Energy: future prospects


An American friend and I were talking via e-mail, as we usually do, about Free Flight model design and flying, when out of the blue he wrote:

And I am concerned about the economy. There does not seem to be any top end in site for the price of oil...not with China growing and consuming at its extra-ordinary rate. I have a feeling that the USA is caught in a deadly stranglehold. We are going into debt 2 billion a day! Gas is over $2.00 and it looks as if it might hit 4 bucks by next spring. Past that price the repercussions will be drastic with the economic structure crumbling worse than it did in the great depression of the thirties.

This exchange took place in the middle of 2005. The rest of this page is a somewhat more grammatical, amplified and better organised version of my reply. I've incorporated additional information and references as they become available. These pages will remain a work in progress. I've tried to keep the focus of it on energy sources in the short term despite the occasional detour through global warming and some of the less discussed side effects of some energy production and storage methods. This means I've concentrated on energy sources that could replace oil if ASPO[1] is right and it becomes scarce and/or economically unattractive in the next 10-15 years. Sources that may become viable in the longer term are ignored apart from describing why they can't help inside this timescale: this doesn't mean they are not a good idea, just they they can't be introduced in time to make a difference.

I do not think the situation is going to improve either. New Scientist, issues 2406-2408, starting on the 2nd August, 2003 carried a series of articles on energy futures. These showed bleak prospects. Basically the series said that:

To this I would add the following amplifications and analyses. I have attributed my sources where possible.

Winding up

The period from 1970 to 2000 will be seen as a golden age when people squandered natural resources. Future generations will not thank us. I think that:

The USA may be in a worse situation than the United Kingdom due to its greater transport requirements. Both countries should be actively seeking to reduce use of all forms of transport but that will not happen thanks to powerful transport industry lobbies and consumer pressure.

Another problem is unnecessary commuting: bosses like their minions to be in the office under their eye regardless of whether their current task could be carried out as well from home by using the phone or the Internet.

We need a more concerted attempt to switch away from oil ASAP, but Bush was an oilman and Blair talked a mile but did not actually do anything. Brown was no use either. We have a new government now but they are not pushing energy saving any harder than Blair and Brown did.

Why do you think I am reckoning on moving to New Zealand sooner rather than later? New Zealand will take a big hit too, but at least there is enough farmland, I think, and a small enough population to allow the use of horses for transport as well as to grow the food we need to feed everybody. In addition there is local coal to run the railway and, as I said above, the electricity generation plant is still largely hydro, with more to come if the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter is axed. There is also the possibility of sustainable electricity generation from the Kaingaroa forest. Its even got oil: enough, maybe, for lubrication though certainly not for any other uses.

Roll on the bicycle economy.

My friend added:

Heres to the New World Order! America... just another third world country!

My reply to that was:

We will all be third world countries soon. Its just that the current crop have rather more recent practise at doing it.

Martin Gregorie, December 2018