Wind Fights Solar; Triangle Wins

This is a guest post by Tom Murphy. Tom is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. This post originally appeared on Tom's blog Do the Math.

For me, the most delightful turn of events in the ultimate nerd-song “Particle Man” by They Might Be Giants, is that after introducing (in order of complexity) particle-man, triangle-man, universe-man, and person-man—and learning that triangle-man naturally beats particle-man in a match up—we pit person-man against triangle-man to discover that triangle wins—again. In this post, we’ll pit solar against wind and see who wins.

I will take my usual approach and estimate what I can—as opposed to researching the results of detailed studies. It’s part of the process of personal mastery of the big-picture issues, while also providing a sanity-check. In exploring useful reactions to the looming peak oil crisis (or pick your favorite rationale for weaning ourselves from fossil fuels), an appropriate strategy is to assess ballpark capacities of the various options. Some will prove to be orders-of-magnitude more prodigious than we need, others will be marginal, and many will show themselves to be woefully inadequate to match the required scale. So the goal is to perform this crude sorting process into abundant, useful, and waste of time.

Earth’s Energy Budget

Since many of the options I will discuss in the coming weeks ultimately derive from the Sun, it is useful to throw up an energy budget.

Figure 1

Of the 1370 W/m² incident on the upper atmosphere from the Sun, 30% is reflected straight away without pausing long enough to say hello. About 20% is absorbed in the atmosphere and clouds, and 50% gets absorbed at ground level. Note that 7% of the energy budget goes into conduction and rising air (separate phenomena; the latter relating to wind). Virtually no heat is able to conduct through the thick atmosphere, so really this figure is all about convection, or moving air.

For comparison, the energy consumption (conversion) rate of the human race is about 13 TW (13 trillion Watts), which works out to an average of about 2,000 W per person on the globe (Americans are 10 kW). We can also divide by the area of the globe to get a power density of 0.025 W per square meter, or 0.09 W/m² if we just count land area.

Solar Potential

If 50% of the incoming solar radiation makes its way to the ground, then we have about 700 W/m² for the average terrestrial square meter facing the Sun. But the Sun puts this onto the projected πR² area of the Earth (the disk of the Earth as seen from the Sun), while the actual 3-D globe has an area of 4πR². So we must divide by four to get the flux per unit area of actual terra firma, yielding 170 W/m². We can think of this factor of four as being made up of a factor of two for day and night, plus a factor of two because the Sun is not overhead all the time, resulting in a loss of intensity per square meter at the ground.

A panel tilted to the site latitude can compensate for some of the slanted-sun-angle loss (for high latitudes, the ground always suffers from this geometric dilution, even at “high” noon), so that the ½ factor becomes 2/π, or 0.64, representing a global 30% boost over horizontal panels. In this scheme, we get 220 W/m² for our latitude-tilted panel (nearly independent of latitude, weather notwithstanding). The tilted panels will require more land to avoid self-shadowing, so that the amount of land area needed is stuck with the pre-adjusted value of 170 W/m².

Note how much bigger the solar potential is than our demand of 0.09 W/m² of land area. This implies that we need only 0.05% of the land to capture adequate sunlight, or that enough sunlight strikes land (the entire Earth) in 4.5 hours (1.25 hours) to satisfy our needs for a year. That’s a powerful resource!

But once we factor in efficiency—say 10% for simplicity and conservatism—we need ten times the land area computed above. Still, it’s a pittance. I have used the following graphic before to illustrate how much land would be occupied by solar photovoltaics (PV) at 8% efficiency to produce 18 TW of electrical output (note that about half of the 13 TW consumption today is lost in heat engines, so 18 TW of electricity more than satisfies our current demand).

Figure 2. The land area needed to produce 18 terawatts (50% larger than 2010 value) using 8% efficient photovoltaics, shown as black dots.

I’ll put solar in the “abundant” box.

Capturing Sun

Catching energy from the Sun is pretty simple. Sit in the sun on a cool day and benefit from its warmth. Situate your house so that south-facing windows can swallow sunlight and offset (or obviate) conventional sources of heat. Use thermal collectors for domestic hot water and/or interior heating. Stick a PV panel outside and it will generate electricity provided it is not placed face-down. Concentrate sunlight to heat a fluid and/or create steam for electricity production in a heat engine (possibly combined with thermal storage). Lots of options, when the sun shines.

Many react to my solar enthusiasm by pointing out that San Diego is an exceptional place for solar—so no wonder I’m enamored. But San Diego is only 19% better than a typical location in the lower-48 states (we get a lot of marine-layer clouds: May Gray is followed by June Gloom, and sometimes July Nebulae—okay, the last rhyme is my own Latin-nerd invention, so groans excused).

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) performed a 30-year study of insolation for 239 sites in the U.S. (data here), out of which one can see that the worst study location in the lower-48 (Quillayute, WA on the Olympic Peninsula) is only a factor of two worse than the best study location (Dagget, CA in the Mojave Desert). It turns out that St. Louis, Missouri wins the prize for most typical solar location, based on a variety of measures. It gets an annual average of 4.8 kWh/m²/day (which, conveniently, is equivalent to 4.8 hours of full, direct sun each day, since the full, direct sun delivers approximately 1 kW/m² of power). Divide this number by 24 to get kW/m² for comparison with our previous assessments: 200 W/m² for St. Louis.

A table comparing the worst, typical, and best sites in the U.S. provides some useful numbers to chew on. For each location, three modes are considered: flat panel tilted at latitude (typical PV); flat panel with 2-axis tracking of the Sun; and concentration requiring 2-axis tracking and direct sun (e.g., for solar thermal, which is intolerant of clouds). For each mode, three daily-average numbers are given: worst month—yearly average—best month. Values are in kWh/m²/day, and averaged over the 30-year data span. Yearly variation is detailed in the raw data. Think of the numbers as equivalent full-sun hours per day.

Table 1

I threw in San Diego, California and Fairbanks, Alaska for reference. I could devote a whole post to chewing on these results and what they tell us. I won’t, but I can’t help pointing out that Fairbanks—at 65° latitude—is competitive with Quillayute, and on an annual average basis gathers 50% as much energy as the smokin’ California desert! Yes, December is bleak, and seasonal storage is very tough. But still, I’m impressed.

Wind Potential

Wind represents a secondary solar energy flow, coming from differential solar heating of the land and from convection induced by temperature gradients in the atmosphere (hot below, cool on top). Wind is therefore like solar crumbs on the table and is destined to be a small fraction of the direct solar potential. How much would you guess? 1%, 5%, 10%? What handles might we put on it as an estimate?

One approach is to note that convection is a thermal process driven by the temperature difference between the warm surface and the cool heights. The maximum thermodynamic efficiency for producing mechanical energy out of a thermal system (we call this a heat engine) is (ThTc)/Th, where subscripts denote the hot and cold limits, expressed in Kelvin. The troposphere—from the ground up to about 10 km, where weather lives—has an average surface temperature of about 290 K and tropopause temperature of about 230 K, leading to a maximum efficiency of 20%. But now we get to chop this down according to the notions that about half of the cooling in the atmosphere is via direct radiation and not convection, that a fraction of the total convective energy will manifest itself in horizontal winds, and that there will also be viscous losses turning the kinetic energy of wind back to heat in the atmosphere. So I end up estimating that less than 5% of the thermal energy deposited by the Sun ends up driving horizontal winds.

Another handle we might try is to guess that a typical wind speed in the troposphere is 20 m/s (44 m.p.h.), and note that each square meter of land has 104 kg sitting on top of it (leading to mg = 105 N/m² of pressure, or 14 pounds per square inch). So the kinetic energy in the air is ½mv² = 2 MJ over each square meter. Now comes the tricky part. If we instantly sapped all that energy from the air, how long would it take to re-establish the full flow as if nothing had happened? I’m going to say one day, or 86,400 seconds. I am simultaneously tempted to go longer and shorter. Neurosis can be the sign of a decent guess. This translates to a power density of about 25 W/m², which is about 7% of total solar input. Not bad for ballpark. Noting that the energy budget graphic above puts rising air at 7% of the total solar budget, we might guess 5% in horizontal winds as an upper bound. This gives 17 W/m², an order of magnitude less than sunlight available at the surface. Ah—but how much of this wind energy is available at the surface?

Capturing Wind

Catching the wind can be a subtle enterprise. Greed is punished. By robbing all the kinetic energy out of an oncoming wind, the air must necessarily stop, so that the oncoming airflow diverts around the obstacle. Theoretically, an isolated windmill could capture 59% of the kinetic energy incident on the rotor area before becoming self-limited (called the Betz limit). Engineering practicalities impose further limitations, so that the best windmills today achieve 40–50% total efficiency.

How much power will a windmill generate? If the air velocity is v, each second of time delivers a tube of air with volume Av, where A is the area of the rotor (πD²/4, if D is the rotor diameter). The mass of air incident on the windmill each second is then ρAv, where ρ ≈ 1.2 kg/m³ is the density of air. The kinetic energy available per second, or power, is therefore P = ½ρAv³. Then we’d multiply this by the net efficiency (<50%) to get power delivered. Note the cubic dependence on velocity. This is a big deal. Cut the wind in half and suffer a factor of eight less available power. The largest wind turbines in the world now have a rotor diameter of 126 m and generate up to 7.6 MW (which I calculate corresponds to v = 13 m/s, or 29 m.p.h.). Windmills usually self-limit at higher wind velocities or else risk literally being blown to pieces.

Assuming that our windmills could lay claim only to the lower 150 m of the atmosphere, we access 180 kg/m² of air above the ground, which is 1.8% of the total we used to drive our calculations. This turns our 17 W/m² into 0.31 W/m². Factoring in efficiency of collection, I get 0.15 W/m², which is marginally larger than our land-based need. And I must bear in mind that I considered 5% to be an upper-bound estimate of the fraction of solar input energy converted to horizontal wind. And I have not addressed the fact that wind near the surface is lighter than winds aloft. On the other hand, winds are not strictly stratified, so that new energy can enter from above, extending our reach above the 150 m limit I used.

On balance, wind certainly goes into the “useful” box. But considering practicalities, wind may not be capable of satisfying our total demand the way solar so easily can, even if deployed across 100% of the land area.

Solar and Wind Have a Fight

Who wins? It depends on what you value most. If it’s installed capacity, wind smokes solar. If it’s total available resource, solar wins hands-down. Economically, wind comes in cheaper per peak Watt or per kWh produced, so it wins this contest. Small scale (home) installations: solar takes it. Night-time: advantage wind. Intermittency: both lose (though often in complementary ways).

When I first started educating myself about alternative energies, I kept seeing plots of solar potential (insolation) and wind potential in units of W/m². Wind looked far better than solar. For instance, the solar map for annual insolation in the U.S. looks like:

Figure 3. Annual insolation. Multiply values by 1000 and divide by 24 to get units of W/m².

Here, the values are given in kWh/m²/day, so to get W/m², just multiply by 1000 and divide by 24. For instance, the bright yellow covering Missouri is 4.5–5.0 kWh/m²/day, or 188–208 W/m². The steps are in increments of 0.5 kWh/m²/day, or about 20 W/m². This puts the most orange regions in the desert southwest at 271 292 W/m².

Meanwhile, the map for wind for sites deemed to be worth development looks like:

Figure 4

Note that the best sites exceed 800 W/m², and large land areas approach 500 W/m². On the face of it, this looks far better than solar. But beware: the area in the denominator for wind power density is the area of the rotornot the land area as is effectively the case for the solar map (panel tilt amounts to a 15% boost at 30° latitude, 41% boost at 45°).

A rule of thumb for a field of windmills is that they should not be closer than 5 rotor diameters side-by-side (relative to wind direction) and 10 rotor diameters in the wind direction (some use >4 and >7, respectively). Otherwise one windmill blocks the next, bogging down the wind and diverting the flow around the hindrance. The result is that each windmill stakes out a land area 50 square rotor diameters, while the rotor itself is π/4 square rotor diameters. The rotors therefore occupy only 1.6% of the land area, so that the raging 800 W/m² by rotor area becomes 13 W/m² by land area, and the inland hotspots become 8 W/m².

The upshot is that a 1 m² patch of flat land in the Texas panhandle might get 200 W of average sunlight (downward corrected for latitude tilt), compared to 8 W of wind power. If we convert sunlight to electricity at 15% efficiency, and wind at 45% efficiency (typical numbers), we have 30 W vs. 3.5 W. Solar beats wind (in that same location) by an order of magnitude. Comparing optimal solar sites to optimal wind sites (taking 1000 W/m² by rotor area), solar wins by a factor of five.

As a side exploration, if I look at the wind picture above, and use Lake Michigan as a reference area for water and Nebraska as a typical area for a state (at 60,000 km² and 200,000 km², respectively), I count about 8 lakes’-worth of offshore red, one lake’s-worth of offshore blue, and about 7 more of orange-to pink. Add to this 8 states’-worth of orange-pink on land and we have 13 TW of offshore wind potential and 4.5 TW of land-based potential represented in the graphic (while using 3 TW). My earlier estimate of 0.15 W/m² of wind potential, when multiplied by the area of the lower-48 states gives about 1.2 TW. I am left to puzzle over the disparity. My estimate is capped by the 7% of energy allocated to moving air in the solar energy budget, so either the estimates based on the map are wildly optimistic (e.g., the power density is based on isolated windmills, while full-scale deployment may create enough friction to substantially alter wind patterns; and/or because I did not apply efficiency factors), or my restriction of using the bottom 150 m of atmosphere neglected possible energy replenishment from vertical currents. See the Appendix for comparison to studies and some insight into the mismatch.

Triangle Wins

Solar and Wind have been vying for purchase in the energy game for many years now. Who is winning? Fossil fuels: they still beat the pants off either one. That’s our triangle. Fossil fuels are cheap and reliable and are their own storage and allow transportation by car, truck, ship, airplane, and fit seamlessly into our current infrastructure. Wind—and especially solar—don’t generally compete price-wise. Both are intermittent, so that they won’t fit into our current infrastructure at a large scale, requiring substantial storage and transmission in order to become major providers of energy. Neither one really helps with the liquid fuels crunch we will experience in the oil decline phase. Electric cars are unlikely to penetrate the market quickly and cheaply enough to avert hardship.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of both forms of energy production—especially solar. I’m swayed by the raw numbers solar has on its side. I have a home-built stand-alone PV system and golf-cart batteries that provides most of my electricity (as a hobby with benefits). I am delighted by the fact that wind now generates about 1% of the electricity in the U.S. for prices that are not terribly greater than for conventional power. I personally think that we should get over our gripes about these things being more expensive than our old friends, and embrace them full-scale—dealing with the costs, intermittency, storage issues, transmission build-up, together with a reduction in our total demand.

I know these things are possible, and that we have in the Sun and wind resources that can satisfy our (hopefully reduced) needs from a physical point of view. But the idea that people would voluntarily commit to this more expensive course of action in a timely manner seems to be pure fantasy. Only rising energy costs will drive us. And we risk waiting too late. And we find ourselves in The Energy Trap. And we learn that everything gets more expensive when energy prices soar—even the renewables that are supposed to be the escape route. Our indebted economy and polarized political system crack under the stress. Substitutes do not sweep in to save the day. Person-man meets Energy-man. They have a fight, triangle wins. Triangle-Man.


As part of an undergraduate research project, Thomas Tu sifted through credible assessments of wind potential for comparison to my estimations. For context, my endpoint estimate was 0.15 W/m², which translates to about 21 TW if 100% of Earth’s land area were to be developed. We consume about 13 TW globally, and have 0.045 TW of wind power installed.

Among the finds was a gem of a paper by Carlos de Castro et al., winning my Most Valuable Paper award for several reasons. First, it summarizes estimates of global wind potential from a variety of sources. Second, it follows a top-down approach much like I did here (starting with the total energy budget available). Third, it points out that many bottom-up estimates (starting with the output of a wind farm and scaling up) violate energy conservation by ending up with more energy than is available in the system. The full PDF is access-restricted, but the basic points are summarized in a post on the Oil Drum.

As summarized in the paper, estimates of global potential range from 1 TW to 80 TW. Assessments of economic viability tend to put us at no more than 5 TW by 2050, and the ultimately sustainable wind potential is estimated at about 7 TW. One important thing to note is that estimates vary by a lot—meaning that we are not yet sure whether wind can fill a substantial part of our current demand.

What I found especially useful about the de Castro et al. approach was a set of numerical values for the total power dissipated by wind in the troposphere (these numbers range from 340–3600 TW, again covering a wide range). They pick 1200 TW as the most physically realistic. The next step is to estimate how much energy is available in the lowest 200 m, which they approach by three independent methods, all pointing to about 100 TW. Note that this is about four times larger than the strict proportional amount (200 m out of 10 km would yield 2% of 1200 TW, or 24 TW). So in effect, this contains the energy replenishment I suspected I missed: dissipation of wind energy takes place disproportionately near the ground. Applied to usable land (avoid ice sheets, etc.), we have 20 TW available worldwide. They proceed to apply various practical efficiency constraints—many of which I left out of my analysis. These factors are summarized in the Oil Drum article—ending up with an estimate for global potential of about 1 TW.

Even if this estimate is an order-of-magnitude too pessimistic (though I resonate with their top-down common-sense approach), the result is the same: wind deserves a place in the “useful” box, but it does not have the numbers behind it to make it an over-abundant resource like the Sun.

One important difference between them: solar consumes more land. You can still grow tomatoes under a windmill, or put a turbine on a kite.

Also we need to address the mineral inputs needed to create millions of square miles of solar panels. I imagine it's easier to find substitute materials when making windmills.

One important difference between them: solar consumes more land. You can still grow tomatoes under a windmill, or put a turbine on a kite.

We already have plenty of built in areas, rooftops, parking lots, etc... etc.. that will never be used for growing tomatoes. Coincidentally they are precisely some of the best sites for small scale local and off grid generating potential.

I'm writing these words in a darkened apartment, except for where I am sitting by my old laptop next to a an old halogen lamp that I rewired myself for to use a 3 Watt LED, total consumption of both comes to a whopping 27.5 Watts. Which, should I wish to do so, could easily be powered by one of my home built solar generators with ample Amp hours >;^) in the battery to keep me going without any sunlight for a the whole night.

Nate Hagen has written about our need to readjust our 'Longage of Expectations' I think if we start down that path we are going to find that our only hope is a mostly solar powered civilization. As the author concludes when comparing wind to solar, in most circumstances solar wins hands down!

We all need to cut our wasteful consumption of resources and drastically reduce both our individual and societal ecological footprints.

Have sunny day!

We already have plenty of built in areas, rooftops, parking lots, etc... etc

Yes, and these also include roadways, railways, virtually every aspect of the built environment. Will some surfaces be partially shaded? Sure, but the amount of overall square footage under solar insolation doesn't change, it's simply captured somewhere else.

And of course, it's not a question of wind OR solar - as the author states, they are complementary, so it's even better to do both, in addition to other renewable energy sources, such as geothermal power.

SMU Geothermal Lab recently conducted a new study on the potential for EGS in the continental U.S., incorporating tens of thousands of new thermal data points to create the most data rich maps of U.S. geothermal resources to date. The results are compliant with the new global geothermal mapping protocol, which is now recognized by the International Energy Agency and the International Geothermal Association. The project estimates that Technical Potential for the continental U.S. exceeds 2,980,295 megawatts using Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) and other advanced geothermal technologies such as Low Temperature Hydrothermal.

The SouthWest and Mountain West (and a wide strip of terrain from NM though Co and NE and into SD) seem to have several potential sources of post-carbon energy:




Hydroelctric (the most limited of these)

As for the Eastern U.S....there is reduced isolation, but what there is will be available (look at solar in Germany!)...and they have off-shore wind resources.

I think that nuclear fission will endure in the Eastern U.S. as an electric power source.

Florida is also poorly set-up. Only solar PV (plus a small % biomass) is a viable renewable option there.

And there is a limit to the amount of renewables (say wind) that can be imported.


Florida is hosed anyway. Global warming will flood the cities during storms.
But the solar really isn't a bad option there. And I bet they could get some natural gas from the oil rigs in the gulf. Natural gas will last for quite awhile yet.

solar consumes more land

And no one could think to mount PV on their slanted roof?

Land is at a premium here in suburban UK. Most of the population is squeezed into a few small corners of the land, and a south facing roof not overshadowed by neighbours or trees is a luxury. We don't get that much sun anyway, but we get plenty of wind, at least off-shore (and we have plenty of off-shore).

Renewables are a local solution. What works best in one locality won't necessarily be best in another.

How do you deal with renters?

I'm a landlord, and would like nothing better than to have the whole roof of my rental building (3 units) set up for solar heat and electricity, at which point, as I already provide heat with the rent, then rent becomes a direct, cash-payback for my investment. With the PV, it might be reasonable to either lease a section of panels to a tenant, or simply come up with a deal where I sell them electricity, keeping my own grid account, and supplanting that with as much PV (and wind?) as I could provide, creating a pricing that would be appealing against grid costs, but still be producing a (slow...) payback for the equipment.. I would be banking partly on the prediction that grid prices are going to be heading up before long, and I could improve my payback rate and still have a better price than the utilities..

How would you maintain that?

What's to maintain? I've virtually had no maintenance in the 11 years my 2kW PV array has been up.

We get snow storms here. Someone has to shovel the roof.

Are there batteries? How are the batteries doing?

Wrt to snowstorms, we experience them too. I have a extra long handled window squeege that will reach up to the first set of panels. As long as I clean off the lowest foot or so, they heat up when the sun comes up and melt the snow on the panel surfaces further up the roof, and the snow slides right off.

The batteries (now 11 years old) are maintenance-free AGM, though I will check them every 6 months or so. A quick look at the logs is normally all I do on a more frequent basis, but that's more of the tinkerer spirit in me.

A squeegee on the end of a long handled telescopic paint roller extension? Nice idea.


Sorry for the delay..

Yes, we get snowstorms too. I'm in Maine. It might require shoveling, and an occasional squeegee cleaning.. (Seagulls), I would make sure I have a catwalk to get easy access to them in any case, and not have to rely on working from the ground.. One can also probably do an emergency cleaning with Hot Water in a hose, with attendant energy costs.. one could also put those standard roof-heater wires under or around the panels, and melt off the snow that way for a more convenient cleaning.. kinda like 'priming the pump', eh?

I find with my existing hot air panel that the snow largely slips off the glass.. and if I notice shapes that are holding a bit of snow up on the panel, like hardware on the downhill end, I can rework those areas, though really, as soon as you have sun again (ie, the next time you really need the panel to work), then the snow is melting off these dark panels pretty quickly.

Batteries.. for a rental set up, it might be just a Grid Tie, though a couple KWH of storage could be made available to keep the essential systems going.. it's all choices..

My landlord would definitely NOT go for that and that is absolutely typical for here in sunny Colorady. We can hardly get the landlords to take care of the structures let alone batteries, and solar panels.

Well you're talking about a different situation.. and I certainly don't have any reason to speak for other landlords who are unconvinced of the advantages or long-term importance of having Non-polluting and Non-depleting Energy Sources. We are looking at major portions of this Nation that are unconvinced of things we consider obvious..

