Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Net Energy Gain and Photo Voltaics

In the early days of PV cells NEG (Net energy gained) of their production was actually below 1. Today it is above 1 but no-one knows by how much as the effective productive life of a PV cell is not known. The most modern estimate is that after 2 years service a PV cell has equalled the energy required to manufacture and install it.

This summation (2 years of service of PV use equals amount of energy used to manufacture it) of course doesn't take into consideration the historical evolution in research and infrastructure required and related to development of PV technology, mineral refinement and extraction, technological and economic viability of associated supply industries and plant required to manufacture PV. Let alone the massive costs associated with educating, transporting and supporting the humans that are needed to make PV.

We have PV cells because we have a fossil-fuel economy. Without oil, we never would have discovered PV, because the social economic culture that has enabled industry, research and levels of education to soar to the point where we could develop PV technology would never have existed in the first place.

The formulation below assumes a factory to build PV is in place and a truckload of refined silica is sitting in drums waiting to be turned into PV cells by someone with a priori knowledge about how to build them. All this with no prior consideration of how all that stuff got to be there in the first place.

And this assumption, totally devoid of any holistic knowledge about the nature of why our society exists in it's present form is this precisely the problem.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On Being Quiet!

One might wonder, why the silence? I can tell you. In two weeks I'm off on a junket tour of Sweden, Scotland and England. Specifically, Vasteras, near Stockholm, Sweden for the E-CAP (European Conference on Computing and Philosophy). I am presenting a paper entitled "Can Knowledge be an Immutable Data Type? The limits of the model theoretic approach". More than happy to provide more detail for those interested. But, I'm getting ready to expose my credentials to a bunch of professors of philosophy. This is the real world!

In the mean time here is something for those hanging out for a peak oil rant.

This was the result (my result) of an exchange with someone who was interested in my provision of a solution for Peak Oil. Actually, that's not entirely fair. This was my ranting and raving. Simple as that. I place no blame on any individual that asks me any question - I am the one with the problem.

Society is fine. Continue consuming at your leisure!
The reality of all those people (consumers) is called real-politik. The change required goes right to the heart of democracy. You have to do away with democracy if you want things to change, because inherent in democracy is individual freedom and property rights. These rights will have to be foregone in a new world.

The minute you or I or some politician tells someone else what they can do and what they cannot do with their own property, whether that is land, resources, labour whatever you have lost some of that freedom that democracy holds so dear, that what is yours is yours to sell or do as you wish with.

All this is about is people trying to make money. It's just that now we have an entire global system supporting that aim. As long as this system is in place resources will be exploited at ever increasing rates. Try telling a mother in Bangladesh that she cannot feed her children because it's immoral to fell forests so she can graze her animals. So what do you do about that - ship in grain by container from the first world. That's not a solution, that's the problem.

What is it that you can possibly do - bring in laws to stop the importation of all that stuff we buy from Bond and Bond, the Warehouse, Noel Leeming... Do we prevent people buying cars and living in suburbs? Where to you house people if you are not going to let them live in suburbs? City Ghettos? The average wage in NZ is less than 35,000 - most people on this kind of money live from week to week. All they are concerned about is paying the bills and feeding their kids. It's a treat to them to afford to buy a Playstation for Christmas for the kids, it's a treat to them to have MacDonalds and hire a video in the weekend. What do you do, take this away from them? Tell them they have to go back to cross stitch and macrame - for gods sake most of these people can't read anyway, they don't go the library for entertainment they turn on the TV - the TV tells them to buy stuff, and if they don't they are losers.

Changes only happen in the face of extreme adversity. At the moment there is nothing like this. NZ is experiencing the highest level of employment and economic growth since before the last oil crisis in the 70s. Nothing will change until 450,000 people are displaced, unemployed. Nothing will change until it costs more to fill your car each week than it does to pay your mortgage. Nothing will change.

Jo if I can't convince scientists that there are severe problems ahead what hope do we have of convincing people living on the breadline in Naenae, or middle class familys with 2 BMW's in the garage mortagaged to the hilt, their kids at Queen Margaret and Scots college living in Khandallah. They don't care. To them it's all bullshit, all they want is a better life. Energy - that is someone elses problem, they pay their taxes, they expect water to come out of the tap when they turn it on, they expect the light to go on when they hit the switch.

I'm mostly disinterested in trying to change the world - you drive yourself mental trying to do that. I'm interested in peak oil from a sociological/anthropological point of view. If I provoke one or two people to think about it, then that's great. The solution to peak oil is well beyond my comprehension, I can't even be bothered thinking about solutions. The only solution I see actually panning out is for the worst to happen, because only when this happens will the entire perversity that we call civilisation that has taken 4 generations to build be destroyed. At that point we can begin to look at how we might live, post industry.

Maybe this is a proposed solution.

Increase petrol tax by 300% incrementally over the next 3 years
Use the money to double rail infrastructure across NZ
Increase road tax (rego) on all vehicles larger than 1200cc - quadruple it at least.
Make vehicles less than a 1000cc and motor bikes etc exempt.
Ban all imported vehicles immediately over 1200cc
Reduce speed limit on open road to 60k
Stop all new suburban development
Stop all immigration immediately
Impose massive tariffs on all imported goods - basically take out all the mega-shopping chains and encourage localised production again.
Implement compulsory NZ wide permaculture and market gardening regimes/education
Force suburbs to become to some extent self sufficient in food production, energy generation, water supply
Stop all new road projects
All international trade deals are off.
Implement emergency food rationing (because at this point you will have made a lot of people unemployed)
Implement full scale command economy. Unemployed people have to move to argricultural areas and begin that kind of work or get harshly reduced benefits. Government control where resources get spent etc.
Stop all tax dollars going into arts/cultural/sport... DOC programmes, limit all research funding to appropriate areas.
Can both TV1 and Maori TV (a massive waste of resources) - use radio as a news/information medium.
Impose voluntary repatronisation for new immigrants - back dated to say 1990.
(NZ will have to reduce it's population)
Introduce 1 child policy
Increase student fees to cover all costs for non-essential education. (That is English Lit and Athenian Coinage courses will no longer be funded by the taxpayer - this money will be needed to build new infrastructure/rickshaws and grow food.

Now that we have implemented a soviet like state, we'll need to encourage and coerce people to participate in this new utopia.
Introduce government implemented education schemes, praising the virtues of the new system.
Teachings will include discouraging class distinctions, a leveling of society where doctors and farmers are held in the same esteem.
In this uptopia we will also have to have a strong military/police presence because there will be descenters.
However, the good news is that most of the highflyers - those people with big fat houses in Roseneath and Remuera will move to Australia or somewhere else.

Within 5 years if well planned (but lets face it this is logistical nightmare) we'll be using a similar amount of fossil fuel to what we were using before the second world war. Society will resemble that time too. It will take generations for the resentment to fade tho. Violence will most certainly increase. The transition will be extremely harsh. BUT - when the US, the UK, Australia and Europe are all in full scale collapse, NZers will be whinging but living somewhat sustainably.

Steve McKinlay
PowerLess NZ.