Energy limits: Is there anything we can do?

The energy limit we are running into is a cost limit. I would argue that neither the Republican or Democrat approach to solving the problem will really work.

The Republicans favor “Drill Baby Drill”. If the issue is that the price of oil extraction is too high, additional drilling doesn’t really fix the problem. At best, it gives us a little more expensive oil to add to the world’s supply. The Wall Street research firm Sanford Bernstein recently estimated that the non-Opec marginal cost of production rose to $104.50 a barrel in 2012, up more than 13 per cent from $92.30 a barrel in 2011.

US consumers still cannot afford to buy high-priced oil, even if we extract the oil ourselves. The countries that see rising oil consumption tend to be ones that can leverage its use better with cheaper fuels, particularly coal (Figure 1). See Why coal consumption keeps rising; what economists missed. The recent reduction in US oil usage is more related to young people not being able to afford to drive than it is to improved automobile efficiency. See my post, Why is gasoline mileage lower? Better gasoline mileage?

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world "all liquids" production amounts.

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world “all liquids” production amounts.

The Democrats favor subsidizing high-priced energy approaches that wouldn’t be competitive without such subsidies. Government debt is at 103% of GDP. It is hard to see that the government can afford such subsidies. Also, it is doubtful that the supposed carbon-saving benefit is really there, when all of the follow-on effects are included. Buying wind turbine parts, solar panels, and goods that use rare earth minerals (used in many high-tech goods, including electric cars and  wind turbines) helps to stimulate the Chinese economy, adding to their coal use. Furthermore, the higher taxes needed to pay for these subsidies reduces the spendable income of the common worker, pushing the country in the direction of recession.

So what do we do as an alternative, if neither the Republican or Democrat approach works? I would argue that we are dealing with a situation that is essentially unfixable. It can be expected to morph into a financial crash, for reasons I explained in How Resource Limits Lead to Financial Collapse. Thus, the issue we will need to mitigate will be debt defaults, loss of jobs, and possibly major changes to governments. If we are dealing with a financial crash, oil prices may in fact be lower, but people will still be unable to afford the oil because of other issues, such as lack of jobs or lack of access to money in their bank accounts.

Because neither political party can fix our problem, I expect that most of our responses will necessarily be individual, personal responses. These are a few ideas:

1. Get out of debt situations, if it is easy to do. There are a lot of people who own stocks on margin, or who own an expensive house with a big mortgage on it. Now, with prices of stocks and homes both higher, would be a good time to get out of both types of debt. Sell the stock or buy a less expensive house, without the mortgage.

Equities and home prices both seem to be inflated now, indirectly because of Quantitative Easing. Some recent analysis suggests that real (that is, inflation adjusted) interest rates are rising partly because inflation is falling.  The reason that inflation is falling is because oil prices are lower (Figure 2). Comparing the first four months of 2013 with the first four months of 2012, oil prices are about $9 per barrel lower. Oil prices are lower because of reduced demand due to economic contraction, especially in Europe.

Figure 2. Spot oil prices and actual refiners acquisition costs, based on EIA data.

Figure 2. Spot oil prices and actual refiners acquisition costs, based on EIA data. Refiners acquisition costs are what refiners actually pay for oil.

In the past month, there has also been an uptick in interest rates (even apart from the declining inflation component). According to the Wall Street Journal, “Yields on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note now stand above 2.1%—still low by historic standards, but nearly half a percentage point higher than at the start of May.” Mortgage rates are also reported to be half a percentage point higher than they were six months ago.

There are a number of risks with rising real interest rates and falling inflation. One is that the higher interest rates will trigger lower stock prices and lower house prices. Another is that deflation will continue, making debt payback more difficult. If this happens, it is something that the Fed can’t handle with its monetary easing policy. Interest rates can go to zero, but not below. A third issue, especially if interest rates rise further, is the adverse impact on the US government financial situation.

2. Reduce your expectations about what investments can do for you. Dmitry Orlov, who has had experience with the collapse of the Former Soviet Union, made the remark, “There are two kinds of investments: those that lose all their value at once, and those that lose value slowly.” Paper investments are a particular problem, because they can decline in value very quickly if conditions change. Even real estate can be a problem, though, because governments can take away what you thought you owned, or raise taxes to a level that you cannot afford. If you buy something and have to move, but cannot take the object with you, you will likely lose the value you invested. The only things that are really yours to keep (at least until your declining years) are skills that you learn.

3. Take up a hobby that will provide food for your family (planting a few fruit or nut trees, adding a garden, raising a few chickens, or learning to hunt/fish). Taking up hobbies such as these provide several functions: They provide a diversion away from the problems of the day, and let you feel like you are doing something helpful. They may actually provide a cushioning effect, if there is a sharp downturn. Taking up such hobbies can provide a useful skill for the future. In some cases, it may make sense to purchase land for purposes such as these. If considering doing this, a person should take note of items (1) and (2) above. It takes quite a long time to get started, and you can’t take the improved land with you, if you have to leave.

4. Learn to appreciate nature, family, and simple joys that can’t easily be taken away. It is possible to be happy, regardless of circumstances. We can find many good things in every day. Obsessing over the future is not really helpful. Don’t tie your happiness to having more “stuff”; you are likely to be disappointed. Learn to sing happy songs, or how to play a musical instrument. Or memorize uplifting poetry or religious writings.

5. Build a network of friends. If things go downhill, we can’t expect to use a gun to ward off intruders, night and day. If nothing else, we will run out of ammunition. Over the long term, the approach that is likely to be successful is working together with other community members toward a common goal.

6. Learn new skills, if you are concerned about job loss. Try to think of what will be needed in a lower-energy world. People will always need dentists and midwives, regardless of how poor they are. Buggy whip manufacturers went out of business long ago. Maybe we will need them back!

7. If you want to develop larger-scale plans (such as for cities or regions), keep them cheap and easy to implement. Governments are already running short of funds to implement plans. Look for approaches that are inexpensive to put in place, such as car-sharing plans. Alternatives that worked years ago, such as boats and canals, might be considered as well.

8. Aim for a flexible approach to problems. We don’t know things will turn out. Water may be in very short supply in one part of the country. Or job opportunities may open up in a place far from home. Even more than in the past, we are likely to need to be able to change our plans on short notice.

This entry was posted in Planning for the Future and tagged , , , by Gail Tverberg. Bookmark the permalink.

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 financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.

444 thoughts on “Energy limits: Is there anything we can do?

  1. Would it be possible to set up a series of threads that can run in parallel with the main series of posts for which this site is well known? We could have a whole load of these threads:bee-keeping, animal husbandry, breeds of animals best suited for post collapse, coppicing, solar hot water, well-digging, food storage, electricity generation to name but a few. (We could also have one for personal experiences and conjecture about how the future will pan out for other nations, a topic of interest to many, it seems.) Unless you tick a box saying you would like to be appraised of any new posts on specific topics, you would not receive notice of them.

    Were we to have such a facility, it might be possible for us to open our inboxes and not be faced with a great list of comments, many of which are clearly one half of a private conversation and others which are, one suspects, from comment junkies. Honestly, sometimes I just can’t spare the time to read all of them. The danger is that in so doing I might miss items of real interest, such as the new one between two people with doctorates in chemistry concerning the EROEI for solar panel manufacture. Being out of my depth on such a topic, I hope to learn much from it. I expect others are in the same boat.

    I would suggest signing on to Peak Prosperity’s website where they have such a feature, but it will soon disappear behind a pay-wall. In the meantime, anyone interested in the idea could pay it a visit, assuming it is still free.

    • Mel I like your comments and respect your work but, I do not like your condescending comments.

      Everyone here has been trying to sort through things and some life experiences written about are not that that private as far as I can see. I guess you can leave the site if you do not believe in us.

      • I’ve been impressed with the highly positive level of discourse here. I must admit, there are certain people I just don’t read. That’s easy to do here, unlike most sites, where that would be the majority.

        If you don’t respond to trolls, they go away. Don’t reward undesirable behaviour by calling attention to it.

        • Hi Jan, thanks I got you, let’s change the subject, what you said the other day worried me about goats and how they can eat the whole garden. I think if folks plan to get one they will need to think about a fence as I just spent a bunch of money putting deer fences over certain garden beds.

          But I was thinking I have been having a hard time just keeping my small property mowed and weeds under control and if I did not have all my gas and electric powered mowers and weed eaters I would surely need a goat. I think they would they would have to be tethered or better yet fenced.

          But Fence is already very expensive so that may be an item to buy now put in your shop to store until you are ready to build that fence and small barn for those farm animals like chickens and goats. We depend on oil and electricity just to keep our yards clean too and just picture house after house with four foot tall grasses growing without our gas to power the mowers even.

          I do not think this is an answer for suburbia though most do not possess enough property to have animals and they depend on farms and outside sources.

      • Looks like I touched a raw nerve, Scott. Perhaps you will take it to heart. All I was trying to do was reduce all our in-boxes to manageable proportions, though yours would be less affected than most, for obvious reasons.

        As for your suggestion that I leave the site, that is a matter for Gail, whose workload was very much at the front of my thinking when I wrote the original comment, and me. It has nothing to do with you.

        Now, if we can both get our toys put back in our prams, perhaps we can discuss the issue sensibly. If we take the series of posts on goat-keeping as an example, surely it would be better for that to have its own permanent thread where those interested in goat-keeping could find all the information and related experiences in one place. That has to be a better situation than having to copy and paste the whole comments sections of all the different posts into Word and then use the search facility to find any reference to goats (in this instance). And as for people such as myself, who will not be keeping a goat anytime soon, all we need to do is not tick the box for updates on the goat-keeping thread and thus reduce in-boxes. If we did the same for all the other specialised areas of interest then that whole series of threads would make a fairly well organised survival manual, and who knows, I might even take a copy One thing it would do is consolidate our in-boxes to items of personal interest. As it is, no doubt there will soon be another post by Gail and all new comments on goat-keeping will slip over to the new thread and add to the difficulty of finding them later.

        Jan, I will not dignify the ‘Troll’ insult with a response.

        • Hi Mel, I got your point, we do get a lot of mail from this site, but I am retired and have the time to sort through them. Maybe Gail will set up something like a separate blog subject lists for subjects that have grown out these discussions like home gardening and livestock which are popular on the site. Please keep writing and as I said before I like your work and what you have said about nuclear especially Thorium and other subjects.

