The true feasibility of moving away from fossil fuels

One of the great misconceptions of our time is the belief that we can move away from fossil fuels if we make suitable choices on fuels. In one view, we can make the transition to a low-energy economy powered by wind, water, and solar. In other versions, we might include some other energy sources, such as biofuels or nuclear, but the story is not very different.

The problem is the same regardless of what lower bound a person chooses: our economy is way too dependent on consuming an amount of energy that grows with each added human participant in the economy. This added energy is necessary because each person needs food, transportation, housing, and clothing, all of which are dependent upon energy consumption. The economy operates under the laws of physics, and history shows disturbing outcomes if energy consumption per capita declines.

There are a number of issues:

  • The impact of alternative energy sources is smaller than commonly believed.
  • When countries have reduced their energy consumption per capita by significant amounts, the results have been very unsatisfactory.
  • Energy consumption plays a bigger role in our lives than most of us imagine.
  • It seems likely that fossil fuels will leave us before we can leave them.
  • The timing of when fossil fuels will leave us seems to depend on when central banks lose their ability to stimulate the economy through lower interest rates.
  • If fossil fuels leave us, the result could be the collapse of financial systems and governments.

[1] Wind, water and solar provide only a small share of energy consumption today; any transition to the use of renewables alone would have huge repercussions.

According to BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data, wind, water and solar only accounted for 9.4% 0f total energy consumption in 2017.

Figure 1. Wind, Water and Solar as a percentage of total energy consumption, based on BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Even if we make the assumption that these types of energy consumption will continue to achieve the same percentage increases as they have achieved in the last 10 years, it will still take 20 more years for wind, water, and solar to reach 20% of total energy consumption.

Thus, even in 20 years, the world would need to reduce energy consumption by 80% in order to operate the economy on wind, water and solar alone. To get down to today’s level of energy production provided by wind, water and solar, we would need to reduce energy consumption by 90%.

[2] Venezuela’s example (Figure 1, above) illustrates that even if a country has an above average contribution of renewables, plus significant oil reserves, it can still have major problems.

One point people miss is that having a large share of renewables doesn’t necessarily mean that the lights will stay on. A major issue is the need for long distance transmission lines to transport the renewable electricity from where it is generated to where it is to be used. These lines must constantly be maintained. Maintenance of electrical transmission lines has been an issue in both Venezuela’s electrical outages and in California’s recent fires attributed to the utility PG&E.

There is also the issue of variability of wind, water and solar energy. (Note the year-to-year variability indicated in the Venezuela line in Figure 1.) A country cannot really depend on its full amount of wind, water, and solar unless it has a truly huge amount of electrical storage: enough to last from season-to-season and year-to-year. Alternatively, an extraordinarily large quantity of long-distance transmission lines, plus the ability to maintain these lines for the long term, would seem to be required.

[3] When individual countries have experienced cutbacks in their energy consumption per capita, the effects have generally been extremely disruptive, even with cutbacks far more modest than the target level of 80% to 90% that we would need to get off fossil fuels. 

Notice that in these analyses, we are looking at “energy consumption per capita.” This calculation takes the total consumption of all kinds of energy (including oil, coal, natural gas, biofuels, nuclear, hydroelectric, and renewables) and divides it by the population.

Energy consumption per capita depends to a significant extent on what citizens within a given economy can afford. It also depends on the extent of industrialization of an economy. If a major portion of industrial jobs are sent to China and India and only service jobs are retained, energy consumption per capita can be expected to fall. This happens partly because local companies no longer need to use as many energy products. Additionally, workers find mostly service jobs available; these jobs pay enough less that workers must cut back on buying goods such as homes and cars, reducing their energy consumption.

Example 1. Spain and Greece Between 2007-2014

Figure 2. Greece and Spain energy consumption per capita. Energy data is from BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy; population estimates are UN 2017 population estimates.

The period between 2007 and 2014 was a period when oil prices tended to be very high. Both Greece and Spain are very dependent on oil because of their sizable tourist industries. Higher oil prices made the tourism services these countries sold more expensive for their consumers. In both countries, energy consumption per capita started falling in 2008 and continued to fall until 2014, when oil prices began falling. Spain’s energy consumption per capita fell by 18% between 2007 and 2014; Greece’s fell by 24% over the same period.

Both Greece and Spain experienced high unemployment rates, and both have needed debt bailouts to keep their financial systems operating. Austerity measures were forced on Greece. The effects on the economies of these countries were severe. Regarding Spain, Wikipedia has a section called, “2008 to 2014 Spanish financial crisis,” suggesting that the loss of energy consumption per capita was highly correlated with the country’s financial crisis.

