operated. Does that make MSRs proven designs.

A "proven design" has several dozen reactors, with a variety of operators and a couple of decades of uprating experience. Any design flaws should surface with that type of experience.

MSR is still experimental, unproven design, not safe enough to operate in the USA (except perhaps in uninhabited parts of Idaho). Water and sodium react violently on contact, so sodium is not an option.

The first couple of new nuclear reactors in the USA are likely (>50% probability) to cost more than $5,000/kW. And operate below 90% capacity factor in their first few years, and take longer than scheduled to build.

I am NOT anti-nuke, I believe that the USA should build six to eight new nukes in the next decade (to at least three different designs), even if large subsidies are required to build them because they will likely be uneconomic. The nukes built after those re-start-up reactors will likely be economic (if we do not try to build too many too quickly), which is why we should subsidize those first ones.

Please note that utilities are looking at new nukes, but no one has "crossed the Rubicon" and started construction, despite subsidies greater than wind to do so.

I believe the actions of these utilities, with multi-billions at risk, more than I do your blog.


Multi-billion dollar renewable projects are in fact directly comprable to reactors in power output and cost.

But not time frame or risk. Or required spinning reserve when operating, decommissioning costs (a cost recovery center for WTs, an unknown cost for nukes), etc.

As I said before, you simply do NOT understand utility economics,

Alan, California Utilities are the ones which are placing the biggest bets on renewables, and thety are mandated to do so b y the state. I wonder how much California utility executives would be committed to renewables if the nuclear option were opened to them. Do I underestimate the risks involved in nuclear power? I don't think so. A major reason why i support an alternative nuclear technology, is mu conderns about the costs, and other problems associated with light water reactor.

If there are no risks involved in renewable projects, why is there so much insistence on subsidies? Why does T. Boone Pickens admit that his wind project would be a no go without subsidies? The major difference between current renewable projects and reactors is not the time frame in planning and construction, but the inability of renewables to supply power on demand. Do you assume that fossil fueled electrical generation will be available to back up renewables? Do we need to calculate the cost of storage systems into our assumptions about future renewable costs? I am trying to work out how much it would cost to replace a fossil fuel dominated electrical system with carbon free technology, not how much a fossil fuel supplemental system will costs. I don't for one minute think I am the best person to do this, but I seem to be virtually the only person to acknowledge that there is a problem, and until someone else comes along who can do a better job than i can, i am going to continue to do my best to point to the problem.

Lots of people should be asking the questions I ask. Consider the Gore Plan, or the Google plsn. I belieave these plans have been poorly conceived because planners do not pay enough attention to the cost of an all renewable systems. So should I keep quiet about the problems with an all renewable system?

I want to see new nukes built.

Nukes get more subsidy than wind (same $/MWh plus Price-Anderson) yet none are being built. Talk, but no action (and it was 8 years of VERY pro-nuke GWB in office with an R Congress for 6 years).

Obviously larger subsidies are required, in one form or another.

You slow the progress towards building new nukes my saying an untruth, that nukes are economic, even without subsidies. We need LARGER subsidies to restart the industry.

I wonder how much California utility executives would be committed to renewables if the nuclear option were opened to them.

Zero difference.

Like the rest of the USA, too much risk of cost overruns, schedule delays or an unusable plant (Zimmer et al). Wind, on-line in 30 months. Nuke on-line in 7 to 12 years ?

I want a Rush to Wind, an HV DC build out, massive pumped storage (required for nukes as well as renewables) and a slow, safe, economic build-out of nukes.

And we Are NOT getting even that slow safe build-out !


Alen claims of government subsidies to the nuclear industry include far more than the very modest government spending on the nuclear power industry. Exactly how much does the government spen on the so called Price-Anderson subsidy. How much has it expended to date on nuclear loan will the government ever in fact spend a dime of Price-Anderson? If you count Price-Anderson as a government subsidy, you would have to acknowledge that the entire hydroelectric industry is eneb more heavily subsidized, because there is no insurance pool. The government picksup 100% of the Tab for dam failures.

Pleas document what you see as government subsidies to the nuclear power industry during the last 10 years. Then sunstract from that amount the amount reactor owners paide into the nuclear waste fund. A fund in which they paid for services they did not receive. Count the excess paid into the nuclear waste fund and interest on that amount as a subsidy of the nuclear industry to the federal government, and then substact that amount from the real subsidies paid by the government to the nuclear power idustry. The result will of coure be a negative number.

You are quite wrong about the ability of nuks to load follow. Naval reactors do it all of the time, boiling water reactors are good load followers, and CANDU reactors have good load following capacity.

You are quite wrong about the ability of nuks to load follow. Naval reactors do it all of the time, boiling water reactors are good load followers, and CANDU reactors have good load following capacity.

I'm familiar with load following capability of nuclear reactors. However no ones ever managed to provide any sort of explanation as to why anyone would want to do such a ridiculous thing that complicates reactor operation as opposed to just dumping excess load.

Edit: Outside of naval reactors of course.

Dezakin, grids with majority nuclear need to have some load following capability. Despite the laughable attempt to argue that *nuclear* needs 'back up' made here, load following is real in France, as you are aware. But you question is poised way too much "in the box".

The ONLY reason NOT to load follow (outside of the lack of capability built into the US reactors) is revenue stream, as if NOT running flat out is somehow uneconomic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Load following is a *product*. There is a *market* for it and the plant I worked at for 24 years was *paid not to run* during various times of the year. We were paid at minimum load or at mid load or following load, all based on whatever deals were worked out with the ISO.

In the US, the utility industry *assumes* that NPs have to run flat out. They don't see putting in their rate base a revenue stream based on lower loading. Unfortunate but true. We don't have a socialized electrical system like the rest of the world so these 'deals' have to be worked out in advance and then the US NRC only approves non-load following reactors. QED, but in a very unfortunate way.

At 100% base load nuclear system (with non-baseload being anything you want) perhaps wouldn't need to follow load either. But France's electrical system is 80% nuclear of *total* load, which includes base and mid- to peak. So they need it. And they built it. Cheaply.


Here in Europe we have a much longer experience with wind farms than US although US may be about to overtake in installed capacity.
Wind turbines were reduced to three standard types they are off-the shelf- products. It takes at most 4 months and these are online. Not 30 months. Almost no capital cost. 30 months refer possibly to offshore windfarms.
Most important prerequisite to integrate wind power into trunk grinds fed from several sources gas or coal fired hydro nuclear is a smart grid.
That is every source of electrical energy must be a network host with some "intelligence". It should constantly report about its state such as wind speed direction, temperature. In turn every consumer should be a unique host, too, also reporting about its state and further on planned actions ( industry ).
The cost of such a network is lower than previously estimated as the trunk lines can serve as the physical network backbone.
The political environment however must be as such that trunk grid operation must be separated from utilities, i.e. different companies.
The latter is the very reason why Europe does not have smart grids although the technology is there since 2003 and thoroughly tested.

I unfortunately do not have time at the moment to engage you with all the facts (leaving tomorrow for family health issues, and dealing with positive fee3dback from my 3 weeks in DC).

I suggest that you read an alternative POV on new nuke economics (dated in 2004).

Bottom line, more subsidies are going to be required before new nukes are built in the USA. And I think we should increase those subsidies.


Alan, Critics of nuclear power considers the Government loan guarantees as a hugh subsidy to the nuclear industry. It is not. The Congressional Budget Office scores the cost of the $50 billion program at one percent of loan volume. The actual appropriations for the $50 Billon in loan is $500 million because the CBO sees the loans as a very low risk. If the loans are repaid then they will have cost the tax payer nothing. The loans themselves are not gifts from the taxpayers, unlike the huge amount of money that flows into the pockets of T. Boone Pickens and other reenewables owners. So much for the huge nuclear subsidy game you are playing.

I tried reading your third link.  Emphasis on "tried".

I found so many grammar, spelling and factual errors I couldn't get through it.  You need to spend a lot more time just getting your facts straight and getting your thoughts coherent.

Engineer-Poet The words "factual errors" have have no meaning without specificity. If you can point to the alleged errors, and point out why they are errors, I would appreciate it. Otherwise I will take the above comment as a cheap shot. I do acknowledge making mistakes, and do learn from them by the way.

On this note, I do want to encourage you to proofread your posts. There are so many spelling and typographical errors as to make them almost unreadable. It undermines your message.

This is a straw-man scenario, Texas is not an isolated island, 100% dependent on wind power 24X7. Its connected to the US grid with 90GW capacity hydro( 30GW pumped storage), as well as several hundred GW natural gas peak. The cost of new pumped storage is not relevant, the cost of increased electricity grid is, and is being addressed.

If Charles really wants to compare wind 24X7 with nuclear on same basis then need to have the cost of 3 months pumped storage in case the nuclear plant has to close down for unscheduled repairs or ALL nuclear plants of one design have to shut down due to a design flaw. Neither scenarios are realistic because wind or nuclear do not generate 100% of electricity anywhere.

Actually, most of Texas IS an electrical island (ERCOT) with very small connections (like 600 MW from memory) to rest of the USA.

Western US & Canada, Eastern & Central US & Canada and Texas (plus Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, etc.) are the electrical islands.

No federal regulation this way, and some technical advantages as well.

