Energetics vs Economics

by Solarevolution June 18, 2011 12:36

Now here's something to think about…

I don't know that we can "throw out" money as a metric in a world where the economy is the main narrative and is likely to be for a long-time.

Obviously we aren't going to do away with money -- or economics, for that matter. It's the direction of the connection that matters. Economics is an instrument of policy; it is a consequence of policy, not a precursor; therefore economics cannot determine policy. Policy, based on whatever metrics, is carried out by economic instruments -- subsidies, grants, taxes, lending rates, etc. -- once the underlying premises are understood and desired outcomes are determined.

Whenever this relationship is reversed -- with economics determining policy -- then policy is built upon a circular argument: for example, a portion of the premium rewarded to special interests can be recycled back into the system in the form of lobbying power. Otherwise, how could energetically bankrupt ethanol become economical? Those who have already been successful at gaming the system can readily use ethanol [take soil; add sunshine, water, oil and coal] to continue successfully gaming the system. It doesn't have to meet the test of good energetics.

It's easy for the economically powerful to pull this off. As Jeremy Grantham wrote in his April GMO letter, "The problems of compounding growth ... are not easily understood by optimistic, short-term-oriented, and relatively innumerate [can't do math] humans (especially the political variety)."

We are unlikely to persuade the world to do away with money. But on the subject of energy, we will use kW-hours, BTUs, EROEI, etc., as metrics to point us toward sane policy. Then we have at least a fighting chance of creating economic instruments that discourage depletion (e.g, fuels recovered at low EROEI) and encourage energetically attractive alternatives (e.g., with high EROEI).

Taking it one step further, if we care about our children and our neighbors, then we will also factor equity into the equation and save a little for them. That's just sound energetic policy.

Marcellus Shale

by Ron Swenson July 10, 2009 18:23
I heard that Marcellus Shale is a vast source of natural gas. I decided to check out this rumor.

The first clue of its vastness was the recent KKR investment of $350 M. If KKR thinks it's good, it must be good.

Of course the article contains the line I would expect ....

    "...a rock formation that ... is said to have vast amounts of natural gas..."

... It's even phrased as a rumor("is said to have...") and it contains a good example of something I wrote in 2000:

"Acapulco effect": To this day, the impact of a large discovery on the private lives of those involved is such a compelling story for the media that the anecdote prevails over meaningful statistics. (Careful accounting is never a glamorous story.) A discovery of 100 million barrels may buy someone a ticket to a life of leisure in Acapulco but it covers less than 2 days of global consumption.

Hot on the trail, I continued digging into the vastness of Marcellus. But first I discovered some of the nasties:

NEW YORK, NY July 22, 2008 —The Marcellus Shale is what industry people call an unconventional play. It’s loaded with natural gas, from Eastern Ohio to the Catskill Mountains. But the gas is very hard to extract. It’s packed tight 7,000 feet deep.

... But WNYC has learned... that New York state regulators have been actively promoting the safety of a practice that has caused environmental damage elsewhere. And they may not be ready to handle the regulatory complexities. ...

...Drill rigs have brought a lot of wealth, but at the same time they’ve dredged up a host of environmental problems – contaminating water supplies and drying up aquifers.

    The culprit is a practice called hydraulic fracturing. It’s never been done much in New York. But it’s the only way to get gas out of the Marcellus Shale. Basically the driller blasts the bottom of the well shaft with water, sand, and chemicals, under very high pressure in order to free up the gas. ...

Heading on to the subject of vastness, I found this study by Navigant Consulting ...

 North American Natural Gas Supply Assessment
 Prepared for: American Clean Skies Foundation, July 4, 2008.    
 which lists Marcellus quantity ...

    U.S. Gas Shales » Major Play Highlight » Marcellus
    NCI’s estimate of mean technically recoverable gas is 34.2 Tcf.


Right now the USA is running at 23 TCF/year (quite a bit of which comes from Canada, mostly Alberta).

Let's see: 34.2/23 = 1.5 years supply at today's rate.

Sounds more like an insurance policy against Canadian "independence."

