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By Robert Rapier on Dec 4, 2010 with 36 responses

Book Review: The Impending World Energy Mess

The Impending World Energy MessI actually had low expectations for The Impending World Energy Mess by Robert L. Hirsch, Roger H. Bezdek, and Robert M. Wendling. Not because I thought Robert Hirsch and company would put out a sub-par book, but rather I have read so many peak oil books that I expected I would be covering entirely familiar ground. I was quite pleasantly surprised.

The first few sections of the book were indeed very basic for those who are familiar with resource depletion (e.g., what oil is, what peak oil is). Much of the material just reinforces what people familiar with peak oil already know. But it puts all the information together in one place, and it does so in a concise fashion.

I felt the book became much more interesting when they started to discuss “How is the oil debacle likely to unfold?” This is where I began to find a lot of value in the book for me personally. Future scenarios were very well thought-out, and pros and cons were given for them. The authors delve pretty deeply into potential mitigation pathways. For instance, I have often thought about how people will cope as gasoline prices head higher. One of the possible options is that gas will be rationed. This book takes scenarios like that a step further. First, it makes a strong argument that it is a no-brainer that gasoline will be rationed, and then goes into several well thought-out options of how that might be accomplished.

The book defines peak oil in a way that is very practical, but not exactly conventional. The authors define peak oil as the time that it becomes clear that global oil production is in irreversible decline. That likely won’t be clear until steady declines have taken place for 3-5 years, but the authors believe that this will begin in the 2011-2015 time frame. That differs from our conventional notion of peak as the year of highest output, but their definition has more practical significance. If 2005 or 2008 or 2011 ended up being the ultimate peak, but then we were on a plateau for several years to follow, the peak year really doesn’t have much significance beyond a historical footnote. What is significant for the world will be when that irreversible decline actually starts, so defining peak in that way actually defines the beginning of the implications to follow.

The authors make a point on electricity storage that I haven’t considered. Of course the biggest issue with wind and solar is that they are intermittent. A cost-effective electricity storage mechanism (envision ultra-cheap, long-lasting rechargeable batteries) would be a real game-changer for those technologies, and it is often believed that it is simply a matter of time before something comes along. But as I mentioned in a previous essay, sometimes technical breakthroughs happen, and sometimes they don’t.

In fact, the book argues that wind, solar, etc. are not likely to be the immediate beneficiaries of cost-effective electricity storage. Huge efficiency gains would result from operating coal or nuclear plants (for instance) at a stable, optimum efficiency and banking the excess electricity. So the incentive has been there for a very long time for development of cost-effective storage; it didn’t just arise with the growth of wind and solar power.

Weaknesses

I think they should have omitted the section on global warming. They start out by indicating that they are agnostic on global warming, but then proceed to attack the integrity of the science of global warming. I don’t want to imply that such arguments are inappropriate; indeed I agree with them that the global warming debate has taken on many characteristics of religious debates.

But by immersing themselves in this debate – particularly from the skeptical side – they will immediately lose credibility with a number of people who are convinced of the science of global warming. In my view, that topic is separate from the topic of oil depletion and the necessary mitigation efforts, and will unnecessarily taint their arguments in the eyes of some readers.

Second, and more a nitpick, the section on electricity did not consider combustion or gasification of biomass to electricity. This is one renewable option that has the potential to deliver firm power (in contrast to wind or solar power). The authors do make the case that we will turn increasingly to coal — and I believe that as well — but biomass to power is an option not discussed.

Conclusions

This is a good book for those new to the topic of peak oil, and for those who are involved in mitigation efforts — particularly government leaders — this book will be of great value. I don’t think the section on global warming added anything to the book; in fact many people will be turned off by the book after they read that section. But overall the book gets high marks for advancing the conversation further into the implications of specific mitigation pathways, and really thinking through how the future may unfold.

  1. By Rufus on December 4, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    The first thing any salesman learns is to leave “Politics, and Religion” out of the conversation. All it can do is cost you a sale.

    I’ve railed against the biofuels crowd from the start to the effect that they should have left “global warming/CO2″ out of the argument, and concentrate on the economics/peak oil aspects of alternative fuels. They lost potential allies from the “Middle,” and the “Left” ultimately turned against them, anyway.

    Two of the Huge advantages of “Cellulosic” Ethanol is that

    (1) It will, of necessity, be Local, and

    (2) Electricity Generation will (again, of necessity) be the Primary Co-Product.

