The Energy of Nations

by Solarevolution September 26, 2013 05:47
An interesting book is being published today. In The Energy of Nations, Jeremy Leggett writes of the growing systemic risk-taking he has witnessed in the energy sector in the last decade and its consequences which will impact all our lives greatly if he is correct.

He also describes a road to recovery. Not everyone will agree with everything in the book, but it is clearly an honest and heartfelt contribution to vital debates. It has been receiving terrific reviews from an interesting variety of people. You can see those, a summary, Chapter One, and links for buying the book here. If you want to buy the book from Amazon, you can do so here, or directly from the publisher here.

If you have time, and generally approve of Jeremy's project, you could help in a number of ways, including use of social media or perhaps writing a review on Amazon, where skeptics well versed in unfair tactics will surely target the book if it enjoys any success.

The Physical Cliff

by Solarevolution January 03, 2013 04:20

As Washington continues to deliberate over the fiscal cliff and the much-hyped notion that the US government is sufficiently functional to avert fiscal disaster, America's attention is being diverted from a much more profound cliff-hanger looming on the horizon.

The USA, Saudi Arabia and Russia are competing to see which country can "produce" the most oil. That translates into racing to see which country will reach the bottom of the barrel first. In their frantic race to the bottom, these countries are creating havoc on the ground -- destroying aquifers, watersheds, productive land, forests -- and on the high seas -- even to the point of attempting to drill in the Arctic Ocean where extreme conditions will thwart human arrogance.

Reports of production increases can be seen as just more warnings that the race to the finish is accelerating. Sadly those fossil fuelish players have little to show for a Plan B. 

Reports of profits can be seen as thieves bragging about who got away with the biggest heist. Oil only costs what it takes to steal it from our children's children's children. The notion that "they will come up with something to replace oil" is thoughtless and irresponsible. Tell those guys to be careful: they might stub their toes trying to kick the can down the road that far. The physical cliff may be closer than they think.          

In the decades to come, the fiscal cliff of December 31, 2012 will be remembered as a picnic when it is contrasted to the fall from glory which these great nations will experience as they slide down the physical cliff of rapidly depleting oil / gas / coal. 

It's a Beautiful World

by Solarevolution July 12, 2012 17:42
How do we communicate the message of peak oil to the curious, the uninformed, the skeptic?
 
Well, that depends upon the message. Is ours a message of fear? Is it fantasy? Is it a message of hope? Is it a call to action?

Here's an option to consider: Lamentations begone!

Way back then

My seventh grade teacher would habitually give us her backhanded praise, "Light dawns upon darkness," as we went through our lessons. In Sunday School I had learned the difference between truth and lies (not to be confused with fact and fiction).

I learned another important lesson in the Boy Scouts. We were taught to leave the campground better than we found it. It meant a little extra work to pick up after ourselves ... and the unconscious souls who had been there before us, leaving a big mess in their wake.

Fast forward...

Fast forward a half century. Without a doubt I now live in a world that is a lot more complex than the campgrounds of my youth. Leaving a better world for the next batch of campers isn't quite as easy as it once seemed. My Scoutmaster would be arrested today if he were driving to Yosemite with 30 kids in the back of that stake-side truck. Nor had I noticed at the time that the truck's exhaust was causing the climate to change, nor that the global fuel tank gauge was dropping fast.

Where do we stand now?

So here I sit today, hanging out with a bunch of savvy folks, imagining a world beyond oil. It's a little scary at times.

Some of the savvy folks are imagining a dystopia. It's hard to fault them for that. All you have to do is look out your window at the world, and you will readily see lots of things falling right apart. Some places are flooding worse than ever; other places are burning, with record highs. Low down depression lurks behind many a paycheck... and it attacks mercilessly where once there was plenty.

More than a million people die in traffic accidents every year; ten million and more are seriously injured. Turf wars (over oil and minerals for cars) add to the numbers and the suffering. In simple terms, the so-called autonomous vehicle ("automobile") has degenerated into a very bad design. Clearly Karl Benz and Henry Ford had the best of intentions, and their inventions served humanity well for a century. But just as the car rolled the horse off the streets a century ago, so must the car be driven out of town in this new century... or pushed all the way to the junk yard when it runs out of fuel. Keeping the same form (an artifact of the oil age) while switching from fuel to electricity might be likened to changing the horse's feed from hay to kerosene so it might run faster. What's wrong with this picture?!

