Published on Peak Surfer on May 15, 2016
Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner
The adoption of The Paris Agreement by 195 countries on December 12, 2015 marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping 90 percent or more of remaining coal, oil and gas in the ground. The final text still has some serious gaps, and the timetable will have to speed up, but the treaty draws a red line on atmospheric CO2 we cannot cross. As science, economics and law come into alignment, a solar-powered economy is barrelling at us with unstoppable force.
Nafeez Ahmed, a former Guardian writer who now blogs the System Shift column for VICE’s Motherboard recently pondered the Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) problem with renewables and came up with something that might form the basis for smoothing the transition.
First, you have to get a sense of the scale of the driving force behind this change. Ahmed observed that since the crash in oil prices (underlying causes here) and the Paris Agreement, more than 65% of the world’s oil companies have declared bankruptcy. The Economist puts the default at $2.5 trillion. The real number is probably much higher. Following Paris, Goldman Sachs surveyed over $1 trillion in stranded assets out in the fracking fields that will never be booked. Carbon Tracker puts the likely cash that will be thrown down bad wells by the still standing 35% of fossil industry dinosaurs — and never-to-be recouped — at $2.2 trillion.
In our book, The Paris Agreement, we described why the fossil shakeout is likely to liberate huge cashflows into renewable energy, but with one giant caveat. There is significantly lower net energy (EROEI) in renewables than the fossils provided in their heyday. That augurs economic contraction no matter how you slice it.
Degrowth is already happening. Carbon Tracker identified Peabody Coal as one of those energy giants unable to pass a 2C stress test. Peabody scoffed. Six months later, Peabody went bankrupt. There are now more solar installers than coal miners in the US and the gap widens each month.
Mark Harrington, an oil industry consultant, tells his clients now the cascading debt defaults will shake the global economy by late 2016 or early 2017 and could make the 2007-8 financial crash look like a cakewalk. Utilities are the new housing bubble.
The EROEI on Texas Spindletops was 100 to 1. The net energy produced from Canadian tar sands or Bakkan shale is less than you can get from green firewood, maybe 3 to 1. Oil rig count in the Bakkan as of this morning: zero. Lost investment exploring and drilling there? billions.
Nafeez Ahmed says:
The imperative to transition away from fossil fuels is, therefore, both geophysical and environmental. On the one hand, by mid-century, fossil fuels and nuclear power will become obsolete as a viable source of energy due to their increasingly high costs and low quality. On the other, even before then, to maintain what scientists describe as a ‘safe operating space’ for human survival, we cannot permit the planet to warm a further 2C without risking disastrous climate impacts.
Staying below 2C, the study finds, will require renewable energy to supply more than 50 percent of total global energy by 2028, “a 37-fold increase in the annual rate of supplying renewable energy in only 13 years.”
Let us leave aside the 2C discussion for now. Two degrees is in the bank and 5 degrees is what we have a slim chance of averting, assuming we can muster the collective will to plant enough trees, make soil, and stop dumping carbon into the atmosphere. Whether 4 degrees, which is likely to be reached by about mid-century, give or take 10 years, is survivable by mammals such as ourselves remains an open question. The odds do not favor our collectively recognizing the risk in time, all of us must acknowledge.
Those odds get even longer once President Trump, taking advice from the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney and Mitch "Black Lungs Matter" McConnell, appoints an Energy Task Force sometime in the first hundred days. Within a few months, Congress will attempt to bend energy economics around their political gravity well. They will superincentivize coal, nuclear and fracked gas and raise even more impossible hurdles for solar power, responsible biomass waste conversion and energy efficiency. Chances then of humans surviving another century: nil.
Trump's tweet has now been retweeted 27,761 times.
Last year the G7 set the goal of decarbonization by end of century, which, like Trump, is a formula for Near Term Human Extinction. At the Paris gathering 195 countries agreed to bounce the date to 2050, with a proviso that it could even accelerate more if needed. More will be needed.
The Bright Shining Hope
Analysts like Stanford’s Tony Seba say that solar power has doubled every year for the last 20 years and costs of photovoltaic power have dropped 22% with each doubling. If you believe these numbers, eight more doublings — by 2030 — and solar power will provide 100% of the world’s electricity at a fraction of today’s prices with significant reductions of carbon emissions. But there is a hitch.
The EROEI of solar power is not improving as quickly as the price. Energy efficiency, especially the embodied energy of components like turbine towers and rooftop arrays and the mined minerals for crystal manufacture, is substantially less than the concentrated caloric punch of oil and coal. Fossil sunlight is to sunlight as crack cocaine is to coca leaves.
That is not to say a civil society living on sunlight can’t still be very nice, and nicer, in fact, than the dirtier industrial civilization, especially if you only have a generation or two left before you go extinct to enjoy it.
All of this revolution could be accomplished, and paid for, simply by a small epigenetic hack in the DNA of central banks. They need to express the gene that prints money. As Ellen Brown explains:
"The combination of fiat money and Globalization creates a unique moment in history where the governments of the developed economies can print money on an aggressive scale without causing inflation. They should take advantage of this once-in-history opportunity . . . ."
Don't panic, and it might be a good idea to follow Ford Prefect's example of carrying a towel, in the unlikely event that the planet is suddenly demolished by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
Despite the paucity of intelligence in the throne room of the Empire, there is, however, a faint glimmer of light coming from a corner of the dungeon, should we peer farther. Ahmed latches on to Eric Toensmeier’s new book, The Carbon Farming Solution, that quotes a Rodale Institute study:
Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’… These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.
As we described in our books, The Biochar Solution and The Paris Agreement, it is possible to unleash the healing powers of the natural world — not by tampering further but by discerning and moving with its flows the way indigenious peoples did for eons — that doesn't just halt climate change but restores it to the pre-industrial. By using a permaculture cascade — regenerative cropping to food, feed and fiber; to protein and probiotic extracts (from waste byproducts); to biofuels (from waste byproducts); to biochar and biofertilizers (from waste byproducts); to probiotic animal supplements and industrial applications like fuel cells (from biochar) — bioeconomics can transform a dying planet into a garden world. But, again, there is a hitch.
According to a 2011 report by the National Academy of Sciences, the scientific consensus shows conservatively that for every degree of warming, we will see the following impacts: 5-15 percent reductions in crop yields; 3-10 percent increases in rainfall in some regions contributing to flooding; 5-10 percent decreases in stream-flow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and the Rio Grande, contributing to scarcity of potable water; 200-400 percent increases in the area burned by wildfire in the US; 15 percent decreases in annual average Arctic sea ice, with 25 percent decreases in the yearly minimum extent in September.
The challenge climate change poses to bioeconomics is where epigenetic agents come in. There is a permaculture army waiting in the wings. We have been training and drilling for 30 years. Cue marching entrance, stage left, with George M. Cohan’s arrangement of Yankee Doodle Dandy.
This will require more than Busby Berkeley. First, as we described here last week, we will need a change of the command switches that express civilization’s genes. This is unlikely to come from Hillary Clinton, central banks, the G7 or the International Monetary Fund — just witness the debacle at Doha in April. It will more likely arise spontaneously from the grass roots, led by regenerative farmers, treehuggers and degrarians, but funded — massively — by institutional investors in search of safe havens from petrocollapse and failing confidence in a stale, counterproductive paradigm.
It is green capitalism, we admit, but the gene expression for capitalism must and will change.
"If you think about it, economic growth could happen through dematerialization," says Jack Buffington, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and author of Progress, Technology and Seven Billion People: A Solution to Save Capitalism and The Recycling Myth: Disruptive Innovation to Improve the Environment.
"Think about all the different things your smart phone can do that 20 years ago you had a computer, you had a telephone. you had an alarm clock…. So, I think there is a way to transform things through the use of materials to dematerialize while at the same time leading to economic growth. Even if you tried to stop innovation you won't. What we have to push for is a model that between the environment and the economy is complementary, so we achieve goals of improving people's lives at the same time as improving the environment."
A bioeconomy is coming. Fast. There are demonstrations of it, large and small, popping up all over the world. The DNA for the global financial marketplace — our social customs for nations, currency systems and trade — has not changed. What is being transformed is the histone that occupies the space between the helices and flips the switches to turn expressions on and off. Who are the radical free agent proteins that are moving in to transform the histone?
Published on Cassandra's Legacy on May 7, 2016
Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner
A "back of the envelope" calculation
The world's economy can be seen as a giant heat engine. It consumes energy, mainly in the form of fossil fuels, and uses it to produce services and goods. No matter how fine-tuned and efficient the engine is, it still needs energy to run. So, if we want to do the big switch that we call the "energy transition" from fossil fuels to renewables, we can't rely just on efficiency and on energy saving. We need to feed the big beast with something it can run on, energy produced by renewable sources such as photovoltaics (PV) and wind in the form of electric power.
Here are a few notes on the kind of effort we need in order to move to a completely renewable energy infrastructure before it is too late to avoid the double threat of climate disruption and resource depletion. It is a tall order: we need to do it, basically, in some 50 years from now, possibly less, otherwise it will be too late to avoid a climate disaster. So, let's try a "back of the envelope" calculation that should provide an order of magnitude estimate. For a complete treatment, see this article by Sgouridis et al.
Let's start: first of all, the average power generation worldwide is estimated as around 18 TW in terms of primary energy. Of these, about 81% is the fraction generated by fossil fuels, that is 14.5 TW. This can be taken as the power that we need to replace using renewable sources, assuming to leave everything else as it is.
We need, however, also to take into account that these 14.5 TW are the result of primary energy generation, that is the heat generated by the combustion of these fuels. A lot of this heat is waste heat, whereas renewables (excluding biofuels) directly generate electric power. If we take into account this factor, we could divide the total by a factor of ca. 3. So, we may say that we might be able to keep the engine running with 5 TW of average renewable power. This may be optimistic because a lot of heat generated by fossil fuels is used for indoor heating, but it is based on the idea that civilization needs electricity more than anything else in order to survive. In terms of indoor heating, civilization survives even if we turn down the thermostat, wear a multi-layer of wool, and light up a small wood fire.
