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  1. In the last decade energy as a share of GDP has risen from 6% to 10%.
    Nuclear power sells for about $0.05/kWh. The latest California solar project will cost about $30/watt of average capacity, meaning that solar power will cost at least $0.30/kWh.
    So energy consumes 10% of GDP and we want sextuple the cost of electricity, the most valuable energy?

    1. First I would like to thank Robert Hargraves for producing the frequently featured slide “Prosperity depends on energy” that is included in his very fine talk “Aim High”. The slide suggests, but does not prove, that there may be a correlation between energy use per capita and prosperity measured in GDP per capita.
      There is a large and even dominant body of opinion that places energy efficiency (the lowest hanging fruit) as first priority item in a comprehensive plan for providing energy for America’s future. Coupled with this first priority rule is often embedded the additional component of just reducing energy use, or energy conservation, to avoid the need to build as many power plants that each are perceived as “evils” and CO2 and pollution generators that we would really do better to do without if possible.
      I would hope to learn more about David Walter’s view of “energy poverty” but for now propose the following:
      I feel there is another lesson to draw from the “Prosperity depends on energy” slide. That lesson is that there is not allot of historical support for the view that, if you voluntarily choose to reduce energy use per capita, that the GDP per capita will remain the same or increase. The roughly linear graph of GDP per Capita as a function of Annual kWh per capita would suggest that as you reduce the use of energy in your factories and within your society overall your productivity and prosperity also will decrease. The economic pie starts to shrink as you, voluntarily or involuntarily, start to use less energy per capita. This is a significant result that illuminates many current economic problems. The method commonly proposed to reduce the use of energy presently is to increase the cost of energy – either by legislation requiring production from more costly energy sources (Renewable Energy Standard) or by imposing large new energy taxes on energy (carbon tax). The slide would suggest that the unintended result of increasing the cost of energy, and thereby decreasing the use of energy, is a shrinking economy and a lower GDP per capita.
      The consensus view is that the less painful way to get America out of its economic problems is to grow the economy. There is no historical president for reducing energy use (from pricing up the cost of energy) and initiating vigorous economic growth, rather it is the contrary. The most truly liberal, hopeful, and

  2. “We now manufacture very little of anything in this country except entertainment, lawsuits, and environmental impact statements.”
    — Willliam Tucker

    1. @Brian – Bill might be right for today, but should we simply accept that situation going forward? I do not think it is the right course of action and will try to do all I can to restore acceptance of the notion that some people are good at making things that others want to buy.

      1. That quote was from an article that was a call for returning to manufacturing something real in the US.

        1. I thought that might be the case. Bill Tucker is a forward thinking man who supports a forward leaning politician as a speech writer.

  3. Efficiency that comes at the expense of making things slow, inconvenient, unsafe or expensive is not particularly desirable. If you’re willing to go 20 km/h, forgo all safety features, lie down on your back in a cramped compartment you can easily make a 1000 MPG “car”(in fact, 10 000 MPG has been achieved on a level, circular racetrack in Shell’s “eco-marathon” competition).
    Efficiency like twice the FLOPS/W at half the $/FLOPS is wonderful; but people will readily develop and adopt that without any hand-wringing and guilt-tripping. Note that as FLOPS per watt has continued to increase very rapidly the power consumed by computers has not gone down, it has increased. We could have all chosen to use 80486’s consuming a tiny fraction of a watt, but we didn’t.

  4. Thank you Rod, you were close to getting it right. When you look at productivity per unit of energy use and man hours, American workers are very efficient and productive. If I work at a power plant in the US, I can choose to live in a big house and drive an SUV because of the productive generation of electricity. I would suspect that people who work in the energy industry might be a lot better at conservation in their personal life than advocates like Lovins. I know I am.
    If you look at voluntary reporting of ghg reductions, the huge reductions have come from improving performance at coal and nuke plants. The best part of getting more electricity from a rail car of coal or a uranium pellet is that you can make more money while reducing environmental impact.
    Computers are a great example how a small amount of energy can increase productivity. In the good old days there would be an army of folders carriers. They would track people like me down to get a routine signatures. With computers, I would get a page. Then I would go long onto a terminal review the documents and electronically sign them. Now I can get a call on my cell phone, turn on my lap top , log onto the Internet just about anyplace that I happen to be. The job gets done.