If I go one step further and extrapolate that some of Marcellus gas will be a substitute for oil, I must consider the energy content of this vast supply in comparison to oil.

USA annual gas consumption = 23 Quads   

USA annual oil consumption (2008) = 41 Quads

Total Marcellus = 34 Quads

Hmm... I don't think that will take us very far.

You can find estimates of "gas in place" for Marcellus that will far exceed the 34.2 TCF, but I don't find such explanations very comforting. I'm reminded that, as Buzz Ivanhoe told me once, people talk about "resources" when it's someone else's money and "reserves" when it's their own money.

 

Will China opt for Oil? Will India invoke Ingenuity?

by Solarevolution July 07, 2009 01:29
I'm in the middle of what seems an interminable debate with a few friends who can't handle the idea of anthropogenic climate change. As I look at the various scenarios, I realize that China and India are just about as locked into the fossil fuel future as Americans are. And thus we face a stupidity end game ... in which all the major countries say, well, we can't change because it would screw up our own economy. We'd have to retool and that's expensive.

But China seems to have more money than India to go out and secure oil for their own future, as they are out-bidding just about everyone else (example). So if India wants to move out in front to power its economy, especially transport, then ingenuity (as opposed to business-as-usual, BAU) has to play at least some role.

Germany did this with renewables (solar, wind) and guess what harm came to them? They developed the most powerful solar industry in the world, with only half the daily sunlight of southern California. They are treating the USA like a third world country -- exporting complete solutions to the USA, buying USA solar manufacturing companies, enticing USA companies to relocate in Germany, etc.... A clean sweep!

You say that you will start doing solar in earnest when it can compete without subsidies. Germany didn't keep on looking; their champion Herman Scheer proposed a different point of departure.
Fossil energy not only threatens massive environmental and social disruption through global warming but, at present rates of consumption, it will run out within decades, causing huge industrial dislocation. Even before then, the conflicts and imbalances it causes in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world's economy will be frighteningly exacerbated.

But let's say I buy your argument -- that we should wait until it competes. Then I would suggest looking for the solar "killer ap" which works today without subsidy.

How about this, then? A solar system with a 4 year payback, without subsidy:

It is the solar highway: a continuous solar system 2 meters wide = 300 kW/km = 500 kW/mile. Not on roofs, which are often shaded by trees and cluttered with HVAC equipment, but alongside existing roadways. A solar system providing power for a transportation system which is 10X better along at least a half dozen metrics compared to the automobile ... and even 10X better than public rail transit along several of those metrics. I presented a paper on this in Stockholm at the end of 2007. The calcs are here, assuming Sweden's lower level of solar but higher price of fuel. (You can change the assumptions for India. It will only get better than the 3.8 year payback I calculated for Sweden.)

Development of this technology is ramping up in Sweden, the UK (an installation is nearly complete at Heathrow Airport), and elsewhere.

China is buying oil rights and building cars. India is too. Utter insanity.

Which shall it be: engineers or soldiers?

Which countries will be the first to move beyond oil

Scale of Deployment

by Solarevolution June 23, 2009 16:12

 This comes from the National Academy of Science

An understanding of the scale of deployment necessary for renewable resources to make a material contribution to U.S. electricity generation is critical to assessing the potential for renewable electricity generation.  Large increases over current levels of manufacturing, employment, investment, and installation will be required for non-hydropower renewable resources to move from single-digit- to double-digit-percentage contributions to U.S. electricity generation.  The Department of Energy’s study of 20 percent wind penetration discussed in Chapter 7 demonstrates the challenges and potential opportunities -- 100,000 wind turbines would have to be installed; $100 billion dollars’ worth of additional capital investments and transmission upgrades would be required; 140,000 jobs would have to be filled; and more than 800 million metric tons of CO2 emissions would be eliminated.  

Imagine $100 billion in sales for the automotive (or trucking) industry. They would have to retool and produce something useful, something that would reduce US dependence on foreign oil rather than increase it. 

Can you imagine hearing a politician complaining, "140,000 jobs would have to be filled"? No, a politician would be ecstatic to say, "140,000 jobs would be created."

