Climate Scientists Consider Extinction

28 10 2015

Climate Scientists Consider Extinction: “Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things…” “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.”

This is reblogged from The Old Speak Journal…..

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Oldspeak: “A growing cadre of impeccably credentialed and long time climate scientists are sounding more and more dire alarms about where our life support system is headed. Basically it’s headed to point where much of the planet we call home will become inhospitable to human and up to 80% of all other life-forms. it took a free thinking scientist to elucidate the root cause of our extinction. Greed. Greed for something that is nothing more than an abstact social contract. Money. This all-consuming mass delusion is now consuming our civilizations. Quietly, almost politely at first, swallowing small island nations no one really knows or cares about.  By the time our dying world consumes significant, highly populated parts of our civilization, there will be nothing left to do but survive as long as we can.  David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.” why are we acting as if this way of life is still valid? Why are we not questioning this utterly absurd, toxic and unsustainable existence? Why are we still scurrying about gluttonous, mindlessly consuming ever more resources, collecting things, destroying things, building things, moving shit that we don’t need around. We’re the dinobots. Robotic, technologically advanced, disproportionately strong and thought-limited. As were our dinosaur predecessors, we are largely oblivious to what madness is to come. Enjoy your remaining time in the Holocene Extinction!” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Tom’s Dispatch:

I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.

Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water? What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?

MORE here

How Unsustainable is PV Solar Power?

27 10 2015

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post about renewables being unable to even keep up with the growth of the internet’s energy consumption, along come a couple of other articles I just had to share…..

From Low Tech Magazine yet again is an article about the mushy numbers used to ‘prove’ PVs are the way to go in the future. Most followers of this blog will already know how I feel about this, however, this item has some interesting factoids I was not aware of that make a most interesting point.

Lower costs have spurred an increase in solar PV installments. According to the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, a record of more than 39 gigawatt (GW) of solar PV capacity was added in 2013, which brings total (peak) capacity worldwide to 139 GW at the end of 2013. While this is not even enough to generate 1% of global electricity demand, the growth is impressive. Almost half of all PV capacity in operation today was added in the past two years (2012-2013). In 2014, an estimated 45 GW was added, bringing the total to 184 GW.

Solar PV total global capacitySolar PV total global capacity, 2004-2013. Source: Renewables 2014 Global Status Report.

According to these numbers, electricity generated by photovoltaic systems is 15 times less carbon-intensive than electricity generated by a natural gas plant (450 gCO2e/kWh), and at least 30 times less carbon-intensive than electricity generated by a coal plant (+1,000 gCO2e/kWh). The most-cited energy payback times (EPBT) for solar PV systems are between one and two years. It seems that photovoltaic power, around since the 1970s, is finally ready to take over the role of fossil fuels.

But, as the article goes to great lengths to explain, manufacturing has moved to China, and as was recently revealed, the biggest eighteen ships produce as much CO2 as all the cars in the world……… so shipping those panels (and inverters) from China to Australia, Europe, and the Americas is unbelievably polluting.

Less than 10 years ago, almost all solar panels were produced in Europe, Japan, and the USA. In 2013, Asia accounted for 87% of global production (up from 85% in 2012), with China producing 67% of the world total (62% in 2012). Europe’s share continued to fall, to 9% in 2013 (11% in 2012), while Japan’s share remained at 5% and the US share was only 2.6%.

Price of silicon solar cells wikipedia

Compared to Europe, Japan and the USA, the electric grid in China is about twice as carbon-intensive and about 50% less energy efficient. Because the manufacture of solar PV cells relies heavily on the use of electricity (for more than 95%) this means that in spite of the lower prices and the increasing efficiency, the production of solar cells has become more energy-intensive, resulting in longer energy payback times and higher greenhouse gas emissions. The geographical shift in manufacturing has made almost all life cycle analyses of solar PV panels obsolete, because they are based on a scenario of domestic manufacturing, either in Europe or in the United States.

Compared to the original manufacturing scenarios of Germany, Japan, Spain, and the USA, the carbon footprint and the energy payback time of Chinese PVs are almost doubled in the asian manufacturing scenario. The carbon footprint of the modules made in Spain (which has a cleaner grid than the average in Europe) is 37.3 and 31.8 gCO2e/kWh for mono-Si and multi-Si, respectively, while the energy payback times are 1.9 and 1.6 years. However, for the modules made in China, the carbon footprint is 72.2 and 69.2 gCO2e/kWh for mono-Si and multi-Si, respectively, while the energy payback times are 2.4 and 2.3 years.