Renewable installations are normally described in terms of "capacity", measured in "peak-Watt" (Wp), that is the power that the plant can generate in optimal conditions. That depends on the technologies used. Starting from the NREL data, a reasonable average capacity factor a mix of renewables can be taken as about 20%. So, 5 TW of average power need 25 TWp of installed capacity. We need to take into account many other factors, such as intermittency, which may require storage and/or some spare power, but also better efficiency, demand management, and storage. On the whole, we may say that these requirements cancel each other. So, 25 TWp can be seen as a bare minimum for survival, but still a reasonable order of magnitude estimate. Then, what do we have? The present installed renewable capacity is ca. 1.8 TWp; around 7%. Clearly, we need to grow, and to grow a lot.
Let's see how we have been doing so far. (The values in the figure below appear to exclude large hydropower plants, which anyway have a limited growth potential).
As you can see, we have been increasing the installed power every year. According to Bloomberg, the installed capacity reached about 134 GWp in 2015. If this value is compared with the IRENA data, above, we see that the growth of installations is slowing down. Still, 134 GWp/year is not bad. The renewable energy industry is alive and doing well, worldwide.
Now, let's go to the core of the matter: what do we need to do in order to attain the transition, and to attain it fast enough? (*)
Clearly, 130 GWp/year, is not enough. At this rate, we would need two centuries to arrive at 25 TWp. Actually, we would never get there: assuming an average lifespan of the plants of 30 years, we would reach only about 4 TWp and all the new installations would be used to replace the old plants as they wear out. But we could get to 25 TWp in 30 years if we could reach and maintain an installation rate of 800 GWp per year, about 6 times larger than what we are doing today. (note that this doesn't take into account the need of replacing old plants but, if we assume an average lifetime of 30 years, the calculation remains approximately valid from now to 2050.)
We may not need to reach 100% renewable power by 2050; 80% or even less may be enough. In such case, we could make it with something like 500 GWp/year; still a much larger rate than what we are doing today. And if we manage to arrive to – say – even just 50% renewable power by 2050, then we will have created a renewable juggernaut that will lead to 100% in a relatively short time. On the other hand, as I said before, 25 TWp may be optimistic and we may well need more than that. On the whole, I'd say that 1TWp/year is as good as it can be as an order of magnitude estimate of the energy needed for the survival of civilization as we know it. Approximately a factor of 8 higher than what we have been doing so far.
This back of the envelope calculations arrives at results compatible to those of the more detailed calculations by Sgouridis et al. That study makes more stringent and detailed assumptions, such as the need of increasing the supply of energy for a growing human population, a lower capacity factor, the need of a gradual build-up of the production facilities, the need of oversized capacity to account for intermittency, the energy yield of the plants (*) and more. In the end, it arrives at the conclusion that we need to install at least 5 TWp per year for a successful transition (and, by the way, that, if we do so, we can avoid crossing the 2 degrees C warming threshold). That's certainly more realistic than the present calculation, but let's stay with this scribbled envelope as a minimalistic approach. Let's say that, just in order for civilization to survive, we need to install 1 TWp per year for the next 30 years, how much would that cost?
Let's see how much we have been spending so far, again from Bloomberg:
Image from Bloomberg Global clean energy investment 2004-15, $bn
As you can see, investments in renewable energy were rapidly increasing up to 2011, then they plateaued with the value for 2015 only marginally higher than it was in 2011. However, if we compare with the previous figure, we see that we have been getting more Watt for the buck. In part, it is because of previously made investments, in part because of the improvements in renewable technologies that have reduced the cost per kWp. But note that technological improvements tend to show diminishing returns. The cost of renewable energy in terms of watt/dollar has gone down so fast and so much that from now on it may be difficult to attain the same kind of radical improvements, barring the development of some new, miracle technology. Take also into account that technological improvement may be offset by the increasing costs of the mineral resources needed for the plants.
We said that we need to increase the installation rate of about a factor of 8 in energy terms. Assuming that the cost of renewable energy won't radically change in the future, monetary investments should of about the same factor. It means that we need to go from the present value of about 280 billion dollars per year to some 2 trillion dollars/year. This is a lot of money, but not an unthinkable: amount. If we sum up what we are investing for fossils (about $1 trillion/year), for renewables ($300 billions/year) and nuclear (perhaps around $200 billions/year) we see that we are not far from there, as we can see in the image below. The total amount yearly invested in the world for energy supply is about 2% of the Gross World Product, today totaling about US$78 trillion.
And there we are. The final result of this exercise is, I think, to frame the transition as a "mind-sized" model (to use a term coined by Seymour Papert). Basically, it turns out that, barring technological miracles, a smooth transition from fossils to renewables is probably impossible; simply because the current way of seeing humankind's problems makes it impossible even to conceive such a massive shift of investments as it would be needed (noting also that investments in renewables have not been significantly increasing from 2011 – that's bad).
This calculation also tells us that it is not unthinkable to advance in the right direction and attain a transition that would allow us to maintain at least some of the features of the present civilization. That is, if we are willing to invest in renewable energy, our destiny is not necessarily that of going back to middle ages or to hunting and gathering (or even to extinction, as it seems to be a fashionable future in certain circles). The transition will be rough, it will be difficult, but it will not necessarily be the Apocalypse that many predict.
In any case, some kind of transition is unavoidable; fossil fuels just have no future. But civilization may still have a future: all the investments in renewable energy we can manage to make today for the transition will make the difference for the future. This is a choice that we can still make.
(*) Note: In this simplified calculation, I haven't specified where the energy needed for building the new infrastructure will come from and I haven't used the concept of EROEI (energy return on energy invested). It is taken into account in detail in the calculations by Sgouridis et al in terms of the concept of the "Sower's Strategy", that is assuming that fossil fuels provide the necessary energy during the initial stages of the transition, then they are gradually replaced by renewable energy.
Published on Peak Surfer on January 24, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Charlie said, "That's the trouble. You see it the way the banking industry sees it and they make money by manipulating money irrespective of effects in the real world. You've spent a trillion dollars of American taxpayers' money over the lifetime of the bank and there's nothing to show for it. You go into poor countries and force them to sell their assets to foreign investors and to switch from subsistence agriculture to cash crops. Then, when the prices of those crops collapse, you call this "nicely competitive" on the world market. The local populations starve and you then insist on austerity measures even though your actions have shattered their economy….
"You were intended to be the Marshall Plan, and instead you've been carpetbaggers."
— Kim Stanley Robinson, Sixty Days and Counting: Science in the Capitol (2007).
“With fundamentals changing slowly and risk appetite falling rapidly, the stage is set for a longer period of risk asset underperformance,” Jabaz Mathai, a strategist at Citigroup Inc., said. “There is no quick fix to the headwinds facing global growth.”
"Similar periods of weakness have occurred in only five other instances since 1985: (1) the majority of 1988, (2) the first half of 1991, (3) several weeks in early 1996, (4) late 2000 and early 2001, and (5) late 2008 and the majority of 2009 … all either overlapped with a recession, or preceded a recession by a few quarters."
There has been a storm brewing since the last trifle with full-on collapse in 2008-2009. The extend-and-pretend debt balloon was reinflated and stretched to new enormities as Keynesian cash infusions fueled a Minsky Moment, if not a Korowicz Crunch.
The instability in finance is compounded by the instability in demographics. In Mexico City, Bogata and Rio they call them NINIs — the millions of youth between 15 and 24 who neither study nor work. They are now about a fifth of the population in the underdeveloping world, responsible for higher rates of homicide, gangs, and unwed pregnancy. Of those born to NINI mothers, there is a 22.3% greater likelihood of becoming a NINI, according to the World Bank. All this tinder simply builds, bides its time, wanders the streets, waits for a revolutionary spark.
As we said here last week, the trigger for the markets' sudden move may have been what happened in Paris but could not stay in Paris. When it filtered out from the December summit that 195 countries had actually done the unimaginable and set a goal of carbon neutrality, meaning phasing out net fossil fuel emissions by 2050, the financial sector was at first caught dumbfounded. The World Bank guys flinched.
Now it has sunk in. The Guardian reports:
Former OMB Chief David Stockman's recap
Investors face a “cataclysmic year” where stock markets could fall by up to 20% and oil could slump to $16 (£11) a barrel, economists at the Royal Bank of Scotland have warned. In a note to its clients the bank said: “Sell everything except high quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small.” It said the current situation was reminiscent of 2008, when the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank led to the global financial crisis. This time China could be the crisis point.
Government subsidies are about to undergo a titanic shift. Many governments spend more on fossil-fuel subsidies than they do on health and education, more than a trillion dollars. Consumer benefits such as subsidized fuels and cheap finance add $548 billion per year. Government support for companies to expand production add another $542 billion just in G20 overdeveloped countries, and a mere top 8 of those will spend $80 billion of this kind every year, four times the investments going to renewables globally.
Tomorrow those same Big-8, and 188 others, will begin spending several times those trillions subsidizing renewables. Jeremy Leggett, founder of Solar Aid and Solarcentury, calls it "trillionization." It won't begin to fill the energy gap that the switch will create, but the psychology of sunk investment will be in charge from thereon out.
Oil producing states and countries are aghast. The "clear signal" that Paris sent was not what they were expecting. In Alaska, the Permanent Fund has been running in the red and the legislature is talking about an income tax. Had the Paris Agreement not come together, they might hope for a rebound of fossil prices and investments in drilling the North Slope and Arctic Refuge.
Petroblas, the national oil company of Brazil and wellspring of the Brazilian Economic Miracle, is now cash negative. It will be forced to turn to the government for a bail-out, but to where will its government turn?
In Mexico, the deficit is running 100 billion and the peso has dropped from 12 in 2014 to soon-to-be 20 against the dollar. If you have dollars you can get a meal in a good restaurant or a room for the night for 5 or 10 of them. So far in January the price rise of food for the average Mexican is alarming. Onions are up 19%, poblanos 15%, bananas 10%, tomatoes 9%.
The national oil company, PEMEX, came out on Monday saying it is not true that its operating with losses, but below the $26 per barrel it would be. On Tuesday the price dropped to $24.74. It closed the week at $22.77 but as we write this you can buy a barrel in Mexico City for as little as $20.32. Mexico's federal budget is entirely dependent on oil money and don't look now but Mexico, when it was petrodollar flush, became a net importer of most staple foods and many other essential commodities, which helps explain the grocery dilemma. Mexico now buys onions, poblanos, bananas and tomatoes from California. Also beans, corn and rice.
