Reflections on ASPO 10, Vienna 2012 – Part 2

After Part One, this is Part Two of my thoughts on some of the energy related themes of this ASPO conference and where we find ourselves now.

From the ASPO 10 Picture Gallery

Renewable Energy and Electricity

There were several presentations through the conference with a focus on renewable energy. Unfortunately, most of them were largely about the vision for renewables in Europe, rather than the details about how the vision might be achieved. For a technical ASPO conference this was a little disappointing, but reflected partly the political nature of the keynote speakers and/or sponsors. The only thing that was really new to me was the Power to Gas presentation (see energy storage below).

From his experience with the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil, Jeremy Leggett had some interesting if depressing ‘Yes Minister’ type anecdotes and quotes, reflecting just how hard it will be to turn around the incumbency of governments and the existing energy suppliers. As I have read before, Jeremy talked about the potential of solar in particular to become a disruptive technology when grid parity pricing is reached in the not very distant future. We may be surprised by how quickly it replaces fossil fuels at that point.

While the conference was short on technical detail, there’s a very different feel to the way the Austrians and Germans talk about their plans for renewables compared to the Brits. While the U.K. has voiced some grand plans for renewables, there are few policies or programs in place that might support such a transition. Meanwhile, with a commitment to decommission nuclear, the reliance on natural gas for power generation increases further with little regard for how quickly North Sea gas production is declining or where future supplies will come from. In contrast, the Germans and Austrians also have grand visions for renewables but they seem well aware of the practical challenges ahead, and they have a much better track record in delivering changes already.

In both Germany and Austria, the already lofty goals have been ramped up even further in response to the events at Fukushima in Japan. The Germans today have serious penetration of solar and wind, and a grid at capacity in some corners as a result. I get the sense they are well aware of the challenges they have set themselves and will commit everything that we admire about what it is to be German towards finding the limits of what is possible with renewables.

Energy Storage

Hermann Pengg gave one of the more interesting presentations of the conference. It’s just a pity that he, like many other keynote speakers, took 15 minutes to get to the meaty part of the presentation leaving precious little time for the important details.

Audi have teamed up with SolarFuel to demonstrate their ‘Power to Gas’ concept. The driver (excuse the pun) is the need for long-term storage of renewable energy to cover demand during what can be 2-3 weeks of low wind under the large high pressure systems which can sit over Europe in winter and summer. Pumped hydro storage is seen as the most efficient but storage volumes even where there are hydro schemes are usually only the order of days, and Germany has precious little anyway.

The idea is to use excess electricity to hydrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen and then react a CO2 stream with the hydrogen to create methane, which can then be pushed into the gas grid. The gas grid has enormous storage capacity, so in this way the excess renewable energy can be stored for conversion back to electricity in gas plants when needed.

The claimed theoretical efficiency for the conversion from electricity to gas is 60% but it would be good to see more details to support that. I also have questions about the CO2 stream needed for the reaction.

Power to Gas looks like an interesting concept, that makes use of existing infrastructure to solve possibly the biggest challenge of having a high penetration of renewables. The efficiency of the process does not look great and still needs to be demonstrated, but any storage of the volumes and over the time scales required may be better than none.

Smart Grids

Thinking about the inefficiencies of storage really emphasises the need for a mix of renewables that match demand as closely as possible. Given the costs of storage, a premium can be paid for those that more closely match demand or particularly those that can be dispatched as required. It also means that smart grids to actively manage demand are also quite important as the alternative of even short-term storage is quite inefficient. Ideas like IP switching of your fridge or electric hot water system to balance short term fluctuations in the grid seem pretty achievable to me.

Public Transport

Something I appreciated outside the conference venue was Vienna’s fantastic public transport. The underground, surface trains and trams were frequent and very efficient at moving us around town. I’ve never seen so few cars in a major city, even in peak hour, nor did I ever feel like I could have got around quicker or easier in one. One of the presenters was claiming (I think) that 70% of travel kilometres are made by walking, cycling or on public transport and it’s easy to believe. Transport in Vienna is very well prepared for a future with less oil.

Heavy Transport Vehicles

On day 2, Stefan Hausberger provided an interesting technical presentation on the options for fuel reductions in heavy vehicle transport. Like aviation, about 30% of current costs are for fuel. But capital and labour costs are also high. There are many ways that the fuel efficiency of large vehicles can be improved, but only a few that are likely to be cost effective. The main area for improvement is in the aerodynamics. Hybrid technologies also make sense for buses, but less so far for trucks (more so in hilly areas).

Travelling at reduced speeds may work well for individual transport where time is not the limiting factor but for heavy transport vehicles, that means more trucks and more drivers are required to deliver the same amount of freight. Therefore the effect is much less beneficial.

In summary, fuel efficiency savings of about 10% are likely to be achieved in heavy vehicles, but beyond that it gets very difficult. This is an outcome I’ve seen repeated in many other areas. If each sector or user of oil in the economy can only increase efficiency by 10%, then oil declines greater than that will have to be met by demand destruction.

Electric Vehicles

There was not much discussion about electric vehicles, and certainly nothing that changed my view on this front. With high energy demand (and embedded resources) in a large heavy vehicle like the Volt, I don’t see the current crop of electric vehicles as delivering the right kind of response to peak oil.

I think small, efficient vehicles with no more size and mass than that required for a typical commuting journey are far more likely to be bought in quantities to make a meaningful difference to oil consumption. This includes small vehicles like TREV and right down to electric bicycles which I think have a particularly bright future.

Stretched to Breaking Point

At this point I move beyond what was discussed at the conference to restate how I see the global picture today. There are two themes related to oil supply and demand that have been getting progressively more tense since the low oil prices that marked the first phase of the credit and oil crisis in 2008. Both of these are set against the evolving credit crisis which threatens to dwarf supply constraints with even more severe demand destruction.

Violence, unrest and tension in the Middle East

It does not appear that the Middle East can now go back to the undemocratic, authoritarian but otherwise generally stable regimes that previously held sway for several decades now. Any number of scenarios could further disrupt livelihoods and oil supply in the region.

How long can China increase oil consumption?

Despite global oil supply breaking slightly above the plateau range of the last few years, most of the growth in demand for oil in China has been met by demand destruction in OECD countries. How much longer before Chinese growth (ie. more than just a 'slowdown') is capped by lack of oil or lack of a world economy to export to?

Deleveraging and the Credit Crisis

The financial system is in crisis; the inevitable result of a credit bubble that has been seventy years in the making and which has been blown out of all proportion in the last decade. For the moment, the world economy is limping along as enough people still believe that growth may somehow be restored and the mountain of debt one day repaid. Were it not for the ceiling on oil supply, it might have been possible to blow another, bigger bubble but that looks impossible now with weak economies still facing $100 oil.

The trigger for the next crisis phase might come from the oil market as above, or it might unfold more directly from events in Europe and the United States. Either way, when the realisation comes that the trillions of dollars of credit (debt) underpinning asset prices around the world cannot and will not be repaid, then deleveraging in earnest may begin. I believe it could be many years in such a deflationary environment before we really test oil supply limits and begin discussing peak oil again.

Thanks to Michael, Georg and Rembrandt for organising the ASPO 2012 conference in Vienna. I admire the effort you put into making it possible. I for one enjoyed the conference and my time in Vienna.

Kudos on you for speaking out against EV's, and promoting electric bicycles*. The myth of the automobile is very strong, as evidenced by that some of the posters here on TOD still believing in it. What I really think will kill the EV is the two ways of aqcuiring one in the first place:

1) By private means. Large segments of society are becoming more and more impoverished, and prefer public transport and bicycle over the expensive EV. Those who can afford it stick to vehicles who run on gasoline, diesel or ethanol, since they are more practical. What remains is a niche market of eco-friendly middle-class do-gooders (sorry if some of the EV advocates seem struck by the description). In some third world countries like the US where public transport is decripit or non-existent, the gulf between poverty and wealth is clearer.

2) By public means. But I'll go out on a limb and say that electronic vehicles that are actually crucial for the infrastructure, like trucks, tractors etc. will be premiered over automobiles.

*Unfortunately, I still see electric bikes marketed from a "lifestylism" point of view, like "this thing will make you feel/seem cool" rather than "this thing beats walking".

In some third world countries like the US where public transport is decripit or non-existent, the gulf between poverty and wealth is clearer.

I'm sure you mean this tongue-in-cheek, but actually I wonder under what definitions of 'third world' one could classify the US (or other seemingly developed nations) as thus. As you say, wealth disparity could certainly be such a measure. Where was it again that I recently read 80% of US Americans had PPP (purchasing power parity) equal to the people in countries such as ecuador?

"...I recently read 80% of US Americans had PPP (purchasing power parity) equal to the people in countries such as ecuador?"

Are you really suggesting that the US is a "third world country" based on the fact that public transport in the US is (in your opinion) not very good? That's a truly bizarre classification of the USA. Have you ever been to an actual third world country, like Ecuador? (since you mentioned it).

It's not clear exactly which 80% of Americans or which people in Ecuador are being compared. But PPP is just a new term for GDP (Gross Domestic Product). If you compare GDP per person, Ecuador had a 2011 PPP/GDP of $8,300 per capita (person) and the same stat for the USA in 2011 was $48,100 per capita - meaning that the average American has almost 6 times as much money to spend each year as does the average Ecuadoran.

There are many Americans who regularly vote not to spend money on public transport. In the longer term this may be a bad choice, but it has also been a choice which was faced by many of America's newer cities during the glory days of the automobile. Some seem to believe that those glory days of "happy motoring" in the USA can still continue - and that such days may always be with us! But there are also American cities (many in the East) with very good public transport: Washington DC, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle. No doubt I've missed some good ones, and possibly included some bad ones. Mass transit does exist in America, but there are elements of local taxpayer choice and also historical timing, both of which can strongly influence exactly what gets built and used in American cities.

Most European cities on the other hand, grew up and decided on much of their urban layout long before cars even existed.

The key issue is really one of national politics rather than city age. Most Canadian cities are younger than most American cities but have transit riderships several times as high as comparably sized cities. Top 10 metro areas for transit ridership in North America.


Rank Metropolitan Area Population Boardings per Capita
1 Montreal 3,316,615 224
2 New York-Newark 17,773,000 194
3 Toronto 4,753,120 181
4 Ottawa-Kanata 946,050 161
5 Vancouver 1,953,252 145
6 Calgary 988,079 132
7 Washington 4,251,000 109
8 San Francisco-Oakland 4,170,000 103
9 Boston 4,077,000 98
10 Winnipeg 641,483 91

Canadian data from 2006 and American data from 2005

Many of the Canadian cities experienced almost all of their population growth after the introduction of the automobile, despite which they have good public transit systems. Providing public transportation is really a matter of political will rather than city age or urban form.

In many places in the US people have very few alternatives to the private automobile, and if they can't afford to drive they have serious difficulties in getting around. Substandard public transportation is generally a third-world country characteristic.

From the Canadian perspective, it really is apparent that large parts of the US are backsliding into the third world. The process is uneven because many Americans have a lot of money, but the income distribution is becoming very unequal, the social safety net is becoming very badly frayed, and a lot of the poor are becoming very poor.

I was only comparing American cities with the cities of Europe, and in that case I believe that the older cities are definitely less automobile-centric. Perhaps Canada did not have the same level of suburban ¨car culture¨ as in America.

Basically, calling America a third-world nation is a typical Canadian exaggeration of the problems/dangers in this country. It's a little like the way that Europeans once harshly criticized America about its treatment of minorities - until some of those same European countries started to face their own minority issues, at which time their critiques became a bit less strident.

In fact, Canada would be facing a lot more of the same economic problems as in America, were it not for their decision to aggressively produce some of the most environmentally dirty hydrocarbons on the planet (i.e. the Alberta Tar sands) which has forced Canada´s withdrawl from the Kyoto Protocol.

I was comparing American cities with Canadian cities because they are kind of a "control group". The demographics, history, and income profiles are similar between Canada and the US, so it becomes something of a controlled study. What would happen if the US didn't build the Interstate Highway system? What would happen if it didn't get totally obsessed by freeways?

European cities are not as comparable, because as you state, they are much older. Canadian cities are not older, in fact most of them are newer.

I didn't say the US was a third-world country, I said that much of it is quite affluent. However parts of it are backsliding into third-world conditions. You should try driving around the backcountry roads in Louisiana and other states for an illustration of this. I have traveled around some of the less affluent parts of the US and I have traveled around numerous third world countries, and the experience is rather similar.

Many Americans on this site seem to think the world is coming to an end because they are experiencing this backsliding process, but actually, where I am in sunny Alberta, things are going rather well. Anybody who needs a good job at high wages can go work in the oil sands.

Now, you can whine and complain about the "dirty" Canadian oil sands, but in the modern world there's no such thing as "clean" oil left. Most of it is dirty and sticky, and the Arab stuff is continually getting dirtier and stickier. You can complain about greenhouse gases, but most of the world's GG emissions come from China, the US, and India. Canada is a rather minor contributor by comparison, and the oil sands account for a small fraction of Canadian GG production.

If you compare GDP per person, Ecuador had a 2011 PPP/GDP of $8,300 per capita (person) and the same stat for the USA in 2011 was $48,100 per capita - meaning that the average American has almost 6 times as much money to spend each year as does the average Ecuadoran.

