Scale of the clean energy challenge

by Judith Curry

David Roberts at Grist has a really interesting post entitled “The gobsmackingly gargantuan challenge of shifting to clean energy.”  The post is based upon an excellent presentation by Saul Griffith.   Griffith considers a target  of 450 ppm.  The punchline of his analysis:

It turns out, to get on a trajectory to hit 450 ppm, we’re going to need to turn off most of our fossil fuel energy, end deforestation, and build about 11.5 new terawatts of clean energy capacity by 2033 (30 years out from the 2003 baseline).

The graphics in Griffith’s presentation are really illuminating, check it out.

Soooo. . . . if our projections of climate change, say with 3C sensitivity, were 100% certain, is there any feasible way to accomplish this?  Roberts says:

There’s no predicting innovation, much less politics. But the one thing we do know is that the task ahead is enormous, so gobsmackingly big that the smart money is almost certainly on failure. If we want a chance at success we’re going to have to rethink a lot of our assumptions about consumption, economic analysis, policy design, and political strategy.

216 responses to “Scale of the clean energy challenge

  1. There’s no predicting innovation, much less politics.

    Innovation doesn’t deliver what we expect – as the last hundred years abundantly demonstrates, including attempts to predict what would be true by 2000. Gambling on this singular direction is quite simply playing with the lives of those currently living of the edge. What level of scientific certainty could possibly impel us to do that?

    • David L. Hagen

      Let’s put the energy challenge in perspective:
      Total Surface Solar = 85 000 TW
      Anthropogenic Energy Use = 16 TW = 0.02% of surface solar.
      Anthropogenic energy use is 16 TW or 0.05% of cloud reflection! See Climate lecture

      Roy Spencer notes that we can’t even quantify a 1% variation in cloud cover. When 1% cloud variation is not yet quantifiable, why are we panic stricken over the equivalent of 0.05% of cloud variation?

      Saul Griffith, Climate Change Recalculated, is definitely thought provoking. However, before we begin dreaming of 16 TW of renewable, the immediate challenge is how to replace 1,000 barrels/second (86 million bbl/day) of oil.

      The International Energy Agency etc., notes that light crude oil peaked in 2006. It projects no increase in global oil production into the future. Yet depletion reduces current oil production by about 7%/year. Just to maintain current production, we have to replace about 70% of current oil production by 2030. Ie about 700 bbl/s (or 60 million bbl/day). If you count even modest growth, we need to develop 63 million bbl/s of new or alternative fuel by 2030.

      We can’t run our vehicles on wind, nuclear and solar electricity. Without liquid transport fuels, you shut down your economy. This is a pressing need now, regardless of anyone’s desire to control maximum atmospheric CO2 at 350 ppm or 450 ppm or whatever. Constraining or boosting global net primary biomass productivity by 350 or 450 ppm with substantially affect our ability to feed the world’s population.

      However shutting down our economy over lack of liquid transport fuel will have very strong immediate impacts! The US Depart of Defense and Lloyds of London are warning of global fuel shortages beginning in 2012 to 2015. Egypt’s unrest strongly correlates to Egypt’s rapid decline in oil exports with consequent massive impact on its economy. World food indices are tracking with liquid fuel (oil) indices.

      See Jeffrey J. Brown Jeffrey J. Brown, Samuel Foucher, PhD,
      Jorge Silveus Peak Oil Versus Peak Net Exports–Which
      Should We Be More Concerned About?

      OPEC’s 6% reduction in oil supply caused a 400% increase in the price of oil! How will we handle 6%/year reduction in available light oil?

      Will 445 ppm vs 455 ppm matter at all by comparison to shutting down transportation by 50% to 90%?

      • David, that dour outlook you give for oil just doesn’t take into account new developments in technology. US oil output is expected to increase, that is if the warmists, environmentalists, and luddites don’t get in the way.

        A new drilling technique is opening up vast fields of previously out-of-reach oil in the western United States, helping reverse a two-decade decline in domestic production of crude.

        Companies are investing billions of dollars to get at oil deposits scattered across North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and California. By 2015, oil executives and analysts say, the new fields could yield as much as 2 million barrels of oil a day – more than the entire Gulf of Mexico produces now.

        This new drilling is expected to raise U.S. production by at least 20 percent over the next five years. And within 10 years, it could help reduce oil imports by more than half, advancing a goal that has long eluded policymakers.

        “That’s a significant contribution to energy security,” says Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Credit Suisse.

      • From that same article:

        he country’s shale oil resources aren’t nearly as big as the country’s shale gas resources. Drillers have unlocked decades’ worth of natural gas, an abundance of supply that may keep prices low for years. U.S. shale oil on the other hand will only supply one to two percent of world consumption by 2015, not nearly enough to affect prices.

        Still, a surge in production last year from the Bakken helped U.S. oil production grow for the second year in a row, after 23 years of decline. This during a year when drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the nation’s biggest oil-producing region, was halted after the BP oil spill.

        U.S. oil production climbed steadily through most of the last century and reached a peak of 9.6 million barrels per day in 1970. The decline since was slowed by new production in Alaska in the 1980s and in the Gulf of Mexico more recently. But by 2008, production had fallen to 5 million barrels per day.

        It is believed this technique can be used all over the world.

      • David L. Hagen

        Oh, but I do include such technologies! The article you cite projects:

        “The Bakken and the Eagle Ford are each expected to ultimately produce 4 billion barrels of oil. That would make them the fifth- and sixth-biggest oil fields ever discovered in the United States.”

        Sounds wonderful – until you compare US consumption:

        The oil import numbers for January we just announced show that we imported 366 million barrels of petroleum-62 percent of our needs-at an average price of $89.17 per barrel.

        That means we spent $32.6 billion on our oil addiction in January. In fact, January was the most expensive month since September 2008, when the economic downturn began.

        366 million bbls/month x 12 months = 4.4 billion bbls/year.
        Those optimistic projections of 4 billion barrels per field – only last the grand total of TWO years worth of US imports.

        Where are you going to look next?

        Encourage you to distinguish apples from oranges in oil production. On reserve growth see: Jean Laherrère corrected by Colin Campbell
        Comments on Squeezing more oil from the ground by L. Maugeri Scientific American October 2009

        One of the more promising interim options is:
        Enhanced Oil Recovery/CO2 Injection
        where existing oil recovery might be increased from 35% to 60% of oil in place. See reports by Advanced Resources International


        Renaming bitumen to “oilsands” and assuming 10% of bitumen is recoverable has boosted Canada to just behind Saudi Arabia in “oil” reserves – but that is one of the biggest apples vs oranges comparisons ever. Opening up different hydrocarbon resources in no way negates the Hubbert peak analysis and probable depletion of existing resources.

        Another renewable option is Sandia’s Sunshine to Petrol project.

        Neither are being implemented at anywhere near the rates needed.

        Now how were we going to increase atmospheric CO2 from 450 to 455 ppm? – and why were we concerned about it?

      • David, on the 10% recovery rate and, sorry, using Wiki for the data, we are not running out of oil anytime soon:

        “Oil sands may represent as much as two-thirds of the world’s total “liquid” hydrocarbon resource, with at least 1.7 trillion barrels (270×10^9 m3) in the Canadian Athabasca Oil Sands (assuming a 10% recovery).

        In October 2009, the USGS updated the Orinoco oil sands (Venezuela) mean estimated recoverable value to 513 billion barrels (8.16×1010 m3), making it “one of the world’s largest recoverable” oil deposits.[15]

        Between them, the Canadian and Venezuelan deposits contain about 3.6 trillion barrels (570×10^9 m3) of recoverable oil, compared to 1.75 trillion barrels (280×10^9 m3) of conventional oil worldwide, most of it in Saudi Arabia and other Middle-Eastern countries.” wikipedia

      • David L. Hagen

        Jay Currie
        I never said anything about “running out of oil”.

        Focus on EACH SEPARATE hydrocarbon resource
        in EACH region
        and each technology or price range required to extract that.

        Bitumen is NOT light oil.
        You will find a Hubbert curve fit Texas light oil with primary extraction.
        Petzak uses multi Hubbert models to fit the US continental 48 states production.
        Alaska is a separate region added on.

        These give about 50-55% of the total resource is extracted at the peak of production.
        The key message of “Peak Oil” is the RATE of extraction.

        In 1956, Hubbert predicted US 48 states production would peak around 1970. US production peaked within one year of his prediction. The US now imports 62% of its oil use.

        To be politically correct Canada renamed “tar” or “bitumen” to “oilsands”. In winter, bitumen has the consistency of a Canadian hockey puck! Saudi light oil flows easily and about 50% or more can be extracted. To extract bitumen, you need about $1,000,000,000 of investment to extract just 10,000 bbl/day. The world needs to replace 6.6% of 82 million barrels/day, or 5 million barrels/day each year just to maintain existing production. i.e. it needs to develop about 10 of those $ 1 billion investments EACH WEEK.

        Venezuelan heavy oil is NOT light oil no matter what Wikipedia says. Neither is Bitumen. The 10% extraction is a general round number that depends on how much energy you put into steam etc to recover it.

        Non-OPEC light oil peaked in about 2004/5.
        The International Energy Agency shows global light oil peaked in 2006. It (optimistically) shows conventional oil production continuing level out through 2030.
        Global light oil production has effectively plateaued for the last 7 years. Lloyds of London and the US DOD are warning that there will likely be a global shortage of transport fuels (“liquids) beginning in 2012 to 2015 time period. Obama’s short sighted banning and preventing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico will seriously reduce US oil production. That in turn will cause trillions of dollars damage to the US economy in the near future.

        The existence of 5 trillion barrels of “bitumen” does nothing to negate the probability that the production of the 1 trillion barrels of light oil left will likely begin to decline in the very near future. BP does not contract with Russia to explore the Artic because there is an abundance of oil left to drill in Texas! Brazil does not drill 30,000 ft deep off shore because there is an abundance of easy oil to recover in the Amazon.

        There major challenge is that production of light easy oil is about to permanently decline. Furthermore mid east countries appear to have seriously overstated their resources to boost their own production.

        It will take much higher investment and longer to extract or produce alternative resources.

        Chavez’ nationalizing oil companies and siphoning off funds for popular projects has caused Venezuela’s oil production to decline. See oil export graphs.

        In the mean time – expect a roller coaster economy driven by scarcity of liquid transport fuels – of which the global economic crisis of 2008 was a Sunday picnic by comparison.

        Now, what was that about wanting to control climate?
        Why do we want to keep agricultural production below the much more productive growing conditions under higher Co2 that were evident in the fossil record?

        We will have billions of more mouths to feed in the coming years. They will want food and fuel. Large scale renewable fuel is a major challenge but also wide open opportunity.

      • David L. Hagen

        See Tad Patzek
        Exponential growth, energetic Hubbert cycles, and the advancement of technology
        Archives of Mining Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences, May 3, 2008
        Especially Fig. 13 for a multi-cycle Hubbert analysis of US oil production.

        Rick Munroe reviews: Oil Supply Crunch: 2011-2015 at Energy Bulletin.

        Petrobas’ CEO Dec 2009 predicted an oil supply crunch for 2012 and 2013.

        “On Feb. 18, 2010, the US Joint Forces Command issued its Joint Operating Environment (JOE) which warned that “ By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD” (p. 29).” For a review of the 2010 JOE (with link to the original) see:

        For Lloyds see: Sustainable Energy Security

        These raise the urgent importance of developing alternative liquid transport fuels from all possible sources ASAP.

      • And also, we have a huge surplus of nat gas to boot. The oil and gas should buy us enough time to build out conventional nuclear and start work on molten salt reactors that can burn thorium. This is a much surer course than spending every bit of wealth we have and then some on unreliable windmills and solar panels.

      • David L. Hagen

        Almost ALL our vehicles do NOT run on natural gas. The Pickens Plan promotes natural gas in vehicles. But the country has been slow to take it up.

        I pray it happen, but the magnitude of current trends strongly indicate against that. We CANNOT count on “oil and gas” buying enough time.

        See the Trends in World Oil Supply/Consumption and Net Exports/Importsglobal trends in net oil exports.

        Then look at regional details:
        OPEC’s Spare Crude Oil Capacity – Will it Disappear by the End of 2011?

        Then see the details country by country in The OilWatch Monthly

        Compare how fast Indonesia and the UK exports versus dropped production

        Yes you will NOT have to worry about catastrophic anthropogenic global warming from transport CO2 emissions from conventional light oil.

        But that will be the least of our worries.

        It takes an investment on the average of $100,000/barrel/day to develop alternative fuels.

        To replace 7%/year plus 2% growth needs 8 million barrels/day new production NOW.
        I.e. current depletion with growth requires an investment of
        $800,000,000,000/year. ($800 billion/year).
        i.e.,. an ongoing investment of $2 billion per day!

        The Global Economy GDP is about $62 trillion/year.
        Without the fuel, plan on cutting that by 7%/year or -$4.3 trillion per year. i.e. lack of $1 into sustaining our transport fuels will cause a $5 drop in the economy. Your job, Your pension.

        Delays in environmental permissions and declining oil discoveries are the two major hindrances. E.g. Obama has short sightedly stopped drilling for oil in the Gulf – we will reap the terrible consequences with $ trillions in higher fuel costs.

        Now what was that about 350 ppm vs 450 ppm CO2 when I reach 160?

      • David L. Hagen

        World class Lurgi MegaMethanol from natural gas plants are being installed at 5,000 tons/day, equivalent to 2,500 tons/day of gasoline, or about 18,250 gallons/day (ignoring refining losses.)

        Replacing 86,000,000 barrels/day of “liquid” fuel (aka “oil”) production, with methanol would require about 4,712 plants at 5,000 tons/day methanol, whether from natural gas or solar thermochemical.

        For perspective, introducing those over 20 years would require 235 plants/year, or 4.5 per week.

        Costs are about $500 million (2008) to $600 million (2010) per 5000 ton/day methanol plant.
        I.e., investment of $2.7 billion / week, or $140 billion/year for 20 years for $2.8 trillion, from natural gas.

        For solar thermochemical methanol, add the solar collectors and CO2 etc.
        That’s pocket change compared to the $65 trillion proposed to “mitigate” climate change (with dubious projected results.)

      • There is no question that petroleum reserves, just like natural gas or even coal reserves are finite,

        On the other hand, the numbers show that there is not an imminent “peak oil” crunch in site (forgetting about the distinction between light and heavy oil, tar sands, oil shale, etc.).