I said that as the landlord, I would install and own the system, and like the appliances in the units, that means I am also taking responsibility for its functionality and its endurance. I can see the reasons why this would be an advantage to me and to tenants who also put a priority on clean energy and energy resilience, by way of having paralleled sources.

I would be pretty careful about any deal where tenants are installing large systems onto the structure of my roof, of course, but I would certainly entertain proposals from my tenants. It might entail my sharing in investing in the posts, rails and wire-runs or plumbing, so that if they were to leave, my roof and walls would not get ripped up again, and would be solar-ready for future tenants, which well could be a selling point. I might insist on a longer-term lease or some other form of commitment, so I'm not left holding the bag. In any case, while creative arrangements are surely possible within all of this, it seems sensible for the Property itself to be thus-equipped, and I think it will benefit the Owners of such properties in as many and more ways than the owners of Single-family Homes.

As with all Renewable Energy issues, your choice of Landlords is probably as critical as your choice of Location..

If you do a shared investment how about adding a clause that they have to offer you first refusal before removing them? Cost would be subject to depreciation.


Also worried about potential theft. How would you protect tenant from the increased incentive for theft, ie, copper wiring, batteries the solar panels themselves? I urban areas the temptation for theft will be high and unprotected tenant are a target. Whether the target is accessible or event hardened isn't going to matter thieves will attempt it regardless as we can see from substation thefts and deaths, and accidents will happen. Just some thoughts on this....

1) Like any other theft, we do still have police and laws

2) Insurance is always an option with valuable possessions

3) Locks and Alarms

4) Neighbors watching out for each other (this was my key security plan in NYC, and was co-generative for the others who were similarly involved..)

Personally, I would think rooftop and poletop stuff is pretty securable and visible, and some kinds of jiggle or circuit break sensors would be easy to connect if you're really worried about it.. it could probably page your phone or the Alarm Company if you liked.

Clearly, you can find lots of reasons NOT to try to do these things.. but really, I think many of the obstacles are kind of excuses.. Cars get stolen all the time.. Houses get broken into.. you take 'some' precautions and then get on with it.

you can find lots of reasons NOT to try to do these things

It's not me I'm worried about it's the landlords/owners. There is absolutely no incentive for this. once you install these expensive things they become a target in many ways. Eventually I predict we're going to see broad scale thefts of roadside panels as people become increasingly desperate for money, energy and food. You could install cameras in addition to the locks, sensors and alarms, but all these actions, including paying for insurance every few months, add up and take away from the net energy returned. Just sayin'.

I already told you MY incentives to do this, while, like anybody, getting over the threshhold of that first big leap takes a bit of timing, cash, and faith. I can only count on one of the three for now..

That you are suggesting ALL landlords should be on board is just silly. Look at this country.. VERY few people in any category are ready to dive into this.

As the old saying goes, 'If it was easy, everyone would do it.'

If it actually resulted in some sort of "savings" for the land lords they all would be all over it like, well, you know. Land lords think in terms of money. The return on investment sucks to say the least. Maybe we should be encouraging people to do more with less as an intellectual challenge.
HAhaha ...
I can hear it now, "You people are going to have to learn how to do more with less...". Hahaha

PDV, EVERYONE Thinks in terms of Money.. only some people (including some landlords) think that there might be changes in ways that will make today's calculations irrelevant.. while even a hefty investment in Insulation and Solar today would produce a very clear return.. it's just that Landlords and EVERYONE ELSE have all learned that with Renewables, you are only supposed to buy into this stuff when the cost has come down to $5.00, they are invisible, require no work, have a two-week payback at the WORST, and are offered with a Team of Swedish Cheerleaders who will rub your back and serve you strong coffee every day.

"The return on investment sucks to say the least." - At least there is one. What are the last four major purchases you've made?

The ROI is not fast in many cases, but it is real, which you cannot say for systems that demand to have tanks of depleting fuels poured into them every few weeks, and you usually can't say it for many of the other things Landlords or anybody else are willing to buy for their buildings.

You get to argue about whatever problems you can stir up.. Snow, Batteries, Landlords.. whatever. I deal with Snow and Batteries, and I'm a landlord. It's the VERB you should look at in that sentence, not the Nouns..

EVERYONE Thinks in terms of Money

No, that's not true. I am reminded of the Nash Equilibrium, game theory, where we are all assumed to be out for ourselves, you know "enlightened self interest". Well, Nash eventually admitted that he had not considered altruism in his equations and the Nash Equilibrium was wrong. Perhaps your calculus is also flawed?

Nevermind.... landlord, money and altruism in the same thought made me laugh....

I certainly don't have any reason to speak for other landlords who are unconvinced of the advantages or long-term importance ... your choice of Landlords is probably as critical as your choice of Location..

The whole thing smacks of herding cats ... in a bag. All landlords should be on board with this. If not, let's get rid of all the land lords seeing as most of them are banks anyway. LOL.

One could also install the PV panels on a tracker whether single or dual axis. In the winter they would tilt up toward a vertical orientation causing the snow to slide off. Mount the PV panels high enough above the roof to allow the snow to slide off easily. The PV panels are also installed in sunny locations and are dark causing sunlight to melt the snow on them first. If one wants to maximize energy production, then removing snow is necessary. Otherwise, a landlord probably would not bother with it and would not need to.

At an angle, and with slippery black panels, I bet they get real slippery, and the snow slides off most of the time.
You clearly don't want to risk scratching up the glass with a metal snowshovel.

My PV panels at about a 45 hold very little snow on them.. and tossing a little heat under them for a quick dumping is maybe a pain, but would hardly be challenging to create.

I can also envision a few ways to have a roll-up cover for a panel or a row of them, that can carry the snow, and then dumps it when rolled back down, or is a slippery surface, etc.. It's solvable, in any case.

It's solvable, in any case.

With additional energy inputs which act in concert to reduce the amount of available net energy. but im sure you knoew that...

Not as much energy as you're asking people to put into this discussion..

"which act in concert to reduce the amount of available net energy" .. actually, think about that again. We're talking about designing the installation so it's either easy, or FAR easier or automatic that snow is removed from the array, getting the array up and producing as quickly as needed.. certainly these designs will also be concerned with the welfare and longevity of the equipment. With smart designers, you are creating a whole range of benefits, reduced inconveniences, power interruptions and haphazard approaches for various users of this system, so it's not really clear at all that you are worsening your energy profile or your equipment lifespan.. it seems quite the reverse. As ever, upfront costs are considerable, but they are there to reap many long-term advantages..

Tell me, Do you have any other gear or systems you know of that can reasonably promise to heat and light your buildings for Decades with minimal moving parts, and no energy 'refills', and that can remain viable when all this other stuff is bearing down on us? When deliveries, accounts and trucks might hit any number of snags, with the Grid in the shape it's in, with the Oil and Gas sources where they are?

You talked about glass.. yes, there's an energy cost to it. But the buildings I own, both built in 1850 or so, still had original glazing in their sashes when we moved in. You do look at costs, and then you look at how long the product can serve to justify those costs. Glass seems to be an excellent investment.. and then it's highly recyclable.

If somebody came up to me and said, "Here take these solar panels" I would not turn them down. But then I would be stuck wouldn't I? Would I try to resell them on craigslist to pay rent or do I spend a bunch of money I dont have on batteries, converters, etc etc. for a "longterm" return on my investment. Hmmm.
To be honest, I would keep them, but speaking only for myself, I aleady have parts ;}

Yes, the snow slides easily on the glass, but the rim of the frame sticks up providing an anchor. Frameless laminates do not have this issue.

My PV panels also tend to have the rim anchor the snow. Additionally, if it snows a lot then it piles up on the (barely-sloped) roof and that keeps the snow on the (45 deg) panels from sliding off. I mounted the panels with some clearance above the roof (about a foot), but didn't dare go higher in fear that it won't withstand high winds. In practice, here in Vermont, I can count on the panels to be covered with snow (generating no power) through January at least. And even without snow the power generated in January is rather limited due to clouds, not to mention the short days (and fixed panels). By February it gets sunnier. In my case the system is for backup power, so if a January blizzard knocks the grid power out, and then the sun comes out, I'd climb the roof and get the snow off the panels.

Even though I don't get snow where I live, December and January are frequently foggy all day, so production in those months is typically pretty low.

That situation is probably fairly common, where the pileup at the roof climbs up the Panels. I hope you have a safe way to work up there when it's icy. Still lots of design options to work through such issues.. not that they aren't a pain with all the other fires to put out in life.

Luckily for me, down here on the coast I get a bunch of Sun through Jan/Feb, and it's why I see the solar heating options as such boons as well, since they can boost your insulation and crank out decent heat on those bright clear winter days.

There are electric trace heating cables available that you could run inside the lower rim of the panel, in contact with the aluminium. Run it for just long enough to break the hold on the snow and get a slide started. There are also soil heating cables for green houses etc available.


Yes, the snow slides easily on the glass, but the rim of the frame sticks up providing an anchor. Frameless laminates do not have this issue.

In areas that get snow, it's important that in arrays with multiple rows of panels, the upper rows are adjusted to be higher than the lower rows, rather than flush, or putting a small gap between the rows. This will prevent banks of snow from building up between rows of modules. It's usually just a matter of properly making adjustments using the racking hardware.

Here in Vermont, as a response to state and federal subsidies for solar power fed to the grid, the main takers have some entities with deep pockets, who find it more convenient (and more easily fitting the subsidy rules) to build a few large installations rather than many small ones. These usually end up built on an open field. Which is a shameful waste of agricultural land. Meanwhile most parking lots (that could use shading in the summer) remain untouched.

perhaps as an example: N39 43.492', W105 7.077' ?

Nice catch.


These are great top-down analyses for wind and solar potential. I did a similar analysis to add the time dimension to solar PV deployment. If we convert all the energy in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve into production of solar PV systems, then use those solar PV systems to produce more solar PV systems, it will take 10 years to produce enough solar PV capacity to meet 25% of present day US electricity use, assuming a three year doubling time for solar PV systems.

Climate change adds challenges for both solar and wind. With a changing climate, assessments of local wind potential based on historical wind patterns becomes invalid as those patterns change. Climate change will shift wind speeds away from the useful moderate speeds toward the extreme ends, where wind turbines become less efficient, or unusable altogether. On a global scale, the warming polar regions will reduce the temperature gradients, reducing the global average wind. The effect of climate change on wind will be much like the effect on temperature: different from the past, more extreme, and less reliable.

Changing climate will likely present similar challenges for solar. Cloud patterns will change, invalidating current solar assessments. Dust storms will obscure sunlight and accelerate degradation of the panels.

Bottom line is, both wind and solar power become less efficient in the face of climate change effects. If we are going to get the most out of these resources, we have to deploy them sooner rather than later. With climate change, there is no "long-term".


Interestingly, the same problem arises with fossil fuels. I wrote an article about how climate change can disrupt the fossil fuel industry a while back, available here: . Basically, though, you have more extreme weather events that can disrupt the supply of fossil fuels. And when you have that occurring in a nation that's crucial to the supply of a fossil fuel (e.g., Australia for coal), then that market disruption can quickly spread throughout the world. That's not to say that I disagree with your analysis that climate change may render alternatives less efficient, and I 100% agree with the deploy now mantra - just wanted to point out a similar problem applies to fossil fuels.

I agree -- fossil fuels are even more vulnerable to climate change. The sources of fossil fuels are often remote and exposed. The infrastructure chain for refining and transport is long and fragile (think roads and pipelines).

One advantage of solar is that it can be made portable, moved to sunny locations, and sheltered when necessary. The same can be done with wind, although efficiency will drop with size. So far, we're not taking advantage of this portability. Much of our investment is in utility scale fixed solar and wind installations that cannot adapt to changing climate conditions. I worry that even residential rooftop systems will be destroyed by hail, as more extreme weather brings more extreme hail.

As we build more renewable energy infrastructure, including a smart grid, we should design in graceful degradation in the face of climate change effects. Generation, storage, and transmission components should be made to be fail-safe, and easy to fix and maintain in a low tech environment, and should continue to operate in some useful, if degraded, capacity even when all parts are not perfectly functional.

If I take the annual solar best/worst site ratio of 2 for the US (which contains pretty diverse climates), then a given site should change by less than this due to climate change (assuming no destructive weather events that exceed panel capabilities -tornado/hail...)). The changing climate threat to solar production should only be a few percent. Not a huge factor. I wouldn't lose much sleep over it.

One advantage of solar is that it can be made portable [...] The same can be done with wind


This turbine was towed half way across the West coast of Portugal. Nice if farms need to be reshaped.
@Wonhyo, Do you have any reference indicating that climate change will have a negative net effect on solar radiation or wind? Or is it just a guess saying "change -> bad" (because one could argue change -> more solar and wind! ... and less heating costs). I'm not saying it's true, I'm just looking for rigor.

Where in the above photograph was anything made by wind/solar PV? Is any wind/solar PV power moving anything into place? Are there plans to maintain these structures in the future without the obvious fossil fuel inputs seen?

Calculations show that PV panels cannot be made fast enough to replace what we are burning now with fossil fuels. It would take something like 500 years of continuous production. Do we have that much time?

Ask the right questions and stop dreaming about boutique solutions to serious approaching energy shortages. Or is this power really just meant for the 1%?

"PV panels cannot be made fast enough to replace what we are burning now with fossil fuels.."

Who says they have to? Why do you guys keep putting up this crazy demand? Just because solar/wind can't produce as much energy as we toss around so casually today, this makes it worthless? Do you think that a string of these in the Bay of Maine might not be able to power factories on the coast that would build smaller wind and solar systems? Why is that an unthinkable proposition, and has to be painted as 'something for the 1%'?

These are workable tools, and in the above case, this mobility, whether pushed around with wind or with #6 Bunker Fuel, can take advantage of being relocated as wind patterns or as electricity needs demand it.. this is hardly a Dreamy, Boutiquish Solution..

Who says they have to? Why do you guys keep putting up this crazy demand? Just because solar/wind can't produce as much energy as we toss around so casually today, this makes it worthless?

Yes, exactly. Thanks.

Another point, is that a lot of our primary energy consumption is either (waste heat from generating power), or low grade heat for industrial, agricultural, or space heating. The former is avoided with wind/solar generation (and also wave/tide/ocean currents/osmotic power), so needn't be replaced. The later (low grade heat supply) shouldn't be met by wind/solar powered resistance heating. For these low grade heat needs we will use a combination of, direct solar heating, heat pumps, and better insulation. So these needs which are currently met by the brute force combustion of fuel can be replaced with a much smaller amount of renewable energy. And all that is before scaling back our usage, and going to higher efficiency end uses. Compare tomorrows LED lights, versus incandesents, we are probably talking ten times improvement in efficiency. Some decent frction of our usage can be replaced with much more eficient processes. Add all these together, and the propects for getting by with only reneables starts to look a lot less daunting.

You may note I threw in a few renewables in your waste-of-time category here. All of these are limited to only a few locations, and obviously can't by themselves replace BAU. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be considered as potential pieces of a diverified system. The figure of merit is benefit to cost. If some exotic renwable that can't scale beyong .1% of world demand, can be developed cheaply enough per KWhour, then it makes sense to invest in it. That doesn't mean the rest of us give it a lot of mindshare, just that these nonscalable sources could still play a positive role.

Good, I'm glad my brief comments got your attention. My excuse for being even more harsh than usual was uncertainty that I would get your attention and a limited amount of time to write a comment this morning, so I just took the gloves off. My concerns lie in the "hopium" that gets attached to such energy schemes and with those who think that such alternatives will allow BAU, which it of course will not. Every little bit helps, though I still have my doubts about projects being maintained in a lower energy future that are built when fossil fuel is still cheap and relatively abundant, and the support infrastructure is still in place, like our global JIT trade.

But one of the problems about attacking this so-called 'Hopium' is that we have a rare chance to engage a substantial buildout of Renewable Energy today, using what we can of this dwindling Oil Energy, redirecting energy currently wasted on Flatscreen 3dTVs and Marble Countertops. This MIGHT leave us with a worthy buffer to get a few more regions through the rapids and waterfalls ahead, with enough of these sources to replace themselves to some decent degree. There are already more than enough opponents out there pushing back against clean energy sources as simply antithetical to their entire worldview or as threats to their short-term business positions.

This isn't a 'justification of Suburbia' or a plea for continued Overpopulation. I don't think renewables are intrinsically even capable of supporting that paradigm.. I'm talking about preparing for a head-on crash with energy shortages, and how we can take that wave with a minimum of society-destroying losses. Not lose ALL the libraries, All the Seed Stores, All the old tools, All the Town Records..

My analogy is that we're facing starvation, and you guys are sneering at our suggestion that we plant a bunch of peanuts and appleseeds.. telling us not to be such Gluttons. Fine, go ahead. You get what you pay for.. and so do we.

Of course you want to do your best for those you care for and wish to preserve as much of the good of our culture as possible. But you realize that at least globally, we are a species and modern industrial culture in overshoot, and the very thing that sustains it, petroleum, will soon be in shorter supply, and at some point, there will be massive social disruptions. Eventually, perhaps decades off, but more than likely only a few years at most, the human population will begin to decline. It may look like a smooth curve statistically over many years, but my guess is it will be a series of steep drops. I won't go into any more detail, as I know many of you get the picture. And, the severity will be directly related to the degree of industrialization and distance from those successfully living at the subsistence level.

Let's look at the coming collapse historically. Even much more primitive cultures and societies than ours collapsed rapidly. Why should ours be any different? In fact, it will be much worse. My guess is those who wish to survive what's coming have already made the transition. If you are like myself, still living in a city and drawing a salary, paying a mortgage, then it is likely too late to do much about it.

Actually, I'm advocating planting peanuts and appleseeds, and giving up on planning fancy offshore wind farms and trying to pave the countryside in PV panels. In a few years, decades at most, there won't be anyone left with the knowledge or committment to care for them.

D3, the Severity and the Location and the Timing is really complete guesswork, I really don't buy the idea that proximity to Industrial areas is a key to where the worst effects will be had.

Some, yes, some not. Some of our tools will be invaluable, others (but not all) are crutches that could drag people down like Gold Bullion in their Pockets. But I think it's just wishing for some kind of Poetic Justice to predict that all the trappings of industrial development are the tainted chains that will be the undoing of those too close to them.

It's already clear that many Developing Countries and Regions have been swerved into an unholy dependence on industrial imports, and they may experience far worse decimation from sudden supply disruptions, as more developed areas will increasingly see these challenges from fertile spots that are still rumbling along with a legacy of contemporary tools, and can start to make the drastic changes needed to prevent it happening to themselves..

Tools like floating wind turbines might be essential sources for a number of decades for such areas to take early steps along these long journeys. Especially these first, big steps down for this swollen populace will have good reason to appreciate big and intelligently devised tools that can help us have a little bit of control for our partly? powered descent.

It IS late, but I don't see anything to say it's too late to do what we can to cushion this downslope.

Calculations show that PV panels cannot be made fast enough to replace what we are burning now with fossil fuels.

Actually they can. PV-module production capacity is already at over 50 GW even though it is a very small portion of the world economy - unlike the multitrillion dollar highly subsidized fossil fuel industry. Unfortunately current PV demand is only at 22 GW per year. This is also why a lot of solar factories have reduced production or have been shut down:

According to pro-fossil fuel International Energy Agency:

In 2008, subsidies for energy consumption by fuel were as follows: oil products at US$ 312 billion, natural gas at US$ 204 billion, and coal at US$ 40 billion.

Besides that the current economic crisis is obviously affecting all markets: PV production would probably not need to be reduced, if fossil fuels wouldn't benefit from over $500 billion of subsidies.

Have you read the science fiction short story, "The Subways of Tazoo" by Colin Kapp? It was part of a series called the Unorthodox Engineers, or somesuch. In the installment, Subways of Tazoo, the team of paleoengineer exoarcheologists finds a desert planet containing mysterious artifacts...

The formula of the UE stories is a simple one: a problem involving a ludicrously unlikely alien planet or technology is thrown at Van Noon's head, and after much struggle and adventure he devises a solution so lunatic as to make the original situation seem relatively mundane. All good clean fun.

Subways of Tazoo:

Bottom line is, both wind and solar power become less efficient in the face of climate change effects.

I don't find your argument convincing, especially with respect to solar. Your argument is not quantitative, and makes global assumptions. Do you know that climate change will bring more cloud cover and dust storms globally, rather than create more dry, cloud free deserts? I think you need to provide some sources that would back up such a claim.

I do think that wind production is much more vulnerable to weather pattern change, because as Tom explained in the keypost, wind generation has a cubic dependence on wind velocity. With solar, drops in production would follow drops in insolation linearly. Also larger wind turbines are harder to re-position than solar panels.

Wind—and especially solar—don’t generally compete price-wise

With respect to Wind, this is simply false. Solar is definitely more expensive but guess what? It's not finite.

The energy challenge before the world is a liquids fuel problem more than a general energy problem. Saying that, of course, doesn't diminish its importance. If a tractor doesn't have diesel, it doesn't run, and it's hard to see an all electric tractor taking its place.

I should mention I'm paying 10 cents per KWh for Wind where previously I was paying 11.2 cents per KWh for fossil fuels/nuclear.

I am really puzzled how there is such a big disconnect between Dr. Murphy's analysis and real world experience. Does Wind have the problem of sporadic generation? Sure, but it's not insuperable.

An individual area of wind generators has sporadic generation. As the wind turbines are more widely distributed more of the capacity becomes steady. In one study of actual wind turbine output in a region, it was found the aggregate output never dropped below 30% of rated capacity.

With wind alone, that leaves 70% of its capacity being sporadic, but I can envision adding distributed load balancing and temporary storage in the form of grid connected EVs with two-way power transmission. Combine this with solar, which has a complementary profile to wind, and you can convert a lot of intermittent energy into steady energy.

In one study of actual wind turbine output in a region, it was found the aggregate output never dropped below 30% of rated capacity.

Unlikely, since wind turbines do well to average 30% of rated capacity. Probably it said something like "30% of average power", i.e. about 10% of capacity.

One study published in the National Academy of Sciences Proceedings shows the averaging effect of 11 different wind turbine farms spread out over the US East Coast (bottom graph), contrasted with just the averaging of 2 wind farms (top graph).

During each of years one through five, Capacity Factor (CF) was below 0.05 for the following percentages of hours: 2.7%, 0.6%, 1.3%, 0.7%, 0.3%, or for the entire period, overall, under 0.05 CF an average of 1.1%.

The mean CF for the aggregate set of offshore windfarms models was 0.38 (see Table 2)

- Willett Kemptona,1, Felipe M. Pimentaa, Dana E. Verona, and Brian A. Colleb, Electric power from offshore wind via synoptic-scale interconnection, National Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010

While there is no plan I am aware of at this time for a grid system tying all of these potential wind farms together, there is one that is under planning now to cover the mid-Atlantic states, known as the Atlantic Wind Connection (funding backed by Google);

One study published in the National Academy of Sciences Proceedings shows the averaging effect of 11 different wind turbine farms spread out over the US East Coast (bottom graph), contrasted with just the averaging of 2 wind farms (top graph).

