Reflections on "The Prize"

The PBS Series based on "The Prize" was made in 1993, just after the first Gulf War. The final episode, which I have just watched, dealt with a look, from that time, into the future and the 21st Century. Some 13 years later it is interesting to watch that tape and see where we have, and have not, made progress.

The final episode dwelt much more on the impact of the oil economy on the environment than on the history of the industry, which was the original point of the book and the focus of the earlier seven episodes. A somewhat younger Jeremy Leggett discussed the threats that oil and the pollution that it caused held for the future of the world. (The burning oilfields of Kuwait provided a dramatic emphasis). White Knights was the only Western Oil Company drilling in Siberia, to help the Former Soviet Union bring back it's oil industry, one that was in truly bad shape. (And the cooperation of the native tribes of the Yamal Peninsula could be had for the price of 10 snow-mobiles. How times have changed !) And the then Chairman of Shell, the largest oil company at the time, promised that they would be around for a long time into the future. There was just one, almost missed, reference to the fact that, as American oil had peaked, so would world oil production. It came from the past President of ARCO, and was given no real emphasis in the program.

Out of curiosity I went and looked at the back of the book "The Prize" itself. The environmental issues take about 3 pages at the end of the 788 pages. So times have changed over the past few years. There is a wealth of detail in the book that is, by its nature and brevity, missing from the video presentation. And yet that gives a glimpse of how we got from where the oil industry started to that time. 13 years ago, where it was anticipated to be able to go on for more than 50 years into the future.

In terms of vision the impacts of China were largely missing, and the growing economy of India got hardly a mention. I remember those discussions. The video captured them, the conjectural impact of Chinese demand for cars, and the subsequent increase in their use of oil. It had an air of unreality in the discussions we had, and the tape scarcely gave it more credibility, and yet, here we are, now facing the reality of that growth in demand.

We have, I suspect, largely forgotten the problems that we had back in the `70's when oil supplies were limited and the President of the United States made a point of addressing the nation while wearing a sweater. Certainly, listening to Daniel Yergin, who provided some of the commentary, discussing the collapse of the oil prices and the cyclic nature of the industry, one gets some inkling of where CERA gets some of its motivation. It is reflective of the industry itself, one that has seen boom and bust come time and again.

But the frontiers are running out, the saviors of the North Sea and the North Slope are now reaching exhaustion. So far the Eastern Siberian promise, held out at the end of the tapes, has not proven to be there for oil, although certainly there is gas out there to be had (though still not yet fully developed).

The chill breeze down our backs that reminds us that it was the 20th Century that was the time of oil, not this one, was not blowing then. Since the series is now rather hard to find (I got mine as a used copy via a store affiliated with Amazon) and rather expensive, I have to say that I will keep it as a historic souvenir. It contains a number of interviews with people of the time that present a picture of the thinking of the period. But the book is much more informative, if a little dense in information to make it, for me anyway, an easy read. But it has much more value and I do recommend it, if you haven't got a copy.

I had the same reaction with the Polar Express. Chilly.
There was a time when people remembered your name. You gotta write more than a sentence and a word. That's smekhovo's gig now.

How 'bout writing more than once a month, and answering questions from your audience.

The funny thing is, I always used to think you were Kunstler. Now he shows up here more than you.

I can guarrantee you from my small group of friends that you are appreciated(even if we give you shit) - we respect you. You're like the Tony Montana of Oil and Energy.

Chilly Chill Chill.

Sincerely (and Merry Xmas),
Frosty the Snowman

Yes, times change - most likely, any book written about the oil industry in 1983 which was not purely sponsored by the oil industry (ahem) would have gone into fairly decent depth about oil spills and their danger to sea life and coast lines, for example. Or the fact that air pollution and the banning of lead in motor fuel were leading to improved air quality, spurred on by increased efficiency, and ever stricter EPA standards.

Of course, ten years later, and an Exxon Valdez in the long ago past (you know, the 80s), and with the 'market' poised to replace misguided government regulations concerning emissions, it would be no problem for a book about the oil industry to glide right past that subject.

What still strikes me is how many Americans seem to be rediscovering the commonplaces of 1981, from environmental truths to energy realities. For the briefest of moments, there really was a feel in the air that the American Dream would be finally replaced by something better. Unfortunately, that feeling was completely deceptive, and a sign of anti-Americanism to boot, as so well demonstrated by a former GE spokesman proving that anyone could be president while saying "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do." -- Ronald Reagan, 1981. Thankfully for America, the number of trees has been reduced in most residential areas, while the number of cars has grown. Driving your way to cleaner air - who knew?

IMO, peak (environmental) hope was in 1975.  When a rather young Jerry Brown became California Governor, he was the closest thing to a Green Party major politician that the USA ever saw or probably ever will see.  Jerry Brown also ran for President in 1976 as Jimmy Carter was perceived as being center right on the environment.  By 1981, hope was long dead.  In effect, Reaganism began in 1979 as Carter moved sharply to the right in his last two years in office.  People forget that even with the backing of David Rockefeller, Carter was barely able to win the 1980 democratic nomination.  Carter was deeply unpopular within his own party.
Yes, it was quite a problem growing up watching things seem to turn in the right direction, with a president resigning in disgrace because he thought himself above the Constitution while Americans seemed to grasp just what the American Dream meant to the world around them, and then after becoming an aldult, watch the process reverse itself, to be derided as part of the low point of American history.

A part of me, (which I'm not at all proud of, since as an older person, I have some idea of the scale of the suffering which is likely) is just waiting to see how the American Dream will survive this time, now that it will take a bit more than a second rate actor and some 24/7 propaganda to bring it back. And that is an interesting note itself - if you had told an American of 1976 that by 2006, 24/7 would be considered a mark of pride of the strength and success of the American Dream, they would have likely asked politely about where did all the free time go, then? They would also likely have considered 'consumer' an insulting way to refer to a citizen such as themselves, but that is a detour.

You are older? I always figured you for late 30's? How often do you come back to the states?
Whatever happened to the good old days when "the prize" was killing off all the Indians and taking their gold in the name of God and country?

Them dumb Iraqi's don't know how to play the game of Texas Cowboys and Indians the right way. Don't they know that invading white man always wins? It's time to get up on our high horse, declare victory and go home Tonto. Hio Silver.
   George W. Bush was born in Conneticut, spent a couple of early years in Midland, attended prep school in New York, and college at Yale and plans to retire in Paraguay. He always treated Texas like a colonialist. Don't blame us for the fact that he is a good mimic of accents.
He also got elected governor. The state went for him in both presidential elections, no?

So, yes, I feel it is appropriate to blame 'Texas'.

The state deserves every bit of scorn heaped upon it.
What Texas lacks in quality it makes up for in quantity.
That reminds me of a joke told by Jon Stewart:

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.
That's very unlike you. Whaddya want a Kramer rap-sheet? Jesus! We were grooming you for President. Let us know if we shouldn't waste our time anymore. Can you say 'Allen?'

That's not a joke. Stewart wasn't kidding.

What's all this "we" stuff, Kimo Sabe?
It would be good if this series could be uploaded to one of the internet video sites - similar to how "The Century of the Self" was.


Good post, I see you and I have a vice in common, as I am sure do many TOD posters, and that is returning to "old" books, to get a bit of a longer range perspective.  The other day, there was a discussion of good books, and I didn't join in.  With rare exception, most books are forgotten in a matter of a few years, and have about as much long range perspective as a magazine article.  There are a few exceptions, my only "peak" books are "Twilight" by Simmons, I'm glad I have it, and "High Noon For Natural Gas", a bit of a disappointment, (as much an anti-American spasm as anything else).
The rest I have seen are hysterical panic spreaders, reruns of what you can get on the web for free.

