The Renewables Gap: The Political Challenge of Affecting a Societal Transition to Renewable Sources of Energy

Below is a summary of my presentation, The Renewables Gap (PDF), from the ASPO 2009 conference. The intent of my presentation was to highlight the political challenge of affecting a societal transition to renewable sources of energy. In particular, I focus on wind and solar, though it seems to me that the problem will be largely the same (if not worse) if we attempt to rely on other “renewables.” My initial presentation focused on attempting to illustrate the Renewables Gap as an energy problem. While I briefly addressed the political aspects of this problem in my presentation, on reflection I’ve chosen to focus more carefully on this aspect of the Renewables Gap.

Frankly, I've never been very pessimistic about our theoretical ability to adapt to peak oil. It’s what I fear we will actually do in response—or, rather, what we won’t do—that concerns me. I feel the same way about our ability to transition to alternative sources of energy—the challenge that I’ve termed the Renewables Gap. I’m quite confident that we have the theoretical ability to deal with the problem. However, if you accept that “politics” is the process of allocating scarce resources in a society, then it is the political problem posed that appears most daunting. Like many things involving peak oil, we’re sure to have all the political will that we need to deal with the problem at only some point after our window of opportunity to act has closed. The challenge is figuring out how to spread awareness of the nature of the problem and willingness to commit scarce resources to its solution before there is a crisis. Here, again, my pessimism is grounded in what I fear we will not do. I don’t pretend to offer any easy solution (the desire for which gives much insight into the nature of this very problem). My goal here is only to provide a framework for thinking about this problem:

If we seek to mitigate peak oil with renewable energy, we need to first ask what do we need to mitigate. My answer: the decline in NET energy produced from oil, not the decline in overall production. If, hypothetically, 20 years from now we’re producing 100 million barrels of oil per day, but it requires 100 million barrels of oil worth of energy input to do so, we have ZERO energy left for the operation of society at large. From the perspective of a society attempting to maintain itself, this is functionally very similar to producing no oil at all. Therefore, we must remain focused on the NET energy available to society.

What I want to quantify is the amount of net-energy that we need to replace going forward. A “classic” peak oil decline graph shows a plateau, followed by a gradually accelerating decline. Let’s consider why that’s so. What happens when we hit a plateau—as we arguably have now? The existing fields are declining at rates between 3% and 15% per year. But, because we’re scrambling to bring new production on-line, the overall level of production is buoyed for some time. We’re compensating for this underlying decline with more expensive oil—both financially and energetically. That keeps the level of OVERALL oil production steady, but the rate of NET energy production from oil is falling.

For the purpose of exploring the solution space of society’s transition to alternative energy, I’ve decided to frame the issue with two simple, exponential rates of NET energy decline: 5% and 10% per year. The graph below shows these rates of decline starting from a hypothetical year zero (because, again, my goal here is not to state that global peak net energy occurred in 2002, 2020, etc.). I’ll call these the “low” and “high” range scenarios. Certainly this simple exponential function is overly simple, and these numbers may be higher or lower than many estimates. That’s fine—my goal here is to frame the issue, not to predict the future reality of global net energy production. I’ll be discussing the potential to use renewable wind and solar power to mitigate these rates of decline.

First, I’d like to note the systemic effects of solar and wind energy’s unique energy-return profiles: the vast majority of the energy invested in these sources comes up front, before they ever begin to generate. Between 80% and 90% of the total energy ever required to build, operate, and maintain these systems must be invested UP FRONT. I won’t discuss other renewables such as tidal, geothermal, nuclear, and biofuels at this time, though I welcome discussion of how these options may impact the solution space.

Next, it’s necessary to point out what is obvious to many: these renewables produce ELECTRICITY, not oil. I’m talking here about using them to replace oil, so it’s necessary to address conversion issues. How many GWh are needed to replace 1 mbpd of oil production?
A straight BTU-to-BTU conversion: replacing 1 million barrels of oil per day production, or 365 million barrels of oil per year, equates to 70.78 Giga-Watt-Years.

Clearly, however, oil and electricity are not the same thing. Some people have suggested that you only need 1/3 this much electricity to mitigate peak oil because oil fired electricity generation can be only 33% efficient. I think that modern oil-fired electricity is actually somewhere between 50% and 66% efficient, but we need to explain the validity of using the BTU-to-BTU conversion:

First, because we need to replace oil, not electricity, and because relatively little oil is used to generate electricity, it’s incorrect to use this oil-fired electricity efficiency number.

Second, our infrastructure is currently adapted to burning oil in many applications. Therefore, to the extent we want to use renewably-generated electricity to replace this oil, we need to adapt this oil-burning infrastructure to electricity. For example, if you want to replace transportation fuel with plug-in electric cars, you need to invest in significant new infrastructure in the form of cars, batteries, charging stations, etc.

Third, any form of mitigation using renewably-generated electricity will require significant additional investment in the transmission grid to handle higher loads and to balance or store electricity due to the variable availability of renewable generation.

I don’t know if it’s possible to calculate the exact energy balance here. However, I’ll assume for the present analysis that, in order to mitigate peak oil with renewably-generated electricity, we’ll need to generate effectively the same number of BTUs of electricity as we’re losing in oil. Maybe slightly more, maybe slightly less, but I think the BTU-to-BTU figure of 70.78 Giga-Watt-Years per million barrels of oil per day lost is pretty close.

Another argument is that we don’t need to produce as much energy renewably as we lose to peak oil because conservation and improved efficiency can largely make up the difference. There’s some truth here, but it’s only ½ the equation. That’s because two factors—population growth and the desire of the world’s poor to improve their standard of living—will cancel out some or all of the gains from efficiency and conservation. For example, if population increases by 30% over the next 20 years, that alone will negate a 23% reduction in global per capital oil consumption.

Additionally, at least 5 Billion people and growing want to “improve” their level of energy consumption to Western levels. In India, car sales are up 26% over last year, to 120,000 cars per month. Admittedly, these cars tend to be more efficient than in America, but this is new demand, and it far more than cancels out the fact that the Tata Nano gets 56 miles per gallon. Similarly, on a global scale, Jeavons’ Paradox will reduce the effectiveness of energy efficiency as a tool to reduce demand. Finally, while markets or force may deny the world’s poor access to Western levels of energy consumption, the geopolitical consequences of such disparity will actually serve to accelerate energy scarcity.

Another key question is: how much up-front energy input will be required to build out enough renewables to mitigate the decline in net energy from oil production? We know how much energy must be produced to meet this target, so the answer to this question is a function of the EROI and the lifespan of our renewable options. Here, I’m only evaluating wind and solar photovoltaic. I recognize that many people hold the belief that wind and solar energy have very high EROI values on the order of 40 or 50, and energy payback times on the order of months, not years, I’ve chosen to use significantly lower EROI values for this analysis.

We could talk about this boundary and EROI calculation issue until we’re all blue in the face—my intent here is not to argue that some specific number is correct, but rather to point out the uncertainty and potential range. At the lower end of the range, I’ve proposed a proxy of price to account for ALL inputs and outputs. There are significant problems with this methodology, such as dealing with financing costs, but it has the distinct advantage of allowing us to account for all inputs—regressed infinitely—rather than drawing some sort of artificial boundary. IF you look at modern wind turbines using the price proxy, you get something like an EROI of 4. I’ll call that my “low” value.

Now let’s consider more conventional calculations. Wind seems to be most promising at the moment, and I’m looking specifically at a 2009 paper by Kubiszewski, Cutler, and Endres entitled “Meta-analysis of net energy return for wind power systems.” The authors review 50 different studies of wind EROI. In a section entitled “Difficulties in calculating EROI,” they make this statement:

“Studies using the input-output analysis [one method of calculating EROI] have an average EROI of 12 while those using process analysis [another method] an average EROI of 24. Process analysis typically involves a greater degree of subjective decisions by the analyst in regard to system boundaries, and may be prone to the exclusion of certain indirect costs compared to input-output analysis.”

What I take away from that is that there seems to be a range of 12-24, but the authors—a highly respected group—suggest that the “24” figure fails to account for many inputs. That suggests to me that an EROI of 12 is more accurate.

For our purposes, though, my intent is to explore the solution space, so I’ve selected what I think is an optimistic upper “high” EROI value of 20. I think this is unrealistically high—especially because this figure doesn’t even account for the intermittency, transmission, and storage energy costs that must be considered in such a large-scale societal transition—but for now let’s use 4 and 20. Feel free to recalculate using your own preferred numbers…

With apologies for the long introduction, here’s the reveal:

How much energy must we invest if we want to ramp up renewable generation to keep pace with declining net energy from oil? This graph answers that question using a 5% net energy decline and a renewable EROI of 20.

In this scenario, to mitigate the year-1 decline in net energy from oil, we’d need to invest 467 GWy of energy in year one without any production in return—that’s the equivalent of almost 7 million barrels per day. Then in year two it’s about 130 GWy more invested than cumulative production to that point, or about a 2 million barrel per day deficit. Not until year-three will the cumulative renewable generation be more than the investment deficit for that year—meaning that not until year 3 will we begin to have surplus energy available to mitigate the actual decline in oil production (which by this point leaves us 12 million barrels per day behind the peak oil decline curve.

That’s the “Renewables Gap.”

And here’s the pessimistic quadrant – 10% net energy decline, and a renewables EROI of 4:

In this pessimistic scenario, the up-front energy investment is more than 4,600 GWyears in year one. That’s 58 million barrels of oil per day diverted to renewable energy production. Plainly impossible. And the level of renewable energy production wouldn’t even catch up to the level of energy invested EACH YEAR until year 7.

Here you can see the boundaries of the Renewables Gap—the optimistic assumptions on top, pessimistic on the bottom. The lines represent, under each scenario, the net energy supplied by oil, minus the energy invested that year in building renewable energy production, plus the energy produced that year by the renewables brought on-line to date:

To be sure, we can slow the initial rate of investment in renewables in order to lessen this dramatic initial impact, but that option results in falling even further behind the net energy decline curve. We can also bootstrap the energy produced by renewables to provide the energy required for the next round of renewables—if the EROI is 20, this will work to some extent, but it will still have the effect of making us fall even further behind the decline curve. If the EROI is 4, it’s simply unworkable—we never catch up.

Is it theoretically possible to close this gap more quickly? Sure—by investing more energy up front, which actually serves to exacerbate the problem over the short term. We’ll be chasing our tail. It might be possible to catch up—to make a significant public sacrifice up front and kick start the program—IF the economy as a whole is healthy. The Renewables Gap puts us in a Catch-22 situation: using renewables to mitigate peak oil will make the situation worse before it makes it better. Our ability to absorb the up-front costs of transitioning across this gap is a function of our economic health, but to the extent that our economy remains healthy enough to do so we are unlikely to muster the political will to address the problem.

Just to provide some context for the size of this gap: Under the optimistic scenario, this is the equivalent of adding one new China to world oil demand immediately, and maintaining that for many years. Under the pessimistic scenario, this is the equivalent of adding more than 9 new China’s to world oil demand.

Now I recognize that there are energy conversion issues, there are calculation issues, there are timing issues—simply too many variables to make any definitive statements here. But what I hope I’ve highlighted here is this CONCEPT of the Renewables Gap problem, and the uncertainty of our ability to bridge that gap.

As a civilization, we still have a small and shrinking bank of net-energy surplus with which to build our future. We have to make tough choices about how to spend it. Perhaps our most fundamental choice will be this: do we spend it attempting to bridge the Renewables Gap—despite our uncertain ability to do so? Or do we consider whether that energy could be better spent building a fundamentally different future?

Hopefully this analysis provides a useful framework for further analysis. I recognize that some will dismiss this problem entirely with the argument that wind actually has an EROI of 75 and an energy payback time of 5 months. At the risk of being inflammatory, that reminds me of a bumper sticker that says “WARNING: In event of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” My point is that, at least here and now, my intent is not to proselytize or attack and defend issues of faith. Instead, I hope that, for some, this analysis highlights three important issues for further thought and debate:

1. The energy requirements of a massive transition to a society much like ours but powered by alternative sources of energy.

2. The political challenges of affecting such a transition.

3. If #1 or #2 make such a transition either physically or politically impracticable, what then?

Here are my Excel calculations for those who would like to plug in their own numbers...

1. The energy requirements of a massive transition to a society much like ours but powered by alternative sources of energy.

I truly do not understand this insistence on a transition to a society "MUCH LIKE OURS"

Why does it have to be anything like what we have now, especially considering the fact that what we have now doesn't work anymore.

If it ain't broke don't fix it but if it is broken beyond repair then it doesn't necessarily follow that we have to replace it with the same kind of systems thinking that put us in this predicament to begin with.

The only thing that makes any sense at all to me, is figure out what we can do in a sustainable manner with what we have. Then build a completely new paradigm based on that knowledge from the ground up.

I'm not naively suggesting this is in any way an easy task to accomplish. I think this transition will be very painful for most.


Between 80% and 90% of the total energy ever required to build, operate, and maintain these systems must be invested UP FRONT.

The same thing applied to the entire infrastructure on which our modern civilization is based today. If the energy required to build it hadn't been expended up front to do so it wouldn't exist and therefore couldn't be used. Perhaps I'm missing something?

Agreed, with the global economy unlikely to return to previous levels, and with a large portion of the world's poor unlikely to actually attain the wealth necessary to purchase a car, especially with rising oil prices, IMHO the future will see a proactive or reactive Powerdown.

This is an important discussion, however, and Jeff's points certainly represent possible scenarios.

I truly do not understand this insistence on a transition to a society "MUCH LIKE OURS"

Why does it have to be anything like what we have now, especially considering the fact that what we have now doesn't work anymore.

I don't want to try and speak for Jeff, but I think I understand what he is trying to do when he says "exploring the solution space." You have to start with some known conditions and then analyze the what-ifs accordingly. I agree with you that the rational thing for TPTB to do would be to start with a redesign of society with respect to revision of its energy consumption habits and then work backwards to figure out what the best policies will be. But I think what this sort of analysis, showing the "Gap", provides is how hard it would be to transition to a society much like ours as a starting place in the political debates that will ensue. If it can be shown, with evidence, that the assumption of BAU as an end point is probably not feasible, then it might be possible to shape the debate better.

OTOH: I have no illusions about the rationality of our leaders. Or rather the wisdom of our leaders. They are rationally pursuing the course that makes them rich and gets them reelected. Its just that that isn't a wise strategy. Similarly, I have no faith in the wisdom of crowds (read democracies) either so where does that leave us? Personally I find solace in personal understanding (I am pursuing a research project in a related arena to this) with maybe just a spark of hope that someone in power will wake up. After all, Gore got GW when he was still a senator. It could happen!

As you say on your research page:

It is now reasonably clear that wisdom is related to intelligence, but is not just more intelligence. It involves reflective judgment and a wealth of tacit life-knowledge. Wise people make choices of what to turn their intelligence and creativity to, of what to learn and what knowledge is useful in solving complex life and social problems. Wisdom involves superior moral judgments that benefit the largest numbers for the longest times.

We certainly seem to be suffering from a dearth of wisdom in society at large. Plus way too few people are questioning anything, let alone "EVERYTHING"

As for hope, it's still there at the bottom of Pandora's box but I think there are a few more horrors that will be released before she can show her face. Then again Edwin Hubble started out studying law ;-)


This is exactly my intention by saying a society "much like ours"--thanks for clarifying. As you said, if we're looking at the total solution space, rather than trying to constrain this to what we've pre-determined to be realistic, one edge (or, at least near one edge) would be the perpetuation of our growth-based, high per-capita-energy-use model that IS currently politically feasible. Until it's made clear that this won't be physically feasible going forward, I don't have much hope for politicians moving away from that as their basis (just look at how carefully today's mainstream green movement avoids any suggestion that we'll need to accept a lower level of material consumption to be "green"--we can have all the same stuff, it will just be "recycled" or some such).

Not, unfortunately, that I have much confidence that politicians will really take an understanding of this "gap" concept to argue that "I" should use less going forward. More likely, in my mind, it will support a more blatantly mercantilistic brand of politics going forward...

From years of personal experience, I can say that the fastest way to get people to stop listening, especially those in th U.S. (the poster child of consumption) is to suggest that they are going to have to sacrifice or reduce their consumption. As an efficiency consultant I found that people are all ears until you mention scaling back their consumption or that doing the right thing will cost them anything. Just watch their faces fall! You go from being a visionary to a nut case in seconds. My point is that most of the people in the green movement have been their, done that. And the politicians know it too. It is the hubis of the successful consumer. And a shock to the system such as rising fuel costs has little lasting effect, as hubris drives these same consumers to blame rather than modify their own longterm behavior. A politician proposing lasting, meaningful change can kiss his political career goodbye in the next election cycle. I submit that wisdom has little to do with intelligence. Wisdom is usually the result of successes born from failures. I fear that our hyper-complex system is going to have to fail big-time before our species achieves any meaning level of wisdom. All I can do is my little part and teach my children well.

A society "much like ours"—choose one:

1. One which provides the means by which its members can acquire enough good, healthy food, clean water and soap, and shelter to happily live about 100 years, each dying in their bed, surrounded by friends and family, and dying with all their teeth.
2. One which provides the means by which an illegal government conducts foreign wars of conquest with impunity, slaughtering innocent indigenous populations, tasering or bullwhipping underlings who fall out of line and forcing its lower class into meaningless, dead-end jobs that feather the nest of a sociopathic, criminal class.
3. One which has lots of fun—the Superbowl, beer bashes, sport sex, designer drugs, working out—tennis, tread mill, skiing . . .
4. One in which each member is free . . . to be the weak link
5. Any or all the above that are not contradictory, inconsistent.


I understand what you are saying but I read Jeff's thesis in a very different way than you. I don't think he is trying to offer new approaches to maintaining BAU - he is just trying to point out that trying to maintain a society "much like ours" with wind and solar is not in the cards. It is important to make that point in as many ways as we can because the reigning assumption in the political world is that we can make that transition with wind, solar, and a few other things. The G20 and our current U.S. leadership certainly appears to think so.

I agree. But I think that one thing overlooked that is simply too important not mention is that most of that oil energy is burned up moving mostly dead weight, stupid distances that we only do because, until now, we could.

Nix affordable, daily, at a whim, personal transport... and it all suddenly looks much more doable.

I think this is going to happen, planned or not. Whether it is because people can't afford gas or because they can't afford cars (no job)... we will likely see fewer and fewer cars on the road going forward, imho. That changes everything.

Like Jeff, I think the real problem isn't "Can we?" but "Will we... in time?" That's a catch-22, because we won't until we have to. We won't have to until we feel a lot of pain. So, no, I don't think we will head off financial disaster... or the beginning of collapse, but probably total collapse, if it is at all possible to.

