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Countdown to Doomsday

By kuran42 in Technology
Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:14:24 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

Think of all the things you do in a day: wake to an alarm clock, drive to work, use a telephone, cook a meal, watch television, drink a cold beverage. How much of your daily routine would remain if your town or city were suddenly without gasoline and electricity? What would happen if instead of just your town, the entire world were plunged into such a situation?


What would result could hardly be short of total chaos followed quickly by a mass famine on a scale the world has never before seen. 75,000,000 barrels of oil are used around the world every day. From the obvious, such as running your car and powering your home, to more subtle uses such as making the plastic in which many of your groceries are wrapped and making up the advanced fertilizers that allow the fantastic crop yields that feed the world, oil is an integral part of modern society. What's more, in the next twenty years, usage is expected to increase by more than fifty percent. Between today and the year 2020, we will burn more than 700,000,000,000 (700 billion) barrels of oil1. We are a society dependent on this gift of high density energy6. When it runs out, the world as we know it will end.

The Predictions

There are three distinct groups telling the world three very distinct stories about the future of our energy reserves. There are the optimists in the oil industry: scientists and surveyors who tell us there are 1,800,000,000,000 (1800 billion) barrels of oil left in the ground. There are the pessimists: scientists who mostly work outside the industry and tell us there are only 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) barrels of oil left. Finally there are the delusional and the hallucinating: the economists who tell us we have infinite reserves of oil and everyone else is off their rocker.

I will be discounting the economists in this presentation in the hope that no reasonable individual can take seriously their fantastic and baseless claims2. For those who need further convincing, please refer to Julian Simon's The Ultimate Resource II; chapter 11 is of particular interest. I will also discount the optimists, but for a different reason: the discrepancy between their prediction and that of the optimists (a mere 800 billion barrels) is a merely quantitative, not qualitative; if you prefer to side with the pessimists, you may simply advance any dates presented below by a decade, and you will have an accurate description of the pessimist's picture of our near future.

The Details

Oil is not pumped from oil fields. Rather, the oil exists inside porous rock material under pressure; when wells are drilled, the oil sprays forth due entirely to this pressure. As more wells are drilled in a single oil field, the production of that field rises until it reaches a peak (or, if production is artificially capped, a plateau). After this peak is reached, production begins to fall exponentially. After a rather brief period of falloff in production, the only way to extract more oil from the field is by spending energy to pump it out. A single barrel of oil yields about 6 million BTU7 of energy. The cost to raise the same barrel from 300m ("deep-water" oil) is about a thousand BTU. Unfortunately the energy density of most fields drops rapidly and active pumping only yields an energy resource for a brief time compared to the total lifetime of the field. When it costs a barrel of oil to obtain a barrel of oil, the field is no longer of any use.

A Brief History Lesson

To date, we have extracted and used 1.5 trillion barrels of oil. That is to say, about 42% of all the oil that has ever existed has been spent. The optimists predict the peak will occur at or about the year 2020, with fields in the Middle East accounting for the majority of production by 2005. Many predictions have been made in the past about looming energy crises, some as early as the 1930's. They have all proved to be incorrect, save the current set of predictions which still place the crisis at a future date. Critics of current theories cite past predictions as evidence that the current predictions of shortfalls must be incorrect and cite no other evidence.

Scientific hypotheses evolve and often take on several different forms before solidifying into a generally accepted theory. Furthermore, many past hypotheses have been based on scant data, as oil companies have always been highly secretive about their survey data. However, the current situation is unique. For the first time, the industry itself is agreeing (within a trillion barrels) with independent predictions about remaining oil reserves. The only people still in denial are the economists and politicians.

Alternatives

The energy industry's buzzword of the day is hydrogen: use it to run fuel cells; use it to power cars; use it in the space shuttle; recharge it practically forever; it is clean, producing only water as exhaust; and it is getting easier to store almost by the day. Seemingly, it is a magic bullet. But what is hydrogen? One thing it is not is an energy resource. Until we master fusion technology, hydrogen is nothing more than a battery, and like any battery it must be charged5. So what do we charge it with?

The often touted solution to world energy problems, nuclear power, doesn't stand up to scrutiny. If nuclear power were to take up the burden of keeping the world lit, we would exhaust our fissile uranium8 reserves in just 40 to 60 years3. An advanced type of reactor known as a "fast breeder" could extend this lifetime to as many as 200 years, but various problems, mostly political but some technical as well, have prevented such plants from gaining widespread acceptance4.

Wind power is one of the oldest power sources man has tapped. Pre-industrial England had 10,000 individual windmills, and as early as the 14th century windmills had seen widespread use in Holland. Modern wind turbines can produce 100 kW each and, as of 1999, supplied 16 billion kWh to the world: enough to power 5 mid-sized cities. But wind power has a low energy-density6. What's more, though they are non-polluting, they pose a serious hazard for migrating birds and can decimate populations if not carefully designed and situated.

Solar power seems to be a possible solution. In a single day, the sun provides enough energy to the Earth to power today's civilization for 27 years; in 3 days it provides an amount of energy equal to that stored in all fossil resources that have ever existed. Solar panels are low cost, and getting cheaper. Modern panels operate at almost 20% efficiency, generate no waste, require virtually no maintenance over their 20 to 30 year lifespan, are almost completely recyclable, lightweight and modular. Unfortunately they are dependent on the weather and only feasible in sunny climates. They also are a very low energy-density source and usually not appropriate for industrial power requirements9.

Still another potential renewable source of energy is geothermal power, the source of heat to 95% of Icelandic homes. This method relies on using geothermal vents - areas near the Earth's surface which are superheated by magma - to vaporize steam to drive turbines. While it has major potential, care must be taken not to expend the local water table by cooling and returning to the ground about a hundred thousand gallons of water per megawatt per day. Released steam is also usually contaminated with hydrogen sulfide and various mildly toxic wastes which must be collected and carefully disposed of10.

Conclusion

What all these alternative power sources have in common is that they cost energy to initiate. It is questionable as to whether any of them can be initiated or sustained without a fossil fuel based industry to back their production. What we can be sure of is that if we wait until the collapse is imminent, there will be no opportunity to develop these technologies, nor to construct the infrastructures they require.



Footnotes

[1] http://ens.lycos.com/ens/mar2001/2001L-03-29-01.html
[2] The primary fallacy upon which the economist's argument is based is that if enough people want a resource, the resource will become available. It is claimed that the mechanisms of supply and demand cause this to be so: if demand for oil is high enough, oil companies will spend money to extract deeper, less pure oil, so that they can sell it at the inflated price. This fails to take into account the fact that energy, not money, is required for such an operation, and no amount of wishing in the world will create energy. It is unfortunate that most energy policy is based on the ramblings that make up the economists argument.
[3] http://www.altenergy.org/2/nonrenewables/nuclear/depletion/depletion.html
[4] http://www.antenna.nl/wise/uranium/edumu.html
[5] http://www.eren.doe.gov/hydrogen/pdfs/28890kkk.pdf
[6] http://dictionary.com/search?q=energy+density&db=%2A
[7] http://dictionary.com/search?q=BTU&db=%2A
[8] Uranium-238: reactor grade uranium
[9] http://www.altenergy.org/2/renewables/solar/solar.html
[10]] http://www.altenergy.org/2/renewables/geothermal/geothermal.html

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Poll
Which alternative power source do you think offers the best solution?
o Nuclear Fission 11%
o Nuclear Fusion 18%
o Solar 15%
o Wind 2%
o Geothermal 1%
o Some combination of the above 47%
o There is unlimited oil and no need for alternative power sources 2%

Votes: 151
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o 1
o 6
o 2
o 7
o 5
o 8
o 3
o 4
o 9
o 10
o 1 [2]
o http://ens .lycos.com/ens/mar2001/2001L-03-29-01.html
o 2 [2]
o 3 [2]
o http://www .altenergy.org/2/nonrenewables/nuclear/depletion/depletion.html
o 4 [2]
o http://www .antenna.nl/wise/uranium/edumu.html
o 5 [2]
o http://www .eren.doe.gov/hydrogen/pdfs/28890kkk.pdf
o 6 [2]
o http://dic tionary.com/search?q=energy+density&db=%2A
o 7 [2]
o http://dic tionary.com/search?q=BTU&db=%2A
o 8 [2]
o 9 [2]
o http://www .altenergy.org/2/renewables/solar/solar.html
o 10]
o http://www .altenergy.org/2/renewables/geothermal/geothermal.html
o Also by kuran42


Display: Sort:
Countdown to Doomsday | 242 comments (236 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
What happens (3.50 / 10) (#2)
by xriso on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:36:42 AM EST

Oil doesn't just *bang* run out. It will slowly become harder and harder to find. Less oil, more expensive to mine. This means that the end products that use oil will be more expensive. Conserving oil usage will then become even more relevant in development of something. Eventually, we will get to a point where it is more practical to use the resources that are not practical right now. And we'll have cheaper alternatives too :-)

[Note about solar power: remember that natural life needs solar energy too. How much room do we give to the solar panels?]
--
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)

By the time we need to worry about that... (4.33 / 3) (#3)
by ShadowNode on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:47:22 AM EST

It'll be time to just put the damn things in space anyway.

Oil certianly won't just "disappear", but what if we find that we have, say, 20 years supply? I don't really like the idea of risking all of human civilization because of lack of forsight.

[ Parent ]
Slow death (4.42 / 7) (#34)
by cyberformer on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:04:58 AM EST

The problem is that the world depends on oil --- not just to ferry lazy cosnumers around in SUVs, but for most of its food production. Unless a similarly good energy source is found, the world will be unable to grow enough food for its population. Billions of people (those who are now poor) will die, and the rest (those who are now rich, but set to become poor) will suffer a drastic reduction in their lifestyle.

As the article says, we need to start developing these alternatives now. When oil extraction is already diminishing, it will be too late: The world's energy will go into supporitng its diminishing population, and there may not be enough for research into alternatives. When the cost of energy goes up, the cost of everything goes up, including the infrastructure necessary to obtain more energy.

[ Parent ]

Slight problem.. (3.00 / 1) (#76)
by ajduk on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:01:57 AM EST

Oil - at least in the form of petrol - is currently heavily taxed, especially in Europe. I think there is a pretty big tax in the US as well.

Events in the recent past in Europe (the Trucker's strike) show that it is politically impossable for the cost of petrol to go up beyond a certain point; so as production costs rise, fuel duties will go down and demand will not slacken. This could lead to a very dangerous situation, as it would hide the problem until the barrel was REALLY being scraped.

[ Parent ]
Vegetable Oil (none / 0) (#173)
by Alan Crowe on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 02:55:45 AM EST

You make a very good point. Petrol is lightly taxed in America, so their economy uses petrol freely and will be disrupted as prices rise. In Scotland the tax on diesel raises the pump price to the same level as the cost of cooking oil from vegetable sources. Our economy, at least as far as transport fuel goes, is already configured for the post-oil world. That leaves big questions about how to make up the tax revenue, and what to do about other sectors, especially aviation, that haven't been subject to heavy taxation.

I'm getting pretty fed up with this scare story. I'm being told that oil will run out, cars will vanish, and nothing is being done to prepare In fact my government makes me pay post-petroleum prices for my car fuel, already, with atleast thirty years to go. Even at post-petroleum prices the streets of Edinburgh are still jammed with cars.

[ Parent ]

Well.. (none / 0) (#180)
by ajduk on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 05:32:41 AM EST

In the UK (I'm in Bath), I think the government is preparing us for the 'post-transportation' era (High fuel prices, jammed roads, railtrack, privitised busses..)

I think it's time to buy a horse..

[ Parent ]
aviation (none / 0) (#182)
by xriso on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 06:37:44 AM EST

The problem with switching planes to non-fossil fuels is basically the amount of energy. If there's a vegetable fuel that is as energy rich as, say, jet fuel, I'm sure that aircraft designers would like to hear about it. :-)
--
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
[ Parent ]
Jet Fuel (none / 0) (#198)
by ka9dgx on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 12:50:08 PM EST

Jet Fuel is nothing more than Kerosene that has been highly filtered. Tweak the length of the hydrocarbon chains, and vegatable fuel could become Jet Fuel.

--Mike--

[ Parent ]

I admit, it's US-centric (none / 0) (#188)
by kuran42 on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 10:22:45 AM EST

And on this side of the ocean, people are buying more and more SUVs that are lucky to get 20mpg (don't expect them to carpool with them, either. People use these as 1 person vehicles) and scream bloody murder when the price of gas jumps a few cents.

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]
You're still not safe. (none / 0) (#220)
by Shpongle Spore on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 11:40:23 PM EST

While Scotland won't face a huge jump in the cost of transportation when the oil runs out, all your imported goods from less well-prepared countries will be more expensive since those goods are currently manufactured and shipped using cheap lightly-taxed oil. While you won't be as bad off as some countries, you'll still have a generally higher cost of living.
__
I wish I was in Austin, at the Chili Parlor bar,
drinking 'Mad Dog' margaritas and not caring where you are
[ Parent ]
Space-based solar? (3.60 / 5) (#6)
by rusty on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:50:20 AM EST

Thank you for an interesting article.

First: You describe hydrogen fuel cells as potentially good "batteries" for storing power. Has anyone considered space-based solar energy? I'm thinking in terms of a two-step process, where unmanned vehicles ferry hydrogen cells to large orbiting solar plants, which collect energy with arrays of solar panels which could presumably be much larger and higher-yield than any we could deploy on Earth. The cells are charged, and dropped back down the gravity well, probably to land in the oceans, where they're collected by barges and ferried to distribution points. The energy system would basically be a continuous loop of launching spent cells and recovering recharged ones.

Obviously, there are major engineering and logistical challenges to this scheme, and getting it to operate on a scale comparable to our current oil production (in terms of energy) would be non-trivial. But is there anything fundamental that rules it out as a possibility?

____
Not the real rusty

Spacepod go boom (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by ShadowNode on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:55:33 AM EST

Probably not a good idea. For one, wouldn't we have to ferry up water to be separated into hydrogen and oxygen? That'd be a big cut in the efficiency.

I'm not even going to mention the problems inherent in dropping hydrogen tanks from orbit!

[ Parent ]
Bombs from space? (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by rusty on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:25:17 AM EST

Interestingly, in this article they claim that fuel cells powered the Gemini space missions, and are used on the space shuttle. And this page talks about the potential hazards of hydrogen, and handling and safety issues. It dosn't sound like engineering a safe drop-capsule design would be impossible. The space shuttle already drops humans from orbit, which, while less dangerous if ignited, are also a lot more fragile.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Perhaps doable... (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by ShadowNode on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:49:11 AM EST

Come to think of it, I guess beaming energy back to the surface via microwave would be pretty lossy aswell.

I'm not surprised that NASA uses hydrogen cells. Seeing that they have to carry hydrogen and oxygen up anyway, they may aswell use it for everything they can't get from solar panels. I wonder if they produce enough water for the organic components of the shuttle :-)

[ Parent ]
Not to mention... (3.00 / 1) (#40)
by Stickerboy on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:58:31 AM EST

...the potential dual-use of technology that allows the beaming of incredible amounts of focused energy to pretty much any point on earth.

If you thought the disarmament crowd was up in arms over the prospect of weapons-grade plutonium coming out of high-efficiency breeder reactors, wait till you float this idea...


[ Parent ]
power satellite energy transmission (none / 0) (#232)
by valentine9 on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 12:46:24 AM EST

The transmission antenna requires a pilot beam, sent from the ground, to focus its energy on the receiving antenna.If the transmitter does not receive the pilot it spreads out over half the universe.

The energy density of the focused beam is high enough to warm you up but it's not enough to hurt you.

It's easy to see how this technology could be misrepresented but the facts do not support the scary militaristic interpretation.

[ Parent ]
I don't think it scales well though (4.50 / 2) (#31)
by Maxlex on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:37:58 AM EST

Theres a big difference between doing it once a month and doing it on a scale to make an impact on the world's energy supply. Plus the energy costs of sending the water up would surely make it uneconomic.

In any case we can quite easily gather solar power on the ground. There may be more room in space, but there's plenty of room in (say) Australia.

[ Parent ]

Don't have to lift water. (4.66 / 3) (#159)
by physicsgod on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:10:34 PM EST

There's plenty of water (any other hydrogenic compounds) floating around the solar system right now in the form of comets. Even if you don't want to wait for a comet to come close enough to corral you can get all the dirty snowballs you want from several places (in order from the sun)
  1. The Jovian moons, rather close (only ~8 billion km), not much gravity well, and you have a huge energy source (Jupiter) to help get the things sunward.
  2. Saturn's rings. A bit further away (15 billion km), even less gravity well, and gravity assist is still useful.
  3. Kuiper belt. Lots of water, no gravity well, 50 billion km out, no gravity assist.
  4. Oort cloud. Sagans of water, no gravity well, no gravity assist. The bad news? Some of this stuff is a couple of light-years out.

Another option would be to collect the solar wind and burn that, but at ~7 atoms/cc you'd need a rather hefty collector.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]

"Batteries" (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by marx on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:05:50 AM EST

I think what he means by "batteries" is that since pure hydrogen does not exist in nature, it must be extracted first, which usually takes as much energy as you get from using the actual hydrogen in the fuel cell.

So what you essentially would do with your idea is to transport water (or some other hydrogen source) into orbit, and then send the hydrogen down. I don't think this would be economical though.

A more economical version would be to find a hydrogen source close to the Earth, in space, and apply the process to that. It might be economical if there are good enough hydrogen sources, so we'd get the hydrogen equivalent of an oil platform.

Join me in the War on Torture: help eradicate torture from the world by holding torturers accountable.
[ Parent ]

Obviously (3.00 / 1) (#14)
by rusty on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:16:26 AM EST

...I don't know enough about how hydrogen cells work. :-)

If anyone cares to expand on the above, I'm all ears. Like, specifically, how much energy does it take to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, preferably comparable to something we've already talked about (like barrels of oil-worth)? How much energy could space-based solar plants potentially collect? Is it really unfeasable, or just an issue of scale and engineering?

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Water splitting / Fuel cell efficiency (5.00 / 4) (#45)
by beak on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 05:46:18 AM EST

The energy required to produce hydrogen from water via electrolysis is about 67% efficient.

A fuel cell powered by pure hydrogen is about 80% efficient.

Combine these two, and if you use hydrogen as a 'battery', you get about 50% efficiency -- ie for each 1 Mw of electricity in, you get 0.5Mw of electricity out... (This does not include the energy cost of compressing and storing the hydrogen produced)

For powering a car, you need to add to this the 80% efficiency of an electric motor, so you are down to 40%

Remeber, we started with electricity, which itself has to be generated and distributed, and this process has some large losses (a coal burning power station is itself only 40% efficient).

So over the whole process from raw material -> motion, we have a less than 16% efficiency...

By contrast a car powered by a gasoline combustion engine is about 20% efficient...

Links:



[ Parent ]
end to end efficiencies (none / 0) (#233)
by valentine9 on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 12:54:26 AM EST

Two of the factors in your post are in error. The best electrolytic cells are nearly 90% efficient and the best electric motors are about 95% or more, not 80% as you state. These data substantially change the conclusion.

[ Parent ]
There's ice in space (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by QuickFox on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 05:50:18 AM EST

This actually sounds interesting when you consider that there are huge amounts of water ice in the asteroid belt. Who knows, maybe some ice can be found close by in more accessible and useful orbits.

The problem then is that we'd need to carry the hydrogen down to the surface in some kind of vessels. Maybe glider aircraft, maybe sacks gliding down a space elevator cable, maybe something else. Either we carry empty vessels up to orbit (say in a space elevator), or we manufacture the vessels in orbit. Can we find a solution that doesn't cost more energy than we can carry down in the vessels?

Perhaps we'd need a container built from materials synthesized from the minerals in asteroid ice. If that is somehow possible, I suppose the most efficient vessels would be huge dirigible-shaped balloons gliding down a space elevator cable. You can't just drop them, you need to brake them with a space elevator cable or something, else they move too fast when they reach the atmosphere and burn.

Too complicated. But computers are also too complicated, yet they exist.

Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach him how to fish, and though he'll eat for a lifetime, he'll call you a miser for not giving him your fish.



[ Parent ]
Collecting hydrogen/back to fusion (3.00 / 1) (#62)
by Chancellor Martok on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:15:12 AM EST

What about collecting hydrogen just from interstellar space? It's sure floating around out there... though I guess not dense enough for intensive "mining".

Hmmm... on the whole, I don't really see any other choice other than concentrating on developing fusion. Certainly, enough concerns are being raised here right now about hydrogen-based alternatives.

It really comes down to of all the alternatives we've come up with... energy density is always the biggest problem. Again, fusion?

-----
Chancellor Martok  in Sydney, Australia
"Castrate instead. That can surely rehabilitate. I did it volunatrily, and my grades went up!"  -- Sen

[ Parent ]
Bussard Collectors (4.00 / 1) (#66)
by kuran42 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:32:34 AM EST

There's an interstellar engine designed on the concept of collecting free hydrogen. Unfortunately it is so sparse that you need collectors with tens of square kilometers of area travelling around at significant fractions of the speed of light to collect even the miniscule amount required for hydrogen fusion. It doesn't seem likely that there will be enough available to be worthwhile if we have to rely on exploiting it chemically rather than nuclearly.

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]
cometary H2 (none / 0) (#234)
by valentine9 on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 12:57:19 AM EST

Cool idea, never heard that one.Does sound complicated and probably not economic.

[ Parent ]
Better space-based solar (4.80 / 5) (#16)
by sigwinch on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:22:11 AM EST

Doing that with chemical fuels (hydrogen) would be inefficient: it takes an enormous amount of energy to reach orbit, and it all gets thrown away during deorbit.

A practical space solar system would beam the energy down using microwaves. The source would be a phased array of small microwave sources, which lets you beam the power anywhere you want without aiming the physical antenna, and makes it resilient against failures. The target would be a big antenna farm in some desert. (Or antenna farms in multiple locations: the phased array can send out multiple beams.)

Power density at the ground wouldn't be extremely high, perhaps a couple hundred watts per square meter. You wouldn't want to fly a plane through the beam or walk around in it with a metal pole in each hand, but it's not extremely dangerous. Ground crews would need simple shielded outfits and special training.

