Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Swede-Heart of a Deal

We Americans like to think we are the leaders in innovative thinking and ingenuity. It's part and parcel of our national mentality (psychosis?). Yet, now that we are faced with rising gas prices and peak oil on the near horizon, what are we doing to remedy the situation? Not a hell of a lot!

Vehicle fuel efficiency standards have remained stagnant for a decade or more. Funding for alternative sources of power/fuel is meager, at best. And we're engaged in a senseless war so that we can control the ever-decreasing flow of crude. So much for innovative thinking and ingenuity!

We should look to Sweden for a better way to tackle the problem. According to a report in Yes! Magazine, Sweden has decided to go oil-free.
Sweden has announced plans to be the first oil-free country in the world by 2020. Plans call for renewables -- including biofuels, wind, and wave power -- to replace fossil fuels. The country has already committed itself to phasing out nuclear energy.
Some of you cynics will say this is just political grandstanding. You will note that there is no penalty for missing the target date. While both of these assertions may indeed be true, the article notes that Sweden has already converted over 25% of its energy usage to renewable sources.

By setting a national goal, Sweden will definitely be far along the path toward being oil-free by 2020. Even if compliance is not at the 100% level, chances are they will be at the 50 - 80% level. And that's truly impressive!!

Compare that to U.S. goals. It's a hard comparison because we don't really have any.


  1. Trey,

    They'll never really get THAT high. You MUST keep a certain percentage of your power supplies based on a quick-load at-need system.

    That is, whether the energy comes from burning dino-oil, synth oil, coal, or neutrinos (nuclear), you need something on your power grid that can VERY quickly throttle up and down.

    What is far more likely is that they will get to where the coal/oil/etc. plants are being used to handle surge/slack in the system.

    Another HUGE potential item that has received little attention is the way that the power grid works right now.

    Right now, you have a bunch of power stations that are churning out current and a bunch of users who are drinking it down. However, the flow is analagous to "fire-hose into the pipe, 100 garden hoses taking it out in varying amounts"

    You need very complex management systems, teams, software, etc. to properly control and sequence the power supply.

    There is a not-insignificant amount of research going down on power "buffering/storage"

    What would have been the impact of the Great Lakes 2003 blackout if we'd had power storage systems? Emergency systems could have been kept online (things like traffic signals perhaps, guaranteed primary power to hospitals, fire stations, police stations, portions of prisons, transporation nexi, etc.), the time for a total power loss would potentially have been slowed, allowing SOME kind of public announcement so that folks within the blackout weren't totally cutoff.

    That's the part that makes a total power blackout the worst...there's no comms, no control, limited coordination of emergency units, no basic regulation of movement, etc.

    Anyways, I'd like to see our country devote some resources to establishing the capacity to have power storage to stabilize our electrical grid before we have another "cascading blackout" that wipes out half the country's ability to function in the course of a 2-hour rolling wave of outages.

  2. The only way we will be able to run our cars on bio=fuels in the immediate future is for the entrepenurial spirit of the American people to manifest itself by forming small, boutique refineries on the same principal as micro breweries and small vintners, and making bio=fuels out of all that surplus sugar the government is sitting on, then upping the production of cane and beet sugar to meet the needs of the driving public when the stock-piles run low.

    To Hell with ADM and Cargill and their corn lobby. Sugar is a much cheaper and more efficient raw material for the production of bio-fuel. Maybe they can figure out how to pave the highways with their corn syrup. -- Dino

  3. Trey, While both commentators make salient points I would only add that for me the main point is the idea of having a goal to do the so called impossible.
    I'm old enough to remember President Kennedy making it a national goal to reach the moon in ten years back around 1960 and we did it! It was an exciting time.
    It would, of course, take great vision and strong national leadership to pull of such a thing, neither of which we have today, unfortunately.

  4. I've wondered, to an increasing degree over the past year, what it means to be an engineer with Taoist tendencies...

    The mandate of the engineer is to make the world a better help people get across a make it possible to cover large make any act of willpower possible, really. It's in all things large and small...but it involves changing the natural condition.

    How do you do that while, as the Tao Te Ching teaches:


    Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
    I do not believe it can be done.

    The universe is sacred.
    You cannot improve it.
    If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
    If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

    So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;
    Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
    Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
    Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.

    Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.

    But, earlier it says:


    Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
    All can know good as good only because there is evil.

    Therefore having and not having arise together.
    Difficult and easy complement each other.
    Long and short contrast each other:
    High and low rest upon each other;
    Voice and sound harmonize each other;
    Front and back follow one another.

    Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking.
    The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
    Creating, yet not.
    Working, yet not taking credit.
    Work is done, then forgotten.
    Therefore it lasts forever.

    This seems tells me that it is good to work, and strengthen the bones...but that all things that come to be, will then fall apart.

    It says to eschew the precious, and go about doing nothing...but that you can't have nothing without something to balance it.

    What does it mean? How do I embrace the world of work as an engineer but push it away to embrace the Tao?

    I be confused, for sure...

  5. The question is not if it's possible, but when. I mean, within the next hundred years, we're out of oil. I hope we find new ways of developing plastics, if not, try to imagine a world without...

    Next, we are so redundant on oil and nuclear power that the costs to make the switch will have a hugh impact on the national account. An enormous expenditure awaits.

    Here in Belgium, our government is also planning to withdraw it's nuclear powerstations by end 2014. By now, 75% of our energy comes from nuclear energy, so I wonder how this will happen. It must, no question about that, but I remain sceptic about that date. Since we can't rely on hydro-based installations, except maybe at sea, based on gulf and tide differences. We don't have areas where there is a constant wind blowing. Solarenergy isn't really up to the standard.

    I know Sweden is ahead of most countries. Compare with broadband: what I pay for a 6.4Mbit/640kbit ADSL connection, you can have a full duplex 100Mbit connection in Sweden and this has been so for several years.

    Also the first intelligent cars and environments have been at test in Sweden and are even somewhat operational.

    I'm curious about their plans. Hope they will set a standard everyone else follows...

  6. I agree with Dino's sentiments, but as a practical matter, sugar cane/beets are not a sustainable source of bio-fuel. Most south American cane plantations come at the expense of large areas of rain forest and are grown on marginal soils that rapidly decline in productivity without large inputs of fertilizer - itself a petrol-based product.

    In addition to the land, large amounts of water are required, and potable water is fast becoming a scarce commodity.

    While biofuels may be the energy fad of the near future, long-term sustainability will be achieved when humans go back to being humans rather than cogs in an industrial machine.

    Ron's right; we need a goal, but it won't come from government or the elites that currently run things. The state-based approach to converting resources into products works on a macro scale; when we are forced to return to the micro-scale, it will be small community-based solutions that work.

  7. What will be interesting will be the change in the foreign policies of our countries when we no longer need to meddle in Middle Eastern politics to secure our energy reserves. I personally hope that the region will turn out to be less inflamed once we stop meddling and stirring things up!

  8. Off Topic:

    The Ryan White Care Act targetted to be GUTTED by Republican Congress

    PLEASE call your representatives, particularly if they're on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This is important, lives are at stake!

  9. What Sweden is proposing to do is commendable, but Green Ink is right: ultimately we will all have to return to the micro scale, where problems are best solved by small, community-based solutions. And why wait to be forced into it? We should all start voluntarily heading in that direction now, and save ourselves even more energy!

  10. I noticed today your Pres in the same breath stated his commitment to the environment and renewable energy, and announced an intention to find and burn new fossil fuels. How does he do it?

  11. robmcj,

    GWB and reality have a tenuous relationship, at best.


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