Thursday's Open Thread

It's getting slightly warmer out.
The apartment below ours must have their heating on 80 degrees constantly.  We hardly have to switch our heat on at all and our apartment is generally around 60f all the time.  This month's energy bill was 60 bucks.

They must have received their first big heating bill recently, because their heat wasn't on for a couple of days.  Of course, it slowly but surely went back up to 80 over the next day or two.

I'm an ex-pat Brit who moved here to marry a lovely American girl.  I still don't understand the American psyche regarding energy saving.  I'll wear socks/slippers/thermal underwear + an outer layer in the apartment and I'm comfortable if the apartment is 55.  My wife and friends refuse to wrap up!

Not really being old enough to remember the 70s (born in '74), I have to ask:  Did the UK have much more of an energy problem than the US?  Is that why (at least some) UK folks will wear extra clothing to save on fuel costs?  Or is it a more long term thing, stretching back to WW2?

Which leads me to my next thought:  How did USians in the depression and UKians in WW2 heat their homes?  I'm assuming PO will lead to similar conditions to these two periods, so perhaps there are lessons to be learned...

Speaking as an American who occasionally visits the UK...I think it goes back a lot longer than the '70s.  England seems very cold compared to the U.S.  I suspect it dates from WWII, or at least the post-war years.  We did a lot better than Europe, since aside from Pearl Harbor, there was no fighting on U.S. ground.  And until Pearl Harbor, we were selling arms to both sides and making out quite well. Oil was dirt-cheap for us back then; we were Saudi Arabia until 1970.

Everyone always says red wine is best served at room temperature.  I always thought that advice was a bit odd, because it actually tastes best slightly chilled.  Then I went to Europe, and realized that "room temperature" in Europe is "slightly chilled" in the U.S.

What I want to know is why British windows never have screens in them.  It's a lot more pleasant to leave your windows open if there are screens to keep the bugs out.

As for the Depression...that was really still the dawn of the Age of Oil.  Country folk could burn wood for heat.  City folk would walk along the railroad tracks and pick up coal that fell off the trains.

Room temperature is certainly colder over here in the UK.

The brick walls and coal fires I mentioned in an earlier post mean that many houses are hard to heat. I did not live in a house with a central heating system to 1960 and it was fairly rare at the time. Although there were often fireplaces in each room by the end of the war coal was expensive and only one fire was usually lit. The boomer generation grew up in cold houses for the most part. Schools, factories and churches were likewise cold.

Older houses were even colder. The thatched timber frame houses shown in tourist books have glazed windows and ceilings. The older ones were not built that way. They had open windows with wooden 'mullion' bars across them and leather curtains across them at night. The floor was solid earth. There was no ceiling and the smoke from an open  fire escaped through a hole in the roof. Such houses were common in rural areas up to 1700. Visitors to England might like to visit the open air museum at Singleton SW of London to see such houses restored to what they were like when they were built.

An acquaintance of mine is a chemistry professor at a Scottish university. He lectured once in California showing slides of his work with 12°C (54°F) given among the reaction conditions. His talk was well received but was asked at the end how he refrigerated his apparatus. It did not occur to his audience that in a cash strapped Scottish university imbued with a Calvinist frame of mind 12°C is room temperature.

Screens are not common because to our perception bugs are not common enough to cause a problem
In the days when it was quite common not have a refrigerator (up to 1965) screened larders were common but not other rooms.

54F. I hadn't thought to drop the thermostat quite that low. Right now I have it at 62. At night I use an electric blanket though, and I am quite comfortable. I guess a lot of this is just another indication of how cheap energy has distorted our notions of 'normalcy'. I used to hear stories about people who in the summer would turn up the air conditioning because they felt like having a fire in the fireplace. These days I think (or I would hope) that more people would be inclined to just rent the video of the fireplace..
British windows don't have screens because there aren't any bugs. It's possible to leave windows open for hours or sit outside at night and never see a single bug. I find the mosquitos, deerflies and blackflies here in North America drive me mad, although the locals don't seem particularly bothered. There's just nothing like that in the UK.
Hahaha, you could be a '3 day week baby' dizzysaurus!

When the oil shock of 1973 hit (and I think there was a brief miners and / or dockers strike thrown in for good measure) there was a period of a month or two during the winter when we had planned rolling power cuts. The 3 day week was to minimise energy consumption by partially closing down industries and workplaces.

It was all quite romantic, no TV, candles, huddling together to keep warm, 'save water - bath with a friend', etc. Hence the noticeable spike in UK birth rates that followed 9 months later. :-)))

I'm trying out lower in-house temperatures.  I'm surprised (spoiled Californian that I am) how comfortable I can be in the 50's.  Sometimes a full day in the low 60's will get me down though.

It would be a lot less pleasant without hot meals.

I grew up in London in the 50's and 60's.  Our house, built in the 1920s had old coal fire places in every room which we boarded up. We used electric bar heaters to "warm" the rooms we were in at the time.  It helped a lot to be close to the heater.

No central heating.

The curtains were of a thick material to keep the warmth in the rooms.  I can recall opening my bedroom curtains on many a winter morning to see ice on the INSIDE of the window.

Taking a bath in a tub of water that was hot but cooling all the time was interesting.  The move from the tub to the towel through the cold air of the bathroom was the most critical move.

I don't think we were the only ones.  The WSJ had a wonderful page one column several years ago about the joys of taking a bath in England in the winter.

(This will just confirm my madness, btw)

My central heating and hot water boiler died 2 years ago and I decided to see how I would manage without it.

I have one small thermostatic fan heater which stops me from freezing downstairs, lol, and a small convector heater in my bedroom to warm my pyjamas or if it drops well below freezing outside.