"But I think that one thing overlooked that is simply too important not mention is that most of that oil energy is burned up moving mostly dead weight, stupid distances that we only do because, until now, we could."

EXACTLY, it's the waste issue again, the amount of waste that does not create benefits, does not feed the poor, does not keep any homes warmer (or cooler), COMPLETE WASTE DUE TO STUPID, SLOPPY ENGINEERING.

Fix that first before we dismantle one of the greatest technical societies...UNLESS your goal is to dismantle one of the greatest technical societies in history.


.UNLESS your goal is to dismantle one of the greatest technical societies in history.

Nope, but I think that is the aim of this greatest of technological societies, that and dismantling everything that is connected to it.

Goodbye Mama, goodbye Papa , goodbye flora and the fauna, soon nothing but a stone a-sitting in the sun ah?!

( sorry about that, but crappy technological societies just bring out the crappy poetry in this crapped out haggard soul )

On a somewhat related note, Germany for instance produced last year 1.5% of its electricity from urban waste, up from 0.6% ten years ago. EU data is available from the EurObserv'ER Report. (To account for its non-renewable part, the data on page 63 must roughly be doubled). I also remember vaguely that the EU has adopted rules to phase out landfills.

I don't know the EROI, but guesstimate it to be fairly high as long you just take the amount of waste as given.

I didn't hear that emphasis at all, TE.

"using renewables to mitigate peak oil will make the situation worse before it makes it better."

When I read such statements (regularly), I wish it were also pointed out that it simply IS going to get worse once we hit the real downslide, renewables or not. When he says that all the efficiency advances and the renewable buildout will basically be cancelled out by population increases and quality of life gains in the developing world, it may not be his intention, but the message is clearly "Don't bother with renewables. They won't really improve anything, and will likely just make it worse."

The question is 'How much worse would it be without them?' I mean, if the point is that we should be looking elsewhere, then at least give a nod to this Alternate Alternative, if you've got one. (You, the author, I'm saying..)

Frankly, I think this kind of discussion is unproductive unless the factors of Efficiency, Negawatts and very importantly, Solar Heating are included. Primarily because solar heating, which can be built very cheaply and captures great quantities of energy for the investment- can be working worldwide to offset electricity, NG, Oil, Firewood, and Coal. Used residentially or in small businesses, it can heat buildings and water, cook food, dry clothes and provide all sorts of process heat without affecting or even requiring the grid and related infrastructure. What we really need is a chart of EROEI numbers from a wide range of the Simplest Solar Heating applications. How long do you all think a piece of glass can last?

Electricity has some phenomenal uses, and it can stand in for almost every other energy source, but looking at our needs, it is clear that taking much of the use of electricity for heating and moving it over to direct solar (and stored solar) heat would change the assumed numbers of this evaluation considerably.

Then we can talk about refrigeration.

This conversation cannot be built on monoliths.


Why does it have to be anything like what we have now, especially considering the fact that what we have now doesn't work anymore.

Who says so ? All the powerful elite are exactly where they were before - making a lot of money. Nothing else matters to them. Just look at the regulatory changes regarding financial institutions after the largest meltdown in nearly a century - zilch.

So are you part of the powerful elite?


Your pragmatic approach is encouraging and raises the question of when we will be allowed to see a ROI for the sustainable energy products, which are being held back by the free market. Oil will be king and will never run out and until it does the big oil company's will continue to play with the supply and demand and keep their economist working that milking machine.

In our current state of political will we will not break out of our situation over night or even over a generation. Those of us on TOD are not like the majority of the world, we think outside the box. As frustrating as it may be I see, and especially during this econonomical fork in the road, that our leaders are using the word "sustainable" to keep the status quo moving and to make sure they have a sustainable future. No marters these days.

Someone once said "I have seen the enemy and it is us"


It seems Jimmy Carter was right about something. It would have been a lot easier if we had started 30 years ago. I'm gonna go drink my last Billy Beer and sit by the fire.

Yes and no. Yes, he was about right, and no, it takes more than one guy to handle the something. It even requires more than just guys. Grauw.

Me thinks main challenge is to work at creating distance between economy and boom and bust à la Thatcher. This requires equipment and geobalancing. No more preemptive *&/§=$ plz.


I guess I should hve said "sort of right". His heart was in the right place, if not his head.

A couple of the images in this post aren't showing.

We do not use oil to make electricity, but we do at the moment use natural gas. The lowest cost transition away from oil in transport is to
LNG or LPG. Existing vehicles can be refitted to dual fuel for a few thousand dollars (or less). Then we can use renewable electricity to replace natural gas electricity and the natural gas to replace oil in transport. The investment in new infrastructure is kept to a minimum, and a rolling transition is possible. The existing natural gas power stations could still be used when the sun don't shine and the wind don't blow.

Of course this is only a short term, partial solution, but it would blunt the oil shock perhaps long enough for a new generation of primarily electric transportation to be developed and deployed.

We cannot carry on business as usual, but with intelligence we may avoid the worst of hard crashes.

Ralph W

We actually use a lot of oil to produce electricity, particularly in places like Hawaii and Florida and many remote areas around the world are on diesel generators.

World share of electricity from oil firing was already below 6% in 2006 and shrinking (10% ten years before), mostly in oil producing countries, and it is of course not to be confused with usage of oil to produce electricity.

A comprehensive topology description of the latter would be helpul to this discussion though.

Then perhaps the people in those remote areas should move.


I'm not sure this is a minimal investment. Multiply the number of vehicles in just the U.S. by the amount you think it will take to convert them to propane. Then look at adding propane fueling capability to each of the existing gas stations. I have no idea of the cost, but it will certainly be, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars per station. There are roughly 150,000 gas stations in the U.S. (that number is questionable). You have to provide both gas and propane pumps at the same time during the transition phase. It is the rare gas station that can be set up to do this easily. Some won't be able to at all. I'm not sure about the economics and practicality of burying huge propane tanks as opposed to using surface tanks. Some stations simply won't have the space for an above ground tank. That means real estate comes into play and with it more expense.

I guess my point is that even something as practical as what you suggest generates expense that could quickly run up to over a half trillion dollars. This is an expense which provides a transition to use another form of energy, it is not an investment in a renewable energy system. Who will pay for it?

RalphW has a point. A lot can be gained by recycling and adapting existing technology. I used old heavy duty satelite dish mounts from the scrap pile to build trackers for my PV arrays. Very little new energy required to put into service and about a 30% increase in output. Pretty good EROI. But how scaleable is this concept?

RE: Scalable.

Depends on the part you want scaled. If you're talking about the creative use of the stockpiles of waste we all encounter in the industrial world, then I expect it's extremely scalable.. just not homogeneous or listed at the NYSE, and you may not see any suits selling it over at Renewable Energy World. But it's there. Even after the publicity, that guy in Africa is still using bike parts to make windmills for villagers.

I've just built a servo-motor to open and close the reflective barndoors for my solar hot air box ( ) from the plastic gearbox and motor from a kid's riding toy, and I have a couple 2hp PM-DC motors from abandoned Treadmills that will be pushing my E-trike one of these days,or they can be unplugged from that and be driven by an impeller or waterwheel and put some power back into my batteries. Old Storm windows can become more heaterboxes for your south wall, or work in your solar oven. Lots and Lots of options..


Damn! I just gave a treadmill away. Sorry I missed that one.
I'm talking about how many wind generators can you put on an old panamax tanker and how much hydrogen can you store in its tanks. Like using large reservoir systems like Lakes Powell and Meade to pump water uphill to store energy during peak production (see my post below). How much geothermal can be found in old oil wells? Converting diesel/electric trains to all electric? Interstates to highspeed rail? Politicians to slave labor? (Nah! Poor EROI)

Please help us spread Jeff's work here around the interwebs! Help us spread awareness and educate. This is the perfect post to send to friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, etc.

"How do I help" you ask?

Well, here's the digg, reddit and SU links for this post: create an account on these sites (it's really easy) and upvote these articles. The more upvotes they get, the more people see them. It's that simple.

Find us on twitter:

Find us on facebook and linkedin as well:

Feel free to submit things yourself using the share this button on our articles as well to places like stumbleupon, metafilter, or other link farms yourself--we appreciate it!

(we appreciate your helping us spread our work around, both in this post and any of our other work--if you want to submit something yourself to another site, etc., that isn't already here--feel free, just leave it as a reply to this comment, please so folks can find it.)

The issue with NET energy is possibly more serious than most of us realized. With all the focus on peak oil and its impact on society we have not really paid enough attention to net energy and its peak. Many may assume that it follows peak oil, but (and as Jeff mentions) peak net actually precedes peak gross by possibly several decades.

I have been working on a computer model of the physics of depletion of fixed, finite reservoir of fossil fuels where some portion of those fuels are reinvested in obtaining the next increment of energy. I am in the throes of completing a paper, co-authored with Charles Hall, which demonstrates the economic impact of a peak in net energy occurring long before a peak in gross energy flow. Here is a graph (shown several times before in comments in TOD) of the energy flows over time.

This model does not assume anything about Hubbert's peak or any other 'givens'. It is driven by a single forcing function that assumes we will extract as much gross energy from the reservoir as we can. The energy cost curve is a result of increasing difficulty (modeled as backpressure) in extraction. So net energy is simply gross - cost. EROI is calculated as net/cost.

Note the significant time gap between the peak of net and the peak of gross (each time tick is ~5 years). This graph assumes an initial EROI of FFs at 100. Since the exploitation of FFs began with coal which was easier to find and retrieve initially, more realistic EROI of > 150 could be used. But the results are essentially the same.

Actually even more significant for economic effects is the fact that net energy inflects from exponential rise much before gross does. This means that there has been increasing deceleration in net energy flow for quite some time, as Jeff alludes to. Less marginal energy flow, less work. This can only have been offset by increased efficiencies with technology (not explicitly modeled). We assumed that new technologies would be applied as needed (best case scenario).

The economic impact has to do with the production of assets as a function of net energy flow. We examine the feasibility of debt during years when net energy is still rising exponentially vs. when it goes into deceleration. Assets are both consumed and decay entropically so that sometime after the peak of net energy asset stocks go into decline.

One more thing to note. This graph was based on a model of the physics of depletion, not an approximation based on a mathematical theory (logistic function). As a result please note that the decline rates after peak are much steeper than most people assume; results are in closer agreement with Meadows, et al. in "Limits to Growth". This is a function of the increasing difficulty, and hence lower EROI, that obtains. This degree of difficulty incorporates, implicitly, the wide boundary issues of EROI analysis. It simply calculates how much of society's energy resources, in toto, must be reinvested in extracting energy. By looking at the physics we avoid the arguments about where and how to draw the boundaries of analysis, at least for fossil fuels. The situation is more complicated for alternatives.

Question Everything

Our current focus regarding our net export work is the huge gap between the post-peak net export decline rate and the post-peak depletion rate.

The Export Land Model (ELM) assumptions are: production declines at 5%/year, consumption increases at 2.5%/year, consumption = 50% of total production at final peak. The ELM goes from production peak to zero net oil exports in 9 years. If we sum Indonesia, the UK and Egypt (IUKE), they also went to zero net oil exports 9 years after their combined production peak. Sam's projection is that the (2005) top five net oil exporters will collectively approach zero net oil exports some time in the 2030 to 2035 time frame.

For the ELM, one-third (three years) into the production decline, net exports fell at 17%/year, but the post-peak Cumulative Net Oil Exports (CNOE) depletion rate was 31%/year.

For IUKE, one-third (three years) into their combined production decline, their net exports fell at 3.1%/year, but their post-peak CNOE depletion rate was 25%/year.

For the (2005) top five net oil exporters, about one third (eight years, 2005-2013) into the projected production decline after 2005, Sam's best case is that their net export decline rate will be 1.7%/year, with a post-2005 CNOE depletion rate of about 9%/year.

" Sam's projection is that the (2005) top five net oil exporters will collectively approach zero net oil exports some time in the 2030 to 2035 time frame."

The ELM continues to be, for me, the most sobering part of the peak oil scenario. With the top five net exporters at zero around 2030, I think we can safely assume that by then many importing countries will virtually be priced out of the market, except possibly for critical needs. Nevertheless, Chile, the country where I live and which imports over 90 percent of its oil and gas, just announced a major expansion of its commercial airport yesterday - a project that is to begin in 2014 and be completed in 2045 (no I didn't make that up). I had two reactions; first, what are they smoking? and second, if they actually begin the airport expansion and then realize the folly of their effort after a few years, what a terrible waste of resources that could have gone to renewables. Multiply that folly by the thousands of similar fossil-fuel based projects that will be begun in the next few years but probably will never make it to fruition, and you get a sense of the tragic political constraints associated with the post-carbon transition.

I was actually considering using your energy flow plot in my comment below:
but I decided to use one that Nate has posted. My point still holds is to ask what happens when the apparent strong accelerating decline is smeared by the effects of dispersion. All these deterministic projections are essentially single instances of a multitude of possible projections.

One more thing to note. This graph was based on a model of the physics of depletion, not an approximation based on a mathematical theory (logistic function).

I will argue that quoted statement. My derivation of the logistic function via dispersive discovery, derives precisely from a real physical model that considers ideas from statistical physics and entropy (see I would further argue that your graph describes only a deterministic view of the physics of depletion. The logistic can also be derived by the Verhulst, but this is also a deterministic law and has caused all sorts of misunderstandings. If we want to get on the same sheet of music, eventually we will have to work these discrepancies out.

Your DD theory as I understand it is that the flow rate from a reservoir is like water draining from a tank per Torrecelli's equation based on gravity.

Does sqrt(h), h='depth of reservoir' look like 1/(1+exp(-h))?

Not exactly. Dispersion does not consider any one particular situation or configuration; instead it takes into account an ensemble of these configurations. Torricelli's equation is essentially deterministic so it wouldn't apply. I would need to invoke an aggregation of various gradients to create a dispersive environment.

The other variant is Fick's law which would also give a sqrt(t) dependence to a changing gradient due to diffusion.

The other point is that not including acceleration, the dispersive form goes like 1/(1+1/t).

The basic idea is to think of a heterogeneous situation with sub-volumes filling up at different rates. The aggregate of these give the dispersive curve.

If you accelerate each of these individual curves you can get the sigmoid.

Thanks for asking.

A “classic” peak oil decline graph shows a plateau, followed by a gradually accelerating decline.

This description is not technically correct and it gives the wrong impression of what is happening. The classic decline is actually an exponentially damped curve that does not accelerate; it actually decelerates as each successive decrease is less than the previous value in time. This is commonly referred to as the "law of diminishing returns", and it shows up as the common "bell-shaped" curve. If you look at the cumulative, production is already decelerating as it goes through the peak.

If you actually meant to say that the decline will follow a "gradually accelerating" shape, then your graph would have to look something like this (which features a negative feedback term generating an accelerating decline):

By definition, as the decline accelerates, it has to hit the bottom like a rock. Mathematically, it actually goes negative, which obviously can't happen.

This seems kind of obvious that we could hit accelerating decline, but we do not see this in the data. Why is that? It is because of dispersion of course. Just search on TheOilDrum for posts on Dispersive Discovery and you will see how the decelerating decline occurs.

The only caveat to this is that the effects of EROEI may generate additional accelerating increase; this shows up as the following graph that Nate has often posted:

Yet the law of diminishing returns will still be there and I don't see a physical way that the acceleration can decrease -- unless of course we abandon oil suddenly.

I don't have an overall problem with your analysis as you do show the exponential declines, its just that the ad hoc description gets everyone confused. The big problem is that no one seems to use a stochastic analysis to describe the way things will play out. This is endemic to all econometrics, as NN Taleb of Black Swan fame likes to points out. Whether one calls it uncertainty, or fat tails, gray swans, or whatever, we know that a smearing of these effects will occur and that effect still has not really been universally accepted. At some point, I may try to do a more rigorous EROEI pro-rating on the dispersive curve and see what the actual curve will look like. All I know right now is that assuming these deterministic effects is dangerous in the sense of reaching an incorrect conclusion.

Sorry about seeming somewhat strident about this but I finally got around to reading The Black Swan, and Taleb essentially confirmed what I have gradually come to understand over the last few years. Especially in terms of trying to fit everything into a narrative that may not play out -- i.e. the narrative fallacy. If we are trying to fit everything in to our own preconceived notions w/o considering the silent evidence of uncertainty and dispersion, the predictions may be way off.

Good points, and I should eventually adapt my article to a more rigorous decline scenario such as this (as long as it can be done without losing some people, possibly incluidng me).

That said, to the extent that (realatively) simple equations can model something as complex as human society, I think it is possible to have the graph hit bottom "like a rock." At least one way this is possible would be due to geopolitical effects. It's theoretically possible that, below some level of net energy production, the world "tips" into a "secure my share of the pie" mentality and trade rapidly breaks down, war rapidly interferes with the function of existing production on all levels, etc. Even in such a case, I don't think things would drop quite that rapidly, but an extreme scenario such as a major nuclear exchange certainly shows that it is possible...

Agree, the situation is that the individual graphs can hit rock bottom but due to variation over time/location they don't happen all simultaneously. This dispersion is a very simple concept but as Taleb points out, many people are fixed in their narrative and thus suffer from confirmation error. I think the confirmation bias is that we intuit that a sudden rock-bottom crash can happen (why not), but we don't want to think about the randomness in nature and for that matter in socioeconomics.

Right now I have to figure out how we have been incorporating EROEI in our production profile, and see how it fits into a dispersive environment. If it in fact just layers as a proportional effect on the current total, it may look similar to what you, Nate, and George Mobius describe. I just can't say for sure until I do the reduction. Many of these gray swan arguments are counterintuitive until you place them in a formal setting. The simplest outcome would certainly be a straight proportional pr-rating to the current EROEI.

It is also possible that certain geopolitical regions will have huge EROEI effects and others will show marginal effects.

This is the first time I've seen this effect discussed.

A good example of such a system is a Lithium battery driving a switching power supply. The battery supplies energy at a steady rate (both voltage and current are unchanging) until the battery begins to discharge. Li cells maintain steady output voltage until about 90% discharged. When that occurs, the switching supply, wanting to maintain steady output, increases its "on" time and draws higher average current, which speeds the battery discharge, warming the cell, decreasing its internal resistance. Voltage drops, the switcher increases current further, and after a little while, the battery literally catches fire, melting everything around it.

The key is to sense when this is starting to happen before thermal runaway occurs, and shut the system down.

SO the big question is, in our complex human societies, can we recognize depletion or at least decreasing EROI, and shave demand / develop alternatives before there is too little net energy to make the transition?

I guess that before a couple years ago, I believed there were cadres of smart people somewhere who would think of such things and counsel governments on long term strategic moves like that. Nowadays, I'm not so sure they exist, or worse yet, that they could make a difference.