Carbon footprints solar cells produced in china and europe

At least as important as the place of manufacturing is the place of installation. Considering that at the end of 2014, Germany had more solar PV installed than all Southern European nations combined, and twice as much as the entire United States, this number is not a worst-case scenario. It reflects the carbon intensity of most solar PV systems installed between 2009 and 2014. More critical researchers had already anticipated these results. A 2010 study refers to the 2008 consensus figure of 50 gCO2e/kWh mentioned above, and adds that “in less sunny locations, or in carbon-intensive economies, these emissions can be up to 2-4 times higher”. Taking the more recent figure of 30 gCO2e/kWh as a starting point, which reflects improvements in solar cell and manufacturing efficiency, this would be 60-120 gCO2e/kWh, which corresponds neatly with the numbers of the 2014 study.

Solar insolation in europe

Solar insolation in north america

Solar insolation in Europe and the USA. Source: SolarGIS.

So far, I expect most DTM readers already knew this….. but now for the clincher, and it’s growth, yet again totally unsustainable. The author calls this Energy cannibalism, a term I just love!

Solar PV electricity remains less carbon-intensive than conventional grid electricity, even when solar cells are manufactured in China and installed in countries with relatively low solar insolation. This seems to suggest that solar PV remains a good choice no matter where the panels are produced or installed. However, if we take into account the growth of the industry, the energy and carbon balance can quickly turn negative. That’s because at high growth rates, the energy and CO2 savings made by the cumulative installed capacity of solar PV systems can be cancelled out by the energy use and CO2 emissions from the production of new installed capacity.

For the deployment of solar PV systems to grow while remaining net greenhouse gas mitigators, they must grow at a rate slower than the inverse of their CO2 payback time. For example, if the average energy and CO2 payback times of a solar PV system are four years and the industry grows at a rate of 25%, no net energy is produced and no greenhouse gas emissions are offset. If the growth rate is higher than 25%, the aggregate of solar PV systems actually becomes a net CO2 and energy sink. In this scenario, the industry expands so fast that the energy savings and GHG emissions prevented by solar PV systems are negated to fabricate the next wave of solar PV systems.

Several studies have undertaken a dynamic life cycle analysis of renewable energy technologies. The results — which are valid for the period between 1998 and 2008 — are very sobering for those that have put their hopes on the carbon mitigation potential of solar PV power. A 2009 paper, which takes into account the geographical distribution of global solar PV installations, sets the maximum sustainable annual growth rate at 23%, while the actual average annual growth rate of solar PV between 1998 and 2008 was 40%. [16] [21]

This means that the net CO2 balance of solar PV was negative for the period 1998-2008. Solar PV power was growing too fast to be sustainable, and the aggregate of solar panels actually increased GHG emissions and energy use. According to the paper, the net CO2 emissions of the solar PV industry during those 10 years accounted to 800,000 tonnes of CO2.

Which totally puts paid to the hopes of ‘green people’ wanting a quick transition from coal to PVs. The faster it happens, the worse greenhouse emissions are…… Is this the ultimate limit to growth? I find the irony almost too much to bear. I heartily recommend reading the article at its original source where all the facts and figures are referenced. It makes for sobering reading……..

But wait there’s more. Just last night on TV I saw an item on 7:30 on ABC TV showing some guy who built a modern mansion with all the bells and whistles, 300m from the grid. he claims it was going to cost $200,000 to connect to the grid (seems rather excessive to me…) so decided to go off the grid. The TV item was about how we will all go off the grid within ten years, and look at this guy’s amazing green bling…… four inverters no less! Anyone with four inverters is using four times too much power (and hence energy), and he proudly claimed to have batteries capable of backing the whole lot for…. three days. I can guarantee he will soon be disappointed. Anything less than a week would not suit me, I’d opt for ten days. But then again, I don’t need four inverters, we’ll only have one. Watch it here.

Why am I so certain he will be disappointed? Well Giles Parkinson and Sophie Vorrath are, like me, not convinced your average electricity consumer understands any of the dilemmas they face.

So for those of us left, and interested in battery storage as a means of saving money, how do the numbers stack up?

Before tackling those numbers, it is worth noting that the numbers for battery storage are more complex than they may first appear.

Making the economics work will depend on how much your household consumes and when, the size of your solar array, if any, and the local tariff structure. Then you have to consider how you will use that battery, and how the grid might use it to.

Because batteries are left lying around doing nothing much of the time, ‘the sweet spot’ for consumers lies in the range of 3.5to 5.0 kWh/day. Or less, I would add. And that, my friends, leaves out 90% of the electricity consumers as they stand right now. That Adelaide guy in the 7:30 show is well out of his league, and when he’ll have to replace his underworked Li ion batteries after just 10 years, if he can still get some, he will be wondering why his green bling is so expensive to keep running… and to top it all off, the article raves about what will happen way out to 2030, assuming that business as usual will continue forever, and that there will still be a grid to hook up to, unlike Gail Tverberg, the optimist!

