Thursday, April 13, 2006


Hacks and propagandists for the fossil fuel industry are fond of saying that renewables only provide a tiny fraction of our energy needs, and thus are not a viable option for the future.

Here's a classic sample from Lee Raymond, former CEO and Chairman of Exxon:
One of the difficulties people have, even some who work in this business, is understanding the scale and size of the energy industry. This is important to understand in order to put in perspective what some of the alternatives are and to judge if they are significant in the context of the whole. There are many alternative forms of energy that people talk about that may be interesting. But they are not consequential on the scale that will be needed, and they may never have a significant impact on the energy balance. To the extent that people focus too much on that — for example, on solar or wind, even though they are not economic — what they are doing is diverting attention from the real issues. And 25 years from now, even with double-digit growth rates, they will still be less than 1 percent of the energy supplied to meet worldwide demand. I am more interested in staying focused on the 99 percent than the 1 percent.Source
This is a load of self-serving corporate PR bullshit. In fact, renewables provide the vast majority of our energy needs, even today, and can very easily provide much much more at almost no cost. Sound unbelievable? I thought so too, because I was brainwashed just like everybody else. Then Rowan from turned me on to Hermann Scheer, a German who is a true genius of energy analysis. Scheer has a more correct way of looking at things which I'll explain for you in my own words.

Consider a simple example. Like most people in Japan, I generally dry my laundry by hanging it out the window. This process uses two renewable energy sources: wind and solar. In the U.S., on the other hand, most people use electric or gas dryers which consume about 1000kwh/year/dryer (about 6% of power consumption in the average household).

The odd thing here is that, when an American dries their clothes with non-renewable energy, the electricity and gas is included in the energy statistics. But when I dry my clothes with renewable energy, the solar and wind isn't included in the statistics. So it's no big surprise that renewables account for a tiny fraction of primary energy. Whenever you use renewables, the statistics don't count it!

If everybody in the U.S. started drying their clothes on the line, or using a laundry rack, you'd have an immediate gain of about 30GWh in renewable energy "production". And it's not like there is a problem with "scaling" or bad economics here. The cost of switching to renewable clothes drying is about $20. The payback time on your investment in a clothesline/rack is about a month.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Another obvious example is Africa. Most energy needs in Sub-Saharan Africa are met with renewable solar and biomass, but that somehow doesn't count as "real energy". That's because it's only real when Lee Raymond and his country club* cronies make money on it.

Here's some more examples from Scheer's book The Solar Economy:
Heating needs met from solar collectors or from wood burning stoves, houses positioned for maximum solar gain, conservatories, transparent insulation, double glazing, exploitation of the heat input from the human bodies living or working in the building, heat exchangers, exploitation of none of these solar heating gains find their way into the energy statistics.

Further examples: people need artificial light from sunset to sunrise; during the daytime, the sun meets lighting needs. The need for artificial light is lower when the days are long than when the days are short. The difference in electricity demand between these two times of year is an indication of the proportion of lighting needs that is met by the sun.

These energy inputs are ignored because they are taken for granted, yet they are of great practical importance. These is considerable scope for energy conservation through using town planning to maximize solar gain, and through architectural features and additional 'daylighting' technology that allows a maximum amount of daylight into the building. Nevertheless energy statistics take no account of energy-conscious planning and design. The same can be said for the replacement of cooling systems powered by diesel motors or grid electricity with natural cooling and flexible shading.

The inadequacy of energy statistics also extends to the figures for electricity consumption: what does not flow through the grid does not get counted. Not a single form of autonomous energy generation is recognized in the energy statistics! Yet the range of autonomous systems extends from wristwathes to pocket calculators, from water pumps to autonomous houses with no grid connection, from solar lamps to street signs lit using PV, from solar battery charges to the solar home systems in developing country villages and small-scale wind turbines. This list could be extended indefinitely, both for heating and for electricity. It includes sun-dried crops, irrigation windmills, biological fertilizers, cycling, solar-powered boats and more many more examples of how fossil fuel consumption can be avoided or replaced.


These blind spots mean that energy statistics oriented toward commercial piped energy can only provide a fragmentary and thus wholly inadequate understanding of energy. They obscure the fact that, notwithstanding massive consumption of fossil fuel and nuclear energy, the sun is still humankind's largest single energy source.


With current data-collection practices, theoretically it would be possible to replace more than half of all fossil energy consumption with solar technology without significantly increasing the statistically observable proportion of energy demand met from renewable sources. (P. 141-143)
So this whole bit about renewables making up only a tiny fraction of the energy pie is nothing but accounting chicanery -- just what you'd expect from the greedy, polluting scumbags who run Exxon.

