Sunday, February 11, 2007

How long until we run out of oil, and why this isn't the most important question!

The Problem

President Bush said it. We are addicted to oil. I don't know if we're addicted, but we count on it for everything, and don't yet have a viable alternative. The problem is that the end of oil is coming sooner then anyone of us thought, and that end is coming soon! I always comforted myself by thinking when it runs out, then "we" will come up with another alternative to power everything we use. The question is going to be if we have enough time to come up with a solution. This isn't a problem that our grandchildren will have to face, it is something we're going to need to solve in our lifetime!

Recently while researching "green" issues online I came across the following website from which I learned much of the information contained in this article. I highly suggest you take the time to check it out as there is much more detail then I have mentioned there. The site is Life after the Oil Crash.

We all know it. Fossil Fuel is not a renewable source of energy. We've always known it. The question has always been when will we run out of it! Until recently no one really worried about it because we kept finding more and more oil and seemed that we had plenty for a long long time. Thing are soon going to change!

If you think of the planets oil as a whole you could picture the entire supply in gallons (or barrels). I always pictured this as an enormous jug of oil with a spout. When anyone was pumping oil out of the ground we were essentially opening the spout and letting some out. Thus reducing the total amount left in the jug.

The problem is this metaphor isn't really accurate to how we get oil out of the ground. Instead of a straight line graph which all of the sudden goes down to zero when the last drop comes out of the metaphorical spout, the worlds oil supply is better represented as a bell curve. The oil that we can get out of the ground will increase every year until we hit the peak, and then will decrease every year as the same rate it had been increasing.

This is immensely important because of how dependent our world is on oil! The problem is that every year the world as a whole increases the amount of oil it will need to quench it's appetite. So for instance if we need 100 million barrels this year, then we'll need 110 million barrels next year, and so on with no reduction. So basically every year we'll need more and more oil.

However because oil extraction follows a bell curve, once we hit the peak of production that is going to be the max that we can take out of the ground for any one year. Every year there after we'll be able to get about 8% less then the year before. As a planet we are close to using all of the oil that comes out of the ground each year all ready. So as our demand increases every year, and the supply decreases every year we are going to run into issues. It is estimated that at just a 5% deficit for the year our economy which is so dependent on oil will fall apart! This means oil will become so expensive that most people will not be able to afford it. Therefore oil companies will not be able to produce it. So even though there is more oil in the ground we'll essentially have run out because it is no long economically viable to bother with it.

Think of all the things in our world that count on a constant supply of oil that will fall apart. All of the food we eat is produced by farmers that run nothing but diesel powered equipment. It is then transported the store by diesel powered trucks. It is then put on shelves in stores that are heated by oil or natural gas. The lights are on in the stores so we can see by electricity which is usually produced by burning natural gas or coal (natural gas by the way also follows the same bell curve and is expected to hit its peak approximately 10 years after oil). We then drive to the store in our gas powered cars. We then take them home to our electric refrigerators. We then use our electric or gas stove to cook the food. This is just the food industry. Just going to work burns gas to get there. If you work in an office the lights and heat are on there. The computer you use uses electricity. It took electricity to run the plant where the computer was manufactured. Etc, etc, etc. You get the picture. Total collapse of our economy! The next depression is coming!

How long do we have?

The US hit it's peak around 1970. Every year since then we have produced less oil. Most other regions of the world have also hit their peak and are on the decline. The one region of the world that is still climbing is the Middle East, which is why you hear so much about it and we are so dependent on it's oil. The problem is that it is estimated that they are only a few years away from hitting their peak as well. Other recent oil discoveries which are considered "large" would only supply the US for maybe a year!

In 1999 Vice President Cheney said the following:

By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day.
As an interesting note President Bush's ranch is completely off the power grid. Through advanced technologies the range is self sufficient creating it's own energies to sustain itself. Is this a coincidence?

