A couple of notes about this chart. First, notice how the U.S.A. lives on fossil fuels. Yes, there is about 12% or so of non-fossil at the top (but most of that is nuclear).
A key “takeaway” here is that to convert our economy to renewable energy sources means to substantially replace the entire energy system of the country. Trillions of dollars and decades of time.
Look again at that tiny “Biomass, other” line at the top. That is what would need to be expanded to be as large as the coal, oil, and natural gas lines combined. The compound rate of growth required to do that in any reasonable time period would be staggering. It just won’t happen.
Finally, take a look at the transportation bar in the lower right. Transportation is substantially driven by oil (and oil goes substantially into transportation).
To eliminate gasoline, Diesel, and similar transportation fuels means to change the entire vehicle fleet (except for a few electric light rail commuter trains.) The trains, ships, tractors, combines, and airplanes of the U.S.A. are not short lived assets. Even cars are now “in the fleet” for about a decade.
The cost to replace all these would be gigantic and the time it would take is very long.
Even if we were already selling large numbers of electric cars today, and large percentages of people were buying them, it would take 10 to 20 years to “turn over” the fleet. Longer for the trains, planes, busses, trucks, et. al.
But surely, we must do it, so if it’s a long journey, we’d better start right now!
Well, maybe not…
Energy Shortage, What Energy Shortage?
No, I’m not talking about the fact that matter is just condensed energy (so as long as there is matter there is energy) nor even that everything around us is full of energy, we simply extract work from the difference between energy levels in a source and sink. While those are true, they are not what most people think of when they think of energy. For most folks they think of usable energy in the form of electricity, motor fuels, heat, things that do something they want.
So are we not running out of real, practical, fuels and energy supplies? Won’t sucking up and burning all the oil and coal leave future generations in energy poverty? Are we not squandering our childrens fuels, and future?
There are several problems with the “running out” and “using it all up – horrors!” view of things.
The first is that we measure how much resource we have with a “rubber ruler”, the second: we “run out” for most fossil fuels a lot further in the future than most folks think. And the third is that there are many replacements ready to go today. Let’s look at a few of them. (Though there are actually more energy sources, fossil and otherwise, than we will talk about here!)
Oil, and Hubberts Peak
Are we not at “Peak Oil” so we’ve used up most of the oil?
We actually know how the depletion curve is shaped. It’s basically a bell curve. We might be able to compress the downside a little bit with advanced oil recovery, but not much. This means that the entry time to peak will be about the same as the exit time. Roughly 100+ years from here at a minimum, since we started finding oil about 100 years ago (well, 150 for Drake’s first well). This also implies that once we are at Peak Oil, that peak production will take a few decades to significantly drop.
We will have plenty of time to taper off and there will be no crisis.
But there is more to it than this. First off, we don’t know if we are at Peak Oil or not.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest single oil pool and they have kept their numbers very private. What we do know is that every so often they open the spiggot more and we get more total oil production.
Now remember that “Peak Oil” is not “No Oil” or even “Mostly Used Up”!
It is “Producing as much per year as you ever can”. That is, it’s “Peak Production Rate” not quantity. So until Saudi is running wide open and can produce no more, we are not at Peak Oil.
Add to this the fact that Saudi Arabia has not bothered to drill in most of their land (having a superfield that produced more oil than the world needed, why drill for even more excess production that OPEC would require them to shut in to maintain pricing?) So we really have no idea how far away Peak Oil might be since we never really ramped up the front side of the bell curve at full discovery rate. We are assuming that we are at, or near, Peak Oil based on historic production curves, that may not be representative of real oil in the ground.
But wait, there’s more…
With conventional extraction technology, most old fields have had between 1/3 and 1/2 of the total oil in the field pumped out. Those empty fields are more than 1/2 full, still.
