Random Thoughts from ASPO-9

A monument to the Cycling culture in Brussels.

The ASPO conference was back to the old continent with a joint organization by ASPO-Belgium and ASPO-Netherlands. Set at the political heart of Europe with an ambitious programme that called in many speakers outside the ASPO circle, even outside the ASPO view of the world, the expectation was high. I hadn't been at an ASPO conference since 2008 in Barcelona, hence this one had a rather different tone to it. With the first economic impact already upon us and the basic mission of setting a date for Peak Oil now largely behind us, the conference's objectives were considerably different.

Fortunately, those two and half days completely fulfilled expectations with an overall high standard of quality and above all, opened ASPO to new dimensions of resource depletion and the end of growth as we know it. Beyond that, the large time slots provided for discussion were a serious plus that enriched the intellectual outcome of the conference. Rembrandt Koppelar, Patrick Brocorens, Simon Kalf and the remaining staff are all to be congratulated for a fantastic job.

Below the fold are a set of thoughts from this conference, as I lived it.

Beyond the obvious difference between a pre-crisis conference and in-crisis conference, this was the first conference where I felt Peak Oil catching up with me personally. I only secured the funding for travelling to Brussels within weeks of the conference and flew there without knowing if I still had a job when returning. Once again I had to face the reality of not having an alternative to flying if the journey takes me beyond the Pyrenees, and tickets are more expensive now, 120 € alone on air fare taxes. The outlook is as bleak as it ever was.

This is only part of the story, since the conference had parallel sessions in the afternoon. I missed the Agriculture and Unconventional Fossil Fuels sessions to attend the Energy Policy and Renewables sessions. I really dislike parallel sessions, especially at a conference where everything's interesting, but fortunately all presentations shall be accessible in flash format at the conference's website; don't forget to drop by.

On a sunny day in April we left the hotel early in the morning on a pleasant walk to the venue. Brussels is a pleasant city, very walkable, and though Belgians are famous for not being the best drivers in Europe, the traffic is slow and quiet. Bikes everywhere, in every direction, for they have the priority in the city and most traffic signs do not apply to them (why can't it be like that where I live?) They tell me that in Flanders the bicycle cult is even deeper; it reminds me that I don't know yet who won the Liége-Bastogne-Liége. The conference attendees gathered at an interesting 1920's style building to begin registration and by 9 o'clock they packed the large hall for the first session.

For a decade, ASPO has been working to raise collective awareness of the imminence of Peak Oil, so that the recognition of its consequences could change behaviours and policies. The Depletion Protocol has been the most visible tool emerging from this endeavour, a voluntary and unilateral compromise to reduce oil consumption, in parallel with reserves depletion. In his welcome address, Colin Campbell explained that one country had “already” ratified the Depletion Protocol: Portugal. I cannot claim any credit for this, it was all my friend Rui Rosa's work, who for a long time has worked with the Communist Party's Energy Work Group, perhaps an episode more awkward than edifying for Portugal. The legislation is simply a recommendation to the executive, without any effective impacts on policies or the budget execution. And it was approved without being discussed by a Parliament within hours of dissolution to a demissionary Government, negotiating foreign financial aid at the time. In a country where oil consumption fell by 20% since 2005 by the sheer effect of demand destruction, what meaning has the ratification of the Depletion Protocol?

Nonetheless, congratulations to Rui. This success may also indicate that ASPO may need to deepen relations with political institutions, influencing policies from the inside. More on that later.

Oil consumption in Portugal according to the EIA. Among other things, this graph implies that by 2009 this small western state had already accomplished its 20-20-20 targets regarding oil.

The first morning went on with the classical Peak Oil keynote address by Kyell Aleklett. After being refined through several years, this presentation has become quite a wonder, littered with metaphors that make it easier for the common man to understand. World oil reserves are counted as bottles of champagne, with a bottle for every 100 Gb. We have drunk about a dozen bottles, know where 10 more are, know that 2 or 3 other will be found, and still have 4 or 5 unconventional bottles. The problem is that the latter are not champagne, but rather sparkling wine. It's one of those comments that pulls a good laugh from the audience, providing an useful allegory for declining net energy.

Following came the BAU scenarios. Well, that's what many might think but not exactly. The following speakers come from two heavy-weight institutions, the French oil company TOTAL and the IPCC, marking early on the underlying openness of the conference with the participation of relevant figures outside the ASPO circle. Far from the brain-dead infinite growth scenarios of institutions like the IEA, Pierre Mauriaud presented an oilman's view of the future, which can be summarized as: with higher oil prices, sparkling wine shall be there to fill the gap and sustain present levels of production for two decades more. Something happened in the afternoon session on Unconventional Fossil Fuels (which I missed) that left Pierre Mauriaud somewhat aghast: possibly impolite remarks on oil companies from the audience. I regret that and hope that people like him can continue the dialogue with ASPO, challenging the association's views. After the conference I had the chance to exchange a few words with him, and asked if he was considering the consequences of high oil prices needed to tap the unconventionals. His answer was very interesting and the outlook he presented was simply that the geological potential and naturally high prices should impact the economy, resulting not in a straight line to 2030, but in an undulating plateau. This outlook is a base line upon which social-economic models should build, such not being a task for TOTAL. When properly dissected, Pierre Mauriaud's scenario wasn't BAU at all.

Closing the first morning was another name of weight: Jean-Pascal van Ypersèle, Vice-President of the IPCC. He reviewed the usual hallmarks of the subject and went on to the CO2 emissions scenarios. He presented the SRES scenarios from the last IPCC assessment report, though somewhat acknowledging the surreality of most of them. But according to the latest knowledge gathered by the IPCC, even with the lowering of the SRES scenario (B1) anthropogenic CO2 emissions must turn negative by 2060 to avoid global temperatures rising above 2ºC of where they are today. During the debate session, Kyell Aleklett emphasized that not even the B1 scenario is possible with the knowledge his research group has gathered on fossil fuel reserves. Tension built up between the two men in a “my problem is worse than yours” mood that was anything but scientific. In the afternoon sessions climate change was again on the menu and so was the side taking; Aviel Verbruggen for instance had a very strong “I do not believe in Peak Oil” attitude amid his address. Certainly, the two camps have still some way to go before reaching common ground.

But what's really behind these apparently non-reconcilable views? In the scientific plane, ASPO has tried to particularly influence the disciplines of economics and systems engineering in a way that they could incorporate the concepts of fossil fuels finitude and net energy into their anticipation tools. The conference had several presentations by modellers, or on models such as the address by the IPCC's Vice-President and a few more in the parallel sessions on afternoons of the first two days. Whilst to some extent these models are starting to acknowledge the finitude of oil, the same can't be said about natural gas or coal. But above all, modellers and models alike seem to be ages away from realizing what net energy is and its implications on the resource substitution process and usage scalability.

Jean Laherrère was there only for the first day of conference, but his benchmark model was later presented by Jean-Luc Wingert. Though much simpler than the other models presented at the conference (but not exactly easier to produce), it still looks somewhat more comprehensive, enclosing scarcity and declining net energy, even if heuristically.

The parallel session of the late afternoon was dedicated to Renewable energy and contained several interesting things. The first highlight goes to Henrik Lund's presentation on the Danish Wind energy sector. First of all, he very vocally dismissed the idea that wind energy produced in Denmark is being consumed elsewhere; according to his figures 99% of that electricity is consumed in Denmark. He went on to explain that the Danish electric grid can absorb a wind share of 20% without new infrastructure, 40% with a new load-balancing paradigm based on combined heat and power (CHP) and up to 60% with the addition of electric transport. He used the city of Skagen as an example, where new regulation and a series of decentralized CHP plants with heat pumps have managed to provide a proof of concept. He also explained that the fuel being used the most at Danish CHP plants is waste. Can this model scale to other places? With fewer heating needs and denser population centres?

