That’s a problem

How much energy do we need? Just to give everyone in the world the per-capita energy consumption of Europe (which is only half that of the US), we would need to more than triple world energy production

~ Jason Crawford from, https://rootsofprogress.org/devanney-on-the-nuclear-flop

The nature of the problem: Insufficient total, global energy.

How insufficient? Even if the United States magically cut its energy use in half, and then magically distributed that saved energy to some other countries… the world would still be far short of the energy we need to lift everyone up to even the EU’s per-capita energy level. When you factor in continued population growth, the problem—the amount of new energy we need to find—only gets bigger.

Set aside what you know about how, or where, we might get additional energy. The problem currently faced by the human race is not: How do we reduce our per-capita energy consumption? The problem is not: How do we change equal units of energy from old sources to new, or even renewable, sources.

The problem we face is…

How do we INCREASE the available energy for the entire planet by a factor of 4, or possibly even 5?

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It’s all about energy

The economy runs on energy, far more than it operates on growing debt. Our energy problems don’t appear to be fixable in the near term, such as six months or a year. Instead, the economy seems to be headed for a collapse of its debt bubble. Eventually, we may see a reset of the world financial system leading to fewer interchangeable currencies, far less international trade and falling production of goods and services. Some governments may collapse.

~ Gail Tverberg from, https://ourfiniteworld.com/2021/03/20/headed-for-a-collapsing-debt-bubble/

I’ve been reading, and tagging here on my blog, Tverberg’s commentary for years. I don’t link to these things because I fancy myself Chicken Little. Rather, I link because she has really interesting and insightful things to say about energy.

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That escalated quickly

At a 2.3% growth rate in energy, within 1000 years, assuming all energy is consumed on Earth, the temperature of Earth’s surface will have to become equal to Sun’s surface temperature.

~ Paras Chopra from, https://invertedpassion.com/can-an-economy-keep-on-growing/

Wait. wat?

It’s often really helpful to look at things from a different perspective. (Granted, “from the surface of the sun,” is not a perspective I would like to see from.) This little article is a fun read. It’s got a bunch of small, clear statements, some vertiginous graphs, a few videos—which, mind you, I didn’t look at all… caveat emptor there. Reading it would be like playing hopscotch where someone hid an alligator in the last square. As the Talking Heads put it, “Well? How did I get here? (chorus) Letting the days go by!”

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Understanding renewable energy

The reasons why the Green New Deal won’t really work are fairly subtle. A person really has to look into the details to see what goes wrong. In this post, I try to explain at least a few of the issues involved.

~ Gail Tverberg, from https://ourfiniteworld.com/2019/10/02/understanding-why-the-green-new-deal-wont-really-work/

You should read everything Tverberg has ever written about energy. I’ve been following her for about 15 years or so, and she is a font of careful, reasonable discussion.

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Intermittent renewables can’t favorably transform grid electricity

Few people have stopped to realize that intermittent electricity isn’t worth very much. It may even have negative value, when the cost of all of the adjustments needed to make it useful are considered.

Energy products are very different in “quality.” Intermittent electricity is of exceptionally low quality. The costs that intermittent electricity impose on the system need to be paid by someone else. This is a huge problem, especially as penetration levels start exceeding the 10% to 15% level that can be handled by operating reserves, and much more costly adjustments must be made to accommodate this energy. Even if wind turbines and solar panels could be produced for $0, it seems likely that the costs of working around the problems caused by intermittent electricity would be greater than the compensation that can be obtained to fix those problems.

~ Gail Tverberg from, https://ourfiniteworld.com/2016/08/31/intermittent-renewables-cant-favorably-transform-grid-electricity/

I’m not saying “abandon all renewable energy sources.” I am saying, “you should go read this article… and everything else on that web site.”

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An updated version of the “peak oil” story

Instead of the scenario envisioned by Peak Oilers, I think that it is likely that we will in the very near future hit a limit similar to the collapse scenarios that many early civilizations encountered when they hit resource limits. We don’t think about our situation as being similar to early economies, but we too are reaching a situation of decreasing resources per capita (especially energy resources). The resource we are most concerned about is oil, but there are other resources in short supply, including fresh water and some minerals.

~ Gail Tverberg from, https://ourfiniteworld.com/2016/08/08/an-updated-version-of-the-peak-oil-story/

Presented without comment.

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Energy and economic models

We live in an economic world. Economic models that were developed years ago were created based on observations of how the economy seemed to work at the time. As time goes on, it is becoming clear that early economists missed important connections. The most important of these is the role of energy and its connection to the economy. It takes energy to make anything, from a piece of steel to a loaf of bread. It takes energy to transport anything. Humans need energy in the form of food to continue to live. Clearly, energy should have a place in economic models.

~ Gail Tverberg from, http://ourfiniteworld.com/2013/07/22/energy-and-the-economy-basic-principles-and-feedback-loops-2/

I find this stuff fascinating; It’s this giant, emergent phenomenon. Billions of individual people going about their daily lives create such a whirl of activity and action. But the ultimate result is what… an “economy”? A path to “enlightenment” for humankind? Meaningless in total, but meaningful at the individual’s level of experience? Perhaps it’s simply [on the whole] incomprehensible. If you study a little chaos theory, you learn: The butterfly’s beating wings have ZERO affect on the weather. Instead, the fully understood system, (“stochastic”) is truly unpredictable.

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