2011 ASPO-USA Conference: Day 2

Day 2 of the ASPO-USA Truth in Energy conference continued the wide ranging discussion about our current energy predicament, the reasons society isn't talking about it, and potential ways to begin preparing for a world with increasingly scarce liquid fuels. (See also the Day 1 Summary. Presentations are collected here.)

Interim Observations

Bob Hirsch, author of the 2005 Hirsch Report, opened the conversation by narrowing the focus. According to Hirsch: "We don't have an energy problem in the short term. We have a liquid fuels problem." In the longer term, Hirsch believes there are renewable solutions. But the current production plateau has been going on since 2004 and he anticipates decline will start in 1-4 years. He believes rationing is difficult, and that we may have to resort to X-to-liquids as we have a huge investment in equipment that requires liquid fuels. Electrification of transportation is a longer term solution. Bob anticipates a shock as we experienced in 73 and 79 along with panic, shortages, inflation, recession and unemployment. When peak oil enters public consciousness, Hirsch argues, climate change will fade in importance for many people.

Navigating a New Energy Reality: Concepts and Principles

Robert Rapier writes the R Squared Energy Blog and gave his assessment of the current energy predicament. We're currently stuck at ~ 85 mbd of oil production (EIA all liquids). In the last few years, the US used 1.5 mbd less oil but China and India used 2.2 mbd more. Note that US oil consumption is 23 bbl/person/year whil China's is 2. Robert expects much higher prices going forward. He noted that Peak Oil continues to be ridiculed and that most people are convinced there's a solution out there. Unfortunately, EROEI is in decline globally for fossil fuels and many bio-fuels have an EROEI of only 2:1. This is so low that we will not replace oil with bio-fuels. Rapier believes that CO2 emissions will continue to increase despite our best efforts because of demand in the developing world.

The Post-Peak Economy

Jeff Rubin spoke for a second time and described how we got out of the 2008 oil shock with the largest fiscal stimulus in post war history. The only hope to pay off that additional debt is with growth which we will not see because we are already back at $100 oil even without growth. He explained that debts denominated in dollars are really denominated in oil and that unwinding existing fiscal deficits will require draconian measures and result in a non-growing economy. The current oil shock is not a shock according to Rubin -- it is the new reality. He anticipates high unemployment, closing borders, minimal government stimulus and reduced government services. A world with no growth in oil consumption is a world with no growth. If China grows at all (and he believes it it will) US and OECD economies must shrink. Bottom line: We are in a zero sum world.

Senior energy analyst Charlie Maxwell spelled out how peak oil production will arrive over a series of years: 2012 for non-OPEC nations; 2013 for top 50 oil companies; 2014 for conventional oil. At the moment, he sees 1.5 mbd of heavy, sour crude that is not coming to market because it is awaiting refineries to be built. Population is obviously a key issue. Reviewing a few countries that are past peak he believes that Russia has the geology to produce 13-14 mbd but not the institutions or infrastructure; Mexico could grow a little from its current level but lacks the institutions to pull this off; the UK is done; Norway could grow a little; Colombia can grow some. He believes that energy conservation and efficiency should be counted just like energy. In his opinion, energy efficiency is the next big investment opportunity: "Efficiency innovation will be our Saudi Arabia in the end."

On the natural gas front, Charlie anticipates prices for gas to go up slightly in the next year or two hitting $6 around 2016. Natural Gas export terminals Louisiana will reduce the existing arbitrage of $4 in the US, $11 in Europe and $14 in Asia. Rigs in the US are currently moving to liquids rich plays and this will reduce overall dry gas production. Current $4 prices will cause some small companies to go under as 45% of natural gas produced is currently by "ma & pa" operators with little financial buffer. As these close, the winners will be the mid-cap, high tech companies.

Living on a Renewable Energy Budget

Ken Zweibel is head of George Washington University's Solar Institute and has been working on solar PV for 30 years. Because solar is such a HUGE resource, solar PV and the electrification of transport has to be part of our long term solution, he says. The following graphic from his talk sums up the argument about total available resources:

China is currently the world's largest producer of PV modules and has grown incredibly rapidly. Capacity is currently 2x demand. Ken described 20 GW of PV installations in 2010 continuing the 50% compounding growth rate we have since 2001. In Germany, solar PV now accounts for 10% of midday peak in the month of February. According to Ken, modern PV systems have a 1-2 year payback on an EROEI basis. Given that solar PV output degrades so slowly, today's panels may stay in service 50+ years. A huge advantage of solar PV over other solar systems is the very low operations and maintenance costs which can be as low as 1¢/KWh. Addressing transportation, Ken pegged the cost per mile to run an electric vehicle as essentially the cost per KWh which can be as low as 15 cents/KWh in desert places. As the solar industry grows, the biggest challenges include up front cost and storage during overcast days and nighttime. Luckily, there is a PV module price learning curve -- they keep getting cheaper and cheaper. Ken summarized with the following points:

  • Solar is a huge resource.
  • Prices are continually dropping.
  • Current payback times are acceptable.
  • The entire industry is currently experiencing massive growth.