        The optimistically estimated total remaining fossil fuel reserves of our planet are:

        1. Coal (Wiki):

        910 billion tons (proven reserves) – [USEIA estimate is slightly lower]
        910 billion tons (optimistically estimated new finds, worldwide)
        1820 billion tons total

        6.4 billion tons/year = today’s consumption

        284 years’ reserves at today’s consumption

        If consumption levels off at 10 billion tons/year (as some forecasts estimate), this equals:

        182 years’ reserves

        2. Oil:

        1,317 billion bbl (proven reserves, O+GJ, 2007)
        2,800 billion bbl (worldwide oil shale, Wiki)
        500 billion bbl (other new finds: Arctic, Greenland, Offshore, new tar sands, etc.)
        4,617 billion bbl total; this equals 600 billion tons

        75 million bbl/day = today’s consumption

        168 years’ reserves at today’s consumption

        Consumption is expected to level off at around 100 million bbl/day and then gradually decline, so this equals roughly

        126 years’ reserves

        3. Natural Gas:

        176 trillion cubic meters (proven reserves, O+GJ, 2007)
        180 trillion cubic meters (optimistically estimated new finds, Wiki) – includes “new finds’ incl. recoverable shale deposits but does not include recovery from hydrates)
        356 trillion cubic meters total

        3.2 trillion cubic meters/year = today’s consumption (Wiki)

        111 years’ reserves at today’s consumption

        Estimates for future consumption vary widely. If methane use as a motor fuel grows, this could cause a major increase. However, it is probable that the use for power generation would decrease in that case. Demand could level off at around 5 trillion cubic meters/year, in which case there are:

        71 years’ reserves

        Methane hydrates (clathrates) on the ocean floor represent a major potential source of natural gas, if technology can be developed to exploit these reserves viably. This source could more than quadruple the above estimated total world reserves.

        So we’re not about to “run out” of fossil fuels anytime real soon. There will undoubtedly be a shift away from petroleum products as a motor fuel (too valuable as a petrochemical feedstock) and the use of natural gas to produce power may also decline.

        The world will undoubtedly become more energy-efficient, as we have over the past. GDP growth has outpaced growth in energy consumption historically (which has outpaced population growth) and will continue to do so, even as the poorest countries of the world develop their own energy infrastructures and eliminate the millions of deaths caused by unclean drinking water or indoor burning.

        We cannot even imagine the new technologies that will be available to sustain the energy demand of whatever population our planet has in 100 years. Fast-breeder fission reactors using thorium with essentially no spent fuel problem, nuclear fusion, or something totally new we haven’t even dreamt of today? And renewables will certainly also play their part.

        But what about the “carbon footprint” if we really were to use up all our fossil fuels?

        How much CO2 is there in all that fossil fuel and how would it impact the atmospheric CO2 content?

        Coal is 91% carbon, so each ton burned will produce 0.91 * 44 / 12 = 3.34 tons CO2. The global coal reserves are 1,820 billion tons (Gt), so this equals 6,073 Gt CO2.

        Oil is 85% carbon and only around 75% of the oil is burned, with the rest going into petrochemicals, plastics, fertilizers, etc. so the global oil reserves of 600 Gt will produce 600 * 0.85 * 0.75 * 44/ 12 = 1,403 Gt CO2.

        A cubic meter of natural gas produces 2.0 kg of CO2, but only 80% of the natural gas is burned, with the rest being used for producing fertilizers and chemicals, so the global gas reserves of 356 trillion cubic meters will produce 356 * .8 * 2.0 = 570 Gt CO2

        Let’s assume that all of this combustion will take place over the next 150 years, and that our total worldwide fossil fuel reserves have all been used up by then.

        So we will have emitted a total of 6,073 + 1,403 + 570 = 8,046 Gt CO2

        How will this impact our atmosphere?

        Let’s assume IPCC is right and atmospheric CO2 has a “residence time” of over 100 years. Let’s ignore this and assume that all the CO2 formed will stay in the atmosphere idefinitely.

        From the past we know that roughly 50% of the human CO2 emissions “remain” in the atmosphere, and the rest are absorbed by the biosphere (ocean, plants, etc.). Let’s assume that the amount “remaining” in the atmosphere in the future increases to 60% of the total.

        So we have a total added CO2 load to the atmosphere of 8,046 * .6 = 4,827 Gt CO2

        The atmosphere has a total mass of 5,140,000 Gt

        So this is an increase of 4,827 * 1,000,000 / 5,140,000 = 939 ppm (mass)

        This equals 939 * 29 / 44 = 619 ppmv added CO2

        We are now at roughly 390 ppmv CO2.

        So when all the generously estimated fossil fuels on our planet have been totally consumed our atmosphere will contain 390 + 619 = 1,009 ppmv CO2.

        That’s all there is. It’s all there ever will be. IPCC “scenarios” of higher levels (the ones that result in alarming temperature projections) are simply impossible.

        Realize that this is all outside the rather arbitrarily set 450 ppmv discussion, but it tells us that there is not likely to be an imminent fossil fuel “crunch” and sets an absolute upper limit to the long-term atmospheric CO2 caused by fossil fuel combustion.


      • David L. Hagen

        To visualize these issues and practical rates of extraction, see Tad Patzek‘s publications and presentations

        e.g., Peaks Everywhere!

        A global coal production forecast with multi-Hubbert cycle analysis
        Tadeusz W. Patzek, Gregory D. Croft
        Energy 35 (2010) 3109-3122

        In Subsurface Sequestration of CO2 in the U.S: Is it Money Best Spent?
        Natural Resources Research, Vol. 19, No. 1, March 2010 ( 2010)
        Patzek shows that improving efficiency would be a far better way to spend our limited resources than burying them in the ground.

        Note: “Why are climate scientists ignoring peak oil and coal?” Ourfutureplanet, Januray 6, 2011.

      • David,

        page 7 says a lot. When it was published 2/3 of the oil was unrecoverable. This has changed substantially since publication and will continue to change. Not to mention we will continue to find more oil the harder we look for an extended period of time.

        I just can’t seem to get excited about the documents you post.

      • David L. Hagen

        Then perhaps you stomach may provide some persuasion.

        See:Fuel and Famine: Rural Energy Crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
        James H. Williams, David Von Hippel, and Peter Hayes
        Policy Paper

        Cut off of fuel from the Soviet Union directly caused most of the million or so deaths in North Korea’s 1995 famine.

        What will you do when international oil exports dry up?

      • David,

        pushing strawmen does you no good.

        International Oil could dry up tomorrow on changing political realities. What would we do?? This is why we need to develop domestic supplies so that we can contribute to the international supply and, incidentally, not be so dependent on it.

        Why you are worried about starving everyone at some unknown FUTURE date when the current policies are already starting to starve people is rather strange. Natural climate variability is reducing our crops NOW, not at some vague future date. Growing crops for fuel is adding to that NOW, not some future vague date. Increasing the costs for farmers and transportation is affecting people NOW not some vague future date.

        Please pull your head out of the Utopian future and try to deal with the reality of what the partially implemented policies of environmentalists are doing RIGHT NOW!!!

      • David L. Hagen

        I presented no strawman. I am raising the realistic problems.

        I agree that “we need to develop domestic supplies so that we can contribute to the international supply and, incidentally, not be so dependent on it.”

        But have you seriously considered what is needed to actually do that?

        Have you actually considered the consequences on the economy of cutting 65% of current oil imports to the USA?

        Have you any comprehension of global demand of 1,000 barrels/second?
        Have you any comprehension of the time, effort and cost needed to replace that?

        A coal gasification plant was proposed for NE Indiana – it was vetoed by environmentalists as “too dirty” – with no comprehension of the catastrophic impacts on their future jobs, pensions and food generation. It could have been used to generate fuels.

        What are the prospects of getting a 1000 MW power plant approved an built within 10 years?


        Then what are the prospects of getting two equivalent sized fuel generation plant installed PER WEEK?

        We are already too far down the road to develop conventional alternatives without serious economic disruption – much more serious than 2008.
        I am working on solutions.
        What are you doing?

      • The strawman is that we have to do something NOW. As your figures obviously show there is no reasonable possibility that we can make major changes in a short period of time. As we run out of oil the cost will rise forcing the change to alternative supplies if something clearly better hasn’t been produced.

        This will probably be a hardship, BUT, what you and others want to do RIGHT NOW under Gubmint mismanagement is much WORSE!!

      • David L. Hagen

        “want to do RIGHT NOW under Gubmint mismanagement”
        However did you missinterpret me to say that?

        Have to do something now – See Hirsch
        Starting 20 years before the peak on a war time footing might avoid major economic downturn. Seeing IEA (2010) shows global crude peaked in 2006, we are now 25 years too late to avoid major economic downturn.
        Our challenge now is to develop alternative fuels as fast as possible.

        “This will probably be a hardship”
        That is the greatest understatement I have heard.

      • Transitioning to alternate transportation fuels is an interesting problem. Hydrogen from co-generation and and off peak can help. I hate to say it but I think fuel cell technology is pretty sexy. General motors estimates about 2 billion to expand the gaseous fuel infrastructure to make FCV use practical enough for production. Hydrogen production efficiency is a little misleading if you don’t consider its advantage in off-peak load equalization for co-generation. I’ll try to dig up some links.

      • David L. Hagen

        Dallas re Obama & fuel cells

        In addition to eliminating the diesel grants, the budget proposes allocating no money to a hydrogen fuel-cell program in the Energy Department that had $49 million in the 2010 fiscal year.

        Hopefully this is because they finally realized that there is far greater probability and cost effectiveness of rolling out alternative liquid fuels or natural gas before hydrogen.

      • David L. Hagen

        I highly recommend reading Tad Patzek’s presentation:

        The Hubbert Peaks
        Tadeusz W. Patzek, is Professor and Chair,
        Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering
        University of Texas at Austin

    • “Gambling on this singular direction is quite simply playing with the lives of those currently living [on] the edge.”

      Absolutely right! Those who enthusiastically propose their grand “solutions” uniformly assume their solutions are without negative consequences, and there’s no reason not to implement.

      Those of us reading this blog can pay energy and food prices that are a little to a lot more than at present, and we’ll get by just fine with a few less lattes, vacations, etc. Those in the third world simply can’t. Any of the proposed disruptions of the world’s economy will push many into starvation. Starvation causes banditry and wars. We can not simply assume the negatives out of existence.

      If you’re proposing such a massive remake of the foundations of the world economy, you’d better be damn sure you’re right.

      The self-assuredness of a few scientists is not sufficient.

    • David L. Hagen

      The major unsung potential is to improve energy efficiency. e.g., Granade et al. (2009) detail potential to reduce non-transport energy use 23% in the USA by 2020, saving $1.2 trillion on an investment of $520 billion.

      Granade, Hannah et al., The Untapped Energy Efficiency Opportunity of the U.S. Industrial Sector: Details of Research, July 2009 McKensey & Company

      One major barrier is the Harvard Business mentality that you must show 18% return per year growth or you are fired.

    • See the excellent review: Global Oil Risks in the Early 21st Century Posted by JoulesBurn on March 26, 2012 – 2:24pm
      Note especially the rapid decline in exports after an oil producing country reaches peak production with rapidly growing domestic consumption.

      The magnitude of our transport fuel problem is highlighted by:
      World oil import bill nears $2-trillion: IEA

      Mr. Birol said the bill for importing nations had risen from $1.8-trillion in 2011 and $1.7-trillion in 2008

      10% rise/year will rapidly transfer our wealth to OPEC-
      just when we need it most to develop alternative fuels.

  2. In climate warming mitigation, “success” and “failure” are part of a continuum, with 450 ppm CO2 a somewhat arbitrary decision point. Reaching it is unlikely, but striving for it can be argued to be preferable than a continued business as usual scenario.

    There are several elements to the problem. Part of carbon mitigation entails something other than alternative energy – a combination of conservation and increased energy efficiency. Modest conservation is feasible at levels compatible with a high standard of living. Increased energy efficiency approaches (e.g., zero-energy buildings) are money savers in addition, whereas alternative energy solutions come with a cost.

    Finally, cheap fossil fuel energy is itself a limited resource. In particular, I have seen inadequate discussion on climate blogs of the quantitative implications of remaining energy reserves. It is often estimated that easily extractable coal reserves amount to about 900 Gtons, with oil plus gas likely to offer a slightly smaller quantity of burnable carbon. At current median estimates of climate sensitivity, what rise in CO2 and temperature would result if we consumed most of these reserves? An earlier calculation on my part suggested perhaps about a 2 C increase for coal, involving CO2 levels between 560 and 600 ppm, but this depends on sensitivity estimates. It also depends on the accuracy of estimates for fossil fuel reserves, and the cost of extracting fossil fuels from less accessible sources.

    It also might entail a political decision to rescind tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry.

    • Fred,

      In climate warming mitigation, “success” and “failure” are part of a continuum, with 450 ppm CO2 a somewhat arbitrary decision point. Reaching it is unlikely, but striving for it can be argued to be preferable than a continued business as usual scenario.

      Indeed. ISTR there was much fuss made recently over the notion that trying to limit the global temperature rise to 2C was “arbitrary” – well no shit Sherlock, we are not going to be fine and dandy at 1.9C and then suddenly be hit by a catastrophe when we reach 2C. The point of such targets, arbitrary as they are, is to focus minds and provide a specific target to aim for and to inform policy decisions.
      Let’s face it, any target we set ourselves will be missed to some extent and a 1.9C rise or 449ppm are anything but “fine” but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying.

    • F. Moolten,

      Somebody is eventually going to have to cite specifics about the frequently asserted “tax breaks to the to the fossil fuel industry.” It is a well-used canard that likely would not pass muster with snopes or

      All industries are permitted to recover capital costs through depreciation of fixed investments. All natural resource companies ( e.g., timber, mining ) are allowed to recover the replacement cost of their raw materials through the depletion allowance. Are you referring to the deduction of intangible drilling costs? That is, of course, nothing more than a timing issue and, in any event, is only permissible for relatively small operators.

      The popular assertion of the existence of “tax breaks” unique to fossil fuel companies does not bear up under scrutiny.

    • Fred:

      You describe 450ppm CO2 as an “arbitrary decision point”. It’s a little off topic, but is this the best climate science can do for us? Surely we need something better than “arbitrary” targets to shoot at. After all, we are talking about trillions of dollars here.

      You believe we can reduce energy use by improving energy efficiency, but the Jevons paradox shows that increases in energy efficiency lead to increases in energy consumption, not decreases. That this is what invariably happens is demonstrated by hundreds of years of operating experience.

      “Cheap fossil fuel energy is a limited resource”. True. But expensive fossil fuel energy isn’t. The world is awash in expensive fossil fuel resources. (Proven world oil reserves are about 1.3 trillion barrels, but another three trillion barrels are tied up in oil shales alone.) So the question is not when are we going to run out of oil and other fossil fuels, but when are we no longer going to be prepared to pay for them?

      As to rescinding tax breaks for fossil fuels, I think we should rescind tax breaks for everything. But alternative energy sources like wind and solar couldn’t survive on a level playing field.

    • Fred—I believe you are missing several relevant points.

      You wrote- “450 ppm CO2 a somewhat arbitrary decision point” I say No—450 ppm is completely arbitrary

      You wrote of modest conservation by those with a high standard of living. Sorry, but do the math and you will find that the modest conservation you suggest involves a high expense for virtually no benefit to the climate. The “modest conservation” may allow those conserving to feel superior about their “doing their part”, but in fact it will have no measureable impact on the climate.