Right after came Yulong Ding with a presentation on electricity storage systems. According to him only two of these systems have reached maturity: back pump hydro and lead-acid batteries, all the others, though in some cases technically proven, haven't yet reached economical feasibility. In the set of those closer to reach maturity today are compressed air storage and manifolds. He then went on to present his own storage system: Cryogenic Energy Storage. The idea is relatively simple to state: use up excess energy in the grid to manipulate the conditions of combustion (heat and pressure) in conventional fossil fuel power plants, with that increasing their combustion efficiency. The promise is to halve fossil fuel intake for the same electrical output, including full carbon capture (though Yulong Ding was one of several speakers sceptical of the technical feasibility of CCS, in his case stressing that storage isn't proven yet). In the debating sessions things became quite interesting. Henrik Lund insisted that Denmark does not need electrical storage and that the CHP paradigm is the way to go. Moreover, to balance wind power, storage systems have to operate on horizons of several days, or even weeks, and most systems aren't efficient enough. Even after Yulong Ding pointed out that with cryogenic storage the loss is about 2% per day, Henrik Lund stood firmly by the Danish outright balancing scheme.

The morning of the second day of the conference was dedicated to economic outlooks. Jeff Rubin was the first to address the audience with a compelling view of where the OECD is and where it is headed. After him followed David Murphy, Jean-Luc Wingert, Chris Skrebowski, Erik Townsend and later Douglas Reynolds in the debating panel, who tried to put some numbers on what's ahead, the price rises, the reduction of GDP, and the social backlash. After the modelling sessions of the previous day, this morning served to bring our feet back to the ground and ended up being one of my favourite sessions of the conference. If during the 6 decades that followed the end of World War II economic growth was the norm, interrupted by brief periods of recession that coincided with rising oil prices, during this new time in which we now live, recession may become the norm with brief periods of growth in between. Governments won't be able to expand their debts as before, unemployment won't abate, austerity shall be a huge failure. Social consequences are not easy to fully anticipate but the collapse of the Soviet Union can provide an exemplary model.

In terms of policy it seems that ASPO is still somewhat alone. In the afternoon session Euan Mearns presented on the interplay between Climate Change and Peak Oil, reviewing the policies that can serve both ends and those that focus on only one and then are prejudicial from the opposite perspective. It is a presentation that every energy policy maker in this planet should watch - I invite everyone to send a link to their representatives, parliament members or politicians of choice. Bruce Robinson and Jörg Schindler tackled transport policy, the former (already on the third day) with some simple but effective experiments being made in Australia, the latter proposing an alternative philosophical approach to transport, focused on the mobility of people and goods and not on the movement of vehicles. Though not entirely new in content, Jörg Schindler's presentation was quite different from what we usually have at an ASPO conference, but perhaps more consonant with the behavioural adaptation imposed by a world without growth.

And here a parenthesis. In one of the after conference dinners an interesting subject came about: what role can religious institutions have in this transition phase we are living? Years ago Gail visited this precise subject, but it would be interesting to have a religious leader at a coming conference. Are religious institutions aware of the root causes of the economic trouble we live in today and its potential social consequences? Are they preparing? How can they contribute on the philosophical aspect of the transition?

The last day of the conference was directed at politics. Facing recurrent fuel price hikes, governments started using scarcity to explain their apparent inability to deal with the problem. The end of cheap oil has been largely acknowledged but its consequences are yet to be grasped. As Jeff Rubin explained the day before, governments haven't yet acknowledged the fundamental role that coal and oil prices had on the developments that lead to the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008. They still miss the true root of the social convulsions raging today in many points of the globe: increasing prices of food stuffs whose production is highly reliant on oil and natural gas. When presenting energy policies, transport or agricultural programmes, parties and governments alike seem to fire in many different directions, without objective direction. The cause can be the frailty of the science supporting it, as per the issues discussed above.

But all in all, it has been possible to dialogue with politicians, as the sessions with the Wallon Parliament on the 26th of April and at the European Parliament on the 3th of May prove. This is where Philippe Lamberts enters, leader of the Greens parliamentary group at the European Parliament. His address was a pleasant surprise, which started more or less like this:

I have a friend who lives in Frankfurt who has a job that's very simple to describe: keep inflation in the Eurozone below 2% per year. One day I asked him: “Jean-Claude, what do you think about oil scarcity?” To which he replied: 'I think nuclear fusion will save us'."

This opening remark served to show the present mindset gridlock into which our leaders have cast themselves. By its very nature, Peak Oil has such broad-reaching implications that the present social-economic dominating philosophy simply can't cope. Philippe Lamberts stated that today all economists think alike, as if they all shared the same genetic code and it takes a simple virus to wipe them all out. The answer to the present crisis lies not in traditional economics tools but in a fundamental behavioural change from our societies. To that end the Green Party is working on a thorough, integrated, broad-reaching policy that takes into account not only Peak Oil, but also Climate Change and the social reforms needed to protect social equity and solidarity. I certainly hope the Greens can devise such policy, given that the programme presented at the last European election was below expectations to say the least. I'd further note that presently citizens like me can't vote for the Green party; there's a party with that name in Portugal, but they are incorporated in the GUE/NL Communist group. It is never too much to insist that it is only by federating themselves and the European Union that these parties and their policies can succeed.

Rumour had it that Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, attended the conference. I didn't recognize him, but other members of this party were spotted in the audience. This isn't happening by chance, indeed the liberal philosophy that commanded Europe (and the remainder of the OECD) during the past 25 years seems to be heading for its sunset. The EPP and the PES have been the visible faces of this philosophy and are the parties standing the most to lose if they don't find a way to reinvent themselves. It is not by chance that this post refers mostly to fringe parties; it is not by chance either that in recent elections in Finland and Bavaria both Nationalists and Greens came up on top. Hence, it might just be that by engaging with these fringe parties it may be easier to bring a depletion-aware energy policy forward, instead of directly engaging governments. Personally that doesn't feel comfortable, for there's a risk of connoting resource depletion with this or that political philosophy, but the results seen so far on the issue demand a second thought.

And so another ASPO conference went by. Beyond some excellent presentations, addresses and panel discussions, what I end up enjoying the most about these conferences are the sideline talks during coffee/lunch breaks and after conference dinners. I had the opportunity to see friends which I haven't seen for almost three years and make new acquaintances with very interesting folk, with whom luckily I'll remain in touch. Among others I met a salmon fisherman from Alaska, an historian from Texas and a barman from New Jersey. I pretty much suspect the latter is somehow involved in the organized crime by the way he talked, bet he has a tommy gun under the bar.

I left the pleasant city of Brussels on another shiny day, just to find the peninsula all covered in clouds a few hours later. As the aircraft descended through the fluff approaching the airport, the first thing I could glimpse below were windmills, today characteristic in the landscape of the Portuguese west. An ending note of hope, perhaps.

The first highlight goes to Henrik Lund's presentation on the Danish Wind energy sector. First of all he very vocally dismissed the idea that wind energy produced in Denmark is being consumed elsewhere; according to his figures 99% of that electricity is consumed in Denmark.

The Danes seem to be in denial about the fact that they use Norway and Sweden as the electricity storage system for their wind power. When the wind blows, they sell the surplus power to Norway and Sweden at very low (sometimes negative prices), and when the wind doesn't blow, they buy electricity back at very high prices. The result is that Denmark has some of the highest electricity prices in Europe, whereas electricity prices in Norway (almost 100% hydro) and Sweden (a mix of hydro and nuclear) are much lower.

Intentions and reality don't coincide very well in this case.

RMG I sent the following to a skeptical friend a month or so ago. I think you may have been finding some intentionally misleading info.

The 3% of wind actually used in Denmark claim.
See the source here http://www.aweo.org/problemwithwind.html . This source is a totally negative article, strongly biased against wind power, and comprised of errors, wrong data, out of context data, generalizations from the particular etc., and cannot be considered a fair or objective source in any respect. In other words it is junk. See some representative issues:

1) The 3% claim. Now look at this source http://www.windfarmaction.com/uploads/3/4/0/3/3403578/mason-windpowerind... which is also negative on wind in Denmark, but largely presents accurate data and retains a degree of objectivity, even though there is a negative spin. The 3% statistic in the AWEO source comes from 18% of Danish energy coming from wind with 84% exported. The real case was that for one year, in West Denmark, “up to” 84% at the moment of generation was exported. West Denmark was generalized to Denmark, and momentary up to 84% became annualized actual.

For West Denmark, in 2005 and 2006 wind generation was 18.7% and 17% of Danish needs, and 13.6% and 10.3% was consumed in Denmark, the balance being exported. For East Denmark production was 10.2% and 11% with near 100% used locally. Exports were primarily to Norway, permitting Norway to reduce hydro production and conserve their water supply. In low wind periods offsetting imports were made from Norway, but, conveniently were not quantified in the statistics.