Gotta love those World Bank guys.
Venezuela, which surprised everyone by signing the Paris Agreement at the final hour, declared an economic emergency on January 15. France, which foolishly drank too much atomic kool aid thinking it might spare itself from petrocollapse, has a budget shortfall of 2.2 billion dollars and declared national economic emergency on January 17. The jobless rate in France, the eurozone's 2d largest economy, is above 10%, compared with a 9.8% EU average.
Andrew Roberts, RBS’s credit chief, said:
European and US markets could fall by 10% to 20%, with the FTSE 100 particularly at risk due to the predominance of commodity companies in the UK index. London is vulnerable to a negative shock. All these people who are long [buyers of] oil and mining companies thinking that the dividends are safe are going to discover that they’re not at all safe.
We suspect 2016 will be characterized by more focus on how the exiting occurs of positions in the three main asset classes that benefited from quantitative easing: 1) emerging markets, 2) credit, 3) equities … Risks are high.
"For dry bulk, China has gone completely belly up,” said Erik Nikolai Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities ASA in Oslo, talking about ships that haul everything from coal to iron ore to grain. “Present Chinese demand is insufficient to service dry-bulk production, which is driving down rates and subsequently asset values as they follow each other.”
“China’s slowdown has come as a major shock to the system,” said Hartland Shipping’s Prentis. “We are now caught in the twilight zone between shifts in China’s economy, and it is uncomfortable as it’s causing unexpected slowing of demand.”
The continued collapse of The Baltic Dry Index remains ignored by most.
According to Zero Hedge:
Commerce between Europe and North America has literally come to a halt. For the first time in known history, not one cargo ship is in-transit in the North Atlantic between Europe and North America. All of them (hundreds) are either anchored offshore or in-port. NOTHING is moving.
This has never happened before. It is a horrific economic sign; proof that commerce is literally stopped.
The slow response to the Paris outcome has been a complete portfolio review by every actuary and bean-counter in the biggest banks and investment houses, pension funds and mutuals. Hedge fund managers are scratching and sniffing for places to park billions being lifted from soon-to-be-stranded fossil assets. The clean-tech market, signaled first by China, is reacting by recycling cash out of fossil holdings.
Peter Sinclair of ClimateCrocks.com reports:
The Energy Information Administration calculates in its 2015 analysis that the average U.S. levelized cost for new natural-gas advanced combined cycle plants is 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour — the same as solar.
However, to compare accurately, we have to add about 10 percent to the cost of solar to firm up this variable resource. So we’re close to cost parity, but not quite there.
At $1 per watt, the levelized cost falls to just 5.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, well below cost parity with new natural-gas plants. With two-axis trackers and the best solar resources, which increase the capacity factor to 32 percent, that cost falls to just 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. We’re headed to $1 per watt as an all-in cost in the next five to 10 years.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported last summer that wind power was the cheapest source of power in the U.K. and Germany in 2015, even without subsidies. The article’s tagline reads: “It has never made less sense to build fossil fuel power plants.” The same article highlights the feedback loop that solar and wind power have in terms of reducing the cost-effectiveness of fossil fuel power plants due to the dispatch order of renewables versus fossil fuel plants.
The solar singularity is indeed near (here?) in the U.S. and increasingly around the world. I described previously that 1 percent of the market is halfway to solar ubiquity because 1 percent is halfway between nothing and 100 percent in terms of doublings (seven doublings from .01 percent to 1 percent and seven more from 1 percent to reach 100 percent). The U.S. will reach the 1 percent solar milestone in 2016. We’re halfway there. Buckle your seatbelts.
There are plenty of unemployed oil workers ready for retraining. James Howard Kunstler:
So, in 2015, the shale oil companies laid off thousands of workers, idled the drilling rigs, and kicked back to pray that the price would go back up. Which it didn’t…. The landscape of North Dakota is littered with unfinished garden apartment complexes that may never be completed, and the discharged construction carpenters and roofers drove back to Minnesota ahead of the re-po men coming for their Ford F-110s.
To see what does well in the new, post-Paris domain, watch stocks like First Solar (FSLR), Renewable Energy Group (REGI), SolarCity (SCTY) and Siemens (SIE) over the next quarter, and mutuals like Firsthand Alternative Energy (ALTEX), New Alternatives (NALFX) and Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy (GAAEX). Some of these know their audience and have vowed to screen for social justice. Gabelli SRI AAA says, for instance:
The fund will not invest in the top 50 defense/weapons contractors or in companies that derive more than 5% of their revenues from the following areas: tobacco, alcohol, gaming, defense/weapons production….
There is a psychology that sets in once the corner is turned on fossil investments that may make a big difference in the political debate about climate change. For more than half a century the GOP, the Fossil Lobby and Wall Street have blocked, cut or delayed investments in renewables and papered it over with greenwash. Forced by pledges made in Paris — and a legally-binding agreement with the word "shall" used 143 times — and the emergence of a huge new global competition to begin not only unchaining the clean-tech sector, but to actively promote it with subsidies, research grants and moonshot-scale deployments, the psychology of chasing after sunk investments will drive an apolitical energy conversion.
Moreover, 350.org and Greenpeace are ramping up campaigns to make sure the promises made in Paris are kept.
Clean energy will not deliver a 1:1 replacement for fossil fuels. Get over it. We will not suddenly convert steel mills, cement kilns and road surfacing machines to operate on sunbeams. But the investments we do make, and the worsening weather, will drive us to make even more and ever larger investments, in a forlorn search for a full replacement. While wasteful, it is not nearly as wasteful as the industrial and military investments of the past century or more.
Persian Gulf wars, going back to antiquity, have never been fought over sunlight. As David Stockman recently recalled:
[A] 45-year old error … holds the Persian Gulf is an American Lake and that the answer to high oil prices and energy security is the Fifth Fleet.***
That doctrine has been wrong from the day it was officially enunciated by one of America’s great economic ignoramuses, Henry Kissinger, at the time of the original oil crisis in 1973. The 42 years since then have proven in spades that its doesn’t matter who controls the oilfields, and that the only effective cure for high oil prices is the free market.
The switch to sunlight will make the lives we are living better for many, especially those on the front lines of the oil wars, even as we continue towards an Anthropocene Armageddon with little sign of being able to change that trajectory.
In a well-read article in Climate Change in November 2010, Garrett ran the simple arithmetic:
Specifically, the human system grows through a self-perpetuating feedback loop in which the consumption rate of primary energy resources stays tied to the historical accumulation of global economic production — or p×g — through a time-independent factor of 9.7±0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 US dollar.
If civilization is considered at a global level, it turns out there is no explicit need to consider people or their lifestyles in order to forecast future energy consumption. At civilization’s core there is a single constant factor, λ = 9.7 ± 0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar, that ties the global economy to simple physical principles. Viewed from this perspective, civilization evolves in a spontaneous feedback loop maintained only by energy consumption and incorporation of environmental matter.
Unsold cars sit on receiving docks all over the world
Because the current state of the system, by nature, is tied to its unchangeable past, it looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in CO2 emission rates. For predictions over the longer term, however, what is required is thermodynamically based models for how rates of carbonization and energy efficiency evolve. To this end, these rates are almost certainly constrained by the size and availability of environmental resource reservoirs. Previously, such factors have been shown to be primary constraints in the evolution of species
What this means is the same thing that Gail Tverberg, Richard Heinberg and many others have been saying for a very long time — modern economies are a product of cheap energy. Take that away and they crash and burn. That’s the good news. Garrett says there is no other climate remediation model that works. Civilization is a heat engine whether it is powered by nuclear fusion or photovoltaics. The global economy must crash for humanity to stand a chance. McPherson would take it a step farther and say it is already too late, enjoy what time you have.
The famous Fermi paradox raises the question: why haven’t we detected signs of alien life, despite high estimates of probability, such as observations of planets in the “habitable zone” around a Sun-like star by the Kepler telescope and calculations of hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy that might support life. To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable. Early extinction, before interstellar communication, solves the Fermi Paradox. So does merely the extinction of civilization capable of interstellar communication without the same degree of trauma. No civilization, no heat.
But wait! Can that excess heat civilization is producing be turned into air conditioning for the planet? Is there a permacultural decroissance that could rescue our genome? Stay tuned, but first, next week, we play the Trump card.
Published on Peak Surfer on January 17, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
The World Bank Guys talked about rates of return and the burden on investors and the unacceptable cost of the doubling of the price of a kilowatt hour. Everyone there had said all of this before, with the same lack of communication and absence of concrete results.
Charlie saw that the meeting was useless. He thought of Joe, over at the daycare. He had never stayed there long enough even to see what they did all day long. Guilt stuck him like a sliver. In a crowd of strangers, 14 hours a day.
The bank guy was going on about differential costs. "And that's why its going to be oil for the next 20, 30 and maybe even 50 years," he concluded. "None of the alternatives are competitive." Charlie's pencil tip snapped.
"Competitive for what?" he demanded. He had not spoken until that point and now the edge in his voice stopped the discussion. Everyone was staring at him.
He stared back at the World Bank guys. "Damage from carbon dioxide emission costs about $35 per ton. But in your model, no-one pays it. The carbon that British Petroleum burns per year by sale and by operation runs up a damage bill of $50 billion dollars. BP reported a profit of $20 billion so actually its $30 billion in the red, every year.
"Shell reported a profit of $23 billion but if you added the damage cost it would be $8 billion in the red. These companies should be bankrupt. You support their exteriorizing of costs so your accounting is bullshit. You are helping to bring on the biggest catastrophe in human history.
"If the oil companies burn the 500 gigatons of carbon that you are describing as inevitable, because of your financial shell games, then two-thirds of the species on the planet will be endangered, including humans. But you keep talking about fiscal discipline and competitive edges and profit differentials. It's the stupidest head-in-the-sand response possible."
The World Bank guys flinched at this. "Well, we don't see it that way."
While the story coming out of the White House Press Room this week was phrased as a temporary moratorium on new coal mining leases on federal lands, the bigger story was in the details of the review that the President had ordered. Like Robinson's character in Sixty Days, the White House recognized that the real cost of coal is not currently accounted for in its price, so the new review will tally the environmental impacts, including destruction of public lands from air and water pollution from strip mining and failed mine reclamation, public health impacts from transporting and burning coal, damage from ash spills, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. It will set a price on future leases based on this thoroughgoing review that brings the cost of coal in line with the reality of the actual costs.