The accounting methodology of EROI, which is an economic argument, is certainly wrong.
Think about how much more efficient coal mining, oil drilling, etc. is today than it was back in the good old days of Spindletop.
OTOH, hydroelectric power was always an expensive source of energy. The real reasons for development were flood control and fresh water. The Russians and Chinese have built big hydro for power for national prestige not out of economic justification.
Wind is a similar resource and is frequently unavailable.
The grid as it is currently constituted can absorb less 20% of its power from wind or solar. In the case of the US where 1 TW of power produces 4000 Twh of energy you can add 250 GW of wind/solar power for an extra 500 Twh of grid electricity.
Beyond that you need energy storage which is expensive( largest batteries in the world are less than 50 Mwh) and energy inefficient(conversion loss AC to DC).
Dreams of sending GWs of high voltage variable electricity over thousands of miles of wires look as expensive as giant batteries.
Converting renewable electricity into hydrogen and then back into electricity thru fuel cells would have an overall efficiency of a fossil fuel plant except that you'd need 2-3 times as much wind power to overcome the capacity issue and you'd still have the problem of moving either electricity or hydrogen from the site of wind/solar source to the point of grid generation.
Grid based energy is more complex and expensive overall than distributed energy sources like cogen, rooftop solar and small wind.

In the US, 1/3 of grid electricity goes to industry and 1/3 goes to commercial and 1/3 goes to residences.
40% of US residential energy goes to space heating, 20% to domestic water heating, 8% to AC, 26% goes to lights and appliances.

The cheap energy ride is coming to an end.
Do we really need resources as large as the ones we are losing or can we get by with much less?
We need to figure out how much we can get by on before we figure out how much we will need.

I don't think the economic analysis of EROI is incorrect when applied as a contemporanenous comparison between the EROI of various energy options--as I suggest we apply it. The relevant issue is that, from society's standpoint, every dollar we invest in a new alternative energy source ultimately represents an energy input. Otherwise, I don't really disagree with your argument other than to point out that I'm not suggesting we *should* try to affect such a transition. My belief is, in fact, the opposite, but I think we need to work to understand what I've termed this "solution space" because that is the playing field on which our political decisions are made...

Do we really need resources as large as the ones we are losing or can we get by with much less?

Can we get by? It doesn't really matter much... we will have to get by on what we end up with. Jeff's post really goes to the proposition that, even now it is questionable whether we would be able to match our ongoing useage patterns. The longer we wait, the fewer resources we will have available to create renewable power sources [to build wind turbines, produce PV panels, etc.].

And, since we manifestly do not have the political will to start now, things can only get worse. The longer we wait, the worse the outcome.

Not that there will be no energy. Just much less that folks want. And, since we are sort of stuck on this planet, we will eventually find out how much we less we can get by on.

We need to figure out how much we can get by on before we figure out how much we will need.

Well, that just doesn't make any sense. What "we will need" just doesn't matter, does it? Need for what? What we have will determine what we get by on.

We need to figure out how much we can get by on before we figure out how much we will need.

Well, that just doesn't make any sense. What "we will need" just doesn't matter, does it? Need for what? What we have will determine what we get by on.

Supposing you are a huge 500 pound fatty and we need to provide services to keep you going, which as humane people we have to try to do.
We need lots of food, probably some kind of huge car, lots of air conditioning, a giant laundry for all your giant sized clothes, etc.

Or we put you on a diet, get you down to 140 pounds, trade the fancy car for a small efficient car, dump the AC, use a mini washer drier, etc.

Why design our future energy system based on the consumption hogs we are now?
In the future energy hogs will not learn to adapt. They will be dead.
We can start living different today.

We need lots of food, probably some kind of huge car, lots of air conditioning, a giant laundry for all your giant sized clothes, etc.

Or we put you on a diet, get you down to 140 pounds, trade the fancy car for a small efficient car, dump the AC, use a mini washer drier, etc

My point is that we do not NEED lots of food, and to keep me, the 500 pound fatty, alive. If we run out of energy, and there is serious possiblilty that we will see brownouts and rolling blackouts in the near future, I will not be able to run my a/c. If gas gets up to $15 a gallon, and I make minimum wage, I cannot buy gas. If food is not delivered to my Safeway store, and the next closest market is 15 miles from my home, I will most definitely drop those lbs.

I think we agree. In the future energy hogs will be dead. Jeff's article basically, IMO says that it is too late to do more than downsize, turn down the heat, turn up the a/c, stop driving and start walking. Personally, I use public transit as much as possible. In the Dallas area it really sucks, but such as we have, I use. I just have to plan my trips well to use it, but it can be done.

Sadly, I can no longer bicycle; walking, though, I do. Just not as fast as I once did.

IMHO, our pechant for big screen HDTVs is another folly. Accordingly, I walk to the public library and read. Not a bad choice, all in all. And, to the extent that I see this lifestyle as what will be necessary in the future for all, I guess I have, strangely, become 'cutting edge.' Who woulda thought?

A lot of hydro has been built in the third world over the last years because it is cheap and comparatively low tech. And it can be used for storage.

Off topic, one thing that is rarely mentioned are methane emissions from dams (mostly in the tropics) with estimates of up to 4% of global GHG emissions (e.g. here), some of which could be recovered by the way.

While it is obviously true that any really major build-out of renewables will entail a major upfront energy expenditure which would not be paid back until a number of years hence, I very seriously doubt that this would constitute the limiting factor in our ability to carry out such an undertaking.

For simplicity, let us for the moment restrict the discussion to wind power. I don't have any specific analyses at hand that examine the mix of energy inputs associated with wind farms, but just from the physical nature of the major components of say an offshore wind turbine, it would appear to me that most of those energy inputs are in the form of coal and natural gas rather than oil.

First, we have the energy input associated with the production of fabricated structural steel for the tower, which is mostly steel plate. If the steel originates from a blast furnace, then that input is coal (in the form of coke). If the steel originates from recycled scrap, it would probably be made in an electric furnace, in which case the fuel input would be some mix of coal and/or natural gas. The energy associated with steel fabrication would largely be electrical, so more coal and natural gas. (And add some more coal/natural gas for the concrete in the base of the tower.)

The turbine blades are made of fiber-reinforced resin (i.e., fiberglass), so the input there is hydrocarbons and electricity. However, even though the turbine blades are large, they are surprisingly light in weight. So, their energy input is probably not very large compared to that of the tower.

The bearings, gearbox, generator, controls, etc. are a combination of machined metal, plastics, etc., so we have more electrical energy input.

As far as I can tell, most of the petroleum-related inputs would be associated with transportation of the components to the site and in the erection of the towers.

So, my take on this whole thing is that an installed wind turbine will entail a fairly significant one-time increase in coal and natural gas consumption (largely in the form of electricity), but a relatively small increase in petroleum consumption. If there are any analyses to the contrary, I would be interested in seeing what mix of energy inputs they come up with.

And I don't think the energy input is really the deciding issue. What limits the rate at which wind power grows is the rather high initial capital investment. And capital these days ain't all that easy to come by (unless of course you're a defense contractor feeding at the public trough).

The other consideration is that this build-out will not take place all at once, but rather will be staggered over many projects over many years. Furthermore, one of the nice features about wind power (as well as solar) is that it lends itself very nicely to modularization. That is, if you want to boost your output by a few percent, you don't have to embark on a major construction project, as all you need to do is just add a number of more turbines of the same type. This is something you can't do with large central coal or nuclear plants.


Good point on the differing make-up of the input energy. While the direct (for lack of a more precise term) energy is most likely, as you state, coal-generated electricity and natural gas, the "long tail" (again, for lack of accepted terminology) energy input will be comprised of a significant amount of petroleum (though likely not the majority).

As you point out, "What limits the rate at which wind power grows is the rather high initial capital investment." That capital is a means of allocating energy. Even where it directly consists of labor or intellectual property value, it is derivatively representative of the amount of energy required to make that labor or idea available (admitting complex conversion issues). Therefore, I'd argue that, temporary financial system issues aside, if we have enough surplus net energy, we'll have enough capital to invest. We don't precisely because we're running short on surplus net energy. There is a rough fungibility between the two.

Similarly, while much of the energy required will come from coal or natural gas, I'm looking at this as a societal peak net-energy, not peak net-energy from oil issue. There is a general fungibility betweed demand for coal, oil, and natural gas because, over time, if the price of one, accounting for its unique attributes, becomes disproportionately higher or lower than the others, demand will shift to the cheaper alternatives.

So, while I agree that much of the up-front energy burden of a massive investment in renewables will be coal or natural-gas focused, the key issue for society is the general effect on energy scarcity in general, and the effect this will have on our economy as a whole.

Even where [capital] directly consists of labor or intellectual property value, it is derivatively representative of the amount of energy required to make that labor or idea available

Oh, I don't know, maybe. Maybe not. It seems to me there is a lot of potential for waste and other misvaluing somewhere along the road. For example, it seems to me that capital inputs could be assuming a standard of living for laborers that isn't necessary for them to complete their task. As such, it may be including energy costs that don't need to be included.

I'll defer to you here by asking: Do you recommended any sources that investigate these relationship between energy and monetary value more deeply?

For example, it seems to me that capital inputs could be assuming a standard of living for laborers that isn't necessary for them to complete their task.

Seems to me that the capital inputs could be assuming a standard of living for the bankers and capitalists that isn't necessary for them to complete their task.

Yes, that's possible too. ;-)

Just about everybodys standard of living can be questioned. The underlying issue is wether the laborers, bankers, baristas, prostitutes and everyone else who contributes to GDP is going to willingly give up their share of ne energy in orde to build out renewables. It then becomes a rather messy political problem which may only be solved by a totalitarian regime pushing everyone around at the point of a gun. The much heralded Cuban "special period" was only possible because of the brutal political system already in place.

"What limits the rate at which wind power grows is the rather high initial capital investment."

Over the last years and up to very recently the limiting rate was capacity bottlenecks of mechanical components like bearings. By September 2008 a huge order backlog had built up, which is the reason that there won't be a decrease of installations for this year (there are hopes for a 10% plus increase worldwide) even though financing had all but died down up til the second half of the year.

The situation of the industry comes closer however to matching the gap model if you extrapolate on the downturn only.

Also wind energy use is at this time pretty much orthogonal to oil use, the biggest chunks of which are for transport and heating. In that sense, energy from biofuels, renewables for heating, or even passive solar appears to be more directly affected by the analysis.

As I see it, jeffs renewables gap is entirely a transient (getting started) penalty. It arises because at time zero Jeff has started with a finite -and significant rate of decline. But, ignoring discontinuities, he peak would be expected to have a rounded form. Taking time zero as the peak of a rounded curve, the initial decline rate would be zero, and the rate of decline would gradually increase. If the time it takes to bend the oil supply curve from level, to a roughly steady state of decline is comparable to or longer than your roughly 3year lag (which I take as being an energy payback time for the renewables), the "gap" will go away. A smooth decline curve should give us time to ramp up the renewables. If you ramp up renewables exponentially, with a time constant longer than the energy payback time, you will reach a sort of steady state, where the fraction of renewable energy needed to build up more renewables is constant. Maximum rampup rate is a constant in the exponential of one over the payback time, but this yields a net energy ratio of zero, so if net energy production is needed the time for an e-fold expansion of renewable capacity is necessarily longer than the payback time.

I think the one way of thinking about this is in terms of the huge amount of up front investment cost, and where it is going to come from. Are private investors going to get debt to finance all of this? Will governments be able to put all of the funds need for this, plus the grid upgrades, at the same time?

Another issue is what all the extra demand for oil and commodities like cement will do to the price of these commodities.

Unless we have a way of making more wind turbines without oil, I think that the plan for building a lot of wind turbines is really a way of squirreling away excess resources now, hopefully for use in a rainy day later. There are a lot of questions about how well that works in practice.

Gail -

As I explained in my post that appears right before yours, the primary energy inputs for wind power are mainly in the form of coal and natural gas (mostly to generate electricity) rather than petroleum. So, I don't see even a really large build-out of wind power having much of an impact on oil demand.

As far as concrete goes, even something like a 200-turbine wind farm would require a very small percentage of our domestic industry-related cement production. Again, I can't see this as having a significant impact. (Particularly in light of the housing crash.)

Now I would agree with you there that capital investment is going to be a thorny problem and will probably constitute the limiting factor on the rate of growth for both wind and solar power.

But I would also like for you to take note of the fact that the US government didn't appear to have any trouble in coming up with the roughly trillion dollar 'investment' for our military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, the government put the whole thing on the tab, but the point is that it wanted to do something and didn't let the cost of doing it get in the way. Yet we seem to have insurmountable difficulties in coming up with an amount of investment for renewables that is but a small fraction of what has been poured down the toilet in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And while we're on that sorry subject, I wonder how much oil consumption is associated with that 'investment'. Having giant C-5 transports making the Dover, Delaware to Baghdad and Kabul round trip several times a day and schlepping in gasoline all the way from Pakistan via the Khyber pass must also represent an energy 'investment' many times greater that that needed to build several thousand wind turbines.

It seems obvious that our politicians will satisfy existing campaign contributors and revolving door enablers, the military-industrial complex and the banking/Wall St. establishments come to mind. Additionally they have been reluctant to upset Saudi Arabia and the petrodollar relationship with large alternative energy programs that would compete with oil. The Saudi royal family certainly was our first priority following the 9/11 attacks as we gave them immediate safe passage out of the United States. When these relationships finally get derailed we may be so far down the net energy curve that transition is impossible. Natural gas and coal may cushion our descent (keep food on the table) but the farther we go without significant policy modification the more pressure there will be to divert available capital to the military.

Whether you pay for it with Natural Gas and Coal or with Oil it seems to me that the main takeaway point is that you will have to pay for any alternative energy with something REAL, and it will subtract an equal amount from the economy at large. An amount that is not readily available.

I agree that wars are a terrible waste of resources--but Jeff's numbers would suggest that the renewables gap represents a much larger amount of consumption, not the other way around. 58 mbpd (pessimistically), even if it is an oil equivalent instead of oil, does sound impossible, and we certainly aren't consuming that much flying C5's.

In regards to paying with something real I think Gail asks the pertinent questions. Most governments can't even pay their credit card bills let alone fill the renewables gap--the US least of all. Paying for it with more debt and money printing will only drive prices up--if not cement than other commodities. It won't create more barrels of oil equivalent with which to build turbines.

Lastly, I would have to agree with Gail that using oil (or equivalent) to build wind turbines looks an awful lot like simply storing that potential energy in a different form for future consumption.

Innus -

With regard to your first point: well, building something obviously costs something and cannot cost nothing, regardless of whether it's a giant air base in Afghanistan, a coal-fired power plant, or a wind farm. I don't think there is any dispute there. (Or maybe I don't quite understand what point you were trying to make.)

However, I would dispute that something like building a wind farm would' subtract from the economy at large', simply because electricity has economic value and that the generation of electricity is part of the economy. You spend X billion dollars on a wind farm, and over the course of its operating life you get back some multiple of X billion dollars in the form of electricity. A net economic gain. I don't see how this is a much different than making a capital investment in a nuclear or a coal-fired power plant. If it won't produce enough revenue over its operating life to justify the capital investment, then it simply won't get built. Ditto for wind farms.

Nor do I understand your comment that building wind turbines "looks an awful lot like simply storing that potential energy in a different form for future consumption". Are you saying that you never recoup the fossil fuel input from a wind turbine? If so, then you are laboring under a serious misconception, as it is well accepted that the energy payback period for a wind turbine is only a matter of several years, representing perhaps less than the first 15% of its useful operating life.

As far as this 'renewables gap', I don't think that many reasonable people realistically expect that we are going to get all of our energy from wind and solar. If we are lucky, we might get it up to perhaps 25 - 30%. Where we get the rest when the fossil fuel runs out is THE question, isn't it? So without question, there IS a gap, if that's what you want to call it.

By the way, my reason for making the point that oil represents a relatively small fraction of the total energy input for wind power was to counter this notion continually bandied about by some people on TOD that we are only going to make our oil situation worse by building wind power. Not so! I think it is highly significant that the energy input to wind power is primarily coal and natural gas, simply because of the three fuels, the future supply situation for oil is by far the most precarious.

Getting back to my comment on C-5 transports, etc., I would submit that the annual fuel consumption for our military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan is probably equivalent to the total energy input associated with the construction of several very large wind farms. I pointed this out merely to illustrate what can be done if we don't spend our limited energy resources stupidly.

I advocate monetising energy through the simple expedient of enabling producers to issue - in exchange for value received - Units redeemable in payment for energy supplied. Anyone who can understand Air Miles or loyalty schemes of retailers should understand the concept. Bob Hahl's 'proof of concept' Kilo Watt Cards demonstrate that this is not exactly Rocket Science.

We may then apply a 'carbon levy' to carbon fuel transactions, and use the resulting 'Energy Pool' of funds to invest directly in renewable Mega Watts and energy saving Nega Watts. An 'energy dividend' to all citizens then completes the picture.

The outcome is firstly that consumers now have the option of using Units for continuing profligate use of carbon fuels, or alternatively to exchange them for other value, such as accommodation or food. This mechanism would be particularly useful for reducing waste and profligate use in oil and gas producer nations.

Secondly, we may obtain value now - and hence finance investment, if a project is viable in energy terms - for Units which will cost nothing to redeem in the future.

This presentation on Energy Pools was well received at the Scottish branch of the UK Energy Institute last week.


As I explained in my post that appears right before yours, the primary energy inputs for wind power are mainly in the form of coal and natural gas (mostly to generate electricity) rather than petroleum. So, I don't see even a really large build-out of wind power having much of an impact on oil demand.

It does not matter that it is gas and coal derived electricity. Since electricity is an energy source being used to replace oil [EV's are an excellent example], anything that uses electricity is using an equivalent amount of oil. The downslope of peak oil may be mitigated by use of gas, but even an optimist like T. Boone Pickens admits that we have maybe 30 years of gas, and then what? Nothing but coal. The more we use up one, the faster the others peak and fade away.

And, as we use coal, the coal we use becomes less and less efficient as an energy source. Like the heavy sour oils being used instead of 'light Texas crude," the brown lignite coals are a poor replacement for the anthracite coals that are the standard for high energy coal. Since we have other, industrial uses for oil, coal and gas, we needed to stop burning it up and substitute renewables. Now it is probably too late to do that. One way or another we come up with the same problem. Mankind has splurged and we are about to run out. When we do, we will come face to face with our limitations, and discover how much energy we can produce sustainable, and how many of us that amount of energy can support.

I agree that it will not be an instant fall, but whether it takes 50, 100, or even 300 or 400 years, we are now on the downslope of history from the perspective of the industrial age. Welcome to the age of man.

As I said in a comment on your own similarly-themed "oh my God there's NOTHING we can do!" article, investment will come from the same place it does today. People who invest in power stations and transport will continue to invest in power stations and transport. Whether it's coal-fired stations, wind turbines, cars, train carriages, will be a matter of indifference to them.