This source also mentions growing objections to wind in Denmark, and provides a statistic of 600 complaints from 1998 to Aug 2000. Wow! 230 complaints per year in a country of 8 million people from 10 years ago as support for the allegation. Other sources mention 90% approval in Denmark, with some evidence of growing opposition to onshore wind projects recently..

Since Copenhagen (in the east) has 25% of Denmark’s population, and many of the smaller cities/towns use CHP, I will guess that East Denmark has 70% of the total wind generation. If so for 2005/6 combined we have 65% of 30% of wind generation consumed in the west, and >95% of 70% in the east for 87% overall, not 3%. Also we have 12.8% of total power from wind, of which 11.1% consumed locally, and at least some of the rest offset by compensating imports.

Wind reached 17.7% of Danish electricity consumption in 2010, which at 87% consumed locally would be 20.3% of total Danish electricity production, consistent with claims of 20%.

I haven't read the papers you cited, and I probably won't read the first one since it's just an opinion piece. It's a Straw man argument.

I prefer more technical papers such as this one from the Institute of Civil Engineers: Why wind power works for Denmark. The paper is looking at Denmark's wind power and asking, "Will this solution work for the UK?" The answer it arrives at appears to be "Probably not".

As this paper reveals, Denmark is exporting most of its wildly fluctuating wind power to larger neighbours while finding other solutions for supply and demand at home. As an "island" grid based on slow-reacting thermal power stations, Britain may find its comparable wind-power aspirations more difficult to achieve.

How the Danish grid is balanced

West Denmark is tied into the much bigger grids of its neighbours Sweden, Norway and Germany with a total interconnector capacity of 2400 MW (Fig. 12). This is equivalent to two-thirds of the region’s peak winter demand and, interestingly, about the same as its current wind capacity.

West Denmark makes full use of its interconnections for balancing wind power as there is a strong correlation between wind output and net power outflows. However, the interconnectors were built primarily to link Norway and Sweden to Germany and, without their prior existence, it may not have been viable for west Denmark to build wind capacity on the scale it has.

Furthermore, the success of the interconnections has much to do with the extent to which both Sweden and Norway generate hydropower — which can supply 50% and nearly 100% of their respective needs from water turbines. Hydropower output can be adjusted very rapidly as the highly variable wind power flows through the interconnectors.

It is also relevant that all three neighbouring systems, including Germany’s, are many times bigger than west Denmark’s and can act as a power sink to stabilise west Denmark’s much smaller grid.

Data from 2002/3. Hmmph.

See http://www.energyplanning.aau.dk/Publications/DanishWindPower.pdf for data from 2008-2010, with new balancing technology instituted since 2004. Preparers of this report don't seem to have any axe to grind. One shouldn't spread old data and conclusions generated by anti-wind analysts as if it were the simple truth. this recent report is both better balanced and has better analysis.

I would say the authors of the paper you cite very definitely have an axe to grind - the whole paper is just an attempted rebuttal of another paper prepared by the Danish think tank CEPOS. There is an awful lot of what auditors call "creative accounting" in the calculations they use to do that.

As far as I can tell, they are arguing that Denmark only exports 1% of its wind power to its neighbors because, when the wind blows hard and they have a surplus of electricity, they keep their wind power at home and only export power from their coal-burning power plants. That is a rather specious argument. In reality, all the electricity goes into the grid and it is impossible to tell a coal-produced electron from a wind-produced electron when it crosses the border to a different country.

They carefully avoid mentioning that half of Denmark's electric generating capacity is coal-fired, and coal-burning plants are an unhappy mix with wind power. Coal plants are incapable of responding to demand changes fast enough when the wind power fluctuates with changes in wind speed, so Denmark has to rely on hydro power from its Nordic neighbors to make up for their own inability to cope with the fluctuations. Denmark is lucky that their neighbors are willing to do that, because most countries do not have accommodating neighbors with surplus hydroelectric capacity.

If you have a lot of wind power, you need backup power which can come on-line very fast when the wind stops blowing. Coal-fired generators can't do that, so you need a lot of hydroelectric capacity or natural gas peaking units to respond when the wind dies. Hydro plants can keep generators on "spinning reserve" and respond in a matter of seconds to changes in demand, while natural gas peaking units can respond relatively fast as well. Denmark doesn't have those kind of reserves.

Where I am (the Canadian province of Alberta) we do have hydro plants and large amounts of natural gas in storage for backup to our wind generators, so wind power is a more viable solution than in most places. We also have places where the wind blows harder and more consistently than in Denmark, and that is where the wind generators are located. Even at that, there are days when the wind doesn't blow and the wind generators sit idle. Those are the days that the hydro plants and gas turbines are running at full capacity.

If you can't tell more, then you haven't read their conclusion:

Of a Danish wind power production of 6,978 GWh in 2008, one can say for a fact that a minimum of 0.1 percent was exported and a minimum of 63 percent was used in Denmark. With regard to the remaining 36.9 percent, one cannot technically, physically or from statistics of correlations over time determine which parts were exported and which were used in Denmark.

Your other claims are also not substantiated. The article mentions that Denmark has a large fleet of natural gas CHP plants with heat storage that are actively used to balance wind energy output. Balancing is simply a product traded on Nord-Pool and when domestic balancing such as CHP is competitive (which it actually often is because of the low marginal cost of generating with CHP), then it's used.

This is an interesting article - "Estimating maximum global land surface wind power extractability and associated climatic consequences".

Take a look at some of the references in there to the dates 1915 and 1920. Amazing how long people have been discussing this issue.

Interesting too in that all that research into climate science that a lot of skeptics say is useless because they don't believe in global warming will likely be directly applicable to projections of wind energy availability. That fact may be lost on the ASPO bickering parties when they argue over whether PO or GW is the bigger threat. They really ought to be working together, like what I have done with using the carbon emissions from fossil fuel depletion curves and predicting CO2 latencies (hey, I can work together with myself pretty well, why can't they?). In other words, lots of interesting cross-disciplinary research is still possible.

I was more interested that the paper did not mention that 48% of Denmark's electricity is generated by burning coal, whereas in Norway and Sweden it is 0.1% and 1.4% respectively. There is a lot of selective quoting of facts.

The conclusion I was referring to was the one near the end:

Consequently, it is only fair to say that the wind power production in 2008 supplied approx. 19 percent of the Danish electricity demand. Furthermore, no evidence supports the claim from CEPOS that approximately half of it was exported. In other words, by serving the local demand, the Danish wind power has made it possible for existing CHP units and condensing units to increase their export to neighbouring countries. This possibility has been exploited due to the relatively low marginal costs of these plants at the market.

And that is why I said, "As far as I can tell, they are arguing that Denmark only exports 1% of its wind power to its neighbors because, when the wind blows hard and they have a surplus of electricity, they keep their wind power at home and only export power from their coal-burning power plants."

It is my reinterpretation of their conclusion, but without their political spin. I know that Norway and Sweden don't particularly need to buy cheap power from Denmark because they have cheap power of their own. They only do it to humor the Danes. (Full disclosure: I come from a Norwegian ancestry so I may be somewhat biased about this.)

The CHP plants are not particularly useful in matching demand because it conflicts with their function of providing district heating. They can't just shut them down when the wind turbines are producing full power because that would cause people to freeze, so they have to export the power. If they were natural gas peaking units, they would shut them down when the wind was blowing.

Danish Electricity Balance 2009
Imports: 11.3 GWh
Exports: 10.9 GWh
Consumption: 33.9 GWh

So, around a third of Denmark's electricity consumption is flowing back and forth on the grid across its borders as production fluctuates. One paper is arguing that all this flow comes from the wind turbines, and the other that it is all from the CHP plants. My interpretation is that Denmark cannot balance its electricity system without the interconnections to other countries. Wind is contributing to this problem.

In general you can add 10% wind to a system without problems, but beyond that point it gets more difficult. In the area where I live, the wind share has gone over the 10% mark, so natural gas peaking units are popping up like mushrooms everywhere, and there are big fights as the NIMBYs object to building the huge transmission lines needed to balance the loads. As things stand the transmission lines are running too hot and they are losing a lot of power to thermal resistance.

