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An open letter to the Prime Minister

Lionel Orford is new to Webdiary. He is a professional electrical engineer with a long standing interest in renewable energy, energy sustainability and climate change, and has studied the Peak Oil issue in depth snce 2004. This is his debut piece for Webdiary - thank you and welcome, Lionel.

An Open Letter to Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia

3 December, 2007

The Hon Kevin Rudd MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House

Dear Prime Minister,

Firstly, congratulations on your historic election win. Your promise of “new leadership” and a focus on Australia’s future are certainly needed at this time.

You have come to power at a time of a looming worldwide economic crisis; a time when we desperately need new leadership to deal with the immense problems ahead of us and an end to the deception, denial and neglect that characterised the Howard era. The news is in and it is very bad news indeed:

  • We have now almost certainly reached Peak Oil. The highest ever level of worldwide production of “all liquids” was in 2006 and conventional crude oil was in 2005. It would now take a minor miracle to raise production above these levels and the rate of decline is almost certain to accelerate over the next few years such that “business as usual” is impossible.
  • Global Warming is proceeding much faster than most scientists expected and we are completely clueless on how serious the problems will be and how fast they will unfold.

I do not address the Global Warming issue in depth in this letter because no actions by your government alone can have any significant impact on the problem as it is a worldwide problem, where extensive damage has already been done and major consequences are now inescapable. However, I must stress that I fully support major initiatives in renewable energy development, energy conservation and a global plan of action through the UN because these are the correct actions to mitigate the crises being brought about Global Warming and by Peak Oil.

Even though the effects of climate change are likely to be very serious, they are largely unknown and will play out over the coming decades. However, Peak Oil will have major consequences over the coming years – during your time as Prime Minister.

The unfolding crisis is in several ways analogous to the sinking of the Titanic. We are now at the stage where the ship has hit the iceberg and is already taking on water; its fate is sealed.

The crew is now trying to avoid panic by the passengers by announcing “All is well, the ship is unsinkable, there’s no need to launch the lifeboats”. Unfortunately most of the crew is yet to realise that this is simply not true – they are optimists, still in the denial of the dreadful truth.

There is an urgent need for recognition of the problem so as to best manage the crisis. Denial of the problem at this time will lead to inaction and a far greater disaster, just as it did on the Titanic.

Like the Titanic, this crisis was caused by gross negligence and hubris that led to the belief that the ship was unsinkable. The inevitability of Peak Oil and its effects have been known for decades, but rigorously denied, based on the belief that our technological prowess has made us invulnerable to reality.

Welcome to the job of Captain of the SS Australia.

Peak Oil and the Unfolding Economic Crisis

To those unstudied in PO, it initially seems “no big deal” - something that, to some Greenies, will stop us destroying ourselves or something, to the economists, that the market and technical innovation will deal with.

Both are extremely misguided by their respective ideologies and just flat wrong.

The bad news for the Greenies is that far from being that which will save us by reining in capitalism, it may well result in our demise through social dysfunction and the use of any available energy source, no matter how environmentally destructive.

The bad news for the economists is that the market and technical innovation is completely unable to provide solutions to the demise of its staple food source – cheap energy. It has been assumed that as crude oil declines, we will turn increasingly to “alternative” sources of oil. This is a ridiculous assumption, based on hubris and blind faith; it is completely detached from reality. There are simply no alternatives to oil – no combination that can be obtained fast enough and in sufficient quantities to replace the dwindling supply.

What we have seen over the last three years of significantly higher oil prices is massive stimulation of efforts to increase supply, but the small increases in supply have not matched the declines in the large mature oil fields. We have seen demand fall to match supply by means of poor countries simply falling by the wayside.

Now the world is guzzling its way through its trading reserves, but this can not last for long.

Very soon we will face an oil supply shortfall which results in dramatic escalation in the oil price. As the price increases, people will do what they can to reduce their usage. However, very quickly the discretionary use of fuel (trips to the coast, overseas holidays, interstate travel, etc) will be reduced to almost nothing.

At first this doesn’t sound that bad, but consider what it means for our service based economy. At best, it means a downturn and at worst, a collapse of the tourism industry, the airline industry and the rest of industries based on selling us stuff we want but don’t actually need. It means unemployment for many thousands, along with the bankruptcies and foreclosures of people’s homes.

The result will be a recession, which drives down demand to match supply through “demand destruction”.

A mild rate of decline (say < 1.5% p.a.) may result in a mild recession that goes on and on because there is insufficient oil to allow re-establishment of economic growth. The world economy would grind to a halt and a failure of the market system would probably follow.

However, it is far more likely that the economy will overshoot into a recession far more severe than what is required to cut back oil consumption to match supply. Ironically, as in the 1980’s, we would then see an excess of oil supply and a dramatic fall of the price. However, unlike the recovery of the 90’s, any economic recovery would be short lived due to significantly reduced oil availability due to depletion in the intervening period.

The magnitude of the coming decline in oil availability is truly alarming. In October 2007, the Energy Watch Group – a research body that provides advice to the German government – released a report which states that which is becoming more and more obvious; that we passed the worldwide Peak Oil in 2006.

Furthermore, EWG forecasts that the decline rate will be much higher than that foreseen by any other group, including ASPO. EWG predicts that crude production will be down to around two thirds of current production by 2020 and to half by 2030. If these well researched forecasts are correct, it is totally infeasible to reduce consumption by this amount in 2 decades, except through a collapse of our current system.

But the story gets worse. Petroleum geologist Jeffrey J. Brown has developed an ‘Export Land Model’ which models what happens to exports from the major oil exporting nations whose domestic demand is still growing while their oil production is in decline. These nations include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Kuwait, many of the smaller middle eastern oil producers and most importantly Russia – the worlds largest oil producer. The model suggests that it will only take about nine years from Peak Oil for exports from the major producers to reduce to zero. This is very much in line with what actually happened to Britain, where it took only six years from peak production for Britain to again become a net oil importer. This spells disaster for major oil importers, particularly the USA and Western Europe.

Right now, the USA seems to be in the initial phase of “The Long Emergency”, as James Kunstler has dubbed it. I think that the only uncertainties are how fast their economy will fall apart and what the reaction of the US high command will be. A collapse of the dollar seems imminent because of the converging effects of the unsustainable boom financed by ballooning consumer debt and the unsustainable flooding of the world economy with US Dollars to import two thirds of their oil as well as a flood of consumer goods. The United States is bankrupt but nobody wants to admit it. The main reasons that in the US Dollar retains any value at all are that a large number of countries hold dollars as foreign reserve, almost everybody buys their oil in dollars and manufacturing countries, particularly China, do not want to see a collapse of their largest market.

The consequences and speed of the downfall of the American Empire are highly unpredictable, but it is certain to be a disaster for the whole world, which ever way it unfolds. I worry that the US high command may do something really stupid, like launching military action to seize oil by force by attacking Iran or Venezuela for example. My only hope is that their current war for oil is going very badly and I don’t think the American people will support any new resource wars. However, this may change if the economy collapses and there is massive unemployment and hardship similar to that of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s.

What your Government can do about it.

Prime Minister, it’s time to tell the crew and passengers the dismal truth and get everybody working together to launch the lifeboats.

Step 1. Tell the Truth

No government wants to tell the truth about the dire situation because that would cause a loss of confidence in the market economy and the government itself. However, you have an obligation to inform the Australian people of the seriousness of the situation and to take action to start to deal with it. You have an obligation to desist with the “all is well” denial and inaction of the previous government; to seek frank, fearless, honest and realistic advice from departments such as ABARE and DITR rather than covering up the problems by seeking only “optimistic” advice that will maintain confidence in the market economy, as your predecessor did.

I contend that it is far better to level with the Australian people before crisis hits than to wait for it to happen and then react by saying “who could have known? – I was deceived!” Well – after verifying what I’m now telling you – you have no excuse not to know! To claim that you didn’t know would be to claim your own incompetence and the electorate would be justified in throwing you out of office at the next election.

The news must be delivered so as not to cause panic and I do see how difficult that is. The finesse required here is to term the news in terms of planning for the coming oil supply and economic problems. I note that your election campaign rhetoric did mention this very briefly.

Step 2. Start Planning for Major Infrastructure Works

When the economy goes into recession or depression, the only known way that some economic activity can be restored and unemployment reduced is by government investment – Keynesian economic intervention.

At the same time as this government intervention is required; the nation has a burning need for infrastructure to allow our society to function with an ever declining supply of oil.

I suggest that these are the most pressing needs:

  • Major investment in national electric railway infrastructure – long distance freight, high speed passenger rail and suburban light rail. A vast amount of petroleum is consumed by road freight, air travel and commuting. The majority of it can be powered by electricity. This would also enable greenhouse emissions to be significantly reduced due to the large increase in efficiency of rail transport compared with road and air transport.
  • Major investment in infrastructure to better manage our water usage. We need to return the waste water generated by our cities to the land, together with the precious nutrients it contains.
  • Major investment in carbon capture and storage. I personally don’t think this will prove technically and economically viable, but none the less, we should pursue it until it is proven non-viable. We have no other resource except coal which can be readily deployed to provide the rapid increase in the electricity we need.
  • Massive investment in renewable energy. The most promising technologies here are solar thermal with heat storage and geothermal. There is no point in developing large scale intermittent resources such as wind, photovoltaic and wave power because such intermittent generation cannot be managed on a large scale.
  • Develop oil from coal technology in Australia, with the up-front requirement that any plant built must sequester the huge amount of carbon dioxide it produces. Again, this may never be viable, but the viability should be assessed.
  • Get serious about infrastructure to allow bicycles to be used safely for commuting. This includes bikeways, storage facilities, showers and possibly public hire bike depots.

There is a problem with major government investment during the current boom times because such investment would be inflationary. However, this boom will end very soon and the planning behind such major infrastructure works takes years, with only a relatively small amount spent during the planning phase.