          I wanted to ask you more about Thorium, if we must use nuclear this does sound better. I do not know much about it and where are we with development stage of actually bringing a plant on-line? I found this article below and it looks like no one has taken on the project to actually build one of these instead of a regular nuclear plant. The article below was interesting it looks like dangerous stuff to me but it seems like we have more if it than the Uranium.

          • Hi Scott, I too am retired, but seem to have more to occupy me than when I was in work.

            As for Thorium, you could start with Kirk Sorensen’s TED talk for a quick overview. If you search on Youtube for “The Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor_ Why Didn’t This Happen (and why is now the right time_)” that should fill you in some more (I cannot give a link because the URL is longer than my arm). If you then watch the other videos found by that search, especially the ‘remix’ one and ‘the thorium problem’ one, you’ll probably be more up to speed than I am! One word of caution, Kirk is very enthusiastic; he has to be as he has wagered a lot on thorium reactors becoming mainstream. He might just be on the enthusiastic side of reality a little too far on occasion. (Just a feeling I have, nothing concrete.). You might also enjoy: It is part of a series that should keep you occupied for a considerable period of time (no malicious intent, honest!)

            If you open a temporary email address and lte me know it, I will send you an excellent Word article that appeared on the GizMag website that covers small modular reactors, which is the form that thorium reactors should take, in my view, but I am just a keen amateur.

            As for getting a plant on line, Kirk reckons a couple of years with a Manhattan type project. All we need is to get people to face reality.

            • Thanks Mel I that is a subject of interest to me and I will take a look that link. You are a good guy. I know what you mean about retirement it was a transition, but I keep busy with things and this old country home and gardens. I was just wondering why they are not yet building these Thorium reactors, we do have more of the resource and seems a bit safer, but still I would prefer to see the Hyper drive than more Thorium nuclear! We could make hydrogen from Thorium perhaps would reverse the problem, but I guess the argument is that we are already past the point of no return and it is too big and too expensive of a project.

              But we have see Manhattan style projects before I just do not see the will out there to do it (yet?)

            • When you have watched the various videos is the time to firm up your position on thorium nuclear reactors. In case you miss it, LFTR reactors run very hot so they can be used directly in desalination instead of generating electricity first and are thus more efficient. Water scarcity is something of growing importance on the world agenda and any way of improving it has to be considered.

              If we don’t have nuclear as a major part of the mix in solving our energy requirements then it will be a victory for the Greens and a defeat for us all.

            • Hello Mel, Thanks I did look at that video on Thorium and I was very impressed with the science. If we must use nuclear, I do believe this is the best option. The Thorium reactor is not under pressure the way the current uranium ones are and it is kind of like a hot tub that you can almost open the cover and see the glowing blob of hot energy inside and not as dangerous and people can get closer to it without danger, but 800 degrees compared to 400 on uranium. Nickel metal vessels needed to contain the stuff. Please correct if I am wrong on anything but this looks our best option, if we must seek out a new fuel source or face death.

              These small power plants are capable of making hydrogen, fertilizers and liquid fuels from coal

              I also took from the video that there is deep special interest groups keeping these plants from being built even though we have the means.

              China may be secretively doing a master plan to mass produce them as they may be able to control most of the world’s energy if they do so.

              If we do not fall into collapse soon, I think we may see thorium and coal in our future and hopefully Hydrogen from Thorium instead but I think we are going to need coal liquids first.

              I will close with this final statement on my take from all of this, I think that Thorium may enable us to double the population again which worries me about the states of the seas, even if we had clean air and free power our pollution into the seas from overpopulation materials is huge and will continue to degrade the planet, so even if we had free pollution free gas and power we will still have so much pollution from agriculture and humans and all of the garbage we generate. I am not sure if would be enough to allow the fish to recover, we may see some improvements, but it will be an uphill battle for sure.

              Here is the Thorium video link that Mel provided again:


    • I would have to look into whether a series of threads could be used. I suppose it could be done on a different “page”. I have not been trying to make money off my blog, so have not been hiding things behind paywalls (or advertising on the site, or taking contributions).

      • What I was thinking was that if you had separate threads for specifics areas of interest on which that those interested them could exchange thoughts and opinions, you would not have to check them at all. If you had a complaint box which readers could tick if they felt that any particular post was offensive, overtly political etc. etc, which should be sufficient protection.

        That would be a win, win, win situation. You would win from a reduced workload, those with a special interest would win by having a source of information from people they had built up a trust for and we would all win because our in-boxes would be reduced in size, thus leaving time to concentrate on the implications of the core message of any particular post. A fourth win would be that over time the special interest ones would form a very useful body of survival information (a book perhaps?)

        However, it was just a thought.

        • Hello Mel and others, My only thought on that is that we may miss some things that are posted unless you look up the subject, I guess we are forced to do more reading than we want to do at least we see it all. It is an idea but I think we would loose track of them more easily on all the menu items. The site could actually get more complex if we had all the subject matter blogs. I think I like it as a group of friends trying to sort things out as it is now, But I would not mind if Gail and everyone wanted to put up a separate blog for some of our favorite subjects like gardening and homesteading etc.

          • It’s a good idea to have topic sub-sections deemed important, as the comments section is morphing into a monster. I can see a great potential online newspaper though “Our Finite Planet”

            • By the way, I asked tech support if there is a way of managing comments. (I put my answer up in the right-hand corner of the site–don’t know if anyone checks there.)

              They said there isn’t a way to mark comments as read. As a work-around, I was told, “Folks might want to subscribe to comments via RSS and manage them in an RSS reader”

  2. I’ve heard it takes 3.9 barrels of NGLs to equal 1 barrel of oil; I would be very grateful if someone could calculate how many cubic feet of natural gas it takes to make the 3.9 barrels of NGLs.

    • Not sure John on that, but they lose a lot of the product if they have to ship it and load it in compressed form on to tanker boats. I think the US is kind of reluctant to ship large amounts of gas outside the country but there are proposed projects, big depots to ship gas overseas still progress and I think some gas will be exported but I do not think it will last.

      China just bought our largest pork farm here in the USA. And, we have the coal trains proposed to ship coal overseas through the North West USA to coastal shipping depots bringing Montana Coal to ships to be loaded and ships for Asia’s energy needs. I am not sure how clean the coal is being shipped from the US, but it must be pretty good if they are going to ship it all the way there.

      Looking at these countries like Saudi that ship so much of their precious oil resources away to far away lands may be a thing of the past.

      Natural and gas liquids would best be used locally or regionally to avoid loosing something like the 25 percent or more in shipping. I think soon countries like Saudi and the US will be not really selling their energy to the world and the same could go for things like rare earth minerals and base minerals. But the supply line will stay intact for longer than we think if the money is there to finance everything.

      In summary, I would like to see a much shorter supply line even if we have to do without some items.

    • It is my understanding that the proportion of natural gas liquids varies a lot with the source of natural gas. Some gas is very “wet” and has more NGLs. Other natural gas is very dry, and has virtually none. Methane is the primary component of dry natural gas. Longer chain molecules make up natural gas liquids.

  3. Combining figures from “Drill Baby Drill” and “Life-Cycle Energy Cost and Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Gas Turbine Power” gives the following:
    Nationwide energy cost of producing gas (at wellhead) 88,400 TJ
    Nationwide energy content of gas at wellhead 690,500 Tj
    Energy cost to deliver gas to power station 50,000 Tj
    EROEI of gas as delivered to power station 4.6
    Energy Cost of Fuel Cycle 136,300 TJ
    EROEI net of Fuel Cycle 1.8
    Energy Cost of plant, (Lifetime) 7,740 Tj
    Net Energy produced by plant 494,600 TJ
    EROEI of power leaving plant 1.75
    Transmission and Conversion Losses 15%
    Net Energy Delivered to Consumers 420,400 TJ
    EROEI of power delivered to Consumer 1.18

  4. Thanks for this hopeful post about solar fuel, can anyone explain this in simple terms? These new thin panels called Wafers can be rolled out and hooked up to on roof tops? Can we get them into mass production like we did with the Comcast cable system with many strong young men in trucks installing the new power systems that we can all rent on your roof put them in everywhere with financing? I hope so.

  5. From: An Empirical Perspective on the Energy Payback Time for Photovoltaic Mocules by Karl E. Knapp and Theresa L. Jester, Solar 2000, Madison, June 2000.

    Making a solar panel involved 2742 processes using 2857 materials in 2000, and fewer now. At the time of their study the norm for mono-crystalline panels were 200 micron thick cells sawn from monocrystalline ingot. Today, proton induced exfoilation produces mono-crystalline cells 20 micron thick, with no sawing, and no kerf loss
    In 2000, Knapp and Jester found 5713 kwh (including both materials and processing), were spent making 1 kwe of solar panel at 13% efficiency. Today, with proton induced exfoilation, auto cooling, and streamlined processing 1764 kwh are required to make 1 kwe of solar panel with 21% efficiency.
    Today’s panel has 62% of the area of one built in 2000 to make the same power, and uses 5% of the silicon required back then. Knapp and Jester found an EROEI for PV panels = 7.6 in 2000, and today PV panels EROEI = 24.6, due to thinner silicon cells, streamlined processing, and less area per Kwe.
    In Life Cycle Energy Cost of Gas Turbine Power, P.J. Meier and G.L. Kulcinski, Madison, WI,2000, the authors calculaated the EROEI of Gas Turbine power, including the cost of extracting and transporting the gas to the plant, constructing the plant, operating same, and decommissioning same. I added the cost of transmission and distribution of the power to their findings. The results are as follows:
    Gas at well head EROEI = 7.8
    Gas at plant EROEI = 4.6
    Net energy of electricity leaving plant EROEI= 1.75
    Net energy delivered to consumer EROEI = 1.18

  6. Given the above, it is apparent that it is far more energy efficient to produce power in
    a distributed fashion using PV than it is to extract gas, convert it to electricity at a central power station and distribute the power to customers.
    From my above analyses, it is also apparent that, the gap is so large that PV systems ~3Kwe in size produce unsubsidized power at less cost than central station power, with the cost of distributed power plummeting given minor changes in appliances, due to elimination of inverters and conversion losses.
    Not considered, are the costs to the commons in the form of mercury, sulfur, and other emissions to the atmosphere, and heat rejection and pollutants in the waterways.
    Not considered, are the increased health costs and risks associated with these emissions to the commons.


  7. Thomas Wayburn is worried.. . .
    Well, It’s about time!

    Now, Thomas, what are you going to do about the issued I raised.. . .
    Other than your crude attempt to discredit the messenger.. . .
    Hmmmm.. . .
    What are you going to do about 400 ppm CO2??? Hmmm????? Shoot the messenger????
    What are you going to do about the methane fountains off the Russian Arctic Coast, which now cover hundreds of sq kilometers?? CH4 is 49 times more effective as a
    green house gas than CO2!!!