"They only do it to humor the Danes." Reference? Source? seems very unlikely.

"They only do it to humor the Danes." Reference? Source? seems very unlikely.

Norway has more wind power potential than Denmark. Why would it want to import wind power from Denmark when it could produce it cheaper itself?

Wind Energy

Norway has an excellent wind power potential. Typical sites at the coast have annual mean winds in the range of 8 to 10 m/s. This is considerable better than the typical wind conditions in Denmark or northern Germany.

In reality, Norway exchanges power with Denmark just to keep the Danish system from failing. Norway doesn't need to develop its own wind power potential because its own hydro power is much cheaper than wind.

There is a pricing system.

Seriously, I can recommend Paul-Frederik Bach, who I understand is a retired Director of West Denmark grid. He has a website, http://pfbach.dk/ and an article "The Unknown Flexibility of District Heating" and a model in that article that is, quote, "... valid for Denmark about 2025 with a wind energy share at 50% of the traditional electricity demand".

BTW. UK's electricity comes 35-40% from coal in any one year (large majority of that coal is imported), but unlike Denmark we have almost no District Heating. Most of Denmark's coal burn is in CHP that supports District Heating. In UK nearly 2/3 of our coal burn goes to warm the passing sparrows. PFB (link above) has a plan for CHP/DH to locally balance the growing amount of wind power electricity.

Some of Bach's papers are quite interesting.

Wind Power and District Heating

Several neighbouring countries have ambitious wind power plans, the United Kingdom is the principal example, and they all anticipate the purchase of balancing services provided by Norwegian hydro. It is not clear that all demands on those services can be met, even if there is major enhancement of interconnection and there is some further expansion of Norwegian hydro.

It's really good and interesting information.

freelance writers

The high cost of electricity in Denmark is due almost entirely to high energy taxes. The price to consumers, taxes excluded, is slightly below the EU average and significantly below average if you exclude the recent eastern additions to the EU. http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-SF-07-080/EN/KS-SF-... page 3, graph 3. Note that the base price for electricity in Norway is also higher than in Denmark.

The question of course is, "How much of the high Danish taxes on electricity go to subsidize the wind power system?" If you tax the consumer and then give the money to the electricity producers, you have just achieved the same thing as allowing the producers to charge more money for their electricity.

Ahh, yes, but the tax all and subsidise wind strategy leads to the fluctuating supply and the transfers to/from Sweden and Norway as you outlined above, so not all the money is going to the wind producers.

Since wind often exacerbates the differential between peak demand and peak (domestic) supply it makes the peak imports even more expensive and the off peak exports even cheaper, or negative.

In this way, the Danes are heavily subsidising S and N, not just their own wind producers. I'm sure that S and N are very appreciative of this - Europe is, after all, one big happy family.

I don't know, but Denmark and many other European counties heavily tax many forms of energy consumption,so I think it is highly questionable to assume it goes to subsidize wind. Are you going to make the same argument for Norway? Are their high fuel prices due to inefficient production in the North Sea? Maybe it is just good public policy.

RMG see my 7:08 post above. I don't expect that you will ever concede that your bias might be wrong.

7:08 PM East Coast US time I'm guessing, not sure what's 12 hours ahead of it ?- )

Had you actually read the report you commented on above, you would've known that the subsidies for wind are paid from transmission fees and thus are all ready included in that low base price without taxes. You would also know that the subsidies amount to 1-3% of the electricity price and that merit order effects generated by wind in 2008 were actually bigger than the subsidies. (Before that the net cost were only marginal.)

" Tension built up between the two men in a “my problem is worse than yours” mood that was anything but scientific. In the afternoon sessions climate change was again on the menu and so was the side taking; Aviel Verbruggen for instance had a very strong “I do not believe in Peak Oil” attitude amid his address. Certainly, the two camps have still some way to go before reaching common ground."

It seems that the issue of the compatibility between Peak Oil and SRES scenarios is getting hotter and hotter and raises some tensions, even in the TOD staff :). It must be stressed that the oil in itself is not really the main contributor to CO2 , at least for "reasonable" scenarios. This is one favorite argument of "warmists" : peak oil will not save us from CC because there is still plenty of unconventional gas and plenty of coal, that could be largely enough to reach dangerous CO2 levels.

Well, this may be true, but is this case, it would mean also that their is no peak energy in the near future, so peak oil wouldn't be an issue. After all, IF peak oil is an issue, this implies considerable loss of economic activity (or if not, where is the problem?), and so considerable loss of energy production.

I would tend to think that the replacement of oil with other FF is unlikely , however, for the following reasons :

- Peak oil is , in some sense, a benchmark of the conventional economist view, that depletion isn't a problem, because it makes the prices of FF higher, so it extends the amount of available resources. Peak oil shows that this view is erroneous, and probably simply because they forget the other side of the laws of supply and demand : high prices reduce also the demand because of loss of purchasing power.
But what applies to oil will probably apply to natural gas and coal as well !

- SRES scenarios imply also unreasonable amounts of natural gas (they all exceed by far the proven reserves) and often coal

- the first spike of oil prices has not provoked any rush on unconventional FF , CTL, or even renewable energy. Actually the economic crash has lowered the demand for oil , but also for all other forms of energy, including electricity, and hence has discouraged all investments in renewables.

So I think the lesson is simply that : you cannot sustain the same amount of economic activity with a depleting cheap resource, that you have to replace with expensive alternatives; this simply doesn't work - and most SRES scenarios implying a huge call to expensive unconventional resources are probably just unlikely to happen.

Now nobody knows if the 2°C threshold (which is nothing but a political motto) will be reach or not, and given the uncertainty on climate sensitivity, nobody can even translate that into a definite upper limit for FF extraction. Meaning it is very unlikely that humanity restricts voluntary this extraction before geological constraints makes it unavoidable.

As far as global warming goes, Coal does dominate emissions, due to both the amount used and the fact that it starts out with the greatest weight % of carbon; and the issue or not of 'peak coal' is highly uncertain.

Certainly I don't expect conventional oil or gas to be restricted by global warming related measures; these will remain geologically constrained. Non-con oil and gas, and coal (+UGCC, CTL, etc) are more of a grey area.

Having said that, if we just burn as much fossil fuel in the future as we already have now, we are looking at CO2 of 500ppm, and a total temperature rise of >2K.

We need to be sure to put enough CO2 into the atmosphere to keep the bistable climate system from switching back to the cold phase and the beginning of another ice age.

Over the last couple million years, the normal climate has been the glacial phase except for relatively brief warm periods, such as the Holocene.

Or perhaps finding a third quasi-equilibrium far warmer then anything seen in the last couple of million years. We were in a good, and fairly stable quasi-equilibrium, but we've ended that.

Luckily, the timescale for forming glaciers (at least 10k years) is a couple of orders of magnitude too slow to really notice for human civilisation, and it's the glacial-ice-albedo feedback that mostly causes the bistable state.

There is (or at least appears to be) another stable state in the geological record, with both the Greenland Ice sheet and West antartic ice sheet greatly reduced or missing, and sea levels perhaps 20m higher. It remains to be seen if and how fast such a transition could happen, although it has to be noted that ice sheets can collapse much faster than they form.

As the posts above indicate, your post is either deeply uninformed or intentionally mis-informing.

We have already put enough CO2 into the atmosphere that levels are higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years, and probably millions of years, through many glacial and warming cycles.

Are you unaware of this well known and well published fact?

Are you unaware of the multiple re-enforcing feedbacks that are now kicking in that will propel CO2 concentrations ever higher?

Were you unaware that aerosols are blocking sun, and so temporarily saving us from .5 to 2 degrees of heating, which will hit weeks to months after coal plants are cleaned up (which they must be).

I'm aware of all that.

What I don't know is the exact mechanism by which the climate switches between the warm phase and the cold phase. This appears to happen too rapidly to be a simple function of the variability of solar insolation due to orbital mechanics.

So I am not sure whether climate change will result in disabling the switch back to the cold phase, or whether it will simply activate the switch.

This excellent talk by Richard Alley might help:


Thanks for the link. It is an excellent talk. However, it doesn't actually answer the questions that I have.

