Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Your Low Energy Future
Believe all the hype if you'd like. Fracking is making the United States the new Saudi Arabia. Peak oil is over.
I'll believe it when oil is down to $19/ barrel. At over $100/barrel, it's economical to go after marginal sources.
Even if fossil resources have been underestimated, it's still a finite resource. At some point supply will be unable to meet demand. If you don't think that's possible, stop reading now and go back to FOX news. I can't help you.
Alternatives can make up for much, if not all, of our electric power needs. Transportation fuels like gasoline and diesel are the real crunch. W hen's the last time you saw a long haul electric tractor trailer truck? The numbers don't work out very well. 50 pounds of diesel has more energy than 1000 pounds of lead acid batteries. Yes, yes, there are rumors of all kinds of magic batteries. Dense energy storage is just around the corner . . . has been for 30 years.
How are things transported today? Planes, trucks, trains, and boats. That from highest energy usage to lowest.
Airline profitability is directly tied to the price of fuel. It takes a lot of energy to get those big birds in the air. If fuel takes a big spike, air travel will go back to being the plaything of the very rich. Forgot about most air freight. No more Maine lobsters in Oklahoma.
Trucks are much better than planes. An awful lot of stuff moves by truck. Roads go everywhere. Of course, truck transport requires good roads. Most roads in the world are paved with asphalt -another petroleum product.
Trains are much more energy efficient than trucks. A surprisingly large amount of freight travels by train. Rails can last a long long time with basic upkeep.
Historically, water transportation has been the cheapest way to move things. It was much less expensive to move something 1000 miles along the water than 100 miles by land. It's still the cheapest way to move cargo. Many countries, including the US, have extensive waterways. Canals dug hundreds of years ago are still in service.
How does all this affect you? Look at where you live. Is your area's main claim to fame is an airport? If that's the case, higher fuel prices can quickly destroy your local economy.
Good roads into where you live? How about rail lines? Are they still running or are trees growing in the rail beds?
Do you live near a navigable waterway? That's good.
Right now an awful lot of trade goes to a limited number of big ports. It takes a lot of infrastructure to unload container ships or bulk fuel carriers. Those deep harbors do the lion's share of the work.
Don't worry if you are near a minor port. I'll bet 100 – 200 years ago, those minor ports were pretty busy. They can be again. Smaller, shallow draft vessels will become economical again. Any place connected to the rivers and oceans are connected to the world.
In a declining energy situation, where you live really matters.