Example 2: France and the UK, 2004 – 2017

Both France and the UK have experienced falling energy consumption per capita since 2004, as oil production dropped (UK) and as industrialization was shifted to countries with a cheaper total cost of labor and fuel. Immigrant labor was added, as well, to better compete with the cost structures of the countries that France and the UK were competing against. With the new mix of workers and jobs, the quantity of goods and services that these workers could afford (per capita) has been falling.

Figure 3. France and UK energy consumption per capita. Energy data is from BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy; population estimates are UN 2017 population estimates.

Comparing 2017 to 2004, energy consumption per capita is down 16% for France and 25% in the UK. Many UK citizens have been very unhappy, wanting to leave the European Union.

France recently has been experiencing “Yellow Vest” protests, at least partly related to an increase in carbon taxes. Higher carbon taxes would make energy-based goods and services less affordable. This would likely reduce France’s energy consumption per capita even further. French citizens with their protests are clearly not happy about how they are being affected by these changes.

Example 3: Syria (2006-2016) and Yemen (2009-2016)

Both Syria and Yemen are examples of formerly oil-exporting countries that are far past their peak production. Declining energy consumption per capita has been forced on both countries because, with their oil exports falling, the countries can no longer afford to use as much energy as they did in the past for previous uses, such as irrigation. If less irrigation is used, food production and jobs are lost. (Syria and Yemen)

Figure 4. Syria and Yemen energy consumption per capita. Energy consumption data from US Energy Information Administration; population estimates are UN 2017 estimates.

Between Yemen’s peak year in energy consumption per capita (2009) and the last year shown (2016), its energy consumption per capita dropped by 66%. Yemen has been named by the United Nations as the country with the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Yemen cannot provide adequate food and water for its citizens. Yemen is involved in a civil war that others have entered into as well. I would describe the war as being at least partly a resource war.

The situation with Syria is similar. Syria’s energy consumption per capita declined 55% between its peak year (2006) and the last year available (2016). Syria is also involved in a civil war that has been entered into by others. Here again, the issue seems to be inadequate resources per capita; war participants are to some extent fighting over the limited resources that are available.

Example 4: Venezuela (2008-2017)

Figure 5. Energy consumption per capita for Venezuela, based on BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data and UN 2017 population estimates.

Between 2008 and 2017, energy consumption per capita in Venezuela declined by 23%. This is a little less than the decreases experienced by the UK and Greece during their periods of decline.

Even with this level of decline, Venezuela has been having difficulty providing adequate services to its citizens. There have been reports of empty supermarket shelves. Venezuela has not been able to maintain its electrical system properly, leading to many outages.

[4] Most people are surprised to learn that energy is required for every part of the economy. When adequate energy is not available, an economy is likely to first shrink back in recession; eventually, it may collapse entirely.

Physics tells us that energy consumption in a thermodynamically open system enables all kinds of “complexity.” Energy consumption enables specialization and hierarchical organizations. For example, growing energy consumption enables the organizations and supply lines needed to manufacture computers and other high-tech goods. Of course, energy consumption also enables what we think of as typical energy uses: the transportation of goods, the smelting of metals, the heating and air-conditioning of buildings, and the construction of roads. Energy is even required to allow pixels to appear on a computer screen.

Pre-humans learned to control fire over one million years ago. The burning of biomass was a tool that could be used for many purposes, including keeping warm in colder climates, frightening away predators, and creating better tools. Perhaps its most important use was to permit food to be cooked, because cooking increases food’s nutritional availability. Cooked food seems to have been important in allowing the brains of humans to grow bigger at the same time that teeth, jaws and guts could shrink compared to those of ancestors. Humans today need to be able to continue to cook part of their food to have a reasonable chance of survival.

Any kind of governmental organization requires energy. Having a single leader takes the least energy, especially if the leader can continue to perform his non-leadership duties. Any kind of added governmental service (such as roads or schools) requires energy. Having elected leaders who vote on decisions takes more energy than having a king with a few high-level aides. Having multiple layers of government takes energy. Each new intergovernmental organization requires energy to fly its officials around and implement its programs.

International trade clearly requires energy consumption. In fact, pretty much every activity of businesses requires energy consumption.

Needless to say, the study of science or of medicine requires energy consumption, because without significant energy consumption to leverage human energy, nearly every person must be a subsistence level farmer, with little time to study or to take time off from farming to write (or even read) books. Of course, manufacturing medicines and test tubes requires energy, as does creating sterile environments.

