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level 1
Avionics Systems Engineer9 points · 1 year ago · edited 1 year ago

Your historical overview of energy densities fueling economic and technological growth I can agree with, we differ on how we see the future playing out between oil and alternative fuels. I will focus on your future extrapolations as this is what the debate is focused on (a future collapse or a united, peaceful prosperous world).

In terms of energy alternatives, as of 2016 wind and solar, despite several years of extraordinary growth, still only provided about 1.5% of global energy. Both are more energy-poor (solar EOEI 8:1, wind 20:1) than what our civilization was built on, and may be lower than our society’s basic maintenance needs. Neither are a direct substitute for oil, which is primarily used for transportation, especially heavy transportation of goods, or for heavy industrial equipment. Even assuming a very healthy economy in the future that can afford it, a complete energy infrastructure geared toward efficient use of alternative energy sources is many decades away. And in the meantime, we may well be seeing the initial stages of economic decline due to diminishing energy returns.

While current solar energy production only provides a small fraction of total energy used today, it is not as low as you cite in many parts of the world. Solar power is currently on an exponential trend of growth.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_of_photovoltaics#/media/File:PV_cume_semi_log_chart_2014_estimate.svg

By the end of 2015, cumulative photovoltaic capacity reached at least 227 gigawatts (GW), sufficient to supply 1 percent of global electricity demands. Solar now contributes 8%, 7.4% percent and 7.1 percent to the respective annual domestic consumption in Italy, Greece and Germany.[5] For 2016, worldwide deployment of up to 77 GW is being forecasted, and installed capacity is projected to more than double or even triple beyond 500 GW between now and 2020.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_of_photovoltaics

Solar energy has now become less expensive than oil and there is no reason to believe this will stop. seven-reasons-cheap-oil-can-t-stop-renewables-now

The economic incentives to move away from oil will result in even a more rapid adoption of solar than we have currently seen. This will, in large part, alleviate the concerns of a peak oil or other economic concerns. It will be more efficient and will drive more economic progress using solar than oil. This is already becoming true today.

level 2
23 points · 1 year ago · edited 1 year ago

While current solar energy production only provides a small fraction of total energy used today, it is not as low as you cite in many parts of the world. Solar power is currently on an exponential trend of growth.

Many parts of the world aren't the real issue, as we're talking about planetary conditions. And the link you provide (global installed PVC capacity) doesn't display exponential growth, it displays slowing growth (new capacity 2010 -134%, 2011 - 76%, 2012 -0%, 2013 - 28%, 2014 -5%, and 2015- 26%). This is what we might expect given scalibility problems and a slowing global economy.

Solar energy has now become less expensive than oil...

This statement has been repeated a great deal recently, but it's an inaccurate statement. Some of the new solar PVCs are producing power at a cheaper rate than the most expensive-to-produce oil on the planet. That oil only comprises 5% of world production, while the vast majority of world oil is much cheaper than any PVCs.

The economic incentives to move away from oil will result in even a more rapid adoption of solar than we have currently seen. This will, in large part, alleviate the concerns of a peak oil or other economic concerns.

Given enough time and enough wealth to implement a new energy infrastructure, I would totally agree. But we're undergoing an economic and energy crisis right now. Both make additional expenditure of wealth and energy on a new infrastructure very unlikely.

level 3
Avionics Systems Engineer6 points · 1 year ago

Solar power has in fact been exponentially growing and has been for decades.

Worldwide growth of solar PV capacity has been fitting an exponential curve since 1992. Tables below show global cumulative nominal capacity by the end of each year in megawatts, and the year-to-year increase in percent. In 2014, global capacity is expected to grow by 33 percent from 138,856 to 185,000 MW. This corresponds to an exponential growth rate of 29 percent or about 2.4 years for current worldwide PV capacity to double. Exponential growth rate: P(t) = P0ert, where P0 is 139 GW, growth-rate r 0.29 (results in doubling time t of 2.4 years).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_of_photovoltaics#Worldwide_cumulative

This statement has been repeated a great deal recently, but it's an inaccurate statement. Some of the new solar PVCs are producing power at a cheaper rate than the most expensive-to-produce oil on the planet. That oil only comprises 5% of world production, while the vast majority of world oil is much cheaper than any PVCs.

I will argue this trend will continue with solar power becoming less and less expensive every year. This is also happening exponentially.