 What motivates the authors of this document to make it sound so difficult? The US government has thrown $100's of billions into financial institutions with little to show for the effort, but the National Academy of Science "experts" worry that it would take manufacturing, capital and labor to tackle global warming. 

The USA always does things right, after it has tried everything else.
Winston Churchill

Home Page 2009 May

by Webmaster May 31, 2009 12:00
Sometimes complex truths become more clear when we put them in very simple terms. Around the world, political leaders are still living in the delusion that we have time on our hands to find sensible alternatives to oil. But global oil production has peaked.
Peak Oil Production 2008

A significant example of collapsing oil production is Cantarell, recently the largest oil field in the Western Hemisphere. From over 2 million barrels per day in 2004-2005, Cantarell is now producing at around 700,000 barrels per day.

Technology can help - and on this website various energy technologies are examined (sitemap). But humanity needs more than technology - we need high leverage methodologies as well. And, at the very least we need a new way of thinking about the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

We had our chance to evolve gradually toward a sustainable economy, but that opportunity has been squandered. Now primary ecosystems services are collapsing and we must accelerate our response, manifesting a revolution - more precisely, a SolaRevolution.

University students are invited to participate with us in this SolaRevolution under the guidance of SolarQuest®. Contact us for more information.

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Home Page 2008 August

by Webmaster August 31, 2008 12:00

New Energy for America(and more) Barack Obama [2008 August]

"Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

"As president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced."

Obama's acceptance speech. Better than McCain's plan, but Obama needs a lot of help too.

The Challenge to Repower America [2008 July 17]

"On July 17, Al Gore challenged America to produce 100 percent of our electricity from energy sources with zero carbon emissions - and to do so within 10 years. His speech, and the resulting dialogue, is resetting the way Americans think about our energy future and the climate crisis. It may also be resetting our understanding of what is possible. The goal is ambitious, but achievable."

Pickens Plan [2008 July 17]

"IT'S TIME TO STOP AMERICA'S ADDICTION TO FOREIGN OIL

"America is in a hole and it's getting deeper every day. We import 70% of our oil at a cost of $700 billion a year - four times the annual cost of the Iraq war."
Curiously the earliest entry on Pickens' website is the same day as Al Gore's speech. Ed.

Hard times for airlines [2008 July 1]

"...[T]here are no serious alternatives to jet fuel for airliners. And even if there were, they could never be cheap in a world of expensive energy. The problem is not that oil is scarce: the production has never been this high -- that's why we call it Peak Oil. The problem is that energy supply is not meeting global demand: until demand abates, any type of energy will end up costing the same, be it classical kerosene, gas-to-liquid synthetic jet fuel, or biodiesel. Regardless of the environmental footprint. Just know that if it was technologically feasible, filling an A380 tank with biofuel would use up 150 hectares of yearly yield, considering an optimistic figure of 2000 litres per hectare for Jatropha biodiesel. You'd need 150x2x365x150 = 16 million hectares -- the arable land in France -- to power the currently ordered A380 fleet.

"Meanwhile the fuel efficiency improvements do not come anywhere close to compensating the price surge. Boeing claim that their new 787 will burn 20% less fuel than current jets of the same category (namely the 767 or A330). 20% is how much oil prices rose between the beginning of April and mid-May 2008: 30 years of technological improvement in aircraft and engine design will offset six weeks of price increase, and no technological Deus ex Machina will change that deal."

New GAO Peak Oil Report Provides Urgent Call to Action: U.S. Vulnerable and the Government Unprepared for Unacceptably High Risks of Oil Supply Shock, by Congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Tom Udall (D-NM), co-chairmen of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus [2007 March 29]

"This GAO peak oil report is a clarion call for leadership at the highest level of our country to avert an energy crisis unlike any the world has ever before experienced and one that we know could happen at any time. Only the President can rally the country to take the urgent steps necessary. Potential alternatives to oil are extremely limited. Technology won't save us without time and money to develop and scale them up."
GAO Peak Oil Report (Complete), Highlights
"... [B]y 2015 these technologies could displace only the equivalent of 4 percent of projected U.S. annual consumption. Under these circumstances, an imminent peak and sharp decline in oil production could have severe consequences, including a worldwide recession. If the peak comes later, however, these technologies have a greater potential to mitigate the consequences."

