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Powerdown part two

Written By: - Date published: 8:50 am, November 16th, 2020 - 90 comments
Categories: climate change, Economy, sustainability, transport - Tags: , , , ,

Really good to see this piece in the MSM on how and why greentech isn’t going to simply replace fossil fuels so we can continue business as usual, but instead we will need to powerdown.

at Stuff interviewed Christchurch transition engineer Susan Krumdieck, looking at Energy Returned on Energy Invested issues facing transition to a post-carbon economy and society. EROEI is the maths of how much energy it takes to produce energy for other human use. Each tech has its own EROEI.

Fossil fuels were able to drive the industrial, consumer and electronic revolutions because you can get 30 – 50 times as much energy as you spend producing it. Or we used to when there were still abundant supplies of easy to access oil and coal. Now we’re on the harder stuff, the EROEI is more like 4 – 5, a level which is economically unviable.

Hydro and geothermal have relatively good EROEI, 30 – 50 and 10 – 20 respectively.

Wind is 10 – 30 in ideal conditions, but New Zealand’s wind patterns don’t provide that and wind is notoriously unreliable.

Solar is from 10 down to zero, as well as the issues of coal being burned in China to produce the panels. (the elephant in the living room of green tech is the amount of fossil fuels needed to be burned to build all the new infrastructure and consumer goods).

Biofuels and hydrogen are close to zero.

It’s not hard to understand the limits of physical reality there. Krumdieck points out that New Zealand is already using the best techs available (hydro and geothermal), and once we look at transitioning all our energy use to that, it’s clear we won’t have enough, let alone for a perpetually growing economy. Her solution? To powerdown, probably to something like the level we had in the 1950s, “a 1950s scale energy budget”,

Krumdieck says start by thinking what that extra load is going to look like in terms of extra dams and geothermal plants having to be crammed into the New Zealand landscape.

Then don’t forget to include a further 2 to 3 per cent of annual energy supply growth to meet sustainability’s “business as usual” economic expectations.

Krumdieck says this is why it is time to flip the thinking. Face reality and accept a downshift philosophy.

Once we factor in EROEI as well as cradle to grave approaches to resource access and use, we come flat up against the physical limits of the world. How would we fit in the extra generation needed, while also creating a fair system of import from other places for our needs that didn’t keep those places in high carbon and pollution output and resource over extraction?

I wrote a post about the Powerdown a few years ago, using the work of pioneers Richard Heinberg and David Holmgren to show that a retraction of energy use wouldn’t collapse society and life into something nasty, brutish and short, but would do the necessary interventions regarding climate and the biodiversity crises while maintaining a decent standard of living for humans.

The Powerdown is a process where societies, in the face of climate change and resource depletion, choose to transition to a post-carbon world sustainably. Sustainably, because we cannot have perpetual growth in a physically finite world. Nor can we ecologically afford for the whole world to have Western middle class lifestyles, but instead we must live within the natural limits of the world in a way that allows that natural world to continually restore itself. Counting carbon and reducing it to zero is not enough.

What sustainability is in that context looks scary to people used to being able to buy whatever they want (should they be able to afford it individually or as a country), but enter stage left the large number of sustainability design theorists and practitioners who have been doing exactly this work on how to live within our means and protect human well being.

Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics, permaculture, many indigenous initiatives, Transition Towns, regenerative agriculture, the Tiny House movement, the local food movements, biomimicry, transition engineering, urban farming, are all examples of established disciplines rich with resources on how we can manage transition and do well. Thing is though, it’s a limited time offer. We act now and fast, or it becomes too late and we lock in future generations to varying degrees of social and economic collapse. Maybe even our own lives.

Krumdieck gives this example,

But Krumdieck says imagine taking a Texan – “a big old guy, with a big old truck” – and sending him to live in Amsterdam for a few years to do his job.

Just because of a change in the system of living, his energy consumption is immediately going to be cut by about 75 per cent.

“He’s still making good money. But he has a small apartment. He walks, bikes, or takes a tram to a small office. He’s using like a fourth the resources he had in Texas. And he’s not going to actually die because of it.”

Krumdieck says we simply have to redesign our lives, so they function on far less energy. And the good thing is people already want such a change. Research of the most-used term in US real estate adverts at the moment demonstrates this.

“In the United States, ‘walkable’ is now the number one property seller. I mean, whuuut?” she drawls.

For those interested, Holmgren did a whole body of work on how to use Australia and New Zealand’s 1950s/1960s built suburban environments into sustainable, future proofed resiliency systems that provide solutions to a whole raft of our current problems (housing, food production, employment, community, transport, climate adaptation) in addition to our urgent climate responsibilities. This is the kind of creative thinking we need right now to shift us out of the neoliberal, reality-denying, tinkering at the edges approach being used by our political and economic leaders.

The value of the Stuff article is that it lays out the problems and invites a discussion about the solutions. What would transition look like in New Zealand if we took the limits of nature seriously and positively designed our economy and communities with those limits as guidance instead of being in denial of them?

