Peak oil? Maybe not so much…

I’ve been writing about the implications of Peak Oil here for a number of years. (If you’re a new reader, Peak Oil is the idea that eventually we will have accessed all the cheap oil that remains in the ground, there will still be additional oil, but the prices will rise.) I’ve been particularly concerned about the effect that a steep rise in energy prices would have on the life of a local congregation.

Over the past month there’s been a number of reports online that indicate that while we’re coming close to exhausting the major easily accessible oil fields globally, the situation is changing. The BBC has a good piece with lots of background that cuts to the chase thusly:

“Supply has been boosted by unconventional oil extracted from rocks which were previously uneconomic to exploit – like oil shales and tar sands. It takes much more energy and water to separate the oil from these rocks than conventional oil drilling so it’s much worse for the environment.

But your car doesn’t know or care whether it’s running on conventional oil or tar sand oil.

Fears over ‘peak oil’ haven’t evaporated, but the advent of unconventional oils has driven the peak further into the distance.

There’s also a boom in unconventional gas production that’s made the Americans relax about energy security. Gas can be turned into diesel – at a cost – pushing peak oil further into the distance. If things get really bad we can also turn coal into diesel.”

More here.

There’s a longish white paper (with a convenient executive summary) that you can read as well. The paper says that the big issue at the moment isn’t a decline in oil reserves but that the recent investment in oil production methods has had the effect of massively increasing our ability to pump more oil.

So… does this mean the Peak Oil concern is dead? Well, it’s not as big a deal as it was five years ago, that seems certain.

One of the key parts of the idea was that sans some sort of technological breakthrough we were going to have the global economy stymied because of rising energy costs. What appears to have happened is we were able to find that technological breakthrough – in the form of new drilling methods that have allowed us to get access to previously unexplainable reserves.

But there is a bit of a catch – the actual cost of extracting the oil is rising. The new tech is more expensive than the previous tech. But since about 80% of the cost of a barrel of oil at the moment is due to speculators on the commodity market driving up prices, there’s plenty of give in the present price. If you double the cost of extraction (a reasonable estimate) you still have oil at today’s price, with 60% of the cost per bbl due to speculation.

Which means the free market setting the oil price still has a lot of elasticity, and we shouldn’t expect a major run-up in prices anytime soon. In fact the concern is the opposite, that prices might fall precipitously and the resultant decline in revenues would destabilize OPEC national economies.

I imagine there are still implications for the Church, but I think they’re second order effects, and we’ll need to think a bit about what they might be. But in the short term, people are going to be able to afford to drive their cars to worship. The trend toward young people moving to the city cores again will probably continue, but I don’t imagine it will be accelerated by people worried about energy costs. The other thing is that I don’t imagine energy prices will fall in a major way from where they are now – at least not in the long term. That means a large, but hopefully stable, portion of a congregation’s budget will be dedicated to HVAC energy expenditures. It’s still probably worth trying to find conservation methods to lower that cost.

Any thing else that you can think of?

Bikes making a comeback in cities

Bikes are becoming more popular – is this something congregations need to think about?

The Atlantic has a piece about the ways that more and more people are discovering the bicycle as the perfect urban transport.

“New York City isn’t known as a biker’s paradise, with its overcrowded subways, pedestrian-packed sidewalks, yellow taxis snarled in traffic, and noisy buses. Yet even New York City is heading in the direction of places like Portland, Paris, and Copenhagen, which have embraced and promoted bike culture and bike sharing in the urban environment. Over the past four years, the Bloomberg administration has rolled out more than 250 miles of bike lanes. And this summer NYC will introduce its own bike-share program with 10,000 bikes and 600 docking stations around the city.