Investors: "We have $40 billion to invest in power generation."
Government: "Okay, but no more coal, gas or oil-fired power stations."

Investors now have two possible responses:-
A) "You bastards! We'll keep our money instead!" or
B) "Okay we'll invest in solar and wind instead."

I am sceptical that they will inevitably choose (A). People who insist that we are all doomed may differ.

I give HUGE credit for this GREAT post!!!

But, I want to mention a "side" topic, VITAL to the "political" side of this argument: FOOD.
See "The Coming Food Coups"

Today, 2.1 -BILLION- people live on LESS then $2 a day.
I expect they starve to death as the $ of oil goes north.
See: "New food price crisis a matter of time-UN"

For those who wish to become more aware of the "food insecurity" situation, I HIGHLY recommend checking out US AID Famine Early Warning System:

Lester Brown asks a question that haunts the hell out of me: "How many failed states can the world have, before we have a failed global civilization?" Lester Brown gives -MEAN- lectures on our food/climate/water/oil situation. This one, @ the World Affairs Council

Also a heads up:
IEA Ambassador Richard Jones, will be giving a talk @ WAC on 11/23/09

Jeff, Do you happen to have a link to the meta analysis you mentioned? Thanks for the post.

A report from the Danish wind industry claims that modern turbines (well, the report was written in 1997) have an energy payback time of around 4-6 months:

While they don't cite to the actual study, the language suggests that it only considered energy used at the manufacturing facility, and that it made no effort to regress the energy inputs to include, for example, things like the energy embedded in the metals, cement, human labor, etc. Not to mention the grid changes, storage, etc. My experience with EROI studies is that, where the actual study and methodology used isn't cited, but rather only "interpreted," it's usually because most energy inputs are actually being ignored. Ultimately, if payback time were actually anywhere close to 4-6 months, why haven't countless venture capital groups and investment banks poured hundreds of billions into such lucrative investments?

I get frustrated with analyses that seem to suggest what we need to do just isn’t possible so in effect we should do nothing. What we need to do to mitigate climate change and cope with dwindling fossil fuels is obvious and within our power. It’s a relatively easy matter to cut our electricity use in half. It’s a relatively easy matter to cut our heating needs in half. With high speed rail, rail freight, light rail, buses, and bicycles, we could cut our gasoline usage by three quarters. Electric cars could get us down the last fourth. Most of the technology we need to apply is very simple and already exists. All we have to do is do it.

1. Stop building internal combustion engines. Stop manufacturing ICE cars and trucks. We Americans have twice as many cars as we need right now anyway. Build electric scooters and electric bikes. Build a small number of electric cars and trucks (1 to 2 million a year.) These will be expensive. Good. They will not be put to frivolous uses. Build no more jet skis, recreational vehicles, ATVs, snowmobiles, or speed boats which are all energy-intensive toys. Once we get the planet’s climate in balance and our energy systems worked out, then we can consider people having such toys again. Stop building conventional hot water heaters. Only build solar hot water. Stop building wasteful side-by-side refrigerators. Mandate increased energy efficiency of all appliances sold in the US. Subsidize scrapping of inefficient refrigerators. All those second refrigerators in the garage chilling a six-pack of beer need to go.

2. Quadruple our investment in public transportation. (A much better use of public money than lining the pockets of investment bankers or artificially supporting housing prices.) Get high speed rail going as soon as possible to replace airline flights. Create light rail down heavily used commute corridors. Encourage people to live in higher density along such corridors. Provide feeder bus service to the corridors. Transport the bulk of our freight on rail. Create bicycle infrastructure so that people can safely and pleasantly bicycle all trips under five miles. (Families with small children should check out Bakfiets, Xtracycles, and Madsens.) Reducing private car travel and heavy trucking will also reduce road repair costs, at least in the non-frost prone parts of the country.

3. Reduce human population gradually over the next hundred years by empowering women in third world countries with microloans and access to basic health care. It doesn’t take much money and it works. (Because women are by and large rational, when given the choice, they prefer to have only a couple children.) In the US, provide no tax breaks for children. (Okay, if people howl, provide breaks for no more than two children per family.) Offer free sterilization to anyone over 25 worldwide. Offer free contraception worldwide. In the US, pay low income teen girls $100/month not to be pregnant so their lack of fertility will have immediate value to them. And for heaven’s sake, celebrate rather than lament decreasing birthrates in Europe and Japan.

4. Institute a carbon tax so that the cost of all carbon-emitting forms of energy immediately doubles. Employ all current construction crews sitting idle due to the housing bust to weatherstrip and insulate low income housing instead. Provide significant tax breaks to middle and upper income folks for weatherstripping, insulation, renewable energy systems. Subsidize LED lights so they can be massively deployed. Require anyone in possession of a Hummer to pay double income tax just on principle.

5. Double the cost of water. Quit subsidizing ridiculous uses of water. (Private swimming pools! Huge lawns! Hosing down driveways!) Cotton and rice are some of the thirstiest crops around and should not be grown in a desert. Leave them for the swampy areas. Encourage community gardens, private gardens, rain barrels, and grey-water systems. Massively deploy 1.5 gal/minute low flow showerheads ($25 each.) Give tax incentives for installing ultra low-flow toilets. (1.28 gallons/flush or dual flush 1.6/.8 gal/flush)

6. End ridiculous farm subsidies. If we must subsidize crops, subsidize organic vegetables. Subsidized corn is a waste of good American farmland, has destroyed the American diet and is heavily responsible for skyrocketing health care costs. I can’t even bring myself to catalog the stupidity of corn-based ethanol. Grow wheat—at least it has some protein and other countries would like to buy it. Encourage farmer’s markets and 200 mile food-sheds.

7. Provide a Canadian-type national system for basic health care. Pay for it with a tax on high fructose corn syrup, fast food, and industrially-raised meat, especially beef. And, though we’re not going to like it, put a cap on costs. We’re going to have to accept the fact that it’s not worth half a million dollars to extend someone’s life three months. Ten years? Yes. Two years? Maybe. Somewhere the line will need to be drawn, as hard as this may be. People need to realize that 90% of their health comes from diet and lifestyle, two things in their control. If we spew less pollution in the air, asthma rates will go down. If children walk and ride bikes to school (and play outside at recess), they will be healthier, their tests scores will go up, and their ADHD will go down. If adults would walk or bicycle any trips under two miles, they would be less overweight, less diabetic, less prone to Alzheimer’s and less depressed. They would also naturally get the vitamin D they need. We need to remember that unlike our cardiovascular systems, our lymphatic systems have no pump. If we don’t move, the lymph isn’t circulated and our immune systems don’t work. Our cars, our diet, and our sedentary lifestyles are killing us, and in very expensive ways.

8. Stop mining and burning coal. Convert all coal burning electricity plants to natural gas over the next five years. Build out solar PV where it makes sense, especially the entire southwest. Put in wind turbines where it makes sense, especially the midwest. Install solar hot water pretty much everywhere. Make it illegal to air condition a house or commercial building below 80 degrees. (Ceiling fans can make 80 degrees feel very pleasant.) Make it illegal to heat a building above 70 degrees. (My house is 59 degrees as I write this. I wear wool.)

9. All organic material in the waste stream should be composted and used on gardens or farms to reduce reliance on artificial fertilizers. This will also reduce methane emissions from landfills. Reduce packaging in general to minimize what has to be recycled. Get rid of bottled water and bring back the public water fountain.

None of the above is as hard as defeating Hitler or going to the Moon with slide rule calculations. If we wanted to, in three years we could cut in half both the electricity we use now and the energy needed to heat our buildings and homes with the same quality of life. If we wanted to, in three years we could cut our health care costs in half and also be happier and healthier. (An improved quality of life!) If we wanted to, in three years we could cut our consumption of gasoline in half, and in ten years we could wean ourselves off most uses of oil.

All of the above requires either no technology (drink water instead of soda pop, eat carrots instead of potato chips, walk), simple technology (insulation, composting, ceiling fans, bicycles) or technology that has already been proven to be reliable (solar hot water, electric bicycles, light rail, buses). If we stop squandering our energy and resources on frivolous things (cars, high fructose corn syrup, cheap cotton t-shirts) or downright wasting it (incandescent bulbs, wars, uninsulated houses, groceries stores so cold in the summer you need to wear a sweater) there will be plenty of energy and resources to do what we need to get done. It’s all a matter of desire and will. This is what we’re short of.

If we are eminently capable of change that will avoid the suffering and death of billions of people and we don’t do it, doesn’t that make us culpable of perhaps the greatest crime against humanity (not to mention any other species) ever perpetrated?

"It’s a relatively easy matter to cut our electricity use in half."

I disagree. Theoretically easy, yes. Just use half as much. Easy in a practical, implementable way? No. Frankly, everything you say following this is pie-in-the-sky fantasy that will only happen either in our dreams or in some kind of nightmare totalitarian global state (which, in my opinion, is equally fantasy just normally one held by a different set of people). If you think we can "just do it" as you propose the above solutions, I wish you luck with all sincerity, but don't have the time to spend debating. Issues to consider are political reality, Jeavons' Paradox, and the massive disparity between Western standard of living and global standard of living...

Our family has cut our electricity usage in half without much effort. Things that are easy to do: install CFLs and LED light bulbs, upgrade refrigerator if it's old, switch to a front load washing machine. Unplug inessential gadgets, plug entertainment systems into powerstrips, turn off powerstrips when electronics are not in use so as to eliminate vampire loads. Only wash full loads of dishes and clothes. It really wasn't hard, and with the exception of the appliances that needed to be replaced anyway, not all that expensive. Cutting our usage in half again will be more difficult but doable, I think, by switching out CLFs and halogens to LEDs as LED technology improves in terms of luminosity. Cutting our natural gas usage in half took more effort and was more expensive, but the dollars saved have been correspondingly higher.

I don't need air conditioning where I live, but when I visited Charleston, SC last year, I was impressed with how they augmented their reduced levels of air conditioning with ceiling fans. A very charming place, and I never froze to death like I do in so many overly air conditioned cities.

Many families in the US could cut their energy use by 25% just by unplugging their second (usually old and highly inefficient)refrigerator. My own mother uses her highly inefficient second refrigerator to house left-overs and soda pop. (So you can see how well persuasion works in changing minds!) Though concern for the planet and the future of her grandchildren hasn't persuaded her, I do believe a well-announced doubling of the cost of her electricity would prompt her to scrap the second refrigerator as well as change out her lightbulbs (all incandescent at present.) If she made those changes, her usage would drop 50% (she doesn't have air conditioning either) and the net increase in cost to her would be zero.

People respond to economics. Electricity right now is so cheap, people can't be bothered to conserve.


See below and please accept my apology. While I disagree with some of what you said and many of your conclusions, I should have expressed this rather than just dismissing your ideas while expressing my frustration. I hope that I'll have time to address them in more depth soon, but unfortunately I don't now. FYI: it is my understanding that there will be a follow-on/response to this post in the next week or so (by another contributor) that will expressly address many of your points, and that will hopefully provide a forum for them to be discussed in the detail they deserve...

Wow Jeff, is that really you? What an unnecessarily harsh and politicized reaction to what was basically a list of well intentioned suggestions, many of which individuals can contribute to without govt' action. (e.g., don't buy another ICE vehicle). Using totalitarianism as a bugaboo in this response makes you look a lot sillier than you've ever appeared to me before. (Seriously, you watching too much Glen Beck, or what?)

That's fair. I've been, unfortunately, in too much of a rush to give these comments the time they deserve, and I was unnecessarily short above. As you point out, that list is, in fact, a list of good ideas that I would love to be able to implement. I shouldn't let my current frustration and pessimism cloud my judgment. After all, even if these ideas cannot be implemented wholesale, that doesn't mean that pushing for them might not at least result in localized or partial improvement of the situation...

I can, however, promise that I have been watching exactly no Glen Beck!

This comment is spot on IMHO. Almost everything in that list is pure fantasy.


Not entirely. Energy consumption for this year will likely be 7% below for that for 07 in the US and 6% below that for 06 in the EU.

Even if the reasons are mostly different from the specifics in the list, adaptive capacity has been shown to be real at least in industrialized countries. Ditto for oil consumption after the second oil shock in 1980.


Birth control?! Smaller families?!
You'll have to ban religion. Do you really think the Catholics and Mormons, etc are going to stop having huge families? God will Provide! (with apologies and respect for my religious friends)

God will Provide! (with apologies and respect for my religious friends)

I have even stopped apologizing to my religious friends and relatives. I just tell them that they are part of the problem, and until the open their eyes we are in trouble.

Check out the birth rates statistics in a few Catholic countries.

You are barking up the wrong tree-the possums are mostly somewhere else these days.

Hi Mac,

Did you mean Mexico and Brazil?

Mexico and Brazil are not very far above replacement now if you accept the 2.2 per woman figure and iirc birth rates in both countries are falling fast.Poland and Ireland are way below replacement but both are 90 percent Catholic.

My own religious community -Protestant fundamentalists-seems to be experienceing falling birth rates too but I don't have a breakdown handy.

But among the many Jesus freak hell fire and brimstone families around here, in my grandparents generation, they averaged about five kids.In my parents generation , about three.In mine, locally, a little under two.It's too early to say for sure about the ones of childbearing age right now but my guess after consulting with the girls is well under two.

Economics,education,women working outside the home,and other such factors seem to be a lot more important than religion these days.

Of course the population will still grow a lot for many years even if women only average the 2.2 replacement level.

Hi Mac,

I'm not convinced that Mexico and Brazil are "not very far above replacement". Just Googling around a bit comes up with some data (I can't vouch for accuracy - but seems legit)

First of all here are some very interesting links to put the big picture into perspective (really do look at them - they are pretty neat web pages)

Here is a data point about population as of 2009·11·21

1. China 1,342,074,291
2. India 1,173,160,353
3. USA 308,391,649
4. Indonesia 241,344,647
5. Brazil 199,673,616

World 6,821,106,939

Next a bit of definition:

Birth rate (b) − death rate (d) = rate of natural increase (r).
birth rate expressed as number of births per 1000 per year (currently 14 in the U.S.);
death rate expressed as the number of deaths per 1000 per year (currently 8 in the U.S.);
So the rate of natural increase is 6 per thousand (0.006 or 0.6%).

And then they gave a thought about Mexico:

"With a 2007 rate of natural increase in Mexico of 1.7%, its population would be expected to double in ~40 years (0.69/0.017 = 40.6) from its 106.5 million people now to some 213 million in 2047. Will it?"

Here are some data points about US, Mexico and Brazil:

US Birth rate: 14.18 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Mexico Birth rate: 19.71 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Brazil Birth rate: 18.43 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)

Mexico and Brazil seem to be adding a fair amount to world population. I recall the Pope visiting Mexico some time back and reiterating his opposition to using birth control.

Being pretty familiar with Ireland, I suspect that such announcements there are taken with a big grain of salt. And the French, of course, will do exactly as the French see fit (I really like that country!). There was a saying about France that it is 95% Catholic and the other 5% go to church (just a bit of humor folks - no email please).

Hi Dave,

I took my figures from the CIA factbook site.

It is cited frequently here on TOD and I haven't heard anybody complain about the accuracy of thier figures, which so far as I know are collected from govt agencies and ngo 's.

Hi Mac,

Your numbers are probably OK, but I think it is how the figures play out in the actual context of population increase. I'm sure no expert on this, but it still seems that Mexico and Brazil are contributing to world population increase at a faster clip than the US. Even a one percent annual increase is significant over time.

I found another really interesting site - here is population growth rate chart:

the chart has this link which is also very good:

you might find the this web site generally interesting - this is the home page: lots of interesting data.

Of course a low birth rate can't do much to stop population growth in the short term-but on the other hand it's the only thing, other than increased mortality , that can stop it in the long term.

If current trends hold in Europe and we were to close our borders here in the states our population problems would start going away within two generations as far as most of the west is concerned.

Probably ditto Mexico, many other countries that are becoming more prosperous.

Unfortunately we probably don't have two generations left before tshtf.

Nobody pays any attention to the Pope anymore where sex is concerned as a general rule.

Here Down Under many parts of the country have suffered from a decade-long drought. In response, governments have done three things about domestic use,

1) regulations about when and where water could be used (eg only watering garden on Wednesday and Sunday mornings, no washing the car, etc)
2) progressive consumption tariffs (eg the first 1kl/day costs $1, the second costs $1.50, etc)
3) advertisements about the need to save water.

Each of these alone reduces consumption about 10%, any two together reduce it 30%, all three together reduce it 50%.

If we can do it with water, I don't see why we can't do it with electricity, transport or whatever. Regulation, progressive consumption tariffs, and advertisement of the reasons for reducing consumption.

Your "pie in the sky fantasy" is a reality. Sorry.

Apples and oranges. Water is a different commodity than electricity. It is also entirely in government hands, at least in Australia, and therefore can have legislated bans on its use. It can also be cleaned up, recycled, reused, and every now and then, it falls out of the sky making it renewable (which should not be confused with unlimited). Electricity is used once and doesn't leave a residue in the palce it is consumed. You can leave a light on all day and won't have to clean up the excess light once you turn it off. No pain, no motivation to change.

A lot of what you suggest is reasonable. Unfortunately, a lot of it would also be dismissed as totalitarianism. Even though that is the direction the USA is heading, it is corporate totalitarianism which will seek maximum short term profit. Imagine trying to fly an airplane, and pulling up on the controls all the time. You will stall, fall, stall, fall, then eventually crash.

That being said, there are are a lot of things that could be done better. For example, if manufacturers could agree on a reasonable open standard, fridges could be replaced by built-in insulated cabinets. The compressor units would be the only part commercially available and would go into a standard size hole in the built-in fridge. This would allow for much more efficient fridges. People in cold places could build their built-in fridges on exterior walls to reduce the fridge's electricity consumption most of the year. All that would be needed is power to run a fan and a servo to open and close a valve to the outside for half the year. The lost heat from the fridge would be better replaced with the cheaper fuels used for home heating.

I do not want the gray haired law school graduates in Washington or anybody else mandating how our energy should be made or what our lifestyle will be.

I trust the laws of economics 101 more than I trust politicians. But the politicians are distorting the economics with their mandates and subsidies. We should add in all external energy costs, eliminate all mandates and subsidies, and allow the price of energy to float to its natural level.

If the U.S. reduced its energy consumption to zero, those savings would be gobbled up by the rest of the world in a decade or so. Therefore U.S. energy policy should be focused on one goal. To develop energy sources that are cheaper than fossil fuel.

How do you do that? Find the best project manager in the world, give that person a checkbook on the U.S. treasury, and say, “Get er done.”

