Friday, January 11, 2008

Peak Oil...

This is modified from a discussion on the Yahoo board.

OPPONENT: "It is about economics. If we need 100 units of cheap energy to develop one unit of energy with a higher value (both in energy density and financial terms) then guess what -- we spend the 100 units. Peak oil doesn't properly assess the economics of energy development."


Wrong, wrong, wrong!

One unit of energy is one unit of energy.

Say you have 1000 units of useful stored energy and it takes 100 units of energy to develop one unit.

Let's say each person requires 1 unit of energy to stay alive for some amount of time (supporting the basics like food production, shelter and infrastructure maintenance, etc).

Let's say you have 100 people to keep alive.

Ok, so in the first unit of time your people use 100 units of energy.

You have 900 units remaining.

At this point think of this as a story problem. What combination of support for the population vs. gathering energy at a 100:1 ratio will keep the people alive the longest? Is there any possibility of keeping a sustainable population of people? Will any number of little green pieces of paper be of any help in this situation?


Economics is irrelevant. It is trumped by physical reality.

There is no economic activity without energy. In order to grow an economy, you either need to use energy more efficiently (waste less), or increase the supply. They supply of oil-based energy is no longer capable of growing at rates required to support the growing world economy over the medium term. If we want to keep growing the economy, then we have no choice but to produce alternate sources of energy in a big way, right now, while we have available fossil sources to make use of.

And some say that it's the alt-energy movement that wants to destroy the economy. These people don't understand the stakes. They just figure that if energy gets scarce, then they will get to control more little green pieces of paper.


On loss and inefficiency:

It's true that converting energy from one form to another ultimately involves loss. However, it's entirely possible to use 1 unit of energy to release 2 units of energy IF THOSE 2 UNITS are available in nature to be released. For instance the amount of energy required to tap a vast oilfield is much less than the amount of energy stored in the oil that is extracted. Remember, we did nothing to actually produce the oil itself, nature did that. Oil is the product of solar energy shining down on the ancient ecosystem, which then got buried and refined by millions of years of geologic processes. Yes, more energy went into the oil production over that time than we can release in the end, but that is irrelevant to us; we're just taking that stored energy and releasing it to do work. For us, it's a net positive, but only because we didn't actually have to produce the energy in the first place.

As oil supply shrinks, we'll be depending on less convenient sources like Solar. If we fail to establish an efficient infrastructure to make use of alternate sources of energy like sunlight before "peak oil" then we're in big trouble.

Original Yahoo Discussion

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