The bottom graph shows the change in power ("∆CF") from hour to hour for the 2-farm scenario. For the sum of 11 wind farms along the coast, look at the bottom graphs in figures 6 and 7.

Correction: In Figure 3, the blue and red lines show individual stations toward the ends of the range (S2 and S10), while the black lines show the 11-farm averages.

Re: tractors: I was just reading that New Holland (Ford) is rolling out a big, powerful electric agricultural tractor in Italy this year. It uses hydrogen fuel cells to drive the motors. It appears to be a beast of a machine and the equal of any diesel. No doubt it is also very expensive for both fuel and machinery but, clearly, anything a diesel can do an electric motor can do just as well. The hitch, as with all electric vehicles, is storage. Praying for better batteries.

... Not to mention Solar tractors.

I'm not an expert on farming so I don't know how practicable this would be on an actual farm, but maybe an alternative would be to have the harvesting machinery pulled by a cable from an electric motor connected to the grid. Of course, this would require a one-time build out of infrastructure, but it seems to me to be far more viable than having an electric tractor.

As for better batteries, there is a good review of battery technology at:

Traction engines were used extensively until they were displaced with tractors.


From Wikipedia:

A traction engine is a self-propelled steam engine used to move heavy loads on roads, plough ground or to provide power at a chosen location.

Well, that's not what I was suggesting. Just for the fun of it, this is what I was thinking: Take a harvester, make it 100 feet or 200 feet in length, power and pull it with near ground level cables across the field. Once you get to the other side, move the harvester over to the next 100 foot or 200 foot lane and go back. The advantage of using grid power instead of diesel is the farmer could scale this machinery to huge proportions.

But like I said, I'm just speculating.

That is basically what the traction engine did when ploughing. Pull the plough across with a cable. There even may have been two, one at each end. That could be adapted to harvesting as well.


Good Luck.

And so long.

A traction engine could pull implements across a field but that was because it was too heavy for the steel wheels and would often get bogged down in the field. When possible, driving it directly across the field was preferred, but wasn't practical until the internal combustion engine was used instead of the steam engine. I'm really not sure how they dealt with hills and such using the cable method. The other thing they would do is cut and bring in the crops with horses, then thresh it with a machine sitting at the edge of the field. I would think a better approach is to use really long elevated extension cords instead of pulling cables.

BTW, my uncle has a solar-powered well for watering the cows in the far pasture on his farm in northern MN. It's definitely not the prime solar power area on the map, but for that purpose, it works just fine.

Yair...or you could scale this up...or down. I have it on grid power at the moment but it can be obviously be fitted with PV.


Those of us here in this forum today will never see industrial agriculture -production in the fields agriculture-conducted with electrically powered machinery.

Scaling the grid up to the point it could serve as a power supply in the field is simply out of the question, although it could conceivably be done on in a few places like the American Midwest where the land is flat and the fields are huge, with a military or space program sort of cost be damned budget.

The amount of fuel, skilled labor, and scare materials-steel, copper, aluminum, concrete- that would be required stagger my imagination;furthermore using them this way would probably be less by a couple of orders of magnitude the utility to be had by using these same scarce assets in other better thought out ways.

A tractor or combine is actually out in any particular one of those giant fields a very few days out of the year.The infrastructure would be sitting there unused in excess of ninety five percent of the time.

These same materials, if invested into building out solar or wind farms would be producing and delivering useful amounts of electricity at least 20 percent of the time even in the case of a poorly sited installation.A well sited installation can produce a great deal of energy nearly every day of the year in the case of a wind farm, and the vast majority of days in the case of a solar farm.

Batteries will have to be scaled up in terms of capacity by a factor of at least ten and more than likely several times that in order to drive seriously sized farm machinery,although certain niche applications are feasible.A tractor or combine UNDER NORMAL OPERATING CONDITIONS requires a LOT of horsepower for hours on end, often straight thru 24/7 for weeks at a time.The amount of power required to propel a Volt or a Leaf is utterly trivial in comparison.

Automobiles cruise once accelerated.Tractors don't.The throttle is generally wide open, with the engine doing all it can , continuously, or nearly so;there is a small horsepower reserve designed in, but it is quite common to have to gear down.Can anybody here remember driving a really old VW bug?-your foot was permanently planted hard on the gas pedal, and climbing a steep hill meant first gear all the way up.A typical farm tractor these days has well a hundred horsepower, and two hundred horsepower and larger tractors are the norm now in the corn and grain belts.

Barring a miracle in battery technology, it will be cheaper and easier by at least an order of magnitude to power farm equipment with diesel, natural gas, or bio fuels than electricity for the foreseeable future.

If we really have to, we can produce enough biodiesel and ethanol to run our farm machinery, and hopefully reserve enough coal and natural gas for adequate fertilizer production.

But in the end, we have but one choice-we either get started on seriously reducing the population, or Mother Nature will come in and clean up our mess for us.

She operates by a different set of standards;a few tens of millions of dead emaciated bodies are not trash and pollution to HER , but rather food for her other many children.Kipling comes to mind with his crocs and vultures and foxes conversing on the banks of an Indian river, the croc happily recalling the days when more bodies floated down than he could ever eat-he didn't have to actually be bothered catching a man for his supper.

I've been looking at teams of oxen recently - solar powered, but they do take an investment of time to train - what do you think, any hope for the ox to compete post PO?

Yes-after the crash, oxen will compete very well, if you live in the right place and have enough land and are willing to plow and harvest by hand and live like my folks lived a hundred years ago.

But barring Mad Max or WWIII, we will have plenty of diesel and natural gas for the foreseeable future to run farm machinery at least here in the states.The government will divert it from nonessential uses-delivering potato chips-to growing potatoes.

Furthermore diesels can run on 90 percent or so ethanol if designed to do so, and such engines are already on the market in Europe, but currently prohibited here because of poorly conceived and written pollution regs.

oxen are just bad-ass - a lot more people are going to be willing to plow and harvest by hand in the future, in my hopeful opinion.

so diesel/biodiesel huh? it seems like this is related to the storage issue - batteries being much lower energy density than liquid fuels. But you think it will be combustion engines and not electrical torque pushing them? seems like electric would be more efficient, esp if the electricity was generated by diesel or other carbon liquids in fuel cells - or possibly even hydrogen - if we can figure out how to generate it and store it efficiently.

I guess it goes back to the question of complexity as well since we're really trading better efficiency for more complexity in the example of farm machinery.

When people talk about the ability of civilization to support complex systems, they talk about hard limits on resources causing an immediate drop in ability to support complex systems. But i've been thinking about it, and it seems that perspective is somewhat narrow - I don't think the relationship is necessarily so clear.

There's more than one kind of complexity - and civilization has lots of complex relationships that it supports and that support it. A hard resource limit might cause the collapse of a complex human activity, but might also have the effect of causing a more complicated system to be developed. If we do transition to bio-liquids, for example, there will will be tremendous pressure to increase efficiency as the fossil subsidy subsides.

I guess it's just pointing out that complexity for the sake of status as an offshoot of a resource bubble - big cars and roads for example, or space programs - are liable to fall by the wayside as resources crunch. But complexity that shifts human civilization into a better position with respect to resources tends to propagate and increase - the advantage that electricity provides is that way I think.

There was a great article whose link I can not find about using oxen to lay fiber-optic cable in remote rural reaches of Northern Europe. To me the vision defines some kind of hope for the near term future.

All the world's problems can be solved in a garden.
~ Geoff Lawton, Permaculture instructor

Pretty much, Geoff, ya...

Also, you may wish to take a look at how Cuba did it in the 90's (You Tube has some other video documentaries about it too).

Unless you're attempting something more relatively grandiose, or otherwise sexy, I'm fairly unsure you'll need an ox, or to till the soil much, if at all.

So we may have more free time for our friends and families and communities and our own personal persuits, like kicking back and enjoying some home-distilled "tractor-fuel". With two olives on a lazily-whittled-in-the-sun toothpick.

Life isn't about running around in a circle, chasing our own tail, sociopoliticulturally-speaking, if what happens at the end is that the self consumes itself, ass-first. But that's what our culture seems to currently be doing. Overstretch, overproduction, overcomplexity.

The iron law of oligarchy

...states that all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop into oligarchies. The reasons behind the oligarchization process are: the indispensability of leadership; the tendency of all groups, including the organization leadership, to defend their interests; and the passivity of the led individuals more often than not taking the form of actual gratitude towards the leaders...
...thus making true democracy practically and theoretically impossible, especially in large groups and complex organizations. The relative structural fluidity in a small-scale democracy succumbs to 'social viscosity' in a large-scale organization. According to the 'iron law', democracy and large-scale organization are incompatible.

Of course, the potential and disastrous implications, if you think about it, seem to be what we are seeing being played out as we write.

Where 7 billion humans is ostensibly beyond the Earth's carrying capacity, it is also interesting to consider that 7 billion seems to be far beyond their systemic capacity.

For these reasons alone, I have concerns about the success of any kind of large-scale wind or solar farm or large-scale anything.

this here is good sense. One question I would have is over this:

...states that all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop into oligarchies

What about this idea: Human organizations, for example language, evolve immunity to oligarchy over time - we have a natural tendency to develop relationships with such organizational tools so that they become more intrinsic, and less susceptible to external authority. Gov't isn't deeply enough ingrained into human development: it isn't as firmly embedded in the 'nuture' stage of development, yet. Organizational immunity only develops through negative encounters with oligarchy, at every level and scale of common use, and this process is ongoing.

This is not any attempt to counter the good points you made in your post here, which I agree with mostly - it's just posted for the sake of discussion. Because I wonder if the "iron" law here might be upgraded to the "silicon" law - in other words, what kind of role does instant global communication have on the rule that makes " true democracy practically and theoretically impossible, especially in large groups and complex organizations"?

If you search back, I seem to recall mentioning, in one of my recent posts, something of what some call 'direct democracy', and sort of appended it to the partial raison d'etre of my T.O.P.F.M. moniker. I'm actually working on it-- more in my head and with some research than anything else. But, given that I already see some problems with it, I'm also working on an "escape hatch".

As for your points specifically, well, I might be inclined to ask if many large-scale centralized organizations depend on lots of energy and how relatively efficient/resilient they are; or what the logical conclusions/results might be of going (too) far with them.

Do we want/have the energy or time for/can we live with (the techno-layers [and all their implications] required for) electronically-mediated democracy, such as in a wasteland of a planet and/or in the midst of a civilizational collapse?

And what happens to my democracy when I drop my laptop? How and where and from whom do I get a replacement and how long might it take?

Or does Mother Earth decide to step in and terminate our tenancy before we can see what will be?
Maybe, as a species, our natures don't belong with certain forms of organization, irrespective of whether they are or become democratic or not.

Despite the aforementioned, 'instant global communication' seems like a different case to most organizations. I think the internet was meant to be decentralized... but even then, we are hearing now of more laws for attempts at control over it/us. I guess that's the way it goes, what with gene/software patents and water privatization, etc..

Have you ever read this?

all good points.

you might call the global biosphere an existing molecular network since it is based on the common exchange of volatile oxygen, but with layers of exchange protocols built on that, and some built under it as well. Humans are rogue elements breaking the network in pursuit of a protocol that promises to be faster and better, and to directly serve their biological imperative - and it might very well be our last mistake.

As for our current clunky machinery being replaced - we're still in the first iteration of interactive networking technology - there's plenty of room at the bottom, and we're just beginning to explore it. If we continue without destroying ourselves completely (which I have to say looks likely, in spite of, and even in agreement with doomerism), human networking will begin to look more and more like the organic 'tech' that it will come to replace - plants and ecosystems. How long until we get a replacement liver when ours breaks, for example - this is done in labs where I work now. There are labs experimenting now with self organizing circuitry, not to mention engineering existing biology to our purposes. Potential disaster? yes of course, but also potential transformation.

Thanks for linking the article - I hadn't read it though I'm familiar with the ideas. For the sake of conversation I could dispute Fermi like this: life might be many orders of magnitude more difficult to 'spark' than we realize - we don't really have data on that established - we know it can be done, but we don't know how often it happens in real life.

Once established, life might very well be durable and persistent, (though obviously quite fragile as well). On the other hand, what if life is considerably more fragile than we assume - that the particular conditions of our planet are not as common as broad statistics might suggest. What if life is very hard to spark, and once sparked, usually goes extinct? What if we're extremely lucky to have survived our first 3.5 billion years?

There are other statistical bottlenecks as well - like, for the first 3 or so billion years we were microscopic. Becoming multicellular was an 'event', not an ongoing progression. It could be that there are billions of earths with single celled organisms on them, but only a few with multi-cellular ones.

Another example is tool-use 'consciousness' as we understand it to mean the ability to become conscious of the ability to affect change in our external world. - same principle - there might be multicelled macro organisms which simply haven't developed this particular capacity for altering environment.

We tend to think of these things as natural progressions of life, simply because they have happened to us, but that's not necessarily the case. The chances of each of these events taking place could be 1 in 3 to 100 × 10^22 - that's the number of stars in the universe - and we really don't know if that is the case or not, so it could be. In other words, if each of these events is that unlikely, then it's possible that we're quite alone in the universe.

Are you familiar with Gould? Here's an interesting article: -- basically describes what I've said - that we tend to think of ourselves as a natural progression, when we may in fact be a sudden evolutionary fluke.

One last thing I'll say about the linked article:

Throughout the history of our species, in fact, each technological revolution has depended on accessing a more concentrated form of energy than the ones previously available.

True, but we tend to forget that, 1. there are more concentrated forms of energy than coal and oil, namely the EM energy of the sun, and the energy of fusion/fission and 2. that each technological revolution has accessed more concentrated forms of energy by developing more technologically complex systems of extraction.

The argument seems to contradict the 'doomer' POV, which suggests that because we've used up all the easy oil, that we've missed the window of opportunity for graduating to the next 'level' of human techno-culture. But that argues against what we know about history - we didn't start out mining peat with a better energy source than peat, for example. We've consistently gone from easy to access but relatively limited resources by developing new tools. We developed the tools to extract coal and oil by burning things like wood and whale fat. And we did so as those resources were waning. We are currently developing the tools to extract EM energy and bigger, more complex energy resources as coal and oil are depleting.

I'm an admitted techno-cornucopian: look at our current system - it's not sustainable, but it's clearly techno-cornucopian - so to deny that technology can open up new avenues for exploitation of resources is just foolish. But I do believe we might wipe ourselves out before we can transition away from coal and oil, and possibly after as well. That makes me a doom--o-techno-cornucopian. Hope that's OK with you :)

OldFarmerMac -

In an apple orchard, a lithium powered electric tractor would seem to be suitable for most chores. Spraying, hauling in bees & seedlings to be planted, hauling out refuse and the harvest.

Your thoughts ?


Better technology "super capacitors" than can recharge quickly, either directly from the grid or Solar PV accumulators, or from a mobile truck that "ferries" electricity from the grid for a few km.

Or corn ethanol :-)

Weight in tractors is good, up to a point.

A light weight tractor chassis (say titanium or carbon fiber or just Li-Al alloy) with LOTS of Lithium batteries could get some work done on an overnight charge.

A full day's worth ? My SWAG is no.

But only during planting are tractors typically worked "dawn to dusk". Bringing out the old 2008 diesel, and running it on biodiesel, after lunch would be OK.

How about swapping battery packs. I note that in our local Costco the fork lifts have charging stations for the battery packs and the trucks swap them out. I don't know the details of how they swap but the fork lift paddock is clearly visible and you can see the basics of the stations.


Better technology "super capacitors" than can recharge quickly, either directly from the grid or Solar PV accumulators, or from a mobile truck that "ferries" electricity from the grid for a few km.

Or corn ethanol :-)

Weight in tractors is good, up to a point. Some farmers fill their tires with water for example.

A light weight tractor chassis (say titanium or carbon fiber or just Li-Al alloy) with LOTS of Lithium batteries could get some work done on an overnight charge.

A full day's worth ? My SWAG is no.

But only during planting are tractors typically worked "dawn to dusk". Bringing out the old 2008 diesel, and running it on biodiesel, after lunch would be OK.

The M85 realm as well as other methanol applications fits in to the liquid paradigm reality, especially in a transitional context or sense. It runs any size diesel engine as dimethyl ether, and can be made from plain air, taking CO/2 out of the air in the process.

Food for thought.

Photosynthesis, sunlight to biomass ~1% efficient? Biomass to fuel 25-50% efficient? IC engine 10-15% efficient to the wheel in traffic? Net <<0.1%!

Pray tell, what century are we in?!

The Nobel Prize winner describes the process in this century, and if we get it, it will be used in the next century too: see Technology Review (2006) article and interview.

Basically, methanol (or its derivatives) fired power plants generating electricity into the power grid, as the grid is improved, would be a start.

Once the power grid is a smart grid, an efficient grid, and a protected grid, it will be capable of handling wind, solar, tidal generators, river generators, and other generated electricity inputs.

It will also be able to carry the electricity efficiently a long ways.

That is a good energy distribution system.

Read my comments elsewhere on this thread.

Solar isn't completely orthogonal to transport. I estimate my Prius has about 3 square meters of roof area, that *could* be PV. If the folks promoting thin film GaAs succeed, we may have 30% efficient panels available, which could supply about 900watts to the car. If it were a plug in hybrid, with say a 5Kwhour battery capacity, this would be supplied by about a days sunshine, and it might drive the vehicle 15miles(25KM). So an appreciable dent in transport fuel demand would be possible by having cheap efficient PV available. Likewise if we had wind charging the battery at night, a similar amount of fuel consumption could be saved. So it is possible. Its just that we don't yet have technology thats cheap enough to make it currently pay.

If it were a plug in hybrid, with say a 5Kwhour battery capacity, this would be supplied by about a days sunshine, and it might drive the vehicle 15miles(25KM)

...if you don't park it in the shade. Have a garage? Might as well turn it into your spare bedroom.

Seriously, the problem I have with putting solar panels on cars is that the roof of a car is just about the least ideal location and angle for a solar panel. This location for the solar panel massively reduces the amount of energy collected by the solar panel, when compared to putting it on a roof at an ideal tilt. This reduces the EROEI and the cost-effectiveness of the solar panel. From a carbon emissions and energy efficiency point of view, it currently makes far more sense to put all solar panels on roofs in grid-tied systems, and to just plug in the car wherever you park it.

So an appreciable dent in transport fuel demand would be possible by having cheap efficient PV available.

In principle, I agree, but it would take extremely cheap PV to be worth throwing away on the roof of a car.

It would depend on the cost of the battery as well. Say a 10 kWh battery costs $10,000 and has a lifetime of 10 years. Compare that to a 5 kWh battery costing $6,000 with a lifetime of 10 years. One can currently buy (< $2/(rated watt)) more PV than would fit on the roof of the vehicle for $4,000 and have a power source that lasts 2 to 4 times longer than the battery. The car would weigh less and get better fuel economy. It would not matter that the vehicle is parked in a garage when not in use because the power is needed when the vehicle is driving.

I don't follow what you're saying. In my opinion, whether or not it (currently) makes sense to put a solar panel on top of a car is not dependent in any way on the battery.

If some of the power comes from PV panels, one can use a smaller, less expensive, lighter battery in a plug-in series hybrid vehicle (PHEV).

First of all, you can't really use a smaller battery if you want to have the same range regardless of the weather.

Second, show me the math or the data on how much energy you'll actually get from the solar on the car. The problem, as I already pointed out, is that you will get really terrible production out of PV panel on a car, even if it is high efficiency. You will not get 900 watts if the roof of the car is not pointed towards the sun. And you will not get 5 sun hours a day if the driver is not conscientious about about parking in the sun, or does not have that option at the locations they wish to drive to. On average you might very well end up with less than 1kW of production a day. That is going to have quite a marginal effect on battery size, and possibly save no expense when you include the cost of the PV.

You are taking a very expensive PV panel (what is the current $/W cost for GAs panels?) and wasting a very large percentage of its energy producing potential. You need to consider the cost-effectiveness of that, compared to plugging the car into the grid and powering from grid tied solar. Also consider the CO2 emissions reducing effectiveness, which would probably be negative.

i rather doubt that a GaAs PV would be cost effective to put on a car. Definitely a driver would have to be conscious of parking in sunlight. For decades I have sought shady places to park to keep my vehicle and cooler (for food during transport) cool. It is much easier to find a sunny parking spot than a shady one. If the price is low enough, wasting the power output potential of a PV will be practical. If batteries remain expensive, then finding a way to reduce the size and cost of the battery becomes important.

Compact car with 4 m2 surface area suitable for mounting PV.
18% efficient crystalline silicon PV costing $1.70 / rated watt.
Fuel economy of car (lighter than Volt and Leaf): 125 W·h / km

Cost of PV panels: $1,224
On a sunny day with the car in sunlight between April 21 and August 21 at 35 degrees north latitude, the PV panels are pointing in an optimal direction. Under this situation, maximum power output using an MPPT regulator (90% efficiency) is ~3.9 kW·h / day.

On a cloudy day or with the car parked in shade, the power output from the PV panels is about 1/4 that of the sunny day power: ~1 kW·h / day.

The travel distance gained from the PV panels will range from 8 km to 31 km.

If the PV power charges the battery, then assume 75% efficiency, and the range gained from using PV decreases to 6 km to 23 km.

If one is using a battery with a range of 25 km in a PHEV, this is a significant improvement in range for city driving where the car is parked in the sunlight for most of the day. This makes economic sense when the EV battery is expensive and the PV panels are cheap. I am not sure about the price difference between a 4.7 kW·h battery and 9.4 kW·hr battery for my hypothetical compact EV, but it is probably significant currently.

Note on battery capacity: The Chevy Volt currently uses a battery that stores about 1.5 times the energy used to power the car to minimize deep cycling and overcharging the battery. I used this factor when estimating the EV battery capacity. 125 W·h / km * 25 km * 1.5 = ~4.7 kW·hr.

It is much easier to find a sunny parking spot than a shady one.

Not on my block. There are trees over every parking spot, and buildings that I'm pretty sure shade the south side parking lane even in May and September.

To really believe car roofs are going to get enough sun, we need data not anecdotes. You say "It is much easier to find a sunny parking spot than a shady one.", but if you have only ever tried to find shady spaces, that may color your opinion.

I realize that if no one has done this study and published the results, then we can't know. And I'll allow that perhaps the results will confirm your thinking, if you'll allow that perhaps they'll confirm mine.

On a sunny day with the car in sunlight between April 21 and August 21 at 35 degrees north latitude, the PV panels are pointing in an optimal direction. Under this situation, maximum power output using an MPPT regulator (90% efficiency) is ~3.9 kW·h / day.

You will only get ~3.9 kW·h in July. In April you'll get something closer to 3. And why look at less than half the year? The cost effectiveness ought to be looked at on a year round basis.

Compact car with 4 m2 surface area suitable for mounting PV

Seems to me your compact car that is lighter than the leaf or volt is going to have less than that much surface area suitable for PV. Also the price per watt is going to be higher if the panel has to be customized to the car body.

If one is using a battery with a range of 25 km in a PHEV...

