Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem

Intermittent renewables–wind and solar photovoltaic panels–have been hailed as an answer to all our energy problems. Certainly, politicians need something to provide hope, especially in countries that are obviously losing their supply of oil, such as the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the more I look into the situation, the less intermittent renewables have to offer. (Please note that I am not talking about solar hot water heaters. I am talking about intermittent renewables added to the electric grid.)

1. It is doubtful that intermittent renewables actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

It is devilishly difficult to figure out whether on not any particular energy source has a favorable impact on carbon dioxide emissions. The obvious first way of looking at emissions is to look at the fuel burned on a day-to-day basis. Intermittent renewables don’t seem to burn fossil fuel on day-to-day basis, while those using fossil fuels do, so wind and solar PV seem to be the winners.

The catch is that there are many direct and indirect ways that fossil fuels come into play in making the devices that create the renewable energy and in their operation on the grid. The researcher must choose “boundaries” for any analysis. In a sense, we need our whole fossil fuel powered system of schools, roads, airports, hospitals, and electricity transmission lines to make any of type of energy product work, whether oil, natural gas, wind, or solar electric–but it is difficult to make boundaries wide enough to cover everything.

The exercise becomes one of trying to guess how much carbon emissions are saved by looking at tops of icebergs, given that the whole rest of the system is needed to support the new additions. The thing that makes the problem more difficult is the fact that intermittent renewables have more energy-related costs that are not easy to measure than fossil fuel powered energy does. For example, there may be land rental costs, salaries of consultants, and (higher) financing costs because of the front-ended nature of the investment. There are also costs for mitigating intermittency and extra long-distance grid connections.

Many intermittent renewables costs seem to be left out of CO2 analyses under the theory that, say, land rental doesn’t really use energy. But the payment for land rental means that the owner can now go and buy more “stuff,” so it acts to raise fossil fuel energy consumption.

Normally the cost of making an energy-related product gives an indication as to how much fossil fuel energy is involved in the process. A high-priced energy product gives an expectation of high fossil fuel use, since true renewable energy use is free. If the true source of renewable energy were only wind or solar, there would be no cost at all! The fact that wind and solar PV tends to be more expensive than other electricity generation gives an initial expectation that the fossil fuel energy requirements for creating this energy source are high, rather than low, if a wide boundary analysis were to be done.

There are some studies based on narrow boundary studies of various types (Energy Return on Energy Invested, Life Cycle Analysis, and Energy Payback Periods) that suggest that there are some savings (from the top of the icebergs) if intermittent renewables are used. But more broadly based studies show that the overall amount of fossil fuel energy used by intermittent renewables is really so high that we don’t come out ahead by its use. One such study is Weissbach et al.’s study in Energy called  Energy intensities, EROIs (energy returned on invested), and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants. Another is an analysis of Spanish installed solar power by Pedro Prieto and Charles Hall called Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Energy Invested.

I tend to use an even wider boundary approach: what happens to world CO2 emissions when we ramp up intermittent renewables? As far as I can tell, it tends to raise CO2 emissions. One way this happens is by ramping up China’s economy, through the additional business it generates in the making of wind turbines, solar panels, and the mining of rare earth minerals used in these devices. The benefit China gets from its renewable sales is leveraged several times, as it allows the country to build new homes, roads, and schools, and businesses to service the new manufacturing. In China, the vast majority of manufacturing is with coal.

Figure 1. Energy consumption by source for China based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 1. Energy consumption by source for China based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Another way intermittent renewables raise world CO2 emissions indirectly is by making the country using intermittent renewables less competitive in the world market-place, because the higher electricity cost raises the price of manufactured goods. This tends to send manufacturing to countries that use lower-priced energy sources for electricity, such as China.

A third way that intermittent renewables can raise world CO2 emissions relates to affordability. Consumers cannot afford high-priced electricity without their standards of living dropping. Governments may be pressured to change their overall electricity mix to include more very low-cost energy sources, such as lignite (a very low grade of coal), in their electricity mix to keep the  overall price in an affordable range. This seems to be at least part of the problem behind Germany’s difficulties with renewables.

If there is any savings at all in CO2 emissions, it would seem to be from inexpensive intermittent renewables–ones that don’t really need subsidies. If renewables need a subsidy or feed in tariff, a red danger light should be flashing. Somewhere the process is  using a lot of fossil fuels in its production.

2. Wind and Solar PV do not fix our oil problem.

Wind and solar PV both are used to make electricity. Our big problem is with oil. Oil and electricity are used for different things. For example, electricity won’t run today’s cars, and it won’t run tractors, or construction equipment, or aircraft. So even if we have more electricity, it doesn’t fix our oil problem.

Wind and solar PV have been billed as solutions to our CO2 problem. Unfortunately, as we just saw in (1) above, it doesn’t really  do this either. The combination of (1) and (2) leaves wind and solar PV with relatively few purposes.

I should mention that there is one small niche where intermittent renewables can substitute for oil. While oil is not generally burned to produce electricity, it is used for this purpose on some islands because of its convenience. These island communities do little manufacturing because their high cost of electricity makes them not competitive in the world market. On these islands,  intermittent renewables can be used to reduce the amount of oil used for electricity production, without driving up the cost of electricity, since electric costs are already very high.

3. The high cost of wind and solar PV doubles our energy problems, rather than solving them.

The big issue with oil is its high cost of production. We extracted the easy-to-extract oil first, and now we are getting to the more-difficult to extract oil. Adding high priced electricity to our fuel mix means we have price problems with both oil and electricity, instead of only one of the two. Consumers’ wages don’t rise to pay for these high-priced fuels, so disposable income is adversely impacted by both. The two high-priced fuels also combine to make exported goods even less competitive in the world marketplace.

4. Even if wind is “renewable,” it isn’t necessarily long lived.

Manufacturers of wind turbines claim lives of 20 to 25 years. This compares to life spans of 40 years or more for coal, gas, and nuclear. One recent study suggests that because of degraded performance, it may not be economic to operate wind turbines for more than 12 to 15 years.

If we are expecting substantial changes in the years ahead, there are also issues with whether necessary repairs will really be available. Wind turbines are especially repair prone. These repairs can’t be made by just anyone, using local materials. They need the specialized world supply chain that we have today. Offshore wind turbines sometimes need helicopters for repairs. If oil is a problem, such repairs may not be available.

5. Wind and solar PV don’t ramp up quickly.

After many years of trying to ramp up wind and solar PV, in 2012, wind amounted to a bit under 1% of world energy supply. Solar amounted to even less than that–about 0.2% of world energy supply. It would take huge effort to ramp up production to even 5% of the world’s energy supply.

6. Wind and solar PV create serious pollution problems. 

Both wind turbines and solar PV use rare earth minerals, mostly from China, in their manufacture. Mining and processing these rare earths generates a tremendous amount of “hazardous and radioactive byproducts.” In the part of China where rare earth minerals are mined, soil and water are saturated with toxic substances, making farming impossible.

If we were to try to increase wind and solar by a factor of 10 (so that they together amount to 12% of world energy supply, instead of 1.2%) we would need huge amounts of rare earth minerals and other polluting minerals, such as  gallium arsenide, copper-indium-gallium-diselenide, and cadmium-telluride, used in making thin-film photovoltaics. We could not expect China to take on all of this pollution itself. Instead, the rest of the world would need to produce these toxic materials as well. Presumably, many countries would require stringent pollution controls to do this extraction. These pollution controls would likely require greater use of fossil fuel energy. While pollution problems might be kept in check, the greater use of fossil fuels would likely raise both CO2 emissions and the prices of the wind and solar PV.

There are many other pollution issues. China is a major center for renewables production, using coal as it primary fuel. Silicon-based solar cells require heating silica rock to high temperatures in 3000 F ovens, something that which can be done cheaply with coal. Wind is known for its noise pollution issues and for killing birds. Solar panels on the desert floor interfere with the local ecosystem.

A major reason why wind and solar PV are considered clean is because it is hard to measure their true pollution costs, whether CO2 or other types. Electric cars have some of the same issues, because they also use rare earth minerals and have heavy up-front costs.

7. There is a danger that wind and solar PV will make the electric grid less long-lived, rather than more long-lived. This tends to happen because current laws overcompensate owners of intermittent renewables relative to the value they provide to the grid. 

One point of confusion is what wind and solar PV really replace. Do they replace electricity, or do they replace the fuel that makes electricity? There is a huge difference, in terms of when an intermittent renewable achieves “grid-parity” in costs. Fuel costs are typically only a small share of retail electricity costs, so reaching grid parity is extremely difficult if intermittent renewables only replace fuel costs. In the US fuel costs average about 3 cents per kWh. For residential users, the retail price averages about 12 cents per kWh, or four times as much as the fuel cost.

What we are interested in is the value of intermittent electricity to the companies that make and sell electricity–utilities or similar companies. In my view, the typical value of intermittent electricity is the value of the fuel the intermittent electricity replaces–in other words, the cost of coal, natural gas, or uranium replaced. This is the case because using intermittent electricity doesn’t generally reduce any costs for an electric utility, other than its fuel costs. It still needs to provide backup power around the clock to customers with solar panels. Because of the variability in production, it still needs pretty much the same capacity as in the past, and it needs the same staffing for each of the units, even though some of them might be operating for a smaller percentage of time.

The value of the intermittent electricity to the utility may be greater or less than the first estimate of the fuel savings. In some instances, particularly if there is a lot of solar PV in a part of the world where maximum energy use is during the summer, peak capacity needs may be reduced a bit. This would be a savings above fuel costs. Offsetting such savings would be increased costs for new transmission lines to try to even out spikes in electricity production and to bring wind from sources where it is strongest to locations where its energy is truly needed.

The problem that occurs is the fact that most plans reimburse users of wind and solar PV at a far higher rate than the cost of the fuel they replace. Often “net metering’ is used, so the user is in effect given credit for the full retail price of electricity for the electricity generated by solar panels. This higher reimbursements leaves a revenue shortfall for the companies involved in producing electricity for the grid. The danger is that some companies will go bankrupt, or will leave the system, endangering the ability of the electric grid to provide a stable electric supply for consumers. This is a potentially much more dangerous problem than any benefit that intermittent renewables provide.

Also, funding for the additional electric transmission lines is likely to become a problem, because neither the electricity companies nor governments have sufficient revenue to fund them. The reason the electric companies cannot afford them should be clear–they are being asked to subsidize the costs through overly high reimbursement of the value of the intermittent renewables. I discuss the reason for the government lack of funds in (8), below.

8. Adding more wind and solar PV tends to make government finances less sound, rather than more sound.

Around the world, extraction of inexpensive oil and gas has historically strengthened the finances of governments. This happens because governments have been able to tax the oil and gas companies heavily, and use the tax revenue to fund government programs.

Unfortunately, the addition of wind and solar tends to act in precisely the opposite direction. In some cases, the reduction in governments revenue comes directly through subsidies for wind and solar. In other instances, the reduction in government revenue is more indirect. If the high price of intermittent electricity causes a country to become less competitive in the world market, this indirectly reduces government tax revenue because it leads to fewer people having jobs, and thus less taxable income. Even if the issue is “only” a reduction in discretionary income of consumers, this still cuts back on the ability of governments to raise taxes.

9. My analysis indicates that the bottleneck we are reaching is not simply oil. Instead, a major problem is inadequate investment capital and too much debt.  Ramping up wind and solar PV tends to make those problems worse, not better.

As I described in my post Why EIA, IEA, and Randers’ 2052 Energy Forecasts are Wrong, we are reaching an investment capital and debt bottleneck, because of the higher extraction costs of oil. Adding intermittent renewables, in which huge costs are paid out in advance, adds to this problem. Because of this, ramping up intermittent renewables tends to make collapse come sooner, rather than later, to the countries trying to ramp up these energy sources.

10. Wind and Solar PV come nowhere near fulfilling the promises made for them.  

Trying to substitute expensive energy for cheap is like trying to make water run uphill. It is virtually impossible to make such a system work. It makes everyone from governments to businesses to citizens poorer in the process. Promises that are made regarding future payments for electricity often need to be reneged on. 

If there really were benefits from the program–other than making government officials look like they are doing something–it might make sense to expand the programs. As it is, it is hard to see much benefit to expanding intermittent renewables. Even if we wanted to, there would be no way we could expand intermittent renewables to cover our entire electricity program–they are just too expensive, too polluting, and don’t provide the liquid fuels we need.


While many people would like us to believe that wind and solar PV will solve all of our problems, the more a person looks at the question, the clearer it becomes that wind and solar PV added to the electric grid are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

If capital is one of the limits we are up against, we need to spend that capital as wisely as possible.  Because solar PV is relatively long-lived, it is possible it may be a tiny part of the path ahead, but not as part of the electric grid. Individual citizens may want to buy a panel or two, as a way of providing some electricity, if we should have problems with electricity at a later date. But there is no reason the government should subsidize these purchases.

We might better off spending our capital in more productive ways–for example, figuring out what path we will follow in the very near future, if we find we are reaching a financial bottle neck brought on the high cost of oil extraction. Do we need to be doing more in the direction of local agriculture, with seeds chosen for each area? Should we even be thinking about buying up farmland and resettling potential workers to different areas? Are there ways we can make soil more productive for the long term?

The primary reason for intermittent renewables was supposedly to reduce CO2 emissions to prevent climate change. If we seem to be reaching Limits to Growth in the near term, the amount of carbon burned will be far lower than the climate models assume–even the “peak oil” model for future CO2. So perhaps from that point of view, our inability to make intermittent renewables work doesn’t really matter. We are already reaching the goal the intermittent renewables were trying to reach, in another, not very fortunate, way.

We are now faced with the task of trying to figure out what we can do, in the world Nature gives us. The previous plan didn’t work. Perhaps we need to find a Plan B that will put us in a better position.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to inadequate supply.
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657 Responses to Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem

  1. SourabhJain says:

    Reblogged this on A Road to Gurukul and commented:
    Awesome Post. We need such analysis in our policy debates.

  2. Zachan says:

    1. It is doubtful that intermittent renewables actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

    The amount of fossil fuels “saved” or “avoided” by the wind turbines may be estimated at around 90-95 percent of the fuel that ordinarily would be required to generate the same amount of electricity at fossil-fuel generating plants in the absence of the wind turbines. http://www.komanoff.net/wind_power/Wind_Power%27s_Displacement_of_Fossil_Fuels.pdf

    2. Wind and Solar PV do not fix our oil problem.

    Strawman. Electrification of transport systems and use of biofuel for aeroplanes, etc. fix our oil problem.

    3. The high cost of wind and solar PV doubles our energy problems, rather than solving them.

    Wind power and solar power in Europe is significantly cheaper than electricity from fossil fuel or nuclear power when you factor in health and environmental damage. http://www.dw.de/calculating-the-true-cost-of-electricity/a-16235063-1

    Renewable energy now cheaper than new fossil fuels in Australia http://about.bnef.com/press-releases/renewable-energy-now-cheaper-than-new-fossil-fuels-in-australia/

    4. Even if wind is “renewable,” it isn’t necessarily long lived.

    Is the wind going to stop blowing some time in the next few billion years? If so, we are all dead.

    5. Wind and solar PV don’t ramp up quickly.

    Strawman. Biomass, biogas, hydro, battery storage, etc. do.

    6. Wind and solar PV create serious pollution problems.

    Ludicrous claim when compared to fossils and nukes.

    7. There is a danger that wind and solar PV will make the electric grid less long-lived, rather than more long-lived.

    Plain nonsense. No rebuttal needed.

    8. Adding more wind and solar PV tends to make government finances less sound, rather than more sound.

    Plain nonsense. See e.g. Germany’s growing economic prosperity due to investment in clean energy.

    9. “ramping up intermittent renewables tends to make collapse come sooner, rather than later”

    One Trillion Savings From Renewable “…Germany is saving EUR 8 billion a year in fossil fuel import costs right now (about 10 percent of the whole bill) and expects that the cumulative savings up to 2040 will reach more than EUR one trillion.” http://k.lenz.name/LB/?p=9060

    10. Wind and Solar PV come nowhere near fulfilling the promises made for them.

    What promise? Made by whom? Just another nonsense strawman.


    The author clearly understands nothing of modern clean energy systems and how they are already transforming energy grids around the world, bringing prosperity to many in the process.

    Grade: F

    • timl2k11 says:

      You have apparently only looked at and responded to the bullet points and not the explanations that went with them. If you had actually read the article, there would be some evidence of that in your comment, but there is none.

    • I would like to say, that this whole discussion might be beside the point.
      It is true that germany today produces 25 % of its electricity renewable.

      While this looks like much, its really just a drop in the ocean. If you look into the total primary energy consumption, renewables are only at 9% of total energy. Globally renewables are at 1% of primary energy production.

      Germany is part of a global economy. Most of the wasteful and energy intensive production has been outsourced to other countries like china.

      China currently opens two new coal plants per day. This energy is not used by the chinese people. Germans use that energy, and americans do and other rich countries all over the world, by buing the cheap products from china.

      The german Energiewende is mostly a lipservice to the rising public interst into green politics in germany. But even lip services are changing the common sense, not only in germany, but worldwide. Changing the common sense is the revolution.

      So the main reason for the german Energiewende is propagandistic. Its not really changing the world right now. But changing our minds might be just what we really need.

    • xabier says:


      Grade F to you for bad manners. It’s possible to contribute without proffering insults.

      • InAlaska says:

        Being critical is not the same as being rude. Having a thin skin in this crowd is a liability that no one can afford.

        • xabier says:

          When thus expressed it is, I’m afraid, ignorant rudeness. This blog is a civil one and should remain so.

    • Paul says:

      “The author clearly understands nothing of modern clean energy systems and how they are already transforming energy grids around the world, bringing prosperity to many in the process”

      Hmmm… to which regions are you referring? Could it be Spain? The government subsidized a massive solar initiative and all that has done is helped drive them down the road to insolvency.

      You are aware that panels out of China are also massively subsidized – if they had to make dollars and cents those factories would receive few if any orders – and be out of business.

      Solar is a massive myth – it does not nor will it ever come even remotely close to replacing oil – in fact when cheap oil is gone solar will disappear – because you cannot have solar panels without cheap oil. Period.

      • I am with you Paul, I am not seeing too much prosperity in the world lately. But I suppose some can choose to see what they wish to see. I am a scientist. I just go by the numbers. The numbers are exponentially bad and getting worse.

    • Eclipse Now says:

      Zachan, did you know James Hansen supports nuclear-waste-eating Gen4 reactors like the Integral Fast Reactor? Did you know modern Gen3.5 reactors would have *easily* survived their cooling systems being knocked out, as happened at Fukushima, because the core itself is the last safety system? The fuel rods expand when they leave normal operational temperatures, and this expansion leaks neutrons, shutting down the reaction. You knew that didn’t you? Well did you know this: that James Hansen’s recommended Gen4 reactors (which will be commercialised soon, we know the physics works from 30 years of the EBR2) effectively convert today’s nuclear waste into 500 years of clean green power? Add micro-fine boron as an energy carrier, and the IFR’s can charge the boron to replace oil. Job done.

  3. Ert says:


    you may be interested in th paper “Addressing the terawatt challenge: scalability in the supply of chemical elements for renewable energy”, Vesborg, et al., RSCAdvances, 2012, 2, 7933–7947, Source: http://orbit.dtu.dk/ws/files/53065115/c2ra20839c.pdf

    The paper takes different technologies of electricity generation and look how much “stuff” out of the periodic table of elements is used to construct then – if they shall scale up to a terrawatt of electricity generation. Quite intriguing numbers.

    In that context, the presentation: “Peak mining & implications for natural resource management” from Simon Michaux (8.8.2013) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFyTSiCXWEE may be very interesting to watch for you, as it goes deep into the ever increasing energy usage that is required for mining.. and what the difficulties are. There much stuff we know – but he presents many facts in very good charts – I’ve never seen it done so dense and factual in only 45 minutes!

    Also, we may also be limited to 1TW of wind globally: “Global wind power potential: Physical and technological limits”, Carlos de Castro, Energy Policy, Volume 39, Issue 10, October 2011, Pages 6677–6682, Public summary at: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8322

    While I’m a proponent of decentralized power i.e. PV and solar thermal at home, many people forget the sheer amount of energy that drives traffic, transport and industry. There is no way that PV and/or wind will scale up. That PV and Wind are not sustainable without additional energy & oil – is another issue where I align with you. One shall only look at the huge concrete foundation of a large wind installation… that is pure energy!

    Currently I see SBSP and the molten salt Thorium reactors (LFTR or DFR) as only viable medium-term ‘solutions’ to our energy dilemma – and I like the prospect of nuclear not a bit. Fusion may be nice – but I think, if even possible, it is much too far away. Even the first ITER trials with deuterium and tritium are times for 2027!

    There are no real or easy solutions…

    • timl2k11 says:

      That was an excellent presentation by Mr. Michaux. Thanks.

    • Yes, the concrete foundations and tower structures alone, discounting the turbine itself are pure energy. Think for a moment the amount fuel that it took to mine and transports all the lime and iron. To work the iron into beams. The vehicles and roads that were built to transport all these things. The sheer numbers of engineers and workers that needed to be educated and build these machines and structures, the cars they drove, the food they ate. Its so incredible how much embedded energy we just take for granted in all these EROI calculations for solar and wind. Without fossil fuels this cannot continue.