It's doable with current technology, and would perform quite well. I do, however, have some concerns about the vulnerability of the solar collectors to military attacks. It would really suck to get 90% of your power from satellites and then have them taken out with a single EMP-optimized nuke.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

Cool (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by rusty on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:44:58 AM EST

For some reason it sounds implausible that you could just "beam" energy somewhere else. But that, of course, is stupid, since it's perfectly plausible and we do it all the time.

I do, however, have some concerns about the vulnerability of the solar collectors to military attacks. It would really suck to get 90% of your power from satellites and then have them taken out with a single EMP-optimized nuke.

Wrap the whole thing in a Faraday cage? Equip them with laser anti-missile defenses? Maybe NMD will turn out to have some useful application after all. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Solar satellite defense (5.00 / 4) (#41)
by sigwinch on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:59:27 AM EST

Wrap the whole thing in a Faraday cage?
There's the rub. It has to be transparent to radiation of the frequency being used to transmit power. Ground-based systems will always be able to zap the space system with microwaves. Certainly you can defend against some guy with a hacked up microwave oven, but whether you can defend against a pulsed source that uses giant capacitor banks is not obvious to me.

Oh, and there's a problem with gamma ray bursts taking the satellites offline for several seconds, or perhaps even a couple of minutes, at a time. There's no way to defend against them, or even predict them, so the distribution systems on the ground just have to live with it. Stuff like lights and air conditioners doesn't care much, but computers would need UPSes, and some industrial motors (e.g., grinders) get very pissy about losing even a couple of cycles of AC power. Ultra-high-speed flywheel and superconductive UPSes would probably be growth industries. (Both can store a fair amount of energy in a small volume, and give it back on very short notice.)

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

EMP (5.00 / 1) (#160)
by physicsgod on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:19:03 PM EST

Is only a danger if you set of a nuke near large amounts of matter, since the pulse is a result of rapid ionization and de-ionization. If you put your power sattelite somewhere far from earth, say L1, the sattelite would be safe from anything happening on earth. The collectors on the other hand would experience a rather large current spike, which could fry the system if it can't handle it. If it can handle it you'd just get a large amount of energy, which is almost a good thing.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Oceans are more interesting than space. (4.00 / 2) (#75)
by Ward57 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:59:56 AM EST

Oceanic plates are an average of seven miles thick. Continental plates are an average of twenty miles thick, and are only thin enough to use geothermal power in a few places. There is a very large oceanic land area suitable for geothermal power - probably enough for the entire world for as long as we wish. Plus vast quantaties of exotic mineral types, uncommen metals which exist on the ocean floor, available to any nation which devolopes the capacity to work on the ocean floor. This does, however, require operating at great depth - several miles.

[ Parent ]
ship in the water... (4.00 / 2) (#144)
by univgeek on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 05:34:20 PM EST

I think the best way would be to ship in the water from the asteroid belt, or saturn. Use nuclear fuel for heating the water to propel the ship.

Break the water down to H2 at a space station near earth, then ship the H2 to earth. That way we dont need to get out of the gravity well each time. And not to many people are going to object to using nuclear power in space I guess.

For the original inspiration for this post, read The Martian Way by Isaac Asimov.
Arguing with an Electrical Engineer is liking wrestling with a pig in mud, after a while you realise the pig is enjoying it!
[ Parent ]

Coolness not always efficient (3.00 / 1) (#147)
by fhotg on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 06:08:25 PM EST

But is there anything fundamental that rules it out as a possibility?
Just the likelihood that before you are able to tackle the engineering and logistical problems of that scheme, you already have covered half the Sahara with solar chimney plants to charge the cells and don't need the space thingy anymore.

[ Parent ]
littering the Sahara (none / 0) (#231)
by valentine9 on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 12:32:20 AM EST

The plan you rebut is economically infeasible, however, the best place to put solar cells is probably not the Sahara if you want to power our civilization.

Solar energy flux is on average about eight times greater in high earth orbit than it is in the Sahara and is available 24/7 unlike sunlight in the Sahara or anywhere else on earth. A further disadvantage is the necessity to invest in an energy storage system to provide power for nights and storms.

Other things being equal (of course, they are not, the most egregious being the cost of space transportation)a terrestrial solar power installation would be about ten times more costly (NOT including land use cost) than an installation in the Sahara producing an equal amount of power.

Transmission loss from high orbit with present technology is a bit over ten per cent but, on the other hand, the receiving antenna on the earth can be located close to the demand avoiding a similar fraction of powerline loss.

Free space is a benign environment for many classes of machine and solar conversion technologies are one of those.The Sahara is by no means benign, with dust and daily thermal cycling.

When space transportation matures, for these fundamental physical reasons, satellite solar power will likely be the economical choice for clean fully renewable energy.

[ Parent ]
Do space elevators generate power.. (3.20 / 5) (#7)
by Weezul on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:53:22 AM EST

..or is that only things in non-geosyncronous orbits that can generate power by hanging out a long cord?

Anyway, I'm not satisfied with your analysis of the oil companies' ability to get oil out of "dry" fields.. at higher cost. Indeed, there was this article claiming that ANWR was not economically viable as an oil reserve until the middle east was further depleated. (It was a bit wacky and basically claimed that the teamsters and anti-enviroment republicans push the ANWR drilling legislation.) I've never heard anyone claim besides you that these field suddely drop from practical to useless. Plus, you could always drive the oil pumps with solar and wind to get high energy densety oil, even if it costs 6 mil BTUs to get the oil out of the ground. I don't think anyone would be driving cars, but critical activities (jets, making plastics) could continue.

Finally, dosn't nuclear satisfy your high energy density requirments? You can run all the boats (and even planes and space ships?) on nuclear power, it is just increadibly expencive (and it makes school children in Nevada glow in the dark). Wind, solar, and hydro electric can handle everything on the ground. We could even switch to electric cars (with less range).

You are correct that we could screw ourselves over by not taking switching steps now, but you'd really need to address the steps we are taking now to say anything meaningful about that.

Jeff

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini
Cords (4.00 / 2) (#13)
by marx on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:14:28 AM EST

or is that only things in non-geosyncronous orbits that can generate power by hanging out a long cord?

I don't think this works. I was never very good at electromagnetics, but I remember that if you move a current-carrying wire through a magnetic field, the field applies a force on the wire. So what you would do is produce a current, but this current would produce a breaking force on your wire, presumably equal to the energy you're getting.

I think there's a company called Tethers which are using this as a clean self-destruct mechanism for satellites (they roll out a cable and fall down and burn up).

Join me in the War on Torture: help eradicate torture from the world by holding torturers accountable.
[ Parent ]

Hmm (3.00 / 1) (#26)
by Weezul on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:07:21 AM EST

I don't know if the breaking force is that importent. The wire needs to be incredibly strong anyway. The real problem would be that your most likely not moving through the magnetic field if your in geosyncronous orbit. You never know though, you might be getting some mild magentic effects off the moon. It would be seriously cool to get electricity from the orbit of the moon. Regardless, you could always pipe down solar power.

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini
[ Parent ]
Break / brake (3.00 / 1) (#29)
by marx on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:26:44 AM EST

I meant break as in "halt". If you induce a current through a cord hanging down from a satellite, the satellite will slow down and eventually fall down.

Maybe it would work with the moon, since the force would be insignificant. I don't know if the field is strong enough up there though.

Join me in the War on Torture: help eradicate torture from the world by holding torturers accountable.
[ Parent ]

Re: Space Elevators (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by Maxlex on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:25:58 AM EST

The problem with generating energy this way is that theres no such thing as free energy. In this particular case, the energy is taken from the orbital velocity of the satellite/elevator.

[ Parent ]
Yes and no (4.00 / 1) (#39)
by Weezul on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:49:20 AM EST

Yes, that is how it works with satilights which are moving. Your space elevator is most likely not moving realitive to the earth's magnetic field, so any energy it generates is comming from movement of the earth's magnetic field realitive to the earth, the moon, the orbit of the earth arround the sun, etc. Regardless, you can just hang your top floor outside of geosyncronous orbit and have a constant force maintaining the elevator's orbit. The end result is that you are taking power from the rotation of the earth (or perhaps the movement of the moon or orbit of the earth).

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini
[ Parent ]
I'm sure we can see where that one's going... (3.00 / 1) (#63)
by Chancellor Martok on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:22:26 AM EST

What a lovely scenario that would be! In our literal power-hungriness, we destroy civilisation as we know it by stopping Earth from moving, or deorbiting it or something... hah! :P

So much for global warming already having slowed Earth's rotation (albeit by less than the tiniest little bit).

-----
Chancellor Martok  in Sydney, Australia
"Castrate instead. That can surely rehabilitate. I did it volunatrily, and my grades went up!"  -- Sen

[ Parent ]
The many meanings of cost (4.66 / 3) (#70)
by kuran42 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:46:04 AM EST

You make a good point and, in fact, oil fields can continue to operate at an economic profit even after the are operating at an energy loss. This is unfortunate because its net effect is lost total energy if you are running your operation on other fossil fuels, but using solar or wind power instead sounds like quite a good idea. Solar power should be plentiful at most oil fields anyway, and would let us trade the lower energy-density of solar energy for the higher energy-density of oil without wasting existing fossil fuels. I'm not aware that any fields are currently practicing this, but I wouldn't be surprised if they began to as prices started to rise.

As far as raw electricity goes, nuclear power seems to be the best short term solution, but it doesn't have all the secondary applications that petrochemicals do, so it is a partial solution at best.

Perhaps I will work on a follow-up submission detailing more of the specific effects of the coming decline and the specific solutions we might take (I considered including the information with this story but decided it would end up too long).

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Nuclear is.. (3.00 / 3) (#104)
by Weezul on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:15:07 PM EST

..incredibly expencive. The only reason it's viable at all is that the federal gov. has basically promissed to take care of the waist (at no cost) and provides massive additional subsadies. Nuclear is a good choice for things which need to be small and powerful, like boats and planes, but I'm not shure it's a good idea for civilian power.. not when wind is currently compeditive with the more expencive fossil fuels. Plus, wind (and solar) take full advantage of our skill with mass production. Nuclear dose not.

As a side note, making solar cells is simillar to a photographic process, like making microships. We could see a 20 year period of time where the cost per unit output of solar cells cuts in half every 18 months, like microchips. If this happens, there is simply nothing remotely compeditive with solar for general purpose uses (solar is curently only 6 times more expencive then nuclear, even with nuclears massive subsadies, that's possibly as little as three years of full speed improvments to solar technology).

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini
[ Parent ]
Eyes bleeding (4.50 / 2) (#136)
by scanman on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:52:15 PM EST

PLEASE learn to spell!

"[You are] a narrow-minded moron [and] a complete loser." - David Quartz
"scanman: The moron." - ucblockhead
"I prefer the term 'lifeskills impaired'" - Inoshiro

[ Parent ]

and also (3.00 / 1) (#146)
by fhotg on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 05:56:21 PM EST

I'd like to point out, that photovoltaic is not the only and not everwhere and all the time the best way to use solar power. Just to counter those who dismiss solar power completely by pointing out the deficencies of current solar-cell technology.

[ Parent ]
Nuclear is... (5.00 / 1) (#200)
by ka9dgx on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:03:06 PM EST

Incredibly overregulated. The US government has cut off the nuclear industry at the kneecaps. They insisted on radically changing the business model of things, and now are surprised that the game is falling apart.

The premise (and promise) of cheap atomic power(too cheap to meter? nahhhh), was based on a closed fuel cycle. You use your fuel, then recycle it, and use it again. The plants and everything out there was designed to last 30-40 years, then be replaced by better technology. That 30-40 years ran out at least 10 years ago.

What we need is to put the fuel cycle back the way it was intended, by building reprocessing facilities, and keeping good track of all the fuel in play. Computers and the technology to do the job are there, it's just a matter of the will to get it done.

Think I'm full of it?... Consider the idea of using pebble bed reactors, with a unique barcode on each and every pebble. You can use as much redundnacy as you want to make sure you don't loose a pebble. It's an atomic component (that is, one piece, indivisible (except by accident)) that can be tracked, and can't be taken out in fractions.

The reprocessing facilities could be run by the US government, DOE, if they feel it's necessary. All we need then are some good auditors, and we're in business.

--Mike--

[ Parent ]

fuel cycle (none / 0) (#219)
by Weezul on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 07:06:05 PM EST

How dose the reprocessing work? I assume you do still get some waist. Disposal will still never be cost effective, unless the gov. gives you free disposal.

I think they should be using breeder reactors anyway. They just might need the millitary, CIA, or FBI to approve all owners and emploies.

Anyway, the citizens simply would not allow nuclear power without significant regulation. You see how much fight people put up to keep nukes out of their back yeard today. You can not imagine how bad it would be if a few more had gone ka-boom (or if people seriously though they might go ka-boom). Many european nations are ditching them (Chernobal memories perhaps?).

I don't think it's really a bad thing to see nuclear go. We should concerve the nuclear fuel for more importent things (subs, space ships, etc.). Solar can provide all the energy us citydwellers need at a fraction of the cost.. once we get the mass production up and running.

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini
[ Parent ]
Power from space elevators (none / 0) (#161)
by physicsgod on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:33:42 PM EST

Step 1: Grab something heavy from space.
Step 2: Put big F&#$ing magnetic brakes on the thing. (this is of critical importance, omission of this step may result in injury or death)
Step 3: Give it a bit of a push.
Step 4: Bleed energy off to run cappucino machine.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Misrepresenting Simon's argument (4.40 / 10) (#9)
by whojgalt on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:55:41 AM EST

Julian Simon did not argue that the supply of oil is indefinite, or that demand determines the amount of oil. It is true that he argues that increased demand for oil will result in increased utilization of marginal sources to some extent. But his main argument is that energy as a whole is effectively unlimited for the forseeable future. He argues that increased demand for energy, as well as other resources will result in increased use of resources not now used, and more efficient use of the ones that are. This includes the use of the alternative sources that you mention, as well as many thay you don't

A main thrust of his argument is that increased population will enable an increasing rate of innovation (and increasing economies of scale) such that the availability of energy and other resources will increase, not decrease as population rises.

Your point that all expoitation of resources requires energy is well taken, but the total amount of energy potentially available to us is nearly limitless - unless you artificially narrow the context to include only fossil fuels.

Furthermore, his well known challenge is not based on the amount of oil, or any other resource, but the price. He predicted, correctly so far, that the price of a basket of commodities will continue falling in the long term, despite fluctuations in the price of the individual components. This is because even as some resource becomes more scarce, its price may still fall, and is very unlikely to rise sharply (and stay there for long), due to the shifting of demand to other resources that fulfill the same need.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.

Other resources that fulfill the same need (4.75 / 4) (#20)
by rusty on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:33:01 AM EST

I think the main reason to dismiss the "economist's argument" in this context is that the gist of the article is that we should be investigating alternative energy sources before it becomes a crisis, and here are some alternatives we know about. Simon's argument encapsulates what we're doing in the "increasing rate of innovation" part, so is more or less outside the scope of the article. That is, the article is concerned with what the actual alternatives will turn out to be, while Simon assumes they will be found "by someone" as part of a larger economic theory.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Oil isn't like other commodities (5.00 / 7) (#36)
by cyberformer on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:15:21 AM EST

The rate of economic growth varies inversely proportional to the price of oil. Every large recession (including the one that's just coming to an end) has been sparked by a period of high oil prices, whereas the "new economy" was really just a period of sustained low oil prices. So as oil runs out and increases in price, the economy will move into permanent depression. It is, of course, more difficult to invest in new technology during a recession, which is why we need to do it now.

A permanent recession leads to deflation, which could have the perverse effect of keeping the dollar value of oil down near the current level (though its value relative to everything else will go up).

[ Parent ]

Oil as a commodity, and alternatives (4.50 / 2) (#52)
by euangray on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 07:27:14 AM EST

Wouldn't it be more accurate and meaningful to say that the rate of growth varies inversely as the price of energy, not just oil?

Anyway, alternatives:

One can synthesize oil from coal (used in Germany in WW2 and in South Africa during the apartheid era). There are vast coal reserves throughout the world.

Hydrogen is a bit of a problem, and no-one seems to have picked this up here. You need to create the hydrogen in the first place before you can use it. This is most commonly done by electrolysis of sea water or by decomposing methane. However, it takes a chunk of energy. Hydrogen for mobile fuel cells doesn't seem to practical right now - there is no infrastructure for the large-scale manufacture and distribution of the material. Anyway, if you're planning on using electroysis, it might be more efficient just to transmit the electricity and use it directly in batteries.



[ Parent ]
Efficiency (4.66 / 3) (#73)
by kuran42 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:55:14 AM EST

Coal comes attached with the fact that most people who mine it like to employ strip-mining techniques. Some people may not consider this a problem, others do. It is also lower energy-density than oil, and even more energy is lost in converting it to high-density liquid fuels, though not much. This results in an increased energy cost, but seems like it should be viable from a technical standpoint.

As it turns out, once you have an infrastructure in place it is more efficient (less energy loss) to pump hydrogen around than it is to use the current method of transmiting electricity over power lines. There are also some interesting applications of nano-tubes (Wow, they're useful, aren't they?) as hydrogen batteries. I believe the numbers quoted in one of the footnote links was 7% hydrogen storage by weight using nanotubes, and since nanotubes themselves are quite light, this is an impressive figure.

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Mining (none / 0) (#175)
by euangray on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 03:14:18 AM EST

The mining process used for coal extraction (or for any other mineral) depends on the location and nature of the deposits, not on perceived commercial greed.

Strip mining is used where coal beds are found near the surface - it isn't practical to dig what most people consider to be a "conventional" mine for this type of deposit. Strip mining is in this case efficient and simple.

However, many coal beds are hundreds of feet underground, and strip mining isn't practical for exploitation of these reserves. This is where the deep mine is used.

Strip mining will generally result in cheaper extraction, and so is going to be favoured. It requires less specialised labour, is safer, and is cheaper to operate. However, it only works for appropriate deposits.

Given that coal has become very expensive due largely to feather-bedding industrial practices on the part of the miners (at least in the west) and given also that oil is cheaper overall, it is not surprising that strip mining is favoured over deep mining these days.

Coal-to-oil production is certainly technically possible and as previously noted was used extensively by Nazi Germany and South Africa when supplies of oil were hard to come by. There is much expertise on the subject in South Africa, I understand. It is of course less efficient than just using oil, but the point is that large reserves of liquid fuel alternatives to crude oil exist in potentia.

However, it might be more sensible to use pulverised coal directly to drive gas turbines for power generation. Again, this depends on the economics of it all - it is technically feasible, has been tried several times (even for railway locomotives), but is more expensive than using oil or natural gas. If the relative price of coal falls significantly in the future, this might be more attractive.

Going back to hydrogen, it is the case that is requires less energy to pump hydrogen gas through pipelines than it does to transmit electricity over power cables. However, the pumping and pipeline infrastructure is not yet there, and depends on a pretty enormous investment being made. Given time, and there would be time, this could of course be done.

Nevertheless, we are still faced with difficulties when deciding where to use hydrogen and in what way. Direct combustion to generate electricity either in a gas turbine or boiler is likely to yield less energy than required to create the hydrogen in the first place. In such a case, it really would be more sensible just to transmit the electricity in the first place.

Using hydrogen in fusion reactors is the only practical way to get more energy out than you're putting in in the first place. However, the technology is not quite there yet and may not be for some time.

Fuel cells are another matter, and again there are hideous efficiency losses when looking at the whole cycle. The storage of hydrogen in cars, trucks, etc. needs to be worked on because at the moment it isn't that good. Also, it's fine in brand new vehicles, but what happens when the car (and its fuel system) are ten years old and poorly maintained?

FWIW, my idea for the medium term future is increased reliance on fission nuclear power and increased use of electric power for transportation. At the same time, a large scale program of investment in R&D for alternatives needs to be undertaken. Fission power is safe and clean enough if responsibly carried out, but probably isn't good enough for long term use. I think the use of breeder (plutonium) reactors should be re-investigated. I believe British breeder reactor has now been shut down, but I think there is potential in this process as it essentially means that long term fuel supply is not an issue.



[ Parent ]
A few things... (5.00 / 1) (#187)
by kuran42 on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 10:18:37 AM EST

You open by saying that coal mining techniques are not dictated by "perceived commercial greed", but go on to say that strip mining is prefered and used whenever it is cheaper. Which is it? If you've ever been to West Virginia, you know there are other costs associated with strip mining, like the fact that the land is almost completely worthless afterwards due to its sheer uglyness. Perhaps this cost should be considered when selling/granting mining rights?

Could you clarify your point about aging hydrogen fuel systems? It sounds like you're saying they would become dangerous? If this is the case, I disagree. Solid-state hydrogen storage is no more dangerous than the lead-acid battery in your current car. Unlike with gasoline storage, there is no chance for a leak or an impressive explosion (This will be much to Hollywood's dismay if hydrogen is ever adopted for cars). The worst that could happen is, if you are in an accident and somehow the car manages to catch fire - perhaps from the gasoline in another car you collide with - the hydrogen fuel cells will be heated and slowly release their contents, adding more fuel to the fire at a slow controlled rate that would be insignificant compared to the rapid combustion of the gasoline fumes that started the fire in the first place.

I tend to agree with your choice for the future. Fission is proven and capable of high outputs. France, I believe, still maintains two breeder reactors, and other countries should follow their lead. With research into and development of alternative energy sources, we can easily be prepared for any future energy crisis.

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Mines and Gas (5.00 / 1) (#192)
by euangray on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 11:12:29 AM EST

Generally speaking, the decision about what type of mining operation to conduct is forced by the location and nature of the deposit. I don't think there are too many coal deposits which could be mined just as successfully by deep mining as they could be strip mining. So, basically if you have deep-down beds you build a deep mine because there is too much cover material to make strip mining practical, and if you have shallow beds it is a lot easier, quicker and safer to strip away the small covering material.