    What are you going to do about the pending extinction of all marine shell fish and corals due to acidification???

    What are you going to do about the pending extinction of marine plankton???

    What are you going to do about the near term drop in O2 concentration in the atmosphere, because the purification organisms have been driven into extinction?

    What are you going to do about the imminent extinction of honeybees due to indiscriminant use of pesticides in agriculture, with the concomitant loss of key food crops, which BTW has required manual pollination in China?


    You finally are worried!

    About time!!!


    • If that list was not long enough, someone posted this on the blog which I picked up on, this is not my but pasted in from another friend on this site.

      Annual decline in oil production
      Increase in bio fuels use
      Fraking production levels
      Increasingly lower quality of fuels extracted
      Increasingly lower quality of other ores and resources
      Differing refinery needs of various crude oil extracts
      EROEI (thermodynamic), limiting feedback loops
      Financially (investment), limiting feedback loops.
      Export Land Model
      Price of Oil per barrel, and willingness or ability to pay
      Devaluation of dollar
      Crude bought in other currencies (including gold)
      Technology benefits, to increase efficiency of processes and use less energy
      Individual personal reduction in energy use
      Shift of energy use from, say, oil to gas or electric for a variety of processes and transportation.
      Population increase
      Energy shift through demographics ( older society )
      The shift from agriculture to manufacturing
      The shift from manufacturing to services
      Population shift from villages to cities
      Climate shift, changing energy use needs
      Immediate culture shifts due to oil scarcity ( Cuba effect )
      Infrastructure degradation and replacement needs
      Value shift of trade, in things that matter, such as oil, food, clothing, rather than flat screen TV’s and cell phones.
      Currency devaluations
      Financial implosion, globally
      World health determinants, ( loss of antibiotic performance, pandemics, fertility)
      National protection and security, and the energy costs of providing this
      And the last fader on the mixing desk ~~~ Black Swan events !
      Gail’s sharp and considered articles, point to the way to how many of these sub routines, are likely functioning, but the sheer number of variables, and the probable resultant ‘final mix’ maker me realise, that it is no wonder that we are all searching for answers in the dark, as to how this is going to pan out?

    • George,

      You know damn well that I am worried about you and what you and your institute are doing and not doing. I am not trying to discredit you. I am trying to save you. Years ago, on a very young Yahoo! Peak Oil Forum – perhaps Running on Empty 2 – the possibility was raised that, under the circumstances that obtained at the time, energy and environmental conservation might allow the population to grow to the point that the Die-Off, when it came, would be a much greater catastrophe than otherwise. It’s interesting that you have raised the issue of business as usual because that’s what I have been afraid you are up to. I have suspected for many years that Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute are responsible for greater fossil fuel use rather than less. The question is this: Is it possible for renewable energy technologies to be truly sustainable without a fossil fuel subsidy and without diminishing the stores of non-renewable resources and without additional environmental degradation in a commercial setting embedded in a market economy? Many people on the Peak Oil forums do not believe that there exists a renewable energy technology that is truly sustainable. Why do you? Why not be sure?

      I hear you talk about the merits of solar technology and the demerits of fossil fuel technology, but I don’t hear you speak to population stabilization and shrinkage, to economic de-growth, to political change, etc. I have suggested what you need to do to be sure that solar technology really does produce positive net energy when all of her energy burdens (your word) are counted, including the standards of living of those she supports. Don’t talk about me. Talk about that.

      Also, I would like to know more about your institute and your personal hopes for it. What sort of world do you want? You are not just the messenger, right? What is your role at the institute? The website speaks of much too much for one man to do – perhaps too much for many people to do, How many people are involved? The website itself is vast.

      • I am one of those people who does not think that current renewables are possible outside a fossil fuel system. They are just add-ons, that allow us to get a bit more out; they couldn’t possibly function on their own.

        • I tend to disagree with you on this Gail, basically because a PV panel is really a very simple device on its own – and requires very little maintenance once its created. The problem is ofc what you use the power output from a PV for, but we made electrical motors 100 years ago with very crude tools compared to what we have now. I am sure that the current infrastructure for making PV and associated electrical transport and use is not sustainable and very fragile because it relies too much on fossil fuels – but I still feel that its possible to transition to a simpler set of tools to maintain and produce this kind of technology.

          Another one of these technologies is the concentration of the suns energy into solar cookers or heat towers or pipes where you warm up water or anything else (you can even melt metal/rocks). This is a very useful and rather simple way of concentrating the power from the sun into another usable form. The technology involved in these kind of contraptions will not go away very fast and I am sure that a lot of the things we have learned over these past 100 years of fossil fuel glut will still be usable in another form. But it wont be as abundantly available as before so these will have an essential function into providing the people an essential function that is made much simpler by the remaining technology and energy sources. I never ever believed these to replace our current energy consumption habits.

        • So, we have Gail who believes that renewable energy technology is NOT sustainable and George (Indy) who is quite sure that it is even without further technological breakthroughs. But, neither of you knows for certain because the most respected analysts upon whom the world relies do not carry out their computations sufficiently far to determine sustainability. This is the situation I tried to correct quickly with instant internet publication while avoiding the corporate-controlled, peer-reviewed publishing system employed by academia and government and corporate labs that would have rejected such conclusions as did not favor the corporate agenda. Now, most of us on the Peak Oil discussion forums claim that we are against this agenda, but you don’t embrace my work, which, by the way, can be validated by every reader by his or her own efforts and reasoning abilities – assuming they exist. You can provide your own “peer review”. Why not do the right thing?

          Demand that the concepts inherent in ERoEI* be employed in the analysis of every alternative (renewable) energy technology in the earliest stages of its implementation. If you have the ability and the tools, do the analysis yourself. Otherwise, demand that others do it. Reject incomplete work. It can prevent the economic changes we need and mask such subsidies of renewable energy as probably do arise. If fossil fuel absolutely must be consumed to bootstrap drastically front loaded solar technology, for example, be sure that the deficit will be repaid and never recur. This would truly amount to the use of fossil fuel to end the use of fossil fuel rather than an ongoing subsidy if and only if ERoEI* is greater than 1.0. Begin by reading and after which I don’t care if you assume that the ideas were yours all along.,

          • I might just as well discuss the case of quasi-sustainability (nearly sustainable) here. (I will add this comment to the above comment on the eroei blog.) Temporarily and in case of dire necessity only we may diminish the storehouse of critical materials somewhat and increase the load on the environment slightly to bootstrap renewables to 100% in a world that has already rejected consumption and growth and embraced the changes required to achieve a steady or shrinking population and economy.

          • The minimum ERoEI has to be a whole lot higher than 1.0. I am not sure what the right number is. I suspect it is something close to 9.0; certainly at least 5.0. The calculation leaves out way too much. In particular, it does not properly charge for energy which is generated by front-end inputs (it does not handle timing at all). It does not consider the need to generate a high enough return to support the need for government.

            The idea of moving an economy to lower and lower ERoEI does not work. This is what leads to collapse.

            • Gail,

              Obviously, you have not read the material I have made available. Until you do, it is unfair, misleading, and wrong to make these kinds of comments. All of that is taken care of, even the energy costs of the technology’s share of government. The Principle of Substitution covers many of your objections. Yes, absolutely, sustainability is possible for ERoEI* = 1.0. This is the case of the Autonomous Alternative Energy District supporting itself and exporting nothing. Do you think I would I would make a mistake about this? Of course, I did not cover every detail; but, you can see how to handle anything that comes up by how it has been done in some other category.

            • I told Charlie Hall (in my talk at the Biophysical Economic conference at the University of Vermont this week) that the current average EReEI of society is too low–it is leading to collapse in the near term. If we are to prevent collapse (which I don’t really think is possible), we need to be raising the average ERoEI. The current average ERoEI of society is clearly a lot higher than 1.0, no matter how it is defined.

              I don’t know where you are coming from, but it doesn’t make sense to me. As society becomes more complex (what Tainter talks about) the cost of government becomes greater both absolutely and relative to other costs. This strongly suggests that after a certain point, average ERoEI needs to be increasing to prevent collapse.

            • Charlie doesn’t understand either. It seems that many people have trouble getting their heads around this idea. I think, if you read this very short piece a couple of times, you will get it. I am not that much smarter than the rest of you. Part of the problem is that I put a number of items in the energy-invested term that are not strictly investments. In fact, normally, analysts do not debit the process for inconveniences of time and space, or the necessity to convert some portion of the energy produced to another form with a lower efficiency process. They do not charge the process for environmental degradation or resource depletion.


              Let us suppose that a group of people representing all of the trades and professions wishes to support itself completely by relying on a single alternative, renewable energy technology for all of its energy needs. Let us suppose further that all of the natural resources necessary to do this are available within the Autonomous Alternative Energy District (AAED) [and the repositories of such natural resources can be retained at steady state from the detritus of the AAED including superannuated installations of the technology].

              Nothing is imported from outside the District whereas energy and only energy is exported. If a man needs a car to drive from his home (in the District) to his job (in the District), the car is built, maintained, and fueled in the District. If his wife is sick the doctor in the District will treat her with medicine made in the District from chemicals produced there from raw materials mined there and subsequently recycled agressively. The ERoEI of the new energy technology is the total energy produced, ER, divided by the quantity ER minus the quantity EX, where EX is the energy exported; i. e., EX = ER – EI. If the District is able to export any energy at all the ERoEI ratio exceeds one and the technology is feasible – at least. In the case of a single energy technology, the energy produced by each technology can be assigned a transformity of unity and the value of emergy is quantitatively the same as the Gibbs availability, which, at room temperature, is the Gibbs free energy. I prefer to report emergy values in units of emquads rather than quads, emjoules rather than joules, etc. Thus, the units of transformity are emquads per quad, for example. [snip]

              If this doesn’t make sense to you, think harder. I mean it. This is important. If you don’t understand i t, you don’t understand sustainability. There are a lot of people addressing the multitudes who don’t know what they are talking about. Don’t be one of them. I heard a lot of silly stuff in Austin at the ASPO conference. I couldn’t begin to speak as there is too much they don’y know. The finiteness of the world is just the beginning. You must close the energy balance in terms of consumption as well as production. If the AAED does not export energy, ERoEI* is at most equal to 1.0. If the District needs to import energy to keep going, ERoEI* is less than 1.0. Thus, if all of society is in the collapse phase, it is because the composite ERoEI* for all energy technologies properly matched is less than 1.0.