Best Hopes for future HV DC ties with Texas,


The ercot link doesn't seem to work. According to Gail's 11May2008 post, Texas exported 19,000,000 MWh electricity in 2006( about the 6th largest exporting state). This would imply at least 2,000 MW capacity to other states or Mexico.
This year a new 150MW HVDC connection was opened between Texas and Mexico.
Apparently the other two connections to Oklahoma and Louisiana are also HVDC, so in that sense ERCOT is a separate(non synchronized) grid.

I suspect that the electricity exports were from the non-ERCOT parts of Texas (El Paso, Beaumont, Lubbock & Amarillo basically).
There are two commercially operational DC-Ties between ERCOT and the Eastern Interconnection:

* North (DC_N) located near Oklaunion - 220 MW
* East (DC_E) located near Monticello - 600 MW

There are 3 DC-Ties between ERCOT and CFE, called South DC-Ties:

* Eagle Pass (DC_S) located near Eagle Pass - 36 MW
* Railroad (DC_R) located near McAllen - 150 MW
* Laredo (DC_L) located near Laredo. This is a Variable Frequency Transformer (VFT) - 100 MW

Within context of ERCOT (2005 Peak 60.3 GW), ERCOT is an island with a narrow footbridge to the rest of North America.


Luxembourg (among others) has a sweet profit making pumped storage unit.

Buy 3 AM nuke power from France at a DEEP discount, and then sell it back to them (or Germany, Belgium, Netherlands) typically at a 500% mark-up.

So much for the value of constant output nuke power at 3 AM.


You have the most amusing imagination.

And since you have gone ad hominem, I will respond in like.

Your knowledge fails to meet TOD standards. Basically, you do not understand nuke economics (see other post), and you seem to make things up as you go.

You ridicule common design flaws in nukes and are ignorant of reality.

Yes, *ALL* Babcock & Wilcox reactors were shut down for years for safety retrofits (economic disaster for USA if these had been Westinghouse reactors).

Likewise, the latest French reactors, the N4, were all shut down for a common design flaw. ALL UK reactors should have been shut down (they used carbon steel nuts instead of nuke grade plus fuel problems) but that would have destroyed the national economy, so unsafe nukes were operated in the UK.

A VERY serious risk with nuclear power is common design flaws. IMHO, the USA should never have more than 15% of it's reactor MW nameplate in one design.


AlanfromBigEasy, current reactor design tools, and greater reactor design experience, make such flaws more unlikely in the past. But even in the cases you site, the reactors involved were only a small percentage of the avaliablegrid capacity. current North American reactor plans point to a continued diversity in reactor design. Your argument assumes that nuclear plant designers do not learn from past problems, and nuclear design tools do not improve over time. This is an a historical argument.

The four N4 reactors are the newest completed reactors in France.

I agree that the US appears to be trending towards acceptable diversity in design, but actual builds may differ.


The N4 reactors design is nearing 20 years old, I do not consider 20 years old as new in terms of reactor design, but given your propensity to conservatism in wanting only proven reactor design, you probably regard them as new.

The four N4 reactors are the newest completed reactors operating today in France. They are as new as it gets in France (the ideal we should all aim for) ! And all four were shut down for a common design flaw.

No EPR is operating, so none can be shut down for a common design flaw.

There is no evidence to suggest that the "common design flaw" issue is gone forever in nukes due to advances in engineering.

I can, with caveats, accept that claim in aviation, since there is evidence. But not in nukes.


Societies don't evolve to lower levels of living, they collapse to that point.

A powerful observation. From a management point of view, it very much simplifies the game. Assuming it bears out, then the best that can be done is "managing collapse" and proactive investment in cases of silver bbs is next to pointless - at least at a societal scale. Many of us have reached that conclusion anyway, but would not have stated it so concisely.

cfm in Gray, ME

and proactive investment in cases of silver bbs is next to pointless

I fail to see the logic in that conclusion.


Alan, you skipped the original hypothesis and my big "If".

What if this decline is so rapid any light rail not already just about complete never gets completed? A society that can evolve to manage decline? What, bond markets are going to finance rail projects through some sweet mellow slide into the gorge? A decline rate of 8 to 9% a year I consider rapid. Roman empire took order of magnitude 1000 years to decline - unnoticeable year by year or generation by generation. What if stuff is being ripped out underfoot so rapidly there is no large scale mitigation possible? The original post was talking about societal scale - not that of a single municipality.

I fear we will end up with a lot of larger and smaller stone heads scattered on the ways. Some scavanged, some broken up because I can't imagine a society successfully evolving to embrace decline. That will lead to all sorts of wanton destruction.

cfm in Gray, ME

Even the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War kept their streetcars going.
halfway down

After the SF earthquake, streetcars were back in operation within 24 hours, even as fires still raged.

The examples of Cambodia and Liberia show that the tracks were still useful (homemade bamboo railcars) and villagers prevented salvagers from tearing up the tracks in Liberia.

Quite frankly, I can see railroads, because of their utility, being the remaining focus of organization and even civilization during a collapse.

The "time to completion" for most rail projects once construction has started is short enough that useful sections at least will be completed.

The longest time line project (the Swiss Trans-Alp tunnels) are now bored (longest 58 km) and should be opening in another half dozen years. The shorter one south from Bern is in commercial operation already.

Perhaps mules will pull homemade railcars through these tunnels in 100 years, but I do not see them abandoned.

Given the hydroelectric power for Swiss trains, I suspect that they will keep going, even during a famine, etc. It is not that difficult to keep them going. (Electric locos have stayed in service for 90 years).

Best Hopes for Stages of Collapse,


Though a little off point, having read Grant's Memoirs winter or two back, I was quite impressed with how quickly ruined rail lines were brought back in service. Of course huge infrastructure remained in place to supply materials, but what the armies could do and how quickly they did it was instructive to me. Road bed work takes more time but if you are talking quick utility, lots of roads could be turned into railroads.

"It's quite obvious to me that solar, wind, nuclear etc will never take off from the ground. They are simply not scalable."

You must be thinking about something else when you say "scalable", or do you mean "not limitations of critical resources, skilled labor,locations or funding to expand to replace ( say all FF)?
From my understand of these technologies, combined with existing hydro,together they are all scalable at least in N America, but possibly nuclear would not be scalable today in Africa or Australia.
You are possibly double counting future energy infrastructure, why replace all of today's oil infrastructure if its going to be replaced by nuclear and renewable energy?

Howdy VK,

I think you're in stage II of PO/Peak Credit/Peak Doom awareness. A lot of Oil drum people have moved into later stages.

(1st stage - bliss and ignorance; 2nd stage - we're all going to die, there's NO WAY out; 3rd stage - not dead yet, what do I do now?; etc)

I know you're big on The Automatic Earth, as am I. They nailed it as far as peak finance subsuming peak oil. But even when the worst of the meltdown occurs, we're still going to wake up in the morning and have to get by. I've enjoyed your input here and at TAE. I'm also curious; you're in Kenya and 22 years old or so? If the meltdown happens, what will your day be like? Will you still need to travel? Drive? Shop for food? Tell me, if you wish, how the USA going broke will change your typical day?

I've come to accept doom, but still plan to eat and surf and grow food afterwards. A little electric scooter or car would be nice. I figure if I can go 10 miles I'll be OK. My neighbors aren't going to become zombie hordes. Some even have preserved cash in these tough times. Others have $50,000 cars they could trade 'straight-up' for a scooter or wheelbarrows.

If we're all technically broke thanks to fed government spending all our future earnings, then we're all in it together going forward. If we're all going to die, what should we do until then? Might as well come up with a plan, it just might work. I do think we'll eat the songbirds out of trees for the most part, though, to quote Darwinian.

Dude... surf.

"If we're all going to die, what should we do until then?"

Gets my QOTD vote by a mile.

Hi got2surf

You've nailed the stage I'm in. I used to be somewhat optimistic about Obama and the future than I met Ilargi and my tune changed. Yep I am 22 and in Kenya now, if the US does go broke (collapse as Dmitry Orlov suggests), I expect that a lot of complexity that society depends on is going to disappear.

We primarily export flowers to Europe, tourism, coffee and tea while we import cars, oil, machinery etc. I reckon that if the US does go bust, than the effects will be global. I do expect international trade to break down, we'll have shortages and generally our economy will have to go a step lower from the low playing field we are at.

I primarily decided to leave Australia (where I was studying) because
1) The estate where I live in has a private borehole, we have access to clean water all year round as water supply in Nairobi fluctuates a lot.
2) We have no extremes in weather in the capital, no need for insulation or cooling.
3) The city is quite walkable (although I drive for now), Nairobi is 673 km^2 whereas Melbourne was 8300 km^2 I believe.
4) I have a vast network of community and friends here.
5) Food is still grown within the capital and just on the outskirts. Nairobi lies inbetween some of the richest farmland in the country plus 75% of the population is involved in Agriculture, nomadic lifestyles in one way or another and a lot of the rural areas have a large number of subsistence farmers.
6) We are already used to hardship here, 50-60% of the population lives below the poverty line earning less than a dollar a day and we already have a large informal economy with lots of people who have survival skills.
7) People here don't have much debt, hardly anyone has a credit card. We do owe debt to the world bank and IMF but will those institutions survive this debacle?

Obviously there is a lot that can go wrong with peak credit. Mass unemployment already a problem here can and will get worse, if the US goes down than regional security could be badly affected (Somalia is just next door), we'll probably see a lot of shortages as I mentioned, hence I could use a bike! Also my family are involved in tourism, so we'll have much reduced incomes as a result.

It's obviously a gamble I've taken, but like Mike Ruppert says each animals instinct is to go home and die.

