Citizen Action Monitor

“It is hard to create large enough quantities of new renewables. We have practically nowhere to go”

Gail Tverberg’s latest analysis of our energy options confirms difficult challenges ahead

No 1255 Posted by fw, February 9, 2015

redflag 2“Now we have practically nowhere to go. Natural gas cannot be scaled up quickly enough, or to large enough quantities. If such a large scale-up were done, natural gas would be expensive as well. Part of the high cost is the cost of the change-over in infrastructure, including huge amounts of new natural gas pipeline and new natural gas powered vehicles.”Gail Tverberg

On November 22, 2014 I re-posted a paper by expert actuarial analyst Gail Tverberg under my title: “At best, green solutions can help us avoid finite limits for a little while longer,” concludes expert analyst. The title is taken from her Conclusion, where she begins: “It would be nice to have a way around limits in a finite world. Unfortunately, this is not possible in the long run. At best, green solutions can help us avoid limits for a little while longer.

So what, if anything, is different about today’s post? Her analysis, for one thing. In her signature style, it’s detailed, replete with 15 graphs. She begins today’s, Part 2, piece with this intro —

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about why cheap fuels act to create economic growth. In this post, we will look at some supporting data showing how this connection works. The data is over a very long time period–some of it going back to the Year 1 C. E. [Common Era, an alternative to “In the year of our Lord.”]

Tverberg is one of the few writers who does the math related to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Most don’t bother. They are seemingly content with hyping alternate energy — Look at the rapid growth of solar, wind, hydro, etc. in percentage terms; Look at the employment growth in renewables, outpacing employment figures in fossil fuel industries; Look at all the green energy products; Look at how we can address climate change and still grow the economy.

Tverberg is one of the few analysts who addresses the pivotal question that others ignore, the question posed by physics professor Tom Murphy:Can we transition to a truly sustainable lifestyle for the long haul at an energy level akin to what we enjoy today?” And can we do it in time, before we change the climate irrevocably? Some scientists claim it’s already too late to stop global warming. Moreover, the emissions trendline continues on an upward slope.

This post jumps right to Tverberg’s concise, concluding section: Where does the world go from here?

To read her complete, lengthy paper, graphs and all, click on the following linked title.

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Charts showing the long-term GDP-energy tie (Part 2 – A New Theory of Energy and the Economy) by Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World, February 5, 2015

Where Does the World Economy Go From Here?

In Part 1, I described the world’s economy as one that is based on energy. The design of the system is such that the economy can only grow; shrinkage tends to cause collapse. If my view of the situation is correct, then we need an ever-rising amount of inexpensive energy to keep the system going. We have gone from trying to grow the world economy on oil, to trying to grow the world economy on coal. Both of these approaches have “hit walls”. There are other low-income countries that might increase industrial production, such as in Africa, but they are lacking coal or other cheap fuels to fuel their production.

Now we have practically nowhere to go. Natural gas cannot be scaled up quickly enough, or to large enough quantities. If such a large scale-up were done, natural gas would be expensive as well. Part of the high cost is the cost of the change-over in infrastructure, including huge amounts of new natural gas pipeline and new natural gas powered vehicles.

New renewables, such as wind and solar photovoltaic panels, aren’t solutions either. They tend to be high cost when indirect costs, such as the cost of long distance transmission and the cost of mitigating intermittency, are considered. It is hard to create large enough quantities of new renewables: China has been rapidly adding wind capacity, but the impact of these additions can barely be seen at the top of Figure 14. Without supporting systems, such as roads and electricity transmission lines (which depend on oil), we cannot operate the electric systems that these devices are part of for the long term, either.

We truly live in interesting times.

Figure 14. China’s energy consumption by source, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 14. China’s energy consumption by source, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy data.

The “stand out” economy in recent growth in GDP per capita is China. China was added to the World Trade Organization in December 2001. Since then, its coal use, and energy use in general, has soared.

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