Those stats are profoundly misleading, especially the usage of the term average American! I don't have to go very far from where I live to find people living far below the poverty line right here in Sunny South Florida. What to me characterizes a 'Third World' country or economy is the extremes between the wealthy and the impoverished. The US seems to be falling more and more into that category.

Sure, you can find exceptions in the US where there is good to excellent mass transport but that is certainly not the rule!

BTW, having six times as much money to spend, even if true, doesn't seem to be buying much in terms of quality of life and happiness in the US! Not to mention that the average American is already deeply in debt and doesn't have much chance of getting out of it any time soon.

GDP is a grossly overrated metric for assessing the general well being of a population.

And if GDP is not a good metric, then perhaps you know of another metric that we should be using? Of course you didn't actually offer us any better metrics of your own choosing - and your silence on this point is telling. You imply that GDP per capita averages are "profoundly misleading". That's not at all true, averages tell you exactly what they measure. If there is additional information you want like distribution of wealth, there are other statistics for measuring that. It's absurd to criticize averages (i.e. statistical means) for lacking something they were not designed to measure. That's like saying it's "misleading" to claim that a baseball player has a very high batting average, because you happen to know about several games where this player did not get even one hit!

You seem to know that the average American doesn't have much chance of getting out of debt any time soon. But you may not be quite as closely in tune with the average American as you believe. Many people are in debt because they want to be (or they must borrow to obtain their desired lifestyle): they buy expensive houses and WANT to pay them off over 30 years, or they buy expensive cars that they want to pay off over 4, 5 or even 6 years. They don't necessarily WANT to "get out of debt" tomorrow, as you and others seem to assume. Some people are uncomfortable with debt, but this does not apply to everyone, nor should it. Among the advanced, industrial nations, which one has the greatest national debt (as a percentage of national wealth)? The USA? No, it's Japan.

One way to measure inequality in the distribution of family incomes for a nation is called the GINI index, and it's true that the USA with a GINI score of 45, does have less equality in this measure than certain other nations (on the GINI scale, 0 represents perfect income distribution equality, and 100 shows perfect inequality). The USA can do much better in this regard. But we are far from being the worst nation on earth for income equality. The following are among the nations having even greater income inequality than the USA (i.e. GINI>45): Philippines/Argentina/Peru/Malaysia at 46, El Salvador/Ecuador 47, China at 48, Costa Rica 50, Brazil/Chile/Mexico/Panama 52, Thailand 54, Columbia 56 and South Africa 65.

There are some historical issues involved. Those nations in the world with higher inequality are sometimes those where there has been an intense colonial history with a large influx of people from richer, more advanced nations, with peoples from less advanced, poorer parts of the world. This is far from being the only explanation, and there are certainly some exceptions, but it appears to be one factor.

But PPP is just a new term for GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

No it isn't. PPP takes GDP/capita and then adjusts it for the different purchasing power of the local currency in local markets. It is a way of measuring how much you can buy of a given basket of goods and services. If there was no difference between PPP and GDP, you wouldn't pick up such bargains when you went shopping on your overseas holidays and restaurant meals would cost the same in Bali as they do in Boston.

Of course, using the PPP of the bottom 80% of people in the US and comparing it to the mean for Ecuador is comparing apples to oranges. It carries, for example, the implicit assumption that Ecuador has a GINI coefficient significantly lower than the US. It does not.

Nevertheless, once upon a time, the bottom 80% of the US population would still have been well above the Ecuadorian mean. All the statistics show that inequality in the US is rising rapidly and the typical household in the US is significantly worse off than it has been in decades. All the benefits of US economic growth in the last 3 decades have gone to a tiny minority. Unless and until there is a movement a good deal larger and stronger than the one that produced the New Deal, the current US situation (which deserves the monicker "Raw Deal") will persist and inequality will grow.

Actually, PPP and GDP (both per capita) are generally very close for most developed countries. The differences arise where state-mandated rates of currency exchange (or price controls) help/hurt the buying power of the citizens in a given nation. But strangely enough, Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar! as legal tender and its official currency in the year 2000. This (and other reforms) seemed to have the effect of stabilizing the Ecuadoran economy, which proceeded to have several years of superb (>5% per year) economic growth, right up to the crisis in late 2008 (NOTE: in 1999 Ecuador had suffered a severe economic collapse).

AND this would also suggest that any PPP/GDP per capita differences in Ecuador (vis-a-vis the USA) are probably minor to non-existant. Since both nations use the same U.S. dollar, I was truly comparing ¨apples to apples¨ (unlike the original ¨bottom 80%¨ comparison) and the average American really does have almost 6 times the buying power of the average Ecuadoran.

Lastly, I would add that (IMHO) the fabulous, legendary foreign bargains of the past (as mentioned) are not what they used to be - and this has been confirmed in my own personal travel experiences. The global economy has generally tended to minimize such enormous price differentials between nations (with a few great exceptions still remaining no doubt).

"Actually, PPP and GDP (both per capita) are generally very close for most developed countries. "

Again, PPP is not a measure of the size of a country's economy; it's a measure of the relative cost of living.

In economics, purchasing power parity (PPP) asks how much money would be needed to purchase the same goods and services in two countries, and uses that to calculate an implicit foreign exchange rate.

"AND this would also suggest that any PPP/GDP per capita differences in Ecuador (vis-a-vis the USA) are probably minor to non-existant. Since both nations use the same U.S. dollar, ..."

Even though Ecuador uses the same currency, a dollar buys about twice as much stuff in Ecuador than in the US.

GDP (PPP) 	2011 estimate
 -  	Total 	$127.426 billion 
 -  	Per capita 	$8,492 
GDP (nominal) 	2011 estimate
 -  	Total 	$66.381 billion 
 -  	Per capita 	$4,424

I would argue that (like GDP) PPP is also a measure of a national economy, because an economy can consume only what it produces or trades for (generally speaking) plus any net foreign aid - it´s a matter of input being related to output. And, PPP calculations are based on the kind of economic statistics that are often very limited and/or poorly kept in third world nations.

More importantly, your own numbers show that I was using the PPP-adjusted version of GDP for Ecuador all along [given in your numbers as ¨GDP (PPP)¨] rather than ¨GDP (Nominal)¨. So based on ¨GDP (PPP)¨ USA per capita wealth is in fact nearly 6 times greater than in Ecuador. If I had used the GDP (Nominal) value of $4,424 per capita for Ecuador, then the American per capita value at $48,100 would have been over 10 times greater!

I was not at all suggesting the US would be a third world country just because its public transport infrastructure would be lacking. My opinion on this matter wouldn't count anyway, since I lack any relevant data, besides my very brief visit of Boston and New York when I was 12, 10 years ago.

I was just a bit curious if there were definitions for the 'third world' which might be valid also for some of our developed countries. For example, wealth disparity. I haven't found the article or blog post I read that compared US' PPP with some other third world country's. I might very well be wrong, and the comparison could've been made with another country. Neither have I checked the facts as you did, because I wouldn't know where to find them (and I'm limited on time), but the average American PPP doesn't really represent the average of the lower 80% of US population. It could be that the upper 20% skewed the picture, no? But I'm just speculating anyway, I guess I should've thought through / researched my post a bit more.

Myself I live in Belgium, and am very happy with public transport. I'm 22, but haven't got a car and wouldn't buy one even if I had the money. Of course, I'm peak oil aware, but I know having a car isn't priority number 1 even for most others of my generation. I'm going to college every day, living 30 miles (~50km) away. The trip: bike, train, tram, never takes more than 60 minutes from my front door to the auditorium.

But I understand that our cities are much closer together and have the advantage of being built with pedestrians in mind.

Well I'm one of those great supporters of EV's. The problem with the EV deniers is that they lack practical vision, and they assume that the current crop of EV's will be the only kind available in the future. But the electric drive train is a very simple concept and is applicable to a range of applications... They wallow in dreams of how we are all at once going to come to a global agreement about how we are running out of energy, and then everyone is going to en masse ditch their car and decide to convert to bicycles and public electric trains. No. It won't work that way.

ANYTHING that brings more electric transportation to market while we still have the fossil fuels to manufacture it is an improvement. ANYTHING that promotes EV's as part of the solution (as they are) to running out of fossil fuels is an improvement. If this means that EV's are currently promoted as a continuation of the car culture, so be it. If this means that we have to appeal to those consumers who want performance (as EV's perform way better than regular cars) then so be it. But those Leafs and Volts will still be able to function decades down the road (assuming they get battery replacements) long after their coolness factor is outweighed by their practical advantages. In that capacity they could be used for more critical applications like hauling a trailer of farm produce to market, or taxiing people around to where electric trains do not access.

This idea that we are going to have to rely fully on trains, scooters, and bicycles, (and large delivery EV's?), leaving a huge gap in the middle where the car used to be, is just silly. It speaks of emotional baggage against current car culture and an inability to rationally analyze the situation and our needs going forward.

They wallow in dreams of how we are all at once going to come to a global agreement about how we are running out of energy, and then everyone is going to en masse ditch their car and decide to convert to bicycles and public electric trains. No. It won't work that way.

Um, no, but we are saying that it would be really good if things did start to move in that direction. I'm not sure why we wouldn't hypothetically grant that quite a few EVs could be sold while times are good (and times certainly won't be good if/when the "future" EV constantly talked about starts existing) and then used to some purpose other than personal transport. It appears the "EV denier" is merely a chimera of your mind.

EDIT: Or maybe you are rebuking us for trying to predict a realistic future that clashes with the optimistic dreams of the EV advocate ("lacks practical vision"), whilst simultaneously rebuking us for being too optimistic?

I think we are in danger of blowing up the not so large variation in attitudes towards EVs. I think we all agree that one for one replacement of ICE cars with EVs, isn't going to scale very well. The real action is/should-be in smaller EVs. Whether they be sooped up bicycles, or scaled-down cars/motorcycles. EVs or hybrids probably make a lot of sense for urban vehicles which do a lot of stop/start driving -and have schedule gaps for recharging. Now some of us feel there is still some value in the car replacement market -there is still a place for Leafs, although we don't expect that niche will ever get very large.

there is still a place for Leafs

Deciduous trees don't lose their "leafs". One leaf, many leaves. One Leaf, many Leaves.

And the Toronto Maple Leaves haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967. [Sorry, couldn't resist.]


Unlike deciduous trees, Leafs don't lose their leaves because Leafs have batteries instead of leaves. The Leafs, on the other hand, have hockey sticks instead of leaves.

It's important to recognize the difference between Leafs and leaves.

This thread leaves me no option but beg for re-leaf.

Thanks to all for your leaf-extending senses of humour.

Historical niches that many, many smart people believed "would not scale".

Mobile phones. Remember those curious clunky suuitcase models that cost a year's salary? (my father-in-law has one that ran on the 900 Mhz spectrum, make him an offer).

Smart phones. Who the h_ll wants a supercomputer in their pocket?! (Message sent from my Iphone 4)

Personal Computers. The very first Apple computer ever made (by hand that one) will be auctioned. Any buyers? How did that Commodore 64 thingy work out? (This message sent from my Ipad 2.)

Hybrid autos. What a flop the Prius turned out to be (now currently the number 3 sold car in the world)!

The internet. Oh how I miss my 256K modum that blocked our telephone line. Yes I am that old.

PV panels. It is just so damn hard to procure these at reasonable prices, and jeez, only 27 GB of panels were installed last year, and heck, the growth rate of production has only been 40+% year-on-year the last 5 years. How can this industry possibly "scale up"??!!! And the rate of innovation in the PV industry is just anemic :D .

LED light bulbs. Who would pay 20x for a bulb that produces a slightly different shade of white than what Edison gave us? Note: I have bought 30 of these for my home over the last 4 years, the last ones I bought at IKEA for about $ 13 (US), 4 W and 125 1umin. Many of these bulbs will likely outlive me ;) .

Wind turbines. They only produce an EROEI of about 15-25, only produce about 30% of the time, you can plan their production only a few hours to a few days at at time, ad nauseum. Pity on all those poor engineers and operators who get all these new challenges to work with. New wind turbine installs globally in 2011: 42 GW, bringing total installed to 239 GW as of Jan. 2012. This is hopeless, and will probably go nowhere, since there is such an incredible shortage of offshore sites near urban centers ;), and a lack of competition between experienced global suppliers ;) .

Heat pumps. Darn these are complicated, and they only give you 2-5 times in useful thermal energy output for electric energy input. Cannot possibly beat my deluxe resistive heaters ;) . And heat pumps are so hard to find in the store, gosh there are only a dozen or so reputable manufacturers.

(please add your favorite example here!)

Excellent post.

Electric cars - That Tesla Roadster cost over $100K and was a tiny 2-seater. But now you can buy a Mitsubishi-i for less than $30K . . and is only 21.6K after the tax-credit. ($19K at this place in California after all the rebates/tax-credits.) We still have a long way to go before they are mainstream but it can be done.

LED Lighting - A start-up that I work with designs LED control chips that allow many LEDs to be individually controlled using a single wire thin wire that couples them in a serial daisy chain. Why run three expensive 12 gauge copper wires to power inefficient incandescent bulbs when a single thin conductor can power multiple individually controllable efficient LEDs? Do more with less.

