## Energy Transitions Past and Future

This is a guest post from Cutler Cleveland. It provides an excellent big picture overview of what variables we need to consider as we transition away from an extreme fossil fuel subsidy. Professor Cleveland previously wrote "Energy From Wind - A Discussion of the EROI Research", and "Ten Fundamental Principles of Net Energy" posted on theoildrum.com. Cutler Cleveland is a Professor at Boston University and has been researching and writing on energy issues for over 20 years. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Earth, Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Energy, the Dictionary of Energy and the Journal of Ecological Economics

Prometheus chained to Mount Caucasus. Source: Pieter Paul Rubens: ''Prometheus Bound,'' 1611-1612, Oil on canvas, 95 7/8" x 82 1/2". (Philadelphia Museum of Art: The W.P. Wilstach Collection) Click to Enlarge

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This is a guest post from Cutler Cleveland. It provides an excellent big picture overview of what variables we need to consider as we transition away from an extreme fossil fuel subsidy. Professor Cleveland previously wrote "Energy From Wind - A Discussion of the EROI Research", and "Ten Fundamental Principles of Net Energy" posted on theoildrum.com. Cutler Cleveland is a Professor at Boston University and has been researching and writing on energy issues for over 20 years. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Earth, Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Energy, the Dictionary of Energy and the Journal of Ecological Economics

Prometheus chained to Mount Caucasus. Source: Pieter Paul Rubens: ''Prometheus Bound,'' 1611-1612, Oil on canvas, 95 7/8" x 82 1/2". (Philadelphia Museum of Art: The W.P. Wilstach Collection) Click to Enlarge

### INTRODUCTION

In Greek mythology, Prometheus defied the will of Zeus by stealing fire and giving it to the mortal race of men in their dark caves. Zeus was enraged by Prometheus' deceit, so he had Prometheus carried to Mount Caucasus, where an eagle would pick at his liver; it would grow back each day and the eagle would eat it again. Fire transformed mortal life by providing light, warmth, cooking, healing and ultimately the ability to smelt and forge metals, and to bake bricks, ceramics, and lime. Fire became the basis for the Greek culture and ultimately all Western culture. It is no wonder, therefore, that the Greeks attributed fire not to a mortal origin, but to a Titan, one of the godlike giants who were considered to be the personifications of the forces of nature.

If fire was the first Promethean energy technology, then Promethean II was the heat engine, powered first by wood and coal, and then by oil and natural gas. Like fire, heat engines achieve a qualitative conversion of energy (heat into mechanical work), and they sustain a chain reaction process by supplying surplus energy. Surplus energy or (net energy) is the gross energy extracted less the energy used in the extraction process itself. The Promethean nature of fossil fuels is due to the much larger surplus they deliver compared to animate energy converters such as draft animals and human labor.

The changes wrought by fossil fuels exceeded even those produced by the introduction of fire. The rapid expansion of the human population and its material living standard over the past 200 years could not have been produced by direct solar energy and wood being converted by plants, humans and draft animals. Advances in every human sphere — commerce, agriculture, transportation, the military, science and technology, household life, health care, public utilities—were driven directly or indirectly by the changes in society's underlying energy systems.

In the coming decades, world oil production will peak and then begin to decline, followed by natural gas and eventually coal production. There is considerable debate about when these peaks will occur because such information would greatly aid energy companies, policy makers, and the general public. But at another level, the timing of peak fossil fuel production doesn't really matter. A more fundamental issue is the magnitude and nature of the energy transition that will eventually occur. The next energy transition undoubtedly will have far reaching impacts just as fire and fossil fuels did. However, the next energy transition will occur under a very different set of conditions, which are the subject of the rest of this discussion.

### The Magnitude of the Shift

Figure 2. Composition of U.S. energy use. (Source: Cutler Cleveland) Click to Enlarge

The last major transition occurred in the late 19th century when coal replaced wood as the dominant fuel. Figure 2 illustrates this transition for the United States, a period often referred to as the second Industrial Revolution (the first being the widespread replacement of manual labor by machines that began in Britain in the 18th century, and the resultant shift from a largely rural and agrarian population to a town-centered society engaged increasingly in factory manufacture). Wood and animal feed suppled more than 95% of the energy used in the United States in 1800. The population of the nation stood at just 5.3 million people, per capita GDP was about $1,200 (in real US$2000), dominant energy converters were human labor and draft animals (horses), and the population was overwhelmingly rural and concentrated near the eastern seaboard.

Figure 3. The global flux of fossil and renewable fuels. (Source: Smil, V. 2006. "21st century energy: Some sobering thoughts.'' OECD Observer 258/59: 22-23.)Click to Enlarge

