Energy and Mankind part 3

If you look back at the history of Energy and Mankind,  in 1950, nuclear power was the energy source of the future. The only power source that could not just rival FF but was superior to it. The future has not yet arrived and we need to hope that it has not been cancelled altogether.

My essay on Energy and Mankind grew to over 5000 words. In this the third and final part I look into:

  • The concept of energy slaves
  • Past energy transitions
  • No such thing as a free lunch in the energy world

Part 1 of the essay is here.
Part 2 of the essay is here.

Energy Slaves

Early in the development of human society, Man discovered that if “he” could harness the work of others “he” could live in greater comfort than living by the sweat of his own brow. Slavery has been an endemic part of human society for thousands of years, as rife today as at any time in the past. The trouble with slaves is they need to be fed and cared for and over the centuries Man subsequently learned to use draft animals to work fields, to haul timber or carriages and to use early machines to harness the natural energy flows of wind and water. A man with a horse and plough could, theoretically, do the work of 21 men (Figure 8) and this laid the foundation of harnessing energy to create a food surplus in society. It was no longer necessary for everyone to work at tending fields or gathering fire wood creating time for individuals to engage in other activities: the soldier, the merchant, the teacher  the scholar and so forth. Throughout the second millenium AD wood still provided most of the energy used by Man for heat and for cooking and material for construction of buildings and ships (Figure 9). But trouble was brewing. Mankind’s success and mastery over his environment was leading to ever-greater numbers of Men (and women) putting pressure on the supplies of trees upon which prosperity was based.

Then, in the 19th Century, European and North American Man began to become increasingly dependent upon coal (Figure 9) that was added to wood (biomass) as a source of heat and energy. Coal provided the power for the industrial revolution being used also to smelt iron ore giving rise to the age of great metal machines. Some landmark dates and events are 1) Watts rotational steam engine in 1781, 2) the Bessemer Process for smelting iron in 1855, 3) 1870s the internal combustion engine,  4) the first electricity grids in the early 20th Century and 5) 1903 the Wright Brothers powered flight.


Figure 8 Often maligned by some, I still feel this calculation is a worthwhile exercise to give us a handle on the amount of useful work fossil fuels do on our behalf. The calculation begins on the premise that an average Man can work continuously with a power output of 35W for 8 hours. This is then compared to the power outputs of a horse and a 200 horse power tractor. I then go on to compare the “work” of a man with the energy content of oil. It turns out that 23.5 g of oil provides the same energy as a man working for 8 hours. Finally, I look at the average energy consumption of OECD citizens (4.7 tonnes oil equivalent per year, including nuclear and hydro) and conclude that every man woman and child living in the OECD has the equivalent of 178 “energy slaves” doing work on their behalf every day of the year.

In the course of the 20th Century, the citizens of what was destined to become the OECD witnessed a colossal rise in their energy consumption and living standards. Agriculture is one area that has experienced a vast transformation under FF powered industrialisation providing cheap and plentiful food for a burgeoning population. This has come at the cost of spreading obesity and environmental destruction under the wheels of gigantic 200 horse power machines.

Progressive mechanisation meant that fewer and fewer were engaged in food production and could therefore be engaged elsewhere in manufacturing, health service, education and care for the growing numbers of elderly. Virtually all of the surplus time and human labour in our society is derived from the energy surpluses provided by FF combined with the machines we have invented to convert FF to useful work. An individual may now spend the first 24 years of his or her life in education and may still expect to retire aged 65 working for only 41 years out of a life that will likely be well over double that long. We may actually work for only 37.5 hours per week for 46 weeks per year giving a lifetime total of 70,725 hours of work out of a total 745,110 hours of life, if we live to 85. OECD Man has therefore learned to sustain a long life by only working for 10% of the time available. This has only been made possible by FF doing huge amounts of work on our behalf.

In 2010, when I made the graphic displayed as Figure 8, every OECD citizen used the equivalent of 4.7 tonnes of oil per year. The calculation is an attempt to illustrate how many human slaves we would require to do this amount of work for us and the answer is 178. This idea is borrowed from Richard Heinberg’s book The Party’s Over. Others have done this calculation and come up with similar numbers. In essence every man, woman and child living in the OECD has the equivalent of 178 energy slaves doing work on their behalf every year of their lives. That is why we can spend a quarter of our life at school and another quarter in retirement. Pensions and social services are all founded on the energy surpluses of FF.