It certainly hasn't been easy. Silicon Valley has attacked the alt-energy issue with great confidence only to be repeated humbled. It is much easier to produce great innovations where there was great room for growth as there was with ever-shrinking digital circuits & magnetic disks. Fuel cell companies have limped along. Biofuels have disappointed. Solyndra crashed & burned . . . but it did so because silicon PV plummet in price and has exploded in popularity. It is not easy fighting against the laws of physics & thermodynamics. But useful incremental improvements are being eaked out. And good engineering is making things more efficient.

Energy savings has actually been a huge area directly in Silicon valley's own home turf. iPhones & iPads run on batteries so research into energy efficient integrated circuit designs and improved Li-Ion batteries have been a major component of success here lately.

I have one: in spite of all these incredible feats... PV and wind... Germany's electricity sector has generated more CO2 emissions in 2011 wrt 2010. Darn.

Hmmmm....might that have to do with the fact that Germany shut in 8 GW of nuclear overnight in 2011 and the price of CO2 emissions (ETS) collapsed in in late 2010...allowing quite the sh_t-load of coal power in Germany to be re-started in 2011?

Sure... the factors you've mentioned must have been important, as well as the INEVITABLE FACT that non-dispatcheable, intermittent sources like wind and PV , even installed at record level (more than 8 GW) have not helped much, in fact wind has generated less electricity in 2011 then in 2010.

According to ENTSO-E, wind production was up 22% from 2010 to 2011. Perhaps you were thinking of the previous year?

Electricity production (TW-h) in Germany for 2009, '10, '11:
Wind: 38, 37, 45
Solar: 6, 11, 18
Fossil: 330, 344, 350
Total: 527, 547, 544

You are right, my apologies, the two years with wind production lower than the 2 previous ones were 2010 and 2009.
It's interesting, because the table you've linked on ENTSO-E's web page shows also that in 2011 the 32 TWh NOT generated by the 8 stopped reactors with respect to 2010 have been only partially covered by wind and PV, 15 TWh out of 32... so there's going to be needed A LOT of wind and PV more... and this just to cover the 8 stopped reactors, let alone the remaining 9, i.e. 101.5 TWh. A lot more coal/lignite and gas to burn I guess... this will make the russians happy...

Most of the EV arguments on here do get pretty polarized pretty quickly (as I'm sure we'll discover yet again as posts filter in). I actually like Null's way of framing it - ain't nothing that's all or nothing in this life. Baby steps can be helpful, even when they are obviously not the end-solution. They are frequently just about all we have in the current economic/political/philosophical/geological climate ;) But that doesn't keep one from wishing for solutions that are better calibrated to reality in the long run to be at least acknowledged now, either.


The problem with the EV deniers is that they lack practical vision, and they assume that the current crop of EV's will be the only kind available in the future. But the electric drive train is a very simple concept and is applicable to a range of applications

It is bizarre that you think dragging around 3,500 pounds of metal to move one person down the road should be considered a "practical vision".

That aside, the drive train IS a simple concept and I can see there being a market for next gen electric cars to those that can afford them. It's just that for these cars to be practical they will be much smaller, with probably two wheels (and maybe even pedals).

Hehe. Long live the car!

HI Richard, The EV Mitsubishi i-Miev weighs 2400 lbs. After checking the weight of a double-decker passenger car that Amtrak uses it comes out to close to 1500 lbs/passenger seat. This does not include the weight of the train engine.

And to put that into perspective my electric bike weighs about 56 pounds. I suspect buses/coaches would be below 500 lbs though.

Does your bike seat 4, go 80 mph, and has passed NHTSA crash tests?

I neither need, nor want it to do any of those things at least 95% of the time. Having seen the single occupant morning commuters crawling along on their way to work, neither do they.

We definitely have to move to Electrified Transit. But the most efficient electric transit is "Grid controlled Electric" for trains, lightrail, trolleys due to the inefficiencies of batteries. "Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight without Oil" by Anthony Perl has excellent technical details. See for more info.
The problem with electric cars is that they do not solve some of the major problems of Auto Addiction. They still require 12x the space of Rail, and a football field of asphalt for every 5 cars, which in turn needs to be constantly maintained at huge expense. (Cost of asphalt made from oil has quadrupled) Auto Addiction also costs 30,000 lives per year in the US and hundreds of thousands of injuries, as well as vast collateral costs for traffic cops, traffic courts, ambulances for all the traffic accidents etc. Auto Addiction has been shown to be correlated with asthma and is one of the main factors behind the epidemic in American obesity which has now reached 26% of adult men and women.
And electric cars do NOT help greenhouse emissions.

The Green Revolution Backfires: Sweden’s Lesson for Real Sustainability
by Firmin DeBrabander

What if electric cars made pollution worse, not better? What if they increased greenhouse gas emissions instead of decreasing them? Preposterous you say? Well, consider what’s happened in Sweden.

Through generous subsidies, Sweden aggressively pushed its citizens to trade in their cars for energy efficient replacements (hybrids, clean diesel vehicles, cars that run on ethanol). Sweden has been so successful in this initiative that it leads the world in per capita sales of ‘green cars.’ To everyone’s surprise, however, greenhouse gas emissions from Sweden’s transportation sector are up.

Furthermore autos devour huge quantities of metal, plastics, rubber and resources in their construction which is why they cost $30,000. As Chris Nelder has calculated in
his excellent article "Reframing the Transportation Debate" ,( )the US currently spends about $286 Billion every year for new cars. Nelder outlines the other costs of Auto/Air addicted transit in the US which are huge.

Electric Cars of the current 1-2 ton size are a marginal improvement over ICEs.
And they have a role to play probably as shared resources like Zip cars, rentals, utility vehicles. But they do NOT resolve the fundamental problems of Auto Addiction for the US or the world.

If the Federal government had taken the $3 Billion from cash for clunkers to instead keep Green public transit going in the 150 cities where it has been cut since 2008 we probably would have saved 10-20% of our current oil usage and greenhouse emissions from cars.
Green transit ridership was increasing by over 10% when gas prices hit $4 in 2008 and this would have continued except that in the wake of the financial crisis transit systems all over the US were seriously axed. In my own case train frequency for my train station was cut 30%!

The Green Revolution Backfires: Sweden’s Lesson for Real Sustainability
by Firmin DeBrabander

What if electric cars made pollution worse, not better? What if they increased greenhouse gas emissions instead of decreasing them? Preposterous you say? Well, consider what’s happened in Sweden.

Through generous subsidies, Sweden aggressively pushed its citizens to trade in their cars for energy efficient replacements (hybrids, clean diesel vehicles, cars that run on ethanol). Sweden has been so successful in this initiative that it leads the world in per capita sales of ‘green cars.’ To everyone’s surprise, however, greenhouse gas emissions from Sweden’s transportation sector are up.

Firmin DeBrabander's article is a demonstration of Jeavon's Paradox in action. By cutting the cost of driving, electric vehicles have led to more driving - in fact, a large enough increase in driving to raise emissions over and above what they were before.

The solution revolves around realising that Jeavon's Paradox relies on constant prices. Technological change leading to more efficient use of a fixed-price resource will lead to greater use, but change driven by higher prices is different. Peak Oil will result in higher prices for oil and, indirectly, for other fossil fuels as well. In these circumstances, increased efficiency is a means of preserving (or minimising the loss of) transport mobility as resources tighten.

The other point is that, while individuals make their own choices, they do not do so in circumstances of their own choosing. In the current context, this means that the effort that goes into building public transport networks and services will make a big difference to the outcomes. Concentrating efforts at transition on increasing the use of electric vehicles will lead to a lesser outcome for transport mobility on a society-wide basis than putting that effort into public transport.

Sweden has promoted alternative FUEL vehicles, not electric vehicles. They have increased consumption of ethanol in cars, NOT electricity for EVs. You point is valid because of the increase in ethanol consumption NOT because of increased electricity consumption. Sweden has electric grid consisting of about 50% hydroelectric and 40% nuclear, the rest is winter peaking with fossil fuels, wind and biomass. Increased EV penetration WILL NOT increase greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden.

Sweden has promoted alternative FUEL vehicles, not electric vehicles.

Fair cop. My main point was about the limitations of Jeavon's Paradox, but in my haste to make it, I misread the nature of Sweden's alternative.

Several comments (and my 2 cents):
First, I saw 3 (bright yellow!) Nissan Leafs on the tarmac at the United Gate at Hong Kong Int Airport last week. They appeared to be service vehicles - I suspect this is a hidden market. There must be many more given my limited view. While in Shenzhen the days before, I saw endless rows (hundred and hundreds) of electric scooters at Shenzhen U and throughout the city but no ICE motorcycles (but the place is still polluted as heck - coal fired power plants)!
Second, I've owned a Leaf for well over a year and power it by PV. The economics for me are remarkably positive (pays off the PV then leaves $/mo for car payments)! Our ICE was only driven about 2K miles last year.
Based upon my experience, and that of 5 other Leaf owners I know personally, if the EV fits into your driving style/habits and you can fit PV into the equation, it's a no brainer $ decision. However, if this approach becomes too commonplace, the whole e-grid reliability/storage problem gets worse and worse. I can tell just from my experience with the day-to-day vagaries of my PV production. So, the grid problem really does not go away with EVs even powered by PV (or wind). It gets worse. Yikes!
Finally, I drive 45 m RT each day. I figure if the battery drops to 80% charge in 8-10 years and 60% in 12-15, I'm still good to go. But, by then I'll have saved more than enough for a new EV with a next gen battery.

Additional costs of cars over rail:

1. roads and asphalt parking lots- much greater area than track and requires far more upkeep
2. car crash repair costs far more than rail crash costs and frequency
3. car general repair costs far higher
4. injury costs to car crashes higher- hospitalization, death, loss of work hours
5. work, productivity time lost to traffic jams (+energy loss)
6. greater weight to move per person = increased energy costs
7. repair and auto insurance costs take away money that could be used for insulating homes etc.
8. cars wear out at a higher rate than rail = increased replacement costs- again this takes away money that could be used for insulating homes etc.
9. people can work while on a train or bus- thus improving productivity
10. trains have an effect of concentrating development near train lines- this induces future development to be less sprawl oriented and more efficient

And I could go on and on!
I welcome any and all pro-car battlers to counterattack! (hey, it's the weekend- let's brawl!)

Trains are great. We need regional high-speed rail. Every city should have a light-rail system and/or subway. However, you can't run rail to every home.

"you can't run rail to every home."

Unfortunately, with all due respect to you (and i mean that!), the insistence on door to door transport is what is doing us in. Once you introduce EV cars, etc. just to get to train terminals, etc. the whole system falls apart and you get all of the negatives I listed above for cars- parking space, repairs, traffic jams, crashes, etc. It is OK for people to walk. Light rail can get very close to most homes. I remember people taking wheeled shopping cages back from stores. People will also relocate closer to train lines.

Here's the other problem: people are not going to dump a ton of money into an EV car just to go to the train station- once you make that sort of investment you are going to want to get the most out of it. Plus many won't be able to afford train fares and car costs. Hybrid systems of rail and cars are very wasteful- there is no way around it. Taxis, buses or electric bikes- maybe, but a whole shadow EV car system for the general public just to get from door to door? This is not going to happen. Even if only the rich do it- who will pay for all the road upkeep, freeways? The rich will use the first class section of rail cars- just like they did in the 1860's.

This is how I see it playing out.

Well, it is a free country and people are going to do what the want to do and buy what they want to buy. You are not going to have much success with a train-only utopia unless you become dictator somewhere.

thanks for the incredibly negative assumption about me

No, I think you just have over-optimistic assumptions about other people going along with your plan.

I think the disconnect for me with where your train of thought has gone, so to speak, is the extrapolation that EV's would be gotten at that point for this 'last mile home' idea.. which you sort of extend into the extreme, and paint as that re-enactment of today's auto setup.. and the familiar call-out that this is simply pretending that BAU can continue.

Just because this auto-heaven can't continue as it has been, (or at least I agree with many of you that it is doomed in its current form), that one must conclude that it all simply ceases to exist, instead of changing form and scale.

I get Twilight's rejoinder that he doesn't feel that 'Vehicle Manufacturing' and 'The roadways' themselves will be viable or possible 'At All' in the new paradigm.. but I'm not buying it. I don't think that we're looking at the end of manufacturing.. just that it will be shrinking and reforming itself drastically.. and a KEY tool we will all be needing is wheels.. but that Doesn't mean their role will be the same as todays. We've needed wheels for centuries now, and we know how to make Cars and Trucks that vastly outgun their horse and cattle drawn predecessors.. I think we'll be forced to compromise.. but these admonitions against cars altogether as some kind of a 'flawed concept' is too extreme. The truth will be somewhere in between.

That last mile might be in a Taxi or 'Station Wagon'.. when you've got too much stuff to get home on foot, or on the train, etc.. Family groups or Neighborhood Communities (like co-housing) might own and share a couple vehicles among them.. there will be Police Vehicles, Delivery, Ambulances, Trade Vehicles, 'Apple Carts'..

I guess we'll see..