Step 3. Start conserving what we have left

Rationing of fuel will be one of the first steps required to deal with the coming shortages. If this isn’t done, there will be mayhem – hoarding of supplies, black market profiteering, queues for fuel at petrol stations and crucially, shortages for essential services, particularly food production and distribution. I believe that tradable quotas are the best means of rationing demand as they would allow people with greater needs to buy additional quota and reward those who conserve most effectively.

If rationing was implemented via a worldwide “Oil Depletion Protocol”, where all countries reduce their consumption progressively to match the available supply, this would mitigate the problem in the most equitable way possible, hopefully preventing a breakdown of world order. However, getting the US onboard is bound to be difficult.

The rationing system must also reserve enough fuel to implement the infrastructure works required to adapt to the post-peak world.

Step 4. Get our best and brightest onto developing long term solutions

The size of the challenge that confronts us is truly staggering. I fully support your “Education Revolution” and regard the deliberate neglect of public education by the Howard government as reprehensible.

However, there is no point training more economists and bankers for the capitalist system which will not exist for much longer.

A new economic system

The fundamental problem behind all the problems we face; the reaching of practical limits to growth in the case of oil, water and deforestation, and the consequences of the waste products in the case of Global Warming, is that our economy is dependent on economic growth and fails to function without it.

We need an entirely new economic system which must be able to

  • function effectively without economic growth
  • function to equitably share resources in a world of declining resources
  • enable the development of local communities that are largely self sufficient
  • facilitate depopulation of the planet
  • restore planetary ecosystems

Such an economy may need to be a state run economy, which have a poor track record. We need to learn from the mistakes of former state run economies and come up with something that works. I have thought long and hard about this and can offer few practical suggestions.

A new energy system

We must face reality and understand that we are dependant on large amounts of energy just to meet our fundamental needs and this cannot be changed in years or decades; it will take lifetimes. We must also understand that while there is energy available, we humans will use it because availability of energy is standard of living.

A recent Energy Watch Group report tells the bad news that coal will be peaked out worldwide within 20 to 30 years. It will simply impossible to provide the minimum energy needs of a population that lives in cities once the oil, gas and coal are severely depleted.

Current technology nuclear power (based on the fission of Uranium235) is only able to provide a relatively small part of our energy needs because viable supplies of Uranium235 are very limited. Developing this technology for Australia would be very short sighted indeed.

Hence I contend that we should get started on developing safe breeder reactors which convert Uranium238 to nuclear fuel and/or breeder reactors that convert Thorium to fuel. Uranium238 is a large resource and Thorium is a vast resource, capable of providing our energy needs for millennia. This is a large technical undertaking that will take decades, but the long term need for it is really beyond question.

Conclusion

When one fully understands the magnitude of the problems that we humans have caused ourselves, it’s tempting to just throw up your hands in dismay and just give up. Like the Titanic, we are in a situation where no desirable outcome is possible. However, we must do what we can to work for the best possible outcome.

The first step is to desist with the denial of the problems and the fantasy that everything is OK; that the market will sort it out. This involves informing the public about the seriousness of our predicament.

The second step is to get stuck in and do what we can to adapt to our new situation.

If there is any aspect of this letter on which you would like me to provide references or further information, I am most willing to provide this. Stealing your line - I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help.

Most sincerely,

Lionel Orford

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I just don't think you get it Mr Orford

If I understand your objections to the reliability of solar power, they are essentially two-fold: 1. there are difficulties with transmission because we do not have enough at the moment and 2. we would have to build 6 to 7 times capacity to ensure a reliable supply.

Both of these come down to cost, nothing more. What's the problem? Spend more. We have lots of money and as we spend we make: more GST, more employment, more return, more super, more to invest. And that's without tinkering with the tax system.

Oh, you can tweak it around the edges and use energy efficient lightbulbs but that dosen't make up for an aluminium smelter for example. Consume less and we make less. Stone age here you come. I hope you enjoy it. After all, engineers are so much more adaptable than the rest of us - they run on beer if I remember University rightly whereas some of us need value added stuff like Malt, Champagne, good claret , hock, semillon and lots of port.

I still haven't heard a practical proposal from you so I shan't yet outline the other ways of making a profit to fund the infrastructure cost/ interest on borrowings.

So, what's your positive suggestion for the next 3 year cycle?

I Certainly Get It Mr Duncan

No Malcolm, the problem is that we would spend 6-7 times as much and still not get a reliable supply. 

It would still need to be backed up with natural gas fired generators, or maybe pumped hydro, which are the fastest swing rate generators we have and it's still doubtful we'd be able to keep it all together.  

I am an electrical engineer and have worked most of my career in power generation of various types.  A great deal of monitoring and coordination goes into keeping the power grid stable - it doesn't just run.  I'm telling you something that is well known amongst my professional peers - it's a dirty little secret of intermittant renewables that limits their use to a small percentace of the power generation capacity. 

You say "it comes down to cost, nothing more." The intermittancy issue is not just a cost issue and furthermore, cost is not an issue that can just be dissmissed. 

As I've pointed out before, all energy sources are free; what we pay for is the cost of the machines and infrastructure to deliver that energy.  When you spend 5x as much on infrastructure you are going to have to pay about 5x the price for the delivered electricity.  This dramatically changes the economics of using electricity; we won't be able to quander it the way we do now. 

Also the cost is not just a matter of money - which can be conjured out of thin air - cost is a reflection of how much energy needs to be expended to build the infrastructure - the embodied energy.  So if we set about building a power system that is very expensive - and all renewables are - we are investing a large amount of energy which has to paid back.  It's called Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI) and for renewables it's very low and can easily be less than 1 (ie a loss).  The reason that coal based electricity is dirt cheap is that it has a large EROEI - something in the order 50 I think. 

Investing large amounts of energy to build new energy sources will be very difficult in an energy constrained world. 

As far as practical suggestions for the next three year cycle - I refer you to my letter to the PM - which started all this.

RE: I Certainly Get It Mr Duncan

Hi Lionel,

No Malcolm, the problem is that we would spend 6-7 times as much and still not get a reliable supply. It would still need to be backed up with natural gas fired generators, or maybe pumped hydro, which are the fastest swing rate generators we have and it's still doubtful we'd be able to keep it all together.

Based on today's technology, I would have to agree, However, I am heartened by the work that people are doing all over the world, to improve these technologies, in the light of climate change and resource depletion. I'm not necessarily arguing for a "technofix" to our energy problems, but technology can certainly help.

A good example is the work General Compression is doing in the US. I have posted some details here, which outlines the premise. They use wind turbines to compress air, releasing it to the grid in a manageable form. They expect to be able to compete with both coal and gas-powered plants. This is a positive development.

I think we also need to take a serious look at SMES (Superconducting magnetic energy storage) which could provide the sort of buffer we need for a renewable energy-based grid. Two or three GW-sized installations of this type could buffer our energy needs quite easily.

I am an electrical engineer and have worked most of my career in power generation of various types. A great deal of monitoring and coordination goes into keeping the power grid stable - it doesn't just run. I'm telling you something that is well known amongst my professional peers - it's a dirty little secret of intermittent renewables that limits their use to a small percentage of the power generation capacity. 

You say "it comes down to cost, nothing more." The intermittency issue is not just a cost issue and furthermore, cost is not an issue that can just be dismissed.

I address the intermittency issue above. Cost is another story. Energy costs will rise, whether they are associated with geosequestration, a nuclear renaissance or zero-carbon renewable systems. In a market-only sense, whatever works for the least amount of money will rise to the top. That may be "clean coal" but I doubt it. It's 20 years away and we have to act within 10 years to solve some of our most important problems.

As I've pointed out before, all energy sources are free; what we pay for is the cost of the machines and infrastructure to deliver that energy. When you spend 5x as much on infrastructure you are going to have to pay about 5x the price for the delivered electricity. This dramatically changes the economics of using electricity; we won't be able to squander it the way we do now. 

Also the cost is not just a matter of money - which can be conjured out of thin air - cost is a reflection of how much energy needs to be expended to build the infrastructure - the embodied energy.  So if we set about building a power system that is very expensive - and all renewables are - we are investing a large amount of energy which has to paid back. It's called Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI) and for renewables it's very low and can easily be less than 1 (ie a loss). The reason that coal based electricity is dirt cheap is that it has a large EROEI - something in the order 50 I think.

Yes, current energy costs x5 seems about right. After we factor in all the externalities we have been reluctant to embrace – wars for oil, climate change, pollution – it would have to be about that.

Your mention of EROEI is relevant, of course, but only relates to energy profit. There is no doubt in my mind that if we really need the last of the oil in the ground to produce essential lubricants for energy, or plastics for medicine, or fuel for agriculture, EROEI will not be important. The oil will be extracted anyway.

It could be argued that we are already doing this in the US, with corn-based ethanol. We do this for energy politics, not energy policy. In an energy-frugal future, EROEI may be just another sacred cow, fit only to be discarded as necessary, to suit our most urgent needs.

Investing large amounts of energy to build new energy sources will be very difficult in an energy constrained world.

I couldn't agree more. All the more reason to start now, prior to the peak or plateau in oil production, whichever we can agree on!

There are, as Nate Lewis from Caltech points out in his excellent RealPlayer presentation, only 3 solutions that scale to the size necessary to serve our future energy requirements:

  1. Nuclear (fission and fusion)
  2. Carbon sequestration
  3. Renewables

Of these, there are some possibilities for Australia. We are in a unique position, housing one of the world's largest resources of uranium, to go nuclear in a big way. The expense, of course, would be extraordinary.

Carbon sequestration may never work. No-one has found, for instance, enough underground capacity in NSW to house the NSW state emissions (at this stage), and they may never do so.

Which brings us back to renewables. Time to get back to work, I reckon. We have to make renewables work. And there is much to do... :)

Capacity

Current power providers generate way above capacity so they can handle peak load.

What's the problem with renewables doing the same?

