Assessing the energy implications of political intervention

This is a guest post from Robin Lovelace, a PhD student in energy research at the University of Sheffield, UK.

Energy is back in the public consciousness and perhaps higher up political priority lists than at any time since the summer of 2008. Disruptions in Libya, leaked cables about Saudi Arabia's creative accounting, and rapid growth in worldwide understandings of resource depletion make dodging future energy supply problems increasingly difficult. A few symptoms of this are:

  • Hype about "getting off the oil hook” from the UK's energy secretary
  • Spain limiting speed limit to “combat” rising oil prices
  • Talk of releasing some of IEA members' 1.6 bbl of reserves as a “last resort”

People in power seem to be waking up to the importance of oil and talking about it in public in ways that they never have before. But this raises some questions: Do they (or we) have any idea about the likely impacts of different interventions proposed to deal with energy problems? and how can the energy implications of different interventions be assessed?

In this essay I aim to answer these questions with reference to a paper published in Energy Policy titled “The energy implications of replacing car trips with bicycle trips in Sheffield, UK”. A preprint is available for those without institutional access.


The idea of intervention relies on the assumption that some people or institutions have the ability (or 'power') to alter the outcome of certain events and, if the intervention is big enough, change history. The term precludes fate as the sole player in life and encourages the world-view that you can make things change. This is, as John Michael Greer will tell you, is a dangerous thing. Subjected to intractable problems and a global predicament with no single solution, we are ill advised to try single handedly to change the course of history. History, according to Greer, is largely guided by the narrow train-tracks of natural resources and human ecology.

Such a belief may be labelled as fatalistic. Considering the fundamentals (ballooning populations, declining resources) and the history of civilisation-level collapse, it is belief that is difficult to challenge. This essay does not deny such limitations. It does, however, see the looming space of declining net energy production as a bounded field of possibilities rather than a black hole. By intervening with available policies, technologies and free will, it may be possible to smooth rocky descents to future low-energy societies.

In the absence of tools to evaluate the relative merit of such well-meaning acts, however, we are stuck. Our current situation is like being in a nuclear reactor control room in melt-down without a clue about which button does what. In this metaphor the Earth is the reactor control room, climate change and resource depletion are the melt-down, and the buttons are the various interventions available to us. Instead of frantically running around pressing as many buttons as possible, this essay proposes firstly categorising the buttons that are available to us and secondly thinking about ways of assessing which button does what.

Imagine being inside a nuclear plant in melt-down. What do you do?

Fortunately we do not live in a nuclear plant in meltdown: each of us has a range of buttons available that we can choose to push or merely consider at our leisure. The buttons differ considerably from one person to the next, but we all have at least some options that will affect energy use. Although this essay is aimed primarily at assessing energy policies, it is hoped that it will be of use to people trying to figure out which buttons to press. What's the best course of action in a world of physical constraints?

Before diving into assessment methods it's worth taking a step back to think about what  'interventions' actually are. The Oxford Dictionary definition of the verb 'to intervene' is “to take part in something so as to prevent or alter a result or course of events.” This means interventions result in some kind of change that causes the future to be different than what it would have otherwise been: interventions implicitly set up at least a couple of scenarios of the future: a baseline, or default scenario and a parallel reality; the scenario in which the intervention takes place. An example that has received a lot of press coverage is speculation about what would have happened in Benghazi without air-strikes from Western forces. One article says a “bloodbath” would have ensued, while another suggests there may have been fewer civilian casualties in the absence of intervention. Both illustrate how the concept of intervention sets up imaginary future scenarios to inform discussion.

To assess energy implications, however, a narrower definition of 'intervention' is needed. Interventions that can be assessed using the methods outlined here must be discrete events with predictable outcomes. The installation of a solar panel can therefore be treated as an intervention while diffuse movements such as Transition Towns cannot. Ideally, the intended effects of intervention should be verifiable and not purely speculative so they can be evaluated in subsequent studies. In the paper mentioned above, the testability of our assumptions about how the cycling rate would respond to different policies is an example of this: will the data follow the sigmoidal form projected on page 8? We'll have a pretty good idea later this decade, when the data can feed-back into future policy guidance. Energy assessment, like all science, should strive to create falsifiable hypotheses.

Testing our result that increased cycling rates result in net energy savings is a taller order: We lack good data on the extent to which bicycle trips replace car trips (RR), the influence of modal shift on energy inputs to road maintenance (Lg), and the embodied energy of food inputs for hungry cyclists (Ef). Each of these parameters (described on page 9) could in theory be verified, given the right data.

The energy hierarchy

Knowing the types of intervention suited to energy assessment, the next problem is the sheer range of interventions that affect energy use. Voluntary lifestyle changes, electric cars, algal biofuels, carbon rationing and modal shift policies are just some of the 'solutions' proposed. Each will require slightly different techniques for assessment. To categorise and understand this variety, the energy hierarchy can be used:

The energy hierarchy, according the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (ImechE, 2009)

Type of intervention – promotion of:


Energy conservation

Modal shift policies, “turn off your lights” type campaigns, lifestyle changes

Energy efficiency

Policies encouraging electric cars, insulation, energy certificates

Renewable energy

Subsidies for algal biofuels, wind, solar, wave etc.

Alternative energy technologies

Nuclear power subsidies, CCS demonstration plants

Fossil fuel dependence

Cut fossil fuel taxes and freeze air passenger duty (see Monbiot's section here), subsidies for fossil fuel industries (IEA, 2010)

Categorising some of the 'buttons' (interventions) available

A further categorisation of interventions in energy systems would include the aims, mode, and scale of the intervention at hand. To meet this need, I have developed the following schematic. Think of some examples, and trace their route through the diagram.

A schema of further categorisation of energy interventions. Trace the trajectory of your favoured energy policies from left to right and imagine alternatives.


With an idea of which interventions are suitable for assessment, and a generic way of conceptualising and categorising them, the next step is to estimate their energy implications. How you go about doing this depends to a large extent on what kind of intervention you're looking at. Let's take a look at some examples ranging from national scale to single installation assessments.

DECC's 2050 pathways tool

The UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) hired David MacKay as their chief scientific advisor in September 2009 following the publication of Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air. MacKay advocates simple models of big energy systems as the basis for informed energy policy discussion. His approach has clearly rubbed off on the government department when you look at the 2050 tool.

The tool takes realistic assumptions about the build-rate and implementation times of various national scale energy policies. Amazingly, it allows you to adjust both demand-side and supply-side factors, using effort levels ranging from 1 to 4. Based on your preferences, the tool creates graphs, area plots, and even Sankey diagrams. It provides a comprehensive yet bite-sized overview of change in the UK's energy system to 2050.

Not only that, but you can create your own preferred policies. You can see mine here and in the images below. If you don’t like it, create your own!

My favourite energy policy scenario allowed within the constraints of DECC's 2050 tool

Sankey diagram of the UK's energy system in 2050 according to my preferences, within the bounds of the assumptions behind DECC's 2050 tool.

You can see the area consumed in my scenario here, and the (high resolution) Sankey diagram here.

Like all things, the tool does have its faults:

  • Scenarios of demand reduction are far too tame. Level 4 on transport, for example, says individuals will travel the same distance in 2050 as they do now! MacKay and his team have clearly not read, or disagree with the findings of a paper that suggests we are approaching “peak travel” (Millard-Ball and Schipper, 2011).
  • It appears to take little account of peak oil. When I asked David MacKay at a recent conference in Leeds about the impact it may have on his scenarios he shrugged it off.
  • It takes little account of the resource requirements of each scenario and the global implications of all countries following the same path.
  • These are not fatal flaws, and, as MacKay said to an indignant question about population at a talk in Leeds, “if you don't like the assumptions we've made, feel free to change them; this is all open source stuff”. Anyone up for making a version of DECC's 2050 tool which takes resource depletion into account? The software and assumptions driving it are free to download and modify. This transparency illustrates a vital step in energy assessments: state your assumptions.

    The energy implications of cycling not driving

    The energy assessment of replacing car trips with bicycle trips in Sheffield is an interventionencouraging energy conservation (see above categories). To create scenarios of the futureat the city level, we looked at available data from other cities which had implemented pro-cycling policies, fitted a population model to time-series data in Sheffield, and adjusted the parameters to reflect plausible rates of change, given different levels of political intervention(.

    Scenarios of the cycling rate to 2020 based on different policies

    Armed with these three scenarios (business as usual, hard, and integrated pro-cycling policies), we could then calculate energy impacts, based on evidence of how many additional bicycle trips are required to replace a single car trip, the length of average trips, the fuel consumption of an average car, and the energy costs of read maintenance (see page 9 for details).

    Although the magnitudes of the energy savings are subject to uncertainty, the results led to 4 main conclusions about the energy implications of pro-cycling interventions in Sheffield:
    • Plausible increases in the cycling rate would yield net energy savings.
    • Reduced fuel consumption would be the largest single energy impact.
    • If the rate of car purchase declines with the rate of car use, the resulting energy savings would be large.
    • The additional food requirements of hungry cyclists could entail a large energy cost.

    The first two conclusions may seem obvious from common sense, but our study provides evidence to support cycling from an energy perspective. The latter two are less obvious, and indicate the merits of a systems approach to energy analysis: changes in one sector can have knock-on effects in another.

    Net energy from a solar panel installation

    A similar approach can be taken when assessing the energy implications of a single energy conversion device. In this case, the analysis is simpler as there fewer unknowns, and performance can be measured accurately.

    There is still considerable uncertainty in energy return on investment (EROI), however, as embodied energy estimates vary greatly from study to study:

    Embodied energy estimates for photo-voltaic panels range

    The analysis by Crawford et al. (2006) is unusually comprehensive in its inclusion of indirect energy costs such as labour, the machinery used to build the panels, and the carbon costs of capital investment. As the above table shows, their embodied energy estimates are almost a factor of 10 higher than those of other studies.

    Based on the motto “plan for the worst, hope for the best”, let’s assume that Crawford’s study is correct. This means that PV panels struggle to pay back their embodied energy over the cell’s lifetime, even in sunny Australia, where the solar resource (~1800 kWh/m2/yr) is double that of the UK and much of western Europe (~900 kWh/m2/yr). See pvgis for European solar resources; Australia’s solar resource was inferred from data showing 1.8 MJ/d fall on Adelaide.

    Net primary energy impact of a PV panel installed in New South Wales, according to Crawford et al’s (2006) wide boundary life-cycle analysis

    Because of uncertainty, energy assessments should generally include a range of scenarios that in include best and worst cases, as is the case in the graphic above. Note that in the UK’s climate the installation investigated by Crawford et al. (2006) would be unlikely to ever pay back the energy invested, especially given evidence that the government’s feed-in-tariff scheme is deemed to do little to reduce electricity demand, instead subsidizing the electricity industry (Tamas et al., 2010).

    Conclusion: putting the methods into practice

    As you can see from the above examples, energy assessment is not an exact science. It is often messy and complex. When energy assessments of political intervention project energy use in the future, it is important to create alternative scenarios to illustrate that there is a range of possibilities. It is essential to state the assumptions on which the assessment is based so these can be criticised and updated with new evidence. The transport demand settings in DECC’s 2050 tool is one example of this where new evidence (Millard-Ball and Schipper, 2011) suggests distance travelled could actually drop, rather than growing or levelling off. There is nothing stopping me (or anyone else) writing to DECC asking them to include more realistic assumptions.

    While it is easy to criticise such models of the future as speculative, it is often only slightly less easy (but a lot more productive) to change them to incorporate more realistic assumptions in order to inform debate. Energy assessments encourage evidence based energy policy, rather than a series of knee-jerk decisions driven by emotion and rhetoric.

    The range of examples illustrates how energy assessment methods are applicable to “political intervention” in the broadest sense. You can even assess the energy implications of your own life. Do you use more or less primary energy than an average citizen in your own country? What would it take to use less than the global average? All these questions can be answered with a combination of energy bills, a few reasonable assumptions, and some applied mathematics. A year ago I wrote about bicycle touring holidays as a proactive response to peak oil. The vision was largely speculative, but I could back-up my gut feeling with an analysis of the energy costs of doing it by car instead, strengthening the arguments.

    In conclusion, the energy implications of a wide range of interventions can be assessed, as long as the changes are discrete, bounded and predictable. That is not to say more diffuse strategies are not worthy of consideration – indeed movements such as Transition Towns may hold the key to a successful low-energy future – simply that debates about certain energy policies can be enlightened by energy assessment.

    Returning to the two questions posed at the beginning of the essay, yes we can have some idea of the likely energy impacts of political intervention by careful application of scenario driven energy analysis. The challenge now is to put these methods into practice.

    In the USA intervention is useless unless you can somehow change the dialog and convince the political infrastructure of the actual cause and effect.

    The approved right-wing meme is to create a false choice to explain high oil prices:
    1) Caused by environmentalists preventing us from getting new drilling permits.
    2) Caused by oil speculation.
    The approved choice among the two false ones is of course environmentalists, which means they can go after enviros and protect their sacred Wall Street benefactors from blame. That is the benefit of setting up a false choice strawman, as you can deflect from the reality. The right wing meme machine intentionally ignores peak oil, and sets up their talking-points emails to carefully avoid the topic while making the environmentalists out to be the villains.

    The natural choice among progressives is:
    1) Caused by Peak Oil
    2) Caused by greedy oil companies
    3) Caused by geopolitical events
    4) others
    The left-wing is not told how to think so naturally they consider all the options. The greedy oil companies choice resonates amongst some of the populists. The critical thinkers of course know that it is all about peak oil.

    The range of examples illustrates how energy assessment methods are applicable to “political intervention” in the broadest sense.

    So in the context of what I just laid out, how will political intervention work out?
    Well, the immediate response is that you will be labeled a socialist at a minimum by the meme-conrollers. Any mention of "assessment" or "intervention" will smack of "central planning" and the implications of communist authority in the worst case. I completely support what you are trying to do, as I recently sent a letter to my senator who sits on the energy committee, but we have to know who our adversaries are and what games they play.

    We have a long battle ahead of us.

    WHT, has a point, in a political atmosphere with players that are at heart politicians the interventions will be judged on their likely effect on their own political careers. Secondly we have a lot of people and institutions with political agendas, and these players behave similarly, they judge the likely impact of an action as to how it effects their agenda, not on how it impacts society in general. All the studies in the world are useless against this sort of narrow minded decision making. Unless you can change the general sea of memes that these political actors percieve as being importnat to tweak, the results are frequently counterproductive.

    As far as agendas are concerned, I can't believe the barely contained rage that I hear on talks shows concerning bicyclists. And this is in an area that is essentially bicycle-friendly. That is part of the counter-effect caused by pushing interventionist policies. As we make our area more bike-friendly, the people that have certain political leanings start to hyperventilate.

    Here is an interesting stat. It is useless to talk about "peak anything" unless we are talking about non-renewable resources. People have forgotten that the peak in USA bicycle sales actually occurred way back in 1972!

    According to Bicycling Science, those 1972 bikes mostly sat in the garage. The mountain bike boom saw more riding.

    To your other point, among my circles the left/right axis does not correlate with energy use.

    among my circles the left/right axis does not correlate with energy use.

    Thats been my experience as well. The only two folk at work who have borrowed my Kill-A-Watt are arch conservative. The difference becomes whether they want government programs or regs to help out, not so much with personal use.

    Engineers lean right as compared to the general population and engineers are more likely to do thinks like measure the current use of appliances or think about optimizing energy usage in other ways.

    To your other point, among my circles the left/right axis does not correlate with energy use.

    Among the voting population probably not, but it is the only rational path to follow. I would suggest that however bad the LW is overall in energy usage, they at least have a track record for adapting to change and being open to ideas. Some would call this choosing among the lesser of two evils.

    Just a little personal philosophy:

    My view is that the left/right axis is rooted in human sexuality as modified by education. I think the left attributes are associated with the female and conversely for the male. A normal adult male is more typically right of the typical adult female in their viewpoint.

    However, for some males, the more educated they become, the greater the tendency of their views to become more liberal (left axis). But I expect that most males, including the well educated still have a predominantly conservative (right axis) view. Since males by evolution are attracted to authoritarianism, that trait (religion for example) will show in their view unless their education has changed their mind. Since uneducated males are predominant among their kind, you have the typical RW that we have today in the US and who the Liberals love to badmouth (with justification, I might add).

    Unfortunately, the educated male conservative gets tarred with the same brush by the LW. The scientific conservative, as I consider myself to be, has no shelter from the Liberal badmouthing, especially from the males who do most of it.

    Attributed to Churchill: "A man not liberal by age 20 has no heart, but who is not conservative by age 30, has no brains"

    The scientific conservative, as I consider myself to be, has no shelter from the Liberal badmouthing, especially from the males who do most of it.

    It must be tough to be a "scientific conservative" these days. The conservative establishment has choosen to denigrate science and intellectual endevours in general. So you either have to choose, between your heart or your mind, or strike off into your own teritory, with little support structure.

    A different division can be drawn at authority:
    Conservative trusts authority.
    Liberal does not trust authority.

    Interestingly, war-fighting societies tend to be patriarchal.
    Agrarian societies tend to be matriarchal.

    Liberal does not trust authority.

    But they somehow expect government to be able to solve all their problems. That must be an interesting paradox to overcome internally.

    Assuming of course you mean American-liberal, not traditional small-l liberal.

    A liberal believes in the value of government. In the liberal world-view, government is not AUTHORITY but rather an expression of the will of the people through democratic processes in order serve the public good. It is a vehicle to express the will of the people, rather than have the people subject to the power of an aristocracy or other oligarchic, undemocratic institutions. If you check your history, you'll find this was the purpose of the framers of the Constitution of the United States of America. It is only in the right-wing worldview that government serves as authority, to impose its will upon others. Your comment says more about your world-view than it does about liberals!

    Your comment says more about your world-view than it does about liberals!

    My world-view is small-l liberal, and I think the framers had it right. That unfortunately does not correspond in any way to the statist views of modern conservatives or liberals.

    The Framers created a Senate that was not directly elected and a 2 chamber legislature in order to buffer the will of the people from the levers of power. The Framers created 3 separate departments of government to buffer the will of the people. Land owners only had the right to vote in many areas. The will of the people? The Framers were afraid of it.

    On the other hand, Alexander Hamilton thought it might be necessary for the people to take up arms against the national government:

    If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual state.

    The American Left would like to disarm us so that we can't ever do what Hamilton thought might become necessary.

    Agrarian societies tend to be matriarchal.


    I'm not able to find the reference I wanted.

    Woman-headed households in agrarian societies: Not just a passing phase. In Gender at Work in Economic Life. Society for Economic Anthropology Monographs, vol. 20. Gracia Clark, ed., pp. 41-59. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press. 2003.

    Interesting reading. Another way of life.

    From your wikipedia Article:

    As soon as a Mosuo female grows old enough, she learns the tasks that she will perform for the rest of her life. Mosuo females do all the housework. This includes cleaning, tending the fire, cooking, gathering firewood, and feeding the livestock, and spinning and weaving.

    Doesn't sound like matriarchal to me.

    ... but she owns the house.

    My view is that the left/right axis is rooted in human sexuality as modified by education. I think the left attributes are associated with the female and conversely for the male. A normal adult male is more typically right of the typical adult female in their viewpoint.

    Highly doubtful that gender in and of itself has much to do with the so called left/right axis. BTW even defining left/right is problematic in my opinion. I believe the issue that is more relevant is Authoritarian vs Non Authoritarian world views and how that effects societies.

    This is a good introduction to the topic: The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer

    BTW, I'm 58 and I hope I still have a heart and I doubt I could be fit into the Conservative Authoritarian mold.
    Actually I think that anyone who truly thinks scientifically doesn't fit that description either.

    Highly doubtful that gender in and of itself has much to do with the so called left/right axis. BTW even defining left/right is problematic in my opinion. I believe the issue that is more relevant is Authoritarian vs Non Authoritarian world views and how that effects societies.

    I think this a tautology. Human males and females evolved differently probably due to their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Human societies are predominantly patriarchal (male dominated) with a definite division of labor between the sexes. This interactive evolution seems to have engendered an innately different viewpoint between the sexes. To me, authoritarian and patriarchal mean essentially the same thing. Interestingly, patriarchy is also evident in our closest relative, the chimp (where males dominate) so it seems that the L/R axis runs pretty deep in our makeup.

    As far as numbers go, I would guess that Liberals compose about 1/3 of the male population and Conservative (natural in my view) males compose the other 2/3's. Scientifically educated males who remain conservative seem to be a pretty small minority - just a guess.

    Human males and females evolved differently...

    Here is how I define evolution: The change in the genetic composition of a population over successive generations. I don't think we are talking about the same thing.

    The misinterpretation is par for the course Fred. So many people have problems with the concept of a statistical population.

    Isn't this the quintessential distinction between Conservative and Liberal?

    Men Tend to Leap to Judgment Where Women See More Shades of Grey, Research Shows

    "Men Tend to Leap to Judgment Where Women See More Shades of Grey, Research Shows"

    That directly contradicts my personal experience. Maybe I hang out with too many engineers, where answers start with "it depends"

    How many female engineers do you have "personal experience/interactions" with?
    What is the base "education level" of the females you have experience with? And what are the ages?
    My experience being a retired engineer is that the young male engineer has a much higher level of hubris and "less judgment" than the same age female engineer. The female engineers tend to have a much stronger work ethic and work better in groups

    the opposition liberal/conservative is only meaningful in america. typically in europe those who call themselves liberals and conservatives are both right wing but in a slightly different way.

    Speaking of automobiles, one could drive a fleet of SUVs through the many holes in your story, Hank. First of all, are you aware of the big differences between public opinion and what is "on the table" in the MSM and MS politics? Second, are you aware that your story cannot account for changes in political climates (men had the same wiring in the 1930s as in the 1980s, did they not?), to say nothing of the extremely rapid erosion of gender expectations and roles in recent decades?

    Your story about "separate" sexual evolution is also extremely debatable at best. Yet you talk as if its all plain and simple.

    "Scientifically educated males who remain conservative seem to be a pretty small minority - just a guess."

    Yet you'd seem to think, then, that the majority of scientifically educated males (the ones who don't remain conservative, or stay liberal), have "no brains" -- like they're stupid (though perhaps you had some other intention quoting that quote). How does that jive?

    Well, I guess that makes me a femine man...

    : |

    The market for memes is a ruthless one and for ideas carrying Peak Oil, Transition Towns - basically requiring personal chance in BAU - have the toughest of times. If we are going to develop a meme, we need to run it through a 'focus group' first - a test audience...

    Is there an audience that you could sell this idea?

    As was pointed below in this thread "half the adult people in the US are overweight and nearly 20% are obese". These are people who most likely on average aren't going to buy this. And if you're going to develop something new, don't go for the toughest test first.

    Here's some interesting facts: " U.S. marathons in 2010 had an estimated 507,000 finishers, an 8.6% increase from 2009, the second largest increase in the past 25 years (U.S. marathons grew 9.9% in 2009). " The Boston marathon for 2010 sold out in 8 hours and 6 minutes.

    If you're going to try out if your meme about low-energy life-style works start with people who at least have demonstrated that they are able to change their life.

    I don't know quite how to approach such people - we tend to associate 'sports people' with sports enthusiasts (the couch end) rather than the athletes themselves - whose mental states or attitudes we rarely have an insight into. The American Sports such as football especially carry an image of 'low intellectual effort' - where as actually most amateur athletes have higher education - or to put it in other terms: people who have higher education tend to take care of their physical health better.

    Now, obviously these people aren't going to fiercely resist trying out cycling to work for example - but that's because they see more value in the physical exercise itself.

    The question is: as these people seem to lack many of the psychological barriers to personal change and personal convenience, would they be more willing to change their lifestyles because of other reasons as well? - or are we just fooling ourselves that our message is any good - that it could ever qualify as a successful meme? (and therefore we are doomed, and all that...)

    - Ransu

    Another meme concerning bicyclists making the RW talk show rounds is that most riders are habitual law-breakers who pay no attention to regulations and moreover that they always appear aggressive and angry.

    (wow, that almost sounds like they are criticizing a typical libertarian :)

    I use my bike in a smallish and hilly metropolis.

    After the first hill (2-300 metres, <2 metres height), I am so pumped with adrenaline, I do become quite aggressive. Fear of the metal behemoths only makes matters worse. One feels so vulnerable on two wheels in the open.

    At the end of my ride, I feel quite alive, but I will probably have screamed at a few cars along the road. The combination of exercise and fear can make a person quite agitated.

    If most of the landscape is flat, there'll probably be less road rage among cyclists : one does not have to ride like a madman to get from a to b. In hilly country, hard work is required to get uphill, and once one is pumped up, it is a lot harder to keep one's emotions in check.

    This is no justification for aggressivity. I just know I become much more aggressive on a bike than on foot. Even driving a car (which I abandoned quite a while ago) never got me that angry...


    I can attest to that as well. I ride my bike around a pretty small, mostly flat university town, and it is very easy to feel threatened surrounded by so many big metal bike-squashers flying around oblivious to you. And for me anyway, threatened usually translates physiologically to angry. I can sometimes forgive people passing too close or failing to see me, but I get really worked up by people shouting at me. There are some people who see a person on a bike and must think you are making some sort of statement or something that threatens their way of life. That's what gets me worked up the most: people who have so much hatred and scorn for you just because they see you riding your bike legally down the road.

    Although it's possible they shout at me to piss me off because they're just dumb and mean...


    Luckily, in Holland I can ride a bike to almost all destinations using cycleways without being bothered by cars.

    @grumpy: "it's possible they shout at me to piss me off because they're just dumb and mean"

    Or they shout because driving a car is frustrating and miserable. I commute by bike every day and I find I'm in a MUCH better mood both during and after my commute than if I drive. I also notice that my fellow bike commuters seem much happier (faces smiling and calm) than our car-driving brothers and sisters, who appear tense and miserable and often express their tension in honks or shouts--not only at bikers, but also, and more often, at each other.

    Well, he said that he's angry because he feels threatened. Automobile drivers feel threatened too. A collision with a bicyclist would at the very least be WAY too much paperwork, and could range into being a radically life altering event if the driver were at fault.

    None of us is perfect, so the possibility exists of making a mistake. This constitutes a threat. Also there might well be unjust consequences in the event of a collision.

    Hence, the mutual sentiment between all road users: Get the FSCK off my road / outta my way!

    A collision with a bicyclist ... could range into being a radically life altering event if the driver were at fault.

    Not a fraction as much as it could be for the bicyclist, who might be crippled or killed.

    The courts tend to go easy on drivers who run down bicyclists.

    Well, it may be useful to remember "Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king..' Bob Dylan.

    IE, Laws are relative and set up to favor certain assumptions. To use a bike for commuting forces you to 'break the mold' to some extent, and from the seat of a car, one has a perfect vantage point to witness and be incensed by the same, while thinking perhaps very little of an innocent 'roll-through' at a stop sign that made some Bikey screech to a halt.


    Having done a bit of city biking, I also became keenly aware of not wanting to stop that bike, and thus waste my hard-earned Kinetic Energy.. and this has since made me fairly resentful at our city's "Stop for Pedestrians" rule for cars, which has walkers pop out into the street ahead of my car, whether they have a designated crosswalk or not, whether they are going against my Green at an Intersection or not, and that amount of wasted Kinetic (and goodwill) on the part of my car and those following me requires several big new bursts of gas and pollution to get us all going again.. so a supposedly 'Ped. Friendly' rule (while I am a freqent ped myself and strongly disagree) is to me both a severe energy waster, as well as a source of irritation and fear for all parties involved..

    I just noticed an interesting aside here: a lot of athletes eat a large quantity of food. What does that imply with PO?

    Oh, do believe it. The interventionist policies may bring the rage into the open, but as I said several years ago, it is not new:

    "Years ago, I sometimes biked a route [to work] that took me past a neighborhood populated by folks from the local meat-packing plant and other smaller industrial plants. And let's just say that Peak Blue Collar Real Wages had long since passed. So, among other things, one day, an apoplectic guy in a pickup truck yelled, 'what do you think this is, Red China?' I felt certain (and still do) that he felt threatened by anyone he saw moving from Point A to Point B in any manner less expensive than he was (1) accustomed to, and (2) becoming steadily less able to afford."

    I suspect that many TOD posters aren't living close enough to the edge to appreciate (as it were) the nature of his rage. But here in the Berkeley of the Midwest, we're still surrounded by farm country; he had probably heard plenty of stories about the harsh lives of his ancestors, and surely felt that he was, or anyway ought to be, done with the worst of that. It's unsurprising that the very slightest hint of harking back to that past might set him off.

    What has changed is that back then his views would have been ignored. He could have written a letter-to-the-editor. But it might have been too illiterate to publish, and it would have garnered at most a tiny audience. Or he could have mouthed off at the local bar. But that was merely an echo chamber providing no broader audience. However, we now have the Internet, plus a multitude of cable channels forever starved for "content" snippets to insert between barrages of commercials, so views such as his sometimes come out into the open.

    Oh, and it won't improve his mood to go to an 'environmental' or 'energy' web site these days - or more likely to be taken there rhetorically by a Beck or Hannity - and encounter twits gleefully reveling in his being pushed to the wall by spiraling prices for gasoline, diesel, and much else. So the politics - which of course is mainly a matter of narrative and emotions, not science or numbers - can only get ever more "interesting".

    Anyway, you may or may not feel dismayed by some or all of this, but I submit that you ought not to feel the least bit surprised.

    And it is exactly these that will act irrationally and violently when it becomes obvious the good days will not come again and that we are past the peak of available oil.

