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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Energy use and the Japan laboratory.

So I see in the news that Japan is taking another nuclear power plant off-line. It's occurred to them that maybe it'd be a good idea to upgrade its earthquake and tsunami resistance. Wonder how they figured that out? While that's probably a really good idea, it cuts back on their power generation when they are already down 40%.

I'm darn curious to see how they will cope. Pay attention, boys and girls, as Japan is now a country sized experiment on getting by with reduced energy. In the past, a country's, any country's growth, was tied to more energy usage. More economic output equaled more electricity use. Some countries are more efficient than others, but they too would use more electricity as their economy expanded. A country might get more efficient, but all that meant was their economy would grow faster. Overall electricity usage kept increasing.

Now we have the chance to see how a country copes with the sudden reduction in power generation. It appears that economic activity will be reduced. Japan will be exporting hundreds of thousands of fewer cars this year. That's just one sector. How badly will the overall economy suffer? Will it be tied directly to the 40% power drop? Will it be less than 40% as they economize in other areas and increase efficiency? There's a possibility economic activity will drop greater than 40% as supply lines fall apart.

There are rumors going around about parts being unavailable for car repairs. Certain forms of computer memory storage may be taking a hit. It's not easy to find out how badly this is affecting world wide industry. It's early yet. These things can take a little time to shake out. However, my guess is that we'll see major disruptions before too long. The whole world has gone to just in time delivery of parts. There's no slack built in for supply disruptions. It's a terribly efficient system -when everything works perfectly, that is.

So, keep an eye on how well Japan copes with its power losses. If they do well, then maybe the world wide system has more slack in it than I've been told. It's certainly worth watching.

One scenario is that Japan learns how to do a lot more with a lot less electricity. The whole world would benefit from a good example. Another scenario is that it can't cope and Japan's economy collapses. They'd take down a good chunk of the world economy with it. Then there's the scenario without clear cut lessons. They cope a bit, and fall apart a bit, but muddle along with a slowly shrinking economy, with everyone being terribly polite about it.

On a personal level, I know it's possible to have a reduction in power usage and still maintain a good quality of life. I was an early adopter of energy efficient lighting. As far as I'm concerned, the power savings made up for any inconveniences like slow start up time. My appliances, are energy efficient. I'm concerned with how well a refrigerator keeps things cold. A beer cooled in an energy efficient manner is just as tasty as one cooled in a power hog fridge. The new front loader washing machine saves a lot of energy. The solar electric system is showing a net gain in conditions what used to show a loss. One of the big energy savings is a by product of its lower water use. The electric motor on my well pump runs less, a lot less. Water pumping is a major power draw. My solar electric system can now carry more of the household load, reducing power purchased from the utility. My quality of life goes up, with less power usage, as I don't have to get a job to pay the bills and can go sailing instead.

Quality of life can be improved while lowering energy use, but can it be done on a country wide scale, under emergency conditions?



  1. "Quality of life can be improved while lowering energy use", Well Sixbears, that is exactly the kind of belief system that will make all the difference. The problem is as I see it, that kind of thinking needs to take hold in each individual. I was 41 before my own paradigm shift. I'm extremely encouraged by folks like yourself, but hold little hope for our society as a whole.

  2. It's going to be a shock when they can't afford all the power in the world, even if it is available. They won't know how to live a low energy life, with style.

  3. Very interesting post. BTW, I remember when "just in time" came into being. I fought it tooth and nail. Of course I wound up toothless and nailless. I didn't then, and I don't now, believe in it. You, and other preppers, sure must not.

  4. Too many people seem to get quality and quantity confused...