Peak Oil

Independence Day: Toward Energy Self-Sufficiency

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 04, 2007

I mentioned in a previous hammerblog post that this time of year always makes me feel dreary - to the extent that an RTH reader actually pleaded with us to post some good news.

Heading into work today in balmy, ten degree weather (and heading home through rain) felt downright apocalyptic, like a blizzard in July or an unscheduled eclipse. This train of thought can spiral dangerously: "the problems we face seem overwhelming" quickly degenerates into "we are so screwed".

I find that the only way out is to accept that we might be screwed no matter what, but by doing nothing we ensure it. In other words, get off your ass and do something. Of course, the steps we take to prevent and/or mitigate the problems we face could still fail, but it's almost certainly better than doing nothing, and for me, anyway, it strikes a tolerable balance between denial and despair.

In this exhausting context, I give you today's post.

Energy Instability Ahead

As our energy supplies decline and environmental challenges escalate, we can expect that our energy networks - our fueling stations, electrical grid, and natural gas pipes - may become less reliable than they are today. Currently, our buildings and transportation systems are extremely brittle and susceptible to energy instability.

Gasoline shortages inspire panic, long lines at empty service stations, unrest, anxiety, and even violence. In the short term, most people cannot switch from their cars to another transportation mode, so price spikes are punishing.

Blackouts are fun but disruptive, and long blackouts grind organized society to a halt. Offices and factories shut down. People without gas stoves or barbecues cannot cook, and anyway, food spoils after a day or so. Telephones and cell phones are only guaranteed for about six to twelve hours.

We have not experienced any natural gas shortages, but came close a couple of years ago, when cold weather pushed the NG network close to the breaking point. Two warm winters in a row have provided some slack and myopic markets have dropped gas prices to the point that it seems highly abundant, but we're one cold winter away from a serious shortfall. Do you know how to re-light the pilot light in your furnace?

No Conventional Panacea

The fact is, the conventional sources of energy that fuelled the twentieth century cannot solve the problems that they created.

An Unconventional Solution

In short, the age of cheap, abundant energy is passing, and industrial arrangements that depend on that energy will become progressively less reliable. Ignoring this risk is a bad idea, but so is weeping and gnashing your teeth.

Right now, our civilization is mindbogglingly wealthy. Instead of blowing all that wealth on consumer ephemera, we should be investing in ways to reduce our reliance on conventional energy by a) consuming less, and b) generating at least some of our own power.

Consume Less

It seems the easiest thing in the world: just don't do things that use energy, or trade actions that use more energy for actions that use less. Unfortunately, our society is structured in such a way that consuming is virtually mandatory. However, there are plenty of things you can do to kick the habit. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started:

Generate Your Own

Renewable energy will never replace fossil energy, so there's no way we can simply swap out our oil, gas, and coal for solar, wind, and geothermal. However, if we manage to reduce our consumption enough, we may be able to establish a sustainable balance of energy use at a significantly higher rate of recovery than our ancestors had before the oil age.

However, the time to develop these sources is now, while we still have plenty of abundant fossil energy to invest in creating the infrastructure. If we wait another twenty years, we will be too poor to make the switch and the renewables era will pass us by.

In the next issue of RTH I'll be reviewing The Peak Oil Survival Guide and Cookbook by Albert Bates. It delves much more deeply into what individuals and communities can do to insulate themselves from energy instability.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Tom (registered) | Posted January 05, 2007 at 23:44:45

Concerning ''over 400 times as much energy'', that statement is misquoted.

A proper interpretation might be something more like that we annually consume 400 times as much net energy as we could extract from biomass if all biomass was grown and harvested sustainably from biomass fuel.

Certainly its a mess whatever ratio - corn ethanol is a net energy loser without the value of coproducts produced (animal feed to fatten up our dinner faster). That means a farm can't even power itself with biomass.

I admit I'll have more faith in our future when farmers can produce energy for their own needs at least!