The nation was completely transformed by World War I. Coal had replaced wood as the dominant fuel, meeting 70% of the nation's energy needs, with hydropower and newcomers oil and natural gas combining for an additional 15%. Steam engines and turbines had replaced people and draft animals as the dominant energy converters. The population had soared to more than 100 million, per capita GDP had increased by a factor of five to $6,000, more than half of the nation's population lived in cities, and manufacturing and services accounted for most of the nation's economic output. Thus, the transition from wood to fossil fuels, and its associated shift in the energy-using capital stock, produced as fundamental a transition in human existence as did the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. How much renewable energy is needed if it were to replace fossil fuels in the same pattern as coal replaced wood? The United States first consumed as much coal as wood in about 1885. Total energy use then was about 5.6 quadrillion BTU (1 quadrillion = 1015), equal to about 0.19 TW (Terawatts or 1012 watts). Consider what it would take today to replace even just one-half of U.S. fossil fuel use with renewable energy: we would need to displace coal and petroleum energy flows of 2.9 TW, or 32 times the amount of coal used in 1885. Current global fossil fuel use is about 13 TW, so we need more than 6 TW of renewable energies to replace 50% of all fossil fuels. This is a staggering shift. Is renewable energy up to this challenge? There are physical, economic, technical, environmental, and social components to this question. Figure 3 depicts one slice of the picture: pure physical availability as measured by the global annual flow of various energies. The only renewable energy that exceeds annual global fossil fuel use is direct solar radiation, which is several orders of magnitudes larger than fossil fuel use. To date however, the delivery of electricity (photovoltaics) or heat (solar thermal) directly from solar energy represents a tiny fraction of our energy portfolio due to economic and technical constraints. Most other renewable energy flows could not meet current energy needs even if they were fully utilized. More importantly, there are important qualitative aspects to solar, wind, and biomass energy that pose unique challenges to their widespread utilization. ### ENERGY QUALITY Most discussions of energy require the aggregation of different forms and types of energy. The notion of "total energy use" in Figures 2 and 3 indicates that various physical amounts of energy—coal, oil, gas, uranium, kilowatt-hours (kWh), radiation—are added together. The simplest and most common form form of aggregation is to add up the individual variables according to their thermal equivalents (BTUs, joules, etc.). For example, 1 kWh is equal to 3.6x106 joules, 1 barrel of oil is equal to 6.1x109 joules, and so on. Despite its widespread use, aggregation by heat content ignores the fact that not all joules are equal. For example, a joule of electricity can perform tasks such as illumination and spinning a CD-ROM that other forms of energy cannot do, or could do in a much more cumbersome and expensive fashion (Imagine trying to power your laptop directly with coal). These differences among types of energy are described by the concept of energy quality, which is the difference in the ability of a unit of energy to produce goods and services for people. Energy quality is determined by a complex combination of physical, chemical, technical, economic, environmental and social attributes that are unique to each form of energy. These attributes include gravimetric and volumetric energy density, power density, emissions, cost and efficiency of conversion, financial risk, amenability to storage, risk to human health, spatial distribution, intermittency, and ease of transport. ### Energy Density Figure 4. Energy densities for various fuels and forms of energy. (Source: Cutler Cleveland) Click to Enlarge Energy density refers to the quantity of energy contained in a form of energy per unit mass or volume. The units of energy density are megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg) or megajoules per liter (MJ/l). Figure 4 illustrates a fundamental driver behind earlier energy transitions: the substitution of coal for biomass and then petroleum for coal were shifts to more concentrated forms of energy. Solid and liquid fossil fuels have much larger mass densities than biomass fuels, and and an even greater advantage in terms of volumetric densities. The preeminent position of liquid fuels derived from crude oil in terms of its combined densities is one reason why it transformed the availability, nature and impact of personal and commercial transport in society. The lower energy density of biomass (12-15 MJ/kg) compared to crude oil (42 MJ/kg) means that replacing the latter with the former will require a significantly larger infrastructure (labor, capital, materials, energy) to produce an equivalent quantity of energy. The concept of energy density underlies many of the challenges facing the large scale utilization of hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen has the highest energy to weight ratio of all fuels. One kg of hydrogen contains the same amount of energy as 2.1 kg of natural gas or 2.8 kg of gasoline. The high gravimetric density of hydrogen is one reason why it is used for a fuel in the space program to power the engines that lift objects against gravity. However, hydrogen has an extremely low amount of energy per unit volume (methane has nearly 4 times more energy per liter than hydrogen). Hydrogen's low volumetric energy density poses significant technical and economic challenges to the large-scale production, transport and storage for commercial amounts of the fuel. ### Power Density Figure 5. Power densities for fossil and renewable fuels. (Source: Smil, V. 2006. ''21st century energy: Some sobering thoughts.'' OECD Observer 258/59: 22-23.) Click to Enlarge Power density is the rate of energy production per unit of the earth’s area, and is usually expressed in watts per square meter (W/m2). The environmental scientist Vaclav Smil has documented the important differences between fossil and renewable energies, and their implications for the next energy transition. Due to the enormous amount of geologic energy invested in their formation, fossil fuel deposits are an extraordinarily concentrated source of high-quality energy, commonly extracted with power densities of 10^2 or 10^3 W/m2 of coal or hydrocarbon fields. This means that very small land areas are needed to supply enormous energy flows. In contrast, biomass energy production has densities well below 1 W/m2, while densities of electricity produced by water and wind are commonly below 10 W/m2. Only photovoltaic generation, a technique not yet ready for mass utilization, can deliver more than 20 W/m2 of peak power. The high power densities of energy systems has enabled the increasing concentration of human activity. About 50% of the world's population occupies less than 3% of the inhabited land area; economic activity is similarly concentrated. Buildings, factories and cities currently use energy at power densities of one to three orders of magnitude lower than the power densities of the fuels and thermal electricity that support them. Smil observes that in order to energize the existing residential, industrial and transportation infrastructures inherited from the fossil-fueled era, a solar-based society would have to concentrate diffuse flows to bridge these large power density gaps. Mismatch between the inherently low power densities of renewable energy flows and relatively high power densities of modern final energy uses means that a solar-based system will require a profound spatial restructuring with major environmental and socioeconomic consequences. Most notably according to Smil, there would be vastly increased fixed land requirements for primary conversions, especially with all conversions relying on inherently inefficient photosynthesis whose power densities of are minuscule: the mean is about 450 mW/m2 of ice-free land, and even the most productive fuel crops or tree plantations have gross yields of less than 1 W/m2 and subsequent conversions to electricity and liquid fuels prorate to less than 0.5 W/m2. ### Energy Surplus Figure 6. The energy return on investment (EROI) for various fuel sources in the U.S. (Source: Cutler Cleveland) Click to Enlarge Energy return on investment (EROI) is the ratio of the energy extracted or delivered by a process to the energy used directly and indirectly in that process. A common related term is energy surplus, which is the gross amount of energy extracted or delivered, minus the energy used directly and indirectly in that process. The unprecedented expansion of the human population, the global economy, and per capita living standards of the last 200 years was powered by high EROI, high energy surplus fossil fuels. The penultimate position of fossil fuels in the energy hierarchy stems from the fact that they have a high EROI and a very large energy surplus. The largest oil and gas fields, which are found early in the exploration process due to their sheer physical size, delivered energy surpluses that dwarfed any previous source (and any source developed since then). That surplus, in combination with other attributes, is what makes conventional fossil fuels unique. The long-run challenge society faces is to replace the current system with a combination of alternatives with similar attributes and a much lower carbon intensity. Most alternatives to conventional liquid fuels have very low or unknown EROIs (Figure 6). The EROI for ethanol derived from corn grown in the U.S. is about 1.5:1, well below that for conventional motor gasoline. Ethanol from sugarcane grown in Brazil apparently has a higher EROI, perhaps as high as 8:1, due to higher yields of sugarcane compared to corn, the use of bagasse as an energy input, and significant cost reductions in ethanol production technology. Shale oil and coal liquefaction have low EROIs and high carbon intensities, although little work has been done in this area in more than 20 years. The Alberta oil sands remain an enigma from a net energy perspective. Anecdotal evidence suggests an EROI of 3:1, but these reports lack veracity. Certainly oil sands will have a lower EROI than conventional crude oil due to the more diffuse nature of the resource base and associated increase in direct and indirect processing energy costs. ### Intermittency Figure 7. A typical 24 hour load profile for a residence in San Jose, CA. (Source: NREL) Click to Enlarge Intermittency refers to the fraction of time that an energy source is available to society. It is an essential feature of electricity generation systems that must combine power generated from multiple sources and locations to supply electricity "24/7." The wind does not blow all the time and the sun does not shine all the time, so a wind turbine and PV array sometimes stand idle. One aspect of intermittency is the load factor or capacity factor, which is the ratio of the output of a power plant compared to the maximum output it could produce. Due to the more or less continuous nature of fossil fuel extraction, thermal power plants have capacity factors of 75 to 90 percent. Typical annual average load factors for wind power are in the range of 20 to 35 percent, depending primarily on wind climate, but also wind turbine design. Figure 8. The variability of wind energy over a 1y day period. The figure compares the hourly output of 500 MW wind power capacity in two situations, calculated from observed data in Denmark. The red line shows the output of a single site; the blue line shows the multiple site output. Source: European Wind Energy Association, ''Large scale integration of wind energy in the European power supply: analysis, issues and recommendations'' (December 2005) Click to Enlarge Load profiles show characteristic daily and seasonal patterns (Figure 7). For example, most hourly profiles for commercial and institutional facilities rise in the middle of the day and then taper off during early morning and late evening hours. Wind and solar energy availability frequently do not match typical load profiles (Figure 8). Such intermittency means that wind and solar power are really not “dispatchable”—you can’t necessarily start them up when you most need them. Thus, when wind or solar power is first added to a region’s grid, they do not replace an equivalent amount of existing generating capacity—i.e. the thermal generators that already existed will not immediately be shut down. This is measured by capacity credit, which is the reduction of installed power capacity at thermal power stations enabled by the addition of wind or solar power in such a way that the probability of loss of load a peak times is not increased. So, for example, 1000 MW of installed wind power with a capacity credit of 30% can avoid a 300 MW investment in conventional dispatchable power. A recent survey of U.S. utilities reveals capacity credits given to wind power in the range of 3 to 40 percent of rated wind capacity, with many falling in the 20 to 30 percent range. A large geographical spread of wind or solar power is needed to reduce variability, increase predictability and decrease the occurrences of near zero or peak output. These and other "ancillary costs" associated with wind and solar power are small at low levels of utilization, but rise as those sources further penetrate the market. In the longer run, the impacts of these additional costs on the the deployment of wind and solar power must be compared with the effective costs of other low-carbon power sources such as nuclear power, or the costs of fossil thermal generation under strong carbon constraints (i.e., carbon capture and storage). ### Spatial distribution Figure 9. The distribution of wind speeds at 80 meters, the hub height of a modern turbine. (Source: Cristina L. Archer and Mark Z. Jacobson, Evaluation of global wind power) Click to Enlarge All natural resources show distinct geographical gradients. In the case of oil and natural gas for example, the ten largest geologic provinces contain more than 60 percent of known volumes, and half of those are in the Persian Gulf. Coal and uranium deposits also are distributed in distinct, concentrated distributions. The pattern of occurrence imposes transportation and transaction costs, and in the case of oil and strategic minerals, also imposes risk associated with economic and national security. Figure 10. The distribution of solar energy exhibits a strong geographical gradient. (Source: NREL) Click to Enlarge Of course, renewable energy flows exhibit their own characteristic distributions (Figures 9 and 10), producing mismatches between areas of high-quality supply and demand centers. Many large urban areas are far from a high-quality source of geothermal energy, do not have high wind power potential, or have low annual rates of solar insolation. Indeed, many of the windiest and sunny regions in the world are virtually uninhabited. The spatial distribution of renewable energy flows means that significant new infrastructures will be needed to collect, concentrate and deliver useful amounts of power and energy to demand centers. ### THE ENVIRONMENTAL FRONTIER IS CLOSED The transition from wood to coal occurred when the human population was small, its affluence was modest, and its technologies were much less powerful than today. As a result, environmental impacts associated with energy had negligible global impact, although local impacts were at times quite significant. Any future energy transition will operate under a new set of environmental constraints. Environmental change has significantly impaired the health of people, economics and ecosystems at local, regional and global scales. Future energy systems must be designed and deployed with environmental constraints that were absent from the minds of the inventors of the steam engine and internal combustion engines. ### Air Pollution and Climate Change Figure 11. The Mauna Loa curve showing the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations (Source: Keeling, C.D. and T.P. Whorf. 2005. Atmospheric CO2 records from sites in the SIO air sampling network. In Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A.) Click to Enlarge Atmospheric releases from fossil fuel energy systems comprise 64 percent of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions from 1850-1990 (Figure 11), 89 percent of global anthropogenic sulfur emissions from 1850 to 1990, and 17 percent of global anthropogenic methane emissions from 1860-1994. Fossil energy combustion also releases significant quantities of nitrogen oxide; in the United States, 23 percent of such emissions are from energy use. Power generation using fossil fuels, especially coal, is a principal source of trace heavy metals such as mercury, selenium, and arsenic. These emissions drive a range of global and regional environmental changes, including global climate change, acid deposition, and urban smog, and they pose a major health risk. According to the Health Effects Institute, the global annual burden of outdoor air pollution amounts to about 0.8 million premature deaths and 6.4 million years of life lost. This burden occurs predominantly in developing countries; 65% in Asia alone. According to the World Health Organization, in the year 2000, indoor air pollution from solid fuel use was responsible for more than 1.6 million annual deaths and 2.7% of the global burden of disease. This makes this risk factor the second biggest environmental contributor to ill health, behind unsafe water and sanitation. Climate change may be the most far-reaching impact associated with fossil fuel use. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from a pre-industrial value of about 280 parts per million (ppm) to 379 ppm in 2005 (Figure 6). The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in 2005 exceeds by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm) as determined from ice cores. The primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period results from fossil fuel use, with land use change providing another significant but smaller contribution. The increase in carbon dioxide concentrations are a principal driving force behind the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century. Carbon intensity is an increasingly important attribute of fuel and power systems. Social and political forces to address climate change may produce another distinguishing feature of the next energy transition: environmental considerations may be a key important driver, rather then the inherent advantages of energy systems as measured by energy density, power density, net energy, and so on. ### Appropriation of the products of the biosphere Figure 12. Human appropriation of net primary production (NPP) as a percentage of the local NPP. (Source: Imhoff, Marc L., Lahouari Bounoua, Taylor Ricketts, Colby Loucks, Robert Harriss, and William T. Lawrence. 2004. Global patterns in human consumption of net primary production. ''Nature'', 429, 24 June 2004: 870-873. Image retrieved from NASA) Click to Enlarge The low energy and power density of most renewable alternatives collides with a second global environmental imperative: human use of the Earth's plant life for food, fiber, wood and fuelwood. Satellite measurements have been used to calculate the annual net primary production (NPP)—the net amount of solar energy converted to plant organic matter through photosynthesis—on land, and then combined with models to estimate the annual percentage of NPP humans consume (Figure 12). Humans in sparsely populated areas, like the Amazon, consume a very small percentage of locally generated NPP. Large urban areas consume 300 times more than the local area produced. North Americans use almost 24 percent of the region's NPP. On a global scale, humans annually require 20 percent of global NPP. Human appropriation of NPP, apart from leaving less for other species to use, alters the composition of the atmosphere, levels of biodiversity, energy flows within food webs, and the provision of important ecosystem services. There is strong evidence from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and other research that our use of NPP has seriously compromised many of the planet's basic ecosystem services. Replacing energy-dense liquid fuels from crude oil with less energy dense biomass fuels will require 1,000- to 10,000-fold increase in land area relative to the existing energy infrastructure, and thus place additional significant pressure on the planet's life support systems. ### The rise of energy markets When coal replaced wood, most energy markets were local or regional in scale, and many were informal. Energy prices were based on local economic and political forces. Most energy today is traded in formal markets, and prices often are influenced by global events. Crude oil prices drive the trends in price for most other forms of energy, and they are formed by a complex, dynamic, and often unpredictable array of economic, geologic, technological, weather, political, and strategic forces. The rise of commodity and futures markets for energy not only added volatility to energy markets, and hence energy prices, but also helped elevate energy as to a key strategic financial commodity. The sheer volume of energy bought and sold today combined with high energy prices has transformed energy corporations into powerful multinational forces. In 2006, five of the world's largest corporations were energy suppliers (Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips). The privatization of state-owned energy industries is also a development of historic dimensions that is transforming the global markets for oil, gas, coal and electric power. Global market forces will thus be an important driving force behind the next energy transition. There is considerable debate about the extent to which markets can and should be relied upon to guide the choice of our future energy mix. Externalities and subsidies are pervasive across all energy systems in every nation. The external cost of greenhouse gas emissions from energy use looms as a critical aspect of energy markets and environmental policy. The distortion of market signals by subsidies and externalities suggests that government policy intervention is needed to produce the socially desirable mix of energy. The effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions at the international level is the penultimate example of government intervention in energy markets. The political and social debate about the nature and degree of government energy policy will intensify when global crude oil supply visibly declines and as pressure mounts to act on climate change. ### Energy and poverty Figure 14. Energy and basic human needs. The international relationship between energy use (kilograms of oil equivalent per capita) and the Human Development Index (2000). (Source: UNDP, 2002, WRI, 2002) Click to Enlarge The energy transition that powered the Industrial Revolution helped create a new economic and social class by raising the incomes and changing the occupations of a large fraction of society who were then employed in rural, agrarian economies. The next energy transition will occur under fundamentally different socioeconomic conditions. Future energy systems must supply adequate energy to support the high and still growing living standards in wealthy nations, and they must supply energy sufficient to relieve the abject poverty of the world's poorest. The scale of the world's underclass is unprecedented in human history. According to the World Bank, about 1.2 billion people still live on less than$1 per day, and almost 3 billion on less than $2 per day. Nearly 110 million primary school age children are out of school, 60 percent of them girls. 31 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS. And many more live without adequate food, shelter, safe water, and sanitation. Energy use and economic development go hand-in-hand (Figure 14), so poverty has an important energy dimension: the lack of access to high quality forms of energy. Energy poverty has been defined as the absence of sufficient choice in accessing adequate, affordable, reliable, high quality, safe and environmentally benign energy services to support economic and human development. Nearly 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and some 2.4 billion people rely on traditional biomass—wood, agricultural residues and dung—for cooking and heating. The combustion of those traditional fuels has profound human health impacts, especially for woman and children. Access to liquid and gaseous fuels and electricity is a necessary condition for poverty reduction and improvements in human health. ### CONCLUSIONS The debate about "peak oil" aside, there are relatively abundant remaining supplies of fossil fuels. Their quality is declining, but not yet to the extent that increasing scarcity will help trigger a major energy transition like wood scarcity did in the 19th century. The costs of wind, solar and biomass have declined due to steady technical advances, but in key areas of energy quality—density, net energy, intermittancy, flexibility, and so on—they remain inferior to conventional fuels. Thus, alternative energy sources are not likely to supplant fossil fuels in the short term without substantial and concerted policy intervention. The need to restrain carbon emissions may provide the political and social pressure to accelerate the transition to wind, biomass and solar, as this is one area where they clearly trump fossil fuels. Electricity from wind and solar sources may face competition from nuclear power, the sole established low-carbon power source with significant potential for expansion. If concerns about climate change drive a transition to renewable sources, it will be the first time in human history that energetic imperatives, especially the the economic advantages of higher-quality fuels, were not the principal impetus. #### FURTHER READING * Dimitri, Carolyn, Anne Effland, and Neilson Conklin, The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy. Electronic Information Bulletin Number 3, June 2005, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. * European Wind Energy Association, Large scale integration of wind energy in the European power supply: analysis, issues and recommendations (December 2005). * Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Summary for Policymakers, February 2007. * Johnston, Louis D. and Samuel H. Williamson, The Annual Real and Nominal GDP for the United States, 1790 - Present. Economic History Services, retrieved April 1, 2006. * Milligan, M. and K. Porter, Determining the Capacity Value of Wind: A Survey of Methods and Implementation, Conference Paper NREL/CP-500-38062 May 2005. * Reddy, A.K.N., Energy and social issues, in World Energy Assessment: the challenge of sustainability, UNDP/UNDESA/WEC, New York, 2000. * Smil, V. 2006. "21st century energy: Some sobering thoughts". OECD Observer 258/59: 22-23. * World Bank PovertyNet. Citation Cleveland, Cutler (Lead Author); Peter Saundry (Topic Editor). 