Within the energy profession there are groups (e.g., ASPO, ASPO-USA) grappling with the challenge of "Peak Oil." While the efforts of Al Gore and others have raised awareness of the threat of global warming, society is not in any way prepared for the imminent decline in global oil production.

In the near term, declining production will impact certain countries more than others. Cantarell, the largest field in the western hemisphere, is declining rapidly. Over the next couple of years, Mexico's economy will be hard-hit.

Without imports, the USA's domestic oil reserves would be exhausted in three years at the current rate of consumption. The Oil War option is losing favor. Technological breakthroughs will be too slow and voluntary conservation will be too shallow to avert widespread disruption of economic activity, especially transportation and consequently food. Lacking the political will to make conscious, rapid, drastic changes, Americans will be subjected to Mother Nature's adjustments; She did not negotiate with the Mayor of New Orleans; nor will She negotiate the American Way of Life when Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field collapses of its own accord.

Liquid fuel substitutes (tar sands, coal-to-liquids, oil shale, surprisingly even ethanol and biodiesel) are carbon intensive and will only exacerbate global warming. Plus they cannot be scaled up on a timely basis.

It would take one new nuclear power plant every week until 2050 to fill the oil gap. Minor detail, uranium shortages would emerge long before 2050, unless as yet unproven breeder reactors come on line soon.

While it will take time, direct conversion of solar radiation to electricity (photovoltaics and concentrating solar power) can be scaled up. One viable sustainable alternative also exists for repetitive travel (e.g., commuting -- more than half of all urban transport). It is the rapid build-out of solar powered electric vehicles on fixed guideways (the "podcar"). A continuous solar array, well within the width of the guideway, is sufficient to provide 100% of the power required for this efficient form of high capacity transit.

 

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Home Page 2007 August

by Webmaster August 31, 2007 12:00
New Energy for America(and more) Barack Obama [2008 August]
"Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

"As president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced."

Obama's acceptance speech. Better than McCain's plan, but Obama needs a lot of help too.

The Challenge to Repower America [2008 July 17]

"On July 17, Al Gore challenged America to produce 100 percent of our electricity from energy sources with zero carbon emissions - and to do so within 10 years. His speech, and the resulting dialogue, is resetting the way Americans think about our energy future and the climate crisis. It may also be resetting our understanding of what is possible. The goal is ambitious, but achievable."

Pickens Plan [2008 July 17]

"IT'S TIME TO STOP AMERICA'S ADDICTION TO FOREIGN OIL

"America is in a hole and it's getting deeper every day. We import 70% of our oil at a cost of $700 billion a year - four times the annual cost of the Iraq war."
Curiously the earliest entry on Pickens' website is the same day as Al Gore's speech. Ed.

Hard times for airlines [2008 July 1]

"...[T]here are no serious alternatives to jet fuel for airliners. And even if there were, they could never be cheap in a world of expensive energy. The problem is not that oil is scarce: the production has never been this high -- that's why we call it Peak Oil. The problem is that energy supply is not meeting global demand: until demand abates, any type of energy will end up costing the same, be it classical kerosene, gas-to-liquid synthetic jet fuel, or biodiesel. Regardless of the environmental footprint. Just know that if it was technologically feasible, filling an A380 tank with biofuel would use up 150 hectares of yearly yield, considering an optimistic figure of 2000 litres per hectare for Jatropha biodiesel. You'd need 150x2x365x150 = 16 million hectares -- the arable land in France -- to power the currently ordered A380 fleet.

"Meanwhile the fuel efficiency improvements do not come anywhere close to compensating the price surge. Boeing claim that their new 787 will burn 20% less fuel than current jets of the same category (namely the 767 or A330). 20% is how much oil prices rose between the beginning of April and mid-May 2008: 30 years of technological improvement in aircraft and engine design will offset six weeks of price increase, and no technological Deus ex Machina will change that deal."