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  2. By Edpeak on December 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    “they will immediately lose credibility with a number of people who are convinced of the science of global warming.”

    namely, they will lose credibility with 98% of scientists, and anyone who has looked at the science without Fox-news style ideological fast-talking pundits pulling a fast one on them, and who instead know that CO2 was a known greenhouse gas since the 1800s, and that present levels are the highest in at least 800,000 years, here’s the graph they don’t want you to know, from the last 400,000 for example,

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/warmin…..graph4.gif

    It used to be higher, yes, more than 10 million years ago, back when sea levels were so high it would devastate us today, so it’s silly to say, “see, if you go back even more millions of years, CO2 was higher then!” It’s higher than it’s been since many times longer than the age of homo sapiens trying to live on this planet.

    Worse still, the rate of co2 increases is so fast that even the same level of CO2, reached far faster than it did in the past, could do much more damage than even those other things (Florida under water) from back when CO2 was higher many millions of years ago, since back then it reached higher CO2 from what were natural changes, which in most cases are not nearly as fast as human emissions, where we’ve burned tens of millions of years of formerly locked-away co2, in the matter of 100 to 200 years..Yeah, let’s keep playing Russian Roulette with the planet, why not.

    These authors have as much credibility on non-peak issues as if they had said peak oil is real, but evolution is a hoax, or “the sun revolves around the Earth” or other things on the level of “global warming isn’t real”

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  3. By thomas on December 4, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I couldn’t agree more that the low hanging fruit for power generation is energy storage.  Throttling power plants up and down to respond to demand is wasteful.  If cheap distributed storage was implemented fewer power plants and power lines would be need to respond to demand spikes.  I suspect most of the throttling is done with NG “peakers”, and I’m pretty sure the reactors of Nuclear plants are optimized for steady output unlike the ones on ships and subs. Perhaps Kit can speak to that.

    I like lead acid technologies b/c the technology is mature and scalable. A study (page 4 of pdf) was done based on data from 1988-1996 showing lead acid storage was cheaper than lighting up a NG plant. AC to AC was 84% efficient.  How much has NG gone up since 1996?  Its not ideal–but its a start.

    Renewable power puts additional strain on the grid because of its intermitent nature.  In a perfect world all renewable, energy would be sold at peak or go to storage to wait for it.  We should move to 10/1 capcity to storage ratio for renewables.

    Utilities could conveniently site these storage facilities in/near “green” metro areas, charge them with renewable power in off peak, and then discharge on peak.  A few BEV charging stations attached to the facility could raise margins even higher.   

    On peak and off peak prices by region

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  4. By Wendell Mercantile on December 4, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    I like lead acid technologies b/c the technology is mature and scalable.

    It certainly is mature. in the early 1930s my Father grew up on a farm that was not yet connected to the grid. They got their electricity from a Stover Steel windmill (the kind you see in pictures of old farms) that powered a generator that pumped electricity into a bank of lead-acid car batteries. They had lights at night in the house and barn; were able to pump water from their well; and listened to the radio because of the windmill and those car batteries — and that was 75 years ago.

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  5. By Kit P on December 4, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    “Perhaps Kit can speak to that.”

     So many misconception so little time.

    “Huge efficiency gains would result from operating coal or nuclear plants (for instance) at a stable, optimum efficiency and banking the excess electricity.”

     “Throttling power plants up and down to respond to demand is wasteful.”

    If the waste we are talking about is energy and not money, both of these statements are incorrect. Baseload power plants achieve their high efficiencies as a result of high capital costs. Once a power plant is built they are dispatched based on operating costs. There might be some minor loss of efficiency when not at 100%. Nuke plants in the EU and base load coal plants load follow in the spring and fall.

     

    During peak periods in the summer and winter, much less efficient older coal plants and SCGT do the load following. Here is the simplest way to explain it. With a 104 nuke plants electricity is provided at at an average of $20/MWh at 90% capacity factor. If nuke were the only way we made electricity and we had 520 nuke plants idle much of the time so CF was 45%, the generating cost would $40/MWh. The thermal efficiency of the nuke would not change but the economic efficiency would go down.

     

    Looking into the future where BEV use 20% of the electricity, smart meters could smooth out the demand curve.

     

    http://www.caiso.com/green/ren…..sWatch.pdf

     

    Storing energy for BEV would not be wasteful but storing electricity as Thomas suggests for the sake of just storage would be. We are back to using California as bad example. If you depend on a large number of SCGT running on cheap NG, you are in big trouble. The solution in California was to replace SCGT with more CCGT. Each one was a 100% efficiency improvement.