A simplified summation of his treatment of the ice ages is something like:
- if we assume that ice covers Canada and other northern areas, our models predict a decrease in temperature due to increased albedo, but it is only half the decrease needed to match the ice core records of temperature,
- if we assume a reduction in atmospheric CO2 matching the ice core record, then our models predict an additional, approximately equal decrease in temperature, and the total decrease now matches the ice core records of temperature.

This leaves us in the situation that we know that Colonel Mustard died from being shot and stabbed, but we don't know who shot and stabbed him.

In other words, the presentation doesn't explain what caused the ice sheets to form, and it doesn't explain what caused the decrease in CO2. It is doubtful that changes in insolation due to orbital dynamic causes the formation of ice sheets by itself. The behavior of the climate system feels more like the behavior of a parametric bistable oscillator pumped by, and phase-locked to insolation variation, but with a substantial driving mechanism of its own.

Most likely a lot of further explanation is needed to identify the influence of the closing of the Panamanian isthmus and the separation of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the narrowing of the Bering Strait which isolated the Arctic Ocean. Water level over the North Atlantic sill and the changes in exchange between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans may also be important factors in the bistable nature of the current climate.

His treatment of the early earth atmosphere also seemed a little inconsistent with the biological history of the earth and the role of early organisms in creating free oxygen, the sequestering of iron in the banded iron formations, and the sequestering of carbon by ocean life in carboniferous rock.

This leaves us in the situation that we know that Colonel Mustard died from being shot and stabbed, but we don't know who shot and stabbed him.

It was an overview of the dynamics between CO2 and temperatures and other possible feedbacks. His talk actually did explore all of the mechanisms. How you missed him discussing the roles of volcanoes, solar irradiance, dust and others, I do not know. If you were expecting a treatise on the details of the carbon cycle, I suggest you seek out something longer than 45 minutes.

Your comments are not useful.

Is this the new denialist stance, or are you serious? This would be the logical progression for denialists since every other iteration has been used up. If you are serious, may I ask how fine do you like your hairs split? The problem here is you are asking an unanswerable question. It is no different than the previous iteration of, "we just don't know enough to act."

We do, however. One source of salve for your concern is to look at the glacial,/interglacial record. What do you see? Fast warming and slow cooling. CO2 sticks around a long time. Rock takes a long time to weather, oceans turn slowly, vegetative carbon builds into peat and clathrates very slowly. Once we warm the planet, we have many human generations to consider how to deal with cold. It is estimated the current warming will manifest for a minimum of 1k years, and that is based on emissions dropping to zero immediately.

Further, previous inter-glacials never exceeded 300 ppm CO2, so the likelihood of a reversal is unlikely. Would I say impossible? No. But if it's May I'm going to assume the next few months will be warm or hot, not sub-freezing.

No. But if it's May I'm going to assume the next few months will be warm or hot, not sub-freezing.

I will then of course assume you live in a more or less temperate region of the northern hemisphere--strictly based on your assumption of course ?- )

Actually, though, the assumption that June, July, and August will not on the whole be sub-freezing is very highly likely even for a person chosen entirely at random...

exactly, I was hoping someone would catch that. I wasn't strictly basing my assumption on pri-de's assumption but rather included a much broader frame of reference, which included past discussions with him and the my assumption that very few in tropical or subtropical climes or in the southern hemisphere would single out June, July and August as being warm or hot, not subfreezing. To assume often does make an ass out of you and me especially when all the assumptions are not clearly defined and put in plain view?- )

Closing the first morning was another name of weight: Jean-Pascal van Ypersèle, Vice-President of the IPCC. He reviewed the usual hallmarks of the subject and went on to the CO2 emissions scenarios. He presented the SRES scenarios from the last IPCC assessment report, though somewhat acknowledging the surreality of most of them. But according to the latest knowledge gathered by the IPCC, even with the lowering of the SRES scenario (B1) anthropogenic CO2 emissions must turn negative by 2060 to avoid global temperatures rising above 2ºC of where they are today.

Very interesting since typically the discussion of 2C is over 1850 temperature. It's an acknowledgment of the @ 0.08C rise already and that approximately 2.8C is already baked in. I wonder if the writer of the main post understood what they heard, because this is a very significant admission by a high level IPCC participant. Nearly 3C rise over 1850 is emergency territory and indicates thousands of years of elevated temperatures. (More on that further down.)

During the debate session, Kyell Aleklett emphasized that not even the B1 scenario is possible with the knowledge his research group has gathered on fossil fuel reserves.

Unfortunately, Aleklett continues to not have a clue about climate science. As has been thoroughly discussed previously on this site and elsewhere, his dismissal of climate issues arises out of a refusal to consider any climate science since 2005. He refuses to accept any but "official" IPCC statements as reflected in IPCC IV. It is a very odd position for someone claiming to be scientific in their assessment of the issues to take, but it does allow him to keep PO as the Great Bogeyman. Why that is important to him is impossible to know, but the desire is self-evident from irrational statements regarding climate and climate science.

Perhaps it is nothing more than PO-style eggheadedness.

Tension built up between the two men in a “my problem is worse than yours” mood that was anything but scientific.


But what's really behind these apparently non-reconcilable views?

Kjell is such a stunningly clear example of this that it is perhaps to remain with him and do some forensic psychology. (Let's be honest and call it pop psychology or Amateur Psychology for Fun, Not Profit.)

Let me first state there is no conflict at all between PO and ACC. It's worse than the political split characterized by the Dem and Rep politics of condemnation we see in the US since US politics is all about power, money and demagoguery, so is ultimately about illusion and delusion. PO and ACC, by contrast, are both both factually irrefutable. In either case, opposition is beyond delusion, which one can understand, it being based in a non-reality, so not fully a choice, but more an illness, and is simple denial, which is willful ignorance, more or less.

I.e., for those on either side that deny the import and danger of the other, it is based in some irrational need to simply be more important than the other guy. Put another way, they are married to their positions and acknowledging the other means diminishing themselves and their importance to the discussion. Ultimately, it's not about the issue, but the people. Just as with the Liberal/Conservative dichotomy, it's largely a bunch of crap.

Climate denial is predicated upon the active dismissal of facts. Climate science is far more completely established as a fact than PO, even though PO is so much simpler. Scientifically, ACC is as well-established as any other Theory in the physical sciences. The GHG effect is in no way in debate, in fact, and that IS climate science. It is all you need to know. That plus the actual GHG measurements. Absolutely nothing else is needed to be able to understand there is a problem. Denialists ignore this by identifying individual weeds as more significant issues than the forest all around them.

What is open for discussion is the speed of change and specific effects of change. But this, too, is actually well-constrained, particularly in terms of the risk assessment needed to discuss policy. Clearly, the planet is changing before our eyes. We are decades and centuries ahead of where we once thought we were, and even more recent reassessments of the past five years have a hard time keeping up with the rates of change and continually lag reality. The simplest way to show this is in a list of changes thus far, which is only partial, which should not give you hope, but pause (Note: bear in mind none of these changes are debatable):

warming oceans
warming land
increasing air moisture content
increasing intensities of various weather phenomena
increasing frequencies of intense weather, though not necessarily number of events, depending
increasing desertification
2:1 or more preponderance of new high temps or higher lows over new low temps or lower lows
40% reduction in plankton
ice mass loss from glaciers
summer ice mass loss minima for Arctic Sea Ice
ice mass loss from Greenland and Antarctica
habitats moving poleward or to higher altitudes
Jet streams moving poleward
coral bleaching
Negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation bringing cold, snowier winters to mid-latitude Europe and NA
ocean-terminating glaciers retreating
ocean-terminating glaciers and ice shelves having unexpectedly warm water under them
Anthropocene Extinction Event
methane expressed from land- and seabed-based methane deposits

It would require some very, very strong narcotics for me to dismiss these issues as blithely as Kjell and many others do. It is beyond my powers of reason to discern the "how" of it, though the why is easier to understand. In Kjell's defense, it is not fair to call him an ACC denier. He is actually what you might call a minimalist. He has somehow refused to accept any of this is very important, but for any systems analyst this should be a massive bank of warning lights. We already discussed his particular technique for minimizing the import of ACC, his refusal to acknowledge any post 2005 science as legitimate unless it is written up in the next official IPCC report, i.e. IPCC V. Logically, of course, that is absurd, but so is being married to any position such that it prevents one from engaging in rational analysis.

