Category Archives: Electricity

A Few Easy Ways That Can Reduce Your Energy Bill

The folks over at Apartment Therapy have a short, but interesting article that points out some methods to reduce energy usage in a home.  Many of these methods are not new, and the focus of the article is to reduce energy in each room of a house.  Also, as a commenter mentioned at Apartment Therapy, many of these are not renter friendly but are geared more towards home owners.

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/8-ways-to-save-energy-throughout-the-home-164624

 

Some additional information on home energy reduction can be found from a previous article that we (Energy Strain) had written.

Methods to Reduce Home Energy Usage 

60-watt LED Bulb(s) to Become Price Competitive

LED light bulbs are very good for the environment, and can be very good for the finances as well.  The biggest issue with LED bulbs has been the up front cost associated with them.  Buying a 60-watt equivalent LED light bulb currently costs around $45 for a Philips Ambient LED bulb, compared to $8 for an 8-pack of GE 60-watt CFL replacements.  Mathematically speaking, LED bulbs are typically cheaper to operate per KWh than CFL or even incandescent bulbs. The reason LED bulbs are typically cheaper to operate is because they have a much longer lifespan than CFL or incandescent bulbs, so the need to replace LED bulbs is less, thus off-setting the higher up front cost.

Even when considering the typically cheaper long-term costs of LED bulbs, the up front costs of these bulbs typically scare away potential buyers.  In order to increase the adoption of LED bulbs it is crucial to bring down the costs of the bulbs.  This is what Lighting Science Group and Dixon Technologies India is hoping to accomplish when they introduce a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb sometime in early 2012.  The bulb to be introduced is reported to costs around $15 when it hits shelves. [via Cnet.com]

 

 

Can the Electric Vehicle Replace Liquid Fuels?

Electric cars are making headlines all the time theses days.  Governments are promoting electric vehicles through tax credits, loan guarantees, and regulation.  For many it seems like the age of the electric car is finally coming upon us (especially with vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf on the market).  It seems to me that electric cars are getting disproportional amount of attention when you consider that there are other options for future transportation.  I believe that we cannot replace the vast majority of our liquid transportation fuel with electricity.

Why I Believe Liquid Fuel is Still in the Future of Transportation

With electric vehicles usually comes increased electrification of society. Unfortunately, that does not mean that all vehicles can use electricity as their main energy source. There are some major points that I think people overlook when considering electric vehicles:

  1. Large vehicles (like semi-trucks) will still need a liquid fuel to power combustion engines
  2. Electric vehicles take too long to charge, and do not offer long distances
  3. Electrical demand will require more power generation and eventual grid upgrade(s) (smart grid)

In order to power large engine driven equipment like dump trucks, front end loaders, boats, etc…, we will need a liquid fuel source because no technology exists to power these pieces of equipment using electricity (batteries).  Perhaps you’re wondering if these pieces of equipment be powered using batteries.  The answer is possibly in some cases, but it is unlikely that we will see batteries powering a large barge going to the other side of the world anytime soon.  These types of vehicles need to be able to refuel quickly and have the ability to run for a long duration, something that electric vehicles do not currently offer.  It is because of these types of heavy duty equipment that we must still use liquid fuels and combustion engines for the foreseeable future.  If we must continue to use liquid fuels for the above equipment, why not also use liquid fuel for average cars too?

Can you imagine trying to drive form Michigan to Florida with a Nissan Leaf?  With a maximum of roughly 100 miles, it would take a VERY long time to go such a distance (not that it doesn’t already).  In order to travel long distances you must have a vehicle that can obtain an energy source very quickly (like getting fuel at a gas station).  It is this type of situation that has made Chevy engineers put a combustion engine in their ‘electric vehicle’ (the Chevy Volt).  When a person needs to go somewhere, they usually cannot afford to wait around for several hours before traveling.  The convenience of electric vehicles is not quite there yet.  For many, the distance issue may not be a problem on a daily basis, but on some occasions a different form of transportation will be needed (train, plane, combustion based automobile).