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By Tom (registered) | Posted January 05, 2007 at 23:55:42

A missing element from "Consume less" section is "debt reduction", ideally complementary with spending less. Probably obvious to anyone reading, but bottom-line, it is easier to waste more hidden money on debt payments than on fuel bills. Its easier to turn down my thermostat than turn down interest payements on a maxed credit card.

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By Jay Draiman (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2007 at 22:09:45


In order to insure energy and economic independence as well as better economic growth without being blackmailed by foreign countries, our country, the United States of America’s Utilization of Energy sources must change.
"Energy drives our entire economy." We must protect it. "Let's face it, without energy the whole economy and economic society we have set up would come to a halt. So you want to have control over such an important resource that you need for your society and your economy."
Our continued dependence on fossil fuels could and will lead to catastrophic consequences.

The federal, state and local government should implement a mandatory renewable energy installation program for residential and commercial property on new construction and remodeling projects with the use of energy efficient material, mechanical systems, appliances, lighting, etc. The source of energy must by renewable energy such as Solar-Photovoltaic, Geothermal, Wind, Biofuels, etc. including utilizing water from lakes, rivers and oceans to circulate in cooling towers to produce air conditioning and the utilization of proper landscaping to reduce energy consumption.

The implementation of mandatory renewable energy could be done on a gradual scale over the next 10 years. At the end of the 10 year period all construction and energy use in the structures throughout the United States must be 100% powered by renewable energy.

In addition, the governments must impose laws, rules and regulations whereby the utility companies must comply with a fair “NET METERING” (the buying of excess generation from the consumer), including the promotion of research and production of “renewable energy technology” with various long term incentives and grants. The various foundations in existence should be used to contribute to this cause.

A mandatory time table should also be established for the automobile industry to gradually produce an automobile powered by renewable energy. The American automobile industry is surely capable of accomplishing this task.

This is a way to expedite our energy independence and economic growth. (this will also creat a substantial amount of new jobs) It will take maximum effort and a relentless pursuit of the private, commercial and industrial government sectors commitment to renewable energy – energy generation (wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, geothermal, energy storage (fuel cells, advance batteries), energy infrastructure (management, transmission) and energy efficiency (lighting, sensors, automation, conservation) in order to achieve our energy independence.

Jay Draiman
Northridge, CA. 91325

P.S. I have a very deep belief in America's capabilities. Within the next 10 years we can accomplish our energy independence, if we as a nation truly set our goals to accomplish this.
I happen to believe that we can do it. In another crisis--the one in 1942--President Franklin D. Roosevelt said this country would build 60,000 [50,000] military aircraft. By 1943, production in that program had reached 125,000 aircraft annually. They did it then. We can do it now.
The American people resilience and determination to retain the way of life is unconquerable and we as a nation will succeed in this endeavor of Energy Independence.

Solar energy is the source of all energy on the earth (excepting volcanic geothermal). Wind, wave and fossil fuels all get their energy from the sun. Fossil fuels are only a battery which will eventually run out. The sooner we can exploit all forms of Solar energy (cost effectively or not against dubiously cheap FFs)the better off we will all be. If the battery runs out first, the survivors will all be living like in the 18th century again.

Every new home built should come with a solar package. A 1.5 kW per bedroom is a good rule of thumb. The formula 1.5 X's 5 hrs per day X's 30 days will produce about 225 kWh per bedroom monthly. This peak production period will offset 17 to 24 cents per kWh with a potential of $160 per month or about $60,000 over the 30-year mortgage period for a three-bedroom home. It is economically feasible at the current energy price and the interest portion of the loan is deductible. Why not?

Title 24 has been mandated forcing developers to build energy efficient homes. Their bull-headedness put them in that position and now they see that Title 24 works with little added cost. Solar should also be mandated and if the developer designs a home that solar is impossible to do then they should pay an equivalent mitigation fee allowing others to put solar on in place of their negligence..

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