Not only do FF do physical work for us in the fields but they also provide the feedstock for fertilizer and pesticides that have resulted in enormous gains in crop yields. FF pay for irrigation and for the education of scientists who develop disease resistant high yielding strains of crops. They pay for transportation of crops to processing plants, they pay for the processing plants and their operation, they pay for the operators and ultimately they pay for the transportation of food to market, refrigeration and for our journey to the store to purchase food.

Renewable energy flows have contributed little if anything at all to the bounty that flows from modern agriculture and other industrial processes and it is unlikely they ever will. Politicians and Green lobby groups who believe we can dispense with fossil fuels in the near term in favour of renewable energy flows are deluded. The mirage of renewable success in countries like Denmark and Germany is just that, a mirage created by the heat of FF (and nuclear power) that still powers those and neighbouring countries upon which they depend to balance their grids. I will say it again, grid scale, efficient and affordable energy storage transforms the future prospect of renewable energy flows by converting them to renewable energy stores.

Energy Transition

In 1830 Mankind got most of his energy from biomass, i.e. wood burned in open fires and stoves used for cooking. Biomass is just as important today throughout the developing world. Coal was added during the 19th Century and oil and natural gas during the 20th Century followed by hydro and nuclear power (Figure 9). New renewables are still too insignificant to register at the global scale. The global economy as we know it and all of the infrastructure was built using FF during the 19th and 20th Centuries. One problem facing certain new cities is that they may have been built in poor locations. For example, Los Angeles may have had a clement climate when the city was founded but as natural climate cycles cause weather patterns to shift, a city like Los Angeles may find itself short of water.

Figure 9 Data from BP, Colin Campbell and Vaclav Smil compiled by Rembrandt Koppelaar. It shows the history of energy transitions for almost 200 years. The most important observation is that “energy transition” is additive and not replacive at a global scale. Politicians who aim to replace the existing energy system with one based on new renewables, such as the Scottish and Danish governments, are setting a course into uncharted waters, against the flow of human evolution.

The current energy debate is focussed on the desire by many governments to “decarbonise” their energy systems, which means  abandoning FF upon which we owe our whole industrialised existence. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is dangled out there as a false decarbonising promise that will allow us to continue to burn coal.

Past energy transitions have taken place organically, driven by society, economics and thermodynamics. We began to burn coal because it offered advantages over wood. It was more energy dense, more abundant and presumably cheaper than wood. Oil was added to the mix as Man embraced the mobility offered by automobiles and aeroplanes and the Navy embraced the tactical advantages oil offered over coal. Oil is the pinnacle fuel for transportation. Natural gas got added to the mix because it offered significantly more comfort for home heat than an open coal fire. I can still recall sitting in a freezing cold house in Kirriemuir in the 1960s, a coal fire blazing, face burning, bum freezing. Smoke getting blown back into the room. Being asked by my mother to go fetch coal from the dark coal shed. Many of us now take gas fired central heating and warm homes for granted. We switched from coal to gas heating because gas became available and was clearly better. It was also much cleaner burning.

Hydroelectric power got added to the mix in many countries in the post-war years because it was cheap and controllable renewable energy. And nuclear was added in some cases for military reasons but in many countries that lacked indigenous supplies of fossil fuels (Sweden, Finland, France, Japan and S Korea) it was added out of necessity.  It is true that the benefits of nuclear power over other electricity sources such as coal, are still being weighed.

Past energy transitions have always moved towards new energy sources where the new offer clear advantages to the old. But, importantly, the new energy sources have always been added to and not replaced what went before. The use of biomass has continued to grow since 1830, to the detriment of our forests, and the use of coal has continued to grow ever since it was introduced. The use of natural gas has continued to grow. Use of oil alone has stagnated since 2005. Not because we have fallen out of love with travelling, but because scarcity has sent the price higher putting travel beyond the budgets of many. Looming scarcity of all fossil fuels that may send their prices higher this century should be the main focus of OECD energy  policies. But instead, the main metric of energy strategy today is CO2 emissions reduction, sending already high energy prices higher. Never before has Mankind embarked upon an energy strategy where the comfort and well being of the population was not centre stage. I know the argument goes that catastrophic climate change puts human populations and the economy at risk. What if it doesn’t happen? What if come 2050, the N hemisphere is gripped by a new cold, with wind turbines shattered on hill sides? Why have governments chosen flimsy and unreliable wind over robust nuclear power?