We think of the many parts of the economy as requiring money, but it is really the physical goods and services that money can buy, and the energy that makes these goods and services possible, that are important. These goods and services depend to a very large extent on the supply of energy being consumed at a given point in time–for example, the amount of electricity being delivered to customers and the amount of gasoline and diesel being sold. Supply chains are very dependent on each part of the system being available when needed. If one part is missing, long delays and eventually collapse can occur.

[5] If the supply of energy to an economy is reduced for any reason, the result tends to be very disruptive, as shown in the examples given in Section [3], above.

When an economy doesn’t have enough energy, its self-organizing feature starts eliminating pieces of the economic system that it cannot support. The financial system tends to be very vulnerable because without adequate economic growth, it becomes very difficult for borrowers to repay debt with interest. This was part of the problem that Greece and Spain had in the period when their energy consumption per capita declined. A person wonders what would have happened to these countries without bailouts from the European Union and others.

Another part that is very vulnerable is governmental organizations, especially the higher layers of government that were added last. In 1991, the Soviet Union’s central government was lost, leaving the governments of the 15 republics that were part of the Soviet Union. As energy consumption per capita declines, the European Union would seem to be very vulnerable. Other international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, would seem to be vulnerable, as well.

The electrical system is very complex. It seems to be easily disrupted if there is a material decrease in energy consumption per capita because maintenance of the system becomes difficult.

If energy consumption per capita falls dramatically, many changes that don’t seem directly energy-related can be expected. For example, the roles of men and women are likely to change. Without modern medical care, women will likely need to become the mothers of several children in order that an average of two can survive long enough to raise their own children. Men will be valued for the heavy manual labor that they can perform. Today’s view of the equality of the sexes is likely to disappear because sex differences will become much more important in a low-energy world.

Needless to say, other aspects of a low-energy economy might be very different as well. For example, one very low-energy type of economic system is a “gift economy.” In such an economy, the status of each individual is determined by the amount that that person can give away. Anything a person obtains must automatically be shared with the local group or the individual will be expelled from the group. In an economy with very low complexity, this kind of economy seems to work. A gift economy doesn’t require money or debt!

[6] Most people assume that moving away from fossil fuels is something we can choose to do with whatever timing we would like. I would argue that we are not in charge of the process. Instead, fossil fuels will leave us when we lose the ability to reduce interest rates sufficiently to keep oil and other fossil fuel prices high enough for energy producers.

Something that may seem strange to those who do not follow the issue is the fact that oil (and other energy prices) seem to be very much influenced by interest rates and the level of debt. In general, the lower the interest rate, the more affordable high-priced goods such as factories, homes, and automobiles become, and the higher commodity prices of all kinds can be. “Demand” increases with falling interest rates, causing energy prices of all types to rise.

Figure 6.

The cost of extracting oil is less important in determining oil prices than a person might expect. Instead, prices seem to be determined by what end products consumers (in the aggregate) can afford. In general, the more debt that individual citizens, businesses and governments can obtain, the higher that oil and other energy prices can rise. Of course, if interest rates start rising (instead of falling), there is a significant chance of a debt bubble popping, as defaults rise and asset prices decline.

Interest rates have been generally falling since 1981 (Figure 7). This is the direction needed to support ever-higher energy prices.

Figure 7. Chart of 3-month and 10-year interest rates, prepared by the FRED, using data through March 27, 2019.

The danger now is that interest rates are approaching the lowest level that they can possibly reach. We need lower interest rates to support the higher prices that oil producers require, as their costs rise because of depletion. In fact, if we compare Figures 7 and 8, the Federal Reserve has been supporting higher oil and other energy prices with falling interest rates practically the whole time since oil prices rose above the inflation adjusted level of $20 per barrel!

Figure 8. Historical inflation adjusted prices oil, based on data from 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, with the low price period for oil highlighted.

Once the Federal Reserve and other central banks lose their ability to cut interest rates further to support the need for ever-rising oil prices, the danger is that oil and other commodity prices will fall too low for producers. The situation is likely to look like the second half of 2008 in Figure 6. The difference, as we reach limits on how low interest rates can fall, is that it will no longer be possible to stimulate the economy to get energy and other commodity prices back up to an acceptable level for producers.

[7] Once we hit the “no more stimulus impasse,” fossil fuels will begin leaving us because prices will fall too low for companies extracting these fuels. They will be forced to leave because they cannot make an adequate profit.

One example of an oil producer whose production was affected by an extended period of low prices is the Soviet Union (or USSR).