    1. @Kit – I grew up in my father’s house. He was an electrical engineer who spent 35 years in the business of making electricity. My anecdotal evidence corresponds to what you wrote. Dad was far more likely than any of my friends’s parents to remind us to turn off the lights and television set when leaving a room. He knew what it took to produce each kilowatt hour of electricity and expected us to respect that energy and not waste it.
      We took a lot of long distance trips, but usually with a fully loaded car that obtained good fuel economy. He thought the educational value of travel was worth the energy input, but figured that there was no reason to waste it. As we have discussed many times, I used to drive a long distance to work, but I carpooled when possible (like Dad did) and I drive a car that gets about 45 MPG. I have also put more than 200,000 miles on that car and just invested a bit in a refurbishment program rather than replacing it. That is also a rather energy efficient way to purchase reliable transportation that meets my needs.

  5. “We could have all chosen to use 80486’s consuming a tiny fraction of a watt, but we didn’t.”
    Well, in one sense, we do. The microprocessors that power our various gadgets (smart phones, ipads, etc.) use very little power, because they run on batteries. There’s only so much energy available, and more time between charges is a desirable feature.
    This is a special niche, however. It doesn’t apply to everything.
    When it comes to high-end computing, the other part of the equation is that time is money. If more power is required for more speed, so be it. The additional cost of power is more than compensated by the value of speed.
    This is the type of thing that the followers of Lovins fail to understand. Cogeneration, efficiency (at the levels that Lovins is talking about), and micro-generation make economic sense only for a limited set of applications. Use it when it buys you something. Unfortunately, we’re dealing with a cult here, so special cases quickly become universal truths.
    My opinion of photovoltaics sums this up: it’s great for powering a pocket calculator, it’s great for powering a satellite, but I don’t want my appliances depending on the stuff.
    Note that my pocket calculator, a scientific calculator that I’ve owned since 1987, runs on batteries. Solar can’t even help me there.
    “I would suspect that people who work in the energy industry might be a lot better at conservation in their personal life than advocates like Lovins. I know I am.”
    I know that I am too.
    “Computers are a great example how a small amount of energy can increase productivity.”
    Indeed, although the increased productivity did not result from any kind of energy conservation program, but rather from a totally new way of doing things.

    1. During my trip to France early this summer, I bore witness to what I believe is one of the most amazing energy efficiency stories available. By replacing 1960s vintage gaseous diffusion enrichment facilities with centrifuges, Areva is cutting its enrichment related energy consumption from an average of 2700 MWe to about 50 MWe, thus freeing up most of the output of three 900 MWe nuclear power plants for other uses.
      USEC might achieve similar results if they can get their American Centrifuge Plant up and running before they run out of money.
      Think also for a moment about the energy efficiency implications of moving three truckloads of fuel every 18 months compared to 100 train car loads of coal every day.

  6. If you use LCA as a tool for reducing environmental impact (the intended use), centrifuges allows for a large reduction. Computer power also allows for more sophisticated core reloads to increase fuel burnup. Aside from getting more electricity from each fuel pellet, computers empowered data bases allow more time to focus on capacity factor and making old nukes last 60-80 years.
    Procedure for designing Unit 2 after DC. Control C, Control V, Save as Unit 2.

  7. Also if you plot per capita energy per $ gdp vs per capita gdp, the US does very well. Only small OECD countries such as Japan and Switzerland do better. And that only is due to their lesser need for transport and (for Switzerland) more specialized economy. I do not think China and Korea are following the Lovins model.

  8. The new trend is, we have to feel guilty about consuming energy, due to the carbon-footprint (they ignore nuclear). So anything has to be low-energy nowadays. Jobs are hardly shown as being energy intensive, instead they show us pictures of people in suits sitting in glass buildings with maybe a cell phone and a small laptop as their tools, and no artificial lighting. Yet precisely these kinds of jobs – service jobs, always tend to demand more and more work for less and less pay. An assembly line in China can simply turn up the speed of their machines and optimize them to generate more income, but in the service sector there is only one way to do that – work harder.
    Energy efficiency is falsely interpreted by green groups. Real efficiency improvements would mean achieving the same end with less energy. Yet at every turn they want us to make “sacrifices” in order to consume less energy. That can mean smaller, less spacious, less safe cars, or not taking as many showers, using as much tap water etc. In those countries that have introduced taxes on energy, in an attempt to force their citizens to use less energy, the result has NOT been a magic improvement in efficiency, but instead high energy/fuel bills and a lower standard of living,.