Transferring the American dream to China and Indian is about to turn into a nightmare as both countries compete to see which can gobble up, one-time-only, more natural resources than the other. And they think it's only fair for us to sit on the sidelines to watch them go at it. We have our troubles; these countries will be unfettered to mimic us and chase after their own troubles.

Archeologists have uncovered enough of the past to realize that humans evolved to form a primitive society known as the Stone Age. That hasn't changed very much, realistically. Future archeologists no doubt will call ours the Burn Stone Age.

This race to the bottom is getting pretty insane. Is there any way out?

A Better World

At a recent talk in San Francisco, John Reed, Chairman of the MIT Corporation, former Chair of CitiGroup and the New York Stock Exchange, was asked, "There are a number of young alumni here ... [asking] ... how can they be successful in their careers?"

John Reed replied, "I always could dream. I had a sense of where we wanted to go. And I greatly believed that if you can interpolate it is much better than extrapolating.

"Most managers sorta say, 'Where are we today?' Then they sort of extrapolate, and say, 'We could be a little more efficient; we could gain a little market share; we could do a little this; we could do a little that.' And they spend their life trying to extrapolate from some core to, you know, being somewhat better.

"... I think you gotta have a vision of where you'd like to be and then you've gotta say, 'I'm gonna use my efforts to get from here to there.'

And I must say it served me well in my business career. I think it served the institutions I was working with well and if I had any recommendations for a younger person, it would be, "Dream enough, be realistic, figure out what it is you would love to be, and then figure out how you're gonna get there. Don't just try..."


To leave a brighter world for our descendants, we must begin envisioning a better way to live. We can't dwell incessantly on what a miserable mess we are leaving for them. That's self-indulgence, at a time when we need all hands on deck. A persistent example is to see so many wringing their hands about the intermittency of renewables. This is a bit like complaining that there weren't enough oars on the Titanic's lifeboats.

Since it will be a world without oil (coal, gas), we must envision that: a world beyond oil (coal, gas). What might that world look like? As John Reed said, let's create a vision of where we'd like to be and then let's interpolate -- figure out how to get there. Dwelling on the past and extending that model into the future (extrapolating) isn't going to get us very far. We might consider our accomplishments or lack thereof in light of our core message.

At the dawn of the World Wide Web in 1994, I staked a claim to my vision of a better world -- www.Ecotopia.com -- building upon Ernest Callenbach's vision of an ecologically sound utopia. Once we abandon the unwieldy and outmoded artifacts of the fossil fuel era, I envision a world that is comfortably powered by solar energy. I envision a world where expectations have changed such that we have learned to do more with less in order to meet the needs of all people, accepting the challenge to find ways to stretch natural resources ten-fold, and to stop burning rocks like tenants burning the landlord's picket fence to stay warm through the cold winter. Let the sun shine in!!

If we as peak oil aware folks want to gain market share, we will envision a better future.

[And I reiterate my challenge. I'm all ears to hear about any alternative to my vision which is constructive, plausible and durable. No "over unity" schemes in defiance of the Second Law. No fair kicking the can down the road. Belly to the bar.]


A vision without a task is a dream; a task without a vision is drudgery; a vision with a task is the hope of the world. (Inscribed on the wall of a church in Sussex, England, circa 1730, posted at http://www.ecotopia.com/ecosystems/mission.htm )

Burning rocks to get around

by Solarevolution June 25, 2012 04:27
Listen up!    
Unprecedented economic expansion over the past century has been powered by abundant and relatively inexpensive oil and other fossil fuels.  How would the U.S. and global economy respond to an oil supply crisis and the prospect of diminishing oil supplies?  What would economic “growth” and “development” look like in a future with less oil?

 I think this might be the time for me to highlight the theme of equity (in particular, international- and inter-generational equity).

That statement, "... in a future with less oil," is hinting in the direction of "oil continues to be treated as a fuel." Hmmm. If there is no awareness of the value of oil, not for burning up one-time-only, but as a substance for long term use by our progeny, what right do we have to tie up people's time talking about an economy? What is an economy without leaving behind some resources for a next generation to take over?

Where do we weave this fundamental into the peak oil story? I for one am coming to loath the continuing using the term "fossil fuels." We are burning stones to get around?! How do you explain that to your grandchildren? We are so shortsighted to consume these resources that belong to their future.

I'm probably going to drive to town soon, and jump in an airplane before the year is up. Shame on me. The point though is to put our heads together, to find common ground, so that collectively,  we can put a new spin on oil, to begin to treat it as a valuable resource, too precious to burn. Might that perspective serve well to transform our efforts into a more noble cause?