While New Yorkers pride themselves on always being first, the city is just catching up when it comes to bikes. In fact, the bicycle is the most commonly used mode of transportation around the world. Think of a bike as a tool, a toy, a connector and a mode of expression with a low barrier to entry. It’s probably the most hackable (and hacked) simple machine on the planet. Bikes not only get us from place to place, they are the focus of a number of conversations about how we organize communities and define and share social boundaries, and how we can harness human power to recycle energy back to the grid. Most importantly though, bicycles are an intrinsic part of how we imagine and design the city of the future. They will play a significant role in shaping identity and communities and influencing social dynamics in urban areas, because they are the next great technology platform.”

More here.

When I first arrived at the Cathedral in Phoenix six, almost seven years ago, nobody talked about riding their bike to church on Sunday. This city wasn’t set up at the time for biking. The streets were narrow, drivers were hurtling around in huge SUV’s and the places people wanted to go (Shopping Centers mostly) were too spread out to make bicycling practical.

But that’s changed. A few years after I arrived the city finished the construction of the light rail system. And each light rail train has at least one if not multiple places to put your bike while you’re riding. There’s been a renaissance in the local restaurant industry downtown with a whole host of small places springing up within an easy ride of the light rail stations. The only real estate that’s being developed at the moment is located along the light rail.

We weren’t a bike friendly city, but we are becoming one that is increasingly so. I can personally imagine getting by with a bike and a membership in zip car. I live about a mile from a light rail station – an easy bike ride. The Episcopal Cathedral where my office is now is right next to the busiest station on the light rail. In the fall through the spring it’s not even all that hot – so I don’t have to worry about cleaning up when I arrive at work.

And I’m not alone. Most of the staff, and a surprising number of Cathedral members are starting to talk about riding to church.

We have a lovely parking garage right next to the Cathedral. (Bless my predecessor for doing that!) There’s plenty of places, shaded even!, to put your car when you come to church. But there’s no place for bikes. At least not many bikes.

We do have two bike stands on Cathedral property. But only one is shaded, and neither is very secure. Because of that people who live close enough to the Cathedral or to the light rail to ride to church are not really interested in doing so at the moment. Even the staff people who do ride to work complain that there’s no space in the building to park after they arrive. Our offices aren’t big enough and we use pretty much all of the space in the building on a given day.

We’re going to solve this problem. It’s becoming enough of an issue that we just have figure what to do.

It wasn’t a problem I ever expected. I’ve always been concerned about parking for cars. There’s only been one parish that I’ve served that was built with sufficient parking from the get-go. All the others, primarily historic buildings, have had postage stamp sized lots that could handle maybe two dozen cars. But now bikes are important.

The reason this is worth mentioning is that it’s the first direct consequence of the massive demographic shift underway as young and old adults are returning the city center again. Salon has a piece on how even places like Cleveland and Pittsburg are starting to burst with new young residents around the city centers again. (H/T to bls). High fuel prices, dense urban living and a desire to something differently are all contributing. And now churches are going to have to respond.

What a great problem to have! As the neighborhoods around our historic buildings are being revitalized, we have got to think of ways to make our buildings more accessible for the people in our neighborhoods. (Which is why most of them were built in the first place after all.)

Heh. Everything old is becoming new again. Peter Allen was right.

Maybe it’s time to start blessing the bikes annually in downtown Phoenix.

“Peak oil” is here. Now what?

The amount of oil produced world-wide has not increased significantly since 2005. Sure we’ve found major new reserves, but they’re harder to access and more expensive to produce. The cheap oil of that drove the hyper-progress of the 20th century is gone. Get ready. It’s gonna get bumpy.

We are entering an era in which we are effectively going through a economic phase change. In physics, when we move through a phase change, physical characteristics of the material begin to go “critical” and fluctuate wildly the closer we get to the transition. According to economists, the same thing is happening with oil prices. And it’s not going to stop for a long while.

John Timmer, writing on Nobel Intent points out what follows:

“That has some pretty significant consequences. Of the 11 recessions the US has experienced since World War II, 10 have been preceded by a sudden change in oil prices. The US isn’t alone, either. Italy’s entire trade deficit, which has contributed to its financial troubles, can be accounted for by the rise in imported oil. The world, it seems, has allowed its economies to become entirely dependent upon fossil fuels. “If oil production can’t grow, the implication is that the economy can’t grow either,” the authors write. “This is such a frightening prospect that many have simply avoided considering it.”

