Do the World’s Energy Policies Make Sense?

The world today has a myriad of energy policies. One of them seems to be to encourage renewables, especially wind and solar. Another seems to be to encourage electric cars. A third seems to be to try to move away from fossil fuels. Countries in Europe and elsewhere have been trying carbon taxes. There are also programs to buy carbon offsets for energy uses such as air travel.

Maybe it is time to step back and take a look. Where are we now? Where are we really headed? Have the policies implemented since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 had any positive impact?

Let’s look at some of the issues involved.

[1] We have had very little success in reducing CO2 emissions.

CO2 emissions for all countries, in total, have been spiraling upward, year after year.

World CO2 Emissions

Figure 1. Carbon dioxide emissions for the world, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy.

If we look at the situation by part of the world, we see an even more concerning pattern.

Figure 2. Carbon dioxide emissions by part of the world through 2018, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Soviet Empire is an approximation including Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, based on the BP report. It would not include Cuba and North Korea.

The group US+EU+Japan has been able to reduce its CO2 emissions by 5% since 2005. Emissions were slowly rising between 1981 and 2005. There was a dip at the time of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, followed by a downward trend. A person might get the impression that CO2 emissions for the EU tend to rise during periods when the economy is doing well and tend to fall when it is doing poorly.

The “star” in emissions reductions is the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. I refer to this group as the Soviet Empire. Emissions fell around the time of the collapse of the central government of the Soviet Union in 1991. This big decrease in emissions seems to be related to huge changes that took place at that time. Instead of one country with a single currency, the individual republics were suddenly on their own.

The high point in CO2 emissions for the Soviet Empire came in 1990, the year before the collapse of the Soviet Union central government. By 1999, emissions had fallen to a level 37% below their 1990 level. In fact, even in recent years, emissions for this group of countries has stayed low. Much industry collapsed and has never been replaced.

The group that has more than doubled its emissions is what I call the Remainder Group. The group includes many countries, including China and India, that ramped up their manufacturing and other heavy industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the World Trade Organization added members. The Remainder Group also includes many countries that suddenly found new export markets for their raw materials, such as oil, iron ore, and copper. The Remainder countries became richer; they became more able to pave roads and build more substantial homes for their citizens. With all of this GDP-related activity, CO2 emissions increased rapidly.

[2] Population growth has followed a pattern that is in some ways similar to CO2 growth. 

Figure 3. Population from 1965 to 2018, based on UN 2019 population estimates.

In Figure 3, we see that population has been virtually flat in the former Soviet Empire (2% growth between 1997 and 2018). With the economy not doing well, young people emigrate to countries that seem to provide better prospects.

Population in the US+EU+Japan Group grew by 11% between 1997 and 2018.

The group that is simply outstanding for population growth is the Remainder Group, with 35% growth between 1997 and 2018. A big part of this population growth comes from improved sanitation and basic medical care, such as antibiotics. With these changes, a larger percentage of the babies that are born have been able to live to maturity.

It is hard to see any bend in the trend lines, which would indicate that recent actions have actually changed the course of activity from the way it was headed previously. Of course, the trend is only “linear,” implying that the percentage growth is gradually slowing over time.

This rapidly growing population feeds into the CO2 problem as well. The many young people would all like food, homes and transportation. While it is possible to obtain some version of these desired products without fossil fuels, the version with fossil fuels tends to be vastly improved. Most people prefer homes with indoor plumbing and electricity, if given an opportunity, for example.

[3] Deforestation keeps growing as a world problem.

Figure 4. Chart showing World Bank estimates of share of world forested by economic grouping.

High Income Countries keep pushing the deforestation problem to the poorer parts of the world. Heavily Indebted Poor Countries are especially affected. Worldwide, deforestation continues to grow.

[4] With respect to fossil fuels, there is a great deal of confusion with respect to, “What do we need to be saved from?” 

Do we have a problem with too much or too little fossil fuel? We hear two different stories.

Figure 5. Author’s image of two trains speeding toward the world economy.

Climate modelers keep telling us about what could happen, if indeed we use too much fossil fuel. In fact, the climate currently is changing, bolstering this point of view.

It seems to me that there is an equally great danger of collapse, accompanied by low energy prices. For example, we know that energy production in the European Union has been declining for many years, without the countries being able to do anything about it.

We also know historically that many civilizations have collapsed. The Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991, illustrating one type of collapse. The Soviet Union was an oil exporter. Its collapse came after oil prices were too low to allow adequate investment in new oil fields for an extended period of time. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 offers a much smaller, temporary version of what collapse might look like.

Another example of low prices accompanying collapse comes from Revelation 18: 11-13, warning of possible collapse like that of ancient Babylon. The problem was inadequate demand and low prices; even the energy product of the day (human beings sold as slaves) had little value.

11 The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

What we have been seeing recently is falling prices and prices that are too low for producers. Such a result can lead to collapse if too many energy producers go bankrupt and quit.

Figure 6. Inflation adjusted weekly average Brent Oil price, based on EIA oil spot prices and US CPI-urban inflation.