"Therefore U.S. energy policy should be focused on one goal. To develop energy sources that are cheaper than fossil fuel."

OR more expensive but tolerably so AND sustainable.

The Europeans do just as well as we do with much higher oil and natural gas prices.

The problem we face is not so much a lack of cheap oil as fast rising oil prices combined with volatility.

Another way of looking at it is this: If oil were priced at $300 and STAYED THERE we would adapt to it by greater efficiency.

Anyways, back on topic. I agree in broad sweep with the OP. The issue is not the theory (because we can set the boundar conditions in the model to suit ourselves as the OP has done - and they don't look too bad to my eyes).
The issue in fact is the politicians.

Personally I think the politicians are on the right track with policies even in the laggard countries like the US and the UK but progress is being made. We're being heard.

If *I* were the project manager in charge I'd go with the low hanging fruit of electrifying our logistics system and mass transit systems first.

It's a hell of a lot easier in terms of numbers to buy a bunch of electric buses and electric trucks to cover the "last mile" of either scenario. Electric buses and electric trucks are drop in replacements and have lower total cost of ownership. We can do long distance trucking with natural gas. Also a drop in replacement.

What is the capital cost of replacing, say, ten million medium duty trucks and thirty million buses compared to the capital costs of 250 million cars?

And that's the all-in-one-up-front scenario. Creating incentives to use electrified mass transit would work as opposed to increasing taxation on fuels (though increased fuel taxation will work in Europe, even if it's political suicide in the US).

" If *I* were the project manager in charge I'd go with the low hanging fruit of electrifying our logistics system and mass transit systems first. "

Dan, if we paid the full undistorted cost of each energy source, those things might happen as a result of economic common sense. However if fossil fuel is still the cheapest energy source, even with external costs included, people will still want to use them to make the electricity.

But, if we develop new energy sources cheaper than fossil fuel, people will voluntarily and rapidly change to the less expensive technology.

Transportation is just one slice of the pie. A low cost alternative to fossil fuel would address all the slices.

So which Gray-haired politician would you have give this blank check out, and how does it stand to reason that 'mandate with subsidy', as I thought you were opposed to, would emerge with a winning answer, and not a bunch of graft and regrets?

In short, this sounds far more fantastical, while thoroughly less appealing or useful than any of Taomom's optimistic pleas. (Most of which I aspire to as well. Who knows who will follow, but in the meantime, they work and a few more teaspoonfulls go into the bucket. Maybe this gets solved with lots of little inputs, not a big checkbook.)

Taomom - YES, YES, YES!!! I nominate you for leader of the world!

You need a few more attagirl's for this post!

It's interesting how many people read this and thought that the only way you might want to introduce this would be through totalitarianism! Funny and Sad.

Seems to me you were saying WE could and ought to do this.. but as expected, people are so sure that they can't do it, that it would have to be installed by top-down force.

"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.."

Great List, thanks!

Hi taomom,

First, I'd like you to move to Wisconsin and run for the US Senate so I can vote for you :-) Although I say that with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, it does represent a core element of my thinking: I agree with 99% of your suggestions - but, I think individual action, without broad public support and government leadership, will make very little difference. It might make a person feel good, but I suspect that the vast majority of people will not make the changes you suggest of their own volition. If you ran for office, I would contribute time and money to your campaign. Your chances of winning an election here, at this time, is next to zero. But, it would at least, get the ball rolling and provide a platform that might succeed later on. BTW, our our house is 64 degrees, and I want no tax breaks for religious organizations.

Second, as I have asked many times here: why do your highly rational suggestions get rejected out-of-hand as impractical pie-in-the-sky? What is mindset/worldview that finds this list to be so outlandish as to not even warrant serious consideration? My view is that most people who have been duped into believing in supernatual myths are simply incapable of this level of critical thinking. I suspect it has little to do with raw intelligence and everything to do with childhood conditioning of basic belief systems. Of course, my viewpoint itself is roundly dismissed as being useless because there is no way these belief systems can be changed in a useful time frame. So, we do have a bit of a problem.

Bike Dave;
1) "Why are they rejected out of hand?" - well, don't forget that there were only about five who did reject it. It's hard to tell what the silence from anyone else might really mean.

2) Senate; I wish Al Franken the best of luck, and continue to admire Kucinich's courage, but I would have to say that the system is so crippled today that we have to follow Kennedy's admonishment to 'Ask what you can do for your country' with a renewed sense of our own stewardship of this country and what we can do with our own power outside the federal government.

Some of the hopelessness here at TOD about change keeps mentioning Plumbers and Sixpacks.. there's no small amount of snobbery in this ongoing putdown of working people. If they get good information, people can and will make smart choices. The information is sent out by monied interests, maybe largely intent to sell more than to deceive.. but the results are the same.

It's snobbery, jokhul, but also wishful thinking. More than one of the editors has substantial investments in oil stocks.

If oil leaves us, the oil stocks rise. If we leave oil before it leaves us, the oil stocks fall. That's why many peak oilers are also, paradoxically, climate change deniers.

Hi johkul,

I'm one of the ones who frequently mentions Joe Sixpack but I feel entitled, being from and of a working class background-sort of like black folks using the n word if they want to.

I'm an outlier in more ways than one-technically educated in agriculuture, which means chemistry and biology out the ying yang, back to school for many other classes, a compulsive and omnivorous reader.I get it-peak everything, overshoot, evolution, gmo s pro and con,whatever.

But I'm also basically a Scots Irish Baptist redneck hillbilly because that's my personal history.

Most academics have thier heads up thier butts in onme respect or another when it comes to understanding working class people.I don't , because I am born and bred working class and live every day in the working class, except when I escape to my library, or wear out my cell phone talking to a few well educated friends , or cruise the net-I have plenty of time for these things,being mostly retired and self sufficient.

You can take this to the bank-the working class, as a whole, is extremely cynical in regard to peak anything and regards just about every problem we have these days as being the result of the system being manipulated by crooked politicians and businessmen- bankers in particular.Climate change they laugh about like the athiests laugh about heaven and hell.

They are not stupid-they can think very well-they just have fewer facts and less data to work with than people like the typical Oil Drum reader.

It is a rare thing to run up on a working class person who possesses any extensive knowledge of ANYTHING , excepting a narrowly limited trade or profession.The relatively few educated people who go into farming, craft work, or some sort of small hands on business as a rule do not mix intimately with the uneducated working class socially and therefore don't really know them.

They have been taking it on the chin and in the solar plexus for a long time now and if the right (or wrong , as you may parse it ) leader comes along we will see the fast rise of a very large and very radical political party in this country.

My guess , fwiw, is that it will not be many more years arriving.

Thanks for the feedback everyone. I must say the accusations of pie-in-the-sky and totalitarianism surprise me, but some may be due to lack of clarity on my part. For what it’s worth, I do see our situation as an emergency requiring a little more than usual interventionist policy from our government, probably near but not to the point of how actively the government got involved in the economy and management of resources during WWII. But mostly I think measures should be encouraged through publicity and tax breaks, or that some things should stop being encouraged (large families, cheap corn) as they are right now. Again, my point is we are really not constrained by the energy or technology available to us. We are constrained by our choices.

1. Industrial capacity. During WWII we stopped making private cars and started making tanks. If we are really concerned there is not enough energy available to make windmills, solar panels, electric cars, electric buses, electric trains, then ceasing to make those items that continue us down a non-sustainable path so as to free up energy and capacity for the others makes sense. Is it really totalitarian to shift our hot water heating to solar?

2. Other countries have invested in public transportation and bicycle infrastructure quite successfully. Am assuming no one thinks this is totalitarian or pie-in-the-sky?

3. Reducing human population. It seems to me most people on this site agree this needs to happen. So what are the tools available to do this beyond microloans and access to health care for third world women, sterilization, and birth control? What else is there? Abortion? Chastity belts? If we intend to rely on famine for population reduction, we need to remember that starvation is a hard, hard death. I can’t see the point of wringing our hands about population if we aren’t willing to use any of the humane tools available to address the issue. But for the record, I don’t believe governments should coerce on this issue, and I wasn’t suggesting anyone should coerce Americans to have smaller families, only that our tax code should cease rewarding large ones the way we do at present.

4. Carbon tax. Whether or not we do this is a choice, not a technological impossibility. The future mitigation of climate change is going to be very, very expensive—all those dikes around major cities. But at that point, we won’t be able to go back to the emitters of carbon and make them pay for it. Double taxation for Hummer owners—that was a joke.

5. Water costs. In my city, rates are already set to double over the next five years. In my state, we choose to subsidize some crops with cheap water and then wring our hands that we don’t have enough. It’s entirely about politics and profits for some people. We could choose differently. Perhaps it is indeed unrealistic to expect we’ll ever manage our most basic necessity for life with wisdom or fairness.

6. Farm subsidies. Again, a choice, not a matter of lack of resources or technology.

7. Health care. This is a tough issue, but again, other countries manage it fairly efficiently and effectively, so it seems reasonable to think we could do the same. I think we should offer a basic level of health care for all while discouraging high fructose corn syrup and encouraging exercise. This will actually cost less than what we are doing now. Note the words “encourage” and “discourage.” Right now we encourage high fructose corn syrup in American diets via cheap corn, and we discourage exercise by making walking and bicycling dangerous and impractical. Would switching this around really be totalitarian? I don’t think anyone should be required to use government health care if they’re willing to pay their own private provider. (A little like government schools--free/private schools—extra cost.)

8. I think we should use the current availability of natural gas to wean ourselves from coal, the biggest contributor to global warming. Others think we should use it to wean ourselves from oil, the bigger economic threat. It doesn’t seem to me that either option is unreasonable or involves totalitarianism. My approach would involve less profit for coal companies. It would be easy to encourage solar hot water through tax incentives (some already exist). It would be easy to encourage ceiling fans. Mandating the level you can heat or cool your building—well, yes, perhaps that’s a little too invasive. Maybe I got carried away, but I do really hate those freezing cold grocery stores and movie theaters. In Italy, they do mandate when you can turn on your heater in the fall and when you have to turn it off in the spring.

9. My city has a composting program, and 72% of our waste doesn’t go to landfill. Feasibility proven. Are public drinking fountains pie-in-the-sky?

Again, it’s all about priorities, not technology or resources. It seems to me the building we are in is burning and elevator isn’t working. Someone suggests taking the stairs, but the response is that Americans will never take the stairs because that’s too hard. We don’t do stairs. We will wait for helicopters on the roof, or SWAT teams with ropes, or aliens from space who will beam us up, or we will call loved ones on our cell phones and lament the impossibility of our predicament. And yet, the stairs are there. Simple, proven technology requiring a little bit of effort. They are the exit.

'And yet, the stairs are there. Simple, proven technology requiring a little bit of effort. They are the exit.'

All well said. Thanks for sticking to your guns!


Hi taomom,

it’s all about priorities, not technology or resources

I totally agree with this statement and your great list of solutions. However, your list is a list of solutions (which, IMHO are the correct solutions). I find it is very hard to sell solutions until the problem is well understood and some set of goals are agreed upon. From my experience, very few people understand the problem (TOD folks being the exception) much less agreeing upon any goals.

Many TOD folks express the idea that a substantial crisis is needed to reveal the actual nature of the problem - and then it may be too late to act effectively. Another TOD faction thinks it already too late to avoid significant pain. And then we have those of us that are hopeful that public awareness is building - especially among young people - and that we can take at least enough effective action to muddle through with only modest pain and emerge as a more responsible specie and perhaps with an even more satisfying life style.

A while back, Aniya tried to deal with this dilemma of how to create awareness of the problem for both the general public and the US Congress. Her idea was to get the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study the issue of PO and report their findings to Congress - she started a petition for this purpose

Many TOD people felt the NAS was too ineffective (or even compromised) to serve our cause well. So, assuming that public awareness is the key to setting goals and implementing solutions (like your list) what would be an effective strategy? How do we motivate the general public and policy makers to set the priorities you mention? It seems there must be something more effective than just debating here on TOD - or am I just quilty of pie-in-the-sky thinking?

"And then we have those of us that are hopeful that public awareness is building - especially among young people -"
But not among these clueless clown Oxbridge grads Dave:

Hi Bicycle Dave,

I agree that Americans are far more prone to be reactive rather than rationally proactive which causes us grief on so many fronts. Americans also seem to be hard-wired for optimism and so filter out pessimistic messages. I think one way of changing mindsets is to push values that have positive connotations from previously "challenging" eras. Resiliency, victory gardens, Yankee ingenuity, self-sufficiency, can-do, pulling together, and valuing the land need to be our memes. And we don't need to change everyone's mind--we need to get a critical mass that will create momentum. (I think a nice, national two-week gas shortage would also help on the momentum front. Am not sure how that can be arranged.)

I do see examples of positive change in our society. Thirty years ago people used to litter without a qualm. Thirty years ago airplanes were full of cigarette smoke. Thirty years ago dog feces on the sidewalk in my city were rampant. Now dog owners pick up after their dogs. (I am so, so happy about this.) Now, though airplanes still have germ-filled recirculated air, at least we don't have to sit in a nausea-inducing smoke-filled haze. And though there's still some litter, the quantity is vastly reduced. Copenhagen increased bicycle riding from below 10% of all trips to 40% of all trips. Japan and France implemented high speed rail. Much is possible. In San Francisco, despite the fact that city population has increased by 14% since 1990, total greenhouse gas emissions have dropped below 1990 levels. (Some of this is due to heavy industry leaving the city replaced by lower energy-intensive tech and biotech companies, and some of it is due stringent low energy buildings codes.)

One avenue that might be susceptible to persuasion is the realm of health. While the health of other species means little to us, we Americans tend to be obsessive about our own, (even though our poor health is largely due to bad diet and lack of exercise, factors easily remedied.) Framing energy/climate change issues as public health measures might work: clean energy is necessary to reduce asthma and deaths due to lung ailments, public transportation and off road bicycle infrastructure are needed to reduce 40,000 car deaths/year (car accidents leading cause of death for children), elimination of corn subsidies and taxation of high fructose corn syrup is necessary to reduce life-threatening obesity and diabetes. (After all, obesity and diabetes are a far greater threat to public health than lung cancer. These days we'd be better off handing children cigarettes than cans of soda pop.)

I think the case can also be made that regions that improve their GDP per unit of fossil fuel used ratio will be more economically competitive in the years to come, and that regions that rely on fossil fuels as the underpinning of their economy will face a future not too different from Detroit's. Though using Detroit as a bogeyman is a negative rather than positive message, I think it might be effective.

I agree that young people are the key. After all, it's their world and their future being consumed/wrecked/squandered. On a positive note, any time of turbulence is also a time of enormous creativity. We are in the process of reinventing human life on Earth, and each of us has more opportunity to affect the future of the human race than any generation since WWII. What grander experiment is there for all of us to participate in? I think this is a message that many young people will respond to.

Politicians generally follow rather than lead. So it's the hearts and minds of those around us that need to be captured. I push on every lever within my personal reach that I can think of--I ride my bicycle, participate in the on-line bicycle community in my city, and I strongly encourage my teenagers to take public transit rather than me drive them. (That's one of the beauties of living in a city with good public transit--teens can be independent without a car. I also discourage my kids from getting driver's licenses before the age of 21.) I try to support local, small businesses, my husband and I have transferred most of our money to a local (solvent) credit union, I work on green measures in my children's schools, my family has cut its carbon footprint in half. I'm going to give my extended family ultra low-flow showerheads for Christmas (I kid you not.) I enthusiastically praise friends and neighbors who are reducing energy consumption and installing renewable energy systems. I try to consider how every dollar I spend furthers the society I want to see created or hinders it. I try not to criticize or be negative with friends and family because people just don't respond to it.

I see my advocacy as work, and I try to accept in doing this work it is two steps forward, one step back. How do we affect and change our culture? I think it's through grass roots, family by family, community by community. By kindness, courtesy, good intent, living one's life with integrity. And by being repetitive, rational and relentless.

Thanks for the comment Taomom, but I still want you to move to Wisconsin and run for Congress :-)

I agree that your attitude and lifestyle is a great contribution to easing our transition to a new era - we should all emulate your actions. I'm just a little less optimistic that individual action alone will be enough. I doubt there is any silver bullet for getting political leadership on board, but I think a key part of our strategy should be to strongly support those political action organizations that are consistent with the kind of values you mention - and I suspect you probably agree and already do this.

Thanks for all the thought you have put into your comments here.

Electrification Roadmap

In November 2009, the Coalition released its Electrification Roadmap, a sweeping report outlining a vision for the deployment of a fully integrated electric drive network.

The report details the dangers of oil dependence, explains the benefits of electrification, describes the challenges facing electric cars—including battery technology and cost, infrastructure financing, regulatory requirements, electric power sector interface, and consumer acceptance issues—and provides specific and detailed policy proposals to overcome those challenges.

digital or printed report available ...

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for this article.

Re: "Therefore, to the extent we want to use renewably-generated electricity to replace this oil, we need to adapt this oil-burning infrastructure to electricity."

I'd like to emphasize the word "want" - and also question it.

One question is: How much of the current oil use (in the "oil-burning infrastructure") *can* be replaced or adapted to an electricity end-use infrastructure?

Is it possible, for example, to run heavy equipment for road repair using electricity - rather than LTFs? It seems not.

Maintaining roads seems to be one limiting factor of the change-over. Perhaps it might be a good idea to address these (though it would be a big project) ? Maybe some kind of column comparisons, eg. LTF uses down one column and start with the question of feasibility of conversion across.

Good point, and here's another question that everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has conveniently elected to ignore:

Has anyone in recent industrially revolutionized history demonstrated that you can build out and maintain a renewable energy infrastructure using renewable energy alone?

And still have enough left over to run anything even remotely resembling an industrially revolutionized society?

Let us not forget that all of those solar panels, windmills and other assorted expensive baubles will be mined, processed, fabricated, assembled, transported, installed, and maintained using what is currently 100% fossil fueled infrastructure.

Assuming that all of the "renewable" energy that they produce is already used up to run salad shooters, wide screen TV's and plug-in hummers then what, pray tell, will we do when they need to be replaced and the massive amount of fossil fuel needed to replace them is no longer available?


Has anyone in recent industrially revolutionized history demonstrated that you can build out and maintain a renewable energy infrastructure using renewable energy alone?

Of course not. That would be too large a project to keep separated from the rest of the economy. However, you could get a grasp at he issue by asking the following question: Is the renewable energy industry using more or less energy than the amount of renewable energy generation currently installed? I have a feeling the answer is less, which would suggest that the answer is, yes, it can be done. But that's just a guess, I could be way off.

...using what is currently 100% fossil fueled infrastructure.

Don't exaggerate. The world gets a significant percentage of it's energy from nuclear and renewables.

Hi jaggedben,

Thanks for your comment.

Re: "That would be too large a project to keep separated from the rest of the economy."

