Our Energy Supply: Some Basics

If a person were to listen to Energy Secretary Steven Chu or National Geographic's Aftermath: World Without Oil, one might think that our energy problems are fairly minor and distant. We can easily add sufficiently renewable energy to substitute for fossil fuels in a fairly short time frame. All we need to do is put our minds (and pocketbooks) to it.

But if one looks at the situation more closely, one discovers that the situation is quite different. Our energy problems are close at hand, and solutions using what are optimistically called "renewables" are distant and may very well sink the country further into recession.

Figure 1- US energy consumption by source, based Energy Information Administration (EIA) Monthly Energy Review Table 1.3.
*Year 2009 estimated based on data through November.

US energy consumption is already down quite a bit--some might say due to recession, but it seems even more likely that the result is the other way around--high energy prices squeezed the financial system. This in turn caused credit availability to drop and demand for oil, gas, and coal to drop. We have put a huge amount of effort and subsidies into wind and solar, but they hardly show up on the chart. Ethanol isn't shown separately in the chart this data was taken from--instead it is combined with wood and with other biofuels in a category called "biomass" in the EIA data. The biomass line has thickened a bit, but it is still pretty insignificant.

The following are a few observations about our current situation:

1. Even though wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), geothermal, and ethanol are called "renewables", they cannot be produced without fossil fuels, and need fossil fuels for maintenance.

In many ways, these energy sources should be called "fossil fuel extenders" rather than renewables, because they are very dependent on our current system. For example, growing corn for ethanol depends on tractors run by diesel for growing the corn, and natural gas or coal to power the ethanol plant. Corn is fertilized using fertilizers which are often imported, and sprayed with oil-based insecticides. Wind turbines require regular maintenance, and need to be part of an operating electrical system with fossil fuel back-ups. Solar PV will continue to make electricity once they have been made, but will not produce round-the-clock electricity unless they are part of an electrical system (which requires fossil fuels) or have battery backups which are replaced every few years (also requiring fossil fuels).

2. World oil production appears to have peaked. If it has not reached its maximum level, its maximum level is likely only a few years away.

Figure 2. World oil production ("Crude and Condensate) from EIA Table 4.1d from International Petroleum Monthly.

World oil production was increasing quite rapidly through 2004 (except for slowing down during recessions). In 2005, the rate of increase dropped, and production has been on a bumpy plateau since--although 2009 appears to be possibly headed downward--or at most on a continuing plateau for a while, before heading downward. There is no longer oil to be found which can be produced inexpensively--most of it was found long ago, and has already been pumped.

Newer sources of oil tend to be more expensive. If economies could really afford $200 or $300 or $400 barrel oil, and had unlimited capital, perhaps production could increase some more. But at some point, we run short of capital for more and more expensive new production, and the high price of oil tips the economy into recession and dampens demand.

Many analyses are reaching the same conclusion about world oil production. Just this week, a new study from Kuwait predicted oil production may reach a peak and decline in 2014. The International Energy Agency has also been talking about the possibility of a peak before 2020.

3. Whether the peak in production is from Peak Supply or Peak Demand, the result for the consumer is equally bad--recession, reduced job availability, and increasing loan defaults.

It does not really matter whether one puts the label "supply constraint" or "demand constraint" on the resulting drop in production--the effect is the same. Prices are still high relative to historical prices, even through the world is struggling to emerge from recession, as shown in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3. Spot oil prices for benchmark West Texas Intermediate. Graph by EIA.

Oil is essential for food production and transportation. Consumers tend to cut back on discretionary purchases (causing recession) or to default on their loans, if their budgets are squeezed by high prices oil prices. James Hamilton was one economist showing a link between high oil prices and recession.

4. Scaling up renewables to replace fossil fuels in current quantities does not look like it has much of a chance of succeeding, even in the long term.

One issue is the point made previously--it takes fossil fuels to produce renewables like wind and solar PV. Also, Figure 1 shows our success in scaling up so far has been quite limited. Scaling up ethanol further would require taking a huge share of our corn crop. Cellulosic ethanol isn't working out to date, and may never work out. Wood and other biomass is limited in supply, limiting production if it could be perfected.

There may be some particular applications of renewables which may turn out to work out well--for example, natural gas from waste, or biofuel from waste grease. But these tend to be limited in quantity.

Even if we were to, say, discover a way of producing biofuel from algae economically, it would years to work out the details of scaling production up, and a huge amount of investment (and fossil fuels to make tanks and other apparatus) to actually produce the biofuel in quantity. One would probably be looking at more than 30 years before the process could be scaled up sufficiently to start replacing a significant share of our oil production.

5. Natural gas will not solve all of our problems.

There has been considerable publicity about the US having "100 years of natural gas" available at current usage levels. There are several issues, however:

a. Natural gas will not run in our current vehicles. Fixing vehicles to run on natural gas, and adding infrastructure to deliver the gas, is likely to be expensive and take quite a few years.

b. If we were to use natural gas for transportation, supply would run out very quickly--perhaps 20 years or use, or even less. Look at natural gas use, compared to oil use on Figure 1.

c. It is not clear that the "100 years of natural gas" is available at prices consumers can afford. If the price is high, we may very well have the same "peak demand" issue we have for oil--people will not be able to afford huge electric bills and huge home heating bills--say double today's level.

d. Scaling up natural gas faces huge challenges. Our infrastructure is only built for the current usage of natural gas. Adding more pipes, storage, and end usage is very expensive and time consuming. If the timing of the new infrastructure is slower than the increase in gas production, gas prices are likely to plunge or stay too low for profitability.

e. There are concerns regarding "fracking" near major water supplies, such as that of New York City. Expansion of natural gas may not occur to the extent that many are hoping will take place in the 100 year supply numbers.

6. If increased drilling is done in the US and offshore, is likely to have modest beneficial impact on oil supply, but it is highly unlikely that it will solve our problems.

Gary Luquette, President of Chevron North America Exploration and Production recently wrote:

The good news: the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf] has significant potential. Over time, it could add 1 million more barrels of oil and natural gas equivalent a day--potentially representing a fifth of the current total U.S. oil production. Advances in technology could increase that amount dramatically.

One million barrels of oil and natural gas equivalent is great--certainly more than what we are getting from biofuels or from wind or solar. If one adds additional onshore production, it could be more than this, perhaps another 1 or even 2 million barrels of oil and natural gas equivalent a day.

But remember, this isn't even all oil--part of this is natural gas, the problems of which were described in Item 5, above. Compared to the world's oil supply, an additional one million barrels of oil a day about 1% of world oil production. Compared to US oil usage, an additional one million barrels of oil a day is about 5%. So the additional oil supply would be helpful, (as would the additional jobs, and reduction in needed imports), but it wouldn't solve all of our problems.

Also, if the price of the new oil supplies turns out to be too expensive (because, for example, the cost of drilling in deep water is too expensive), we may find that the new supplies are really more expensive than the economy can afford. Oil prices may remain below the cost of production, bringing a fairly quick end to new production--oil companies will soon quit production, if deep sea (or other new production) is clearly a money loser.

7. Renewables tend to be high priced. If our big problem with oil is high price, renewables will not solve our problems.

Subsidies only hide high price--the cost to the economy is high, with or without a subsidy.

If we can find cheap renewables, it would be in our interested to expand them as much as possible. But expanding expensive renewables should be done with great caution, in my opinion. We have no guarantee regarding how long the renewables will last--wind is likely only to last as long as fossil fuels supplies are available. Just because an analysis is done assuming that wind (or another energy source) will have a 40 year lifetime doesn't mean it will actually last that long.

Thanks for that analysis. Two questions:

1. What evidence is there that energy costs were a factor in the financial crisis? From what I understand, the unholy morass of finance leading to the credit crunch is quite capable of being responsible by itself. Is there any actual analysis that shows otherwise?

2. Is there a good analysis somewhere of the fossil-fuel input requirement for current renewable production? Has anyone considered how that might look if, say, renewable production was shifted nearer to known sustainable sources like hydro? I'm having a discussion on another blog about whether renewables must fall off a fossil-fuel cliff and am hungry for more information. (Trying to model the geographical outcome for my PhD.)

My inexpert input:

1) I recall for months as fuel prices climbed and took other prices up with it the economic news how the cost of energy should put us in recession, but our economy had shown inexplicable resilience. It didn't last, of course, but the recessionary effect of high energy prices has always been basic economics. The credit bubble was perhaps responsible for the delayed effect and hence the harder fall, I would guess.

2) not that I know of, and not for lack of effort searching. There's a variety of ways to look at it, with different perspectives leading to different valuations and different predictions. I have my own bias, but I don't know if its of any greater value than the next guy's.

Gail wrote:

"Renewables tend to be high priced. "

This is a rather blanket statement which both relative and incorrect in some cases. More expensive than natural gas generation? New nuclear?

[Renewables] can't be made or maintained without fossil fuel

There is significant heavy industry in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., aluminum smelting) that uses hydro power as a main source of energy, so this statement doesn't really hold water.

Also, electric service vehicles could certainly cover a fairly wide area, and EREV can cover just about anywhere with very little use of fossil fuels, so this part of the statement doesn't hold much water either.

[Renewables] should be called "fossil fuel extenders"

Because of the excellent EROEI, they should be called "fossil fuel multipliers" (that is, whenever fossil fuels are used to produce them).

One would probably be looking at more than 30 years before the [renewables] process could be scaled up sufficiently to start replacing a significant share of our our production.

1. I thought most people here understood that BAU energy use would be overtaken by energy source decline as a given. Extravagant wastefulness will become rare no matter what. So the point would be to identify levels of energy use that are sustainable and make that the target.

2. There is no supporting analysis for the 30 year estimate, especially in light of #1 above.

I think we need to look at what fossil fuels replaced as well. Mules, for instance, provided pretty good utility on the farm for low expense, and they were easy.

If we lose the industrial infrastructure to build, maintain and operate tractors, I think mules will be a much easier solution to that than a whole new infrastructure of "renewable" energies. Not that I'm against renewable energy in any way, but the utility of the choices must be considered. In most cases I think the simple easy paths will be taken, and in many cases that means just the road back to how things used to be done.


You make a good point. I think people get their eyes so focused on the "neat technology" that is going to "save" us, that they forget about low tech solutions that are much more sustainable.

Mules aren't exciting, but they are sustainable. More mules can be created, without fossil fuel resources. And they don't need to be manufactured and shipped around the world.

Actually, I'm a fan of low-tech solutions, such as bicycling and animal traction (subscriber to Small Farmer's Journal for over 10 years now). A gradual transition could be workable, if there are no market crashes, steep declines, and/or spreading resource wars. I don't have enough acreage to support 2 draft animals (one by itself runs the risk of behavioral problems), so have relied on human power for those things I can perform and contracted tractor services for the rest.

A mule to biodiesel comparison would be interesting. How much pasture does a mule need? To this we need to add the acreage to produce hay for when the pasture is not growing. Plus the grain needed for when the mule works. In the midwest soybeans produce about 50 gallons of biodiesel per acre, plus high quality mash for animal feed. A soybean harvest leaves 20-30 pounds of nitrogen in the soil.

Draft horses were replaced by tractors on good farm land. So it's likely the considerably increased caloric need of this much bigger animal is worth the cost.
But I could easily rebuild one of my walk behind rototillers to run on a heavy DC motor. I would rather spend my equss budget on those cute miniature donkeys.

dc, James Watt worked this one out when he made his improved steam engine back in the late 1700's. His first, brilliant move was to work out how much a work a horse could do, and coined the term "horsepower". Then he worked out the cost to own and feed a horse, and his company would supply an engine to a user, for no money down, and the user would pay him one third the cost of owning the equivalent number of horses. Which was cheaper? well, let hsitory be your guide there, and that was running the steam engines off wood, not coal.

A horse will only be cheaper if you have the land to feed it, that can't really be used for anything else. And, unlike a tractor, a horse/mule still needs to be fed even when it is not working

Oh Paul, that is so pre PO thinking. The correct answer now is always homey, feel good, and low tech.
But it could explain my bad luck with keeping a horse in a closet when not in use........

I don't disagree with homey, feel good and low tech - if you have ever used an old style steam engine you get all that, without having to deal with an animal bigger than you are.

Seriously though, for a farm, an acre of trees to provide fuel for woodgas fired I.C engines (more efficient than steam) will provide more work output than if that acre is dedicated to a horse.

if you have a teenage daughter, you will get more "satisfaction" from the horse, a boy, probably the engine!

In 1812 Thomas Newcomen's engine, approx. 80 hp, replaced a team of 500 horses.

Watt's external condenser, insulation and other improvements to the steam engine cut coal consumption by 75%.

The US had 25 million horses in 1920, for transportation and farming. By 1960 there were 5 million.

Paul, I think you meant 1712 - that was the year Newcomen came out with his engine. Watt did his stuff starting 1775,

Are you sure of your numbers? Newcomen engine were condensing, not positive steam pressure, and very low cycles/minute - they could never do 80hp, though the later Watt ones could.

Sorry, 1712 is correct.

The old Newcomen engines were enormous to make up for their inefficiency.

No question that fossil fuel technology does more work than draft animals, but the question would be whether the replacements for fossil fuel tech will be renewables that look and act like what we have now, or whether simpler solutions are more likely. One of the problems is also capital, which seems to be diminishing faster than fossil fuels.

Looking at it in another way then: in our current condition of diminishing abundance and scarce capital, what kind of choices do we make when something breaks? A couple of years ago I had a car go south, and the conventional choices of fix-or-replace were not available due to lack of capital and credit. So I bought a bicycle, and that's been my basic transport since. My electric dryer quit working awhile back also, and I very happily put the clothesline back up. A farmer might see the same kinds of choices at some point if a tractor or machine fails - without capital you just find another way. A mule is a good example, in that its a machine that builds itself, so to speak; no factory needed, just simple feed (and a horse & donkey). Certainly work becomes more or less harder and returns are potentially diminished, but that's the basic equation when you trade down to a decreased utility.

You can propose that renewable energy can replace fossil fuels, and I can agree, but the financial situations caused by fossil fuel scarcity may still push the choice beyond reach for most people, and lead us rather to the same simple solutions that worked well enough before.

scarce capital?

Check interest rates. Check inflation. Not enough places to put capital.
Per person efficiency has increased so much that we have employment problems.

You personal situation simply does not reflect the huge amount of wealth in the western world. I guaranty there are more than a few people here with seven figure net worth.

The "huge amount of wealth" is a mostly a lot of shares in companies that have much less real wealth than their share price would suggest.

If you do some digging you will find that financing for capital projects IS hard to get at present, because any lenders that actually have money are very cautious. Companies looking to borrow are having to pay higher interest rates - Bombardier rail, one of the world's leading passenger train companies, is having trouble getting $1bn in financing and has had to offer to pay over 8% interest to get it.

So. maybe capital is not "scarce" , but if it so expensive that your project is uneconomic, then "affordable capital", which is the only useful kind, is indeed scarce.

That's a better way to put it, I suppose - cautious lenders rather than scarce capital. The results are about the same. Again going back to personal experience (because most everything else is just repeating anecdotally other people's personal experiences) I've been trying to sell a commercial property for a year and a half now; having shown it many times to people with good ideas and motivation, it still sits unsold because no one has been able to secure financing. My realtor suggested I apply for a gov-guaranteed small business loan and put it to use myself, as a government loan guarantee is about the only way anyone else is going to get financing, but I can wait quite a while longer.

Back in the 70's, 8% was consider a good interested rate. IMO, if you business model can not survive with 8% interest/Cost-of-Capital, you have a bubble business model.

Or another way to think of this,

Would you personally buy bonds (defer consumption) in Bombardier Rail?

True in the 70s 8% was a good interest rate, but that was because for much of that decade inflation was 5% - 10%. I paid 8.4% for my house in 1970 and ended up with a good deal. With inflation somewhere around zero today 8% doesn't look so good. The Federal Reserve bank has to buy assets to push the economy because it can't cut interest rates below zero.

I would be vary wary of buying long term bonds in Bombardier. The company has been threough numerous upheavals, relies a lot on favours from the Cdn gov, which it may not get in the future, it's business jet business can only go in one direction, and it's rail business is has very thin margins. IT's projects (and all passenger rail projects) have a history of going way over budget, so govt's are very wary of starting new ones.

All, up, I'd want a high risk premium to loan this company money, and that clearly is what is happening. Soon the rates they have to pay will eat up any profit they will make from their projects.

One critical question, which has only been touched on is "How much land must be used to feed horses/mules and will thus reduce land used for production of food for people or to support of wild species?

One basic rule of thumb from the pre-tractor era was that 1/4 to 1/3 of the prime land on a farm must be used to feed draft animals. So for a 40 acre farm (pitifully small in 1890) one would expect to dedicate 10 acres to feeding your mule in order to farm the remaining 30 acre's for cash crops. For a typical midwestern farm, the size of the farm would have been 160-320 acres of farm land. There might have been additional pasture land used to help feed both horses and cattle. So for a 160 acre farm you would need at least 4 horses/mules (My father indicated that it would more likely have been 4-6 draft horses/mules for farming + 2 horses for handling cattle and transportation. So if we use the more realistic 10 acres per animal, then a minimum of 60 acres was needed just to feed the power engines.

Remember, pasture only feeds the horse during the summer. You have to raise hay & oats to feed the horses from September to May. Saying that you'll use pasture hay doesn't help. One way or the other you have to account for the land to feed the horse. This basic rule accords with what I learned from my father, who grew up in the pre tractor era.

Another cost, not mentioned here, is the cost of draft-animal powered agriculture in human lives. Agriculture is dangerous now, but was even more so in the pre-tractor days. Horses are temperamental beasts. They panic easily and in the good old days, horse (or mule) runaways caused many deaths on the farm. My father and his siblings all have tales of nearly getting killed in accidents with the horses (no mules on our farm). In fact the oldest brother was killed in a farm accident as a teen-ager. This kind of fatality rate (1 / 8 children) was not unusual

Do you have any idea how much hay or grain can be grown on 10 acres, vs how much an animal consumes? You'd have to be looking at some pretty poor quality land to require 10 acres/animal. In the midwest I'm quite confident you could do it with half that. If you're talking oxen instead of draft horses, probably even less still.

An Animal Unit Day for cattle is 26 lbs of forage for 1000 lbs on the hoof. For a pair of smallish 1250 lb oxen that's 12 tons a year. Three or four acres, they eat about 80% more when working.

You can grow about half as much as yoou think you can, as a good rule of thumb.

I have read that horses were trained in the past to handle loud noises and not panic during battles, even in the early Gun Era. Couldn't work horses recieve similar training? At a ratio of 1 death per family average (Thats a reasonable number right?), I would think something like this would be prioritised.

To convert to using animals on farms, the farms would need to be subdivided. An Acre is the amount of land that a man and two mules can plow in a day. This is like a full 14+ hour day. From my earlier post, it takes 20 acres to feed the mules, so i have to spend 20 days on planting corn for them, and only after this, can i work on planting the cash crops.

To me, the use of animals on farms is totally incompatible with the large industrial farms of today with thousand of acres of land under plow.

Ten acres of corn for a mule? At a modest 50 bu/acre yield that's 77 lbs/day.

On a hill side in the ozarks, without fertizers.

Was 50 bu/acre modest yield in the 20's and 30's?

Also, my ancesters were poor,so they would have no cash to buy corn to feed the mules if there was a drought or otherwise a bad harvest year. This would have made them very conservative on making sure to have more than enough corn.

Was 50 bu/acre modest yield in the 20's and 30's?

Maybe. My grandpa was getting slightly better on hillsides in the knobs region in kentucky in the 20's and 30's without fertilize. Cut it by 2/3, its still a lot of grain for a mule. When the army had a calvary they fed mules 9 lbs of grain a day, with hay of course.

Also a Small Farmers Journal subscriber here... best magazine I've ever subscribed to, regardless of subject!

I've gotta say that I think James Watt was a bit off on his calculations, or perhaps he was using a mini-pony. My team of Belgian draft horses (that's two horses) is roughly capable of doing half the work of my old Ferguson 30hp tractor, which would mean that each horse can crank out about 7hp on a sustained basis. Assuming a relatively constant ratio of work potential to weight, Mr. Watt's horse would weigh less than 300lbs. But since he was in the business of replacing horses, it was to his advantage to minimize their stated capabilities.

A number of years spent replacing systems our dilapidated sailing boat (also a home at the time) taught me that complexity breeds failure, so I've become a big fan of simplicity and low tech solutions. I'm going to look at my potential next "car" tomorrow (or rather the engine of my next car) -- a driving horse.

Based on our feed consumption, I'm thinking a single draft horse or mule could easily be sustained on 5 acres (that's hay/pasture/grain).

The fact that you need both horses and donkeys to produce mules doesn't seem like much of an obstacle to me. Yes, mules are sterile, but so are gelded horses. You need two animals to create another, regardless of species.

Gail -- I think your articles and opinions are right-on. It's easy to look at any one system and see how it could adapt and be saved in the post-peak environment, but I think many people are missing the complex relationships between all of our industrial systems, which will become the true achilles heel. Social and financial stability are probably two of the most important aspects to maintaining any complex system like those that run our country now. In an era of declining energy, I figure both are going to decay quite readily.

David, I think Watt used an average horse, not a draught horse, and it was a rate of work that could be sustained all day by said horse. I think you will find the horsepower of an old steam tractor to be more accurate. A 5hp steam tractor would probably come pretty close to five of your horses. The old Fergies are great little tractors, but I doubt you woud be getting your 30hp out of it today. Also, by the time you get to drawbar power, after gearbox etc, and wheel slip, you only get about 80% of what engine puts out. The horse was measured by what it put, but it's lungs ("engine") can probably operate at 1.5 hp.

Lots of old time boaters comment about old marine engine's that had "horses" and modern outboards that have "ponies" if you measure the output of an outboard engine running at 1200 rpm instead of 5000, it will probably be only 10-30% more HP than the old engine of same displacement.

That said, your 5 acres will produce about 25tons of biomass a year (trees), with an energy content of 450GJ. Using it as woodgas in your tractor engine, to produce 10kW (about 10hp at drawbar), you will be able to run your tractor for 2500 hours/year (6.8hrs/day). Not the charm and character of the horses, to be sure, but probably more productive.
With IC engines, we always get the "peak" horsepower rating, but if you run it at that, continuously, you will get 100's of hrs of engine life, not thousands.

With sailboats, I blame the complexity there on "racing", you get 100% more complex (and 200% expense) for a 10% increase in performance, and -100% enjoyment when something breaks! But for mechanical systems in general, simpler is better. I think where we went wrong is that it is easy to make electronic systems complex, and even easier with software, and get improved performance. But it doesn;t work that way with mechanical systems, though engine makers have tried their best. Toyota trumpeted their "drive by wire", where the gas pedal is not directly connected to the engine throttle body, but through computer control to optimise the system. Then they have the predictable problem of electronic failure, causing runaway, with no direct control/kill switch. No industrial system would EVER be designed that way.
Of course, that compelxity makes it hard to repair, which makes it more likely to throw away and replace. This is actually cheap with software, and even electronics, as you are replacing a little material and a lot of intellectual property with new stuff. With mechanical you replace a lot of material and a little IP with the new -, which is fine, as long as material is cheap and available.

David, I think Watt used an average horse, not a draught horse...

Someone close to Watt claimed he intentionally was conservative on the stated output for the engine so it would perform better than claimed when seen by potential investors.

I know Watt used what he felt was an "average" horse, which is why I divided my draft team's estimated output by 7 (based on the idea that the two draft horses together produce 15hp). The horses handily pull a single bottom 14" plow, and the Ferguson still pulls a double bottom 14 that was designed for it. Both horse and tractor are near their sustainable load limits with each respective implement.

I probably wasn't too clear about it, but I was trying to make the point that I don't think my drafts have 7 times the output of a standard horse, and I don't think they're anywhere near 1.5hp. Thus -- I think Watt's measurements are flawed.

I completely agree on the idea that racing equipment (on sailboats) is failure prone, but none of the systems I was referring to are racing specific.

I don't doubt that a wood gas system may be more "efficient" than draft animals, but -- back to the complexity thing again -- I don't think it has a chance of surviving in an environment where spares aren't readily available. I think simplicity trumps efficiency in a decreasingly industrialized world. Even bicycles could quickly become useless due to a lack of innertubes or chain lube.

Also -- don't forget that any biomass fed to a gasifier needs plenty of processing. Horses, in the right environment, could harvest all of their own fuel. And in a young forest, you're going to see nowhere near 5 tons/acre of useful biomass production; with horses, you can be growing useful pasture within 6 months.

Actual farming with horses is still somewhat reliant upon the support of an industrial civilization, but the horses themselves are not, as evidenced by their use as draft animals in many non-industrial societies.

Hi David, it's been my understanding that a horse generates about 3.5 horsepower if you measure work to work.

Woodgas is NOT very efficient--perhaps I'm wrong but I don't believe any but myself has any real practical experience with the generation gear. I have a gasifier sitting right off my back porch and I expect it will be cut up and turned into something else. I haven't found it to be either practical or useful at least for my needs--but the knowledge gained in building one was useful enough. You're right that there is a large amount of processing and drying involved in preparing the fuel, and a significant amount of loss bringing the generator up to operating temperature. The gas itself is very hard on machinery because of the hydrogen, which destroys rings and valves. Another problem is scalability--the technology lends it much more aptly to larger stationary machinery than to smaller portable machinery, and it's difficult to run engines of much under 10 hp at all, because it's hard to draw enough gas through the generator to keep it hot enough to "generate." This issue of scalability is key, because in the PO environment small farms will dominate, and there isn't going to be a lot of need for machinery above 10hp and a lot of need for it below it. Of course draft animals have filled this need admirably forever.

Locally I've a friend with a big Belgian if I need to drag a log out of the jungle. If it's small like a chainsaw sweet potato vodka can do a lot of cutting, otherwise my technology relies mostly on a hoe.

And I'm trying to find another one that will do laundry. Sorry, lame humor. . .couldn't resist.


Woodgas can be efficient, but is only really practical for larger engines and relatively constant loads - a tractor would qualify, and a good tractor, with pto and a belt pulley can power a great variety of machinery, and move it self easily from one to another.
Having said that, I'll haven;t built one (i am going to buy one - google woody gasifier).

For small stuff, agreed ethanol would be far easier.

I guess your view on this depends on your view as to just much mechanical technology will/won't be available in the future. I think a fair amount of it will - old style slow engines (oil, gas or steam) have been around for a long time, and with proper maintenance will stay around. The high tech, computer controlled stuff is different - very efficient, but no good once the electronic control fails.

For a future farming situation, I think it would be worth achieving the economy of scale to justify some engine driven processes. Some other processes are well driven by wind or water power (where available). Overall, mechanisation makes a big difference to land productivity.

Overall, mechanisation makes a big difference to land productivity.

But is this important ?

I question the assumption that efficiency is really important. People assume that it is but don't prove that its true. The primary nemesis is seals on rotating shafts followed by bearings followed again by seals.

My conclusion is that the wheel was the biggest mistake mankind made. Long term ditching the wheel is probably going to be the best thing we could ever do. So my research is generally focused on a world where wheels and the associated bearings shafts gears and seals are no longer wanted or needed.

No wheels no roads no roads no armies.

No wheels no roads no roads no armies.

Hahahahahaha. ROFLMAO. As if the Incas and the Aztecs had no armies. Sure, right, anything, it was all blissful kumbayah during their bloodthirsty reigns.

The Inca's built and extensive road system. Given the nature of the terrain the utility of the wheel is questionable and of course they lacked draft animals.

A quick read suggests that the Aztec empire was also centered on its road system.


However without the wheel and draft animals they never advanced their metallurgy in the same direction as what happened in the old world. The civilizations seemed to rise and fall with the changing climate with a blend from one civilization to another. Very similar to Chinese civilization.

In both cases the road system itself ensured the rise and fall of empires overtime.

I stand by what I said its intrinsically correct and the fact that people built road networks to kill and enslave each other even though wheeled transport was not useful highlights what I'm saying.

Look at the US highway network as a modern example of empire via roads.
I'd love to see the day that we no longer need or want the roads. They are in the end a really bad idea that hopefully will pass.

And btw they actually did know about the wheel.


And note the prominence of bearings which I mentioned.

So I happen to believe that one day eventually once we get our population under control we will also give up on the wheel and roads and leave most of the world seldom trodden by human and when we do it will be with a very light touch.

Once you give up on population growth there really is no need for the roads or wheels.

Perhaps we do a bit of work selecting for edible plants for a number of climates but eventually we probably will move increasingly towards ever more natural gardening and probably back to foraging as the wealth of the land returns. No real telling but once we finally take this route we don't need to be a burden on the planet and can readily take our place if you will in the natural order of things.

Whats really funny as how this sort of vision jibes with the garden of eden stories of the bible. Since I've settled on this sort of future possibility I've always wondered if the Bible is not written in reverse.
By this I mean it seems it can be read in two directions if you think about it starting with the original garden of eden when knowledge of good and evil where not known cumulating at some peak of the road society the running backwards till we give up on the knowledge of good and evil and adopt eden again.

Obviously a circle works just as well. I doubt seriously that I'm the first person to recognize this grand circle if you will and the fact we will eventually march all the way around it.

I do think that we in are hubris have dismissed the truth behind this long march over the hill or around the circle no matter how you describe it.

Perhaps our resource constrained ancestors had a more intuitive grasp of the obvious hard to say. What I find really surprising is given the immense spans of time involved with this great circle is how close the various estimates of how long it would take to traverse it. You instinctively seem to realize its on the order of a few thousand years.

I don't think its just throwing out big numbers because I can readily generate very similar numbers simply by estimating when we will be forced to limit our population. Certainly there is room for error on the order of a thousand years or so at least however on the other hand I suspect that this recognition of the population problem is at the heart of such concepts the have been written down century after century and just as often ignored.

Perhaps I'm reaching and overstepping but I think not the more I learn the more I recognize that our ancestors where not stupid. Certainly it took us a long time to learn the secrets of chemistry but that was a hard battle with the truth almost found numerous times before being lost in the sands of time.

I'm sure I'll catch flak for this but in the end it was not math and physics they really changed the world it was chemistry. Its why I chose it for study at the university. Its more fundamental for life. Eventually perhaps as we become better and better at chemistry we can and I think will throw off the chains of crude technology thats too reliant on physics for a almost inconceivable world built on control of the chemical bond.
Concepts such as nanotechnology and our own primitive microprocessors and biotech hint at what we might achieve someday.

So I think we cracked the key problem that needed to be solved on the upside which is to understand the nature of chemicals. Eventually at some point in the new few thousand years we will master the art of chemistry to the point we can create things that rival the complexity of biological systems. But the irony is once we solve this problem then we will have little need to exploit our earth. Perhaps tweak a bit or tweak ourselves or likely both no telling but exploit it ? Why ?

Myself I plan to understand better our mechanical systems steam engines bearings and shafts etc but also consider alternative solutions that use different principles. Simple ideas like purposely planting a small tree in a rock crevice and nourishing it till it takes hold cracks the rock.

On a similar note living rock walls held together with the vines perhaps wisteria roofs. As we advanced in chemistry this concept of living dwellings that I want to explore via simple mechanical placement of a number of different plant species might one day be tweaked to create living homes.

I think there is road that leads to a path that leads to walking only on animal trails again and that the route I wish to take. And I don't think I'm the first one to see it.

Wow. Another interminable, rambling mem-o.

I'm there with ya on roads and wheel and draft animals. The latter two is primarily what enabled and fostered the militaristic, patriarchal Indo-European culture to spread across much of Europe and South Asia.

On the other hand, the trouble started long before than. Language is the ultimate culprit. Everything's been downhill since this bit of communication technology developed and became hard wired in our brains and vocal tracts.

Good luck circling back away from that.

A bit of history on wood gas cars with pictures --- also what tinkerers are doing currently:

The site has other interesting articles such as the past use of electric barges running off shore supplied electricity similar to trolley buses.

I bought my gasifier from STAK Properties for about $2,000 bucks. At the time, they had the best price and quaility that we could find. I use it to run my 10Kw generator. This is their website.

stakproperties dot com

How many days, day after day,have you kept your horses at it , straight thru? How old are they?

Of course Belgians are much much bigger than a typical horse,especially a typical horse used for draft work in the eighteenth century.And of course the horse powewr was only an estimate -but I believe it was an honest estimate.

I have a thirty horsepower Massey Ferguson that can pull two bottoms at a speed that will make you have to TROT to keep up-unless you are a fast long legged power walker.I doubt any body less well conditioned than a twenty year old marine could even keep up with the tractor for eight hours nonstop.

We used horses when I was a kid-some days we worked the living hxxx out of them-they could stand what my Daddy and my Old Pa could-after a really hard day, they had to do be rested for a few days-just like a professional athlete.Both horses and men went to light duty work if they worked flat out.Plowing a team for a couple of weeks, even though they were fed plenty of grain and hay at will took a noticeable amount of wieght of off them.

Bottom line-I would be quite willing to bet that in ten days straight thru I can plow as considerably more and as deep as four Belgians and two plowmen,even in cool weather.If the weather is hot and humid, well..the tractor has a radiator sized for full throttle operation in hot humid weather.The tractor can probably do the work or eigtht or ten horsesworking on a on a sustainable basis.

But on the other hand-I will never find a new baby tractor in the barn or out in a thicket some place.If I were younger, I would have a couple of horses or mules -just in case. But at my age , I am betting that I can get diesel fuel and parts for the rest of my natural days.and just in case-I keep a good bit of diesel on hand.An older model tractor, without computers, is remarkably durable and extraordinarily dependable unless it's worn out.
One thing is for sure- if a day comes whem a farmer can't get fuel, your horses will be so valuable you will have to stand gaurd over them around the clock.

Did Mr Watt ever explain how his steam engine breeded and what return I could expect to receive from selling the baby steamers ?

I'm not sure what stud fee's are for a throughbred steam engine.

Oh wait you mean it does not bread and I have to keep buying a new one ?
What are these things called spare parts ?

If I have to eat it in the winter how many calories from a steam engine ?

How much manure is produced for fertilizer can I collect the urine ?

Its not clear to me how you make ropes out of a steam engine I don't see any hair.

What about glue and leather when it "dies" ?

I've got a lot of questions about these steam engines.

Put the keyboard down gently, and back away from it slowly...

Let's look at these one at a time...

Watt didn't explain how the engine would breed, but given that steam engines proliferated rapidly around the world, the obviously did "breed"
Anyone with a metal ingot, and a steam powered lathe, can build one..

The stud fees; would be the licence fees to the designer/patent holder, pretty minimal in the scheme of things.

Horse break too, but when they do, they often can't be repaired (though they can be eaten). The world record for machine longevity is steam engine in London that was decomissioned in the 1980's after running continuously for 150 years - so they don't break that often.

No calories for eating it, but then. no calories for storing it either, which was the main reason for eating them in the fall.

Ash from burning the wood is an excellent fertiliser, and better smelling. Burn your wood just to charcoal, and grind and put this in your fields and you have terra preta - the most productive soils in the world.

How do you make ropes? Steam engines powered every textile mill in the world for almost a century. Grow hemp fibre, or even wool, and use a steam powered mill to spin more rope than you can imagine.

When it dies - see line above about running for 150 years - worry instead about when you die.

You've got questions, there are answers. Long before the oil and electronic age, steam engines proved their worth. And, for the record, steam still does. Every coal and nuclear power plant runs on steam. many developing country railroads run on steam (often wood fired) . Almost all Brazilian sugar can processing runs on steam from their on cane stalks.

You can run steam on any fuel that burns. You can run steam with solar. The preferred lubricant for steam cylinder engines is derived from beef (or horse) tallow

And on and on. Steam has truly been of great benefit to mankind, and will probably be so again.

Actually boilers are very difficult to make. The steel quality needed is not trivial. Boiler explosions where very common early on in the age of steam.

Certainly you can make small steam engines in a shop but something like a tractor pretty much needs a real factory. Your forgetting castings and other issues. I don't think building a tractor in exchange for six cows and a chicken is doable. However a milk cow for a mule or ox is very doable. Certainly smaller steam engine seem to make sense and also larger fixed engines however for farming itself it seems that going back to mules, oxes, donkeys etc seems more realistic in the long run.

To some extent I was not being clear in my first post but to clear things up farmers can manage livestock without spending any cash and they can trade livestock with each other.

Elimination of this cost is a huge advantage over someone who depends on mechanical methods.

Ash and tera preta are advantages of wood and have nothing to do with steam esp steam tractors.

I'm not against steam and I think steam will have its uses however I also don't see any reason to use steam tractors or mechanical tractors in general for farming it simply makes not sense.

Why ?

Animals work you can breed them on the farm they are intrinsically closed loop with a older style diversified farm.

Now with that said there was a very good reason to move to the tractor. As cities increased in size and also offered good wages the farmer had to both compete with cities for labor and also on the other had needed to supply food on a much larger scale to the booming cities. And really it was diesel tractors that where the sweet spot although I think steam could have been competitive. One has to examine the secondary factors associated with the replacement of draft animals with tractors before jumping to conclusions. If your problem is your dirt poor and farming for villages and small towns then the ecosystem advantages of draft animals is overwhelming. If you still have big cities and something similar to today then biodiesel/NG industrial tractors and modern farming make sense. I don't see a good middle ground. And thats not to say I'm not against steam I'm a big fan of steam and I think it will play a role if we move to a world without massive cities. Obviously this would also be a world with a lot lower population. The two places I see that it makes sense is fixed steam engines powering local factories or grain mills and also smaller ones powering farm machinery. Perhaps even horse drawn. A sort of horse drawn steam powered pto make make a lot of sense and could probably use some of the safer boiler designs.
And perhaps not hard to say.

Finally he use of draft animals is still very common in the third world and despite your claims they have not gone to building simple steam tractors even though fairly sophisticated metal work and forging is common. On my dream list is to actually make useful steam engines in a home workshop. I'd like to figure out what can be done if you spend the time. Perhaps even a tractor is doable and I'm wrong however I'd have to imagine it would probably be made using a large wood beam instead of massive castings. Perhaps even wooden wheels.

But looking into the future not the past you will have drive trains from junk cars all over the place so conversion of a car to some sort of steam or wood gas tractor might actually turn out to be common.

I don't know but at least in my analysis my own conclusion was that a return to draft animals was certain i.e it was a sure win if you assume anything different from BAU. Steam seems to certainly have a role and I've actually posted many times that I think steam will win over internal combustion engines and flex fuel capabilites of external combustion make it superior to internal combustion. And your right that the engineering requirements are lower just they are not as low as you claim or to be clear no one has seriously worked through the optimum small steam engine construction problem.

So I cannot see why steam won't play a role however tractors in the end simply don't seem to be worth it because of the complexity vs draft animals if you include the secondary advantages. People are making way to big of a deal about caring for the animals. If your a farmer then its simply part of farming not some onerous task.

Everyone is correctly fixated on keeping the tractors because obviously no tractors no big cities. But you have to acknowledge why its important i.e to keep the cities. However if you assume no big cities then mechanical tractors become hard to justify the really don't seem to make a lot of sense. Draft animal based farming methods can readily supply all the food needed with no need to go beyond simple barter. Anything sold for cash is almost pure profit and there is no need to invest the money into the farm itself.


Steam, and steam safety (and farming methods) have come a long way from back in the day.
There are various small steam engines being made today (1 to 20hp), and they could be made in the future by a good metalworker.
They can also be made by converting IC engines, of which there are and always will be many lying around.

The best way to go for a simple, safe boiler is monotube,just a coiled pipe but you can actually make one out of a domestic gas water heater. In fact the mass produced "instantaneous " gas water heaters (Bosch, Rinnai, Takagi, Noritz etc) are just monotube boilers. As long as we are willing to use low pressure (<100psi) these are perfectly safe, as are the engines.

The external combustion is indeed a great advantage, you can burn literally anything that burns. You can also use a solar hot water array as your pre heater, or even pre boiler, greatly reducing your fuel consumption (in daylight, but on a farm, this is when everything happens).

The fact that you don't feed it when it is not working should not be underestimated. You could also barter service of your steam engine/tractor to a neighbouring farm.

And the steam engine can easily be used for many stationary tasks, without need for constant supervision or rest (e.g. night water pumping)

Even something as mundane as grain grinding (to flour), the grain husks become the fuel - even the horses can't digest some of that.

Ash and tera preta have everything to do with steam, if wood is your fuel - the by product is extremely valuable, and wood will grow 50% more biomass per year than any other crop in temperate zones. Wood has much use for structures etc, and the wood waste is ideal fuel. The same acres devoted to feeding the horses can provide a lot of wood and wood products, which become very valuable.

Not every farmer would use it, but it will definitely have its place.

We are no in violent disagreement I assure you and yes I've studied up on steam engines. If I can get a stable place to live and a few extra bucks I'm buying machine tools to make steam engines.