So you are skewing things towards lower range vehicles than we are currently seeing, for example, in the Leaf. That's fine as long as you acknowledge that your narrowing the target of the original question.

I am not sure about the price difference between a 4.7 kW·h battery and 9.4 kW·hr battery for my hypothetical compact EV

Well, get back to me when we have a comparison to the cost of the PV.

whether or not it (currently) makes sense to put a solar panel on top of a car is not dependent in any way on the battery.

It matters a great deal. The power from a vehicles PV would be about a horsepower under good conditions. Its going to improve milage by only a couple of percent. But most vehicles aren't driven continuously all day long, so temporal concentration is important.

You haven't explained why the type of battery is relevant. See also my reply to BlueTwilight.

I'm assuming charging staions won't be widely available. Talk your boss into providing you free KWhours to run your car (or Wall Mart) or whatever. The reason for putting the panels on a vehicle is that a KWhour in the vehicles battery has a higher value than a KWhour on the grid. If it didn't there would be no economic case for plugins and electric vehicles. I think people with such vehicles would be selective where they park. Heck park on the south side of a white wall, and get reflected as well as direct sunlight.

It's funny how things flip back and forth.. now, the thought of Looking to Park in the Sun.. even as we are building some parking spaces Shaded by PV. I would distinguish that as ironic, though, not hypocritical of course. I suspect that a hundred watts of PV on top of a Velo-Pedal/Electric would actually make quite a decent contribution to the required power.. but it could take an extra push to get to your best spots up on the exposed roof-level of the Parking Garage!

In a similar reversal..
I got a tablet PC in the 90's, (a discounted 'Dauphin DTR'), which came with a wireless stylus.. but I laughed at myself as the first thing I did was to tie a tether string from this pen to the computer so I wouldn't lose it. So much for the Wireless part! I think the computer still works.. but I need a new HDD and OS by now. 40mb and Win3.3!

The reason for putting the panels on a vehicle is that a KWhour in the vehicles battery has a higher value than a KWhour on the grid

This is flawed logic. The kWh in the vehicles battery has the same value no matter where the energy comes from.

The only advantage of having PV on a car is that if you 'run out of gas' you can build up some charge (if it's the middle of a sunny day) to get to the nearest charging station. This is a convenience that no doubt some people would be willing to pay for. But from the standpoint of energy cost, cost to run the car, carbon emissions, and EROEI, it is a net consumer of energy and money when compared to putting the same PV panel on the grid.

I think enemy of state means that the energy in the EV battery has a higher utility than energy in the grid because it can be used in mobile applications. Think about the difference in utility between a cordless drill and one with a power cord.

Cordless drills don't come with solar cells on them. A cordless drill is analogous to an EV without a solar panel on it.

If a tractor doesn't have diesel, it doesn't run, and it's hard to see an all electric tractor taking its place.

search on electric tractor conversion, and you'll find stuff like this:
He claims there are 100+ conversions of Allis Chalmers "G" Cultivating and Seeding tractors.

some overview articles at:

that points to a commercial product from Italy - an electric tractor designed for harvesting asparagus.

some videos

The typical monster 500 Horsepower 20 ton tractor is obviously different than these market garden type tractors.
But consider that a Tesla Roadster has 288 HP, so just take two Tesla roadster motors
and voila - a 500 HP tractor. Maybe better is 4, one in each wheel.
The roadster is 2723 lbs, 990 of which is the battery, which can deliver 56 kWh, or
75 HP for an hour. 500 diesel HP is probably more like 400 electric HP without the gearboxes, parasitic loads, etc. 400 HP / 75 HP means 5.33 Tesla battery packs per hour,
lets say 4 hours between charges means 21.3 packs x 990 lbs = 21,120 lbs (10.5 tons, 9.6 tonnes). Seems doable, leaves 10 tons for tractor structure. Just a matter of money... ;-)

Perhaps a faster, cheaper alternative would be to simply unspool a large cable going down the rows, then spool it back up coming back up the rows.

n.b. there are already plug-in electric machines on the market,
ranging from the very small for indoor use (no fumes)

to the most gigantic:

I'll bet my last dime and food stash to boot that if your run a Tesla at the limit-take it drag racing for instance-four times an hour down the quarter mile strip until the batteries are severely discharged for instance-the batteries will be scrap within a couple of weeks.And let's remember that most of that two weeks the Tesla will be sitting hooked to the charger rather than burning rubber.

Actually they probably would severely overheat or something if you tried to fully discharge them in an hour any way.I doubt if the safety overrides would even allow you to drag a quarter mile four times within a hour.

Let's see if some dealer or playboy is brave enough to take his Tesla hot rod down to Charlotte or Daytona and put it on the high banks in front of a crowd at anything approaching the supposed top speed of which it is capable for more than a maybe three or four laps laps-I'm betting ten minutes is more than long enough for it to shut itself down.

The carefully cultivated image of sporty high performance would go up in smoke as fast as the batteries.

But I would not hesitate to run our elderly Buick around the track, or down a lonesome West Texas interstate for an hour at well over a hundred miles per hour -all it would need to be perfectly safe to do that would be a new set of high performance tires.

I see references to an "ev grin" every once in a while in reference to the performance of electric cars.I find it hard to believe that the people who make them have actually studied the details of battery usage and life cycles.

Even a basic el cheapo ice car can withstand running quite frequently pedal to the metal so long as you don't over rev the engine-just leave the shifter in drive and that won't happen unless the car is a hot rod and you are driving fast enough to get a dozen cops to help pull you over.

I have never seen any good evidence that there exists any sort of battery actually in production and portable or semi portable that can withstand being continuously discharged at the maximum rate until it is severely depleted time for more than a few dozen cycles without severely shortening the life of the battery. and that such batteries are being commercially produced at

I'm hoping that somebody will prove me wrong and that they can tell me where I can buy some of these super batteries for less than a king's ransom.

But still, Mac, you're talking about a type of Fuel and Engine that has defined the ultimate in Throwaway Design.. look at the Demolition Derby as the last word in how we've celebrated abusing and destroying our rides. We never did this quite so blatantly with our Horses, did we?

EV's that are out there working hard, like the tens of thousands of Electric Forklifts and ScissorLifts, do so pretty quietly, they don't have to Roar Down a track to make their pay or their point. They do have to get their batteries replaced, but these traction cells also do a hell of a lot of work before they're reduced and recast.

There are different goals and thus a different mentality surrounding EVs, even as some try to make them mimic their forebears..

Hi Joe,

I believe in electrics-when the application is such that there are batteries available to make using electric motors feasible.

There simply aren't any batteries available capable of driving tractors and combines and hay balers and silage choppers or logging trucks.

And while the ice engine is may eventually be relegated to museums, I see no sign of that happening within the foreseeable;e future, unless industrial society suffers an utterly irreversible collapse.

There is no question whatsoever that so long as any ice fuel currently available in large quantity is available in ANY SIGNIFICANT QUANTITY that the best use of it will be as motor fuel or chemical feedstock.

The only possible exception I can visualize to this prediction is that batteries become more efficient , powerful, and economical by a factor of ten or more-a pretty tall order.

Ice engines are only INTENDED to be thrown away if they are marketed as throwaways.There are some diesels out there that have been in constant daily service for over fifty years with only a couple of minor overhauls.I have personal knowledge of many industrial quality engines running for fifty hours a week, week in , week out, for ten years with only routine maintenance.

Even a well built pickup truck engine such as the four cylinder model used in older Toyota s from the eighties thru the early nineties is typically good for three hundred thousand or more miles without repairs.I know of one with 450 thousand that is still going strong and yet to be overhauled.

And the ice is not yet technically mature in spite of the fact that they have been around for over a hundred years.Fuel efficiency may yet be improved by a substantial margin if some new materials become available, such as ceramics that are suitable for use as pistons and cylinders.

Furthermore,while the engine is THE single most important major component of a tractor it is only ONE component.Electric tractors will still have to have all the other major parts, almost for sure including a multispeed transmission.

I can farm far more efficiently with biodiesel or ethanol than I can a horse or a mule, although as fuel becomes more expensive , there will be niches for animal power opening up.

I could afford to feed a horse if I had a substantial amount of work for it on a regular basis.Unfortunately, there are very few farmers who have use for a horse on a regular day in and out basis unless they ride it or use it to pull a buggy or something of that nature.

It would be cheaper and more efficient by far to pay twenty dollars for a gallon of petrodiesel and drive a tractor with it to mow a hayfield to feed a horse than it would be to use the horse to mow the hay.

Now of course there may come a day when no tractors are available-but they are built to last-they are not consumer goods.
It takes a larger portion of crop yields to feed draft animals than it does to produce bio fuel.

This DOES NOT mean I advocate a biofuel bau economy-THAT simply cannot work, and down that road there lies an ecological disaster that would wipe us out without a doubt if we ever once commit ourselves to that path.

But we can grow and harvest wheat, corn , soybeans, rice, tree fruits , and vegetables efficiently with biofuel ONCE WE HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE.

And as a practical matter, when the time comes to do without fossil fuels, we are not likely to HAVE any other choice.We might eventually transition to some other as yet theoretical power supply, or maybe wind sourced h2 , etc, but that will not be possible on short notice, nor will it be possible to raise, train, and deploy millions of draft animals.Nor will it be possible to move people by the millions to non existent rural housing so they can work the land-most of which is utterly unsuitable to any sort of subsistence farming any way.

It's industrial ag all the way-it will work until it doesn't , and then most of us starve-it's as simple as that, in practical terms.

It is theoretically possible that we could avoid this fate, but being human, we won't.

Isn't the racing circuit pretty much built around having a complete system overhaul including engine rebuild after nearly every race? Given a mentality, of max performance for one short event, is worth thousands of dollars in servicing, ruining your battery pack for one brief burst would seem to be right up their alley.

drag racing four times an hour down the quarter mile strip
for an hour at well over a hundred miles per hour
running quite frequently pedal to the metal
burning rubber

There's people in this world who do that?
You can make carbon fiber, medicines, super fabrics, kevlar, epoxy, ... and you want to burn it? :)

No-I don't want to do that-I keep forgetting that people in this forum are quite literal minded.

I was trying to point out the absurdity of trying to use two Tesla electric drive lines to run a tractor -MY TRACTOR MOTOR is doing the equivalent of A CONSTANT DRAG RACE


Sorry, I forgot the <"sarcasm"> tag. Knowing your posts I know you're not advocating drag-racing as a goal for humanity to pursue. I just wanted to highlight the contrast between some of our current absurd uses and how wonderful petrochemicals can be.

I'm sure agriculture with tractors 1/4 as powerful is also possible (happened before, right?).

If you use tractors 1/4 as powerful, you will have to use 4 times as many of them to operate a farm. You miss the point that these tractors don't cruise between stoplights like a car. They are operating at full throttle most of the time for a reason.

However, diesel tractors can operate quite successfully on straight vegetable oil, with a few modifications. Farmers found this out some time ago (during the fuel crises of the 1970's). Being a farmer requires being quite innovative and flexible. City slickers don't understand farming and wouldn't survive as farmers if they didn't have other income to keep them going.

If you use tractors 1/4 as powerful, you will have to use 4 times as many of them

Not necessarily. Stop throwing away 25% of the food, cut by 1/4 the food consumed by 33% of the population (the obese), plow less and with plow materials that show less friction ... and you might actually not need 4 times as many. Produce less and more effectively. Most of the world survives without behemoth tractors, so it must be possible. More labour? sure. More expensive? yep. More resilient for the future? probably.

Those are simplistic solutions (plows that show less friction?) that are solutions to other problems than a shortage of diesel fuel. The reason North American farmers use behemoth tractors is that they are much more efficient than larger numbers of smaller tractors, and that is one reason why North Americans have lower food prices than Europeans.

The electric tractor is not a solution to a shortage of diesel fuel because electric tractors are totally impractical in a real farm, which in North America is often a vast area that does not have a good electricity supply, and in which tractors are expected to run all day at full throttle without refueling.

Many North American farms still have no electricity. Many others still have only 30 amps x 120 volts single-wire supply, whereas typical North American suburban houses have 200 amps x 240 volts three-wire supply.

OTOH, you can run a diesel tractor on vegetable oil, and given a shortage of diesel fuel, that is what many farmers would do. Odds are they won't have a shortage of diesel fuel because the government will cut back other users to keep them supplied in a crisis.

You can also run a diesel tractor on compressed natural gas, and given a chronic shortage of diesel fuel and an oversupply of natural gas, farmers would opt for that solution.

Also things like the number of times and how deeply a farmer plows could be reduced when fuel gets more expensive. Everything is a cost benefit tradeoff. Current practices represent a good balance for the recent past, when fuel was cheap.

Hey OFM, check this out...

Hi Fred,

I love electric motors.

But how many charge cycles do you suppose the batteries in these racing vehicles can withstand before they are replaced?

And they only need to provide full power for a few seconds during a run with plenty of cooling and charging time between runs.!

Batteries just aren't there yet-and imo , they won't get there , not within my lifetime at least.

what about no-till farming:

i saw an article about a in-depth study that compared organic farming with 'conventional farming' for output, and they came up about even - can't find the link.

so there's the possibility that our current energy expenditure on farming is a built-in profit system for big ag/chem and oil cos, not necessarily essential to farming itself, although no doubt we have been well trained to think it is.

(edit) here's the link:


This whole thread clearly shows the difference between those that are farmers/have done some farming, and those in the city without a real idea of the land. I run a tractor on biodiesel that I make myself from used cooking oil.

I do not grow grain, however I know grain farmers that use no till farming. They use big tractors and big equipment. They need to spray to kill the weeds, then they plant, they then apply whatever fertilizer during growing (initial fertilizer is applied during planting), sometimes they need to apply micronutrients if the crop shows a shortage of something, they spray for weeds during growth cycle, they then harvest using both tractors then trucks in the paddock. When using the tractor/tractors it is mostly many hours a day, for however many days in a row necessary. When you need to do a job on the farm, you need to do it.

Organic farming is the type of grain farming that uses tillage instead of herbicides, it is one of the weaknesses of the whole organic movement. They have traded a few chemicals for greater energy use. The article you pointed to shows that organic and conventional could produce the same dollars, not the quantity of food.

When you step back and look properly at farming, it is easy to see that any method requires the replacement of nutrients taken from land over the long term. Anything less and you are just mining the soil. Organic methods that just use rotation of crops will eventually crash in production. To re-apply the missing nutrients organically means returning the human waste from the city to the land. Imagine how that works in an energy constrained world.

the topic's goal wasn't to eliminate "tractors or big equipment", it was to reduce energy

could be as you say about organic farming, but what about this 22 year study from Cornell:

Organic farming produces the same yields of corn and soybeans as does conventional farming, but uses 30 percent less energy, less water and no pesticides, a review of a 22-year farming trial study concludes.

what about using cover crops for organic no-till:

doesn't sound so impossible to me.

Organic methods that just use rotation of crops will eventually crash in production.

I'm just not sure that's a sound statement - organic methods use organic fertilizers, as well as rotation of crops. The soil is the accumulation of an organic process - how do you figure that it can't be maintained? So long as you can re-capture the processed matter and push it back into the soil, you should be good, if not better. Anyway, a crash in production is also possible from drought and economics. We ought to invest in building these foundation subsystems, with the farmer at the top of our pyramid of culturally valued professions - along with the teacher, eh?

Anyway, you don't have to be a farm hand to know that experience doesn't always translate to expertise. It's easy to get hardened to new ideas by the experience of 'how things are'.

Example that I heard on the radio recently: many early American farmers had to be convinced by gov't to fertilize their land - their practice was to just move to a different plot once the soil was exhausted.


The original research is here instead of a journo's take on it...

There is a lot wrong with that study.

The calculations only included the transport of the animal manure in the energy costs, not the production of the animal manure. The energy inputs for soybean production were still ~10% higher for the organic compared to conventional.

For nitrogen application on the organic farm, aged cattle manure was applied at the rate of 5.6 T/Ha (dry), which means the actual weight of what you are collecting and spreading will be more than double that. In real dryland cropping systems covering thousands of acres you just cannot do that. There is not the source of aged cattle manure available.

The experiment plots were 18 metres X 92 metres. This is not comparable to large scale farming. If this is the best that is available as "proof" of the advantages of organic to save the world, then god help us.

I have been farming for 30 years and was on an organic certifying committee that covered most of the country many years ago. As I stated earlier, it is really easy to spot the city slickers in this thread.

Appreciate the clarifications.

I'm still not entirely convinced - i have no experience with large, industrial scale farming, but I've worked on small farms before. Maybe that's the disconnect here.

How I read your post is as a criticism of big 'factory farm' methods of food production. In the bigger context of energy saving, it seems that small farms with diverse and overlapping farm methods at work, might be capable of a kind of efficiency that the big cropping systems are not. But many people have been saying this longer and better than I am: small, local farms, producing diverse crops and methods, and depending on advanced organic farm methods could revolutionize our culture and food production.

Logistically speaking we might have a tough time pulling fat comfortable Americans out of their cubicles, and getting them to grow food. On the other hand, it would solve unemployment. Also, a lot of kids I know are bored to tears in dumb office jobs, and would trade their stupid careers in seconds to grow food, raise animals, and work a small farm - they just can't afford the risk, the pay cut, or the lack of healthcare. Were the system more supportive of small independent farmers, and micro-farmers, there'd be a hell of a lot more of them.

Once I worked on a small organic farm in Vt where everything was done intentionally in the 'old way': zero pesticide use, everything was composted, oxen and horses were used to pull carts, and hay was cut with a scythe - no kidding, i worked the scythe for two weeks. This was a small educational farm, but we grew and ate a lot of food out of it.

Part of the experience was to spend a few weeks working on a nearby farm - for a big industrial apple orchard/blueberry farmer. We were put to work mostly walking behind tractors, picking up rocks in newly tilled fields, and generally doing the labor that migrant workers do. The farm owners treated us pretty contemptuously - we were a bunch of hippy kids to them, and didn't know anything about real farming or hard work. Didn't matter that we had some kids in our crew who had grown up on small farms, and knew all kinds of things about growing apples. They had us pegged as city slickers, and it was obvious that they didn't think much of us.

Think the big shot farmer owners could have learned anything from a hippy kid who grew up on a small organic apple farm? - no damn way, they were grappling with big, serious issues of running an industrial orchard - serous work, not hippy crap. Point is, when people get some experience with 'the way things are', that reality becomes ingrained in their attitudes, and they become contemptuous of anyone who says: 'things might work another way'. The possibility of a different system seems to them outrageous, uncouth, and naive - indeed, they're invested in the way things are. But it should be clear that it is a poor attitude, given that 'the way things are' is so clearly unsustainable.

hey Hide,

I've just read the paper you linked me - I think your exceptions are biased - not inaccurate, just not reflecting the overall findings of the report, and completely ignoring the positive aspects in order to drive home your POV. I too can pick out examples of how x organic crop produced better than conventional, or how, on whole, the soil health are better and energy cost of organic production were less than conventional.

I could point out that the organic crops produced more profit than the conventional - people are willing to pay not to eat pesticides and get cancer from drinking their water - they see more value in organic farming. I'm sure that fact will earn me some derision. But that's what I think is missing from a hard been-there-done-that farmer point of view - what about culture? It's possible for culture to become invested in agriculture again, instead of TV's and plastic crap from china and race cars. Many of the impossible, god-save-us-if-we-have-to-farm-that-way, methods of farming might be more viable if everyone was growing vegetables, bottling and pickling, and generally invested in their own sphere in food production.

We could go back and forth debating whether organic farming is viable, or whether we should all just poison ourselves, burn fossils, and lose topsoil until we all go extinct, but what would be the point? Neither of us are omniscient - I'm siting studies, and you claim to know for sure, but do you really? If you've made up your mind that it can't be done, then there's no way it can be done, since with all your experience you couldn't possibly be wrong. I guess to me that sounds like the familiar tune of a stick stuck in the mud: nope, ya can't get thar from here :)

I'll second the permaculture comment in this thread and add if it already hasn't been mentioned that it apparently builds soil. It seems, however to be interested in part not only in different farming methods, but also in decentralization, localization, smaller-scale, and so forth.

It's also interested in natural building methods, too, like cob, rammed earth, reciprocal frames, straw-bale, post-and-beam timberframe, and so forth-- things that would be nice to read and discuss more of hereon, incidentally.

It would seem that in many cases, there's no real farmer as such these days anyway, but a farming industry, corporation. And we know where that's gotten/getting us, what with the likes of Monsanto, desertification, toxins, superweeds, runoff, food insecurity issues, suicidal Indian farmers, etc., and in the case of animal farming, tortured/half-dead-before-slaughter animals.
Complete with idyllic images on the grocery store packagings of past farms of yore.
At once, breaks my heart and enrages.

Permaculture's about how we need to live our lives on this planet in harmony with nature-- observing it and learning from it and applying that to the benefit of it and people. Stuff like that. Stuff that matters/.

Here's another video on it, from the man, himself.

When you step back and look properly at farming, it is easy to see that any method requires the replacement of nutrients taken from land over the long term.

Humanure, leaves, organic waste, vermicomposting... Close the loop.

I'm a real farmer , descended from generations of real farmers.

I farmed in the fields and orchards as a child with my parents and grandparents, who refused to give up the old ways for old times sake-I still have the hand plows, the horse harnesses, and most of the other stuff they used.My old Pa was an incredibly wise man. Even though he could not sign his name, he did amazing things on just a few acres of relatively poor land.

I also was born lucky in some respects, and was able to attend to to college, and naturally I took my degree in agriculture.

You can take this to the bank-everything a working farmer does is done for a very good reason, which has apparently escaped most of the people who believe in new age agriculture.

Most of it -this stuff I call new age agriculture--virtually ALL of it- is straight up bull shit as far as any sort of real world practicality is concerned.

Does it work? Can it work?

Sure, if you work at it hard enough, and cook the books to mush, it can "work".

It can feed a few people-it can feed a family with the right resources in terms of land and climate and boneheaded willingness to work twice as hard for half as much return.

Over the years , I have visited many so called organic this new that marvelous this magical demonstrations-all of them, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, were as utterly dependent, in the last analysis, on petroleum as any conventional farmer.

When I was at Va Tech, I was not enrolled in a SINGLE COURSE in ag as an ag freshman;I was enrolled simultaneously in chemistry, biology , and calculus with the folks who were interested in science careers.Most of my sophomore and junior classes were taken in the life and physical sciences.

So I'm real from both ends of the spectrum-I know what a mules ass looks like, and I know how and why industrial ag works.

The laws of physics and biology cannot be avoided or circumvented;what leaves a farm must eventually be replaced, or production WILL CRASH.

As a purely practical matter, it is simply impossible to replace soil derived nutrients with organic materials on the grand scale.The needed input organics are simply not available.

Believe me-industrial ag is just another manifestation of industrial civilization overshoot.

New age agriculture is a pleasant dream, although it is quite useful as research-there are nuggets to be found yet.

There is no solution to this problem, given that we are humans.

If we were Vulcans like Mr Spock, we might have a prayer.Unfortunately, we are the Three Stooges.