There are additional oil reserves that are embedded in shale and other hard to reach areas however they again are not enormous reserves that would sustain us for very long. Even if they could extract them it might take more energy then could be created by the oil extracted. In other words even if it was financially beneficial for an oil company to extract this oil, they would burn more oil in the process of extracting it then they would extract.

A solution is needed and fast! At least a ten year window would be needed to convert everything over to a newer technology rather then oil.

Why haven't I heard anything about this before?

Think about the impact of this kind of information on the economy. It would fall apart now instead of after we actually hit the peak in the middle east. Until recently President Bush said there was no such thing as global warming, and there was no issues with oil. In his state of the union address in January he finally mentioned the existence of global warming for the first time. I also recently heard on the news that he is pledging that we reduce our oil consumption as a country by 20% over the next 10 years. Why all of the sudden are these things important to him?

Also, you have to wonder about the war in Iraq. Even if there were not issues in the region we would run out of oil. However are they just trying to stabilize the region so that we can extend the flow of oil a few more year and "buy us some time" to come up with alternatives?

What are the alternatives?

This is the the hard part. Lets say for instance that we could power everything by solar power. That would be great and seems like we have solved the problem. The issue is then deploying this new power. You could just buy all the solar panels that you need. However in the plant that makes the solar panel they are using oil energy to produce them, as is the trucking company that brings them the raw materials, and the postal service that brings the panels to your house, etc. Basically even if you could quickly find the answer to replacing oil, it would take years to deploy it into the economy. In the mean time what would we be doing for energy. This is why it is going to have such a devastating effect on the world!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we need a solution to the oil crisis that is looming much sooner then almost everyone thinks. Even if we do find the solution the real question is if there is going to be time to implement this solution before the world economy falls apart!

Future articles

Check back to the Saving Green Blog often as future article will cover some of the following:
  1. What the small silver lining to this problem is
  2. How the greenhouse gas effect ties into this problem
  3. Ways that you can help

As part of this blog I have promised to bring you a useful tip at the end of each post if possible. This is helpful hint #3.

Helpful Hint #3

Did you know that 90% of the energy used in a laundry wash cycle is used in heating the water? Try using only cold water as save 90% of the cost of doing a load of wash!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Saving Green Electrically

In the Famous Words of McFly in Back to the Future..."What the hell's a gigawatt?!"

Indeed what the hell is a gigawatt? Or more pertinent to how we're going to save the planet and our wallet with this post, what the hell's a kilowatt hour? Let's find out...

In looking around on the internet on ways to be more green around the house I came across a site all about electricity. I think it's very well put together and the guy really seems to know his stuff! There is tons of info on there including all you'll ever need to know to finally fully understand you monthly electric bill.

Anyway back to defining a kilowatt hour. If you look at a light bulb it will say how many watts it is. For instance a 100 watt light bulb. This is the rate of electricity that it will draw. However it is not the amount of electricity it will draw. To know the amount (which is what the electric company uses to know how much to bill you) you have to know for how long you have been drawing electricity at the rate of 100 watts. The most common amount of time used is an hour.

So for a 100 watt light bulb which is turned on for an hour, it was drawing 100 watt hours. Since this is a small unit of electrical measure you must convert this to kilowatt hour. There are 1000 watt hours in a kilowatt hour. So the 100 watt light bulb that is on for an hour used .1 kilowatt hours of electricity. If you power supplier charges say .17 cents per kilowatt hour, then you have just spent about 2 cents to run that light for that hour.

Surprisingly low I thought. However think about that same bulb that you forgot to turn off when you leave for your 1 month business trip. So the light stays on all month. That's 24 hours a day for 31 days or 744 hours. Or in dollars that's $14.88. I guess I can still afford that. But how many lights are there in your house? One light won't kill you but when they gang up they will. (See my first post's helpful hint #1, switch to compact fluorescents!)

The moral of the story however isn't to just turn off your lights (all though you really should turn off your lights if your not using them). It's the larger amp guzzling appliances that you can change to really make a difference. Buying a new refrigerator, or using cold water to wash you clothes, or switching to a LCD monitor for you computer can make a sizable difference. And remember anything you do even if it's small can add up.