To be clear terra preta as bout ash its not about steam the ash can come from buring wood for a variety of reasons. Steam need not enter the picture. Obviously it did not when the Indians originally created it. There are a bazillion uses for burning wood that would generate ash and charcoal if you wish without ever touching steam.

I disagree with your claim that your choices are wood or pasture I don't see that thats a either or decision. First you obviously want pasture for meat and dairy products so extra draft animals are in addition to having pasture.

There are all types of land good for different uses from farming to pasture to woodlots its a good bet that fallowing fields will come back and you don't necessarily want them to go to brush. So pasture it is.

Your being a bit dogmatic and not really thinking through and obviously we are not going to make the decision the people facing the problem will.

If I actually get a chance to solve this problem then I'll go with draft animals first and foremost and view steam as something in addition to having access to draft animal labor. I know for a fact that if I can learn how to farm with animals I can feed myself and have excess to sell. Steam gets into having money in the end and perhaps its not always possible.

I just don't see why a mixed solution won't work and I don't see them as exclusive.

What I do see you pretty simple you know for a fact that draft animals worked right up until well into the oil age and even today I suspect most of the worlds food is still grown using draft animals so it will work in the future. I just don't see any reason to not embrace them as a older type general purpose farm has animal husbandry as a critical part of the overall farm.

For some reason a lot of posts on the oildrum are very anti draft animal I've got no idea why it puzzles me. In fact I'm mystified in general by the resistance if you will to going back to ways similar to what they where for thousands of years. Its not a bad life and how well you live depends a lot on the political aspects not on old style farming practices.
Heck the Amish do quite well using these methods even in competition with modern agriculture. I'm pretty sure when people really have to solve these problem that they will embrace the solid foundation offered by the draft animal approach.

Again look at history and look at the extraordinary circumstances which resulted in the mechanization of farming it was not because there was something intrinsically wrong with using draft animals to farm and had far more to do with the changing markets. Actually if you look at the industrial age from beginning to end assuming the end is in the near future during most of it the majority of farming was done with draft animals and its only recently that mechanized farming has really taken over in a few regions.

Again I'm not disagreeing with you about steam I just think the concept that its some sort of either or decision is wrong and I see plenty of ways and reasons to go with a mixed solution that leverages the strengths of both approaches.

Tractors and other larger engines are hard to do while smaller steam engines are very useful and orders of magnitude easier to create from everything I've read. If things go well for me I fully intend to explore and research this problem directly I think its one that would do well from simple practical investigation. However I also want if I can to have a mule and be able to plow with it. Why because I know for a fact it will work just like it did for thousands of years before. And when your talking about eating to stay alive going with the sure bet is not a bad idea.

I don't think posts are anti-draft animals.
Have you owned a horse?
Have you grown food to sell for needed income?

All my neighbors do.

I probably should hold my tongue on keeping large animals as pets and the travesty of the horsie owners.

I've also lived with the Amish and helped on a farm that used real horses for real work.

Most of what passes for horses these days should be sent to the glue factory.
Keeping them penned in stalls or on mini pastures and feeding them oats is horrible.

As a sort of antidote to whats happened to the breeds and caused by idiots buying the for bets you do have significant populations of wild horses so the bloodlines are not completely garbage.

If your equating the disaster thats hobby farming and raising horsies with real draft animals then your simply using the wrong metric and also looking at issues with the wrong breeds that have are produced at the equivalent of puppy mills.

Give them room to exercise some grass to eat and let a bit of selection pressure weed out the inbreeding and misbreeding thats cropped into the horse breeds and horses will again be generally useful.

I'll probably step on some toes with this but I found it sickening whats happened and these are neighbors I generally like so most of the time I simply hold my tongue and say nothing.

But keeping a horse in a 1 acre paddock with the grass trampled to stinking mud and flies everywhere so your daughter can ride her horsie ?

On a slightly different not I do happen to know a good bit about chicken breeds different entirely but also not as how the breeds are handled and how they are selected plays a huge role in the vitality of the animal. I've actually worked with pure SE chickens that can actually really fly up into a tree and breed them back into existing breeds. You would be amazed what taking some wild stock and breeding it back in does for rejuvenation of a bloodline. The point is it does not take long to reselect for robustness if you just allow more natural living conditions and do just a little bit of back breeding to rejuvenate the bloodlines.

I of course don't have the stats but I seriously doubt the sharecroppers had the vet out every other week to take care of the horsies.

Given I've seen it done both right and wrong and recognize the degradation of the breeds which can be cleared up rapidly esp given we have good artificial insemination I don't see a problem. And last but not least the draft breeds are of course not "pretty" so you seldom see the old work horse breeds generally its some sort of riding horse often from I believe English bloodlines. These are not the most robust of breeds in the first place. I'm not a horse breeder of course but the ugly larger roman nosed draft breeds are seldom found.

And you cannot underestimate the effects of stress from living conditions on general health.

If world-wide disaster struck and survivors were forced back to the farm, it wouldn't take long for people to find all kinds of ways to power a tractor. I look at my families history. All the males born in the early twentieth century wanted to decrease the brutal work of farming with machines. My Dad remembers his older brother arguing with my grandfather about replacing the horses with a tractor. Smart people will find a way to run machines. There's always a way.
It's meaningful that the peak of draft horses were replaced by crappy tractors. Farmers are extremely practical people who know their numbers. Expensive low power tractors running on expensive gasoline were more economic than "peak horse".
Brawn was replaced more by brains than oil.

Brawn was replaced more by brains than oil.

Well I've seen plenty of brainy proposals on this website alternatives full of brains and engineering are posted daily.

I think people don't understand what happened and why it happened so if your not going to look at the history of the mechanization of agriculture then your not going to understand the trade offs.

Realistically it does not matter that much except that if you have to make theses types of decisions i.e have the opportunity to solve these problems then you have to bet right.

Obviously I'll bet on the mule. However as posted in the thread this also really requires a farm size closer to 100 acres or so of decent land which is impossible to buy right now for most people. However that may well not be true in the near future. Obviously I don't see smaller more "efficient" mechanized farming succeeding i.e farms less than 40 acres. And I also don't see 1000 acre industrial farms succeeding. There is a sweet spot that works well and its the 100 acre integrated farm. Certainly subsistence agriculture can be done on a lot less land I won't argue with that but generally it simply results in rural poverty as the need for a steady influx of money crushes profits. Now thats not to say you have to take a individual homestead approach a village approach can drop this number dramatically easily in half as it allows better land management and division of labor and utilization of resources. I don't know the exact numbers about the closest thing to a real village these days that I know of is the Israeli Kibbutz's. They at least suggest that a viable village works and is efficient. Simply keeping the forested region as a more integrated common for example probably dramatically increases the use ability. Basically a village allows the land use pattern to match the qualities of the land itself not arbitrary property boundaries we have today. Not that ownership does not happen but the various boundaries for the plots are aligned with what makes the most sense from the natural conditions.

People that like to point out the Chinese intensive agriculture methods fail to recognize that this is done on top of a society that partitioned the land into its most efficient usage long ago.
The Chinese are not growing intensively on and arbitrary five acre plot determined by drawing strait lines on a map.

Sigh its hard for me to see so many people jump to making conclusions that are unwarranted. I suspect that only when this gets burned out of us by forced will people realize that our ancestors where not stupid after all and that even in the short term we probably won't use technology all that different from what was around for thousands of years. There are reasons why things worked the way they did before oil. Until you really grasp the reasons your not going to understand where technology can and cannot make a big difference. For farming in general I just don't see it being that useful. Many of the use cases for technology claimed for farming actually make a lot more sense if at all as village level use cases.

I can easily see steam playing a role generally in the form of a few larger fixed steam engines supporting the small light industry needed to be self sufficient. Using the ancient farming practices with the addition of a few village owned larger stationary steam engines seems to be almost trivially viable. All the waste heat can be utilized etc etc. And certainly we know a lot more about farming today so things can be done a bit better maybe or maybe not time will tell. Indeed these steam engines can readily be replaced by water power for example. If the population density drops low enough then at some point it makes sense to only locate on the prime sites readily amendable to small scale hydro. It makes sense to assume that we will be forced towards sustainable population levels and overtime if your controlling your population it does not make a lot of sense to occupy sites that are not practically perfect.

Exactly what happens will of course depend on the rate of change of population levels in the future but regardless at some point we have to move towards steadily declining population and as this happens land becomes abundant and no longer a issue. It may take thousands of years with a number of cycles but eventually we will right size. Or it could happen fast who knows. Regardless the 100 acre farm and the more efficient village pattern work regardless simply because to many factors converge to make these solutions become a best fit. Only by simply ignoring this overall convergence of the entire complex system can you make alternative claims.

Looking at the transition from peak draft horse to crappy tractor - 1920 to 1945 average gas price was about $2.50 a gallon. Of course the farmer also had to buy the tractor and sell his horses into a buyers market. A typical midwestern farm on good soil at this point in time was probably in the 100-200 acre range.
You seem to want the world a certain way. The most successful farmers in the world don't agree with you.

And you can ignore the expansion of cities and the rapid growth of a market for food for sale and competition for labor between the city and farm not to mention the social choice of living on the farm or going to the big city. And expansion of credit to the farmers to buy the tractors. I suspect a farmer looking to borrow money for two mules verses one seeking to borrow for a tractor met with a different response. Indeed I seriously doubt any banker ever lent money to buy draft animals while tractors which could reasonably be repossessed are a different issue. I don't think I'm the one with the blinders on. If I get a chance I'll put my money on the mules and I suspect I'll win but they will wear the blinders not me :)

Smart people will find a way to run machines

In the long-term, what powers the tractor is not the issue at all; what is the issue is whether we can or will likely continue to build and operate tractors with renewable energies, or whether the use of draft animals is more likely.

If you look at the range of mines, smelters, factories and assemblies involved in modern tractor production, and the range of infrastructure they all rely on, all of it dependent on fossil fuels, the "new tractor" becomes a fairly massive undertaking.

On the other hand, the mule is a variety of machine which builds itself, so to speak, and needs nothing for its fuel and maintenance but what any farm already has on hand.

And most of the facilities needed to build tractors run on electricity.

The little oil that is needed can be made from tar sands or biomass.

If you want to be sure about getting electricity I would recommend moving your factory to for instance Norway or Sweden.

Even a steam tractor would outperform a mule in cheap fuel use per cultivated hectare.

People, do keep in mind that Robert Stirling invented his hot air engine, in part, to get rid of steam boiler dangers. He kept burning out his cast iron cylinders, and had other troubles as well, so his engines didn't catch on in any big way, even tho they worked and had good efficiency on any burnable fuel.

But with modern stainless steel, better designs, and high pressure, stirling engines are good. They have about the same fuel-work efficiency as IC engines, are simpler to make, and last far longer.

My favorite is a nitrogen charged simple water pumper. With the pumped water driving a pelton wheel, you can do anything using any fuel, including just plain logs or straw.

Sure, you can overheat a stirling and make it fail, but all it does is piss out a little nitrogen. You probably wouldn't even notice until it just quit.

Paul per wiki Terra preta (literally “black earth” in Portuguese) refers to expanses of very dark, fertile anthropogenic soils found in the Amazon Basin. Terra preta owes its name to its very high charcoal content, and was indeed made by adding a mixture of charcoal, bone, and manure to the otherwise relatively infertile Amazonian soil over many years


Everything I have read on Terra Preta says charcoal NOT ash. But I note here that it was a mixture of charcoal, bone and manure - presumably from humans, chickens, or llamas

you say Almost all Brazilian sugar can processing runs on steam from their on cane stalks. Yes that helps its ERoEI not to mention the hard working (cutting up to 12 tons of cane a day) human input. But of import to this discussion that means that nothing from the sugar cane is going back into the soil. Not very sustainable.

Donkeys have been used for thousands of years. Steam for a few hundred. I would bet the farm on donkeys....


TP is indeed based on charcoal, not ash. This means you can do dry distillation of the wood, and burn the off gas, leaving you with charcoal. Or, you can just buren the wood straight, and remove it from the firebox when it has become charcoal. To finish, you douse it with water, which the hot char turns to steam, partially cleaning out its own pores (do this at higher temp and pressure and you get true activated charcoal).

So, if you have a wood fired system, you can make lots of charcoal, you just give up 40-50% of the wood energy in doing so.

AS for the sugar cane, I presume the ash goes back into the fields. What they do for nitrogen is a different question, though it is not as nitrogen demanding as corn.

As for donkeys-v steam (or anything else mechanical), yes donkeys have a longer track record, but I would suggest that whenever mechanical alternatives have been available, farmers have used them. Early ones were windmills and water wheels, both stationary. Steam was the first mobile mechanical power, and once available at farm size started to be adopted by was quickly superceded by diesel tractors and (small) steam was not developed further.

A community of farmers would probably be well served by a collective investment in a tractor, and someone to maintain it. History has shown societies are much more successful when different people specialise rather than everyone trying to do everything. Not all farming needs a tractor (e.g. livestock - let them walk to work and eat the grass) but for grain crops, it makes a huge difference. Even if you are setting aside some of your land to grow the fuel for the steam engine, you will be better off than with animals. Better yet, you can get trees from really marginal land that hardly supports anything else.

I guess it really depends on your view as to how far backwards things will go. I do not think it will come back to beasts of burden in modern countries. Farming was starting to mechanise before the oil age.

Of all the industries that can cope with peak oil, I think agriculture is in the best position, as they can grow their own fuels, and have plenty of sunshine and wind. To cope with societal collapse, well that's a different story altogether. I guess it's the industrial equivalent of Einstein's statement ( I think it was him) who said, after the advent of nuclear weapons in WW2 " I don't know who will win the third world war, but I do know that if there is one, the fourth world war will be fought with bows and arrows"

I truly don;t think it will come to that, but if we are back to mules for farming, bows and arrows it will be...

Paul when fossil fuels run out it will not be a question of what is cheaper but what is doable. We know that horses and mules are doable, and donkeys are doable on land that wouldn't feed a horse or mule. Besides all three have waste that is GOOD for the soil, while burning gasoline and diesel provides nothing useful for the soil and something bad for the atmosphere and lungs.

What is always left out of ERoEI is the energy to solve the pollution problems. As long as you are using your mule to plow there is no pollution problem from the waste, in fact their is a benefit. How much energy would it take to clean up the air after all these years of polluting. If global climate change makes agriculture much more difficult or even impossible then James Watt's steam engine will turn out to be far more costly than a horse or mule. Eh?

Hi DC,

My immediate, wine-addled response is that is that the mule wins. We are not as able as nature to accomplish work. Not with full accounting. Seems like a biologic/thermodynamic LAW to me.

If you use an ICE to harvest your biodiesel, you lose. If you use a mule, you've lost. Too many steps in the process. The idea that you can forever TAKE from the land and not allow give-back is fallacious. Enron accounting.

The accounting for biodiesel is so deficient that comparisons are never honest. How many dead middle-Easterners, and US Dept. of Defense dollars, are needed to insure Caterpillar profits to allow you to have a tractor to harvest your biodiesel?

This if from what my grandad said of land in Arkansas when i was a kid. It was 10 acres per mule. So 20 acres for the team.

It also seems like he said you need 40 acres of corn (20 for mules) to support the farm animals. I guess the other 20 acres went to cows and chickens for personal consumption. You needed 80 to support a family, the other 40 was for some cash crop (say 10 acres cotton), timber for firewood, garden, etc.

In reality, it would depend on the quality of the land a lot, and the size of the animal. Remember, a shetland pony will eat less than a large draft horse.

The problem with members on TOD as regards mules and other aspects of farming as produced in the past is that they have zero knowledge on the subject.

They misunderstand about feeding and caring for them. They assume or make flat statements that are completely incorrect.

Why could my grandfather raise 14 offspring and do it on 100 acre farms and use only mules? Not horses mind you but mules and that for very very good reasons.
Why was he able this and provide food and all the other needs for his family back then?

My close farming friend works a tad over 3,000 'cleared' acres and had problems with just one wife and one offspring. Why?

Most here will never be able to return to that venue for the reasons above. Lack of knowledge and a constant background whine about it.

Mules are very easy on the ground. They leave small hoofprints that water can collect in and seeds settle in and sprout. Their manure enriches the soil. They are very hardy beasts and easily broken to work. They have few bad habits and work ,well , "like a mule".

When I was 8 years old and up to 12 or 13 I could easily handle a three or two mule team and work the fields. Mostly 'logging' them to create a seed bed. I followed the disk and plow when I did this.

Mules can be trained to voice commands. Gee and Haw , giddup and whoa. They get to know the routine and can almost do the work with the farmer blindfolded on his cultivator or wagon or whatever.

Thats how we gathered up our corn. We just spoke to the mules.

I could go into more detail but before you start dissing mules you need to spend some time walking/riding behind the ass end of a good work mule.

Mules are slow though. I never got them in the wagon beyond a smart trot. Walking was fine. We were in no great hurry to go anywhere. Walk the team to town, trade our cream and butter for staples and then walk the team back home. You could all take a nap on the way as the team knew the way back.

I miss those old work mules and saved up several of their collars, single and double trees. Still hanging on my walls and out in the barn.

Folks are just going to have to adapt and thats the way it will be but woe to those who have no draft animals nor can get any. Mules would be a very good investment in my opinion.

And yes you can hunt on them and ride them for pleasure. Many in Indiana told me they do that. A few guys around here have a team and ride a small cart/wagon around the country roads.

Airdale-btw a pony is something I would not let on my place. Rather not any donkeys either. A friend down the road has 7 donkeys in his field. Good to keep coyotes and dogs away and thats about all. Well for breeding. A good mule will earn his keep easily.Can flounder but hardly ever does.Very easy keepers.

Airdale may not like this but in this particular case I'm 100% in agreement.
The "old ways" if you will worked and worked very well. I'd argue that you should not dismiss the draft horse breeds and that the popularity of the mule in the US may well have a lot to do with the lack of these breeds but thats very minor. I think that it simply depends water buffalo, oxen, draft horse and mules all have the niche and all where used in the past and even today.

It would be neat to actually know why different cultures chose different solutions. The water buffalo is fairly obvious but its actually not obvious past that. I don't have a complete understanding of India for example but as far as I know they use various breeds of cattle for farming no horses or mules. Perhaps the milk was important. Other cultures seem to go with a sheep/goat/horse solution perhaps simply because of climate who knows.

As far as I can tell the US preference for the mule came from Spain and the use of both donkeys and horse breeds that resulted in good draft mules.

I won't claim to be and expert here in the least but it seems as far as I can tell the reason that mules where adopted in the US as opposed to draft horse breeds.

The sad thing is that there does not seem to be a whole lot of real research into these various choices and the reasons why different regions adopted different approaches I'm interested but left too often to guesswork.

The only problem with mules is that you need both horses and donkeys to produce mules. I would suggest that, while feasible to some degree, we take a closer look at donkeys as a workhorse of preference. This is especially true if we are practicing some form of permaculture vs. all out agriculture.

Just an opinion - not based on any data.

They are a bit small for work like plowing. For some clay soils you need around 3700 lbs on the hoof to pull a 12 inch plow.

In France there are VERY big donkeys. Specially bred, they are the size of draft horses and were used to plow. Except for the ears, and the very coarse pelt they look like very big horses.

It is true that the Spanish had a tremendous penchant for the mule, and in fact in the XIXth Century in Parliament, worried because of the problem that mules are (generally) infertile and to increase the number of farm animals in Spain, there were proposals to cut the throats of all the mules in the country, to force the blockhead peasants to change their evil ways. Needless to say it didn't happen.

Some low tech solutions never went away and for good reason:

The hammer, screw drivers, nails, chisels..., etc.

You, sir, have never used a Paslode nail gun.

DC, that is a perfect illustration of a hight ech solution to a low tech problem.

An air nail gun is fine for a contractor who makes their living using it, but what about the casual woodworker/farmer/labourer. In fact, even professionals I know will still not be caught dead without a hammer.

But think about it. The nail gun is complex to make, has moving parts, needs oil for lubrication and can only drive special nails made for it. You also need an air compressor (more moving parts, oil, complex to make) and a power source, electric or an engine, but either one requires yet another complex factory to make it, and fossil fuel to run it.

The hammer requires on metal casting, which an amateur could do, if really need be, that will, if looked after outlive it's owner - i have my grandfather's hammer, though it has been through a few handles, but these are a renewable resource. And it can hammer any nail. Yes it takes longer, but that's the only downside. And for a small job, you can get it done faster with a hammer than getting out the air comp and nail gun.

Finally, a nail gun and air compressor means you MUST have a vehicle to transport them, a hammer you can take on your person.

So for the Paslode to have any hope of producing more value than what it took to build it's operating system, it needs to do a LOT of work. And if it does so, it will be worn out in a few years and need replacing. I will bet a hammer can drive more nails in its life than any nail gun.
Finally, even the nail gun operator still needs a hammer to pry out the occasional nail.

Even if you use a solar system to run your air compressor, you have still consumed a lot of material and energy to set up your system, and will continue to use them to maintain and replace it.

How many nails must it drive to have EROEI>1?

But to bring in a middleground substitute, I have a fine collection of 4-5 Screwguns, and even the abused ones haven't been killable yet.. the batteries can die, and if you use the factory chargers, very likely will, but these things offer some terrific utility, and are fairly simple, even if they're still factory produced. (and They could easily be driven directly by PV, Wind or Water wheels..)

I also prefer screws to nails in many situations, and have boxes and bits made from plywood scraps that have been rebuilt for new needs for 20+ years now.

But as you've said.. I wouldn't be without the Hammer, the Handsaws, and indeed, my Granddad's 'Yankee Screwdriver', the eggbeater drill and a good Bit and Brace. It's comforting to have 'direct access' to the work that needs doing.

DC, that is a perfect illustration of a high tech solution to a low tech problem.

An air nail gun is fine for a contractor who makes their living using it, but what about the casual woodworker/farmer/labourer. In fact, even professionals I know will still not be caught dead without a hammer.

But think about it. The nail gun is complex to make, has moving parts, needs oil for lubrication and can only drive special nails made for it. You also need an air compressor (more moving parts, oil, complex to make) and a power source, electric or an engine, but either one requires yet another complex factory to make it, and fossil fuel to run it.

The hammer requires one metal casting, which an amateur could do, if really need be, that will, if looked after outlive it's owner - i have my grandfather's hammer, though it has been through a few handles, but these are a renewable resource. And it can hammer any nail. Yes it takes longer, but that's the only downside. And for a small job, you can get it done faster with a hammer than getting out the air comp and nail gun.

Finally, a nail gun and air compressor means you MUST have a vehicle to transport them, a hammer you can take on your person.

So for the Paslode to have any hope of producing more value than what it took to build it's operating system, it needs to do a LOT of work. And if it does so, it will be worn out in a few years and need replacing. I will bet a hammer can drive more nails in its life than any nail gun.
Finally, even the nail gun operator still needs a hammer to pry out the occasional nail.

Even if you use a solar system to run your air compressor, you have still consumed a lot of material and energy to set up your system, and will continue to use them to maintain and replace it.

How many nails must it drive to have EROEI>1?

It doesn't need to have an EROEI >1, it just has to be, in the judgment of the manufacturer, worth producing.

I like the sound. I'll use it to build a fence for my miniature donkey in my high energy future.

You'd be correct

Gail -


You have repeatedly been harping upon the lack of 'scalability' of renewables, yet here we have you talking about mules, of all things.

Let's see, I wonder how many mules chained to treadmills connected to generators it would take to power a city the size of Atlanta. And how much grazing land would be required to keep those mules alive. Not to mention what to do with mule poop.

This is indeed a great low-tech sustainable solution. I could kick myself for not thinking of it first.

As a farmer who has practiced the "homey, low-tech lifestyle" for a couple of decades now (but under NO illusions that this is going to be viable for 300 million of my compatriots after peak oil), I have to say this entire conversation is just hilarious.

I got the chance to practice it because I like it, not because I think it is The Messiah. I always had modern society there to lean on when things got dicey.

Actually things never got dicey: a hobby farm in the 21st Century is nothing like 19th century living in rural America.

If we have to rely on mules, or horses, or donkeys, then we're frigged.

The only viable system for 300 million of our compatriots is the current fossil fuel based system, imho. When it goes by the wayside, so will a large percentage (a large majority, I'd guess) of our compatriots.

Whether our current population can be supported without fossil fuels is a major concern. Even if we decide voluntarily to go without fossil fuels, we would find ourselves with less resources than the world had in, say, 1750 (because of soil degradation, aquifer depletion, etc) but now 6.8 billion people instead of 700 million. It is hard to make the math compute, when there are something like 10 times as many people. I don't think adding a few high tech wind turbines and solar PV panels measurably changes the equation.

That's what I've been saying for years (here for about 3 weeks). Most of the folks on this website spend a whole lot of time and 'energy' trying to come up with fancy ways that that the human species can avoid it's bological destiny (in this case I mean massive die-off, I won't even try to talk about extinction). The problem is, they never bother to reason out why their own most basic assumptions are simply impossible. As long as people continue to ignore the simple, logical, and unavoidable truth, they can carry on this way until reality comes up and bites them in the ass (and I think they will, too).

My focus is on the US/North America, I'll have to leave the entire world to people with bigger heads than my own (take that as you wish). While I think that a sustainable, renewables-only economy could feed a US population of 300M, it would be a difficult stretch, and not a lot of margin for error. Something in the range of 100-200M would work a lot better, and is probably where we are going to have to level out at very long term.

I don't believe that the US population is going to continue to grow for very much longer. Either the door on immigration is going to shut tight, or el norte is going to lose its attraction, as unemployment persists in double digits on a long-term basis. For the population that remains, I think we are going to see the same reduction in birth rates below replacement rates that has become prevalent in many parts of Europe, Russia, and Japan. The rapidly increasing cost of medical care is also unsustainable, and regardless of what is or isn't done this year, eventually costs - and thus probably access - is going to have to be cut back. Death rates are thus likely to creep up and lifespans creep down. Thus, I suspect that by the end of the century, even if we are able against all odds to manage a fairly smooth decline and transition to a renewables-only sustainable economy, the US population will have declined to well below 300M, and might just possibly not even still be above 200M.

Those fertility figures assume birth control is available, I'm not quite sure it will continue to be. Ethiopia is poor, but look at their fertility.

The proven way to stop population growth is giving women a good education and real choices. The poorest people in a poor country are always women.

Why does the education help? I assume it is because it allows them to get a job and start up a more advanced economy. If birth control is not available because the corner store has gone out of business and a 20 mile drive to the pharmacy and back costs $15, do you think a young couple is going to go out and grab some condoms because they want to have sex?

Women aren't going to say "Sorry honey, I have a college degree and no job, let's not have sex because we don't have any birth control". The unavailability of contraceptives will easily increase fertility rates.

Why does the education help? I assume it is because it allows them to get a job and start up a more advanced economy. If birth control is not available because the corner store has gone out of business and a 20 mile drive to the pharmacy and back costs $15,...

You need to get in touch with third-world realities. 1) The key factor behind educating women is that it conveys the essential knowledge that birth control prevents pregnancy. 2) They're not going to drive to the corner store because they don't have a car, 3) $15 might represent a week's income to them, so they're more likely to pay $1 and go in a share taxi with 15 other people.

I don't know how much birth control costs in poor countries, but for someone making $15 a week it seems like birth control would be very expensive.

re: I don't know how much birth control costs in poor countries,

I think Amazon.com was offering a Valentine's day special - 100 condoms for $13.55. (It's remarkable what you find when you just Google it.)

In India, apparently the government gives them away for free. Smart idea. There are far too many Indians.

When women know how their fertility cycles work, it's completely possible to have sex and not get pregnant.

Our single daughter is proof enough.

Far more than that, however, is how education can support societies to get them out of cycles of insecurity and instability, which often leave women, who are physically smaller and culturally devalued against men, to have a stronger voice in the family and in the community. When Women have power in their society, they are able make much more healthy choices about reproduction and family planning. This isn't just 'hopeful theory', either .. it is well documented.

Education as a Determinant of Fertility

Education, for the most part, operates indirectly through the various channels described by Easterlin (6-8) -- namely, through the supply of and demand for children, as well as through the costs of regulation. Each of these channels is affected by several intervening determinants which are influenced by the extent of women's autonomy -- often considered to be a product of education. Women's autonomy is seen as taking five forms: (1) autonomy through knowledge (exposure of women to the modern world ); (2) decision-making autonomy; (3) interaction with a wider social circle ; (4) emotional autonomy; and (5) "economic and social autonomy, self reliance, control over economic resources" [(8) P: 13].

When women know how their fertility cycles work, it's completely possible to have sex and not get pregnant.

Do you know what they call women who use the rhythm method of birth control?


Sorry. It's an old joke. And there are some awfully bitter women out there.

It's about twice as safe as playing Russian Roulette.

Thanks for the perspective. Engineers talking about mules! That's when you know you're on TOD. It's lovable but still bizarre.

Mike, low tech? really?
no engines, pumped water, internet seed ordering?

Yeah, you're right! What we moderns think of as "low-tech" is really a pipe dream.

Think about this: I drove a horse and buggy on Old Orchard Beach in Maine many years ago, just like the oldtimers.

Except that we had to have the stuff TRUCKED there!

I've driven many miles to enjoy a carbon-free bike ride.

That's odd, as my favorite road bike is made out of carbon fiber.


Hi joule,

I think mules and donkeys are neat - we have expensive "farmettes" around here where folks recently moved from the big city keep them as kind of pets. My wife likes to beep our bike horn as we ride past them - the perk up their ears real cute.

As I was reading this stuff, I was trying to visualize how this relates to Chicago, NY, LA, Mexico City, New Delhi, Tokyo, etc. Once we get of 2B humans on the planet this will make sense.

Daxr, yes mules are a good solar powered tractor. To get a mule you need what I consider the best solar powered all purpose transporter - the donkey! Of course you need a horse too and they are another solar powered transporter if you want more speed. There is a reason that donkeys are still popular in many countries. http://tinyurl.com/yjs8ro8

Beyond transportation they are good protection for sheep and other livestock as they hate and will attack any dog, wild or domestic.

From http://www.ifad.org/gender/learning/sector/agriculture/73.htm

Donkeys, of course, are not as physically powerful for animal traction purposes. This means that ploughing with donkeys may not be possible in certain soil conditions. However, the study refers to research in Zimbabwe that made controlled comparisons of oxen and donkeys. The comparisons showed that the nutritional status of an animal, whether donkey or oxen, makes a great deal of difference in the animal’s performance. The research also noted that whereas donkeys may be slower than oxen, they never stop, but continue working. They also learn their tasks very quickly. The IFAD/FAO/Government of Japan study recommends that development programmes consider the value of donkeys particularly for inter-row cultivation. Where taboos against women associating with donkeys do not exist, and soil conditions are appropriate, donkeys have considerable advantages:

* They are lighter and easier to handle and train than oxen.
* Their implements are lighter (lightweight three-tine cultivators for donkey-draught seem particularly promising).
* They are a lower-risk investment than oxen, particularly where veterinary services are scarce and conditions harsh; where drought or illness kills off oxen, donkeys usually survive.
* They require very little time in terms of feeding (they take care of themselves, grazing on any available shrub or plant, even in the dry season), and therefore do not add to women’s already heavy workloads.
* Because of donkeys’ association with low social status and poverty, men are willing to let women control them. They are also less likely to be stolen.
* They are much cheaper than oxen or horses and therefore more affordable to women (although, in recent years, they have gone up tremendously in price in some areas).

Will, ethanol as a motor fuel has been around for over a century. The US has been subsidising it (for about $0.50/gal) for 30 years, and still the only reasons why it has finally reached 10% of gasoline consumption is because of a 10% mandate. But right there, if you didn;t notice is an example of a 30yr effort.

The car industry itself took decades to hit it's stride. At the turn of the 20th century there were hundreds of little car makers (like there are hundreds of little biofuel companies today). By 1930, there had been substantial consolidation, as the winners ramped up and the failures died, but it took 30 yrs.

If you want another example, how many years ago was it that Jimmy Carter put solar panels of the roof of the White House? And yet governments are still paying huge subsidies/incentive to encourage use of solar PV it needs a 10% mandate.

Your own windpower graphs shows minimal growth for 20 years, it is ramping up now, coincidentally, 30 years after the technology was first rolled out. The large, reliable, cost efficient turbines being made today are quite different from the ones of the 80's - it has taken decades of build, use, improve, repeat to get to this point.

The first hybrid vehicle hit the road 12 yrs ago, after 5yrs in development, so we are 17 yrs down that road. There are selling well, maybe even profitably, but they still represent a small % of car sales and even smaller % of the car fleet. In another 10 yrs they will probably be a majority of the vehicle fleet, but then we are up to 27 yrs from the start.

The first cellphones were introduced in the late 70's but they didn't reach a majority of people until this decade - another 30yr period.

If algae biofuel can make it to widespread use in less than 30 yrs, that will be the exception to the rule.


Let's look at your examples;

Ethanol: Since gasoline has been relatively cheap until the last few years, there was no real effort to move in that direction after the oil price collapse of the early 80s.

Car Industry: Not a renewable fuel, so it's inclusion here is questionable.

Solar panels on White House: Reagan virtually killed off the DoE solar programs and ripped the panels off the WH roof. 1994 GOP Congress cut back on the second fledgling start. Low oil/coal prices deflected investment in private ventures. Now that energy (and climate) are major concerns, the "30 year clock" wouldn't suddenly reset to zero years.

You even admit that wind is rapidly ramping up now after 30 years, so adding another 30 years makes no sense.

Will, you missed my main point, which is that history shows that it usually take 30yrs from the invention of a technology, renewable or not, to its widespread adoption.
I will call the current state of the wind industry "widespread adoption" , as it is the fastest growing source, though still small overall, but it's been 30 years to get there.

I forgot to mention nuclear, which took the largest R&D effort in human history, and still took decades for commercial power plants to be developed.

Yes, private investment in some things has been slowed down because of economic fluctuations, but that's real life. Ethanol distilleries were going broke last year. IF these things can only be developed with decades of government subsidies, can we afford to do that?

For algae, they haven;t even got the process sorted properly yet, and then there is how do you scale it up to the MILLIONS of acres need to make any meaningful dent in oil.
The best estimates are that it is "ten years away", but they were saying that 10, 20 and even 30 years ago. In industry, when someone says "10 yrs" that means they have little or no interest in pursuing it.

Finally, you have hardly provided any examples of rapid technology development/adoption to illustrate your case.

The US? Those people are nuts! As is true of people in general.
Bigger graph would let us see those fine details, too. But in more progressive parts of the world wind shows up even on a thumbnail:

Figure 1.1: Installed Power Capacity EU 2000-2007 (in MW)

Figure 1.3: Evolution of EU Energy Mix (1995 versus 2007)

From The EU energy mix.

Nukes and renewables are a good combo, like PB+J. Have always liked small nuke tech, like Hyperion; small nukes were in the news again the other day, including the front page of my local news rag. Those could mitigate many of big nuke's shortfalls, including the imagined ones. It's an energy source that benefits from scale but people, I state again, are nuts.
Denizen of Cascadia


Regarding "renewables tend to be high priced", I later said that renewables that cheap renewables should be scaled up. I didn't mention hydropower--this reference says Hydropower in the United States has potential to quadruple capacity, Navigant Consulting director says. The article doesn't say where, and I didn't see a report on the Navigant Consulting site, so I am suspicious that a lot of this capacity is in Alaska, so it may be quire high priced renewables, also (considering transmission lines to market).

I still stand by "Renewables can't be made or maintained without fossil fuels." Electric production (form natural gas or whatever) does not substitute for oil. Our transportation infrastructure depends on oil, and a great deal of other built infrastructure depends on oil or natural gas. We don't have the time or the capital to completely redo the world's infrastructure to run off of electricity.

"Renewables should be considered a fossil fuel multiplier." EROI calculations do not take into account timing or the likelihood that the renewables will not be useful their full life. Wind calculations do not take into account the fact that transmission lines need to be upgraded. When all is said and done, I have yet to see anything that convinces me that adding wind is a net benefit to society, except possibly where wind can be used locally and can be converted to ammonia production if its use for electricity is no longer working out.

Regarding my hypothetical biofuel from algae example, I know that you and most readers of The Oil Drum understand that business as usual is not a likely outcome. But new readers, who have only read material supporting the possibility of rapid ramp-up of renewables, may not be aware of something that is pretty obvious to us.

You mention that I say that even if a new inexpensive process for biofuel from algae cold be developed, we would "probably be looking at more than 30 years before it could be scaled up sufficiently to start replacing a significant share of oil production. Significant share could be 10% or 15%, and still be a long way from BAU. Neither you nor I think that even this is likely though--it just is another hurdle standing in the way of biofuels, even if we do develop a new method that works. Regarding the 30 year period, look at the long transition from coal to oil.

Hydro power has committed enough biocide on the planet.
A quadrupling would be mass biotic cleansing from a suicidal species that is insane.

Unless it can be done underwater (without damns)
I think we will burn more coal before we build more damns

I think we will burn more coal and build more dams. They have known for some time that dams are not good for aquatic ecosystems but that hasn't stopped them being built.

There is a sensible and relatively benigh way to develop new hydropower. It's to use pairs of very small dams linked by a water tunnel. A good fraction of the natural stream flow continues through the stream bed.

Flow through the tunnel is reversible, so the system serves for pumped hydro storage as well as power generation. In fact, pumped storage may be a larger factor in its economic value than power generation.

Gail wrote:

Regarding "renewables tend to be high priced", I later said that renewables that cheap renewables should be scaled up.

How do you define "cheap"? And why only "cheap" renewables, why not renewables that are competitive with nuclear?

I still stand by "Renewables can't be made or maintained without fossil fuels."

By your definition, nothing (including nuclear and nat gas generation) can be made or maintained without fossil fuels, so why single out renewables? You give the appearance of being on a crusade against renewables when you make statements like this.

EROI calculations do not take into account timing or the likelihood that the renewables will not be useful their full life.

You don't define timing, so please clarify your meaning. "Usefulness" begs the question of understanding RMA analysis; what empirical data are you relying upon, or are you simply speaking abstractly? Abstractions about RMA aren't legitimate in a serious engineering statistics discussion, as I'm sure you can relate to as an actuarial.

Your 30 year axiom does not take into account the types of efforts noted in the Hirsch Report, where 10 year concerted pushes by government, industry, and the citizenry could be successful in avoiding the dire economic effects. Casual adoption as noted elsewhere is not the same as an "Apollo effort" adoption. For example, one could say it's taken over 100 years to adopt the electric car (and we're not even there yet).

The reason why only "cheap" renewables should be scaled up is because even current cost levels are too high--are pushing us toward recession. Nuclear and others with long payback periods have a huge amount of uncertainty built in as well--will our whole transmission system and financial system be working for their entire lifetime. We need to be looking for energy sources that are cheaper than what we have now.

The reason I started out on renewables was that this was a fairly narrowly focused post. I didn't get as far as nuclear. It has its own set of problems. Maybe someone can figure out a thorium solution, but even this would require quite a long scale up period.

EROI timing issue has to do with the lack of discount in EROI calculations for energy return many years later. When I was referring to the lack of usefulness, I was thinking particularly of wind, where it needs to be part of a grid system. If the grid system goes down, even if the wind turbine is still operating, it doesn't provide the electrical benefit it was designed for. (Perhaps it can be converted to ammonia production.) Or production from the wind turbine could be permanently lost, because of non-availability of replacement parts.

A 30 year scale up is not uncommon. It takes time to work "kinks" out of a new system, so one does not reproduce them as the system is scaled up. I might point out that the Hirsch report was never implemented. We don't know whether his 10 year plan would really work in practice. Where do you think we would funds for an "Apollo effort" of adoption now?

"The reason why only "cheap" renewables should be scaled up is because even current cost levels are too high--are pushing us toward recession."

I just cannot understand this line of reasoning. We are talking about a civilization-threatening situation (Peak Oil) and you are worried that the solution might cause a recession?

The reason why only "cheap" renewables should be scaled up is because even current cost levels are too high--are pushing us toward recession.

There are a significant number of economic variables at play right now. You still haven't defined 'cheap', nor made a financial case to support your statement.

We need to be looking for energy sources that are cheaper than what we have now.

The cheapest we have is coal, and that is by no means sustainable (it will deplete) or tolerable;

"It is essential that world leaders agree on the emission reductions needed to combat negative consequences of anthropogenic climate change...The need for urgent action to address climate change
is now indisputable."
-- 2009 Joint Statement by the Science Academies of the US, UK, Germany, Australia, Japan, France, Italy, Russia, China, India, Brazil, and Mexico.

Anything else in that price range is not available now; besides, your 30 year rule of thumb says it won't be here in time anyway.

Energy efficiency and conservation are the best sources of new 'energy' to mine, in conjunction with sustainable sources of energy. Wishing for something else to magically appear doesn't qualify as an energy strategy.

The 'dirty little secret of renewables' as somebody here said a while back...

Is that they are more expensive than what we have now...

It is only a secret to those who don't want to know.

