900,000 GW Hours

Editor’s note: This post is not an upbeat snippet about potatoes or optimistic take on community activism.  Rather, it about some of the numerical realities of Peak Oil… and its DARK.

There are lots of good reasons that I should not be reading The Oil Drum immediately before bed.  One of them happens to be that it typically reduces my actual sleep time by 20% as I say awake trying to wrap my head around staggering statistics and their import.  Today, unfortunately, is a great example.  I can’t sleep – its the same feeling you have when you hear something go bump in the night, only I am having a hard time saying “oh, …its nothing”.

Jeffvail has a new post in tonight that is a first installment in his attempt to put some hard numbers behind the “we’ll just switch to renewables” plan that is common on the Left and in DC these days. I won’t get into retyping his post, reading it yourself is much preferred.  Instead I will leave you with the one morsel that will be keeping me up tonight.  Jeff is using nice round numbers, and siding optimistically more often than not, but his goal is to see what it will take to simply offset the energy lost from the declining availability of oil as we slide down the far side of Hubbert’s Peak by converting to renewables.  Jeff puts that figure at about 5% attrition as a round number which has historical precedent, and then converts the current Oil  use in the world into BTU’s for lack of a better unit, and then finally converts that into electricity as that is what renewables are good at.  The result of offsetting 5% of our current annual oil use with elecricity?  900,000 GW hours.  

Lets put that into a measurement that we are used to seeing on our monthly bills: KWH.  900,000,000,000 KWH.  Frankly that is a number too big to even comprehend – the incredilbe energy density of oil, on top of the almost incomprehensible amount of it we use every day is one of the reasons it is hard to get your noodle around.  So I tried to convert it into how many gasifiers we would need to build to make that much electricity since we can make 40,000 KWH each.  Yep LOTS better – we only need to build 2.25 billion gasifiers and cut down 3.5 milllion square miles of willow coppice annually to power them.  And that is only to replace what we are losing each year, i.e. we have to build that many EACH YEAR just to maintain our energy status quo.  That also means we will need to build 1000% more PV and Wind generators than we did in 2008 (the current record holder) and then do it EVERY year, for the next 40-50 years.  Considering the best PV is only getting 15 watts per sq ft that is an amazing amount of area to cover.

Conservation and efficiency gains you ask?  We can only pray that it offset the dual demographic pressures of rising population and the desire of the Third World to drive an F-150 to eat a Big Mac for lunch every day, and I didn’t even get into EROEI, front loading the carbon emissions to retool our society, or the fact that there simply may not be enough copper left to wire the generators that we will need.  Something to think about next time you see that cheery bumper sticker about “The Answer is blowing in the wind…” or “The Answer Comes up Every Morning”.   PV and especially wind generation will certainly have a huge role to play in our future, likely the same critical role as they did to electrify the farms of great grandparents; I am rapidly becoming convinced that Energy DESCENT is the reality – and that the Status Quo is already living History.

Its times like this that I feel like Saul on the Road to Damascus, but when the scales fall from my eyes I find myself looking in vain for a Saviour to make it All Better, and instead end up staring into the Cold Hard Face of Reality.

This shit is BIG… and I obviously need to go to bed.



7 Responses

  1. Yeah.
    Any way you dice it, it looks grim.
    All we can do is the best we can.
    Be the change.
    You are part of it. We all are.
    But we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

    Sweet dreams.

  2. As I write this, you’re probably at work, among hundreds of people with no idea what’s coming. Or more accurately, people willfully denying the problems our civilization faces.

    It sometimes makes me feel like a foreigner in my own land- as Paul of Tarsus must have felt.

    Should have taken the BLUE pill.

  3. I just keep hoping the internet will survive or where would I get my information? We are pretty isolated down here.

    viv in nz

  4. You should read Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air (available free) http://www.withouthotair.com/ . It is a good, hard nosed look at sustainable energy. MacKay, a Cambridge Physics prof, approaches the subject of carbon and sustainability with a scientific, numeric eye.

    The book leaves you both depressed and optimistic. Depressed that with current technology, we’re doomed. Optimistic that with hard work, it may be possible.

  5. Doomer porn. My choice is The Automatic Earth, and I feel the same when reading that.

    I’ve been carefully taking stock of our options because the two together — downslope of energy and economy — portend probably bad things for our future as our society readjusts. I’ve come to the conclusion that other than making our yard as productive as humanly possible in our climate, and increasing my water storage as much as possible against the possibility of water shutoffs, there really isn’t much I can or should be doing that is visible. I want to get a small solar array with batteries for my freezer, but I no longer dream of powering my house with solar; instead I search for ways to reduce our use and become used to using less.

    Walk away from the doomer porn, it’s as addictive as the regular stuff! Or at least reserve it for special occasions 😉

  6. Thanks everyone. Blue pill indeed!

    TTHS – don’t forget Climate Change. 😉 You are giving me the same advice as my wife and several work associates: let it go. I am now removing Oil Drum from my bookmark bar, and picking up The New Market Grower to reread in preparation for doubling our home veggie garden plot to 1000+sq. Also need to get the root cellar in…


  7. Thanks for bringing Jeff’s post to our attention. His portrayal is correct far more than, as you say, either the portrayals of the Left or Right are. We can debate minutia, but the bulk is spot-on. The sheer size of all this is literally breathtaking; anyone who presents a concise “solution” is trying to pull wool over your eyes or, simply, is innocently ignorant.

    I must disagree, with utmost respect, over the characterization of this as “doomer porn” and something that I, or all of us, should choose to not get addicted to. If becoming knowledgeable on a subject with existential consequences is an “addiction”, then it’s my duty to not seek treatment.

    For our personal mental health, we must actively distance ourselves from the dependent, consumerist ways of the average citizen in our “developed” world. Every day, do something to disconnect from the unsustainable system called “the status quo.” For the good of current and future societies, however, we also need to seek and attain a thorough understanding of our collective situation.

    Folks need to read and understand many articles, including Jeff’s, to gain the knowledge necessary to wisely choose actions, and the magnitudes of those actions, that appropriately correspond to our collective needs.

    I am afraid for our next generation. Our “leaders” are likely to do all they can to maintain the illusion of normalcy. This will require that the inevitable decline (of many things) will be steeper and more painful than it need be … and the longer the illusion is maintained, the more dreadful the transition will be. We will merely become aware; our children, or their children, will actually suffer it in all its ugliness.

    The righteous thing would be for this generation to learn about the problems, consider the various actions possible, choose appropriate actions and do so voluntarily, quickly, cooperatively and in great measure.

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