When I want to read an early overview of everything we talk about now, from 26 years ago, I go to "The Third Wave" by Alvin Toffler.  He discussed depletion, re-localization, environmental, even the "techno-rebels", the variety of philosophies that would attack all technology not so much on technical or scientific basis, but on a "yearning for a new dark age" aesthetic and philosophical basis.

One more.  "Arabia, the Gulf, and the West" by J.B. Kelly.
Published in the same year as Toffler's "Third Wave, 1980, it is a historical, cultural and political overview of the Persian Gulf.  It can be gotten for (used) 5 bucks on Amason, and given the current catastrophic American failure in Iraq, it is priceless.  Many reviewers seemed to miss the main point that Kelly was trying to make (why is this no surprise?) in 1980, being:  American wealth and power had dwarfed European power and the Europeans, especially Britain (to a lesser extent, France) had been "evicted" from the Middle East by the Americans, at Suez, and even more so in 1967 and 1973, when the Americans began their "protection for oil" special arrangement with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and Iran, and the even more "special" arrangement with Qatar (headquarters for Centcom, the whole Middle East command) for natural gas.  

Kelly makes the point that the Europeans can be expected to be of little assistance to the Americans, and possibly even a thorn in the side when it comes to Middle East policy, given their resentment of being "booted", and the lost oil and money (one can still hear the edge in the voice of the French Total executives when they speak of essentially being "legally" shoved aside and nationalized out of Iraqi oil.  The Japanese will be no happier as they see Iranian natural gas slipping away from them.

Kelly stresses that if the Americans want to take Europe's colonial role in the Middle East, they will have to be willing to police their power, which means a standing army and essentially iron hand tactics, plus a "viceroyalty" type administration.  Kelly was betting in 1980 that the Americans would NOT be willing or able to police the region in this way, and it would fall into chaos.

We are now at the point that Kelly predicted so long ago.  Do we "do what it takes" to retain control in Iraq....if we have the will, can we retain the resources to do it, and at what point can we no longer stomach what it takes?

Kelly's view was that without some outside force, the region would descend into ethnic, religious, and warlord struggles, and any advanced culture would be impossible.  The other alternative was an iron fist Ba'athist/Marxist single party style regime.....ala, Sadam Hussain.  It is a fascinating reread so many years later given the current situation, and one wishes that some of the Bush regime had been familiar with it, or if they are, had understood it's implications.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Thanks for the intriguing review. Who would you suggest as the  viceroyal? A strong women for this Arab state would certainly send an appropriate and humiliating message. How about Dr. Rice as the 'vicereine?' A weaker women would send an even stronger message. Both Bush daughters as twin 'viceigels?'

I just ordered the book used from Amazon for $0.01, plus $3.49 shipping. I'll miss the internet and my private courier at UPS.


Do you really think that Heinberg falls into the category of "hysterical panic spreaders?"  I find his material quite well-reasoned, and articulated in a sober and moderate tone.

And what about Deffeyes, for that matter?


I have nothing against Heinberg in particular, in fact, I have enjoyed some of his short speeches and articles I have read, but his decision against this culture long preceded any real discussion or concept of peak oil.  I don't think he would be insulted to be considered a "deep green" or radical environmentalist.  The peak oil thing just fell into his lap as a vehicle to achieve the long desired destruction of the hated imperialist/capitalist/modernist way.  His fav' stomping ground, New College, was born in 71 with exactly that agenda.  Again, I have nothing against him for that, it his right, and I myself have been known to "trend left" in many of my views, but I would not consider him an expert on energy, or in any way a first rank writer on the peak oil issue...I like his stuff better when he stays to "eco green" leftist philosophy, that's his strong suit.  But I am looking for folks who are looking for solutions, not for folks hoping for the meltdown.

On Deffeyes, I will not pick at him.  I think that his age has caused him to say and write things he would not have when he was younger (the infamous "stone age by 2030" remark, picking peak dates one after the other, almost to the hour, etc.)  He obviously has the geological pedigree, and has been very sharp in years gone by.  I want people to treat me kindly as the years pile up, so I will do the same.  And if he turns out to be right on the Dec last year date, I have to retract everything and say even though he is a contrary ole' fart, he wins hands down...(and he's just contrary enough to pull it off out of pure spite!)

The thinkers I hold in pretty high esteem on energy and peak/depletion issues (not that you asked, but that has never stopped me before) are:

Matthew Simmons-very sharp, has the contacts, decent writer.  Simmons has brought a level of respect to the peak oil cause that it had not known before, brillian presentations to the rich and powerful, the real respected "voice" of the whole peak idea as it exists today.

Christophe de Margerie-French Total head of exploration-knows oil and facts "on the ground", understands "logistical peak" and very balanced in his thinking.

Jean Laharrere-good stats, all around researcher, willing to change mind if the facts don't back him up.

This ones a real problem for me:
Megan Quinn-On her, I go back and forth.  She is VERY dark sometimes, and not so at others.  She is very serious, and very humane.  She sometimes seems to get "energy" and "oil" tangled together, but understands the need to ACT NOW as though the emergency is already upon us, and begin reducing fuel consuption now.  All in all, I vote up for now, but that may just because I have a thing for smart women! ;-)

Lastly, some folks here, Westexas, Stuart, RR, Alan from the big easy....what can I say, these guys are as good as the best!  :-)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Do we "do what it takes" to retain control in Iraq....if we have the will, can we retain the resources to do it, and at what point can we no longer stomach what it takes?

Didn't the British use gas against an Iraqi uprising in the 1920s?

Prodigal Son asks
"Didn't the British use gas against an Iraqi uprising in the 1920s?"
"In response to Iraqi resistance, including a country-wide uprising in 1920, British forces battled for over a decade to pacify the country, using airplanes, armored cars, firebombs and mustard gas."
"During the British occupation the Shiates and Kurds fought for independence. Britain used phosphorus bombs against Kurdish villagers in the revolt. Legal experts consider phosphorus bombs chemical weapons when used as an anti-personnel weapon."

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Roger really pisses me off sometimes. (yeah, you are right, I just wouldn't have done it right now). And those times he pisses me off belong to him. YOU ARE A FUCKING SHITHEAD I LOVE YOU. Hope you're reading history of great American Architects.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT. I will only take Roger's take on Frank. Roger's the only one ever paid attention.

I love to look at Frank's buildings, but he REALLY PISSES ME OFF sometimes! :-)

For those interested in how we got in this car culture mess, read Frank Lloyd Wright's advice to the newly minted prosperous of Oak Park...
"Go as far out from the city as you believe is far enough and then go twice as far.  No matter how far you go, it will not be far enough, the city will soon catch up to you.  With modern transportation, there is no need to be packed into the city, but instead the free American should enjoy the bounties of the countryside, .....yada, yada, yada....Frank hated the city with every bone in his body, but loved to go to the city to chide the Euro trash that descended in as Hitler took control....Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gropius and the smaller fish, can you imagine how PISSED Frank was when Illinois and Armour meat packing through the old Armour Institute brought HIM, old van der Rohe himself right into the heartland!  And Frank hated basements!  I could never get over that....there he was, like me, born in tornado country, and told people they didn't need a damm basement!!

But then I see Fallingwater....or the Robie House, or Taliesin West, or the interior of the Unity Temple at Oak Park, or the MASTERPIECE, The Johnson Wax Building......
ALL IS FORGIVEN....I try to tell you guys, it's all about the aesthetics, the philosophy....

Roger Conner known to you as ThatsItImout

It would be nice if the Bush regime was informed of just about anything.  All of the knowledge and information about Iraq pointed against us going in there.  There literally is not a shred of evidence to suggest that going into Iraq was a good idea.  But this is the problem when we have a hereditary political office and end up with someone who wants to one-up his old man.  
Talk in the above comments regarding "The Murkan Dream"
(note: I can't help parody on LBJs pronunciations of America)

Ahhhh yes, the American Dream. Well it was alive and well in my 'middle' years. The 70's.