Deflationary Collapse Ahead?

26 10 2015

Has it started? With the powers that be having now called the top of Australia’s housing bubble and all four major banks raising interest rates to fulfill the regulators’ demand that they be ‘safer’, one must be asking when the deflationary spiral will begin, if it hasn’t already started. West Texas crude, I’ve just noticed, is at $44, and anything below $70 is tanking the oil companies. All the commodities Australia’s economy relies on are tanking too.

The one thing I’d love to know is exactly what was it that started Treasury to worry about our banks’ strengths. After years of spouting about how strong our banking system is, suddenly it isn’t? Few people know that our banks borrow from overseas. And let’s face it, overseas banks aren’t doing too well, and may be starting to ask for their money back. Australia may have dodged the GFC bullet in 2008, but the one coming next is another altogether different ball game.

Gail Tverberg has again published another excellent post on Our Finite Planet discussing this. “Both the stock market and oil prices have been plunging. Is this “just another cycle,” or is it something much worse? I think it is something much worse” she writes. And I have to agree. And it’s scaring me to bits as well……


Back in January, I wrote a post called Oil and the Economy: Where are We Headed in 2015-16? In it, I said that persistent very low prices could be a sign that we are reaching limits of a finite world. In fact, the scenario that is playing out matches up with what I expected to happen in my January post. In that post, I said

Needless to say, stagnating wages together with rapidly rising costs of oil production leads to a mismatch between:

  • The amount consumers can afford for oil
  • The cost of oil, if oil price matches the cost of production

This mismatch between rising costs of oil production and stagnating wages is what has been happening. The unaffordability problem can be hidden by a rising amount of debt for a while (since adding cheap debt helps make unaffordable big items seem affordable), but this scheme cannot go on forever.

Eventually, even at near zero interest rates, the amount of debt becomes too high, relative to income. Governments become afraid of adding more debt. Young people find student loans so burdensome that they put off buying homes and cars. The economic “pump” that used to result from rising wages and rising debt slows, slowing the growth of the world economy. With slow economic growth comes low demand for commodities that are used to make homes, cars, factories, and other goods. This slow economic growth is what brings the persistent trend toward low commodity prices experienced in recent years.

A chart I showed in my January post was this one:

Figure 1. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.

The price of oil dropped dramatically in the latter half of 2008, partly because of the adverse impact high oil prices had on the economy, and partly because of a contraction in debt amounts at that time. It was only when banks were bailed out and the United States began its first round of Quantitative Easing (QE) to get longer term interest rates down even further that energy prices began to rise. Furthermore, China ramped up its debt in this time period, using its additional debt to build new homes, roads, and factories. This also helped pump energy prices back up again.

The price of oil was trending slightly downward between 2011 and 2014, suggesting that even then, prices were subject to an underlying downward trend. In mid-2014, there was a big downdraft in prices, which coincided with the end of US QE3 and with slower growth in debt in China. Prices rose for a time, but have recently dropped again, related to slowing Chinese, and thus world, economic growth. In part, China’s slowdown is occurring because it has reached limits regarding how many homes, roads and factories it needs.

I gave a list of likely changes to expect in my January post. These haven’t changed. I won’t repeat them all here. Instead, I will give an overview of what is going wrong and offer some thoughts regarding why others are not pointing out this same problem.