Guess what? I've acclimatised. I need almost no heating. I live in a 1930s semi-detached house with minimal insulation, I'm sitting here in my pyjamas at past 3am with outside temp about 5 C (40 F) and I feel fine. You think I must be bonkers, maybe so. I guess the inside temp is about 50 to 55 F (10 to 12 C) and I would be fairly comfortable naked.

About 30 years ago there was a UK TV prog where people had to live like the late stone age - seriously, they had to grow their own food, solve their health probs, live in appropriate tech roundhouses, FOR A YEAR. Now that's what I call reality TV. They were debriefed a year after returning to modern life and the overwhelming thing they'd had a problem with was heat! They felt uncomfortable living in modern domestic temperatures.

Ice inside windows is fairly common here in Michigan if you have single-pane glass.  I once had a place with a single-pane, aluminum (!) frame doorwall.  My neighbor, with the same, could not use her living room in the winter.

I promptly covered both sides of the doorwall with heat-shrink plastic film, making it triple-pane.  It still got some frost on the frame during the depths of winter, but overall it was far better than before.  Amazing how far a little cleverness will take you.

In WW2 in the UK most folk still heated with coal.  In fact being a coal miner got you out of serving in the armed forces, since it was a critical need.

Unfortunately the mines in the UK are closed and sealed and so it would be very difficult to return to those days, especially since the current estimate of reserves is not that great.

I have a similar situation. My home is atached to another and I know when my neighbors estranged husband is in town. Normally, I keep my house set at 60 during the day and am happy to wear extra clothing. Every Thursday my home heats up and I practically get a free sauna.
It ain't warm here.  My legs are freezin'!

Our office is in an old factory with metal windows and no insulation.  My boss saw another tenant all spread out at the local coffee shop just to keep warm.  I guess I should find a teahouse.

Google carried headlines about prices dropping with lower energy costs.  "It appears the big drop in energy prices during November has brought the overall inflation rate down considerably."

Have they looked at the gas pumps this week?

I thought the economy wasn't based on energy anymore?

Todays "GREAT News" on consumer prices is directly linked to the fall in gas prices.  See the Yahoo headline and discussion.

Apparantly when gas prices fall, consumer prices fall and industrial productivity goes up.

By deduction one could predict the reverse, which is that when gas prices rise than consumer prices will rise and productivity will drop.  Gas prices are already headed back up, so maybe the future is not so rosy as the past month.

This still seems like an economy based on energy but I guess I'm just dense.  Oh and if I digested the numbers right from the article. Inflation went up 1.2% in September but has only come back down 0.6 in October(0.2) & November (0.4) so the net is still increased prices.

On energy equality:

I've noticed this discussion pops up occassionally on TOD, but I haven't seen a long thread about it...I recently discovered Richard Smalley, who wrote a very interesting paper in which he discusses what the GLOBAL energy needs of the world would be if all humans lived at the standard of living that N. Americans/Europeans do:

Of course, the amounts of energy the world would need for all humans to live like comfortable westerners are staggering. Yet, it seems most PO discussions focus on what WE in the west are going to do in the face of declining resources. In a sense, the world's PO predicament was exasperated by the west's voracious consumer appetite; and now most of our worry seems to be how WE are going to maintain some semblance to this standard of living - the rest of the world be damned! (Of course, nobody says rest of the world be damned - but one can argue that the lack of attention to how poor nations will fare creates this attitude anyway.) It seems grossly unfair, doesn't it? Of course I don't have any solutions here, although Smalley thinks it's possible to rectify the situation.

I find myself very preoccupied with the growing have/have-not division in the world. So what are your thoughts on this gross energy inequality? Sometimes I think that the humans will never get out of this feudal-type relationship with one other - that poor will always be around, to feed the needs of the rich...

(FYI - I discovered Smalley in one of Matt Simmons's presentations.)

Most people think about things in a relative sense - this is what my life has been like, and how will it be afterwards?  Also, there is the fear issue.  The big question comes down to population.  If there will not be enough energy to sustain the present population (even if that is a "temporary" situation), then some percentage of the population must die.  If it happens slowly, then low birth rates and natural death rates could keep it from being devastating, but I would not count on it.  So how many will volunteer to be on the losing end?  And truly, most Americans are only vaguely aware of the existence on the rest of the world.  If you combine these things, then you get the situation you've observed.

Is it reasonable to expect that we would have a worldwide approach to the energy problem?  I doubt that even the obvious basic steps will be taken in the US in time.  A globally coordinated approach is probably fantasy.  But look at it very long term - the American way of life is based on large quantities of cheap energy.  We grew large and powerful because we had an entire continent to exploit.  Having done that, we've now moved on to exploiting the rest of the world, but that requires even more energy.  If it cannot be maintained, then the energy use disparity will be reduced.  

I think you meant exacerbated - as in global PO was exacerbated (made worse) by wanton US overconsumption.  Of course that has rightly led to the ROW being exasperated (pissed off) with US.

Regarding how poor nations "will" fare - see how they "are" faring - Eritrea, Zimbabwe - already unable to afford oil.  Indonesia - former exporter, now importer, with attendant social/political/economic ills (not that they didn't have ills as an exporter...) I understand South Africa is now having "energy problems".  The UK may be the first "rich" nation to suffer real PO problems.  It's not a "will" problem, it's an "is" problem.  Hitting poor countries first - but we don't care about them, of course.  In the end, the poorest countries will be the best off, because they have come to depend less on petro infusion than we have, and have a better idea and memory of how to get along without it.  