            • Its possible to make a lot of nice calculations around utopia like distribution of energy and resources, but I do believe Gail is more rooted in our current predicament for the finiteness we encounter in the industrial civilization. That the current set of living arrangements will hit a steep decline curve soon due to our misuse of resources. I also think she is sober in the way that she knows you can’t really turn enough people to believe in this utopia when so many of us cant even embrace simple ideas within socialism and sharing of wealth. I do believe many of us here knows whats wrong with the system and have all kinds of ideas how to improve it – but there is no chance we will be able to implement a fraction of these before a complete and utter collapse. Small pockets within society might find a better lifestyle more in pact with the limits of nature and approach some sort of equilibrium with how much you take out of it and how much you give back.

              From a mathematical point of view there is also the unavoidable concept of entropy which cannot be left out in any processing of resources. Stuff rust and decay, and take a form that is very hard to recycle unless you have a fantastic device that gathers atoms and reassemble them in a clean form. The best engine for recycling today is the organic one with how soil, plants, animals interact with water and air. Any single species impact on his planet has been fine tuned over millions of years shaping synergies where the nature is somewhat self sustainable as long as no single species “take over”. Homo Sapiens (a name we don’t deserve) has basically been raping and pillaging this natural world for resources in a way that is just insanely destructive on a planetary scale. We have also bred our species completely out of proportions so no matter how much you plan to conserve, recycle and aim for renewables – continued breeding will require a substantial number of us to become part of the soil again. No doubt for us to have any chance at all to find some sort of equilibrium with the planet again we need to cut our numbers dramatically. The question is whether we do it willingly or not – realistically I cant see any other option besides the finiteness of the planet forcing the population down. That might start with an oil or energy shock or it might be because of major climate change incidents as the Arctic is thawing and releasing massive amounts of methane and CO2 to the atmosphere.

            • OK you define things differently. The problem still exists in the real world that there are no substances in sufficient quantity that have the qualities that you want. So as a practical matter, it doesn’t work.

            • Aha. What doesn’t work? I, too, suspect that currently there is no sustainable energy technology; however, it is essential to close the energy balance under every imaginable political scenario from a dictatorship to chaos (which is NOT what anarchy is). But, this is not a materials problem. Without getting into the entire debate with Denis Frith, material is conserved and is not subject to a limiting law such as the Second Law (Carnot efficiency is a hard limit) which applies to energy. But, the sun is capable of providing maximum reversible power of more than 2000 terawatts all of which has a technical meaning – but the upshot is the energy is there if it can be harvested. This and recycling should continue to be subjects of research until a technology with ERoEI* > 1 is developed. Of course, all of this depends upon us and other people succeeding to set the earth on the path to a steady state through political change, conservation, attitude change etc.

            • Gail,

              Please do not assume that you know what I am going to say and that, therefore, you don’t have to read it. What I have said is very different from what you seem to expect. You made an unfair criticism of ERoEI* replete with numerous incorrect statements. An ERoEI* = 1 corresponds to the Autonomous Alternative Energy District of supplying all of its own needs and exporting nothing. In my blog at, I indicated how each of your objections can be handled. I didn’t specifically mention that the costs of government appear in the energy-invested term; but, you should realize how that would be done by analogy with the specifics of other details I offered as examples. I thought I answered your objections previously, but I can’t find my answer on your blog. Sorry if this is a repetition.

            • I am sorry but I do not have time to figure out your personal view of how things work, with definitions different from the standard ones. It is difficult enough dealing with standard definitions.

            • Gail,

              You are hopeless. You don’t want to learn anything you don’t already know and most of that is irrelevant or wrong. The rest of you know where to find me.

            • Tom, if you need to have a superior attitude, at least you can be civil!

              Gail does a lot of good. Calling someone “hopeless” because they are unwilling to cater to your whims is hardly a way to make friends and influence people.

            • Jan, I think Tom sees something that he is having trouble communicating to the group and perhaps he is frustrated by that. I wish I could understand all the things he has written, I get some of it but much of it hard for most of us to grasp. I noticed we do have several doctors of science writing on the site and I hope they stay with us so I can try to understand their thesis. Sometimes scientist fail to understand the human aspect of things since they are hung up on math and facts. I would like to understand Tom’s ideas and I hope he stays with us but try to post in a way that we can understand as I have very little college.

            • My definition of ERoEI* corrects all the defects of the standard definition which is what the critics of ERoEI usually complain about. But, you already know everything that you need to know. You don’t need no stinking scientific progress. I have been ahead of all you Peak Oil superstars no matter how late you jumped on the bandwagon. They tell me that I am hard to understand. What did you expect? It is always thus with true genius. I am afraid I shall have to give up on Gail Tverberg, the entertainer, who has no business addressing public policy. The rest of you know where to find me.

            • My definition of ERoEI* corrects all the defects of the standard definition which is what the critics of ERoEI usually complain about. But, you already know everything that you need to know. You don’t need no stinking scientific progress. I have been ahead of all you Peak Oil superstars no matter how late you jumped on the bandwagon. They tell me that I am hard to understand. What did you expect? It is always thus with true genius. I am afraid I shall have to give up on Gail Tverberg, the entertainer, who has no business addressing public policy. The rest of you know where to find me.

              Dr Weyburn, assuming your doctorate to be genuine, you obviously have a deeper understanding of your subject than almost all the rest of us who follow this site. Surely you are not above listening to our views and responding politely, are you? While you might be correct in all that you say, in order to make your views translate into policy you have to win public opinion. I think if you count to ten and re-read your latest post, you will see that perhaps you are not going about it in a manner that is likely to succeed any time soon. Not only have you got to achieve public approval, you also have to ensure that that approval is converted into campaign donations, such is the way it is these days, and that calls for even more of a diplomatic approach.

              As things are, and contrary to what you say,I have no idea where to find you and in order to avoid the possibility being subject to a tirade of abuse on a par to that you subjected Gail to in your latest post, I will not be putting any effort into remedying the deficiency. And just for the record, I think we all can see just how much effort Gail puts into running this site and I doubt that I am alone in wanting to express my gratitude and also the wish that she ignores the obvious hurt intended by you.

  8. The proposal that we all live as the Maori did in 800 AD, ignores a few salient points.
    1. The Maori burned wood for heat, light, and cooking.
    2. There were only a few thousands of Maori at the time.
    3. We don’t have sufficient wood resource to cook with in the USA, or the UK for more than months. Don’t think so, just look at what is happening to the forests around Athens. They are being decimated to provide fuel for the impoverished. As we speak.
    4. There are 100 million dwellings currently in the USA, and all of them can be converted to PassivHaus standard, including with R-15 triple glazed, coated glass in the windows.
    5. The windows can be over covered with polycarbonate storms, just as the hull windows in Pegasus are so over covered.

    It seems to me that the message still isn’t getting through. We can convert to a renewable future, without reverting to the stone age, complete with forests, if we work smarter, not harder. The solution doesn’t lie in a police state, replete with all calls and emails monitored, and kangaroo courts.
    The solution lies before us. It is as follows:
    1. Convert all existing housing to PassivHaus standard.
    2. All new housing should be net energy positive, that is, it produces more than it uses.
    3. All dwellings to have 6 Kwe of PV, LED lights, electric induction cookers. solar water heaters, holdover plate refrigeration/aircon. low energy appliances
    4. 95% of all freight on rail/water
    5. 95% of all commutes on rail
    6. Rail stations no more than 10 miles apart E of Mississippi and 30 miles elsewhere.
    7. Commute to Rail by walking/bicyling/bus/tram
    8. Electric mini-mills to Direct Reduce Iron for steelmaking
    9. Carbon fibre / epoxy transport
    10. All long distance passenger via 300 km/hr conventional rail, not MagLev
    11. 100% of all US electricity from PV/Wind/Geothermal/Hydro
    12. US power consumption cut by 75%.
    13. Most food grown in gardens, mostly vegetarian. We are going to need 100 million acres to feed draft animals.


    • In case you didn’t know it, we’ve enjoyed your contributions, Dr. Oprisko. I’m speaking with no authority to represent any but myself, but I can’t imagine responses that would differ greatly.
      Not BAU is right, but if we and our children are going to get through this Century we’ll have to do a few things that most of us hadn’t thought about before. A few other points:
      1. Not many MSM, or non-readers of this blog / similar blogs are aware that collapse may well be imminent (eg, Arctic CH4, CO2 400 PPM, financial constriction, etcl). Certainly no politician would want to lead a campaign based on such nerdy, geeky schlock that hasn’t been vetted by the party or even the NYT editorial staff. Ahhh, Gail who the anturary?
      2. The current economic hurt provides abundant labor, especially young and energetic who might be ideal for some, if not all of the energy upgrade you mentioned. A WPA project to add insulation to attics and walls, improve windows, and install geothermal heating could puts lots of youngsters to work, and could be mortgaged cheaply. This should be a win-win-win.
      3. You might want to rethink High Speed Rail. It’s great for a few hundred miles but makes much less sense above 500 miles. Improving airport passenger throughput efficiency would help greatly.
      Medium speed – 150-200 MPH is much cheaper to achieve but provides nearly equal results. And Stockton to Bakersfield is absurd.
      4. Getting people to leave their cars at home has to be considered one of the ultimate goals, and not just for the rich world. But what combination of positive and negative incentives can any society proffer that might have some real potential of succeeding? Is the UK program to keep cars out of London working? Well? Any other cities trying it or other solutions?
      Cordially, CWJ

      • I specifically mentioned 300 km/hr == $200 mph. This sort of rail system
        I rode on throughout China. It exists in Asia now. It exists in Europe now.
        No new technologies need be invented. It means 6 hr Chicago-NYC 6 hr Chicago-Miami 6 hr Chicago-Denver overnight Chicago- California / Seattle

        It requires upgrading 55,000 miles of Class 1 rail (mainline) with quadruple tracking and electrification, supported by 60,000 mi of Class 2 rail (electrified double tracked), supported by 120,000 miles of light rail (trams).

        The F-35 project will cost $1.2 Trillion, for that we get the Class1 rail, or convert 20% of our housing. Ditto with many other DOD / DOHS projects.

        I agree that doing the above will put our unemployed to useful work, too.


        • Dr. Oprisko:

          Re GWOT and other idiocies, the F35 could be the biggest disaster in post Cold War defense procurement. But it is more a measure of the MIC’s clout and the iron triangle’s (congress, MIC and DOD) continuing momentum that has been transporting gasoline and just about everything else from Charleston to Kabul at a very reasonable price. Eisenhower was right and still is.