And it’s not just oil that poses problems. US coal production peaked in 2002, and the global peak has been predicted to hit as soon as 2025. The last time global coal reserves were evaluated, in 2005, the total was cut by more than half compared to previous estimates. Fracking has boosted the production of natural gas dramatically, but even here the authors find some reasons for concern. Recent reports suggest that shale gas reserves have been overestimated, and many fields that have been in production for a while have experienced large declines in production.

The commentary concludes that we simply can’t rely on any fossil fuel to provide a stable and economic source of energy for more than a couple of decades. And, given the economic shocks that result from rapid changes in energy prices, that’s a serious problem. “Economists and politicians continually debate policies that will lead to a return to economic growth,” the authors note. “But because they have failed to recognize that the high price of energy is a central problem, they haven’t identified the necessary solution: weaning society off fossil fuel.””

More here.

So what for churches? Big floor-space buildings are going to become increasingly expensive to heat and cool. So are homes. Apparently the era of large homes is over – and for the first time in years, the average floor space of new construction is decreasing.

Episcopal church buildings, built for the most part in the early part of the 20th century (or the latter part of the 19th) are pretty well adapted to an era of high energy prices. They’re small. They have high ceilings and small windows. Sometimes they have thick rock walls. They tend to be in areas where significant numbers of people can get to church without too much transportation expense.

But that’s also a bit of curse. The small size means that average attendance might necessarily be less than 200 people a Sunday – because that’s the most you can seat at one time. But that would put a congregation squarely into a class of congregations (transitional and maybe pastoral size) where the present economics are wrecking havoc with sustainable business models of congregation life. Such congregations can barely afford full-time seminary trained clergy. But with the move to the 1979 prayer book, and Eucharist being the “primary act of Christian worship on a Sunday” the need for regular clergy has increased. It’s those congregations that are feeling the squeeze right now.

But they’re also the most likely to flourish in the new high-energy cost economy. The question is how to move to a new way of providing for the needs of the congregation? I suspect that it’s going to require multiple actions to discover. We’ll need to actively conserve energy costs. Health insurance costs are going to have to be contained somehow. Congregational staffing is going to have to be rethought. Perhaps we’ll move to an à la carte clergy model in some places. I expect congregations will share resources more intentionally both in the diocese and with local ecumenical groups. Stewardship is going to look different too I think. People are not going to know from year to year how much gas and oil are going to cost, and until people can move closer to work that’s going to deeply effect family finances. Maybe endowments will help?

Got any other ideas? ‘Cause the time for ideas is now. We’ve arrived.

The return of the cities

I’ve been worried about this for sometime now. What happens when the suburban lifestyle begins to be no longer sustainable because of energy costs? Well for one thing, the real estate industry will collapse.

The New York Times has an article this weekend that locates the proximate cause of the Great Recession in the growing re-urbanization trend:

“It was predominantly the collapse of the car-dependent suburban fringe that caused the mortgage collapse.

In the late 1990s, high-end outer suburbs contained most of the expensive housing in the United States, as measured by price per square foot, according to data I analyzed from the Zillow real estate database. Today, the most expensive housing is in the high-density, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods of the center city and inner suburbs. Some of the most expensive neighborhoods in their metropolitan areas are Capitol Hill in Seattle; Virginia Highland in Atlanta; German Village in Columbus, Ohio, and Logan Circle in Washington. Considered slums as recently as 30 years ago, they have been transformed by gentrification.

Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered.”

More here.

The article describes this decision to move into the urban centers as being driven by a preference at this point. What happens when it becomes a necessity?