But while rummaging in the attic a month ago I stumbled across a box full of old saved Mother Earth magazines. Reading thru them I was suprised to find many of the topics discussed on this website.

Lots of detail on windmills,solar energy,methane,ethanol and mostly a huge cry to 'Return to the Land' and 'Save the planet!'

Times have changed? I remember those times fondly. When hippiedom met the spoiling of the earth via the Murkan Dream. They were intent on remaking the Murkan Dream ..remaking it into a sustainable lifestyle and culture.

It is deja vu ...all over again Yogi!  Only this time if we don't get it precisely right we all die.

The music(folk) is still to be found. The magazines and articles are still there.

WE aren't THERE.

Our youth of today are into buzz cuts ,tattoos and body metal. Their music I can't understand since it deems to be a foreign language and there is nothing one could 'slow dance' to(if anyone remembers what that was). Where did you go Dick Clark?

How far will the oldsters be able to take this world if we don't have its youth behind us? Apparently adulthood lost the youth long long ago to some mysterious vague world outlook that doesn't recognize what 'sustainable' means.

Why does my once favorite nephew look like a professional wrestler on steroids with a chunck of metal in his tongue and carrying 50 excess pounds of body fat? Why can't he even read? What is 'Splinter Cell'?  Should I care? Will he be there when 'it isn't there' and how will he 'get there' even if he wanted to?

To him I am the weird, foreign entity. The unknowable. The unreachable. I think he is a product of The American Dream.

I can find nothing in todays youth that makes any sense.
And I wonder what kind of speechs are given now at High School Graduation ceremonies?  

Well, as I sit here at the computer, the entire Whole Earth Catalog series is right in front of me.  On the top of the bookcase, the first five years of MEN sit quietly along with some issues of Clear Creek and Co-Evolution Quarterly magazines.

Not to sound too much like an old fart but an opportunity was lost when that era died and was co-opted.  What I find iteresting is that people (including me) were willing to take chances and explore new ideas inspite of the potential risks involved.  I don't see or sense that today to any extent.  There was an openness that I miss.  

Locally we started a food co-op and an erzatz "school" (The Yellow House school because it was at a yellow house.) for adults that offered "classes" in everything from massage and tai chi to psychic growth.  And, everyone skinned dipped in the creek on weekends.

The change to the 24/7/365 mentality seems to me to be a bar to dealing with current resource and environmental issues because younger people cannot see that there are fulfilling alternative ways to live that don't involve destroying what's good to get a temporary "stuff" fix.

Enough rambling.

PS - we still listen to folk music from Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary to the Kingston Trio and lots inbetween.

FWIW, this was also a time of intense interest in alternative energy.  Lots of people in my area lived off the grid and used 12 volt DC systems.  Some had a few small PV panels (they were really expensive) or added extra batteries to the bed of their pick-up truck that were charged when the drove.  These were then plugged into the house circut for power.  You could buy adaptors that had a screw lightbulb base and a 12v scoket on top so regular lighting fixtures could be used.  People also had small 12 volt TVs.

Real Goods was a hippie store but they also gave a class now and then on how to build solar hot water collector panels.  I got my first PV panels during one of their warehouse sales around 1980 (4-10 watt amorphous and 1-37 watt crystaline one - Ooh! Hot Stuff.)

And, the first true sine wave inverter from Trace amazed people.  I thought it was neat because they used a clear plastic case so you could see the innards.  My first inverter was a 500 watt square wave one.  Then I got an 800 watt modified sine wave one.  That was pretty neat since it could start our refrigerator.  But, they are nothing compared to the 5k sine wave ones that we have now.  These puppies are huge and weigh over 120 pounds each.  How times change.


From your description, may know a couple of friends of mine-  Michael Potts and Wayne Roberson.    Do those names ring a bell?


Michael sounds familiar but that's it.  Sorry.


Michael Potts has been involved with Real Goods  from way back.  He wrote a book called "The Independent Home"  that had personal stories of people who lived in PV and Wind Powered homes across the U.S.  It is still a good introductory book into how systems work and how it how living in such homes effect the occupants.  He lives in Caspar, California and here is the link:

I highly recommend his book.

Regarding Wayne, he was a sales manager for Solar Electric Specialties in Willits,who were the provider of PV for Real Goods, back in the day.  He is now with Sunwize.  Great fellow whom I did business with at one time and he is still a tremendous resource for the solar electric industry.

You can find Wayne here:

Thanks.  I really knew more of John's involvement in RG than Michaels - I'd forgotten that.  I never did business with SES although I'm familiar with the company since I live in Laytonville north of Willits.  

Mendocino County (California) was a real hot bed of AE all those years ago.  At least the Solfest has survived.

The panels that were sold by Real Goods at the time were supplied to them via SES, whose parent company was a lumber company.    SES was bought out by Sunwize (a company formed by Besicorp, which I think was formed by nuclear types) and recently by Mitsui. Strange how those connections intertwine.

You are lucky to live in an area that has people of such expertise.  I know Willits seems to have an active "Peak Oil" community.  I always wanted to go to one of the solar fests there but never made it.

There is also a connection to the original point that Heading Out made regarding the President of ARCO...ARCO Solar was selling the panels to Solar Electric Specialties.

ARCO had bought out Yerkes Electric Solar (YES)  who were making panels from discarded cells for  satellite applications.  (Among the first markets were power for clandestine pot growing)
Apparently ARCO's management were aware of the limitations of oil production in the future and saw this as a good long term investment.  ARCO Solar was ultimately sold to Siemens.

ARCO and Solarex (now BP Solar) also realized the applications for oil and gas, however and in the early years the applications were the bread and butter of the industry.  Cathodic Protection, Navigational Aids  (All of those platforms in the Gulf have had solar on them for a long time).  I was involved on an early "total solar" platform that had telemetry, metering chromatographs and remote actuation of valves.    


First of all, I think all TOD readers would be really interested in your PV involvement.  One thing that is always lacking is a history of how the industry evolved.  I go back to when there was no "retail" PV and it then became a hippie/back to the land thing but I don't know about the interrealationships between then and now.

My current PV system consists of 36 Astro Power, 75 watt panels (and, of course, Astro Power was bought out) plus another 12 Siemens 75 watt panels added a couple of years later to give a gross of 3.6kW (four racks of 12 each).

What I find interesting is that wineries here have become major installers of PV.  Locally, it probably goes with the fact that 30% of wine grape growers in Mendocino County are organic.  For those who care, McFadden Farms (they have a web site) has one of the biggest installations in the county...something like 50-100kW IIRC.

As you can tell from some of my posts, I work in the oil industry- specifically directional drilling services.  Although some may be put off by this - I do have a parallel solar career that occurred simulataneously to my oil drilling career including a stint in power generation.

In 1981 I left the oil industry, before the peak of drilling, to obtain training in Denver in the design and installation of solar thermal systems.  The future looked bright at the time for such systems and as a young man it seemed much more interesting and more family friendly than chasing rigs the rest of my life.  I had not calculated however the effects of the recession that was cutting deeply into average persons life.  Although there was a near 70% tax credit for solar at the time, most people feared for their jobs and although solar was interesting and made sense, the investment in such systems were tapering off rapidly.  Although I was able to install a few systems I was not able to make a living at it.

I returned to South Louisiana and returned to the work offshore.  During days off I worked with a small solar company that did PV systems  for platforms such as navaids, cathodic protection as I discussed earlier.  We also did solar thermal systems including active space heating.  Our solar thermal system was the "Suncatcher" system designed by former Nasa engineers out of Huntsville, Alabama.  The system used a pressurized silicon fluid as a heat exchange medium, and was unique at the time.  These engineers had designed the heating and cooling system for mercury/apollo missions and the solar systems were bullet proof.  They were not cheap however.