If we are in danger of collapse from low prices, renewables would not seem to be of much assistance unless they (a) are significantly less expensive than fossil fuels and (b) can be scaled up sufficiently rapidly to more than replace fossil fuels. Neither of these seems to be a possibility.

[5] Early studies overestimated how much help renewables might provide, especially if our problem comes from too little energy supply rather than too much.

Renewables look like they would be great from many points of view, but when it comes down to the real world situation, they don’t live up to the hype.

One issue is that while wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and other devices for capturing energy are called “renewables,” they are really only available through the use of the fossil fuel system. They are made using fossil fuels. If a part breaks, or if insects eat away the insulation on wires, replacements need to be made using the fossil fuel system and transported using the fossil fuel system. At best, renewables should be considered fossil fuel extenders, using less fossil fuels than conventional electricity generation. They are also dependent on other resources, which may eventually deplete, but which are not a problem at this time.

A second issue is that it is extremely difficult to do a proper cost-benefit analysis on renewables because they can only be used as part of a larger system. They tend to look inexpensive, when viewed in isolation. But when total system costs are viewed, they often are quite expensive.

One difficulty in a proper cost-benefit analysis is the fact that renewables are often sited at quite a distance from where electricity is to be used, leading to the need for a significant number of long distance transmission lines. Furthermore, if renewables provide intermittent power, they need to be sized for the maximum output, not their average output. All of these long distance lines need to be properly maintained, or they tend to cause fires. In some instances, burying the lines underground at significant cost is the only solution. Somehow, these higher costs need to be recognized as part of the cost of the system, but this is rarely done.

Another difficulty in a proper cost-benefit analysis is the fact that renewables’  intermittency must be overcome, if the electricity is to be of benefit to a modern economy that requires electricity 24/7/365. In theory, we could greatly overbuild the renewables system and the transmission. This might work, but we would end up with a large percentage of the system that is not used most of the time, greatly adding to costs.

Batteries can be added, but the cost tends to be high. One commenter on my site recently observed:

EIA reports the average cost for utility scale battery systems to be about $1500 per kWh. At that rate the batteries needed for backing up a solar or wind facility for three days cost around 30 times as much as the RE facility. But wind is often unpowered for more like seven days, during huge stagnant high pressure episodes. Thus the backup battery cost is more like 100 times the wind farm cost. Batteries are not feasible.

The major intermittency problem is season-to-season, especially saving up enough for winter. We do not have a way, today, of storing energy from one season to another, short of making it into a liquid (such as ammonia), and storing the liquid from season to season. This would be another way of driving up costs of the overall system. It has not been included in anyone’s cost calculations.

For the time being, we are forcing nuclear and fossil fuel to provide backup electrical services to intermittent renewables without adequately compensating them for their services. This tends to drive them out of business. This is not an adequate solution either.

A third issue is that renewables really need to be “economic” to work. In other words, they need to generate a profit for their owners, when comparing the unsubsidized costs with the benefits of the system. In fact, their owners need to be able to pay fairly substantial taxes to governments, to cover their share of governmental costs as well. If renewables truly were providing substantial benefit to the system, their use would tend to “take off” on their own, because they would be providing “net energy” to the system. Instead, renewables tend to act like “energy sinks.” They need endless subsidies. They can never substitute for fossil fuels. In fact, they can’t even pay their own way.

A related issue is that, because of the high total costs (as well as their lack of true net energy benefits), it is almost impossible to ramp up the quantity of renewables such as wind and solar very high. The EU has been a big supporter of renewables other than hydroelectric. Figure 7 shows a chart of the EU’s own energy production, together with its energy imports.

EU Energy by Type and Whether Imported

Figure 7. EU energy by type and whether imported, based on data of BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Renewables are non-hydroelectric renewables such as wind, solar, and geothermal.

After at least 20 years of subsidies, the EU has been able to increase renewables (other than hydroelectric) to about 10% of its total energy supply. The EU’s oil imports are roughly level, and its natural gas imports have been increasing. Even with rapid growth in non-hydro renewables, the EU has been experiencing a decrease in total energy consumption.

[6] Looking at the actual outcomes, a person might ask, “What in the world were policymakers really thinking about?”

We are told that the reason policymakers made the decisions they did was because they thought that they could reduce CO2 emissions in this way. Really? If a person really wants to reduce CO2 emissions, it is easy to see how to do it. A person simply has to take steps in the direction of reducing global co-operation. One step would be to reduce international trade. Another would be to get rid of umbrella organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and the European Union. In fact, within individual countries, the top level of government could be removed, leaving (for example) the provinces of Canada and the states of the United States. In other words, policymakers could push economies in the direction of collapse.

Another way collapse could be encouraged would be by rapidly raising interest rates or cutting off credit. With less purchasing power, the world would be pushed into recession.

At the time of the Kyoto Protocol, policymakers moved in precisely the opposite direction of pushing the economy toward collapse. They moved in the direction of adding international trade and more debt to enable the growth. The countries with greater trade had huge coal resources that had not been used. With the help of this coal, the world economy was able to continue to grow. This approach only made sense if the real problem at the time of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 was too little energy resources, not too much. The economy needed the stimulation that more low-cost energy and more debt could provide.