Kinda makes you want to do a lab-rat experiment on Lee Raymond. We place Lee in a world without energy supplied by the sun and the wind. Just switch the sun off, and let Lee take care of business with fossil fuels from Exxon. As the food shrivels and the temperature plummets, Lee shouldn't have much trouble. After all, the sun and the wind are just small-scale, insignificant energy sources which "may never have a significant impact on the energy balance".
*) When I say "country club", I do mean country club:
A proxy statement filed by Exxon with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday disclosed that the former chairman Lee Raymond received a compensation package worth about $140 million last year, including cash, stock, options and a pension plan. He is also still entitled to stock, options and long-term compensation worth at least another $258 million.

The total sum paid to Raymond amounts to at least $398 million and is among the biggest US compensation bonanzas ever. [...]

Exxon's board also agreed to pay Raymond's country club fees, allow him to use the company aircraft and pay him another $1 million to stay on as a consultant for another year. Mr. Raymond agreed to reimburse Exxon partly when he uses the company jet for personal travel.


The company [Exxon] also paid $210,800 for Mr. Raymond's country club fees, financial planning and tax assistance services. It also provided two years of protection for Raymond and his wife, including paying for a security system for his principal residence, security personnel, a car and a driver.Source

Lee Raymond, poster boy for disgusting rich people

Yes, if you hear anything coming out of Lee's grotesque oral cavity, you can be pretty sure it's just the greed talking.
-- by JD


At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 7:08:00 AM PDT, Blogger Jon said...

I think that Canada runs on about 40-60% hydro. According to the wikipedia ( Quebec is almost 100% hydro.

Alberta is 2.2% wind and 7.4% hydro.

Those figures seem a bit more than 'tiny'. Throw a few nukes in there and we could easily be green. I guess a 33 million population has it's advantages...

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 9:39:00 AM PDT, Blogger Big Jay said...

This is where it gets somewhat complicated. Architects and home builders don't have much of an incentive up front to build homes & buildings that tap into these renewable sources. Natural gas companies don't have an incentive to promote technologies that don't involve a constant stream of revenue to their bottom line.

People (Americans & Africans) don't like doing their laundry and hanging it out to dry, it is much easier to chuck them in the dryer and push the button. (Although it isn't hard to picture a 'hybrid' clothes dryer that uses hot air from outside if its available, or burns natural gas if it isn't available.)

Where is the widespread use of passive solar technology? It requires more of a site by site design for buildings and homes rather than the copy and paste approach architects currently use. Any architects out there that can verify what I just said?

Where is the widespread adoption of massive amounts of insulation (which almost always pays for itself in less than 3 years, besides making homes more comfortable.

For that matter, when was the last time you spoke to an insulation contractor who told you that blown in cellulose insulation was superior to fiberglass insulation? They won't tell you that because fiberglass is easier to install. (Blown in cellulose handles air infiltration much better, has a slightly better -not much- R-value, and blocks noise transmission better than fiberglass.)

One extremely useful (to society) thing would be to work with the pulte homes, ivory homes, centex homes of the world and design a good house that incorporates natural energies (wind, solar, etc...) into the design. It has to be proven that companies like this actually sell more homes that way. There is an unbelievable amount of inertia to be overcome.

It seriously makes me tired just thinking about it. The levels of red tape to get through. Code inspectors, slow adoption of new technology from construction managers and architects, and even worse problems from a demand side. I've got some ideas on how it can be overcome, but man oh man. Who has the time.

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 11:26:00 AM PDT, Blogger Tom said...

I feel the need to de-lurk.

I've been reading this blog for a couple months now, partly because I'm interested in what's happening with our energy supply, but mostly because I so enjoy watching the debate about a subject that has no simple answers.

Anyhow, I just wanted to offer a data point and debunk a false conclusion in an earlier comment.

We heat our basement with wood harvested from the back yard (we have a large wooded lot, so this is sustainable). If we used the furnace to heat the basement, it probably would use an extra 100 gallons of oil per year, compared to the 400 or so we already use in a typical year, so I figure we're heating with 20% renewable energy. But in the official statistics, this only shows up as 401 gallons (400 for the furnace, 1 for the chain saw) of non-renewable energy.

I feel compelled to point out some seriously flawed logic:

Which just goes to prove the peak oil crowd's point. Once you take away the input of fossil fuels our standard of living will plummet to be something comparable to today's average african.

Yes, Africa is poor and doesn't use much fossil fuel. That does not PROVE that one causes the other.