Because the market price of coal means that deep mining is in many areas simply uneconomic, strip mines tend to have an advantage - they are cheaper and safer to operate. Therefore, since the market will not bear the cost of deep mined coal, strip mined (cheaper) coal will sell more readily. This is not a conscious choice made by the mine company, but it is a choice forced upon them by the markets.

I would add, from a British perspective, that it is largely organised labour that has forced this choice. Restrictive working practices and feather bedding were so common here (and AFAIK are in the US too) that it was cheaper to import coal from Australia than to buy British coal. Eventually this problem was resolved by the suicidal miners' strike in 1983(?), at the end of which the British coal industry was effectively destroyed by the harsh realities of the market.

It is true that stip mining pretty much destroys the landscape. It is, of course, possible to compel strip miners to restore the landscape to a reasonable standard after they have worked the deposits, and this is becoming more common. Of course, there is a cost for that, and it is reflected in dearer coal. AFAIK it doesn't make strip mined coal more expensive than deep mined, though.

I'd take issue with the idea that the land is worthless because it is ugly. Give it a few decades being left alone and you wouldn't recognise it as being a mined area. Bear in mind also that much of the "pretty" landscape around us is fundamentally unnatural - it is the product of many years of more or less intensive agriculture and other earth-moving activities. Having said that, strip mining destroys the soil, and it takes time to recover. But it will recover. Life is pretty persistent, and it will soon take over the land again, however poor it may be to start with.

I'm really not sure about the safety of hydrogen for road transport. Really you need a reasonable quantity of it, and with current practical production technology it's hard to see safe storage being implemented at anything like a reasonable cost. Like it or not, the market drives these things and if people will not pay whopping surcharges for safe storage it just isn't going to happen. OTOH, given a bit of time and research, I think it will in due course be quite safe. Frankly, I think there are better and more efficient alternatives, but that's another matter.

Actually, the explosion of all of the hydrogen in a car tank would probably be a lot less harmful than the explosion of a gas(oline) tank of fuel. The hydrogen would burn off in a very few seconds, but the gasoline would last a lot longer and cause more damage. However, you need to sell the idea to the intensely conservative auto industry and to the people as a whole.



[ Parent ]
I have a friend (5.00 / 4) (#86)
by acronos on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:00:11 AM EST

who's stepfather is a physicist. He is successfully working on a filter for hydrogen. It allows you to take water or gas that has free-floating hydrogen in it and get pure hydrogen on the other side of the filter. If this can be done cost effectively, and he tells me it can, then it has significant implications on what you are saying because it offers an alternative to electrolysis for getting hydrogen.

[ Parent ]
Hydrogen Production and Distribution (none / 0) (#172)
by euangray on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 02:49:14 AM EST

How much free hydrogen is there in sea water (the practical source, forget rivers)? How much in freely available gas such as the atmosphere (ans. - v. little)?

Supposing filtration can in itself be cost effective, you'd still need to find or create the source fluid, which might introduce further energy consumption and/or require the use of other finite resources.

Even if all that can be done, the biggest single obstacle to large scale hydrogen consumption remains - there is no transport or storage/distribution system. Given that, sure hydrogen can be a useful fuel, but it needs a huge investment first.



[ Parent ]
All True (NT) (none / 0) (#194)
by acronos on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 11:48:59 AM EST



[ Parent ]
Just a brief note (4.42 / 19) (#10)
by coryking on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:04:55 AM EST

When an economist tells you that we will have an infinite supply of oil, what they are saying is that the price will rise so asymptotically high the value placed on that last drop of oil will be higher then anybody is willing to pay.

They are correct in their assertion. As the supply of oil weans, the price of oil goes up - it's simple supply & demand. Hence in a twisted way, you get an "infinite supply". In no way would an economist tell you that we will be driving our SUV's around forever using our magic everlasting oil supply; that claim would be absurd. When the day comes, nobody will be using oil - the price on the remaining stock will be so incredibly high that it will not get used.

Gah (3.00 / 8) (#25)
by Estanislao Mart韓ez on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:00:00 AM EST

When using a model to predict phenomena, it is important to understand under what conditions the model applies, and crucially what aspects of the domain have been idealized away.

When an economist tells you that we will have an infinite supply of oil, what they are saying is that the price will rise so asymptotically high the value placed on that last drop of oil will be higher then anybody is willing to pay.

Yeah. So says the model, which according to some economist friends I have who I consider sane (for an economist), make many useful predictions in everyday life. But, this is a limit situation.

They are correct in their assertion. As the supply of oil weans, the price of oil goes up - it's simple supply & demand.

How can you tell whether the prediction is correct unless you actually observe the oil market when the last extractable drop of oil in the plantet gets put on sale? You are supporting the prediction made by the theory with the observation that the theory does indeed predict that. Duh.

When the day comes, nobody will be using oil - the price on the remaining stock will be so incredibly high that it will not get used.

Gee, wouldn't then its demand go down, and thus the price?

In any case, no matter how high the demand is, and the ability in theory to command an unbounded amount of money from the last drop of oil, in the end of the day the seller will simply take the offer judged to be the best.

--em
[ Parent ]

Actually... (1.60 / 5) (#35)
by gnovos on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:05:12 AM EST

In any case, no matter how high the demand is, and the ability in theory to command an unbounded amount of money from the last drop of oil, in the end of the day the seller will simply take the offer judged to be the best.

Actually, I'm pretty sure somone would just put a bullet in the sellers head and use the last drop of oil to power the getaway car.

A Haiku: "fuck you fuck you fuck/you fuck you fuck you fuck you/fuck you fuck you snow" - JChen
[ Parent ]

Right on, aside from the electricity bit (4.61 / 13) (#12)
by 90X Double Side on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:12:10 AM EST

I agree wholeheartedly with most of this article (and applaud the time put into it to raise awareness on the oil crisis), but I don't understand the part about being out of electricity. Oil accounts for a small amount of the power generated in the U.S. (mainly in dual-fired plants which run off natural gas and petroleum), with about 56% of our energy coming from coal1, which has horrible environmental impacts, but which we have a 965-1,125 year supply of2.

On the other hand, the loss of oil will decimate the transportation industry, and you cannot downplay the fact that 39% of the world's power comes from oil3, and oil is the first fossil fuel we will run out of, and hopefully the only one we will run out of during my lifetime (the next significant fuel will be natural gas, which we have 205-325 years of4).

This is why there is so much excitement about fuel cells; they will let us continue to use massive amounts of energy portably for transportation, but as kuran42 pointed out, they are essentially batteries, and so will need to get their energy from sources other than oil. To fill that 39% gap, we will be forced to look to some alternative fuels, lest we feel the impact of the negative effects of using drastically more coal or nuclear power, or deplete our natural gas reserves at an incredible rate (and natural gas is already considered an expensive fuel; that kind of increased demand won't help). The one thing that seems inevitable is some degree of higher energy prices, but this may help encourage conservation. If it no longer takes people a year to recover the cost of compact florescent bulbs they might start using them more; if (before we economically deplete oil) gas costs rise above $2/gal., people might really consider getting a 30+MPG compact car, or a 60+MPG hybrid instead of that SUV, and so forth.

The most important thing is to develop efficient and economical alternative energy sources now, and start considering all these issues now, lest this become an unpleasant surprise which could easily cause an worldwide crisis.

[1]Roger A. Hinrichs and Merlin Kleinbach, Energy: Its Use and the Environment (Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers, 2002) p. 319
[2]G. Tyler Miller, Jr., Living in the Environment (Belmont: Brooks/Cole, 2002) p. 343
[3]Roger A. Hinrichs and Merlin Kleinbach p. 9
[4]G. Tyler Miller, Jr. p. 340


“Reality is just a convenient measure of complexity”
—Alvy Ray Smith

Doomsday (3.33 / 6) (#15)
by whatwasthatagain on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:20:49 AM EST

A little peek at science fiction. What will doomsday really be like?

One of the best accounts that I have read Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov. It's about a planet that never sees night because of the many suns in its vicinity. Well, almost. Asimov's work is a magnificient description of the reaction of the planet's denizens to the onset of darkness.

Earth, I guess, will be spared the misfortune, as the change is expected to be gradual, giving life forms time to adapt.

--

With profound apologies to whomsoever this sig originally belonged.

Agree with you there... (3.00 / 1) (#64)
by Chancellor Martok on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:26:31 AM EST

Yes, Asimov's <i>Nightfall</i> really is a great book... rather interesting thata 3-day solar eclipse or something (not that it'll happen) and see what happens to humanity might be cool (or doomsday, either way).

-----
Chancellor Martok  in Sydney, Australia
"Castrate instead. That can surely rehabilitate. I did it volunatrily, and my grades went up!"  -- Sen

[ Parent ]
OTEC as an alternative energy source (4.41 / 12) (#17)
by Patrick Bateman 10005 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:24:14 AM EST

Open-cycle Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion is a process that (in tropical climates) can be used to generate electricity by pumping cold water up from the deep and using the temperature difference with the warm surface water to drive a turbine.

Environmental consequences? (4.20 / 5) (#81)
by HoserHead on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:40:46 AM EST

If there's one thing that we should learn from history, it's that our actions always have consequences beyond that which we initially forsee.

Cooling the warm upper layers of the sea in the Carribean will have enormous consequences for the biome there. For anyone who's ever kept a finicky fish, you know that the slightest change in temperature can cause it to become ill or even die. Now imagine several hundred thousand fish dying of the same causes. It'd be a catastrophe.

As well, one has to consider the weather in these conditions. El Nino has taught those of us in North America that the warming and cooling of the sea can cause effects beyond what one would expect.

Bottom line is that we can't just muck about in the sea like this without first doing some very serious science. Not doing so could be suicide.

[ Parent ]

The positive side of OTECs (4.77 / 9) (#99)
by dennis on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:51:06 AM EST

Local environmental damage isn't really an issue if you put your OTEC in the right spot. The surface layers of the open sea are pretty much devoid of life - when things die, they just sink to the bottom, leaving nothing to sustain an ecosystem at the surface. You get good fishing in areas where there's a natural upwelling of deep water, effectively fertilizing the surface. An OTEC would do this artificially.

This is the key to a nifty idea described in Marshall Savage's The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps. The OTEC gives you floatation (it has a big low-pressure chamber), energy, distilled water, and the basis for aquaculture...all the basics you need for a self-sufficient colony, with surplus to trade. Build more colonies from the profit (he proposes a way to build cheaply), and before long we could get a lot of living space, energy, and food from areas of the planet that are currently unused, by us or any other species, for anything but transportation.

Do enough of these and maybe we'd alter weather patterns a bit, but probably not near as much as we do by pumping carbon into the atmosphere.

[ Parent ]

OTEC Environmental Consequences (4.66 / 6) (#113)
by Wildgoose on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:44:41 PM EST

AFAIK, the main "pollutant" is fresh water. (Only the surface layer of the oceans is saline, the water at great depths/pressure isn't).

Another bonus would likely be an increase in fish, as nutrients would also be raised. Most of the world's fishing grounds are in either relatively shallow waters like the North Sea, or in areas of natural upswellings.

Fresh water and fish. I can live with those consequences.

Oh, btw, from what I remember a Frenchman built a Ocean Thermal device in the Carribean in the 1930s that worked without problems for about two years. I am confident we can do better than that with our modern technology.

[ Parent ]

OTEC (none / 0) (#235)
by valentine9 on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 01:11:35 AM EST

Deep water is just as saline as surface. Think of the density of a thick salt solution and you'll realize why this must be so.

OTEC requires large thin walled heat exchangers. Any increase in their thickness or reduction in thermal conductivity and your whole system is buggered.The problem is that every solid surface immersed in the ocean gets coated rather rapidly with a biological slime that does both.It's a tough problem, no one's knocked it yet.

[ Parent ]
Millenial project (none / 0) (#176)
by auraslip on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 05:10:15 AM EST

That book rocked hard.
I used to dream about becoming a millionaire and doing it. or at least convincing bill gates to do it. I mean, with his money? conqure the stars? why not.

I strongly suggest any person who considers themselves an enviormentilist(sp) or spacist(new word) to read that book...although I don't know where you can get it.
search google for information about it.
124
[ Parent ]
hydroelectric plants (3.50 / 10) (#19)
by Rainy on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:31:34 AM EST

Didn't you forget those? The river ones are dangerous, but tidal are supposedly not.

There are a few things that make me think it's not really a big deal:

  • We don't have to spend this much energy. If energy gets expensive, we can stop using cars, make far more efficient home appliances, stop using light, use more dried food instead of refrigerated, etc. The doomsday scenario assumes that energy will run out quickly, and we know that's simply not true. If we find out that in 10 years there'll be no energy, in 10 years we'll be ready.
  • Alternative sources weren't researched intensively because there's lots of oil and it's pretty cheap. If oil runs out, you'll see thousand times more resources poured into alternatives research. Again, it's gonna happen over a prolonged period of time.

To sum up, there are more dangerous things to worry about: asteroids, rogue states using nukes, nuke plants blowing up, bio warfare, ai warfare, aliens, dark shadows at night, mean people, assholes, political manipulators, privacy violations, etc etc. As far as our problems go, energy is relatively mild. If it happens, it'll happen very slowly, we have numerous ways of dealing with it, some of them could fail us but others, though somewhat uncomfortable (ie getting rid of cars) are certain to work.
--
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day

Come on k5 (4.00 / 2) (#44)
by Sanityman on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 05:39:14 AM EST

If oil runs out, you'll see thousand times more resources poured into alternatives research
Get your conspiracy theories out for the lads - I disappointed no-one's come out with incontovertible proof that the oil companies are blocking research into alternative energy sources.

Seriously, if you were the CEO of an oil company looking to maximise shareholder value, what would you do? US law has a great set of tools for anyone looking to abuse 'intellectual property' to restrict the spread of information.

There is a clear conflict of interest between the capitalist 'ethic' and the environment here. Unfortunately, these same capitalists are the ones dictating US energy policy.

Sanityman



--
If you don't see the fnords, they can't eat you.
"You can't spray cheese whiz™ on the body of Christ!"


[ Parent ]
I've got one. (4.50 / 4) (#59)
by priestess on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 08:49:57 AM EST

But you've probably already heard at least most of the story. You see there is something that could replace a great deal of our oil usage already, and it's environmentally friendly and cheep and even produces many different kind of intoxicating chemicals but, obviously, it's illegal. Bugger. Why is it illegal? Depends on who you listen to, probably because making it illegal makes money for powerful people, but possibly just as an excuse to limit freedom and increase government power. Possibly even because people take a moral stand against cheep easy fun. Definately not for the stated 'health' reasons though.

Still, if we're going to stop cutting down trees and using fossil fuels, it's a good option but they'll never let you do it. Not even to save the world? "No, not even to save the world. It's illegal. You can't use it. Period."

Oh well.

              Pre........
----
My Mobile Phone Comic-books business
Robots!
[ Parent ]
Actually no (3.00 / 1) (#112)
by Sanityman on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:39:11 PM EST

The last time I really touched on this theory was in Illuminatus!, and I was never quite sure what to believe in that book :o)

Thanks for the link. One think I am curious about - given the "political resitance" to using hemp, is there no other biomass plant that would fit the bill? Euphorbia springs to mind (discussed in the 80s)...

Sanityman



--
If you don't see the fnords, they can't eat you.
"You can't spray cheese whiz™ on the body of Christ!"


[ Parent ]
Biomass (5.00 / 2) (#120)
by priestess on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:07:33 PM EST

The nearest rivals to Hemp for use as a Biomass fuel are Corn and Sugar basically. Cornell University did a study in 1983 which compared their efficency to Hemp and the Hemp plant came out at least four times richer in biomass potential. Apparently. The source on that is the same Jack Herer book above.

You can also plant Hemp after the normal harvest and still get a good spurt of growth from it then cut it all down and burn it for fuel, essentially. That protects the fields from (other) weeds during the autumn and drops lots of nurishing leaves on the soil and protects against erosion too, plus we get all the hempseed oil we need to run our cars.

The last link in my post above is the one that offends me most. The government officials who agree it's a plan that could practically save the world then refuse to even propose or forward it because they'd lose their jobs to the drug war. It's do damn depressing.

        Pre.................
----
My Mobile Phone Comic-books business
Robots!
[ Parent ]
No, they would be doing the research. (4.50 / 4) (#61)
by binaryalchemy on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:07:38 AM EST

If they believe oil will run out in the near future then they would need to diversify their business. Alternative energy sources would be a logical conclusion, although they would probably choose something that didn't have the potential to hurt them in the present. Blocking alternative energy would be unnecessary because it does not appear that it will become competitive until they no longer have a source of income (when the oil runs out).

If they block alternative energy and the oil runs out, no one wins. Stockholder and evil CEOs don't like the basis of their business suddenly disappearing.

On the other hand, they are behind the current push to use coal. Rather than more logical alternatives like nuclear power.
------
Defending the GPL from a commercial perspective is like defending the Microsft EULA from a moral perspective. - quartz
[ Parent ]

On the early 80's... (3.80 / 5) (#77)
by kuran42 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:03:47 AM EST

Oil companies did realize that they would need to diversify. They looked at many alternatives and found that none were as profitable as the oil business, so instead of diversifying they dumped lots of money into improving the efficiency of their oil operation. This is one reason I don't buy the economist's argument that as demand increases, technological innovation will improve efficiency and keep supply happily in step. Literally trillions of dollars and thousands of man-years have been poured into efficiency research already. Without a startling new technology, there isn't really anywhere else to go.

While I doubt any oil barons are looking forward to the collapse of civilization, I wouldn't put a lot of faith in their abilities to plan for the future (They've got billions, what do they need to plan for?)

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

That is not an economist's argument (4.40 / 5) (#118)
by acronos on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:57:37 PM EST

This is one reason I don't buy the economist's argument that as demand increases, technological innovation will improve efficiency and keep supply happily in step.

That is not an economist's argument. It is a corruption of an economist's argument. Let me clarify the misconception. Economists say as demand increases or supply decreases the price goes up. This price increase creates greater incentive to try something else. An example of this is seen today - most of the alternative energy sources that we have already developed are not being used because they are more expensive than oil and coal. When these energy sources are cheaper than oil then they will be the preferred source of energy. Alternative fuels will be cheaper than oil when the price of oil goes up or their price comes down. The price of oil will go up when the supply decreases. The world economy will not end on the day we run out of oil. The collapse will plateau at the cost of the alternative fuels.

Economists are not arguing that everything will be completely ok. Our economy is heavily dependant on the price of energy - read oil. As the price goes up, our economy will go into depression. Depression is not a good thing from a human suffering perspective. We would do well to find alternative energy sources that are as cost effective as oil before that happens. I support your article for this reason. But, you are wrong about economists. It is clear from your posts that you do not understand economics. It is also clear that good economics supports your position of encouraging the continued development of cost effective alternative fuels. It just does not support your end of the world scenerio.

[ Parent ]

Doubting Good Economics (4.00 / 3) (#128)
by opendna on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:05:40 PM EST

Kudos on maintaining order re: economics arguments. A little reservation though:

Political economy is much dirtier than mere economics; don't mistake free market models for the corruption of real world power games.

[ Parent ]

Basis for their business (4.00 / 2) (#110)
by Sanityman on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:34:10 PM EST

Firstly, stockholders and Wall Street analyists are concerned with what happens in a 1-year or under time horizon. Companies that fail to perform in this horizon get crucified by analysts, their share price plummets, the CEOs get sacked and they become vulnerable to takeover. The investors demand year-on-year growth, so you'd better perform. The incentive to provide for the long term is subordinate to the incentive to have a job this time next year.

Secondly, oil doesn't run out just like that. The global economy runs on oil like a junkie runs on H. when the stuff gets scarce, the global addiction will still be pushing prices sky-high, which adds up to a huge windfall for your shareholders. Why should they want to fuck that up?

Sanityman



--
If you don't see the fnords, they can't eat you.
"You can't spray cheese whiz™ on the body of Christ!"


[ Parent ]
Nah (5.00 / 1) (#221)
by Rainy on Thu Mar 28, 2002 at 02:02:42 AM EST

Think about R&D. Most of that will only pay off in 5, some - 10 years or more. And yet all major companies do it. They take the money they could have used for expansion or improvement of current products and spend it on R&D. It's a plain fact you can't dispute.
--
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
[ Parent ]
Oil company diversification (5.00 / 1) (#237)
by rthomp1 on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 06:27:23 PM EST

They do look into other fields. Exxon founded one of the three major nuclear fuel suppliers in business today, back in the late 70s...still get a kick out of looking at reports published by Exxon Nuclear Fuels...

[ Parent ]
Asteroids (4.50 / 2) (#98)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:43:22 AM EST

To sum up, there are more dangerous things to worry about: asteroids... I grow so weary of the asteroid theory. Do the math - the likelyhood of an asteroid hitting the earth is so remote as to be the last thing we should worry about. As for the supposed K-T boundary object - I am still very unconvinced that that was the event that caused the K-T extinction. If you look at the species that got the axe, a single catastrophic event just doesn't fit the bill. Sure, I'll buy that there is evidence that a body impacted the earth at around that time, but remember: correlation does not imply cause and effect.

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
Sure, it's not likely (none / 0) (#153)
by Rainy on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 08:05:33 PM EST

But if it does happen it's pretty bad. Energy crisis is more likely but we have a lot of ways of addressing it AND it'll give early warning. So all things considered, asteroids are more worrisome.
--
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
[ Parent ]
More Problems... (3.77 / 9) (#27)
by snowlion on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:07:56 AM EST

Whenever you pull energy out of a system, especially enough energy to provide for a sizable chunk of our population, you are affecting that system, and there are usually consequences that you have to take into account.

If we rely on wind power, I imagine that we will be shifting air flows in critical ways. Sea power, and we may shift water currents, such as the Gulf Stream, which keep London and Paris warm by carrying heat. Who knows what may happen.

The simple fact is that our energy requirements are enormous. If we don't want to deviate too sharply from the way the Earth is oriented, we will have to diversify and tread very carefully.

I think that if we're clever, we can do it. We may even find some way of capturing energy that is very cheap and for which there is a long (1000year at least) supply. This paragraph is not an argument or a belief that I can back up; Purely gut response as a programmer.