It is now more than twenty years later. The coal resources of China are starting to deplete. Coal is also causing serious ground-level pollution problems, both in China and India. Without growing coal production, world GDP growth starts slowing. We are again facing low oil prices and other commodity prices–a problem similar to the one present when the government of the Soviet Union collapsed. The world economy seems again to be headed toward having some of its governmental organizations collapse from inadequate energy. Political parties are becoming more extreme; countries are enacting new tariffs. If we go back to Figure 5, the concern should again be collapse, on the left side of the figure.

[7] The scenarios considered by the IPCC climate model need to be revisited.

A climate model looks to the past and tries to forecast what would happen in alternative “scenarios.” The concern I have is that the scenarios evaluated are not realistic. To get to the level of CO2 that would produce the most extreme scenarios, coal production would need to continue at a high level for many, many years. This seems unrealistic because world coal production has been fairly flat for several years, and prices tend to be lower than producers require if they are to stay in business. The likely direction for coal production seems to be down, rather than up.

Figure 8. World Energy Consumption by Fuel, based on data of 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

In order for coal production to grow as much as the higher emission scenarios assume, there needs to be a major turnaround in the situation. World coal prices would need to rise substantially. In fact, coal in very difficult locations for extraction, such as under the North Sea, need to become profitable to extract. This situation seems very unlikely.

It seems to me that climate modelers should be considering more realistic scenarios regarding CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. One scenario which should be considered is the possible near term collapse of several governmental organizations, such as the European Union, World Trade Organization, and the governments of several oil exporting countries.

[8] The push toward renewables makes little sense without a firmer foundation than currently exists.

Early studies looked only at the cost of renewables themselves, without the cost of extra long-distance grid transportation and battery storage. Such an estimate makes renewables look far more valuable than they really are.

We now have enough experience that we can see what goes wrong. A hydroelectric plant that operates during the wet season in a tropical country may be of little practical use, for example, if there is no fossil fuel energy available to provide backup electricity production during the dry season. The total cost of the overlapping systems needs to be taken into consideration, including the need to hire staff year around for both the fossil fuel and hydroelectric facilities. Electricity transmission will likely be needed for both types of generation.

There are many other real-world examples that can be examined, before blanket “use renewables” recommendations should be issued. If renewables are not truly very inexpensive (around 2 cents per kWh or less), without subsidies, they are likely not to be long-lasting. Subsidies become more and more difficult to maintain, as a system scales up.

This entry was posted in Energy policy, Financial Implications 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.

1,380 thoughts on “Do the World’s Energy Policies Make Sense?

  1. A Bank of America Merril Lynch report:

    The 2020s are set to be a decade of dramatic economic and social upheaval, reversing many of the trends of the past 40 years, according to one of the world’s largest banks.
    In what it describes as “the decade of peak”, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) analysts say a range of economic and social challenges are “all heading to a boiling point” next decade
    BAML is also predicting that the world will finally hit “peak oil” — but not in the way most analysts had previously predicted, which is that production would hit a maximum and drop off. Instead, the bank expects oil demand to hit a peak next decade and start falling away.

    • Interesting but not very realistic view. They are expecting more rapid growth and higher interest rates, but less demand for energy products. That combination is extremely unlikely.

      Lower demand comes from too much wage disparity. That is already happening, I am afraid. That is what gives too low prices for producers. We are already there.

      They are right about economic and social challenges reaching a boiling point, however.

      • “Lower demand comes from too much wage disparity. That is already happening, I am afraid. That is what gives too low prices for producers. We are already there.”

        That’s what I keep saying on Steve St. Angelo’s site that we are at the point in the “Peak Oil” era where prices are too high for the consumers so when they cutback on energy it hurts the economy because with a HUGE wage disparity i.e. stagnate wages and inflation they can’t afford higher energy prices so they take that money out of the economy.

        But the problem becomes that the energy producers need those higher prices to offset their exploration and production costs. We have picked all the low hanging fruit. Now we are dealing with higher costs to get at the remaining oil that’s in the ground and out at sea or in tar sands etc.

        • The other problem I see is that the lines of what energy producers need and what the consumers can afford to pay are beginning to meet in the middle where in a few decades both the high and low prices will not be able to move at all. So the energy producers will be in a position where they will have to accept selling their product for a HUGE LOSS, which will then result in just leaving it in the ground.

  2. Pingback: Do the World’s Energy Policies Make Sense? – Enjeux énergies et environnement

  3. in section 6

    Another way collapse could be SIMULATED would be by rapidly raising interest rates or cutting off credit. With less purchasing power, the world would be pushed into recession.

    Should that be “stimulated”. Feel free to delete this post.

    A good post . Thanks Gail.


    • since you mentioned recession, I’ll provide this story:

      “German GDP (gross domestic product) grew by 0.1% in the third quarter, exceeding the -0.1% contraction expected and narrowly avoiding a technical recession.”

      as Harry posted a few days ago, it’s amazing how some countries lately have been avoiding recession by the slimmest of margins…

      plus 0.1 wow! who doubts that number? wink wink…

      • I agree. A 0.1% increase does sound more than a little suspicious. I am sure there are a number of places where estimation is used. These estimates could easily change the outcome by more than 0.1%.