Are we Episcopalians investing enough capital and resources in our inner city parishes to be ready for this? Thanks be to God for the foresight of the people of Arizona who refused to close Trinity Cathedral at a time when the downtown of Phoenix was an abandoned war zone. The congregation of 20 then has now grown to be nearly 1500 over two decades. A parishioner who was a member in the old days (1950’s) that we talk of as the boom years in the congregation says that even at the height back then, it was not nearly as exciting and vibrant as it is today.

We probably have much more of a future in the inner city and historic suburbs than we imagine. But we’re going to have to be ready for it.

Thorium based energy economy?

Here’s an interesting idea. Apparently there’s a company in the US that is about to release a small power generating device capable of providing up to 250 megawatts of power in a 500 pound unit small enough to fit in the engine compartment of a car.

The device uses Thorium, a relatively common rare-earth element. The US leads the world in thorium reserves.

“The key to the system developed by inventor Charles Stevens, CEO and chairman of Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems, is that when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.

Small blocks of thorium generate heat surges that are configured as a thorium-based laser, Stevens tells Ward’s. These create steam from water within mini-turbines, generating electricity to drive a car.

[…]Because thorium is so dense, similar to uranium, it stores considerable potential energy: 1 gm of thorium equals the energy of 7,500 gallons (28,391 L) of gasoline Stevens says. So, using just 8 gm of thorium in a car should mean it would never need refueling.”

More here.

Assuming this is plausible and economically viable, this is kind of a big deal.

The power of a 747 jet at take off is about 100 megawatts. This would generate more than twice that. Imagine how much more a jet could carry without needed to lift all that fuel… Or imagine buying a car that would never need to be refueled. (A few grams of thorium would easily power it for the useable life time. 1 gram of thorium has the energy equivalent of 7500 gallons of gasoline.)

Or, think what you could do with powering houses off grid with a fuel station like this. Actually, forget houses. A small 500 lb generator could supply everything a small city needs.

The big issue with this would be managing exhaust heat. Thorium and uranium decay are the chief cause of the the planetary interior heating. It’s where the lava comes from.

The upshot is energy for all. The downside is this would accelerate heat-death due to the second law of thermodynamics.

Saudi oil estimates exaggerated

So, the rumors that the Saudi’s were claiming that they had much more oil than they really have are apparently begin corroborated by the State Department according to Wiki Leaks.

CNN reports:

“(CNN) — Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves may have been grossly overestimated and its capacity to continue pumping at current capacity exaggerated, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable sent from the kingdom in 2007.

The cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and published in the British newspaper The Guardian, cited the views of Sadad al-Husseini, who had been in charge of exploration and production at the Saudi state-owned company Aramco for 12 years until 2004.

[…]’According to al-Husseini, the crux of the issue is two-fold,’ the cable says. ‘First it is possible that Saudi reserves are not as bountiful as sometimes described and the timeline for their production not as unrestrained as Aramco executives and energy optimists would like.’

Al-Husseini is quoted as disagreeing with his former company’s estimate of total reserves in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer.”

Read the full article here.

I’ve referred to this before. The reason to overestimate your reserves is to get more power in the OPEC governing committee and strengthen your bargaining position with Western clients.

There are different schools of thought about how much the amount has been exaggerated, but most of them feel that Saudi production peaked a few years ago and their fields, like the British North Sea oil fields are in significant decline.

Study focus for 2011

In the hopes that I’ll actually follow through with some plans I have if I go public with them, I thought I’d post some of the areas I’m planning on focusing my reading and studies on in the coming year. For those of you who hear me preach, consider this fair warning…


I’ve been thinking a great deal about Brian McLaren’s idea that the classic Anselmian version of the Atonement no longer makes sense to the average person these days. The idea isn’t unique to McLaren, but I think for some reason, the way he states the case has made me think more about what the Church’s (specifically the Episcopal Church’s) response might look like.