The average cost of solar cells has gone from $76.67/watt in 1977 to just $0.74/watt in 2013. The average price of a solar module at $0.49/watt on July 15, 2016, and the average price of a solar cell at $0.26/watt.

But this trend isn't just for the cells. The panels, final installation price have also been steadily decreasing.

http://c1cleantechnicacom-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/files/2014/09/solar-power-installed-prices.jpg

So even if today solar is cheaper than only expensive oil, you'd have to argue that this trend will stop for some reason. I see no reason why this is likely to be true, and more likely the trend will continue, at least for a time.

Given enough time and enough wealth to implement a new energy infrastructure, I would totally agree. But we're undergoing an economic and energy crisis right now. Both make additional expenditure of wealth and energy on a new infrastructure very unlikely.

We have more oil supply than demand at this point.

https://www.ft.com/content/2499c808-9f25-3fb0-ba6b-4b07bfeeb6a6

We have no shortage short-term of oil. This is a good thing. We will need oil while the transition to solar continues. If we were in an oil shortage, I would be far more pessimistic, but given the evidence that there is no short-term shortage of oil, there is no immediate energy crisis.

level 4
18 points · 1 year ago

Solar power has in fact been exponentially growing and has been for decades.

I apologize, you're correct and I expressed myself poorly. What can be said is that the rate of growth of new solar capacity is slowing, which is what should be expected given declining economic growth and, possibly, declining returns on solar power efficiency improvements.

So even if today solar is cheaper than only expensive oil, you'd have to argue that this trend will stop for some reason.

No, my statement was just to clear up the statement about today. Given favorable conditions, I fully expect oil to become more and more expensive, and continued improvement in PVC efficiency. However, as I pointed out, the rate of new solar capacity is slowing. I'd also argue that at the current time and near future, solar is the child of a wealthy fossil fuel society, and that it'll need that for some time before potentially reaching dominance. Several decades, in fact, and less if the global economy continues to slide.

We have more oil supply than demand at this point.

Indeed, but that's primarily due to slowing of global demand growth, in turn due to declining economic activity. Growth in global crude supply has been completely normal, below normal if you look at the last few decades.

We have no shortage short-term of oil. This is a good thing.

Initially, one would think so, unless economic slowing were the culprit. The fact that the price has remained low despite declining production indicates deteriorating economic conditions to be the cause.

level 5
Avionics Systems Engineer11 points · 1 year ago

Fair points on this exchange and I accept much of what you said. I think ultimately the challenges are economic, not technological. I suspect we agree on this. Technology is allowing the potential for greater and greater well-being and has shown this to be true. But we need the political and economic systems to take advantage of this wealth-generation.

This is why the subject of basic income is constantly on the front page of /r/futurology. We have the means to provide wealth to the entire world, using less resources than ever before. The challenges are political, cultural, and societal. I agree that Technology isn't a magic bullet. Its not magic. More technology doesn't automatically mean things are better. What it does do is allow the potential for that to be true. We as a free-society have to implement policies in such a way to allow that potential to bear fruit.

level 6
17 points · 1 year ago

I think ultimately the challenges are economic, not technological. I suspect we agree on this.

Absolutely.

This is why the subject of basic income is constantly on the front page of /r/Futurology

I've been a fan of basic income for forty years now. The trouble is that it's addressing just one symptom of a dying economy, the growing inequity of wealth. Many think that the inequity is what's damaging the economy, but I'd argue that there's a deeper root cause.

We saw something similar in the Great Depression. Due to the failure of capital to circulate, we saw the few rich get much, much richer while the middle and lower classes became very poor. At that time, however, the basic elements to grow were still there - the infrastructure and the energy to drive it were still in great abundance. All that was required was for the government to reallocate the wealth (in the form of loans from the rich provided to the poor) and the economy kick started again.

This time things are different. If cheap-to-extract energy stopped increasing in 2005 and we had to start investing far more industrial activity to boost the world's oil by 5%, there's an excellent chance that 5% failed to generate much wealth. So again, the rich are far richer and the middle class and poor are getting poorer. This time, there's less wealth to redistribute. I think that things like basic income will do wonders to slow the decay, but that they'll only slow it, not stop it or reverse it.