 

Susan Krumdieck has a website and a book on Transition Engineering, there is Transition HQ in New Zealand for engineering students and projects, and a transition conference at the end of the month.

90 comments on “Powerdown part two ”

  1. roy cartland 1

    A good start might be to think zero-sum; i.e. power is not actually 'produced', it is mined from elsewhere and needs to be replenished somehow. An example is that hydro trickle-charge scheme gov was talking about: slowly trickle water uphill to recharge the reservoir when we don't need to use power, and release it in a gush when we do. Like any old water tower.

    In other words, it's the usage of energy across time, rather than in total.

    • weka 1.1

      very good roy. The whole 'renewable' thing has been widely misconstrued and misunderstood. Energy mining is a brilliant framing in the context of capture and usage infrastructure.

      Permaculture people talk about sunlight as an energy source, how fossil fuels condensed that via plants to an incredible degree but it took extremely long timeframes that humans can't really make use of. There really is no substitute for that, and it's the uphill battle capitalism is trying to fight but it won't win. If we'd transitioned in the 70s and 80s, even the 90s, we'd be in a much better position, having taken advantage of that concentrated energy from fossil fuels. But we wasted that opportunity. Learning from that would be a really good move about now.

  2. mango 2

    "Biofuels and hydrogen are close to zero." Just a slight disagreement here. Hydrogen EROI is actually always negative not just zero. Biofuels vary from very low to usable depending on the technology and where the feedstock comes from and who you ask.

        • Pat 2.1.1.1

          You know how much diesel is burnt harvesting, processing and transporting that wood chip.

          • Andre 2.1.1.1.1

            That's all diesel that could be replaced by electricity.

            • weka 2.1.1.1.1.1

              which there is limited supply of.

              • Andre

                There are many orders of magnitude more sources of energy we could harvest to turn into electricity than we do now, were we to choose to do so. Right now, and for a long time in the future, the limitation on supply of electricity is a result of our choices, not any physics or other resource limitation on supply.

                For sure, if population and energy use per capita were both to continue soaring, then eventually a resource limitation would happen. But that is centuries if not millenia in the future.

                • weka

                  You really seem to have missed the point of the post Andre. Feel free to challenge Krumdieck's position and assertions, but please leave off with the generalised assertions of your own that ignore the post.

                  Or write a guest post! 🙂

            • Pat 2.1.1.1.1.2

              not really….youd need some very large capacity batteries and very high horse power electric motors to run the gear they need

    • xanthe 2.2

      "Hydrogen EROI is actually always negative not just zero"

      I actually agree with you but then ALL fossil fuels are negative.

      Hydrogen can be derived from fossil fuels with a positive EROI not counting the fossil fuel stock.

      EROI in my opinion Has been somewhat manipulated by "scientists" to attempt to justify BAU

    • Andre 2.3

      Hydrogen EROI is actually always negative not just zero.

      Err, no. That's not the way the math works. The lowest EROI can go is zero – say if you produced a solar cell (energy invested), then buried it in a landfill without ever harvesting any solar energy from it (zero energy returned), or produced a load of hydrogen (energy invested), and it all just leaked out (zero energy returned).

      Anything that ever delivers useful energy will have EROI greater than zero by definition – because it has actually delivered useful energy. If that useful delivered energy is a lot less than the energy that went in, the EROI will be close to zero, so it's probably not much fucking use for much of anything.

      Any energy storage system will have EROI between zero and 1, because of losses. That's true whether it's a battery or pumped hydro up around 0.95ish, or hydrogen around 0.25ish at best, or even creating liquid fuels from CO2 directly extracted from air which might be at EROI of 0.1.

      Despite the really crappy EROI of the likes of hydrogen or liquid fuels from air, there may still be a place for them in the future. Because they may still be the highest energy density means of storing energy. There are a few applications that absolutely require portable high energy density – long haul aviation and shipping come to mind.

      But almost all other energy users can be electrified, and will mostly be better for it. It's just a matter of economics.

      • RedLogix 2.3.1

        Any energy storage system will have EROI between zero and 1, because of losses. That's true whether it's a battery or pumped hydro up around 0.95ish, or hydrogen around 0.25ish at best, or even creating liquid fuels from CO2 directly extracted from air which might be at EROI of 0.1.

        Which is why EROI is the wrong measure for storage systems; the more meaningful parameter is Energy Stored On Energy Invested (ESOEI). The implications of this are explored in some detail here.

        But then as this interesting analysis suggests, there is more to it that this:

        That still leaves PV, though. And anyway, even if batteries only have marginal ESOIs, provided those values are still positive wouldn’t there still be a case for using them? Unfortunately for the battery industry, this is where things get even more complicated.

        It turns out merely having a positive ESOI or EROI is not enough.