If electric vehicles take off, the demand on the electrical grid to power these vehicles will also take off. If the electrical demand rises, the use of fossil fuels in the power generation sector will have to rise too.  I know many electric vehicle advocates promote renewable energy to generate power, but the simple fact is that without a smart grid it is more likely we will see a larger proportion of fossil fuels being used instead.  In order to minimize the power loss, and because the current grid doesn’t offer the control to distribute electricity efficiently enough, fossil fuels will continue to see high usage.  Fossil fuels have the luxury of being placed closer to high power demand locations than alternative energy installations.  The lack of a smart grid will equate to little renewable energy buildup in comparison to what we really need.  This is not to say that renewable energy generation won’t increase, but rather that large renewable energy sources will remain few (in comparison to what we need and expect in order to replace fossil fuels and keep up with demand).  For example, large wind installations have been delayed or even cancelled due to the lack of quality grid infrastructure (see previous posts, Advancing Wind Power and The Power Grid Unable to Meet Our Needs).  I believe that the use of electric vehicles will be fine with our current system for a while, but eventually the need to implement a smart grid system will become a necessity.

Conclusion

Electric vehicles offer only one possible benefit at this time, reducing the use of oil.  The likelihood of electric vehicles reducing the use of oil, or even fossil fuels, is pretty low at this point.  Electric vehicles use batteries which require the use of rare earth minerals, manufacturing, transportation, and proper disposal.  All of these requirements take energy that requires the use of oil and/or fossil fuels.  When you factor in the use of fossil fuels on our nations electric grid with the fact that batteries require a fair amount of energy to produce and dispose of, the benefits of these electric vehicles really comes into question.  It seems like fossil fuel usage is being moved from the transportation sector to other sectors like manufacturing or electricity generation.  With the invention of other storage techniques, increased usage of renewable energy via the smart grid, or a low energy method to produce and handle batteries, we might see more benefits to the electric vehicle.  Until these things happen I don’t see how going to buy a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt is going to help reduce fossil fuel usage, reduce oil consumption, or produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Note: The Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are the two mainstream vehicles currently available so I am using them as examples.

 

 

Smart Grid Communication Network Technologies

Below is a literature review, which is defined on Wikipedia as:

A literature review is a body of text that aims to review the critical points of current knowledge including substantive findings as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. Literature reviews are secondary sources, and as such, do not report any new or original experimental work.

This literature review is written for an audience that has a technical background, so many technical terms may not be explained or defined.  I hope you enjoy this literature review, and please feel free to leave comments.

Selected Review of Literature: Smart Grid Communication Network

Given the increased emphasis on energy efficiency, the current electrical grid is in need of a robust communication network.  The communication infrastructure will rely on three technologies: 4G wireless communications, fiber optics, and/or broadband over power lines (BPL) to reliably transmit low latency data at speeds of 2-to-5 Mbps per device (Sood, Fischer, Eklund, & Brown, 2009).  The smart grid will need to be able to handle two-way communication in order to share energy-related data amongst utilities and end-users (Aggarwal, Kunta, & Verma, 2010).  This communication system must handle large amounts of continual two-way data transmission from all electricity users, devices, and sensors in order to provide proper usage feedback to both the end-user and to the utility (Aggarwal, et al., 2010).  This paper will look at the three competing technologies, and some of the pluses and minuses of each.

Broadband Over Power Lines

Broadband over power line technology uses the electrical grid to transfer data on top of the AC power already being transferred through the power lines.  This allows utilities to build a communications network on top of the already existing infrastructure, i.e. the power lines (Srinivasa Prasanna, et al., 2009).  BPL typically has limited bandwidth because the current power grid infrastructure was not designed to transfer data, but according to Schneider, speeds of 5Mbps are achievable in distances less than 1 kilometer.  Increasing this distance will reduce the speeds that BPL can achieve, but using additional equipment can help alleviate that issue (2009).  BPL typically uses the 1-34 MHZ frequency range instead of AC’s 60HZ to transfer data (Tsiropoulos, Sarafi & Cottis, 2009).  According to Anderson, the estimated installation cost of BPL is $1000 per home, but offers the capability to reach any home with electrical service (2010).