As research continues and economies of scale kick in I expect the price of power from renewables will decline.  Partly I think the accounting is a con: the prior subsidies by government to set up the current grid aren't counted, while the costs to set up the infrastructure for renewables is.

Renewables Have To Make It

Cheer up, Lionel. Renewables have to make it. There's not much else that looks like it can help. Our energy costs have been far too low for years, party because they did not factor in any of the externalities, and partly because of massive fossil fuel subsidies.

Now that we're finally struggling with the climate change externality, fossil fuel prices are bound to rise (and by quite a bit, if I'm any judge). If we're ever brave enough to tackle the @AUD$10 billion a year in transport and energy subsidies that we give to our current suppliers, then there'll be even more in the biccy bin to spend on alternatives.

With renewables, we're going to have to bring together a mix of technologies (all of them, actually) to attempt to achieve the best balance we can. I include – for argument's sake – geothermal, solar, wind, tide and wave in this mix. Whilst there is little chance they will balance out, we could back them up with some nuclear, and while our natural gas supplies last, gas-powered stations (for quick start-up).

If this mix is weighted more towards solar (and daytime generation), because this IS a sunburnt land, there is always the possibility of using the batteries in a new generation of electric cars to store any daytime peaks (commuter cars can be charging while parked during the day).

Any other overproduction will have to be stored as compressed air, hydrogen – and whatever else works – regardless of losses, depending upon the local conditions. It's true we'll have to deal with a system that's a massive overkill, just to balance out, but this problem is just the same, whether planning for a community or a nation.

Matt Simmons continues to make the point that oil costs less than bottled water, and he's right. We pay so little for our energy it's a joke. Paying more may convince people that take it for granted that they should not. This will not be a painless transition, but nothing on this scale has ever been attempted before, and it's bound to bite.

The societal aspects are complex and prone to misunderstanding. Many people view "powerdown" as enforced rationing, but if the problem is clear, and there are effective price signals, it will quickly become a voluntary effort by consumers and trigger a new generation of energy efficient goods in all sectors.

We can do this. We certainly won't do it very well at the start, but we'll get better at it over time. What will spur us on is the fact that there is no option. Renewables have to make it. We have to build a whole new carbon-free energy system, and we have to build it almost from stratch.

It won't come easy, and it won't come cheap, but it will come. Our very lives depend on it.

Fossil Fuel Free Life

Ah Ian McPherson, if only passion and belief were the cause of all the world problems; better yet, if only that could cure them.

None of that, of course, will make very much difference. Except a whole bunch of already fat people will get just that little bit fatter. Although it is just possible that a smidge of that money might actually do some good in the third world.

Money of itself is a meaningless object, surely you understand this? Every person living in the first world should indeed visit a third world nation (should be compulsory). Perhaps than they would understand that every action causes a direct reaction. It is easier, though, to preach about the evils of wide screens and hummers. Real life was never easy and it will never be easy (for anyone). Fossils fuels or not.

Reducing need for air-con

In the temperate regions of SA, where I live, many people have air-conditioners. So many, in fact, that the electricity suppliers have occasionally instituted rolling "blackouts" on very hot days because the grid can't cope.

However, they would be all but completely unnecessary in new houses here if we enforced a few sensible principles, such as:

  • insulating walls and ceilings
  • where possible, eliminating west-facing windows
  • externally shading any existing west-facing window
  • forgetting "Tuscan" or whatever those boxes are called, and keeping 600mm eaves. At a standard height on a bungalow, they shade northern windows in summer, but let in the lower sun in winter.
  • giving up the addiction to external brick veneer. A reverse brick veneer house which has its thermal mass inside the insulation layer keeps inside temperatures much more stable year-round.

With a bit of remembering to draw curtains on hot days and opening up windows at night to take advantage of cool breezes, life can still be quite comfortable in summer without airconditioning - especially if one gives in to an afternoon siesta when it's 42 degrees outside!

The problem then is cultural/political.

Lionel, thanks for your considered and comprehensive response.  I am keeping an open mind on the nuclear option despite vigorous opposition over a thirty year period.  Such times as these!

You write that the solution is having "less, less, less" and I think this is correct.  The logic of the Club of Rome report remains irrefutably clear even if some of the original data was wobbly - an economic system (capitalism)  with a systemic need for continuous expansion will inevitably be in conflict with the available resources on a finite planet.

The problem, as you frame it, is as much cultural and political as it is economic and ecological.  People's identity is now so immersed in consumer culture that it is difficult to imagine how the vast majority of people are going to make the sort of self transition to a low consumption living mode.  In other  words, a low consumption life mode will involve some degree of violence to people's current expectations of what the good life involves.

This calls for a new public ethics in which low consumption living becomes a public virtue.  The sorts of social policies necessary to achieve this are fairly straight forward - taxing what are energetically and ecologically unsustainable goods and practices is one way.  Four wheel drives in cities, for example, need to be taxed out of existence; houses with swimming pools need to pay a premium price for all water they consume rather than the current price structure where drinking water and water for recreational use are priced the same. 

 It is going to be interesting.  The wealthy will have to consume much less and the aspirant wealthy will need to be convinced to aspire to other things.  This might even mean a return to older civic culture.  We can hope but we can also plan.

No air-con

This is a link to a story about a mid-rise building in Harare built so that it has no need for air conditioning.

I guess some of you will have heard of it already.  Nevertheless I find it a hopeful sign.

Forwards and Backwards

Forwards to a future where we work less - like some tribal people, four hours a day (depends on where they lived of course).

Backwards to valuing the individual (like a good conservative individualist not sacrificing the individual to the collective - Burkeyan?) will bring us to a better future.

People are already deserting rampant materialism in droves - the Australia Institute's report on downshifting makes very encouraging reading.  

What I think we need are simple changes that make a real difference.  When people are presented with these many take them.

Hi Lionel.  Yes, the costs of setting up infrastructure can be extraordinary.  However the feds these days seem to have $34billion to throw around - just in one year!  People in the past funded railways.  When people are asked about paying hypothecated taxes - ie. when the money will actually be spent on things they value - they say they wouldn't mind paying a bit extra.  Maybe it is possible to partially fund infrastructure by issuing government bonds.  I'm no economist but it looks, from the latest developments in NSW where I am, that Public-Private partnerships are disastrous.  So we need another model. I'm keen to hear suggestions from those who are economically literate.

My guess is the cost of the technology is falling.  If it was possible to devise small scale units it may be possible to sell them to local communities and then have them pay for themselves by selling back to the grid.  There are apparently models in Scandinavia where local groups buy windmills or some such.  This is your field rather than mine, I know.  But I do think the problems are political rather than technological, if you know what I mean.

The Suicide Club

Ian McPherson: "Leaving fossil fuels in the ground, is of course the only real solution to the problem."

Very similar to burning down the village to save the village. Last week peak oil was a done deal and we were all headed to an agrarian wonderland. And just as I was getting my hopes up (rather fancy myself as a Lord of the Manor gentleman), paying a host of my eco-socialist workers in lettuce or some such, the dream is all but over. This stuff goes from strange to just plain cuckoo.

so expensive and so frightening, it is highly unlikely to ever occur.

Finding enough people in the same room silly enough to make this occur would be difficult; finding enough on the same planet I agree would be impossible.

No Going Back

Paul Morrella, Sorry about  your plans to become Lord of the Manor; that must be a big disappointment. 

The problem with a return to an agrarian society is that it's where we came from, not where we're going to.  We don't have the means to get back there - even if we wanted to. 

Sorry to flog the boat analogy, but we have sailed out into unknown territory with limited supplies, having assumed that we would find more at sea.  We haven't found those supplies and what's more the ship is coming apart at the seams and will sink unless we take urgent action.  There's no point in saying - well we'll just go back to port.  There's no going back. 

Even though I agree with Ian McPherson: "Leaving fossil fuels in the ground, is of course the only real solution to the problem," it's clearly not going to happen.  We're locked in - we'll do anything we can do to try to keep the ship afloat a bit longer. 

We are in very deep trouble indeed and we don't know how to fix it.  My suggestions to the PM are aimed at the immediate responses to keep the ship afloat so that we can make to maximise our chances of making landfall somewhere survivable.  The actions are:

  • admit the problem
  • conserve the rations
  • patch the ship however we can without making things worse
  • navigate towards land

I doubt that we're all going to make it. 

Also - our rations of coal are nowhere near the conventional belief of "hundreds of years" as quoted by George Monbiot and many others. The Energy Watch Group assessment of decades coal is far more credible.   The knock on conclusion that there is insufficient carbon fuel to attain even the lowest levels of emissions modelled by the IPCC.  George's extreme scenario isn't feasible. 

However, Global Warming and CO2 rise are also proceeding much faster than any IPCC predictions.  We've started a fire and we don't know how to put it out, how intense the flames will be or how far it will burn.  We do know that adding more fuel would be unwise, but we're unable to stop doing so. 

No Going Back? Why The Bloody Hell Not?

Humans may well be the most stupid species on the planet but to claim that they are incapable of going back to a more sustainable, semi-rural, non-materialistic  lifestyle is absurd. If the choice is that or perishing then there is clearly no option and the majority of humans will adapt and quickly.

All we have to do is to unprogramme people in the first world from the bullshit that they have been fed from birth.

To do that we have to convince them that greed is bad, that happiness is not to be found in acquiring things, that living in small, connected communities is probably more natural to our nature (millions are already doing it around the world), that working together for the good of everyone is sensible and  that sharing and cooperation and simplicity brings happiness.

To talk about 'no going back' seems to me like a capitalist lament and such silly talk should be given short shrift!

The Suicide Club? We're Actually On The Optimistic Side...

Millions of people all over the world have awakened to the fact that we have unleashed a monster with climate change. In combination with resource depletion, species extinction and habitat destruction, we face the prospect of a vastly different world, probably within the next 50 years.