        Now this article is a few years old, but the basics still apply. New battery tech continues to develop, but ultimately it seems to me that the concept of 100% solar and wind renewable, plus storage (so-called SWB technology) is still somewhat flawed. It's incredibly complex and ultimately limited by the available land area and insolation available in most populated parts of the world.

        • xanthe 2.3.1.1

          Yes energy storage systems need a different measure from EROI

          And hydrogen fuel can be either depending on circumstances, If (hypothetically!) hydrogen was extracted from water at Tiwai point and then used to power south Island alpine public transport.Then it would be as battery

          Hydrogen derived from fossil feedstock is just another fossil fuel

          AHH but hydrogen extracted from organic decomposition would have its own EROT

      • WeTheBleeple 2.3.2

        One figure for all power sources (EROI) is useful for comparisons, but it rubbishes the use of technology that in the right context is viable.

        In a NZ context biofuel and pyrolisation provide interesting opportunities.

        e.g. A pipeline for dairy effluent could be: Effluent – biodigestor – Biogas for farm power, chemicals for industry, compost for the farm, liquid nutrient to grow high protein azolla for stock feed – wetlands for aquaculture, biodiversity, drought resilience, aquifer replenishment, habitat, aesthetics, production.

        Any forestry based operation not creating biochar and heat/power from prunings is missing an opportunity. Also, innoculating stumps with fungi for faster land restoration. They could heat nurseries, greenhousing, timber drying facilities, work spaces. Meanwhile sequestering carbon for centuries (biochar) and improving soils water holding capacity and fertility. Fungal products for themselves or locals as another bonus.

        The issue is people wanting cookie cutter solutions to complex problems. Piping in power, water etc to farms that can collect so much power and water themselves… I'm not bagging farmers here I'm saying we are all plugged in and switched off.

        Pyro and bio are not just low power potentials. They turn problems into products.

        • KJT 2.3.2.1

          Using wood waste for timber kilns is an existing example.

          • WeTheBleeple 2.3.2.1.1

            They're all existing examples.

            Wood kilns producing biochar, biogas, chemicals and process heat? There are some examples in NZ now?

            All that slash that winds up polluting lowlands, rivers, estuaries and harbors. That’s all a potential product and as a community and ecology problem should be required practice to recover. Smart recovery of the resource and lands involved will be more attractive than a simple pick up your rubbish order to business.

    • KJT 2.4

      Hydrogen as we are proposing to use it, is a storage medium for energy, not an energy source. Batteries are less than zero also, under the same basis..

      • weka 2.4.1

        does the manufacture of hydrogen from hydroelectric for say running trucks, then become part of the EROEI for hydro for those purposes? Trying to see how storage fits into the scheme of things.

        • KJT 2.4.1.1

          Yes. We are looking at the EROEI for the final use. The total net gain in sustainability, if you like. I prefer to look at all our energy use as an interlinked system. Keeping an open mind, as technologies change rapidly.

          I don't think hydrogen will ever run trucks. When you can simply plug them in at night. Or, even better, put them in a train with a constant power supply from the rails. I expect at some stage roads will supply the power for trucks. By induction?

          Inductive roads.

          We are fortunate in New Zealand, in that we can replace almost all our energy use, including trucks and transport, with a moderate addition to our “sustainable” sources. Saving a fortune in fossil fuel import costs at the same time.

          For ships it is different. You cannot run a power lead from Lyttelton to Port Moresby. Failing some massive advance in solar panel efficiency, unlikely, that is where I do see a use for Hydrogen or nuclear power.

          Part of the solution is more local manufacture. But I don't see us stopping delivering groceries from market gardens in one part of the country or countries to swap for building materials produced elsewhere, anytime soon. Ships are our lowest energy per ton, form of transport.

          Hydrogen as a storage medium is much more energy dense than even the best batteries. So are fossil fuels of course. But the by product of burning hydrogen is water. There is a few problems to solve, but no more than there is with small nuclear reactors. The source of the hydrogen, needs to be much more sustainable than most of the hydrogen production at present.

          My problem is that I am concerned about safety, with the general "lowest common denominator' approach to shipping.

          • Draco T Bastard 2.4.1.1.1

            I don't think hydrogen will ever run trucks. When you can simply plug them in at night. Or, even better, put them in a train with a constant power supply from the rails. I expect at some stage roads will supply the power for trucks. By induction?

            Trains have another advantage to trucks as well in their regenerative breaking which can be immediately fed back into the grid.

            Trucks also have regenerative breaking but have the added step of it feeding back into storage. That extra step is added resources and the need for more power to move the truck.

            Induction can be made to work but it represents another loss of energy. Still, it may be less than the loss caused by carrying a battery.

  3. Pat 3

    "And so Krumdieck is off to the Orkneys next.

    What happened is Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University heard about her work as a result of transition engineering talks she gave in the UK.

    The university offered a professorship – a five-year opportunity to base herself in a remote community and develop a real-life energy transition plan."