Fiber Optics

Fiber optics are able to handle large amounts of data at much faster speeds than any of the other communication technologies discussed in this paper.  Utilities typically have the right away along their transmission lines, so this makes laying fiber optic cable relatively easy.  Fiber optic cables have the ability for transfer speeds of several hundred Gbps.  Since such high data rates are possible it makes fiber optics an expandable and relatively future-proof communication technology (Aggarwal, et al., 2010).  Another strong reason to pick fiber optics is the fact that there are many fiber optic cables already available.  This gives utilities the option of leasing current fiber optic infrastructure to help reduce costs and time to market (Sood, et al., 2009). With so many positive points one might wonder why other technologies are being considered for the smart grid communication system.  One thing to take in consideration is that fiber optics may not always be the most feasible solution in certain areas.  This could be due to location, cost, or regulatory restrictions.

4G Wireless

Since 4G wireless technologies are starting to be deployed nationwide, this gives utilities another great alternative to the other two communication technologies.  Wimax 4G is estimated to cost roughly $440 per home to install and is currently seeing transfer speeds between 3-to-6 Mbps per connection (Anderson, 2010).  With a lower cost per home than BPL and a higher transfer speed than BPL, this makes 4G a very attractive option for utilities where 4G service is available.  Wimax 4G also offers very low latency times (~10ms), so the smart grid can communicate with devices rather quickly (Sood, et al., 2009).  Although fiber optics have a much lower latency time (~5 µs per kilometer), Wimax 4G latency is still within current smart grid requirements (Sood, et al., 2009).  The ability to communicate to devices quickly is very important, especially if a breaker is in need of being kicked as fast as possible.  Another quality of Wimax is its closed loop power control features.  These features allow each device linked to the Wimax network to have its own power control settings, and this minimizes the power consumption of the Wimax radio equipment (Sood, et al., 2009).  The single biggest issue that Wimax 4G has is its ability to communicate with devices inside buildings and other radio frequency dead areas.  Another major problem is that 4G wireless communications do not provide coverage everywhere a home would be located.

Conclusion

Due to the high cost of implementing a smart grid communication network it must be built with adequate capacity for future growth.  Utilities will need to plan their systems for increased usage during emergency situations, and for a lifespan of roughly 20 years (Wenpeng, Sharp, & Lancashire, 2010).  It is unlikely that any one-communication technology will reign supreme.  It is much more likely that we will see hybrid systems that implement several or all of these technologies for varying circumstances (Tsiropoulos, et al, 2009).

References

Aggarwal, A., Kunta, S., Verma, P.K. (2010). A proposed communications infrastructure for the smart grid. Innovative Smart Grid Technologies (ISGT) (1-5). Gaithersburg, MD. doi: 10.1109/ISGT.2010.5434764

Anderson, M. (2010). WiMax for smart grids. Spectrum, IEEE 47(7), 14-14. doi:10.1109/MSPEC.2010.5490999

Schneider, D. (2009). Is this the moment for broadband over power lines?. Spectrum, IEEE 46(7), 17-17.

Sood, V.K., Fischer, D., Eklund, J.M., Brown, T. (2009). Developing a communication infrastructure for the Smart Grid. Electrical Power & Energy Conference (EPEC) (1-7). doi: 10.1109/EPEC.2009.5420809

Srinivasa Prasanna, G.N., Lakshmi, A., Sumanth, S., Simha, V., Bapat, J., Koomullil, G. (2009). Data communication over the smart grid,” Power Line Communications and Its Applications. IEEE International Symposium (273-279). doi: 10.1109/ISPLC.2009.4913442

Tsiropoulos, G.I., Sarafi, A.M., Cottis, P.G. (2009) Wireless-broadband over power lines networks: A promising broadband solution in rural areas.  PowerTech, 2009 IEEE Bucharest (1-6). Bucharest, Romania:IEEE. doi: 10.1109/PTC.2009.5282200