    They will strike out locally and demand striking out nationally at those that they will see as threatening their worldview. Solar PV will have bricks lobbed at them; and the US will lob nukes at countries 'hoarding our oil'.

    The 'rage' will take down the national level, implementing breakup of larger groups into smaller. This is when the US will fall, broken apart into warring groups.

    Shell has spent five years and nearly $4 billion dollars on plans to explore for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The leases alone cost $2.2 billion. Shell Vice President Pete Slaiby says obtaining similar air permits for a drilling operation in the Gulf of Mexico would take about 45 days. He’s especially frustrated over the appeal board’s suggestion that the Arctic drill would somehow be hazardous for the people who live in the area.

    The closest village to where Shell proposed to drill is Kaktovik, Alaska. It is one of the most remote places in the United States. According to the latest census, the population is 245 and nearly all of the residents are Alaska natives. The village, which is 1 square mile, sits right along the shores of the Beaufort Sea, 70 miles away from the proposed off-shore drill site.

    The EPA’s appeals board ruled that Shell had not taken into consideration emissions from an ice-breaking vessel when calculating overall greenhouse gas emissions from the project.

    At stake is an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil. That’s how much the U. S. Geological Survey believes is in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean. For perspective, that represents two and a half times more oil than has flowed down the Trans Alaska pipeline throughout its 30-year history. That pipeline is getting dangerously low on oil. At 660,000 barrels a day, it’s carrying only one-third its capacity.

    Production on the North Slope of Alaska is declining at a rate of about 7 percent a year. If the volume gets much lower, pipeline officials say they will have to shut it down.

    [Fox News]

    Upthread I started the comments with a demonstration of how the right-wing media machine operates.
    What avonaltendorf copy and pasted was direct output from information that is making the rounds on the RW talk shows (just heard a mention a few minutes ago on the Jasos Lewis show). It has been posted to already 600 sites.

    Fortunate that you put that little FoxNews footnote, because I swore at first that it was your own opinion. But that's how it works; all the voices on the right-wing raise in unison, with everyone having the exact same opinion.

    Thanks for the unintentionally great example. Perfect.

    I've often thought you were an absurd person, adamantly opposed to "bottom up" empirical data, but this really takes the bickie. Shell spent $4 billion and the EPA killed Beaufort Sea exploration today. Nothing untruthful or twisted about the Fox news item.

    Those of us who are engaged in oil exploration do it for money. With one caveat. It has to be private money. No "national oil company" contracts. Guess why?

    There are only two kinds of people in this world.

    At least I do original research and don't copy and paste indiscriminately. Do you even realize that what you just did there was plagiarism? There is this HTML thingie called blockquotes; next time I suggest you use it buddy.

    I also applaud your use of the classic RW misdirect technique.

    Sorry to be so provincial, but does the international audience know what "Fox News" is? I often wonder if I make any sense when referencing the solid wall of stupidity that has been erected on the American media. The unrelenting attack on anything having to do with rational thought, education, teachers, and academia. Do they know that, on the A.M. radio, only ethnic stations have music anymore. That it is all "news-talk", infotainment, flying saucers, hate, evangelicals, sports... empty and devoid of one bit of actual reality. That the media is wholly owned. That it speaks with one voice. We don't even get to hear about protests anymore. There are no protest songs.


    Just mentioning that it is a media outlet controlled by Rupert Murdoch will inform everyone in the English-media-familiar world.

    There are only two kinds of people in this world.

    There are only two kinds of people in this world.

    LOL! At least I can make my own graphic and add my own thoughts in my own words... not that it matters.

    Well... ya got me there.

    Tough titty. It's not like it's Shell's belongs to the people of the United States. Write a letter (or better bribe) a congressman.

    How come the bicyclists in Copenhagen don't wear Spandex? Is Spandex is part of a Meme, a group identifier, especially in the USofA?

    I don't think that is a meme-thing just peer group identification. Some people actually concern themselves with that kind of stuff, and if you want to see the origins check out this wiki page:

    Spandex suggests higher status; that your other mode of transportation is a late model expensive ICE machine, and that your biking is strictly an expensive hobby for the upwardly mobile, and it implies that you are faster than most, a racer. You are a "choice" biker, according to the public transit terminology, rather one who is compelled by low income.

    Spandex suggests higher status; that your other mode of transportation is a late model expensive ICE machine, and that your biking is strictly an expensive hobby for the upwardly mobile, and it implies that you are faster than most, a racer.

    I have cycled in spandex for close to thirty years. (And, as it happens, I am faster than most.) The advantage to spandex shorts and cycling jersys is the absorbtion/wicking function of the chamois and the various fabrics. You chafe less. You avoid the "bunching" that you get in loose shorts. One's private parts are better supported and/or arranged(if one is male.) If you cycle any distance in hot weather at speed, you really appreciate the fact your clothes aren't as wet and sticky.

    While I am sure there are people who use cycling clothes as a status statement, I think there are more experienced cyclists who think like me: that the most important things in cycling are not the lightest, most expensive doodads, but the most basic: a bike that fits, a good seat, and good shorts. Because you can't ride with saddle sores.


    In America, it all started, absolutely, with the movie "Breaking Away". After that, the iconographic imagery started to be taken up in real life, everywhere. The concept of a "Biking Uniform" for "special" biking had been introduced that then evolved into spandex.

    That interpretation is way off. The good guys in the movie were the local townies that weren't at all flashy. The one guy that wanted to be a cool Italian-like pro became disenchanted when he experienced the arrogance of the elite racers. The movie was less about biking than about friendship and contemplating dead-end careers. It was the exact opposite that you sugget; this movie reinforced non-chalant DIY ethics as opposed to poseur-dom.

    My words only referenced the imagery. Long ago, but I vividly remember the new bike paradigm appearing on the road starting immediately afterwards.

    It is odd to have these two classes of bicyclists here in California. In Los Angeles, a grown man on a bike speaks of utter lowlife... unless he Is all done-up in the "I'm biking as an exercise in conspicuous consumption" garb.

    Some of the bikes they are riding are at least $1000 and quite, quite up from there:

    I don't really know but I remember that Lemond and especially Boyer were bigger inspirations among road bikers at that time.

    In Los Angeles, a grown man on a bike speaks of utter lowlife... unless he Is all done-up in the "I'm biking as an exercise in conspicuous consumption" garb.

    I don't hear this, all I hear from people is that all bikers break the traffic laws and that they complain that the bikers have an attitude against cars crowding their space. The particular garb never enters into the equation.

    Some of the bikes they are riding are at least $1000 and quite, quite up from there

    $1000 is a strange price point to quote for "some". Most of the really efficient and reliable road bike makes are above this point.

    I don't hear this, all I hear from people is that all bikers break the traffic laws and that they complain that the bikers have an attitude against cars crowding their space.

    I hear complaints about this by car drivers about EVERYONE. Especially other car drivers that have in any way inconvenienced them. Also car drivers are awful for signalling. They don't have a clue when to do it half the time...and don't get me started on red light running, speeding, parking in cycle lanes and overtaking regardless of where they are.

    Everyone is a bad driver to everyone else. Except them, they are perfect and the uncontrollable rage of shouting and horn parping is a perfectly normal reaction to a minor inconvenience for 3 seconds.

    It is odd to have these two classes of bicyclists here in California. In Los Angeles, a grown man on a bike speaks of utter lowlife... unless he Is all done-up in the "I'm biking as an exercise in conspicuous consumption" garb.

    That must be southern California thing. Don't really see that up north.

    Is Spandex is part of a Meme

    No. Actually, it, or stuff that is functionally similar is designed to reduce chaffing, and help control temperature while riding. If I'm going for more than a fifteen or twenty minute ride, I change into my biking stuff (most of which is twenty years old and pretty ugly looking).

    Competitive athletes may prefer spandex for legitimate reasons, but when I see Spandex, I'm slightly disturbed. I look away because even if I think it's a pretty woman, I know I'm not 100% sure, and might be in for an unpleasant surprise when I see her beard.

    I would be surprised if half of Spandexed bicyclists maintained their hobby for more than a few months. I would not be surpised if far less than half of Spandexed bicyclists were biking intensely enough for any of Spandex's advantages to come into play.

    I imagine most of the spandex was purchased by people looking for an excuse to do anything but bike. Shopping is much easier than biking, and if your S.O. is pressuring you to work out with them, what better way to punish them for it than to make it expensive, or to make them wear SPANDEX?

    A male wearing spandex probably has an above average probability of being a homosexual trolling for a date or yuppie cheese. Unappealing.

    You got data for any of that?

    Paragraph 1: I usually don't have any trouble distinguishing the genders. But if you do happen upon an individual whose gender is not distinctive from the rear, what difference does it make? Are you afraid that misplaced lust would compromise your stated orientation?

    Paragraph 2: How does this affect you?

    Paragraph 3: The logic is hard to follow, but I think you're making an attempt at a joke. Please clarify.

    Paragraph 4: You're illuminating your own issues more than those of others. What are you afraid of?

    The whole post was meant humorously. No data to back it up.

    It's an anecdote about my reading of the 'Spandex Biker' fashion statement and what it communicates to me.

    It absolutely IS about MY personal issues which are mine, though I do believe not too uncommon, and how those biases/preferences impact my perception of Spandex wearing bikers. It's about what 'Spandex Wearing Biker' says to me. Someone considering making the 'Spandex Biker' fashion statement might be interested to know what they are saying to at least one person.

    Everyone is entitled to their preferences. For me ambiguous gender is like hiding a single anchovy under the cheese of a pepperoni pizza. Every slice is suspect, and it decreases my personal enjoyment of the pizza. Although it would admittedly be quite funny to see my face if I bit into the slice with the anchovy.

    I'm not worried that I might somehow come over to the anchovy loving side of the force should I accidentally eat one, ( in fact if I did, how could that but increase my total space of enjoyable things ) however, I'd prefer that my pizzas not have hidden anchovies. I may choose not to eat pizza made by people who tend to hide anchovies randomly therein. Likewise I may choose not to oogle spandex bikers from behind.

    Female spandex wearing bikers may take comfort in the likelihood that I'm not staring at their rear ends - or they may be disappointed.

    thanks for the measured response and sorry for taking yours too seriously.
    I will take comfort knowing that you will not be looking at my spandex-covered behind, which indeed conceals an anchovy.

    Yes, to a degree, plus all of the other answers already given, also to a degree. However there are a couple of factors beyond these snide ones.

    First, not every USofA rider wears spandex. But it's like swimming trunks, baseball uniforms, golf shoes and clothes, you name it; custom and/or comfort [edit - see 'enemy of state' just above]. Plus, if Americans are cycling for a purpose, they most likely need to go more than just a block or six. Only a few places in the US are as jampacked as Amsterdam or Copenhagen, so destinations tend to be further apart. And there are no hills at all in Amsterdam, and not many in Copenhagen, and hot humid weather is very rare (90F is a serious crisis.) But for several months a year American riders will be climbing hills in hot humid weather. So if they have any social grace whatsoever they'll be changing and washing up no matter what, just as folks in Tokyo will often carry several dress shirts or blouses in summer due to the stifling heat and suffocating humidity. In for a penny, in for a pound - if they're going to change, they might just as well change into something comfortable that consumes little space when it's not being worn. So why bother getting snide about it - aren't there enough social reasons to avoid riding, without getting into empty arguments over clothing?

    Second, believe it or not, people in Copenhagen or Amsterdam who do ride some distance will often own good bicycles, in addition to the heavy, draggy clunkers noticed by tourists; and I've even seen spandex. But good bikes aren't seen from tour buses because outdoor parking is utterly insecure - even more so than in the USofA - since the authorities choose to disregard bike theft utterly. People stash good bikes where they're somewhat secure (very often indoors) which means in places where casual tourists will never notice them. Plus, tour buses go almost exclusively downtown, where people riding good bikes or wearing spandex aren't numerous. After all, if you're only riding a few downtown blocks on dead-flat surfaces at a stately pace (à la Angela Lansbury's character in Murder, She Wrote) in benevolent maritime weather, there's simply no need to ride a good bike (and find a safe place to put it) or to change clothes. But that describes precious little of the USofA, which, like it or not, isn't Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or coastal Europe (and won't become so anytime soon in terms of built environment, or ever in terms of weather.) So again, why bother getting snide?

    Hey, Paul, actually I thought that the issue of status symbols is a very important part of our consumptive pattern. We are driven to buy more and more expensive, bigger, faster, more prestigious items, especially when it comes to transportation and housing, a big portion of our energy budget. Depending on our subculture, cars and houses are the biggest sources of status and consumption and thus hurdles to overcome. Awareness is the first step, and most people are not consciously aware of the symbolic nature of the garb.


    And the whole point for me is "bikes are not common transportation" in America. An old picture from China:

    "Commuters with bicycles, electric bikes and mopeds move across the street, Friday, May 23, 2008 in Shanghai, China. While two-wheelers have long since yielded the roads to sedans in this increasingly affluent society, the bicycle is far from dead."

    I think it has a lot to do with how bicycles are marketed, and a huge body of "conventional wisdom" that is (as usual) parochial and often flat wrong. It's a marketed meme, if you will. There are various websites devoted to convincing people that a bike is just something you hop on and ride, or perhaps something that should even be fashionable (e.g., or closer to home,, though Charlotte is on blogger maternity leave right now).

    The short answer to why-lycra is "cheaper and lighter than wool, itches less, and the moths won't eat it". I still have a 35-year-old pair of wool shorts with a real leather pad in the crotch. Wool stretches enough that I can still wear them.

    And in fact, the funny pants do chafe less, and anything form-fitting will have lower wind resistance, and that leads to a surprising reduction in effort or increase in speed. HOWEVER, since power lost to wind resistance scales with the cube of speed, the wind resistance contribution depends very much on whether you are going 15mph, 19mph, or 24mph (each step in speed represents a doubling in wind power contribution).

    Chafing is eventually an issue, but really, not for just an hour of riding. I ride to work in blue jeans and whatever shoes I happen to be wearing, including flip-flops, and I logged my fastest ride home ever, wearing flip-flops.

    An awful lot of what is sold in bicycle-land, people buy, because they are told that they need it, not because they need it. I have major doubts about the whole padded-sculpted saddle thing, and claims that the "wrong saddle" leads to all sorts of dire crotchal problems seem somewhat contradicted by the hordes of Chinese riding cheap bikes and seemingly reproducing just fine -- same for the Dutch. I even rather doubt that a leather saddle needs to be self-shaped to fits one's own behind (because I borrowed a friend's bike one a business trip, and IT had a Brooks saddle, and it worked just fine from the first moment I sat on it -- and for him, the bike was a cast-off from his brother-in-law).

    This sort of stuff extends to helmets -- despite their widespread non-use of helmets, the Dutch have the safest biking on the planet. An Australian study before/after a helmets-for-all law, found an INCREASE in the head-injury rate (this is almost certainly due to selection effects -- it also saw a decrease in the cycling rate, likely meaning that the careful-anyway cyclists just did not ride, either because of the perceived higher risk, or because of the hassle). That drop in cycling means that the helmet law was a public health failure, because the relative risk of being a couch potato is huge -- a Danish study saw a 39% higher mortality rate for people who did NOT commute by bicycle, even adjusting for age, income, and other risk factors.

    Other things to keep in mind, all indicating that what/how we ride bikes, is determined more by social stuff, than by engineering stuff:

    - recumbent bicycles were banned from international competition in 1934; the leading racers at the time were embarrassed by a smart-ass on a recumbent. They fixed his wagon.

    - the reason you don't see full-chain-case Raleighs (and similar) in this country, younger than about 1955 vintage, is because of weight-threshold tariffs on bicycle imposed around 1955.

    - skinny tires DO NOT have lower rolling resistance than fat tires. You can see this on some of the tire manufacturer's websites (Schwalbe, Continental) if you look carefully. You can measure this for yourself (as I did). Skinny tires have lower WIND resistance than fat tires, and at racing speeds, this matters more. At non-racing speeds, in real-world use, I saw shorter commute times on fat (slick) tires -- this is what put me on to the flaw in conventional wisdom.

    What is sadly amusing, is that they same people who think that they could never ride a bike to work, will nonetheless buy a bike because of their aspirations to be like Lance Armstrong or Danny McAskill (if you don't know that name, watch these videos: and ). Almost nobody can be Lance or Danny (or even close), but lots of people could ride a bike around town and to work.

    skinny tires DO NOT have lower rolling resistance than fat tires.

    Fascinating. One thing I can't take is not fully inflating the tires. The fatter the tire, the harder it is to keep it from wiggling around beneath me. I just keep getting the nagging feeling that I expend more energy with the low inflation bulge meeting the road.

    The other one is the thorn-resistant tubes and the extra weight and rotational inertia you have to trade-off. No punctures but someone on TOD claimed that you lose a couple of MPH with heavier tubes.

    Schwalbe Big Apple is the particular tire that worked well. Relatively thin-walled, with kevlar belts for anti-puncture. I don't use fancy tubes or slime, and they do pretty well. I do run them at full inflation 60psi, you can get them down to about 40psi before you notice handling effects (but when you get down to about 20, the handling does get funky).

    Most fat tires have aggressive treads, which increases rolling resistance (but give better performance in dirt/mud). Also tire pressure matters, and road/racing tires are designed for much higher pressure than fat tires. I think the weight is nearly a wash. Heavy tires slow acceleration, which is a big deal if you are trying to escape pursuers in a race, but of little value in normal riding. I'm older with somewhat arthritic hands now, so road tires are unchangeable (and more recently usually even MTB tires as well). I think the problems of flats, and the inability of older riders to change tires inhibits them from using them for transportation.

    Thanks for the youtube links--I had never heard of Danny McAskill before. What he can do on a bicycle is truly amazing!

    I would add a third catagory to your list of "right wing" reasons for oil price surge/energy supply problems:

    3) Caused by liberal politicians & Obama Administration trying to impose socialist form of government on it citizens.

    A friend I have known for nearly 20 years runs a business that does contract work for large companies. He is technically oriented/trained but not college educated, still very smart. He sends me e-mails about how the US has way more oil than Saudi Arabia in Colorado/Utah/Wyoming oil shale, but the left wing government of Obama is keeping us from exploiting it.

    I tried to tell him about the EROEI factor involved and he dismissed my reasons which are based on thermaldynamics and physics. This guy contributes to political campaigns and writes letters to his elected reps. I think changing our energy supply outlook (and thus energy use) is difficult when we, the empirically oriented and scientifically educated, don't have the means to influence those in government.

    In the category of "People believe what they want to believe," a recent poll found that 45% of Republicans think that Obama was born in another country:

    Given that kind of statistic, good luck convincing the Drill Baby Drill crowd that we can't have an infinite rate of increase in our consumption of a finite fossil fuel resource base.

    I agree, but 3 choices is too many. By lumping liberalism with the greens, thus hammering on the connection of environmentalism to socialism, they can get more bang for the buck and they don't have to confuse their followers with too many choices.

    The environmental concerns of energy usage framed by the RW only have to do with the greens wanting to protect against climate change, environmental destruction, and a very strong belief that they are anti-technology Luddites who want a regressive socialist form of government. That becomes the connecting fabric between green policies and socialism. Concerns against energy depletion, including measures advocating conservation and efficiency, is carefully removed from the equation. The age-old question that any 11-year old would ask, "if they are called conservatives why aren't they for conservation?", never ever gets addressed. It all gets buried.

    And so they are not above practicing hypocrisy. Note that these same people that yell about "environmental wackos" are the first to start criticizing wind energy advocates for killing birds and bats. These memes are very complicated and involve all sorts of projection and framing techniques meant to deflect from the real issues. Fascinating to study this stuff because it keeps your mind engaged :)

    True about the RW belief of connection between environmentalism and socialism.

    Funny you mention wind power as the same friend told me that wind power contibutes nothing to the grid as nearly all the power is lost in transmission or is required to build/place the turbines. When I mentioned high voltage DC transmission that can reduce loses to 5%, he changed the subject.

    This is an uphill battle that I have doubts about winning until TSHTF for everyone. Just look at US Congress' latest budget vote that reduced/eliminated tax breaks for renewable energy, eliminated all funding for high speed rail in 2011, rescinded the rail project (freight and passenger) money allocated but not yet spent in 2010, and cut the money for new transit systems in half.

    True about the RW belief of connection between environmentalism and socialism.

    There is a tiny amount of justification. Greens tend to be for economic justice, which to conservatives means robbing the deserving rich to give to undeserving poor (internationally as well as intranationally). Often the extreme LW faction will start to talk about an environmental issue, but then lapse into economic justice mode. And then anyone even remotely liberal or environmental gets painted with that same broad brush. Strawman arguments may be invalid in a controlled debate, but political debate, and meme forming are not a controlled debate. So the technique is to continually reinforce the connection you want the average voter to make, every time it is heard the strength of those brain "wires/connections" is increased, until the connection (in the voters mind) is strong and automatic.

    deserving rich, undeserving poor

    What is it that these people do or do not deserve? Money? More money?

    DC line losses are 3% / 1000 km and AC losses are 33% more (4%/1000 km). Siemans Brochure
    The 6.6% number is for transmission and distribution together.

    all the power is lost in transmission or is required to build/place the turbines

    That sounds like an EROEI argument. Would he do that on paper?

    HVDC is the future for transmission. Once install volumes get high enough to apply volume cost reduction rules to the converter stations, AC transmission for any distance should rightly go extinct.

    Possibly ask your friend: If we discover that Mars has a lot of oil, should we (the humans) go get it? If Saturn has hydrogen?

    The problem is that Peak Oil has already occurred; and the impact of climate change is already apparent. Here in Australia I do not think any of our senior politicians know about Peak Oil, let alone understand it. It is never discussed and hardly mentioned at all. On climate change, one or two scientists have been quoted in the media saying the Queensland floods were worse because of climate change, but it certainly has not been mentioned in any of the very extensive TV coverage of the floods (which are on-going). Not even crises as big as the GFC elicit correct responses - instead all levels of the establishment do everything in their power to get people spending again - when that actually is the part of the problem, not the solution.

    Only some cataclysmic event, maybe GFC2, but much worse, where the system actually does break, will alter the debate. Even then I am not so sure. It has to move a huge distance; and include topics such as halting population growth, aiming at steady state economies, altering our urban planning, revitalising Mom & Pop agriculture, rebuilding rail, switching government support away from Fossil Fuels to Renewables, conservation and efficiency, letting much of our road infrastructure disintegrate (already happening in some US states), reducing our reliance on aviation etc etc etc. These are the topics that actually matter and will be the issues that actually confront us/need action. But they need debate and action now, not when we are further weakened by recession, unemployment and lack of finance. Probably it is already too late, we should have started all this when President Carter raised it in the 1970's. But it is easy to be wise after the event. Certainly I wasn't even dimly aware until around 2005.

    Senior politicians in Australia, right across the political spectrum at local, state and federal level, are very well aware of peak oil. They are just avoiding the issue because there is no political pressure from their constituents to deal with it.

    Being aware of peak oil is not sufficient. They assume there will be a smooth transition to other technologies and sources of energies without having the professional knowledge to do energy calculations which would show them there is a real problem. The public is being misinformed by articles such as the one we had in the Easter 2011 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald's News Review on electric cars

    Electric dreams the change ahead

    I had debunked theme here:

    M2 widening: Primary Energy Dilemma for cars

    They assume there will be a smooth transition to other technologies and sources of energies...

    Matt, the slowness of the transition reduces the likelihood of it being smooth. Think about all the people who are now buying low mpg trucks banking on Donald Trump talking to OPEC and getting the price of oil back down to $40 per barrel.

    I do not agree, with the exception of the Greens, who do understand Peak Oil. Hopefully they are educating Labour. Anyway, even if they do understand it, but do nothing, the result is the same as if they didn't know.

    You can disagree all you like, but I know for a fact that many of them across the spectrum know about, and understand, peak oil because I have written to them, briefed them face-to-face and spoken to them about it myself . The Qld govt, for example, formally acknowledged peak oil and began work on a mitigation strategy several years ago. This is in a state where there has never been any Greens representation in Parliament, either state or federal. There are peak oil/climate change policies in place by several local governments in south east Queensland. At federal level, Matt can confirm that numerous cabinet ministers are fully aware of peak oil. They are just avoiding the issue because there is no political will to do anything. So, you can disagree all you like, but you are disagreeing with the facts, i.e. you are simply wrong.

    OK, fair enough. I have also written and received "the normal" replies. I know that in Qld McNamara (I think that is his name) is well aware and as Minister of Sustainability introduced the policies you speak of, but he lost his seat in the last election. There is also an MP in SA who is PO aware, but as far as I know, no one in any of the other states and territories or at a federal level really understands PO. They may have heard of it, but either lack a deep enough understanding of the issue, or give a very good impression of being completely unaware. We don't have anyone like Roscoe Bartlett (R, Maryland) at a federal level. The Greens have moved PO motions in the Federal senate and in the NSW lower house, but in both cases the Libs and Labs have combined to defeat the motions, mild as they were (determine if acknowledgement needed, do a study to determine impacts).

    It is incomprehensible to me how anyone, especially a politician, can be PO aware and not speak up about it. Probably I am just naive about the true depth of deceit and cynicism with which politics is conducted. PO would be especially useful for opposition politicians giving them a big stick to beat the government with, but they too spew Economics 101 nonsense. Resource; and especially energy depletion is the issue of the day; yet it isn't being discussed? Except on marginal blogs like this?

    Are you aware that Andrew McNamara lost his seat largely due to Greens campaigning and preferences, which went to the Liberal-National candidate? The Qld Greens are a joke wrt peak oil in my experience. Are you aware that the co-author of the "McNamara Report", Rachel Nolan, is a cabinet minister responsible for developing the state govt peak oil mitigation strategy? etc ...

    Don't assume that because there is no front-page media coverage that nothing is happening. Certainly nowhere near enough, but definitely not nothing. Politicians aren't stupid, but they do need to address issues that the public is aware of. Look at how much trouble the federal ALP is having with it's climate change policies this long after it was a major election issue with a high level of public support and awareness.

    Hi WebHubble,

    In the USA intervention is useless unless you can somehow change the dialog and convince the political infrastructure of the actual cause and effect.

    Are you sure about this? I agree that intervention (increasing fuel taxes and spending the revenue on energy conservation schemes, for example) may not always change the "political infrastructure". We have no objective way of measuring this, so dialogue-changing interventions would not fall into the range of political interventions that are the target of the essay. Regardless, I suggest that primary energy saving in itself can be seen as an outcome of itself, a metric of success. Interventions that don't acheive visible change in political debates may achieve other goals that are far from useless from an energy perspective.

    I cannot answer your question about how political intervention will work out. I'm only suggesting that for certain types of intervention, discrete, predictable ones, there are certain tools available that can aid our understanding of their consequences. The statement that you quoted, that

    The range of examples illustrates how energy assessment methods are applicable to “political intervention” in the broadest sense.

    is, I concede, an exageration so thanks for pointing this out. I really meant "a subset of political interventions, from changes in your lifestyle to national demand or supply side policies with quantifiable energy objectives" and this could have been made clearer. I wish I knew how to shift political dialogues, but unfortunately the methods I am advocating are only applicable in quite specific situations:

    To assess energy implications, however, a narrower definition of 'intervention' is needed. Interventions that can be assessed using the methods outlined here must be discrete events with predictable outcomes.

    Regarding your question

    So in the context of what I just laid out, how will political intervention work out?

    The true answer is I don't know, I'm just trying to advocate thoughts about energy implications. I do hope that these narrow considerations will affect the wider debate and that, as David MacKay suggests, simple models based on explicit assumptions (such as DECCs) will move the debate forward. This debate-clarifying ("hot-air" removing) characteristic is a major advantage of scenario-driven energy analysis.

    Are you sure about this? I agree that intervention (increasing fuel taxes and spending the revenue on energy conservation schemes, for example) may not always change the "political infrastructure".

    This next level of conservation measures is going to be tougher. I have documented the first wave of conservation steps as being like picking low-hanging fruit. The measures implemented in the 1970's into the 1980's likely can't be repeated as those were actually driven by the oil crisis and got people somewhat accustomed to efficient approaches. This next step is much more a political one because the obvious strategies have been picked at to the bone.

    the obvious strategies have been picked at to the bone.

    I beg to differ. Europe has a similar lifestyle at about half the energy intensity of ours. Europe also has a political climate that allows progress. Its really a case of no will no way, because plenty of ways exist.

    Aye, as you say Europe has a significantly different political environment, which was the original complaint I had concerning affecting change by politics in the USA.

    I remember someone on TOD suggesting that governments in Europe fear the citizenry, while we as Americans fear the government. Someone else pointed out the situation in Europe pre-1989:
    In Russia, everything is forbidden, especially those things that are allowed.
    In Germany everything is forbidden, except those things that are allowed.
    In France everything is allowed except those things that are forbidden.
    In Italy, everything is allowed, especially those things that are forbidden.
    and In Switzerland, everything that is not forbidden is required.
    and except for Russia, all those people were considered, and felt free.
    In the USA everything is both forbidden and allowed at the same time, depending on who is scolding us at the time. In the end, we are frozen by indecision, while Europeans make decisions and bear the consequences. Let's watch how Italy does.

    I spend way more time in Europe than the average American (bad dog I know, wasting all that energy on overseas flights) so I plead guilty that I should have articulated my low-hanging fruit comment better.

    I agree with you WebHubble..., I don't see this necessarily ending well.

    I read the news and listen to the crazies on the far right and get scared,

    But then I go to Huffington Post and listen to crazies on the far left and it's almost as bad.

    That's why I assume this country is headed for chaos and possibly worse.

