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Alternative energy cannot sustain humanity’s energy needs

“As we go from this happy hydrocarbon bubble we have reached now to a renewable energy resource economy, which we must do in this century, will the “civil” part of civilization survive?  As we both know there is no way that alternative energy sources can supply the amount of per capita energy we enjoy now, much less for the 9 billion expected by 2050. And energy is what keeps this game going. We are involved in a Faustian bargain—selling our economic souls for the luxurious life of the moment, but sooner or later the price has to be paid.” 
                                                                           Walter Youngquist
In order to drive cars, boats, planes and fuel industry, Americans use 20 million barrels of oil daily while the rest of the world burns 62 million barrels.  That equals 82 million barrels of oil every 24 hours!
When you multiply 365 days by 82,000,000 barrels of oil burned daily, it equals a whopping 29.9 billion barrels of oil annually. 
If you remember your science, it took two billion years to produce all the oil on this planet.  In other words, when oil reserves decline, we exhaust the single major energy source that drives our civilization and most other societies on this planet.
To show how much energy oil provides the U.S. annually, Michael Brownlee of www.transitionbouldercounty.org provided an astounding graph of one cubic mile of oil.  That’s how much oil humans burn around the planet each year!  That equals to the same amount of energy provided by 52 nuclear power plants built every year for 50 years or 104 operating coal-fired electrical plants built every year for 50 years or 32,000 wind turbines built every year for 50 years—and in continuous operation—or  91,250,000 solar panels built every year for 50 years.
In plain words: alternative energy won’t cut it when oil runs out by mid century.  It will become prohibitively expensive long before 2050.  When you think about Americans adding another 100 million within 24 years and humans adding 2 to 3 billion in another 40 years—we won’t be able to feed, house or warm the approaching ‘human mob’.
In a recent piece, Roger Adair asks the question: “How sustainable is renewable energy?”  www.countercurrents.org
Answer: not very, hardly at all, not happening!
“The success, to date, of fossil fuels being able to meet energy demand any time required has led to a feeling of society wide unrealistic entitlement,” said Adair. “This translates into a belief that whatever we want we can always have whenever we want it. This of course is leading to problems as it patently can no longer be maintained. It also has lead to the development of quite unrealistic expectations as to how far renewables can replace fossil fuels.

“Renewable energy is being tagged on to a massive existing demand led fossil fuelled energy system that has historically grown and grown. Attempts at demand reduction and increased efficiency seem to deliver slim savings and these are often cancelled, for example, by people choosing higher comfort levels or just doing higher mileage in their more efficient cars.

“For a number of years I worked for a company supplying small (20 – 100 kW) wind energy systems. The company failed and went bankrupt mainly because of a lack of investment and a very low profit margin on sales, certainly not for want of potential customers. Apart from that it was great fun and a hugely important part in the development of my understanding of the practical limits of renewable energy.

“I spent a lot of time travelling to sites ranging from Shetland and the Western Isles in Scotland to the south coast of England, commissioning and servicing wind turbines. It was amazingly easy to run up huge mileage and fuel consumption moving tools equipment components and myself, even in an economic diesel estate car. This was what first gave me the clue as to the limits that would apply to renewable energy trying to replace fossil fuels and to the dependence of renewable energy on a continuing fossil fuel platform to operate.

“It is natural to attach much importance to an area in which you have devoted a significant proportion of your working life and hopes for the future. It is hard to admit fulsomely that, on mature reflection, a lot of it does not stack up or really be sustainable in a future minus easy oil and the abundant easy availability of raw materials. Let us consider Ireland as an example.

“Ireland's total energy use in 2008 amounted to about 16 Million Tons of Oil Equivalent (TOE). In 2008 renewables produced about 0.6 Million TOE which is only about 4% of total energy use. This is another way of saying that all the renewable technology presently installed has only made us 96% fossil fuel dependent rather than 100%! This should give us a worrying clue as to the very extreme degree of energy descent that may be experienced as we move further into post peak oil.
Achieving any really significant percentage of renewable energy contribution to current consumption levels appears to be next to impossible. Current efforts to try and achieve this impossible target require ever more massive and complex machinery and higher and higher inputs of, increasingly scarcer materials and fossil energy to achieve.

“The point is very simply that an enormous amount of fossil energy is required to manufacture, install and operate all forms of renewable energy systems. Without the input of fossil fuel the existing renewable energy projects could never have been built and could not be maintained in operation.