Wenpeng Luan, Sharp, Duncan, Lancashire, Sol. (2010). Smart grid communication network capacity planning for power utilities. Transmission and Distribution Conference and Exposition (1-4). IEEE. doi: 10.1109/TDC.2010.5484223

Transportation: Future Energy Source(s)

Oil is continually becoming more scarce and more expensive to acquire, because of this finding a substitute is very important.  Unfortunately, there has yet to be a feasible substitute for oil, so we are faced with a future that will probably involve several different alternative fuels.  T. Boone Pickens recently released a new video outlining his plan, and mentions that he sees a world with multiple energy types for transportation.  This made me think and as I thought about this it began to make more and more sense.

We currently have no energy source that is adequate to replace oil, so we will have to use many different energy sources for particular uses.  This means, we could end up seeing electric vehicles for in-city driving or local commuting and hydrogen, fossil fuel, and/or alternative fuel vehicles for a multitude of uses.  Each energy type will play a role in our future, depending on geological location and vehicle usage.  Vehicles that are used for heavy loads may operate on diesel or natural gas, and vehicles that are used for every-day city driving may be electric, hybrids or alternative fuel powered.  Using multiple energy sources will complicate the consumers purchasing decisions, because consumers will need to choose vehicles based on energy type and predicted usage.

Our energy future must rely on sources of energy other than oil, and because of this we will see several different energy sources emerge.  Consumers will need to have a basic understanding of energy.  Energy will play a MAJOR role in the majority of our future decisions. In addition to alternative fuels, I also believe we will see an increase of rail-based transportation being used.  Rail transportation is generally energy efficient and relatively convenient.  Using energy without thought will become a thing of the past.

Here are my thoughts, i look forward to seeing some of your thoughts/comments below.

What the Kuwait Oil Study Says About Peak Oil

This year Kuwait University and the Kuwait Oil Company released results of a study using a modified version of Hubbert’s curve to predict that oil will peak in 2014.  This study seems to mostly agree with a another study that was popularized by Sir Richard Bronson of Virgin Group Ltd., which predicted that oil will peak in 2015.

There are many different arguments about the time frame of peak oil, some argue that it has already occurred (Dot 2 and/or Dot 3) and others argue that peak oil won’t occur for many years (Dot 1).  I personally do not get too hung up on when peak oil will occur or whether it  has occurred.  Either way you look at it peak oil is not something that can be ignored and as you get near the top of the curve you begin feeling the effects of peak oil.  This is because more costly sources are being used and it is more difficult to increase production.  Many of the economic troubles that we are experiencing today stem from these facts.

Peak Oil Curve

One of the major reasons the Kuwaiti study is so interesting is because a major oil producer is stating that it will no longer be able to keep up with the demand of its product and that the it will be more costly to acquire.  That is like Apple telling its consumers that even though demand for its iPhone is increasing, in a few years it will no longer be able to keep up with demand and the iPhone® price will also start increasing.  No oil corporation would want to admit peak oil’s effects on their business which is why this announcement is so unbelievable.

The really unfortunate part of this whole ordeal is that while oil companies, oil producing nations and numerous other respected organizations are releasing reports that peak oil is REAL and IMMINENT, we continue down the same path.  Cities, states and governments should be having serious discussions about how to deal with peak oil and should also be considering plans to deal with these conditions.  Instead, the United States government is busy talking about things like health care, broadband expansion, cap and trade and numerous other topics that are irrelevant in a world where cheap energy is no longer abundant.  Cities continue to spend money on beautification projects and citizens are living their lives like everything is just going to go back to the way things have always been.  I realize that NO ONE wants to talk about these things because it can paint a grim future for our society, but if we continue to put our heads in the sand we will have a major problem on our hands that no one is prepared for.  If we start planning now we could have a brighter future, but planning can only begin when everyone is mentally prepared to begin serious, tough discussions.

If you are interested in some more information about peak oil, visit one of Dan’s previous articles here.