    The approved right-wing meme is to create a false choice to explain high oil prices:
    1) Caused by environmentalists preventing us from getting new drilling permits.
    2) Caused by oil speculation.

    I thought the right wing was all about "drill baby drill," "drill here, drill now," and Blame envirnomnetalists.

    And the left was about "blaming speculators."

    Let me clarify that what the political masterminds do is to provide a false set of choices and then select the one that they actually believe in, thus providing a semblance of balance (i.e. Fox News "fair and balanced"). So indeed they blame environmentalists but use the speculators as a false choice.

    As for the left wing, as many people on the policy left believe in peak oil as they blame speculators. There isn't any calculated meme or bullet-point strategy going on by the left. In other words, the left is very disorganized when it comes to messaging.

    This is nothing new if you follow politics.

    I think the continuum is broader than you've painted, with geopolitics also applicable to the right (let's give war a chance) and of course lack of gov't help to deliver cornucopian bliss on the right (we just need Manhattan projects and moon shots).

    To be fair, the proposed solution from each party and probably each individual will tend to employ the tools in their favorite toolbox to the envisioned problem at hand, so conservatives will look for a market/corporate solution and progressives will look for a gov't-funded/regulatory solution. It almost doesn't matter what they think the problem really is.

    That is of course more reasoned, but what I tried to describe are the approved memes and talking points that circulate on the talk shows and thus tend to get amplified.

    Hi Webster, I'm sure you saw the bit by John Michael Greer a couple of days ago (which is now on the Oil Drum queue).

    He suggests a poorly made choice from perhaps forty years ago. This makes sense b/c the implications would have been invisible during those times.

    Peak oil was an isolated case, Hubbert was 'eccentric' and the bad guy was OPEC. We actually could gain oil reserves by sending in the Marines.

    Anyway, I have a math question/problem. I bet you can help:

    Please scroll all the way toward the bottom, look @ the equation and let me know what you think! You can reach me by way of comment or email.

    thanks, steve

    Placed a response on your blog.

    I posted this last night on the tail end of the previous Drumbeat, where it landed in the dreaded second page purgatory. DB rolled over to today's edition anyway.

    Under much more favorable above-ground / political conditions (favorable for oil production anyway), how much oil could Venezuela produce per day if the World oil market could provide ~ $150/bbl (or higher) for cleaned-up Vz oil?

    The Vz oil situation to-date according to the Energy Data Browser:

    References to the Orinoco oil sands resources:

    Production of 15 million bbls/day with 250 Billion bbls of recoverable resource would last ~ 46 years.

    Production of 10 million bbls /day would last ~ 68 years.

    If 500 Billion bbls of heavy oil resource is recoverable at a going-forward price of $150/bbl in today's dollars, then double the extraction time estimates.

    Environmental concerns in this very simplistic exhibition are treated as an externality...if lots of water is needed, it will be sucked from rivers, lakes and aquifers. if pollution is generated, it will be treated and released or re-injected into the reservoir. If nuclear reactors are needed to power the refineries and to generate steam they will be built....more likely, the production companies will burn the oil to power the extraction/refineries, eating into the amount shorten those extraction estimates somewhat!

    Vz is right across the GOM from the U.S.

    I am not advocating this...I would rather see a great push for energy conservation and a build up of solar and wind-generated electricity...but we already have Presidential wannabees (the Donald) stating that we need to go get 'our' oil from other countries...

    At some $7 bucks a gallon (before taxes), U.S. demand (such as it would be at that price point) could be 'well supplied' for 50+ years (past the date when these production numbers are achieved) by the alleged 147 Billion bbls of oil which Senator Murkowski (AK) claims we have remaining in the U.S., combined with Canadian oil sands oil, and Vz extra heavy Vanadium-contaminated oil.

    The U.S. reaches a 'Monroe Doctrine' 'accommodation' with Vz and the Rest of the World, and the Rest of the World can exploit the ME and Africa and Russia for oil as they see fit.

    Add to this the large NG and coal resources in North Am, and an outright energy collapse into the abyss may not be in the cards for the U.S. and Canada.

    Will this fix our deficit and economy? Not necessarily. We could choose to balance our budget and pay off the debt in 10 years if we wanted to, separate from all my above speculation about Vz oil etc. We could promote birth control and strictly limit immigration if we chose to do that as well. We could impose a VAT and/or energy taxes to limit consumption if we wanted to do that.

    Whatver choices we make, unfortunately, as time goes on, we will likely go after all the resources we can, including Orinoco extra heavy sour Vandium-contaminated oil. Tragically, the environment will suffer from this last desperate push to extend and pretend for another 50+ years past 2020-ish.

    The title of this key post referenced political intervention. My post here describes a potential future political intervention of the U.S. in Venezuelan affairs of the first order.

    If you don't favor this approach, I recommend you gird for political battle by lobbying your political representatives to chart a different path.

    Your post presents some good info about reserves of Venezuela. One caveat is the price factor; can the US afford this oil?

    One reason for current high priced gasoline in the US is the drop in value of the dollar, due to large trade deficit and large govenment budget deficit. If the Orinoco Basin oil requires a present day $7 or $8 per gallon price for production, most will be left in the ground. The economy of the US will stagger from $7 gas and millions will become jobless, thus negating the need for much of our driving, flying, leisure activities that take oil. If hyperinflation takes hold for US dollar, then oil price gets even higher for the US and demand goes down even more. And China's demand for oil may very well decline, or at least stop growing, as their dollars from the US buy them less oil.


    You raise valid points.

    My disclaimer: I pulled that $7-8/gallon before tax price out of thin air...I was WAGing what it may cost to produce this heavy oil using Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage and other advanced techniques on a large scale, and the costs for special refineries to process the oil into useable form by screening out contaminants and so forth.

    Whether production costs would merit such a price or perhaps something lower in the $5-6/gallon band is unknown to me. Exactly how the economy would adapt to higher prices is also in question.

    In my opinion, certain parts of the U.S. Government and certain members of the U.S. business community are quite cognizant of this under-produced resource which is in close proximity to U.S shores.

    The fact that President Hugo Chavez maintains his governance of Vz is also an interesting factor going forward.

    Expect to see Vz in the news down the road...might take 5-10 years, but it will happen.

    I wonder if there will be a mutual 'win-win' business relationship, or if we will find it necessary to 'liberate' the Venezuelan people from their oppressive government at some point, and coincidentally, liberate that heavy oil to be refined and flow to places such as the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP).

    I would love to see us be more forward-thinking and proactive by mandating much higher fuel economy standards and raising fuel taxes now to reduce our oil usage, thus lessening the future pressures to concoct some BS cover story to annex another country's resources.

    be more forward-thinking and proactive by mandating much higher fuel economy standards and raising fuel taxes now to reduce our oil usage, thus lessening the future pressures to concoct some BS cover story to annex another country's resources.

    But, that's not what we are about. You are to an extent made by your national myths, which become an important part of your identity. And ours is of the rugged individualist, rejecting any sort of collective action to head off problems. So we will be sold on BAU, by the "that's what makes us different [and clearly better] than the rest of the world" sales tactic. Identity is a powerful thing for controlling peoples choices.

    Did i miss something? The article says

    Cut fossil fuel taxes ... (see Monbiot's section here)

    Cut gas taxes, and pump from the oil reserve, as a last resort; that is to say, after that, give up.

    Cut gas taxes, and pump from the oil reserve, as a last resort; that is to say, after that, give up.

    But, we can party like there is no tommorrow! Isn't that what the people want?

    I think the Law of Receding Horizons might kill this particular idea off. As oil gets more expensive, all of the inputs do as well and it actually comes down to an EROI calculation. If Orinoco tar can be produced with an EROI of around 8 it may be financially viable. Canadian tar sands are produced with an EROI of 3, maybe 4. Doubling that may not be possible.

    On top of that the Amazon basin is vital environmentally. It is one of the important lungs of the world and already there is international concern at the scale and pace of its destruction. I suspect that by the time Orinoco tar is developed up to 10m barrels per day, such development would not proceed on environmental grounds alone.

    Great comments, SailDog.

    I do NOT want to see the Vz environment laid bare.

    I do have a question wrt EROEI:

    If Canadian oil sand are currently being produced with an EROEI of 3-to-4, why would it take an EROEI of 8 to produce Vz Heavy oil/tar sands?


    Financial viability of tar sands production is only a proxy for thermodynamic viability; and a poor one at that. Canadian tar sands are only currently viable because natural gas, per Joule, is sufficiently cheaper than the energy contained in syncrude derived products. In effect syncrude derived from Canadian tar is a carrier for energy from natgas.

    As the effects of Peak Oil and climate change impact the availability of oil and the use of coal, natural gas will become much more valuable. Depending on the EROI of tar production there will be a price where using natgas is no longer financially viable. The author of the original post correctly raises the spectre of nuclear power as the energy source for syncrude, but that will entail Vz commencing a nuclear program. Considering the history of Iran and the proximity of Vz to the US I very much doubt any US administration would permit Vz to commence such a program.

    Reality Check, 2011 Peak Oil Edition:

    It requires about 1 gigajoule of energy to produce one barrel of bitumen from the oil sands and upgrade it to syncrude. Since one barrel of syncrude contains about 6 gigajoules of energy, the EROEI is about 6:1.

    The cost of 1 gigajoule of natural gas is about $3.50 in Alberta at this point in time, and the price of one barrel of syncrude in the US is about $121 (almost $10 higher than WTI). Given the current relative prices, the cost of natural gas fuel is almost a minor factor in the process.

    The oil sands producers are making out like bandits these days.


    Thanks for this insight.

    The U.S. would be happy to have Vz build nuke plants to heat water into steam and pump it underground to produce 'our' oil.

    As long as we have installed the right government/leadership to run Vz as our de facto annexed energy Territory.

    Again, not my advocacy in any way...just wondering if this how the chips fall as we become considerably more desperate to slake our oil thirst.

    I am not sure why PVs always end up as the sample energy intervention in feasibility studies. In many climates, PV is at the margin of investment return, while insulation, furnace efficiency, infiltration control, appliance upgrades, etc. make so more sense as priority investments.

    Insulating uninsulated or under-insulated attics has a much higher EROEI and financial return than PV, plus both building codes for new homes and remodels and tax credits/regulations for existing building have excellent records for implementation success. Upgraded building energy efficiency codes approach 100% compliance (except for very few scofflaws).

    This matters because selecting marginal return projects like PV feeds into the "nothing can be done" mindset, while selecting the obvious "low-hanging fruit" of high return investments.

    Similarly, I don't understand why behavior modification ranks above technology implementation in the hierarchy. Convincing people to keep their heating thermostats at 55 ranges from difficult to impossible, while insulating houses to PassivHaus standards actually makes them more comfortable for occupants, while saving much more energy than living at refrigerator temperatures in an under-insulated house.

    Robin, thanks for the priority list from ImechE, and the grid that you have created that addresses scale, the hierarchy, and different objectives and modes. What a great PhD topic. The grid could perhaps be better displayed as an algorithm, and I'm not fond of a couple of the labels, but otherwise, it gets people started thinking about things differently. For example, climate change mitigation as a label is not inclusive of other sink pollution issues that have been predominant recently. Perhaps 4 or 5 separate algorithms, one for each level of scale could be developed as time goes on?

    I agree with Tommy that using PV as a sample intervention is not particularly helpful, especially when net energy values in the 30s are used. I'd go beyond Tommy's statement that PV is marginal; once we remove excess fossil fuels from the system, no one will be putting up PV panels except those with residual wealth, because PV is net negative. Why use the most high tech and negative net as the example, when there are many more beneficial, multi-dimensional shades of gray that come before hightech PV?

    An algorithm that starts with the energy priorities list would be very useful. Tommy has started for the individual in his post above with his list of housing modifications. I can give another personal example of our own inductive process of thinking. Since we live in Alaska, we have exhausted the house conservation and efficiency measures. We then added a wood-fired boiler to the mix as a form of renewable energy added to mix high and low energy in order to maximize the power and to provide resilience through dual fuel backup systems. Our next step goes back up your hierarchy and blends conservation and efficiency with alternative energy and other priorities (clean quality food production in an extended season); we are going to add a passive solar addition to the south side of the house that incorporates a greenhouse. The passive solar will help heat the house, especially in the summer when the wood-fired boiler is off, as a summer alternative to natural gas. If we want to add solar thermal later, we can use the water storage tank below the greenhouse for that, or incorporate it later into the radiant heat system of the house. We can use the water storage for storage of rainwater, perhaps, and for irrigation. And we get safe, non-radiated food to boot and add to our growing season by three or four months. I can even use it as a warm place to sit in the sun, and we will have views of tomatoes out of our window, not a routine Alaskan view. We've maximized mother nature's solar inputs, and yielded higher net energy (heating an Alaskan home and replacing natural gas inputs) and clean, accessible local, safe food without any major moving parts technology. And the cost of all of this will probably be a fraction of a set of PV panels that won't work for most of the year, and will only work when the sun is out in the summer. Let mother nature do the work, because she's been doing it a lot longer than we have and has got it figured out. What's not to love? All of this without any risky non-net, vulnerable, high maintenance technology with limited applications. Using technology is something we do reflexively because we expect and anticipate the fossil fuel supports of BAU. There is a better way. Given choices, using the high tech needs to be the last and inferior solution in a lower-energy world.

    So in this example, we have permaculture principles being used which takes the interventions beyond a focus on just the energy problem, and we are building in resilience, dual, matched high and low energy contributions, allowing as much of the energy to come from low-energy sources as possible, making sure that every process has dual purposes, uses recycling, considers pollution sinks, and doesn't waste heat. So I don't know if there is some way to at least footnote this first attempt to make it consider a multi-dimensional approach in terms of permaculture principles, and make it a useful road map at many levels of scale?

    But, PV is not net negative, in fact it is net strongly positive. In sunny climates the energy payback time is only a couple of years, and getting better as time goes by. I agree that the UK is a poor place for it, but it is becoming a real solution in many places.

    But, PV is not net negative, in fact it is net strongly positive.

    If that were true then there would be a PV system on every roof in the world.

    Net energy positive does not equate to cheap. It is in fact only now coming down in price/cost. Ten years from now, if current trends continue the world will discover it. Thats sort of like arguing in 1980, that computers were obviously nearly useless, because otherwise everyone would have one. Some technologies require major effort sustained across decades before they cross certain thresholds of efficiency/affordability. Computers/electronics has much more than a trillion dollars worth of investment/research which drove the technology. PV seems to have just reached some sort of critical mass, where production costs are being rapidly driven down. A few years back, panels cost maybe $4/watt to manufacture, now some lines are nearing or below a dollar.

    I think there is a difference between "stongly net positive" and "obscenely net positive". Most people get their electricity from coal, with everything else coming in after that. Also, solar has a high up-front cost but may last a long time - this is one question I still don't know the answer to myself, but if a solar cell lasts 50 or 60 years but takes 10 to "pay itself off" energywise, it's still a pretty good investment. The other issue is that solar PV demands the individual be in control of his energy source, while most forms of electric generation assume centralized generation and costs divided over a large group of people (the end users). And, of course, there are the hidden, externalized costs of pollution and waste from all sources, but most strongly from coal and other fossil fuels, followed by nuclear which is clearly much more environmentally damaging than claimed when accidents are properly accounted for.

    I think EROEI is a very flawed measure. I've seen claims that all renewables are better than fossil fuels, claims that nuclear is strongly positive and claims that it is strongly negative, basically no two views of it see the same thing. I have a strong hunch some of the people who see solar as strongly negative would come up with a strong negative on subsistence farming, which history and experience have proved can support human life. I don't even want to think of the numbers they would give for complex, irrigated farmland!

    I think EROEI is a very flawed measure.

    Yet it is incredibly easy to model EROEI in terms of data flow. The energy flow diagrams shown are perfectly suited to do EROEI. The reality is that EROEI has to be the most elementary building block of a comprehensive analysis.

    In other words, whenever you have a process that produces an energy as an output given an energy as an input, you are implicitly doing EROEI!!! Those Stankey diagrams shown above are loaded with EROEI considerations.

    If you think it is flawed, then suggest a way to do it right. The building blocks are all there.

    Perhaps I should say it differently - EROEI is a great idea, but it seems to be useless in helping sort the wheat from the chaff because with different ways of measuring and modeling you can claim anything is good or anything is a waste of time. I think most people here remember the study that came out that showed a Hummer used less energy than a Prius over its lifetime; EROEI is similarly bent by every person that uses it to show the positive or negative values of whatever energy source they prefer or dislike.

    Perhaps before discussing EROEI we should start with a practical consideration of what we want and how to achieve it. I don't think we're even considering the end result we desire, or what we need to maintain to have a good standard of living, or anything else. We're simply trying to increase our energy supply and consumption infinitely. For example, we could have global trade with sailing ships or ships that are under partial sail power, but as of now it's not happening. But this did exist in the past, and perhaps it would be a favorable outcome for the future. Most people aren't talking about that, instead they are thinking "we'll all die and there won't be any trade and I'll have to make coffee substitutes" or "we'll fuel shipping with biofuels and everything will be just fine".

    Increasingly I'm coming to think that we CAN'T plan this out, that logically planning the future is impossible, and that we're just going to have to muddle through as a society. Only on an individual level can we really control our situation. In that real world context, EROEI graphs and studies aren't much use. Imagine you're a politician, and you get an EROEI graph from two think tanks, one that says you should build 30 molten salt reactors and another that says you should build 30,000 windmills and spend a lot on insulation. You're going to go with what you can get passed and with what your biases support.

    EROEI is just a twisted statistic at this point. Until there are believeable figures, it's useless. Like I said, I think some of these people would say that irrigation is net negative, because they consider labor to be very expensive and the practical considerations of building irrigations infrastructure to be huge hurdles. Yet before fossil fuels entire civilizations were supported by irrigated cropland.

    I disagree. Sorry I can't be more specific.

    Maybe we don't have the right people working on the problem. If you actually think something is wrong because you are getting conflicting results, well then hire somebody else to confirm what the correct approach is.

    Somewhere else in this thread, ransu said that the Boston Marathon filled up in the span of 8 hours. Obviously lots of people are willing to sign up to do that kind of exhilarating yet punishing activity. I suggest we have to get people excited in the same way as they would for some competition. This is obviously an absurd proposal, but can you imagine if we offered up the chance to compete to find the best solution in analyzing an energy cycle and establish EROEI?
    You will quickly realize how small this universe is of people willing to tackle these kinds of problems. Like I said we just need the right talent, and we don't have a lot of options. Get that done and then move on to the political part of the equation, which will confront us with a different challenge.

    Wasn't it Debbie Cook who wrote about the power of our stories?

    The problem with models and stats is with who you are trying to convince,not the very few who will understand, who want to understand, and those who have the intelligence to look out beyond themselves in the search for some kind of objective reality to explain what is and what might be?

    Those are not the people with power and influnce IMHO. They, (the researchers/scientists if you will) are too busy trying to understand and do the right thing, and eventually end up at; "GW is bad for our planet...let's fix it...PO will be a nightmare, let's intervene for a better life". Meanwhile, Joe Schmo is buying a cool car to pick up Suzie Q with her new tatoo, and together they will make little consumers with the God given purchasing power rights of those who inherited the earth. etc etc etc.

    Stories can reach all of us. IMHO we need a s**t storm shake-up for a societal wake up and a new willingness to listen because then we will all have to listen. Until then, the story tellers write car commercials and stupid sit-coms because they have to make a living.

    Walden's Pond, Grapes of Wrath, The Little House series including Farmer Boy, and the plethora of 'how to' books should be what we recoomend to all ages of family and friends. Living a deliberate lifestyle of conservation and adjustment to a PO world should be our example. Ride those bikes with your middle finger held high and lose the foolish spandex.

    The power of stories....well here is an example. Harking 45 years back I remember reading about "Pa and ? building the first prarrie home out of wood. I was enraptured, (which might explaing my being a carpenter and shop teacher), and have never forgotten how at the end of the day each nail was picked up and carefully straightened because they were precious. Over the years, filling my nail belt and dripping out nails as I charged back to work, I felt guilt and always swept them up and kept them for some future need. (I have cans and boxes of these mixed fricking nails). My point is that when nails are once again precious and straightened we will have returned to perhaps a lifestyle we should have never left. This rampant consumerism ....orgy of consumption, was an oil fuelled blip and look at the mess we are making trying to hold on to it.

    When this happens, and we all know it will sooner than later, the stats will be able to point out what we should/could have done, and the models will help predict what we should do....or else. Hopefully, the stories will do the rest.


    I don't have quite the talent to be a natural story-teller. My immediate suggestion barring getting the right person is to recycle some of the old ones. My favorite is this old editorial which I remember reading when it first came out:
    Our Petroleum Predicament
    I remember reading it because it was in of all things a fishing (!) magazine and I was just a kid at the time.

    I guess my point is to get different people to work on different parts of the problem, and get the right people for the job. As a specific example, Debbie should run for Congress again (and she could have some benefactor pay all expenses).

    Thanks very much for the link. I would agree; a very high standard of both Editorial integrity and simply conscientious thinking. Interesting he mentions 210M Americans; that is now about 310M?
    This side in Europe we picked up some of the message - I can remember my quipping that Britain would look more like 1947 by the end of the century. (1947 was a memorable year in my childhood when our mostly 'coal-based' economy was simply unable to keep up with a bad winter.) Then came North Sea Oil and the man who was to be the leading Minister in the Thatcher government declaring that 'we' (the West) had cracked all the big problems, technology, health, food, and it was simply a matter of rolling it out worldwide. Guess my young self was wrong, but possibly only by 15 or 20 years.

    (It never did seem likely that the billions of the world would live like Americans ... bizarre idea even in 1970s / 1980s)

    Wish I had read that Editorial - though I was going climbing rather than fishing

    EROEI is important, but I think it is abusively overused on this blog. First we have different qualities of energy. Say producing oil by steam injection has an EROEI of less than one in some particular field. Sounds like a nogo. But if you have a source of waste heat, or can build a low concentration solar thermal plant on site, and oil is greatly in demand, it might still make sense to do it. Then most things we make contain a lot of other resources, physical and human beyond raw energy. Thats why I think cost/price is actually a pretty decent indicator. If something has a low EROEI, and it is sold for its energy content, it will end up being really expensive, so that fact would be reflected in the price.

    But if you have a source of waste heat, or can build a low concentration solar thermal plant on site, and oil is greatly in demand, it might still make sense to do it.

    Which supports why the energy flow arguments are so important. Those are just additional flow channels with some utility function attached.

    I think what you are saying is that if the model is comprehensive enough, then all the hanging EROEI factors get efficiently consumed by nodes within the model. The end result is a system that uses up the energy efficiently with very little going to waste. I can definitely buy into that and agree that high EROEI as a goal all by itself is definitely overused and perhaps misdirected.
    (hmmm, I wonder if that is what X has been complaining about all this time with his ethanol argument?)

    CONCERNING EROEI I haven’t chimed in on this subject for a while so here goes. Is it important? Pretty much depends on what you’re trying to achieve with the effort. Enlightenment? Prediction? Winning an argument?

    So I can only focus on its relevance with respect to the oil patch. Simply it don’t mean crap. Not saying it’s doesn’t having a meaning. Just that no one in the oil patch has ever used EROEI directly nor ever will IMHO. All decisions are made on monetary metrics: money in/out, payout, rate of return.

    Again, not saying that approach doesn’t have its faults But all the best minds on TOD can put together an absolute proof as to why EROEI should be used in making oil/NG investment decisions. Just saying there is no force in the universe that will change our approach. Everyone is certainly welcome to discuss it amongst ourselves but that’s as far as it will go when it comes to making decisions.

    For me personally, I usually find the discussion enlightening.

    re: oil patch
    Of course, why would a capitalistic enterprise concern itself with anything that isn't directly involved with making money hand-over-fist?

    That said, money is a proxy for a bunch of other factors that can't be measured accurately. When you place this in the context of a zero-sum game, which is what the net global effect of all international companies trying to out-capitalize each other, it loses all meaning. In other words, what are we supposed to do? Maximize money? Minimize money? Who knows?

    Energy and entropy can be quantified so that's why we have some tools like this one or others such as hybrid bond graphs that can allow for some sophisticated reasoning. We can maximize energy utility and take advantage of our understanding of the laws of thermodynamics.

    For any company the bottom line is the bottom line. Their objective is to make money, and they are not in a position to operate for any length of time at a loss (Unlike governments which seem to think they can operate indefinitely at a loss).

    However, oil companies have a variety of key indicators that tell them how well they are doing. Return on Investment (ROI) is probably the most important of these. Rather than Energy Return on Energy Invested, it is Money Returned on Money Invested. The useful feature of money is that it reduces everything to a lowest common denominator that tells you unequivocally how well you are doing.

    The EROEI is not very useful from the oil company perspective because they are at the start of the energy production chain, and are creating the energy more or less out of nothing. They are getting a lot of their energy "for free" because there is no energy input from their point of view.

    The EROEI is not very useful for companies at the end of the production chain, either, because they have no energy output. Energy comes into the factory through the electric wires, and widgets go out the factory door. No energy leaves.

    Sure. Yet the purpose of the top level keypost is talking about political and societal changes and how we can make convincing arguments to realize some sort of energy transformation. If money and profits were to play the most significant role in this transformation, wouldn't we just slip back into business as usual? In that case Wall Street would provide the only direction we would need.

    On the project I am involved with professionally, cost is no object but getting things done correctly in a certain time frame is the real constraint. That is where my head is at right now.

    The EROEI is not very useful for companies at the end of the production chain, either, because they have no energy output. Energy comes into the factory through the electric wires, and widgets go out the factory door. No energy leaves.

    The energy can leave as waste and that is the issue. The systems optimization problem is at a much larger scale than the individual corpoartion. I know this all sounds socialistical (as Bush would say) but that's what it may take.

    I'd respond that EROEI is not important, quoting the European Philosopher Zizek "authenticity is what happens after" (theory). The alaskan posting was authentic, the person who insulates his/her attic is authentic, even more
    authentic if they help their neighbors or the poor to do so. With respect to PV there is some authenticity in the individual's implementing it, but even in the admission that not allowing the foolish distant policy maker to burn coal and NG
    for their needs is part of this authentic nature. Much of residential PV (after any state or utility subisidies) is also not the difference between $ allocations of nuclear vs PV et al., but in many cases consumer consumible consumption (aka "we decided not to take our European vacation for the next 3 years, or not buy a new car, etc...). Residential PV is a different animal.

    EROEI is everything. It determines the viability of life. From the tiniest organism to the largest animal. Those who dismiss EROEI are equal to believers in infinite growth.

    The system today has layers of fat. Like a man who owns a coal mine. When the coal was easy to dig he could invest in complexity, tools, a home, wife and children, consumer goods and put on layers of fat. As the coal deposit becomes more difficult to produce, he slowly but unknowingly began to use his layer of fat. When the fat burns away he begins to burn muscle.

    He can dig till he's dead, find a new easy to dig deposit or turn to a new profession. All determined by EROEI. I have no idea why it's so hard for people to come to grips with the concept. Just because the actual figures are complicated and difficult to determine doesn't mean by ignoring or pretending it doesn't exist, it will go away.

    Sure as eggs though we are using the layers of fat to produce and use the last of our descendants inheritance. It's what we do though, I've grown to expect nothing less.

    EROEI is everything. It determines the viability of life. From the tiniest organism to the largest animal. Those who dismiss EROEI are equal to believers in infinite growth.

    Yes. It's just that simple, although setting the boundaries for inputs and doing the calculations can be pretty damned hard (and you will get into a fight).

    Bandits is right: it's everything.

    Read Nate's immortal sasquatch keypost:

    A Net Energy Parable: Why is ERoEI Important?

    Then, for a striking intellectual experience, read HT Odum's article introducing the concept of net energy in the autumn, 1973, issue of Ambio, the journal of the Swedish Academy of Sciences. (I only have a paper copy, but it must be around here somewhere...).

    You don't have to pay any attention at all to EROEI when you're deciding whether or not to produce that well in your south 40 (and ROCKMAN assures us you don't/won't), but civilization -- life itself -- depends upon the net numbers for the various choices facing us.

    During times when energy flows have been tapped and there are no new sources, Lotka's principle requires that those systems win that do not attempt fruitless growth but instead use all available energies in long-staying, high-diversity, steady-state works.

    Whenever an ecosystem reaches its steady state after periods of succession, the rapid-net-growth specialists are replaced by a new team of higher-diversity, higher-quality, longer-living, better-controlled, and stable components. Collectively, through division of labor and specialization, the climax team gets more energy out of the steady flow of available source energy than those specialized in fast growth could.

    Our system of man and nature will soon be shifting from rapid growth as the criterion of economic survival to steady-state non-growth as the criterion of maximizing one's work for economic survival (Figure 1). The timing depends only on the reality of one or two possibly high-yielding nuclear energy processes (fusion and breeder reactions) which may or may not be very yielding,

    Ecologists are familiar with both growth states and steady state, and observe both in natural systems in their work routinely, but economists were all trained in their subject during rapid growth and most don't even know there is such a thing as steady state. Most economic advisors have never seen a steady state even though most of man's million year history was close to steady state. Only the last two centuries have seen a burst of temporary growth because of temporary use of special energy supplies that accumulated over long periods of geologic time.

    7. High quality of life for humans and equitable economic distribution are more closely approximated in steady-state than in growth periods.