2007. "Energy transitions past and future." In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published April 11, 2007; Last revised May 3, 2007; Retrieved August 7, 2007]. Source here Thank you Professor Cleveland for this prespective as it greatly helped me to put things in place in my mind a bit more. This seems like the place to ask a question that has been plaguing me reciently. If managed properly did we ever have enough resources/ FF to break our Earthly bonds and become God like, Citizens of the Universe, expand our horizons and existence infinitely? Or do we just get to play around until resources depleated, game over? Sorry if this is off topic. Perhaps some could point me to refrence sources to address this at least? Thanks in advance. I dunno about god-like, but it is a question of how we use our planetary resources to "progress," (which then also begs the definition of "progress") so it's not ridiculously OT--here's an answer from Michio Kaku (an esteemed theoretical physicist): "The Physics of Extraterrestrial Civilizations" http://www.mkaku.org/articles/physics_of_et.html "No matter how many millions of years separate us from them, they still must obey the iron laws of physics, which are now advanced enough to explain everything from sub-atomic particles to the large-scale structure of the universe, through a staggering 43 orders of magnitude." I just love when people say that kind of thing. The laws of physics explain everything on the Universe... Except when they fail. And they do fail a few times. Other times one set of them don't even agree with the other... But we know all that is to be known about the Universe! But we know all that is to be known about the Universe! Except when we don't. :) "No matter how many millions of years separate us from them, they still must obey the iron laws of physics, which are now advanced enough to explain everything from sub-atomic particles to the large-scale structure of the universe, through a staggering 43 orders of magnitude." marcosdumay: Where did this quotation come from? What is it's relation to discussion of Prof. Cleveland's article? Am I missing something? From Michio Kaku: "The Physics of Extraterrestrial Civilizations" the link provided earlier by Prof. Goose. Michio Kaku seems to spend far more time in front of TV cameras and radio mikes than in the lab...just how "esteemed" is he really? Quite a few times I've heard him state obviously questionable things with certainty - which may well be just dumbing-down for the sake of the audience, but I have much more time for science writers and journalists who treat their audience with genuine respect. When he wins his first Nobel prize I'll consider him "esteemed". Michio Kaku seems to spend far more time in front of TV cameras and radio mikes than in the lab...just how "esteemed" is he really? I think he is attempting to fill the rather large shoes of the late Carl Sagan. IMHO, it would help to have a charismatic figure like this in the Peak Oil and Climate Change camp(s). A popular communicator is required to reach Joe Public. Could Michio Kaku fill the bill? We all must choose between what is easy, and what is right. By definition, an advanced civilization must grow faster than the frequency of life-threatening catastrophes. Since large meteor and comet impacts take place once every few thousand years, a Type I civilization must master space travel to deflect space debris within that time frame, which should not be much of a problem. Ice ages may take place on a time scale of tens of thousands of years, so a Type I civilization must learn to modify the weather within that time frame. Much as I agree with him on this, I wish I could be as confident that it "should not much of a problem". Remember, our own planetary civilization is considered "Type 0" because we have not mastered our own planet yet, causing huge damage to it, disrupting its weather patterns, etc. A Type I civilization, by definition, lives in ecological equilibrium with its environment while having the ability to manipulate thousands to millions of times our current energy usage. Thus, I think you are missing the point. IF a civilization is Type I already, THEN it has already mastered energy levels far, far beyond our own. Under such circumstances, a civilization that controls energy levels thousands to millions of times our own would have no problem with near space control. Now, if you are arguing that you can't see us getting there, I can understand your argument. But if you grant that a civilization that has already reached that extraordinary level of energy manipulation could exist, then you must accept that control of local space for them would be trivial. "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." -- Dr. Albert Bartlett Into the Grey Zone The overall implication was that humanity has, at best, a couple of thousand years to get to the point that we're able to deflect civilisation-threatening asteroids. Personally I'd hope to see it within the next two centuries (for the sake of my great-great-great-grandchildren!). I certainly don't say I can't see us ever getting there, but there's a lot that has to change before we even have a chance. We have had the technological means for detecting and deflecting most asteroids for about 30 years. But as a civilization we have been preoccupied with other problems and wants and has not turned the technology into functioning systems. It would take about a decade and use the same skillset and manufacturing capability as for planetary probes, aviation and advanced weapon systems. Its not our most immediate problem to solve but it would be a good example for serious long term planning. And yet many people here see the only solution to the "long term viability" of human civilisation being to "power down" and end economic growth. Yet without advanced technology and high levels of surplus energy and wealth, we will never have the chance of protecting ourselves against such a disaster. Quite the opposite actually. Powerdown for society means more energy and resources available for important projects. You (not just you personally, most people here do it) conflate powerdown with some sort of lack of technology and lack of availability of energy to do anything. Voluntary powerdown means that we change (among other things): (1) Population. A reduction not only means more resources available per capita, but makes sustainable options more feasible and frees up resources for important global projects. (2) The economy and our notion of economic "growth". Our economy is based on a system that fattens the few and bleeds the rest dry. This system can only squander resources. Just because it is our current system I think people have a hard time imagining anything else... but then TV and pop-culture tends to dull the imagination. Economic theory and financial theory are also tied up with current legal and political structures, so there would be some serious changes necessary... which is another reason I think so few people want to consider it. The idea of change doesn't appeal to many, even though it is the only sure thing. (3) Our lifestyles. We in the developed world, in particular, waste a tremendous amount. That could be remedied with a powerdown lifestyle - living closer to the land (only really possible with fewer people), walking/public transport, more sustainable living practices, etc. None of this detracts from long-term viability IMO. It only adds to it. Will it happen? I doubt any time soon - at least not voluntarily. "You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." Albert Einstein Reducing population? You first! Oooo, clever grade school-level reply. "You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." Albert Einstein If that's your definition of "Powerdown" then I'm all for it, but I doubt that's what Heinberg and the like have in mind. And previously when I've mentioned the need for advanced technology to be able to protect ourselves from natural disasters, I've generally been scoffed at by those who see the only solution to the world's woes as some sort of return to a psuedo-agrarian age. If managed properly did we ever have enough resources/ FF to break our Earthly bonds and become God like, Citizens of the Universe, expand our horizons and existence infinitely? Or do we just get to play around until resources depleated, game over? Sorry if this is off topic. Perhaps some could point me to refrence sources to address this at least? This isn't really off topic in the peak oil question, because ultimately, we have to get down to the Ultimate question of "What are we getting out of all this energy use?", and the penultimate "If we knew what the purpose of Life was, how much energy would we need to accomplish it?" I'll try to keep it short.;-) All Monotheistic gods are the ultimate (concept?) in Net Creativity: They create everything from nothing. We who endeavor to be 'God'-like must endeavor to create at least as much future usefulness for the universe as we consume in resources. All Life exists as the Anti-Entropy force in the universe, with most species consuming decayed material and using it to create usefulness or structures. (Re: Schroedinger.. http://www.dieoff.org/page150.htm ) My hat is off to Professor Cleveland for his power production density comparison. More of this should be done with our production methods, our product usefulness, and our environmental impacts and future potential ("Can we save the Earth from an asteroid?", "Does shutting up a kid with a Happy Meal solve a future problem or create one?" "Does watching TV provide re-creative rest or just tire out our mind with distraction?" etc). When all is said and done, and TSHTF, what will we have to show for it? We should not be so enthralled by high power density devices except for exceptional needs. We should be focusing on the least power density, the least needs, and the sustainability of our lifestyle paradigms. Low density means distributed sources, distributed logistics, distributed (and probably lower) populations, much lower risk of failure, lower risk failure modes, deeper redundancy for emergencies, less dependence on large entities for emergency response, less entrapment by infrastructure. "The meek shall inherit." "Stop collaborating with Evil. If you want Change, keep it in your pocket." I hate to pick nits, but it should be pointed out tht life is not "anti-entropy". It has been indisputibly established in lab experiments that life processes do conform to the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Life has just established remarkably efficient pathways for chemical reactions. Schroedinger doesn't mean that life defies the 2nd Law. Only that life works against it as much as it can. In the end, everything still falls apart. It's just that life makes useful things along the way that improve things for other life. If we become advanced enough, perhaps we can harness the power of the origins of matter, also. Thanks for the nit pick so I could point that out.;-) Here's a reddit link if you are so inclined: http://science.reddit.com/info/2depa/comments And here's a link to the slashdot firehose: http://slashdot.org/firehose As always, we appreciate you spreading our contributors' work and ideas far and wide (linkfarms, link sites, etc.) so that they get as many readers as possible. Thanks. Thank you Professor Cleveland. Portland is ready to help those breakthrough companies produce thin solar film... someone come open a Zero-impact production facility, will ya? www.lawnstogardens.com Let me again point out that EROI is a financial term, not an energy term. The appropriate term to use should be Energy Return on ENERGY Invested, EROEI. If the intended audience for this piece understands the first acronym, they are likely to already be aware of the issues raised in the rest of the article. However, if a wider audience is intended, the explicit use of EROEI carries the message that it's energy, not paper money, that is important. Also, looking at some other issues: Power density is the rate of energy production per unit of the earth’s area, and is usually expressed in watts per square meter (W/m2). The environmental scientist Vaclav Smil has documented the important differences between fossil and renewable energies, and their implications for the next energy transition. Due to the enormous amount of geologic energy invested in their formation, fossil fuel deposits are an extraordinarily concentrated source of high-quality energy, commonly extracted with power densities of 102 or 103 W/m2 of coal or hydrocarbon fields. This means that very small land areas are needed to supply enormous energy flows. Fossil fuels have large energy densities, as pointed out before this section. The power density that is claimed for fossil fuels is the local density at point of use and depends on the technology employed during the transformation of the FF into useful work. I think the comparison given is very misleading. The other power densities given seem low to me too, which makes the comparison even more lopsided. Further on, the discussion of the amount of natural plant based energy used by humans is presented in a discussion of NPP. The large diversion of NPP to support the concentrated populations in urban areas is quantified as 300 times that available in the local area, yet, in the preceding consideration of the power density of FF use in the urban area, only the small area near the point of usage is considered. In fact, the actual urban area must include that area that supplies the NPP, as well as the use of FF's in the surrounding area to support the agricultural production, thus, the actual power density from FF is grossly overstated, IMHO. Further on, it's stated that: Future energy systems must supply adequate energy to support the high and still growing living standards in wealthy nations, and they must supply energy sufficient to relieve the abject poverty of the world's poorest. Here we see the crux of the problem, along with a very big assumption. The assumption is that the future energy supply system MUST (emphasis added) supply the wealthy nations with living standards that are now considered normal. I see no reason to expect that the relative wealth of the U.S. can continue at recent levels, give the various alternative energy sources already discussed. And, given the very large and growing population of humans in that group of the world's poorest, again, I do not see any way that their lives can be measurably be improved by converting to the various renewable alternatives, particularly since they are already said to be using most of the available NPP. The fact is that any attempts by the wealthy nations to divert some of the NPP from the lands where the poorest now live will reduce their ability to use those same resources to their own advantage. We have already seen that process in the clearing of tropical rain forests to provide products to the wealthy nations, products such as beef, sugarcane, coffee, timber, rubber and palm oil. As rain forest conversion is expected to continue, the plight of the average local inhabitant can be expected to worsen. As the poorer peoples of the Earth continue to be pushed off the land that has provided their sustenance for thousands of years, they then must enter into the money economy to survive. The urban poor that migrate to cities and live in slums are in much worse shape than the rural poor, as the rural peoples can and do provide their own food and shelter. Then, there's climate change. In case anyone is seriously interested, today, the sea-ice extent over the Arctic Ocean is almost as low as the previous minimum extent in 2005. And, there is still about a month more time for melting. We could see a minimum area this year of only 3x10 km2. There's no way to know what the Earth will be like without Arctic sea-ice, except from models, but the ACOGCM experiments have not shown the rapid decline we are now observing. This suggests that climate change is a bigger problem than even the IPCC has considered. E. Swanson Black Dog, E. Swanson You've got an intersting point. But, I think the actual financial term is Return On Investment, or ROI, at least the way it is expressed in oil prospectuses. Since Proffesor Cleveland is a world authority in energy, the very use of the term EROI gives it a currency and credence. Your worry about definition and specificity, and the confusion from mixing terms is very much a good point. Perhaps we need a set of definitions. If its going to confuse you, a savvy and sophisticated critic, just think what the confusion is going to be with people like Congressmen who are trying to understand the terminology, or members of the general public or the press trying to summarise and translate for others. God knows we have enough misunderstanding of even terms like peak oil. Some of it, like CERA's saying it means we are running out of oil next week, are purposeful and malicious, but most I think are well meaning, just ignorant because we are dealing with concepts that aren't commonly thought about. Bob Ebersole Let me again point out that EROI is a financial term, not an energy term. The appropriate term to use should be Energy Return on ENERGY Invested, EROEI I have never seen the the term EROI used in financial circles (although the general term "return on investment" is used in many ways). The term EROI was defined about 20 years ago as the ratio of two physical amounts of energy, and has been in wide use in the literature since then. EROEI is not used in the literature This seems to have been an issue generated in blogs and discussion groups. I am not sure what the big deal is. Why not just define it clearly when introduced, and use consistent with its historical context? I have never seen the the term EROI used in financial circles (although the general term "return on investment" is used in many ways). The term EROI was defined about 20 years ago as the ratio of two physical amounts of energy, and has been in wide use in the literature since then. EROEI is not used in the literature This seems to have been an issue generated in blogs and discussion groups. I am not sure what the big deal is. Why not just define it clearly when introduced, and use consistent with its historical context? It is a big deal because EROI as you use it is indeed context-dependent, and it is vital to make the concept of ER on EI more mainstream. EROI, if its context is not defined every time, might just as well be a venture capital term which includes consideration of tax breaks. The very concept of energy returned on ENERGY invested is a foreign one to 99+% of the human race, and it is a concept which is utterly central to understanding of the situation. Please realize that most people now consider money to be more fundamental than energy to civilization. Economists assert that at some price the market will create good substitutes for anything in the necessary quantities, and they win prizes for saying so. An "investment" is considered by default in common parlance to be a money concept, not an energy concept. The revolutionary notion that EROEI implies - that there exists a threshold beyond which something might not be available at any monetary price due to absolute energy constraints - is lacking even among most scientifically aware people. It is a mindset as different as that introduced by Copernicus: our civilization "revolves around" energy, not green pieces of paper. Context is, indeed, important. You are trying to educate people to very important concepts in the context of a world which considers "investment" to be a fiscal term unless it is explicitly stated otherwise. Please be aware of that context and its importance. When it is this easy to avoid a source of fundamental confusion and substitute clarity, we'd be remiss in not doing so. Congratulations on, and thanks for, a masterful piece of work; and let's use it as a reasonable opportunity to change an acronym whose importance has outgrown its humble beginnings. Let the change be made in this piece, and let this piece mark that change. That actually makes sense, and was well said. I never really thought about it before, but when explaining to a business as usual crowd, the term Energy Return on Investment immediately sets certain wheels in motion: different wheels would spin if the term heard was Energy Return on Energy Invested. It doesn't jive with the literature, but maybe thats one reason the literature doesn't jive too well with policy. A visual could help. How about an outerspace chart showing a series of "planets" -- each with 1000 oil barrels scattered about. Each planet is farther away. We burn, say, 100 barrels roundtrip to the closest planet. We burn, say, 200 barrels roundtrip to the second closest planet. Etc. Etc. Until... The large diversion of NPP to support the concentrated populations in urban areas is quantified as 300 times that available in the local area, yet, in the preceding consideration of the power density of FF use in the urban area, only the small area near the point of usage is considered. In fact, the actual urban area must include that area that supplies the NPP, as well as the use of FF's in the surrounding area to support the agricultural production, thus, the actual power density from FF is grossly overstated, IMHO. Excellent point. But that diagram was not intended to measure the indirect area required to support an urban area. That's more a footprint concept. The point of the diagram is simple: current consuming regions have been on sources with power densities far greater than renewable sources. That poses untold challenges. Dr. Cleveland, I notice that you slipped by my point that power density is not an appropriate comparison for different energy sources. I read Smil's short OECD paper from his web site and see that you lifted his words almost verbatim without questioning the power values he presents: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~vsmil/publications_pdf.html Looking at Smil's publications, I also noticed that he was a frequent contributor to TechCentral Station, which has been one of the many sites where the professional climate change Denialist have posted their disinformation pieces. http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~vsmil/publications_pdf.html Smil even wrote a piece ("Peak Curiosity", 2 Dec 2005) in which he denigrates the folks that were warning of Peak Oil. If the predictions of Kenneth Deffeyes, Colin Campbell, Matt Simmons and others are correct and the Saudis can't increase their production, then Smil will look very stupid. http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~vsmil/pdf_pubs/TCSPeakCuriosity.pdf Sure, our cities and industrial areas have become highly energy intensive areas, but that's because the available fossil fuels made that sort of development possible. But, everything mankind makes eventually wears out or falls down, thus mankind is in caught in a continual rat race of building and rebuilding. When the fossil fuels are gone, the humans who are still living on this Earth will adapt to the available energy supplies, which are likely to be of much lower density, the possible exception being fission power. It is not reasonable to project today's energy consumption choices onto tomorrow's people. Very high density cities (of which New York is a prime example) may not be able to function in competition with other living and working arrangements as time passes. I think it's a grand mistake to assume that the future will be like the past, given the major changes we are already beginning to experience. E. Swanson Then, there's climate change. In case anyone is seriously interested, today, the sea-ice extent over the Arctic Ocean is almost as low as the previous minimum extent in 2005. And, there is still about a month more time for melting. We could see a minimum area this year of only 3x10 km2. There's no way to know what the Earth will be like without Arctic sea-ice, except from models, but the ACOGCM experiments have not shown the rapid decline we are now observing. This suggests that climate change is a bigger problem than even the IPCC has considered. "With Speed and Violence" by Fred Pearce does the best job of covering the problem I have read to date. The climate has never changed gradually in the past. It is chaotic and sensitive to many small changes, any one of which could cause a dramatic change in a very short time. We are currently modifying all of the known areas through CO2 production, deforestation, and pollution AT THE SAME TIME. Last one out, turn off the lights. "climate change is a bigger problem than even the IPCC has considered" No consensus statement of a problem will ever sound as scary as the problem really is (if it really is a problem). I remember 'Nuclear Winter'. It didn't pan out. This also applies to TOD description(s) of Peak Oil. Unlike Nuclear Winter, Peak Oil will happen. There will be a time when oil production starts to decline and the decline is never reversed. I didn't get anything from Prof. Cleveland's article that gave me any basis for happy talk that The World As We Know It will survive. Of course the World will survive, and Mankind as a species will probably survive, but 'As We Know It' is very problematic. The one thing I did not see in Prof. Cleveland's article was any mention of the role conservation will play in the years ahead. Energy conservation is real, I have proved this in my own house. With minimal cost and effort I have reduced the fuel needed for heating by 100% and have reduced electrical use by 45%, this level of improved efficiency carried out over millions of households will help keep the lights on. Any tips on reducing electrical usage? I've tried all the usual suspects, and our last bill was barely any lower than the previous one, and not significantly below the national average, despite having no A/C and no electric hot water. I could still cut back somewhat on the clothes dryer and dishwasher, but that starts to go beyond "minimal effort". Vacuum cleaners suck up a lot. Did you remove the ice from the cooling in your freezer/refrigerator? What is your climate like, do you really need that clothesdryer? Laundry can dry indoors, too. But that might just mean that you're reaching the end of what's possible with minimal effort. We barely use the vacuum cleaner, having just got rid of all our carpets (even though that removed some insulation - not sure what the net balance would be, given the central heating only draws minimal electricity to run the fan). Only a small ice-cube tray in the freezer - rarely much ice in it. The clothes dryer is partly convenience (fairly significant convenience in winter) and partly that my wife objects to air-dried clothes and towels particularly (they do get rather stiff). Still, I only use it very minimally, and use it late at night, on the assumption that it's drawing the excess power available from idling coal power stations (not sure how true this is!). To be honest though I'd prefer to pay more for 100% renewable power rather than cut back much more on dryer usage. You might want to try a Kill-a-Watt power meter. It's not expensive: you plug things into it, and it tells you how much power the item uses: amps, volts, watts, power factor, and cumulative KWH's used. It would help you identify where your power is going. wizofaus, Sorry for the late reply, have been on the run this summer. The following is a list of changes made to a 1978 rambler house in Minneapolis, all equipment was original including appliances. I insulated and air sealed which lowers furnace run time and also AC. The furnace (natural gas) was replaced with another gas furnace but with a variable speed, ECM (electronically commutated motor). Replaced AC with a 17 SEER unit. The refrigerator was replaced with an Energy Star model along with other major appliances, front loading washer, dryer, dishwasher, all Energy Star. Replaced lights with CFL's. That is it so far, will do some tweaking to try to cut electrical and gas usage further. Hmm, well replacing major appliances is a bit more than "minimal cost" in my book - none of ours are over 6 years old anyway. But still, would you mind letting us in on your approximate before and after monthly (or quarterly, or whatever) electricity usage? Actually, adding insulation and air sealing was the most cost effective measure and saved the most natural gas (3k spent,$400 annual savings). Remember all appliances were original equipment and the dryer figured to be a 1968 model. Have a friend who gets Whirlpool, Kitchen Aid for cost.