The new energy transition is being driven by politics and in particular Green politics. The new international sport is bidding for the highest CO2 reduction targets and levels of renewable energy penetration. Most of those involved do not know what energy is let alone how important it is to have affordable supplies delivered to individuals and companies when they most need it. Those leading the pack with 100% renewables targets in the near future – Scotland, Denmark and Germany – have not studied the implications of their strategies on the needs of people and society. Or if they have done, these studies have been conducted by the renewables advocates. A simple case of lunatics in charge of the asylum. Alternative strategies have not been considered. Hence we hear that “unexpected difficulties are being encountered”. “It has not been so easy as we assumed”. Someone has simply declared that renewable energy is clean, good and cheap and that we should aim to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources and they have been believed. This overlooks the fact that FF have given us everything that we have.

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

In the energy world, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want to enjoy the benefits and comfort of 178 energy slaves working for us 24/7 then we have to accept the costs that go along with those benefits. From the felling of the first trees to make way for agriculture, that produced building timbers and firewood, Man began to leave scars on his environment. It was found that burning coal left a lesser scar on the natural environment but then air pollution began to choke our cities (see Dundee images below). That problem was solved by moving power stations outside of cities and replacing coal with gas for home heat. We are now taking the wrecking ball to these same power stations at the behest of our Green European masters.

Fossil fuel production tends to have a small footprint but leaves a gigantic imprint on our atmosphere. Since we began to burn coal, CO2 has increased from 0.026%v to 0.04%v of the atmosphere with as yet totally unconstrained consequences. The Arctic sea ice canary is refusing to die. Whilst it seems inevitable that 7 billion souls must impact Earth’s climate and more critically a myriad of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, the impact on climate to date looks increasingly benign. As time passes the failure of OECD government policies to control global emissions and the failure of increased emissions to raise global temperatures will appear increasingly asinine.

The costs of energy systems need to be weighed against their benfits. And so, looking at hydroelectric power, the environmental impact is immediate and transparent and sometimes severe. But in building a hydroelectric dam we are building a structure that will provide power when it is needed for many decades. The benefits are huge compared to the cost. The trouble with new renewables is that the benefits are not nearly as transparent. Roof top solar in sunny climates may indeed have minimal to zero environmental impact and may produce useful electricity during the day when it is needed most. But roof top solar in Scotland, where the Sun seldom shines, is likely to be a heavily subsidised waste of time and energy. Its deployment is down to nothing more than ritualistic following of renewable energy and climate dogma that seem to go hand in hand.

Of the new renewables, deployment of wind turbines is the most controversial. Large swathes of countryside are being converted into industrial power generation complexes. There are arguments for and against wind and if your life has been blighted by the construction of a power station on your door step then the negative impacts no doubt weigh heavily. But we live in a democracy that caters to the benefits of the many city dwellers and damn the costs since these fall to the few who live in the country. The trouble with wind in addition to the environmental blight is that it generates energy when the wind blows, not when we need it. And so, while the environmental costs are transparent, the benefits are less so. A cynical view is that wind simply adds noise to our grid that costs a lot of money to smooth out. More on that subject later this week.

And so to nuclear power. It has a tiny footprint and provides power 24/7, well at least for 90% of the time. Civilian nuclear power has yet to kill anyone globally. Look at fatal accidents linked to wind power, normalise for useful energy produced, and you will see the shocking safety record that the wind industry has, although these statistics are not straightforward to interpret. The radiation hazards associated with nuclear accidents are not to be trivialised but appear to have been greatly exaggerated. If you look back at the history of Energy and Mankind, in 1950, nuclear power was the energy source of the future. The only power source that could not just rival FF but was superior to it. The future has not yet arrived and we need to hope that it has not been cancelled altogether.


Sailing ships in Dundee harbour about 1888. Dundee was known for Jute, Journalism and Jam. The ships were likely importing Jute from India. My father, grandfather and great grandmother all worked in textile weaving. During the mid-19th century this was linen produced from locally grown flax. This was subsequently replaced by jute imported from India. Image source.

