The Domino Effect  

Posted by Big Gav

Nate Hagens has an interesting example of the impact fuel shortages can have on the transition to a renewable energy based economy, with a lack of diesel resulting from the shutdown of the Grangemouth refiniery in Scotland halting construction of a wind farm - A Real Time Example of Energy Quality- How Wind Turbines are Subsidized by Fossil Fuels.

Global oil depletion is not immune to the Law of Receding Horizons, the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns, nor it seems to the Law of Unintended Consequences. The Grangemouth refinery shutdown has apparently caused work on a new wind farm in Scotland to shut down for lack of diesel fuel. This is a real time example of how lack of systems analysis of our energy problem will lead to unanticipated problems.

Tomorrow we will highlight another in a series of analysis on Energy Return on (Energy) Investment. Though measuring an energy projects profit and cost in terms of energy is very important, all energy sources are not the same, and the word 'alternative' does not connote 'equality'. In effect, quality matters. Despite some attractive substitutes to oil and gas from an energy return perspective, ALL fuel sources are now heavily subsidized by an infrastructure built and maintained by cheap and constantly available liquid fuels.

In the comment section of theoildrums coverage of the Grangemouth refinery shutdown, we find that a diesel shortage has caused construction to stop on a $300 million wind farm.
MORE than 100 construction workers could face the dole after the fuel crisis brought their project to a halt.

The drivers for Glasgowbased AB2000 were grounded at the new wind farm at Fenwick Moor, Ayrshire, on Thursday after contractors Morrison Construction were unable to find more diesel.

The job was restarted on Friday but bosses fear the limited fuel supply will soon run out and lead to job cuts.

Ted Reilly, of AB2000, said: "We have 70-odd vehicles stuck there because we are hiring men and vehicles to a contractor which can't supply diesel. That situation can't go on any longer.

This highlights an ongoing theme discussed on this website about wide boundaries and energy quality. We need energy to perform work. How we define 'work' is dependent upon how our society is structured. A handful of decades ago, crude oil, despite being extremely powerful and right under their feet, would not have meant much to Saud tribespeople in the Arabian desert, who valued fast, healthy horses as the 'energy quality' that powered their society. Similarly, today we are utterly dependent on crude oil and its refined end products of gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and heating oil.

There are large amounts of solar energy hitting the planet. The potential scale of alternative energy is massive (at least when measured in its unharnessed state). It IS possible to replace a fossil fuel infrastructure with wind, solar, hydro, etc. but we will need a 20 year headstart and a change in the demand system. Just like most people were unaware of how much systemic risk existed in the financial markets until recently, there is similar unquantified systemic risk in the energy markets. We need diesel fuel, cheaply and consistently available to move parts and components around for wind tubines and solar panel production. We need large amounts of natural gas and electricity to produce crude oil. We need well maintained asphalt roads and clean drinking water and municipal infrastrucuture to keep employees moving to their jobs at alternative energy manufacture. We need hospitals and healthy insurance companies for employees to feel secure and safe in their jobs, etc. There are many many interconnected threads within modern society that all link back to cheap oil and gas.

4 comments

Anonymous   says 10:52 PM

Dude, you're starting to sound like all my other doomer mates — and myself on bad days. Where did my "Super - fantastic - happy - hour" peaknik friend disappear to?

Hmmm - I didn't think I'd swung that far across to the dark side - I'd guess the volume of "solutions" posts still exceeds that of "problems" posts.

Certainly all the longer pieces are examining the positive side of the story (or I thought they were).

Anyway - you need a little stick to go with the carrots from time to time !

Anonymous   says 1:42 PM

I am lost in ll this - do you have an abundnace of natural gas supplies that can replace petroleum to power our transport requirements?
Are we not right to offer this our (Australians resource) to Australians.
Are we selling this product too cheaply to the world?
I am not a Communist/Socialist but it does seem to me that our country and our countries Governments have never served our people Australians fairly - forget about us having to compete with the world price - these resources are oursAustralias resources and firstly anf foremostly should be used to provide Australians with a safe secure and affordible lifestyle - if this as presently does not occur - we are no different to the Indians of Anerica - Irian Jayans today - in short we are acepting the beads of the past for the resources we own>

We could switch to CNG instead of oil and use that to fuel our vehicles for a longer than oil would - assuming we don't ramp up exports of gas too much more and don't expand gas fired power too much more.

Its a trade off.

Resource nationalism isn't necessarily a socialist thing - its a nationalist thing - but if you don't obey WTO rules and trade everything on the world market then there tends to be a lot of payback.

Again - its a tradeoff...

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