Fox News loves to run a clip where Obama says that electric rates will go up when the cap and trade bill is passed. If this bill gets closer to passage, Fox will run this information constantly.

I also believe the Republicans will emphasis the higher energy prices from Cap and Trade in the Next Election. I expect to see lots of campaign ads that are something like, "The Evil, Godless DemoRATS are trying to bankrupt the poor with high electric rates"

BTW, i tend to vote Republican, but the campaign stuff on both sides can get outrageous.

Hi Gail,

You are doing a lot of hand waiving. The fact that fossil fuels are used in nuclear power or wind mills or solar panels or virtually anything we make doesn't imply we are not better going down those paths.

You need to show that the fossil fuel consumption involved in building a nuclear power plant offsets the fact it does not consume fossil fuels.

Same for wind and all the other alternatives.

Instead you are doing a lot of hand waiving without any real analysis to back up your claims.

As a side point, France does emit a loss less CO2 than other countries and most of those nuclear power plants are built using French materials and products.

So that in itself suggests to me that the fossil fuel consumption is not the big deal you claim it to be.

In any case, it would be an interesting study to actually crank the numbers

The only way to decide to decide to do the calculations.

Extreme pessimism will be ignored unless it is backed up with solid evidence and cogent arguments.

I think a lot of people have the idea in the back of their minds that renewables will be around, say 500 years from now, because we will build a self-replicating system. I don't see that as happening. It is more like trying to hoard a bit of the energy we have now for the future. That sort of works, if you can keep the whole system going as long as planned, and the renewable solution continues to play its parts.

I think one of the real dangers is that society will forget that they are living off yet a different type of hoarded energy supply, not truly beginning a plan for the future. In fact, if instead of setting aside some of fossil fuels in a vain attempt to keep BAU going longer, society had invested the money in lower-tech solutions (smaller scale windmills for pumping water, for example) that were truly sustainable, society would be farther ahead in the long run, IMO.

I have made fun of the belief in the "Just-in-Time Technological Fairy" several times. But 500 years (and even 50 years) is plenty of time for new, and badly needed, technology to develop.

I question if "we" can pick tech solutions a priori, but new tech will certainly be developed, barring a complete social collapse.

Best Hopes,



You say: "...new tech will certainly be developed, BARRING A COMPLETE SOCIAL COLLAPSE."

But since we are obviously already experiencing the beginning of a complete social colapse, new tech will certainly NOT be developed. That is only logical.

The truth hurts, but it seems like more people are starting to understand this.

Best Hopes Spring Eternal,


"Complete" includes Sweden & other Nordic countries, New Zealand, all of Canada, Brazil, etc.


Oh, I think complete collapse is pretty much guaranteed. All societies seem to rely, now, on a functioning, and large, global economy. They can't operate in the same way with a much smaller and much more fractured global economy. Take away one or more of the big global players and I can't see anything but a domino effect throughout the world.

I don't doubt the dominoes will hit everyone, but I don't think every region and culture will be equally unable to react and deal with it. Some places and cultural setups will be more (much more) resilient than others. AND, were things to break up with decaying access to global transportation, I would expect this isolation to be far better for some areas, while clearly becoming quick death-sentences for other places. Sorry, many Alaskan towns and Islands.. and Desert-locked cities.

I think one of the real dangers is that society will forget that they are living off yet a different type of hoarded energy supply, not truly beginning a plan for the future.

Now this is entirely possible, and yet another reason for communities to discover relocalization through the Transition Initiative approach, at a minimum. I recommend a subscription to the Small Farmers Journal and/or Permaculture: A Designer's Manual, as every home in that scenario will become something resembling a Victory Garden at the very least.

I don't believe Gail is against so-called renewables. She is merely pointing out that they can only be considered renewable sources is they are self-sustaining and at present that is not the case. Everything we do is systemically based on oil inputs in one form or another.

In the very long run, to be sustainable, energy sources have to supply both the exergy needed by society - the economy - and enough excess energy to maintain and replace themselves. The mix of energy sources in the future may make it so that one technology supplies the energy resources to build another type of energy capture and conversion capital, e.g. wind provides excess electrical energy to supply PV manufacturers which in turn supply distributed systems for local electricity production (homes and small businesses).

But in net, all of the collective energy sources have to produce in excess of economic exergy in order to provide the capital needed to sustain long term energy capture (sun, neutrons, whatever).

I have been doggedly working on a computer model that would help do the energy accounting for this process. Here is a graphic that I use to explain the self-sustaining energy/exergy accounting. I've posted it here at TOD several times but it doesn't seem to grab the attention of those who are so enamored with alternative energy that they forget to do the numbers for the long haul.

Once the oil and nat gas and coal are no longer accessible (EROI < ~2 say) these alternative energy technologies are going to have to be mutually and collectively self supporting from their own energy productions. I think Gail's point is that it would be foolish for humanity to make long-range plans to be supported by energy sources (even if substantially less than at current BAU levels) that could not, in the long run, be energy self-sustaining. Might they help ease the decline (possible crash)? Maybe, if their overall EROI is sufficiently close to FF's today. But here is the gottcha. No one really knows if the current estimates of EROIs are valid or or accurate or not. Most of the published claims for EROI, e.g. wind > 20, are preliminary at best and possibly fallacious if produced by the industries promoting themselves (remember corn ethanol claims in the early days?) I just spent three months with Charlie Hall and David Murphy and a gaggle of really bright people at SUNY-ESF who do EROI (Charlie pretty much invented it) for a living. And so I can say with some understanding that most of the EROI numbers for alternative energy technologies are suspect in one way or another.

So Gail is justified in calling into question whether alternatives are necessarily better or best approaches to the long term approach to winding down our industrial society (a la Greer's the Long Descent). That there will be a winding down is evidenced by the percentage of exergy contribution by alternatives shown in the graph she posted. Given the fall off rate of FF production expected over the next twenty years or more and the ultimately conceivable scale up rate for alternatives over the same time frame, the only conclusion that is realistic is that we are in for a major decline in exergy availability and had simply better be ready to accept that fact. And then plan accordingly.

I have a suggestion for all those who wish to argue that alternatives provide a viable solution to society's impending deindustrialization. Let's hold a conference (I will be happy to help organize it and provide a venue here at the U. of Washington Tacoma). Everyone who thinks they can produce conference quality scientific papers, giving evidence that their favorite alternative energy source is viable, will be invited to submit papers and if accepted (and we can form a selection committee including true-believers to assure no biases!!!!) present those findings at the conference. In other words you should commit to producing evidence for your beliefs! Any takers? Contact me at gmobus AT u DOT washington DOT edu if you would like to participate. With enough interest I will get something going. We need to meet this issue head on!

Question Everything

Thanks, George, for your comments.

I am quite uncomfortable with wind EROIs. It didn't help when I discovered that 82% of the calculations in the most frequently quoted wind meta-analysis are calculations by the same researcher (Manfred Lenzen), and he seems to make his living selling the reports to organizations that want to have a favorable EROI report in their file to justify buying the wind turbines. When I started asking questions, I got answers like, "Well, those EROIs are only for comparing one wind turbine relative to another wind turbine--not because of their absolute EROI values," and, "This is a small field." I also found some numbers in the EROI meta-study and supporting studies by Lenzen that did not seem to me to pass the reasonableness test.

Apart from EROI calculation issues, another issue is the timing of energy investment vs the return of energy. In order to get energy from wind turbines, society needs a huge up front investment of fossil fuels. If we keep ramping up, we are constantly in a net energy loss position, or at best a slight gain. Jeff Vail has has written about this issue as has Tom Konrad. I believe Nate Hagens also has done work in this area that is as yet unpublished.

So year after year you use part of your scarce fossil fuels to make wind turbines, and don't get as much energy payback as what you put in. If you can stop ramping up, and keep the turbines running for the advertised lifetimes, you can at some point make up for the shortfall, if intermittent electricity is still valuable at that late point in time. if you include all of the upgrade costs for power lines, the lack of payback is worse.

Another issue is that long term maintenance costs really aren't known as well as they should be (and will get worse with declining fossil fuel availability). We keep reading stories such as this one called Turbine O&M Costs to Spiral in Coming Years, talking about how operators have been insulated from true repair costs for years by factory warranties. Now that wind turbines are coming off warranty, repair costs are showing up as worse than expected. These costs are likely not reflected in EROI calculations either. (There is an expensive new report analysis supporting these findings.)

An earlier study at Delft University showed that the frequency of repairs was worse on larger wind turbines than small ones--and that the frequency of repairs is more than one per turbine per year, in general. All of this is disconcerting, it we are talking about planning on replacing huge parts in the future, with limited fossil fuels and uncertain global trade.

It doesn't help in all of this that all we get from wind turbines is intermittent electricity, which is of very limited use apart from a grid transmission system, and certainly doesn't replace oil.

Apart from EROI calculation issues, another issue is the timing of energy investment vs the return of energy. In order to get energy from wind turbines, society needs a huge up front investment of fossil fuels. If we keep ramping up, we are constantly in a net energy loss position, or at best a slight gain.

Well for a while its safe to assume negative. And this is all that matters. If the world if facing declining energy and alternatives take even more energy away from the rest of society then they won't be perused. Certainly if one considers scaling them up rapidly to the point they make a difference fast enough they are distinctly negative.

What your really suggesting is that we go long if you will alternative energy and then its questionable what its real net return is after a massive input from our declining fossil fuel base at the expense of a society desperate for energy now.

This is important because few people seem too understand the ramifications of the combination of a declining energy source and declining EROEI. When both are in decline it no longer makes sense to go "long" energy and invest in ever more expensive lower EROEI resources if they cannot offset the overall decline. Only if they can scale fast enough to cause the net energy gain to expand do they make sense.

Notice I did not label where the investment would not be made as all alternative simply initially steepen the decline rate as does further investment in fossil fuels. It literally does not matter they don't make sense in the present.

Now of course this ensures prices will rise however people miss the obvious answer to ensure immediate access to the maximum net energy and thats to impoverish your competitors. Instead of expanding your energy supply you take the much more sensible route of doing a bit of demand destruction generally using high velocity lead.

A dead man does not use gasoline or food.

Your discomfort with wind EROEIs was not generally accepted by TOD at the time. Personally, I have read the EROEI analysis and I am comfortable with them.

A couple of years ago there was a TOD article on whether Britney Spears needed to be included in EREOI calculations (entertainment for the workers). In other words, where do you draw the line.

I am curious as to who told you about Manfred Lenzen ? This attack on the messenger and not the message speaks of denier organizations playing dirty tricks.

As for larger wind turbines requiring more maintenance, this is an artifact of less mature technology. Larger is newer and is further up (down ?) the learning curve. *ALL* wind turbines should require significantly less (perhaps dramatically less) maintenance in future decades.

The WTs without gear boxes hold particular promise for longer lives and lower maintenance (AFAIK, they cannot be sold in USA due to patent issues ATM. But patents expire).


(AFAIK, they cannot be sold in USA due to patent issues ATM. But patents expire)

This is not true, Alan. Northern Power Systems is doing it now: http://www.northernpower.com/

Yhey may have gotten a license from the US patent holder (GE ?).

Any Enercons for sale in the USA ?


Gail: All this is a big reason why I think that the long-term future for WTs in a sustainable, renewables-only economy are going to have to be SMALL, SIMPLE, and DURABLE. They need to be built to last, very sturdy and solid and reliable, so that they will run for years and years and years with only basic routine maintenance (lubrication, check torque on all fasteners, that sort of thing). Airplane propellers have been made from aluminum, I am thinking that is what we will have to use on WTs. They should last a very long time indeed, and can eventually be recycled just with electricity to make new ones.

Simple and durable, yes. I like the Enercon design without a gearbox (Not available here till patents expire).


But small and large as well. There are efficiencies of scale for larger WTs. Large cranes are required, but properly maintained and refurbished they have indefinite lifespans.

Towers are expected to last at least half a century (two generation of WTs) and quite possibly longer. With a small uptick in costs on the front end, multi-century towers should be feasible (see bridges).

The higher the WTs go, small or large, the more power, especially in moderate winds.

In some respects, the ideal may be a 1 MW Enercon WT with aluminum (or Ti) blades on a very tall, "over built" tower. Very large ERoEI due to very long life.

Best Hopes for many WTs,


It would help tremendously if people would stop spouting beliefs and what they are "comfortable with" statements and start producing actual numbers and evidence. After spending quite a lot of time examining some of the EROI studies on various alternatives and the oil/fossil fuel peaking phenomenon I can assert that we, and by that I mean the scientists who actually spend their days investigating these things, DO NOT KNOW enough about actual EROIs (which may not include Brittany Spears, but definitely includes people who work in the industries) to feel comfortable with any claims of what is going to happen vis a vis alternative energy sources providing enough energy long into the future to support even a much lower energy consuming but technological culture. And it will take a technological culture to keep building and maintaining technological solutions.

Our comments are not attacks on the feasibility of alternatives as much as pointing out what needs to be taken into consideration before we can say with any definiteness what technology is feasible and has long-term viability in a future energy constrained economy. I find most of these opinion statements to be pretty superficial and glib.

So please, unless you can bring some numbers, citations, mechanisms, etc. to these discussions, and demonstrate their efficacy, fill in the holes we poor scientists have not been able to, consider your words carefully when offering mere opinions. No matter how 'informed' you may believe your opinion to be, unless you are digging deep into the science you are really not contributing to the discussion in this way.

And throw away your copies of Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, even Scientific American when it comes to energy. They are not very good sources of information, unless you consider advertising as a good source of information, I suppose.


I wouldn't take such a dig at Gail. She understands risks and uncertainties more than a lot of people. I take the approach that all numbers have uncertainty associated with them and use methods that allow us to deal with uncertainty.

For example, the failure rate numbers that Gail supplied are very useful for doing a complete reliability analysis. And predicting reliability is nothing more than an exercise in dealing with uncertainty.

At some point I will try to apply EROEI within the context of a full stochastic analysis. It is amazing the sometimes non-intuitive results one can obtain. The informed opinion usually takes place as outsiders take different approaches to analyzing a problem.

I wouldn't take such a dig at Gail.

Its not entirely clear, but I think he was digging at Alan and WNC, not Gail.

I didn't think he was aiming at Gail either.

Well, Gail said she was "uncomfortable with wind EROEI's" and George's rant was at someone who was spouting beliefs with what they are "comfortable with".

Obvious to me who he was aiming at. Not worthy of a rant, IMO.

Edit: Ahh, I noticed that Alan said something about being comfortable as well, but that was in a different subthread. So now I have no idea of who he is complaining about.

Then let me clear it up. Had you read my original post defending Gail you might have intuited it. I was not digging at Gail's comments. I know something about her work and though she might use a kind of opinion-like short hand, I know she is looking at numbers. My dig (sorry for the rant-like qualities, I'm getting exasperated at the glib comments) was intended toward one and all who assert that something SHOULD happen in the future, like wind turbines becoming less in need of long term care because... NO REAL DATA or MODELS. Just opinion.

This forum could be a place where people could share their information, and should. But too often we get these assertions that appear to be based more on hope or belief than actual work done in the field. If someone wishes to claim that such and such technology is, indeed, long-term sustainable, let them come forth with the evidence. I offered to help organize a legitimate scientific conference (or workshop) in which such evidence can be presented. So far only five emails of interest, and only one providing a paper (to all, I really am not looking for papers now, abstracts are fine and if there is enough legitimate interest I will organize a conference committee.)

Hope this clears up any misapprehensions.

like wind turbines becoming less in need of long term care because

of the normal experience curve with any new mechanical technology. It is hard to think of a contra-example where this was not the case.

The exact shape and amplitude of the curve are subject to debate, but the direction is not.


...of the normal experience curve with any new mechanical technology.

Herein lies the issue. Making projections based on the normal experience is not completely warranted, perhaps not warranted at all. It is essentially a BAU-style argument. The future will be like the past only more so. As long as there was increasing net exergy flow to the economy, and that means to capital investment in technology improvement, all was well and we could project the future based on past experience. The future times are not going to be 'normal'. The peak of net exergy (which may have already occurred) means that there will not be sufficient energy to do the kind of work needed to improve the technologies through the normal capitalistic (profit motive-based) approaches. This doesn't preclude a step in by government that could focus capital investment, but in the current climate that seems unlikely.

If you are saying that the "direction" of improvement in the past is not debatable, I concur. But to assume the same capacities will rule in the future is.

I share with you and many other commentators on TOD the hope that the future will find us doing better than some of the indicators suggest. I hope that we will find that things like EROI and long-term sustainability of alternative energy sources (even nuclear!) turn out to be what will make something like a technological civilization feasible. I don't want it to be all downhill and pain and suffering for large swatches of humanity. But I also want us to start making policy decisions based on real understanding and not just hopes and beliefs. Right now too much of the latter is happening. I still offer the corn ethanol debacle as a paradigmatic case in this kind of decision making. I am very suspicious of claims made by people actually in the various alt energy industries. I was in the solar residential heating business in the '80s and heard a lot of claims back then that proved unverifiable and in many cases false. I got out of that business before it crashed because of a simple calculation (Joule if you read this, take note) that showed that the total energy required to build the flat plate collectors and accompanying equipment for a system was more than the system would ever deliver to the home owner over the life of the system (we had instrumented a number of systems that were HUD sponsored demonstrations so we had the data! Would you believe some systems actually had negative efficiencies? None that I designed, thank the Maker). The nation was poorer energetically, even while a home owner got supposedly free heat.

My claim is simple. The points I have outlined are the kinds of things we need to know with some certainty in order to assemble a reasonably verifiable model of long-term sustainability. We currently do not have sufficiently definitive models and that is what I feel we need to work toward. Merely arguing back and forth about our opinions just isn't adequate to move the discourse forward. If we are going to make decisions to commit what capital investments we have left (if any!) we had better make good ones. There is no longer a margin of error to rely on if we make mistakes.

My official energy research page

On the narrow issue of the experience curve, I do not see how a post-Peak Oil world affects it directly.

One normal practice is for customers to return (smaller only) broken pieces for failure analysis. The results of that analysis often lead to production changes in units made after that date as well in replacement spares sold to existing units.

Larger pieces often have forensic engineers visit (or just the factory guys & gals) and take samples for analysis. Same result.

Iterative redesign leads to more reliable units. And designs for the next generation should (but not always do) reflect the experience from the last generation.

As long as technical manufacturing exists, I expect lessons to be learned.

In the specific case of wind turbines, economies of scale have driven a very rapid growth. Roughly 70 kW, 125-150 kW, 225-250 kW, 500-600 kW, 1 MW, 2 MW, 3 MW, 5 MW are the generations with only a few years in between many of these "generations".

The stresses and design details varied with size, and there was not enough experience with the last "generation" before the next larger size was developed. What was "gold plating" and what was "solid durable construction" had not been determined (i.e. value engineering balance) for the last two or three generations before the next generation was designed (I had a discussion with a Danish engineer from Nordex who complained about this as he helped design their first 1 MW WT).

After the first 1 MW WTs have had twenty-five years of operational experience, I would expect that the WTs manufactured then to be more reliable and lower maintenance.

After one life cycle of experience, the learning curve should flatten and only "breakthrus" (I see Enercon's gearbox-less design as such) will create a significant drop in operating expenses.

Again, I do not see how economic contraction, high oil prices, etc. will alter this in any meaningful way.

Best Hopes,


...I do not see how economic contraction, high oil prices, etc. will alter this in any meaningful way.

Perhaps some time thinking about all of the work you described as part of this cycle and what it might mean when contraction starts to take effect (and I think that is already under way!) will change your mind.

But peak FF will affect the EROEI of FF systems too.

While large scale wind generated electricity is fairly new and the data is still coming in on reliability, EROI, etc. this isn't new technology. Perhaps not useful to the current debate, but an interesting subject, nevertheless. Some history of American wind power:


Early Jacobs' machines. Photos include Antarctica unit installed by Admiral Byrd in 1933. The unit was removed in 1955. Also shown are a lineup of later models at a variety of sites.

Still operational in Antartica after 22 years! 1930s technology folks.


Letter from Marcellus Jacobs to Representative John R. Murdock who was sponsoring a bill for funding experimental development of wind energy systems. This was part of a report printed for use by the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.



Summary of a Report to the United Nations Conference on New Sources of Energy, titled "Experience With Jacobs Wind Driven Electric Generating Plant, 1931-1957"

Read the note on the (tiny) maintenance costs.

This debate has been going on for a long time. Maybe it's time to stop picking nits, solve the problems, and get on with it.


You say: "I offered to help organize a legitimate scientific conference (or workshop) in which such evidence can be presented."

I feel your frustration. I've been trying to get people even in this less formal stucture to at least try to construct their arguments in such a way as to create a more useful discussion. Everyone's opinions are based on their assumptions. People like to offer their opinions, but they rarely want to discuss the assumptions upon which they are based. People don't like to be proven wrong and this defensive stategy assures they never have to be.

'Everyone's opinions are based on their assumptions."

I see many contibutors on TOD who back up their opinions with data and links. Not "everyone", so should all opinions be banned? "Back it up or shut it up"?

I don't work on energy alternatives or new designs or ideas because I have nothing much innovative to add. Yet I can do quite a bit of creative analysis.

So if I were to start creating Wikipedia pages describing some of my ideas, such as the Oil Shock model and Dispersive Discovery, would there be enough of a supportive set of TOD readers to help maintain the pages? By that I mean that the wiki entries would likely come under frequent attack by skeptics and others who have something at stake, and wiki pages only flourish if a groundswell exists to support their validity and ultimate acceptance.

It would be an interesting experiment in any case. I noticed that the Export Land Model has an entry.


Not at all. I'm simply saying that people need to explain their underlying assumptions better, rather than just stating their opinions. I'm also saying that it is not accidental that they do this. It's a argument strategy designed so they never have to examine closely and defend their own rationals.

By the way, more data is definitely not the answer. If anything there is way too much of it to be found here. Backing up opinions with mountains of data is just another way to muddy the water. The more elaborate the argument, the less likely it is true.

I agree about muddying the waters. Just look at the length of this post! If all of the unsupported, ridiculous comments were removed it would be much shorter, yet some of the more humorous and ironic comments may go as well, and these add entertainment value and perspective. This is the paradox of an open forum such as TOD. If it becomes too focused and "dry" you lose readers. If it becomes to infused with opinion, too cumbersome, you lose readers.

I have stated in the past that wind technology will become more reliable over time. I could support this by comparing it to other technologies. I could create a multi-page report on improvments in turbofan engines over the last 50 years and compare that to wind turbines. Yet, improving reliability and reduced maintanence are enough of a given that there is (to me) really no point. Should someone then challenge this assertion I'd be glad to oblige. I ask folks to clarify or support statements frequently.

Your idea that people don't back up their opinions for a reason is interesting.
Got anything to support that? ;-)

I think some of your rant would be more appropriately linked to the grandparent comment.


Since your rant was apparently directed at least in part at me, I feel obliged to respond.

To the charge of expressing personal opinions on TOD, I confess "guilty". I do presume, in the interest of justice and fairness, that all other guilty parties will also be charged? It will be a very large group of defendants.

I also confess that I am no expert when it comes to wind power; I have never made any claims here to have such expertise. Nor have I ventured to speculate on the question of the actual EROI of WTs. It is an interesting question, but not one to which I can contribute much of substance. I do confess to harboring doubts regarding claims on the extreme side, either high or low. I tend to doubt extreme claims as a general rule (unless convincing evidence exists to support them), and won't apologize for that. It is an approach that has usually served me pretty well.

None, of course, can know the future. We can make some educated guesses about some things, but we can't really know for certain. There are quite a few people, especially populating government offices, corporate headquarters, and academia, who are absolutely certain that BAU must be sustained, and thus are absolutely certain that it will be sustained. We see others, disproportionately represented here on TOD, who are just as absolutely convinced that all of humankind and our global civilization must crash in an catastrophic collapse and massive die-off. Again, I tend to doubt both of these extremes. Maybe one side or the other will be right, but for now I just haven't seen convincing evidence. What does interest me, therefore, are the midrange scenarios. Assuming that we are neither going to go onward and upward with BAU, nor crash into near-oblivion, what pathways and end results might be possible within this middle range of decline? I don't know for certain if the midrange decline pathway is what we actually will take, but is it not worth at least exploring?

When you start focusing on the midrange decline pathway, then certain assumptions and boundaries begin to become more-or-less self evident. For example: A society that has exhausted its non-renewable resources must live within the limits inherent within the available renewable resources. If that is not self-evident, I await someone convincingly showing how that cannot be the case. If this is granted as a valid assumption, then it is clear that this must provide some definition for the best possible destination at the end of the decline curve. I don't know if we actually will level out there, or just continue declining all the way into oblivion. We might do the latter, but it interests me more to consider what the former might look like, and what might be possible with it, and how we might arrange to get there. Is that all a matter of "opinion"? Well, I suppose, given that I cannot offer up any charts of graphs from any controlled experiments. But it really isn't a matter of opinion that a society without non-renewable resources must subsist only on renewable ones.

Another example: Given only a renewable resource base, there must be some level (and mix) of renewable energy production that is consistent with and sustainable long-term by some level of technology and industrial infrastructure. It is only reasonable to assume that in a truly sustainable society, these must match up to one another. Again, I am doubtful that this level matches the present FF-powered BAU, but I am also doubtful that the level is zero (as was claimed here). Maybe subsequent events will prove it to be zero. Maybe, but as of yet, I fail to see the convincing evidence. There was too much renewable energy being harnessed in too many different ways before the FF era, and too many artifacts being produced; those seem to me to be rather inconvenient facts for the "doomer" point of view.

I could continue, but this post is alreadly too long. My point is that what I am trying to accomplish in my posts is to try to help sketch out the likely boundaries of the possible, assuming a mid-range decline pathway. I am trying to help paint a vision that is an alternative both to Pollyanna/Pangloss "official future" on the one hand, and Gotterdamerung on the other. There is plenty of opinion in this venture, yes. I'm not sure how one really could avoid that, it seems to be inherent to the task.

Fair enough WNC. Don't take my rant personally.

What would be wonderful (to me anyway) is if everyone who has thought about this situation we are in would actually do what they can to discover reality, wherever it may lay, in a meaningful way. Forget opinions - become scientists!

This is a large community (TOD). Surely there are a few folks out there who can gain access to data regarding energy costs to produce and maintain alternative energy systems. When I was in Syracuse with Charlie Hall and Dave Murphy we talked a bit about the idea of turning out an army of data gatherers (students, we figured) to go get accounting data from companies that would be willing to share access. It would be the basis of a bottom up EROI analysis. Even public records might do. Every utility has records regarding the amount of energy (in energy units not dollars) that various customers have used. Somehow it should be possible to collect this data and build solid evidence.

I'm just really tired of not knowing when the data is so maddeningly close at hand. What can the members of this community do to actually start going and getting data that we can use? Some of us have the computing capacity but no data. We need knowledge.



You see TOD as a vast neural net that could contribute to real scientific understanding. That was an idea I also had when I joined about 3 weeks ago. So far, it's a slow start, but I still believe this approach has a lot of potential. Please don't give up.

Thanks, George.

Establishing accurate EROI figures is important, and I do encourage those in a position to work on that to do so. I would just point out that data that is only approximate but good enough to establish a reliable rank ordering of technologies would be extremely useful. At least that would give us some useful direction as to where we should plan to best concentrate our efforts.

For example, most of us have seen various published estimates for corn (maize) based bioethanol EROI; most of these seem to be coming in within a range of something under 1.0 to just slightly greater than 1.0. Not good at all, and undoubtedly due to the need to apply heat to the distillation process. What figures we've seen thus far seem to suggest that Brazilian sugar cane based bioethanol come in a little better. I've seen figures of 8.0; I don't know if that is actually the accurate number or not, although the fact that Brazilian processors use the cane crop wastes as the fuel in their processing would seem to inherently boost their figure to a higher level than the corn-based processes. I have not seen any good research on the EROI of bioethanol using syrup from cane sorghum; however, could not one make some extrapolations and reasonably suspect that it might come in someplace midway between corn and sugar cane? Even this preliminary, and so far probably inaccurate data, is enough to suggest to me an evident rank ordering: to the extent that bioethanol is attempted at all, first go with sugar cane feedstock where you have the tropical or semi-tropical places to grow it (Hawaii, maybe S. FL, S TX, S. LA), then grow cane sorghum as the feedstock in more temperate locations (most of the US, including everywhere that maize can be grown), with maize bringing up the rear as the least promising feedstock. This immediately suggests to me that we have been making a big mistake in promoting maize based bioethanol. If there is to be any research funding or subsidization of bioethanol going on at all, it should be targeted toward cane sorghum as a feedstock rather than maize. Every farmer presently growing maize could, with minor adjustments to their practices and their equipment, feasibly switch to sorghum. Indeed, as sorghum has fewer pests and needs less water, it should be a less costly crop to grow, both for the farmer and for the environment. On the other hand, assuming we have any land at all that we can spare from food production for enegy feedstock production (a debatable question, for sure, and one that does tend to set an upper - but as yet not firmly defined - boundary on how much energy we can hope to obtain from biomass crops), we need to go further and consider whether or not we can get a better EROI from cane sorghum bioethanol, or from oilseeds for biodiesel feedstock, or from just growing biomass to burn directly for heat.

When it comes to resources like solar and wind, things become more tricky. We do indeed need more research. I do note that solar water heating is a long-established and widely adopted technology, and that the Dutch and other peoples were using windmills quite extensively before the FF age; can we not reasonably assume that these, at least, probably do have positive EROIs at some level, or else they would not have been widely done? WTs are a little more uncertain, although the fact that they do seem to be taking off around the globe suggests that they are at least worth studying intensively as a strong candidate for turning in a good EROI. PVs are more questionable still; we really need more research in those before we bet our future on them.

I am guessing that as a general rule of thumb, simpler technologies that are durable, and that do not require a lot of process heat as an input somewhere in the supply chain, are probably going to come out best in the rank ordering; there could be exceptions, but logic would suggest that such technologies would have an inherent advantage just in terms of basic physics.


I told myself I was done for the day but then I saw this post. In it you lay out your underlying assumptions, at last. As I have said before, your opinions about the future are based on these assumptions. So, if you don't mind, I'd like to take a shot at a critique.

You say (whole paragraph included):
"None, of course, can know the future. We can make some educated guesses about some things, but we can't really know for certain. There are quite a few people, especially populating government offices, corporate headquarters, and academia, who are absolutely certain that BAU must be sustained, and thus are absolutely certain that it will be sustained. We see others, disproportionately represented here on TOD, who are just as absolutely convinced that all of humankind and our global civilization must crash in an catastrophic collapse and massive die-off. Again, I tend to doubt both of these extremes. Maybe one side or the other will be right, but for now I just haven't seen convincing evidence. What does interest me, therefore, are the midrange scenarios. Assuming that we are neither going to go onward and upward with BAU, nor crash into near-oblivion, what pathways and end results might be possible within this middle range of decline? I don't know for certain if the midrange decline pathway is what we actually will take, but is it not worth at least exploring?"

You seem to be saying that the 'decline' trendline, upon which you base all of your ideas of the future, is simply the average between BAU and catastrophic collapse!
It is obvious that BAU is physically impossible. But catastrophic collapse IS possible (likely). By averaging in a senario that can never happen, you have thrown your calculations off by at least half! Every further idea that is built upon this mental model must, therefore, be WRONG!

You then continue:
"When you start focusing on the midrange decline pathway, then certain assumptions and boundaries begin to become more-or-less self evident..."

I rest my case.



I guess this is the part where you ignore me. I asked you to explain your underlying assumptions and all you ever did was side step my question. You dodged and weaved. My style and manners were called into question. Still, no answser.

But then a REAL SCIENTIST (George.Mobus) suggests the same flaws in reasoning that I've been going on about. And your ego (specifically your approval seeking behavior from an authority figure) causes you to instantly and voluntarily cough up the information I've been after all along! Ha. Ha. Hoisted by your own petard! George.Mobus teaches science. He's been there and seen your kind of naive, unscientific thinking many times (probably thousands). His approach, as a teacher, is to patiently and gently help you to understand the flaws in your reasoning so that, over time, you learn. He won't call you out. I'm not that nice.

Now that I have the basis (in your own words) for your brilliant reasoning, you've disappeared. That's OK. I'm going to leave this post for a while and wait for an answer to my charges. Perhaps you're busy. If, however, you choose to ignore this, it will be at your own peril (intellectually speaking, of course). I will simply repost my previous post as a rebutal to any bright ideas you might have in the future (since they are all based on your flawed initial reasoning). Readers can then decide if anything you say makes any sense at all! The words come from your own mouth. They will be very hard to run from.

Please note that this is not a personal attack. I just need to use you as an example. Thanks.

Please note that this is not a personal attack.

Really? Gosh, sure had me fooled.



"Really? Gosh, sure had me fooled."

Are you being serious?

Very much so.



This is between WNC and me. What's your point?

WNC laid out his core assumptions. Would YOU like to defend them?

If this is a social repremand, please join my social theory thread down the page.

Otherwise, BUT OUT.



You made a statement, for all to see, and I challenged you on it. That sort of thing happens on public forums.


Ok, Paul,

What's your challenge? Are you going to defend WNC's BASIC ASSUMPTIONS?

I did not tell you not to challenge me. I said, 'for all to see', if you want to 'challenge' me about my manners, there is a better place to do it down the thread (Social theory with Alan and johkul vs. me). You are welcome and invited to join in. This thread is about WNC's ideas. I'd rather not mix up the two points. That would only create more confussion (is that what you're trying to do?). Do you mind?

I hope you're not trying suggest that I'm afraid of your 'challenge'. I can't even tell what it is.



Then let me be more clear; I'm challenging your claim that your comments to WNC do not constitute a personal attack. When you accuse someone of "approval seeking behavior from an authority figure" and refer to their thinking as "naive" and "unscientific" you are making specific claims with respect to the individual and not their opinion.

As for your manners, I'll keep my thoughts private. Everyone is free to draw their own conclusions, as no doubt many already have.



I asked you twice if you wouldn't mind posting your comment in a more appropriate place down the thread. I'm trying to leave a spot for WNC to answer some serious questions about his ideas, not his person. (Where is WNC by the way?) If you'd like to repost your complaint in the place I asked, I'd be glad to address it in full.

Once again, Cheers.

Sorry, all. Busy day yesterday, and today too. I had more time than usual over the weekend to follow this thread, but not now.

Loren, et al, I respect your right to your point of view, and I have always been careful to qualify my remarks with a recognition that even the most extreme doomer positions are indeed POSSIBLE. The truth is that none of us really knows what the future will be. I've outlined my viewpoints, if your's differ then that's fine. I really don't have time to get into big arguments with anyone here.

To All,

I woke up today thinking my efforts here on TOD were probably destined to be for naught. I decided I would drum today instead. Then I thought, oh what the hell, I should at least check the threads and see what was new there (hoping to find nothing). Still determined not to post today, (my girlfriend doesn't like you guys very much) I couldn't help but start formulating clever responses to what I did find (thanks a lot) in my mind. I was off to find my drumsticks and I began to whistle a little tune (sort of unconsciously, not really thinking about what it was). By the time I sat down to play, I was singing the lyrics and all of a sudden it hit me. My subconscious had formulated the perfect response to all of this. I absolutely HAD TO POST!

The tone has changed markedly and that's a good thing. My anthropologist friend, Tim, would say you were back to sniff my butt again! Perhaps we should try to find common ground on all of this, but I may need to take a little break for a while.

So, in closing I'd like to leave you with the lyrics to that song that popped into my head earlier. I couldn't begin to formulate a better way to say what I've been trying to convey to you all along.

The song is "Long Live Politzania" by Klaatu, from their album 'Hope'. If you haven't heard it, I would highly recomend a listen (check on youtube). Hope is a concept album that contains many apocalyptic themes, viewed from many different angles, each with different lessons. These guys even brought in the London Philharmonic Ochestra! Well worth more than one listen. Please read the lyrics carefully.

Here's the set-up to get the context:
A scatchy old victorian record begins to play. It is a recording of a stuffy, British archeologist who is giving a lecure about some recently discovered lost civilization:

_________"As facts are few
__________And far between
__________Hypothesis defies all logic
__________As to what, precisely, led to her demise

__________For what appears shear grandiosity
__________No legacy remains
__________Except her crumbing ruins
__________On which these words were found engraved

__________Politzania, Politzania
__________Long live Politzania
__________Politzania, Politzania
__________God save Politzania

__________Politzania, Politzania
__________Long live Politzania
__________Politzania, Politzania
__________God save Politzania

__________Now these ancient Politzanians
__________As far as archeologists have traced
__________Had most thoroughly convinced themselves
__________They were a superior race

__________Quite rediculous notion, granted
__________However, if we assume her sister rivals
__________Rose to quell such monstrous claims
__________I most humbly submit her unpleasnt end, is satifactorally explained

__________Politzania, Politzania
__________Long live Politzania
__________Politzania, Politzania
__________God save Politzania

__________Politzania, Politzania
__________Long live Politzania
__________Politzania, Politzania
__________God save Politzania

__________Those citizens who questioned
__________Those suspect harborors of doubt
__________Were brought before a panel of
__________The ministry of health

__________They were tested, and encephalographed
__________Till rendered quite insane
__________When, in accordance with the law
__________They repossesed their brains
__________They repossesed their brains

__________Politzania, brave, strong, and true
__________Politzania, we all love you
__________We'll smite our foes
__________For we are right
__________And God is on our side

__________Politzania, red, white, and green
__________Politzania, reigning supreme
__________Victors in war
__________Champions of peace
__________Unto eternity

__________(Everybody now)

__________La, la, la la la
__________La la, la la la
__________La, la, la la la
__________La la, la la la
__________La, la la la
__________La, la la la

Best Hopes for Seeing the Big Picture,



Who ever said social collapse couldn't be FUN!

Oh Loren man, just keep on drumming and listen to jimi Hendrix: "knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens". Some people are just hoping for collapse and try to convince everyone else that there is no other possibility.

Ok, just one more post.

Han, you're an IDIOT!

Bye again.

Well Loren, that is the kind of answer I expected. Read your posts in this article and think.

I think a more appropriate song for TOD could be Clearance Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising."

It would help tremendously if people would stop spouting beliefs and what they are "comfortable with" statements and start producing actual numbers and evidence.

There's quite a bit of published literature from Hall, Cleveland, etc., all of which support a high E-ROI for wind.

You state that you've spent time with Hall, and come away feeling that these analyses aren't solid, but you haven't published it. How can we rely on what you say, given that its' not quantitative and not backed up by published information?


Renewability is a red herring. There is a finite supply of silicon, but it is an enormous supply. The issue with conventional oil is that we are close to the peak.

And I certainly don't believe your 'winding down of industrial society'. You haven't made the case that it is the outcome.

There is a huge divergence in energy intensity in developed countries. It makes more sense to focus on diminishing energy use than trying to rely heavily or exclusively on renewals. A carbon tax is justified given global warming and depletion of fossil fuels.

I suspect you are going to find that nuclear power easily passes the EROI test.

I have been following TOD for many months without posting, but I finally have something very useful to say based on my own expertise. I have been considering how to effectively model net energy. The work you present above (as well as many others on this site) is helpful in forming and organizing my own ideas. However, I think the point is missed, and is missed in general on this site, is that oil peak and decline will be a long and dynamic process. These dynamics are crucial to effectively evaluating the value of any given technology.

For example, the reality of the situation is that, for better or worse, we presently have enormous oil production and distribution infrastructure. This will not be true forever, but we must factor in this knowledge when evaluating alternative energy technologies. A hundred years from now wind turbines will be held to a higher standard of sustainable net energy production, but for now we must evaluate wind turbines based on current manufacturing practices---those that use fossil fuels. More formally, at each moment in time, investing energy in capital carries with it a choice of which technology to invest in and, after a delay for construction/drilling/mining, the reward of returned energy. The best energy investment strategy is the one that maximizes the expected sum of all future returned energy over an infinite future horizon. There is a rich mathematical literature focused on optimizing over this class of multi-step decision problem called reinforcement learning (or approximate dynamic programming).

I raise this technical point because steady-state analysis will (in my gross judgement without running the numbers) tend to hurt alternative energy investment in the short run. Using cheap energy to produce expensive energy is a good investment if 1) we need the energy in the short run and 2) the only alternative is using expensive energy to create expensive energy at a later date. While unpopular, a sound longterm energy policy may be to substitute between oil and natural gas completely before subsequent substitutions to solar and wind.

Let me explain further. The optimization problem is made more complex (and the solution less certain) by the fact that the amount of energy that must be produced is a function of variables that could change based on politics, social awareness, economic development, technological improvements, etc. At any time, only the maximum total net energy is a fixed quantity and, unfortunately, even that quantity requires perfect knowledge of the future. On top of this, there seem to be environmental limits on the maximum allowable rate of fossil fuel based energy production. These variables introduce temporally defined constraints and rewards of energy use and they dominate the optimization problem. For example, if we wish to maximize the probability of longterm survival of at least some of the knowledge, infrastructure, and technology that civilization has developed we will arrive at an optimal energy investment solution that is different than if we wish to minimize the amount of human suffering that will occur during our transition away from fossil fuels.