And what of PO denial? Is it not essentially the same? The chief difference is that broad technical acceptance of PO is very, very new. It was not until this past year we saw tacit acknowledgement of potential near(er) term manifestation of PO. Suddenly, it's becoming mainstream. So PO is following a Hubbert's Curve shape with gradual rising recognition edging into a slightly parabolic curve until it nears the summit and becomes accepted fact. (As opposed to climate's rising curve being reversed by a massive propaganda machine.) How difficult is it to understand limited resources? Not very. Yet, PO is also denied. The reasons are slightly different, tho. PO is very much a technical discussion that is actually quite simple. Denial of it is typically more based in economic assumptions than in discussions of geology. Still, denial is fundamentally based in fear of change, and in the cases of PO and ACC, we are talking about some very significant and dangerous change. Either is an issue worthy of a global call to action, and both concurrently are a problem so vast it may well be beyond the scope of many imaginations.

In relation to ACC, though, we do not see so much an issue of denial of PO as we do a dismissal of its impact as compared to ACC. It is essentially true that PO does not represent an existential crisis for humanity, though it certainly does for any given person, region or nation. Climate is an existential threat to humanity, at worst, and civilization at best if not addressed. Civilization can, however, exist on a level of (insert year here, depending on your personal analysis) lifestyles if we run out of Fossil Fuels. Sadly, the reality is that either is going to be disruptive enough to massively destabilize the Global Village. If we choose to ignore either one, whether due to irrational denial or baseless diminution of the threat, we bring upon ourselves potential ruin on a scale humanity has never known (with the exception of a bottleneck event or two in the very distant human past which never actually threatened human survival, but merely slowed things down a bit.)

Both states of denial are irrational, based not in science, but fear, power, politics, what have you. It is perhaps easy to dismiss climate issues because of a very faulty premise: time is on our side. It is not. In the past year alone we have seen record weather events considered 1k yr events, 500 year events and 100 year events all over the globe. Heat in Russia, flooding in Pakistan, Australia, the US. We had a hurricane cross the upper plains of the US. There were heavy snows and record cold events across the US due to the Arctic Oscillation which is affected by melting sea ice.

An article in the last week identified reduced food production of, iirc, 3% due to climatic impacts and we are just getting started. Does it matter if resource wars are over water, food, oil, coal, phosphorus, fish or....? It is likely they will happen over a variety of causes and are considered to already have begun in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan by many. This brings up the issue of time and tipping points. There are two dangers with tipping points. If you cross them, you may have nearly instantaneous crisis, but you might also have a delayed crisis in which you pass the tipping point, are unaware, do nothing, then find yourself attempting to mitigate or adapt to something you cannot possibly deal with. That is Suicide by Ignorance. If the risk is existential, it doesn't matter what the timing is. The problem is, Kjell's false premise is that there are not enough FFs to get us to dangerous climate change. What he refuses to acknowledge (he is most definitely aware) is the studies indicating 400 ppm CO2 is already past the tipping point. Studies have shown Greenland might melt significantly at as low as 400 ppm. We will hit that before 2015. The conceit we have time before ACC kicks in is based in denial of basic facts and scientific inquiry. It is unsupportable.

Risk assessment says DO SOMETHING.

You here are all aware enough of the PO issue that I need not address it in detail. Reference to the Hirsch Report or any of the other military-generated assessments should be plenty of information to acknowledge we are are very late in our response to net energy decline.

Does it matter if hunger is due to a lack of FFs for farming or destruction of crops by extreme weather? Trust me, we will be seeing both.

Again, risk assessment says DO SOMETHING.

Even more maddening, the answers are the same for both: power down/conserve, organic processes favored over mechanical processes, no-growth economics, localization, carbon sequestration via farming/gardening, terra preta (maybe), build community, scale community to Dunbar's Number, prioritize communication in resource allocation to preserve knowledge and links between communities... and so on.

Because FFs are only a few items on a long list of resources that are finite, we cannot comfort ourselves with doing enough to avoid using them up and forgetting the rest of the planet is also largely finite either absolutely or at the speeds of consumption we currently engage (engorge?) in, let alone with future population gains added in. At population N, nothing is sustainable. Nothing.

This debate between POers and ACCers? It's a red herring - and worse.

Lots of stuff and a good rant. The problem with the conventional peak oil analysts, like I have always said, is that they are committed to heuristics. They really aren't that scientific in their fundamental approaches. You really can't go very far with that attitude because you eventually build up a house of cards, and it just doesn't scale.

I did something unique in the climate change chapter in "The Oil Conundrum" by taking the actual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and feeding them into the CO2 residence time impulse response profile. This is a direct mix of a resource depletion model with a climate science model.

The derivation uses similar math to the Oil Shock Model, in that both are convolutions.

I agree that you cannot go halfway with science, in the sense that if you have the data at your disposal and you have some knowledge of physics, you might as well see how far it takes you. When I did the residence time convolution myself, it just about freaked me out. The deal with the CO2 concentration going up even when the fossil fuels are cranked down rapidly is real and it should be concerning to all the depletion analysts. You almost don't believe this until you do the math yourself -- then you are a believer. Yet the problem with natural scientific skeptics is that they don't have time to do the math, so they end up taking sides. It's really a tragedy.

I have to respectfully disagree with WHTs assessment of your comment

Lots of stuff and a good rant.

The strength of your arguments was lain waste by the length of your post. I was nearly catatonic after the first 1000 words.

It's impossible to refute denialism with rationality because denial is not rational, so you will not be amenable to intelligence, knowledge or facts, so please don't expect me to give much of a darn what you think. You cannot be part of the solution, so are irrelevant within the discussion.

within the discussion odd phrase for a sermonizer to use

Funny you should call me a denialist, since I was aware of the human caused tipping point concept possibly before your mother was wrapping you in paper diapers. At the time of course global warming wasn't on many people's radar because the early seventies were actually rather cool. Since, carbon release has been identified as very, very, very likely being the big knife humanity is using to whittle away the fulcrum which has been balancing the pans of solar input within current climate parameters for a long time.

So I'm not sure what I'm denying-you on the other hand are certainly in denial of just how difficult it is to direct the consequences of human behavior, as the most well intentioned policies very, very often have dire unforeseen counterproductive consequences. Everyone is relevant to that discussion whether we like it or not.

Your comments
You cannot be part of the solution, so are irrelevant within the discussion
Your comments are not useful.
sound like something the Daleks would utter. Of course we all know their next line would be exterminate, exterminate. Discussion doesn't rate highly with that fictitious race either.

Just to comment on the political extremism angle: it seems the BNP has been attending peak oil events for years. Nick GRiffin was seen at a talk here in the UK ages ago and reportedly when asked why said that they thought it was a very important opportunity for them - as the current system breaks down, and discontent with the status quo spreads - that public disillusionment and anger can be harnessed for political advancement of their cause.

Another reason to avoid taking on a doomer mindset, as you won't get associated with the fascist and skinhead contingent.

Any discussion or work being done on artificial or synthetic photosynthesis?

(cheeky response) We're working towards this on two fronts:

(1) While we're nowhere even close to even contemplating beginning to approach the efficiency & scale of natural photosynthesis, we're orders of magnitude ahead of where we were a hundred years ago.

(2) By actively working to diminish the planet's capability to carry out natural photosynthesis (via climate destabilization, erosion, desertification, paving, etc), we hope to make artificial photosynthesis more competitive

So, invest now in Nocera Inc. -- and then get out before the bubble bursts!

So, invest now in Nocera Inc. -- and then get out before the bubble bursts!

Hoo-boy! You can say that again...


Nocera and company will next try to boost both efficiency and lifespan of their photosynthetic material. It’s still a workbench technology at this point, but the leap forward presented here is significant. Scaled and mass produced, something like the Nocera Lab’s leaf could be the key component to shifting toward a hydrogen-based economy. In the nearer term, such technology could at the very least power parts of the globe that are currently off the grid with clean, plentiful, and easy-to-come-by energy.


Photosynthesis is absurdly inefficient (1% sunlight-to-biomass is considered very good) and wastes a staggering amount of fresh water.

Jeff Rubin followed by David Murphy was an excellent pair of presentations (they are posted on line). The first was a very good big picture overview and then followed by the graphs and data supporting the prior. I don't know if it was planned that way but it worked out very well.