Thanks to all for a reply- but you are really reading way too much into what I wrote. I was simply laying out why trains, light rail, and busses are so much more useful and productive than individualized autos. There is no "plan" of mine or designs for eliminating free choice (where did you get that from?)and I have no ideas about how this scenario would ever play out.

I do think that you will have a hard time justifying a massive road infrastructure maintainance for the few that will be able to afford cars- this will not fly politically. And I do think that dumping massive resources into the system just to get people past that last 1/4 mile to their door will not be very likely (people will just rediscover walking!). Listen, this isn't so hard to imagine- it'e real today. Millions of people in NYC, Toronto, Tokyo, Rio and many more places live by rail now. Rather, i think it is this insistence on a wasteful personal vehicle available for each person at any time thye want that is the "extreme" position in an energy scarce world. I do not think this will transpire due to dictatorship but simply due to economics. Remember, if you take a taxi (to use your example) you have to pay for it- but this cost will include the driver's wages, costs of vehicle debt, tax of a very few vehicles to maintain a massive expensive road system. I don't see a business model here- most will just walk the 1/2 to 1/4 mile (light rail can get you pretty close) Cheers!

I say "Trains are great. We need regional high-speed rail. Every city should have a light-rail system and/or subway. However, you can't run rail to every home."

And then I hear "Unfortunately, with all due respect to you (and i mean that!), the insistence on door to door transport is what is doing us in."

Really now . . . *I* am the problem? After saying all that? I'm in the small percentage pushing for more rail . . . if I am the problem then what do you call all the people who are completely against doing more rail?

Perspective please!

I would be ecstatic if we built a significant additional amount of 'typical speed passenger rail'...say 70 mph tops...running 50-70 mph depending on track conditions etc.

Make the seats spacious and comfortable...provide plenty adequate toilet facilities...Wi-Fi, decent dining options...service reliability ('make almost all the trains run on time) and ride quality would be good focus areas I think.

Hi-speed rail = = = breath-takingly high cost rail.

Part of what we U.S. Americans will need to adjust to is a slower pace of life...

Of course you can, just that people will have to get used to walking a little further than to their garage.


There's that bloody word again... "denier". For all those that continue to use it, here's a tip: You're IMMEDIATELY alienating all those you're attempting to present an argument to. So please, slice it from your vocab. Please.

Cheers, Matt

ANYTHING that promotes EV's as part of the solution (as they are) to running out of fossil fuels is an improvement. If this means that EV's are currently promoted as a continuation of the car culture, so be it. If this means that we have to appeal to those consumers who want performance (as EV's perform way better than regular cars) then so be it.

Yep. Lots of people complain about a $7500 tax-credit going to help fund a rich guy's Tesla or Fisker Karma. Think of it more as a matching research grant. All those Teslas and Fiskers are helping build up a mass market for batteries & EV components that will help them eventually reach mass market scales of efficiency. Eventually, this will get them down in price such that average people can afford a decent EV. The strategy worked well for solar PV . . . Solar PV got lots of subsidies that helped build a mass market . . . and once mass market scale was reached and lots innovations were made driven by engineers serving that mass market, the price of solar PV panels dropped like a rock. If the EV market grows, the innovation & mass market scale will drive down prices.

All those Teslas and Fiskers are helping build up a mass market for batteries & EV components that will help them eventually reach mass market scales of efficiency. Eventually, this will get them down in price such that average people can afford a decent EV.

OMG incredibly, you actually believe that, you think it will be BAU until every Joe is driving an electric vehicle, SUV, light truck, pickup.......paid for in cash obviously...... but er maybe you expect the credit market to keep growing along with the jobs the Joes will have.

Well, the average car purchased today is around $29K. Today you can go buy an Mitsubishi-i for $29K. (And right now, it qualifies for a $7500 tax-credit so it is actually a net $21.6K.) So people can but EVs today if they really want one. But they don't because it does not provide the full functionality of a similar priced ICE car. (It is smaller, has much less range, etc.) And with more innovation & mass manufacturing, it will get better.

But I'm not gonna bother arguing away doomer predictions.

Ah, but the problem remains - we the middle-to-middlish-class continue to believe in BAU , that "greed is good". So why muck around with all this "alternative" nonsense". Bah, humbug.

Indeed. But the market will deal with that. The economy will slap people down and force them to change their ways. It is already happening as many people abandon big houses in the exurbs and move to an apartment closer to work so they ride public transport to work. Others abandon big SUVs for smaller cars & hybrids.

One thing people need to realize is that when some economist says 'the market will deal with that', that doesn't mean the market will magically provide a great happy solution. Often times it means the market slaps down people and forces them to do with less.

I had dinner with a couple of long-time mates last night - one clears twice the $$ I do, the other thrice (always wanted to use that word! :)). They fully acknowledge the tough times are upon us, but refuse to believe it is the new norm, that the uptick, however small, is around the corner. We dined in an area where parking within 100m of your goal was problematic... My mates certainly aren't the only one's who think like that.

While a simpler life may be on our doorstep, those with debt and belief in BAU will never go voluntarily, right to the bitter end. Same applies to "the market", IMHO. I joined the "slow-declining-plateau-to-cliff" band wagon a few years ago; I still see it unfolding that way. Hybrids, trains and wind turbines are not the answer. Making do with *much* less is, but of course that's the more difficult "choice".

Cheers, Matt

What do you find mutually exclusive about implementing a certain amount of Hybrids, trains and wind turbines and also Making do with *much* less?

That is to say, why can't some of the '*Much* less' be partially powered by solar, wind, etc. with a *much less amount of transportation being facilitated by a small amount of hybrid vehicles and a modest level of effort of train transportation.

Those who don't recognize that there could be many shades of grey in potential future courses of action and outcomes seem destined to held in bondage to their cherished beliefs.

My impression of the push for so-called "renewables" and the like, even by national Greens, is to *replace* the FF machines - that's it; BAU as far as I can tell. I have yet to hear a mainstream argument, even from them, that going with less is the preferred option to BAU (I'm in favour of less, BTW - soon as the mortgage is paid off, of course :)). We can in reality do with much less, starting this very instant. But why isn't this the primary discussion? Why do the TPTB continue to push growth, growth, growth?

Doing hybrids, etc first is doing it arse-backwards, IMHO. 9 biliion by 2050, most "wanting more"; it's a problem of scale that won't be fixed by merely taking a different course. We need to pull over and pull the map out. Before we reach the cliff.

Cheers, Matt
Not optimistic

The point I look at though, Matt, is that even if there are those who DO want Renewables and EVs to keep the party hopping, so what? Those are all tools that have usefulness turning us away from the approaching cliff. They can be applied to a much leaner lifestyle model, and so I don't see THOSE as such backwards and misguided efforts on our part.

The EV that was bought as a Commuter Vehicle or 'one-person luxury runabout land yacht', can, in changing economic fortunes become a shared multi-family vehicle, a Taxi, a delivery car, etc.. and its development has also supported our learning curve in the evolution of these sorts of vehicles.

I think there are SO MANY absolutely 200 mile/hour backwards things we're doing that desperately need to be challenged, stopped, or replaced with industrial efforts that would aid in a transition, that targeting Renewable Power and Electric Vehicles, since they're 'not quite right' is a very strange conclusion for me.

Why not take on (and this is not to you personally..) the mighty Gas-powered Leaf-blower Industry, or 'Big Twinkie', or Video Games, Reality TV, ChuckeeCheeze?

Joe, Do you have a plan or some ideas on how to get people to consumer fewer resources?

Taking the U.S. as an example, perhaps a robust Value-Added Tax (VAT) to fund whatever the taxpayers mandate are essential government services?

Other ideas?

People are people, always wanting more - I get that. Sustainability in the human-world is a pipe dream (can't think of a single thing built today that will survive 100 years without significant maintenance/replacement/energy waste). Really, less people is the first step. In Australia, we have the "baby-bonus", large enough to encourage those that can least afford to have babies to, well er, have babies; change this to a "castration" bonus?

Really, there's no answer. Can't even get my wife to turn the damn heating down, or the kids to have shorter showers, etc, etc. Which is why I remain a doomer. Go it alone, pay down your debt, cross your fingers. That's all I can come up with. Short of starting a "Limits to Growth" political party. :)

Cheers, Matt

Sales of EVs will approach 4% of total personal car sales in Norway in the next 2 years. Norway´s electric grid is about 90% hydroelectric, so more EV´s will definitely have a net positive effect on reducing ff use. The most popular EV´s to date can be described as advanced golf carts, although the Mitsubishi i-MIEV does have 4 doors and a back seat for small folks. These are not extensions of our current car culture. This is serious downsizing of personal transport. The Leaf is selling well, but there is some anticipation of interesting competing models coming, so Leaf sales will likely stagnate.

But what is most remarkable for me about EV´s in Norway is how many 15-20 year-old French EV´s are still running. They use lead-acid batteries that must be replaced every 5 years or so, but people are still keeping them going. These are the most primitive EV still on the road, but they are still considered useful by many despite the falling sticker price of new Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

The energy consumption of these micro EV´s is an order of magnitude lower than many of the new FF-ICE cars being sold today. There can be no doubt that this type of EV is not only viable but a vast improvement in personal transportation for those whose daily round trip is less than 50 miles (80 km). If the visions of renewable energy production increases and overall efficiency improvements in use of electricity are realized, microcar EV´s will be very attractive indeed.

Actually, I don't think there is a solution, but I don't want to write about that. You might consider a few things:
1) How many families with small children do you think will go places in -10 C temperatures (common in winter where I live) on electric bicycles?
2) How will we finance the construction of all this public transportation in our cities? What will people in rural areas do for transportation?
3)The automotive industry provides millions of jobs through the vast supporting industries - raw materials, parts, used parts, repair... How will these be replaced if we transition to mass transit (after the mass transit is in place)? How do you manage the type of transition we require without tanking the economy?

This is not at all as simple as some seem to want to think it is. There are many things to consider besides just decreasing energy use and/or finding other sources. I don't see how we will ever manage it. And climate change is even more difficult to address imho.

The "transition" WILL happen anyway. The economy WILL tank. The family with small children will either be able to afford a some kind of vehicle, or they will walk. The vehicle will match their budget.

The automotive industry will shrink whatever happens. Having a transition to bicycle and train/bus manufacture would be better than nothing.

Though frankly you could replace "automotive industry" with "digging, then filling in holes" and you will have my entire thoughts on what I think of its relationship to the economy.

curioustom writes:

2) How will we finance the construction of all this public transportation in our cities? What will people in rural areas do for transportation?

To point #1 the fact is we already spend hundreds of billions every year on Transportation in cities. But it is mostly spent on Auto Addicted Transportation.
That money needs to be redirected to Green public transit and transit oriented development. Chris Nelder outlines overall Auto/Air Addiction costs vs Rail in
"Reframing the Transportation Debate" ( )
Furthermore the FIRST thing we need to do which costs almost nothing except adding some jobs for more conductors, bus drivers etc. is RESTORE the Green public transit in 150 cities which has been cut since 2008 on existing Rails and bus routes. This requires NO capital costs and even no schedule engineering costs - just RESTORE train/bus schedules as they already were in 2008! The next step is to actually RUN the trains we already have on a frequent basis 24 hours per day 7 days a week. Many Rail systems all around the country which already have existing tracks, capacity, trains do not even run off hours or even all weekend. This is ridiculous! It is the equivalent of building a highway but then barricading it for hours at a time. Transit systems like the NY subways or the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in New Jersey or the systems all over Europe, Japan, Korea etc have huge riderships BECAUSE of the frequency of service. The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail from Bayonne to Jersey City to Hoboken to Weehawken and Bergen county has had 4x the projected ridership and now rivals the Northeast corridor because it runs every 5-20 minutes. People, businesses, organizations can make plans around frequent Green transit service and so can developers who have made a fortune in Jersey City. They can NOT if the trains do not run for 3 hours, past 10 PM, or even all weekend. To give an example of how cheap public transit is to RUN - the total operating costs of the whole New Jersey Transit system which provides over 350 million rides is only $300 Million per year. In comparison the cost of just one highway interchange from the Garden State Parkway to Route 78 cost over $70 million.

As to #1 it is a canard drilled into all Americans heads since birth that the US is
just "too big" for public transit like Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan etc. This is totally false. In fact according to the Federal Highway Administration itself 79% of Americans live in urbanized areas. A Brookings study showed that even within our existing abysmal public transit that 70% of working age Americans in 100 US metro areas live only 3/4th mile from a transit stop! And even in "rural areas" most people actually live in or close to towns like St Johnsbury, Vermont, which already HAVE Rails going through them. The US still has 233,000 miles of Rail from what was the greatest Rail system in the world just waiting to be used for passenger service between Main Streets.
Curioustom - check and I bet you will find Rails within 5-10 miles of your own house!

Kudos on you for speaking out against EV's, and promoting electric bicycles*. The myth of the automobile is very strong, as evidenced by that some of the posters here on TOD still believing in it.

It is a real hoot to post about EVs at various different places.

Here on TOD:
-OMG, EVs lugging that 3500 pounds of metal!
-'the myth of the automobile'
-You are just perpetuating doomed suburbia!

Comments after an EV story on Yahoo! News:
-Who would drive that Golf Cart?
-You can't drive far enough for it to be useful!
-I drove an electric vehicle . . . when I was a child and my mom got me one for Christmas

It is pretty bizarre to caught between those extremes.