Some questions:

1) How come?

2) It seems like the question "can build out and maintain a renewable energy infrastructure using renewable energy alone?"
is a good starting question, for which the poster deserves credit.

It could be further separated. To what degree is a "build out" and a maintenance of the build out the same? In a way, there is much overlap, if one starts to look at replacement as part of maintenance. (Question mark?)

If not the same, what are the differences? In other words, are there ways of using current LTFs to build out electrical-end use infrastructure that would be advantageous?

3) It seems to me that it could also be approached by taking some hypothetical case, or even a sample case, say a town of a specific size, and then ask: What amount and sources of energy deliver the infrastructure requirements of water, food, waste treatment, transportation, and whatever else. Can any of these be changed in an organizational fashion? (By changes in how people do things.) Can any be changed in an infrastructure or physical fashion? (Stopping certain modes of transportation, starting others, implementing some of the TOD favorites for, say, personal water heating, etc.)

I was having a discussion the other night with a friend who is adamant that the over-arching issue is one of efficiency. So, that any other arrangements (more physical labor, re-localization) is asking people to preemptively choose less efficiency. And therefore, will not be done. Period.

I don't quite see it that way, because the (what I might call) "embedded history" is hidden from the current users. (That is, how people get their needs met is largely a product of what they're used to.)

We can look at the delivery of basic needs in light of an imminent crises, and, at the same time, make the powerful argument for resiliency (and actually having a greater chance of meeting those needs).

Re: "Don't exaggerate. The world gets a significant percentage of it's energy from nuclear and renewables."

The poster might have been able to say it a little differently. I'd like to look at the meaning behind the words, though.

There's a point here similar to the one I attempted to raise. Namely, there is an issue of dependence on oil. This is different than the question: "What are the amounts and sources of our total energy use?"

I could describe this different issue as "interlocking loops of dependency", (and I haven't been able to come up with a catchier phrase).

It's the point in the cycle where the oil input is vital that we run into a problem. It seems to me that we have to look at this. It has to be part of an analysis of thinking about how to meet basic needs. And whatever the congruent goals are (as per discussion of what constitutes "global civilization" - as it is, as we would like it to be).

Re: "That would be too large a project to keep separated from the rest of the economy."

Some questions:

1) How come?

I took the question to mean: "has anybody actually, physically built renewable power generation while strictly using only renewable sources of energy to do it?"

Well, to take photovoltaic (PV) solar power as an example...

The materials needed for the panels, wiring racking and inverters include silicon, boron, phosphorous, aluminum, copper, plastic, steel and other even more specialized substances. All these materials come from different sources around the world. They are then refined and manufactured into products in different places, before finally being assembled into a solar power array. So of course all this manufacturing and transportation uses the world's existing transportation and power infrastructure.

It would be impossible currently, not to mention a waste of time, to not use the existing infrastructure. That is, say, to build a separate renewably powered railroad just to ship solar panels and nothing else.

The question is in many ways a question about EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) or similar to such a question. The difficulties in calculating reliable EROEI figures have been much discussed on these pages. If one takes Jeff's optimistic figure of an EROEI of 20 for renewables in general, it ought to be feasible for renewables to generate enough the energy necessary to support their own re-placement. If the EROEI is much lower, such as 4, that possibility would be much more in doubt.

That question, like "Population"('what people NEVER want to talk about is population!'), HAS been answered again and again.

They produce useful energy after they have twice-over replaced the energy spent making them.. that should satisfy the theoretical demand you bring up.

The real pressing issue at hand today, is that we don't have much time (as far as we can tell) to change to other sources, so a large push made possible by some of our remaining Petroleum may well be the only thing to get us started in decent order. I don't see big-screens and EV Hummers as part of this equation.. if electricity starts to cost what it's really worth, I think a lot of people will start learning to play the piano again anyhow.. (only half joking) but maybe under CFL and LED light.

What would be your preference? These tools work.. got something else you'd want to use?

Has anyone in recent industrially revolutionized history demonstrated that you can build out and maintain a renewable energy infrastructure using renewable energy alone?

A strange demand to make.

Were the first railways built entirely with trains? Were the first coal-fired stations built entirely with coal power? Were the first LPG vehicles built entirely with LPG?

Why is renewable held to higher standards than fossil fuels have been?

I suppose Switzerland is pretty close to a renewable infrastructure running on hydroelectricity but that shows the weakness of renewables.
You have to have a lot of local renewable power to begin with.

Fossil fuels represent portable energy which quite nice to have.

Please explain.

Considering how much energy is used in buildings, why shouldn't their energy sources be predicated on local renewable power as available? .. and it certainly seems to be available in the Swiss applications, and so would seem to be a strength for them.

If you mean mainly the trick of solving transportation without liquid fuels, then the Swiss electric rails would seem to be another strength of RE, as opposed to a weakness.

(Is your tag supposed to be saying "Major Ian"? I only just put that together. I'm always saying something that sounds like a cross between Margarine and Marjoram or something..)

In the US, a little more than a 1/3 of energy goes to transport, a little more than 1/3 of energy goes to grid electricity, 1/5 of energy goes to industry and 1/12 of energy goes to residential and commercial buildings mainly gas for space heating, domestic water and cooking.
We should reduce that 9% of energy use that goes for space heating and domestic water heating(because some measures are easy to do) but it is a very small part of the problem.

Actually the Swiss are pursing the super efficient buildings under the 2000 Watt Society.

Switzerland is a small country with almost of the population of 7.8 million people concentrated in less than half the land area, the other half being rugged mountains or lakes so the population density on usable land is about that of Japan. In densely packaged cities, mass transit makes more sense( if more than 6000 p/sqmi), but where will you the energy to run it? Probably from coal.

56% of Swiss electricity comes from hydro and 39% from nukes.

What about countries that don't have lots of concentrated hydro (and non-RE nukes)?
The Swiss example might apply to a couple of countries only.

The Swiss haven't 'solved' the liquid fuel crisis with their electric trains--
Their per-capita use of oil is .032 bbls per day per person while the UK per-capita use of oil is .029 bbl per day per person and yes the US is .069 bbls per person per day, Holland and Belgium are both about .06 bbls per person, China is less than .006.

They are just using their abundant, cheap local hydropower power for mass transit. Transmit that electricity over a thousand miles and it won't be so cheap.

As for my nick, don't bother your pretty head trying to get it right.

Maintaining roads seems to be one limiting factor of the change-over.

I live in Boulder County, Colorado. I've recently had occasion to look at the area to the East to the Kansas border on Google Maps and Google Earth. It is filled with abandoned short haul rail lines. It seems that every section had a rail line through it. Mine is not a careful study, but it is apparent that the succession of transportation modes must have been: horse back, horse drawn wagon on the open prairie, rail, and then paved road. The many unpaved roads in the area are now referred to as jeep trails, but I'm sure they preceded jeeps by many decades. Small scale rail is much less energy intensive to maintain than black top paved road. It will be the main mode of travel after the planners have given up on trying to maintain paved roads. Why not go for it first, in preference to hanging onto paving and rubber tires?

Totally agree.

A lot of large mining equipment is electric.

to put this discussion in context, Rembrandt's monthly report has OECD current stockpiles. This amounts to 25 days at current consumption

we are very exposed to, and sensitive to, global supply and demand. if you superimpose the OECD stocks with the 07/08 spike, it becomes clear how prices react to supply shortfalls.

there has been discussion about the supply overhang, with a large number of supertankers acting as floating storage.
this amounts to 10 days for the OECD.

how low can the OECD usage go? in Leningrad in the WWII seige they boiled leather belts to make soup. "a prostitute in the family was better than a dead infant"

Though I don't necessarily agree with your assessment of the EROEI of solar or wind, this is a very, very good post.

My observations:

Even taking the pessimistic numbers, you say we cannot ever catch up. I beg to differ. Here's why:

1. We don't rely ONLY on solar PV or wind.
2. Converting to electric transport is more than 3X as efficient in energy terms. There is the potential of a two stage process: go after the low hanging fruit first; easier to convert global bus fleets and global short range (less than 200 mile) logistics fleets to electric than it is to convert automobile fleet. By a factor of at least 10.

3. We have more than enough coal, nuclear and shale gas to get us over the hump.

4. We can CUT BACK by not building some of the things on which we are currently WASTING energy. Examples are the recent housing bubble, the 80 million or so ICE cars we currently build every year.

5. We can CUT BACK by mandating drastically reduced automobile usage until the electric replacements are well underway.

So even the pessimistic model is in fact optimistic.

That said: do we have the political will to do it instead of squandering our last chance (shale gas) on transport only?

Place your bets gentlemen.

I've seen credible estimates that the EROEI of oil production itself is already down in the 10 -15 range, and probably dropping rapidly due to the extreme environments where remaining discoveries can be made (ultra deepwater, polar, etc.)

Considering the intermittent and highly diffuse nature of renewables like solar and wind I would hazard to guess that both the optimistic and pessimistic estimates given for the EROEI of renewables is off by a full order of magnitude.

And, as the world has already witnessed, long before we sail off the net energy cliff the dynamics of global resource competition will come into play.


How does intermittency or diffuseness affect the EROEI numbers that have been calculated for Solar or Wind?

These numbers derive from actual production of these systems, so that IS their energy capability using these diffuse and intermittent sources. Actual lifespan and maintenance needs are the other main factors involved.

"How does intermittency or diffuseness affect the EROEI numbers that have been calculated for Solar or Wind?"

Maybe I am misunderstanding what is being discussed, and I admit I am not a great master of higher math, but how could intermittency and diffuseness NOT affect the EROEI calculations?

If I am manufacturing windmill or plug hybrid car components just up the road from a nuclear plant and using electricity as a major imput, and using the components relatively close to where they are manufactured, it must have a different EROEI statistic by a huge factor than if I am manufacturing same components near a coal plant where the coal has to be constantly carried to the plant by railcars, and then shipping same components out of the country to be used somewhere across the sea. This would also have a huge impact on carbon footprint. The EROEI of manufacturing said components could even be impacted by time of day of manufacturing (running nightshift manufacture near a nuclear or hydroelectric plant would be a world apart from other times of day and other energy source for manufacture)

Diffuseness is one of the great complexities of EROEI and potential savings. Using wind where it works best, solar where it works best, methane capture from sewage near agriculture production and processing where manure and other byproducts are at this time a huge environmental liability (we wash thousands of tons of hydrocarbons right down the Mississippi or release it into the atmosphere every year in the form of manure and animal byproduct, along with useful organic nitrogen and phosphate fertilizer). If we used recaptured hydrocarbons (methanes) in manufacturing renewable technology, we are converting waste to transition to renewable. How complex does it then become to calculate EROEI?

The diffuseness issue becomes huge in talk of a hydrogen or methanol economy. In certain settings and places, we expel excess carbon that could potentially combined with waste hydrogen (methanes again, or natural gas product methanes that do not now have a viable market) to make methanol or other hydrocarbon fuels to be used in the transition to renewables. With Distributed Energy systems, we can produce the power relatively close to where it is being used, and use it in the transition. The EROEI numbers would be completely different than using our current outdated and wasteful logistical methods and models.

Intermittency is a special situation into itself. Developments in energy storage are moving at nothing short of blinding speed even before the nanotechnology revolution hits, which will only speed up development of an already breakneck fast moving industry. The issue of what can be manufactured or produced using off peak stranded renewable power (wind and solar) has barely even been touched. Will it make more sense to store large scale solar electricity or instead to do diffuse manufacturing of renewable and other technology with it, near the areas where wind is in oversupply at hours when demand is almost non-existant?

The complexities of calculating renewable EROEI are even more difficult than calculating the EROEI of fossil fuels, which is complex to the point of almost sheer guesswork...those who are hoping for simple answers are sure to be greatly disappointed. And all numbers are moving targets, because the technology is moving so very, very fast. We are on the front edge of a tidal wave of technological revolution and it is coming toward the shore of our economy so fast that many will be wiped out before they can figure out why or how it happened. We are letting little short term downturns blind us to what will be the biggest transition in human use of resources since the birth of the agricultural age several thousand years ago.

I have been begging, BEGGING my personal friends and associates to accept that major technical change is coming, and has always brought with it MASSIVE cultural change, political change, even changes in morality and philosophy and the whole understanding of purpose, wealth, power and "culture" in the largest sense. I am trying to make decisions that will help me to surf this coming wave, or at least ride the storm well enough not to be wiped out by out.

I will be as direct with you folks as I have been with some of close associates and friends, even though it sometimes annoys them: The Luddite thinking has to stop. The belief that technological change is suddenly finished has to stop. The belief that the line of development of science and applied science and design is slowing or stopping in place has to stop. If we do not get our head out of our ass in the U.S., we will become slave nations to the ones who are moving forward at an accelerating pace. The race is already on and the pace is accelerating at an accelerating rate. We are already late and behind...and we have not even decided whether we want to come off the starting line.

The destiny of your children and grandchildren (I have none, so I say yours) is at stake. No offense intended to Jeff Vail and others who are thinking along similiar lines, but do not be like the ones of over a century ago who told their children that heavier than air objects will not fly, horses will not be replaced or the human voice cannot be sent through the air. Read, look around you at what is happening, at how fast we have come in only a half a decade (who could define PHEV five years ago? Who but industry insiders had even heard of distributed power or a smart grid? And this is only the tip of the iceberg, the big changes are just now coming out of the shops and labs, and there are hundreds of them)

The sign should say, "TECHNOLOGY DRIVEN REVOLUTION" and then the big red arrow..."YOU ARE HERE".


Maybe I am misunderstanding what is being discussed, and I admit I am not a great master of higher math, but how could intermittency and diffuseness NOT affect the EROEI calculations?

Because EROEI is a measure of energy returned on energy invested, whether that energy comes steadily or in bursts with empty times is irrelevant to calculating EROEI.

The EROEI concept comes from business, from ROI - money returned on money invested. Let's say I spend $100,000 to build a little cafe. The returns - monthly income subtracting expenses - are as follows,

Jan -$3,000
Feb -$1,000
Mar +$2,000
Apr +$5,000
May +$7,000
Jun +$3,000
Jul -$2,000
Aug +$9,000
Sep +$0
Oct -$1,000
Nov +$3,000
Dec +$2,000
Total for year, +$24,000, ROI $24,000 / $100,000 = +24%

The monthly returns were "intermittent", but the ROI was still +24%. I recovered 24% of my original investment in a year. If future years are the same, it would take me four and a bit years to recover my original investment, after that it's all profit. That we had some down months, and the up months varied, this doesn't matter for the analysis of ROI. The months could be swapped around randomly, or they could all be +$2,000, we'd still get ROI +24%.

It certainly matters for an analysis of how to maximise overall profits, figuring out what factors made one month lose money and another gain it, and therefore how to get the best ROI.

The main issue I was trying to take up was Jerry's challenge that EROEI calcs for Solar/Wind are in his opinion off by an Order of Magn. because of these factors. My point was that diffusion and intermittency are already factored into the equation. The resource 'actuals' are being checked and revised all the time, and solar and wind systems are measured for their real output with unmatched intensity by proponents and critics alike.. the EROEI numbers are informed by real world production.

Maybe there are some unconsidered complications resulting from them, like the additional costs to windmills for damage done by the 50year gale or something.. but otherwise we have regional wind and insolation charts and latitude formulae, nobody doing solar 'Forgets nighttime and clouds'.. as is sometimes offered as a friendly reminder by the Devil's Advocates.. The uneven quality of the available resource is hardly a surprise.

As to the rest of your worthy Sermon, I couldn't agree more, but as Nick Spitzer reminded us Mainers at a recent Creative Economy Forum, 'It's alright to grow, but you should also try to KNOW what you're growing into.' Much of the first Industrial Revolution was, as Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park ".. so excited to see if they could, that they didn't stop to think whether they should!"

I don't blame 'Science or Machinery' for our mess today, and don't therefore feel they should be discounted as pure failures and abandoned. I don't think it's wrong to tinker, but we also have to relearn how to balance Intellect with Heart and Patience.

'Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.' Albert Einstein

(Responders, please don't confuse religion with Ideological Fundamentalisms.. which loudly brag that they are the only Real religions. Real Men everywhere should easily recognize the kind of distinction I'm trying to point to...)


Thanks for a an interesting and very reasoned reply, and your points are very well stated and well taken.

I agree with you that intermittency should already be accounted for, my point was that some of the "costs" being assigned to coping with intermittency are possibly not accurate due to advancing technology.

On diffusion, all the models I see are based on the old fashioned logistical model of (a)produce at point a (b)move energy to point b, (c)consume and cope with byproducted at point b...I am not saying this is a bad model (it's the only one we have in many ways) but the economics become completely different if we consider producing and consuming at the same location (on site solar for example, or wind used to produce something at or near the site of the wind plant).

As with most technology, the first generation technology is nothing more than the bridge to the confluence technology that will follow (as the hybrid car was the bridge to the plug hybrid). My main point is that if do not even build that first bridge, we cannot know what is on the other side of the river.

Thanks again for fascinating discussion...:-)


Considering the intermittent and highly diffuse nature of renewables like solar and wind

Renewables as a whole are right now much less intermittent and diffuse than may appear from this discussion (counting non-commercial biomass as renewable). Here's an estimation of their use for this year in Mtoe, 17-18% of world energy consumption in total.

737 for Hydro
1340 for Biomass and Waste
33 for Geothermal
68 for Wind
27 for Solar

Methodology from the BP statistical energy review, plus an assumption of 50% efficiency for solar and geothermal heat.

The political problem I see is that in the US at least there is the danger of what in effect would be a dictatorship. If it takes over 75 GWy to compensate for just a 1 million barrel per day shortfall that means the construction of a new nuclear power plant equivalent each week. A 5% decline rate means a replacement rate about 4.5 times that in the first year or close to a new nuke plant equivalent every day. A democracy simply couldn't put together the political will to pull this off. Just look at the opposition to preventing 20,000 premature deaths per year due to a lack of proper access to health care services. The opposition is all about not raising taxes on the few rich. The same thing about opposition to reasonable climate change prevention measures. Cap and trade is now being framed as just a tax increase from the liberals in Congress. How will our far right media respond to long lines at gas stations which have empty tanks? They will blame environmental protections and high corporate tax rates preventing the development of shale oil and further development of tar sands. Acts of violence by those waiting in lines will lead to calls for "law and order" which only right wingers can provide. They will use the Patriot Act and lock up their political opponents as "terrorists". Those complaining will be labeled as unpatriotic. Any illusion about democracy in America will disappear in the name of national security and restoring economic growth.

Thomas Deplume -

I fear we in the US are well along that road already.

The powers that be will never admit to the real cause of our energy problems, but rather will seek to blame it on someone else, and in doing so will create false justification for further foreign military adventures.

