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Mon Feb 18, 2013, 12:17 PM

Energy efficiency in a fuel-based economy

The world's energy production falls into two broad classes. One class is renewable energy (hydro, wind and solar) that is derived from local, ambient conditions and generally produces electricity. The second class is fuel-based energy that produces electricity and heat as well as transportation power. This class contains both nuclear power and fossil fuel: coal, oil and natural gas. Fuels produce over 90% of the world's energy.

In the effort to reduce energy consumption, most work has been devoted to increasing our energy efficiency. This includes the introduction of high-efficiency appliances and increasing the fuel-efficiency of vehicles. Unfortunately, these higher efficiencies have not resulted in a global decline in the demand for energy, which continues to grow. The world's consumption of energy of all forms has gone up 30% in the last decade.

The Problem

General energy efficiency improvements alone cannot reduce the world's total fuel consumption as long as the overall growth in fuel-derived energy demand is not limited somehow. The situation right now is that national energy efficiency measures tend to spare fuel consumption. A country uses less fuel, and the fuel that's not used (regardless of whether itís domestic or imported) is promptly made available for export to nations where demand is still growing. Squeeze the fuel balloon in here, and it simply bulges out there instead.

This problem applies to all energy generated from transportable fuels, whether they are nuclear or fossil fuels. Renewable sources in and of themselves don't have this particular problem, since they are dependent on local ambient energy conversion rather than fuels. As a result renewable energy isn't easily exportable. But simply building more renewable energy sources is not the answer. In the context of the world's fuel-dependent economy this is the same as improving the efficiency of fuel-derived energy. And that immediately runs into the export problem I described above.

We urgently need more research, but of a different sort.

Right now most of our research effort is going into the development of renewable energy and increasing the energy efficiency of everything from refrigerators to cars. This is very important work and must continue, but in addition I'd like to see urgent research into the ways we might reverse the demand growth for energy in such a way that it doesn't just move the energy consumption from one country to another.

I guess I'm talking about research into mechanisms for reversing global industrial growth as it pertains to life-cycle energy consumption. That would make it possible to shut down energy projects of all kinds, whether they are nuclear or fossil-fueled, in a way it is not right now. We need to be able to do this if we ever want to have a hope of reducing the world's greenhouse gas emissions or the various threats posed by nuclear power.

Unless we come to grips with the problems posed by the transportability of fuels, there is no way to avoid certain calamity from climate change or potential catastrophe from radioactive releases.

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Reply Energy efficiency in a fuel-based economy (Original post)
GliderGuider Feb 2013 OP
NYC_SKP Feb 2013 #1
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #2
NYC_SKP Feb 2013 #3
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #5
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #4
NYC_SKP Feb 2013 #6
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #7
GliderGuider Feb 2013 #8

Response to GliderGuider (Original post)

Mon Feb 18, 2013, 12:26 PM

1. It seems that more and more "underdeveloped" countries are trying to be more like us.

Which includes increased consumption of all manner of resources, when what needs to happen if for us to look at more sustainable practices observed by low impact societies and adopt these.

It's a problem of values, and trying to shift these both in our country and elsewhere.

Also, you're spot on in separating fuel from non-fuel based sources. Thus, ethanol is not an answer.

"If we use fuel to get our power, we are living on our capital and exhausting it rapidly." (Tesla)

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #1)

Mon Feb 18, 2013, 12:40 PM

2. Changing values to try and produce lower-energy societies will not work.

Marvin Harris noticed this inconvenient fact when he developed his principle of "Primacy of Infrastructure". To a first approximation, our values and beliefs are responses, not drivers when it comes to resource usage. This is most evident in groupthink situations like whole societies. Individuals find it much easier to overcome their genetic predispositions than do entire societies.

The revulsion we feel about thoughts of de-growth is programmed into our genetics. We are programmed to be a successful species. In the most basic of terms, success is defined by energy use. That's why all our major status symbols are high-powered. It's also why successful societies begin to eat higher on the food chain (i.e. more meat) - animals are higher up the energy transformation ladder than vegetables.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #2)

Mon Feb 18, 2013, 12:49 PM

3. What, then, will work? (nt)

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #3)

Mon Feb 18, 2013, 01:05 PM

5. Sorry, I misplaced my reply below. nt

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #2)

Mon Feb 18, 2013, 12:57 PM

4. Involuntary physical constraints will work.

Last edited Mon Feb 18, 2013, 03:45 PM - Edit history (1)

Primarily physical limits to energy and/or food supplies. Until we get one or both of those, we are going to keep on growing. It's that simple, and that depressing.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #4)

Mon Feb 18, 2013, 01:11 PM

6. Yes, that is depressing.

Why should we be different from any other species of mammal?

None, to my knowledge, self-regulate their population.

It's always an external factor that brings things out of disequilibrium.

~~~

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #6)

Mon Feb 18, 2013, 01:21 PM

7. Exactly. But humanity has put itself in a special category ever since we became self-aware.

"Humanism" in its broadest sense means that the rules don't apply to us.
*cough*Bullshit*cough*

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #6)

Mon Feb 18, 2013, 01:55 PM

8. Animals will self-regulate their populations in times of shortage

Just as human foragers did - by limiting sexual contact, spontaneous or induced abortion, and infanticide. To this, modern humans will add state regulation of fertility a la China. But all of it is in response to carrying capacity problems, not a preventive measure.

What's interesting is that birth rates are declining so dramatically world-wide, in times of remarkable plenty. My take on this is that the underlying "evolutionary system" (I haven't figured out what to call it yet) doesn't require so many people, since our technology is so much better at maximizing entropy that human beings are. The most important role of human beings has become the production and control of energy-conversion technology, so the evolutionary (?) system doesn't need as many of us it once did.

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