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  6. By paul-n on December 4, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Other than a probable slow move to electric vehicles, why is a book about peak oil talking about electricity generation and storage?  

    We are not at or near peak electricity and electricity generation is not directly dependent on oil.  We could do all sorts of stuff tomorrow to smooth out peak/total electricity loads, but would that make any difference to the timing or consequences of peak oil?

    Will peak oil cause a sudden increase in peak electrical loads, or total electricity consumption?  Peak oil might cause a recession that reduces electricity consumption.  

    Electricity is not a replacement for oil, it is an energy carrier (as are gasoline and diesel).  Oil is a primary energy source, as are coal, gas, uranium, hydropower and wind.  To me the question is not how do we generate more electricity, but how do we replace gasoline/diesel/jet fuel as our transportation energy carriers, or do we have to drastically reduce our transportation?

    Electrification is one option as the transport energy carrier, but so are biofuels, LNG/CNG, x-to-liquids processes and even hydrogen.   Presently, electricity is not even close to winning the race, at least in N. America, and that has nothing to do with how electricity is generated, or even potential peak load issues – those can be managed.   It is how electricity can be used, effectively, for transport that is the problem to be solved.

     

    In that context I think it is OK to not talk about biomass to electricity, but presumably they did talk about biomass to liquid fuels?

     

    Interesting to hear they talk about rationing – must have been reading Kit’s mind – what were the systems they proposed?

     

     

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  7. By OD on December 5, 2010 at 2:02 am

    Other than a probable slow move to electric vehicles, why is a book about peak oil talking about electricity generation and storage?

    We are not at or near peak electricity and electricity generation is not directly dependent on oil.

    If you go to any peak oil site you will find the belief that ‘powering down’ goes hand in hand with peak oil. Statements like we will be in the dark starving to death due to peak oil are very common place in the peak oil community, in my experience.

    Robert has focussed on peak oil, but from the title it would appear this is an energy book, so discussions about electricity is warranted.

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  8. By rrapier on December 5, 2010 at 2:09 am

    Other than a probable slow move to electric vehicles, why is a book about peak oil talking about electricity generation and storage?

    It was in the context of the idea that electric cars will be a replacement for petroleum.

    RR

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  9. By paul-n on December 5, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Thanks RR.  

    Statements like we will be in the dark starving to death due to peak oil are very common place in the peak oil community, in my experience.

    Yes indeed they are common, though most stem from a “collapse” rather than running out of energy, and I don’t expect either – continued recession is a different story though.

    Robert has focussed on peak oil, but from the title it would appear this is an energy book, so discussions about electricity is warranted.

    Fair enough, though from RR’s review it seems that is is mostly about peak oil, which is as it should be as that the urgent energy “mess” 

     

    The thing that always gets me when people say we can’t power EV’s, if we assume they replace ICE cars en masse, is that there would be plenty of electricity to power them.  There is lots of off peak capacity in the existing system, and some of the oil not being used can run highly efficient CCGT’s, which can be  built quickly and cheaply, though other power sources would also be built.

     Also,  because the cars are EV’s with limited range, the annual vehicle miles driven would be less as drivers adjust their travel habits.

    Still that battery thing to be improved, or smaller cars, or less driving…

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  10. By paul-n on December 5, 2010 at 2:35 am

    [double post]

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  11. By A Swede on December 5, 2010 at 4:46 am

    I’ve read the book almost at the moment it came out. I was not, unlike you, very well aquainted with the Peak Oil as a concept. It’s been in the back of my head since 2008, but it was just a theory, not a fact of life until very recently(they actually teach Peak Oil in universities, at least here in England, by now, so that’s how I got involved).

    I would not recommend this book for a beginner. The very fact that someone as knowledgeable as you can gain a lot of information and thoughts from this book indicates that some sections are far too advanced for a novice.

    Now, I am intelligent so I got through but the learning curve was very steep indeed. I’ve finished Jeff Rubin’s book a few weeks ago and I think that book is better for a novice.

    That being said, the book is good. And I would like to disagree with you on global warming. There’s quite a few nutties in the Peak Oil movement who *want* de-industrialization. People who romanitize how it’s like being on a farm without modern technology. It’s the neo-marxist, anti-capitalist crowd who see Peak Oil as a good surrogate for a failed ideology. I’m not for neoliberalism or anything like that, but growth can be produced if we would have taken this seriously decades ago. I believe deeply that we would and could be able to mitigate this to a large extent.