Figure 9. Oil production of the former Soviet Union together with oil prices in 2017 US$. All amounts from 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

The US substantially raised interest rates in 1980-1981 (Figure 7). This led to a sharp reduction in oil prices, as the higher interest rates cut back investment of many kinds, around the world. Given the low price of oil, the Soviet Union reduced new investment in new fields. This slowdown in investment first reduced the rate of growth in oil production, and eventually led to a decline in production in 1988 (Figure 9). When oil prices rose again, production did also.

Figure 10. Energy consumption per capita for the former Soviet Union, based on BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data and UN 2017 population estimates.

The Soviet Union’s energy consumption per capita reached its highest level in 1988 and began declining in 1989. The central government of the Soviet Union did not collapse until late 1991, as the economy was increasingly affected by falling oil export revenue.

Some of the changes that occurred as the economy simplified itself were the loss of the central government, the loss of a large share of industry, and a great deal of job loss. Energy consumption per capita dropped by 36% between 1988 and 1998. It has never regained its former level.

Venezuela is another example of an oil exporter that, in theory, could export more oil, if oil prices were higher. It is interesting to note that Venezuela’s highest energy consumption per capita occurred in 2008, when oil prices were high.

We are now getting a chance to observe what the collapse in Venezuela looks like on a day- by-day basis. Figure 5, above, shows Venezuela’s energy consumption per capita pattern through 2017. Low oil prices since 2014 have particularly adversely affected the country.

[8] Conclusion: We can’t know exactly what is ahead, but it is clear that moving away from fossil fuels will be far more destructive of our current economy than nearly everyone expects. 

It is very easy to make optimistic forecasts about the future if a person doesn’t carefully examine what the data and the science seem to be telling us. Most researchers come from narrow academic backgrounds that do not seek out insights from other fields, so they tend not to understand the background story.

A second issue is the desire for a “happy ever after” ending to our current energy predicament. If a researcher is creating an economic model without understanding the underlying principles, why not offer an outcome that citizens will like? Such a solution can help politicians get re-elected and can help researchers get grants for more research.

We should be examining the situation more closely than most people have considered. The fact that interest rates cannot drop much further is particularly concerning.

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.
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1,253 Responses to The true feasibility of moving away from fossil fuels

  1. Harry McGibbs says:

    “The central bank “solution” to runaway credit expansion that flowed into malinvestment was to lower interest rates to zero and enable tens of trillions in new debt. As a result, global debt has skyrocketed from $84 trillion to $250 trillion. Debt in China has blasted from $7 trillion 2008 to $40 trillion in 2018.

    “A funny thing happens when you depend on borrowing from the future (i.e., debt) to fund growth today: the new debt no longer boosts growth, as the returns on additional debt diminish. This leads to what I term credit/debt exhaustion…

    “…any attempt to institute extreme policies will expose authorities’ desperation right when confidence is vulnerable to collapse. The Fed and other central banks are trapped in more ways than one.”

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4254639-fix-recession-without-financial-crisis-central-bank-policy-fix

    • Harry McGibbs says:

      “Risks of large-scale corporate defaults are mounting in China, despite economic growth that “remains robust by international standards”, according to a new report. The OECD found that sagging domestic demand and weak export orders have led Chinese authorities to swiftly resort to stimulus measures, through expansionary monetary policy, tax cuts and infrastructure spending…

      “While China’s stimulus, estimated at as high as 4.25 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year, could lift growth in the short term, it could build up further economic imbalances down the road…”

      https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3006373/chinas-unsustainable-debt-levels-may-trigger-large-scale

    • This is a Charles Hugh Smith article. Many people don’t stop to consider that GDP growth is growth in the goods and services an economy can produce (and sell), including the effect that adding more debt has. Clearly, an economy can build more buildings and more roads with more debt, as well as lots of other things. It takes far more $ to add one $ of GDP each year. This is what makes the system so unsustainable.

      • Also, governments can play games with this. They borrow to produce a lot of unneeded infrastructure. This adds jobs and pseudo growth. The countries report GDP growth, but it is not really growth.

        • CTG says:

          Gail, just to add in something – the idea of building unwanted infrastructure happens only for a few countries. I think Japan and China and the most serious offenders. I don’t think other than those two countries, other developed nations like USA, UK are probably not doing it. I think they add debt for welfare handouts or wars. This is even worse than building unused infrastructure. I am more than happy to be wrong. Some can correct me if I am wrong.

          GDP growth “died” in the 1970s and it is replaced with debt-fueled growth. No magic tricks involved. Just creating debts and continue to use it. The debt is used to expand the exploration and extraction of expensive oil that would otherwise be still deep in the earth. No debts, no expensive oil. It is just that all these are coming to and end due to the law of diminished returns. All good things come to and end. Always. Never fail. Sounds like entropy?

          • I think the unneeded things we add in the US look like educational systems and health care.