If it did, I could make the sun rise by forcing a rooster to crow.

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 12:25:00 PM PDT, Blogger Tate said...

We can have free energy and a perpetual motion machine. Finite oil is a weak and inconvenient energy source. There are lots of other energy sources. How much energy does it take to dream? And if we can dream, can't we create? And productivity goes up just like that. It is all possible, easily and magically, if only we debunk Peak Oil.

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 2:01:00 PM PDT, Blogger GermanDom said...

By the way:
sugar prices, dear Roland
You might want to look at this too, JD, since your post on food prices stopped before 2006. Sugar has MORE THAN doubled in price since last sommer. Chart technicals are also very bullish:
financial sense

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 2:05:00 PM PDT, Blogger GermanDom said...

try again:

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 2:13:00 PM PDT, Blogger GermanDom said...

And now for coal prices which have not quite doubled in the time that oil has risen about 2.5 times.

No, the prices are not directly correlated. Just almost.

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 2:32:00 PM PDT, Blogger GermanDom said...

And now for copper, which has risen 350% since summer of 2003. (the graph is only for about the last year, where a doubling has occured.)

And Uranium's price has quadrupled.

Do you think these prices are somehow related to each other?

What do you think, Joe, is CTL the future, even if we were to allow it to destroy the environment?

Or do the markets think we are perhaps already past peak?

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 6:07:00 PM PDT, Blogger JD said...

Which just goes to prove the peak oil crowd's point. Once you take away the input of fossil fuels our standard of living will plummet to be something comparable to today's average african.

diemos, I personally use almost no fossil fuel at all. I don't drive. I do all my heating with a small electric space heater. I use small amounts of natural gas to cook, wash the dishes and shower. That's it. Ideally I could cook electrically, and shift most of my hot water needs to passive solar heating. Even now, I probably use about 1/10 the energy of the average American, and I could easily improve on that. Nevertheless, I live a very comfortable, first world, high-tech lifestyle in a futuristic metropolis which looks like Blade Runner. So clearly there is no connection between using less fossil fuels and reverting to a third world lifestyle. If you *need* to guzzle fossil fuels to live a first world lifestyle, it would be impossible for people like me to exist.

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 9:37:00 PM PDT, Blogger Big Jay said...

I just read that interview. Lee Raymond is one slick mofo. I'd say that 99 people out of 100 would be eating out of his hand after sitting through an interview with him.

His point of view is coming from a completely different world than someone like Hermann Scheer. A resource to Lee Raymond, is only a resource if it is fungible. You can't go and freely exchange btu's from your passive solar house, if your house is warm and your neighbors isn't (or vice versa). But you can freely exchange btu's in the form of coal, oil, or natural gas. It's hard to harness market forces on non-fungible goods and services.

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 9:39:00 PM PDT, Blogger Big Jay said...

sameu, do you have a link for where one can buy a micro wind turbine?

At Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 10:56:00 PM PDT, Blogger Joe said...


Good info on coal prices... I hadn't realized how much they had risen. However, although it would be great if prices stayed this high from an environmental viewpoint, basic economics says they won't.

Coal is not really linked with oil, it is however linked strongly with natural gas. They compete with each other as a fuel for producing electricity. Natural gas prices have risen a lot over the past few years. Utilities therefore have upped their demand for coal and coal prices have risen.

However, lately natural gas prices have flattened out and even trended downward. If gas prices decrease at all then many of the older, inefficient coal burning plants will not be able to compete with the new higly efficient gas powered plants. Utilities will use less coal. Lower demand for coal = lower prices.

We'll see, but I would bet that coal prices will continue the decline that they appear to have started in your graphs.

At Friday, April 14, 2006 at 1:21:00 AM PDT, Blogger GermanDom said...

Well, JD,
I do all my heating with a small electric space heater. I use small amounts of natural gas to cook, wash the dishes and shower.

You don't sound like someone who hates cars. You sound like a bachelor. I know many young men, usually students, who could live with less than 40ft2, as long as they have a computer in the corner (laptop on the bed?). My lifestyle looked like yours too, til I got married. Now I've got the horse AND carriage. OK, we've given up the car, but that's also because my wife goes shopping with her baby buggy - even though the "babies" are too big for it. Our neighbors all feel very sorry for us, but wonder where we get the money to fix up/insulate the house...

Oh, are you still allowing yourself to shower? Very "wasteful American" of you;-)

At Friday, April 14, 2006 at 1:43:00 AM PDT, Blogger GermanDom said...