Their is no such thing as peak credit. The fiat money system is artificial and has no natural limits (unlike oil). An endless quantity of new money can be created out of thin air and thus the quantity will never peak. That is not to say that the valuable resources which can be bought with that funny money are infinite, just that the units of exchange are unlimited. (the unending increase in the money supply will soon destroy the value of the money and people will stop accepting it in trade)

Credit is a function of economic growth, leverage, the willingness to lend, and the ability to borrow - it is quite different than 'money'. You are correct that it is artificial and has no natural limits in theory - but when the first derivative of a systems ability to grow turns negative, credit will have peaked. I suspect we are passed that point. If at some future data we exceed the credit levels seen in 2007, we will exceed them only in the nominal terms of the day - i.e. credit as a % of the real economy has peaked.

Agreed, especially "the willingness to lend". Who is going to buy our Treasury bonds?

This is why changing how the monetary system works will have to go on the agenda, IMHO.

Almost all money today was created by means of a loan: our money system is based on fractional reserve lending where money is created as debt. This needs to be changed if endless growth can no longer be assumed to support this virtual debt pyramid, which is happening NOW. I propose the Fed system of fractional reserve banking be abolished and currency be issued by the government instead, created by spending it into existence rather than money being loaned into existence by private banks, with interest. The benefit is that all circulating money no longer will need to be serviced by issuance of more debt as there is 0% interest attached to it. Money supply would be increased by federal spending and decreased by taxation. The federal debt (sum of all money in circulation) runs at 0% interest to the taxpayer so the money system is stable in a no-growth environment.

The problem is how do you cancel out all the existing debt? Just allow everyone to walk away from all their debts with no consequences? What if it is your life savings in the bank or other fund that has been loaned out(foolishly or prudently, doesn't really matter) and it is suddenly legislated out of exisitence? Many foreigners have done just that by buying US Treasuries, which underpin the current USD. Your proposal would involve defaulting on that debt, for which there would have to be consequences. An immediate halt to trade with the US would be the first thing, which means no oil imports or plasma screens. This could very quickly get ugly which is why TPTB cannot even afford to let the idea wander into even their casual thoughts.

There was a good proposal of how to handle existing debt and transition to a stable monetary system not based on debt (although still fiat) in the short film "Money as Debt" (google it).

One idea might be to introduce one or more competing currencies. People could choose to accept repayment of their debt in one of these other forms of money rather than the debt based federal reserve notes. For example, gold and silver coins could be legalized for transactions (and no longer taxed) and debt holders could take 1oz of gold instead of $1000 (for example). The debt based money would poof but the same value of the new permanent currency would stay in circulation. It wouldn't have to be JUST gold/silver coinage used as the new money, other systems could be in use simultaneously. An oil based money redeemable in a fix quantity of petroleum would be good, or electricity based money issued by individual or collective power companies, or even a money redeemable in a fixed quantity of corn. Any organization that wanted to try to issue a money could, and its worth (or lack their of) would be determined by the willingness of people to accept it, just like with any other product. If someone provided an honest, stable, transparent money system which earned the trust of enough people, those people would use that exchange system. As it is now, a fraudulent, opaque, untrustworthy system that is falling apart around us is being forced on everyone by government decree and backed up by violent force rather than the voluntary choice of each participant.

"i.e. credit as a % of the real economy has peaked."

Bring on the Creative Financial Engineers.

[Sarquila reposado]

If you want to look at credit in real world terms rather than simply as federal reserve notes then yes, it could be possible that the total economic output and resources could reach a maximum point. Although I think that that will be much too complicated and subjective a judgement for anyone to ever make, unlike peak oil which can be measured objectively. As far as having the total economy reach a point of maximum number of trading units (dollars) and then declining, that CAN happen. But it would be entirely arbitrary and at the discretion of the federal reserve since they can create as many or as few dollars as they feel like.

It is time to create a Renewables and Efficiency Bank. The REB would borrow directly from the FED and finance projects at the lowest possible interest rate. If we can have a bad bank for intangible job destoying paper assets why not a good bank for tangible job creating real assets.

Duh. Because that involves effort. It is so much easier for them to just sell empty promises.

I disagree with this wholeheartedly. Peak Oil does not mean no oil and, likewise, Peak Credit does not mean no credit. Until the last BTU is up there will be capital. Right now, we are in a transitional period and turmoil is high because of market volatility and few know why (and thus can't stabalize it). People are scared to lend because they don't know where to put their money. But trust you me, everyone with money right now I know is looking for somewhere "safe" to put it. When it becomes clear that wind and nuclear and other EROEI positive enterprises can turn a profit, the money will flow. Eventually, at some forward point, the money and energy invested in EROEI+ projects will pay off their upfront capital and energy sink and the energy (and credit) descent will reverse. I hope I am one of the lucky ones to stay in a job until this happens.

Obama can help with this by injecting starting capital to get alt energy off (or more off) the ground and prove it has a future. Private enterprise will then be happy to take over.

Interesting article, as most people don't consider EROEI when it comes to charting our energy future. Your points are well taken, though it seems like you were champing at the bit to write a longer article.

One point that you brought up is extremely important;

decreasing consumption is being overlooked

I agree completely that this is a crucially important topic, and would like to point out that several aspects of the energy plan are indeed addressing this;

  • Increase Fuel Economy Standards
  • Establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard
  • Deploy the Cheapest, Cleanest, Fastest Energy Source – Energy Efficiency.
  • Weatherize One Million Homes Annually (now raised to 2 million)

Additionally, Obama has directed the DoE to recommend new stringent energy efficiency standards for appliances.

Interesting that you list these Will because I see them differently. When I read "Increase Fuel Economy Standards" I imagine basically the status quo "lite" where the U.S. has 800 cars per thousand people, each driving about 10,000 miles per year.

This is efficiency but not necessarily what I believe the point was, which is actually doing without some of these dependencies. For example, co-locating home and work and play so the cars aren't really needed, or using a bike for 9/10 local trips, etc.

Can the U.S. get by with more like 20 cars per 1000 people? Now that would be fantastic! I'd feel much safer during my travels.

When I see the line "Increasing CAFE Standards" I think more SUVs. My understanding is that the SUV boom was created by the Federal Government exempting Light Trucks (class included SUVs). I do not trust Government bureacrats to solve this problem.

What fine print will some special interest write into the regulations? What government distortion will result this time?

Interesting. Will Detroit start selling 10,100 lb personal vehicles just to avoid a new restriction on "light truck" mileage standards?

They might start selling them, but they may have trouble producing them. may be cheaper and easier to just import them from China.


"Reducing consumption" is both energy efficiency and a conservation mindset. I believe both are needed in vastly greater levels than are currently practiced. The Govt. can't impose the latter, but can set standards for the former. Local governments are in charge of land use planning, so Obama can't do much there.

Availability of existing housing stock is another limiting factor when we talk about living closer in; do we abandon the houses in the suburbs now? What would people do about the existing mortgages and using to proceeds of a sale to purchase a house closer in?

I've been a Smart Growth activist for a decade now, and the amount of growth we've experienced in that timeframe could have been redirected towards walkable, bikeable mass transit districts. But we know that didn't happen, at least in appreciable numbers in the US.


  Customary Units Metric
Population 12,000
Diameter 2500 ft. 760 m
Area 112 acres 45 hectares
Building Footprint 40%
Number of Stories 4 (US measure) 3 (European measure)
F.A.R. 1.5
Average Street Width 25 ft. 7.5 m
Building Depth 30 ft. 9 m
Courtyard Width 130 ft. 40 m
Walking Time to Halt 5 min.

Robert Rapier guessed an earlier image; anyone care to guess what city/town this is? The country is somewhat obvious...

I prefer this urban form to the one illustrated.

With Satellite Images;_ylc=X3oDMTExNmIycG51BF9TAzI3MTYxNDkEc2VjA2ZwLWJ1...

and with just a map;_ylc=X3oDMTExNmIycG51BF9TAzI3MTYxNDkEc2VjA2ZwLWJ1...

Note all of the 28' wide one way streets on the second map.

Best Hopes :-)


Alan, two times what ain't gonna happen is still an ain't gonna happen.
Electric cars replacing ICE cars are a pipedream and so is electric trains replacing ICE transport.
What will happen will happen. It will happen out of necessity and out of a reaction to circumstances like it always has.

When has anything ever been built with a view to a future more than a few years away? It is built now because there is an immediate need. Otherwise they are just more stone heads.

Do you think in the future we'll build more of what won't be used? Right now vehicle sales have plummeted and employment is sky-rocketing. So, will we be manufacturing more cars, building more railways or airplanes?

The only way converting to an alternate method will be required, is when it is required.
Roads, bridges, power stations or railways. They are not built where or when they are not needed because it is inefficient. Things may change and revenue is required to fund loans, maintenance and wages.

BAU or anything like it ain't gonna happen and if it ain't gonna happen then we can make do with what we have.

Best hopes for conservation and powering down, learning to make do with what we have and a realistic expectation of the future.

I guess we're all different but I can't imagine a more abysmal way to live. To me, it's like the overcrowded rat experiments where the rats went nuts over time.

Let's see, I have 57 acres so there would be around 6,000 people living on my land. There are about 4,000 people spread over 600 square miles in my area and you're going to stuff them all onto my land plus a few thousand more? Gag! Barf! It isn't a human way to live. And, yes, I am being serious.

Here is one of my gripes about high density living; it requires concentrated, high quality resources to be brought to the people.