      Finally you wrote “I have seen inadequate discussion on climate blogs of the quantitative implications of remaining energy reserves.”

      On this one I give you the LOL. You are advocating that scientists do more of what is WRONG with climate science. Climate scientists need to study climate issues and not the policy considerations related to energy production. When climate scientists act as advocates for policies out side their field of expertise, they have no more basis for their opinions than any other member of society.

  3. Without having the data this thought has occurred to me before. It makes me wonder what our political masters are up to? Why they are doing what they are doing?

    Another thought, the plan is still to bring every barrel of oil out of the ground that they can get their hands on. Their professed beliefs and their actions conflict with each other.

    • Richard Wakefield

      Because oil is the life blood of our modern civilization. Nothing has the energy density and ERoEI that oil has. Society runs on net energy.

      • Richard Wakefield

        Society runs on net energy?

        Per (Feel free to survey other sources for more authoritative data, I believe they’ll be largely in agreement, adequate to my purposes.)

        America runs on 19 tons CO2 per capita, and Japan on 10. Are you saying America’s what, quality of life, improvements in quality of life, social advances, social anything is almost double Japan’s?

        That make Qatar approaching triple America?

        Switzerland almost four times more socially backwards than the USA?

        Your claim flies in the face of reality, the admirable ERoEI of oil notwithstanding.

      • Craig Goodrich

        America runs on 19 tons CO2 per capita, and Japan on 10. Are you saying America’s what, quality of life, improvements in quality of life, social advances, social anything is almost double Japan’s?

        OTOH, Japan is a small temperate island archepelago, having noplace on it like Minneapolis, nor like Las Vegas. Neither does it have any two points as far apart as Minneapolis and Las Vegas.
        On this topic, the essay at
        is very interesting. In general, masterresource is an interesting site for realistic energy data.

        Note that none of the “green” energy solutions are practical in any time frame at all, much less the delusional 20- to 30-year ones beloved of armwaving politicians, even if the preferred devices worked, which of course they don’t.

        To see the sheer lunacy of all this, just look at British plans to solve the island’s energy problems by massively subsidizing solar panel installations. This in a country where from time immemorial an essential part of the kit of a well-dressed gentleman has been his faithful brolly, and where older homes invariably use “electric fires” for heat — is England the only place in the world where more heating is needed during the day than at night?

        On an optimistic note, more and more people are coming to notice that their country’s elite political class is by any objective measure insane. Luckily for the elite, however, most of us live in urbanized societies where pitchforks are not as common as they once were…

      • Craig Goodrich

        You commute a lot between Minnesota and Nevada on a daily basis?

        Think Japanese business has less global reach than American, per capita?

        Spend a lot of time in Japan to express such expertise?

        These specious examples and funny fairy tale you cite do not apply meaningfully to what changes people could and would freely make if their budgets reflected fairly actual costs, not the current highly subsidized and skewed energy-intensive infrastructure.

        The difference between America and Japan is the difference in which types of business are coddled and supported by the government in sweet deals and intrinsic benefits.

        Cut the government-maintained umbilical between the taxpayers’ pockets and the oil and coal company’s coffers, and solutions will roll in.

      • I think the difference is in population density. When USA will have same population density as Japan then the “per capita” will start to be equal.

      • mircea

        Care to explain Canada, 10% lower emissions per capita than the USA, and a net exporter of electricity to the USA?

        Roughly one tenth America’s population density.

        It’s nice to think these things, but the correlation I suggest is stronger.

        Go ahead, do the math yourself.

      • More expensive gas, food, energy – everything. Nobody can afford the US lifestyle. Except the politicians. It ain’t necessarily by choice, Bart.

        Remember – cultural differences.

      • Jim Owen

        So the reason Canada typically scores ahead of the USA on all those “where would you live” surveys and rankings, quality of life metrics and the like?

        It’s because of biased judges?

        (Well, they are mostly European, so could be.)

      • The difference between America and Japan is the difference in which types of business are coddled and supported by the government in sweet deals and intrinsic benefits.

        Yup, most Japanese businesses (including energy) aren’t handicapped the way US Businesses are. The Japanese government is a much much much more active supporter of it’s corporations than the US government.

      • Harold

        There’s hardly any distinction between Japanese corporations and the government in many ways.

        But America schools Japan when it comes to sweet under-the-table back-room political-corporate deals for energy companies in the coal and oil sectors.

        Just by sheer random chance, it looks like.

      • Bart R,
        Why are you confusing CO2 with energy?

      • hunter

        Could you save me some time by posting all your silly questions at once?

        This irrelevance by parts approach of yours, breaks up the patter in your comedy routine.

        Maybe, also, throw in a little observational humor. Maybe some stories from real life. If you ever, y’know, take the time to bother observing real life.

      • BartR,
        So you cannot answer simple questions.
        As I thought.
        Have you lived in Japan? Or known Americans who have lived in Japan?
        “Japan became the third largest nuclear power user in the world with 53 nuclear reactors. These provide 34.5% of Japan’s electricity.”
        How much CO2 is required to make electricity from a nuke plant?
        You used this stat, great genius:
        “America runs on 19 tons CO2 per capita, and Japan on 10. Are you saying America’s what, quality of life, improvements in quality of life, social advances, social anything is almost double Japan’s?”
        While pathetic, you are entertaining.
        Please do continue.

      • hunter

        Still missing the observational bit, and the timing.

        See, what’s stopping the USA from being as nuclear-intensive as Japan?

        America’s mostly overdue-to-be-mothballed state-subsidized coal and oil fired plants?

        America’s inferior nuclear resources?

        Or are you arguing that America lacks the brains to go toe-to-toe with Japan?

        While I haven’t visited Japan, I was for a decade a member of a Japanese cultural association, if that makes any difference to the validity of the point that America has no good reason to emit as much CO2 per capita as it does, and could without suffering at all drop to half the current level.

        Well, except the suffering of corporate welfare bums.

      • BartR,
        My family has done business in Japan for decades, and my sister lived there for over five years and is fluent in Japanese.
        My son has gone there.
        I was in the Japan Society throughout the 1980’s.
        I even like Sushi, including quail eggs. So what?
        The point is Japan made a strong commitment to nuke power and stuck to it. We did not.
        A large factor in their CO2 production is that nuclear power doesn’t produce CO2.
        The point is energy unit per unit of GDP.
        Not CO2 unit per unit of GDP.

      • hunter

        Energy unit per unit of GDP, or energy cost per unit of GDP?

        We can’t calculate the latter for the USA because of all the subsidies hiding the true cost.

        If CO2 budget has a price attached to it, as is only right of a scarce resource in a free market economy, then CO2 price per unit of GDP becomes very relevant, too.

        The only way these things don’t matter is if the state subsidizes by explicit and implicit, unaccounted, means to benefit some at a hidden cost to all.

      • Why are you conflating different cultures, cultural requirements and environments?

        Qatar, for example, is affluent enough to provide air conditioning for most of its people. Do they need it? Remember the temps in that part of the world. And that air conditiioning is more energy intensive than heating.

        Hmm – Japan – have you ever been there? Outside of the cities? Much of the country is still rural. Which is not the same as “rural” in the developed world.

      • Jim Owen

        That’s a good question.

        And yet, there remain wide spreads between countries that have much in common, or even better environmental argument to support high energy consumption, to support a case for more coal burning, to carry arguments for higher energy intensity..

        And the correlation is not there.

        The correlation is on how much the government subsidizes energy. Qatar gives the stuff out hand over fist. America’s tax structures and government infrastructure both explicitly and intrinsically give more of American’s cash to America’s favorite charity, the energy industry, than to any other single sector. Far in excess of health care. Far in excess of defense spending, absent the energy component.

        Cut the purse strings from all levels of government. Provide free market conditions to energy, including the cost of the CO2 budget. Let the oil and automobile companies pay for freeways. This is not a greenie argument, or an environmental argument. This is a fiscal argument. America just can’t afford to keep nursing these distempered and bloated dependent corporations. They need to stand on their own, or fall and be replaced by things that can.

      • I wasnt refering to differences between nations on how much they consume. Society needs a mininum of 4:1 ERoEI. Below that and an energy source has no value to society.

      • Yes, jr.

        I get what you aren’t aware of, or don’t want talked about.

        Which is why I mentioned it, in illustration of the error in your argument.

      • I have no problems discussing the issue of inequity of energy use. We use more, so what? We pay for it. I generally find those who wish for more equity in energy consumption (which means a dramatic lowering of living standards in the West) are left leaning wishing to end capitialism. Such people should live a year in North Korea before complaining about our living standards.

        You are of course welcome to feel guilty about our high consumption, that’s your right in a free democracy. And in that free democracy I don’t have to feel guilty about it one bit, but thankful for all what this modern civilization offers.

      • You pay for part of it.

        You don’t pay for your incursion into the CO2 budget.

        I don’t do guilt.

        You don’t do democracy.

        Stop kidding yourself about that.

      • Hmmm…. is that nerve still tingling?

      • hunter

        Always feel stung when my pocket is picked by someone self-righteous about the act.

  4. Hoffert et al were all over this in 1998:

    Hoffert’s work was largely ignored and/or downplayed by IPCC WG3.

    • Very good post. One of the things not discussed much is cogeneration retrofits. Cogen retrofits can increase efficiency from roughly 40% to over 80% if tri-cycle options are available, which is about a 50% reduction of CO2 emissions. Hydrogen cogen (about 50% efficient in S-I) which would increase efficiency by about 50% (from 40% to 60% ). Hydrogen cogen is more valuable that it looks because it can help load balance, allowing plants to operate at their higher efficiency when the heat use load is reduced.

      Note: some of the efficiencies listed in the wiki article are overly optimistic for retrofits, IMO, but a decent reference.

      Cost, build out time and realistic anticipation of it happening, are big advantages, though it is not a carbon free or total solution. A reasonable step in any case.

  5. The U.S.A. is entirely self-sufficient in natural gas for the next 50-100 years. It has enough coal to last 500 years. Hydraulic fracturing techniques are being used to increase yields from domestic oil fields. American oil production is going up and will in time reduce by one half the $350 billion spent on oil imports each year. We are blessed by abundant energy resources. Furthermore, Europe has abundant natural gas resources that will soon be exploited using hydraulic fracturing. Russia’s state-owned Gazprom will soon have to look east to replace foreign customers lost in the west. Peak oil is a farce and sustainable energy supplies total nonsense in the context of free market systems that allocate resources through efficient pricing systems.

    There is absolutely no market-based rationale for pursuing expensive, non-competitive green energy substitutes for the continuing use of the abundant natural resources at our disposal. Impoverishing the masses in order to indulge the fads and fancies of the affluent is an affliction that was once the perquisite of an hereditary aristocracy. It is now the mission of a self-appointed morally elite class convinced that eco-friendly central planning and control of the energy sector of the market is best left to them. On that note, let me finish with a fanfare for the common man. Who else can we credit with doing the tedious work of providing the overwhelming majority of the goods and services that ease and often enrich our lives?

    • Ken;
      Indeed. This opinion and warning deconstructs as follows:
      “We’re going to have to impoverish and de-populate ourselves even faster and deeper than we thought. ” And it’s 110% bushwah.

    • David L. Hagen

      Ken re “The U.S.A. is entirely self-sufficient in natural gas for the next 50-100 years. It has enough coal to last 500 years.”
      While I do not wish to intrude on your daydreams, it is time to kick the tires on realistic expectations. See

      Tadeusz Patzek & Gregory Croft
      A global coal production forecast with multi-Hubbert cycle analysis
      Energy 35 (2010) 3109e3122

      Based on economic and policy considerations that appear to be unconstrained by geophysics, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) generated forty carbon production and emissions scenarios. In this paper, we develop a base-case scenario for global coal production based on the physical multi-cycle Hubbert analysis of historical production data. Areas with large resources but little production history, such as Alaska and the Russian Far East, are treated as sensitivities on top of this basecase, producing an additional 125 Gt of coal. The value of this approach is that it provides a reality check on the magnitude of carbon emissions in a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. The resulting base-case is significantly below 36 of the 40 carbon emission scenarios from the IPCC. The global peak of coal production from existing coalfields is predicted to occur close to the year 2011. The peak coal production rate is 160 EJ/y, and the peak carbon emissions from coal burning are 4.0 Gt C (15 Gt CO2) per year. After 2011, the production rates of coal and CO2 decline, reaching 1990 levels by the year 2037, and reaching 50% of the peak value in the year 2047. It is unlikely that future mines will reverse the trend predicted in this BAU scenario.

      There are similar problems with expecting US oil production to climb much when it already imports 65% of its oil consumption.

    • David L. Hagen

      Another reality check: A review on coal to liquid fuels and its coal consumption

      Conversion ratios for CTL are generally estimated to be between 1-2 barrels/ton coal. This puts a strict limitation on future CTL capacity imposed by future coal production volumes, regardless of other factors such as economics, emissions or environmental concern. Assuming that 10% of world coal production can be diverted to CTL, the contribution to liquid fuel supply will be limited to only a few Mb/d. This prevents CTL from becoming a viable mitigation plan for liquid fuel shortage on a global scale.

      • Plus coal-liquids is a net energy loser. ERiEI is negative. We’d be better off just burning the coal for power. But there is a new process for using coal slurry in diesel locomotives. But still experimental.

      • David L. Hagen

        It is just a bit awkward to run a VW on coal.
        Better a lower ERIEI than no transport.
        Better yet solar thermochemical fuel with EROEI >> 3.

    • Peak oil is a farce and sustainable energy supplies total nonsense in the context of free market systems that allocate resources through efficient pricing systems.

      Peak oil is a thermodynamic fact, which economics cannot change. Oil runs the economy, not the other way around.

  6. This is reminiscent of some slides from CalTech’s Nathan Lewis. If we put our minds to it, I think we can shake off the global depression and really get cooking with energy usage and hit 450PPM much sooner than the the experts predict. I know I plan to do my part. Come on, 450!

    • I’m doing my part too. Unlike James Cameron, Algore (sic), Robert Redford and other celebrity greens my means are very limited. I would heat three swimming pools at my mansion if I had a mansion with three swimming pools and the disposable income to heat them. I would own four or five houses and leave the bootleg incandescent lights on 7/24 if I could. Instead, I choose plastic over paper bags when shopping. Ah, well.

      In any case, 450 ppm is good progress in achieving 1,000 parts per million — the Co2 concentration that would at last furnish every photosynthetic plant on the face of the earth a complete, daily meal of fertilizer.

      • Love your comment. I have been saying the same for years. Like you, I have no pool or mansion, but I heat with smokey wood, and stocked up with incandescent bulbs when they were on sale last year. The only problem I see with CO2 at 1000 ppm is that produce prices will drop as the markets are flooded with all the excess farm crops. Plus, these damn weeds in my garden will grow even faster. If this winter ever breaks, I’m ready for spring garden planting.