Dundee in 1900, smoke stacks all over the city, not much wind to blow away the smog. Image source.

Dundee in c 1892 (that is only 122 years ago), no cars, no trams and few people. Image source.

One for the Met Office. The Tay railway bridge was opened in 1877. In 1879, persistent hurricane force winds blew down the bridge while a train was crossing with the loss of 74 lives. Image source.

Dundee today. The railway bridge was rebuilt but the picture shows the road bridge that was opened in 1966. It doesn’t look windy out and so one has to presume the power is coming from nearby coal fired Longannet and nuclear Torness power stations. Image source.

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26 Responses to Energy and Mankind part 3

  1. Joe Public says:

    Another interesting episode, Euan.

    That Energy Slaves graphic is worth a thousand words.

  2. Joe Public says:

    We’re not very efficient, are we?

    An energetic worker dissipates between 300W & 420W of heat.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Joe, thanks. I like the metric of energy return on energy invested (ERoEI) but it is imperfect. When it comes to humans (and other animals) we know that mammals are hopelessly inefficient at converting energy to work. The prospect of global food shortages is for example easily solved by eating a little less meat. Energy conversion from cereals/grass to beef is about 7:1. In other words stop eating meat and we suddenly have a lot more food. What is the time unit on your useful statistic of 300W – per hour our per day? I’m guessing the former.

    • cassandraclub says:

      That may be inefficient, but I really love dissipating heat. It makes me feel alive 😉

  3. Joe Public says:

    Hi Euan

    The time-unit is per hour.

    A Blogger emits about 120W (per hour) 😉

    • Joe Public says:

      I’ve just noticed that the Table in my above link includes also, the heat emission from ones servant!

    • roberto says:


      From wikipedia…

      Human body emission

      Much of a person’s energy is radiated away in the form of infrared light. Some materials are transparent in the infrared, but opaque to visible light, as is the plastic bag in this infrared image (bottom). Other materials are transparent to visible light, but opaque or reflective in the infrared, noticeable by darkness of the man’s glasses.
      As all matter, the human body radiates some of a person’s energy away as infrared light.

      The net power radiated is the difference between the power emitted and the power absorbed:

      P_\mathrm{net}=P_\mathrm{emit}-P_\mathrm{absorb}. \,
      Applying the Stefan–Boltzmann law,

      P_{\rm net}=A\sigma \varepsilon \left( T^4 – T_0^4 \right).
      The total surface area of an adult is about 2 m2, and the mid- and far-infrared emissivity of skin and most clothing is near unity, as it is for most nonmetallic surfaces.[32][33] Skin temperature is about 33 °C,[34] but clothing reduces the surface temperature to about 28 °C when the ambient temperature is 20 °C.[35] Hence, the net radiative heat loss is about

      P_{\rm net} = 100 \ \mathrm{W}.
      The total energy radiated in one day is about 9 MJ (megajoules), or 2000 kcal (food calories). Basal metabolic rate for a 40-year-old male is about 35 kcal/(m2·h),[36] which is equivalent to 1700 kcal per day assuming the same 2 m2 area. However, the mean metabolic rate of sedentary adults is about 50% to 70% greater than their basal rate.[37]

  4. Very good, and I suggest “A cubic Mile of Oil” by Crane,, Malhotra… We now consume the energy equivalent of burning about 3 cubic miles of oil per year.

    The energy slave idea is even worse than above, since a top athlete can do at most 1/3hp for under an hour. A Te4sla S takes 340 watt hours to go a level mile over a typical commute. this means it needs about 2 top athlete slaves to keep it moving on the level for an hour.

    If we look at the cubic mile of oil,. it represents what about 116 trillion energy slaves can produce, 24/7. Obviously, they need shifts, sleep, food, water… None of which can we supply.

    Our slave energy dependence in OECD countries is far higher than listed above and illustrates the unbelievable absurdity of our energy dependence. this is why extreme tragedies are imminent and our descendants will rightly spit on our graves.

    Just one example:

    And, again, many enviro folks share culpability with the combustion industry & politicians.

  5. Jonathan Madden says:

    Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
    Alas! I am very sorry to say
    That ninety lives have been taken away
    On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
    Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

    – See more at:

    We seem to be waiting for an eternity for efficient breeder reactors, Thorium reactors and electric charge storage systems. Would molten salt storage offer an affordable means of buffering solar and wind? One loses with the Carnot cycle conversion of heat back to Volts, but the rest of it is pretty agricultural and long lasting. Use the old generating kit on decommissioned coal plants and put in industrial scale salt reservoirs/heat exchangers on the same site.

