Soliciting TOD Reader Feedback for My Energy Book

Some of you may be aware that I am writing a book - the title is Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil. While I have contributed several chapters to books in the past, this is my first full book, and I only recently learned that the publication process is moving much faster than I had imagined. I signed the book contract in August 2011, and we were targeting completion of the book by year-end 2011. My assumption was that it would probably take months to get final edits, artwork, etc. completed and that it might go on sale during the second half of 2012, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that it wouldn't be available until 2013.

However, I recently learned – to my great surprise – that the book is already for sale at a number of outlets, including Amazon, and that release is scheduled for March 15th, 2012. So I am really feeling the pressure at this point. Right now I have to turn in the final chapters and edits by January 15th. That means I have 2 weeks left to make adjustments. I still have to write three chapters, but a lot of that work is done. The book is supposed to be 250 pages, and I have about 180 written. But nothing is set in stone until January 15th.

What I would like to do is share my thoughts with TOD readers and request some feedback and suggestions. The main issue is that I don’t want to overlook something major. I would also like to hear what readers would like to see in a book on energy. Essentially, the goal of the book is to provide essential information for people from zero knowledge about energy to those who are fairly sophisticated in their views on energy, but presented in a (mostly) non-technical manner. I also want to press hard for changes in our energy policy so that we can be better prepared for the difficulties that I believe await us. Scattered throughout the book are facts that may not be commonly known, and sidebars that cover a number of controversial topics. My goal is that everyone will learn things that they did not know, and I can safely say that has been the case for me as I have written the book.

Below is the Table of Contents as things currently stand, followed by a short synopsis of each chapter. The final order of the chapters may be different than depicted below, and I may even decide to add or substitute a chapter depending on the feedback I get here.

Chapter 01 – Overview

This chapter is basically an explanation of why energy is important in our lives, and gives a brief summary of topics such as “Energy Misconceptions” and “Energy Politics.” I also lay out some questions that the book will answer.

Chapter 02 – Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power

This chapter covers the history of oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power, and discusses countries that produce the most and that use the most.

Chapter 03 – Renewables

Similar to the previous chapter, except covering biomass, wind, solar power, hydropower, and geothermal power.

Chapter 04 – Energy Production

Discusses how the major forms of energy are produced.

Chapter 05 – Climate Change

I go over the science behind climate change, and look at the challenging prospects for reining in carbon emissions.

Chapter 06 – Peak Oil

I cover what peak oil is, the misconceptions behind peak oil, and the threat it poses to modern civilization.

Chapter 07 – Nuclear

This looks at the future of nuclear power, with an emphasis on the ramifications of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Chapter 08 – Threats

Here I cover some of the major threats to energy security besides peak oil. I write about OPEC, emerging countries, and the implications of declining EROEI. I also cover the threat posed by oil chokepoints, which is something that is presently in the news as Iran threatens to shut down the Straight of Hormuz.

Chapter 09 – Better Energy Policies

Here I focus on several ideas that will help move countries away from dependence on imported oil – and ultimately fossil fuels in general – while also making sure supplies are adequate during the transition. I talk about fossil fuel taxes, drilling proposals that fund alternative energy and mass transit, and the need for an Open Fuel Standard.

Chapter 10 – Due Diligence

This chapter explains how to sort out hype from reality, particularly when dealing with an alternative energy technology.

Chapter 11 – The Race to Replace Oil

This chapter is not yet written, but will cover many of the contenders to replace oil. I plan to look at methanol, ethanol, mixed alcohols, DME, and probably fuel from algae.

Chapter 12 – Corn Ethanol: Past, Present, and Future

I cover the history of corn ethanol policies in the U.S., detailing what worked and what needs to be improved. I talk about the implications of the blend wall and how it is impacting the industry.

Chapter 13 – The Role of Biomass

This chapter is not yet written, and I may decide that this material is adequately covered in other chapters. This one is a candidate for substitution.

Chapter 14 – Energy and Politics

This chapter covers the history of energy policy in the U.S. over the past four decades, and why that has resulted in such a high level of dependence on imported oil.

Chapter 15 – The Road Ahead

This chapter isn’t written, but will be my assessment of what lies ahead and which pathways offer the most promise for mitigating the energy crunch.

So there you have it. What does it look like I am missing, and what suggestions do you have? What messages do you think is important to convey to the general public?

Besides editing already submitted chapters, I need to write about 4 pages a day for the next three weeks. So there is still plenty of time to influence the final version. TOD will naturally be acknowledged in the book for reader's contributions. Thanks in advance to those willing to offer suggestions.

You are probably already planning to cover this in some detail but:

Energy consumption: Where does our energy go?

Production, conversion and transportation energy involved for various energy forms. How much energy does a refinery use per barrel of oil? How much energy does a natural gas line use per MMBTU-mile?

Embodied energy: How much energy is required to make an aluminum can, or a blow-molded PET bottle, or to bring a day's worth of water for one person from the Colorado River to Phoenix, or create enough anhydrous ammonia to grow a bushel of corn, or feed an American for a year, or build a typical U.S. house/car. How much energy do we throw away in the trash or flush down the toilet?

Related, but possibly it could/should be put into a separate chapter:
The Race to Use ENERGY More Efficiently.
There are essentially two (maybe three) subdivisions here.

(a) The creation of more energy efficient end user technologies, LED bulbs as an example, where with the latest/best technology the same task can be accomplished for considerable less energy. In some cases this can be dramatic savings, for instance LED bulbs versus incandescents, the efficiency improvement is several fold.

(b) Getting best technologies and prectices widely adopted. People are still buying incandescent bulbs, electrical resistance heaters etc. etc.

(c) Coping with a future of time varying energy supply, that depends to an increasing extend on natural flows (sun, wind, hydro), whose variability is not under human control. Storage, automatic demand management, curtailment of certain energy-intensive activities during times of scarcity....

"...(a) The creation of more energy efficient end user technologies, LED bulbs as an example, where with the latest/best technology the same task can be accomplished for considerable less energy. In some cases this can be dramatic savings, for instance LED bulbs versus incandescents, the efficiency improvement is several fold."

LED streetlights are a particularly interesting case, as they seem to a strong exception to Jevon's paradox: everyone body want's their one streetlight on the block but no more.


A chapter on Energy Usage might be good. It would describe how much energy of what type from what source is used by residences, personal transportation, commercial buildings, commercial transport, industrial processes, etc. These vary somewhat in terms of how feasible substitution is. Energy source materials are also used for specific non-energy purposes, such as metallurgical coal, petrochemical feedstocks, natural gas for fertilizer production, asphalt for roadbuilding, etc.

The picture varies considerably by country. Is the focus of the book the United States or the globe?


One of the key issues in energy, and particularly future scenarios, is the resilience of the system - the ability of the system to bounce back from upsets and get back to working again. The opposite is, of course, the fragility of systems where interruption escalates the scale of the problem, or where there are so many interdependencies that feedback effects pulls the whole down forever.

In fact, in general, the devil is in the system effects rather than the point resources - so I think you owe it to your readers to give it some coverage.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I conclude that the structure outlined above is the usual concentration on ingredients rather than recipe. A bit of politics, a touch of consequences, a tonne of basic energy sources - but no unifying system model to show how they all fit together and to illuminate the other key aspects.

A more significant change than could be accommodated in the time, but I think I'm coming to the conclusion that this whole subject area only makes sense from the system out. Maybe I should put it down in a book...

Hi Robert,

It sounds like a very comprehensive book. There is a lot to cover, good luck.

I was thinking along the lines of a chapter on the importance of electricity, especially storage and transmission. In a utopian world we would have intercontinental transmission lines that could spread wind and solar power from large farms in the best locations, therefore eliminating one of the weaknesses of renewables, intermitancy of production.

Overall, though, electricity by itself will be the main form of energy use in a future fossil fuel free world, so IMVHO it deserves it's own chapter.


The current crop of renwables like wind and solar use very diffuse/unreliable sources of energy and many people oppose wind farms delaying the inevitable timely investment required. I think unseen energy flows from a more concentrated source like underwater currents may be more acceptable to the general public.

"The current crop of renwables like wind and solar use very diffuse/unreliable sources of energy..."

Since solar has done most of the heavy lifting at our place for over 15 years, and has been markedly more reliable than the local grid over this time period, I suggest that it is your expectations that are unreliable. What we can rely on is that your electric grids will become more expensive, less reliable, continue to pollute my air, continue to require entire mountains and their associated ecosystems to be demolished, and continue to promote unrealistic expectations and consumption from a clueless population. While the sources you mention may have a small contribution in the future, I submit that consumers need to be more intimately connected to their energy sources rather than less.

Maybe it's just me....

Not just you. Behavior IMHO is at the heart of the matter, and mostly established in pre-sandbox years (b4 1st grade). Lowering expectations seems to become a dividing construct in my surrounding culture. The honor that comes with true cooperation seems to suffocate. Whomever mentioned the true cost of these commodities above in the thread is on to something as well. I haven't hunted, gardened or dressed and preserved my own food for so long it scares me. I was a happier healthier individual when I did - I found my truth of disconnect a bit shocking. Me thinks this is quite the same with energy / power. How much would I really approve of - if I could turn my eyes squarely on the process - social & tech. Going "off the grid" is NOT a casual affair - and is a constant partner in thought these days. g

Robert, I am looking forward to reading your book!

So there you have it. What does it look like I am missing, and what suggestions do you have? What messages do you think is important to convey to the general public?

It seems to me you have it all pretty much covered already. However with regards the messages that should be conveyed to the general public, the number one message in my mind would be that the future will be nothing like the past! We are all going to experience profound changes to what has passed for business as usual in the past few decades. Past performance (with regards 'progress') is no longer any guarantee of future results! We will all need to change our expectations of what progress means.

Best hopes for a new paradigm of a more equitable, sustainable and humane civilization.
Happy New Year!

what about the issues concerning economic growth based on fossil fuels vs growth based on renewables? basically how our economic system ties into our energy system

I'm really looking forward to this book. I have a great admiration for the way you can describe your points in very plain language, but thoroughly, and without dumbing it down. Good luck with the next few weeks!

My hope would be to see something on the Inleaf (term?) or just inside the jacket on the 'first glance' page that helps to draw attention with a compelling highlighted point from Chap 6, PEAK OIL- threats to civilization, and these underappreciated ramifications of an energy descent. Maybe it would be a simple hypothetical paragraph that tells a story of a fairly innocuous shortage or confluence of a few shortages. Maybe it would, conversely show how we've only managed to avoid many recent disasters or patch them up with the quick application of a lot of cheap energy (Fukushima, etc), but only just barely, and if Fukushima or Katrina, etc had come in conjunction with a serious Diesel Crunch (or pick your shortage, etc), the outcome could have been FAR worse..

Anyway, hopes for a simple, initial Hook to help people who think we're on nice, fat ice.. or that there's always an innovative rescue ship waiting in the wings..


I suggest a chapter bringing it all together (chapter 15?), especially the timelines for events and solutions, and the system dynamics of it like I tried in my post

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

Hi Robert,
It is so meritorious that you are writing a book on this subject. I would like to encourage you to promote the nuclear options. In particular the relatively low tech sub critical Thorium fission options. These technologies offer the possibility of burning the refuse from earlier Uranium based fission technologies, and also to provide a pollution free unlimited energy future. You can not make a bomb out of Thorium, period. It is sub critical. To produce power it needs to be excited by external sources which can be turned off and on as required.
Good luck with your book. Cheers Juan.

An excellent topic for

Chapter 10 – Due Diligence

This chapter explains how to sort out hype from reality, particularly when dealing with an alternative energy technology.

I would like to encourage you to promote the nuclear options.

Yes, the whole planet biospere is Fusion powered - it is called "The Sun".

In particular the relatively low tech sub critical Thorium fission options. These technologies offer the possibility of burning the refuse from earlier Uranium based fission technologies,

Possibility. Something that is not demonstrated to work - why not spend time talking about EEStor, space elevators and dilithium crystals also?

The waste issue -

why not spend time talking about EEStor, space elevators and dilithium crystals also?

--EEStor is vaporware until proven otherwise.
--Space elevators are theoretically possible some decades or centuries hence, but require development of technologies that don't yet exist.
--Dilithium crystals... requires no further commentary

Thorium MSR reactors OTH, really exist, and were first developed in the 1960s. Not vaporware, not science fiction, but proven already prototyped off-the-shelf technology. All it requires is real political leadership --standing up to the oil & gas cartels and other special interests benefitting from the status quo and demanding that it be further developed, scaled up and implemented. In other words, it's unlikely to happen anytime soon.

standing up to the oil & gas cartels and other special interests benefitting from the status quo

Not to mention the military/industrial complex which prefers nuclear tech that supports weapons.


Good luck with your publication and sales.


People sometimes look at me as if I'm crazy when I proclaim that the job of every engine on Earth is to create hot air.

But it's true.
Energy is not a forever static thing, but rather a flow.
It starts in a highly concentrated form, most often inside the nuclear fusion reactor we call our Sun and then it entropically dissipates into outer space. Think of the Sun as a mountain top and think of energy as water that flows down the sides of the mountain in the form of rivers.

Our Earth is like a tiny pebble in one of those rivers.
It receives the energy flow on one side and it must dissipate the energy flow from the other side.
That outflow side is made of hot air, more specifically the outer layers of our atmosphere. There is no other outflow mechanism.

If that outflow is impeded, then the rate at which we humans can use the flow (a.k.a. Power equals units of energy flowing through per unit of time) is impeded.

The GHG's that cause Global Warming also cause a slow down of the rate at which we can usefully use the energy flow that passes in and out of our 3rd rock/pebble from the Sun.

People may laugh it off as an inconsequential tertiary factor.
They laugh until the day the nuclear power plant is shut down because the river is too warm (and/or too small in quantity or rate of flow) and cannot be used to sufficiently cool off the power plant condensers located at that spot.

Excellent description. For people interested in global energy flows, check Google Scholar for the research done by Axel Kleidon.

WHT, thanks.

This was not merely an idle observation.

It can lead to practical solutions.

For example, what if a nuclear power plant (nuke) includes ice-making refrigeration units disposed upstream of the cool water intakes that drive its condensers?

The ice-making refrigeration units would be run at night, especially on hot summer days, so as to dissipate heat into the cooler night sky and to store up ice for cooling the river during the day. A cooler river means more efficient energy flow.

Given a week or so to work at it, locating the relevant data, and reviewing a basic chemistry or physics text, I could answer this question-but an engineer acquainted with power plants can probably answer it in a couple of minutes.

Would it be possible to use the waste heat from a nuke to heat a very large cavern , such as an old coal mine or a naturally occurring cave system, filled with water-or maybe even a deep lake purposely excavated for the purpose ?

The surface of a deep lake could be effectively insulated with floating insulation or even a layer of oil specially selected for the purpose so as not to be a serious hazard.

If the volume of water were large enough, and located close by a city with cold winters, the enormous quantity of heat stored in it could be put to good use in heating nearby large buildings and maybe even houses.

It occurs to me that this might work to some extent if applied to coal fired plants if the circumstances are favorable enough such a system might also be used to provide district heating for extensive green house installations if for no other purpose.Green houses can be a pretty decent way to produce a lot of top quality off season produce if the heat supplied is dirt cheap.

(I don't personally consider conventional green houses, which are an old well established technology, to be properly counted as part of the current "factory farming" craziness, although others may want to do so just because the greenhouse is located on an otherwise unused roof someplace in a city.Nobody here today will ever see a high rise "factory farm" greenhouse built, as the cost would be utterly ruinous in comparison to the yields.)

The interesting point about the nuke is that it throws off so much waste heat that is usually disposed of anyway by heating water to rum through a cooling tower-so a good bit of the necessary infrastructure could be double purposed, or maybe eliminated eliminated, by using a reservoir instead.

Of course I understand that just because something along such lines COULD be done doesn't mean that it could be accomplished at a reasonable cost.

But the cost of fuel, and consequently the value of any captured heat, will constantly go up as depletion bites ever harder , and it also seems reasonable to assume that plenty of people would in the future rather have even a very low paid job working in a giant greenhouse complex than no job at all.

Such undertakings might therefore become economically feasible in the future.


Your above comment is a perfect example of people not "getting it".
There is really no such thing as "waste" heat.

If we say we want "power" then we are saying we want to produce hot air, we want to create "waste" heat.
The problem is finding a fast enough and large enough "sink" for that waste heat.

Oh, outer space, I guess. It's a pretty big sink. Works for the sun. Of course, we can't operate at that high a temperature, but we can adapt pretty fast to minor changes, like global warming. Might cost one or two per cent of the population, but wars do that too.


Yes, it is physically quite reasonable to use waste heat from a nuclear power generating station for domestic, commercial, and industrial purposes.

"The principles of cogeneration and district heating with nuclear power are the same as any other form of thermal power production. One use of nuclear heat generation was with the Ågesta Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden. In Switzerland, the Beznau Nuclear Power Plant provides heat to about 20,000 people."

The only requirement is that the cooling intake water to a thermal generating plant be cool enough to condense the exhaust steam back into water (in the Rankine cycle). So, in a recirculating coolant system, once the entire proposed lake is hot... some further means of cooling the return water (cooling towers, for example) will then carry the entire burden of shedding the waste heat.

"Russian nuclear district heating is planned to nearly triple within a decade as new plants are built."
"Other nuclear powered heating from cogeneration plants are in the Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Switzerland, producing up to about 100 MW per power station."

The only problem you are apt to have with your idea is keeping me out of the giant underground heated pool!

Unfortunately in the US, nuclear based district heating is quite difficult with the NRC's enforcement of the three mile low population exclusion zone, and an effective one larger still. Though the odd house and farm is allowed, you will not find any towns close to US nuclear plants, as is Wurenlingen within a stones throw of the Bezau plant in Switzerland. This is a point to factor in, BTW, when tallying land usage of nuclear versus (say) solar.

That is very interesting! Understanding the exclusion zones around a U.S. nuclear plant does offer to change comparisons to the footprint of solar.

I could not readily find numbers in miles, but, rather, guidelines in dosage.

"Determination of exclusion area, low population zone, and population center distance."

"Non-seismic siting criteria."
Totally unclear wording... If the site uses a three mile low density zone, the reactor might be 4 miles from the edge of high population areas.


"NRC: 2-2 Oconee Nuclear Station - One-Mile Exclusion Area for Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (NUREG-1437 Supplement 2)"
This is the "Total Exclusion Area", I'm guessing, for this particular site. By the same logic, outside of this would be the "Low Population Density Zone".

Present day nuclear power is pretty silly. You see, the humans let fissile material hammer itself apart in a swarm of its own neutrons. The energies are not captured as the atoms split, but, rather, are allowed to make phonons. These cause lattice vibrations that damp due to resistance, making lots of "heat". Hold on to your hats! The heat is then converted to electricity through an unbelievable Rube-Goldberg mechanism: (1) water is boiled, (2) the steam is expanded through giant fans, (3) The giant fans sweep magnetic brooms, (4) the brooms scoot the electrons along in the wires from the grid! Only less than half of the heat is converted into electricity. After passing through the giant fans, it is cooled to the point that it can't run the Rube-Goldberg machine anymore. It's still "hot", just not "hot" enough: "low energy density", waste heat. Over half the energy is thrown away.

Humans are in their infancy.

Dance, Monkeys, Dance

If you don't understand why the energy MUST be "thrown away", then you don't understand one of the most fundamental aspects of thermodynamics.

step back
Your specific illumination on this might have great value to the readers.

A general presentation:


Heat engine
In thermodynamics, a heat engine is a system that performs the conversion of heat or thermal energy to mechanical work.[1][2] It does this by bringing a working substance from a high temperature state to a lower temperature state.


Carnot efficiency
The second law of thermodynamics puts a fundamental limit on the thermal efficiency of all heat engines. Surprisingly, even an ideal, frictionless engine can't convert anywhere near 100% of its input heat into work. The limiting factors are the temperature at which the heat enters the engine, Th, and the temperature of the environment into which the engine exhausts its waste heat, Tc, measured in an absolute scale, such as the Kelvin or Rankine scale. From Carnot's theorem, for any engine working between these two temperatures:

This limiting value is called the Carnot cycle efficiency because it is the efficiency of an unattainable, ideal, reversible engine cycle called the Carnot cycle. No device converting heat into mechanical energy, regardless of its construction, can exceed this efficiency.

Examples of Th are the temperature of hot steam entering the turbine of a steam power plant, or the temperature at which the fuel burns in an internal combustion engine. Tc is usually the ambient temperature where the engine is located, or the temperature of a lake or river that waste heat is discharged into. For example, if an automobile engine burns gasoline at a temperature of Th = 1500F = 1089K and the ambient temperature is Tc = 70F = 294K, then its maximum possible efficiency is:

Due to the other causes detailed below, practical engines have efficiencies far below the Carnot limit; for example the average automobile engine is less than 35% efficient.

As Carnot's theorem only applies to heat engines, devices that convert the fuel's energy directly into work without burning it, such as fuel cells, can exceed the Carnot efficiency.


Energy conversion efficiency is not defined uniquely, but instead depends on the usefulness of the output. All or part of the heat produced from burning a fuel may become rejected waste heat if, for example, work is the desired output from a thermodynamic cycle.

Even though the definition includes the notion of usefulness, efficiency is considered a technical or physical term. Goal or mission oriented terms include effectiveness and efficacy.

Generally, energy conversion efficiency is a dimensionless number between 0 and 1.0, or 0 to 100%. Efficiencies may not exceed 100%, e.g., for a perpetual motion machine. However, other effectiveness measures that can exceed 1.0 are used for heat pumps and other devices that move heat rather than convert it.

When talking about the efficiency of heat engines and power stations the convention should be stated, i.e., HHV (aka Gross Heating Value etc.) or LCV (aka Net Heating value), and whether gross output (at the generator terminals) or net output (at the power station fence) are being considered. The two are separate but both must be stated. Failure to do so causes endless confusion.

Further details are offered in: ,such as going to superheated steam, which is the same as saying going to much higher temperatures, in the effort to improve efficiency. Nuclear plants generally do not operate as hot as fossil fuel plants. Nuclear Superheated BWRs present a number of problems, such as severe corrosion of fuel elements exposed to superheated steam and shutdown cooling of fuel zones used for superheating

Nice presentation:


I was thinking along simpler lines.

Picture a hydroelectric dam.
The working fluid is water.
If the valves are closed and no water flows through, no useful work gets done.

Now picture the valves open and water flowing through the turbines.
Zoom in on the last set of blades in the turbine.

The water that flows just after it has hit the last of the turbine blades has velocity and mass.
It constitutes "waste" kinetic energy. (E= 0.5 * m * v^2 )
Same is true with steam as it is exiting past the last turbine blades in a steam powered plant.
Same is true of wind as it blows past and beyond a wind mill.

No flow means no useful work.
Yes flow, means that mass is moving at velocity beyond the blades and this is "waste" energy.
It ultimately gets converted into thermal energy (waste heat) and is dissipated into outer space from the outer layers of our atmosphere. In other words, hot air.

It's as simple as that.

Taking the case of the steam turbine:

If all of the available energy was extracted from the very hot, high-pressure steam by expanding it through a set of hypothetical turbines, then the exiting hypothetical vapor would be at the same temperature and pressure as the surrounding air. The passages and blades would have to get bigger and bigger as the pressure drops and the volume expands... which is is what is seen in a typical 2-stage set of turbines. There would still be flow through the system.

In reality, the steam would have condensed back into water somewhere near the far end of this machine: Very hot water, nearly boiling, would flow out the other end... a truer limit to efficiency.

The steam enters at the center and expands in each direction towards the ends.

"Steam Turbines Hit Their Stride", Power Engineering Magazine

"Wet-steam turbines for nuclear power plants"


Thank you by the way for the PDF link you provided 2 comments upthread from here.

Yes, for the math and physics oriented ones here at TOD we can discuss energy as being Force (F) integrated over working distance (dx) and we can show that such is basically the same as Pressure (P) integrated over working volume (dV).

I was shooting for an even simpler explanation, namely, that the work fluid leaving the turbine must have velocity because otherwise it would clog up the exhaust ports. That exit velocity implies thrown away ("waste") kinetic energy.

One must have "waste" (exhaust) in order for the engine to work.

My goal was to make it clearer to OFM and others that one cannot easily use the "waste" energy output of a steam plant if one wanted a high power output. The "using" (a.k.a. cogeneration ) of the so-called waste heat clogs up (backs up) the exhaust port and slows down the turbines. You don't get something for nothing (for no cost).


Most welcome. It IS a pretty presentation:

The energy pouring out the other side of the power plant has very much all been paid for. People died in the wars and in the digging... money traded hands making the stuff pure, land was spoiled and animals died, diesel and coal fumes filled the air, metal was melted to make all these machines, and a great bright fire was struck within them that now that burns day and night. If you want to heat your home, take a swim, or, better yet, melt some ice with the unused portion... go right ahead. You will create no significant back-pressure in doing so. It's like the feral cats snuggling near the chimney in the attic: The wood stove has no idea they are there.

Please try to include the estimated nat gas consumption required to fully cook out the canadian oil sands' production estimates--I've seen some numbers that show 5 mbpd of oil production will require something like 1/3 of the total canadian nation's current gas production- in other words we rob peter to pay paul. Yergin's latest book completely ignores this.

Robert, when the oil production is well into decline and no one is no longer denying that the peak is well in the past the question on everyone's lips will be: Where is OPEC? With all those vast reserves they say they have, why haven't they just ramped up production and gotten us out of this mess? Then, slowly, it will become apparent that all of that oil they claimed they have, for all these years, is just not there. It never was there.

And that, Robert, will be the number one story in the post peak world. It will be the shock felt around the world. Everyone will be bitter because no one told them. Of course they will blame OPEC for vastly over reporting their reserves but they will also blame the government. With all the intelligence agencies, people will say, they should have known.

Ron P.


OPEC is greatly overestimating their reserves. This gives the perception, to the public, that there is nothing to worry about. They expect OPEC to make up any shortfall if and when non-OPEC production begins to decline.

Main Stream Media buys into this 100%.

Robert, 10 years from now people will be fully aware of the fact that those vast OPEC reserves were a myth. They will wonder why no one ever told them about this vast deception. A few will be able to point to a few articles posted on the web and to some posts on TOD that pointed this out, but not much more.

OPEC claims to have 81.33 percent world crude oil reserves. So why should we worry about peak oil? If there is ever a drop in production then OPEC can simply open the taps and make up any slack.

That is what the world thinks. Who will be wise enough to tell them anything different? And who will be so unwise as to say that it makes no difference.

Ron P.


@ Robert maybe you might also consider publishing an animated iPad book for instance after this one? You'd have the opportunity to bridge the gap between reader and writer better and make a reasonably challenging topic into something that a lay person would be interested to read?