To each their own. I love being around people and talking to neighbors as I walk around.

My most common reaction to going outside, even after all these years, is "how beautiful" :-) Either bits of nature (tulip trees are starting to bloom, camellias are just past peak) or man made.

On the more objective side:
Here is one of my gripes about high density living; it requires concentrated, high quality resources to be brought to the people.

It is easier to deliver resources to urban areas; rural areas are the problem for that. Examples: Medical care of all types (three hospitals within 3 miles), electricity and natural gas, oil products, hardware & construction products (brick comes straight by rail to a yard 3 miles away, concrete plant less than a mile away), food products (dairy 7 blocks away, bakery 7 blocks too, coffee roasting in town). Rice mills and sugar refinery close to town (our cuisine focuses on local products).

Best Hopes :-)


Come on you don't think a 600 mile medevac (if the wind goes down enough) to the nearest hospital is low energy impact. Even twenty years ago per grade school student cost way out west was higher that Havard tuition. Bush AK has service and supply delivery costs that are off the chart, and less than a century ago the local folks lived about as sustainably as man ever has. What a case study.

Immediately after Katrina, the USS Bataan was in the GoM, with a fully equipped hospital of 600 beds, several dozen helicopters, many tons of MREs, and the ability to desalinate up to 100,000 liters of potable water/day.

She could have been moored at the US Navy base in the Upper 9th Ward, or behind the Convention Center on Tuesday and the medivac flights would have been 1 and 3 miles respectively from the largest hospitals, not 600 miles.

However, our Commander-in-Chief ordered her to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where, to quote her commanding officer, she was "under utilized". However, the Gov. of Mississippi was the former head of the RNC and MS had two senior R Senators, one named Trent Lott.

“The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore. The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders. Helicopter pilots flying from its deck were some of the first to begin plucking stranded New Orleans residents. But now the Bataan’s hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, are empty

Original Chicago Tribune article quoted is now behind a paywall.

Best Hopes for a Warm Spot in Hell for GWB and all that "helped" him,


Don't be so defensive, I was talking about 600 miles or better out of Anchorage, way west. Just pointing up the extreme expense of modern life in the most far flung and most sparsely populated portions of the U. S.

Been to the Big Easy back when "Feelin' I Got a Fixin' To Die Rag" by Country Joe and the Fish first got air play. Had a great time. Took the Panama Limited one way and the City of New Orleans the other out of Champaign and back into Chitown. Those trains were a little slow but still a great way to travel.

Walked all over New Orleans, never needed a cab except to get to our motel, we were green travelers didn't realize we could have booked a place right down town. Great gumbo in a little restaurant on edge of'the quarter' toward the park. Red checked table clothes and black and whites of race horses all over the walls. That place still there?

By the way 'Bush AK' in the above post is bush Alaska, you know 'out in the bush'('Bush' is capitalized as the first word of a sentence).

Cities exist because they concentrate services and specializations, like medical care, manufacturing and government. It is a symbiotic relationship with the natural, rural surrounds that make both of these human habitats work. There needs to be enough farmers to produce enough food in enough variety to trade among the populous and there also need to be enough of the other specialist, town based trades to produce the manufactured inputs and other services required by the farming industry.

Funny how the people actually living in these environments never think they are "living like rats." They think they are living the high life, and are very glad to be out of the boondocks surrounded by low-grade losers.

Your views are really just a fantasia favored by ruralists. Dense city living IS the NORMAL human way to live for anyone not directly engaged in agriculture -- just look at all the dense cities created over the past 5000 years of civilization.

The INHUMAN (ie very rare until the advent of the automobile) way to live is to have 57 acres in the boonies and NOT be involved in agriculture.

Until very recently, the norm for humans was to be involved in agriculture (or another activity requiring even more land per capita).

Actually, the norm has been both, as humanity has well-established urban societal forms as well as the agricultural support for those cities.

I actually think re-ruralization is the long term trajectory. Do a triage on infrastructure, only keeping what will last with low maintenance costs. Mine value out of the crappy infrastructure. Open up the landscape for riparian habitat, aquifer recharge, new farming near eaters, woodlots, etc.

I think living in a place like the above picture is fine as long as I can walk or ride a bike for about 5 minutes and be among the natural capital base that makes it all possible.

The future may be a combination of re-ruralization and re-urbanization, with the suburbs losing population.

Frieburg (and many other European small cities) have fairly well-defined urban boundaries, often with agricultural and natural areas right up to the city boundary.

Some suburbs may actually achieve both re-urbanization and re-ruralization in situ. It will depend on the characterisistics ofcourse, with natural water catchments or flow being the main pre-requisite followed by the ability to transport goods and people both to and from.

Creating a village or town centre in any suburban settlement is going to be the slow and difficult part, but I beleive that humans are predisposed to creating these types of spaces whenever a group gathers and settles for any period of time. Once more people start to live in their suburbs 24/7, through forced unemployment, you may start to see home industries and neighbourhood gatherings morph into something not unlike a main street culture. Zoning laws be damned.

This won't take as long as you think. I was driving to work today in Denton, Texas. Many of the main roads in this area are full up and down them for a mile or so of houses converted into businesses. These propped up to serve a market: college students and local hippies that don't own cars. These businesses did not wait for new infrastructure, they converted. All it takes is a financial reason to do so. Millions upon millions of suburbanites without the gas to make it to the Wal-Mart across town is a whole lot of reasons.

That's how markets work.

Robert Rapier guessed an earlier image; anyone care to guess what city/town this is? The country is somewhat obvious...

I'll guess this one as well. As you say, the country is pretty easy. Typically German. The city was a little tougher. I have walked all over Freiburg, but wouldn't have been able to guess that without peeking...

So, it's Freiburg, Germany.

Yes. You've been to some interesting car-free/car-lite places; interest or work related?

I lived in Germany for 2 years. Lots of car-free places in altstadts all over Germany. I spent a couple of days in Freiburg exploring while I was over there.

Noticably those car free places , although they attracted various ethnic minorities in the first place when everyone else thought its a stupid idea , became eventually the most expensive because they have the lowest crime rates.

This "circle map" from Carfree has most of the necessary elements of carfree living, namely very narrow, pedestrian streets and multi-story buildings. However, there is way too much green space. "Green space" should not be random landscaping, but purposeful parks and gardens. About 20%-30% "Green Space" is plenty. This looks more like 50%.

Americans think they want "green space" because they want to get away from the stink and noise of cars. However, when a city has no cars, then the whole city becomes like a garden -- quiet, clean and peaceful, with people walking down the middle of the street like your photo. Thus, there is less perceived need for "green space." Tokyo's parks are rather underused, actually, and the surrounding mountains (easily accessible by train) are practically empty. This is because nobody feels the need to "get away". Get away from what? From cars! They are already where they want to be!

The green space you refer to is actually primarily the shared 'back yards' and garden patios of multi-unit dwellings. Here, parents can keep an eye on their young kids playing out back (instead of making a special trip to a park), neighbors can have block parties, youth can play a pickup game of soccer/frisbee/etc, one can walk out of their house with a lounge chair and a book on a warm spring weekend, sit and read under a cool shade tree on a hot summer evening, etc.

Americans have loved vacationing in Europe and admire just this sort of built environment but have been unable to create it here.

Stunningly nice place to be a family IMHO. (As long as I can walk to my food and woodlot, etc.) One of the big worries a parent has is their kid getting crushed by a car. Looks like that's been solved.

"Can the U.S. get by with more like 20 cars per 1000 people?"

This may be a "feel good" outcome, but whats relevant is the total VMT x av fuel consumption/mile. If those 20 vehicles are in "taxi" mode and have low mpg savings are not going to be as good as imagined in this extreme case. More vehicles, traveling lower miles/vehicle and getting much much higher fuel economy could be a better outcome.
One problem is that the existing 250 million vehicles in US are not going to wear out very quickly, if they are used much less. Cuba is a good example of what happens if you suddenly stop new vehicle purchases, you a stuck with the fuel economy of the day. Better to replace with new vehicles with very high mpg or electric, as they have higher VMT, and will accelerate the removal of older low mpg vehicles( by depreciation).
Encouraging old vehicle removal and less traveling per vehicle will help but only if the overall fuel economy (miles traveled /gallons used) improves.

About half the energy a vehicle uses is during manufacture. I'd rather keep some efficient old vehicles than build even more efficient ones. And then I'd feel extremely safe riding around on my bike.

But what I want is unlikely to matter at all. As a society we are most likely going to be trapped by our sunk costs and die trying to defend what we possess.

Even if it's true that a lot of energy is used in manufacturing( does that include recycling steel?) not a lot of oil is used in manufacturing but almost all energy used in driving( except replacing rubber, and ethanol) is derived from oil.

"I'd rather keep some efficient old vehicles than build even more efficient ones."

In other words your thinking is also trapped in sunken costs!

In other words your thinking is also trapped in sunken costs!

How true. I just had two of my old bikes overhauled.

About half the energy a vehicle uses is during manufacture.

The Institute for Lifecycle Assessment found that manufacture only accounts for about 10% of the energy cost of a car 10 years ago.  A Prius would probably make that account for more, but the longer useful life of a hybrid would keep the fuel a large majority of the total.

Thanks for the updated info!

Whilst the energy intiatives for 2025 are good ones there is a underlying issue that will render them net neutral at best and that is the expected 13% increase in US population by then. If you make the not unreasonable assumption that energy consumption will at least track population then an increase in renewable electricity from 9% to 25% becomes only a 6% decrease in FF generated electricity after allowing for the pop increase. Likewise saving ME + Ven oil will be almost exactly compensated for by the pop increase. Someone may want to check these numbers but I think they are ball-park correct.