If this had to be run through Congress, powerful coal-state Senators like Mitch McConnell would derail it before it got out of committee. As merely Bureau of Land Management regulatory policy, it falls under the Executive Branch, where the President's is the only opinion that counts.
Tomorrow senior politicians, digiratti activists and Hollywood stars ski into the Swiss resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. The theme was to have been the 4th Industrial Revolution – robots, AI and the biotechno singularity — but the buzz is all about the latest crash of the world economy.
The trigger for all this change may have been what happened in Paris but could not stay in Paris. In December we reported from the United Nations climate meeting where many of these same characters — John Kerry, Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel — were on stage. We described then how an amazing role reversal was in progress and how it had transformed COP-21, midway through the second week of deadlocked negotiations.
The roles that switched were between the dominants, like Exxon-Mobil, Shell and BP, and the submissives — the entire renewables industry. Renewables are largely a digital world, enjoying advancements in crystal structure, solid state controllers, neodymium and other rare earth metallurgy that follow the proscribed arc of Moore's law, doubling in efficiency and halving in cost at close intervals, driving exponential adoption and dissemination.
Fossils, in contrast, are an analog industry, trying to wring the last drops of intoxicating elixir from the carpet of the pub after closing time. In 2015 those two curves crossed, and renewables are now cheaper (even free at some hours for select consumers in certain markets) while coal, oil and gas are queuing up outside bankruptcy court.
|Salvaging beer from the bar floor after last rounds|
The US Department of Energy reported this week:
The Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) released on January 12 forecasts that Brent crude oil prices will average $40 per barrel (b) in 2016 and $50/b in 2017. This is the first STEO to include forecasts for 2017. Forecast West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices average $2/b lower than Brent in 2016 and $3/b lower in 2017. However, the current values of futures and options contracts continue to suggest high uncertainty in the price outlook. For example, EIA's forecast for the average WTI price in April 2016 of $37/b should be considered in the context of recent contract values for April 2016 delivery, suggesting that the market expects WTI prices to range from $25/b to $56/b (at the 95% confidence interval).
The decline in oil price is too little, too late. It cannot keep pace with the price decline we are seeing in the clean tech revolution. Consequently, more people now work in the US solar industry than in oil and gas at the wellhead. In 2015, for the third straight year, the solar workforce grew 20 percent. Clean tech employs far more women than fossil, and 5 percent of the workforce is African American, 11 percent Latino, and 9 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.
At the same time, rear-guard action by the Coal-Baron-selected legislatures in Arizona and Nevada — states that could be leading the nation in solar power production — have led to layoffs in the renewables sector. The pushback over solar and wind fees by grid owners, punitive taxes, and net metering promise to keep those states in the Dark Ages, as they did the United States for the past four decades.
In a famous L'il Abner cartoon, Pappy Yokum tells L'il Abner, "Any fool can knock down a barn, it takes a carpenter to build one." To which L'il Abner replies, "Any fool? Let me try!"
Listening to the Republican presidential candidates debate is like watching a Fox-den full of L'il Abners.
|US Solar Power 2010-2015|
So it is not surprising that at the stroke of a pen, three Republican appointees on the Nevada Power Utility Commission decided the fates of millions of ratepayers when they killed solar feed-in-tariffs in that state. It was not unlike Michigan governor Rick Snyder deciding to kill and maim thousands of Detroit residents by switching their water to a polluted source and then covering up the damage. You might say no-one gets killed or maimed from solar energy, and that's closer to true, but plenty more get poisoned every year from the fossil alternative.
The numbers being parsed in Davos will be puzzling to many attending that meeting. From a peak in January 2015 to last October, movements of crude by rail declined more than a fifth. The research group Genscape said rail deliveries to US Atlantic coast terminals continued to drop to the end of the year and the spot market for crude delivered by rail from North Dakota’s Bakken region “is at a near standstill.”
Just 5 years ago investors clamored for more tank cars to pick up the slack from overwhelmed pipeline capacity. Now those cars sit idle on sidings and no one is ordering more. Pipelines are idle too, as refineries on the coasts have found that it is cheaper to buy crude of higher quality than shale oil, shipped by ocean tanker from Canada, Nigeria and Azerbaijan.
Junk bond sales are all that supports
the fracked gas Ponzi scheme.
A Congress desperate to please its oil masters in an election year abolished four-decade-old restrictions on exporting domestic crude. While some tankers now take crude from the Gulf Coast to refineries in Venezuela, where the heavy sludges and half-formed keragens can be more economically processed because of fewer environmental restrictions, the US then imports back the finished products at a hefty mark-up.
The idling of rail, barge, ship and pipeline traffic is the biggest change of its kind in 30 years. And while the shift away from coal-powered energy, the long recession, and the petering out of the fracking and shale Ponzi real estate play would obviously lead to fewer tons, barrels and cubic feet being moved, it doesn't explain the full depth of the stoppage. The rail and barge slowdown is now spreading to more consumer-oriented segments. Intermodal carloads typically related to consumer goods fell 1.7 percent in the final quarter of last year.
"We believe rail data may be signaling a warning for the broader economy," the recent note from Bank of America says.
"Carloads have declined more than 5 percent in each of the past 11 weeks on a year-over-year basis. While one-off volume declines occur occasionally, they are generally followed by a recovery shortly thereafter. The current period of substantial and sustained weakness, including last week’s -10.1 percent decline, has not occurred since 2009."
“When people get hungry, governments fall” — Stuart Scott, Through A Dark Portal, Radio Ecoshock, January 13, 2016
If you can read the tea leaves, or even if you can't, we are now in the long slide. We will examine the financial road ahead, and the Paris Effect on that, in greater detail next week.
Published on the Doomstead Diner on October 25, 2015
Discuss this article at the Science & Technology inside the Diner
A couple of weeks ago I ran across a really fine article about how to negotiate and survive becoming Homeless, Homeless Survival : Practical Tips And Advice Derived From Personal Experience
In this article, the author details many good strategies for the Homeless person to continue onward looking like more or less a "normal" person who still has a home, although he didn't go over Homeless Cooking in the detail I have in some of my SNAP Card Gourmet articles. He also covered maintaining Internet communications to an extent, using the Free Wi-Fi available in many places, but this was not detailed enough for me, because I am more of an Internet Junkie than most people. So in this article I am going to detail all the hardware you need to not just get on the net, but to be able to Admin your websites, keep your hardware charged and operational, etc.
So I have a LOT of Internet responsibilities now to my fellow Kollapsniks TM! It's obviously important to ME to run these sites (keeps me bizzy!), but it is important to the rest of the Diners too, and I don't want to let them down and not keep running these sites even if I become Homeless! Which granted is not an immediate possibility since I still have money in the bank and the monetary system here in the FSoA is still working and there is a decent chance I will get my Bennies after becoming Disabled and a few Diners have offered me Shelter in the worst case scenario, but still I could become Homeless and without an official net connection and my own source of electric grid power for at least a period of time. This could happen if for instance we had a major quake up here in the Mat Valley or if Mount Redoubt blows and drops a few inches of ashfall down which collapses the roof of my digs or there is a big wildfire in the neighborhood and I have to Bugout FAST! Many Possbilities exist for my ability to Admin my websites to be compromised in some way!
Can I bring my Laptop and home electric security preps with me? I have stuff like a generator, Deep Cycle Batteries, large solar panels, the WORKS here to survive a temporary loss of power in my location as long as the roof is still over my head and I can pay the rent. However, either in a fast bugout situation or in the long term homeless situation, I can't be hauling these preps around with me all the time. The Deep Cycle Lead-Acid Batteries are HEAVY! The Yamaha Generator while probably the lightest and smallest in its class is ALSO pretty heavy. So you can nix both of those for the Homeless person, although you probably could keep them in a Storage Unit. No, what I need is a compact & lightweight kit for maintaining my websites in all but the most dire circumstances where the internet itself goes dark. Then this whole bizness is OVAH and it is my time to Buy My Ticket to the Great Beyond TM. When the Internet Goes Dark TM, so does RE. No more Reason to Live. LOL.
What my goal here in creating the Internet Admin Survival Package TM was was to put together everything I need to maintain connection to the net and do my Admin tasks until the day arrives that the Internet Goes Dark TM. Most of the items in my Kit I already had, but I just invested in another couple I deemed necessary to complete the kit this week. I will detail what they are as I go through the kit items.
#1- Smart Phone/Tablet Computer
The CRITICAL item in your kit is your Smart Phone. Your choice of phones is important here, and you also need BACKUP! This was driven home to me during our Diner Convocation down in Texas in 2014. On that occassion, I destroyed my original Galaxy Mega Smartphone by dropping it on the concrete parking lot of our Motel Hell estabishment in ButtFuck TX where we stayed for the course in building Monolithic Domes. In order to resolve this unfortunate problem, I had to borrrow Eddie's Mercedes and drive to the nearest ATT Store (a couple of hours away) to purchase a NEW Galaxy Mega at the full price of around $650 at the time. Upon returning home, I was able to get yet another one of these devices for $150 off the Insurance Plan for having your device lost, stolen or broken, and I also have an older Iphone 4 which still works in the kit as well. So triple backup on this lynchpin item. If one craps out, I simply shift the SIM card over to another one and it connects to my ATT account., back on the net to do my Admin tasks. 🙂
The main PROBLEM with smart phones is generally their SIZE, and the fact they do not sport a real Keyboard. You need to be a real Thumb Jockey to be able to even write a Twitter message of 140 Characters, much less the 3000 word articles I usually will write (like this one! lol.) So your Smart Phone is no good for real Admin work without a KEYBOARD! "Have Keyboard, Will Travel!" 🙂
#2- Keyboard & Mouse
Perhaps some people can get along without these devices, but for myself doing Admin tasks without them is ridiculously difficult. Fortunately, Folding Bluetooth Keyboards and Bluetooth Mice are available for the Android OP system the Galaxy Mega runs on, and in fact they work with the Apple shit too, so in the worst case scenario BOTH of my Galaxy Megas crap out, I can still use my Folding Keyboard and Bluetooth Mouse with the old Iphone. Still a ridiculously tiny screen to work on though, so I hope things don't get that bad. lol.