The masses in the US will respond favorably to whomever paints the most lurid picture of foreign and domestic anti-Christian 'terrorists' and hippy pinko environmental whackos as being the root of our energy problem. Get rid of these, and we're home free on energy.

Nightmare scenario: President (drill,baby, drill!) Sarah Palin inaugurated in January 2013, and ringing in a new era of global Christian energy policy.

I tell you, it's getting harder and harder to keep the faith.

I tell you, it's getting harder and harder to keep the faith


They will use the Patriot Act and lock up their political opponents as "terrorists".

Great idea. Start with the climate change scamsters.

"If it takes over 75 GWy to compensate for just a 1 million barrel per day shortfall that means the construction of a new nuclear power plant equivalent each week... A democracy simply couldn't put together the political will to pull this off.

A free market could push this off, if nuclear wasn't so non-lucrative. What we are are lacking are the proper incentives (antecipating peak oil effects, like with a carbon tax) and stable market conditions. (Even so Nuclear may not be feasible, but the other alternatives are.)

I think there is a typo in what is perhaps most important sentence in this post...

My answer: the decline in NET energy produced from oil, not the decline in overall production.

I assume that should read "replace the decline in NET energy."

...which is a key point which I've raised in these discussions before. Why replace all of it?! I mean, if I needed another post to convince me that maintaining BAU by substituting renewables for oil was impractical or impossible, this would be a good one. But I was convinced of that long ago just by looking at generally accepted EROEI figures for oil and renewables.

At this point I'd be far more interested in looking at other curves for scenarios where we don't fully replace oil decline. For example, given how much we are currently investing in renewables, what would we expect our net energy curve to look like? What level of investment would be necessary if our goal was, say, to stop decline after 10 (or 20, or 30) years and stay flat after that? Etc., etc.

For example, given how much we are currently investing in renewables, what would we expect our net energy curve to look like? What level of investment would be necessary if our goal was, say, to stop decline after 10 (or 20, or 30) years and stay flat after that? Etc., etc.

The thing is, Ben, that after 10 (or 20, or 30) years the decline will stop if the population drops to, say 800,000,000 worldwide. Actually, IMO it will overshoot the sustainable level, and then rise. It may actually take somewhat longer. Greer says hundreds of years. I think more like 50 to no more than 100 because we have multiple crises at hand. Between starvation, weather related deaths, rising oceans and lack of clean drinkable water... well, my vision of the close in future is a bit grim. Farther out, though, I have hope, and I educate and train my grandchildren so that they might be useful in maintaining some level of civilization.

Unless we can convince "Joe Plumber" that:

1. A big problem actually exists.
2. A solution will require his participation.
3. It is possible to live a full, happy life without vulgar levels of consumption.
4. His self-worth does not need to be defined by the horsepower of his toys or square footage of his home,

then none of the computer models or excellent math matter.
A commercial running as I type claims that "we have a hundred years of clean natural gas". We might start with truth in advertizing. "Relax, y'all! All is well"............

We live well off-grid. We have a microwave, fridge, a (forgive me) big TV, an electric coffee grinder, etc. No A/C, our house was built to cool/heat itself. With careful design, careful selection of "stuff" and a little user participation we live well on a fraction of the energy that our neighbors do. Our home cost less per square foot than theirs did to build (including alt energy). A new neighbor came to a gathering at our home and when he wouldn't believe that we weren't connected to the grid, I proved it to him by showing him the power room and PV arrays. Rather than being wowed, he became angry and left. He later told a friend that I was a "Lying-ass liberal" and that "people like me are what's wrong with America". His programing won't allow him to accept that his way is not the only, best way to live. So I ask you: how do you re-program billions of people? If you can't, all of the above is sort of moot.

The models and the math are for the people that might have to craft policy. Agree that the rest don't matter as much.

Thanks Web,
I guess I'm just frustrated that policy these days is slave to perception and magical group think. Ah! What a species...

" We live well off-grid "

Do you have a backup generator? Do you use propane or natural gas?

Aw Bill!
Guilty! Yes we have a small diesel genny. Used 60 gals. of bio diesel and @ 45 of conventional fuel in '08. We put 225 gal. of propane in the tank in Oct. '08, about 40 remains. We also have a woodstove and solar that both heat water in a 400 gal. tank for the radiant floor and domestic HW. Passive solar and thermal mass provide most of the heat. Used @ 2.5 full cords deadfall firewood last winter.
My brother (Nearby and similar size house) spent $3100 plus on (cheap TVA) electricity and used over 1300 gal. of propane. He also heats with wood. He figures he used 5-6 cords last year. I feel the math works pretty well in my favor.
I know where you are headed 'cause we live it everyday. Our lifestyle, home and mindset are all about seeking reduction in our econ/energy/carbon/environmental impact with minimal effort and lifestyle impact. We do this because it's fun, cheap, and I get a sense of accomplishment from it, motivated by mostly selfish reasons. We are lucky to be in a situation where we have the resources, but understand that not everyone can do what we have done.
Its all about mindset. If we all spent more time chipping away at the energy/carbon block (as I am always doing), we could collectively accomplish much. If most of the 6+ billion people on Planet Earth don' won't matter much if I have to cook with wood instead of propane. It won't matter much if we have to turn things off until the Sun shines again. I gave up on trying to affect policy a while back. All we can do is set an example and try to change minds OAAT. But you guys are great! You give me ammo in my tiny war on ignorance and waste. Your top-down aproach to change is courageous, and hopefully not futile. I feel that a bottom-up approach is at least as important. Do I think we can turn things around in time to avoid the "Long Emergency" or the "Die-off"? No. But who would we be if we didn't try? My intuition tells me that Mother Nature has handed humanity it's hat and is showing us the door. Such is life on Planet Earth. Peace, Bill!

G. Thanks for the information. I think you are doing a great job.

I also enjoy working on projects similar to yours. But, not everybody wants to be an engineer.

For many people climbing on the roof to maintain solar panels or changing the oil in the diesel is drudgery. Others will simply neglect it until the diesel seizes up from lack of oil.

For many people, finding a corroded connection on a battery or starting a balky diesel when it is -20 deg F is as challenging as performing a space walk on the Hubble telescope.

A friend of mine has a neighbor, an elderly widow, with a solar/gas water boiler that provides hot water and room air heat. He helps her as much as he can, but she has still spent a great deal of money maintaining the system.

I like engineering, but making every home an engineering facility has serious cost and risk factors.

So I think the AVERAGE person would be better off if we invested in a massive R&D program to develop ways to make energy cheaper than fossil fuel, produced by power plants maintained by well trained and equipped people.

Hi again Bill.
You're right. I wouldn't wish my system on anyone at this point as it is an ongoing experiment. If I die tomorrow my wife is probably screwed. I am obsessed with adapting old or existing technology to new uses and my son says I'm a mad scientist. If I may point you to some sources like Homepower Magazine ( ) you will find that most of what I have assembled myself is now very mature, seamless technology. The new grid-tied PV systems include roof integrated PV (50 year roof shingles that make power) and flexible film PV that laminates to metal roofing. The grid-tie inverters are an all-in-one unit that mounts to your meter box and runs your meter backwards when you make extra power. Some have battery backup for power outages. These are virtually zero maintenance. In the event of a problem you contact your installer much the way you would call an HVAC guy if your heat goes out. Many companies now offer online monitoring and inform you of a problem before you become aware of one. They will also send you a monthly statement online of your gross/net power production including a financial breakdown. Codes are also very strict. Most areas require RE equipment to be installed to commercial standards, especially if you utilize the local/state/federal tax incentives available today to a lot of people. Currently, tax credits/incentives combined with historical low prices for PV panels and govt. or utility sponsored financing make these systems quite affordable to many. As for cleaning solar panels, this is something I rarely do. The rain washes them clean (they're built that way). Sometimes a bird will take a big crap on a panel and I'll just hose it off. Sometimes I'll wash them 'cause it makes me feel good, but it doesn't seem to affect their production much. Leaves and snow will, though. Germany has a great program, as does Japan, I understand. The Germans wouldn't spend the money if there were serious issues with maint./reliability.
Solar hot water systems are equally (if not more) mature. New systems (as seen in this months issue of Homepower) are self-contained units that can connect to your existing water heater (although if you take long showers as I do, I recommend a larger tank) and can pay for themselves quickly in most climates. Solar hot water is considered the most cost effective application of the renewables and has the potential to mitigate huge amounts of carbon. If I was King, it would be mandated for everyone.
Passive solar is just a matter of design. The only problem with passive solar is if you don't do windows. Other than keeping the curtains closed when the sun isn't shining, there's nothing to it. Even the curtains can be automated. The temp does fluctuate a little more than with a conventional HVAC, but we are used to it.
As for off grid and generators: It is more costly and requires more "chores". My batteries are commercial forklift batteries to which I added an automatic battery watering system. Lead acid batteries need water or they will fail quickly. Fully charged, we can go several days on "essential loads": lighting, fridge, controls for hot water, etc. We try to do laundry and run the dishwasher, etc. on sunny days. If its cloudy we read instead of watching TV. All non-essential loads are on switches and we have meters so we know how much power (watts) we are using. If usage seems high we go looking for a reason. Often its something like a guest left the lights on in the guest room. Fart fans in the bathrooms are on timers so they can't be left on too long. Hallways have motion switches. Closet lights have door switches. All of the entertainment stuff, TV,etc, is on a wall switch, so when they're off, they're OFF. Appliances are conventional "Energy Star", chosen for efficiency, but not fancy or expensive. All lights are CFL (although I see LEDs in my future).
Living off-grid teaches you to respect the energy you use, because if you abuse it you run out (kind of like the Planet). The great thing is that it becomes second nature. I have a habit of turning things off when I'm at friends or family's homes (not always welcome).
When conservation and the Sun fail there's the dreaded, noisy, stinky Generator. Actually ours is quite nice. Its a 12 KW fully enclosed water-cooled diesel, and very efficient (for a genny). For those who are looking for an off-grid generator, don't go cheap! Propane backup generators such as Generac or Kohler air cooled are for intermittent use and don't last (In my experience). They SUCK fuel! Air cooled gas (petrol) generators, same thing. Propane is for cooking. Gas is for chainsaws. Our generator is set to autostart and charge the batteries if the battery voltage gets to a low setpoint. It is controlled by the main inverter (most off-grid inverters have this feature). It almost never autostarts, because I'll start it first. If we are gone for a few days and its cloudy, its nice to know we won't loose power. We went to a dog show one cloudy weekend and the generator didn't autostart (my bad: I left a compressor plugged in and the hose broke) and the inverters shut down. Our freezer needed defrosting anyway. Lesson learned.
IMHO living off-grid is analogous to how we all need to be living. Our energy parameters are well defined and if we ignore those parameters, OUT GO THE LIGHTS! Our use of non-renewables is minimal and (except for cooking) a last choice. Our way of living is geared towards NOT using petroleum based energy. When we do it is expensive, noisy, smelly, and has become sort of embarassing. It encourages moderation, requires little sacrifice. If we fail to follow the rules or invest in our modest infrastucture, if we fail to respect the limits to what nature can provide, nature shuts us down. These rules apply to all of you grid people, like it or not. "Poor little grid people, for they know not what they do..."
Choose wisley my friend.

p.s. Our arrays made 22.7 KWHs today (usable, adjusted for battery efficiency) Thats about $2.75 US to you. Priceless to us.

I agree with you Bill. The Australian governemtn has just spent $300M subsidising soalr PV for 1 Kw residential systems. These are grid tied and return the homeowner on a net tarrif basis. That means thaey get the same amoutn for the power they put on the grid as what they pay when they draw it off. This is actually a pretty good deal as the homeowner has paid very little for the system nad recieves all the benefit. What woorries me about this so called investment is what happen in ten years time when all thes systems start to break down. Replacement cost is so prohibitive that the homeowner won't pay for it and it is unlikely the governemtn will wnat to fork out another $300M. They have already scrapped that particualr scheme but have started a new less genreous one. It would ahve been much wiser to take the money and build a large scale solar PV far, somewher out in teh plentiful desert area of Australia and put in a dedicated crew with a long term maintenance program. What really gets me riled is that many of the homeowners would now like to see a gross feed in tarrfi of up to 3 times the normal reatail price paid to them. They can never quite understand that gross feed in tarrfis paid to them menas higher electricity prices for everyone else. There is a very good reason that electricity generation is done by experts at large scale.

Why not do both centralized and distributed RE? BTW, our first array of 10 80 watt Seimens panels has now been producing happily for 11 years at full rated output. The other day this group of panels was producing almost 1100 watts for a while, due to edge-of-cloud effect. Pretty good for an 11 year old array rated at 800 watts. These were damaged panels bought at salvage from a road sign conversion company. Most PV panels are warranted to output at least 80% rating for 25 years. Balance-of-system equipment is very mature and robust these days also. That being said, PV is getting cheaper and more efficient over time. Distributed RE requires little to no investment in infrastructure, as it just offsets a percentage of local useage.
Suppose we incentivize conservation and RE in a different way. Treat all utility customers sort of like they're off-grid, create a baseline for their electrical usage (sort of a virtual battery). This would require an energy audit of some kind (something many utilities will do now for free). If a customer exceeds their baseline usage they pay a penalty (kind of like a cell phone). If they conserve, they get a reward (cheaper rate). Frugal folks can "rollover" their KWH. People will be charged on a curve. People who invest in RE can use the power to increase their baseline, or, in effect sell their excess KWH to their more consumptive neighbors. This will encourage people to have their systems maintained, and those who can afford it can just use all they want. Programs sort of like this exist. In many areas the water utilities are penalizing the crap out of people who use much more water than they require.
A funny thing about people: They have different reasons for "doing the right thing". A friend of ours is a hard-core republican. He does everything big. Big house, big business, big cars. Thinks global warming is a scam. A while back he asked me about our off-grid power system (I suspect he was worried about the huge power bill at his new house). I told him that, yes, its a big investment up front, but that prices for PV are way down right now. He was dragging his feet a little, but when I told him that the bragging rights were huge, his entire attitude changed. A few days latter I put him in touch with a good RE contractor, and he placed a big order. The other day I commented to him that he has a great mico-hydro site on his property. I think he's hooked! Now he doesn't just have a bigger boat, he has a bigger PV array (and some serious tax credits, too).
People are funny. Its fairly easy to convince a guy to spend $30.000 on a boat or bigger motorcycle. Talk to them the same way about RE and they may just go for it.

I'm regularly amazed at how insulated (yet poorly insulated!) our country is. Some folks are VERY attached to very parochial worldviews, and are so easily threatened, that when something different comes along, I think THEY feel like they're being told they are doing it wrong, whether that's the message or not.

I don't know that it's our job to 'change them all' in order to be successful. That guy that you made angry, you got under his skin. He's different now.. I don't know if that'll be a helpful change in this case or not, but I bet he'll be chewing on the term 'off-grid' for a while yet. Sometimes anger is a useful pivot point for a change.

In the meantime, what you are doing, or Taomom, or any of the other 'freaks' out there.. we're playing at the boundaries, looking for new fields to live around, and other people see it and it gets added to their vocabulary. Gradually. 'Off-Grid Bastards! Heard they have them at Home Depot now..' I was complaining about Whole Foods to my mom, who had started feeding us better in the late 60's when I'd become anemic for a spell. She said we might be a little grateful, that it was much harder finding even whole wheat bread back then. Whole Wheat Flour? forget it.. and it was really strange for the neighbors in Cincinatti. Can you imagine? Things change.

I think Bill wants to borrow your generator. He's in the shop, trying to make a point.

Bill and I also both know that my batteries will need replacing at some point, and we know there are few perfect solutions.
One near perfect choice we made was passive solar. I designed the house as a semi-circular sunscoop and calculated overhangs for seasonal shade (a very old concept). We plant pole beans and gourds in the spring to provide additional shade through the summer. High ceilings in the large main living space with windows high up let warm air out of the house in summer. Our living area becomes a large screen porch in summer, a sun room in winter. My cousin is an HVAC engineer (VERY conventional) and has been blown away by how well the structure performs (as have I).
With careful design and respect for sighting, passive solar could provide a huge reduction in building energy use. I feel that it could be incorporated into codes as have insulation, etc., but efforts to do so have been largely rejected. If every south facing structure was required to incorporate passive solar, if every south facing roof had PV and solar water heaters, if every structure had thermal storage incorporated into it's design, the impact on energy use and the following economic benefits would be significant. With proper design the net costs could be zero. One little chip off of a large energy/carbon block. If our home was on-grid, all electric, it's energy use would still be much less than my neighbors' homes.
People on this site know that solutions will be incremental.
Other "stupid solutions":
Gravel driveways. Don't pave anything that doesn't need it.
Green roofs. We're working on this one and the Germans require it in some areas. Properly built, can last decades or more.
Composting toilets (banned by code when we permitted our house).
Low maint. landscaping
Less parking in urban areas. A buddy in NYC sold his car because it cost too much to park it.
Trains, trains, (electric) trains (how I love the trains in Europe!) Most of the rail lines in our area are walking trails or overgrown.
Online schools
HUGE tax on ICE toys and inefficient vehicles. By law all funds go directly to new non-carbon energy infrastucture.
No federal funds for highway expansion, only for maintaining existing roads, more for conversion to public transport.
Carbon audit for all public projects.
Recycle! (our county facility no longer accepts glass, most plastics)
Constitutional amendment requiring Congress to declare war before committing forces!
I know that all of this is "U.S.-centric" stuff, but I know that change needs to start at home.
ps: My angry neighbor has a new Navigator FSP.
pps: I dreamed last night that the govt. forced me to connect to the grid (and to pay for it myself). Maybe this site is increasing my paranoia)

Thanks for all the details, Ghung.
and I do appreciate your patience. I can usually find mine, but sometimes it gets misplaced.

Easily provoked in these trying times..


The thing is, Ben, that after 10 (or 20, or 30) years the decline will stop if the population drops to, say 800,000,000 worldwide.

Strictly speaking I don't agree. Net energy from renewables is essentially a question of the energy humans choose to invest in renewable production, and the quality of the technology. If one assumes we are free to make any given choice of investement, population doesn't enter into it.

You're certainly right that such freedom of choice is theoretical, and our actual choices would be affected politically by world population and energy use per capita. Even then, though, I don't agree that the decline will stop when the population reaches any particular point. It depends on the choices the human species makes at all points along the way. It depends for example, whether sufficient knowledge of renewable power technology can be maintained while the population of the earth undergoes such a decline. And with a population of 800 million, the importance of individual choices is, you might say, 10 times greater than with a population of 8 billion. ;-)

Incidentally, you shouldn't discount the effects of too low a population on the ability to invest energy either. But I would be inclined to agree that a population of a billion people or so wouldn't really experience this problem vis a vis renewables.

But I would be inclined to agree that a population of a billion people or so wouldn't really experience this problem vis a vis renewables.

