Fears about Peak Oil are gone. Now we plan for Peak Demand.
August 22, 2020 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Just 12 years ago, OPEC states were flush with cash when oil peaked above $145 a barrel as demand surged. Now it faces a dramatic adjustment if consumption starts a permanent decline. The group will need to manage even more closely its cooperation with other producers, such as Russia, to maximise falling revenues and will have to work to ensure relations inside the group are not frayed by any fratricidal dash to defend market share in a shrinking businesses. End game for oil? OPEC prepares for an age of dwindling demand (Reuters, July 28, 2020)

This Is What The End Of The Oil Age Looks Like (Robert Rapier for Forbes, April 1, 2020)
The Oil Age has powered the world for well over a century. There have been two general schools of thought about how it will ultimately end.

There were those who believed that oil production would peak and begin to decline in the face of high global demand. This is essentially the peak oil argument, which many laymen mistakenly understand as "The world is running out of oil."

In reality, the argument wasn't that the world was going to run out of oil, it was that oil production would begin a long decline and cause havoc in a world that is still highly dependent upon oil.
[...]
In this version, there is no easy replacement for oil, so oil prices skyrocket above $100 a barrel (bbl) as people seek to maintain mobility. In fact, for a while it looked like this version might play out.

But growing shale oil production largely burst that bubble in 2014, when it became clear that there was still a lot of oil to be produced.

Fast forward a few years, and a new version of the end of oil began to take hold. In this version, exponential increases in electric vehicles (EVs) and ride-sharing are predicted to be two key factors that will make oil obsolete.

In this version, oil prices plunge as demand starts to fall. This is the exact opposite of the peak oil argument, where oil prices surge as supply starts to fall.

As Michael Liebreich, the founder and senior contributor of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, recently put it on Twitter: “I've always said the end-game for oil is not when it reaches $200/barrel, it's when it settles at $20/barrel.”
Liebreich continued, "Looks like we may be about to see our first run at $20 in the coming months. After coronavirus, expect a volatile decade, followed by structurally low prices from 2030." That was on March 8, 2020, and later that month, the pricepoint was hit (Statista). Oil prices have come back up, but they're now under $50 a barrel, where they were closer to $70 in December 2019.

Oil Companies Wonder If It’s Worth Looking for Oil Anymore (Laura Hurst for Bloomberg News, Aug. 16, 2020; MSN mirror)
As the coronavirus ravages economies and cripples demand, European oil majors have made some uncomfortable admissions in recent months: oil and gas worth billions of dollars might never be pumped out of the ground.

With the crisis also hastening a global shift to cleaner energy, fossil fuels will likely be cheaper than expected in the coming decades, while emitting the carbon they contain will get more expensive. These two simple assumptions mean that tapping some fields no longer makes economic sense. BP Plc said on Aug. 4 that it would no longer do any exploration in new countries.

The oil industry was already grappling with the energy transition, copious supply and signs of peak demand as Covid-19 began to spread. The pandemic will likely bring forward that peak and discourage exploration, according to Rystad Energy AS. The consultant expects about 10% of the world’s recoverable oil resources—some 125 billion barrels—to become obsolete.
In the US, while the Trump administration rolled back fuel efficiency standards, weakening efforts to combat climate crisis in March, more states sign on to adopt California's Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program, up to 13 states now, and this number could grow to 23 (Electrek.co, April 13, 2020). European regulations are mandating more efficient vehicles (The Brussels Times, 15 July 2019), and EV subsidies in the EU have helped drive a surge in electric car sales, to the point where the European market now exceeds that of China (The Driven.io, Aug. 14, 2020).


How to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly -- The US has everything it needs to decarbonize by 2035. (David Roberts for Vox, Aug. 6, 2020)
In a nutshell, [Saul Griffith, MacArthur fellow], has shown that it’s possible to eliminate 70 percent to 80 percent of US carbon, emissions by 2035 through rapid deployment of existing electrification technologies, with little-to-no carbon capture and sequestration. Doing so would slash US energy demand by around half, save consumers money, and keep the country on a 1.5° pathway without requiring particular behavior changes. Everyone could still have their same cars and houses — they would just need to be electric.

“The report reinforces a key finding,” says Leah Stokes, an environmental policy expert at the University of California Santa Barbara. “Cleaning up the electricity system solves the lion’s share of the problem. It allows us to electrify our transportation and building sectors and parts of heavy industry, which would address more than 70 percent of total emissions.”

