The Renewable Energy Survey: RESULTS

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on June 12, 2016

RES-5

Discuss this article at the Survey Table inside the Diner

Take the Renewable Energy Survey HERE (still open!)

Survey Discussion & Analysis with Ugo Bardi & Gail Tverberg

[vsw id=”EH5lwXYb2p8″ source=”youtube” width=”768″ height=”432″ autoplay=”no”]

The RES has accumulated an enormous amount of data, so now is a good time to take a Snapshot of what the current attitudes are about its potential for maintaining the techno-industrial lifestyle.

Before we look at the numbers though, a few important points about the sample.  By no means is this a random sample of attitudes of the world at large.  If you were to drop this survey on USA Today, I am quite sure you would get completely different results.  This sample comes from 6 main websites:

Cassandra's Legacy

Our Finite World

The Archdruid Report

Economic Undertow

Reddit r/collapse & r/globalcollapse

The Doomstead Diner

There are a few contributions from other sites like Global Economic Intersection and Reddit r/solar, but by far the majority come from the sites listed above.  If you were on the list to receive the full data set, you can see how many results came from each site, most respondents did list their referral site.

All of these sites have a readership which follows collapse issues and dynamics, and there is something of a consensus opinion on these sites that industrial civilization is bound for collapse.  The results of the survey reflect that consensus.  However, the results also demonstrate that there are two distinct sub-camps among these readers, those that hold out some hope for a technological solution, and those who do not believe a technological solution can work.

For the population being sampled, this survey is highly significant and a statistically reliable measure of the population being surveyed, estimated at around 50,000.  It comes in with a 95% Confidence level with a 5% margin of error roughly.  For the most part also, since the first 50 or so responses came in, the percentages for the responses and their distribution really hasn't varied all that much.  I will leave the survey open after this article publishes to see if there is any change in the later submissions.

As a long time reader of the Collapse Blogosphere, the aggregate results of the survey didn't surprise me at all.  Does this mean the survey is correct in its predictions of timelines and numbers?  Not necessarily, but it does tell you what most of the people reading collapse blogs THINK will occur and when it will occur.  Given these readers follow the trends more closely than the average J6P, they're making a more informed decision than most people would.  It's also a very highly educated sample, with over 75% of respondents with Baccalaureate degree or above.  One of the most interesting things to do is to parse the data by the demographics, to see the differences in attitudes by things like age, gender, education level and so forth.  I'm not going to do that in this post, but readers who get the spreadsheet will be able to do that quite easily.

 survey-saysOK, all that being said, now let's look at the results themselves!  With each of the graphs, I'll include a few of the text responses that came in also.  All the text responses are included in the spreadsheet.  I calculated this data when the total submissions were at 237, they have increased some since but percentages haven't changed significantly.

First up, Ugo Bardi's original question from a survey he did on a renewable energy forum a few weeks ago.  In that survey, he got a generally positive view of the future potential of RE.  The Kollapsniks we got survey submissions from are not so positive.

The question is about the possibility of a society not too different from ours (**) but 100% based on renewable energy sources, and on the possibility of obtaining it before it is too late to avoid the climate disaster. This said, what statement best describes your position?

 
 

It is impossible for technical reasons. (Renewables have too low EROEIs, need too large amounts of natural resources, we'll run out of fossil fuels first, climate change will destroy us first, etc.)

 

It is technically possible but so expensive to be unthinkable.

 

It is technically possible and not so expensive to be beyond our means. However, it is still expensive enough that most likely people will not want to pay the costs of the transition before it will be too late to achieve it, unless we move to a global emergency status.

 

It is technically possible and inexpensive enough that it can be done smoothly, by means of targeted government intervention, such as a carbon tax.

 

It is technically possible and technological progress will soon make it so inexpensive that normal market mechanisms will bring us there nearly effortlessly.

Standard Deviation Responses
All Data 128
(54%)
19
(8%)
55
(23%)
25
(11%)
10
(4%)
43.04 237

RES-1

The low EROEIs of renewables would require change to our industrial civilisation but I think that it could be qualitatively similar. The differences are enough though to create fierce resistance to that change, until it's too late to be effective.

It's technically possible but the amount we need to cut would require a radically different type of society. A type of society that would be fervently fought against by our world leaders. At the very least we need some kind of steady state economy.

Having significantly less people located in areas of high carrying capacity or high energy density would perhaps let us remain similar in quality but not in quantity. A timely transition though does not seem likely. However all depends on what is meant with "ours". If it means the average internet user – it will be different.

