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Friday, February 7, 2014

Energy Future

Speculating about the future is always interesting.

Science Fiction writers do it all the time. Some concentrate on a future so far out we'll never know how clever they were or weren't. Others look closer to this moment and explore possibilities and often we look back and see how insightful they were predicting mobile telephones and hand held computers.

But predicting the future is still a guessing game and is limited only by our imagination and history. History tells us that rapid and uncontrolled change in our planets climate only comes about in rare and catastrophic circumstances the most prominent examples would be a stray sizeable meteorite or a massive volcano. Although don't rule out a medium sized nuclear exchange.

Generally everything else happens slowly and takes thousands of years if not millions. It is a big planet after all and even though the human cockroach (apologies to the cockroaches of the world) is in vast numbers it will take us a little while to ruin the place completely. But it is inevitable that we will bugger it.

The reason it will happen is that there are relatively few people that are both concerned and actively doing something to reverse the situation. There may be some that are concerned or acknowledge what is occurring but are too selfish or lazy to make an effort.

The problem with the concept of peak oil, peak coal or peak coal seam gas is that it doesn't factor in the effects of price. The higher the price the more readily we make attractive alternate previously too expensive (and more polluting) sources such as deep sea, tar sands, Arctic Circle. We already do this with Gold, processing hundreds of tons of rock for a minute amount and make a large profit.

The worst that can happen (in the medium term) is that there will be the haves and the have nots. Those that can afford it and those that can't.

The biggest problem associated with “peak” and “price” may be that we accelerate the downward trend with more pollution, bigger holes in the ground and my biggest concern universal Fracking. Unlike an open cut coal mine you don't see much above ground or measure the particle pollution. The long term effects of extracting coal seam gas will not be known for generations. We don't really understand the complex nature of our planet and therefore can't forecast the impact of many of our geological incursions. On a small scale the damage may be limited to localities but on a larger scale it may have a regional impact on water.

In the really long term there may be fewer of us and that is good. As the climate changes so will we. Adapting to the changing living conditions just as we have over the last million years.

On a positive note our electricity supply has some elasticity. We have started harvesting solar energy at a household level and this will continue to expand. We are building more efficient household appliances and some people (but not many) even turn off unused lights. We have not really attacked the smart meter option which would give us better load balancing by offering price reductions for off peak consumption e.g. run the pool pump at night, have the energy company manage air conditioning loads etc.

Our modes of transport are getting more efficient and economical and some people even consider 4WD vehicles in suburbia a waste of both energy and resources. A few people are building houses that are environmentally clean (and even smaller). Many people are working actively to encourage cleaner, greener living. Growing of your own food is ramping up as well as the preponderance of grower markets in every town.

That is all the good news. The bad news is that the majority of humans are self interested and couldn't give a toss about anything other than their own tiny space.


  1. Well said John. There seems to be no stopping the greed machine. Dig it up, drill and pump it out, all as quickly as possible. NO thought for future generations.


  2. Well said indeed. I think one of the biggest changes we need to see is in our societies consumption of material goods. That alone will have a significant flow on effect. It would also help if we had politicians who believed and realised the importance of doing something now.