Kudos on you for speaking out against EV's... The myth of the automobile is very strong...

Well said. At this critical juncture in history, many factors must be considered in developing new transportation infrastructure. Going up blind alleys will be very costly; every day matters in the oil depletion count-down. The electric passenger car is one of those blind alleys, as several have pointed out here, for many reasons. It's time to get a 21st century transportation system off the ground. Consider this thought experiment, Solar Skyways:

  • Cost of fleet maintenance: To maintain the global fleet of nearly 1 b vehicles including trucks, fuel at $5/gallon ($210/barrel, net after refining), wild guesstimate of 10,000 miles/year/vehicle [USA is 12,000] at 25 mpg, that's 10 T VMT (vehicle miles traveled; USA has 3 T VMT) = $2 T/year. Or, 30 B barrels at $100 * 60% [IEA] used for transport = $2 T. So, ignoring all other private vehicle maintenance costs, by eliminating fuel altogether for ground vehicles we have a budget of arguably $2T/year to offset new capital costs. Can we do better than that? If we were to transition to renewables in 10 years, we could invest $2T * 10 = $20 T in renewables infrastructure. After that, energy costs (maintaining solar systems) would be a tiny fraction of what it is today. No wars over oil, for one thing.
  • How much will Solar cost? Solar PV 4 meters wide yields 1 megawatt per mile. Placed over major roads (say 4 million miles worldwide, roughly 20-30%), we achieve 4 TW electric. Can we build 4 TW of solar for under $20 T? Prices are now <$3/watt installed at MW scale. That leaves money on the table to cover much of the cost of the Skyways' construction too.
  • How many vehicle-miles will solar deliver? Average worldwide solar capacity factor is 5 kWh/kW/day, so 4 TW * 5 * 365 = 7,000 TWh. Suspended robotic electric vehicles weighing 1/4 tonne will use < 200 Wh/mi, so we can achieve 7,000 T / 200 = 35 T VMT. (Recall USA has 3 T VMT; global is on the order of 10 T VMT. Projected global VMT in 2050 is less than 35 T VMT.) It appears that we will have surplus electricity by 2X to share with the folks living along the street. Or we can have the solar panels 2 meters wide.
  • Load-matching: EVs charged at night for use in the daytime is a grotesque mismatch between source and sink (engineer-speak, or "supply and demand" to the economists) which would require mountains of batteries (and mountains conquered by huge mining trucks). Solar energy, on the other hand, occurs at the same time people do most of their traveling.

    Even in winter with less sun, people travel less anyway.
  • Won't we still need storage? Yes. Using the grid for storage will be far less costly. (Thanks to Phil for the info about SolarFuel.) And if deep storage isn't ready for prime time yet, in the meantime maybe you get charged more for travel at night or on cloudy days in the wintertime. Beats having somebody blow up the Middle East in a huff!
  • Single use vs multiple use: If "Detroit" manufactures a car for private use, the cost is $20,000 per driver / 2 passengers per vehicle = $10,000/pax. If we manufacture an ultralight vehicle at $10,000 that is used in public infrastructure 10X per day, 2 pax, that cost will be $500/pax. If you and I go into competition with "Detroit" in these challenging economic times, who will win more customers?
  • Safety: The automobile has been considered an improvement on the quality of life. Tell that to the families and friends of the million people who die in traffic accidents every year. What about the tens of millions seriously injured? By getting urban vehicles off the ground, the land is freed for pedestrians and bicyclists who no longer have to fear for their lives.
  • Performance: When shared by five modes (trolleys, buses, cars, bikes, pedestrians) the existing public transportation infrastructure (a.k.a. streets) cannot perform well for any one mode. Cars get congested, trolleys slow to a crawl to avoid running over pedestrians, bicyclists and pedestrians meet walls of traffic. Put all vehicles above the human realm (gravity matters, after all) and everybody gets where they want to go painlessly and rapidly.
  • What might it look like?

  • Visual intrusion? Fair enough. You might ask Eddie Murphy (Bowfinger) how he feels about that!

And when that grid-storage pod-thingy solar cooker gets stuck due to the next power or mechanical failure, there's no escape, and you're dead of heat exhaustion by the time anybody can get to you at altitude. Oh, well, at least then you won't be contributing to "congestion" any more.

These type of easy answers always annoy me. Nowhere do we get some real figures. For instance there is mention of the cost of the PV to do this, not the mention of the increase in world flat plate glass manufacture that has to occur. Currently PV takes ~2% of glass production, the numbers indicated here are over 50% of world glass production. The chances are that prices will go up, plus more energy will be involved in the production of glass as industry ramps up. Where does this extra energy come from?

"Average worldwide solar capacity factor is 5 kWh/kW/day"

My solar PV panels are averaging about 3 and I am in a rural area at about 37.5 degrees latitude, with minimal shading and exelllent north facing angle (SH). Good luck getting anything close to your numbers in built up situations, plus there is a huge difference between winter and summer output from the panels.
When your skyway runs in a north/south direction, the panels will be slightly oriented east and west, again reducing the actual output from the individual panels.


Thanks, Phil, particularly for your thoughts on the context of the conference.

A few comments that are supportive of your view:

"Were it not for the ceiling on oil supply, it might have been possible to blow another, bigger bubble but that looks impossible now with weak economies still facing $100 oil."

1) The financial crisis is really the great spoiler on all thoughts of a peaceful way out of the current resource mess. All proposals for a technical fix involve investment, or the unspoken assumption of investment. The current system assumes that financial markets are the only way to raise capital for investment in anything. Investment does not happen because of hope, it happens because of rational expectation of return on investment. I conclude that we will not see the end of this mess until we see a change in what we mean by "rational expectation". Changing this will be very hard.

2) Concerning "Power to Gas" energy storage: It is stated that the storage capacity of the gaseous gas distribution has enormous storage capacity. In comparison to what? How many weeks could Germany survive if it lost deliveries from Russia because of a terrorist attack in which a dozen half kilometer sections of the pipeline were taken out over a time of a week? Or more cogently, the need is for electricity during a period when wind power is having a low output episode. Then the gaseous gas that has been stored with have to be fed to some gas burning electric generators, and these generators sitting on stand-by will have to be part of the investment. Or should the wind power system be overbuilt to the point where it can cover for loss of deliveries from Russia in the case of a terrorist attack? But it is an interesting technology.

3) Almost trivial in comparison to (1), "Smart grid" proposals cannot have significant effect on the problem of energy supply: A smart grid is a grid that is operated at a higher power level than a grid with a plain old traditional control system. Operating at higher power improves the fractional utilization of the grid but only at the expense of increase probability of massive system failure. The smartness is suppose to reduce this probability back down to the plain old probability of massive failure in plain old grids. The gain is in reducing the capital expense of the grid, in other words reducing the size of the loan that can never be repaid, and therefore won't be repaid. For the expense of this smartness someone should take out a loan? And someone else should lend?

A study funded by the German Environment Ministry estimates the storage capacity needed for Germany to live off 100% renewable energy in 2050 based on a projection of electrical energy use, a projection of installed wind+solar power and the weather conditions from 2006-2009. Based on the power to gas scheme, they estimate a storage capacity of 75 TWh which would amount to 7.5 bcm methane. Current gas storage capacity amounts at 20bcm (in porous underground reservoirs). So the increase of the gas storage capability to the needed dimension appears to be feasible. Current pumped storage capacity in Germany is around 16 GWh. Hydrogen is discussed as well, but it cannot be stored that easily (porous storage would not work, but caverns in salt domes could).

Greenpeace wants to give it a kickstart and sells "windgas". There is a tolerated H2 content of max, 5% in the gas supply network, and their idea is to create electrolytic H2 from superfluous wind energy and to feed it into the supply network. Very much like with renewable electricity, the customer pays for that at the other end based on a contract with Greenpeace instead of the usual gas supplier. So she might not see any of that H2 in reality but virtually pays for that. A part of the contributors to the first study produced a review of this scheme where they give lower estimates of storage capacity (same order of magnitude, though), and admit the CO2 flow problem...

The discussion concerning investment costs ist just starting...

Concerning Russia... well, previously active German social democrats have a special relationship with Gasprom and Russia. Ex-Chancellor Schröder is head of the board of the North Stream pipeline which goes directly from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany (1 leg active, 2nd leg under construction, 2 more discussed). Hennig Voscherau (Ex Mayor of Hamburg) just became head of the board of South Stream which is planned to go through Black Sea, Bulgaria, Serbia in the direction of Germany.

OTOH, Joschka Fischer, former foreign minister (Green party) of the Schröder government is lobbying for the competing Nabucco pipeline which is favorized by the EU, but lately lost considerable amounts of support...

... so, well, there are many pipelines to be blown up for terrorists before the gas flow stops. IMHO a couple of weeks would be no problem - we had delivery problems due to problems between Russia and Ukraine, which did not cause major disruptions (at least in Germany). Concerning the willingness of Russia to keep the gas flowing... well, there is money flowing in the opposite direction... The investment into North Stream IMHO is done exactly in order to be able to run this scheme undisturbed for decades to come (with gas then from Shtokman, Yamal etc.).
The Polish are not amused , though...

BTW, concerning EVs: Personally, I think, once we would have "wind gas" (and the CO2 flow problem solved ...) , we would build cars running on methane - this technology is already in the market, you can retrofit basically any car running on gasoline into a car using CNG for around EUR2500.

The problem of NG fueld cars is, that they are still combustion engines, i.e. they (must) waste at least 2/3 as heat.

If we assume NG produced by wind/PV, we need around 4 kWh electricity to produce 1 kWh methane or 40 KwH per cubic metre methane and the car burns 3 cubic metre on 100 km you have invested 120 kWh PV/wind electricity!

An EV only uses only 10-15 Kwh per 100 km, it would be one order of magnitude more efficient. Compared to burning methane hydrogen fuel cells look more promising to me.

Of course this could be true.

However in other respects fuel cells + hydrogen storage have a long way to go in order to compete with the ICE. There are unsolved problems concerning long term stability, another main problem is the expensive platinum necessary for the catalyst.

OTOH, methane or H2 from wind both would start with electrolysis, and the most efficient electrolyzers are basically reversed fuel cells. So in some sense, the problem is similar, as precious metals still are preferred. Siemens is working on this stuff. BTW, the link is another reference to the capacity of the gas infrastructure in Germany. However, Molybdenum Sulfide might come to help here.

Which tells me that first and foremost investment into high quality basic research can open new options for the energy system. Without breakthroughs from science we won't see a scalable solution.

Greenpeace wants to give it a kickstart and sells "windgas".

They might also want to think about a "better" name for their product.

A point overlooked with production of hydrogen by water electrolysis is that the oxygen is vented. On submarines I guess it's the reverse; the oxygen is used but hydrogen is vented. That O2 stream could be used to create pure CO2 free of sulphur and nitrogen compounds by burning charcoal. That charcoal is bio-carbon already above ground and won't add to the biosphere. However it creates another layer of complexity for 'wind gas'.

I suspect the claimed 60% round trip efficiency is optimistic. OTOH you don't have to build new dams, flywheels that disintegrate or molten salt batteries that can catch fire. Let's say wind fuel is 50% efficient then instead of 85 million barrels a day we'll need 170 million barrels-of-oil-equivalent for primary input energy. That's mainly for transport let alone grid applications. Even if the numbers are doable can we ever adjust to such high priced fuel?

I was presuming the CO2 was captured from FF powered plants. In which case, we use each carbon atom twice, rather than once. I suppose its possible to capture the CO2 from burning natural gas, in which case its at least theorectically possible to recirculate the carbon. But there would still be loses. But perhaps if the recyling efficiency is high enough, you could find enough bio derived CO2 to make up for the loses?

Unfortunately, I still see electric bikes marketed from a "lifestylism" point of view, like "this thing will make you feel/seem cool" rather than "this thing beats walking"

I agree. Still, it does indeed beat walking. As long as you don't have to push it or carry it up the side of a mountain, anyway. Batteries are heavy! Fortunately gravity will still work; once you get to the top, that is.

I am fascinated by the Electricity to Methane idea. It actually seems possible to achieve this effort and have some relatively inexpensive storage. It is unique in that respect, I think. What strikes me is the use of an existing fuel as the storage media; Methane is energy in a 'high value' form because it can be used right now, as is. Making use of the existing storage capacity of the grid is a brilliant idea.

I wonder though, what kind of strain this will put on the infrastructure. Re-purposing technology is sometimes a sketchy business. Is it going to be possible to expand storage capacity by extending its reach, too?

Could you, say, pump it back into a depleted Shale Gas well?

A quick search for reference gave me the German Wikipedia entry for subsurface gas storage. For pore storage, basically, you just revert gas flow to a depleted gas reservoir. However, I think shales would be not appropriate because of the resistance to flow due to small pore space (which is the reason for fracking).

The alternative are caverns created in salt domes (Northern Germany has plenty of them, as perhaps, other sedimentary basins, too).

The table given in the reference states for Germany a capacity of 19 bcm, and for the US 100 bcm. So this infrastructure seems to be already there....