Dave Murphy spoke next on Energy Return On Investment. By his calculations, EROI for oil has gone from 100 in the early days to 10 in current deep water wells. He emphasized that EROI by itself is cannot determine whether one source of energy is better than another:  coal has an EROI of 80 while hydro has an EROI of 40. Is coal twice as "good" as hydro? Dave described how net energy to society starts declining dramatically around EROI=9 and how bio-fuels are well below this number. He believes we need to carefully separate the energy used for construction vs. energy used for O&M when evaluating resources. Solar and wind have high embodied energy compared with fossil fuel production facilities but lower O&M costs from an EROI point of view. Dave also talked about a new article in Energy Policy that looks at different energy resources in terms of "doubling time," which is the time it takes to use the output of a particular resource to create enough energy to create energy for new infrastructure to theoretically double the output of the resource. The doubling time for wind and solar are much longer than for oil and coal, a direct reflection of the high embodied energy in production facilities.

Angelina Galetiva spoke again about the prospects of moving to 100% renewables, adding new information to the points she made on the first day:

  • If we are to move toward renewables, we have to involve stakeholders: jobs, enviros, energy planners, politicians, etc.
  • We need to have more communication between stakeholders.
  • It is important to establish policies that encourage innovation.
  • The feed-in tariffs in Europe were successful because of Transparency, Longevity, Certainty and Consistency.
  • Legislation can drive capacity and bring down costs.
  • "Nothing is more valuable than the Negawatt."
  • Critical areas for development include: program integration, R&D, bio-fuels, education and outreach, legislative initiatives, cross industry alliances.
  • EVs make an excellent energy storage/backup system.
  • Greensburg, Kansas claims to be 100% renewable.
  • Marin County bought their grid back from PG&ESF so they could include more renewables.
  • Sonoma County Energy aims for 100% renewables by 2020.

She encouraged everyone to begin making the transition to renewables in their own lives and ended her talk with "Whose Job is it Anyway?":

This is a little story about four people named
Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done.
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought that Anybody could do it.
But Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody
When Nobody did what Anybody could have done

Guy Dauncey closed out the session with an impassioned plea for moving to renewables to save the planet from impending environmental catastrophe. His climate scenarios were a little extreme for my taste but I resonated with his call for some leadership on energy issues. He believes a sense of defeatism is preventing people from making the necessary changes in society and compared this with sports teams. In a successful team you don't accept defeat, he said. You are either determined to win or wondering how to become more determined to win. Passive observers don't need that determination. But we aren't passive observers. We're playing the game whether we like it or not.

As moderator, Ron Swenson summarized the session by saying: "There are people who make it happen, people who watch it happen and people who wonder what happened."

Keynote: The Future of Food

The keynote speaker was Wes Jackson of The Land Institute. He called our attention to another non-renewable resource that often gets taken for granted: "Soil is more important than oil," he said, emphasizing: "The day will come when we stop treating soil like dirt." He explained that the Pleistocene scraped nutrients off the Canadian shield and dumped them in the corn belt states of the US. His most memorable idea was that Western (US) institutions are based on assumptions of "a poor people in an empty land that is rich in resources": the Homestead Act, Land Grant Colleges, Experiment Stations and the Extension Service all start with this same premise. Now we are in the opposite situation but our institutions have not changed. According to Jackson, one of the problems with modern agriculture is that high energy usage destroys cultural and family information by reducing the number of people it takes to farm. He believes one has to be raised to farming.

At the Land Institute they are attempting to prevent large scale erosion of topsoil by breeding perennial varieties of grasses so that fields do not need to be plowed. Grasses account for 70% of human calories with rice, wheat and corn in the top positions. The Land Institute has developed "Kernza", a perennial wheat whose root structure is 10+ times bigger than annual varieties. Now they are working on perennializing sorghum, sunflowers, upland rice and corn. Wes called agriculture the #1 threat to wild biodiversity and believes we need to re-examine the ecosystem concept in our search for solutions. For 100 years we have been looking smaller and smaller towards cells, molecules and even atoms for solutions. Going in this direction we end up with plants that have been genetically engineered to be Roundup Ready. Instead, he suggests we should be looking at the larger scale toward organisms and ecosystems for solutions. Given that 80% of agriculture is grains, the Land Institute's goal is to create perennial varieties of grains that will help conserve topsoil. He believes we could build agriculture that is more like a natural ecosystem were it not for the many institutional barriers.

At Ground Level: Adaptation for Local and Regional Economies

Aaron Newton is the "local food systems coordinator" for Cabarrus County, North Carolina. In 2008 this county created a Central Area Plan that protects agricultural areas. It is a de facto growth management plan that was created by Republican lawmakers. In 2008 they asked farmers in town hall style meetings what was needed to support local agriculture in the county and created the following list: 1) an incubator farm to train young farmers; 2) a local slaughtering facility; 3) a food system assessment (more information); and 4) a food policy council (ongoing group meetings). The county began a "locally grown" advertising campaign and coordinated with the Piedmont farmers market and other existing organizations. They established a local food purchasing policy within county government (10% local purchasing). His list of key elements for any similar endeavor include: 1) collaboration (diversity + communication); 2) startup funding with a transition to self-sufficiency; and 3) local management and participation.