I designed the first industrial solar thermal system that was installed in Louisiana in 1983.  The system was at the St. Johns Sugar Mill in St. Martinville.  That is a long interesting story all by itself.  

We also installed the thermosyphon Solarhart systems, and Fafco/Heliocol Pool heating systems which were both well suited to Louisiana's mild climate.

In 1986 with the collapse of oil prices that decimated both the oil industry and crushed the solar business- I entered the power generation industry.  I worked with a manufacturer of "bus" conductors for almost every electrical power generation source conceivable- nuclear, coal, gas turbine, resource recovery (garbage), hydro - and among my favorite projects - the Solar Electric Generating Stations (SEGS) at Kramer Junction.  SEGS 6  through 9 had my bus conductors on them.  About 220 Megawatts of solar electrity.  That is another long story... maybe I can tell you what it is like to climb to the top of the stack in the middle of the array field while the sun is setting - the mirrors move from west to east and as they pass below you the sky is reflected by one square mile of mirrors.  Awesome.

Following this I tried to start up my own Solar company down south with no financing etc.  I did manage to install a 3 kW system that has operated with almost no maintainence for the past 16 years.   I stopped by to check on it earlier this month just to see if  it survived Katrina- yep- turned the switch and the pump started right up.  They used to have a photo of the system in the SES office in Willits.

My last solar activity was with Mark McCray of RMS Electric in Boulder, Colorado.  Mark was known as "Dr. PV" and had a column in Solar Today.  I basically volunteered my work with him and did learn some things during this time.  Marks bread and butter however was UPS systems, rather than solar.  He died of cancer a few years back and I just drifted away from activity in solar PV.  

The crush of drilling activity over the last few years has been to the extent that having a life outside of it is almost impossible now.  Although, I am in the oil industry I have much to offer in solar experience.  


Just out of curiousity, and you may remember this, being in the solar industry at the time....back in the solar days of the very late '70's, early '80's, there was a magazine published for the industry called "Solar Age".  Most of it's focus was thermal solar and architecture, with several commercial buildings of some size using passive solar, daylighting, evaporative air conditions and other well designed systems by architects, technicians and solar firms.  Do you remember this magazine, who edited or published it, and what ever became of it?  It was well produced and high quality, and I just wondered where a person would get old copies (they woudl be fascinating now) and also possibly follow out what became of some of the buildings from that period, and how they faired in the last 25 years.  Thanks for anything you know on this, Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout


I have about 5 years worth filed away from years 82 to 86.  The publication ceased a few months into 1986 and changed name and then finally stopped altogether.  It was an excellent resource- oriented toward the solar business.  It was kind of like a mix between Solar Today and Home Power - those two are availble at present time.

I don't remember who the publisher was ( I am not at home, I could look it up otherwise) but the editor was Bruce Anderson.  I believe he was author of The Solar Home Book.

Regarding success or failure of systems- I dont have much information on that.  10 years ago the Colorado Governors Office of Energy Conservation did a study and found a good percentage of solar systems still operational.  This information may be online somewhere.  There has been a support system in place and you could contact the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) for information.  I don't know about other states.

One of the disappointing things I found out  in 1995 were realtors were recommending that working systems be dismantled due to the aesthetics of solar panels on roofs.

Here is an interview  with Bruce Anderson on the Mother Earth site that was published in 1978: Anderson_talks_about_solar_building_design_


Thank you very much for the information, it gives something to run with on Google.

I had probably three years worth, but a former partner in business kept them at his place and moved, and took them with him.  I regret having lost track of them, I really found them very useful and a great networking tool in the days before the internet (gee, did we really use magazines for communication in those days?  Astounding. :-)

To the removal of solar systems for aesthetic reasons, yes, it happens.  Also, if one small part breaks, conventional HVAC people will declare that "solar thing" unfixable, and recommend dismantling the whole system, especially in the 1990's when natural gas and electric rates were cheap.  One of the larger thermal solar systems I had ever seen was dismantled by the former wife after a divorce, since it was her ex-husband that had the system installed and understood it, and another friend and partner (a building contractor) had a solar pool heating system disinstalled when propane prices went down, declaring solar "too much trouble" given that propane was almost givaway cheap, and was there sun or rain.  It was experience in the 1980's that taught me the lesson:  As long as fossil fuels are even reasonably affordable, people will burn them.  Alternatives have a tough hill to climb.  But, solars time may be coming, it is now almost more convenient, reliable, and as cheap or cheaper as fossil fuels.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

On the negative side, I believe one of the main reasons that GM and Ford can't make anything but trucks is that too many potential genius automotive engineers in my generation became potheads.  Also, most of the best engineers in my father's generation went into aerospace.  
Maybe the youth of today don't like long hair and folk music. Maybe they recognize countercultural imperialism for what it is. Maybe they aren't "behind" you because they recognize the failings of the 60s revolutionary left, and they can see that application of these failings to Peak Oil and related issues is not a very good idea.

I have both metal and rocks in my face, and my music would make most peoples' ears bleed even at low volume. I am also overweight. But my ecological footprint is smaller than the average European's (which is still way too high but a considerable victory given American semirural civic infrastructure). And I would almost certainly never attend a vegan-pot-luck + folk-music peak oil meeting because vegan-pot-luck + folk-music solutions are not the ones I can see working in the long term. Plus, I hate folk music and vegan food is gross.

Sustainability and relocalization do not require long hair and Bob Dylan bootlegs. If I could do anything, I would wrench relocalization from its countercultural baggage and put it out there for everyone.

Wow, thanks for putting the blame in the wrong place.  You think that your nephew is the problem?  It sounds like he is young, in his teens or twenties at the latest.  The problem are the people who voted for Reagan.  Those guys are in their mid 40s now.  I'll tell you one thing: if today's youth were in charge then things would be a hell of a lot better than they are.  You can forget Bush ever being elected.  You can forget a Republican party getting elected on a platform of tax cuts to the well off and bashing gays.  If the under 30 demographic voted en mass it would be a seismic shift in the right direction.  

Thanks for offering your true allies a nice slap in the face.  We're the ones who have to deal with the messed up world that you left us.  We're not the ones who caused it to become the way it is.  It's you old guys who forgot what sustainable means, not the other way around.  

My video of "The Prize" are live recordings as it was aired on PBS.  Yes, I have the entire series.  I was aware of who Daniel Yergin was, as well as interested in oil history.  

My first introduction to Daniel Yergin was a book titled  "Future Energy" .  The book was published in the early 1980's  and was a good review of almost all energy source, conventional as well as "alternative".  The "renewable" moniker had not stuck yet.    I still have the book in softcover as well as hard cover.  I think most of the readers here would find it interesting, however it has been a long time since I read it and cannot provide details of the book.

It would be interesting to see what "Future Energy" said about the time frame that we are in now.

Here are the details on the book from Wiki:

Energy Future: The Report of the Energy Project at the Harvard Business School. New York: Random House, 1979. ISBN 0-394-50163-2. Reprints: Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-394-29349-5; Knopf, 3rd ed., 1982, ISBN 0-394-71063-0; Random House, new revised 3rd ed., 1990. [With Robert B. Stobaugh.]

I believe I have both the 1982 and 1990 versions.

I watched "The Prize" videos in the mid-90's. It was a riveting story. I've never read the book but I know I should. I was (and still am) an environmentalist. At the time, I was becoming more and more concerned about climate change. Our use of fossil fuels was just starting to enter my thinking.

What's ironic is that when I started watching the video series, I thought electricity came out of the wall and gasoline came out of the pump at the filling station. I had no idea at all who Daniel Yergin was.