      We “could” reduce populations but then we may fall below the critical mass threshold of the number of people we need to have a society complex enough to create things such as microchips. I don’t think we can hold on to all the technology we have created without a huge energy source.

      I once read that you can’t create energy you can only use energy to do useful work. If you could create energy you would have a perpetual motion machine (which is physically impossible). So, technology does not create energy, it simply finds different and more creative ways of using energy. There is no free lunch.

    • Thanks for the link to Simon Michaux talk!

    • Thanks for your comments and links. I think you are right.

      Looking at the Vestberg paper, it says,

      Based on the analysis presented herein, it is challenging for any single renewable energy technology to scale to the 10+ TW level, based solely on elemental availability and accessibility and not even including other technological challenges such as efficiency and cost.

      • Ert says:


        Yes, it is a pitty that most people do not understand that “we can not growth out of our energy dilemma” – as this is the core point from your article here.

        • Even if energy really did follow the money printing process (exponentially upward), I am not so sure I’d want to live in the world that followed. Look at the direction spying technology is heading (and warfare and drones). It would be like a Terminator movie future. Then, you factor in the pollution and waste from all the industrial processes. The ballooning population of people everywhere you’d look. The destruction of the natural world. I can’t see any quality of life in that either. Ugh I’m depressed now.

        • You are right–we cannot grow out of our energy dilemma. It is a real problem. People cannot imagine huge shrinkage.

    • Eclipse Now says:

      Ert, this peak mining youtube clip you’re pushing is the one that made me write the following comment. Enjoy.

      1. Peak uranium? When today’s waste could run the world for 500 years? Tell him he’s dreaming.
      “ Barry Brook:…. So instead of getting less than 1% of the energy out of uranium, these fast reactors get about 99.8% of the energy out of it which means they’re incredibly more efficient in terms of using the uranium resource. And actually we’ve mined enough uranium already to run the whole world in these reactors for about 500 years.

      Robyn Williams: So the old argument about running out of uranium isn’t on any more?

      Barry Brook: We may run out in 50,000 or so years if we powered the whole world by uranium, but then we’ve got about four times as much thorium to use as well. So the argument that we’ll run out of uranium is a dead duck.”

      Uranium from seawater could run the world for hundreds of millions of years.

      2. It takes for or 5 years to build a nuke? Nukes are too expensive, who is going to pay for them? Both of these arguments are related, and both are baloney. It’s like condemning the airline industry because the Hindenberg exploded.

      How long does it take to make a car, or how much does a car cost? It depends. Are we talking about a one-of-a-kind hand crafted Bentley classic, or an off the production line Hyundai? Today’s nukes can be modularised and put up on the production line. They can then be trucked to site and clipped together like so much super-sized lego. It’s just plain disingenuous to rely on the too long’ or ‘too expensive’ arguments. It does not have to be that way.

      3. Storing spent fuel rods? Are you SERIOUS!? This guy has NO IDEA what he’s talking about. The fuel can be reprocessed in an INTEGRATED Fast Reactor, and just today’s nuclear waste is worth $30 TRILLION dollars as a resource because it could run the world for 5 centuries. So we’re just going to store these ‘spent fuel rods’? That would be like digging up your best sweet oil, refining it into petroleum, and then burying it somewhere for decades! That would be retarded! Instead, these fuel rods can be reprocessed and USED! Waste = fuel, get it? As for Simon saying “Until someone comes up with a solution, I just don’t think nuclear is viable, ” well, until he’s done some more reading on the EBR2 which was built in the 1960’s for crying out loud, and how it uses nuclear waste as fuel, I don’t think Simon’s TALK is viable!

      • TAMcNeil says:

        In the last analysis we should keep in mind that our ultimate battle with the tools of mass and energy we have in hand is with entropy and eternity. Neither one is kind enough to provide us with dispensations. Not however something we should widely promote to others for fear of radical reactions.

        Sure you can understand…smiles.

        Terry First Financial Insights

      • Ert says:


        I only comment in so far, that IFR or other U238 breeder reactor are inferior and dangerous technology. Everyone concerned with risk analysis will choke his last meal out if he looks at the sodium part.

        If you may follow my comments here, you may know that the only nuclear technology I would consider a bit are LFTR and DFR designs that use molten thorium. I consider those the only nuclear that I know of that are not flawed by design to begin with.


        • Eclipse Now says:

          Ert, the IFR can have ‘neutron leak’ which expands the fuel rods if they overheat, leaking neutrons and shutting down the reaction. They can be built underground with super-safe containment domes. I don’t know why you’re ruling out the IFR?

          • Ert says:


            Nothing human made is “super-safe”. It is only “safe” until it fails. And as I stated: Sodium! From a risk-analysis perspective this is zero-points!

            LFTR/DFR have much less risk, have much more passive risk-control features and have much more fuel to burn. Still – the nuclear business is highly subsidized, even more than PV and wind. … that tells me stories.

          • Eclipse Now says:

            but we don’t have 300 reactor years worth of testing functioning LFTR/DFR’s do we? After the EBR2 and others, the IFR is ready to go: meltdown-proof fuel rods equipped with ‘neutron leak’ are safe, safe, safe. They will not melt down. If it starts to overheat a little, the rods expand and it shuts itself down. Sodium? Yeah, nasty stuff, but surely clever engineering has solved that, or James Hansen, Barry Brook and friends at the Science Council for Global Initiatives wouldn’t back Tom Blee’s book. And if something does fail, a good containment dome will stop the sodium spreading while neutron leak keeps the fuel rods parked in standby mode. The thing that fascinates me out of all of this ‘passive safety’ stuff is that they invented it for good old fashioned profit. It costs too much money to patch up a meltdown or lose all those uranium & plutonium fuel products, and creates bad press as well. Even if nobody dies. People don’t like evacuating a few hundred kilometres of real estate, even if it’s creating another nature reserve where wild wolves and bears can live.

      • There is a big difference between “can” and “will” when you say, ” The fuel can be reprocessed in an INTEGRATED Fast Reactor.” We don’t have them, and we don’t have time to build them, I expect. Also, a way to fund all of the new equipment.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Gail, the EBR2 demonstrates that the physics of an IFR *works*. For example, this one ran for 30 years.
          It was a prototype proving the physics. We would have IFR’s burning nuclear waste by now if Clinton hadn’t shut down the EBR2 program. We have over 300 reactor years of physics from breeder reactors.
          GE have a model of IFR ready to go as soon as they get the authority to build one, and the UK looks promising.
          But the reality is we have so much uranium on earth that we don’t *NEED* the IFR yet. The Chinese and Indians are starting to rush build AP1000’s and other Gen3.5 reactors that are SAFE (and would *easily* have survived Fukushima). They can EASILY provide all the power we need for a long time to come, and then the IFR’s will eat all the waste as fuel for *thousands* of years.
          Not only that, but they can charge BORON to replace oil. Used boron is as safe to move as trucking dirt around. So a home boron kit would probably include 3 or 4 tanks worth of boron, and then if there was just 1 boron-charging facility in the USA, boron could be mailed to the facility, recharged, and mailed back to the boron driver and STILL be cheaper than oil.
          IFR’s + boron. Problem solved. James Hansen’s SCGI says so.
          How is it you know more about our climate and energy emergency than James Hansen? ;-)

          • Jan Steinman says:

            The Wikipedia article on IFR uses the word “could” twelve times. It also notes that EBR II was shut down by Congress, not Clinton, whom you may recall belonged to a different party than the majority in Congress.

            You mention “300 reactor years” of fast breeder experience. You neglected to mention that almost none of those “reactor years” were from commercial facilities, as the French Phoenix/Super Phoenix have been miserable failures (in terms of actual versus design performance), and the other commercial FBR reactor (Fermi I) catastrophically melted down in 1966.

            As a relatively new, developing technology, fast breeders might show promise, but we’re out of time for developing new stuff. If it hasn’t become a commercial success since the 1960s, how can it possibly be developed when the base of our energy pyramid is inelastic or shrinking? (It will still take lots of petroleum to commercialize FBR technology that, so far, has a poor commercial track record.)

            I’m afraid the time is past for new technology that is described with words like “could.”

          • All I know is that James Hansen is working off of vastly inflated estimates of future CO2 emissions. The changes he is asking for are already baked into the cake. So what is the point in trying to do more? Get dead quicker?

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Gail
              James Hansen is working on the thesis that we can only afford to cumulatively burn 500 Gtons of fossil carbon. (The 2 degree C crowd is at 1000 Gtons.) We are pretty close to 500 Gtons at the present time. Hansen also thinks we can sequester 100 Gtons with carbon farming. If I remember correctly, that permits us to cumulatively burn 600 Gtons…if we aggressively pursue carbon farming.

              The carbon dioxide chart is still going up quite rapidly. In my lifetime, we have gone from 1000 MtC of carbon per year to 10,000 MtC of carbon per year and the most rapid rate of increase has been the last decade.

              You might be right that this is all going to stop by April Fools Day as the global economy crashes and carbon emissions in 2015 go to zero. But you might be wrong, also. I think some hedging of bets is prudent. I think it pays to listen to Hansen’s opinions with some respect.

              Don Stewart

          • jmdesp says:

            @Jan : Get the proper information, the IFR project was killed by a three men team : Al Gore, John Kerry, Hazel O’Leary in the first days of the Clinton administration, just a few weeks before the Republicans took back control of the house.

            – Al Gore Killed Clean Energy : “Word then came down from DOE headquarters to us at Argonne that if anyone so much as used a sheet of copier paper to write a letter to Congress or the media supporting IFR, that person would be criminally prosecuted for misappropriation of government property”

            – “The anti-IFR forces were led by John Kerry. He was the principal speaker and the floor manager of the anti forces in the Senate debate”
            – “behind the closed doors normal to such meetings, upheld the House position. There was to be no IFR funding”
            – “A few weeks later, the mid-term elections swept Republicans into power in Congress”

  4. timl2k11 says:

    I think what the critics of this post are missing is a very simple point that forms the basis of the article, PV and wind can only be produced and sustained with the energy inputs of a fossil fuel based society. If PV and wind work and electric transportation work, why aren’t we seeing solar and wind farms that in a sense “replicate themselves” (breed) with their own energy? Why isn’t PV and wind energy being used to make solar panels, or PV and wind energy being used to make wind farms? Because it is economically and infeasible and probably technologically impossible as well. We need fossil fuels to mine lithium for batteries, to mine rare earth metals for other parts, everything currently being done with PV and solar is taking place on the back of a fossil fuel based economy Build out your wind, solar, tide and geothermal, take away FF and watch everything inexorably fall apart. Fossil fuels are the only way to sustain a planet with billions of people on it.
    If we continue to invest in renewables that are economically unsound, we will only quicken our demise. None of this is to say PV and wind has no place in society at all, but their utility is limited.
    If PV and wind really was the answer, the cost of electricity (23% renewables) in Germany should be getting cheaper, not more expensive! Voilà tout.

    • @timl2k11 Exacty! And you need fossil fuel energy to build and maintain the mining machines too. And the machines are getting larger and larger every decade as mines get deeper and less resource dense. I wholeheartedly agree that without a very energy dense resource (fossil fuels) one cannot maintain a society complex enough to build (especially) wind and solar power. Now if you want to talk more primative wooden devices to capture wind or hydrop power to do simple direct work then yes that will work in the future as it has in the past. But complex, high tech devices like solar PV and wind turbines need a very long energy tail to produce them. In addition, they need functioning civil society to build and maintain. This already means somewhere there is/was a lot of embedded energy to start with.

      • tom reis says:

        http://www.solea-ag.com/index.php/en/component/content/article/233-soleathazimbi.html a mining application of PV also there is a advertisment film for australian mining companies to get their costs down: http://youtu.be/eK73eXvXRvE so PV will help to push the mining peak. so to keep the growth paradigma up and running. this will lead to more coal and fuels in future. so that pv does nothing to prevent the energy decline is simply wrong, but CO2 level keep rising, because of quantitive easing mor growth more wealth etc..no simple answers possible!

        • There definitely are applications where solar PV makes sense. But running the electric grid with them is not one of them. Your first link talks about using solar PV in a remote location to provide electricity, where previously the only source was burning diesel–essentially the “island” situation I talked about in my post.

          I have seen solar PV used to generate electricity for monitoring natural gas well production, in a remote location.

    • I have to disagree!

      I am from germany and prices for electicity are mostly related to special interest influence (as most prices are). Not that I say that the german Energiewende (energy turn) deserves its name, or that renewables could save us, but energy prices are not an argument.

      The current laws are subsidizing energy hungry industries, and the energy turn is simply used as an excuse to burden the public with more costs for the wasteful industries benefit. Its just a political power play (haha). So its speculation, lobbyism, greed, corruption and a little bit of real costs for renewables that are responsible for high energy prices (for some) and low energy prices (for others).

      Also the renewables industry today is just as unmindful of wasting energy and ressources as any other, because thats the way money is made in this world.So that the renewables industry is as ressource intensive today as it is, could be the result of it being a product of our wasteful and greedy system. It does not have to be that way.

      I am also convinced that renewable energy is on its way to becoming eroei positive. But without using the time we have now, to improve the eroei efficency, simply by putting up as many renewable plants out there as possible, we will not be able to do so in the future.

      Even if renewables are not as efficient as they should be, they are still the most promising energy source for our future, however that may look like. Renewables have taken a steady progress towards real efficiency. There is nothing that prevents renewables from someday becoming all that we hope them to be.

      I am saying Gails final resume is wrong even if her arguments are right. Investing in renewable is well spend money, ressources and energy. So while they will not save our system from collapsing, they might be the foundation for future generations to get back on their feet.

      • WT de Vries says:

        AlienObserver is right in some aspects. As a Dutchman I follow the German news and have also read the important books of the inspirator of the German Energiewende, dr. Hermann Scheer, http://www.hermannscheer.de/en/ . But dr. Scheer did downplay in his writings the impossibility of continuing our Western-style consumptive, energy-intensive and resource wasting life styles.

        A fine example of renewable energy use in an environment where scarcity and poverty are the norm, is the Little Sun, http://www.littlesun.com/ . Such nimble but clever inventions might indeed help us in getting things straight and ourselves back on our feet.

        It’s not without significance that Hope remained in Pandora’s box…

      • jmdesp says:

        Why do you think we see the same high prices in every country that tried to get a high percentage of new renewable in it’s mix and not only Germany ?
        Denmark is the most expensive of Europe, and prices in Spain have risen 60% since 2006, the government just stopped a further increase of 10%, but the utilities are left with a huge renewable debt, Italy also has very high prices, it used to be the country that had most solar before Germany.

      • Your right in that alternative energy is an investment we can make using the surplus of fossil fuel energy we have now to build them up. This investment should have started 40 years ago after the first energy crisis. In some instances, even this late in the game, there is a strong case to build out some alternative energy sources to tap when we are faced with dwindling fossil fuels. But at the same time we should not kid ourselves (or impress upon others) the idea that alternative energy sources will replace fossil fuels and nor that any semblance of BAU can continue.

      • Paul says:

        How do you manufacture wind turbines and solar panels without oil inputs?

        • InAlaska says:

          He is saying that we invest in those things now, while we have the FF to do it. This will pay future dividends.

        • @jmdesp/paul: We will not run out of oil, never, its just getting expensive and unefficient to burn it for energy. If you think otherwise you did not pay attention in this blog. In the future oil could change into a ressource for producing synthetic materials, but it will never be “gone”.
          Obvbiously spending oil for renewable energy production today is way better than burning it in SUVs.

          Also I do not know how to produce renewable energy without oil input in the future, but chances are that that we probably will, maybe with solar cells that use biotechnology (Bioelectricity). My point is, is that we need to continue investing efforts into making renewables better.

          Prices for energy rise because prices for oil and gas rise. On the german energy market renewables are cheap. This is really crazy, and I dont want ot get into it too much, but its just because renewables are successfull, the renewables contribution rises, and the prices go up.

          @all: Finally, I am very pessimistic about our future, but i am far from desperate, as many here seem to be. Despair will not help. Changing the system will.

          I look forward to the collapse of our economy. I am working toward that goal. I will be glad when it finally happens. The way will be clear into a new future then. A future that will not be about competition but cooperation, not about wasting but preserving our nature. There are very good reasons to be optimistic about this development.

          Humans can be different and societies can be different. There is no empriric evidence that “wasteful, greedy, competitive” is just how humans are. Some here might want to look into their idea of men. We can be much better than this.

          • If you understood what a collapse of our society means, you would not be looking forward to it. A collapse of our society means that governments collapse, and we lose the current versions of many things–our financial system, international trade, and long distance electricity transmission. I expect that lose basic services such as pumped fresh water delivered to homes, and sewer services. If governments are lost, so are laws, and the ability to enforce the laws. I am seriously doubtful in this situation, we can continue to produce oil for any purpose. The issue is not the price; it is the collapse of basic systems supporting the whole endeavor.

          • You say: “A collapse of our society means that governments collapse, financial system, international trade, and long distance electricity transmission. I expect that lose basic services such as pumped fresh water delivered to homes, and sewer services. If governments are lost, so are laws, and the ability to enforce the laws.”

            That might all be true. However, as my water and sewage is in the hand of the community and not a private company, as are all utilities where I live, I have some faith that we can handle that part. Also my community (Munich Bavaria) is on its way to renewable energy, even if there is still a long way to go.

            To the rest of the list:
            Government, yes. I will be glad for it to collapse, it will make way to new forms of organizations, driven by communities. This is happening in Greece right now. People get together and do the things necessary, because Governments become obsolete.
            Same thing with financial industry, global trading, laws and police. Many will not even notice their dissappearence.
            The structures we knew migth collapse, but new forms of organization will emerge.

            Nevertheless, I do not epect the transition phase to be easy.

            After the second world war, the collapse was in many ways much worse than what I would guess peak oil will bring us. In other ways it might have been less severe.
            But, as an example it will do. Basically people suffered, but they managed. They did not avert to barbarism against each other, even when many behaved barbaric in the nazi system.

            Its not blind faith or a naive hope in humankind, but scientific arguments that make me think this way.
            First: ours is not the first civilisaton to collaps, it has happened before, people adapt.
            This adaption is called evolution.
            Evolution, in the long run, favors altruistic bahaviour.
            As proof, we can find emprically ( in anthropological studies), that whenever ressources get scarce,in the long run, more egalitarian concepts of organizaition of society emerge.

            See i.e.
            David Graeber: Fragments of anrachist anthropology
            Richard Dawson: The selfish gene.
            Axelrod, Robert (1984), The Evolution of Cooperation

            Or watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I71mjZefg8g

          • timl2k11 says:

            If collapse means more egalitarianism, bring it on. Unfortunately it means a lot of unpleasant things as well.

      • But if we can’t maintain them without our fossil fuel system, what good are they?

        • InAlaska says:

          They will become the critical bridge to what comes next. I believe that you underestimate human ingenuity. Necessity is the mother of invention.

          • They meaning soloar and wind power I assume. Well a bridge to what comes next is stating the obvious. But *what* comes next is not so obvious. “Necessity is the mother of invention” how unscientific is that! What do you want to invent? Energy? Unicorns? Just because you need something (necessity) does not mean nature will let you invent it. If it is against the laws of physics, it can’t be invented or created. So, what comes next may be very undesirable.

    • Now that’s a pretty silly statement. We use fossil fuels because they are still around and somewhat abundant, so naturally they go into the mix of energy used to create PVs and windmills (or cement for dams for that sense). Take fossil fuels away and ofc the energy available to create these things become much less, but that doesn’t mean there is not enough to manufacture new PVs and windmills. A typical windmill has an ERoEI of 18:1 – so that basically means you get pretty much energy in return for the energy used to construct the windmill. Naturally a lot of this energy would have to go into resource extraction or recycling, so a lot of optimizations would have to be done in order to have an efficient “machine” running for the replacement and service of these things.

      Naturally today fossil fuels enables insane globalization which means we have all sorts of ways to be inefficient about how we use energy to extract minerals, process them and convert them into PVs and windmills. I am sure we would have to consider the notion that it was the miller who brought the grain to the windmill and not ordering a windmill installed in his house delivered from China on a boat so that he could do it at home while watching silly reality-shows on tv.

      Again I feel people are polarizing the debate, just like the fossil fuel predicament, its not about this or that, its both in coexistence in some way that is regulated so that its efficient, gives “enough” energy for society to work, so that we can gradually transition away from fossil fuels into a new energy reality – one where we might also appreciate more the available surplus we get from any technology we have around (today its completely wasteful with no regard to the externalized cost of pollution).

    • I didn’t mention explicitly in this article that solar and wind can’t be done without fossil fuels, but as you point out, it is clearly the case.

      • jonboinAR says:

        You aren’t convincing to me when you state that fossil fuels will be gone. Maybe you just mean they’ll be relatively unavailable, but as others have said, there will still be fossil fuels. They’ll just be expensive. I’m not convinced there won’t be fossil fuels available for use in manufacturing processes. We need to find a way to replace them for basic transportation and electrical generation, ie, we have to develop in a big way some combination of nuclear, solar, and wind. But you leave me unconvinced when you make it sound like “renewables” are unfeasible because they require fossil fuels in their manufacture. If they were only reserved for manufacturing processes and fertilizer, would there not be plenty of FF for these?