Today we look back in disgust at whaling for lamp oil. How primitive to kill those magnificent sentient leviathans just to light up a room. What will the beyond-oil people of the future think of us?!

Post-Peak-Oil Riots in England

by Solarevolution August 14, 2011 14:52
England riots: Reaction to another night of disorder

10 August 2011 Last updated at 10:15 ET

...He added: "This has been senseless violence and senseless criminality of a scale I have never experienced in my career before.


Police calm London, but riots flare across UK

LONDON (AP) - Britain will not allow a culture of fear to take over the streets, Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Wednesday, saying police have drawn up contingency plans to use water cannons if necessary.

"We will do whatever is necessary to restore law and order onto our streets," Cameron said in a somber televised statement. "Nothing is off the table."

... "We want to make it absolutely clear - they have nothing to protest against,"...

Britain's riots began Saturday when an initially peaceful protest over a police shooting in London's Tottenham neighborhood turned violent. That clash has morphed into a general lawlessness in London and several other cities that police have struggled to halt.


More deaths in English riots

Three men said to have been protecting their local community have reportedly been run over and killed in Birmingham as riots continue throughout England.


British Gas voted 'worst energy supplier'

British Gas has been voted the UK's worst energy supplier, according to a survey by price comparison website uSwitch.Customer satisfaction remained low for the company despite cutting prices twice this year and taking a total of £207 off its average energy bill.



 

 


The Coming UK Energy Meltdown



Social media plays huge role amidst madness of UK riots

The reasons behind how and why these riots are happening is the centre of huge debate, one we’re not going to even attempt to join right now. What we are interested in talking about is the part technology has had to play in it all.

Although the service hasn’t been shut down, it has been revealed that the company is providing information to police which has predictably sparked all sorts of controversy.

Understandably there’s been a lot of frustration and anger vented at the government and police force due to their lack of action this week. The opinion that the internet has been much more effective then any effort from the ‘powers at be’ is one felt by many, this tweet (user unknown) summed up the mood well we thought:

"if the Big Society exists in things like #riotcleanup, remember that Cameron didn't give us it, the internet did".


Twitter refuses to close accounts of rioters to protect their 'freedom of expression'
By Chris Greenwood and Tim Shipman
Last updated at 2:27 PM on 10th August 2011

Twitter has refused to close the accounts of London rioters who used the service to spread unrest and insisted that Tweets must 'continue to flow'.

The US-based company said that 'freedom of expression' was essential and that information would be 'kept flowing'.

Social networks have faced criticism for allowing rioters and looters to incite violence and public disorder across the country since riots began last Saturday in Tottenham.

Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger were used by rioters and police have signaled that they will trawl people's accounts to find offenders.

 

Noche Triste for Black Gold

by Solarevolution June 20, 2011 14:29
A reader recently commented...
Consumers and businesses will not abandon $30 trillion in rolling stock and infrastructure tied to petroleum/liquid fuels that provide the energy for 97% of transportation worldwide. How could they?

Hold that thought...

In his stunning, brilliant chronicle of the conquest of Mexico by Cortés, William Prescott tells of the "Noche Triste" (Sad/Melancholy Night) when the Spaniards and their native allies escaped the Aztec palace shortly after the death of Montezuma.

Montezuma had been mortally wounded by his own people who were disgusted by his traitorous complicity with the Spanish enemy. His death undid the cover provided by a political hostage, and a hasty retreat was staged at midnight on June 30, 1520. Scrambling to prepare their escape, Cortés offered treasures to his men, many of whom stuffed their pockets with gold and jewels to improve their lot when they returned to Spain.

 Built on an island in the middle of the grand shallow lake where Mexico City now stands, the palace was connected to the shore by eight causeways, the favored of which had three breaches to cross (where bridges had been destroyed by the Aztecs). Deciding to reuse only one portable bridge for these three crossings proved to be a tragic mistake when, after the army had crossed it, the bridge could not be dislodged from its first moorings. Prescott describes the struggle to cross the third and last breach as the army was beset by those defending their homeland:

"Those fared best, as the general had predicted, who travelled lightest; and many were the unfortunate wretches, who, weighted down by the fatal gold which they loved so well, were buried with it in the salt flats of the lake."

... and now, let's get back to the question at hand...

My reader may be right, that many people won't be able to abandon their black gold. If that's so, then one's point of view may make all the difference between thriving and despair.