I think there should not be much question about this figure. It is the world population that existed in 1800 +/- 20%. Moreover the population was growing, so there must have been at least some fraction of that population that was not starving.

" I assume that should read "replace the decline in NET energy." "

Excellent point Jag. The full comment would be, “replace the decline in NET energy using alternate sources with an increase in NET energy of the same magnitude”

One problem is that it is not clear what the net energy change is for many technologies. Biodiesel, alge, corn ethanol etc. in some cases it is not clear if the sign is + or -.

Actually, when I read it again I realized there was no grammatical error. But I still think he should have put it differently because he is using 'mitigate' as a synonym for 'replace', and I don't think that fits the dictionary definitions. Mitigating the decline in NET energy is a lesser goal than replacing it, in my book.

The fossil fuel industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually. And it pays the rent for tens of millions of folks. It seems clear that any attempt to transition to renewables has to take into account what those folks who currently supply our energy are going to be doing after the transition. Their leaders are rich and powerful and will not go quietly into that good night.

So, realistically, any plans for transition have to take into account the economic/social transition of those whose lives will be disrupted or displaced. And they're not going to settle for a hearty handshake.

Hi Awb
Folks will have to do as I have. I used to ride submarines, then I built roads, then I built networks, then I built homes, now I groom dogs and grow things, live on less. Like every other species... adapt or die. Times get tough. So what. Life is good.
Teach your children well!

Don't think for a moment that I sympathize with the fossil crowd. But one cannot ignore their place and power in the current economic/social mix if one wants to create a new paradigm. They're just not going to let you take their livelihoods away so easily. So it's critical to try to find a way to accommodate and defuse their issues, otherwise we're just whacking ourselves.

Then there is the crowd who will see thier investments crash as the public purse is used to make the transition to renewables- or try to make it.

The guy who owns a store or apt building where the new street cars DON'T RUN.

The people who own and work in tourism dependent areas of the country.

The people who make thier living out of energy intensive luxury goods-winter flowers.

The rural people who will insist that thier lightly used roads be maintained.

Ad infinitum

All of the above.

And it is one of the main causes for having a number of different sovereign political entities on the planet, and sometimes even several political entities within countries.

The latter tends to be helpful once your lucky to sit in a place where they can interact safely.

The problem with this analysis, like many similar ones, is that it assumes we'll be investing in renewables on top of current energy and financial investments, rather than instead of them.

The world builds 50 million cars a year, so if we ask how we could build (say) 1 million train carriages on top of that, it looks difficult. But 1 million carriages could carry 75 million people... just like the 50 million cars currently do... so we build trains instead of building cars. Not so difficult.

Likewise, we are always building new coal, gas and oil-fired power stations. China's building a new one every week. If fossil fuels run short, logically we'll build less of them. So the energy and money currently invested in fossil fuels can go to renewables instead.

Asking how we can afford to buy renewables when we're spending so much on fossil fuels is like asking how I can afford a mortgage when I'm already renting. If I buy a home, I won't have to rent any more. If we build renewables, we won't have to build fossil fuel burning stuff anymore.

We already spend vast amounts of money and energy on power generation, power lines, roads, vehicles and so on. The question isn't "how will we manage to afford it?" because we already afford it, the question is "what will we choose to build?"

Instead of, or as well as. One works, the other doesn't.

I give the article a D for being poorly thought-through, but at least having pretty graphs, which always look convincing even when they're composed of entirely arbitrary and made-up figures, as here.

The fact that it ought to be EFFECTING (creating) a transition, not AFFECTING (altering) a transition takes the article's grade to D-.

Kiash, I don't rate the article as lowly as you, but I agree about that spelling (in uk at least, as mercun's have some strange perversions!). The clarifying principle is as follows: the verb meaning "to bring (something) into effect" (" the effective date..") is "to effect"; the verb meaning "to hAve An effect (on something)" is "to affect".

As I write this post, I am watching the third hour I have viewed so far of coverage on C-SPAN of the ACORE (American Council Of Renewable Energy)convention, ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING.

Speaking now(5:09AM) is Hermann Scheer, German Parliment member and EUROSOLAR President. Scheer is a visionary, a passionate speaker, and brilliantly clear thinker. Stunning, absolutely stunning to listen to the clear and confident thinking of this man define the goals, and then define the headway that Germany is already making on renewable energy, progress that Americans say SIMPLY CANNOT BE DONE.
Scheer makes the American thinkers sound like defeatist whiners, it is so stunning to hear such clear belief in the human mind and human ability...

A few great quotes from Scheer:

"The bad news is that we are beginning to fun out of fossil fuels, but the good news is...we are beginning to run out of fossil fuels."

"We supported renewable energy in our country simply because it is the higher value form of energy for the society in terms of benefits."

"No technological revolution has ever occurred due to an international treaty. It has occurred because one group took the steps and made the advances and created a wave and others in other nations followed. DON'T WAIT."

"No one said that the word processor should be delayed to protect the interests of the makers of the typewriting machine."

At the end of his speech he was met with a sustained and loud round of applause, and young faces in the audience were absolutely rapt with interest and excitement in his ideas.

The German history of ideas and technical advances must have been present in Scheer's mind: In 1885, Karl Benz created a gasoline powered tricycle that had less power and performance than most riding lawnmowers have to day and birthed one of the greatest technical, cultural revolutions in world history. Now,124 years later, a thinker of our times is visualizing the age after fossil fuel as clearly as Benz had seen one of the great technical breakthroughs of his age.

These are fascinating times, I only wish I were young enough to see more of this great revolution as it truly begins to bear fruit. What a time to be alive, but what an age our children get to see, the birth of a truly modern, truly clean, truly humane technological age.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) gave a remarkable sppech, and as he and Scheer stood together they recieved a standing ovation and another long round of applause. Markey had a great quote from Adlai Stevenson...a fan of Adlai cheered Adlai on by saying, "Adlai, EVERY THINKING VOTER IS WITH YOU!" Adlai Stevenson said, "well, that's great, but I need a majority." Every thinking American should begin to see soon that we potentially are on the cusp of a great age IF we decide to take the lead now...even if most Americans don't yet know it.


Thanks for the heads up on that..

I believe these are the videos of this event.. don't have time to watch yet.


A politician saying he can do something is far from constituting proof that it can be done, or even strong evidence thereof. And even if Germany indeed can, others might not, as it is a nation unusually high in techno-skills and communal-mindedness (indeed K Marx originated there).

RobinPC, you said something very interesting..."even if Germany indeed can, others might not, as it is a nation unusually high in techno-skills and communal-mindedness (indeed K Marx originated there)."

I don't think the Americans will ever be high in "communal-mindedness", but we can work on the technol-skills, that can be improved.

You also said "A politician saying he can do something is far from constituting proof that it can be done, or even strong evidence thereof." Of course the inverse is also true...a doubter saying something cannot be done has never stopped it from being done.

One major motivation for Germany making advances in renewables is simply because they know they have no choice: They haved virtually no home energy compared to their consumption, they are already "localized", compacted together by the size of their nation, and without a renewables plan, there really is no path forward for them. They do not have the luxury of going off into the hills individually and living like a frontier settler, a fantasy of many Americans that causes us to be delusional. The amount of space we have in the U.S. is actually a liability in the way it causes Americans to always believe that if the going gets rough, you just go somewhere else. The Germans cannot so easily fool themselves.


Jeff, My view is getting ever more certain (than it already was) that the "technically" possible is made irrelevant by the political impossibility, as per my 2005 book

Contrary to brilliant Rob Hopkins's theory that in a crisis everyone will pull together and unleash some mythical "collective genius of the community", we currently are seeing labour disputes in the Royal Mail and in airlines, an entrenched hate-war dominating the question of global warming, the Oz parliament heavily voting to not have peak oil, governments around the world subsidising yet more oil-fueled autos, all the establishment voices continuing to hope for a resumption of growth as if they were not analogous to an alcoholic hoping for the next delivery of cider.

For these reasons I reckon my project to change the inverted-meritocracy system (described in that book) is almost certainly too late now, and instead the wise priority is to get one's lifeboats/Arks ready for the coming deluge as per

"For these reasons I reckon my project to change the inverted-meritocracy system (described in that book) is almost certainly too late now, and instead the wise priority is to get one's lifeboats/Arks ready for the coming deluge..."

Some of us will continue to do both so that we can go quietly into the night, whatever happens..

Keep your head down, your powder dry

Some of us will continue to do both...

Agreed. People against false dichotomies, unite! :)

But I did say priority, not exclusority!

About the only thing we can be practically absolutely sure of is that the corporate/global/industrial/growthbased system IS going to collapse within a decade or less. Speaking for myself and obviously not some voices here.

(By the way, I think you doubly err, as I don't think anyone here is working on the project that I stated, of properly changing the political/personnel-selection system. That's the only thing that would have made a difference, unlike banging on with yet more of the same campaigning efforts that I dismissed in my book intro (on the basis of decades of their failure).
Save the planet! Save the planet! [....], Save the planet!, Save the pla[glug, glug, glug, glug, glug, glug, glug, glug$$

Sorry RobinPC,
Didn't mean to offend! I have always felt that its better to have ones own house in order prior to attempting change abroad (a policy that I would hope my own country could adopt). I understand priorities. My priorities have changed in scope as well. We sometimes need to fight the battles we think we can win. The "Cowboy Church" in my town has a saying: "Roundin' Up Souls For Jesus, One At A Time!"
Yee Ha!

A very interesting article - designed to get people thinking, I guess. However, it seems to rely on an equivalence in energy sources that does not seem to work that well.

Wind turbines are largely made with non-oil, no Gas derived thermal energy - though oil and Ngas could certainly be used - it's just too expensive. The major energy uses for wind turbines are preparation of steel and concrete, some copper and aluminum for the wires connecting the turbines to the grid. Oil and Ngas will be used to supply raw materials for the blades (epoxy uses bisphenol A (benzene + propylene --> cumene; + O2 --> acetone + phenol; 2 phenol + acetone --> BPA; proplyene + O2/CL2 ---> epichlorohydrin; EPCH + BPA ---> epoxy monomer; + aliphatic amines (propylene/ethylene + ammonia) ---> polymer) and coal or Ngas gets used to make glass (--> fiberglass for blades). Sure, some oil is used for transport and construction, but most of the energy usesd to put a wind turbine up starting form raw materials is either coal or electricity (and that could be made by renewables, too, such as recycling scrap steel in electric arc furnaces to steel). Who knows, eventually iron could be made from H2, CO2 and iron oxide (H2 made from renewable electricity and water), but for now, it will be mostly coal derived.

So, we don't need to divert a lot of oil and Ngas into making mass quantities of wind turbines, and via things like electric freight rail, renewable electricity powered scrap steel recycling, electrolytic /electric copper heating, renewable electric aluminum preparation, we can take a lot of (not all, but a lot) of the oil out of wind turbine manufacture and installation. And there is always EtOH and biomass diesels for trucking, digging and crane operations.

As Starvid on Eurotrib says, Peak Oil is really a transportation issue, not all energy, though the transport item is REALLY important. And since electricity makes for 40% of the CO2 pollution presently being emanated, that would be a good item to concentrate on, which will help mitigate the lack of jobs problem as well as the Global Climate Change Problem. In the US, we still have a grossly inefficient transport system that is gasoline powered. By doubling the fuel efficiency from an average of about 22 mpg to about 44 mpg, we can cut half of our gasoline consumption. Then by cutting the vehicle miles traveled per year, another 50% of gasoline consumption can be chopped - implying less sub-urbia/ex-urbia, and a lot more electric mass transit, too. Maybe plug-in hybrids and all electric cars for the "short hops" around urban areas will also have an effect - after all, most gasoline is consumed in "short hops". As for diesel - electric freight trains could easily replace a lot of long distance trucking and also train diesel usage. As for jet fuel...maybe a lot less airplane flights will be undertaken. With about 75% of most fossil fuel usage thus replaced, some combination of biofuels and renewable fuels (such as reduction of CO2 via renewably made H2, or reduction of N2 with renewably made H2) could keep us going - those these won't be that cheap. of course, all that electricity replacing SOME big fraction of the oil would need to come from something renewable...which is where the wind turbines come in handy.

And then there is the ramp-up time. Even if wind turbine production is doubled every year in the USA until we are making a decent quantity of turbines (say, from 8 GW of capacity to 256 GW/yr of capacity), this will still take up to 7 years (= end of 6th year) to accomplish. This will not really take that much steel production, assuming ~ 400 tons/2.5 MW (capacity) turbine. It would also take about 400 tons of concrete per turbine (being generous).

8 GW/yr wind turbine capacity = 1.28 million tons steel/yr
= 1.28 million tons/yr of year = 2.8 GW average new electricity

256 GW/yr WT capacity = 41 million tons/yr steel + 41 million tons/yr of concrete
~ 90 GW new electricity per year

We have about 40 million tons/yr of excess steel capacity in the US - or if we need some new blast furnaces, big deal, do it.

As for storing electricity - its as easy as pumping water up a hill, and tapping the energy when it goes back down. Since such systems are at best 85% efficient, it makes more sense to minimize the storage, but that can only go so far given the variation in daily use between minimum and maximum usage. But, it can be done. Many would love the opportunity to do it. The harder thing to do is get permission form the so-called "powers that be" to do it. The engineering and construction is the easy part - the financing and permission will mean cutting off the good times to those presently benefiting (fossil fools (?)), and that is the most difficult part of such a plan. And the presently subsidized/still relatively cheap fossil fuel prices does not help much, either. As does the general level of energy ignorance among both the bulk of the population as well as the present ruling class (wealthy corporate types and associated governmental/academic groupies).


Converting trains to all electric should be easy since most locos are diesel/electric already. Converting the rail system itself is another matter. Suppose we expand the power grid and electrify the rail system as one. The same system that powers the trains can function as part of the new "Smartgrid". And trains can use regenerative braking to feed the same grid. A big electric train coming down a big mountain is one helluva generator. Replace the diesel engines with a capacitor bank or flywheels to provide a buffer.

Why 400 tons of concrete for a wind generator? Use lightweight concrete and build casements. Fill the casement with the same soil/rubble excavated for the foundation. Much less embodied energy in dirt.

As for pumping water back up hill: A good example is the Lake Oconee/Lake Sinclair system in Georgia (USA). Nuke Plant (Vogel I think) Pumps water uphill during off peak. Hydro plant generates during peak. I always thought it would be neat to connect Lakes Powell and Meade in S.W. USA and do the same thing using solar/wind. Of course, one would have to take into account reduced availability of water for other puposes (already a problem). Also, I believe 85% efficiency to be high. And there are environmental considerations. Still worth a look. Hey! Let's flood Death Valley! We can use solar and wind power to pump water into reservoirs in the Sierras as storage, though I'm sure there is some type of scorpion that exists nowhere on earth but Death Valley. But if China can flood it's most important cultural resource, what are a few scorpions in the way of progress.

All of these systems already exist in some form, somewhere. Nothing is more wasteful than re-inventing the wheel. We still have a big problem of scale.

Lightweight concrete is typically used where there is an advantage in reducing dead load. Light weight generally comes from aggregate choice. I can't immediately see any good reason to consider it in foundations for these towers.

Good point. So use regular concrete, just less of it. It occurs to me that regular aggregate has fairly high embodied energy, whereas some forms of concrete can use certain recycled materials. My point is to build some kind of big container and fill it with heavy stuff. Kind of like those basketball goals you fill with water or sand.

I thought it interesting when I spoke to my salesman John at my Nissan Dealer. Although uncofirmed he spoke as if he was least certain of what he was told. John said Nissan was planning to offer battery powered cars and they would be hitting the showrooms in 6-8 months. He said they would travel up to 100 miles on a charge. The cars would be equipped with GPS that would lead the driver to the nearest "battery change" station. The cars would be about the size of an Altima and seat five. He spoke of a price of $28-30k.

While I wouldn't think consumers would jump at paying 28k+ for a car that goes 100 miles before needing a battery change at current gasoline prices, it is a noteworthy development.

"Battery change station"! I had that idea a few years ago. If car batteries were standardized, say to slide into a compartment under the car, we could have robotic battery stations (replacing current gas stations) that could change your battery with a fully charged one. The station could diagnose discharged batteries for problems and remove them from service if required. You could be offered options :"Hello, Mr. Jones! Would you like the new Extended Range Duracell Battery Pack including a free carwash today?" As new battery technologies came on-line the changeover would be seamless. Larger vehicles would use more battery packs. For a fee, the system could run diagnostics on your car: "Mr. Finkelstien, our diagnostics center indicates that your car's bios is out of date. Would you like us to flash your system for you? All updates include a free half-liter Wild Bean Coffee today as well as the new MP3 single from 'Fuel Sucking Pigs'." Or: "Ms. Running Horse, our newly updated OverEnforcement Network indicates that you have two unpaid citations this week. We regret that your new energy pack cannot be inserted until all outstanding citations are made current. May we add these fees to your charges so that you may proceed? Thankyou Ms. Running Horse. Have a nice day!"

I haven't had time to read all the comments, but nobody seems to be pointing out that I think the author intended to say "...Effecting a Transition to Renewable Energy" etc. It is very common for people to confuse the words "effect" and "affect" (since they both have verb and noun definitions), sa well as "effecting", and "affecting". I know this is a nit, but hey it's right up there in the title!

Dick Lawrence

I already noted that.

Which is why you should read the comments. If you have time to speak, you have time to listen.

Wow guys! Picky? Yes. I believe my dad (PhD, English lanuage and Lit, Columbia) would have called it "Authors Choice". Since "transition" denotes change, "affect" works.
With much affection!

Irresistable force: Depletion of non-renewable resources, and the inevitability of our needing to run our economy only on renewable resources; this also means living with a lower standard of living, because it is doubtful that any economy can be sustained entirely on a renewable resource base with a per capita GDP much higher than about 25% of the present level in the US.

Immovable object: BAU Politics as usual - "The American Way of Life is Non-negotiable".

Irresistable force, meet immovable object.

The thing is, though, that it is not the American Way of Life that is non-negotiable. The only things that fall into that category are things like the law of gravity or the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Thus, it is pretty easy to predict which of the two will untimately prevail in the contest. Irresistable force will certainly beat out immovable object.

What is "Standard of Living" anyway. Relative to what? 25% of an "American standard of living" is still pretty high compared to much of the world. Many Americans are never content with their standard of living. Then again, some of the most content folks I know live on a fraction of what most Americans live on. They would likely tell you that their standard of living is very high because they have redefined "standard of living" for themselves. Is living with a 75% reduction in your energy consumption so bad relative to blackouts or social/economic colapse? I agree that physical laws apply. The idea that improved standard of living is reliant upon "growth" is true! Not economic growth. Growth as in "Grow up America!".