    During growth, emphasis is on competition, and large differences in economic and energetic welfare develop; competitive exclusion, instability, poverty, and unequal wealth are characteristic. During steady state, competition is controlled and eliminated, being replaced with regulatory systems, high division and diversity of labor, uniform energy distributions, little change, and growth only for replacement purposes. Love of stable-system quality replaces love of net gain. Religious ethics adopt something closer to that of those primitive peoples that were formerly dominant in zones of the world with cultures based on the steady energy flows from the sun. Socialistic ideals about distribution are more consistent with steady state than growth.

    8. The successfully competing economy must use its net output of richer-quality energy flows to subsidize the poorer-quality energy flow so that the total power is maximized.

    In ecosystems, diversity of species develop that allow more of the energies to be tapped. Many of the species that are specialists in getting lesser and residual energies receive subsidies from the richer components. For example, the sun leaves on top of trees transport fuels that help the shaded leaves so they can get some additional energy from the last rays of dim light reaching the forest floor. The system that uses its excess energies in getting a little more energy, even from so urces that would not be net yielding alone, develops more total work and more resources for total survival. In similar ways, we now use our rich fossil fuels to keep all kinds of goods and services of our economy cheap so that the marginal kinds of energies may receive the subsidy benefit that makes them yielders, whereas they would not be able to generate much without the subsidy. Figure 4 shows the role of diversity in tapping auxiliary energies and maintaining flexibility to changing sources.

    My point was philosophical. I am an engineer, scientist, and farmer (and taught at RPI) so I have some awareness of the narratives of consensus based sciences (see Kuhn), as well as the Mathematics.

    This is not an issue of thermodynamics or biological systems, this is an issue of sociology, probably even theology. The mathematics of addition and subtraction and the symbols and signs of the
    psuedo sciences of finance and economics are more powerful then integration, time series, and lumped parameter systems and the symbols and signs of physics, chemistry and biology. This is not
    about "understanding" and persuasion through syllogistic demonstration, this is about narrative praxis.

    Quoting from Ward's Book "True Religion": "in a neo-tribal culture, only theological communities have the resources… to resist the collapse into pragmatic and transitory values associated with media driven ‘lifestyles'"

    Welcome to the post-modern world.

    You need a better story, and your better story is about implementation (praxis) inside a "theological community". in this context that community could be anything from a professional society (like ASPO) to
    one of the English efforts on sustainability.

    But, PV is not net negative, in fact it is net strongly positive.

    How "strong" is it?

    Can you build one that powers a city, a neighborhood, etc., while powering its own maintenance, repair and replacement? Will it also provide power to convert the "place next door" to similar strongly net-positive solar happiness?

    Where might you be able to do this? When will you demonstrate?

    Even with a a massive FF subsidy for Step One, I've been waiting for decades for this promise to come true. So far, no joy.

    As I said above cost is a good indicator incorporating embedded energy cost as well other inputs. FirstSolar claims production of thin film PV at $.75/watt. The mysterious Alta Devices raised capital claiming it will produce at $.50/watt (and with 30% efficiency to boot). The tea leaf readers dug into patents of their principle scientists and think they have a method for making Gallium Arsenide super thin. There is a lot of action in making crystalline silicon much thinner as well. 1366 tech, is taking a more traditional approch (sawing), but promises a factor of two thinner than current practice. There are at least a dozen startups with more radical technology, promising to make silicon several times thinner than today. The major energy cost of PV, is the polysilicon, so expect EROEI of PV to advance several fold in the next few years.

    I do recall a study by Sandia labs, now a few years old that had energy breakeven of just under three years for crytalline silicon, and under a year for thin film. This was probably for good sunny locations, but the main message is that current products do much better, and whats coming down the pipe should reach energy breakeven in well under a year.

    With all due respect: Don't tell me; show me.

    I've been listening to this same song for at least 40 years.

    I really doubt that PV can ever be more than a niche product, suitable for particular applications but not a major net contributor to a world of bountiful energy for 7-10 billion humans.

    The only sustainable solution is some permutation of fewer humans/less consumption. That's where we're going. The only questions worthy of serious consideration are about how we will get there.

    I see very little evidence that it will be a pleasant trip.

    The only sustainable solution is some permutation of fewer humans/less consumption.

    I agree with that. But, not because of energy. there is soemthing like ten thousand times as much as we use in natural flows (mostly sunlight). So if we get our act together in time, energy need not be the critical resource. But there are lots of materials, whose limited availability will start biting hard. So your prognosis is correct.

    ...not because of energy. there is something like ten thousand times as much as we use in natural flows...

    Well, yes, but... one species does not a steady-state biosphere make.

    Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production

    We probably don't disagree too much on the overall nitty-gritty of the matter. Leaving aside all the other fauna and flora, and even if "sufficient" energy were available, global industrial civilization would be well on the way to peak potable water, peak arable land, peak silver, peak copper, maximum pollution, etc.

    Hey don't knock GaAs, as that was my thesis work. Seriously, consider this inference chain (1) all forms of life get their energy from the sun, (2) solar radiation is essentially electromagnetic energy radiation, and (3) PV material is the most direct conversion from EM source to electrical power that we have yet come across.

    I've been listening to this same song for at least 40 years.

    In research circles, we constantly heard the refrain that "gallium arsenide is the material of the future, and will always remain so". Well, that future day finally came and we find that GaAs runs our cell phones, our CD and DVD players, and a bunch of other things.

    With all due respect: Don't tell me; show me.

    There you go. Eat crow.

    Not even close, Web.

    I wanna see a PV installation power its load while providing sufficient surplus energy to maintain, repair and reproduce itself. At least.

    I was involved in similar research with germanium. It was given up for dead by the 1960's. We decided to mix the germanium with silicon and came up with the material known as SiGe. Its now used in all sorts of high speed wireless and LAN applications. Eat some more crow as you were the one that said 40 years like it was some sort of eternity. I have got one more if you want to challenge me again :)

    Not responsive, Web.

    OK, Last one from my personal arsenal of advancements over the course of 40 years.

    Here is the premise. Most PV cells are composed of sub-optimal materials, such as disordered, polycrystalline, or amorphous silicon, and not the high-quality single-crystal you would find in the device electronics industry. For decades engineers have tried to characterize the non-ideal material and have determined that they don't really understand the current transport mechanisms. Typical results show these long tails when measuring photo-response times. So they punt and call it "anomalous transport". About 35 years ago, Scher and Montroll came up with a complicated theory based on CTRW and dispersion, but to me it didn't pass the smell test and didn't have a real practical use. Last year I came up with my own derivation based on simpler dispersion concepts and wrote it up in The Oil ConunDrum. The model is clean and tighter than a well-digger's borehole.

    With all due respect: Don't tell me; show me.

    I've been listening to this same song for at least 40 years.

    Some of us have actually worked in a lab, been exposed to dangerous acids and fumes and potentially poisonous materials (yes, we work with arsenic and beryllium), and then when we had enough with that, racked our brains trying to unlock the mysteries of physics, only have to deal with scolds like you. Lift a finger yourself.

    I have done plenty of my own heavy lifting, Web. I first designed and installed PV systems 30-or-so years ago. As I have said, they can do a good job serving niche markets. As efficiencies improve and costs come down, they can do that job more effectively. That, I think, is the limit.

    Some of you (some days, I think most of you) have become narrowly-focused reductionists who can't see beyond the confines of your labs and cubicles. In the process, you have so tied your very identities to your areas of special interest (often, the sources of your paychecks) that you perceive blunt criticism of the endeavor as an existential threat. And you react as if it were.

    Your attitude is not the questioning, skeptical, ever-uncertain one of science; it is the fervent, true-believer faith of scientism -- just another religion.

    In the process, you have so tied your very identities to your areas of special interest (often, the sources of your paychecks) that you perceive blunt criticism of the endeavor as an existential threat. And you react as if it were.

    Everything I do here is on my own dime and it is just a hobby to me. That last thing I described is purely amateur science, not funded by anything but my own free time.

    Your attitude is not the questioning, skeptical, ever-uncertain one of science; it is the fervent, true-believer faith of scientism -- just another religion.

    I am as skeptical as every scientist should be. In case you didn't happen to look around this thread, I make mention of two of the top skeptics out there, Shermer and Park ( Click on that link and you can see the attitude I take.

    You and a lot of other people don't understand the conflicted process that scientists go through. Much of the time scientists are called on to identify problems, which may amount to applying healthy bit of skepticism to the current world views. The other half of the time they are called on to finding creative solutions or the creative spark to some solution. And sometimes they can do science just for the sake of discovering something interesting.

    When I finished the The Oil ConunDrum earlier this year, I purposely split the book into two volumes. The first volume has to do with understanding oil depletion and quantifying non-renewable resource constraints. There is a healthy bit of skepticism in those pages trying to disambiguate current data and trying to fill in the missing gaps in our understanding. The second volume is all about creatively evaluating the way the renewable world works and hopefully creating some ideas for other people to latch on to. I understand the conflict and that is why I have the names of the two volumes, #1 is called "Decline" and #2 is called "Renewal". It is all about healthy doubt balanced by optimism. That essentially describes the human condition. I feel fortunate that I can think and write about this kind of stuff whiling away a Sunday afternoon.

    Some of us have actually worked in a lab, been exposed to dangerous acids and fumes and potentially poisonous materials (yes, we work with arsenic and beryllium), and then when we had enough with that, racked our brains trying to unlock the mysteries of physics, only have to deal with scolds like you. Lift a finger yourself.

    So does this mean it is evil to ask for evidence, to not just take someone's word for something? Not everyone _can_ "lift a finger" -- so what are they to do? Just go and believe stuff blindly?! As apparently you can't ask without being a "scold"/bad person.

    I gave evidence of three different cases where "40 years" have passed before some breakthrough occurred with various semiconductor material, some of them prime PV candidates like Si and GaAs. So that shows the art of the possible, and of not giving up.

    Your problem is that you don't understand that I can't give evidence for something that hasn't happened yet! We all know that PV has not yet attained the sustainability threshold. I am enough of a scientist and engineer to know that I can't prove anything without this evidence. Yet, that apparently is enough for the doomers to keep on pressing the issue, and scoffing at anyone showing optimism.

    Not everyone _can_ "lift a finger" -- so what are they to do? Just go and believe stuff blindly?!

    You can start by looking up the history of semiconductor research. All of what I said regarding breakthroughs is readily available on the web.

    Yes, I am a scold and I know another scold when I see one.

    "I wanna see a PV installation power its load while providing sufficient surplus energy to maintain, repair and reproduce itself. At least."

    Do coal and hydropower do this? Nuclear?

    Once again, someone holds PV to a standard not honestly applied to other energy sources. This is indicative of bias, not analysis. Considering that PV's primary life cycle energy input is essentially infinite, most others finite, this is a false, apples/oranges comparison. Considering the dust to dust costs, PV comes out smelling like a rose. We need to burn this strawman.

    I wanna see a PV installation power its load while providing sufficient surplus energy to maintain, repair and reproduce itself. At least.

    Thats not how the stuff gets deployed. Its deployed in a diffuse distributed manner. My panels power doesn't go to a PV production plant, heck any surplus I generate is consumed by my neighbors, and never gets past the distribution transformer. Electricity on the grid is fungible. It would be wildly impractical to grow a new energy source from scratch to largescale using ONLY its own energy output. PV needs scews to be bolted down, therefore it doesn't count until it powers the screw factory, and the factory that smelts the metal for the screws, and the mining equipment .... That becomes an absurd goal. And not doing it says nothing about whether it constributes net energy to the system.

    That was the point of my response. Coal plants don't provide their own coal, nor do they provide the all (much) of the energy to produce and transport the coal they burn, nor all of the energy to build themselves. These folks who insist that PV should be held to this criteria are trying to set up a false argument that won't fly here. They also want to argue that PV is being touted as the silver bullet that will save mankind, etc., an equally dishonest argument. How much time have we wasted on this? Rather than offering proof of their arguments, they expect others to disprove them. I won't waste my time.

    I think we should classify such challenges are argumentation from impurity. Solar will never be unsullied (i.e. somewhere in the chain of inputs some fossil fuel based product will sneak in), therefore it is irredemiably sullied! The conservationist gets challeneged because he doesn't live in a cave, and eat tree bark, "don't listen to him, he's a hippocrit".

    Coal plants don't provide their own coal, nor do they provide the all (much) of the energy to produce and transport the coal they burn...

    They don't? Have you ever seen a big mine-mouth coal-burning power plant?

    They typically move the coal from the mine to the power plant by conveyor belt. Where the mine is farther from the power plant, they can use electric locomotives supplied by the plant to move the coal. The coal mines often use giant electric power shovels or draglines to excavate the coal.

    Meh. I'm glad we plant our kitchen garden on Easter so the plants plant themselves provide their own water, harvest and cook themselves as well (though it's too bad they don't do the dishes).

    When you find a coal-fired plant that builds itself, let me know. I would love to see it ;-)

    How can you even pose an argument like this?

    A coal plant at the mouth of the mine is still burning coal from the mine. It takes PERSISTENT Inputs of that material.. unlike PV, whose power inputs (that we had to bring to it) are complete before it comes out of the cardboard box.

    Still missing the original point: An oil energy system (for example) takes whatever inputs are necessary to construct it and set it in operation (coal, wood, water, wind, horsepower, whatever). It then takes ongoing inputs (oil) and produces sufficient net energy to power its loads, secure its own fuel, subsidize new oil (and solar, nuclear, wind, etc.) infrastructure. None of this is theoretical or merely calculated; it is the history of industrial civilization.

    The problem (to oversimplify and leaving aside AGW, air & water pollution, health concerns, etc.) is that depletion is making it ever harder to obtain the flow of inputs, leaving us less net energy.

    A comment was made, below, to the effect that PV fails to provide positive EROEI. A response asserted that, on the contrary, PV is "strongly" net positive.

    I asked, "How strong is it?" Can it, given "PERSISTENT" inputs of depletion-proof photons (which have the same role here as coal or oil in comparable scenarios), power its load, power its repairs and replacement, subsidize additional infrastructure, etc.? Can it do what oil has done?

    The response was lectures on the advances in crystalline and thin film technologies, claims of 1- or 3- or 6-year paybacks, explanations of the wonders of CdTe, etc. (I may not be totally accurate here; I'm probably generalizing from all of the other times I've heard these lectures).

    I said I want to see a demonstration, not just hear claims, which we've all been hearing for a very long time. That made the PV proponents angry and scornful.

    Really, folks, if the PV claims are true, you should be able to do it. One of those "solar breeders" we've been hearing about should be built and the world should be able to begin to see real evidence for PV's EROEI. It's even OK with me if you build the first one in the Sahara, cuz ya gotta start somewhere (but you can expect us to be skeptical if you want to extrapolate your Sahara results to general cases).

    We all know that calculating EROEI is extraordinarily difficult, much more so for a technology that has always been subsidized by surpluses of the currently-dominant energy sources. We know that we haven't even been able to agree on the boundaries. So, let's see it in the real world.

    I know some of you are going to argue that this is an unfair test, that PV doesn't have to be able to meet this challenge in order to be a valuable and important part of our energy mix. And that's true, just as it is true that it might make sense to produce an oil field with minimal net returns, if we had, say, an excess of electrical power in its region and a dearth of liquid fuels.

    However, whatever sources make up the foundations of our mix going forward will collectively have to meet my challenge. Or the lights will go out.

    Really, folks, if the PV claims are true, you should be able to do it. One of those "solar breeders"

    A bit tiresome this deal of yours. Let me take the most simple example. At some level photosynthesis is PV because it transforme EM into an electrical signal (energy=charge*voltage) which then drives a chemical engine. The plant thus grows on solar energy (while drawing nutrients and water, which is fair because that's what we do as well). It then reproduces which is the same thing as what you are asking for, an energy producing machine that can sustain itself. Proof of concept, a "solar breeder", voila.

    This won't be good enough for you but it is no skin off my nose. I don't do doomer posts and prefer to look on the optimistic side and perhaps generate some sparks of creativity for others to feed off of. Get it? If we feed off of each others ideas, we are practicing that self-sustaining process that you claim is way difficult.

    You just can't help being unpleasant, inappropriately condescending, and unresponsive, can you, Web? No, let me revise that: You probably could help it, but reacting that way to challenge is the best coping mechanism you've come up with and it makes you feel validated, in some way.

    I don't do doomer posts and prefer to look on the optimistic side...

    I won't bother to dissect that self-characterization, beyond noting that it is profoundly unscientific.

    Thanks for the photosynthesis lesson. I was wondering how that works. ;^)

    OK, I apologize for starting this off by saying "eat crow" but it is fun to once in a while crow about the fact that something you worked on years ago has entered the mainstream, and that it gives you some confidence that whatever you set your sights on right now may have a significant impact in the future. Maybe that classifies as profoundly unscientific, or it may be just a case of being in the right place at the right time, or of listening to the right advice.

    However, whatever sources make up the foundations of our mix going forward will collectively have to meet my challenge. Or the lights will go out.

    Your challenge?! LOL, that pretty much tells me all I need to know about how you view the world.

    For the record,one could do a lot worse than sailing alone under a pitch black starry night with nothing but some solar powered navigation lights...

    I'm beginning to actually hope that the lights go out sooner than later. It might help people understand the kind of paradigm change that will be necessary going forward. As for non fossil fuel based sources of energy being able to power some form of industrial civilization, I can't for the life of me imagine that it couldn't be done.

    It just won't be anything like the one that so many people are still so desperately clinging to... it's time to let it go! The era of cheap, readily abundant, petroleum is over. Deal with it.

    Your challenge?! LOL, that pretty much tells me all I need to know about how you view the world.

    Does it? I think you might discover, if you bothered to try, that you are jumping to unjustifiable conclusions.

    As for non fossil fuel based sources of energy being able to power some form of industrial civilization, I can't for the life of me imagine that it couldn't be done.

    That's about as vague a statement as I can "imagine." So vague, really, as to have no meaningful content.

    This is the sort of intellectual sloppiness that tells me, again and again, that I need to stop wasting my time and energy in pointless discussions like this. I keep coming back; after all, the compulsion to try to do something is powerful. But it's definitely weakening.

    That's about as vague a statement as I can "imagine." So vague, really, as to have no meaningful content.

    In that case see WHT's little lesson on photosynthesis for starters. I thought that was pretty darn meaningful content.

    Though I'm not sure you actually got his bigger point. On the other hand if you want to see a blueprint of a renewables based industrial society of hairless apes, by hairless apes for hairless apes, then you will actually have to roll up your sleeves and help draw it, because it is a work in progress and there is no guarantee that it will ever be finished to the satisfaction of the hairless apes who want to continue in the nonrenewable energy based industrial society paradigm.

    Hint, planning on using non renewable energy sources is not a very good long term basis for a stable industrial society.

    I'm going to drop this, for now.

    I will note, however, that none of the renewables cornucopians have actually responded in a straightforward fashion to the straightforward question/challenge I posed about PV.

    What they have done is wasted a lot of bandwidth attacking me for asking a simple, tough question; posted a long stream of tangential and obfuscatory silliness; made all sorts of laughably wrong assumptions about my motives, preferences and understanding of the issues (and, of course, resorted to the usual incivility).

    If we drop into another thread, at random, we might find the nuclear cornucopians, or the carbon-capture true believers, attacking the solaristas (and me) with the same passionate self-assurance, the same practiced avoidance of the most fundamental questions, and the same boiling contempt for skeptics and heretics.

    It all, very often, looks and sounds to me more like belief than knowledge, more like religion than science.

    laughably wrong assumptions about my motives

    You were the one that demanded that I explain my motivations. I only came back with the suggestion that you go first by way of courtesy.

    Actually, anyone that needs to know my rationalization only need to read the introduction to The Oil ConunDrum.

    I haven't seen a convincing challenge to the NREL studies that showed PV replacing its embodied Energy in that range of 1 to 3 years, compared to a life-expectancy that's on the order of a few decades, and this in large part leaves me confident that PV is a renewable source that is worth pursuing and investing in. Beyond that is the fairly reasonable prospect of being able to recapture dead PV and other Silicon Electronics in a much less energy intense replacement system.

    Since there are also many other ways to produce Solar Electricity (many ramifications of using the heat, essentially), I'm not worried that this challenge (Solar making solar) would be possible.. it just seems unnecessary and basically argumentative. Surplus energy is clearly available from Wind, Water and Solar.

    PV has particular advantages with it's flat profile and extreme simplicity and durability.

    If you have a counter study to the NREL, I'd be happy to see it.


    OK, a straightforward response deserves careful consideration.

    I need, first to ask which NREL studies you rely upon. I've probably seen 10 or more on PV, with varying focus and application.

    My usual problem with similar studies is that I think they produce overly optimistic results by drawing the input boundaries too narrowly, but I'll be glad to look at any specific one(s) you suggest.

    There are any number of studies suggesting much longer paybacks than are accepted by most PV enthusiasts, and a couple that attempt to resolve conflicting results by meta-analysis. I'll find some cites.

    I think the most useful and thorough methodology is based on that used by Odum in Environmental Accounting. The specifics of the analysis he presents there don't apply particularly well to domestic rooftop panels in mass production, and much has changed since 1996, but he illustrates the importance of including inputs that most analyses simply ignore.

    I'm not worried that this challenge (Solar making solar) would be possible.. it just seems unnecessary and basically argumentative. Surplus energy is clearly available from Wind, Water and Solar.

    That's the sort of fuzzy assertion that I think needs to be challenged. How much surplus? In addition to how much consumption per-capita/per-annum, for how many humans? How do we know?

    If a significant portion of that surplus (required for maintenance, repair, replacement) is expected to come from PV, why hasn't a proof-of-concept "solar breeder" even gotten past the conceptual stage?

    Does this really seem merely argumentative? Is questioning the reality (or otherwise) of PO merely argumentative?

    Doesn't the future (or lack thereof) of civilization depend upon the answers to such questions? Why wouldn't everyone want real-world evidence?

    I believe that SW had an affiliation with NREL or SERI before that. He might have volunteered some first-hand information if you hadn't ticked him off so much. LOL

    You still haven't realized that we can't give you evidence of something that hasn't happened yet. If we did, we would be lying, and that is unscientific. Yet, we can show some optimism and look at the trends, thus maintaining our credibility.

    I don't think anyone will actually do a clean-room experiment of a closed loop "solar breeder" as you suggest because it is pretty darn silly in the greater scheme of things. There was a study of stationary bicyclists generating electricity for a household in England a few years ago, and it was just a spectacle that didn't prove anything. They were well under what the household required but anyone could have figured this out before they even attempted it. Same goes for what you are suggesting. As soon as EROEI>1 happens we will know it, and to do a special engineering setup is really pointless.

    Here's a link to the "Brochure Level" NREL statement, which offers the 1 to 4 year range, depending on various chemistries and assumptions. A list of referenced Studies is at the bottom of the article.

    And this is a selection from one of the contributing sources, the Tucson Electric study of their PV installation in Springerville, AZ.

    Energy Payback and Emission Reduction

    A question often asked of PV generating plants is how long does it take to payback the energy required and emissions generated from fossil fuels to manufacture the PV system components. A study conducted by the Solar Hydrogen Education Project for the Springerville generating plant provides an insight into energy payback times as well emission mitigation associated with utility-scale PV systems [13]. The study found that the total energy embodied in the life cycle of the Springerville PV plant is 12,352 kWhac per kWdc of installed PV. The modules account for 88% of this embodied energy and the BOS accounts for the remaining 12%. The energy payback time for the Springerville systems is 2.8 years. The mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHG) through PV generation was also examined. The GHG - carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane – are defined in terms of CO2 equivalent emissions.

    The electricity produced by the Springerville plant over its 30-year life reduces GHG emissions by 36.5 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions per kWdc of installed PV. This is a 91% reduction in GHG emissions compared to the electricity produced by a typical U.S. fossil-fueled power plant.

    And to answer the later question, Yes, it does seem essentially argumentative.. or possibly just as well, that it is simply a persistent focus on the wrong questions, if one wants to see whether PV is worth the effort/money/energy required to create it.

    Yes, we must be answering the questions of 'what are we to do?'.. but I am saying that this recurring demand that PV makes more PV is like saying 'we need to have our Milk supply make more milk'. We see 'real world experience' with PV already.. that suggestion is begging for a parlour trick, I believe.

    There are power sources, renewable ones included, whose output would be far better suited to such a job than PV is. (Probably Large Hydro, or wind-pumped storage.. as I said before) PV is very good as a rooftop source, but beyond that, it is simply phenomenal as a portable power supply, large and small. (Going back to the already ubiquitous examples of the Highway Alert Signs and the Desk Calculators.) The highway example need not be seen as advocating for our current driving system, of course.. but to show the spread of powered applications just between those two examples can support a great range of needs, many of which still use some of the most INefficient generators and batteries to accomplish their work today. Remotely Used Tools, Timers, Lights, Signals, Sensors and Communications can be ideally served by a modest amount of PV in ways unmatched by other sources.

    It's a clean, portable, extremely SIMPLE power source. I'd be interested to see Odum's boundaries again.. if you find it in a clearly stated format, I'd be grateful, as I've found his descriptions very cumbersome in the past.

    (Here's a study you might find interesting. It offers a great deal of detail about its boundaries, methods and assumptions. Seems to conclude 3 to 6 years for its version of Energy Payback, which works to account for neutralizing environmental impact, while going up to 25 years when weighing in with the "Umweltbelastungspunkte, UBP" emissions standard, while the authors take pains to remind the reader of the narrow geography that some of their source data stemmed from.)

    Yes, I know the Tucson Electric study. I think it's fairly optimistic, but it's certainly respectable work.

    Thanks for going to the trouble of careful replies.

    The Swiss study looks very interesting. Thanks, especially, for that.

    I know Odum is difficult. I really struggled with emergy, and I know that it remains controversial. I'm convinced, though, that it is the best tool we have to do this kind of accounting. We're just not very good at using it, yet.

    I found Environmental Accounting slow going (and I had exceptional tutorial help), but I came to believe that it is an essential part of the canon for environmentalists and energy geeks. HT was one of the smartest guys to visit this planet in a long time.

    The Wikipedia article on emergy isn't bad, really:

    For Web: The "solar breeder" certainly isn't my idea. It was, not long ago, a highly-touted BP project that seems to have been canceled (I guess they're "Beyond PV" now). Even more recently, a Japanese-led consortium was making exorbitant claims... wait... Here:

    The Sahara Solar Breeder Project is a joint Japanese-Algerian universities plan to use the abundant solar energy and sand in the Sahara desert to build silicon manufacturing plants, and solar power plants, in a way that their products are used in a "breeding" manner to build more and more such plants. The project's declared goal is to provide 50% of the world’s electricity by 2050, using superconductors to deliver the power to distant locations.

    The project was first proposed by Hideomi Koinuma from the Science Council of Japan, at the 2009 G8+5 Academies' Meeting in Rome.

    Emphasis mine (couldn't resist). The entry is a little short on detail. ;^)

    Given the development and trend of your posts, I think it's fair to conclude that both of you actually agree that the answer to "how strong is it" is "strong enough for selected applications." Neither of you appears to truly believe that PV can reach the EROEI levels that FF provided to build and drive global techno-industrial civilization.

    I've always thought pretty much the same thing, although I suspect that PV is less positive than optimists believe. As I said early in this thread, I installed my first PV system 30 or so years ago. I've used PV dozens of times since. It's a fine niche technology. And, yes, It's getting better.

    If I've unfairly lumped you guys together with the over-the-top PV worshipers, I'm sorry.

    You know how I have to close this. The question remains: Is there a renewable (or a mix) that can "do what oil did?" I think there almost certainly is not and that the consequences for human civilization are likely to be dire, because we have failed for decades, and continue to fail, to turn our attention to the reduction, conservation, downsizing, acceptance and embrace of limits that have always been our only hope. It's getting very late in the day.

    Cheers, then, for now. Thanks.

    I'm back to my oars!


    Is this a question of "Solar PV Only" or of "Solar electricity generation in general"? Because IF solar-thermal generation can meet the criteria, it is CLEARLY and UNDENIABLY capable of producing all inputs required to reproduce it in very short order. I've done the detailed calculations for the Egyptian Sahara, 100 km inland, and the 105 MW solar thermal generating station could readily operate a) the pumps required to supply seawater to the generation evaporators b) the pumps and vacuum pumps needed to then de-salinate the cooling water for drip irrigation of (if I recall correctly) 100 hectares of farmland c) an 80 MW aluminum smelter capable of producing new aluminum from raw bauxite equivalent in mass to the total mass of the solar collector farm, including polished aluminum sheet reflector parabolic troughs, every three months. d) additional aluminum sufficient to trade for the steel required to produce the turbine generators and pumps and misc. equipment in 1 month. e) an electric railway from inland to a seaport for import of bauxite, export of aluminum and agricultural products in 2 weeks. f) Sufficient electricity for comfort conditioning and all other uses for the plant and farm staff residences continuously available.

    Not much else left.

    4.5 months output to duplicate a generating facility good for 25+ years. Good enough? At calculated 15% efficiency insolation to electricity, it's not far off typical PV efficiencies. How much more energy-intensive is amorphous silicon v.s. metalic aluminum?

    This is good stuff and progress will only be forward. That's what people tend to forget. Only if we start getting stupid will we regress in capabilities.

    I'm not sure really what Kall is suggesting between PV and other Solar options..

    as I indicated in my answers, we've got all these BB's, and we'd better use them.

    The 'ultimate question' of Can this do what Oil Did? is again the WRONG question. The question is 'Can it help support us through this?' .. and again, this does not mean 'Support Happy Motoring, so that I can say PV means painless PO' It's a chronic misreading of those who support renewables.