      • I’m glad you picked up on that, Davidin100etc. – it gave me a good chortle!

        Of course Germany is in recession. Their manufacturing PMI, export orders etc. have absolutely fallen off a cliff and that is now spilling over into the rest of the economy.

        But ‘recession’ is such a powerful word – it exerts its own downward pressure on an economy, when spoken by those in power, so I don’t begrudge them their fudged data. It does make me curious though about how these PR decisions are made and by whom. To be a fly on the wall!

      • About as convincing as the Wehrmacht claim that they had nothing to do with war crimes and genocide in WW2. Amusing though,

        • But, dear Xabier, that was not the Wehrmacht, is was those dastardly SS! As you may recall, it was the SS who bombed Guernica, by dropping firecrackers from balloons. Or as you may not recall.

    • I changed the phrase to “collapse could be encouraged.” Of course, it is difficult to imagine that any politician would encourage collapse. Instead, they would encourage ridiculous proposed solutions. This is how we got into the renewables over expansion.

      There are some renewables that work, particularly hydroelectric in the right places. But giving wind and solar priority on the grid tends to drive away backup supplies. Wind and solar need quite a lot of batteries, but even with this they need fossil fuels to back them up at the times of year that they are not available.

  4. Annual CO2 emissions have been either declining or stagnating only when there were oil crises

    Even without a revision of IPCC reports we’ll face further temperature increases which will screw us up.

    NASA climatologist James Hansen:

    Climate response time. The ocean has great thermal inertia, which delays the
    global climate response to a climate forcing. Thus even fast feedbacks are slow in
    developing, because they come into play in response to temperature change, not in
    direct response to climate forcing. Ocean-atmosphere models indicate that only
    about two-thirds of the equilibrium temperature change is realized 100 years after
    the forcing is introduced. The remaining one-third of the surface warming is still
    ‘in the pipeline,’ a result confirmed by Earth’s observed energy imbalance.
    Earth remains out of energy balance, more energy coming in than going out,
    because of the ocean’s long response time, i.e., its slow warming in response to
    climate forcing by GHGs. Earth’s energy imbalance can now be measured, as I
    will describe. The global average imbalance is now +0.75 ± 0.25 W/m2
    . Because climate sensitivity is about 0.75°C per W/m2, this energy imbalance implies that
    more than 0.5°C [0.75 × 0.75] additional global warming is in the pipeline.

    How much further will temperature rise if we leave atmospheric CO2 at its
    current amount (about 407 ppm) indefinitely?

    Global mean temperature change on millennial time scales can be estimated
    using ocean cores from many locations around the world. Although this introduces
    uncertainty in the dating compared to the CO2 ice core dating, the results confirm
    the tight control of CO2 on global temperature (Fig. 6). This figure implies that the
    eventual warming for 407 ppm CO2 will be about 3.5°C, including the full effect of
    both fast and slow climate feedback processes

    Click to access 20181206_Nutshell.pdf

    The fires in California and now in Australia give us a foretaste of what is to come

    The Australian government with a Prime Minister wielding a lump of coal in Parliament

    is still in denial mode

    • Full of sound and fury (and “models”)… Signifying what, exactly? What shall humanity actually DO…?
      The climate will change – so it goes.

    • Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth……

      In North America, winter is setting in early.

      Officials Are Using The Word “Disaster” To Describe The Widespread Crop Failures Happening All Over America

      We are witnessing “unprecedented” crop failures all across the United States, but the big mainstream news networks are not talking too much about this yet. As you will see below, local news outlets all over the nation are reporting the disasters that are taking place in their own local areas, but very few people are putting the pieces of the puzzle together on a national level. The endless rain and horrific flooding during the early months of this year resulted in tremendous delays in getting crops planted in many areas, and now snow and bitterly cold temperatures are turning harvest season into a complete and utter nightmare all over the country. I am going to share with you a whole bunch of examples below, but first I wanted to mention the snow and bitterly cold air that are rolling through the middle of the nation right now…

    • cI don’t agree with James Hansen on many things. For instance—and this is a biggie—I don’t think he has come up with a credible scientific explanation of how the atmosphere is supposed to warm the oceans.

      What actually happens in the real world is that sunshine warms the oceans and then the oceans, which cover seven tenths of the Earth’s surface, warm (or cool) the atmosphere through a combination of evaporation, convection and conduction. It’s like the way the water in your bathtub warms or cools the air in your bathroom and not the other way around, only on a global scale.

      I also think James’s activism is way over the top and that he exaggerates the dangers of globbly wobbly to an almost McPhersonesque extent. But after all, he’s been one of the leading promoters of the cause for over three decades now, since that hot summer day in 1988 (probably before most of today’s alarmists were born) when he altered the temperature in the hearing room in the US Congress?