  7. Guillermo Gefaell

    As the task is simply impossible to achieve, we’d better pray the sceptics are right and a high athmosferic CO2 concentration is not harmful but protecting to life on Earth…..

  8. Fair amount of research has been done on technology development and on possibilities to influence its speed.

    One well known example referred to in the Stern report is using so called learning curves, which are supposed to tell, how increased production leads to reduced costs. Unfortunately the curve has no theoretical basis, but is purely empirical correlation. As an empirical correlation it does not prove anything about causation. The progress has always occurred in parallel with general scientific and technological development unrelated to the production volumes of the particular technology being considered. There is also certainly the inverse causation: lower costs lead to larger volumes. Thus we have three classes of explanation, all certainly present, but in unknown ratio. How can one even imagine that it would be possible to conclude, how much the costs can be reduced by supporting larger production volumes.

    The above presents one argument used often to justify support for implementation of a new technology. An alternative form of support goes to research. Again it is practically impossible to estimate the resulting advantages.

    We know that the overall progress in all technologies combined has been tremendous, but it is very common that the most important innovations have been unexpected. The total freedom of choosing winners from innovations in all fields has contributed very much. Directed efforts in narrowly specified fields have produced less and often the large effort has been wasted.

    Energy technologies became a focal field after the oil crises of 1970’s. Since that time energy research has received special funding in very many countries. In relation to that, the results have not been particularly good. Rather little has changed radically in 30 years (the time I have been involved with energy research). Development has been significant, but much less than generally expected 30 years ago.

    All the above (and many additional arguments) have made me rather skeptical on, what we can expect from the next 30 or 50 years. It is very difficult for me to believe that the goals of many European countries could be even approached. I have been reading the book “Climate Fix” of Roger Pielke Jr.. I do not like the book as much as his earlier book “The Honest Broker”, but his conclusions concerning the general difficulty (if not impossibility) of reaching the goals agree largely with my own thoughts.

    • I completely agree with your analysis. It seems that the technological optimists are usually economists without any technology development background, who offer such comparisons as “look at computers, they double their speed every 2 years. Now if we just put the right funding and economical facilitators, why would our energy efficiency not improve the same? And that’s before we perfect the conversion of derivatives bubbles into electricity, after that energy just as easy to multiply as money…”, while the people with real technical background, who have worked on the subject, are much much less optimistic

      The multiple petrol shock have shown that we do not have a replacement for oil at current oil price. On the other hand, at the 2008 price, we have. So it is just that petrol has been the cheapest way to generate convenient energy for a long time. Other fossil fuel are also convenient and price competitive depending on market and application, but fossil has been the overwhelming main power source since industrial revolution.
      Renewable are not as efficient for producing cheap energy, with the big exception of hydroelectric.

      And then, there is nuclear. I think that, contrary to other energy sources, nuclear has not progressed as fast as it could have. It was hampered first by the cold war (which promoted military application, which had civil fallbacks too, but on the other hand fissil materials were hugely sensitive and proliferation a real threat (it still is). When the cold war ended, green movement started and has slowed down nuclear research on fission. And now there is the terrorist threat (overblown imho, but it is convenient to have an enemy) to again make fissile material a big problem.

      So we have lost 20-30 years on fissile power research. It is starting again, because of high oil price and CO2-scare, but I feel gen IV powerplants should be more advanced than they are. Another reason maybe is that short term profit do not play so well with a technology that need a lot of initial investment and where security is extremely important. For this I think some government interfering is beneficial…

      Fusion is more long term, and I doubt, bar some unexpected technological advance or new physics, that it will play a role in the coming energy crisis (if it comes, some people think there will be no problem, but I do not think so, just think problem will come from higher and higher energy price regardless of CO2 concentration )

  9. Carbon mitigation wil never be an effective startegy until the cost of nuclear power drops significantly.
    The only strategy that is giong to help people and not destroy vast amounts of landscape and leave high quality power grids in place will be to seek ways to reduce real pollutants, and adapt to what the climate has always done: vary and generate extreme weather events from time to time.
    Burning natural gas is cleaner than coal. Burning coal more cleanly- reducing NOx, SOx, metals and particulates, is a good thing. Building nuclear power (again in the US) is a better thing. getting these technologies to the third world asap will help the poverty striken regions build enough wealth to reduce their environmental degradation.
    The continued obsession on CO2 is counter productive in both real and opportunity costs.

    • “Carbon mitigation wil never be an effective startegy until the cost of nuclear power drops significantly.”

      Let’s do some ‘back of the envelope’ math.

      Oil is $16/mmbtu, Natural Gas(outside of the US) is $8/mmbtu, coal(outside of the US) is $5/mmbtu.

      1 million btu’s in a thermal plant products about 100 KWh. (3.4 btu/watt * 35% efficiency).

      So to get the equivalent of a 1,000 MW nuclear plant we need to burn 10,000 million Btu’s of fossil fuel per hour. That’s a minimum fuel cost in most of the world of $50,000/hour.

      There are 8,760 hours in a year. 8,760 * 50,000/hr = $438 million per year in fuel costs.

      A 1.4 GW South Korean nuclear reactorbuilt in the UAE costs $5 billion or $3.6 billion/GW.

      If you live anywhere in the world except the US whats cheaper? Burning a minimum of $438 million/yr in fossil fuels or a $3.6 billion nuclear plant?

      The delivered price of coal to Georgia in October 2010 was $4.01/Million btu and the citygate price of natural gas was $5.41/million BTU.

      Coal mining productively east of the Mississippi has dropped from more then 4 tons/man hour in 2000 to less then 3 tons/man hour in 2009…coal is headed higher. There plenty of coal left but the cost of digging it out of the ground is definitely going in the wrong direction. The well head price of natural gas is nice, but that’s not what the local utility pays, they pay ‘city gate’ price.

      You are in charge of Georgia Power and you need to build something to keep the air conditioning on, what do you build?

      • Harry,
        Is there some reason why you are comparing the total construction cost of a nuke plant to the yearly fuel bill of a coal plant? The coal plant has construction costs too and the nuke plant operates for more than one year.

      • GaryW,

        1) I assumed folks could do their own math and conclude that $400 million a year in fuel cost savings would add up quickly.

        2) For the nuclear plant to guarantee 100% of capacity being sold it has to be able to offer electricity at a lower price then an existing paid for plant. The only way to do that is have a lower marginal cost.
        I.E. The interest payments on the nuclear plant have to be less then the fuel cost of an existing paid for fossil fuel plant. If the nuke plant is only selling 2/3rds of it’s electricity it’s not competitive. This was the case in the 1990’s and how nuclear got a reputation for being ‘expensive’.

      • Harry,
        As for nuke plant operating costs being high, if you will check the actual financial info of nuke operators, you will discover that they are able to sell at 2.5 to 3 cents per KWH. That includes the cost of interest.

        The environmentalist claim about the high cost of nuke plants was about the initial cost, which indeed in large part, is inflated by interest costs during the extended process of licensing. It never was about operating costs. If you check the cost of new coal fired plants, you see they are in the same ball park as a nuke plant, mostly because their licensing issues are nearly as bad as for nuke plants now.

        By the way, the 2.5 to 3 cents per KWH is what the nuke operators sell to power distributors. Back in the early 90’s, KWH price on a customer’s bill was typically one third power cost, one third distribution cost (power lines, etc.), and one third taxes. In recent years, the tax amount has mushroomed, showing up directly on power bills, and increased taxes to generators and distributors. For reference, the least expensive power is usually from a hydro plant which can sell at 1.0 to 1.5 cents per KWH.

        If you are trying to say that continuing to run existing coal and natural gas plants is a good and economical choice, I agree with you.

      • harrywr2,
        I see where you are going with this, but coal plants are not built on cash, but are financed, as well.
        Nuke faded out in the US in the 1990’s because of a terrible collapse of leadership that allowed tiny well funded extremists to set the agenda. They chose to use the American way of litigation to delay delay delay any plant until the developers had to quit- often in bankruptcy.
        Another problem of the leadership failure was the lack of standardization. It works in France and anywhere else it is applied properly.

  10. Richard Wakefield

    In Ontario we have the Green Energy Act, the purpose is to reduce CO2 emissions by replacing coal fired plants with wind and solar. The results are pathetic.

    Wind power in Ontario is terrible, the Capacity Value, defined as the percent output from name plate when demand is above 10% of peak, is ZERO. No value.

    The rest of the time, in the summer, half the time wind output is less than 7% name plate. In Winter half the time wind output is less than 15% name plate. See my analysis here:

    Solar will be worse because of our latitude. Our winter daylight is just too short, we get too much snow, and it’s cloudy most of the time. Sunny days in winter are rare.

    Yet our government gives 14c for wind and up to 80c for solar. Though the Liberal government today announced there will be no offshort wind projects. Some victory for us who oppose wind.

    The results of the Green Energy Act on the economy is a doubling of our power bills (mine was $280 last month) and an increase of an additional 65% over the next 5 years.

    We will be heading to the polls in Oct this year, the Liberals will be kicked out, and the Progressive Conservatives will end the GEA, and attempt to kill off all FIT contracts (there are ways).

    • Fellow Ontarian here,

      My girlfriend (single mother with two kids, though gainfully employed) has seen her power bill double since last January. Unbelievably poor policy making. But don’t worry, Samsung will come in with green jobs for all*!!!!!!

      *Non-binding agreement. Also, be careful you don’t get caught in the stampeding exodus of any remaining manufacturing.

    • Ontario just killed all offshore wind projects for poltical reasons. The Liberals would lose more seats in the next election if they proceeded. Appearently here are too many Liberal ridings along the lake shores whose views would be wrecked with 40 story high wind turbines.

    • David L. Hagen

      On top of that you have the “benefit” that the wind does NOT blow when its cold.

  11. It’s just like living on Easter Island and seeing the last tree cut down to move some stone heads into place.

    Look at those two over there. We call them The Koch Twins.

  12. My take on participation in the greening of the economy (meaning the dismantling of civilization) is that many, perhaps most people and businesses, certainly governments, are slacktivists. They sign the petitions, attend the meetings, praise the praisable, fund the studies ad nauseum, and once in a while will buy a CFL or carbon offsets. Nothing really substantial. Witness the predictable failure of the Kyoto protocol – who didn’t see that coming?

    RPjr has some sensible ideas about energy but has wrapped it in the colorful foil of decarbonization which taints it on contact. When alternate energy becomes equivalently fiscally beneficial for all competing economic forces in the world it will have ascended to acceptability. Until that happens it seems it is just more slacktivism to what-if this to tatters.

    Rather than fritter away our national fortunes spitting into the wind of climate change we should probably start planning on housing climate refugees and learning to feed the world’s hungry regardless of what the climate does. And maybe slip some population growth management ideas into the debate. Think how beneficial it would be to reduce world wide teen pregnancy to 1897 levels – it’s probably easier than reducing GHG levels to those of 1897, and it is green. It also pays for itself. Think about that -its like free money and its the right thing to do. No takers…

    No population in the history of climate change has squelched that change. They adapted, and the result of that is, well, here we are. Better off than any previous generation. So well off we have time, money, and a disposition to fight wars and bicker endlessly.

  13. Economic growth = increased resilience. The best way to deal with any adverse climate challenge is to earn enough to pay for adaptation. I suspect that Bjorn Lomborg may be the only warmest who knows enough high school math to perform a cost benefit analysis that characterizes the trade-offs between mitigation and adaptation.

    • I think David MacKay (Without Hot Air) qualifies. I don’t know if he’s the warmest warmist tho’. ;)

  14. “It turns out, to get on a trajectory to hit 450 ppm, we’re going to need to turn off most of our fossil fuel energy….”

    It must be wonderful to be an academic or journalist. You can create your own world in the safe confines of your mind, and just pretend away the real world effects of your favorite theories. “Turn off most of our fossil fuel energy” sounds just so innocuous. It would be so much more bothersome to say…we have to condemn the world’s poor to perpetual deprivation and destroy modern economies throughout the world, based on unverifiable climate models.

    We’ll just replace carbon based energy with renewables. Said without a clue of how exactly such a thing could be done. The pie chart graph showing the proposed 2033 mix of energy sources is completely divorced from reality. I would love to suggest that we just replace those dirty hydrocarbons entirely with free cold fusion using water as fuel, but I am hindered by the fact that I am not sufficiently delusional.

    We can only hope that the poor dumb voters continue their trend of taking power away from those whose world exists primarily in their own minds. God help us if these people ever really gain power.

    • GaryM

      We can only hope that the poor dumb voters continue their trend of taking power away from those whose world exists primarily in their own minds.

      The signs are good for your hope to come true:

    • GaryM

      Nice exploitation of the poor for your argument.

      No sound correlation to the truth, but I’m sure the poor are used to being exploited.

  15. It is actually worse as I pointed out in a guest post at Roger Pielke Jr’s blog recently (
    To stay within the current 15TW energy use level globally either the ~2 billion people has to cut their energy use drastically (to come down to the 2200W/capita global average, which is ~10,000W/capita in the US, and in the 6,000-12,000W/capita in most European countries) or the ~5 billion has to be denied from coming up to anywhere near to global average. With population growth, the energy use in a more just world need to double or tripple at the minimum.

  16. Bigger economic swings have happened before, many times.

    In information technology, if you aren’t doubling the density of your memory and doubling your clockspeed every 1.5 years, you’re not really trying.

    In medicine, just handwashing has been proven to have bigger effects.

    In economics, the likeliest successful approach is the Pigouvian method.

    Associate a fee with carbon emission, or a rent on the CO2 budget. Charge that fee with every carbon fuel transaction to consumers. Pay that fee to every shareholder in the CO2 budget (which would be everyone) per capita. Do this nation by nation. 70% to 90% of consumers in most nations would have a direct immediate net benefit, as the ones who consume the least of the CO2 budget of their nation.

    Pariah nations that do not subscribe will feel the pressure of trading partners who censure them for failure to police their air use adequately by the persuasive conventional techniques of trading nations.

    Let the natural human decision mechanism in markets do its job.

    This is not rocket surgery, folks.

    • . Pay that fee to every shareholder in the CO2 budget (which would be everyone) per capita. Do this nation by nation. 70% to 90% of consumers in most nations would have a direct immediate net benefit, as the ones who consume the least of the CO2 budget of their nation.

      You’ve never spent time in Haiti – or Vietnam – or Honduras – or Mexico or …wherever, have you. If governments were honest there might be “some” benefit. But believing that the people of the above named countries would ever see any of that money is either ignorance or unjustified idealism. Even in the US, the greater part of that money would go to “adninistrative costs” – meaning very well paid government bureaucrats and their support structure. If not into the General Fund. Or Social Security. Or new entitlement programs.

      • Jim Owen

        Haiti, yes. Venezuela, Minnesota, Canada, all over the third world where the honesty and integrity of governments come into question.

        As for the USA, you’ve already got all the infrastructure on hand needed to collect that money, in the form of retail tax systems, and all the infrastructure on hand needed to hand it back, in the form of the income tax systems. Why not get the tax man to do something the opposite of what Libertarians call government theft, for a change?