Electrical use before upgrades averaged 8,000 kwh per year, after upgrades looks to come in at about 5,500 kwh per year.

The point I make is this, insulation and air sealing are the first, best thing you can do to save energy, after this is done, systems can be downsized and run less.

Hmm, see, our nat. gas bill is ~$300 a year, and our electricity usage is already below 5500 kwh/y, and always has been (the average here is ~5300, I think I worked out we're set to be below 5000 this year). Get rid of the clothes dryer completely. Line drying shouldn't be a problem (unless you're living in Canberra? :) Canberra didn't get below freezing this winter, I heard. Unlike Nuclear Winter, Peak Oil will happen. Thanks to Peak Demand, Nuclear Winter may happen yet. Perhaps it will counteract Global Warming, and we can all live in Radioactive Redoubts, eating Totally Awesome Tomatoes while our hearts swell and burst with love for our fellow 7-legged creatures. To me, this piece correctly broadens the discussion on what it will mean to continue the current exponential growth path in the face of eventual depletion of fossil fuels. The adjectives we use to describe 'high quality' oil are really just that - to properly describe the ubiquitous impact of oil and natural gas have on our societal systems is very difficult -to say something has a high EROI or a low EROI is like saying that a person is tall or short - its only one facet of the energy rubiks cube. Personally, my thinking has changed in the last several months on two fronts: 1)EROI is not as physical of measure as I once believed, however its very clear that technology/conservation have a very steep hill to climb to offset declining net energy of oil and gas. Therefore I view EROI more of as a planetary energy budget technique than a hard and fast arbiter of what works and what doesn't. 2)Limiting variables other than energy will quickly rear their heads once various renewables start to scale, particularly biofuels. Land use, water, GHGs (coal) all need to be considered in a systems framework or energy analysis will be just like conventional market analysis - leaving out other variables that should and do matter. We should then have terms called "economic EROI" and "physical EROI" Can someone come up with better acronyms? EROI is not as physical of measure as I once believed I agree to a large extent. The EROI is a physical measure of scarcity in the sense that it is defined in physical units, i.e. BTUs. However, it is not a "pure" physical measure because it is not independent of economic, political, and institutional influences."pure" physical index, if such a thing exists, would be a function of only physical phenomenon. For example, the laws of thermodynamics instruct us that there is a minimum, irreducible quantity of energy required to lift a barrel of oil to the surface. Given the distance to the surface and the mass of a barrel of oil, the theoretical minimum energy cost of producing that barrel could be calculated. In reality, of course, the actual energy cost of production is greater than that theoretical minimum due to a variety of physical and non-physical factors. It is impossible to precisely identify and quantify all those factors, or to unequivocally categorize them as either physical or economic factors. Certainly a significant determinant of actual energy costs are physical factors. For example, a critical determinant of the quantity of energy required to lift a barrel is its depth of burial. Other physical factors influencing per barrel energy costs are type of formation, porosity, permeability, and water:oil ratios. However, non-physical factors also influence energy costs. For example, the price of oil, both absolute and relative to other fuels, influence the amount of effort devoted to oil development production and would therefore affect the energy required to perform those tasks. Environmental regulations such as those requiring subsurface disposal of harmful chemicals used in oil production affect energy costs. Political decisions such as those governing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Range and offshore California affect energy costs. Thus, it is apparent that the energy costs of petroleum development and production are in part physical manifestations of economic, political, and institutional factors, and in part manifestations of changes in the quality of the resource base itself. To the degree that it is influenced by non-physical factors, the EROI is not a "pure" physical measure Thank you, Professor, for an excellent summary. I believe it represents the facts-on-the-ground without ideology or axe-grinding. This reflects what I learned from Professor Howard Odum and my nuclear engineering professors while at the University of Florida. This analysis supports my career decision to work for the expansion of nuclear power. I would put in a good word for nuclear-driven coal-to-liquid conversion. The energy content in a gallon of gasoline costs on 6 cents or so if it comes from uranium (fuel fabrication costs might be somewhat higher due to the higher temperatures required vis a vis LWR fuel). The coal to provide the carbon costs about 26 cents at current prices. Pure water might be the most expensive raw material! The resulting liquid hydrocarbons can be near direct substitutes for existing petroleum-based transport fuels. While not carbon-free as a hydrogen economy might be, it would be carbon-neutral compared to current transport. Classic CTL requires substantial coal burning to supply process heat so is much worst in terms of carbon emissions than petroleum or electricity. Uses lots more coal too. In any case, a transition from an extracted hydrocarbon economy to one fueled by uranium and thorium would entail a lower overall EROEI than what we've become accustom to but by no means the end-of-civilization scenarios of some. "I would put in a good word for nuclear-driven coal-to-liquid conversion." I wouldn't, because that combines a long-term risk (nuclear) with a short term certainty of CO2-emissions... and a bad ERO(E)I. It certainly wouldn't be carbon neutral, because what goes into your tank will still release C of fossil origin into the atmosphere (not even counting that involved in running a nuclear industry). Using that electricity directly for either rail or elecric road vehicles would be far cleaner and more efficient. Why that strange attachment to the ICE? No one seems to love the polar ice caps half as much. It would only continue the current rate or growth rate of CO2 emissions from transport fuels. Transportation could be supported without a big delta in emissions as would happen with F-T CTL. While I agree that more electric vehicles are to be HOPED for, hope is not a plan and I see little chance of major market impact from electric cars. This view is based on both theoritical and practical chemical energy densities of batteries. More and expanded electric rail is something I support in specific applications. How can the EROEI of nuclear CTL be so bad if nuclear can supply the energy in a gallon of gas for 6 cents? Say the process is only 25% energy efficient and your fuel doubles in price - that's still 50 cents a gallon! The challenge is keeping the overhead down - capital carrying costs for example. In any case, I won't base my arguments on GHG emissions - I only mention them as an aside. Plus transport use is only a fraction of the total GHG emissions. The conversion of electricity to battery to magnetism to movement is more efficient than electricity to fuel to heat to movement, and can still improve a lot. The ICE has been thoroughly researched during the last 50 years, there probably are no big discoveries to be made anymore. The EROEI furthermore depends on the EROEI of the nuclear industry, and the coal industry, and the CTL process. If any of those deteriorates, it drags down the EROEI of the whole procedure. Price arguments are as fleeting as the prices themselves. Overall, continuing to use carbon-based fuel but acquired using more energy will continue the trends of excessive CO2 emissions and dropping EROEI. I would like to ask how can prices be so far out of whack from EROEI? Are you saying that prices in a mostly free market have NO corrolation with EROEI? I'm hard put to imagine how that could be. And if there is a corrolation then nuclear heat should be high EROEI which I understand it is. I agree that the internal combustion engine has reached a high degree of technical maturity but so have batteries. The performance of today's best batteries are not that much better than Thomas Edison's - maybe a factor of two. And batteries are even older than ICE. Just look at the history of oil prices to see that prices can vary wildly while EROEI remains essentially unchanged. Price is very much affected by factors such convenience, risk, the match between supply and demand, and market distortions (subsidies, price-fixing etc.) which often have little to do with EROEI. Price can't be wildly out of line with EROEI in the long run or there will be huge profit opportunities. Prices are a means of allocating the energy return amongst the participants. Neither price nor EROEI tells the whole story or gives fullest understanding. Still, 6 cents per gallon???? I see opportunity! I don't understand your comment about huge profit opportunities. For instance, the EROEI for nuclear power is almost certainly at least as great, if not significantly greater than for any fossil fuel. And yet, it's never come close to being as cheap. Why? Nuclear is seen as riskier, less "convenient" (you can't run a car with a nuclear reactor), requires more scarce skillsets, requires bigger up-front investment, there's community opposition, etc. etc. So you're paying a premium for all sorts of things that have little to do with energy return. The nuclear-to-electricity conversion is close energy-wise and financially to coal-to-electricity. Hence no huge profit margins plus our regulated utilities have not been allowed such. Gasoline and other hydrocarbon transport fuels have been priced at the marginal producer. Peak oil is about this marginal producer getting more and more expensive. Price nuclear CTL under the$70 a barrel producer (plus overseas transport and refining) and you've got profit.