    When I hear that PV is a 'Niche' product, I wonder if the speaker would also call Magnesium a Niche Nutrient in my body? Small in volume, and perhaps costly.. but does that relegate it to a "Luxury" status?

    That view of it being a niche product is subjective and has no scientific basis. I question your motives :) :)

    Seriously, Thanks for ending this thread ended on a positive note.

    Do coal and hydropower do this? Nuclear?

    Coal (and oil) plants, for as long as in the inputs are in adequate/affordable supply, yes, obviously they do; that's how we got here. (Of course, there are those minor problems of depletion, pollution...)

    Nuclear? Certainly not, in any form that has yet seen commercial operation.

    Edit: Hydropower? Sure, in some places.

    Those of you arguing that FF plants don't reproduce their own inputs are missing the point: They haven't had that burden (until recently, when it has mostly been ignored). PV (like other renewables) won't have that burden either, and its input isn't likely to be subject to depletion in any time frame we need to consider. That should make it easier to meet the challenge. ;^)

    One more for Ghung:

    Once again, someone holds PV to a standard not honestly applied to other energy sources.

    I''m not sure whether you actually read the thread. The response was to an assertion that PV is strongly net-positive. I don't believe it is, and I challenged proponents to demonstrate the claim (using a deliberately over-simplified scenario).

    Ultimately, whatever energy mix is adopted to meet the needs of a post-FF civilization must, in the aggregate, meet that challenge: power the load; provide energy to maintain, repair and reproduce itself; subsidize the construction of other sources, if growth is envisioned.

    The claims that renewables can achieve this, assuming anything like our present population and socio-economic dynamics, just aren't convincing. Thus, my continuing challenge: show me.

    The assertions that coal and/or nuclear can satisfy those requirements, without making the planet uninhabitable in the process, are similarly unimpressive; in those cases, we have long and dismal histories to inform our skepticism.

    The most likely (I think probably inevitable) outcome of our present predicament is one or another version, more or less dire and dramatic, of dieoff and reduction of consumption. I think we'd be best served by applying our energies and resources to softening the landing, rather than chasing impossible magical technosolutions, but I know I'm in a distinct minority. And I think I know why.

    "Can you build one that powers a city, a neighborhood, etc., while powering its own maintenance, repair and replacement?:

    Energy payback for silicon cells is a year. Another year for the panel hardware and cheap mounts. Possibly a couple more years if you want a stand-alone tracking array. That part is is done.

    The real problem in you desire to have PV cells made only by PV generated electricity is that the silicon production plants and remelting facilities need extremely reliable power. So they tend to be found near hydroelectric plants or in the center of large power grids. Note this article from last summer. Two weeks it took to get the plant restarted and back to full production.

    Obviously flipping the switch and going home at sundown is not an option for them. Unless you have a a LOT of those MGK sodium sulfur batteries PV will not get you through the night with an industrial process.

    On the other hand, for summer peaking demand in the areas that need AC, things are very different.

    I keep hearing about this summer peaking but we really need the A/C late afternoon/evening/early night. Mornings are normally fine. How does the solar help this as much of this time is after dark?


    The peak is late afternoon. It is possible to shift demand a bit by programming thermostats to cool a couple of extra degrees before late afternoon, and let the indoor temp rise a couple of degrees in the early evening. There is a significant drop in demand at 5PM as a lot of industry shuts down at that time. (I remember this from fishing in Wisconsin), right at 5PM the (hydro tapped) river level would dramatically drop.) Its not a perfect match, but its not a bad one either. Peak is actually before 5PM, so southwest facing PV is a good match.

    If people planted trees to shade west facing walls, the evening demand would be cut substantially.

    Does the phrase Thermal Loading mean anything to you? Or maybe Thermal Mass is more appropriate?

    Say I'm on grid only power and I want my house to not exceed 77 degrees F (25C). My best bet for power efficiency is not to vary the thermostat much so I'll leave the setting at 75 in the morning before the sun gets above the trees, 76 in the morning after the sun is high, 77 in the afternoon/evening when the heat is either direct or is coming out of the attic.

    Say I'm on Solar PV + Grid and the Solar is cheaper per KW/h than the grid. I can instead have the thermostat programmed to do something like 75, 74, 74, 77 with the 74s at times when I have solar power and the 77 for when the sun is down. This is all gut level estimates, maybe I'd have to adjust the numbers slightly to find the break even or gain levels but essentially I'm suggesting you can cool the house while the sun is up and let the temp rise slightly when you go grid only on those hot summer days. In the process you get a few degrees cooler temps in the house at the peak cooling times and save a little on the electric bill. Once it goes from the 74 to 77 period there will be a time where no AC runs for minutes or hours depending on the outside temp and the thermal properties of the house but the programmable thermostat can also control fan speeds for the system so during the afternoon/evening period I program it to run the fan on continuous to get that slight wind chill effect.

    Also if the outside temp drops below the inside temp even if you are on Grid it's cheaper for the heat pump to run at that time than during the bright sun/hottest part of the afternoon. So Solar PV is reducing the cost of the cooling at the most difficult phase for the heat pump and it's lack of presence at late evening is offset by improved efficiency of the heat pump when the outside temp drops.

    Just make sure your attic is vented and insulated enough to reduce/delay the heat transfer until the evening so that the outside temp helps your heat pump cool things off more efficiently.

    My thermostat lets me program 4 time periods in 15 min increments and I adjust the time periods as the seasons change to more closely match the time I want the heat or cool to kick in. Everyone talks about how a programmable thermostat is best for people that leave the house but I think even if you are home all day a programmable thermostat can help you shave some AC use off your bill by timing the heating/cooling to periods when your heat pump is more efficient.

    I think the key ways to minimize your AC power consumption is to
    1) Use natural cooling (opening windows) as often as you can. Our goal is to always get the house cooled down as much at night as we can and get it sealed up (windows and blinds closed) before it starts to warm up outside in the morning.
    2) Never run the AC when no one is home.
    What this means is that on most days the house is still comfortable when we get home and we don't need to use the AC. Sometimes we need to turn it on for a few hours after we get home from work until the outside temperature/humidity drops to the point where we can open the windows again. On rare occasions, the outside temperature/humidity doesn't drop enough for us to be able to open the windows at night. If we did have to run the AC all night, we'll still turn it off when we leave for work.

    Of course we had a neighbour who just kept their AC running even after it had cooled down outside. This was rather annoying as their AC unit was located beside our patio.

    I use trees to minimize my AC power consumption. Once they get big enough, they shade the entire house. At one time I had an AC unit, but I gave it away because I didn't need it any more.

    Then in the fall, when they drop their leaves, they let the solar heating through until they leaf out in spring.

    You have to be patient, though. Not that patient, though - when I was young they told me that trees grow slow, but they lied. With a little encouragement, they grow at two feet a year to start with, and then they accelerate. Ten years after you plant it, you have a tree that's twice as high as your house.

    When they get too big, you can cut down the surplus trees and use them for firewood.

    1. doesn't work in an area where it rains half the time. Even when it isn't raining the humidity is likely too high. I wouldn't be able to keep a loaf of bread more than a day without it molding if I opened my windows in the summer.

    1a. as mentioned by others the best natural cooling is a tree. Not only is the shade a way to prevent the heat from entering the house but the evaporation from the moisture in the leaves actually cools the air around the tree. Google gives me this[]=2 as the first hit

    "The evaporative force to move water through a tree is generated by the dryness of the air. The ability of the air to evaporate water depends upon the water content gradient between the air and leaf surface. At 98% relative humidity (moist!) in the air at 70°F, the air is still 100 times dryer than the inside of the leaf. Trees are always losing water. Only in fog, which is 100% relative humidity, would water not evaporate from the leaf. In addition, temperature provides energy for evaporation. For every 18°F increase in temperature, almost twice the amount of water evaporates from the tree."

    2. doesn't work if the only time the house is typically unoccupied is for 30 minute trips to a store. In my case My 70 year old father is here most of the time, I'm here most of the time, my girlfriend is here most of the time. Those times overlap such that there may be 3, 2, 1 or 0 people in the house but 0 is so rare and infrequent it's more energy efficient to just leave the heat pump on a programmed schedule based on the outside temp than it is to program it based on presence or absence of occupants.

    2a. I do take advantage of sleep periods when it comes to heating and to a lesser extent cooling (I can't imagine a night hot enough that the AC would be running at 4am).

    2b. I do override the schedule manually if I know I'll be out of the house for an extended period (like going to a movie at a theater when no one else will be home or a family gathering across town) but those are rare occasions.

    I keep hearing about this summer peaking but we really need the A/C late afternoon/evening/early night.

    No problema...

    Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with this manufacturer in any way.
    But their solar AC system is pretty cool >;^)

    The Sedna Aire Solar Absorption Air Conditioning system cools by evaporating liquid
    R407c (environment friendly) The Solar Absorption medium inside the Solar panel acts
    as a storage tank to maintain the required temperatures needed for the cooling process.

    With the Solar Absorption tank, the cooling process is maintained for approximately 96
    hours without the need of the Sun's light or heat.
    The heated medium also acts as an
    absorbent to the refrigerant through the solar panel process.

    With this process, Sedna Aire maintains its energy required for the cooling of the controlled space.
    In the simplest terms…the Sedna Aire solar air conditioner at 85° F or above
    outside air temperature has (in lose terms) zeroed out the need and use of a
    compressor and below 85° F outside temperature reduced its running time to almost
    nothing….a conventional 12,000 Btu compressor uses approximately 6 plus amps
    (1320 watts) of electricity to maintain a room temperature of 70° F and a Sedna Aire
    solar unit will use 3 total running amps (660 watts). A conventional unit will blow
    approximately 55° F of return cold air back into the cooling space and a Sedna Aire
    unit 46° F…your desired ambient room temperature is achieved faster and
    maintained more efficiently.

    I agree with Tommy that using PV as a sample intervention is not particularly helpful, especially when net energy values in the 30s are used. I'd go beyond Tommy's statement that PV is marginal; once we remove excess fossil fuels from the system, no one will be putting up PV panels except those with residual wealth, because PV is net negative. Why use the most high tech and negative net as the example, when there are many more beneficial, multi-dimensional shades of gray that come before hightech PV?

    The aspect which is always missed when Solar PV comes up is resilience. Solar PV is about the only way of domestic households generating electricity themselves, independent of a grid. Therefore solar PV is one of the few approaches that can semi-decouple the household from dependence on the outside world - allowing them to continue.

    Forget EROEI, that's it's key characteristic and enough reason for implementing it.

    Hear, hear.

    Hi tommyvee,

    Why is PV often used energy analysis studies?

    It is more accessible than most diffuse energy coverters making it interesting and topical

    Direct sunlight is the largest flow energy resource available leading to talk of solar powered economies. Pvs are most mature and best understood method for converting this resource into usable electricity

    PV is sexy. It involves advanced manufacturing techniques and science. It therefore awakes interest more readily than wooly jumpers in winter (for some at least)

    In the UK and some other countries there is an additional reason; namely the appearance of FIT schemes to promote renewable resources. This is a polemical and sometimes vicious debate where impartial evidence is sorely needed. (see )

    I do agree that far more attention should be directed towards the “low hanging fruit” you mention, namely priorities 1 and 2 in the energy hierarchy above.

    I don't understand why behavior modification ranks above technology implementation in the hierarchy.

    Behaviour modification, in itself, is not as difficult as you say. It is quite easy to alter the behaviour of millions of people if you control the levers of power. The rate of smoking, for example, in many European countries is falling rapidly, largely because of the spate of indoor smoking bans.

    Policies that could reduce energy consumption that I've considered are:
    Rising block electricity tariffs
    Energy rationing.
    OK, perhaps these interventions are not politically feasible in the current climate, but then again nor is almost any other rational energy policy. Technological solutions require material inputs, R&D costs, maintenence. Behavioural solutions merely require altered information flows. That is why the ImechE places energy conservation at the top of their energy hierarchy.


    Regarding your parameter Ef, you might find my comparison of automobile, bicycle and electic bicycle performance useful. Please note that there is a level of physical activity corresponding to a minimum food intake, and that many in technologically advanced societies are so sedantary as to remain below this minimum. So, a certain level of bicycle use actually decreases food intake, and the electric bicycle can encourage the attainment of this level. Motorization means an increase in overall utility as the bicycle becomes practical for more trips, especially if electric bike regulations are relaxed to encourage high speed use.

    Considering that half the adult people in the US are overweight and nearly 20% are obese, I would say that the extra food calories required for riding a bicycle are not needed. Furthermore, many people visit the gym or health club to exercise and pay a fair price to do so, yet frown on the idea of riding the bicycle a mile or two to the store to buy a couple items. They would rather waste the money on gas and at the gym.

    Until gas is in short supply they will continue the same behavior. Same goes for energy used in heating and powering a house; 90% of people are complacent, just dail up the thermostat when the cold seeps in. I told my neighbor, after she complained about cold air blowing in around AC unit, that she could reduce the heating bill if the AC unit was covered with insulation and a plastic bag, then tape plastic sheet on inside (apt. building owner had these available to us). But she took no such action as I could hear her heat running three times as often as mine. Most would rather do nothing and just complain about their situation, perhaps expecting the government to bail them out, IMHO.

    frown on the idea of riding the bicycle a mile or two to the store to buy a couple items

    These people have no means to carry anything and would not be caught dead riding a bicycle with a basket. They also wear Spandex.

    How true! LOL.
    When I bike in to work I go right past a gym and have to laugh at the people who DRIVE to the gym. What's worse, the gym doesn't even have a bike rack in front of it. Heeellloooo. I know some of the spandex crowd who do their spinning classes in the winter so they'll be competitive in the spring. Only in America! What a country!

    I still have one foot on either side of that fence. My commuter bike is an old converted mountain bike with a rack, fenders, and lights. It does nicely going to the store with a plastic milk crate attached to the rack. I managed to commute through the Pennsylvania winter months this year, although I draw the line at about 25 degrees F. If it's colder than that I'll take the bus. I still tool around on my racing bike, although I have no illusions of ever being competitive. It is fun to go fast and to look good, but if I had to choose one bike or the other, I think I'd take the bike that is practical and useful.

    Heh, just put a basket on mine to make the short shop trips easier and give me a bit more capacity for the big shop trips :) Oh, and NO Spandex.


    Hi mbnewtrain, I agree at face value with the idea that most people eat an excess of food and therefore an additional activity may not, in itself, cause an increase in food consumption. By contrast, if inactive people take up cycling this may lead to a reduction in food consumption as they will be thinking about things other than food. I made this preliminary assumption clear in the paper published in energy policy:

    Bicycles are sometimes portrayed as ‘the zero emission
    option’. This statement is clearly misleading with respect to bicycle manufacture (unless second-hand bicycles are used), even though the implied emissions from bicycle manufacture are around 1% of those associated with car manufacture. In the usage stage however the phrase appears, at face value, to be correct.23

    In the academic world, however, where evidence is king, however, you need a peer reviewed study to justify almost every single assumtion you make. So I did a fairly extensive search on this question exactly and the best evidence I could come up with was a paper by Coley et al (2002).

    This is my reasoning:

    He calculated the chemical and embodied energy of the additional food used by cyclists to be 94 and 539 kj/km respectively, assuming a fixed embodied:chemical energy ratio of 5.75. It is assumed that the change in food demand from driving is negligible.24

    I share your gut feeling that cycling does not increase food intake for small distances (say 5 miles/day to and from work). But I cannot find any evidence to support this gut feeling. If anyone finds any I would be very grateful to see it and can incorporate it future work.

    This question is particularly salient for me at the moment as I have recently cycled ~350 km from Santander in northern Spain to Riaza, 100 km North of Madrid. I can attest to having greater appetite than usual and, in all probability, consuming more calories. I know this is on a different order of magnitude (~100 km/day) than the usual daily commute, but if I were to assume a linear relationship, this would mean even small distances would lead to higher food consumption for me.

    Regarding your point about obesity, any ideas about the correlation between BMI and colorific intake? Sure it is positive, but wonder if sedentary lifestyles mean you don't have to consume hugely more calories to maintain your weight if you are already fat. Pure conjecture here, I need more info.

    Regarding your point about gyms, I could assume that additional cycle trips replace trips to the gym, but this does not seem to be a reasonable assumption. I could assume in the model that cyclists tend to eat healthier food in general and therefore the food costs would be negligeable, as you say.

    However, I cannot, unfortunately find any evidence to support my belief.

    Many thanks for this, it is a hugely important question, and one I hope will get cleared up in time.


    This set of charts is a great resource because one can actually do some interesting trade-off studies with the numbers.

    Hi CyclemotorEngineer,

    Thanks a lot for this import contribution. Sorry I've taken so long to reply - thought I'd pick the low hanging fruit first! You can see my reasoning behind the Efood calculation in the paper and in response to mbnewtrain.

    I must concede the evidence you present seems to contradict my assumption of a linear relationship between addition km cycled and additional food consumed due to physical activity. This graph in particular is particularly interesting. If it is right (which is highly plausible), my assumptions about Ef wrong:

    Level of activity vs food consumption

    Either way, I do point out in the article that Efood is smaller than fuel savings and the energy costs of replacing cars which inevitably degrade over time. Also I do state that Ef would be less of an issue if it is tackled by public policy promoting healthy eating - an unexplored link between transport, health, and energy policy.

    Still, your comment is an important contribution which suggests a flaw in one component of my energy analysis. I hope to follow up your point (do you have any of the original sources behind that graph?) and include in any future work on the energy implications of modal shift.

    Robin, lovelacerobin at yahoo dot com

    Hi Robin,

    Thank you for your reply.

    The graph was generated from numbers found in Mayer (1956) and Prentice (2004). The other references indicated how difficult it is to determine what level of mechanical output corresponds to "light" physical activity. In the spreadsheet used for the other graphs, I assumed this was 5 leisurely pedaled miles per day, or about 60 mechanical Watt-hours. This also happened to be the level of daily exercise recommended for optimal health by the US Surgeon General in 2005.

    For activity levels corresponding to excess food requirements, a food intake factor of 0.33 was assumed, from Stubbs (2002), which states: "Markedly increasing energy expenditure through exercise produced significant but partial compensations in energy intake (33% of energy expenditure due to exercise). Accurate adjustments of energy intake to acute increases in energy expenditure are likely to take weeks rather than days." But such longer term studies were not found in my 2008 literature search. My anecdotal experience suggests that an accurate answer to this may not be simple, as people may vary significantly in energy intake and quiescent thermal output, even for similar levels of daily physical activity, and mosquitoes seem to be able to distinguish this difference among us humans.

    In my opinion there are some big issues with the priorities listed above.

    First of all subsidies is a very poor means of economical incentive because it doesn't take into consideration if whatever is being subsidised is actually used or not. Tax credits are much better because they work with goods and services that are actually traded on the market. That way you don't end up with the horribly inefficient situation where producers output more of a good than the market is actually willing to buy, resulting in a waste of resources ( i.e crops rotting because nobody wants to buy them ).

    Secondly, you can't simply group all renewables together as being higher priority. Sure, some of them, such as Danish wind power and Brazil's ethanol from sugar cane make sense, but that does not translate to making solar PV a higher priority than nuclear in temperate regions, nor does it make teh US corn-ethanol madness an efficient use of money that could instead be used to research CCS technology, improved engine designs etc..

    It is also important to realise that many of these measures cannot be evaluated in isolation. The carbon footprint of many biofuels is partially due to the machinery being used, and thus electrifying industry and to some extent transportation would go a long way to clean up the biofuels. Similarly the hydrogen used for making ammonia based fertilizer is presently sourced from fossil fuels. If advanced nuclear plant can be used to produce hydrogen thermochemically from water, then that would drastically reduce the carbon footprint of the fertilizer used for many biofuels. More efficient engines can extend the range of cars fuelled by ethanol or hydrogen, thus increasing their viability.

    I'm sure there's more examples, but since energy conservation, alternative energy sources as well as improvement of conventional sources have synergistic effects on the viability of one another, it really doesn't make sense to prioritise one of them over the other. Besides, just a quick glance at the worlds energy consumption statistics should make it obvious that we need a combination of many different solutions to get rid of the fossil fuels. Even MIT's most optimistic scenario for nuclear power is not enough to replace Oil as an example.

    Yesterday I heard Todd Horwitz, chief strategist at Adam Mesh claim that if we increase drilling we can lower oil prices quickly and become an exporter. He says we have a 500 year supply of oil. Have also seen similar but less extravagant claims from Steve Milloy and others.

    I would invite the TOD editors to extend an invitation to Mr. Horwitz and Mr. Milloy and other folks making such claims to write one or more key posts on TOD and do their best to present reality-based evidence/facts to support their claims.

    They could be encouraged to join with the National Academy of Sciences, along with the very best geologists from industry and academia, to conduct a multi-year study to do the very most credible assessment of U.S. oil resources. The USGS, EIA, the JASONs, and others could all join forces to run this question to ground.


    Portal containing downloadable JASON studies:

    Reducing DoD reliance on FF Study:

    'Rare Events' Study

    Entering arguments: All data has to be transparent, open to public scrutiny.

    Edit: I skimmed the DOD Reliance on FF Report...I am rather skeptical of their overall 'findings' (Keep in mind this report was written in 2006):

    Oil is a worldwide-fungible commodity. Consistent with global
    proven reserves, no DoD fossil-fuel supply shortages are
    expected in the next 25 years. Although as much oil is
    projected to be needed in the next 25 years as the total already
    produced to date, world proven reserves are capable of
    accommodating this demand at less than $30/bbl production
    JASON emphasizes that this finding is premised on the
    assumption of no major world-wide upheavals, or political and
    other changes in the primary oil and natural-gas production
    regions of the world that supply the U.S., notably, the Middle
    East, Venezuela, and Russia, or other events and developments
    that may compromise the security of major fossil-fuel
    feedstock routes and transportation corridors

    Maybe the JASONs were banking, in part, on Orinoco heavy oil production down the road.

    and this:

    Engineering Microorganisms for Energy Production

    The Steven Milloy suggestion is entertaining. Anyone that follows science skepticism circles, including the writings of Michael Shermer and Robert Park, knows about Milloy.
    Milloy writes a website called which supposedly uncovers examples of junk science. Another example of classic RW framing, in that they accuse others of what they actually practice. In other words, Milloy practices junk science by distorting what he reports on in the name of a political agenda.

    robert - And this guy is their "chief strategist", eh? Not sure how you feel about his statement but as someone who has spent 36 years hunting for hydrocarbons (sitting on a drill rig atop a salt dome in S La. as I type) I view his thoughts as truly tragic. If this is how one of our economic "leaders" sees the situation it's very sad.

    Very sad.

    The UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) hired David MacKay as their chief scientific advisor in September 2009 following the publication of Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air.

    What is impressive about MacKay's book is that it is very pragmatic about alternatives, and is comprehensive in its coverage of concrete ideas. I just looked at his background and it doesn't follow a direct path. Before the energy book he wrote one on applying probability concepts to information theory, which I assume grew from his PhD thesis. So it is really a stroke of genius that the UK chose MacKay for that post. Now it makes sense how the 2050 pathways tool came into being. He has lots of experience with making tools accessible to people, and knowing how to deal with information. That's what it will take -- getting the right information to the right decision makers.

    What is impressive about MacKay's book is that it is very pragmatic about alternatives, and is comprehensive in its coverage of concrete ideas

    Hear hear. You can see the accessibility issue tackled by MacKay here where he published the entire book for free!

    In fact access to information and information-manipulation software is a great strength of MacKay's work. Did you see his work on software that make digital communication easier for the disabled: ?

    Open debate on the facts. That's what I'd like to see energy analysis tools or fun games used for. Have you seen DECC's children's version of the 2050 model? It's pretty cool also,


    I am open to any ideas and can contribute if someone wants to get something started.

    I personally discussed peak oil at length with David Mackay about 5 years ago.

    David is firmly wedded to BAU in that he assumes that society will largely continue on its current course of high electricity demand, long distance travel, consumerist levels of material consumption etc. All he does is place clear models of what we will need to do to provide the energy to support this future model of society. His concerns are environmental, not resource depletion.
    His financial modelling is entirely naive.

    He is not interested in peak oil because it conflicts fundamentally with the model of the future that has made him famous, and given him a well paid job. Cognitive dissonance.

    I was wondering about that because when I was writing The Oil Conundrum, I found that although Mackay's book was comprehensive in many ways (and almost mind-boggling in scope) it did leave lots of holes regarding oil depletion analysis. Now I understand why I could fit into all the orthogonal niches that Mackay studiously avoided.

    Spain limiting speed limit to “combat” rising oil prices

    You've seen nothing yet. There's serious talk of President Zapatero imposing a SuperTax on fuel in Spain, and raise the price to 4 euros/liter -currently about 1,36 euros, that is around 2 dollars/liter, today almost 7.6 dollars/American gallon (3,78 liters).
    At 4 euros/liter that will be 15 euros the American gallon; around 22 dollars.

    And also ration books for diesel, gasoline.
    Zapatero has been president twice and is not going to stand for reelection. Unbelievably his opponent the Conservative Rajoy has worse popularity ratings that ZP or any Socialist minister or candidate.

    There's serious talk of President Zapatero imposing a SuperTax on fuel in Spain...

    It is interesting the actions Spain is considering, while here in the United States the politians want to blame speculators rather than taking actions to reduce our demand to combat rising prices.

    Here are a few ideas to help reduce the United States' demand for oil:

      Raise federal gas tax 15 cents per gallon (3.96 cents per liter). Have the same increase each year for an additional three years on both gasoline and diesel.

      As there already is a blending requirement, eliminate the ethanol blending subsidy (4.5 cents / gallon, {1.2 cents / liter}).

      Tax all new vehicles $100 for each mile per gallon (0.42 km/l) their combined city/highway rating is less than 35 miles per gallon (14.88 km/l).

      Lower maximum speed on all highways in the United States to 65 miles per hour (104.6 km/h). Present max is 80 mph (128.7 km/h), with Texas proposing to raise theirs to 85 mph (136.8 km/h).

      Shift more long distance freight transport from semitrailer trucks to trains (Any ideas on how to facilitate this change?).

      Eliminate Saturday US Postal delivery.

      Eliminate home interest deduction on amounts greater than $200,000. The present limit is $1,000,000 of home acquisition debt for your main home and secondary residence.

    Do you have any suggestions of ways to reduce our demand of oil? If so, please share them.

    Well, we've already done most of those things in Canada. They seemed like obvious things to do, but I guess they aren't from the American perspective.

    Other suggestions:

    • Less spending on freeways
    • More spending on electric rail transit
    • More spending on bicycle paths
    • Increase urban population density
    • Make neighborhoods more pedestrian friendly and less car-friendly
    • Discourage large-scale shopping centers unless they have a rail station
    • More hydroelectric and wind power
    • More spending on non-conventional oil research
    • Extend the natural gas distribution system into areas using oil heating

    That should just about cut your oil consumption in half. With a little more effort you could get your consumption down to the same level as your production.

    In Canada our net oil consumption has been more or less flat for the last 30 years, and we are now exporting more oil to you guys than we are consuming ourselves.

    RockyMtnGuy, thank you for thinking up some ideas and sharing them with us. We have much to learn from our neighbor to the north.

    We have much to learn from our neighbor to the north.

    But, we are the arrogant city on a hill. Any ideas from foreigners are defective socialist spawn of the devil. Do us a favor, don't tell us your good ideas. Cause if those good ideas can be ascribed to evil foreigners, we will reject them as if they were the devils spawn. Only if we think we have invented them ourselves will we even consider trying them.

    # More spending on electric rail transit
    # More spending on bicycle paths

    This is an example of the problem. The rep from northern Minnesota, Jim Oberstar, who was chairman of the US House Transportation Committee got voted out after 36 years in favor of an republican airline pilot. The constant jab at Oberstar was that he spent too much time advocating bike trails (his motto was "from a hydrocarbon-based system to a carbohydrate-based system") and alternate energy, and that he spent too much time in Washington.
    Read the wiki page to find out what was apparently not appreciated. Is this the fault of a politician or of the citizens?

    # More spending on electric rail transit
    # More spending on bicycle paths

    Northern Minnesota is very sparsely populated with no large cities at all. Precious few will ever be served by rail transit or even interurban under any reasonable scenario; to make a go of mass transportation, you need masses of people, which are very conspicuously lacking. Most who do live there would likely consider bicycle paths redundant - hardly anyone would try to cover the huge distances by bicycle; traffic is so low that few paths would truly be necessary; and whatever arrangements they made to get around during the long harsh winter would work just as well or even better in summer. So the politics should be no surprise. Like it or not, it's simply not western Europe, and it's silly and futile to try to pretend otherwise.

    Part of the overall problem seems to be that Federal-level politicians, even the better ones, habitually seek grand one-size-fits-all "solutions" by which they may memorialize themselves. That might work more effectively in a postage-stamp of a country, so minute as to have a uniform climate, such as Belgium or The Netherlands, than in a huge country with many diverse and populated topographic and climate zones. Maybe the Feds could do a service simply by getting out of the way - say, for one thing, by ceasing to continually force larger and wider trucks upon everyone, and for another by ceasing to continually run up the cost of electric transit (in places where it is useful) with ever-metastasizing capricious regulations.

    Northern Minnesota is very sparsely populated with no large cities at all.

    You didn't get what I wrote. Jim Oberstar was a US Congressman who only represented northern Minnesota, but he was chairman for the national transportation committee for a few years. He obviously had higher ideals than just serving his local district. No way are you going to chair that committee unless you had some national vision as opposed to just using that committee to get local pork. How much pork is a few bike trails here and there going to bring in anyways? There are no large airports up there either. That's why he was a good choice for the committee chair.