        If you let your elected officials steal from you, they will. Whose fault is that?

        Heck, as it is, they’re allowing their cronies and random strangers to steal from you, by _not_ paying their fair share for the CO2 budget they use. Your elected officials by negligence or ignorance condone open theft from you.

        Whose fault is that, too?

        This is not an untried or unproven system. This is not just a theory. It’s been done. It’s been shown to work. It’s working now.

        Arguing that bad people will do the things bad people do is hardly a great argument to do nothing about the bad they’re doing now.

      • Marcos Diniz Ribeiro

        Venezuela as a country where the government is honest? Bart, you are very, very misinformed. Even with the high prices of oil, they fell into a recession in the last couple of years.

        And just through bad government.

      • MDB

        Sadly, I agree entirely with you; this is what the idiomatic phrase, “comes into question,” means when said of honesty.

        I’m well aware of the too dire situation of Venezuela, which deserves better.

      • Bart R,

        “This is not an untried or unproven system. This is not just a theory. It’s been done. It’s been shown to work. It’s working now.”

        Details please. You haven’t even given the name of a country or organization where whatever it is you are promoting has been working for more than a few years.

      • Ohh….

        So you’re aware of such things working for less than a few years that you haven’t mentioned?

      • Bart –

        As for the USA, you’ve already got all the infrastructure on hand needed to collect that money, in the form of retail tax systems, and all the infrastructure on hand needed to hand it back, in the form of the income tax systems.

        No, you don’t. You’re talking about an entirely new bureaucratic structure. The present tax structure is NOT set up to perform the function you propose. Nor is any other present government agency. Not even Homeland Insecurity. Are you really that naive about how government functions and what it’s capabilities and weaknesses are?

        If you let your elected officials steal from you, they will. Whose fault is that?

        And your solution would be?

        This is not an untried or unproven system. This is not just a theory. It’s been done. It’s been shown to work. It’s working now.


      • Gee, Jim. I had no idea the IRS was such a pushover.

        You should write them and tell them how feeble they are.

        You can find their contact information here: and by the way they have a pretty good search feature for so limited and powerless an organization, so you may want to research how bad they are at the topics of collecting retail taxes and distributing money they owe back to Americans using that.


        To stop elected officials from stealing from you?

        Some in Tunisia and Egypt seem to have ideas on that score, but every place is different.

        Roll over and pretend it isn’t happening to you, how’s that working for you, Jim?


        Found this one a while back:

        They must have something truly uber to do what the IRS can’t.

        Overall, I like it better than the earlier European models, since not European and therefore not as strange.

    • Yeah, and what was the last time a swing in energy production has happened? well, in the 60, with nuclear…but it has faced such popular opposition that the pace of technological advance in energy production, which already is quite low (comparing the pace of improvement in electronic appliances with a powerplant, an infrastructure investment that produce commodity (energy) and positive ROI after 10+ years is funny, I like your sense of humor :-), is even lower for nuclear. We should be at the 4th generation, but we are not, and fusion is a long term gamble.
      There is always the chance of new physics allowing for small scale safe nuclear reaction, and if in 10 years a Mr Fusion is in every car and home, there will be no more discussion about CO2 not Peak Oil.
      As a cAGW skeptic, I think that the discussion about CO2 will either cease or be a non-issue anyway. But energy price and discussions will not.

      Now regarding efficiency and the possibility for the western world to drastically reduce it’s energy consumption. Theoretically, yes, we use far more than subsistance would mandate. A progressive and natural price increase will decrease the se and the innefficiencies.
      On the other hand, tax scheme or rapid price hike can reduce strongly the energy consumption….and the standard of living of the average. If it is tax, it will not really reduce the standard of living of the controlling bodies (governments, internationla organisations, who knows?).
      If you believe that you can maintain a peacefull society in a context of reduced standard of living for the average citizen, especially if the responsible can be shown to profit from the situation, think again. I am not even sure it will be feasable if no clear reponsible can be designated and the reduction is seen as a natural consequence of resource exhaustion: The western world has been sedated by consumerism. Unsedated people are less mangeable, especially if they get cold and/or hungry, have no clear perspective of rapid improvement. If they have a clear responsable to blame…..well, you have a few example right now in north africa…

      • kai

        Swings in energy use? Other than the 60’s (small), there was the 40’s where civilian use dropped but industrial output increased (something to do with an international political situation of some sort, I think), the 30’s (something to do with the Great Depression?), the era of great building of hydroelectric dams.. The current stable period of carbon-sourced energy comes almost entirely out of government subsidy and regulatory support for this wasteful and obsolete industry, and is less efficient dollar-for-dollar than any other time in the past 100 years.

      • I spoke about maintaining a peaceful western society. The early 20th century did not meet this goal, did it?

        Post-WWII, it did – sort of, with the cold war but western standard of living really did grow at this time, above the level of his eastern rival. It is also a time of “stability” for western democracies that did not see major revolution and a certain stability in private properties and so on.

        My message was:
        – expecting rapid change in energy source or efficiencies is not justified from neither historical record, nor physical laws (the efficiency of our thermal engines is already quite high, nuclear physic is probably past the big and easy discoveries, and no new physics relevant to energy production seems at the corner. As I said, one can not rule out “Mr Fusion”-like stuff…but we have no indication it may come either, on the contrary)
        – expecting major reduction of energy use in the western world, whithout violent change of political/societal system is not justified either, again from historical record and current news.

      • Your “no indication” reveals a certain narrowness of information sources.

        IMO, there’s a decent chance that the initiative at will begin to seriously impact markets for energy in about 5 years. It’s costs are ~1/20 of currents best N.A. retail. It will be quickly and cheaply deployable across the planet.

        Is that enough of a game-changer for you?

      • typo: “current best”, not “currents best”.

        P.S. Waste-free, and fuel is in adequate supply for about 2 bn. yrs at 10X current global electric consumption.

    • So we tax our way to CO2 heaven?
      That is assumption quality to make an economist blush.
      Your brushoff of the problems and fallacies of what you are pushing is nearly magical.

    • Lovely. Except that it’s punishing something which is a benefit. How does that work, again?

  17. People that set completely silly and impossible (politically, economically, technically, and otherwise) “targets” like 450 ppm are simply delusional and have absolutely no understanding of reality. It is simply not worth the time to read their rantings.

    • Back when I was a manager, I succumbed to the ‘stretch goal’ form of leadership. Dumbest thing I ever tried. Set goals that are practical and they might be achieved with some occasional, minor pushing and shoving. Wishing imaginary things into existence is even dumber.

  18. Environmentalism is the enemy of any rationale attempt at decarbonisation. In the uk the last Labour government prioritised wind power because it is cheap to build MW capacity and it doesn’t upset the greens. The greens fight tooth and claw against nuclear power. Yet wind plant is inherently unable to produce electrical power, much less at an industrial scale. This is so obvious, that I am constantly amazed at stories that speak of shoring up capacity, or maintaining security of supply, using wind. Wind is no more than a fuel and carbon abatement technology, that in practical terms never looks (even at such a low level of assessment) economically realistic, being essentially parasitic on gas turbine generation.

    Surely to solve this problem solutions need to be effective and economic – whereas politically solutions are chosen because they are environmentally acceptable.

    • “whereas politically solutions are chosen because they are environmentally environmentalistically acceptable.”
      There, fixed!

  19. Of the sun’s energy that reaches the earth, about a millionth of it is about all the wattage it takes to run seven billion people. A very slight increase in the efficiency of our use of the sun’s energy, by grain or whatever, would sustain many more billions of humans with a lifestyle to which we’d all like to become accustomed.

    • Kim: what you say is true. But when you try to collect those rays you find out it is not so simple.

    • kim

      If you mean, brew the grain into beer, get the populace too drunk to move or care, and thereby reduce their intensive consumption of non-renewables, sounds reasonable.

      Biomass with few exceptions as a power source, however, I suspect strongly only makes things worse in general.

    • ‘whatever’.
      When you find that ‘whatever’, let me know.

  20. Thankyou GaryM

    “Turn off most of our fossil fuel energy” sounds just so innocuous. It would be so much more bothersome to say…we have to condemn the world’s poor to perpetual deprivation and destroy modern economies throughout the world, based on unverifiable climate models.

    I call it callous!

    They don’t recall how some lived without fossil fuels shown in the following photo.

    Regarding your “unverifiable climate models,” they have been verified and they are wrong as described below.

    Here is IPCC’s statement:

    “For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected”

    Here is the comparison of the decadal global warming rates for the last two decades:

    The above plot shows:

    1) The global warming rate for the decade from 1990 to 2000 was 0.25 deg C per decade.

    2) The global warming rate for the decade from 2000 to 2010 was 0.03 deg C per decade.

    From the above result, we see declaration of global warming rate by a factor of 8.3 (=0.25/0.03).

    There is no evidence for man made global warming.

  21. My view on the science is that clouds caused most recent climate change and that there is more than a possibility of no warming over the next decade or 3. It is surely by now accepted widely as a distinct potential. Ask yourself what this would do for the politics of carbon reduction.

    In a chaotic system – it means very little for climate risk. In a complex and dynamic system – small changes, such as anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, can accumulate to precipitate change that are wildly out of proportion to the original impetus. There is a potential here, and one that cannot be entirely discounted, for abrupt and violent climate change over as little as a decade.

    The latter leads me to conclude that prudence is a virtue. Sensible risk management practice is to manage for small risks with extreme consequences – much as we design water storages for a 10,000 year storm.

    My objection to the grist post is that it is one dimensional. There are a plethora of alternative strategies. Soil and fire management in Australia to restore soil carbon stores, improving energy efficiencies, continuing to reduce carbon inputs in production or revegetation in the Sahel elsewhere. We are nowhere near to harvesting the low fruit of carbon reduction. If we truly sought solutions we would be going down these paths. My feeling rather is that most people are acting in ignorance or in bad faith.

    There are options that increase global economic activity and improve welfare. This is diametrically opposed to increasingly confident calls for negative economic growth. The typical argument for a limit to growth, and the unstated assumption that we have surpassed it, involves grain and a chessboard. In reality all the grain is swept from the board daily to feed hungry mouths.

    There are technologies that seem so close to fruition. I am thinking of thin solar and 4th generation nuclear especially. Forget the developed world – cheap solar has the potential to transform lives in the developing world. 4th generation nuclear is so tantalisingly close.

    So where are the Governments making the running for the Millenial Goals of human development – and the multiple benefits we could realise? Where are the institutions planning and acting to restore global environments? We need something a whole lot better from our global leadership.

    • Chief,
      Many capital projects have expected lifetimes in the 30 year range either before they are written off or in need of heavy upgrades. The time frame you are discussing implies that much adaptation would take place in a typical project life span. Why should we not focus our efforts on adaptation?

      • quite correct except for one thing. That’s all assuming a linear production starting right now. Which does not happen. Things happen on a growth curve, which has a doubling period. So to produce those engine would have to ramp up production the point where half of the engines required would have to be produced in the last period.

        For example, the claim that we can produce millions of 5MW wind turbines in 20 years. The growth rate needed to accomplish that is 113%, that means double production every year for 20 years such that in the last year half the number, several million, would have to be built.

        All physically impossible. But in the eyes of dreaming Liberals/socialists reality parts like the Red Sea when they wave their hands in the air. Best of all, when it doesn’t work they blame everyone else for failure, never themselves. Dreams can never fail.

      • jrwakefield,
        Good points regarding frill projects like windmills, that have no actual economic value. I was referring to things like building levees, dams, seawalls, etc. We do not have to increase those capital infrastructures much differently than we have always built them, even if sea levels were rising significantly.

  22. Idealism can be a wonderful thing – if it’s not based in ignorance and stupidity. But when that ignorance is destructive, as this is, it needs to be answered.

    Statements like this –

    we’re going to need to turn off most of our fossil fuel energy, end deforestation, and build about 11.5 new terawatts of clean energy capacity by 2033 (30 years out from the 2003 baseline).

    are not only ignorant, but terrifying to anyone who has any real knowledge or even a little imagination. He writes about replacing most of our present energy infrastructure by 2030. That’s a BIG order to fill. And it’s obvious that he has no real clue about how big.

    There are a lot of ways to get at this, of course. But I’ll pick just one. Let’s start with just one segment of the US economy – the commercial trucking industry.

    First an overview – there are about 15.5 million trucks, of which about 2 million are tractor trailers. Those trucks account for transport of 70% of all goods moved in the US. That means the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the gas for your car – and the car itself – along with everything else you use or own. Those trucks account for about 13% of the fuel usage in the US – about 54 billion gallons. This is not one of the smaller segments of the economy – and it is vital to economic growth and, indeed to keeping nearly 300 million people fed, clothed, employed – and alive.

    So.. how would we shut down fossil fuel usage for just this one segment of the economy? In 30 years?

    First – he offers a number of alternative energy sources – nuclear, wind, geothermal, solar (photovoltaic and thermal). None of which are suitable for heavy transport equipment. The only one even close to useful would be the equivalent of an electric car. And that technology is barely useful for small short-range cars with limited mileage requirements. For large trucks that haul 30-40 thousand pound loads? I don’t think so. Maybe in 50 years. Or not.

    So – the basic technology isn’t even available. But let’s assume, for arguments sake, that it is. Let’s assume that there’s an energy source that would provide sufficient energy to drag one of those 30,000# trucks over a 12,000 ft pass in Colorado. That, BTW, is called a basic requirement, not just for tractor trailers, but for ALL vehicles.

    Then what’s the next step?

    To provide a transport fleet of 15.5 million trucks with engines that use that energy source. Which means either building new trucks or retrofitting the old ones. Let’s make this easy and assume that we’ll retrofit part of the fleet and build part of it – and that in 30 years the required number of trucks won’t change. So at the present rate of construction, we’d be building ~ 200,000 new trucks per year. In 30 years, we’d have built 6 million new trucks and over those years we’d need to retrofit another 9.5 million trucks with new power plants.

    So now we’re being asked to provide an average of more than a half million truck engines per year of a unknown, unproved design using an unproved energy source. Plus additional replacement engines due to age and accidents. All this in addition to maintaining the remnants of the present fleet until they’re phased out. And all this from a present production system that’s capable of less than 40% of that level of production.

    Now is the time for the first round of questions. Like – what energy source would be used? How long to develop enough of it to power the truck fleet? How long to develop and prove the engines to use it? Since there are no presently known practical energy sources that exceed the energy content of fossil fuels, how much more will the fuel cost? And how much will that and the increased cost of the new engines drive the costs of ALL goods to the consumer? Where does the money come from for this dual development process? What will be the operating cost of the new fleet (present operating costs are 95.2% of total revenue)? And about 1,000 more related questions.

    These are the preliminary problems/questions that need resolution for less than 13% of our present fuel usage to achieve what the article talks about doing in 30 years. And that’s assuming no economic growth, no additional population, that both the fuel and engine development processes are successful and that the entire country doesn’t go bankrupt trying to pay for the transition. Did I mention that we’re already 7 years late to the starting gate? Not exactly realistic boundary conditions, but ya gotta start somewhere.