None of the above preps work without some access to electricity to keep them all charged up and operating. You probably do want your own means of keeping your Comunications Equipment charged up, so I did invest in a couple of new items this week for this purpose. First was a Folding 6.5A 5V output solar PV Array I could fit in my Kit Sack. Probably not too necessary in most circumstances on the Homeless paradigm, I'll probably be able to keep my devices charged by going to the Library, a Coffee Shop and so forth and plugging in to their Grid Power.. For this purpose I bought 20,000 Mah external Li-I Battery which I can use to recharge the cell phone and the various other devices in the kit. In conjunction with the Solar PV panels, on a decently sunny day in about 4 hours I should be able to charge up this battery in about 4 hours, and that then will enable me to keep the Smart Phones and Cameras and Diode Lites all charged up.
Since the smart phones themselves are lit up, you don't absolutely need auxiliary lighting. However, if you are in a Tent or some other temporary shelter and want to be able to see your keyboard, you are going to want some other lighting besides the Smartphone itself. Besides that, the Diode Emergency Lighting often is set up so that not only can your Crank Charge the light itself, but you can ALSO use this to charge your Smart Phone! 🙂
I have 4 lights in the Emergency Kit bag. 2 are Crank Lights, and also can serve to charge up my Smart Phone.
Light 1- A Crank Up emergency flashlight which also has AM/FM Radio and can charge my smart phone.
Light 2- A Lantern style Crank Up to give me enough light to keyboard by and also charge the Smart Phone
Light 3- A POWERHOUSE 350 Lumen Flashlight which runs on 3 AAA Batteries, rechargeable or single use, whatever I can get hold of. This little light by itself can light up your entire digs pointed at the ceiling. 350 Lumens is BRIGHT! You do not need any more than this to light up a room anywhere. Trust me on this and do not look directly into the light. You will go BLIND in an instant. LOL
Light 4- A 100 Lumen flashlight which stands on it's own tripod and can be used together with my Camera in low light conditions to do an Interview. Also works on 3 AAA rechargeable or single use batteries.
I have a few items in the Kit not absolutely necessary for my Homeless Internet Admin work:
GPS Units: Not necessary for most circumstances, but handy for Locating myself anywhere if I need help from another Diner. I can issue out the Lat & Lon coordinates within 10 feet anywhere on earth for an emergency pickup point.
A/C & D/C Transformers to Charge 5V USB Devices: Essential Items to keep your equipment charged up as long as there is some Grid Power available somewhere or soe car that still has juice in the battery.
Audio Headse/Mict and Speaker. Not essential in most circumstances, but for myself doing a lot of Audio interviews and the fact I like to listen to old favorite music, its and addition I like having in the kit.
Camera & Table Top Tripod for doing Video and Pics: I can record with my Smart Phones, but even the El Cheapo Digicam does a better job for this than the Smart Phones. As a modern era Reporter, I need means to get good pics and video up on the net, and a smart phone just is not good enough for this task in general. OK in a pinch, but you really want a decent camera available if possible. I have still better cameras then the El Cheapo, but I need a whole other bag for them.
Cables: You need to be able to hook everything up of course, so you will need some USB cables. USB comes in a few sizes, so adapters for these sizes are handy to have as well.
Now, all of this stuff is extremely light and portable and fits in a Shoulder Bag or Backpack and it is sufficient to fulfill my Diner Admin responsibilities if I need to make a Fast Bugout. However, is this all I have for the bugout situation? Of course not. 🙂
If I at least still have my SUV to bugout in and to live in as a Homeless Person I can carry with me a whole lot more than this.
The next level up of Electric Preps is contained in a brief case. It consists of:
#1- 5W 12V Solar Panel
This panel is different than the folding one which outputs at 5V for charging the portable devices, instead it outputs at 12V good for charging typical automotive batteries. However, because it is so small and only outputs 5W, to charge up a full size auto battery would take several sunny days without draining the battery for the purpose of charging other devices. of course, if you have money to buy gas and do some driving each day, you probably generate enough electricity this way even without the solar panels. In most cases though it will keep the battery nicely topped of with juice if you are judicious about how much you drain your other devices.
#2 10 AH 12V Deep Cycle SLA Battery
This is one of the spare batteries I bought for my Ewz Electric Scooter. It runs on 3 of these wired in series for 36V, but you can split them up and just carry one for the typical 12V use. It is relatively small compared to an automotive battery and designed for deep discharge/recharge cycles. Automotive batteries are designed to give a lot of cranking amps all at once to turn over an engine, not to deep discharge regularly. SLA stands for Sealed Lead Acid, so despite being fairly small and compact, these batteries weigh a fair amount. I would rather have a 12V Li-I battery which are lighter and generally do more recharge cycles, but they aren't available up here at Batteries & Bulbs, and getting them shipped here is bear also, since they are considered a Hazmat for air shipping. However, since I am not carrying around this briefcase all the time, the extra weight doesn't matter very much. They are also about 5X the price and that is hard to justify.
#3 200 W Modified Sine Wave Inverter
Your inverter converts the 12V DC to 120V AC which powers most household appliances. The 200 W Inverter won't run stuff like a Microwave, but it will run low power draw items like a lamp, a slow cooker and most importantly, a REAL laptop instead of the Smart Phone/Folding Keyboard/Bluetooth Mouse combination. While that combo works pretty good, it's still not as good as a real laptop for writing and doing Admin tasks on the net.
Other 12V aficionados often warn me about the dangers of using modified sine wave inverters and recommend I spend the extra money for a true sine wave inverter. Reasoning being that modified sine wave can damage some complex electronics that run on AC. Thing is, I don't use an inverter for running any such equipment. Lightbulbs and the slow cooker don't care what the sine wave configuration is, and the Laptop actually runs on DC, you have a transformer between the inverter and the laptop which converts the electricity back to DC at whatever voltage your laptop runs on, which is usually somewhere between 15V DC and 22V DC. These transformers don't care what the sine wave looks like either.
In addition to the 200W Inverter, I have a tiny 75W cigarette lighter size inverter, a larger 500W unit you clip to the battery itself and a behemoth 1000W inverter capable of running a Microwave Oven if you have enough juice and big enough battery to drive it. You want to use the smallest inverter which will drive whatever device you are running, since there is more power wasted the larger the inverter. The big ones require a fan to run to keep cool, which wastes still more power and is something else that can break down. The 75W unit is JUST enough to run a typical laptop computer and keep its own battery charged up.
In order to reduce power wastage still more, I recently bought a DC-DC Transformer which takes 12V DC and directly changes it to anywhere from 5V to 24V to run just about any laptop computer on the market. It also comes with 12 different Plug Tips that will fit any laptop you happen to have on hand for your Admin work. I'm not sure precisely how much waste you are saving here, but I estimate about 25% which is significant if you have low storage capacity for your juice and limited generating power.
#4 AC-DC 6V-12V Battery Charger
This device plugs into the wall and will charge up any 6V or 12V battery you can scavenge up, so as long as power periodically shows up in your wall outlet, you can keep your batteries charged this way and then have power available for the times the juice is NOT flowing from the local electric plant into your outlets. In normal daily use, I keep it hooked to a large 12V Deep Cycle Marine Battery about 2X the size of a typical car battery. This battery when topped off (as it always is) will run all my portable electronics for at least 2 weeks, probably a month. If I run my laptop off of it, probably still get a week without any generation from the Solar Panels. This battery is of course way too big and heavy to carry around or drop in a brief case, but in a bugout situation with the SUV easily fits in the storage area of the vehicle.
Finally, in addition to the stuff that fits in the brief case, I have a larger 120W Solar PV Panel which can strap on to the roof rack of the SUV. This provides plenty of juice to run all the equipment as much as I normally do without significantly draining the battery storage each night when I run a couple of diode lights and the laptop too. The overall key here is to be aware of how much power your equipment is drawing, and choose low power consumptive devices as much as you can.
As long as you are just talking communications equipment and lighting, you really do not need a whole heck of a lot of juice available. It's only once you start to add in stuff like Refrigeration to your bugout package that you need significantly more generating power. As long as you can still get gas for the vehicle though and can afford it, your car alternator will provide plenty of juice to keep all your portable electronic devices charged up even without the addition of Solar PV panels.
Now, in most cases for the near future, I expect Grid Power to remain available somewhere, even if I am Homeless and can't afford to pay my electric bill. For instance, if I go to the local Internet Coffee Shop where I did many of my early Collapse Cafes, at every table along the wall there is an electric outlet where I would plug in my laptop so as not to be discharging the battery unnecessarily. This conserves the battery lifetime for your laptop battery. Don't run it off the battery unless you absolutely have to. In normal use they will last about 2 years of discharge cycles, mine is 4 years old and still going strong, because I simply do not run the laptop off of it's battery. It's plugged in just about all the time.
In a real Homeless or Bugout situation, I could do more than just keep the laptop charged up though. I could for instance walk into the local laundromat with a bag of clothes for washing and the big ass deep cycle marine battery below it with the 12V DC charger on my folding luggage carrier with wheels, disguised in a bag. I plug this into the wall while my laundry is in the washing machine and drier. In a couple of hours, I have scarfed up enough free electricity (for me anyhow) to not only power my communications equipment, but in fact enough to run a 12V Heated Sleeping pad as well so that I can sleep in toasty warm comfort in my SUV even if the outside temperatures drop to 20 Below. You combine such a heating pad with a good sleeping bag and have enough juice to run it, you won't freeze to death no matter how cold it gets. I can also cook my food in the slow cooker and not have to burn propane cannisters. I can of course go into numerous Convenience Stores and use their Microwave and electric power to heat up more of my food. Hot food, a toasty place to sleep, the only other thing you really need is water, which you can collect in a bottle each day at the convenience store in the bathroom sink as well.
Back to the main issue of communications and Internet Admin responsibilities though, once Homeless or in a Bugout situation, obviously you have lost your own high speed, high bandwidth connection to the net over cable or DSL, whatever you have at home. You certainly want to keep your own 4G connection to the net on your cell phone, but this is an additional expense of around $50-100/month, which you may not be able to afford over time once becoming Homeless.
