Global Energy Transformation

Is a global transformation away from coal (the main source for our electricity) and oil (the main fuel for our transportation) vitally necessary? Given the scale and scope of the modern global economy and the energy systems that drive it, will this transformation be the largest, most dramatic, and profound change to Humanity's mutually interdependent energy and political-economic systems in history? If so, how do we facilitate and manage this epochal transformation?

Many analyses show that most of the cheap oil and coal have been harvested and burned. As we respond by shifting to ever more difficult to harvest sources, it is almost certain that the price of fossil fuel energy will continue rising at an increasing rate. Therefore, a global transformation to new energy sources appears inevitable. If the transformation is delayed, the abruptness of price increases as we exhaust the ever declining reserves portend wrenching consequences.

The scientific consensus warns that fossil fuel consumption is dangerously increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide which have already warmed the planet and could significantly and rapidly change Earth's climate. If the threat proves to be as dangerous as some of the dire warnings project, we will regret not having started the global energy transformation with alacrity yesterday.

Since 2006, US oil energy consumption has been decreasing. Wind energy is the fastest growing source of new energy production worldwide. Is the global energy transformation already underway? How might it emerge and develop?

Assuming we all agree that global energy transformation is desirable and/or inevitable, how do we manage this change? Can it be done in 10 years? What would it take? What can you do to help? What do you need to know so that you are not harmed by the roiling changes to our global energy system which seem to be afoot?

Dian Grueneich suggests that the transformation requires the retrofitting of nearly every residential and commercial building to achieve massive energy efficiency improvements. When are you planning to retrofit your house or business to dramatically reduce your energy consumption?

Throughout history epochal change in the energy profile of a society has had profound impacts for its people and its economy (for example when humanity started using fire or in the middle ages when water and wind power was tapped to replace animal power which competed for limited cropland and prepared the path to the industrial revolution spurred by the transformation to coal). Will the current transformation introduce a new era in the history of civilization? What might be the character of this new era?

Jeannie and I recently earned "statements of accomplishment" in the excellent on-line course Global Sustainable Energy: Past, Present and Future with Wendell A. Porter of the University of Florida.

We are also planning to "take" Energy 101 with Michael Webber at University of Texas at Austin which starts on September 15th (the week after this meetup).

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  • CJ F.

    Last year the US used less energy than we did in 1999!!! Despite economic growth of 25%!! The 21st century may be the moment in human history when global energy use starts to decline after some 2 million years of ever increasing use of energy! This could be big. What do you think?

    This OpEd in the NY Times explains the trends and recommends how to keep improving them.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/13/opinion/how-we-learned-not-to-guzzle.html

    1 · September 13, 2013

    • Janet H.

      That's wonderful news!!! Makes me feel a lot more hopeful about energy conservation.

      1 · September 13, 2013

  • CJ F.

    In case someone wants a video to watch tonight, David Goldstein's 1 hour talk "What SUVs Could Learn From Refrigerators" is great. Watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjaEGJzhwWA

    Goldstein's plan includes mandatory standards to encourage performance-based compliance, regular increases in energy efficiency, reduction in regulatory restrictions on compact and mixed use development, and enhanced transit and other non-auto infrastructure. In particular, Goldstein argues for efficiency standards. He said, "If you establish a real market in energy efficiency through performance-based standards and through financial incentives and keep them continuous (which we didn't quite succeed in refrigerators, but we came close), you'll get continuous improvements in technology that drive down the costs every year."

    Watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjaEGJzhwWA

    September 7, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      We all seem to think that matters of human affairs are fully the realm of opinion. Those who hold that opinion are wrong. The data shows this to be wrong. And the fact that the power elite is ignoring this does not make the ignorance any less ignorant. Sorry if this sounds strident. Krugman makes me look lame. And he is right about the matters he chooses to weigh in on.