            Regarding education, we end up with a lot of young people with debt, but they have not learned very much that is helpful for their jobs. Professors are expected to get research grants to support writing academic articles. These articles are often worth very little. Students tend to get taught by adjunct faculty, earning hardly more than minimum wage.

            The health care aims for super-specialization, with the super-specialized doctors getting high pay. Citizens run all over, trying to put together the right combination of doctors for their illnesses. Drug companies are interested in making money, so are interested in new drugs and tiny enhancements to existing drugs. The lives of elderly and those with debilitating diseases are extended using high-priced procedures. Many imaging devices are used, adding to costs and long term radiation exposure of patients. The healthcare system is to some extent “needed” because of the quantity and highly processed nature of the foods Americans eat, as well as their lack of exercise.

            And I agree with your last statements: “It is just that all these are coming to and end due to the law of diminished returns. All good things come to and end. Always. Never fail. Sounds like entropy?”

  2. Baby Doomer says:

    Notre Dame was at one time a Temple of Reason

    Apparently during the time of the French Revolution when the Catholic religion become a we bit unpopular with the revolutionaries… well some people established something called the Cult of Reason. They anointed Notre Dame one of the Temples of Reason and even used it as the location of a Festival of Reason.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_Reason

  3. Xabier says:

    In the UK there are certainly no vast ‘ghost towns’ – newly constructed ones that is.

    Spain managed quite a lot of unnecessary building pre-2008 – housing, arts centres, even superfluous airports – but much of that arose from corrupt provincial governments making money out of it and sharing contracts out with friends.

    We do have an example of unwanted infrastructure here, a guided busway for £220m, which seems set to go ahead even though there are much more intelligent and cheaper transport solutions, and the last one – which was way over budget and very late – has already started disintegrating in 6 years against a projected life-span of 30.

    The problem in the West is maintaining or replacing ancient infrastructure.

  4. Dennis L says:

    It keeps getting more interesting.
    https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-04-16/african-migrants-texas-border-monitored-ebola-official

    Boeing looks to have serious issues, engine placement on 737 was a kluge from what I can tell, short of a complete redesign no good solutions. Isn’t Boeing the largest export earner for US?

    Farming is on the ropes in the midwest, following Deere Stock might give some indication of the seriousness of the problem. My land is rolling but with serious wind issues last year harvesting the corn meant literally backing the combine to grab some stalks, they couldn’t be cut driving in a straight line. Stored grain has been lost due to flooding this year, those farmers will never farm again, machines go to auction.

    Now medieval diseases are reportedly appearing LA and San Francisco, plumbing has been called one or the greatest public health improvements. Poop on the street is not plumbing.

    How many hits can our civilization take at once?

    Interesting times, eh?

    Dennis L.

  5. Ed says:

    Sorry completely off topic

    I wrote a letter to Amy Helm. She sent two male state troopers with guns and tasers to terrorize my wife, who was home alone cooking dinner, as punishment. Followed by one trooper in the dark of night to deliver a threat to me at home alone. The threat “No law has been broken, you may attend shows, you must never write again.”

    If you have the chance, suggest to Amy that she use her words before hitting out. Let her know we do not approve of bullies.

    If you would like a copy of the letter send me email edpell at optonline dot net.

    • beidawei says:

      ??!

      Context please

      • Harry McGibbs says:

        Glad I am not the only one bemused, beidawei. 😀

        Google tells me that Amy Helm is the daughter of Levon Helm, late drummer of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Band’. Apparently she is herself a musician of some repute.

        I have questions… What was in the letter Ed wrote that so incensed Amy Helm? How is it that Ms Helm is able to manipulate the apparatus of the state to mete out such terrifying revenge? And why did poor Ed’s wife pay the price for *his* insolence?

        Perhaps Ed himself can fill in some of the blanks for us.

        • Tim Groves says:

          Frankly I would have been more surprised had UNARMED state troopers turned up a the door. Armed officials with the power of life and death over little people who don’t mow their lawns on time and a habit of turning up unannounced in the wee hours and shooting the pet pooch BECAUSE THEY FELT THREATENED are a fact of life in the USSA.

          My absolute favorite song by the Band is Acadian Driftwood.

        • Ed says:

          I wrote this

          Dear Amy Helm, I read with horror an interview you did. In it you said you liked to be on the road and if you did not have kids you would be on the road full time. I remember an earlier interview in which you said if you paid enough you would take the family on the road with you and just live on the road. A wonderful idea if everyone is in. I am reminded of Joni Mitchell song Coyote

          …And still feel so alone
          …A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway…
          I tried to run away myself
          To run away and wrestle with my ego
          And with this flame
          You put here in this Eskimo
          In this hitcher
          In this prisoner
          Of the fine white lines
          Of the white lines on the free free way

          But I guess you do not see it as prison you see it as freedom. As to the lonely part? I wonder is your love of travel genetic or environmental/learned?