Some of Griffith’s conclusions run contrary to conventional wisdom in the energy space. And they are oddly optimistic. Despite the titanic effort it would take to decarbonize, the US doesn’t need any new technologies and it doesn’t require any grand national sacrifice. All it needs, in this view, is a serious commitment to building the necessary machines and creating a regulatory and policy environment that supports their rapid deployment.
The climate story won’t wait till the pandemic is done with us (Jon Allsop for Columbia Journalism Review, July 23, 2020)
posted by filthy light thief (61 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love my non-hybrid Camry (40 - 45 mpg highway!), but damn: sitting in gridlock on the interstate side-by-side with hundred of other ICE-vehicles while listening to lectures about the historic development of civilization can really give me a perspective of just how mind-numbingly insane the golbal fossil fuel industry, and our addiction to it, is.
posted by glonous keming at 11:25 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]


It's really interesting how the price of oil is a sort of indicator for so many factors around the end of the worl in one way or another.

Shale oil extraction is dependant on high oil prices. It costs something like $80 a barrel I think? to extract. No amounts of protests were successful (or really would ever be) in keeping it in the ground, but the oil price dropping does it.

It seems like the best bed for saving the environment would be to make oil as cheap as possible and extraction as expensive as possible. Perhaps environmental charities should start hoarding oil and then releasing it to the market in the event of prices going up.

Figure out how to nudge the back end costs and eventually there becomes no choice but to do the clean thing?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 11:49 AM on August 22 [13 favorites]


I liked the ideas behind the Vox article -- we can't wait for market forces if we want to really be proactive in addressing climate change/ crisis. For example, we have increased crossover and SUV sales (from increased crossover and SUV advertising) because they fatten profit margins (Auto Trader, 2017), while having higher emissions than smaller, more efficient vehicles. [Then articles say "this is just what people want," ignoring how these vehicles are marketed ... but I digress.]

Still, seeing oil companies plan for "peak demand" makes me happy, because then the dialog can shift from "the government is forcing companies to make hard changes" to "the public demand is dropping and forcing companies to change."

We have two hybrid cars, which get decent gas mileage (high 40 miles per gallon seems to be our average, highway or city driving), but I'm seriously hoping that our 2002 Prius can hold on a bit longer because the VW electric microbus (Car and Driver) is my new dream (family) car.


Back to the general trends and shifts -- on the commercial truck side, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently passed a mandate, which is expected to start in the 2024 model year and initially require 5%-9% zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) based on class, rising to 30%-50% by 2030. By 2045, all vehicles should be ZEVs “where feasible.” (Auto Blog, June 26, 2020)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:08 PM on August 22 [7 favorites]


As Michael Liebreich, the founder and senior contributor of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, recently put it on Twitter: “I've always said the end-game for oil is not when it reaches $200/barrel, it's when it settles at $20/barrel.”

November 1990 33.07$
October 1990 36.02$
September 1990 34.90$
August 1990 27.17$
July 1990 17.17$
June 1990 15.10$
May 1990 16.35$
April 1990 16.61$
March 1990 18.39$
February 1990 19.81$
January 1990 21.25$

Europe Brent Spot Price FOB 1990.

huh.
posted by clavdivs at 12:13 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


"The Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stones, and the Oil Age will not end because we run out of oil"

--Ex Saudi Oil Minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani paraphrasing Don Huberts
posted by chavenet at 12:16 PM on August 22 [12 favorites]


As an aside, $15 in 1990 is $$29.74 today, soooo.....
posted by aramaic at 12:18 PM on August 22 [8 favorites]


In reality, the argument wasn't that the world was going to run out of oil, it was that oil production would begin a long decline and cause havoc in a world that is still highly dependent upon oil.

So, that we'd run out of oil, slowly?

(I know what this bit of pedantry is trying to do but it's not doing it very well).
posted by atoxyl at 12:22 PM on August 22


Oil is a pretty fascinating set of stories, especially right now. A lot of shennanigans went down this year, with OPEC nearly busting apart. The Planet Money episodes on this were excellent, imo:
Negative Oil
Coronavirus, Oil and Kansas

These events (near-bust of OPEC, leading to relative overproduction, simultaneous with a big drop in consumption due to corona, leading to a kinda insane shortage of oil /storage/ space, leading to negative oil prices) are why we're seeing lower prices right now. I believe we're still dealing with the oversupply situation from the spring; it involved a LOT of overproduction. It's not clear whether this is a transient shock or the new world order, though. Probably somewhere in-between, of course.

Another angle I like to consider is that OPEC, as a cartel, kept oil prices artificially high by reducing supply. Econ 101 sez that this causes some decrease in oil usage, and consequently was a positive force against climate change. Of course, the best case scenario for climate change would be a collapse in demand accompanied by higher prices, via taxes, emissions regulations, or whatevs.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:25 PM on August 22 [6 favorites]


But growing shale oil production largely burst that bubble in 2014, when it became clear that there was still a lot of oil to be produced.

The Peak Oil advocates back in the day I would talk with would always say that tapping shale oil wasn't a way of putting off Peak Oil, but a symptpm as it showed that demand was pushing prices up high enough for companies to afford exploration and extraction from previously hard to extract sources (shale, the Arctic, etc.).