Take a look at this: maybe making it interactive would be the next step. I know it doesn't help your immediate needs but I thought that maybe if the only distance between you and your audience is the accessibility of the subject matter you might have some luck in producing something similar. Even though it isn't traditional it does feel like the 21st century book.

In Chapter 8 do you mention peak global exports? It might be worth a paragraph or two especially as you can draw a parallel with the oil shocks of the 1970's. You could also make a mention on the fact that the oil industry is greying in America and the implications for finding future supply regardless of what oil may still be in the ground.

I wonder if there's any correlation between overstated reserves and arms deals worth billions sold on credit. If they 'fess up, then perhaps there'll be no new planes, etc.?

I would suggest looking into the Hirsch Report. This report was requested by the DOE and outlines what will happen if there is an unmitigated peak in worldwide oil production. The report covers almost every aspect of world energy. The report is strongly worded and the information it contains grabs the readers attention.

I would be glad to review your material. Having published many technical books, of which the most recent are "Offshore Safety Management" and "Process Risk and Reliability Management" (Sutton Books), I understand what you are going through.

I am currently working on a very early draft of a book entitled "Peak Engineering"; it discusses the potential role of engineers in a Peak Oil world (some thoughts on this topic are at my blog (An Engineer's View of Peak Oil). Maybe this topic could be mentioned in your book.

Who is your publisher? I am surprised that things are moving so quickly. My experience with book publishing is that, no matter how good a writer you may be, follow the advice of your editor very closely. Also, it is very important to take time to check all the details, particularly internal cross-checks and external references regardless of the pressure to get to market.

Finally, what is your publisher's policy regarding selling the chapters in ebook form?

Good luck with this project.

Hi Chem-Eng;
Not to stray (much), but could I inquire a bit as to your premise on Peak Engineering?

I've just been considering this vast field of engineering and innovation brought about BY cheap energy, and with it the consequent question of whether the descent of energy will be more notable in the reintroduction of 'New Engineering through Dire Necessity' (as in "Necessity is the Mother of Invention.."), or the collapse of Engineering, 'since the motors won't have any power behind them..' Level of thinking.

In a way, I believe I'm setting up a bit of a false choice, since I think there will be great ranges of current engineering work made instantly obsolete and will thus vanish, while other, possibly much smaller but perhaps also vitally significant developments for the Human Race, would also be happening at the same time. While these two 'flows', added together quantitatively could constitute a literal 'Peak and Decline' in sheer scale, they might just as easily be described as a very productive 'Hitting the brakes and Turning the Wheels Away from the Cliff Edge..' if one were to evaluate it more Qualitatively.

In any case, good luck on your book!


We may be drifting away from helping Robert here. My basic premise is one of Thesis/Anti-Thesis/Synthesis. I suggest that the post-peak oil world will be different from anything we have ever known. I show that similar transitions in the past have been led by engineers/technical types. Examples are Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs. I suggest that the persons to lead us into the new world will be engineers. See the first of my "An Engineer's View of Peak Oil" essays Peak Engineering. However the engineers of the future will not have large supplies of low entropy energy available to them (the men listed above had anthracite, gasoline and electricity respectively). It's going to be a challenge.

Absolutely I agree with you about "necessity being the mother of invention". (I believe that the French phrase is Les gens heureux n'ont pas d'histoire or "happy people don't make history".) This is the theme of my "Peak Forests" essay. The steam engine had been invented in classical times but was a mere toy. Thomas Newcomen (1664-1729) commercialized the stationary steam engine around the year 1710 because the people of the time needed to extract a new source of fuel (coal) but this meant that they had to get water out of the coal mines.

Thanks for the best wishes regarding my potential book. I am not sure that I will go ahead. I suspect that the market for such a book will be very limited. (That's another thing about the men listed above - they were not driven by altruism but by a desire to be rich and famous.)

Robert, this is excellent news! The outline looks good; I'd second the comments already made about including some discussion of energy consumption, and of thermodynamics -- it's embarrassing how few people grasp that latter. Other than those two points, though, it seems solid to me.

If a cover blurb from me would be of any help at all in marketing, BTW, I'd be happy to provide one.


If you need some one to do a complete check on the book, contact me. This is what I am doing for living: I am reviewing publication for a research chair in energy. I can check your whole book in a few days.

Yvan Dutil, Ph.D.

Solar, solar, solar - supplying/replacing domestic energy uses with solar.
It seems glaringly obvious to me. It is beyond centralized control and centralized profit taking, so research will never be funded.
My 2 cents worth.
(edit) solar on the roof - obvious - imho

Passive solar and solar water heating, required by code where applicable.

+1 Perhaps with a small amount of solar PV thrown in.


Looks like a good book! I enjoy your articles.

I second a brief discussion of embedded or embodied energy, since many seem to be unaware of this concept and the flow of energy in the form of products and services. Some "green" buildings use very high embodied energy materials, but are only judged based on how much energy they use after being built. I like to think of a metaphor of rivers of oil flowing from wells throughout the world in the form of these products and services. The power embodied in this system is staggering.

A discussion of the subsidies to the fossil fuel industries ingrained in our energy policy would be good, to balance the attack from a few in the fossil fuel industry on subsidies to alternative energy technologies. Not that there is anything wrong with these subsidies. It is clear they aid production of energy for society. But we need to subsidize other sources at a similar, or greater, scale.

I would guess you plan to discuss the difficulties of attempting to attain the current energy flow from fossil fuels with alternative energies in the “Due Diligence” chapter. I think that is very necessary, but at the same time I think it should be pointed out that in the long term we have no choice, so we had best put maximum effort and ingenuity into developing and deploying these while fossil fuels are still available to supply the energy to do so. I used to say “cheap” fossil fuels, but I think we have already blown that chance. I think it would also be good to point out that energy used today is energy unavailable to our descendants tomorrow in this effort and increased cost for what energy remains, limiting the technologies that can be economically developed.

A look at what types of industries we could support with reduced energy flow (power) from alternative energy sources would be good. For example, how might it affect the scale of energy-intensive industries such as steel, aluminum, and mining? I disagree with the statement made by some here that we cannot produce solar power technology without oil. We can have electricity and solar furnaces to produce the materials and parts that are required to produce solar pv and transport them for example, but not at the scale possible with fossil fuels. To me the main effect of fossil fuels is energy constrained society. We can have many of the same things we currently have, but not in nearly as much abundance. Because the energy sources will be much more dispersed, it seems small local industries will be necessary to produce things in many places on small scale to reduce the intensity of power required, as well as the power required for transport. We will need to reduce the complexity of infrastructure because it requires too much energy to maintain. I think quality of life will depend greatly on how much we shrink the human population.

Some like to wave away our difficulties by saying technology guided by the magic hand of the market will find solutions. It might be pointed out that many of us who make our living developing technology are not nearly as sanguine. As they say in investing "Past performance does not guarantee future success".

it is not clear to me exactly who your intended audience ios, but speaking as a former teacher, I can say for su re that the book needs to be tailored to the audience.

Hardly anybody from the working classes and the lower strata of society can be expected to read such a book, except for the occasional bodice ripper or cowboy romance story and that sort of stuff.

Working engineers and business managers and that sort of people could benefit enormously from reading it, but the ones of my acquaintance seldom read anything not directly applicable to the job at hand.That leaves the rest of us, excepting those addicted to sports, music, and games.

So it sounds to me as if you have the basic outline at about the right reading and comprehension level.

The only significant change I might consider making is that I would leave climate change until the last trhing before a summary chapter.

People need to get acquaunted with bad news in small doses and work their way up to the worst-putting climate change near the middle will probably turn a lot of readers reluctant to accept the overall message off before they finish.Climate change is a lot harder sell, as I see it, than depletion.Only ordinary common sense is necessary to understand depletion, but climate change must be accepted on the basis of faith unless the reader is possessed of a basic scientific education.

Maybe ten to fifteen percent of us in the potential readership group possess such an education, at the outside, but my gut feeling is that far less of us are able to truly SEE and FEEL the logic and power of the evidence-in the dead sure way a person who can competently add and subtract can understand and feel the reality of an overdrawn checking account.

We don't ordinarily realize it, but we all accept many things on faith;we accept the assurance of an engineer that we can safely cross a bridge he designs, the assurance of our physician that he has correctly diagnosed our disease , the assurance of our political leaders that our money is safe in the bank because of govt backed insurance-most of us don't have the requisite knowledge to make such judgements for ourselves.

We can judge for ourselves whether we are overdrawn.

Someday I hope to write a book or two myself, but I have been assured by pros that the odds against making any money from it would be very high, and anything I put a lot of time on must at least pay its own way.

Completely agree about GW in the book Mac. Maybe I, as a skeptic, should stop THINKING about GW and try to FEEL it:) *in case it's not clear that was a truly friendly jibe:)

Beg to differ. RR does not need to tailor to an audience. He has to follow his muse and trust his instincts on what to write. He has the insight and should get it out of his system. Once written, it becomes a well of knowledge that either he can go back to, or others can in the years to come.

I know individuals who, upon hearing the words "global warming" or "climate change" or "man-made climate change" will toss anything else that person may say as heresy. May be profitable to avoid discussion of redistribution of wealth, and other right wing paranoias.

This is the an example of a common problem. Ideological self censoring peer pressure extends across most of the big environmental/resource constraint issues.

I used to hold onto this "delicate touch" notion as being practical and expedient then I realised it avoids the core political conflict that is inevitable and necessary. If wealth redistribution[or anything else] is what needs to be done then don't apologise for it.

The stark reality is that when push comes to shove extreme measures are untaken in very short time scales, riding rough shod over ideology. The bailouts of the financial sector being a blatant example. Our current societies are quite capable of being mandated in a command economy fashion by elites elected or otherwise. Now one may disagree with the bailouts as a sensible/moral thing to do but the point is that the obvious hypocrisy of watching free marketeers commandeering the fiscal system via state intervention makes the entire idea of delicacy or fixed ideological values vacuous...

Things can change quickly... and they do.

I think RR would say PO is not a political position and in a detailed sense that is true.... but in a generalised and truly practical sense i.e. the way the issue really intersects with the day to day concerns of the population? I think this political agnosticism is naive if not pointless.

Harsh but unfortunately true.

I suspect the sheer scale of the problem makes us think[it did me] that changing the zeitgeist has to be some sort of delicate incremental effort that doesn't threaten peoples core belief systems too much. Perhaps thats why it doesn't work.

I think RR would say PO is not a political position and in a detailed sense that is true.... but

Ideally, what the current state of affairs is, shouldn't be ideological, although how to proceed from here obviously is. Of course our imperfect understanding of the world (in a historical sense) informs the populace's decisions going forward (including how they vote), so different ideological factions see it as a legitimate area of contention, since perception affects political reality. Thats where things go seriously downhill, where the potential political/ideological use of the perception of a thing is taken to be more important than the knowing the truth of a thing.

As you are asking, there are a couple energy related items I'd be interested in seeing explained in more detail, which I believe could also add to the general understanding.

The first is related to "energy infrastucture build-out"; i.e. the long process in a society of developing the related skills and businesses necessary to bring an energy source into common use. In specific, I'd be curious about two technologies, modern solar and wind, which appear to have arrived at their "young adulthood". Regarding these, I'd appreciate seeing in a way understandable to a non tech mind on how these particular technogies have evolved over the past thirty-five years or so, i.e., what breakthroughs were made or not made, and what barriers there are to future advances.

The second item refers to the question of nuclear waste from atomic plants. My understanding is that no country has figured out what to do with it; it would be nice to know that I am misinformed.

You might review the commentary at this website, if you haven't already seen it :

If you find that interesting, there are a few more similar insights if you review my total commentary history on TOD.

A few paragraphs from the total history for instance :

If you stop to think about it, what really runs the world is energy, and not money. Maybe the current economic situation could be best understood if I were to explain things in layman terms considering one specific example. If someone lives in the desert in Phoenix and wants a piece of corn how exactly does he get one? Well in reality, he is dependent on a far off farmer in someplace like Iowa who has enough gasoline to run his tractor to plant, fertilize, and harvest his crop. Then a truck driver needs enough gasoline to deliver the corn from Iowa to Phoenix. If there were no gasoline, then it would be very, very, difficult for someone in Phoenix to get any corn from Iowa. Even if you could print billions of new dollars in Phoenix, it wouldn’t get you any corn without a tractor running on gasoline in Iowa. This is an example taken to an extreme but it just goes to show that the world economy runs on and depends on energy and that even printing huge sums of money won’t necessarily solve a problem. It only stands to reason that if any changes to available energy sources occur then there will be changes in other parts of the economy too.

Our economy is a system, and one of the biggest inputs to this system is oil production as it is our prime energy source. Outputs of this system are jobs, cars, planes, food, electronics, and in general all consumer goods. One of the things they teach us in engineering is that if there is a change in the inputs to a system, then there will be a change in the outputs of the system. It’s very simple cause and effect. Engineers are very good at system analysis and it is very well understood since the math and computer models used are very well developed and very well proven. Electrical circuits are viewed as systems with inputs and outputs. Typically, electrical energy of a certain frequency and voltage are viewed as inputs and then the output are analyzed such as work done, etc. If the energy source in an electrical circuit reduces in power and voltage, then the work performed by that circuit is reduced. A light bulb may burn less brightly, or an electric motor turns more slowly. Since oil is a form of energy and used as an input to a system, just like electricity is a form of energy and is an input to a system, it would seem to reason that electrical engineers would have a natural understanding about possible effects due to a change in the input. If oil inputs to the world economy are reduced, then less motors will run, less plastics will be made, less fertilizers and pesticides produced, etc.

From an electrical engineering standpoint, lets consider a typical energy driven process. Lets say that you build an electrical circuit with a sinusoidal alternating current as the input, and add some resistive/capacitive/inductive network that it connects to that uses that energy to make outputs (heat, or light, or kinetic (otherwise known as work)). The science and math are so well universally understood that one doesn't even have to build the circuit to determine exactly what the outputs will be. A SPICE computer program can compute exactly how much work will be output from the different parts of the circuit at any given point in time. If the circuit is actually built and operated per specification at any location (north pole, equator, etc) or at any time (1776 or 2011) the same outputs will occur. Now if you increase the input energy source over time, it can be shown that the energy outputs will be increasing as well, which is very akin to growth. But if you decrease the energy input source over time, then the energy outputs will then decrease, which is akin to contraction.

I take your point, but your example is flawed. People have been growing corn in the river valley area that is now Phoenix for more than 1000 years. I used to U-Pick corn for dinner on a regular basis. I know Easterners think Phoenix was set down in the middle of a barren tract of sand for inexplicable reasons, but the basic reason Phoenix is where it is, is water and cropland availability.

Chapter 09 – Better Energy Policies

Here I focus on several ideas that will help move countries away from dependence on imported oil – and ultimately fossil fuels in general – while also making sure supplies are adequate during the transition. I talk about fossil fuel taxes, drilling proposals that fund alternative energy and mass transit, and the need for an Open Fuel Standard.

combined with

Chapter 15 – The Road Ahead

This chapter isn’t written, but will be my assessment of what lies ahead and which pathways offer the most promise for mitigating the energy crunch.

Hard to know how to pitch this sort of thing. A modified BAU or some root and branch rethinking of market economics? How we deal with the mass psychology of political ideology.

How clear or how subtle does one introduce notions of large scale mandated change? Or is it really possible to nudge the system around so that it produces the desirable? Perhaps some insight on what sort of triggers can enable change? It was clear than the imminent disaster of the collapse of Lehmans enabled the use of measures totally alien/abhorrent to many in the political classes. Do we have to wait for catalyzing events? You could argue the devil is in the detail but I am less sure now. The technical aspects of the problem are pretty well understood by the energy technocrats.... who ultimately need empowerment to come up with the solution(s).

There has been a lot of material published on resource constraint issues... how much success?

Hello Robert, I've much appreciated your posts at the Drum and look forward to the book. I would hesitate to offer suggestions on a topic you know far better than I, but here were my initial thoughts as a prospective reader.

1) The title "Power Plays" suggests to me a book at least partially about the financial/investment outlook of the different energy industries in a PO world. If I picked up the book at the store (based on that title) and it didn't have a chapter related to investing I would feel cheated and might just put the book back down.

2) I'm very interested in PO, but am completely turned off by the conflation of PO with AGW and thus seeing chapter 5 on Global Warming in the table of contents I would sense a bit of a bait and switch going on----which I might try to resolve by then turning to chapter 9 on policy to determine if the author really intended to give me useful information on PO or was just using it as a platform to preach a collectivist political ideology. If I felt the author ascend to his pulpit in chapter 9 it would be 3 strikes and I would put the book back down for sure.

My purpose with these comments is not to debate the merits of AGW or political ideologies--just providing feedback from one segment of your readership on potentially polarizing subjects.

Smaller notes: 3) Chapter 13 seems superfluous after chapters 11 and 12. 4) I've read some of your posts with topics similar to ch. 10 on due diligence and think that is one of your strengths to be emphasized. 5) Ch. 6 is the meat of the book. All of the substantive ideas after ch. 6 hinge on the reader buying PO. Maybe it deserves two chapters. I would envision a chapter on the historical facts--Hubbert-US peak, specific field/country peaks, the discovery curve, other resource peaks--whatever was relatively irrefutable historical fact, followed by a second chapter on the refined hypotheses of PO that have been generated based on these observations, production rates, decline rates, current discoveries vs. 1960's or whatever is current/forward looking, but less factual.

That's my two cents. You're a clear writer and look forward to the book--thanks for doing it!

1) The title "Power Plays" suggests to me a book at least partially about the financial/investment outlook of the different energy industries in a PO world. If I picked up the book at the store (based on that title) and it didn't have a chapter related to investing I would feel cheated and might just put the book back down.

Long story on the title. I was leaning toward something like The Energy Source or The Power Source. The publisher liked Power Plays. The book does have a chapter on due diligence, though, which is critical for investors.

3) Chapter 13 seems superfluous after chapters 11 and 12.

Yeah, I am leaning that way too. The chapter on Energy Politics is turning into the longest chapter in the book and may squeeze out room for Chapter 13 anyway. I go back through the past eight presidencies looking at their energy policies and then what actually happened. It has been the most interesting chapter for me to write, but very slow going. It takes me three times as long to write a page where I have to research the dates and circumstances of every statement I write.

"The chapter on Energy Politics is turning into the longest chapter in the book and may squeeze out room for Chapter 13 anyway."

I'm curious if you discuss centralized control of energy production and markets vs. a more decentralized/distributed/local approach to adapting energy production and use. The political and corporate sectors have been busy consolidating 'power' for decades and will continue to pursue top down solutions, if only to retain control of profits, taxes and other revenue. The beast protects itself, regardless of the inviability of its 'solutions'. Many of us feel that TPTB are reaching the point of disfunctionality, unable to respond to these challenges in any way other than to try and protect their own narrow interests. Witness the massive campaign to discredit peak oil theories. Disinformation and misdirection have gone unacknowledged and unchallenged by the political sector. It has become clear that their motives have little to do with addressing our looming energy predicaments in any realistic way. Any discussion of our current situation or the nuts and bolts of our options going forward is somewhat moot without addressing the environment in which change can or will take place.

A rather bleak but perhaps accurate discussion from today's TAE post: January 3 2012: The Storm Surge of Decentralization

While the ultimate goal of TOD, and I presume your book, is to affect policy and opinions, folks need to know what they're up against; a massive, hyper-complex system which will resist any change that doesn't suit those who benefit most from the current system. It's a wonder that "Energy Politics" didn't draw lucky 13.

Thanks, Robert. Best hopes for success with the book, and for change we can live with...

I go back through the past eight presidencies looking at their energy policies and then what actually happened.

That sounds like a great chapter (and I sympathize about the fact checking)!!

In the section(s) on biomass -- whether in a separate chapter or folded into others -- one thing I think it's important to bring out is the distinction between biomass as an energy source vs. a carbon source. Photosynthesis is only 1 - 2% efficient at turning sunlight into chemical potential energy, and it just isn't feasible to grow enough of it to serve as a major energy source. But it can be a very cost-effective way to fix CO2 from the atmosphere. (Not to mention that forests are nice to have around.) Renewable energy from other sources can be used to upgrade the fixed carbon of biomass into liquid fuels, but it's a crime to use partial combustion to drive gasification, or to burn lignin for distilling ethanol.

Mr. Rapier - The first chapter about options needs to be about energy conservation. Since a smooth transition is now nearly impossible, energy conservation is the most important thing we can do to buy time, both personally and collectively. Folks who don't like nuclear, fracking, or industrial wind, can stop being part of the problem by contributing to excess demand. At home,we have cut our electricity use from 4700 kwh per year down to 1500 kwh per year, by swapping out our light bulbs to CFL and LED bulbs, cutting out the dryer, unplugging appliances when not in use, and using a laptop computer. We further reduced our propane use by 48% with a instant hot water heater. Studies show that Europe is a similar quality of life, but uses 1/3-1/2 of the fossil fuels we do in the US. We can do this! If people turn reducing their energy use into a game, it is fun. Also, at a time when we all feel at the mercy of big impersonal forces, energy conservation is empowering.

Looking forward to seeing your book. I will follow Yvan's lead and offer to proof read. If you can send whatever you have soon, I could get it back to you in a few days. After school starts (end of Jan), things will get a bit more hectic but I could probably still get it back in a couple weeks.

Don't let the denialists sensor your bit on GW. The two issues are inextricably linked--source and sink.

And I would second the point above about energy conservation, or even 'doing without.' Most of what we have to do is use much, much less energy. If you cut energy use in half, and then in half again, and maybe even one more halving, you suddenly get close to what might reasonably be provided by renewables.

In the final chapter, you might consider a broader view--what have we used all that energy for? Has it really made the world better? Even if all that energy came with no GW consequence, what have we made of our world? Look at extinction rates and habitat destruction...Add GW in and it is clear that we have been ladling poison down our children's throats to accumulate crap that doesn't even make us happy.

We need to really get a wake up call, a firm look in the mirror of what we have done and are doing.

On top of that, facing the hard reality of the connection between energy and political power--asking the world to turn away from ff is asking the powerful and power-hungry to walk away from the very thing they crave most, the thing that defines them--power. That doesn't mean give up, just that we shouldn't be surprised that it has not been easy to get the powerful to even think about voluntarily moving away from these sources of energy.

Again, best wishes.

The two issues are inextricably linked



Agreed. Say what needs to be said and let the chips fall where they may in turns of readership. Scientists should state what the evidence is regardless of the outcomes. Besides, there are many, many people who understand climate change but do not yet understand energy (but think they do i.e. they think we'll all be driving electric cars). Tying them all together is a very valuable service. Heinberg does a good job of this, too.

A word of caution about climate change though. Discussing the science (and dangers) of climate change is not a problem in a peak oil book. But members of the peak oil community in my view make a mistake in also endorsing the IPPC report, which refuses to consider peak oil in its modeling of the next 80 years.

As dohboi said, 'they are..intertwined'. I don't believe it is practical to look at one without the other when looking from either perspective.


Also agreed. I've frequently mentioned that the IPCC uses incorrect fossil fuel projections. However, there are some impacts that are happening now and more are on the way. How will this affect our ability to use fossil fuels in the future? Will large installations of solar panels be partially destroyed by freak hails storms? etc. etc.

Maybe in chapter 6 you cover this, but I would be very explicit. Discuss our assumptions of Business as Usual and how they all depend directly or indirectly on cheap energy. Then spell out how these assumptions fall apart when energy gets expensive or in short supply. The reader, if they are not already attuned to the issues your book addresses (in which case you are speaking/writing to the converted), needs to have the consequences explicitly (as best you can) described. My own area is health care and the health of populations and I see major problems arising in how health care can/cannot be delivered, and how the health of populations will decline, and consequently the great need to promote public health and the maintenance of the social determinants of health so as to maintain ones health. Because, if you get sick, life may get awfully nasty.

I look forward to reading the book.

Don Spady

Can't wait to read your book. Good luck with the deadline.

I think you need to address two very timely topics.

You need to write a few pages on the Keystone Pipeline System. You need to address why this is a hot political issue (increasing our dependence on fossil fuel, impact on environment, and possibly leading to the delay of funding and support for alternative energy development while at the same time it would improving the infrastructure for the delivery of the Bakken crude and the Cananda oil sands "dilbit." It's a real Catch 22). This is really a watershed moment for American fossil fuel development and future energy policy. Are we going to go all in on crude or are we just going to let the industry continue to wind down? We probably have to do both but how?

Second topic you need to write a few pages on is the Bakken. There has been a lot of press on this recently (article in The New Yorker was great as well as coverage in the NYTimes certainly here at TOD as well). I am a scientist and a part owner in a privately owned oil exploration and production company. We are very active in the Williston Basin and the Bakken and have been for 50 years. We know the area very well and know all the players. I think it would be helpful and insightful to put the Bakken in perspective (i.e., press is spinning this as the savior for American oil independence, but is it really?). Write a few pages on how expensive this play has gotten (there is so much money chasing this oil that you can't hire rigs, you can't get frac crews, you can't get space on a pipeline, you can't get trucks to haul your crude). You can illustrate quiet quickly how the economics get very difficult (the problem with boom and bust resource plays). We just finished drilling our sixth of six wells for 2011 and three of those were new wells. Each of the three new ones cost 3.5 million. We had to pay 6 to 10 times more for all of our field services then we had to pay eight years ago. We are a very small company we can't match the larger companies in volume and so we get pushed out or priced out. A good well will produce 100bld and will have a 5-6% depletion rate per year. The big players have taken a lot of hedge fund money and have promised the moon and the stars and have effectively produced a boom that is not sustainable. Everything has gotten blown way out of proportion and it will probably end badly for many. It would be nice if someone wrote about how this is the result of the global situation and it's NOT a good way for society to allocate it's resources or to envision it's energy future.

You are on a treadmill with the development of this stuff. You have to keep drilling to reinvest your profits so that you can get writeoffs. The alternative is to bank the cash and get heavily taxed. The resource rapidly depletes. Now, at $100 a barrel you are fine, but if you get a price disruption and your delivery cost get prohibitive you are in trouble if you have borrowed heavily or are backed by impatient hedge fund investors. If you get bumped out of a pipeline you have to pay an increase in transportation of the crude, etc. ... . The point is: spending a lot of money to develop these resources is probably a waste of infrastructure dollars when the crude will run out and the boom will end. The best wells in the Bakken produce around a 1000blod. There are one or two that produce 3000blod. This is really laughable. The number of wells required to drill for a substatial impact on America's oil needs is staggering. There are only a few hundred rigs and even fewer good frac crews. You can't scale this thing. It is a one time money grab like a gold rush. It is fine for those well educated and prepared for the economics, but it is not something for a country to bet on for the future.

