Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The hell with catastrophism! The solar age is coming.


  1. Solar & wind generation is intermittent & will last only as long as the OIL age as these alternative energy generators need OIL to mine the raw materials, manufacture & maintain the generators & solar cells & OIL is used to produce the plastics & lubricants needed in these systems.

    Solar energy isn't as simple as putting a solar cell array on your roof, you also need a way to store that energy & regulate the current to your home. The batteries used to store that energy need many materials mined with OIL powered machines & manufacture with the use of OIL.
    The same problem exists with wind turbines, they too depend upon cheap OIL.

    Alternative energy production will only be a temporary partial solution to our electric generating grid which also requires a lot of input from OIL to maintain the grid.

    When the sun isn't shinning & the wind isn't blowing they produce 0 energy, then what?
    Alternative energy systems will last as long as the age of OIL.

  2. Don't forget the necessary and highly complex electronics. Without microprocessors, PV doesn't obtain half of the energy.

    And electronics is not only complex and expensive. It is one of the paramount energy consumers (as well as one of the paramount enthropy minimums), many single source systems that make them vulnerable, vast amounts of rare materials, not only those that go inside the electronics itself, but those required to manufacture submicron components with billions of tranistors in a millimeter squared.


  3. ...the gear keep running.....

  4. Ugo - this post's title might seem rather brave, given peoples' attachment to the idea of a coming collapse that supposedly nullifies our present problems. To my mind it's also a bit vague given that renewable energies only add to global energy supply, with any fossil fuels locally displaced being bought and burnt elsewhere. Perhaps a more specific phrase such as
    might be a bit more useful ?

    There are in my view two lines of argument backing this outlook.
    First, the assumptions of Peak Oil imposing catastrophe are being shown to have underestimated innovations in the sources and types of liquid fuel being developed (and I write as a former senior moderator on Peak Oil dot com in its early days). Beside the several MBbls/day of filthy/destructive/very limited non-conventional oils supplied since say 2005, longer term options are now under R&D such as the vast and filthier coal-seam gasification +GTL (which could utilize immense inaccessible coal reserves) and methane hydrates +GTL (whose potential reportedly exceeds all other fossil fuels combined). Both of these options are being pursued in a range of nations - e.g. China has begun extraction of land-based methane hydrates on the Himalayan plateau, which are claimed to hold 80yrs of national supply at present use rates.

    However, there is also a renewable option which may potentially prevent both of those sources' disastrous additions to airborne CO2ppm, namely Geothermal Power to Methanol (CH3OH) - which is an exceptionally clean-burning high octane liquid fuel with ~55% of petrol's energy density for those not familiar with it. As I wrote in comment #14 under your last article, a demonstration plant in Iceland is using electrolytic hydrogen and air-captured CO2 as the feedstocks to supply 2.5% of Iceland's fuel cut with petrol. See: With Germany having got over 70% of its power from wind & solar in a series of sunny days, the sale price fell to zero - and the more that cheap renewable power is available, the more volume of H2 + CO2 can be combined into methanol. From this perspective forecasting a Peak-of-Affordable-Liquid-Fuels seems impracticable.


    1. Continued

      A second problem with the idea of booming solar power ending the threat of catastrophe is that there is no prospect of market forces causing it to displace anthro-GHG emissions as rapidly as could be done with a global climate treaty regulating the market and accelerating the transition. It perhaps also needs saying that even a 'best case' of an Emissions Control treaty achieving say near-zero global GHG outputs by 2050, would continue the warming until the 2080s due to the oceans' thermal inertia. This would give at least 70yrs of intensifying warming to accelerate the eight main interactive feedbacks on AGW potentially well past the point of fully offsetting the termination of anthro-GHG outputs.

      It is worth noting here that a study from earlier this year of the satellite record of cryosphere decline since 1979, showed how the resulting Albedo Loss feedback gave a warming that on average equalled 25% of that from anthro-CO2 in the period from 1979 to 2013. Considering that just one of the feedbacks is already able to offset at least 25% of a termination of anthro-GHG outputs, the eight main interactive feedbacks in combination could be expected after 70 yrs of acceleration to exceed the total amount easily.