According to the US Geological Survey, “the earth currently has more than three trillion barrels of conventional, recoverable oil resources of which 1 trillion has already been produced” according to Mark Nolan, chairman of ExxonMobil addressing the Asia Pacific Oil and Gas Conference in Sydney during September 2006.
But technology does not stand still. We have developed several sorts of “Enhanced Recovery Techniques” that keep on “finding” more oil in old fields. This leads to the possibility that the front side of the curve to “Peak Oil” may be a bit of a fiction. Hubbert developed his thesis (which worked very well to predict individual fields over modestly long time periods) during a time before our more exotic techniques were developed. The thesis may not hold up over a centuries long time scale where technology changes have plenty of time to change the rules…
BTW, the notion that we can, through improved efficiency, reduce our oil consumption is seriously broken. Jevons paradox explains why. Jevons showed that increased coal efficiency resulted in more coal consumption, not less. Each use becomes less, but the lower cost per use results in many more uses. Basically, I’m willing to drive my 50 mpg compact on a 50 mile commute to work, so I buy a home further from work than if I had a Hummer.
The bottom line is that we need to get over the notion that we can outsmart economics via fiat.
The fact that we may be on Hubberts Peak is a good thing, in that as gas prices rise we will finally start using alternatives. Improved efficiency is good for other reasons, but it will not reduce aggrigate consumption due to Jevon’s Paradox.
What is a Reserve?
So this brings us to the question of what is a reserve? There are at least a half dozen different definitions that encompass different ideas depending on the purpose to which the number will be put. Economists tend to use one set, oil geologists another, and the historical usage is not always the same as today. For example:
Has a nice definition, but part way down the page notes that in 2007 the Society of Petroleum Engineers came out with a new, and different system. I will be using an older system here, more common with economists than petroleum engineers.
Do you care about what you can pump out and sell today? That would be “Economically Recoverable Reserves”. Do you care about what could be pumped over a longer period of time as prices rise, but using present technology? That would be “Recoverable Reserves”. How about all you think you can get out with reaonably likely future technologies? “Ultimately Recoverable Reserves”. But that still leaves oil in the ground…
Most of the time the popular press is talking about economically recoverable reserves, so what is a “reserve” changes with the price and with technolgy. Basically, if the price rises, we “find” more reserves; and as technology advances, we “find” more reserves. This means that our present belief about what percentage of the “reserves” we have pumped is somewhat broken, especially in a future where oil prices are over $100 / bbl and 50 years of technology improvement have happened.
This could easily move Peak Oil out another 50 years.
We are also drilling in 10,000 feet of water and finding oil in geologic layers that prior theory said were too deep for oil formation. Much of the planet that has been “completely explored” was only explored to a much shallower depth because theory said oil could not exist deeper than that. There is now a whole new “shell” of depth to explore for oil. Who knows what we will find there (but Standard Oil found oil in the Gulf of Mexico at those extreme depths as has Petrobras in Brazil…)
And now, so has BP:
But there is another problem with Peak Oil.
We don’t know for sure what process makes oil and there are sound reasons to think that it is still being created in large quantities. For example, the Middle East oil fields have an astounding rate of pumping, yet they have more oil in them now as “reserves” than before the pumping began.
One very good explanation for “why” is the possibility that iron acts as a catalyst to turn CO2 rich rocks, in the presence of H2 propbably from water, into hydrocarbons in geologic subduction zones (which would explain the oil locations in places like Indonesia and coastal California with active subduction zones).
Much as we do it synthetically (heat, pressure, CO2, H2 or water, and metal catalysts – Fischer Tropsch in a nutshell); nature may be doing the same thing. Take a look at how: Oil may come from subduction of rocks.
There are others with related theories and there are other places where reservoirs look to be “refilling” from unknown sources:
A very readable summary of the “issues” with the conventional oil theories are at this link:
And this site is devoted to the abiotic oil thesis:
And then there is still another problem with Peak Oil.
What is Oil?