Believe it or not, Lionel and I would not even be considered true "doomers" amongst those who consider a societal collapse inevitable and irreversible. Here's a good example; a snippet from Jeff Goodell's interview with James Lovelock for Rolling Stone magazine in October 2007.

This is what some people call Climate Porn... 

The Prophet of Climate Change: James Lovelock

One of the most eminent scientists of our time says that global warming is irreversible – and that more than 6 billion people will perish by the end of the century

"Until recently, Lovelock thought that global warming would be just like his half-assed forest – something the planet would correct for. Then, in 2004, Lovelock's friend Richard Betts, a researcher at the Hadley Centre for Climate Change – England's top climate institute -- invited him to stop by and talk with the scientists there. Lovelock went from meeting to meeting, hearing the latest data about melting ice at the poles, shrinking rain forests, the carbon cycle in the oceans. 'It was terrifying,' he recalls. 'We were shown five separate scenes of positive feedback in regional climates – polar, glacial, boreal forest, tropical forest and oceans – but no one seemed to be working on whole-planet consequences.' Equally chilling, he says, was the tone in which the scientists talked about the changes they were witnessing, 'as if they were discussing some distant planet or a model universe, instead of the place where we all live.'

"As Lovelock was driving home that evening, it hit him. The resiliency of the system was gone. The forgiveness had been used up. 'The whole system,' he decided, 'is in failure mode.' A few weeks later, he began work on his latest and gloomiest book, The Revenge of Gaia, which was published in the U.S. in 2006.

"In Lovelock's view, the flaws in computer climate models are painfully apparent. Take the uncertainty around projected sea levels: The IPCC, the U.N. panel on climate change, estimates that global warming will cause Earth's average temperature to rise as much as 11.5 degrees by 2100. This will cause inland glaciers to melt and seas to expand, triggering a maximum sea level rise of only twenty-three inches. Greenland, according to the IPCC's models, will take 1,000 years to melt.

"But evidence from the real world suggests that the IPCC is far too conservative. For one thing, scientists know from the geological record that 3 million years ago, when temperatures increased to five degrees above today's level, the seas rose not by twenty-three inches but by more than eighty feet. What's more, recent satellite measurements indicate that Arctic ice is melting so rapidly that the region could be ice-free by 2030. 'Modelers don't have the foggiest idea about the dynamics of melting ice sheets,' scoffs Lovelock.

"It's not just ice that throws off the climate models. Cloud physics are notoriously difficult to get right, and feedbacks from the biosphere, such as deforestation and melting tundra, are rarely factored in. 'Computer models are not crystal balls,' argues Ken Caldeira, a climate modeler at Stanford University whose career has been deeply influenced by Lovelock's ideas. 'By observing the past, you make informed judgments about the future. Computer models are just a way to codify that accumulated knowledge into automated educated bets.'

"Here, in its oversimplified essence, is Lovelock's doomsday scenario: Rising heat means more ice melting at the poles, which means more open water and land. That, in turn, increases the heat (ice reflects sunlight; open land and water absorb it), causing more ice to melt. The seas rise. More heat leads to more intense rainfall in some places, droughts in others. The Amazon rain forests and the great northern boreal forests – the belt of pine and spruce that covers Alaska, Canada and Siberia – undergo a growth spurt, then wither away. The permafrost in northern latitudes thaws, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty times more potent than CO2 – and on and on it goes."

Hi Daniel.

...to claim that they are incapable of going back to a more sustainable, semi-rural, non-materialistic lifestyle is absurd. If the choice is that or perishing then there is clearly no option and the majority of humans will adapt and quickly.

What you are putting forward is an Amish-type lifestyle. Whilst this is a reasonable base model for a non-materialistic, no-to-low growth lifestyle, it cannot happen overnight, and it may not be able to occur in our cities at all.

People are making plans of this sort and even developing communities where they attempt to be self-sustainable, right now. But these are small-scale compared to the vast majority of the population in the industrialised countries. Most people are busy struggling up the ladder, rather than down.

Some form or another of collapse may have to occur first, before this sort of lifestyle change can come about. And this is what concerns most thinkers. What will occur during a collapse, or another great depression? And what would be left afterwards?

Change Will Be Forced Upon Us!

Ian, I have always thought that the capitalist world would bring about its own demise because technology eventually would replace most workers and then there would be no one with the money to buy the goods and services. The climate change scenario was quite unexpected.

Given the new reality, the nonsense that I hear about 'we can't lose any jobs' and 'we can't stop exporting fossil fuels' defies belief and all rationality! It's like a man in a flooding cellar holding onto two gold ingots as the water reaches his nose but refuses to let go preferring instead to drown.

Change can happen in cities and surely it would be for the better! Who really wants to live cheek by jowl in a polluted, concrete jungle where movement is becoming impossible and crime thrives anyway?

 

The potential for financial collapse and/or a return to tribal violence as people struggle for food and water is very real. Perhaps we could actually 'educate' people for a change so that they can see that an orderly transition is in everyone's interest!

We live in interesting times!

RE: Change Will Be Forced Upon Us!

Daniel: "The potential for financial collapse and/or a return to tribal violence as people struggle for food and water is very real. Perhaps we could actually 'educate' people for a change so that they can see that an orderly transition is in everyone's interest!"

The problem is that the vast majority of people would not agree that people should be "educated" in this manner. Most have no real idea of the severity of the threat that climate change poses. Even less have any idea what "resource depletion" is. And only a tiny percentage have any understanding of the Limits to Growth, or are even aware of the work of the Club of Rome.

We're a society living in "loo denial", flushing over 70 million tons of pollution into the atmosphere every day; car, electricity, plastic and TV-addicted junkies pushing the "denial" button on the atmospheric dunny with arrogant ease. We're pretty much asleep at the wheel, forgetting that it's only a matter of time before we can't leave the car without an oxygen mask...

It's going to take a monumental effort to change the road we're on - a veritable highway to hell in a turbocharged SUV! I'm afraid that it's going to take a major disaster to get us to even start to think about changing our ways. By that time, will it be too late? Who knows. Maybe...

Hark, The Lord Of The Manor Speaks!

Ah Paul, how nice of you to drop in. Lord of the Manor, eh? Just what we need: another benevolent dictatorship, compliments of the economist's faction of the anarchist party...

You economist types must be just slathering, waiting for the cap-and-trade circus to come to town? You can divvy it all up with your mates in the financial markets, make a bit fat margin on it, give yourselves a gigantic pay rise, put out a press release that the world is saved, and then go to lunch. Money for cake!

None of that, of course, will make very much difference. Except a whole bunch of already fat people will get just that little bit fatter. Although it is just possible that a smidge of that money might actually do some good in the third world.

But emissions will still continue to rise, the world will not be saved, we will continue to enjoy the longest drought in our history, our natural water supplies will continue to dry up, and rising temperatures will continue to set records.

Pity it's still a few years off, that cap-and-trade stuff, eh? Kev's on the hop now, but he's a year away from any clear-cut emissions policy, and he still has to sell it to the top end of town and get it through the House and the Senate. George Bush will have to go before the US passes any sort of meaningful emissions laws. And meanwhile, China and India will hold off doing anything, just 'cause the US is.

But it is nice of you to drop in Paul. We do all enjoy your wonderful stories; especially the times when you channel John Howard, or imagine yourself as Lord in an Edwardian-style ecotopian future. It's such fun, imagining myself as an unworthy eco-serf, under your benevolent rule!

And you're absolutely right, of course. We should just keep burning fossil fuels! We should have fossil fuel burning parties! Revel in it! Enjoy it while we're still alive! Go for broke! Go for growth! Fossil Fuel Burning Dance parties. A Sydney to Hobart Fossil Fuel Burning Yacht Race! Dare I say it... maybe even the Melbourne Fossil Fuel Burning Cup?

Do call back again when you actually have an idea what we should do about the problem of climate change. After all, it's only about the largest, most dangerous, most intractable problem the world faces, right about now...

Cheerio... :) 

Thorium as an energy source.

This weblog is about the use of thorium as an energy source of sufficient magnitude for thousands of years of future energy needs. Thorium, if used efficiently, can be converted to energy far more easily and safely than any other energy source of comparable magnitude, including nuclear fusion and uranium fission.

Lionel has suggested that the way forward may be thorium-based energy. I have been reading a blog which makes the technology sound promising. I know that using energy more efficiently is also part of the solution but I also understand how difficult it will be to wean people off the energy teat. Who knows what our energy demands will be in the future,  especially if we need to run air conditioners continuously to survive on an overheated planet? It would be comforting to know that we have technologies that can hold out a promise of abundant, cheap energy well into the future.

Needs and Economics

Setting up a solar and renewables industry.  My guess at the cost (taking into account financing options) would be less than a few batches of 34 billion that has been given away in the last few years. 

Needing air conditioners?  People in places like Saudi lived without air conditioners for quite a while.  There are display homes outside Cairns which currently require no air-conditioning.  With some intelligent design I don't see why we can't reduce energy consumption and improve our quality of life.

On an (even) more optimistic note: with good renewables I don't see why we can't have a more energy intensive lifestyle and do no damage to the planet. 

I'm optimistic about what we can do with already available technology.  The real problems are political.

Regarding Needs and Economics

Evan, I have spent the last 20 years working towards the "solution" you espouse.  Unfortunately, after 30 years of the application of the finest minds on the planet, we have failed miserably to deliver  the promised "solution" and for very good reasons. 

Far from solving the problem, our efforts in renewable energy have made things much worse because of the false expectations it has given the general public.  Most people think that our trusty scientists and engineers are out there working on solutions and are just about to roll them out on a grand scale.  Sorry - just pure bullshit. 

The problem is that the machines to harvest all forms of renewable energy are very expensive to build comparative to the amount of energy delivered.  This is primarily because there is so much energy required to make those machines in the first place and the energy output is small in comparison. 