The general public just has no sense of how difficult this stuff is and how risky it is. It is fine for wealthy oil men who want to risk their capital, but it is a horrible idea when you look at the bigger picture. We need smart investment in long term resource development not in get rich quick schemes.

Good luck,


As bicycle advocate living in the Los Angeles area, one of my biggest frustrations in the offerings of most peak oil literature, is the lack of acknowledgement of bicycles as a low cost viable transportation alternative. Both in urban areas, and suburbs which are not excessively sprawled beyond repair. So many trips in America are under 5 miles, and even under 2 miles, that are still being driven. Incredible amounts of oil consumption could be reduced by fixing up some old bikes and painting some lines on the ground to give cyclists some space and peace of mind, without billions in costly infrastructure or new technology required. Cities like Portland Oregon and New York have set bicycle ridership gains onto nearly exponential growth curves by making investments that are peanuts compared to the transportation spending on other modes.

Even in Los Angeles, a mega city known for sprawl and car culture, there is a vibrant, active, and growing sub-culture of bicycling for fun and transportation, and plans are being made to allocate more space for bikes all across the region. I often feel there is assumption among peak oil writers that Americans could never seriously consider bicycling for transportation, but I think that is underestimating Americans, particularly generation Y that is already giving up cars in large numbers, and ignoring the success stories in cities and neighborhoods that have at least made token gestures to bicycle lanes and facilities.

CicLAvia  10-9-11

The most recent CicLAvia event in LA, where 10 miles of streets were closed for cars, 100,000 people came out to enjoy those streets on foot, by bike, by skateboard, or any other way to roll without a motor, and many were struck how easy it was to get from Hollywood to East LA on a bike without all the cars in the way.

When bicycling is used as a means of connection augmenting mass transit, it enhances both modes of transportation, with the bike able to solve the last mile problem of rapid transit systems, and rail and bus services adding range that may be cumbersome to many people on a bike. I believe there is incredible power in investing bike network connections to transit centers, and offering bike share or rentals near major transit hubs.

I would love to see someone writing in the peak oil scene at least give some kind of acknowledgement that bicycles exist and are a good idea given our energy outlook.

but bike is hard to use for peoples living in industrial areas or living in places without much vegatation, cycling in poor air condition is a pain in the ass.

The parent didn't say everybody should do all trips by bycicle, but if people do their 1-5 mile trips in a flat city in good weather they already use much less energy.

"Car Sick" by Lynn Sloman is an interesting good book on how small investments in alternatives to the car can improve the lifestyle of everyone in a city (yes, also those car drivers stuck in rush hour traffic):

Personally, I would rather live in a place built for people, instead of one built for cars.

I'm not sure the vegetation has much to do with anything given New York City's rise to prominence in bicycle ridership amongst the concrete jungle, and air quality in most US cities is a lot better than some cities with high bicycle ridership elsewhere in the world.

There are places with conditions which are not conducive to bicycling and people who for one reason or another are physically unable, but I believe the number of people that fall into that catagory is a lot smaller than those who could viably use a bike (or trike) for at least some trips currently made by car. Portland Oregon has incredible bike ridership by American standards, and it's raining all the damn time there, but people get the right clothes for it and deal with it. Bike ridership is much lower in my town, Santa Monica CA, which is by the beach with ideal year round weather and is almost entirely flat, but we have not yet made the same level of investment Portland has into bike facilities & education, but our new bike plan is putting us onto that path.

When I talk to people on the edge of considering giving bike commuting a try to get into work, the number one setback is almost always fear, not that it is hard. Alleviating fears of riding is a problem which can be solved with modest shifts to engineering, sometimes just striping paint differently on some routes, and better education for both riders and drivers.

It does take some effort on the part of society and our public funding to improve bicycle facilities, but such improvements are miniscule compared to high capacity rapid transit projects and auto highways, and bicycling is reasonably affordable to all even in a down economy, while mass conversion to the latest energy efficient or alternative energy cars is not.

I do think we'll need more EV's and such things in the mix, but I think given the circumstances, and how long it takes for US vehicle fleet replacement, I think way too much faith is being placed in new technology to keep things running as they are, which I don't believe is possible. We can make significant gains at less cost by boosting bike ridership particularly for short trips and errands, and connections to existing and pending transit investments. If the well off can afford the latest car tech, great, but I'm concerned with low oil mobility solutions that can benefit everyone at low cost and be implemented rapidly.

Even if some people never ride a bike, if more people who can do, it is a win win for everyone because it reduces the pool of competition that effects congestion and car parking availability, and improves the physical health (lowering medical costs) of our population.

I like your thinking, except EVs really are pretty affordable. A Leaf is only $20k in California, and a Prius is less expensive than the average new car.

Affordable is relative. For people struggling to find work and barely keeping up with higher food prices while sitting on a house worth less than owe, or barely making rent, dropping $20k for a new car is quite likely out of the question even if it may save fuel costs down the road.

If peak oil is in fact in the near term, I believe the problem of people being unable or unwilling to buy new cars will grow as certain components of our economy are stressed, and if we do not provide alternative arrangements that can be implemented quickly and easily, it will create a crisis of mobility for millions of Americans.

It should be also noted that many Americans already don't own cars, especially in metro areas, and they often slog through inadequate transit systems and fend for their lives on bikes amongst hostile drivers in communities which do not offer separate bike lanes or paths that connect to jobs. We have made not owning a car marginal and disdained (I personally do not own a car), but it doesn't have to be that way if we plan appropriately, and some cities like Portland are showing leadership on this.

Looking at the stalled sales rate of EV's compared to other cars, and an overall vehicle fleet replacement rate that has dropped since the 08 crash, I believe it will take far too long to transition our car culture as we currently understand it in time for a smooth or simple transition. At least not in a way that is democratic or accessible to all.

I am under no illusion that bikes can fix everything, but I think they are critical component that is often overlooked or disparaged by people I feel ought to know better.

Some more of my thoughts on EV's and alt-cars can be found in this column I wrote for Santa Monica Patch following the Santa Monica Alt-Car expo:

Cogently written; well done.

Sustainable transportation doesn’t have to involve rocket science, lithium ion, and costly monthly payments. It can be as simple as a good pair of walking shoes, a bike, and a transit pass. If we want those options to be more pleasant, safe, and timely, it's not going to happen unless we decide to shift our priorities.

I believe we will eventually view alternatives to driving as necessities in America, whether by choice or forced by unfortunate circumstance. Hopefully we plan appropriately, the time for kicking cans down the road is long gone.

The car age is coming to a close. There will still be some around for sure but not anything like what we have now. The planet took a beating but the freedom of movement was wonderful.

I agree that bikes are great, and we should do more to make them easier to use.

One detail: we should note that EV sales aren't stalled - production is just ramping up a bit slower than forecast.

BTW, year-end numbers for the Volt and Leaf are in and, as I expected, they were too expensive to sell out their initial production run:

Chevy Volt misses first-year sales target

That's not necessarily an unexpected thing because new products take time to get traction and the current products are version 1.0. Still, it seems to demonstrate that ICE cars are preferred by most people because, in my view, they perform better than these two products at the same price point.

In time, the Volt and Leaf will improve. Unfortunately, both companies will cease to exist sometime this decade, in my estimation.


I'm just baffled that anyone continues to say that there was insufficient demand for EVs. That's disinformation from Fox News types. There are very long waiting lists for both the Volt and Leaf. Heck, the Leaf is dirt cheap in California at $20k.

Now, if you want to criticize GM and Nissan for missing their production targets, that's slightly fairer game. Of course, a certain nuclear disaster had something to do with it...

The waiting list could be five people and, in the case of the Volt, they have to make up for a 25% shortfall.

How many people are on the waiting list? What evidence do you have that the manufacturers had production difficulty?

Well, there was that article you found a few weeks back, that said that it was a production problem in very strong language. I think a cursory search will find it or similar articles.

I haven't noticed much concrete info on the cuase of the production delay - we're probably looking at a problem of proprietary, competitive info.

Here's a hint:

So neither of us have solid evidence for our points of view.

Fair enough. I'm content to assume it's due to lack of demand. This is frequently the case in the technology for 1.0 products because they are too expensive and/or not yet good enough for the mainstream market. In other words, low sales are to be expected. It's the rare product that is a smash hit when it first hits the market.

I'm operating on the generally accepted technology adoption curve:


We might have moved into the Early Adopters part of the curve...but then again, most likely not. 20,000 EV/PHEV cars out of 15 million (0.133% of total sales) seems closer to the Innovator part of the curve to me.

What's your evidence that there are waiting lists? And how long are they?

Ah, here's the article you provided previously:

"It's about the supply, stupid

As we've noted several times (here and here, for instance), it's not lack of demand for Volts and Leafs that are keeping their sales low. It's lack of supply.

(So don't believe everything you hear about how "electric cars are a FAILURE !!!" in, ahem, certain portions of the media.)

Nissan can only build 50,000 Leafs this year and next, and that's the supply for the entire world--not only the U.S. (and now Canada) but also Japan, the rest of Asia, and Europe. And that's before the devastating impact of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in February.

Chevy plans to build up to 60,000 Volts and Opel/Vauxhall Amperas next year, up from a maximum capacity of 16,000 this year.

Lengthy waiting lists

Both cars have lengthy waiting lists, and at the moment, neither car is available throughout the U.S. Chevrolet says the Volt will be available--at selected dealers--throughout the country by the end of this year; Nissan says the Leaf will be available nationwide by the end of next year."

Here's another:

"Now that General Motors has ramped up production of the Chevy Volt, sales are following suit.".

I'd still like to see some numbers: what is a lengthy waiting list to this writer? 200 vehicles? 500 vehicles? 1000 vehicles?

The article above says Chevy's maximum capacity this year was 16,000. The other article said their sales goal was 10,000. Why so low if their capacity was so much higher?

The Leaf has been out longer, is cheaper and is still underselling the Volt. Why is that?

You argued a few months that sales would catch up as the cars were more available throughout the country. That clearly didn't happen. The author of the article you quoted asserts that it's a supply problem but doesn't back it up with an numbers. That could just be his wishful thinking/spin.

I believe the Leaf backlog is in the 10's of thousands.

The Volt max capacity was only reached at the end of the year.

At the moment, the Leaf is selling more than the Volt, at about 20,000 in 2011. Remember, the Leaf sells globally - I believe a big short-term Japanese rebate drew cars away from the US, while production was hurt by the tsunami.

Yes, we'd all like more data.

No, not any more.

The state has run out of the $5,000 rebates it was giving people who purchased all-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster.


That's on top of a price increase for the Nissan Leaf. The automaker said this week that it would raise the price of the base model when the 2012 cars come out this fall by $2,420 to $36,050, including destination charge. The higher-trim-level Leaf SL will go up $3,530 to $38,100, including destination charge.


It looks like Nissan is very confident about not needing that rebate. The article says:

"Nissan also is gearing up Leaf production. " and

"The government is saying that if you are an early adopter, be prepared to pay for it," said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at auto information website TrueCar. He said there's enough demand for electric vehicles to absorb some price increases and shrinking rebates, at least for the next year or so.

Considering the abundance of ridiculously expensive cars in southern coastal California, Nissan and Toprak may very well both be right in the short term. And it's not bad at all to have rich early adopters paying the freight. OTOH, it must eventually come down to regions harboring fewer massively overpaid Hollywood "stars" and the like; then we'll get to see how the true scalability works out...

Nissan isn't relying on California, or even the US. Their strategy is global.

Almost bought a Leaf. $32k w/ $7500 back looked real good, until I got a out-the-door price quote and realized like most large cities, our sales tax is near 10%, and with license fees, and etc. I was really talking $40k or $600/mo. Epic fail. Disappointing, really, but I'm not arguing against it, just putting some real numbers out there for people to argue over...not alot of people I know are ready to shell out $600, even if they are saving $200 of that in gas, but maybe my friends are below average. A tax credit is real nice, but most people don't go out and refi when they get their check from uncle sam, so the montly payment is still a killer. Now if I commuted 75 mi from home, and there was a charging station at work, it would probably make sense immediately, but fortunately I don't live in CA (not knocking CA, just commuting 2hrs/day).

I'd be curious to see the actual numbers, if you still have them.

You could try the lease - at $350 per month, you'd have a cost of only $150 per month after gas savings....

The table of contents ... listing the chapters ... seems to be quite comprehensive. Good luck. Will consider a purchase upon publishing.

Congratulations on rising to this challenge! I have been telling my college students that they will need to become the Next Great Generation, and quickly, and they are shocked to be spoken to as if BAU won't go on forever. Your efforts probably will be an important part of the process.

Chapter 11 on the Race to Replace Oil should treat electrification of motor transport in depth, since analyses indicate that the scale needed to replace fossil liquid fuels with liquid biofuels is unattainable. See for example
or T. Patzek, Chapter 2 "Can the Earth Deliver the the Biomass-for-Fuel We Demand" in D. Pimentel's "Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems: Benefits and Risks"
It does look as if liquid biofuels will be essential, however, as a bridge to buy the time for tech innovation and infrastructure development to make electrification feasible, as well as to provide for uses like aircraft where liquids are irreplacable. Maybe start by saying something about the 50+ Chinese companies now developing/building electric cars...

I recommend taking a look at Lester & Hart's Unlocking Energy Innovation
L&H postulate 3 waves of innovation necessary to transform the energy system, and they argue for specific and substantial changes to the policy framework, without which the waves will be unable to develop. Such systematic views of the policy scene are rare, and this may help organize all the moving parts of your argument or challenge you to propose your own alternative view.

Above all, I hope you don't argue that we simply can't afford to invest for change - that economic argument is fundamentally self-defeating and provides no hope for the future. If you intent is to inspire, you need to model the change you advocate.

Hi Robert,

Are you referencing the DOD Joint Operating Environment 2010 study where they are pointing to a liquid fuels crisis in the not too distant future? Page 29 is an eye opener:

"By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the
shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD."


Matt Simmons and T. Boone Pickens were/are pointing to a liquid fuels problem. Matt was championing Maine wind turbines to generate ammonia and T. Boone is championing Natural Gas as an automotive fuel.

One idea to keep in mind is that solar hot water (SHW) can be used to power an electric vehicle INDIRECTLY. SHW can save 3100 kwhr/year. If you drive 310 times a year, that's 10 kwhr/drive or a distance of 30 to 85 miles depending on type of vehicle (pickup to iMiev [PR material]), driving and road conditions, etc. The SHW can pay for itself using the difference in price between gasoline and electricity. Payback is anywhere from 3 to 10 years depending upon the cost of both.

TBTB side tracked us with hydrogen/fuel cells. There were too many technical problems that had to be solved. Compressing hydrogen to 5 tons/square inch into specially wound tanks that could rupture in vehicles that weigh 1.5 tons was one of them. Not being able to operate below -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) was another. I counted another 7 major obstacles that had to be solved including removal of minute amounts of CO from reformatted Natural Gas that would eat at the PEM membrane.

"By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the
shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD."

I will have to go back and check, but I think I actually quoted this. I definitely referred to it in a sidebar about government reports that address peak oil.

I would echo the comments by norlight and dohboi on conservation, but add that in the Politics/Road Ahead nexus, there needs to be a discussion of "quality of life". Given that the consensus is clearly that we will have access to less, reframing an energy glut as a negative will be a useful anchor for the acceptance of the information you provide. This approach is that presented by Kunstler, Astyk, and much of the Transition movement literature.
Best wishes.

Robert: It is not clear what is your message you are trying to leave with readers of the book?

I see two key messages, namely 1) oil supplies constrain economic growth and are likely to be even more constrained over the coming decades, and 2) Global warming is a long term threat to civilized existance and needs to be addressed _now_ by moving away from fossil fuels.

In that context:
1) the scale and cheapness of oil supplies in contrast to renewable-based liquid fuels needs to be communicated; as well as some sense of the longer term potential (difficulty) for alternative liquid fuels to provide a replacement for likely declines in oil production. Not sure if this comes in the intro or after the alternative sources of transportation energy are discussed.

2) The book should communicate the scale of resources (capital costs, material, etc.) that are required for replacing fossil-fuel-based electrical generating.

For both of these messages, one needs to underline in $$ terms (order of magnitude) why public policy is needed to implement what might be plausible but much higher costs replacements for 1) oil, and 2) fossil-fuel-derived electricity.

Good luck!

I'll be very interested in whether and how you deal with regionalization in the final chapter. I think it's particularly important with respect to the questions around electricity -- regionalization seems inevitable given the difficulties of intercontinental and even transcontinental transport, plus difficulty of storage. Different regions will face different problems of both scale and available resources. "Natural" regional boundaries -- the split between Eastern and Western Interconnects in North America are an example of such boundaries, I believe -- may not match up well with existing political boundaries.

US and Canadian political dynamics should be "interesting". In the US, financial and political power is centered in the BosWash corridor, which is quite poor in energy resources relative to its population. In Canada, such power is largely centered in Ontario, with the rich energy resources considerably to the east and even farther to the west. Whether the political centers can hold if they are too dependent on distant resources to keep the lights on is, IMO, a reasonable question to ask.

Greater interconnectedness of the grid seems more likely to me. It has advantages in terms of energy efficiency (although transmission takes energy, it allows lower operation of less efficient powerplants) and cost efficiency (requires less generation capacity due to noncoincident loads in different time zones). The Eastern and Western and Texas Interconnects are currently (lightly) connected in a number of places and could be connected much more strongly in future. They are not SYNCHRONIZED. All of the (normally closed) connections are DC.

While reasonable people can certainly disagree on the topic, I just don't see it.

  • The population "anchor" for the Eastern Interconnect is BosWash, for the West SoCal. Both account for about 25% of the population of their respective interconnects. The fundamental problems are delivering power to those anchors. For argument purposes, assume that power can be shunted around freely between any of SoCal, Las Vegas, or Phoenix. Leave the question of whether Las Vegas and Phoenix can survive climate change for another day :^) Ditto for the various cities in BosWash.
  • In several ways, the distribution of population in the West reduces the complexity of its transmission grid. By the US Census Bureau definition, the West is significantly less rural then the East; the suburbs may sprawl, but people do tend to be bunched up into a much smaller number of urban/suburban areas. The empty spaces in between are a lot emptier in the West.
  • The states in the West have a number of large projects at various stages of planning or approval that deliver renewable power to California: the High Plains Express can gather wind and other power from as far north as Montana and as far south as New Mexico (yay, geographic distribution) and move it to Phoenix; the TransWest Express would deliver power from various sources in Wyoming/Utah/Colorado to the Las Vegas area; the California-Oregon Transmission Project would bring more power from the Northwest to Northern California; there's even a proposal for a transmission line running down the east side of the Sierras to collect geothermal and solar power, and deliver it to either Las Vegas or Northern California.
  • I have to plead ignorance to the details of large-scale grid planning in the East. They may be far along with plans to bring in renewable power commensurate with the size of the BosWash anchor, and I'm just not aware of it. I know about the proposed offshore transmission line, nominally for collecting wind power, generally acknowledged that it's more likely to deliver coal power from Southern Virginia to NYC.
  • The only new intertie that's really in planning is the Tres Amigas superconducting facility. It's proximity to the HPX route makes it useful in the West; proximity to the renewable collection network being planned for West Texas makes it useful to Texas; without very large new grid construction, it seems to be marginal (at best) for helping the Eastern population centers.

Tres Amigas is huge with respect to the size of the Western and Texas grids. The MISO has more wind built than Texas. Chicago is so strongly connected to the Mid-Atlantic that it's part of the PJM. BosWash has a lot of people, but not nearly so much electrical load.

At least two excellent discussion points.

It is my understanding that the primary motivation for ComEd's joining PJM was so that the generating subsidiaries of Exelon would have the opportunity to sell power into eastern seaboard markets, and that one of the consequences of this will be higher average power prices in northern Illinois. I think this helps make my point: a portion of BosWash exerting its financial power (ability to pay higher rates, net of transmission costs) to extract energy from physically distant areas. Can they extract enough to meet their needs? I think BosWash faces some serious shortages over the next two decades. MISO's wind power shouldn't be compared to Texas' wind power, it should be compared to BosWash's aging nuclear fleet.

Tres Amigas is even more interesting. There wasn't a whole lot of choice about positioning if it was going to be tied to all three interconnects. Its capacity may be enormous; however, to make use of that assumes massive amounts of excess power in at least one of the interconnects and the transmission capacity to move that power to the site. I don't understand where that power is supposed to be coming from.

In the US, financial and political power is centered in the BosWash corridor, as a way to change that.

It all starts with a faint rumbling of the earth, thousands of miles away. Near the African shore, the volcanic island of La Palma will rumble with seismic activity, announcing yet another eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the southern half of the island. But this time, the unstable western flank of the volcano doesn't hold. A huge chunk of the island simply breaks off and drops into the Atlantic Ocean. Plunge! No; PLUNGE!

You should mention the decisions that have given the US its extremely high oil consumption rates - the decision to build the US Interstate system (with the resultant decline in passenger rail), the decisions to build freeways (notably in California) instead of maintaining urban and interurban rail systems (and the resultant decline in them), the generic American resistance to taxes, with the resultant low fuel taxes and high fuel consumption (compared to high-tax European and Asian countries).

You might also talk about the restructuring of American cities around the automobile, with the result that the concept of the "walkable" city has disappeared and modern suburbs are now thoroughly unwalkable - locking people into using automobiles whether they can afford them or not.

As far as replacements for oil, you should mention the two biggest ones -coal and natural gas. Despite the fact that the environmentalists hate coal, it is the choice that has been made by the most highly populated countries on earth - China and India, and that has inescapable consequences for the rest of the world. Natural gas is widely available, but hard to transport and store, so it requires a lot of planning infrastructure, which is not going to happen by accident.

As far as the road ahead goes - you might discuss how this is obstructed by the rise in oil consumption by the developing (esp. BRIC) countries, and their increasing demand on limited global oil supplies. This is going to make life extremely difficult for the developed countries who are counting on widely available supplies of cheap oil to maintain their lifestyles. The result may be that middle class people the developing countries end up with a better lifestyle than people in the US.

I agree that some mention of our 20th Century transportation choices, and the subsequent results, would be very helpful, even if they come only in the final chapter. I hear people talk about mass transit, intercity passenger rail, or even truck to rail choices as if these were quick and inexpensive options. Many people assume, based on news reports and talk radio, that the Amtrak system has trains running everywhere and are shocked to find out that service beyond the northeast corridor is skeleton-level. There is also lack of understanding regarding economy of scale; I had a mayor of a 50,000 population city asking why he couldn't get funding for commuter rail. We are really very far down the low-cost energy road and have made remarkably poor choices all along the way.

Hi Robert, My neighbor are Amish, conducting their farming through animal conversion of plant energy reserves. Corn grain is a mainstream energy source(ethanol), so all grains(oats) are thus harnessed to the wheel of industrial energy production. Acres in hay production could be diverted to grain production, thereby linking forage production to oil as well. Pimentel from Cornell published years ago on this topic. I wish you would treat ther EROEI of solar powered agriculture in your book.
The Amish operate a collectivist society within their ranks and are highly self-reliant. I have noticed, however, they are ever alert to opportunities to get a little money from the English(us). I think they are hooked on oil as we are and will suffer oil depletion despite their avoidance of car ownership and electric lights. Thanks, Kim Shaklee

Conservation/energy efficiency should be given some prominence. In the Pacific NW, the regional power planning agency ( treats conservation as a resource that, on a levelized cost basis, is the cheapest resource in its 20-year 6th Power Plan.

Another topic dear to my heart is food production's reliance on fossile fuels. For instance, the greenhouse gas emission from meat production surpasses that from transportation.

Dear Mr. Rapier,

You may want to mention the RET (radiant energy transfer) technology in your new book. This revolutionary technology can dissociate water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen economically and competitively with fossil fuels. You may obtain more information about the physics and chemistry of this technology from their website:

Good Luck!

Interesting technology for sure!

Unfortunately anyone who believes in infinite anything is a deluded cornucopian who doesn't understand the interconnectedness of resource limits on a finite planet. We needed to powerdown and stop population growth on this planet of ours a long time ago. The last thing we need is infinite hydrogen, even assuming such a thing were possible and it obviously isn't, despite the cheerily optimistic claims.

The company recently produced hydrogen from wastewater obtained from a municipal waste treatment plant. In order to drive the process, any form of waste heat that is readily available can be used. Given the abundance of solar and geothermal heat, it is possible to have an infinite source of hydrogen. This enables the solution of two major issues facing mankind: peak oil and global warming. Since hydrogen can be produced anywhere using the RET, costs of production, transportation and storage of hydrogen are minimized, resulting in economics that are very competitive with fossil fuels. The process does not use carbon and the hydrogen generated can be used as an energy source; water being the only product, so that it is completely compatible with natural environmental cycles.

This kind of thinking neglects to address the number one issue facing mankind, The impossibility of continued growth on a finite planet! When will we ever learn?

It sounds like a poor choice of words/rhetoric to me. Instead of infinite they should have said renewable. Of course badly incompetent PR writers might be a sign of a low quality corporation.

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Everything at screams SCAM to me. Their patent:

and patent application

are for perpetual motion machines of the first or second type. It isn't quite clear which. I suspect it is some of both. They (claim to) generate hydrogen and oxygen with less energy input than obtained by burning the resulting H2 + O2.

They claim that BTUs from burning their H2 + O2 are cheaper than coal, cheaper than natural gas.

The heart of their “magic” is the RET chamber, which dissociates steam or water vapor into H2 and O2 using the energy contained in the steam at 100% thermal efficiency. He doesn't actually say this.

What he says is that he is taking waste steam at 20 C, and instead of condensing it at 20 C, he is dissociating it into H2 and O2 using 100% of the enthalpy minus the PV work (which is the internal energy).

It isn't clear to me if it is deliberate fraud or simply complete misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

In either case this has zero likelihood of success. On the order of the likelihood of Hell freezing over (which requires similar thermodynamic effects for all the heat in Hell to spontaneously disappear.

An LLC with a Colombian web domain, interesting?


It is clear enough that this process is just another fly by night scheme designed to fleece a few well heeled but technically ignorant investors, given the extraordinary claims, impossible claims, being made for it.

But it does remind me of something important;does anybody know of any potentially useful promising new engineering process to break down water to hydrogen and oxygen which is under development?

This would be any new process more practical and economical than electrolysis, which is an old technology with which I am acquainted.

I admit I've been reading the 'Ol Drum alot more than Science News of late, but I seen about nothing on hydrogen the last few years. Science News seems to be an excellent aggregator of reviewed journal articles, so it would seem to me the mainstream science establishment is spending all it's extra 'energy' on batteries & solar cells lately instead of hydrogen.


Hydrogen is not a primary source of energy. It's like saying let's solve the cheap oil crises using electricity....

This revolutionary technology can dissociate water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen economically and competitively with fossil fuels.