I think the most common response that I’ve seen lately among preachers and lay leaders is to just dismiss the whole idea of that Christ’s death was an atonement for sin as being no longer meaningful. And so it gets ignored, or worse, ridiculed. I’m not at all comfortable with doing that. First of all there’s a great deal of talk about atonement for sin in the Bible and its a recurrent theme throughout Christian thought. I think the issue isn’t with the idea of atonement per se as much as it is with the idea that there’s only one way (the “Anselmian” or Reformation based) of talking about the Atonement accomplished during the Triduum.

What we call the “classical” understanding isn’t the first understanding, isn’t the patristic understanding, isn’t the process understanding and shouldn’t be used as a straw man to dismiss the whole idea that sin requires atonement as part of reconciliation. My own sense is that much of what Girard is writing about will form the basis of our 21st century understanding of the doctrine – and I want to follow that idea this year. I’m planning on starting by spending some time reviewing the classical historical understandings of Atonement – with a particular eye on the process by which a particular understanding stopped being plausible and how the subsequent view became so. I’ve got a couple of books on that topic on my reading list for this Spring. I’ll try to post some reviews as I get them read.

Energy Price impact on parish and diocesan life:

I’ve been harping about peak oil and energy shortages on this blog for years now. I think I’m convinced that we’re in the midst of shift away from an imported oil based economy. I don’t know what the next energy economy will be based upon, though I suspect that it will be a mosaic of different sources rather than the monolithic one we have now. Coal will make a comeback. Fracking is already wrecking ecological havoc on PA and LA, but I don’t imagine that we’ll stop frantically searching for more energy here in the states. Look for off shore drilling to expand, solar furnaces to become more important and perhaps even a return to nuke power.

But all of those alternatives are more expensive than what we have now. (Which is why they’re only bit players at the moment.) As we move in that direction, you’re going to see energy costs go up across the board. Since wages for American workers have been stagnant for decades, this is going to effectively suck more money out of our market economy. It’s going to limit sprawl based city growth. Etc…

It’s also going to force us to reevaluate some of our basic economic models for parish life. Will people still be willing to drive 30 or 40 miles to continue to attend the parish church they grew up in? What will that mean to inner-city parishes. Are the inner-city neighborhoods ready for the migration of the ex-urban dwellers back into the city core? What will that mean for small urban parishes? What about large ones? What about large sprawling buildings built when energy was basically free? Will we see a return to small buildings? (Apparently that’s already happening in the building industry according to friends of mine in the lumber business.)

I think it’s time to flesh out some answers to these questions.


The Archbishop of Canterbury has been calling for the development of a consensus understanding of what constitutes an Anglican hermeneutic. If I recall correctly, I think the last Lambeth Conference did as well. I’m not at all convinced that there *is* an Anglican hermeneutic – at least not at this particular moment in history, but I think the fact that we’re calling for one is a tacit admission that we feel the lack of reasonably broad consensus about how to approach biblical texts in the 21st century.

I stumbled across a note on an online forum a few months ago that was essentially a request for more information about the Alexandrian model of hermeneutics vs. an Antiochian one. The idea was that the Antiochian method was more literal, the Alexandrian more allegorical. I’ve been thinking about that since I read it. I don’t think there’s a neat division into two schools – that’s a little simplistic to say the least – but the idea that maybe its time to rethink our feelings about allegorical understandings of scripture has stuck with me.

Diana Butler Bass came out to visit us in Phoenix this past Spring and she commended our Cathedral on the good work we were doing re-traditioning our message and preaching of the Gospel. I think she’s absolutely right that we need to focus on doing this – it’s a piece with finding a new approach to the Atonement isn’t it?

I’ve noticed that in preaching to a relatively young, bright congregation here in Phoenix, the most excitement seems to come when I can help them discover a traditional mystical and/or allegorical understanding of text. That seems to resonate more with the hearers than (to borrow a phrase from Spurgeon I think) focusing on the historicity of the Jebusites.