Little did I know that 10 years down the road...

Dave, if I remember correctly you live in the Boulder area.  I can loan you my copy of The Prize as well as Energy Future.  I won't be home for several weeks however.  I will contact you via email.

I think an important book is:

 A golden thread: 2500 years of solar architecture and technology by Ken Butti

It is kind of like The Prize but it is from the Solar perspective.  Rather than a history however, I think that it should be read as a future.  There are some amazing things in that book.  I have a copy of it as well that I can loan as it may not be available, even in used bookstores.  You can try amazon I suppose.

While we're on the subject of solar,

Optimism warning:  For those who cannot stomach the thought of any type of technology surviving, you may not want to go there.

RC known to you as ThatsItImout

One of the problems with Solar PV is material supply and  the energy intensity required to burn the oxygen from the silicon dioxide (quartz) and the Energy Return on Investment. I'm sure this has been discussed in detail on this site in the past so I probably don't have much new information in this regard.

 This was energy intensity was recognized early on in the game by companies such as Solarex which built a "solar breeder" which powered much of the manufacturing equipment but did not produce the energy to provide the raw silicon.  I am not an expert in this process but I understand that the silicon must be 99.999% pure and that electric resistance heating is used to melt the silicon which has a melting point I believe around 1900 deg F.   Im sure that a calculation have been  made on the energy inputs required to purify silicon in the quantities needed to have our society convert to solar pv.  I think any honest assesment should consider these energy inputs.

One way of getting high temperatures and energy levels would be with solar furnaces similar to this:

There would certain be efficiency issues with  using solar pv to generate such high temperatures with resistance heating.

Thin films solve some issues but the silicon base material is still an issue.  I had hoped by now that conductive polymers would have been developed that allow organic plastics to be used as solar electric material.  

There is more to this energy problem than just choosing one source over another- upon looking behind the surface of the issue you find they are all interelated.  Nothing new for the readers of this site, I'm sure.

I'd like to remind that evolution has spent a few billion years perfecting a self-replicating, self-repairing, no non-biodegradable wastes, climate moderating solar energy collection system: a tree.  That's probably what's sustainable a thousand years out.  But of course there will have to be a LOT less humans harvesting them.

Sadly, it all comes back to population.

I'm sorry but I don't find what is so positive in this interview. Lots of optimism dating back from the 70s, and a drought of arguments to support it.

The analogy with cellural phones is not quite adequate. In solar we don't have a number of small companies threatening the market share of the old giants. We are nowhere near that point.  We are having an industry basically held alive by government subsidies with large corporations (like BP) being the biggest players. The biggest problem long term of course will be infrastructure - whatever we use as a storage medium (pumped storage, balancing power plants etc.) will need to be incorporated along with the solar plants in some centralised network. The grid is far from dead yet.

levinK and frontierenergy, first, don't blame me, I put an "Optimist  Warning" right on the post!

On other thoughts, I am so sleepy I am about to fall out of the chair, just in from a late night at work, so I won't argue on what will soon be a dead thread, but I am going with the "confluence" on this one.  Coal is becoming more of a burden than it's worth, between the costs and effort involved in moving it about
(great discussion of the issue of coal, and the problems transporting it, from a site referenced by another TOD poster )
Natural gas, we know is a problem
same site, great charts about 2/3rds of the way down the page

As far as the "grid not being dead yet", I personally don't want it "dead".  The goal is a "smart grid" with decentralized power production, mini grids inside the giant grid, multiple power sources and types (not just solar, but wind, pumped hydro, hydroelectric, small piston and turbines running on sewer gas and landfill gas as well as bio mass of the type described here on TOD (not newly grown crops such as ethanol, but wood waste, animal and plant waste from agriculture, etc.) and a more grid based transport system (again, not completely completely grid based....the idea is "multiple option" not "either-or")  

The solar advantage, like wind and certain biomass and waste gas methane production is that it reduces the amount of massive infrastructure that is required by coal, oil, natural gas (and much more so with LNG (liquified natural gas).  We are nearing the point that the exploration, drilling costs will be bad enough, but the cost of carrying all this tonnage around will become unsustainable EVEN IF the oil and gas can be found out there in some obscure spot in large quantities.  The materials issues with solar/wind are good and getting better, as we are talking about occasional resupply of spare parts and new collectors, not the 24/7 resupply needed by coal or oil.  
Look at this stat:
"BNSF and Union Pacific jointly share a rail line coming out of the southern end of the Powder River Basin. With an average of about 61 coal trains a day traveling on the joint line, some 325 million tons of coal -about one-third of the nation's total coal production - was carried over the line Last year. The same line handled just 19 million tons of coal in 1985.

THINK about that:  61 coal trains A DAY.  325 MILLION TONS of coal.  I love it when people say, "well, building solar will require materials (same for wind, the methane digesters for landfil and sewer gas, etc).  Yes, but not EVERYDAY ALL DAY, 365 DAYS A YEAR.  There is simply no comparison.  In the Powder River Basin the coal is there and will be there for the rest of our lives.  But how many rail tracks, locomotives, hopper cars, loading facilities etc, can we possibly afford to build, and at what speed?  Soon, it will be a year round, all day all night construction site just to provide the transporation!  It is becoming senseless. Think about a growth rate from 19 to 325 million tons per day in 21 years...can we carry a billion tons a day, 5 billion?  To repeat, it's senseless if some way of producing power without daily movement of tons of material, which we must recall, most of will not be to make power but will be burdensome waste and tailings, given the low hydrogen content of coal.  In other words, an easy 3/4 of those tons we will have carried for NO BENEFIT.  

The EROEI of solar is climbing.  The EROEI on coal is falling at a staggering rate, plus the greenhouse gas issues, creating another massive burden.  If solar gains in efficiency and drops in price at even one third the pace that computer chips did in the last 2 decades, it's a done deal.  Fossil fuels, even if they exist in abundance, will be seen as a pathetic choice for power in a decade or two, if not sooner.

But like I said, it's too late to argue it tonight...:-)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout


The Powder River Basin is already a 24/7 mining operation.   I drive through the Basin on the way to where I am now.    The mines are to the east of Wyoming  highway 59.  During the day the full extent of the mines are hard to see. At night you can get a better idea as you drive  along for an hour or so and see lights to the east.  The workers are shipped in by bus- with weird destination signs on the front of the buses.  Most of the passing traffic such as pickup trucks have extended orange flags to alert the drivers of the large mine trucks.  Occaisonally pick up trucks are flattened with the drivers inside because operators could not see them.

Those coal trains are already quite impressive.  Much longer than trains I've seen anywhere else- miles and miles long.  Sometimes when the wyoming wind is blowing from the west it blows dense coal dust from the cars and it looks like a black cloud alongside the train.  As you drive through the cloud the coal dust is almost sandblasting your vehicle.

Once you start looking at the effects of what would happen in regards to replacing conventional oil with coal or  shale oil and the surface infrastructure needed- it is staggering.

Although Solar PV gets the glory when talking about alternatives, the best bang for the buck is with Passive Solar and Solar Thermal- not PV.   Solar Thermal systems are capables of efficiencies of 50 to to 90% percent conversion of solar radiation to heat.  These efficiencies are far beyond that of PV.  Passive Solar's strong point is that the home itself is the energy system- there is no maintainence other than a normal home and no "parasitic" energy losses for pumping etc.  

I am not criticizing solar PV nor discounting it's ability to succeed.  There is meaning to the term "appropriate technology", however.  Electric resistance heating with PV would not bw appropriate.  A realistic assessment of PV's ability to contribute must be looked at however.  Solar PV I believe, will power a significant part of society in the future- its just that the society that it is powering will be much different than it is today.  Hydrocarbons have allowed a "brute force" of overcoming inefficiencies in design and construction.  Solar does not have this ability.