You're probably right, that different resources will have different price developments. Why did sugar, for instance, take so long to start rising in price? Why is uranium skyrocketting, even though there are not suddely 1000 more nuclear stations which have come on line in the last 3 years? Uranium is certainly not directly related to oil.

NEVERTHELESS - somehow, it is all connected. Whether the price of mining is rising, or the Chinese are buying too much, or George W made a speach about ethanol - in the end, the correlation will most certainly be partially relative to oil.

I wouldn't bet on falling coal prices. Same argument as above. Gas and coal may be AT THE MOMENT competing with each other, ie correlate in price. IN THE LONG RUN, the question is: What alternatives do we have? As an alternative - as more hybrids are put on the road, using more electricity than gasoline, for instance - more coal will be used. Same argument for CTL. Prices will rise. Miners in China will die. (Oops, sorry, did I just sound like a doomer?-)

BTW, these are price developments BEFORE peak, right? (Although IMHO 2005 was actually the year.) What will it look like after peak? Has anyone been keeping up on the Big Mac Index (Think its published by The Economist)?

At Friday, April 14, 2006 at 1:52:00 AM PDT, Blogger GermanDom said...

And Joe,
although it would be great if prices stayed this high from an environmental viewpoint, basic economics says they won't.

"Basic economics" assumes that you know all elements which go into making a price. We don't. Besides, whose basic economics are you talking about - subsidized by the US Gov.? Supply side? Austrian? If basic economics could be applied to a world where resources begin dwindling (as peakers falsly call "supply not keeping up with demand") then there would hardly be a reason to talk about prices on a blog like this, now, would there?

At Friday, April 14, 2006 at 3:26:00 AM PDT, Blogger JD said...

Oh, are you still allowing yourself to shower? Very "wasteful American" of you;-)

Actually, Dom, I could easily cut that out too. There's a public bath near my apartment.

Did you know that in Japan the whole family bathes in the same bath water? They run the hot water in a deep tub, and each family member bathes one after another in the same hot water. They wash themselves beforehand with water from the tub so the water doesn't get dirty. They even put a board over the top of the tub between users to keep the warmth in. It's a good way to warm up before bed in homes without central heating.

And yes, the Americans are generally a bunch of wasteful oafs and pigs. They pay no attention to detail. That's why those quaint little BTU-pinching Japanese guys from Toyota are kicking the cellulite-pocked ass of losers like GM.

At Friday, April 14, 2006 at 9:43:00 AM PDT, Blogger Big Jay said...

JD said:
>And yes, the Americans are generally >a bunch of wasteful oafs and pigs. >They pay no attention to detail. >That's why those quaint little >BTU-pinching Japanese guys from >Toyota are kicking the >cellulite-pocked ass of losers like >GM.
It's comments like the above that keep me coming back to this blog.

But JD, DOM has a point. I was a wilderness survival trail guide for a year (about 5 years ago). I learned that you can live without much modern convenience, very little food and shelter, and still be happy sleeping under a juniper tree at night. You do sound like a bachelor. There are a lot of things that I could personally deal with just fine but would be exponentially more miserable with kids under the age of 12 and younger. Selling convenience works, which is one reason Americans are so wasteful. Solutions to peak oil have to take into account the fact that different people need to be persuaded to conserve fossil fuels in different ways. Solutions that make sense to me, and that I would personally implement, won't necessarily fly with my wife who has to put up with our two rugrats all day.

In a way, its good that there are those doomer scenarios out there. "Do you want your children to be eating other children? Better conserve fossil fuels!"

At Friday, April 14, 2006 at 10:15:00 AM PDT, Blogger Tom said...

JD - I think Americans do pay attention to detail, but companies such as GM do not. Toyota is doing well here precisely because Americans are paying attention to the details.

At Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 11:22:00 PM PDT, Blogger shanmao said...

JD, you wrote: "I personally use almost no fossil fuel at all. I don't drive. I do all my heating with a small electric space heater. I use small amounts of natural gas to cook, wash the dishes and shower. That's it. Ideally I could cook electrically, and shift most of my hot water needs to passive solar heating."

All the above activities require oil inputs.

At Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at 2:53:00 AM PDT, Blogger Roger Nome said...

JD - this post totally misses the point - it's all about the EREIO of these alternatives - thatis, their cost efficiency. If it's low, then price will be high and demand low = less energy in the economy = smaller economy.

At Monday, June 11, 2007 at 9:19:00 AM PDT, Blogger Caseygrl said...

