Peak Oil: Step out of the next energy crisis
In the 1970's we experienced a worldwide energy crisis. Impressive as it appeared then, it is bound to look pale in comparison to what will start in the next 10-20 years: Peak Oil. It is possible to detach from this problem by embracing sustainable forms of energy.
Peak Oil occurs when oil production starts to lag behind the demand for oil. On an open market, this inevitably leads to rising energy prices. Since Peak Oil is a very rapid development, this is almost certain to cause recession.
Geologists agree that the maximum production capacity of anything we mine from the Earth, including oil, follows a curve like the following:
Such a curve applies to independent wells as well as the worldwide total production capacity. The moment at which the worldwide curve of oil production peaks is a topic of debate, but it is generally believed to fall somewhere between 2000 and 2020. Note that the curve already flattens out before that.
Now turn to energy demand. This curve initially rises at about the same pace as energy production. That is how economies work: try to put the available means to maximum use. An important force behind the ongoing rise in demand is the rising number of people on Earth. This leads to a usage curve that rises ever faster:
This leads to an important problem. We raise our children with the idea that their standard of living should at least match our own. We should either change this, or wait 50 years for a decline in the world population, or we should reduce our dependency on fossile fuels -- and we can do that when we want it, or we can wait until an energy crisis forces us. Taking initiative and doing what we can while we still (literally) have the power is usually smarter than to wait and see.
Our current economy is based on unlimited use of all oil that can be pumped up from wells. This is not wise because oil supplies won't last forever, so it is neither sustainable in economical sense, nor in an environmental sense. Furthermore, oil is a major force behind Global Warming.
In addition, oil sources are often found in countries which are politically not very stable. Given the steady supply of foreign money that oil brings, it is not hard for a government to keep their citizens happy, so there probably is a causal relationship between oil and lack of stability. Being a customer of such instable countries is far from ideal.
In a Western world, we like to leave such issues to our government, or to large corporations. In a fact, that is what we do when we switch to green energy. Green energy is produced in such a way that no fossil fuel is needed for it -- at least not directly.
A major part of green energy production (in the Netherlands at least) is through biodigestion systems. This is a controlled process of under-water rotting, which releases methane gas that is practically the same as gas from a gas well. The sources of rotting biomatter are usually not durable by themselves -- very often it comes from large-scale cow farms or from large non-organic harvests. These forms of biomatter come from non-sustainable products, and their production may have to go down or be changed to a biological method to avoid their dependency on oil and gas. In other words, green energy does not decouple you from the energy crisis that Peak Oil can unleash.
Decoupling from fossile forms of energy like gas and oil is not easy. But perhaps the aim should be to decouple as much as possible, rather than giving up if you fail to decouple 100% of your energy use. In general, it is wise to try and reduce your energy use in general, before you look into generating your own.
Most people are accustomed to a car, and have grown dependent on it. Luckily, if you give it a dedicated try, it turns out that rather a lot of everyday trips can be made without a car, in virtually the same time. If you really want you can live without a car, and start using a bicycle and public transport.
A lot can be gained inside the home. Green energy is much better than gray, but it uses waste products from forms of industry that are glued together with oild and gas. By generating your own energy on a small scale you can start to really decouple from the problems of Peak Oil. Good ways of creating your own energy are small wind turbines near the sea and solar cells where it is sunny for electricity, and solar cells and heat stores to reduce on heating. Biodigestion is easy in tropical climates, and water falling from heights can be a good source of energy in hilly or mountainous landscapes.
In many countries, home-grown electricity can be provided back to the net; the arrangements for payback differ between countries, but it is worthwhile looking into it, as it can save you a lot of trouble from using batteries.
Heat is harder to arrange optimally; there are no good storage techniques yet to keep solar heat from the Summer for use in the Winter time. This is a topic of research at the moment, among others at ECN in the Netherlands. It is widely known that low-temperature heating systems are more efficient than systems based on hotter panels, because they "leak" less heat. The ways of achieving low-temperature heating include floor and wall heating, and for some of us wood burning stoves with solid tiled exteriors may be another option.
Many countries will subsidise your switch to sustainable energy, to make it a worthwhile investment. This differs between countries and may even be different for individuals and companies in the same country.
- The End of Suburbia, The Power of Community and A Crude Awakening are films about the problem of Peak Oil.