Saturday, August 22, 2015


An Almost Perfect Article

Here is an article by Jeff Spross (I didn't bother to google him, sorry) about the obvious energy situation we're in, namely, that we are burning up a lot of fossil fuels and not a lot of fossil fuels are being made. Something's got to give, eventually. The article is called: Why the Oil Industry is Doomed. As far as I can tell, it's basically correct but I believe he makes two eeny weeny little mistakes. First:

At the same time, global demand for oil is only going to keep growing as the human population increases, and more of it enters the global middle class. In short, sooner or later, constricting supply is going to run headlong into swelling demand, permanently rendering oil an economically unviable form of energy.

This is peak oil part 27 (hint, they are always wrong in their predictions about what oil we can get out of the earth). So his prediction is that demand will soar, as it has already, although the price has dropped lately, but that supply will fall short of demand. OK so far. So soaring demand, limited supply. Wouldn't that mean oil companies will make huge profits as the price goes up and up? In a word, exactly. But here's where Mr. Spross seems not to notice a very basic economic rule. For him, soaring demand and limited supply means that the product, oil, will become economically unviable. I have to be missing an important part of his argument.

But there's more. Catch this--he concedes that prices will rise from the recent precipitous drop due to demand outstripping supply and...

At that point, alternative forms of energy — not just natural gas, but wind and solar and other renewables — will pour into the breach. In fact, they already are. Wind in particular has effectively pulled even with natural gas, and ahead of coal, and solar isn't far behind.
OK, this is going to take a while. First there is the problem (which he recognizes) that oil generally does not generate electricity and wind and solar (and biomass and hydroelectric dams) generally don't directly cause cars and trucks to go. But let's get past that. Second, natural gas is a fossil fuel just as oil and coal are, not an alternative fuel at all. Next, yes, as prices of oil and natural gas (and even coal, if that matters any more) go up and up, then the very expensive and unreliable alternative means he mentions will look a little better as far as price is concerned. But the very expensive and unreliable wind and solar power has a lot more going against it than price (which is a huge problem-- they only exist at all due to government subsidies). The key word is unreliable.

The sun doesn't shine on the panels or mirrors for most of the day, in fact, the panels really only generate usable power between 10 and 4, when it's not cloudy. But people want electric power when they want it and even at night; in fact they use more electric power for lighting, for example, at night than during the day. So that's not so good. Although they keep talking about improved battery technology, there has been no breakthrough in that technological field in over a hundred years and if one is just around the corner (the same corner peak oil has yet to reach?), I am not aware of it.

Wind is also fickle and often drops below speeds sufficient to turn the blades of the huge bird chopping, bat killing noisy eyesores, even at traditionally windy places. And the drop off often comes at a bad time, like when it's really cold outside and a nice electric heater would feel good. Sometimes, it's too windy to safely turn the blades. Then there are times when the lines carrying the power away from the gigantic eyesores are too thin to take the power and the wind generators have to be taken off line even in a nice stiff wind. This is called curtailment. There are other problems as well besides the bird chopping, bat killing, noise and ugliness, but the variability means that actual fossil fuel powered electricity generation must exist to back up the intermittent. Hydroelectric would also make a good backup but there has been no real increase in that source of power here for quite some time due to reluctance to build the dams. It's all spoken for. So we'd have to build or use coal or natural gas power plants to provide power when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow. So why not just have the actual fossil fuel powered plants? Why build two sources of power? Why indeed?

So, no, the oil industry is not doomed due to competition from expensive unreliable alternatives. It will be doomed, eventually, by running out of oil. Then, if there has not been an intervening breakthrough in energy technology I am unaware of, we will turn to hydrogen to make our vehicles go. Hydrogen sucks as a power source but at least it will be there. You can also combine hydrogen with CO2 to make methane, but that takes energy and thus lowers the efficiency of hydrogen production to make a slightly less problematic fuel.

So, nearly a perfect article except for those teeny weeny mistakes. Hardly worth mentioning really.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?