Saturday, March 28, 2009

Real World Energy Decisions

Real World Energy Decisions

We must ask ourselves, what do we need materially to live a life of far less energy and earth minerals.

For the first ten years that I lived in the house I built in Central Minnesota, I had no electricity. I cooked with wood and heated with wood. I pumped my water by hand up into a retaining tank on the second floor for gravity feed to the rest of the house. I had a battery-operated radio. I had a solar heated outhouse that was actually only really heated between two and three in the afternoon. All in all, this time was an interesting and wonderful experience with many stories.

I got electricity from the sun and wind for the next 20 years. The first wind generator was massive, built in the 1930s. Putting the tower up was a major experience. The third generator, bought new, nearly burned the house down because of faulty design.
The solar panels worked like a charm.

My use of electricity was about 1kWh a day including the energy to wash clothes weekly in town. Except for the inverter that ran my computer and occasional appliances like a vacuum cleaner or a power saw, all the electrical use in the house was 12 volt, like your car. I had lights (some of which were tail lights for cars), a television, a radio, a 1/2 horsepower motor that ran my pumpjack for water. I had a refrigerator that I installed through the wall with extra insulation on the sides, top and bottom so that during the winter I could use the outside weather for cooling. Again there are many stories of interest and learning.

When I started this adventure I thought I would be the “simple living king of the West”. How na├»ve! My first wood cook stove was made in 1935, I used it daily for over twenty years. It was the product of a backdrop of many industries, workers, materials and energy. The stove is an example that all that we have is part of this earth and human web.

Most homes in United States use 20 kWh or more a day. Our overall use is even higher. This is the point of this story. In 2000, I did an Excel spreadsheet on energy use per capita by all the countries of the world. Ten percent of the people, including us, use 30kWh of electricity or more per capita per day. HALF of the people in the world use 2 kWh or less of electricity each day - over three billion people. And that number is misleading because in a country like Haiti, the poor do not have anywhere near the average per capita use, the bulk goes to the rich.

This spread sheet included petroleum and natural gas. These great differences held for these energy sources too.

Although morals and ethics could enter into these thoughts, as could class inequities, that is not the point. The point is how much do we need to live a decent non-brutish life? This question will and should arise immediately. Presently, most of the global “powers” are trying to maintain the status quo. With diminishing fossil fuels and other mineral resources, with peak oil and other peaking resources, this will only deplete the stock of these nonrenewable resources that much faster. Just as importantly, resource demands have the high potential of fostering war (perhaps of the nuclear kind) since most wars have been about resources in human history.

Petroleum has peaked and is on the down side of producing capacity globally. Much new natural gas supplies in North America are based on methods that endanger our underground water which is far more important for life than fossil fuels. The remaining coal is of lesser quality, requiring more for the energy use and is more polluting.

There is much talk about sustainability. Almost all is aimed at some fantasy of maintaining the status quo. We will all have cars that run on batteries, air, hydrogen, or wishes. We will have snow mobiles, four wheelers, vacations to Las Vegas, ski trips to Vail, basking in Cancun, 2000 square foot houses, horses, lots and lots of service jobs, Burger Kings and golf courses on every corner.

This fantasy will cause great distress, ultimately anger and possibly terrible violence. And it will do so in our lifetime - probably within the decade. We must ask what do we really need and how will we provide the energy and materials for it? We are not kids in a candy store with a credit card. It is a question of maturity.

[In 2000, I took all the countries of the world. I found their population, their petroleum, natural gas and electrical use. Calculating the per capita use for each country, I then rank ordered them form the least to the most. Then I did an accumulation of population from the least to the most divided by the current estimate of world population to find the percentages. Then I could read the spread sheet to tell me what percentage of people used how much of the various energy sources. Very illuminating]

To learn about the energy situation:
Energy for Survival by Wilson Clark
Overshoot by William Catton
Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage by Kenneth S Deffeyes
Eating Fossil Fuels by Dale Allen Pfeiffer
Deep Economy by Bill McKibben
The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler
Twilight in the Desert by Matt Simmons
Party's Over: Oil,War and the Fate of Industrial Societies By Richard Heinberg
Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World by Richard Heinberg
Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil - by David L Goodstein
Energy Basis for Man and Nature by Howard T. Odum, Elisabeth C. Odum
The Fires of Culture by Carol E. Steinhart, John S. Steinhart
A Century of War by William Engdahl

Energy and Human Evolution by David Price
Updated World Oil Forecasts, including Saudi Arabia