free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 270. KUNSTLER IS WRONG ABOUT PHOENIX AND LAS VEGAS

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


When he's not regaling us with in-depth chronicles of his hip replacement, Jim Kunstler is busy reasoning with curse words and telling us that Phoenix is "fucked". Here's some standard fare:
I have maintained that we will see cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas virtually depopulated in the next fifty years as all their artificial means to support human settlement grow scarce. Imagine Phoenix without cheap air conditioning.Source
He must have said this a hundred times already, but it's still just as retarded as the first time he said it.

Phoenix and Las Vegas are the last places which will have air-conditioning problems. How do I know this? Because the western desert is the U.S.'s Saudi Arabia of solar energy. Conditions are ideal for generating large power flows from solar energy, and it just so happens that those power flows will be available at the same time air conditioning demand is highest. It's a no-brainer, and investors are already breaking ground:
But as oil, natural gas and electricity costs soar, companies are racing to build commercial solar thermal plants that are the size of conventional power plants.


Utah-based International Automated Systems Inc. on Thursday signed an agreement to install a $150 million, 100-megawatt power plant for Solar Renewable Energy in Nevada.

And North Carolina-based Solargenix, in which Spanish building and services company Acciona SA is buying a 55 percent stake, will break ground over the weekend on a 64 MW, $100 million solar thermal plant called Nevada Solar One. The company said it will be the first U.S. commercial solar thermal plant, coming on line in 2007.

Currently, all the types of solar energy provide only about 1 percent of U.S. power. One hurdle is price. Solar thermal at present costs about 12 to 15 cents per kilowatt hour, Westerholt said, compared with natural gas power which costs 10 cents per KWH.

But as production grows, solar companies expect costs to slip to 8 cents per KHW in five years.

SCHOTT will provide components for at least one 50 MW plant per year in the U.S. Southwest deserts every year until 2010, said Westerholt.Source
-- by JD


At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 1:07:00 AM PST, Blogger Rembrandt said...

Thermal solar energy is the future for large scale reliable electricity generation. You can desalinate water with it, generate large heaps of electricity and that for a price that is already competiting with fossil fuels today!

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 4:54:00 AM PST, Blogger nick said...

But does it really make sense to use solar energy to keep these cities buzzing? They'll need to transport water, desalinate it, transport food, etc. Moving closer to the sources would just save tons of energy. As their last remaining close water sources are slowly drained, won't it become increasingly expensive to live there? Thus depopulating it until you only have rich people and vacationers? So Kunstler's not 100% dead-on and you disproved him. That doesn't even come close to even a bronze in the EC X-games (energy conservation).

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 4:59:00 AM PST, Blogger russ said...

Don't these cities power themselves through Hydro, Coal, and Nuclear? What does peak OIL have to do with air conditioning?

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 5:36:00 AM PST, Blogger dub_scratch said...

I think the other reasons why Phoenix & Vegas are to be depopulated is because both have the inability to create agriculture on a large scale and both are extremely car dependent. Vegas, in particular, has an economy based on long distance tourism. How is this city going to survive economically when cheap oil air & road travel ends and we are left with a train system "the Bulgarians would be ashamed of."

In isolation each one of these problems could be overcame, but it is the sum of these liabilities that make Kunstler's predictions compelling to me. Phoenix & Vegas maybe able fix their AC & water supply problems with some heroic solar technology investment. I Just don't see how these places are going to solve the car dependancy burden on top of that. No doubt, PO is going to waste our car-sprawl mega-investments and Phoenix & Vegas are nothing but car-sprawl. The only kind of economy these cities will have is that of a giant scrap yard.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 6:09:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

nick and dub, you're right that Vegas and Phoenix have lots of dysfunctional elements. I used to live in Phoenix, and I agree with Kunstler that it's an auto-dependent crud-scape. On the other hand, if solar energy is the future, I don't see how the country's best locations for that energy are going wither and die. In an era of energy scarcity, are we just going to blow off high-intensity solar power from desert locations and not use it? That doesn't seem likely, considering that we're already breaking ground on such facilities. It seems more likely to me that Vegas and Phoenix will boom as energy centers, just like Alberta is booming today.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 6:16:00 AM PST, Blogger Wag the Dog said...

Apparently the Nevada Solar One design is based on parabolic trough concentrators. There will still be the problem of night time power so some form of energy storage will be required in the absence of fossil fuels. In a desert, electrolysing fresh water to store daytime capacity as hydrogen for later use may not be feasible.