Peak oil is a juggernaut that answers to no one. The desires and opinions of consumers and businesses will have no weight when the oil is gone. They will be forced to abandon that $30 trillion of then worthless rolling stock and infrastructure if they wait till Mother Nature shuts down the gas pumps.

When they are heading for the rocks, sailors jettison their cargo -- simply to survive. As the oil economy declines, those who would cling to their black gold may be pulled down with it. Those who jettison the tempting shiny substance in favor of living lightly on the earth with the new artifacts of the solar age will be free to move forward without impediment.

It seems like an easy choice for those who have shifted their point of view from fear (holding onto what we already have for dear life) to hope, investing in solar technology that will survive the decline of oil.

Trying to preserve the automobile with its freeways and fuel tanks will inadvertently hasten our economy's decline. In the next few years we will either spend another $30 trillion more just to operate and maintain our ill-fated oil-based monstrosity -- most of it leaving our economy to support unfriendly regimes -- or we will spend a "mere" $10 trillion building a post-automobile transportation system -- boosting our own economy -- designed to operate henceforth sustainably with solar energy already bought and paid for, without fuel, for the long term.

Hybrid vehicles won't get us there. Electric vehicles won't get us there. Flex fuels won't get us there. Grasping at straws (biofuels) won't get us there.

We still has the opportunity to encourage innovation and call upon American ingenuity to meet new standards of excellence: Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI, say, higher than 10) and performance standards (for example, "more than 150 miles per gallon equivalent"). Those who read the writing on the wall and work together to find new approaches still have a fighting chance!

Slam on the Brakes

by Solarevolution June 20, 2011 09:15

Reading all these price predictions by peaksters, I'm reminded of the Austrian economist Murray Rothbard who said, "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."

We know that the media (government / business / religious leaders) are giving very little attention to Peak Oil, but I would like us to consider what we, the Peak Oil community, are not talking about.

We're not talking about slamming the brakes on fossil fuels.

Even as our contribution to creating Peak Oil awareness begins to see a little light (at least in some circles), I am concerned that we will be so worried about saving our own bacon or appearing to be rational that we will fail to take posterity into account. If we are to save just a little oil for our children, we need to just plain stop using oil (gas, coal).

"Conservation" doesn't capture the urgency of our existential moment in history. In fact, conservation is like a salve to assuage the conscience of well-meaning people who are stuck in “business as usual.” We can be conned into thinking that we are doing our part by swapping out incandescent light bulbs.

Why can't we just use less oil? If you are drowning, drowning slower isn't going to save your life.

If you are in the know (Peak Oil), it's not about telling others to slow down. We have to abandon the artifacts of the oil-based economy and retool.

It requires a fundamental shift. It's about transforming society from oil to ingenuity. We must slam on the brakes and turn about-face.

Nuclear power swirled down into the ocean in March and humanity's perceived energy options narrowed sharply. We are back to where our great-grandparents were their whole lives: figuring out from-one-day-to-the-next how to live within a solar budget. They did it (or we wouldn't be here having this conversation). We can do it too. But we have to shift gears.

We are sliding down the back side of the peak, and just like with most mountains, the dark side is steeper than the sunny side. Will it be a soft or hard landing? Well... it depends:

If we have already used up too much of our natural resources, it will be a hard landing. (Time will tell.)

If we "conserve," I don't see how we can avoid a hard landing. Going slower sliding off the cliff is still sliding off the cliff.

We are aiming at the tail feathers of the goose that passed by here already a while ago. We need a word somewhere between conservation (voluntary) and deprivation (involuntary, Mother Nature's decision) - something to make it obvious that we aren't stuck promoting the same old baggage. The ship is going down. I repeat: we must jettison the artifacts of oil. If we hang onto them, they will sink us for good. (Some of Cortez' men loaded their pockets with gold as they were escaping the Aztecs. When a causeway collapsed, many of them sank like stones and drowned.)

What legacy are we leaving for our children? What robust assets will they have at their disposal to climb back out of the hole we put them into? Why are we postponing this radical change? By waiting even one day, we are willy nilly leaving the solution up to our children. But what advantage are we giving them by drilling for more oil, mining more coal, fracking more gas? We are handing them a polluted world, a mountain of debt, hobbled with depleted resource deposits, and blindfolding them - all the while talking seriously about the price of oil for the next year.