As to "energy return," it is not the metric that feeds my family - profit is.

I'm not ready to say that nuclear CTL is the wave of the future but from what I've researched so far, it seems like the logical development path. I'd love to get some blue sky money to dig into this.

Sure, but that's my point - I would fully expect that nuclear CTL would have a greater EROEI than oil, given the energy density of uranium: although of course it depends a lot on the grade of uranium, and the type of processing done on the fuel: I understand reprocessing and enrichment significantly magnify the effective EROEI of uranium, even though, again, at this point there's not obviously extra profit in it, for political and other reasons.

I would hope that any serious consideration that is made into nuclear CTL includes maximum possible CCS. Which obviously dampens the EROEI somewhat, but I'm guessing it would still be higher than gasoline or diesel from crude.

EROI has its roots in ecology (optimal foraging theory). As such it is an ecological, wide boundary concept. Since most of our markets are narrow boundary instruments (optimizing money), there can be very large discrepancies between EROI and conventional ROI. THough the narrow boundary energy return may approximate the financial return, it is not easy to parse the insurance costs or waste disposal costs of nuclear into energy terms, which gives nuclear a disproportionately high EROI if these externalities are not included.

Another example of the looming battle between energy and the environment, though given global warming, nuclear waste disposal is probably an easier answer than GHG disposal from new coal plants.

Why "disproportionately high"? I don't see how you can ever claim that insurance has a significant energy cost, nor even waste disposal (which is at least reasonably measurable).

BTW, I just realised in my statement before about CCS and nuclear-driven CTL: it's not clear that CO2 is actually created by this process. It sure creates a lot of carbon monoxide though, which can be burned for energy...producing CO2. And CO is pretty toxic in its own right, even if its greenhouse implications aren't clear at this point.

OTOH if you are taking huge quanties of coal that could otherwise have been burnt in power plants with CCS, and converting it to liquid hydrocarbons that are then getting burnt in ICE engines where CCS is not feasible, then you are definitely contributing to the CO2 problem.

" I see little chance of major market impact from electric cars. This view is based on both theoritical and practical chemical energy densities of batteries. "

This is incorrect. Batteries don't have to be as energy-dense as liquid fuels, because electric motors are 3-6 times as efficient. Further, electric motors have much less ancillary equipment, so there's more room (both volume & weight wise) for batteries in an EV (e.g., the Tesla is the same size, and only slightly heavier than the Lotus Elise on which it's based). Finally, regenerative braking reduces the efficiency penalty for greater weight.

The Chevy Volt is extremely likely to be an enormous market hit.

As batteries get cheaper, the batteries in PHEV's will expand. It's conceiveable PHEV's will linger for a long time, using liquid fuels for 5% or less of their overall energy consumption. Technically, that would make your analysis correct, but does it matter?

Nick,

I HOPE you're correct and I'm wrong. I just don't think it is wise policy to base our actions on the presumption that electric cars will work in the market.

BTW, saw a Tesla at the coffee shop the other morning here in Silicon Valley. It was a company car and I wished the driver succes, telling I'd build the nukes to charge his products up.

Well, PHEV's are much, much lower risk than CTL, even if CTL is nuclear supported to reduce it's CO2 emissions.

CTL is extremely capital intensive, and requires very, very large plants to achieve economy of scale - even bigger than nuclear, with tech that's much less well known than EV's (or nuclear, for that matter).

EV's and PHEV's are 100 year old technology, with essentially zero risk. The very worst risk? That a specific battery chemistry doesn't work the way you hoped, and you decide to spend a year or two redesigning for a different chemistry (like happened to Toyota recently, though in fact they probably had a chemistry that was just fine - it's not entirely clear why they lost their nerve at the last second and went from conventional li-ion back to NIMH). Compare that to the possibilities for delay and unexpected costs in $5B, 5 year CTL projects. The problem here is that any alternative has risks: we're trying to do something new, and that always has risks. I think that PHEV's are by far the lowest risk. "saw a Tesla...I wished the driver succes" Yeah, I like Tesla, too. I also like their website and blog - very informative. A fascinating book on past energy transitions is The Subterranean Forest: Energy Systems and the Industrial Revolution by Rolf Peter Sieferle (Cambridge: The White Horse Press, 2001). The main focus of the book is the transition from wood to coal in England and Germany. The publisher's synopsis: The historical transition from the agrarian solar energy regime to the use of fossil energy has fuelled the industrial transformation of the last 200 years. The author argues that the analysis of historical energy systems provides an explanation for different social formations because availability of free energy is the framework within which socio-metabolic processes can take place. This explains why the Industrial Revolution began in Britain, where coal was readily available and firewood already depleted or difficult to transport, whereas Germany, with its huge forests next to rivers, was much longer dependent on a traditional solar energy regime. An earlier version of this landmark text was published in German in 1982. It has been thoroughly revised and updated by the author and now appears in English for the first time. Dr. Cleveland, This probably just my misunderstanding, but how can you express oil as any certain density per meter squared, when it depends so much on the quality of the oil resource? Here's an example at Barber's Hill Oil Field in Chamber's County, Texas (near Houston) some of the wells produced 100,000 bbl/acre. And there were a number of fields that produced in the same range. The source is Michael Halbouty "Salt Domes of the Gulf Coast and Mexico", second edition, published about 1967 by Gulf Publishing but now out of print. That is compared with some fields that make heavy oil (< 10 gravity) like the oil sands in Venezuela. Much of the resource that is left is of the poor quality like the Venezuela oil. Thanks Bob Ebersole Good point. The power densities aggregate energy by their thermal equivalents. As I said earlier in the paper: Despite its widespread use, aggregation by heat content ignores the fact that not all joules are equal. For example, a joule of electricity can perform tasks such as illumination and spinning a CD-ROM that other forms of energy cannot do, or could do in a much more cumbersome and expensive fashion (Imagine trying to power your laptop directly with coal). Likewise a heat unit of light sweet crude from east TX is "better" than a heat unit of heavy oil from VZ (and the market price of each reflects this) With regard to intermittency, it should be pointed out that we depend upon our electrical supply to be up 24/7 because it CAN be up 24/7. Previously, life was more constrained by the pattern of the day and season. We COULD adapt ourselves to patterns of daily insolation, and get most of what we needed to do done during daylight hours. RE: Figure 5 There have been comments on this board about how energy efficient cities are. However, Figure 5 suggests that if society needed to rely mainly on solar, with perhaps some wind to supplement where to available, then perhaps smaller towns might actually be a better match? Small towns are primarilly medium-density residential, with some small-er scale commercial and industrial facilities. These all are a pretty close match to the power density for solar, and not very far from wind. To the extent that all of a small town's energy needs cannot be produced from rooftop PVs and wind generators within town, it is likely that space for the remaining needed production capacity can be found nearby without too great a sacrifice of farmland. Thus, I am not sure that I am sold on either scenarios suggesting that everyone be herded into ultra-dense cities (to vacate a countryside dedicated totally to food and energy production), or on scenarios suggesting that everyone vacate the cities and distribute themselves into mini-subsistence farms. Scenarios where small towns (surrounded by farms) become the dominant mode of social and economic organization might represent the most viable pathway toward sustainability and survival. Roger K I believe that there are better parameters than EROI for measuring the economic quality of energy production. One such parameter is the energy efficiency, which I define as the fraction of the gross output energy which is left over after the energy used during the production process is subtracted out. So if a solar panel produces five times as much energy during its lifetime as was used during its manufacture, it has an energy efficiency of 0.8. Another way of thinking about energy efficiency is that it is the fraction of the gross output energy which is available for economic purposes other than energy production. If we want to maintain a steady state economy, then over the lifetime of the solar panel a fraction 0.2 of its total output (or the equivalent output from some other energy source) will have to be diverted to produce a replacement, so that this energy is not available for economic production. Conceptually, in the case of extraction of energy from a depletable reservoir, the energy efficiency times the total size of the reservoir (expressed in energy units) equals the net energy which can be extracted from the reservoir. In practice the energy efficiency decreases over time because the most easily exploitable parts of the reservoir are produced first. When the energy efficiency reaches zero then no more net energy can be extracted from the reservoir no matter how large the resource left if place. Energy efficiency by itself is not an adequate measure of economic quality. The extraction of energy always requires the investment of other production resources besides energy. At a minimum some amount of human labor is required and in some cases other finite resources such as arable land or fresh water from the hydrologic cycle will be required. The amount of such resources that have to be expended per net unit of energy extracted are also important economic parameters. I call these parameters the resource intensities of net energy production. Suppose that the energy efficiency of an energy production process is µ. Furthermore suppose that the amount of a given production resource that is required to produce one gross unit of output energy is R. Then the amount of resource that must be expended to produce one net unit of energy is given by: Resource Intensity of Net Energy Production = R/µ. As the energy efficiency goes to zero the resource intensity goes to infinity. That is no matter how much of a given resource we invest in the energy producing process we get no net energy in return. Resource intensities are, of course, translated into cost intensity, the more conventional measure of economic quality. The fact that the resource intensity of energy production is an important economic parameter is painfully obvious in the case of biofuels. Even if a magical energy crop could be found which grew and harvested itself without human intervention the amount of land required to produce one unit of energy would still be an important economic parameter since there are opportunity costs involved in taking land out of food production. While I agree with much of your post, the semantics in the first paragraph are misleading. And semantics are important because people making decisions together need to 'internally agree' that they are talking about the same thing. Energy efficiency is how we use energy, not a measure of quality. So if a solar panel produces five times as much energy during its lifetime as was used during its manufacture, it has an energy efficiency of 0.8. By this definition, my potato crop this year has an energy efficiency of .95, as Ive calculated that the BTUs in my crop will be about 20 times the quantity of the physical labor and embodied materials I used. So should potatoes be high on our renewable energy scale due to a high 'energy efficiency ratio'? Also, Energy efficiency by itself is not an adequate measure of economic quality Well, dollars are actually the best measure of economic quality. But there is much more to world living systems than economics! Efficiency and EROI are often misconstrued. As you state later on, the energy return x scale of resource is what matters, but using energy efficiency of the harvest process ignores the original energy quality of the resource. I avoid the use of term "efficiency" when discussing the productivity of natural resources--it means very specific things in various disciplines, and thus can be very confusing. here is the definition I wrote for the Dictionary of Energy (Elsevier, 2005): efficiency 1. in general, the relative effectiveness of a system or device, especially in terms of the total resources required to attain a desired output. See also various specific terms such as economic efficiency, energy efficiency, end-use efficiency, and so on. 2. Thermodynamics. a dimensionless quantity that characterizes an energy conversion process based on the relationship of work output to energy input. See also first law efficiency, second law efficiency. EROI is a measure of productivity: output over input. This is a measure that economists and engineers alike understand, e.g., labor productivity measured as widgets produced per worker-hour Roger K "EROI is a measure of productivity: output over input. This is a measure that economists and engineers alike understand, e.g., labor productivity measured as widgets produced per worker-hour" In order to measure produtivity as a ratio you must ratio two different kinds of quantities. e.g. widgets/worker-hour or widgets/unit of energy. widgets/widgets is not a measure of productivity. Suppose a manufacturing line needs to use some of its own widgets to keep its machinery running. If out of every 100 widgets manufactured 10 widgets have to be held back to use in the production machinery then only 90 out of every 100 widgets can be shipped for sale. If on the other hand only 1 widget out of every 100 has to be held back then 99 out of every 100 widgest manufactured are available. The difference in produtivity between these two processes is not a factor of 10. The same principle applies to energy production. It may be that semantically 'efficiency' is a bad term for the parameter I described, although it is the fraction of the total energy produced available for the economic production of goods other than energy and so seem to have the character of an efficiency. If you can suggest a better terminology I will adopt it. The reciprocal of the resource intensities of energy production which I described are exactly the kind of productivity ratios that you describe: Net energy/worker hour or net energy/hectare of cultivated land. Hi Roger K I was thinking about some wells at Batson dome in Hardin County, Texas, about 50 miles NW of Beaumont in the Big Thicket. Its a very old field, producing since 1902 in some shallow sands on top of the dome, about 300 or 400 ft deep. These really old wells were still being pumped by a gang pump into a cyprus tank. I haven't been out to the lease in about 15 years, but they were still making a barrel or two a day. Since the pump was paid for, and the rods run across the ground to connect up the pump, it was economic. as I recall, the wells were on a timer, and only pumped when the fluid levels built up. The point of this tale is that some wells never become uneconomic. Now that oil prices for Gulf Coast sweet are over$70/bbl, I'm not sure many wells will ever become so expensive to operate that they are plugged. So, although I appreciate the scientific elegance of your theory, I'm not sure it applies to old, shallow reservoirs.
Bob Ebersole

Roger K

Hi Bob,

I am doubtful that we will get every last drop of oil out of any oil field. However, it may be that in certain cases the nature of the reservoir is such that a very high percentage to the total oil in place can be recovered. I do not know enough oil geology to swear that it isn't so.

Roger

I don't know how big a percentage of the oil in place was recovered, but I remeber reading in some old dust AAPG report that these were pretty good wells at one point-several hundred barrels a day. For that matter, there's still some wells at Spindletop that will produce.