Peter Kilde works in community services in western Wisconsin and spoke about the impact of peak oil on low income families: poverty affects 46 million americans and 16 million children (1 in 4). Peak oil is intimately tied to poverty as social service agencies shift from sharing abundance to managing scarcity. He believes the future of housing is the future of existing buildings. His agency has adopted the following agency programs: 1) deep retrofit to convert existing housing down to net zero energy use. 2) low income woodlot owners pilot program; 3) Family Table Cooking Club for head start and new mothers groups.

John Michael Greer of The Archdruid Report spoke next, reading one of his well crafted epistles. He spoke of  the lessons of the 1970's Energy Crisis, of WPPS and of thorium reactors and how we should be re-imagining options that include renewables, solar, wind, etc. Conservation has been far more effective than energy production, he believes, with lifestyle change the easiest, quickest and most effective thing to do: "weatherize before you solarize". He reminded us that prediction is problematic, that markets are delusional, and that energy policy is too important to be entrusted to Smith's invisible hand.

Naomi Davis is a Chicago community organizer and gave her listeners what can only be described as performance art. A gifted storyteller, she imagined herself coming back from the future to explain "how Chicago became a city of villages". Her time traveler persona described in lyrical fashion how our whole system problem needed a whole system solution; how her communities "put the 'neighbor' back in 'hood'"; how this whole system solution allowed people to walk to work, walk to shop, walk to play, walk to learn; how commerce flourished in commercial deserts with the advent of bartering, micro-lenders, home businesses, circulating dollars inside neighborhoods; how self sufficiency reigned with local energy production and transportation; how people converted waste into wealth and fed themselves from the village farming cooperative. Perhaps most importantly, she described how people joined story circles to create community and imagine a better future for themselves.

What Naomi's performance lacked in technical details and mathematical rigor it more than made up for in creativity, passion and raw energy. I think that's why she was so well received. As the Peak Oil message that is at the foundation of ASPO becomes more mainstream, some of the creativity and passion and energy associated with delivering that unwelcome message has become diluted. Hopefully, performances like Naomi's will strike a chord and encourage future ASPO speakers to strive for a healthy dose of inspiration to go along with the careful analysis that ruled the day.

That ended the second day of the conference. A third day had a few more presentations and a lively round-table discussion on how ASPO can better communicate concerns about peak oil and what policy actions to suggest. All-in-all it was a very stimulating meeting and I can heartily recommend attending in the future if you wish to meet with other folks from all walks of life who think this issue should be at the top of our national agenda.

Take Home Messages

  • We don't have an energy problem in the short term. We have a liquid fuels problem.
  • The current oil shock is not a shock -- it is the new reality.
  • Energy efficiency is the next big investment opportunity.
  • Solar is a HUGE resource -- Just do it!
  • Nothing is more valuable than the Negawatt.
  • Peak oil is intimately tied to poverty as social service agencies shift from sharing abundance to managing scarcity.
  • Topsoil is a non-renewable resource.

The main problem has been and continues to be people's unwillingness to accept the end of economic growth. It's because of this the adoption of renewable energy sources like Wind and Solar are stalled.

The main problem has been and continues to be people's unwillingness to accept the end of economic growth.

You have summed up the sentiments of all who frequent this site.

Here is my summation of the sentiments of the Opposite crowd:

Have you accepted your own mortality? If the answer is Yes, then you would be willing to remain faithful to your decision when the man who loves life more has learned how to increase his own longevity? He went through pain and agony while searching for his grail, and you surrendered to your mortality without a fight. Surely it's only fair that he be given the gift of infinite life, while all who believed in death should fall by the wayside.

To accept constraints in an universe which is infinite (if only we knew how to tap into that infinitude) is rather like accepting death when immortality might be within reach, if only we persisted after it hungrily enough, willed for it strongly enough and waited for it long enough. And if one fails, one will leave behind one's longing and legacy in children who are just as hungry and foolish, so that the quest never comes to an end.

This is the unspoken answer to anyone who taunts man with "facts" and "reality." Sometimes, one has to believe something because there are strong reasons for it. And sometimes one has to believe something strongly enough, and long enough, in order that it may someday come true.

What's frustrating is the deployment of Wind and Solar is not incompatible with economic growth, but to recognize the desirability of renewable energy in the first place a person has to accept the idea of resource limits, which, of course, people refuse to do because of the logical implication there is a limit to growth. It's a fool's game, and one which Humanity will pay a high price for.

And sometimes one has to believe something strongly enough, and long enough, in order that it may someday come true.

LOL. The Walt Disney 'wish upon a star' energy policy.

I think most people just haven't even bothered to think about it or are incapable of doing rational analysis on it.