All we have talked about so far is what is named “conventional oil”. There are at least 2 major “unconventional oil” sources that are vastly larger than all of conventional oil. These are the “Tar Sands” (much of which are in Canada) and the “Oil Shale” which covers hugh areas of the United States (along with other parts of the world). The shale is presently not considered an oil reserve of any sort, since nobody can make money off it at present oil prices. Trillions of barrels of oil that exist, but are not counted.
What is a ‘resource’ changes with price and technology.
A resource is something of economic value; it becomes a reserve once folks start using it. Canadian tar sands were not a ‘resource’ 50 years ago, now they are. U.S. oil shale holds a Trillion+ bbl of oil minimum, but is not counted as a resource when prices are below about $100/bbl.
This page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_shale
puts the recoverable shale oil estimate at about 3 trillion barrels. That is about 100 years at present oil consumption rates if all oil consumption was supplied from shale oil. Somehow I don’t feel like I’m running out…
With oil over $100 / bbl the “oil” reserves of the world double or triple…
How much is “ultimately recoverable”? Nobody knows, but it is immense.
This puts us at somewhere around 200 years out before we are really at risk of “running out of oil”… But even this ignores an “oil” source.
Synthetic Oil & “Oil” Products; CTL – Coal To Liquids
Coal can be easily turned to gasoline and Diesel (as done by SASOL in Africa, or Rentech, Syntroleum, and Synthesis Energy Company in the U.S.A.) or into “petro” chemicals as is done by Eastman Chemical company (ticker EMN) today.
See: The SASOL site for more.
And they are not the only ones doing this. The process was invented in Germany prior to the Nazi era by FIscher and Tropsch so it is commonly called FT technology. During WWII, the Nazi war machine ran on FT fuels.
During the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970’s, South Africa was threatened with a cut off of fuel from the west. They dug out their history books and SASOL was born. They have been running a modern economy on synthetic oil ever since.
Their economy has benefited from the stable energy costs and foreign exchange retention (i.e. not sending gold to OPEC). They are the most industrially advanced economy in Africa. They are an existence proof that this technology is all that is needed to provide all the “petroleum” fuel products we need, even if we don’t have enough “petroleum”.
All you need to do to make synthetic crude oil is take any material that contains a hydrocarbon component (plastic, paper, biowaste, coal, tree chips, garbage, slaughter house waste) put it in a pressure vessel and cook at high temperature with a little water, and pressure (500 degrees Fahrenheit and pressurized to 600 pounds per square inch, for about 20 minutes). Out comes a synthetic crude comparable to a high quality crude oil.
There is a new microwave process that is also being worked on to do the same thing.
Basically, we run out of “Oil Products” long after we run out of oil, since we can use coal or any other carbon source.
BTW, one of my favorites is Rentech (RTK) who have a trash to liquids, such as Diesel, demonstration initiative underway using a FT variation. I don’t think we’re in any danger or running out of trash any time soon…
Periodically OPEC likes to drive oil cost low enough to put the alternatives out of business. Kind of like now… Two countries chose to say “We don’t want to play” and set policies to replace oil with little regard to low prices. One of those we’ve already seen, South Africa with CTL technology. The other was Brazil, which we will look at further down under Biofuels. But first, there is another source for motor fuels. One the U.S.A. has lots of.
Natural Gas & Gas To Liquids – GTL
There are vast quantities of natural gas in America. Several companies have built GTL, gas to liquids, plants. Expect to see more of them. These are basically the same FT technology as CTL plants, but with a different feed stock and slight variations in the first steps. Much of this gas is what is called “stranded gas”. It is not always counted as an “economically recoverable reserve” since it is not economical to build a pipeline to bring it to your heater. But Standard Oil (among others) has started to make small scale GTL plants that can turn this “stranded gas” into motor fuels. One of these is to be mounted on a barge in Nigeria. But there are larger scale projects as well.
That gives a bit of an idea what the potential is for GTL.