This information is just he tip of the iceberg! If you find this interesting you really should check out Mr. Electricity's web page. Not only does he explain what a kilowatt is, but he shows how it relates to your power bill. And more importantly how you can use this information to reduce your bill.

In sticking to my new credo or saving the planet by saving your wallet, this could not fit more perfectly. In order for the power company to supply you with the electricity that you use, somewhere a power plant is burning coal, natural gas, oil, or maybe nuclear (there are wind, and solar but as of right now they are a small percentage). All of these except maybe nuclear (I don't know enough about this one but it obviously has pollutants of its own) create CO2 gas which gets released into the air and contribute to the greenhouse effect. So the less electricity that you use the less fuel will need to be burned to create it. So every time you decide to wash your clothes in cold water you are doing your small part to save the planet. Of course at the same time you are lowering your monthly power bill. Both things will make you feel good :-)

Again I highly suggest that you check out Mr. Electricity's web site. I found quite a few items of interest on there, and haven't had time to check out all that he has to offer yet!

As promised here is this post's helpful hint...

Helpful Hint #2:

Did you know that it is a myth that lights and other appliances use more electricity when your first turn them on to "warm up"? According to Mr. Electricity this is not true. Actually, I guess technically they do use a very tiny bit more which is where the myth comes from, but the amount is so small you wouldn't even notice it on your electric bill!

I always thought the myth was true, so if I was leaving a room that I knew I was going to come back to shortly I would leave the lights on "to save money". I guess I can stop doing that now!

First Post

OK so I'm finally part of the whole blog phenomenon!

My goal for this blog is to try to have a place for people to come and save or make more money in a way that will also have a beneficial impact on the planet.

Recently I have been trying to save money and have realized that many times these days saving money can go hand and hand with saving the environment. Too many times I think people want to save the environment, and would like everyone to join them no matter the cost. There will always be a percentage of people that are willing to save the world no matter the cost. Realistically though, in order to get the rest of the world to join in there has to be some benefit. Until Global Warming threatens our lives in a imminent way (like within the current year, or maybe the current week) people will always wonder what's in it for me?

People think in an immediate way. Saving the planet in 200 years sadly is not good enough. Saving you money on this month's electric bill will get people to listen. Reducing the cost of building your new home will be interesting to people (and if we can do it in a "green" way then so be it). If companies find out that more people will buy their product because it was manufactered so there was less impact on the environment they will listen.

The bottom line is money talks and you know what walks. A few people doing something about the worlds problems really isn't enough to help that much. The way to get everyone on board to to affect their wallet.

This is a hobby for me not a job but I am thinking that if I can have a informative posting once a week at least that would be great. Each time I'll try to include a helpful tip on how to save you some money in a green way. "Saving Green"

I'm new to all of this really, and I'm by no means an expert. My wife and I recently had a son, and have #2 on the way. Being a new father got me thinking about what we are passing down our children. I don't have all the answers, and only recently totally accepted that there is a problem. But it is pretty interesting to me especially if I can save some money! So in future posts I'll try to come up with some answers no matter how small to help. I encourage you to reply with your thoughts and input.

I grew up never recycling, just throwing everything out. If you think of everytown in America having a landfill, at some point we are just going to run out of room. Literally it has to go somewhere! Kind of a gross world filled with trash for our kids. Now I know that there really isn't anything in it for me, but honestly how much effort does it take to recycle these days. Every trash service that I know of offers recycling with your weekly pickup. You just throw it in a different bin when you get rid of the can or bottle! Seriously if your not doing this then come on. All though I guess really there is a gain for us. If my recycleables go in a different bin then they don't go in the trash bin. If I'm not filling the trash bin then I could get a smaller bin and pay less for trash service. So there you go. Once again helping the environment helps your wallet!

Helpful Tip #1:

If you replace 5 of your most used incadencent light bulbs in your house with the new compact flourescent spiral bulbs, you should save about $60 each year!