I tend to agree with you, after an initial destruction of agricultural markets, developing countries should do well for exactly the reasons you state also they will no long have to export their food because transportation costs.

just think of all those tea, coffee, chocolate, cocoa plantations..

they could all be growing food for local people, also people will no longer be coated in pesticides which disable 30 million people a year and kill 1 million (see pesticide action network for details).

most of the vegans I have been chatting with are genuinly excited about the "localisation" revolution that is about to take place.

It's not just the destruction of ag markets that will impact "developing countries." This makes it sound so neat and tighty. What will happen will be destruction of lives. Millions, perhaps billions will starve to death, die from disease, or be killed in eruptions of war and civil disorder.

While it is true that, theoretically, there is plenty of ag land to allow a transition back toward self sufficiency, its not like all that land is going to be willingly redistributed back to peasants by caring governments so that they can start farming.  

From the Energy Bulletin today.

IEA: Stupid, Manipulative or Corrupt?

Check it out.
Is all of the above a choice?
That choice wasn't given, but nor were: malevolent, evil, puppet, bought, duplicious...
Is this where Baghdad Bob is employed? I'd post his pic with this comment, but can't seem to figue it out.
After a recent posting provided a link to an article about how the newly discovered methane on Titan is proof of the abiotic oil theory (no link ... sorry), I got a little upset. Bad science is one thing, but this was such a stretch that I immediately wanted to share it with someone that has the ear of the scientific community.

I considered forwarding it to JREF (James Randi Education Foundation), but they focus mainly on claims of the paranormal. That thought let me to Phil Plait, the original Bad Astronomer ( His forte is educating the public to expose, well, bad astronomy. He goes after people that say the moon landings were a hoax, that there are ancient monuments on Mars, astrology and people that misuse science, especially astronomy.

I forwarded him a link with a brief note about abiotic oil theory and was pleased and suprised to actually receive a response today. I don't have his permission to repost, so I won't. I feel comfortable paraphrasing, though. He seemed to think that methane was common enough and easy enough to make that linking it to abiotic oil was a really, really weak argument. He stopped short of completely discounting the possibility, but that's good science at work.

With luck, if someone brings up the topic of abiotic oil with him, he'll now know about it and side with good science backed up by solid evidence, as he always does.

Expensive energy will not wipe out electronics.

At the bottom of the old thread on Google's power woes, I provide a lot of numbers showing that electronics don't cost much to make or to use--as long as you're not trying to use the latest cutting-edge stuff.

For example, manufacturing a square centimeter of silicon--containing enough transistors for dozens of complete 1990-era PC's--requires only half a kilowatt-hour.

Running my laptop, with its multi-GHz processor, requires less than 30 watts. If energy became ten times as expensive, watching a DVD would cost a whopping six cents.

Today, transferring information costs less than $1 per gigabyte. If energy got ten times as expensive, it would still cost less than a penny per megabyte. VOIP would cost pennies per minute.

Even if electricity became 100 times as expensive, computers would still be affordable. As long as society doesn't fall apart so thoroughly that infrastructure becomes un-maintainable, we can still have networked computers, computer-driven infrastructure, and computer-aided communications.

No previous energy-poor society has had these things. Free global press, instant global communication, and large-scale human networks for sharing wisdom and criticism, will probably all survive. This implies that the future will not be like the past, and may be quite a bit better.


And what if we decide to use that silicon to make solar panels instead?

Oh, I'm sure we'll have technology for a long time to come, but I don't think it will be sustainable indefinitely.  It will unwind, in the reverse order it was built.  People who can't afford food or heat are not going to buy computers or pay for Internet service.   The poor will be affected first, then the middle class, and the rich last.  Computers and the Internet will lose a lot of their value when there are fewer users.  Eventually, they will be a toy of the wealthy, and then they'll fade away.  By then, no one will miss them.

ChrisPhoenix wrote:
For example, manufacturing a square centimeter of silicon--containing enough transistors for dozens of complete 1990-era PC's--requires only half a kilowatt-hour.

I beg to differ! from Robert U. Ayres, Leslie W. Ayres & Benjamin Warr. IS THE US ECONOMY DEMATERIALIZING? MAIN INDICATORS AND DRIVERS. page 19.

The fabrication of computer chips is undoubtedly the most complex process in
industry. Consider a day's production in a representative modern plant (c. 1998).
The raw material input for this process consists of approximately 700 8-inch wafers
of ultra-pure silicon metal, with a total mass of 14.2 kg. Each wafer has a thickness
of 0.76 mm and a cubic volume of 8.55 cm3.
The fabrication process begins with cleaning, by means of an acid bath. The
next step is doping, by molecular diffusion. Typical dopants are silane,
dichlorosilane, phosphine, arsine, or diborane. This step is followed by surface
oxidation or epitaxy (using pure oxygen) and/or vapor deposition of a thin photoresist
film, either positive or negative. Next comes photolithography, which
`exposes' the film to light in a complex pattern representing the circuitry. This is
followed by an etching acid bath, which removes either the exposed (light sensitive)
or unexposed (insensitive) portion of the film, leaving the remainder. The
doping-epitaxy or film deposition--photolithography -- etching sequence may be
repeated many times, leaving successive layers of circuitry alternating with layers of
non-conducting oxides. Finally there is a metalization and passivation step before the
wafer is tested and cut into individual chips.
Acids (HF, HCL, HNO3 and H2SO4) and solvents are used at several stages in
the sequence. Bases (mainly ammonia and caustic soda) are used to control pH and
to neutralize acid wastes. Finally, very large amounts of neutral gases (mainly
nitrogen, but also some argon and helium) are used as vapor carriers, and even
larger amounts of purified water and air are used for a variety of purposes.
The process chemicals used in this plant, per day (not including air) are as
follows, in kg:

Gases (mostly nitrogen) 102 826
Dopants 2.15
Etchants (dry) 52.2
Acids & bases 5 372
Solvents & developers 3 274
Water (liquid) 3 648 000
Water (vapor) 81 600
Total 3 841 141
Total, excluding water 228 661

It is easy to verify that for each kilogram of silicon wafer input 161 kg of other
chemicals, not including air or water, are used and discarded. The yield of the
process is less than 100%, so, for each kilogram of usable silicon chips from the
process at least 200 kg of chemicals (dry weight) are consumed and discarded.

