The Triple Crisis of Civilization

Non-fossil Energy Sources

 

The total U.S. energy consumption in 2004 can be broken down as follows:


Fossil Fuels

Oil 40% (7.3 billion barrels per year)

Coal 23%

Natural Gas 22.7%

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Total Fossil Fuels 85.7%

(source: EIA, DOE)




    The Three fossil fuels represent a non-renewable “bank account” being drawn down at an annual rate leading to complete depletion or the point of negative energy return on investment (EROEI) in less than one lifetime. This prediction can be challenged but more optimism will just postpone the reality of the “Triple-Crisis.” New unexpected discoveries might provide extra time and a better chance to effect a transition protocol to less population and a much lower-energy future. However, the desperate consumption of additional fossil fuels will only compound the ecological issues. A sustainable future can only happen with sustainable, clean energy.

Nuclear

The best source for continued, clean electricity on a large scale. However, sufficient finite fissionable uranium must be found and ultimately mined and processed without cheap fossil energy. This scenario also assumes that acceptable waste disposal and protection from terrorism can be assured. Also, nuclear, like all other non-fossil energy sources except biofuels, produces only direct electricity. No matter what energy sources we use we will need a complete rethinking of our transportation system.

Hydro

Limited to acceptable sites nearly all of which have been used. Climate change has reduced water flow and electrical output in the last decade. Considerable fossil energy is required to replace or repair dams, which ultimately fill with silt. Reversible pumped hydro at 85% efficiency (as well as nuclear) can be used to smooth the sporadic output of solar and wind.

Biofuels

Only for absolutely essential needs as liquid fuels, plastics, lubricants, etc.; and with full understanding of the required energy input and the deleterious effect on crop land and food supply. See the sections on “Ecological Devastation” and “Delusions that will not save us” for more details. Waste products will decline as a source of fuel because the original energy sources are finite and depleting.

Geothermal, Tidal, Wave, etc.

All are site specific and cannot be scaled up to be major energy sources.

Wind

A true, clean source that can be considerably expanded, especially while fossil fuels are still available for manufacture and installation. Sporadic electrical output could be smoothed by working in concert with solar PV and other available sources.

Solar PV (photovoltaic) Plus Solar-Thermal and
Concentrating Solar Power

PV is the best modern technology providing direct electricity on a local or centralized basis. Very dilute and sporadic but infinitely scalable and especially applicable to residential use as well as direct solar-powered vehicles. In all cases, the weak output needs to be coupled with battery storage. PV electricity is our best bet for a long clean future. Small urban and suburban farms could use 120 volt tractors with integral solar-panel arrays and large battery-packs. Huge commercial farms might better use a large portable separate array of 4 to 8 kilowatts peak power (300 to 600 square feet). This concept would allow working up to 3 acres almost on a one to one energy basis as an alternative to biodiesel as long as there is direct sunlight. The high cost and availability of PV will require a 50 year scale-up from present minuscule levels of less than 1-tenth of 1 percent of our total energy. We need massive investment in solar PV and lead/acid battery recycling facilities. Lithium or nickel batteries have raw material supply, cost, and recycling issues yet to be resolved.

Non-fossil Fuels

Nuclear 8%

Hydro 2.9%

Wood 2.1%

Biowaste 0.5%

Ethanol 0.3%

Geothermal 0.3%

Solar 0.06%

Wind 0.14%