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “If they were only reserved for manufacturing processes and fertilizer, would there not be plenty of FF for these?”

          How do you get the fuel to the manufacturers? How to the workers at the plants get to work? How would you keep rich interests from “breaking the rules?”

          If one could wave a magic wand and say this or that, many things seem possible. But if you look at our sorry record of enlightening people to the problem and taking action, I’m pessimistic that the fossil sunlight that is actually necessary for manufacturing renewables could be “reserved” for such use.

          When 85 people have as much as half of all the other people on earth, they’re going to insist on using as much as they want! No one is going to tell them, “Sorry, you can’t take your 300′ private yacht around the Carribbean, because we need that fuel to make solar panels.”

          • jonboinar says:

            Those are issues, but Gail and others seem to be arguing (almost, at least) that our way of life is doomed because it’s physically impossible for renewables to replace fossil fuels wholly. In that presentation video linked in above comments by the fellow who wrote a book explaining why cutting down on consumption is the only answer, one of the questioners politely calls him out. Gail, that fellow, and other “doomers” keep arguing that renewables and even nuclear are no solution because they can’t eliminate our dependency on FF’s entirely, that FF’s will still be needed in their manufacture and maintenance. They use that as a proof that renewables (and even nukes) are no solution.

            From what I can reason, that’s a strawman argument. Suppose no one who advocates for a truly major investment in renewables is trying to say that these will rid us very soon entirely of a need for fossil fuels, but reduce that dependency to a more manageable level? Suppose one is not trying to argue that reducing our consumption (at least Americans’) is not a critical part of the solution but in conjunction with a turn to renewables (and yes, probably uranium and or thorium nuclear), together reduce our dependency on FF’s so that their use is manageable for a much longer time period than we’re looking at without doing these things INCLUDING turning to renewable sources of energy?

            IOW, my problem with Gail’s and the other’s arguments, as I’m reading them, is that they appear to attack the straw man of trying to say that renewables are an entire replacement for FF’s with no other changes made. And I don’t think any reasonable person who advocates for a major investment in renewables is trying to argue that point.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “my problem with Gail’s and the other’s arguments.. is that they appear to attack the straw man of trying to say that renewables are an entire replacement for FF’s with no other changes made.”

              I don’t think you have the argument quite right.

              Of course renewables are not “an entire replacement” for fossil sunlight. But that really isn’t the point at all.

              The point is that all renewables are composed of fossil sunlight to a tremendous degree. You can’t have renewables without fossil sunlight! There is no solar cell plant powered only by solar cells. There is no wind turbine factory powered only by wind power. No nuclear plant has ever been built using only nuclear energy. And even if they were, the supply, delivery, and maintenance of those products is a tarpit of fossil fuel.

              This pokes a big hole in the renewables advocate’s strawman argument that “when fossil fuel gets expensive enough, the market will fund renewables,” because the cost of renewables is going to track the price of fossil fuel!

              In this manner, renewables will always remain a niche, specialty, premium-priced item, either subsidised for their optics (“Look at us! We’re sustainable!”) or used in a manner where fossil sunlight cannot be used, like deep off-grid. No matter what price fossil sunlight inflates to, renewables will be one step ahead, because the raw materials, the financing, the manufacturing, the delivery, the maintenance — all are done with fossil sunlight.

              This where renewables advocates start using future tense verbs: “We could convert our entire transportation fleet to electricity,” “There will be enough extra farmland to create needed biofuels,” “We can someday extract all the uranium, thorium, or plutonium we need from seawater or nuclear waste,” etc. and on and on.

              I’m afraid the time is past for future-tense verbs. The PIIGS are floundering — Italy is already back to 1967 fossil sunlight levels, but struggling to support a population 20% higher. The major industrial nations are next in line.

        • What I am saying is that our whole economic system that allows the extraction of fossil fuels will be gone. We can’t go into our back yards and extract them with shovels.

          The issue isn’t that fossil fuels will be more expensive. The issue is that even if the costs are higher, these higher costs will not be enough to keep the extraction system going. Need for investment capital keeps escalating–very, very rapidly. This investment capital in one way looks like dollars, but it also can be viewed as steel and oil and other materials. Because of geological constraints, we can’t extract these resources rapidly enough. Something has to give. What ends up happening is the whole system collapses. Without the system, we can’t get fossil fuels out. “Renewables” just eat up our investment capital more quickly, with little to show for the effort.

          • jonboinar says:

            So, if we were to electrify as much as we possibly could, do some genuine reduction of use/demand and only use FF’s where we can’t use anything else, then build out nuclear power as much as fast as possible, would that save our bacon? THEN, in less of an existential panic work on developing some solar and wind?

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “So, if we were to electrify… do some genuine reduction… then build out nuclear…”

              Seems like a long shot to me. I think we have hit the wall, and like the Italians I pointed out, we’ll soon be dog-paddling like mad just to keep our noses above water.

              We can’t do all the things you say we must do on 1967 energy levels! We are already in an “existential crisis;” we just haven’t realized it yet.

              Want to do something positive and useful? Grow food. Preferably using perennials and other Permaculture techniques. Even that is not sustainable post-fossil-sunlight for seven billion, but I think it’s the best hope for the most people.

              We are going to return to the energy budget of photosynthesis. The only questions are how long it will take, and how many can do so.

  5. Ric Steinberger says:

    An excellent book on this topic is Ozzie Zehner’s Green Illusions. It’s a real eye opener.

  6. edpell says:

    Gail, I see your points on the down side of PV. I am still holding on to some hope for PV. It looks like we will need exact, detailed calculations to see if PV is a net positive or a net negative.

    All of this bodes well for molten salt nuclear reactors. They can be built with few capital/resources It has no need for a high pressure containment building because no high pressure is used. The Chinese are working on this.

    • If it is indeed a net positive (I am doubtful) then solar will simply add to efficiency of using fossil fuels. The fossils fuels that were saved by the solar power will simply go to something else (ie growth). Unless a technology can replace what fossil fuels do directly then solar is simply a “fossil fuel extender.” When fossil fuels become scarce solar power will be a broken system that cannot sustain itself on its own.

    • Off grid, there are situations where PV is probably net positive. On grid, it is a problem.

      • Good point with the off grid systems. I agree to an extent it is net positive. But (I belive) only if one discounts the embedded energy in all the systems that solar PV supports. For instance, the house it powers contains huge amounts of embedded energy, the appliances do as well (and so on and so forth). Your term:, a “fossil fuel extender” is a good way of describing off grid PV.

        I used to think grid based solar PV and wind was the future and now after about two years reading about them I am really doubtful (on grid) they are even worth pursuing at all.

        All the numbers are just so crazy. Every resource article today has its roots in exponential growth and it seems we are reaching that point on Albert Bartlett’s graph paper where the line broke through the ceiling.

      • Hi, Gail.

        I followed The Oil Drum, though I didn’t always comment (as DIYer). Some remarks about this post, though:
        1. Everywhere will be “off grid” in the foreseeable future.
        2. On a neighborhood or residential scale, I think PV solar makes a lot of sense right now. If you can afford it, you can buy (± the mean-time-between-softball-size-hailstorms) maybe fifty years of reliable power independent of the grid. Using nickel-iron or sodium-sulfur rechargable cells for the 2/3 or 3/4 of the time your PV isn’t producing. At about 15% efficiency, it’s better than photosynthesis at 1% (though they don’t make copies of themselves). Might work for affluent neighborhoods. Of course you can’t run steel mills on it.
        3. Nate “The Last Sasquatch” Hagens posted a comment on this article over on Facebook speculating that the financial/economic decline will produce a sort of “indian summer” (my words for it) where fossil fuel prices are low because of general deflation, while enough infrastructure remains to convince _some_ folks that our energy situation is getting better. Of course, if the economy really picks up it will bump right into those resource constraints again.

        As for moving people back to the land, folks we know (e.g. Sharon Astyk) have all averred that there is a significant learning barrier between living in town getting food from the supermarket, and growing it yourself. Even for folks who are willing to hoe weeds and pick fruit, it isn’t as easy as it looks.

        As for putting PV or wind power on the grid, I totally agree. Grid losses are non-trivial, and with such a low EROEI there isn’t anything to be gained by feeding a lossy grid. And anything involving “motorised parabolic mirrors” is out long-term unless you have all that industry to make motors and mirrors and pipes and whatnot.

        Also, I don’t think the “green nuclear” folks will get very far, trying to sling fluorine around like it was pool chlorine or something. Very few people understand how nuclear energy is really (4 or 5 orders of magnitude) beyond the ability of mere matter to contain and control it.

  7. maybe the biggest danger we face is the certainty that ‘they’ are going to fix things

    • Paul says:

      Indeed – they really fixed the limits to food production by applying finite inputs – oil and gas – to the farming process – and now we will have dead soil when the finite resources are no longer available because they are too expensive to extract.

      Thank you whoever thought of that awesome fix.

  8. Gail, I was thinking that you should write a post like this since you already had all the arguments (but written in the comments field rather than in a post).

    It would be great to see a post about the types of renewable energy that could be put in todays gas tanks. A lot of people put high hopes in biodiesel and biogas, be it from wood, algae, sugarcane etc. I haven’t seen any studies on how much fuel possibly could be produced these ways and what types of EROI you would see. I know sugarcane ethanol gets an EROI of about 9:1 but the production can’t be ramped up that much higher since it competes with food producion. But I don’t know much about the rest, algae, pine-oil, fischer-thropsch etc. Do you have any info?

    • Paul says:

      I think we need to get over the idea that we will be driving cars in the near future.

      What goes into the tanks is of the tip of the iceberg – the amount of energy required to manufacture automobiles is absolutely enormous – the energy that is required to maintain a society that allows us to educate those would design autos and run the supply chains is off the scale.

      This just simply is not going to happen without cheap oil – you could cover the planet in cane and harvest ethanol and you could not even come close to maintaining an industrial society.

      The only reason we live like we do is because of the giant pools of oil that we have been drawing down for two centuries. Nothing can replace the windfall that we have realized from that (not sure if windfall is the right term for something that is about to cause an untold die-off… but anyway)

      • Ric Steinberger says:

        It’s not just that giant pools of oil (and natural gas and coal) existed, available for human retrieval. It’s that our Western civilization lacked the wisdom and deep understanding of ecology to know that we should never withdraw more than the tiniest amounts of these fossil fuels.

        So what dies when our industrial civilizations perish isn’t just a lot of “stuff” made possible by cheap energy. It’s the belief system that led us to exploit these resources in the first place. Any future civilization will have to be anchored far more closely to the earth’s natural systems than we have been.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “Any future civilization will have to be anchored far more closely to the earth’s natural systems than we have been.”

          Perhaps humanity’s greatest purpose will be as a warning to the sentient bonobos, cetaceans, canids, or whatever arises after we’re gone. A lot of “human exceptionalism” that led us to be arrogant consumers came of not having evidence of anything greater than us.

          Imagine how humanity might be different if archeologists had dug up a layer thick with the skeletons and high-tech artifacts of a previous sentient animal. How did they do themselves in? Woa, better not go there!

          If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning. — Catherine Aird

          • Paul says:

            Jared Diamond has kinda done that — he gets a few prizes for pointing some hard truths out – then the world ignores him and gets back onto the speeding train headed for the wall

          • Dave says:

            Jan, Paul –

            Don’t know how correct it is, maybe just another myth glorifying some Santa Claus fantasy that makes the harsh realities so much easier to bear, but here goes:

            Have heard that some tribes of original Native Americans (i.e. prior to the “improvement” by forced adoption of Caucasian European values & culture) traditionally thought SEVEN generations into the future about major community decisions. Examples would be how many Bison to harvest in a hunting season, where & when to relocate a mud-walled Pueblo village, etc..

            From what I can see, many adults don’t now think even ONE generation into the future (e.g. “Octomom”, parents of the one child out of every 4 in America on Food Stamps, holders of the 20% American mortgages that are now “under water” etc.).

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “many adults don’t now think even ONE generation into the future”

              I think the word you were seeking instead of “generation” was “paycheque.” :-)

              Unless you’re that peculiar sort of “person” known as a “corporation,” then you think one “quarter” into the future. (But it could be argued that such “persons” are not really “adults.”)

          • Dave says:

            Jan says:

            “I think the word you were seeking instead of “generation” was “paycheque.” :-)

            Jan, I stand corrected. Your understanding of the problem is clearly more comprehensive than mine. By selecting the word “Paycheque” you are presumably making an oblique but noteworthy reference to the very significant proportion of U.S. entry-level military personnel who support their families week-to-week by the use of “Payday loans”.

            Payday loans, for our European readers, are unscrupulous high-interest usury instruments with total compounded annual interest rates well over 100%. The storefront establishments promoting such dangerous behaviours are as common around US military bases as are bordellos. Why anyone would want to go so deeply in debt so quickly “for the children” is difficult to understand. Of course, there is always the possibility that this is the product of poor judgement and/or stupidity.

            Let’s see…

            Poor judgement and/or stupidity on the part of people with everyday access to incendiary (think “white phosphorus”) explosives, Minuteman silos (think recent scandal with alcoholic officers, widespread cheating, and many people at many levels “unfit for duty”), and high-caliber automatic weapons. What could go wrong?

            Any high-level US officers reassigned by the White House recently? Any high-level officers and their biographer “girlfriends” outed recently? Any unexpected “early retirements” by high-level US military officers opposed to starting a bogus war with Syria?

            Ah, yes.. Our last-ditch (sic) hope for getting just one more generation into the future cannot think beyond the next “paycheque”

    • I would have to do some research to write an article. Basically, none of the things are scalable.

      The EROI of 9:1 for sugar cane ethanol comes from the use of almost slave manual labor in Brazil. It can’t be reproduced elsewhere.

      It basically takes as much corn to fill the tank of a vehicle as it does to feed a small adult for a year. Thus, we end up using huge amounts of land and fertilizer, and degrading the soil. At times, the corn is irrigated, depleting underground aquifers, something that should not be done. To reduce erosion, no till methods are used that use a lot of Round Up. This is worse than the erosion in many ways.

      Most of these approaches take natural land away from natural ecosystems. Most approaches are more expensive than oil, and always will be. Unless the fuels are identical to what they replace, they can only be used as additives. For example, ethanol is consider safe as an additive up to 10% in gasoline. If gasoline consumption goes down, so does ethanol consumption.

      Robert Rapier writes a lot of good posts about this subject.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “Unless the fuels are identical to what they replace, they can only be used as additives. For example, ethanol is considered safe as an additive up to 10% in gasoline.”

        Newer cars marked “E85” can use 85% ethanol, but ethanol has about 30% less energy than gasoline, so power and fuel economy go down by 30% or so, and thus the amount produced needs to be scaled up 30% to get an energy-equivalent picture.

        By most accounts, biodiesel is better, although I wouldn’t call it “sustainable” in the fairest meaning of the word. All vehicles manufactured since 1996 are compatible with 100% biodiesel, and even older vehicles can use it with small mods that a skilled consumer can do — replace rubber fuel lines with biodiesel-compatible fuel lines.

        If the auto-industry would spend a tiny fraction of what they’re spending on hybrid R&D on what I call “flex-fuel diesel,” you could buy a vehicle that you could pour straight vegetable oil into. (In warmer climates, you can indeed do that with older Mercedes engines, due to their sturdy inline fuel pumps, but diesels newer than the early nineties are totally dependent on electronics, and the computer often shuts it down when confronted with vegoil.)

        I’m not defending any of these techniques as truly sustainable, but I think straight-veggie-oil diesel could stretch our liquid fuel needs for some period of time. A sane government would limit such things to essential services. (An insane government is simply ignoring the problem!)

        • Vehicles need modification to run on 85% ethanol. There isn’t nearly enough ethanol to make sense to modify all cars for ethanol use.

          The biodiesel site says that biodiesel can be used up to 20% concentration, and that it can be treated just like regular diesel to operate in cold weather.

          According to the website :

          Biodiesel is produced from any fat or oil such as soybean oil, through a refinery process called transesterification. This process is a reaction of the oil with an alcohol to remove the glycerin, which is a by-product of biodiesel production.

          Somehow, this processed biodiesel doesn’t sound all that sustainable to me.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            Yea, biod is not without problems, but I think it’s better than most biofuels, if made from waste oil that is no longer useful for food.

            In particular, the process is relatively simple and forgiving, readily available to “garage brewers.” Unlike distilling alcohol, timing and temperature are forgiving. You could make it in a black barrel on a sunny day. (Well, probably a week of sunny days…)

            Any vehicle manufactured since 1996 is compatible with 100% biodiesel. US manufacturers vigorously fought making their vehicles compliant, but Europe mandated 100% compatibility starting in model year 1996, and rather than have a separate line for export vehicles, US manufacturers voluntarily complied. As far as I know, Japanese diesels since 1996 are also compatible.

            But depending on the feedstock and processing, biod “gells” at a higher temperature, and thus the admonition to cut it with dino-diesel.

            I use my own biod 80% when it is real cold here in SW BC. Of course, our “real cold” would be balmy for the rest of Canada.

            Cold weather performance is greatly influenced by additives. The most popular cold-weather additive is… methanol! You brew with excess methanol to ensure a complete reaction. Commercial producers distill out and re-use the excess methanol, but if you leave it in, you get cold weather performance that is nearly that of dino-diesel! I run mine down to -5°C (23°F) without problem, then add 10% dino-diesel down to -10°C (14°F).

            I heartily agree that biodiesel is not “the answer” to long-term liquid fuel, particularly commercially-made biod from virgin vegoil. But the ability to home-brew using used fryer oil is a considerable step toward “renewable.”

            I’ve also mentioned that converting an engine to plain vegoil, then running used fryer oil, is a considerable step beyond biod.

      • Thanks. I feel that my lack of knowledge about the potential in biodiesel is a weakness. Estimates about possible levels of production and EROI have been hard to come by. I read some of Robert Rapiers posts and even though he is convincing in his arguments that biofuels are not cost effective, he didn’t provide any hard numbers on EROI that I could find.

        To be really convincing in using peak oil as an argument for collapse I feel that one should have the facts about biofuels to be able to show how they are not the solution.

        • However I just found this great post by Tom Murphy on the topic http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/11/the-biofuel-grind/

        • Jan Steinman says:

          Currently, biodiesel uses about 20% fossil sunlight (natgas) for the methanol. Yea, that “could” be made from other sources, but I’ve grown to hate that word. :-)

          I think the only semi-sustainable way forward for diesels is to burn pure plant oil, without converting it to biodiesel. This requires a per-engine conversion cost and effort that is not terribly complicated nor materials-intensive. And it just won’t work on some engines — newer ones with sophisticated computer-controlled fuel injection tend to be highly optimized for dino-diesel, and they tend to get confused and shut down when confronted with vegoil. :-(

          My own calculations is that a ERoEI of about 15:1 is possible for annual canola. In other words, cultivating and crushing one acre of canola can supply fuel to cultivate and crush fifteen more acres.

          It may be possible to get much higher ratios from perennial oilseed crops, such as American Chestnut, but I haven’t tried to work out the numbers. My initial work indicates one can get 80% of the yield of canola that way — without any of the cultivation. Just pick up the chestnuts and throw them in the crusher.

          But this illustrates the fallacy of depending on ERoEI figures alone. There’s no allocation for capital depreciation in there, and no allocation for sunken capital. How much energy is in the tractor, and how much will be needed to replace that tractor, amortized over the annual yield? The answer may well be, “You’re on the last tracor you’ll ever see, buddy, so you’d better take good care of it!”

        • I personally would use cost before I would use EROEI. Cost includes everything. You can also plug it in at the right place in the comparison chain–is the output of wind and solar PV comparable in cost to the price of coal or natural gas (or uranium)? How much does it really cost in $ to avoid one ton of CO2 emissions?

          There is a reason I don’t talk much about EROEI much in my posts.

  9. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    If nuclear isn’t the answer, and fossil fuels aren’t the answer, and attempts to keep the grid running with solar and wind are not the answer, then the only remaining option I can think of is to stop producing grid electricity.

    Studies such as those you have cited almost never include the cost of the pollution from continuing Business as Usual. Yet one small impact of continuing BAU is estimated at 60 trillion dollars. See below.

    So the cost of BAU is exorbitant, we don’t have technological fixes to keep the grid running, and therefore we have to live on a photosynthesis budget.

    At the present time, according to Lenton and Watson in Revolutions That Made the Earth, page 48,
    ‘After accounting for their own respiration, the plants of Earth currently extract about 3000 tons of carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide every second, half of it on the land and half of it in the ocean. They fix energy from the sun at the rate of about 100,000 Gigawatts as they do so–to give you some perspective on this number, it is about 10 times the rate at which the entire human race is currently using energy through burning fossil fuels, so the energy flow through the biosphere still comfortably exceeds our own power hungry habits.’

    So it seems to me that the only hope for humans is to re-acquaint ourselves with the wonders of photosynthesis, and utilize those fruits more effectively and efficiently.