The problem is that the whole pie is growing as quickly as the fraction devoted to FF's is declining.


I am not sure that sort of population increase is a given. People tend not to have as many kids and immigration slows dramatically during depressions. There was a mini baby boom during the Clinton years, for example, and now I'd expect birth rates to drop pretty fast.

Don't overlook depopulation efforts being planned by the government. They are making plans for the future of the civilization too, and from their perspective things would be a whole lot easier if there weren't so many people.

It would be simple to decrease the population of the United States by perhaps 6%:  send all the illegal aliens home.  Paying some of our legal immigrants to leave (and eliminating their incentives to stay, such as welfare and language services) would cut more.

Illegal aliens are drawn to the United States by the american labor market, which demands low priced labor. Not increasing immigration quotas to reflect labor demand, lowers Labor costs, because illegal workers are unlikely to join unions, or press for wage rights. Expelling illegl aliens would mean that many of the jobs they do would go with them when they leave. a better approach would be to legalize the presence of previously illegal workers. This would increase the cost of hiring immigrant Labor, and woul make low wage American workers mor competitive with the now legal immigrants.

Legalizing illegal aliens would leave us with the costs for housing, schools, transport, etc.

I don't care if the jobs done by illegal aliens leave with them.  I am perfectly okay with the end of stoop labor and personal servants.  It's past time for machinery to take up those tasks, converting sub-minimum piecework wages to high-tech machine construction and maintenance wages at a far higher quality of life.

Engineer-Poet we already pay to school the children of illegal aliens, most of whom were born in the United States and are citizens. But wait, illegal aliens pay th same taxes the rest of us do, so maybe they are entitled to the government services they are paying for. You might not care about the jobs the aliens do, but whole industries in Texas would collapse without alien labor. So called Aliens are a part of the Texas economy, and it is far from clear who would do the jobs the aliens perform if they are deported. Many of these labor intensive jobs, for example roofing, are not going to be turned over to high tech machines. In many cases illegal aliens compete with drug addicts for low paying jobs, and I would a whole lot rather a crew of aliens do my roofing, than a crew of drug addicts.

But wait, illegal aliens pay th same taxes the rest of us do, so maybe they are entitled to the government services they are paying for.

You're assuming that the illegals aren't mis-stating their deductions to avoid taxes, or working for cash under the table (like most day-laborers).  There is massive evasion of other taxes (like property taxes), such as bunking many unrelated people in a single house against occupation laws which are discriminatorily applied to the non-immigrant population but not illegals.

Most illegal aliens don't make enough to pay for the government services they use, let alone the other costs (drunk driving, spousal abuse from the macho culture, identity theft placing huge costs on innocents, other crime).  The total services consumed by a pair of illegals working minimum wage jobs with 2 US-born children in school is greater than their wages, and a huge fraction of illegals get minimum or less.

We need to pass a law fixing the misinterpretation of the 14th amendment which gives citizenship to children born of persons unlawfully in the USA (that citizenship is the fruit of a crime, and properly forfeit under well-established law) and send the lot of them home.  I don't want a society which requires an underclass for certain "essential" jobs to get done; we can either pay enough for the dirty work to attract people, or automate it.

Plenty of non-immigrants and natural born people avoid paying taxes too. Anyways, I am opposed to having the government steal anyone's rightfully earned wealth regardless of their citizenship. Even if they get an equal supposed value of so called "services" in return. I don't really consider locking up millions of drug users a service, neither is the indoctrination aspect of public schooling. I'm not sure how being spied on is a service, or killing foreigners.

So is the solution raising minimum wage enough so there will be competition to fill the jobs from among legal residents or lowering overall wages enough to accomplish the same thing? ;)

Forget minimum wage.  With less unskilled labor, either the market wage will increase or the job will be automated with the creation of even higher-wage jobs in machine construction and maintenance.  As a bonus, when the machine becomes obsolete, it doesn't have any right to (or need of) retirement pay and can't commit crime to support itself—not so the illegal immigrant.

Having worked for minimum wage in nice little northern lumber yard that still had the guard towers standing around it (built to handle WWII German POWs), my opinion about the necessity of net at the bottom of the U.S. labor market and yours differ some. At the time I thought about starting a book called "Slavery, alive and well in America."

I still work in manufacturing (from time to time) though at the top of its wage scale, I am very aware of what happens when the bottom of that wage scale is removed. This is a much trickier economic balance than any market purist (I am not implying you are a purist as you want government limitation on immigration rather than letting the total potential labor force seek market balance) wishes to admit. The market purists always assume a set of a priori conditions (like private property defended by law and not might) for the free market that included much government(king, pope, burgermeister, warlord, whatever) interference to put those conditions in place but allows no government interference after that set time they have arbitrariily decided the free market was born. Darwin was the ultimate free market theorist, but his time frame is a bit long for the economist.

Remember if you aren't physically producing anything yourself, regardless of how much efficiency your ideas have contributed to the system, you are still living off the surplus that poor working stiffs are creating with their hands and backs--assuming machines aren't doing it all at which time what use would there be for pesky humans anyway : )

That gives you a one off short term decrease which may be very hard to implement anyway. A much more effective and more permanent solution is to withdraw much of the unecessary drugs providing artificial life support to the elderly. People should not have to suffer pain, but we should not be spending vast sums on fighting natural ageing processses which are designed (by intelligencve or evolution, take your pick) to bump us off after we have gotten to an age appropriate for rearing and nurtutring th next generation to take over. We were never meant to meet our great-great grandchildren as is now becoming increasingly common.

There is a certain limited logic to this, but it is extremely cold hearted. Even from a logical standpoint it doesn't make sense, by what reasoning is the life of a young person more valuable than the life of an old person? There isn't a benefit to having a higher turnover in population. Better to have 3 people live 80 years than have 4 people live only 60. Especially when one of those people (guaranteed you are one of the people if you are reading this) is yourself.
I don't know about you. But I could never tell me grandparents that I'd rather see them die than have them cost me more for medicine.

Part of the "stimulus" bill that was just passed contained a provision for denying health care based on the anticipated remaining years of life the patient might have. That is what government run universal health care is all about, denying individuals the treatments they want or need based on what is considered by someone else to be the greater good.

The situation gets much dicier when 'telling your grandparents' anything is no longer of any use as it has been years since they were able to comprehend what you said.

First it is letting the brain dead or extremely old alzheimer's victims die. And the next thing you know treatment for cancer is denied to 60 year olds. Soon every medical treatment is evaluated in terms of how much the treatment will help the 'community' rather than the individual who is suffering. It is what happens when control of our resources, including medical resources, over to central planners. The best thing for society is to respect ever person's personal property rights. When someone spends their own money to preserve their own health than no one can tell them that they are not worth the trouble.

Once we let someone else pay for our health care then those people will start to feel like they own us and that they can dispose of us as they please in whatever way benefits THEM the most.

Someone else already pays for your healthcare. And they have decided who will and who won't get care. You call them your insurers. Last I checked there were processes and items they would not pay for.

The only ones who can truly get whatever care they want are the truly and phenomenally rich. But isn't that how it has always been?



The insurers use your money to pay for your healthcare. That means you are the one paying ultimately, unlike if it were paid for via taxes.

I think it would be fair if every person could get the health care they want and can afford without the interference of others. It isn't fair to have someone else be forced to pay for your health care. Even most proponents of tax payer funded health care recognize this, why else would they be complaining about having to pay for the health care of elderly who are no longer of any use to them?

Yes, it has always been that those who are able to get what they want have what they want and that being unable to get something means that you don't have it.

There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources. Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. OPEC will continue to cut production until they achieve their desired 80-100. per barrel. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trains, the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota. There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now.

Energy Independence sounds like a great idea. Most Presidents since Richard Nixon have claimed this as a national goal at some point. Funny thing, it hasn't happened. That's because it's cheaper to import oil than it is to use the locally available sources.

The problem is basic engineering Thermodynamics, which says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. The renewable energy sources are there and have always been there, it's just that converting and storing them has cost more than simply poking a hole in the ground to get at what's down below. Early electric production efforts involved water power, which is renewable, and that still remains the lowest cost source. Large scale wind appears to be competitive with other sources, but often is not available where the people are nor is it available 24/7. I think that the idea of a Manhattan Plan for energy is too small. It needs to be more like a "Marshall Plan" used to rebuild Europe after WW II.

And, please don't use the phrase "create energy", as it is completely misleading...

E. Swanson

Well said, I've been wondering why the idea of a "Marshall Plan" hasn't been used not only because of the scope, depth and urgency it represents. It was also so much more of a positive program than the project that gave us the bomb.

Seeing "Marshall Plan" supplant "Manhattan Project" in the rhetoric would indicate at least awareness of the situation, though the real deal would have to been scaled up from Marshall considerably.

In the peak year, the Marshall Plan took 2% of US GDP.

We can do a lot with 2% of GDP.


If we started soon yes, by the time we get to it...well GDP may well be down some but the time frame to get the critical work done will be much constricted. That's not a given but it does seem our MO.

Energy Independence is an illusion. No less an authority than the Council of Foreign Relations articulated why over 2 years ago. I suppose it is possible if we had dramatically lower population or changed our economic/transportation system, but not by 'growing' more energy. And given that every single comment you have ever made here during past 5 months recommends that book, I suspect you ARE Jeff Wilson - please note that this goes against our Guidelines( #9), and further posts advertising that book will be deleted. If you are the author, plug the book elsewhere and share your expertise here.