I don't think they counted on there being so much extractable oil.
posted by Fukiyama at 12:33 PM on August 22 [5 favorites]


I don't think they counted on there being so much extractable oil.

Well, it was always a question of the balance between demand and the relatively high cost of developing access to more difficult oil reserves. Fracking unexpectedly brought down the cost of developing some of these 'harder' resources dramatically, and (perhaps) bridged the gap to the world where we can more voluntarily shift energy production to cleaner forms. (with the above caveats that the current drop in demand is maybe temporary.) I think the big technological change is the angle that they missed, not the quantity of oil under ground.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:57 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


It's really hard for me to concentrate on, like, sober analysis of this issue and its implications over the loud hissing YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS going on in my brain, y'know?
posted by Cozybee at 12:59 PM on August 22 [9 favorites]


(Why did they miss the technological advance? Well, it's OBVIOUS we've got so much experience extracting oil that there's not a lot to gain. And now it's obvious in retrospect that no one had really tried to find a cheaper way to get at these harder forms of extraction, because there were plenty of cheaper sources available. So once pushed into extracting from shale reserves, new technological solutions made it cheaper pretty quickly.)

(meanwhile, fracking is terrible, and it will be great when it stops.)
posted by kaibutsu at 1:00 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


European oil majors have made some uncomfortable admissions in recent months: oil and gas worth billions of dollars might never be pumped out of the ground.
handelsmessiah.mid
posted by biogeo at 1:08 PM on August 22 [20 favorites]


Around 2004-2006, Peak Oil apocalypse scenarios haunted my waking hours.

There were seriously-made and -taken predictions that after years of crippling economic meltdown and famine, the lights would go out around 2015, and they would never come back on.

I have to say, it's nice to be able to look back on this one particular thing and say, well, that didn't end up as badly as a lot of people said it would.
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:36 PM on August 22 [8 favorites]


So once pushed into extracting from shale reserves, new technological solutions made it cheaper pretty quickly

I thought the take on this from the surviving Peak Oil folks was that it's still not actually cheap, just propped up by investment?
posted by atoxyl at 1:56 PM on August 22


And ignoring externalities - no one is guaranteeing water supplies as good as they were beforehand, afaik
posted by clew at 2:09 PM on August 22


It's interesting and terrifying, the scale of oil's reach into economies and daily life, generally.

Norway saw the writing on the wall and started getting its sovereign fund out of oil and gas extraction last year. They will still own about 1.4% of the world's economic production.

It is notable that Trump is going all in, relaxing environmental laws on oil and gas exploration and refining. The US is still able to print money on the basis of the petrodollar, which lets it fund tax breaks to billionaires and corporations. Where does its economy go, once fossil fuel demand dries up and money can no longer be printed or borrowed on demand, and there is a much smaller need for jobs that exploit Alaska and North Dakota reserves?

Gas taxes pay for US roads and highways. As gasoline demand wanes, what adjustments will need to be made to continue to pay for transportation infrastructure?

Demand may dry up, but fossil fuel-derived climate change will remain and make other changes to how we travel — making flying more expensive, difficult, and dangerous, for instance.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:21 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


Good news, Metafilter! With regards to Peak Oil, early 21st-century Metafilter has got you covered, to name three random posts.

If you want to choose your own Metafilter adventure around Peak Oil, feel free. There's a hell of a lot to choose from.

Many Peak-Oil-related Metafilter comments from fifteen years ago are... not prescient, shall we say.
posted by springo at 2:32 PM on August 22 [16 favorites]


Oh, I don't know about that:

Predicting the future is very hard stuff.
posted by obfusciatrist at 1:39 on July 8, 2005

posted by biogeo at 2:50 PM on August 22 [12 favorites]


I'm just happy to have yet another reason to sneer luxuriantly at James Howard Kunstler.
posted by sonascope at 3:27 PM on August 22 [8 favorites]


OMG, now James Howard Kunstler is on Parler, so I have two really great reasons to sneer luxuriantly at the guy.

2020 is the year that keeps on giving.
posted by sonascope at 3:29 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


Parler

Geez. Is there like an index of all these places so I can be well versed in what to avoid?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:35 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]


I was always puzzled about the traction Peak Oil got among left leaning people, and the sheer reluctance to entertain any alternative scenarios over what is essentially a supply and demand issue, and treat it more like a dogma worthy of Malthus. I mean, people would get mad if you suggested that Peak Oil was a fundamentally mistaken concept. I'm guessing it checked off a couple of tasty boxes that irresistibly brought the grand scheme of things into some kind of coherence.

Even stranger is how much people like Kunstler held sway over the crowd on the issue.