Yes, sure, mock all you want. But I meant a wishing which is accompanied by tenacious, unrelenting action - an endless search for truth all through the ages until it is found. Looking up at the stars and making vain wishes for miracles is of course futile.

I agree, Shox.

It's far too easy to look at any and all 'hoping' as a naive fantasy.. while derision carries a protective shield that pretends to be 'The Hard Truth'.. while in fact, there are many hard truths about people doing the right and the courageous thing out there as well.

Most of us here have to keep hoping we'll find a way to get the message through about PO, so even a 'few' more people will start to get it and to prepare.

It's amazing how much my own inner cynic battles with me whenever I'm doing tedious Weatherproofing or Insulating on my Home or my Apartments, or when I'm gradually developing a better way to handle small battery charging, or some arcane bit of energy application.. something which I KNOW will be beneficial, and can be replicated and taught to great advantage.. and yet with all my Belief that these are the right things to be doing, are targeting my usage of energy, and increasing my knowledge about HOW to take meaningful steps DOWN the consumption ladder, the voice of the sneering naysayer is in there trying to convince me of 'Why Bother? It's Futile. Nobody Cares. Nice hobby..'

No. Hopefulness is not fantasy. Blind Hopefulness might be, but then Blind Hopelessness is, too.

But if you refuse to admit that the problem even exists, you are not going to take ANY action are you?

I have to say I sometimes feel like a fish out of water discussing Peak Oil. Most people seem to be OK with the prospect of tens or hundreds or possibly billions of people dying from malnutrition, disease and other causes that will attend the decline of oil production. I guess I'm just a hopeless romantic in wanting to avoid such an outcome.

contraction is never willful. a species that consciously regulates its own growth by its impact on the Eco is unprecedented.will we be the first?

I agree with the sentiment, but I'd like to say that there are species that regulate their populations - bees for example. Also humans, ie the Chinese with their birth statutes, and a good deal of research has been done showing inverted relationship between education and fertility - so people who are well educated and understand the issues involved with limits and ecology will limit their own procreation.

I think it's better to say that humans won't willingly diminish their status or class, with status or class defined as the perception of their own worth in comparison to others. So if people can see a smaller family as conferring a higher status than a large one, they will willingly contract the population.

It's a different way to look at the same problem, but I think it is much more practical. To change the perception of status is easier than to propose contracting population in general. Population throttling is so unpopular in many cultures (such as ours in North America) that it is a taboo subject. It helps to feel that the situation isn't hopeless to think of more indirect ways to talk about it.

Also, "population throttling" is my own term, I wonder if it will catch on :)



Presentations from the conference can be found here.

Where are the videos?? When is ASPO going to make the videos available to the general public? It's going on two weeks now. Or are they going to do what they did last year: make the videos exclusive to ASPO members only for the first few weeks/months, and then make them available to the wider public a long time later, when everyone has lost interest in it, if not the memory of it? Please, ASPO, make the videos available ASAP.

I would be extremely happy with just MP3s if anyone recorded audio.

Actually, I'd love to at least get the Powerpoint slides but that 'Presentations can be found here' link does not work. :-(

Fantastic report, thanks.

Thanks for the great report Jonathan, and nice poem from Angelina

And for sure "Nothing is more valuable than the Negawatt." or "Efficiency innovation will be our Saudi Arabia in the end." or "we need to carefully separate the energy used for construction vs. energy used for O&M when evaluating resources."

Basically the reasons why in terms of policies, volume based taxes on fossile fuels should be highly prefered over subsidies, subsidies that usually target alternative production, but the statement holds in any case, because the key point is that "it is very easy to make mistakes in labelling the good solutions", fossile fuel taxes do not require to devote oneself to this "good solutions labelling activity", they just push any "good solution" on the conservation or alternative production side, and leave the "good solution labelling activity" to the market, that is they are "a necessary changes or adaptations accelerator" and that is all, exactly what is needed.

As to impacting the poor more than the rich relatively, redistribution of wealth is for sure the other major current challenge, also called politics, doesn't change the fact that to push towards a more efficient infrastructure in a very general sense, volume based fossile fuel taxes are by far the best policy, saying otherwise is just the usual BAU belief in "economists tricks and other mythologies".

Subsidies should be focused on common infrastructure investment (more or less always the case anyway), and some towards R&D (or "potential good solutions definition and comparison studies").

Not to forget that efficiency doesn't need that much innovation in many cases, no innovation necessary to make two times more efficient ICE cars than average current ones for instance, especially for the US, but also true for Europe : cars have only been getting bigger and heavier since the sixties on average.

"Population is obviously a key issue" -Jeff Rubin

I now search for the word "population" in any article that tries to save the world.

Funny how the most important point only gets the quick, say it fast before anyone hears it, treatment.

Until humans understands that our problems are not just energy problems and that the main issue is that we can't get it through our thick heads that we must live in balance with Earth's many resources, we are likely to go down a path that just takes us further from a workable solution.