If you look at the first two choices as being from those who do not see renewable energy as being a possible solution and the last 3 choices as those who give it at least some chance for success, you are at about 62% with little hope it will help as opposed to 38% with some hope that it will.  What this indicates is that for people trying to promote RE as a solution, they're not convincing most people in the collapse blogosphere of this.  That doesn't mean they are wrong of course, it just means the ideas aren't selling too well in this population.

What are the major impediments to replacing fossil fuels with Renewable Energy? (rank from biggest impediment to smallest by sliding the choices up and down with your mouse on the icon to the left of the choice)

RES-2

In When trucks stop running, I show why an 80 to 100% renewable grid is not possible (partly based on research from Germany and Europe, which are far ahead of the USA in this). Indeed, DOE found that we may not even be able to cope with a 56 to 61% renewable powered grid — it is too unstable. But mainly because of limited sites for pumped hydro, CAES, geothermal, and the cost and scale of electrochemical batteries.

Fossil fuel energy use quantity is unlikely to be replaceable for a very long time to come. Most energy use is a means to a specific end though, and if the needs and desires can be met in a similar manner a full replacement is not necessary. That is why political ranks highest. Thermodynamics is likely to be a major impediment in the short and medium term (e.g. centuries). Characterizing transportation systems with a scalar is not adequate, but the gist remains the same.

The obsession to use electricity for everything is not good due thermodinamical reasons (many conversions, ineficiencies in some electrical uses, intermitenci, etc). This adds to intermitency, seasonality, YoY variability, that implies overscaling, that implies energy storing, that implies damn high costs, that are too expensive to adapt this to transportation that is the backbone of our economy right now. This will lead to increased costs, lower wages and salaries, and feedback into our economy. After all, what we are seeing now is that EROEI is too low even for FF, to sustain our economy and society. Lower EROEI of RE will do things worse. If the current status of economy (and FF depletion) will allow us to do some real switch.

I tend to agree that the biggest impediment here is the battery technology, for all sorts of reasons.  Mining up all the materials necessary for enough battery storage to balance the loads is probably impossible to do, even if there are enough materials in the ground to do it.  All manufacturing processes also create tremendous waste products, and figuring out how to safely dispose of them would be a large problem too.

I do think that the thermodynamic issue is underrated here.  Although certainly plenty of energy drops on the earth from the Sun every day, how much of it is actually collectible and convertable to usable form?  Can you get the energy from where it might be collected (say ocean waves) to where it would be used somewhere on land without a huge loss in the transmission?  What kind of EROEI is there for this?

Rank which form of Renewable Energy from which is Most Likely to be Successful to Least Likely to be Successful.

RES-3

Where is nuclear power? It seems to me that nuclear is renewable on the timescales that matter for climate change, and fully renewable if "on the horizon" designs of breeder reactors are considered. The one thing that is irrefutable is that nuclear is a low carbon technology, which is also despatchable. As such, it seems incredible that you don't include it in a transitioned world view. This is especially true as it currently contributes over a tenth of global electricity supply, which is more than wind!

When it comes to energetic return on investment, hydro tends to work better than wind, which works better than solar. Draft animal power, slave labor, water wheels, micro-hydro, and mechanical windmills have already been proven to work in pre-industrial conditions (though they don't provide much energy). For the others, large-scale systems tend to benefit from economies of scale.

Direct action renewables will be the real only source of energy in the future. Electrical society wouldn't work, and would lead to social collapse. The amount of resources to keep our current tecnology alive is overwhelming. Semiconductors, the cornerstone of our technology and the actual bet for All Electric RE require >70 elements of the periodic table. And they are NOT RENEWABLE.

In the text responses, I began with the Nuclear Energy critique, because this came up several times.  I responded to my rationale for that in my last RES post, which is that when constructing the survey I don't myself generally lump Nuclear in the "Renewable" category, although you can make the case that it is.  If I had it to do over again, I probably would include this as a choice.  There were other forms of potentially renewable energy I neglected to include as well, Solar Thermal, Small Scale Geothermal and Biomass.  However, the selection I did include allows for a good parsing of the attitudes on which of these is most likely to succeed vs not likely to succeed.

Now, because most respondents have a negative view of renewables overall, the top vote getter in this question was NOTHING is going to work to keep our modern techno-industrial culture going, and I tend to agree with that.  However, you do have the transition question to deal with, and where to invest the effort, time and money on which type of RE to develop as we spin down?