          Ike also knew that the proponents of such things as new airplanes and trains occasionally oversold their goods and ignored or covered up their weaknesses. The Washington Post published this editorial in February 2011 regarding the problems of high speed rail. Please commit it to memory and let’s concentrate on more worthy causes.

          Begin quote:
          Of course, if the Chinese do finish their system, it is likely to require operating subsidies for many years – possibly forever. A recent World Bank report on high-speed rail systems around the world noted that ridership forecasts rarely materialize and warned that “governments contemplating the benefits of a new high-speed railway, whether procured by public or private or combined public-private project structures, should also contemplate the near-certainty of copious and continuing budget support for the debt.”

          That’s certainly what happened in Japan, where only a single bullet-train line, between Japan and Osaka, breaks even; it’s what happened in France, where only the Paris-Lyon line is in the black. Taiwan tried a privately financed system, but it ended up losing so much money that the government had to bail it out in 2009.

          When it comes to high-speed rail, Europe, Japan and Taiwan have two natural advantages over every region of the United States, with the possible exception of the Northeast Corridor – high gas taxes and high population density. If high-speed rail turned into a money pit under relatively favorable circumstances, imagine the subsidies it would require here. Every dollar spent to subsidize high-speed rail is a dollar that cannot be spent modernizing highways, expanding the freight rail system or creating private-sector jobs. The Obama administration insists we dare not lag the rest of the world in high-speed rail. Actually, this is a race everyone loses.
          End quote.

          • Good point. Also, we are moving in the direction of getting poorer and poorer. We need solutions for poor people. Bullet trains are solutions for rich societies.

        • I don’t know much about the European or Russian trains, but do know the Chinese ones are good trains but not necessarily good connections. In Europe France and Germany have some, but their utilization rate depends on many factors that have resulted in ROIs of next Century. Same problem here: should the 300 kph train from NYC to DC stop in Philly? Balmore? Richmond? where else enroute to Atlanta, Jax, Orlando and Miami. Now with those stops you’ve just turned a 6 hour trip into a 10 hour trip. It’s okay. The French have done the equivalent of Stockton to Bakersfield, so why should Jerry Brown follow the younger Hollande? I’d much rather take a 90 minute flight from JFK to O’Hare than what you offered. ‘Mine’s bigger than yours’ works fine for the Chinese Minister of Railways. Ooops, he’s in jail, isn’t he…

          • Hello Chris, I think we need more old fashioned type trains perhaps more efficient ones not these bullet trains, people have become so impatient. In the future we will be just thankful to see a food train at the station arriving. People’s minds are too far out there, and that is part of not seeing the problem. That is unless they unveil the new hidden source unending power. But in the meantime there have been some very good suggestions put forth on this site for plans and things that could be pursued at least for part of the world, those that have the means.

            • Concur, Scott. The DC-NYC train with two stops uses 2.5 hours. That’s about equal to the air shuttle if you count downtown to downtown. Yes, if you had a dedicated train DC-Grand Central, it could cut the time in half. So what? Otherwise, they really don’t make much sense. Seattle – Portland – San Francisco – Los Angeles – San Diego could work, but very few will use it for a Seattle to San Diego trip that takes 12 hours when you can fly it in three. Or maybe I’m wrong.

            • Hello, You know Chris I am starting to get a clearer picture of this, bullet trains running is part of the world while others are scavenging for food and firewood anything they can find, the picture in my mind emerging is one of an uneven collapse.

        • Hello Dr. Oprisko, Here Interesting podcast on global Geo Engineering to mitigate climate change this is interesting.
          [audio src="" /]

        • Although good rail based public transit is the way we need to go for instead of personal transport in the form of cars, I still feel society as a whole needs to be restructured in a way that reduces the need for personal transport to an absolute minimum. Its clear that cheap and abundant fossil fuel has tempted people to travel around the world as often as they can, in a quite unusual way. Rather than staying around their homes and making their own community better or indeed their own lives more resilient they prefer to blow off a big part of their budget on travelling to some other country every year. Its clear that as liquid fuels become trickier to get at, a lot of this jet-setting will stop. But I also don’t see why more people can embrace a life of less travelling and rather save up for one “pilgrimage” as a major event in their life (doesn’t have to be religious). A lot of things in life have been so accessible that we have come to take it for granted and never really see the exceptionally high energy and environmental costs of these habits – especially when there are millions (perhaps a billion) of people with them now. Also its generally a trend that people dont value a shorter distance to their work place as high anymore – they will happily endure 1 hour of rush traffic each direction every workday. The whole idea of commuting long distances through personal transit must be one of the least resilient parts of society today. People are not aware of the reduced stress they will have if they just restructure their lives to involve less travelling in general, and neither the enjoyment of travelling when its done on a rare occasion. The same goes about any consumption really. A can of Coke tastes fantastic if you can stay away from one for at least a week, preferably more. But be aware, you might stay away for it so long that you suddenly decide you didn’t like it or didn’t need it in your life anyway. 🙂

    • Hello Indy, I enjoy your posts, thank you. 100 million acres of draft animals? Yes I think so but, I just keep coming up with the same conclusion this will all work only with a much smaller population. So most of us on this site most likely believe we are facing some kind of terrible collapse that will sadly reduce the population greatly, then I see these things working very well with say 10 percent of today’s populaces.

      • 100 million acres was devoted to raising fodder for draft animals in 1945 in the USA.
        This was just before tractors were delivered in large numbers, and at this time, all traction on farms was animal based.

        It was the release of this acreage to human food production which caused the over production problems of that era.

        So, If you are going back to pre internal combustion/steam engine days, and you are
        thinking of agriculture or transportation by means other than human powered, or under sail, most likely it will be animal driven.


        In your planning, best allow sufficient acreage to feed the critters.


        • Dear Dr. Oprisko
          You have set up a straw man and knocked it down.

          Please see this interview with David Holmgren:

          The first part of the interview is about the work of Sepp Holzer, who practices high in the Austrian Alps. Watch it if you like.

          As for the necessity to devote a lot of land to draft animals, begin at 7:20 in the video and listen carefully to what David says about his visit to Japan and his new understanding of how Masonobu Fukuoka fit into a larger movement. ‘Natural Agriculture’ involves land, plants, and humans, with very little animal involvement. David says it might be called ‘Vegan Agriculture’.

          Some places may need animals, some places clearly don’t, existing fossil fuels can be used to create very long lived capital assets (in the first part). Implying that we must of necessity go back to the 1945 patterns is just wrong. We know a lot more than we did in 1945.

          Don Stewart

        • Hello Dr. Oprisko, Well I am sure we will have the land – especially if we are unable to farm in the same way, most of this land will be former farm lands I suppose. Lots of land will go out of production very fast without our current means and the sudden collapse will hit. But the good news is this land will become available to raise animals once again the old way. Water may be difficult in some places, but it always has been. I guess the question is – will we have enough cow boys and girls? I guess we will need to relearn much from the past. I kind of like this mix of bringing the past into our future as in seeing trains bringing goods again and the highways quiet with few trucks,if we can pull it off without starving. It appears that a more local and shorter supply line will be in our future, whether we like it or not. That will surely mean fewer choices and harder to find replacement parts, junk yards should do a good business during these times.

          • Rather than putting one fourth of acreage aside to feed horses or oxen, I think it would make much more sense to put land aside for biodiesel or ethanol production for farm machinery.

            • There is plenty of land to do that to, we will need some solar power some other power source to pump some water. In some places I think folks can get by.

            • Hello I forgot to say on Ethanol, you know it take more produce than you can get unless perhaps in a tropical rainforest area. The machinery needed is huge to pick up all the materials. I think they are going to go after the coal instead.

        • “100 million acres was devoted to raising fodder for draft animals in 1945 in the USA. This was just before tractors were delivered in large numbers, and at this time, all traction on farms was animal based.”

          Are you sure of that? It may be a faulty assumption, and you may want to get some data to back up that assertion.

          I grew up with a Farmall H that dated to the 1920s. And International Harvester had gone through models “A” through “G” by that time. I recall learning in high school history that a big advantage the US had was that assembly lines created to produce farm equipment were easily converted to building machines of war.

          Thus it is certainly false that “all traction on farms was animal based” in 1945, although certainly the use of machines in agriculture increased steadily during that period. But if your other calculations are based on that assumption, you may need to re-think things a bit.

  9. I should like to cover the suggestions regarding reversion to simpler times and technologies, ala the Maori Dwelling espoused by Matt:

    It was relatives of the Maori, fellow Polynesians to be exact, who deforested Easter Is,. for the express purpose of creating monuments. So, extolling the Maori, or the Thingit, who live in similar dwellings, disregards the fact that old growth timber of sufficient size no longer exists. It has been cut. Disregards the fact that those societies, used timber for fuel for heating, lighting, and cooking, and there is only sufficient resource worldwide to last a few months,

    There is no doubt that conversion of the ~100,000,000 dwellings in the USA to PassivHaus standard will cost money, perhaps $50,000 each totalling ~5 Trillion$, or about the cost of the GWOT. I submit that the GWOT did nothing to improve the energy security of the US, whereas conversion of the housing stock to PassivHaus would eliminate 40% of current energy consumption – the amount used for heating and cooling and domestic lighting (were LEDs used).

    There is no doubt that conversion of the US transport system to rail/water would cost $2 Trillon, or that this conversion would reduce the 60% of current petroleum consumption devoted to transportation, by 80%, or by 10 MmBbl/day (10 million BOE per day)

    There is no doubt that conversion to PV/Wind/Hydro/Geothermal will require changes
    in the usage of power. I mentioned several changes that are not only possible, but actually provide better service and availability. Direct Reduced Iron, LED lighting, Holdover Plate refrigeration/aircon, more efficient cookers, hanging clothies on lines. Bicycling / walking to work/shopping.
    All these and more will be necessary to cope with what is coming.

    However, adjustment means keeping forests, eliminating pollution of water supplies, and of the atmosphere, while BAU until the crash means no recovery whatever.


    • We could do it but the money is not there, especially for the so called third world. I think parts of the world can build our way out of this and stay alive. But it is going to further cost the planet.

      Looks like we will use the cheapest way first, the coal which will not help us. But I think we will get a generation or so and then we will pay even if we change, the changing climate is like a huge large rolling ball or ship that is very heavy and moves slowly crushing everything in it’s way and and is not easily turned to a new course. Therefore the forces that have been unleashed will go on for many years.