New GAO Peak Oil Report Provides Urgent Call to Action: U.S. Vulnerable and the Government Unprepared for Unacceptably High Risks of Oil Supply Shock, by Congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Tom Udall (D-NM), co-chairmen of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus [2007 March 29]

"This GAO peak oil report is a clarion call for leadership at the highest level of our country to avert an energy crisis unlike any the world has ever before experienced and one that we know could happen at any time. Only the President can rally the country to take the urgent steps necessary. Potential alternatives to oil are extremely limited. Technology won't save us without time and money to develop and scale them up."
GAO Peak Oil Report (Complete), Highlights
"... [B]y 2015 these technologies could displace only the equivalent of 4 percent of projected U.S. annual consumption. Under these circumstances, an imminent peak and sharp decline in oil production could have severe consequences, including a worldwide recession. If the peak comes later, however, these technologies have a greater potential to mitigate the consequences."

Within the energy profession there are groups (e.g., ASPO, ASPO-USA) grappling with the challenge of "Peak Oil." While the efforts of Al Gore and others have raised awareness of the threat of global warming, society is not in any way prepared for the imminent decline in global oil production.

In the near term, declining production will impact certain countries more than others. Cantarell, the largest field in the western hemisphere, is declining rapidly. Over the next couple of years, Mexico's economy will be hard-hit.

Without imports, the USA's domestic oil reserves would be exhausted in three years at the current rate of consumption. The Oil War option is losing favor. Technological breakthroughs will be too slow and voluntary conservation will be too shallow to avert widespread disruption of economic activity, especially transportation and consequently food. Lacking the political will to make conscious, rapid, drastic changes, Americans will be subjected to Mother Nature's adjustments; She did not negotiate with the Mayor of New Orleans; nor will She negotiate the American Way of Life when Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field collapses of its own accord.

Liquid fuel substitutes (tar sands, coal-to-liquids, oil shale, surprisingly even ethanol and biodiesel) are carbon intensive and will only exacerbate global warming. Plus they cannot be scaled up on a timely basis.

It would take one new nuclear power plant every week until 2050 to fill the oil gap. Minor detail, uranium shortages would emerge long before 2050, unless as yet unproven breeder reactors come on line soon.

While it will take time, direct conversion of solar radiation to electricity (photovoltaics and concentrating solar power) can be scaled up. One viable sustainable alternative also exists for repetitive travel (e.g., commuting -- more than half of all urban transport). It is the rapid build-out of solar powered electric vehicles on fixed guideways (the "podcar"). A continuous solar array, well within the width of the guideway, is sufficient to provide 100% of the power required for this efficient form of high capacity transit.

 

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home Page 2007 March

by Webmaster March 31, 2007 12:00
Interactive Oil Depletion Atlas from David Strahan, whose new book, The Last Oil Shock, was released in April 2007 and can be obtained in the Americas from Amazon Canada.

 

"There are currently 98 oil producing countries in the world, of which 64 are thought to have passed their geologically imposed production peak, and of those 60 are in terminal production decline."

Condenados a muerte prematura por hambre y sed más de 3 mil millones de personas en el mundo, Reflexiones del Presidente Fidel Castro [2007 March 28]

English Translation

New GAO Peak Oil Report Provides Urgent Call to Action: U.S. Vulnerable and the Government Unprepared for Unacceptably High Risks of Oil Supply Shock, by Congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Tom Udall (D-NM), co-chairmen of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus [2007 March 29]

"This GAO peak oil report is a clarion call for leadership at the highest level of our country to avert an energy crisis unlike any the world has ever before experienced and one that we know could happen at any time. Only the President can rally the country to take the urgent steps necessary. Potential alternatives to oil are extremely limited. Technology won't save us without time and money to develop and scale them up."
GAO Peak Oil Report (Complete), Highlights
"... [B]y 2015 these technologies could displace only the equivalent of 4 percent of projected U.S. annual consumption. Under these circumstances, an imminent peak and sharp decline in oil production could have severe consequences, including a worldwide recession. If the peak comes later, however, these technologies have a greater potential to mitigate the consequences."

 


Within the energy profession there are groups (e.g., ASPO, ASPO-USA) grappling with the challenge of "Peak Oil." While the efforts of Al Gore and others have raised awareness of the threat of global warming, society is not in any way prepared for the imminent decline in global oil production.