When I was in seminary the idea of preaching an allegorical interpretation of a scriptural passage was viewed with extreme distaste. Like “fail the preaching course” distaste. But the typical preaching we were encouraged to do just doesn’t seem to be connecting anymore. Maybe it’s time to look back to the Middle Ages and late Roman period and find new ways to connect with a post-modern, post-positivist audience. Clearly we need to avoid the trap of the “Seven characteristics of a Camel” sort of allegory, but my own sense is that it’s time for us to think this through again.

So that’s what I’m going to do – I want to spend some time reading up on the historical development of hermeneutics. I’ve got one book identified and I’ll be looking around for some others. Suggestions would be welcome!


That should keep me busy for the year. One of my resolutions this year is to try to post more personally speculative pieces here with the hope that you’ll all join in the conversation with me to help me think through these questions. You’ve all done this in the past, and I’m amazed to look back over the past 5 or 6 years to see how you’ve challenged my thinking and helped me to come to a better understanding of answers to the questions I’ve been wrestling with.

Thanks for that, and thanks in advance for your continued participation with the process this coming year.

ClubOrlov: Peak Oil is History

There’s a pretty somber essay posted this week about the world’s future in post-oil economy. What makes it particularly somber is that it starts with the observation that Peak Oil occurred about 5 years ago (when all the data shows a peak in global oil production):

[N]ow does seem to be an auspicious moment to hold forth with a new piece of Peak Oil theory, because this is the year when, for the first time, just about everyone is ready to admit that Peak Oil is real, in essence, though some are not quite ready to call it by that name. Just five years ago everyone from government officials to oil company executives treated Peak Oil theory as the work of a lunatic fringe, but now that conventional world oil production peaked in 2005, and all liquids world production peaked in 2008, everyone is ready to concede that there are serious problems with growing the global oil supply. And although some people still feel skittish about using the term Peak Oil (and a few experts still insist that the peak must be referred to as “an undulating plateau,” which, if anything, is a graceful turn of phrase) the differences of opinion now largely stem from a refusal to accept the terminology of Peak Oil rather than the substance of peaking global oil production. This is, of course, quite understandable: it is awkward to suddenly jump from shouting “Peak Oil is bunk!” to shouting “Peak Oil is history!” in a single bound. Such acrobatics are only safe if you happen to be a politician or an economist.

Given this, Orlov discusses the fantasy that we will experience a smooth collapse (unlike the bumpy rise) and goes on to starkly give us in the oil-economy nations two choices: import more oil or collapse.

“Some might argue that there is a third choice: start using less oil right away. However, in practice this turns out to be equivalent to Choice Number 2. Using less oil involves making some radical, often technologically challenging, politically unpopular, and therefore expensive and time-consuming changes. These may be as technologically advanced (and unrealistic) as replacing the current motor vehicle fleet with electric battery-powered vehicles and a large number of nuclear power plants to recharge their batteries, or as simple (and quite realistic) as moving to a place that is within walking or bicycling distance from your work, growing most of your own food in a kitchen garden and a chicken coop, and so on. But whatever these steps are, they all require a certain amount of preparation and expense, and a time of crisis (such as when oil supplies suddenly run short) is a notoriously difficult time to launch into long-range planning activities. By the time the crisis arrives, either a country has already prepared as much as it could or wanted to (thereby delaying the onset of collapse) or it has not, bringing the crisis on sooner, and making it more severe. The oft-cited Hirsch Report states that it would take twenty years to prepare for Peak Oil in order to avoid a severe and prolonged shortage of transportation fuels, and so, given that the peak was back in 2005, we now have minus five years left to lollygag before we have to start preparing. According to Hirsch et al., we have failed to prepare already.