    So why does the global warming section matter? Because the neo-marxists are joined in by the pathological alarmists. I wouldn’t reject the theory of global warming flatly out of hand, but neither would I hop on the bandwagon like a religious convert. These people are ideologues. And we have seen throught communist dictatorships the lengths of madness that people are willing to go (and murder) for The Cause.

    My point is: what is global warming is not as dangerous as we think, or will be largely be mitigated(as Kjell Aleklett thinks) by Peak Oil? In a world with dwindling resources(monetary and non-monetary) and increasingly debt-ridden, this matters. If people allow these people who brand anyone who is willing to have an intelligent debate about AGW as a ‘climate denier’(see the corrolation with holocaust denier?) or worse(‘fascists’ etc) and effectively hijack Peak Oil as a cover for their Cause then the consequences can be grave. I think Hirsch et al. knows this and I think this is why they included this chapter. We simply don’t have room for half-truths and uninformed action. AGW has to be debated in an intelligent way and Peak Oil is related not in it’s concept but by way that we will respond to it, and no doubt there will be people who have a strong vested and ideological interest in linking these two. That is why they are right to preempt this.

    (Excuse any grammatical and spelling errors. English is not my mother tongue and I can’t preview the text in a meaningful way since only a small fraction is visible at a single time.)

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  12. By Kit P on December 5, 2010 at 11:33 am

    CCGT’s, which can be  built quickly and cheaply, though other power
    sources would also be built.

    SCGT are cheap, CCGT are much more expensive.  Cheaper than coal and nukes but fuel cost are more expensive.  The advantage that I see with CCGT is that the can be run as SCGT.  A CCGT could come up to speed (10 minutes) as a SCGT and then have the steam plant on line 4 hours later.  N+! reliability is required for reserve margin.   Grid operators must be ready for their biggest power plant or transmission line to fail.  The cheapest way to do this is with SSGT. 

    The basic problem is that there are a whole bunch of 50 year gas and coal plants that needed to be replaced with modern efficient plants.  Think about if I was still driving my ’60 Ford Falcon around and had to ask the California PUC for permission to buy a new car.  The California PUC would tell me a new Corolla is too expensive.  So then the California PUC for permission to put a new more efficient engine.  No can do that unless you add which would cost more than a a new Corolla.

    New power plants are expensive too expensive, so what?  Please do not tell me you are going to conserve.  I do not like being lied too.  You will not turn off your heat or AC on those days days you really need. 

    As I caclulated in another discussion, we can build power plants following EPA rules faster than demand from BEV will grow.  Computer and big ass TV caught everyone by surprise. 

     

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  13. By Rufus on December 5, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    You did fine, Swede. The intelligence of your thoughts shined through any minor language glitches.

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  14. By Benny BND Cole on December 5, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    We may have gasoline rationing, but probably the same way we have it now–by price.
    At $4 a gallon, consumption in America will drop, not rise, and it will drop for decades. Europe and Japan’s oil demand has been falling for 20 years or more, even as their living standards rise.
    We may be on the cusp of a similar path.
    Nukes are coming on globally, we have gobs of natural gas, so while oil may become relatively expensive, energy will not.
    I see no doom scenarios ahead. Indeed, given that I think even urbanites deserve clean air, I see great prospects ahead. We may see commercially successful PHEVs and BEVs, and I just saw in Los Angeles an “ordinary’ CNG car (I mean not a fleet or government vehicle). CNG and LPG cars are common already in Thailand.
    For me, a wonderful outcome would be more PHEVs, BEVs and CNG cars. We could cut gasoline demand by 80 percent and have higher living standards rather easily–and more dollars staying in the US economy.
    The price meachanism can produce wonders, if we allow it to work.
    Rationing would be a terrible idea, and one almost certainly off the table. Why ration when $4 gasoline will do it for you?
    Taxing gasoline, impossible because of rural Red states (each with two Senators), is another great idea.
    I can’t understand why people insist on seeing tough times ahead. It may because we are in a terrible, debt-induced recession now.

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  15. By Kit P on December 5, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    I think even urbanites deserve clean air

    People deserve what they do to themselves.  Industry and power plants are regulated to the point where they are not the problem.  If you want clean air ration the amount of gas you use.  If you still live someplace with poor air quality and are an adult, why do not move instead of complain that everyone is just like you.

     

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  16. By walter-sobchak on December 5, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    A cost-effective electricity storage mechanism (envision ultra-cheap,
    long-lasting rechargeable batteries) would be a real game-changer for
    those technologies, and it is often believed that it is simply a matter
    of time before something comes along. But … sometimes technical breakthroughs happen, and sometimes they don’t.