  9. Rod. Just a quick thanks for the mention! I agree that working in the energy field means we respect energy more than the average. It also means we respect what it CAN do. I don’t think a negawatt is about to run my computer!
    And having relatives in India gives me a different view of the emergence of non-Europeans as energy consumers. While some so-called environmentalists see this as a horrible threat, I see it as a wonderful relief. For example, if everyone in the world had access to clean water, I would not have to feel vaguely guilty about not-counting-my-blessings every time I run the dishwasher.
    In India, low-caste women go from house to house, cleaning the dishes once a day. They aren’t paid very well for this work. The woman of the wealthier house generally starts the day by boiling a great deal of water, and letting it cool for drinking water. At least, that is how it goes in the areas I have visited, which are neither grindingly poor nor terribly rich. Human energy instead of energy slaves. Even the wealthier woman…she wouldn’t have to start the morning by boiling water if there was a nice water filtration plant down the road, using lots of electricity and pumps and filters and some halogenation to provide safe drinking water.

  10. David Walters was probably the first to make me consider the concept of “energy poverty” and its economic result. I may have known it intuitively, but he put the words into my consciousness, and I thank him for that.
    Rod, you have also added a great deal of perspective to energy use and consumption with this posting. Between this and the various articles on nuclear power needs or manufacturing production in the USA found at http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com, my understanding has been greatly enhanced. Hopefully, I have become a more effective communicator of energy options and defender of common-sense energy development.

    1. Rasmus – You might have been disappointed by Rod’s article, but I must say that your comment was not disappointing.
      It is a perfect example of what I’d like to call “bourgeois guilt” — when well-off people in the West feel so bad that they have it so good that they take it upon themselves to tell the rest of the world what they should and should not do.
      Just look at this comment. The implied value judgments are disturbing enough, but the proposed solution — that society should be kept at the brink of energy starvation, lest energy should be used for “trivial” purposes — is really troubling.
      And the evidence to support this solution? Well, it helps when many issues are conflated to make one the culprit. Thus, golf courses in Dubai are not a result of a concentration of an immense amount of wealth in a small part of the world (and obviously, this person is not a golf player), and our sedentary lifestyles are not a result of a transition from an agriculture and manufacturing society to a service society. They’re all the result of too much cheap energy, of course.
      It also helps when one invents problems that, upon closer inspection, do not exist. For example, this person dredges up the myth of “social isolation,” when we live in a time when people are more socially connected than any other time in history! Just look at the number of people signed up for Facebook.
      What this person apparently means is that people don’t socially connect with their (physical) neighbors. Well, why should they? If anything, this is a sign of social overload, not social isolation. The freedom to communicate with and visit people anywhere in the world means that one can pick and choose his or her friends based on mutual interests. With so many opportunities, why should someone limit his or her choices to only those who, by chance or accident, happen to share only geographical location as the one thing they have in common.
      Perhaps this person would prefer to return to a world where communication and transportation are difficult, so that all but the rich are forced to deal with their neighbors, regardless of how unpleasant they might be?
      The most ominous part of this line of thinking is summed up in the following question: who gets to decide what is “beneficial” and what is “trivial”? I suppose that people who support this view believe that they can clearly tell one from the other, which is arrogant to say the least.
      Most American adults shower every day for personal hygiene reasons, now is that “beneficial” or is it a “trivial” waste of water and energy? Well, it depends on who you ask, but I’m sure that there are many people who would love to be able to dictate the answer.
      The solution put forward here, however, will not stop rich people from wasting water and energy — they might waste less, but they will still waste some, because they can afford it. Instead, this highly regressive policy will only make life more difficult for the poorest and thus will reduce prosperity overall, as Rod has pointed out.
      The argument that we should limit energy production worldwide because somebody somewhere might waste it is both intellectually and morally bankrupt.