      September 10, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      But to complicate matters further. Consider another NYT and PBS commentator -- David Brooks. Supposedly a conservative. Surely less strident and more polite than Krugman. Much to be learned from him. But not because he is a nicer person (although he is). Rather, what all of us -- left or right -- should learn from Brooks is hubris. The arrogance of certainty that our well constructed logical edifices are beyond repute. They are not. Remember, Einstein versus Newton. We all learn Newtonian physics in middle school and, hopefully more rigorously, in high school. Then we hit Einstein and find out Newton was right only under special circumstances. Hubris. Grand claims can be wrong. But there is way of going about showing this. Opinion is NOT enough. Better argument and corroborating evidence is required. Brooks gives that kind of balance in the social world. Read him.

      September 10, 2013

  • CJ F.

    I loved the energetic discussion. Almost everyone got to voice almost all concerns. It can't get much better than that.

    Even though Wendell Porter's "Global Sustainable Energy: Past, Present and Future" course is over (it is impossible to earn a statement of accomplishment as Jeannie and I did until it is offered again), you can still sign up for the course at https://www.coursera.org/course/globalenergy

    If you do, skip module0, the quizzes and the assignments. But look through the other modules (1-11). In addition to Porter's good videos, there are lots of PDF & URL resources to understand both the urgent need for Global Energy Transformation and to imagine how it might happen (and is happening) as well as tips on how you can start a little transformation in your own life.

    As I said other then the grueling last two assignments, the course was excellent. And truth be told I got a lot out of that grueling work too.

    September 8, 2013

  • Maribel C.

    Sorry guys. My glasses broke on the way to starbucks. Looking for a place to fix them. I hope to make it to the next one.

    September 8, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Wendell Porter suggested these resources to help with the global petroleum transformation:

    Car Talk's fun guide to fuel economy: http://www.cartalk.com/content/guide-better-fuel-economy

    eHow pointers: http://www.ehow.com/how_6505122_increase-mpg-cars.html

    A report about NASA's effort to reduce fuel in airplanes: http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/02/nasas-11-million-green-flight-challenge-begins-pay/

    Edmunds actually tested what saves fuel: http://www.edmunds.com/fuel-economy/we-test-the-tips.html

    Wikihow has good tips: http://www.wikihow.com/Increase-Fuel-Mileage-on-a-Car

    The department of energy shows how much is saved by driving slower: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/data/10312

    The bottom line is that you can save a lot of money and reduce our oil consumption with some simple steps!

    September 6, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      So, as stated some days ago, I believe the fossil fuels regime has been a stable energy regime because: (1) It continues to provide energy at a cheaper price to indivudals than other alternatives. (2) The cost of moving to an alterntive energy infrastructure is cost-prohibitive to individual producers and consumers. (3) The logic that produces tragedies of the commons makes it difficult for individuals to forgo the short-term economic benefits of fossil fuels in order to achieve the long-term environmental benefits of any non-fossil fuel altenatives. These three claims obtain as the logical consequences of individuals making rational self-interested choices under conditions in which they have private property rights and in which their main goal is personal economic self-improvement.

      September 7, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      So, if you want to disrupt the stability of the fossil fuels regime and move to another, then you have to dsrupt the underlying causes for the current regime's stability. This is where your point, CJ, about culture becomes quite relevant. If economic self-interest can be attenuated as a motivating goal within the culture, then rational individuals will not necessarily make the choices that sustain the current energy regime. I think this will be terriblly difficult to accomplish. But it is not impossible given sufficient commitment and self-sacrifice by committed activists. I mentioned earlier the example of the civil rights movement. Perhaps imperfect. But an excellent example of a civil society movement that achieved significant changes in both the culture of blatant racism and in the ugly Jim Crow public policies of oppression. I believe a nontrivial effort of this kind will be needed to take on the transformation in energy regimes you seem to support.

      September 7, 2013

  • CJ F.

    A human can do about 75 W (watts) of work for a sustained 8 hour day or about 600 Wh/day = 0.6 kWh/day. A small car represents roughly[masked] energy slaves: just to go to the store to buy a gallon of milk!