    It is hard to see where one might come from. Battery technology is old — more than 200 years. Chemists have played all of the cards that there are in terms of combinations of reactants and electrolytes. There are utility grade batteries. They are very expensive compared to generating capacity. I seriously doubt that there will ever be an economically viable storage system.

    Second, and more a nitpick, the section on electricity did not consider combustion or gasification of biomass to electricity.

    “Plan to use wood at power plants now on back burner” By Spencer Hunt in the Columbus Dispatch on December 5, 2010

    * * *
    For a while, utility companies were gung-ho on burning wood as a renewable source of electricity
    and praised the idea as a way to meet a state mandate to cut down on coal. The first public sign of trouble came on Nov. 17, when First Energy announced that converting its
    R.E. Burger coal-fired power station into a “biomass” plant would cost too much. …

    Officials with all of Ohio’s major utilities …
    are now sounding equally discouraged about eight other proposed biomass projects. In all, the
    projects promised to power as many as 260,000 Ohio homes.

    * * *

    The projects were submitted to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio over the past two years
    to help meet a 2008 state mandate that power companies produce 12.5 percent of their electricity
    from advanced and renewable sources by 2025. …

    One problem, AEP said, was that it could not find wood or plant fuel at the
    right price.

    * * *

    Environmental groups … questioned whether enough wood could be found to fuel all the projects. The groups estimated the Burger plant alone would have consumed more than 3million tons of wood
    a year – nearly twice the 1.7 million tons of timber the Ohio logging industry annually
    produces.

    “There isn’t enough ‘forest residue’ or ‘paper-mill wastes’ available,” said Cheryl Johncox, the
    forest council’s interim director. “If all of the permits go forward, we’re looking at 351 square
    miles of cleared forest per year.”

    * * *

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  17. By Peter on December 6, 2010 at 12:52 am

    Rationing? What does that mean? Answer – political control of gasoline distribution. Somehow I think the current administration would love this. The transportation secretary has already suggested jammers in cars to prevent cell phone use. This would be a wonderful next step. Just think of the wise decisions our political class would make! Of course the decisions would never be based on how groups or states voted or contributed, of course not. If we let the price ration the fuel, that would be crazy. It is always better to let elites manage things, as a sufficiently educated mind can grasp all the essentials of the economy and direct resources in the very best way.

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  18. By savro on December 6, 2010 at 1:24 am

    Walter Sobchak said:

    “Plan to use wood at power plants now on back burner” By Spencer Hunt in the Columbus Dispatch on December 5, 2010


     

    Interesting timing, Walter. At the same time, Bloomberg is reporting that “Coal’s Two-Year High Coaxes U.K. Utilities to Burn Wood.” But limited supplies may cause some plants to hold back and force others to import the feedstock from Russia. We actually discussed this issue quite a bit in a thread on these forums.

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  19. By Kit P on December 6, 2010 at 8:06 am

    “Rationing? What does that mean? Answer – political control of gasoline distribution. Somehow I think the current administration would love this.”

     

    Peter get a grip on reality. Rationing energy is a proven tool to fairly manage energy supply during times of a national emergency like WWII. If some set of conditions caused air quality in some part California to be a health emergency, rationing the sale of gasoline could be a tool to reduce pollution.

    When our elected officials fail to prevent a crisis and have no plan to manage it, we fire them. Where is Grey Davis today? However, nobody in the present administration is suggesting that because we do not have a crisis yet. Of course the next administration may have to deal with an energy crisis at the rate we are going. Yes indeed, appointing Clinton’s NIMBY lawyer to energy czar may makes it look like Obama is anti-energy industry.

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  20. By Kit P on December 6, 2010 at 8:54 am

    “to help meet a
    2008 state mandate that power companies produce 12.5 percent of their
    electricity
    from advanced and renewable sources by 2025.”

     It is the mandate
    stupid! While I am for RPS, I am not for stupid RPS. Currently Ohio
    has gets less than 1% from renewable energy. It has offshore wind on
    Lake Erie and biomass. 

    http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/state…..cfm?sid=OH

     Very large mandates
    can result in unsustainable renewable energy. However,

    “The other half of
    the standard can be met through alternative energy resources like
    third-generation nuclear power plants …”

    That explains why
    Duke Energy is investigation building a new nuke at a old DOE site
    (brown field). As a matter of disclosure I used to work for Duke in
    biomass renewable energy development and nuclear. Duke Energy is a
    leader in hydroelectric, coal, nuclear, NG, wind, solar, and biomass.
    I think they are one of the best managed utilities in the world
    based on how well their plants run, ROI to investors, and reliable
    and affordable electricity for customers.