- Increasing efficiency allows more people to use a resource.
- India has great resources that could support 50 million people in luxury.
- A developed country is actually less likely to survive the end of the fossil fuel era.
- Most religions call for their flock to be fruitful and multiply, thus adding to their numbers.
- We humans break out in hives when talking about death, population control, euthanasia, birth control, etc.
- Bring up resource use planning and many people get angry and shout, "Communist!" or "Socialist!"
- Humans hate change and will resist with every ounce of their being.
- The best model that represents human civilization is currently - yeast in a Petri dish.

The more people talk about population planning and balancing resource use, the more natural it will seem. After all, it has logic and reason on its side.

The latest issue of the New Yorker has a long article titled The War on Planned Parenthood. Then there is this.


Complicated issue with a simple explanation...Religion. The motivation to carry out this "war" for most Religions boils down to variations on "Be Fruitful and Multiply". Same basis for bias against being "gay"...no babies. Same puritanical bias against sex/nudity etc.(but hypocrisy runs deep), keeps reminding them that they didn't get here via "Immaculate Conception".

"Funny how the most important point only gets the quick, say it fast before anyone hears it, treatment."

People ask me why I don't spend more time on this. My answer is always "What exactly am I supposed to do about it?" I work on things that I can reasonably hope to influence. My field is energy; I can produce energy, invent new ways of producing energy, and maybe even influence energy policy. I don't see the first thing I can do to influence the global population.

Slides from one of my favorite 2011 ASPO-USA presentations. I have not seen any announcements regarding video.

See also http://peakoil.com/generalideas/aspo-usa-2011-conference-presentations-n...

The problem is more over-consumption by some countries than large populations, in my opinion. For example, China and India have large populations but on a per capita basis consume very little oil. The United States has a much smaller population but is downright gluttonous in its oil consumption. Population control in the case of the US wouldn't have helped much since the US population has grown at about 1% per year from 1945.

The per-capita energy use in China and India is due to there being hundreds of millions of poor people!

How about take the top 1% and check out their energy use. This is what every Chinese and Indian citizen wants to become.

We humans already had too much energy for our level of development. Adding more energy will only bring the Great Lesson to our civilization sooner. That great lesson is that exponential growth in a finite system is impossible in perpetuity.

I'm having trouble understanding your point.

If you're saying the developed world, including the US, is setting a bad example regarding energy use for China and India, I agree. But the fact is at the present time China and India are small players in energy consumption despite their exceedingly large populations.

I think it's ironic while some Americans lament the population growth of countries like China and India, they are other Americans who are more than willing -- eager would be a better description -- to commercially develop both countries, regardless of its impact on resources.

But the fact is at the present time China and India are small players in energy consumption despite their exceedingly large populations.

The Asia Pacific region has greater carbon emissions than North America and the EU combined. Further, their emissions are growing rapidly while ours have slightly declined over the past 10 years. The problem is, as was noted above, that there are huge numbers of people starting from a low per capita consumption base. That is why I can't see oil prices pulling back much in the long run; people in that area don't have the low hanging fruit to cut consumption.

By "energy" I was referring to oil, but you're right China's coal consumption is a real environmental problem. As for China's future growth, I think it will be hard to sustain in the face of continued deterioration of the Western economies. After all, Europe was just in China seeking a contribution towards Europe's bank bailouts.

Who knows what the future will bring, but at the 2005 to 2010 rate of increase in Chindia's combined net oil imports as a percentage of Global Net Exports (GNE), Chindia's net imports would approach 100% of GNE in about 19 years. Here is a normalized oil consumption chart for 2002 to 2010 for China, India, the top 33 net oil exporters and the US:

Some numbers* for 2005 & 2010, mbpd:

GNE: 45.5 & 42.6

China's Net Imports: 3.3 & 5.0

India's Net Imports: 1.8 & 2.5

Chindia: 5.1 & 7.5

At China's 2005 to 2010 rate of increase in net imports as a percentage of GNE (9.4%/year), China would approach 100% of GNE in about 23 years.

At Chindia's 2005 to 2010 rate of increase in net imports as a percentage of GNE (9.0%/year), Chindia would approach 100% of GNE in about 19 years.

*GNE = Global Net Exports, top 33 net oil exporters in 2005, BP + Minor EIA data, total petroleum liquids

The combination of a slight decline in top 33 production, combined with rising top 33 consumption and rising Chindia consumption has already resulted in Available Net Exports (ANE) falling at an average volumetric rate of one mbpd per year for the past five years.

If we extrapolate the 2005 to 2010 rates of change in top 33 production & consumption and in Chindia's net imports, the supply of oil available to importers other than China & India (ANE) would fall from 40 mbpd in 2005 to about 21 mbpd in 2020 (after having fallen to 35 mbpd in 2010).

I think people underestimate the impact of Western Industries and Companies (including Wall Street) on the growth of China. Without the active and strong participation of Western Companies in China, growth at present levels would be unsustainable. Also, keep in mind the US has had a trade deficit with China of over $200 billion over the past 7 years (including 2011 which currently stands at $217 billion). Clearly, this will eventually become politically unacceptable and will be eliminated. With Western economies struggling, and the closing of trade deficits, China's growth will have to increasingly come from domestic demand.