    Inspired by the U Florida course, I went to the EIA site (http://www.eia.gov) and gathered Total Primary Energy Consumption & Population data to calculate energy slaves per capita for the whole world (full & detailed analysis with programming code: http://www.cjfearnley.com/Data.Analysis.PLUG.July2013.pdf).

    See a 1 page table of the 27 countries in the world with less than 6 energy slaves available per capita (ECon = Energy Consumption in quadrillion BTU, PC = per capita, HS = human energy slave units, OS = oxen slaves): http://www.cjfearnley.com/energy.slaves.pdf

    On a per capita basis Americans consume 424 energy slaves per year! There are huge disparities in energy consumption and energy slaves per capita. Global energy transformation requires addressing this disparity.

    September 7, 2013

    • CJ F.

      We will not be doing math at the discussion tomorrow. But energy units like watts, horsepower, and BTUs will be mentioned. I will explain what they mean as best I can.

      September 7, 2013

  • CJ F.

    How can we transform our electricity sector off of coal? I'm not talking about the finance and the politics, what are the concrete things that need to be done? How do we engineer adequate electricity without coal? Here are some resources:

    1 page factsheet about energy efficient appliances: http://www.southface.org/factsheets/11appliances.pdf

    4 pages about energy efficient homes: http://www.southface.org/factsheets/17sav_nrg$.pdf

    11 page report on 4Q 2012 AWEA Wind Industry Report: http://awea.files.cms-plus.com/FileDownloads/pdfs/AWEA%20Fourth%20Quarter%20Wind%20Energy%20Industry%20Market%20Report_Executive%20Summary.pdf

    Biomass Basics: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/renewables/biomass.asp

    Geothermal: http://geo-energy.org/pressReleases/GEA2012_IndustryReport_release.aspx

    76 page Photovoltaics Outlook: http://www.epia.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Publications/Global-Market-Outlook-2016.pdf

    Hydrokinetics: http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=8210

    September 5, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Conskder two very different politicians. Lenin and Martin Luther King. B

      September 6, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      One shot his way into power. the other used moral weaponry to change a society. Both were highly effective. Both were extremely realistic about the nature of their opponents and about the social context within which they operated. That realism had much to do with their success.. They both serve as good examples of how one thinks through problems in order to achieve particular political goals,

      September 6, 2013

  • CJ F.

    To put the energy transformation into perspective, it is helpful to start with a short History of Energy. What better place to go for that than the Franklin Institute: http://www.fi.edu/learn/case-files/energy.html

    The Union of Concerned Scientists have another good short history of energy: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/a-short-history-of-energy.html

    September 4, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      We should refrain from difficult issues if we do not wish to explore them in the required depth. That said, yes, you did need a particular structure of property rights and political control in the Middle Ages for wind mills. They were NOT spontaneous. They required planned capital investment. Interestingly, that investment took place in the Netherlands. As I am sure we know, the Netherlands was the first territory in Europe to move out of the muck of agrarian feudal property relations and into modern capitalism. And it dies this

      September 5, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      And it did this through a consolidation of power into the modern nation state. The patchwork of feudal fiefdoms that constituted Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire made most European territories ill-suited to plan and take the risks necessary for windmills. The nation-state and capitalist markets changed incentives and made such innovations possible.

      September 5, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Wendell Porter in the Global Sustainable Energy course made perhaps the most cutting remark when he observed that even if Earth was full of oil, we'd eventually run out! He also identified a number of important documents about Peak Oil:

    A succinct overview can be found in Resilience.org's "Peak Oil Primer" (http://www.resilience.org/info/primer).

    Robert Hirsch's 2005 DOE report "Peaking Of World Oil Production:
    Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management" (http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/others/pdf/oil_peaking_netl.pdf) is the most thorough and balanced assessment provided by the course.