    Don Stewart


    This is the reason why a recent study, published in Nature, estimates that, in twenty to thirty years,
    “The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion [my emphasis] in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher.
    … The extra methane magnifies flooding of low-lying areas, extreme heat stress, droughts and storms.” Whiteman, Hopes and Wadhams, “Climate science: vast costs of climate“, Nature, 2013.

    • InAlaska says:

      Don, your idea is fascinating. Certainly, we should be able to use our fossil fuel endowment to create technologies that mimic a photosynthetic energy budget.

      • SourabhJain says:

        “If nuclear isn’t the answer, and fossil fuels aren’t the answer, and attempts to keep the grid running with solar and wind are not the answer, then the only remaining option I can think of is to stop producing grid electricity”

        You hit the nail on the head. I think the only way we can sustain without destroying the planet. But, with seven billions and growing, even hunter gather lifestyle is unsustainable too.

  10. danny says:

    I am still recovering from reading the comments of your last post….so much doom and gloom……I don’t want to become a victim of group think and miss opportunities that we may have….there is always a chance…..or something that we did not see. Danny

    • Paul says:

      I agree – there is plenty of doom and gloom – justifiably so.

      But doing nothing – making no preparations – is not a option for most who see what is coming – because like the saying goes ‘it’s difficult to make predictions – especially about the future’

      So I think it is still worth exploring options and putting a plan in place – it may be futile in the end – but then maybe not.

      And that is why this article and the comments are invaluable – they allow people to weigh the options of solar and wind – and making INFORMED decisions as to whether or not these are likely to be viable when the crash comes.

      And if one determines they are not – that allows one to channel resources into what are hopefully better options.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “So I think it is still worth exploring options and putting a plan in place – it may be futile in the end – but then maybe not.”

        I think it’s important to differentiate between personal, short-term investment in renewables and “renewables as a way to save life as we know it.”

        What Gail is saying is that it is impossible for so-called “renewables” to maintain our collective life style in the long term. It may well allow some people to do so for a limited time, buying them time to get ahead of the Hubbert Curve while exploring the next level of energy descent.

        This is coming to you via a wind-powered computer… but I have no illusion that this is a viable long-term option.

        Perhaps renewables are only a “feel good” thing. That’s okay; I need to feel good. And I’d rather do it by buying wind power than by going to sporting events, or having an expensive car, or taking exotic vacations. (Or taking any vacation!)

        • Paul says:

          Definitely – if someone decides to install solar to pump water from the creek to grow a crop – when electricity is no longer available – and there are not other options …. why not do it?

          It won’t change the macro at all — but it will impact your chances of survival.

    • InAlaska says:

      Danny, I agree. Although I am hardly a fount of optimism on this, there is quite a lot of group think going on here, and extrapolation based on deduction. It is critical to be realistic, open-minded and flexible. It is good to be a skeptic particularly with those who speak with absolute certitude about the future.

  11. Ozzie Zehner says:

    Excellent, much needed post. Thank you!

    Pt. 5: I wonder if we should stop calling modern wind turbines and photovoltaics “energy production” and instead speak of them as the “energy sinks” or “energy consumers” that they are. I see modern wind/solar simply as illusions. We would not say that a magician that produces cards from thin air is adding anything to the global playing-card supply. Not even a tiny bit.

    Pt. 1: But this makes me wonder, do you or other readers have any thoughts on what might be a sink for wealth that would not lead to growth or ecosystem impacts? The only idea I can think of for sequestering wealth is buying land and allowing it to go wild. But even if this were performed on a large scale, nations could simply print more money to spur more natural resource extraction or raise land taxes so that preserving wild land becomes expensive.

    For those interested, the first chapter of Green Illusions, is entitled, “Solar Cells and Other Fairy Tales” which is available for free here: http://www.greenillusions.org/description/

    • I agree that most of what we call “renewables” are energy sinks. One exception I think is hydro power and thermal solar. Hydro is an efficient use of fossil fuel energy (building the power plant) to capture massive amounts of energy from flowing water. It is a proven “renewable” resource. But, I agree that grid tie solar PV and wind turbines are energy sinks.

      • I think most hyrdo is a proven renewable resource. I also think that a lot of the best places were taken first. The issues I see (1) Existing dams need maintenance–dredging and replacement for parts that no longer work. At some point these will be a problem, (2) New sites usually are in less good places–higher cost, lower EROI (3) Natural flooding of rivers is needed to maintain soil fertility along rivers. When hydroelectric is added, this is lost. This a big issue along the Nile in Egypt. They now are using fossil fuels to do what nature did much better in the past. (4) Run of the river hydro is better from a point of view of not damaging ecosystems.

        Solar thermal is also usually good.

        • Ahhh yes those unintended consequences again. Your right about the side effects of the dams. I was aware of these. I just don’t want to come across as overly pessimistic. There is no free lunch unfortunately.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “do you or other readers have any thoughts on what might be a sink for wealth that would not lead to growth or ecosystem impacts? The only idea I can think of for sequestering wealth is buying land and allowing it to go wild.”

      Check out Restoration Agriculture, Real World Permaculture For Farmers, by Mark Shepard.

      In it, Shepard makes a strong case for restoring the function of the mixed-perennial savannah — a mixture of food forest and perennial grassland — with prominent use of domesticated ungulate herbivores.

      Such a system isn’t going to support seven billion humans, but it’s probably the optimal way to support as many as we can on a current-solar-energy budget.

    • Ric Steinberger says:

      The “wealth sink” I’d like to see is for the governments of industrial nations to buy up large plots of farm land, even marginal farm land, and make it available to 21st century “homesteaders” – people, especially the unemployed, who would promise to learn (low to zero fossil fuel based) organic farming and take care of the land in exchange for growing food for themselves and 1 – 5 other families (depending on land size, quality, rainfall, etc.).

      If the citizens of the industrial nations are not going to starve in “The century of Malthus”, then tens of millions of them are going to have to become organic farmers or get otherwise involved in food production.

      Another “wealth sink” would be the non-commercial, non-profit development of sustainable forests, primarily for building materials and firewood.

      Last suggestion for a “wealth sink” – The development of what E. F. Schumacher called “Intermediate Technologies” – tools, techniques, processes that are easy to implement, require little to no fossil fuel inputs and can help allow a reasonably comfortable existence – probably a mix of 18th – 20th century low-energy, small scale technologies. Be nice to have community colleges giving courses in “The New IT” – Intermediate technology.

      • Unless you’re using a tree branch as a lever, or a bone as a club, every ‘tool’ carries an element of heat in its manufacture.
        They have to, because tools are essentially a means of advantage over whatever it is you’re working on or with, to have an advantage means tools have to be harder,
        hard can only come from application of heat.
        18th/20th c small scale technology supported scale scale populations. I wish those two concepts could stay linked in commenters minds
        I can think of one exception though, stone tools.
        This way to the Olduvai gorge everyone!

        • Ric Steinberger says:

          I did say, “low to zero fossil fuel based”, right? That means that decent tools made using small amounts of fossil fuels could be safely used if they were high quality and designed for long life. Every farming village should have a skilled blacksmith. S/he will be making plows, nails, horseshoes, crowbars, hammers, anvils, door handles, stoves, cookware, saws and maybe simple windmills, perhaps even electric ones. But s/he won’t be making PV cells – those require an industrial society with complex supply chains.

          • you missed my point—small scale enterprise supports a small scale population, we are stuck with a large scale population
            All the items you list involve iron bashing. If you want to bash iron, you must have heat, that means charcoal, I believe the equation is 1000 tons of tree=100 tons of charcoal= 1 ton of iron. work that out–per village, and dream on
            I live within 5 miles of where the industrial revolution began, a canal that fed it runs at the bottom of my garden. There is an awareness of what those men did in the 1700s, but they were driven to do it by a simple reality, they were running out of trees.

        • Ric Steinberger says:

          We are only “stuck” with a large scale population of 7+ billion until the inevitable population reduction happens, partly due to global climate change and partly do to a growing collapse of industrial agriculture. This is one of the bottlenecks we face. So, Malthusian constraints will apply and extreme weather will speed them along. We can “look forward” to massive floods, hurricanes, droughts, breakdown of sanitation systems, pestilence, diseases like cholera and typhoid, famine, wars over remaining resources, civil violence, global pandemics for which the medical establishment cannot counteract.

          My guess would be that the earth’s population stabilizes at well under 1 billion. [About 200 years ago, it was close to that, but climate change will make the planet far less able to support even that number.] So the human population will shrink radically (baring an energy and climate miracle) and the survivors will be lucky if they can duplicate some quality 19th century farming technology. If they’re really lucky, they may get to hang on to some methods for making anesthesia, antibiotics, antiseptics, basic medical chemicals like aspirin and ones to purify water, primitive electrical wind generators so houses get a few primitive lights and maybe even radios (if the future techies can make tube amplifiers and cobble together batteries).

          • InAlaska says:

            There are already carbon sequestration machines being built that literally suck CO2 out of the air. Bill Gates is funding research into this now. In an era of great need, it is theoretically possible that we can reverse what we have done to the climate (or at least stabilize it). The engineering is already in existence.

        • DaShui says:

          Almost right eom.
          I know a person who makes stone arrowheads with a deer antler, called flint knapping.
          Anyway he has to heat the rocks up first to create a fracture line, Stone Age fracking?
          So even Stone Age technology needed artificial energy inputs.
          The Aztecs used obsidian knives which of course comes from volcanoes.

        • xabier says:


          The irony that the way over Ironbridge leads back to Olduvai….!

      • Paul says:


        Perhaps the government should nationalize these holdings and start to allocate plots to those who are interested in having a chance at surviving :)

    • Ert says:


      “any thoughts on what might be a sink for wealth that would not lead to growth or ecosystem impacts?”

      Two suggestions:

      First: You may change the economic system that is driven by private debtors that chase for the money they owe their creditors. This is the core drive of what we call “capitalism” and which I call “debtism”. But you may be be the “Emperor” to decree that ;-)

      Second: You have to tax away the industrial efficiency gains to avoid the rebound principle effects, therefore lower the available income for “goodies” and reduce growth. You may find a extension of the concepts you propose in Mr. Weizäckers book “Factor 5”: http://www.amazon.de/Factor-Five-Transforming-Improvements-Productivity/dp/1844075915

      The system itself will never allow itself to shrink. Even the German “Energiewende” was (also) designed to grow the economy, as it was credit driven and highly supported by massive incentives.

    • Thanks, Ozzie for the link to your website and first chapter. Your chapter “Solar Cells and Other Fairy Tales” is very good. I checked on Amazon as well, at it gets very good reviews, and isn’t terribly expensive.

      I agree with you on most wind and solar being energy sinks when put on the grid.

      I think the sink for people’s wealth in the next few years will be failing banks, insurance companies, and pension plans. The paper wealth we have is just a way of transferring around real physical things that are made with fossil fuels and with other natural resources. This paper wealth will have little value, as the amount of resources we become unable to extract oil, because of financial disruptions indirectly caused by the high cost of oil extraction. (The issue may be that oil prices do not rise high enough for companies doing the extraction, so they stop new exploration and production.) A couple of posts to read:



    • Jan Steinman says:

      Thanks for the link, Ozzie. I watched your presentation to Google employees, as well.

      I have a minor nit I’d like you to think about and possibly re-consider.

      In the presentation, you mentioned something about “educating women” as a way to control population. I consider this a common myth among demographers, repeated enough times that it is generally repeated as fact, yet with no underlying proof. Correlation is not causation!

      Rather, I would submit that women’s access to energy is the root cause of falling birth rates, which tends to correlate closely with women’s education.

      In subsistence populations, children are a slave labour force and a retirement plan, whereas in industrial populations, children are closer to “hobbies” — wonderful, joyful hobbies, but not essential to one’s existence. Yes, there is the “biological imperative,” but it doesn’t have the practical reasons of labour and retirement when fossil sunlight supplies both.

      For example, a small African village gets electricity and a well — as well as some charitable organizations’ education on birth control. Now, the village women don’t need to walk five miles to get water, and they have less incentive to breed a water-carrier. The World Health Organization proclaims success: the poor brown women have been “educated,” and the birth rate has fallen!

      In fact, I think western “education” of third-world subsistence farmers is more of a problem than a solution. I have been greatly influenced in this by the film, Schooling The World, The White Man’s Last Burden (Paul kindly found the entire movie, in seven parts, on You Tube.)

      I think we should let the third-world subsistence farmers alone. They are currently better equipped to handle the coming energy decline than either the citizens of industrialized nations, nor their poverty-stricken, slum-dwelling, newly-educated peers.

      If you see fit, perhaps you can introduce this perspective as an alternative when you talk about “educating women” in order to reduce birth rate. Because, as the Limits To Growth graphs hint, we may have universally accelerating birth rates soon, even after educating women. The resource spent on education could instead be used to introduce appropriate-technology “energy levers” to the third-world, such as hand-pumps for wells.

      Thanks for the video and book!

      • Ozzie Zehner says:

        Thank you Jan for your thoughtful reply. I agree with your critique of that point of the Google talk, which was quite a bit more simplified than the chapter in Green Illusions that I wrote on the topic. It seems you are thinking that this is a large, multifaceted problem that will require many changes at once, including increased energy access to those most in need. That makes sense to me.

      • Russell says:

        Exactly Jan. The ‘educating women to reduce population’ campaign is a prime example of people doing what they would like to do rather than what is needed. Provisioning and protecting women is very much a BAU approach. It is the rationale for over-consumption and even war.

    • Ert says:


      Regarding population dynamics, please read (transcript) or hear (Podcast): http://www.peakprosperity.com/podcast/84314/bill-ryerson-challenges-presented-global-population-growth

      Bill Ryerson does actually the stuff, helps to educate people in Africa and removed some “myths” for me. Have no time to summarize it here – but the 60 minutes of the Podcast are well worth your time – and if you know Martenson, then you may trust his judgement.

  12. I agree with Gail. I see “renewables” as another “middle man” between fossil fuels and the electrical socket in your home. Middle men add complexity, costs and decrease efficiency. And electrical generation does to fix our liquid fuel problem. Folks tend to site how a person (in the lab) can get more energy out of say a solar panel than was put into its construction. In the lab that may be true. But, you still need the equipment to mine/extract the resources to not only build the solar PV device but all the associated appliances you want to power with it. You need to educate, feed, house and clothe all the folks that are working in the industries to extract these resources and build the appliances to do useful work. Therein lies a lot of unmeasured embedded energy that goes into our modern industrialized society. The earth moving equipment needs to be maintained, replaced and refueled. The machines that build the earth moving equipment need to be maintained, replaced and refueled. You need a critical mass of people to support the lifecycle of these machines. The more complex this society is the higher the critical mass of people becomes. These people need to be educated, housed, fed and clothed and sufficiently entertained so they get along well. A person cannot begin to fathom the amount of embedded energy that we simply take for granted just to sustain modern society.

    If solar PV or wind is truly able to stand on its own then try an experiment and create a city where every renewable is available (solar, tidal, geothermal etc) and no fossil fuels are used to extract, build and maintain even a small industrial civilization. What would it look like? Would the folks decide that electricity for all is a useless adventure because nothing worth powering could be built? Would everyone be driving electric cars? Would there be computers of any kind? Would they be able to build solar PV panels and wind turbines using solar PV and wind turbines? We kicked started modern civilization with a very high-energy dense fuel. And that that energy is still there hidden in the background of modern civilization in the form of embedded energy.

    I truly believe what we call “renewables” can only exist in an ecosystem of high embedded energy fossil fuels and they cannot stand on their own. I have heard Gail call them “fossil fuel extenders”. I believe that phrase “fossil fuel extender” could be applied to hydro power or solar thermal or local off grid intermittent solar PV (without battery backup). But I do not believe grid-tie-solar or wind turbines are even good enough to be fossil fuel extenders. They are energy sinks. I read that Germany is having real problems with them. Germany is burning more coal and natural gas idling power plants on stand-by to coverup the intermittency.

    What is needed is efficiency improvements, better education to understand our energy problem, steps to humanely reduce our population numbers and a real push to bring back the family farmers and local communities around them. We will all need to let go of our complex society and the techno gadgets we have grown fond of. I am afraid society will go kicking and screaming (wars) before letting go.

    • Paul says:

      Outstanding post.

      ” Would the folks decide that electricity for all is a useless adventure because nothing worth powering could be built?”

      You hit the nail on the head – most people do not realize how little power actually comes out of a solar system. If you wanted to try to operate a washer and dryer you’d need a massive, expensive array of panels.

      People have the utopian vision of people coming home from work to plug their electric cars into their solar charger. I don’t know specifically what the would involve but I suspect you’d need a backyard the size of a football field covered with panels to be able to collect enough energy to charge a car.

      And then there is the issue with batteries – you’d be replacing them every few years – and they are expensive.

      This dream of a solar (or wind) powered world is – even if you could continue to produce the hardware without an industrial economy backing you – total pie in the sky.

      I quickly realized this when I made some recent inquiries into solar for a log cabin I am building.

      • InAlaska says:

        I operated a full-sized house on 12 solar panels including a washer and a dryer. Facts are facts and we live and die by them. The deep cycle batteries last 20 years if you tend them properly with a good programmable inverter and charge controller. I have friends with 30 year old solar panels that still crank out the power. We must all avoid the temptation to extrapolate from what we think we know. It will take all of humanity’s ingenuity along with a mixture of all of the energy sources discussed here, along with a little luck, to make it through the coming bottleneck. It can be done.

        • SourabhJain says:

          Was renewable energy used to manufacture your dryer, washer, inverter, batteries, solar panel, house, etc.?

          If you are living off-grid, 12 panels is about 3kW (am I right?) how much energy did they generate? What was your standards of living? I allude to annual energy consumption? How much “stuff” did you buy locally and how much of it was made in China? I am just wondering if you accidentally exporting your emissions. If you are truly living sustainable, as you seem to claim is possible, how much interaction do you have with outside world (beyond your town)? (Btw, I am sure internet server you are using is not running on renewable energy, and definitely not manufactured using renewable energy. Do you drive? was road built using renewable energy? What about car?

          If you are grid-connected, then was renewable energy used to manufacture that grid? I guess not. So, the main point of this post was that wind and solar cannot replace energy intensive lifestyle we are living in. If we were to live the way people living before Industrial revolution, we can live, but now we have four or five times as many people as they were two hundred years ago.

      • Anita says:

        “Massive, expensive array of panels” just for a washer and dryer? Misunderstanding! (Unless your cabin is way closer to the North or South Pole than most of us.) The three of us get about two-thirds of our electricity from just four panels (1.6 m2 each) – about 800 kWh of a total of 1100-1200 kWh a year. A bit more than we need in summer, a lot less than we need in winter. We wash often but admittedly prefer a clothes-line to the dryer.

        • Anita says:

          (The above was in reply to Paul’s post. Afterthought: of course we use a lot less electricity than an average three-person household. No accident, yet we don’t lead unreasonably frugal lives. Just replaced light bulbs with LED lights and the TV with a notebook computer, and we turn off what we don’t need.)

          • Anita says:

            Jain: the question was addressed to someone else, but no car here. Good old Europe. Actually it’s a no-brainer that PV and wind won’t ever get us off oil. Oil means transport and new renewables don’t. Transport of the mindless and useless variety is one of our biggest energy sinks today, e.g. from suburbia to the supermarket and then to the gym in an SUV, instead of riding a bike to the farmer. Much of it won’t be missed too sorely. I do see Gail’s point that our four PV panels needed a large energy investment to begin with. I also get the problem of subsidies. We could have claimed some for those measly four panels but chose not to – they cost a fraction of what our neighbours spent on their second car. Whatever the problems of new renewables, that second car still strikes me as the dumber strategy. If anyone disagrees, I’d like to know why.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. You may be right that I am too generous in calling grid-tie solar and wind “fossil fuel extenders.” In many cases, they are just plain energy sinks. They certainly act that way, in the way they affect economies. We hope some folks will learn from Germany’s experience.

  13. I can speak from experience somewhat, as I’m running this “netbook” from deep-cycle batteries, which charged largely from a solar panel (which was made in China).
    I think real-life experience will answer these questions, & I suppose its “answers” will be anything but easy, or painless (http://davecoop.net/seneca.htm).
    Working around “high-tech” manufacturing, I’ve long seen some of the diesel-fuel-powered trucking which is involved, just in making the means of production for “microchips” (the vacuum chambers, within which they are made, are scrapped out after about 6-7 years, due to corrosion, etc.) — just one of those chambers is machined from over a ton of aluminum — are we going to do all of that, with “renewable energy”? (I’d say, “dream on”.)

    • Solar panels are great for charging electronic equipment. That is a reason some people might want one. And the little batteries in the netbooks work pretty well, at least for a few years.

      The problem is grid connecting everything, using inverters that wear out, and holding costs down to something very cheap, relative to fossil fuel costs. Also keeping the whole system repaired.

  14. cassandraclub says:

    In my humble opinion PV-solar and wind can be good alternatives for fossil fuel energy, but not in the nationwide electric grid.
    Standalone windmills and PV solar panels can power a farm or a small factory with just a few flexible workers. In the past millers would only grind grain on windy days. And when there was no wind, he would take the day of.
    Maybe the wish to keep up a nationwide electrical grid is the biggest obstacle.