      As his co-conspirator Senator Tim Wirth later confessed:

      … What we did it was went in the night before and opened all the windows, I will admit, right? So that the air conditioning wasn’t working inside the room and so when the, when the hearing occurred there was not only bliss, which is television cameras in double figures, but it was really hot. … So Hansen’s giving this testimony, you’ve got these television cameras back there heating up the room, and the air conditioning in the room didn’t appear to work. So it was sort of a perfect collection of events that happened that day, with the wonderful Jim Hansen, who was wiping his brow at the witness table and giving this remarkable testimony.

      And James has an impressive record of making failed predictions second only to fellow alarmist Paul Erlich.

      But I do admire his doggedness, his criticism of the namby pamby state of climate politics and his fondness for nuclear power. I think the latter is his redeeming grace.

    • I think that fires are going to be the way of the future because of the huge amount of long distance transmission that is needed to support renewables. It is very difficult to maintain all of the transmission lines adequately, so that they do not cause fires when the wind blows. This is especially a problem in hot, dry areas.

      Also, aluminum transmission lines tend to let go of their connecting devices if the lines get too hot (over 93 C. or 200 degrees F). This happen if lines get overburdened with too much electricity. It is difficult to keep up with the huge transmission needs of renewables. If insufficient new lines are added, fires should not be a surprise.

      • The root cause of the fires is high evaporation due to global warming and therefore dry vegetation. How the fires start, is another question. Australian police is even investigating arson

        On Australia’s east coast transmission lines are needed because New South Wales is an absolute energy guzzler and needs to import power from neighboring States.

        NSW power imports in January 2019 heatwave exceed 2 GW, drive up electricity prices

        Sydney Water has estimated that dam levels will be zero by December 2023 if current rainfall patterns continue

        Click to access Greater-Sydney-Operations-Plan-November-2019.pdf

        Good luck to all climate change denying Australian governments

      • Gail, could you please post the source for the claim that HVDC calbes get into troubles after heating to 93 °C? Afaik Aluminium is the metal with the highest melting temperature and this claim does not seem very reasonable.
        Thank you

        • The whole October issue of Utility Products is devoted to “The Evolving Nature of Safety.” The article, Connectors–The Weak Link: Increased operating temperatures are cause for concern by Carl R. Tamm.

          This article talks about 93 degrees C. being the temperature at which aluminum “anneals.” This is a lesser change than “melts,” but it still is tremendously important from a safety point of view. This was most likely not known, when the wiring was put up, 40 years ago or more.

          This article says:

          Mother Nature has conveniently drawn a line in the sand for us, and the magic number is 93˚C (200˚F). This is the temperature associated with the onset of long-term annealing of the tempered aluminum alloys used in the manufacture of most connectors in this industry. Increasing demand for electrical power, coupled with deregulation in the electric utility industry, has nearly exceeded the capacity of the transmission and distribution infrastructure in the United States today. In some areas, critical limits are repeatedly exceeded, resulting in rolling brownouts. The time and expense of developing new rights-of-way for more transmission lines is forcing a review of the present system. In the interim period, many utilities have increased their current load on existing lines, thereby increasing operating temperatures beyond the 90˚C range.

          We can also look at the Wall Street Journal, in its coverage of California fires. It talks about broken “jumpers,” the connectors between power lines, being the problem. PG&E Power Lines Remain Risky to California, Even During Blackouts.

          As background, the utility industry talks about “Transmission and Distribution” Lines. Transmission lines are the big high voltage wires from where the generation takes place to areas to where the electricity is to be used. Distribution lines are the lower voltage lines in local areas. What PG&E and other California utilities have been doing is cutting off is the local transmission lines. What is really the problem, however, is the big transmission lines, constructed many years ago (and now being overloaded by added wind and solar, we can suspect).

          One transmission line that seems to have caused a major fire is the one from the geothermal generation in Northern California. The big transmission lines to the geothermal plants were added years ago. One can reasonably surmise that wind and solar have been added to this transmission line as well, in recent years, tending to overload it.

          An analysis in Venezuela indicates that one of its major outages was caused by electricity transmission line fires to its major hydroelectric dam providing electricity to nearly all of the economy there.

        • The melting point of Aluminium is 660C, a temperature that we shall not reach until 2055 (just kidding). But there are two other, more urgent, problems. The first is that the metal begins to lose its resistance to outside forces well before that point; it becomes more subject to bending and tearing forces. The second is that pure Al cannot survive in the presence of oxygen; it is usually protected by a thin layer of aluminium oxide. But bending and tearing exposes the underlying metal to oxidation, and this can lead to a classic failure cascade.

  5. The term “Third World” originally referred to what you call the “Remainder” countries. It consisted of those states which did not align themselves either with the US bloc or the Soviet bloc (hence the “non-aligned” countries). Of course language evolves, and the term soon took on meanings well beyond what was originally intended (as happened later with the BRIC / BRICS grouping).

    • My Remainder Group is sort of like the Third World grouping, but not exactly. My Remainder Group includes Canada, Australia and Norway, for example. These countries had mineral resources that had not been fully developed, so in many ways they acted a little like the Third World countries, with faster growth. Norway didn’t need to join the EU, because it was in “better shape” than the EU countries, with its oil, gas, and hydroelectric.

  6. Gail, It would be helpful to read your views on the expansion of Nuclear energy as a ‘low cost’ energy alternative. A look at the available numbers would be very interesting.