What saddens me is that a good chunk of our total energy loss is through something as simple as leaking ductwork.  So we dig tons and tons of coal, only to have the energy lost to the outside into "thin air"

frontierenergy says,
"Hydrocarbons have allowed a "brute force" of overcoming inefficiencies in design and construction.  Solar does not have this ability.

What saddens me is that a good chunk of our total energy loss is through something as simple as leaking ductwork.  So we dig tons and tons of coal, only to have the energy lost to the outside into "thin air"

All I can say there is AMEN.  The waste, and by waste I don't mean living well or comfortably, I mean waste that creates no wealth, no increased comfort or prosperity, but only loss in American natural gas consumption is INCREDIBLE.

On the thermal solar, hey, as you say, each in it's place...I have nothing against thermal solar...I am the guy who bought a parabolic mirror from Edmunds Scientific when I was 11 years old or so, and nearly set the bedroom curtains on fire (after that, I read the instructions that came with it that said IT MUST stay in the cardboard sleeve it came in or it could torch something!)

Passive solar:  My many posts endorsing earthbermed houses on the north wall with passive windows on the south have all fallen on deaf ears.  GOOD DESIGN could save America billions of feet of natural gas.  I saw a house several years ago, and all the guy did was put the garage around on the north wall, covering that whole wall with it, and put all the windows and entrys on the south, with the door to the garage being sheltered in the garage of course, and he had an almost free ride, as far as heat/air conditioning (by ground coupled heat pump) except for, you guessed it, the electricity.  That's why I still hold out hope for solar PV, and reduced waste:

RC known to you as ThatsItImout

Its not that the ductwork was intentially built shoddily - it is that even the installers assume that everything is tight.

I will give you an example that involved a geothermal heat pump...I did an analysis on a home that the owner had invested almost $25k on the closed loop earth coupled system including the two wells that had been drilled.  Unfortunately, the highest temperature that he could raise the home to in January in Colorado was about 40  degrees.  The company that installed it was at a loss as to what the problem was.  

I did a blower door test on the home and discovered that there was no return air from the building  to the heat pump.  The contractor had placed the return air with the intention of using the stud walls as a duct.    Unfortunately this home had perforated steel studs and the heat pump was pulling in ambient air.   The contractors standard practice did not take into account the construction of the home with disastrous results.  The problem was fixed but the system never performed to its potential.

An efficient passive solar home doesn't have to look that much out of the ordinary.  And what you call a solar home looks different in the southern US versus one in the North.  Unfortunately we will have the current stock of housing for many years to come and retrofitting to passive solar is not necessarily an easy task or even possible.

The thing to remember on active solar thermal is that as  the operational temperatures increase- efficiencies decrease.  A solar pool heater for instance operates at low temperature with a low rise, but the efficiency and total btu is impressive.  Efficiency of 90% is standard.  

Solar water heaters with glazed panels start out with high efficiency also until the temperature approaches 120 deg or so.  Concentrating direct beam systems a lower efficiency yet and also have the highest thermal stresses on the components from heating and cooling (expansion/contraction).  These also have the moving parts with things to go wrong.  Of the systems installed during the last solar period- these were the first to fail.  They are more appropriate to large scale steam turbine applications than domestic hot water.

Imagine the net effiency  of the PV if the customer with the leaky return air was powering his home with PV?    A level of honesty also has to be made that most systems are solar assisted with backup.  The concept of "autonomy"  greatly effects the economics of solar PV.  Most PV homes are not 100% solar... there are backup generators that are connected to autostart when the batteries get below a given discharge set point.  How many overcast days do you design the system for?  That is a question that is fundamental to the economics of the systems.  There is a "knee" in the curve at which point the cost becomes exponential.  This is called the "F Chart" or solar fraction.

The limitations of powering our world 24 hours a day on a solar window of 6 hours should not be overlooked.

Just think about that: 1 million 160W solar panels a day, every day from now to 2049. This is what will take to replace the coal US is consuming now (using real world availability of ~ 10%). With 20 years technological life make them to 2 million by 2029, just to keep up. Now think about what king of infrastructure we will need to maintain and balance those hundreds and thousands of "distributed" grids and what kind of infrastructure we will need to store hundreds of billions of kwth of energy. Then think of the efficiency of all of this.

Distributed generation is a pipedream. Industrial civilisation is predicated on economies of scale, trying to go the opposite way will start adding complexity and maintainance overhead which will bring the whole thing to a halt.

One thing I agree with: fossil fuels will be viewed as a disastrous choice by 2049. But their replacement will be nuclear, not solar. Hopefully by the middle of the century most of the coal will be replaced by nuclear, while solar and wind will fill the 10-20% maximum technological niche they can get.


Yes, your right, if we intend to produce these panals in 1 million individual pieces at 160W per individual piece, I don't see it happening.

I am not going to be happy until they can spool it off like newsprint or aluminium foil, and they won't ask how many panels you want, they will ask "How many yards (or meters) do you want.  Once the systems are correct, it should be at least as simple in construction as carpet is now (I wonder how many square meters of carpet we make now per various colors....of farious materials...cut to various styles, and to various do we do that?  It's really kind of incredible when you think about it! :-)

And then I think about the nuclear option....I have nothing against nuclear, but I have to ask myself, what if the renewables do work?  I have a built a (how much now, 800 million, 1 billion plus) nuclear plant, and th price of electricity starts to drop...and I am married, all at once, all the money, all the interest on the money, to this one gigantic device....and I better pray there is nothing wrong with, because if there is a serious flaw in construction, I am wiped out....and get this, just as 800 million or whatever is spent, someone comes up with a better design, and I could have built it for half the cost of mine, and produce as much power...but no, I am stuck with this one unit for the next 50 years!!  

Nuclear has to first convince the investors and bankers.  Economics of scale only works in a rigidly centralized, massively consumptiive heavy industrialized but lowly informationalized economy.  That's why the Marxists love gigantic projects like nuclear, and giant hydro-electric dams, etc., and so did we in our old heavy industrial days.  Those days are gone.  The correct "scale now is decentralized, small units, small investments that can be shifted in and out of fast, additional "modular improvements, so as the design improves it can be put in the sytem immediately, and the system can be improved without loss of billions on a one shot deal like a giant nuclear plant  (there could be a possible exeption if fusion works, but even then, the power has to be sent down long unreliable cables, the political and economic centralization leads to servitude, and it makes no sense to do it that way except as very heavy technological applications such as some gaint computer server base for the military, etc.)

You said, "Industrial civilisation is predicated on economies of scale, trying to go the opposite way will start adding complexity and maintainance overhead which will bring the whole thing to a halt."

You are right.  But "Industrial civilization" in anything like the old centralized form that nuclear worked best in was already dead just after WWII.  Now, the world runs not just on one giant "economy of scale" but on many, many scales, speeds, systems, methods, materials, and even many methods of education and management.  Distributed Generation is more than a pipedream.  It is, at the end of the day, the only possible way forward that avoids servitude and suffering.  We don't have to "start adding complexity and maintainance overhead".  It has already added itself, whether we liked it or not.  We have to cope with it, just as a football player can't tell the coach, "I can't learn that play, it's too complex", we can't baby out and try to go backward to steam hammer technology.

Roger Conner  ThatsItImout

Name me one industry that has prosperred by scaling back.
I am not going to be happy until they can spool it off like newsprint or aluminium foil, and they won't ask how many panels you want, they will ask "How many yards (or meters) do you want"

That's the whole problem. People are assuming this level of the technology will be eventually reached. And like most people you omitted the need for a miracle advancment in energy storage. The fact of the matter is that we don't know - these advancments may be or may not be achieved in the near future.