    One article on the old Oildrum site suggested the marginal cost of solar falling to near zero in Southern Europe. Conversion losses would then become secondary to the expediency of smoothing New Renewable input into the grid.

    Thanks for another article full of good sense, Euan.

  6. Joe Public says:

    At the risk of appearing to hijack this posting – apologies.

    Relatively recent research published on Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers website into well-fed, motivated & enthusiastic slaves:

    “These Exercise Machines Turn Your Sweat Into Electricity”

    It might feel like a lot if you’re generating it, but just how much energy are we talking about here? An elite cyclist can produce more than 400 watts, more than half a horsepower, for an hour or more at a stretch. But the average person, even somebody in good shape, can generate only 50 to 150 watts during an hour of strenuous exercise. If you could capture that power to produce electricity, what would it be good for? Not much, really. It could power a television set for about an hour, which might keep you entertained while you pedaled away to produce the electricity in the first place.

    Still, might this be a reasonable way for a gym to offset at least some of its electricity use? Let’s assume that the average piece of exercise equipment is in use 5 hours a day, 365 days a year. If each patron generates 100 watts while using it, that machine creates some 183 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. Commercial power costs about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour on average in the United States, so the electricity produced in a year from one machine is worth about US $18 dollars.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Keep going Joe, one of the main purposes of this site is education, and if folks can find things out for themselves all the better.

      I think my calculation works out at $62 a year for human labour priced as oil – basically the same as the number you have posted. I have an exercise bike that I don’t use often enough. But I can work out on it at 100 W for a short period, enough to light a room (or 5 rooms using energy efficient compact fluorescents). But 35W / hour is about what an average person can do for 8 hours.

      Man survives by harvesting energy. Part of the reason for my posts on countries is to see how different countries do this, but a main driving point comes back to ERoEI. Chinese per capita energy consumption is well below ours. And so the Chinese man hours used in making a solar panel has less embedded energy than the same OECD man hours. Chinese solar panels have a much better chance of recovering the embedded energy. Markets will see all this come out in the wash one day.

      I don’t know what the final answer is, that is what I’m looking for. But I think it is fair to say that the world economy is still underpinned by cheap coal. That is what gets used to make electricity to make stuff and to smelt iron ore.

  7. Kit P says:

    “We waste 2/3 of the energy we use …”
    Somebody has OWD. Obsessive waste disorder is often exhibited by over educated geologists who love to practice the art of circular arguments. Call something a waste that is not a waste and then obsess over it. Having taken thermodynamics and having the right amount of education (not wasting energy going to a classroom) I know the correct analysis is comparing an actual heat engine to an ideal heat engine. More like 10% compared to 66%.
    “OECD citizen used the equivalent of 4.7 tonnes of oil per year”
    Another example of not understand the difference between energy and work. It takes energy to bake a cake or to make steel. Energy is also needed to do work such as pump water. Cooking takes the same amount of energy for an OECD citizen as for the wood gatherer. Making steel and aluminum from raw materials requires huge amounts of energy but recycling it requires only a fraction.
    “to the detriment of our forests”
    There is more forest land in the US than 100 years ago. Wood is used as a building material. The waste from milling is used for energy. One of the things that happened about 100 years ago we notice how the great powers in Europe has destroyed most of their forest. We decided to stop and properly manage a renewable resource. A concept Euan does not understand.
    “Why have governments chosen…”
    People make choices not governments. The people who make choices about how to meet societies energy needs do a good job. Stop obsessing about wind and solar and think of it Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. Fantasy is fun and responsible people know the difference.
    The opposite of slavery is freedom. Electricity provided American women freedom to have time for other things. Next thing you know they wanted to vote.

  8. A C Osborn says:

    Kit P says: July 22, 2014 at 8:05 am “One of the things that happened about 100 years ago we notice how the great powers in Europe has destroyed most of their forest. We decided to stop and properly manage a renewable resource.”

    You obviously know very little European history, for instance in the UK most of the Forests were gone by the end of the 19th Century, used for building everything from Homes, railway lines, ships (one of the largest navies in the world) tools and machines.

