Solutions Aren’t the Answer

Here’s the thing about peak oil: it’s not that we are running out of oil, but rather that because oil is now getting more scarce every day, it will become much more expensive. And it’s the expense that will get us – every single thing we’ve done in this country is predicated on cheap energy. When energy gets too expensive, our lifestyle becomes unsustainable. That’s when a new way of living will be forced on us. I think we should take control now and not let us get dictated to.

When I hear about plans for alternative energy that will somehow enable us to keep our lifestyle going, I immediately get suspicious. Lately, one of my peak oil gurus, Houston energy investment banker Matt Simmons – a long time peak oil prophet – has created a new energy alternative: ammonia

The basic premise is this: in order to create a fuel that can be burned in cars but with a supposedly smaller footprint , (from Forbes magazine) Simmons plans to:

  1. Build the world’s biggest windfarm off the windy coast of Maine;
  2. Use the electricity generated to desalinate and de-ionize sea water;
  3. Use that water, plus electricity and air, to manufacture ammonia;
  4. Pipe the ammonia to shore and use it to power a new generation of cars.

Simmons is also thinking about turning oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico into windfarms to do the same thing.

The whole point of the using wind energy is to eliminate the carbon footprint. Ammonia can be made with any source of energy, but it kind of defeats the purpose to use carbon-based forms.

I am in no way a scientist, but it does seem that there could be personal and global drawbacks to using ammonia as a fuel for vehicles. Be that as it may, I do know enough to know that it will be extremely expensive. The cost of creating the first windfarm is estimated at $25 billion in today’s dollars. Then there is the storage, transportation, and transmission of the Ammonia fuel. Ammonia is very dangerous if not handled properly – so lots of costs there. Then there is the issue of having EVERY SINGLE vehicle on the road retrofitted to burn Ammonia instead of gas or diesel.

All this adds up to lots of doe ray me. Yeah, its possible, but can we afford it is another question. This smacks like more of the old “we can’t handle anything different that what we’ve known over the last 60 years . We’ve got to keep it going!” I don’t think we’ll ever be able to keep our lifestyle going on expensive ammonia – and I don’t think there is any economy of scale that can make it cheap enough. To paraphrase Jim Kunstler, this sounds like trying to sustain the unsustainable.

I respect Matt Simmons, he’s trying to find solutions. But I also understand that maybe in this day and age, solutions aren’t the answer. Acceptance and adaptation is. What do you think?




Filed under Peak Oil

4 responses to “Solutions Aren’t the Answer

  1. If you haven’t read Thomas Homer-Dixon’s book, “The Upside of Down,” you should. Although most of the book talks about complex systems (such as the environment, global economy, ecosystems, etc…) the overall theme is one of adaption to the situation we have created. Good post!

    • steveaustinlex

      Thanks Randall
      I’ve sampled upside of down, you’ve given me a good reminder to read the entire thing…

      • Randall

        I have to agree that adaptation is key, although solutions could be called adaptations. We, as a world are going to have to face the consequences of the way we have run things. We will have to be creative in doing so. However, it will be unlikely that we can come up with, or find, and energy source that can give us the same EROI that oil has. Life just isn’t going to be the same, and we, as a whole species, need to come to terms with this.

      • steveaustinlex

        to me solutions in the conventional sense mean triumph over adversity….that we create some way to keep waht we’ve got….in this case, we can’t triumph over nature….but yes, that said, acceptance and adaptation is a solution, THE solution…

        thanks for commenting

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