Personally I prefer the technologies that I know that works today. The logic you are applying is akin to a patient with a cancer desease refusing to accept chemiotherapy, because he is hoping for a miraculous and paineless pill to be invented before he dies. Great, but what if the pill is not there?

No miracle storage tech needed. Compared to PV solar ponds are cheap.  A solar pond is a large pool about 30 ft deep with 3 layers of brine.  The bottom layer is a very dense brine under a layer of medium density brine under a layer of low density brine.  The hottest layer is the bottom but the lower density layers above prevent convection to the top. The pond acts as both an energy collector and as an energy storage device. Bottom layer temps can reach over 200F and can hold these temps for weeks even in winter.  A refrigerant based rankine or brayton cycle engine could convert this heat into electricity at about 8% efficiency which is close to thin film PV efficiency. Waste heat could be used for building heat and adsorbtion based cooling.
A refrigerant based rankine or brayton cycle engine could convert this heat into electricity at about 8% efficiency which is close to thin film PV efficiency

I hope you are kidding. 12 joules in to get one out - is this the solution you are offering? Pumped storage at 70-80% and compressed air at 50-60% would be uncomparatively better choice than this one.

If what you suggest is designed to work directly with solar thermal, than you should consider that thermal has a much lesser chance to produce low-cost mass produced solution than PV.

Storing solar heat for later conversion into electicity has been used in the California desert.  They used a large tank of liquid sodium and only contained several hours of useful heat. PV with battery storage is appealing in that it eliminates moving parts.
Efficiency of solar is best measured on a kwh/$ basis since fuel cost isn't a part of the equation. Water is very cheap and so is salt. What isn't cheap is land for locating the ponds. Another weakness of ponds is the land cannot be used for other purposes. PV and solar thermal troughs can have buildings under them.  Wind farms can also be corn or bean farms.
Wow..Solar Pond, I haven't heard of that one in a long time.  I've only seen one it had only modest success.  The reason was due to heat loss from the bottom due to the high groundwater level in which it was installed.  So I guess that this would have to be considered in locating.  Also there was concern with birds landing in the brine.  

There are other large scale solar thermal options also.

This is a project that I would love to see in erson:

Distributed generation is a pipedream. Industrial civilisation is predicated on economies of scale, trying to go the opposite way will start adding complexity and maintainance overhead which will bring the whole thing to a halt.

I'm going to ditto Roger here.
Sunlight is the only sustainable source (--if we reject geothermal out of hand as too difficult to drill down for). The sunlight is distributed. So our capture and use of it has to be distributed.

PV is not the only way to convert sunlight into useful energy. Solar thermal and solar concentrators are still viable alternatives.

We have a lot of challenges to overcome:

  1. Invent cheaper forms of conversion
  2. Invent better ways of storing captured energy
  3. Invent better ways to distribute the energy
  4. Invent better way to efficiently use energy rather than wasting it all away

Hat tip to Big Gav on this story re conservation
Hat tip to Big Gav on EEstor story
Hat tip to Big Gav on this micro wind story
I'm not in Boulder anymore, frontierenergy. I'm in Pittsburgh. It was good to be in Colorado last year, though -- it made meeting some good folks like you easy to do at the first ASPO-USA conference in Denver.

Thanks for your offer. I'll go to the library.

I wish you luck at the library.  I have found that  most libraries have discarded these books long ago at "sales".    It was an issue that for a long time had little interest.
I think its a sign that I spend WAY too much time here that I could just automatically think, "Dave doesn't live in Boulder anymore, he lives in Pittsburgh" when I read frontierenergy's post. Yikes!!
Just beware: you're not in for an enjoyable read.

Yes, The Prize is perhaps definitive as a source of information about the oil industry, but it's not about "oil," per se.

I also found the prose wooden. It's a TOME.

Yeah, Gibbon is much easier reading.  You could call "The Prize" exhaustive, but anyone reading this website will not be impressed by Yergin's coverage of the 70s US peak, or the concept of peaking in general.  If you can stomach several hundred pages from an author who never mentions Hubbert, it may be worth reading.  It's pretty valuable as a study of Yergin's viewpoint.  

It's also interesting that both "The Prize" and "Guns, Germs, and Steel" won the Pulitzer, though in much different times.  I put down "Guns" knowing I had gained some valuable insights.  I felt like I had wasted a good deal of time when I put down "The Prize."  

In replay to Mr. Cohen's self descrriotion, how many of the other major contributors to this site were technologically and scientifically ignorant in the late 1980's?
Here's the smartest words I've seen all day.

I've never read the book but I know I should.

Dave always surprises me.

It's 788 pages.

It's really four books and they are all really fucking good.

For you I would recommend starting on page 588. 1973/Yom Kippur/OPEC forward.

For "Big Gav" - what did you want to know about 1973? My favorite year. I was 4. But it's the only year I'm an expert in.

My only regret about Yergin is that he hasn't written since(about oil in such a book-bound way).

We'll talk, Dave, after you finish them last 200 pages. Make sure you highlight, so we don't waste time trying to reference. Yee-haw.

I have both 'The Prize' and 'Energy Future', both of which I read when they first came out.  I plan to skim through both just to see how close or far off some of the views of the future (i.e., now) turned out to be.

I find looking at past projections or assessments fascinating, particularly the ones that turn out to be hilariously off the mark.  

One of my favorites is from a rather obscure book called 'Sea Power and Today's War' by Fletcher Pratt, a naval expert of some repute. It was published at the end of 1939 and provided a contemporary assessment of the relative naval strengths of the waring powers and how the war was likely to play out.

Here are just a few of his (highly racist) views on the Japanese threat, some two years before Pearl Harbor.

p 178)  "Every observer concurs in the opinion that the Japanese are daring but incompetent aviators; hardly any two agree on the reason."

p 178) "Nothing is much stupider than one Japanese, and nothing much brighter than two. But the aviator is peculiarly alone, and the Japanese, poor individualist, are thus poor aviators."

p 180)  "Japan dares provoke or enter no war in which the United States fleet will be engaged on the opposite side."

p 190) "Japan is not ready to fight the United States on the sea. Her fleet lacks both power and cruising range for trans-Pacific operations...."

p 205) "In short, Hawaii controls the Pacific approaches to the United States so completely, it is so strong a fortress, so good a base for the fleet, that there is no possibility of Japan bringing war to our shores while American ships float in Pearl Harbor."

 I am not making this stuff up!

This guy Pratt was almost as good as one of my favorite neocons, Paul Wolfowitz, who in 2003 said that Iraq could be controlled by  only 30,000 American troops and that the occupation wouldn't cost the US anyting because it would be paid for out of Iraq's oil revenues.

The older I get the more I realize that i) the future is literally impossible to  predict and ii) that regardless of one's expertise or reputation, it is extremely easy to be completely and embarrassingly wrong.

I'd put both these guys down on the same list as that recording studio executive who in 1962 turned down an exclusive recording contract with the Beatles.

Yes Energy Future may be particularly interesting to read again as it was Daniel Yergins work 25 years ago.  Apparently the CERA report was predicting peak oil  25 years into the future.    

Might be an interesting contrast.

The 'random' future is impossible to predict.  Many people who try to predict the coming [ie., predictable] future are proven wrong because of their ignorance, prejudices, and illogic.  The attack on Pearl Harbor was predictable.  Hell, the US administration predicted it.  Hitler's continuing aggression in Europe was predicted by the British war office and Winston Churchill - why do you think they had so many Spitfires and Hurricanes ready?  But most people who predict the future in public are simply looking for notoriety, sorry, fame, and are blinded by their own egos.  
Nevertheless, I doubt that either Churchill or the British War Office in 1939 accurately predicted that by the end of the WW II, Great Britian would be a practically bankrupt, second-rate power who would soon loose most of its colonies and that the balance of power would be clearly split between the US and the Soviet Union.