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/122689734/sustainability-is-wishful-thinking-get-ready-for-the-energy-downshift

    And so we lose the very talent we need…and not I suspect for more money but the frustration of beating her head against a brick wall here.

    We could have hundreds of Susan Krumdieck's improving NZ if we would simply listen to them and give them real projects that they can realise…we would all benefit but we are too stupid (scared/greedy) to contemplate such.

    Our loss is the Orkneys gain

  4. Phillip ure 4

    It's not that hard to do..to downsize/change…..I have gone from living in a house..like most other people..to living off-grid in a tiny-house…being vegan also has lessened my foot-print…(and I feel fine..!..)

    • Phillip ure 4.1

      So much of it comes back to the individual/personal..eh…?

    • Patricia Bremner 4.2

      In 1996 we decided to downsize. We searched for a small unit which got sun all day, walking distance to a 4 Square a postbox and walking tracks in parks. We got lucky.

      We then checked and added to the insulation. We renewed the spouting checked that lead head nails were removed, and because of that built up a small vege patch planted a lemon and a few berry bushes in pots. We allowed a section of our back to "regenerate" as well as planting blue bee friendly plants and the bees love it.

      Friends were askance at first, and when we talked of climate change we were "oh greenies". Now they all wish they had done similar as they have unused rooms large sections and the resulting bills. They are more aware and often say they have changed something in their lives adding " you did that years ago"

      The meat issue is harder, as a redhead lol white now, I need red meat twice a week. I have tried iron in all other methods and become anaemic even adding cummin to foods. We have reduced meat to twice a week. Is anyone able to suggest a really good vegetarian cookbook?

      Our next investment will be double glazing on our 5 windows in our "L" shaped lounge dining kitchen area, as in 2 years time our wood burner may have to go and electric heating by heat pump for the coldest part of winter will need support.

      Further we have always insisted on natural fibres for clothing bedding and carpet. What a fight I had to get wool carpet for our living area. The underlay was a nightmare!! Choosing natural is not made easy. The oil industry is so pervasive.

      Although we have 3 beautiful rose bushes which are all in memory of a loved one, we have planted natives on our small plot, and find they are easy care and with careful choices help the birds.

      Many people feel overwhelmed, and the most they feel able to do in their late 70's early 80's is to "tinker round the edges". That surely is better than nothing?

      We should be encouraging and noting efforts more I think, and giving simple straight forward advice and action plans ie successful swaps.

      • Phillip ure 4.2.1

        Re recipie books…google bosch…they have a series of books/online tutorials etc…

      • greywarshark 4.2.2

        We should be encouraging and noting efforts more I think, and giving simple straight forward advice and action plans ie successful swaps.

        Robert's How to Get There posts were doing this, but it needs people to take a constant interest and participate with their green ideas and comments. It just fell away, sometimes there was exchange of ideas for the garden and green things, and sometimes none. People going for a greener way have to constantly support each other, talk to each other, and swap etc. Keep the spirit alive. The spirit of ennui is an oxymoron. And so much time goes into listening and watching the dull spark off spiteful jibes and sneers, and then the comment is all about …whoever – what they said instead of about something smart, clever, enjoyable. We can't build mental muscle that way.

  5. Ad 5

    Does this relate to anything this government is doing – either in the Climate Commission or in EECA?

    • weka 5.1

      Have a read of the Stuff piece for Krumdieck's view on the Greens' approach. I can't imagine her view on Labour is better. Basically she's saying it's too late for much of what NZ is trying to do. I don't follow the Commission or the EECA issues because from a powerdown point of view it was never going to be enough. Not that there aren't useful things there, but the whole approach is a BAU one, rather than one that will seriously engage with the disruptions that are coming or the ways we could prevent them.

      • Ad 5.1.1

        Well I take the opposite view from you.

        If as you say the authors you quote are rejecting engagement with the substantive and broad-ranging policy instruments and law that the Greens and Labour put in power to change New Zealand into a more decarbonised state, then it's just not something I'm interested in.

        • weka 5.1.1.1

          I'm not suggesting rejecting engagement. As you know, I support the Greens to go hard in parliament and that the political and policy processes are incredibly important.

          I'm personally not that interested in what the government is doing because my natural home is in regenerative systems and that's not where mainstream NZ is at. I don't believe our current approach is sufficient but I do believe it's necessary to be heading in the right direction. My hope would be that those people who do engage with those systems and enjoy it, that they are able to see beyond them to the next steps and can recognise that at some point we will need more than a 'more decarbonised state'.

          Afaik the whole CC strategy is based on supporting a growth economy. I just don't believe that is possible and at some point we will come up hard against the realities of that. Best we start talking about that now. You have a good mind for business and government systems, I hope you look at Krumdieck's work because she's presenting a compelling case for change.

      • KJT 5.1.2

        To my mind, the people who say it is "to late we may as well not bother" are as bad as being in denial.

        • weka 5.1.2.1

          do you believe that NZ can transition BAU fossil fuels to BAU green tech and keep a growth economy? That's what is too late.

