Rollin' Like Sisyphus

Huckleberry’s Quarterly Energy Post

Posted in A Chronicle Of Decline by Huckleberry on February 5, 2015
Blowin' in the ...

Blowin’ in the …

If it seems like I do one of these every three or four months, you’re not wrong, and even though I don’t have much new to add, for some odd, sick reason I still feel compelled to yammer on about the subject. Energy production and consumption is a curious thing; we go on and on about how scarce and in short supply our sources of energy are despite the fact that all of creation, the entirety of existence from the dawn of time until the end of days is a chain of energy production, allocation and consumption. We’re sadly not able to take advantage of most of it for various reasons.
We can burn things, and blow them up both with combustion and pressure.
That’s about it.
So, if we accept our current level of limitations – for example, our inability to create energy by, say, crashing things together (like stars) or metabolically (like plants and animals) – the first step is to list what we know how to burn or blow up, how much of that stuff we can utilize, and what are the most efficient ways to utilize them.
We love oil and all of its derivations. It burns easily and hot and consistently and is relatively safe and (so far) easy to come by, and has powered humanity going on three centuries now. Whether we’re at Peak Oil or not, we won’t really know until it’s far too late to ameliorate the consequences to societies both local and global. Every other choice we have right now for energy falls short of oil in at least one of the ways that makes oil special.
Hydrogen is easy to burn, the most plentiful fuel source in the known universe, and outstrips oil in its consistency, with no pollution to boot. Unfortunately, it’s highly volatile; many car accidents simply wouldn’t be survivable with hydrogen fuel cells under the hood (yes, that’s most likely where they’d have to go).
Solar power is plentiful in the sense that the sun will run out of steam long after we will, it’s safe, but it isn’t consistent, it’s limited per square meter more so than fluid and gas fuel sources, and it doesn’t convert to usable energy easily at all.
Wind power is often the answer most trumpeted by Sustainable Ecoterrorists of every stripe and it offers no advantages at all. It doesn’t convert to usable energy easily, it’s only viable within very short distances from the source of power generation, the availability of it is both inconsistent and unpredictable, it isn’t safe for nature or humans, and it’s also limited per square meter, along with the fact that it can’t power a host of things civilized society has become accustomed to loving.
Nuclear power is easy to burn and convert, consistent, and with the growing trend toward thorium reactors rather than uranium, it’s plentiful and safer. But safer isn’t safe, and it isn’t just meltdowns one has to worry about. Toxic waste, both fluid and gas, is still a thing. It is also ill-suited for all of a society’s energy needs unless all vehicles – ground, air and sea – become 100% electric and/or nuclear.
When oil goes away, if it can be tapered off slowly enough, some combination of the above will have to be cobbled together effectively enough to keep (some) of the lights on and convince enough people not to moonlight as looters and highwaymen.
If it all grinds to a halt in a matter of months, the outlook is less rosy.
Good luck.


4 Responses

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  1. Giraffe said, on February 5, 2015 at 11:51

    I think we can figure out how to make the nuclear work. And we don’t have to have all vehicles electric. Suppose the commuters use electric and the truckers burn diesel. I don’t foresee farm and construction equipment ever getting off of diesel. They just need too much power.

    We’re on our way to electric cars being cheap enough, and if we stop with the stupid wind power that just drives the cost of electricity up I think you could make it a viable alternative to gas. Electric cars could easily be smaller. A two car family could have a family car that only moves a couple times a week plus a one man electric to get the old man to work.

    It kinda sucks that we are going to burn almost all the worlds oil before we figure out a replacement, because there are some areas where it will much more difficult to replace.

  2. cfdxprt said, on February 5, 2015 at 11:56

    Thorium reactors with Fischer-Tropsch reactors on the back end can significantly extend our ability to burn hydrocarbons. Pull the thorium from coal and use the left over hydrocarbons to make the syngas for the Fischer-Tropsch reactors.

  3. JN said, on February 5, 2015 at 14:09

    The limitations on electric cars has always been and will most like always be battery technology. Lithium batteries have made the Tesla a viable car but lithium is toxic and relatively rare as compared to fossil fuels.

  4. El Borak said, on February 5, 2015 at 18:29

    If it all grinds to a halt in a matter of months, the outlook is less rosy.

    I’m of the opinion that barring outright war a “months” scenario boasts pretty long odds. While I think we’re at peak oil right now (and hit peak conventional oil in 2005) we probably won’t know for sure for another couple years. One year oil production will be – to the surprise of many – lower than the year before. Then again. Then again. It won’t be down much, at least not at first, but it will be down stubbornly even in the face of a half a dozen breathlessly-announced new perpetual motion machines and promises of new oil Any Day Now. Forbes writers have to be kept busy writing something.

    Still, you are correct. If I’m wrong about the odds or if Merkel misjudges Putin or if the House of Saud falls into the sands, or if any of a half-dozen other black swans come home to roost, there may not be much of an outlook to be less rosy about.

    Plant a tree anyway.

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