With the problem constrained and goals well-defined, governing bodies and scientists can iterate between policy decisions and simulated future outcomes to plot the energy future. At that point computer models, such as the one you propose, combined with optimization will be capable of accurately assessing net energy.

Good food for thought. Still chewing :-)


Bristlecone, excellent point of view to consider. Would you consider submitting a post to Gail?

In almost any area you care to look at "business as usual" is rapid and continual change and it is not predictable. Rapid, continual, and unpredictable change holds true for energy as well. The sky is not falling. Sorry Chicken Littles, your advice is worthless; the coming change is unpredictable. We will adapt to each and every new reality. Hardly anyone thinks that there is no end to logarithmic growth. My students carried out viable counts of bacterial growth and plotted a growth curve. Students quickly appreciated that logarithmic growth in a population with a generation time of less than twenty minutes can only be sustained for only a few hours in the finite space of the flask and finite limits on nutrients.

Some look on projections for earth’s nutrient limitations as maximal amounts. It is more reasonable to look on such projections worst case not best case projections. In either case, as with bacteria, exponential growth cannot be sustained in human population on a planet with finite space and nutrients. Our population will peak. With bacteria one can offer two energy sources. Bacteria will utilize the more reduced (i.e. more energetic) source first. Its growth will lag for a time when the first source runs out, until it synthesizes enzymes to take advantage of the second energy source. The slope of the log curve will be less steep do to lesser energy from the second source.

We are at an inflection point as we arrive at peak oil. We seek an affordable alternative energy source. It is possible that our second source of energy will be cheaper than the first source in which case the standard of live may increase to a higher level.

I am struck by the absence of any mention nuclear power by posters to this thread.
Nuclear power provides 70% of our emissions free energy for electricity and nearly 20% of our total power generation. No mention is made about nuclear power as a replacement for fossil fuel. New generation reactors such as the IFR, the PBMR, and the LFTR can operate at high temperature. Hydrogen can be extracted from water at high efficiency (>50%) with heat from high temp reactors. Twenty percent of the energy used in agriculture goes into nitrogen production. Natural gas currently serves as the hydrogen source. We could save some natural gas for use in home heating if we replace natural gas with nuclear reactor heat generated hydrogen from water. We could replace natural gas generated electricity with nuclear power and that would amount to doubling the electricity made by nuclear power.

Concern for climate change should cause us to urgently seek a replacement for dirty coal. Nuclear power is the only emission free energy source capable of replacing dirty coal. The LFTR does not need the so-called billion dollar dome and the extremely expensive reactor vessel because it operates at ambient pressure. It needs no operator and can be buried or placed on the floor of the sea, away from terrorists.

The entire world would stop using coal if a cheaper safe energy source was found. The LFTR is a good candidate. Two Nobel Laureates of the Manhattan project, Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner endorsed the LFTR as the preferred source for domestic power production. Two prototypes operated successfully in the 1950s and 1960s for several years.

John, you didn't answer your own question.

"We are at an inflection point as we arrive at peak oil. We seek an affordable alternative energy source."

The first part is accurate, the second part not quite - we seek an alternative transportation energy source would be more accurate.

You then go on to talk about nuclear power, fertiliser etc, but you don't explain how any of this replaces oil. WE have abundant supply of fuel (fossil and renewable) for electricity, but transport is the issue.

You explain that population is limited by food, and no one will disagree with that. But electricity plays a very minor role in basic food production (processed food is different, but we don;t have to eat that), it is more to improve other aspects of our standard of living.
Running out of oil has the potential to limit food production and more importantly, transport, in a big way. Replacing coal plants with nuclear will make no difference to that.

Yes, climate change may be another inflection point, but is quite separate to oil - equivalent to changing the temperature of your culture - makes little difference to population growth if it has already stabilised from being run out of nutrients.

Nuclear produces cheap hydrogen from water which Los Alamos Lab say can be combined with atmospheric CO2 to produce syngasoline. The cost is still more than our current price but less than double.

JOhn, yes, you can produce gasoline that way, but it is phenomenally expensive. Not until every train has been electrified, and every other oil use minimised would you go that route. Actually easier to use the hydrogen with gasified biomass to make methanol.

if we are wanting to use electricity to make fuel, better to do it at a coal plant, were you have a concentrated stream of CO2.

better still, you would electrify the oilsands extraction and go from there (after minimising oil use first).

In any case, the CO2 to fuel has NEVER been demonstrated at at commercial, or even pilot scale, and it takes decades to get these things from the lab to production, so I would not hang my hat on this.

For the record, i have no problem with nuclear electricity, at all. It's just not a solution for near or mid term transport.

Paul,Here are two possible ways to use energy generated by nuclear reactors to power our transportation system which I came across in the literature.

1) Electrified highway:

PRISM, (PRogram for Individual Sustainable Mobility) Advance research group at Ford


Check out this 8 page reference if you have a futurist vent.

The basic idea is to have a small, lightweight, narrow car, 2m wide, seating at most two people in tandem. It has a small, cheap battery to go a few miles to a major roadway batteries would work fine for this purpose. Once on a major roadway, it gets power in a special lane from an inductive track, and is guided by computers. A radio-frequency tag promises the controller that the vehicle meets the guideway’s requirements for size, weight, power use, metering, control systems, etc.

The small size of the vehicles permits a phase II infrastructure of special small, lightweight “guideways”. Since the guideway and car are half the width (2m), they have roughly ¼ the cost of infrastructure for conventional vehicles. This permits overhead guideways, so new roads can be constructed on a pole every thirty feet. Since these are on a separated grade, with inspected vehicles and automated controls, they should be from 10,000 to a million times safer than conventional cars.

2) Green Freedom method of synfuel production: Coupled with hydrogen separation from water by catalytic thermochemical means with heat from a nuclear reactor or a thermosolar collector synfuel may offer a replacement for petroleum.


The Los Alamos National Lab has developed a highly efficient method for using atmospheric carbon dioxide to provide the carbon for synfuel. They project an operating cost (Nov 2007) of $0.65/gal for MEOH and $1.40/gal for syn gasoline. Add on $ five billion for plant construction and the cost the price goes to $4.60 for gasoline and $1.65 for methanol. With suggested improvements costs could drop to $3.40/gal and $1.14/gal. I have wondered if propane could be produced more cheaply than gasoline. Propane is a good fuel for cars, trucks, and tractors.

When reputable labs like Los Alamos start to use marketing slogans like :"green freedom" we should all be worried. That proposal entails spending $9.6Bn on the nuke plant to produce 20,000 bbl/day of oil. That is $500k/bpd - compare that to oilsands at $60k/bpd and coal to oil at $100k.
Their "production costs" clearly do not make any rational accounting for capital

That is a massive investment of societies resources for a small amount of oil, and needs to be at over $150/bbl to be worth while. At that prevailing price, $10bn will buy a lot of conservation or other alternatives.

Words like "reputable" and "rational" no longer seem to needed in the world of business
BHPBilliton is the worlds largest mining company. Their motto everywhere and on their website is "Resourcing The Future".
How can ripping stuff out of the ground be resourcing the future? Is pumping oil out of the ground resourcing the future.
Do they honestly believe it themselves or is it a contrived business strategy to delude the world?

The sad thing is though, I think a vast majority of people do not accept that using resources now is stealing from the future. That's why they get way with the B/S.


Please provide references for the numbers you provide, and note whether they are capital costs only, or include O&M, fuel costs, etc. Also provide lbs CO2/bbl.


I did not come up with those numbers myself, they are from Engineer-Poet, who is the most through numbers guy I have yet seen on this or any other forum. Look up his post on "revisiting green freedom" at his blogsite, http://ergosphere.blogspot.com/.

As for how much CO2, I'll do those numbers myself. CO2 has a molar mass of 44. We are converting to oil, which is CH2n, molar mass of 14, but is still the same carbon atom. 44/14 is 3.143, so for a barrel of oil, 160L at s.g of 0.8, we have 128kg oil, and it would have needed 400kg (880lbs) CO2 to get it, assuming we have 100% conversion efficiency.

Half a ton of CO2 for a barrel of oil. CO2 in atmosphere is 380 ppm(by volume), but 700ppm by mass, or 0.07%. So to get our half ton of CO2 from the atmosphere, we need to process 1428 half tons of air (700tons). Air has a density of 1.25kg/cu.m so we need to process 700,000/1.25 =560,000 cubic metres of air. To put that into perspective the Hindenburg airship was 200,000 cu.m, so you can see you need to process a LOT of air.

EP doesn't say if they are just capital or include O&M, which for tar sands and GTL will be immense.

It appears that for once, EP has misread something. As I read the report, it is $4.6bn to make methanol, OR $5bn (an extra $400m) to go all the way to gasoline.

So at $5bn, that is $271k/bpd (barrel/day) capital cost, comparing to $85k for coal to liquids (current Sasol plant under consideration), and about $60k for oil sands. neither the Green Freedom or coal to liquids include the cost of the relevant mine, but this is included in the feedstock cost.

The oilsands operation is its own mine, but also has a feedstock cost for natural gas.

Green freedom has an operating cost of $1.40/gal, which equates to $60/bbl.

For comparison, cash costs of production (i.e. not including capital or profit) for oilsands are typically $20/bbl

So, with oil at $80/bbl, new oilsands projects are on hold today,as are coal to liquids projects, but would likely go ahead at $100 (some companies have said $90). GF has three times the capital and three times the operating costs, so I'll extrapolate the $80 (benefit of the doubt) and say that is $240/bbl oil.

That, I think, would qualify as "phenomenally expensive" in the oil and gas world. Even oil shale starts to look good at less than that.

And, this whole concept is based on a new process that has not progressed beyond the lab. Even Los Alamos admit to "unverified performance characteristics" of the process. So there is still decades of development and scale up ahead for this, which means more capital $ to be recovered in the eventual operation.

Engineer-Poet may (or may not) have made a numerical error (and I welcome his input on that), but I still agree with his conclusion, that this is uneconomic on a grand scale and looks designed to perpetuate petroleum dependency.

If oil ever gets anything like that high in price, and we cant conserve/fuel switch our way out of using it, oilsands, CTL can, and should, happen first. These are now proven technology, just uneconomic at current levels. Green freedom is totally unproven technology, and uneconomic at anything other than stratospheric oil prices. It almost makes solar PV look cheap!

The figures you present are initial pilot project cost, which are always going to be higher than production costs, and improvements in efficiencies will continue to surface;

 Electrolytic cells account for ~20% of the total capital investment required for a synthetic
gasoline plant. General Electric can fabricate alkaline electrolyzers from Noryl® plastic for a
significant cost savings.vi Use of this material for both the hydrogen electrolyzers and electrolytic
stripping cells could result in substantial savings.
 Advances in material science that make steam electrolysis commercially feasible could reduce
both capital costs and energy consumption as well.
If just these improvements are realized, the price of gasoline at the pump would be reduced to $3.40/gal
and the price of methanol at the plant gate would be reduced to $1.14/gal.

What is missing from the CTL and tars sands costs are the external costs, which are very steep with regards to;
- CO2 emissions (product plus mining/processing/refinement)
- water pollution (extremely high with tar sands)

On the other hand, GF is virtually emission free (closed loop CO2 combustion/recapture) with no water pollution.

However, I would tend to agree with EP that keeping the population hooked on oil reduces the impetus to 'get off oil', so other solutions are far more promising, such as a switch over to renewable electricity as a mass transit motive force (which would work to solve 2 problems simultaneously).

..you can produce gasoline that way, but it is phenomenally expensive.

Define "phenomenally". Estimates by researchers put it somewhere around the $5 level. You may wish to challenge that, but let's see the numbers.

I do like to talk about specifics.
Let's take trains. diesel locomotives are already electric. All locamotives run on DC traction motors. Adding an overhead electric option will happen if electricity becomes less expensive relative to oil. Moving heavy stuff around North America or Eurasia is not at risk.

Personal transportation will not have one solution.
IBM has empty building because there teams meet online. In fact, some teams have never met face to face. Trading oil for electricity.
Obviously we will have battery cars. I think we will also need hydrogen cars. I expect we will have diesel cars for the rest of the century. Poor people will likely drive gas cars for a long time. It's expensive to be poor.

The stat that's used is that it takes 15 years to replace almost all cars. But I bet 80% of miles are driven by much newer cars. Also, when a family buys a less expensive to operate new cars that car will be preferred to the second gas guzzler. So the drama of the difficulty of replacing personal transport is overdone. A big change can happen in less than ten years.

Natural gas can be retrofitted to semi tractors to burn less diesel. It also makes the diesel burn more cleanly. This is done now.
If semi tractors require a new type of engine with a bulky fuel, this can be done too. It's easy to stretch a semi tractor 10 feet and put a huge tank behind the cab. This would be illegal now due to length. But we may prefer to change a law rather than starve.

Farms are easy because of land area for solar, wind, and/or biofuels. My ideal farm uses wind and solar to make, electricity, hydrogen, and nitrogen. (I can make this work without hydrogen, but I like hydrogen). The system is sized at 120% of yearly need.
Planting and harvest are time sensitive, so at these times high power is desirable. So I'm going to leave the big tractor and combine diesel (or biodiesel). Hydrogen would be fine too. But the remaining activities can be lower power. Maybe the electric tractor can only do four hours a day of mechanical or chemical weed control. That's not a bad problem. Or maybe we need to add more farm storage because our eletric truck can't haul as much to the elevator like a big diesel. Again, not a big problem. (The elevator is loading into that electric train)

Maybe commodity prices double under this type of ag. That would increase the grocery bill 10-20%.

There are hundreds of solutions to every problem. There are vast numbers of smart people in educated democracies. We are vastly more capable than we were in 1929 or 1939. I don't know how some areas of the world will survive, but North America will do fine.

DC, lets look at your sepcifics.
Electricity (from the grid) is already cheaper, about a third the price, of electricity from oil (which is what the locomotive must produce). It is just the enormous up front cost to electrify the tracks that is the barrier. if oil does get expensive enough, then it is worth it to electrify, though I think we may see locomotives running on NG first.

Agreed on telecommuting and the like - that is how I work. There will not be nearly as much need for some working people to go to the office.
That is only good for the office worker, not the factory worker, bus driver, barista, chef, etc . But more of those jobs will move to where the people live, in suburban centres. We will see rules change to encourage the small electric vehicles (NEV's) as these are cheap, available today, and fit for that purpose. many two car families can downsize to one +NEV.

Changing cars is not so easy. Many, many people have older cars (paid off, or bought 2nd hand) that can't get credit to buy a new one and can't afford a monthly payment - cheapest thing is to keep driving the old one. Where I live average vehicle age is 10yrs!

Agreed on nat gas, but you wouldn't need tanks as big as what you are saying - plenty of room under the trailers for long thin tanks, which are preferred to large diameter ones.

Farms can produce a lot of their own fuel. You can run a diesel on ethanol, or woodgas. Hydrogen is just as impractical at a farm as anywhere else. There are some small electric tractors in the works, no good for plowing a field, but ideal around the yard, stables, loading unloading etc. We will see more electrification of farms, for sure.
Food prices are already going up, but that is not as important as having food available. People will adjust by buying less prepared food and learning to cook from basic ingredients again

Overall, there are lots of smart solutions available, but not all of them are high tech. I am vary wary of ones that involve "electronics" (as opposed to electricity) and "hydrogen" or "fuel cells". We can make much more intelligent and efficient use of our existing technology and resources than we are currently doing

Regarding some of dmiller's remarks, recent stories listed an NGV conversion for a heavy truck at $65-85k. That really adds up with a 10 million strong fleet. This figure may be high - it was puzzling that different stories had different costs.

Concerning the age of vehicles in use you might find the info in the very handy Transportation Energy Data Book. The median age of a passenger car in 2008 was 9.4 years, for a light truck 7.5. This excellent 2006 article covers a lot of ground on modes of transportation in the US, but nothing about the average age of vehicles in use. What you say sounds logical enough. Incidentally 106 million workers in the US drive to work solo, so that makes for a good starting point as to what it would take to replace the essential cars, barring increased telecommuting/carpooling/MT/etc.

Another document you should read is the IEA's Saving Oil in a Hurry (pdf), which covers about everything conservation measure, with analysis of their historical effectiveness too.

KLR, that figure for truck NG conversions seems to have been artificially inflated. I don't doubt that someone has been quoted that, but if we are doing millions of them, we will get pretty good at doing it, and that price will halve, at least..

That aside, consider CNG sells today for about $1.50/GGE (gallon gasoline equivalent). With diesel at say, $3/gal, and a truck betting 5mpg and doing 500 miles/day, you will save $100/day, or $36.5k/yr. Even at $70k for the conversion, that is a 2yr payback, using conservative conversion cost, and optimistic fuel prices. Once truckstops get in on the act, and set up decent sized compression operations, the spread between CNG and diesel would get larger still. After all, on an energy basis, the raw fuel is $5/GJ for NG and $15/GJ for wholesale (pre taxes) diesel. That's a huge difference. Look for railways to start converting soon.

I wasn't standing by it, as I indicated; actually, this blog entry might have seeded the highball estimates I saw in so many news pieces, as it confidently suggests a $75k premium for CNG trucks, citing a NREL study (pdf) on UPS converting trucks to CNG. Actually it states quite plainly that the premium was $15k. That was 1996, too. That makes sense, as a passenger vehicle conversion is "only" ca. $6k. Case semi-closed.

Our poster X passed on the inflated figure in a comment - we can put that to rest now. Cost of NGV conversions would make for a nifty article here.

Hi Paul,

The rising price of oil will provide all the incentives necessary to economize. Indeed, it would make sense to impose a carbon tax and refund the tax to the users with a bias towards the low end of the income scale.

Changing cars is not easy, but that is the point. There is no gain without pain.

The problem with simply improving efficiency is that it creates an income effect which says buy more fossil fuels. The Jevons Paradox.

Without real pain, there will be no reduction.

Hi Paul,

Nuclear power can be used to power cars. You can also use natural gas.

Actually, certain sectors such as train system and ocean vessels will beneft from higher oil prices because they are relatively efficient. .

This community needs to move from fear mongering and Apocalypse Now, which merely discredits the community, to pragamatic solutions.

The cost for Americans will be very high. But they made their bed and now they have to lie it.

I used a car yesterday (built in 1924 !) that ran on a combination of nuclear and natural gas.

My beloved St. Charles streetcars :-)


There are legitimate disagreements about whether an economic investment in, dependence on, or the continued growth of waste from Nuclear Power is a danger to us.

If your friend is about to drink poison, are you 'fear mongering' by interrupting his meal?

I've just linked to stories where the Owners of Vermont Yankee lied about the existence of underground pipes where there are now leaks.. and where the NRC was caught taking bribes from another Nuclear power company instead of revealing license violations.

Sometimes, there are very good reasons to be afraid, even if fear involves a number of irrational parts of our behavior.. it doesn't invalidate them. Would you be willing to have your reflexes disabled, since they are irrational actors, and only seem to produce 'kneejerk' responses? They're there for a very good reason.

I am applauding your comment loudly!

New nuclear is quite simply the Inconvenient Solution. The answer staring us all in the face, but few dare speak its name for some strange reason. All the traditional talking-points against nuclear can be solved: closed fuel cycles (sustainability-check, what about the 10,000yr. waste - check) and intrinsic safety (too dangerous-nope), mass production in factory setting in smaller packages (too expensive and takes too long to build, capital requirements and time horizons too big --- nope), no separation of Pu-239 anywhere in the cycle (proliferation threat - nope), all make this option possible, practial and affordable.

Factory mass production of intrinsically safe small "cartridge" reactors, such as a molten-salt reactor (LFTR or otherwise), that could produce 50-100MWt at high temperatures, could be used to run large institutions, industry, to heat homes via district heating loops, to produce hydrogen for synfuels and fertilizers, etc. The original Molten Salt Reactor Experiment took only 4 years to design and build the reactor from scratch. That was in the early 60s with slide rules and pencils. Plus we know how they did it, and have 5 decades more of nuclear sci/tech experience and development and advanced computer design tools. To say we couldn't do this within 10-20 years is quite simply nuts. If an "energy emergency" were declared, and this made a national priority, I'll bet you anything this could be done in 3-5 years with commercial mass production ramping up immediately after that. If we did that in parallel with electrification of our transporation systems, we would have a solution. 20-30 years along this path and we could be DONE with fossil fuels.

Lets get on with it.

You'd have to get this past the fossil fuels lobby first, however...

No doubt we "could" do all these things. Standing in the way is a political/corporate/lobby system that guarantees it will not happen, not even in worst depression. Putting millions to work in renewing rail, building nuclear, building renewables, massive conservation development etc etc "could" be done. We need the will. And we do not have that.

We'll burn our pets as fuel before we give up A/C. The current lack of reaction to new nuke plants show that things change. If fear takes the politics out of electricity production the rate of change will be rapid.

Tell me again how nuclear will power my 1997 Saturn SC1. I'd really like to know since I have no intention, or money, to convert it to a hybrid.

Kheris, Sorry There currently is no way to use nuclear power in your Saturn. Synfuel can potentially be made with the heat energy from nuclear power. The price of synfuel will be high than current gasoline prices. You can in some places take an electricity powered streetcar or monorail. If a nuclear power plant is supplying part of the power you will be transport with the aid of nuclear power.

Steve001, I like your comments a lot. Declaring an energy emergency may be warranted. It appears that finding an energy source that is cheaper than dirty coal is the only hope for stopping climate change. A concerted effort developing advanced generation nuclear power might achieve that goal in as little as five years. Our grandchildren depend on that.

Overpopulation, overshoot, and die-off.

Make sure your plans are accessible to the survivors.

Stewart Brand makes the point that with urbanization, women who leave the farm, gain freedom and choose small families. Today 50% of the world's population is urban and that number is growing rapidly. The internet and cell phones are showing people of the developing world that a better lifestyle is possible. Some project that by mid century 80% of the world's population will be urbanites, and that will cause the birth rate will turn negative. Rather than buying into gloom and doom we should realize that with cheap safe clean nuclear power developing countries can manufacture goods for bettering their standard of living. By selling goods to the rest of the world they gain wealth to grow their economies.

Energy is wealth. You do not want the developed world to stop or significantly slow consumption. The developing world needs our markets to grow their economies. Our goal should be to maintain our standard of living and assist the developing world by providing nuclear power in order to improve their living standard.

Nuclear is the only energy capable of replacing fossil fuel. Advance generation reactor that operate at ambient pressure, with no long term radioactive waste and very little potential for weapons proliferation. Breeder nuclear reactors have a strong possibility producing power that is cheaper than dirty coal. Our grandchildren depend on us to control climate change. Cheap clean power is our only hope.

I like wind, and I even pay extra to my utility to buy more wind generated power. I realize that wind is only a supplement and it requires a subsidy to compete. It does represent however, an important diversity.

With cheap clean power we are not in danger of running out of mineral resources. Cheaper energy allows us to mine lower quality ores at affordable prices. Remember only fossil fuels run out. Other ores can be recycled.

To summarize, Advance generation nuclear power offers the world a solution for climate change and a solution to our overpopulation problem. A negative birthrate will bring our population back to a sustainable level. No drastic reduction in our standard of living will need to occur. Science and technology are not frozen in time. Wonderful new developments are living in the minds of future scientists. That is the leap of faith we must make.

"with cheap safe clean nuclear power"

JT, you are sounding more and more like a payed advertisement for your friendly nuclear industry with every post.

There is a drive in me to support the underdog. My perception is that irrational fear has made domestic nuclear power an underdog. I am also persuaded that climate change a threat. I am on the lookout for every clean technology that can help. I think of wind as the second best clean technology.
I am hoping that Calera may have found an effective carbon sequestration process. We need it all.

For many decades, nukes were the "fair haired child" of gov't policy and given every thing they wanted.

Conservation and efficiency are the overlooked step children of public policy.

A *LOT* can be done with Conservation and efficiency. Negawatts supplying half of our energy needs :-)


To be against conservation and efficiency would be like being against Mother and apple pie.
The term negawatts was coined by Amory Lovins. Amory Lovins hates nuclear power. I have one of his books and I have read a number his papers. He is an excellent writer. He has done some good things in home insulation. He has liberally spread much untruthful statements about nuclear power. Much of his advise has been harmful to his clients. The State of California listened to him and did not upgrade their grid and their power production and they have had to buy expensive power from their neighbors ever since. They continue to have high rates. He was successful in convincing Californians to cut back their consumption. To this day per capita use is lower than most other states. He has worked for fossil fuel companies and ENRON. This may explain something about his motives for bad mouthing nuclear power.

To be against conservation and efficiency would be like being against Mother and apple pie.

Ignores, not just "against". The current President of the Rails to Trails group and previously worked for the House Energy committee (two decades ago). The first George Bush administration has done a study on the most cost effective responses to energy crises. #1 was conservation, #2 was efficiency (Industrial), next to last was nukes and last was synfuels.

But R&D funding continued to be #1 nuke, #2 synfuels.

California has been well served by Lovins advice. Sure, there was a multi-month crisis (brought on by nukes BTW). But they have used less power for a couple of decades and promise to continue. That is a profound and continuing stimulus !

Austin has done much the same thing BTW. Over half a GW in peak demand saved to date and plans to grow that to a GW. One reason they passed on buying part of a new nuke.

Best Hopes for Efficiency and Conservation


There little hope if efficiency and conservation are our best hope. Once you have made the investment in efficiency and conservation you are at the end of the road. For those who haven't made the investment in efficiency and conservation it is the best investment they can make, but that goes only so far. Yesterday, I made an investment in more high efficiency light bulbs. I need to make the transition in my house complete. Our utilities have almost completely transitioned out of petroleum generated power. They can't go back and do it again. The O&M on our current 104 reactors is the cheapest of all energy sources. The most recent number that I have seen is 1.86 cents/kWh. New nuclear when projected for 40 years of service is 7.9 cents when capital costs are included. That is better than every other energy source including dirty coal even when no external costs are assessed against coal. The truth is that nuclear fuel which is thee million times more energy dense than coal will always give the customers the lowest rates. Diffuse and intermittent renewables have no chance of ever being competitive with nuclear power.

Hi John,

Are you familiar with our nation's experience with its CANDU reactors?


I haven't studied the CANDU, but I certianly like that it does not need enriched uranium. As near as I can tell Canada has lower cost electricity than the States. I suppose that hyrdo may be part of the reason. The TreeHugger Magazine had a piece that showed Canada's megawatt cost 20 Big Macs. A megawatt in the US cost 28 Big Macs and Denmark with 20% wind cost 60 Big Macs. I would not doubt that CANDU may out perform LWRs in US. Do you generate any power with the tide in the Halifax area? I would think you might have the potential be competitive with Tidal power. I once visited a plant in Maine that produce elctricity efficiently from the tide.

Hi John,

Our CANDU reactors have not been aging all that gracefully and their mid-life refurbishments have proven to be problematic and costly (e.g., http://www.cbc.ca/canada/new-brunswick/story/2010/03/10/nb-aecl-point-le...). And any future expansion seems unlikely (see: http://www.thestar.com/comment/columnists/article/665644).

With respect to tidal power, Nova Scotia Power has one small operating plant (see: http://www.nspower.ca/en/home/environment/renewableenergy/tidal/annapoli...) and an experimental in-stream unit (see: http://www.nspower.ca/en/home/environment/renewableenergy/tidal/projecto...). I have no idea how the economics stack up, but my guess is that large scale wind is more cost-effective. NSP is winter peaking and our wind resources match demand reasonably well. For example, during the 20 per cent highest load hours, capacity factors run in the range of 37 to 46 per cent depending upon geographical placement (source: http://www.gov.ns.ca/energy/resources/EM/Wind/NS-Wind-Integration-Study-...).


You do have a close to ideal situation for wind. I should have realized that. I visited Halifax once on a vacation. Your area is at the top of my list of great places to visit. You coast line was an inspiration for this inlander to visit. I can still recall the excitment of the power of the sea. I loved the wind. I grew up in the Dakotas. The summer breezes and the winter blizzards, both leave a mark. Wind produced our lights and pumped our water. Wind turbines should be developed more in my home area as our wind is favorable for power generation. I think that wind generation for dedicated purposes should be pushed more. It is hard to make the best use of wind on the grid.

JohnT wrote;

"New nuclear when projected for 40 years of service is 7.9 cents when capital costs are included. That is better than every other energy source including dirty coal even when no external costs are assessed against coal."

I have provided evidence here and in the following article that wind is viable in the 5-5.5 cents/kWh range. While I believe nuclear has a place in the generation mix, I don't see it as viable for continuing BAU or the basis for all (or even most) of new generation. And at $14 billion for 2 new Westinghouse units (with ALL capital costs included), I'm doubtful of the numbers you are providing.


The stat that I quoted came from a SCANA study Dec 2009. It actually was 7.6 cents/kWh. SCANA is a fortune 500 company. It has energy holdings in a number of energy sources. I doubt that they have a vested interest in nuclear. They are located in the Souteast where wind would be less competitive then in the Midwest. I like wind and I pay extra to my utility for more wind. I think the diversity is important. I find that wind is most often quoted as capacity and the fact wind is typically operating at 30 % capacity compared to nuclear which operates at 90% capacity the wind cost is only cited has to multiplied by three to be compared with nuclear.

Here is a comparison of projected costs for new power generation provided by SCANA’s CEO, Bill Timmerman, December 2009. The per megawatt hour (MWh) cost of electricity with nuclear fuel is $76, compared with $114 for coal, $132 for wind, and $614 for solar. He concluded, “Building more nuclear power plants promises to hold down future electric costs.”

I did the analysis myself to evaluate the charge that nuclear is to expensive to compete with othe sources. Capital costs for a 1GW reactor may run 4 billion dollars overnight cost. Add on interest and the price is nearly double. Most loans are for 15 years. Investors don't go for longer term notes. If one considers 91% capacity for the nuclear reactor, that amounts to about 8000 hours/year. It is putting out a million/kW each hour for the 8000 hours or 8 billion kWh. At ten cents/kWr that is 800 million dollars/year or 8 billion in ten years. That is it is bought and paid for in one decade. Now the utility must pay other costs such the cost of maintaining the grid and O&M on the reactor of 1.86 cents/kWh plus line loss and the cost associated with doing business. Of course the shareholders expect a profit so perhaps during the ten year period when the capital costs are being recovered the rate may be 20 cent/kWh. The good thing is that after that ten year period the reactor has an additional 70 year life expectancy with the low O&E rate of 1.86 cent/kWh.
That's a real deal. If the utility owns four additional power plants that are paid for, the capital costs can be spread among all the customers so that the cost will be a 2 cent/kWh. This extra cost will be for just the ten years. The long term investment in nuclear power looks pretty good.

Thanks for the reference, though I can't put blind faith in a SCANA figure.

From Nuclear Engineering International;

Progress Energy’s estimates for its [two] new planned AP1000 units in Florida were particularly startling – a price tag of $14 billion plus another $3 billion for necessary transmission upgrades.

This is far, far above the price you quoted.

The good thing is that after that ten year period the reactor has an additional 70 year life expectancy with the low O&E rate of 1.86 cent/kWh.

Such a projection of O&M costs over that period would require very reliable references. How many reactors are expected to even reach the 10+70 years you quote?

the fact wind is typically operating at 30 % capacity

Where did you get this 'fact'? Note that for more recent turbine sitings, where micro-meteorology has played an increasing role, the capacity is significantly higher;


The stat that I quoted came from a SCANA study Dec 2009. It actually was 7.6 cents/kWh. SCANA is a fortune 500 company. It has energy holdings in a number of energy sources. I doubt that they have a vested interest in nuclear. They are located in the Souteast where wind would be less competitive then in the Midwest. I like wind and I pay extra to my utility for more wind. I think the diversity is important. I find that wind is most often quoted as capacity and the fact wind is typically operating at 30 % capacity compared to nuclear which operates at 90% capacity the wind cost is only cited has to multiplied by three to be compared with nuclear.

Here is a comparison of projected costs for new power generation provided by SCANA’s CEO, Bill Timmerman, December 2009. The per megawatt hour (MWh) cost of electricity with nuclear fuel is $76, compared with $114 for coal, $132 for wind, and $614 for solar. He concluded, “Building more nuclear power plants promises to hold down future electric costs.”

I did the analysis myself to evaluate the charge that nuclear is to expensive to compete with othe sources. Capital costs for a 1GW reactor may run 4 billion dollars overnight cost. Add on interest and the price is nearly double. Most loans are for 15 years. Investors don't go for longer term notes. If one considers 91% capacity for the nuclear reactor, that amounts to about 8000 hours/year. It is putting out a million/kW each hour for the 8000 hours or 8 billion kWh. At ten cents/kWr that is 800 million dollars/year or 8 billion in ten years. That is it is bought and paid for in one decade. Now the utility must pay other costs such the cost of maintaining the grid and O&M on the reactor of 1.86 cents/kWh plus line loss and the cost associated with doing business. Of course the shareholders expect a profit so perhaps during the ten year period when the capital costs are being recovered the rate may be 20 cent/kWh. The good thing is that after that ten year period the reactor has an additional 70 year life expectancy with the low O&E rate of 1.86 cent/kWh.
That's a real deal. If the utility owns four additional power plants that are paid for, the capital costs can be spread among all the customers so that the cost will be a 2 cent/kWh. This extra cost will be for just the ten years. The long term investment in nuclear power looks pretty good.

JT wrote: "The truth is that nuclear fuel which is thee million times more energy dense than coal will always give the customers the lowest rates."

To quote Ron Reagan, there you go again.

This pabulum sounds as if it was lifted straight from some pro-nuke propaganda. It won't fly around here. It doesn't matter what the energy density of the mined, transported, and processed fuel is; it matters what the total EROEI of the whole process is, including building and decommissioning of the nukes. Any realistic estimate of this shows this as being far below efficiency and conservation, and not much better than wind if at all.

Oh, and by the way, our leaders have been telling us for a about a decade now that we are in a vast war on terrorism. Great idea it place a whole lot of nuclear targets for those enterprising terrorists around the country near urban centers. Great strategy.

And of course it is and will continue to be difficult to explain why nukes are just great for us and for our friends, but absolutely forbidden to countries we don't like.

Many of Frances nukes had to shut down during their killer heat wave in the summer of '03, when tens of thousands died from the baking, near 120 degree weather. Such heat 'waves' will soon become the norm world wide.

The huge expense of nukes alone should be enough to make it the absolute last resort--every dime (not to mention billion) spent on nukes is money that will not be available for the far better return on investment to be had by efficiency, conservation, passive solar, and other relatively low tech approaches.

Oh, and those approaches employ far more people per dollar invested as well.

There is a drive in me to support the underdog. My perception is that irrational fear has made domestic nuclear power an underdog. I am also persuaded that climate change a threat. I am on the lookout for every clean technology that can help. I think of wind as the second best clean technology.
I am hoping that Calera may have found an effective carbon sequestration process. We need it all.

and have 5 decades more of nuclear sci/tech experience and development

That experience is now dead, retired or senile.

Some new fancy nukes will DRAMATICALLY slow the new nuke effort. 4th Generation nukes should be back burner stuff while we build wind turbines, HV DC and pumped storage like crazy, struggle to built 7 or 8 new nukes (3rd generation) in the next decade (our max economical effort). Then, around 2030, break ground on the first 4th Generation nuke. Mop-up after the bulk of the effort has been carried by renewables with some new nukes (AP-1000, EPR).

I'll bet you anything this could be done in 3-5 years with commercial mass production ramping up immediately after that.

Then you would lose everything.

A Dept. of Energy study shows that we have a number of materials bottlenecks in building new nukes (only one finished in last 20+ years so industry in moribund) but the limiting factor is skilled and experienced labor. Max of eight new nukes in a decade in the USA.

3rd generation nukes will have fewer "surprises" and technical "oops, didn't think of that" than 4th Generation nukes. Vogtle is about to break ground in a year or two for two AP1000s, our shortest and lowest risk path for more new nukes (hopefully 5 more started within 4 to 5 years).

Watts Bar 2, Vogtle 1 & 2, Calvert Cliffs 3, and four more will not solve our energy problems by 2020, but they will be a useful drop in the bucket and prepare the way for many more AP-1000s and EPRs by 2030 (thirty, forty ?).

Meanwhile, while nukes are ramping up, conservation, efficiency, wind turbines, solar PV and geothermal can reduce FF generation by half or more.

Best Hopes for Non-carbon generation,


Alan check out my post above your post it answers your charges.

I do not believe in the Just-in-Time Technological Fairy.

That is, I do not believe that society can reliably direct technological progress in a specific direction and specific time frame.

There are exceptions. Moore's Law is one specific one. The JITTF kept World War I from ending in 10 months.

But I am unwilling to bet the future of our society on his appearance.

Best Hopes for Working with Mature Technology,



I do agree that the best hope is in a mature technology. Those who push hard for an new technology are usually wearing rose colored glasses. I plead guilty on that score. It wlll likely take 40 years and lots of money to launch generation IV technology. I hope climate change doesn't go past the tipping point. Actually China and South Korea may find that generation III technology will be cheaper than importing coal. The cost for new nuclear is much less over in Asia than here.

A major reason for writing this post was to counter some of the "propaganda" that is being put out to the effect that all we need to do is switch to "renewables", and BAU can continue as usual.

Nuclear is really a separate issue with its own set of problems and concerns that is beyond the scope of this post. Our shortage is to a significant extent capital. Finding capital for nuclear is likely to be a huge hurdle.

Gail, First I want to say thank you for The Oil Drum. I first dicovered this site when you did a piece on the LFTR a bit over a year ago. Since then I have been a regular visitor. You fill a previously empty niche with the focus of the Oil Drum. I realize that nuclear power does not fit neatly with renewables. I suppose that sometimes I jump to conclusions when there is the appearance that the nuclear topic is taboo.

I think the issue with nuclear is more a lack of expertise in this area by staff members, than a desire to avoid the subject. Lack of expertise makes it harder for us to know which guest posts are really appropriate. It seems like a lot of folks writing about nuclear have a particular view they want to advance.

I made a stab at looking at uranium supply issues about a year ago.

It seems like a lot of folks writing about nuclear have a particular view they want to advance

Like the 'peak uranium' issue. A problem soon or not anytime soon ? The fact that both answers come out means that there is a lot of uncertainty. The same controversy with coal reserves. Also here economics play a role. Will it be possible in the future to mine the more expensive (more energy requiring) coal and uranium reserves ?

...to counter some of the "propaganda" that is being put out to the effect that all we need to do is switch to "renewables", and BAU can continue as usual.

I don't believe I've heard anyone say this. Note that the push is on to continue to increase the efficiency of appliance, HVAC, building envelopes, etc to reduce the need for electricity.

The people who want to sell renewables have a tendency to make renewables sound good, and I keep running into people who have somehow come away with the idea, "Renewables will save us". We can continue with BAU, as soon as renewable costs come down a bit.

Steven Chu is busy talking about ramping up renewables. What he says about efficiency gets lost in the noise.

I didn't see the National Geographic special myself, but know that one of the things they talked about was renewables. I didn't have the impression that their big push was efficiency.

If you remember the Scientific American articles that I wrote about last November, it was simply a plan to substitute renewables for fossil fuel by 2030--without energy efficiency.

You seem to be reading alot into people's statements that are not there, and/or avoiding acknowledgement that the major drives to convert to sustainable power all relate to reduced energy consumption.

For example, the Scientific American article you mentioned is behind a paywall, but they list this article as their main source;

Although we focus mainly on energy supply, we acknowledge the importance of demand-side energy conservation measures to reduce the requirements and impacts of energy supply. Demand-side energy-conservation measures includes improving the energy-out/energy-in efficiency of end uses (e.g., with more efficient vehicles, more efficient lighting, better insulation in homes, and the use of heat-exchange and filtration systems), directing demand to low-energy-use modes (e.g., using public transit or telecommuting in place of driving), large-scale planning to reduce overall energy demand without compromising economic activity or comfort, (e.g., designing cities to facilitate greater use of non-motorized transport and to have better matching of origins and destinations [thereby reducing the need for travel]), and designing buildings to use solar energy directly (e.g., with more daylighting, solar hot water heating, and improved passive solar heating in winter and cooling in summer). (For a general discussion of the potential to reduce energy use in transportation and buildings, see the American Physical Society [2008]).

The US DoE has a massive effort underway to help realize a Smart Grid, and half of that effort is focused on demand-side energy conservation measures.

I see all of the above fitting in nicely with Powerdown approach. If you have some other vision, it would be best if you came out and described it clearly. And what you also fail to mention is that it is the nuclear crowd that is saying that they can continue BAU without any need to think about energy efficiency. Otherwise, you look like you are just taking unfounded potshots at renewable energy.