          Why did I say horror? When I was a young 20 something and a graduate student in physics I was married and did not want to spend six months away at Brookhaven and ten six months at CERN and then six months at Fermi Lab while my wife stayed behind to work her job. So, I left physics. It was a good call for me and my personality. Margaret and I have been happy for the past 38 years. I am a Polish peasant on my fathers side. My Uncle grows strawberries in Connecticut. One my mother’s side they landed at Plymouth Rock and in 350 years made it to Mystic, Connecticut, 50 miles. So, not much of a traveler. We did make it to Prague last summer for the Human Level Artificial Intelligence Conference. Prague is beautiful not sure if they have a venue for English language singers but I recommend a visit. This year Norway and Iceland. You and I have radically different views and happily we have both found a place/way to be happy.

          On the music front thanks for bringing Freddy and Francine to The Barn. Please, more vocal heavy groups, maybe even some gospel? I have never seen you listed as going to Mountain View, California, home of Google. They might be a receptive audience for you.

          Cheers,
          Edwin Pell

          edpell@optonline.net

          March 4, 2018

          I got back

          She sent two male state troopers with guns and tasers to terrorize my wife, who was home alone cooking dinner, as punishment. Followed by one trooper in the dark of night to deliver a threat to me at home alone. The threat “No law has been broken, you may attend shows, you must never write again.”

          If you have the chance, suggest to Amy that she use her words before hitting out. Let her know we do not approve of bullies.

  6. France replaced about 2/3rds of their old crude-oil burning electricity grid with nuclear in just 10 years. Abundant high EROEI electricity is the key to then solving the liquid fuels problem.
    1. We should emphasise New Urbanism. My soul longs for attractive town squares surrounded by coffee shops and bookstores and food and the school and church and a tram stop and a sense of community. With appropriate compensation to those suburbanites that are moved, town squares and tram lines can be installed in the heart of suburbia, and the air above the new train station or tram can be sold to developers. It takes time, but will have incremental benefits over the coming decades.
    2. Nuclear power can and will replace all fossil fuels. Toda’s uranium reserves can power us for a few generations on today’s reactors until they perfect tomorrow’s breeder reactors like the IFR or MSR. These are high-EROEI actinide burners that only leave fission products behind. These fission products are the true nuclear ‘waste’ and can be melted down into ceramic bricks and buried for 500 years, then are safe. Breeders get 60 to 90 times the energy out of each unit of uranium, making uranium from seawater last billions of years. Nuclear is now renewable because of continental drift and mountain creation + erosion topping up the oceans forever, until the sun expands and wipes out life on earth!
    3. Trucking can be replaced by new economic models and paradigms from electric trucking. The batteries are only getting cheaper and covering more distance from here on in, but they are already a new way of doing trucking. The numbers already add up.

    4. If that doesn’t grab you, maybe they can be a niche market for in city goods delivery. Intercity trucking can be replaced by synthetic fuels generated from nuclear’s incredibly high EROEI. (Breeders have an even HIGHER EROEI than today’s nuclear, possibly in the high hundreds, because breeders don’t require all the mining and refining of uranium!)

    • France did indeed replace a large share of their crude-oil burning electricity with nuclear, over a period of years. I can’t tell from BP data exactly which ones. But now these nuclear plants are aging, and production has been declining since nuclear’s peak year in France in 2011.

      Our view of what is a safe nuclear power plant has significantly changed since these plants were built. The new plants being built now are using far more cement and other materials in them. Also, we are starting to get a better picture of how awful the cost is of decommissioning the power plants at the end of their lives. A third issue is that the EROEI calculation isn’t really right for devices with huge upfront costs; to keep the system going, we really need much quicker payback than the EROEI calculation gives. Either this, or interest cost must be deemed to have an energy cost as well.

      The combination of all of these things leads to me think that the fairly EROEI calculations of early nuclear power plants were based on assumptions that are no longer true. If France were even to try to rebuild all of its existing nuclear power plants, there would be a huge energy cost and financial cost involved. Decommissioning all of the old sites would add to the costs. There seems to be a lot of unknowns with nuclear (such as long-term storage of spent fuel) which are an issue as well. Thus, the EROEI indications from old studies are no longer appropriate.