(Careful: one US billion = 1 European milliard, 1 European billion = 1000 European milliards = 1 US trillion)

There's something being trialed off Shetland I think, to use expandable balloons to store compressed air under the sea. Then release the pressurized air through a turbine to generate electricity. The plan is to use excess electricity from the offshore wind turbines to store the air, then release when the wind turbines are not producing.

If the Hydrogen/methane were stored in the same balloon instead could it turn the turbine before being released to the gas network, increasing gas storage and perhaps doubling the benefit?

I agree that there will be large amount of deleveraging but there will not be a long term deflationary environment(short term deflation is possible). If you check the cpi of most other countries, even the manipulated CPIs has been increasing tremendously with only one tiny drop in 2008-2009. The environment is highly inflationary instead as all politicians and the CBs in the end only know the printing(easing) policy to "solve" this deleveraging, the default policies is always not discussed let alone implemented. Hence i would disagree with you that "it could be many years in such a deflationary environment before we really test oil supply limits and begin discussing peak oil again." Instead, the highly inflationary environment would make peak oil even more prevalent unless the gas boom is real and not just another bubble.

I am also fascinated by the electricity to hydrocarbon avenue, as it would not only provide a way to store excess electricity, but also to provide feedstock for petrochemicals, for things like making plastic insulation for wires. The cost of doing this would be sufficiently high that in the future plastic would become a valuable material, which would mean that it would not be used for such frivolous things as disposable shopping bags and tons of crap as it is today. Maybe there would even be an incentive to clean up the beaches of plastic and recycle it.

On another note, I don't know if it's appropriate to ask here, but does anyone know where I can get historical oil production rates on a country by country basis? I would like to look at a bunch of countries to show their peaks, for those that have already peaked. I know Westexas has done a lot of work in this area. Is this data available at a central location like the EIA or IEA, or do you have to look around for individual countries? Thanks.

Yes.. there's so much waste with plastics now that I don't see even a 50% reduction in oil supply causing much trouble on that front.

And the easiest way to get country stats is from the BP Statistical Review.

Wow great, thanks.

Hello Phil,

You will remember me as the attendee who asked some difficult questions about FT, mainly because I am working on a FT project at the moment and the more I look the less likley it is likely to materialise.

On the whole, as a person who works in the petrochemical industry looking at feedstocks, ASPO was a disappointment. Notable offerings by Nate Hagens, Robert Hirsch and Dennis Meadows, were offset by some pretty dire offerins by others, some of whom subscribed to conspiracy theories, which added nothing of great substance to the issue at hand. Indeed I saw a not insignificant amount of self aggrandizement or ego buffing.

I for one, and I am not alone, was hoping for better, especially with the science and analysis but it general was not that good. Academics might be good at coming up with ideas, but the solutions are built by people with vision and money. Governemnts and legislators are notoriously poor at picking winners and however we look at things the financial efficacy will of a process or solution will always win.

Dennis Meadows made 4 statements about the future, which I will relate:

1. $200 barrel oil will not happen (today's money) - too expensive
2. Gradual accommodation of the problem will be unlikley- shock will be the way it is conveyed.
3. Eventually there will be a general acceptance of the problem by the public.
4. ASPO will not be a world player in shaping the outcome.

The latter is perhps most interesting. Dennis Meadows likened ASPO to the Club of Rome. The latter has now become virtually irrelevant.

There was some discussion on EROEI but in my opinion it did not go far enough. There seemed to be a belief that it was possible to build enough Wind and solar power generation cpacity to continue with BAU. No mention of the materials which would be necessary to achieve this solution, much of which will have to come from the chemical and extractive industries. Some pretty serious increases in capacity would be necessary and the boost in demand for these materials is unlikely to send pricing lower.

Some of the attendees liked to castigate the existing system, but they should remember that it was the oil and gas industry that provided most of them with the transport fuels to attend ASPO, and the chemical industry that made many of these fuels possible. Moreover it was the chemical industry that provided many of the materials that allowed them to use their mobile phones, iPads and laptops, before I go onto the food packaging, and personal care goods that sustained them at the conference. It is these indutries that have allowed a population of 7 billion to exist in various levels of comfort and discomfort.

If ASPO wishes to shape the future and not procrastinate it needs to engage with the very industries that many blame for our problems. I am not impressed with much of what goes on in the industry that I work, but what some were proposing can be likened to a Soviet Style Dictatorship which did not work previously, and is unlikley to work in the future.

Much was discussed about the flows, or lack of, oil to the market. Fine but not all oil is created equal and there was no analysis or even mention of this. Comparing convential crude oil with NGL's, or bitumen implies an interchangeability which there is definitely not. NGL's have limitations in their use, and Bitumens require very extensive conversion refineries, the penalty of which is a very low EROEI. Our whole transport system is shifting towards a middle distillate centric demand where jet and diesel will stretch the capacity of the system ahead of tight oil supply. NGL's only have limited use in transport fuels and are best used as chemical feedstocks. Bitumen can be upgraded but it requires really extensive hydroprocessing to produce middle distillates.

We are not getting through to the decision makers or the people who increasingly influence decisions, who are the consultants and lobbyists. I dislike both but the likes of certain consultants(I cannot name) frequently debunk peak oil by their voodoo economic analyis. I have seen it first hand and I have had some fairly intnse discussions on the subject to the point of unpleasantness. I know how Arthur Burman feels.

I hope that next year ASPO steps up better to the challenge. A little more downstream analysis( especially refining and petrochemicals) and a few more non academics without consparacy theory agendas would be a good start.

thanks carnot

was good to meet you and i would like to have picked your brain some more and i hope you'll volunteer a presentation for the next ASPO :-).

there are very few people who understand and accept the problem but also appreciate how well proposed solutions will or won't scale to solve it. i wish there were more engineers making policy in general.. economists aren't going to get us out of this mess. as an example, robert rapier has been great at realistic biofuels analysis here in the past as well.

Hi Phil,

Thanks for your article.

re: "i wish there were more engineers making policy in general..."

Could you please take a look at my reply to "carnot"?

Do you see any way to recruit engineers to advise and/or "make" policy? (Advise seems more likely.)

It seems to me this ( is one example.

"Bitumens require very extensive conversion refineries, the penalty of which is a very low EROEI."

I am currently tackling this issue of spiraling EROEI for oil sands and hope to have something more to say about it soon. The thing with oil sands is that the low direct EROEI can be overcome by burning a portion of the product to produce the heat to extract more out of the ground. If the EROEI is 5:1 then you'd only have to take out 1/5 of the final product to supply this. Then EROEI goes to "infinity" since no direct external energy is theoretically required. Hydrogen is also required for the upgrading process which currently comes from natural gas and I'm not sure how easily this could be created by burning a portion of the bitumen. I need to look into that further.

But the problem with the oil sands is not really the low direct EROEI, it is all the refinery and machinery equipment, and labour that has to go into extracting and upgrading the stuff. This is more like an "indirect" EROEI, in that all that equipment has to be manufactured somewhere else and then supplied to Ft. McMurray, using energy and minerals extracted elsewhere. And all the labour has to be supported. So what happens with the oil sands, as we run out of energy, an increasing proportion of the "productive" economy and the labour force is required to be dedicated to energy extraction and less to "frivolous" activities not directly related to energy, like educating students in school -- exactly as one would predict as we run out of energy.

This also means that the whole extraction process for oil sand will necessarily be slow, even though there is 300 billion barrels there, which is why the Hubbert curve is shaped the way it is.

Regarding conspiracy theories, watching what is happening in federal politics in Canada right now, there is most definitely a conspiracy going on. Any analysis of energy without accounting for the truism that "power corrupts" is going to be glossing over a major factor in the decision making processes going forward. People and corporations have been manipulating the system to gain power since the dawn of humanity and will continue to do so until we are no more. That's why we are in the predicament we are in. In the era of Peak Oil, he who controls energy wields the ultimate power.

You can upgrade bitumen to light oil by either adding hydrogen or removing carbon. The latter process is called "coking". It's preferable to add hydrogen because this causes a gain in volume, whereas coking causes a decrease, but if you are short of hydrogen, it's good enough. You can also burn the coke (residual carbon) to provide process heat or sell it to other industries, like the steel industry.

There's no need for a conspiracy theory to account for Canadian government enthusiasm - the Canadian government is making billions of dollars in taxes from the oil sands. There is the corporate profit tax, plus there is the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all the goods and services used or produced in the oil sands. Unlike the US government, the Canadian government does not subsidize the oil industry, and its tax rates are much higher. The US doesn't even have anything equivalent to the GST.

The labor-intensive nature of oil sands creates lots of jobs and reduces the national unemployment rate, while the the heavy machinery required is mostly produced in other provinces and reduces the unemployment rates nationally. The sales, profits, and wages involved from all this economic activity are all highly taxable, so from the Canadian government perspective it's mostly a win-win scenario. Given the amount of money involved, don't expect them to show a lot of concern for the opinions of the nay-sayers. The Prime Minister has a Master's Degree in Economics, so he can do the math on this himself.

"The Prime Minister has a Master's Degree in Economics"

Lord help us ... another arrogant economist that likely didn't take a science class in his life, yet thinks he knows how economies work but understands not the first thing about energy other than, "Dig up and burn. Make energy. Make jobs. Growth good". And this guy's making decisions for us all!

The federal government has been trying to ram through its omnibus bill to gut the federal fisheries act that is/was amongst the best in the world, so they can push their pipeline through to the coast, thereby relieving North America of the one chance it has left to develop a renewable energy infrastructure and avert a Malthusian Collapse. They are trying to shut down the review process, to shut Canadians out of participating in what remains of their "democracy". The ferocity with which they are pursuing these goals and vilifying "foreign radical" Canadians like myself is truly frightening, definitely part of an organized smear and bullying campaign. The fact that little people like myself can hold them off for so long using the remaining shreds of our democratic processes speaks to the cowardice of these treasonous slimeballs.

The fact that the last amount of oil extraction requires so much labour input and creates so many jobs, and is so EROEI intensive is a scary thought, proof positive that we are on a doomed trajectory to self destruction from "no more net surplus energy", because this will provide even more political pressure to extract every last drop until the bitter end, for the sake of "good long term jobs", rather than showing restraint now, biting the bullet and crafting better alternative energy strategies using our last remaining hydrcarbons. And our wannabe fascist dictator will cater to that need quite nicely.

... the same thing that's happened to EVERY SINGLE animal population in the history of the world when provided with a new source of ecological productivity to harvest. The population increases and then stops. More than likely it overextends itself and then decreases, either through chaotic violent crashes, increased infant mortality, or something more humane like increased predation (too bad we've pretty much driven tigers to extinction -- their predation would have been good for humanity in the grand scheme of things). No animal population has ever shown voluntary restraint beforehand to say "Hey, look, every other species died off after growing around non-renewable resources. We'd better plan around this because the support structures for our species when this resource runs out just aren't there, absent some fundamental restructuring on our part". We're now so large that we'll take down the whole planet with us. Mr. Harper, you are no more intelligent than a St. Matthew Island deer.


You are sort of correct, save that coking is all that is required in the event of a hydrogen shortage. All of the bitumen upgrading to date, to the best of my knowledge, has been via coking. The two best known plants, Suncor and Syncrude, use delayed coking and fluid coking respectively. Performance wise there is not too much difference in the product output, save that in fluid coking the coke is produced as fines. Both these process are carbon rejection processes that reject the carbon as coke.

Bitumen can best be likened to vacuum residue and the real issue is the composition, frequently looked at in terms of Paraffins, Naphthenes, Aromatics and Heteroatom compounds. Generally the bitumen will have little in the way of paraffins. The aromatics provide the solvency for heavier fractions which contains resins and asphaltnes. The asphlatens are complex molecules that contain many hetero atoms such as metals, nitrogen ans of course suplhur, all of which can be catalyst poisons. Asphaltenes are coke precursors and condense under thermal pyrolysis to form the coke. As result the bitumen has a hydrogen : carbon ratio which is below ideal. Hydrogen is 10.4+/- 0.2% and carbon 83.4+/- 0.5%. Ideally the hydrogen content should be 12+%

The real problem with coking is that the liquid products are relatively poor quality. As produced they contain a lot of sulphur and olefines and are not usuable as fuels without further treatment. Coking of Athabasca bitumen yields the following typical yield.

API 7.3
Carbon Residue 17.9% wt as Conradson Carbon
Sulphur 5.3% Wt

Naphtha 20.3 vol %
Lght+Heavy Gas Oil 58.8 vol %
Coke 21.0 wt%
Sulphur 8 wt %

A considerable amount of the coke is used for process energy. The coke is of a poor quality and ia only really suitable as fuel.

Syncrude hydrotreat the 3 product streams (naphtha, LGO, HGO) in 3 diffrent hydrteaters which operate under conditions optimised for the fraction being treated. The 3 hydrotreated streams are then combined to produce syncrude which is then refined in a a conventional refinery.

Suncor claimn a conversion on Bitumen of 75% to liquid fuels though this is not defined as either in mass of vol. As can be seen the yield of sulphur is very high. Overall the bitumen upgrading process itself has a very high energy demand and low EROEI.

The coke could be gasified to syngas and then used for hydrogen production. The only problem with this route is the very high CO2 emissions.