      This in my view implies that avoiding a catastrophic outcome of climate destabilization not only demands a treaty that is commensurate in maximizing the pace of transition out of fossil fuels, but that it is also required for setting a mandate for the stringently supervised R&D of both the Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration modes of geo-engineering. These are now essential both for maximizing the pace at which the atmosphere is cleansed of excess CO2 and for controlling the warming symptoms in the interim, with their predictably catastrophic destabilization of global agriculture as well their acceleration of the feedbacks.

      The reason I outline this imperative need of a commensurate treaty is that there is a growing (nurtured ?) meme particularly in America that the renewables are going to grow at a pace that means getting a treaty is of secondary importance, if any at all. While you doubtless don't share that view, I guess there may be readers who could be seduced by it. And we'll need every hand available to try to get a commensurate treaty in Paris in 2015 !

      All the best,


    2. Yes, Lewis, theoretically a comprehensive treaty would be more effective to reduce emissions than replacing fossils with renewables. But I don't see how such a treaty could be enacted. We have no political structures built to produce change, we only have political structures designed to avoid any change at all costs. So, even if Paris could result in some kind of agreement, it would be insufficient. The only chance we have is to replace fossils with solar and hope that it will be fast enough. Technology is a much more powerful force enacting change than politics.

    3. I think the origin of the word "catastrophism" has to do with "liking catastrophe". To be honest, I have had enough of that. If people think they want to go back to Middle Age and that doing that will solve all their problems, I say, good riddance!

  5. I had these free solar panels fitted in December, and I have just had a refund from my energy company, which is great :-) But the remarkable thing is that there are at least 7 homes within 200 yards of my house which have all installed solar panels since. Every time I go out I see more new solar installations in my neighbourhood. So I would agree with the video, that it is really taking off now, although in the UK I think the scare of high energy prices was the trigger, and subsidies were the enabler.

    I come from Norfolk, an area of the UK that is still scattered with old windmills. They were used to pump water from marshes to create farmland, and were also used to mill grain into flour. They have been documented for over 800 years, well before we started using oil. Just because we are making solar panels and wind turbines with oil now doesn't mean that is the only option in the future, or that it is a short-lived technology.

    I have changed little things at home to maximise my use of solar power, which is free when the sun shines, rather than using expensive electricity from the grid. So I still load my dishwasher in the morning, but don't switch it on until the afternoon. Small de-centralised generation may not give us power all the time, but that isn't a problem if we stop expecting it to. Already in the UK we have Peak energy periods where warnings are sent to large companies to reduce their energy consumption during an hour or two of peak demand. There is no reason why we can't become more flexible about when we use energy, so that we use more when it is available and less when it isn't.

  6. " If people think they want to go back to Middle Age and that doing that will solve all their problems, I say, good riddance!"-UB

    Middle Ages would be doing pretty good. I'd be happy with Stone Age. Avoiding EXTINCTION is the priority here.


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  8. solar could theoretically keep civilization plodding along indefinitely, but only with massive energy conservation policy (something like 90% less per capita in developed countries), a conscious decision to end to economic growth, a complete readjustment of work/living arrangements and a drastic lowering of the worlds population.

    1. On what do you base these assertions ? Solar can supply far mor than 10% of developed countries' energy, particularly the baseload version known as solar thermal. In addition we have scarcely touched the major baseload resources of geothermal, offshore wave, etc.

      The deployment of the renewables worldwide is itself a new mode of economic growth that seeks to remedy the outcome of past incompetence, and one which should be further boosted by the scale of native afforestation for biochar needed to gradually cleanse the atmosphere.

      As for drastically 'lowering the world's population' you either propose a new nazism or have no idea of the scale of conflict that would arise from such a policy - regardless of whether it is of active repression or of malign neglect.

      The current predicament is emininently soluble, but it will mean letting go of defeatism just as much as renouncing the idea that solar energy by itself could change the present trajectory towards catastrophic climate destabilization.



  9. I have always rated Musk as "snake oil" salesman . A media hype . He has a very few successes to talk of and his biggest venture "Tesla" is nothing but B******* . I am surprised that he gets all this media hype .Never mistake luck for genius .This guy is "All air ,no punch ."

  10. How does a world wide MIC maintain itself without constant economic growth and massive carbon use? Can anyone realistically see the worlds militaries and the industries that supply them stepping down? Seems to me they are growing, not contracting.

  11. Reported on the BBC today is that the UK's energy reserve is a low as 2% so switching to alternative forms of energy such as solar is a must.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)