    Oh, I (largely) got it, I think: I'm just not surprised that with things as they are, Oberstar was voted out. I'm guessing his opponent successfully painted him as taking way too much interest in that national stuff, seeking to (potentially) tax the constituents he represented to pay for stuff they had no stake in whatsoever. I certainly don't imagine that taking bike-path or transit pork home to such a sparsely populated area was even on the radar screen, though politics can be so weird that I could be wrong about that.

    Edit - from 'Kindhearted' just below: "Jim would have been a good supporter for the idea of raising the federal gas tax to encourage conservation." Very possibly so. And, in political terms, an excellent reason for constituents who (for the most part) have no practical transportation alternative for the time being (e.g. most aren't going to rush out to buy $40K EVs that may have very dodgy range characteristics at 40 below zero) to vote him out. As somebody said, politics is the art of the possible.

    Which brings up interesting questions about political leadership.

    A politician can stay in office by mimicking whatever silly beliefs constituents hold ("Drill, baby, Drill",etc.). Or a politician can do what they believe is the right thing, and (perhaps) take the political consequences of lost elections, while serving to at least move the discussion a little closer to reality and define an alternative vision.
    Real-life politicians fall somewhere between the extremes of doomed idealistic visionary and complete pandering opportunist.

    Personally, I think Oberstar struck a good balance and had a very positive national impact during his tenure.

    WebHubbleTelescope, from the wiki page:

    According to Minnesota Congressional Election 2008 Political Courage Test, Jim Oberstar supports ... gasoline taxes.

    Jim would have been a good supporter for the idea of raising the federal gas tax to encourage conservation.

    And to top that off, advocating gasoline taxes while representing a large remote sparsely populated region in N. Minnesota.

    Here are a few ideas to help reduce the United States' demand for oil:

    Raise federal gas tax 15 cents per gallon (3.96 cents per liter). Have the same increase each year for an additional three years on both gasoline and diesel.
    As there already is a blending requirement, eliminate the ethanol blending subsidy (4.5 cents / gallon, {1.2 cents / liter}).

    Tax all new vehicles $100 for each mile per gallon (0.42 km/l) their combined city/highway rating is less than 35 miles per gallon (14.88 km/l).

    Lower maximum speed on all highways in the United States to 65 miles per hour (104.6 km/h). Present max is 80 mph (128.7 km/h), with Texas proposing to raise theirs to 85 mph (136.8 km/h).

    Shift more long distance freight transport from semitrailer trucks to trains (Any ideas on how to facilitate this change?).

    Eliminate Saturday US Postal delivery.

    Eliminate home interest deduction on amounts greater than $200,000. The present limit is $1,000,000 of home acquisition debt for your main home and secondary residence.

    Do you have any suggestions of ways to reduce our demand of oil? If so, please share them.

    Your first suggestion is the most important, possibly the only potentially workable one. But why stop after only four years? And why only $0.15? That's only a price increase of $0.60 per gallon. The price has gone up that much around here since Christmas, and I don't notice any reduction in the amount of traffic.

    The ethanol subsidy is ridiculous, but it's so small it is insignificant.

    The additional tax on gas-guzzlers is not enough to make a difference: my brother-in-law bought a new Ford F-150 last week. With a combined fuel rating of about 17 miles per gallon, this would be an additional tax of $1800. I assume you are talking about an annual tax of this much, but his ownership cost is already about $5000 annually before he drives a single mile. Driving 10,000 miles per year would use about 600 gallons, and at $5/gallon (possible in the near future, especially if your gas tax comes into effect) the would total costs would be close to $10,000 a year including maintenance. An extra $1800 would be annoying, but (for him) quite affordable.

    Lowering speed limits would have no practical effect on oil consumption because the vast majority of drivers would not obey such limits.

    Increasing rail transport at the expense of trucking would be a natural result of increasing diesel fuel costs with your new fuel taxes. The increase in rail transport could be accelerated by simplifying permitting procedures for building or rebuilding lines, and by fighting nimbyism which resists the location of a rail line anywhere there is existing population.

    I doubt if eliminating Saturday postal delivery will save a significant amount of fuel: any saving would likely be eliminated by less efficient ways of delivery (such as UPS or FedEx) substituting for the post office, and further reduction of overall mail volume which would reduce the energy efficiency of the post office.

    The home interest reduction has become less of a housing subsidy as interest rates have dropped and the standard deduction has increased. I doubt if it really has a significant effect on oil consumption.

    One way the U.S. could reduce oil consumption significantly which is rarely (if ever) mentioned would be to adopt European vehicle emission standards. The immediate result would be a flood of small diesel vehicles onto the market. Such vehicles dominate the car market in Europe, but are almost entirely absent from the U.S. market because they do not meet the Californian emission standards. Meeting these standards is technically challenging and expensive, and has only been done on any scale by Volkswagen and Daimler Benz, and only for a very few models even for those manufacturers.

    Ird, thanks for your thoughts and suggestions.

    I had suggested the $0.15/gallon tax as that was the value suggested by the recent Deficit Reduction Committee. Having it increase for several years was an attempt to get it high enough to have an impact on usage. Maybe an increase of 20 cents per year for 5 years would be better.

    The additional gas-guzzler tax was intended as a one-time tax (at purchase, not an annual tax). Maybe raising it to $150 per mpg would give sufficient incentive for most buyers to look at higher-mileage vehicles. If your brother-in-law and others still buy the gas-guzzlers that is okay as it is part of giving people a choice.

    I appreciate the information on the European vehicle emission standards.

    Ird, regarding the elimination of Saturday postal delivery, the direct fuel saving should be on the order of 75 million gallons. There would be some offset as you mention from FedEx, etc. but I still think the savings would be very significant.

    The USPS operates the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world, with an estimated 218,684 vehicles...The number of gallons of fuel used in 2009 was 444 million.

    Unless the elimination of Saturday delivery means not delivering that mail at all, rather than redistributing its delivery throughout the "new" five-day schedule, calculating the (possible) fuel savings may be rather complex.

    ...calculating the (possible) fuel savings may be rather complex.

    kalliergo, thanks for your comment. As most of the fuel used by the Postal System must be used on the route getting to each mailbox, eliminating one day of delivery should reduce the mileage by about 1/6. There would be some offset due to higher volume of delivery on other days, but the fuel impact of the higher volume should be small.

    Besides the fuel savings of one less day of delivery, there is a savings in manpower costs.

    FYI, just spoke to my mailman, who informs me that every $.01 rise in gas prices raises daily operating expenses $6 million. Not fact-checked.

    Heels, it appears that your mailman's number is close. It may in fact be a little bit above that value.

    "Michael Clark with the United States Postal Service in Peoria says for every penny gas goes up, it costs the USPS $6.5-million a year."

    "With higher gas prices they spend $2.4 billion on gas a year and every time gas goes up in price it's another $8 million for every penny increase."

    Mostly good, but I don't see what eliminating most of the home mortgage deduction would accomplish.
    The main effect would be to further degrade the already-battered real-estate market,
    and force thousands of homeowners who are barely making it into foreclosure.
    Still more would be underwater, unable to sell and possibly stuck with a long commute.

    Presumably you want us to be renters instead of homeowners. Good for density, not so good for PV or conservation measures.
    Landlords have no incentive to do any of that because tenants pay their own utility bills.
    Not so good for having a garden either.

    Francis Fukuyama in America At the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy writes --

    But a correct understanding of the Straussian interpretation of regime would also have raised red flags over the American effort to bring about regime change. Regimes by this understanding are not just formal institutions and authority structures: they shape and are shaped by the societies underlying them. The unwritten rules by which people operate, based on religion, kinship and shared historical experience, are also part of the regime. While classical political philosophy suggests that the founding of new regimes can lead to new ways of life, it does not argue that they are particularly easy to found. Plato in particular emphasizes the need for something like a civic religion to persuade people that their here-and-now political order is grounded in the larger order of the cosmos. This is suggested both by Socrates' elaboration of the myth of Er in book 10 of the Republic and by the lengthy discussion of religion in the Laws. If there is any central theme to Strauss's skepticism about the modern Enlightenment project, it is the idea that reason alone is sufficient to establish a durable political order or that the nonrational claims of revelation can be banished from politics.

    Founding a new political order is, therefore, a difficult business, and doubly so for those who are not immersed in the habits, mores, and traditions of the people for whom they are legislating.

    Calling for society to proactively adopt a lower-energy lifestyle and/or to proactively adopt new sources of energy is calling for regime change of the most difficult kind. It is more difficult than regime change that is forced upon society by the imposition of natural limits or by military or economic forces from outside.

    Political intervention by itself is unlikely to be successful. To proactively avoid the consequences of peak oil would require multiple changes to multiple institutions of society in order to change the "will of the people" which the politicians can then follow.

    Bottom up approaches to implementing change are also unlikely to work. Instead, the institutional gatekeepers must become convinced that the problems are well defined and that the proposed solutions are valid and implementable. Solutions which maintain existing social institutions, heirarchies and power relationships will be acceptable, while those that are disruptive will be rejected.

    A more attractive future must be proposed. Descriptions of impending doom and appeals for altruistic sacrifice will be rejected by society.

    Waiting for Obama, Chu, et al. is hopeless. The change will come through bottom-up self-organization because we have 6 billion too many people on the planet and too many strongly vested interests for the status quo. Is industrial PV in the Sahara desert the place to start? No, because (among many other reasons including massively net-negative energy) the ideas and the scale needed are at the individual level. We need to let individual and local experiments become institutionalized as local experiments are noticed, copied, and then subsidized. I think it is pretty clear at this point that BAU and the government will only get in the way and make things worse. People are going to have to go around institutional gatekeepers with stealth chickens, alternative energy projects that are against code, illegal suites, corner stores, cottage industries, and raw milk sales and farmers markets. There are rules against all of these things currently.

    Self-organization works, but it takes time and critical mass to change the status quo mindset and to change the cultural vogue. Hopefully it can spread to the larger scale rapidly, and eventually become subsidized and incentivized with policy. On the way up, status is inferred by the more power you maximize and thus waste, in a civilization with this much excess. On the way down, status will be inferred by some form of efficient energy display that makes your life work when everyone else's doesn't work, and you are warm, dry, and well-fed.

    Going around institutional gatekeepers may or may not work. For example, "alternative energy projects that are against code" may result in imitation by others or they may result in a community backlash against alternative energy projects. Much will depend on how the project is installed and operated, but the pre-existing ideals and attitudes of the community will also strongly influence the outcome. If there are already negative attitudes towards that type of alternative energy, the negative attitudes are likely to be reinforced.

    On the other hand, complying with code and implementing a successful demonstration project at a small business, school, municipal building, etc., will take more time to organize, get approved, get funded, etc., but it is more of a teaching moment that can be used to inform the community and its leaders.

    Although the following appears to have been installed legally, it demonstrates how badly implemented small-scale solutions can go wrong.
    Wind turbine failures in Lacey put state energy program on hold

    Incidents prompt state investigation
    9:32 PM, Apr. 23, 2011 | 21Comments
    LACEY — Hoping to save money by generating renewable energy from wind turbines instead of buying it from a power company, two Forked River farm owners had 120-foot turbines erected on their properties in December. But by March 8, the turbines no longer were rotating. Three fiberglass blades ranging in weight from 265 to 290 pounds flew off the tower of the turbine at James Knoeller's Christmas Tree Farm on Carriage Road on March 2. Cracks in the blades of an identical turbine tower at Argos Farms, operated by Spyro Martin, were discovered around the same time. Martin's turbine was shut down as a precaution.

    The incidents prompted an investigation by the state Office of Clean Energy, which is freezing applications for its Renewable Energy Incentive Program wind project until officials know why the blades at Knoeller's farm came off. The investigation is ongoing.
    Knoeller and Martin purchased their turbines from the same manufacturer, Kansas-based Enertech. The towers were installed by Skylands Renewable Energy LLC of Hampton.

    My primary focus is on building and promoting four oil free transportation modes.

    - Electrified railroads
    - Electrified urban rail
    - Bicycling
    - Walkable neighborhoods.

    The benefits of each will vary with the scenario that develops. But by any reasonable metric (environment, economic, basic survival) they will be more than merely neutral, but net positives in whatever future society develops.

    Some solutions are robust.

    Best Hopes,


    Alan, I fully agree with you on your modes. One question: is there a way to get bus transportation in there as a feeder to rail or as an option for communities too large for biking/walking but too small for any form of rail? (I realize smaller communities had streetcars/trolleys once).

    The DECC 2050 tool is, I think, great! The USA needs an energy model and should have one. I do realize that the presentation is similar to Lawrence Livermore's Energy Flows. You refer to open-source for changes, which is also great.
    I do think it needs an intro video to explain 1) what it is all about & how it works 2) a likely scenario (current policy directions) 3) how to try out changes, and 4) a chat forum.
    I, for example, don't understand it, though I only looked at the pictures.

    Hi Martin,

    Glad you liked the tool, and agree it could do with clearer explanation. My recommendation is to just try it out yourself for starters though: see it as a computer game where you get to decide the criteria to optimise. National CO2 emissions? Resilience? or something else? In this game it's up to you.

    A more specific response is that there is already a video explaining how the software works:

    Also, there is an extremely accessible version of this tool that is designed for the younger generation, but which I found really useful myself. Check this out for an energy education game, with parameters that are based on evidence:

    I'm not saying that these models are correct (all models are, by definition, wrong). However, they represent a significant step forward compared with purely verbal or imaginative scenarios. Understanding the assumptions on which the the models are based is vital to their utility though. The DECC tool is especially impressive in this respect e.g. see:

    This is the evidence base supporting their assumptions about the growth of on-shore wind energy supply. Thanks again, the fun side of energy analysis often gets left by the wayside.


    (all models are, by definition, wrong)

    This characterization is wrong. The statistician, George Box, who originally said something to this effect was quoted completely out of context.

    Please give yourself some credit for doing a fine job, and never back down.

    From Wikiquote:

    Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.

    Box and Draper, Empirical Model-Building, p. 74

    The short form, i.e. the first clause by itself, is a bit exaggerated, but how bad is it, really? After all, the main point seems to be that the map is not the territory, and that is a point that often seems to be seriously lost.

    I actually looked this up in the original text which is not hard to do. The oft-quoted line that Box supposedly wrote is that "all models are wrong, but some are useful". He did say that but if you look at the context of Box's quote, the preceding line is "The fact that the polynomial is an approximation does not detract from its usefulness because all models are approximations."

    And so the entire context was in terms of not having sufficient numerical accuracy to do some computation. It had nothing to do with the correctness of the original model, it had to do with losing accuracy or precision by making some kind of approximation in the computational model. If you take this to the extreme you can argue that because computers round off numbers after a number of digits, then all computations are wrong as well.

    That's all he was saying. It doesn't help that he got some notoriety for this quote and so he started using it in his subsequent books, thus removing the original context. The one that you quoted is a variation of the original. You can tell this because the first word is "Remember".

    How far would it have gotten if they took Box's quote as "all models are approximations"? You would hear a universal "duh" and no one would spin it as some necessarily bad thing. Instead it ended up sounding like some profound and provocative implicaton meant to scare people into thinking that every computation is wrong.

    "The fact that the polynomial is an approximation does not detract from its usefulness because all models are approximations."

    And in this case a competant mathematician can determine the magnitude of the error with high accuracy. And if needed, the method can be modified. I have some software that does arithmetic with 195 decimal place accuracy, so in the rare case where the only easy method is numerically unstable, I can brute force it.

    True, as the least significant digits are usually the problem children when it comes to some computational instability. Leave those guys duking it out at the 195th decimal place and they will get tired by the time they get to the 100th decimal place :)

    By the same token, if you only need an order-of-magnitude accuracy, you can get by with an approximation.

    Good point WebHubble, and thanks for the historical context. Yes it was lazy writing to follow the mis-interpretations of others and use the word "wrong" to describe models. I should have said "(all models of complex systems are, by definition, simplifications of the real world as their purpose is to simplify problems and elucidate them in terms of their most important components)".

    Would you accept my alteration and definition of models?

    Appologies for lazy use of words, which is obviously a serious problem when discussing such a delicate issue.


    Facts are not your friend.

    Facts mark you as a loser. Losers that deal in facts and knowledge are vastly outnumbered by the "Dumber than a Bag of Hammers" crowd. Using patient, rational logic and real-world metrics marginalizes your cause. They are the identifying features of a minority.

    Political power rests in fear and hate. These are the themes of the A.M. radio talk shows. Physical, emotional, and financial abuse are the underpinnings of many transactions. Pure fantasy is a common salve.

    Budget drives everyday shopping decisions. When the market gets too expensive, causes pain and inconvenience, new things are tried, even demanded. Cost speaks louder than any warning can manage.

    The crowd will turn to the upper end of the bell curve and treat it as a resource when everyday life becomes an unusual ordeal to try and maintain. We've all seen how resources are treated. But that transient opportunity can change fortunes. The population with solutions will have an advantage over the populations with unforeseen troubles.

    Germany and Saudi Arabia seem to be buying new energy sources.

    Fun Fact:
    Wind made 35GWh of power yesterday in Califorina.

    If you agree with my words or not, you must admit they have a certain ring of truthiness.

    Well, there's always the gedanken experiment of intelligent folks not seeking the validation and involvement of fools. That is, treating the situation sanely. Egalitarianism feels good to our tribal-monkey senses as an abstract, but it's getting dangerous.

    There's a reason there's a lock on the cockpit door: passengers are cargo. Giving them all little joysticks to influence controlling the plane wouldn't work out well. It doesn't mean one doesn't wish the little darlings well. They/we simply need to be restrained in some situations.

    The most effective interventions, for good or ill, leave few obvious traces. The seldom-examined assumption that any solutions must also take steps in the direction of capuchin-style fairness, AND be endorsed by an entitlement-drunk proletariat with systems blindness, needs work.

    just saying...

    Any such experiments will have to take place outside of the political and media realms.


    Experiments in the 'real' world outside of mass media and politics will eventually show concrete results and obvious benefits, resulting in tentative 'monkey see-monkey do' imitation amongst the occupants of the cargo hold. Only then, when clear pathways have been shown, will pundits and politicians follow. They will never take first steps. Their actions are directed at maintenance of the status quo and influenced by popular opinion, which is never positive where there are unknowns involved. The future is full of unknowns.

    I don't disagree with what you say here, but it's quite possible to steer politics and media in ways other than straightforward advocacy & education. They are just part of the landscape we have to work with.

    Who's doing the steering?

    Anyone who figures it out.

    Non-sociopaths are currently under-represented, because it doesn't feel nice to them.

    Here's hoping that the maximum number of non-sociopaths can be coaxed into the driver's seat.


    ...and the driver's seat isn't always where it seems to be.

    ...and the driver's seat isn't always where it seems to be.

    And sometimes what looks like the head is really the opposite end...

    But which one is worse, having the "sociopaths" in power, or giving little joysticks to the "dumber than a bag of hammers" masses (apparently it seems you think that 99% cannot ever hope to deal with facts even if they wanted to (as that's what intelligence is: ability, not wants))?

    I'll take what's behind door #3, Monty...

    Yes. There is scope for below the radar programs. But, to stay below the radar, they usually have to be small and inconspicuous.

    On the other hand,
    the history of leadership shows an almost incessant procession of stupidity, greed, cruelty, lies, theft and murder. I cannot trust leaders : most of them have been destructive, a lot of them bloodied and ruthless. None of them had sufficient knowledge. Mandela, Gorbatchev and Gandhi are rare examples of 'good' leaders, and none of them were that good after all : neither South Africa, nor Russia or India have become 'the City on the Hill'

    What is more, crowds do at least some things right. Crowds are good at guessing statistics, for example.

    Crowds do work together for the common good, as recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and more have shown. Crowds have a tendency to become infected with the need for a common good. Again, history is our guide: insurgencies, rebellions and revolutions come in waves, spreading among peoples who do not necessarily live the same politico-socio-economic circumstances.

    The story starts slowly and haltingly, renaissance religious conflict giving rise to the english revolution, which becomes an incubator for the ideas of the american and french revolutions, then in 1848 the first european wave starts off, 1871 in Paris, 1905 and 1917 in Russia, while through the later half of the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, concessions were made to popular demands : slavery, child labour, working hours and wages were battles fought and won by crowds. The story continues, accelerating and widening over the globe : the 1920ies and 30ies in Spain and all over the western world, the anti-colonial movements, the 'emancipation' of the latin-american republics, China in '48, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philipines, and mind you, the African colonies, going on into the '80ies and '90ies with the crumbling of the soviet empire, the democratizing of south korea, the catastrophies of Tian an men, Nicaragua, San Salvador, Sri lanka and Timor and so many more and on into todays 'arabian' wave.

    Crowds did most of the work, crowds gave most of the martyrs. Individually, we all have different wishes and priorities, but as a crowd, we quite often crave the common good.

    Sorry greenish, but I don't think leadership has a great future. Crowds may be able to do better.

    Heavens, I don't trust leaders either. I consider them part of the landscape, and not necessarily as central as they may seem.

    Crowds are good at some things, and terrible at others. They can show forward movement when the goal is redressing perceived unfairness or injustice. However, those perceptions are pretty subjective; and worked for both Gandhi and Hitler. Moreover, subjective "human progress" has often been the flip side of ecosystem and carrying-capacity destruction.

    The prevailing cultural narratives don't capture the world very well. The predicament we're in now is not necessarily solvable by pursuing increased fairness and equality, although it is seldom framed in other terms.

    Neither leaders nor crowds have done a very good job; nor do they seem to be changing much. Interventions may more usefully target the dynamics of how things get done; and when it works, the leaders, crowds, and martyrs can then crowd into the narrative which retroactively feels like the best fit.


    The most effective interventions, for good or ill, leave few obvious traces. The seldom-examined assumption that any solutions must also take steps in the direction of capuchin-style fairness, AND be endorsed by an entitlement-drunk proletariat with systems blindness, needs work.

    That doesn't work so well with PO. Because the problem is the entire way our system, top to bottom, is built! It's built around oil. No way you're gonna "invisibly" change that.

    Nice new tool.
    One minor point: not sure what you mean on the chart with the box insert (yellow) that says (UK) electricity supply maintained at 5TWh/yr. I presume you refer to current UK electricity from renewable sources? Otherwise total UK consumption approaches 400TWhe/yr in recent years, at least to 2007 according to ONS?
    I'm a bike & health man myself: I like my Scottish oats as well. Not so much ff involved in those calories.

    I really doubt the "hungry cyclist scenario". At least in the U.S. First, I think that those who cycle are less likely to lean on a meat rich diet which is more energy intensive. And I also that at least in the U.S. exercising more wouldn't necessarily mean eating more, rather it would be being less obese. All good things. I think that there is plenty of caloric intake in the average American's diet to get him to a short commute. Instead it ends up piling up on his or her ass.

    I really doubt the "hungry cyclist scenario". At least in the U.S. First, I think that those who cycle are less likely to lean on a meat rich diet which is more energy intensive.

    I know that riding a bike makes *me* hungry. Often this is accompanied by a craving for meat. If I try to do without meat, my energy level craters.

    at least in the U.S. exercising more wouldn't necessarily mean eating more, rather it would be being less obese.

    Only 20% of the population is obese, and they are the least likely to ride a bike. What about the other 80%?

    It is not reasonable to assume that we would lose enough weight to reduce our calorie that much, especially since bicycling also builds muscle, and that adds back some of the weight lost from fat.

    Bicycling is great, but it is not free energy.

    I know that riding a bike makes *me* hungry. Often this is accompanied by a craving for meat. If I try to do without meat, my energy level craters.

    This is anecdotal evidence at best. As a counter-example, I can tell you that whenever I came back from some extended wilderness excursion where the food was essentially a lot of grains, nuts and freeze-dried stuff, I would get nauseous when I entered a McDonalds and smelled meat cooking. Same thing on some long bike treks. But then again, I would end up getting a craving for dairy products. The point is for every bit of anecdotal evidence you need the statistics to back it up.

    There is obviously considerable variation in how our bodies process food. Any attempt to dictate what we eat from on high would likely run afoul of this.

    Statistics would be helpful in the abstract, but each of us has to deal with the needs of our own bodies.

    I can tell you that whenever I came back from some extended wilderness excursion where the food was essentially a lot of grains, nuts and freeze-dried stuff, I would get nauseous when I entered a McDonalds and smelled meat cooking.

    Do you eat meat at all?

    Yes, I just didn't eat much meat during the trips and couldn't adapt back to it quickly. This is just my anecdotal experience again.

    no worries then, it's not like the stuff they sell in macdo is meat...
    (it does smell revolting, even from outside. i don't dare go inside though, the smell
    is bad enough just walking past)

    now, actual meat from a healthy animal in a healthy clean environment, is a joy.


    Bicycling is great, but it is not free energy.

    The devil is always in the details. Riding a bicycle a few miles, on level terrain, with no headwind, at a leisurely pace, will get you to your destination quite a lot faster than walking, and you will expend fewer calories.

    Change any of the variables and a whole new picture emerges. There's a reason that people can often be seen walking bikes up hills (and another reason why cyclists trying to ride fast assume such uncomfortable postures).

    Competitors in one of the grand tour stage races routinely consume 6K-10K calories a day, and may well lose weight over the course of a three-week event.

    I commute every day, and my caloric needs are modest. If our society required everyone to ride a Tour stage every day, it is true that societal collapse would be rapid and complete, since no one would be capable of doing anything else, but fortunately that can't and won't happen. My sense is that for many, many trips, bikes can replace cars at virtually no extra food cost--the benefits of a more fit and healthy populace will far outweigh any extra food required. Yes, that opinion is anecdotal, but in any case it's hard to believe that our current menu of food consumption is an arrangement we want to maintain.

    Agree and the dude who said "cyclists trying to ride fast assume such uncomfortable postures" doesn't realize that novel aerodynamic shapes are prohibited in events such as the Tour de France. I am OK with riding an upright style as it suits me like a second skin, but I don't discount alternative prone styles that provide a very comfortable ride.

    Once again, Web, you respond to what you imagine was meant rather than what was actually posted. Once again, you got it wrong.

    (As an aside, you would be ill-advised to bet money on your knowledge of cycling -- including, e.g., the UCI rules covering bicycle design for sanctioned race -- vs. mine.)

    And now, I'm going to write you off, at least until I see evidence that you are posting for some reason other than feeding your sense of self-importance.

    I don't think many are impressed by quoting regulatory authority. Reminds me of the touchiness displayed by the participants of a typical bikeforum discussion thread. Bike forums are also where you can witness much of that peer-group/spandex stuff that we were discussing upthread. :)

    Recumbent bicycles can deliver both comfort and speed:

    I think you have to assume that hungry-cyclist is a real thing, especially once you get to serious mileage. At 50 miles a week (e.g., 5, round-trip, 5-mile-one-way commutes) you will probably lose weight, and probably eat more. (I do 2 10-mile RTs, plus errands around town).

    However, what the hungry cyclist eats, makes a HUGE difference. There's various estimates on the web, they tend to be buggy because the author (whoever it is) is either careless or excited about making a point.

    The basic calculation is that a commuting cyclist gets around 600mpg, if we could eat gasoline as food (vegetable or tree nut oils are roughly a 1:1 substitute).

    If your fuel of choice is 85% lean ground beef, and you don't lose any of the fat in cooking, system MPG is about 30mpg (half the calories come from fat, so preparation is key to this calculation).

    Drinking 1%-fat milk for fuel, gets you to a system MPG of 145MPG.

    Potatoes, 780 -- but this ignores cooking.

    Oats, assuming no cost of packaging and delivery, and cooked either in a solar cooker or on the top of a wood stove run on hand-chopped wood, 3000 mpg. The energy inputs to oats are so low that it is easy to cut this in half from the energy required to cook it -- careful cooking, takes you right down to 2000mpg, and use of an electric stove, something under 1000mpg.

    Treatment here:
    Just this one stupid part of the energy calculations is surprisingly tricky, and I am using years of work from other scientists and statisticians as inputs (food energy calculations, bicycle energy calculations). It is no wonder that there is plenty to argue about.

    cooked either in a solar cooker or on the top of a wood stove run on hand-chopped wood

    Now we have to factor in the hungry wood-chopper.

    If your fuel of choice is 85% lean ground beef, and you don't lose any of the fat in cooking, system MPG is about 30mpg (half the calories come from fat, so preparation is key to this calculation).

    Suppose the beef is local and grass-fed? That should improve the numbers considerably.

    Of course, even the most dedicated carnivore doesn't eat ONLY beef.

    Chopping the wood is not much energy; a few minutes work, whack-whack-whack, and you get enough wood to run a little stove for hours. You can't ding the oatmeal too hard for that anyway, since the heat goes into the house, which is what was intended. And the tree had to come down, anyway. Cutting the tree to bite-sized lengths uses a lot more energy.

    I would need to look at the numbers for grass-fed beef. I think it is better on the inputs (seems very plausible), but I'd swear I had read that grass-fed beef led to a lot more CH4 emissions per pound, on account of more belching and cud-chewing. I think the executive summary is that we eat way too much beef anyway, no matter how it is produced -- we should not eat it for "fuel", and we should eat a lot less of it for "not fuel".

    "a few minutes work, whack-whack-whack"
    Got one word fer ya...

    Chopping the wood is not much energy; a few minutes work, whack-whack-whack, and you get enough wood to run a little stove for hours.

    That would be splitting the wood after it has already been cut into rounds. If you are also chopping down the tree and cutting it into rounds by hand, that takes *a lot* more energy.
    We cannot assume that the tree "had to come down anyway".