--
Map Your Thoughts
Wind power (5.00 / 5) (#58)
by dachshund on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 08:36:06 AM EST

If we rely on wind power, I imagine that we will be shifting air flows in critical ways. Sea power, and we may shift water currents, such as the Gulf Stream, which keep London and Paris warm by carrying heat. Who knows what may happen

I've heard this theory bandied around. But nobody seems terribly concerned about that fact that we're building cities and houses all the time. I imagine even one major city has more effect on air currents than all the windmills in the world.

Don't forget that we're also deforesting parts of the world at an amazing rate, which certainly has a major impact on air currents. This deforestation is partly due to logging, partly due to things like acid rain, which, amusingly, is largely our existing forms of power generation (coal).

I'd be interested to see an analysis (or at least a rough estimate) of the true effects that a largely wind-based power economy would have on the environment, given today's equipment and our best estimates.

Also, how dangerous are today's large, slow-moving windmills when it comes to bird populations? Certainly those obsolete clunkers we have lying around from the 1970s are no good, but what about their modern equivalent? So few people base their observations about wind power on the newest technology, and I'd love to see something mildy objective address these concerns (other than windmill-manufacturer marketing materials, which seems to be what you get when you search on the web.)

[ Parent ]

Wouldn't work near cities, (3.33 / 3) (#71)
by Ward57 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:46:25 AM EST

I suppose. Certainly cities have their own microclimates - it's a famous effect of putting asphalt on everything.
two: Wind farms are sited wherever there is a significant air flow (in the UK).
three: certianly, deforestation effects the local climate.

The question is, do we build wind farms in cities. I'm sure that we don't in this country, (against noise regulations). Would it work if we did?
I guess I'm arguing that we don't have any reason to think it would work, and plenty of reasons to think that it wouldn't.

I would expect a "dead air" zone (a zone of slowly moving air) in front of any wind turbine, which probably scales badly in terms of large wind farms. Actually, I remember wind turbines having to be separated by about half a K in a wind farm, or they don't work right. I don't know how much worse this is if the line is very long.

[ Parent ]
Try Ex-forests.. (4.00 / 3) (#72)
by ajduk on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:51:01 AM EST

Since deforestation will have increased local wind speeds. Actually, having slower wind speeds in agricultural zones could give a minor reduction in wind-related crop damage, although I don't know how significant this is.

I think the 1/2-k restriction is more to do with turbulence than anything else.

[ Parent ]
Not necessarily in cities (3.50 / 2) (#105)
by dachshund on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:19:36 PM EST

I wasn't actually advocating putting wind farms in cities, though as a matter of fact I did notice a picket fence of high-efficiency turbines spinning peacefully along the edge of Copenhagen when I was there last summer.

I've just noticed that many people frame objections to wind power on the dubious grounds that it might affect wind currents, when wind turbines would be a drop in the ocean of what our civilization does to mess with air currents every day (think cell towers, mansion farms and office parks, all developments with none of the redeeming environmental qualities of wind power*.)

Wind is truly the most promising long-term power solution we've got right now. Equipment efficiency is skyrocketing, prices are dropping, all with a relatively small amount of private and public investment (miniscule compared to what we spend to keep the oil flowing.) It boggles the mind that our energy policy would focus so heavily on nuclear (which is so controversial and has so many unresolved issues that we're unlikely to see major expansion anytime soon), and thorougly ignore the obvious solution of intelligent wind subsidies (which, in Europe, are largely responsible for the massive efficiency improvements in the wind industry.) Given the size of the US market, even a small pilot program could well be the push that drives the technology to break even with fossile fuels.

The most ambitious project I've heard of in the US is the proposal to build a line of windmills in Nantucket sound, to power the Cape and islands. I'd love to see how that turns out.

*Slightly OT, I did pass a cellphone tower disguised as an unusually tall tree the other day. I can't say if this did much to offset the environmental impact, but it might have given the local wildlife a good laugh.

[ Parent ]

Windmills (none / 0) (#151)
by snowlion on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 07:59:15 PM EST

I've heard this theory bandied around. But nobody seems terribly concerned about that fact that we're building cities and houses all the time. I imagine even one major city has more effect on air currents than all the windmills in the world.

Actually, I've heard of a lot of concern about the cities and houses that we're building all the time. And yes, major cities do have dramatic effects on air currents, it is a subject of a lot of research. I don't know much about it, but if I recall, it has to do with the way that asphalt and concrete absorb heat. I've seen diagrams and papers on the subject.

Whether these are actually dangerous or not, I don't know. But is it dangerous? In the absence of knowledge, I prefer to be conservative, and assume that there is some danger, and to put a little research into it.

I'd be interested to see an analysis (or at least a rough estimate) of the true effects that a largely wind-based power economy would have on the environment, given today's equipment and our best estimates.

I would too. If it turns out that we can safely offload a significant portion of our energy requirements onto the wind, I say "go for it." I'd just like to see some data come back, and put in perspective with everything else.

I suspect that there are some invisible coalitions doing just this analysis, and yanking threads to put us in a healthy state. I have no idea if this is the case or not, though. I need to think about this idea more ("Is it reasonable to assume that powerful people will act to preserve the world environment." - largely a psychological question.)

Also, how dangerous are today's large, slow-moving windmills when it comes to bird populations?

I'm not terribly interested in the birds. However, there are a million connections in the Earth's systems, and they are worth observing and analyzing.


--
Map Your Thoughts
[ Parent ]
Perspective (none / 0) (#157)
by mbrubeck on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:11:52 PM EST

Actually, I've heard of a lot of concern about the cities and houses that we're building all the time. And yes, major cities do have dramatic effects on air currents, it is a subject of a lot of research. I don't know much about it, but if I recall, it has to do with the way that asphalt and concrete absorb heat. I've seen diagrams and papers on the subject.
Yes, cities have their own microclimates, and the "urban heat bubble" effect is a major topic of research, mostly due to possible biases it introduces in surface-temperature measurements over the past century. These are local effects that have a big impact on humans and on nearby plants and animals, but are little more than noise in terms of atmosphere circulation.

Drop the human-centric view for a moment and think about the Earth in proper perspective. The atmosphere -- that is, the portion of it that moves around large masses of air and determines global climate -- is tens of kilometers high and covers the entire globe. Worrying about tiny objects like skyscrapers and windmills is like worrying about currents in Lake Washington being slowed by pebbles sitting on the lake floor. Land surface is already covered with plants and mountains and hills and other such barriers that keep surface winds relatively slow and local.

Yes, turbine lines will create new local wind patterns, but the changes will be smaller than those created each year by forest fires or other natural processes. Pebbles on a lake bed; noise in the signal.

Also, how dangerous are today's large, slow-moving windmills when it comes to bird populations?

I'm not terribly interested in the birds.

This is surprising, since bird death is the major environmental concern among most wind energy researchers. Decimating raptor and other bird populations would have a very non-subtle effect on regional ecosystems, eliminating major predators of insects and rodents, and thereby affecting agriculture and plant life. As I said elsewhere, it's this sort of land use effect that drives real atmospheric change, not a few tiny windmill blades scratching at the bottom skin of the troposphere. (For the record, wind researchers generally feel that bird loss can be sufficiently mitigated by proper site choice for wind energy farms.)

[By the way, I'm not just pulling this stuff out of my ass; I'm pulling it out of class notes for the Global Warming and Climate Change class I'm taking from the HMC physics department. I'm a senior in East; I met you once at Mudd, years ago. Umm... hi! :)]

[ Parent ]

Birds & HMC (none / 0) (#190)
by snowlion on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 10:52:21 AM EST

This is surprising, since bird death is the major environmental concern among most wind energy researchers. Decimating raptor and other bird populations would have a very non-subtle effect on regional ecosystems, eliminating major predators of insects and rodents, and thereby affecting agriculture and plant life. As I said elsewhere, it's this sort of land use effect that drives real atmospheric change, not a few tiny windmill blades scratching at the bottom skin of the troposphere. (For the record, wind researchers generally feel that bird loss can be sufficiently mitigated by proper site choice for wind energy farms.)

I did say that in our ecosystems, there are a lot of connections that are not immediately apparent. So, while I'm not so concerned about the birds as birds, I am concerned about the entire eco-system.

Eh; I am concerned about the birds, but I am concerned about the complete meltdown of human affairs due to a worldwide energy crisis a little more. {:)}=

[By the way, I'm not just pulling this stuff out of my ass; I'm pulling it out of class notes for the Global Warming and Climate Change class I'm taking from the HMC physics department. I'm a senior in East; I met you once at Mudd, years ago. Umm... hi! :)]

Hah! Damn! Harvey Mudd College is the best college in the world.

Sorry, I don't remember your name- Matt Brubeck. Hey, what's more, you work on Audacity, which means you know Dominic Mazzoni and Joshua Haberman..! Dominic was my suitemate in my sophomore year, and Joshua Haberman is a student at a college around here (in Seattle) that I've had over to my apartment a few times.

Do/did you know Ian, an Easty who was/is really into RPG's..? I think he lived in "Entropy", or something like that. I always wonder what he is oing now.


--
Map Your Thoughts
[ Parent ]
Not that enormous (4.80 / 5) (#90)
by mbrubeck on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:09:15 AM EST

Our energy needs may be astounding in terms of oil or natural gas, but compared to systems like ocean or atmosphere circulation they're tiny. The Atlantic ocean transports more than 1400 terawatts to the North Atlantic just in net heat flow, as warm surface water flows north and cold bottom water flows south (look up thermohaline cycles for details). For comparison, global energy use by humans is currently about 12 terawatts. If we could somehow tap this heat flux for all our world energy needs, the reduction in energy transport would be less than 1%. Much larger changes happen naturally from century to century.

This isn't even considering the kinetic energy of the currents; think carefully about the masses involved in sea currents before calling human energy requirements "enormous." We affect the ocean and atmosphere far more through land use and climate change than we could by sapping energy directly.

[ Parent ]

Oh well. (1.50 / 2) (#135)
by scanman on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:47:09 PM EST

Shift happens.

"[You are] a narrow-minded moron [and] a complete loser." - David Quartz
"scanman: The moron." - ucblockhead
"I prefer the term 'lifeskills impaired'" - Inoshiro

[ Parent ]

well if it happens (1.64 / 14) (#30)
by techwolf on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:28:11 AM EST

Then it happens. I don't have a shit load of guns for nothing ya know. I use them for fun and home defense, but if a power/oil crisis happened it would be the law of the land, He who has the power takes what he wants/imposes his will on the less powerful. I know that I would refuse to be one of the powerless. this may seem harsh buit it times such as those that is what it would come down to. Of course I do not belive this owuld ever happen, as the story points out there are other methods of getting power.
"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." - Thomas Jefferson
Oooh - so cute! (3.33 / 6) (#47)
by gazbo on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 06:23:30 AM EST

Don't you just adore those wascally Yanks sometimes?

-----
Topless, revealing, nude pics and vids of Zora Suleman! Upskirt and down blouse! Cleavage!
Hardcore ZORA SULEMAN pics!

[ Parent ]

Ahh, but the trick... (2.80 / 5) (#55)
by dennis on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 07:58:47 AM EST

...is figuring out which of your intended victims have guns themselves. Given how many guns there are in the U.S., I suspect that in an "end of the world as we know it" scenario the bandits would be rather shortlived...

[ Parent ]
Gian space-based solar lasers (3.00 / 6) (#33)
by gnovos on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:00:04 AM EST

The wave of the future will be huge (like miles on miles long huge) arrays of "solar pumps" orbiting near Mercury supplying in a day more power than we produce in a year... Funny thing, we have the technology to do it now. Why don't we?

A Haiku: "fuck you fuck you fuck/you fuck you fuck you fuck you/fuck you fuck you snow" - JChen
Dyson Spheres! YAY! (n/t) (3.25 / 4) (#42)
by Ranieri on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 05:19:26 AM EST


--
"Look, Hoagie, it's a hamster! Just what I need for dissection lab tomorrow!"
[ Parent ]
I have a dream... (3.50 / 4) (#65)
by Chancellor Martok on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:30:11 AM EST

Oh yes... Dyson spheres. I'll stick with the never-ending supply of oil, I think. :P

-----
Chancellor Martok  in Sydney, Australia
"Castrate instead. That can surely rehabilitate. I did it volunatrily, and my grades went up!"  -- Sen

[ Parent ]
Giant space lasers (4.33 / 3) (#48)
by Razitshakra on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 06:35:41 AM EST

Control over these would be extremely important. Just imagine what they could do if misaligned, by accident or on purpose.

--
Lets ride / You and I / In the midnight ambulance
- The Northern Territories
[ Parent ]
When this happens (3.09 / 11) (#37)
by Hopfrog on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:29:54 AM EST

I'll go back to Nigeria. When oil gets scarce, it will get more expensive. The country will get rich, and all oil producting nations, particularly those in OPEC will have much expanded political clout.

The country will have lots of money, and has lots of sunlight, so there will be (hopefully) a lot of research in sun produced energy. So enough energy will be produced for small scale needs. Europe and other northern countries will switch to nuclear energy (they don't have a choice), and all the green people who are scared of it will look for someplace "safe" to migrate to. Welcome.

And seeing that traditionally, the country is not so dependent on electricity and oil, and seeing as there is no winter, I think life would be quite good.

So start planning ahead my friends. Nigeria is were the future of the world is ;)

Hop.

Thanks but not.... (4.00 / 5) (#50)
by Tezcatlipoca on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 07:10:43 AM EST

...unless they abolish Shari'a Law in the north ...
---
"At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look;
at forty-five they are caves in which we hide." F. Scott Fitzgerald.
[ Parent ]
It will soon be abolished (2.40 / 5) (#53)
by Hopfrog on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 07:48:13 AM EST

Nobody is really for it, and everybody knows it is just a political tool. So it will sooon fade away.

That aside, it only applies to Nigerian muslims living in these states.

Besides, to be frank, sharia is good for the country. In the north, if a thief is caught, he gets taken to a sharia court. In the south if a thief is caught, he gets mobbed lynched.

Hop.

[ Parent ]

Oh dear.... (none / 0) (#183)
by Tezcatlipoca on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 06:55:10 AM EST

... nothing against these customs, they just are not my cup of tea.
---
"At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look;
at forty-five they are caves in which we hide." F. Scott Fitzgerald.
[ Parent ]
Has it already happened? (4.00 / 7) (#38)
by cyberformer on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:34:34 AM EST

According to respected independent geologist Colin Campbell, the oil has already run out --- in the sense that we have already reached the "peak" of extraction (not "production" --- people can't produce oil). He predicts that IT will continue at this peak for about a decade, then enter terminal decline.

Campbell's paper (same link as above) also has some interesting predictions as to the effects of oil scarcity, as well as the distribution of the remaining oil supplies. Because production everywhere else is declining, the Middle East is set to become even more important than it already is. One country in particular has very valuable reserves, thanks to a decade-long embargo that has largely prevented extraction.

If you want the full "end of the world" story, this site is full of detailed info on oil depletion.

Yet another prediction (3.00 / 4) (#43)
by A Trickster Imp on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 05:39:01 AM EST

> They have all proved to be incorrect, save the current set of predictions which
> still place the crisis at a future date.

Ahh, ain't that always the case?


> we have already reached the "peak" of extraction (not "production" --- people
> can't produce oil).

Is direct production of oil or gasoline via bacteria really more than a billion or two dollars away? Moreover, the car in your driveway, with a thousand or two dollars worth of modifications, will run off LPG or other things we can produce with today's technology.

Long, long before oil becomes a real shortage, which is to say, rising in price over the course of years instead of falling, as it has been (which shoots down the "we've peaked already" theory) people will perfect fuel cells, alternitive hydrocarbon sources, whatever.

Come 2030 or 2050, there'll still be cars, with cheaper fuel than today. It might very well even be oil. My bet is it will not only be oil, but oil pumped from the ground.

Well, cheaper fuel as long as the government stays out of the way by not passing idiotic command-and-control laws in response to chicken little fears as espoused by people selling a book.




[ Parent ]
People want powerful cars (none / 0) (#185)
by A Trickster Imp on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 08:48:50 AM EST

Let greed work. People want powerful cars. Greedy capitalists will supply that, and they will solve the problem as oil becomes scarce -- in 300 years or more, not 50 -- and by that time oil won't become scarce because it will be produced artificially, or a similar fuel for internal combustion engines.

Greed got us here, got us cheap gas, got us big cars, got us supermarkets stuffed with products so cheap farmers are going out of business.

Keep a posturing Miss Cleo impersonator from passing laws based on hysterical rantings preened in front of scientifically illiterate masses, please.

Thanks.



[ Parent ]
Dr. Hubbert reached similar conclusions... (4.66 / 3) (#116)
by BlueGlass on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:56:01 PM EST

Hubbert was a geologist for the oil industry in the 1940's and 1950's. In a 1956 paper, he provided pretty accurate predictions of the current oil production and discovery rates with a deceptively simple model. His work provides the basis for much of the oil industry's long range planning. Campbell has extended and enhanced Hubbert's work; he cites and credits Hubbert a lot of the time.

Whatever one thinks of the oil industry, they are unashamedly profit-driven, so when companies like Shell and Arco plan for "no more oil in 50 years", I'm inclined to take notice. Especially now that Shell is one of the largest producers of solar panels in the world. In fact, Shell Photovoltaics was originally started by Arco. I doubt oil, er, energy companies would have been pouring a sizeable fraction of their research budget into solar for the last fifteen years if they didn't expect a nice return.

There are a number of sites that discuss Hubbert's work, as well as that of Campbell, et al. Some have a somewhat sensationalist presentation, but their information is mostly accurate and balanced.

There's also a well-written book about all this, from Princeton University Press (I think there's a link on one of the above sites). Scientific American reviewed it not long ago

[ Parent ]

Oil comes from space (3.12 / 16) (#49)
by gastro on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 06:50:34 AM EST

There are a growing number of studies that suggest that crude oil does not have a biological origin.

The theory states that hydrocarbons exist throughout the earth's core and has done so since the planet's formation. Oil deposits are simply buildups of hydrocarbons caused by pressure - much like gold deposits.

Given enough time (the theory goes) existing depleted oil deposits will recharge themselves naturally so they can be pumped again.



Quite entertaining... (4.71 / 7) (#68)
by ajduk on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:36:55 AM EST

The first giveaway is the age of the references.

Then there are a *few* minor mistakes:

<<<This consideration is irrelevant now that we know that a cold formation process assembled the Earth>>>

No; formation was very hot, and the entire mantle was re-melted when a mars-sized body hit earth in the moon-forming event.

<<<...Such a massive infall would have left much other evidence in the geologic record, and this is absent...>>>

The author seems to have forgotten plate tectonics as well..

I could go on all day.



[ Parent ]
Save energy (4.65 / 20) (#51)
by bew on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 07:17:03 AM EST

pointing fingers on US Americans as a European might look ridiculous to an African, but:
  • why do american houses have so badly isolated walls and windows?
  • why is electric heating so widespread in the USA? It's the worst way to warm a house.
  • why don't american escalators juts turn off when nobody is using them?
Everytime I visit the USA, I find another example where Americans are waisting energy without getting an improved living standard in return.

don't forget the (ab)use of ice (3.00 / 4) (#60)
by kipple on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 08:55:00 AM EST

try to figure out how much energy is wasted in making ice in the US, and how much water the US is consuming..
--- There are two kind of sysadmins: Paranoids and Losers (adapted from D. Bach)
[ Parent ]
water? (4.00 / 3) (#101)
by slippytoad on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:58:30 AM EST

You mean, water we pee back out into the ecosystem? And water delivery and use problems are almost all local, and not global. I know this because I grew up in Denver, CO. Our water shortages were all because we were competing with California for the same water. We were encouraged not to sprinkle our lawns but every three days, and the like. When I moved East, I discovered that people there don't even bother with sprinklers 90% of the time.

One thing we aren't running out of, ever, is water. We just don't always have adequate means of purifying it so that it's potable.
If I were the al Qaeda people right now I would be planning a lot of attacks in the next few days and weeks -- John "Bring 'em On" McCain
[ Parent ]

Very true. (3.00 / 1) (#142)
by RandomAction on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:59:05 PM EST

However We just don't always have adequate means of purifying it so that it's potable. Purifying and making it portable takes energy, if we run out of energy, many of us will run out of clean portable water.

[ Parent ]
That wasn't a spelling error (4.50 / 2) (#152)
by pietra on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 08:02:24 PM EST

That's "potable," as in "clean and drinkable," not "portable." The safety factor is more important than the location; many places in the US have lots of water, but you wouldn't want to drink it due to environmental contamination. Woburn, MA springs to mind; ever see A Civil Action? People got cancer from *showering* in PCB-laden water. A good chunk of Nevada's groundwater is either heavy on the arsenic or the radiation from entirely natural sources. Much of the water in California's Central Valley is thoroughly toxic from all the agricultural runoff. Don't even get me started on the mercury poisoning in the SF Bay. You can't clean those sources up no matter how much power you use. All you can do is bring water in from other sources (potable portability), and try to keep the man-made pollutants from gaining even more of a hold. That takes power of a rather different kind--political and economic.

[ Parent ]
Maybe... (4.12 / 8) (#84)
by farmgeek on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:56:32 AM EST

-why do american houses have so badly isolated walls and windows?

(I assume isolated == insulated)
Well in my neck of the woods, it gets below freezing at night maybe a few weeks out of the year. No point in spending money on a lot of insulation when the major problem is heat during the summer. Also, to my thinking, it's better to build a cheap house without a lot of insulation than to live outdoors.

-why is electric heating so widespread in the USA? It's the worst way to warm a house.

Blame the power companies. They sold it as being efficient, safe and basically hassle free. They still sell it as that. Personally I chop down trees and burn 'em, but that's just me.


why don't american escalators juts turn off when nobody is using them?

What's an escalator? It's a joke, but almost true. I've seen about three escalators locally, one at the mall nearby. I know they turn them off at night when no one is there, and I would guess that stopping for 30 seconds and then restarting several times a day doesn't safe enough energy to justify the increased maintenance costs. More to the point, is why use escalators at all? Why not just use stairs, then you can leave 'em turned on all the time.