US trade figures with China: https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html

And yet, even though growth in the West has come to a grinding halt, demand in China continues to go up as Jeffrey showed on his graphic. China is selling cars like crazy, and their citizens seek to raise their standard of living. Even if their 2 barrel per capita oil consumption increases only slightly, it will have a major impact on global demand.

I'm not suggesting growth in China will disappear but rather moderate. As for China's growth right now, I think the current US trade deficit with China speaks for itself.

But if you look at a 3-year running average, that trade deficit is down relative to 2006-2007, and China's oil consumption is up sharply.

Do you know if there is a breakdown of China's internal energy usage versus their usage for exports. I have heard others attribute China's growing carbon emissions to their exports, but I suspect that lately is more due to internal growth.

There have been some indications that China's domestic oil production may be hitting a plateau, or declining, after increasing at 2.3%/year from 2005 to 2010 (BP).

Note that US net oil imports increased at 11%/year from 1948 to 1970, when the US peaked (EIA). From 1970 to 1977, US net oil imports increased at 15%/year. In 1978, Alaskan production started to come on line, and consumption began to fall.

As I mentioned before, nothing good is going to happen until people accept the end of economic growth. What it will take -- how much pain will have to be experienced -- before people are ready to accept that reality is anyone's guess.

you're probably right but pretty much none of our structures - financial, educational etc -are set up for that. You can see that these structures are creaking and at some point they're going to crack. When? Who knows.

How does one reverse a message propagated for over a century: That progress and growth are inevitable results of Man's intelligence and ingenuity? It was difficult for me to accept there really is no substitute for Oil, at least in the quantities the world consumes it. If it was difficult for me, I imagine it will be near impossible for many others.

China energy is now roughly equal to USA. CO2 emissions are already greater. Now you can say thats because they are manufacturing stuff for the Americans, and others, but primary energy use for these countries is a big deal. The rate of increase of energy use is now dominated by the developing world. That also applies to GDP.

When peak oil enters public consciousness, Hirsch argues, climate change will fade in importance for many people.


Thailand flood damage could hit $US 33 bn

30 years flood event predicted by the World Bank in 2010

repeated already after 16 years

System Dynamics peak oil, financial and CO2 debt, ME geopolitics

Well, who knows, really.

We do tend to get caught up in the Biggest Brushfire of the moment.. but ultimately, that's not a prediction that should distract us into too much of a debate. Clearly, both are enormous problems, and anyone who has a focus on EITHER ONE, should be applauded for it and encouraged in their work, even if they can't manage to focus on the other one at the moment.

We've got to have folks working intensely on all fronts of these things.. and hell, we need the jobs, right?


Thailand flood damage could hit $US 33 bn

Is that going to change their focus? Only those who are willing to attribute floods (or other climate influenced disasters) to human activity are going to make it an issue. And I don't think they are anything close to a plurality.

EOS - Let's be blunt: there are those "who are willing to attribute floods (or other climate influenced disasters) to human activity". But as long as they are not directly and immediately affected they aren't going to make it an issue. I suppose the definition of "making it an issue" is a consideration. We all hear a lot of outrage but not much seems to go beyond lip service. But do something that substantially cuts GHG but also hurts the economy/jobs and I'm sure we'll see a lot more than idle chatter from much of the American public.

He believes that energy conservation and efficiency should be counted just like energy. In his opinion, energy efficiency is the next big investment opportunity: "Efficiency innovation will be our Saudi Arabia in the end."

Spot on, in the USA anyway.

Our power grid wastes 2/3 of the electricity generated, meaning that not only would it increase jobs to rebuild / repair the olde grid, it would in effect save two barrels of oil out of every three.

Not a bad prospect.

Our power grid wastes 2/3 of the electricity generated

No it doesn't. Transmission losses are on the order of 7%. Most of the losses are in generation, and rebuilding the grid won't address that directly.

The article says something else:

Today’s electric power system is shockingly inefficient in terms of both resource use and the market economy.

Approximately two-thirds of the fuel burned to generate electricity is lost in the generation and delivery process. Or, to put it another way, our electric power system operates at approximately 33 percent efficiency.

Seems like the author never learned about the second law of thermodynamics. You can't beat Carnot :-)
(of course, some improvement is possible, but it's not at all shocking that electricity generation is only 33% efficient)

it's not at all shocking that electricity generation is only 33% efficient

It is if you think about Carnot. Max efficiency = Delat(T)/Tmax. Consider ambient is roughly 300K, and fuel plus air can yield well over 1000K, say 1500K. So Carnot says max efficiency is 1200/1500 = 80%. So we are using conversion technolgy which quite frankly sucks! Even combined cycle turbine for natural gas are at best 61%. Even our best current tech sucks!

It isn't shocking... first of all, Carnot efficiency is a theoretical efficiency for a cycle that cannot be used in practice, because you have to do two parts of it infinitely slowly to remain reversible. So there goes the theoretical Carnot efficiency. Typically, real cycles allow you to get roughly 2/3 of the Carnot efficiency.