Alternative energy sources would be great, but even the insanely optimistic Hirsch Report suggested that it would take at least two decades before an energy crisis to prepare the world for a transition from oil to alternatives. As I believe we're at that crisis point now, we should have started in 1997 at least (I think starting in 1960 would have been just about right). Now, I fear it's too late, the economy is in turmoil and the energy market is in chaos. If the economy gets much worse, it'll be very difficult to convince governments to fund new infrastructure with drastically declining tax bases.

level 7
Avionics Systems Engineer2 points · 1 year ago

I think we agree on much then. But I'm still having a hard time seeing concrete evidence for what you fear. Yes, inequality is a big problem. We have an abundance of Wealth, but its far too concentrated on so few. But many here on /r/futurology, and myself included see us on a path to post-scarcity. A world of effective infinite resources. A world where money wouldn't even matter. A world of star trek. The movement of Capital would no longer be what drove our lives. This is where /r/futurology gets people to roll their eyes and dismiss us, and my argument is not reliant on this future from becoming reality in the near future. We obviously are not there yet, nor could we even conceivably be close to in many decades, but basic income is the bridge to that world.

But I can point to solar energy exponentially becoming more adopted. I can point to genetic engineering showing extremely good potential to drastically increase the amount of food we can grow. We already grow enough food to feed everyone, its a challenge to spread that food to everyone in our current economic model.

The problem is not technological. The problem is not resources. The problem is not wealth. The problem is human nature. The problem are existing institutions that benefit from the status quo. We have plenty of wealth, water, land, food, energy to provide a good standard of living for everyone. Technology makes it easier to produce all of those things cheaper and more efficiently. We have a log-jam in that societal machine right now. Most people are only getting a fraction of the benefit, but they are still getting some. The well-being increase for hundreds of years has shown this to be true and you accept it. I've also shown reasons why there will be no shortage of food, water, or energy as well. The conditions for a wealthy and prosperous world will be there. Given that the world has trended towards a more peaceful and cooperative place, I see it far more likely that the wealth logjam that has been produced be opened as opposed to further drying up leading to global meltdowns.

level 8
10 points · 1 year ago

We have an abundance of Wealth, but its far too concentrated on so few.

I'm a proponent of wealth redistribution to fix a broken system, but if the source of new wealth in an economy is drying up, that turns it into a zero-sum game. I think that what we disagree on is the source of new wealth - I see it as being fixed with the energy inputs, and you see it being more flexible, or having greater hopes that alternatives will substitute for the declining net energy resources elsewhere.

That's a big topic, and worthy of another debate with lots of sources :)

The problem is human nature.

If we could go back a century and use CRISPR to edit out some of the more unfortunate human genes involving resource consumption and competition when resources got scarce, we would be in a far better situation than we are now.

Given that the world has trended towards a more peaceful and cooperative place, I see it far more likely that the wealth logjam that has been produced be opened as opposed to further drying up leading to global meltdowns.

I sure hope so.

level 9
Avionics Systems Engineer4 points · 1 year ago

having greater hopes that alternatives will substitute for the declining net energy resources elsewhere.

Yes. Solar has the potential to 100% power the Earth within the next 20 years. If the, albeit still speculative, promise of Fusion were to bear fruit, energy concerns would be completely alleviated.

I think ultimately we're narrowing down on our disagreements. If you see wealth ultimately being extracted from the ground, and those resources drying up, leaving little initial fuel to create more wealth for people in the future, then yes we have a big problem looming.

I, and those on /r/futurology will point to exponential increases in sustainable energy, the staggering potential of Automation and AI to create more wealth from less raw resources, and the historical trend to back up these assertions as reasons to be optimistic. All the while, still acknowledging the possibility of something bad happening as you fear.

level 10
4 points · 1 year ago

If you see wealth ultimately being extracted from the ground, and those resources drying up, leaving little initial fuel to create more wealth for people in the future, then yes we have a big problem looming.

That's not quite there. I see the bulk of wealth today coming from the ground, with our society in immediate need of certain returns from that wealth and entering crisis in the short term if it doesn't get it. Believe me, I think that if we already had the infrastructure to use alternatives in place, we would be in no danger of collapse. I just think that crisis point is much closer than you guys do.

level 10

Don't forget the amount of raw resources that we consider "rare" that we are actively preparing to mine from local asteroids. That fits right in with solar energy, and self replicating advanced machines.

level 8
[deleted]
3 points · 1 year ago

But many here on /r/futurology, and myself included see us on a path to post-scarcity. A world of effective infinite resources. A world where money wouldn't even matter. A world of star trek.