I agree that, absent some new energy source, attempting to maintain BAU while going for Energy Independence will be a daunting task, perhaps an impossible one. That said, if the 'Merican people could be convinced to reduce their energy use thru changes in lifestyle, I still hope that we might actually get there. I'm afraid that we won't willingly make those lifestyle changes and will then find things beyond repair as Peak Oil kicks in.

For example, a friend of mine (who is recently divorced) last week drove his PU from Western NC to Jacksonville and back to pick up his young kid for a visit. I think he is going to repeat the trip this week to take the kid back south. He has no clue...

E. Swanson

How realistic is the "10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025"?
Currently in the US only 7% of energy supply comes from renewable sources. From that 7%, a mere 5% comes from Wind and a tiny 1% from Solar.

As we move to alternative modes of transportation and energy use we will rely more and more on electricity. (i.e. charge hybrid/ electic cars, using electric trains/trams etc) so if all that happens the demand for electricity will be increasing exponentially.

You are referring to total energy consumption (which includes gasoline, diesel, for example), which is much more than just electrical energy consumption.

Yes, I know I am. I think its more appropriate to refer to the total energy consumption which gives a better overall picture and scale of values. In any case the problem remains. If the US invests more into public transport and electric cars the need for elecricity will grow to such an extent that I very much doubt that the above mentioned goals will ever be reached.

As we move to alternative modes of transportation and energy use we will rely more and more on electricity. (i.e. charge hybrid/ electric cars, using electric trains/trams etc) so if all that happens the demand for electricity will be increasing exponentially.

Trade 20 BTUs of diesel for 1 BTU of diesel/gasoline by shifting from rubber tires to electrified rail and good things happen.

Currently, the USA uses 0.19% of it's electricity for transportation (NYC subways, Amtrak's NE Corridor, LIRR, subways & light rail). France 2.3% (they use less electricity/capita than we do, so this overstates the transportation electricity a bit)..

“[Electrified] Railways handle 32% of Swiss freight traffic and 16% of passenger traffic, but they use only 3% of the total energy required for all transportation.”
- SBB (SwissRail) Environmental Report

Electrified railroads would use 2.37% of US electrical generation (about as much as France today) if all truck freight was shifted to electrified rail, and all rail was electrified. A more realistic (very successful) rail electrification program) could use 1% of US electricity in a decade and more in later years.

Several independent calculations by others on TOD suggest than EVs will use 17% of US electrical production for personal transport (not freight). Urban Rail as a substitute for driving EVs would use much less.

Best Hopes for Numerical Analysis,


You have to compare apples to apples. Firstly, France is much smaller and more densely populated country. Secondly, public transport may be much more widely available in Europe (mostly in large urban centers) yet that fact does not imply in any way independence from oil consuming transport.
Even so 17% for EV's + (X?) for trains/ trams etc. as you put it, is a pretty large increase in electricity need.

The differences in size & density have less impact than "seat of the pants" guesses would assume.

In the next decade, France plans to build 1,500 km of new tram (Light Rail) lines in every town of 100,000 or larger (and some smaller). Adjust for population & work week and the equivalent US effort would be 5,000 miles of new Light Rail lines by 12/31/2019.

Urban Rail need not be a "Big City" only thing !

yet that fact does not imply in any way independence from oil consuming transport.

I use Mulhouse France as an illustration. Population 110,900. metro quarter million. First tram in 2005, 58 km by 2011. Terminus of TGV line in 2012. 200 velibs (rental bikes. first half hour free).

Many of the residents of this smallish town will, in 2012, be able to walk out their doors and either walk to a tram stop or bicycle there, catch a tram to the train station and be in Paris in 3 to 4 (perhaps 5 depending on tram/TGV schedule) hours or anywhere in France in a long day. All with one drop of lubricating oil !

I see some independence from oil based transportation.

I do not support subsidizing EV's, but rather MUCH more Urban Rail and Transit Orientated Development instead of driving everywhere, in an ICE or an EV.

In any case, your hypothesized "exponential growth" of electrical demand is not supported.

Best Hopes for Banning Electrical Hair dryers :-P,


No one is arguing against the benefits of public transport. The "one drop of lubricating oil" for running an electric public transport system depends on where your electricity comes from. Getting back to the original argument, I think moving on to EV's and electric public transport in the US will substantially increase demand for electicity thus making it hard for the Obama Administration to reach the goal of "10 percent of US electricity from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025."

I agree about TOD vs EV. I am no tranpsort expert but it looks like we are heading towards more EV's. Most car companies are heading that way. So let me clear this out, you menytioned ealrier "+17% for EV's + X? for electric trains/ trams" (regarding electricity demand) Is this not quite considerable to you?

PS. I havent used electric hairdryer for over a decade. :)

3% more electrical demand for electrified rail (Urban + Inter-city) by 2025 will not affect Obama's 25% goal by 2025 (OK, 25% > 24.23% with an extra 3% demand).

Add another 5% for a major shift to EVs (say 29% of the fleet by 2025, 3/4ths of all new car sales are EV in 2025 but 16 year fleet turnover and time required to change new car sales) and the % drops from 25% to 23.1%.

Add some more extreme conservation (ban those damm hair dryers !) and 25% is still quite attainable IMO.

Best Hopes for Numerical Analysis, and less waste,


“Electricity – whether derived from renewable energy ( e.g. photovoltaics, hydropower, geothermal, and wind), nuclear or other sources such as coal – at present substitutes only for a tiny fraction of oil used in the United States and other advanced countries. Improvements in plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars could change that situation in the future.”

Electricity at present substitutes only for a tiny fraction of oil used in the United States and other advanced countries

BS !!

Washington DC Metro carries about 40% of the DC workforce to work every workday. NYC subways even more, etc. etc.

The Trans-Siberian Railroad operates on electricity and not diesel. All Swiss railways too, etc.etc.

Is this not electricity substituting for oil ?


What about the rest of the country besides Washington and NY? You have any numbers overall on the percent of people using public transport? Look here: Electricity from renewables is just a tiny fraction.

The Big O's plan for 25% by 2025 will be pretty easy to do.

The grid will be down by then, and the only juice generated will be, by local, renewable sources. Big O, and the nits in washington haven't got a snowballs chance in hell to do what he says he wants to do. The words are just a fantasy to feed pablum to the intellectuals and the techno-droids.... Rah! Rah! Go Big O'.

True change will come in this country. With a Molotov Cocktail,,,,drink up.

Uh, no. The grid will ration with planned blackouts before it blacks out totally.

True change will come in this country. With a Molotov Cocktail,,,,drink up.

Things like this are why no one responds to posts that, well, end with things like that.

Sooooo, sorry. You are correct. My mistake. My apologies to all for my opinionated, brutally honest statement. I will tone down my remarks in the future and not use such harsh and inflammatory words. I will try to sugar coat the death and destruction coming to a theater near you, with words like Hope, Change, New Direction, Super Grid, Thorium Reactors, EROI,, etc.

Not to worry. Your government has it all under control.

Yes, please, be my guest and sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. States rights, article 10, of the Constitution, being brought to the forefront in a large number of states, will bring the many issues facing us to a very quick end. Think we have a crisis now?

""A crisis (plural: crises) may occur on a personal or societal level. It may be a traumatic or stressful change in a person's life, or an unstable and dangerous social situation, in political, social, economic, military affairs, or a large-scale environmental event, especially one involving an impending abrupt change. More loosely, it is a term meaning 'a testing time' or 'emergency event'.""

Read up on the Civil War my friend, maybe it will dawn on you it was not fought over slavery. You will not need to worry. You will not need to fret. Dividing up the US, into 6 or so regions will actually be better for everyone. Everyone that survives, that is.

Later this year we will reach a point where 10% of our liquid fuel is ethanol. This means, in essence, 24 Million Cars will be running on corn alcohol.

How many will be operating off electricity?

Edit: That's ten percent of our gasoline. That's not counting the 4.5 mgpd of diesel for trucks, tractors, trains, etc.


6% of the energy in that gasoline will come from ethanol, 10% is just by the volume.

And it does not include the diesel used to grow & transport the corn, or the natural gas to make the fertilizer or to distill the ethanol from 80 proof to pure ethanol. Or the diesel to transport by train the ethanol around the nation, etc.

Between 1% and 2% of the auto fleet might be said to operate on ethanol. At the cost of dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, soil erosion, water depleted in Nebraska, and more.

Best Hopes for No More Corn Ethanol Subsidies !


And include in petrochemical pesticides and herbicides.

Ogallala Reservoir - Time

According to a major study just completed by Camp Dresser & McKee, a Boston engineering firm, 5.1 million acres of irrigated land in six Great Plains states will dry up by the year 2020. If current trends continue, Kansas will lose 1.6 million irrigated acres, Texas 1.2 million, Colorado 260,000, New Mexico 224,000, Oklahoma 330,000. Yet this drastic estimate, declares Herbert Grubb of the Texas department of water resources, is "20% too optimistic."

And the Gulf Dead Zone is fed by industrial agriculture;

Will - stop with the fancy graphs! Our way of life is non-negotiable.

Yep, "Brand New Study - Just Completed" on May 10, 1982!

Holy Batman, Robin! What a Crock.