    • Thanks for the idea. Right now, in most places, nuclear cannot be competitive because of the crazy pricing scheme that gives wind and solar priority when they are available. This causes the price paid to other providers to fall to a level that is too low to cover their costs. In fact, prices fairly often become negative. Nuclear cannot quickly (or economically) shut down. In some places, there are payments made to try to offset this problem, but they are rarely enough.

      This is just one hurdle that nuclear is up against. It would be helpful if I could do a more complete write up, as you say.

      • Gail, nuclear cannot be shut down at all. The basic radioactive decay is intrinsic, and according to quantum theory cannot be stopped. As we found out at Three Mile Island. But that aside, the output of a nuclear reactor is hard to control, because the generated heat feeds three cycles of heat exchangers, all of which have shutdown problems. I accept that this mechanism is feasible with a continuous power output, but changing that power level dynamically in response to demand simply will not work.

        • I agree that it doesn’t make sense for nuclear to ramp up and down in response to wind and solar. I have run across a little ramping up and down in the French nuclear fleet, however.

          Ramping down is unusual, however. Sometimes one unit is taken off line for some reason or other. At Christmastime, when demand is low, output maybe reduced. The author remarks,

          From 24-28 December, there is considerable ramping, but also one reactor shutting off. In the end, the five remaining reactors [out of eight] ramp down to 4.5 GW and back up to 6.5 GW (close to 100% of rated output) during those days, a reduction of nearly a third.

          One commenter says:

          Whilst Golfech was specially designed for ramping most other atom power aren’t.

          Golfech was not designed to ramp for the accommodation of REs but to back up the slow but sometimes very suddenly reacting rest of the atom fleet.

          If these do ramp down – as shown in the German data – this is done by blowing the steam into the atmosphere instead of trough the turbines: note how fast they can ramp down in Germany but how long it takes to bring them back to 100%.

          The commenter later corrects himself:

          This is technically wrong, steam is only released in emergency cases and not during normal operation.

          The boiling water reactors as used in Germany ramp down by inserting the control rods and not by releasing steam.

  7. i just rebuilt my “renewable” energy system’s inverter. the unit had gone 9 years since the last failure, which was 6 years after the 2004 installation… so an average of 7.5 years between servicing. this is fairly typical of what i saw when i worked in the industry. this past summer the charge controller also had problems which necessitated repair. the batteries should be good for another 14 years.

    the circuit boards were $850.00. the replacement charge controller was $450.00. as a retired solar pv system designer & installer, I am fortunate i could do the repairs myself, avoiding the labor charges to hire this done.

    once again this illustrates that “green” power is 100% dependent on the underlying, unsustainable, hydrocarbon powered industrial infrastructure… and it is expensive and onerous to maintain.

      • surrette FC420, flooded lead calcium.

        made for float service as in a grid tie with battery backup application. rated life is ~25 years.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

      And of course, even if you can keep up your own solar system, the rest of the economy needs to keep operating to make spare parts and to give you a job so that you can afford to buy spare parts.

      • exactly gail, which is why i do not consider these top of the technology pyramid systems “renewable”. i do have spare parts to buffer that liability, as backup power is vital for our summer garden irrigation needs.

    • That’s why I didn’t take up solar, as I could foresee the cost of maintenance might be rather high, being unable to do any of the work myself.

      I almost fell for it, though!

      What I most fear is having it imposed on me by legislation in some ridiculous Green New Deal 2nd Industrial Revolution scheme.

      • Apart from anything else, solar panels look hideous.

        My preference with our newbuild was for an oil tank, given that Gail’s articles had clued me in to the ultimately irresistible downward pressure on oil prices, but the council wouldn’t permit it, so I had to install an air source heat pump at a cost of circa £12k. Most tiresome.

        • Heat pumps are the future, according to the Labour party ‘New Green Deal Second Industrial Revolution’: we are proud of you Sir Harry, pathfinder to the the stars!

          Seriously, that’s a simply horrendous-sounding cost, and what’s the likely spare-part situation for you on your island should it prove to be engineered to fail after a few years?

          • I hope heat pumps are, if not the future, at least a good idea. They heat my home. Four boxes on the roof and my rooftop patios, and four smaller boxes in key rooms. Their main advantage is that most of the heat comes from the air outside, not from the energy that drives them. I had them installed last year; this winter will be their real test. But a small one is now keeping my study hall at a balmy 22C, and in a couple of hours an even smaller one will keep my bedroom warm.

            No, I’m not carbon neutral, but the physics says I am heating my home at one third the cost per room, and by keeping only one room at a time warm I am saving over 90% of the CO2 that central heating would require. Your mileage may vary, but for me at least, science trumps propaganda.

