Renewables are viable with energy efficiency measures why never discussed?

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  • Sat, Nov 30, 2019 - 11:10pm



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    Renewables are viable with energy efficiency measures why never discussed?

Why does the peak oil community never discuss renewable energy in combination with energy efficiency, a renewable energy future involves electrification of end use services and that will mean a massive cut in primary energy consumption.  Electrification will mean we won’t need our current 16 TW energy system it will be more like 4 TW. There are many other efficiency measures that will make renewable energy viable why are they always ignored?

  • Sun, Dec 01, 2019 - 07:14am

    Chris Martenson

    Chris Martenson

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    Maybe Electrification is the Answer…

Why does the peak oil community never discuss renewable energy in combination with energy efficiency[?]

I believe I qualify as a member of ‘the Peak Oil community’ so let me respond.

To begin, many people from within that community talk about that combination all the time.

That group can be divided into two broad classifications – those who think it’s not only possible but coming and the skeptics (like myself) who would need to see some actual material progress on an overall energy percentage before declaring it both possible and probable.

I can also say, that Adam and I have been writing about that very thing for a long time.  Here’s a piece from 2015:

So Let’s Do This Right
Imagine for a moment that instead of a trillion dollars being printed and handed to the big banks, that same trillion dollars was spread across a range of investments in our collective futures.

This idea crystalized for me during a recent interview with Richard Duncan wherein he noted that we have had a once-in-a-lifetime (maybe once ever) opportunity to borrow a lot of money at the national level, even to print up enormous amounts of money, without creating meaningful inflation.

A very rare combination of factors allow this to occur at this moment in history, including excess global manufacturing capacity, global labor markets and increased automation (which prevent wage inflation from taking root), and very low inflation coupled to the lowest borrowing costs in history.

Put all of that together and the OECD countries (US, Japan and Europe, mainly) have a very rare opportunity to borrow, and borrow a LOT, on extremely favorable terms.

In our conversation, he asked, Why wouldn’t we do this, and then spend that money on our highest-potential opportunities?  Not consumption, mind you, like transfer payments and wars and other non-value-creating behaviors, but investments.

Bailed-Out Banks, Or Better Batteries?
For example, we desperately need electricity storage technology to improve. If we’re going to ever transition to renewable, non-fossil energy sources like wind and solar, then we absolutely have to have improved battery storage.

So let’s dedicate $100 billion of that trillion to improving battery technology. Set massive monetary prizes for whomever solves the power density riddle using common materials. Fund research laboratories lavishly. Use PR to elevate and revere the scientists and engineers who make promising breakthroughs, in order to lure our best and brightest minds into this important field.

Spend another $300 billion installing solar thermal panels on every roof top where it makes sense.  Retrofit old buildings and require new ones to install them as part of the building process.  Whether existing hot water heaters use electricity (coal, gas) or oil and gas directly, fossil fuels are being burned to heat water, which is just plain stupid. The sun can heat water for our needs just fine, for free (after a small investment).

Then spend $500 billion upgrading our electricity grid to get it ready for the next hundred years. Make it smart and distributed, and therefore less vulnerable to natural disasters or intentional acts of sabotage.  Get it ready to accept and use the diverse sources that alternative energy will require, so we can let competitive innovation flourish.  Use technology paired with incentive alignments to drive more efficient use of electricity by consumers. Cars with improved batteries will both draw from and put back into the local grids: when the sun shines and the wind blows, electricity will be flowing into the grid; on calm days and dark nights power will be drawn from all our collective storage devices.

Take the last $100 billion from our trillion and put it into permaculture and cutting-edge sustainable farming practices that demonstrably improve our soils and support diverse life while removing the needs for fossil inputs in food production. Models like Farmland LP prove that such farming practices not only work economically, but ecologically.  Everybody wins, humans included. Fund regenerative farming programs, give awards, and let the bright young people working in these fields know that society supports and admires their success and mistakes alike.

(Source – If we’re Going to Borrow Against the Future…)

Throughout the years we’ve been consistent fans of conservation as the #1 best approach.  You don’t have to produce what you aren’t going to consume.

If you can build a building that requires half (or less!) the energy over its life for nearly the same upfront cost, then why wouldn’t you do that?  More to the point, why isn’t it typically being done?

True net-zero buildings are as rare as Tesla’s in my neck of the woods.  Maybe rarer.

But there are other realities involved too, such as the fact that cargo ships cannot be run on batteries and they are a huge component of our “way of life.”   Hull design is already as nearly perfectly efficient as it can be.  Maybe a few more percent to be squeezed by studying dolphin skin more closely or something.  So cargo ship ‘efficiency’ would have to come from not using them at all, perhaps by re-localizing manufacturing?

Jet planes are also unable to fly long distances (and jumbo jets any distances) using batteries, and they too are already near their maximum drag:weight efficiency.   Maybe a few more percent along the way?  So, again, using them less is the only way to gain ‘efficiency’ here.

Mining uses up something ridiculous approaching 10% of global energy consumption, and there’s just no way to run that on batteries or at ‘greater efficiency – gravity is what it is and unprocessed ores tend to be both heavy and located underground.

My challenge to you, or anyone, would be to produce some data, some real-world examples, something that shows how the various technologies involved in creating an efficient electrified built environment not only can be installed, but how they’d be maintained and then replaced using their own outputs.

I spend a lot of time scouring for just that sort of data and it’s pretty rare.  Worse, when it is gone through with some level of rigor, it always seems to come to the conclusion that there isn’t any combination of alternative energy that can supply the current number of kwhr/capita that we currently enjoy.

Here’s a fine example by David Mackay and I encourage everyone to read the whole thing.  I have.  Twice.

In there he covers pretty much everything from realistic Watts/M^2 of massive solar farms right down to the loads of refrigerators and cars and such.

It’s a comprehensive study and the conclusion is; alternative energy is still just a bunch of hot air.

Maybe that’s why there’s less trumpeting of this path?  Because it’s very complex (and therefore hard to explain during the average attention span) and the numbers just don’t really add up so it’s not very positive?

In the meantime, each of us should implement as much efficiency as we can into our own lives.


  • Sun, Dec 01, 2019 - 04:14pm



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    Without Hot Air

Chris, Thank you for bringing my attention to the book by David MacKay.  I spent the afternoon browsing through it. It is crammed with interesting data and even has some very useful information on how individual households can dramatically reduce their energy consumption. This reflects my own experience when I installed a more efficient condensing furnace and swapped all of my lights to LED.


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