A recent advance in the technology of natural gas recovery (from what are called “tight shales”) has resulted in a glut of natural gas and prices below $4/ unit when just last year they were about $15 / unit; so expect to hear much more about natural gas alternatives. There are also very large depostis of natural gas stranded in Alaska. We were almost ready to build a pipeline to bring that gas to the “lower 48” when this price collapse from tight shale gas came along. Basically, we will be using natural gas for decades (centuries?) to come. And it can be used in vehicles. Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (ticker CLNE) is building natural gas stations and converting trucks and cars to run on the fuel today.
But wait, there’s more…
Beneath the ocean there are deposits of natural gas in the form of a composite of water and natural gas called a ‘clathrate’. Like a stable kind of ice. No body is sure how much there is (it is a stable solid when cold and under pressure, like in the deep ocean) or how to get it out; but it is just sitting there and the quantities are known to be gigantic.
“The energy stored in methane clathrate deposits on Earth has been estimated at twice that in all conventional hydrocarbon deposits of oil, gas, and coal.”
we have that current estimates are lower at only:
Recent estimates constrained by direct sampling suggest the global inventory lies between [...]1 quadrillion to 5 quadrillion m3. This estimate, corresponding to 500-2500 gigatonnes carbon (Gt C), is smaller than the 5000 Gt C estimated for all other fossil fuel reserves but substantially larger than the ~230 Gt C estimated for other natural gas sources. The permafrost reservoir has been estimated at about 400 Gt C in the Arctic, but no estimates have been made of possible Antarctic reservoirs. These are large amounts. For comparison the total carbon in the atmosphere is around 700 gigatons.
In any case, there is one heck of a lot of it…
Next we will have an audience with King Coal.
Old King Coal
So how much coal is there?
The known coal deposits in the U.S.A. alone will last about 250-400 years and maybe more, so we have plenty of time to continue business as usual while we ponder what to do next.
Original Map with more options shows where coal is in the U.S.A.; by my eyeball measurement it’s about 1/4 of the country.
The years of reserves varies with the price so the ‘life time of reserves’ is somewhere between 250 years and 400 depending on what price is used and what you assume for burn rate. It also ignores that much coal is left in the ground in some kinds of mining, such as pillar and room, and could be recovered by other techniques. It also ignores the mountains of coal tailings that are piled all over from prior mining where coal with a bit too much dirt in it was just tossed aside. This is presently being converted to liquid fuels on an experimental basis with decent success.
The USGS map is somewhat conservative in that I know of at least one large peat field that they have left off the map. Every so often someone driving past tosses out a cigarette and sets the land on fire… (near Stockton). We don’t think of peat as a fuel here…
But eventually 400 years will pass. Surely that’s just moving doom a bit further out! So it’s not my kids, nor my grandkids, but it’s my (great) x 10 grandkids!
Well, no… We can just use nuclear power.
The Nuclear Option
Nuclear has about a 10,000 year lifetime from the Uranium in present mines on land before we have to get fancy. With known proven technologies we can move that out to a few million years+. No, that is not a typo…
Sidebar: There is more energy in the Uranium in a given mass of coal than there is in the carbon. A major reason for thorough coal ash recovery and flue gas scrubbing ought to be the recovery of that U resource. We throw away a few thousand tons of U each year in this way. This would extend our U resource from about 10,000 years to over 20,000 years; but nobody seems to care much about the impending shortage of U based energy supply 10,000 years from now …
If that’s not enough, we can move on to Thorium of which there’s more than Uranium. 2 to 4 times. It is already working in nuclear reactors today. India has a program (and lots of Th but not so much U) Also we can use it in our present reactors if desired. Thorium Power Inc does that (stock ticker THPW)
So, for Uranium we have about 10,000 years worth in mines on land. Thorium somewhat more; though folks have not bothered looking for it much. I make that 20,000 – 40,000 years+. So, maybe in 39,900 years you can give me a call? No?