[ Parent ]
Insulation works both ways. (4.88 / 9) (#91)
by fn0rd on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:12:56 AM EST

Well in my neck of the woods, it gets below freezing at night maybe a few weeks out of the year. No point in spending money on a lot of insulation when the major problem is heat during the summer.

Unless you don't run an AC, better insulation will save you energy costs in the summer, too.

This fatwa brought to you by the Agnostic Jihad
[ Parent ]

Escalators (4.77 / 9) (#95)
by Happy Monkey on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:26:02 AM EST

What's an escalator? It's a joke, but almost true. I've seen about three escalators locally, one at the mall nearby. I know they turn them off at night when no one is there, and I would guess that stopping for 30 seconds and then restarting several times a day doesn't safe enough energy to justify the increased maintenance costs. More to the point, is why use escalators at all? Why not just use stairs, then you can leave 'em turned on all the time.

Actually, stopping and restarting escalators probably uses the same amount of electricity as an hour or two of continuous running, so in many cases it would be more energy efficient to leave it running. Also, starting the escalator when someone steps on it may be unsafe. Finally, there are places where escalators are the best solution. The subway in Washington DC is several hundred feet deep in places. Some people would not be capable of climbing so many stairs on a regular basis, and escalators are faster and more energy efficient than elevators.
___
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Sorry about my prejudice (5.00 / 2) (#184)
by bew on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 07:12:23 AM EST

I must admit that my experience with american housing is very limited.Replace 'american houses' with 'american economy class hotels' in my posting. But I forgot about this heated fountain in Salt Lake City last December and I didn't even mention the heavy-weight cars (tanks?) Americans seem to prefer. The escalators here (Germany) start when you step on the metal plate in front of them and they stop after a timeout. Wether this is really more economical is an interesting question, but they are very common. Especially where the traffic is 'bursty', like in subway stations. And now I am quiet before you start mentioning the missing speed limit in Germany..

[ Parent ]
Builder vs Occupant (4.55 / 9) (#88)
by nosilA on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:04:38 AM EST

The reaons why electric heating (and cooking, and water heating, and clothes drying, and air conditioning) is so prevalant is because the people doing the construction are so frequently not the people who have to deal with it. A very large percentage of the people in the US live in rented dwellings, where they pay for their own electricity. It would be a waste of money for the landlord to install gas (although my apartment does, but that's why it's called "luxury").

My apartment has its own problem - it has a flourescent light in the walk-in closet. I turn on the light, walk in, spend 10 seconds picking out a shirt, then walk out and turn off the light. This is the most inefficient use of a flourescent ever. In the bathrooms, however, the light is incandescent. 6x40W bulbs, but at least they're on a dimmer.

People here, in general, have a very short-sighted economic mentality - but I don't think this is unique to the US. We would rather spend $100 now and $10/month than $200 now and $5/month. Even though it takes less than a year to make up the difference. So that's why insolation is so bad.

Escalators are an interesting question - and I had never thought of them. We require some be present to turn off escalators, to make sure noone gets jerked off for liability reasons. But if it slowed down gradually, I guess you don't have to worry about that. Are there extra costs associated with starting up an escalators such that it's more efficient to run them than turn them off? How long do they have to be off to make it worthwhile?

I wish I could have a more efficient lifestyle, but I'm not willing to extraordinarily out of my way to do so. I'll make sure I have gas heating, I'll pick a reasonably fuel efficient car, but not sacrifice too much space/performance for it (I have a VW Jetta). I would have gotten a hybrid, but I could not have waited 3 months for delivery on the Toyota Prius. I prefer to live in apartments/townhouses, which are better for heat, and water consumption (no lawn). But I'm not willing to pay 10x as much for insulation that I'm only going to get 10% more energy efficiency out of. And unfortunately that tends to be the choice here.

The place where I know I waste resources (natural gas & water, that is) is the dishwasher. I rinse the dishes by hand, then put them in the dishwasher, where they spend 30 minutes in hot water getting all the bacteria and stuff off. I could just wash them by hand, but I get an extra peace of mind knowing that the cutting board I cut raw chicken on is thoroughly clean.

The last thing, I promise I'll shut up after this, is that environmentalists make you think it's so hard. They want you to live without a car at all, they want you to take 3 minute showers, they want you to make supreme sacrifices. If the movement were more for moderations "get better insulation, stop driving SUVs, etc" I think people would feel more motivated to do little things.

-Alison
Vote to Abstain!
[ Parent ]
We're not good at math either... (4.00 / 2) (#127)
by Wah on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:55:20 PM EST

People here, in general, have a very short-sighted economic mentality - but I don't think this is unique to the US. We would rather spend $100 now and $10/month than $200 now and $5/month. Even though it takes less than a year to make up the difference.

100 + 12*10 = 220

200 + 12* 5 = 260

It takes another eight months to break even (or even longer if you invest the extra original $100)

100 + 20*10 = 300

200 + 20* 5 = 300

This type of investment only makes sense for people in homes (why invest as a leasee?). We are also pretty shortsighted when it comes to savings. I guess that's a pretty natural result for a JIT-based culture.
--
Choas and order, flowing down the drain of time. Ain't it purdy? | SSP
[ Parent ]

Dishwashers (none / 0) (#238)
by dark on Wed Apr 03, 2002 at 08:14:29 AM EST

The place where I know I waste resources (natural gas & water, that is) is the dishwasher. I rinse the dishes by hand, then put them in the dishwasher, where they spend 30 minutes in hot water getting all the bacteria and stuff off. I could just wash them by hand, but I get an extra peace of mind knowing that the cutting board I cut raw chicken on is thoroughly clean.
The instructions for my dishwasher said that it's better not to rinse the dishes before putting them in. The dishwasher itself takes care of that, so this saves water. I don't know how it compares to washing them by hand, but I suspect that the dishwasher is better at it than I am :-)



[ Parent ]
dollars $$$$$ (3.75 / 4) (#94)
by danne on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:25:42 AM EST

Becouse the energy is so damn cheep in america,
Here in Finland we pay ~1 EUR for 1 litres of gasoline.
(i think people in america gets about 4 litres)

[ Parent ]
Current national average: $1.37 / gallon (4.25 / 4) (#108)
by nosilA on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:26:24 PM EST

So that's about US$.35 or .41 euro/liter.

So it's closer to half than 1/4, but still pretty significant.

-Alison


Vote to Abstain!
[ Parent ]
hmm (3.50 / 2) (#100)
by mlong on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:54:06 AM EST

why do american houses have so badly isolated walls and windows?

Anything built within the last 30 years is well insulated...of course there is only so much you can do without cutting off the fresh air supply.

why is electric heating so widespread in the USA? It's the worst way to warm a house.

I don't know of too many new buildings using electric heat. Most use natural gas.

why don't american escalators juts turn off when nobody is using them?

I don't know about other countries...do they turn off?



[ Parent ]
Escalator nit (3.25 / 4) (#106)
by Woundweavr on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:24:41 PM EST

why don't american escalators juts turn off when nobody is using them?

How? Using circuits, motion sensors etc? Guess what those use alot of energy. Plus, I'm fairly confident that starting the escalator would often drain more electricity than leaving it on. I don't think the other two points are true so I'll leave em.

[ Parent ]

Escalators (3.66 / 3) (#137)
by YesNoCancel on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:58:18 PM EST

Almost all escalators I have seen do turn off when nobody uses them for a minute or so. Obviously doing so saves energy costs, otherwise nobody would invest in the additional motion sensors etc. which are required for this kind of system.

[ Parent ]
Hey, before you knock american insulation, (2.25 / 4) (#107)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:26:15 PM EST

visit Britain. bbbrrrrr. Chilly. Even inside. It's because all their buildings are ancient, I think. Not to knock the Brits, but at least the young, thriving, US is cutting down lots of trees and pumping tons of CFCs into the atmosphere to make sure all our new homes are supre efficient. ;)

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
Stuff (4.25 / 4) (#124)
by scanman on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:39:25 PM EST

American houses are insulated to a degree largely dependent upon the price of oil at the time of construction.

Is electric heating really widespread here? I don't know anyone who uses electric heating.

The amount of energy required to run an escalator continuously is trivial compared to that required to bring an escalator's flywheel up to full speed from rest.

"[You are] a narrow-minded moron [and] a complete loser." - David Quartz
"scanman: The moron." - ucblockhead
"I prefer the term 'lifeskills impaired'" - Inoshiro

[ Parent ]

Quaint that nobody mentioned it ... (4.69 / 13) (#54)
by Ranieri on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 07:52:37 AM EST

Alcohol.
It can be utilized in (slightly modified) internal combustion engines, it's easily available by fermentation of anything containing sugars and it's CO2-neutral. Methods for storage are well developed and it's a much more friendly substance to handle and produce than hydrogen.
For a real eco-kick sugar-containing products (such as fruit, candy etc) can be collected separate from normal garabge like we currently do for glass and paper. They can then be channeled directly to the fermenting plant.
--
"Look, Hoagie, it's a hamster! Just what I need for dissection lab tomorrow!"
Problem with alcohol fuel (4.25 / 4) (#56)
by wiredog on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 08:23:05 AM EST

Distillation requires energy.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
But how much...? (3.50 / 4) (#89)
by The Muffin on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:06:08 AM EST

How much, though?

If it's less than what is gained by the resulting product, then it should be somewhat feasable.

We aren't talking about a total loss of all energy here, it's not like we won't be able to do anything. If we started a distillary now, some of what it creates could be used to power it further, would it not? Then the rest could be turned to general consumption.

Of course, I am by no means an expert on these things, that's just how I see it. I might be totally wrong. Wouldn't be anything new...


- This is the end.
[ Parent ]
Ehmm (4.33 / 3) (#96)
by kuran42 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:32:18 AM EST

If it's less than what is gained by the resulting product, then it should be somewhat feasable. It is almost more than what is gained by the resulting product. Even for oil. It took millions of years and more energy than any of us can possibly imagine to "create" the existing oil and coal resources, and we see only a miniscule fraction of that energy when we use the resulting gasoline in our cars.

I don't know how much energy is required for alcohol fermentation, but I imagine it would be possible using only solar power. Much energy is lost in the process, but it is energy that we wouldn't have gotten any of in the first place, so it doesn't much matter.

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Oops (4.00 / 1) (#97)
by kuran42 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:33:35 AM EST

It is almost more than

That should be always, not almost.

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]
Entropy Sucks (none / 0) (#171)
by Kwil on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 02:46:04 AM EST

If we started a distillary now, some of what it creates could be used to power it further, would it not?

I think it's the second law of thermo-dynamics you're running up against here. You can't break even. Any energy "creating" technology is wasteful. So you could use every joule of energy from your distiller and you'd still need more to power it.

That doesn't mean it's not useful though. After all, currently, 100% of the captured energy in old fruit goes to "waste". (I'm ignoring the environmental argument that can be made here) So if we manage to capture just 5% of it in an easily transportable, highly energy concentrated fuel, well, that's 5% we didn't have before.

The key to it being useful is how well the alchohol/distilling process concentrates the energy. That's what oil is after all, millions of years of constant energy in the form of heat and pressure slowly compressed into a liquid form that we can quickly and easily "uncompress".



[ Parent ]
Yummy! (3.00 / 2) (#67)
by Chancellor Martok on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:35:11 AM EST

Yes... I can't believe we've all forgotten about this?

Ethanol already powers some things in certain countries where they have excess sugar cane and stuff, but no oil... I forget where exactly, but maybe Brazil?

It's quite efficient actually, especially when compared to many of the other alternatives, and it doesn't require complete abandonment of everything that uses oil. It is still a carbon-based fuel souce, albeit a natural and renewable one.

-----
Chancellor Martok  in Sydney, Australia
"Castrate instead. That can surely rehabilitate. I did it volunatrily, and my grades went up!"  -- Sen

[ Parent ]
Not enough of it (3.83 / 6) (#125)
by cbraga on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:41:51 PM EST

Yes, many cars in Brazil are ethanol-powered. In the 80's, as many as 70% of the newly made cars also were, but as government subsidies dried, so did the attractiveness of this fuel. Today, about 3% of the newly made cars use ethanol.

Also, don't forget that to entirely replace gasoline with ethanol a very significant part of the world's farming area will have to be devoted to sugar cane and similar crops.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]

Technology can solve this (4.00 / 1) (#226)
by bogado on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 12:36:22 PM EST

ethanol-powered cars and other engines are not vihable because of the much lower price of the oil, if oil become very rare and expensive maybe it would make the balance tip to the other side making ethanol be very profitable, since it depends on renewable resources it could be pushed to need less space and produce more sugar.
[]'s Victor bogado da Silva Lins

^[:wq
[ Parent ]

Bio-diesel, not Alcohol (3.66 / 3) (#130)
by Wolf Keeper on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:25:22 PM EST

I'm too lazy to provide the links. Someone more ethical can do a search. Basically, it is not economically efficient to make alcohol from crops. I read one estimate that our current gasoline consumption, if converted to alcohol, would require 96% of the continental US to be farms.

Biodiesel made from vegetable oil is much more feasible. I think you can buy it now for something like $6 a gallon, not too shabby.

If someone has information to the contrary, I don't mind being corrected.

[ Parent ]
allohol (3.00 / 1) (#145)
by fhotg on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 05:46:57 PM EST

Basically, it is not economically efficient to make alcohol from crops.
Don't worry, economy will adapt to reality eventually.

But yes, biodiel good thing. The feasable mix depends to some extend on your geography. See Brazil for example.

[ Parent ]

Scaremonger (2.71 / 7) (#57)
by typhatix on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 08:32:33 AM EST

You can make gasoline and other oil products out of other resources such as coal. The US currently has vast coal fields that are virtually untapped and it could go to to last for estimates of atleast 100 years. And hopefully in that time we'd find alternatives before those run out.

The sky is not falling. Try doing a little more research into why next time.



gas from coal (4.00 / 4) (#69)
by slippytoad on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:39:48 AM EST

As cheaply as from oil? The point is, our economy is based on the ready availibility of something; the assumptions being made by our pollyanna friends is that somehow economic forces will conspire to overcome the laws of physics. That is not a reasonable assumption. New technologies are increasingly complex and take longer and longer lead times to develop and deploy, and our society's infrastructures are entrenched around doing things a specific way; uprooting that infrastructure and replacing it isn't as easy as "economic forces" dictating it, and the more complex our society gets, the more destructive such an event will be. It's not scaremongering at all to start sounding the alarm and get on the stick to change the way we do things now before it becomes an emergency.
If I were the al Qaeda people right now I would be planning a lot of attacks in the next few days and weeks -- John "Bring 'em On" McCain
[ Parent ]
but we are ready (4.00 / 2) (#83)
by typhatix on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:54:14 AM EST

the massive oil and gas companies have a variety of backup plans in place should they have any problems finding oil (and they speculate that they will not given the rate of oil discovery in places such as offshore drilling platforms).

And remember, it has been done cheaply before. Nazi Germany being an example of making gasoline from resources other than oil.

Yes they do oil right now because it is the cheapest, but that by no means means that we could not (relatively) smoothly move over to making gasoline (and other traditionally oil products) from something else.

Now if you want to discuss the need to start moving over to alternative fuels for environmental or sustainable (over millenia) reasons that's great. But sounding an alarm without real danger is silly.



[ Parent ]

a 1 from rjo - nice history (none / 0) (#149)
by typhatix on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 07:01:10 PM EST

while I don't take ratings personally nor do I expect anything, I do check out the histories of people who give me a 1. Anyone interested in an account that has never ever made a comment nor contributed anything except dozens of 1's to legitimate comments should check out rjo.

Again, not that I care that I got a 1, I'd just like to see what rjo thought I said that was incorrect. People who contribute nothing but 1 ratings are a waste.



[ Parent ]

Aaah, the stupid economists... (3.81 / 11) (#74)
by Anatta on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:58:31 AM EST

What do we know, anyway?

Looking at the course of energy innovation over the last 25,000 years, we were on fire for about 20,000 years, gradually discovered coal and wind and spent about 4,850 years working with them alone, then in the last 150 years or so we've discovered oil, nuclear, natural gas, hydroelectric, biomass, solar, etc. We're getting better at finding new sources of energy, and we're also getting better at using these alternative sources (witness the increse in the efficiency of solar energy over the last 20 years).

While you're correct in saying that we're not going to be able to use oil once it requires more energy to pull a barrel of oil out of the ground than it gives us, you simply gloss over issues of improved efficiency in extraction; it costs us much less to pull a barrel of oil out of the ground now than it did 50 years ago, and we pull quite a bit more oil out than we did 50 years ago. You fail to understand the "economist's argument" at all (Simon's argument), and you simply gloss over the technical innovation part of it, as well as the historically poor estimation of oil reserves (which is why we now call them "proven reserves"). You're doing the same thing Thomas Malthus did, holding technology equal, and projecting doomsday out from there. You can't do that. Well you can, but you'll be wrong.

Let's say there are two sources of energy: oil and wood. Now imagine there was suddenly no oil - bang - all gone. Nothing there to heat our homes........ do you think the price of wood would rise very significantly? What if we said "we only have 1 billion barrels left"? Would we see the price of oil increase, as well as the price of wood (as people transition over to the Old Ways)? Wood would quickly become a cheaper form of energy, and we would stop using oil because it doesn't fit our needs as well as wood. We would also immediately begin growing trees very quickly.

People substitute away from items that have become too scarce (expensive) and toward more plentiful (cheap) items. Therefore, if oil is so scarce right now, it should be way more expensive than it is.

There is no way we will agree, so it seems to me that the only option to keep things honest is to do the good ol' Simon-Ehrlich bet once again. Let's say we go with the commodity oil (though we could certainly throw natural gas in there, too)... we use the US CPI numbers to judge inflation... and in 10 years (we can do 20 if you want), should the price of oil be lower than it is today, you post a K5 Text ad declaring yourself wrong, if it is higher, I post the same ad (assuming we have enough energy to run our computers).
My Music

Efficiency (3.50 / 4) (#79)
by aprentic on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:23:43 AM EST

While it is true that we're getting more efficient at extracting oil, there is a limit to how much this efficiency will help us. If, as the original author claims, it costs about 1k BTU to extract a barrel of oil from the ground and this barrel is expected to yield 6000k BTU, we're already at near perfect efficiency. At these rates increases in the efficiency of oil extraction may improve the profits of oil companies, but they're unlikely to have a significant impact on our overall energy reserves. Furthermore, your wood/oil example seems flawed to me. If we got the announcement that we will run out of oil in 20 years (magically guaranteed to us by the pessimism fairy) we would be unable to grow enough wood to meet our energy needs. Wood just doesn't grow fast enough, even if we were to cover the planet in trees.

[ Parent ]
Yes and no (3.20 / 5) (#85)
by Anatta on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:56:55 AM EST

1k BTU to extract a barrel of oil from the ground and this barrel is expected to yield 6000k BTU, we're already at near perfect efficiency

That was partly my point; the author seemed to jump from 1k to 6000k very quickly, and by omission suggest that we might not even notice the jump. Even still, I sincerely doubt we have reached the optimal efficiency of oil extraction. For example, from what I understand, we used to only get about 20% of the oil from a given oil "patch" before we would cease to use it. Now we get about 40% of the oil from a given oil "patch" before we cease to use it (due to new techniques for extraction, and cheaper costs to extract each barrel). There have been all sorts of technical innovations (deep sea drilling, for example) that have effectively increased supply over the past 100 years... I fail to see why this will suddenly stop.

Compare oil extraction to Moore's law... we've already fit so many circuits on a silicon wafer... is there really much point to getting more? Of course there is, and if Intel doesn't do it, AMD will, and the result will be more profits and market share for AMD. Also, consider what happens each time Intel and AMD say "we've reached the limits" (and how many times we've heard that) -- but they always come up with something new. Fiber optic cable is another good example. We are using the same cables we used 20 years ago, yet they send far more data than they used to, through different positioning of the lasers, through multiplexing, etc. I recall reading how we reached the limit we physically could not pass -- the speed of light was the bottleneck -- and that we wouldn't be able to get more speed out of our cable... but then someone repositioned the lasers in some way, not firing the laser faster, but changing the way the firing causes data to be transmitted, and we again got faster at transferring data. How is this different than oil extraction?

If we got the announcement that we will run out of oil in 20 years (magically guaranteed to us by the pessimism fairy) we would be unable to grow enough wood to meet our energy needs.

We would obviously not meet the same level of energy usage only using trees that we now have using oil, but that wasn't really my point. As energy becomes more expensive and less efficient (wood is less efficient than oil), we would use less energy than we currently do. I wrote that part to illustrate what would happen to prices of the goods should scarcity levels change. I didn't really include what consumers would do, though it is obivous that they would reduce consumption of energy. Also, producers would certainly work hard to improve growth rates of trees -- perhaps controlling CO2 levels, using hydroponics, trying strategies we've never seen, in order to produce more energy cheaper than their competitors, and make more profits.
My Music
[ Parent ]

Compare oil extraction to Moore's law (4.33 / 3) (#111)
by StrontiumDog on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:38:13 PM EST

Also, consider what happens each time Intel and AMD say "we've reached the limits" (and how many times we've heard that) -- but they always come up with something new.

First off, no serious physicist or engineer has ever claimed we have reached the limits of chip circuit density. There are two limits to Moore's Law: technical limits, and physical limits. The technical limits (usually concerning limitations of various lithography techniques) are the ones touted around in trade rags and have been proved wrong again and again. The physical limits (for instance due to the size of atoms, finite speed of electromagnetic wave propagation, and quantum limits) have not yet been reached. They will be, though.

There are fundamental, physical limits to computation. Depending on which way you look at it, these limits are pretty close (the traditional IC silicon or SiGe wafer is reaching its limits), or pretty far away (fundamental limits of information theory leave a lot of room for improvement if you accept the exotic), but there are limits.

[ Parent ]

Clarification (none / 0) (#87)
by Anatta on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:02:46 AM EST

in 10 years (we can do 20 if you want), should the price of oil be lower than it is today, you post a K5 Text ad declaring yourself wrong, if it is higher, I post the same ad (assuming we have enough energy to run our computers).