Second, it's not as easy as saying fuel plus air can be 1500K - in nuclear power plants, you have much lower temperatures because of the water used as moderator, and a typical Carnot efficiency below 50% which translates into real-world efficiencies of around 33%. Of course there are high-temperature designs, but those that were tried (at least in Europe) have been shut down again for safety reasons (breeder with Sodium cooling in France and pebble bed reactor in Germany).

Coal power plants are operated at temperatures close to 600°C, again much lower than the 1500K.

Of course, modern gas and coal power plants reach higher efficiencies then older ones, but it's not a huge difference and our technology doesn't suck. Making these machines work at those speeds, power densities and temperatures is by no means trivial! Those machines are on the cutting edge of material science (think 14'000 g acceleration at the ends of turbine blades and such)

I think our problem stems in large part from the fact that we are using designs that rely of fluid/solid interaction at the hughest temperature of the fluid. Then you are limited by the thermal properties of the solid. So to use really high max temps, the high pressure/temperature part of the flow must not be in direct contact with the structure (in this analysis, turbine blades count as structure). So you must use acoustics, or magnetohydrodynamics to couple the fluid pressures/velocities into mechanical forces. MHD was a hot topic decades ago, but I supposed its fallen from favor. There also are designs for acoustic engines. Perhaps a greater valuation on efficiency (when fuel costs become more important than plant capital costs), such methods will be pursued. There is a sort of engine/generator proposed called a wave-disk generator, which claims very high potential efficiency. [I'm don't know how that baby works, but some very high numbers for theoretical efficiency were thrown out]

So I guess when it comes to combustion to mechanic energy efficiency, I'm a glass half empty guy.

You can't beat Carnot, but you can put the waste heat to good use, some of which will further offset fossil energy use outside the system being studied.

Specifically CHP, or district heating of well insulated houses located near the power plant. Or agricultural use - in the UK a large (even by US standards!) greenhouse has been built next to a coal power station, uses the waste heat to grow winter crops, and the excess CO2 from the combustion to further increase crop yields.

I'm sure with a bit of imagination we could find more productive uses for that quantity of hot water!

"I'm sure with a bit of imagination we could find more productive uses for that quantity of hot water!"

Like "crocodile farms" for instance :

Heated using the Tricastin nuclear power plant residual heat.

(Although the usefulness of it could for sure be discussed ..)

What a man of the world you are, YvesT. I wasn't even aware there were crocodile farms.

CHP looks good on paper but isn't all that useful in practice. Modern gas powerplants reach efficiencies close to 60% when generating electricity. Using this electricity to drive ground-source-based heat pumps in well insulated houses with a COP of 4 or 5 is more efficient than using a bit of waste heat in CHP. CHP also poses the problem that often you don't need the heat (in summer) and then it's a waste.
There is a place for CHP (particularly when you need high temperature waste heat, which you cannot make efficiently with heat pumps) but it's not the big gain that most people think it is.

CHP can be very useful - its just that - in the US - it hasn't been used that much.
And it can be used for far more than just heating houses.

Many industrial, and commercial processes need hot water - not steam, just hot, or even warm, water. This is *ideal* for CHP, even recovery after the 60% efficient combined cycle plant.
Some examples are;
commercial greenhouses
indoor sports facilities
commercial warehouses

Most (surviving) pulp mills do electricity generation from their black liquor boilers.

The key is to turn the normal application of CHP upside down. You don't look where to use waste heat from a power plant - you look for a process that is using a LOT of (NG) heat, and put a power plant in front of it.
An example of this would be an ethanol distillery - needs lots of heat - but not high temp - to distill ethanol. They use lots of NG to do this.
All they need to do is out one of these engines in front of it, and use the waste heat for the process.

The Jenbacher 920, 9MW, 48.7% electric efficiency.


When you can put CHP plants of this efficiency at almost any industrial site (or townsite) there are *many* useful applications of CHP - time to start putting them into practice.

Reports much appreciated, many thanks.

An interesting report indeed.

For anyone who wishes to learn more about sustainability and energy issues I strongly suggest you check out this upcoming Agrion Energy Conference. The event will touch upon of variety of subjects involved in energy security and renewables with key figures from the government and large business discussing these issues.

Here is the link: http://www.agrion.org/sessions/agrion-ny-Residential_Demand_Response_and...

The renewables-will-save-us True Believers were indeed out in force on ASPO Day 2. Shame they demonstrated absolutely no understanding of net energy, or how power systems actually work, and also manifested a complete blindness to the financial crisis currently over-taking events. There will be no time and no money to achieve any of these pie-in-the-sky goals. Please let's live in the real world.

The global financial system is in the early stages of implosion, led by the eurozone. We are very likely to see the banking system seize up within a year. We need to face and deal with this imminent catastrophe as quickly as possible. If we do not, we will lose our freedom of action at the first hurdle and thereafter be at the mercy of whatever circumstance has to throw at us.

Shame Mr Callahan didn't attend the parallel session where these issues were actually addressed. Truth in Energy indeed...