Now it is of some interest to consider exergies. The exergy embodied in pure
silicon metal is 30.43 mJ/kg, although the process of reduction from silica and
purification to electronic grade (99.9999% pure) is very energy intensive (about 234
mJ/kg). The exergy embodied in fabrication process input chemicals, however, is
approximately 788 mJ per kg of silicon processed, if water is not counted. (I should
acknowledge that I could not calculate the exergies of all of the organic chemicals
used, some of which are very obscure. It was necessary to make some
approximations, resulting in an overall uncertainty of the order of 10% or so.) If the
exergy of ultra-pure water is included, the total exergy embodied in the inputs is
much larger - 2100 mJ/kg, or roughly 70 times the exergy embodied in the silicon
itself. The surprise is that, because so much is required, ultra-pure water accounts
for almost two thirds of the exergy inputs to the process. (Seawater is an
environmental sink, with an exergy of zero, by definition, but pure fresh water has a
small but non-zero exergy.)
But that is not the whole story either. If, in the spirit of LCA, we also take
into account the exergy inputs to the processes of manufacturing the major bulk
chemicals. Again, I do not have manufacturing data for the solvents and photoresists,
so the totals above are significantly underestimated. Nevertheless, it is
interesting to note that utility energy (roughly equivalent to exergy) used indirectly in
manufacturing bulk chemicals amounts to at least a further 7000 mJ/kg, mostly
attributable to the energy (exergy) required to separate nitrogen from oxygen in air!

In short, the micro-electronic products that are commonly cited as examples
of dematerialization are really illustrations of quite a different and less favorable
trend, namely a sharply increasing ratio of process wastes to finished goods.

Difficult to take seriously someone who calls silicon a metal.

Even with these figures the half gram of a typical microprocessor would only produce 100g of waste. I have seen more waste in the packaging of a shirt. One each for the world would only produce 650 thousand tonnes of waste. Mining produces billions of tonnes of waste a year.

The ratio of weight of waste to weight of useful product is not a very meaningful figure when the functionality of the material is increasing by orders of magnitude.

If we were forced or chose to limit the performance of computers to what they are today we could shrink the size and energy inputs to a tenth of today's values in a decade.

The less than 10mg of silicon in a 6 pin 2.7 x 2.9mm package of a 40 cent  PIC  microcontroller has more power than the  8088 of the original IBM PC and a score of peripheral chips using about half a gram of silicon and costing about $80 and uses vastly less power to make and to run.

I suspect the figures are waste consumption are out of date. Recycling of materials has increased greatly and many wet processes are becoming dry.

Energy limitations may limit the rampant growth in functionality but it will be a very long time before it will force a decrease in functionality.

Ahem.  mJ is millijoules.  You mean MJ, megajoules.
Leanan, computer circuits are worth vastly more than solar panels. That will be true even in an era of expensive energy.

Put it this way. Suppose that, in addition to the energy used to process a cm^2 of silicon into a valuable computer, you also had to pay for all the energy that that cm^2 would gather in the next 50 years if it were a solar cell instead. That's about 1/30 watt X 8 hours X 365 X 20, or less than 5 kWh. If energy goes to $1 per kWh, the solar-cell value of that chunk of silicon can't be more than $5. A computer would let you get news from nearby towns (any robber bands heading your way?), track weather forecasts (when is the best time to harvest?), and stay in touch with family members you can't easily travel to visit.

Khebab, the fact that a cm^2 of solar cell gathers less than 5 kWh over its life (and since solar cells do repay their energy cost of manufacture) proves that silicon doesn't take much energy per square centimeter to process. Before you differ with my assertion, read my numbers and citations. I checked both a semiconductor roadmap and AMD's figures for energy used.

Energy cost per kg is a nearly-useless measure of energy cost per cm^2. Unless you find a recent source for energy per cm^2 that contradicts mine, I'll stand by my claims and figures.

People, there's something wrong if you have to argue with every piece of good news, no matter how carefully substantiated. Basic computers, a major component of modern civilization's infrastructure, and a potentially major contributor to many kinds of efficiency, will still be viable with $1/kWh or even $10/kWh energy.

Furthermore, it will be easy and fast to make computers power-efficient, as soon as peak oil hits: just downgrade the CPU's (or even just swap in slower clocks) and upgrade the software. People habitually replace their computers every few years; they won't even have to change their buying habits. Unless civilization collapses to the point that we lose technology altogether, computers will be remain affordable--personally, economically, and environmentally.


A computer would let you get news from nearby towns (any robber bands heading your way?), track weather forecasts (when is the best time to harvest?), and stay in touch with family members you can't easily travel to visit.

But only if the nearby towns have computers and Internet service, and there are weather satellites and a weather service, etc.

That's what I mean when I say it will slowly unwind.  We won't lose computers overnight.  We'll lose them gradually.  People will cancel their Internet service because they won't be able to afford it.  The computer will be worth a lot less without Internet service, so when it breaks, they don't replace it.  More and more people do this, until it's like the early '80s, when computers were the pricy toys of a few geeks.  Meanwhile, large sections of the Internet start to go dark.  eBay and Amazon go belly-up, because shipping is outrageous, no one buys online any more and they can no longer afford to pay for natural gas for the power plants that run their servers.  Many people who maintain Web sites will stop, because they can't afford the hosting fees.  Web hosting companies and ISPs will start to go under.  You can never be sure if you'll be able to reach a given web site or e-mail address on any given day, further reducing the value of computers.  The computer manufacturers start to go out of business.  Not enough people are buying to keep them in business.  