We aren't calling enough attention to carbon-based boondoggles ("shovel-ready" projects). Anyone who designs a system or artifact (highway, bridge, tunnel, airport, automobile, bus) that depends on imported oil is a traitor. After all, eight presidents in a row have proclaimed that imported oil is a threat to national security. Promoting a construction project to convey vehicles operating on mostly imported oil is now an act of treason.

I hear the question, "What percentage of our energy demand can be replaced by renewables?" There are two unchallenged assumptions that frame this question and illuminate our fossil-fuel mindset.

1. One good answer is none. "Replacement" suggests doing things the same way. We can't "replace" oil with sunshine any more than we were able to "replace" horses with high-speed 4-legged robots shaped like horses. We jettisoned horses and made devices with engines and wheels.

Now we must jettison devices with engines and wheels that are 1% efficient, that weigh 2 tonnes to move 100 kg.

For example, what about biodiesel? Consider this thought exercise. Define inefficient = stupid. A car engine is 13% efficient (per RMI); the average car weighs about 4000 lbs (per DOE, DOT) and carries an average of less than 200 lbs; that's 5% efficient. So 13% (engine) * 5% (mass) = 0.65% < 1% efficient = stupid. Now how do we get biodiesel? Photosynthesis can convert 3-6% of sunshine into soybean plants. Then we take the oily portion of the plant (you can't make oil out of the stems) so even assuming that it takes zero energy to harvest and process that plant material into oil, your net efficiency is <<1% = stupid. (Using 100 gal/acre/year, I estimated that 0.05% of the sun's energy is converted to soy biodiesel. I've heard of yields as high as 600 gal/acre/year for "next-generation" biofuels. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and we're at 0.3% efficient, still <<1%. Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Now put that <<1% efficient biodiesel (stupid) into a car that is <1% efficient (stupid) and you get << 0.01% efficient. The result? Compound stupid."

2. Another answer is 100%. Built into the question (remember the question, "percentage of energy ... replaced by renewables") is the curious assumption that we have a choice. We don't.

Most of humanity lived within a solar budget until World War II. As near as I can tell, we have no option but to return to 100% renewables, whatever that may look like. (I'm all ears if you think you have found something else.) With the incredible amount of knowledge and skills we have gained during the fossil fuel era, we are much more capable than our grandparents to take on the task. If we are to avoid becoming a dead branch on the evolutionary tree, we will switch to renewables now so we can leave something for our children to work with.

It's not "practical." We will face skepticism and ridicule. But those who embrace renewables now will be the sellers in the post-oil economy, and there will be plenty of buyers who postponed the inevitable shift.

Slam on the brakes! Save the oil!

 

(by Ron Swenson, originally published by ASPO-USA  | Jun 20, 2011)

 

 

Hubbert Rectangles

by Solarevolution June 18, 2011 13:01
Herman Daly defined sustainability as "equity extended into the future."
 
Inspired, I created a spreadsheet called, "Adults learning to share the future with their children."

Still not knowing quite where to start, I had to think it through. In Peak Oil circles we talk a lot about Hubbert curves. But in the wider world out there, more often than not we find people making reference to Hubbert rectangles: "We have enough [oil/gas/coal/uranium] to last for X years."

In other words, we carry on blithely -- Business as Usual ("BAU") -- and then plop! we're down to ZERO, just like that!

Plus, rectangles are much easier to model than curves. So off I went ... and created 3 scenarios. One, the rectangle: we use it all up at today's rate and then it's smack dab zero. Second (unrealistic) what if we cut back immediately and spread it out evenly over a long period of time -- 1000 years, or whatever you say? Third, create a policy at some deliberate enlightened decline rate and move off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Here's one variation of these 3 scenarios -- using "25 years [of oil/gas/coal] left." Our options are:
#1) be done with it quickly -- the black rectangle
#2) drop supply at 10% per year (orange). Clearly some people aren't going to be happy about this.
#3) for reference, we drop immediately to a 1000 year rate. (At least this is less un-sustainable.) 


You can find the spreadsheet here if you would like to play with it.

If you're wondering how big a rectangle to draw, you might want to try any of these values I obtained by googling "Years of [oil/gas/coal] left" (precise wording using quotes):
  • Oil: <50, 40, 49
  • Gas: 53, 20, 8, 10, 60, 4.
  • Coal: 200, 141, 300, 250, 500, 100, 400, 10
These numbers came up just from the first page of links, things like: "there is about 20 years of natural gas left in the world." Some of them were national, some were global figures.


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