          • KJT 5.1.2.1.1

            Infinite growth in a finite world is not possible.

            “Too late” plays into the hands of those who want BAU. Just as much as denial does.

            However I don’t have much hope we will do enough, fast enough.

            • weka 5.1.2.1.1.1

              I think we are talking about different things. I'm saying the ship has sailed that would have allowed large scale replacement of existing fossil fuel tech with green tech so we can continue as normal. That's what the post was about.

              That's different from it not being too late to make the necessary changes to society so we don't go down in a screaming mess.

              • KJT

                I'm not sure that we are talking about different things.

                I think it is obvious that we cannot simply replace fossil energy with more "sustainable energy' driven versions of what we had. That is rather magical thinking.

                The growth, present day capitalism and our finance system requires to function, is incompatible with an environment that supports human civilisation.

                I wrote a whole article about it.

                AGW requires a different paradigm.

                How to maintain a level of functioning society that meets present day needs, with less energy use?

                Society as a whole has to find the will, and the ability, to adapt.

                Covid and the frantic return to BAU, even though a majority seemed to support "building back better" shows the inertia inherent in our vesting power on the few most wealthy.

  6. Stuart Munro 6

    A paradigm that deifies consumerist vices like real estate speculation is not about to grapple meaningfully with a light-handed culture.

    Little matters like establishing a viable culture for seasonal workers is beyond them, though some kind of mobile accommodation along the lines of tiny homes is a pretty obvious solution, they'd rather have slave workers. Less trouble when you have to dispose of them I guess.

    RCEP is more their speed – a wine and cheese circuit for heads of state. They're just too (self) important to grapple with actual problems.

    • greywarshark 6.1

      Two ends of a piece of rope (which could be used to hang us?) – deifies v defies? Less meetings which are not conducted according to what should be basic principles with tick boxes under the discussion heading – say

      * What is said to be needed?
      * Why?
      * By whom?
      * Does it serve the needs of all the people in this country?
      * Is it possible to do this in a different way to do the above?
      * If not, what is preventing this?
      * What will it cost and who will benefit most?
      * Is this looking to the future and solving various social and climate change problems that must be faced and need solutions?
      * If not, is short-term effectiveness suitable and at the same time long-term preparedness can be initiated and implemented?
      * etc.

      Meetings and consultations that give options but don't deal with the above are the common way to proceed at present it seems. Running on a treadmill, telling ourselves we are so clever. The NZ physical approach with the mental part carried in the handcart; a headless society chopped by guillotine. Who'd have thought it?

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    but New Zealand’s wind patterns don’t provide that and wind is notoriously unreliable.

    [citation needed]

    Especially considering that studies show the opposite:

    New Zealand has outstanding wind resources, due to its position astride the Roaring Forties, resulting in nearly continuous strong westerly winds over many locations, unimpeded by other nearby landmasses at similar latitude.[5] One study found that using 1% of total available land for wind farms would produce approximately 100,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year.

    Seems highly reliable with slow being in the minority. Will still need other forms of generation to cover those times when the wind doesn't blow but that should be manageable with good planning.

    Solar is from 10 down to zero, as well as the issues of coal being burned in China to produce the panels.

    Wrongish:

    Let’s look at what a neutral scientifically focused source, the US National Renewable Energy Lab, says about solar power and the energy payback situation: “Energy payback estimates for rooftop PV systems are 4, 3, 2, and 1 years: 4 years for systems using current multicrystalline-silicon PV modules, 3 years for current thin-film modules, 2 years for anticipated multicrystalline modules, and 1 year for anticipated thin-film modules (see Figure 1). With energy paybacks of 1 to 4 years and assumed life expectancies of 30 years, 87% to 97% of the energy that PV systems generate won’t be plagued by pollution, greenhouse gases, and depletion of resources.”

    That's an EROEI of around 8 for currently available PVs to thirty estimated for near future. As the tech gets better that will rise.

    And we could always produce them here using our mostly renewable and carbon free electricity rather than import from elsewhere. They could even become a serious export earner for us.

    How would we fit in the extra generation needed, while also creating a fair system of import from other places for our needs that didn’t keep those places in high carbon and pollution output and resource over extraction?

    Easy. Don't import it and produce what we need here from our own resources which, as I've pointed out time and time again, we're quite capable of doing.

    Going to renewable power requires good planning which is why it should be done by government with the complete removal of the private sector from it. People doing random stuff isn't going to cut it.

    And, yes, I'm in favour of a stable state economy. The continuous growth model that we have is unsustainable as its based upon the idea of economies of scale applied backwards.

    • weka 7.1

      "[citation needed]"

      Did you read the Stuff article? I was listing the EROEI info from that and Krumdieck has a brief explanation.

      • Draco T Bastard 7.1.1

        Yes I did. It really doesn't help that an engineer seems to be using the wrong figures.