    • Kit P says:

      AC please read what I wrote carefully. I made a statement about American history and that we learned from other places. I lived in Spain for a year and there are very few forests. There was a time when thinking in the US was manifest destiny. We were hell bent on cutting down every tree or otherwise build on every untamed. Teddy Roosevelt was instrumental as president in changing that. While it was well intended the practice of controlling fires had a detrimental effect since fire was nature’s way of cleaning excess biomass from semi-arid forest. Forest heath is a huge problem. I have worked with the EPA, local foresters and environmentalist, and the US forest service to come with solutions that included removing excess biomass for energy if there was not better use. My address in the US is a wide spot in the road named Forest. I have owned lots of trees and heated with wood.

  9. JohnF says:

    Our individual energy and resource consumption has skyrocketed over the past half century. we have collectively become energy addicts. Like the obese food junky who only drinks low-calorie soft drinks,we deceive ourselves by refusing to admit that there is a problem with our energy-wasteful lifestyle; one that won’t be solved by arguing over the relative merits of energy sources. In the end none of them will be enough to feed a world full of air conditioners, patio heaters and 4×4 SUVs.

    The underlying guilt feeling caused by our energy binges are channeled into “environmental” concerns, paradoxical in an age where we are more isolated from nature than ever before. Most of the discussions here are the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
    Too many humans beings, all with understandable aspirations towards the same “good life”, or at least “easy life” that the West enjoys thanks to still relatively cheap energy.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      One of the paradoxes is that prosperity “solves” population growth. My own view is that population tops out second half of this century. Improved energy efficiency takes care of a lot of the “growth issue” and that nuclear power has the potential to build a bridge to a future that future humans will have to work out for themselves.

      Nothing wrong with rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic if you miss the ice berg, which incidentally was there in the wrong place at the wrong time because of an “over active” Labrador current.

    • Kit P says:

      “world full of air conditioners”
      Where we lived in Virginia and in China is a subtropical climate. If judgmental John gives me his address I will be happy to come to the pompous fool’s house and eliminate everything in his life I think is a waste.

      What problem? In the US , electricity is produced with insignificant environmental impact. What people do is take a telephoto lens to capture the image of a power plant and say it is awful. Go to a satellite view that captures the city of a million people that the power plant serves and the power plant is insignificant. I have a choice of living between a nuke plant and a coal plant or in a big city. You can keep the big city.
      There is less environmental impact from heating with electricity than wood and cars are much less polluting than horses. The misuse of the word addictive is a sign a poorly informed individual with bias. I enjoy my morning coffee. While it is true that coffee is addictive, what is the problem?

      • Euan Mearns says:

        I will be happy to come to the pompous fool’s house

        Kit, you are living on the very edge of posting privileges on this site and have been for a long while.

  10. Kit P says:

    No energy history lesson would be complete without discussing the transition from very inefficient open fire place. Building on European experience, Benjamin Franklin invented in 1741 the Franklin stove which is a metal-lined fireplace. I have heat large homes in cold climates with air tight stoves. It takes about 7 acres of woodlot to sustainably heat a home.
    Home heating with wood or coal is the most dangers way to save money that I can think of so you have to know what you are doing. I love heating with wood and the exercise that goes with it. When you load wood into a wood boiler it is very obvious how much is needed for washing cloths and taking baths. It was a luck farmer’s wife who had a cook stove instead of an open fire place. Men’s work was plowing behind a mule and women’s work was splitting fire wood. However, I stopped using wood after reading studies of indoor air quality.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      So part of this is interesting and informative. But when you say:

      It takes about 7 acres of woodlot to sustainably heat a home.

      You are making a gross assumption about forest productivity and heating requirements in different climatic regimes and provide no supporting evidence for the claims you make. If you want to criticise every other commenter on this site then I’m afraid your own comments need to be beyond reproach which they are not.

    • Glen Mcmillian says:

      Unless the house is a barn and about equally well constructed and the local environment is an extremely poor one it does not take over an acre or two to sustain enough wood production to heat a house. But of course the variation between houses , climate, and soils is so great any such figures are mostly meaningless unless these variables are specified.