      • The biggest challenge in an off-grid lights! With an oil lamp or candle it is possible to move around, find a jacket or the door, but no work is possible. Even playing the guitar is hard. Cooking, cleaning, ironing, knitting, woodwork, medical care, even teaching is impossible. The basis of a self sufficiency situation is a wood driven stove providing warmth, hot water and ironing (hygiene), cooking, conservation and bread. It is possible to improvise it with stones and mud. Without metal pots and a top metal plate, ceramics close to the fire, air is getting polluted making lung deseases more likely. A setting like that requires lots of work (believe me!). What you will be missing badly is light. The dark also gets you tired. If you look to the history of light this has never been solved and the large jumps of productivity came with the aladdin and gas lamps. It even paid electrification after the bulb was developed. Prepys say you only have to survive 3 months longer. I strongly recommend a good stove and a small off-grid solution for light at your hide-away place! A portable solution might be helpful if you think you wanna hide more deep in the wilderness. Remember that it might be a problem to reach that wild spot, especially with screaming kids, a cast-iron stove, solar batteries and panel and your 3-month-food-storage at your back! Never heard of solar batteries lasting 15 years. Do you clean the plates somehow and fill new acids?

        • Skylights might be helpful, if the skylight can be kept 100% leakproof. Living at the equator helps, too, because there you have equal days and nights. I am sure that the winter gets to be really dark, without lights, near the poles.

        • A minor puzzle. The Valley of the Kings contains at least 63 tombs for Ancient Egyptian royalty. All of them are windowless and cut deep into the rock. Most were lavishly decorated with wall paintings. They must have taken years to construct. Yet none of them shows the slightest sign of smoke from a burning torch. So how did those workmen light their way, three thousand years ago?

          • Four possibilities that I can think of:

            1. The artwork was done prior assembly.
            2. They used tech from previous/earlier more advanced civilizations
            3. They used florescence
            4. Aliens gave us a helping hand

            • Thank you; interesting suggestions. I don’t believe #1, because the artwork was painted directly on the wall. And space aliens is a stretch, in spite of the History Channel series.

              My best guess is indeed fluorescence; more specifically, bioluminescence, which the Egyptians certainly knew about.

            • Illumination with torches would have been a certain death sentence from asphyxiation.

              5. The use of polished metal mirrors to focus and reflect light down the passageways.

        • This is why people told stories around the fire, ate and drank, and had sex. Not much more is possible.

          Hard to get meaningful statistics on this, but I worked out that the wax candles to light a modest evening dinner party in the 18th century would have taken the whole month’s wages of a decently-paid worker.

          Puts our easy, brightly-lit, lives into perspective, doesn’t it?

        • Thats different from my thoughts. With LED light sources being what they are… 18650 batteries are readily available and cheap. They power a variety of lighting sources. 10 watts puts out a lot of light nowadays. Solar chargers can be had cheap. Heating and food not so easy. $50 buys a lot of reliable bright light.

      • “That’s why I didn’t take up solar”

        you are a smart man…
        the only reason why i continue to pour time and money into maintaining these “top of the technology pyramid” systems, is because we are dependent on pumped irrigation water for our gardening/ food production needs… but they are in no way clean, green or renewable!

      • My guess is he has nickel iron batteries as I do. Thomas Edison invented them over 100 years ago and they do last (depending on draw down) about 15 years then you replace the electrolyte and you’re good for another 15 years. Our local election car club had a 1915 electric car powered by these batteries that were 100 years old that’s why I chose them.

      • these are flooded lead calcium wet cells, the power plant and telco industry workhorse for their backup power needs. old and very reliable technology. C & D makes them as well as Surrette. mine are the Surrette FC420.

        Click to access FC-420.pdf

  8. With the price of oil so low continued extraction would seem largely dependent on credit debt. Isnt continued debt credit for oil extraction the real energy policy with everything else just part of the illusion of fossil fuel civilization? I would include policy among that illusion. While policy may pretend and extend (and I am thankful for that!) in the end resource depletion is the reality. The real question is of course whether the dept credit financial system fails before actual resource extraction at a reasonable EROI does. Im sure my thoughts are overly simplistic … Imo what allows the credit debt system to function is a reasonable EROI. AS Gail has educated me its clear that a energy source with a EROI far in excess of 10 is needed to keep any semblance of what we have now functioning.
    Politically there seems to be a lot of anger out there. Its very odd from my perspective why when we have it so good? Our species seems to have a penchant for destruction. If angry people act in senseless destruction this may well be the end before financial failure or resource depletion. Our culture always assumes endless energy for rebuilding after the senseless act of war or revolution. Rather humorous if we destroy what the lions share of the planets energy took to create only to find we have ended any chance of continued creation by doing so. IMO the real motive is a seemingly endless appetite for destruction – was that Ozzy? no matter just musing as usual.
    IMO real justice will not be at human hand regardless of ideology but by the planet.

    • Thinking about the future is always problematic as there are so many imponderables. But it is an ingrained habit among humans (possibly in the DNA, and certainly in the culture) to think short- to medium-term and let the long term look after itself. Also, as a general rule, poverty and deprivation place a necessity on short-term thinking. Only the more comfortably off have the luxury of doing things for the long-term future.

      Then again, these days power and technology are often in the hands of utilitarians who don’t recognize the value of things that are of no practical use, corporate types who are obsessed with the bottom line, and over-stressed people who worry themselves to distraction so that they can’t appreciate the taste of good food or the immense beauty of the natural world.