With developments in solar Stirling engines it may become cost effective to operate solar generation plants in areas with less sunlight. Stirling engines only need a sufficient temperature difference for power generation whereas Nevada Solar One is driven by steam pressure.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 6:25:00 AM PST, Blogger Joel123 said...

Modern sprawled cities will survive with electric cars, plus an expanded electric bus transit system. I agree that in the energy starved future, sprawl growth will cease. Future growth in most cities everywhere will come from "in-building" near the new mass transit hubs. I could see certain ex-burbs being abandoned to the underclasses. We will likely see a bizarro world reversal of the suburban white flight of the second half of the 20th Century, with the middle classes and jobs migrating back to the inner city. Ex-urban McMansions will be partitioned into multiple unit slum dwellings, just like the early 20th century wealthy single family brownstones in the old Northeastern cities were transformed turned into dilapidated ghetto apartment buildings. Well, we won't see it. Our children and grand children will see it though.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 6:39:00 AM PST, Blogger bc said...

I think this article is an excellent example of why predicting the future is so hard! If you take a simple trend and apply it uniformly into the future you miss all the subtle interactions which really determine the future.

SO doomers like Kunstler make simplistic extraplations like no oil, no suburbia, no Vegas. Too simple! As JD points out, places like Vegas may be actually be points of growth, not decline.

A feature of suburbia is it relatively spread out. Instead of an Achilles heel, this could be an advantage. Imagine every other house with a windmill or solar powering a local grid. They may become the power sources for nearby cities, which due to lack of space simply cannot host much in the way of renewables.

Hey, I haven't run the numbers, just speculating. The point to keep is that what people expect to happen usually doesn't, and things that were quite unexpected happen instead. You have to follow all the connections, think laterally.

People always thought that the weapon of the future was a beam weapon, like a laser. Well, the "beam generator" is actually great for communications, but lousy as a weapon. Who could possibly have predicted that?

Also, I still don't get why people are so attached to the status quo. A hundred years ago we had no cars,no suburbs, now we do, in hundred years we will probably have something different. So? Rapid change happens, there is absolutely no reason to think we are in a inescapable corner.

James Burke did a great series called "Connections", which showed how completely unlikely (and unpredictable) many of the key events in history were.

The doomers constant refrain reminds of the joke by Eric Morecambe: "now, get out of that without moving!" We can adapt, and we will. It may not be easy, change rarely is, but the possibility are there.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 7:01:00 AM PST, Blogger DesertStarGazer said...

I live in a remote desert area of NW Arizona, and I have been on solar power for almost 10 years. Sure, it's hot in the summer, but with evaporative cooling, and limited use of air conditioning we are able to be comfortable as well as use less energy than the typical family. I don't things will get quite as bad as Kunstler says, but just in case maybe a horse or electric bike would help. Las Vegas could be in trouble if air fares get a lot higher...

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 8:24:00 AM PST, Blogger dub_scratch said...

A feature of suburbia is it relatively spread out. Instead of an Achilles heel, this could be an advantage. Imagine every other house with a windmill or solar powering a local grid. They may become the power sources for nearby cities, which due to lack of space simply cannot host much in the way of renewables.

I consider myself as one that is as optimistic about renewable energy as anyone can reasonably be. But to think we can overcome the energy intensity of suburban car dependency with suburban lots converted into renewable energy farms is just plain silly. It's not even remotely possible to do such a thing.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 9:32:00 AM PST, Blogger allen said...

Anyone have an idea how many square kilometers, miles, rods are covered by one of those Nevada Solar One's?

Reason I ask is that in the Wikipedia entry there's this throw-away line:

"Given Nevada's land and sun resourses the state has the ability of producing more than 600GW using solar thermal concentrators like those that will be used in Nevada Solar One."

According to, Nevada has a total area of 110,567 square miles and a total land area of 109,806 square miles.

According to the Edison Electric Institute, the U.S. had an electrical generating capacity of 1,051,247 megawatts as of 2004.

I think that means we'd need about one and a half Nevadas worth of Solar Ones to equal the installed generating capacity of the U.S.

Given the history of the environmentalist movement, I find it difficult to believe that the spare, natural beauty of an unblemished desertscape would go long undefended against zillions of square miles of solar sprawl or even the first few square miles of solar sprawl.

Hey Chris, long time no see. What's the matter? Don't you love me any more?

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 12:25:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

I guess it kind of depends whether renewable energy develops in a centralized way or a decentralized way. If it's centralized it's good for Phoenix because they'll make money, but bad because it doesn't solve their transport problems. If it's decentralized it's bad for phoenix because they won't make any money but good because they might be more self-sufficient.