Gail & Will:

Unfortunately, not only will it not be possible to reamp renewables all the way up to 99+ quads (what it would take to sustain BAU), we are not even going to be able to ramp them up to the half of that or so that we might need with all the obvious and comfortable "efficiency" iniatives implemented. As I have detailed elsewhere, I do think that 25 quads is an achievable goal for the US within a time horizon of 2-to-5 decades, but to operate our economy just on that, we'll need to transform it in ways that will be a lot more painful than just implementing "efficiency". Just for starters, most people will not be able to travel in any type of motor vehicle, at least not on a routine basis (though a substantial minority might be able to do short local errands in an NEV, if they are lucky enough to afford one). This is not just "efficiency", this involves a very painful giving up of things - big things - by many, many people.

And here is the kicker: As best as I can determine, this seems to be the BEST CASE scenario that we can hope to achieve. It is not going to be as if we can simply say "thanks, but no thanks" and go on our merry BAU way.

One item which may argue for the long term viability of wind is that it was used for centuries with apparant positive EROI results throughout much of the world already. OTW why not just set to the task instead of going to all the trouble of building a WM. It has been documented http://www.molendatabase.nl/ that there were more than 12,500 former working windmills (plus 1200 or so restored) in the what is now the Netherlands alone fron 1250AD onward. Lots more elsewhere of course.

One of many uses

And of course it is difficult to name an 'industrial' process, from sawing logs to griding corn, of that period which was not done with wind. If these folks thought it was usefull enough to spend a lifetime ,in some cases, in building such a wind machine it must have been pretty workable for them. A look at their wind resource, the reliability, the amount of work done ect might be useful as it was mostly in pre FF mode with hand tools and in many cases with parts fashioned from wood,
(Population in 1700 was just over 100 people per sqare mile.)

Xburb, that is a great find.

But you miss the main point, which is that they didn't KNOW their windmills were uneconomic. IF only they knew that they first had to lobby for government subsidies, pay an army of lawyers to argue with other lawyers through years of regulatory/environmental reviews, and then factor into their operating costs the burden of government taxes, health care costs for past, present and future workers, liability insurance, "marketing"and advertising campaigns, and then put these things out of anyones sight so as not to spoil the view and devalue the land, (gasp for breath), THEN they would never have gone and built them.

And they certainly wouldn't have built them to last, as that would make a mockery of accelerated depreciation. And they would have had to fight the animal rights lobby, who would have maintained that this represented unfair competition, and the use of "Free" wind represented clear evidence of price collusion amongst windmills.

So, in retrospect, building the windmills was clearly uneconomic, and must surely have delayed economic recovery for centuries. if only they knew what we know now...

"they didn't KNOW their windmills were uneconomic. "

That's not a term that has much meaning or context. So let's provide that meaning and context. First, if wind power (along with geothermal and other renewable sources) were used to provide a generation capacity shift to support BEVs, that would reduce the OECD dependence on oil, which is currently a national security issue in most Western democracies. Second, other factors include byproducts of fossil fuel consumption;

"It is essential that world leaders agree on the emission reductions needed to combat negative consequences of anthropogenic climate change...The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable."
-- 2009 Joint Statement by the Science Academies of the US, UK, Germany, Australia, Japan, France, Italy, Russia, China, India, Brazil, and Mexico.

Third, coal mining creates a host of land disturbances, to put it mildly. Mountaintop decapitation pollutes the groundwater, destroys native vegetation, and removes topsoil.

Fourth, coal combustion results in a host of pollutants that impart health impacts on the population, including mercury, SO2, arsenic, and lead.

Fifth, fossil fuels are unsustainable and our use of them can be compared to blowing the family fortune.

So any analysis that looks at the 'economic' viability of an energy source needs to include factors reflecting the points above.

Clearly judging from the depth and complexity of this issue it is at the crux of what we now understand as the central issues of our times. Powerdown to new equilibrium w/o barbarism. (Going to be 600 thoughtful comments here soon) The firepower and expertise on this subject alone is staggering to the point of making my head explode with new information.

Taking a simple approach like this one is about the only very minor contribution I can find. It still would be of interest to see how these societies were able to base their existance on what was surely a combination of wind, biomass, animal power and succeed... and my one last thought. How much was the exergy generated by wind used in the production of more wind? Did earlier WM allow for improved ability to work say larger materials or forge better parts for for larger or more efficient designs?

A number of Danish wind turbine factories set up prototypes on-site or within visible distance on near-by farmland and generated much of their power from them (net, it all went into the grid, with Norwegian hydro as back-up). So fabrication and assembly was largely done with renewable power.

AFAIK, the factories were designed for larger WTs than the current generation, given the explosion of size.


Hi Gail,

Up till now on this post (has to be one of the biggest I've ever seen on TOD) I've seen nothing but debate about how to replace the current centralized distribution of power with renewables. I've got a bit of experience in solar PV mfg, testing, and a smidgeon of research. Have no tech'l experience with wind or geo thermal. I do however think that the whole discussion should not be about replacing power generation from a central distribution hub with renewables, but eliminate the grid and equip the nodes (us users) with the ability to generate our own power. I'm sure, with an adjustment in the way I carry out my day to day living arrangement, with a little wind, a little sun, and a little geo thermal, I could live as I am accustomed to living with very little noticeable change. Lights, hot water, the laptop, a few small appliances. Ther would be more done by hand, sure, but, is that such a large price.

I think critter power on the farm will be bau in the near future. But after working all day plowing, planting, spreading manure, and harvesting, you can sit down to a nice dinner cooked with renewable electricity, take a warm shower with hot water generated by -take your pick- then fall asleep reading by an electric light.

I will have to step on my own schwantz at this point by agreeing that to get there, we need to use FF to make the stuff that give us the renewables. I've posted before that the manufacture of thin film solar panels takes a jaw dropping amount of electrical power. Testing alone takes gonzo amounts of electrical power. Our facility blew out half the northern part of the county we were in on more than one occasion. Anectdotes aside, we build this stuff now, drop the political bowlshat right now, remove all the economic free market garbledey gook, and make a national effort to get power generation to the nodes, not the hub, and we may experience a smooth transition.
See the Archdruid for a fantastic explanation of "exergy".

Keep the discussions going, we're on to something.



I still stand by "Renewables can't be made or maintained without fossil fuels." Electric production (form natural gas or whatever) does not substitute for oil. Our transportation infrastructure depends on oil, and a great deal of other built infrastructure depends on oil or natural gas. We don't have the time or the capital to completely redo the world's infrastructure to run off of electricity.

The first sentence does not follow from the second and third sentence. The first statement is blanket statement that you NEVER qualify by saying you are talking about scalability. Thus you keep repeating nonsense!

Do you admit that it is at all possible that the world could have a global supply of renewable energy equal, say, to 1/4 of current fossil fuel energy supplies, without a fossil fuel infrastructure? (In say, 100 years?)


No, I don't see that it would be possible for the world to have a global supply of renewable energy, equal, say, to 1/4 of current fossil fuel energy supplies, without fossil fuel infrastructure.

I'm afraid I don't understand your issue. Fossil fuels are going away; renewables would need to stand on their own, but they can't--they just represent a little hoarding, that temporarily stretches fossil fuel use. Renewables will disappear when they fall apart and can't be replaced.

Then what would be your recommendations for an Energy Strategy for the next 100+ years? I believe that would be an excellent topic for one of your next articles.

Good question. Gail keeps repeating her statement, "renewables would need to stand on their own, but they can't," but this is just her unsupported opinion.

I'm a bit worried about her--she's starting to sound almost trollish.

Argumentum ad nauseum is not the prettiest of the logical fallacies.

There is not one renewable energy project or installation in the world that isn't currently touched by fossil fuels, either due to physical dependency requirements or due to financing.

There is not one that isn't touched by baby boomers either. Once all the baby boomers are gone, we're doomed.

No, wait, I'm a boomer.

I don't see how this proves anything of substance. It certainly does not prove that renewable energy sources can't be the main source of our energy in the future. It's like someone saying in 1890 that since there were no existing cars, there couldn't be any cars in 1910...

renewables would need to stand on their own, but they can't

Simply wrong.

That they do not today is because FF are still cheap and available.

1/4th of current energy use for the USA could support a quality of life better than today. We could keep a decent quality of life, although a bit stressed with roughly (SWAG) 4% to 8% of current energy usage.

Electric fans at night in the summer instead of a/c, no more hair dryers, less cooking, only solar hot water w/o backup, one efficient reading light at night, etc. Still luxury for most Americans of 1935.

All that is quite doable with 1/12th to 1/25th of current use.

Best Hopes for Seeing the Possible,



You and I are certainly on the same page. While I appreciate your effort to paint as positive and attractive a picture as possible for people, let's be honest: This is going to require a lot of very painful adjustment. People are going to have to give up a lot of things to which they have become accustomed. Giving up some of those things will be for the best, and will lead to a healthier lifestyle, but it won't all be that way.

We may indeed be lucky to stabilize at the 4% to 8% energy level, but that level would be a step and half up for most Americans of 1935 since we now know how to use energy more effectively.

Will tens of millions be *VERY* upset at losing their SUVs and McMansions in the Exurbs ?

Absolutely !

But will their future children and grand-children "suffer" for the lack ?

Quite possibly not, depending on the choices that we make.

Gail's apparent choices (do nothing but Drill for more FF) will likely guarantee that her great-grandchildren will live in misery, if they live at all.

My choices can lead to something reasonably close to the best possible outcome, and what will be a better quality of life.

But any change this disruptive will have suffering and losers. On an emotional level, this does not disturb me at all. Been there, done that.

Best Hopes for the Future,



You say: "Gail's apparent choices (do nothing but Drill for more FF) will likely guarantee that her great-grandchildren will live in misery, if they live at all."

So it's all Gail's fault?!

Why, if we could just get rid of Gail (and people who think like her) maybe we could save the world!

Seriously, This is exactly the kind of stuff I've been talking about. Your statement is a form of scapegoating. Kill the messenger. In the last 3 posts above, you and WNC are trying to refine the groupthink of your social club whilst excluding 'others' who do not share your views. When things really heat up, this is just how people will deal with the problem of overpopulation. This is not a joke.

Best Hopes for The Home Team,


I attacked her ideas, nor herself.

And yes, the world stands a better chance if her IDEAS did not gain widespread acceptance.


Hear no evil.

You say: "And yes, the world stands a better chance if her IDEAS did not gain widespread acceptance."

This statement is your OPINION only. It might not turn out that way at all. Maybe Gail will help us not to spin our wheels on ideas that have no possibilty of working, thus saving energy in the long run and extending a benefit to all.

The real trick in a world of shrinking resorces is to figure out who to exclude from your tribe. You are off to an admirable start.

Loren, lighten up.

Alan and Gail have been in this conversation for years now.

He's not saying she has to stop talking.. but he IS engaging with the ideas he disagrees with, and says why. That is all completely appropriate. Suggesting that he is fomenting 'groupthink' is more than a bit premature and incendiary on your part.

Of COURSE it's his opinion. What else would it be?

Get to know these people a little. Alan is the last person to be 'excluding people from the Tribe'.. you're off the mark.


(It is possible to keep a really great, productive discussion going on this forum, but it takes a lot of self-control from each of us. It's been getting pretty adolescent lately, and doesn't take much to turn a dialog in that direction.)


I have tremendous respect for many people on this forum, including Alan, and yourself, by the way (my clumsy attempt at friendly socialization). I have been a regular, mostly daily reader of TOD for 4 or 5 years now. I'm very familiar with individual stances as well as the broader arguments being supported. I'm not trying to piss people off. I'm trying to get people to notice some important points I believe tend to be overlooked. I think you are miss-reading my comments*

You say: "Alan and Gail have been in this conversation for years now."

And yet there is no viable conclusion or result that can be drawn from it.

You say: "It is possible to keep a really great, productive discussion going on this forum..."

I guess we may have a different definition of 'productive'.

You say: "Loren, lighten up" and "It's been getting pretty adolescent lately"

Ok. This is where it gets interesting. You are repremanding me in defense of the group. This is a social strategy. It is designed to blunt my arguments. When others read it, if they agree with you, there is reinforced group solidarity. For those that disagree, it acts as warning. I don't really think Alan needs your defense. Me thinks you protest too much. Also, the fact that you think it's getting adolescent "lately" might be because time is running out and manners are starting to become less important in the world generally.

You say: "Get to know these people a little. Alan is the last person to be 'excluding people from the Tribe'.. you're off the mark."

You will either get this or not depending on your understanding of group dynamics, game theory, and biology. Alan, being the natural leader that he is, will be forced to be the FIRST person to be excluding people from the tribe. If not, someone else will have to take his role. Just to be clear, that's a general principle, not an attack on Alan.

Finally, I'm trying to be funny, too (I guess I've failed here as well). Satire is a tricky thing. Sarcasam, even friendly, often misses the mark some. Turning Alan's catch-phrase salutation to my own purposes may be going too far. I don't know. I meant no offense. I'm trying to the highlight the cheerleading flavor of some of his posts and show how it affects the discussion. The salutation was such an obvious target for satire, I'm surprised this hasn't happened before (Has it?).

To Alan: My sincerest apologies for any offense. Past or future.

I was quite clear and direct in my purposes in my first few months after joining TOD. A primary purpose was to create a meme. An effort that had largely succeeded.

My name has remained attached to the idea(s) longer than I anticipated.

I am largely unemotional here (except when defending New Orleans !).

My basic strategy is to create no enemies and excluding people is the last thing one wants to do when creating a meme (unless they will be totally useless is adapting and spreading it). OTOH, I wanted to create TOD as a meatgrinder for ideas and I use a sharp knife regularly.

"Best Hopes' has no trademark and others are free to use it as they please. It came naturally to me in the immediate days post-Katrina. It may work well post-Peak Oil as well.

Leader ? me ? NOT my self image !

Best Hopes for the Future,


"..you and WNC are trying to refine the groupthink of your social club whilst excluding 'others' who do not share your views. "

That was the line that probably set me off.. and there were a couple others. If you were being jocular, then I agree, the art of internet sarcasm is a tricky one.

Anyway.. just lost a longer version of this.. and I'm still working.. so, Peace.



Forgive me for jumping back in before you complete your response, but I need to clear something up.

When I say: "..you (in this case Alan) and WNC are trying to refine the groupthink of your social club whilst excluding 'others' who do not share your views."

I'm NOT joking. I mean this quite seriously. And there is real evidence to back up my assertions drawn from GROUP DYNAMICS, PSYCHOLOGY, and SOCIAL THEORY. The choice of words I use to describe what I am seeing is a matter of style. That style is intentionally provocative, because that helps to shake people up a bit and forces them to reexamine their core assumptions. Judging from your response, and others, it would seem that my approach is bearing fruit!

I hope you are not trying to suggest that no social strategies are being employed in service of the arguments on TOD.

Right. I didn't think it was joking actually, just thought I'd give it the benefit of the doubt.

As Alan said, and you seem to reject, he is willing to challenge Gail's assertion, but I don't agree at all with your interpretation of enforcing 'Groupthink' or of trying to exclude Gail in this case.

I'm not going to validate this with an appeal to sociology, but from my own sense of the individuals involved.

It's not hard to shake people up, and maybe that seems to initially satisfy what you're trying to do. However, the core assumptions you seem to be pushing towards are that this is a manipulative and didactic community that seeks uniform thinking, and I really don't believe that's what is happening, particularly with the exchange we're following with this talk.


You say: "I'm not going to validate this with an appeal to sociology, but from my own sense of the individuals involved."

There have been billions of individuals on planet earth. But individuals play roles. They have to. Your sense of individuality ignores this.

You say: "However, the core assumptions you seem to be pushing towards are that this is a manipulative and didactic community that seeks uniform thinking..."

Not at all. I'm saying ALL communities are. It's a relative thing.

Finally, you say: "...and I really don't believe that's what is happening..."

And that's what the system is designed to do. Fool you. Take a closer look.

Simply wrong.

Oh, right back at you.

Demonstrate one renewable energy project that is independent of the rest of our interconnected and population-in-overshoot system. Just one. I'm not talking about what is conceivable, I'm talking about on the ground, right now, where the system is independent and closed from the rest of our collapsing system. Where the people eat food only from that area, where the materials are only from that area, where the wastes are fed back into the system, without oil-based expansion-based debt-based financing. Where none of it touches fossil fuels.

Oh, and it would also have to be independent of the effects of climate change, but that's not technically a dependency on fossil fuels.

No, our renewable energy projects cannot survive the collapse or the loss of fossil fuels or overshoot and die off.

Possibly, conceivably, these renewable energy projects could be started from scratch afterward. But in their current forms, they won't work, because they are dependent on fossil fuels. All of this is currently dependent on fossil fuels.

I could chose one of the older hydropower plants (circa 1900 or so) or one of the Albanian power plants before the fall of communism. Or some Swiss or French Hydropower plants. Workers commute by trams or bicycles to some, feed off French farms (least factory farms in developed world) with transport of food by electric rail (hydro + nuke).

Since it was not a goal to be independent, some trivial use showed up (and long ago coal was used to smelt the steel), but they could be independent. Electric arc smelts scrap steel quite nicely.

You posit a goal that no one wants to achieve, so they simply use lowest cost. Minor modifications (spec steel as scrap steel from electric furnaces in Norway or Iceland) and make arrangements for transporting labor (live 3 blocks from power plant or commute by bike, every house with a large garden), use only organic paints or coatings, and one can get VERY close to whatever artificial goal you posit.

Best Hopes for Less Nonsensical parameters that "prove" nothing",


I'm afraid I don't understand your issue. Fossil fuels are going away; renewables would need to stand on their own, but they can't--they just represent a little hoarding, that temporarily stretches fossil fuel use. Renewables will disappear when they fall apart and can't be replaced.

I think this is the issue. When asked to support this assertion you just simply reword it slightly and repeat the same assertion.


I'm afraid I don't understand your issue.

My "issue" is precisely that you keep saying the following...

renewables would need to stand on their own, but they can't

...without making a logical argument for it.

The issue is precisely the degree to which renewables can or can't stand on their own without fossil fuels. This is a question of EROEI. I'd point out that George Mobus, above in this thread, while defending you, agrees with me that WE DON'T KNOW the real EROEI of renewables.

Pointing out that we currently use fossil fuels to support renewables is begging the question, when the question is whether we can support them without fossil fuels.

Hydro power potential in Alaska is a combination of storage and run of river. The panhandle has plenty of RoR potential with great (local) economic viability. That is, the terrain and available precipitation make them ideal sites. Then there is the problem of getting the electron wave (transmission) through BC to the load centres.

This is one of many reasons why we proposed an HVDC corridor north to south through BC. The existing 500 kV bulk transmission corridor will be maxed out very soon with any kind of larger development.

I've heard it expressed that Grand Coulee won the war. With the relatively cheap electricity in large quantities aluminum smelting was relatively cheap and abundant. Lots of aluminum meant lots of planes, and lots of planes gave the U.S. and Allies eventual air dominance.

I thought most people here understood that BAU energy use would be overtaken by energy source decline as a given. Extravagant wastefulness will become rare no matter what. So the point would be to identify levels of energy use that are sustainable and make that the target.

This is a point that I myself have been repeatedly trying to make and it never ceases to amaze me, how few people seem to be able to wrap their minds around, what to me, should be obvious.

I like the malapropism: People never seem to amaze me.

There is significant heavy industry in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., aluminum smelting)

True at one time, but past-tense now: all 10 big smelters shut down by 2001. Low-priced foreign competition and increasing domestic energy demand (eliminating their cheap supply of "surplus electricity") did them all in.

Daxr, I guess this only applies if you assume that either/both the Pacific Ocean, or the Northwest, stops at the 49th parallel, and then turns to frozen tundra or some such.

There is a major aluminum smelter at Kitimat on the BC coast, powered by its own hydroelectric dam. And they are looking at expanding from 300,000 tpy to 425,000.

As for low priced foreign competition, Alcan, the owner, is actually the lowest cost producer in the world. It's one area where China isn't the cheapest as aluminium is all about electricity, not cheap labour. Their inefficient coal plants can't compete with 15 feet/year of coastal rainfall.

Can;t speak to all other heavy industry, much of which has gone, but this one is still here.

the Northwest, stops at the 49th parallel, and then turns to frozen tundra or some such

Well, I suppose there's good shopping in Vancouver, but isn't all the rest frozen waste?

...but seriously, good to know Canada is still in business. The reference I made was just to (former) US production.

Daxr, of course it was. But when it comes to the US economy, you might as well include Canada, as, hockey rivalry aside, there are very integrated.

Particularly with the flow of energy (elec, oil, gas) and manufactured parts across the borders. Of course, the US puts tariff barries on things like lumber and beef, claiming Canada unfairly subsidises them, but is happy to take any and all energy, the more subsidised the better!!

There is still plenty of potential for more hydro in PNW, but most will be done as run of river rather than Grand Coulee Dam. best to build it now while the fossil fuels ares still available...

The constraining fact about electricity production in the US Pacific Northwest is that California is nearby, has more people than Canada, and is severely short of generating capacity, so that's where all the electricity is going to go.

Canada, on the other hand, is bigger than the US, has fewer people than California, and still has places with stranded hydroelectric potential (i.e. no connection to the US grid), so that's where new aluminum production is likely to go.

The Kitimat smelter was Alcan and is now Rio Tinto. Bauxite comes primarily from Australia. Rio Tinto is supposed to be upgrading the plant to a tune of ~$2 billion, but can't seem to make up their mind whether they are in the smelting business or the hydro electric generation business.

With the bulk electrical energy market in the Pacific Northwest getting tighter - enough to squeeze out aluminum production - that ought to be a clear supply market signal for utility planners.

Gail said: [Renewables] can't be made or maintained without fossil fuel

There is significant heavy industry in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., aluminum smelting) that uses hydro power as a main source of energy, so this statement doesn't really hold water.

It certainly does hold water, and very well. I challenge you to build a dam and hydroelectric plant without using FFs. We could argue about the EROEI of renewables, but in the final analysis, Gail is right in saying that renewables are FF extensions, and she will be right until someone finds replacements for FFs.

Appleton Edison Light Company, a hydroelectric plant built in 1882 for a papermill. Used coal no doubt, but a solid fuel biomass would suffice as a drop in replacement. Took several months to build. Nigara Falls had several 75 MW turbines installed in 1896.

"There is significant heavy industry in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., aluminum smelting) that uses hydro power as a main source of energy, "

Not anymore. That ended about the same time as the Enron vs CA flap. BPA raised the wholesale power rates under pressure from the CA congressional delegation in order to free up power for them, and the aluminum industry left, literally within months. Destinations, plants already built in Quebec and China.

The power now goes mostly to residential development, (we had a good bubble too, it just didn't blow out as bad as CA or FL (possibly because winter shuts down the construction business for awhile every year) and data centers, which are the big growth industry lately. They suck down almost as much power as the smelters, but employ many fewer people. The techies can work from anywhere, including India.

We could generate enough power to restart some of the Aluminum industry, but that would require the God Squad to convene to write off the salmon.

It's an interesting dilemma; if you maximize hydropower you can burn less fossil fuel, creating less global warming, but the cost is that the local salmon go extinct. Or you can save the fish today, but this shifts power demand onto fossil fuels, which maintains or increases global warming, which warms the river and will kill the salmon anyway.

I personally have decided to not eat any pacific salmon of any kind, farmed, wild, or hatchery. Just too many issues with the things.

Agree with you PVguy. I know this thread is really diverging, but I agree with the fish consumption. I feel the same way about Chilean Sea Bass and Grouper. They should be the low consumption, high priced, rarities nature intended them to be. Then the "invisible hand" dips into the waters to feed the insatiable appetite of the market.


1. James Hamilton, whose analysis was mentioned above, put together an econometric model showing the likely link between high oil prices and recession. Hamilton was extensively quoted by Steven Chu at that conference, so he seems to have credibility.

Jeff Rubin is another economist who makes the connection between oil prices and the recession. He points out many anomalies, like the recession starting in Japan, where there was no subprime crisis.

There is also the issue that this is precisely the effect one would expect from reduced oil supply and higher prices, because people would have less discretionary income, and as a result cut back on discretionary purchases or default on debts. The timing matches up well with the run-up in oil prices starting back as early as 2004-2005. Many of us had been predicting recession as the likely predominant immediate impact of peak oil. This is a link to a post of mine from 2007, before I became an Oil Drum staff member.

2. I see the big issue with fossil fuel production up as our ability to keep electricity going on pretty much a countrywide basis. Once we lose electricity, it seems to me that it is close to "game over", because it will become terribly difficult to distribute fossil fuels, and because computers, the Internet, and many other things we depend on will come to a screeching halt.

The risks of losing electricity are not necessarily obvious. It could be because of bankruptcy of electric utilities, at the same time states and local governments are not able to bail them out. It could be because of international financial problems, because of credit problems related to oil production--because of these credit problems, we may not be able to buy replacement parts for power plants and new transformers to replace worn out ones. Another risk is lack of maintenance of electrical transmission systems, perhaps because of financial pressures and lack of a responsible party under our current method of doing things.

I don't have references immediately at hand that I can point you to on the amounts these use. I see the issue as more of one of Liebig's Law of the Minimum lurking in wait. If one is missing a single necessary input--say electricity--it is game over.

The popular belief is that oil production will decline indefinitely. That may be true, if individual pumping wells have what they need to keep going. But transportation of oil away from those wells (by truck or pipeline) could be cut off quite easily by lack of electricity. And purchase of oil from overseas could be greatly reduced by financial problems.

2. I see the big issue with fossil fuel production up as our ability to keep electricity going on pretty much a countrywide basis. Once we lose electricity, it seems to me that it is close to "game over", because it will become terribly difficult to distribute fossil fuels, and because computers, the Internet, and many other things we depend on will come to a screeching halt.

So what? The internet and computers have only been around for 20/30 years tops. Pretty sure we managed to move things from A to B before the advent of the microchip. Heck, the US mobilized two entire armies from scratch in WW2 - and in short order - with out computers!


Our built infrastructure now depends on these computers and the Internet, so getting along without is not at all the same question that it was back before WW2. You can't pump gasoline at a filling station without electricity. Oil pipelines and some natural gas pipelines use electricity for pumping. Factories now have computer controls.

Even if you have bicycle factory next door to where you live that is in current operation, I would challenge you to keep it open without electricity. The lights would go off (and the building likely wouldn't be designed to be lighted with natural light). The logistics for importing the parts that you need for the bicycles would be all messed up. The water that your workers need to drink would likely not be available, because water plants use electricity both in pumping and in purification procedures.

I will grant you that if we started now, and designed plants to run without electricity (perhaps using local water or wind for power), we might be able to save ourselves a lot of grief later. But nearly everyone is so convinced that electricity will never (or virtually never) be a problem, that they don't even think about this problem. Their blinders are on the "oil supply is low" problem.

Our built infrastructure now depends on these computers and the Internet

Absolutely. Everything shipped is ordered, confirmed, routed, and tracked via computers, and most of that relies on the Internet. Pallets of goods now are tagged with RFIDs.

Relocalization of goods and services would not (necessarily) rely so much on computers.

The last thing we will give up is our computers and networks. These devices save vast amounts of oil and provide the non-mule future for all of us, including those of you who don't get it.

Dream on

Mobile phones and internet are doing realy well in the worlds porest countries.

Mobile phones and internet are doing realy well in the worlds porest countries.

No kidding. You can be high in the Himalayas, at an altitude that would cause most people to fall down and gasp for breath, and you'll hear a ring tone. It will be some Yak herder getting a call-back with a quote on the price for Yak cheese in Kathmandu.

If you break your leg on one of the world's tallest mountains, the Sherpas will pack you down to the nearest teahouse, and the owner will hold up a mobile phone and say: "I can have a helicopter here in 20 minutes to take you out to a first-class hospital. $3000. Just give me a credit card number."

And Avril Lavigne is everywhere in the high Himalayas. All the Nepalese and Bhutanese teenagers have Avril Lavigne posters on the walls of rooms, and high-speed internet so they can watch her latest videos. There's just no place on Earth to get away from her.

Hi Will,

I helped with the computer automation of a huge warehouse in the UK. It was so automated and devoid of humans that large sections were only lighted with some very small, very dim bulbs - it was a very eery experience to be in this building as huge pallets of goods moved about with almost no humans around.

**** SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF MY VOICE... We change the way we do things!! ... END SHOUTING ****

And I am not talking about the sort of rhetoric that your president spouted on his campaign trail, or that Mr Cameron is spouting here in Britain. I am talking real, substantive change - a complete paradigm change. Out goes the failed approach to living and in comes a new way of doing things.

Just because we have come to rely on computers and a constant, steady supply of electricity over the last 50 odd years and just because currently we eat far more calories than we need, produced on hi-tech diesel burning mega-farms it does not mean that we can't and won't adapt to our new circumstances. For instance, just because we have had the luxury of being able to wash our clothes in our own washing machines for the last generation does not mean that we now can not go back to washing them by hand in the bath tub!

I think the problem you are making is that you are taking our recent trajectory and extrapolating it forward and assuming that is the only way we could ever go. You are then - correctly - concluding that this so-called Business As Usual is not possible in a world of declining per-capita net energy and therefore we are all doomed to a sour, bitter end. Come on! TOD shouldn't be a modern day sandwich board for wild-eyed "The End Is Nigh!" doom-mongers! Let's talk about how we move over to a different paradigm, it is much more productive! Yes, we are fast approaching a critical dislocation but we used to live in caves once upon a time!

No electric, can't wash your clothes in the bathtub......no water unless you scoop it from the ditch out the front door. If, you're lucky enough to have a ditch out the front door. We tend to think in term of "....this means that...." when in the real world, "....this means that, and that, and that, and that, and that, oh, and don't forget that too". For me, one of the hurdles to understanding Peak Oil is getting a feel for all of the implications. They're tangled and seem to pop up in the most unlikely of places. Best from the Fremont

So people in Victorian England never washed their clothes? People in Victorian England never had access to water?

I lived for a while as a volunteer teacher in Tanzania. We had electric about four hours a week if we were lucky. Every morning the headmasters daughters (always girls) would walk two miles to the water pump and back again and deliver me a bucket of water for my use that day. About 4 gallons. More than enough! They would then do my washing for me. We didn't use plates and knifes and forks. Instead we cooked communally as a village and used banana leaves as plates. No washing up! Then when the sun went down we sat around the fire talking and joking and then slept. My point? I survived a year with bugger all electricity and a lot less water than now. Life wasn't worse - in fact arguably it was much more satisfying. An experience I will never forget, and one which has shaped my life ever since. Even now I only ever have one light bulb on in the house at one time and give thanks to God that clean water comes out of the tap on demand.

What I said, if you've got a ditch out your front door, or in your case, in Tanzania, a 4 mile round trip to the community pump at the well. I read somewhere that the average bathing frequency in Victorian England was monthly. Best from the Fremont

I read somewhere that the average bathing frequency in Victorian England was monthly.

So? I am sure they washed a bit more often.

As it goes with many problems, the problem of delivering adequate water to a population depends on the size of the population, and the amount of energy you have available to do the work. As a global problem, it has been well beyond solution at a population of 6.8 billion. In the US we have a good system, at the present level of population and energy availability, but not much leeway on either side of the equation to accommodate changes.

Hi daxr,

I'm trying to imagine these quaint water carrying stories in Chicago, NY, LA, Tokyo, Mexico City, etc.

New York City has the most sustainable water supply imaginable (better even than New Orleans, with 6,000 m3/sec going through the center of town).

Gravity flow to about the 6th floor of pure rainwater. With the 3rd tunnel, any two tunnels can meet demand. Some issue with street distribution, but no one will ever die of thirst there.

Best Hopes for NYC,


I lived a year in Micronesia with no electricity, and water from off the roof into a 55 gallon drum.
Speared a lot of fish.

Why do we think we are in any real danger of "losing" our electricity supply?
Most of it is generated from coal and natural gas, neither of which are in shortage on this continent. The hydro plants that already exist will continue to produce for decades to come, as will nuclear. Yes, we need some oil to mine the coal, uranium etc but in a real oil crunch, you can expect that energy production would be one of the essential uses for rationed oil (along with military, agriculture and water supply) for rationed oil since, as you point out, without reliable electricity, we are in trouble.

And, the electric industry (and coal mining, etc) could power their vehicles with natural gas if need be. yes, it costs money to change, but unlike EV's the the technology is here today. The natural gas and electricity industries could easily become "oil independent". It will make electricity cost more, but if it a choice between more expensive and none at all, we will (grudgingly) pay more.

Why do we think we are in any real danger of "losing" our electricity supply?
Most of it is generated from coal and natural gas, neither of which are in shortage on this continent. The hydro plants that already exist will continue to produce for decades to come, as will nuclear.

Excellent point, Paul. Virtually no electricity in North America is generated using oil, and none of the sources of electricity in North America are in short supply, so why is there this obsession with not having electricity? It's not a credible problem.

The real problem is transportation fuels, which are almost exclusively produced from oil. The US only produces about 1/3 of the oil it consumes, and a lot of major oil producers worldwide have passed their peak, so the US (in particular) is at risk of being immobilized in the not-too-distant future. However, people are not at risk of not being able to run their microwaves, electric toasters, or computers.

It's as if people have found solutions (wind power, photovoltaics, etc) which have no problem to solve, and are trying to redefine the problem (peak oil) to fit the solution. What we really need is a solution to the real problem.

"It's as if people have found solutions (wind power, photovoltaics, etc) which have no problem to solve, and are trying to redefine the problem (peak oil) to fit the solution."

Spot on - that would be the time when they roll out the "climate change" argument, that is precisely redefining the problem to fit their solution.

Electricity generation has plenty of options, and room for innovation.

What is really needed is a major innovation in transportation - not just what "fuel" vehicles run on, but what type of "vehicles" or "systems" do we use going forward? There is a massive opportunity here.

An hour plus commute in snarled traffic will be almost as frustrating, and is just as unproductive, in an EV as any other car.

Yes, but there is no solution that does not entail the end of "happy motoring". In very broad brush strokes, the outlines of a "solution" will have to include:

1) A massive re-shuffling of people so that they live in close proximity to their workplace. Places (suburbs and exurbs, mainly) not close to any employer will decline catastrophically.

2) Those who can will have to get around on foot or bicycle as much as they can. It will have to be possible to ride your bike to a public transit node, and either leave your bike in a very secure location or carry it on board with you.

3) There will have to be a mix of public transport options, from heavy or light rail to streetcars/trams to buses to jitneys to taxis to rickshaws. All of it will be less nice and more crowded and more inconvenient and more expensive than what people experience who live in countries with more competent and farsighted and prudent governments.

4)There will be some purpose-built NEVs on the road, in increasing numbers each year, and also a fair number of compact and subcompact cars will get converted into EVs. All of these will be for short-range errands only. Quite a few people who have them will make money or friends transporting other people or picking up things for them during their trips.

5) The number of conventional ICE private automobiles on the road will decline tremendously, and those still on the road will be ones that get very good gas mileage. Except for those owned by the very wealthy, most cars that go on the road will have to be stuffed full of passengers. We might need to copy Cuba's idea, and require non-full cars to stop and take on passengers needing a lift.

6) Regularly scheduled airline service will be history. There will be a few charter airline services that put together passengers for flights between major cities as the demand warrants, but most ordinary people will never again be air passengers.

7) Most vacation travel will be history, too. People will vacation at or very near to home.

8) Almost all freight that travels any distance at all will do so by rail or by barge or ship. Trucks will be used for local delivery only.

9) The big chain stores and the big malls will shut down, and recreational shopping will be history. People will go to local neighborhood stores for essentials. Specialized and uncommon stuff will be ordered and delivered. Mail and parcels will not be delivered door-to-door, but rather to neighborhood central pickup and delivery points.

10) We will gradually electrify our rail systems, and convert urban bus systems to rail systems, but it will take a very long time.


People will vacation at or very near to home

I loved the scene in the movie "The Reader" when going "on holiday" automatically meant riding a bicycle to a remote country villa - the front of the building showed numerous bikes parked against the walls and on the lawn. Unfortunately, as the movie flashed forward in time to the same place in the country - there we no more bikes.

I can imagine a shuttle bus with bike racks that makes trips from town to outlying parks, campgrounds, and resorts. Maybe such buses could also run from inter-city train stops midway between city centers to suitable recreation destinations. In this manner, it should still be possible for quite a few people to at least be able to get out of town for a while and enjoy the great outdoors.

Traveling much greater distances, though, to the National Parks or other sight-seeing destinations is going to be very difficult and very expensive, and thus out of reach for most people.

Many of the National Parks have rail service to them.

Many of the National Parks have rail service to them.

It's as if people have found solutions (wind power, photovoltaics, etc) which have no problem to solve, and are trying to redefine the problem (peak oil) to fit the solution. What we really need is a solution to the real problem.

I agree. And all they do is replace natural gas.


We live in such a highly networked system that it doesn't have to be the obvious thing that goes down. The financial system is very necessary for transactions of all kinds. If we start running into problems with it, the problems could spill over to electricity.

No one is watching out for the financial health of our electrical system--just issuing new mandates that must be adhered to. What if utilities go bankrupt? Are our government organizations going to be in good enough health to bail them out?

Repairs on our electric transmission system are a huge issue. When I wrote the post Will the electric grid be our undoing? in late 2008, I quoted the statement:

The average age of power transformers in service is 40 years, which also happens to be the average lifespan of this equipment.

Even now I understand that equipment is not being replaced until it actually breaks down. A friend of mine who works for Westinghouse (or a Westinghouse successor company) tells me that the company was doing so little business with utilities (like replacement of transformers) that there was a reorganization in the past month to merge better performing units with those performing less well. If somehow (especially because of our financial problems, or related international trade problems) we find ourselves unable to replace grid parts that wear out, we could be in in tough shape for electricity transmission.

We need to think about Liebig's Law of the Minimum. That is what will trip us up.


I don't disagree with you here, but, strictly speaking, that is the distribution, not the supply, that is at risk. Yes, the system is highly networked, but in the electricity business, the more networked it is, the more resilient it is to minor disruptions and outages.

I used to manage a small electric utility, and worked closely with a very large one (BC Hydro). They had done their studies on transformers, and found that, as long as you have service crews, you had almost as much power downtime from a scheduled transformer replacement, as with an unscheduled on from failure. But by waiting for failure, you get the maximum life out of each transformer. Life is also partly a function of load - high load = shorter life, so that is one of the reasons why utilities like to minimise peaks.

Yes, there does need to be investment and replacement of the grid - if it was as obvious to everyone as potholes in the interstate, it would be getting more attention. A few more outages like the NE one a few years ago will do it.

Ultimately though, grid issues can and will be resolved, though there may be some disruption. We are nowhere near "peak electricity", and as long as we have it, we will eventually put the effort into maintaining the delivery system. Where it gets hard is if people/society must decide between that, and gasoline, or health care. Reliable electricity probably maintains health much more than the health care system does, at far less cost.

I tend to doubt that grid-delivered electricity will go away in my lifetime. However, I operate on the assumption that it will become MUCH more unreliable in the future. ALL of our civil infrastructure is in chronic breakdown, now, and will only get worse and worse. We have neither the wealth or the will to do what would be required to change that.

Wealth yes, will, no. The wealth is being diverted to things like wars, epensive health care, and until recently, gross consumption of "luxury" goods and services, including vacations and entertainment.

Every great city in history became so by clever building and maintenance of civil infrastructure. WE can do it, just have to be prepared to have less of some other things in exchange for better maintenance/higher reliability.

You say: "I tend to doubt that grid-delivered electricity will go away in my lifetime."

Your tendency to doubt this is based on false assumptions, as I have said before. Make more realistic assumptions and your operative reality will more clearly mirror the actual one.


Have to agree with Paul Nash on this one, but you are both right. The bulk transmission system will be most at risk in markets where generation and transmission are more divided. In some jurisdictions they make the pretense of open and competitive markets, but it's a sham (i.e. BC Hydro and BCTC - sound familiar Paul?). The generation and distribution company (BC Hydro) still pays for the operation of BCTC. In short, they could have implemented the OATT with a third party watch-dog, i.e. expanding BCUC's role in this department, without going through the needless pain and cluster%@ck of creating two separate entities in name only. [end rant]

Getting back on topic, there is a lot that can be done with local distribution to keep it going should centralized utilities struggle.

Transformers! There's an area where I have some level of expertise. As Paul was stating, look after the puppies and they can last longer than the 40 year design life. I can't speak for newer (last 30-40 years) silicone-steel core construction, but with the older "iron side" cores, it would take about 80 years before the core showed fatigue and significant loss of efficiency. The molecules are just plain tired...

I'm seeing plenty of 50-60 year old equipment still in use. Heck, we did a study for a small BC utility (probably the same as Paul's) with circuit breakers that were built in 1934 still in use. When I came out of engineering school over 20 years ago these were considered antiques. Hmmm, how fitting I watched "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" last night. They may be antiques, but they still do the job.