Nor do I think many people, veiwing the total destuction of Japan and Germany at the end of WW II, would have predicted the incredibly rapid rise of both countries into economic superpowers that would economically compete with the US.  

Would anybody in 1939 have predicted that one day China would grow to be an economic superpower on a trajectory to eclipse the US?

How many technical experts predicted the internet and the way it would transform the way we deal with information and the way we interact with each other?

How many social sciences experts circa 1954 predicted the feminist revolution? Or the counter-culture of the 1960s? Or black power?

How many Detroit executives circa 1957 would have predicted that by 2006 Japan would be eating our lunch and that both Ford and GM would be flirting with bankruptcy?

How many military experts circa 1961 predicted that Vietnam would become the worst military debacle in US history (prior to Iraq)?

How many people circa 1950 would have predicted energy problems rather than energy abundance by 2006?

I happen to have a fairly decent collection of Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, and Popular Science Magazines from the 1940s and 1950s.  The predictions of the future made in those magazines are exceedingly quaint and illustrate the naive optimism of the time.

It is usually something totally unexpected coming out of the blue that makes fools of the 'experts'.

Yes, such an "unexpected" event would be a nuclear detonation in the middle east.  Then the "future" changes from that moment on.  

The effect of a natural Hubberts Peak is accelerated by an un-natural event.

The best point that I got from The Prize was how as long as their is a source that is capable of overproducing- they can set the price of oil.  I understood how the Saudis had made a business move in 1986 that was a classic Rockefeller strategy.  Overproduce, get rid of the competition and slowly raise prices afterword.  There were probably grand foreign policy schemes as well  that played into it- but it destroyed the american drilling industry and solar industry, etc. and set the table for what is happening now.  
If they are nearing the point of losing this ability as Matt Simmons has proposed, as well as others,  then we will perhaps expect a sequel to the Prize.    How about "The Lies"?

Oh well, to quote one of my favorite musicians:

"Can't predict the future
Can't forget the past
Feels like any moment
Could be the last
All you believers
Standing inside this room
Can't you see it coming
Shooting out across the moon"

from Showdown at Bigsky, Robbie Robertson

I think I'll move on to the flyfishing site.    The news has got to be better over there.

I would like to take the exactly opposite position: it's amazing how little has changed since ca. 1935: look at the list of "important" (economically and militarily) countries in 1935, and compare to 2005: Germany and Japan have lost militarily, but may be even more important economically. The only surprises are Argentina (down), Korea (up), and of course China (up,up, and away).

Any more suggestions for really important changes?

My favorite set of such predictions was in a National Lampoon spoof some years ago, containing the hilarious 1939 "prediction" that in the marvelous future just ahead people would be using diesel-powered typewriters.
ford and gm flirted (quite seriously for ford) with bankruptcy in 1980.  How can people be surprised at a repeat, given that they are just as dependent now on gas guzzlers as they were then, and obviously quite incapable of learning a thing from the past? Oil was bound to shoot up someday, it simply doesn't matter when, they will always be unprepared. TOugh on michigan, but the country will be better off when the us industry is in the dustbin and completely replaced with jap transplants making well designed, fuel efficient, long lasting cars.
From 1930 to 1940 the final question on the Japanese Naval acadamey exame was "how would you plan an attack on Pearl Harbour?"

Don't have a link handy but I'm absolutely positive I heard/read this on a reputable source.

That's not quite accurate.

Even into the late 1930s Japanese naval doctrine for fighting the US called for luring the US Pacific Fleet into an epic naval battle in the South Pacific, with skirmishing auxiliary forces of submarines and land-based aircraft weakening the US fleet as it made its way.

Japan only formed a credible carrier task force in 1936, and after that changes started to appear in its naval doctrine, with decreasing emphasis on battleships and increasing emphasis on air power

You've also got to realize that the main part of the US Pacific Fleet wasn't even based at Pearl Harbor until FDR ordered it moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in April 1940 (over the strong objections of his admirals, I might add).

Actual planning for the raid on Pearl Harbor did not begin in earnest until late 1940 or early 1941, under the direction of Admiral Yamamoto.  Many of his fellow admirals thought it was a reckless and hare-brained idea with small chance of success.  

Of course, Billy Mitchell predicted it in 1924

Another work that is a cut above those just mentioned is Burke Davis, The Billy Mitchell Affair (New York: Random House, 1967). This treatment is unique in that it covers in some detail Mitchell's famous report of his visit to Hawaii in 1924 in which he predicted a future war with Japan that opened with a carrierbased air attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition, Davis had access to the transcript of Mitchell's courtmartial. His coverage of that event is fairly extensive, and although his treatment is evenhanded, it tends to put the airman in a favorable light and as a victim of Army conservatism.
Although I have very little clue about the future vis a vis society's response to oil depletion (I have a few ideas, though) I coulda done a better job than Wolfowitz on Iraq. What an asshole.
I thought "The Prize," the book, a nice history up until post-WWII, when it got to companies and people still very much alive, it turned to mush.

Here's the continuing story of "The Prize" in today's NYT:

Less than two years later, the Interior Department eliminated his job in what it called a "reorganization." That came exactly one week after a federal judge in Denver unsealed a lawsuit in which Mr. Maxwell contended that a major oil company had spent years cheating on royalty payments.

"When I got this citation, they told me this would be very good for my career," said Mr. Maxwell, smiling during an interview here. "Next thing I knew, they fired me." Today, at 53, Mr. Maxwell lives on a $44,000 annual pension in a two-bedroom bungalow in the hills outside the Hawaiian capital.

But Mr. Maxwell has hardly disappeared. Instead, he is at the center of an escalating battle with both the oil industry and the Bush administration over how the federal government oversees about $60 billion worth of oil and gas produced every year on federal property. In the process, he has become one of the most nettlesome whistle-blowers Big Oil has ever encountered, a face-off that offers an inside look at how the industry and the government do business together.

This is horrible, Heading Out. I get accused of all kinds of stuff, but I've never produced anything this bad in my life. What possessed you?

You write a review of The Prize and you don't even do it on the book? And then we get 5 half-paragraphs? (Sufficient regarding 788 pages?)

"The Prize" is to date the best book ever written about oil- Yergin completely deserved the Pulitzer. The book is brilliant. It is genius history and it is extremely well written. Factually correct, technically succint. You will never spend $22 more productively in your life. Trust me. You need at least $1000 worth of cocaine to do the job.

But you assholes want to do the video and just rag on CERA after. Fine, whatever. No wonder you are gaining no audience.

You were the last one I figured would go down this road, HO. And you were.

I'll go and read the comments now. Maybe I missed something.

Actually I was commenting on whether or not I though it worth getting the videos of "The Prize."  Since the going price at one place on the Web is now $375 (not that I paid that much) I thought it informative to tell you that I thought (see last line) that you were better off saving your money on the video and just buying the book.  I had no intent of reviewing the book itself in the post.
That's the problem.
This site has some historical solar information that we discussed earlier.

I've read the book and watched the video "the Prize" twice -- I got it from the public library (3 video cassettes).  What was striking to me were the interviews -- with the Saudi Oil minister saying "It is common knowledge that before OPEC a small group of the Seven Sisters met in a small room in Scotland and decided prices."  Well I suppose it is common knowledge now that the Seven Sisters did set prices pre-OPEC, but it is shocking to hear it nonetheless -- it reflects a cynical mentality of OPEC (but who can blame them)?

Second, it was also striking to me that the founder of OPEC -- from Venezuela -- was concerned (or stated according to the video) that he was most concerned with "conservation."  That was his main reason for starting OPEC.  Sounds to me like he knew the oil supplies in his country were finite.