Interestingly, I have been listening to your presentation in Sheffield last year (http://sheffield.indymedia.org.uk/media/2010/06//453357.mp3), and was doing so when I came across your comment here. I didn't get to attend your session because they had me scheduled for one at the same time. Yes, there was some pie-in-the-sky stuff presented on Day 2, some of which got standing ovations. Charlie Hall and I were shaking our heads at one in particular. It was typical Amory Lovins stuff.

There were a few times when there were competing sessions I would have liked to attend. I did particularly enjoy the ones of yours I was able to get to. No one does Truth in Energy as well as you do.

Charlie Hall was quite right with his comment in the Congressional Auditorium regarding the need for a basic understanding of net energy as a bare minimum requirement. People like to listen to (and give standing ovations to) emotional pitches ungrounded in tedious reality apparently, but I don't think that kind of thing has any place at a serious conference called Truth in Energy.

As for the financial system, things are hitting the fan right now in Europe, and the contagion is poised to spread, potentially very quickly. Bubbles don't deflate slowly, they implode, like Enron. This one is the biggest in history, and the first to be truly global. The impact will be enormous. A lot of the assumptions people have built their lives on will be very painfully invalidated over the next couple of years. Financing alternatives is going to be so much more difficult than people anticipate. Even maintaining current infrastructure will be very challenging.

My current presentations have been honed a lot more since the once I gave at the Transition Towns conference in Totnes (the Sheffield Indymedia one). I'm working on getting a newer version filmed. The newer ones deal with why what's going on in Europe is so critical, and has a lot more information on what one can do in the face of crisis, and why some things have a far better chance of working than others.

Stoneleigh - I do hope you make a version of your new talk (even if just the audio) available publicly.

However, how confident do you feel in the predictions you're making? I ask because above you say that within a year things will completely unravel in Europe, but at the beginning of 2010 in your talks you were saying that things would unravel financially (globally) in 6 months to 2 years. We're maybe a month or two away from the 2 year mark and things haven't unraveled. Of course I'm not saying that they won't, but it seems you've expected things to unravel faster than they have, so what's to say that the same thing won't be true again?

...and again...and again...and again.

Engineering analysis often involves taking an older prediction, and the means and assumptions to generate it, and comparing it to reality. Such information is then used to determine what went right, and what went wrong. And hopefully why. Are there any references to how this type of ground truthing has been used in financial claims of disaster stretching back to, say, Breton Woods? Ronald Reagan's military spending and deficits, the devaluation of the dollar and accompanying impoverishment of America? (prior to one of the longer periods of expansion in recent memory?) Anyone remember when Japan was going to rule America with their economic expansion in the 80's? And, of course, Colin Campbells call for peak oil. In 1989.

It seems to me that more basic ground truthing, prior to recycling the same concept over and over again, would be a good thing.

An engineering approach is entirely inadequate in the world of human systems, which are only probabilistically predictable. We are not talking about the laws of physics here. Economics only fancies itself a science. Their model is completely wrong and must be rebuilt. Behavioural finance will eventually replace it in large part, but any paradigm shift takes time because people remain wedded to their outmoded ideas.

We have lived through a 30 year Ponzi credit expansion that has run its course. Have you seen what happened to M3 plus total credit market debt in 2008? Or the marginal productivity of debt? The top has been and gone (2007 in nominal terms, 2000 in real terms). We are not talking about a future event here. This is already happening, and is picking up momentum since the end of the counter trend rally this year.

you've expected things to unravel faster than they have, so what's to say that the same thing won't be true again?

...and again...and again...and again.
It seems to me that more basic ground truthing, prior to recycling the same concept over and over again, would be a good thing.

people remain wedded to their outmoded ideas.

Indeed; the question at hand is whether your repeated predictions are an example of exactly that kind of rigid thinking, or whether there is evidence that they'll be more correct this time than they were last time you made them.

Being constantly pessimistic looks much more clever just after a crash than it does in the not-crash-filled years afterwards. You may believe that engineering approaches aren't applicable to the real world, but that doesn't absolve you of the need to back up your claims with evidence. Especially after being wrong.

The larger trend turned down on May 2nd this year. What we have been seeing since is the early stages of a major unraveling. The focus right now is Europe, but expect contagion to spread, as it always does. North America is still stuck in the complacent phase, but in Europe leaders are terrified, and people are desperate for real information. I just spent 4 months there, and interest was enormous. Over there it isn't just the grass roots that is listening, it's mainstream media, institutions and some governments. North America will play catch up soon enough.

The problem is that, while momentum takes time to build in the new direction, once a 'critical mass' is reached, credit collapse can unfold very quickly indeed (ie banks can close their doors overnight). It is therefore necessary to be extremely cautious. You can be early, but you can't be late. That's difficult message to communicate. It's necessary to convey urgency as to the import of the warning and the seriousness of the consequences, but to do so early enough for people to be able to act on the information. Early enough to be useful and late enough to be credible is the balance, and that can be a diffcult one to strike.