This from April 2007 lecture by Professor Joseph Smyth, University of Colorado at Boulder concerning the Ogallala reservior;

• Aquifer underlies former dust bowl
• Aquifer was artesian when first tapped.
• Drilling and pumping greatly increased in
last half of 20th century.
• The economy is still largely agricultural
• Pumping greatly exceeds recharge.
• Aquifer is depleted in some regions and
nearly depleted in most of the rest.
Agriculture will largely cease in 20 years.
• Currently 10 to 15% of US production.

The Ogallala Aquifer is a Huge, and Complex formation covering many states. Parts of Texas and S. Kansas will have to quit irrigating out of it one day soon. However,

In the more humid areas water levels have actually risen since 1980 (i.e., eastern and central Nebraska and south of Lubbock).

Note: About the only corn that's used for ethanol that's irrigated is from Nebraska where in most areas the Aquifer is actually Gaining Water.

Look, water is very important, and we're going to have to pay more attention to it; but, it's not a "show-stopper" for Western Civilization. We know how to do "drip" irrigation, and desalination, and we're learning how to breed plants to thrive in drier conditions.

BTW, we not only pay farmers Not to Farm 34 Million Acres, we retired sixteen, or seventeen million acres of farmland in the last five years according to the latest "farm census."

In spite of horrendous floods, "mudding" in in, and a short season corn yields were up about 4 bu/acre this year. I'd bet on 5 bu/acre next year. Oh, and fertilizer use is Down by 10% since 1980.

In the more humid areas water levels have actually risen since 1980 (i.e., eastern and central Nebraska and south of Lubbock).

The places that have added water are a very small percentage of the acquifer;

Oh, and fertilizer use is Down by 10% since 1980.

References? Which fertilizers? Counted by whom and where?

I'm sorry, I can't find the link right now. I'll try to find it tomorrow when I'm a little more alert.

Basically, the amount of fertilizer used in corn production in the U.S. is down about 10% since 1980. Mostly in the Phosphorous, I believe.

"tomorrow" has come and gone; still waiting...

Yikes, you're patient; I'll give you that. Okay, I'll try to find it, tomorrow. Don't get your hopes up, though; it really IS there.

Until you show me, it remains in question. And another 'tomorrow' sounds like you are just waiting for this to get off the front page of TOD. Why not find it now, and we'll all be happy...

Well, you and your underwater, taxpayer-supported city are entitled to all the "Hopes, and Dreams" you can conjure up, Alan;

BUT you're Not entitled to your own FACTS. The DOE puts the estimated mileage loss at 1.5% for E10 vs gasoline with benzene.

You keep babbling about the "Dead Zone," but what does the underwater city contribute to it? I know that the use of fertilizer has decreased 10% since 1980. Has the "pollution" from N'awlins and it's oil refineries diminished as much?

This Study, by the University of Nebraska points out that there is about one gal of Diesel represented in 19 gallons of ethanol. And, also, that great strides are being made in lowering the amount (sometimes to zero) in the amount of nat gas used for process energy.

Best hopes that You will grow up, and quit misrepresenting the Only Alternative Fuel that is, at present, Making a Difference.

BTW, The Big "Muddy" River, as the Indians called it, has been washing topsoil out to Sea ever since there's been a Big Muddy River. That's what Rivers do. Some corn farms suffer some erosion, others not so much; But tell me this:

Did you ever, EVER Complain about soil erosion when the corn was being used solely for taxpayer-subsidized feeding of the cattle your parents raised? EVER?

Do you honestly believe those hundreds of millions of Midwestern Acres are going to be put back into "prairie grasses?" Some of the most fertile farmland on earth? It's going to raise "Something," Bubba. Whether it's taxpayer subsidized feed for Asian Swine, or ethanol, and DDGS for American Cattle, it's going to be put to use.

You might as well quit misrepresenting the truth about Ethanol, Alan. Your big old stinking, dirty, polluting oil refineries are going the way of the dodo bird. And, we're not going to build your welfare city a taxpayer-subsidize, Coal Fired, Electrical Rail System until the Clean technologies are available to power it.

Best Hopes for "Realistic Expectations" - and Truthfulness

Did you ever, EVER Complain about soil erosion when the corn was being used solely for taxpayer-subsidized feeding of the cattle your parents raised? EVER?

As a matter of fact, yes, I did complain, and my parents weren't even cattle people! Soil erosion is a big deal and may or may not be exacerbated under the increased pressure for corn - based ethanol. It will be increased if farmers lose soy/fallow rotations in lieu of continual corn cropping. Soil erosion aside - corn ethanol makes little sense on so many other fronts I don't no where to begin, economics and net energy just to name two.

Ethanol can be produced, and sold, profitably, for $1.60 (wholesale.) If gasoline is selling for $2.00/gal or more ethanol makes "economic" sense.

BUT, here's the question. What would gasoline be selling for if we weren't replacing 700,000 Barrels of it with Ethanol Every Day??

And, "net" energy is of little value in this equation. Our cars aren't set up to use nat gas; but if we lever the nat gas up with solar, and biologicals to produce ethanol we can/do, at present, replace 116,000 btus of gasoline with about 25,000 to 30,000 btus of nat gas (this includes process energy, and nat gas used in manufacturing fertilizer,) and a smidgen of diesel.

If all that doesn't make "Economic" sense I give up.

BUT, here's the question. What would gasoline be selling for if we weren't replacing 700,000 Barrels of it with Ethanol Every Day??

What would natural gas be selling for if so much of it wasn't going into producing ethanol?

I don't know, it's down to $4.50/mbtu as it is. That's pretty low.

I kind of think the new administration is going to push the corn ethanol refineries toward biomass fueled process energy, anyway, and away from nat gas. The whole CO2 thing, y'know.

I don't know, it's down to $4.50/mbtu as it is. That's pretty low.

Back to your original comment, gasoline prices are pretty low as well.

I kind of think the new administration is going to push the corn ethanol refineries toward biomass fueled process energy, anyway, and away from nat gas. The whole CO2 thing, y'know.

The problem is that not a lot of new ethanol refineries are likely to be built, and existing ones are unlikely to be retrofitted en masse.


Corn based ethanol does not make economic sense. Without dealing with numbers, the economics of corn-based ethanol can be understood conceptually in this way. Profitable ventures do not need massive government help (subsidies) to go forward as they will be able to attract enough less-strings-attached private money (at least before the recession). That is not to say that all profitable ventures are free of gov't help, but at least they are free compared to the ethanol industry. Furthermore, as I indicate in this post, ethanol companies are dropping like flies - the market has essentially collapsed (in my mind). What does that indicate about the profitability of the corn-based ethanol product?

Furthermore, the biggest argument against ethanol from the CO2 standpoint is not from a life-cycle approach - meaning switching from nat. gas to biomass in the production process - but rather the idea that corn-ethanol production in the US has increased deforestation in the tropics. Two articles in Science this past year dealt with this issue - Fagione et al., and Searchinger et al.

Corn ethanol Does Not make "Economic" sense Unless You Believe in PEAK OIL!

However, if you think we're going to have a two, or three Million Barrel/Day shortfall in transportation fuels in a few short years it would be Economic Suicide not to prepare a Mitigating Technology (even if it IS a couple of years away from economic self-sufficiency.)

And, you are completely misrepresenting what happened to Verasun, and the other failed ethanol refiners. Quite simply, they lost their money Speculating in Commodities. Verasun "Shorted" Corn all the way up, and then "Locked In" at the Very Top. Most of the other failed companies did the exact same thing.

Poet (the Largest ethanol producer) did very nicely. They bought their corn every week, and sold their ethanol. They showed a Profit in 2008. Many (most) others did, as well.

As for "Searchinger" et al. The so-called "Study" was a joke and has been thoroughly discredited. There is Absolutely NO evidence that a single tree has Ever been cut down, Anywhere, as a result of a refinery in the U.S. converting the "Starch" in some field corn into Ethanol. We Planted Less Corn in 2008 than we did in 2007. Yields, however, were up from 151 bu/acre to 154 bu/acre, and the refineries are getting more ethanol/bu than ever before.

There are at least 150 Million Acres of Good land lying Fallow in the Cerrado in Brazil. Any farmer that wanted to grow more beans would, obviously, rent that very cheap land. Other mistakes "Searchinger" (a lawyer, not a "scientist") made was assuming deep plowing (over half of U.S. field corn is produced by No-Till, Low-Till Cultivation,) And, in overlooking the fact that any additional land put into cultivation would have been in grass less than 15 years, if at all, and, as a result would yield little, if any, "Carbon Debt."

In short, EGuy, you have fallen for a lot of oil company/GMA propaganda dressed up to look like "Science" (at least to someone without a "Scientific" bone in their body, or to someone with an Agenda.)

If, as looks likely, we ARE on the verge of a serious shortfall in liquid fuels ethanol is the Only technology capable of helping to any great extent, Right Now. I suggest you do some "Remedial" Study. The Univ. of Nebraska Study I referenced, above, would be a Good Place to Start.

The EROI of developing oil from the tar sands is between 2 to 5:1


I would like to discuss the methodology for calculating oilsands EROI using some of the newer technologies. In particular, I want to examine the case of using "hot dry rock" geothermal resources to produce bitumen (or heavy oil) in northern Alberta.

A typical proposal would be to use "Cyclic Steam Stimulation" to produce oil from a reservoir at a depth of 500-1000 metres using water injected into a "hot dry rock" heat reservoir located from 3-4 km below the surface (depending upon the geothermal gradient).