If that is the case, you're going to mostly need to use the Free Wi-Fi available at many internet cafes, libraries and even Mickey Ds. You won't have a 24/7 connection to the net this way, but you can still do most of your writing while offline, and then simply upload your stuff when you do drop into a location with free wi-fi. You're also going to want your own Skype Number for possible jobs to call you where they can leave a message and you can then call them back and seem like a "normal" person, not a Homeless one. You can buy enough minutes for a Skype Number for this purpose for around $10, which probably lasts you a year given you probably will not actually use it for talking too much. Most talking with friends goes across Skype itself for free skype to skype account. In addition, you can use Google Hangouts for conversation with friends rather than the skype phone line. The only purpose for this phone number is to have a number to hand out to possible jobs or perhaps the occasional person you don't want to give your Skype ID to.
Not being connected 24/7 to Global Communications is not something most of us net junkies are used to anymore, but of course this was the norm before the Cell Phones became ubiquitous. In da olden days once I left the McHovel with its land line telephone, I was disconnected and nobody could get in touch with me until I got back home and checked the "answering machine", the predecessor to Voice Mail and itself an invention which only came around maybe in my early teens or so. Prior to that, if you weren't home when a call came in, you simply missed the call and no message about it. The person trying to reach you just had to do it again at another time.
The Homeless situation without your own (fairly costly) regular cell phone number puts you back in that situation more or less, and to maintain the illusion that you are still a "normal" person and not a Homeless one, you want to maintain a cell phone number and account as long as you can. Once you drop below the poverty line, many of the cell phone providers offer a "basic" service for around $10/month which will at least allow you to get phone calls 24/7 and will take voicemail. You won't have an internet connection with that service, bit it is cheap and keeps a line open for you even if you can't scarf up some free Wi-Fi somewhere. Advisable to keep such a connection as long as you can afford it.
Now, this may seem trivial and inconsequential to you if you are more worried about FEEDING yourself with veggies grown in your raised beds or hydroponics tank, but it's not for me. Internet Communication is Priority #1 for me! The only reason I eat anything to begin with is to have enough energy to keyboard out some more Doom Newz! LOL.
Seriously though, I think most people, even Doomers don't like it much when there is a Power Outage for one reason or another and their cell phone and laptop run out of juice after a day or two. There are safety issues involved here as well, in terms of calling for help if you are sick or your house is floating downstream in a flood. So you want to keep these things running as long as you can, and the above are my best strategies for doing that at a semi-reasonable price. You DO NOT need a $20,000 Off the Grid Solar PV setup for your Doomstead to do it. It can mostly be done in 1 or 2 bags with the right selection of preps.
Published on Our Finite World on October 14, 2015
Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner
What is really wrong with our energy system, particularly as it relates to electricity and natural gas? Are there any mitigations available? I have been asked to give a talk at an Electricity/Natural Gas conference that includes both producers and industrial users of electricity and natural gas.
In this presentation, I suggest that the standard diagnosis of the problems facing the energy system is incomplete. While climate change may be a problem, there is another urgent problem that attendees at the conference should be aware of as well–affordability, and the severe near-term impact affordability can be expected to have on the system.
My written summary of this talk is fairly brief. I have not tried to repeat the information shown on the slides. This is a link to a copy of my presentation: Our Electricity Problem: Getting the Diagnosis Right
A finite world is one that is subject to limits. Its economy cannot grow forever for many reasons.
Let’s look at some examples (Slide 4) of how limits work in finite systems. Often there seems to be a change of direction.
The standard story that we hear says that energy prices can rise and rise, indefinitely. But as I look at the data, this doesn’t seem to be true in practice. At some point, there is a problem with affordability, because wages don’t rise as the price of energy products grows.
In many ways, the problems that overtake the economy are similar to ailments that beset a human being. A person can have multiple ailments, some of which grow in severity over the years. The catch, of course, is that if an early ailment becomes severe, it may kill the patient, eliminating the need to fix the later ailments.
The way I see the economy, there are many hurdles that have the potential to inflict severe damage on the economy. Slide 6 shows a few of them. Some examples of other issues include lack of fresh water and erosion of topsoil.
In my view, we are right now reaching an affordability crisis. One way it manifests itself is as high commodity prices that fall and thus become low commodity prices. Falling commodity prices are likely to cause debt-related problems because of all of the debt incurred in their production. We may find financial problems, much worse than those experienced in 2008, back again.
Many others have focused on climate change. In their view, we can extract pretty much all of the fossil fuels that are in the ground, because prices will rise higher and higher, allowing this to be done.
If, in fact, prices fall after a point, then there is a good chance that we must leave most of them in the ground because of affordability issues. If this is the case, the situation may be very different: we may lose fossil fuel production in not many years because of disruptions caused by low prices.
We often think of affordability in terms of what a gallon of oil costs or in terms of how much a kilowatt-hour of electricity sells for. While these costs are one part of the problem, a big part of the affordability problem relates to big-ticket items, as listed in Slide 7. If customers cannot afford these big-ticket items, such as homes and cars, the economy loses both (a) the energy use that would be required to make these big-ticket items, and (b) the later energy use that these big items would require.
If we look at the data, we find that inflation-adjusted median income for families has been falling.
Part of this lower family income involves a smaller share of the population working.
When a person looks at the labor force growth split between men and women, there is a very different pattern. Men show a small downward trend over time; women increasingly joined the labor force, but this trend topped out in 1999, and became a decline since 2008.
Something we all are aware of:
Many fewer homes are now being built in the United States.
There has been a very different trend in auto purchases in the United States, Europe, and Japan compared to the rest of the world. In the developed areas, interest rates have been very low, and lenders have increasingly offered loans to subprime buyers. An increasing number of the loans are 7-year loans, and the loan to value ratio is often 125%. We seem to be creating a new subprime auto bubble. Based on our experience with subprime housing loans, this is not a sustainable pattern.
I am convinced that most economists have missed a basic principle regarding how economic growth takes place (Slide 14). I define efficiency in terms of what it takes in terms of human labor and resources to produce finished output, such as a barrel of oil or a kilowatt-hour of electricity. Are these finished goods becoming cheaper or more expensive in inflation-adjusted terms?
On Slide 18, note the change in the size of the output boxes, compared to the input boxes. Increased efficiency produces more output compared to the resources used; increased inefficiency produces less output compared to the resources used.
If an economy is becoming increasingly efficient, a given number of workers and a given amount of resources can produce more and more goods. This is good for economic growth. Growing inefficiency is a problem, because it quickly uses up both available worker-time and available resources. Many economists never seem to have gotten past the idea, “We pay each other’s wages.” Yes, we do, but if those wages are being used to encourage the use of increasingly inefficient processes, we go backwards in terms of economic growth.
If we look back historically, we can see a growing efficiency pattern with electricity, in the 1900 to 1998 period. As the price dropped, both consumers and businesses could afford more of it (illustrated with rising black “demand” curve). Part of the lower cost came from increased efficiency of electricity generation during this period.
If we look at the oil sector, since about 1999 we have had exactly the opposite pattern taking place. The cost of oil “exploration and production capital expenditures” has been rising at a rapid rate. This is an issue of diminishing returns. We have already extracted the easy-to-extract oil, and as a result, we need to move on to more difficult (and expensive) to extract oil. Thus we are becoming increasingly inefficient, in terms of the cost of producing the end product, oil.
As we move on to more expensive oil, the higher cost tends to squeeze budgets. The thing that is important is the fact that wages don’t rise sufficiently to cover the cost increase; in fact, the images I showed earlier seem to suggest that in the recent era of high prices, we have seen unusually slow growth in wages. The amount of wages is represented by the size of the circles in Figure 17. The wage circles don’t grow.
Slide 17 shows that as workers need to spend more for oil, and for the things that oil is used to make, such as food, the discretionary portion of their budgets (“everything else”) is squeezed. This shift in discretionary spending is what tends to lead to recession. The same principle works if consumers suddenly find themselves with higher electricity bills–discretionary spending is again squeezed.
The problem that squeezes all commodities at the same time is falling discretionary income. The amount of debt that can be borrowed also tends to fall as discretionary income falls. The combination leads to falling affordability for expensive goods, like new autos and new homes.
The price patterns for commodities of many types move together, reflecting a combination of rising cost of oil (because of higher extraction costs) and falling ability of consumers to afford the high prices of these goods. I have not included food on Figure 18, but many food prices have recently fallen as well.
Of course, the costs for producers creating these commodities have not fallen proportionately, and many have huge amounts of outstanding debt. Repayment of debt becomes difficult, as prices remain low.
Back at Slide 14, I talked about increased efficiency leading to economic growth, and increased inefficiency causing economic contraction. Because our leaders have not looked at things this way, they have encouraged increased inefficiency in many areas, as I describe on Slide 19. To some extent, this increased inefficiency is required. For example, as population grows in areas with low water supplies, the need for desalination grows. Also, pollution problems increase as we use lower qualities of coal and oil.
What are the expected impacts on the electricity industry and on natural gas? Are there any workarounds?
Let’s look at a few implications of the problems we now see.
In my view, low oil and natural gas prices are likely to be a huge problem for the natural gas industry, leading to the bankruptcy of many natural gas suppliers.
We cannot expect natural gas supply to grow. In fact, we cannot expect a coal to natural gas transition because the natural gas price won’t rise high enough, for long enough.
If we look at the history of US natural gas prices (using Henry Hub data), we see that prices have tended to stay low, after the 2008 spike. This was a great disappointment to those who built new natural gas extraction capability. They expected prices to rise, to justify their new higher costs. In my view, the continued low natural gas prices to some extent already reflect affordability issues.
The Marcellus Shale was perhaps the most successful of the new natural gas production, but it seems to now be topping out because of low prices (Slide 23).
Many producers will have their lending terms reevaluated using September 30, 2015 data. This reevaluation is likely to lead to bankruptcy of some producers, and cutbacks of production of other producers.
Coal use has been declining, as shown in Slide 24. Coal has some of the same problems as natural gas, as I will explain on Slide 25.