      • Now, dawn is happening.. . .
        There is a future, but it won’t be as envisioned in the cinema, or follow the plans of the illuminati. It will be messy, and chaotic.

        It need not be that, in the US. However, Obama has expanded upon the Bush policies to entrench existing interests, embrittling the heirarchy. History is replete with examples, none of which are pretty.

        The best opportunity for change is at the local / county level. Here a small group can make a difference, and fortunately, the nature of renewables, is compatible.

        So, here is a list of things to do;
        1. Change local zoning ordinances to permit PV placement on suitable roofs
        2. Change local zoning ordinances to encourage placement of wind turbines in suitable
        3. Change street layouts to ensure lanes for bicycles.
        4. Change zoning ordinances to foster light rail (tram) transport of goods and services.
        5. Change the purchasing habits of cities and counties to require them purchasing renewable power from local suppliers.
        6. Change local building codes to encourage passivhaus design/refurbishment
        7. Change local building codes to encourage composting toilets
        8. Reverse ordinances/covenants which interfere with conversion to renewables, composting toilets, and other innovations which reduce resource footprint.
        9. Create a local building society to fund loans for PassivHaus conversions.
        10. Change zoning to require new construction conform to PassivHaus


        • Thanks Dr. Oprisko, All that sounds good, but once again I am going back to my theory that these mitigation measures will work in only part of the world and some areas will be successful in perhaps surviving a collapse. For instance, I think city dwellers will have great difficulty with these recyclable toilets. I do think there are many parts of the world that are suitable to survive the difficulties ahead, but New York LA, SF or London etc. are not on the top of my list.

          I really do think we cannot avoid some kind of correction in the world population, first and an events will be in our future that will be difficult in that regard. An uneven collapse ahead.

        • INDY,
          Some of those idea might sound good / okay to others, but I think the US Constitution might feel a bit offended if you are proposing to limit the purchases, uses and lifestyles of US citizens or to otherwise regulate them like cooperative little automatons. Treating the recipients of your plans as people and not algorithms might yield slightly different results, such as about six to eight times the total energy use, and equally high cost differentials. However, I do want to volunteer to be a member of the first commissariat, and will quickly prepare pledges of allegiance, loyalty and security for the people’s government.

          • Dunno, about your comment. Or the others for that matter.

            I specifically, limited my analysis to the energy equation.

            I am conducting an engineering analysis here, Demand = Supply.

            Respondents imply that I propose draconian rules to force this scenario. I don’t.
            I am of the opinion that rooftop PV will be emplaced in a chaotic anarchic fashion, because the US Govt has chosen to entrench itself behind a Police State Apparatus, and rooftop PV falls through the cracks, as long as it is not grid connected, except in about half the states, where net-metering was legislated.

            However, since we seem to have accepted this scenario as possible, there is the matter of how to make it happen.

            It is widely known that the landed cost of a BOE of hydrocarbons in the US is $15/ gal. The price paid at the pump is 1/4 the actual delivered cost. It is difficult for consumers to make informed choices, when the pricing mechanism is thus skewed. So, one way to encourage transition is to price petroleum on a cost inclusive basis.

            It is widely known that coal combustion in the average central power station emits sulfuric acid, mercury, selenium, and other toxics, which have seriously degraded freshwater fisheries continent wide, as well as the health of the populace. Coal mining is likewise subsidized. So, eliminating these subsidies, would also encourage the transition, by leveling the playing field for renewables, and by encouraging conservation measures.

            It is widely known that rail transport is much more fuel efficient than alternatives except water, so unifying the nations rail beds under a federal corporation, perhaps to be called “Federal Railways”, could accomplish several things at once. Unified rail corridors could serve as conduits for the improved grid that is required. Unified rail corridors, could be improved/maintained identically to the road network. That is as a common right-of-way, with usage fees and slots allocated similarly to those for airports, which are public entities by the way.

            A Federal Renewable Energy Bank could provide low cost financing of the necessary construction, via an account for funds at the Comptroller of the Currency’s Electronic Currency Window. A Federal Transport Bank could do the same for transport.
            We have Federal Corporations funding housing now, and they could refuse to write mortgages for housing not up to PassivHaus Standard, while offering low cost financing for conversion to that standard.

            BTW, there is no reason the average homeowner cannot install his own PV array.

            Other measures could be taken to encourage the transition. A monthly public transport pass, initially free, could encourage people to leave their cars parked.

            I leave to the collective imagination other means of encouragement.

            I should like to mention, one very important thing. Gaia doesn’t care about your
            politics, or belief system. Perturb the environment past the threshold, and it changes state, no matter what you think. Gaia simply doesn’t care.


            • Well, it’s difficult for a reader to avoid the inference that he/she will be allowed to drive either on Saturday or Sunday, and that all those other good ideas will be mandatory and enforceable. If that was not your intent, then my criticism is unwarranted.

              The main problem is the automobile. All over the world the first thing a newly enriched buys is an automobile. Even if he really can’t afford it. For reasons known only to the wisest, people might value their automobiles above almost all else, including their spouse and their children. Will this peculiar psychological phenomenon actually crash the human experiment? Could be. You live in New York City, one of the few places on earth where cars ownership is uniquely low and even unnecessary. But that lifestyle cannot be maintained in any other city in America, and very few in the entire world (London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Shaghai, Tokyo.) Building out commuter rail that really works will take decades of devotion that many / most will resist, but it is the essential step to cure the ‘automobile jones.’

              Still, even allowing for that one human weakness, is there any reason to not pursue all those other good ideas? I see none, and some of them could be packaged attractively.

            • “You live in New York City, one of the few places on earth where cars ownership is uniquely low and even unnecessary. But that lifestyle cannot be maintained in any other city in America, and very few in the entire world…”

              Why the fixation with cities?

              Two hundred years ago, it took fifteen people on the land to support one in a city. Today, a single person on the land supports about 700 in cities. A reversion to the mean is inevitable!

              We’re already seeing this in the “canaries in the coal mine.” Want to see your future? Look at the PIIGS. In Greece, people are moving in droves from the cities to the traditional villages. Oh, I forgot, America has no “traditional villages.” Better start creating them, pronto!

              I drive 20km two or three times a week. I could easily reduce that to one trip, to meet people to drop off food. They could mostly get to the drop point on foot or by bicycle. There is life outside the city — and for many, there may well only be life outside the city.

            • I am a scientist who became a successful systems engineer.
              I am only interested in the numbers.
              I am of the opinion that this webpage is focused on coping with resource scarcity.
              I looked for and found one solution in which existing technologies can provide sufficient energy to run the economy. It is one out of a pantheon of solutions.
              The solution I found has a plausible mix of energy sources.
              The solution I found has a realistic mix of energy consumers across all three parts of the economy, residential, commercial and industrial.
              The solution I found requires energy efficiencies shown to be available in demonstration projects worldwide
              The transport solution I found, is actually working in Russia, China, and France.
              The solution I found does not require mass abandonment of current infrastructure to shift to living in a wilderness cabin, living on a diet of purple potatoes, making stone tools.
              The solution I found has the following assumptions:
              1. All US housing is converted to PassivHaus Standard. (houses have been converted to this standard, worldwide, so the techonologies, and techniques are known, and the required products to convert exist)

              2. All lighting nationwide is converted to LED.(conversion is happening now, the products exist, I bought enough of them to convert Pegasus in toto).

              3. All cooking is electric & refrigeration/aircon is of the holdover plate type, operating during the day. (existing technologies, products currently available)

              4. All computer systems and electronics are converted to super energy efficient ones.(my computer uses 80watts and runs on 12 vdc, it is made from standard parts available today)

              5. Each dwelling has one EV, which is used only on weekends for shopping/recreation trips, for a max of 100 miles, or one recharge(a sop on my part to the Americans, in France they commute on bicycles, or walk)

              6. All commuting is via walking/bicycling to the nearest public transport stop, thence by public transport to destination.(current French practice, ditto for Russia)

              7. All public transport is electric.(current practice in Russia, China, EU,)

              8. All rail transport is electric.(current practice in Russia, China, EU,)

              9. 95% of all freight movements are by rail(achieved by the US in WWII)

              10. The full GeoThermal potential of the US is realized( possible with existing technology and equipment, and ongoing)

              11. The full Hydro potential of the US is realized, including conversion of existing dams to produce electricity. ( Idaho NREL has a database showing the dams)

              12. The Grid is improved to the point power can be wheeled nationwide( possible, and ongoing in China)

              13. Each dwelling has 16 hours storage capacity(curent practice in non-grid renewable systems, such as yachts, I showed sufficient material, Sodium and Sulfur, to do this)

              14. All PV is grid connected. (current practice)

              15. All suitable commercial roof space is occupied with PV(USDOE analyzed the roof space, the numbers are from their analysis)

              16. Each dwelling has a solar hot water heating system(current practice worldwide)

              17. Commercial energy efficiency is improved to half that of the Bullit Building in Seattle. (if they can do it, so can everyone else)

              18. Industrial energy consumption is halved via energy efficiency improvements. (if both the US Govt and Bullit can reduce power consumption by 50-87%, industry can also be more energy efficient.

              You will note that my post considers energy in and energy out. It does not clutter itself with implementation details. It should be obvious that unless sufficient energy is available, implementation is irrelevant.
              My analysis is not focused on cities, as you claim. It is focused on verifying existence of renewable resource sufficient to power the national economy. It analyzes the effect of energy utilization efficiencies.

              My analysis basically says the following:
              1. If all dwellings are brought to PassivHaus standard, and are fitted with ~6kwe of grid connected PV, with onsite 16 hour energy storage 85% efficient, they will have sufficient power for lighting, cooking, heating, electronics, hot water, and miscellaneous(tools), plus enough to charge an EV once / week, plus surplus power they can export to the grid.
              2, If all commercial buildings are brought to half the efficiency of the Bullit Building in Seattle, and are fitted with sufficient PV to cover their roofs, they will have sufficient power for lighting, cooking, heating, equipment, and all other existing activities, plus surplus power they can export to the grid.
              3. Roof top PV on dwellings and commercial buildings can provide sufficient power to the grid to operate the rail sector.
              4. Roof top PV’s power surplus, net of the rail sector, can provide half the industrial sector’s demand.
              5. The balance of industrial demand can be met via a combination of Hydro, GeoThermal, and Wind
              6. The agricultural sector reverts to draft animals, and 100 million acres are required to grow fodder for them(standard US practice 80 years ago)
              7. Rural folk either bicycle, walk, or hitch their draft animals to wagons for trips to town, or the nearest public transport.(standard US practice 80 years ago)

              The above is not a mandate. To imply so, and to accuse me of mandating it, is primafacie evidence of being a shill for the affected vested interests.