        NZ is a windy place but to make the most of that the placing of the wind generators need to be planned across the entire country and not just random bit here and random bit there as we're getting with private investment.

        Same goes for solar and, in fact, our entire electricity generation. NZ should never have any issues with generating the power that it needs.

        That said, we do need to have a look at what we need against what people desire.

        • weka 7.1.1.1

          are you arguing that wind and solar could largely replace BAU fossil fuels? Because that's what she is talking about.

          • KJT 7.1.1.1.1

            In NZ certainly!

            UK

            Other countries are not so lucky. But, even they are getting there.

            Germany

            Then there is using energy more efficiently.

            https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/01/15/renewable-energy-is-growing-fast-in-the-u-s-but-fossil-fuels-still-dominate/

            “Looked at a different way, the U.S. economy has become steadily less energy-intensive since the end of World War II. In 1949, it took 15,175 Btu to generate each dollar of real gross domestic product. By 2018, it took 5,450, a 64% decrease. But there’s still plenty of inefficiency in the system: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory calculated that in 2018, about two-thirds of all the energy used was wasted (as with heat exhaust from vehicles and furnaces). And only 34.5% of the energy used by the electric power industry reaches end users as electricity – the rest is lost in the process of generating, transmitting and distributing the power.

    • xanthe 7.2

      given the way that westerlies tend to arrive in the south and work their way up both islands it would seem that a series of wind installations spaced on the west coast the length of both islands would give long periods of continuous power as the system moved up the islands

      • In Vino 7.2.1

        I fear that climate change is already destroying that prevailing westerly flow. With La Niña predicted for this summer, easterlies are likely to be more prevalent.

        Things ain't what they used to be.

  8. KJT 8

    There is no such thing as sustainable. Entropy always wins.

    Energy sources are simply more or less sustainable.

    I don't agree about wind power. Over the length of New Zealand it is possible to get pretty much constant power from wind. The other good thing about it is that it is strongest when Solar is lower.

    There is no one good answer to energy supply. Many non fossil fuel options will be required.

    And. Having to make more efficient use of the available energy at the same time.

    It is true we have to "power down". But that does not mean going back to the days before we had fossil fuels. A lot of our current energy use is not necessary.

    Just one example is my boat. Nowadays I can run refrigeration, lighting stereo etc on a couple of Solar panels. A few years ago, even if the solar panel s were available, they wouldn't have kept up with the power demands of all of those.. I have almost the same facilities that, ten years ago, would have needed a petrol genset running constantly. LED lights, efficient insulation, passive cooling and other ideas make it much more power efficient. In the not to distant future I expect to replace the last user of fossil fuel. The outboard.

    We do need to rethink and reduce energy use, but RL's idea that it means we want to go back to a horse and cart, is false.

    BTW. A horse and cart requires more energy and land use, than an electric truck.

    • RedLogix 8.1

      We do need to rethink and reduce energy use, but RL's idea that it means we want to go back to a horse and cart, is false.

      But if you look at all the globalised industrial systems that make your boat possible (and trust me I understand this in specific detail), then you'll quickly see that without them you'd be paddling something made from wood.

      • KJT 8.1.1

        My boat is made from wood.

        Yes. I understand all the, Human Co-operation and Development that made my boat possible.

        But equally, I could have built something that does the same job, only slightly less efficiently, from products and with people, available to me within walking distance.

        • Drowsy M. Kram 8.1.1.1

          "…without them you'd be paddling something made from wood." – RL

          "My boat is made from wood." – KJT

          Heh – but KJT, how do you keep a lid on your seething envy?

        • RedLogix 8.1.1.2

          My boat is made from wood

          And coated and protected with what? And if it has sails, I'm guessing they're made from dacron. The lines, are you still using hemp or something a little more modern? And your nice solar cells, from refined silicon. And the wiring, the cores are copper and the insulation is an engineered plastic. And on and on.

          Nothing about your boat is possible without an industrialised economy. And even in the case that you want to claim your boat really is a purely pre-industrial wooden boat, using totally natural materials everywhere, then look around the anchorage you are in, how many others meet this description. Hardly any. The entire sailing industry is totally enmeshed with high tech materials and components everywhere. It enables the marinas. the chandleries, the navigation software, the guides, the service trades and so on.

          And without that industry you'd be pretty much on your own. Not sure how far you'd get.

          • KJT 8.1.1.2.1

            LOL.

            "And even in the case that you want to claim your boat really is a purely pre-industrial wooden boat, using totally natural materials everywhere",

            I might have known you were going to argue with something i've never said.

            • RedLogix 8.1.1.2.1.1

              Having now ruled out the possibility that your boat is entirely pre-industrial (hell some people do go that far so I had to check if you were one of them) then can I assume you have made at least some concessions to the modern world. You mentioned solar panels. Does this mean you have copper wiring, or something really tech nasty like an inverter?

              Have you painted it with an epoxy or urethane? And so on. I'm willing to suggest that 99% of your wooden boat has an industrial component or aspect at some stage in it's story.