    • InAlaska says:

      This is a very astute observation. A decentralized, local PV economy to replace a nationwide grid, will be more robust, redundant and efficient. I agree with you that flexibility and a change in lifestyle and mindset is the answer.

      • SourabhJain says:

        Now, I agree with you both, cassandraclub and InAlaska on that point. What we need is “localization” not “globalization”. But, see how many people would voluntarily adopt local decentralized economy. Unless there is total collapse, people will not willing to revert to local-based small-scale decentralized economies.

        We can figure out a way to manufacture smaller turbine and panels for local people without much industrial economy. We definitely need to change the mindset. I think economy before Industrial civilization was much more sustainable than what we have today.

    • I agree. There are some stand-alone applications. Solar PV for Saudi water desalination no doubt makes sense. The nationwide electric grid is likely a pipe dream. There is a reason why originally electricity generation was local, with only a bit of long-distance transmission lines for emergency purposes.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “There is a reason why originally electricity generation was local…”

        Actually, that reason was largely technical, based on using direct or alternating current (DC vs AC).

        Lined up on either side were two powerful individuals of the day: Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse.

        Edison envisioned small DC power plants, spaced about a mile apart in urban areas.

        Westinghouse’s AC system allowed simple voltage-current transformation, and could feature much larger power plants spaced much more widely. Westinghouse won anecdotally based upon a botched electricution event, where it took a long time to kill a prisoner using DC, which negated Edison’s claim that AC was more dangerous.


        That debate is revisited today, and I think any future that small electricity generation may have should be based on non-grid, non-stored, DC power generation. It is much simpler and efficient. I have a collection of 12 VDC things that I can run directly off solar panels, wind turbines, or micro-hydro, without any intervening inverters nor batteries.

        And when the sun goes down, we’ll go to sleep, or when the wind stops blowing, we’ll take a break. :-)

        • I think people should be looking closely at what they own, and whether they run off DC power. Solar panels are great for DC power; not nearly as good for alternating current.

  15. I have both a solar hot water heater and a 2.5 KW PV feed-in system on my roof. My previous off-peak electricity bill for warm water is now limited to a couple of cloudy winter days. From the PV panels we export more electricity (7 cents per KWh refunded) than we import (25 cents per KWh).

    CO2 emissions from manufacturing PV cells can be offset by e.g. delaying the purchase of a new car or appliance and by downsizing.

    There is no way of solving our CO2 debt problem in the atmosphere without dramatically changing our lifestyles. If we don’t do it voluntarily, nature will force us. Latest global temperature analysis:

    Global Temperature Update Through 2013
    21 January 2014
    James Hansen, Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy

    Summary. Global surface temperature in 2013 was +0.6°C (~1.1°F) warmer than the 1951-1980
    base period average, thus the seventh warmest year in the GISS analysis. The rate of global
    warming is slower in the past decade than in the prior three decades. Slower growth of net climate
    forcings and cooling in the tropical Pacific Ocean both contribute to the slower warming rate, with
    the latter probably the more important effect. The tropical Pacific cooling is probably unforced
    variability, at least in large part. The trend toward an increased frequency of extreme hot summer
    anomalies over land areas has continued despite the Pacific Ocean cooling. The “bell curves” for
    observed temperature anomalies show that, because of larger unforced variability in winter, it is
    more difficult in winter than in summer to recognize the effect of global warming on the occurrence
    of extreme warm or cold seasons. It appears that there is substantial likelihood of an El Niño
    beginning in 2014, and as a result a probable record global temperature in 2014 or 2015.

    Quote: “a major problem is inadequate investment capital and too much debt.”
    Comment: Indeed. The last QE – possibly after a currency reform – will be done to finance essential projects to get away from oil and fossil fuels in general. Unfortunately, that will be done only when peak oil and global warming problems will have become real physical problems. I did the following post – which needs updating:

    System Dynamics peak oil, financial and CO2 debt, ME geopolitics

  16. Doug W. says:

    I will have to think about this one. One factor not mentioned in this analysis is the conservation benefit of wind or solar. Any reputable installer tells customers that they can reduce the cost of their new system by cutting their energy use. In our case that amounted to over 3000 kwh per year. In our region that means we have cut our CO2 emissions by 2 tons per year. We use 150 kwh per month and live what most people would consider a middle class life albeit one focused on meeting needs instead of conspicuous consumption. Serious conservation measures could certainly ease the transition we face.
    In a way solar technology misses the point. Many years ago we attended a NOFA conference. One of the workshop presenters summed it up pretty well, “What we need is not so much a solar technology, but rather a solar culture”. Azby Brown describes such a culture in Edo Japan before opening to the West, in his book “Just Enough”.

    • Paul says:

      Yes good point – as we have seen – when we create efficiencies or prices fall – we simply use more energy. Autos are a good example – we have more efficient cars but we use up the same amount of energy because we have all these new gadgets to power (and produce)

      We will never change our culture of energy – unless forced to. Because using less = the end of growth = economic collapse

    • I think that solar use does reduce total electricity consumption–which is a good point. If we could do it without the actual solar panels on the grid, it would be that much better.

      I don’t think wind does anything for electricity consumption. Small wind is terrible for efficiency. This units tend to not be high enough off they ground, and they break down frequently. This is a link to an article about small wind turbines that I helped with.

  17. Paul says:

    “the more a person looks at the question, the clearer it becomes that wind and solar PV added to the electric grid are part of the problem, not part of the solution”

    Indeed this is the most thorough, thoughtful analysis that wrecks a truckload of assumptions that I – and I am sure a lot of people had about solar and wind.

    Superb work Gail. I have never seen any analysis that even remotely comes close to this.

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      I also commend Gail for taking on a galvanizing hot topic issue. I think the best comments in my opinion in the thread so far that ring of truth, are; renewables won’t stop collapse, renewables are an extension of this very complex civilization, once collapse occurs their days will be numbered because of the breakdown in parts distribution, and renewables will not support 7 billion people.

      With the oil age for example we have massive buildings pumping out 250,000 loaves of bread a day or processing and distributing 1/2 a million gallons of milk daily. Those kinds of economies of scale will disappear when the oil age descends into chaos. Farmers markets and Cuban style growing veggies in domiciles will not feed seven billion people. I really wonder how many people can comprehend how substantially different it will be, and that renewables are not going to even come close to achieving that level of production.

      • InAlaska says:

        Nobody is suggesting that renewable energy is the total answer, but they can be a bridge that can buy us time. They can help us stretch out the length of time that oil and other fuels will last. It is important to get out of those hopeless cities and into the real world and spend time with people who are inventive, clever, and adaptable–people who are out there every day doing things in the outdoors working with nature instead of against it. It may end up being a “scrap economy” for a century or so, but it won’t be the total end of civilization. Perhaps, a reset, in order to build a more sustainable, moral society.

    • Thanks! I thought someone should put this list of issues together. In many ways, wind and solar PV act like “energy sinks” rather than “energy sources”.

  18. kiwichick says:

    gail you have lost the plot

    the baseload renewables, available now ,are wave power and geothermal

    both are cheaper than coal or gas

    try getting your facts right

    you should really do some research on where solar is heading

    • Paul says:

      Where is solar heading? How many billions have been spent on storage battery research?

      And the best we can come up with is a battery that – when in regular use will last 3 years.

      Sometimes the god of technology simply fails – because some things just cannot be done – even if the monetary incentives are enormous.

      Case in point — whoever comes up with a cure for male baldness for instance – would be a billionaire overnight…. likewise if someone created a drug that cured cancer.

      Perhaps Gail has not posted on the awesome new solar technologies – because there are none that are of any significance?

      • DaShui says:

        Wait a minute now!
        Some of us like baldness., I mean, who doesn’t love uncle fester?

      • InAlaska says:

        Perhaps a Manhattan Project for renewables will prove you wrong. “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” and we will certainly have the need in a very few years.

      • Tom Murphy (Physics Professor at UCSD) has written a post about battery technology called, Battery Performance Deficit Disorder.

        His final paragraph is

        The real point is that batteries fall pathetically short of our customary fossil fuel energy storage medium. When we wake up to a declining global availability of petroleum, we won’t just switch over to electric cars. We may not be able to collectively afford such a transition, given the huge up-front costs in both money and energy. Where will the prosperity come from? If oil shortages drive recession in the usual fashion, expensive options may be off the table.

        Also, I remember but can’t find the link right now: The range for battery operated cars is not very different now from the early 1900s, when the idea was first floated.

    • Geothermal indeed probably makes sense in some places. I was not cautioning about things that make sense.

      Wave power as far as I am concerned is another intermittent renewable. It does not make sense, as far as I can see. Its costs are too great, relative to what it provides.

  19. Quote: “If we seem to be reaching Limits to Growth in the near term, the amount of carbon burned will be far lower than the climate models assume–even the “peak oil” model for future CO2.”

    Comment: We would need oil production to decline by 6% pa already in this decade to remain within 2 degree warming. Numbers are in this post:

    Half of oil burnable in 2000-2050 to keep us within 2 degrees warming has been used up as we hit 400 ppm

    • We know what collapse “looks like” to some extent from the first years of the experience of the Former Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. It very definitely does not look like the normal decline rate. While the problem was with oil, it spread through all of the economy. Production dropped rapidly for oil, natural gas, and coal.

      Former Soviet Union Oil Gas and Coal Production

      Consumption of fossil fuels was affected as well, as evidenced by the drop in CO2 emissions.

      Former Soviet Union Carbon Dioxide Emissions

      I don’t think we will have any problem meeting the 6% per annum drop. In my view, a Hubbert curve very much overestimates future oil, gas, and coal production. It is wishful thinking. The idea that we know what the burnable fuels total is from geological information, is erroneous, in my view. Burnable fuels depends on the ability to keep the financial and political order together.

  20. Brad says:

    Like many of the other commenters, I greatly admire most of Gail’s work, but this post hasn’t gone into the same rigorous analysis as her other posts.
    One of the key aspects that is completley missing is a discussion of nuclear, and how it can help to bridge gaps and provide clean power.

    • Paul says:

      Like Fukushima?

    • The post is about wind and solar power, why should we demand that Gail address everything in every post?

    • Lindon says:

      Nuclear will never save us from the end of (cheap, easy to get) oil. Reason: Nuclear does nothing to solve the transportation problem. Cars, trucks, trains, ships, jets — they all need liquid fuel. Sure, some talk of converting to natural gas has been generated, but it is absurd to think that we will be able to rebuild infrastructure to replace liquid fuel with NG, and at the same time replace coal and NG plants with nuclear.

      And without fully operational transportation, the economy collapses, it is as simple as that. Goods don’t get delivered, international trade zeros out, nothing gets moved in any quantity to any retail outlet. And without fully functioning transportation, how will parts for nuclear get manufactured, or replacement parts get moved to their destinations? How will raw materials for the new or replacement parts get moved to the factory that builds?

      Without fully operational transportation, everything stops. And without liquid fossil fuel — there are NO viable replacements — transportation becomes fully **inoperative**. That’s it. End of story.

      • Paul says:

        That is indeed the End of the Story – nuclear energy would not exist without the massive supply chain and complex economy that is utterly dependent on oil.

    • This post is not a discussion of nuclear’s merits or lack there of. It is long enough as it is, on its current topic.

  21. dolph says:

    Even if wind and solar mitigate the decline, I’m not convinced they represent anything more than an intermittent, unreliable, local source of energy.

    They are not going to prevent the collapse, that’s for sure.

    It’s possible Leo is right that only nuclear works, but that assumes a highly functional technocratic civilization, which seems to elude us, and the countries that are capable of it are not reproducing their populations anymore. This in itself suggests a lack of confidence.

    So my bet is that it’s over. But don’t despair! A somewhat sustainable scrap economy might emerge from these ruins.

    And even if humanity was faced with abundance of energy until the end of time, none of us would live individually to see it. Do not interpret this as a lack of planning for the future. It’s the simple truth. And ultimately the young will survive and the old will pass on.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “even if humanity was faced with abundance of energy until the end of time”

      Steven Hawking noted:

      By the year 2600 the world’s population would be standing shoulder to shoulder and the electricity consumption would make the Earth glow red hot.

      Remember: energy causes people, not the other way ’round.

  22. russ day says:

    Well, I’ve read all of the above: there is little talk about experience with renewables. Will agree from outset that renewables will never support our current life style as we know it here in USA. Our home has a 25 year experience with a solar hot water system and a 10 year experience with solar voltaic. Some of the latter has battery back-up. These systems are wonderful and, excluding any benefits from the government, they pay for themselves over time. Our return is 6% over the 25 year history. During the SANDY blackout we were without power from the grid for 9+ days, but battery solar power gave us lights, hot water, etc. So, my point is that theories are fine but what we have will last for many years; we know there is nothing to replace cheap oil. What is the alternative? Regards, Russ Day

    • I am not talking about battery solar power. You are welcome to buy that it you want. I am talking about the problems of putting solar power on the electric grid.

  23. InAlaska says:

    I have read many of Gail’s posts with admiration but this latest one is poorly done with too many vague assertions. I’d like to see more of the brilliant and detailed analysis that Gail is known for. Also, it appears as if there is a growing bias against any and all renewable energy technologies, when surely this will be part of a mixed solution to our growing list of problems. Buck up, people, and stop attempting to fulfill your own prophecies.

    • Paul says:

      I thought quite the opposite – some very deep thoughts on the negatives of solar and wind that I don’t think anyone else has raised.

      I have long suspected solar and wind power are toys that only work as part of a complex industrial society — as a complement to existing power sources (i.e. plugging your panels into the grid)

      Obviously they will go the way of the dinosaur when the supply chains that support them collapse

    • Perhaps this post is meant for people with more background than you have. It is a difficult subject.

  24. Tom Reis says:

    Dear Gail,what you are describing is the Jeverson Effekt, known for many years. PV is a Kind of liveboat in a small or large scale to help People a soft landing. So we can keep child deaths in a low level and so stabilise the birthrate. Also some Arguments are not correct, because you can repower Wind Turbines. Production of Thin Film PV Must not be dirty and Thin Film is not the Trend. Rare Metalls can be found everywhere, but extraction is very human Labor intensive therefore it happens in China or Afrika the wrong Way. Also when you read Heinberg, Bardi and Kunstler carefully Solar and Wind never comes isolated as the Solution to keep the Status Quo. Sure we have to rebuild our System as a whole. And simple solutions are not here only Hard work Adaptations like Meadows always Tried to explain. Maybe you are right and going back to small scale Agriculture Society with very very small consumtion of Electricity is the best idea. So there is no Way out than dismantle industrial Civilication.

    • Tom Rise – please use spell-check. You waste our time with your laziness, however sound your ideas.

      • Tom Reis says:

        Sorry for the spelling, I use a German mobile device. So I have some insights into German res energy market. Currently the major power supplier in Germany try to get subsidies to get their coal and nuclear power plants up and running. If they fail they have to switch off their plants cause their power is to expensive now and in future. (So they try to kick the can down the road – when they ran out of money they will switch off and so no more CO2) This effect is called the merit order effect. or the costs of renewables have no grenzkosten keeping low also after the subsidization regime period. here the excellent video from solar plaza : http://vimeo.com/m/64804941 But still not the answer to our Jevon’s Effect problem….

      • Bob..it’s always obvious when someone is using a non-English post—try to make allowances and don’t be petty minded

    • I agree. We “should have” started creating our “renewable energy bank” 40 years ago so as to have alternative enrgry sources to ride down the backside of peak fossil fuels to a softer landing.

    • Even if PV is a kind of lifeboat, I think the electric grid is a bad place for it. If individuals want to have some panels for their own use, that is not a problem. They may keep water pumps going for a while, or power an existing computer. It would be better, though, to find approaches that can be powered with local materials, so that they are sustainable.

      • Joe Clarkson says:

        I have lived off-grid for the vast majority of my adult life. Two years spent in the Peace Corps were spent without electricity at all. Even so, I find the amenities of modern life attractive, especially as I get grow older and less physically able to do certain chores (washing clothes without a washer being one of them).

        I think I can keep off-grid electricity available to my extended family for the next 50 years or so (even after I am long gone), regardless of what happens to the grid. Doing so requires a great deal of advance planning and expenditure, but it is not technically difficult. I admit that my preparations are not available to the vast majority of people, but since I can make them, I will. But making electricity available is the easy part. It involves only purchasing enough spare solar modules, inverters and batteries (plus the pumps and machinery that they operate).

        The really hard part is making sure that enough food can be grown to keep everyone going. No amount of PV electricity is going to put food on the table. I would urge people to think through their food supply first. Electricity is a luxury, but food and water are the true necessities. Everyone should be asking themselves, “How will I get food and water if I have no money (or if money is meaningless)?” If you can’t answer that question, you are at risk of terrible hunger or thirst, each of which is terminal.

        • Also, you may not even be in the same physical location, if you need to move in order to obtain food. You may have to leave the solar panels behind.

          Security will be another issue. It could cause you to move. It could cause the loss of your panels.

  25. Interesting analysis. The thing is, once we can no longer gain net energy from extracting fossil fuels, or from high tech renewables like wind turbines, and solar cells, what are we left with? Energy conservation, beefing up the railroads, which are far more efficient than trucks and automobiles, encouraging smaller, more walkable, cyclable, liveable cities, victory gardens, and low tech solutions to energy problems -passive houses, using local materials for building, locating buildings on southern exposure in northern climates, and vice versa, Using trees for shade in the summer, also social and political solutions: rationing and quotas, taxing throughput rather than income. We certainly cannot just sit on our asses and despair while the economy and our civilization collapse around us. Assuming that some of us will survive, we need to know how to sustain civilization at a lower level of energy consumption.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Wow, what a rational list!

      I think you left one important thing off: work with others.

      We live in a world of forced co-operation, forced by parents, teachers, bosses, bureaucrats, politicians. This causes us to cheat in righteous indignation.

      For example, insurance is a form of forced co-operation in order to pool risk. So everyone loves to slip one by the insurance company. But in a small tribe or clan or village, if someone is too sick to work, others cover for them, and there is not even any thought of “cheating” the system.

      • Paul says:

        Yes definitely – cooperation is key. I live in a village in the mountains in Bali and I observe how closely everybody works together

        We have a village police force for security (there is also a govt force but they are not there to help – from what I can see they are there to collect bribes) – if anyone from outside the village stays here they must be registered.

        Also religious festivals (there are so many here) involve the entire village with everyone contributing. If one falls out with the community for any reason they are ostracized and might even be told they are no longer welcome – so you seldom see bad behaviour.

        People tend to take care of each other.

        I see this as a model worth emulating.

        It is not however without it’s flaws – as a foreigner even speaking the language (poorly) – one is never completely part of this community…. just as if one were to emigrate to a western country from say Bali one would never truly be an ‘insider’ in a small town community.

        One other problem is the encroachment of western ideas on this island – many are selling their rice fields to pursue the MTV lifestyle – and they end of with nothing.

        And the island is now a nett importer of rice because cropland is being destroyed.

        Of course I am part of the problem – although the land we live on was never farmed in the past as it is on a plateau and not suitable for rice farming. Too many people!

    • There may indeed be things we can do, otherwise, as you say.

      Keeping up roads and even governments is likely to be the challenge many overlook.

  26. Will Stewart says:

    1. Vague, anecdotal points raised, all of which have easy rebuttals. For example, land rental costs for wind turbines is not dissimilar to drilling/mining leasing costs. And you overlooked external costs of fossil fuels, such as pollution and GHG emissions, which impart costs on humankind.
    You said, “wind and solar PV tends to be more expensive than other electricity generation “. Wind is actually less expensive than coal and nuclear, and hard on the heels of gas;

    2. “Wind and solar PV both are used to make electricity. Our big problem is with oil. ”
    You are mixing apples and oranges, this in no way makes renewables a ‘problem’. Indeed, by the same measure, coal/gas/nuclear also do not solve the oil problem. And you seem to ignore the fact that more and more electric cars are becoming available today.

    3. You have made the same error here about wind energy costs. And as costs rise anyway, demand lessens as people reduce frivolous energy waste.

    4. “Long-lived” isn’t a metric in and of itself. The overarching metric is lifecycle cost, which takes into account replacement of assets.

    5. “Don’t ramp up quickly”?? There is nothing to prevent a ramping up of production volumes. Don’t confuse demand with the ability to surge production.

    6. “Wind and solar PV create serious pollution problems.” Vague, anecdotal claims.

    7. “wind and solar PV will make the electric grid less long-lived” Not exactly sure what you are trying to claim, and your supporting text goes off in a different direction, so there really isn’t a point here.

    8. Conjecture, and misses the point that electricity generated by wind and solar can be taxed just like that generated by coal/gas/nuclear.

    9. ” Why EIA, IEA, and Randers’ 2052 Energy Forecasts are Wrong” This is an argument to get off of oil. Renewables can actually help in that approach.

    10. “Wind and Solar PV come nowhere near fulfilling the promises made for them. ”
    What promises? By whom? You need to be more specific.

    You seem to have become obsessed with derailing renewable energy by any means possible. None of the above represented a neutral examination of this topic, so you can’t expect us to simply absorb this without asking a multitude of questions and raising the pertinent facts that rebut your claims.

    • Jan Steinman says:

      “You seem to have become obsessed with derailing renewable energy by any means possible.”