I am unable to buy a hybrid, but I try to conserve in other ways. I live with my parents (cheap....can't afford rent right now) We live in a small town in Florida, with most places within 10 miles from us (could bike to them, i'm working up to it. I can do 3 1/2 miles and counting). I don't make pointless car trips, if i'm out, i combine all of my errands and errands for my parents, if needed. We buy the energy efficient light bulbs and when i'm not in my room, all of my electronics and lights are off. And when no one is upstairs or whatever, we turn the air conditioner up. But I agree, renewables do make up more then the statistics show. We can probably thank gwb for that, and the fact that he likes to eat out of the hands of the oil companies

At Thursday, September 6, 2007 at 8:24:00 AM PDT, Blogger UrbanIndiaThoughts said...

Big Jay, Although sensible and creative environmentally friendly building design can probably improve energy use efficiency by 3-4 times (an intelligent guess), many homes today have features that are probably inadequately used for energy efficiency : windows, doors and open areas. By opening and closing windows and doors at the right time vis-a-vis a desirable temperature for inside, a difference of 4-6 degrees centigrade can be achieved. Chiks on the outside and curtains on the inside add to the insulation. Open spaces around the house can simmilarly be used to cool/heat the house by providing shade areas or trapping heat from the sun. Plants around the house can also contribute to cooling. Within the house desert coolers and room heaters can do a good job without always resorting to the more expensive airconditioning. Finally, open spaces around the house can be incorporated into work and play areas to take advantage of times when the outside temperatures are more congenial. Last but not the least water use in household functions can be minimized - short showers, watering of plants and cleaning of cars using buckets rather than hosepipes. These are not academic suggestions. We have followed this lifestyle for years with possibly a better quality of life than many of our friends and neighbours - owing to a lot of fresh air and being in the sun that this lifestyle entails !

At Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 9:15:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am amazed and infuriated that there is another kind of waste, that rarely gets mentioned.
I'll admit that I am an enthusiast of old,but easily restorable old cars.
sure,some are rather big, but to completely destroy these good old cars, in an age where we are constantly told to conserve rescourses, realise that to destroy one medium sized 6 cylinder car,such as a Volvo 264,then make a new model uses MORE rescources than keeping that car in well maintained use for ten years.
I saw 2 perfectly restoreable cars only this afternoon, on a dump tray truck, ready to go to the crushers.I felt sick.Especially with the increasing practice of sending these "wrecks" many with at least 50% of tire wear left, left on the vehicle and all is simply melted down.The trditional way of junking of old cars ,at least involved taking each car to the car dismantlers, selling the many good usable parts to indivdual customers, to fit onto another car of same make and model to help keep those otherwise good cars usable. Only after say, three months, later, would they send the remains of the car to the crushers. Talk about greenhouse gasses!
Burning rubber is one of the greatest carcinogens known to man.And where is so much of it exported to?
The air in Beging is filthy and there is to be the site of the Olympic Games,insane or what?
A good example of this consevation is by Ford Argentina where people have been keeping their old cars, for a long time, in many cases retro-fitting devices for modern safety, comfort, convenience, mechanical modifactions to improve fuel efficiency.
Or even when a bunch of cars were really run-down barely worth restoring, Ford Argentina would keep until at least 1989, the same shape as the Ford Falcons of 1960 that were built in the USA or Australia.Tooling, especially for the major panels,requiring huge and heavy stampers also uses enormous amounts of energy ,for what?
That's also what I appreciate about the traditional Volkswagen Beetles, minimal changes for decades, also the 140/160
240/260 Volvo cars.A car with among other things, a proven primary and secondary safety record, reasonable performance, and the tough looking shape actually being safer.Some of us actually like that shape!
But seriously, once again it seems that the world has largely stopped any bridging the gap between the rich and poor and in the develpoed world this corporate greed is widening this gap ,here as well.
Only by mass boycotts, protests,whatver it takes will stop this cancerous rot from ruining the lives of all but the richest,say, 5% of even the developed world's population,let alone places like Africa.

At Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at 10:32:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's another example of a renewable-powered system of considerable size: most water systems and sewer systems are primarily gravity-fed rather than pumped, because its more reliable and cheaper. How did the water get uphill in the first place? Rain clouds, powered by solar energy.

At Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 2:56:00 AM PDT, Blogger Alexandre Costa said...

LOL your post made me laugh! I make mine the words of diemos, the first poster.

Shure let's live only on renewables like those people in Africa! let's! Live in huts, grow our own food and earn a misery as a salary. Send 'our' SUVs to the garbage and let's live on renewables! Are you becomming a doomer??! :p


Post a Comment

<< Home