Ok, then I’ll give you the trump card now…
Uranium is not renewable, but it is functionally unlimited. This clever scientist in Japan made a polymer that absorbs it from sea water at a price of about $150 / lb. Not competitive with the land based U by a few dollars, so not counted as an “economic reserve” today; but certainly cheap enough to make cheap electricity. And if we powered the whole planet on sea water U, we would extract slightly less each year than washes into the ocean via erosion… We run out of energy when we run out of planet. Literally. See:
We could even do it with a fleet of ships a fraction of the size presently used for petroleum.
and / or just google “Uranium polymer adsorption japan” for more examples. (both adsorption and absorption are good search terms… why? “Why? Don’t ask why. Down that path lies insanity and ruin. -E.M.Smith”)
So I make that about a few billion years before we might have an energy problem with non-renewables. Call me in 1,000,000,000 years and we’ll work on it…
There is no energy shortage and there never will be. We run out of power when we run out of planet. Honest.
There is a politically induced shortage of dirt cheap liquid motor fuel. Nothing more.
What if we step away from non-renewable fuels and want to put a renewable fuel in our gas tank? How well will that work? Won’t it make poor people starve?
The notion that producing biofuels causes starvation is also a broken idea. I’ll cover that in a future posting that I will link back to here. Just remember that the classical problem in agricultural economics is how to reduce output to support prices. We have plenty of capacity to grow crops. For now, I’ll just say that while turning corn kernals into biofuel is mostly just a political gift to the U.S. Farm Belt, there are plenty of ways to make biofuels that are much more efficient and do not consume “food”.
In particular: Brazil and sugar cane. Brazil was the second country to tell Opec to go pound sand and chose energy independence. They have had a dynamic and growing economy ever since. They, too, have an advanced technological society. Cosan is a large player there (stock ticker CZZ) and makes hugh quantities of cane sugar, much of which is converted to ethanol. Flex fuel cars are the norm there. In fairness, they recently discovered a lot of oil off their cost (PBR is the ticker for the oil company- Petrobras) but the ethanol mandate began during the embargo years when they had no oil.
We can easily make similar biofuels. (No, not the corn/food to fuel kind, that is a political solution…). Verenium (stock ticker VRNM) along with a couple of others are doing start up scale cellulosic ethanol. Petrosun Energy (PSUD) and Origin Oil (OOIL) are both doing algae oil biomass. Algae yields a couple of orders of magentude more oil / acre than corn. It’s just a matter of cost (profitable at oil over $100/bbl, not so much with oil under $50/bbl). To the extent we have excess corn kernals, sure, convert them to ethanol as a form of farm price support. Beats paying them not to plant anything…
There is also the fact that we can only eat a small part of the plant. Every year billions of tons of inedible waste is buried in land fills (see those piles on a street near you) and plowed under at farms around the world (“rice stubble” was traditionally burned off in the field creating great smoke problems; later propane powered burners were developed to get rid of the stuff with less smoke.) This can be turned to “oil” by several means, but one I’ve not yet mentioned is pyrolysis. A decent write up is here:
A very nice slide presentation from the USDA by Jennifer Holmgren of UOP and Robert C. Brown of Iowa State U. (1 MB pdf).
Then there is bioDiesel.
This fuel can be made from virgin oil, like soybean oil, or from used cooking oil (or any other animal or plant fat or oil). Lots of used cooking oil is just disposed of in land fills. It would make much better sense to run it through a refinery and into our trucks. To the extent that we can grow more oil than we need to eat, feed it to the bioDiesel process. Again, it beats paying farmers to grow nothing as a price support program. Eventually, I expect the orders of magnetude more production per acre of algae to win out, but that will be a few years from now. At that point we have ‘closed the loop’ with oil.
Contrary to popular belief, petroleum did not come from dinosaurs. The profile of molecules in it shows that it most likely formed in shallow seas from algae. When we are using algae pools to make oil for bioDiesel, we have just compressed the natural cycle by a few million years and are more directly putting sunshine in our fuel tanks. The sun runs down in a few billion years, so I’m not so worried.