      I think it’s time someone injected a dose of realism into the “green tech” exuberance.

      Green tech has had what, forty years to make its case? “Oh, just wait for the price of oil to get high enough, and renewables will kick in.” Okay, green tech has had six years of high oil prices, and it still has barely a single digit of market penetration. Meanwhile, China builds a new coal plant every week! Renewables are actually losing ground if you count China!

      The western world has exported its pollution to China, and smugly gives lip service to renewables while gobbling up cheap plastic crap made from the most polluting energy source on Earth.

      Green tekkies do not understand that technology is a form of embedded energy. Renewables have an extremely “long tail.” The newer the technology, the more of modern civilization is required to support it.

      Don’t get me wrong; I’m a blithering technophile! But I’m also a realist, and I think that to have the most graceful energy decline possible, we need to start back-tracking on technology to that which will fit atop the energy pyramid at any given time. If we believe we’ll soon see decline rates of as little as 3.5%, that means that by 20 years from now, we should expect to support no more technology than existed when we used half as much energy as we do now — roughly 1980 technology. If we’re lucky, that may include limited numbers of non-computerized diesel engines running on vegetable oil.

      Will, have you read Joseph Tainter? If so, can you see that “green tech” is the very sort of “complexity” that Tainter says kills civilizations?

      • I have observed an increasing amount of attacks on people talking about renewables with all kinds of call words like “greenies” and “green tekkies” as you call them. I do believe its important to distinguish between the business people who see financial gains running alongside a full fossil fuel industry and those who really promote a low energy future but where the energy necessary for essential does come from renewables. I do believe the latter is fully possible, but not with the capitalism model we have in place now for the majority of the world. Serious regulation needs to be in place for limiting any consumption, including the cheap plastic stuff that you mention. I don’t think the majority of supporters of wind and PVs are pro-cheap-coal-plastic stuff from China either.

        So we have to stop polarizing the debate there, there really is a bit of Winnie the Pooh to any “solution” if we ever are going to try to find one. A bit of both, both some fossil fuels and renewables coexisting with serious regulations on consumption.

        I do believe if people want to attack anything its the frivolous relation we have to energy in the western world. That is simply not sustainable, not even with all the dirtiest coal and tar sands you can get.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          Sorry, John — I didn’t intend it to be an “attack,” merely a reference to “green tech” on Albert Bates’s four-quadrant chart.

          Stereotypes can be polarizing, but they can also be educational, quickly summarizing a zeitgeist without getting bogged down in details.

          Without wanting to get into a “But mommy, HE started it!” sort of argument, I don’t think Will gave Gail a fair hearing, but rather read her article through “green tech” glasses.

          I don’t share your belief that modern technology — green or not — can survive without fossil sunlight.

          Neither do I see anyone clamouring for “regulating consumption,” which would surely bring the entire house of cards crashing down! The modern economy is entirely predicated upon infinitely increasing consumption.

          • Yes but Gail’s assumption, as Bob here also comments, is that the governing system will be just as it is in the future. I do believe people need to be more open to the fact that the current political system is not built to support anything sustainable, but chiseled into a rock with instructions on how to make profit for private corporations. No doubt this formula will not work anymore. The energy source doesn’t really matter in this respect – but fossil fuels has artificially kept it alive for longer than anyone would have thought. Push enough people into poverty and change comes either through political change or through rebellion, civil disobedience and revolution (the latter is last resort). I don’t see Gail taking these “tools” into our kit of possible change in many of her articles, possibly understandable as that rock surely seems immovable now. We all have positive minds that people will be civil, but I can assure you they will not at the present course of development.

            Through political change, which is the non-violent way, you can vote up the parties that walk with reality and dare tell the public what the predicament is with regards to our fossil fuel future. I voted for such a party, one drop in a large sea, I know, but they are vocal about it and shake the agenda in media enough for people to notice. So the hope is for more people to be enlightened about our current path and what kind of planet they are leaving their kids when we are gone.

            I don’t agree with you that any modern technology cannot survive without input from fossil fuel energy. There are a lot that can be built using electricity from e.g. hydro electric, even if its just hammering out a piece of steel. But what renewables will do is certainly slow down the pace of the technology cycles, very likely to a rate that very few people will be happy about considering how accustomed we have become into changing mobile phones every year and such. But I don’t subscribe to the idea that fossil fuels are necessary for humanity to have pretty complex technology around. We might even be more intelligent about designing stuff for longevity, since technology will be precious.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “Through political change, which is the non-violent way, you can vote up the parties that walk with reality…”

              Oh yea, how’s that been working? I proudly “wasted” my US vote on Ralph Nader three times, then on Jill Stein. (My Canadian efforts have been more successful, helping to elect the first Green Party candidate to national office in North America… and yet, six of ten Canadians voted against the party now in power.)

              In the US, the choice is limited to two corporate interests. Do you want the oil candidate, or the banking candidate? How about the pharmaceutical candidate, or the agribiz candidate? Tweedle-dee, tweedle-dum.

              No matter what religion or ideology a candidate professes, they all worship at the Church Of Growth. Thus, voting only re-arranges the deck chairs on the Titanic as the great ship steadily slips below the waves. And the band played on.

              Electoral reform moves at a snail’s pace. We don’t have time to slowly steer the behemoth away from the ice bergs, perhaps electing a Green government in what, 20 years?

              “I don’t agree with you that any modern technology cannot survive without input from fossil fuel energy.”

              Then we must agree to disagree. I urge you to read Joseph Tainter, HT Odum, Buzz Holling, and David Holmgren. It has been necessary for me to read all of them and connect the dots in order to come to what I think is a rational, well-thought-out conclusion.

              If fossil sunlight begins declining at a 3.5% annual rate, in 20 years there will be no smart phones, no smart grid, no high-efficiency, affordable solar panels. We may be lucky to have any phones, grid, or PV electricity.

              Sorry if this sounds bleak. It will be bleak for many, but it need not be bleak for those who change their lives. Last on your reading list is Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, who through ingenious double-blind studies, has shown that those who have the least choice are the most happy. This is the exact opposite of our indoctrination! Work to eliminate choice from your life, and you’ll be happier!

            • There is nothing bleak about facing the reality of the beginning of the end of the “energy blip” as it will be known as in earths history. I have no visions that we will continue anything like present industrial civilization, and there will be severe disruptions in anything needing globalization as its blood veins. But I am speaking more about the physical possibilities of what surplus energy we can generate from dumbed down technology from existing parts (scavaging) and our ability to generate power to extract new minerals and recycle old ones. It might be the case that resource extraction and processing will require dams and hydroelectric power, so it all boils down to two parts then – can we make concrete – and can we make electrical generators? I am sure we can make both in adequate quantities to maintain some system even without fossil fuels as long as the production of parts is also localized and does not involve ordering a special part from a fabric in China (unless the resources are in fact extracted/recycled in China, in which it will benefit the Chinese and not us).

              Call me an optimist, but at least I do embrace that there will be severe change which is more than I can say about the majority of people on this planet. Hence I believe its important for us to establish the low energy infrastructure and social changes. No doubt, you as I, have had bad experience into getting the right people into office, but as the needs and physical realities surface, the leaders have to face them or someone new will take their place which has the trust of the people. Ofc it doesn’t help that the industry is doing anything it can to lobby their agenda and broadcast Disneyland to the masses. But again, when the shit hits the fan, people do get dirty… And if they don’t go completely off the rails they will have to adapt and embrace the physical realities which they have been avoiding all their life – both with regards to fossil fuel addiction and the consequences of this addiction to the planets biosphere.

        • ‘ both some fossil fuels and renewables coexisting with serious regulations on consumption.’ REGULATIONS the real crux of the matter. While profit is used simply to make more profit, and not to invest in a future of less consumption, and the profiteers controlling government, something important needs to happen. Gail seems unwilling to suggest what this might be. And yes Gail, i have read every word of many of your posts, and the comments.

          • MG says:

            There are basically 2 solutions to our problems:
            A. Peaceful way (japanization): 1. Energy and resources costs rising, 2. Technological advances, 3. Miniaturization, 4. Zombification, 5. Population decline.
            B. Violent way (arabization): 1. War. 2. Population decline.

            I bet that the Japanese have tried all the possible to get the maximum out of energy and resources.

          • We depend on cheap energy, and that is leaving us. I don’t think that regulation can change that underlying problem.

        • I think that what they have lost sight of is the fact that a big piece of what will have to go away is our current government, financial system, medical system, and system of roads. Without those things, life will need to be very different. We can’t keep up high tech renewables. Maybe we can keep up renewables as they were practiced a few hundred years ago.

          • ricst says:

            So maybe a Jeffersonian society of small farmers and little towns of shopkeepers? If/when the population drops substantially, and if the climate hasn’t gone totally crazy, then this kind of rural 18th century nation may be all we can support. And if the survivors are lucky, maybe they get to keep a few 19th and 20th century benefits like anesthesia and aspirin and a tiny bit of salvageable electricity generators.

          • MG says:

            I would like to add a comment to my “japanese theory” above:

            Japan is an island nation. The words “We need to prioritize the economy, especially since we are an island nation,” he said. “We’re not like Germany. We can’t just get energy from other countries in a pinch.” in the following article very well describe the situation when there is no way to get the missing energy or resources:


            The success of the Germany in the current world is based on the fact that:
            1. They have the technology like Japanese
            2. They have other countries around them that can provide them quality energy instead of their shut-down nuclear and intermittent solar and wind energies.

      • Paul says:

        If not Tainter, this will suffice http://www.feasta.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Trade-Off1.pdf

        The real fireworks start on page 56 where we what is likely to happen when the SHTF – they use an EU breakup as an example of what happens to a complex society when a key hub busts

    • Paul says:

      If it has no traction now – it definitely won’t when we collapse.

      And as Jan points out – when supply chains bust – as they will when our complex society unravels – the solar industry will be no more. The industrial age will disappear.

      Sure some people will use panels bought pre-crash to perhaps run a water pump – but that will be few and far between.

      I cannot see how anyone would produce new panels in the future – where would they get the components?

      • Yes indeed! Post collapse: What happens when the pumps motor breaks? Who fixes it? Where do the parts come from? Panel quits working? Parts available? I agree completely post collapse would be using (fighting over) the crumbs of industrialized civilization until there all gone. Bleak!

      • SourabhJain says:

        Hey Paul,

        Nice points. Very few people actually understand the dependency of globalization on fossil fuels. Supply chain will just collapse like house of cards.

    • timl2k11 says:

      The tone of your post suggests obsession with solar/PV on your part. The tone of Gail’s article does not.

      • Paul says:

        That is the same impression that I had – it can be dangerous to lose objectivity and wed oneself to a single idea ignoring facts that unseat your assumptions.

    • Let’s watch and see how successful Germany is in the months and years ahead with its solar and wind project. Solar and wind act very much like energy sinks, in actual practice.

      • SlowRider says:

        Yes, financed with taxes from BMW, Daimler, VW, Lufthansa, Siemens, BASF… and on the back of a workforce with lower per capita incomes than many other European nations.

  27. Jan Steinman says:

    Oh dear. You went and gored the holy ox, Gail.

    Expect wails of derision from the “green tech will save us” crowd.

  28. When the fossil fuels is gone or way too expensive to get out of the ground, you really are only left with renewables if you want some energy to run essential parts of civilisation (like a water pump). As such I dont agree with your analysis here at all. The only thing I agree with is that it can give some people false hopes that we can keep up our high energy lifestyles. Renewables will never replace that, it will be our sole option to run anything at all when the fossil fuel era crashes down.

    It’s also the only solution to the CO2 emissions even though today we are using fossil fuels to create the windmills and PVs. But remember that we are also now producing more output from existing PVs than go into the creation of new ones, so its certainly possible if we can wrap our mind around it and have a plan ahead. At the moment we have a whimsical approach to renewables which is highly inefficient with both regards to how we scale the grid and where it is deployed. There are some spots in the world that are fantastic for e.g. PVs where there is practically none today – although these are also places where there are few people too – hence a serious commitment in both transportation of the electricity as well as the deployment of PVs will have to be done. In my eyes its really just the government who can do this as the incentive to go away from fossil fuels from private companies is still too low it seems (as they only have short minded profit in mind and never the long term goals or indeed the planetary habitat change that comes from CO2 emissions).

    Some people say that the only thing left is the classic energy sources like burning wood, but that is simply not possible. Remember we have deforested half the planet, with the majority of that in preindustrial times. USA used to be packed with trees, but look what was left after the great surge for trees to fire up the forges (which is visible in many of the place names in USA like Valley Forge). If 7 billion people suddenly turn to trees for their energy source then we can say bye bye to our experience on this planet (along with a ton of other species) at the end of this century.

    So renewables are our ONLY option.

    • ricst says:

      Renewables cannot support 7+ billion people. For that, you need an industrial civilization, and that civilization will be starting a forced march down the staircase on the backside of Hubbert’s peak. The sad reality is that a decreasing amount of affordable fossil fuels, a deteriorating climate and a set of governments of the industrial nations unable to begin a voluntary massive energy conservation effort means one thing: a plunge in the human population, this century, a century I call “The Century of Malthus”.

      • But fossil fuels don’t even support 7 billion people today. Over half of the worlds population is living in severe poverty and have little access to the benefits of our fossil fuel industry. Perhaps there is some input to the agriculture that trickles down but even that is limited in many of the poorer countries that depends on whatever food they can scrape off their land.

        Renewables are our only hope for anything that resembles a technological civilization as our fossil fuels run out. And they are important to get in place so we don’t torch all our woods and convert the planet into Easter Island. That is why we need them now in place with whatever fossil fuel we can use to create the new energy future.

        • Paul says:

          If you read the article there are very strong arguments that suggest that what you are suggesting is impossible.

          If you want to disagree that is all good – but you could at least try to rebut some of Gail’s very thoughtful points – just saying ‘renewables are our only hope’ is rather pointless otherwise.

          And btw I have been through the solar exercise — and about the only thing it would be good for is powering a water pump – because if you start to get into battery storage you are wasting your time – if you use solar as a primary source of energy then the batteries will last around 3 years. And good luck trying to get your hands on more when the age of industry ends.

    • Paul says:

      If that is the case then Houston, we have a very serious problem. Because there is no way most of those 7 billion people will be able to get their hands on any of the various renewal energy devices that are available.

      They don’t have the funds.

      I think a massive risk we are facing is a total devastation of forest lands as people struggle to stay warm and cook food.

      As has been mentioned many times on this site – before coal the deforestation issue was a problem. And we had a fraction of the population then.

      We better hope there is a massive die off – at least 6 billion people – because othewise the planet will resemble Haiti.

    • AlexisTK27 says:


      You say “Renewables are our only hope for anything that resembles a technological civilization as our fossil fuels run out”

      Even not taking into account the debate about the real value of renewables that Gail has started, it is not true that renewables are the only option for a technological civilization post-fossil depletion.

      Nuclear energy is a clear option. While its present share in global energy sources is limited (5% if memory serves), it is eminently extendable and could provide most base power along with a good chunk of transport power, given proper rail networks. That would not solve our oil problem as in “one car for every family running 20,000 km a year” but it would enable to strongly diminish the need for oil assuming far less long range individual cars and numerous short range battery powered cars. A ***strongly*** diminished need for oil means ability to use it for far longer while building a totally fossil-less civilization (which we presently just don’t know how to build… decades more R&D would probably be necessary, and the main issue is how to get those many decades additional time)

      In order to expand nuclear power several fold, either seawater uranium resources would need to be tapped using present models of reactors (uranium extraction from seawater is at R&D stage) or more probably new models of reactors using much more abundant fertile (Th, U238) rather than fissile (U235) fuel would be built (they are at R&D stage)

      The main problem for this scenario is that R&D investments in future nuclear (4th generation) are puny the world over. But this definitly should change.

      • Ric Steinberger says:

        Nuclear power is not the answer. If it were economically viable without vast subsidies from fossil fuels, it would have proven itself by now. Instead what we will see is a withering away of existing nuclear power plants. It’s simply too expensive economically and energetically to build them any more. And there remains no credible solution to storing the radioactive wastes for thousands of years.

        • jmdesp says:

          Nuclear is perfectly viable when it doesn’t have to confront massive smear campaign dismissing it. In China, there has been 3 new nuclear plant going on line in the 3 last month. They have 27 other currently under construction and on schedule to start no later than 2016. The plan in Yangjiang (where one of those 3 new reactor started) is to have six 1GW reactors in total for a budget of 10 billions dollars. Check it, given the low production price later on and the long live, this is very competitive with any fossil fuel solution. Maybe gas lower than 4$ is about as cheap, but the US would be better off generating electricity with nuclear, and exporting gas internationally bringing home three to four times more money.

          The radioactive wastes story is also pure smear campaign. The volume is actually so small that *all* spent fuel from the whole life of a dismantled plant like Connecticut Yankee can be stored on an area smaller than a football field :

          Comparatively, the recent coal fly ash sludge spill stories demonstrate that there’s no viable solution to store coal waste, because the volume is so huge ! That’s a massive chemical hazard, that we don’t know how to stop from devastating the environment, and even the bit of radioactivity it also contains is actually already more than what we’re worried one day long in future nuclear waste might release.
          Go on top of a coal ash pond, measure radioactivity, and it’s already around 1mSv/year, which is much more than what Yucca Mountain was designed to prevent from releasing very far in future.

          • Ric Steinberger says:

            Not true at all. If nuclear power were viable economically, it could at least raise money on Wall Street without US government guarantees. There hasn’t been a recent nuclear power plant order in the US for decades. Why? Because nuclear power simply isn’t supportable on its own even if government totally “manages” the radioactive wastes. We’ve had over 60 years of commercial nuclear power and only one nation, France, has managed to make it a major source of electricity – And this is where the government designs, owns and operates all of the plants. That wouldn’t work in the US for so many different reasons, from the political to the economic to the environmental.

            It’s not that I’m not open to hearing arguments in favor of nuclear power. It’s just that given the extraordinary complexity of the designs, the manufacturing and the maintenance, the safety issues of running nuclear plants and the requirement for many thousands of years of waste management [impossible!], and the overall inability to generate electricity at commercially competitive rates without a major US government subsidy [see Price Anderson Act], there’s simply no way for this industry to support itself.

            If the industry couldn’t take off during the Reagan, Bush I or Bush II administrations, you can’t blame environmentalists. It’s the technology itself that is not viable.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “We’ve had over 60 years of commercial nuclear power and only one nation, France, has managed to make it a major source of electricity”

              And France is not exactly a compelling “poster boy” for nuclear. It’s foray into fast breeders has been largely abandoned, with the Phoenix and SuperPhoenix designs fraught with problems and outages, such that the SuperPhoenix produced less than 0.1% of its design output before being shut down and scrapped.

          • Paul says:

            The opposition to nuclear is not a smear campaign – it is a legitimate reaction to the fact that all it takes is one Fukushima to cause massive long term environmental damage.

            Fukushima is pouring tonnes of radioactive water into the ocean day after day after day

            And the melted cores are ‘somewhere in the ground’ and not exploding only because sea water is being poured onto them.

            Then we have the spent fuel rods sitting that need to be de-commissioned.

            This is the catastrophe without end – how many tens of billions have been poured into this so far? Of course the public pays for to clean the mess up so that doesn’t get factored into the cost of generating electricity from nuclear.

            The only ‘smear’ going on here is from the likes of GE, Toshiba and the rest of the nuclear industry who would have us believe that ‘a little cesium in our water is good for health’ and who lobby governments for massive subsidies and assurances that they will not have to clean up their mess.

            A close friend of mine worked in the insurance industry for years – he was recently telling me that when they write policies for the nuclear industry they do not cover clean up costs – because a) the governments are responsible for that and b) if the industry had to insure for that it would add massive costs to doing business because when accidents happen they can run into the tens or even hundreds of billions.

          • Unless you also are a proponent of speeded up mutation in biological life, nuclear is really something we should stay away from. Although we have had very few accidents since we started using nuclear energy, each accident shows how fragile it all is and we have so far been lucky with regards to the effects of these accidents (or we like to think so at least). Since we are unable to build 100% safe plants (and I mean safe from asteroid hits), they should not be built at all and anything in operation today should be decommissioned. Then whatever money the company has made on this power source since operations started should be used for thousands of years of guarding and making sure that the nuclear waste material is not brought into the open. Nuclear energy is a classical example of a “means to and end” with no thought to the externalized cost of both accidents and thousands of years of handing the waste. Its just like fossil fuels, if the price of carbon was included we’d think of something else and nuclear would be way way down low on any endeavor humanity would impose on this planet.

          • jmdesp says:

            Really not a single nuclear plant order for decades in the US ? They are 5 under construction currently, 4 that are new order, and 1 where the utility found it useful to restart the interrupted building and that’s planned for completion in 2015.

            I’m not saying this is a great success, but it shows that your criticism is very approximative.

            About Price Anderson being a subsidy, do you know that both airplane and drugs have liability limits ? As well as oil spills too. Are you attacking fossil industry for not being able to extract at a competitive price without this ? Fracking is even worse, companies have not made it so they can’t be held liable for *anything* that happens on the ground, the owner of the property will be instead. *Nobody* would be willing to frack *even a single well* if they had to sign a paper saying they would be held liable without limit for anything that happens. Without the many exemptions of liability it has that industry would never have taken off (I don’t mean this is necessarily a bad thing).