All energy is free.  Nobody ever paid God for the coal or oil or uranium or wind or sunshine.  What we pay for is the cost of delivering that energy to us in a useful form.  The biggest part of that cost by far is the cost of capital expendature, followed by maintenance of the machines. 

This is why nuclear power will always be in the order of 3 times as expensive as coal power and why renewables are even more expensive than nuclear. 

When you have to pay 5 times as much for your electricity, then the only economic option is use far less of it.  This is exactly what we see when people use solar panels to power their house - extreme energy frugality. 

The economics of our current system are based on cheap and abundant energy.  Those economics do not function when the energy inputs are 3 to 5 times higher. 

So again - the only thing we can do is to use less - much less.  To have a much lower standard of living as it generally understood. 

Also, I suggest you read my previous post on this below. 

Leaving fossil fuels in the ground

Can demand-side solutions (consumer-driven or otherwise) really save us from runaway climate change?

I doubt it, as I see very few people resisting the impulse to purchase plasma screens, new gas-guzzling cars and energy-inefficient housing. Just as I see few large businesses in the city turning off their electrical lights at night – advertising obviously being a greater priority than energy conservation.

Leaving fossil fuels in the ground, is of course the only real solution to the problem. But as solving that particular problem is so incredibly large, so expensive and so frightening, it is highly unlikely to ever occur.

Our government is not the only one dithering while the beds burn. The following snippet is from George Monbiot's latest column in the UK Guardian, where they too seem to want to have their cake and eat it too:

The real answer to climate change is to leave fossil fuels in the ground

"Last week the government announced a new tax break for companies working in the North Sea. The Treasury minister, Angela Eagle, explained that its purpose is 'to make sure we are not leaving any oil in the ground that could be recovered'. The government's climate change policy works like this: extract every last drop of fossil fuel then pray to God that no one uses it.

"The same wishful thinking is applied worldwide. The International Energy Agency's new outlook report warns that 'urgent action is needed' to cut carbon emissions. The action it recommends is investing $22 trillion in new energy infrastructure, most of which will be spent on extracting, transporting and burning fossil fuels.

"Aha, you say, but what about carbon capture and storage? When governments use this term, they mean catching and burying the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. It is feasible, but there are three problems. The first is that fossil fuels are being extracted and burned today, and scarcely any carbon capture schemes yet exist. The second is that the technology works only for power stations and large industrial processes: there is no plausible means of dealing with cars, planes and heating systems. The third, as Alistair Darling, then in charge of energy, admitted in the Commons in May, is that the technologies required for commercial carbon capture 'might never become available'. (The government is prepared to admit this when making the case, as he was, for nuclear power, but not when making it for coal).

"Almost every week I receive an email from someone asking what the heck I am talking about. Don't I realise that peak oil will solve this problem for us? Fossil fuels will run out, we'll go back to living in caves and no one will need to worry about climate change again. These correspondents make the mistake of conflating conventional oil supplies with all fossil fuels. Yes, at some point the production of petroleum will peak then go into decline. I don't know when this will happen, and I urge environmentalists to remember that while we have been proved right about most things we have been consistently wrong about the dates for mineral exhaustion. But before oil peaks, demand is likely to outstrip supply and the price will soar. The result is that the oil firms will have an even greater incentive to extract the stuff.

"Already, encouraged by recent prices, the pollutocrats are pouring billions into unconventional oil. Last week BP announced a huge investment in Canadian tar sands. Oil produced from tar sands creates even more carbon emissions than petroleum extraction. There's enough tar and kerogen in North America to cook the planet several times over.

"If that runs out, they switch to coal, of which there is hundreds of years' supply. Sasol, the South African company founded during the apartheid period - when supplies of oil were blocked - to turn coal into liquid transport fuel, is conducting feasibility studies for new plants in India, China and the US. Neither geology nor market forces is going to save us from climate change.

"When you review the plans for fossil fuel extraction, the horrible truth dawns that every carbon-cutting programme is a con. Without supply-side policies, runaway climate change is inevitable, however hard we try to cut demand. The talks in Bali will be meaningless unless they produce a programme for leaving fossil fuels in the ground."

A question for Lionel.

 

Thanks to Lionel Orford for this important thread. I read the piece and plunged again into reading others on the issue of nuclear power generation. On another thread – The Bali Communique Ian MacDougall posted this link and reference:

Alan Roberts, a retired Monash University physicist, has written of the nuclear option under the self-explanatory title of 'The Phantom Solution' at http://www.arena.org.au/ARCHIVES/onlineExtra/phantomSolution.pdf

 

At risk of injustice to Alan Roberts' argument it is, in summary, that nuclear power is not a solution to global warming for the following reasons:

  1. Fossil fuel power generation is a significant but not the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions;

  2. The energy efficiency ratio between energy inputs to nuclear power generation and actual outputs make nuclear power not viable as a solution to global warming;

    1. There are insufficient reserves of uranium to provide fuel at a global level;

    2. Fast breeder reactors (that produce more fuel than they use) are the most technically dangerous;

    3. Thorium is untried technology – we don't have the time;

  3. Energy efficiency is the most effective way to reduce greenhouse emissions deriving from power generation.

I think his arguments and evidence are convincing. This means that  a solution to global warming de-emphasises power generation as the main problem and, in so far as power generation needs to be addressed, this can be done by introducing efficiency measures at the consumer level. 

My question for Lionel is, what do you think ?

An Answer to Anthony

1.  Electricity generation is a major source of GHG emissions, but not the biggest - which is transport, I think.  I don't have the figures readily at hand.  I must note however that as our use of oil is curtailed over the coming decades, we are almost certain to replace a great deal of oil for transport with electricity.  This is very serious because it is completely infeasible to provide this vast amount of electricity from renewables or nuclear - too expensive and too slow.  Coal is all we have (plus a small amount of precious natural gas) and the technology for storage of the CO2 underground is in its infancy - and may never work. 

2.  It is simply not true that "energy efficiency ratio between energy inputs to nuclear power generation and actual outputs make nuclear power not viable".  I have been guilty of progagating that misconception (outright lie?) because I heard Helen Caldicott saying it.  It's absolutely wrong - in fact the initial investment in mining and enriching the fuel and building the station is paid back so many times over the life of the station that nuclear represents lower CO2 emissions over its lifecycle than most renewables. 

2.1 True - Current technology uses U235, which represents only 0.7% of natural Uranium.  The remainder is U238 (99.7%).  However if breeder reactors were used to convert the U238 to fuel, this multiplies the available fuel by almost 100 times. 

2.2 Yes - fast breeders are so dangerous that they have all been shut down.  We need a new generation of safer fast breeders and this technology does not and may never exist. 

2.3 Correct - Thorium technology is in its infancy.  Also Thorium is not a fissile material - it must be converted (bred) into U233, which is fissile.  There is no reason to think that this technology will be safe - it still involves fission of Uranium.  "We don't have the time" - absolutely correct - the same is true of all nuclear technology and renewables with have any potential for significant power generation. 

3. Half right.  Energy reduction is the only effective way of reducing GHG emissions.  Efficiency implies doing the same amount of work with less fuel.  Modern jet aircraft are the most efficient ever made, but this has led to far more people able to afford air travel and oil consumed.  This is known as Jevons Paradox

This reduction can only be achieved by using less energy - doing less work.  This can be achieved through energy conservation and it will be imposed on us by oil depletion and the demand destruction which must follow.  We simply have to use less - less personal travel, way less air travel, less air conditioning, way less consumer goods, less less less of everything you can think of - if we are to tackle climate change, the oil crisis and the catastrophe of the collapsing ecosystems of the planet. 

Herein lies the heart of the problem of why we are destroying our planet.  We all want more, not less.  Even more importantly, our economic system breaks down and fails to provide even basic necessities of life if economic growth is not maintained.  Using less of everything is called a depression in economic terms. 

This is why Kevin Rudd is over in Bali backpedalling as fast as he can go - trying to say he's doing something while failing to make any commitment whatsoever.  Real reductions in manufacturing, mining, electricity generation, consumer goods and the elimination of tourism spell economic catastrophe for Australia - and the entire industrialised world.  We need a new economic system not dependant on growth, where we can all live with less stuff, less work and a better sense of sharing and community.  We don't have a clue how to get there from here. 

This why I used the analogy of lifeboats in my letter to the PM.  A lifeboat is not something anybody would choose - it's something you turn to as a last resort.  We have failed so miserably in our management of the planet  - allowing an unprecented disater to become inevitable - that lifeboats are now all we can hope for.  And guess what - not many people survive in lifeboats on the open sea.  They have to be rescued or they will die.

Projects: massive & local

Hi to you Ian, guess we read this piece differently.

By my reading the finance is in place, the project is underway and they have signed contracts for delivery, including for baseload electricity and it is usual for such contracts to have penalties for non completion.

That Dr Mills and his financial backer could be starry eyed, I concede. That supply utilities companies are similarly afflicted I would doubt.

Water, if you have the power to pump it, doesn’t present a problem. Not for this sort of project.

Water overall is a problem of lack of management, as opposed to a lack of water. Inland and for farming purposes this is less so, and there are hard decisions coming in that sector.

We will just have to disagree on whether or not surge generation fluctuates.

Compressed air propulsion except for very short trips is not very practical, but as one component in a solution has immense potential.

Malcolm: funding for major projects ought, I believe come from the government. Things need to move rapidly. Make that ought to have already been moving!

Borrow the money, repay the loan from production. Use the initial operations to set the minimum standards for any subsequent project.

Localised, village type projects could easily be funded locally. Everybody contributes by pledging against the value of their property. Repayments of the loan are attached to the property, not the person. You buy the property, you buy the commitment/obligation.

This ought to be a fun one for you to nut out!

The concept of funding was worked on some years ago when a council said that it could not afford to upgrade rural valley roads.

Where in the world will our energy come from?