    When it comes to
    coal, NG, and biomass; fuel supply costs follow the law of supply and
    demand. There is just not enough wood in Ohio to provide 6% of the
    electricity without driving the price of wood sky high.

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  21. By Wendell Mercantile on December 6, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Rationing would be a terrible idea, and one almost certainly off the table.

    In theory, rationing could be good. In practice, short of a national emergency of existential proportions, it would never work. There would be too much politics involved, and the rich and powerful would always mange to have the politicians and their lobbyists put loopholes in any rationing system.

    Do you think the CEO if some mega-company would stand for fuel rationing that would keep him/her from flying the company Gulfstream V to Sun Valley for the weekend?

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  22. By Fred Magyar on December 6, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Robert, you say:

    Second, and more a nitpick, the section on electricity did not consider combustion or gasification of biomass to electricity. This is one renewable option that has the potential to deliver firm power (in contrast to wind or solar power).

    We often hear about using algae as a biofuel source for making biodiesel etc… and I’m aware of the problems of scaling up production of pure strains of algae in say ponds for instance. I have read what Craig Venter has to say on this topic and also that he has some significant funding from Exxon to develop algae for biofuels but I digress.

    I was wondering if you were aware of anyone examining the possibility of harvesting algae from the wild, say in estuarine environments polluted by agricultural runoff where it is a problem and using it as a biomass source for gasification?

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  23. By Wendell Mercantile on December 6, 2010 at 10:45 am

    aware of anyone examining the possibility of harvesting algae from the wild, say in estuarine environments polluted by agricultural runoff

    Fred,

    That is certainly possible, but would run into logistics problems. It would take a lot of equipment to do skimming over a huge area to harvest enough algae to run a sizable operation that might prove economical.

    After all, algae was the source material for the petroleum we are using today — but algae that grew and was then concentrated and transformed over millions of years. One would have to collect algae from a huge area to be equivalent to what grew naturally over tens or hundreds of millions of years. The huge investment in equipment and infrastructure necessary to do that would likely mean an unfavorable ROI.

    It is seldom easy — or economically viable — to try and short cut what Mother Nature provided us free over millions and millions of years.

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  24. By russ-finley on December 6, 2010 at 11:51 am

    First, it makes a strong argument that it is a no-brainer that gasoline will be rationed

    I would think that if rationing happens, ethanol will also be rationed along with gasoline because it is used for the same purpose. So, it might be more accurate to say that “liquid fuels” will be rationed. One ray of hope is that predictions often have a tendency to self-nullify (the market may respond in ways not imagined), which may explain why economists can’t predict jack.

     

    I agree with them that the global warming debate has taken on many characteristics of religious debates.

     

    Did they actually say the “debate” has taken on these characteristics (meaning that both sides are guilty of it), or did they simply pass along the all too common comment field accusation that global warming is a religion? This isn’t a novel tactic. Google “religion of darwinism” and you’ll find it goes 75 pages deep.

     

    It seems nonsensical that the side that is most heavily backed by the global scientific community is the one being accused of religionist irrationality, and in the case of Darwinism, by religionists no less. In some ways the global warming “debate” is the ID “debate” writ large, with each side having its scientist champions, although not in equal proportions.

     

    The magnitude of the global warming “debate” is the result of fear and the many ways human beings have to cope with it.

    In fact, the book argues that wind, solar, etc. are not likely to be the immediate beneficiaries of cost-effective electricity storage. Huge efficiency gains would result from operating coal or nuclear plants (for instance) at a stable, optimum efficiency and banking the excess electricity

    Maybe so but coal is an environmentally destructive fuel and it would be nice if we could displace it well before we hit peak coal. Unless some radical new technology appears out of nowhere, I don’t see batteries being cost effective for storing that much power. I can see them being used on a much smaller scale if electric car owners are willing to sell the services of their batteries (for a profit) to buffer load variations in dense urban environments from a smart grid consisting of solar, wind, and nuclear.

     

    immediately lose credibility with a number of people who are convinced of the science of global warming. In my view, that topic is separate from the topic of oil depletion and the necessary mitigation efforts, and will unnecessarily taint their arguments in the eyes of some readers.

     

    I tend to agree. The most convincing non-scientific evidence of the validity of global warming research are the dozens of arguments that were once posited by the skeptics that have been so thoroughly debunked that they are no longer being proffered, having been replaced by fresh ones waiting their turn.

    but biomass to power is an option not discussed.