    Also keep in mind that the largest segment of fossil fuel usage in the US is private automobiles (>60%). And all the questions above apply to those as well as to other, parallel development and financial processes – on an even larger scale.

    And we haven’t even touched on the replacement of, for example, home appliances (furnaces, stoves, air conditioners, lawn mowers, etc). And there are people who wonder why GE, for example, would support “green energy” when it would provide that kind of market for them?

    The article looked at energy production – it did NOT examine the ramifications of that energy production, which are far more wide ranging and costly. I don’t think the various peoples of the world will enjoy the process or the cost of turning off our fossil fuel usage.

    Fact is that eventually all of this WILL happen, although it may not be in a direction the author believes – or would desire or approve of – or on anything like the time scale envisioned. But for the immediate future, it ain’t gonna happen because there is no practical way to shut down fossil fuel usage. For the present the cost is far greater than the benefits would justify.

    • Jim,
      You are just a denialist. ;^)
      The very real problem you outline is just one example of the madness of CO2 obsession and enviro extremism. Magical thinking seems to play a big part in their plans.

    • It’s even worse in the UK .
      Here, they seem to think that the bulk of goods can be carried by rail and boat, and people by rail, bus and bicycle.
      And all of this can be powered by wind and wave – with perhaps a bit of nuke thrown in.

      • See – the UK is the problem – all the enviros think that distance and terrain in the US is just like that in the UK. So who needs all the power/energy it takes to drag a semi over a 12,000 ft pass – or across 1,000 miles of plains. We should all be able to do that stuff on our bicycles. /sarc off

        Serious question, though – how DOES one power a semi with nuclear – or wind – or solar? I know – electricity. Yeah – riiight. That takes battery technology that we’re nowhere close to having. And not likely to have in the next 30 or even 50 years.

    • In trucks there are two types, high utilization and low utilization.

      We have lot’s of 30 or 40 year old trucks moving trailers around at the local distribution center. The one’s that are consuming all the fuel are being run 100,000 miles per year and get replaced fairly quickly.

      We already have trucks that run on LNG, the jump to Liquid Hydrogen isn’t much of a technological leap.
      The migration for heavy trucks is Diesel -> LNG -> Liquid Hydrogen.
      2033 is a pipe dream, 2050 probably isn’t.

      • I won’t disagree – if you’re talking about part of the fleet and conversion to LNG. That plays into the general scenario that I wrote about last night. It involves design, development and manufacture of a new line of engines – and retrofitting (which isn’t cheap in itself). New trucks, of course, might be designed for the new LNG engines, but the truck replacement rate is only about 200,000 per year, so it would be a long process to depend on new trucks to replace the entire fleet. But – 2 problems to start – first that LNG is not presently available at every Interstate exit and it’ll be a long time before it is. And second, the enviros will still whine because it’s still a CO2 producer. And finally – who’s gonna pay for the development/manufacture/distribution/retrofitting of those engines? At 4.8% the trucking industry isn’t exactly a high profit industry. And they’re not likely to finance the transition. Anyway, it’s not impossible, just has more problems than most people, especially the idealists, have any clue about.

        Hydrogen, though, is a complete jump in technology and requires a lot more expensive technology under the hood (“bonnet” to those in the UK). There ARE a few hydrogen powered cars running around. They’re experimental and limited to a very small range because there aren’t exactly a lot of “hydrogen stations” out there. Nor are there likely to be. Remember the Hindenburg. Yes, hydrogen has been/is basic to rocket technology – but it’s not a desirable choice even for that application.

  23. Does anyone have an accepted definition of the Reserves considered in “Peak Oil”? There are a couple of references to Peak Oil here. As I understand it, peak oil involves the rates of production available from “Reserves”.

    What kind of reserve is counted?
    1) Known, commercially recoverable?
    2) Known, potentially recoverable, but not yet economical?
    3) Possible, but located in places that are off-limits by government regulation (e.g., ANWR)?

    • I’ve covered this quite a few times – and noted that almost no one ever pays any attention to the point. “Peak oil” notions seem to have the same attraction that zombie films do, probably for the same reasons

      In order to answer the question: “How long will the oil (or gas, or coal, or whatever) last?”, you need two assemblages of fact and estimate:

      1) a reliable estimate of remaining Reserves, which is tied to a market price. No Government allows accurate estimates of known oil Reserves to be published unfettered (National Security) and what the market price will be in 10 years is just an uninformed guess

      2) a reliable estimate of future demand. Attempting this with the unknowns of population increases and shifts in China and India alone, even excluding the better known countries, is a genuine exercise in futility

      Nonetheless, despite these issues being pointed out time and again, in 3 months or so someone will ask exactly the same question with all the usual agoggery

      Naturally, the renewabubble freaks will push the “limitless solar energy” notion, without any sensible suggestions as to how this would work in solving transport and distribution issues … no, getting city people 20km to work and back each day is not the issue (in case someone is tempted to imply that it is)

      • David L. Hagen

        Go read
        There have been 500,000 oil wells drilling in the US.

        For a given technology and region , there is a very clear peak in 1970.
        eg with about 35% of light oil recovered.
        With high CO2 that could be pushed to 60%.
        There is still a finite amount of oil, with a lot of wells that have stopped producing.

        If you go to another hydrocarbon resource, you still have the same hubbert logistics type curve.
        Don’t mix apples and oranges.

      • no, getting city people 20km to work and back each day is not the issue (in case someone is tempted to imply that it is)

        I’m happy you understand that.

        Now – I’m curious – do you have any viable answers?

        Not a challenge – just a question.

    • Peak oil isn’t about what’s in the ground, it’s about two aspects of energy usage

      1) flow rates
      2) Energy Returned on Energy Invested.

      Flow rates depend on the rate of decline from mature fields plus rate of production from new fields. If the rate of decline from old fields is greater than new production coming on line, then over all flow rate drops. At present we are at maximum flow rate (have been since 2005). Total flow rate decline is expected within the next 2-5 years, maybe a little longer.

      Coupled with that is the demand side, which slowed in the West because of the recession (partly precipitated due to oil demand higher than production), but not in China and India which more than took up the slack. Soon as demand rises above production again then price will increase again (maybe to a new high). And that will happen during the down side of oil production over decades (precipitating the odd food rioting, Egypt is because their oil production has dropped some 40% so they have nothing left to sell to buy food)

      ERoEI is everything. It’s the amount of energy needed to get energy out. Conventional wells in the 1960’s was 100:1. Today that has dropped to 25:1. Canada’s tar sands is 6:1. The bare minimum for society is 4:1. Anything under that and we need more energy just to produce the energy we need. Ethanol, BTW, is between 1.5:1 to 0.8:1. Hydrogen is a net energy loser, less than 20% (0.2:1).

      Does that answer your question?

      Oh, and the Saudi’s lie about their reserves. It hasnt changed in 20 years of production. They have no spare capacity. The Ghawar field is near the end of its life. Look up Cantarell as well.

      One last item. When a new discovery is made, remember it is all about flow rate and ERoEI, but always look at it with respect to world consumption. Example, when they claim 35billion barrels off Brazil (a “giant” field), compare that to the 35billion barrels we consume every year.

    • I read the replies, but no one seems to have put forth the answer. What would Oil Reserves be if our government permitted exploration in likely places (now off-limits) such as ANWR and continental shelves?

      • Minimal increase. Drilling in ANWR would make some people very happy, but do nothing to change the overall picture, and do very little for the US (reduce foreign dependence by a few %)

      • Interesting. Since we have not tried, the % is a difficult estimate to make, especially if we include continental shelves. And dependence on foreign oil is a separate issue.

      • “(reduce foreign dependence by a few %)”

        A few percent here, a few percent there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real fractions.

      • lower 48


        Your 1 & 2 are included. They have been excluding unconventional sources like tar sands. Don’t know if that has changed.

        I do not think off-limits stuff would be in reserve numbers, but I could be wrong.

      • Thanks! 1 & 2 it is.

      • Pooh, Dixie – a lot of this, the good and the bad and the ugly, is held very close to the vest.

        In the 1970s we had lines. Suddenly everybody and his uncle knew where to poke holes in the ground to find oil. JR Ewing was on primetime. They found so much oil they drove one another broke.

        It cannot happen like that again, but I suspect a mini version of it will be in the offing. It’s black gold, and the fever will happen.

      • Interesting statement within: EIA. 2008. Analysis of Crude Oil Production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – Methodology and Assumptions. Governmental. U.S. Energy Information Administration. May.

        This study does not assume that the expected rate of technological change in the oil and natural gas industry will affect the rate of development of ANWR. While a higher rate of technological development might reduce costs and lead to more efficient development of ANWR resources, the primary impediment to the development of ANWR resources is the current legal restriction that precludes access to these oil resources.

      • ANWR is mostly natural gas, and would almost certainly not pay at current prices. The continental shelves on the other hand almost certainly have very large reserves.

      • ANWR is a huge oil field:
        Why do enviro-extremsits feel so compelled to mislead people about this?

      • I have been told by a lot of geologists that they do not believe ANWR has as much oil as Prudhoe. Just off the top of my head, Prudhoe started at 10 billion reserves, has produced around 11 billion, and appears to have ~2B to go.

        If people want to pay ~$500 barrel, well then, Prudhoe will have way more than ~2 billion. How black is the gold depends a great deal on how green is the cash.

        And I sort of figure the producing states have figured this out. We laugh at Chavez because his production is down and he is laughing right back at us. The man is sitting on a potential Saudi Arabia in terms of reserves. The United Staes cannot drill it’s way out of this box canyon. We can buy our way out. That’s it. The Chinese are currently out buying us.

      • JCH– we could invest our way out to a large degree by building large numbers of modern nuclear plants. It is very sad that the government wants to invest in high speed rail vs the building of nuclear powered electricity production. Bad economic policy and bad for the environment

      • I don’t disagree. That’s part of what I call “buy our way out.”

        When I lived in Dallas they brought Glen Rose (Comanche Peak) on line. Electric customers initially got two bills. One was the coal-dust bill. It had a really low number. One was the glow-in-the-dark bill. It had a really big number. The public nearly rioted. The legislature quickly changed the law so the electric bills were melded, and the nuke apparently got amortized over a somewhat longer period of time; as in, I dunno, maybe a century!?

        We could also revert to using mules, and sheep on treadmills, etc. I take that option somewhat seriously. It once prepared and harvested almost every single square foot of arable land in the United States, and saw its product shipped all over the world by wind.

  24. I watched the full 1 hour 37min talk and the questions and answers that follows. I find it lovely, when a bay area environmentalist figures out that his energy use is 18,000W, which is a good 30-40% more than the US average (after owning 11 bicycles and only two seater cars), than goes on reducing that energy use to 12,000W by largely cutting back air traveling. This 12,000W is far away from the 2400W global average that he himself mention as a target.
    During questions and answers, he argues that people in India and China, should take their low energy consumption as a “knowhow” to low energy use lifestyle. I have hard time to view living without electricity (as 400 million Indian do out of 1.4 billion globally) as a “knowhow”.
    Otherwise, his presentation is informative, because it clearly shows that the challenge we are facing is enormous.

    In response to Jim Owen’s discussion of trucking, shipping by train should be viable alternative.

    • Shipping by train? Yep, there are a lot of towns with tracks running through them. There are many, many more without. Of course, we generally have public road beds running to these towns without tracks so I suppose a few million miles more track is theoretically doable. Then, there is the switch yards, stations, loading docks, passenger terminals, and traffic control centers. Then there is the manufacture of locomotives and flat cars.

      Now assuming those things are done, what about urban/suburban life? I suppose folks who live in cities could walk or ride electric scooters to an urban transit terminal. I wonder what a reasonable home to terminal should be? If it is less than an hour’s walking distance, that would mean a lot of current urban and suburban terminals would have to be built and many miles of transit rails would be needed.

      Yep, it is all doable. We would just need to get it all done before we could start phasing out liquid fossil fuels. Both normal life and transport of rail system construction materials would have to be supported with diesel engines on rubber tires running on pavement until then.

      • Gary,

        you make an excellent point that often seems to be missed. The development of alternative energy supplies and methods is a huge increase in wealth and effort IN ADDITION to our current energy usage and monetary expenditures.

        Reducing the current economy leaves nothing to fund and build the projects that are being pushed.

    • Balazs –
      Don’t disagree about the train thing. It is a partial solution and, in fact, is presently used to move a large part of the 30% of goods that the trucking industry doesn’t move.

      The problem is two-fold (at least) – first that much of the train system in the US is no longer operational. Trains became economically less desirable than trucks at least 40 years ago, so many of the railroads went out of business and the track system was allowed to deteriorate. Then they started giving the right-of-ways up for rail trails. We now have a very nice system of rail trails all across the country – and a lot less train traffic.

      Which then plays into the second problem – the train system services central nodes in or near the cities. But then one has to get the goods from those nodes to the final destination (like Walmart), which may be 3 miles or 300 miles from the node. That takes trucks. It also takes some relatively big trucks because most goods (especially from overseas) are shipped in “shipping containers” which require special handling equipment.

      Trains are a good idea, but still limited. OTOH, it would be a real fight to try to grab all those rail trails back. :-)

      • Jim,
        “Trains are a good idea, but still limited. OTOH, it would be a real fight to try to grab all those rail trails back.”

        Shucks, I would be honored to ride my bicycle in the wake of high speed rail!! Just gotta make sure we are going in the same direction! 8>)

  25. Thread contains too much speculative fiction. Moving on.

    • Forgot I’d washed my hands of the mess in this thread by the time I read this far.

      Now I guess they’re all dirty again.

      Oh, and I see Ceri Reid below has made a case for the all-knowingness of engineers about all things.

      I remember 1981 being in a meeting with some engineers from a telecom company swearing up and down that no domestic service would ever be able to carry data signals faster than 2100 baud for more than a tiny group of dedicated lines to the most limited set of high end clients.

      Another meeting, other engineers swore there would never be any way to get more than 140 or so cell phone users in any five mile diameter area. Ever.

      When I attended my iron ring ceremony, the speech I recall was about the lesson of humility about what an engineer does not know.

      I guess they don’t give the same speech everywhere.

      When a Ceri Reid leaps to ‘authoritarian’ conclusions about what a free market practical minarchist like myself believes, while making an argument from authority .. doesn’t really deserve an answer, does it?

  26. Bart R: Your posts contain too much speculative fiction.

    Go away, read some Vaclav Smil (I mean, whole books & stuff). Then see if you really want to continue your utterly delusional belief that:
    (a) Development (lifting people from poverty) is not completely dependent on energy; and
    (b) That we can dictate the speed at which new energy technologies become available.

    I’m an engineer, as well as being a scientist. Engineers, unlike the current crop of climate scientists and ‘Green’ NGOs are required to deal with the world as it actually is, not as they would like it to be.