Overview of What is Going Wrong

  1. The big thing that is happening is that the world financial system is likely to collapse. Back in 2008, the world financial system almost collapsed. This time, our chances of avoiding collapse are very slim.
  2. Without the financial system, pretty much nothing else works: the oil extraction system, the electricity delivery system, the pension system, the ability of the stock market to hold its value. The change we are encountering is similar to losing the operating system on a computer, or unplugging a refrigerator from the wall.
  3. We don’t know how fast things will unravel, but things are likely to be quite different in as short a time as a year. World financial leaders are likely to “pull out the stops,” trying to keep things together. A big part of our problem is too much debt. This is hard to fix, because reducing debt reduces demand and makes commodity prices fall further. With low prices, production of commodities is likely to fall. For example, food production using fossil fuel inputs is likely to greatly decline over time, as is oil, gas, and coal production.
  4. The electricity system, as delivered by the grid, is likely to fail in approximately the same timeframe as our oil-based system. Nothing will fail overnight, but it seems highly unlikely that electricity will outlast oil by more than a year or two. All systems are dependent on the financial system. If the oil system cannot pay its workers and get replacement parts because of a collapse in the financial system, the same is likely to be true of the electrical grid system.
  5. Our economy is a self-organized networked system that continuously dissipates energy, known in physics as a dissipative structureOther examples of dissipative structures include all plants and animals (including humans) and hurricanes. All of these grow from small beginnings, gradually plateau in size, and eventually collapse and die. We know of a huge number of prior civilizations that have collapsed. This appears to have happened when the return on human labor has fallen too low. This is much like the after-tax wages of non-elite workers falling too low. Wages reflect not only the workers’ own energy (gained from eating food), but any supplemental energy used, such as from draft animals, wind-powered boats, or electricity. Falling median wages, especially of young people, are one of the indications that our economy is headed toward collapse, just like the other economies.
  6. The reason that collapse happens quickly has to do with debt and derivatives. Our networked economy requires debt in order to extract fossil fuels from the ground and to create renewable energy sources, for several reasons: (a) Producers don’t have to save up as much money in advance, (b) Middle-men making products that use energy products (such cars and refrigerators) can “finance” their factories, so they don’t have to save up as much, (c) Consumers can afford to buy “big-ticket” items like homes and cars, with the use of plans that allow monthly payments, so they don’t have to save up as much, and (d) Most importantly, debt helps raise the price of commodities of all sorts (including oil and electricity), because it allows more customers to afford products that use them. The problem as the economy slows, and as we add more and more debt, is that eventually debt collapses. This happens because the economy fails to grow enough to allow the economy to generate sufficient goods and services to keep the system going–that is, pay adequate wages, even to non-elite workers; pay growing government and corporate overhead; and repay debt with interest, all at the same time. Figure 2 is an illustration of the problem with the debt component.Figure 2. Repaying loans is easy in a growing economy, but much more difficult in a shrinking economy.

Where Did Modeling of Energy and the Economy Go Wrong?

  1. Today’s general level of understanding about how the economy works, and energy’s relationship to the economy, is dismally low. Economics has generally denied that energy has more than a very indirect relationship to the economy. Since 1800, world population has grown from 1 billion to more than 7 billion, thanks to the use of fossil fuels for increased food production and medicines, among other things. Yet environmentalists often believe that the world economy can somehow continue as today, without fossil fuels. There is a possibility that with a financial crash, we will need to start over, with new local economies based on the use of local resources. In such a scenario, it is doubtful that we can maintain a world population of even 1 billion.
  2. Economics modeling is based on observations of how the economy worked when we were far from limits of a finite world. The indications from this modeling are not at all generalizable to the situation when we are reaching limits of a finite world. The expectation of economists, based on past situations, is that prices will rise when there is scarcity. This expectation is completely wrong when the basic problem is lack of adequate wages for non-elite workers. When the problem is a lack of wages, workers find it impossible to purchase high-priced goods like homes, cars, and refrigerators. All of these products are created using commodities, so a lack of adequate wages tends to “feed back” through the system as low commodity prices. This is exactly the opposite of what standard economic models predict.
  3. M. King Hubbert’s “peak oil” analysis provided a best-case scenario that was clearly unrealistic, but it was taken literally by his followers. One of Hubbert’s sources of optimism was to assume that another energy product, such as nuclear, would arise in huge quantity, prior to the time when a decline in fossil fuels would become a problem.Figure 2. Figure from Hubbert's 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

    The way nuclear energy operates in Figure 2 seems to me to be pretty much equivalent to the output of a perpetual motion machine, adding an endless amount of cheap energy that can be substituted for fossil fuels. A related source of optimism has to do with the shape of a curve that is created by the sum of curves of a given type. There is no reason to expect that the “total” curve will be of the same shape as the underlying curves, unless a perfect substitute (that is, having low price, unlimited quantity, and the ability to work directly in current devices) is available for what is being modeled–here fossil fuels. When the amount of extraction is determined by price, and price can quickly swing from high to low, there is good reason to believe that the shape of the sum curve will be quite pointed, rather than rounded. For example we know that a square wave can be approximated using the sum of sine functions, using Fourier Series (Figure 4).

    Figure 3. Source: Wolfram Mathworld.