     

    That seems like a rather significant oversight.

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  25. By robert on December 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    A quarter of California’s air pollution comes from China and blows over the pacific. Another large source of California pollution is shipping. They burn the dirtiest bunker fuel they can find and are completely unregulated in international waters.

    If Kitp wants to live in say China where there is no pollution control and cheap electricity that’s his business. But I dispute the assertion that air pollution obeys political boundaries. I can’t breathe clean air simply by moving. I need to incentivize China to clean up.

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  26. By Craig on December 6, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I agree that the material on AGW would have been better omitted. It was not, and hence a bit of discussion.

    I have engaged AGW as a skeptic; assuming that AGW proponents have overstated and that consequences will be at the minimum predicted (or less), and because of the magnitude of those consequences IMO we need to make serious changes. That may not sit well with the BAU crowd, but consider that, in an effort to not seem alarmists, scientists have steadfastly minimized stated dangers, and that present observations confirm the impact as exceeding the worst of their predictions. Then consider the end game as predicted by those scientists, which results in rendering large areas of the planet uninhabitable by mammals, rapid despeciation of the planet, and a not negligible chance that we, ourselves, will be one of those species, and my argument is that we must make those changes to clean energy, reduction in population, and development of a new paradigm for sustainable living on the planet.

    This is not a romantic view of the past – the past was grim at best. It is a plea for the future, if there is to be one. My fear is that the ‘deniers’ will prevail (they seem to be doing pretty well so far), only to find that, unlike tobacco science denial, there are no safe havens and that they will suffer the same fate as the rest of us, whom they have denied out of existence.

    Or not.

    Craig

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  27. By paul-n on December 6, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Fred Magyar wrote;

    I was wondering if you were aware of anyone examining the possibility of harvesting algae from the wild, say in estuarine environments polluted by agricultural runoff where it is a problem and using it as a biomass source for gasification?

    Hi Fred, and welcome to RSquared and CER.  

    I suppose you could try to harvest algae from estuaries, etc but I would think if you had a harvestable amount, that you have an algae bloom, which should not be a normal situation – but excessive nutrients, low flows and warm weather will produce exactly that  Also, the wild algaes do not produce nearly as much oil as the cultured types, so you are more likely to have a source of biomass, rather than oil.

    A more common situation is lakes and rivers that are overgrown with water weeds, like water hyacinth and the like, or even duckweed.  These accumulate at the downstream/downwind end and you can harvest those, though you will have very wet biomass. Still, if you have an anaerobic digestion operation nearby, you would have a useable feedstock.  Duckweed can also be used for animal feed – protein levels (of dry matter) are similar to soybeans.  It has been farmed in Asia for this purpose, and other places have looked at it also – interesting report here from Jordan

    I know of a small sewage treatment system here in BC that has a lagoon for final aeration of effluent – it is a prolific producer of duckweed!  The duckweed was being collected, and mixed with the sewage sludge for composting, just to get rid of it!  It also did a good job of removing nutrients from the water before it made its way into an alpine stream.

    There is no question the best way to remove nutrients from natural waters is with plants,  but that does not mean it is easy to do a commercial operation – there are lots of variables.  

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  28. By Kit P on December 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    “A quarter of California’s air pollution comes from China and blows over the pacific.”

     

    Wow, I would have to see reports that documents that.  There are reports on air quality too because we have discussed them, if not here on RR old blog.

     

    Most places in the America have ‘good’ air quality almost all the time as can be seen here:

    http://www.airnow.gov/

     

    Regulations under the CAA have been very effective at improving air quality from what I remember from when I was young.  While air pollution does not ‘obeys political boundaries’ it does obey certain physical laws of mass transport.  While I have only taken a couple of classes on that topic, none mention the interesting ability of cities to concentrate pollutants from distant places.  Of course if you live someplace with millions of cars, buses, and trucks concentrated in a small geographical area and not ‘good’ air quality but you blame China; that sorta proves my point. 

     

    “I can’t breathe clean air simply by moving.”

     

    We did about 16 years ago.  Got to back to California to visit just to see air pollution.  There are other benefits to moving out of California, affordable housing, good school, low taxes, cheap electricity, and low crime.  There are also fewer people who drive 100 miles a day, heat their pools, and smoke pot at the same time they lecture about conservations and air pollution.   

     

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  29. By Optimist on December 6, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    First, it makes a strong argument that it is a no-brainer that gasoline will be rationed, and then goes into several well thought-out options of how that might be accomplished.