    A sobering assessment is given in Kurt Cobb's essay "How changing the definition of oil has deceived both policymakers and the public" (http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-changing-definition-of-oil-has.html). Cobb suggests that oil peaked in 2005!

    September 2, 2013

    • CJ F.

      During the course, I wrote a computer program to compute the Export Land Model (ELM) graphs for Mexico (http://www.cjfearnley...­), Venezuela (http://www.cjfearnley...­), and Norway (http://www.cjfearnley...­). As you can see, those countries become oil importing nations (currently they export oil) in 2020, 2035, and 2045 respectively. My program estimated growth rates by averaging the previous 5 years production and consumption data.

      The results are pretty scary when you realize that oil producing nation after oil producing nation will become an importer as time goes on! There was a time in the distant past when the US and Indonesia were oil exporters (Indonesia was a founding member of OPEC but has long since been kicked out). Ancient history now. How many countries need to switch from exporter to importer status before we see the writing on the wall?

      September 3, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      @CJ. If we are going to make progress on issues like this, we cannot ask rhetorical questions like "how long before we see the writing on the wall?" Joan Baez is not our salvation. People will see the light when they cannot afford to make the choice between filling the tank or paying the mortgage / rent. Like $15/gallon at the pump. That will get folks to see the light. Instead of feel-good platitudes, we need smart street politics. Think the civil rights movement.

      September 3, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    This sounds like another idea that requires personal transformation x millions of people -- or a a government bureaucracy to manage by fiat. Good luck on either approach. Here is an idea that would require all of us to put our money where our well-intentioned mouths are: Urge your members of Congress to impose a $10/gallon federal excise gas on oil. The resulting price would immediately make alternative forms of energy economically attractive. This would, in turn, produce -- consistently -- the millions of decision required by consumers and producers to opt for products powered by non-fossil fuel alternatives. It is simply NOT good enough to wax poetically on the evils of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels persist in the market place because they are substanitally cheaper than other alternatives. They will resmain so until they truly become scarce. Or until we take measures -- such as an excise tax -- to drive up their cost. Do we have the brass to support such a tax?

    September 2, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      @CJ. Given what we know about human behavior and about markets, an extreme tax would work. (See arguments elsewhere in this thread). The difficult question entails obtaining political support. In my view, this where leadership comes into play. You need leaders that are utterly frank about the lack of an easy way out. You need those leaders to lay out the various options. And you need them to dismantle systematically all options save one (much as I have tried to do here). And then push this message relentlessly and build a coalition of support around it.

      September 3, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Don't expect such leadership from Obama. He doesn't even have the brass to launch a simple air strike against a third-rate tinpot dictator without getting permission from 535 bickering adolescents who can't even manage to vote for normal appropriations bills or to confirm relatively low-level bureaucrats. The required leadership is going to have to come from civil society -- much like the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

      September 3, 2013

  • Lee D.

    Wish I could come but I have a prior commitment.

    1 · August 30, 2013

  • Bob B.

    Ill be there unless the oil companies Shanghai and kidnap me first. : )

    1 · August 26, 2013

  • Jean S.

    Interesting topic. As I look around at the Smartphones, tablets, I'pod's, cell phones, etc, no one has come up with an efficient way to make a battery that lasts without recharging. Looking at the global undertaking to transform the use of power seems impossible on any reasonable level. If we can't harness enough energy to power a AAA battery, who is going to come up with the idea of how to power the lights in the Empire State Building?

    August 25, 2013

    • CJ F.

      Jean, speaking of the Empire State Building, did you hear about the major energy savings retrofit that was completed last year? The cut energy usage by 38% and thereby saved $4.4 million per year! That is the kind of epochal change that it needed. Read more about it here http://blog.rmi.org/b...­

      Battery technology improves very slowly, unfortunately. But it is improving incrementally. Right now we are "swimming" in energy efficient technology that people and businesses do not deploy because they incorrectly believe the savings will not be as big as they will be.

      August 26, 2013

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