Sources

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35838273/ns/business-oil_and_energy/

http://green.autoblog.com/2010/03/18/kuwaiti-study-conventional-oil-to-peak-in-2014/2#comments

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/feb/07/branson-warns-peak-oil-close

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5395

What About The Electric Car Buzz?

Recently there has been a lot of buzz surrounding electric cars, like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.  Electric cars have been idolized as the cars of the future, the perfect balance of usefulness and cleanliness.  The interesting thing about the electric car though, is that it has been around since the beginning of the automobile.  Electric cars aren’t anything new and breathtaking; the only thing that could be new or breathtaking about an electric car could be some of the technological advancements that are being put to use.

The electric car has been competing with the combustion engine since the beginning. Initially the electric car had a decent market share but as the combustion engine advanced and oil prices lowered, so did the number of electric cars.  The combustion engine has been able to offer everything that consumer’s desire:

  • Long range
  • Convenience
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Affordability
  • Durability

Some of the above bullet points might be debatable, but if you look at the overall history of the combustion engine I think all of these items hold true.  The combustion engine is not without negatives though.  Some of the more widely known are:

  • Pollution
  • Low efficiencies (i.e., fuel economy, energy efficiency, heat, etc…)
  • Wear and tear (i.e., spark plugs, cylinders, etc…)

Overall the combustion engine has and continues to offer many positives that are cheaper and better than anything else currently available.

What is it about the electric car that brings so much excitement and hope?

The electric car has enormous potential, but the problem is that it has a ways to go before that potential can be achieved.  Some of the known potentials of the electric car include things like: being clean, reducing oil usage and getting its energy from renewable sources.  Some of the biggest challenges for the electric car are, battery longevity and reliability, energy consumed to manufacture and dispose of vehicle components, and the integrity of the electric grid.

Fundamentally the electric car hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years, but there are some advancements in battery technology, energy conservation and regeneration that are helping to improve their viability.  In my opinion one of the single most exciting things about the electric car is that the electric motor can achieve 90% energy conversion efficiencies.  This number is amazing when compared to a typical internal combustion engine, which has efficiencies of about 15-20%.  This type of efficiency gain could drastically reduce the overall energy usage of a vehicle.

What sort of drawback does the electric car have?

Up to this point, electric cars have only used batteries as a means to store energy (besides a few experimental vehicles using other storage methods).  Your typical lithium-ion battery has a charge/discharge efficiency rating of roughly 80-90%, which makes the battery a decent storage medium for vehicle applications.  While there have been some improvements in battery technology over the years, batteries still have their share of problems like weight, susceptibility to climate change, durability and expense.  Many of these problems we have personally experienced in our daily lives in devices like cell phones and laptops.

The batteries in the Chevy Volt for example, are estimated to last up to 100,000 miles or 10 years. At which point the cost to replace the battery is estimated to be in the $2,000-$3,000 range, although current costs are actually around $10,000.  This seems unfeasible for typical consumers, not to mention the complete waste of energy and resources used for manufacturing and disposing of the battery.

Conclusion

While the electric car has the potential to be something really great, the battery is a bit of drawback at this point.  Hopefully researchers can continue to improve battery performance or develop other technologies to use as the storage medium instead.  Another key very important thing to consider is where the electricity to charge these electric cars comes from.  Again the electric seems ideal but once you consider the big picture it is far from ideal…at least at this point.

Tell me what you think:
Can the electric grid handle large numbers of electric cars?
Do you think electric vehicles have the potential to overtake the combustion engine?

Sources:

The Wall Street Journal – The Long Road:Electric Vehicles

Wikipedia – Lithium-ion battery

Fueleconomy.gov – Advanced Technologies & Energy Efficiency

Is The Obama Administration Good For Nuclear Energy?

Recently, President Obama announced an $8.33 billion loan guarantee to build a brand new nuclear power plant in Georgia. This could be the first new nuclear power plant in nearly 30 years, which is a big deal. Now before everyone gets all giddy about this announcement there are several things that need to be understood.

What is a Loan Guarantee?