              Even less than 100 years ago, only the very wealthy could afford a leisure boat like yours, now they are within the reach of many middle class people if they really want one. All this is only possible because of the immense productivity of our modern industrial world that has brought the price within your reach.

              Don't misread my intent here; my point is that because most of the time we don't actually see what goes into the making of virtually every built item in our environment, we tend to greatly underestimate just how many complex linkages, in terms of sciences, engineering, materials, production technologies and sheer human competency at every step that make any of these things possible. And that doesn't speak to the layers of social infrastructure like education, health, welfare and security that all indirectly contribute.

              Because you may want to think a bit harder before advocating that we dismantle the economic system that seems to have enabled it all, and exactly how much we stand to lose if it all unravels without constraint. It would I suggest, make the COVID crisis look a very modest affair indeed.

              • KJT

                The system we have, is going to demolish itself, and human capability to have any sort of "industrial society", without any help from me.

                Unless we change it!

                • RedLogix

                  Indeed it might, I've always allowed for that possibility.

                  But the cure you offer is only makes this outcome more likely, not less.

                  • KJT

                    You have nfa about the "cure I offer" as you obviously have mis comprehended and conflated it with ideas that are not mine.

                    The "cure I offer" is what has been proven to work in the past.

                    Not, US exceptionist predatory capitalism, and globalisation. Which is what you are spruiking

              • Drowsy M. Kram

                "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble…"

                "can I assume" "I'm willing to suggest" "It would I suggest"
                "…that has brought the price within your reach."

                That last one contains a revealing assumption – anyone else?

                Re a (controlled?) partial unravelling/reversal of our current systems/progress – some certainly stand to lose more than others. Personally I think our current systems could do with some remodelling to direct abundant resources to those most in need.

    • weka 8.2

      I don't think it's an issue of no wind power. The argument is don't assume that we can replace BAU fossil fuels with wind, solar, biofuels etc.

      Would love to see the rationale/analysis of horse and cart vs truck.

    • gsays 8.3

      I am with you on wind.

      Moving parts.

      I live off grid, solar and a 1 kw turbine, in the Manawatu. I have rebuilt the turbine once.

      They are lovely to look at and there is a romantic appeal.

      Much prefer to wash off the panels annually.

    • Pat 8.4

      you miss her point about the energy required to fabricate, install and maintain alternative energy sources such as wind….they all largely rely on the dense mobile energy that oil provides, and it is diminishing..that is the significance of EROI.

      We have to adapt to less energy, whether we like it or not

      • RedLogix 8.4.1

        We have to adapt to less energy, whether we like it or not

        In Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail he wrote of the how the Greenland Norse more or less starved to death as the climate became cooler, while surrounded by an ocean of fish that they were apparently reluctant to eat. This was not of course the sole reason for their demise, but it could not have helped.

        • Pat 8.4.1.1

          the same bogus theory was applied to the Irish potato famine

          • RedLogix 8.4.1.1.1

            Claiming an idea is bogus while presenting no argument is … to put it politely … weak.

            And if the theory is bogus, what explains the Norse demise from Greenland, after centuries of successful occupancy, while their immediate neighbours the Innuit happily lived on while hunting seals and fishing as they always did?

            And the Norse reluctance to eat fish is reasonably well supported:

            Those dairy products made up only half of the Norse diet; the other half came from seals and caribou. Incomprehensibly to us today, the Greenland Norse did almost no fishing, even though they were descended from Norwegian fisherman, and though Greenland’s abundant fish are overwhelmingly its main export today. Salmon are so easy to catch in Greenland’s rivers that, on my first night in Greenland, in the kitchen of the youth hostel at the former site of Erik the Red’s farm, I met a Danish tourist cooking two large fish that she had caught with her bare hands in a shallow pool. Archaeologists who come to dig in Greenland arrive incredulous that the Norse did not fish there, hope to discover where all those overlooked fish bones are hiding, fail, and still cannot believe the result. I prefer to accept the result at face value: the Greenland Norse probably developed an irrational cultural prejudice against eating fish, like the prejudice of most North Americans against goat.

            • Pat 8.4.1.1.1.1

              Think your thoughtless rant may have answered itself…

              "while their immediate neighbours the Innuit happily lived on while hunting seals and fishing as they always did?"

  9. greywarshark 9

    This is an interesting idea about solidifying sand to stop deserts spreading I think. Might have an appplication against coastal erosion and 'travelling' dunes.