      1. Brian,
        you clearly did not pay much attention to what I wrote, and just let your preconceptions and interpretations run wild.
        I am steadfast in my belief that there are diminishing returns on energy use. In fact, there is probably an inverted U-shaped curve, whereby using more energy at some point becomes counterproductive. How can this be ? It is well known that a great variety of systems, biological or non-, respond to increasing energy flows with an increase in their complexity (as described by Ilya Prigogine). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_system . At some point, the system becomes hypercomplex and requires ever-increasing energy inputs just to maintain its complexity. It also becomes susceptible to all kinds of disruptions. This is what is currently happening to our society and economy. Whether we are actually capable of re-scaling and re-focusing in an orderly fashion can be debated. So who does get to decide what energy uses are “beneficial” or “trivial” ? I think that there can be mechanisms whereby a society can come up with the answers.
        I am all for expanding global energy production, preferably by thousands of LFTRs, so that we can get meaningful things done and fix what ails the world. We employ too little energy and capital on repairing the life support systems that sustain us. Too many global citizens, especially the bottom billion, still suffer from energy poverty. That’s where energy investment is needed.

        1. “Brian, you clearly did not pay much attention to what I wrote …”
          Oh no, I think I pretty much pegged what you wrote. I’ve heard these types of arguments quite a few times, so I know what to listen for. Didn’t you write the following?
          “But in order to reposition our economy for better times, we have to get away from this Ponzi scheme of ever-increasing energy consumption that drives energy into trivial rather than beneficial uses. Doing more with less! For a better economy, we need to deploy capital and energy more wisely, on things that really matter.”
          You’re repeating the old “doing more with less” mantra, except that almost always, when the propositions have been sorted through and analyzed, it ends up being a recipe for doing less with less. All too often the prescription is conservation for conservation’s sake. Your characterization of energy use as a “Ponzi scheme” is quite telling. Don’t back down now; tell us what your really think. 😉
          “… there is probably an inverted U-shaped curve, whereby using more energy at some point becomes counterproductive.”
          And I have to agree with Rod here that we have a long way to go before we reach that point.
          “So who does get to decide what energy uses are “beneficial” or “trivial”? I think that there can be mechanisms whereby a society can come up with the answers.”
          Yeah, it’s called a properly regulated free market, which is becoming harder and harder to find these days.
          Your fear of complexity is more of a phobia than a genuine concern. The real world is complicated; get used to it. We can’t all go back to a simple, low-energy utopia that never existed, nor can we dictate, by fiat, that energy resources will be uniformly distributed around the world. This type of wishful thinking accomplishes nothing. You don’t make the rest of the world richer by making the people you dislike poorer.

  11. @Rasmus – your assumption is that we have already hit the point of diminishing returns for energy use here in the US. That might be true for some people, but it certainly does not appear to be true for a large portion of the population. It most certainly is not true for an enormous swath of the world’s population.
    Your use of the word “idiotic” to describe the ways that others choose to use energy is a bit condescending. Sure, you can find all kinds of anecdotes about wasteful uses of energy (and food, water, clothing, electronic gear, housing, etc.) but most of the time people do not like throwing their money away on something that does not either give them pleasure or accomplish a necessary task. I prefer to respect the choices that other people make and strive to think of ways to allow more people the freedom to make choices without negatively impacting the freedoms of others.
    I am confused by your statement about the essential need for a strong focus on energy efficiency. The logic does not compute for me – as you said, a drop in the rate of increase of energy demand was one of the reasons that many projects were halted before being completed. Utilities were convinced that electricity sales would not increase enough to allow the new capacity to operate profitably, so they decided that it would be a more conservative or profitable course of action to simply keep their existing capacity running.
    That ended up in a 30 year period of growth for coal sales and a 30 year hiatus in nuclear fission power plant construction. That would have been different if the US had retained its manufacturing capacity and stopped sending its energy demand elsewhere.