    The proposed path – replacing cheap energy with expensive and non-dispatchable sources – would be disastrous for developed and developing countries alike. You (yes, you personally, Bart) are proposing that people are reduced to poverty or kept in poverty because it appeals to your authoritarian beliefs.

    BTW – I’m not interested in debating with you. Just go away and inform yourself and stop spouting claptrap. I won’t be reading your reply to this.

    • “development (lifting people from poverty) is completely dependent on energy”

      It is not dependent on energy use that amounts to business as usual.

      “replacing cheap energy with expensive and non-dispatchable sources – would be disastrous for developed and developing countries alike”

      Anyone familiar with global poverty is very clear that climate change is set to disproportionately affect the world’s poor, who obviously have the least resources to cope with climate change related crises that decrease access to the basics e.g. water, food, shelter. You have fixed the parameters of discussion to suit yourself rather than taking your direction from the people you are discussing.

      Everyone knows that energy security is a crucial issue, especially for e.g. India. There is increasingly substantial renewable energy development in India and the direction leaders are taking in the energy-environment field isi to increase indigenous and sustainable sources of energy suited to the security of its most vulnerable communities. Integrated solutions are neither simple minded or pie in the sky. Apparently, they are doing all this without your permission. :-(

      In developed countries, the point many of us are in a position to understand and accept is that the necessities of life e.g. air, can no longer be viewed as exploitable resources for maximum profits by industry giants. Limits to life-supporting air, water, and land – and the need to address issues of demand, not just issues of energy supply – are directing a shift to reduced consumption, higher energy efficiency and diversification. This is why the discussion we are having includes a combination of industry and citizen efforts.

      “Engineers, unlike the current crop of climate scientists and ‘Green’ NGOs are required to deal with the world as it actually is, not as they would like it to be”

      I wonder why you are not as familiar as you could be with the reality of the diversity of engineering knowledge and activity in response to climate change.

      And you misread Smil. He makes energy central, not determinative. There is a difference. While his technical grasp is superb, he is not always the best at situating things in their social, political and economic context – so I can understand how you might miss this. However, contrary to your dramatic opening statement, he argues that decisions about the kind of society people want to live in need not and should not be reduced to energy questions. And he encourages a consideration of a wide range of actions.

      • “Anyone familiar with global poverty is very clear that climate change is set to disproportionately affect the world’s poor, who obviously have the least resources to cope with climate change related crises that decrease access to the basics e.g. water, food, shelter. You have fixed the parameters of discussion to suit yourself rather than taking your direction from the people you are discussing.”

        This is why, coming out of poverty is more important to them than combating climate change.

        “Everyone knows that energy security is a crucial issue, especially for e.g. India. There is increasingly substantial renewable energy development in India and the direction leaders are taking in the energy-environment field isi to increase indigenous and sustainable sources of energy suited to the security of its most vulnerable communities. Integrated solutions are neither simple minded or pie in the sky. Apparently, they are doing all this without your permission.”

        They do even more substantial non-renewable development. The prime minister of India made it clear a number of times that providing electricity to the poor is their top priority even if it means burning more fossil fuel. I don’t know the numbers in India, but my understanding is that they are pretty much following China, which is building new coal plants on the weekly basis. India and China are absolutely pro-Kyoto as long as they are exempt from any emission quota.

        Anybody, who bothers to do the math will conclude that renewables have no chance to supply growing energy demands (especially in developing countries coming out of poverty). Saul Griffith also sees nuclear fission as the ultimate energy source that could solve our energy problem.

      • It is not dependent on energy use that amounts to business as usual.

        That statement would require some explanation, although I get the sense that you’re saying present day energy sources are not acceptable.

        If so, that’s just tough. Present day sources are what we’re all stuck with – unless you’ve got a fusion plant in your back pocket. IIRC China’s building 130 coal plants per year – on a 10 year plan. As well as opening one nuclear plant per week – although rumor hath it that that’s slowed because of lack of processed fuel. And India’s supposedly not far behind that pace. Thoe ARE the present day, business-as-usual energy sources.

        Wind and solar – are wonderful. But they chew up vast swaths of land if they’re to be effective. AND, since you apparently have security on your mind, they’re both extremely vulnerable, both to human interference – and natural “phenomena”. Far more so than either coal or nuclear.

        Yes, I’m also an engineer. Don’t get wrapped around the axle about that.

      • From one engineer to another:
        Wind turbines have individually small footprints and tend to be stuck on otherwise unused hills, or on already used farmland (with minimal disruption to farm activities) or offshore where there is plenty of space. Solar panels are stuck either on roofs or in deserts neither of which is usable land.

        Of course you knew this but you’ were likely parroting the ‘excess land’ argument from one of the many outlets of disinformation used by the nuclear industry. Such disinformation is usually accompanied by a statement that nuclear energy uses by comparison very little land, sometimes with cute comparitive circles. They might have mentioned though (just to be fair) that the others produce very little hugely toxic, dangerous waste which nobody knows how to dispose of properly yet and which requires extreme and costly security: Measures that will be required by many future generations. Not that I’m anti nuclear (pro actually though with provisos) but I get sick and tired of their anti wind/solar propaganda. Both wind and solar technologies have made enormous strides in the last 10 years despite the continual attempts at the hugely subsidised nuclear industry to undermine them.

        Now cabling is an issue you can argue is potentially difficult but….pipelines and other land/sea distribution methods are required for fossil fuels too and they are pretty expensive too but we learned to live with these extra costs.

      • No. You’ve missed the mark.

        Wind – you’ve never been to Mojave, have you? Mojave, California. When you get there, take a good look at the wind farms on the ridge. They stretch out for 20-30 miles. And the new ones are 400 foot monsters that are hazards to air traffic and kill a whole lot of birds – expecially raptors. Some of what you say about land use is true – but what you miss is that those wind farms require roads and support structures as well – and you won’t be raising any crops in those wind farms. More – the present wind farms occupy too little area for maximum effectiveness. More – they rarely meet their projected performane.

        Solar – the big desert installation was canned by the lovely Senator from California. Roof top installations are nice, but very expensive. Have you priced them lately? For the large installations necessary to replace coal plants, you need very large solar installations – meaning lots of land in places where the enviros will scream about it. Also LOTS of land in places with LOTS of sunshine – year round. Meaning NOT Minnesota or any of the other Northern tier or the Northeast – or the Plains States – or , well, not even most of the Southeast. Might work in summer, but winter can be a bitchkitty in any of those places which then just leaves you hangin’ with no power. And – what’s the lifetime of solar panels in the desert- any idea?

        Anyway, those were just a few random thoughts on the subject. We can do this in depth if you want.

        But none of that was anywhere close to my point – the point was that from a security point of view, coal and/or nuclear installations are far easier to control and protect. Wind and solar are extremely vulnerable – to storms, bad weather, terrorism or even the local teenagers out for target practice.

        BTW – the stuff about the big bad nuclear industry is pure horse pucky. As is the stuff about how we don’t know what to do with nuclear waste. We know, but nobody’s had the guts to buck the enviros and get’r done.

        And NO – I DO NOT work for the nuclear industry. Haven’t since the 1960’s.

      • Solar has issues, but Nanosolar technology is perfect for roofs. They have a research grant to convert their light weight product to replace standard roofing for pitched roofs. which would help offset total cost considerably. Still a few years out though.

        I agree on your wind issues, plus constant shadow pulses can do weird things to people and animals at certain frequencies.

        Some of the modular nuclear have good security designs that can help equalize grid loading if the NIMBY fear can be overcome. The modulars increase cogen options and reduce installation costs.

      • Gotta clean up a few things here –

        First, for JamesG – I was a little PO’d last night and I’ll apologize for that. Not even gonna get into “why” that happened.

        Second – I’m not anti-solar or anti-wind. They’re both useful for “some” applications, but NOT for ALL applications. But saying they’re going to be used to replace the entire power infrastructure in, for example, the US and eliminate fossil fuel usage entirely is either ignorance or stupidity. Not that “you” said that, but it’s what I’ve been hearing in other places.

        Third – they both have major problems wrt performance, siting, security, etc. Not unresolvable, but neither of them are really ready for prime time on the scale or in the ways projected by some people.

        Wind – you might find this interesting.

        And, given your apparent attitude, probably infuriating, too. But it’s another POV that needs consideration.

  27. Pielke Jnr passim has been saying the same thing for years: Perhaps one should read his book. Stern et al involves one in utopian projects whose stated ends have no meaning. One might question, therefore, why so much is being invested in them? Not for the ends as stated, at least. Perhaps, there is some bad faith here – not concerned with the future, which those invested believe will take care of itself, but for other, more parochial reasons? And that is the point – there are many who have that faith in human ingenuity that believe, whatever happens, we will deal with it. As the figures show, we must. The squabble, therefore, being between Canute and those who are busy building the boats!

    • One might question, therefore, why so much is being invested in them?

      How would one convince ‘environmentalists’ to embrace nuclear power?

      Could one simply say solar and wind won’t work or would one have to make a reasonable attempt at making solar and wind work and fail ?

      In Washington State we have a 54 cent/KWh net solar generating credit. Anyone with a calculator can figure out that even with the credit it’s a money loser but the legislature passed it anyway.

      Out of the 1 million Puget Sound Energy customers eligible for the solar credit only about 516 installed solar panels as of the end of 2009.

      The legislature gave the green groups exactly what they wanted and what was supposed to happen didn’t happen.

  28. After all of the debate and conversation, I would appreciate a quick show of hands.
    A, B or C?

    A) There is no evidence CO2 causes any harm to our environment. Any programs to reduce its production are a waste of time and money.

    B) The evidence is clear, CO2 is a public hazard and we should make all reasonable efforts to reduce the rate we’re producing it.

    C) Other (explain)

    Thank you.

    • My position should be clear at this point…


    • As usual, you place before us absurd dichotomies that have no meaning. How about this:

      d) No matter how the future might turn out, mankind has the intelligence and ingenuity to continually ‘improve’, as it seems to have done pretty well in the past, its ‘well being’.

      Equally inane, I know, but no more than yours.

    • C) There is evidence that CO2 is a risk to the environment.

      We should keep an eye on global warming issues and look to nuclear power as the main supplement and replacement for fossil fuels in the 21st century, as we get better with solar and other energy sources. We should let the markets sort a lot of this out. We should not pretend that we can magically jump to “clean energy” in the next couple of decades.

    • Ken Coffman’s question

      My answer is A


      In science, if recent observation is nearly identical to past observation, no new theory is required to explain the recent observation. This applies to the theory of man made global warming.

      Recent observation: A global warming of 0.48 deg C in the 30-year period from 1970 to 2000.

      Past observation: A global warming of 0.45 deg C in the 30-year period from 1910 to 1940.

      As the magnitude of the past observation has not been exceeded, the recent observation is not anomalous. As a result, “man made global warming” is not supported by the data.

      In addition, after global warming rate of 0.25 deg C per decade for the period from 1990 to 2000, it has reduced to a negligible level of 0.03 deg C per decade for the period from 2000 to 2010.

      As a result, any policy to reduce human emission of CO2 will not have any effect on the mean global temperature.

    • The Pacific Decadal Oscillation – Mantua & Hare (2002)

      “The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) has been described by some as a long-lived El Niño-like pattern of Pacific climate variability, and by others as a blend of two sometimes independent modes having distinct spatial and temporal characteristics of North Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) variability. A growing body of evidence highlights a strong tendency for PDO impacts in the Southern Hemisphere, with important surface climate anomalies over the mid-latitude South Pacific Ocean, Australia and South America.

      Several independent studies find evidence for just two full PDO cycles in the past century: “cool” PDO regimes prevailed from 1890–1924 and again from 1947–1976, while “warm” PDO regimes dominated from 1925–1946 and from 1977 through (at least) the mid-1990′s.

      [Here is a global mean temperature pattern data that supports the above conclusion

      Interdecadal changes in Pacific climate have widespread impacts on natural systems, including water resources in the Americas and many marine fisheries in the North Pacific. Tree-ring and Pacific coral based climate reconstructions suggest that PDO variations—at a range of varying time scales—can be traced back to at least 1600, although there are important differences between different proxy reconstructions. While 20th Century PDO fluctuations were most energetic in two general periodicities—one from 15-to-25 years, and the other from 50-to-70 years—the mechanisms causing PDO variability remain unclear. To date, there is little in the way of observational evidence to support a mid-latitude coupled air-sea interaction for PDO, though there are several well-understood mechanisms that promote multi-year persistence in North Pacific upper ocean temperature anomalies.” Nathan J. Mantua and Steven R. Hare, Journal of Oceanography, Volume 58, Number 1, 35-44, DOI: 10.1023/A:1015820616384.

      If the oscillation component of the global mean temperature is due to PDO, then the global warming rate is only 0.6 deg C per century.

      Why worry about a warming of 0.6 deg C in 100 years?

    • A.

    • C)

      The discussion on climate is irrelevant to energy policy.

      There isn’t enough ‘inexpensively extractable’ coal, natural gas and oil to go around. The world will shift to non-fossil fuels as the cost of extraction of fossil fuels increases because it will be ‘cheaper to do so’.

      Things like solar roofing shingles will at some point meet price parity with regular roofing shingles and folks will replace their roofs with solar roofing shingles when the roof needs replacing.

      • Alternative fuels will likely replace oil at some point in the future due to cost. The problem lies in trying to force this change through ever increasing energy taxes, then using this money to try and pick winners and losers. It is a form of gambling, carried out by politician, using borrowed money. In the end most of the money flows to the friends of the government of the day, while the rest of us end up sucking on the hind tit.

    • C) CO2 is a forcing like land use, changes in surface water and other things humans change and have changed in the environment over time.
      CO2 while a first order forcing is not leading the world climate to do dangerous changes. The obsession over its alleged dramatic negative impacts has actually hurt efforts to manage human impacts on the environment.
      CO2, like any other impact of humans in the environment should be managed on a cost-benefit basis. That is not happening to date.

    • C – ala hunter and RPSnr
      D – ala Lewis Deane
      probably several other unnamed choices after I think about it for a while.

    • C)

      We don’t need evidence of harm to recognize the principle of handing the decision of what CO2 level is acceptable by the democratic mechanism of free market capitalism.

      If you invite a population to take a risk, and they consent, that is one thing; if you force a population to take an unconsented risk for the benefit of few, that is simply immoral.

      We have all the evidence we need of some limit on how much CO2 can be emitted before risk of harm, and incursion into that limited resource has no better mechanism of consent than free market capitalism.

      We don’t need to know the limit, the harm, the level of risk. We know all we need, and what to do about it.

      • We don’t need to know the limit, the harm, the level of risk. We know all we need, and what to do about it

        I doubt you know any of that. But I’ll ask the questions anyway –
        1. What limit? On what? Specifically.
        2. What harm? Specifically – sea level rise, temp rise, weather, etc – how much of each? How soon?
        3. What level of risk? Who has calculated that?
        4. PROOF of all the above. Not the garbage in today’s WaPo, but some real science for a change.