      A large number of companies building nuclear power plants have had serious financial problems. Westinghouse went bankrupt in 2017. Areva in France became insolvent, and was restructured. The nuclear cycle business was put into a separate company, which doesn’t seem to be 100% backed by the French government.

      One issue that many people overlook is the fact that nuclear power plants need electricity from an outside source, if they are forced to shut down (like Fukushima). This may not be available in the future, if it becomes more difficult to keep the grid operating as it does today. Spent fuel pools can be a particular issue, because they need electricity to keep them cooling the rods, as I understand the situation.

      • The situation in the industry changed in lockstep after: TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima; nowadays are spent fuel pools put on several backup systems in most places, although some countries-regions might be again as shown in the latter case Japan(US design) not meaningfully prepared. Besides short term – long term fuel depository and or recycling has been solved long ago.. detailed posts have been provided earlier as well.

        You are correct about the costs of decommissioning of older NPPs though, where the share of potentially affected infrastructure inside the plant is higher than in modern installations. On the other hand these old sites ~.5MW per reactor are significantly smaller footprint installations. So in the end comparatively the amount of stuff (mostly various pipping and reactor vessel) to be moved out and buried is a wash. And not that much reasonably hazardous anyway in the overall equation to consider..

      • Artleads says:

        I had a lot of communication with a man who was under contract to examine, report and advise about all the US nuclear plants. He hadn’t thought about scheduling diesel storage on neighboring land on all nuclear plants. So energy to run generators wouldn’t suddenly run out. He thought it could be done quite realistically.

        • “Could be done” and “actually getting someone to get the funding for a program to do this” are two very different things. I expect that the idea would never go anywhere. It has a cost involved.

          I think that the stock would need to be “turned over” from time to time, as well. Diesel is an organic mixture that is biodegradable. We don’t think of it in this way.
          One source says,

          Diesel fuel used to have a long shelf life – U.S. Army regulations from the 50s and 60s talked about getting multiple years of life out of stored diesel. Now, you’ll probably get less than a year if the fuel isn’t treated in some manner.

          What Makes It Go Bad?

          Diesel fuel goes bad when it is exposed to something in the environment that accelerates the natural processes which attack its quality. All petroleum fuel, whether gasoline or diesel, is made of a mix of molecules of different sizes and lengths. Fuel starts with a number of molecules that are unstable – the “precursors”. Over time, these precursors look to react with other molecules and start chain reactions that, given enough time, cause the fuel to form gums, varnish, and sludge, and become dark and stratified. This end result is what we think of as “fuel gone bad”.

          We talked about it “going bad” because it no longer does what we want it to do, as well as it should. Fuel that’s darkened and full of sludge or varnish won’t burn properly, it makes black smoke, and may not even start an engine at all if it is bad enough.

          We said that fuel goes bad when it’s exposed to things in the environment that accelerate these processes. Exposure to air, water and heat + light are three big environmental factors. Heat and light make a fuel go bad more quickly by providing energy to drive the chemical reactions that break it down.

          Another big factor that’s more common in today’s fuel is microbial growth. With modern diesel fuels not having the higher sulfur levels they used to have, there’s nothing left to prevent microbes from growing in the fuel. Microbes can make diesel fuel go bad pretty quickly by multiplying in the fuel, creating biomass formations, and producing acids that attack diesel fuel and break it down.

          Usable life for diesel is now measured in months instead of years.

          • Artleads says:

            Yes. Someone mentioned the limited life of the diesel. He worked for the administration. They had some money, but private sources could help while also being very limited in how innovatively they tend to think.

          • JesseJames says:

            Diesel will store much longer than gasoline, but the removal of the sulfur from the fuel is problematic for longer storage. Biocides must be used for long term storage.

    • to pick up one of my favourite themes

      energy/fossil fuel isn’t our main problem even though it forms 99% of the discussion all over the internet about ”future problems’

      the means by which we will be able to use it is the problem

      we don’t earn our living by using energy, we earn our living by using energy to convert one kind of material into another

      • Xabier says:

        Quite so, Norman.

        Now that most people sit in offices and don’t get their hands dirty, this is a fundamental fact which goes uncomprehended.

        The oil of Saudi Arabia was just used in little hand-lamps until Western engineers were able to extract and deploy it in the transformative manner you mention.

  7. MG says:

    Slovakia Steps Up Pressure on Enel Over Nuclear Project

    Government wants private shareholder to cover extra costs
    Police charges former managers with fraud related to Mochovce

    “Slovakia is stepping up pressure on private shareholders of the country’s largest utility, including Enel SpA, amid signs its flagship nuclear project faces further delay and extra costs.”