I think the cost of the technical expertise is going to be the hardest to deal with.  Cheap energy allowed us to build an elaborate social structure that allows specialization.  A hundred years ago, 97% of the American population were farmers.  Now it's the opposite: 97% of us are not farmers.  

Will we be able to afford that post-peak?  I don't think so.  We will not have the luxury of having large sections of the population not working directly on survival.  We will not have the communication and connection it takes to train and support the kind of technical specialists we have today.  As Tainter points out, complexity has an energy cost.  We won't be able to keep paying it once the cheap oil is gone.

It all depends how far down we go.  Personally, I will cancel the cable and reduce many other services long before I give up Internet access.  Knowledge is still power.  In spite of being an EE, I'm no technology freak - I don't love the Internet for the technology or for the shopping, I love it for the access to information.  I don't need much computing power to run a browser (a VIA C3 uses a few watts).  From medical issues to real news to TOD, the Internet is my lifeline to what is really happening in the world around me.  How to build a chicken coop?  How to fix whatever?  I'm sure it will be part of learning to garden properly.  Think about how hard it was to find out about things before about 1996!
That it does. I would almost say: if the internet survives then we are safe. Unfortunately that is not guaranteed, as things unfold and if the probabilities indicate the internet will not survive, then the saving of useful information becomes paramount.
I don't think it will collapse overnight.  But I do think the Internet will ultimately be unsustainable.  I, too, would keep my Internet connection over, say, cable TV.  But I don't expect cable TV to survive, either.

And will the Internet still be as valuable to you if those medical and chicken-coop-building sites go dark?  They cost money for someone to maintain, and those people or companies will stop doing it when they can no longer afford it.  What if electricity becomes intermittent, and you can never tell if the part of Internet you are interested in will be available?  What if money is tight, and you must choose between, say, a water pump and a new computer, or food and your ISP bill?

A big part of the appeal of the Internet is all the free content you can get on the Web.  But of course, it's not really free.  Someone is paying for it.  Will they keep paying for it?  I doubt it.  

I don't think it will collapse overnight.  But I do think the Internet will ultimately be unsustainable.  I, too, would keep my Internet connection over, say, cable TV.  But I don't expect cable TV to survive, either.

I work for the cable company, so I have a thought or two on that.

First thought is that cable companies are dependent on fleets of trucks to service and maintain their fiber optic and coaxial cable plants. Every installation, disconnection, service call, routine maintenance, service expansion or outage repair requires someone to sit their butt in a truck and drive to where the work needs to be done. All that driving around costs big money, even without exploded gasoline prices.

Second is that most cable companies have large electric bills. Not as large as a phone system would due to cable wires not being electrified, but it is still necessary to power our headends as well as amplify the signal we send out which requires a large number of equipment connected to commercial power sources.

The third and perhaps the most disturbing is our dependence on elecricity to provide signal to our customers. The power can be on at a customer's home, but they can be without cable if our amplifiers are offline in an adjoining area. In my local office, that is currently the number one source of service outages; our service is fine, but the electricity is out somewhere in town taking key amplifiers offline.

Even if a customer has a generator, even if we run a generator at our headend if necessary, chances are that many people will not be getting their cable TV, internet, and now phone. (My company like the other big cable companies is now offering phone service.) Why? With the amplifiers between our headend and the customer's home out, no signal gets through. We do have backup generators, but not enough to fix widespread or multiple power outages. They also have to be picked up, driven to the site and powered, all of which consumes more fuel.

Will the industry survive? Time will tell. Just remember that people like their bread and circuses. And have no doubt, TV is the best circus ever invented.

Cable is a very high bandwidth pipe. I'm not surprised you need amplifiers. Phone lines need to be electrified because they're supporting decades-old standards.

My wireless hub draws 4 watts with three Ethernet cables plugged in. With better antennas, it could probably network half a dozen houses. With software, it could build a wireless mesh network. I wouldn't want to try to deliver video over such a system, but I'd certainly expect that 1990-level net services could be delivered: enough for email and Google Groups (usenet).

I don't know how much energy it would take to push 26 kbps over ten miles of POTS, but I doubt it's more than a watt or two these days.

So I'm not saying that the existing delivery systems could be preserved entire... but we still have lots of POTS wire, and our cell network is improving very rapidly (I know, I know, power to the cell towers), and there are lots of things that could be done with off-the-shelf wireless hardware.


The third and perhaps the most disturbing is our dependence on elecricity to provide signal to our customers. The power can be on at a customer's home, but they can be without cable if our amplifiers are offline in an adjoining area.
Okay, why?

The venerable phone system is based on power from the head end; the phone proper runs off power that comes down the line, and the exchanges have banks of batteries to supply them during outages.  You're a cable company, you could string a second line for power or send DC power down the center conductor of the coax.  WTF aren't your systems designed to do that?

My uninformed guess is that destroying the communication networks would take more then peak oil or an influensa killing 5% of the population or the grid failing 50% of the time. Everybody with technical knowledge and drive to do things has use of it and manny will volunteer or find a business in reapiring or extending the parts that works best given power shortages. Prolonged total war could do it.

Why are you so pessimistic about peoples abilities to solve problems?

These problems can even be solved in a distributed way.

It would not even need much transportation for service. Computer geeks with bicycles will find work with a 30 km intervalls or closer where there are manny customers.  