There are other technologies that have been considered for Bitumen upgrading. These include the Chevron LC Fining process and the H-Oil process both of which are hydrogen additon processes. I am not aware currrently of either of these processes being used in Canada. If anyone knows different then please comment.

Shell, which runs the third big oil sands operation, uses hydrogenation to upgrade the bitumen from its oil sands mine.

Shell Canada - Scotford Upgrader

The Scotford Upgrader is located next to Shell Canada's Scotford Refinery near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. The Scotford Upgrader uses hydrogen-addition technology to upgrade the high viscosity "extra heavy" crude oil (called bitumen) from the Muskeg River Mine into a wide range of synthetic crude oils.


Upgrading is the process of breaking large hydrocarbon molecules (such as bitumen) into smaller ones by increasing the hydrogen to carbon ratio. These upgraded crude oils are suitable feedstocks for refineries, which will process them into refined products like gasoline.

Scotford's upgrading process adds hydrogen to the bitumen, breaking up the large hydrocarbon molecules - this process is called hydrogen-addition or hydrogen-conversion.

Hydrogen Manufacturing Unit

The Scotford Upgrader is equipped with a hydrogen manufacturing unit. The unit produces most of the hydrogen required for the hydrogen-addition process.

Environmental Advantages

With its hydrogen-addition technology, the Scotford Upgrader has significant environmental advantages:

  • It makes the best use of the very clean bitumen produced at the Muskeg River Mine, with more than 100 barrels of upgraded crude produced for every 100 barrels of bitumen processed.
  • It produces dramatically lower levels of sulphur dioxide emissions.
  • High carbon coke is not produced as a by-product.
  • The synthetic crude oils produced enable refiners to produce clean, high-quality refined products, such as gasoline and diesel fuel, with low levels of aromatics, particulates and sulphur.

Hi Carnot,

Thank you for bringing up substantive issues.

re: "There seemed to be a belief that it was possible to build enough Wind and solar power generation capacity to continue with BAU."

This is a belief I frequently encounter.

As far as I have been able to determine, to date there is no scientific body doing/having done any kind of "top-level analysis" to answer the following:

1) Is a changeover to an electricity-based, global (or even...some variation thereof) industrial economy possible?

2) If it is possible, what is required in terms of oil, other FF, labor, financing, time and so forth?

3) Or, is there a way to run some semblance of industrial economy on any scale and/or with any configuration - i.e., one that that is electricity-based, and thus potentially a candidate for wind/solar, etc. generation?

These two main questions seem (IMVHO) to be the precise questions that need to be asked. Certainly, there are scientists who can undertake this analysis. (Perhaps the answer is obvious and somewhat in the category of "unthinkable," - and that is why there is no study. I don't know.)

Humanity, taken as a whole, has the trained scientists who can undertake this analysis. My question is: What stands in the way?

re: The three speakers you mentioned, "Nate Hagens, Robert Hirsch and Dennis Meadows" - I haven't looked at their presentations on this occasion, though am familiar (generally) with their work. My question is: why do you contrast their talks with "dire" offerings by others?

As far as I can tell, one can apply the word "dire" to several analyses of the current trajectory of FF use - absent significant, large-scale and immediate change. For example, one need only examine the iconic graph of "peak oil," read the 1998 Campbell, Laherre article, and/or take a look at the Brown/Foucher numbers, which accompany the "ELM" analysis, in order to get the idea of the magnitude of what we face. (I simply use these as examples.)

re: "There was some discussion on EROEI but in my opinion it did not go far enough."

Exactly. The question is: How to take this discussion further?

re: "Some of the attendees liked to castigate the existing system..."

Point well taken. All 7 billion of us are here...wherever. (However situated and/or blessed and/or cursed.) The point seems to me to be to ease suffering, and preserve human rights to the best of our ability in view of the enormity of the issue of "peak oil."

BTW, I'd like to note that "discomfort," while I can assume you mean it ironically, is actually the condition of literal starvation for many.

re: "...some were proposing can be likened to a Soviet Style Dictatorship which did not work previously, and is unlikley to work in the future."

OK. Fair enough. Here's the issue: It seems that to make change in advance on the scale required (to prevent "collapse") requires large-scale, immediate change. In a sense, one way to look at it is to "shrink in advance" the economy, as opposed to allowing EROEI to do it's work via the finance system, in an uncontrolled manner, which appears to result in predictable impacts to many sectors of any given economy. (And, collapse trajectory.)

OK. So, is there another approach?

You mention: " needs to engage with the very industries that many blame for our problems."

Yet, to engage is to propose some form of...economic negative, since the entire system (global, industrial) *has to* shrink.

Is there a way to reconcile this? Can you expand on what you mean? Can you propose some specific form of engagement?

What I have seen in the way of possible approaches is the following: Let the scientific community deliver "the bad news," for example, please see what appears to me to be an excellent idea (not my original idea, hence my enthusiastic promotion):

At the same time, such a body as the National Academy of Sciences, can simultaneously deliver what "good news" there is: We (humanity), taken as a whole, does know a lot about sustainability, and...does know...we have learned a lot about extravagantly harmful practices (war, for eg.) and ways to mediate conflict, and so forth. Also, an objective, immediate scientific investigation allows for a reference point for individuals and groups who are able to emotionally deal with the facts and make changes. Many people (most) do not know.

Can we engage in an approach that is other than - "Do nothing" v. "Soviet-style dictatorship"?

re: While you are summarizing Meadows, I'd like to comment on this point by him: "Eventually there will be a general acceptance of the problem by the public."

My view is this is extremely unlikely. Why? Because the apparent, i.e., surface and immediate cause of "the problem" - the crises any individual, government, etc. faces and/or will face - is economic and financial.

The true "cause" in the sense of immediate and physical, is primarily the very fact of "peak oil" - the decline in production and it's consequences.

(I'd like to leave out "causation factors": population, consumption, and use of FF resources to kill, maim and subjugate other humans, both directly and indirectly. Although addressing the latter would in fact, conserve and curtail resources that could be used for whatever "transition" may be possible.)

In other words, few will see that "the machine food" is dwindling, and this is the real reason that our global, machine economy is set on a path to shrink.

So, I perhaps have a different view than Meadows, on this point. The difference may be important, because "the public" may not accept what it is unequipped to understand. Simply put, it may not be able to "accept."

However, this means that those who do understand, can act in a positive fashion. Perhaps. Please see above suggestions.

Thanks for that very good line of thought Aniya, and I'd like to add a few comments if that's alright. You say that, "Let the scientific community deliver "the bad news," (and) simultaneously deliver what "good news" there is".

I think the scientific community has lost the trust of the public. This is a strange scenario because it was not at all deserved. Those few improper emails from Climategate sure got blown way out of proportion. It's ironic because scientists have been warning for decades that we are on a collision course with disaster but people get tired of listening to it. Energy is not something that can be easily visualized. People look out the window and walk down the street, and things look the same as they always have. The fact that we are quickly running out of the stuff necessary to make it all work isn't openly obvious.

I think that the public's trust in scientists will decrease even more going forward as economic collapse ensues, for a few reasons. Firstly, those regions with remaining oil will continue to prosper, thus seemingly contradicting the insistence by scientists that "extracting oil leads to economic collapse". I don't think the majority of people will put two and two together to see the connection there.

Secondly, even though what scientists have been warning about for decades will happen, people will lose their faith in "academia" when things fall apart, i.e. the economists making policy decisions for us and the financial system. I fear that scientists will be lumped in with this crowd of pseudo-academics and the people that we really should be listening to for direction, won't be.

And as you say, the consequences of Peak Oil won't initially be obvious as being a result of running out of oil. They will first manifest themselves as economic problems, providing further justification to extract all remaining FF's for the sake of badly needed jobs. The inevitable deflationary crashes that will accompany the inability of the global economy to continue to grow will result in (temporary) CRASHES in oil price! To the average person, the problem will seem that we just aren't extracting enough of the remaining oil. How could we be running out of oil if the price crashes???

I find the degree of human delusion quite astounding. I work in an office of mechanical / process / energy engineers and I am continually taken aback by just how out of touch even these supposed experts are. A few of them seem to show some inkling of the problem though. When in discussion about this proposed pipeline to the coast of BC to export Canada's remaining oil ASAP, I ask what Canada is going to do once its oil is all gone and burned in ICE's in China. I get the response, "There's tons of oil left, we are nowhere near running out". Then I point out that the whole recoverable oil sands reserve amounts to 10 years of global oil consumption, and I get the glazed look, "Well future technology will unlock more". It's amazing, it's like these people didn't actually take a thermodynamics course. The human mind is capable of doing some very strange things in order to maintain illusions of fairy tales.

and let's face it, it was no accident that "climategate" was blown out of proportion.

"Well future technology will unlock more". It's amazing, it's like these people didn't actually take a thermodynamics course. The human mind is capable of doing some very strange things in order to maintain illusions of fairy tales.

Yeah and if that weren't scary enough, try talking to MBAs, economists and the finacial wizards who really never have actually taken a thermodynamics course... what always boggles my mind is their assertions that there are infinitely available substitutes for everything if only there is a need.

It seems that not only have they not taken basic physics and chemistry courses but they haven't taken any courses in logic either.

Just let the invisible hand sprinkle some more pixie dust... Ah, ah, ahchoooo!


Hi Null Hypothesis,

And thank *you* for reading my comment! And for your reply.

I'd like to speak to your points, because I see the idea of "what to actually, really do" as an important question.

re: "I think the scientific community has lost the trust of the public."

Our specific proposal - (or, I should say, the idea I'm backing) - is for the US National Academy of Sciences to undertake an immediate (fast-tracked) scientific study of global oil supply, (it's decline), the impacts of decline and policy options. It's possible for the NAS to both build on their last comprehensive study (1982)(,as well as to draw on the work of scientists, such as those of the "Global Energy Systems Group" at Uppsala University. (As an example of peer-reviewed, scientific research being done.) Since the NAS functions via a process that allows for input from outside sources, work published here on TOD can also be submitted and considered.

I'm wondering: are you saying that because "the scientific community has lost the trust of the public" - therefore, Congress and/or President Obama and/or...since the NAS can also be directed to do a study by *any* State Legislature...that therefore, it's *not* a good idea? If so, why not?

Do you see this "loss of trust" problem...well, how, exactly, do you see it?

I'm not really sure what you mean. If you mean...there's no point in engaging the NAS? However...that's their job. Founded in 1863...precisely to deliver sound scientific analysis, so that there's a reliable basis for policy decisions.

I actually don't see a downside to having the NAS do this. Do you?

re: "I find the degree of human delusion quite astounding."

I laugh (thinking of myself on occasion - in situations that had nothing to do with oil!), I relate and also, I fully empathize with this statement. (Seeing many examples of delusion - and they're not funny, when you get down to the effects.) Anyway...

This still leaves me wondering...are you making the argument, by saying this...that there's no point for scientists to speak out? In particular, are you opposed to our proposal to engage the NAS? Or, would you support it?

I see the situation something like this: To me, the legacy of scientific thought and approach is one of the most amazing of human discoveries and achievements. Those who have a scientific education are so incredibly lucky. People who actually make their living doing science, such as researchers and academics...well, I see them as fortunate to have the experience, the education and the opportunity.

Why not engage them, via the National Academies and it's process (which is designed to promote objectivity and lack of political influence) - ?

In other words, to me...for a scientist to turn his/her back on what we face... is really to disrespect the entire legacy and history of science that has made their very work possible. Is one way to explain it. It's like a great artist not wanting to save art - the practice of art. Because the human endeavor of science itself is supported by the larger global, industrial society - and that's exactly what's on a "collapse" trajectory.

re: "Secondly, even though what scientists have been warning about for decades will happen, people will lose their faith in "academia" when things fall apart, i.e. the economists making policy decisions for us and the financial system."

1. The NAS panel that is formed can remain in place to give advice as the crises worsens.

2. One can only tell the truth - with compassion and as one sees it. One cannot force others to listen to or understand the truth. However, there is an emotional stance and understanding that is more conducive to exploring possibilities that exist, given facts. This is what we need in light of "peak oil" IMVHO.

3. Again, I'm not sure WRT the NAS proposal, how your point relates. Also, I'm not so sure people lose their faith in "academia," per se, anyway. There's a way of looking and approaching problems that can be quite helpful.

You are really cutting right through to the bone with this post! I'm glad you've been so persistent with this idea.

I don't think you're wrong at all to hold Scientific understanding up as the way we can help reveal what's really going on. (The 'RGO', as a roommate in Rye NY used to call it..)

If I might try to guess at Null's point about Public Trust in my own terms, I would say that I am besieged with a great deal of cynicism that the NAS would be able to perform this research objectively, or that we could even get so far as to have the task set before them at all, since the Political and Corporate pressure to challenge and undermine such an effort has already been seen meddling with scientific and legal inquiry in so many other areas.

I think I'm still smarting from the interference in the 911 commission's work.. it's become so hard to trust such studies and reports.. especially the most critical ones. The more authoritative they are, it seems the more they must be tied into the power structure, where there are groups who will gladly apply various forms of invisible power in order to affect the outcome to their advantage.