We are going to suffer a very hard crash.Most of us, world wide, are going to starve or die fighting.

Yes, there's a vast difference between thinking about farming and doing it, especially using non-chemical methods. Then if you take away the diesel and do it by hand and horsepower, it's pure hard work. Ask any Cuban.

Cuban tribute to Australian permaculturists

Cuba is now 95% organic apparently.

The irony of the 'hard work' is that the non-resilient system Cuba was dependent on let them down, so of course they had to scramble and bust some butt...

And now, thanks ostensibly in part to permaculturists' involvement, Cuba's a bit of a poster child and educational hotbed for how to go/grow/survive/live/love.

That's right, the Cubans have shown that an organic/permaculture method can sustain a population of 12 million in a tropical climate with a year-round growing season. Cuba is the same size and population as Pennsylvania. Consider the differences. It'll be a tougher row to hoe for us temperate types.

Thankfully permaculture deals, as it should, with all or most climates ('filter by climate'), such as temperate climates, microclimates, greenhouses, earth-/ship/bermed and straw-bale houses, and Sepp Holtzer climate (Austrian alpine?).
While it looks to be a tougher row to hoe, perhaps some ducks, etc., might help lighten the load here and there.

FWIW, the rest of the world may have more of the benefit of added permaculture (see first link) expertise as well as impending-shortages-foresight that Cuba may not have had nearly as much of.

The Oil Drum has been around for about 7 years. Trees planted since should likely have borne fruit/nuts close to now, to say nothing of berry bushes, kept bees, edible weeds, and the standard garden fare and dried/root-cellar stuff, etc..

If we've been doing agriculture certain ways for '7000 years', it's hardly going to be impressive if some of us have still been doing it that way for a few generations.

"Current industrial agricultural systems of food production are not fully renewable. Industrial agriculture uses large amounts of petroleum and natural gas, both to run the equipment, and to supply pesticides and fertilizers. Permaculture is in part an attempt to create a renewable system of food production that relies upon minimal amounts of energy.

Traditional pre-industrial agriculture was labor intensive, industrial agriculture is fossil fuel intensive, and permaculture is design and information intensive and attempts to be petrofree. Partially, permaculture is an attempt to work smarter, not harder; and when possible renewable energy designs such as passive solar should be used...

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that is modeled on the relationships found in nature. ...Mollison has described permaculture as 'a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single project system...' "
~ Wikipedia

[Bill] Mollison: In the early 1970s, it dawned on me that no one had ever applied design to agriculture. When I realized it, the hairs went up on the back of my neck. It was so strange. We’d had agriculture for 7,000 years, and we’d been losing for 7,000 years — everything was turning into desert. So I wondered, can we build systems that obey ecological principles? We know what they are, we just never apply them... It’s curious that we never apply what we know to how we actually live...

Today we have more soil scientists than at any other time in history. If you plot the rise of soil scientists against the loss of soil, you see that the more of them you have, the more soil you lose.

I remember seeing soldiers returning from the War in 1947. They had these little steel canisters with a snap-off top. When they snapped the tops off, they sprayed DDT all over the room so you never saw any more flies or mosquitoes — or cats. [Laughs] After the war, they started to use those chemicals in agriculture. The gases used by the Nazis were now developed for agriculture. Tanks were made into plows. Part of the reason for the huge surge in artificial fertilizer was that the industry was geared up to produce nitrates for explosives. Then they suddenly discovered you could put it on your crops and get great results.

London: So the green revolution was a kind of war against the land, in a manner of speaking.

Mollison: That’s right. Governments still support this kind of agriculture to the tune of about $40 billion each year. None of that goes to supporting alternative systems like organic or soil-creating agriculture. Even China is adopting modern chemical agriculture now.

London: I remember the late economist Robert Theobald saying to me that if China decides to go the way of the West, the environmental ballgame is over."

As a purely practical matter, it is simply impossible to replace soil derived nutrients with organic materials on the grand scale...
~ oldfarmermac

Which is in part why many of us have been talking about simplification, smaller scales and relocalization. Arguably, this is, as you call it, 'grand scale', only in a decentralized fashion.

Industrial agriculture's a joke-- and far worse. And pre-industrial agriculture is also what permaculture's attempting to improve upon.

Besides, would we allow our children to accept food from psychopaths? Because that's what many are doing.

"Here’s good advice for practice: go into partnership with nature; she does more than half the work and asks none of the fee."
~ Martin H. Fischer (1879-1962)

To turn the world into a dependency on staples has nothing to do with feeding the world, it has a lot to do with controlling the food supply. The United States evolved a phrase during the Vietnam war, and the phrase was; 'Food as a weapon'; the use of food as the ultimate weapon of control. And the trajedy is, the growth of agribusiness in the US has gone hand-in-hand with the US foreign policy to deliberately create hunger locally in order to make the world dependent on food supplies, through which you can then control countries and their decision-making ability. So hunger has become an instrument of war.
~ Vandana Shiva, physicist, from video (You Tube), 'The Future of Food'

As villages grew bigger, there were more people to work on the land. More people could produce more food more efficiently-- enough to support specialists within the community. Freed from the burden of farming, some people were able to develop new skills-- and new technologies. Making plaster from limestone was a major technological breakthrough. The stones had to be heated for days at a time, at a temperature of a thousand degrees. It may seem insignificant today, but understanding how to work with fire was the first step toward forging steel, a technology that would transform the world... 'When I first to New Guinea in the 1960's, people were still using stone tools, like this axe... So why didn't New Guinea develop metal tools by itself? And eventually, I realized that, to have metalworking specialists who can figure out how to smelt copper and iron, requires that the rest of the people in the society who are farmers be able to generate enough food surpluses to feed them. But New Guinea agriculture was not productive enough to generate those food surpluses. And the result was no specialists, no metal workers, no metal tools.'
~ From the documentary film, based on the book of the same name, 'Guns, Germs and Steel'

I can feel with OFM if he says permaculture is new age farming. Haha. I run a garden of 2000 m2 with some other people, and ofcourse gardening is different from agriculture. I would call my type of gardening agro-forestry.

In this respect I have to disagree with OFM on organic soil amendments on large scale.
Some enthousiastic team of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is engaged for some years now to faciltate knowledge and experience exchange on this matter between farmers and researchers. I am following the email group, a bit like the oild drum.

Of the 10 milion ha or so of no-till farmed land in the world (most of them in Brazil and Australia), a growing percentage is actually organic. They work with rotation and cover crops. No-till means really no-till. If farmers decide to do some occasional tilling it is called Reduced tilling. Research shows that this method actually combines the worst of industrial and no-till, instead of the best.
To sacrifice a year to cover crops, it must be outbalanced by the reduced costs of no-till farming. But apparently for a growing number of farmers it is worth while.
SO for real no-till you need ofcourse less horsepower.

Another way to bring organic material into the soil is to grow trees on the farm. It brings root-die off (30 % of the tree roots are renewed each year), litter, and potentially shreddded branches. Up to 50 trees per hectare in Europe do not really hamper cultures. Organic material from trees contain a lot of lignine, which is the basis of stable humus. It doesn't break down in one year.
I guess it is the most effective way of recycling nutrients.
One can still use "chemical" fertilisers but its use can be greatly reduced.
I did a rough calculation /carbon balance once for the petrol needed to shred branches. You need about 1 liter for 1 m3 of clippings. So for 1 cm of cover ramial chipped wood (RCW), which is a significant quantity, you need 100 liter once in a few years for one hectare (and 30 hours of shredding).

Again RCW has not been used a lot on large cultures, but in France they are currently testing it.
For the moment it looks quite promising.

Perhaps I should elaborate a bit and make my position a bit clearer.

My own personal and family long term when tshtf plans are largely based on old tech dressed up and recycled (for the most part) as something really new- permaculture.

I often forget to point out that I am making my points not necessarily from a strictly technical pov-my reasoning also includes the human element.

What has worked in Cuba isn't going to work in NYC or Chicago.The population density is out of sight and bare ground is a rarity.

The grain farms occupying the American heartland are not dotted with tens of thousands of little villages composed of lots of little houses each ready to live in with a water and sewer system all ready for use.

It gets COLD in Nebraska.

A fish belly white clean nailed pink handed over educated cubicle worker isn't going to take up gardening for a living;he would take up throwing Molotov cocktails quicker.

As I said somewhere in this thread, this new age stuff works-sorta-if you are willing to work at it hard enough.But You must have have both suitable resources in the form of enough good land, good climate,etc, and a suitable mindset, backed up by a substantial skill set that very few people have mastered.

Now perhaps it might be a bit clearer to those who disagree with me why I continue to hold that permaculture and organics and so forth are not going to save our mangy overfed butts.

It should be obvious enough that I am like most Yankees used to thinking of the good ole USA as the whole world. ;-)

I could make a pretty good case for my great grandparents being permaculturists who worked out a system quite suitable to our particular part of the world.Excepting a few luxury foods such as sugar and coffee, they grew all their own food, without chemical aids, supplied themselves with all their own building materials excepting nails and glass right off the farm, supplied all their own fuel, made most of their own clothing, made a lot of their own tools, saved their own seed,and exported only a small portion of their production to the city, meaning they almost closed the nutrient loop, as what they ate-and their animals ate-was returned to the soil within the boundaries of the farm.

They had a water powered family gristmill, and a steam powered wood fired sawmill.

The only material of any REAL consequence they had to buy was steel in the form of tools , firearms and so forth, and the only critical expendable they were really forced to buy from outside the community was ammunition.

The soil got better from one year to the next when it was in pasture, and was then plowed for corn, wheat, or rye for a few years, or for vegetables-fertilized with farm sourced manure, straw, wood ashes and occasionally a bit of purchased lime or other amendment.

There were walnut trees along side the "spring branch" and chesnuts free on the hillsides to steep for anything except the woodlot.Persimmons and pears were encouraged along the edges of the fields.Hollow trees were left standing for den trees;squirrels were a delicacy to be provided for by leaving enough oaks and hickories alone that they would have plenty to eat, and thereby provide PLENTY to eat.

They harvested a dozen wild or semi wild plants on a regular basis for the family table.

Chickens, geese, and turkeys kept down most of the bugs that are easy for a bird to catch, and a few cats kept mice and rats at bay.

Groundhogs that dared invade the kitchen gardens went into the oven for a Sunday dinner treat when they got tired of chicken, turkey, pork, and beef-all home grown of course.(For some reason my grannies would never cook a goose or a duck- they didnot consider them fit to eat for some reason which I believe had to do with them foraging in the creeks and tasting fishy.)

They lived into their nineties.

They were happy, self actualized people.

But they worked their butts off from daylight to dark more days than not, and put in a long hard day almost every day except Sunday, year in and year out.

On Sunday they walked to church and back-a pleasant two mile round trip stroll up and down steep hills all the way.The mules you see , needed a day off too-so long as the weather was nice-if not they were hitched to the wagon, and while it had no top, it did have a couple of canvases stored under the seat that would keep off the wind and rain.

Incidentally, practices such as crop rotation have been in use for hundreds of years, and are taught in the lowest level classes at the land grant universities where modern farmers learn their profession.

Yair...I just loved that OFM!...what do you reckon the happiness factor was? That is to say, would your great grand folks have been content with their lot and life style or were they striving for "more" ie a bigger/better farm, better mules or whatever.

Any thoughts?


our grandparents had crop rotation allright, but not equipment like this direct seed drill:

i've been on a straw-bale & lime build - the stuff works, and just gets harder as the years go by - solid stuff.

anyone who thinks the loop can't be closed with regards to sustainable farming is surrendering prematurely. there's no reason it can't be tried, but plenty of reasons given not to try.

and what's the alternative? If we're doomed we're doomed, but IMO, there's a big industry involved in peddling pessimism for profit, and because it depresses action against BAU. That's a big pit-fall for PO advocacy and for anyone who actually wants to pitch in: the aged expert, reclining in his rocker saying: "nope, it can't be done, we're all dead men walking". Come on.

People shouldn't be criticized for taking hard, realistic positions, and naivete should be answered with good facts and data, but optimism and pragmatic effort, and discussion about solutions shouldn't be shut-down or scoffed at out of holier-than-thou cynicism or from a sense of personal malaise. That's bad sense.

I've been reading this excellent site for years but rarely commented. No till farming and permaculture are not only good answers to the energy problem, they are more productive, more resistant, and healthier for the human, the soil, and the animals. "A Farm for the Future" is a good introduction documentary on Peak Oil and Ag on YouTube

No till is simply a method that substitutes weed killer for diesel fuel.It reduces soil erosion, and lowers costs, and conserves water, but it is nothing new-it is a long established technology that is part and parcel of industrial agriculture.The only tool you leave out of the equation is the plow, but not all plowing is eliminated.No till involves using MORE chemical inputs, with the exception of fuel used for plowing.

I suppose most readers of this forum are familiar by now with Rockman's frequent comments involving the marvelous new technology of fracing that is going to save our bau lifestyle for us, and make those of us who invest in the fracing boom( in early enough and out quick enough)rich.

Rockman has been fracing wells for a long, long time already.

Fracing is working because the operators make it by means other than cash in, cash out on a daily basis-they make it in the stock market.

Later on, they will probably be making it for real-once oil and ng prices go up substantially.

My great grand parents, my grand parents, and my parents all practiced many elements of what is currently referred to as permaculture.

Permaculture works-sort of - but it is never going to feed the world.(But for that matter, the day is not so far off when industrial ag will no longer be up to the job )

Over shoot already has us gut hooked.We aren't going to throw the hook, no siree.

I am not opposed to these practices-in general, I actually endorse most of them-when circumstances are such that they can work.

I have a good friend-an expert large scale gardener- who is able to obtain large quantities of leaves and grass clippings for next to nothing because he is already committed to driving his pickup truck to town on a daily basis -a few folks actually pay him to bag leaves and clippings they have piled up already, and at other houses, he picks up bagged grass at the curb.

This works like a charm for him.It would cost me an arm and a leg -my crops wouldn't cover the hauling expenses since I would have to charge the truck and the time to the farm.

But when tshtf, he is no longer going to have that generous supply of essentially free clippings.

I used to buy chicken manure by the truckload from local poultry operators..I can't get it any more, as a "green" new age fertilizer company has contracted the entire local supply.But I have had the pleasure of being instructed by a little old lady school marm type buying it in plastic bags(nice pellets, bone dry, very little odor) at the local Southern States Coop that I should be using it on our farm instead of the pallet of ten ten ten we were loading on my truck.

I have persimmon trees and walnut trees scattered around, because I can work around them and obtain full value for the fruit and nuts-we eat them ourselves.Maybe-IF LOCATED so he could retail his produce-a real commercial farmer could make it with fruit trees in his row crop fields.

There are no walnut or persimmon trees in our apple orchard.We have to sell at wholesale prices , in bulk, and can't afford the inefficiencies involved.The rest of the place is farmed mostly as a hobby and to supply our own needs, so time and efficiency don't count for much.

Somebody used to paying a buck for a nice fat vine ripened tomato may feel like he is making a fine return on his gardening efforts and investment even if he is buying bonemeal and kelp concentrate and picking bugs off by hand.

He will sing a different tune if he has to pay somebody to pick that tomato, and put it in box that costs over a dollar, and deliver it to town-and sell it for a quarter to the grocer who will get a dollar for it.

I can feel with OFM if he says permaculture is new age farming. Haha. I run a garden of 2000 m2 with some other people, and ofcourse gardening is different from agriculture. I would call my type of gardening agro-forestry.

In this respect I have to disagree with OFM on organic soil amendments on large scale.
Some enthousiastic team of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is engaged for some years now to faciltate knowledge and experience exchange on this matter between farmers and researchers. I am following the email group, a bit like the oild drum.

Of the 10 milion ha or so of no-till farmed land in the world (most of them in Brazil and Australia), a growing percentage is actually organic. They work with rotation and cover crops. No-till means really no-till. If farmers decide to do some occasional tilling it is called Reduced tilling. Research shows that this method actually combines the worst of industrial and no-till, instead of the best.
To sacrifice a year to cover crops, it must be outbalanced by the reduced costs of no-till farming. But apparently for a growing number of farmers it is worth while.
SO for real no-till you need ofcourse less horsepower.

Another way to bring organic material into the soil is to grow trees on the farm. It brings root-die off (30 % of the tree roots are renewed each year), litter, and potentially shreddded branches. Up to 50 trees per hectare in Europe do not really hamper cultures. Organic material from trees contain a lot of lignine, which is the basis of stable humus. It doesn't break down in one year.
I guess it is the most effective way of recycling nutrients.
One can still use "chemical" fertilisers but its use can be greatly reduced.
I did a rough calculation /carbon balance once for the petrol needed to shred branches. You need about 1 liter for 1 m3 of clippings. So for 1 cm of cover ramial chipped wood (RCW), which is a significant quantity, you need 100 liter once in a few years for one hectare (and 30 hours of shredding).

Again RCW has not been used a lot on large cultures, but in France they are currently testing it.
For the moment it looks quite promising.


I think that what people are missing here is the simple fact that all farming in modern times is about moving nutrients from country areas to city area. Most of these nutrients are not self replacing and will eventually lead to reductions of yields of crops. It is possibly what lead to the collapse of the Mayan civilization.

Early agricultural cultures were based in the large river valleys where floods brought new nutrients with the silt deposited. Without floods yields eventually declined, despite rop rotations.

Modern conventional farming replaces nutrients with concentrated fertilizers, organic farming replaces nutrients with heavier less concentrated mulch and manure brought in. It takes far more energy to transport and spread mulches and manures than concentrated fertilizers.

The most unfortunate part of the whole organic movement is the religious like zeal applied by the people in the upper echelons of it. The thinking goes along the following lines..

Organic = smart Conventional = dumb
Organic = good Conventional = bad

Overall organic farmers are smart and good Conventional farmers are dumb and bad.

Simplistic, I know, yet it immediately places every aspect of conventional farming as a bad practice and is then outlawed by the organic movement if you wish to use the label "organic" to sell produce.

When I was on a certifying panel, I can remember an instance where a farmer was rejected for organic certification because he had a container of Round-up in his shed. Even though he didn't use it around his organic crops, the thinking of the panel (not my vote) was that because he was not totally committed to organic, he was to be rejected.
Flame weeding is allowed in organic standards, to me it seems ridiculous.
I have been to an organic flame weeding demonstration. Placing 4 large lpg bottles on the back of the carryall to go down the rows of carrots on the "organic" farm. This was replacing about a litre of round-up and made sense to the organic movement.

I left the organic movement because it clearly was not sustainable for the population we have. I also know that conventional farming is not sustainable in the downslope of peak oil.

People always want answers to problems, sometimes there just aren't any.

You forget one essential thing. Not only the "organic" nutrients are displaced, also soil organic matter! In Southern Europe basically all soils lost practically all their instable organic matter. Grosso modo: forest had 6 to 10% SOM in the first 20 cm of soi, after it has been cleared for agriculture it dropped to 3 to 4% thanks to manure. Industrial farming, especially because of intensive ploughing dropped it to 2%, which is mostly stable humus, the part that is not easily "burned". (check this in extensive research being done at the moment to prepare the new EU Soil legislation)

I guess in the States it is not any better. As you know, humus is the basis of soil fertility. It stocks nutrients, better even than clay minerals. Stable humus doesnt last forever.

I foresee a huge role for trees in (post)modern farming. You said it costs too much energy to transport mulge to the land, well, what about if the mulch is produced in situ.

The difference with our ancenstors is that they did not have modern selection techniques to make straight trees, nor the machinery to effectively prune them, and subsoil against superficial root development, nor the nice chipper machines.... Just to say that all this equipment is substantially lighter than that of present industrial farming.

For example this direct seed drill:

Why is it that energy analysts can not resist comparing things that are different? The idea that wind fights solar is pure fiction. There is no conflict.

Each form of energy is unique. Each has its place in the world. They are not in conflict. Energy forms are no different than forms of other commodities.

I often cite the metals and grains. Does iron fight gold? Or aluminum fight copper? Of course not. Each has its best use depending on the situation.

The same goes for grains. Does corn fight soybeans? Ridiculous.

So it is with energy. Wind is not going to work where there isn't any. Nor is solar going to work outside the sunny part of the country. It is pretty hard to have a fight when the resource areas are hundreds and even thousands of miles apart as the article points out.

Comparing things that are different plagues energy analysis. I think it is because energy units are assumed to be real, concrete and interchangeable. They are not. They are not concrete unless there is a concrete form attached to them. If there is no energy form attached, energy units are just an idea like tons or bushels.

To illustrate, a ton of metal is merely an idea until we say which form of metal we are talking about. A ton of metal is not interchangeable with any other ton of metal. A ton of iron can not be interchanged with a ton of gold.

The same is true of the grains. A bushel of corn is not interchangeable with a bushel of soybeans. A bushel of grain is merely an idea until we specify which grain we mean. And when we do, we know that form of grain can only be produced in certain areas and used in certain ways that are unique to that form.

The same is true with units of energy and forms of energy. But when it comes to energy a kilowatt of wind is taken to be interchangeable with a kilowatt of solar or a kilowatt of coal or a kilowatt of natural gas, probably because the end user can't tell the difference.

But this is wrong. The unique characteristics of each form are subordinated to the unit of measure. And the unit of measure is used to determine the value of the form by comparing things that are completely different.

An energy form that depletes is compared with a form that does not and is renewable. The renewable form is found to be deficient in that it does not contain enough energy units compared to the non renewable. No weight is given to the inability to replace the depleting form except at a high cost that can include war or environmental damage.

It's always about units of measure in the case of energy. No other area of commodities does this. Units of measure do not determine which metal to use. The characteristics of the metal determine production and usage. Units of measure are coincidental.

The same is true of the grains. Bushels do not determine which grain to grow. The land resource, climate and grain characteristics determine which grain is best, not the units of measure.

But when it comes to energy wind is pitted against solar when there is in reality no conflict. They each have their place. The same is true of gasoline and ethanol.

But I won't rehash that argument here.

I know many are tired of X's recurrent statments about forms of energy here but he is right on this one.

Watts are often substituting for btu's or the two are converted to each other for analysis. This does a disservice to the need for an energy.

Electric motors are clearly more efficient for rotational energy than internal combustion engines so electricity should be the preferred energy used. Lots of work can be done with only wire supply and the local environment is easy to keep cool.

Conversely heating a space requires btu's and it is hard to argue with the energy density of liquid fuel, particularly fossil fuels. They carry a lot of heat in a small package and if heating some space quickly is required they win.

But using electricity to heat air or high btu fossil fuels to turn rotors is inneficient both ways and the fuels shouldn't be compared just on cost and btu/watt content. There are a lot of externalities of use that are being ignored.

Comparing things that are different is done all the time, most people do not have a problem doing this. You simply look at similarities and differences. Let us look at the ton of gold vs ton of steel, most people would not say they are the same, but they would say that they weigh the same.

I agree that different types of energy are different, but if energy is what is needed then we look at the amount of energy in the fuels being compared, while also considering the differences in the fuels (is it a solid, liquid, or gas). If a fuel is used for transportation, the energy density of the fuel is important, when the fuel is used to heat a building or to produce electricity, this is not as important.