The basic issue is that coal prices are too low for most producers. Even if a particular producer has low extraction costs, this benefit is not enough to keep producers from bankruptcy. The problem that occurs is that coal companies are locked into high cost structures because of patterns that continue to persist from when prices were high. Lease costs are high; taxes and royalties are high; often debt was entered into, assuming that revenue would remain high in the future. Now revenue is lower, and there is no way to fix the “hole” that results from low prices. Production stays high, because each producer must produce as much as possible, to try to avoid bankruptcy for as long as possible.
Coal is in a sense ahead of natural gas, in terms of bankruptcies, with big bankruptcies already starting.
With prices as low as they are, there is little chance for a new producer to come in, buy the production facilities at a low price, and restart operations. A big issue is ongoing costs such as royalty payments that cannot be eliminated. Another is debt availability to support the new operations.
Bankruptcies are likely to interrupt supply chains as well. Part of the problem may simply be the excessively high cost of credit, for those members of the supply chain with poor credit ratings. Once a supply chain breaks, replacements parts may not be available. Other services that a company contracts for with outside suppliers may disappear as well.
As I note on Slide 27, customers may have financial difficulties. Those who remain in business will tend to buy less, so demand is likely to be lower, rather than higher. Companies producing electricity should not be misled by the rosy forecasts of the EIA and IEA regarding future demand amounts.
Slide 28 shows that industrial consumption of energy products has been falling since the 1970s, as industrial production has moved overseas. Now the dollar is high relative to other currencies, encouraging more of this trend. On a per capita basis, residential energy consumption is down, and commercial energy consumption is level. It is hard to see that this mix will provide very much of an upward trend in natural gas and electricity consumption in the future. (Note: Slide 28 shows energy of all types combined, including both electricity and fuels burned directly. This approach is used because there has been a shift over time to the use of electricity. This method shows the overall trend in energy use better than, say, an electricity-only analysis.)
The major ways subsidies for wind and solar PV are available are through greater government debt or through higher costs passed on to customers. There are now getting to be pushbacks in both of these areas.
In Europe, the cost of intermittent electricity tends to be passed on to consumers. Dr. Euan Mearns put together the chart shown in Slide 30 comparing price of electricity with the per capita wind and solar PV generation installed for European countries. There is a striking correlation. Countries with more installed wind and solar PV tend to have higher electricity prices for the consumer.
Given the problem with commodity producers not being able to collect high enough prices for their products, and the large number of resulting bankruptcies, a person comes to the rather startling conclusion that the ideal structure for electricity providers in today’s economy is that of a vertically integrated utility. In other words, an electric utility should directly own its suppliers, as well as transmission lines and everything else needed to produce and distribute electricity.
Utilities have traditionally had the ability to price on a cost-plus basis. With vertical integration, the utility can use its pricing ability to keep prices for fuel producers from falling too low, and thus sidestep the problem of bankruptcies. To the extent that the required price for electricity keeps rising, it will tend to pressure discretionary spending. (See Slide 17.) But at least grid electricity will be among the last to “go” under this structure.
Black Hills Corporation lists the many electricity-generating facilities it owns (coal and natural gas), and the places it has arrangements to sell this electricity as a utility. The Black Hills Corporation indicates it has had 45 years of dividend increases. This increase in dividends is in stark contrast to the many coal and natural gas producers that are currently near bankruptcy, as a result of low coal and natural gas prices.
How does one resolve the conflict between industrial companies wanting to generate their own electricity (for a variety of reasons) and the need to have an electric grid for everyone else? It seems to me that we have to keep in mind that having an operating electric grid for everyone else is absolutely essential. Without the electric grid, gasoline stations would stop pumping gasoline and diesel. Transportation would stop. Electric elevators would stop. Treatment of fresh water and sewage would stop. Companies everywhere would lose their consumers. The economy would quickly come to a halt.
With our current affordability problems, we are in danger of losing the electric grid. That is why it is essential that those who opt out not be given too large a credit for providing some or nearly all of their own electricity. The credit given to industrial companies should reflect the savings to the system, no more.
One concern is the bankruptcy of peaker plants, if their use is significantly reduced by, for example, the use of solar PV. If these peaker plants continue to be needed for balancing purposes, this may be a problem. Another concern is the rising cost of grid transmission for those who continue to get their electricity from the grid.
To sum up, the story we read from most sources is so climate-change focused, a person wonders if there aren’t other issues that are important as well. Most observers have overlooked the importance of low commodity prices, and the impact that they can have on coal and natural gas producers’ ability to produce the fuels that are needed by electric utilities.
Too much faith is being placed in natural gas, as the fuel of the future. And too much faith is being placed on intermittent renewables, without fully understanding their costs and limitations.
I haven’t tried to address the many indirect problems arising from many bankruptcies. These may be severe.
Off the keyboard of Albert Bates
Published on Peak Surfer on June 21, 2015
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We were biking on a backcountry lane this week when we surprised a squirrel about to cross the highway.
Observing the interaction between squirrel and machine, we noted that the maladaptive squirrel did not take a straight line to escape the sudden appearance of the bicycle, a perceived predator, because to do so would conflict with its genetically hard-wired fight-or-flight survival response.
Countless generations of dead squirrels had, by process of elimination, coded a certain wisdom into our squirrel's sudden reaction, which was to zig away from the bike, then zag back into the path of peril, then zig away again.
For millennia this randomized algorithm of zigs and zags thwarted the astute calculus of hawks, owls, eagles, foxes, cougars, coyotes and other cagey hunters of squirrel who put themselves on a perfect intercept trajectory, only to find the quarry gone when they arrived. Who can parse a random algorithm? It defeats both speed and angle of attack, putting the contest into one of nimbleness, stamina and availability of cover.
Against automobiles and other fast-moving machines, the program is utterly maladaptive. Having escaped the danger zone, the squirrel rushes back into the path of oncoming death. In a significant percentage of encounters they find themselves occupying the same position in time and space as the rotating tire of a car. Remnants of squirrel smeared on pavement, a boon to turkey buzzards and other scavengers, attest to a failed algorithm that should have been retired half a century ago. Similarly maladaptive to the automobile age are the defense strategies of opossums and armadillos.
But on the other hand, a mere half-century of paving progress is just a bat of evolutionary time's eyelash for a squirrel. The 100-year auto age may be a passing fad, and in not so many years (already Peak Oil+10 at this writing) the fox and hawk may assert prior rights to the average country squirrel.
We have been speaking recently of the energy calculus of renewables and whether they can be brought on line fast enough to avert catastrophic climate change and save our civilization. We hold the humble opinion that while renewables must indeed replace our self-destructive addiction to oil, gas and coal, there is no possible way that such a switch could save our profligate and bloated civilization. Just do the math.
Nonetheless, switching back to sunlight is our only option, climate change or no, and assigning reality-based costs to fossil fuels, or merely removing their obscene trillion-dollar subsidies, should be done immediately.
But we need to realize that while we can move some sectors of the energy economy to renewables, not all of them will follow, and not most of the really big ones that a globally industrialized economy requires. We can easily electrify cars but not steel mills, cement factories, container ships or airplanes. We can replace agrochemical farming with bioenergy-to-carbon-storage (BECS), but we cannot as easily dry the grains, transport, process and package them unless we are prepared to relocalize farming to a scale last seen before World War II, when the world's population was about 12% of present.
Our maladaptive civilization model is not in the position of the bicycle or the automobile here, it is the squirrel. We race to and fro in a desperate attempt to escape our fate, but odds are roughly even in any given encounter that our fragile economy will wind up under the tire, and splayed across the pavement. The tire missed it in 2008. That may or may not happen again next time, and dumb luck will have a hand in the outcome.
We are happy to report that in our case, we did not waiver in our bicycle's trajectory. The squirrel escaped unharmed.
Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi
Published on Resource Crisis on May 11, 2015
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The recent oil price crash signals the impending demise of the oil and gas industry as a major world energy producer. That should be a good thing, in principle, but something wicked may still come out of the process.
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With the ongoing collapse of the oil prices, we can say that it is game over for the oil and gas industry, in particular for the production of "tight" (or "shale") oil and gas. Prices may still go back to reasonably high levels, in the future, but the industry will never be able to regain the momentum that had made its US supporters claim "energy independence" and "centuries of abundance." The bubble may not burst all of a sudden, but it surely will deflate.
So, what's going to happen, now? The situation is, to say the least, "fluid". A great rush is ongoing to convince investors to place their money where there is still some chance to make a profit. I think we can identify at least three different strategies for the future: 1) more of the same (oil and gas) 2) a push to nuclear, and 3) a push for renewables. Let's see to examine what the future may have in store for us.
1) A push for more gas and more oil. The oil&gas industry has not yet conceded defeat; on the contrary, it still dreams of centuries of abundance (see, e.g. this article on Forbes). It seems unthinkable that investors would still want to finance uncertain enterprises such as squeezing more oil from exhausted fields or, worse, from difficult and expensive technologies such as coal liquefaction. But you should never underestimate the power of business as usual. If people feel that they absolutely need liquid fuels, then they will be willing to do anything to get liquid fuels.
The main problem with this idea is not so much its technical feasibility. By throwing every resource at hand at the task (and beggaring the whole economy in the process) it would not be impossible to fool peak oil for a few more years. The problem is a different one: it is with climate change and with the fact that we are running out of time. If we keep burning hydrocarbons, we just can't make it: the industrial society cannot survive the resulting warming and the associated troubles. That is true if we keep burning at the "natural" rate, that is along the bell shaped curve. Imagine if we try to keep growing, instead (as all politicians in the world say we should).
All this is becoming well known and, as a result, a push toward further hydrocarbon production (or, God forbid, more coal) will be possible only if accompanied by a strong propaganda campaign destined to silence climate science and climate activism. Some symptoms that something like that is in the making are evident enough to be disturbing. Consider that none of the Republican candidates for the US 2016 elections supports the need for action on climate change, that in Florida government employees are not allowed to use the term "climate change" or "global warming," that NASA has been defunded on anything that has to do with climate change, and more. Then, a certain logic starts to appear: "muzzle the science and keep on burning". Something very wicked this way comes…..