Perhaps strangest of all is how Kunstler still manages to earn a living doing anything more complicated than push a broom.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:52 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]


I took it as a promising sign that the mining operation that digging huge holes everywhere and sending sand to Texas (!) because our sand is better than theirs for fracking just filed for bankruptcy protection.
posted by zenzenobia at 4:05 PM on August 22 [6 favorites]


...sitting in gridlock on the interstate side-by-side with hundred of other ICE-vehicles while listening to lectures about the historic development of civilization can really give me a perspective of just how mind-numbingly insane the golbal fossil fuel industry, and our addiction to it, is.

Read Daniel Yergin's "The Prize". It's a thick book, but would be worth your (and others') time.

Then, for added bang per read word, read like the first third or so of the first book of "The Last Lion" on Winston Churchill.

You're right, it is mind-numbingly insane, and in fact, it was much much worse.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:52 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


puzzled about the traction Peak Oil got

For me it was the idea of EROEI that made it at least possible. I'm also skeptical of people who are eager to reduce things to 'essentially a supply and demand problem' (but I believe we've danced before 2N?).

What kept me from worrying too much about it is the much older than oil trend of this capitalist system evolving around choke points.

Then again, this post is sort of counting its chickens before they've hatched.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 5:03 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Saying peak oil was just about oil getting to expensive is a bit of a straw man. Supply and demand have to balance each other out. If they get too out of balance in the one resource that makes almost all other economic activity possible in the way we know it today then things can get very unpredictable.

It isn't a surprise to anyone that has read into this that low priced oil is just as bad as high priced oil.

The are are real risks both in supply and demand sides.

This article doesn't really lay those out. Pretty much just says "boy that covid is causing a bunch of problems, am I right?"

Yup, you are right. But what are we (humans) going to do?
posted by graham1881 at 5:05 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


I feel like a lot of left-ish people talked about peak oil because they saw it as a sort of... Capitalism/Free Market-forward way of talking about why even oil-loving conservatives might want to think about moving away from it, in their best interest. Not really vouching for that analysis but that's how I saw it talked about.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:06 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


kaibutsu: Another angle I like to consider is that OPEC, as a cartel, kept oil prices artificially high by reducing supply. Econ 101 sez that this causes some decrease in oil usage, and consequently was a positive force against climate change.

Exactly. Usually we think that cheap is good and expensive is bad, but cheap oil is bad both for oil producers and for climate change. When OPEC+ reached its deal in mid-April to cut production, ending the Saudi-Russia price war, they were also hoping that the US and Canada would cut their production by 10%, and that's more or less what happened. Maybe we'll see further coordination between OPEC and non-OPEC producers to support prices by keeping oil in the ground.
posted by russilwvong at 5:42 PM on August 22


Perhaps environmental charities should start hoarding oil

This is funny because when people tried this they were criminalized. Oil is a political business, through and through. 20 billion in subsidies, and immense environmental exemptions from the law.
posted by eustatic at 7:28 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]


This article assumes fracked oil was viable ROI. But the wells run dry on 2 to 5 years. It was always going to fall apart.
posted by eustatic at 7:30 PM on August 22


In the Before Times, I rode the train to work with a state geologist, who was involved with reviewing fracking here in New Mexico. He said that there were new technologies, methods, and chemical compounds being devised to extend the capacity and potential of the basin in this region for decades. And multinational oil and gas companies were setting up local offices in the Permian Basin, spending millions on building local management facilities, indicating they were banking on a mid- to long-term investment in the region. Then there are the miles and miles and miles of transmission pipeline being laid in the basin, making it easier to move the crude from the local wells to refineries. All this points to industry folks viewing their market as more than a quick boom-n-bust. Looking nationally, here are some charts from the World Economic Forum, from 2019, which predicted US shale oil production potentially growing through 2024, or at least maintaining a pretty high plateau of production.

Sure, there's a limited quantity of oil to suck out of the ground, whatever the extraction method, and that's part of the message of Peak Oil. But the peaks kept shifting with advances in technologies and chemistry, in addition to the changes in the market, which made resources, once too expensive to tap, now fiscally feasible.

This is all banking on demand, and this is the first I've heard of that part of the supply and demand considerations reaching a peak. EVs were a niche market just a few years ago, and in 2018, there were only 3 million EVs globally, but the growth rates are significant (Statista). Still, with market adoption rates alone shifting demand, EVs wouldn't really put a dent in oil demand on their own.

That's where I think the COVID pandemic really shifted things. Work from home is currently a major push, for those who can, but many companies have publicly stated that they're shifting a significant portion of their workforce to WFH in the future, or at least giving their employees that option. It cuts down on office costs, if nothing else, which seems like a pretty easy way to cut costs.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:36 PM on August 22 [5 favorites]


Usually we think that cheap is good and expensive is bad, but cheap oil is bad both for oil producers and for climate change.


Sometimes.

