Thursday, January 26, 2006

A fully wired future

Much of the discussion in the Peak Oil community (eg in the Running on Empty discussion groups (ROE2)) is premised upon what is called a 'fast collapse', ie one where the various amenities of life on which we rely will rapidly fail. I am finding this less and less plausible as time goes on. My view is that the coming two decades will be very difficult, but that "civilisation" will continue through the crisis and that there is much to be hopeful for in the future. A recent post at The Oil Drum (by far the best detailed information on the oil supply) by the ever excellent Stuart Staniford states: "I continue to believe that all this modelling suggests the future decline rates are within the adaptive capacity of the economy -- it's a slow squeeze, as I put it last month. I'm not saying that there won't be major economic hard times, but it does appear to me that peak oil is something that society can handle for quite some time to come".

This makes sense to me. In graphic terms, Staniford provides this:



In his article, Staniford argues that the underlying trend of depletion (how quickly we run out of oil) will be in the green area, ie we will be able to adapt. I suspect it will be harder than that - the transition won't be smooth, primarily due to the effect of geo-politics (Iran etc) - but I am persuaded that the depletion rate won't have to be steep.

More particularly, I have been musing on the question of electricity supply. This was a comment from one poster on ROE2: "we must accept that all communication systems based on electronics and electricity will have a "rocky" future to say the least. We do not know what electronic parts will be manufactured in the future, their availability, and repair possibilities. We don't know if electricity in a readily accessible source and storage will be available."

I would make the following points:
- there are sources of electrical energy with significantly positive EROEI - as one example, see this article, which I've been thinking about a lot;
- there is therefore a capacity for a sustainable and reproducing industrial base;
- the only issue is how much of the world economy is lost before the system as a whole shifts onto the sustainable basis - how deep is the dip?

I keep on pondering the question 'What will Google do?' - what is to stop them, and companies like them, ensuring their own energy supplies on a sustainable basis, and thereby immunising themselves from the depression? It's massively in their interest to do so - and nothing to stop them, once they realise what is going on - so that is what I expect to happen.

Electricity is here to stay - the future is wired, irrespective of Peak Oil.

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