      My old farmhouse has three and one half inches of fiberglass in the walls eight in the ceiling, sheetrock masonry walls outside the interior wood framing and one half inch of stryofoam under vinyl siding, double glazed windows , etc, twelve hundred square feet heated to oven like temperatures all winter to please my old Daddy – located in the mountains of southwest Virginia.It gets down to zero Fahrenheit here at least a four or five times every winter.

      An acre of woods is more than ample for our heating needs on a long term basis.But we get enough rain and the soil is pretty good.

  11. JohnF says:

    Euan, I live in a developing country, Chile, which has already got to the low population growth point. Despite this, and with electricity priced at 4 times that of the USA, annual energy consumption has been increasing recently at around 5% and is officially forecast to double between now and 2030*. Chile is a relatively advanced country, but there are many more, much bigger examples not so far along the development curve as we are.

    Looking at my local example makes me pessimistic about the worlds energy future, which is why I would hope that conserving it makes more sense than continuing as we are going. Frankly I feel that alternative energy sources are irrelevant and when the crunch comes, Coal and Nuclear will quietly return.

    Kit, As an -ex electronics engineer who worked in some of the hottest and remotest parts of the Sahara desert, (among other nasty places) and who had camp electrical supervision as part of my duties, I know how important air conditioning is, and how much we depend on energy just to survive in those kind of places.

    • Roger Andrews says:


      I lived in Chile in the mid-1980s and loved it, not least because you could buy a bottle of excellent red wine for 50 cents US, but I don’t think you can do that any more.

      I skimmed through the Mostrador article but couldn’t find any info on proposed future generation mixes. Is there any?

      “Despite this, and with electricity priced at 4 times that of the USA, annual energy consumption has been increasing recently at around 5% and is officially forecast to double between now and 2030”. This is interesting. The generally-accepted theory is that more energy generates more wealth, but this seems to be a case of more wealth generating more energy. Or maybe a bit of both?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      John, a little known fact, but Chile is the only OECD member in S America, and so in one regard, already considered to be developed. Its an interesting country that I know very little about. You sit on top of a gigantic oceanic subduction zone, have mountains, water and presumably a locally high geothermal flow. In my series of country posts, I will one day get around to Chile. It boils down to tracking less that 1 TOE per capita per annum consumption to over 3. Times that by population and adjust for human ingenuity and adaptability. E

      • Roger Andrews says:

        Membership in the OECD doesn’t automatically confer “developed” status. Chile is not yet a developed country. Neither are other OECD members such as Mexico and Turkey. Colombia and Costa Rica, which are even less developed, are now applying for OECD membership and Colombia has a per-capita GDP about on a level with Botswana. I still haven’t quite figured out what the qualifications for getting into the OECD are.

  12. JohnF says:

    Just a few responses, then I’m done.

    Chile is proud of OECD status, but its not a “developed” country. Although always quick to adopt (imported) technology, societal development to me seems to be on a par with Europe in the 1900s in many ways. Along with OECD membership, the local establishment pays token tribute to well-intentioned OECD values that in many cases don’t fit well with the local culture.

    The projected increases in energy consumption seem to coming from two factors; increased prosperity thanks to record minerals exports (Australia is another example) and increasing energy demand from the mining sector. Many Chilean mines are aging and ore quality is declining, which means more processing in order to maintain production. Also, environmental laws under discussion would oblige large mining projects to incorporate desalinated seawater in their projects rather than using scarce fresh water. Desalination plants are also needed in the north of the country to cope with demand in desert cities that have expanded in step with the mining boom

    Regarding energy mixes, the plan is to achieve around 20% renewables, 35% hydro and 45% FF by 2020.

    Other energy sources: In a country that gets as many earthquakes as we do, nuclear in Chile will never be popular, especially after Fukushima. A botched geothermal exploration attempt in San Pedro de Atacama allegedly affected the Tatio geyser for a while. This is a big tourist attraction. Since then no more attempts have been publicized. Still some sporadic oil and gas exploration going on in the extreme south but no major finds, and existing fields mostly depleted. Some talk of Fracking, nothing definite.

    We also have a powerful green movement who have successfully blocked many major energy and mining projects, HydroAysen and Pascua Lama are the most well known examples. As usual, they haven’t come up with much in the way of alternatives.

    Finally, drinkable plonk like Gato Negro comes these days in a litre Tetrapak at under three dollars [i]¡Salud![/i]

    Didn’t mean to go on so long…finished now.

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