            You should understand that in exchange for Price Anderson, which still leaves nuclear liable for anything up to 12 billions $, nuclear is very strongly regulated by the NRC.
            The government offers it’s backup in case of extensive damage, but in exchange has complete control of the rules it sets for security requirement of the plant, and can freely put as much as required to make sure it’s residual risk is as low as it wishes.
            This by the way is what makes the design and operations so complex (a very large part of that complexity is not really useful to make plants safer), they were competitive with coal in the 70’s.

            Ultimately what happened in Japan is that the government decided it would close it’s eyes on the deficiencies of it’s regulation it had been explicitly warned about a few years before Fukushima by an international review. The operators of the plant were simply not trained and ready to handle a large critical event.
            At Diablo Canyon that has some similar risks with Fukushima daiichi, the EQ and tsunami security is much better, with large water storage reservoirs above the plant to ensure cooling. Even in Japan, the Onagawa plant nearer from the quake survived the tsunami intact because one smart guy had decided it needed to be higher to be safe against tsunamis, even if nobody in the nuclear safety agency was asking them to do that.

            Maybe given the weight of needed, but largely inefficient regulation on nuclear plants means they need some help to survive on the American market. But don’t underestimate that because they run first in the merit order, the existing nuclear plant lower prices, as Californians are learning now, and as New England people will soon find out, their winter price peak will be much worse. In effect constructing a new one is a major hedge against any gas price increase in future. A much more effective one than a wind farm since it will be reliably available in a cold wave, opposite to them.

            • Thanks for the update. I know two of the new nuclear plants are near where I live in Georgia, at Plant Vogtle. I am paying each month toward their construction in my electricity bill.

          • Bas says:

            China left many safety features away that the European Reactor (EPR) has. E.g. independent second regulation circuit & control room. So they can produce cheaper (and they have cheap labor).

            All new reactors in Europe and USA require huge amounts of subsidies as shown with the new reactor at Hinckley Point C in UK: Loan guarantees for $16billion (worth ~$1billion/year), government takes the accident liability, the risk and major part of decommission costs, the major part of the waste disposal costs. Further government delivers a price guarantee for 35years (inflation corrected) of ~$150/MWh inflation corrects (inflation correction baseline 2012 while the plant starts in 2023. Wholesale prices in UK are ~$80/MWh, and futures show that they will go down (following Germany where they are ~$50/MWh.

            When one calculate all those, it implies that new nuclear get ~75% of all its costs subsidized (during 35years). Two times more than offshore wind, ~4 times more than onshore wind or solar.
            Last year the world installed ~80GW new solar+wind, and ~1GW nuclear.
            Wind+solar installation rate going up with ~20%/year (so next year >100GW).

            The share of nuclear in the world electricity production was ~17% at ~1980. Now ~35years later that share is only ~10% going down. Even the amount of TWh/year produced by nuclear goes down the last 5 years.
            So fission nuclear is a method in decline, not capable to compete against renewable.
            Hence it offers no solution for climate change.

            • The early reactors were much cheaper, partly because they lacked safety features new ones have, and partly because of the escalating cost of oil and other fuels. That is why it is so hard to replace them.

          • jmdesp says:

            @Gail :
            It might be expensive at start, but it’s a long period of guaranteed power price after that, which is a strong edge against the rise of fossil power price.
            After the nuclear closures, price is rising in California now, and New England is seeing how fragile it makes the infrastructure to depend only on gas.

            @John Christian
            – Civilian nuclear is an absolutely tiny source of radiation exposure, compared to the other existing sources of radiations, this anywhere in the world including Japan. All the western world was doused in radiation fallout from the atmospheric nuclear testing of the 60’s with no measurable consequence. Without knowing it, reindeer herders in Norway at that time were ingesting large amount of cesium concentrated through lichen, without any identified consequence. Japanese get between 0.5 and 1 mSv of internal radiation per year from their food, a major part coming from alpha emitter Polonium 210 that concentrates in seaweed and many seafood. It seems that the best way to be protected from negative consequences of a small amount of radiation is to not even be aware of it. This is *not* surprising. LNT predicts that a small amount of radiation has almost no effect compared to how highly carcinogenic tens of other things around us are.
            – Driving a car put you very near 60 kg of highly explosive and highly carcinogenic material that very easily explode, and does burn to death many people every year.
            If you don’t ask that to made totally sure, even from an asteroid, this demonstrate your claim is just nonsense double standard, only intended to protect fossil fuel at all cost. By produced TWh, multiple studies have shown nuclear is more than 10 times safer than any fossil fuel.
            – In north Dakota today radioactive material is just dumped out in the open, can you explain ? http://www.alternet.org/radioactive-waste-dumped-oil-companies-seeping-out-ground-north-dakota
            We release every year millions of tons of highly toxic chemical material, the volume of radioactive waste compared to it is so tiny that it’s very easy to store it safely and the danger is many time smaller.
            – Fossil fuel are the one that have no thought of the externalized cost of their pollution. Coal would be instantly bankrupt if it were held financially responsible for the number of lives it cuts short.
            – Life cycle emission of new nuclear, where the fuel is produced in a centrifuge plant, and not a 30 years outdated gas diffusion one, is below 10 gCO2/KWh. This is very competitive with wind, better than solar panels.
            @Paul :
            – No *environmental* damage at all in Fukushima. Wild boars thrive in the area, Radiations don’t affect them at all compared to how positive being freed of humans is.
            – Humans had to evacuate. Per generated TWh, the evacuated area is smaller than the one solar panels take to generate an equivalent amount of power.
            – The contaminated groundwater leak was actually just an unproven speculation from METI. If it actually exist and is significant, we should see the contamination level rise in the sea. It’s not the case. It’s perfectly stable. The most contaminated area in the inner harbor is less radioactive than your pee (which is around 90Bq/l).
            – 15% of the spent fuel of pool 4 already removed. This was actually nothing special, the operation was *the* *same* as what it would have been if the disaster had never occurred, once they had rebuild the adequate structure above the pool.
            – Insurers in India now prefer to insure nuclear rather than hydroelectric, after huge loss from dramatic accidents http://www.newindianexpress.com/business/news/Nuclear-power-insurance-pool-on-cards-NIA-chief/2013/08/27/article1754090.ece

            – Phoenix has worked very well during about 40 years. SuperPhoenix was a too large version of it that had several serious technical problems, but actually was more frequently shut down for political reasons rather than technical one. Just before being scrapped, it had produced electricity for a complete year at full load, this made it very urgent for the green to get it closed before it could prove successful at least. India, Russia, and China are starting new fast breeders currently, both because on very long term we might need more uranium, but also because it reduces the amount of waste, gets rids of most of the long term one. You know, the one you claim is a huge problem.

            @Bas : About the EPR in China, those are neither the essential security feature, nor the most expensive. Cheap labor is not the only explanation, they have a much more efficient construction too.
            Market price are low in Germany, because large renewables deployment with constant electricity use means an overflow of supply. But the system price of running both the fossil and the renewable infrastructures together is higher. This means the operator of the plant that run at low capacity earn no profit, and no surprise they want to close them which would rise the price again to a normal level.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “All the western world was doused in radiation fallout from the atmospheric nuclear testing of the 60′s with no measurable consequence.”

              Except for the epidemic of thyroid cancer documented by the stodgy US National Cancer Institute, who will gladly estimate your increased risk. My own risk of thyroid cancer is doubled over my lifetime, due to atmospheric testing — that doesn’t sound like “no measurable consequence” to me, unless you are going to call the stodgy US NCI biased somehow.

              This is my last posting to you. I was going to do a point-by-point, but your posting is so full of irrational beliefs and outright untruths, that I couldn’t get past the first falsehood, stated as fact, but trivially refuted.

              Please, if you expect to be treated with any respect here, at least include some references for your wild claims. Because my research indicates they are all wrong, and I’m not going to any more trouble to refute someone who will go to no trouble to back up their false claims.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Hi Ric, when the next generation (Gen4) of waste-eating reactors go up on the production line, they’ll be FLYING out the door at record cheap prices! France did it, with older technology. Today’s Gen3.5 reactors like the AP1000 can be modular and put on the assembly line, and tomorrow’s reactors will be even better.

          • timl2k11 says:

            So where are they, exactly?

            • Jan Steinman says:

              Aw man, do you really have to encourage him?

              Just count the future-tense he uses: “when”, “they’ll be”, “can be”, “will be”… without ever using words like “I think” or “I believe.”

              It’s all just magic pixie dust. Any Day Now(TM).

            • timl2k11 says:

              :) Sorry. Mea Culpa. I stillhave to remind myself sometimes not to feed the trolls.

          • Eclipse Now says:

            Hi Timl2k11,
            not so fast! This is NOT like fusion power, always 20 years away. We’ve already done it, OK? We have 300 reactor-years experience with Breeder reactors, and the EBR2 was specifically built as a GenIV Integral Fast Reactor prototype and successfully produced power for 30 years. Wiki it. In other words, they’re real. We’ve already done it. We know how to do it. We’re just trying to commercialise it. Clinton BANNED the EBR2 in the 90’s due to a misunderstanding of the proliferation risks. Someone said the word ‘plutonium’ to him and he freaked out. But there are different isotopes of plutonium, and breeding uranium up through the ‘p’ word does NOT have to mean bombs. IFR’s are set up so that they do NOT produce plutonium that goes BOOM, just plutonium that burns. They fission away the waste.
            So we know how to do it, but ignorance shut the EBR2 program down. Google it. GE have an IFR called the S-PRISM, just waiting for permission to go. The UK are nearly ready.

            Anyone that pretends IFR’s don’t exist doesn’t know their *history*, let alone the radical changes they’ll bring to our future. They’re real, they’ll burn all our nuclear waste and provide abundant cheap electricity that can charge boron.
            James Hansen’s “Science Council for Global Initiatives” recommends boron in the FREE book, “Prescription for the planet” by Tom Blees. Download as PDF here.
            (It’s awesome, and covers Integral Fast Reactors, Plasma burners that recycle waste, and boron that nukes can charge up to replace oil. This is all possible with today’s technology. And once we’ve provided everyone on earth with everything they need by nuclear powered mining of the finest ores on earth for metal, and greened deserts through seawater greenhouses, and every other clever thing we’ve invented, there will be a global demographic transition which will prevent further population growth.)

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Hi Ric Steinberger,
          have you read James Hansen’s latest?


          Especially interesting was the fact that HISTORY shows us how nuclear power can wean us off fossil fuels, fast.
          “In one decade (1977–1987), France increased its nuclear power production 15-fold, with the nuclear portion of its electricity increasing from 8% to 70%. In one decade (2001–2011) Germany increased the non-hydroelectric renewable energy portion of its electricity from 4% to 19%, with fossil fuels decreasing from 63% to 61% (hydroelectric decreased from 4% to 3% and nuclear power decreased from 29% to 18%).”

          • Yes, nuclear did work for reducing fossil fuel use. When it was first adopted, we were using oil for electricity generation–something that has mostly stopped today. So one thing that nuclear could do was substitute for oil in electricity generation.

            The issue I see now is that in no way will we be able to decommission the nuclear plants we are putting in use now, because of the dependency of decommissioning on fossil fuels. We don’t have time or energy to build the reprocessing plants we would need. Without reprocessing, we are likely to run short of fuel in not very long–uranium extraction depends on fossil fuels as well.

      • Nuclear technology is way too complex to build and maintain in a collapsing scenario. A solar panel doesn’t do much if you cant “service” it. The same with windmills (well unless you get one in your head). Just for that case alone I don’t think nuclear is anything we should pursue. If the world by any chance should collapse into chaos and anarchy, those nuclear plants become ticking bombs. Also wind power generation is rather simple if you do it bare-bones. You can make one yourself using a simple science experiment with rather easy to get parts. Hence I believe technology like this will stay around. Solar cells require substantial more energy into production though. I am sure solar heating of water will be an easier option to do on a larger scale, and the warm water could be used for generating power too.

        When Gail say that solar and pv are a problem, I believe she means they are the problem if we are expecting them to slip right in and replace fossil fuels. I believe they are our last hope of some energy extraction at all that is non-fossil fuel based (we really should stop burning fossil fuels anyway). Fossil fuels are used today to kick the renewable machine into operation, and the hope is that the renewables generate enough energy to be able to create new parts to replace or service themselves. And I am 100% sure that is possible, hence its our only option (well until someone discovers some fantastic new low complexity energy source).

        • I don’t thing renewables do very much.

          For example, our immediate need is to pump water from the ground, both for human need and for farming. Maybe simple windmills can help with this–they have in the past. Then we start to get to more complex tasks–purify the water and pipe it to different locations. If we forget the purification, and we use the pipelines already have in place (which we couldn’t remake and redo without fossil fuels), and we have water towers in place (made with metals that we can’t redo all the way back to mining), and if we can master pumping the water uphill to the water tower (probably not easy with renewables), we can at least at least distribute the un-purified water to some luck people. Of course, people above the water tower, such as in high rise buildings, will be out of luck. And people at a distance from the water source will be out of luck.

          Keeping diseases from spreading is likely to be a huge problem. We have a very high population, living in close proximity. If we cannot keep the water and sewer system going, we suddenly have a major problem.

          • Eclipse Now says:

            Gail, renewable energy like solar thermal is *already* providing the power Sundrop farms needs to both pump seawater, desalinate it, irrigate the desert greenhouses (outside of Adelaide) and finally use some of the cool seawater dripped through cardboard to cool the desert greenhouse so all the plants don’t wilt. They have a gas backup which is used to heat the place on especially cold winter desert nights, but most of the time the solar thermal does the job on its own. This is the sort of niche area that renewable energy can do quite well, but of course nuclear reactors would do the same thing much more reliably. I repeat: this is already happening at Sundrop farms. They’ve signed a contract with one of Australia’s larger supermarkets, and are expanding to 4 hectares of Seawater Greenhouse.
            It’s ‘greening the desert’ stuff. Please watch this 5 minute ABC Catalyst special on it, you’ll be encouraged.

            Speculative: I’m wondering if this technology can be combined with insect farming to meet our protein needs as well?

        • Eclipse Now says:

          John Christian Lonningdal,
          “Nuclear technology is way too complex to build and maintain in a collapsing scenario.”
          Nuclear power is the *only* power source we can use that will *prevent* a worldwide collapse scenario. New reactors are SAFE!!! SAFE I SAY! I’m rather tired of pointing out that they have all sorts of passive safety systems that would *easily* have survived Fukushima. They’re talking about them being so safe there’s only one ‘event’ once an ice age, and that ‘event’ is more 3 mile Island, contained in a dome, than Fukushima or Chernobyl. There’s only one worldwide collapse scenario that I can really imagine having enough teeth to cause power plants going abandoned for a long time, and that’s all out nuclear war! And the fallout from a full-on exchange would still leave vast areas of the *Western* USA untouched.

          Basically, what I’m trying to say is that ‘energy descent’ is a myth. It hasn’t been true since they invented breeder reactors. America has enough nuclear waste to run their own country for a thousand years. The world stockpile of waste is probably enough to run the entire planet, at a first world lifestyle, for around 500 years. GenIV reactors like GE’s S-PRISM are INEVITABLE unless some kid in a lab invents batteries SO cheap and powerful that they make renewable energy viable. I’d much rather be living next to an AP1000 reactor than a coal fired power station. Coal kills about a million people a year, and that’s when it goes ‘right’. Coal kills more people in ONE WEEK when it goes right than the entire history of nuclear power going wrong. I think it’s time to get over the heebeegeebees, and study some real nuclear engineering facts.

      • The issue with nuclear is that we likely will never be able to decommission them. We probably will not be able to do much with the spent fuel either, unless we reprocess it as we go along. I am not sure that we have the capital for all of the investment that would be needed either.

        • Eclipse Now says:

          Gail, right now there are energy economy experts that estimate the world’s nuclear waste (at roughly 5 centuries of electricity supply) to be worth about $30 trillion dollars. Do you see the requirement for electricity going anywhere in a hurry? If the market’s having trouble, governments can rush-build nukes in a real economic emergency, kind of like how they built the Hoover Dam to create jobs in the Great Depression. You’ll also need to justify the claims that they’ll ‘never be able to decommission them.” That must assume some Mad Max energy descent future that nuclear power will prevent!

          “By the 2030s, China will likely have built out hundreds of nuclear reactors. They will also have factory mass produced one piece reactors like their 200 MWe HTR-PM (High temperature pebble bed reactor). Those reactors could be built in Chinese factories and shipped for installation overseas. This would enable the China price for nuclear power which is currently about $1.5 to 2 billion per GWe. This is 2-3 times cheaper than current prices in the US and Europe. Each nuclear reactor module would likely be buildable in 2 years or so by that the 2030s.”


    • SourabhJain says:

      You are right that renewable will be the only option. But, the difference is standards of living. I have come to realize that environmentalists and greenist have created overly optimistic scenario of switching to renewable. You cannot run an industrial economy on wind and solar. We have already exploited most of the hydro. We cannot build nuclear fast enough even if there is no opposition.
      Fossil fuels are like a pizza base. Hydro and nuclear would be layer of cheese. Wind and solar can serve as toppings.

      All existing progress in renewable energy is based on fossil infrastructure. We do not know how you are going to maintain globalization without fossil fuels. If there is no globalization, forget too much renewable as well.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “Fossil fuels are like a pizza base. Hydro and nuclear would be layer of cheese. Wind and solar can serve as toppings.”

        Great analogy!

        I keep talking about the “pyramid” or energy hierarchy, and how whatever we put on top has to fit on the bottom.

        We’re in a situation where the size of the pizza is going to be decreasing, and you won’t be able to fit all the desired toppings on.

        Of course, a lot of people think you can make a pizza out of nothing but toppings. That may be true, but to abuse the analogy further, that would require a lot of processing to give those toppings the essential properties of the base — they have to stick together, hold stuff on top without falling apart, have a certain crunchiness, etc. And all that processing will require energy — from where, if you already don’t have enough pizza dough to do the job?

        • Eclipse Now says:

          From where? Nuclear power will be the new pizza base, and with the development of waste-eating reactors like GE’s S-PRISM, this is the new ‘forever machine’. Burning waste gets 99% of the energy out of the uranium (compared to today’s 0.6%!). In other words, we get about 100 times as much energy out of the uranium. All that waste France has accumulated over the last decades of successfully running their economy on nuclear power? Multiply those decades by 100, as that’s how much energy is still stored in the waste, just waiting for IFR’s like GE’s S-PRISM to unlock it! Then add in the fact that erosion tops up the ocean’s floating uranium particles, and that 1kg (or a whole human lifetime’s worth of energy) can be extracted for just $300, and you can see the potential. James Hansen’s SCGI says we should use nuclear power to charge BORON to replace oil. I think it’s an interesting proposal!

      • Not very keen of the “greenies” word, I can assure you that a lot of “greenies” are fully aligned to the idea of living with less. Many also feel society needs to be restructured to require less transportation of goods, growing food locally (green fingers) and generally stop trekking around the world constantly as if that is our finest hour.

        As I have said, you can make a windmill or watermill that generates power out of simple parts so it does not need a globalized economy any more than it was necessary to make the grain mills in old times. We just have more knowledge now about how the universe is put together, and hence a bigger toolbox to adapt ourselves, even in a low energy world with no globalization around. Digging for new minerals will be our biggest challenge though as that is practically 100% fossil fuel based now.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “Digging for new minerals will be our biggest challenge though as that is practically 100% fossil fuel based now.”

          It’ll soon be known as “landfill mining.”

          • Except, thanks to recycling, there is not a lot in land fills today worth mining. Where such mining is done around the world, it is with people working in very unsafe conditions with their hands.

          • Eclipse Now says:

            Hi Jan,
            with enough energy from IFR’s running our civilisation, a number of options open up for lower grade ores.
            1. Sea floor volcanic vents. They’re already planning to mine the sea floor around volcanic vents.
            2. Lower grade ‘ores’. Giant TBM styled earth-munchers that chew through bedrock, extracting much lower grade ores than have ever been traditionally mined.
            3. Space. With enough energy, we’re eventually going to space and can send back some raw ore of far greater purity because it hasn’t been weathered the way ore has here on earth. Once we have a permanent mining operation in space, gifts will eventually just parachute down from the sky.

      • jmdesp says:

        @SourabhJain : Get a look at how fast France built reactors in the eighties and lowered it’s electric carbon emission in the process and you won’t say anymore it’s impossible to build nuclear fast enough even without opposition. And there was opposition in France. The army had to be sent to the Chooz site. Opposition demonstration were strong enough to cancel a plant that was planned in Brittany.
        But today if the Chooz plant were to close, people would demonstrate against that, like they are doing currently at Fessenheim. When their job and economic prosperity depend on it, when the plant organizes regular informational meeting, people start to get a real look at what they’ve been told for so long against nuclear power, and are in a better position to realize so much of it is false.

