The general trend in falling productivity growth does not seem to be particularly recent. OECD data shows a long-term pattern of slowing productivity growth, dating back to the 1970s for many developed economies.
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.
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.”
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.
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 Energy and The Economy: Basic Principles and Feedback Loops
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.