One of the primary sources for silicon steel for transformers, etc. is Icelandic Alloys, where 100% of the power for smelting comes from renewable sources (hydro + geothermal).

Many of the workers do drive a short distance to work, but a battery or fuel cell bus could do that if need be.

So transformers are already being built with renewable resources.

Best Hopes,


yes we can

You say: "Come on! TOD shouldn't be a modern day sandwich board for wild-eyed 'The End Is Nigh!' doom-mongers!"

You're right. It should continue to be what it always has been. A social club for a lot of really nice, hopeful, socially conscious people who share common delusions and refuse to face their collective reality.

And shouting won't help.

Yes, lets talk about how we move over to a different paradigm with declining net energy and an exponetially growing human population about to hit 7 billion next year. Conventional scientific thinking using the eco-footprint model already puts us 2 billion souls into overshoot as it is. And there is a very good chance those models are wrong and we can expect worse.

Its not about doom, its about comming up against some basic laws of physics.

They label someone a doomer so they don't have to think about what that person is saying. Hear no evil.

Not really.

I think people get labeled as doomers (different from the self-appointed kind) when they think that 'cannot' is reality, and 'can' is just fantasy.

There ARE things we can be doing.. that doesn't mean doing them 'guarantees BAU', or 'saves the whole world' or whatever other extreme extrapolation will get hurled at the proposal by the 'realists'.. but it means that there are some things available to try, and then see how they're working, while trying some of the next things on the list, too.

But there is a little truth to your final point. If someone has consistently been a downer and simply harping on every proposal that comes into the discussion, then they probably WILL get sidelined, because it taps the ENERGY from those who are trying to find the next few things to try.

It's essential to have brakes.. but just as essential to NOT leave them on all the time. It wears everything down..

You say: "But there is a little truth to your final point. If someone has consistently been a downer and simply harping on every proposal that comes into the discussion, then they probably WILL get sidelined, because it taps the ENERGY from those who are trying to find the next few things to try."

I take that as a warning to watch what I say. But what if the group is just wrong? How would they ever know unless someone brought it up. You are still just using manners to hinder debate. And I'd rather not spend any time saying why all these wonderful ideas won't work. That's a waste of time. These ideas are products of the imagination built on a foundation of sand. Knock one down and a new one pops up. It's what we keep doing over and over. The doomers are taking your challenge and you are saying they are just negative. We should try it the other way around. I want the non-doomers to say what's wrong with the SCIENCE behind the doomer view. Their answer is always an idea for some new technology. That is just sidesteping the question. Let's start with first principles. If the doomers are correct, the technophiles must be wrong. Why is the doomer view incorrect?

Why is the doomer view incorrect?

That's a red herring. For starters, there is no single clear 'Doomer View'.. (and I don't know what would be the 'Science Behind it', as that goes) It's a continuum, like who's 'rich' and who's 'poor'. Like George Carlin's 'Everyone on the road driving faster than you is a Maniac, and slower than you is an Idiot'. You've talked about some 'group' that has leadership and is looking, subconsciously maybe, to single out outsiders and nonconformists for erasure.. The ones who get escorted out, it seems to me are 'disappeared' for their behavior, not their beliefs.. while those who do approach this from the farthest reaches of optimism and pessimism are going to find a lot of pushback to their views just by virtue of their place on that gaussian curve, that seems like basic physics to me, no? I'm sure it's not easy.

'What if the group is wrong?' OF COURSE the group is wrong! The group has no answers, because it's not much of a group.. it's a flurry of varying views, where I'd suspect each of us lands at many different parts of the spectrum depending on the subject matter.

There is a range of tool use and tech that I'm willing to work with, while I've drawn the line at Nuclear, Space-solar (so far), and am concerned enough with our rush to Wind Power that I'm more than understanding when it meets tough challenges in placement, etc.. the Singularity is definitely off the table with me. But I do believe in Gutenberg and Faraday. I don't expect we'll be forgetting what the Mighty Ball Bearing has allowed us to do, or that we'll have to forgo our ability to forge them (drop them, I guess)..

So if you're feeling 'warned' that by saying that 'All that must end', that I will stop listening to you at some point, you might be right. I do keep discussions going and try to understand the position of those who think differently than I do.. but at some point, we've each said our piece enough times, and the argument just becomes a retread. .. and a waste of energy. But to suggest that this is some kind of implicit warning that you are heading 'out of favor'. Come on. There's a bit of a convenient victim's conceit in that, where you take a position that is way outside of the system, and then complain that you're being 'left out', or 'forced out'..

You've seen how many times I've prodded 'X' for a deeper reasoning behind his 'can't compare unlike things' mantra. He won't take it on with me, but I and others HAVE left the door open for that discussion.. and sometimes he offers something new to flesh out this logical mystery.

Ugh! daylight savings.. it's way too late.


"Why is the doomer view incorrect?"

This is absolutely NOT a 'red herring'.

I guess I wasn't specific enough. When I say the 'doomer' view, I am refering the ideas that grow out of the work by Richard Duncan, Joseph Tainter, Jay Hanson, Paul Erlich, Pimentel and Pimentel, David Price and many many others.

So I would ask, for example: Why is Joseph Tainter wrong about complexity?

Or: Why is Richard Duncan wrong about the implications of energy/capita? And why is he wrong about the timing of collapse?

Or: What is wrong with Jay Hanson's view of human nature and how it affects collapse?

Or: Why is David Price wrong in his understanding of how all animals use energy? Or what is incorrect about his long view of our evolution?

Or: Paul Erlich may have jumped the gun a bit on timing, but why won't his basic premise (widespread famine) eventually be proven correct?

These questions are not answered by any proposed technologies (new or old, high tech or low). Instead, I'm inviting you to scientifically falsify the above ideas. Let's try that.

But these authors ARE examined here on a regular basis.

Whether the resulting discussions can be said to 'falsify' or not is up in the air, since it is all conjecture..

like with Bandits comment elsewhere here, you want to see proofs, when all people can do is make the most reasonable suppositions that they can.

Merlin: Looking at the cake is like looking at the future, until you've tasted it what do you really know? And then, of course, it's too late.
[Arthur takes a bite]
Merlin: Too late.


To frame this as 'is the doomer view right or not?' is already setting up for a polarized conclusion, when each of the authors above has various aspects that do and don't necessarily pan out.. and I see both directions being tossed through the fray here all the time. If there is a tendency to dismiss the folks who are the most 'absolutist' at either end of the spectrum, that's not the same as groupthink.


You say: "But these authors ARE examined here on a regular basis."

I agree. They are examined here. Just not in a very rigorous or useful way (This has been my point all along and thought I was being pretty clear). And you sidestepped the question again. Nice.

You say: "...it is all conjecture."

Maybe. But not every conjecture is of equal merit.

You say: "...all people can do is make the most reasonable suppositions that they can."

True. But some people make more reasonable suppositions than others. I think it's important to know the difference. Do you? If so, how do YOU suggest we figure it out?

These are serious questions, not sarcasm. Please don't be mad at me.

Please don't be mad at me.

Not mad, just bored.

You claimed to have read TOD for several years, but you only sign up a few weeks ago. And now you want to transform it into some unspecified "better" place via better social dynamics (huh ?) by calling on some sociological theory, but without specifics.

If several years of reading did not inform you of the social dynamics, etc. here, I cannot help you now.



You say: "Not mad, just bored."

Wow, that's juvenille.

That is just another excuse to ignore me and I think you know that. Social Theory absolutely does have a place in this debate. Actually, in any debate. The scientific method is all about finding a way to resolve debates (by trying to eliminate the just the kind of social pressures of which I speak) so that useful conclusions can be drawn. Most people are simply unaware of the implications inherent in group dynamics.

I know your not actually asking for specifics, but just in case (from Wikipedea):

"Group dynamics is the study of groups, and also a general term for group processes. Relevant to the fields of psychology, sociology, and communication studies, a group is two or more individuals who are connected to each other by social relationships.[1] Because they interact and influence each other, groups develop a number of dynamic processes that separate them from a random collection of individuals. These processes include norms, roles, relations, development, need to belong, social influence, and effects on behavior."

"Groups of individuals gathered together to achieve a goal or objective, either as a committee or some other grouping, go through several predicatable stages before useful work can be done. These stages are a function of a number of variables, not the least of which is the self-identification of the role each member will tend to play, and the emergence of natural leaders and individuals who will serve as sources of information."

"Aspects of group process include:

Patterns of communication and coordination
Patterns of influence
Roles / relationship
Patterns of dominance (e.g. who leads, who defers)
Balance of task focus vs social focus
Level of group effectiveness
How conflict is handled
Emotional state of the group as a whole, what Wilfred Bion called BASIC ASSUMPTIONS(emphasis mine)."

"Social theory is the use of theoretical frameworks to study and interpret social phenomena within a particular school of thought. An essential tool used by social scientists, theories relate to historical debates over the most valid and reliable methodologies (e.g. positivism and antipositivism), as well as the primacy of either structure or agency. Certain social theories attempt to remain strictly scientific, descriptive, and objective. Conflict theories, by contrast, present ostensibly normative positions, and often critique the ideological aspects inherent in conventional, traditional thought."

"Social theory as a distinct discipline emerged in the 20th century and was largely equated with an attitude of critical thinking, based on rationality, logic and objectivity, and the desire for knowledge through aposteriori methods of discovery, rather than apriori methods of tradition. With this in mind it is easy to link social theory to deeper seated philosophical discussions."

"...social theorists posit that even experiments in the natural sciences and their concomitant results are social constructions. Social theories can complement research in the natural sciences and vice-versa."

"...social theory calls for natural scientists to examine their methodologies with a critical eye by situating said methodologies within a social context."

"The concept that social theory may supersede certain aspects of the natural sciences is called the social construction of reality. Social theory takes knowledge, the manner in which we acquire knowledge, and the institutions by which knowledge is reified and disseminated among a human collectivity to be socially constructed. In effect, the laws of nature can only be derived using social tools within a social context. According to social theory, the understanding of natural phenomena is predicated on the understanding of social phenomena, as the interpretation of natural phenomena is a social activity."

"A community is born when its members reach a stage of "emptiness" or peace."

I guess TOD qualifies as a community, since it is about accomplishing nothing of any practical nature.

Best Hopes for a Useful Debate,


...since it [TOD] is about accomplishing nothing of any practical nature.


So that invalidates the rest of your cut & paste.




No it most certainly does not. This is becoming really ironic. You keep proving my point.

Besides, if you look around, you'll find lot's of examples of social theory in action. For example, the EIA, the IEA, the Dept. of Energy, OPEC, and many other 'official' organizations have generally been roundly criticized by this very community for being not exactly truthful. Social theory tells you why they lie.

Those organizations have functional roles in the world. So does TOD. If the world is to see TOD as something more than a 'doomer porn' site (and we all know how much the world hates doomers), there is an air of respectability that has to be maintained. Everyone's actions and views are subject to influence. Reputations are on the line. So, while one of the stated goals of TOD may be research into, and truthful information about energy issues , our ability to do so may be compromised by social pressures. Not maybe. I'm saying it is. This stuff operates at every level of society. Only a fool thinks he is not subject to it.

Also, you guys have a lot of great ideas. But in order to have any chance of successful implementation at all, for any of your ideas, you'll just have to deal with group dynamics.

And another thing. Even if the doomers are wrong, but especially if they are right, social theory has volumes to say about human nature in times of great upheaval. Understanding a little social theory might even save your life.

You say: "So that invalidates the rest of your cut & paste."

The 'cut and paste' reference sounds kinda belittling. Are you suggesting I was editing social theory improperly from Wikipeda? I picked the most relevant stuff for brevity. I did not leave out contradictory information. I credited Wikipedea. I never claimed to be a professional social theorist. You asked for references. I gave you references. I thought you guys liked that.

Nice try at the wave of the hand dismissal.

Best Hopes for the Rude Awakening,


You are working off an entire set of false assumptions. So you conclusions are, unsurprisingly, wrong.

I would be more sympathetic is you had not stated that you had been reading TOD "almost daily" for several years (a claim that I doubt BTW). But since you made the claim, so be it.

I am currently reviewing the first draft of the UN's "Green Economy Initiative", Transportation section, which incorporates some of my work. I had some input (ignored) on the Jobs Bill in the USA. I have several people pushing my ideas. Etc.

Not yet "there", directly influencing policy, but getting close.

My original goal, as I clearly stated early on, on TOD was not to "foster a community", "be a leader", etc. but to launch a meme. In which I have succeeded. Had some fun and learned things as well in the process.

Your goals for TOD are not my goals. If you want to change TOD, you are welcome to try but without my support or encouragement. TOD does what I want it to do already.

Best Hopes for TOD,



You say: "You are working off an entire set of false assumptions. So you conclusions are, unsurprisingly, wrong."

What? What false assumptions? This is really vague. People ARE influenced by social pressures. Right? Which conclusions? Why are they wrong? I have no way to even respond to this.

You say: "I would be more sympathetic is you had not stated that you had been reading TOD "almost daily" for several years (a claim that I doubt BTW). But since you made the claim, so be it."

And now you're calling me a liar? I am not a liar. The 'almost daily' part refers to the fact that I've kinda lost interest in what you guy's talk about here. I became extremely interested in peak oil in Febuary of 2005. That's when I stumbled onto the dieoff.org website. I started reading TOD not too long after that. From that point for about 3 years I was a DAILY reader. I was thirsty for real information. I even joined as 'Futilitist' but I never got around to posting. I still read the drumbeat at least every other day. I really only skim the comments section these days (before joining that is). I'm really not very interested in personalities. I prefer ideas. I hope that clears things up, though I can't imagine why it would matter in this discussion. I sincerely hope you're not trying to suggest that I don't qualify to post comments because I lack the familiarity with the topic of peak oil. That would be a mistake.

I've been surprized at the reactions my comments have drawn. I introduced some social theory into my comments assuming people would understand the context (ie get it). Wow, was I ever wrong about that one. Upon reflection, I see that I shouldn't have been surprized at all! I learned something important from our discussion. Did you?

Your meme didn't blossom over-night. I'm patient. I think things are beginning to change, because the world is passing you guys up.

I share your
Best Hopes for TOD,


"I introduced some social theory into my comments assuming people would understand the context "

See, I think that's the problem. You've mentioned 'Social Theory', and maybe your descriptions of 'Leaders and how they dismiss unacceptable members, and hence, promote groupthink..' was an aspect of this theory you feel you're presenting, but while I and I'm sure Alan and anyone here understands the kind of conditions where that does happen.. just hearing you accuse the site of it several times in a row doesn't really mean you've made a good case for it.. and pretty much slams the door on your getting to even have that conversation now. Of course, you get to cry foul and 'See? This proves it!'

"But in order to have any chance of successful implementation at all, for any of your ideas, you'll just have to deal with group dynamics."

Loren, you're like the Swedish Gunslinger in Crane's 'Blue Hotel', so sure you're heading into hostile territory, that you create it for yourself along the way. http://www.echeat.com/essay.php?t=27319 (This summary does mention that the Swede dies in the story, and I REALLY hope you don't take that to be some kind of 'warning' .. , well, OK, it is a warning, but not that kind of warning. I'll let you figure out what you will.)

You want us to look at the Social Theory.. I want you to look at the people.. admittedly no mean feat in this environment.. but you've been talking AT us for two days.. accusing us of imperious motives, nefarious tricks and the inability to grasp how groups of humans function together. You need to talk WITH people.

Best of luck,.

Mal: Mister, you got a lot to learn about people.

- Silverado


How long would I have to suck up to you guys before you will answer a few simple questions without evasion?

That's how this stupid thread got started in the first place. I only brought up group dynamics because the responses I was getting to my posts were such good examples of it! Some of you are so full of yourselves, you don't think anyone outside your little community has anything to offer. This is a self-congratulatory echo-chamber. My opinion of the level of intellectual discourse here diminishes with each new response I recieve.

If your ideas can't stand up to some basic criticism, they're probably not very good ideas at all.

Oh, and if your post means you think you've dispensed with me, think again. I'm just getting warmed up. I love a challenge.

That's more than enough for today, though. Good night.

Just because someone has not responded doesn't mean that no one has read what you wrote. Welcome to the new media. You will find that you need to either keep plugging away or pack it up, but you probably know this already.

Loren, I would recommend that you reflect on your approach to 1) sharing your ideas, and 2) listening to the ideas of others.

This thread is pretty old now, and these questions might be better served if you bring them up when the right topic on a current post gives some concrete footing for it to be carried with, and when the concerns can be restated in a new context that might let me hear what you're trying to say.

The people responding to this thread have been trying to hear you and to express clearly what they see as the issue, as have you.

Maybe it will do better some other time.


What? What false assumptions? This is really vague. People ARE influenced by social pressures. Right? Which conclusions? Why are they wrong? I have no way to even respond to this.

I do not really want you to respond. As I said I have better things to do and I am bored with this thread.

I reread your statement in this article and the list of wrong assumptions are too many to catalog (IMHO).

Among them are: Your statements about me are wrong. Your statements about TOD usefulness are wrong. I suspect that your proposed changes to TOD dynamics will not have the desired effect. I think that your perceptions of TOD dynamics are wrong. You have the wrong take on WNC (IMO).

And I am not looking for a response or debate on these points but just listed them because you asked.

Some social skills are valued here at TOD. Disagreeing without being disagreeable. Arguing facts and not personalities (I have argued specific points many times with people I generally agree with and like). Valuing original thought and analysis.


To All,

Thanks for the really great and highly productive dialog. (for me anyway)

I've posted a summary response to my recent experience here on TOD. You'll find it up-thread in my response to WNC's latest post. It's a little long so I don't want to post it again here. Please take a look at if you like. Alan, that goes for you too. I can't promise, but I don't think it will bore you.

Thanks again to Everyone,



Thus concludes Social Theory lesson #1 v.1.0



You are radically underestimating the potential efficiency gains in the US economy. I live in Europe and we use on a per capita basis far less energy than the Americans.

Indeed, it is possible to upgrade houses so that they need no heating in the winter - see the German PassivHaus.

High prices will generate substitution away from energy intensive ways of doing things.

Will it generate exception pain for Americans? Yes. But that is the fault of Americans.

French gas prices are twice the American level. What do the French do? About 20% to 30% of French drivers ride motorcyles or scooters.

I haven't owned a car in ten years. That is quite possible if you have a good train system and good public transport.

What will the French do when the price of petrol doubles again? What are you going to do when your consumer goods cost more to purchase because shipping costs have increased? What happens when the net oil exports begin to dry up?


Have you ever been to France?

They have one of the best public transport systems in the world. Powered by electricity from nuclear power plants. In the Paris metro about 70% of the population gets to work via the trains and metro system.

French cars are extremely small.

It won't be the end of the world for them - for the glutton Americans a different story.

By the way, air conditioning is extremely rare in France and heat pumps are heavily used for winter heating.

The French water ways, which are in excellent condition, are still used to move freight as our trains.

Not everyone in France lives in a major city, take a look around on Google street view, there are tons of cars. The French are going to go from driving their tiny cars to walking on foot to the train station, that sure seems like a serious decrease in quality of life.

If gas prices double, Americans can drive smaller cars too, but what happens when net oil exports dry up? Just as in the U.S., those French cars that do exist won't be rolling around the suburbs of Paris.

You really think walking to the train station, what like 10 blocks at most (like all New Yorkers) instead of driving is a serious quality of life cutback?

No way. Take away my car first, then take away my healthcare, access to amazing varieties of food, my computer, my crazy access to media, etc, etc. But my car? In the city? Most people in big cities would tell you their car is one of the first things to go if they are forced to cut back, and it's not that big of a deal.

My quality of life went way up when I ditched the car and started bicycle commuting. Not that it was easy right away, but I wouldn't give up the fresh air and more relaxed pace for anything now.

Hi Floridian,

I lived in France (Paris) for several years. France and the US are light years a part. Every major French city is connectd by rail and in most of time extremely fast and attractively priced rail. The French government is adding another 3,000 kilometers of rail to pick up some communities not on the system.

Most larger cities have either metro or tram.

The average Frenchman produces six tons of CO2 a year. The average American is 22 tons.

Of course, there will be some economic pain, but it will be fraction of what the US experiences.

The US is the Achilles Heel.

Take a look at the Paris metropolitan network. Why would you need in car in a Paris suburb?

You don't.

Cars are superfluous in European urban and suburban living.

If cars are unnecessary, why are the Paris streets lined with them? Would the public transit system be able to accommodate everyone in the Paris metropolitan area utilizing it?

It sure seems like the smaller French cities and towns require automobiles. There are nearly 12 million people living in the metropolitan area. I'd bet that just like NYC, if everyone was forced to utilize public transit the system would buckle.


If there was no gas to run cars, yes, the subways (all electric) and buses (some of which are already converted to Natural gas hybrids)would be full.

And Of course, those 4 lanes on Broadway would now have plenty of room for high mileage scooters, people powered bikes, rickshaws, etc.

The cities are going to do fine when gas doubles in price. In fact, the great urban renewal could very well start when cities tax bases start to finally increase after years of white and 2nd generation immigrant flight to the suburbs.

NYC, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, DC, Seattle, Portland etc already have amazing public transit systems. And that's in the car crazy US! Sure, they take energy to run and maintain and some people will always prefer to drive -- but cities are the answer to our problems in a post FF age, not the problem.

Cities have always been unsustainable and still are. Cities have been an unsustainable way of life since humans first began building them, some 10,000 years ago.

Modern cities run on cheap fossil fuels. Without cheap fossil fuels, cities, as well as the whole modern way of life for humans on planet earth will be over. For ever.

It seems pretty obvious.

that '10,000 years' should be a clue, Loren.

We have cities because we keep choosing to build them. Oil or no oil.

It's a way to get rid of the artists, I guess. They always hated milking, anyway, send the little slacker to Broadway.

You say: "We have cities because we keep choosing to build them."

I would say that we choose to build them when it is possible to build them. It has been possible for 10,000 years. I'm saying that this might be coming to an end. In the future, people might just stay on the farm, instead. But only if that turns out to be possible, as well.

I live in Chicago, and the most amazing thing about the CTA is that it is still running. We are enduring cutbacks in service due to high labor costs. As a retiree it has less impact on me, but the result is reduced service leading to crammed subways and buses. No one wants to pay higher fares, the unions don't want to accept any cuts in pay or benefits, and the infrastructure needs constant attention. Public transporation is a wonderful service to have, but no one wants to face the real costs of providing the service. I don't know if people are flooding back to Chicago at this point. Right now I have to assume they aren't given all the whining about the lack of revenue to maintain BAU in city services today.

Only in the short/medium term. And, to a certian extent this is useful to know; for now, people in the cities are going to do much, much better than the exurban and rural folk so dependent on their cars and trucks just to get to walmart and back.

But remember, the decline is relentless. Eventually, people will either become serfs on the land or die.

Hi Floridian,

Understand that if gives me some pain to agree with you :-) I love France and the French people - I really hope I can get these old bones over there for one more fling cycling in Provence.

BUT, you are right, France is jammed with cars. Every available inch of curb space in Paris has a car parked there (with very high parking fees). I am not brave enough to cycle in Paris. Rural secondary roads are still pretty good for cycling as the car traffic count is relatively low. But, every village/city of any size is jammed with cars. One of the worst car rides I can recall was from Marseille to Nice along the coast - bumper to bumper in the off-season.

The trains are fast and wonderful - wish we had them here. But, the French people still love their cars and love to drive them like "crazy Frenchmen".

Our houses and business are far apart. We already have more houses than we need. Houses tend to be very large. Cities are not set up for public transportation (low population density, no sidewalks, no centralization of businesses, homes on cul de sacs-far from major streets). It is not an easy transition. You can't tear everything out and start over.

Cities have low population density? Sure, some do, like Detroit. Others, like the greater Boston/NYC/Philly/Baltimore/DC corridor, have very high densities.

I fail to see how having a "central business district" helps anything either, it's the opposite IMO. If I need groceries and don't have a car, then taking my little old wheeled pushcart over 3 city blocks to the save mart works pretty damn well and consumes no energy other than the hundred or so calories involved in walking over their.

cities are inherently energy efficient. Jane Jacobs didn't know it, but her influential urban planning strategy of "mixed use" blocks is perfectly aligned to a post FF world.

Furthermore, buildings are mixed use. In NYC, almost every building in the outer boroughs has a bodega on the bottom and apartments the rest of the way up.

I really see no greater solution to the problem of dwindling FF resources then a return to city living. If we have any chance of maintaining growth, it will be with the cities.

And my last point on this is that city buildings, where you are sharing the cost of heating with your neighbors, is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I live on the 2nd floor of my building. It's a contemporary, energy efficient building -- good insulation and all that.

Well, when the neighbor down below cranks up her thermostat to 72, most days, except when it falls below 30f or so for an extended time (5 or more hours thereabouts), her heat rises up to my apartment and keeps it around 65, which is fine -- put on a sweater and save on the heating bill.

We paid about 100 bucks total, for a 3 bedroom apt, to heat our apartment all winter, we turned the heat on maybe once every 4 or 5 days. I'm sure there are many similar situations in cities all across the world.

Air conditioning is a different beast, I will give you that.

In return, Roderick, I think you underestimate the scope of the US issue. Nukes - won't help with transportation much anytime soon, and coal is one resource we do have. How do pay for expensive nukes while doing the rest? How to scale enough to make a dent in any reasonable timeframe?

Rail - great idea, but we don't have anywhere near enough. The US is BIG. How do you build out rail while maintaining roads, when you can't even do the latter?

Cars -- 200M to replace, more or less. People are already cash-strapped. There is no public transit, and cities/states are broke. Where does the money come from while doing the above?

Home efficiency -- hard to makes homes instantly smaller and more efficient. Already there is a shortage of cash in housing -- who is going to lend a lot to improve efficiency when NG is cheap, and electricity too?

Commercial efficiency -- small businesses are on the brink of toppling. Comm real estate is already falling. Where is the vast sums of money to rebuild, retrofit, and insulate going to come from?

I could go on -- it's not a question of theoretics, but logistics. We needed to start sooner, and we need to start now, and we need to do all we can, but we're not. And we won't anytime soon. Instead, we'll throw money at international banks which shore up the wealthiest, while the little guy makes do with less and less. There is no easy way out of a hole when all you have is shovel, and you're only fed if you keep digging.

I'm still hoping for a long, slow decline, but I think there is a steep crash in here for us somewhere. Maybe France and the rest of EU will be luckier, but I doubt it'll be much different. You EU guys will be doing what you can to keep Britain from starving in the cold, and pandering to Russia for gas as well. Maybe it won't be as bad as Gail thinks -- that seems extreme to me -- but a lot of things we take for granted are simply going to stop, I fear.

Rail: Freight is already moving massively from truck to rail, and the system is probably adequate enough - with a few additions, to eliminate all long-haul trucking. We will need to eventually electrify, but that is mostly a matter of putting up poles and overhead wires, and retrofitting the locomotives (to start with), which is not the biggest challenge we are going to have to face. Passenger rail is a bigger problem, but we are mostly doing it all wrong. We need to be thinking in terms of city-to-city routes. Even a non-high-speed train can travel from downtown to the downtown of a nearby city in pretty good time compared to travel by car, especially when parking hassles are added in. We need to establish a network of intercity passenger trains, with each leg running two or three trains a day each way. People wanting to travel by train across longer distances will just have to make a lot of transfers, and may have to stay overnight at the "Station Hotel" a few times along the way. It may go back to taking several days to travel clear across the country, unless you are one of the few who are rich enough and important enough to still be able to fly.

Cars: We are not going to end up with 200M automotive vehicles of any type, too many people won't be able to afford them. Walking, bicycles, and just maybe some form of motor scooter or motorcycle will be the main modes of personal transport for a large minority - and eventually majority - of the population. A fairly substantial minority will be able to afford purpose-built NEVs, or compact/subcompact EV conversions (with limited range, given that they'll only have a few lead-acid batteries to power them), or golf carts. These will be for trips to/from the nearest public transport node or to the nearest shopping district. A much smaller minority will be able to afford larger and longer range ICE or PHEV cars, and some of these will be in use as taxis, jitneys, and delivery vehicles; quite a few people will be able to rent these for the occasional long trip however. Safety will be the main concern, though - there will be a lot of places that will be no-go for any of these cars, regardless of who owns them, due to boiling resentment amongst much of the population.

Home efficiency: We have way overebuilt, housing is going to contract for decades. Eventually, only a minority of people are going to own their homes, a large majority will be renters. The heated space per person will shrink considerably, which means that number of occupants per housing unit will be increasing. Many larger houses will be remodeled into multi-family housing. There will also be a big movement for people to remodel and add an accessory apartment or two. Quite a few people will take in lodgers, and boarding houses will make a comeback. The housing that remains occupied and standing will be concentrated near employment centers and transport nodes, that which is far away from these will eventually be vacated, looted, and burned down. People will invest in energy efficiency retrofits, but the big energy efficiency gains will be by reducing the heated square footage per person.

Commercial RE: We've way overbuilt commercial as well. Most large retail establishments, including malls, will eventually be closing down. Some may be repurposed, much may simply become ruins.

Hi Gail,

You fail to mention that James Hamilton is close to a minority of one. There is a lot of snickering in the economics community around Hamilton's monolithic views about the causes of recessions.

The common sense and probably correct view is that recessions can be caused by a variety of factors.

Recessions often result when the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to cool off an overheated economy whose inflation rate is rising.

Overheated economics typically involve increasing demand for oil. So oil prices are rising.

So it isn't rising oil prices that cause the recession, but Federal Reserve tightening monetary policy through raising the Federal funds rate.

So it is easy to have situations where recessions are proceded by high oil prices and there is no cause and effect.

Correlation does not imply causation ...


Can I call you Rod??

Welcome to TOD. I think what you may want to do is go back past the five weeks you have been a member (maybe you've been a lurker, I don't know) and read a lot of history on this site. Also check out Biophysical Economics (if not Ecological Economics) to get past the neoclassical views that are represented by the "majority" view.


The IEA (and probably the EIA) forecast oil demand by forecasting what they would like for GDP growth, and then figuring out how much oil is needed to support it. Historically, there is a correlation between oil production and world GDP growth:

Graph by Dave Cohen

Steven Chu seems to be still concerned about the issue. We read:

Chu "nervous" about high oil prices

The rising cost of oil could damage the world economy just as it begins to rebound, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Tuesday.

Wide swings in oil prices are difficult for industries to manage and the U.S. government is concerned about another price spike, Chu said.

"Even $80 is making me nervous," he told the Reuters Washington Summit.

There is a lot of snickering in the economics community around Hamilton's monolithic views about the causes of recessions.

That seems like it might be over-egging it more than a little bit, but inquiring minds wonder. It's not something that's easily searched because what can you possibly use for search terms that won't turn up 100,000 useless hits. So have you got a handy link or two to a serious essay by a serious economist?

Gail, Nations that use less than a tenth as much oil per person have functional electric power grids. India comes to mind. I think a lot of the theorizing about our future low oil society should be done by comparing to other countries. The comparisons make me less grim than you are.

So my question to you: Why should the US electric grid fail at a tenth of our current oil consumption if other countries can maintain electric grids at a tenth of our current oil consumption?

To put it another way: At what percentage of our current oil consumption do you expect the proverbial wheels to fall off our electric power grid?

Why should the US electric grid fail at a tenth of our current oil consumption if other countries can maintain electric grids at a tenth of our current oil consumption?

First you have to look at how many blackouts there are in that other countries. Secondly at the total amount of electricity generated.
Of course the grid doesn't have to fail with much less oil, but the point of Gail must be that when this highly complex globalised system goes in reverse one could think of many problems to show up. Besides of this a lot of infrastructure is old.

The distinction between high oil prices and corruption seems like a false dichotomy. It is true that the corruption levels displayed by the financial industry, government etc are truly astounding. Specifically, they implemented policies that channelled development toward a high energy use pattern at exactly the time when energy supplies were starting to get short. They seemed to do this for short term political and personal gain.

I can't really think of a better name this process than corruption or malfeasance.

On the other hand, there is a significant problem with adapting to higher energy prices, shorter supplies, and different types of supplies that require massive changes in infrastructure even if the US economy were to be well run.

Unfortunately, I suspect that the prospects of well run, honest government are even further away than big new cheap oil finds.


I believe Gail is vastly exaggerating the role of oil in postwar recessions. I was trained as an economist and I know the macroeconomic literature quite well.

The view that oil prices are main culprit in explaining recessions is a minority view because there are much better candidates.

I found it hard to understand how Gail draws the connection between debt default and high oil prices. There was no debt crisis in the 1973/74 recession that ushered in the stagflation era.

And clearly if oil prices had not spiked in 2008, the world would still have experienced a very severe recession due to the immense balance sheet losses incurred by the banks.

The 2008/2009 recession was caused by a shortage of credit and the immense balance sheet losses suffered by the banks and households.

Always beware monolithic views of the world.

I think being trained as an economist is in some ways a liability. It is a like being trained that infinite growth is possible on a finite planet.

There was a lot less credit in the 1973-1974 recession, but there was huge upswing in inflation rates and interest rates. One insurance company I worked for went bankrupt; another larger one I worked for had to be bailed out. It was may experiences in the 1973/74 period that tipped me off to the likely financial problems in the current period.

The financial problems hit the vulnerable sectors. This time, it was the sub-prime mortgages. Last time, it was the insurance companies. The situation changes with the circumstances.

OK, I've asked Roderick for a link, but OTOH, oil need not be the sole cause of everything bad that happens. Even an economy that theoretically must remain finite might have bumped into some other constraint. After all, we've had financial panics throughout at least the last few centuries under all sorts of different economic conditions. It still seems to me that "we" made so many wild promises to so many people with so little earning power that had oil stayed at $40, the panic would not have been postponed for long.

In other words, "we" fell into the belief (this particular time) that everybody could become a millionaire just by trading the same houses back and forth, without need ever to produce anything anybody really wanted to buy. It couldn't work indefinitely, but who was going to call BS? Not the right wing: "prosperity" seemed to "confirm" everything they had been claiming. Not the left wing either: your typical Marxist humanities academic might see the outcome as very "fair" and satisfactory, inasmuch as even my favorite whipping-boy, the guy too stupid to figure out that (s/)he ought to get the noon city bus under way when the big hand and little hand are both on the twelve, the guy who would be missed about as much as toothache if he simply never showed up for work again, and all of his multitudinous ilk, would become rich.

This went swimmingly well for as long as the increase in hallucinated wealth remained primarily notional. The fun began when people decided to cash in on some of their hallucinated notional wealth to buy real, desired goods and services other than each other's houses. At that point ... well, the goods and services weren't being produced and didn't exist ... oops. Even had oil stayed low ... well, the goods and services weren't really being produced back when oil was low, either. After all, we've been dumbing down the education system and hollowing out the economy for decades now.

On another hand, though, we can certainly accept $140 oil as a trigger knocking out the first card in a wobbly house that was primed for collapse no matter what. But had it not been $140 oil, it would have been something else - everybody always wants a narrative, since the fundamental fact that everyone really can't be millionaires (they can in Zim$ but not current US$) anytime soon seems to be too politically incorrect to be to anyone's liking.

I am starting to migrate into the world of econ.


The first post explains why we have so many multi-millionaires and what can slow this growth.

I agree with Gail that being trained as an economist is a liability. If you don't have the economists blinders on, then you can start seeing things from a fresh perspective.

I think being trained as an economist is in some ways a liability. It is a like being trained that infinite growth is possible on a finite planet.

Yes Gail. Most economists fail to see the big picture. When I started to read TOD about two years ago I saw that you and many others realise that it is cheap energy that does the trick. Some month later I borrowed the book 'the next economy'('from mass economy to information economy'), written in the '80s by an economist without blinders, from the library and read a confirmation of the consequences of expensive oil. In fact it is logical, but ignored or overlooked by many.

In general oil demand correlates with GDP, however there are exceptions. It would be interesting to publish a graph of US GDP from let's say 1970-2010. In the 1978-1982 period US GDP grew slightly (although some argue that it is difficult to know the exact numbers from those years) but oil consumption dropped with 18%. Wether GDP growth or not in that period, one can think of circumstances that GDP growth is possible for some time while oil consumption is declining.

The renewable issue that you write about here is clear to me. You are not against windenergy, solar-energy or whatever alternative for fossil fuels, but you warn for the supposition that they could maintain BAU and you send the message that EROEI's are probably estimated too high.


I don't have hard numbers, but I'll bet most of that oil reduction was by changing oil fired power plants to coal or NG fired. So total energy use may not have changed much. Prior to the opec shocks of the 70's, oil was used for lots of things. By the mid 80's most non transport oil usage had been dramatically reduced, but by fuel switching, not conservation. There was also a move to smaller cars, which would help, but not really impact GDP either.

Probably total energy use per GDP is the better metric.

I'll bet most of that oil reduction was by changing oil fired power plants to coal or NG fired. So total energy use may not have changed much.

Indeed Paul. I raised the GDP question in Drumbeat 12 march and then some clarifying answers appeared. From the 3.3 mbod less use, 1.4 mbod was because of what you wrote.

There was also a move to smaller cars, which would help, but not really impact GDP either.

This can happen again, together with carpooling and more people taking buses/trains (what happened from 1978-1982), though I think reduced oil consumption will be for an important part because of rising unemployment.

Don't forget that old oil-fired furnaces were switched over to heat pump, electric baseboard, natural gas, wood-burning stoves, or some combination thereof. And weatherization became a major contributor as well.

Hi Will,

Residential fuel oil sales are in terminal decline (see: http://www.heatingoil.com/blog/sinking-heating-oil-demand-in-us-looks-li...).

On a personal note, over the past eight years, we've saved over 37,000 litres of fuel oil through various improvements to our home's thermal envelope, replacing our old oil-fired boiler and water heater with a more energy-efficient combo-unit and the installation of two ductless heat pumps; that's a $30,000.00 savings at current prices ($0.829/litre). I convinced my two business partners to convert to heat pumps as well (one opted for a conventional dual-fuel system and the other, three ductless units) so that's an additional 8,000 to 10,000 litres/year in demand that's been removed from the market.


I have also been trained in economics and studied it at both at an undergraduate and post graduate level. Going back to the birth of economics with names such as Descartes and Bacon one kind find the view formed that all natural resources for all intents and purposes are infinite, or that they are infinitely substitutable.

I do not hold that view; and believe that while foundational to modern neo-classical economics, it is fundamentally wrong. Note that it is the same view carried over from classical economics into modern economics, whether neo-classical, communist, Chicago school, Austrian, Keynsian, whatever. It is still wrong. It may have been valid a century or more ago in a world with 1bn people, but it is just wrong in todays 7bn people world. Furthermore to include only capital and labour as economic inputs is also fundamentally wrong. Energy is another fundamental input and ties back to my earlier point about the price mechanism. Also note it is not just any old energy. It is net energy that is important. Money obscures EROI economics, but I would be very surprised if our declining EROI wasn't somewhere responsible for both the boom and crash. The massive increase in M3 before the bust was likely a response to declining resource availability, but was unsustainable because you really do need the real resources. It was my view through to 2006 that the 20% and 30% pa increases in M3 would lead to a crash. Subsequent analysis shows energy was at least partly responsible, if not wholly responsible both directly; and indirectly through feed-backs not included in the economic calculus.

Yes I very much agree.

Adapt or die. Economists and the mainstream media are failing to adapt. I wonder what nature has in store for them.

James Hamilton, an economist with UC San Diego wrote a paper for the Brookings Institute that was published in the FT. Essentially it says the recession was caused by high energy prices, especially oil. Very briefly the analysis showed that high energy prices skimmed enough disposable income to sufficiently disrupt mortgage payments to cause the collapse of a large number of mortgage backed securities, including those two funds at Bear Sterns (August 2007), the first in a large collection of skittles, many/most of which have now fallen over.

Other analysis by other people (you have to read allot!) shows that the lax money supply control was itself a response to constrained energy availability (it was an attempt to maintain economic activity with money, rather than real resources). While you cannot take away from the sheer stupidity and rapacious greed, it is likely at the very least that oil prices are in the mix for being directly responsible for this recession/depression.

Incidentally, the terms recession and depression imply there will be a "recovery". Recover what exactly? The same levels of greed and stupidity? Cheap Oil? Endless building of vinyl and cardboard indentikit "homes" into the far distant exurbs? More and more grid-lock? I don't think so. That way of life, if it represents the pinnacle of human achievement, was only ever going lead to trouble. It is not human, not human scaled; and patently unsustainable.

If you want to read the James Hamilton paper it is available here: http://blogs.ft.com/energy-source/2009/04/03/was-the-us-recession-caused...

And watch this at ITV in the UK. 8 minutes, but stick with it. It was done in 2007 shortly after the Bear Sterns crisis. What is amazing about it is that in humour it almost exactly mapped out the 2008 crisis - a whole year before it happened! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzJmTCYmo9g&feature=player_embedded#at=98 There is nothing about oil in it though it does illustrate the sheer stupidity and rapacious greed very well.