Jeff has certainly become more pessimistic in his outlook since he wrote his book. Or he wrote his book with a much more moderate view. His talk was not optimistic about the US or OECD recovery. I think this part of his view is exactly right. We can expect creditors to try to impose austerity measures, and then people will elect a new government and toss off the debts. Greece will be interesting to watch. Also Ireland.

How do people feel the US dollar will evolve going forward? At some point creditors have to realize the US debt cannot be paid. But what is the alternative? If the Euro sheds members will it get weaker? Or will it strengthen?

David had an interesting graph of the undulating economic (and thus oil) plateau. But I think it cannot be maintained. Eventually a large oil consumer (or several) will go into a major depression, drive down oil prices, and halt investment needed to stay on production plateau. That will define the peak in world oil production (if it has not already). I thought Jeff did a good job describing that in words. Richard Heinburg has said the same thing.

When Rubin talks about past oil shock induced recessions he loses me. Looking at Murphy's charts we have leading, concurent and lagging oil shocks Hmmm. then Rubin refers to earlier oil shock induced recessions as devastating. We were hardly aware they happened. Not too much credibility. Murphy also fails to note that 1 quad of wind replaces 3 quads of fossil fuel, and his EROEI for PV is based on using conventional supplies for production forever. What is the EROEI if the first output of the first plant is used to power the plant, the next output to build the next plant, the next to power the next plant etc. What is the EROEI of the cascade? Yes I know we have to provide storage also. The principle still applies. We keep seeing oversimplified economic discussions, which really doesn't help much.

Rubin, of course, is talking about the fact that most of the recent recessions have followed oil crises. See the list of recessions in the United States for details.

The 1973-1975 recession followed the 1973 oil crisis; the early 1980s recession followed the 1979 energy crisis; the early 1990s recession followed the 1990 oil price shock; and what people are now calling the Great Recession followed the 2008 oil crisis.

It seemed rather straightforward to me.

Have you looked at copper prices vs recession?

Correlation is not causation.

I'm not going to get into a discussion of deterministic versus probabilistic causation, I'm just going to say that Rubin's analysis (and that of others) looks convincing based on the observed evidence. In other words, if there is another oil price spike, I would look out for it to be followed by another recession.

In the world of economic realities you have to watch out for these kind of things even if they are not 100% certain. The only things that are 100% certain are death and taxes, and even those you can dodge for a while.

I'm just going to say that Rubin's analysis (and that of others) looks convincing based on the observed evidence.

I know. I'm just saying that I think that's deceiving.

if there is another oil price spike, I would look out for it to be followed by another recession.

Of course, higher oil prices will tend to slow down the economy. The question is: how much? I think Rubin is estimating an effect that is substantially too large.

Again, have you looked at similar charts for copper? Have you figured in the effect of the Fed's dramatic tightening of interest rates around 1980? 1980 and 2008 are the two biggest PO/recession associations, and they're both confounded by other things.

Its going to be interesting how peak oil plays out short term. If current trend continues with the oil production plateau: http://bit.ly/fcisCD prices will rise considerably from here with economic growth in Chindia. Even F. Birol chief economist of the IEA acknowledged we peaked in 2006.
QE, a falling dollar, rising commodity prices, stagflation in OECD, rising gold and silver prices, loss of confidence in fiat currencies, countries falling of the oil buying boat: Greece, Portugal, Ireland.

These are indeed random thoughts on the conference. I had expected more fireworks. Perhaps Barbastro proves more interesting.

Luis, thanks for this post.

I have no comment, just thanks. Oh, and Good Luck with your job!

Thanks for the input Luís.

Demand destruction, such a terrifying force, powerful, yet quite simple to understand. Considering the debt situation in Portugal, I feel the country is like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, being dragged behind a truck. Except, we won't climb our way back on to the diesel truck and will not be able to hold on. Anyways, I see remnants of it's agricultural heritage even in urban settings, it gives some hope. Maybe a transition that is like rolling down a relatively rocky slope instead of falling head first off a cliff. Unfortunately, I feel that the majority of people with the will or experience to work the fields are over 55-60. Also today's Portuguese youth are pretty disrespectful and will want to do anything except get their hands dirty. Those that are willing, don't have the skills, nor the time to acquire them. Well that's how I feel anyways. My aunt told me the other day that in her youth, she would help her parents sow potatoes, walk a couple kilometers each day for drinking water, among other things. Yet after knowing the abundance and lifestyle of the last couple of decades, she doubts she would be able to adapt again to the down to earth lifestyle she once knew.

The following years are going to be very "interesting".

Thanks again Luís for the insights.

Very good article, but the following comment caught my eye:

Once again I had to face the reality of not having an alternative to flying if the journey takes me beyond the Pyrenees, and tickets are more expensive now, 120 € alone on air fares.

So the airfare (Lisbon? to Brussels) is 120 Euros, or about $170 US dollars. If that is a round-trip airfare, then I would say that it sounds quite reasonable to me, and even VERY competitive for most routes within North America (with the possible exception of those famously cheap, casino-subsidized flights to Las Vegas, Nevada).

Even if the 120 Euros is a one-way airfare, that makes the round-trip roughly $340 USD, and while this is not exactly a great bargain, IMO it is also not especially expensive, and I would guess that it might be very typical of airfares within North America. You can certainly pay a lot more, and especially so for trips with only 1 or 2 weeks of advance notice (often the case with business travel). Obviously, I'm talking about Coach class tickets only. For a First Class seat, don't be surprised if the round-trip fare tops 4 figures (>$1000 USD).

Most Europeans at least have the option of (inexpensive?) travel by modern, high-speed trains. In the USA, train travel is available on AMTRAK between most large cities. But with very few exceptions it is neither especially modern nor high-speed, and worst of all, it is often just as expensive (if not more) than the cost of air travel to the same destination! The only American long-distance travel bargains seem to be by Bus, and sometimes the nice cost savings derived from cross-country Bus travel may be best described as "hard earned".

The high speed trains in Eurozone are not all that cheap. And they shouldn't be expected to be - it's still moving someone a long way in a short time - it's still going to take a lot of infrastructure and energy.

On an indirectly related note - Speaker Boehner appears to be opening the door to the possibility of a voluntary US default on sovereign debt. Now THAT would put a swift kick to the arse of petro consumption...

Speaker Boehner appears to be opening the door to the possibility of a voluntary US default on sovereign debt.

I am not surprised. With Obama presiding over the elimination of Bin Laden, the Republican party needs to up the ante to denegrade Obama's ratings. And what better way than to butt heads on contrasting ideological debt reduction goals. It's probably going to get real ugly.

Obama should call the bluff and raise:

Cut DoD by 50%, cut entitlement programs by 20%, raise taxes by 15%.

Let us see how serious the players at the table are about the purported goal...eliminate the deficit and eat away at the debt significantly...

Good analogy - so what then would the R's do to go "all in"?

Those 120€ were air fare taxes, CO2 tax, airport surcharges and things like that. I'll correct the text, thanks for pointing it out.

I paid 102 euros from Metz to Bruxelles by train (normal slow old train with noise etc..) in 2x4 hours traveling time. It is only 300 km distance. I would have spent 2x3 1/2 hours with my Prius and direct cost being 50 euros for gas.
If we compare the carbon footprint of your trip.....you go to an environmental jail!
It could be interesting for the next conference to calculate the carbon footprint of it. This could influence the choice of the city! Where is the center of gravity of lowest carbon footprint in Europe for such a conference?

About planes, it is somehow a scandal that current jet fuel taxes are at zero, when the fuel consumption of a plane is more or less equivalent to each passenger alone in a car on the same distance on a freeway.

The comparison is irrelevant.

The convenience of air travel means that the average plane trip is orders of magnitude longer than a car trip. A bus or train is a better comparison where the efficiency is generally considered much better (and even there, cross oceanic flight is ruled out).

People may often travel alone in cars to work, but that is irrelevant, since people rarely travel by air to work.

People relatively rarely travel alone by car across continents.

So what is your motivation in making this false comparison, or had it not occurred to you that it was an irrelevant comparison?

First the comparison is completely relevant on pure energy terms, many people feel that in a plane they are in a bus, a train, or something, as in fact you are as much packed or even more.
So the picture of every single passenger alone in a car on a freeway as the equivalent of a plane put the thing in perspective in terms of energy/fossile fuel use...