              The above is one set of conditions under which sufficient, sustainable, energy flows can be created with the existing resource base, to meet the needs of the economy.
              I am certain that there are others, and look forward to your rigorous, quantitative proposals.


            • Indy,

              I think you already know the answer to this question; but, I don’t hear you talk about a specific program for the necessary political change to take the population growth and economic growth out of the community making the changes you recommend. No amount of conservation or renewable energy is capable of overcoming exponential growth, which the government of every sovereign state in the world is avowedly pursuing. My computations are at although at the time I was writing I envisioned no more drastic conservation measures than, for example, The Apollo Alliance was advocating. Then as now the resistance of the people to change is a barrier to conservation beyond the middle-class standards that are likely to obtain until actual collapse. On the other hand, as long as one is trying to introduce unpopular changes, one might as well retire the market and furlough those who serve it. They will consume much less energy if they are paid not to do their unnecessary work that doesn’t provide a single thing we need to live. I did some quick and dirty analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics tables at

            • “The above is one set of conditions under which sufficient, sustainable, energy flows can be created with the existing resource base, to meet the needs of the economy.”

              You avoided my question: why the focus on cities?

              I can appreciate that you are a hard scientist. It is very clear that you are “only interested in numbers.” Perhaps you might study some sociology and history, as well?

              Your proposal has a very heavy “cityist” bias. It appears you have put a great deal of thought into where the extrinsic energy required for modern civilization would come from. But it seems you have put little thought into where our intrinsic energy would come from.

              Do you really have numbers that show that relegating rural people to animal-powered agriculture can feed those in the cities? This looks like a two-class system, whereby the rural people will spend most of their time tending draft animals, while people in cities lead a push-button life. I think you underestimate the effort required, as well as underestimating the amount of embedded energy required to maintain city life.

              When I hear things like, “the full geothermal potential” or “the full hydro potential,” I cringe just a bit. Do we really understand the myriad mutual dependencies well enough to “fully” utilize anything? Human history is littered with the corpses of grand plans to “fully utilize” this or that.

              The Maximum Power Principle (or Point, “MPP”) illustrates the problem of diminishing returns. I hear a lot of people go on and on about “efficiency,” when if you think about it carefully, it is easy to see that, beyond a certain point, efficiency is a net loss. Theoretically, achieving 100% efficiency would require infinite resources! Perhaps this is why nature, in 3.5 billion years, has not done much better than 8% efficiency in storing sunlight as chemical bonds. But we arrogant hairless apes can do better!

              It’s the same about “fully utilizing” this or that, no? The “full utilization” of fossil sunlight now causes the cost to be ten times as much as when we only utilized the easy bits. Won’t it be the same to fully utilize geothermal or hydro?

              And what of the species we will destroy in fully utilizing such sources? The Elwha Dam in Washington was recently destroyed, due to concern over migratory pelagic fish. Would you re-build those dams, and eliminate the salmon?

              You paint an enticing and simple picture. Too simple.

            • Doctor, that was a very impressive post indeed. Thank you. It looks like there are many things that we can do, but are not doing them. I think the main problem is very few people see the shortage coming and they are very complacent right now. I think if everyone felt the way people that post on this site do, we would be right in the middle of this type of project.

              I certainly would not miss all of those truck on the highways if we went back to rail. I just wonder about the finance end of things and what would Gail say about that. Most people simply do not have the money to put these systems on their homes. We seem to have the way but, perhaps not the financial ability to put PV’s on every home and make those important retrofits you spoke about. Most people cannot even afford the new electric cars.

              It always seems to take a crisis to spur people into action, and we have not had an oil scare since the mid 1970’s and many have even forgotten that. People are going to get their crisis but they will not have prepared and at some point we will try do this but it will be forced on us and will not be undertaken voluntarily. During that brief crisis we had in the 1970’s I saw people start to do things like retrofit there bicycles with small electric motors and batteries. So my point is it will take a crisis to motivate people to act and to this seriously. Once this “Long Emergency” gets underway and becomes visible to all I think then we will see many of the things you said and people will get into action. Will the financial crisis hit first and paralyze us? Maybe. During the 1970’s people were starting to go this direction, but then there was plenty of cheap oil again and it was forgotten.

              Today more people believe in Big Foot or Lock Nest Monsters than they do in resource scarcity. However, I do not think it will be long before the public as whole sees it because it looks like we just peaked a few years ago and and it is all downhill from here on oil production.

      • You don’t have a generation (20 years), much less two of them.. . .
        Your thinking reflects the fact that you ignored much of my earlier posts.. . .
        Atmospheric CO2 levels exceed 400ppm NOW!, They would continue to rise, should we stop all human emmissions instantly, however, your proposal would accelerate the rise.
        Atmospheric modeling predicted much of what we see happening in the environment, but not for 40 or so years. So, the earth is now in runaway mode, and the consequences of this are dire for the survival of homo sapiens as a species.
        There are many other dynamics making things worse, such as use of terminator gene crops, and of atrazine and roundup extensively. Those in the Willamette Valley who transitioned from sod farming to vegetables, tell horror stories of decade long efforts needed to correct infertility and soil poisoning, in order to grow vegetables. This means that much of our ag land will prove unsuitable for growing crops for human food.

        Based on Guy’s analysis, homo sapiens has maybe 20 years before extinction.


        • Hello Dr. Oprisko, I know the outlook looks bad, and many of our beloved mandkind will likely be lost especially if we have a nuclear war that would change the outcome, but if we “just” have a financial collapse and “subsequent energy shortage” — “because of lack of finance” – to produce and explore, I do view this as likely case that a large group of us will die and hopefully a group of us will survive – depending on their location on the planet.

          I think the so called “third world” will be most at risk, And, there will be areas there people will build their way out perhaps using some of the things we have discussed if they are able or it may be like wild west first.

          The temperature of the planet is surely going to rise, but there can some that know how to survive, once again depending on the location on the Earth.

          So I see an uneven collapse with small islands of some survivors, perhaps instituting some of these technologies we have looked at.

        • Maybe based on Guy’s analysis homo sapiens has maybe 20 years before extinction, but not necessarily on other analyses.

          We definitely have problems, but (fortunately) we don’t know precisely how bad they are. Some places are not as bad as you quote.

    • It is not at all clear that we have the energy needed to make the conversions you suggest. In addition, we would still need to keep the global industrial complex going–something that would be extremely difficult even if we didn’t have to keep the global industrial complex going. This is all sounding more and more ridiculous to me.

    • Although some new research would dispute it I also believe there is some evidence that the Aboriginals also burned down the vegetation in Australia a lot. Humans havent always been very good to nature, even when we were living in caves or in the open. Not so confident that so many billions of people of today will cope very well when we go down that energy slide. The amount of stoves sold in Greece has doubled and people even chopped down trees in parks. If you also look at the history of USA before they discovered coal, there was a lot of forest being chopped down to get access to wood. Quite a few places in USA have names like “XYZ Furnace” while there arent that many trees in sight anymore. Same goes for UK and many places in Europe as well.

      Considering how stupid human beings have been at managing any resource, I think that the moment we get into energy troubles the lungs of the planet will be going the Easter Island way – but this time on a global scale. Just another nail in the coffin for the ecosystem really.

      Other than that I agree with you that PV progress has been great and its very cheap now compared to some years back. It really should be mandatory to have them as standard equipment on your roofs. I have also been a proponent of using energy whenever you have it available. We have this very unnatural 24/7 view of energy access – while we could adapt our lifestyles to more intermittent energy access very easily if people just relax a bit and stop being so caught up in the rat-race all the time.

      • If people want PVs and don’t connect them to the grid or get subsidies to buy them, I have no problem with them. I see connecting them to the grid as a problem, because they will tend to make the grid less stable. I see subsidies to be a problem, because in general, they will be causing poor people to subsidize the rich. If governments do not pass the costs along, and just increase their deficits because of them, the subsidies will help governments fail more quickly.

        I don’t think that PVs will be more than a temporary, partial solution, for many reasons. The batteries to back them up won’t be sustainable, even if the PVs themselves are. Without back-up, it is possible to do some things (pump water is one, also recharge phones as long as their batteries are working and the rest of the system is working) which are useful, but a lot of standard uses (lights, refrigeration) fall by the wayside. Eventually, the devices to which PVs are connected will fail. If a person is forced to move, it is quite likely that it will be difficult to move the PV and devices to a new location.

        • In earlier posts, I mentioned the need for feed-in tariffs or net-metering schemes to keep rooftop PV grid connected.
          I also mentioned that NGK solved the fire and reliability problems they had with Sodium-Sulfur batteries. I also mentioned that nightime demand can be markedly reduced via conversion of aircon/refrigeration to holdover plate systems, and that holdover plate technologies are proven in the marine industry.
          I also mention that the source of materials for the batteries and panels is to be found in current waste streams. Glass is made from silica sand, the batteries are made from Sodium and sulfur, and the panels are made from silicon, The minor components, silver for solder, copper for wiring, are available in sufficent quantities now, and elimination of central power schemes will reduce demand for them.
          Regarding eventual failure, and relocation, those events happen now, and they are the basis of the economy. If things did not require replacement, manufacturing would not exist. If people did not move, periodically, refurbishment of housing would not occur. These features of economies were prevalent during the stone age, otherwise archaeologists would not find middens containing stone fragments, or pottery shards.

          The question not asked, not considered, is how mankind will source the energy required to maintain his tool kit. Were we to consider life as the San or Himba of Namibia(with whom I have first hand experience), we would find they spend considerable time and energy maintaining their tool kit, without which they cannot survive the Namib or Kalahari environment in which they live.

          My analyses show that conversion of all dwellings to PassivHaus standard, which does not require marked changes in external appearance, coupled with 4 kwe of rooftop PV is sufficient to provide housing with it’s power needs, and were this increased to 6 kwe/house + commercial roof PV systems, there would be enough power for housing, commercial, and light industrial needs.

          This will require energy to accomplish, and changes in allocation of resources to do so within the current resource base will be required. For instance, the F-35 project should be scrapped, and new automobile construction halted in favor of passenger rail, and rail expansion.

          But sufficient energy is available for this, and once converted, the EROEI of rooftop PV will be sufficient to maintain this much lower energy intense system, particularly when coupled with wind/geothermal/wave/hydro.