    Paper on solidifying deserts: Interesting from Magnus Larsson

    http://www.regionalclimateperspectives.com/uploads/4/4/2/5/44250401/larssonsandarchitecture.pdf 2020? 33 pages
    http://www.regionalclimateperspectives.com/uploads/4/4/2/5/44250401/larssonsandarchitecture.pdf
    Localised cementation of the desert sand is achieved through microbiallyinduced carbonate precipitation (MICP) using the microorganismBacillus paste-urii, an aerobic bacterium pervasive in natural soil deposits (Le Metayer-Levrelet al.1999; Nemati and Voordouw2003; DeJong et al.2006; Whiffin et al.2007). Inthe right circumstances, the bacterium’s enzymatic urease catalyst hydrolyses urea,which—when the process occurs in a calcium-rich environment—generates calcite(the most stable polymorph of calcium carbonate), which binds the individualgrains of sand together.

  10. gnomic 10

    More dams are mentioned as a possibility. My guess would be that there are few locations where more hydro could be exploited. Perhaps someone with knowledge of these matters can comment?

    I also have a nagging doubt at the back of my mind about the lifespan of dams. Do they ever need to be replaced, or substantially refurbished? Step forward dam experts and sooth my worried mind.

    • RedLogix 10.1

      Good questions.

      Most of the easy hydro locations have long gone; the only ones left in NZ are all in high value conservation areas, usually on the West Coast. There is a pumped hydro scheme at Lake Onslow that's been floating around for a while, but I can't say if it will get built.

      And ultimately they are all prone to sedimentation of the storage lake, that over time reduces their buffering capacity. How long is very dependent on the specifics of the site, and the nature of the river.

      In short while NZ is particularly well served by it's hydro generation, it's not something we can expand dramatically or rely on indefinitely into the future.

    • Andre 10.2

      Most of the remaining potential for hydro in New Zealand is somehow protected for conservation one way or another. Such as being in a National Park, or having explicit protection as a wild and scenic river.

      Looking over the proposed new generation projects for NZ, there's a bit over 700MW of hydro projects proposed. The single largest project is on the Waitaki that would be 280MW, none of the others are over 100MW. For comparison, Manapouri generates about 700MW on average year round, up to 850MW peak. Total hydro capacity in NZ is about 5500MW, 1840 in the North Island, 3660MW in the South Island.

      Dams don't really have a lifetime as such. Kinda the closest is where the river carries a lot of sediment, so when a dam is built it will be known to silt up within a known period.

      Occasionally there will be design and construction fuckups that then require ongoing work to prevent catastrophe. Such as the Mosul Dam in Iraq, that was built on soils susceptible to piping, and requires frequent searches to find incipient piping and grouting to fill the developing problem. Basically, it should never have been built there, but when Saddam Hussein says do it, what are ya gonna do? But the more common result of that kind of fuckup is collapse pretty much as soon as it's filled, like the Teton Dam collapse in Idaho in 1976, or the collapse of the canal feeding the Ruahihi Power Station near Tauranga in the early 80's (I got to watch that one happening, me and my mates were there for a farewell weekend of kayaking down the Wairoa River before it got shut off).

      Failing that kind of fuckup, there will be instances of having to deal with emergencies, and emergency structures aren't up to snuff. Oroville a couple years ago, or Glen Canyon Dam in 1983 (would have been a helluva ride down the Grand Canyon if that had gone) that then require a substantial repair.

      Spillways and penstocks and other bits regularly exposed to flowing water can require regular maintenance just from water erosion.

      But as far as the lifetime of a well built dam without design or construction flaws or sedimentation or other fuckups, the likely answer is centuries. There's not really any generalisable phenomenon that causes a predictable steady loss of structural integrity leading to a predictable finite lifetime. Not like, say, fatigue in metals.

    • weka 10.3

      Yes they need to be replaced.

      Although large concrete gravity dams have a theoretical design life of 80-100 years, the actual lifespan of a dam is determined by the rate at which its reservoir fills with sediment. In severely eroding catchments, millions of cubic metres of sediment can be transported annually. The average lifespan of a large dam in China is 45 years.

      http://mightyclutha.blogspot.com/2010/02/decommissioning-roxburgh-dam.html

      In the South Island at least, new large scale dams are pretty much a no go, the public recognise the damage they do and doesn't tolerate it any more. Smaller dams too tbh (am thinking the resistance to the Nevis scheme). Limits of nature, hence the powerdown. I guess when the squeeze comes the public attitude might shift and pressure to build another dam on the Clutha and Waitaki. But it just delays in the inevitable, which is overshoot. We could instead go steady state for the economy and population and work with what we've got. So much potential as yet untapped eg passive solar for domestic space and water heating, freeing up hydro generation for industry and electronics.

  11. Maurice 11

    While the 'capitalist' system ensures that the "rich" can afford excess use of any power and that those who cannot access the required wear-with-all to purchase even a needed amount there can be no possibility of an 'equal share' …. the money rich will always take what they want and leave little or nothing for the rest of society. The reality is that is what happens now and will in the future until taxation radically moves the wealth from those on top to those below – or a revolution replaces one lot of those on top with another.

    How, exactly, do we take that big ole truck away from Texans?

  12. Robert Guyton 12

    "walkable"

    That's it, right there.

  13. Robert Guyton 13

    Weka – this guy!

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