Generally the large scale projects such as Hydro plants and large Solar PV farms get a low ranking, and I agree with that.  Smaller scale distributed systems have better potential, particularly of the direct, low tech kind like Water Wheels and mechanical Windmills.  While these won't allow maintenance of a high tech society, they hold potential for keeping the slide from dropping all the way down to stone age technology and lifestyle.

One area I COMPLETELY disagree with the consensus is the high ranking of Human Slave Labor.  Of all these forms of energy conversion to work (Homo Saps aren't the energy here, just the machine.  The food they eat is the energy), Homo Saps easily have the lowest EROEI, it is actually probably negative.  It takes HUGE surplus of resources to run a slave society, besides the cost for keeping the slaves fed clothed and housed so they are available for work in a renewable fashion, you ALSO need a large class of Overseers and a Military to keep these slaves in line and not revolting.  While we may see some slave societies develop during this spin down, it is not likely they will last long, and definitely not renewable in a world of overall deficit.

If we could make a full conversion to Renewable Energy resources overnight, with the current climate conditions what would be the maximum population you think the Earth would support of Homo Saps sustainably, including all the Best Practices of Permaculture, Hydroponics and Aquaculture? (pick the choice closest to the number you think most likely)

 
 

>7.2 Billion People (current population or more)

 

7B

 

4B

 

1B

 

100M

 

10M

 

1M

 

100K

 

10K

 

<10K Homo Saps will go Extinct

Standard Deviation Responses
All Data 30
(13%)
9
(4%)
40
(17%)
101
(44%)
26
(11%)
9
(4%)
6
(3%)
2
(1%)
1
(0%)
5
(2%)
28.92 229

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RES-4er

The population of <1B based on photosynthesis energy prior to fossil fuels wasn't all that sustainable as it was practiced. There was still extinctions of large species, soil degradation etc. With the addition of renewables I think 1B could be entirely sustainable.

Impossible to determine. I picked a number closest to global population as the industrial revolution began. We should expect to be able to maintain a population above that level due to subsequent technological advances – but disruptions will lower carrying capacity for a significant amount of time. Therefore, a population level as it was in pre-industrial times. 4 billion seems too optimistic.

Approx. the equivalent of world population pre-Columbus. In the Americas they were building soil and in Europe they were forestalling an ice age, roughly holding a balance. That is sustainable. Nuclear war or multiple meltdowns would cut that number because of contaminated land area.

Of all the questions on the survey, this one was of the most interest to me personally.  Reason for that is all the hubbub about Near Term Human Extinction you run across these days on all the collapse sites, not just on Guy McPherson's blog Nature Bats Last.  I was real curious as to how deeply this meme has penetrated among the average Kollapsniks, and apparently not too well.  Only 2% of the respondents think Homo Sap will drop below 10,000 Human Souls and then go Extinct.  That's the Good Newz here! πŸ™‚

Now the Bad NewzBY FAR, the overall consensus amongst Kollapsniks is a population die off down to 1B Human Souls, maybe 12% of the current population.  There is no timeline to this question, but even if you figure it will take a full century to get down to that figure, that means for every year from now to 2116, you have to have more than 60M Deaths than Births in every single one of those years.  For scale here in ALL the years of WWII, 60M people died, about 3% of the World Population in 1940 estimated at 2.3B.  So basically here you would have to QUADRUPLE the death rate from WWII, and do that every year from now to 2116.  This scenario seems highly unlikely to me.

The more likely scenario is a crisis point to be reached, probably a year to a decade  in length where the world food supply drops and there is large scale starvation through many parts of the world.  I doubt this die off will stretch out over a century.  Can techno -industrial culture survive such a die off period with all the geopolitical problems and environmental problems resultant from it?  Burying the bodies alone will be an enormous task!  Even recycling them as Soylent Green will take a huge build out of infrastructure of Human Waste Recycling Centers!

Because of all these problems, while I think the Earth probably could support 1B Human souls, I voted an order of magnitude below that at 100M.  That is still a pretty good number though, and way short of extinction! πŸ™‚  If we build a lot of good renewable energy infrastructure now, it could go a long way toward making the lives of the survivors better. πŸ™‚

In what year do you expect to see the beginning of regular brownouts & blackouts and gas shortages in the United States? (choose the answer closest to the year you expect this to begin)

 
 

2017

 

2020

 

2025

 

2030

 

2040

 

Energy scarcity in the United States will not be a problem for the forseeable future. Renewable Energy will pick up the slack.

Standard Deviation Responses
All Data 24
(10%)
65
(28%)
68
(30%)
34
(15%)
9
(4%)
29
(13%)
21.46 229

 

 

 

 

 

 

RES-5

It could happen sooner if the economy collapses before that. Also it will not be uniformly seen if it happens. Cities will likely continue to have electrical power as first priority customers due to population and political clout.