  12. Thanks Doc for the shoutout! While I don’t, at all, endorse the politics of http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com they make good points on development of the productive forces and energy.
    Rod is, of course, 100% correct: energy use per unit of energy over time is the main way to measure prosperity. Perhaps it’s better to say this in more marco-social terms: the degree of human advancement in all spheres can be measured by the historical trend of ever increasing uses of energy per capita using ever denser forms of energy in ever cheaper forms.
    I don’t want to get into a debate over what is “prosperity” since Americans use like twice the amount of energy than a European does yet I would argue that in many/most/ways that count, Europeans are far more “prosperous” than us. They have more public transportation than we do here in the US and we have more private automobiles. I think this makes the Europeans MORE prosperous not less because the have the *choice* of using automobiles where as we as Yankees, have little choice BUT use automobiles.
    My metaphor is that the world has a right to a light switch. A light switch? Yes, a light switch because the light switch synthesizes what is good about 24/7 365 available electricity: light when you want it, a refrigerator to store unused food, and possibly air conditioning to make your life less sweaty. Nuclear is the only serious way to provide the 2 billion people in the world their right to a light switch. solar cells and wind turbines continue the cycle of energy poverty.
    David

    1. David, I have learned to accept the differences of opinion by various groups and individuals with more tolerance than may’ve been the case when I was younger. While I won’t be beligerent in defending what I believe, I also won’t be a ‘door mat’ in a discussion. So I recognize there are many who will take issue with some of the 21st Century Science Tech site policy stances or perspectives, I leave it up to the reader to decide what makes sense to them and let the cards fall where they may.
      What struck me in the “The Astounding High Cost of ‘Free’ Energy” was the calculation that every citizen in the USA has 3,000W of electricity capacity at their beck-and-call 24/7, while the Chinese or Mexican citizen has 500W. By comparison, the average Chadean has 2.8W (the lucky residents of the capital have 40W).
      Question: How do we bring 200-500W /day of electrical energy to those who are too far from any grid, in a reasonable amount of time – like over the next 5 years – so they can begin to enjoy lighting, refrigeration, telecom, and light industry? Is an imperfect, intermittent ‘something’ better than a perfect, on-demand ‘mini-nuke’?

  13. Not everything is sweetness and light about 21st century American society. Obesity and sedentary lifestyles are too common. The largest number of prisoners per capita in the world. Dependence on imports of energy. An education system that is constantly broken and always has been, but still manages to work…some of the time. Soulless suburban sprawl predominates in many areas of the country, McMansions serviced by Humvee Suburban Assault Vehicles.
    But we live into our 80s. Few women and children die in childbirth. We have a decent standard of living for most everyone. The aged are not forced into the almshouses, but receive pensions. Hunger and homelessness is uncommon. Our lights turn on at the flick of a switch, and heat and air conditioning aren’t far behind. We have universal education, and are working on decent healthcare for everyone. The problems that we have are the problems of prosperity – not of deprivation.
    Give me prosperity every day. And the key to prosperity is energy. Lots of it. Lots of it cheap, and now that we have nuclear power, clean, too.
    Cheap energy = Industrial economy, high wages, less social stratification
    Expensive energy = Service economy, low wages, high social stratification

    1. Dave, I always appreciate your thoughtful posts. May I offer a different perspective? Those McMansions were built by crews of skilled and semi-skilled workers, designed by skilled architects, financed by bankers and sold by realtors — all who would not have earned an income which fed their families, paid their housing, clothed their children, etc. — if there was no one with the ability to buy that property. Ditto for the Hummer, the Escalade, the minivan or the econo-box.
      We can’t really advocate for the expansion of affordable, clean, reliable energy (preferably nuclear power) while we decry the consumption of the full gamut of goods that flow from the production of that power. From the miner whose work produces the metal for the chainsaw for the logger who fells the (selected) trees which become the sticks that form the home in which we live comfortably. Let the individual decide what they want to purchase, when and at what risk they make it.
      I, too, will take prosperity every day and would want the same amount of freedom for everyone else — no guarantees, but no unnecessary road blocks, either.

  14. Great thread and I totally agree with the premise. That is also how I look at energy and technology. The great electrical build in the developing world right now will lead to hundreds of millions being lifted out of poverty. I also think it will lead to less environmental damage and lower birthrates. Like people who can turn on an electric heater are generally not going to go and cut down all the trees surrounding their village when it gets cold.
    But I had to write to do a correction, the average American use is 1100 watts.. not 11,000 watts. Which works out to 16 of those servants spending 100% of their energy doing things for each of us. Still not bad.
    And to take it further, over the next century I believe nations will move towards that 11,000 watts. But instead of more servants doing physical work.. most of the new energy will go to powering servant thinkers. Vast supercomputers thinking through problems we put towards them. Or running virtual worlds that we enter and explore. Or doing engineering work that we don’t feel like doing.
    In the virtual world in a game 30 years from now a person could go on an insanely challenging hunt, hunting some rare species, or even an imaginary one. And at the end kill the animal and bring it home with their friends. All without leaving their own house, or killing any animal.