Note that btu's are a unit of energy and the corresponding SI unit would be a Joule. Watts are a unit of power (joules per second.) Natural gas works fine for space heating, coal also works, but is not very convenient.

Externalities also need to be considered, including both standard pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, hopefully some kind of carbon fees or carbon caps become law so that we both reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce the risk of dangerous levels of climate change.


You should probably talk to Nate Hagans about this, and check out Harold Odums work, too:

Man, I love wikipedia.

The Role of Energy in Economic Growth, by Nate Hagens October 19, 2011:


Charles Hall:

To illustrate, a ton of metal is merely an idea until we say which form of metal we are talking about.

For the record, I currently work in the metals recycling business. The 58 year old muscles in my back really don't care what anyone says about abstract ideas or whether copper is exchangeable for stainless or aluminum. When I unload any of these 'IDEAS' off a truck, to my old back a ton of one metal feels pretty much just like any other ton of any another metal! There is something called physical reality and the metal I get to hold in my hand is definitely not just an idea >;^)

Granted that while the elements Cu, Fe, and Al, all have their well defined places in the periodic table of elements and are not therefore interchangeable in their properties, energy on the other hand is a measurable quantity that is independent of whether it is obtained from wind energy, solar energy, or the chemical energy stored in fossil fuels.
At the end of the day it is the very real ability to do work that defines 'Energy'! You can pretend that wind energy, or solar energy are commodities just like metals all you want, what matters is how much work can you do with whatever source of energy you have available to you.

In physics, energy (Ancient Greek: ἐνέργεια energeia "activity, operation"[1]) is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems.[2][3] Since work is defined as a force acting through a distance (a length of space), energy is always equivalent to the ability to exert pulls or pushes against the basic forces of nature, along a path of a certain length.

The total energy contained in an object is identified with its mass, and energy (like mass), cannot be created or destroyed.
Source Wikipedia

Why is it that energy analysts can not resist comparing things that are different?

Because they recognize that fossil fuels are finite and are going to run out, and they want understand how fossil fuels can be replaced by other sources of energy, and how.


I always love reading Tom's "Do the Math" analysis

Wind—and especially solar—don’t generally compete price-wise. Both are intermittent, so that they won’t fit into our current infrastructure at a large scale, requiring substantial storage and transmission in order to become major providers of energy.

New large wind projects in our area are being bid into the power grid at between 6 cents and 8 cents per kwh so, notwithstanding the intermittency argument, wind is becoming a lot more cost competitive. For example, this project was approved by the Michigan PSC at a LCOE of $61 per MWH

New coal plants are being tossed aside at least partially because of capital and fuel cost escalation and are now coming in at an LCOE north of $100 per MWH. Here are some Michigan examples.

As to the intermittency issue, it makes sense to build more transmission facilities to help create larger "energy balancing" areas that will help to reduce the intermittency of renewables. The cost for transmission amortized over time is going to be much less than what is required to build new FF plants. The proposed ITC Holdings "Green Power Express is an example of what is being considered.

Here's is some good discussion about the benefits of creating large energy balancing areas and how they impact the backup requirements of intermittent distributed generation. Not a panacea but very helpful and a way to save our FF's for backup and shortening this backup period.

Consumers Energy is investing $800 million to repower their Ludington pumped storage facility to bring it up to a 2.2 GW nameplate capacity. This is not a panacea either as Tom recently pointed out in his analysis of storage batteries but still helpful. The solar, wind and FF triangle looks to be with us for a long while.

What I am getting from all this effort is that there are too many people consuming to much energy for too little reward.

I propose:

1}reduce the human population
2}reduce consumption
3}reevaluate your priorities ie learn to be happier with less

Instead, I see a futile effort to increase conventional and to match our increasing population and increasing consumption.

It takes a great deal of intelligence to do more with less. How smart are you?

This is already being done by individuals with each step in $. probably not effectively because the 1000's who cut back helps the 1000's retain suv's etc.; Now to help we ban gas guzzlers, and the oil savings can be sucked up elsewhere: i.e. asia.. ; it's almost explained by game theory or prisoners dilemma .
Your right, we might not be smart enough.

the 1000's who cut back helps the 1000's retain suv's etc ... it's almost explained by game theory or prisoners dilemma

That could be written into a corollary to Jevons Paradox:

The Jevons paradox occurs when the effect from increased demand predominates, causing an increase in overall resource use.

I would dare say we have a bigger hurdle in the emotional/psychological realm. Bigger, better everything. Voluntary reductions in consumption are not the norm. Why the housing bubble. Why the McMansions. How many garages are so full you cannot park in them.

Marketing plays on emotion. There is an ad for a minivan with this amazing rainbow, flowers and butterflies, and deer grazing (Awww makes me feel better already)...<:-{ Marketing works yesterday, today and tomorrow.
This must be addressed in any energy use reduction plan. The insurmountable hurdle is how do you pay for advertising buying less stuff.

Adam Curtis, in the "Century of Self" explains how marketing by geniuses like Edward Bernays based on Freudian theory capitalizes on greed and self interest.

Instead, we get Dubai in Vermont (in reverse):

Do bring sunscreen. The 50,000-square-foot Pump House has a retractable roof with UV-permissible glass that’s designed to keep air fresh and not block sunlight. So, while your pals are freezing their butts on Bushwacker or Buckaroo Bonzai, you can be tanning your cheeks on one of the chaises. (Jay officials brag of inventing the weather-proof ski vacation, and they might just be right, even if it is a little Truman Show-esque.) After the snow melts, the roof peels back in just nine minutes to reveal the sky. Don’t wear your ski boots — or your ski jacket, or anything else with Gore-Tex, down or polypropylene. It’s 86 degrees in here year-round. (The water is 84 degrees.)

I should add that recently the local electrical utility has fought for, and narrowly won against local opposition, permission to build a bunch of huge wind turbines on a so-far pristine high ridge a few miles from that ski resort, along with a new transmission line to the ski resort. As long as we use the extra "green" power for such monstrosities rather than reducing consumption, we're progressing backwards.

We live in a capitalist world. Unless we take back control of the macro-choices (big priorties such as transportation infrastructure/urban planning; agricultural incentives; food distribution) we have ceded to "the market," we are doomed. Green shopping and personal survivalist gestures are never going to make a real dent in the status quo.

Congratulations PDV, you're one of the few that actually gets it!

Great post.

Thanks Gail for presenting Tom's elucidations.

The delivery system, the power grid, is where the rubber meets the road in our current dilemma.

Some 2/3 of energy is lost by lack of efficiency. That will hold true for any form used to generate power until and unless we make upgrades to that infrastructure.

That is the engineering side of life, but we still have to face the political side of life.

That is where the greater problem still lies.

were starting to run into issues in the "upgrading" arena. Maybe time to consider downgrading in some way?

Rebuilding, replacing, upgrading, downgrading ... whatever ... it boils down to better, smarter "wiring".

If the national power grid became fully efficient it would be like discovering a source of 2/3 of our energy needs without any drilling, solar panel installation, or wind machine deployment.

Plus, while we do that we could make it solar-ray proof (high energy photons that can shut it down now) which impacts national security big time.

Not bad for starters.

Are you confusing grid loses (between 5 -1 0 %) and thermodynamic production losses ( 40 - 60%) ? Burning fossil fuels to make electricity in generators is where most of the losses are. Half or more of the heat energy in the fuel goes straight into the atmosphere. That is why electric heating of domestic houses is such an insane waste of energy. However, there are no very efficient ways of using fossil fuels, other than as direct heat sources. Certainly not in vehicles, unless fuel cells become practical (and more efficient). Thermodynamic limitations cannot be overcome.

The heat loses from nuclear are just as high, and the fraction of the potential nuclear energy from the fuel that gets converted to electricity is tiny, of the order of 1%. But that is yet another story.


Since you wondered out loud ...

If you read the links you will find out:

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.

I wouldn't worry about confusion if I were you, I would worry about insane waste.

As Ralph said, you are confusing grid loses (between 5 -1 0 %) and thermodynamic production losses ( 40 - 60%). The statement that says that our electric power system operates at 33 percent efficiency is misleading.

The 'waste' of coal energy in electricity generation isn't really 'insane', because coal generators are relatively close to being as efficient as is physically possible. (What is insane is continuing to dump that much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but that's a different problem.)

Wind and solar don't have thermodynamic losses in the same way that fossil fuel sources do. If we were able to use all wind and solar, even with 70% efficient storage, 'losses in the electrical system' defined the same was as above, would be roughly half what they are now.


As Soylent said, you are mistaken:

[China] has developed a 1 million AC volt transmission line that loses only 8 percent of its power on a 1,200 mile journey from the power plant in western China to the cities in the east. An equivalent U.S. line, with only 760 kilovolts, would lose 80 percent of its power.

(Green Tech). But what we all call "our knowledge" is really belief in what someone else says they know.

Soylent was taking to you. The inefficiency is in converting energy from heat to electricity (~33%), not transmitting the electricity over the grid.

The most economic solution for long-distance bulk power transmission, due to lower losses, is transmission with High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC). A basic rule of thumb: for every 1,000 kilometres the DC line losses are less than 3% (e.g. for 5,000 MW at a voltage of 800 kV). Typically, DC line losses are 30–40% less than with AC lines, at the same voltage levels, and for long-distance cable transmission DC is the only solution, technically and economically.

The haughty scientist, the haughty politician, and the haughty activist all operate with "their knowledge" which is nothing more than belief in what someone else says they know. That is our lot in life ... relying on what others say they "know".

When two experts disagree on the same facts, the layman as well as the expert who must rely on one of them faces a choice ... who to believe. Arguing that "my expert is better than your expert" is a useless endeavor.

The power system is inadequate, the power grid is inadequate, and the solutions thus far are inadequate.

To my version of common sense that would require a change, and an improvement. I suggested methanol upthread to increase the efficiency and the lowering of pollution at the power generation stages ("burning fuel"), concurrent with an upgrade of the power grid so that it would not lose "80%" (one expert's calculation) of the power it is transmitting over long distances.

When two experts disagree on the same facts, the layman as well as the expert who must rely on one of them faces a choice ... who to believe. Arguing that "my expert is better than your expert" is a useless endeavor.

People have the ability to distinguish between which commentators present credible evidence and use logic, vs those who don't do that as well. We can think for ourselves and not just make fallacious arguments from authority.

Sanity check:
If grids were losing 80%, power imported from remote locations would cost about 5 times as much as local generation, because the remote plant would have to generate 5 kilowatt-hours for every 1 received.
Would long distance transmission be feasible? No.
And yet long distance transmission exists. So your assumption is wrong.

Again, you don't know what you're talking about. Pick up a thermodynamics text book and pay particular attention to the chapter about heat engines.

"The power system" would have been more clear than "the power grid". Nevertheless the grid can lose 80% according to some commentators I linked to.

Those commentators are referring to generators and the grid as one system. Or, if they believe that the transmission grid itself loses up to 80%, they are simply flat-out wrong.

Note that the generation losses are thermodynamically necessary if we want to have our energy in the form of electricity instead of heat. The only significant way to avoid these losses would be to replace electric heaters in the home with coal stoves.

I have been to a talk by a serious physicist who works on superconductivity, who offered as one (of several) motivations for pursuing high-temperature superconductivity the notion of a superconducting power grid achieving effectively 100% transmission efficiency. He stated that two-thirds of our electricity is lost in transmission. What an appalling state of affairs. If this were true, I might be working on high-Tc superconductivity as well! I believe he was genuinely motivated by this erroneous "fact." I asked him after if he was conflating heat engine loss with transmission loss—the latter typically being roughly 10% for real grids. He was obviously unaware of his mistake.

I presume he simply looked at an energy flow diagram at some point, saw the huge electricity loss, and assumed (or was misled by others) that this represented transmission loss—even though captions usually make this stand-out disparity clear.

So I just wanted to point out that experts can be confused on this point. But the people who count usually have the facts straight. I don't loose sleep over people getting confused on this point, even though it happens far more often than it should.

I find this history fascinating:

because of the relationship between Westinghouse, Edison, Tesla, Telluride, Ophir and the Ames powerhouse, mining and the use of coal in the production of base and precious metals in the San Juan mts of Colorado.

The station was built during the "War of Currents" between Westinghouse (and Nikola Tesla) and Thomas Edison as to whether alternating current or direct current electric power would prevail, and its success led to adoption of alternating current at much larger plants at Niagara Falls (Adams Power Plant in 1895) and its eventual dominance worldwide.

Also of interest because of the relation ship between money, energy and metals, is the history behind the Bimetallist Mine, near Camp Bird, Ouray, Colorado.


fun stuff.

My dad worked at the Camp Bird Mine and hauled out silver on mules. the road over the pass was so bad they would say "to hell you ride" hence the name Telluride.

In Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, the protagonist's secret hideaway was in a beautiful ... Galt's Gulch was inspired by Ouray(my home town), where Rand found inspiration.


You've addressed the supply side. Now let's look at the demand side.

.. about half of the 13 TW consumption today is lost in heat engines ..

So step one in a World beyond oil (coal/gas) is getting rid of heat engines. Taken to the extreme (not that I'm suggesting 100% elimination) we would need say 7 TW of renewables to match current demand.

But we can do even better. In transport (home of the heat engine) we find that <15% goes to forward motion. With transport at nominally 25% of 13 TW, by eliminating heat engines we could save 13*0.25*(1-0.15)=2.75 TW. Okay, I left out some inefficiencies in the electric motor and storage, but the trend is obvious.

But guess what? We can do even better. Most of that 15% is pushing metal, not people. If I cut the weight (mass actually) of the vehicle by 5X (easy if I get it up and away from Mack trucks and HumVees) I can pull down over 3 TW. Toss in some LEDs for lighting (5X(?) better than incandescent, windows south (northern hemisphere) and we get off fossil fuels a lot faster and cheaper.

Are you sure it's fifteen percent not more? not less? ? where do you get these numbers from???

Actually "well to wheel" efficiency is much less than 15%. A diesel IC engine could achieve 35% efficiency under ideal conditions but EROI at the well, refining, transmission gears and realistic traffic conditions of the average fleet vehicle (Otto cycle, gasoline) puts the number more like 10%. I rounded up to give fossil fuels the benefit of the doubt. You can dig up the numbers online easily if you care.

Well to wheels efficiency is only one measure of utility. What has higher utility - a Tata Nano weighing 500kg and driving a Indian family of four at 50mpg and 5% well to wheels efficiency, or a top end 2000Kg Lexus hybrid SUV driving one New Yorker to work at 25mpg and 15% well to wheels efficiency?

Given that the New Yorker might have the option to telecommute anyway, what was the utility of her journey in the first place?

The challenge for us in the developed world is that the marginal utility of energy resources is much less than for a developing country. When you transition from hauling goods by ox-cart to hauling them in a Tata Nano you get a big boost in productivity that goes straight to national or regional income. By contrast, in the developed world extra energy increments just get turned into congestion, unproductive trips to the mall, and dead-end industrial agriculture. So in any competition, developing countries will not blink at $200/barrel oil while for us it is an economy killer. Likewise for alternative energy sources. Until we return to a state where each increment of energy is used productively instead of wasted.

I don't think hauling goods in a Tata Nano would be all that efficient. You need something more like this, which is more typical:

Or like this:

Certainly the per-capita income is much less in developing countries, but the per-person cost is affordable when you compare it against a typical American commuting in an overweight overengined SUV. In India a similar vehicle (with a much smaller engine) would be carrying 20 passengers or two tons of cargo.

I would absolutely love to go digging up more numbers, but I got minerals to dig up [GRIN] By hand.

In regards to referencing sources, I see that the wind "quality" map produced by NREL shows "superb" quality wind in SE Wyoming. Hmmmm. That seems to me to disregard severe weather. How do they deice the blades for instance? My guess is with either heat or deicers, both of which degrade efficiency.

Also, regarding NREL, they are nearing completion of an underground parking garage at the Golden Campus. I suppose that's a good example of "renewable"?

The new labs are supposed to be net zero, but I think their models end where the road begins: {BIG FILE}

Stolen from a commercial glass window business. Flat glass is energy intensive to manufacture.

The most recent google earth image shows new solar panels installed.

This is not a pipe dream. We have a contract to design such a system at 60° north latitude, which, as Tom points out, is a little low in winter – when people in their right mind stay home most of the time anyway – and quite ample year round.

Not to mention millions who could telecommute some of the time. This would save more than anything in the short term but unless the savings was wisely invested then probably all for nought.
I read LED's require rare earths so lets add in the cost of mining.

This type of macro analysis misses the point completely. Figures like using 0.5% of the land surface roll off the tongue so easily that the real numbers lose there meaning.

The land surface area of the world, excluding Antarctica, is ~148,000,000 km2. Half a percent of that ~740,000 km2. Assuming a lifespan of 40 years for solar setups, we need to build ~18,500 km2 per year.

Taking the simplest part of a solar panel, the glass, at 3mm thickness (current standard in quality panels), would take ~144 million tonnes to make the panels. That is more than 3 times current total world production of flat glass. To ramp up production of glass by the factor of 4 needed would take years and massive amounts of energy.

When working out the real maths, how much it will take to build it, in terms of resources, the answer is it cannot be done in the existing world of resource constraints in the time necessary.

This is probably the best comment I have seen. Scaling all those renewable will become a serious issue very soon.

So called "renewable energy" is not scalable. What we CAN do is have fewer children and pursue much less consumptive lifestyles.

Imagine a world with 1/6th the amount of people, there would be abundance and wealth beyond your wildest dreams, but alas, you all court Jevons and that paradox.

....and I was just thinking about this:

In this post, we’ll pit solar against wind and see who wins.

as a 100yard dash between two onelegged guys.

It appears to me the most used metric for evaluating energy sources is Jobs per KWh. Using this metric, the best energy sources are as follows:

1. Coal
2. Nuclear
3. Natural Gas
4. PV Solar
5. Wind
6. Thermal Solar

Who's fooling who? Xcel Energy in the Midwest is in the middle of the best Wind resources in the world and it still is using Coal and Nuclear.

If you look at the 2009 energy flow chart for the US , total energy flow, you'll see that wind generated electricity exceeded solar by 70:1

So maybe a better metaphor would be a 100 yard dash between a onelegged guy and a nolegged guy...

Wind: .70 quads, Solar: .11 quads, more like 7:1.1

Whoops guess I have to move faster and more carefully on my toe. Still an order of magentude difference which is my point that being a 100 yard dash between cripples. thanks for checking the math

The numbers are diminishingly small, so small 0.71 percent in relation to overall energy usage that the difference between 70:1 and 7:1 is absolutely meaningless.

According to your reasoning traffic jams should not exist.
After all there were very few cars on the road a 100 years ago - just like there are even fewer PV-system on existing roofs nowadays...

.... only because the wheeled rigs are confined to a road ~:) Think about that for a minute.

Given the length of roads and the size of parking lots, they cover more area than all the roofs.

By the way, the urbanized area in the US is 109,000 square miles = 282,309 km^2:

That corresponds to 42.346 TW at 15% PV efficiency. At a capacity factor of only 17% this much power would produce 63,520 TWh which is still 17 times more electricity than the entire US consumes, even though it already wastes double as much electricity per capita than Switzerland with a higher average living standard...

Yes, its one thing to say we could supply the current world's energy demands with alternatives, but our current international economy requires more energy. More, always more. Put it on a fixed energy budget, it will die. But it looks like it will have to die, one way or the other.

PDV wrote:

So called "renewable energy" is not scalable.

This is a rather broad and vague claim, with no support. Scalable to what? I personally do not believe that we can achieve BAU with renewables with our current population size, if that's what you mean.

Scalable with regard to our present lifestyle. You are not going to be able to provide enough energy with so called "renewable" energy to power what we have going. The scale of our energy consumption, liquid fuels, far exceeds the scale of potential electricity production from dilute energy sources such as socalled "renewable" energy. Josiah Willard Gibbs must be rolling in his grave LOL.

The scale of our energy consumption, liquid fuels, far exceeds the scale of potential electricity production from dilute energy sources such as socalled "renewable" energy.

You have yet to establish this belief as a fact. If you are referring to the economic feasibility, vs. the engineering feasibility, vs. the actual potential, you'll get different answers for each, the first of which is a range, instead of a single value.

Making such statements borders on trolling, so be mindful of the reader guidelines;

"Make it clear when you are expressing an opinion. Do not assert opinions as facts."

When I say far, I mean by a factor of more than 10.

The scale of our energy consumption, liquid fuels, far exceeds the scale of potential electricity production from dilute energy sources such as socalled "renewable" energy.

There are a lot of studies showing that scalled "renewable" energy wont come anywhere near being able to substitute for the amt of fossil fuel we currently consume.

Gimme a second I'll dig some up.

Ok. First, hava look at this energy flow chart for 2009 most recent I can find quickly:

Now when I say "far exceeds", yes that is an opinion, but I think it's pretty well accepted. Anyway, a look at that chart demonstrates the issue well. the difference between wind/solar and hydrocarbons is on the order of two magnitudes, or a 100 fold perhaps. Theres alot for wind and solar to, um, overcome in relation to the amount of hydrocarbons we consume to produce energy, solar panels and wind towers, boats trains planes ...

Here another paper, Energy and Human Evolution
by David Price, From Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies Volume 16, Number 4, March 1995, pp. 301-19
1995 Human Sciences Press, Inc.



Visionaries support the potential of wind, waves, tides, ocean thermal energy conversion, and geothermal sources. All of these might be able to furnish a portion of the energy in certain localities, but none can supply 75% of the world's energy needs. Solar thermal collection devices are only feasible where it is hot and sunny, and photovoltaics are too inefficient to supplant the cheap energy available from fossil fuels.

While no single energy source is ready to take the place of fossil fuels, their diminishing availability may be offset by a regimen of conservation and a combination of alternative energy sources. This will not solve the problem, however. As long as population continues to grow, conservation is futile; at the present rate of growth (1.6% per year), even a 25% reduction in resource use would be obliterated in just over eighteen years. And the use of any combination of resources that permits continued population growth can only postpone the day of reckoning.


This article is 16 years old, and is out of date with respect to PV efficiency and price.

none can supply 75% of the world's energy needs

So use all of them, don't really on one single one.

Note that this author does little more than handwave anyway, so this citation doesn't represent substantive support for your claim.

The efficiency doesn't matter. wind/solar could be 100 percent efficient and fall far behind hydrocarbon production. Look at that nice map you posted up there. 7000 megawatts production I think? For the region? How about digging up some consumption data for that region?

Actually, now that I think about it, the efficiency does matter but not in the way youre thinking.

The more efficient this becomes the more people will become dependent on it. People will become dependent mortally dependent on a certain efficiency, or rate of energy production. If heaven forbid something should happen to that efficiency, then many peoples lives would be at risk because energy and it's availability is a mission critical resource.

That "rate" thing mentioned above is not to be taken lightly.

The more efficient {this} becomes the more people will become dependent on it

I think that this also could be written into a corollary to Jevons Paradox. :}

How about digging up some consumption data for that region?