"Minimum price supports for oil and for natural gas would encourage investmens in the expensive fields new fields...If oil began selling for less then $30 per barrel, the u.s. government would buy additional oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Price supports have value even if oil prices drop below support level. [1]

' 1. "When Oil Peaked' Kenneth S. Deffeyes. Hill and Wang. 2010.
posted by clavdivs at 8:44 PM on August 22


but cheap oil is bad both for oil producers and for climate change.

Saudi Arabia needs the price of oil to be X dollars in order to fund its welfare state. As long as oil remains below that, it is burning reserves. I haven't seen numbers lately, but the last time I saw, it was supposed to be close to dire straits. Without payouts to the people, they have no reason to continue with the House of Saud.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:47 PM on August 22


no offense but there will always be a House of Saud. It's to prolific and has a few plans

Sure, there's a limited quantity of oil to suck out of the ground, whatever the extraction method...which made resources, once too expensive to tap, now fiscally feasible.

or, what filthy light thief said 11 minutes before me, really, I was in edit window...
posted by clavdivs at 9:10 PM on August 22


My firm has only always had a small connection to oil, but being in Texas, we did have some pipeline engineering jobs for it. When the big drop happened this year, leadership spend up our investment in going after methane capture from dairy farms, supposedly a Next Big Thing that can of course be marketed as sustainable.

I have not been able to find much info on how useful or sustainable it actually is, or how much energy it can provide.
posted by emjaybee at 9:39 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


Random question someone might know, although natural gas + decarbonization related, rather than oil: I've always lived in places where natural gas heating (for homes) is the default and electric heat is expensive and inefficient and crappy at keeping you warm. But I know like electric ranges have been improving, so I assume electric heating in frigid climates has been too. What is decarbonized heating in frigid climates going to look like?

(And don't tell me to turn down my thermostat and put on a sweater, Jimmy Carter; I keep the thermostat at 60 daytime and 55 overnight even when it's 20 below; any lower and my pipes will freeze overnight.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:08 PM on August 22


What is decarbonized heating in frigid climates going to look like?

A standard air-source heat pump is adequate in areas with mild winters (winters that never get below about 20 °F). A well-insulated home can perform very well in a cold climate with the combination of a cold-climate heat pump (i.e. heat pump with variable speed compressor) and supplemental electric resistance heating. See Achieve Comfort and Reliable Performance with Cold-Climate Heat Pumps. However, strictly on a ROI basis, it is still challenging to justify heat pumps in many areas. Electrification in a very cold climate would probably need a geothermal heat pump (ground-source).
posted by RichardP at 11:06 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]


What is decarbonized heating in frigid climates going to look like?

Fairbanks AK - Passivehaus 0 Carbon, which is pretty amazing.

Rocky Mountain Institute's New HQ Has No Central Heat. Their 1982 Centre was also very efficient for it's time and a test-bed for many mainstream concepts today.

emjaybee In NZ it's becoming a thing for some dairy farms to do this. Gosh I just realised I know most everyone in that article.

I used to imagine gas-station forecourt signs whirring up so the price blurred, be funny if it went the other way. I wonder what the break even price is to fund oil processing, logistics and retail? Cause I don't think we'll be able to electrify fast enough. Certainly not backwaters like this one even with Jacinda in charge - there's just so.much.inertia.tradition.vested_interests to imagine a smooth transition.
posted by unearthed at 11:46 PM on August 22 [6 favorites]


Way back in 2018, I remember reading Zack and Jessie (normally Tesla bloggers) as they reviewed Ross Tessien's article about The End of Oil.

The article talked about the S curves of technology adoption: a new technology starts off slowly with early adopters, reaches a point of readiness and then explodes in usage exponentially until it is almost everywhere. Tessien pointed out that the slope of technology adoption S curves has been speeding up of late: it took decades for the telephone to reach 80% adoption but only, really, months for the smartphone to do so.

Cars don't work quite like that: rather than getting the latest and greatest for Christmas, most of us wait for a few years until we need to upgrade before purchasing it. But "it" will now tend to be an EV rather than an ICE vehicle. EV technology has evolved a little like LED light bulbs: the earlier models were expensive, dim, unreliable and unsuited for many uses. Then suddenly they were cheap, applicable to almost all niches and hence everywhere. Who on earth would buy a filament bulb in 2020 - and where from?

Tessien thus predicted that 2023 would be the inflection point for the oil industry: by this point a mass switch away from ICE cars would be in progress and the oil industry would be left with a glut of product. At that point it would be fighting falling revenues, uneconomic extraction, transport and refining costs, governments and investors who were hostile to the environmental costs of digging up stuff and burning it - as well as the rise of EVs themselves.

This year's pandemic has probably acted to bring that date forward: not because we are all flush with cash to spend on new tech - but because people are starting to calculate the new tech will save them hard earned pennies of the lifetime of a new vehicle. And we are keener to home work than commute. Who on earth would choose to buy an ICE car in 10 years - or eight or five? Where would they get it from? How would they find a place to fill it up?
posted by rongorongo at 2:41 AM on August 23 [5 favorites]


What is decarbonized heating in frigid climates going to look like?