I think PO and the financial crisis timing are an independent coincidence, but/and/or mutually reinforcing.
This is not the first time the world has had a financial crisis.


Pretty good article, just a few points:

1. We dialogued about this extensively just the other day. I would be in agreement with your assertion if you simply added the qualifier "at present". I continue to assert that it is possible to eventually end up with a technological and industrial infrastructure and a renewable energy infrastructure that match up to each other, and are thus sustainable. I don't know where that level is, but it is certainly lower than BAU, and higher than zero.

2. If it were I writing it, I would simply add that if global C+C were to go up further, then more megaprojects would have to already be in the pipeline than is in fact the case. People can argue all they want about how much oil is theoretically still in the ground, but without the investments in megaprojects, in the ground is where it will remain.

3. Again, if I were writing it I would explain that the economy can be thought of as a pie, with various slices going to various goods and services. The economy is at best stagnant, with occasional quarters of growth in the low single digits being all that even the most optimistic people can hope for. Thus, expanding the "oil slice" can only come at the expense of everything else - including wages. There are limits to this - you can't have an economy of nothing but oil - which means a tug-of-war between contracting oil and contracting everything else.

4. We discussed this a while back, too. I am very sceptical about renewables ever providing 99+ quads of energy for the US; there is just no realistic scenario that can make that happen. 25 quads seems to me to be a much more realistic scenario within the time frame that we actually have and the constraints of the physcial and economic realities that we must work within. 25 quads also seems to me to be a realistic level for sustainability, absent FFs.

5. The one good news about NG is that it buys us a little time. We actually have a chance to merely decline and not crash, and to level off at a realistic sustainable level.

6. With ELM (and especially ELM 2.0), the US is likely to be thrown back upon solely its own petroleum resources (plus maybe a trickle still coming from Canada) much more quickly than most people can possibly imagine - quite possibly as early as the end of this decade. The good news is that we DO still have SOME oil of our own, so this need not be the total catastrophe that it would otherwise be. The two things we DON'T want to do are: a) get into a mad dash to extract and burn it all just before we really need it; and b) wait too long to find it and put the infrastructure in place while we still can so that we can extract it when we really do need it. It will be tricky and take more care than our system can usually muster to get it just right.

7. People need to realize that it isn't just so much a matter of energy prices going up, it is also a matter that their per-capita incomes will be going down. If you have less money in your pocket, then even if energy prices don't change then energy will be less affordable. It is the RELATIVE movement of energy prices, prices of all other stuff, and prices of labor (wages) to one another that people will really need to be adjusting to.

1. I still do not see how renewable can reproduce themselves, except perhaps biomass at low levels. I don't see how infrastructure can be built with renewables. Making steel using charcoal isn't going to get us very far, in my opinion.

2. The need for more mega-projects could perhaps be added, I agree.

3. Probably a reasonable way of looking at things. Maybe we should all become oil workers, and stop eating.

4. I don't see the international financial system holding up. Without it, I have a hard time seeing renewables amounting to much of anything. If we can keep electricity going, there is some chance of renewables continuing, but once we hit one major stumbling block, we are not far from others.

5. Maybe NG buys us a little time, but more likely it does not. It does not keep growth going, so we still have the financial system problems. It does not run in current cars and trucks, so it is hard to scale up. If we don't mess up too badly, it might keep nationwide electricity going longer, and that would be a great benefit.

6. You are right--it is the relative movement of prices relative to wages that is important. If you don't have money (perhaps because you have been laid off from work), you can't buy oil products, no matter how cheap they are.

As you point out, our financial systems are going to give way "soon." We have put them into competition with the planet's resources (a silly thing to do, of course).

At this point in the history of our species we should be decreasing the money supply rather than increasing it. However, any suggestion of that will quickly label one as a heretic.

I re-did this graphic to demonstrate the relationship we have set up. Say goodbye to fiat currencies. Hard to know when but the system is set up to fail — no way out of that without a dramatic change in how we operate.

aangel, haven't you heard about 'economics'? When resources become scarce the market steps in a produces substitutes and everything is ok again.

[tongue firmly in cheek..]


WRT replacing the renewable energy infrastructure on a long-term basis, it is going to be critical that things be built to be highly durable. The more frequently we need to change out things, the more difficult it is going to be to sustain the technology. This is one of the reasons why I am pretty sceptical of PVs - the cells just don't last long enough. We'll be having to replace panels already installed before we even finish the ramp-up phase. My best guess is that the renewable energy technology that we end up actually having on a long-term sustainable basis is going to be pretty simple, low-tech stuff that has mostly been around for a good long while already.

As for the financial system, I do indeed think that our ability to finance capital investments is going to be extremely limited. This is why I don't think we're going to have a NG bonanza, but only that we'll be able to keep production from declining quite as fast as it might have otherwise. This is why I don't think we are actually going to see "drill, baby, drill" on anything approaching the scale required to substantially boost domestic oil production, even if it is theoretically possible to do so. This is also a big reason why I don't see renewables ramping up to much more than 3X their present level, or around a max of 25 quads, and that over several decades at least. Even an economy in severe decline can really tighten the belt, enact draconian austerity measures, and scrape up a little money for the highest priority projects. We are certainly not going to be able to come up with enough to replace more than a fraction of the FF and nuclear (we can't afford many of those, either) capacity that we'll be losing. We won't be able to maintain our crumbling civil infrastructure, either, or our military. That doesn't mean that everything just collapses all at once, but it does mean that some things will have to be abandoned (like inner-city Detroit, or KCMO schools) so that scarce and diminishing resources can be concentrated on the most important things. As I have been saying, the 21st century will be one long exercise in giving up things. That giving up is likely to be sequential rather than all at once, though.

Simply put...Atlas IS Shrugging !!!!!

Let him shrug-- we need to get rid of these elite parasites.

why would "inner city detroit" need to be abandoned? If anything, it's suburbia Detroit that will be abandoned.

Detroit really is a special case, although people like to cite it as a harbinger of doom, it's actually an outlier compared to most American cities.

Detroit has a long tortured relationship with the surrounding counties, quite of a bit of its decline as a city is tied to the shear inanity of its organization both politically and geographically, as well as the complete loss of its manufacturing industry from outsourcing.

In 1950 a white man could graduate high school in Detroit and walk into any factory in the city and guarantee himself an upper middle class living, well then of course this man is going to buy a house in the suburbs and move away from all those minorities that are barred from the factory floor. Of course the city is then going to try and extend it's domain out to the suburbs, for tax purposes. And then you have endless sprawl. Throw in the gaga over anything car related -- "let's build an 8 lane highway right in the middle of downtown" ideas and you have a perfect storm.

And even yet! Even yet, in the worst economy in America, Detroit keeps plugging away. There are no riots, no disorder in the street. It's because of civic society (however defined), not because of general poverty, that cities stay relatively calm even in the face of such great duress like Detroit.

In case you haven't noticed, huge swaths of inner city Detroit have been burned down and abandoned. This isn't a prediction, this is a statement of the facts on the ground right now.

You say: "This isn't a prediction, this is a statement of the facts on the ground right now."

True. But it used to be a prediction. The people who originally made these predictions were predicting social collapse. They saw these kinds of problems in the cities as the first stages in that collapse. So far, their predictions have come true. Why do you disregard the rest of the prediction.

This is one of the reasons why I am pretty sceptical of PVs - the cells just don't last long enough.

So how long do you think they last?

Here's a hint: most modules have 20 or 25 year guarantees for 80% of rated power output. Look at their manufacturer's spec sheets.
Many programs, like the California rebate, require 20 or so years - I'm too tired to look it up - tag, you're it.
There are many 30 year old off-grid systems out there, still working.
Real world lifetimes for modules are now more like 40 years.
Yes, currently inverters have 7-10 year lifetimes until failure, but unless we loose all power semiconductor manufacturing, those will be available/repairable. And I suppose low-tech electromechanical regulators could be used in a DC only system.

Here's a summary of energy payback times: http://www.energybulletin.net/node/17219
Note most of these estimates are in the 1 - 3 year time frame.

Also note they're not up to date: efficiencies are improving, manufacturing costs (e.g. including embodied energy) are decreasing.

OK, we take (1) system lifetime = 30 years and (2) energy payback = 3 yrs.
Can we breed PVs?
We buy X MW of PV, and produce X/3 MW every year for 27 years. Years 28-30 we make the modules for the next 30 year plant.
We have made 9X MW of PV modules free and clear over 27 years.
Suppose over that time, we allocate 1/9 of output to an expansion plant, we still have 8X MW for sale.
Over 30 years we double output.
Sure seems like they're breeding to me.

Will the massive terawatt buildout now being planned in the PV industry happen with PV power alone? No, fossil fuels/wind/hydro are too cheap now. But the point is that once we get substantial PV power, electricity is not a big worry for the next billion years.

In 2008, about 6 GWpeak of PV was installed. (see end for note on watt(peak))
(2009 numbers still coming in, but looks around 8 GWp - decent growth even in "bad economic times"). The PV industry has proven capable of growth rates from 30% - 110%/year. Give it a 20 year ramp at 35% year on year growth, what do you get? I get 2,425 GWp PV produced in year 20. Including the initial 6 GW, that makes 9,338 GWp total installed in 20 years. At 1600 hrs/year (moderate sun), that's 14,940 TeraWatt-hrs of electricity. In the US in 2007, we used 5,157 TW-hrs from all sources [EIA] http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table1_1.html

Save whining about cost (including storage) for someone who doesn't like having electricity. Yes, it will cost more than "cheap" (subsidized) coal, but it's way better than doing without.
N.b. when I bought a PV system for my (old) house in Calif. in ?2003 or so, a system with battery backup was ~ $10/Wp, without was $8. These days total system costs (sans batteries) are in the $5-6/Wp range, cheaper for large arrays in fields. So storage doesn't add that much.

I agree that people will have to give up things, but electricity at 25-50 cents/kw-hr is not all that expensive. In some parts of the world (Hawaii, Japan, ...) "conventional" electricity is already at those prices.

N.b. I would only invest in silicon PV.
Cadmium-Telluride (ie First Solar) is Tellurium limited.
Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenides are Indium limited.
Organics have ludicrously low efficiencies and lifetimes.
Amorphous silicon has too low efficiencies to compete (6-8%).
Silicon is the 2nd most abundant element on the surface of the earth.

While I'm here - what is the deal with doubting the learning curve?
windmills, sailing ships, stationary steam power, steam locomotives, internal combustion engines, automobiles, trucks, airplanes, computers, light bulbs, rockets, electronics, PV, ....
Can anyone name a physical energy producing or consuming product that has not benefited from the learning curve?

What's a watt (peak)?
PV modules are rated for power output under standard test conditions,
defined as 1000 watts of sunlight (close to high noon intensity) per square meter at normal incidence (i.e. the module is perpendicular to the incoming light), and a certain solar spectrum. The Air-Mass 1.5 (AM1.5) spectrum presumes the sun is at an angle so the sunlight passes through 1.5 air-masses, reasonably appropriate for temperate climate latitudes. (There is also a temperature specification, since the output of modules changes with temperature.).
The electrical output is then measured at the peak power point, where the current drawn from the module is varied until the voltage * current product is maximized.
The output power (power = current * voltage, or P = I*E) is specified in watts, but often noted as Wp (Watt "peak"), since that is the peak power under reasonably peak sunlight conditions).
Since the sunlight varies over the course of a day, to get how much energy (measured in watts * time) one must know the average sunlight for a particular part of the world. This varies by latitude as well as local weather conditions. 1600 hrs of "full" sun per year is a typical number for temperate locations, it can be up toward 2200 hrs/year in Southern deserts, and of course much lower in cloudy Northern climates.


You keep missing the point. The amount of fossil energy that goes into a nuclear power plant is probably a tiny fraction of the fossil fuel saved.

Not to mention the huge amount of CO2 emissions saved.

'probably a tiny fraction' has sometimes turned into a lot. The problem is that in response to early failures like Trojan, we stopped designing and building nuclear reactors, and never advanced past the single-pass U-235 designs that we know there is not enough fuel to supply. So now the only proven designs are obsolete and don't really help.

If we start a massive building program of breeder reactors without the 30 years of operating experience required to verify the design, we run the risk of repeating a mistake like Trojan (there are plenty of examples in other countries too) 100 times over. There is no substitute for building just a few and waiting to see how they work.

Nuclear is not capable of expansion at a greater rate than wind and solar, so why not build those instead?

I am not sure I agree Roderick.

There is an article buried somewhere on this site that analyses EROI on nuclear and I believe the number is 5, over the full life cycle of the plant.

Working in favour of that 5 no doubt is technology, but working against it there are a number of factors:

1. Vast amounts of fossil fuels are needed to mine and process uranium. As these become more expensive they will impact uranium economics directly

2. Long term storage is not yet settled. Maybe it never will be, but that means all of the existing waste still needs to be taken care of; and a long term solution found.

3. UF6, the 95% of unenriched uranium by-product is highly toxic, has no other use and must also be stored. Its long term storage too remains unresolved and is possibly a bigger problem that than the highly radioactive "ordinary" nuclear waste because there is so much of it.

4. Uranium ore quality has been declining. I forget the numbers, but relatively small decreases in quality result in huge increases in the amount of ore that must be mined. I believe that if all of the worlds electricity was generated with uranium current known deposits would last 10 years.

There are opportunities in these wastes, maybe they can be reprocessed for further use, but we have been waiting for fast breeder technology almost as long as fusion. Ditto Thorium.

So I have no doubt uranium will be part of the mix, but it is no silver bullet.

RE #4: I spent a lot of time on commuting on buses last summer (rather than drive 50 miles to work each day), and, while twiddling my thumbs, spent some time thinking about what society NEEDS (in terms of energy) versus WANTS. I was mostly curious how I could cut my electric bill, which led to the thought exercise below:

Using energy use statistics (mostly from DOE, but from consumer groups as well) I figured that the US could run an industrial economy on HALF the energy we use today. I didn't make any assumptions about efficiency gains, or what sources the energy would come from.

I assumed a massive reduction in the auto fleet (think 75%), a massive reduction in home consumption by about 66% (essentially reducing home electricity use to cooking, food storage and lighting), a significant downsizing of commercial energy use (roughly a 50% reduction) and a similar drop in industrial energy use. I could make up a more detailed list of my assumptions and reductions, but my laptop is at home.

My point is: as WNC observes, the US could probably produce 25+ quads of BTUs from renewable sources. This is roughly one fourth of present production, but half of my back of the envelope estimates. Between greater efficiency and less consumption, I see no reason why industrial society can't continue. It will just look/feel/be a lot different from the FF industrial society we are used to.

Yes, my thinking is that an initial cut in usage of 50% is probably achievable over the next couple of decades. This is the low-hanging fruit, though it does require actually giving up some things we've been enjoying now, not just painless and invisible "efficiency gains". Then, we will need to make a second halving to get down to 25%, and this will require another few decades. This one will be a lot more painful, and will require a lot of giving up of things. To get to this level, we are talking about the average American descending to a lifestyle and standard of living more on a par of what they have now in Costa Rica or Uruguay or Cuba, or what we had in the US in 1941. Life could be far worse than that, and there can be ways in which it might even be better than it is now, but there is no getting around the reality that it will require that a LOT of things be given up.

US Electrical consumption by sector:

Residential	Commercial	Industrial	Transportation
38.16%	         36.93%	          24.70%	    0.21%

First fat to trim is light bulbs, ad signs glowing 24/7, old refrigerators.

You're probably correct. The US economy as well as the American household are incredibly energy hogs.

The catch is that we are not producing very much of the goods we need--just importing them from abroad, using their coal (or other fossil fuel) for production. We need to be adding local production--the same local production we got rid of over the last 40 years. That will raise energy needs.

To some extent, yes. Fortunately, the one silver lining is that much of the industry that has been offshored was making stuff that we don't really need, won't be able to afford, and could live without. When you start looking at what we absolutely are going to need to make within the US as we descend to long-term sustainability, it actually is not all that substantial a list, and much of it is still being made here today.

From the main post:

"1. Even though wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), geothermal, and ethanol are called "renewables", they cannot be produced without fossil fuels, and need fossil fuels for maintenance."

You seem to repeat this claim frequently, but without any evidence. There has been at least one solar plant that supplied its own energy from solar, and others have pointed out that wind could easily supply enough energy for its own production, construction, and maintenance. I agree with the above post that at least the hedge of "at present" should be added, unless you have solid proof that these technologies really could never provide the power for their own manufacture...

I have not thought about geothermal in these terms, but why couldn't one renewable provide energy for another?

I think "x" is about the only person on this forum that would argue with you about biofuels on this point.

You seem to be putting your weakest foot forward by placing this point first, since I tend to agree with the overall conclusion. I would say point four is your strongest.

The larger point, to me, is how much energy anyone should be hoping to provide homo-destructus. What have we done with the massive amount of energy ff's and nukes have provided besides kick off a new mass extinction, degrade all ecosystems, and go far into population overshoot (and all this without even taking into account GW)?

The main goal now must be how to LIMIT the power of the most destructive species in the history of complex life in a relatively humane way.

Putting into the hands of six year old a live chainsaw running on wind-generated electricity instead of one running on gasoline is no great improvement.

Gail ignores facts which contradict the doomer view in any way.

Saying that they can't be produced sans fossil fuels may be a bit much, but believing they are capable of replacing fossil fuels and permitting BAU is probably just as wrong. Wind isn't constant and the sun doesn't always shine. The energy generated must be stored some how, especially for vehicles.

"Wind isn't constant and the sun doesn't always shine. The energy generated must be stored some how, especially for vehicles."

And do you assume you are the first one to notice these obvious facts.

The wind IS always blowing somewhere, and the sun IS always shining somewhere. And there have been many proposals for and advances in energy storage, from very large batteries (already in use), to controlled draw down of reservoirs (already being done), to pressurizing air in underground caverns, to smart grids storing electricity in EV batteries.

Many, many energy intense activities could also simply be timed for periods of highest availability of renewable energy.

Again, though, the main point is that we have to figure a way to limit what we do, since most of our activity is fatally damaging to ecosystems and to our future. We need to primarily planning power down rather than fantasizing a way to power up with renewables (or with anything else, for that matter).

You first claim that wind and solar are the future energy sources and then go on to talk about a "power down". Sorry, but not all of us are interested in a return to 1492. There is a large amount of fissionable materials, the problems will be related to vehicle fuels.

I don't hink we are headed for 1492 anytime soon. But, I will get to see the 1930s in my lifetime. And my nieces and nephew may get to experience the late 1800s.

good luck

IMHO, we'll run out of money to build more nukes long before we run out of uranium.

The energy supply we are going to need in the future is going to have to require a cheap and simple infrastructure, because that is going to be all that we can afford to keep operating. We're going to have to adjust ourselves and our economy down to the level that can be sustained by such simple, low-tech renewable energy infrastructure.

IMHO, we'll run out of money to build more nukes long before we run out of uranium.

So? We just build them without money! Sorry, that isn't supposed to be a wind up. In new paradigm we could act as a community and build things we need. Now I know that the word "community" sounds a lot like "communist", and I know that the Ghost of McCarthy still hovers above all political thought in the US, but we really could build things without money if we wanted to!

Money is just a marker. Can we build them without feeding the workers who build them? Without the diesel fuel to run the construction equipment? And so on.

It comes down to having a society with a large enough surplus beyond the absolute necessities -- food, water, and shelter -- to afford this kind of expenditure in people's time and the materials which require people's time to produce.

Yes, in a low-energy future, just as in the low-energy past, there will be a much greater proportion of farmers. I would guess, then, that any suggestion to all pitch in to build, at massive cost and labor, a nuclear power plant, would be greeted with a "whatever for?"

WNC Observer

I agree that we are going to run short of capital for nukes. And this article says.

All we are likely to have funds for is the very inexpensive stuff, perhaps from years gone by.


The US has plenty of capital. It's a rich country. It is all a question of how resources are allocated.

France generates 80% of its power from nuclear, 10% from hydro, and 10% from fossil fuels.

Are you trying to tell me the US cannot replicate that infrastructure?

We were a rich country, but much of the wealth has been squandered and siphoned off by corrupt politicians and their financier cronys. Now what we have are debts, and interest to be paid. If we had developed a serious long-term plan in the late 70s and stuck with it, then yes, the US could have probably even done France one better. We've left it too late now, unfortunately.

25% of home-owners are upside down on their mortgages, 50% of commercial property is upside down, the average US citizen has a net savings rate of -2% and a credit card debt of $7,800, and then there's a $400k per household share of US government debt...I think you're right - its a little late for a long-term plan!

I don't think that it can, without a change in prevailing ideology. But not for want of capital. The US has become a 'can't-do' nation. This is, I think, the logical end of an ideology that sees government as inherently evil.

The 'can-do' nations today are those in which the idea that taxes, government and government intervention in the economy are essential elements of civilized life is widely accepted among elites and citizens in general. The 'can-do' nations are not ashamed of their mixed economies.

The US is of course also a mixed economy, as no other model offers capitalism any chance of minimizing its inevitable perturbations and successfully maintaining popular support. But because of the dominant ideology regarding government, state intervention in the economy is largely exercised via the military budget (a huge domestic prison system is a second means). Enemies are invented, or their strength vastly exaggerated, in order to overcome the ideologically rooted dislike of government. Anyone can note that the most vociferous opponents of 'interventionism' are also the loudest supporters of military expenditures. Obama's budget exemplifies the 'military keynesianism' characteristic of the US in recent decades. It is realpolitik, synchronized with the constructed, dominant system of ideas. Most citizens of the US probably have no idea that the defense budget has little to do with national security and a lot to do with a macro-economic toolkit.

Anyway, until the ideology changes, the US will slide, farther and faster than would otherwise be the case. Warnings about 'dependence on terrorist supporting oil sheiks' just don't work to motivate popular support for the necessary capital formation and expenditure.

Let the debt unwind, and see how much investment capital there really is. We have been borrowing from the future for so long, we have no clue how far reality is from the empty promises to pay back debt with interest that so many have made.

Yes, I am telling you that infrastructure made with $10 oil cannot be replicated with $80 oil. That is at least part of the problem. There is also a lot less of the oil in the ground now than there was then, and more people bidding for it.

This is an interesting question.

As to the Hydro Electric, i believe the USA has dammed most major rivers, so i see little potential for expansion. The only major river that is not dammed is the Mississippi, from where the Ohio joins to the Gulf of Mexico. In the USA, hydroelectric is a major supplier in some regions.

As to the Nuclear Issue. France has a political structure and population that support nuclear power. In America, we have been ant-nuclear since Three Mile Island. The current barrier to Nuclear Power relates to the Political Climate. IMO, i don't see large scale nuclear constructions at anywhere near 80% unless fossil fuels becomes massive more expensive.

We Americans don't really prevent problems or solve problems. We need a crisis to drive the problem solving process.

Rather than a power down -- how drastically do you mean? power *off*? -- I'd prefer not to dismiss entirely the benefits of these alternatives. Within limitations they look like being very helpful...seems like on these pages they are often treated as if they're better off not used at all (because they lead to growth), which in my view is a mistake

If you can afford a solar panel or two, I agree that they will be beneficial for you and your family, as long as you have equipment that can be powered by them during they daytime when they give off power. (If you have to move, you may need to move them with you.) And I agree that wind has been used for a variety of uses over the years, including pumping water, and even powering factories. Certainly, this could be done some more.

But spending huge amounts of dollars on new "whiz-bang" applications, that depend on huge cranes or helicopters for repairs, and a functioning financial system to have a possibility of making replacement parts, seems to me to be a way to push our luck. If our grandparents could repair it, I can see a technology working for a long time, but if repairs depend on the newest, latest and greatest equipment, I am skeptical.

Gail wrote " if repairs depend on the newest, latest and greatest equipment, I am skeptical."

I could not agree more. yesterdays article on solar power had this quote from eSolar's Bill Gross "the biggest lesson that we brought was — I don’t know if it was a lesson, but it was a philosophy — which is Internet-enable everything and put monitoring into everything."

So that means this complex, expensive system is vulnerable to a failure of something in an building in San Jose - what are the chances of his solar farm working after an earthquake in the Bay area?

Look at the "software" problems Toyota is having with the Prius - software IS the problem there.

Not every problem has to have a high tech solution, and today, the less dependent something is on everything else, the better.

yesterdays article on solar power had this quote from eSolar's Bill Gross "the biggest lesson that we brought was — I don’t know if it was a lesson, but it was a philosophy — which is Internet-enable everything and put monitoring into everything."

So that means this complex, expensive system is vulnerable to a failure of something in an building in San Jose - what are the chances of his solar farm working after an earthquake in the Bay area?

It's for monitoring, not control.

...every control from the control room.

Never seen/heard of a solar thermal power plant without a local control room. Lots of moving parts.

An EDA software company brags about their usage by eSolar:

"proprietary communication channel" for controlling the heliostats.

N.b. virtually all major/commercial PV arrays have on-line monitoring (and virtually none have on-site control rooms - no/few moving parts).
And many residential installers offer on-line monitoring.
But your system will still run if the net goes down.

I think those without a product design background just don't realize the power of microprocessors, especially in conjunction with power electronics, or how ubiquitous they are. I don't think we'll give them up. The military will see to that. And a reasonably small fab can make a bunch, and we don't need super-sophisticated processes.
The 8051 is 30 years old, and still going strong.
In a transport constrained world, distant communication is very valuable, so why would cell phones/video conferencing/Internet be abandoned?

During the "dark ages" people still did glass, gold smithing, iron, etc., just not to the scale the Roman Empire at its peak did. Sure some sophisticated astronomical instruments
were lost, but those were rare luxuries.
But widespread technology tends to hang around.

How about a mixture of wind, solar thermal, solar PV, wave, tidal, hydro, geothermal and nuclear?

If the vehicles you mention are electric and have batteries they can contribute to the storage solution. Also, just as an example, if the grid operators had some say on when exactly the nation's fridges and freezers turned themselves on this could immediately reduce the peak useage and help smooth demand. If residential customers were priced according to demand, i.e. cheaper at night and more expensive at peak times, this would reduce peak demand or encourage distributed storage. There are many many improvements that can be made.

Europeans already use considerably less energy per capita than US citizens with similar living standards, so there's also considerable headroom here. I'm not proposing BAU. I'm proposing an improved and more efficient system.

I agree..., no BAU..., but not necessarily an Amish paradise either.

Most of your choices are diffuse and have less net energy. Wind is pretty good. I do like solar thermal, but I don't expect miracles.

Light sweet crude is a problem, but heavy sour crude will last a long time. So will that junk, tar sand.

So we'll have oil for many decades to come.

I'm more concerned in the short term about a possible crash.

Yep, me too.
I'm interested to see Alan's outline. I've listened and read Heinberg. There are several here like WNC Obs. who have good ideas on the path to lower energy equilibrium...

But we have really over-leveraged the future in so many ways and that snap-back can be damn violent. The growth pressure that was keeping the system inflated now has the top heaviness of cheap energy based finance placing unbearable loads onto shrinking weakened economies. Pensions, unemployment, bailouts for the overleveraged. The solution for this has been to hallucinate more debt-leverage until the Euro, IMF, T-bill rate (Chinese whoever) reigns it in. Austerity of any kind brings unfriendly demonstrators into the streets.

Same can be easily outlined for CC & PO.

25 quads is probably way doable, realist, sufficient. If we only lacked financing we could make that up with willpower and collective effort. If we only lacked a cheap energy base we could suppliment with financing, sacrifice and ingenuity. If we had ham we could have ham and eggs if we only had some eggs...but it's the expectation that we will get those ham and eggs that is the problem as I see it, b/c nobody wants to announce that they won't be arriving but they won't. It's one thing to expect hardships quite another to feel deprived.

We are walking this minefield while daydreaming about Palinistic experimentation with the workings of our society re more mid east adventures, tax breaks for the wealthy, and the endless abundance of energy locked up in some untapped corner of our continent. Because very few are wanting to know what is really at the root of our problem, overshoot. Nobody is talking about the outline you gave or Heinberg or the 25 quads so everyone is expecting their regular H&E allotment, standard price, delivery per schedule.

If just a small percentage, the military, the farms, the rich, the rural get exactly what they are expecting now in the-not-too-distant somebody is going to be completely without. It's beginning now and will increasingly be headlined 'no services', 'no financing', 'no fuel', or 'damn little food'. Like we've been saying down to a certain level life is still pretty good, below that and the trouble begins. If we're not all at least minimally happy many of us soon may not be able to be happy at all.

To date, I have not received a "promise to publish" from either Gail or Prof. Goose. As I stated before, I am unwilling to make the effort required without some sort of assurance of publication.


C'mon gang!


All of fuel sources you list produce electricity, not oil or natural gas. Solar thermal also provides heat, as for hot water.

Our transportation infrastructure is set up to run on oil, and much of our other infrastructure also requires oil or natural gas. Making a change is an expensive proposition. It is not clear we can do it with our capital availability.

One particular issue is electric cars. At this point, these are mostly wishful thinking. Perhaps we can make a few electric cars that are more or less glorified golf carts. But scaling up to replace long distance transport and commercial vehicles as well as other cars is iffy at best. Electric cars require lithium for batteries, and rare earth minerals elsewhere in their manufacture. Neither of these are in abundant supply. Perhaps lithium production and rare earth production can be scaled up, but probably at greater cost than that assumed in the $40,000 per car price estimate for electric cars. If electric cars cost considerably more than $40,000 because of unplanned higher costs, and governments are too poor to provide subsidies, and furthermore trade-in prices plummet, how many people will really be able to afford electric cars?

So we can't transport goods and people long distances by electricfied rail and only use cars for shorter distances? Your conviction that electric cars will never ever be affordable is not actually based on anything, it's just something you have decided. You are basically denying the possibility that you could drive smaller cars shorter distances and ruling out any advance in the technology of energy storage. In my opinion electric cars are already nearing the point of being practical here in the UK for typical use.

Crobar, the conviction about electric cars not being affordable is that no one has yet been able to bring one to market that IS affordable, other than, as Gail points out, a golf cart. No one is denying the possibility of driving smaller cars shorter distances - that trend is (thankfully) starting to show itself here in N. America. But let's be realistic, when you can buy a new Hyundai for less than $10k, that gets almost 40mpg, you have to make an EV well under $20k, probably under $15k, to be a credible alternative - and that, other than glorified golf carts, is still a long way off.

And even once it is here, it will take quite some time to replace the 200 million vehicles on the road here, let alone the rest of the world.

"Crobar, the conviction about electric cars not being affordable is that no one has yet been able to bring one to market that IS affordable, other than, as Gail points out, a golf cart."

Average new car price: $26K

Zap Electric Car: $12K

SEATING: Up to 4
BATTERY: Lead Acid

MSRP: $11,700 In Stock Now at Dealers Throughout the U.S.

Performance Specifications

SPEED: Up to 40 mph (65 kmph)
RANGE: Up to 25 miles per charge (40km) *Up to 40 miles per day with opportunity charging; Energy to charge 4.75 kwh

Zap has been developing the Alias for the past four years. (The company itself has been in the electric-car market since 1994.) When production begins next year, they will produce an estimated 10-15 units per month, with larger-scale production planned with a cooperative venture now being developed.

That's about the Zap Alias. Two years to fill up a parking lot don't cut it. 55,730 EVs in the US for 2007.

Green Car Congress: ZAP Receives Order for 100 New Electric SUVs from Samyang Optics

Wiki: ZAP (motor company) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An article from Forbes magazine in June 2007 criticizes the company for over-issuing stock and failing to produce results or show significant profits.[1]

Gets better and better! Maybe EVs will be the pump-and-dump of the post peak era. I think Ebikes are great, no need for messy financing or wasting ergs on hauling around empty seats and trunk space. Small is Beautiful.

Consumer, you can't compare the average ICE car price to a specific electric car. That average includes SUV's, cadillacs, Mercs, Ferraris., etc.

Compare the price if a similar size and type of car, such as the Hyundai Accent three door - sells for $9975, and seats 4in more comfort than the Zap, has more room, goes faster and farther.

The zap, is when it comes down to it, a golf cart on steroids, an has a range such that you would always be checking the fuel gauge. And make sure you live somewhere flat...

"Consumer, you can't compare the average ICE car price to a specific electric car. That average includes SUV's, cadillacs, Mercs, Ferraris., etc."

Yes, I absolutely can compare them, because what is being suggested is that we can't afford electric cars, when by definition we are affording the average ICE car.

Then you need to compare to the "average" electric. Put in the costs of the Tesla in there, and what does your electric average come out to?

If you are going to compare a tiny electric to any average that includes very large vehicles, for very different purpose, then you are not making a valid comparison. You simply can;t take the Zap onto any freeway or interstate, so it is a restricted use vehicle, others are not. That is one reason why buyers stay away from the Zap, Zenn, NEV's etc. You simply get less utility for your money.

But comparing average is pointless, no buyer buys average, a buyers chooses between one car and another. So what does a potential Zap buyer comapre to? Or, more importantly, when does my Hyundai buyer buy a Zap instead? What does it take to get them to change? Whatever it is, at 15 cars/month, not many are changing.

The Zap and similar will have their niche, as neighbourhood cars, university campuses and the like, but for those you can often make do just as easy by bike or walk.

They are simply not a large scale solution, yet, and the jury is still out as to whether they will ever be.

To be str

Buying an electric car today is one of two things (and sometimes both):

1. An political statement (I believe this is a better choice environmentally, etc.)

2. A bet against BAU. (When the oil runs out, I'll be driving, and you will have to hitch a mule to your Mustang.)

Neither one of them is dependent on the usual current vehicle purchase paradigms.

It makes as much sense to compare them on usual vehicle metrics as to try to sell a car on the basis it gets your clothes twice as white. Most people will try to buy them when they are forced to (if they are lucky enough to have the money or resources), and then blame the government and the auto companies for not producing them sooner.

crobar -- Sorry if this sounds unreasonably sarcastic but to offer a quick answer to your questions: no... we can't transport goods and people over long distances by electrified rail because we have an insignificant amount of e-rail in this country. And it doesn't matter how practical e-cars are because the American public isn't switching over to them at anything close to a meaningful rate. It would be great if we suddenly have a great expansion in both areas. We can argue till the cows come home how critical it is for capex to move in a very green direction very quickly. But it isn't today and I see no one offering any realistic indication that's it's about to happen. And even that would make the great assumption that sufficient capex is available if/when the big push comes. Again, I don't mean to make this sound so nasty but the world is full of problems that could fixed IF this, that or the other is done. But all that matters is what is being done and what we can afford to do. And by "afford" I mean what the American public is willing to do...not what anyone else thinks they should do.


It will happen because Americans will have no choice.

Besides it doesn't have to be electrified rail today. The current US rail road system is much more energy efficient than diesel trucks.

A false dichotomy to say we must have a zero fossil fuel solution.

The pragmatic approach is to conserve energy.

There's a lot of low hanging fruit in terms of energy consumption and if oil prices rise higher, then people will make the adjustments.

Roderick -- I don't completely disagree with you but let me ask the obvious: if Americans have "no choice" why isn't it being done today? Obviously they do have a choice and have had a choice for many decades. And the choice has been to carry on BAU. And excpet for a few dedicated folks like Allan pushing rail etc we see virtually no real discusion let alone action being put forth by this country. They do have a choice and the current choice is to do nothing substantial. Might they make a different choice in the future? Maybe...but we ain't there yet regardless how how many folks on TOD think we need to be.

France, Europe, and Japan started to reduce foreign oil usage in the early 70's. It was economic security that motivated the central planners. De Gaulle was the nuclear leader. Here, oil barons have been in charge or near enough to make sure oil usage was king. This is a Country where oil usage has not been allowed to rise to the level of economic security except in the loosest political stump speech. Where is the gas tax? Where are the public rail and bus systems? Need a new or enhanced interstate? Congress will provide.
European countries has been steady, even in the face of low oil prices in their view of economic security, even when it put themselves at a comparative disadvantage,like nuclear in France. Still European oil usage is great and affluence likes autos and new products everywhere in the world. China uses 2 1/2 barrels of oil per capita, India about the same, Japan uses 8 barrels of oil per capita, Europe 13 barrels and the US 26. If imported oil is $200 a barrel, whose economic security is most affected?

Exactly newman. That's the point that can almost drive you to tears. Had we started to focus 30 years ago or so how much different would life be for us today? And if we tried to begin the transition today do we have another 30 years to get it right? The answer to that question doesn't really matter because we aren't making choices today to go for a transition. Some talk but no substantial action. The political system seems more impotent today then it did when Carter's ideas were ignored.

The political system seems more impotent today then it did when Carter's ideas were ignored.

Hmmmm... and Carter's fate offers a serious hint about the overall futility of this very discussion. Carter came across as an ineffectual whiner, a nerdy carrier of a "doomer" mood not entirely unlike what suffuses this page and has filled it to bursting.

Now, on one hand, the "doomer" world-view can't be disproved, if for no other reason than that the future simply hasn't happened yet, and predictions about the future have an uncanny way of going wildly wrong. But on the other hand, if any further technical innovation is indeed absolutely impossible, if it's there's no chance ever again to build anything or do anything except with an abundant supply of liquid fuels exactly matching the current distribution chemical compositions, if there's no path except to a future with a shattered remnant population living mindlessly as beasts or medieval serfs, then ... who needs to care, might as well stop worrying about political impotence, or indeed anything else. Might as well just go out in one blazing drunken party ... oh, wait a minute ...

if there's no path except to a future with a shattered remnant population living mindlessly as beasts or medieval serfs, then...

I was watching Colbert interview a pollster the other day who made the most salient point about the American electorate I've ever heard: they don't want to be governed by Democrats...but they don't want to be governed by the Republicans either. They want to make up their own minds, he says.

I used to think you guys needed to have a constitutional conference, because the founding fathers didn't anticipate the venal morons who have come to exemplify your system. I think if you had explained Sarah Palin and Glen Beck to Ben Franklin, let alone Dubya... however, I now suspect you're beyond fixing (at least within a meaningful time frame.) This is a big concern to me on two counts: because your values are being exported to us, and you do not have the total franchise on venal morons...you've just given them freer reign than most places; and because American political deadlock is, essentially, world political deadlock.

The problem is that if that pollster is correct, there is a sizable minority (at least I hope it's a minority) in your country who really want anarchy. The level of self-interest (and self-delusion) that your system engenders, attracts, and encourages is, to my mind, toxic.

Pogo said it best: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

...there is a sizable minority (at least I hope it's a minority) in your country who really want anarchy...

Oh, it's even worse than that, far worse. Apparently some whom I've been arguing/conversing with today are so misanthropic that they'd like the whole human enterprise to be brought to an end, with not even roads of any sort left, and with the remnant population dehumanized to mere beasts. I'm not very trustful of limitless bullying government myself (I find twentieth century Europe to be very instructive on the severe risks it imposes), but OTOH the primitivism can descend to a level where I simply don't get the point.

Even worse, that primitivism is not new. Lots of academics and self-appointed activists still seem to think Walden, the compendium of grocery lists and other maunderings that accompanies Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience essay, is some sort of great literature. Never mind that the grocery lists prove beyond doubt that Thoreau was perfectly glad to help himself in full to the benefits, such as they were, of the civilization of his day, demonstrating that the maunderings (about the evils of civilization etc etc) carried no particular practical meaning for him. I still think modern Political Correctness is also tied in somehow - if you reduce everyone to subhuman beasts, then you presumably improves "equality" and "fairness", albeit by making everything and everyone "equal" to nothing.

You say: "...the 'doomer' world-view can't be disproved..."

If the doomer world-view can't be disproved, then, scientifically speaking, it is considered true until proven otherwise. The scientific method is based the practice of falsifiabilty. (reference Karl Popper and his philosophy of science)

And a view that can't be disproved (or proved either, for that matter) is not falsifiable (testable). It's not "true until proven false" - since it can't be proven false even in principle it simply has no place in science. So what's your point?


I believe the 'doomer' world view is falsifiable. It just hasn't been falsified.

The employer I work for bought a GEM a year ago, and it cost under $15K. I drive it regularly, it is how I travel on business errands in town during the day, since I commute on foot and don't have my own car available.

You are right, a highway-capable EV with a speed and range to match a conventional ICE car is going to be way too expensive for most people. Not everyone needs that, though. In fact, with some lifestyle and attitude adjustments, most people could get along just fine with an NEV being available when needed, and maybe a longer-range ICE or EV car rented for the occasional long trip.

I plan to eventually replace one of our two personal cars with a GEM or its equivalent.

Not to mention, overall NET ENERGY of has been in decline for ages.
I don't envision a reversal of that trend because I just don't see anything that can replace fossil fuels.

Hi crobar,
I can't speak for Gail of course but after reading the site regularly for a year,I must disagree.

Gail has crunched a lot of numbers over the years and as I read her , she is simply saying the numbers won't add up to success. In PRINCIPLE I expect she is wrong-I can't see that anyone has proven that renewables can't be expanded and built out using renewably generated energy, in an engineering or mathematical sense.