You were the one making a claim - how do you intend to support it? And that is only wind - how much sun falls on the region and how much energy does that represent when compared to demand?

You were the one making a claim

My assertion based on present production and consumption, recent research and widely available data is that there is nowhere near enough so-called "renewable" energy to replace the amount of available hydrocarbons we currently consume in the production of energy. That is widely accepted.

We need to approach the problem from a different angle. from below perhaps. Maybe less demand would do it. There are many ways to get there some much more desirable than others.

And why is it so incumbent on me to argue that wind and solar are no match, sorry, for oil gas coal in terms of energy density and quality? You could refer to fossil fuel as banked sunlight and wind. We will for sure not be able to run this show on wind and solar not even small fraction. For that to happen our rate of energy consumption would have to plunge to levels that would make your current lifestyle look alien and hostile. Somebody needs to explain resource quality and energy density to you perhaps but its not going to be me. Please do a literature search.

Heres a start:

Cutler Cleveland
Walter Youngquist
Charles Hall
H T Odum


... last line from the article Wind vs Solar:

the result is the same: wind deserves a place in the “useful” box, but it does not have the numbers behind it to make it an over-abundant resource like the Sun.

Looking at the 2009 energy flow chart, solar comprised 0.01 percent total quads, while wind made up 0.70 percent. that means that in 2009, solar power contributed a little more than 1 percent of wind contribution. Taken together at 0.71 percent total energy production in quads, one has to wonder where the raw materials are going to come from, who is going to mine them and with what excess energy will we utilize to make an appreciable impact in the current flow of energy. See LANL Energy flow chart for more.

.....that said, could you imagine if there were 1/10th the number of people out there, each consuming half what an average current norteamericano uses. We would have a rather overabundance of raw materials on the ground wouldn't we? Maybe even an enlightened age....

Nahhhh. we'd fill the niche like any other critter...

I personally do not believe that we can achieve BAU with renewables with our current population size, if that's what you mean.

And thus we've come full circle and I have to go... ta ta for now...

From the current article above;

we need only 0.05% of the land to capture adequate sunlight, or that enough sunlight strikes land (the entire Earth) in 4.5 hours (1.25 hours) to satisfy our needs for a year

You still have not presented a solid case that "renewable energy cannot scale". I suggest you refine your thesis statement to something you can substantiate.

we need only 0.05% of the land to capture adequate sunlight, or that enough sunlight strikes land (the entire Earth) in 4.5 hours (1.25 hours) to satisfy our needs for a year

That is EXTREMELY dilute energy. Does not hold a flame to the energy embodied in a fluid ounce of gasoline, lets say. AND I think you are completely ignoring positive feedback loops hidden in the processes of mining, processing, transport, manufacture, installation and maintenance.

the chart showing energy flow in the US for 2009 could help you visually get a grasp on the issue of scale.

Plus you guys keep telling us we have enough raw materials for all this and you have no idea.

Edit to clarify above re handful of sunshine versus handful of gasoline.

PDV, the argument that wind and solar must scale up by a large amount to replace fossil fuel use is unconvincing. The mere size of the task does not prove the task is impossible. A renewable energy transition must necessarily begin as a small fraction and grow. The approximate calculations by Tom Murphy are sufficient to establish that solar and wind resources are present in sufficient quantities. Whether there are sufficient resources to build that many wind and solar systems requires a detailed analysis of the abundance of materials, what substitutes are possible and how much production of the resources can be increased. There are many varieties of solar technology that can be applied: PV (different types even), concentrated PV. passive heating, solar hot water, concentrated solar thermal and biomass. Efficiency can be improved. Whether we can scale up a renewable system economically and politically are other issues that should be considered.

Your gut feeling is that wind and solar can not technically scale. My gut feeling is that wind can not technically scale by itself but could provide a significant fraction. Due to the variety of systems, I suspect solar could technically do it all. It would be best to use a mixture of all viable ones. I am doubtful there is sufficient economic and political will to do a proactive conversion since we must use the fossil fuels to do the initial build out. Otherwise, we would have no chance of converting fast enough while keeping the system running. Bad decisions will probably seal our fate.

This discussion is only about an energy transition. There are other looming problems, such as fresh water supply, pollution, population growth, arable land, mineral depletion and loss of biodiversity.

The mere size of the task does not prove the task is impossible.

Sure it does. But your gonna try anyway, right? Sisyphus ring a bell?

The difference is that this is not just one big rock. It's lots of grains of sand, and the diffusion you think is a problem is also part of the solution. Lots of individuals can (and are) helping to push in myriad different ways. There are lots of forms to capture solar energy and wind energy, and can be built often enough with all sorts of recycled materials, up to and including the Polysilicon and Rare Earth Minerals, while many of the 'Lower' materials can actually produce far more total power for us. Glass, Copper, Aluminum, Steel .. etc. As I recall, Sisyfus had to work alone.

'Success' is not pushing some BAU sized rock up a hill all the way to the height we're at now, it is getting as good a load moved as far as we can, still knowing that we have to do our best with whatever we've managed to squirrel away, when all is said and done. So why do you keep sneering at those who see it being worthwhile to do so? You point to this handful of gas, possibly forgetting the point of this site is that this gas is becoming an Endangered or at least an Unaffordable Commodity? Many could afford panels today, if they chose them instead of the next fancier TV.. but few will be able to buy anything in a decade, if predictions come true.. while that investment offers many more years of output during which to build into the next lifestyle.

My wife's 401k might go poof next month, but this handful of PV and Hot Air Panels that I'm 'Stuck With' have every likelihood of producing power and heat for the rest of our lives, and I can use that power with or without batteries.

It starts making all the ICE cars and their handfuls of Gas look like the Sisyfean Balls'n'chains to me, since they're gonna be rolling back down that energy sink hill while my panels are still flying above it for years to come.

"while that investment offers many more years of output during which to build into the next lifestyle."
Nice Bob, and everyone seems to be missing the fact that this stuff is just so damn kewl !!!

Stick a PV panel in the sun, even partial sun, and it's magic !! I actually had to hurry up and discharge my battery bank for the last storm so I could watch this puppy spin.

To the strains of "Up on the roof"

Don in Maine

photovoltaics are too inefficient

Not at all: The surface area of this factory in rainy Switzerland produces over 4 times more energy with PV alone than what the entire factory requires:

And producing electricity with PV is meanwhile significantly cheaper than with oil.

"The important thing to understand about collapse is that it's brought on by overreach and overstretch, and people being zealots and trying too hard. It's not brought on by people being laid back and doing the absolute minimum. Americans could very easily feed themselves and clothe themselves and have a place to live, working maybe 100 days a year. You know, it's a rich country in terms of resources. There's really no reason to work more than maybe a third of your time. And that's sort of a standard pattern in the world. But if you want to build a huge empire and have endless economic growth, and have the largest number of billionaires on the planet, then you have to work over 40 hours a week all the time, and if you don't, then you're in danger of going bankrupt. So that's the predicament that people have ended up in. Now, the cure of course is not to do the same thing even harder... what people have to get used to is the idea that most things aren't worth doing anyway..."
~ Dmitry Orlov, author of 'Reinventing Collapse'

"Using the data provided by the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics, Erik Rauch has estimated productivity to have increased by nearly 400%. Says, Rauch:
'… if productivity means anything at all, a worker should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours per week.' "
"...Since the 1960s, the consensus among researchers (anthropologists, historians, sociologists), has been that early hunter-gatherer societies enjoyed much more leisure time than is permitted by capitalist and agricultural societies..."
~ Wikipedia

"In 1932, Howard Scott and Marion King Hubbert founded Technocracy Incorporated, and proposed that money be replaced by energy certificates denominated in units such as ergs or joules, equivalent in amount to an appropriate national energy budget, which could be divided equally among all members of a North American continental Technate. The group argued that apolitical, rational engineers should be vested with authority to guide an economy into a thermodynamically balanced load of production and consumption, thereby doing away with unemployment and debt."
~ Wikipedia

"A low-energy policy allows for a wide choice of lifestyles and cultures. If, on the other hand, a society opts for high energy consumption, its social relations must be dictated by technocracy and will be equally degrading whether labeled capitalist or socialist."
~ Ivan Illich

George Carlin's (greatest moment)

First of all, solar cells don't suddenly die after 40 years. They degrade gracefully, so they are still generating electricity, albeit at a decreasing rate, indefinitely. Eventually, they will die, but I would expect much more than 40 years of life. We have examples of solar panels still running today that were built 50 years ago. With newer solar panels, the rate of degradation is much slower.

HavIng said that, scaling in a timely manner is, indeed a challenge. Putting it off isn't going to help. We should embark on a WW2 scale deployment of renewable energy to ease the transition. Anything less and we risk an abrupt and unpleasant crash in civilization.

And surely the glass gets reused in recycled and upgraded replacement panels if there is major deployment. so despite needing to replace panels every 25-40 yrs large numbers of components are replaced at a much slower rate, back of envelope calcs tend to hold large bias assumptions (optimistic or pessimistic).

so while solar isn't FF AND will be hard[impossible] to deploy on scale for a 1:1 substitution of current liquid fuel use it is where we have to go and the lifestyle it could deliver is not the stone age .

production of glass

Float Glass:

I am so sorry but I must ruthlessly cut and paste this from where else but wiki, because I am supremely lazy } and because it really is interesting in terms of the intensity of energy required to make flat glass:

Float glass uses common glass-making raw materials, typically consisting of sand, soda ash (sodium carbonate), dolomite, limestone, and salt cake (sodium sulfate) etc. Other materials may be used as colourants, refining agents or to adjust the physical and chemical properties of the glass. The raw materials are mixed in a batch mixing process, then fed together with suitable cullet (waste glass), in a controlled ratio, into a furnace where it is heated to approximately 1500°C. Common flat glass furnaces are 9 m wide, 45 m long, and contain more than 1200 tons of glass. Once molten, the temperature of the glass is stabilised to approximately 1200°C to ensure a homogeneous specific gravity.

The molten glass is fed into a "tin bath", a bath of molten tin (about 3–4 m wide, 50 m long, 6 cm deep), from a delivery canal and is poured into the tin bath by a ceramic lip known as the spout lip.[5] The amount of glass allowed to pour onto the molten tin is controlled by a gate known as a Tweel.

Tin is suitable for the float glass process because it has a high specific gravity, is cohesive, and immiscible into the molten glass. Tin, however, oxidises in a natural atmosphere to form Tin dioxide (SnO2). Known in the production process as dross, the tin dioxide adheres to the glass. To prevent oxidation, the tin bath is provided with a positive pressure protective atmosphere consisting of a mixture of nitrogen and hydrogen.

The glass flows onto the tin surface forming a floating ribbon with perfectly smooth surfaces on both sides and an even thickness. As the glass flows along the tin bath, the temperature is gradually reduced from 1100°C until the sheet can be lifted from the tin onto rollers at approximately 600°C. The glass ribbon is pulled off the bath by rollers at a controlled speed. Variation in the flow speed and roller speed enables glass sheets of varying thickness to be formed. Top rollers positioned above the molten tin may be used to control both the thickness and the width of the glass ribbon.

Once off the bath, the glass sheet passes through a lehr kiln for approximately 100 m, where it is further cooled gradually so that it anneals without strain and does not crack from the change in temperature. On exiting the "cold end" of the kiln, the glass is cut by machines.

Not to beat it too hard, but that last paragraph is important for two reasons: one, it mentions the use of the Lehr Kiln:

which consumes more energy, but also two, it brings up 'annealing', the process of relieving stresses left in the glass after manufacture. If that doesn't happen just right the life of the glass is greatly reduced. Anyway...

PV glass is tempered as well, requiring further annealing and/or a chemical process.

For a fixed implementation PV must be protected by strong glass i.e. able to resist a say fifty-year hailstorm. But, if present trends are any guide, the greatest part of the PV powered future capacity will come from utility scale projects. These large projects usually have dual axis trackers, and full time management of the site. They can be turned upside down when the weather threatens, so they won't need as tough a weather coating.

it mentions the use of the Lehr Kiln

This is an abstract reference to a piece of the EROEI puzzle - what are the hard embedded energy numbers for a given panel and what is the output of that panel over its lifetime? Without answering that question, the above doesn't make any point.

The NREL has performed a number of studies that TVA has aggregated that shows:

Energy Payback Time (EPBT) measures how long it takes for a photovoltaic (PV) module to produce the
same amount of energy (output) that it took to manufacture it (DOE, 2004). Energy input required to
produce PV cells varies based on extraction of raw materials, type of PV cell manufactured,
transportation, maintenance, frame and array support, and module size and efficiency (Battisti and
Corrado, 2005). EPBT for PV cells has been calculated to range from 1 to 5 years depending on the type
of PV cell chosen (see figure 1 from DOE, 2004) and installation location (Knapp and Jester, 2010; Battisti
and Corrado, 2005; DOE, 2004)

This is an abstract reference to a piece of the EROEI puzzle

No, its a hard reference to a very important part of the flow of materials and energy in our society today. It is not abstract at all, neither is the fact that the glass has to be tempered. Where is all the silver going to come from? howabout additional rare earths? NREL has done the calculation, and I trust its good, its been peer reviewed I haven't seen it yet, but this has nothing to do with how much electricity were going to be able to produce using solar "cells" and that will not touch our current consumption rate of oil, gas and coal, conventional and nonconventional.

Where is all the silver going to come from?

Thin film panels don't use silver, but the conventional, compact PV panels do (about an ounce per panel).

In cities, there is less space (roofs) so conventional PV will be the way to go.

Invest in silver?

And Will, I do believe our lead article established that solar and wind are no match, currently, to fossil fuels:

Solar and Wind have been vying for purchase in the energy game for many years now. Who is winning? Fossil fuels: they still beat the pants off either one. That’s our triangle. Fossil fuels are cheap and reliable and are their own storage and allow transportation by car, truck, ship, airplane, and fit seamlessly into our current infrastructure. Wind—and especially solar—don’t generally compete....

From: Wind Fights Solar; Triangle Wins

It seems to me that 'Triangle' in the song is a reference to DELTA, or Change, if I'm not mistaken. In any case it will be Delta that beats Gas and Oil in a few years.. at which point Oil will NOT be winning any more.

Will you be ready for that?

Don't get me wrong I'd love to see a solar powered society, but this one aint it. Check out if you havent some of JH Kunstler's work regarding localizing, and Richard Heinberg regarding downscaling, and Jared Diamond regarding collapse. Others for sure, but gist of it is a drastic drop in population and energy consumption and change in lifestyle either voluntary or not.

are their own storage

from whence the apt comparison between a "handful of sunshine and a handful of gasoline".

So, should we abandon it, delay it or get cracking?


I believe that we should have been putting as much effort into solar as possible. We should also be upgrading transmission lines to a scale that can carry excess solar power generation across time zones to help avoid needing storage.

However it has no hope of a continuing BAU. There must be massive energy scale down as well which obviously leads to a catch 22. You cannot have a massive development in large scale industries while having a power down unless you cut off a large proportion of the population from most energy use. Who chooses whom misses out?? Will those chosen to miss out on lifes comforts take it well?

Realistically we should have started 40 years ago on a massive renewables program, and population control yet we still only tinker at the edges. We have no hope of building out renewables now as every path of renewables mean an increase in energy use, especially if "on a war like expansion".

The saying "party like there is no tomorrow" is having increasing meaning to me as there may well be no tomorrow.

This type of macro analysis misses the point completely. Figures like using 0.5% of the land surface roll off the tongue so easily that the real numbers lose there meaning.

Too true. Yet the macro cannot be ignored: it offers a sanity check on what is physically possible. Nonetheless, while I consider it to be great news that solar is orders-of-magnitude more abundant than our present demand (how many renewable schemes can claim this?), the 0.5% number is truly daunting. As a practical guy, I have a hard time believing we could put out more PV than the presently paved area in the world. Asphalt and concrete are cheap, low-tech substances compared to PV.

So yes, capability at the macro scale does not automatically translate to feasibility or practicality. I also agree with many other points in this thread: reduction is a capable and likely solution, and we really should have buckled down decades ago to develop a renewable infrastructure in times of plenty.

you are kind of great news/bad news type of guy. Of course you did say earlier

I am simultaneously tempted to go longer and shorter. Neurosis can be the sign of a decent guess. ?- )

Good post, you always get a smile out of me somewhere. I actually was sort of surprised Fairbanks only competed with the cloudy WA coast but we do loose intensity/m2 this far above the equator. It does feel much hotter at 75F here than at lower latitudes though. I guess the long, long days of sort of low angle sun just balance short, short days of very low angle sun.

One question:

Where does the solar contribution to hydropower fit into this macro analysis? Just because a lot of hydropower is already installed is no reason to leave it out--it's contribution to the 13TW or whatever doesn't have to be taken up by wind or other solar capture systems. Or is it just too insignificant a contribution to factor in?

Yes, I see a terrible fate awaiting our BAU expectations, smelling like overshoot and collapse. But I also believe we're smart enough to pull out if a critical mass of us recognize the threat. And there are physically viable ways out of this. Yet I am against blind-faith techno-optimism, since this increases the danger that we won't take the problem seriously. We need more than an armchair response. In truth, it will take a crisis to wake us up, and we squander the opportunity to address the problem while we have the stability and resources.

A short answer to the hydropower question. A huge portion—23%—of the Earth's solar energy budget goes into vaporizing water, and this heat is deposited in the atmosphere during condensation. Some few % of the energy goes into lofting the water against gravity (4% of energy in water lifted to 10 km is gravitational vs. thermal—each gram requires 2250 J to evaporate and 100 J to lift 10 km). But then we access only a small fraction of this, since we rely on vertical relief of our land, and do not recoup the bulk of the potential energy (rain is so wasteful!). Let's say we get to keep 10% of the vertical (1 km out of 10), and this only on land (28% of surface). So we're at 0.23×0.04×0.1×0.28 = 0.03% of the solar input. Much of this is lost on terrain, trickling down to rivers and reservoirs.

So from a top-down perspective, hydro pales in comparison to solar input, but topography has done a great collection job for us, concentrating hydro energy into easily-exploited choke-points.

The U.S. got about 272 TWh out of hydro in 2009, so considering the number of hours in a year, this turns into 0.031 TWe, or a percent-level contribution to our demand. (Incidentally, he installed capacity is 0.078 TWe, so the capacity factor is 40%.) In any case, we could not expand hydro by even a factor of two by most estimates, so it will remain a small—but terribly cost-effective and convenient—player.

Thanks, that blends that into your big picture quite nicely. I was afraid the convertible portion would be rather small.

Of course there are plans out there for atmospheric vortex generation and to tap heat differentials in the ocean water column for power-but those are not proven economically viable alternative energy generation sources at this time and the ones in your analysis are.

Now as I've just approached the 'lunatic' fringe its a good time to segway to the lunar energy budget. Lots of salt water pulled around by the moon every day and if I recall properly lunar gravity is also instrumental in maintaining the high temp of the earth's core. Mm mm wonder what those energy budget numbers would look like...

and I promise no more questions in bold type ?- )

Written by Hide_away:
The land surface area of the world, excluding Antarctica, is ~148,000,000 km2. Half a percent of that ~740,000 km2. Assuming a lifespan of 40 years for solar setups, we need to build ~18,500 km2 per year.

1. The land area occupied by the PV arrays is not the same as the active surface area of the PV panels. PV panels in an array must be spaced some distance apart depending on the latitude of the installation. Tom included this spacing in his calculation.

2. Tom assumed the PV panels are pointing in an optimal fixed direction, not installed on tracking systems which would increase the average power output.

3. Tom assumed 10% efficient PV panels as though efficiency would decline in the future. 15% would have been a more realistic value.

4. Some thin film PV panels use a plastic cover instead of glass (Shining Opportunities In Solar Films Plastics Technology, February 2009).

5. Tom calculated for 13 TW as though thermal engines using coal and natural gas are equal to electrical power.

6. There is no need to provide all power from PV systems.

Assume 15% efficient PV, dual-axis trackers with 42% capacity factor on a sunny day, 1000 W/m insolation, 75% sunny days and a demand for 7 TW of electricity. The minimum active surface area of PV panels is: 149,000 km2.

Your "3 times current total world production of flat glass" is eliminated by making realistic assumptions.

Your "3 times current total world production of flat glass" is eliminated by making realistic assumptions.

People have been making "realistic assumptions" about how the future will be powered by solar for the last 30 years, yet we still wait for better.

4. Some thin film PV panels use a plastic cover instead of glass (Shining Opportunities In Solar Films Plastics Technology, February 2009).

The only thin film PV panels from your article using plastic were from United Solar Ovonic. Here is some information about them from here....

"United Solar Ovonic is the only major thin-film maker that has been shipping flexible panels for years. The Michigan company uses amorphous-silicon, which also isn't as sensitive to moisture as other emerging compounds. Its amorphous-silicon solar panels can only convert about 7 percent of the sunlight that falls on them into electricity, a low efficiency rate that has rendered Uni-Solar's products less desirable."

Putting them on dual-axis trackers would be a waste of resources at 7% efficiency.

What exists on a commercial scale at present that has 15% efficiency and does not use glass?? What existing PV panels have a life expectancy of 40+ years that do not use glass??

If we were to assume that the technology is only a couple of years away, it would still take a decade or more to be scaled up to produce thousands of square Km per year of the panels, let alone the entire installations on dual-axis trackers in large power stations.

Given an assumption of Peak Oil about now and a large decline of Available Net Exports over the next few years, how sensible is it to plan for thousands of Sqkm of PV panels/year made of plastic??

A correction in the initial figures is also needed. World energy supply was ~143,800 Twh in 2008, in figures from the IEA. This is about 16.4 TW, and it has grown since then. The figure of 13 TW is too low and would be from before the year 2000.

People have been making "realistic assumptions" about how the future will be powered by solar for the last 30 years, yet we still wait for better.

that doesn't say as much about our expectations for solar power as it does about the ability of fossil industry to dominate the legislative and commercial agenda, effectively undercutting and blocking progress in solar power.

The rest of your post makes the same assumption - that because we haven't invested in the kinds of technology that could make solar competitive with oil/coal on the scale that we need to, that we couldn't or shouldn't.

The engineering challenges of transitioning to solar power are big, but they remain insurmountable due to competition with entrenched, existing systems, not due to any theoretical or even practical limits.

About the energy usage - as said elsewhere, it is dramatically inefficiencies that cause us to use 16TW instead of 3 or 4. These inefficiencies would also be part of any real transition off of fossil energy. In other words, our current high energy usage is more reason to make the change rapidly, not less.

Written by Hide_away:

The article is about 3M developing a plastic cover to replace glass in thin film PV's. Technological developments are rapidly advancing in the manufacture of PV's. It is unwise to assume the advancements will suddenly stop when making a forecast. My point is that glass is not the only material that can be used to protect the front of PV cells.

Written by Hide_away:
What exists on a commercial scale at present that has 15% efficiency and does not use glass?? What existing PV panels have a life expectancy of 40+ years that do not use glass??