        If you don’t have those answers right now then you’re just blowin’ smoke.

      • Jim

        Remedial reading courses right now or you’ll just continue to embarrass yourself.

        1. You forgot the topic?
        2. You forgot where I said we don’t need to know this?
        3. You forget that I’m promoting handing this question democratically to users of the CO2 budget by the free market mechanism, so we don’t need to know this. They’ll decide for us.
        4. Haven’t read the garbage in the WaPo lately, does this make me more ignorant for ignoring garbage in the WaPo on principle, or less? And as you’re an engineer, doubt you’d recognize economics as a science, or how to handle an economic proof, which is what you’ve just failed to apprehend.

  29. FYI: The solar power numbers in the Grist article were given in square meters per second for 25 years — which I found less than useful for visualizing. Doing the math I got:

    Photovoltaic: 30,440 sq miles [a square 174 miles on each side]
    Solar Thermal: 15,220 sq miles [ a square 123 miles on each side]

    We’re starting from pretty close to zero on both of these currently.

    According to wiki, photovoltaic provides only 0.04% of the word’s energy. The Grist projection is that PV will go to 13% or more than twice as much as current nuclear. Likewise solar thermal (big solar collecting mirrors).

    • So the Grist article is talking about covering an area the size of Pennsylvania with photovoltaic cells and solar thermal collectors to produce about one-fourth of the world’s energy.

      The whole state of Pennsylvania.

  30. This whole discussion reminds me of those who fretted over the inevitable disaster that would come when we ran out of whale oil. Or those who fretted over the obvious health problems from the inevitable mountains of horse manure that would overwhelm us all.

    Since we apparently can’t even predict the past (see e.g. Mann et al and the MWP) with any accuracy, I have my doubts about those who confidently predict the future.

    • stan,
      Except petroleum actually exists, and automobiles and trucks solved the horse problem.
      Do you have something actually exists that can replace oil as a transportation fuel?
      I did not think so.

      • Hunter, I will not even pretend to have the ability to go 100 years into the future and look back 50 or 60 or 70 years in the past and tell you what happened. So as to an answer for your question of what the future holds, I must confess that I have none to offer. You got me there.

      • stan,
        But oil and natural gas are here and now, and no credible claims say that they will not in 50 – 100 years from now.

  31. Harold Pierce Jr

    How often do I have to keep reminding you all here and elsewhere about energy use reality!

    RE: Fossil Fuel Are Forever!

    Harold the Chemist says:

    Boats, planes, freight trains and trucks, military and emergency vehicles, heavy machinery used agriculture, construction, forestry and mining, cars and light trucks, recreational vehicles, and so forth will always require and use hydrocarbon fuels because these fuels have high energy density and are readily prepared from abundant crude oil, which exists free in Nature, by fractional distillation and blending of the distillate fraction, low energy processes which do not involve the breaking of chemical bonds. Even catalytic cracking of the heavy distillate fractions into lighter fractions for fuel formulation is a relative low energy process.

    In the heavy industries, only fossil fuels can supply the enormous amount of heat energy and high process temperatures either directy or indirectly (e.g., the electric furnace) required by lime and cement kilns, smelters, steel mills, foundries and metal casting planets, all facilities manufacturing ceramic materials (glass, bricks, tiles, porcelin ware, etc), refineries and chemical plants and so forth.

    Diesel-electrical generating systems are used extensively throughout the world for primary and back-up power and for power generation in many delveloping countries and at remote locations (e.g., diamond and gold mines, resort islands, drilling rigs, movie sets, etc). Electrical generators using gasoline are quite portable and are used for small snd modest power requriments.

    Many processes in food production require large amounts of heat for baking, cooking and steam for sterilization, etc which is provided economically by fossil fuels. Drying of grain for storage requires enormous amounts of heat which can only be provided economically by fossils fuels.

    Energy for space heating especially in cold climates and hot water production and for electricity generation, in particular for refrigeration, communication systems, hospitals and emergency services, is provided most reliably and economically by use of fossil fuels.

    FYI: A Boeing 747 takes off with 346,000 US gallons of fuel for a long intl. fight. At large airports big jet are more numerous that house sparrows.

    The most wasteful use of energy is diamond mining. Tons of ore are sometimes processed to obtain a few carats of rough diamonds. About 80% of gold production goes to the jewerly industry.

    Who among you wants to tell the ladies, “No more diamonds, gold, sliver, platinium, rubies, emeralds, etc for jewerly.” In NYC they would become outraged, ponce on you, take off the Pradas and pound you into hamburger which they would feed with glee to coyotes in Central Park!

    I don’t want read any more foolish comments about getting rid of fossil fuels. Ain’t ever going to happen.

    • You write “I don’t want read any more foolish comments about getting rid of fossil fuels. Ain’t ever going to happen.”

      I agree with you 100%, but I have one proviso. Countries like the USA do not like to be dependent on other countries for their supply of fuels. Hence they are prepared to pay a premium for home grown fuels like corn ethanol. Corn ethanol has nothing to do with going “green”. It has everything to do with trying to be less dependent on foreign fuels. And, incidentally, when people claim that this process is using food, it actually produces a very high protein cattle food, so not all of the food value goes into fuel.

      I hope there is a bright future for cellulosic ethanol. Again, not because it is “green”, but because it is home grown, and uses what is otherwise a not very useful resource. Does anyone know anything about Poet’s latest plans for cellulosic ethanol?

      • Jim,

        Does the additional production of the high protein cattle food actually make corn ethanol cost effective? Does cellulosic ethanol have any byproducts that minimize its energy innefficiency?

        Then there is the minor issues of acreage under production and water usage/wastage in the production…

      • kuhnkat you write “Does the additional production of the high protein cattle food actually make corn ethanol cost effective? Does cellulosic ethanol have any byproducts that minimize its energy innefficiency?”

        I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. My knowledge of ethanol production is entirely second hand. My point is simple. Whatever the “costs” of producing ethanol in the USA are, within reason, they are irrelevant because the energy produced is home grown. This tends to make the USA less dependent on foreign oil, and that is all that matters so far as the USA is concerned.

      • Ethanol has been a disaster. it costs more energy to make it than it delivers and it messes up the food grain markets.

      • Ethanol not only has nothing to do with “going ‘green,'” it also has nothing to do with energy independence. Ethanol has only to do with the fact that 100 U.S. Senators, and innumerable Representatives, consider themselves Presidents-in-waiting; and the Iowa caucuses are seen as a crucial first step to either party’s nomination.

  32. Jim,

    Cannibalism can be home grown also, but, isn’t particularly effective either. Homegrown that requires the utilization of more energy than it provides is NOT improving security, only making some people rich.

  33. A couple of specific comments on the Roberts post.

    First, it’s heavy into nuclear, which makes sense because nuclear is the only technology we have that allows us to generate large amounts of baseline power without emitting large volumes of CO2. But the Kyoto Protocol doesn’t consider nuclear to be an acceptable way of cutting emissions. It allows you to build a nuclear plant if you want to, but you won’t get any carbon credits for it. Go figure.

    Second, it’s almost as heavy into geothermal, which makes no sense at all. There’s no way we can add anything remotely resembling three 100MW geothermal steam turbines every day for the next 25 years (the daily average since 2005 has been one MW.) The problem isn’t a lack of incentives; it’s shortage of resources. The high-temperature reservoirs that we need to generate geothermal electricity are few and far between, and the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

    • Roger,
      In Kyoto Protocol the nuclear is as valuable in cutting emissions as any other way of cutting them. Annex of the protocol sets limits on the amount of emissions without reference to the technologies used.

      There is one exception in the EU implementation of burden sharing. EU allowed special privileges to Sweden on the basis that they shut down some nuclear plants, but that was an arrangement affected other EU countries without any overall effect on the Kyoto Protocol.

      • Pekka:

        Nuclear power was specifically excluded from the Kyoto Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanisms, and still is. There’s been some talk about including nuclear in Kyoto II, but whether this will happen is uncertain. Whether Kyoto II will happen is uncertain too.

  34. Harold Pierce Jr

    Methanex (Vancouver, BC) sells methanol for $US 1.28 per gallon. Formulations of methanol have been used in auto racing for decades.
    Methanol is made from natural gas and does not the energy density of gasoline or diesel but this deficiency is offset by the lower price.

    Methanol (aka wood alcohol and methyl hydrate) has several undesirable properties as a fuels. The vapors and liquid are poisonous. Methanol is a powerful solvent and an all metal storage and fuel delivery systems would be required. Even Neoprene swells in contact with methanol.

    Methanol has a high flash point but dimethyl ether could be used to lower the flash point for service in cold climates.

    Methanol is not misicible with straight chain hydrocabons of the gasoline fraction but is misicible with aromatics used in gasoline formulations..

    • David L. Hagen

      Methanex Methanol price
      Historic methanol prices

      Methanol has 50% the fuel value of gasoline. So $1.28 methanol is equivalent to $2.56/gallon gasoline.

      PS Drinking gasoline or diesel will kill you as well. Not recommended!

      • Presumably you get higher output from methanol, too.

        Btw, the gasoline costs in EU around 1.5 Euros per liter, which is roughly 8$/gallon – more than double the average US price (a bit over 3$/gallon).

        Why are the prices so different? Well, the taxes are the primary reason of course, but there is another reason, too, which I believe to be more significant: the average fuel economy of US cars is horrible. This is due to body size and weight, old-fashioned automatic transmissions and unnecessarily large engines and their poor power densities (low power/displacement ratio). From wikipedia: “An average North American mid-size car travels 21 mpg (US) (11 L/100 km) city, 27 mpg (US) (9 L/100 km) highway; ” Accordingly, the combined consumption is around 10 liters/100 km.

        It is about the level an average car in EU took 10-20 years ago.

        For instance, the current Volvo V70 (a large car by European standars) takes around 4-5 liters of diesel 2 liter diesel, 120 kW) per 100 km, and performance is still adequate (max speed over 200 km/h). Which is around half the US average, if we don’t take the slightly different power density of diesel fuel into account. Most modern diesel cars are in the same ballbark, with downsized but turbocharged gasoline engines (e.g. the Volkswagen TSI line) closing in.

        So in case rising oil prices are causing trouble in the US, there is a solution – readily available.

      • The average weight of an EU passenger car is 2,750 lbs.
        The average US car is over 4,000 pounds.

        Ease of parking and the ability to negotiate narrow side streets are strong factors in European Automobile purchasing decisions.
        So besides fuel economy there are other reasons in Europe to buy a small car rather then a large car.

        In most of the US the only reason to buy a small car is fuel economy.
        Parking is generally plentiful and the streets tend to be wider.

      • Yeah, Harry, probably the mass difference is the most significant factor after all as you stated, although I’m not convinced whether that difference can be that great when considering a similar class of vehicles.

        As for the parking space and narrow side streets, I’d reckon that average population density and/or available parking space per capita aren’t probably that different between US and EU, albeit they are certainly an issue in many places – but not most. Another explanation, technical issues aside, is the availability of (more or less) working public transportation systems and also to the more widespread of muscle power: bicycling/walking are quite popular in many countries, hence there is not that much need for cars as you can get around without one. And of course, there are cultural differences… 2-seater but 2.5-3 ton Ford F150’s and alike are very rare. Another interesting figure for this comparison would be average distance travelled per capita per year.

        If somebody, lets say an alien race from space, is watching the stuff we do (from the orbit ;), one of things out of very many they must be very amazed of is that the small humanoids doing all those small things seem to need three tons of metal using more energy per year than growing your food and heating your house just to transport themselves very small distances (seemingly easy to walk) a few times a day. Their next observation would be that although this piece would easily last 10-20 years and 300000-500000 km of use, it is usually dumped after half of that, melted and built again in slightly different shape but with basic structure virtually identical to previous model.

    • Golly. I thought one reason for using methanol in auto racing is that methanol fires can be extinguished with water.

      • David L. Hagen

        Another reason is that methanol burns with a clear blue flame – without the soot and consequent high radiation of gasoline fires. Thus drivers are more likely to live through a severe crash with a methanol fire, compared to being fried.
        Methanol Fuels and Fire Safety EPA 400-F-92-010

        Projections indicate that casualties would drop dramatically if methanol were substituted for gasoline as the country’s primary automotive fuel. Looking just at vehicle fires in which gasoline is the first material to ignite, a switch to methanol could save an estimated 720 lives, prevent nearly 3,900 serious injuries, and eliminate property losses of millions of dollars a year.
        Methanol’s fire safety advantage over gasoline stems from several physical and chemical properties (see figures on page 3):

      • Thank you! I had not run across that before your mention of it. The EPA also considered energy density, as well the visibility of a methanol fire.

        The summary of pros and cons is left as an exercise for the student. :-)

  35. Judith,

    Only after countries go bankrupt will the interest be in efficiency and not massive profitability and subsitities.

  36. The world is running out of cheap oil. There is still quite a bit of expensive oil available. At lot of old, locked up oil production becomes economical as prices rise.

  37. Shell Energy has just published a report on energy scenarios to 2050

    Discussed at collide-a-scape

    A quote:
    Shell’s 52-page report says that in just four years, our usual sources of fuel are not going to meet growing global demand, so that there is going to be much switching to dirty coal, plus more use of agricultural-based biofuels.

    • US limits deepwater and near shore drilling. US has locked away its best low sulfur coal deposits. US limits latest technologies for extracting the maximum oil from deposits. US limits where drilling is done on land….

      Then we have many foreign countries like Iran and Venezuela that are hostile to western drilling companies and as a consequence do not get access to this best technology and instead partners with China.

      Gee, I wonder why Shell has such a gloomy report?

      Then we can add the typical corporate rent seeking trying to stampede governments into paying them to do what they should be doing on their own to guarantee they have a product to sell…

    • This document may carry the Shell logo, but it reads as if it was written by the WWF. I would suggest that anyone who has a genuine interest in learning about future energy supply consult a more authoritative and less obviously biased source.

  38. I know this thread is pretty much dead now, but I was writing an article about reasonable nuclear designs that are viable now if people were not so freaked out by radiation worries which hardly any of them really understand.

    Watts (boo hiss) posted his banana equivalent dose idea on his blog which was a heck of a lot better than what I had been using in the past to bring understanding of radiation into some perspective.

    I finished up my article with this: “So after you do your research, a SMR-LWR power plant with walk away safety design is something you could have near your house without worrying about your cat having kittens with two or more heads. Submariners in the US Navy nearly sleep on top of that technology and still do normal procreating. ” An attempt to put nuclear in a reasonable safety perspective to combat irrational fear and the NIMBY mentality.

    The scale of the problem both in gaining energy independence and preparing for potential greenhouse warming is huge. So even if there is some doubt how much warming there may be, some reasonable action is needed pretty quickly anyway. But how do you sell the blend of technologies required to even have a chance? That is a topic I would like to see with some input from economists, power engineers and political types.

  39. Only after countries go bankrupt will the interest be in efficiency and not massive profitability and subsitities.

  40. It’s difficult to find well-informed people in this particular subject, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks