Wednesday, July 13, 2005

an orderly exit

I've been pondering the value of simply spreading word on peak oil and energy, as opposed to other types of actions. Is it helpful by itself, or does it simply spread fear and uncertainty?

I think spreading the word is helpful. Of course, for those of us blogging on these issues, a hefty percentage of our readers self select for this type of material. That appears to be changing. A wider audience is coming, propelled by ceaseless oil price growth.

The primary way in that I feel getting the word out is that it might reduce panic in the face of a sudden shortfall. If oil production drops, say down to 79 million barrels a day, we've got a mass decision point as a culture. Freak out or share?

If someone yells fire in a crowded theatre, the only thing keeping everyone alive is an orderly row by row exit, versus a spastic granny stomping push for daylight. People know to be calm because they are taught that it will save them in a particular situation.

Are the Desert Kingdom's foundations built on sand?
Despite the recent surge in oil prices, which have doubled in the past two years, hitting $60 a barrel last week, Simmons believes governments cannot leave the markets to ration increasingly scarce energy resources. 'I grew up in a banking family. I am a firm believer that the market is a 500lb wrecking ball. If you leave it to the invisible hand of Adam Smith, that could actually end up creating a gigantic noose that strangles us.' He points to the fights that broke out in the US in queues for petrol during the Seventies oil embargo as evidence that the market does not produce fair solutions to problems of scarcity.

In Matthew Simmons view of the world, leaving the coming oil crisis to "the markets" is akin to stomping on your friends in that hoary old burning theatre and letting them die.

We need solutions ready for short term mitigation of the relatively mild initial effects of depletion. ASPO has long advocated that oil usage in the future be allocated proportionately based loosely on usage at the peak date.

I endorse that approach over "What in the blazes?" any day.

28 Comments:

At 6:21 AM, July 14, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Are people still claiming that gas lines were the product of the free market?

What a crock of.... Gas lines were caused by the Carter administration's allocations of fuel to particular areas, combined with price controls.  This is as anti-market as you can get; it's exactly the system used in the Soviet Union, and had exactly the same results (long lines, empty shops).

 
At 7:10 AM, July 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a crock of.... Gas lines were caused by the Carter administration's allocations of fuel to particular areas, combined with price controls.

Right. And you offer up exactly what evidance for your position?

Your position is claiming:
Government control of fuel allocation.
The oil embargo of OPEC had no effect.

Yet - OPEC's Embargo existed and restricted the supply. And, unless the government is far more involved in fuel distribution than is claimed, your position is, well, "a crock"

Oh, and Jimmy was large and "in charge" from 1977-1981. 1973 is cited as an 'oil crisis' date. It was Nixon who froze prices at the pump.

 
At 8:19 AM, July 14, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

You are correct about Nixon.

I am correct about the cause of gas lines; according to references on the Web, they actually pre-date the first OPEC price shock.  The only possible cause is... price controls and government allocations.

 
At 11:23 AM, July 14, 2005, Blogger Liz Logan said...

On another note--from my own experience of going into heavy resistance when I first heard about peak oil, I think it is extremely important to present solutions when presenting the information.

It was only when I discovered the Community Solutions peak oil conference that I felt I could beging to learn about peak oil. And even now it is easy for me to get overwhelmed and frozen into inaction when I spend too much time contemplating the end of the world as we know it. A solution focus is very important to me.

 
At 11:40 AM, July 14, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Liz:  You want a solution?  Take a look at how much energy the US uses in heating fuel.  Consider that you can probably convert 30% of this into electricity with reasonable ease and expense (you'll need to add a bit of fuel to make up for the energy removed as juice).  If that electricity charges electric vehicles, it will eliminate an enormous amount of petroleum use.  (You can use some of the petroleum you saved to make up for the extra heating fuel you need - you still come out way ahead.)

You probably know people who burn wood for heat.  Did you know that people used to burn wood to run vehicles?  The technology is called "wood-gas generators" or "gasogenes".  (They get hot in operation - plenty of extra heat if you want heat.)  Now consider what happens when people install these things at home to supply fuel gas for their cogenerators.  Lights are on, cozy warm, car can go to the store if it's electric... and it's running on the woodpile, not petroleum.

That kind of quick fix will keep us long enough to get to more serious solutions.

 
At 12:23 PM, July 14, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

E-P - I think there were two gas famine events in the 1970's (I was a little young at the time) - one was an embargo, and one was price controls which led to tankers not being unloaded for a spell.

However, I think Simmons was talking about the innefficient gas lines themselves, not the cause. In the present situation, depletion will shortly be the driving factor, not Jimmy Carter or King Faisel.

 
At 12:24 PM, July 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am correct about the cause of gas lines;

Sure.

Gas lines were caused by the Carter administration's allocations of fuel to particular areas, combined with price controls.

Yup. All Carter's fault. You betja them 1973 oil shock gas lines are all Jimmy's fault.

 
At 8:54 PM, July 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and it's running on the woodpile

The 'woodpile' "solution" will work out just as well for people in modern cities as it did for the people of Easter island, and the nice breathable air of London.

I'm sure the people willing to walk into cities with wood to pile will be many. Because moving wood in with oil seems silly, no?

 
At 9:18 PM, July 14, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Sometimes I think the only reason some people feel confident enough to post easily-refuted nonsense is because they can hide behind a mask of anonymity and not take responsibility for what amounts to petty harassment.

Other times, I'm certain of it.

 
At 5:23 AM, July 15, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

E-P - I don't know who your anonymous critic is, but he's right on both counts as far as I can tell.

Gas lines were caused by a number of factors, but Jimmy Carter was innocent (and even Nixon was even if he was nominally in charge) and price controls had little or nothing to do with it. Read my post on "The Control of Oil" for a few clues about the guilty parties.

As for burning wood to replace heating oil - surely you weren;t serious ? If the whole populatin did that how long would your forests last ? Like oil, they aren't infinite.

I'm not sure how much difference stopping consumption of heating oil would make anyway - isn't it different (heavier) stuff than petrol / gasoline anyway ?

 
At 5:24 AM, July 15, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

Errr - all those spelling mistakes are due to poor typing skills and no proof reading - I'm not a cretin - honest !

 
At 7:03 AM, July 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think the only reason some people feel confident enough to post easily-refuted nonsense is because they can hide behind a mask of anonymity and not take responsibility for what amounts to petty harassment.

Other times, I'm certain of it.


And yet, for all the 'ease', I do not see you refuting the claims made. In fact, didn't you say you would not be responding to 'anonymous'? And yet, you keep posting.

'harrassment' is when your worldview is challenged with facts like Carter wasn't president in 1973? Or when someone points out how EP should back up their statements with some data? Then let the harrassment be the light that drives away the darkness of ignornace.

 
At 7:18 AM, July 15, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Mr. Anonymous (Coward) was belaboring a point I had already ceded, and was not relevant to the point of mechanism.

Gav:  Yes, I'm serious.  There's one huge amount of wood out there that's already being used for fuel, and much more wood waste that's composted or landfilled.  These are underutilized resources.  If you use systems which extract more useful energy (such as electricity) from this fuel, total need for fuel goes down.

There appears to be no real difficulty dealing with the decline of oil in the long term; the problems are going to be short-term.  You can draw down stocks of biomass temporarily, and the USA has huge expanses of forest which need to be thinned for fire control.  Just when we need the resources... here they are!  We just have to use them wisely.

 
At 8:44 AM, July 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm not sure how much difference stopping consumption of heating oil would make anyway - isn't it different (heavier) stuff than petrol / gasoline anyway ?


Heating oil is 'the heaver stuff' its true. But 'that stuff' could be cracked into smaller chains. Today, the expense VS the results 'value' means it is not 'worth' doing. Tomarrow? Who knows.

But....

Heating isn't needing to be done via oil. Passive or active solar can accomplish heating. The problem for "us" is the low density of solar energy compared to what "we" are used to. Add in the person/building density/building thermal effencacy and passive solar isn't a good fit for most peoples situatuions. In the 'modern' sealed super-insulated home, you can run one w/o a furnace in Madison WI. To do that however, you need proper solar exposure and 'proper' construction. Most housing effected by higher heating bills is already built and a large percentage of housing stock lacks the sun exposure needed.

 
At 8:59 AM, July 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

belaboring a point I had already ceded, and was not relevant to the point of mechanism.

At 6:21 AM, July 14, 2005 you stated:

"Gas lines were caused by the Carter administration's allocations of fuel to particular areas"

At 8:19 AM, July 14, 2005 you stated:

"I am correct about the cause of gas lines"

For you to be correct, the "Carter administration" would have to been in charge in 1973.

Now, be a man of your word and go back to not responding to the Anonymous.

 
At 11:15 AM, July 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He said "You are correct about Nixon." Third comment, this thread.

You'd have to be a real doo-doo head to keep beating that particular horse.

 
At 11:14 PM, July 15, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

Well - I agree with the comment about the benefits of active/passive solar heating and the problem is the fact that the existing housing stock doesn't utilise this heating source.

Ditto for E-P's comments about using waste biomass for power generation (though I'm dubious you can provide heating for 200 million people using waste wood).

As for haggling over who said what / when - there are probably more important issues to wrestle with - you can't even get an ego boost winning an argument with an anonymous person...

 
At 7:10 PM, July 16, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Gav, urban wood waste production in the USA runs something like 160 million tons per year; not sure how much of that could be converted to energy, but it would certainly make a dent.  Thinning in national forests would account for 110 million tons per year.  That's already up to almost a ton per capita, or better than 3 tons per year for a family of 4.  I'm currently trying to finish a post on using this mass as the carbon supply for the zinc process, but if it was used in wood gasifiers instead you could achieve substantial gains in much less time.

 
At 7:03 AM, July 18, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

E-P - if those numbers are correct (I must admit I find them a bit staggering, but the sources seem reasonable enough) then you're right - a ton pear year of wood per person would probably turn into quite a bit of heating.

We toss biomass into some of our power stations here already (it even counts as "green energy" and gets RECS credits) but as far as I can tell the overall amount of energy generated is still negligible compared to coal. But I'm sure this process only captures a tiny amount of waste forest products (and our forests produce a lot less timber than north american ones).

Still - as always the spectre of Easter Island is something to beware of - I'd hate to see all the forests disappear into furnaces just to keep business as usual going for a few more years - people as a large group don't appear to have grasped the concept of sustainability very well yet.

 
At 6:35 AM, July 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

then you're right - a ton pear year of wood per person would probably turn into quite a bit of heating.

And moving that ton from the forests to the cities will be done how?

And the resulting particulate matter in the air via combustion will be addressed how?

Here are some numbers:
A cord of heavy wood weighs about 2 tons cured and 3 tons green

And a person who burns wood for heat:
These recommendations are not speculative. In the nine winters we have spent in our home, we have pared down our wood usage from a whopping 6.5 cords to precisely 4.

 
At 12:26 PM, July 19, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

We used to burn wood when I was a kid. It was cheaper than electricity until we had natural gas put in. (Those were the days.)

And yeah - for a mild northwest winter, we burned at least 2 cords. (I stacked em myself - I always thought they weighed a ton.)

So obviously, the colder it gets, the more wood you need.

 
At 12:31 PM, July 19, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Hey, anons. I just checked blogger settings, and I can't set it to force "other" or account. It is a blogger account or fully anon.

I'd really prefer it if people would use "Other" and supply a name, especially when engaging in pointed criticism, rather than anon.

I know this is a pain. I'm sorry.

 
At 4:19 AM, July 20, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

Anon - I'm uneasy arguing on E-P's behalf but I'm interested to see where this goes purely out of curiosity (plus MG's blog cred will be immense if he eventually gets 100 comments on a single post).

I think E-P's point was that you burn the waste wood / biomass in power stations (perhaps built close to forests) and generate electricity with it that is then used for heating. So its not like you are trucking 4 tonnes of wood to each house for some unfortunate teenager to stack.

Would the power generated be sufficient to heat all those houses we're talking about ? Dunno - maybe E-P can do one of his back-of-the-envelope calculations for us.

The pollution aspect does concern me though (not so much the C)2, but the potential haze of particles. However maybe hot burning power stations would generate a lot less smoke than 90 million wood fired stoves...

 
At 5:40 AM, July 20, 2005, Anonymous Alternative said...

I think E-P's point was that you burn the waste wood / biomass in power stations (perhaps built close to forests) and generate electricity with it that is then used for heating. So its not like you are trucking 4 tonnes of wood to each house for some unfortunate teenager to stack.

First off - you are making statements based on inference. If "engineer poet" was speaking about industry -then why the "per family" claim? "engineer poet" makes a statement about Carter, is shown to be wrong, then says "I'm still right" - whatever. If "engineer poet" can't be clear, why make statements about what YOU think "engineer poet" has to say?

Second - "waste wood". Sawdust is a 'waste wood' and so are wood chips. So is bark and small branches/twigs and 'rotted' trees. The popsicle stick maker I've consulted for throws out the sawdust, bark and soak-tank sludge- too hard to get it to burn in the boiler. (the bark is wet) Most wood processors leave the rotted/small branches in the woods. Why? It will rot and "put the nutirients back in the soil". The "engineer poet" ignores the depletion of the soil.

Third - To "have the manufactor use the waste material for cogeneration" - think about how/where the trees are VS the manufactors are. Notice how large tree masses are not near cities?

And finally - "engineer poet" can defend its own postion. If it can't be bothered to defend the position, then the position isn't worth considering.

However maybe hot burning power stations would generate a lot less smoke than 90 million wood fired stoves...

Ponder the cost to build the 'power station' - infrastructure, location close to 'waste wood', labor, raw materials AND the controlls on the wastestack to 'scrub' the waste stack smoke. Then, do the EROEI calculations, and use 'real numbers' - not "I think 2 tons will heat a family of 4" handwaving.

The reality of wood-burning will, alas, be a smokey haze across the land. What will be burned is anything that CAN be burned. Plastic, books, homes, fat, et la. If it can fit in the stove, in it will go and it will be burned.

 
At 5:50 PM, July 22, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Geez, you stop checking a thread because it's been idle for a couple of days and look what happens.

I see "Alternative" is ignoring the part about allocations and price controls, which I also asserted and it implicitly admits is correct by default.  The assertion in the post that gas lines were caused by the free market is now agreed to be erroneous, as nobody is defending it.

I was proposing that people who already burn wood for heat (and there are more than a few) might want to convert to wood-gasification to run cogenerating engines.  Wood gasifiers are not smoky except when being started and sometimes when being refuelled; smoke particles will foul the plumbing and must be filtered out, and the gas that remains is burned in an engine.

According to the EIA, the average house that burns natural gas for heat uses 50 million BTU per year.  A quick search found claims for the heat value of dry wood ranging from 15 MJ/kg to 17 MJ/kg; call it 15 MJ/kg, so 50 million BTU would require about 7750 lbs of dry wood (~4 tons, 2 cords).  (Interesting how close that is!)  Assuming a wood-stove efficiency of 70%, you'd get about 35 million BTU out.

Consider putting this wood through a gasifier and cogenerator instead.  The gasifier's cold-gas efficiency may be only 50% (a guess, not a hard figure), with the other 50% turning into heat; if you can capture 90% of that heat, you've got 45% heating efficiency from the gasifier.  The engine may turn 30% of the energy in the gas into work (electricity), and another 50% into recoverable heat in the cooling jacket and exhaust; that's 15% overall electric efficiency and another 25% heating efficiency, for a total of 70% recoverable heat (same as the wood stove!) and 15% electricity.

If you can get 15% of 50 million BTU out as electricity, that's about 2200 kWh.  That's a fair amount of juice, and you could potentially get it without any increase in the amount of wood you burned just by boosting efficiency and milking entropy-increasing steps for bigger gains.

 
At 3:30 AM, July 25, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The CIA factbook claims population of 295,734,134 for the US of A.

160 million ton + 110 million ton = 270 million ton. The verbage was "That's already up to almost a ton per capita,"

Exactly how is 'ton per person' "
I was proposing that people who already burn wood for heat "
Or is this more " implicitly" explaining your postion?

The idea of 'engineer poet' - a wood gassifyer. Yea, what a great plan, add an item that would cost more money and need more maintance. Not to mention the disposal of the toxic tar. To use the wood to make electrical power work well with Stirling Cycle engines. WhisperGen engines are at $13,000 USD. Because gassified wood doesn't work well long term in an ICE engine, not to mention the loud ICE engine VS a rather quiet WhipserGen. (Hint: Quiet is what will sell in the home generation environment)

 
At 5:00 AM, July 25, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The words are English, but I don't recognize the grammar....

 
At 10:58 AM, July 27, 2005, Anonymous Wow said...

Are people still claiming that gas lines were the product of the free market?

Are you implicitly going to claim that a free market exists in the 60's,70's,80's,90's or 2K's for oil?

 

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