    1. aa3 – the computation of 11,000 watts includes all energy use, not just electricity. The US consumes approximately 100 quadrillion (1 x 10^17) BTU each year. There are 3412 BTU per kilowatt hour (3.4 x 10^3) and the US population is approximately 300 million (3 x10^8) people.
      1 x 10^17 BTU/YR /(3.4×10^3 BTU/kw-hr)*(3 x 10^8 persons) = 1 x 10^5
      Now that I run it again, I am not sure why I ended up with 11,000 vice 10,000, but I would love it if someone else checked my numbers.

      1. And that doesn’t include the energy costs for imported goods (e.g., made in China). Much energy-intensive manufacturing has moved overseas.
        The IEA gives a TPES/population (TPES = Total Primary Energy Supply) of 7.75 toe per capita for the US. This translates to 10.3 kW-years per capita, so 10 or 11 kW is a good estimate.

  15. Your math looks correct. I think the difference comes from estimates of the energy from transportation and heating, compared to electricity. I believe the energy mix is 40% electricity, 30% transportation, and 30% heating. So I would multiply the 1,100 Watt electric use by 2.5 to get the estimate of total energy consumed. Or 2,750 Watt constant use.
    Your estimate puts electricity at only 10% of our energy consumption.
    My guestimate works out to an energy equivalent of a ‘mere’ 40 human servants giving 100% of their life energy to each American. Man, woman and child. A family of 4 would have equivalent to 160 human servants.
    Btw what we are spending on energy is quite interesting. ~350 billion on electricity. ~750 billion on oil. Not sure about natural gas(not including the part used to make electricity), but a wild guess would be ~200 billion. Together that is 10% of our economy.

  16. How come you Republicans never talk about massively raising incomes to the bottom half…that is the most direct path that leads prosperity?

  17. Hey Rod am i using 11000w of actual usefull work energy or does that include the massive inefficiencies? That 100 watts of usefull output you compared it too doesnt include the massive inneficiencies in the human body to create that 100w output.
    Interestingly theres lots of low hanging fruit when it comes to autos. Look at the VeryLightCar from Edison2 which is winning the progressive automotive X prize. It got 101mpg epa combined. It got 120mpg on the highway. It seats 4 people and the production version should cost 15-20k.To qualify in the competition it needed to have decent acceleration and handling. When you only have 1/3 the aerodynamic drag and 1/3 the weight, mileages can triple. The tail nose and outrigger wheels provide lengthy crumples zones so its safe despite being light.

    1. “Hey Rod am i using 11000w of actual usefull work energy or does that include the massive inefficiencies?”
      Mike – The 11 kW is the total primary energy used by the “average” American. Most of this energy is the heat produced from burning something (i.e., the energy in the fuel), and it includes the losses during conversion, distribution, and transmission of this energy to it point of final consumption (e.g., in the case of electricity).
      This energy includes not only residential energy use — what you use at home — but it also includes the energy used for transportation, for commercial use (the lights, refrigeration, heat/AC, etc., at stores, businesses, and offices), and for industrial use.
      Another way to look at this is that 11 kW is 0.16 barrels of oil equivalent per day. Thus, if all of our primary energy came from oil, the average American would go through a barrel of crude oil (42 gallons) in a little less than a week.
      “Look at the VeryLightCar from Edison2 which is winning the progressive automotive X prize.”
      It’s an interesting contest from the perspective of an engineering challenge. I’ve been somewhat following it, since the Edison2 cars are designed and built in my hometown. I wish them luck. Nevertheless, like other similar contests, such as the solar car competition for engineering students, I’m not sure that anything will ultimately come of it.
      I’m rather skeptical that people will pay a full-car price for something that is run by essentially a lawn mower engine.

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