More on the Energy Crunch

Dear Dick Clifford and others,

From what Dick says (below) the Petratherm project will take half a century to reach full realization. With such a long time frame no one can make accurate predictions and it may be wise for SA not to rely solely on this strategy for energy survival. I think there is a lot of hype attached to this project, no doubt by interested parties who stand to benefit now.

I have also seen the article by Alice Friedemann "Peak Oil and the Preservation of Knowledge" which Dick has circulated. This gives an extremely pessimistic scenario based on currently existing knowledge. While admitting that current energy strategies may just suffice for about a century it seems to assume that there would be no new knowledge that would arise during this lease of life that would give a completely different path to the future. The future does not so much depend on preserving past knowledge as in creating new knowledge. In fact most of the academic papers now written, perhaps including that of Alice, deserve to be thrashed and their loss will not make a dent on human progress.

If we went by Malthus' pessimistic predictions at the beginning of the nineteenth century civilization would have ended by the beginning of the twentieth century. But nobody took any notice of Malthus and the world got by. Similarly no one at the beginning of the twentieth century would have visualized the world at it is at the beginning of the twenty-first century. But Friedemann and other energy pessimists seem to think that we can predict what will happen in the beginning of the twenty-second century based on what we know at the beginning of the twenty-first century. What history has shown is this kind of linear (or exponential) extrapolation of what we know now into the very long future invariably leads to wrong conclusions.

When the price of oil reaches the level at which coal could be liquefied the window of opportunity could be extended by at least another century. The point of "Peak Oil" can then be set forward by that amount of time. Please also note that the cost of coal liquefaction, now very high, will also fall as the technology develops. This gives more time for more advances in knowledge leading to scenarios not even dreamt of now. None of the models now in existence can take into account future innovation and discovery as we are peering into an impenetrable darkness with no known parameters to enter into the relevant equations.

Friedemann's article is too long to give a detailed commentary, but the paper begins with a Summary which is sufficient to identify the basic errors of the reasoning. I will therefore made some comments on this summary, as follows:

The above brief comments on the Summary of this paper is sufficient to show that this paper like most of the dire warnings of eco-pessimists is often based on faulty economics. It is based on a static world view whereas what we have is an extremely dynamic world which makes it impossible to visualize future developments very imperfectly.

What we can do is to identify the fundamental causes of the Energy Crunch and take appropriate action to delay the crunch. Action should be taken by every person in terms of the person's expertise. What Humanists should ask is what they as Humanists should do. I had identified one area in which they should be active but in which they are unfortunately inactive. This is to remedy the religious imperatives to population growth. Religions are engaged in a competitive population surge because parents are now given the automatic right to inculcate their children in their own religion. This right is being abused by Muslims and Catholics in particular to increase their respective flocks despite its implications for the Energy Crunch. Humanists have still not begun questioning this right.

Victor Gunasekara


From: Dick Clifford []
Sent: Saturday, June 23, 2007 2:26 AM
Subject: Re: The Impending Energy Crunch (WAS RE: [CAHS] Letter to Editor)

Dear Victor Gunasekara,

Your contribution below makes me think I may have given a too optimistic impression.

Petrotherm should have its pilot plant working by 2009 which will supply the local Beverley uranium mine. The next stage will have medium power and will be connected to the Grid at Pt Augusta and might be completed by 2015 -2020. The third stage would not be completed until 2025 - 2030 and the full capacity might nor be realised until 2050. These figures are off the top of my head as the original reports are not readily available.

The Federal Government has announced a $5 million grant for the development of a special heat exchanger. Petratherm are also developing licenses at Renmark, close to transmission lines and in Spain. To my mind while these developments are being carefully carried out they will be too slow and Government might have to step in after the pilot plant is successful.

Because of the cost of the transmission lines as well as drilling 3.5 Km down I do not expect the electricity rate to be cheaper. There is an International report that claims Geothermal energy both world wide and in Australia may be less than 10% of coal fired generators. However the authors may have interests in the coal industry.

Which reminds me, a special thank you to Margit Alm who brought my attention to "Schorcher" by Clive Hamilton which I am still reading.

However, Geothermal energy is not infinite, 100 years - may be, nor should we press it too far. less heat down there could upset some balance we dont know about yet. There for we must continue to build solar and wind however ugly they may be.

I will shortly relay a long item entitled "Peak Oil and the Preservation of Knowledge" which is very pessimistic about our chances of overcoming peak oil problems so while I agree that the church should be much more concerned about population problems I fear that there is no adequate response possible.

Dick Clifford