By "same ad" I didn't mean to imply some childish prank, I meant to say that I would post an ad saying that I was wrong.
My Music
[ Parent ]

Could you explain... (5.00 / 2) (#93)
by kuran42 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:24:25 AM EST

...this direct quote from The Ultimate Resource II:

The oil potential of a particular well may be measured, and hence it is limited (though it is interesting and relevant that as we develop new ways of extracting hard-to-get oil, the economic capacity of a well increases). But the number of wells that will eventually produce oil, and in what quantities, is not known or measurable at present and probably never will be, and hence is not meaningfully finite.

To me, this reads as "we don't know how much oil there is, so we will assume it to be unlimited."

With regards to increasing efficiency, we're really as efficient as we can reasonably get - the ratio of energy spent to energy extracted is on the order of 1:100. Even if you improve that by an order of magnitude, you only gain 0.9% more energy - worth pursuing, perhaps, but not significant enough to alter matters.

Finally, I don't see how the fact that we extract and use more oil today than we did 50 years ago (indeed, more than we ever have in the past, and we will only continue to use more if current trends persist). This seems to be akin to accelerating towards a brick wall. What we should be doing is slowing down and redirecting ourselves onto a new course.

As to your wager, I accept. Hubbert predicts a peak extraction between 2004 and 2008 and the industry itself predicts peak production in 2020, so 2012 is an acceptable date to me. Here's to hoping K5 is around for ten more years. :)

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

b/c there is plenty of oil out there... (5.00 / 3) (#114)
by bobzibub on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:49:13 PM EST

The amount of exploitable oil is a function of price.
Alberta, for instance has huge tar-sands where there is plenty of oil, but much of it is too expensive to extract it at current market prices. That is why there is confusion. Do you figure upon current prices to guage reserves and hence come up with N years until depleation, or do you allow for price increases -- making more reserves economically exploitable. (And substitutes become more practical.) and get N + M years.

We've been through all this before with the Club of Rome's big report in the 70s that predicted the end of oil reserves and other resources in the next few decades. The economists were correct in pooh-poohing this as they are to pooh-pooh current versions of same.
Rewind back to the 70s....
http://home.hiwaay.net/~craigg/g4c/economist-Doom.htm



[ Parent ]
No (4.00 / 5) (#117)
by kuran42 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:56:22 PM EST

No matter how many dollars you throw at an oil field, the oil will still be in the ground. Money doesn't extract oil, energy does. You can buy energy, but only if it is on the market. Once it is no longer there, it is no longer there. All the money in the world won't help you get more.

Consider this analogy. You have a car with enough gas in it to drive 50 miles. The gas station is 10 miles away. You can either drive around for 40 miles, then drive to the gas station and get a fill-up, spending your money and getting energy in return, or you can drive around for 41 miles. If you do the latter, no matter how much money you spend, you will never get you to the gas station.

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Yes. = ) (3.50 / 2) (#129)
by bobzibub on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:09:46 PM EST

Energy is not the limiting factor in extracting oil. Hence oil is useful as an energy resource.

An analogous error is determining the value of something only by the amount of labour used to make it. In fact, the labour is a component of the price but not the only one. Marxian economists used a "Labour theory of value". An example of this in action is where a plant in the USSR used titanium pipes where steel would have been fine. There was no difference in the amount of labour used to make the pipes, hence to them, the value of steel and titanium pipes was the same

Like labour, energy is not the only cost in extracting energy. There is also the equipment, buying the rights to drill, the labour costs, taxes, transporting the crude, the processing costs to make gasoline or whatever... the list goes on. All of these other things are expensive too.

If the energy costs of oil even remotely approached the energy benefits then nobody would bother with the stuff because of all the other additional costs associated with its production.

Aluminum requires lots of energy--especially smelting it. Oil doesn't require much relatively speaking.


[ Parent ]
Uh ... so? (none / 0) (#170)
by kcbrown on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:55:03 AM EST

No matter how many dollars you throw at an oil field, the oil will still be in the ground. Money doesn't extract oil, energy does. You can buy energy, but only if it is on the market. Once it is no longer there, it is no longer there. All the money in the world won't help you get more.
That's very true. But since we have many sources of energy to choose from (oil being only one of them), what's the problem?

I guess perhaps I don't understand your point here.

[ Parent ]

Response, and details of the bet (none / 0) (#148)
by Anatta on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 06:15:30 PM EST

First off, regarding the bet... I'll try to get a bit more specific, and propose a slight change.

Instead of simply a "ha ha I won" text ad, let's say in March of 2012, the "winner" of the bet will write a story for K5 describing what happened, and the loser will have a response section inside that story. Also, I think we should specify some data points; in terms of current prices, the World Bank publishes the relevant data. I propose we use their data, as they should be around in 10 years, and should be relatively accurate. If you prefer a different source, we can use that. Also, the World Bank data has information on the prices not just of oil, but of natural gas, and energy prices in general. Currently, crude oil is $19.56, US Natural Gas is $2.28, and US Coal is $42.

We should also look at Proven Reserve amounts, to see how they have changed over 10 years. The US Dept. of Energy keeps those statistics, and I propose we use an average of the two numbers they give in order to determine Proven Reserves. I should hope the Dept. of Energy will still be around in 10 years.

It would also be nice to have some guage of what consumers are actually paying for energy... electricity would be a nice item to examine, however it's kinda hard to do that due to tax differences from state to state, and government price regulations. If you have any ideas how we might get some reasonable measure of this that we could compare to data 10 years from now, let me know. Of course, the real issue is how we will remember to write the article, and if K5 will still be around (hopefully!)...

On to your questions.

To me, this reads as "we don't know how much oil there is, so we will assume it to be unlimited."

This is kinda interesting. It shows Saudi Arabia's Proven Reserves of oil over the past 25 years. Those reserves have tripled over that time. If you were to write this article in 1976, we likely would have run out of oil had the Proven Reserves been Actual Reserves. I have had a hard time finding long-term information on Proven Reserves, the best being this link stating (unsourced) that "proven reserves of oil and gas increased seven-fold since 1950." This does not surprise me as I know this is the correct trend, but it would be nice to see some real data.

While we can safely say that Actual Reserves of oil are not infinite on Earth, Simon is suggesting that we're not even remotely close to reaching that point where we're going to run out of Actual Reserves. He is essentially saying that we will see from far away when we're starting to get low on oil (or when we can use another natural resource more efficiently than we use oil) by looking at prices. Proven Reserves have proven nothing more than that they have no correlation to Actual Reserves, however prices have been a good source of useful information, and they're not forecasting any serious shortage of energy.

With regards to increasing efficiency, we're really as efficient as we can reasonably get - the ratio of energy spent to energy extracted is on the order of 1:100. Even if you improve that by an order of magnitude, you only gain 0.9% more energy - worth pursuing, perhaps, but not significant enough to alter matters.

We've become far more technologically advanced in extracting oil, which is an innovation that doesn't necessarily show on efficiency numbers, but it means that we can extract more oil from each given source. I found this article to have interesting supporting data and graphs. Especially interesting is the information on the improvements in exploratory wells due to technology (we've gone from a 22% success rate in in 1987 to a 45% success rate in 1997). We're getting much better at finding new sources of oil, and our cost to find a barrel of oil is still low (on average $4.48 per barrel according to this link.) Should we see that number start to rise significantly over a number of years, that would be a real clue of an impending oil shortage. If we started to see that despite technological improvements, we're getting worse at finding oil, and that the cost per barrel to find it is rising, then you'd have a strong case for worrying about oil reserves.
My Music
[ Parent ]

Uh oh (none / 0) (#156)
by kuran42 on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:57:39 PM EST

The World Bank is an acceptable source (actually I looked myself but couldn't find anything else that appeared reasonably trustworth).

I don't think including proven reserves is a fantastic idea, though. A significant portion of the proven reserves of the OPEC nations (apparently close to half) are a result of political inflation of numbers. In the early 80's OPEC changed the system it uses to decide quotas so that it relies on each nation's proven reserves. As a direct result most of the OPEC nations adjusted the number they reported as proven reserves upwards, yielding a total increase of around 10 billion barrels. Perhaps the oil is really there, but they didn't survey to find out, they just assumed for political needs. Because of this sort of behavior, I wouldn't consider proven reserves as reasonably reflecting reality, and so wouldn't want to bet on their future values.

The rest of the details look good. e-Shake?

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Fair enough (none / 0) (#217)
by Anatta on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 05:52:03 PM EST

I think I'll still keep track of proven reserves for my own purposes, but we don't have to keep them in the bet.

E-shook.
My Music
[ Parent ]

Oil *is* more expensive than you think (none / 0) (#169)
by kcbrown on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:50:35 AM EST

People substitute away from items that have become too scarce (expensive) and toward more plentiful (cheap) items. Therefore, if oil is so scarce right now, it should be way more expensive than it is.
Let me put it this way: oil is scarce enough that the United States is willing to spend many tens of billions of dollars on its war machine to ensure oil production in a few key areas of the world.

I'll bet you didn't factor that expense into your model, did you?

[ Parent ]

Doomsday Survival (2.83 / 6) (#78)
by thellan on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:20:50 AM EST

I just recently read Larry Niven's Lucifer's Hammer and it was an eye-opener about the end of the world and what would be necessary to survive. Admittedly, the book deals with a comet strike, not running out of oil, but then again when a comet hits us, we won't have access to oil anymore.

Methane hydrates (4.14 / 7) (#80)
by radghast on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:39:55 AM EST

Methane hydrates trapped in marine sediment are also a potential source of energy for the future.

However, my main concern with our energy use is that it is too well focused on carbon-based forms. Most of the energy sources in predominant use are carbon-based: oil, gas (methane), coal and, with methane hydrates, an additional source of methane. What happens when we release all of these reservoirs of carbon into our atmosphere?

I'd much rather see energy sources based on alcohol and solar (wind, solar cell) with some form of hydrogen as a storage mechanism. These are balanced approaches that do not affect our atmosphere long-term. However, it seems that the US government takes a different view.

"It remains to be seen if the human brain is powerful enough to solve the problems it has created." -- Dr. Richard Wallace
Carbon neutral. (4.00 / 1) (#140)
by RandomAction on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:39:48 PM EST

Growing rapeseed oil, or even willow, is a somewhat efficient way to remain carbon neutral. Your right it's the rapid release of huge reservoirs that is so potentially damaging.

[ Parent ]
Solution (4.09 / 11) (#82)
by cameldrv on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:41:33 AM EST

Markets generally don't attack a scarcity like this until it starts to become a problem. When it does, though, we have the technology to solve it. When the rate of oil extraction starts to go down, the price of oil will go up. When it goes up enough, people will start changing their consumption to other energy sources. Cars can go to natural gas pretty easily. Electricity can go to conventional (non-reprocessed) nuke, coal, and renewables. When natural gas starts to get scarce, cars can go to batteries or fuel cells, with the energy being provided by nuke plants and renewables. Eficiency should be thrown in here, as the price of energy rises, people will find it advantageous to buy more efficient cars, appliances, industrial processes, etc. When the Uranium starts to become scarce, we can start using Thorium, which is abundant, and we can use breeder reactors, which can extract 50x as much energy from the Uranium. When this starts to run out, in a couple of centuries, hopefully we will have perfected fusion. That should last us quite a while.

I think that there is a failure here to communicate the economics vs. the limited nature of oil. People do not demand oil per se. Instead, they demand transportation, manufactured products, and energy for home use. These can all be provided by other means than oil, and the fundamental point of economics is that the technology to do this without oil is easily possible, and it will be used when the market demands it.

In fact.. (3.00 / 1) (#139)
by RandomAction on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:36:14 PM EST

..during WWII, many trucks in Britain were converted to natural gas, they stored it in a large bag on the roof, they looked kinda silly.

Seriously it's not difficult if you have the need. Isn't that the mother of invention anyway?

[ Parent ]
Natural gas for cars (none / 0) (#163)
by cameldrv on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:02:31 AM EST

In fact, there are many light trucks in the U.S. that run on Natural Gas. They are almost exclusively in corprate fleets, because you can't get it at most gas stations, while the corporate fleet will have a pump at the headquarters. Several auto manufacturers sell Natural Gas trucks, with slightly modified engines, and a different fuel system. You can even get it at some gas stations around where I live, typically near Interstate highways.

[ Parent ]
We go back to normal life (2.16 / 12) (#92)
by derch on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 11:23:24 AM EST

Losing electricity is not the end of life, just of the modern world as we know it. Every year there ice and snow storms knock electricity out in entire towns for weeks. The people in those areas still live. You simply put on an extra sweater, start a fire in the woodstove, and put on some hot chocolate (water comes from the melted snow or ice).


There would be a few years while people iron out how to return to mid 1800s technology, but it wouldn't be impossible. You learn to ride a horse, people move back to smaller towns nearer agricultural.

I'm glad I live in rural America. Plenty of farmers. Plenty of nice Christian people who believe in charity and community. Plenty of wood for winters and streams for hydroelectric.

But damn, no more electrice tattoo machines! Have to find someone who can do it the old ways.

Oh, you say you don't HAVE a woodstove?
You don't HAVE a yard for veggies?
You don't believe in guns even for deer hunting?
You don't have any practical skills and you aren't fit enough for manual labor?
Well, oh my, guess who's going to be dinner?

Um, no (3.50 / 4) (#103)
by autonomous on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:13:42 PM EST

I don't know what dreamland your in, but we do not enough tree's for everyone to burn wood. We do not have enough food to feed all those people either. I'm afraid many millions of people would die before things stabilized with a sustainable 1800's level of technology.
-- Always remember you are nothing more than a collection of complementary chemicals worth not more than $5.00
[ Parent ]
Many already do (none / 0) (#132)
by juahonen on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:39:57 PM EST

From starvation, lack of clean water, malnutrition.

The problem is just this: they do not live in the western world. Do we have more of a right to live than they? I don't think so.

[ Parent ]

Nice Christian people... (4.33 / 3) (#109)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:32:51 PM EST

ready to blow your head off the minute there's a food shortage and their own survival is threatened. Bah. In the words of my father, the Methodist minister: Son, if anyone ever volunteers to you that they are a Christian, prepare to get screwed.

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
That's not hard (none / 0) (#167)
by scruffyMark on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:38:05 AM EST

There would be a few years while people iron out how to return to mid 1800s technology

Well, that's easy. Return to mid 1800s population. Question is, how do we get there, birth control or Ragnarok?

[ Parent ]

Oh, I forgot one (none / 0) (#168)
by scruffyMark on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:40:17 AM EST

We also need to return to mid 1800s life spans, mid 1800s starvation and disease rates, and so forth.

[ Parent ]
Christian charity (none / 0) (#191)
by Cro Magnon on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 10:57:24 AM EST

How long would it last when all those people from urbans areas show up who DON'T have a woodstove, DON'T have a yard, DO believe in guns, have guns, know how to use guns?
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
Alternative fuel. (3.60 / 5) (#102)
by m0rzo on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:08:07 PM EST

Vegetable oil - There's no shortage of vegetables in the world. Think about it. You go to the gas station and you fill up on recycled vegetable oil (from factories, restaurants etc.etc). It's remarkably efficient, the same price as diesal and there's a LOT less co2 and sulphur emmisions. I don't think there's need to worry really; we'll find a substitude for ground bored oil.


My last sig was just plain offensive.

Agripollution (4.50 / 2) (#115)
by petri on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 12:55:18 PM EST

This is a nice idea, but already agriculture, as it is practiced today, is a major cause of erosion, groundwater, river & lake pollution, collapsing biodiversity, etc... not to mention that growing & distributing enough food to feed the world seems to be a problem on this planet as well... Of course, where food is plenty, this may not seem an issue. Unfortunately I cannot recall the source of the article that pointed this all out, but basically the message was that there are severe disadvantages to veggie-based energy, and that growing food is a way better use of the land.

[ Parent ]
But... (4.50 / 2) (#119)
by m0rzo on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:00:58 PM EST

If this oil is going to be chucked away from restaurants and factories, it may as well be used productively. Surely plants could be grown in large greenhouses with the sole purpose of providing fuel? Hmm. I'm not really sure.


My last sig was just plain offensive.
[ Parent ]

Too bad you fuckers keep breeding, huh? (2.41 / 12) (#121)
by The Littlest Hobo on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:17:37 PM EST

Help stop the human apocalypse.

Fast Breeders (4.62 / 8) (#122)
by /dev/niall on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:21:23 PM EST

I'm a little confused. The link that suggests we have enough Uranium to last us 40-80 years mentions fast breeder reactors. It neglects to mention that fast breeders use non-fissionable U238, which is 100+ times more abudant than U235, which is what's used in conventional reactors.

I suggest you read these facts from an article by Bernard Cohen. Pay special attention to the comments underneath though; Cohen predicts we can go for about 5 billion years, but neglected to take into account the half-life of the uranium. Which is 4.46 billion years.

Plenty of time to figure out that fusion thingy.

Disclaimer: I am pro-nuclear. See this, and this.


-- 报告人对动物

Fusion.. (none / 0) (#179)
by ajduk on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 05:29:04 AM EST

Developments in Fusion:

http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns9999999

[ Parent ]
More economics (4.00 / 9) (#123)
by Alan Crowe on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:24:50 PM EST

Doomsday gives economists less than their due.

Consider a businessman planning an organization today. I'll make up some numbers to illustrate my point. If he builds a network of small factories across the country he can avoid transport costs. If he has one big factory he reaps economies of scale and reduces his costs from $100million to $90million. Against that he must find $9million for transport costs. He does the calculation. $100million is greater than $99million, so he builds a single centralized factory.

If a sudden political crisis causes oil prices to soar, as happened in 1973, our business man is caught out. If soaring oil prices cause transport costs to treble to $27million he is $18million worse off. This is the basis for believing that price rises, as oil becomes scarce, will do enormous economic damage, but this is wrong.

Consider a business man in 2032 facing the same question that his predecessor faced in 2002. He does a similar calculation. Distributed manufacturing: $100million. Centralized manufacturing: $90million plus $27million transport costs. He goes for the option that costs $100million. His predecessor, in the good old days of cheap oil had an option that cost $99million. So soaring oil prices and trebling transport costs, cost this hypothetical business $1million not $18million.

Am I being realistic? Well, I'm 41 years old so I can remember when flying abroad for a holiday in a jet was the preserve of the rich and glamorous. Today holiday-makers burn kerosene by the ton as they fly off on cheap package holidays. What will happen in thirty years time, when aviation fuel is scarcer and dearer? Billy Butlin made a fortune in Britain after World War Two with holiday camps. They were a success, despite the poor weather in Britain, because most persons could not afford to fly South. Holiday camps still exist. Centre Parcs has a large glass dome to keep the rain off. Large glass domes are expensive. In 2032 what will the leisure industry spend its money on? Will it end up funding increasingly desperate oil exploration, fighting a losing battle with the ever increasing price of aviation fuel, or will it glass over Oban to keep the rain off. (I could not resist the `in joke'. Oban is a small town in Scotland, famous for disappointing tourists with its unrelenting rain.) Perhaps cycling holidays will become popular. They used to be popular. They still exist. If air travel were dearer, one could imagine an up-market version, cyclo-gastronomy, that ended each day's bicycle run at a gourmet restaurant.

Notice that economics trumps physics. Physicists can tell you that there are fundamental limits to fuel efficiency. Air travel will always use a lot of aviation fuel, so disaster is inevitable. But when scarcity means that oil is no longer cheap, we will stop wasting it. I don't mean that we will spend lavishly on energy efficiency. I mean that oil-extravagant goods such as foreign holidays will become poor value for money, so we will spend our money on oil-frugal goods instead. The changes will be big in the sense that businessmen who fail to plan ahead will be ruined, but they will be small in the sense that businessmen who do plan ahead can both adapt and avoid great expense.

What about Lego bricks? Lego is expensive, and not because it is made from oil. $30 buys you a barrel of oil. Go to a toy shop and work how much it would cost you to buy enough Lego to fill an oil barrel. It is an alarming thought. Lego is expensive because it is precision engineered in order to control the force required to fit the bricks together. The manufacturers could use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as feed-stock and it would make little difference to the price in the shop.

This brings me nicely to the point that I pay about the same for a litre of diesel oil for my car as I do for a litre of vegetable oil for my kitchen. I live in Britain, so 80% of the pump price of diesel oil is tax. Vegetable oil is really five times the price. This does mean that there is a cap on how expensive oil can get. Above $150 one can literally grow the stuff. Vegetable oil for cooking is surely much dearer than industrial grade vegetable oil as substitute for Brent crude. So I guess the price of oil will never go above $100 a barrel. Mineral oil with extraction costs above $100 a barrel will stay in the ground forever, because vegetable oil is cheaper.

Oh god, I rambling, I must try to sum up.

  1. The price of oil will never go above $100 a barrel, because you can grow sunflowers and crush the seeds to get oil for that kind of money.
  2. $100 a barrel is enough to ruin big, important businesses that depend on cheap oil. So `doom' for a few as in being made redundant and having to change career, yes.
  3. Time-scale matters. The 30 to 60 year time-scale means that you have to assess the economic impact on the basis that the economy will be organized along different lines that minimize the impact of high oil prices. The future will be different rather than poorer.


open system vs closed system (5.00 / 5) (#133)
by speek on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:47:58 PM EST

Notice that economics trumps physics.

The people of Easter island didn't find this to be so. Given the closed and isolated environment of Easter Island, as they used up their resources, that was that. They didn't have alternatives to turn to.

The earth is also fairly isolated. We have the sun as input, and radiation of energy as output. Economics does not trump physics. It is entirely possible that we will indeed keep wasting even as resources diminish. There's denial now, and I see no reason to think denial won't continue. And, if we don't figure out how to use the Sun's energy directly, we will in fact run out of energy some day, and that will be that.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

So what? (5.00 / 1) (#165)
by cameldrv on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:24:53 AM EST

The time scale in which fissionable material will run out is centuries. Besides the fact that we will all be dead by such time, technology is moving fast enough that I'm sure we will have greatly enhanced capabilities to get energy by other means. In a couple of centuries, I'm sure we will have fusion power, and duterium is quite abundant on this planet. When that runs out, we can always launch rockets and get it from other planets.