Don Lancaster (not the water Don) points out the flaws in Hydrogen here. Lets see if HydroBaron will bother to refute all of Don's points.


Your background is in biomass, so you tend to focus on that. That makes sense - why not leverage your strength? But, here you're writing a general book on energy, and you need to de-emphasize biomass.

So, as said above, Chapter 11 on the Race to Replace Oil should treat electrification of motor transport in depth, and make biofuels secondary. Biofuels will be needed, especially as a bridge, but as you know they can't be the main solution. The primary solution will be Electric Vehicles, either in the form of electric rail for freight, or personal EVs (probably with liquid fueled range extender generators on board to provide the 10% of miles that are long-range, as with the Volt).

Please note that EVs are already cheaper than ICE vehicles over their full lifecycle, and there are no real obstacles to ramping them up to replace ICEs. The only obstacles historically have been resistance from legacy industries that wanted to hide the external costs of oil and prevent competitors from achieving economies of scale.

Similarly, personal EVs should get more much emphasis than mass transit (or changes in urban design). Mass transit is great (I love and use electric rail every day), but it is very slow and expensive to build and operate, and very inconvenient for passenger traffic for most uses and places. EVs will be the primary solution for passenger travel.

The primary solution will be Electric Vehicles, either in the form of electric rail for freight, or personal EVs (probably with liquid fueled range extender generators on board to provide the 10% of miles that are long-range, as with the Volt).

That is my belief as well, that if there is a solution that allows us mobility similar to what we enjoy today, it will primarily involve solar power and electric transport.

I'd be happy to discuss that here, if you have the time.

I think there's very little question that HEVs/PHEV/EREV/EVs can do everything ICE vehicles can do, and do it better and cheaper: their lifecycle costs are already equal to ICEs and falling; they have better performance and handling, ceterus paribus; wind and solar electricity are affordable and scalable; and EREVs can provide mobility equal to ICEs with 10% of the fuel, which is a volume that ethanol can handle.

Which of those points raises a question for you?

I think the open questions will be around the life-cycle costs (which I don't think we can know until people start to replace the batteries in their Volts and Leafs), range, purchase price, and intermittency of the electricity. A great deal is dependent on the continual improvement of energy storage (something my group is actually working on) to smooth out the intermittency issue (something I discuss in the book).

I agree that we don't have absolute, 100% assurance that EV batteries will be as durable and affordable as we would like. On the other hand, we know quite a bit about them, to the point that I think the risk is extremely low.

1) both GM and Nissan have bet their corporate reputations and future on EVs. The Volt is GM's corporate halo vehicle - I think we can be assured that they are extremely confident that the battery will last at least as long as it has been warranteed to do: Eight years or 100, 000 miles, with at least 70% of range at those end points. Similarly, the Volt battery comes from LG-Chem, a very large and reputable company. Whatever one might say about these companies, I think we have to agree that they have world-class engineering resources, and that their promises have a great deal of credibility.

If the Volt battery lasts for 100,000 miles, and costs less than, say, $15,000 (both GM and LG Chem indicate it costs well below that figure) then the cost per mile for the battery is about $.15 per mile, which is equal to the cost of fueling the average US car (@22 MPG) at $3.30 gasoline. Add in $.03/mile for electricity, and we have parity at about $4 per gallon. And that's a conservatively high figure.

2) A123System batteries have been in the commercial and hobbyist marketplace for quite some time now, and have stood up quite well. They show that li-ion batteries can be very durable and cost effective.

Now, intermittency is an extended discussion.

Here are some thoughts:

1) US generating capacity is substantially overbuilt, due to structural regulatory incentives to build capacity. Demand Side Management could reduce peak demand substantially. This means that however much renewables are built, we have sufficient conventional peak generating capacity which could be used for the roughly 5% of the kWhs that would need to come from backup power to ensure system reliability. Fossil fuels would last for several hundred years if used for only 5% of grid kWs - obviously long enough for a transition to a 100% renewable grid.

2) if all 230M vehicles in the US were EREVs, this would create an enormous amount of storage that would be paid for by consumers for the direct benefit of mobility. This storage could be used for Demand Side Management or V2G to deal with short term variation in renewable generation. This strategy would be extremely low cost, especially for DSM (V2G might be somewhat more expensive if batteries do not decline in cost per cycle, but would be affordable for use for low incidence, high value application).

3) overbuilding renewables a modest amount - perhaps 25% - would greatly reduce the percentage of time that renewables would produce less than average demand, while creating a large surplus of very low-cost electricity. That surplus could be used asymmmetrically to produce easily stored fuels such as hydrogen or methane which could be stored very cheaply underground. The low efficiency of this process wouldn't matter because the input electricity would be so cheap. This insensitivity to efficiency in turn would allow very low cost generation to be used for backup - perhaps as low as $.2 per watt for single cycle turbines or even diesel type engines.

This strategy would address the largest obstacle raised to a 100% renewable grid: seasonal extended lulls in production.

While I agree with what Nick says above, it seems to me that one of the critical open questions is now quickly can the existing diesel and gasoline that is being used for land transport be replaced by EV and PHEVs.
If we have a serious shortage, we should expect some form of rationing of liquid fuels. Under this scenario, battery life or cost will not be an issue for the vast majority of people who need cars or trucks to commute or carry on work. The only issue will be the ability of vehicle manufacturers to ramp up production and supply models suitable for both commercial and private transportation. Under fuel rationing consumers will buy all of the EV and PHEVs that can be manufactured, as well as keep the high mpg vehicles such as Prius going for much longer than average 15 years lifetime.

Under fuel rationing consumers will buy all of the EV and PHEVs that can be manufactured

Possibly...I thought this too until I realized that lack of credit will make the penetration rate of EVs and PHEVs much, much slower than most people think.

If credit is available, your statement (mostly) stands. Not very many cars of these types are made anyway so it's not that risky a prediction (again, if credit is available).

However, under fuel rationing, the economy will be a very different thing from now. It will be shrinking and the prospect of no further growth means that credit will be largely unavailable.

If credit is unavailable, like during the GFC of 2008/2009, and since 90% of all vehicles (and homes, as it happens) are bought on credit, then things will play out very differently. This isn't speculation. We saw exactly this happen two years ago. The banks weren't lending to people who just a bit earlier would have received credit and bought their cars from the manufacturers.

In this scenario, sales of all car companies plummet (we saw that two years ago), the car companies go bankrupt (again) but this time they aren't bailed out. It doesn't matter that GM or Nissan have 1% of their production devoted to these new cars and that internally they consider them "the future." If they can't sell the other 99%, the car companies fail. It's that simple.

I predict that the current set of car companies will disappear by the end of the decade and, in time, a new set will arise that will offer very different vehicles than we have now. And, of course, *much* lower production numbers. No longer will 15 million four-wheeled vehicles be sold per year in the U.S., for instance. Quite a few electric bikes might get sold, though.

Yes, there is a risk that our economies will be mismanaged, and credit will crash. On the other hand, there is no reason for this to happen based on the physical realities: there will be enough fuel for freight to be delivered, and for people to get to work.

We saw that happen in the Depression - the economy functioned well below where it should have been. Fortunately, some of us have learned some lessons. Not people like Ron Paul, but some of us.

Well, there we differ, Nick. The world is awash in debt and a restructuring is, in my view, coming no matter what the proximate cause is. Physical resources could trigger the collapse of the debt bubble, or just the internal dynamics of debt bubbles could start the process. Either way, this bubble is going to pop. If you can't see that, you implicitly believe growth can continue forever on a finite planet, which is absurd (though many, many people who have no scientific training believe this).

We should be winding down our debt position across our entire economy before the system does it for us. In other words, we should manage the decline (if that's even possible at this late stage) and reset our system at a much lower level of debt issuance, say less than 10% of the economy. Here is our current situation:


When that derivative bubble pops, you'd better have chickens and goats in your backyard and be very good friends with your neighbors.

For now and the medium-term future, debt is going to run our lives. We are seeing this with the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. But don't forget that in the U.S. there is *a lot* of private debt and it dwarfs public debt. Once the economy contracts significantly (which it must either by declining oil production or because the worldwide debt bubble pops due to internal dynamics), it won't be just the car companies looking for money, it will be the utility sector as well. If they can't keep servicing their debt, the power won't stay on no matter how much excess capacity they have.

Private Debt Dominates

From this 2008 IEE report "The Financial Crisis and Its Impact on the Electric Utility Industry":

The electric utility industry represents the second most capital-intensive sector in the United States, surpassed only by the railroad industry.
As the industry enters this period of historic capital investment, it confronts two separate but inter-related challenges: first, the industry’s financial and credit strength is substantially lower than when it last entered such a period in the 1980s; second, the capital markets are in turmoil, with unprecedented volatility negatively impacting the availability, terms, and cost of capital.
Due to a total absence of investor confidence, the credit markets literally froze for nearly a two-week period in mid-September 2008. Liquidity dried up completely. Trust evaporated.
It is important to note that at the onset of the last major utility capex cycle in the 1970s and 1980s, the industry’s senior debt was largely rated “A” and “AA.” As of December 31, 2008, with companies poised to embark on a significant new construction initiative in the context of a major financial crisis, the average senior debt rating was “BBB,” as illustrated in Figure 3. The implications for credit downgrades are very serious.
At a minimum, a debt downgrade results in rising financing costs. That causal effect certainly would prove true in the current environment. However, a more draconian outcome also could transpire: being shut out of the financial markets.

Robert, you have to decide how much of the "externalities" to energy you want to discuss in your book. It's not crystal clear where to draw the line. However, if I were writing it, I would outline two scenarios: one in which a moderate level of debt is available to our economy for maintaining and replacing existing infrastructure (mostly provided by governments) and a second scenario in which little credit is available.

I'm personally planning for a future in which the credit spigot is essentially turned off and many, many companies across all sectors go out of business (including alternative energy companies). This is the prudent way to plan for our future, I believe. You haven't said you believe this but thinking that we are going to have unlimited credit to transform our economy is simply not an intellectually credible position.

In my view, if you don't consider how we respond to the crushing debt we will be dealing with in whatever scenario you construct, I think your book will be an interesting technical addition to the oeuvre but won't meaningfully apply to our lives.

Instead, tell the readers how we get through this difficult period and still transform as much of the energy sector as we can given all the difficulties we face and you will make a valuable addition. It's not just the technical bits of thorium reactors, wind, etc. but who is going to provide the capital for these technologies to be built that needs to be considered.

Robert, you have to decide how much of the "externalities" to energy you want to discuss in your book. It's not crystal clear where to draw the line.

I think this is the $64,000 Question about how you pitch this sort of book and what is it's purpose. The ability of politics to tackle the socio-finacial aspects of all this is the deal breaker.

does one address that as a self/peer appointed energy guru?

It strikes me that this community has danced around this question since back in the day and its leading lights are very reluctant to throw their hat(s) into the ring. All this talk of mitigation suggests to me that a lot of entrenched thinking will have to be brushed aside. At some point this will involve some sort of head on confrontation. No matter how difficult or slow this appears the earlier someone[!] starts the less distance it is until the end of the tunnel.

it's late in the day.

Clearly not every book is intended to be the manifesto of the ages on this subject but a move in that direction is perhaps called for.

And, again I ask:

Have you read "This Time is Different - Eight Centuries of Financial Folly"??

You'll see that the current credit bubble isn't really new. We've lived through many bubbles before, and we'll live through many to come.

For instance, Greece has been defaulting on it's debt regularly every 25 years for the last 200 years. The difference for Greece this time is the Euro, and the complications arising from Greece being tied to the EC.

I certainly agree that PO (or PO-Lite) will cause a serious "head-wind" for economies in the coming years, but collapse is an apocalyptic red herring, mostly useful to oil companies who'd like to scare us away from alternatives.

well I have lived thru a few myself and this one is different not least because the various economies are interlinked more tightly.

Why should that be? perhaps there is some sort of boundary issue involved? If it is all understood so well Its hard to imagine why it goes wrong to start with except to accept that the "system" or whatever you want to call it produces a state of utter powerlessness and it is not going wrong and this sort of thing is a good thing. silver linings and all that. Clearly every time this happens it has to be different in some way... or it wouldn't happen. I could write a book about the general similarities between many historical mechanisms buts it is the understanding of technical differences that allows me insight into the future. 2nd and third order effects overlying each other.

I suppose that is why these sort of wheels with-in wheels type arguments are often omitted from books such as RR's.

I just keep getting the feeling no one is really asking what the goal is anyway never mind whether it went off the rails or not.

What assumptions is RR making in his book? is there some solid definition of a per capita lifestyle consumption target say? I would expect that such a thing is a bona fide priority before expanding any analysis.

well I have lived thru a few myself and this one is different

That's because economists learned from the Depression, and economic management was better until the 1990's when those lessons were forgotten.

Go back to US history from 1800 to 1920, and you'll see a lot of doozies. Many of them were larger than the 2008 event, but have been forgotten because they were small in the context of the time. For example, there was a recession around 1916 that killed off many of the then existing car companies.

What you fail to consider is that the various bubbles of the past took place on a planet with abundant, relatively easily obtainable resources (good top soil, good mineral access, abundant fish, a fossil-fuel jackpot, etc. etc.), much less population, a stable climate and a growing economy that could soak up displaced workers given enough time.

The future we face has diminishing resources and a still-expanding population (at least for a while) that must divvy up a shrinking pie instead of an expanding pie. This means that debt bubbles (yes, I agree that they may still occur) will be smaller if they happen at all. We must also split whatever wealth is generated in this environment with more and more people, many of whom the economy will not have any reason to employ except at subsistence levels. This is a vastly different world we are entering.

So, yes, this time it is different. Sorry you can't see that.

I suppose the other obvious point is why do advocates place such faith in something they them self argue keeps failing? As thou that was a measure of how successful it was.

I mean if you can trace 800 yrs of this nonsense its hard to avoid the notion maybe you should try something else.

just a thought

It's like the quote about democracy - it's not great, but better than anything else we've tried.

the various bubbles of the past took place on a planet with abundant, relatively easily obtainable resources

Not at all. Look at the title of the book: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Oil has been important for 100 years, other FFs for maybe 250.

The future we face has diminishing resources

Not of energy. Nor of many minerals such as iron, aluminum, carbon, silicon, etc, etc. The effects of Climate Change will probably be a doozy, but it remains to be seen whether we can prevent or adapt to them. It seems pretty clear we won't be emitting as much carbon as the IPCC assumes.

What you fail to consider is that the various bubbles of the past took place on a planet with abundant, relatively easily obtainable resources (good top soil, good mineral access, abundant fish, a fossil-fuel jackpot, etc. etc.), much less population, a stable climate and a growing economy that could soak up displaced workers given enough time.

Which is precisely why Nick's $20,000 Volt or Leaf or whatever is patently unsustainable and way too expensive for the average consumer today, let alone 5 years from now.

Let's not forget the 40 million Americans already on food stamps and without access to health care today. Personally I see no way to keep those numbers from growing significantly in the next decade or so. Calling the $20,000 EV, cheap, is nothing but a cruel a joke!

$20,000 Volt or Leaf or whatever is patently unsustainable and way too expensive for the average consumer today

The average new US vehicle costs $30,000.

The average new US vehicle costs $30,000.

Nick you seem like a pretty smart guy! However for some reason you don't seem to be able to grasp the simple fact that sales of private automobiles at $30,000 or $20,000 depends on the continuation of BAU. That is no longer going to be possible.

I'm 100% convinced that some form of EV will be available in the future but it will have to cost less than $5,000 and will look a lot more like a solar powered electric assist velomobile or an electric scooter and not like any private ICE powered car we have on the road today. I see lot's of walking and biking to the train station as well.

U.S. light vehicle sales in 2008 were at their lowest level in 16 years. After nine straight years of
sales levels above 16 million vehicles, the U.S. market fell to 13.2 million vehicles, a decrease of
18 percent compared to 2007.1 The economic downturn that began during the first half of 2008
hurt not only the Detroit 3 (GM, Ford and Chrysler), but all automakers, as well as suppliers and
dealers. Every automaker selling in the United States experienced a sales decline in 2008, with
the exception of Subaru, which had only a 0.3 percent increase.

continuation of BAU. That is no longer going to be possible.

If BAU is Fossil Fuels, then I agree.

Beware of false trade-offs. If we're in overshoot, and TEOTWAWKI is inevitable, then it's important to say so. But if "overshoot" is unrealistic, or overly simplistic, then suggesting that Peak Oil (and Peak FF, and peak other things) will cause TEOTWAWKI is only giving ammunition to those people who are desperately attempting to prevent change away from oil and FF (and other things that are counterproductive).

I would argue that "overshoot" is way too simplistic: there's no question in my mind that we've way overshot some things: the amount of CO2 we can put in the atmosphere; the habitat we can take from other species; the harvests we can take from certain natural systems, especially fish; but the idea that we're in overshoot in energy terms is highly unrealistic.

The fact is that we could replace oil and FF in general quite affordably, if we chose to.

If we only chose to...

And that choice is affected by what we say here - we need to get it right. If we say that PO will cause disaster - how can we argue with an Exxon saying the solution is purely "drill, baby, drill"?? If we say that we're about to run out of coal, how do we argue with those who suggest that we don't have to reduce our use of coal because we're going to run out fairly quickly anyway?

I agree that the credit spigot will eventually likely be almost turned off.

Under a contraction scenario, there will very likely be less jobs, wages, and surpluses to be used for taxing, or even for spending on non discretionary items. Growing austerity seems to be taking away from currently existing wages and jobs too. The effect of these things is to underfund cities, counties, states, and countries since they all end up collecting less taxes, unless taxes are raised and that will stress the remaining sources of taxation. Under those conditions not only does the 30 year home loan not make a lot of business sense, but even running budget deficits and doing bailouts for anything would seem to not make very good business sense to whoever is putting up the money to support a budget deficit or a bailout. That may explain why nobody is readily stepping up to do the European bailout. There may not be any ROI, or even the funds used might suffer losses (-ROI). Even using inflation by printing money to support budget deficits and bailouts seems to be having undesirable side effects in higher food and commodity prices.

From :

Do 30 year home loans (or any long term loans of any type) make good business sense under a 2 percent decrease (year after year after year) in oil production which is the worlds most critical natural resource? Would they make good business sense under a 5 percent decrease (year after year after year)? The banks may finally be starting to "get it", and long term credit may be tightening as a result.

Exactly. Credit will not be extended anywhere near the rate it is now once it becomes clear that a return to growth is nowhere on the horizon.

Do 30 year home loans (or any long term loans of any type) make good business sense under a 2 percent decrease (year after year after year) in oil production


which is the worlds most critical natural resource?

Oil will be replaced, and we'll be better off for it.

".. there will be enough fuel for freight to be delivered, and for people to get to work. .." - Perhaps so at present, and a few years ahead.

However, the big problem for the economy is that the growth potential for cheap energy is gone. And the economy is not made for 'steady state'. We are going to discover that money is being reduced to what it was created as: a symbolic value for exchange of goods and services. Money don't produce anything. And 'credit' is not worth more than our 'Great Expectations'. I don't see how _any_ economic management can provide a sustainable finance system in a state near limits to growth for global natural resource utilization. To me it seems like the economists have thrown away both brakes and steering wheel, as well as wipers and are running with the gas pedal as only control.

The Depression was a local phenomenon, and happened while only a tiny part of global resources were utilised. Vast resources were available for recovery.
I do not think the situation today is comparable, neither with the Depression nor with the oil crisis in the 70ties. I think there are new lessons we have to learn.

growth potential for cheap energy is gone

Not at all. Wind and solar power (not to mention nuclear) are very affordable.

the economy is not made for 'steady state'.

I'd love to see some evidence for that. It's often said, and I've asked for a theoretical basis for it...and haven't gotten it yet.

The Depression was a local phenomenon

It reached far beyond the US.

Vast resources were available for recovery.

And they still are. We need to think outside the FF box.

A very likely outcome to my mind (insufficient credit for ramp-up), *if* you assume finance remains BAU. It's threading the needle (finance is most likely to chase BAU longer than any other sector, I'd suspect), but let's get radical for a moment - say congress becomes convinced in 5 or 10 years that we're about to have an Arab Spring in the USA. Fiscal discipline goes out the window as a rhetorical philosophy, and we start making EV's as though they were P-51 Mustangs, only the point isn't to blow them up in the end. Or the US government gets wholly controlled by a fascist neo-corporate conglomerate, that decides the best way to ensure it's own survival is to buy off a significant portion of the population with free goodies (Saudi-style), and we get an EV's-for-clunkers program overnight. We print a bunch of money, and everyone from top to bottom goes along with it, because the rules of the game just 'moved'...I mean, the future is so completely unknown with PO thrown in, I can give a few minutes credence to all kinds of wacky scenarios. We could just as easily wind up shooting eachother in this country Max Max style until the population is down under 25 million, who knows?

I don't know anyone that puts much of this stuff inside 2 sigmas or even 3, but hey, all we know for sure is the rules they gonna change. I think we're gonna slide down that hill so fast that substantial replacement of the ICE fleet is going to be hindered by available diesel (i.e. for coal mining) globally, but there's always a possibility that instead that diesel is gonna cut China off from Australia's coal more severely, and ANE suddenly swings back in our favor instead of bleeding us and due to rationalization the US has a 'controlled' powerdown if you will, maintaining some modern technological infrastructure over a long term which may eventually trickle back into China, and make the development progress of the world in 2211 look just like a repeat of 2011 with less smog, fewer costal-cities, and 1 billion humans. As for 2111...glad I ain't gonna live that long. Club of Rome probably hit the nail on the head there.

Haven't thought the details through much, so don't beat me senseless with any of these wild ideas, I was just struck by the sheer number of variables around the globe that are about to get smacked with an impulse function if you will.


Excellent point: our current utilization of ICE vehicles is very low. This means that we can cut fuel costs by increasing carpooling, and reduce capital costs by increasing car sharing. 50% of US oil consumption is for personal transportation - in a transitional crunch this could be cut in half quite quickly and easily.

Not to mention that a Prius costs substantially less than the average new car price, and uses only 40% as much fuel as the average new car. It would be easy for people to cut their car-related costs if they want to.

Currently light vehicle utilization drops sharply with age, so that capital costs are effectively amortized over less than 10 years of life. EVs will be used much more heavily, and for far longer, greatly reducing cost per vehicle mile and per passenger mile.

Not to mention that a Prius costs substantially less than the average new car price, and uses only 40% as much fuel as the average new car. It would be easy for people to cut their car-related costs if they want to.

Very easy. Hirsch in his 2005 DOE report listed 50%+ of American driving as discretionary. Knock off everyone driving those Prii saving another 40% of THAT amount, and suddenly many peak oil scenarios fall apart like a cheap suit. Suddenly missing all of its thread.

Robert. First, thanks ever so much for this excellent work.

A small note on electricity. The Lawrence Lab chart on energy flows in USA shows a huge fraction (56%?) going to reject heat, both from central power stations and from IC vehicles.

A big hunk of this reject could go to useful purposes if we split up all those central power stations into little ones residing anywhere heat could be used, like for example, in my basement (CHP). And on top of that, if we did the same with vehicles, and put the heat engine on the ground near a heat-using thing, and only put its power -in the form of a swappable charged battery- in the vehicle, we could make a big reduction in the entire energy flow of the country.

Of course, to do this requires efficient, long lived, highly domesticated small heat engines. They exist. I know some, called space isotope power sources. Any astute thermal engineer could confidently extrapolate from those to basement heat engines running on nat. gas or whatever. And of course there are others.

After all, the fourth law of thermodynamics is - If a heat engine exists, a better version of it can.

That is a very interesting observation... Run the car on natural gas that is burning, say, in a stationary micro-turbine at home, or in the community, where the waste heat and excess electricity can be used.

300kw Capstone microturbine

"Introduction to Distributed Generation"

Cool. Thanks for the link. Remember mainframe computers? Now we have a distributed network of computers of all shapes and sizes. Imagine the same for electricity...

Or better yet...,

Trains and light rail

and denser cities

there are no real obstacles to ramping them up to replace ICEs.

Except for storage.

Elsewhere: I'd be happy to discuss that here, if you have the time.

A well done keypost would be one way for those who care to "play".

Except for storage.

Actually, EVs provide storage - that's part of their value. OTOH, I expect EREVs to much more popular than pure EVs for a long time, and they're the ultimate dual fuel vehicle.

A well done keypost

Yes, that's a good idea. Until then, you're welcome to go to my blog which is entirely non-commercial.

Actually, EVs provide storage

And that storage has major flaws.

Visit last years TOD topic on 'save the oil for farms' and see the discussion about battery powered Farm eq as an example of the "flaws".

I wasn't suggesting that electric tractors would be a big part of that. I think tractors will be among the last things to be electrified. In fact, we might just continue to use liquids there forever - synthetic fuels would still be worth it.

EREV tractors would work, but as OldFarmerMac pointed out recently, they'd need a lot of infrastructure for spring and fall work, which wouldn't be worth it for most places.

The organization seems somewhat confusing.

For example ethanol(one chapter) is a subset of biomass (another chapter. And biomass is also included as a subset in another chapter (renewable energy).

Perhaps it might be helpful to organize around two distinct but interrelated energy policy domains/choices - land use & transportation (oil, natural gas and hydrogen, electric cars) and centralized electric power (fossil, nuclear and large-scale renewables) and on-site (decentralized) energy systems.

For example ethanol(one chapter) is a subset of biomass (another chapter. And biomass is also included as a subset in another chapter (renewable energy).

Yes, the more I write, the more redundant the biomass chapter becomes. But I think corn ethanol -- because of its role in U.S. energy policy -- did warrant a separate chapter.

The overall organization isn't final. As I write, I move things around, and when I finish writing, I will probably shuffle things around again.

chapter 11 the race to replace oil
Surely you need to discuss what role PHEV and EV will have on reducing oil demand and how quickly that demand reduction could occur in a world of liquid fuel rationing.

Here are some ideas, maybe you can use any of it:

Re Chapter 11 biofuels: many of these are experimental. A new development is Salicornia plants (glasswort; lives on indeep brackish/saltwater so not such a burden on fresh water supply) but I don't know how well established that is.

Re Chapter 15 energy and politics: There's a field of study called "Technology Assessment" which concerns itself with how to convince large established industries to switch their production process to a different (say, more environmentally friendly) one. The owners of the chemical industry aren't stupid but need a very long "lead-in" time to build e.g. an extra naphtha cracker.

You can also throw in religion: from the concept of "stewardship" of resources to the psychological difficulties of adapting to change.

I found John Michael Greer's "The Long Descent" chapter 2 "the stories we tell ourselves" extremely clearly written and relevant. Especially paragraph "Listening to the Space Lizards" on p. 65 (PLEASE don't be put off by the paragraph title, chapter title, book title or author's business!). Even here on the Oil Drum these important psychological factors aren't often discussed clearly.

