Citizen Action Monitor

“We can’t go to 100% renewable energy and live like we do now.” – Nate Hagens (6)

The ability of a technology to provide ‘joules’ is different than its ability to contribute to ‘work’ for society.

No 2289 Posted by fw, June 4, 2018

To access links to all other posts in this series, click on the Tab titled “Where Are We Going? by Dr. Nate Hagens” in the top left margin. 

“Energy can only be substituted by other energy. Conventional economic thinking on most depletable resources considers substitution possibilities as essentially infinite.  But [not] all joules are created equally. There is a large difference between potential and kinetic energy. Energy properties such as: intermittence, variability, energy density, power density, spatial distribution, energy return on energy invested, scalability, transportability, etc. make energy substitution a complex prospect. The ability of a technology to provide ‘joules’ is different than its ability to contribute to ‘work’ for society.” —Resilience.org

In today’s post, part 6, Hagens wrestles with his fifth continuum, joules versus work. If high-school physics is beyond your grasp, the joules versus work continuum may be a challenge, requiring, as it does, a grasp of the difference between potential and kinetic energy, their different units of measurement, conversion implications among those different units, and more.

More to the point, Hagens’ takeaway is bound to shock those who passionately promote 100% renewables as a doable replacement for fossil fuels:

“So there’s a big difference in our societies on joules versus work. The punchline here is — renewable energy is mature, it’s gotten very cheap, but the type of energy that it is, is not going to plug-and-play our current society. We can’t go to 100% renewable energy and live like we do now. A lot more renewable energy is going to mean a different sort of lifestyle.”

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For those who may wonder why I am presenting each of 40 short continuums in separate posts, my experience is that Dr. Hagens’ challenging content is best taken in small doses. As well, printed text is a way to slow down his rapid-fire, spoken delivery style.

There is a brief bio-sketch about Dr. Hagens at the bottom of this post, along with a link to his website.

Below is the embedded video of Hagens’ 60-minute address, followed by an 18-minute Q&A session. My transcript of Pt. 6, continuum 5, runs from 13:55 to 15:04 minutes. The transcript has been edited for enhanced clarity and readability.

Alternatively, a video of Hagens’ talk, along with a “loosely related” essay on the talk, are available by clicking on the following linked title. This version, published by Resilience.org, also includes excellent readers’ comments, including responses by Hagens.

NOTE — Selected parts of the Resilience.org essay are included in my transcripts, bracketed as [Resilience Supplement].

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Where are we going? by Nate Hagens, Resilience.org, May 8, 2018

TRANSCRIPT (from 13:55 to 15:04)

[THE ECONOMY]

13:55 – [Continuum 5: Joules vs Work] — Another continuum is the difference between joules and work. There are lots of things that can harness, and harvest, and extract energy. For example, solar panels would be one.

14:10But what they give us, the benefits to human systems, the work that they provide, is wildly disparate, depending on their energy density, their variability, their intermittence, their geographic location, how must they cost, what are the non-energy inputs involved, and things like that.

14:33 – So there’s a big difference in our societies on joules versus work. The punchline here is — renewable energy is mature, it’s gotten very cheap, but the type of energy that it is, is not going to plug-and-play our current society.

14:55We can’t go to 100% renewable energy and live like we do now. A lot more renewable energy is going to mean a different sort of lifestyle.

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[Resilience.org Supplement] — Joules vs Work – Energy can only be substituted by other energy. Conventional economic thinking on most depletable resources considers substitution possibilities as essentially infinite.  But all joules are not created equally*. There is a large difference between potential and kinetic energy. Energy properties such as: intermittence, variability, energy density, power density, spatial distribution, energy return on energy invested, scalability, transportability, etc. make energy substitution a complex prospect. The ability of a technology to provide ‘joules’ is different than its ability to contribute to ‘work’ for society.  All joules are not created equally*. [*In the Comments section, Dick Burkhart wrote: “A nitpick on the grammar: ‘All joules are not created equally’ is not correct, logically. What you mean is ‘Not all joules are created equally’. Technically, this is derived from the ‘first order predicate calculus’”].

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About Dr. Nathan John Hagens – Hagens, 51, worked on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers for 10 years before closing his own hedge fund in 2003 to develop a systems synthesis approach to the human predicament. At present, Dr. Hagens is a professor at the University of Minnesota where he teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar called Reality 101, A Survey of Human Predicament. The readings and lectures cover literature in systems ecology, energy and natural resources, thermodynamics, history, anthropology, human behavior, neuroscience, environmental science, sociology, economics, globalization/trade, and finance/debt with an overarching goal to give students a general understanding of how our human ecosystem functions as a whole.

Visit Nate Hagens’ personal website at The Monkey Trap.

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