Realize that this is not a ‘pie in the sky’ solution. It is all shown to work. We have production ponds growing algae that are being turned into bioDiesel right now by Petrosun.
The only question is can it compete on price with Saudi Oil? If we had any brains at all, we would take the Brazil Solution to heart and tell OPEC to go pound sand, we are replacing them with pond scum… All we lack is the political will to do it.
We can grow enough oil for all the needs of the U.S.A. in a land area about the size that we presently use for sewage treatment and coal electric generation. You get an order of magnitude or two more tons / acre out of algae than from other ‘crops’.
Don’t like algae? Try trees.
Cold regions can grow poplars and warm places eucalyptus at about a 50 tons/acre yield. Think about that for a minute. The average driver goes about 12,000 miles per year. At 24 mpg that would be 500 gallons. At 6 lbs / gallon that’s 3000 lbs. 1.5 tons. Even with yield losses, you would only need about 1/10th of an acre to feed a car. That is less than many folks have as a back yard (20 x 105 feet or about 6 x 32 meters). Just turning our yard waste (often put in landfills) into fuel would make a big dent in our fuel needs.
RTK Rentech has a facility in the Los Angeles area turning garbage into motor fuels. They also produced the fuel used by the U.S. Air Force to demonstrate synthetic jet fuel and to certify aircraft for it. At least the USAF has clue. Hopefully it will survive the new regime.
Why don’t we do this? Look at the price of oil. $50/bbl as I write this. Hard to get financing when your biz model can blow up every time a very price inelastic commodity has a price break down because Saudi Arabia opens the tap or China decides to buy less oil during the Olympics. We need to stabilze our domestic market and isolate it from international manipulation.
I’m all for making OPEC go pound sand
The easy way to do this is to tax imported OPEC oil such that it is over $80/bbl and to exempt domestic and NAFTA energy from taxes. You will be up to your eyeballs in non-OPEC energy and liquid fuels in no time flat… But our government puts taxes on all fuel sources and discourages them all while leaving the OPEC leverage on prices intact.
To me, it looks more like our government is trying to run a tax scam based on the way it was done in England long ago. Lust for power, money, and control has been with us since the beginning of time… See the history of the Hostmen and coal taxes in England for example:
Other Renewable Energy Supplies
If we want to, we can use the other more traditional renewable energy sources. I’m not going to cover traditional hydroelectric since most of the best sites already have dams on them and many of the undammed rivers ought to be left free running for other reasons. But we will look at some other sources, water or otherwise
Can we all agree we need to develop renewable energy?
No, we don’t.
We need to implement renewable energy where it is cost effective. It’s developed already. From here on out it is incremental improvement largely aimed at cost reduction. I’d expect a few breakthrough moments are still in the wings, but the heavy lifting is done.
The whole US can be run off of the sunshine on a small (relatively) part of the Mojave. About 100 miles on a side. Now look at the Sahara… And all it takes is using established technology like:
Australia is the proposed site for a thermal tower system that solves some of the storage problems. It has a solar collector air skirt over hot land and a central tower with small turbines inside. See:
Or any one of dozens of other solar technologies that are already developed and proven. It’s not about development, it is all about cost and implimentation of what is already developed. (storage is an issue but solvable at a price via any/all of pumped water, compressed air, thermal storage, flywheels, batteries, etc.) Solar runs out when the sun runs down. Call it a few billion years.
Wave / tide. The actual power available varies a lot with the local wave action, but it is generally quite large. An area of about 100 x 3 miles on the active Pacific coast would power all of California’s electrical needs with existing machine designs (about 1/10 of the U.S. population). Our coastline is far far longer than that. 1000 miles for the west coast?