The point is, we have problems that are much more pressing than energy. We have the technology *right now* in breeder reactors to last us a couple of centures. Screaming that we're all screwed in 200 years unless we can invent some new technology just isn't that frightening.

[ Parent ]

Sunflowers can't replace oil (5.00 / 2) (#141)
by cyberformer on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:58:49 PM EST

Oil isn't just burned up for energy. It's used in fertilisers, which make the sunflowers grow. If oil becomes more expensive, so do the sunflower seeds with which you want to replace it. The decline in agricultural productivity leads to food shortages and starvation. This will at first be confined to the poorer parts of the world (the U.S. actually exports much of the world's food), though the West will feel knock-on effects: Economic decline combined with millions of starving people trying to cross the borders.

It is possible to grow oil substitutes (vegetable oil, ethanol from corn, etc.) though these not may not be a net energy source. Even if they are, the Earth's fertile land are is finite and diminishing: If you're burning all that agricultural produce, you can't eat it.

There's a lot of "slack" built in to the current Western lifestyle: People could stop driving SUVs, for example, or eat grains rather than feeding them to animals for beef or milk. However, many people in the U.S. will resist such lifestyle changes, and eventually declining resources will catch up with all of us.

[ Parent ]

Give me a break. (3.00 / 8) (#126)
by TheOrange on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 01:48:56 PM EST



This article implies that suddenly the world will wake up and have no more oil. Panic ensues, billions die. Do you really think that oil will just be here one day, and gone the next?

We have some time to plan for the world running out of oil. I think that is an excellent idea, but the alarmist tone of this article is irritating.



Not alarmist enough (5.00 / 2) (#150)
by shadarr on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 07:27:11 PM EST

I was hoping the article would discuss more about the effects of running out of oil all at once, rather than possible causes and prevention. What's all this prattling on about barrels? I want to hear about famine, rats the size of border collies, and canabalism. Any topic that has the word Doomsday in it better have those elements at the very least, or it's blatant false advertising.

[ Parent ]
Doomsday title threw me off (none / 0) (#227)
by chmod700 on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 12:58:08 PM EST

I agree. Here today, gone tommorow applies to nuclear or biological holocaust, not running out of a poorly managed fuel. The headline and the body of this article are mismatched.
If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six sharpening my axe. -Abraham Lincoln
[ Parent ]
Less Ideological Comment (4.20 / 5) (#131)
by glassware on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 02:26:24 PM EST

It's not easy when this argument gets quite heated, but I agree with everything on this page. I want to encourage everyone to take a shared viewpoint, if possible.

It seems like most of the arguments on this page say "Geez, calm down, we'll get better technology and nobody will notice that the oil runs out." I emphatically agree: when oil becomes more expensive, people will begin to adapt and change their oil consumption, businessmen will plan better, and so on. We improve our technologies constantly, and we still have lots of (polluting) resources like natural gas, coal, and wood.

This said, I would like to remind people of what happened in the electricity crisis in California.

Our crisis started with a poorly conceived deregulation law. Electricity companies went bankrupt. Energy ran out; consumers had to pay ridiculous prices; and the whole thing came to a close when the government blew a chunk of its fiscal reserves in a massive bailout. The bailout acted as a reverse-shock that put the market back to normal, and now that the prices are (relatively) reasonable everything that happened during the crisis looks foolish.

As I read this article, I see that the potential for a similar crisis when oil prices jump is painfully acute. No, the world probably won't collapse, but the shock to the system will be huge. Right now, Americans are so used to gasoline costing $1.50 or less per gallon, that when the price temporarily surged to $2 there were nationwide boycotts and inquiries into antitrust and all sorts of silliness. Imagine what would happen if gasoline went to $5 or $10?

We should use alarmist warnings like this article to prompt us to prepare for the date when gasoline prices do skyrocket. Why not add another $.50 cents tax on gasoline price over the next decade? If the price of crude oil starts to rise, then we can roll back the tax incrementally to give people time to adjust rather than a sudden scare. The extra money raised by the gas tax could go into investments in new solar/wind/geothermal/non-polluting plant oils.

I encourage everyone to support a measure such as this. While it is likely that technology and economics will correct for a surge in gas prices, we have two choices: we can either send everyone into a sudden panic and blow huge amounts of money in a desperate attempt to fix things when they go wrong, or we can start planning now.

Political Nightmare (5.00 / 2) (#138)
by geekmug on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 04:27:05 PM EST

First off, a $.50 tax increase on gas would never pass in any state. But, assume it had... the money would be allocated like any other tax money. When time comes to roll the tax back, the budget will magically be dependent on an otherwise non-existant revenue source.

-- Why reinvent the square wheel?
[ Parent ]
You'll know a real crisis when you see it (none / 0) (#166)
by kcbrown on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:28:22 AM EST

As I read this article, I see that the potential for a similar crisis when oil prices jump is painfully acute. No, the world probably won't collapse, but the shock to the system will be huge. Right now, Americans are so used to gasoline costing $1.50 or less per gallon, that when the price temporarily surged to $2 there were nationwide boycotts and inquiries into antitrust and all sorts of silliness. Imagine what would happen if gasoline went to $5 or $10?
There's a critical difference between this and the California electricity "crisis". In the latter, the price of electricity in the state rose sky-high while remaining the same everywhere else. This is how everyone knew that the price gouging and excuses made by the energy companies were both complete bullshit.

In a real oil crisis the price of oil will rise everywhere and, while that's happening, some oil companies will go out of business as their supplies dry up and their competitiveness disappears. People will know it's the real thing. The closest thing was the oil shortage here in the U.S. during the 70s. You'll probably see some antitrust investigations but they probably won't be very fruitful when it's the real deal.

As for tax increases that get rolled back, it won't work, because the rollbacks simply won't happen (you should know the nature of government better than that!).

[ Parent ]

Re: You'll know a real crisis when you see it (none / 0) (#186)
by khallow on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 10:17:21 AM EST

There's a critical difference between this and the California electricity "crisis". In the latter, the price of electricity in the state rose sky-high while remaining the same everywhere else. This is how everyone knew that the price gouging and excuses made by the energy companies were both complete bullshit.

Actually, the price of electricity went up in all the neighboring markets. The Northwest in particular saw a large increase in electricity prices (from $0.05 to $0.10 or $0.15 per KWh, I think). The California mess didn't have much affect further away because it costs so much to transport power over long distances. I understand that at some point every neighbor of California was selling power to California.

Besides California was screwing around (and has a history of doing so). There wouldn't have been a "crisis", if Governor Davis had done the right thing and passed some of the increased cost of electricity to consumers. Instead, you had San Diego consumers, PG&E, and Consolidated Edison subsidizing the consumers in Sillicon Valley and elsewhere. Finally, power producers had a large risk of not being paid. Seems reasonable to charge extra for that.

In a real oil crisis the price of oil will rise everywhere and, while that's happening, some oil companies will go out of business as their supplies dry up and their competitiveness disappears. People will know it's the real thing. The closest thing was the oil shortage here in the U.S. during the 70s. You'll probably see some antitrust investigations but they probably won't be very fruitful when it's the real deal.

One thing here is whether there will be a sudden shortage or not. You could also see a gradual increase in price which wouldn't be such a big deal. I wouldn't bet against price shocks. Just saying that we may be pleasantly disappointed there.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Right, but you miss my point... (none / 0) (#223)
by kcbrown on Thu Mar 28, 2002 at 03:26:59 PM EST

The price in neighboring markets went up because they were supplying California with electricity more so than they had been doing previously. That left them with a smaller supply for themselves, hence a price hike.

And yes, the reason that happened is that the companies that own the power generating facilities in California (some of whom are, I believe, the parent companies of the California power companies) were screwing around by taking down California generating capacity for "maintenance" in order to hike the price of energy in a captive market.

But in any case, where I was going with this is that the California "crisis" had nothing to do with a shortage of actual energy supplies and everything to do with market manipulation on the part of greedy energy companies. Had it been the result of dwindling energy supplies, the price of energy would have risen by roughly the same amount throughout the entire country, and that simply didn't happen.

And I agree with reservations: there won't be a sudden shortage of oil. But that only holds true if there are many sources of oil. If there are only a few then the loss of one will have a large impact (depending on how much oil is coming from that source relative to the rest).

[ Parent ]

a modest proposal (3.16 / 6) (#134)
by speek on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 03:00:07 PM EST

I suggest we use our current surplus of oil to kill off other potential users of oil, thus reducing the demand for oil, and increasing the length of time our oil will last us.

Oh, hold on....

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

Common misconception (4.44 / 9) (#143)
by Rahyl on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 05:12:05 PM EST

Having a degree in Economics, I feel I'm more qualified than the average Joe to discuss these kinds of things.

"The primary fallacy upon which the economist's argument is based is that if enough people want a resource, the resource will become available."

This is a misinterpretation of economic theory. In this instance, it is not oil that is needed, but rather what the oil provides that is needed. Yes, one day we will "run out" of oil, but we will not run out of energy. The oil companies really aren't oil companies but rather "energy providers" that happen to be using oil to supply the demand for energy. Once the oil becomes prohibitively expensive to obtain energy from, the companies will switch over to utilizing some other, more cost effective resource.

You sited many sources of energy that will certainly be relied upon more as time goes on. No single energy resource will provide a magic-bullet answer, which you've clearly indicated as well. A combination of them, however, could very well be part of the solution to rising energy demands. In addition to technological advances in energy production, another phenomena should be examined as a means by which to achieve a more sound position with regards to energy: culture.

In western culture (American in particular), we tend to see self-reliance as backwards and primitive. If someone's home isn't on the public utility grid (electricity, water, gas), we tend to perceive them as being "red-necks" or "isolationists." It is this perception, not energy policy and/or resource scarcity, that presents the largest obstacle to overcome. Perhaps instead of wondering what the companies/administrations/public utilities are going to do, we should step up to the plate ourselves and address the problem as free individuals capable of making our own decisions. What kind of critical writer would I be if I didn't use an example of just such a thing to illustrate how feasible it really is? :)

During the California gas "crisis," many people became familiar with an old concept: the corn stove. To make a long story short, many people became so fed up with the gas fiasco that they decided to take matters into their own hands and look at alternatives to public utilities. What they found was an environmentally friendly, readily available, renewable resource in common grocery store corn. Corn is easy to grow, harvest, and re-plant each season. As a fuel, it's very efficient both in terms of the heat provided and the cost to use. If I remember correctly, the stove has only a few moving parts and benefits from many modern safety features that didn't exist in times past.

http://www.cornburner.com/BM991.html

That's just one of many models. Notice the handy chart at the bottom that compares the cost of electricity and other energy sources for heat. Sure, the units go for around $3000 to $4000, but if demand for them were to go up, the prices would surely come down.

I know it's a sensitive topic but I'll bring it up anyway: hemp fuel. The internal combustion engine was originally designed to use bio-mass fuels from hemp and other seed/vegetable sources. It grows fast, produces plenty of seeds, and is completely renewable.

I'll stop there but I think we get the idea. Oil just happens to be a fairly easy resource to get right now. As existing fields become more expensive to maintain, other sources of energy will become more feasible. For those that want to contribute to the solution of central utility dependancy, take matters into your own hands and see if you can come up with creative ways to ween yourselves off of as much oil as you can. You'll be suprised how many alternatives already exist.




So much for your degreee in Economics (2.00 / 4) (#154)
by Shimmer on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 08:26:46 PM EST

the units go for around $3000 to $4000, but if demand for them were to go up, the prices would surely come down.

I'm not even going to bother to point out the basic error here.

-- Brian



Wizard needs food badly.
[ Parent ]
Know your model assumptions (5.00 / 2) (#155)
by mbrubeck on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 09:15:46 PM EST

the units go for around $3000 to $4000, but if demand for them were to go up, the prices would surely come down.

I'm not even going to bother to point out the basic error here.

Oh, come on. You know by common sense that this is true, regardless of the supply/demand graphs we know from high school social studies classes. That sort of supply-and-demand pricing model assumes that production capacity is already fully developed; before that point is reached, prices go down as the initial rise in demand creates competition and more efficient production.

[ Parent ]
Bravo! (none / 0) (#205)
by Rahyl on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:50:18 PM EST

Exactly!

Not to mention the increases in efficiency as the manufacturing process for them becomes more automated.

Competition is still, I'd say, the #1 way to reduce the cost of a comodity as the demand for it rises.



[ Parent ]
what error? (none / 0) (#204)
by Rahyl on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:46:53 PM EST

That price comes directly from the webpage I sited. There is no error. If you'd like the link to the price list, I'll be glad to provide it but if you've been on the internet for any length of time, you should be able to find it.


[ Parent ]
OMG (none / 0) (#242)
by Shimmer on Wed Apr 17, 2002 at 11:24:58 PM EST

I can't believe you missed this. The mistake isn't in the price, okay?

[Spoiler follows]

The mistake is that you state that the price will go down if demand goes up. Demand goes up, price goes down? I don't think that's quite how things work in capitalism.

It may be true that if demand goes up supply will follow, and then the price will come down. But that's not what you said.

-- Brian

Wizard needs food badly.
[ Parent ]
Fixed vs. Variable costs (5.00 / 1) (#206)
by jolly st nick on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:55:13 PM EST

If you had to build a computer and there were no computers being produced in the world, it would be fabulously expensive, because all the fixed faclities needed to make that one unit would have to be recouped in a single unit. If you sell a billion computers, then the cost of facilities are spread out over that many units, and in fact the total amount spent on fixed facilities for building computers would increase, but the per-unit cost would decrease.



[ Parent ]

Biomass fuels and economic reasoning (4.00 / 1) (#207)
by jolly st nick on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 02:16:08 PM EST

I don't want to make sweeping generalizations about economists, however I do think a lot of the reasoning I've heard from economists is rather short term and in some cases scientifically ignorant.

For example, I heard several credentialled, academic economists claim during a symposium I attended that the carrying capacity of the Earth is "roughly infinite", on the basis that people are clever and always do find a way to adjust. Just on thermodynamic grounds this is untenable. A practical theoretical limit of the carrying capacity of the planet would be when total human caloric intakes equals the maximum obtainable net primary productivity of photosynthesis.

There is simply not an infinite supply of energy (in usable or unusable forms) on the planet. The practical limits may be decades off, or they may be millenia; the Earth may be capable of supporting fifty billion peoile, or a trillion people. However, the earth cannot support an unlimited number of people for an indefinite length of time. For pete's sake, some day the universe will suffer entropic heat death -- do economists expect the market will somehow weather that?

The assumption that the market can adjust to any possible challenge is silly. There is no cosmic guarantee for the survival of our species, much less our economic systems.

And, just because the economy will adjust to not having enough energy (perhaps people will starve in some kind of Malthusian crisis), doesn't mean it will do so in a scenario we'd want to live in. Economists have learned the lesson well that any particular prediction date of Malthusian doom is almost certainly correct. However, there are thermodynamic limits to the ability of plants to convert sunlight into food energy.



[ Parent ]

hate to say it, but... (none / 0) (#208)
by Rahyl on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 02:53:29 PM EST

...you're correct with regards to the reasoning employed by many economists. A pattern I've noticed with many "experts" on economics is that aside from economic studies, they have researched little else. This "tunnel vision" syndrome is something we should all be on the lookout for. If one's only credentials seem to be a very narrow focus of study, realize that they may not be aware that there are a multitude of forces at work. I may have a degree in economics, but it is by no means the only subject I've devoted my time to studying :) Another thing to look out for in the "expert" economist is what it is they do for a living. Many of them are employed by the government, which usually means trouble. Personally, I'll never go back to any sort of money management/investment job. Tried it for a few months and it was so bad, I couldn't stay. Take it from me, the technology sector has much more to offer for those that have interests broader than the simple rat-race wealth accumulation game.

Something science has taught is over and over again is that often times, previously thought "unrelated" topics often end up very relevant to one another. Here's a perfect example in a recent article over at discover.com

http://discover.com/feb_02/gthere.html?article=feat11.html

When attempting to use only economic theory to explain something like energy policy, there are bound to be problems. Economics is still only theory, albeit one that has a lot of historic references to fall back on. In terms of energy, yes, we know that scientifically speaking, there isn't an "infinite" amount for the taking. But since we're only talking about a replacement for oil when the time comes, thermodynamic models might not be the most practical to use.

Here's an example that might explain the cost/benefit analysis a little better.

Imagine the year is 2102. Over the past century, oil reserves have become more and more expensive to use. Instead of $30/barrel of oil, it now costs $80/barrel due largely to the fact that pumps must now be used to bring up oil from wells. These pumps use a lot of electricity and require more labor and materials to maintain than traditional oil wells so the cost per barrel is much higher.

After years of research, a team from MIT invents and implements a process by which ordinary soy beans can be grown, processed, and used at a cost of only $60/barrel of soy-oil. Because of the process used, the majority of existing petro-chemical machines need little if any modification to use the fuels that can be made with crude soybean oil. The process is also much less labor intensive and benefits from the renewable qualities of the raw materials (soy beans).

In summary, thanks to a technological innovation, the energy that used to be obtained from a barrel of crude oil at $80/barrel can now be had for only $60/barrel. As a result, the various industries that rely heavily on oil products now see a downward shift in their operating costs. This enables them to lower their prices in attempts to capture larger shares of the market (those who are unwilling to lower their prices will lose business to those who are).

Hehe, that is a funny conclusion for that guy to come to, the idea that the carrying capacity of earth is "roughly infinite." Isn't that kind of an oxy-moron? I'd say he was trying to come up with a fancy way of saying "we don't have a clue, where's my mommy..." It's like saying "exactly a few dozen" or "a precise estimation." I wouldn't put much faith in someone that makes a claim on the carrying capacity of a planet in terms of the "infinite."


[ Parent ]
I agree that this is one plausible scenario. (none / 0) (#211)
by jolly st nick on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 03:48:37 PM EST

Imagine the year is 2102...

After years of research, a team from MIT invents and implements a process by which ordinary soy beans can be grown, processed, and used at a cost of only $60/barrel of soy-oil.

Yes, I agree this is one plausible scenario. Not this scenario exactly. Since current energy use is something like 40% of the NPP of terrestial plants, we can only support about 2.5x times the current energy use out of terrestial biomass. This 2.5x figure would preclude using the plants for anything else like food for ourselves or livestock, so it seems to me unlikely we could replace oil even at today's usage levels with terrestial biomass fuels.

But some innovation which functions like the one you posit may, may even probably happen I grant.

However you can't predict the precise course of technolgical progress, nor rely upon it to come up with the solution, unaided, just when it would be convenient. It's also quite plausible that as the amount of energy needed to extract barrel of oil approaches the energy yield of a barrel of oil, there will be economic contraction as more expensive sources of energy are employed and marginally profitable uses of energy are curtailed. Economic contraction is, technically speaking, just as possible a solution to the problem of efficient market distribution of resources as finding a highly interchangeable substitute.

However, I will confess to being relatively sanguine about the oil supply in 2102, since I and everybody I know will almost certainly be dead by then.

There are other reasons to take a slighly more interventionist stance when it comes to energy policy such as funding basic research in alternate sources, some support for applied research with long term payoffs, and support for energy efficiency technology development and deployment. They have to do with immediate andnear term needs, not long term needs. First, there is pollution. Second, there is the need to particiapte in far flung military conflicts and questionable political policies to ensure the flow of inexpensive oil from large foreign reserves. Third, there is the opportunity to offset some of the potential short term competitive disadvantages of our vast country when compared to more compact and energy efficient countries during times of energy fluctuation.

I don't feel the need to panic over the global supply of oil in my lifetime, but I do have concern over the affect of energy policy on the quality of life in my country in my lifetime.



[ Parent ]

Hehe, speaking of... (none / 0) (#214)
by Rahyl on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 04:16:52 PM EST

"Second, there is the need to particiapte in far flung military conflicts and questionable political policies to ensure the flow of inexpensive oil from large foreign reserves."

You know, I had a theory once about exactly why it was we "depended" so heavily on foriegn oil when we had plenty of our own sitting under our own soil. It goes something like this: Currently, the only world-commodity that the middle-east produces is oil. Given this, what's going to happen when they run out? Since we're hesitant to produce our own for "environmental concerns," there may come a day when our reserves end up being higher than theirs.

What kind of position will middle-eastern countries be in when their only cash-crop runs dry?

Something to think about.... ;)

[ Parent ]
How about Norway? (none / 0) (#216)
by jolly st nick on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 05:26:44 PM EST

Hmmm. How are countries like Norway, which is somewhat better run than most middle-eastern dictatorships, handling this question?

[ Parent ]
Free Market and Energy (4.25 / 4) (#158)
by John Thompson on Tue Mar 26, 2002 at 10:43:41 PM EST

Those who feel the Free Market will allow a gradual transition to new energy sources strike me as overly and naively optimistic about the future. My first concern is that the Free Market is a reactive mechanism, principally responding in an ad hoc manner to conditions at the moment.

Free Market capitalists of necessity place in inordinate amount of importance on the short-term return of any given market situation. Responsible energy policy, however, must be considered in a long term, proactive manner. Not just a couple generations down the road with a starry-eyed, "pie-in-the-sky" hope for some as yet unproven technologies to bail us out, but for the truly long term -- centuries or even millennia, based on what is known to work in the "here and now."

The down side of such a policy is that it runs contrary to fashionable capitalism. There is relatively little immediate or even short-term pay-out for developing sustainable energy technologies in the current Free Market; therefore such research is not being undertaken in a serious and effective manner. So how do we fund such research?

The only entity with the wherewithal to undertake such a task is government (sorry, Libertarians) through appropriation of funds and direction of research in the needed areas. Right now, we do not have an energy shortage. That means that RIGHT NOW is the probably the best time to start such a program. We have energy. We have money. There is a need. Why don't we act?

I suspect it is largely because vested interests know that they can accumulate more wealth faster by selling oil as fast as it can be pumped out of the ground and SUV's as fast is they can be manufactured (to mention only a couple of the more blatant examples of waste). Despite the known, undeniable finite nature of fossil fuels, and an explicit policy to "reduce dependence on foreign oil," reduction of demand is not being seriously considered. Rather, we should spend a decade of construction and cause centuries of environmental damage in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploit what is likely to be only a few years worth of oil deposits.