Hi Peter, take a look at this lecture by Nate Lewis from Caltech. Nate believes that solar is the only long-term solution to our energy needs, as I do. He is working towards producing solar-paint, the only way he believes we'll solve the problem. This lecture is HIGHLY recommended:

Nathan Lewis: Powering the Planet: Where in the World Will Our Energy Come From?

56k modem: http://today.caltech.edu/theater/8424_56k.ram
broadband: http://today.caltech.edu/theater/8424_bb.ram
cable/DSL: http://today.caltech.edu/theater/8424_cable.ram

"In a Watson lecture, Nathan Lewis, Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry at Caltech, discussed what it would take for the world to turn away from fossil fuels and switch over to renewable energy. He outlined the hurdles that must be overcome in order to power the planet with abundant, clean, inexpensive energy in the 21st century."

Note: Nathan Lewis adheres to the optimistic view of oil depletion, yet paints a very gloomy picture of the climate change scenarios. He is working to develop solar power alternatives that are more akin to house paint than the systems we use today.

Solar Systems delivering

The Solar Systems technology has been up and working for some time on a small scale, providing much of the power for several remote aboriginal communities. They have back-up from diesel generators as well, but there is no doubt the technology is capable of contributing to the energy mix. The cost may not yet be justified in non-remote applications, but the alternatives are only going to get more expensive.

Solar delivering in remote communities

The Solar Systems technology has been up and working for some time on a small scale, providing much of the power for several remote aboriginal communities. They have back-up from diesel generators as well, but there is no doubt the technology is capable of contributing to the energy mix. The cost may not yet be justified in non-remote applications, but the alternatives are only going to get more expensive.

Hi Robyn, no argument. Solar technology has been delivering benefits to remote communities, not only in aboriginal communities, but right across Africa, Asia and the world. Small-scale solar technology lets many Africans and Asians see (and read) at night. It IS a wonderful thing. Solar power will deliver all our energy for the future, one way or another. In the end, mine and drill as we might like, solar is the only sustainable source of energy in existence.

Burn oil or walk?

Lionel Orford, I suggest that you read this, then substantiate your claim re the failings of solar: Solar takes off with US power supply deal.

I doubt very much that power supply utilities sign contracts with electricity generating companies that do not pass rigorous scrutiny.

I have never been, or at least do not recall ever being on a beach/coast where the sea is ‘still’. That is not surging in, dropping back before surging in again. Designing a system to utilise this surge is not even difficult. That is using the surge to drive a continuously rotating shaft.

Continuous, and in meaningful terms, limitless energy – on wind energy, I lived in the mountains in NZ where the wind never stopped. That’s right, never. Whether or not wind generators have been designed that can operate in, or withstand, gales is another matter.

Compressed air driven vehicles — I’m sure somebody mentioned them here, sorry I didn’t tag it! — a French company is building/has built? a compressed air driven vehicle utilising what is basically a conventional internal-combustion engine. A more efficient system has been designed by Engineair of Melbourne: Ultra-Efficient Rotary Compressed-Air Motor.

This concept offers some interesting possibilities, beyond the ‘fill your compressed air tank concept’.

The Great Solar Debate, On-Going

Hi Peter,

Lionel Orford, I suggest that you read this, then substantiate your claim re the failings of solar: Solar takes off with US power supply deal. I doubt very much that power supply utilities sign contracts with electricity generating companies that do not pass rigorous scrutiny.

To be fair to Lionel, he is absolutely correct about currently available technologies. He works in the industry, he lives there, he's correct. Even the Solar Systems solar plant I talk about in such glowing terms has yet to be delivered. The David Mills system is no different, and a lot of this super-positive talk is for investors.

The problem I see with the Mills system you link to is that it requires steam (short for water) storage. We may, or may not, be able to do that here. Water is going to be the ESSENTIAL requirement for our survival here in Australia. Whatever we work out for our energy needs has to embrace desalination, or we might as well emigrate to New Zealand, or even better, Iceland...

I have never been, or at least do not recall ever being on a beach/coast where the sea is ‘still’. That is not surging in, dropping back before surging in again. Designing a system to utilise this surge is not even difficult. That is using the surge to drive a continuously rotating shaft.

Continuous, and in meaningful terms, limitless energy – on wind energy, I lived in the mountains in NZ where the wind never stopped. That’s right, never. Whether or not wind generators have been designed that can operate in, or withstand, gales is another matter.

Don't worry about the mechanics. They have already been done. There are no real problems with tidal or wave power, although both fluctuate. Wind does too. But we're also tied to some serious misconceptions about wind, because we believe the wind doesn't blow all the time, everywhere. In truth, it does, but at a higher altitude. Believe it or not, At a thousand feet, there is steady wind anywhere in the world”. Check it out. Our problem is we haven't figured out how to master it!

Compressed air driven vehicles — I’m sure somebody mentioned them here, sorry I didn’t tag it! — a French company is building/has built? a compressed air driven vehicle utilising what is basically a conventional internal-combustion engine. A more efficient system has been designed by Engineair of Melbourne: Ultra-Efficient Rotary Compressed-Air Motor.

Compressed air energy has great potential, but no distribution or infrastructure mechanism. George Monbiot, in his book Heat, proposed an electric car system, with replacement batteries at every station. Compressed air could possibly offer the same sort of alternative, but current cylinder storage would not supply the driving range most people want.

Once again, we are stymied by current technology, which is why I continue to argue for much more renewable R&D, NOW!

Energy and emissions

Evan, you are thinking of Michael Mobbs, I believe. His book is Sustainable House published by Choice in 1998.

Malcolm, I don't know how our total national energy use is broken down. A large proportion is used in industry. But at the consumer level, most of the energy used is by our cars. So, although I have some remaining questions about safety, I am quite excited to learn about the vehicles propelled by compressed air mentioned earlier.

We consulted Mobbs' book and others before building, and have ended up with a house that is pretty energy and water-efficient, but until we do something about transport, both in this family and nationally, we have not done anywhere near enough. 

The Problems with Solar and Other Renewables

I just had to respond to the debate between Malcolm Duncan and Ian McPherson.  This issue of the feasibility of solar power is widely misunderstood.  I am an electrical engineer with significant experience in seeking to bring renewable energy sources to market.  The primary reason that the last 30 years of effort in this area has produced almost nothing useful is that it doesn't satisfy either of the fundemental requirements of any engineering project - it must work reliably and must make a return on capital investment required to build it. 

There are some really intractable problems associated with all forms of renewable energy, which is why a industry haven't taken off, even with significant subsidies from government over the last 20 years. 

The problem is not that engineers are a bunch of bozos, incapable of thinking laterally - quite the converse is true. 

Problem 1: Capital Cost. 

The upfront cost of building all forms of renewable energy systems is enornmous both in terms of money and energy, compared with the amount of energy produced.  Solar panels are about as bad as it gets in this regard as is very well explained here: http://www.peakoil.org.au/news/index.php?http://www.peakoil.org.au/news/energy_profit.htm and here http://www.peakoil.org.au/news/index.php?http://www.peakoil.org.au/news/pv_scalability_problem.htm 

Problem 2: Intermittent Generation

It is impossible to run a power system from energy sources that come an go with no relationship to when the power is required, such as wind, wave and solar without heat storage. 

Solar hot water heaters do work because it only needs a few hours of sunshine to get your hot water for the day.  Even so, they require backup from conventional sources after a couple of cloudy days. 

Storage of electricity on the scale required is simply not economically viable.  I did some prelimary numbers on the cost of a solar power station with pumped hydro storage to produce 1GW of continuous capacity.  Because a solar station only outputs about 20% (at best) of its maximum rating averaged over time, 5GW of solar capacity are required to be built - even before losses are considered. 5GW of pumping capacity and 1GW of hydro generation is also required. The numbers end up ridiculous - over 30 times the cost of conventional generation from coal. 

Batteries are even more non-viable, not only in terms of capital cost, but also because of their very limited life and the sheer impracticality of mining and refining the materials to make such a large amount of batteries. 

Conventional generation can only fill in relatively small amounts of standby capacity.  It is generally considered that only about 15% of the power on a grid can come from intermittent resources before the power swings become unmanageable.  I think the real figure is less than this because coal fired stations make up the backbone of our power grid and are incapable of fast swings of output.   

Sorry about the bucket of cold water, but this is required to wake people up from the dream and confront reality. 

The Great Solar Debate

I just had to respond to the debate between Malcolm Duncan and Ian McPherson. This issue of the feasibility of solar power is widely misunderstood. I am an electrical engineer with significant experience in seeking to bring renewable energy sources to market. The primary reason that the last 30 years of effort in this area has produced almost nothing useful is that it doesn't satisfy either of the fundemental requirements of any engineering project - it must work reliably and must make a return on capital investment required to build it.

Hi Lionel, I wondered when you'd be back :)

I think the point needs to be made, at this juncture, that if CO2 geosequestration doesn't work (it leaks or there's simply not enough underground space), and nuclear can't scale (and thorium doesn't work out), we'd better make renewables work. Given all the coal-fired power plants being built world-wide right now, it's time to invest a lot more time and money, before we cook our own butts!

Energy is going to cost us heaps more in the future, one way or another, and we'd better get used to it. "You don't know what you've got until it's gone"... 

The upfront cost of building all forms of renewable energy systems is enornmous both in terms of money and energy, compared with the amount of energy produced.  Solar panels are about as bad as it gets...

Couldn't agree more. Solar panels have been the most expensive, least productive renewable investment for many years.

Storage of electricity on the scale required is simply not economically viable. I did some prelimary numbers on the cost of a solar power station with pumped hydro storage to produce 1GW of continuous capacity. Because a solar station only outputs about 20% (at best) of its maximum rating averaged over time, 5GW of solar capacity are required to be built - even before losses are considered. 5GW of pumping capacity and 1GW of hydro generation is also required. The numbers end up ridiculous - over 30 times the cost of conventional generation from coal.