Some might also wonder why a shortage of oil should automatically trigger a collapse. It turns out that, in an industrialized economy, a drop in oil consumption precipitates a proportional drop in overall economic activity. Oil is the feedstock used to make the vast majority of transportation fuels—which are used to move products and deliver services throughout the economy. In the US in particular, there is a very strong correlation between GDP and motor vehicle miles traveled. Thus, the US economy can be said to run on oil, in a rather direct and immediate way: less oil implies a smaller economy. At what point does the economy shrink so much that it can no longer meet its own maintenance requirements? In order to continue functioning, all sorts of infrastructure, plant and equipment must be maintained and replaced in a timely manner, or it stops functioning. Once that point is reached, economic activity becomes constrained not just by the availability of transportation fuels, but also by the availability of serviceable equipment. At some point the economy shrinks so much as to invalidate the financial assumptions on which it is based, making it impossible to continue importing oil on credit. Once that point is reached, the amount of transportation fuels available is no longer limited just by the availability of oil, but also constrained by the inability to finance oil imports. “

Read the full article here.

Sam Norton (an Anglican priest who’s written on this subject from a theological viewpoint) has his thoughts on this essay posted here. He’s less pessimistic about the future than Orlov. But he’s writing from Britain, where they have a functioning passenger train system, smaller commutes and houses that are built on a more human scale. (I live in Phoenix, with 60+ mile commutes to work, 4,500 sq feet styrofoam houses and a 20 mile long light rail system that the new state legislature seems to think is a boondoggle.)

Happy Thursday.

German military report says Peak Oil in 2010. World instability to follow

The New York Time has a report on news that appears in Der Speigel. It exposes a report made to a branch of the Bundeswehr (the German Army):

“The study states that there is ‘some probability that peak oil will occur around the year 2010 and that the impact on security is expected to be felt 15 to 30 years later.’

[…]The German military study, which was analyzed and partly translated into English by Der Spiegel, declares that once peak oil begins in earnest, economies around the globe — including Germany’s — will probably struggle with price shocks as a result of higher transportation costs, and ‘shortages of vital goods could arise.’

‘In the medium term the global economic system and every market-oriented national economy would collapse,’ the study continues.”

More here.

There have been some other reports from European sources that are indicating that Peak Oil should occur this year or next. As I recall there was even a special report to the US Joint Chief’s of Staff making the same point and calling on the US Military to start planning how to respond to a declining supply.

Didn’t WWII start in the Pacific because the Japanese realized that they needed access to oil if they were going to be able to sustain the empire they craved?

Don’t know if we have time to create the solar alternatives that would help us avoid the worst of the shocks, but I know people in Arizona are thinking hard about how to leverage the climate out here to do something along those lines with power generation at least.

From organic entanglement to synthetic solar cells

There have been a number of papers recently which have suggested that amazing efficiency of the photosynthesis stems from its exploitation of quantum entanglement in the conversion from light to energy. Now some investigations into the details of the mechanism are beginning to give us a hint about how to move forward exploiting that knowledge to be build much more efficient solar cells:

“In a paper in The Journal of Chemical Physics, which is published by the American Institute of Physics, these ideas are put to the test in a novel computer simulation of energy transport in a photosynthetic reaction center. Using the simulation, professor Shaul Mukamel and senior research associate Darius Abramavicius at the University of California, Irvine show that long-lived quantum coherence is an ‘essential ingredient for quantum information storage and manipulation,’ according to Mukamel. It is possible between chromophores even at room temperature, he says, and it ‘can strongly affect the light-harvesting efficiency.’

If the existence of such effects can be substantiated experimentally, he says, this understanding of quantum energy transfer and charge separation pathways may help the design of solar cells that take their inspiration from nature.”

Read the full article here.

Imagine a solar energy farm that would comprised of leaves, small mechanical ones, instead of large southern facing panels. Certainly the HOA’s of the world would be much happier. But more importantly, this may represent the big break-through we’ve all been waiting for in solar energy that will make it much more financially viable as a local energy source.

This is of no small interest in a place like Arizona where the sunshine in the desert state, if harnessed, could really turn us into the OPEC of solar power in the US. (Assuming we can upgrade the nation’s electric grid into the hoped for smarter next generation one that is in development.)