The main drivers for the industry are:

  • reduce cost (about 50% of CSS operational cost is purchasing NG)
  • reduce CO2 emissions

In calculating EROI, your calculations seem to assume that energy inputs are qualitatively similar to energy outputs - this is often not the case.

In the case of geothermal energy used to produce oil:

"Energy out" is liquid hydrocarbon which is easily transporatable and can be used by society to power the transportation and chemical industries.

"Energy in" is (largely) geothermally produced hot water which has to be used locally - about 15 km in summer and 10 km in winter. The energy used to drill the geothermal wells appears to amount, at most, to a few months of a site's energy production.

My conclusion is that EROI for geothermal assisted oilsands production will be be much higher than the 5:1 that you currenly cite as the upper bound.

And correspondingly, CO2 emissions will be much lower as well.

Agreed, Calgarydude. There appears to be a lot of deliberate misinformation being propogated regarding future processes in th oilsands. The most obvious part is trying to use EROEI in discussing oilsands production, based on natural gas inputs. The first minute that natural gas becomes uneconomical as a production energy input, oprators will simply switch to using the bitumen in place to produce the required energy. And BTW, doing that will actually significantly increase the reserves, because it will allow production from greater depth and from less concentrated resources.


As far as I know we (me and the lab I work for) are the only people working currently on EROI of oil sands, so I agree that much more work can and should be done to get more precise, technology specific EROIs. In fact, I am in the process of calculating the EROI for the Toe to Heel Air Injection (THAI) technology currently being tested in situ in the oil sands. Any pertinent information on that front would be much appreciated!


There appears to be a lot of deliberate misinformation being propogated regarding future processes in th oilsands.

I do not deliberately misinform anyone. The EROI values that I reported are the only calculations I have come across. If you have any other sources, by all means share them.


Glad to see that you are looking at the THAi process.

My concerns about EROI numbers are more general then just the oilsands. Decreasing EROI is the intellectual foundation for concepts such as the "energy cliff" and the prognostications of people such as Richard Heinberg and James Kunstler.

The first general criticism of EROI calculations is that they are generally not rigorous enough. People feel that it is legitimate to include all kinds of extraneous costs as energy "inputs".

A more disciplined approach is to decide what the physical boundaries of a system are (eg a radius of 1 km from the wellhead) and then measure the physical energy flows in both directions across the boundary - there should be no "imputed" flows. In the case where energy is difficult to calculate, an upper bound on energy usage can be induced from cost data.

The second issue is the nature of the energy sources - this is what I have alluded to wrt the oilsands.

Here is a "thought experiment".

Imagine two pumpjacks draining the same reservoir.
One is powered by the petroleum it extracts.
The other is powered by a wind turbine.

The EROI for both is putatively the same (measured in joules).

As the field depletes, more energy is needed per barrel.

The petroleum powered pump will deliver less net energy and will reach a limiting case of producing no net energy (infamous "energy cliff").

The wind powered pump will coninue until:
a) nothing left in reservoir
b) mechanical failure of pump or turbine

Same EROI leads to very different results.

That's only because in the wind turbine driven oil well, you are averaging the high ERoEI of wind (>30) with low ERoEI of oil well. Even if the oil well falls to 1:1 still have overall ERoEI of >15:1

Putting aside non-energy inputs and the cultural misdirection from liquid fuels for the time being, I agree that low EROI even sub-unity EROI technologies will and should be pursued if the energy input is abundant and/or of low quality. I have not seen a life cycle analysis on the geothermal assisted tar sands process but if what you say is true it would have a very high EROI. The remaining questions then would be max flow rates and other externalities such as water, pollutants etc. Since the bitumen 3-4km below the surface technically does not have much other energy opportunity cost (I can't imagine it being useful unless it is burned in situ), then there could be a high energy return. Can you link to something more formal on this process and who is pursuing it? Does it apply to all tar sands?

IIRC, the Firebag project was supposed to run a multi-year test using geothermal wells as an auxiliary heat source. The latest news is that the project is on hold indefinitely due to the financial crisis.

The material that I have consulted so far is only on our intranet - however, I will post some of the public studies it references.

Timeframe for any major projects based on geothermal is probably 2015-2020 (my guess, based on a talk I heard last year). There hasn't been enough of the basic engineering done yet.

This wouldn't apply to all the tar sands - CSS and other steaming methods require (in my current understanding) an impermeable lay above the reservoir to contain the steam. Best for deep deposits.

-- shallow deposits use surface mining
-- deep deposits can use steam
-- other deposits (50%?) may use electrical heating

Geothermal wells could potentially be applied to existing plants to reduce CO2 emissions. However, there isn't currently enough data on geothermal resources around the Athabasca area to say where it would be practical.

The current geothermal maps on based on data from only a small number of wells.

CCS is a dead end. Much better to use coal to replace natural gas as peaking plant.

Micronised coal can be used in slow speed diesel engines with roughly 50% thermal efficiency with smaller unit sizes ~10-200MW ideal for peaking and / or CHP.

A traditional centralised coal plant (800MW+) delivers about 1/3 of the useful energy of the coal to the user (~35% thermal efficiency + 5% transmission losses) A smaller efficient 50MW unit could deliver 50% more useful electricity (50% thermal efficiency + less tranmission losses) and provide district heating at a more manageable scale.

Direct injection coal in low speed diesel engines(DICE) is not more efficient than large CCGT, the real advantage of DICE is the ability to rapidly respond to changes in demand/supply. Thus if most electricity is generated from wind or solar DICE can be used as "peak only", saving on the need for large amounts of open cycle GT or hydro storage. Since DICE generators are small( <100MW) can be sited close to demand they offer advantages in reducing grid losses, and can be used in CHIP more readily than large(1000MW) power plants.

How about the net energy of enacting these policies? The government doesn't produce goods from raw materials or extract energy from the earth. The government can only redistribute the wealth created by the people (which ultimately means energy) and that redistribution is inherently inefficient - it will always be less than 1! I do not disagree that most people, indeed societies in general, are shortsighted, we discount very heavily, and in order to counteract that the government should try to properly value energy and raw materials (lest the tragedy of the commons occur).

But how does giving the government more leeway to decide what should and should not pass as energy policy the best solution? This is the same government that says "500 million americans lose their jobs every month." Asking those 535 politicians to come up with an energy policy is like burning our last match to light a cigarette instead of the bonfire as everyone freezes.

Get rid of all of the entitlement programs, scale back our military and go straight to the root of the problem. Tax energy in its most basic forms. Don't let lobbied officials make patch-work rules like "Outlaw incandescents." If we make energy reflect its true future cost, the most efficient users of that energy will happen without government intervention. And people can stimulate the economy with that 1/3 of their income they just had returned to them!

Thank you for taking the time and effort to write this article. I found it informative and thought-provoking to the point where I referenced it on my blog, this morning, provided a link to it, and recommended to all visitors to my blog that they 'click the link' and read the article. Good work.

Overall, a good analysis, but brief with most technologies omitted.

I must challenge this assertion:

From a net energy perspective, electric vehicles make sense as they increase efficiency, but the biggest variable in this equation is making the electricity grid technologically capable of effectively transmitting wind and solar power to car batteries without large transmission (entropic) losses. We need to undertake much more comprehensive EROI assessments if we are to understand these relations well.

If fossil fuel electric generation is used to power the electric vehicles, there is a small to moderate advantage. When alternative energy is used, the advantage can be huge.

But the transmission argument is just not that big a variable. The additional transmission and distribution losses of eg remote windfarms might be in the range of 5-15% depending on distance and transmission technology. Transmission doesn't use electricity, it just wastes some, and these losses can be quantified easily; multiplying the EROEI of wind by 0.95 - 0.85 will be a good proxy.

The embodied energy in long distance transmission infrastructure is relatively small (if this were not the case, HVDC would be prohibitively costly), and transmission losses of 5-15% aren't going to ruin a good EROEI source like wind.

I don't believe that CCS is possible given the scale of the coal industry and the costs of the capture. I also don't believe that biofuels can make an appreciable dent into the solution. (Perhaps algae can). Crops waste needs to be put back into the ground for natural CO2 sequestration. Thus I believe in more electricity and electric cars.

Feed in tariffs that degenerate over time may work IF a few billion in taxes is also spent on factory automation. Couldn't PV then make the grade? Instead of the 7 1/2 years for monetary payback (and the 3 or 4 for Energy return on investment), panels should make their owners money after about 3 years. This kind of automation should lower the EROI down to below 2 years. Then 15 times the fossil fuel would be saved (assuming 30 year life). The feed in would be used to guarantee a booming PV industry complete with millions of jobs (or so I hope).

Repeat with other RE such as wind, and concentrated solar thermal but with different feed in rates and degenerations. Perhaps with different timing to go along with successful factory outputs for each.

The price of the feed in tariffs (for ratepayers) should at first be next to nothing and be no more than 30% towards the end? (math's kinda tricky. This is assuming like 300% normal at first but only 1/5th more than normal in the end, and that no more than 20% of juice came from 3 mature technologies each). After the tariffs expire, dwindling fossils usage will still account for a large percentage (sorry Al). By that time, the oil companies will probably have to go for EGS (enhanced geothermal systems) which will definitely pave the way for unlimited power. Tax money should be spent on that now so the tech can be developed enough for full implementation after the RE feed in tariffs expire.

I hope this idea is good enough to buy us enough energy, jobs (and time) to actually survive post oil crises. Or is there a better way through?