I would worry more about finding funds for keeping the road pavements in good shape.

Why are you so pessimistic about peoples abilities to solve problems?

My pessimism is rooted in the wasteful, disposable culture we have in the US and the economy that is dependent on gluttonous consumption.  It makes no sense to me.  We have squandered the resources that could have been used for the benefit of the nation and the whole world. We could have made efficiency a priority years ago.  We could have put our vast resources toward renewable energy infrastructure, instead, we built a society that can not function without fossil fuels.  Finally  now that the supply is become tight people are waking up to the bind we are in.  

Can our society ween itself from cheep energy without imploding?  There are so many ways we can conserve energy and natural recourses in this country, but we are still consuming like there is not tomorrow.  Who is going to pay for all of the debt that  continues to pile up in this country?  The developing world has been paying for our lifestyle for the past century....

I know my view is a minority view.  I see the world from a perspective that values social justice, and some degree of respect for all human beings.  

When I look at the challenges that face all of humanity, PO is only one strand in the web of complexity that make up our world.  I also see global climate change as another reality that we will have to deal with.  Then there are the political challenges that we must work through.  And the complex social changes that are inevitable.

We have the potential to meet these challenges, but I do not see any leadership from the people in positions of power. The divide between rich and poor in this country continues to grow larger.  Jobs that pay a living wage continue to move overseas.  The education system in this country continues to decline. I see our leaders making as much money as fast as they can, trying to convince the american people that everything is fine and dandy, when anyone who is paying attention can see that the train is speeding down the tracks, out of control and getting ready to crash. May be it will be a soft crash...... time will tell...

That is why I am so pessimistic......


I still trust peoples ability to be selfish and constructive with what they can see for themselves and get their minds around.  They do not need to save the world, if they save themselves, their neighbours, communicate , trade some and dont start any holy wars we will be fairly ok.  Regions with high tech industry and good energy infrastructure will support the biggest and richest groups of people.

Neither Internet technologies or a working economy needs central planning and global authority. They can exist on a smaller less productive scale and long distance trade with important supplies has existed during much tougher times. Electronics might in a nightmare scenarion become a spice trade.

I'm sadly inclined to agree. Somewhere along the line we (as a species) seem to have lost the awareness that the 'common good' is, in fact, our own good in the longer term, and bought the 'me first' attitude that has been funded by cheap energy.

There is probably time to change sufficiently to survive peak oil more or less intact, but that is fast running out and there is little sign of the widespread change in attitude that is a prerequisite. I would bet on a hard crash. Illusion is reality for most in developed nations, especially the US, there is little chance that their eyes will open in time.


Average US electric consumption is about 450 GW.  A full 20% of that (~90 GW) comes from nuclear, another 50% from coal; they aren't going anywhere.  We get about 10% from renewables, mostly water, wood and waste; that's up to 80%.  Natural gas and oil account for the remaining 20% (oil is about 3%).

We could replace the oil and natural gas with biofuels relatively easily; I calculated that if you converted all the surplus corn stover in the US to bio-oil using fast pyrolysis, it would serve to generate 38 GW all by itself.  Then there's about 1.2 terawatts of ground-level wind power potential in the USA (and still more if you use flying generators to tap high-level wind).

We could screw up and wind up without enough energy to run our electric grid, but absolutely nothing in the inherent situation is going to do it in the next 20 years.

Web site serving and networking are areas that could very easily be cut back by an order of magnitude, and with just a little effort could be cut back by two orders. Just pull the images off your site.

I agree that Web-based shopping for long-range shipping may have hard times, and may fall apart entirely. On the other hand, there's going to be a great market for efficient trip planning and barter, and online local classifieds can certainly help with that.

As long as any kind of telephone infrastructure exists (either landline or cell), you will not have to give up your Internet connection. It just might be slower.

Computers are rapidly approaching the point where they can run on batteries for hours at a time. Power outages will be less of a problem than they have been. And I repeat: the network infrastructure should be able to draw at least an order of magnitude less power than it currently does, if it stops being cheap to send so many pictures and songs over the network.

Even in near-Colonial America, farm kids went to school part-time, and communities supported a schoolteacher. If things fall apart beyond that point, all bets are off. But if we can afford, say, any kind of postal service and school system, we can also afford a computer network--and not just as a central utility, like the telegraph stations used to be, but as a personal convenience.

At today's prices, I spend about five cents per day on electricity, plus $1 per day on near-monopoly-priced networking (downloading megabytes per day when I only need kilobytes), plus $2 per day for the equipment. If I got a dialup connection, and bought $100 PC's instead of $1000 laptops, I could reduce costs by an order of magnitude--and still have a reasonably modern computer experience.

If energy became really expensive, and salaries dropped precipitously, and things became two orders of magnitude more expensive, then software and hardware companies could figure out how to cope in just a year or two. I could have a text-only Internet costing two orders of magnitude less. No problem. Designs a decade old are easy to play with.

Let's not forget that wireless networking is advancing very rapidly, and we'll soon be able to maintain an all-wireless infrastructure except for a few trunk lines. And the Internet is already designed for reliability and fault-tolerance.

Considering the many kinds of value that a working Internet could provide to a post-peak society, and considering the low cost (even by post-peak standards) of maintaining one, only abject terminal stupidity would prevent us from doing so.

One of the articles I cited on the Google thread pointed out that we manufacture more transistors per year than grains of rice, and a single grain of rice can buy more than 100 transistors. An 8086 chip had about 30,000 transistors. Do you really think we'll reach a point where 300 grains of rice will be too expensive a price to pay for a general-purpose computer?


I don't think any of us want the internet to go away.