The US will be one of the last places to feel the squeeze on resources due to it's wealth. I do think the decline in oil production will be readily apparent in the early 2020's.

US has large amounts of natural gas plus coal to insure electrical supplies can be maintained for quite some time. Brown outs can also come from another form of "rationing" that is many people who fall out of the economy due to unemployment will use less energy thus freeing capacity for members of society who can afford electricity. This scenario assumes there are no major outbreaks of war or there is no large scale political/social upheaval. If any of those scenarios apply then all bets are off.

This question is a close second for me to Q4, because it puts a timeline on when BAU might really start to be disrupted in 1st World countries.  The general population of these countries will not recognize BAU is going the way of the Dinosaur until the basic services of LIGHTS at the FLICK OF A SWITCH no longer work and they can't get gas on demand at every pump from Anchorage to Key West to fill up the SUV.

The VAST majority of respondents put the date for this sometime between 2020 & 2025.  I went Long on that one at 2025, basically because I think Demand Destruction through the 3rd World countries will outpace the supply shortages.  However, it really could occur anytime due to either a Financial System collapse or a major Geopolitical Event.

To finish off now with the survey stats to date, here's a Snapshot of the Demographics we got so far here.

My Gender is:(optional)

 
 

Male

 

Female

 

Other

Standard Deviation Responses
All Data 194
(84%)
33
(14%)
4
(2%)
83.57 231

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Age Range is:(Optional)

 
 

<18

 

18-24

 

25-29

 

30-39

 

40-49

 

50-59

 

60-69

 

70+

Standard Deviation Responses
All Data 0
(0%)
5
(2%)
14
(6%)
30
(13%)
46
(20%)
59
(25%)
58
(25%)
20
(9%)
21.66 232

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Region of the World I live is:(Optional)

 
 

North America

 

Central America

 

South America

 

Europe

 

Asia

 

Africa

 

Middle East

 

Oceania (Australia-New Zealand)

 

Polynesia

 

India/Pakistan/Bangladesh

Standard Deviation Responses
All Data 145
(62%)
1
(0%)
5
(2%)
56
(24%)
1
(0%)
1
(0%)
0
(0%)
23
(10%)
1
(0%)
0
(0%)
43.92 233

My highest level of formal education is:

 
 

 

High School Graduate

 

Some College or Technical School

 

Associate's Degree

 

Bachelor's Degree

 

Master's Degree

 

Doctorate Degree

Standard Deviation Responses
All Data 4
(2%)
3
(1%)
37
(16%)
9
(4%)
82
(35%)
75
(32%)
25
(11%)
30.61 235

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, it is a well balanced group in terms of Age, although skewed more toward the older age groups.  You can parse the data by age group to look for differences in the spreadsheet.  Education levels also well represented, again weighted toward people with a higher level of formal education.  Still a highly male dominated sample, but improved here from 10% early on to 14% responses from Females.  Geographic distribution ended up mostly North America, Europe dropped to 24% and Oz/NZ held steady around 10%.

Far as selling Renewable Energy goes, at least inside the Collapse Blogosphere it appears this will be a very hard sell indeed, not sure how hard it will be to sell to the general public though.  After years of discussions on these topics from all sides, the majority of Kollapsniks do not see this as a means to maintain the techno-industrial lifestyle.  Even so, this does not mean Renewable Energy is not worth pursuing, there are many reasons that it is, even if it can't keep 7.2 Ambulatory Homo Saps walking the Earth at the same time in perpetuity.  It may work to make the downspin slower and more manageable.  It may work to make it possible for more Homo Saps to survive a dieoff event.  It may work to keep the spark of inovation alive and present opportunities in the future to find the Holy Grail of enough energy and ways to apply it to get off Planet Earth before the Sun Goes Red Giant.  I don't see that as very likely, but if you can keep this going to some extent, it might be possible over a few million years.  So you do the best you can given the parameters and limitations you have here.

The Future is a Mystery, and nobody can predict it absolutely.  Nobody has all the answers, hell nobody really even has all the data to make a concrete prediction on a system with so many variables.  So you  just need to follow the Imperative of ALL LIVING CREATURES, which is to STAY ALIVE, just as long as you can.  Life is not meant for QUITTERS like Guy McPherson.  They can all go into Hospice and count the days down until they die.

It Aint OVAH till the Fat Lady Sings.

https://i0.wp.com/allthingsd.com/files/2012/05/fat+lady+sings-feature.jpeg

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