    “The decade-old project has turned into a nightmare for the Italian utility, which has sold half of its stake to EPH and pledged to hold on to the remaining shares until the new units are built. The budget has more than doubled to 5.7 billion euros, especially after safety standards were tightened following the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in Japan. The series of delays and cost overruns complicates Enel’s relationship with the government led by the Smer party, an advocate of more state influence in the economy.”

    “Separately, Slovak police pressed fraud charges against two Italian citizens who were former senior managers at Slovenske Elektrarne. One of them was detained at Bratislava airport. The police said the case is related to construction of Mochovce.”

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-16/slovakia-steps-up-pressure-on-enel-over-mochovce-nuclear-project?utm_source=google&utm_medium=bd&cmpId=google

    • An awfully lot of nuclear projects seem to have had problems, after the Fukushima accident. Everyone wants higher safety standards, but this sends costs through the roof and delays timetables. I am sure the changes also use a lot more fossil fuels.

      • Yes, but this particular case seems to be really centering on criminal activity mostly..
        Italian ‘mafia’ juicing out funds in the name of increased budget for post Fuku safety upgrades.. plus the change of ownership structure..

        Well, it boils down to initial Slovak tragic and elementary mistake entering into deal with Enel, not very smart move to begin with..

  8. Harry McGibbs says:

    “The signs of improvement [as China’s GDP stabilises at 6.4%] most likely do not stem from a sudden burst of confidence in the strength of the country’s economy among Chinese business leaders.

    “Instead, the positive glimmers are largely a product of the hundreds of billions of dollars that Beijing has pumped into the country’s economy in recent months and the loans that officials have pressed state-run banks to make. All of that comes at a cost, and it raises a question about how willing Beijing is to spend to keep growth going.

    ““This time they used an overwhelming amount of force to boost the economy,” Larry Hu, chief China economist at Macquarie Group, said. “That is why the economy stabilized in the first quarter.”

    “The chance of a “double dip,” in which growth drops again before picking up later this year, is high, Mr. Hu added. “The recovery is not that solid,” he said. “They front-loaded the policy firepower at the start of the year.””

  9. Harry McGibbs says:

    “The Central Bank of Argentina is selling the dollars it borrowed from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to replenish the nation’s distressed budget. The ongoing currency crisis has nearly bankrupted Argentina yet again, while many households find themselves on the brink of survival…

    “The auctions come after the Argentine economy shrank 6.2 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2019, its worst since 2009. Last year, the nation’s GDP contracted 2.5 per cent, while the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 per cent amid sweeping closures of businesses and manufacturing facilities across all sectors of the national economy.”

    https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201904161074186229-argentine-imf-economy-elections/

  10. Harry McGibbs says:

    “U.S. factory production stalled in March as motor-vehicle output declined, adding to signs of headwinds for manufacturing and economic growth around the world. Manufacturing output was unchanged from February after falling a revised 0.3 percent, Federal Reserve data showed Tuesday.”

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-16/u-s-factory-output-stalled-in-march-as-auto-production-dropped

    • Harry McGibbs says:

      “Volkswagen AG, Nissan Motor Co. and Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. are among the carmakers increasingly counting on Chinese government tax cuts to stimulate demand and help the world’s biggest auto market rebound from its worst slump in a generation. The unanswered question is when that will happen.”

      https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-17/carmakers-look-to-beijing-to-revive-china-s-slumping-auto-market

      • Harry McGibbs says:

        “Much has been made of the US-China trade war as a catalyst for slowing global economic growth, with many citing the seemingly manufacturing-led nature of the downturn as evidence. That has inspired hope that an accord between Washington and Beijing will bring back momentum.

        “A look at the evidence suggests this is unlikely. Total bilateral trade volumes between the US and China have looked choppy at worst since the pace of worldwide economic activity growth (tracked by JPMorgan PMI) started to slow in 2018. Rather, the cuprit seems to be the onset of quantitative tightening (QT).

        “The US central bank dialed up the pace of unwinding its bloated post-crisis balance sheet last year, marking the first time since the 2008 blowup that nonstandard policy support has been removed in earnest. It is this tightening that seems to have cooled growth.

        “The Fed continues to wind down its asset stock – albeit at a slower pace of $35 billion per month starting in May versus $50 billion previously – even as it has abandoned plans for further interest rate hikes rate this year. This hints that the slowdown will continue whether the US and China decide to play nice or not.”

        https://www.dailyfx.com/forex/fundamental/daily_briefing/session_briefing/euro_open/2019/04/17/Will-Global-Growth-Rebound-if-US-China-Trade-War-Ends.html

      • Tax cuts seem to be a favorite way of making things temporarily look better. Ultimately more government debt.

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