Sunday, September 30, 2012

Weekend Links

  • PV systems have achieved grid parity already.
  • The Chinese are much wealthier but reportedly less happy than they were before reforms.
  • Air leakage resistance of different types of insulation.
  • Sharon Astyk on the 4% increase in farm count (I largely agree with her take in this piece.  Our earlier debate can be found in my 2008 piece The Fallacy of Reversability and her response Is Relocalization Doomed?  My views on the impact of peak oil on agriculture haven't really changed since then, but I've become more concerned about the implications of climate change, specifically drought, for agriculture, than I used to be). 


Nick G said...

My rule of thumb is that each $1 of cost per peak watt is equal to $.05/kWh, assuming 25 year life, and 7% ROI.

I believe industrial/commercial rooftop systems are costing $3 in the US and $2 in Germany, and peak power is costing well above that in places like California and Maine.

That suggests we've reached that long sought tipping point, where PV is at grid parity and demand will grow, costs will fall, demand will increase further, costs will fall more, etc, etc.

The PV singularity.

Stephen B. said...

Having followed both you and Sharon for several years, I've gone back and forth over your differing views of the future of large-enterprise agriculture as fossil energy increases in price.

In a perfect world, I think I stand with your (Stuart's) idea that modern agriculture can function in an expensive energy world because of efficiencies it's gained over time. One only need watch my Maine neighbor's potato harvesting machine on his 300 acres of plantings to realize how many people, cars, and other things are saved by the relatively few gallons per hour of diesel the harvester uses.

On the other hand, we don't live in perfect world. We've been seeing much social and political unrest around the world as of late, unrest caused by economic upheavals caused by the slightest of oil supply declines so far and I wonder, when this comes to the US eventually (it's been held off so far, mainly by our ability to print more of what is the world's leading currency), if my neighbor will still be able to market potatoes from his 300 acres to markets so far away. (Our county has only 79K population and many thousands of acres of potato and grain fields. Farmers MUST sell to distant markets.)

I guess what I'm saying is that in a nice orderly decline, I think your idea prevails Stuart, but otherwise, I think Sharon's does.

Only time will tell, I think, in which direction we go.

Stephen B. said...

At the risk of submitting another comment before my first is released from moderation, I have to say that I have now reread the original 2008 essay at The Oil Drum, particularly the reader comments.

I think what I was saying about political and social unrest rocking the industrial agriculture world as oil prices continue climbing was well covered by reader comments pointing to the possibility of discontinuities in the trends industrial agriculture has been maintaining. I think the social, economic, and political developments we're currently seeing overseas suggests that such discontinuities have started to arise, though I have no way of knowing if agriculture in such locations has been disrupted yet.

If and/or when such economic disruptions and discontinuities will occur in the US, is the question as I see it.

Stuart Staniford said...


I agree one can imagine scenarios in which societal disruption renders large scale trade impossible (even at the interstate scale). But now we are talking about a disruption so severe that the basic necessities of life are not available for 97% of the population. The resulting social disorder is going to be so severe that your backyard vegetable plot is not going to be of the slightest help (eg hoodlums will raid it). At that point, life becomes a complete lottery.

So if we are going to talk about less severe events - say great depression scale, or what is happening in Greece/Spain at the moment - then the number one focus for individuals should be staying employed/employable. Growing your own food is a secondary or tertiary consideration if the employment situation is well under control.

cimon9999 said...

Nick, we're a long way from the PV singularity. See slide 15 from this recent FERC presentation:

Stephen B. said...


I agree on the point about significant social disruption rendering most home gardening somewhat risky.

Looking at the less severe scale, the Great Depression scale as you say, I guess I am not convinced of the solely binary response that would ensue, that is, stay employed in the cash economy at all costs, versus doing market farming.

I can imagine many situations where a member or members of a family unit are un or under employed in which they embark on some gardening or small animal husbandry to supplement what other income there is, either from government subsidies, or other employment in the household unit.

I agree that abandoning the search for formal economy, cash employment and taking up market farming under the Great Depression scenario wouldn't make much sense. Indeed, many farmers in the Great Depression ended up destitute because there were so few people that could pay decent prices for farm products, but I still think we'd see a rebound in smaller farming, sometimes confused with "gardening", under even this moderate collapse/contraction.

Anyhow, I guess we'll just have to wait and see at this point.