My point is that if oil is $70/bbl, and you can make 20-or 30 bbls a month per well, get the tanks picked up every two or three months by a truck, it can be a nice living with 10 or 20 junk wells. Lots of old tobacco chewing rednecks down here do just that. And EROEI has little to do with it, its just can they do most of the work themselves and pay the electric bill and water disposal. They work over the wells with an A-frame on a pick up, buy rebuilt downhole pumps-I'm sure you're getting the picture. Next thing you know you are down at the cafe' cussing liberals. Bob Ebersole When you say "some wells never become uneconomic" you're assuming that the raw materials and human knowledge necessary for well maintenance will forever be cheap enough to trade for a barrel or two a day. The Romans didn't fall very far, but we forgot how to make concrete when they did. "America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting." William S. Burroughs Nanosolar claims an energy payback in only 2 months. That gives an EROEI of over 120. Assuming that a solar panel pays for itself five times in one year, the EROI is very, very, high. I thought the best that a simple silicon panel could do was pay for itself four times (in energy, not in money) in one year. Sure, lab silicon does a better job, but not if it's been out there on a roof for a few years. Budget for an energy doubling time of maybe every four months, or eight times a year. Nanosolar uses CIGS printing technology. No silicon involved. Thanks for the very useful overview! I think that it would be useful, even on a log scale, to use shading to indicate the portions of fossil energy that is burned and that which is used in fig. 2. The same for the other two thermal sources. On intermitancy, I think that looking at what George Monbiot discussed about correlation of wind speed with turbine separation should be given more attention. Capacity factors apply to individual wind farms, but grid connected widely separtated farms that take advantage of different wind causes (shore breezes vrs. mountain winds) should be looked on quite differently. To me, the level of planning needed for nuclear plants make them much less competitive in a changing climate. One needs a good estimate of river flow rates for cooling, for example, which are impacted by climate change within the design lifetime of the plant. And estimating these impacts requires faith in climate models which authors warn cannot be trusted on the watershed-by-watershed level. I would say that building plants in tidal areas would be completely out of the question. Thus, there may be an important limit on suitible potential sites for nuclear generating capacity. This is an emerging subject of study. Given the cost curves for wind and solar I am not persuaded that we need give up economic advantages in our choice of energy sources. Sufficiently low cost solar can meet a 6 PM July peak demand for example. And, what is more important is the demand over the effective grid region rather than merely residential demand. I hope you find these comments helpful. Chris Capacity factors apply to individual wind farms, but grid connected widely separtated farms that take advantage of different wind causes (shore breezes vrs. mountain winds) should be looked on quite differently. Here you're trading pumped hydro storage or natural gas dispatch power for HVDC grid connectivity. There's a balance to be sure, but its not free. The negative load quality of wind will allways be a cost when you run past the limits of dispatchable power. To me, the level of planning needed for nuclear plants make them much less competitive in a changing climate. One needs a good estimate of river flow rates for cooling, for example, which are impacted by climate change within the design lifetime of the plant. And estimating these impacts requires faith in climate models which authors warn cannot be trusted on the watershed-by-watershed level. And building windfarms has no bearing on the climate? Really this problem is somewhat overstated; Cooling water isn't so difficult to access, and when rivers aren't present, cooling ponds can be built. There's a big one in Florida that happens to be a popular home to crocidiles. I would say that building plants in tidal areas would be completely out of the question. Why? I'm not sure I'm following you. In some cases, including around the UK, the wind never stops blowing and the wind speed is not correlated between separated farms. The central limit theorem then indicates that there will be a steady mean from numerous dispersed wind farms. Like nuclear power, this is not dispatchable. But, unlike nuclear power, it does not have down time. Scaling capacity above peak demand is likely cheaper than using a base load concept, though the UK does have some dispatchable hydro storage. What is the elevation of the Florida plant? Building your own waterworks obviously increases costs. But the issue is: how do you know if you need to or not? In tidal areas, the basic issue is sea level rise. One needs to anticipate this when considering long term engineering projects. There is more at the link I provided. Chris Excuse me! "[Wind,],Like nuclear power, this is not dispatchable. But, unlike nuclear power, it does not have down time." This is not a factual statement. Nuclear is technically dispatchable - it is just seldom makes economic sense to turn down your cheapest source of electricity. The French and others have to do so because they have so much nuclear. Overall, the US capacity factor is 90% and the major downtime is scheduled for the spring and fall, periods of low demand. Wind does indeed die off without human command. Witness the December 2004 Eon production collapse in Germany (equivalent to 6 nukes shutting down overnight) and the 2006 California summer heat wave where state wind output fell to 6% of capacity. Windmills also require maintenance but the smaller unit sizes can make a much smaller impact. Your mathmatical assertion that the wind never stops blowing also ignores the limitations of power transmission. The wind capacity has to be considered within a transmission control area. Studies here in California show a definite but not 100% corrolation in production between our three main windfarm locations. Don't get me wrong - I'm fine with wind but on three conditions: 1) not in my backyard 2) someone else pays for it 3) wind pays for the standby plants to prevent blackouts on regional wind failure I think you disregarded the caveat: in some places. The wind is witchy around the UK. Now, in California you do have the Pacific Intertie so you may want to look at BC wind to see what kind of correlation there is. But, you get very large weather patterns so it may all correlate. Running another line east will get you strong uncorrelated wind, but in that direction you'll find dispatchable solar power so I don't think you are going to want to go with wind as your main energy source. You might want to export it though. In the UK things are different. No down time is correct there with a sufficiently distributed system. I would not suggest that Nevada go for tide power and California may do much better with solar power. This power plant looks expensive to me. It is a little too close to the water for a standard decommisioning I think. This one too looks close to the ocean. Removing the dismantled reactor and it's spent fuel to higher ground will likely add to your cost for nuclear power. Sea level rise is going to be expensive for the nuclear industry. I thought you might be interested in this article which points out that a Europe-wide HVDC grid already has 4 weeks of storage in place in Norwegian resevoirs. I'm a little dubious about some of the costing for the North Sea farm mentioned in the article, but you see that wind, taken over a large enough area, has a pretty steady output. In tidal areas, the basic issue is sea level rise. One needs to anticipate this when considering long term engineering projects. Sure. All models of sea level rise anticipate how much? The most aggressive models of climate change postulate a five meter rise of sea level over a century. This isn't a significant engineering challenge. Trouble is, you can't stop at a century. Most people want to give things a few hundred years to cool down before starting a serious cleanup. So, you need look at the sea level rise over 300 years or so. Here is a map that covers two of Florida's three nuclear plants. Both would have difficulties at 6m sea level rise. My guess is that you were referring to Turkey Point, at the southern tip of the state. That portion is underwater in the map. This would seem to be too large of an engineering problem to allow storage in place. Thus, siting new plants in areas threatened by sea level rise would be quite foolish since not only do you have increased costs for removal, but the design lifetime may overlap the loss of suitability of the site reducing the ability to recover costs from generation. Tidal areas would thus seem unsuitable for new generation. You are familiar with discounting right? Cleanup costs 100 years in the future are essentially zero. Only if you actually put the money in the bank now. Otherwise you are just waving you hands to justify imposing costs on people who derive no benefit. This is why I am proposing the imposition of surcharges now. I'm sure you can support this proposal. Nope; Thats just beurocratic gobbldygook. In a century it doesn't matter who's paying for it; The overall return on investment is so high it makes the whole issue moot, and society can well impose requirements for decomissioning then on whoever they feel ought to pay if its even necissary. Don't try to solve the problems of the next century today; You cant see far enough to do much more than worry about tomarrow. Do you feel that then that the nuclear power industry should not be paying for waste disposal? Exactomundo. They should be paying for waste storage. So, all I'm say is that the manner of storage must be modified owing to flooding that was not anticipated when the plants were first designed. Humbolt Bay 3 is using a vault on site and it is going to cost something to move the stuff. That cost should be included as a surcharge on rates for the rest of PG&E nuclear power. This is pretty much how things work now. The cost of decommissioning is included as part of the expenses of the plant. It is well known that reactors have only a finite lifetime. Decomissioning just gets more expensive as a result of sea level rise while the period of time over which the expense can be recovered can end up being shortened, so the charge for power needs to be adjusted. Look, you really don't understand discounting if you're making this argument. No one is going to have to move anything now or in the next 50 years, and setting up some beurocratic nonsense that pretends that it can see the future serves no ones interest. When its obvious that there are going to be costs, citizens in the future can decide who is going to pay for them and how. If you're going to impose this sort of sillyness, then slap a surcharge on everyone that has infrastructure in a coastal area rather than engaging in nuclear exceptionalism; But its still a bad idea. Decomissioning just gets more expensive as a result of sea level rise while the period of time over which the expense can be recovered can end up being shortened, so the charge for power needs to be adjusted. No expected sea level rise is going to cut into planned plant lifetime. We can talk about this in 30 years when plants being built then might have to consider it, but then the question is how hight to build a larger elevated platform. Actually, you are wrong here. Plants are now getting 20 year extentions on their 40 year licences, so, new plants may now nominally be expected to be 60 year plants. That is about 75 years into the future given construction times and permitting times. If you don't support the current accounting mechanism for plant decomissioning, I think you should say so, rather than waving your hands about unaccountable discounting. Your theory assumes real growth in any case and that is deemed unlikely by many readers here. Leaving people a mess to clean up without paying for it is irresponsible and basing your justification on a contingent economic model is even more so. What other infrastructure are you thinking of that needs as much regulation as nuclear infrastructure? Actually, you are wrong here. Plants are now getting 20 year extentions on their 40 year licences, so, new plants may now nominally be expected to be 60 year plants. That is about 75 years into the future given construction times and permitting times. So build them ten feet above sea level. Not the most difficult decision in the universe, and this is allready part of planning for coastal infrastructure, while you were busy worried about some centuries in the future just several posts back. If you don't support the current accounting mechanism for plant decomissioning, I think you should say so, rather than waving your hands about unaccountable discounting. Your theory assumes real growth in any case and that is deemed unlikely by many readers here. You don't have to assume real growth to know a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomarrow. Which current accounting mechanism for plant decomissioning are you referring to, because utilities extensively use discounting. Now for financing, let the utilities manage their own books and if they find that they need to save up for decomissioning they'll do it. If they mess up, they'll have to pay for it in the future anyways, this isn't any different than any other industry. That many readers think that real growth is unlikely isn't exactly a selling point for realism on this site. Leaving people a mess to clean up without paying for it is irresponsible and basing your justification on a contingent economic model is even more so. Forcing people to pay for a solution to a problem that doesn't yet exist isn't exactly sound planning. It incurs opportunity cost at the very least. What other infrastructure are you thinking of that needs as much regulation as nuclear infrastructure? Hydroelectric dams, chemical processing; But thats arguing sideways with the issue of making people pay for decomissioning of all coastal property today. Sewage treatment plants I'm sure will have to be moved, so we should pay a surcharge on that today? You are confusing two separate issues. What we have most recently discussed is the shortening of the available time to generate electricity for new plants. That is not (always) the same as anticipating cooldown time to make reactor removal less dangerous. In may be possible to just shutdown the plants in tidal regions at the ends of their original licenses. It seems to me that you are confusing inflation with value. You do discounting at the long term interest rate adjusted for inflation. What you are saying seems just the opposite of discounting. In any case, for something that is suppose to scale with growth, such as nuclear waste, there is no discount since you always have more of a mess to clean up. Risking economic viability by not paying attention to established risk factors is irresponsible. Humbolt Bay 3 cost rate payers extra because the seismic homework was not done well enough. The same will occur with plants sited today in tidal areas. The problem clearly exists. The opportunity costs are incurred by not anticipating its consequences. One could have used a more nimble form of power generation which would not have ended up being as expensive. This is one of the problems with the loan guaranties in the Senate Energy Bill. They will encourage the long term adoption of an expensive energy source. Construction of Clavert Cliffs 3, for example, is currently anticipated to cost$2.50/Watt, much higher than current solar wholesale at $1.29/Watt. With the loan guaranties, there will be regulatory pressure to force rate payers to buy the more expensive nuclear power to avoid default on the loan. It would be much much better if nuclear power competed for capital and insurance like everyone else rather than acting like an infant industry needing R&D and market adoption support. The government should be encouraging fair competition, not closing it out. I would think that sewage treatment plants would be abandoned. Some plumbing might be salvaged, but there is basically nothing there but ponds and it does not make any difference if those are above or below water, except that you can't use them in the latter case. But, you can use them until they are no longer useable which is different from something that needs a long lead time for decomissioning and dismantlement. The most aggressive models of climate change When you look at the actual amount of fossil fuels that are available the amount of climate change and sea level rise are below the low end of the set of models commonly cited. Those huge effect models use CERA or USGS type fossil fuel consumption projections. "Those huge effect models use CERA or USGS type fossil fuel consumption projections." Really? That would make a huge difference. What if coal use accelerates? I had the impression that we had more than enough coal to cause disastrous CO2 levels. Actually, some attempts at projecting future coal use predict that we just touch the "dangerous" climate change level. Dave Rutledge has used a climate model to look at this. He gets tempeature stabalizing at a 2 C increase with only 0.8 C of that coming from future fossil fuel use. Sea level rise lags temperature stabilization so you want to be looking around 2300 for where this gets to. If we take the current rate of 5 cm/15 year you get 1 meter in 300 years basically no matter what. This ignores that the rate of sea level rise is accelerating. Plot taken from here. But, feedbacks such as rotting of permafrost can still go forward below dangerous climate change just more slowly, so without substantial new CO2 uptake, temperature stabilization may not mean stabilization at all. In engineering, you take the worst case and multiply by a safety factor. The worst case has to be measured in a time scale of 300 years or so for nuclear power plant operation because of the cool down time. The worst case includes rapid melting of the larger ice shelves leading to 20 meters of sea level rise, so, for nuclear power you likely want to be 60 meters or so above sea level. Chris So Rutledge says the worst case is 1 meter but you perform your anti-nuclear magic on it and that comes out with 60 meters. So that means we cannot save the world. Well that's good to know. Actually, no. Rutledge found temperature stability at an increase of 2 C. He did not present sea level rise calculations. A meter in 300 years is a minimum no matter what. Stop burning fossil fuels this evening and you still get that. This is owing to lag. What is not clear is what happens to the ice sheets. As Hansen has been pointing out, it is a wet process and it may proceed rapidly. 60 meters is a safety factor of 2 to 3. Presuming only Greenland and the West Antarctic contribute but not the Antarctic interior then we'd get about 20 meters. Hansen gives 25 \pm 10 meters for 2-3 C warmer and 350--450 ppm CO2 from past climate data. The question is: do we get that slowly or quickly? A heat capacity-type calculation gives thousands of year, but a non-linear ice motion model could be much faster. Hansen estimates 5 meters in this century as possible. Rapid sea level rise is observed in paleoclimate date with less of a push than we have given to the atmosphere already. That did not come from the thermal expansion coefficient of water, you can be sure. Please read a bit more carefully. I made it plain that I was speaking of a safety factor. I do not know why you would be pessimistic about avoiding the worst aspects of climate change. Renewable energy is plainly ready to scale, it is doing so now. It will shave off quite a bit from Dave Rutledge's estimate. Methods of carbon capture from the atmosphere are also progressing. It is in the nature of renewble energy to be abundant so there do not seem to be any show stopper for sequestering the mess we've made. Cleaning up after the industrial revolution should be an interesting enterprise. I'm guessing we'll be back to the pre-industrial CO2 concentration by 2200 if not sooner. The difficulty with nuclear power is that it is not ready for prime-time so it basically misses the boat. If the safety, waste, environmental and cost issues had been worked out prior to commercialization, it might have stood a chance, but people were so blinded by the nuclear magic that they tried to take shortcuts. That Onceler attitude is now deeply ingrained in the culture of the nuclear power industry. It is parnoid of and hostile to the people it is supposed to be serving, feeling unappreciated for all its vaunted efforts. And with that attitude, it produces a fictional return on investment that is modest at best, needing intense government regulation and still unable to account for controlled materials, or make timely reports of accidents. Under these circumstances, who can possibly expect it to grow? I mean, come on.... Saying global warming in one breath and proposing a new reactor on the sea coast in the next? That is a neurosis that is going to take many many many years of therapy to deal with. It is a sign in big bold letters that says "REGULATE ME PLEASE" The Navy runs a reactor program that makes sense. It is fit to the need, lessons learned are taken to heart, there is deep accountablity and it does not produce more waste than can be safely managed. A tight ship, safety first culture makes that work OK. More than OK. Nuclear propulsion is technically much more difficult than nuclear power. But, translate that to the culture of the electric power utilities with their just make do and watch out for the shareholders way of doing things and it is little wonder we get Three Mile Island. Get with the numbers and the facts about the nuclear power industry and you'll see that my position is not magical at all. The nuclear power industry can't save the world, but we can. You telling me to "get with the numbers and the facts about the nuclear power industry". That's rich. Not so rich. I have observed you to make claims that are simply not factual. You, for example, say that there have been no radiation deaths at reactors in the west. This is not the case as you would know if you were familiar with the subject. And, the distinction of east and west is a little bogus as well. None of the operators wanted to die. You also cite EROEI numbers for nuclear power that are clearly deceptive. And, you rely on uneconomic methods of uranium mining to make unsupportable claims about the available reserves. A rosy view and wishful thinking do not put you in command of the facts. Again, I urge you to learn a little more. Actually, to "rely on uneconomic methods of uranium mining to make...claims about...reserves" is technically impossible, as I understand it, because "reserves" means "resources that are economic to extract". Is it, however, perfectly reasonable to make claims on likely trends in reserves based on resources that are known but not economic today, if the primary reason they are not economic is because much cheaper resources still exist that are sufficient to supply current needs. However, once all the "cheapest-to-extract" uranium is gone, it is almost a given that the "next-cheapest-to-extract" uranium becomes economic, even if it costs 10 times as much, given the demand for uranium fuel, and the relatively small fraction of power plant running costs that it entails. At least, that's my layman's understanding. BTW, the primary reason the above argument doesn't work with respect to oil is mainly the fact that many, many users of oil would be significantly impacted by a large increase in price. Eventually oil may be$5000/B (in today's money), and still be economic - but not for most of the uses it has currently.

You are correct that the mining is not the largest part of the fuel cost, though the cost of past mining has not been fully accounted since tailings have not been cleaned up. But, the projection to thousands of years does not stand up because it rests on ideas like extracting uranium from sea water. All actual growth projections for nuclear power depend on breeders. Substitution is already part of the plan. The volume of material that has to be processed going to lower and lower quality sources becomes an environmental problem that makes extraction similar to drilling on the continental shelves. You might say that it can be done economically in the sense that the machines will work, but it will be hard to get permission.

Your point about oil not being use for what is is today is probably the most important one. Oil is now used to provide energy, but something else will be used to do that before too long, and likely, much oil will be left in the ground as the substitutes take over. It does not require full depletion of depletable resources to make nondepletable resources replace them. So, when new nuclear power plants are proposed, and those who provide the money start asking where will the fuel come from, the answer will be, we don't know but we have a plan for breeders. That raises risk and makes money more expensive. This in turn makes the alternatives more attractive. So, only the economical reserves can count in the end. That is what you have to work with. Making energy more expensive in a world where the cost of renewables is only going to go down is not an option.

You are right that in a single resource world, you can make up these senarios, but they won't, realistically, be played out I think.

Well given the rate of technological development over the last 500 years, the idea that nuclear fusion will be a major power source for more than a couple of hundred is highly suspect, regardless of uranium supplies. For now, though, it has an important role to play in certain localities. I would be highly surprised if the reason for the end of the nuclear fission age was the lack of uranium.

Oops. That should have been Fig. 3 that need shading.

If changes in river flow rates due to climate change could pose a problem for the continued operation of a nuclear power plant then that's not automatically an argument against using nukes for a few reasons:

1) Use nukes to displace fossil fuels and prevent the climate change.

2) Climate change can also cause winds to stop blowing where wind farms get built or for more clouds to reduce insolation where solar facilities get built.

3) Nuke power could pump water from other places to the nuclear plant to use for cooling.

In order for solar to meet 6 PM demand we have to cover more areas with solar panels. Or we need to build water reservoirs to pump water into to store the energy for later use.

Thank you Professor Cleveland...one thing that did surprise me was the EROI of coal 80 versus 20 for oil. My understanding is that the "easy" coal has already been mined so the EROI should be falling for coal and approach zero at some relatively distant time in the future (60 years?). It would be interesting to see the falling EROI over time for various resources...if coal indeed has an EROI of 80 then we are doomed as its use will be mandated by users regardless of the CO2 and pollution.

There really isn't much difference between an E-ROI of 20, and one of 80. It's like MPG: the difference between 50MPG and 100MPG is the same as the difference between 10MPG and 11MPG: .01 gallons per mile.

Once E-ROI is above something in the range of 10-20, it no longer really matters.

This is the line that really jumped out at me:

"The transition from wood to coal occurred when the human population was small, its affluence was modest, and its technologies were much less powerful than today."

Run that backwards and IMHO you have a pretty good idea what our future "energy transition" will probably look like:

"The transition from coal (and oil, and gas) to wood occurred as the human population became much smaller, it's affluence much more modest, and it's technologies much less powerful than during the machine age."

Cheers,
Jerry

Cutler:

You said:

The energy transition that powered the Industrial Revolution helped create a new economic and social class by raising the incomes and changing the occupations of a large fraction of society who were then employed in rural, agrarian economies. The next energy transition will occur under fundamentally different socioeconomic conditions. Future energy systems must supply adequate energy to support the high and still growing living standards in wealthy nations, and they must supply energy sufficient to relieve the abject poverty of the world's poorest. The scale of the world's underclass is unprecedented in human history. According to the World Bank, about 1.2 billion people still live on less than $1 per day, and almost 3 billion on less than$2 per day. Nearly 110 million primary school age children are out of school, 60 percent of them girls. 31 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS. And many more live without adequate food, shelter, safe water, and sanitation.

That sounds an awful lot like suggesting that access to cheap fossil fuels is responsible only for benefits but not for the costs. I think your piece would have been more balanced and accurate if you spoke a bit more about the ways in which the global social and economic systems that have been able to evolve in a cheap energy world activly create / perpetuate the nasty conditions we see in the world as well as those of luxury.

Energy use and economic development go hand-in-hand (Figure 14), so poverty has an important energy dimension: the lack of access to high quality forms of energy. Energy poverty has been defined as the absence of sufficient choice in accessing adequate, affordable, reliable, high quality, safe and environmentally benign energy services to support economic and human development. Nearly 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and some 2.4 billion people rely on traditional biomass—wood, agricultural residues and dung—for cooking and heating. The combustion of those traditional fuels has profound human health impacts, especially for woman and children. Access to liquid and gaseous fuels and electricity is a necessary condition for poverty reduction and improvements in human health.

I tried to find your Fig 14 in the links as its not very fully labeled, but could not, but to my eye the "obvious" conculsion one could draw from it as presented is that there is a sharp inflection at about 1000 kg of energy (kg of what??) above which there is little correlation with the human development index (HDI), or at most small marginal improvements are being chased at great energy cost.