2. A new push for nuclear. This option would not be so bad as the first, more hydrocarbons. At least, nuclear plants do not directly generate greenhouse gases and we know that it is a technology that can produce energy. Nevertheless, the hurdles associated with its expansion are gigantic. The first and foremost problem is that the uranium mineral production is not sufficient for ramping up nuclear energy from a few percent of the world's primary energy production to a major fraction of it – to be able to do that would require investments so large to be mind boggling. To say nothing about the need for rare minerals in nuclear plants: beryllium, niobium, hafnium, zirconium, rare earths, and more; all in short supply. Then, there are all the nightmarish problems of nuclear waste disposal, safety, and strategic control.
Nevertheless, if it were possible to convince investors to pour money into nuclear energy, then it would be possible to see an attempt to restart it, despite the various problems and disasters that have given to nuclear a bad name. An attempt to do just that seems to be in progress. President Obama is said to be considering a massive return to nuclear and investors are told to prepare for a gigantic surge in uranium prices. Will it work? Unlikely, but not impossible. Something wicked this way comes……
3. A big push for renewables. Surprisingly, the renewable industry may have serious chances to take over from a senescent oil industry, leaving the nuclear industry standing still and gasping at the sight. The progress in renewable technology, especially in photovoltaic cells, has been simply fantastic during the past decade (see, e.g., the recent MIT report). We have now a set of methods for producing electric power that can compete with traditional sources, watt for watt, dollar for dollar. Consider that the most efficient of these technologies do not need critically rare materials and that none brings the strategic and security problem of nuclear. Finally, consider that it has been shown (Sgouridis, Bardi, and Csala) that the present renewable technology could take over from the current sources fast enough to prevent major damage from climate change.
It looks like we have a winner, right? Indeed, the atmosphere around renewables is one of palpable optimism. If renewable energy picks up enough momentum, there will be nothing able to stop it until it has catapulted all of us, willing or not, into a new (and cleaner) world.
There is a problem, though. The renewable industry is still tiny in comparison to the nuclear industry and especially in comparison to the oil and gas industry. And we know that might usually wins against right. The sheer financial power of the traditional energy industry may well be enough to abort the change before it becomes unstoppable. Something wicked may still come……. (*)
(*) "Something wicked this way comes" is mainly known today as the title of a 1962 novel by Ray Bradbury. Actually, it comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth..
Off the keyboard of A. G. Gelbert
Published on the Doomstead Diner on July 3, 2013
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I actually hope my views on this are off. I want to find some positive good news to rally on. I’m hoping you have a more nuanced positive spin on this for me to examine.
Well sir, as a matter of fact, I am a bit more hopeful, but not on the horrendous weather coming our way that will destroy crops and infrastructure, bake the shit out of part of the planet, flood the shit out of the other part and kill a large part of aquatic life as well. That weather is pretty much baked in.
However, I have a different, and very positive, view of the energy capturing and using devices in our civilization.
First, I agree that EROEI is declining in
FOSSIL FUELS and NUCLEAR POWER. The reason is that the EROEI numbers were tricked up in the beginning to subtracting including environmental and infrastructure AND ADDING government subsidy FREEBIES on the taxpayer dime.
If you think the EROEI numbers Professor Hall from the SUNY energy study have jack shit to do with real world energy use and the laws of thermodynamics, I have a time share in a black hole at the center of the Milky Way to sell you. I won’t go into details here but, as an engineer, you understand what enthalpy is. It is a convenient method of BOILING WATER (NOT IN THE COMBUSTION CHAMBER OF AN ICE) to measure the energy density of a fuel. THIS IS INFANTILE. But it is the industry standard BULLSHIT that enables people from Exxon to say that gasoline has a higher EROEI than ethanol.
The energy density per mole in a high octane gasoline is assumed to be lower due to the higher energy of activation. This is a half truth. This half truth is used by the EROI experts to claim ethanol, which has a high octane rating, has a lower EROI than gasoline. Simply changing the compression ratio in an engine to a high compression makes ethanol equivalent in MJ/L to gasoline. But, of course, the Hall study arbitrarily stopped at the octane rating “energy of activation” differences between gasoline and ethanol with zero discussion of high compression engines. That was very convenient for gasoline EROI and very inconvenient for ethanol EROI.
Roamer, it’s a LIE. But let’s get past ICE fuels for a second. WHY? Because they are only about 20% efficient. Yes, I know the big steam engines in power plants can get up to 60% through capture of second stage energy but the POINT is that the ICE is a ridiculously inefficient way to get mechanical energy. It’s STUPID. It ALWAYS WAS STUPID.
And NOW that the poisoned chickens are coming home to roost in the form of atmospheric heat, higher manufacturing and maintenance costs for high temperature alloys AND 400 ppm CO2, OF COURSE the gamed EROEI numbers for fossil fuels AND nuclear energy are starting to look like the bullshit they always were.
ENERGY means absolutely nothing until it makes some work happen, right? I am telling you right here and now that you were taught to deny the enormous inefficiencies downstream from combustion because it suites the fossil fuel pigs for engineers to do so. Your world view as an engineer includes the FALSE belief that the ICE is an efficient way to convert the energy in a fossil fuel to mechanical energy. It isn’t. It never was.
Did you know that in 1940, ONE THIRD of all the electricity in the USA came from about 1,500 hydroelectric power plants? Did you know you can make a hydroelectric power plant WITHOUT damming up a bunch of water? Oh, I’m sure you have looked at the ‘horrendously weak” energy potential in stored water and what a “poor” substitute for “high energy density” CRAP like fossil fuels that gravity power is. Look again. Look here.
The technology is there. It involves a giant piston head (no connecting rod or link to a crank shaft) inside a cylindrical shaft that goes deep into the ground. The piston requires some type of giant O-rings so it can take about 10 bar pressures. Excess power from wind and or PV during the day causes water to be pumped UNDER the piston (which is EXTREMELY HEAVY). When not enough wind or sun can service the grid, valves open for instant power as the piston descends. The quickness of this response FAR EXCEEDS the quickest thing available now which is natural gas fired power plants.
What’s the efficiency? It’s INCREDIBLY HIGH and has little or no thermal waste ANYWHERE in the energy distribution chain. If all vehicles are EVs (including ships), a MASSIVE amount of heat energy never hits the atmosphere. See the video above for details.
Can civilization make a million of these gizmos all over the earth? Sure. This is OLD technology! We know all about hydraulic forces. Will it be done? Maybe not. But not because of thermodynamic law limitations and the energy required to run the planet.
Did you know there is a SUCCESSFUL CSP power plant that is THIRTY YEARS OLD!!?
The longest running concentrated solar power plant in the US is about to reach its 30th birthday , and the end of its power purchase agreement – but its owners are not about to pack it up and take it home. They are now looking at the next 30 years, and storage is likely to form a major part of the equation.
CSP (also known as solar thermal) is often branded an emerging technology, but the first plants have been around for decades. The 14MW SEGS I and 30MW SEGS II plants near Daggett in the Mojave Desert in California were built in 1985. (SEGS stands for Solar Energy Generating System).
CSP is MUCH MORE EFFICIENT than ICE power plants. CSP has a very high EROEI DUE TO THE FACT THAT IT USES zero fossil fuels.
Tell me, do you think our government and scientists DIDN’T KNOW THIS IN 1985!!? Just like using gravity in more efficient ways, CSP uses the sun more efficiently. Today, with sophisticated Fresnel lens CSP and super heated salts, they run for 24/7 (i.e. the new ones in Spain among others). Granted, these DO put out a lot of waste heat but MUCH LESS than an ICE power plant.
A 100% Renewable Energy civilization was DOABLE IN THE 1970S! It hasn’t been done because the fossil fuel fucks didn’t want it to happen. They are still at it doing THIS:
Phase 1 – Belittle & Deny the Renewable Energy Option
Phase 2 – Denounce & Mobilize Against the Renewable Energy Option
Phase 3 – Spread Doubt & Misrepresent the Challenges in the Disguise of General Support
(Note: reaching Phase 3 doesn’t mean that Phase 1 & 2 will disappear.)
Full Enlightening Article covering modern day sophisticated mendacious propaganda techniques geared to simultaneously defend nuclear power and attack renewable energy HERE:[/i
Roamer, we have a political problem caused by the oil oligarchy. We do not have an energy problem, a technology problem or the inability to transition to 100% or better (for bioremediation) Renewable energy.
There are other technologies that can harvest MASSIVE amounts of energy 24/7 from underwater turbines just a few miles from the majority of the largest cities on the planet along ocean coasts. There goes the “unacceptable transmission losses from long distances” argument against renewables from the fossil fuel lackeys for the big cities.
And as to EROEI, even with the gamed formula, PV is INCREASING it’s EROEI as the efficiency has gone from 10-15% early on to 33-44% now. Wind turbine EROEI is also going UP because they now are replacing (on a ONE giant new turbine for every THREE old ones upgrade) old wind turbines for new, taller ones. One turbine generating the power of three with ONLY the maintenance costs of a single turbine UPS the EROEI.
ALL the renewable energy technologies (including hydro with the piston!) are increasing their EROEI with innovation. That’s just not possible for fossil fuels.
And increasingly efficient electric motors are multiplying the efficiency of captured renewable energy.
The Solar Revolution is being enhanced by a revolution in Electric Motor Efficiency
Electric motors, already over 70% efficient, are now being made with cast copper rotors (instead of Aluminum) using a new process. Billions of electric motors in thousands of applications from EVs to household appliances to manufacturing will now benefit from a radical INCREASE in efficiency accompanied by a DECREASE in thermal waste. This means, for a given amount of energy output, the motors will last more than twice as long and weigh less as well as previous electric motors. This amounts to massive energy savings worldwide and another step in eliminating the internal combustion engine (ICE) pollution and heat scourge from civilization.
All the above said, I agree that the corrupt authorities are doing an awful lot to keep renewable energy in the starting gate. It won’t work this time.
Because the horrendous weather will persuade them renewable energy AND a return to 350 MAXIMUM ppm of CO2 is NOT OPTIONAL.
Listen to me. Solar City is going to eat a lot of utilities alive with their business model. If TSHTF scenario from nuclear war or some other insanity doesn’t happen, working on a corporation like Solar City, Tesla or any CSP power plant will keep you in the cutting edge of new technology as well as keep you fed, housed and clothed.
Think about it. Mechanical Engineers are not a dime a dozen. You have skills. Market them in renewables. California, Arizona or Texas seem like the hottest growth areas now.