But in the sense of everyday reality, dealing with real world time frames and real world consumption patterns and the real world economy,theoritical possibilities don't matter much,except in the limited sense of the negative -there is no point whatsoever in trying to build a perpetual motion machine , for example.

In the real world of diverting energy and money from it's current uses to building up the renewables infrastructure until it can carry the load of bau seems to be an impossible dream, unless we are lucky enough to get a wakeup call suficient to bring us to our senses-an event I have referred to as a Pearl Harbor event here in the past.Actually I suspect several such event would be necessary, scattered around the planet and spread out over a number of years.They would have to be really hard hitting politically over the short and medium term, and really hard hitting economically over the short term only-otherwise they would be like the pirate lesson of making a prisoner walk the plank-he might learn something from it, but he doesn't have any ooprtunity to put the lesson to use.

If we are talking day to day reality rather than theoritical possibilities I am of the opinion that Gail may very well be right , and I think that she is thinking in such terms-but agian I do not presume to speak for her.

I am hopeful however that just maybe there will be a giant round of expansion in renewables with the last big bunch of money the world can gather up for speculative purposes. If we were to go crazy for renewables now the way we did for computers, chemcals, real estate , banks, tulips, gold, and or several other things over the last few centuries, we might just end up with enough renewables in place to stay on our feet after the exportable oil and gas is gone.

But if I were laying a bet, I would bet with Gail.


I haven't seen any numbers crunched on this site. I see lot of fear mongering.

France made the transition to nuclear in the 70s.

The US can't do it?

Capital, energy, and determination are what is needed.

I don't see a significant amount of any of those, or even the prospect of them, at the level of national politics where a large scale program would need to be implemented.

You say: "Gail ignores facts which contradict the doomer view in any way."

Like what, for example?


Regarding whether renewables can be reproduced without fossil fuels, the issue is not the amount of energy produced; it is the type and location of energy produced, and the availability of infrastructure to used this energy. I challenge you to design a plan in which only renewables are used to produce renewables--including taking care of all of the issues of feeding the workers who will work in the plants, transporting the workers to the plants, and shipping the renewables to the new locations and installing them. In my view, building a renewable only infrastructure simply cannot be done--regardless of the amount of energy they produce. They produce too little energy, it is too delayed in timing, and it is mostly electricity.

They way I put it once was...,
Can renewables reproduce [w/o oil].

But I wasn't sure anyone understood what I was driving at.
Nice to know I was wrong.


Renewables don't have to "reproduce" without oil, they just need to be able to scale renewables up with increasingly expensive oil.


You assume we have increasingly expensive oil.

If the system breaks, it is like unplugging your computer. You don't have it.

You probably need international trade to even keep our own domestic production going, because everything is so high-tech, and requires parts and expertise from around the world.

I sketched out a plan for a 25 quad renewable energy economy a few weeks ago. Sorry, don't have time to find the link right now, but I'll try to summarize. [EDIT: Here it is]

About 1/3 to come from biomass. We maximize production of biogas from municipal and agricultural wastes; it may also be possible to grow some biomass crops and process them to produce methane efficiently. This replaces the most essential NG uses only - no electricity generation, and as little space heating as possible, leaving as much as possible for industrial processes. We also grow a lot of trees and process into charcoal, which replaces the most essential coal uses - again, no electricity generation, mostly just industrial processes. We produce as many oilseeds as we can without starving the population in order to produce as much biodiesel as possible to keep essential transport and heavy equipment running. Maybe we produce a small amount of bioethanol to keep a few highly useful things like helicopters going. A lot of biomass also ends up being burned to produce heat + electricity.

We maximize solar thermal water and space heating in every residential and commercial building that we can, and build CSP installations for industrial processes where feasible. Forget about PVs. Build a network of district heating plants utilizing geothermal heat pumps to deliver hot water in winter and chilled water in summer to smaller heat pump exchangers for all the buildings in their service area. Mostly just sustain existing hydropower levels, and ramp up wind to deliver about 8 quads of electricity (or 1/3 of our total energy supply). Maybe count on various oceanic technologies (tidal, wave, thermal gradient, underwater current) to deliver another quad or so of electricity, or maybe not.

Almost all of this is actually using just early 20th century technology, with some modest subsequent refinements. Enough energy in the form of biogas, charcoal, CSP, and electricity can go into the industrial sector to provide the concentrated heat needed for the critical industrial processes necessary to build replacement parts from recycled materials. Most of the post-WWII industrial technologies could be gradually phased out, and we could still operate an industrial infrastructure that would be sufficient to make what we need to keep this 25 quad renewable energy economy going.

WNC, with the exception of CSP's, your plan sounds suspiciously like what Sweden has been doing for the last decade. They have successfully built lots of district heating systems, set a goal to eliminate the use of oil for heating purposes, and have just about achieved it, largely through the use of biomass/wood pellets. They have encouraged the use of heat pump systems. They have not (as far as I can tell) wasted their money on PV systems. They have well developed urban transit, much of it electrified, and bicycle friendly cities. They have buses running around on E100 fuel and are looking at powering their agriculture on it. You can actually run a diesel engine on 80% ethanol (20 % diesel for pilot ignition) with minimal modification, and major mods for ethanol only operation.

So, if you need a real life example, this would be pretty close.

Yes, I have had some informative and useful exchanges here with Magnus, and that has influenced my thinking. The US (or individual states) cannot just take the Swedish template and apply it without modification - what works best here vs. what works best there does differ to some extent. However, Sweden is a good example of a place that has actually thought these things through and is working on a plan to achieve what is realistically achievable.

What's so great about Sweden? The per capita income is lower, the houses are small and old, and the cost of living is astronomical. In most parts of the U.S. you can live an excellent life on $100,000 household income (not difficult to achieve if both spouses work), I don't think the same could be said the same for Sweden.

"In most parts of the U.S. you can live an excellent life on $100,000 household income (not difficult to achieve if both spouses work"

Floridian, you have just reached the top of my list as poster most due for a reality check.

I live pretty well on 36K in one of the most expensive cities in the whole world...granted I'm single...but I mean, shit I have a nice apt, granted I have 2 roomates; I have a nice quad core computer, nice HDTV, etc, etc.

I take a nice vacation once a year, and with the leftover money I pay down my student loans. CC got paid off this year.

Sure, life isn't amazingly awesome, but I think Floridian you need to re-think what "conformable" is.

Comfortable to me is a 2700 sq ft home of recent construction on one or more acres of land. $100,000 really isn't far fetched if both spouses are college educated and employed. In Southwest Florida that really won't go too far, nor would it go very far in say Suffolk County, New York. If those Nordic countries were paradise, I wouldn't have had neighbors from them.

Cost of living varies depending on where you are in the U.S. Ghung, I think you've said you live in the Carolinas, I'd consider $70,000/yr family income to be quite comfortable there.

I would not be able to have a quality of life anywhere near what I manage in the U.S. living in most of Europe.

'I would not be able to have a quality of life anywhere near what I manage in the U.S."

I suppose that it depends on how you define quality of life. It's easy when you have no sense of social conscience, and depends on what you value.

The child poverty level in the US is 22.4%.
Sweden? 2.6%

The United States, the world's richest nation, has one of the highest percentages of children living in poverty amidst plenty: 22.4 per cent.

In a report it released last month, the UN Children's Fund, or UNICEF, said more than one in five children in the United States are poor.

In Sweden, only 2.6 per cent, or one in 38, are poor. In Denmark, the figure is 5.1 per cent, or one in 20.


They are 5th in the world for quality of life. The US is 13th:

Swedes are better educated, live longer, have better access to healthcare and their per capita GDP is higher, as is their overall standard of living. And one personal observation (having been there) they seem much happier. That said, I don't begrudge you your success. Enjoy it while you can (and try spreading it around a little).

p.s. In WNC, where I live, very few folks make anywhere near $70K/year, yet they seem to do OK. Maybe it's because they're not focused on their "standard of living". The ones who are used to higher incomes are looking a little stessed these days.

Comfortable to me is a 2700 sq ft home of recent construction on one or more acres of land.

The word I would use for it is "unsustainable" in the future world of expensive transportation fuels. It's already an unaffordable lifestyle for many people in the current American economic situation. They were living in a fool's paradise before the roof fell in on them.

You need about 10 houses per acre to support a viable public transit system. If you don't have one, the future will not be a happy place for you to live. The future is not going to be a happy place for most Americans.

People in other parts of the world with good public transit will do better.

How much fuel does a motorcycle use compared to a bus? We aren't all going to abandon our homes and pile into the cities.

What are the people going to do in those cities? Work in the nonexistant service sector? The cities will be nightmares.

What are you going to do in the suburb? Be a subsistence farmer on your one acre lot surrounding your McMansion? There's nothing that can be done in the suburbs (except take advantage of the space to grow food) that cannot be done more efficiently in the city.

If it gets to the point where people are growing food to feed themselves in rural parts of the U.S. the cities will be disaster areas. I'd rather do nothing and be safe.

I don't foresee total collapse, I'll take my chances far away from large cities.

re: How much fuel does a motorcycle use compared to a bus?

Well, there's an interesting comparison. Let's take a typical value for an average US motorcycle (e.g. Honda 750): 50 MPG. In Europe you can buy cars (VW Polo diesel) that get better mileage than that. Let's take a typical 40-passenger city bus - 9 MPG. Divide that by 40 and it's 360 passenger-miles per gallon. Over seven times as good.

Now you can argue that you don't often see 40 passengers on a 40-passenger bus in the US, but I would point out that in other countries you do. You just have to persuade people to use them.

Also, I would hasten to point out that electric trolley buses still work perfectly well, you just have to string the wires. Or not take them down in the first place, which in retrospect would have been a good choice. Electric trams work just as well and are much nicer to ride.

re: We aren't all going to abandon our homes and pile into the cities.

Well, the US is well advanced into the first phase of that sequence. I don't know where they're all going after their houses are foreclosed upon, though.

re: What are the people going to do in those cities? Work in the nonexistant service sector? The cities will be nightmares.

And, that differs from the current situation in what way?

You have to predict what is going to happen in advance, rather than retroactively. What you might consider to be some kind of Armageddon-like situation was actually highly predictable, and is likely to get worse if people don't smarten up and adapt to reality.

I don't know where they're all going after their houses are foreclosed upon, though.

Actually, Rocky, that's an excellent question that I wonder about. We've theorized before that they might be moving to the brother-in-law's couch. But they're certainly not (on any scale that would make a difference) moving into Detroit, or piling into any other large city - I see no evidence whatever to suggest that the "first phase" is under way in that particular sense.

While the suburbs may be expensive, the cities are bloody expensive. They will become even more so once, for example, the gargantuan subsidies for those 40-passenger buses dry up (along with many other subsidies) and either the would-be passengers pay about the same cost as to drive solo, or else the bus simply doesn't show up any more (vide Chicago, where it has emerged that it costs about $7 to provide the average ride; of course it's possible to reach breakeven by busing 14 miles on the CTA, but you'd have to work at it since the place isn't LA, it really isn't all that huge.) And let's not forget that because of the huge expense and endless petty regulatory harassment in the city, many of whatever jobs are left have long since moved out to the suburbs.

While the suburbs may be expensive, the cities are bloody expensive. They will become even more so once, for example, the gargantuan subsidies for those 40-passenger buses dry up (along with many other subsidies) and either the would-be passengers pay about the same cost as to drive solo, or else the bus simply doesn't show up any more (vide Chicago, where it has emerged that it costs about $7 to provide the average ride

The city costs more because there is a there there.

Our taxes pay for the many amenities that suburbanites also use: universities, hospitals, libraries, restaurants, theatres, sports teams... things that are possible because of proximity and density. It is indeed more expensive per individually owned square foot, but the public amenities make up for that. As someone once said, the park is your backyard.

As for the cannard of the cost of public transit, well, lets put all those people in cars and see how happy you are with the congestion and increased costs of maintenance and new roads.

You are paying those people to accept a transport method with lower utility so you can drive.

The city costs more because there is a there there.

Sure. Unfortunately that doesn't make it one jot less unaffordable in straitened circumstances (such as when the borrowing Ponzi scheme is failing), which may be why I'm not observing a mass migration inward. (Of course, for the doomers who would like to reduce everyone to beasts, I guess it's not a problem. If you eliminate all the artists and so on who make up an important part of the there that's there, then the problem is "solved" by disappearing it.)

You are paying those people to accept a transport method with lower utility so you can drive.

(Extra emphasis added.) Well, at least in the TOD universe, we're making progress when we admit the blindingly obvious truth that a bus or tram or whatever that shows up when someone else feels like it (in many locales, never on Sunday) and can only take you where someone else feels like it has less utility than something that takes you wherever you need to go, whenever you need to go, 24/7/365. Amidst all the doomerism it's always nice to see even a small glimmer of progress...

Sure. Unfortunately that doesn't make it one jot less unaffordable in straitened circumstances (such as when the borrowing Ponzi scheme is failing), which may be why I'm not observing a mass migration inward.

In Canada, the rest of the country is unaffordable without Toronto- we are currently facing the problem that more tax dollars leave than are spent on providing local services, and local services are falling behind. My taxes pay for sprawl, not the other way round. Toronto expressways are paid for by Toronto taxes but used by suburbanites.

Regarding not seeing a mass exodus inwards, well, once again, our experience is different. Toronto is still the hub of immigration for Canada, and there is still growth in residential housing in the core (mostly infill and condo towers.) There was never a residential collapse here. I think if you look at Manhattan housing prices, you'll see they are ..umm.. a little steep. The reason is that there is utility in being here and in NYC in fields from medicine to banking to being a waiter. You spend money to make money. The fact that it's fun to live here helps drive the utility in a feedback loop.

the blindingly obvious truth that a bus or tram or whatever that shows up when someone else feels like it (in many locales, never on Sunday) and can only take you where someone else feels like it has less utility

The loss of utility is a loss in the aggregate, an economist's conceit. I do not take 2 hour, 3 transfer bus rides when I can drive in an hour. (People who can't afford cars do, though. And it is a great increase in utility over walking.) The loss of utility can be minimized, and the savings more than make up for it, in my experience.

I live on a streetcar line that runs quite reliably 24 hours a day 7 days a week (http://www3.ttc.ca/Routes/506/Routemap.jsp), and an eight minute walk takes me to a Subway that runs 19 hours a day with even greater reliability and service. Most of my trips are to the downtown core, and are more convenient by transit than by car. My 11 year old son takes the streetcar to the Community Center for after school activities; this is both a time and money saver for us. Good transit has allowed us to have a single, small, lightly used car; my wife and I are able to co-ordinate our activities in such a way that there is very little loss in utility, and the costs of increasing it that extra amount would be thousands per year.

The problem is not with transit, or with the costs in a city. The examples are not the failures of the incompetent. The examples are New York, Paris, London, and all of Europe, not Dirtwater, Nearkatucky's bad bus service and 60 years of corrupt developers and lazy urban planners. It can be done; there are fine examples. Or, it could have been done. The problem is that you have made bad choices. You can go on railing against cities and transit all you like, but it won't change the fact that my house has appreciated at a rather startling rate over the seven years I've owned it(if you need to check, look at E2 values on Toronto's Multiple Listing Service), while suburban housing in the US seems to be in the dumper. My transportation costs are tiny (7,000 km a year on a ten year old Suzuki Swift and about $40.00 worth of tokens a month)and I happily pay my taxes, because I get transit, hospitals, pools, schools... As someone up thread pointed out, you can live in NYC for $36,000 a year. It's all about choices. You get what you pay for.

In Canada, the rest of the country is unaffordable without Toronto


Look, the rest of Canada does not really need Toronto, but Toronto needs Canada to support its urban population. Toronto is a major financial and head office city, and provides services to the rest of the country. It is at a size (5 million) where it is experiencing major diseconomies of scale (large cities are intrinsically expensive), so if you want to live there, it is going to cost you a lot of money.

If you want to live cheaper, move to Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, or Red Deer. You will get nearly all the services you do in Toronto, and it will be a lot cheaper to buy a house.

If you wan't to live really cheap, move to a boat on a dock at a tiny port on the West Coast of British Columbia. Get a key to the showers from the dockmaster so you can get a hot shower whenever you want. Put a satellite dish up on a pier so you can maintain a high-speed satellite link to your clients in Beijing or Mumbai or wherever. It's not a lifestyle for everyone, but I know people who like it.

Look, the rest of Canada does not really need Toronto,

Then send us back the money. (More seriously, the figure is accurate and in response to someone suggesting you don't need cities at all.)

If you want to live cheaper, move to Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, or Red Deer. You will get nearly all the services you do in Toronto, and it will be a lot cheaper to buy a house.

I've lived and visited elsewhere. Toronto delivers value for money, and is, in fact, affordable for me. Plus, we can't all live here (though 20% of Canada's population does live in the Greater Toronto Area). It's that darned utility question again...it's so great here, we have to pay people to go elsewhere. ;-) Besides, it's Paul S who thinks cities are too expensive. Me? Pay my taxes. Get my services. Send some of those tax dollars to the North and the Maritimes.

If you want to live really cheap, move to a boat on a dock at a tiny port on the West Coast of British Columbia.

My brother is an RCMP officer and has put in years in BC and the Northwest Territories (by choice!)...to each his own.

Then send us back the money.

No, you send us back the money. I live in Alberta. The last time I checked, we were down about $150 billion on net interprovincial transfers. Granted, most of that went to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, but some of it found its way into the pockets of Torontonians.

Now, many people (i.e. Easterners) might argue that it's only fair that the federal government take Alberta's oil money away and give it to other provinces (i.e. Eastern ones) which don't have such vast oil reserves, but we have trouble seeing it that way. They may have underestimated the total volume of money transfers, but we have added it all up.

Toronto delivers value for money, and is, in fact, affordable for me.

It is expensive compared to other Canadian cities, though. My sister and her husband lived there for some years, and when they sold their house and moved to Winnipeg (if you can imagine), they paid off their mortgage, paid cash for a much bigger house in a much nicer neighborhood, and bought a brand new car with the cash that was left over. Not only that, but they like Winnipeg much more than Toronto (they even like the winters), so it was a win-win-win-win situation.

I actually ran the economics on this some years ago, and this is what I found: Typically, people's expenses actually fall as a city grows (because of economies of scale) until it hits about 250,000 people. Beyond that point, their expenses start to increase, but their salaries grow faster, so their standard of living improves until it reaches about 2 million population. Beyond that point, their costs grow faster than their incomes, so they are gradually falling behind, and when a city gets really big - e.g. New York, Los Angeles, London - There is really no hope for having a middle-class living standard on a middle-class income.

In order to have a decent life-style in these big cities, you have to be really rich. However, there are a lot of people who are really rich, they like being in really big cities, and they decide where to put the head offices of their companies. For the peons in the middle row of cubicles it isn't so great, but they're not the ones making the decisions.

Toronto, at 5 million, is well into the negative diseconomies of scale range, and you can only expect it to get worse as its size approaches NY and LA. However, I expect it to continue to grow, because: 1) the rich people want to be there and, 2) there are huge numbers of immigrants coming into Canada these days, and compared to Mumbai or Shanghai, Toronto is a virtual heaven.

An interesting analysis on city size/cost of living. But I think that there are more variables than just city size (urban structure is another, regional cost of utilities (Honolulu), climate (Calgary), etc.).

Still a good idea.

Best Hopes for New Orleans,


Well, of course there are other factors, but these are just averages for cities with similar economic conditions. I was doing a study on the diseconomies of large cities - which get to be very serious for cities the size of New York, Los Angeles, or London - regardless of the region they are in.

It had a personal note when I had to evaluate a transfer from Calgary (pop 1 million) to Houston (pop 5 million). For some reason, the company thought Houston was a cheap city to live in. I had to disabuse them of that misconception (i.e. "You need to throw a BMW into the package to make it worth my while") and they didn't like it. The people who actually transferred found this out the hard way, (i.e. "This city is not as cheap as they told me it was.")

Houston is cheap compared to NY or LA or Toronto, but versus Calgary you are comparing two cities in which the underlying economics are rather similar, but the sizes very different. Houston is big enough that the diseconomies of scale are getting rather important, while Calgary is starting to get expensive, but hasn't really got there yet. Give it a few more years.

They of course pointed out that Texas has no income tax, but I had to point out that Alberta has no sales tax and the lowest income taxes in Canada. In the end it comes down to which pocket you want to pay your taxes out of.

No, you send us back the money. I live in Alberta.

You didn't say Alberta didn't need Toronto, you said Canada. (not that either statement is true. You've got to sell the oil and gas to somebody.)

but some of it found its way into the pockets of Torontonians.

If you think about that for a second, you'll realize it's illogical, or, at best, irrelevant, because, even using the logic of the statement, then some of my tax dollars must be in your pocket. Ontario has always been on the negative side of tax transfers, and we do make up 25% of the population. And since I didn't make any comment vis-a-vis "New Brunswick got more of my tax dollars, so I win", I don't think going further into a 40 year analysis of oil prices and total inter-provincial tax transfers is really worth it just to get in the weekly Toronto bash.

In order to have a decent life-style in these big cities, you have to be really rich....However, there are a lot of people who are really rich, they like being in really big cities, and they decide where to put the head offices of their companies.

I was born in the GTA, and my business contacts and family are here. Perhaps 20% of all Canadian jobs are within an hour and a half of my house. This is one of the reasons I have adjusted to the streetcar and reading rather than a second car and even more swearing at Taxi drivers. The "really rich" are here for similar reasons. They are here because they can make money. They make money by making deals with each other. With people they know. With shared experience- Upper Canada College and box seats for the Leafs and the second mansion in Muskoka. They can't just pull up stakes and take their money and property elsewhere (and big money is about property and influence.) They wouldn't know anybody, and money doesn't buy everything. The banks have been here for a hundred years, and so have the head offices. The rich and big cities are in symbiosis. They don't "choose" big cities- it is their natural habitat.

Beyond that point, their costs grow faster than their incomes, so they are gradually falling behind, and when a city gets really big - e.g. New York, Los Angeles, London - There is really no hope for having a middle-class living standard on a middle-class income.

Toronto is a long way from Manhattanization; the GTA is roughly a quarter the size of the Greater New York area. The majority in my neighborhood, which has become quite desireable, bought when it was less desireable. I don't think gentrification will make the city unaffordable for the middle class (even with a continuation of BAU) in my lifetime.

Toronto, at 5 million, is well into the negative diseconomies of scale range,

Depends on whether your analysis is of greater metropolitan areas or of cities proper(The actual City of Toronto, without Ajax and Mississauga, etc., is only 2.5 million people, not so far into affordability overshoot, depending on the basis of your analysis.)

It is expensive compared to other Canadian cities, though. My sister and her husband lived there for some years, and when they sold their house and moved to Winnipeg (if you can imagine), they paid off their mortgage, paid cash for a much bigger house in a much nicer neighborhood, and bought a brand new car with the cash that was left over.

So your sister had to live like a European in Toronto for a decade or two and then cashed out for a huge sum? To buy a house they couldn't afford if they'd stayed in the west? And enough left over to buy a car? It sounds to me like those additional costs of living in Toronto were actually an investment that has paid out handsomely; the taxes that paid for the TTC and infrastructure, etc. (amongst other factors), have added to the value of the house (assuming she didn't profit from the late '80's housing bubble.) Owning a house in Toronto is not a lost expense: it is an opportunity cost. When you're done with it, you can sell it to someone else, apparently at a huge profit. It should come as no shock to anyone that it's worth more than one in Winnipeg.

Value for money.

Now you can argue that you don't often see 40 passengers on a 40-passenger bus in the US, but I would point out that in other countries you do. You just have to persuade people to use them.

Get on a crowded bus with the unwashed, farting masses? Floridian?!........Right!

Get on a crowded bus with the unwashed, farting masses?

And that differs from working with a bunch of computer geeks in cubicles how?

Actually, it's the smell of garlic and Indian curries on buses that seems to put off a lot of people of Anglo-Saxon descent. I'm not particularly of Anglo-Saxon descent, I like to wolf down a lot of roasted garlic, and I enjoy a good lamb curry, so I really haven't had a problem with it.

The computer geeks, though, could be annoying.

"And that differs from working with a bunch of computer geeks in cubicles how?"

Maybe its no different in B.C., but in Central New Jersey, there's a difference.

You can live decently here on $100K for sure....most do so for less. Can't have a mansion and a Mercedes, but you can raise and family and get by.

Trouble is, everybody wants to do at least that well, but most can't. The real key is being able to live decently on 1/10th of that.......

Keep in mind that the only reason the U.S. per capita income is higher than Europe, Canada, etc. is that it is skewed higher because our wealthy 1-5% are far, far wealthier than elsewhere.

It's as if you had 50 people in a room each making around $40-50,000/year and then put Bill Gates in the room with them. The room's per capita income then rises to hundreds of millions per year, but this doesn't give much indication of how most of those people actually live.

Sweden does have a high tax regime but that is turned around in services - excellent primary and secondary education, very cheap university education, cheap child care, universal healthcare, efficient public transportation, a sustainable social security/pension scheme, etc. In many ways, if you look at life events (from birth through school through raising a family through retirement) wholistically, you'd live better there.

Otherwise, outside of Stockholm, the cost of living isn't much worse than many American cities.

Yes, but why does this disparity of income occur?

I finished a deep analysis of this topic recently:

It has much to do with compounding interest and how various societies try to mitigate these effects.

Mexico for example now has the wealthiest man in the world, now surpassing Bill Gates.

Yes, but why does this disparity of income occur?

That's an interesting question. An extremely unequal income distribution is typical of third-world countries - Mexico, now having the richest man in the world, being an example. This brings up the more disturbing question, "Why is the US developing a third-world income distribution?"

In the rest of the world, a contrary trend is underway. Billions of people in otherwise third-world countries are reaching incomes that (in the context of their own economies) be described as "middle class". China is responsible for most of these - most Chinese people could now be described as "middle class" in terms of the percentage of their income which is disposable. The Chinese are building up an absolutely massive pile of capital they could put into anything they wanted to. Among other things, they're using it to buy up a lot of the world's natural resources, and put in high-speed trains between all the major Chinese cities.

At the same time, millions of Americans are back-sliding into third-world conditions. More and more of them have less and less disposable income. A lot of their previous apparent wealth resulted from countries such as China lending American banks and American governments money to support an unsustainable lifestyle.

That's a rhetorical question of course. The reason for the beyond-entropy disparity is due to unregulated and untaxed compound growth income paths. Mexico and USA are exactly the same in this regard, and places like Scandinavia close the gap. There will always be a disparity but it gets exaggerated through financial manipulation.

You have to read the post if you want the details.

University education is affordable in the U.S. if you don't go to an out of state school. Some of the smaller state schools and community colleges are very inexpensive and the quality of the education is the same. Social Security and Medicare in the U.S. are giant unfunded liabilities, I know many similar schemes are the same way in other European countries and are not included in the national debt. Public transportation is terrible as you end up relying on others to get you to where you want to go. I'd rather ride a motorcycle than a bus. I doubt Sweden could afford all those entitlement programs if they had to pay for their own defense, let's see how nice Russia treats Europe when the U.S. begins withdrawing.

Take a look at the housing in Sweden, much of it is apartment blocks and the single family housing is tiny shacks. None of that is conducive to raising a family.

I took a look at EIA data, it appears Sweden imports 345.77 thousand barrels a day of petroleum. The U.S. net imports petroleum at a rate 12,223.91 thousand barrels a day according to EIA data, but the U.S. is about 30 times larger than Sweden, so if Sweden scaled to a U.S. population with same consumption per person it would be importing a net 10373.1 thousand barrels a day of petroleum, almost as much as the U.S. These figures really don't seem that great when you look at the actual imports per person when compared to the U.S. Yes, U.S. total usage would be about double per capita of Sweden when you look at total consumption, but the issue will be with net oil exports drying up.

Do the math, most European countries are in a similar situation in regards to per capita net oil imports. Europe will be royally screwed as will the U.S. when those net oil exporters begin exporting less. Europe will not be unscathed because they ride around in buses and trains, the per capita figures do not lie. It's wishful thinking on behalf of the Europeans here that things will be fine because they aren't gluttonous Americans when they forget many of their countries have very little energy reserves, if any.

U.S. http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/country/country_energy_data.cfm?fips=US
Sweden http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/country/country_energy_data.cfm?fips=SW

The normal housing standard in Sweden is one living room, one bedroom for the parents and one bedroom for each child, small children often share one room and there is often a room for misc use.
An apartment for a family with two children are usually around 100 m2, 1100 square feet, a regular house 120-200 m2, 1200 - 2200 square feet if I got the unit conversion right.
A random example:

The expected building quality +50 years for the basic structure and people get realy disappointed if the roof needs maintainance after only ten years.

The inside of our homes do look like an Ikea catalogue, compact and often quite tidy. When you vistit a Swedish home allways remeber to take of your shoes right at the entrance!

Defence is a sore spot for me since our defence is in disorder. We had a very strong defence during the cold war and then we made a massive disarmement when the Soviet union dissolved. The largest part surving from that era is the arms industry wich for instance is making state of the art Gripen fighter jets here in my home town Linköping.

The Swedish oil product export is 2/3:s of the local consumption due to the refineries changing to exporting finished oil products as the local market shrinks. We are not in any way perfect, we are only getting a little better year by year.

I keep hearing this sort of narrative, and yet the main flow of immigration stubbornly remains from Europe to the USA, not the other way round. If the USA is so terrible and Europe so great, I'm left to wonder why. Perhaps there is a yawning difference between the actual preferences and experiences of people, and the preferences and experiences that blog posters or academics with ideological axes to grind might prescribe for them?

One reason is the old joke.

What do you call someone that can speak three languages fluently ?


And someone that can speak two languages fluently ?


And someone that can speak only one language ?

An American !

Swedens schools have been better at learning pupils to read, write and count, our heath care queues are embarrasing and expensive, university education is cheap but we have quality problems. The best thing might be that we are trying to fix this.

And yes, people are trying to live on top of each other in Stockholm and too manny are nimby about new buildings.

Of course I talk well about Sweden, I live here and like it. I am not a far travelled man wich gives that I mostly compare differeces between Sweden and other countries that I can grasp thru books, internet, etc.

What I find remarkable about Sweden politically is that we both stumbled into and started to back out of centrally planned socialism in a rational way. We are still dismnatling socialistical systems and replacing them with markets. Much of the political inspiration were from Reagan and Thatcher but we did not deragulate following a blind ideology but to try to get a better functioning society. Some of it worked well, other parts went bad and then we learnt and iterated and we are still continuing this work.

Another thing I appreciate after working a few years on the inside of the political system is that both our parliament and our governmnet realy take science seriously. A rational referenced reasoning can actually change things. We still got ideological hangups and it is very important with PR but it is not all about PR.

We got a lot of lobbying and strong groups are farming and consumption, industry and unions. The unions are hardest for us right wing people since most of them are against change and manny of them relie on the giant governmnet teat in a high tax society. But there has been significant inroads since the members of several unions have figured out that it is better to have multiple employers then only one government employer in each region and this is slowly changing the union top levels. Most unions top levels are litterally inbreed with the large socialist party who basically took over the country and lost steam when it did not work out to run things with ideology. This gives a tension between the grass roots that likes a real free market and the top levels that got what they want and dont want to change but they are changing one union at a time.

It has been an intresting intellectual challange to understand earlier unfair industrial influenced law making, but the realy intresting things is that even the bad influences has tended to be pro investment and pro production. The parts of the systems I have been in contact with seems to work better now and ballance interests in a more intelligent way.

I got the distinct impression that we slowly are digging ourselves out of a pit and are making our society more flexible and that makes it more likely that we can change in the ways that the physcal circumstances dictate.

Our heath care still has the classical socialistical problem hat it is regulated by queuing, the quality is good but there is plenty of room for improvements in its efficiency.

The municipialities operate as miniture copies of the national government but with much wilder variations in the quality of politicians, staff and organisation. There is lots of competition between them.

Our taxes are harch but are getting lower as long as we have a right wing government. The high taxes gives a low net income for manny people and that makes people unfree. Thus are taxes being lowered for low income people to give them freedom and stimulate the economy to do more work. This follows the theory behind the laffer curve where an overtaxed society can be made more prosperous by lowering taxes. Some taxes are going up, especially on CO2 and energy but this also makes our government keen on protecting and reinvesting the energy sector since it is cash cow.

Our houses are indeed smaller then US houses and often much boxier. They have allways been built to be warm in the winters and conserve fuel and this has stuck in the building tradition. Architects love large glass areas and wierd shapes and boring people buy houses that looks like basic lego brics. The most expensive houses are the realy old ones in or near urban areas. The most shunned ones are the ones built during the "one million apartments program" built in the 1960:s and early 1970:s since about 1/4 were built in a way that created unpopular urban areas, the insulation where a crappy 3-4 inches in the walls and the quality were overall bad, they need renovation now after 40 years while the houses from the 1950:s need it after about 60 years making for an uncomfortably large need of renovations. There is debate if it is better to tear down after 40 years or change out the worn out kitchens, toilets and instalations and fit a new climate shell on the old concrete structures.

The flow of money is overall fairly investment oriented. We still have large investmnets in industry and has had it all thru the globalisation. Government is reinvesting infrastructure and buildings including updating to modern energy efficiency code. People in general tend to invest a large part of their income in housing, we probably got a price bubble but but the cool home owner both invests in a granite counter top and a ground source heat pump.

Its not enough to be green dream but we are doing some realy good things and can do a little more, especially if we can get back to what we were before toying to much with socialism and make our markets to a better tool for change and freedom.

This is more or less what I find great about my country but it is of course only an opinion.

"realistically achievable" - yes, that would be the key.. Instead here, our politicians trumpet things that are neither (like PV's) to distract everyone from the fact they are really doing nothing.

The Swedes had to run their entire private vehicle fleet on woodgas in WW2, and conflict they were not even involved in, but had to live with the oil embargo and other consequences nonetheless. There are still enough people around who remember that, and they, and the country in genera, are determined to avoid that situation again.

Most impressive, is that they have done it with existing, proven technology, rather than betting on expensive chances like electric vehicles.

I could do it.

Design a viable, completely non-carbon (renewable + nuke) industrial USA.

About 30 years to get FF down 90%, perhaps another 20 years to get down to 1% of today's FF and simply go off FF after that (50 years is enough time to learn to deal with the hardest cases via new inventions).

Should I write a TOD essay ?

Best Hopes for Realizing the possible,


Hey, Godspeed Alan. Here's a pie chart if you're interested. Probably a better one in the EIA site somewhere.

US Elec Gen by Source 1949 and 2008 Pie chart

Unfortunately, you are not an editor of the Oil Drum. Without some assurance of publication, I am unwilling to make the effort required.

Gail ?


An extraordinary claim Alan. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence (Sagan). I would truly love to see this.

Gail or Prof. Goose can respond to my eMail (they both have it) or on this forum.

Not a trivial exercise to write out BTW, so I am not going to do it unless it can be published here.

Best Hopes for TOD,


Well I hope they give you a shot. I would truly love to see the definitive work on how to save humanity.

Check your inbox for a first draft (as opposed to definitive) work on how to save humanity. A peer reviewed paper on the way forward.

Co-authors include an emeritus member of a division of the Nat'l Academy of Engineering and another is a member of the Nat'l Academy of Science (and past winner of the Brandenberger Award for his dedication to improving the welfare of mankind).

Some of my work will show up in the UN's "Green Economy Initiative", Transportation Section. I am reviewing a first draft.

Best Hopes,


Excellent. I look forward to receiving.

Got it Alan. Thanks. Look forward to reading it.


This is silly. A kilowatt-hour of electrical energy is a the same, regardless of how it was produced. And if you need to to bend to the current transportation infrastructure, then kilowatt-hours of electrical energy can be used to produce gasoline, diesel fuel, or other hydrocarbons through any of several well-established processes.

Not cheaply, to be sure. Not competetitive with what can still be had by pumping from wells, but the cost isn't prohibitive. Anywhere from parity, if you use really cheap surplus kilowatt-hours that are available perhaps 10% of the time, to 2x current prices if you have to pay average wholesale power rates. But it can certainly be done.

Are you seriously maintaining, Gail, that wind turbines and solar panels could not be produced if the cost of diesel fuel were to double?

There has been at least one solar plant that supplied its own energy from solar, and others have pointed out that wind could easily supply enough energy for its own production, construction, and maintenance.

References please?

Opinions don't count. Only data.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BP_Solar

BP Solar also maintains a manufacturing facility in the United States in Frederick, MD. The Frederick facility is currently undergoing a major expansion to increase production for an expected increase in demand in the coming years. The plant opened as an independent solar power company, Solarex, in the 1970s. Solarex was taken over by Amoco/Enron in 1983 and later became a part of BP. This facility produces polycrystalline solar cells with a blue chromium color, which are slightly less efficient than monocrystalline solar cells, but is offset by a significant reduction in production and sales costs.

The BP Solar building has an integrated 200kW (peak) solar grid. It was built to be a 'solar breeder,' a facility that would produce solar cells using solar power. However, as the building's array aged, the grid was disconnected. Since the 1990s the main array does not produce any usable electricity, however electricity is generated by several new arrays located on a new casting build, as well as several other recent additions. In the future the expansion of the Frederick facility will include a green roof, and other energy saving measures.

Not that it really reflects well on using renewables to produce renewables, but they were thinking about it...

Yes, the idea isn't really new or remarkable. It is because of situations like this that the answer remains unknown. Incidentally, the PV electricity has to cover not only the local production work but all material extraction/recycling, forming, shipping, plus at least some portion (if not all) of agriculture to support labor, and many other actual direct inputs to the production. Then there are maintenance issues.

Incidentally, the PV electricity has to cover not only the local production work but all material extraction/recycling, forming, shipping, plus at least some portion (if not all) of agriculture to support labor, and many other actual direct inputs to the production.

I don't think that's a reasonable request. FF has infiltrated every nook and cranny of industry as have baby boomers.
Baby boomers are not a necessary condition of supply chains, but good luck finding one where some don't participate somewhere.

Excuse me Barrett, but the second law of thermodynamics is what makes it a reasonable request. The comparison you suggest is completely non sequiter.

Excuse me Barrett, but the second law of thermodynamics is what makes it a reasonable request.

No, it doesn't. 2ndLoT was in effect before FF, we had industry then, FF didn't change the 2ndLoT, 2ndLoT will still be in effect after FF exits the picture. 2ndLoT may favor the stored energy in FF for producing X, but does not exclude the production of X in the absence of them. I'm not your opponent here, I'm your audience and you've made an assertion, its up to you to support it and you have not done so convincingly -- you have simply demanded that your opponents prove the assertion wrong or satisfy unrealistic requests. I concede that you may be right, but you haven't yet presented a strong case that you are.

The comparison you suggest is completely non sequiter.

No, it isn't, there is a good bid of overlap. FF are ubitiquous and that you can't eradicate FF from supply chains has as much to do with logistics as it does 2ndLoT, much like eradicating baby boomers from supply chains.

Fair enough. Here is the story. The second law aspect that I refer to is the amount of work per unit time that can be extracted from a given source of energy. Fossil fuels have a phenomenal energy density (along with other nice properties such as containability and transportability) as compared to anything that was in use before the industrial revolution based on FFs. We are now geared (logistically) to work processes that demand high power that can only be gotten from FFs or possibly nuclear or hydro sources. The latter two are highly constrained and only good for electricity production, so, again logistically, the issues with running more of our industrial and farming processes from these limited resources are extremely problematic -- converting all of that infrastructure to electrification will require considerably more work (using high power sources) than I think can be accomplished in any reasonable time. That is, if our objective is to preserve the status quo economy (BAU).

2ndLoT may favor the stored energy in FF for producing X, but does not exclude the production of X in the absence of them.

From the above you should recognize that it depends on what X is, how many X you want to produce per unit time and whether your energy source can actually produce the potential difference needed to drive the work process. FFs definitely did change things for us humans. Not by changing the second law but by obeying it exactly with tremendously new and higher powers.

What I refer to has nothing to do with the history of the second law. It has to do with where we are today in reliance on the power densities of these fuels to do the work we require. Of course we can revert to pre-FF energies and most likely will. But we will not have the kind of industry we have now. We will not be able to do the amount of work per unit of time that we have grown used to. That may seem like 'merely' a logistical problem to you. I see it as both unlikely and ultimately strategic. Maybe its semantics, but I suspect not.

Whenever I see anyone tossing around references to the 2nd law of thermodynamics in this manner, I know immediately that the person speaking -- with at least 98% probability -- hasn't a clue as to what they're talking about. Usualy, they're regurgitating babble they picked up from Jay Hanson. Jay's inordinately fond of the second law, and wielding it as a club to prove how doomed we all are.

If you don't know the scientific definition of entropy, enthalpy, and Gibbs free energy, and how they relate to chemical equilibria, then please don't babble about the second law of thermodynamics. For the purposes of a non-technical audience, about the only meaningful thing you can say about it is that it precludes perpetual motion machines of the second class. Period.