If we are considering global strategies to seek the highest HDI for the greatest number of people, as you seem to suggest, and if there is a high negative cost to the small marginal improvements from increased energy use (increased climate change) and if its very hard to scale up the renewable sources, then it seems to me the solution track is to reduce consumption of the high users to free up energy for raising the low consumers to the inflection point, and put the remaining savings "in the bank" of reduced climate change and increased resurve life of fossil fuel stocks.

Your suggestion that the future development needs to preserve the high marginal consumption levels and also be able to bring up the low consumers seems non obvious to me without some further supporting argument.

Im guessing the further argument is

...the solution track is to reduce consumption of the high users to free up energy for raising the low consumers to the inflection point, and put the remaining savings "in the bank..."

Given what our ancestors, and their ancestors were successful at, and what drives us today -this will prove a strategy that has close to zero chance of succeeding.

Shall Cutler be the first, or me, or you, that would like to trade their current lifestyle with one of the worlds 2 billion + people living on under $2 per day? With human nature, wants and (perceived) needs, its about relative not absolute. Government policies will hopefully help with some of this, but its not gonna be easy That sounds an awful lot like suggesting that access to cheap fossil fuels is responsible only for benefits but not for the costs. I think your piece would have been more balanced and accurate if you spoke a bit more about the ways in which the global social and economic systems that have been able to evolve in a cheap energy world activly create / perpetuate the nasty conditions we see in the world as well as those of luxury. People, not energy, are the root of evil. Cheap energy is a necessary--but not sufficient--condition for widespread mischief and mayhem by humans. Your suggestion that the future development needs to preserve the high marginal consumption levels and also be able to bring up the low consumers seems non obvious to me without some further supporting argument. I did not say we *should* preserve high consumption levels--the reality is that the majority of people will be demanding it for the short run. Where is there a groundswell of people saying, make me poorer? That is a reality--for good or bad--that the energy system faces. "People, not energy, are the root of evil." But what are people but energy incarnate? I did a short study for Odum on warfare and energy in the '70s. It is clear that organized warfare only occurs during times of energy surplus. A society of poor, hungry men can't invade their neighbors. They can do violence but don't make history. Historically, warfare usually occurs only when 1) technological and/or social change happens yielding excess energy or 2) climate shifts bringing energy abundence or energy poverty. An example of the second type was the Mongol Hordes. The grasslands of the steppes became more productive during the Middle Age Warming yielding motive power to their ponies. The 19th and 20th century offers examples of the first. The victor in the American Civil War was coal fired - better railroad transport and more iton weapons. WWI say the use of petroleum - trucks, and airplanes and even Churchill's oil-fired dreadnoughts. WWII was even more of the same but add tanks for Blitzkrieg. WWII ended with the first application of yet a new energy source - nuclear power. This ratcheted up the available energy surplus available to disorder the opponent by orders of magnitude. For just plain human misery, its hard to beat the devastion of the 30 years war in Germany, and that was done without energy levels being any higher tan those of third world countries today. Or look at the current bleeding sore in the Sudan. The Janjaweed ride camels! Bob Ebersole The 30 Years war had significant exogenous energies, largely from the political consolidation of the French central government (cause 1). Sweden was also enjoying a warming period and hence energy surpluses. The Sudan disorders are not really war as the animists are not organized in defence and the arabs are funded externally. One can have misery and violence without organized warfare indeed. All I can say is the "Arab" Janjaweed better have a heart to heart with their donor's and get some Hummers! I shouldn't joke about this, but, truly I'm not convinced that energy efficency had much to do with human cruelty and misery until the First World War. I guess there was some around the 1860's when modern arms factories and clothing (uniforms)were produced using coal and a very few steam powered ships started operating. The canned goods that fed the troops were also an energy using improvement, and the railroads. Of course, by WWII, the decisive thing was that the Allies had converted much of their equipment to oil fuel, and the East Texas field had the oil. The Germans did at the beginning, but when they failed to conquer Baku, it was curtains. Tanks and airplanes are pretty useless without fuel. By now we are the most fuel dependent military of all. I've read somewhere, though I can't recall the source, that it takes 14 gallons of diesel per man per day to prosecute that abomination in Iraq. I wonder if this includes the 180,000 mercenaries, or private contractors we have over there? And another question for you oil export/import numbers guys. About the fuel consumption figures on the Internal Consumption figures that we keep worrying are rising so fast in the Mid East. Do they include the fuel sold to the US military? Could that be why the UAE production figures seem so inaccurate this year, that rather than just precipitous production declines they represent fuel sold to the US military and be some cute camoflage by the Defense Department? Which leads me to my last paranoid thought. We've lost the war in Iraq, the Neocons threw it away at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. When our military exits the Persian Gulf, it will be insanity for any nation to let us back in the area, so they will probably embargo exports to the US. Will the military snatch every barrel of crude and diesel in the US for National Defense? Bob Ebersole RE: Figure 14, energy use vs HDI See also the article by Dr. Francois Cellier, Ecological Footprint, Energy Consumption, and the Looming Collapse http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2534 The point that should be obvious both from your Figure 14 and Dr. Cellier's article is that it is possible to achieve or maintain a relatively high quality of life (as measured by the Human Development Index) with much lower levels of energy use or environmental impact (a.k.a. "ecological footprint) than we have here in the USA. Looking at both articles, it is my conclusion that the USA could operate a sustainable society with an HDI nearly as high as at present levels were we to reduce our energy consumption, per capita GDP, and ecological footprint (which all correlate with each other) to approximately 25% of current levels. An example of a country with a per capita GDP, ecological footprints, and level of energy consumption that is near that same 25% level (on a PPP basis wrt per capita GDP) and also rates a relatively high HDI score is Costa Rica. The good news is that if we get real and get serious, we still might have a hope of ending up at least as well off as Costa Rica. The bad news is that we have a lot to do if we are to transition to a soft landing at that level, and there is a lot that we are going to have to give up. Our present high energy lifestyle is NOT sustainable, and there is no combination of renewable energy sources that we can possibly develop that will allow us to keep up the present levels. We probably can come up with some combination of renewables that could sustain us at that 25% level -- IF we also make the types of changes to our economy and out lifestyles that are appropriate to that 25% level. In theory I completely agree. The bugaboo is in the details. We execute things for immediate feedback and results, and because of our steep discount rates, we care about today - tomorrow be damned (mathematically speaking). Today there is a prime example along with horizontal well drilling, and long dated futures contango: I'm hearing rumours that Congress is to pass laws giving Fanne Mae and Freddie Mac more power to provide liquidity to mortgage shops and bail out failed mortgage issues relating to the recent credit swoon (which by looking at the markets today and yesterday have all but gone away). It's getting rid of short term pain and deferring it to the future that humans are good at. It will be a neat trick if we can reverse this pattern, and the scant historical evidence of that (see Diamonds "Collapse") mostly came from authoritarian societies. Think up a plausible, logical, explainable, acceptable argument to persuade Joe Sixpack and Sally Soccermom that we will be happier and better off if we live on 1/4 of our current energy. If you can do that, you have solved the problem I think the decline in the economy will pretty much accomplish it with or without Joe Sixpack's or Sally Soccermom's consent. When they have to live on 1/4 of what they are living on now, then they WILL be making some lifestyle changes. Whether or not they are happy is pretty much up to what goes on inside their own brains. As Herbert Stein used to say: "If something can't go on forever, then it won't" Looking at both articles, it is my conclusion that the USA could operate a sustainable society with an HDI nearly as high as at present levels were we to reduce our energy consumption, per capita GDP, and ecological footprint (which all correlate with each other) to approximately 25% of current levels. Note that GDP is a component of HDI, so ceteris paribus, reducing GDP reduces HDI. HDI does saturate with energy use--no doubt. However, it is unclear how much we could reduce energy use w/out taking a hit on the HDI (or GDP, etc). You say a 75% cut--not sure where that # comes from. I suspect it is substantially less than that. On reason is energy quality. On reason that Sweden, for example, gets more HDI and GDP per unit of energy than the US is that energy is measured in heat units. But Sweden gets most of its heat units from primary electricity (nuclear, hydro)--the US burns a lot of fossil fuel. More GDP (and HDI) is generated per hat unit of electricity than from a heat unit of coal. Thus, the energy/GDP ratio makes Sweden look much more "efficient" than the US. I elaborate on this point here: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Energy_quality My 75% cut comes from my dialogue with Dr. Cellier per the link I posted above. We established, based upon his data and analysis, that there were a cluster of countries that had relatively high HDI scores, yet were at or very close to a sustainable ecological footprint. (Dr. Cellier in his original article had only identified Cuba as being both sustainable and high HDI; in subsequent dialogue Dr. Cellier indicated that Costa Rica, Uruguay, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Thailand and the Phillipines were also all very close - and certainly more palatable examples to contemplate.) The per capita GDPs of these countries on a PPP basis tended to be around 25% of US levels. Thus my conclusion that for the USA, if we are to have any hope of reaching and maintaining sustainability, then to be realistic we had better start reconciling ourselves to the idea that it may be at a per capita GDP around 1/4 of present levels. Different countries can slice that GDP pie in different ways, though, and do different things with it. Some of the best run countries at that level (like Costa Rica, for example) manage to do pretty well for themselves with a fraction of the money and energy and other resources that we consume. My point is that if we are not going to just collapse into anarchy and oblivion, then we need to be thinking of a strategy that will allow us to level off at a lower, sustainable level. The first step must be to pick the right level. My suggestion that an aspiration to end up at least as well of as Costa Rica is reasonable and possibly even attractive; one could of course do much worse, and if we get it wrong we very likely WILL do worse. Once we pick a firm target level, and have gone through the psychological grief process to come to terms with the fact that we cannot sustain the present level and must let go of much of the excess that cannot be sustained, then we can get on with the process of working on a transition plan to get us from here to there. It won't be easy, it might even be a long shot. But IMHO, it is the best shot we've got to end up with anything much left of the technological civilization that we have built. I can hardly believe that you people doing all this talking about cutting energy usage don't refer to Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute. He is way ahead of you in detailing specific ways to be happy with MUCH less energy usage. I for one (and I am sure there are many others here) have got down to about 1/4 average american energy, find it easy and fun, and am getting better at it by the day just because it's my hobby as well as my profession. I am not only happier than my gas guzzling friends, but also cooler, warmer, and have more leisure time since I don't have to be working myself dizzy to support my addictions. My brother, an average guzzler, just left after a few days with us. He left all lights on wherever he went, ate constantly, drove into town three times a day to get his expresso, and had a waist three times the diameter of mine by actual measurement. Despite being highly intelligent, he had never heard of Carnot, and had no thought whatever about whether a human was closer to a steam engine or a fuel cell. I've been familiar with the work of Lovins and RMI for over 30 years. If we had followed his "Soft Energy Paths" that he developed in the 1970s, we would be facing a much different situation today. Globally, peak oil would still be looming, but possibly as much as a decade or more into the future. The US would have been considerably better positioned to transition into the post-oil future. The road not taken. [SIGH!] You are right, many of us (including myself) are already well along on our personal "soft energy paths". And yes, there are plenty of upsides to the powered-down, simpler & more frugal lifestyle. The mainstream American Way of Life is actually toxic, not just to the environment but also to the Americans that are living it. But let's be honest, too. We really do need to be talking about giving up a lot of the goodies that the corporations and the MSM dangle in front of us. For example, I would love to travel. There is a very long list of places around the world I would love to see. I used to hold out hope that I could get to many of them once I retired (and the whole concept of retirement is also undergoing restructuring). I now understand that I've got to give that up. Whatever spare money I have now and for the next decade or more will have to go to higher priorities. By the time that I might have the time, the cost of flying to distant places will probably be way too expensive -- if the airlines are even still runing at all. And let's be honest: living the frugal lifestyle can be hard work. Heating with firewood involves a lot of hard labor. So does raising a garden and canning the surplus for winter. Then there are all the other do-it-yourself projects. "Reuse, Repair, Recycle" is a good slogan, but actually doing it takes work. Walking and bicycling take effort, too. This does not mean we don't do it. We really don't have a choice. Well, you could take a freighter, if they still carry passengers like they used to do- very cheap. And of course my ideal would be a sailing ship. Wow! Hey, Don the sailorman, how about going into busines with a sail tour of the world, albiet with just a modest diesel to get across the calms? I don't mind being seasick some of the time, and scared out of my pants once in a while. A little work is fine, too. Ahem, I would probably die somewhere along the way- no problem, Would lend a little old-time realism to the experience-and a snack to the sharks. Meanwhile, I will still every now and then drop the idea of a vacuum tube train going everywhere, and take the flak thereunto appertaining. It's the only way to replace airplanes for the multitudes with more money than imagination. The majority of energy use is in space heating/cooling, (insulation) transport (localising/ more efficient transport rail EV etc) lighting (solar gain/efficient lighting) the largest non domestic energy use is industrial processes which have large potential for chp and on site renewables but also demand side management. If multi MW users have capacity to supply their own power it relieves the load on the grid and provides security of supply, also gives the potential to export to the grid at peak times ie it might be more profitable to sell to the grid than use the power in house. UPS could be extended to include larger storage such as the 10MWh NaS batteries which show awesome potential. Using renewable energy not just electricity is possible eg conc solar/geothermal process heat, wind powered compression (check general compression) bio digesters to produce gas + be paid a gate fee for taking away waste. Not to mention bio feedstocks, however we need to decide what industry is actually required. Most likely to be hopefully, Food, rail infrastructure, renewable energy devices, building renovation. Plenty of metal recycling too, but whilst this is going we still need people teaching and doctoring and all the many other jobs we take for granted. Good luck to all we are sure going to need it 25 alive In a solar economy it might just make more economic sense to operate industrial facilities when the sun is shining and shut down and send the workers home for a good night's sleep during the night. That was the pre-FF paradigm, after all. Why is it so unthinkable that it could be the paradigm again? Although there seems to be little likelihood of people willingly moving towards more intermittent availability of energy-dependent activities, for some reason or another, here in Australia we've witnessed supermarkets moving back away from being open 24/7: in fact there are very very few left that do, and almost all now only operate from 6AM-12AM. I suspect it might have something to do with how the price of oil has affected the delivery chain, but I couldn't say for sure. (OTOH, my wife, upon moving here from the US, took a while getting over the fact that virtually no retail stores are open here from 5PM onward, Thursdays and Fridays excepted. But she's well enough accustomed to it now.) I suspect blackouts will accomplish what willingness does not. Electric power is likely to become increasingly unreliable in the decades that follow. Even if utilities want to stay up 24/7, they might find it increasingly difficult to do so on a consistent basis. If you are running a coal-fired power plant, it is 14 days until the next trainload is due -- IF it arrives on time -- and you only have a ten day supply of coal left, what are you going to do? Answer: You are going to do rolling blackouts, with most of those blackouts happening at night. You will notify business and industry so that they can plan on shutting down their night shifts. Little scenarios like that will play out increasingly often in more and more places. Eventually, no power at night will tend to become the norm rather than the exception, people will get used to it, and they will reorder their lives accordingly. Whatever supply chain disruptions start, differential pricing will finish off. When utilities start to generate a significant percentage of their power from solar, then their rate structure will be based not just on peak and off-peak demand, but also on peak and off-peak supply. If electricity costs a factory several times more at night than it does in the daytime, then that very well might render it uneconomic to stay open around the clock. Folks should pay attention to a key point made by professor Cleveland: "Access to liquid and gaseous fuels and electricity is a necessary condition for poverty reduction and improvements in human health." The developed nations reached near peak health levels with very low use of liquid or gaseous FFs. Coal was still the dominant fuel until about 1950, and that at lower levels than today but, depending on your definition of health (life expectancy, for example), we were very close to today's levels back then. The greatest jumps in life expectancy came with a few simple changes. Good sewerage, access to clean water, etc. "You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." Albert Einstein Surely even the liquid/gaseous FF usage in developed nations in the 1950's and 60's (the period in which antibiotics became widely available, leading to levels of increased health that I would agree haven't dramatically improved since) was far greater than that in many poverty-stricken nations today. However, just because fossil fuel usage was an important part of achieving prosperity and good health in the part doesn't imply that it will be necessary in the future. There's nothing magical or completely irreplaceable about fossil fuels (which is something certain PO extremists seem to believe). In fact I don't know of one thing we do with fossil fuels that can't, in principle, be done with a known technological substitute today. It's only the sheer excessive rate at which we use them that's the issue. Link, http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/helium3_000630.html Here is something new for the readers here. TOD staff may want to look into this. the helium 3 article was discussed a couple of days ago on Drumbeat. Its a technocornucopian fantasy, but discussion better belongs on that thread than here. Bob Ebersole "The rise of commodity and futures markets for energy not only added volatility to energy markets ..." I had thought the sole legitimate purpose of futures markets was to _reduce_ volatility. Where can I find an explanation as to how energy markets differ from this general rule? Futures markets are intended to reduce risk for the individual investor. But they ultimately are based on investor's perceptions about the future, producing volatility-just like the stock market. "Total energy use then was about 5.6 quadrillion BTU (1 quadrillion = 1015), equal to about 0.19 TW (Terawatts or 1012 watts). Consider what it would take today to replace even just one-half of U.S. fossil fuel use with renewable energy: we would need to displace coal and petroleum energy flows of 2.9 TW, or 32 times the amount of coal used in 1885. Current global fossil fuel use is about 13 TW, so we need more than 6 TW of renewable energies to replace 50% of all fossil fuels. This is a staggering shift." This is highly misleading. In the US, 39 quads of heat input generate 13 quads of electricity, and this can be reversed with a heat pump to produce more than the original 39 quads. We can see that electricity is 3x more useful than heat. A mid-sized sedan would take .26 KWH per mile, where the average US ICE sedan uses 1.5KWH of oil: we can see that one sixth as much energy, in the form of electricity, could power vehicles. We'd only need to expand kwh electrical generation by about 20%, and generation capacity by about 5%, to electrify all light duty vehicles - easy to do with wind, or coal or nuclear if need be. "densities of electricity produced by water and wind are commonly below 10 W/m2." A wind turbine on a quarter acre (very common on farms) generates about 1,000 w/m2. Is the space between the turbines, used by the farmer for crops, relevant in this case? "Only photovoltaic generation, a technique not yet ready for mass utilization...." PV isn't cost competitive in most places, but it's certainly practical and useable, and prices are falling very quickly - it has already reached parity with utility retail peak pricing in some places and that transition will happen in more and more places over the next 10 years. "photovoltaic generation...can deliver more than 20 W/m2 of peak power." If it's on rooftops it doesn't "consume" any space at all. "The only renewable energy that exceeds annual global fossil fuel use is direct solar radiation," A study by Stanford researchers for NASA found 72 terawatts of average electrical production potential, which can be compared to total world electrical production currently of about 1.7 TW. Total world energy consumption equals the equivalent of about 4 TW, taking into account the higher value of electricity discussed above. So, there's more than enough wind. Ahhh, but will we? Or will typical human short-sightedness and greed win out? CTL? Attempts at locking up middle east oil with our (dwindling) military might? I think most doomers accept that we CAN do a lot to mitigate the decline of fossil fuels, I think most of us just think we won't A renewable to consider: OTEC -Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. 100% availability 24/7/365, unlike solar or wind. Xenesys calculation of total available energy resources in Japanese Waters (pdf warning): http://www.xenesys.com/english/otec/document/20070524/20070524.pdf "... ③ Estimation of power output using amount of solar radiation to ocean 1. Given that average amount of solar radiation to Japan’s EEZ* is 0.15 kW/m2 according to a publication by POWERSHA Inc. 2. Given that 1% of total amount of solar radiation within Japan’s EEZ is utilizable. 3. Given that heat efficiency of cycle for OTEC is 3%, which is half of theoretical efficiency of 6%. 4. Given that net power output is two-third of gross power output. (one-third of gross power is for own consumption such as that for DOW intake pumps) 5. Given that the on-stream factor is 90%. 6. Total power output based on 1 to 5 is: 0.15kW/m2×450×1010×0.01×0.03×2/3×0.9 = 120,000,000 kW *45,000,000 km2 is Japan’s EEZ area including Japanese territorial " -I have to admit that this figure is not as much as I thought it would be for such a big area. To use 1% or 450,000 km2, if we consider each OTEC able to utilize a 20km x 20km patch that would take 450,000 / (20x20) = ~1000 OTEC plants for 120GigaWatts or about 120MW each. In addition it would need a lot of infrastructure to setup, but could possibly use profits from 'Big Oil', they seem to have many of the end-to-end pieces of the supply jigsaw. If OTEC is to succeed it probably has to be scaled by an order of magnitude from here and three orders of magnitude from where it currently sits... Still it's a fascinating technology that can offers many good by-products: desalinated fresh water, aquaculture, air-con, Lithium, SynFuels (from Algae cultivation)... More info: Xenesys (the current leaders in the field IMO): http://www.xenesys.com/english/index.html OTEC news website: http://www.otecnews.org/ Regards, Nick. I'm wondering if these couldn't be put in alongside the offshore oil platforms. It would certainly improve the economics of offshore drilling considerably, plus make the OTECs more feasible as they made use of existing infrastructure. This is a great article and gives a lot to consider. When I read articles like this I do think it gives a glimmer of hope that we can use the upcoming PO Effects as a wake up call for a long needed transitition to a more sustainable future. The transition periods look to take 40 years and that's a very long decline time in which a lot can happen. I suppose on of the big differences this time is the sheer scale of the replacement needed and therefore the ramp up of the replacement. Our manufacturing capacity today is huge. The absolute "shock and awe" that PO is going to produce will be the wake up call. Due to the fact we are so unprepared (knitting the parachute on the way down -I like that one!) things are going to get ugly and I do not see any alternative but lots of demand destruction and conservation coupled with huge allocation of resources to any and all possible solutions. Areas of energy quality—density, net energy, intermittancy and flexibility are mentioned as factors but I would also add 'economic mass scaleability' as a key factor for any replacement... Regards, Nick. Such intermittency means that wind and solar power are really not “dispatchable”—you can’t necessarily start them up when you most need them. PNN electric irp foil addresses this. Other interests Failure to bring Brzezinski to justice casts a dark shadow of corruption on judicial and government branches. I was reading the BBC website yesterday about China’s growing appetite for ice cream despite widespread lactose intolerance. This makes me think that everybody aspires to certain iconic forms of consumption that have ‘made it’ eg eating icecream but not owning a private jet. Along with icecream I’d include airconditioning, personal travel options and electronic gadgets among current levels of aspiration. If this can’t be done using 25% of current energy flows then what? Maybe there are 2 possible steady states, our current large population forced to cut back heavily or a much smaller population (including menial labourers) that has everything. I’d like to hear Prof. Cleveland’s views on this. Maybe there are 2 possible steady states, our current large population forced to cut back heavily or a much smaller population (including menial labourers) that has everything. I’d like to hear Prof. Cleveland’s views on this. Perhaps neither is 'steady'. In the former, we would end up fighting to get higher on the ladder. In the latter, even though we had everything, someone would find something that everyone wanted, and then it would be off to the races all over again, just deferred. The only answer to steady state is to change what we consider 'ice cream'. I think that is a false dichotomy; there could be any number of combinations between those two extremes. If you are asking what is most likely, at least as far as the US is concerned I think we're going to have to decline to about 25% of present GDP per capita. That is with a population not much different than our own, though possibly drifting a bit lower as birth rates and life expectancies decline (if the post-Soviet experience of the USSR is any guide). I am assuming that a lot of folks from Mexico and points south will no longer find the US an attractive destination if we are at a per-capita GDP that is 25% of present levels, thus the present immigration-based population projections are invalid. I'm sure that the elites (and those who would aspire to become one) would prefer life at the present level, maybe with just them and a population of intelligent robots. More likely, the funding will run out for the robotics & AI R&D as the economy goes into the tank, and the scaling back of discretionary expenditures will turn most of the wealthy into the bankrupted, formerly wealthy. And anyway, there are plenty of anti-elite geeks that will have it within their capability to hack the robots and turn them on their masters, then each other, if worse ever came to worse. Great sci-fi, but the real world will be more -- well -- real. I say with GW hitting everyone heads North. Mexicans and Yanks all end up as labourers shovelling tar sands in Canada while a few 'Paris Hilton / Beckham Types' live in air-conditioned Miama MegaMalls. It's the American way and its non negotiable :o) Nick. Cutler Cleveland - "The only renewable energy that exceeds annual global fossil fuel use is direct solar radiation," "Such intermittency means that wind and solar power are really not “dispatchable”—you can’t necessarily start them up when you most need them. Thus, when wind or solar power is first added to a region’s grid, they do not replace an equivalent amount of existing generating capacity—i.e. the thermal generators that already existed will not immediately be shut down." In these two statements are the iconsistency that is often left by proponent of nuclear power as I suspect you are. Quite often in these 'impartial' articles there is a discreet bias against renewables. In mentioning the intermittancy of wind and solar and providing a graph of wind in Denmark to prove it is not really valid. First of all solar often is highly correlated with peak loads: "As a form of distributed generation, solar energy can reduce the need for transmission and distribution infrastructure-something not fully attributed in the market. Peak output from solar energy often coincides with peaks in demand for electricity, generally hot days with high airconditioner usage. Wholesale prices for electricity in these periods can be 100 times the average." so presenting a graph of wind in Denmark as proof of solar/wind intermittancy is wrong. Also Denmark is a very small country and weather fronts that affect one part usually affect the entire country at roughly the same time so Denmark cannot get the capacity factor increases from geographical seperation of wind farms. This is not true in either the US or Australia as wind, solar, geothermal and tidal/wave power can be widely distrubuted and not be affected by single weather systems. Again saying that renewables do not displace much fossil fuel power it true. This is however a limitation of both nuclear and coal power as they are only base load. They cannot react in a reasonable time scale to changing supply and demand. Power generation systems that are not from the 1800s like gas turbines can react quickly and automatically to differences from renewable sources like wind and solar. Wind and solar can be made more despatchable by including storage that is now becoming cost effective. Wind farms are now installing Vandium flow batteries and solar thermal power stations can have heat storage in molten salts for up to a week of overcast conditions. Geothermal power is by nature 24X7. Finally you are accepting blindly that our present energy use in unchangeable. We waste an enormous amount of energy and despite the recent energy efficiency gains that have happened there still exists a vast amount of savings if the incentive is given to reduce our electricity use. The only inevitable future in not nuclear. A combination of gasified fossil fuels/waste biomass and renewables coupled with widespread energy efficiency gains can provide the required energy for a continued technological civilisation. This time however if we do use renewables we will not be limited by the lifetime of a finite resource. http://www.pmc.gov.au/publications/energy_future/chapter8/7_technologies... Quite often in these 'impartial' articles there is a discreet bias against renewables. Do you imply there is a bias FOR fossil fuels? Because I think everyone would love to live on a planet powered by renewable safe clean sources. But the word 'renewable' as Cutler shows, is not going to easily replace what our infrastructure is built on. Why is that biased? Denmark cannot get the capacity factor increases from geographical seperation of wind farms. This is not true in either the US or Australia as wind, solar, geothermal and tidal/wave power can be widely distrubuted and not be affected by single weather systems. Well as you point out storage is getting better but a long way off from the disparity between strong wind and population in the US: Here is a link to a graphic of the disparity of wind regimes in US. A combination of gasified fossil fuels/waste biomass and renewables coupled with widespread energy efficiency gains can provide the required energy for a continued technological civilisation. This time however if we do use renewables we will not be limited by the lifetime of a finite resource. Huh? By definition if we use gasified fossil fuels we WILL be limited by the lifetime of a finite resource. And without fossil fuels our waste product inputs will be much smaller (meaning smaller waste biogas). Fossil fuels, especially cheap ones, are finite. I do agree that our present energy use can (and must) be changed. But I concur with Gails thoughts below that our penchant for panic and complacency might not give the signals in time (which is why I devote alot of time here.) Nate - "But the word 'renewable' as Cutler shows, is not going to easily replace what our infrastructure is built on. Why is that biased?" What do you base that assumption on? What I am saying here is that everyone seems to take it for granted that renewables cannot easily replace what we have however that assumption is not based on any real data only our biases. Big nuclear and big fossil fuel people really emphasise this even though there is no real data to support it - it just seems to be an implied assumption. Where is the hard data to support your argument? Most studies done suggest that in fact there is more than enough renewable energy available we just need different ideas that break the mold of huge central power stations. "Well as you point storage is getting better but a long way off from the disparity between strong wind and population in the US: Here is a link to a graphic of the disparity of wind regimes in US." However there is also a disparity between fossil fuels and population however we have found ways to overcome this. For the US there is a huge disparity between nuclear fuel and your population as the largest reserves exist in other countries. Again that does not seem to stop discussions on nuclear power. Advanced HVDC lines with superconducting storage though it seems pie in the sky can solve a lot of problems of distance. "Huh? By definition if we use gasified fossil fuels we WILL be limited by the lifetime of a finite resource. Fossil fuels, especially cheap ones, are finite." Of course they are however biomass if used sustainable and the product used in agrichar which is being investigated can be sustainable in the long run. Fossil fuels used at very low levels with gasification will last a lot longer than at present levels of consumption. "But the word 'renewable' as Cutler shows, is not going to easily replace what our infrastructure is built on." Actually, Cutler doesn't show that. He doesn't even begin to. He just discusses the problems, and gives that impression. For instance, he notes that capacity credit for wind is often 20-30%, without clarifying that that is in fact quite good (67%-100% of average output), and an indication that wind is very useful to utilities. I'm hoping he will respond to my other comments, as he says a number of things that are technically true, but misleading, and other things that are incorrect, like the statement that only solar provides more energy than fossil fuels (in fact, wind potential is much more than our current useage). A combination of gasified fossil fuels/waste biomass and renewables Perhaps what he was thinking is that we presently have an extensive NG infrastructure in place, and even as NG depleted that infrastructure isn't going away. Furthermore, there is considerable potential for the production of biogas (methane) from agricultural & municipal wastes. Compared to just throwing the stuff away and letting all that methane (a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2) enter the atmosphere, anaerobic biogas generators really do make considerably better sense (than corn ethanol, for example). Thus, a steady and renewable stream of biogas will eventually be available to replace at least a considerable fraction of our depleting NG supply. What he is thus talking about is a transition from one to the other. Well as you point out storage is getting better but a long way off from the disparity between strong wind and population in the US: Here is a link to a graphic of the disparity of wind regimes in US. Well, the wind potential in the Rocky Mts and Great Plains certainly is far removed from population centers, but there are other places that look better. For example, I live in WNC, and we have the best wind potential for the whole southeast. Combine that with appropriate energy efficiency improvements, some solar panels on rooftops, and some wood in the woodstove, and we're actually kind of sitting pretty. There should be enough surplus wind capacity in our area to supply much of the needs of the Piedmont cities from Atlanta up through Charlotte and the RTP. The huge downside, of course, is that we spoil all of our views of our ridgetops. That is a tough price to pay, and will only come after much agonizing. I also note that Lake Michigan is not that deep, and a huge array of WTs could be placed out in the middle of it, out of view from shore, but probably capable of providing huge amounts of power to Chicago and Milwaukee. Much of the Pacific NW and the northeast conurbation are not that far removed from good potential wind sites, either. A recent study found that off-shore wind off the East Coast was more than enough to supply the full power needs of the Eastern seaboard. link? Here you go: http://www.ocean.udel.edu/windpower/ "February 7, 2007 Mid-Atlantic Offshore Wind Potential: 330 GW by Tracey Bryant The wind resource off the Mid-Atlantic coast could supply the energy needs of nine states from Massachusetts to North Carolina, plus the District of Columbia -- with enough left over to support a 50 percent increase in future energy demand -- according to a study by researchers at the University of Delaware (UD) and Stanford University. " When looking at an energy analysis from a top view like this, it is hard to see the impact of the constraints built into the system. We have 6.6 billion people in the world, and they would all like to be fed tomorrow. We have a huge number of vehicles, and nearly all of them run on liquid fuel. We have a tiny number of factories making solar products, even less producing electricity from tidal energy and the like. It will require a huge amount of resources and time to replace our transportation system with an alternative. There are a lot of things that could theoretically be done, with enough investment and enough resources in the right place, and enough time for everything to come together. In the real world, people will be up needing something to fill a current need, and won't be willing to wait for a ramp up to something better later. I expect that if coal is available, it will be used, with or without climate change issues. We may eventually get some of these other things ramped up, but I am afraid we will run into Liebig's Law of the Minimum more than we would like. In the conclusions section, you say Thus, alternative energy sources are not likely to supplant fossil fuels in the short term without substantial and concerted policy intervention. I have serious doubts that even with substantial and concerted policy intervention, alternative energy sources will supplant fossil fuels in the short term. Gail, What is nice about renewable energy is that it scales fast. Their are many companies jumping into solar right now and it does not take a huge permitting process to get going with production. Also, we replace our transportation system every 12 years or so. These are resources we have already dedicated. I'd love to have a car that lasts 50 years but I'm quite sure my Ford won't. I'm pretty sure that coal won't be used once it is among the more expensive energy sources. It will be used until we have completed our transition because, heck, that is what a transition is. In fig. 2, wood was still 10% of coal use when coal was at its largest fraction. Coal will have niche uses but it won't be dominant. Thinking a little more about fig. 2, I don't understand why electricity is included. Everything seems to add to 100% at the right of the graph, but surely coal is responsible for much of the electricity. I would thing that it would be better to break it our into primary sources. This figure at the left is what fig. 2 should look like on the right, I think. Chris "We have a tiny number of factories making solar products, even less producing electricity from tidal energy and the like." The solar industry is about 2.5 GW per year, and doubling every 2 years. That's not tiny. More importantly, wind provided 20% of new US generation in 2006. That's big. "It will require a huge amount of resources and time to replace our transportation system with an alternative. " Not really. PHEV's won't cost any more than ICE's, and 50% of miles travelled come from vehicles less than 6 years old. A PHEV that is seen as an attractive, feasible alternative to an ICE vehicle will almost certainly be more expensive for quite some time. Of course, most people could get by perfectly well with a vehicle that can only travel 50km before requiring refuelling/recharging, but when they're deciding between that and an ICE vehicle based what they'll get for their money they will amost certainly choose the latter. Even now it doesn't look PHEVs will be manufactured in significant commerical quantities until 2010 at the earliest, and even if they prove so popular that they initially make up 5% of all new sales (and note regular hybrids aren't expected to reach that figure until after 2010), then grew by an optimistic 1% each year, it wouldn't be till well after 2050 that hybrids of all types made up more than 50% of the total vehicles on the road. Worse still, there could easily be another 5 years of worsening average fuel economy to go before it really turns around and starts to improve, then another 5 years before it improves fast enough to make up for increased miles travelled (due to population increase etc.). Actual shortages and economic shocks might change that dramatically of course. Only a very tiny minority of people drive long distances on a daily basis. For most people, long trips are just an occasional thing. Given an extensive network of car rental/car hire agencies, people could just rent ICE vehicles (presently fueled with gasoline/petrol, eventually with biodiesel, and eventually all becoming biodiesel/PHEVs) for the longer haul trips. My wife and I do this now. Rather than being suckered in to the trade-in game, we drive used old clunkers until they drop, but locally only; for any longer trips, we rent a newer, more reliable car. It is the only really sane, rational approach for someone in our situation. Cut out the long trips (which really should be via electrified passenger rail anyway, and hopefully someday will be), and all that most people really need is a solution for their daily commute plus local transport for shopping and other chores. Longer commutes should again ideally be by electrified passenger rail, so the commute is down to just a short trip to the local station. Bus systems usually exist for just about every place lacking rail; people may not LIKE riding buses, but they COULD if they had to; when enough do, the rail will start happening. Carpooling or ridesharing is also an option. Thus, the truth of the matter is that all that most people really need at most is something to get around for local trips up to a radius of maybe 10-20 miles or so. You don't even really need a PHEV for that - an NEV should do. With less weight to move, an NEV needs less motive power and smaller batteries; they are thus considerably less expensive than PHEVs. There are NEVs available on the market right now that would fit the bill just fine, for a price in the$6-12K range. That is certainly affordable for most people, even some people who otherwise might find it difficult to own a car at all.