Most pumped hydro is for short burst backup. As you say, a full backup scales to the Hoover Dam. The losses from producing and compressing hydrogen are enormous. In all, there's little storage relief on the horizon.

You might want to revise your solar station figures a little, in line with the Solar Systems project in Victoria. IMO, it's a sensational piece of work. Mind you, it just dumps into the grid, and has no storage either:

The "CS500" dish concentrator PV unit design has 114 curved reflecting mirrors, which track the sun throughout the day. The combination of mirror profile, mounting framework and solar receiver will deliver concentrated solar energy to each PV module. The tracking mechanism allows electricity to be produced during the day whenever the sun is more than 5° above the horizon. Direct current electricity from the receivers is passed through an electronic inverter that produces grid-quality alternating current. Transformers step up the voltage to the requirement of the local network at the point of connection.

----------------------------------------

Sorry about the bucket of cold water, but this is required to wake people up from the dream and confront reality.

No problem. Appreciate the input. I liked parts of Malcolm's idea, mainly the scope and gist of it, and the thought that it would spread some employment around. The solar panel part was always the weak link. I don't even think there are that many available solar panels in the world! Most of the silicon goes into computers...

Nonetheless, I think we'd better spend a great deal more money trying to get these renewables to work. The EU (and now Britain), are looking at a supergrid of wind turbines, linked with high voltage DC cabling, the premise being that the wind is always blowing somewhere, sometime...

I see no reasons Australia can't use the same idea, linking offshore wind farms with tide and ocean power plants, solar plants and geothermal plants. Perhaps we could even use the burst during the day from the solar plants to desalinate, or compress air into underground caverns (reversing the usual charge at night, discharge during the day cycle).

Storage remains the issue.

The real issue

The first thing that has to be addressed is funding. Whatever we build has to be capable of making a profit. One way of doing that, of course, is to charge more for the product but from a policy point of view, the only entities with enough capacity to fund projects on this scale are governments (because they can guarantee the investment) and they need revenue to repay principal or re-invest. Don't get all tangled in the science without working out how you pay for it but in doing so, remember, the investment is up front: lots of bikkies to start, ongoing revenue for the practical life of the project. Someone once called it amortisation I think.

It's time Malcolm had a nickname

Malcolm, it's about time you had a nickname. I'd like to propose Big Mal, which could be anything from a plague to an epiphany...

Don't get all tangled in the science without working out how you pay for it...

No worries mate, I'm with you there. Remember, we technodweebs like this sort of stuff. We thrive on it. Goodness knows, we might even give you something to sell to the public!

I have two Nicknames

Dr D and, alluding to my legal skill, Dr Death.

Two, schmoo, Big Mal is better than DD

Dr D and, alluding to my legal skill, Dr Death.

Nah... too close to the other DD. Big Mal is much better. Besides being distantly related to Grand Mal, it gives you something to strive for... :)

Other opinions appreciated. Let's not let him off the hook!!!

Fiona: In all fairness to Malcolm Duncan, if he doesn't like the idea of Big Mal that is a matter for him. After all, I refuse to be addressed as Fi.

The view on nicknames from the legal community?

Fiona: In all fairness to Malcolm Duncan, if he doesn't like the idea of Big Mal that is a matter for him. After all, I refuse to be addressed as Fi.

All right, I give in! You legal people are so sensitive :)
No nicknames, unless you dream them up yourselves, right?
That'll be fun...

Fiona: Yeah, yeah, sensitive, dull, boring ;) - but I am also bearing in mind Webdiary's rules on nicknames:  Following specific complaints, comments that refer to other Webdiarists by nickname or any other name than that which they use themselves will also not be published.

In the Doomsday scenario, cost is not a factor

Assume you are right. There's no harm in trying and improving things unless you are proffering a professional opinion that we have reached a limiting sum which cannot be exceeded. How often have we heard that before?

Ok. Think laterally, the most interesting idea of the lot is the dis-association of seawater to produce H2. Lots of things you can do with H2 for energy production relatively simply.

If, in the short term it is not viable to use my solar idea to electrify the railways (and I haven't even canvassed the satellite option yet), that is not a reason (and I think you have already agreed with this) for not electrifying the rail freight system throughout the country – it's simply a question of where you get the energy to run it.

Let me take you to the next step. NSW is effectively broke – it has been since the Olympics. That was the real reason for the Cross-City and Lane Cove Tunnels. For the first time the consortia were offering an up-front payment which made the RTA maintenance budget sustainable for a little longer without asking Treasury to run a deficit (forget that they then spent the equivalent of the up-front payment on road closures associated with the tunnels – it gave them a few extra months breathing space – and for those who don't believe me, I spent days in the Legislative Council reading the RTA and Treasury documents – something which I am trained to do by my experience fighting Governments over the years – so I have a fair idea of what happened). What's wrong with a deficit you ask? In NSW, three answers; Carr, Egan and Costa. All lunatics.

It is also the reason for the proposal to sell the energy utilities. Now, everyone knows I'm a climate change skeptic (and I don't give a stuff what you say until I see some real evidence) but it strikes even me as sheer madness to divest yourself of one of the key policy controllers you may need to affect emissions at the very time that there could be utility in reducing them. Why do it? Because $15B (a drop in the fiscal ocean compared to Super Funds) would allow some small scale infrastructure development and the clearing of the maintenance backlog. At the moment, apart from the bureaucratic waste, bloated consultancy fees and expenditure on Parliament, taxes raised in NSW are not sufficient to meet the maintenance budget for roads and rail, let alone schools and hospitals. That is why we are in crisis.

By electrifying rail freight and making it competitive, one would relieve the maintenance budget on roads because there would be fewer large trucks using them. If we also had an efficient commuter/passenger network, it would be even better. This would also cut down on emissions considerably. Once we had done that both State and Local Government could use revenue to bring the road system up to scratch, fix the schools, relieve some of the pressure on hospitals and then reduce indirect taxes such as reliance on traffic and parking fines and land tax which largely is a tax on rental properties (all of which are nothing but disguised taxes anyway). If that is not done, the NSW taxpayer is simply going to run out of money to pay his taxes – we are not far off the mark now and another 1/2% in interest rates over the next 6 months to try and reign in the robber barons will be a killer. It is not only the environment we have to keep an eye on.

Happy to keep up the debate but, Lionel Orford, in future, could you direct the bucket of cold water into a drought area?

Possibilities

The problems of funding infrastructure seem political rather than economic or techie.

How about if the government gave a whole lot of 0% loans to anyone who wanted to start a small business retro-fitting houses to be environmentally friendly, install water tanks, renewable energy systems and so on?  They could then purchase materials in great bulk and so reduce the cost markedly.  With a little support in how to run a business, I don't see why this couldn't be successful.

With the combination of renewable power sources I don't see why renewables can't provide continuous power - it may mean having several small power generating facilities in a local area.  But there is nothing stopping this apart from politics.

Here is a link to a story that is about a car that runs on and generates power developed by the University of Delaware.

Hybrids

John, I agree with you on supporting the use of more efficient vehicles!

From a letter I sent off to several Labor politicians, and a variation of one I sent to Bob Brown.

‘Finally:

Labor hasn't come out that well on the environment. Better than the coalition, but not well.

‘Announce a policy that all commonwealth cars would be replaced with hybrids, or other vehicles that could match a hybrids fuel efficiency. ( the caution is because I believe I saw some figures indicating that the diesel Golf is matching hybrid fuel economy)

‘Councils, and I presume state governments, get tax breaks on both vehicles and fuel. Include in the policy the provision that either entity that fails to adopt the same policy loses their tax breaks.

‘Pull the tax breaks on 'jeep type' 4WD's.’

If the new government would adopt this as policy, and then follow up with the abolition of all tax breaks on commercial fleets not made up of hybrids or equivalents after two years the change in the nations car market would be huge.

Government cars are typically changed at 40,000 km or at two years. There would be a growing flood of used hybrids on the market from two years out, driving the price down.

At about four years out impose an annual tax on all people moving type vehicles based upon a sliding scale, of all vehicles with an economy factor within 10 percent of the most efficient vehicles being free of tax, and progressively increasing the tax based upon fuel efficiency and vehicle weight.

Changes

Ian, thanks for The man who farms water link. Something along the lines of the Aussie guy who has broken all the rules, but made farmland flourish. (Sorry, cannot recall his name, been on several shows, with at least one dedicated to him.)

Might interest you to know that in Glebe, an inner suburb of Sydney, where the houses are ‘big terraces’, a guy has been running a system for some years now where the property is completely cut of from city water and sewerage.

This with a small, almost tiny backyard.

It is obvious that there are a lot of knowledge, or answers existing out there, but ignored.

The reason that I used the term surge power, is because it is continuous, largely unaffected by the effects of surface storms. Where a ‘wave’ driven system has to be built to withstand wild storms and the huge force of giant waves, a surge-driven unit is going to be subjected to much less stress.

Biofuel has to be a dead end? Why deplete the earth further, when there are alternatives?

Hydrogen is the logical, simple answer to fuel. Locally generated, no great issues with converting existing petrol fuelled motors, though it would require 10% of ‘diesel’, or an alterative, to drive diesel engines.

Small inland communities with multiple forms of power generation, and the distribution cables underground, could be made reasonably secure even under extreme weather conditions. The rural electricity distribution system already uses a system of cutouts that isolate the compromised section leaving the distribution running up to that point. With some planning, and some extra cost, a properly laid network ought to be able to isolate quite small areas of damage and still maintain a service to the greater area.

While this would not be economic for major suppliers, and as things are costed today, in the context of a community, with a community service, this could well be the logical way to go.

As for the city: as it is I believe it is unsustainable. However there are short term possibilities, such as ‘trolley buses’. Electricity powered by overhead wires in the conventional sense, but there is no reason that quick switch battery packs could not be used. Electric motors are/have been improved dramatically in recent years and batteries or other forms of electricity storage are constantly being improved.