  4. The world economy operates on energy flows in a given year, even though most analysts today are accustomed to thinking on a discounted cash flow basis.  You and I eat food that was grown very recently. A model of food potentially available in the future is interesting, but it doesn’t satisfy our need for food when we are hungry. Similarly, our vehicles run on oil that has recently been extracted; our electrical system operates on electricity that has been produced, essentially simultaneously. The very close relationship in time between production and consumption of energy products is in sharp contrast to the way the financial system works. It makes promises, such as the availability of bank deposits, the amounts of pension payments, and the continuing value of corporate stocks, far out into the future. When these promises are made, there is no check made that goods and services will actually be available to repay these promises. We end up with a system that has promised very many more goods and services in the future than the real world will actually be able to produce. A break is inevitable; it looks like the break will be happening in the near future.
  5. Changes in the financial system have huge potential to disrupt the operation of the energy flow system. Demand in a given year comes from a combination of (wages and other income streams in a given year) plus the (change in debt in a given year). Historically, the (change in debt) has been positive. This has helped raise commodity prices. As soon as we start getting large defaults on debt, the (change in debt) component turns negative, and tends to bring down the price of commodities. (Note Point 6 in the previous section.) Once this happens, it is virtually impossible to keep prices up high enough to extract oil, coal and natural gas. This is a major reason why the system tends to crash.
  6. Researchers are expected to follow in the steps of researchers before them, rather than starting from a basic understudying of the whole problem. Trying to understand the whole problem, rather than simply trying to look at a small segment of a problem is difficult, especially if a researcher is expected to churn out a large number of peer reviewed academic articles each year. Unfortunately, there is a huge amount of research that might have seemed correct when it was written, but which is really wrong, if viewed through a broader lens. Churning out a high volume of articles based on past research tends to simply repeat past errors. This problem is hard to correct, because the field of energy and the economy cuts across many areas of study. It is hard for anyone to understand the full picture.
  7. In the area of energy and the economy, it is very tempting to tell people what they want to hear. If a researcher doesn’t understand how the system of energy and the economy works, and needs to guess, the guesses that are most likely to be favorably received when it comes time for publication are the ones that say, “All is well. Innovation will save the day.” Or, “Substitution will save the day.” This tends to bias research toward saying, “All is well.” The availability of financial grants on topics that appear hopeful adds to this effect.
  8. Energy Returned on Energy Investment (EROEI) analysis doesn’t really get to the point of today’s problems. Many people have high hopes for EROEI analysis, and indeed, it does make some progress in figuring out what is happening. But it misses many important points. One of them is that there are many different kinds of EROEI. The kind that matters, in terms of keeping the economy from collapsing, is the return on human labor. This type of EROEI is equivalent to after-tax wages of non-elite workers. This kind of return tends to drop too low if the total quantity of energy being used to leverage human labor is too low. We would expect a drop to occur in the quantity of energy used, if energy prices are too high, or if the quantity of energy products available is restricted.
  9. Instead of looking at wages of workers, most EROEI analyses consider returns on fossil fuel energy–something that is at least part of the puzzle, but is far from the whole picture. Returns on fossil fuel energy can be done either on a cash flow (energy flow) basis or on a “model” basis, similar to discounted cash flow. The two are not at all equivalent. What the economy needs is cash flow energy now, not modeled energy production in the future. Cash flow analyses probably need to be performed on an industry-wide basis; direct and indirect inputs in a given calendar year would be compared with energy outputs in the same calendar year. Man-made renewables will tend to do badly in such analyses, because considerable energy is used in making them, but the energy provided is primarily modeled future energy production, assuming that the current economy can continue to operate as today–something that seems increasingly unlikely.
  10. If we are headed for a near term sharp break in the economy, there is no point in trying to add man-made renewables to the electric grid. The whole point of adding man-made renewables is to try to keep what we have today longer. But if the system is collapsing, the whole plan is futile. We end up extracting more coal and oil today, in order to add wind or solar PV to what will soon become a useless grid electric system. The grid system will not last long, because we cannot pay workers and we cannot maintain the grid without a financial system. So if we add man-made renewables, most of what we get is their short-term disadvantages, with few of their hoped-for long-term advantages.


The analysis that comes closest to the situation we are reaching today is the 1972 analysis of limits of a finite world, published in the book “The Limits to Growth” by Donella Meadows and others. It models what can be expected to happen, if population and resource extraction grow as expected, gradually tapering off as diminishing returns are encountered. The base model seems to indicate that a collapse will happen about now.

Figure 5. Base scenario from 1972 Limits to Growth, printed using today's graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in "Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil"

The shape of the downturn is not likely to be correct in Figure 5.  One reason is that the model was put together based on physical quantities of goods and people, without considering the role the financial system, particularly debt, plays. I expect that debt would tend to make collapse quicker. Also, the modelers had no experience with interactions in a contracting world economy, so had no idea regarding what adjustments to make. The authors have even said that the shapes of the curves, after the initial downturn, cannot be relied on. So we end up with something like Figure 6, as about all that we can rely on.

Figure 6. Figure 5, truncated shortly after production turns down, since modeled amounts are unreliable after that date.