    I'd swear I had read that grass-fed beef led to a lot more CH4 emissions per pound, on account of more belching and cud-chewing.

    I think you may have it backwards. Cows belch more when fed corn than grass, because grass is what cows evolved to eat in the first place, but corn gives them indigestion.
    The ability to turn inedible grass into food is one of the wonderful things about cows.

    we eat way too much beef anyway, no matter how it is produced -- we should not eat it for "fuel", and we should eat a lot less of it for "not fuel".

    I tend to eat more chicken and fish than beef, myself. Lotsa veggies, rice, potatoes, and pasta too. So do most other people I know.

    Protein is not just "fuel", it is what the body needs to repair itself. I will not deny that many Americans eat too much meat for the amount of exercise they do.
    The amount of exercise seems destined to increase, however, in nearly all of the scenarios envisaged on this forum.

    "Cutting the tree to bite-sized lengths uses a lot more energy" covers your first point; I'm well aware of the order-of-magnitude difference in work required. And I know that the grass vs corn CH4 numbers look funny, but that is why they stuck in my head. "Someone" should track that down :-).

    The whole protein-vs-fuel thing is a mess. Bizarrely, in a country where most people eat plenty of protein (I was about to say "almost all", but then thought a tad more), we seem overly obsessed with how efficiently *protein* can be produced. If you are instead looking at it as fuel, the numbers get much more funny. Beef looks inefficient as a protein source, because it tends to be shot through with fat. But that fat is also fuel. Poultry is a much more efficient source of protein than beef because less food is converted to fat. So as fuel, the contrast is not nearly so large. It's an entirely different ball game if you are interested in feeding the world's billions.

    But this gets carried further, by people who focus on the protein number, then convert protein to calories, treat that as fuel, and then proclaim that "bicycling is less efficient than driving an SUV" -- never mind that using that much protein AS FUEL is probably unhealthy. The US protein RDA is 56g; we average 112g; cycling 50 miles/week implies 350 kCal/day of fuel, or 90 grams of protein. 200g/day of protein is what a body-building site I Googled across suggests as the maximum limit for a 220lb man.

    So, as in every single last one of these damn energy discussions, get data, get references, show your work, it's a mess.

    Hi SW and other posters about the food/cycling relationship.

    This is a very important issue about which I made a very simple assumption in the paper. According to evidence posted by CyclemotorEngineer (see above) my assumption is most likely wrong. But it makes good use of the "plan for the worst, hope for the best" principle which we should be applying here: even if food is an issue, it still consumes only a fraction of the energy of fuel drinking, resource wasting cars.

    I'd like to follow this up but have no time at present. Where is a suitable forum to take this discussion further? Any more primary sources?

    Robin Lovelace

    A extreme nuke fantasy.
    No powerdown here.
    It takes some brass to push nukes just after Fukushima and in blind denial of Peak Uranium. I assume the author is a strong believer in placing dangerous breeder reactors in a small overpopulated country to maintain the illusion of infinite energy.
    I would give this paper a D-. It's only redeaming feature is its interesting graphics.

    You know, I took a closer look at their graphs and I have to say I agree wholeheartedly.

    I sure hope this sort of nuclear techno-fantasy is recognized as what it is, and that the assumptions of this paper are not the assumptions of most of the people here or the editors of this site. Nuclear fission is not a useful solution in a world of scarcity, especially in a world where complex things are harder to maintain. The results of accidents and the problems of waste and clean up are also grossly underestimated by the nuclear fantasy crowd.

    Unfortunately, I am starting to think this is the direction the world is going anyways. Rather than imagine a world different than today, we would prefer to have more pollution and disasters if they provide us with at least the hope of maintaining our usual way of life. Even if we know that it won't work out...

    I'm sorry, but I feel both of you are massively wrong.

    In terms of option space that continues our society something close to what we are used to; nuclear is a prime constituent of any viable option. We should have been building hard and strong on nuclear, and being that we haven't we should start today.

    In terms of option space that DOESN'T continue our society something close to what we are use to; you need to state how you will avoid violent and totally destructive breakdown. If you can't, you don't have a viable option route. Happy clappy solutions won't cut it when you are being punched in the face.

    That neatly limits our total solution space to those options that include nuclear - and that space gets smaller every day.

    Big nuclear, now.

    Thanks for your comment majorian. Would it be premature of me to assume that you have not yet taken my advice in the paper:

    If you don’t like it, create your own!

    As you will find, you can save you favorite scenario and show it to the light of day. If you post the link to yours in a reply comment to this, this will allow for equally informed debate about your scenario.

    The devil with these graphics is in their captions: "My favourite energy policy scenario allowed
    within the constraints of DECC's 2050 tool"

    I am creating a scenario based on a model that has severe limitations, some of which are discussed in the essay. I would in fact halve primary energy use, but this is not permitted within the constraints of DECCs model. This doesn't stop me creating a model that does allow rapid powerdown, and this, based on the energy hierarchy would be my prefered option.

    Why do you assume that I am "a strong believer" in dangerous breeder reactors when I've tried to bring evidence to the energy debate with this essay? In fact, I'm not particularly in favor of currently available reactor designs. In addition their build times, energy inputs, and inevitable location near large water bodies are serious barriers. 1m < sea level rise and changing precipitation paterns projected for the 21st century make the final barrier particularly difficult to overcome. But I think it is unwise to preclude the development of better reactor designs such as liquid thorium designs discussed on this website.

    To cut a long story short, I only selected nuclear because it was the only low-carbon energy source (other than CCS, which is even worse IMO) that would provide a decent portion of UK energy supply. Perhaps I'd change it to a 3. But please show me an alternative (preferable based on DECC's imperfect model) that you, majorium, prefer.

    Here's mine, warts and all, with nuclear power too high (yes I probably would opt for less nuclear)

    Thank you for your reply, it's reassuring to know that the problem is the model rather than you believing nuclear is the best solution.

    I played with it a bit myself, and it seems to me that the part where oil and coal imports make up any shortfalls is the kicker with that model - maybe they will, maybe they won't. I'm not sure any of these models is much more than fantasy, however. I'm not enough of a computer expert to mess around with it either.

    I don't sugar-coat it for the big boys like you, Robin.
    ( Just ask r^2)

    How could you buy the liquid floride thorium reactor baloney(repeated endlessly at TOD)?
    It's a thermal breeder that turns thorium into U-233, which is more radioactive than plutonium. In fact it is thought too radioactive for 'sane' terrorists to handle.

    The reactor runs a molten fluoride salt at 650 degC. At least sodium for a normal breeder is a liquid at 98 degC. The other choice is molten lead which are used in Russian fast reactors.

    There's no magic in thorium. With breeder reactors using depleted uranium(U-238) there is enough material to last at least 500 years, but safe breeder technology has proven elusive for 60 years.

    As far as fossil fuels go there is enough energy to last the world at current consumption rates for a while.
    There is 22000 quads of coal which we use at the rate of 145 quads per year.
    There are 5500 quads of oil used at 175 quads per year.
    There are an addition 5500 quads of unconventional oil.
    There are probably 10000 quads of natural gas which we use
    at the rate of 110 quads per year.
    There are 2000 quads of uranium left which we use up at the rate of 25 quads per year.

    So we have a total of 45000 quads which we use at the rate of 450 quads per year or 100 years. The problem is one of the distribution of energy resources(location of deposits) and the distribution of energy consumption(rich versus poor).

    If we could replace 50% of our energy with renewables in the next 50 years we gain another 60 years of time(2170);
    (45000-50*(450+250)/2)/250=110 years

    Anything beyond 100 years is not worth worrying about except GW.
    GW is set to increase global temperatures by 0.15 degC per decade.
    By the time fossil fuels are exhausted secondary feedbacks(melting ice sheets, desertification, melting permafrost) will keep temperatures rising for at least another 500 years.

    That means carbon emissions need to be reduced ASAP.
    OTOH, our expectation are of a world of plentiful energy, not vastly reduced energy.
    We need to increase clean energy production.

    The fossil energy system is highly centralized which favors CCS,
    a proven technology. All fossil fuels can be reduced to hydrogen or electricity and with the CO2 buried, the emissions are only on the order of 10%.

    I thought that the radioactivity of U-233 (or rather, of U-232 and its decay products, with which it is apparently unavoidably contaminated -- all this according to the Wikipedia article you referenced) was a feature, not a bug. It describes it as being more difficult to form into a bomb than plutonium (same technology, but somewhat harder) and profoundly more dangerous to handle (remote manipulation instead of a glove box).

    It has a relatively short half-life of 70 years, so though it poses a waste problem (I had thought that it was "burned up" in a Thorium reactor, but I am not finding this right now), it is a much shorter-lived waste problem.

    I don't live in the UK so you could say my US view is out of touch with the UK reality. I also thought it odd that some situations such as average room temperature were already so low that me choosing a temp lower than I live with would be an increase of temp for UK residents.

    But you can see my choices/predictions. Some I didn't want to choose, for example Nuclear at 1 (no new plants) with the other choices as is warns that I'd need significant backup power generation capability to ensure no blackouts. Nuclear at 2 (13 new reactors) gives me a balanced energy scenario for the most part (I'm assuming the excess in the latter half would be absorbed by the greedy/lazy). Another is, I'd love to reduce coal consumption further but I don't think its realistic to expect coal or nuclear to be reduced drastically. I don't buy carbon sequestration as a solution. Filter the smokestacks yes, pumping stuff around to do more than a simple filter will, no.

    What I don't understand about your path is why your energy supply is tuned to 2 or 3 times needed instead of trying to get closer to balance?

    I don't live in the UK so you could say my US view is out of touch with the UK reality. I also thought it odd that some situations such as average room temperature were already so low that me choosing a temp lower than I live with would be an increase of temp for UK residents.

    I believe that's likely the temperature averaged across all rooms in all homes, day and night, throughout the whole heating season. The typical occupied daytime/evening room temperature is much higher than 17.5C.

    Robin, I quite agree that the future implied by the end of cheap energy is a bounded range of possibilities. History's a complex systems phenomenon, not the unfolding of a linear process; still, the further we go along certain possible tracks -- the current version of business as usual being among these -- the narrower the limits on constructive action become. The metaphor of a nuclear reactor in meltdown is a good one; the closer you get to the point when the corium mass burns through the foundation, hits groundwater, and blows itself and the rest of the plant to kingdom come, the fewer options you've got, and once the steam explosion happens, you can no longer influence the process; all you can do is try to manage the consequences.

    Tools for assessing political intervention are good to have in either case. I don't share the often-repeated insistence that the US political system can't respond constructively to peak oil; I think it was Winston Churchill who said that Americans can be counted on to do the right thing after every other option has been exhausted, and I suspect that's a fair description of the next decade or so. Once global oil production begins to slide off the bumpy plateau of the last half dozen years, the economic impacts of drastic energy price increases and demand destruction begin to bite, and the first round or so of political handwaving and fingerpointing produces no results worth noticing, I expect a panicked attempt by politicians to do something about energy, and some useful steps may come out of that.

    Still, it seems likely that a lot of those steps will fall into the category of managing consequences rather than influencing the process, and the sets of options involved are not the same. It might be worth exploring both sets -- one that assumes we still have the energy and resources to tackle at least some major projects, the other that assumes we're past that stage and it's a matter of jerry-rigging some way to avoid complete economic prostration in a world of rapidly declining energy and resource availability.

    Hi John Michael Greer,

    Many thanks for sharing your understandings of my essay. It would be all too easy to write off as technocratic top-downist utopian pedaller. I see it as a tool showroom. Instead of saws, scythes etc, I'm showcasing intellectual tools to be test-driven and discarded as people please. A point that I would have like to have made, in hindsight, is that some of these tools display general characteristics of technologies suitable for preparing for low-energy societies: They are "scalable… resilient… modular…and open” as you say in page 109 of your book The Ecotechnic future.

    Yes I like the metaphor of nuclear reactor also, and borrowed the literary style from your writing.

    In fact, it is a happy coincidence that you wrote a reply to this article because I was trying to track-down a contact for you to show you a review I've published of the Ecotechnic Future

    The hard copy of this is being distributed around Sheffield as we speak. The Nowthen article is explicitly local; this TOD forum is international. I think this illustrates how low-energy solutions can develop on many scales simultaneously, something I find hugely inspiring for the future. When these scales mingle it's exciting.

    I'd be grateful if you could check out the book review and let me know your thoughts about it,


    Robin, many thanks! Since the book review's off topic for this thread, drop me an email via info (at) aoda (dot) org and we can take the conversation from there.

    Building on Majorian's comment above, with a slant to regarding environmental/pollution impacts:

    How many coal-fired power plants are there in the World?

    Here is what the Union of Concerned Scientists claims is the annual pollution load from a 'typical' coal-fired power plant:

    Burning coal is a leading cause of smog, acid rain, global warming, and air toxics. In an average year, a typical coal plant generates:

    3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary human cause of global warming--as much carbon dioxide as cutting down 161 million trees.

    10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which causes acid rain that damages forests, lakes, and buildings, and forms small airborne particles that can penetrate deep into lungs.

    500 tons of small airborne particles, which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility.

    10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), as much as would be emitted by half a million late-model cars. NOx leads to formation of ozone (smog) which inflames the lungs, burning through lung tissue making people more susceptible to respiratory illness.

    720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease.

    220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone.

    170 pounds of mercury, where just 1/70th of a teaspoon deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat.

    225 pounds of arsenic, which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion.

    114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium.

    On March 16th, the EPA is required to issue a proposal on how to clean up these air pollutants. The proposal suggests that large production coal-fired plants install controls that have been shown to decrease air pollutants. The newly proposed controls are already currently used in some plants. Control technologies include scrubbers, currently used by 46% of plants, to control acid gases. Another control technology is activated carbon injection, used to control mercury, which involves blowing powder activated carbon into a flue gas to absorb pollutants -- this technology is currently used by just 13% of plants.

    The EPA is finally taking steps to cut down on toxic emissions form coal-fired power plants.

    Federal environmental regulators Wednesday proposed the nation's first limit on mercury, arsenic, acid gas and other toxic air pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants.

    The limit could cut 91 percent of the pollution, including 45 tons of mercury each year, wafting from power-plant smokestacks nationwide. In Colorado, federal data indicate power plants spew 943 pounds a year of toxic pollutants, which then settle on land and water.

    The EPA has set limits on air pollution from incinerators, medical waste and cement plants under the Clean Air Act. But it has taken 20 years to set standards aimed at reducing toxic industrial pollution. Federal officials estimate compliance will cost energy companies about $11 billion but that health benefits by 2016 will be worth $140 billion.

    Will the Republicans continue to demand that EPA regulatory powers be stripped away as the continuing price of further budget agreements?

    I know that is a common theme among some that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats, but that broad brush is not the case...especially when it comes to subjects such as this. {Most Democrats from WV and KY excepted}.

    More detailed health impacts:

    The ALA report says some plants use readily available technologies to control toxic emissions, but more need to do so. It says more than 400 plants in 46 states spew 386,000 tons of 84 separate hazardous air pollutants. It adds:

    Their emissions threaten the health of people who live near these plants, as well as those who live hundreds of miles away. Despite the concentration of these plants largely in the Midwest and Southeast, their toxic emissions threaten the air in communities nationwide.

    The process of burning coal releases chemicals into the atmosphere that threaten not only the air Americans breathe, but the water they drink, the soil they live on and the food they eat. EPA classifies many of these chemicals as "hazardous air pollutants" or "air toxics," a category that means they are known or reasonably expected to harm human health or the environment or both. Hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants include:

    • Acid gases, such as hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride;
    • Benzene, toluene and other compounds;
    • Dioxins and furans;
    • Formaldehyde;
    • Lead, arsenic, and other metals;
    • Mercury;
    • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH); and
    • Radioactive materials, like radium and uranium.

    But wait, there's more:

    Just when we might be taking heart that the EPA is going to force coal-fired power plants to install more and better air pollutant scrubbers, this NYT article asserts that the scubbing residue now is becoming a toxic waste water problem:

    So three years ago, when Allegheny Energy decided to install scrubbers to clean the plant’s air emissions, environmentalists were overjoyed. The technology would spray water and chemicals through the plant’s chimneys, trapping more than 150,000 tons of pollutants each year before they escaped into the sky.

    But the cleaner air has come at a cost. Each day since the equipment was switched on in June, the company has dumped tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater containing chemicals from the scrubbing process into the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to 350,000 people and flows into Pittsburgh, 40 miles to the north.

    “It’s like they decided to spare us having to breathe in these poisons, but now we have to drink them instead,” said Philip Coleman, who lives about 15 miles from the plant and has asked a state judge to toughen the facility’s pollution regulations. “We can’t escape.”

    More details:

    Coal mining

    About 60% of U.S. coal is stripped from the earth in surface mines; the rest comes from underground mines. Surface coal mining may dramatically alter the landscape. Coal companies throughout Appalachia often remove entire mountain tops to expose the coal below. The wastes are generally dumped in valleys and streams.

    In West Virginia, more than 300,000 acres of hardwood forests (half the size of Rhode Island) and 1,000 miles of streams have been destroyed by this practice.

    Solid waste

    Waste created by a typical 500-megawatt coal plant includes more than 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber each year. Nationally, more than 75% of this waste is disposed of in unlined, unmonitored onsite landfills and surface impoundments.

    Toxic substances in the waste -- including arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium -- can contaminate drinking water supplies and damage vital human organs and the nervous system. One study found that one out of every 100 children who drink groundwater contaminated with arsenic from coal power plant wastes were at risk of developing cancer. Ecosystems too have been damaged -- sometimes severely or permanently -- by the disposal of coal plant waste.

    Some points to ponder when considering Coal-fired power plants...

    A few points:

    1) Has anyone found the source code for the web interface? I can find the Excel spreadsheet, but no sign of the promised open source code elsewhere, particularly the web interface.

    2) As others have pointed out, this is very much a business as usual, growth as usual, non-peak-oil aware tool. It's focused on the CO2 and ignores the elephant in the room. As such the scenarios covered are massively too limited to be of value (we aren't going to be at a situation in 2050 where oil hasn't peaked, everyone agrees THAT at least).

    3) There is scope, I think, to modify this spreadsheet to include broad peak oil scenarios. It's not easy (it's a bit of a tangled mess) but there are sheets dealing with mode share assumptions that could be modified. In terms of influencing the discussion, it mightn't be a bad way to go - simplified as it is.

    4) Similarly, in theory you could swap out the data for US data and form a version of the tool that the USians could play with.

    Digging through the DECC documents, we find this "explanation" of why its not included:

    A number of respondents noted that peak oil was not considered to be a constraining factor in the 2050 Calculator. The term ‘peak oil’ refers to maximum global oil production, where the main areas under discussion are the timing and level of a peak in production, the shape of the production profile and the drivers of oil production.

    We have looked at a variety of sources that assess oil demand and oil depletion including the International Energy Agency (IEA), industry and other research organisations. These broadly follow the conclusions of the IEA’s analysis, namely that conventional oil production is unlikely to grow in the future as it has in the past, and that a supply ‘crunch’ (a tightness in the oil market), if not a peak in oil production, is very likely before 2020. There is no consensus on the level and nature of the peak, with some experts believing that total oil production could then plateau for up to 20 years, while other experts anticipate that a peak could be followed by a slow, undulating decline, or that production will fall off as quickly as volume increased. These situations could have a significant impact on the UK economy, leading to oil price rises and volatility.

    However in the context of the 2050 Calculator there is no suggestion that oil will run out completely before 2050 and therefore no physical constraint – aside from the overall constraint of meeting the 80% emissions target – has been placed upon the use of oil (or other fossil fuels) in the 2050 Calculator. The Calculator currently does not cost‑optimise the pathways created and therefore cost is not yet a limiting factor; it is assumed that oil is available to the Calculator user should they design a pathway which requires it.

    So even though they admit that fall off in volume could have a significant impact, they are assuming that the UK will always be able to outbid and secure as much of the oil that remains as it needs.

    That assumption effectively invalidates the model. They haven't considered the consequences of a post-peak world, assuming a market model and money being magiced from somewhere.

    That's my only problem with David Mackay's Hot Air book. His relatively short introductory section really is unbalanced toward global warming as the rationale for alternative energy approaches. Fortunately, he does mention oil deletion at the very beginning but doesn't dwell on it. For that reason it is not quite as comprehensive in the rationalization area as it is in solutions.

    This emphasis probably carried over to the DECC work.

    The other problem I had, is he takes high per capita energy consumption as a given. [Its been a couple of year, if you think I'm wrong here]. I have impression is brittain strted out with poorly insulated buildings, then american style thermal decadence set in, and everyone considers 25C winter indoor temps as a god given right, and won't insulate either. Obviously some combination of insulation and lowering of the thermal decadence would go a long way towards reducing demand.

    I totally agree: his numbers are unfortunately downright absurd at times, giving an overall sense of impending doom which is not necessary at all if you decide to use a combination of conservation + enormous technological efficiency gains possible.

    The thing I liked by far best is the focus on "how much energy can we extract per area" with different types of energy (hyrdo, solar, tide, wind, biomass etc). This approach is a necessary way of thinking - not only EROEI is a key measure for a some technology, the amount of energy per area that can be extracted is also extremely important - it also shows that quite apart from its lamentable EROEI, biofuel generation is totally pointless since it gets such a low energy/area output compared to other things.

    "...biofuel generation is totally pointless since it gets such a low energy/area output compared to other things..."

    On the other hand, the heat energy contained in a year's harvest from one acre of biomass is the heat equivalent of between 500 and 1000 gallons of gasoline. Gee, instead of creating incredibly inefficient industries that are permanently dependent on government handouts, why don't we just change the engines so they can directly burn the available fuel?

    Naw you're right, makes too much sense, be too easy.

    ...why don't we just change the engines so they can directly burn the available fuel?

    Ummm... which particular fuel(s) do you have in mind?

    (Oops, please read KalimankuDenku's comment below first)

    "The original Diesel was designed to run on coal dust."

    Bingo. Except it can also be designed with an external combustor so you don't have to deal with melted ash deposits in the cylinders. Or you could run a steam engine. Don't laugh, a modern steam engine is nothing like the smokey clanking monstrosities of the Victorian age.

    The higher heating value of switchgrass is 16,000 kJ/kg, out of which about 1,000 kJ/kg is needed for cultivation, harvest, and transportation. A typical harvest is about 9,000 kg dry grass per acre per year, for a total of 135,000,000 kJ. The higher heating value of gasoline is 47,300 kJ/kg, so that's the same amount of heat as 2,850 gallons of gasoline. Per acre, per year, with little fertilizing, no tilling, and no irrigation (at least in my neck of the woods). And you don't have to worry about weeds because they burn just fine too.

    Please note that in contrast to the current laughably inefficient liquid fuel conversion processes, chopped delivered dry grass has an EROEI of about 15. I can live with that. I bet you could too.

    Got it.

    Not laughing, even a little. This is an option that makes lots of sense to me (along with conservation/reduction, of course): relatively simple, relatively benign, manageable on a local level with local skills and resources, likely more than adequate EROEI to make it a significant contributor to an energy mix.

    Besides, the little stochastic tinkerer in me has been wanting a steam engine to play with for a long time. ;^)

    Do you happen to know if David Pimentel has looked at this scenario? I'd be interested to learn what he thinks of it. I'll investigate, but if anyone happens to have citations...

    A blast from the past:
    The turbine car

    The thermodynamic truth:

    Stirlings are really fun:

    I'm surrounded by wood. Turning it into charcoal first makes the car simpler: the fuel is dry. Run something with the gas produced in the charcoal making process, as well as the process itself.

    Yup. Burning carcoal to make CO and then burning that in a standard gasoline engine is the shortest way home. Coking the fuel in advance would get rid of most of the gunk deposits that usually plague producer gas conversions. I'm told there is a major decrease in horsepower, but on the other hand the wheels do turn.

    For a mobile power plant, an internal combustion engine will always be a lot lighter and smaller than an external combustion engine of the same power. That is simply because with an external combustion engine all your heat energy has to pass through a heat exchanger (ie a boiler). There is a hard tradeoff between size, power, and efficiency. Internal combustion gets around that problem.

    The primary issue with internal combustion of biomass is that it's a high ash fuel at around 7% mineral content. But an engine that can deal with that should produce about the same power and thermal efficiency as a similar size gasoline engine.

    I've got Pimentel and Pimentel, 3rd ed, I think the thing to watch out for, is how many acres of switchgrass you need to meet our current gasoline consumption (obviously, we could also consider cutting back a wee bit). We consume 380 million gallons per DAY. (after some arithmetic....) 76,000 square miles. Apparently about half of what we plant with corn, right now. I suppose it could work, if all the input assumptions are correct.

    Switchgrass and similar crops can grow on land that is not suitable for food crops, so it doesn't have to compete with food. I agree direct combustion of biofuel can't be the whole answer, but it could be a key part of the picture. If it just keeps the trucks and railroads running that's a win.

    Yes, I think it's pretty certain that you can grow switchgrass where you wouldn't think about planting food crops. Maybe some competition with pasture, but I think we could probably accept that tradeoff.

    And we won't need so many train and truck trips when we cut back drastically on the trinket and SUV shipments.

    But would they compete for NPK plus the fuel to harvest?


    I'm not a farmer, but I understand that grass can grow pretty well without much inputs. Short answer yes, grassland will produce more if it's fertilized provided there is enough rain to use it.

    Also you can't extract biomass by the ton year after year. You have to allow fallow time for the soil to recover. And you need to scatter the ashes back onto the soil to recapture some of the minerals.

    The big advantage is that mowing grass is naturally a no-till operation. I'm told you do need to plow and replant every seven or eight years to maintain production.

    As far as fuel to cultivate and harvest, I assume that you would burn grass for that. That's the 1,000 kJ/kg out of 16,000 kJ/kg I mentioned earlier.

    Right, it does take resources. Maybe it can use different land and less resources but it still needs some input if you are going to get output without just draining the land. If down to your last bag of fertilizer and last can of fuel which gets it? The crop for food or the crop for fuel? People talk about the whole input for FF, rigs, drilling, transport, refining etc, the same needs to be used for alternatives. As soon as you start the crop you have input, there needs to be some sort of EROEI measure for resources used as well, an ERORI to compare these alternatives, There also needs to be some way of comparing how much is taken out of the food system too. For example, if the rising population requires a 10% increase in food production while the practical increase is 20% things may look rosy with a 10% surplus. OTOH if alternative fuels require 15% of the resources taken from the food crop, fertilizer and fuel input plus crop taken for fuel, there would be a 5% deficit.


    If you're down to your last can of fuel, swap it for more fertilizer because you can run the tractor on biomass. Did you catch the part about the EROEI of 15? That means your average farmer could cut enough grass out of the corners of his fields to run all his equipment including food crop cultivation. Farmers are good candidates for early adopters.

    Unfortunately even with these advantages there isn't enough suitable land to replace our existing liquid fuel habit. But direct combustion of biomass should be a part of the picture, and it makes a hell of a lot more sense than the way we're making biofuel now.

    It works in the short term on the small scale.

    So many people are running diesel Mercedes and Rabbits on used vegetable oil now that it is getting a bit more difficult to find. It is fun though: In L.A. my friend says "Sure! Let's go! It doesn't cost anything." and we hop into the old Mercedes.

    I'm sitting in hundred of acres of walnut groves. There is a lot of wood in this rural setting... a lot.

    If I was in the city, I might consider the thermal decomposition of HDPE shopping-bags, milk-jugs, buckets, and restaurant bulk-pack containers. It is more energy-dense than gasoline. It is a solid.
    This is a really interesting read:
    I'm the Santa:
    As you can see though, the equipment is pretty expensive.
    Larger scale making liquids, not producer gas:

    To be moving is better than to be not moving.

    It works in the short term on the small scale.

    Long term?
    Large scale?
    Not take resources from food crops?


    "...a harsh winter killed crops and some North Koreans were already eating grass, leaves and tree bark."

    I see what you're saying. But I don't have any solid data regarding nationwide sustainability for biomass production, and I'm not going to bullshit my way through it. That will have to be a future R&D project since I've got my hands full at least through the end of this year.

    Right now my plan is to put together a small biomass fired generator for my own use, and put up design and efficiency info on a web site if anyone is interested. I have a preliminary design and most of the hardware. The rest of it I will have to build. An efficient burner with decent turndown, safe reliable fuel feed, and ash removal will be the big challenges. With the fabrication involved and the limited time and money I can devote to the project, a running example is probably a year away. (I'm a former ironworker, but I'm working in a small garage and my only power equipment is a big freakin hammer. I'll have to farm out the machine work.) But I'll keep chipping away at it. With a running example I should be able to post semi-accurate HP and BSFC numbers.

    The original Diesel was designed to run on coal dust.

    Wood can be gassified: Woodgas
    In WWII, the wood had to be dry and in 2" cubes.
    Cottage industries sprang up.
    The gas is from the resins. Charcoal remains.
    Charcoal can be burned.
    Silica/mineral white/gray ash remains.
    Korean taxis ran on charcoal burned to monoxide.

    Flour and sawdust explode (surface area):

    Wouldn't that be funny. Make a flour of dry woody/weedy waste and run a car on that.

    Actually its probably a consequence of Wicks and the 'thou shall not talk of peak oil' hard line that was maintained for years. Combine that with a government-wide CO2 focus and anyone mentioning Peak Oil as an issue is swimming upstream.

    Problem is, the viewpoint taken is totally unrealistic. Nobody believes we won't hit an oil constriction before 2050, and most expect a decline.