Higher carbon footprint is literally the price humanity pays for doing a 40 mile commute per day, or living somewhere with ridiculous cold / heat. Maybe at some point it was acceptable because we could burn all the fossil fuels we want, but you'd have to think one day it won't be. I'd like to move somewhere warmer...

In Melbourne the coldest it gets to overnight in our relatively mild winters is freezing, enough that you have to de-ice your car in the morning. My heat pump for the master bedroom / home office / walk in robe / ensuite is a 7 star MHI unit with an average COP of 5.7 (470 watts input power to generate 2.7 kilowatts of heat), and EER of 6.45 (310 watts input power to generate 2.0 kilowatts of cooling). It runs 24/7 in winter, and the total power draw for the house has been 17.7kWh per day over winter, which is an average draw of 733 watts, not bad considering that it's also powering electric hot water, induction cooking, ovens and work from home home office. Over summer the average power draw is 5.5kWh per day. In fact the overall power draw doesn't seem high enough to justify putting in solar panels, which was my original plan going for a fully electric house.

Could anyone check my calculations - for a 300L shower over 15 minutes, to raise water temperature from 10°C from mains to 40°C for showering (simplification) would need 10.5kWh for a single shower, which is over half the daily usage we have. I guess going to a heat pump water heater is probably more impactful than a heat pump room heating system. I also have a solar thermal system but I honestly don't know if it's managing to extract much heat during winter, you'd have to think that it's a net loss overnight during freezing temperatures as it circulates hot water periodically to prevent ice from forming in the panels.
posted by xdvesper at 2:48 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


If I was funding a startup, it would be doing something with Energy Recovery systems, there's currently some commercial uses for it but very little residential application right now. Basically in commercial kitchens - where you have waste hot water from washing dishes exit your kitchen in a "pipe within a pipe" design with highly conductive metal interface between the two streams of water that transfers all that waste heat to incoming mains cold water that's refilling your hot water tank. With a long enough pipe run, you basically recapture 100% of heat that would have otherwise been flushed down the drain.

In winter ventilation systems basically exhaust your warm air from inside your house and replace it with fresh frigid air from outside. With a long enough ducted run you could constantly refill your house with fresh air, while recapturing all the heat energy that would otherwise have been wasted. This would be key in say, achieving a hypothetical Covid-safe ventilation ratio that we might implement in the future...
posted by xdvesper at 3:06 AM on August 23 [6 favorites]


Peak oil was something everyone got wrong. Not just wishful thinking and/or alarmist bloggers. Globally vast investments (as in hundreds of billions of dollars, if not over a trillion) were made on the premise that $125+/bbl would be the 2010s new normal and by the 2020s supplies could be so short that some form of industrial rationing and allocation might be necessary (i.e., free market supply-demand equilibrium could pin prices so high that military and low-margin but necessary commercial applications wouldn't be able to buy the hydrocarbon product they needed).

These weren't just investments in expensive non-conventional hydrocarbon production, they were investments in electrification, fuel cells and solar, in more efficient aircraft, etc., as well as non-capex related investments in oil and gas companies that were premised on sky-high prices (and led to bankruptcy when those prices weren't realized).
posted by MattD at 6:42 AM on August 23


Peak Oil isn't about running out of oil, it's about Supply being unable to keep up with Demand, and in particular it's the idea that everything going to hell happens not when Supply hits zero but when Demand sufficiently outstrips Supply that availability is disrupted and prices skyrocket.

Remember what happened with Lysol spray and disinfectant wipes in March? You know how it's still a crapshoot whether there'll be any if you go to the grocery store right now? And those are things most people don't actually need for their day to day life, and things that can be fairly easily scaled up in production because none of their components are rare or particularly difficult to acquire and manufacture. Imagine that, except it's a commodity that our entire civilization requires a lot of for everyday life.

That's Peak Oil, and it's not hard to see why that's horrifying to people.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:01 AM on August 23 [9 favorites]



Many Peak-Oil-related Metafilter comments from fifteen years ago are... not prescient, shall we say.

Counterpoint:

Ask yourself if we've ever run out of any
nonrenewable resource on a global scale? Remember Peak Coal? Peak Timber? Peak Whale Oil?

These resources are finite and exhaustible but we didn't manage to dig out every lump, fell every tree, or render every whale? Why is that?

The simple answer is that as we ran out of these resources we were able to find other, often better, substitutes. But, you say, there are no substitutes for oil. Well just wait. Pessimists have a horrible track record when it comes to these types of issues.
posted by euphorb at 9:45 AM on August 19, 2005

posted by euphorb at 7:16 AM on August 23 [17 favorites]


rongorongo: Who on earth would buy a filament bulb in 2020 - and where from?