By 2050, I expect that almost 100% of the vehicles on the roads will be NEVs (with just a few biodiesel-fueled PHEV service vehicles and rental cars, and of course plenty of bicycles.) All of that ICE fleet that you think will still be out there will long ago have been idled for lack of fuel, and probably will have all been junked and recycled.

Just curious, what NEV is on the market for $6K? Not even sure you can buy them at all here. Long way to go to fight off the idea that only big cars a safe before I can see them being hugely popular, sensible as they are. BTW my 2050 hypothesis was deliberately ignoring the fact that there won't be the fuel available to continue running ICEs. There will be the appearance of plenty of fuel, because no one will be using it. Electric vehicles (or something better) will be the norm, and ICE's will seem like noisy, smelly anachronisms, like a horse & buggy. "A PHEV that is seen as an attractive, feasible alternative to an ICE vehicle will almost certainly be more expensive for quite some time. " Why do you say that? I see no reason for it to be true. The average light-duty vehice in the US costs$28K. GM's goal for the Volt is less than $30K. Given that a PHEV will have much lower operating costs (fuel & maintenance), that's competitive. Furthermore, serial PHEV's are fundamentally simpler than ICE vehicles, and should be cheaper with decent manufacturing volume. "Even now it doesn't look PHEVs will be manufactured in significant commerical quantities until 2010 at the earliest," GM & Toyota are racing each other: I'm sure they're hoping to get small volumes by the end of 2009, with much larger volumes very quickly. "if they prove so popular that they initially make up 5% of all new sales (and note regular hybrids aren't expected to reach that figure until after 2010)," I expect most hybrids will become plug-in very soon after plug-ins are introduced. "then grew by an optimistic 1% each year" That's 20% or less (1% over a 5% base), and is an extremely slow growth rate. Hybrids are 2.2% of the market now, they've been growing by 55% per year, and the rate is accelerating. Toyota says they expect all of their vehicles to by hybrids by 2020, and again, they're very likely to all be plugins. We could easily have the majority of vehicles be PHEV by 2020. A Prius is still somewhat more expensive than an equivalent non-hybrid vehicle, even after several years. Why would it be different for a PHEV, which are arguably more complex than a regular hybrid? By 1% a year I meant 5% of new sales one year, 6% the next, 7% the next etc. That's faster than regular hybrid sales have been advancing so far. Of course as more and more manufacturers enter the market it will increase. Yes, if it truly remained exponential at 55% increase in actual sales each year, then it would quickly go from 5% of new sales to 100% within 20 years. Possible, perhaps, but how likely? Even then it would take another 20 years before all vehicles on the road were hybrids. "A Prius is still somewhat more expensive than an equivalent non-hybrid vehicle, even after several years. " This is a difficult comparison to do, but you save money with the Prius. Consumer Reports came to that conclusion, even comparing to the Corolla (a smaller car), once they corrected an accounting error. They now strongly recommend it for the budget-minded. "a PHEV, which are arguably more complex than a regular hybrid?" Serial PHEV's are much simpler than regular hybrids. They're basically an EV with a genset, and that's much, much simpler than the parallel hybrids, like the Prius. "By 1% a year I meant 5% of new sales one year, 6% the next, 7% the next etc." That's what I thought you meant: that's 20% growth, as I said. Hybrids are growing 55% per year. "Yes, if it truly remained exponential at 55% increase in actual sales each year, then it would quickly go from 5% of new sales to 100% within 20 years." 55% growth would take you from 5% to 100% in 7 years. I don't think we'll be able to grow quite that quickly, but we can get close. "...within 20 years. Possible, perhaps, but how likely? " If gas prices continue to rise, it's extremely likely. " Even then it would take another 20 years before all vehicles on the road were hybrids." That's the wrong way to look at it. 50% of miles travelled come from vehicles less than 6 years old, and if the new vehicles are as much of an improvement as is likely, that % will rise. Old ICE vehicles may linger, but they won't be used much. Hmm, so if PHEVs are simpler than hybrids, why were they not commercialised first? I thought the main issue was battery technology. Yes, you're right, I did actually calculate 7 years, not 20. The 20 was the factor to get from 5% to 100%. Anyway, I agree it's not completely inconceivable that improvements in average fuel economy could go a long way towards matching declines in available oil imports. In that case, a scenario of a reasonably gentle decline beginning in 5 years or so could well result in relatively little interruption to what might be considered "business as usual", providing a few other necessary adjustments are made (more mass transit, more tele-commuting, more bicyling etc.). In that sense the issue of the effect of P.O. on personal transportation mightn't be the major cause for concern. And I was never all that concerned about the other effects...still, if imports start declining this year at a rapidly increasing rate (not completely unlikely), no amount of expected increase in PHEV sales is going to help much. "Hmm, so if PHEVs are simpler than hybrids, why were they not commercialised first? I thought the main issue was battery technology." That's a really, really good question. PHEV's have been around forever: I'm told that Ferdinand Porsche invented one in the 1800's. GM had one around 1980. It's a really basic idea: EV doesn't have enough range? Add a small, efficient generator. I guess the basic answer is that fossil fuels were so cheap that long range EV's weren't really needed. Now we have a big scarcity premium, plus a climate change cost that hasn't really been internalized but is real, and it's clear that it's needed. The GM EV1 is an interesting problem. Why didn't they try PHEV's? I guess because the California CARB was trying for the ideal solution, and GM didn't really want it to work (parts of GM were excited about it, but many parts really weren't). The perfect is the enemy of the good. " if imports start declining this year at a rapidly increasing rate (not completely unlikely), no amount of expected increase in PHEV sales is going to help much." There are relatively easy strategies to bridge the gap. The most obvious is carpooling: with current telecom, it would be much, much easier to implement than it was 30 years ago. Then, it pretty much had to be on an internal company basis, because communications were so hard. Now? Easy, and it could cut overall commuter fuel consumption by 50%, easily. 2nd, telecommuting is badly underused. What % of office workers in large city downtowns really, really have to physically be there? 5%? Nick, 1) "if PHEVs are simpler than hybrids, why were they not commercialised first?" I think it was the plug. Manufacturers were afraid that the plug would make consumers feel like they were required to plug it in rather than being optional. 2) Did you see today's WSJ where Toyota is delaying by 2 years their Lithium battery powered hybrids? Apparently safety is the major concern. 3) Coincidentally (not?), the Altairnano conference call today mentioned that they are in talks with major auto OEMs -- their battery cannot explode, there is no graphite in it. Also, AES Corp, which supplies 10% of US electric power, ordered$1M worth of Altair batteries last week.

"Manufacturers were afraid that the plug would make consumers feel like they were required to plug it in "

Yes, that was a fear for Toyota. But, I wonder why GM didn't add a generator to the EV-1. I think it boils down to not thinking it was worth the effort. They regret that now.

"Toyota is delaying by 2 years their Lithium battery powered hybrids"

Yeah, they've had a bunch of recalls, and suddenly they're spooked that a battery fire would kill their quality reputation. They're committed to conventional cobalt li-ion, and don't have a li-ion substitute for the next Prius refresh which is due soon. Instead they're going to jury-rig a NIMH solution, which will give them half the range. GM execs must be pinching themselves twice a day at the thought that through a stroke of luck they may get the tech lead.

"AES Corp, which supplies 10% of US electric power, ordered $1M worth of Altair batteries last week." It's beginning to look like Altairnano might be for real. Wow....5-10 minute recharges... Also, Altairnano and partner UQM have a new contract to design and build EVs in an Air Force funded contract. Also also, Altair's plant that supplies their joint venture with Sherwin Williams is running 24x7 and already needs to be expanded. "GM...may get the tech lead" Tech lead means no air conditioning!? :-) (from gm-volt.com) "He [GM's Zielinksi] also told me that a decision has been made to use liquid cooling (and not air) systems for the packs." "We also discussed the issues of heating and AC and how they may affect battery life. Mr. Zielinksi indicates that thermal regulation as its known will be a significant challenge, and that the 40 mile range is predicted with the A/C off. 40 miles remains the current target for all-electric driving, but future versions will likely have more range." " thermal regulation as its known will be a significant challenge, and that the 40 mile range is predicted with the A/C off. " Well, if you drive 20 MPH, you'll go 40 miles in 2 hours. If you have a 2 KW A/C for 50% of the time, you'll use 2 KWH, or about 15% of battery capacity. That's "significant", but not overwhelming. Check this new article out. http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/55860 My favorite part: "Botsford [of AeroVironment] reports that he and his colleagues were initially skeptical of what Altair was saying about its batteries. "They had some pretty outrageous claims," says Botsford, noting a familiar adage in his business: "There are liars, damn liars and battery suppliers." So when the technicians at AeroVironment went to test the ability of a large Altair battery to take a full charge in 10 minutes, they took appropriate precautions. Representatives from Altair were, however, confident. "They laughed at us when we had our fire extinguishers and safety glasses," says Botsford." Investment capital may well ultimately prove to be the really big Liebig constraint. Look at what is needed for energy efficiency (especially electrified rail transport), AND renewables, AND conventional FF (tertiary recovery, offshore, arctic), AND maybe nuclear, AND CCS for all coal-fired plants, AND repairing a crumbling infrastructure. I see no possible way that even here in the US we can reallocate anywhere close to enough of our GDP to do all of the things we need to do. We thus need to make some difficult choices -- something the US hasn't been particularly good at doing for the past half-century or so. Not only that, we need to make the RIGHT choices -- something we don't do well at all. I suspect that much of what happens will be market driven. When energy prices get high enough, people will get serious about energy efficiency in their homes and workplaces. When gasoline prices get high enough, people will cut back their driving, they will trade in for more fuel efficient cars (and increasingly PHEVs and NEVS), and they will start using whatever mass transit is available. When energy prices get high enough, the solar panels will start going up on the rooftops. When energy prices get high enough, utilities will get interested in puting in more renewables. It will all mostly be too little and too late, unfortunately. Lack of investment capital is the proximate cause but ultimately this is a net energy story. If we run our infrastructure on lower density, lower energy return technolgies, how do you think lower EROI, etc will manifest in the real world? Lack of money, or if central banks open the spigot, rounds of inflation spurred on by lack of money. Energy is the ability to do work. The ability to do work is why profits grow. Finding the capital & resources to deal with Peak Oil will be relatively easy: just start replacing ICE vehicles with PHEV's, at the same cost. Wind can replace coal well before coal runs out. Climate change is much harder: that requires making a lot of coal plants obsolete long before their normal end-of-life. I don't have a lot of hope that we'll do this quickly enough. You've almost convinced that C.C. is actually a bigger problem than P.O. after all...although I always accepted that P.O. was a relatively short term problem that would largely be dealt with in my lifetime (I'm counting on another 40 years at least), whereas C.C. will affect us for the next two centuries. Either way, the important thing is to focus on the solutions that work well for both, i.e. not CTL, at least in any significant quantities, or without 100% CCS. You've almost convinced that C.C. is actually a bigger problem than P.O. after all I assume CC is climate change not Cutler Cleveland.. Transition is easy, here take a look:  www.TheWoodPile.com www.TheCoalChunk.com www.TheOilDrum.com www.TheSolarWindWavePanelTurbineThingy.com  See! A nice article that gathers a number of important concepts around Energy Quality. Figure 4 is really important, showing that presently there are no alternative energy vectors to those derived from Oil. Bio-diesel is the sole candidate but constrained geographically. Figure 2 mixes energy sources with electricity, an energy vector. Does it represent hydro and nuclear? This kind of mixture is not at all enlightening. Although the article is quite good the conclusions do not exactly stand up to it: The debate about "peak oil" aside, there are relatively abundant remaining supplies of fossil fuels. TheOilDrum excels in showing the opposite, by 2030 all fossil fuels will be past peak. Their quality is declining, but not yet to the extent that increasing scarcity will help trigger a major energy transition like wood scarcity did in the 19th century. But their declining availability will. Thus, alternative energy sources are not likely to supplant fossil fuels in the short term without substantial and concerted policy intervention. With Wind at 0.02% of the energy market and Solar below that, there’s no hope of a short term emergence of these sources above fossil fuels. Electricity from wind and solar sources may face competition from nuclear power, the sole established low-carbon power source with significant potential for expansion. The concept of competition between Wind, Solar and Nuclear is a dangerous one; none of these sources is capable of replacing fossil fuels in the mid-term on its own. Society will need them all. If concerns about climate change drive a transition to renewable sources… The window of opportunity for something like that to happen is now left behind. With Oil above 70$/b the main drive for a transition in energy systems is availability.

It is pointless to talk about how to supply energy to a future economy as big or even larger than the present US economy. It is neither possible that we can come up with that much energy from non-FF sources, nor will it be necessary that we do so. The mere fact of inevitable and inexorable increases in the prices of all types energy will alone be sufficient to drive US per capita GDP down to a considerably lower level than at present.

Need I point out the national debt, the unfunded liabilities on the entitlement programs, the growing balance of trade deficit, the deflating housing bubble, and the crashing dollar (and Chinese threats to make it worse)? Finally, there is this logical imperative, never mentioned in public by any "talking head" (I wonder why?): In a globalized world economy, there is every reason to expect that global wage levels will converge toward a global mean -- a mean that happens to be considerably lower than present US levels. "Oh, but we have more "human capital" because our kids are educated so much better than theirs!" Right. Visited a school lately? Visited a European or Asian school lately?

The future for the average US citizen is to become poorer -- much poorer.

Let's assume that we can somehow level off at 25% of the present per-capita GDP. It is by no means certain that we will, but I believe that a good argument can be made that we COULD -- that the 25% level is pretty close to where we need to be as a sustainable economy (assuming that our population does not continue to grow). It is also getting in the ballpark of the per-capita global GDP, so again that convergence toward mean phenomenon works.

Finding the non-FF energy for a US economy that is 1/4 the size of the present one is a whole different ball game. It probably is feasible to eventually get enough renewables in place to supply 100% of the energy required in that scenario. With extensive and quickly implemented energy efficiency measures, especially including extensive electrified rail transit, we can probably work out a transition plan without even having to burn up all our coal, let alone go massive with the nukes.

Trying to sustain the present economic levels means burning all the coal, massive CO2 increases, drowned coasts, and massive investments in nukes (with all the downsides that implies). There is no other way around that. And then, of course, we will STILL have the problem of needing to power down to that sustainable level, with all the renewables still needed to be built out and an even more degraded environment. By then, even that 25% level may have become unrealistic.

The main reason for focusing as many of our limited resources as we possibly can upon renewable energy development is that renewables are the ONLY resources that are going to help us to build a sustainable economy at that 25% level. Furthermore, we'd best get at it while we still DO have the resources available.

In a globalized world economy, there is every reason to expect that global wage levels will converge toward a global mean

I think that is contrary to experience. What gives capitalism its motivational power is that it concentrates wealth. The well-to-do provide for their kids through superior education and opportunities and rich countries can use economic and military power to get their way. We moderate this with social policies such as public education and progressive taxes and cooperative bodies like the UN. Occasionally large events, like world wars, restore some balance. The system has proven to be more productive than any other and as such it has come to dominate the world.

The result of a big energy squeeze is unlikely to be a big redistribution of wealth that moderates the effect on the poor and takes most of the cost out of the rich. Instead the rich will do OK and the developing world will go to hell. That is why it would be such a risk to not try to avoid an involuntary powerdown. We are not facing peak energy if we include fission in the mix and eventually renewable sources will probably be able to scale as well.

"With Wind at 0.02% of the energy market and Solar below that"

This is incorrect information from the EIA, which uses old data and compares heat inputs to electrical outputs. Wind in the US is 1% of the electricity market, and .4% of the overall energy supply. It represented 20% of new generation in 2006, and could easily provide 100% in 5-7 years, and then start replacing coal & gas, or powering PHEV's.

I don't use EIA data and I wasn't speaking of the US.

By the way that's 0.2%.

"I don't use EIA data and I wasn't speaking of the US."

OK, but it's still too low, and for the same reasons. What data do you use? IEA data says that world electrical generation is about 1.7TW average, with a capacity of about 4TW. Wwindea.org data indicates that wind capacity was 74GW at the end of 2006 with average generation of more than 17GW. We're probably at about 80GW now, so we'd be at roughly 1.1% of world electrical output.

Electricity is 40% of world energy use. That puts wind at .44% of overall energy consumption, though I don't know why that's important: oil is also 40% of world energy use, but when discussing Peak Oil no one suggests that overall energy useage is a very useful "frame".

In any case, wind is clearly large enough to be considered "here".

Figure 10. The distribution of solar energy exhibits a strong geographical gradient. (Source: NREL)

I could not find this image on the NREL site. In fact, I am looking for something similar for the whole world. Ideally, the distribution over 24 hours and 365 days would also be available.

If anyone can help, I would much appreciate it!

This link looks promising. The figure in the article looks like it might be for concentrators rather than panels. There is less of a gradient for panels and I suspect that these will be used more in Africa since they don't need much in the way of a grid to be useful. There will also be a substantial availability of low cost used panels in the next decade as improved panels are substituted when roof maintence occurs in the US, Asia and Europe. You want new panels on a new roof to save future labor. The panels coming off of Walmart then will likely be sold in regions that have not yet ramped up their own fabrication facilities since otherwise they will have to compete with more efficient panels. It is interesting that this means that the third world's generating capacity is swamped by solar before the first world reaches 70% renewables. One expects that this will boostrap with fabrication plants popping up as cheap generation becomes available. This also transfers the recyclable resource to feed those bootstrapped plants, making them competitive on the world market since, with recycling, their energy use will be lower. The implications for reforestation look pretty positive since solar can displace the use of wood for cooking fuel as it is already doing in a thermal context.

Chris

Another thought on fig. 2: If you were to make predictions based on growth of the use of a resource early on in the graph, you might say that coal will never amount to much and animal feed will be the next big thing. There is a niche market in home heating with corn now, for example, but it is not the big thing really. But, breaking out the primary sources in the figure, is seems to me that the story it tells is growing diversity of sources with none presently dominant. Right now, the components of the electricity line are the most interesting things to watch. There are a number of things that look like early coal under coal, hydro and nuclear power that might grow to the highest coal fraction in the middle of the graph because they are experiencing exponential growth as with early coal or early oil while others are experiencing settled fractions, meaning that their interrelationship is stable. It is the exponential function that drives (or at least describes) transitions I think.

Chris