    Not sure how they make that particular argument, I have extreme difficulty with it. Kit is right when he states: Rationing energy is a proven tool to fairly manage energy supply during times of a national emergency like WWII. Problem is, at what point does PeakOil constitute a national emergency? $150/bbl? $175/bbl? $200/bbl? $212.51/bbl? $4.50/gal? $5.00/gal?

     

    Implicit in Kit’s statement is the little nugget: …to fairly manage… Anybody want to try to convince me that the prostitutians can manage anything “fairly” anymore? Other than if you’re a rich lobbyist, or a well-connected union leader, or represent some other big voting bloc. With all due respect, Congressman, I’d rather take my chances with the free market.

     

    Anybody remember Mr. Nixon’s attempts at rationing/price control? That worked out well, didn’t it? Why repeat it? What would the government possibly achieve, other than get people’s hopes up that a solution is nigh, now that the cavalry is here? Anybody want to convince me that a bureaucrat would be able to decide who should get the liquid fuel? Even allowing for the pipe dream of a completely honest, impartial, intelligent and competent bureaucrat, I just don’t see it. Imagine how badly the real prostitutian screws this one up…

     

    I think Benny nailed it: the best way to cope would be to let the market signal how severe the shortage is (if there is a shortage) via the price signal, and let people adapt each as he sees fit. I guess it will take a bit of an argument to fully develop this idea: I might have to write a column to explain it fully…

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  30. By Kit P on December 6, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    “Anybody remember
    Mr. Nixon’s attempts at rationing/price control?”

    Sure and 40 years
    later we are doing pretty good. I can image some who never saw bad
    times are a little stunned by the set back in the economy. Back then
    there was nothing unusual about car pooling. Rationing is just an
    idea that I think we will never need..

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  31. By Julie K. on December 7, 2010 at 4:05 am

    Irreversible changes in oil production are becoming to be more obvious and dangerously nigh. Mankind has still never been such close to the industrial declination ever before. It is hard to predict what will happen and even harder to find the proper solutions for this matter. We should have to search for alternative sustainable sources. We should force politicians to look more to the future to save the Planet for our children.

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  32. By Kit P on December 7, 2010 at 7:20 am

    “We should force
    politicians to look more to the future to save the Planet for our
    children.”

    Done! Julie you can
    put a check mark on your to do list. My generation save the planet
    from burning rivers. Not much to really brag about, my father’s
    generation saved the world from tyranny.

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  33. By Optimist on December 7, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Irreversible changes in oil production are becoming to be more obvious and dangerously nigh.

    Oh, darn! Are we all going to be driving on gasified coal or liquified natural gas soon? Double darn!

    Mankind has still never been such close to the industrial declination ever before.

    With all due respect, mankind has faced worse before. And somehow managed to survive.

    We should force politicians to look more to the future to save the Planet for our children.

    In fairness to the prostitutians: we get the leadership we deserve/tolerate/accept. If the prostitutians aren’t interested in the future, it’s because the voters could care less.

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  34. By Kit P on December 7, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    “If the prostitutians aren’t interested in the future, it’s because the voters could care less.”

     

    There is another explanation Optimist. I am not worried about the future because it looks pretty bright. When some doomer tells me about how awful something is I go check. Where western environmental standards are being followed killer smog and mercury poisoning is a thing of the past. Levels of lead are trending down. Just examples!

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  35. By walter-sobchak on December 8, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    “North America: The new energy kingdom” by Neil Reynolds in the Toronto Globe and Mail on Wednesday, Dec. 08, 2010.

    The American Petroleum Institute reports that the United States produced more crude oil in October than it has ever produced in a single month, “peak oil” or not. This reversal of trend helps explain why U.S. domestic production for the year will be 140,000 barrels a day higher than last year (which was 410,000 barrels a day higher than 2008). 

    * * *

    With rising production from shale fields, the U.S. surpassed Russia last year to become the world’s largest supplier of natural gas. Shale now accounts for 10 per cent of the country’s natural gas production – up from 2 per cent in 1990.

    For natural gas, the U.S. has the four largest fields in the world: the Haynesville field in Louisiana (with production up by 77 per cent in 2009); the Fayetteville field in Arkansas and the Marcellus field in Pennsylvania (both with production up by 50 per cent); and the Barnett field in Texas and Oklahoma (with production up by double-digit increases). The EIA reports that proven U.S. reserves of natural gas increased last year by 11 per cent to 284 trillion cubic feet – the highest level since 1971.

    * * *

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  36. By Kit P on December 8, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Interesting Walter! This would suggest that increasing the number of drilling rigs increases production.

     

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