In the near term, declining production will impact certain countries more than others. Cantarell, the largest field in the western hemisphere, is declining rapidly. Over the next couple of years, Mexico's economy will be hard-hit.

Without imports, the USA's domestic oil reserves would be exhausted in three years at the current rate of consumption. The Oil War option is losing favor. Technological breakthroughs will be too slow and voluntary conservation will be too shallow to avert widespread disruption of economic activity, especially transportation and consequently food. Lacking the political will to make conscious, rapid, drastic changes, Americans will be subjected to Mother Nature's adjustments; She did not negotiate with the Mayor of New Orleans; nor will She negotiate the American Way of Life when Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field collapses of its own accord.

Liquid fuel substitutes (tar sands, coal-to-liquids, oil shale, surprisingly even ethanol and biodiesel) are carbon intensive and will only exacerbate global warming. Plus they cannot be scaled up on a timely basis.

It would take one new nuclear power plant every week until 2050 to fill the oil gap. Minor detail, uranium shortages would emerge long before 2050, unless as yet unproven breeder reactors come on line soon.

While it will take time, direct conversion of solar radiation to electricity (photovoltaics and concentrating solar power) can be scaled up. One viable sustainable alternative also exists for repetitive travel (e.g., commuting -- more than half of all urban transport). It is the rapid build-out of solar powered electric vehicles on fixed guideways (the "podcar"). A continuous solar array, well within the width of the guideway, is sufficient to provide 100% of the power required for this efficient form of high capacity transit.

 

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Home Page 2007 January

by Webmaster January 31, 2007 12:00

State of the Union
Excerpts on Energy Policy
January 23, 2007

"Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. For too long our Nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists – who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments ... raise the price of oil ... and do great harm to our economy.

It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply – and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power – by even greater use of clean coal technology ... solar and wind energy ... and clean, safe nuclear power. We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol – using everything from wood chips, to grasses, to agricultural wastes.

We have made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies in Washington and the strong response of the market. Now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we have done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next ten years – thereby cutting our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory Fuels Standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 – this is nearly five times the current target. At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks – and conserve up to eight and a half billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but will not eliminate it. So as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must also step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment – and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change."

text provided by the Office of the Press Secretary at the White House

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Home Page 2007 January 29

by Webmaster January 29, 2007 12:00

Within the energy profession there are groups (e.g., ASPO, ASPO-USA) grappling with the challenge of "Peak Oil." While the efforts of Al Gore and others have raised awareness of the threat of global warming, society is not in any way prepared for the imminent decline in global oil production.

In the near term, declining production will impact certain countries more than others. Cantarell, the largest field in the western hemisphere, is declining rapidly. Over the next couple of years, Mexico's economy will be hard-hit.

Without imports, the USA's domestic oil reserves would be exhausted in three years at the current rate of consumption. The Oil War option is losing favor. Technological breakthroughs will be too slow and voluntary conservation will be too shallow to avert widespread disruption of economic activity, especially transportation and consequently food. Lacking the political will to make conscious, rapid, drastic changes, Americans will be subjected to Mother Nature's adjustments; She did not negotiate with the Mayor of New Orleans; nor will She negotiate the American Way of Life when Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field collapses of its own accord.

Liquid fuel substitutes (tar sands, coal-to-liquids, oil shale, surprisingly even ethanol and biodiesel) are carbon intensive and will only exacerbate global warming. Plus they cannot be scaled up on a timely basis.

It would take one new nuclear power plant every week until 2050 to fill the oil gap. Minor detail, uranium shortages would emerge long before 2050, unless as yet unproven breeder reactors come on line soon.

While it will take time, direct conversion of solar radiation to electricity (photovoltaics and concentrating solar power) can be scaled up. One viable sustainable alternative also exists for repetitive travel (e.g., commuting -- more than half of all urban transport). It is the rapid build-out of solar powered electric vehicles on fixed guideways (the "podcar"). A continuous solar array, well within the width of the guideway, is sufficient to provide 100% of the power required for this efficient form of high capacity transit.

 

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