        I didn’t expect I’d receive that much flack above posting on this blog, but every argument that has been objected to me is incorrect. I’ll answer to them one by one soon, it’s really a compendium of misinformation about nuclear and the Fukushima crisis (where an informed assessment of the situation shows international health agencies confirm radiation is not at a level to kill anybody, potential increase in cancer risk is actually much lower than the one directly caused by the pollution of the fossil plants used in replacement of the closed nuclear ones, ocean life specialists after careful checking don’t expect any consequence for a single animal, etc.).

        But ultimately for a category of people to which John Christian and some other here quite clearly belongs, the opposition to nuclear is truly grounded not in it’s failures, but exact opposite on the threat it could succeed, and therefore become a barrier against his real objective, an economy that is “simplified” until it becomes sustainable. The decrease and disappearance of our current civilization is not a problem, it’s what they wish.
        But truly the only economy that is really sustainable on long term is the pure hunter-gatherers one, and even many of those have not been sustainable enough. Cro-Magnon was a massive destructor of his environment, who perfected hunting until he had exhausted all the available game on every part of the planet accessible to him, and had to turn to husbandry and agriculture instead which, step by step, led him to where we are now.

        So I’ll admit if that’s what you wish, the kind of perfect, non-destructive hunter-gatherers life that exist on a few Islands and some part of Amazonia, then nuclear is a real threat against it, and that’s the very reason I fight for it.
        But don’t worry, if you are right that a high level society ultimately can not survive, then it will crumble just by itself, and there’s no need for you to campaign for that. What’s more, whatever you do, humanity will hang on the means for a better life than that as long as it is able too.

        • SourabhJain says:


          Chill dude. Overall capacity wise, USA has higher installed capacity than France. USA also achieved similar growth from 1970s to 1990s. France is no special.

          I have been strong supporter of nuclear. I do not oppose nuclear energy at all. I have attended a conference on LFTR last year in Chicago. I am fan of LFTR technology. I agree coal and other pollutants are more dangerous than nuclear. Nuclear is one of the most safe energy sources. We can also reprocess the fuel as well reduce overall waste.

          But, Now, we are not living in 1970s anymore. Overall Uranium requirement is growing. I cannot say anything about peak Uranium. We have lots of Thorium too. But, construction of nuclear plant have become way too expensive for many countries to even start building on such a large scale. We need lots of steel, cement, and fossil fuel (for transportation) to build nuclear plants. We can definitely use existing resources to build nuclear energy, and I think we should do that. But, overall size of nuclear energy capacity that is required today will bottleneck supply chain; hence I said we cannot build them fast enough today. There is another concept ‘energy cannibalism’. Another issue is fresh water supply, even in case of coal plants.

          But, tell me one thing. If France and USA did build nuclear energy that fast,even with opposition, what is stopping them now? Is it costs? Is it opposition by environmentalists? If it was that easy building nuclear plant, many countries would already have done so. I do not want to live like hunter gatherers. With today’s population, that kind of lifestyle is also unsustainable. So, I am not worried about its survival. Humanity will survive somehow, our globalization and industrialization may not survive as much.

          • Ert says:


            May be cost & cooling: IEEE Spectrum: Collision Between Water and Energy Is Underway, and Worsening: http://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/fossil-fuels/collision-between-water-and-energy-is-underway-and-worsening

            40% of the fresh water for cooling….

            And the ZDF (German Public TV) had a report: „Der wahre Grund von Tschernobyl?“ (The true reason of Tscherbobyl?) regarding the earthquake problematic of nuclear power plants: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KE771I_xwvM

            Must nuclear is build on faults or in earthquake-prone regions. This since rivers and coasts often mark seismic active regions. This is a neglected and big issue.

            Further: If a private plant operator had to privately insure the risk of the plant – he would not get any. That tells me some! Also, the final storage of the waste is not solved – no where. Even Finland’s Olkiluoto is only for low- and medium stuff.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “every argument that has been objected to me is incorrect. I’ll answer to them one by one soon”

          Oh joy. Let’s not, and say we did.

          The only arguments you can make are based on “best case” statistics. If you admit to the US National Cancer Institute’s officially accepted “linear, no threshold” (LNT) model, you can only come to the conclusion that every release of radioactivity harms lives, in a statistically predictable way.

          At that point, it becomes a matter of magnitude. Does the radiation released from coal plants trump the radiation released from “human error” at nuclear plants? Who cares! Shut them both down!

          Then there’s the cost. Even if it were a few cents per kWh, as nuclear proponents claim (again, based on “best case” scenarios), that totally ignores “externalities,” such as the billions is will take to properly sequester the waste and clean up the mine tailings, the billions it took to partially and temporarily clean up Chernobyl, or the billions it is taking to keep Fukushima from getting too terribly worse, or the billions of lost productivity from shutting down all the nukes in Japan for several years, or the billions it cost France to build their fast breeders that were shut down when they failed to produce more than a tiny fraction of their design goals, or the billions being spent cleaning up Hanford every year, or the billions that municipal bond investors lost when WPPS defaulted, or the billions the US taxpayers would be on the hook for, because Price-Anderson absolves nuke plants from insurance responsibilities — and that happened because not one commercial insurance company would insure nuke plants. (So much for “the free market,” eh?)

          So I think I probably summarized your arguments. Saved you a lot of typing. Please don’t make any arguments that include the word “could” or that don’t account for “human error.”

    • There are two kinds of renewables:
      1. Renewables that are truly renewables–flowing water caught with a wooden mill, or breezes that we catch with a something renewable, such as fabric made from wool or cotton.

      2. Renewables that require huge industrial complexes to support. Todays wind turbines and solar panels are in that category. Even if they are called renewable, they are not in any sense really “renewable” because we cannot support the huge industrial complex needed to make them with their output (among other things).

      • ricst says:

        There is sustainable energy and there is energy that derives power from renewable sources. Sustainable energy requires relatively low tech efforts to keep going. Renewable requires an industrial global supply chain, and is thus not sustainable.

        • Another important point is that sustainable energy is available in only very small quantities, because of a limit on the ability of trees to regrow, and the need to use wood for making metals and glass. We can only use sustainable resources at a level which does not over-use them. We have had a huge problem limiting ourselves to such amounts, for a long time.

      • SourabhJain says:

        Excellent point Gail. Although I may disagree on a couple of points, but overall I totally agree with you. I have been looking for such blog post that analyzes renewable energy from technical point of view. I have strong proponent of renewable energy. But, as an electrical engineer, I can understand some of the engineering limitations wind and solar have for power system.

        Many people in pro-environment movement limit scope of their analyze to, as you said, tip of the iceberg. They fail to see the giant “below the surface water” fossil requirement for

    • Eclipse Now says:

      WRONG! Renewables are NOT our only option. Nuclear is ‘renewable’ in the sense that waste-eating reactors could run the world for 5 centuries just on today’s waste, and then the world for tens or hundreds of *MILLIONS* of years on the uranium dust that erosion constantly replenishes in our oceans. With today’s technology we can extract 1kg of uranium from seawater for $300. That seems like a lot, but it is the fuel that could power an entire human life, cradle to grave, for EVERYTHING we do. Integral Fast Reactors will burn up most of the waste, and so that 1kg of fuel goes a very long way. It has the ERoEI to generate all the synthetic fuels we’ll need. (James Hansen backs rechargeable boron to replace oil. I personally like a mix of EV’s, trains trams and trolley buses and New Urbansim. But boron sounds like another good alternative. Read all about it in Prescription for the Planet, a free e book).

      James Hansen is a fan of nukes. He described the global warming problem to us. He also described the solution. “Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”

      Nukes can supply all the electricity, and therefore also all the transport fuels, we’ll ever need. Next?

  29. Joe Clarkson says:

    Renewables could have been our primary energy supply if much of the fossil fuel we have already burned had been devoted to creating a civilization based on renewable energy. It certainly wouldn’t have been as energy intensive as the one we have now, but it would have allowed us some of the perks of modern life.

    Now it is far too late. We have entered the “energy trap” era, which Tom Murphy described so well. We can no longer create surplus energy without significant sacrifice of our standard of living. No one will want to make the sacrifices needed, so they won’t be made. But in a short while nature will make the sacrifices for us via resource depletion of many kinds. Our high energy world will crumble around us.

    Those who survive will then be totally dependent on renewables, but they won’t include PV or wind electricity. They will be the standard renewables of the pre-fossil era, wood, animal power, water wheels and perhaps a few windmills for mechanical power.

    • I am not convinced that the problem is just a sacrifice in our standard of living. The change would require a huge drop down in what government does as well. Many programs would need to be eliminated. It is the kind of thing that governments break up over.

    • Tom Reis says:

      Certain you are right. It’s the economy of waste or lost centuries. We have wasted so much of our energy to build infrastructure which is so useless for a low energy society. Exploited our fields instead of building communities that consume and produce together so that there is enough time for culture. I do not mean going shopping. Orlov made so assumptions about how communities must be. But cities and shopping malls need too much energy. See for example the low tech blog, still they build worldwide giant skyscrapers without energy uninhabitable. So facing a low tech future and ask the renewables to save our day is insane, first we have had to build a infrastructure which is able to be supported via renewable energy sources. So welcome to the bottleneck like Mobus described it in his blog question everything, we now have huge governments, military, shopping malls, company offices and traffic infrastructure to be maintained! Complexity everywhere you look powered via the sun? Why? Complexity must go or we go!

  30. ricst says:

    One of the best things the federal and state governments could do – if they were serious about the bottlenecks we face – is to use eminent domain and acquire tens of millions of acres that could be used for small scale, low energy consumption, agriculture. Then start training millions of out of work adults and young people in how to become subsistence farmers based on organic farming techniques. Maybe small scale windmills and solar PV can help power these farms for a while, until the new farmers learn to live without them, or develop ways to support a low tech wind industry.

    If nothing more, such an effort would limit the possibility of starvation when industrial agricultural systems start to become unaffordable.

    • Joe Clarkson says:

      Aloha ricst,

      I have often pondered the two options available to government when things start to fall apart; will we move city folks to the land where they can grow their own food or will we warehouse them in their city homes and bring food to them?

      I really do think that the latter option will be the one chosen. Until the falling apart process is upon us, very few city people would even consider leaving their homes, even if they have no work. Even if it becomes difficult to support the unemployed, moving city people to the land would require an enormous new housing and utility infrastructure. The vast tracts of land now devoted to industrial agriculture are nearly empty and there will be no resources available to convert it all to “forty acres and a mule” farms.

      Now add all the extra people that have been born into urban life since we moved off the land and giant tractors moved in. Now add in the ignorance factor…most urbanites wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to garden, not even if their lives depended on it. Now add in the fact that even if a potential subsistence farmer knew what he was doing, most farm land is worthless without huge outside inputs of fertilizer and water.

      I don’t think there really is a solution. Many, many people will indeed face starvation. And they will do it in their existing homes.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        Joe, Hal Borland wrote this in the 60s. I agree that it’s impractical today, but it may well be the least bad of available choices.

        A few weeks back, while we were in the midst of haying, one of my neigbours stopped past one evening and our casual talk came around to the poverty program. He smiled and said, “I’ve got the solution.”

        I asked what he had in mind, and he said, “Move a few million of those poor folks from the cities out to the country. Put them on the land.”

        “Don’t you read the papers?” I asked. “There are too many farmers already!”

        “Yeah, I know. In one breath they say there are too many farmers producing too much. In the next breath they say there are all these people in want, can’t get enough to eat and wear. It doesn’t add up, does it? Too much, and still not enough. Well, my idea doesn’t add up either, but it would work. I’d put these people on subsistence farms, ten or twenty acres, where they could earn their keep.”

        “Make gardeners out of them?”

        “Sort of. Give these needy families ten acres apiece, say, and a horse and a cow and a few chickens.”

        “Where would you get the horses?”

        “Never mind that. This is all an impossible idea anyway. But get them started, with a walking plow and a hoe, and a cow for milk and chickens for eggs, and…”

        “You know the answer to that, don’t you?” I asked.

        “Sure. It can’t be done. That’s the pat answer. It’s going back to first principles, so it’s impractical. It would give the kids something to do, too, keep them out of juvenile mischief. But the kids don’t want to do farm chores. Anyway, it would cost money, ten or twenty thousand dollars a family. How much are we spending on this poverty program, how many million? To do what? Feed and clothe them and train them for jobs in industry that doesn’t need them.” He shrugged. “You figure it out. I’ve got to go home and hoe up the garden.”

        • Paul says:

          Jan – thanks for the reference to this – I watched it earlier today – some great insights

          Schooling the World

      • You may be right. We are a long way from being able to make the change.

    • Pure sanity, ricst. Unfortunately it has not been shown that a democracy can sustain leaders having to make plans that frighten the people. Ideas like working harder for less, and going weeks without shopping will not attract votes. And by work i mean preparing soil, tending animals, sowing and reaping. And all largely by hand.

      Let the government control the production and sharing of energy so that fuel for tractors is available and not for holidays abroad. ‘Freedom’ has created the situation the West is entering, Purpose can replace many freedoms without their loss having a destructive effect, in time.

      America can lead the way, and MUST, because if China tries to, the last drops of oil will be used for war. I wonder if you agree.

      • Paul says:

        America has demonstrated to be the war monger – not China – so I am not clear why you think America ‘can lead the way’

        Have you seen this little ditty — an MIT professor and the greatest investigative journalist of our time have just revealed that the rebels launched the chemical weapon into a civilian target gassing women and children – the CIA is arming and funding the Al Qaeda and Al Nusra fanatics who are besieging Assad – so the assumption has to be that the US gave them chemical weapons – instructed them to kill women and children – and tried to frame Assad.

        And on top of that the US is a virtual totalitarian state with its NSA spying apparatus (they claim the spying is to root out the terrorists yet they SUPPORT terrorists in Syria!)

        You really think America can lead the way?


        US media blacks out Seymour Hersh exposé of Washington’s lies on sarin attack in Syria

        The American media has blacked out an account by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh demonstrating that President Barack Obama and the US government lied when they claimed to have proof that the Syrian government carried out a sarin gas attack last August on areas near Damascus held by US-backed “rebels.”

        Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and other top officials declared categorically that the August 21 attack on Eastern Ghouta, which reportedly killed hundreds of people, had been carried out by the Syrian military. They, along with the leaders of Britain and France, sought to use the gas attack to stampede public opinion behind their plans to attack Syria, cripple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and install a puppet government.


        Seymour Hersh exposes US government lies on Syrian sarin attack
        Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has published an article demonstrating that the US government and President Barack Obama knowingly lied when they claimed that the Syrian government had carried out a sarin gas attack on insurgent-held areas last August.

        Hersh’s detailed account, based on information provided by current and former US intelligence and military officials, was published Sunday in theLondon Review of Books. The article, entitled “Whose sarin?,” exposes as a calculated fraud the propaganda churned out day after day by the administration and uncritically repeated by the media for a period of several weeks to provide a pretext for a military attack on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad


        • Dave says:

          Paul writes:

          “…the CIA is arming and funding the Al Qaeda and Al Nusra fanatics who are besieging Assad – so the assumption has to be that the US gave them chemical weapons – instructed them to kill women and children – and tried to frame Assad.”

          Paul, just some friendly advice – 1) stay away from strangers with umbrellas, 2) avoid hot tubs, 3) don’t use small, light planes for any travel, and 4) balconies can be dangerous.

          About 5% of current US males are bona fide psychopaths (closeted as well as otherwise). For anyone interested, I can provide any number of literature citations. Psychopathic individuals tend to congregate within prison populations as well as certain organizations & professions.

          It is difficult for moral, compassionate people to understand the psychopath mindset, just as it is difficult for a blind person to understand light. Make no mistake – psychopaths are absolutely incapable of appreciating what is wrong with lying, cheating, stealing, rape, torture. Most psychopaths would say, “Why worry about the future, when I can enjoy myself now?” because it appears to make sense in a simplistic, ego-centric world view. In similar manner, they would say. “Why worry about the pain, suffering, & welfare of humans when they are little more than animated hunks of meat? All that matters is what use I can make of them for my benefit.”

          I repeat – That’s 5%, folks. One out of every 20!

          • Paul says:

            No doubt comments like that get you up the hierarchy of the NSA — however I don’t think they bother with you unless you have a pulpit to shout it from.

            They prefer to stay under the radar and use the muzzle as they have with Hersh rather than go to the trouble of removing you.

            But being psychopaths they might just decide to whack someone because they can – and because they enjoy killing.

            Same mindset at play when you drop two nuclear weapons on civilians – when you could have simply dropped one on the Emperor’s house – or perhaps the Japanese Ministry of Defense complex – and concluded the war.

            But of course that is not the purpose – the purpose was to exact revenge – that good Christian ideal so cherished in America.

    • Sorry–I won’t be able to respond to comments until later today–perhaps this evening–I have several appointments.

      • Hartley Schultz says:

        Hello once again Gail,
        I want to find out what you think of the plan B that has been put forward by Andrew Forrest at the Davos? This as I am sure you know, is a plan to convert brown coal into diesel and at the same time save millions of people from slavery in Pakistan. I have just read the ABC report. How effective will this be do you think? At my age my eyesight is nearly as bad as my hearing, so my apology if you have already answered this question in an earlier reply post.
        This is being touted at Davos as a way to provide cheap effective oil substitutes and remove social injustice and inequality all in one go. This is Australian technology but I don’t know much about it. Has it been used here with any success or profitability? Do you think that this is all a flash in the pan or is it a reasonable way of overcoming future petrol shortages.
        I seem to remember here in Australia, over the decades, similar schemes didn’t get off the ground for some reason or another. In some recent instances, the lock the gate mob raised too many objections over water and land degradation Other than that some schemes have been mothballed due to the high cost of investment.
        I remember that during the war we used some of coal to liquid measures, but they were very dirty at the time as well as unpopular. Well this scheme seems to have a bit more going for it than the recent proposal that we can solve our future liquid fuel problems by growing and harvesting the tequila plant to fuel vehicles and reduce emissions. Will it save the world do you think?
        Kind regards

        • Ert says:


          Second law of thermodynamics….

          All these does not produce new energy (there is no such thing) – but instead worsens the efficiency and tries to keep the beast running (while producing additional pollution).

        • This is a link I found to a discussion of the plan. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-23/andrew-forrest-announces-plan-to-free-25m-slaves/5215032

          Clearly from a climate change point of view, this is not a great idea. But I think that it has other problems as well.

          Andrew Forrest is in the mining business, so he stands to make money mining the coal that would go into this whole project. One of the limits on such a project is fresh water. Another is capital for funding the project, as well as all the physical steel, oil and other products needed to put the project in place.

          One big issue is whether the oil price will stay up high enough, and interest rates stay low enough, to enable this project. Also, how will the people of Pakistan sell goods made with this high-priced oil to the world at a high enough price that they will not run up a big balance of payment deficit? Usually, countries need cheap energy products–providing them with expensive energy products does not get them very far. We are now seeing how Japan’s balance of payments is shifting as it is using more fossil fuels. India is having difficulty importing fossil fuels. Why would Pakistan be any better?

          • Don says:

            Andrew Forrest’s mining business is in iron ore, not coal. Whether he will mine the lignite coal in Pakistan or not is something I don’t know. His proposal will however be bad for climate.

    • Somewhat the ideas of Mao Zedong, isn’t it ? How do you feed billions of people and give them a day-to-day usefull activity ? Opinions ?

      • Ric Steinberger says:

        There’s no Maoism here, at least not intentionally. The real question isn’t “how you feed billions”, it’s how resources can be managed so that as many billions as possible can feed sustainably feed and otherwise take care of themselves.

    • The basic idea sounds good, but I expect that governments would be reluctant to do this for several reasons:
      1. They couldn’t admit to such a big problem.
      2. They don’t have money to pay for the land acquired by eminent domain. (I think the government normally pays for the land it takes. Farmers would be up in arms otherwise.)
      3. Yield on the land taken would drop greatly, without today’s industrial methods.
      4. We don’t have enough people set up to teach what farming techniques would work, and how to restore soil fertility without fossil fuels.

      In order to implement such a thing, besides teachers I expect we would need a bunch of hand tools, and maybe other devices to help in this effort. Old style wind mills that pump water might work, if they can be repaired locally. There would need to be a lot of planning underlying this effort.

      • ricst says:

        The Iraq & Afghan wars cost between 1 and 4 trillion dollars. There’s money, but we don’t have a government that’s interested nor do we have people yet desperate enough to try farming. Very sad, because some preparations could be made to reduce starvation.

        While many people might fail at a foray into organic farming, some would survive, maybe prosper. In a Darwinian sense, they become the lucky survivors who get to pass their genes along. And in a cultural sense, others may learn from them.

        But obviously their productivity could never match industrial agriculture. Yet maybe they could feed themselves and 1 – 3 other families. That’s all we can hope for.

    • Stacy Canterbury says:

      Dear ricst,
      This has been tried before. They were called “Poor Farms” where I live and my Grandmother, before she died, shuddered at the memory of them. Maybe not such a good idea after all.

      • ricst says:

        Maybe not. But as the old saying goes, farmers may be poor but they have less of a chance of starving. Ok, I know there are exceptions, but if the choice is to starve in a walled off urban ghetto or try organic farming, I think most people would try putting a few seeds in the ground and tending and protecting them. A hard life to be sure, but as societies start to implode, I’d rather be away from the urban chaos, violence and collapse.

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