“All these systems are manufactured in largely fossil-fuelled factories employing tools, equipment and components produced in other fossil fuelled factories. The raw materials and components used require energy intensive extraction and fabrication techniques to produce, and along with the finished products, also have to be transported substantial distances, often by road.

“The workforce probably largely travels to work by car and also frequently flies around the world to the sites where their products are utilized. I would be very surprised if the managers in these companies do not drive large, shiny, status enhancing motor cars, live in large houses on car accessed exclusive executive estates and drive and fly to lots of meetings, conferences and exotic overseas holidays.

“A trip to any site where, for example, a wind farm is being installed, demonstrates this clearly. There you will find an abundant selection of fossil-fuelled giant earthmovers, cranes, cars and trucks in use. In addition enormous low loaders will be coming and going delivering massive mechanical parts, towers, nacelles, generators, gearboxes, transformers, power cables and blades from hundreds or thousands of miles away.

“I have even seen cases of parts and a personnel being transported to remote wind energy sites by that most ridiculously fossil fuel hungry means of transport, the helicopter.

“After the wind farm is installed and commissioned, and all the factory personnel have finally flown home, there is then the not so small matter of the continuous operation and maintenance (O&M) required throughout the life of the project to keep the show on the road. Here the fossil fuel energy intensity is reduced but there are still interminable attendance's on site required to test, tweak, adjust, replace, repair and reset along with the transporting and supply of consumables and spare parts. Once in a while there will be a major spike in fossil fuel intensity when there is a failure of a major component such as a gearbox, generator or a damaged blade needing repaired or replaced.

“In addition wind farms are now recognized as mostly having a negative effect on local resilience other than financially benefiting a very small group of people. By siphoning capital out of the area, and often out of the country where they are installed and, by hogging existing grid capacity they preclude the development of other more labor intensive renewable energy generation technologies such as bio-mass and anaerobic digestion fuelled systems. The main benefit local inhabitants get is merely the very dubious feel good privilege of looking at the wind turbines with no enhancement whatsoever of local resilience.


“I was very skeptical indeed when I first read the pessimistic assessment of the very small prospects of renewable energy in an oil scarce future portrayed by Jim Kunstler in "The Long Emergency". It is one of those things apparently so obvious when you think about it but hard to accept at first. However the inescapable conclusion is that the sum total of renewable energy capacity will never be much greater than that installed during this one shot age of oil.

“It will rapidly become very difficult to keep operational as we move more into the post peak oil period. What can be made remain operational will be chiefly at a very local small scale and probably require much scavenging of parts and improvisation. A huge amount of thought needs to go in to how this might be achieved and to date this matter has received virtually no attention at all from an industry fundamentally locked into the hubris of gigantism and business as usual.

“Systems like solar water heating and PV, with no or few moving parts, should be more long lived until they too become unrepairable. However large and complex systems, particularly in remote and environmentally challenging environments such as wind farms, especially off shore, will probably be early renewable energy casualties of the decline in oil supply.”
Roger Adair is a qualified electrical engineer with an MSC in Energy Management from the University of Sunderland and 10 years working experience in the design, manufacture and installation of renewable energy systems.

Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents - from the Arctic to the South Pole - as well as six times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. He presents "The Coming Population Crisis in America: and what you can do about it" to civic clubs, church groups, high schools and colleges. He works to bring about sensible world population balance at www.frostywooldridge.com He is the author of: America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans. Copies available: 1 888 280 7715


1 Comments in Response to

Comment by laurent jubinville
Entered on:

When one talks alternative energy, one has to jump out a little farther than solar and wind energy. Let me tell you that the alternative is there, it is very inexpensive and it is inexhaustible. It is in the field of magnetic resonance. When the elite are backed up against the wall and in need of a breakthrough, it happens, as shown in the manhattan project. There is only one catch on unlimited free, clean energy. The planet is not worthy of having it because all previous dwindling sources of energy have proven to be tools of oppression of the populations by the hand of just a few. Mr Wooldridge, your stance on overpopulation of this planet is parallel to your stance on energy. We are seeing people without food and comforts simply because all necessities are in the hands of the Luciferians and used for complete control. Should the riches of the world be managed to secure the well being of every individual, this ball of resources could handle forty billion, and we wouldn't even see the effects on the supply of energy. This will only be available to the world following the end of global conflict. It firstly has to be cleaned, a process that is now just started. There are some very necessary preparations one has to make in order to have the privilege of witnessing this peaceful abundance as we are about to turn the corner. My prayer for inspiration to all, The O K Nogin Valet

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