      As the Welsh bard W.H. Davies put it:

      • “Also, as a general rule, poverty and deprivation place a necessity on short-term thinking. Only the more comfortably off have the luxury of doing things for the long-term future.”

        It would be hard to think of a poorer society than Western Europe in the year 1000, and for a couple of centuries after. Yet they had the courage to build our great cathedrals, found our great universities, begin the long, laborious rescue of the great thinkers of Antiquity, and create the legal institutions that were the basis of our modern world, and the financial institutions that generated the city states of the Renaissance.

        Their purse was poor, but their spirit was great. Our modern world is in a far worse plight: rich in purse, but desperately poor in spirit.

        And this is captured explicitly in the famous line “infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible.” A counterexample sits on my bookshelf, a compact volume of 1100 pages that captures over eight hundred years of continuous growth. It’s name? “The Oxford Book of English Verse”.

        • Quite so: I was fascinated and a little surprised to trace one branch of my family tree to some townspeople who moved from Old Burgundy, in SE France, to the Kingdom of Navarre, in what is now SW France and N Spain, sometime between 900 and 1100 AD.

          Directed by advisors from the Church -mostly French in origin, it being a more advanced region – , the king had invited settlers so long as they were craftsmen, literate or innkeepers (!) to turn his kingdom of small farmers and shepherds into a proper state as the Muslims retreated and he faced intense competition from neighbouring rulers. Simultaneously, great monasteries were established, and cathedrals and castles built.

          At that time, even the journey down the Rhone valley was rather dangerous, and the energy they must have had is impressive to contemplate. Just like the later Normans in England.

          One of the towns they built was Estella, famous for its beauty and wealth from trade (‘Estella la Bella’), now a festering dump full of the wrong kind of immigrants – E European gypsies, the unskilled and semi-criminal. All invited to address the 21st century demographic crisis, but in fact causing a social one……

          Why were innkeepers so important as immigrants in the 11th century? Because you couldn’t attract international merchants without a good, safe, network of inns. Even so, it remained a hard and dangerous journey.

          Interesting to note that even in 900-1000, parts of Europe such as France had a surplus of skilled, bourgeois, people able to – quite literally – build a new kingdom, and a beautiful one. I often feel we underestimate that Age.

      • The short-termism of the very rich today is ‘I want my huge profit this year!’ Obviously , financialisation meets their wishes perfectly.

        The early bankers and merchants worked on business cycles that lasted years – because trade was slower, and manufacturing was by hand.

        So maybe 5 years from buying raw wool in England to selling all the stock of finished cloth in Spain or Italy.

        Of course, they were still very rapacious people, but phsyical and geographic limits could not be evaded.

      • “appreciate the taste of good food or the immense beauty of the natural world.” Im afraid I am guilty of getting caught up in things that i choose to spend my time on instead of feeling the beauty of nature. Thank you for your comment. Good reminder. The truth is it is my choice. Live in appreciation of beauty or the rest…

        • I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.
          Nature I loved, and, next to nature, Art;
          I warm’d both hands before the fire of Life;
          It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

          Walter Savage Landor ( 1775 to 1864)

    • Ultimately, the planet will decide the outcome. Our politicians would like us to believe that they are in charge and have solutions, but this is not really the case.

      People do rebel when they feel that they aren’t getting a fair share of the economy’s output. This is why the top layer of organizations are so vulnerable.

        • There is not a single aspect of that article i agree with including the premise conotated by the title. A garbage handler in the USA has a better standard of living than a brain surgeon in New Delhi. Rewarding productivity with compensation is not without flaw but it certainly does provide a good standard of living for those willing to work. Arguments that it does not are simply not true.
          As we encounter resource depletion their is less to go around. No system of compensation can overcome this. Attributing less wealth to anything else than resource depletion incites anger. Anger. hate and the actions it creates will not change this.

          • Well I think it is well founded. The winners and losers are the issue here, aided and abetted by rampant Capitalism. This system is the MOST EXPENSIVE economic system second perhaps only to a dictatorship. Because capitalism doesn’t add in the external costs it avoids understanding that it is so expensive. I read the UK government found that the external costs of 1 homeless man per year as 30,000 pounds and it want up to 400,000 pounds in extreme cases.

        • But the US spends more money on the poor than any government in history. “Mandatory” spending is now 2/3 of the federal budget, and it has been increasing for 70 years. An odd form of social darwinism.

          No: the problem is “entitlements”, which encourage people not to save (Social Security will pay), not to stay healthy (Medicare / Medicaid will pay), not to support even their own children (AFD will pay), and not to practice prudence and thrift (the plastic card will pay).

          And perhaps the most pernicious effect is that this system not only discourages philanthropy, it demonises it. The filthy rich of the past, from George Peabody to Andrew Carnegie, practiced the latter’s “Gospel of Wealth”, and its mighty influence lasted well into the twentieth century. Until government bureaucrats decided charity should only be done with other people’s money.

  9. So, do all these provisos ruin the possibility that we can get a viable system of renewables up to the point we can rely on a useful contribution from renewables. It’s not looking workable and if the external costs blow the equations out the window, we are going to have some expensive white elephant infrastructure?? .

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