Dear Robert

Very best wishes for the timely completion of what looks like a great book.

I have two suggestions

1. It would be most valuable to include, in the last two chapters, your insights on the psychology of Peak Oil, as our collective pschological response will make a huge difference to what we actually do, as opposed to what we could do. For those with a background in physical science/engineering, such as myself, it is comfortable to consider the numerical, physical, chemical and engineering aspects of peak oil, alternative energy sources, climate change etc. However even died in the wool rationalists shrink from the probable consequences of peak oil and fail to make appropriate personal responses. Sadly most of us are ignorant,in denial, indifferent or paralysed and so do nothing significant. Those with power: politicians, economists, leaders of commerce and industry who could make a difference by big changes and the billions of the less powerful who could make a difference by billions of small changes, let's be honest, some of us talk about changing things, but few of us do much. Why not? Peak Oil challenges our world views, our core beliefs, the American dream, our lifelong experience etc etc. To break an addiction you need to have BOTH effective alternatives to the drug AND powerful psychological motivation to change. Please give as much of the second part of the remedy as you can.

2. Ok. Here's the second suggestion. Please quantify the possible contribution of alternatives to oil in an accessible way. Professor Davide Mackay made a great stab at this in his book: Sustainable Energy - without the hot air - see

Looking forward to your book.

Peter Hendra

I noted the distinction between running out of oil and running out of drilling crews, rigs, and chemicals needed to drill enough new low flow wells to replace the old high flow wells.
If you are replacing a depleted 10,000 barrel a day well in Saudi Arabia with 100 new 100 barrel a day wells in North Dakota, you are going to need so much capital equipment, etc, that it can exceed the local logistical support.
There is an equally important distinction to be made about our ability to build new electrical supply. Since we will have to reindustrialise with the technology, infrastructure, and industrial production complex we currently have, not the one we would like to have.
Our railroads are fairly close to capacity now and are unlikely to be able to double the amount of coal hauled in less than five years. We are also unlikely to have the ability to build the components to make PWRs in less than five years, though I presume we can buy or otherwise acquire the technology now current in terms of stainless steel pressure vessals and high speed centrifuges.
When the dollar collapses, the crisis that took such a long, slow, time to build up will unwind in months, weeks, or perhaps days. We will need to replace the embodied energy and materials with what we have on hand. Forget exports, we don't even net export food, since we need to import the fertiliser and other agrichemical inputs for our present production.
Which means we will build concentrating photovoltaic in the Southwest and gas cooled fast neutron reactors in the Northeast simply because we can start building them almost immediately, unlike conventional electrical production facilities. It doesn't matter than they are more expensive, it matters that they are less expensive than sitting around doing nothing for five years.

I would like to comment on your timetable for the book. I appreciate your contributions to the TOD and you are clearly capable of writing such a book, but a book is just the text from its introduction to conclusion and once it is in readers' hands, it has to speak itself; your expertise and knowledge cannot help readers understand what you are upto in the book. A book, especially one which makes a strong argument, has its own internal dynamics. It has to be balanced, the narrative has to "flow", it must be easy to read and your arguments need to be clearly spelled out. In addition, you also state that you have written 180 pages and you still have 70 pages to write. Even if you had already finished writing all those 250 pages, I would say revising your text would take at least two-three weeks.

I don't know if you have asked any friend or colleague to review the book, but considering that you are calling for TOD reader feedback while you have 12 days before the deadline to submit the book to the publisher, it seems to me that it would be better if you asked for an extension.

Even if you had already finished writing all those 250 pages, I would say revising your text would take at least two-three weeks.

The deadline is officially January 15, but I think the edits will go longer than that. The feedback will be especially useful as I write these last 2 or 3 chapters and begin the edits. I won't be doing anything as dramatic as adding new chapters, but a lot of the feedback here can work its way into chapters as I start to make edits.

Lastly the sensitivity due to greenhouse gases may be underestimated by a factor of 3. We may already have locked in a 4 degree C change at 390ppm. Whilst the methane plumes in Russia suggest we may have past a tipping point

How to partially immunise the economy from peak oil. I agree with the above posts on electrification and also saving energy. Buildings are a source of major energy utilisation, there is lots of room for energy saving via retrofitting. I also believe Integrated Fuel reactors (IFR')s may well be part of the solution. Changing the roading in cities and subburbs for bycyclists and pedestrians, that is building footpaths and bicycle ways, shortcuts between gardens so that it is no longer necessary to walk around by the automobile route.

Post war transport in the UK and Frace used light delivery 3 wheel vans and small motors on bycycles.

We could electrify transport within and between cities. Trolley buses and trams were common in almost all cities in the past. Some cities retained them. The new induction technology for electricity supply instead of overhead wires is promising.
The movement of goods can also be done by trolley trucks. Bulk slow transport by electrified canals. Rail or water transport replacing much trucking.

Whether there is sufficient energy within the climate change constraints for widespread use of personal ev,s is uncertain. Farms and rural areas could use/produce biofuels or use steam or external combustion, stirling engines, for motive power.

Electricity produced by IFR's almost completely burning almost either Uranium or later Thorium may be part of a solution, alternatively manufacturing /transport done whilst renewable enregy available.

An issue which needs to be discussed is the energy requirements of infrastructure maintenance.This is in addition to embodied energy, implied future energy expenditure.

Lastly the sensitivity due to greenhouse gases may be underestimated by a factor of 3. We may already have locked in a 4 degree C change at 390ppm. Whilst the methane plumes in Russia suggest we may have past a tipping point

I think the key to your book will be final the yet unwritten chapter. What are the possible scenarios for the future?
What choices will make the future less miserable than it might otherwise be? Is there a future after oil or are the doomers right?

"If all the books on energy were laid end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion." -
-- adapted from a quote by George Bernard Shaw

I've reviewed the comments and of course your book outline and it will be a good book. Here are some additional items you might want to write about in the chapters that discuss the big picture. If you omit them, you run the risk of letting people think that the future is going to be more or less like the past just with different energy sources. But of course it won't be. Not even close.

First, there is simply no way that we are going to have the money to replace the existing energy infrastructure with the alternatives you mention within the next 50 years. We may replace 25% or maybe, if we are lucky, 50% but not much more. Realistically, the money will be diverted to maintaining the existing infrastructure as it crumbles. We will perform financial triage with many, many things competing for the same pot of money. As Greer points out, we are moving from Abundance Industrialism to Scarcity Industrialism and that will have far-reaching effects:

Greer's Stages of Technic Societies

Second, it's not at all likely that we will be able to run an industrial society on the replacements we have available to us. The massive amounts of power required to perform some of our larger industrial operations require access to nuclear energy (currently only 6% of the world's primary energy supply, and is very, very capital-intensive) or fossil fuels. What are the implications of living during the waning days of an industrial civilization?

Third, the world's political systems will likely change away from democracy as unemployment continues to increase (because our economy shrinks as energy is removed from it).

Polybius wasn't the only thinker who noticed the stages of government that a civilization goes through but he wrote it concisely:
1. Monarchy
2. Kingship
3. Tyranny
4. Aristocracy
5. Oligarchy
6. Democracy
7. Ochlocracy

Ochlocracy in this case is "mob rule." From the wikipedia entry on anacyclosis:

Accordingly, democracy degenerates into "ochlocracy", literally, "mob-rule". During ochlocracy, according to Polybius, the people of the state will become corrupted, and will develop a sense of entitlement and will be conditioned to accept the pandering of demagogues. Eventually, the state will be engulfed in chaos, and the competing claims of demagogues will culminate in a single (sometimes virtuous) demagogue claiming absolute power, bringing the state full-circle back to monarchy.

It's not hard to see where the demagogues are already starting to gain adherents in the U.S. and Europe. Right now they appear to be more on the conservative side of the political spectrum but historically the Left is certainly no stranger to producing demagogues! Soon it will be Left and Right demagogues dueling it out.

We discuss some of these risks in our paper Global Oil Risks in the Early 21st Century, Energy Policy (PDF).

Naturally, you may choose not to mention these bigger picture items but in my view they are relevant if you want someone to have what I believe to be an accurate view of our likely future. If you choose to write about these topics, be prepared for the people who have no feel for history or the enormity of the challenge ahead of us (i.e. the transformation of a worldwide, fossil fuel based energy system while capital is scarce and governments are doing their best to keep the unemployed people, especially young men, from rioting) to call you "a pessimist" and a "doomer", etc. but this will become common-enough knowledge soon so you won't be so far in front in just a few short years. It's remarkable how few people challenge me now when I say I run a company that prepares people for the coming Great Depression. More often than not they ask how I do that rather than call me a pessimist and disengage from the conversation.



Please do not incorporate this unrealistic approach. The idea that PO will necessarily cause a massive credit crunch, or a collapse of transportation is enormously unrealistic. Money is just symbolic - it can be "printed" as necessary. The underlying capacity of the economy is what's important, and we have an enormous surplus of energy that is now used for very marginally useful things, like single passenger SUVs - that surplus will get us through a transition, and normal market operations will direct energy to the most valuable uses. Not without pain that could be mostly avoided with proper planning, of course, but collapse is not indicated. Even another Depression will only happen through gross economic mismanagement (as happened with the 30's Depression).

I hesitated to say this, as Aangel and I can go around in circles forever on this, but it's important.

And in response I say: don't listen to Nick who fails to consider credit restrictions in every one of the scenarios he builds. Talk to an economist who "gets it," like, for instance, my writing partner Dr. Dean Fantazzini from Moscow University. I am happy to put you in touch with him. Also consider talking to Steve Keen, who gets both peak oil and the credit markets (especially well, I might add; see the revision to his book Debunking Economics, which was written after the GFC of 2008/2009).

Either gentleman will help you properly model how restricted credit will impact the rollout of new technologies.

The Great Depression was caused in large part by a credit bubble/crunch combined with the conversion from mules to tractors (causing massive unemployment too quickly to be absorbed in even a strong economy).

Nevertheless, business investment continued strongly in the Depression.

Once again I ask:

Have you read "This Time is Different - Eight Centuries of Financial Folly"?? You'll see that the current credit bubble isn't really new. We've lived through many bubbles before, and we'll live through many to come.


Robert, I hope our silly dialogue is informative. Aangel and I seem condemned to a sysyphean, never ending dialogue here, though I still hope for good communication to break through.

Yes, I've read the short form version of their thesis some time ago on the web.

We may have small credit bubbles in the future but they will never get as large as the current one we are living through now. Compared to the current one, future credit bubbles (which need abundant resources to keep growing) will likely be very local and very small. We are, in my view, living at the time of maximum throughput for the human economy. Throughput (i.e. the size of the economy) declines from here on in.

Scenario 1

It would be worth your time to read the whole thing, which is far more complete and up to date.

It would give you a better feeling for the normalcy of our current bubble. We're not used to bubbles of this size because economists learned from the Depression, and economic management was better until the 1990's when those lessons were forgotten.

Go back to US history from 1800 to 1920, and you'll see a lot of doozies. Many of them were larger than the 2008 event, but have been forgotten because they were small in the context of the time. For example, there was a recession around 1916 that killed off many of the then existing car companies.

Go back 8 centuries, and you'll see a lot that were far bigger.

We are, in my view, living at the time of maximum throughput for the human economy. Throughput (i.e. the size of the economy) declines from here on in.

Ah, there's a testable hypothesis. Both the US and World economies are still growing - let's see if the economy grows next year!

There isn't a lack of credit now, interest rates for US treasuries are the lowest they have been in over 50 years. The problems of the economy are due to a lack of demand and a desire on the part of the GOP to do the opposite of what is needed to make the economy better to try and thwart Obama's reelection.

Treasury bills are selling at lower interest rates than they have since the 1950's. There is plenty of credit and at very low interest rates. There are plenty of people to put to work doing productive things. Those people need jobs and need to be fed, housed and clothed anyway. Giving them productive things to do would benefit them, the economy and future generations.

What they could be doing is rebuilding infrastructure. The infrastructure needs it, the economy has the spare capacity, if you do it right, then there is an asset that makes the economy more efficient.

Upgrading the electric grid would be a great idea. Putting in lots of wind and solar would be a good idea too. There is so much unemployment now that the labor is essentially “free” (when you take out the unemployment that those non-working workers are now getting).

Spend a trillion dollars on solar and wind, and you will get a much better payback than spending a trillion dollars in a war with Iran.

There is plenty of credit and at very low interest rates. There are plenty of people to put to work doing productive things. Those people need jobs and need to be fed, housed and clothed anyway. Giving them productive things to do would benefit them, the economy and future generations.


So, if oil production does start to decrease by 2 % per year, do you think that might cause a decrease by 2 % per year in Total Jobs, Middle Class Jobs, Food Produced, GDP, New Clothing, and New Shelter? How would that tend to ripple through an economy? Wouldn't it in fact look a lot like Austerity measures? The evidence of wide spread high unemployment in many countries and economies does suggest that we might be getting close to that scenario. If there was enough energy and resources available to give the people jobs who are currently unemployed and demonstrating in the streets in many places in the world, don't you think that national and world economies would be putting those people to work so that their actions are constructive and stabilizing (and even generating profits for corporations!) instead of letting them be unemployed, protesting, and destabilizing the status quo in places? Money would not seem to be the issue as the Central Banks are creating money in vast quantities right out of thin air with their quantitative easing approach in their attempt to keep sovereign debt loading and banks stable.

Don't underestimate the power of poor understanding of economics. In the thirties the world had all those problems, but they were in thrall to the expansionary-austerity nonsense. It was only after great damage was inflicted (especially in terms of Fascism/Nazi-ism taking hold and ultimately leading to massive death/destruction) that some countries (partly) figured it out. So even when they had the physical resources to pull out of it, the leadership was basically unable to act in a way that worked. Now we have the same intellectual problems (certainly at the level of politics/policy -it doesn't matter if some academic economists know what to do) -and limits to growth issues to compound it.

if oil production does start to decrease by 2 % per year, do you think that might cause a decrease by 2 % per year in Total Jobs, Middle Class Jobs, Food Produced, GDP, New Clothing, and New Shelter?

No. That's why world and US growth has continued since 2004, despite pretty flat oil production.

desire on the part of the GOP to do the opposite of what is needed to make the economy better to try and thwart Obama's reelection

I think its more than that. Most conservatives believe the debt equals immoraily thing, and just love the morality play economics. Citizens and businesses have to cut back, -hey government its your duty to cutback as well. Now there may be multiple reasons for this belief that macro-economics should run like the family budget, one is it is convienient when the other party is in power, you can force austerity generated unpopularity onto them. But, also, they tend to think this way in the first place, and that may be what led them to that side of the isle in the first place. Another reason, is its such an easy intellectual sale to make, we naturally think morally, analysis of whole systems, and how they respond to various changes just doesn't come naturally. Even in places like say the EU, which have a similar issue (mainly central bank inflation versus growth targetting), have fallen into the intellectual austerity response. It seems the real lesson of history, is that we don't learn from it.

The primary problem is that wealthy elites want to destroy democratic constraints on them.

So, they're pursuing a strategy called "starve the beast", intended to cripple government.

There isn't a lack of credit now, interest rates for US treasuries are the lowest they have been in over 50 years

That's not "credit". Credit includes lending by a variety of sources, commercial banks chiefly among them. Lending is recovering slowly, which is why the US is seeing some economic growth.

I agree about demand and the GOP being problems.

I agree about your other ideas - well put.

Robert - Didn't see you mention upgrades to the power grid. This is one of the main recommendations by the IEEE USA national energy policy committee and even Amory Lovins in his new book "Reinventing Fire." These upgrades will be critical if we are to turn the grid into more of a self organizing system capable of handling diverse energy sources as well as demand side management.


Very good thought.

Please note that these upgrades won't break the bank, and will be enormously helpful to ISOs and utilities for grid management and reliability, even without the need to accommodate renewables.

Here is a recent report which outlines the full LCA cost of coal including recommendations for alternatives such as the smart grid and renewables. This is an excellent report supporting the need to include an upgraded power grid.

One of the most overlooked concepts in discussions of energy policy is that of ENERGY QUALITY pursuant to that laid out by H.T. Odum in his many publications, some written over 40 years ago.

The concept that there is a hierarchy of energy that starts with dilute BTUs (as from the sun), to sugars in a plant, to wood, to coal, to electricity, to light, to education, and ultimately to technology itself is one that sheds great light on our energy predicament. A BTU at the upper end of this spectrum costs/requires many BTUs of those at the lower end of this progression. Technology, which most consider to be a man-created wonder independent of energy cost, is in fact fossil and sunlight energy upgraded thousands and even millions of times. And it requires an enormous and unending stream of the lower quality BTUs to maintain those higher quality energy forms. Thus it is highly questionable if we will be able to "fix" our energy problems via technology when the base of our energy pyramid withers away through depletion of the richer, more concentrated fossil fuels.

Energy returned on energy invested - after energy quality has also been accounted for in the analysis- is the key to understanding where our energy future is taking us, and what will actually be the energy solutions that will be viable.

"why energy is important in our lives".

If you can, as succinctly as possible, instill in your readers the bedrock understanding that energy is not merely important (we are, as a race, moving slowly towards that understanding) but indispensable: literally the sine qua non of life, then you will have established a vital truth--and a reason to continue reading.

If you feel that you have really nailed that first chapter, then it would be an excellent ebook promo , teaser, and giveaway. A professional copywriter might be helpful here, to refine your prose.

Second, have you asked Al Gore for advice? He's learned a lot about educational/advocacy publishing in the past 30 years and a few words from him might speed your thinking..

All the best!

"I think the open questions will be around the life-cycle costs (which I don't think we can know until people start to replace the batteries in their Volts and Leafs)..."
Oh no, we will know before that when those of us (hundreds) who converted cars to electric using LiFePO4 cells two to four years before the first Leaf or Volt hit the streets start to replace them.

Those cells are also in use by tradesmen in power tools. Tradesmen are very tough on tools and batteries - they're very happy with their durability.

I don't understand the need to publish the book so quickly. Is the publisher trying to catch the current wave of high oil prices and Middle East unrest?

By rushing it, you're bound to include or leave out or use words that you'll regret after the book is published. In my opinion, the slower you write, the better the book, and such an important book deserves to have lasting value.

Congratulations and good luck!

Regardless of where Biomass fits in, I hope you include ecological costs as well as fuel for food considerations. Deforestation for oil crop and cellulose could be hugely destructive, especially acute in troubled times.

Any speculation about potentially positive black swans? We talk a lot about "bridge solutions" but what's on the other side?

I was watching the Senate hearing on future of energy two years ago on TV. There were CEO of seven major oil companies at the hearing. One of the senator asked Exxon representatine " if we do every RIGHT for the next 10-15 years as far as solar, nuclear, wind , hydroelectric .. are concern, our dependence on oil will be dimished what percentage? He paused for few second and answered senator 25- 30% at best. that answer surprised the senator.

Most oil companies like to pretend that oil will be the center of our economy for just as long as possible. Their forecasts are not helpful in this regard.

Look forward to your book.

recommend well to wheels comparisons. I did not see mention of Hydrogen or Electricity - and the constraints of batteries and car stock turnover.

Politics is still pushing "hydrogen" cars, but the "infrastructure" in not available. Solar thermochemical hydrogen is actually getting closer to competitiveness. See Dr. Alan Weimer
Long term, I see solarthermochemical hydrogen becoming competitive. I still think liquid fuel is needed for the transition.

China is pragmatically pushing methanol from coal (which have the challenge of competing with methanol imports from natural gas.)

Electricity sounds wonderful - cars don't run on electricity - and batteries are expensive/limiting - especially with China having cornered 95% of the markets is now rapidly cutting back on "rare earth" exports.
Thus "peak oil" of liquid fuels being the limiting constraint.

Note especially Brown & Foucher's paper on Available Net Exports - (but then you were there, heard it first hand, and know much more about that than I do.)

Note that Bolivia requiring that development of its lithium must include producing the batteries in country.


PS if you are looking for the history on fossil and renewable methanol, see:

David L. Hagen, "Methanol: Its Synthesis, Use as a Fuel, Economics and Hazards." Univ. Minnesota, December 1976, 180 pp., 608 Ref., ERDA/NTIS Publication No. NP-21727 (A NTIS best seller for 3 years)

Hydrogen more properly belongs under Chapter 10 – Due Diligence.

There's a fundamental problem with hydrogen - there ain't no such thing as free hydrogen - at least on this planet. Nearly all of it is tied up in chemical compounds and breaking the molecular bonds requires a lot of energy. The cheapest available source of pure hydrogen is as a trace component in natural gas.

The hype about hydrogen a few years ago occurred because nobody took a hard look at the energy equations involved in producing it.

The hype was a deliberate red herring, intended to prevent both increases in CAFE regs and stiffer CARB requirements for hybrids and EVs.

batteries are expensive/limiting - especially with China having cornered 95% of the markets is now rapidly cutting back on "rare earth" exports.

Batteries don't use rare earths. There's quite a lot of lithium in the world.

I suspect there're a lot more rare earths as well. China played the old monopolist game here, produce a lot cheaply, dumping stuff on the market => bankrupting other players (Rare Earths miners). Now that the ROW is worried about availability, there is a chance to get rare earth mining going elsewhere.

Absolutely, including mines in the US.

Re: Chapter 11

Since nearly 75% of oil is used in transportation and oil will be the first of the non renewable energy sources to see a peak, substitutes for motor fuel should be discussed. I think mention of short term switch to natural gas for trucks and cars should be included with the caveat that the conversion of existing fleet and building of fueling stations is very costly, beside range of NG fuel vehicles being a problem. Also mentioning that biodiesel for trucks brings limited benefit since EROEI is around 3 or 4, but it is a better use of farm land than growing corn or even switch grass for ethanol. Main problem with biodiesel as I see it is the high cost of soybeans as world export market for food grows with climate change reducing crop output in many nations.

Best solution for transportation's future lack of oil and liquid fuel is switching to more efficient modes like rail that can be powered by electric renewable energy.

The trucking industry is going to be hammered into the ground by the railroads in the post-peak-oil era given their much greater fuel economy on a ton-mile basis.

Converting diesel locomotives to natural gas would be a lot more practical than converting highway trucks. Trains have an enormous range between fuel stops, and well-defined fueling points, so NG only has to be brought into a few railroad fueling points rather than thousands of truck stops. The cost of the equipment is small compared to the cost of a locomotive.

Locomotives can pull dedicated CNG tank cars similar to the way the old steam trains pulled coal cars, or railroads with enough vertical clearance (i.e. those pulling double-stacked container cars) could mount CNG tanks on the roofs of the locomotives.

That being said, it would be more efficient and practical to electrify the railroads and burn the NG in combined-cycle power plants. Unfortunately North American railroads are very much behind the 8-ball on electrification - those in Europe and Asia, notably in the rapidly-developing BRIC countries, are far ahead.

While it would be more efficient to electrify, it is very expensive for the RR's to do so.

The LNG option would be far cheaper to implement.

There is already a fleet of over 100 LNG railcars in existence (used for transporting ethylene). Since the design is already done, approved etc, building more would not be that expensive, and niether would be modifying the trains for dual fuel operation, while retaining the ability to run on diesel alone if need be.

Going to LNG would be tens/hundreds of millions, going to electrification would be billions/tens of billions, I think the LNG option would be the better business decision, at present.

I have to admit I'm puzzled why they haven't already gone dual fuel LNG/diesel. I'm not a railroad guy, but it seems like very quick payback given the spread between diesel and NG and the low cost of conversion.

I wonder if it isn't happening for train operations reasons. Having a variable weight tender car (or a tender at all) has to make life somewhat more difficult for the engineer. Or maybe it's just inertia. Railroads and utilities tend to be late adopters.

It probably is not happening for operations reasons, but possibly not the one you raise.

The way the big railco's work, they swap a lot of their locos with each other, as that often makes for the easiest scheduling. That is why you'll see Cdn locos in Mexico and vice versa - I see many . So a switch to LNG ones means they can;t be swapped with others (and run on LNG), and if they are running outside the owners system, then the owner get's no benefit.

Also, the RR's are making money hand over fist at present anyway, they hardly need to make this change, though as oil keeps going up and NG keeps going down it would seem like a good time to do so.

Is it cheaper for them to use LNG as a fuel, or to switch to electrification (with power that on the margin usually comes from NG)?

Definitely LNG in the short term, as they can use existing loco engines, and don't have to build catenary. The capital cost of electrification is much, much higher. In the long term, with low enough cost of unlimited capital, electrification makes sense on heavily traveled track, even if the generation is NG-fired. LNG is about $2/MMBTU more expensive than pipeline gas to a power plant, and conversion efficiencies in a combined-cycle power plant will be higher than in an IC-engine, even with grid losses.

From an immediate fuel savings standpoint, or a cost of implementation standpoint, or national oil demand standpoint, LNG obtains MOST of the benefits with a small fraction of the costs. The ROI is much higher than electrification. However, railroads have plenty of other higher ROI places (track, signals, rolling stock, etc) to invest their capital than electrification. If greater rail capacity (allowing faster moves and lower rates) moves truck traffic to rail, the fuel savings are higher than LNG or electrification.

The President of Norfolk-Southern recently indicated at a conference that N-S was looking at electrifying the double stack but largely single track Heartland Corridor as an economic means of increasing capacity.

Electrification increases capacity by +15% in Europe.

Electric locos break down less than half as often as diesel-electrics, another form of capacity increase.

N-S President indicated that fuel costs savings were a bonus to the capacity increase.

Best Hopes,


More recently than the Railway Age interview where he says "We've looked at it" past tense and talks about the enormous capital cost?

Congratulations, Robert!
Here is one item high on my list; one that I have wanted approach for some time:

OPEC and large exporters not in OPEC can clearly play a huge role in how our transition plays out, and these nations tend to have some big items in common:
1) Subsidies that lead to an encouragement of internal consumption
2) Tacit or explicit subscription to the notion that they had better not rock the boat too much, or else demand for their product will decrease, and maybe even be replaced by other products
3) Price controls can’t work to the petroleum exporters advantage

Some of these nations are already tackling item 1, such as Iran, and the results look surprisingly encouraging. Iran has been reducing their subsidies for internal consumption significantly, and my family there has reported lower pollution levels, as well as eased traffic volumes. This also seems to be reflected in their consumption numbers, looking at the data browser.

Item 2 is arguably a false notion, and adherence to the notion that OPEC nations must toe the line on keeping exports flowing at current rates to me seems like so much horse pucky. As you already know, I have worked to generate even a limited-scale replacement for petroleum in a tiny geographic area, and it is very, very difficult.

Item 3 is almost certainly also false. It seems clear that OPEC could indeed impose a fixed price for oil, with a scheduled escalation clause, and that in addition, this would enable the majors a stable operating environment in which to undertake long-term planning and resource stewardship.