In retrospect this was the key line of the debate for /r/collapse readers -- you say you "want" a path to post-scarcity, even though the only reasonable conclusion of someone reading the data is that we will never escape this planet, which is now irrevocably damaged. Star Trek is fiction.

level 9
Avionics Systems Engineer1 point · 1 year ago · edited 1 year ago

we will never escape this planet,

There are plans to begin the process of leaving this planet within the decade.

http://www.spacex.com/mars

The statement of irrevocably damaged I would also categorically disagree with.

The most severe projections of climate change results in a few degrees increase and most of the major cities under water. This would result in likely billions of deaths. But it won't end humanity. There will still be hundreds of millions of people in areas of the Earth that are quite habitable still. The carrying capacity of the Earth will be diminished for several millennia, but it won't end humanity.

Now that's pretty damn bad. The worst disaster to mankind by orders of magnitude. Still though, even that won't collapse us to the stone age. Furthermore, the planet itself will be fine. If humans go extinct, give the planet some time and it will recover.

That's the absolute worst-case scenario if everything goes wrong and we do nothing to stop it, nor develop technologies to mitigate the damage.

Look at the front page of /r/Futurology

Ford says electric vehicles will overtake gas in 15 years

Automakers will now be forced to mass produce electric vehicles unless Trump can undo EPA’s new fuel consumption rules

Renewable Energy Jobs Will Likely Grow By More Than 170% in the Next 10 Years.

Lab-grown meat will drastically reduce C02 and methane emissions. Far less water and removal of fertile land for cattle grazing. There are dozens of burgeoning technologies which will mitigate and avoid further damage. Some won't end up being worthwhile. But some will. History has continued to show this. There was massive belief in the 1980's that we were on the brink of a catastrophe with overpopulation and food shortages. Scientists proved with math that we couldn't grow enough food. But then some smart scientists developed high-yield wheat and we now have billions of people with more food grown now than ever.

I see a world of effectively infinite abundance far, far more likely than any shortage. Yes, I am in stark, diametrically opposed disagreement with that mindset of /r/collapse. I continue to point to actual empirical evidence to back up my assertions for this optimistic future, while fully acknowledging the disaster scenario is entirely possible.

level 10
[deleted]
3 points · 1 year ago

There are plans to begin the process of leaving this planet within the decade.

Yeah, like fusion power, it's been a decade away for three decades.

... but it won't end humanity.

You misunderstand the position of /r/collapse readers. The people who believe in human extinction are a minority and not very good at interpreting data. I actually agree with your worst-case scenario. I also agree that it is a worst-case scenario.

My best-case scenario, however, does not involve continuing to meet all of mankind's needs, meaning the kind of invention that you are proposing. It involves a forced reduction of those needs. Unlimited resources means unlimited growth, which is how a cancer works, not a living organism. Cancers result in death.

level 8

The conditions for a wealthy and prosperous world will be there. Given that the world has trended towards a more peaceful and cooperative place, I see it far more likely that the wealth logjam that has been produced be opened as opposed to further drying up leading to global meltdowns.

RemindMe! One year

level 7
[deleted]
1 point · 1 year ago

If it got really bad the environmental resistance to nuclear would no longer hold as much force. Nuclear power, I notice, has been cometely omitted from this conversation but by metrics of energy expended to energy returned is by far our best available source.

Unless you feel humanity would willingly face complete societal collapse rather than build newer and cheaper reactors, I feel we can safely sidestep this entire failure mode.

And what's even more reassuring is that nuclear might not even be needed, it is the ace up our sleeve if renewables are not able to scale as quickly as needed.

level 8
Ψ MSc Psychology3 points · 1 year ago

Nuclear and fusion power have been omitted because they're even more expensive to build and run than wind or solar (PV or thermal).

level 9
[deleted]
1 point · 1 year ago

Due to regulation, not any inherent technological limitations. If the situation got dire enough, we would change our tune pretty quickly.

Also, the original point was on resource scarcity and nuclear energy in the form of uranium is not particularly scarce and has an amazing EROI. This goal post shifting is getting more than a little tiresome.

level 10

If the situation got dire enough, we would change our tune pretty quickly.

If the situation got dire enough, we would be unable to do so.

level 10
Ψ MSc Psychology1 point · 1 year ago

Sorry for the goal post shift; I wasn't participating in the higher comments. Thinking about your comment, I realized that EROIE of solar PV is currently inflated by cheap coal. Considering that China's peak coal is already in the past, that implies that solar PV is going to become much more expensive soon.

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