If we are indeed facing the downturn forecast by Limits to Growth modeling, we are facing  a predicament that doesn’t have a real solution. We can make the best of what we have today, and we can try to strengthen bonds with family and friends. We can try to diversify our financial resources, so if one bank encounters problems early on, it won’t be a huge problem. We can perhaps keep a little food and water on hand, to tide us over a temporary shortage. We can study our religious beliefs for guidance.

Some people believe that it is possible for groups of survivalists to continue, given adequate preparation. This may or may not be true. The only kind of renewables that we can truly count on for the long term are those used by our forefathers, such as wood, draft animals, and wind-driven boats. Anyone who decides to use today’s technology, such as solar panels and a pump adapted for use with solar panels, needs to plan for the day when that technology fails. At that point, hard decisions will need to be made regarding how the group will live without the technology.

We can’t say that no one warned us about the predicament we are facing. Instead, we chose not to listen. Public officials gave a further push in this direction, by channeling research funds toward distant theoretically solvable problems, instead of understanding the true nature of what we are up against. Too many people took what Hubbert said literally, without understanding that what he offered was a best-case scenario, if we could find something equivalent to a perpetual motion machine to help us out of our predicament.

Another blog post costing the Earth……

26 10 2015

Hat tip to Chris Harries who put me onto this amazing piece of info. I’ve been meaning to write about this for ages, but with my internet access limited to my smart phone, blogging is difficult, for the time being.

I was prompted to visit this subject because I was asked for a citation for a comment I made on good old facebook that there was not enough renewable energy installed globally to run the internet, let alone doing all the other stuff ‘green people’ think will be achieved using solar and wind. Like making steel without coal, can you believe it? in fact, I was way off the mark…… the internet consumes three times as much energy as renewables produce!

So even before the stuff that goes into making computers and phones and modems and servers and whatever else goes into making our hi-tech lifestyle – like, let us not forget, the very renewables that are assumed by many to power the future – said renewables are again found very wanting…….

The source for this information is Low Tech Magazine, in an article titled Why We Need a Speed Limit for the Internet which starts with:

In terms of energy conservation, the leaps made in energy efficiency by the infrastructure and devices we use to access the internet have allowed many online activities to be viewed as more sustainable than offline.

On the internet, however, advances in energy efficiency have a reverse effect: as the network becomes more energy efficient, its total energy use increases. This trend can only be stopped when we limit the demand for digital communication.

To me, this sounds just like Jevons’ Paradox all over again….. and I’m not surprised either. As I continually go on about, nothing we do is sustainable. I’ve been on the internet ever since its early inception when dial up was as good as it got. And I remember that back then, loading web pages was actually no slower than it is now with high speed broadband. The reason for this is that as speed increased, websites got fatter. A bit like cars, houses, and people have over the past 20 years. Consumption rules, the more the better, the economy needs it!

As websites started loading on advertising, gif files, then flash files, all to keep us all amused, with vast arrays of ever more links and videos and photos and who knows what else is hiding behind all that code, hard drives to store all that stuff got bigger and bigger, more and more RAM was needed, servers got hotter and hotter requiring ever more fans and airconditioning just to keep them cool, etc etc…….

In recent years, the focus has been mostly on the energy use of data centers, which host the computers (the “servers”) that store all information online. However, in comparison, more electricity is used by the combination of end-use devices (the “clients”, such as desktops, laptops and smartphones), the network infrastructure (which transmits digital information between servers and clients), and the manufacturing process of servers, end-use devices, and networking devices

A second factor that explains the large differences in results is timing. Because the internet infrastructure grows and evolves so fast, results concerning its energy use are only applicable to the year under study. Finally, as with all scientific studies, researcher’s models, methods and assumptions as a base for their calculations vary, and are sometimes biased due to beliefs or conflicts of interest. For example, it won’t surprise anyone that an investigation of the internet’s energy use by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity sees much higher electricity consumption than a report written by the information and communication technology industry itself.

The other large factor is of course the vastly growing number of users. I recently saw an article stating that third world countries are totally bypassing copper wire phone technology and going wirelessly for smart phones.

So how much energy does the internet consume? The article quotes a figure of 8% of total global electricity production, or 1,815 TWh of electricity, a figure which is already three years old as it was calculated in 2012.offshorewind

If we were to try to power the (2012) internet with pedal-powered generators, each producing 70 watt of electric power, we would need 8.2 billion people pedaling in three shifts of eight hours for 365 days per year. (Electricity consumption of end-use devices is included in these numbers, so the pedalers can use their smartphones or laptops while on the job). Solar or wind power are not much of a solution, either: 1,815 TWh equals three times the electricity supplied by all wind and solar energy plants in 2012, worldwide.