Hence, I would like to see us send a message to these large exporting nations that includes the following:
• Working to decrease subsidies for internal consumption is in the best interest of petroleum exporters and the world as a whole
• There is no danger what so ever that petroleum importers will find a replacement for petroleum
• Even in the face of severe economic downturn, OPEC can still get their price, and choosing to do so is in their interest and in the interest of the world as a whole
• Price controls with scheduled escalation will give stability and enable resource stewardship in a way that will never be possible if we rely on economic principles of a free market

Regarding politics around carbon policy, I'd like to see it noted just how much oil producers have to lose if they are taxed with the cost of sequestration or carbon offsets.

Producers' ability to just pass on the cost to consumers is limited, because oil prices are set by supply and demand. By definition, producers are already charging whatever the market will bear. Any increase will encourage people to use less or switch to non-FF alternatives. So the carbon taxes / cost of permits largely comes straight out of the producers' profit margins. Even worse, by hastening the transition to non-FF alternatives, it brings closer the day in the not-so-distant future when their remaining reserves become worthless.

Carbon tax or cap-and-trade policies are daggers aimed straight at the heart of companies owning or holding long term leases on oil reserves. Executives of those companies would be remiss in their ficuciary responsibilities to the company if they were not funding PR professionals to orchestrate covert campaigns against the AGW consensus. Their duty is to the company shareholders, not to the public or to scientific truth.

That observation, however, suggests the tack that advocates for regulation of carbon emissions might take: the producers must be enticed to diversify. They must become stakeholders in the business of sequestration and carbon offsets. Then what their production divisions pay in carbon taxes will return to them in payments for the activities of their sequestration divisions. Sequestration and offsets would ultimately extend the value of remaining reserves. They would lessen the incentive to drive alternatives to total replacement.

Producers' ability to just pass on the cost to consumers is limited, because oil prices are set by supply and demand. By definition, producers are already charging whatever the market will bear. Any increase will encourage people to use less or switch to non-FF alternatives. So the carbon taxes / cost of permits largely comes straight out of the producers' profit margins.

This is an example of a misunderstanding of basic economics. What really will happen is that a carbon tax will shift the supply curve up the Price axis and create a new equilibrium point on the supply/demand graph at a higher price / lower quantity. The price will go up and the demand will go down, as a consequence of which some of the producers (notably the non-OPEC ones) will go out of business as their profit margins and market demand vanish.

The book really should have a section on the economics of energy, since it is really economics and not technical feasibility that will determine what solutions are adopted in the Age of Peak Oil. Unfortunately many people on this site don't believe in economics at all, which can be rather suicidal in the hard world of business.

Thanks for the correction. I was being sloppy. The taxes / permits do result in higher FF prices and lower market volume. If they didn't, they wouldn't encourage movement away from FFs toward alternatives. That's half the purpose of the policy in the first place -- the other being to fund sequestration and stop the rise of atmospheric CO2 levels.

The point remains that regulation of CO2 emissions represents a huge financial threat to FF producers. Reduced demand at the higher price point translates to reduced margins, due to idled production capacity. The cost of permits ends up being shared between producers and cunsumers, rather than being born entirely by cunsumers. Plus, there's the huge long-term threat from the accelerated movement away from FF resources. It's in the producers' interests to delay the transition for as long as they can. Once the transition gets a toe hold, learning curves and new capital investments will kick in, making alternatives more and more viable.

Against the focused interest of producers in blocking carbon regulation, I don't think it's politically possible for RE advocates to get regulations through congress. There will be no meaningful regulation of carbon emissions until FF producers can be brought on board to support it. They will support it when they have more to gain by participating in the sequestration market than they by opposing its creation.

Chapter 2: Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power
Is this chapter "The history of major thermal power sources"? Would you want to split-out Nuclear into a chapter separate from the chemical fire sources? Its history is brief. Its politics and technology, different.

Chapter 7: Nuclear
Is this "The uncertain future of nuclear" chapter? If Fukushima figures prominently... The chapter's name needs help.
(There could be included a very brief look at the history of fusion with inertial confinement, elctrostatic confinement (Philo T. Farnsworth), and magnetized target as some present efforts. Or this could be part of the separate nuclear history chapter proposed above.)

Chapter 9: Better Energy Policies
"Here I focus on several ideas that will help move countries away from dependence on imported oil"
Suddenly the book only talks about one arm, the transportation path, of energy flow in a country? Is "Better Transportation Energy Policies" more exact? For, under better policy in general, I would expect to see the matter of lighting and insulation discussed. For the static installations arm, residential in particular, installing insulation is a cheaper way to make more power available than is building more capacity. Many of the remaining chapters do deal with the energy flow in the transportation side of things. There is no chapter on peak coal nor mention of limited uranium.

This is a great graphic of energy flow:
Google image search: U.S. energy flow

There are others, including a low-carbon version.

These graphics make plain the two main energy paths: Oil for transportation and everything else for buildings.

Chapter 11: The race to Replace Oil
The electric car moves transportation from the oil energy path to the "everything else" energy flow path.
Nothing replaces oil in that it is simply pumped out of the earth. Everything else takes more effort and is of a smaller scale. People are breaking plastics down into liquid fuels, for example.

Chapter 13: The Role of Biomass
This chapter is a chance to have some fun. In terms of transportation, biomass is one of the most commonly available ways for a tinkerer on the farm to make his engines go. There are no liquid chemical processing steps involved in making woodgas. In world War II, woodgas cars and farm equipment conversions numbered in the hundreds of thousands. A whole cottage industry sprang up making 2" wood cubes for fueling them. In central California, there is a walnut farm that makes electricity from walnut shells. There are lots of historic images, old stories, and user manuals. Check out the first few minutes of this old Cary Grant movie:
A cautionary tale, if nothing else.

The use of fossil feedstock and energy in the production of food is not mentioned specifically.

An important message is that no more oil, gas, coal, or uranium is being made. Economies based upon them must eventually decline. Everything else is Solar, Lunar, or other forms of Nuclear: Hydro, Tidal, Geo-Thermal, Bio-anything, Wind, Fusion...

Another point, but a mega-downer, is the seemingly direct correlation between the rise of the fossil fuel economy and the rise of population.

Leave your readers hopeful.

Thought about it all some more.

The things I think I've learned from The Oil Drum that help me most are a few pieces of seeming truth that illuminate, for me, the lies fielded by world players.

Some of the pieces are:
The world uses 85 million barrels of oil per day.
Saudi Arabia is at maximum production capacity.
The U.S.A. maxed-out production and then declined in production, peaked, decades ago.
A lot of what was thought to be oil in Alaska turns out to be gas.
Thousands of the old wells in the U.S.A. are filled and abandoned.

Some of the lies are:
One billion barrels of oil is a "huge" "monster" game-changing discovery.
Saudi Arabia is going to make up for lost supply.
The U.S.A. can drill its way to oil independence.
The U.S.A. can apply new techniques to old wells.

The technical details are fascinating. The practical value, as in everyday thinking, of these details, to me, is an understanding of operational truth.

The biggest problem is irrationality.
Reality is just a sort of exercise.
Propaganda makes the monkeys crazy.

I'm off to screw in a brand-new, Genuine, AMERICAN, 100W Tungsten-Filament FREEDOM-BULB into my shelter ceiling as we get ready to bomb Iran.

The biggest problem is irrationality.

Very few people understand that the human brain is the product of:

1) Millions of years of unplanned, non-intelligently designed evolution that emphasizes reproductive growth of the species above all other things

2) Cultural influences (by cultures which have maimed and killed each other throughout history)

3) Environmental toxins (mercury, lead, addictive substances like sugar, alcohol, tobacco, many others)

4) Modern media programming (TV, radio, internet)

No matter what you do, there will always be this irrational, primitive part of the brain that has the final say so in what "you" do (actually what "you" have done and then "you" make up excuses for why "you" did it)

So yes, the biggest problem is irrationality, and we can never get rid of, or be free of, the irrational parts of our brains.

In other words, all the stuff Nate wrote about on TOD. It'd be great to have a companion book by Nate, eh? Topics would tend to sort themselves between them. A modest proposal by a fan of both authors...

"The electric car moves transportation from the oil energy path to the "everything else" energy flow path."

Speaking with a friend in the power industry: he did a study and concluded that, for charging cars at night, there was adequate system capacity. This is a bit counter-intuitive when looking at the static LLNL energy flow graphic. The graphic presentation is that the "oil" flow and the "everything else" flows are of the same scale and fully utilized. However, stationary electrical energy demands do drop at night. He asserted that it would actually be good for the system in that it would flatten utilization variance. He offered that it highlights the importance of the smart grid.

However, that "solution" requires burning much more coal and a bit more natural gas at night.

Higher demand for electricity at night is good for the economics of coal fired plants, which leads to more ...

Best Hopes for Major Efficiency Gains,


Oh, yes... quite a bit more energy will have to flow through that path. Enough to make up for the oil: twice as much is a good rough estimate. But, truly, distribution could begin to deal with it. This is counter to many anti-EV arguments.

Lots of other energy sources are being attached to the grid everyday.

Higher demand for electricity at night is best for the economics of wind power, which leads to more ...

Chapter 01 – Overview

First and foremost, I would start with a review of exponential growth, and what that means in the context of a limited resource. Mention the Rule of 72 as a handy rule of thumb. By the end of the book the reader should be clear that the kind of exponential growth we have enjoyed for the past decades is simply not possible going forward. We have seen our last doubling of population and petroleum use.

You should include an overview of how modern agriculture converts fossil fuel to food. This might also be a good place to distinguish between the various types of energy we need - mechanical, electrical, heat, mobile/stationary, etc. Different energy sources are best for different needs. Highlight how tough it is to match the utility of diesel.

Chapter 03 – Renewables

I suggest you should include a brief description of the size of land area and equipment needed to generate one megawatt from each source. I find that most folks have only the faintest grasp of how diffuse most types of renewables really are. Normalizing everything to one megawatt allows easier comparison. Also mention the fact that renewables require nearly 100% of the investment up front before they start producing any return. Finally, I would discuss intermittency and storage options.

Chapter 04 – Energy Production

This should include material flows in and out per MWh. Discuss ash disposal and industrial uses such as concrete amendment. CO2 intensity per MWh for each type.

Chapter 06 – Peak Oil

Be sure to note that discoveries not yet made are already included in estimates of remaining oil. We are already counting on them. Most folks are not aware of that tidbit.

Chapter 07 – Nuclear

I hope this includes a review of the prospects for advanced nuclear reactors. A successful rollout of the Bill Gates funded effort by TerraPower to install instrinsically safe Gen IV breed-burn reactors in China could be used as a wedge to kick start construction in the moribund US nuclear industry.

Chapter 13 – The Role of Biomass

You might discuss the prospects for direct burning of biomass in vehicles. Of all the biomass proposals, a modern steam engine burning biomass is by far the most efficient and practical way to convert sunlight into shaft horsepower. Also discuss the basics of soil science, and why we can only harvest so much per acre without strip mining the soil.

Good luck, and I look forward to reading your book.

I suggest you should include a brief description of the size of land area and equipment needed to generate one megawatt from each source. I find that most folks have only the faintest grasp of how diffuse most types of renewables really are.

I would strictly avoid this discussion - it's misleading and unimportant. For instance, farmers can easily use the 99% of land between wind turbines, and PV can go on industrial roofs.

What matters is other things, like cost and scalability.

Usually when most people talk solar they only think about their homes and NOT heavy industry....

Renewables will power heavy industry quite nicely. Hydro has powered aluminim production for many years. Yes, intermittency is different for wind and solar, but it's not that difficult to solve: steel production is at night because of price incentives, for instance, and it can move to when the power is available.

Renewables will power heavy industry quite nicely.

Depends on the industry. Ones that suffer from thermal stress from heating/cooling would not do as well as ones that can be stopped/started "whenever".

The energy required to prevent cooling is less than 10% of the energy required for smelting/reduction, etc.

So, even these industries can deal with supply variation. That's why steel mills operate at night quite happily.

The energy required to prevent cooling is less than 10% of the energy required for smelting/reduction, etc.

Got proof?

The logic is simple - most of the energy of smelting and reduction goes into breaking the chemical bonds. Just keeping a pot of aluminum reasonably hot doesn't take much power.

I don't happen to have a link at hand, but I'm sure you can find it pretty easily.

The logic is simple - most of the energy of smelting and reduction goes into breaking the chemical bonds.

Metal melting is a phase change operation.

True. And, of course, phase changes take much more energy than raising or maintaining temperatures within a phase.

More importantly, smelting is much more than melting - it's reducing oxides into pure metals.

I've heard aluminum called "solid electricity" because of the energy used to make it.

"Production of Aluminium"
"Aluminium oxide, or alumina, is a very stable compound and requires lots of energy to extract the aluminium metal."
Alumina, in the single crystal form is also known as sapphire. Add a little chromium and you've got ruby.

First and foremost, I would start with a review of exponential growth, and what that means in the context of a limited resource. Mention the Rule of 72 as a handy rule of thumb. By the end of the book the reader should be clear that the kind of exponential growth we have enjoyed for the past decades is simply not possible going forward. We have seen our last doubling of population and petroleum use.

Chapter 03 – Renewables

I suggest you should include a brief description of the size of land area and equipment needed to generate one megawatt from each source. I find that most folks have only the faintest grasp of how diffuse most types of renewables really are. Normalizing everything to one megawatt allows easier comparison. Also mention the fact that renewables require nearly 100% of the investment up front before they start producing any return. Finally, I would discuss intermittency and storage options.

Excellent suggestions....

You're making me want this book more than I did just 15 or 20 minutes ago........

I think you should frame the book with one particular aim in mind:

"How do I convince people who really don't want to be convinced?"

I would steer well clear of Climate Change as a topic. It's not your main focus and the readers can already associate with it anyway. Also, you don't want to hand ammunition to your opponents.

If you ever touch on a solution that could be painted as "socialist" (and oh my that's a wide brush these days) then it had better have a rock-solid argument under it which transcends ideology.

I would be wary of scaring away the audience too early on. e.g. demonstrate that a problem exists before claiming that conventional free market forces are unlikely to fix it. Start with irrefutable propositions and go from there, frightened people will refute anything they can in order to hold on to the only idea that they understand.

(I suddenly recalled this:

Dear Robert,

I haven't thouroughly read through every comment. It may also limit accessebility of the book, but I think it is essential to include the intricate relationship between ever growing energy inputs and our growth based economic system, i.e. we need to grow our energy use to grow our economy and to serve debts, which have been used to grow productivity.

You may well have to extend this to the law of residing horizons and apply this to the potential for nuclear power (and other alternatives as well), having long construction time, high front-end expenses during a prolonged period of credit contraction, pretty poor Eroei, and the dangers of knowledge decline by the time we get to dismantling (not to mention nuclear waste).

May want to mention how dependent alternatives in general are on a fossil fuel based infrastructure.

Maybe mention NH3 as an alternative liquid fuel.

Cheers & take care.

Good luck Robert.

If you were writing a book about transportation would the aviation chapter dwell on the crash of an old Boeing 707 or DC 10, or even the modern Airbus that went down near the equator when all three pitot tubes froze up and the copilot pulled the nose up into a stall, or would you focus on future prospects?

Gen III reactors with passive protection systems that rely on gravity would have handled the extreme conditions at Fukushima well.

An unforeseeable breakthrough may well change everything, but in the absence of that I believe the source of energy that replaces fossil fuel, by being cheaper cleaner and safer than fossil fuel, will be a family of Molten Salt Reactors, starting with the simple uranium burner developed at oak ridge in the 60’s-70’s followed by LFTR and fast breeder MSR's.

A conceptual design for a full size plant was created in 1980.

This technology will likely be developed by China and sold worldwide. They sent a team to Oak Ridge to see the equipment and they have access to all the data developed in the U.S.

I take it by the lack of mention, that you do not think there is a large future for fuel cells?

I will mention them in The Race to Replace Oil, but at least in the near term I don't see a future for them. I think they are more in the category of nuclear fusion: Great if we can resolve the daunting technical/economic challenges.

It's worth mentioning that the Personal Vehicle Fuel Cell Red Herring shouldn't blind us to the value of fuel cells in other areas, such as for stationary uses, and large heavy fleets: shipping, trucking, etc.

Also, I think it's the scientific consensus that practical fusion is very likely to be solved - just not in the next 50 years.

Worth mentioning that the efficiency record for converting energy from fossil fuels is high temperature SOFC serving as the combuster for a CCGT. 50% of fuel energy "off the top" in the SOFC, then 60% conversion of the remaining 50% in the CCGT. 80% overall. The same idea could also work with molten carbonate fuel cells. If the cost of the NG-powered fuel cells can be brought down, the FC-CCGT arrangement would be very practical in LNG-powered locomotives and long-haul trucks.

I suggest you add a chapter as "oil not as a fuel" to talk about the utility of oil in petro-chemistry, to make all those plastics and fibres, which is vital for maintaining our digital infrastructures. And oil is needed to make fertilizers, which is quite important for international food safety. Reduced access of oil might mean alternative transport strategy for the rich nations, but PO induced fertilizer production instability and related food shortage is a life and death question for poorer countries. Such constraint might shape the future of international relations.


Mr. Rapier - I rarely post here, but I've read your material and think that you do a good job presenting balanced, fact-based analysis. I applaud your courage/effort to write a book. Congratulations on the contract the the endeavor!

I offer a few suggestions for you to consider:

1. Consider using the word "Peaking" (with the "ing") in the title. Peak oil is becoming over-used, it has a lot of emotion tied to it, and it seems to designate a point in time. A subtle change to be sure, but "peaking" hints that the specific time of peak is unknown and perhaps will be a plateau for some time.
2. A key point for the less knowledgeable reader is the fact that fossil fuels were deposited over hundreds of millions of years and our draw-down rate will exhaust the supply in hundreds of years. I believe the concept of "formation vs. draw-down" is important.
3. Chap 3 - Renewables. If fossil fuels are the earth's energy "savings" or "deposits", renewables can be considered the earth's "income" of energy from sunlight on a recurring basis. So, the concept of "drawing down savings" vs. trying to transition to only living off "income" is one that might resonate with less-knowledgeable folks.
4. Chap 10 might be out of place and may disrupt the flow. It might be best as a final chapter with guidelines for the reader to take forward when making their own assessments.
5. Chap 12 - I wouldn't focus too much on "blend wall" as that is mostly a U.S.-centric topic. It is important due to current engine manufacturers warranties, etc., to be sure, but just wouldn't give it too much play. Chap 12 should probably be a sub-section of Chap 11.
6. Chap 11 - highlighting the technologies that convert other fossil fuels to "oil" such as CTL and GTL might be worthwhile, only if to show how it only converts one form of fossil energy into another

I didn't read all of the other comments above so as to not "bias" my inputs, but I imagine you'll get good feedback here. Again, congrats on the effort!


"..the concept of "drawing down savings" vs. trying to transition to only living off "income" ..."

That seems to be a very useful and, as you say, easily grasped image to help paint this idea. I have been describing my rooftop as a place that has nickels pouring over it all day, and I think I should catch them.. also, that my humble investment into even a few PV and Heating Panels is part of my retirement portfolio, and one which I expect to show a steady return, unaffected by most Economic or Political factors.


I like the book - good luck with it.

I'd love to see a chapter on game-changing technology. Of particular interest to me is the continuing attempt to harness fusion power. There are many government funded projects in this arena, although I think enthusiasm is decreasing for these hot-fusion processes.

Of more interest, although less concrete, is the continuing work on "cold fusion". Last year Rossi, an italian engineer, demonstrated a 500 kW cold fusion reactor combining hydrogen and nickel to create copper at room temperature. Although this is still controversial, I believe it is solid enough to at least get a footnote in your book. It is either a very sophisticated scam, or a real breakthrough. In the second case, it could be a game-changing new technology which disrupts many of the current attempts to manage our energy future.

Good luck with the venture!


Rossi's machine has fraud written all over it. Cold fusion in general is a subject for Chapter 10 – Due Diligence. While Rossi is probably an out-and-out fraud, Fleischmann and Pons seem just to have been delusional. Their results were not reproducible in other people's labs.

Unfortunately a lot of processes work well in the laboratory but not on an industrial scale, and these are harder to weed out. Governments tend to commit a lot of money to them before it becomes obvious they don't work on a large scale.

Some things I would want to include:

Overview: Energy use, where we have been, where we are now, where do extrapolations of what we are doing now take us? What does BAU require in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 years? What “breaks” if we try to extend BAU? Finite oil, finite coal, finite land (food, biomass, habitat (human and non-human) trade off), finite atmosphere (CO2), finite IR cooling (AGW), finite ocean volume (sea level rise),

Energy conservation. This is the only thing that can reduce energy usage today. Dropping your thermostat by 2 degrees in winter can save ~10% on heating (depends on location and initial temperature).

Estimate the energy content of the book itself and 5 to 8 things the reader can do, each of which offsets that energy content/CO2 GHG equivalent. Have that in the early part of the book and encourage the reader to implement that offset before reading further. If it is something like resetting a thermostat, skipping a few showers, eating vegetables instead of meat, it isn't a big interruption. In the middle of the book check in with the reader to see how they did on implementing AGW offset, say it wasn't that bad, why not implement more of them. At the 3/4 point suggest why not continue that way indefinitely, make that the new BAU. At the end of the book, suggest why not get your friends to implement them too. Show why that is not enough, but that they should do it anyway because it will extend when everything breaks by at least some time, not enough time, which is why we need to start taking more effective action now. People buying or using

I would have the next three things as separate chapters but linked

Energy economics: How fossil fuel resources are valued as they go from pipe dream to in ground reserve, to where it can be used as collateral for debt, to where it is extracted, processed, sold, utilized.

Energy politics: How energy economics affects energy politics

Energy policies: How energy politics affects energy policies then back to energy economics.

Due diligence is a good idea. Hydrogen will never be used as a motor fuel, it is too dangerous and not enough (or at all) better than batteries. The Rossi stuff is fraud. The P&F is delusion. Ethanol from corn is overhyped and oversubsidized. I heard it is being exported to Brazil because of the subsidy.

If you had a good electrical grid, and could optimize electricity flows in real time and had a large fleet of electric vehicles plugged in, that might be some of your load balancing from wind and solar. As long as the loss in battery life is less than the differential price in swinging kwhrs from peak to off peak, it should be a no brainer to do.

The electric vehicles have to have regenerative braking which means they will use polyphase inverters and motors as drive wheels with regeneration back to DC. They can convert that DC to polyphase AC too, and also control for power factor as well as load. High efficiency variable frequency inverters needed for vehicle speed control should work great to generate clean 60 Hz, if they are designed to do so in the first place.

Dealing with the barriers to entry that the PTB will put up to extract monopoly tariffs for connection to the grid, connection to the internet and micropayments will likely kill it before it can happen.


To echo the many comments above. I am thrilled that you are doing this. I hope that it seriously contributes to Peak Oil awareness and perhaps to less profligate energy usage. To add a few possible suggestions to the many excellent ones above is a daunting task but I will give it a shot:

1) You are probably already covering Jevon's Paradox in your book but the RESPONSE to that problem is very challenging indeed. Your energy conservation chapter would need a cogent commentary on that apparent contradiction (i.e. that Jevon's Paradox more or less invalidates the utility of energy conservation as a means of reducing oil usage by efficiency gains)

2) You might mention (at least in passing)some of the farther out possibilities for new energy sources (e.g. Thorium reactors-already mentioned above, power satellites, wind power "towers" of several hundred-thousand feet high, and maybe even cold fusion - at least as an example of something is very unlikely to solve our liquid fuel problem!)

3) A review of the physical impossibility of continuous exponential growth in energy simply because of heat issues (there was a very fun posting on that issue recently - i.e. what happens if the world increases energy usage by 3-5% per year for 500 years, etc.)

4) I echo some of the comments above about the IPCC assumption of continuous exponential growth ("BAU") in energy usage and its predicted effect on global temperatures. If your whole thesis is about peak oil and the impossibility of continuous exponential growth in energy usage, it would be quite inconsistent to repeat the IPCC's (almost certainly) erroneous assumption that CO2 emissions would increase exponentially (i.e. for the next 100 years) caused by exponential growth in energy usage that would continue to (at least) 2100. In any case some (or many) of the predicted effects of continued exponential growth in CO2 are modeled very poorly, including drying out of continental interiors, tropical temperature increases (as modified by cloud formation and evaporation responses to increased heat fluxes) and the onset of the next ice-age. Furthermore, existing observed temperature and other responses are not modeled well, I.e. it is very uncertain overall and I think it is somewhat inconsistent with your peak oil message. If I can offer a suggestion to either omit or downplay that issue, I believe that it detracts or at least distracts from your core, very important message on Peak oil.

More than my 2 cents worth. I will CERTAINLY be buying your book. Please share the information on how to purchase it and perhaps you can lean on your publishers to give TOD members a modest discount!!



Thanks all for the great comments so far. Keep them coming. I am taking notes, especially when I see a comment repeated. One example is of the thorium reactors. As of yet I don't have anything in there on that; I will probably write something up in the next chapter I am doing which is The Race to Replace Oil. There are a number of good comments where I have missed something important that I can either go back and cover with an additional paragraph or a sidebar.

This was exactly my intention; to make sure there were no gaping holes.

two separate issues are (1) the need to replace FF with nuclear and renewable energy( the energy issue/ climate change)
and (2) the need to replace a significant portion of oil used for transportation( the peak oil / liquid fuel issue).

As Nick pointed out at least in the short term the US and many developed nations have surplus electricity generation and have time to scale up wind, solar and nuclear to replace FF useful energy.

As you have pointed out replacing oil based liquid fuels with biofuels(ethanol/biodiesel) has problems of scaling. Short term converting ICE vehicles to CNG can be done quickly( for example Iran ) but doesnt solve the longer term FF problem or climate change. That means that battery power replacing liquid fuels seems to be the only longer term option with todays technology. It doesnt seem to be a price issue but a problem of replacing todays existing ICE vehicle fleet.
Sorry to repeat myself but this seems to be the critical issue in next two decades.

Also, a word on climate change since there have been many comments here on the subject. I think I have handled it in a way that will be palatable for all readers. I simply explain what it is, why there is any controversy, and why the problem has largely shifted to developing countries. I show the data; I don't preach that we must solve it or die, or that deniers are idiots, or that it is a fraud. I simply cover factual information.

As an example, I explain what the greenhouse effect is. Nobody on either side of the debate can deny the science of the greenhouse effect; after all we can see it first hand in a greenhouse. I explain the role of greenhouse gases. But then I explain why some people voice skepticism. I don't take the position of a skeptic; rather I say this is why some people are -- which is another factual statement.

So I think I manage to cover the subject without either side thinking I am a fanatic.

Nobody on either side of the debate can deny the science of the greenhouse effect; after all we can see it first hand in a greenhouse.