My calculation assumes they all use glass. I did not use all of my numbered points in my calculation, most notably that PV does not need to produce all of the power alone. My 7 TW estimate was based on efficiency gain from converting from coal and natural gas (heat engine losses) to renewable electricity. A better assumption would be to have 25% of the PV's pointing in a fixed direction and 75% on dual axis trackers. There is also the possibility of using concentrated PV with tracking systems reducing the active PV area (and glass) while increasing the power output. Opportunities and Challenges for Development of a Mature Concentrating Photovoltaic Power Industry, NREL, Sarah Kurtz, June 2011.

Written by Hide_away:
If we were to assume that the technology is only a couple of years away, it would still take a decade or more to be scaled up to produce thousands of square Km per year of the panels, let alone the entire installations on dual-axis trackers in large power stations.

Yes, a conversion of the energy system would occur over several decades requiring a proactive policy. We might have already waited too long.

Written by Hide_away:
Given an assumption of Peak Oil about now and a large decline of Available Net Exports over the next few years, how sensible is it to plan for thousands of Sqkm of PV panels/year made of plastic??

Plastic is also made from natural gas. Replacing natural gas to electricity generators with PV would hopefully save some natural gas for more irreplaceable uses, like making plastic.

Written by Hide_away:
The figure of 13 TW is too low and would be from before the year 2000.

Ok. We will need to stop or reverse economic and population growth to have a chance in the long term, but this is a different subject from whether PV can scale up to provide the present power consumption, whether it be 13 TW or 17 TW. The extreme corporate, political and ideological resistance to conversion is probably the greatest barrier.

I do not see the manufacture of glass as a limiting factor for PV.

There are higher efficiency (12%) flexible products on the market.

I would also like to point out that it really isn't so much about efficiency, as it is about cost per kWh.
The totals system cost (this includes the cost for the surface area used) has to be factored in.
Weight, wind load become a limiting factor, in other words if it might be better to cover 100% at 10% , than 30% at 20%.


I tend to agree with you about the need for dual axis trackers. Without them and relying on solar for the power generation there is a peak between 9-3 and then nothing much for the rest of the day. Considering most electrical useage is during the early morning and evening, solar fixed to roofs does not cut it. Trackers would allow for more even spread of production and cut some level of the storage required.

The problem arises in the materials needed for 149,000km2 of panels with trackers built over, say 40 years. Can you run through the numbers of the infrastructure needed to do this and the materials as a percentage of current world production of whatever, concrete, steel, copper, silver, glass, etc.

My take is the materials to do whatever grand plan for our salvation are just not there. I have not seen any realistic plan of renewables being able to replace existing energy use over a 40 year time frame. I also think we have a lot less than 40 years, hence I do not believe renewables can save us.

The problem with dual axis trackers is that they have a lot of moving parts and software and they stall or break. There is a large field of dual axis trackers in Richmond CA, that I pass with some frequency. At least half the time, there is at least one tracker that is not pointing the right direction. I'm sure that there is at least one half-time job involved in keeping this field operable, and that digs into the financial returns.

Also, due to shading issues, trackers require more land, thus not actually reducing the putative 149,000 sq km.

Single axis trackers probably give a better ratio of production increase to required maintenance costs. But at small scales, where its not cost effective to employ someone to maintain the system, and/or the owner is not a tinkerer who does it for fun, the most cost effective solution is no trackers.

Written by Hide_away:
The problem arises in the materials needed for 149,000km2 of panels with trackers built over, say 40 years. Can you run through the numbers of the infrastructure needed to do this and the materials as a percentage of current world production of whatever, concrete, steel, copper, silver, glass, etc.

This would be a very complicated calculation requiring a knowledge of how much production could expand for the materials and what substitutes would be available. If coal, natural gas and nuclear plants are not replaced, some amount of materials would be freed up for other uses and some of the old infrastructure might be recycled (copper windings in a generator? aluminum power lines?). Peak oil could result in a reduction of the number, rate of purchase or size of cars further reducing material consumption that would then be available for PV systems. A high priced alternative energy build-out would likely reduce consumption and improve efficiency further reducing the number of PV panels that would be needed. Peak oil is likely to cause more economic damage which should eventually result in lower energy consumption. I think it was one of the modifications to the Limits to Growth Model that showed population and industrial output would continue to rise for a little while after global fossil fuel production peaks. In short, this calculation is beyond what I am able to do.

I doubt that humans will need to build 149,000 km2 of active PV area to keep things going to some degree because the assumptions that went into my calculation are still too high. We need to proactively convert as much as possible to soften the blow of what will probably come on strong later in this century: resource shortages and population collapse. Do what we can even if it will not be enough. One must give the people hope to get through the transition, even if it is false hope. Doomers have given up, but I assert it is better to die trying than atrophying.


Until you stop saying "..renewables being able to replace existing energy use" and phrases like that, then you're not even trying to have a conversation about this stuff.

We're NOT going to replace current energy consumption.. EVER. I'm pretty sure it's on its way down.

What we 'save' will be as many as we can, and I'm really interested, as a small-city slicker, to hear your ideas on whether that should be done without renewables, since they seem so woefully inadequate to you.. Yes, farms will run with as many biofuels and conventional remaining fuels as can be had.. while I hope we're out of the coal business before long since that's killing us in countless ways, and waste or no waste, no-one will be able to afford Nuclear much longer. Just the trucking of high-grade parts and the inability to consistently sell baseload at cost to residential mkts will crush them.

What would your energy plan look like? Really..



Until you stop saying "..renewables being able to replace existing energy use" and phrases like that, then you're not even trying to have a conversation about this stuff.

Perhaps I am not being clear enough? What I have stated above...

"I do not believe renewables can save us."


We're NOT going to replace current energy consumption.. EVER. I'm pretty sure it's on its way down

I'm not pretty sure, I'm certain.

What would your energy plan look like? Really..

I believe, like you that we are on the way down and should save as much as possible by producing as many renewables as possible, but the highest probability is that we will have a total collapse of civilization. I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that we should party like there is no tomorrow, because there probably is no tomorrow.

Perhaps your post was directed at someone else..

I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that we should party like there is no tomorrow, because there probably is no tomorrow.

Yep, and that my friends is the ultimate ego trip and a pathetic cop out to boot! So if you really believe that, any chance you might be so kind as to gently remove yourself from the premises and give the few of us who want to try something different some slightly better odds? No, I didn't think so, self sacrifice (pun intended) has not been much in vogue these last few decades.

A brave man once requested me
to answer questions that are key
'is it to be or not to be'
and I replied 'oh why ask me?'

'Cause suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
...and you can do the same thing if you choose.

("Suicide is Painless" by Johnny Mandel)
M*A*S*H Lyrics

I appreciate the candid response, and I'm sorry you feel there may be no tomorrow.

Of course, none of us knows.. and I'm afraid I react to the 'Party..' position like Fred does, seeing that as an unfortunate cop-out.. or at least I have to say that for me 'Partying Today' MEANS living with both a joy for the good things right here and now, AS WELL AS making earnest and thoughtful preparations for the future.

'Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course, lie all the verities and realities of your existence;
the Bliss of Growth,
the Splendor of Beauty,
and the Glory of Action
thus are mere experiences of time!

For Yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision,
But Today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every Tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.'
- Sanskrit 'Exhortation to every Dawn' 4th C. AD ??
(The Kalidasa had a slightly different way of partying hardy..)

I just woke up from a nap, (phone call). My guy says he can get me a pallet of these for $1.16/watt, free shipping. Time to sell something. I may have to dust off the old Trace C-60s. Party on dudes!

This German guy is selling crystalline silicon PV-modules for €0.68 /W per container:

And this German company is selling complete PV-systems for as low as €0.90 /W:

I haven't laughed so much in years on this analysis - serial resistance network load anyone ? Thanks needed a good laugh.

Elaborate please.

I think we should be investing heavily in R&D to get Geothermal up and running.Many places in the US have little solar or wind so we need to look at other possibilities.Its my understanding were not there yet with Geo to go big time,however with concentrated effort it can work in a big way.The latest study done by SMU Geothermal Labs estimates the Continental US exceeds 2,980,295 megawatts using Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS)This number excludes places such as National parks and sensitive land where Geothermal would never be installed.

Yeah, like yellowstone could turn more generators than the entire hydro .
I wonder if drilling could trigger the super volcano ....

We must make the cheap pay for the expensive....across the board. Cheap is destroying the planet and all humanity as we know it.

The solution is a massive and universal shift to localization of production.

Every region around the world should be capable of producing at the very least. all of the basics needed for a reasonable existence including energy.

This is by definition anti-globalization, de-centralization, protectionism, and therefore perceived as anti-growth, but to tag it as such is incorrect.

I fully understand that it is very simplistic to make this statement but there is no other path for humanity.

The way to make this happen is to first educate the masses that this is the ONLY path that provides for opportunity PERIOD! All other options provide opportunity for only 1% of the population and no… you no longer have any chance of becoming one of the 1%, in fact the odds are many will continue to fall out of the 1% status.

Then we need to make the cheap pay for the expensive.

Locally produced is by definition more expensive. Please don't try and argue this point as it would only be circumstantial. In general this is simple a Fact.

Tax and tariff mass produced goods as the enter the region and use those revenues to subsidies the itemized required locally produced goods until local production becomes able to supply what is needed. Tax nonessentials and useless crap at the highest rates. Tax waste and pollution even higher.

The instant that this trend begins in ernest capital will flow in this direction. Local, state, and federal gov will support it (primarily to try and tap into the revenue stream but the people must make it clear that they will not tolerate abuse). Jobs will be created at a greater rate than jobs lost from layoffs of large corps mass producing goods.

Tough row to hoe for sure but eventually it will be done. The alternative is simply too horrendous to contemplate.

Why is Bill Gates selling nuclear tech to China?

This is where i disagree w/ antigovs(ok regulation is a problem but i mean in terms of abolishing gov programs) ; sometimes the risk is worth investment; an insurance policy. WTFiswrongw/us

I ran across an article that may be of interest:

Engineers Study How Hills, Nearby Turbines Affect Wind Energy Production

Hui Hu pulled a model wind turbine from the top of an office filing cabinet. The turbine tower was just 10 inches high. Its three blades were 10 inches in diameter. It was a perfect 1:320 scale reproduction of the 80-meter diameter wind turbines spinning across Iowa, the country's second-ranked state in installed wind power capacity.

. . .

Data from the wind tunnel indicate a turbine on flat ground in the wake of another turbine at a distance equal to six times the diameter of the turbines loses 13 percent of power production. A turbine in the wake of another with the same downstream distance on hilly ground loses 3 percent of power production.

“That means you can put wind turbines closer together in hilly terrain,” he said.

I doubt it is that simple.

Hilly terrain tends to concentrate wind in certain places - ridgetops, passes, and leave other areas - the lee sides with less wind. The placing and spacing of wind turbines in hilly areas will become more dependent on local geography.

Hills also concentrate wind gusts more during storms - the design of the wind turbines has to factor this in.

This project is studying all that, as they should, but I'll be surprised if they get a significantly greater energy density than for flat areas.

Some good points. One thing that is counterintuitive, the lee slopes have the strongest winds. Because hills are higher up, they sample the winds at greater altitude, and also by forming a barrier they tend concentrate pressure gradients. But they also generate gusts, which can be harmful to WTs. Also the wind isn't as horizontal, which WTs aren't designed to handle. And construction is more difficult. For the most part when hills are available for WTs, they would be the preferred sites.

Interesting thread.

Some of the factors mentioned that count against renewables are their intermittency, and how the energy is in a less useful and storeable form (electrical batteries are expensive and/or heavy for example). There are many companies working on storing renewable output cheaply as hydrogen via electrolysers, which will smooth their output and allow storage of excess energy. In Scotland this year the output of some turbines had to be turned off because it was overloading the grid, and there was no way of storing it. This led to much derision from the anti wind turbine lobby!

Another example is that Audi are running a commercial scale pilot schemes whereby wind output is converted to methane - storage is no problem as the existing natural gas storage network is capable of storing and distributing a couple of orders of magnitude more energy than the electrical system. A huge infrastructure saving that is often overlooked. Google 'audi methanation'.

FWIW I'm of the view that renewables are at the equivalent stage of aircraft in the 1930s - the basics are there but there are big advances yet to come. Here in the UK with our long coastline we should be able to get useful input from wave, off shore wind, and tidal, with solar a useful supplement(I have a solar hot water panel on my roof -not that it's much use in gloomy December!).

What about electrolyzing hydrogen is cheap? You are taking electricity that could be stored in batteries or pumped storage at about 70% efficiency and instead getting something like 25% efficiency after converting to hydrogen and back into electricity via a fuel cell. So the system components better be save you (over batteries) an amount equal to more than the cost of the energy production equipment (the wind turbines) in order to produce at the same scale. But fuel cells aren't cheap, and a large hydrogen storage infrastructure does not yet exist.

Another example is that Audi are running a commercial scale pilot schemes whereby wind output is converted to methane

After they electrolyze hydrogen, and then use additional electricity to methanize it with CO2 (from where?), and then burn the methane, how much energy is retrieved compared to storing the electricity in, say, a lithium battery?

Also any methane that escapes has a Global Warming Potential of 70 times that of CO2.

Tiny solar cell could make a big difference

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently validated greater than 41 percent efficiency at a concentration of 1,000 suns for tiny cells made by Semprius — one of the highest efficiencies recorded at this concentration. The energy conversion efficiency of a solar cell is the percentage of sunlight converted by the cell into electricity.
Seed money from DOE, together with the experts at the NREL-based SunShot Incubator Program, lifted Semprius from a small electronics start-up with a novel idea to a real difference-maker in the solar cell world.
Semprius' triple-junction cells are made of gallium arsenide. Low-cost lenses concentrate the sun light onto the tiny cells 1,100 times. Their tiny size means they occupy only one-one thousandth of the entire solar module area, reducing the module cost. In addition, the use of a large number of small cells helps to distribute unwanted heat over the cell's structure, so there's no need for expensive thermal management hardware such as heat fins.
Semprius engineers use the company's patented micro-transfer printing process to allow the micro-cells to be transferred from the growth substrate to a wafer. In a massive parallel process, thousands of cells are transferred simultaneously. This allows the original substrate to be used again and again, dramatically cutting costs. It also provides a way to handle very small cells.

What is really important when it comes to solar is the cost per watt, and secondarily, the cost per kWh. The article gives us no meaningful information about that. It also fallaciously implies that insolation conversion efficiency determines competitiveness with fossil fuels.

Also, this is a concentrating PV (CPV) approach, so it would be limited in the areas where it would be cost effective.

Also, this is a concentrating PV (CPV) approach, so it would be limited in the areas where it would be cost effective.

That is often refferred to as DNI (Direct Natural Insolation), i.e. sunlight that can be concentrated, as opposed to diffuse light.
It remains to be seen whether CPV can compete with cheap panels. CPV has a couple of advantages: greater efficiency at the PV level, and the higher efficiency (in good sites) from dualaxis tracking. But the optical collectors will dominate the cost, and the cost per unit area of optics must be comparable to the cost per square meter of commodity panels. Whether those advantages will be enough remains to be seen. At least a few CPV plants are now open, under construction, or planned, so some realworld experience is being gained.

I do sometimes wonder if the constant "breakthroughs" in solar mentioned in the papers aren't holding it back. Especially when that shiny new tech never gets mentioned again. What you see if you just read the papers is an immature technology that doesn't deliver on its promises... and you shouldn't buy because at any moment we are going to double it's output...any day now...

Little late but wanted to add this to the discussion.

Thorsten Chlupp is a very progressive builder in Fairbanks Alaska. He built a Passive House with solar thermal panels and lots and lots of thermal storage capacity to get the house through the winter. I never thought solar was a possibility in Alaska (or anywhere that far North) until I saw the slides from his presentation.

Anyway, renewables work even in Alaska if you reduce your demand to Passive House levels and incorporate storage. Passive Houses lose so little heat that the problem of the variability of renewables becomes a much smaller issue to deal with. And the variability of solar is certainly an issue in Alaska!

Here's a discussion at Green Building Advisor on Thorsten Chlupp's Sunrise House.

Here's the presentation on the Sunrise House

I agree with doing the math. However, I think some of your math is off.

You show the areas required for solar as black pixels. I counted the pixels, and I count less than 500 pixels. The total image is 645x365 pixels, so by my arithmetic the solar area is .2%, less than half the .5% you state is necessary. I also was being generous counting the pixels, assuming the solar areas were all the area of Asia's solar site, and assuming Asia's was a square not a circle. As a guess, the circles should be doubled in radius to show 0.5% area.

I also would question your estimate of 18 tw power needed. My guess is we need 50 tw to have everyone live a modern lifestyle. If so, then the radius should be maybe x3 or x4 what you show. Certainily there are pixels available, but its a bit of a bigger footprint than you show. Naturally, reality is also a bit tougher, perhaps seasonal storage being the toughest besides cost.

Sounds a bit like arguments in 'mediaeval theology" - infinite angels etc.
Who, on earth, is going to live a modern lifestyle?
Of the perhaps one billion who do, most live rather badly, as it is, even Americans.
Plenty of stats around if you want.
Otherwise I agree - but Tom's party game makes the serious point that nothing matches fossil fuel, particularly oil.

I have not tracked down what you did and why it disagrees with my assessment, but since I did not create the map (comes from WikiMedia Commons), I had never actually measured the spot sizes. They looked like the right scale based on calculations I had done.

So I notice the dots are about the size of the lower "bulb" on the Caspian Sea, which I determine to be just over 400 km across. So using 6 dots with radius 200 km gives me exactly 0.5% of the land area. And no—I didn't cook the numbers: came straight out.

Oh—I think I see where we differ: I use land area, not total area. Also must watch out for map projection: this is not an area-conserving projection: look at Greenland. I'll be sticking with my math.

But yes, this is all rather academic. The area is gigantic in practical terms. I am thrilled that area is not even close to being a physical restriction, but this is little comfort against the scale.


Assuming that our windmills could lay claim only to the lower 150 m of the atmosphere, we access 180 kg/m² of air above the ground, which is 1.8% of the total we used to drive our calculations. This turns our 17 W/m² into 0.31 W/m².

I think you are making the same error as the reference you quote(top down calculation of wind potential). You seem to be assuming that adding large numbers of wind turbines will remove additional energy from system and that the re-charge from higher atmosphere is slow.
Firstly consider a very large wind farm built on a praire grassland(say 100kmx100km in area). Prior to the wind farm the first meter of airmass above grassland is slowed to near zero. At an altitude of 150m the wind speed is not appreciably slower because it is being recharged from upper atmosphere. The wind farm will extract about half of the energy and the grass below the other half(rather than all of the energy) while air somewhat above 150m will not be appreciably slower.
We can estimate the energy re-charge rate from the down-wind effect of a wind farm in slowing airflow(approx 10km in a 10m/sec wind) or about 1000 secs or 18 mins rather than 24h.

Factoring in efficiency of collection, I get 0.15 W/m², which is marginally larger than our land-based need.
The energy not collected by a wind farm is not lost, it means that less energy must be transferred from upper atmosphere to restore wind speed.

Your calculation of 0.15W/m sq appears to be about X12 too low, since many wind farms extract >2W/m sq with only small down wind slowing effects.
We need to also consider that much of the above ocean wind energy can be eventually collected when the airmass crosses land.

The authors I cite included recharge in a way that I didn't: increasing the available energy by a factor of four. I will defend a top-down approach: wind operates on a fixed budget.

The "recharge rate" is not 18 minutes: I'm not asking how soon after a wind farm is the wind velocity "normal." I'm asking how long it would take to re-establish normal wind patterns if all air currents on Earth were momentarily stopped. It's a pure thought experiment, but the solar input will not kick start it in a matter of minutes. And yes, wind from above will fill in the void after a wind farm. But if you tried to collect that by sticking in more wind farm in the lee, the air above will tend to avoid that area and sail by overhead.

Wind farms currently are located in the best areas. My 0.15 W/m² is an average. Cherry pick if you like.

Sure, land gets wind off of oceans, and oceans get wind off of land. But even over open ocean, energy is dissipated through cascading turbulence and viscosity, and in the creation of waves. So I'm not clear that "much" of the wind above oceans is laminarly transported to land. But I'd want to quantify it.

Assuming that our windmills could lay claim only to the lower 150 m of the atmosphere, we access 180 kg/m² of air above the ground, which is 1.8% of the total we used to drive our calculations. This turns our 17 W/m² into 0.31 W/m².

This is an interesting assumption, and it appears nobody is challenging it. There is promising work using airborne wind turbines (turbines on a kite or tethered wing). By going up a thousand feet or more (up to whatever the FAA will allow), you tap into much more stable and stronger winds. This could change the mathematics considerably. The tower costs go down, although you need a good anchor and a good cable, but most importantly, the amount of time you aren't producing power is significantly reduced.

Wind and PV won't need to replace the primary energy lost in heat engines (40% to 90% loss), don't need to replace hydro power and benefit from the COP of heat pumps (3 to 4 times more efficient than fossil furnaces). The economically feasible hydropower potential is approx. 1 TW:
Worldwide electrical power consumption is currently only about 2 TW.

Wind and PV don't need any additional back-up, since the hydro and fossil fuel power plants to cope with varying demand and to back-up other conventional power plants are already in place. Wind and PV primarily reduce fossil fuel consumption and water consumption of the power plants already in place.

Wind integration studies in the U.S. have consistently found that using these existing sources of system flexibility to accommodate the variability added by wind energy costs less than $0.005 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of wind energy, or approximately 10% of the typical wholesale value of wind energy.3 These peer-reviewed studies have also found that most regions have more than enough existing, low-cost flexible resources to accommodate wind energy providing 20% or more of a region’s electricity.

(My efficient household is at 50 kWh electricity consumption per month, so that would cost me $0.25 per month. For comparison: My rent costs over $1500 per month).
In addition, PV is actually reducing the load on the grid as it is producing power on distributed existing roofs and is only producing power during day time when demand is at its peak.

Hydropower plants in the EU can in principle provide the entire electric demand for 22 days. (There are no nights and windless periods which last that long.)

According to this study Wind and PV complement each other very well:

Time resolved geospatial data of global horizontal irradiation and wind speeds are used to simulate the power feed-in of PV and wind power plants assumed to be installed on an equally rated power basis in every region of a 1°x1° mesh of latitude and longitude between 65°N and 65°S. An overlap of PV and wind power full load hours is defined as measure for the complementarity of both technologies and identified as ranging between 5% and 25% of total PV and wind power feed-in. Critical overlap full load hours are introduced as a measure for energy losses that would appear if the grid was dimensioned only for one power plant of PV or wind. In result, they do not exceed 9% of total feed-in but are mainly around 3% - 4%. Thus the two major renewable power technologies must be characterized by complementing each other.

Silicon crystalline PV-modules have an efficiency of 13% to 20% and are meanwhile offered for as low as $0.75 /W in large quantities:
Thinfilm PV-modules have less than 20% market share and have usually more than 8% efficiency anyway.

China is ready to get serious about Solar and Wind installs.When you are the top dog with money rolling in (like the old US) you can install huge amounts of renewables.

1. 15GW of Solar by 2015

2. 100GW of Wind Power by 2015,with 5GW of that to offshore.

Only 5GW to go offshore?