Why do so many people fail to see this policy as a victory of avarice over the common good?



Your concerns aren't entirely well-founded (5.00 / 3) (#164)
by kcbrown on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:05:42 AM EST

While I completely agree with your assessment of the free market, you seem to make a rather fundamental assumption: that there is currently only one way of producing energy, and that other means of producing it must be researched prior to putting them into production.

But right now there are a number of means of producing energy that are actually in use: coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear.

One reason that one can expect a gradual transition to a different type of energy production mechanism is that the oil (to use the example you discuss) won't run out all at once. Instead, it will become more difficult to find and to exploit over time, which means that the actual costs of producing it will rise. Those costs will always be passed onto the customer (since no business wants to take a loss), which means the prices at the endpoints will rise.

But as the price of oil rises, the price of energy produced by oil must also rise. Most importantly, it will rise relative to the price of other energy sources.

When the price of using oil is high enough that it's cheaper to build and operate power plants that use other means of energy production, energy suppliers will start to switch over to those means and will construct plants that use them.

One other thing: your scenario would be of greater concern if oil were the only thing being used (even if other means had already been researched, just not put into practice) because the price of oil is probably exponentially related to its scarcity, and at some point you'd get a very large increase in price for a relatively small increase in scarcity. The reason this isn't as much of an issue right now is that other means of producing energy (notably, nuclear) are actually in use right now, and the cost of energy is the aggregate cost of all of the means in use (along with how much of each type is in use). If oil goes up substantially, the overall price of energy will rise, but not nearly as quickly as the price of oil itself. We'll get hit much harder and much more quickly in the area of transportation than in the area of energy.

Frankly, I think we're idiots for using oil to generate power when we should be using it almost exclusively to power vehicles, since other technologies are almost as cost effective for generating energy on a massive scale, but aren't nearly as well-suited for use in vehicles. When the oil starts to run out our transportation infrastructure is going to get hurt in a big way.

[ Parent ]

Yeesh ... (none / 0) (#181)
by Kalani on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 06:10:02 AM EST

Frankly, I think we're idiots for using oil to generate power when we should be using it almost exclusively to power vehicles

I think we're idiots for using it for combustion reactions at all. What happens when we can't generate all of the fun polymers that we rely on?

-----
"I [think] that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement; in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the checker board."
--Richard Feynman
[ Parent ]
That's not impossible (none / 0) (#197)
by khallow on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 12:21:46 PM EST

I think we're idiots for using it for combustion reactions at all. What happens when we can't generate all of the fun polymers that we rely on?

We can sythesize the stuff from scratch. It's just a lot more expensive.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

100kW? (4.00 / 2) (#162)
by fink on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 12:55:28 AM EST

Modern wind turbines can produce 100 kW each and, as of 1999, supplied 16 billion kWh to the world: enough to power 5 mid-sized cities. But wind power has a low energy-density ...
Just a slight factual error: most modern wind turbines produce over 100kW each. A good example of higher-output turbines are those made by the German company ENERCON; their turbines can produce up to 1.5 mW in the E66 model.

Naturally, the average output is usually lower, as it is rare that the wind blows at a sufficiently high rate (usually required at over 15km/hr) 100% of the time.

Otherwise, good story!


----

RE: factual error (5.00 / 1) (#224)
by nazhuret on Thu Mar 28, 2002 at 03:28:09 PM EST

their turbines can produce up to 1.5 mW in the E66 model
I think you mean 1.5 MW -- mW is milliwatts, a million times smaller than a kW. MW is megawatts, a thousand times larger than a kW.

Oh look! Another nit! Go get it!

[ Parent ]

Yeah. Oops. (none / 0) (#225)
by fink on Fri Mar 29, 2002 at 01:07:58 AM EST

Well spotted. 1.5MW is indeed what I meant. At work I deal mainly with mW, so I hope the mistake is forgivable. :-)

Hence why "Preview" should be required twice before the "Post" button appears.


----
[ Parent ]

Cheapest source of renewable energy? (4.00 / 3) (#174)
by Battra on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 02:56:50 AM EST

I always thought the solution to the energy problem in the longer term would be to use solar power to run large electrolysis plants and use the resulting hydrogen for power. It's not 100% free as you would still need a salt bridge and possibly some acidity for the water, but it's pretty darn close to free hydrogen. Production could be done in sunny places near a source of water and away from populated areas (like the desert bordering the Colorado River, for example). Is there any reason why this wouldn't work?

No, but.. (none / 0) (#178)
by ajduk on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 05:23:00 AM EST

It would be very expensive. IIRC, to generate all the world's electricity would take a solar array of around 100kmx100km in a desert area. Given political will, it could be done. In the solar scheme, we: a) Make sure every new building has a solar cell roof. b) Build very large solar arrays in the deserts. Use the excess daytime electricity to generate hydrogen; this can be burnt at night to keep the electricity supply constant.

[ Parent ]
only part of the solution (none / 0) (#210)
by Rahyl on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 03:37:17 PM EST

It's very difficult to compare alternative energy sources to oil due largely in part to the "one size fits all" nature of oil energy. Simply put, oil is a more versitle source of energy than any other ***single*** source. Here's where it sticky, the fact that most are trying to find another energy source that meets the "one size fits all" model.

The first thing we'll need to do to break out of the oil trap is change our perceptions about what an exceptable energy source is. It doesn't have to be something that replaces everything that oil and other fossil fuels do. That's really where the magic is, imho. If we diversify our energy sources, we'll be in far better shape than we are now with oil. Some will come from solar, some from wind, water, geo-thermal, etc. When it's all put together, we'll end up with a nice supply of energy that isn't as sensitive to the political whims of government.

Yea, it'd take a pretty big solar panel (or lots of smaller ones) to replace the energy currently provided by oil, but maybe that's not what we should try doing :)



[ Parent ]
land area requires (none / 0) (#236)
by valentine9 on Sun Mar 31, 2002 at 02:38:49 AM EST

Mean solar flux is less than 400W/ M^2.At a generous 25% conversion efficiency this gives you 100W/M^2 or a total installed capacity of ~1000 GW.In one year that would give less than 9 trillion KWH compared to actual consumption last year of 13 trillion KWH.

Since actual efficiencies may be about 20% and true average solar irradiance is closer to 250W/M^2 than to 400W/M^2 the required area is likely to be closer to 200KM by 200KM to yield energy equivalent to present world demand.

[ Parent ]
Australian Power Tower (4.00 / 1) (#177)
by myyth on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 05:16:33 AM EST

The Age Newspaper has this article about a 1km high tower which hopes to produce 200 megawatts of energy by 2006. In a big, flat, sunny country like Australia, sounds like a great idea.

yeah, yeah. (4.25 / 4) (#189)
by eugene p oneil on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 10:33:28 AM EST

I've been hearing this doomsday scenario since I was a little tyke growing up during the OPEC oil embargo. If you want to take a trip down memory lane, you can go to your local library and read all sorts of gloomy predictions of America running out of energy by the far-flung year of 1993. Yes, there is a finite amount of oil on earth... just as there is a finite amount of dirt or seawater. The trick is getting it.

Currently, we mostly rely on oil that literally gushes out of the ground all by itself. Hey, can you blame us? This sort of oil is probably an insignificant fraction of the total amount of oil on earth, but it is still billions of barrels. Eventually, the oil will stop pumping itself, but that does not mean we will run out of oil. It will only mean that the price of oil will increase, as it takes more work to get it. It is like squeezing oil out of a sponge: the question is not whether you can get more oil out, it is only a question of how hard you are willing to squeeze.

As the price of oil goes up, alternative energy sources will become more and more economically appealing. People who are not wolly-haired eco-freaks will start to use these energy sources, not for any ideological reasons, but simply because they are cheaper. The oil-based industries will not vanish overnight, without warning: it will happen gradually, over the course of decades. We will have plenty of time to adjust.

When the process is complete, we will probably generate our power from solar and atomic energy (actually, both are really atomic energy, if you think about where sunshine comes from). We will use some of this energy to pump oil out of the ground to make plastics.

None of this requires immediate action. None of this requires government intervention. None of this requires us to panic. It is simple economics. You couldn't force people to give up cheap oil if you put a gun to their head: but raise the price, and see what happens.

Nuclear energy (5.00 / 1) (#199)
by Mitheral on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 12:51:57 PM EST

Whenever I want to get a rise out someone I refer to my solar water heater as a Nuclear Fusion Primary Heat Exchanger. :)

[ Parent ]
simpleton economics (3.66 / 3) (#202)
by Embedded on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:21:01 PM EST

Am I alone in the intuition that this order of laissez-faire bombast must be the product of a willingness on the part of the author to don socio-historical blinders? Yes, oil supplies will dwindle; and no, it won't be the end of the world (in fact, oil consumption is the great threat to our planet's ability to sustain life, not the lack thereof). But it's safe to say that there will be winners and losers in the transition to the next system. It might be wise to keep in mind that the Privileged Cracker has access to cheap petroleum products only so long as his Capitalist Big Daddy keeps the upper hand in a global terror war. If the next great energy source is dominated by a new hegemon with a different culture, will you be willing to become his little bitch instead? If you're committed to your fat-assed ignorance, arrogance and apathy, you might have to.

[ Parent ]
Who is wearing blinders? (none / 0) (#212)
by eugene p oneil on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 03:50:45 PM EST

I was making a simple statement about supply and demand, it has nothing to do with who is who's "bitch". It really amazes me how little has changed since the OPEC embargo: people still confuse short-term politics with long-term economics.

Back then, the US was OPEC's "bitch" because they could cut off our access to the oil. It did not, however, decrease the supply of oil. Now the US is dropping bombs in the Middle East, but that will not increase the supply of oil. The political aspects of the oil industry may be the only part you can see from your psudo-neo-socialist-whatever viewpoint, but they are irrelevant to the point I was trying to make. The effects that politicians have on oil prices last only as long as a politician's promise: Supply and demand will always have the last word. When oil gets too expensive, we will have to switch to alternatives.

Who will control the alternatives? Well, before you go off on some anti-capitalist revenge fantasy, you might want to think for just a second what the actual alternatives are. We are talking about things like solar power and fusion. Last I heard, nobody has a monopoly on sunlight or hydrogen. If you could just take YOUR blinders off for just a second, maybe you could see that.

[ Parent ]

to tone down my rhetoric just a shade... (5.00 / 1) (#213)
by Embedded on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 04:16:01 PM EST

My revenge fantasy was less anti-capitalist than anti-conventionalist. And I think my point stands that your cartoon economics only supports the do-nothing approach as long as you're the one getting the good ol' reach-around from that invisible hand. For the other 6 billion people on the planet these are real issues.

[ Parent ]
cartoon economics (5.00 / 2) (#215)
by eugene p oneil on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 05:17:03 PM EST

If the economics described in my message seemed cartoonish in their simplicity, it was only because I was tailoring my message to the level of someone who actually worries that we will wake up one morning and suddenly realize the entire planet has run out of oil. Why should I waste my time finding a complex way to debunk a silly theory, when a simple one will do?

As for encouraging a "do-nothing" approach, I prefer to think of it as a "don't panic" approach. Panic leads to extreme decisions that have lasting consequences, made by reactionary leaders who operate with little oversight. We have enough of that going on already.

[ Parent ]

discounting those who disagree (4.50 / 2) (#193)
by khallow on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 11:43:46 AM EST

How do you expect me to take you seriously when you say:

Finally there are the delusional and the hallucinating: the economists who tell us we have infinite reserves of oil and everyone else is off their rocker.

I will be discounting the economists in this presentation in the hope that no reasonable individual can take seriously their fantastic and baseless claims.

The only thing fantastic and baseless here is your strawman argument. First, no economist worth their salt is going to believe any resource is infinite much less oil. Second, you don't even mention the vast quantity of oil resources out there. Ie, there is somewhere around 1 quadrillion barrels of oil equivalent in oil shales, coal, etc. At $19 a barrel, this oil isn't going to find its way out of the ground. But a bunch of it sure would if the price were say $1900 a barrel (to give an extreme example).

In your footnote, you claim that oil companies won't extract the less pure/deeper oils because they cost energy to extract. That's a broken argument since all energy requires energy to extract. Instead, the question as always should be given a price per barrel, do you make a profit from extracting the oil?

I think you are trying to say is that the cost of the energy used in the process of extracting the oil is going to always be more than the revenue from selling the oil. This is wrong in that there are large costs associated with oil drilling that don't go up with the price of oil. Also improvements in technology will still occur meaning that less energy will be consumed in extracting (and refining) oil. In summary, we have resources out there that will become economical to extract when the price of oil rises enough.

Your estimates of uranium are bizarrely wrong. According to this site while there are 50 years of proven reserves, there are estimated to several times that in unproven reserves (ie, uranium that can be mined today). Recall that uranium is not as extensively mined as oil, and actually makes up 2% of the earth's crust by mass. The big problem is that most of that uranium will never be economical to extract because it will take much more energy to extract it and convert it into a usable form than can be obtained from the final product. This is a thermodynamic limit rather than a current technology limit.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Economics, Uranium, and the rest (none / 0) (#195)
by kuran42 on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 12:18:56 PM EST

I think you are trying to say is that the cost of the energy used in the process of extracting the oil is going to always be more than the revenue from selling the oil.

Why do you think that? Read more carefully and I think you will see that I have avoided any discussion of revenue or profit. I will skip the rest of your economics-related points as I think most of them have been addressed in a separate thread already.

Your estimates of uranium are bizarrely wrong.

Please take care. I have done no estimates of the amount of available uranium, nor would I consider myself remotely qualified to do so. I have only presented information from what I believe to be a reliable source of information. If you have conflicting sources, as you appear to, then an investigation into the resources is probably in order, to determine which is correct and which is false. The web page you presented doesn't seem to differentiate between the different forms of uranium. Is it claiming that two parts per million (not 2% as you erroneously claim) of the Earth's crust are fissile material? Or that fourteen parts per billion are fissile material (0.7% of natural uranium is reactor-grade without enrichment)?

The big problem is that most of that uranium will never be economical to extract because it will take much more energy to extract it and convert it into a usable form than can be obtained from the final product. This is a thermodynamic limit rather than a current technology limit.

Interesting. This is what I have tried to convey about oil. Why is it a valid argument for uranium if it is not valid for oil?

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Urk! cough cough cough (none / 0) (#218)
by khallow on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 06:25:34 PM EST

The web page you presented doesn't seem to differentiate between the different forms of uranium. Is it claiming that two parts per million (not 2% as you erroneously claim) of the Earth's crust are fissile material? Or that fourteen parts per billion are fissile material (0.7% of natural uranium is reactor-grade without enrichment)?

Doh! That was pretty wrong and pathetic, I'll agree. In hindsight, I must apologize profusely for saying that in a post.

Interesting. This is what I have tried to convey about oil. Why is it a valid argument for uranium if it is not valid for oil?

Guess it depends on how hard it is to extract. My understanding was that it was well away from the thermodynamic limits. Doesn't mean it actually is though. Further, you have some serious refining with uranium (seperating U235 from U238) that consumes a significant portion of the final energy output.

Given that I now understand what you are saying I'll partially grant your point. Still it sounds a lot like you're bad-mouthing the group because they have the most effective counter-argument.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Addendum (none / 0) (#196)
by kuran42 on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 12:21:09 PM EST

I have just noticed that I incorrectly listed U238 as fissile in my response. This should, of course, be U235. U238 is the input material for breeder reactors and is not itself usefully fissile.

--
kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]
Hemp (2.00 / 2) (#201)
by overtoke on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:09:41 PM EST

This is all you really need to know http://www.jackherer.com/ Read "The Emperor Wears No Clothes" (it's free) Mail your representatives...

Thanks for the link :) (none / 0) (#209)
by Rahyl on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 03:18:10 PM EST

That really is one of the best references for arguing for the decriminalization of cannabis. For the time being, however, I'd like to try and cultivate my generally rebellious nature by asking a few questions of a practical nature.

Since we know cannabis is a more efficient raw material to use for a wide variety of products, is there anywhere in the world it can be grown and processed in large quantities legally?

Among those places, are there any that have few if any trade barriers erected against them by major world markets like the US, Europe, China, etc.?

Let's start with a concrete example, something we're familiar with: paper. To compete with wood pulp paper, we'd need to grow X number of acres of hemp, harvest it regularly, have access to whatever process facilities were needed, and a way to bring the finished product to market. It would require a certain amount of labor, a fairly "friendly" government, and maybe a fairly stable climate (tropics maybe?).

Is there such a place?


[ Parent ]
Hemp grows! (5.00 / 1) (#241)
by overtoke on Fri Apr 12, 2002 at 08:51:36 PM EST

In 1994 we imported less than 500 pounds of raw hemp fiber. In the first 9 months of 1999 we imported over 1.5 million pounds. Industrial Hemp is Legal in Many parts of the World. We also have more than adequate trading partners.

Canada for example. Here is a link to everything you need to know about becoming a hemp farmer in Canada including instructions, application forms, rules and full lists of certified growers and seed suppliers. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hpb/drugs/htmleng/hemp.html (Health Canada)

It is a real industry. Our Government and the DEA are making Illegal the very thing that can end our country's energy dependance. It is a CRIME what the Oil, Energy, Chemical, Paper and the Pharmo companies' lobbies get away with. And that is absolutely the ony explanation for why cannabis is still illegal. (But we must also blame the corrupt politician who lacks the decency to stop trading opinions for money.)

Since this plant has been a part of human civilization from the beginning it will grow in all but the most extreme environment. And just like any other weed it tends to thrive in many soil conditions and crowd out other plants. That means you do not have to fertilize it aggresively. You do not have to remove other 'weeds' from the fields because the hemp plant is the best competitor. The hemp plant is naturally resistant to insects. Zero insecticides are required.

I'm tracking down some more numbers regarding acreage and production.

[ Parent ]
Points worth thinking about (3.00 / 1) (#203)
by paperd on Wed Mar 27, 2002 at 01:24:10 PM EST

Admittedly the article does come across as a bit sensationalist with screaming headlines "Countdown to Doomsday!". But I think it makes a good article because it makes one think about the environment (which doesn't often appear on the radar map of mainstream media - except when there is some publicity gig for some corporation on them being "environmentally-friendly". Or as them being crucified as scapegoats to appease the public and hoodwink people into thinking that governments put it high on their list of priorities...).

I believe that eventually in the future we'll probably develop the technology to help ameliorate the problem, but it not going to be done automagically; there will be some pain involved in the transition. Better to think about it now than later in the future, which unfortunately, seems to be the prevailing mood of many today.

Actually I'm kind of glad we'll be forced to migrate to other more renewable energy sources in the future. Environmentalists keep warning about the potential greenhouse effect from CO2 emissions but it is hard to get people to sit up and take action now simply because it is extremely difficult to predict with a high degree of certainty exactly when and how increased CO2 output will affect us on a global scale. Call me an idealist, but I hope that the future world won't be a radically different place (in a bad way) for my children to grow up in.

Don't ignore the natural order (2.33 / 3) (#222)
by pkesel on Thu Mar 28, 2002 at 09:02:38 AM EST

Most people believe they are entitled to a particular way of life. Without oil and without cheap energy life won't be worth living. It's a fallacy that comes naturally, and it's used to great lengths by politicians and FUD sources from all sides.

History has shown nothing more emphatically than the fact that Man (and other life as well) will adapt and survive so long as very basic life-sustaining resources are available.

So the oil runs out. So the economy we've built around it collapses and our governments fall apart and maybe even a large percentage of our population dies out because the world's easily available energy supply won't support our frivolous way of living. What happens the next day? Those people who are left start sharpening rocks and tying them to sticks so they can go get some dinner. They pack their skins into a cave and rub some sticks to build a fire to stay warm. They carry on in whatever fashion they might. And the cycle starts again.

Those developments might be unfortunate, uncomfortable. But life without X-Box and stock options is merely different. Why call it better or worse?



new energy sources (none / 0) (#228)
by jmd2121 on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 12:19:15 AM EST

very interesting article--

I'd like to suggest an interesting thought. The living world seems to do quite well with the enery from the sun. No, its not industrial applications, but taking energy from the sun and, through a variety of biochemical processes creating trees, animals, etc.


With all the amazing advances in biotechnology, it it reasonable to ponder that we may be able to harness the sun's energy in useful forms using completely biological systems? Systems designed and engineered to suit our needs? This may be 50+ years away, but is it possible?





sounds like paradise to me (none / 0) (#229)
by chewd on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 03:06:36 PM EST

no phones? no cars? no alarm clock?

where do i sign? thats beedin' utopia if ive ever heard it!

no internet (none / 0) (#230)
by SA10 on Sat Mar 30, 2002 at 03:18:23 PM EST

that would suck

Whatever floats your boat


[ Parent ]
Doomsday (none / 0) (#239)
by valentine9 on Wed Apr 03, 2002 at 11:01:18 PM EST

The entire thesis is odd.There is no shortage of energy. The sun radiates enough in a day to power our present civilization until the heat death of the universe.

I understand the worry that we'll run out of inexpensive gasoline as fossil supplies are depleted, but if it proves convenient( with recent advances in fuel cell technology, it won't) the stuff can be synthesized from air.In fact, Lewis research center, now NASA Glenn, had a program to develope more efficient synthetic processes to do exactly that. The idea was to avoid having to continually supply jet fuel to aircraft carriers using vulnerable tankers.Engineering trades quashed the idea. Nontheless it is technically feasible.

Furthermore,there are quantities of coal that can be much more easily turned into transportation fuels if you really want at not much more than their current prices.You must, however, pay for conversion with a decade or two of slow growth. This coal will buy centuries more technical progress to find an eternal solution(s).

We don't have a shortage of energy we have a shortage of brains.

You forgot a poll option (none / 0) (#240)
by supruzr on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 01:17:59 AM EST

Methane Hydrate. There is more than enough methane hydrate in the ocean, along the coast of every continent, to last until we find a way to efficiently use some ultra-abundant fuel source. The biggest problem with using methane hydrate is actually getting it off the ocean floor.

For more information:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=methane+hydrate

That should be plenty of relevant links.

Countdown to Doomsday | 242 comments (236 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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