On this particular reference: this has happened so swiftly because governments around the world have passed measures to phase out incandescent light bulbs (Wikipedia) -- and then the U.S. scrapped their pending 2020 ban on incandescents in 2019 (BBC News), because of course we did.

But again, it was too late to completely reverse the course of history, because companies have been gearing up to make more energy efficient, longer-lasting bulbs for a while. Energy companies, realizing this shift could stretch their existing production capacity, offered rebates and incentives on the new, higher-cost bulbs, and now efficiencies in production and the growing demand have driven down the cost of even LED bulbs.

The complication with a transition from internal combustion engines (ICEs) to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) requires not only a change in production, but also market demand and/or government mandates, and most critically, charging infrastructure.

This is the element of change that most requires a coordinated, national and multi-national effort, not only in developing a robust network of EV chargers, but also setting plug standards. Here's an overview of plug types (Enelx), and another (Chargehub), which also notes the different charge speeds (levels 1-3), which relates to how fast an EV will be recharged. Oh, and if you're charging at home, there's the need to plan (or program, in your charger) when your EV is charged, so you don't end up with a huge electric bill if you charge at peak times.

In other words, while the price of gas can change drastically day to day and the price of electricity is generally fixed by public regulation commissions or other regulating bodies, there are a LOT more factors to take into consideration when charging your EV. Sites and services like Plugshare make finding an EV charger easier, and if you have the app, you can plan your trips, but it's still more work than having an ICE.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:49 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


The simple answer is that as we ran out of these resources we were able to find other, often better, substitutes. But, you say, there are no substitutes for oil. Well just wait. Pessimists have a horrible track record when it comes to these types of issues.

What we found was oil whose extraction did even more damage to the environment than the oil we were already extracting.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:38 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


DON'T PANIC! I COME IN PEACE!
posted by PEAK OIL at 10:36 PM on July 8, 2005
posted by clavdivs at 11:57 AM on August 23


I have hesitated to buy an all-electric vehicle because I rent and so couldn't install a plug, and in addition, since charging plugs don't seem standardized how could I be sure of finding the right one?
posted by emjaybee at 12:09 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


Seconding xdvesper re the way oil/low cost energy funds unsustainable ways of living, a local case in point:

In southern NZ farmland all the farm houses are huddled away from the Southerly winds and often invisible from the ground - coal, wood or an unreliable generator their only heat and light when they were built.

Many new farmhouses are on ridges and hilltops, often without any meaningful shelter and all enabled by energy facilitated by abundant oil - while much of NZ's energy is hydro, hydro takes millions and millions of litres of petrol and diesel. Many have a lignite furnace (very crappy form of coal) or a diesel heat system!
posted by unearthed at 1:06 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I was a doomer back in the mid 2000s. I'm sure I have plenty of "unprescient" comments on this very site from that time.

EROEI is/was an interesting attempt to quantify the fall of civilizations; it's not enough to describe a fractally complex system, but it's at least a start that can move us beyond moral arguments and just-so stories on the order of "Rome fell because it was immoral". Unfortunately the core peak oil argument (slightly simplified) was the idea that declining EROEI meant the immediate collapse of civilization. I think of it now as a social panic born out several society-wide fears for the future (some of them quite understandable, like climate change), and an early example of what can happen in an internet echo chamber.

Water got almost as much attention as oil back then; this has emerged as a much bigger issue than oil in the past 10 years due to climate change and the fact that the market is not going to find an alternative to water. NPK fertilizer production is also a long term issue, phosphate in particular.

In the mid-2000s there was a more widespread belief in a limitless earth and that we dictate terms to the planet - there would be enough food for 50 billion people if only we could distribute it equitably; if demand for oil rose, the planet would cough it up by definition. Same for the idea of market-driven technological progress (see euphorb's comment) - surely there is always a way to keep growth going exponentially through the workings of market forces. That was the social baseline peak-oil folks (at least on the left) were arguing against. Right-wing leaning people were (and are) controlled by their own myths that bias them toward being anti-civilization, so an end-times based in part by science describing the outcome of immoral urban over-consumption was going to draw a lot of people in.

That was pre-2008 financial crisis; a large proportion of people who came of age during and after are not middle class like their parents, so socialism is making a comeback, and pro-market proponents have declined in tandem. Climate change is also a lot more in our face than it was even 10 years ago, is harder to ignore as a result, and now requires willful ignorance to do so. The idea that production and consumption of natural resources is purely a political problem is slowly being limited to the right wing echo chamber. I remember during the most recent peak of the California drought a lot of people in the central valley believed there was plenty of water available, but Obama was...well, black, so something nefarious was being done with the otherwise limitless water.

And Kunstler was always just an angry, bitter narcissist.
posted by MillMan at 1:28 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


What is decarbonized heating in frigid climates going to look like?