Then you have to ask, which is growing faster, the internet, or renewable generation? Researchers, the article states, estimate that by 2017, the electricity use of the internet will rise to between 2,547 TWh (expected growth scenario) and 3,422 TWh (worst case scenario). If the worst-case scenario materializes, internet-related energy use will almost double in just 5 years time. So how much has renewable energy grown? Well…… it’s almost impossible to find out, because literally every site I’ve searched only quotes installed power, which as anyone reading this must surely know, is not related to energy produced, one iota….. and we should all also know that renewables never produce what they are supposed to, because in order to access funding for manufacturing and installing these devices, their energy production forecasts are always overestimated. Like the Ivanpah solar thermal plant that seems to be producing just 25% of its anticipated output.  And this chart below shows just how far renewable energy needs to go before it’s actually effective.

Because smartphones move much of the computational effort (and thus the energy use) from the end-device to the data center, the rapid adoption of smartphones is coupled with the equally rapid growth in cloud-based computer services, which allow users to overcome the memory capacity and processing power limitations of these mobile devices. Because the data processing, and the resulting outcome must be transmitted from the end-use device to the data center and back again, the energy use of the wireless network infrastructure also increases. Classic Jevons Paradox….. Like I keep saying, renewables will never power business as usual.


The AGA has landed….

23 10 2015

I wasn’t looking forward to this trip to Adelaide, but in the end, it wasn’t so bad. Nothing in particular went wrong, I didn’t crash the car, and the AGA is sitting on the floor of the apple shed, which is all I wanted…

I left Friday morning to catch that evening’s ferry to Melbourne. We didn’t sail at night on the last trip, so I wasn’t aware that the recliner chairs for sleeping had been refurbished, for the worst in my opinion.  Sure you can keep your smart phone charged on the USB built into the chair, and there are now power points for the laptop (and CPAP machine had I know there were power points), but the new chairs hardly recline, the foot rests are useless, and the seats are hard as. I reckon half the people there ended up sleeping on the floor!! Even I had a go. The last thing I needed before driving 750km to Adelaide was a bad night’s sleep, but that’s what I got.

I was one of the first cars off the boat, and was driving over the Westgate Bridge by 6:30am. When I hit Ballarat, where I filled up with cheap Victorian petrol, a pea soup of a fog hit the windscreen so sloppily, I had to have the wipers on. And it lasted easily 100km, with nothing to see. And I drove and I drove, and…. only to be detoured on the approaching side of Horsham where a fatal accident occurred.

Apparently, a man driving a BMW swerved into the path of an oncoming truck. Such a scenario happening to me was my worst nightmare on this trip. The number of times I’ve seen cars veer into my lane inexplicably is really scary, and for something like that to happen when you are just minding your own business and hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres from home, would not be nice to say the least.

I realise that compared to the destroyed lives of those involved my annoyance at being a good half hour late for my destination doesn’t really count, but there you go….. yes, I was annoyed.

I stopped for another fuel refill at Bordertown in South Australia and a quick burger for lunch, and within a few more hours I was at Mt Barker where Sam so kindly met me to direct me and my steed to the mansion where the AGA had been dismantled.

Now, AGAs are often viewed as status symbols in the UK where they are reasonably common, but I wasn’t expecting to see quite such a house, especially in the Adelaide Hills where I was expecting more of a hippy atmosphere. I guess we all come with preconceptions! I hope my new AGA will forgive me for taking it to a far more humble kitchen!


Without Sam’s able assistance, I think I might still be in Adelaide loading the ute. It was a much bigger job than I anticipated, but I came prepared with lots of ropes and rubber padding, and we eventually got it done, getting back to Sam’s place for an oh so appreciated dinner cooked by his lovely wife Angela whose patience I must’ve really stretched. I’ve known Sam for many years online, as you do, way back when the Running on Empty list started in the early noughties. It was great to meet up at last, and go for a stroll near the Adelaide seashore for a wonderful organic breakfast.

Eventually, I left, and because I had too good a time in Adelaide, I wasn’t even close to making it to Melbourne that night and stayed the night in Stawell (pronounced Stall I quickly discovered!). I stayed at a backpackers’ in St Kilda the following night, and caught up with Carlo who is drawing the plans for Mon Abri MkII.

The next day I caught up with Brendon who had kindly stored bathroom gear I picked up cheap as chips on my last visit to Melbourne. With a few hours to kill, I went to the cinema and watched The Martian, starring Matt Damon. A good yarn that almost involves permaculture on the red planet, but really, it’s all a flight of fancy. I still recommend it.

Another night on the damned ferry, though this time I brought my own pillows and slept better.