          • Some of your energy optimism has been part of me for a while as well. I know that traditional capitalism the way we have implemented it now will collapse if we follow the current trajectory, and Gail might be right that this will happen sooner or later. I am not so sure that the people in power will try to shift the way we use our energy to the one you describe Oprisko, and certainly not in time to avoid a collapse.

            But its my understanding that the world has pulled through a couple of world wars, the second which really messed up a lot of places and infrastructures. No doubt recovery went rather fast since we had still access to plenty of energy. But even if there were a total collapse of the world economy, I think people and governments would be now forced to think new – much like they did during a world war. People learn that we need to ration food even in times of crisis and certainly listen to good advice about how to collectively solve a problem. No doubt there will be conflicts and a lot of broken dreams – and certainly a lot of people will die before they had intended. But this is also the time when ideas about conservation and efficiency will be the most important, and if there is enough will in the public, we might put in motion the wheels to generate a new world that is somewhat more sustainable – like the one Oprisko describes.

            The question is really about when it will happen? If a collapse is supposed to trigger this change, it better happen soon as the planets ecosystem is really not up to 10 more years of BAU. I share Mel Tisdale’s worries that we are truly running out of time to cut carbon emissions as we are really just seeing the beginning of the consequences of our past 100 years of emissions. As James Hansen say, there is a lag in the system where all that extra heat stored in the oceans now will try to exit into space again. If you look at the amount of heat now gone into the deep oceans, its a considerable amount while so many of the deniers were so focused on the surface temperatures. A good heat pump weather system is all we need to wreck truly havoc, and the CO2 is still there around to do its job as best as it can adding more heat to the oceans so each cycle of “heat ejaculation” will be a historical one even if we cut all emissions today. No doubt a lot of new records. You know Norway wanted to change the wording of their floods now as it had no sense to call things a 50 year flood or 100 year flood now that they came every third year or so. The “weather will get better tomorror” mentality has really tricked us into passivity so I totally agree with Guy McPherson that only complete economical collapse will prevent runaway climate change.

            The scale of climate change is always difficult to predict, and I sense Gail is not quite agreeing with the severeness of it. But I am confident that the proofs will unfold in the next 20 years in ways we have never seen before. Likely its too late to do anything about the 6th extinction event then, although I have no idea at the timescale of changes past these initial “warnings”.

        • “The batteries to back them up won’t be sustainable, even if the PVs themselves are.”

          If you’re talking high-tech, high-density lithium technology, I agree.

          But a skilled amateur can maintain and even re-manufacture lead-acid cells. Certainly a large village or small town could do so. I think lead-acid electron storage is appropriate technology for a civilization undergoing catabolic collapse.

          If you want to understand what technologies might survive the collapse of fossil sunlight, just look at those that preceded fossil sunlight. Lead-acid cells did, due to their relative simplicity.

          • Indeed. My father worked with car batteries (for boats and forklifts too) and I can still recall the days when I visited his workplace and could see him create a whole lead acid battery from scratch in several steps. Some of the parts were pre-manufactured but it wasn’t exactly high tech. No doubt a lot of nasty fumes and chemicals around but the process seemed exceptionally simple to me and the components involved were few.

            But on the battery side I believe they are making some very good progress on new nano tech stuff that practically acts as a very high density capacitor. That kind of tech will require a stable economy though as the equipment involved seems only possible in a high energy world. If they could make these so they didnt require a lot of maintenance. Other battery technologies on the rise is the LiFePo ones which also have high density and are very safe as well as lasting very long. Not sure though that these technologies are coming fast enough, although electrical cars sure have brought more researchers into battery tech.

            • Something open to skilled amateurs or small businesses would be a “flow battery,” whereby the electrolyte in a lead-acid battery is completely replaced as a way of “quick charging” the battery. One could vastly increase the range of an electric vehicle by simply having a tank full of pre-charged electrolyte on hand, as well as a way of exchanging it. The devil is in the details! And yet, this could be done without a global supply chain of highly refined rare earths and semiconductors.

          • I think you are right that lead-acid batteries are relatively more sustainable. I know, though, that there is always a loss in recycling, so we will still have to keep making more. The scale of what we will need will be huge compared to what we have today, if we are going to use very many of them for backing up solar PV.

            Lead-acid batteries cannot be used in many circumstances. The new electric cars will take only their particular kind of batteries. The same for the many gadgets we have today. Even keeping all of the types of batteries made today in stock is a challenge. My husband and I recently discovered that it is necessary to order batteries for electronic equipment made a few years ago from Amazon, because such batteries are no longer stocked in stores. I expect we will see more of this problem.

            • “The new electric cars will take only their particular kind of batteries. The same for the many gadgets we have today.”

              That’s actually more of a physical issue than an electrical one. From cars to the tiniest MP3 player, all the device cares about is that a certain number of volts is there, capable of supplying a certain flow of electrons (amps, or 6e18 electrons per second). Charging is another matter, though, and built-in chargers that assume a particular battery chemistry might cause a problem with a different battery chemistry. That’s why you need your own lead acid battery charger.

              I routinely replace nicad and lithium batteries with lead acid ones. I generally re-work a defunct battery pack to access the proper electrical connection, bring some wires out, optionally run it through a simple voltage regulator, then into a lead-acid battery pack.

              It is true that recycling lead results in some loss, so it isn’t perfectly sustainable, but it is far better than lithium batteries, virtually none of which are currently recycled. (Almost all lead acid batteries are currently recycled, due in part to “core fees” when you buy a new one.)

            • Thanks for pointing this out. Most of us are klutzes and don’t have access to lead acid batteries that we could use to substitute for lithium ones. I expect this approach would work better for stationary uses than where a device needs to fit in a car and provide comparable distance, or inside a camera or phone.

            • “this approach would work better for stationary uses than where a device needs to fit in a car and provide comparable distance, or inside a camera or phone.”

              Good point. But in the “old days,” there were relatively few battery-powered devices, and we were quite used to plugging in to the wall.

              So I have “semi-cordless” things that plug into an external battery pack that can be hung from your belt or slipped into a pocket.

              I go to the dump and yard sales and pick up 12 volt cordless drills for free. People dump them when the battery goes, because the battery pack is so expensive. I solder wires onto the contacts, then put Anderson PowerPole connectors on them, and can then power them from a variety of 12 volt sources, making them “semi-cordless” drills.

              I’m hoping that an up-and-coming occupation will be the “tinker,” the person in the village who would fix things. Fixing things isn’t for everyone, but I think it’s a good example of a more generalized, useful specialization than today’s extremely specialized jobs.

            • Yes, it would definitely be good to have a “tinker” in every village. If we can’t get cheap replacements for everything from China/India, we will need to do more fixing.

            • Hello, That sounds good Jan, we will need a little battery power it seems and being able to make a simple battery and retrofit old drills are things that can help. We would really like to put a nice solar system on our home, but on my fixed income not sure I can afford one. But I do plan to do something at least enough to run a few things and a well pump. If you are a person or family living in a rural area doing gardening and things to make your life more self sufficient, a small solar project would be desirable, complete with an inverter system to power up your home in time of need. Sometimes the power goes out for days on end during storms anyway and it would be good to have something aside from a gas generator as we believe that could be a problem during a fuel crisis.

              I did want to say something about putting PV and other solar panels roofs, people may need to redo their roofs first as if you have a roof that is already not good and you put all those panels up there, when it starts leaking or needs replaced all that stuff will have to be removed and reinstalled after a new roof, so many may want to replace their roof at the same time as solar panels are installed just to put that task way in the future, once again cost constraints are a problem, a new roof can cost a bunch. I also like the idea of large solar installations with panels not on roofs, perhaps on poles sitting out in the desert sun powering our grid. Will it be enough? Probably not, but it will help.

  10. The cost of energy is prompting conversion of the US housing stock to PassivHaus standard, thereby reducing household consumption of power for heating/cooling to < 15 kwh/m2-yr, and total energy demand to < 120 kwh/m2-yr. For the US, with 125 million dwellings, averaging 200 m2 in area, conversion to PassivHaus reduces heating/cooling power demand to 373 Twh/yr, and total power demand to < 3,000 Twh/ yr. This is the cape buffalo beneath the carpet.
    Were refrigerators/airconditioners were built with SawaFuji Free-Piston Compressors, double the existing insulation, and with hold over plates so they run during the day, when the sun is shining, much of the need for storage would disappear and consequent demand would be reduced to 1,000Twh/yr. This is the lion beneath the carpet.
    Conversion of all lighting to LED eliminates 80% of power demand for lighting, and conversion of electronics to energy efficient versions, further reduce demand to 590 Twh/yr. This is the cheetah beneath the carpet.
    With rooftop PV supplying 1,800 Twh/yr, conversion to PassivHaus, together with holdover plate aircon/refrigeration, efficient electronics, and LED lighting reducing demand to 580 Twh/yr, rooftop PV could supply US housing with 24/7 supply, net of conversion and storage losses, of 25 kwh/m2-yr, while providing 1,000Twh/yr to commercial users.
    Furthermore, I take issue with the USDOE rooftop survey, because 6 kwe of rooftop PV per house is sufficient to provide 750 Gwe of capacity, in and of itself, generating 1,300 Twh/yr. So meeting the above dwelling power requirements requires only 4 kwe of rooftop PV / dwelling.

    This specifically means, the average household, can meet it's energy needs for heating/aircon, refrigeration, laundry, cooking, lighting, entertainment electronics, and miscellaneous needs such as power for tools, with 4 kwe of rooftop PV, and 16 hours storage onsite.

    Were feed-in tarrifs in place, or net metering in place, onsite storage could be eliminated in favor of central storage, and were array size increased to 6 kwe, 30 sq meters, domestic PV could power housing, the commercial sector, and the light industrial sector, including trams.
    This would leave only the heavy industrial sector, including rail, to be supplied from wind farms, PV farms, hydro schemes, or central power stations.

    I trust the above brings the problem into a manageable perspective.


    • In order to get replacement batteries (and replacement inverters and replacement panels) as well as triple glazed windows for your Passiv Haus, you still need the whole system to be in place–paved roads, delivery trucks, police, fire stations, health care, manufacturing facilities, etc. It is keeping the whole system in place that is so unmanageable. (Even recycling of existing batteries, inverters, and PV panels still leads to a loss, requiring more manufactured input.) Using the huge amount of resources needed for making houses passive and creating the solar panels and inverters, makes us less able to run the system as a whole, because it depletes resources needed for other purposes.

      Nature doesn’t do financing. It works on resources mined/otherwise available in a given year. I suggest reading Tom Murphy’s The energy trap.

Comments are closed.