Where to now?

While reading Capital in the 21st Century I was thinking. A century ago, the means of production was considered the most important economic asset – you could make things in factories and sell them in high volumes to earn a high return on investment. Two centuries ago it was agricultural land (and slaves in the USA) that earned the most money because food was in demand. Now it is human capital because of the predominance of service based income. It seems likely that growth on the order of 3-5%, as it has been for the past 30 years, will be unsustainable because of resource limitations. But which kind of resource is likely to be the limiter? What will the future look like?

Note:published with sections incomplete Sept 29 2014

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Who needs Oil and Coal?

Essential for the Industrial Revolution but what about today?

Having a look at some of the oil exploration figures and pricing for electricity last weekend, I thought I might see how much the cost of oil might need to be before it is more economic to run cars and other transport on electricity. With the sun shining brightly and lots of electricity going into the grid from my PV panels, I started to think of how far away it might be before we are living in a very different world. A world as different as it was when my father was born into a world where private transport was by horse or walking, telephones were rarely in private homes and electricity was only just becoming commonplace for lighting.

As any reader (there are some of you) would know by now, I am firmly of the opinion that the most reliable and economic way to supply the energy needed for a fair and equitable world (this means a roughly even standard of energy consumption globally that matches the middle ranks of OECD countries) is to generate electricity from solar thermal power plants and also take advantage of geothermal energy sources. The impediments to these technologies are industrial inertia (because the dominant paradigm is to dig up and burn coal) and the relative cost differential for solar generated electricity vs fossil fuels.

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Power Economics

An alternative or just a more economic choice for the long term?

An alternative or just a more economic choice for the long term?


The economics of power are not always what they seem. Here is a brief analysis of the relative economic merits of renewable energy and fuels for electricity production. The coal industry has been telling us all that renewables are not ready yet. That renewables might be ok in the future and that they are limited. The reality is quite different and the economics are starkly in favour of renewables right now, as the Stern Report clearly identified. The really expensive option is to ignore climate change and keep burning coal and other fossil fuels. Continue Reading →

Private or Public Generation for Renewable Energy?

Nearly everyone has moved on from denying that climate change is happening.The challenge to reduce greenhouse gasses and we see a big push for renewable energy generation from individual, BUT with a considerable counter push from fossil fuel lobbyists for a continuation of subsidies for coal diesel and other fuels. The assumption that underlies current Government Policy is that the best way to look after the future is to convince individuals to take personal responsibility for using and generating energy. There has been a huge push for subsidies to individuals who install renewable energy systems in private residences and the Federal Government (Australia) has allocated $500 million for rebates to fund renewable energy and energy conservation measures as direct rebates/subsidies to individuals. This might be good but why not invest that money in public utilities? I looked around for the kind of analysis I have done here and could not find it… yet it seems to be vital information for those deciding how they might do better when choosing how they get their energy. I have done some “back of the envelope” analysis that makes you think… Continue Reading →

Energy update

Not much really but I used 5.2 MWh of electricity in a year and generated 3.4 MWh from the PV panels. Predicted generation was 2.6 MWh from the supplier so all seems good to me. Getting the electricity usage lower is going to be hard because of an electric oven and running a lot of electrical equipment. Still I think I can get below 5MWh per annum easily and perhaps to 4 if I replace some appliances and/or install some building automation to control some things.

Sunshine is the best heating

Well into Winter now and the very short days are here. Paradoxically this is the best time for heating the house from sunshine. Walking on the slate with bare feet when it is -4 degrees outside and opening curtains to let the sunshine in is a great pleasure. With sun coming in to nearly 4 metres almost all the floor is warm now. Late afternoon in the sun is t-shirt weather inside while it is 12 or so degrees outside. This is good and happily the double glazing works very well for the sunny days.

I still think there is some further benefit to be gained from increasing insulation in the roof and walls. That looks feasible before the next summer. Add the increased sunlight from removing shadows cast by the existing pergola and it could add 4 kWh of heating and reduce 12 kWh of cooling (heat leakage) to the daily winter heat budget – when I complete these improvements.

With energy costs approaching 15c and 25c for gas and electricity (per kWh) respectively that amounts to over a dollar a day in gas saving. Effectively $150 a year which is significant but secondary to the sheer comfort and joy of being in a warm and sunny place. Compared with 5 years ago, when I needed to have heating of some sort all of June and July all through the day or be quite cold, the difference is remarkable. 21 degrees inside with no heating on compared to 18-19 with heating on – guilt free :).