A similar 1000 x 3.7 mile surface of ocean waves would provide roughly all the energy needed to entirely power the U.S.A. peak electrical demand (calculated based on the model 1 MW plant described at OPTT) using developed technology such as this, from Ocean Power Technologies ( OPTT ):
There are several other vendors of competing systems including the Pelamis system.
Wind is presently competitive with Natural Gas fired electricity and pushing on coal in the American Plains. T. Boone Pickens proposed putting in about $10 Billion of wind farm. While the whole of the U.S. could be powered by the wind in the area to the east of the Rockies and west of the Mississippi with lots of room to spare, storage is an issue just like for solar and frankly, while I like the looks of windmills I’m personally bothered by the air pressure variations and noise. I’m also not fond of the tendency to murder birds and bats…
Geothermal. “Lots”. Depending on how you define it, it’s highly variable. Is a ground source heat pump ‘geothermal’? It is certainly a good idea… Powering Iceland and parts of California today, among others. The amount is more than needed for the whole world. It’s mostly a matter of how much you want to spend to drill deep enough.
Trash. One of my favorites. We can easily turn our trash and lawn clippings into liquid motor fuels (gasoline and Diesel) for our existing cars. My best estimate is that what I “produce” each year on my fractional acre is about what my cars eat. I don’t think we’re running out of trash any time soon. This is proven technology in production in the Los Angeles area trash system.
But what about hydrogen as an energy source?
Show me the hyrdrogen wells. Hydrogen is more of a battery than an energy source. Generally speaking, you must get the hyrogen from some other primary energy source and that source is better used directly (or directly turned into motor fuels) rather than taking the efficiency losses of conversions into hydrogen then back to useful energy later. Their may be some breakthrough in direct solar to hydrogen gas formation, but don’t hold your breath.
What about “Negawatts” and Conservation?
You can not starve yourself to a full stomach.
Efficiency improvements are valuable for their own reasons (mostly cost reductions) and I am all for them; but it is a fallacy to think that conservation creates more energy or will reduce total consumption.
(For those who would assert that Jevons has somehow been proven wrong via some paper study, I would point to the existence proof of the Arab Oil Embargo. After that happened, the U.S. auto industry was almost destroyed as America ran to the small fuel efficient Japanese cars. A decade later (after much of the fleet had turned over to those fuel efficienct cars) were were right back on track to record fuel consumption. People moved further out into the suburbs to get a better home cheaper, and let their efficient car carry them further to work on a longer commute.
Just as Jevons Paradox would have predicted.
The driving force behind conservation as “negawatts” is the notion that we are running out of a scarce resource and need to stretch out the limited, scarce resource. Yet any proposition of the form “We are running out of energy” or “We must conserve” or “Efficiency will save us” is just fundamentally broken.
As we’ve seen above, we have no limited scarce resource to conserve.
But won’t these energy systems take a lot of resources and aren’t we running out of stuff to build things with? Well, no. I have another posting that covers that in some depth:
Notice that there are at least a half dozen technologies listed above that can power the entire U.S.A. Either forever or for several hundred years. We are drowning in energy choices (and I haven’t listed several others). Many of these energy sources are available elsewhere on the planet in equal sizes (or sometimes greater). The planet as a whole, and each part of it, has more energy than it could ever use, with a large number of relatively affordable options available in most places. For there to be an “energy shortage” all the above options must fail (and several are proven to be working, such as Sasol and Coal to Liquids). For there to be no shortage, we only need one to work.
We have dozens that work.
All we need to do is effectively use the cheapest energy sources available to improve life for everyone on the planet as quickly as possible.
We need to take as much of the world as possible to a modern, wealthy, life style as rapidly as possible. This is best done by free markets, not government agencies; though we do need a “countervailing force” to OPEC via an “OPEC only” tariff.
A wealthy society can afford to set large parts of the planet aside for parks; a poor one can not…
There is no energy shortage and there never will be. There is a surplus of groundless fear and there is a shortage of imagination and willingness to act sensibly.