Crossing Tasmania is a mere 360km, and I was home well before dinner to unload before any rain might spoil the  whole effort.




I’ll have my work cut out to get this baby back together, but first I have to start building a house. Keep your eyes peeled….

Tasmanian Project

12 10 2015

Even though my life has now changed forever, there is still very little to report, apart from the fact recent rezoning means we have actually purchased ‘Significant Agricultural Land’. On the one hand, I’m rather chuffed at this idea, but it also means more work to get approval to build here. The growing amount of regulation needed to survive the Matrix is not going away, obviously, but having met with the planning section lady from Huon Valley Council, I was reassured that if I could write a convincing proposal showing I need to live there to successfully achieve the goals of farming the place, I should be OK. She thought, upon me explaining what I had in mind, that it was as good as done, so wish me luck, I might still need it!


Excelet showing compost bins that fit inside the pedestal

To set myself up, I feel like I’ve been spending money like a drunken sailor….. the biggest expense so far has definitely been the toilets, one of which I’ve installed in the shed to make the place a lot more civilised. These new Nature Loo Excelets are quite impressive and well thought out. Not having to build the compost bins under the slab will be a serious plus in assisting simple design of the next house, the drawings for which I am still waiting for.

I know very few people will get excited about a toilet, but let me tell you, after having to deal with what was literally just a bucket under a bench seat spreading odors through the shed, this beauty is orders of magnitude better.

I’ve also installed a camping instantaneous gas hot water system with shower, which means I no longer have to drive 25km to Huonville for a proper wash…. these are meant to be used outdoors, but the shed leaks so much air and the roof is so high, it’s as good as outside.

I was reminded yesterday of how little one needs to live when I attended a tank raising party at Hamish’s place. If I thought I was living rough, his pioneering lifestyle brought me back to reality. In the event of a total collapse before our new place is built, I have no doubt I could live in the shed for quite a while. It’s actually interesting how quickly one adapts to fairly substantial changes.

Hamish's living arrangements

Hamish’s living arrangements

I don’t envy Hamish the work he has in front of him, but I sure admire him for his grit. No doubt I will have more to do with him in the future, Tassie is full of interesting people…

Speaking of which, I cannot say enough how stoked I am with my new neighbours. Matt is from Queensland no less, and his charming wife Corrine from Malaysia – though you’d never know, she speaks Strayan just like the best of us! We have so many common goals and interests, it’s actually bewildering; and you could not find nicer people if you tried.

20151010_182533We had home made apple cider on their deck the other day, and Matt showed me how he smokes speck from his own pigs in a wardrobe! No, I am not kidding, he uses a wardrobe, and it works just fine too…..

I have made a lame attempt at a garden by pulling an old hardwood pallet to pieces, a job that I thought would take 20 minutes and which turned out to need half a day… then I had to find 8 wheelbarrow loads of soil to fill it up, an exercise requiring pushing said wheelbarrow some two and a half kilometres, with some of that obviously requiring pushing the full version! I have now discovered the pleasure of owning large acreage. I’m sure I walk several kilometres a day just looking at what’s happening around the property! Then, not having any compost, I had to buy some. Talk about a shock to the system. Anyhow, Matt’s offered me some of his if I ever should need more, and let’s face it, how much food can one grow in 2.5 m² of garden space?

Because of the rezoning, we are now going to have to build our new house 40m from the rear boundary, which is not far above the dam. The result will be even better water views than I had originally hoped for, but to achieve this we also have to cut down 30 Macrocarpa Cyprus trees. I’m hoping to have these trees milled for building the front wall and roof structure, and whilst I’ve been warned there could be a lot of waste due to the knotty nature of these trees, surely 30 trees will yield enough useful material….

Much cleaning up to do

Much cleaning up to do

I’ve started this process by cutting the bottom limbs off to allow access for felling, and that alone is proving to be a major enterprise. I’ve even had to buy a new chainsaw, a cheap Chinese device from eBay which I hope will last the distance. It’s cheap enough that it doesn’t matter if I kill it in the process, but with an 82cc motor, it’s not short of grunt. In the last few days, I’ve been clearing these limbs and moving them on the back of the ute. It will either kill me or get me fit, hopefully the latter.

There’s never a dull moment around here that’s for sure, and next weekend I’m going back to the North Island to fetch my AGA in Adelaide, which means I’ll be away for a whole five days thanks to the ferry availability (or lack thereof). Hopefully I’ll be able to make the most of being in Melbourne to bring back some building goodies, space on the ute allowing. If you read this Sam and are still able to help in Adelaide, can you you contact me please? I’d love to meet you in any case…..

Looking East from our house site..... eat your hear out!

Looking East from our house site….. eat your heart out!