Probably not a good idea to equate the atmospheric greenhouse effect with the mechanism involved in a greenhouse, as the two are fundamentally different. Here's the relevant quote from Wikipedia:

"The mechanism is named after the effect of solar radiation passing through glass and warming a greenhouse, but the way it retains heat is fundamentally different as a greenhouse works by reducing airflow, isolating the warm air inside the structure so that heat is not lost by convection."

There are differences, but the glass itself reflects IR radiation back into the greenhouse just as greenhouse gas molecules radiate IR back to earth. That is the mechanism by which the greenhouse effect works. Retention of heat is a different matter.

Be careful with the explanations. There's a lot of confusion circulating about exactly what the greenhouse effect is and how it affects climate. Even people who understand the basic idea of transparency to visible and near IR vs. opacity to thermal IR can get important details wrong. I've seen well-intentioned defenders of AGW skewered by skeptics who know just enough physics to make them dangerous.

Increasing levels of GHGs don't cause warming by blocking the escape of thermal IR. They don't substantially alter the thermal radiation profile of the earth from space. But they raise the elevations in the atmosphere from which escaping heat radiation is ultimately emitted. They shorten the mean free path of thermal IR photons and slow the rate of radiative heat transfer within the atmosphere. They make the atmosphere more insulating to loss of heat from the surface, while doing nothing to reduce the incoming solar heat that needs to be dumped back to space. The result is higher average surface temperature. About 50C over what we'd have with no atmosphere, IIRC(?).

Another pitfall is the fact that by far the most dominant GHG is water vapor, not CO2. It's hard for people to get that water vapor levels are a function of temperature, and that without the stabilizing presence of CO2 and other non-condensing GHGs, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere would gradually diminish as the earth got colder and colder. Eventually, we'd arrive at a "snowball earth" -- which it seems has indeed happened in the geologic past. The bottom line is that even though water vapor is a much stronger GHG than CO2, its average atmospheric concentration ends up being dependent on the average concentration of CO2.

One of the problems with simple minded explanations, is they just don't describe reality very well. The problem is (even in 1D models, which are usually enough for a layman's understanding), you have two important dimensions, frequency, and height in the atmosphere. At a given height/frequency you have a mean photon freepath, but it varies with height and frequency. So any simple explanation, like saying its like the IR going to space comes from height X, can be deconstructed pretty easily, simply because its too simplistic. You also have pressure broadening, which makes tropospheric CO2 fairly ineffective at warming, but in the lower pressure of the stratosphere CO2 makes a big difference.

And water vapor... To the average Joe, that means clouds, and everyone "knows" clouds block the sun. Only they heat (or rather insulate) as well, and its tough to get them right. Thats why we have to resort to mathematical modeling. But, then its easy to denigrate them, as it isn't obvious to the average Joe how they work.

Another pitfall is the fact that by far the most dominant GHG is water vapor, not CO2.

I actually go into some detail on this.


Thank you for your more detailed explanation of this!

Do you have links to further explanations of this kind?
Does cloud formation also affect warming/cooling and don't dust particles cause clouds?


Thank you!

That is what is so great about TOD.
We have a large gathering of scholars and gentlepersons all willing to learn from each other.

post script edit:
another clipping from Rouges & Scholars:

[Another winner in the climate rogues circle is:] Anthony Watts [who] runs a blog popular with the anti-climate science crowd. He ran into a brick wall this year when he voiced support for an ongoing climate study (the “Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature” or “BEST” study) that he thought would prove his anti-warming beliefs to be right because it was being done by someone he thought was in his camp (“… I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.”). Unfortunately for him, that study proved his premise wrong and instead reconfirmed what climate scientists have been saying for decades: the Earth’s surface is warming and at just the rate that numerous previous studies had shown.

Sir, with all due respect, but if in your book you compare the atmospheric greenhouse effect to the mechanism involved in greenhouses you will do so at the expense of your credibility as an author. I'm shocked that not more TODers are weighing in on this.

The glass in a greenhouse works by blocking convection of warm air, whereas atmospheric greenhouse gases trap heat by blocking electromagnetic radiation, which is a fundamentally different process. The heat trapped by the process you describe in your previous post is negligible compared to the heat trapped by blocking convection of warm air.

Here is Wikipedia's explanation of how a greenhouse operates:
A greenhouse is a structure with different types of covering materials, such as a glass or plastic roof and frequently glass or plastic walls; it heats up because incoming visible solar radiation (for which the glass is transparent) from the sun is absorbed by plants, soil, and other things inside the building. Air warmed by the heat from hot interior surfaces is retained in the building by the roof and wall. In addition, the warmed structures and plants inside the greenhouse re-radiate some of their thermal energy in the infrared spectrum, to which glass is partly opaque, so some of this energy is also trapped inside the glasshouse. However, this latter process is a minor player compared with the former (convective) process. Thus, the primary heating mechanism of a greenhouse is convection. This can be demonstrated by opening a small window near the roof of a greenhouse: the temperature drops considerably. This principle is the basis of the autovent automatic cooling system. Thus, the glass used for a greenhouse works as a barrier to air flow, and its effect is to trap energy within the greenhouse. The air that is warmed near the ground is prevented from rising indefinitely and flowing away.

Air warmed by the heat from hot interior surfaces is retained in the building by the roof and wall. In addition, the warmed structures and plants inside the greenhouse re-radiate some of their thermal energy in the infrared spectrum, to which glass is partly opaque, so some of this energy is also trapped inside the glasshouse.

That is the same mechanism by which greenhouse gas molecules re-radiate infrared back to the surface of the earth, which is exactly how I referenced that explanation. I did not write "the reason the earth will heat up is the reason a greenhouse heats up."

Thus, the glass used for a greenhouse works as a barrier to air flow,

As well as a barrier to the escape of infrared radiation that is emitted from surfaces that have absorbed IR energy.

Dear Mr. Rapier:

In a previous post you indicated that you intended to make the following statement in your book:

Nobody on either side of the debate can deny the science of the greenhouse effect; after all we can see it first hand in a greenhouse.

By making the above statement you give the impression that:

(1) You are unaware that the greenhouse effect is not the effect which warms the inside of greenhouses.

(2) You are unaware that the term "greenhouse effect" is universally acknowledged to be a misnomer (try googling: "greenhouse effect misnomer")

R.W. Wood demonstrated almost 100 years ago that replacing a glass cover with a rock-salt cover had almost no effect on the temperature of a model greenhouse, even though rock salt is transparent to IR radiation:

I rest my case. I can't even believe we are having this debate.

In a previous post you indicated that you intended to make the following statement in your book:

That's not exactly what I said. In the book I said that the mechanism by which IR is radiated back to earth is the same mechanism by which a greenhouse glass radiates IR back into the greenhouse. That is a true statement. Your argument is that this isn't why the greenhouse actually gets hot, but that's not what I wrote in the book. Your link is interesting; I had not seen that before. But it does indicate that it is at least part of the reason as there was a difference in temperature in the two.

Nonetheless, as I go back to make edits, I will make sure that this point is clear.

I do appreciate the feedback. Not trying to be difficult with you, but I think the way I explained it in the book is clearer than you are interpreting it here. But the reason I asked for feedback was to make sure that there aren't any major misconceptions in the book, and maybe you have helped me to avoid one.

Wouldn't a glass (or rock salt) enclosure retain a higher concentration of water vapor (H2O) which is a GHG?
Wouldn't that keep the heat in?

I don't take the position of a skeptic; rather I say this is why some people are -- which is another factual statement.

Sadly, most skepticism is generated by those whose economic interests will be hurt. So, attributing skepticism to an evidence-based rational approach is not actually factual.

So I think I manage to cover the subject without either side thinking I am a fanatic.

Again, opposition comes primarily from a minority that is simply fighting for it's economic interests, and no rational discussion will satisfy them. Their followers are similarly irrational - they are just following their leader/group thinking.

Irrationality is the biggest problem.

It is fed and helped along with corporate propaganda. They engage concepts like the indestructibility of creation by man.

The science and technology are just amusements.

Here's my perspective on nuclear:

1) nuclear power is wedded to nuclear weapons - I think that's the fundamental cause of the opposition from European Greens in particular, whose activism was shaped during the cold war in which short-range nuclear weapons were pointed directly at them. Until that link is broken, that opposition will be strong. Thorium shows some promise of breaking that link. It's worth noting that Thorium wasn't pursued originally precisely because it was much less useful for weapons.

2) nuclear power is slower and more cumbersome to build, as long as it it built in very large and risky projects. Modular manufacturing shows some promise of fixing that problem. Until that problem is fixed wind and solar will be faster ways to reduce FF consumption.

3) Diversity of supply is good.

As a risk-mitigation strategy---i.e. there are unforeseen problems and uncertainties in our computations--- we ought to be doing both.

Nuclear has the obvious advantage that there is clear empirical evidence that it can scale up to sufficient capacity to support a modern industrial society with little extra help. There is no such example with wind, and all industrial societies generate the overwhelming majority of their electricity with plants which look much more like nuclear w.r.t. intermittency in generation than they do like wind. I would argue strongly that wind and solar are indeed low risk, but they aren't zero risk.

Further, diversity is cheaper:

if we want to, we can rely solely on wind and solar for new electrical generation, and eventually we could phase nuclear power out. The problem with big enough scaleup to replace coal (what I think is most important) is that such costs do increase somewhate with higher wind penetration.

With nuclear, at least if done sensibly, there are some economies of scale (up to some point) in standardization and production.

1) nuclear power is wedded to nuclear weapons

And thus - how useful is Fission to Humanity if some Humans are "not going to be allowed"?

Dear Robert,

Not enough time to read all the comments, but I would suggest an aditional chapter (And I can help if you like)

Oil (and Liquid Fuel) Free Transportation.

Four major types - walking & bicycling, Urban Rail (and electric trolley buses), electrified railroads, and electric vehicles.

A statistic to show the systemic impact of urban rail "within living memory".

Arlington County VA - Sales 288 gallons/capita/year
Fairfax County VA - Sales 388 gallons/capita/year
Rest of Virginia - Sales 645 gallons/capita/year.

Arlington & Fairfax are among the 15 wealthiest counties in the USA.

Arlington took a full TOD approach to DC Metro, Fairfax has massive bus service + Park & Ride lots.

And Arlington managed to get through 2011 without a single murder I read yesterday.

I just finished up a chapter on the future of freight in the US recently.

Another point. France

Build 1,500 km of trams in every town of 110,000 & larger 2010-2020 22 billion eiros

Build 200 more km of Paris Metro (2 million more daily passengers) almost doubling total length & ridership. 20.5 billion euros 2013-2025

Electrify "every meter of French railroads" and "burn not one drop of oil" 2006-2025. No cost published that I have found

I use a multiplier of 5.75 to find comparable American efforts.

Increased % urban trips by bike from 1% in 2000 to 6% in 2010 (goal was 10%). Majort additional efforts 2011-2016, etc.

Urban growth boundaries are standard in France

TGV construction speeded up (about x3 vs. per-2000 rate).

% of freight by rail has a goal of doubling (by 2020 ? memory).

All of the above efforts will reduce French oil use (about -1.x% per year since 2001, likely to accelerate 2011+).

In an oil supply emergency, French transportation oil use can be shifted to available, and viable oil free alternatives.

Can Americans work with the Speed, Efficiency and Determination of French Bureaucrats ?

Best Hopes,


Good Work Robert. I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO YOUR BOOK. A thought occurred to me... Have you looked at country and time specific oil and energy consumption? IE., say per capita oil consumption, what would be the minimum oil consumption that our economy could tolerate and so forth. One example: Switzerland in WW 2 had an oil consumption that was 0.25% of current US per capita, of .064 bbl/day PC. My notes show wartime Switzerland consumed 5000 bbl/day. Today Switzerland has about 7 million folks consuming 275,000 bbl/day or .039 Bbl/day per capita. I show the US using.064 bbl/day PC. I think that means SW is consuming 16 times as much oil PC as it did in WW2. Ultimately Switzerland will get back at some point to that level as will the US. The US consumes about 19,000,000 bbl day. 1/4 of 1% of current consumption would have us using 47500 bbl/day....hmmmmm....It wasn't that long ago that the US was using 47500 bbl/day, the late 19th those consumption levels we would have a far different economy, a far different country......I throw up this disconnected factoid as I try to imagine a world without much oil....which probably is not that far away, almost certainly this century.

Dear Robert, looking forward to getting your book.
I think that liquid biofuels may have a bigger place in the future than you think but I hope they will be developed sensitively.
There is a lot that has to be done over the next few years particularly for the heavy transport sector where there is no viable alternative to the quantity of liquid fossil fuels now being used. We have destroyed our rail and tramway heritage. A lot of the built environment only suits motorised transport.
The airline sector has been working hard to develop the use of liquid biofuels, such as Jatropha oil etc. The energy invested for the energy returned does not really matter provided that it does not cost too much and the energy returned is in the form of a liquid fuel.
It is very difficult to know what will pan out over the next few years with the liquid fuel sector.
There are several possible outcomes:
That the repeated “oil shocks” will destroy the wealth in the economy so that needed investment in the de-carboning of the economy does not take place. Similarly the money will not be there to mitigate the increasingly severe environmental effects of past fossil fuel burning. The world economy will contract and the increasingly difficult extraction of all commodities from lower grade sources will simply not take place due lack of spare cash for investment.
This will lead to not only a zero growth economy but a negative growth economy. The creation of money by lending it into existence will no longer be possible because the growth necessary to repay the interest on the money “leant into existence” will not be there. Possibly usury will eventually be banned by law (again!) and we will revert to an economy where interest is not paid on money on loan. (This is still the case in some Muslim countries).

The QE resorted to by USA and the UK is one way to try to keep the amount of money available for investment from falling.

Although economists do not agree, energy-particularly liquid fuels are the lifeblood of the economy. Without blood we die – without liquid fuels the economy dies. If the cost of transportation fuels rises and rises then we will be in big trouble with our globalised “just in time” food and other commodities delivery systems. Just in time becomes just too late. 3 days-from-disaster.

I have been taking a keen interest in electric vehicles and there are some very interesting developments. The battery technology has been developing in China and is making leaps and bounds. Interestingly, this is probably because the big players (oil companies, car manufacturers, governments who depend on fuel taxes) cannot stifle developments in China. This may be a get out of jail card for those wise enough to realize.

The way I see things developing is that the middle class in USA, UK Ireland etc. will increasingly become smaller so that we will be left with the super rich and the poor. If this is allowed to go too far then some very interesting times will come to pass. Ownership of property and wealth in the final analysis depends upon society agreeing on who is the owner. As the native Irish discovered when their lands were taken by force, suddenly they no longer were the owners. Similar has happened in Russia and in France after their revolutions and indeed in large parts of what was Eastern Germany after the 2nd World War.

So if things continue as they are liquid fuels will become more scarce and expensive. All sources of liquid fuels will be tapped without mercy - needs must when the devil wants to drive.

The International Energy Agency will authorize further reserve releases.
Eventually this will not work and rationing of liquid fuels will begin under the rules agreed in a 2005 IEA conference.

As diesel is essential for transport and agriculture this will be most severely rationed.

Those who can afford new cars (few) will get electric vehicles. The others will drive fewer and fewer miles.

The economy and jobs will contract and contract thus the loss of the middle class.

Not a very nice scenario and I hope books such as yours will help to prevent it coming to pass.

Hi Robert

We had some brief communication when I was doing my Masters degree (Sustainability Science) and I quoted some of your work, especially in the Resource Economics and Energy sections of my course work.

Looking over your subject headings I would presume that the nexus between energy and the economy is covered throughout the book as relevant. However it may be worth highlighting in Ch 9 or elsewhere. The key point (for me) is the impact of oil prices in the economy and with peak oil on us, even though this has not been recognised by "the establishment" the impact of the oil price on the economy nevertheless is the point at which the impact of peak oil is delivered to us. At one level this is easy to understand as an affordability problem. The impact more generally and its function as a limiter on growth is less well perceived and probably should be the key message from your book. Professors James Hamilton and Charles Hall have both written on this topic.

Hi Robert,
Looks like the publisher Gods are breathing down your neck! I'd like to add two suggestions to the many useful ideas that have been put forward:

Since you've chosen to cover such a wide range of ideas in your book it must of necessity target a general audience that often lacks the basis for understanding the implications of Peak Oil, and likely draws its understanding from the delusional ideologies bandied around by the ruling elites and the popular press.

Given that audience, I suggest that the first and most important concept to present is the mathematics of exponential growth. Cris Martenson has done a superb job of integrating this concept into his Crash Course Chapter #3 ( and ( If I were writing a book with the scope of ambition that yours has, this would be my opening chapter.

The next thing I would do is book a flight into Mexico City. As you circle toward landing ask yourself how this artifact of the fossil fuel age can conceivably evolve into an environment that is fit for sustained human life in the few years available as the cheap and concentrated energy contained in oil is withdrawn. Apart from the technical problems inherent in relying upon dispersed and intermittent renewable energy sources, the scale of infrastructure redevelopment necessary renders the transition inconceivable without catastrophic downsizing. And famine, banditry, armed struggle, and societal collapse are not the best climate for creating an new technical infrastructure.

Amory Lovins tells us he has the answer in his recent book, REINVENTING FIRE. With his typical attention to detail and technical logic, Lovins makes the argument that all we have to do is start picking the low hanging fruit of efficiency, and that will lead us to the path to sustainability. His vision (and the economic success of his institute) garners the support of Bill Clinton and the presidents of Shell Oil Company, Exelon, and the US Navy. Lovins bases his vision for the future upon a totally delusional theory of Economics that holds that economic decisions are based upon cost benefit calculations performed with real information inputs, and that corporations seek long term profitability and have financial structures and planning horizons that maximize that goal. The notion of a Free Market far more closely resembles a religious belief than any set of behaviors that exist beyond the level of the corner lemonade stand.

In the real world, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Halliburton CEO's purchase the political actors and judicial system in order to structure it for their benefit, gamble with high risk short term plays in the derivatives Casino, and make decisions in a time frame determined by quarterly window dressing to maximize their personal bonus compensation. Expecting this evolved form of (vampire) capitalism to make the long term decisions that humans must make if they are to transition to a sustainable existence on the Earth is madness.

the mathematics of exponential growth.

I would avoid that. It's not necessary, and it suggests that PO and other energy transitions will put a permanent end to economic growth, which is both unrealistic and frightening to the audience.

And we wouldn't want to frighten the audience with facts would we Nick? Not when we can sell them rose colored glasses.

Note that I said "which is both unrealistic and frightening to the audience."

If it were realistic, it would be important to say so. For instance, I think the risk of scary Climate Change is high. In fact, I'm much more worried about CC than I am about PO. Fortunately, both are eminently fixable, if we can only get past the opposition from entrenched interests.


1. My quick scan didn't reveal anything in your outline regarding hydrogen as an alternative to convert electricity into a fuel for automobiles.

I know hydrogen is poo-poo'd here on TOD, but when you can take a very clean 25:1 EROEI source such as wind and go through the lousy conversion factors of hydrogen by hydrolysis and still come up with 8:1 EROEI that's better than a very dirty process such as converting kerogen marls to oil at what - a 3 or 4:1 EROEI? At best? And I firmly believe hydrogen is more viable the BEV's, since H2 gives performance (read: weight and range) closest to our present ICE oil fueled vehicles.

2. You should go through the Minnesota Wind Integration Study to dismiss some of the myths about wind, (spinning reserve backups are required - mostly wrong, actual backup capacity required is very region specific depending on what their worst case scenarios are)and also explain how if the source area is spread out, the variability diminishes rapidly.

3. I hope that when discussing the cost of solar, you also mention the VALUE of solar in terms of the cost of running peaker plants, and how the solar production generally coincides with the highest demands.

Look forward to buying my own copy of the book. Should I invest in coffee futures for the next two weeks?

I'd go for NH3 as a carrier fuel before H2.

Methane and methanol are both decent candidates.

Of course, we could also just synthesize diesel or something gasoline-like. It would be less efficient, but not require new infrastructure.

It's hard to tell from the short chapter descriptions but it sounds like you start from an assumption that BAU is possible but with some different energy mix. I don't think that's right, at all, and, if you do have that assumption, this book will do a lot of disservice to the human experiment. If I'm wrong, you somehow do weave into the book that energy, whilst extremely important, is just one of the problems we face (most of the others being environmental, plus debt) that together form a predicament. And predicaments don't have solutions, only responses.

So, I'm not sure what this book is intended to do. We will be forced into radical changes of lifestyle by reality. Energy choices need to be approached from a different tack. How should we be living in order to have sustainable societies? What options do we have within the axioms of sustainability? What is the minimum energy we'd need to live that way? How should we be producing that minimum energy?

I would give it a thought about having a separate chapter on Energy Storage. Speaking about storage, I would add methanization of hydrogen to the portfolio of options. It allows the use of the vast existing infrastructure (for an efficiency price).

In the renewables chapter I would emphasize that some renewables are intermittent, but all are predictable on a useful time scale (be it months, weeks or just days) and can be managed intelligently with inverters and software.

If we can figure out how to get algae to create the methane at scale from air and light, it's the magic bullet for BAU.

But we are still left with the problem of converting methane to liquid fuels, which is the real hurdle. There is plenty of methane today, and plenty of potential to produce more, both fossil and biogas.

Oil is what keeps BAU going, more methane may mean cheaper peak electricity and home/industrial heating, but if it's not displacing oil as a transport fuel, it is not saving BAU

At the moment the US energy market is flooded with cheap methane, aka natural gas, which is trading for about one-quarter the price of oil on an energy equivalent basis. The problem is that people can't use it in their cars and trucks. Creating a lot more cheap methane doesn't change that issue.

Right now natural gas is a dead-end.
Natural gas which is manufactured rather than extracted changes the natural gas market dramatically. If you have dirt-cheap, carbon-neutral methane where supply follows the rules of widgets, not mines, then you have reason to invest in gas-to-liquids and/or fleet conversion over time.

The current natural gas market is unsustainable. Natural gas is being sold at below the cost of extraction.


No one is willing to invest in GTL or even CNG because they're afraid that gas prices will go back up.

Perhaps this has been suggested earlier but one of the obvious tools we need is an accounting practice which includes what economists call the externalities. The externalities and their non-inclusion in accounting practice is what allows our corporations and governments to make the economic argument for extraction. If you can exclude from your argument factors and events which would put your profits or job creating abilities at risk and if you can convince a majority to accept your parameters, as has been done so successfully in recent decades by the neo-conservative movement, you have created a strong barrier to any attempt to reformulate the parameters.

But it must be done. To allow Coca-Cola to flood the planet with empty plastic containers without responsibility for them once sold is simply no longer tenable. But strangely enough the current economic paradigm says this is just ok.

So it seems to me that any work on alternate energy must include a section on methods to measure its full effect against that of the status quo. We can talk eagerly about "renewables" but there is a cost to everything we humans do and renewables, like ever other energy activity humans undertake, will have their effect on our natural world. Photovoltaic cells require material, energy and labour to produce and eventually recycle or destroy. A calculation of this cost against their benefit must be made but it cannot be done using the restricted model of accounting in general use today. There is already too much of a "pollyanna" mentality surrounding renewables to allow us to make a balanced judgment on their use and effect on our ever threatened environment.

We will only know what we are doing if we can do our best to measure our effort and results. We may indeed discover that some of our vaunted renewables cost more than we previously thought.

[What] we need is an accounting practice which includes what economists call the externalities


"Accounting" is about NOT accounting for just about everything and instead reducing our understanding of the Universe into one simple "bottom line" number.

The bottom line is the bottom line

((**Unless there is one more line item below it))

Quick point regarding a tie-in between load balancing and carbon sequestration. Several of the more scalable options for CO2 sequestration have characteristics that would allow them to serve as massive dispatchable loads. Implemented on a large scale, they could easily soak up surplus power from wind, solar, or nuclear when a surplus was available, and shut or throttle down when supply was low.

My currently favorite approach to sequestration uses electrodialysis to produce fresh water + hydrocloric acid + caustic soda solution from sea water. The caustic soda solution is dispersed into the ocean to counter acidification and raise uptake of CO2. The HCl is neutralized by leaching through crushed rock. The leachant contains metal cloride salts, some of which have commercial value.

By allowing the grid operator to control the scheduling of the rock crushers and electrodialysis cells, the plant earns extra revenues for ancillary services to the grid.

I think you might include a Thermodynamic discussion with regard to biofuels as discussed by Krassen Dimitrov on this site some time ago.

Possible topic: How growing domestic use and shrinking exports of OPEC and other oil producing countries will affect the total oil available for importing countries.


I'm a bit late to this but:-

Ch. 4. Andre has mentioned this - the infrastructure asset and regulation lifecycles - the length of time it takes to back out of bad policies. Probably best in Ch. 4.

Ch.1 or 15. Consumption, cribbing from Vaclav Smil, that all past predictions of energy consumption have been overestimates, by between 50% and ten times once you go fifty years out. Either Ch. 1 or Ch. 15 (or both).

Ch. 8 - Threats: Global divergences: The demographics of the developed world (aging populations) versus the developing world (burgeoning populations). (Perhaps already covered under "emerging countries", but I thought I'd check.)

Also Steven Kopits's idea (presentation to House subcommittee) that Chinese car ownership is reaching the knee of the curve. (Also at Stuart Staniford's blog, Earlywarn.)

Ch 8. A discussion of Export Land concepts [Edit: and examples], especially demand side: 2% population growth plus 3% income growth plus 2% from policy favoring value-added petrochemical production equals 7% per year growth in exporters' own consumption.

Nuclear: Have a quick look at Tom Murphy's latest post on nuclear ( ). Ten minutes might gain you an idea or two...

Ch. 15 The coming global gas glut, and how that could lead into a policy trap.

Reorg: Chapter 14 (history of policies - how we did it) falls more naturally before chapter 9 (how to do it better) IMHO. Both of them would be better placed straight after the Due Diligence chapter (how to avoid doing it wrong).

Possibly: place part of the Corn Ethanol chapter after Due Diligence as a case study, another part in or after Ch. 14, and the rest after the Better Policies chapter - providing concrete continuity through the theory. (Or is that too textbookish?)

Best wishes!

Much is made of energy sources, fuel switching, e.g., nuclear, alternatives, fossil fuels, renewables. This is fine but does little to improve the human condition. Our modern consumer society has serious problems in understanding conservation of energy. Example: Buildings are a huge energy drain and simply applying what we have learned during the past thirty years can enable freeing up enough energy to meet the needs of many millions of people. The study of energy use in buildings is "Building Science" and many followers of TOD already know this. Our failing is to widely apply the science to existing buildings and capture the embodied energy present in these structures while reducing energy inputs to a bare minimum.