A loan guarantee is a promise by a government to assume a private debt obligation if the borrower defaults. Most loan guarantee programs are established to correct perceived market failures by which small borrowers, regardless of creditworthiness, lack access to the credit resources available to large borrowers.
–Wikipedia–

Basically, what this means is that the government is “cosigning” the loan and is responsible for the loan if anything goes wrong. This can be used to help finance projects that are risky, new or are having a hard time getting the amount of credit needed to finance the project.

What About the Radioactive Nuclear Waste?

Nuclear waste can be a scary thing when you consider the harmful potential of this substance. Typically nuclear waste is stored in pools of water or cement caskets on-site of the nuclear power plant. This system has proved to be relatively successful thus far, but a more permanent solution is needed. With the Obama administration’s cancellation of the Yucca Mountain project, which was supposed to be the nations repository for radioactive waste, many are left wondering what will happen to existing and future nuclear waste. With no clear long-term plan for radioactive waste, many are left wondering why the President would be in favor of building a new nuclear power plant.

Personally, I feel relatively safe with the cement caskets being used to store this waste. The cement caskets that store this radioactive waste are rated to be good for 90 years, so we still have some time to get a game plan.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

So the questions that immediately come to my mind are:

  • How long will these cement caskets actually last?
  • What do we do when these caskets start needing to be replaced, do we just move the waste to newer caskets?
  • Why don’t we start reprocessing nuclear waste to generate electricity?

Unfortunately the answers to these questions are topics of much debate. Clear answers to these questions do not appear to be in the immediate future.

Should the Government Be Guaranteeing Loans for Nuclear Plants?

With the pathetic financial state that our government is in, are they really in a position to even offer a loan guarantee? How can a government that is constantly raising its debt ceiling even consider having to pay 8 billion dollars for a power plant. If the government continues offering loan guarantees for nuclear power plants and some of the companies default on their loans, where is the money going come from to pay these loans?

Regardless of your political beliefs, the fact that the United States government is continuing to promise more expenditure should be a red flag. How much longer can we continue promising, borrowing and ‘printing’ money?

But Nuclear Energy is a Good Clean Source of Energy, right?

As many of you know, I am in favor of building new nuclear power plants, see my previous blog post here. Nuclear power offers many benefits and we are in need of diversifying our energy portfolio. There is no doubt in my mind that nuclear energy will play an important role in our energy future because of the increased energy demands and reduced availability of cheap/clean energy. Nuclear energy has been picking up steam for several years and it appears that it may finally be getting some much-needed attention. As nuclear energy continues to garner attention and becomes more cost beneficial, I am confident private investors will start investing in the construction of these plants.

Global Warming, Peak Oil, and Economic Crisis

When Zach and I started this blog, we agreed that it should be in the technical domain, rather than the political one as much as possible. The hope was that with high quality information available to the political class and activists, the “solutions” would be forthcoming. As time goes on though, it seems that even as difficult as our energy challenges are, the political ones are tougher. This reality requires the Energy Strain blog to deal with issues that may be considered to be more in the political domain.

For the moment, the world seems focused on “Climate Change.” Climate change is the new term for what was originally termed “Global Warming.” It is difficult to figure out who changed “Global Warming” to “Climate Change.” I would argue that both of these names are actually very poor names for this problem. One thing that we know for sure is that the Earth’s climate has been changing for the entire time that it has existed. It seems to me that if you wanted to come up with a name to motivate people to action, you would not use a term that describes something that is “normal.”

Peak Oil is an equally poor name for the problems that people are using it to describe. Peak oil, when used in the M King Hubbert sense, is a perfectly correct term. Hopefully we all know of the work of M King Hubbert, and his curves describing how oil fields age. The problem with the way that “Peak Oil” is now used is that it now means hundreds of different things to different people. From the simplest and obviously correct meaning, that a mathematical curve can be applied to the theoretical extraction rate of an oil province, Peak Oil is now also being used as a substitute term for we’re running out of oil, Malthus was right, all problems are caused by running out of oil, and the end is coming.