I think in the short term Phoenix and Vegas are pretty screwed, not because of air conditioning but because of cars. Can you imagine getting around those places without a car? It's going to be a disaster for property values, and I really wouldn't want to live there right now. But I agree with you we should be more open-minded about the long term. Making predictions is very difficult.

As for water, I heard that Phoenix and Vegas rule the world in water recycling - that's one area where they're ahead. Apparently in Vegas you can only have a cactus garden because gardens are the only use of water that's not recoverable. Some city official said that they could "keep growing vertically forever" — maybe that's the answer.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 2:41:00 PM PST, Blogger nukeengineer said...

yeah, when the airlines fail people are going to walk to Las Vegas to keep the toursim industry afloat, don't ya think?

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 4:18:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

Nice try. So when the heat is more intense the solar power is also the highest. Problem is when it gets real hot the efficiency of solar cells also degrade. And when the sun sets guess you don't need air conditioning any more?

My bet is to provide power for air conditioning of a typical home during the hot summer, it probably require several time bigger surface area than the roof of the house itself. Not a feasible solution.

Arizonians are better off digging holes in the ground and call it their homes. 3 feet underground, the temperature will be spring like all year around. All animals know that for billions of years already. But still how do Las Vegas survive without tourism?

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 5:05:00 PM PST, Blogger Big Jay said...

Don't forget that Phoenix currently is powered by a large nuclear reactor. I'm not sure about Nevada.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 5:09:00 PM PST, Blogger nukeengineer said...

Here's a piece of advice: stick to posts like the ones about "your friend the space heater" because when you venture off as you did here, you really do yourself a disservice.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 7:13:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

So when the heat is more intense the solar power is also the highest. Problem is when it gets real hot the efficiency of solar cells also degrade.

Two words: Solar thermal.

At Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 10:30:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

yeah, when the airlines fail people are going to walk to Las Vegas to keep the toursim industry afloat, don't ya think?

When will the airlines fail? Care to take the acid test and give us a date?

At Wednesday, March 29, 2006 at 10:31:00 AM PST, Blogger Jay Denari said...

I also used to live in Phoenix, and suspect they will have a big problem largely because their economy is still focused on continuing the sprawl. When I was there (1997-2001), they were just starting to talk about a limited rail transit system and had a mediocre bus system (good if you lived in Tempe, awful almost everywhere else), but even today haven't finished building the freeways every other major city finished 20 yrs ago.

IF (a big if) they can get solar up & running soon, I could see the sprawl breaking up into several much more concentrated cities with the outlying areas either migrating inward or away from the heat. I think quantoken's snarky idea about digging homes in the ground is actually a good one; if we can design complex subway systems, I see no reason we can't design livable underground communities. Combine that with building up and a lot of people can be concentrated in a small area.

Energy isn't the major issue, though; WATER is. The desert cities are already drawing more water than the Colorado River supplies, and many of those blue lines you see on any AZ map are dry. Given how far Phoenix is from the ocean, I'm not sure how they'll work their way out of that even with desalination capability. Las Vegas has a better shot b/c of the proximity of Lake Mead (but there you run into the overdrafting the Colorado issue).

I'm also not so sure about them being the leader in water recycling; one huge issue there has always been the golf courses, green lawns, and cotton fields on the outskirts which consume megagallons annually. Although there have been efforts to encourage desert planting for yards, many people import the water-hungry grass and trees from wherever they used to live.

At Thursday, March 30, 2006 at 1:22:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

I think quantoken's snarky idea about digging homes in the ground is actually a good one; if we can design complex subway systems, I see no reason we can't design livable underground communities.

Actually it's already been done, right here in Australia. Coober Pedy is an opal mining town in the middle of the desert. The name is aboriginal for "white man in a hole". Lol.

At Sunday, April 23, 2006 at 3:53:00 PM PDT, Blogger David Grenier said...

For what its worth, I lived in Tucson for a year and a half and only turned on my air conditioner once or twice during that time.

I found the old cliche about it being "a dry heat" to be true. On really hot days I would close the blinds on my little studio apartment and be fine. 105 degree days didn't bother me too much, but a 90 degree day in Rhode Island kills me because of the humidity.

That being said, the sprawl just seemed wierd. Not that we don't have sprawl here in the northeast, but at least the actual cities are dense and vertical. Tucson was nothing but sprawl with no actual city.

At Tuesday, August 29, 2006 at 7:42:00 PM PDT, Blogger Fat Old Man said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tuesday, August 29, 2006 at 7:43:00 PM PDT, Blogger Fat Old Man said...

Why leave out this bit:

"Mandatory caps and potential limits on emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels have also promoted the new technology, industry officials said."



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