It important to explore the dark possibilities that we might face down the road so we can try to find workable solutions, and prepare ourselves for what the future might hold.  

I most definatly think it is posable that we could reach a point were both rice and transistors will be scarce comodeties.  

and you can't eat transistors.......  ;-)

I'm not saying anyone wants the Internet to go away. I'm saying that some people here irrationally expect the worst, even in areas where technology really, demonstrably, does make a difference--in areas where technology can easily cope with order-of-magnitude increases in the price of energy.

It's enough to make me start taking TOD with a grain of salt. Tell me advanced recovery won't postpone peak oil by much, I may believe it. Tell me we won't be able to run computers, and I start to wonder whether you're right about advanced recovery either.

BTW, there's another energy saving technology in the pipeline, if we need it: 80 DPI displays that cost $0.15 per square inch (I'm guessing 1/10 of LCD) and can run on a small battery for months (used in product packaging applications). They're too slow for video, but would be great for text.,1282,69839,00.html


What I see missing from your equation, Chris, is the extensive infrastructure that supports the operations of the internet - I'm talking extensive trunk lines and data centers. And remember, these are not centrally owned, but operated by many different private corporations. And while what you say about down-scaling is true, it suggests that it can be planned for. The social and economic structure of the internet won't allow for that. What happens if a Network Solutions goes bankrupt and shutters its data centers? Sure, it doesn't bring the whole thing down, but it takes a big chunk out in a way that we couldn't predict exactly what happens. Remember, for the internet to stay up, someone is going to have to pay for it. It was up for years before the commercial version took off, but that was all funded by the DoD and Universities. Who will fund it if it isn't a profit maker in a post peak world? And exactly where is the tipping point - at what size does it fail, not for technical reasons, but for social or economic ones?
Even in the mid-90's, we had things like Usenet and private BBS's. Store-and-forward systems don't need a single unified high-speed Internet.

Unless we're even more amazingly stupid than we seem to be, Network Solutions would no more be allowed to suddenly shut their doors than an airline. They'd go into Chapter 11 and continue operations, giving people time to scramble for alternatives.

The Internet does indeed allow for planning. Much of the Net is ad-hoc, but with even six months notice of a change, programmers will be able to find and distribute solutions.

I agree that someone will have to pay for the Net. I'm assuming that ISP's, or something like them, will continue in business, and will be able to collect enough money to pay for low-bit-rate service. For most purposes (excluding entertainment), low-bit-rate is almost as valuable as high-bit-rate; and connectivity will be more valuable after a crash. If network costs increased by an order of magnitude, and I had a choice between paying $250 a month for 250 kbps, $25 a month for 25 kbps (slow dialup), or $0 a month for no connection, I might waver between the first or second option, but I would never choose the third. And if everyone became really poor, an option would develop for $2.50 a month for 2.5 kbps (a megabyte per hour)--and it would still be extremely useful.

There is one thing that worries me, and I'm surprised someone else hasn't pointed it out. In many nations, even phone service is unreliable, and it can take months to get a new phone connected. I think this is more a matter of culture than of resources. If conditions like that developed here, it might indeed be difficult to keep a networked computer in every house.

But even if our culture of competence failed and the last-mile infrastructure decayed, people could string network cables house-to-house. You've probably seen pictures of power poles in slums in India, with hundreds of bootleg power tap wires coming off the pole. Digital communications could survive, and even thrive, in such an environment.

Here's an extreme example. Suppose I have a network connection, and no one else in my neighborhood does, but many of them have laptops, palmtops, game machines, etc. I could write a program that copied email from the web to my laptop, and then downloaded it to their laptops. I download everyone's email, and then ride around on my bicycle plugging in to their laptops one after another. Each stop might require one minute, transfer 10 kilobytes of email plus a megabyte of news, and earn me ten cents. That's $6 an hour for my labor, and 600 kilobyte per hour email transfer, so I'd only need the $2.50 per month net connection if I downloaded overnight. If conditions are bad enough that I have to worry about being mugged for my laptop in broad daylight, then they're bad enough that I can hire a decent bodyguard for $2 per hour. Of course, if people have wireless modems, it gets a whole lot easier: I just ride past their house.

What about the trunk lines? Don't underestimate the bandwidth of a laptop on a bicycle. A five-mile trip at ten miles per hour with 80 GB of data is a bandwidth of... 350 Mbps. A backpack full of rewritable DVD's is even better, and doesn't risk the laptop. Note that 80 GB is daily email for 8 million people.

What about long-range? Check out this article from 2001 about networking over multiple miles using off-the-shelf hardware.
And this link from a 2003 book on the subject:

It looks like 5 miles is really not a big deal.

Anyone who works outdoors, especially at farming, should be willing to pay a few cents per day just for a weather forecast. And if everything else gets expensive, people will pay near-postal rates for email. I think it's reasonable to expect that even in a crash that took the US back to third-world conditions, 30 million people would each pay 10 cents per day for connectivity.

A bicycle messenger should be able to connect with 500 people per day. So there'll be 60,000 bicycle ESP's (email service provider), each paying $2.50 per month for connectivity (many will pay more). The ESP's will each generate about 10 MB/day of traffic, requiring the central network to handle 600 GB/day. That's 55 Mbps, going over a mesh of about 100,000 town-to-town links all across the country. No problem.

Each link would receive about $1.50 per day, if they only handled email--but they wouldn't; they'd have a lot more bandwidth to sell. I just can't believe that we couldn't keep something like this running short of an all-out jungle/dieoff scenario.


The WiFi-node-on-a-motorcycle model is being done... in Cambodia.  Note that the news of this is about 2 years old.  Here's more.