Quebec, which has abundant hydroelectricity, relies heavily on electric heat - only 14% of homes have a gas furnace. Source.
posted by russilwvong at 3:30 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


What is decarbonized heating in frigid climates going to look like?

I wish I was sure we were going to have frigid climates, long term.

Seasonally cold regions have an easier problem because the earth straight down is a reservoir of the average temperature at the surface, and moving heat up and down deep pipes can be fairly efficient. Insulating well enough to capture the heat produced by everything else we like to do gets you more of the way, and then supplemental electric heat is not so bad.

It would probably help to start putting in the ground pipes under all new construction now, if not last decade.

Regions that need, or will need, year-round cooling have a worse problem AIUI, since they’ll be warming up their pipes and then what? Like the London Tube braking problem, except that London can use the heat in winter if they can get it.
posted by clew at 3:53 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Regions that need, or will need, year-round cooling have a worse problem AIUI, since they’ll be warming up their pipes and then what?

From an energy use perspective high temperatures seem like an easier problem to solve.

Heat pumps operating efficiency drops quite low as temperature falls, due to ice forming on the radiator fins - ambient temperature might be 2°C, and the heat pump fins might be at -5°C, with a fan blowing across it, then ice will inevitably form and start insulating your fins and then your heat pump has to go through a defrost cycle, dramatically cutting its efficiency. As it gets colder rapidly get to the point heat pumps fail and you're back to resistive heating with 1:1 COP.

Heat pump cooling has no physical limitation in theory. You could have ambient outside temperature at 50°C and your fins would just be at 70°C with a fan blowing across it dumping your heat into the environment, no problem. At super high temperatures you would need different refrigerants. You could assist it with water evaporation as well.
posted by xdvesper at 5:46 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Using energy to dump heat into an environment that's already too hot because we've used too much energy strikes *me* as a problem.
posted by clew at 6:12 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


xdvesper - have you seen this? - Toward Real-World Applications of Daytime Radiative Cooling fulltext sciencedirect pdf. I think this is out of Uni of Colorado Radi-cool, it's brilliant engineering, and it looks like they're literally printing it by the roll.
posted by unearthed at 6:39 PM on August 23 [6 favorites]


I feel like I’ve heard this all before in the late 1980s to about 1999 when oil was mostly cheap and plentiful. And I heard the peak oil panic in the 1970s and 2000s when supplies were tight. I’d like to think that we’ll be smarter this time; but I’m skeptical.

I’ve got very little faith in humanity to do the right thing and take this opportunity to get ourselves off gasoline before we cook the earth. We can’t seem to get rid of incandescent light bulbs or get people to wear masks....
posted by interogative mood at 7:46 PM on August 23


Using energy to dump heat into an environment that's already too hot because we've used too much energy strikes *me* as a problem.

I've read that 75% of energy we use to perform work is converted to waste heat. Whether that figure is accurate or not, if we're to survive climate change, asteroids, supervolcanoes, etc. we'll definitely need to figure out a way to keep from using the ocean and atmosphere as heat sinks.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:01 PM on August 24


There is a misconception about using “waste heat.” All energy is eventually converted to heat.

The 75% quoted above referees to the efficiency of engines that burn fuel. How much of the energy of the fuel is converted to useful work, like moving a car or generating electricity. For cars and older fossil fuel plants, only about 25% of the energy of the fuel results in useful work. This means that 75% remaining is wasted. However, even the useful 25% eventually becomes heat. That is what happens when machines slow down due to friction or atmospheric drag, or electricity stops flowing due to electrical resistance.

Modern super efficient gas turbines can convert about 60% of the enegy of the combusted has into useful work. The Second Law of Thermodynamics forbids 100% efficiency of conversion of fuel energy to work.

As for using the atmosphere or ocean as a heat sink, this is where the heat of any human activity ends up. The problem on a global scale is not that the heat from human energy consumption is contributing significantly to the warming of the atmosphere. The amount of solar radiation striking the earth every year is many thousands of time greater than the annual amount of energy consumed by humans. Except for the relatively small fraction of that solar radiation is reflected back into space, all of that solar radiation becomes heat, dwarfing that produced by humans.

Rather the problem is that human activity, such as burning of fossil fuels, produces gases (chiefly CO2 and methane) that slow the rate at which heat can be radiated into space—heat that is by far mostly generated by solar radiation. It is this slowing of radiation that results in the warming of the planet. Using the atmosphere or ocean to assist with cooling is not what causes the global warming which threatens us.
posted by haiku warrior at 8:32 PM on August 24 [5 favorites]


Significant stock market news related to this post. Exxon booted from Dow Jones Industrial Average
posted by haiku warrior at 7:54 AM on August 25 [2 favorites]


Y'know, it's not really comforting that some of the biggest factors blunting/delaying peak oil have been a massive global recession, the spread of increasingly expensive/marginal/environmentally destructive technologies like fracking, and now a massive global pandemic.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:33 PM on August 26


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