Net Zero, PassivHaus, EQuilibrium House, R2000, LEED and Living Building Challenge are just a few programs targeting new construction that strive to create the nega-watt concept of energy conservation. I believe it was Amory Lovings who coined the term "nega-watt" to describe his conservation power plant idea which is that saving watts avoids construction of additional generating capacity. When applied to our wasteful U.S. culture the savings impact is huge. If such targets were to be applied to a maximum weatherization effort of existing buildings we would see a great evaporation of hardship around the globe.

One of our Company's favorite saying is that "it doesn't matter which energy source you select, but only that you use very, very little of any option." This is true, it works around the planet and it allows residents of such structures a wonderful amount of free time to consider really important social concerns instead of struggling to meet an unrealistic energy demand/cost/burden.

We should all think in terms of how much time/materials we want to dedicate to just heating/cooling/conditioning our built environments. I once consulted with a group of restaurant owners concerning their high energy usage. I encouraged them to consider how many meals they wanted to have to sell each day just to pay their energy bills. After meeting on my recommendations they undertook an expensive but reasonable thermal, mechanical and electrical retrofit of their existing buildings and maximized their profits after a three and a half year payback. They were able to increase the quality of their meals and offer a more comfortable dining atmosphere all without significantly raising prices. And, they were able to easily compete with other businesses at reduced expense due to their overhead/utility savings.

Payback, or amortization is where most engineers and architects become hung up. Present day energy costs are not realistic, we know this. Building Science takes the guesswork out of predicting future energy use. Declining energy resources with steadily increasing energy costs make the net zero goal a known quantity. No longer is guesswork involved in predicting future energy use in buildings. And, it's simply the right thing to do!


While Building Science certainly can help, it, alone, is no panacea.

A bigger problem, IMO, is that many of our buildings are simply bigger than what we need, or the buildings themselves are for trivial purposes.

Building science allows inefficiently large buildings to be energy efficient, but the same reduced energy use could often be achieved by having smaller buildings in the first place.

This of course, is a direction most people do not want to go, as space is a "desirable luxury".

The way the rest of the world handles home energy use is to have smaller homes (and vehicles). In the US, it is to try to have complex systems to minimise the energy use of large homes (and vehicles).

Going smaller is far simpler and cheaper, though it does not create a lot of jobs for mechanical engineers and HVAC and controls industries.

And no amount of building science addresses oil usage, which is the first and foremost issue.

Paul, with all due respect to your points, the facts are that building science is applied to all sizes of buildings, small ones too. It was not my intent to offer it as the one solution and apologize if that's what you read into it. However, residential building size is trending downward after the "golden" years of the past housing boom. The decision to build "inefficiently large buildings" is a personal one, though not personally my own. I'm sure you are aware that we can discuss building size, sq. ft. per occupant and efficient use of space without affecting energy use but this is only possible through application of building science.

Construction of net zero buildings, whether small, medium or large, present no great energy footprint considering oil, natural gas, biofuels, etc. The use of science to create net zero buildings is a valid premise which frees up all other fuels for value added purposes by virtue of such buildings being practically self supporting. Using oil, gas or any other fuel for meeting building energy use is irrelevant here. This is even more true with your claim of complexity, since very simple "net zero" buildings do not require large expensive mechanical systems that your "small" inefficient houses do. The same holds true for commercial/institutional structures when compared to their contemporary counterparts.

Residential and commercial buildings are responsible for 36% of all energy use worldwide. This contrasts with transportation being at 27.3% and industry nearly 28%. Buildings and their energy use have a huge role to play in our future and yet we seem to ignore the important opportunity they present to us.

Residential buildings use approximately twice the amount of oil as do commercial buildings totaling over one million barrels per day in 2008 (most current year) (ref. ). I submit that this 42 million gallons of fuel oil is no small affair and even elimination of this "tiny" percentage of total oil derived energy has merit toward achieving the goal of reducing petroleum use. As an aside, when Prudhoe Bay, the largest oil field in North America, was at it's maximum production rate of just over 2.2 million barrels per day, that equivalent amount of energy approximately equaled the total amount of heat lost through windows in the U.S. Much has changed since then and we are now encumbered with the responsibility of easing up to the edge of the precipice without rushing headlong over the edge.

In addition, most TOD readers know that the definition of "crude oil" is the oil product M.K. Hubbert spoke of peaking and it certainly appears to have done so. Current "liquid fuels" are comprised of many sources such as natural gas liquids, tar sands, heavy oil, methanol with numerous others in the mix. Savings in any one fuel type affect oil use in one way or another. My argument is that we must embrace all aspects of using energy wisely if we are to move with a modicum of sanity through this period of decline. It simply does not matter if a building's energy demand is met with oil, gas, coal or renewables. Whether it be in commercial, residential or transportation sectors, building science directed energy conservation and efficiency present a most valuable contribution toward this end. An important point I thought I had made was that applying such energy retrofits to existing buildings is a necessary undertaking, especially if we are intent upon reducing energy use and strengthening our local economic base.

It is my sincere gift to Robert that he include a chapter on what's possible that will expose his readers to important and available mitigation efforts, and provide encouragement to apply such to their own properties. I personally believe smaller buildings are desirable…. and planting a garden might not be a bad idea either.

Don't know where these thoughts fit your book, but here's what comes to mind:

(1) I don't suppose you have some easy to digest diagrams? Sometimes only a couple of data points presented pictorially can have alot better emotional impact that pages of graphs alone. I'm thinking of the twinkie analogy in Ghostbusters - some representation of the size of our daily oil consumption vs. the size of the latest crop of new oil finds, the bakken, prudhoe, etc, etc. That chart that shows earth, then ss, then galaxy, then cluster, supercluster, etc. comes to mind also as an example in astronomy - those big billion barrel and tcf numbers are impressive on paper, but not when you draw them to scale next to our consumption. Seeing things in perspective is priceless.

(2) my #1 vote is for plenty of space on ANE and GNE. One of the keys in my mind to comprehending why things appear to be BAU when it's pretty easy to see overshoot on paper.

(3) Rockman's perspective on reserve replacement vs. share price has also been instrumental in deflating the shale bubble in my mind as well. Also importance of rate of extraction vs. absolute quantity (i.e. bakken). Oh, and kerogen is dirt, not tar sand, si?

(4) Spelling out the price inelasticity of oil supply & demand curves is sure a fun exercise, and a real fine companion to the ANE discussion. Better also touch on demand destruction as well, I think the intersection of things is really the key to rectifying the struggle between the numbers and the talking heads when it comes to peak oil. No demand desr. and oil might easily have cleared $200/bbl already, no? Then you toss in ANE, and you see that there's probably going to be a price spike anyway, or maybe a stairstep, but neither way is it looking pretty.

(5) Kudos to garyrides and those others who accent the quality of life aspects in powerdown (not that I expect [i.e.] medical care to be included in the plus list). I adore my fuji 21 speed, and I've lost 20 lbs since I've been riding regularly, and the spiritual benefits of an hour of real light, sky and air (even in a city of 1 million) every day I will now never voluntarily relinquish. I've been seeing an exponential increase (from near zero- best hopes for a few more doublings) in bikers here since Lehman; I'm sure that's not a unique experience about the country.

Someone here pointed this one out:
The Impossible Hamster

I'm too out of touch to know if videos can be embedded in an e-book.

I look forward to the book. For your chapter 15 "The Road Ahead", I would leave the reader with the message that there will be no top down solutions. If anyone is holding out hope that leaders in government, or industry, or academia will conceive and deliver solutions to this predicament they will be disappointed. Leaders in our society do not rise to the top telling people what they do not want to hear. There will only be bottom up solutions. Everyone must use their own ingenuity to bring their energy consumption in line with what is sustainable. This is ultimately a message of hope. But it requires that you save yourself, not be saved by some external techno-wizardry. We have made a fetish of specialization, such that people are afraid to be assertive outside of their narrow slice of expertise. Deference to "experts" is highly over-rated. Take control of your destiny. It is a scary concept. Action. Empowerment. Survival.

About :
Chapter 09 – Better Energy Policies

Here I focus on several ideas that will help move countries away from dependence on imported oil – and ultimately fossil fuels in general – while also making sure supplies are adequate during the transition. I talk about fossil fuel taxes, drilling proposals that fund alternative energy and mass transit, and the need for an Open Fuel Standard.

And :

Chapter 14 – Energy and Politics

This chapter covers the history of energy policy in the U.S. over the past four decades, and why that has resulted in such a high level of dependence on imported oil.

Do you also cover related foreign policy ? Relationship between US 1971 peak and first oil shock ? The kind of "cover up" that has been going on regarding the reality of US peak, for instance :

Comparison between US gas tax and other countries ?

It looks like an ambitious overview. I'll look forward to reading it.

You asked for comments:

1. I'm sure you'll include sufficient quantitative information so that the various options can be put in context. E.g., how much oil replacement is obtained by riding bicycles? From using low-power light bulbs? These sorts of options can only be evaluated at a policy level when the magnitude of the contribution they make can be compared both to other options and to the total energy flow through the system at present.

2. Don't neglect the capital investment. If current capital investment cannot be fully depreciated, what effect does that have on the economy? What are the realistic infrastructure replacement limitations? Along the same lines, do some options require government infrastructure support, e.g. a decision to construct a continent-wide hydrogen pipeline network?

3. When discussing politics, it is not just the USA that matters. Energy is fungible, albeit imperfectly, in world markets. What are the global implications?

Hope these comments help.

After reading some of the comments posted in response to this article:

I think that the vast majority of Americans are a complete lost cause, there is nothing that will change their minds if it goes counter to their ingrained beliefs. Not even the best written book will ever make a difference to these folk.

there is nothing that will change their minds

Actually, most of us do change our minds.

That is why the brain is referred to as having neuro-plasticity.

You are not the same person --thinking wise-- as you were say when you were 5 years old or 15 years old or 25.

The sector of the populace that you are talking about are the ones who voluntarily (although with no free will of their own) and regularly tune into think tanking news outlets like the Faux Spincasting Network.

So even if a semblance of a rational thought accidentally seeps into their brains,
it is quickly washed away with a deluge of brain re-programming data from the Faux Mindcontrol Bureau.

The battle for America (and its minds and other organs) never ceases.

You know, a mind is a terrible thing to let go into thinking for itself. (/sarcasm)

Geothermal may not be a renewable. If one means the 50 degrees a few feet down or the use of a lake as a heat sink - those temps are influenced by solar load.

But tapping the deep core temp? Given Man's willingness to take and take it'd be a shame to make to core solid due to temp drop. Such is not my problem, nor the problem of anyone I'd know. But what a way to screw Humanity - take away the magnetic field.

Since solar has done most of the heavy lifting at our place for over 15 years,

Most of the 'energy resources' listed ARE from photons and are therefore solar. The photons captured may be far older than Humanity (oil, coal) or may be only a few Human generations old (some wood, peat), a few years old/less than a year (various crops), a few weeks old (wind, water cycle) or may be far quicker than it took to type this or read this (PV).

So the Sun does almost all the heavy lifting.

And under solar, do not forget solar heating. Solar batch hot water is 'popular' in China and used to be the "thing" in California. Solar hot water and an instant on hot water heating lets Americans wash like they are used to, yet is still a 'reasonable' target.

You might wish to play with eMergy or even further out the idea of Watts as "money". Imagine where you make a decision to buy X as an 'opportunity cost' of being cold in winter or an hour powering the HD TV. ((I'll let you track down "the 'Lectro" money idea.)

On Biomass - you may wish to knit together an undercurrent of "Humans and their creations are flawed" along with 'if Humans try to bioengineer a "solution" it could end poorly for the biosphere'.

Good luck with your book


I agree with other posters emphasizing a chapter on efficiency, or how energy is used. I'd be happy to revise any graphics from my google Knols for use in your book.

Also, regarding how energy is accessed, a detailed discussion of nuclear technologies would seem most pertinent. The intelligence of our energy security strategy is best illustrated by considering the irony embodied in the depleted uranium round. A single such round contains about 300 grams of depleted uranium. Roughly speaking, the energy available in this mass would sustain a single person at a western standard of living (10 kWth) for an entire lifetime. Just because it also happens to be dense and pyrophoric, we expediently throw it at our enemies in order to maintain access to the more easily burned stuff.

We have several practical designs for reactors capable of utilizing the fertile uranium 238. These advanced reactors are safer, may burn slower, are often smaller, are more proliferation resistant, and far more sustainable than current light water reactor designs. Unlike hypothetical nuclear fusion powerplants, ground for these reactors could be broken today.

Best of luck with your book.

Not sure what you've going to include in the climate change chapter, but I see that only one comment mentions sea level rise.

You're no doubt aware that the current IPCC models don't account for the nasty positive feedbacks such as melting ice and methane. If Jim Hansen is right that all the globe's ice melts, we'll have about 70 feet of sea level rise. My house is 60 miles from the Florida coast but only 28 feet elevation. My office is at 70 feet elevation.

Point is that even much less sea level rise will require abandonment of trillions of dollars of infrastructure and response to mass migration.

I'm less optimistic about Climate Change than I am about PO.

Timeframes are the key. The later we wait to deal with PO, the more painful it will be, but if we have to we can deal with PO as it happens. The timeframes for implementing solutions to PO are much shorter (e.g., carpooling (weeks) in parallel with emergency ramping up of EV production (less than 10 years)), and the hidden positive feedbacks much smaller and primarily social in nature (i.e., under our control).

On the other hand, we need to deal with CC before it happens, and that appears very unlikely. CC is a physical phenomenon, and will probably accelerate even if we stop CO2 emissions right now. The timeframe is decades, and the hidden positive feedbacks are outside of our control, and may be enormous and unstoppable even now.

Still, it's useful to be clear where the problems are. We have all of the technical tools we need to deal with PO and Climate Change (though cost reductions would certainly help, via better science, engineering and manufacturing techniques). What remains is the social problem.

Another Bandits rant.........

Peak Oil, peak FF's is a cycle bubble bust which the world could negotiate like any other cyclic situation. But we will not find a solution to global warming and climate change by finding a solution to peak FF's.

The environmental damage which has occurred over the last couple of centuries and especially over the past sixty years requires drastic, draconian mitigation measures.

Nick, electric cars ARE NOT the solution to anything when we are facing the possible annihilation of all flora and fauna on the planet. As I have been saying for years, unless you can sequester the amount of CO2, which would have been sent into the biosphere after thy adoption of the FF efficiency measure we are wasting our time.

Alternative, renewable energy systems are sixty years too late, they should have been seriously adopted before the last population doubling. We have become so reliant on FF's that renewable energy and efficiency methods simply prolong BAU and the time spent at peak FF burn. We are devouring all forms of FF's as fast as they can be discovered and produced. Pussyfooting around with electric cars is little more than a joke.

Saving energy is the biggest piece of BS doing the rounds on TOD. Unless the FF's which could have been reasonably produced are left in the ground unburnt then all is for nothing. What does it matter if a home, street, town, city, state of country adopts a near sustainable existence if Joe down the road takes advantage of the newly available cheap energy to better his/her life.

The energy you "save" must be saved forever. It must not be an abstract concept but real and applicable. Exploration must cease, mines closed and wells shut in. The consequences of such actions bring forward that which will take place later this century but by taking the feedstock away from the cancer, we may be able to save something from the wreckage. The cure will be devastating for the human race but an absolute blessing for the planet and future generations.

After saying that I undertstand that it of course will not happen. The cornucopian peddlers of technological and engineering solutions will of course dominate human thinking and actions until they are just no longer possible. The human race is living at the base of Vesuvius and ignoring it, we will continue to go about our daily lives even as the tremors increase and the smoke billows higher.

Not that it's probably relevant to RR's book, but yes, leaving fossil carbon in the ground, sequestered from the atmosphere and oceans, is the only reasonable standard for CO2 "heatlock" amelioration. (I'm starting to use the term heatlock in preference to the comfy-sounding "global warming"; because it's about heat, and the effects get locked in for millennia.) Of course, at the point any organized movements start getting serious about "leaving it in the ground", we'll have the next working definition of "terrorist" and there will be a lot of eco-theme tattoos removed.

In '91-'92 my group did an audacious intervention into Kuwait to break the deadlock slowing the firefighting and well capping, which led to opening those activities to international teams and saving an estimated 2 billion or so barrels of oil. The punchline is that, in retrospect, it didn't matter. It'll all end up as CO2 in the atmosphere and collateral environmental degradation in myriad forms. My own ironic "carbon footprint" story.

What it comes down to with regards to global heatlock: if one isn't working on some way to keep fossil carbon unburned over thousands of years, they might as well be driving a humvee, because anything else is just a matter of which monkeys burn it and which monkeys don't, a "capuchin fairness" distribution issue.

Reducing demand also reduces supply.

Reduced demand means that prices go down slightly, which reduces the price incentive to dig more, which leaves more in the ground. Plus, expanding substitutes/alternatives ASAP means they achieve economies of scale that much sooner, and reach the point of major reductions in FF consumption that much sooner.

The speed with which new things replace the old can be very surprising - for instance, landline telephone market share was basically 100% more than 10 years ago, and no one expected that to change, but it's dropped by 30% in just the last 10 years.

Expansion of efficiency and of substitutes/alternatives to FF is always a good thing.

Don't get me wrong; I drive a small older honda hatchback only 500 miles per year, have solar panels, etc. I'm enthusiastic about Alan Drake's transit plans, geothermal energy, and many other such things... but that really has to do with buffering the human-bummer aspects of the coming hundred years as we deal with overshoot & depletion, and frankly about aesthetics.

CO2 heatlock and acidic seas are about humans (if any) in the deeper future, and the course of evolution and bio productivity, diversity, complexity, and self-aware consciousness in the remaining half-billion or so years of the earth. Variations in supply/demand make little difference to that if it winds up burned anyhow in the coming two centuries.

I try to keep my rationales straight. The capture and throttling of energy gradients is the fundamental nature of life, (with all due respect to the max-power theory) and humans need to throttle their use back drastically as a matter of species hygeine. To that end, I support simplicity, resilient systems, voluntary poverty, societies of sloth, and other such things to get us past the energy/resource/food/population bottleneck.

However, from the long-term point of view, human and other species' interests utterly coincide in simply leaving carbon in the ground, and the scenarios which accomplish that are by & large dissimilar to the ones in which we eke along efficiently and non-catastrophically for the next hundred years as overpopulated agents of entropy.


Variations in supply/demand make little difference to that if it winds up burned anyhow in the coming two centuries.

I agree. My point: the more we become efficient, and move to alternatives now, the less we'll use in the long-run.

The capture and throttling of energy gradients is the fundamental nature of life, (with all due respect to the max-power theory)

Look at the Japanese, whose population is falling, or the Americans, whose car sales peaked in 1973. Endless, mindless growth in resource consumption is not built in to our nature.

and humans need to throttle their use back drastically as a matter of species hygeine.

We can use 10% as much energy and accomplish everything we accomplish today. Wind and solar can be captured without significant environmental harm. Voluntary hardship isn't necessary.

I am not optimistic that we as a society will reduce our emissions nearly as fast as we should - we are not mature enough as a group, and we are not maturing fast enough. Nevertheless, we could do so while maintaining our living standards.

Now, I resonate with what you're saying. We buy a new car once every 8-10 years, and drive it 15-20 years - we avoid the hassle of buying every 3 years, just enjoy the car, which we choose very carefully, and save a lot of money. I look forward to an EREV eventually - it will have better handling and acceleration, be quieter, need less maintenance, and overall be cheaper to own. I drive about 1,000 miles per year - most of my travel is by train, almost entirely electric - that's much less stressful and safer than driving, and I can read and meditate. My windows are quadruple paned - the reduced need for heat makes things quieter. I'm replacing burned out bulbs with LEDs - that will make life easier, with fewer replacements.

Is that voluntary simplicity? I don't know - these choices make sense to me. it doesn't feel like a sacrifice.

the Americans, whose car sales peaked in 1973.

What are you trying to sell Nick, misinformation for RR. What is yout intent?

The United States is home to the largest passenger vehicle market of any country in the world.[1] Overall, there were an estimated 254.4 million registered passenger vehicles in the United States according to a 2007 DOT study.[2] This number, along with the average age of vehicles, has increased steadily since 1960, indicating a growing number of vehicles per capita.

Are you saying that there are fewer roads and freeways, bridges, tunnels and parking lots since 1973.
Lets have some figures from you on total miles driven, SUV and light truck sales, rental vehicles, the number of taxis, gasoline consumption and so on.

According to the US Bureau of Transit Statistics for 2008 there are 255,917,664 registered passenger vehicles. Of these, 137,079,843 were classified as automobiles, while 101,234,849 were classified as "Other 2 axle, 4 tire vehicles," presumably SUVs and pick-up trucks. Yet another 6,790,882 were classified as vehicles with 2 axles and 6 tires and 2,215,856 were classified as "Truck, combination." There were approximately 7,752,926 motorcycles in the US in 2008.

There has been no deliberate attempt to reduce vehicle or gasoline consumption for environmental reasons. Any reduced consumption is forced by economics and in no way due to any ideological motivation. But with people like you trying to tell the world everything is okay, we will continue to consume and burn at peak for as long as economically possible.

What is yout intent?

My intent is to show that human resource consumption naturally comes to a plateau, as people get enough stuff. This is intended to reassure people that "saving the world" is possible without a need to fight "human nature".

a growing number of vehicles per capita

Yes, our capital stock of vehicles is growing - this is due in great part to better quality, so that vehicles are sticking around for longer, despite not being driven much.

Vehicle sales, on the other hand, are not growing. The number of sales tells us about the amount of metal and plastic turned into vehicles - in other words, annual resource consumption. Vehicle miles driven per capita has been pretty stagnant also, with a longterm decline in annual growth. Gasoline sales per capita are much lower than they were 30 or 40 years ago, due to improved MPG.

There has been no deliberate attempt to reduce vehicle or gasoline consumption for environmental reasons.

Well, there has, but I would agree that's not the main reason for a plateau in consumption. No, the news is actually better than that: consumption is plateauing just because people in the US have enough stuff (at least big stuff, like cars and appliances), and they don't feel a need to always "get more stuff".

people like you trying to tell the world everything is okay

You've misinterpreted what I'm saying. Go back and reread what I said - you'll see that I'm saying that we need to get rid of oil and FFs ASAP.

Have you examined if our current economic system of capitalism is compatible with a resource challenged future?

In your nuclear section I recommend informing readers of uranium supply and other minerals that may replace it. There is also the societal aspect of living in a disposable society with declining energy reserves

Hi Robert, Happy New Year, when the book is finished anyway.

A humble suggestion: is there time for an appendix of basic energy information? Briefly compare barrels to tons, amount of diesel/gasoline per barrel of petroleum etc. Something like the BP conversion table in their annual Global Statics report?

For the general non-technical reader a simple explanation of KWhr, vs power station output, btu equivalents of petroleum, gas etc.

I personally should have learned most of this in school, but never returned to college after doing avoiding the draft via the AF in the 60s.

Hi Robert! Exciting project for you, and for us! Well done.

In painting pictures of decline scenarios there is a persistent tendency to discuss how it will work across the entire global oil producer/consumer set as if each producer, refinery, distributor and consumer will react to the market forces in the same way on the downward journey from the peak.

This is not how it will work. Instead the experience for each participant will be unique to the individual circumstances. If you are a small producer feeding the Alaska pipeline (say), then regardless of the scale of your reserve if the total flow through the pipe line falls below viable levels, then your oil will be shut in.

If you are running an old field and its not economic then you seal it off and abandon it. Like happened with a 60,000 bblpd field off Nigeria recently. That light on the production map (big enough to supply half my countries needs) just shut off, it didn't follow a sweet exponential curve to nothing.

If your refinery cannot process the lower grades of crude from enhanced recovery or deep water fields, then (as happened recently in France, and in China) you cannot afford to upgrade due to the slim operating margins, so you cut your losses, shut the gate and that capacity is lost.

If you are a global supplier (say BP) and you have orders for more oil than you can supply, how do you allocate what you have? On what basis? On whose say-so?

The top ten more militarily and economically powerful oil-importing countries (China, Japan, Germany etc) are forging stronger ties with more producers than the remaining 160 other importing countries. So when supply cannot meet demand it is the other 160 smaller countries who will have no means to 'take' the oil they need, and they will get less, then they will get none; and no one else will care. There is no United Nations Charter on the Uniform Distribution of Available Oil.

So the end-times of oil (and many other resource) exports will be characterised by a few more powerful countries sustaining their imports to meet their needs, and many other countries finding they have little or no oil supply at all.

Without oil societies will simply pass through a brief period of population adjustment (a few weeks for most), followed by the reestablishment of rather primitive living conditions for the remainder.

I suggest that you must refer to this 'lumpiness' in the post-oil experience, because a field at a time, a refinery at a time, a country at a time, the end could well be very abrupt, and (with the law of averages) much sooner than at least half the world expects.


You might want to spend some time discussing markets.

Market critics need to be reminded of the virtues of markets: they're decentralized and can start working very quickly; they process an enormous amount of information into a simple price signal; with time to work, and with proper regulation they're extremely powerful, increasing supply, reducing consumption and implementing alternatives and substitutes; and they prevent the shortages, hoarding and misallocation of investment that can come from price controls, subsidies and rationing.

Market enthusiasts need to be reminded of the failures and shortcomings of unregulated markets: they don't include externalities like pollution (including climate change) and security concerns ($2T oil wars, anyone); price signals can take time to bring a response (i.e., short-term elasticity can be very low, and capital expenditure and turnover takes time); and poor consumers are affected by ability to pay.

Pigovian taxes (like a carbon, or fuel tax) are a marvelous compromise between the extremes of stifling regulation and the excesses of unbridled big business: they use price signals to direct investment where it needs to go.

If your book does nothing else but convince people that high oil prices are here to stay, and that they should move from short-term non-responses to long-term aggressive adaptation, you will have succeeded.

Thanks Nick, for saying what I was thinking but lazily not saying. Pigovian taxes especially.

Put the right full price on things, and then the market works just fine (tautology?). But, alas, that requires we make sane collective decisions.

You're welcome!

Yes, Pigovian taxes are effective. Unfortunately, that means the legacy industries that they would hurt fight against them desperately. They much prefer subsidies, and Cap and Trade's slowness and labyrinthian complexity and susceptibility to manipulation suits them just fine.

We need more democracy, to lessen the power of entrenched minorities that fight change behind the scenes. We need better media (internet?) to fight the misinformation broadcast by these minorities and their allies (Fox news, anyone?).

We need good books...

Ambitious project. As it is crunch time for you I will suggest you make sure your telling of the story in the two chapters below compliments rather than conflicts with itself.

Chapter 09 – Better Energy Policies

Chapter 14 – Energy and Politics

The final chapter 'Chapter 15 – The Road Ahead' will have to rehash some of the same material, keep the perspective in the wrap up as fresh as you can.

Good Luck