A local WiFi mesh with some long-haul links over high-gain antennas would provide much better bandwidth than a motorbike (11 Mbps is almost 120 GB/day) and keep latency relatively low.  Such links could run on a few watts each.

I'm inclined to agree with this viewpoint. It's even possible that peak oil will be quite good for the IT industry as long as the decline rates are not too severe. Making it harder to move people around cheaply will promote telecommuting, video-conferencing, etc, etc. OTOH, difficult economic times tend to reduce capital spending, so it's hard to say which effect will win out.
Maybe this has already been discussed on TOD, but I just discovered this morning that Guy Caruso, the head of the EIA, has acknowledged peak oil. In the 2006 Annual Energy Outlook, they've revised their projection of oil prices, and Caruso said in his presentation on the Outlook that this change is "Not due to 'Peak Oil' considerations, although we are following this issue closely."

You can find his presentation at the following link. The peak oil quote is in slide 3.

The 2006 Annual Energy Outlook (Early Release) is at:

Of course, their projections are still as screwy as ever, remaining mostly flat out to 2030 after a dip in the next few years. The change they've made is that the prices are flat at a higher level.

The "World Oil Price Chart 1980-2030" on page 4 shows just how far off (about 57%) their previous annual projection (about $35/bl) of today's price to where we actually are today (about $55/bl).
Speaking of the EIA, here is an excerpt from their natural gas update at:

Working gas in underground storage decreased to 2,964 Bcf as of Friday, December 9, 2005, according to EIA's Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report (See Storage Figure).  Inventories are now 3.7 percent or 107 Bcf above the 5-year average of 2,857 Bcf.  The implied net withdrawal for the week of 202 Bcf, the largest withdrawal so far this heating season, is 94 percent above the 5-year average of 104 Bcf and more than three times above last year's net withdrawal of 65 Bcf.  This is the second highest weekly withdrawal during the month of December since 1994 (when weekly data reporting began).

I think the constraints on the NG supply are becoming more obvious.

Here in Sacramento California it's 45F and I've got on my new thermals (gift of PO conscious partner) in the single room we are heating this winter. At night we put on knitted caps as quite a bit of heat is lost via the head.

Anyway, a good friend mentioned a new generation of PV cells developed by the University of Toronto. Professor Peter Peumans of Stanford University comments:
Our calculations show that, with further improvements in efficiency, combining infrared and visible photovoltaics could allow up to 30 per cent of the sun's radiant energy to be harnessed, compared to six per cent in today's best plastic solar cells.

I did a search on TOD but found no reference to this development which was announced in January 2005. Comments?
I have a funny looking pointy ski hat ... actually we could all just wear Santa hats and look like we are in the spirit.
On photovoltaics ... so many announcements it's impossible to know who to believe ... so I wait to see what comes out the retail end a year or two from now.
Grin - we weren't yet here last January. Also a lot of our earlier work and posts dealt much more specifically with trying to delineate the oil situation.
Tis evolution ;)
Just a random thought, regarding
The Rainwater Prophecy, where he mentions: "Most people invest and then sit around worrying what the next blowup will be," he says. "I do the opposite. I wait for the blowup, then invest."

Someone earlier posed this question. What will be the next blow up? I suspect he will be watching real estate. A selective real estate market. Where? I am not sure, but i imagine it will be around a major metropolis, New York? London? Paris? Not sure, but I would imagine real estate. of course it could very well be farm land too, or both.

I find it rather ironic that chevron is posting their add here. Especially when we ridiculed them before, but I'm sure it is automated, gotta pay teh bills somehow.
Say what you like about Chevron, but it is better than the "will you bury your head in the sand with us" campaign from EIA.
One problem with being the PO guy in the family is that relatives email me this reassuring crapola:

Unsustainable Climate Research
By Dr. Roy Spencer  on 16 December 2005

his delving into the "horse manure" says it all
Yes, I suppose Chevron is slightly better than the IEA, but they are nevertheless asking us to join them in "not blaming the oil majors for lying by omission." And furthermore, having a weak debate that doesn't actually realistically adress the problem (like Kyoto or other weak efforts to address climate change) of peak oil might make it harder to have a real debate when the time comes.

Some quotes from an article in the Washington Monthly

Meet The Press

A Microsoft representative explained that the company "is constantly looking for ways to educate on some of the critical and important issues in the technology sector."

On closer inspection, Tech Central Station looks less like a think-tank-cum-magazine than a kind of lobbying practice. Which makes sense: Four of the five co-owners of TCS are also the co-owners of the DCI Group, the Washington public affairs firm founded by Republican operative Thomas J. Synhorst.


The articles on Tech Central Station address a broad range of issues, some of concern to its sponsors, many not. And most of the site's authors are no doubt merely voicing opinions they have already reached. But time and time again, TCS's coverage of particular issues has had the appearance of a well-aimed P.R. blitz. After ExxonMobil became a sponsor, for instance, the site published a flurry of content attacking both the Kyoto accord to limit greenhouse gasses and the science of global warming--which happen to be among Exxon-Mobil's chief policy concerns in Washington.


When it came to the subject of climate change, on which he had seldom remarked before TCS was launched, Glassman became equally prolific, attacking Kyoto or the science of climate change in 40 columns for the site, many of them syndicated elsewhere. Meanwhile, he also took to the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal, the St. Louis Dispatch, and The Washington Times to trash Kyoto; in none of them did he disclose TCS's connection to ExxonMobil.

Re:  "The Rainwater Prophecy"

In the print version of the article, TOD is listed as one of Rainwater's five favorite oil blogs.

Question, westexas -

RE: "The Rainwater Prophecy"

I don't have the print version of the article...

What were his other 4 favorite oil blogs???