That said I see almost nothing new in transport concepts being discussed. Neither new materials nor the possibilities opened up by computers are being exploited.

The first concept that has to change is the idea that we must have continued ‘growth’. The idea was never sustainable. Our problems are a direct result of ‘growth’, and ask any farm person, rampant growth causes plagues, and widespread death. For humans it will be no different.

A small community

The guy with the terrace in Glebe (can't remember his name for the life of me) has established a small wrinklies village (retirement community) south of Brisbane with similar green values and has made it pretty affordable by some kind of renting in perpetuity deal.  I think it's called The Green but I could be wrong.

There is also a small community at Manly (in Brisbane) which last I heard had zero outputs.

Zero outputs eh?

And what precisely is their magic formula for not farting? Do they wear nothing, buy nothing, read nothing; are they all teetotallers? What are their dwellings built out of? - sounds like a great life. Actually, it sounds like bunkum to me.

It is one of the great difficulties of public policy planning: no-one has a total overall cost for what we do.   We analyse things piecemeal. Doesn't work. It's like the lunatics that want to share bicycles with real traffic - they never count the added cost of the disruption and additional pollution caused by their stop-start getting in the road and slowing down otherwise more efficient vehicles. In cities, they never count in the added cost of stop-start driving caused by traffic light phasings designed for motor vehicles rather than pedestrians on wheels. They never count the costs to the medical system of being run over when they perform some incredibly stupid manoeuvre in front of a ton of metal that has no chance of avoiding them.

Get them off the roads and put them on footpaths where they can take their chances with the equally rabid pedestrians.

BTW, has any of you got a total energy expenditure figure for Australia?   If so, how is it broken up? If not, how do you propose to reduce emissions? A plan would be nice. A policy would be even better.

Tirades

Well, if you measure one area and reduce its output this is likely to mean the total of which it is a part is likely reduced I would think.

A car more efficient than a bike?  By what arcane calculation was this arrived at?

Enough of the tirades.

Here's a proposal that is simple but not easy - move cities and suburbs to being structured around pedestrians not cars. Many a fruitful policy could be devised on this basis.

Who mentioned cars?

Motor vehicles are more efficient because they are capable of getting from A to B faster and carrying more - classic measures of efficiency. How do you stock your shops, courier your parcels, deliver your tourists, build your buildings? Get pedestrians to carry them?

BUS

MBD, apparently also known by one of Kevin Rudd's former knicknames Get pedestrians to carry them?

Dear Artiste previously known as McDunk but since the draconian rule change by another moniker.

No, get people catching solar buses, trains or trams to carry them, and get the courier firms to amortise the journey.

Dr Woodforde, OAM, aka Lindse Foxxxx

The efficiency of cars, or gasoline?

Motor vehicles are more efficient because they are capable of getting from A to B faster and carrying more – classic measures of efficiency.

It's not so much the efficiency of cars, which varies greatly, but the efficiency of gasoline. A litre of gasoline will lift one and a half tons of car, your complete family, two dogs and a trailer full of possessions up a mountain in a very short amount of time. Let me know how long it takes you on a bicycle? We'll compare notes...

How do you stock your shops, courier your parcels, deliver your tourists, build your buildings? Get pedestrians to carry them?

We could always use some of those bankrupt farmers, builders and coal workers of yours. They need the work... :)

Oil exporting nations flip to importing nations.

But the story gets worse. Petroleum geologist Jeffrey J. Brown has developed an ‘Export Land Model’ which models what happens to exports from the major oil exporting nations whose domestic demand is still growing while their oil production is in decline. These nations include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Kuwait, many of the smaller middle eastern oil producers and most importantly Russia – the worlds largest oil producer. The model suggests that it will only take about nine years from Peak Oil for exports from the major producers to reduce to zero. This is very much in line with what actually happened to Britain, where it took only six years from peak production for Britain to again become a net oil importer. This spells disaster for major oil importers, particularly the USA and Western Europe. 

Saudis, Iranians and Iraqis pay 30 to 50 cents a gallon for gasoline. Venezuelans pay 7 cents, and demand is projected to rise as much as 10 percent this year. Auto sales have tripled in four years. “Where cheap oil is viewed as a national human right, you’ve virtually got runaway demand,” said Chris B. Newton, an executive of the Indonesian Petroleum Association in Jakarta.

Indonesia flipped from exporting oil to importing it three years ago because of sagging production in depleted fields and rising demand. Iran, Algeria and Malaysia are vulnerable in the next decade. Most oil experts view Mexico as the next country likely to flip, in as little as five years.

Rapidly falling production in Mexico’s ageing Cantarell oil field is part of the problem. Also significant, though, is the rising number of cars on Mexican roads. They have nearly doubled, to almost 16 million, in the last decade, and gasoline consumption is growing 5 percent a year.

In Mexico City the other day, a bricklayer named Jaime Guerrero arrived at a local Chevrolet dealership. His extended family cried “bravo!” as he signed the papers for his first car.

“To have a new car in my name is a dream transformed into reality,” said Mr. Guerrero, 26. He and his family piled in and weaved through the chaotic traffic of the capital, hunting for a priest to douse the car with holy water.

“I don’t worry about the climate or shortages of oil in the world,” Mr. Guerrero said. “I just worry if gasoline prices go up.”

Nothing is more sure than the price of petrol will continue to rise as the oil rich countries begin to import rather than export oil. The world's insatiable demand for oil will lead to global economic disaster. Prime Minister Rudd should get all his minister's cars - in fact all government cars - switched to fuel efficient vehicles such as the Toyota Prius

Want to change the world - or simply slash fuel costs? Start now. In Australian Government Standard testing, the Prius achieved fuel consumption of 4.4 litres / 100 km under the combined cycle*. That's up to 50% less consumption than a comparably-sized family car. One tank of fuel could theoretically get you over an astonishing 1,000km.

Policy formulation

Interestingly enough, however, the exchange we are now having is precisely the way good policy is formulated: you take an idea, you chew it around, you gather the technical data and you make it work.”

I agree Malcolm, precisely the good policy we've seen for the last 30 years produced by academics, lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians. Placing solar cells on all rail rolling stock and for that matter all transport, would be a better proposition, cheaper and logical. Most rail engines are either electric or diesel electric, the new solar cells which bend to shape and using sliver technology would be a big reduction in cost and increase energy capture. It's much better to utilise and adapt what we have, rather than make more stupid costly mistakes. Why we even use AC power is beyond me, it's incredibility dangerous and just about everything actually runs on DC and has to be converted from AC to DC within the equipment or via transformers. AC power is just another way for the corporate world through the political system to have control, which seems where Malcolm's interest lies.

The insanity of the situation we face is a prime example of the people being so stupid and gullible as to vote for these complete brain dead malcontent's, who class themselves as elite. Yet the reality is every aspect of society under the control of academics and bureaucrats is a basket case of elitism, failure, inequality and ideological future insanity. It wouldn't matter how many people wrote a letter to the prime maniac, Kevin from heaven has his head firmly in the clouds of gas emanating from the ideological sewer he and his lib/lab cohorts inhabit. It's irrelevant as to what idea's you come up with, they have to be accepted by the ideological elite and that will never happen. These people are so brain dead and living in the past, nothing will ever happen. We have to remember one glaring fact, what we are doing today is what will affect and create our tomorrows. Our approach today is totally stuffed, so our tomorrows will reflect today's situation and nothing else.

A dramatic change

Lionel, interesting piece.

The obvious move is to electricity.  However, it is stored/generated.
Stop the idiots running war machinery and drown anybody that comes up with sort of nonsense that we saw at APEC and the fuel would last somewhat longer.

We can save substantial quantities of fuel by getting people out of their ego/testosterone driven vehicle choices.

Rationing would need to be on a use it or lose it basis, along with substantial penalties for selling it on the black market. The idea needs to be to  reduce the fuel used, not merely allowing those with money enough to buy it to continue driving guzzlers.

During the war years cars in NZ ran on ‘gas producers’. A burner strapped upon the back of the vehicle burnt?? And the vehicle chugged along on the ‘gas’.

Fuel was restricted to emergency services and business use.  Everything else had to be gas producer driven.

At a race meeting in Stratford,  inspectors walked through the parking area and booked every vehicle that had a cold gas producer. 
This probably happened elsewhere as well.

You write:

Massive investment in renewable energy. The most promising technologies here are solar thermal with heat storage and geothermal. There is no point in developing large scale intermittent resources such as wind, photovoltaic and wave power because such intermittent generation cannot be managed on a large scale.

Why should ‘wave power’ be intermittent?  Or more correctly, why should surge power be intermittent? ( I see surge power proving to be the cheapest, most reliable source of power.)

You write:

Moving to small self sufficient communities is obviously required, but this will take generations to achieve and is only possible after major population reduction.  Any volunteers to be first?

The revitalisation of rural towns will not take generations. They died because of the abundance of cheap fuel, they will regrow just a quickly once that factor is reversed.   Local services will spring up to service the local needs. We are in a period where new materials and transport are far cheaper than labour, the basis of a throwaway society. Once it becomes cheaper to repair, modify, remanufacture items craftsmen will emerge to fill the need.

Locals will grow the food. Preserving foods for out of season consumption will again be practised.

A far wider range of crops will be grown than was the case when I was young.  Hydroponics — techniques copied from the Israelis and the South Africans — will make it possible to grow crops that could not be grown in the traditional manner.

Hydrogen will fuel ‘old’ vehicles for local use.  Communities will generate their own power. On the coast surge power, inland a mixture of the options on offer. Methods for the storage of either electricity or the power to generate it will be improved rapidly.

Large networks will be phased out. Assuming that the increasingly extreme weather conditions prediction is correct, the bigger the network the more susceptible to damage it is.

The net will remain, dramatically reducing the problems of isolation, and as for your question; ‘who will be first?’

The move to the coastal towns has been on for some years now. The time of the small trader is (almost) upon us.

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