That said, I don't think it's wrong to pursue the goal of having a study done that will be Authoritative (just not Authoritarian).. I just have to wonder HOW one sets the thing in motion so that it stands the best chance of not being meddled with, not being thrown off-course by the Political Football Game.. That is where my trust issues make me unsure of whether pursuing the NAS for a PO study becomes a setup for just another crushing blow AGAINST truth, instead of giving us finally a champion FOR it..


Hi Bob,
Thanks for your reply. I’d like to address your points one-by-one. They are important points.

Re: Your statement about your feelings of cynicism is the following: “I would say that I am besieged with a great deal of cynicism that the NAS would be able to perform this research objectively..” and you also mention your disappointment in the results of the “9/11 truth commission.”

Bob, we are facing something very big here with peak oil – yes? I hope you will give my answers here really careful thought.

1) I can empathize with your feelings. I don’t take them lightly at all. (Please see point four below.)

2) The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was established in approx. 1863, and there are myriad safeguards in place to ensure objectivity. I urge you to *please* look in some detail at their website, their mission, history, organizational structure and process before automatically dismissing their integrity. Would you? People often get confused about “acronyms.” (The NAS is not part of the US government.)

3) I’ve been over this several times in the last three years. Another TOD poster had the same issue and could not come up with any examples of NAS bias. I have not had even one example presented to me by anyone – not one, including in private correspondence with people who hint that the NAS is biased. Still, when asked for examples, I receive nothing back. I’m open to changing my mind on this point.

Could you please read over this previous discussion? and

4) I agree that there are many forces that wish to silence all discussion of “peak oil.” In my previous posts, I gave examples, quoting the public statements of two well-established scientists, Robert Hirsch and David Fridley – to this exact effect. Yes, there are many forces allied against the facts and letting people know the facts. So…this means we do nothing? And, perhaps more importantly…

5) These forces may be the reason that the major energy studies done by the NAS after 1982 have all avoided the precise topic of “global oil supply” (decline, impacts and policy options) that we specifically name in our proposal. My point is this: the NAS has *NOT* been given this specific topic.
This brings us to your second major point: also an excellent one:

Re: Means: Bob says: “I just have to wonder HOW one sets the thing in motion…”

Bob, could you please read the NAS website? The NAS can be directed by any one of several ways: The President, Congress, and/or – please note this one: *any* State legislature. If you look over their website, you will see many examples. I’ll stop here and reply further again.

Hi again Bob,

re: "HOW one sets the thing in motion so that it stands the best chance of not being meddled with..."

1) My view is that once the study is set in motion, it's unlikely to be "meddled with." There are too many safeguards against this.

The more difficult thing may be to get the topic in front of them, in this specific way. (The exact means involve citizens contacting their representatives: perhaps a little organizing along these lines...for example: The Maine State Legislature? As the "asking" entity?)

Also, there is a process for objecting to the composition of any given panel. So, TODers, for example, can provide input.

Part of my thinking on this topic is that it really boils down to the personal integrity of the scientists involved. If every scientists in the US is this corrupt...well...what the (pick your favorite expletive).

I just don't see a downside to the public citizen asking the nation's premier scientific body to do some work for us. That's why they're there.

If someone can really tell me what's wrong with this idea, I'd be happy to change my mind. (Like I said.)

The original idea was the brainchild of a professor of public policy - someone who read the original 1982 NAS energy study and thought this would be a good idea. I don't know. I'm just looks good to me. What's the alternative? Do nothing? Everybody just give up? (She says, wondering if this means she cannot take another bite of chocolate for courage in writing this! OK. Willpower - don't give up!)

re: "...invisible power..."


I also found the Vienna public transport system very efficient on a recent vist - but one thing that struck me (as I work in London) was that there are no ticket barriers, turnstiles or ticket checks - once you've initially validated your ticket, you just walk onto the bus, tram or u-bahn train without any machine or person checking it.

Of course there are some plain clothes ticket inspectors, but generally its on trust. That must save a lot of expense in maintaining the system - but I feel in London we just wouldn't buy a ticket...

Good also to see all bus/tram stops show time to next bus/tram arriving.

The key thing about Proof-of-Payment (POP) systems of collecting fares is that they set the fines high enough that the people they catch pay the fares for all the people they don't catch.

From the transit system's perspective it's much more efficient to have a few fare inspectors riding the trains and checking tickets at random than putting up turnstiles and hiring people to check everyone's ticket.

Sure, you can evade payment most of the time, but every so often they will catch you and then you will pay for all the times you got away without paying. It's a nasty experience being caught, taken off the train, and dinged 100+ euros or pounds or dollars in fines, so most people become quite conscientious about paying.

The German system uses the trust system as well. It may be necessary to have a fairly cohesive and equitable social structure for such a system to work. It must also save a lot of money. Does anyone know about its use in other transit systems? I know that in Paris and Madrid turnstiles are used.

Urban rail transit systems in Western Canada use the Proof-of-Payment system, notably the Vancouver Skytrain and the Calgary C-Train.

One reason is that they were started very recently (Calgary in 1981, Vancouver in 1986), and were designed to be highly automated with a minimum number of staff to operate them. The Vancouver system, in addition to having no fare collectors, uses automated, driverless trains - there are essentially no transit employees around the trains except the security people. The Calgary system runs 22 hours per day with one operator per train and two people in the central control room during the night. It does save a lot of money.

Thanks, Phil, for your reflections and analysis. Much appreciated!
And again thanks for being so flexible to moderate a second session.

Btw: All presentations (except 2-3) and videos will be available next week:

thanks Georg. it was my pleasure to be able to help.

i'm looking forward to seeing the presentations i missed online!


The above chart is for the U.S., but there are very similar trends in Europe.

It should also be understood that if you were to adjust for per-capita consumption, it would tumble even further, nearing late 1980's levels.

In short: this cannot go on for much longer. Europe is mired in a depression and this will take out a little more in consumption. Efficiancy is also improving, especially in retail sectors. A lot of plastic mugs, for instance, is now entirely done without using petrolium products for mass chains like McDonalds and others.

Still, the price paid for this is enormous. Europe won't be able to remain in permanent depression without their societies revolting. The far-right and the far-left will both increase their voting shares, we're seeing it in Greece already.

America may have a little room to cut, in part because of surging national oil production and the fact that America's world class oil infrastructure means a lot of oil exporters send their oil there in order for Big Oil to make a lot of petrochemical products the world needs.

Still, however, America's poor public transportation infrastructure is to some extent an offsetter of this trend. And besides, much of the narrowing oil import needs is due to demand destruction. The uptick in domestic production is small, and over the next decade will most likely not increase more than 2 mb/d, even according to the most optimistic estimates.

What we will have is a continuing depression, one which Europe feels first but will ultimately spread around the world. A depression doesn't need to be an economy in constant contraction. What America is now experiencing is to some extent a depression already. Real median wages are lower now than they were a decade ago. Last month 100 % of all new jobs were part-time. Full-time jobs decreased.

Those who think that this situation isn't incredibly dangerous delude themselves. The world isn't going to quitely whittle down it's oil needs and just 'learn to live on less'. In the coming years, social revolt will increase dramatically.
Still, the exact geological peak will remain elusive and vague.

Those who think that this situation isn't incredibly dangerous delude themselves. The world isn't going to quitely whittle down it's oil needs and just 'learn to live on less'. In the coming years, social revolt will increase dramatically.
Still, the exact geological peak will remain elusive and vague.

I absolutely concur! Just as weather systems suddenly change at a certain threshold, the same will be seen for peak oil with social revolt. I agree that an exact geological peak will remain elusive, because as we have seen in 08 and currently, high oil prices stagnate economies that in turn reduce consumption (and in the case of collapse leaves billions of barrels of oil in the ground). As price keeps being held in check then a ceiling is set for the oil that can be brought on line, like tar sands. The point being is we are being sqeezed from two sides: Increasing cost of extracting ever lower EROEI oil sources, versus the price the economy can sustain before contraction occurs. Those two limits are moving closer together, and once they cross its game over. If the minimum cost to bring to market exceeds the price the market can bear, it just doesn't work anymore. You can't have a system that works for a portion of society, because the other portion that is disenfranchised will come together to cause unrest.

And that's where your post really hits home with accuracy, in that social revolt will increase dramatically. In fact, I think we may only be a few months to a year from this occurring. Right now people are feeling like Obama has not been able to get the economy going enough, but don't realize its not him its the cost of transportation via oil price. So they are seeking answers, and if they give Romney the vote, the Senate tilts to R control, and they already have the House of Reps, then they can pass the Ryan plan. But I don't think they will be satisfied with gutting some entitlements, but rather see it as their divine opportunity to rewrite the entire government by privatizing social security, medicare will be a voucher program but not cover anywhere near what it did before, schools will go the voucher route insuring poor kids stay poor, 20% tax cut, elimination of obamacare with no regs on healthcare insurance, no regs on wall street, elimination of tax incentives for renewables, rejection of climate change, retirment age to receive privatized SS will be increased to 70-75, increase defense to 1.2 trillion a yr., complete elimination of food stamps and welfare.

Those last two will IMHO tip the scales over to rioting within the US that will dwarf any concern for Al Qaeda. Suddenly the war will be right here at home and that will smack down any remaining steam in the economy, the banks fail, dogs sleeping with cats (to quote a line from Ghost Busters), the whole nine yards.

This situation many people think is transitory, leading from something that isn't working as well anymore, to something slightly different that will work better. No, the math isn't there folks. Not going to work because cost of energy is too significant in relation to profit, and if only the top fat cats are profiting and most other people are defaulting and becoming unemployed, then it no longer works. The fat cats think their safe from the hoards, but I disagree. The situation once it really starts down will put everyone in danger.

There are currently 270+ million firearms in the USA....What could possibly go wrong?

That does worry me. I feel there has been an uptick in suicides & murder-suicides from people pushed over the brink due to deteriorating personal economic circumstances. But I guess I need to see some hard statistics to know whether that is really true or not.

In 2012 there were more suicides in the US military than combat deaths...

Actually, the 270m+ firearms in the US aren't as big a problem as you might expect. Their main effect will be precisely to fulfill the purpose of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution - to prevent the President declaring martial law.

If only that were true.

Sadly, the conservatives who like guns would be the biggest defenders of "strong government".

The purpose of the 2nd Amendment was not to prevent the President from declaring martial law, it was to allow the US to raise a citizen militia in the event of an invasion, in which all of the militia members would supply their own arms.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

You are thinking of the Posse Comitatus Act which says:

it shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States, as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress

That act was really intended to prevent the President from unilaterally using the Army to enforce the federal laws and constitution in southern states who wanted to deny blacks their human rights.

However that was just an act of Congress and after the complete gong show during Hurricane Katrina was modified by the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, which says,

The President may employ the armed forces... to... restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition... the President determines that... domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order... or [to] suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy if such... a condition... so hinders the execution of the laws

Which could easily be interpreted to mean the President could declare martial law if he really wanted to.

“...America's world class oil infrastructure means a lot of oil exporters send their oil there in order for Big Oil to make a lot of petrochemical products the world needs.”

That very point was highlighted early this week with the initiation of the Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. The five year $10 billion expansion is owned 50/50 by Royal Dutch Shell and the Saudis. It is specifically designed to process the increasingly important heavy crude output of the KSA. Part of the increase in KSA exports in recent months was to build inventory at the new facility. The plant is designed to run 600,000 bbls per day

The imports from the KSA will never be “American oil”. It will remain titled to those two foreign companies. The products can be sold in the US or any other country. I suspect at least a portion of the motivation to build in the US was security. I also suspect that political factors played an important role. Is this a bit of payback for US support of the KSA govt? If so I doubt any involved would admit it. A more important question is to whome will the products be sold: the highest bidder or will preference be given to US consumers? The US buyers would have an initial advantage due to lower transportation cost: Port Arthur is the headwaters of major product distribution systems in the US. And what products aren't sold in the US would be as easily delivered to the KSA (where fuel demand is ever increasing) as the EU.

What does this imply for the EU economy which depends much more on ME oil imports than the US? Even if they have access to the Motiva products it will come at a higher cost. The combination of Motiva output and the eventual elimination of the bottleneck for Canadian crude reaching the Gulf Coast refineries would seem to bode well for US consumers. Motiva may be one aspect of the Mutual Assured Distribution Of Resources. My original thoughts on MADOR involved some level of cooperation between the US and China in controlling access to future global oil production. China has, for more than a decade, focused on direct ownership of in ground reserves. The US govt hasn’t had this ability. But controlling refinery infrastructure may offer significant leverage especially give the profit motivation: half of the profit from refining $20+ billion of KSA crude will go the Saudi govt. That should be a powerful incentive to keep those oil deliveries to the US.

A truly odd potential: KSA crude exported to the Motiva refinery, thus denying the EU, and the products exported to the highest bidder, China, through the Panama Canal which is currently sheduled for deepening to allow larger vessels. For that matter, I know of no regulations to prevent Canadian tar sand oil, owned by Chinese companies, to be piped to Gulf Coast refineries and processed with the products shipped to China or to any other country the Chinses govt selects. Obviously PO is very critical to those countries with decressing access to crude. But shortage of a commodity is not a shortage to those with adequate acces to that commodity. Geology may control the advance of global PO. But it appears to becoming a less signifcant factor in acessing oil.