    And it's NOT a case of cash, really; its a question of relative economic health. If more people want oil than is available then its either going to be allocated via allocation (so we shouldn't assume we can secure it) or via the market (and we must assume we will be worse placed than others to bid in the open market).

    Therefore not taking it into account skews everything else said into la-la land.

    Hi garyp,

    Thank you for digging this stuff up - I took DECC's open source claim at face value and must confess didn't look into them with the skepticism or curiosity that I should have. This is a very important point deserving of further investigation and communication with DECC. Unfortunately I have no time do this at present. I'll follow any investigation closely, and hope to follow this up in May.

    Keep it up, and please let us know of any more findings,


    It seems strange to see no mention of e-bikes (and e scooters / E2W) in something that claims to be :
    Scenarios of the cycling rate to 2020 based on different policies

    Yet this is the reality right now, so it certainly needs to be included in any forecast attempts.

    The electric bike (e-bike) has been a growing form of transportation in our new "green" culture. 120 million e-bikes in China as of early 2010, and sales are expanding rapidly in India and the Netherlands. The “Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports – 2010 Update” estimates that 1,000,000 electric bicycles will be sold in Europe in 2010. The same report estimates that sales in the U.S. will reach roughly 300,000 in 2010, doubling the number sold in 2009.

    and here are the price trends

    Roland Berger forecast that the price of automotive grade high energy lithium-ion battery cells would fall from the current level of $650 per kWh to $400 per kWh in 2015 and $275 per kWh in 2020. Consumer products grade cells should be cheaper.

    To me it makes most sense to push 2 wheel transport uptakes , so that the speed difference relative to normal city traffic, is reduced.
    It is the speed difference that is a major accident driver.

    What the difference between automotive grade and consumer grade lithium cells? Number of recharges?

    For the Tesla Roadster, essentially none.

    It uses thousands of cells about the size of a AA.

    "We started our design by purposely picking a small form factor battery cell. This cell is called the 18650 because of its measurements of 18mm diameter by 65mm length (i.e., just a bit larger than a AA battery). Billions of 18650 cells are made each year.

    The Tesla Roadster battery pack is comprised of about 6800 of these 18650 cells, and the entire pack has a mass of about 450kg."


    We totally agree. The analogy of drowning while searching for a lifeboat amongst floating debris comes to mind. "Modal shifts" are recognized as top priority, yet the obvious modal shift is not acknowledged. Electric cars do not represent a modal shift! The electric bike is a much better impedance match for existing battery technology than the car. The unassisted pedal bike will not supplant nearly as many cars as the electric bike, because most are accustomed to using cars to travel faster and further (say 20 miles per day at 30 MPH) than pedaling will allow without seriously increasing commute time and most likely, food intake. On average, food costs us ten times its energy content, in no small part because of refrigeration, which few will shun. Electric bikes are not for the lazy, but for the serious and practical environmentalist. Anyone who bikes regularly and begins to supplement with a powerful and silent direct drive electric motor finds it nearly impossible to ride without helping (especially up hills!) to save on battery drain and extend range.

    Surely the main driver for sustainability is human population, which at 7 billion can not be sustained by today's technology and the resources available, while consumption of non-renewable resources threatens the species. All other issues, such as climate change and peak resources hinge in getting population back to a really sustainable level.

    @Robin Lovelace: "The additional food requirements of hungry cyclists could entail a large energy cost"

    This seems very, very dubious to me. I commute every day by bike, 6 miles each way, and I don't notice that I eat more than my colleagues, many of whom in any case probably drive to the gym after work! (And if they're not exercising, there are major societal costs to that, as well.)

    Yes the "additional food requirements of hungry cyclists" are just surplus calories that otherwise would end up on their waistlines. They are essentially getting the energy "for free", or actually for less than nothing because otherwise they would have to invest more energy in driving to a fitness center.

    I used to take the escalator up to my fitness center, and every time I did it I thought, "Well, this defeats the whole purpose of going there - I could just run up and down the stairs instead of using the step machine." However, the stairs were locked and alarmed so just had to live with the essential contradiction.

    I will add a most pathetic anecdote. I once worked with a guy that completed brutal endurance races such as the Death Valley run and he said he always took elevators at work because he didn't want to risk getting sweaty. This only illustrates the internal conflicts that we face in trying to appear "civilized".

    You've hit on the biggest impediment. It turns out that showing up to work all sweaty and/or dirty is the #1 reason people cite against bike commuting. Similarly, providing showers and changing rooms at work is the most effective way to increase bike commuting.

    Do you perhaps have a reference for this? I'd swear I had seen a contradiction of this claim somewhere. Yup, via one of my favorite blogs: . Facilities are up there, but (perceived) safety is #1.

    And here, where it is pointed out that where people ride most in the OECD, they do not use showers at work (because, how could everyone take a shower upon arriving at work?):

    Give that we have done experiments for various ways to increase bike commuting, it is clear that we should rip off what worked in the Netherlands, where we have similar conditions (i.e., near where I live, just for example. Atlanta and Houston, not so much).

    I would agree with the findings and why I called my anecdote pathetic; it's pathetic in the sense that I gathered my evidence from talking to just one person. Much better to do a survey.

    I can actually relate to the London situation. In unsafe situations, I will easily jump on a USA sidewalk, but no way in London as you would get ticketed quickly.

    "...because, how could everyone take a shower upon arriving at work?"

    That's a potential problem. OTOH The Netherlands utterly lacks hills (except around Maastricht) and all but lacks really hot weather. So, what's socially acceptable there may not fly well in the USA. (And, despite the recent earthquake-driven blip, hasn't been flying very well in hot, steaming Tokyo either: cycling there has become but a pale shadow of what it was, say, 20 years ago.)

    (I'm not even sure where to look in the US for conditions "similar" to The Netherlands - no hills, essentially no hot weather, and yet average January high temps above freezing. San Francisco would come to mind for benevolent climate but they have plenty of hills.)

    Oddly enough, even around Maastricht, 30% ride share.

    If you take cycling seriously as transportation, you also build lifts

    and tunnels

    PS, regarding heat and hills:

    That photo was taken in Taiwan, plenty hot, plenty hilly, plenty steaming. That bike has an e-assist (a StokeMonkey, feeds through the gears). Cara Lin got the StokeMonkey precisely because her commute included a large hill, and it was hot and steaming.

    Said StokeMonkey is substantially cheaper and more efficient than an auto (just in case you were wondering), and the bike takes up less space, is easier on the infrastructure, and less likely to kill other people that it crashes into.

    Now, I do agree that this would be a huge leap for your average "does this car make me look fat?" American, but in terms of, "where will we find the advanced technology to allow us to travel up hills in the heat without using much energy or turning into dripping sweat puddles", that's done. This is not a technical problem.

    The "yuppie logic" of driving a mile or two to a gym, where you get on a treadmill and get the several miles of walking exercise you could have gotten by walking to the gym, baffles the stuffing out of me. Still, it's very deeply rooted in American culture these days. Get a push lawnmower and start using it, then tell your baffled neighbor that you bought it instead of a gym membership, and see what reaction you get!

    Better yet, get a shovel and dig up the stupid lawn.

    Ours is mostly gone, replaced by veggie beds in back and an herb garden in front -- the rest will be following as time and perennial-buying budget permit. Still, it's probably going to take an epic shift in collective thinking to make the Great American Lawn Fetish go away, and push mowers are a nice intermediate step.

    ...push mowers are a nice intermediate step.

    And they may well help to hasten the shift. ;^)

    A few notes:

    1) Can't walk for more than a couple hundred feet, at the absolute most, without crossing streets with distracted, angry people driving 3000 pound death-metal machines way too fast, both on neighborhood streets as well as on higher-capacity streets and roads.

    2)Add in the curbs, cracks, and when walking off-street/sidewalk, the 'gopher holes' and rocks which I have turned my ankle on/in. Don't misread me, I love a good hike up the mountain/in national parks...but when I want to burn calories, I want a stair-stepper or treadmill or stationary bike that will give me stable footing and allow me to concentrate on burning calories, not avoiding an ankle sprain.

    3) In the gym: No street thugs, I have a container of cold water handy, if I need to urinate, the facilities are right there, then back on the machine, and no incredible insolation to overheat me (lets more burn more cals when I am under shade) and give me skin cancer.

    4) weight training equipment is right next to the aerobic machines and allows an efficient aerobic and aerobic work-out.

    5) Swimming pool co-located to weights and aerobic machines area to further add variety to the exercise.

    6) showers right there

    7) Lots of eye candy.

    Each to his or her own. Not everyone gets to live next to an idyllic walking path and/or biking trail.

    Heisenberg, I've never lived next to a walking path or biking trail, the sidewalks near my home are at least as poorly maintained as the ones near you, and I doubt the drivers are any better, but somehow I've managed to get by just fine for the whole of my adult life without a car, or for that matter a health club membership. Just saying...


    I do not doubt you. I have read two of your books, and respect your experiences and thinking.

    However, in the circumstances of my making, in order to make the money which pays the mortgage, I commute ~ 11 miles each way between my home and my line of work work is based on my experience, and my choice of where to live is based on the lack of safety and poor public schools closer to my work, which led me to my current abode 11 miles from my work, in a good school district/low crime area, which leads me to choosing my line of work to pay these higher bills...rinse, spit, repeat.

    All I was saying, was that if the majority of the denizens of Albuquerque valued car-alternative biking/walking routes free of competition with cars, that I would certainly use them, saving resources and bettering my health to boot.

    My 10-12-hour work daze make it logical for me to frequent a gym to achieve periods of concentrated calorie-burning and aerobic exercise.

    I understand the basis of your comment...and respect your point of view.

    It seems to be a seperation thing. There is driving time, working time, exercise time. Without any understanding that you can blend your activities for far better results.

    That assumes that we are all currently treating exercise as a commodity that must be obtained in a gym, or else not exercising at all.
    It assumes that we do not get any significant exercise from working on our gardens (something we have been doing quite a bit of this time of year).

    It also assumes that everything is really close and relatively flat.

    I commute by bike every day, and I've noticed that I eat less for lunch than many of my co-workers. On the way to work, I pass a "spinning" class (to which people seem to drive), where people sit on stationary bicycles and stare blankly. This just makes no sense to me.

    I would love to commute by bike every day ~11 miles each way to/from work in Albuquerque, except that I do not have a death wish.

    Driving scares me enough as it is.

    If the sustainability fairies came and we could carve some dedicated bikeways through the city, with over/underpasses across the 'deathrace 2000' roads, I would be right there!

    At the gym, I don't stare blankly...I watch news shows or History Channel/Discovery Channel shows on the little LCD TV right in front of me on the stair stepper whilst I flame off calories for ~ an hour at a go.

    Can't you take the paths along the arroyos? Those are perfect for biking and you can even dip down if you want to avoid the intersections :)

    If my commute was East-West-based, that would be a possibility, although not all the arroyos by any means have passable underpasses...some are gated in, some are too short from foot-to head, and many of those are clogged with crossing the major 4-5 North-South thoroughfares (4-6 lanes each)would still be necessary.

    My commute is almost directly North-South-North, so I am SOL when it comes to following arroyos, as the land rises in the East and falls West to the Rio-not-so-Grande. It might be possible to head West to the Bosque and bike South along the Rio, but the monstrosity called I-25 is in the way, and there are not open arroyos underneath that (all gated in by iron bars). The E-W roads over I-25 are bike death traps...way way too much traffic. Same problem if I tried to head East and go South on Tramway Blvd...once upon a time the arroyos were clear shots, but now almost all are in underground culverts parts of their paths to allow subdivisions to exist over top of them!

    Albuquerque used to value its 'Open Spaces', but over time development has become King...the 'Open Space' parkland doesn't generate tax revenue. That is one of the reasons we have far fewer balloons in the annual Balloon is MUCH more difficult to find an open patch to land in nowadaze in ABQ.

    Got ya, I used to take the East-West arroyo from Winnrock along Indian School road to get over to Sandia Peak, about 10 miles. I liked that big pedestrian bridge over Tramway Blvd. But that was the extent of my experience, being just a visitor.

    Remember seeing the occasional roadrunner! And I did see the balloon festival one time and some of the balloons landing in people's backyards.

    You get those sustainability fairies by electing them. For ABQ, I would wonder, could you make common cause with the solar power crowd, and get them to erect their PV panels (or their mirrors) on posts above the bike path, so that you would then have some shade to tide in? You guys get plenty of sunlight there.

    Well, like a lot of other places, the elections swept in politicians at the state and local level who are not sympathetic with the causes we discuss here...and I didn't elect them. Not that the previous crowd were leading the way to change BAU either.

    Making some bike and walking paths shaded with PV panels would be a good idea.

    I'm not being judgemental.....but become a sustainability fairy yourself!

    My sister's (Gail) pet:

    That said....on a good week I might ride to work 2x in a week (7 miles). I kick myself for my lame excuses, but largely agree that the stress of getting hit and the grumpiness I feel when breathing dust and exhaust make driving an easy evil!

    Very good point which I am thinking about but have no time to investigate at present. Please see my comments above about this, and please try to find more than anacdotal evidence as did CyclemotorEngineer.


    The anecdotes are only meant to show that the issue is too complex to be handled with a simple model. A more promising approach would be to look for natural experiments: for instance, look at the food consumption of cities with a lot of regular cyclists, like (I think) Copenhagen or Amsterdam, and then compare their food consumption to that of Chicago or wherever. By choosing your cities you could take care of objections about hilly geography, etc. I doubt that Copenhagenites eat more than Chicagoans.

    If I had more time I'd do it myself--I may yet. But the main thing is that the problem is too complex for a simple model, and I wouldn't want people to write off bicycling because of concerns about extra caloric needs.

    All I can find in a quick search is this:

    According to their data, which supposedly comes from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (though I couldn't get at it quickly), Denmark consumed 3400 kCal per person per day in 2005-7, and the Netherlands only 3240, while the US consumed 3700 and Canada 3530. So it looks like North Americans at least could ride their bikes a lot more and possibly eat less. The hungry cyclist meme is a silly distraction and should be left out of what seems to be a pretty cool model.

    Why not incorporate the data upthread to model the hungry (or not-so-hungry) bicyclist effect accurately?

    It looks like the minimum is around 5 flat miles per day, assuming that you get no other exercise at all.

    Most commutes are more than 2 1/2 miles, and replacing "many, many car trips" with bike trips will almost certainly enter the uphill side of the curve.

    Even when accounting for the "hungry bicyclist" effect, bicycling still looks very good.

    Can that many calories be obtained with non-petroleum food production methods?

    That's an interesting question, but one that doesn't have that much to do with the switch to biking per se. Obviously, if there's no petroleum at all, then everything is different--but that's a much more dramatic change than I think the model can come close to handling.

    I challenge anyone of those slobs at work who do no exercise and travel everywhere by car to switch diets with me (in caloric terms) and try to 'survive'. I sometimes wonder where all that 'food' goes that they gob in their mouths...

    My fleet:

    175km a week just commuting to work. Max speed 20km/h. No need for spandex. Fat tires but center rim keeps rolling resistance to a minimum. Military bikes - built like a tank. Driving position feels more like driving a motorcycle. With backpack included, I can carry office laptop, chance of clothes, lunch and go shopping on the way as well.

    Talking about simple models - have a look at the mess that we have in human physiology and dietary science these days. Most of it is utter garbage, propaganda by both the food manufacturing and "health"-industries. If you want to know real facts about human health you can trust: ask someone who runs at least a marathon a year. Chances are they know what they are talking about.

    I'm a keen cyclist myself (cycle to work all year) and it's definitely good for the local environment... But I recently have seen a few articles calculating the effect of the additional calories eaten by cyclists... and the related emissions... and suddenly things didn't look that great anymore!

    I cycle to work (4 miles each way, nearly flat). I cycle fairly vigourously, and I do eat more calories than my driving associates, but I struggle to keep my weight within a BMI of 25. I used to cycle for exercise as well, but I no longer have the spare time.

    However, being vegetarian most of the extra calories are grain based, so I doubt that I consume more than the average omnivore.

    One day I will be forced to resort to electric assist cycling, I hope I can adapt my diet to a lower calorie input and still keep healthy.

    Since we have already passed Peak, the point where it takes 1 BTU to produce a BTU from oil, intervention is irrelevant. With the largest consumer of the energy that comes from oil now the oil producers themselves, the system has now entered a negative feedback loop that will soon destroy itself. Prices over the next decade will be dominated by the same driving forces that have have controlled them for the last 49 years (which is all we have reliable records of). Price will move to stratospheric levels that will crush modern economies.

    Round and round they go. But back to the original topic before it ran off the rails. I offer no answer just an explanation. Political intervention of course! Since the mid-1950s or so when the ”car culture” was being fully established, with basically the rest of the economy following. Every possible political means was used to secure increasing supplies of petroleum and in the last 30 years or so, every possible political means (as well as not-so-subtle military means), has been used to not only maintain that supply and keep the prices low enough to keep the economy going and the voters happy.

    Are there answers to the above conundrum, yes, but to the best of my knowledge none of which gives them the solution to maintaining business as usual. As as been discussed before there seems to be about zero political will to changing that situation. But then again, since most of the world's economies are based on unlimited growth and population expansion, any “solutions” are made basically obsolete by ”expansion”(well at least attempted expansion)... unless something substantive occurs, which I doubt, the age-old principle of the big fish eating the little fish will continue until finally when just the big fish are left, they start throwing nukes at one another (or delivering other things which don't make much noise, but are effective just the same at removing Homo Saps from the planet). Thing is, I don't have a particular preference for either dying of radiation poisoning or dying from having my innards reduced to Jell-O...

    Just keep watching the "Aquarium" shouldn't take too much longer...

    Hi, I'm very sorry, this is a little off-topic, but I just have no idea who else to ask but people on this forum. Around the end of 2008 I bought quite a bit (for me) of the stock USO @ ~$86 per share. Oil prices were ~$100 a barrel as I recall. I didn't buy this to speculate, simply to insulate myself against an oil "shock". EG, I lost my job because oil is at $300, but at least I made some money in oil so I can live for a while on that...

    Anyways, now that oil is >$100 a barrel, I was expecting USO stock to be >$86 a share. But it's trding at practically half of that?!

    I must seem like a complete idiot to you guys, but can someone please explain to me what is going on. Is USO not a well run company or something? I really thought it was as close to a "tracking" stock as could be found...

    Thanks so much, really appreciate any input you guys can give.

    I'm sorry for your situation but it may be that the fund managers decided to make their investments very conservative after the 2008 plunge. They pulled everything out when it was going in free-fall and substituted for something that maintained principle. (I don't do anything with the market, so YMMV)

    un - Tough break. From what I can tell the fund invests in oil futures only. Sadly you've found out what many others still don't understand: for every $ someone makes trading futures someone has to lose a $. I can't find any specific details on their trading history but it seems obvious they made bad predictions. Making a profit trading oil futures isn't determined by oil prices going up. It's made by the accuracy of your bet. You can make just as much money betting prices will fall as betting they'll rise. It all depends on your accuracy. Oil might go from $100/bbl to $120/bbl. But if USO bought a large volume of futures at $125/bbl then they lost a bunch of bucks.

    I'm not sure one can predict the future performance of such a fund. They might make great profits for a year or two but if they begin making the wrong bet (and that's exactly what buying futures is...a bet) they can turn into a monetary balck hole. Unfortunately you've found that the tracking profile wasn't a function of oil prices going up but a function of how well USO predicted those increases. I do feel your pain....I just turned 60 yo and am very protective of my savings.

    Thanks guys, yeah, I feel pretty stupid that I didn't really take the time to fully understand exactly how they were "tracking" oil prices. I simply assumed they were working like those S&P tracking funds, but to be honest I am a little vauge on how *those* work so maybe they work exactly the same way.

    TBH, it's a little amazing to me that there's no simple way to invest in a true tracking fund that simply follows the price. Seems like even if you are using futures you could simply "hedge" every future you buy so that if it goes up or down, your value just tracks that movement. EG if the price is 100, bet equal money it goes up to 101, 102, 103, 104... and 99, 98, 97, 96 on the other side. Besides the (hopefully small) transaction price of the bets, you ought to stay pretty close to the price of oil. Certainly being off by 50%(!!!) would be pretty tough to do if you followed that process, no?

    Where am I going wrong here?

    un - That's exactly how actual buyers/sellers of crude oil use the futures market: to offset price moves in either direction. It minimizes their downside but does so at the cost of lossing any upside gain. But, again, these are the folks that actually own, buy and sell oil. If I understand your idea you would still lose your investment but just slower. You can bet the futures market both ways and thus not lose money. But remember the folks who run the futures gambling room don't do it for free. You pay commissions for your contracts. So even if you break even on the bet you still lose money thru the commissions. Remember the basic rule of every gambling establisment: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

    Sounds like you're not much better in the market than I am. LOL. Seriously, I gave up investing in the market long ago by following the "Dirty Harry" rule of life: a man has to know his limitations. I didn't lose a penny when the market crashed in '08...wasn't in it. Granted my no-risk low return investment barely keep up with inflation (and sometimes not event that). But I still have more money in my retirement account than ever before. Consider my background: I've been a petroleum geologist for 36 years and wouldn't begin to play the oil futures market. I know a heck of a lot about finding and producing oil. I also don't know squat about predicting its future price. And most importanly, I know I don't know.

    Yeah, it's just that the whole point of my investment was specifically *not* to make money on futures, but to simply track the price of oil - whatever that might be. Instead, it seems like USO started betting heavy on a particular direction - NOT what I wanted, nor what they said they would do.

    It's true that what I outlined would slowly drain the investment pool they had, something I took as a reasonable cost of hedging in this particular way.

    I'm still honestly baffled how they could have lost *half* their value by following this process - which is why I'm wondering if they really did follow that process or did something else completely.

    Interesting to note that crude oil and lease condensate production was still trending nicely upwards in January reaching a new record high of 75,282.635 BBLS/day.(According to the EIA). The trend has now been fairly much straight line from January 2009 until January 2011 with oil production increasing from 71.5 million bbls/day to 75.3 million bbls/day over the 2 year period.

    Obviously there will be a dip due to Libya but how will the year as a whole turn out? Probably an all-time high for 2011 in my opinion.

    Jan 2009 to Jan 2011, which is two years. Assuming data can go up or down on a plateau, one can figure a 25% chance of seeing an increase over 2 years. The analysis is like flipping a coin twice and keeping track of the possibilities:

    Up-Up - 25%
    Up-Down - 25%
    Down-Up - 25%
    Down-Down - 25%

    That's the problem of chasing the data at such short intervals.

    When Cars Are Greener Than People

    Hybrid cars have become so eco-friendly they now trump at least one form of human locomotion. Alberto E. Minetti, professor of physiology at the University of Milan, along with his master’s student Gaspare Pavei, compared the CO2 emissions of four men walking, running and biking with the emissions of a hybrid vehicle carrying those same four men. The scientists found that four men would release more CO2 by jogging than if they boarded a hybrid car. (On average, four women jogging would release less CO2 than if they rode in a car because of their lower body mass.) The lesson: next time you and three male friends are late for the movies, don’t run. Hail a hybrid taxi.

    Walking and bicycling, on the other hand, are still greener than hybrid cars.

    Of course, this is going to be on a 'per mile' basis, which really throws the comparison out the window, since you'd never run over the kinds of distances we will drive to without second thought.

    Is is also fair to guess that they use 'Four Men' because there's a great economy-advantage for a vehicle that carries four as opposed to one, while four on foot get no such benefit?

    I'd be interested to see how four men or women do in a quad-cycle that has been developed for lightness and efficiency to the degree that our bikes have. (Mine would have Power Handles as well as pedals for at least three of the occupants, too)

    In other words, a labored strawman argument.

    I mentioned upthread the crazy study on having a team of bicyclists trying to provide the power for a house over the course of a day.
    I am not sure what a lot of this proves other than it establishes that a human is one of the weakest animal per pound around; thanks to our evolution, I presume.

    Weak, of course being relative, depending on your relatives.. as my old Classmate Dave Attell has said to the crowds,

    "One good man can move a big chair, Two big men can move a big couch, One Woman can GET two big men to move a couch."

    Looking at the fine print, the Grams per km chart used a speed of 30km/hr (18.5mph) for the biking. That's a fairly fast pace, beyond most riders sustained abilities, yet those four riders were emitting less than one third the CO2 per mile than the hybrid. (This does not include drafting, since a majority of that energy is lost to wind resistance.)

    Decrease the cycling speed to a more reasonable 18km/hr(11 mph) pace and decrease the grams per km CO2 foot print by another factor of ~3, making that same 4 person trip ten times more efficient than the Hybrid.

    The chart also ignores the return trip the fossil fuel vehicle must inevitable make when one is no longer in a hurry or look for another fare. (The Taxi observation also ignores the driver's CO2 footprint, energy cost to make hybrid, overhead, etc.)

    Or, perish the though, put an aero fairing on the bikes, or even just put one on the back of the other's bike, and/or provide an electric assist for the bicycle.

    For example:
    (Scroll down to the woman with the pigtails and 3 passengers behind; that bike's got an electric assist. Does the Prius beat that?)

    A trailer seems best for me so I am gradually looking at it. The coupling is what is giving me puzzles at present. The loads I'd need it for are bulky and heavy that would be awkward on, say, a long bike or small and heavy that give me issues with lop sided or top heavy. A small trailer would remove CoG issues, be easier to load and not get in my way. Also, it would only need to be there when I want to shift something.


    How much have you looked? I've used trailers (for kids) and never much liked them. They do make very-long trailers.

    If you do go with a trailer, you want a coupling that attaches near the rear axle (I have verified this experimentally).

    Longtails (xtracycle, big dummy) do a surprisingly good job with both long loads and unbalanced loads, for certain definitions of long. Heavy lumps go best on long johns (e.g, Bakfiets, CETMA Cargo, Metrofiets), but your bike doesn't actually need to be balanced -- I once carried a shrubbery that was so heavy it took two people to load it onto the bike, and I had to ride the bike something like 15 degrees off vertical. But it worked, for about a mile going not super fast.

    You might want to look at this for ideas:

    Thanks for that link. I need to be able to just jump on my bike and use it as is so I don't want to do big mods. I have already found out that balancing a water garafon on the back rack is asking for the bike to flip over and goodbye water. The roads here are not all good and I have to cope with everything from fine powder (NASA, come and test your moonsuits here) through sand and gravel (pea to a few inches) to cobblestones all with craters and whatever. Sometimes it is interesting, to say the least, to try and control an unladen bike especially with a pit bull trying to tear pieces off it at the same time. Having the load independently stable has a lot going for it.

    I was considering the rear axle and have started looking for a good, simple DIY design that is low tech as fancy machining is out of the question though this is fitted in between 101 other things at present. Did find out that the LBS sells front wheels complete for 230 pesos so that doesn't sound bad for a start. Current spec is to be able to carry a bag of cement or a large sack of cat food or a couple of boxes of kitty litter or one or two bottles of water.


    I like trailers, too, although my current favorite hauler is a Big Dummy.

    For no-nonsense, practical and flexible trailers, I've always thought these Iowans do a really good job:

    If you learn about trailers the way they did, you learn the hard way. Be sure to look at their "Hauling Cargo by Bike" pages.

    Thanks, that 'Hauling' page is very worth while, I need to check one of the slopes I need to use.


    Cost is definitely an issue, if you go for a new bike (niche market, not cheap), but the cargo bikes tend to be designed to permit large tires (I run 2.35" near-slicks), and the length tends to improve stability. Roads in the northeast are pretty crappy, and often decorated with leftover winter sand, and the big tires help a whole lot. Avoid knobby tires, unless you need to climb sandy/muddy hills.

    Look here for axle couplings etc:

    I think there is a $20 part that would simplify your design.

    Thanks, that coupling may end up expensive by the time I get it here but it has given me some good ideas involving angle iron and my welder :) The videos in the 'Support' pages were very helpful.

    Dust and sand are a given here. Hit a patch on a slope and it can be insta-stop with wheel spin. Hitting a deep dust patch feels as if someone just grabbed a hold of your back wheel and anchored it. It is why a top heavy or badly unbalanced bike is a no-go. Your wheels just slide out sideways from under the bike when you hit this stuff or try and get off without the bike shooting out from under you.


    A bike with good bang for the buck is the Yuba Mundo,with a 440lb cargo capacity and a price of around 1100.00 it's hard to beat.

    There is also the Madsen and Cetma Cargo bikes that are good bikes.

    You can go much farther with your travels and essentially replace your car (at least 90% of your trips) by getting electric assist.Two very good electric assist products are the StokeMonkey and the EcoSpeed.Not cheap but cost vs an automobile are negligible.

    Or if your so inclined you can add a small gas engine,centrifugal clutch,chain and rear wheel sprocket for powering your cargo bike.

    Do some searching and research,have fun!

    All good recommendations!

    I think the two electric assists Tim mentions are among the best choices available (although they are expensive), because they both apply power assist at the crankset, where it can take advantage of whatever gearing your bike has, and where it is easiest to combine pedaling and assist power effectively.

    Note that while the EcoSpeed incorporates a dual freewheel, the StokeMonkey does not. That means that with the StokeMonkey, when the motor is running, the cranks and pedals are turning, also. You really need to be comfortable riding with toe clips or clipless pedals, because bad things can happen if your feet come off the pedals.

    OK, back to preaching doom. ;^)

    I would prefer political interventions from lower levels of government rather than national interventions. With a national intervention the likelihood is the whole country makes the same mistake. With local interventions different governments make different mistakes and we hopefully can learn from the results and find better ways to handle the problem.