Then on many intra European routes it is relevant in the sense that this allows low cost airways to make the plane quite often cheaper than the train or the car (on routes such as Paris London, Paris Amsterdam, etc)

And finally, in the end high fossile fuel taxes (with making a big part of their revenues directly redistributed à la Hansen) are really the key if not the only policy available in order to accelerate the necessary changes, and for that the best would be the same tax whatever the usage.

I certainly agree with the last point. But they aren't "the same tax everywhere" if air travel is getting a pass while other forms are not. Maybe I misunderstood your earlier point?

Yes of course, I'm not saying it is as it should be ! :)

Where are you that jet fuel taxes are zero?

In Canada, the federal excise tax on jet fuel is 4 cents per litre (compared to 11 cents per litre for leaded avgas), and the provincial excise taxes on jet fuel range from 0.7 cents in Newfoundland to 15.2 cents in Quebec. In addition there is the federal Goods and Services tax of 5%, and other taxes varying by province.

He is in the EU. You may be surprised to learn (I certainly was) that there is an EU directive 2003-96-EC that explicitly specifies that commercial jet fuel will not be taxed;

Article 14

In addition to the general provisions set out in Directive
92/12/EEC on exempt uses of taxable products, and without
prejudice to other Community provisions, Member States shall
exempt the following from taxation under conditions which
they shall lay down for the purpose of ensuring the correct and
straightforward application of such exemptions and of
preventing any evasion, avoidance or abuse:

(b) energy products supplied for use as fuel for the purpose of
air navigation other than in private pleasure-flying.

Member States may limit the scope of this exemption to
supplies of jet fuel (CN code 2710 19 21);

So there you have it. This directive lists a host of other exemptions too, from CHP to home heating fuel to shipping to rail to manufacturing to whatever. Pretty much any commercial use, other than road fuel, seems to be exempt, is exempt, and any pleasure use is taxed - it;s the sort of thing American lawyers would love - offering lots of opportunities to redefine almost any activity into an exempt category.

Needless to say, jet fuel is a big one, and I can't see the countries agreeing to have aviation taxed - even though the ones with lots of HSR would benefit

Just skimming that document is painful - the EU seems like a monstrous bureaucracy.

Interesting, although these taxes remain quite low, do you know if this leads to some planes refueling into "non optimal" places from a consumption perspective ? That is a plane refueling outside Quebec, then landing and starting a new route from Quebec ?

Would there happen to be mp3s, podcasts, or videos of the presentations anywhere?

Yes, if you follow the link in the second paragraph.

Why oh why is there no audio mp3? Video is not always necessary.

Looking at the Q&A sessions videos, thought the first day discussion between Alekett and Mauriaud about "a plateau up to 2030 or not" was quite interesting, and the concluding remark by Mauriaud a rather clever exit : "If you consider statistics, you're right, if you consider geology, you may be wrong"

(Kyell Aleklett is sometimes a bit agressive in his kind of recurring "I'm doing science and not you" position, but in the end clear that Mauriaud doesn't really believe in his plateau up to 2030)

Mauriaud presentation and video aren't available on the site, is that due to "not yet put" or corresponds to a clear directive from Total not to make them available ?

Guess the later, anybody knows ?

And thanks a lot to Luis for the summary

Even a plateau would be a decrease of production per capita, which has stayed fairly constant for 30 years. So based on the production per capita, the question of a plateau vs a decrease is not significantly different - we'll have to deal with a decrease anyway...

Personally I don't see why the production should stabilize during 30 years, since there is no clear "button control" on absolute production - the production per capita seems to be a more robust criterion, if we look backwards at the last decades.

"Even a plateau would be a decrease of production per capita, which has stayed fairly constant for 30 years. "

Sure, so what ? Nevertheless the discussion was on total production which is still an understandable variable.

"Personally I don't see why the production should stabilize during 30 years, since there is no clear "button control" on absolute production"

Don't see how the presence of such a button or not has anything to do with discussing (sharing respective considerations) on the evolution of total oil production in the coming years.

Note to self : limit ping-pong exchanges with Gilles to 3 or 4 at the most per game.

A 30 year plateau is another 1 trillion in URR. ~33 G/y x 30 y. Have to ask if that is crude or what.

From the vid, they were clearly discussing "all liquids", or at least "all fossile liquids from any kind of fossile ressource", or at least "all oil from on shore, near shore, off shore, deep off shore, heavy oil, tar sands, oil shale and shale oil" (every fossile hydrocarbon liquid after transformation except CTL and GTL), so not so clear but clearly not limited to crude :-)

*post moved in a more appropriate level *

"Don't see how the presence of such a button or not has anything to do with discussing (sharing respective considerations) on the evolution of total oil production in the coming years."

What I meant is that the actual production will be the result of antagonist forces : a continuous increase of the marginal extraction cost tends both to increase the amount of economically available resources, but tends also to destroy the demand. And for a given price, the demographic growth tends to increase the demand. Obviously the real curve will be determined by a complicated balance between all these factors, and there is no a priori reason that it should stabilize at a constant level, since nothing particular is attached to this constant level. Lahérrère's curves à la Hubbert don't show any prolongated plateau

As a matter of fact, the 1980 - 2010 period was characterized not by a constant production, but an (almost) constant production per capita. To my knowledge this is not really explained by the economists, but I suspect that this could be a kind of "saturation level" reached after decades of increasing production by capita, linked in a way to the productivity of oil extraction. So it is conceivable that the production per capita (for a given marginal cost) is something robust. But this is not the case for a prolongated plateau of absolute production. It is not impossible, it is just not particularly likely as a zero measure set, with no physical reason to be held constant - there is no reason that the depleted cheap oil should be exactly replaced by the same amount of expensive unconventional - actually there is good reason to think it is unlikely.

1980 - 2010 period was characterized not by a constant production, but an (almost) constant production per capita

Actually, that was true through 2005. Then, when oil hit a plateau, population continued to grow. Anyone notice any possible impacts of that these past 5-6 years...?

well, the death rate, after falling fairly regularly for centuries, seems to have stalled out in the 8.1-8.4 deaths/1000 people/year range over the last five years, but that may partly be due to other trends.


The trends may not be caused by what you think though. If you have a look at the "death rate" map, there are some surprising results. Two of the lowest death rates in the world, at 2.5 and 3.5, are in Saudi Arabia and Libya! (data not updated for 2011 though).

The death rate is seemingly more indicative of aging populations, except where you have civil wars etc (Angola).

As a statistic, it sounds like the sort of thing that would be the metric of choice for Darth Vader.

Anyone notice any possible impacts of that these past 5-6 years...?

Yes. It has led to a dramatic increase in emissions from politicians worldwide.

ASPO-9 The ghost of hyperinflation to come: http://goo.gl/fb/ckS48

MIT's billion prices project shows 8% annualized inflation over the last four months. And this excludes food and energy mostly since relatively few of it is sold online.....

I was listening to the presentation "ASPO Perspective on Fossil Fuels" given by Mr. Kjell Aleklett, and he mentioned that Chevron's GOM Jack 2 well only contains 400 million barrels, vice the billions it was earlier claimed to contain. Can someone please direct me to more information about this? I have used the search engine on this site and Google, but I have not been able to find anything to back this up. Thank you in advance.

Good point
There is a background story. See this interesting entry on Aleklett's blog back in March apparently http://aleklett.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/jack-2-and-wall-street-journal/

He mentions using the Jack2 story in his forthcoming book. I guess we got a brief preview in his presentation.
I suppose we could ask him via his blog?

Thanks for the very helpful summary.

Concerning your religious groups parenthesis, this happens to be my area of research. Agreed that religious groups have something meaningful to say, but they need to be aware of the issues and think them through first. Unfortunately, at least in the UK Christian church (but I don't see anything to suggest other religions or countries differ much), the number of people for whom the issue of peak oil has hit home is still very low as in the rest of the population. However, given the interest in climate change, if awareness can be increased, we have hope that something may happen. Those who know about it seem to want to do something. We're organising a conference (www.sustainability-in-crisis.org) to look at this in the wider context of sustainability, and doing what we can to educate people in the churches. (More information on request, or you can contact me via the conference page.)