Economic crisis is also a very poor name for a widely varied set of symptoms. Economists originally called it “Sub-Prime” Crisis, then “Recession,” and now their favorite seems to be “Economic Crisis.” The names are likely to change as the symptoms of the end of the Industrial Age present themselves.

After studying the end of the Industrial Age for about five years, it all seems quite simple to me. These problems are all related, and must be contemplated and solutions proposed for the actual problems, not just the symptoms, and not with solutions that “feel good,” but rather solutions that fit the physics of the problem.

The problem is simple.
Man found a substance in Earth’s “basement” that allowed him to temporarily overcome the normal limit of living on Earth, that limit being: living on the energy that comes from the Sun. Man used the energy from this substance to continuously increase the amount of energy available from this substance. He also created an economic system that automatically creates more interest debt as time passes, and thus requires economic growth in order that it remain plausible that the interest accumulation could be repaid. As he used this substance, he put the undesired components into the atmosphere, hoping that it would be OK.

Now Industrial Man finds himself in the following situation.
1. The net energy (gross energy minus the energy used in the extraction) from fossil fuel is in decline.
2. His financial system is collapsing because repayment of the interest is not plausible, and the economy cannot grow enough without more energy to make it plausible.
3. The Earths formerly sequestered carbon is now in the atmosphere, and he is not sure exactly what it means. But most agree it’s probably not good.

So Global Warming, Peak Oil, and financial collapse are the same problem.
Maybe we should name the entire situation “DADESFFC” for Dying and Dysfunctional Energy System Feeding Financial Collapse. Ok, so maybe it’s not a sexy acronym. Or maybe it’s too complicated for some to understand. But the point is that without understanding the big picture, and without looking for solutions to the actual problems, we are left in the dark shooting at the symptoms.

Lately “Climate Change” has been in the news with the negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark. Some of the activists seem to be advocating that we solve the problems with massive redistribution of wealth. Their solutions are simple–take money from the polluters and give it to the less fortunate. Problem Solved. If only it were anywhere near this easy.

The reality is that the technologies that are available to “replace” the current fossil fuel technologies are not drop-in replacements. A society created from alternative energy technologies will be profoundly different. Here are some of the technical challenges along with the implications of a post fossil fuel economy:

1. Renewable energy sources are powered by low density energy.
Low density means that the systems will be very large, and consume huge quantities of resources and labor in order to construct. In an economic sense, this by necessity means that the systems will be expensive.

2. Renewable energy sources have low energy return on energy investment (EROEI). Low EROEI means that renewable energy systems will have low profitability for their investors, and will take many years to return their initial investment. It also means that there is not room for mistakes in the implementation of these systems. Small mistakes in implementation that cause increased energy consumption, will convert low EROEI energy “production” systems into energy “sinks,” i.e., they cause consumption rather than provide energy.

3. Renewable energy systems are not a drop-in for fossil fuel technologies. This means that much of the most expensive equipment in our fossil fuel powered industrial economy must be replaced. A replacement society that is powered from renewable energy sources will be less wealthy, and have less complexity than a fossil fuel powered one. This may mean that there is no excess wealth to transfer from the former “wealthy” countries to the “developing” countries.

Simply transferring wealth from the “wealthy” fossil fuel consumers to the “developing” countries is very likely to aggravate the problems. It could leave the “wealthy” countries without enough surplus capital to develop renewable technologies, and it could just cause increased energy consumption in the “developing” countries.

Converting to a post fossil fuel era will not be easy. Resources will be scarce and financial systems very unstable. This means that in order to successfully accomplish it, we will have to understand what we are really up against, not choose one symptom and propose a “solution” for it that aggravates the real problem.

If we cannot solve the technical problems of operating a modern society from renewable energy, the only “deal” that we may be able to make is to lower our standard of living to their standard of living, if they agree not to try to raise theirs.

It goes without saying that this will be a difficult political sell, and I fear that those who are pushing these large redistributions aren’t as concerned about the environment as they claim, meaning that this would not be an acceptable solution, even though it may be the only one that is technically feasible with our current technology.