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Part 24 - - Offline
project of Volunteers in Asia
e Transition
ost-PetroleL&?Jl World
to a
Denis Hayes
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Raysof Hope
a a Tr;r;irsitionto a Post-PetroleumWorld
F:?$:r sr.rrgy ti.ansitionsalwaysbring profoundsocialchange.The
d for wood andwind helpedusherin the industrial
eta. PetrcIeum, in turn, revolutionized our whole approach to
travei, resrrdc:ur;lngcities and shrinking the planet. Now, at the
rwilight 4 the 3il age, we face another energy transition in the
certain know!edge that it will reshapetomorrow’s world.
A nuctesr-pwered world, Denis Hayesargues,would necessarii? b= ip.lor~centralizedand authoritarian than one basedon solar
t&-g).. V~ith &-products that are carcinogenic, mutagenic, and
,*. i: 1WA!i, vuItisinherent vulnerability to human error and willful
tinidwith its inescapablelink to atomic bombs, the
nuclear option presagesa grim future.
The consequencesof turning toward the sun are more inviting.
?‘hc nationsof the world now use lessthan one ten-thousandthas
much power as the sunprovides.Many practicaltechniquesexist to
harness this resource, directly assolarpower andindirectly in wind
power, water power, and biological sources.Rays of Hope explores theseoptions in detail, examining how a shift to sustainableresourceswill affect our life styles, diets, andjobs. A civilization built arutind the efficient useof solar power is appealingin its
starkcontrastto a world of nucleargarrisonstates.Scarceresources
would be conserved, pollution decreased, and employment
spurred. Decentralized facilities would lead to more local control. Equity would be increased,within andamongnations.
A safe, sustainablefuture is certainly not assured,grantedthe
awesome power of vestedinterestsand inert bureaucracies.But on
the evidence provided in Rays of Hope, sucha fupdreappexs well
worth fighting for.
Denis Hayes is with the Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C.
7he Transition to u Post-Petroleum World
A Worldwatch Institute Book
- INC.
Copyright @ 1977 by Worldwatch Institute. All rights reserved.Published simultaneously
in Canada by George 1. McLeod Limited, Toronto. Printed in the United States of
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Hayes, Denis, 1944Rays of hope.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Power resources. z. Solar energy. 3. Atomic
energy. I. Title.
1977 333-7
ISBN *393+%418-2
ISBN Ch39'j-06422-0
TO my mother. Antoinette S. Hayes
i. Introduction: Twilight of an Era
Fading Dreams
2. The Future of Fossil Fuels
3. Nuclear Power: The Fifth Horseman
An Energy-EfficientWorld
4. The Case for Conservation
5. Watts for Dinner: Food and Fuel
6. Energy and Transportation
7. Btu’s and Buildings: Energy and Shelter
8. Energy and Economic Growth
9. Turning toward the Sun
lo. Wind and Water Power
11. Plant Power: Biological Sources of Energy
Prospectsand Consequences
12. Dawn of a New Era
and subsequent decline in world
production of petroleum, now humanity’s principal source of commercial energy, is only half a generation away. Some of the more durable
cars being bought today will still be in use when the nil production downturn begins. The transition to a world with dwindling oil output is an imminent reality. It could be a painful transition if we do not prepare for it.
The question is not whether we make the transition or not. We will
make it. The only question is whether it will be a smooth one, the result
of careful planning and preparation, or chaotic, the result of a succession
of worsening economic and political crises. Few, if any, national leaders
have any vision of what their societies will look like in a post-petroleum
world. Although we might prefer to leave the adjustment to subsequent
generations, history will not have it so. It has bequeathed to our generation the responsibility for planning and making the transition.
The oil production curve for the United States can serve as a prototype for the world’s, underlining the inevitability of a global downturn.
After decades of growth, U.S. oil production peaked in 1970. It has
declined each year since. A similar downturn in world oil production is
projected for 1~ or shortly thereafter, but there is one important
difference. while the United States could turn to other countries to fill
its oil deficit, the world as a whole cannot.
Knowledge that the world would eventually run out of petroleum has
not been an urgent concern until recently because nuclear power was
expected to fill the void. But the nuclear dream is beginning to fade as
atomic power generates new economic, ecological, and political problems. &zys o/Hope attempts to think through some of the steps which
must be taken in energy conservation and in developing alternate
sourcesof energy. It looks at the energy problem in a global perspective,
recognizing that the firewood crisis in the Third World and overconsumption of energy in gas-guzzling private automobiles in the affluent
countries intersect in the world petroleum market. Humanity now faces
one of the most momentous adjustments in modem history, with little
time to prepare for it. In the first instance, the transition is technological, but it promises to reshapeour economic system and social structures
as well. Denis Hayes’ analysis suggests that a world which comes to
depend heavily on renewable energy sources will be far different from
the one in which we now live. As solar energy, both direct and indirect,
expands in importance, it is certain to affect the distribution of population between countryside and city and possibly even the ultimate population carrying capacity of the planet.
&zys of Hope is an early effort to explore the shape of the postpetroleum world and how we get from here to there. The book’s great
strength is its perspective, historical and global. Denis Hayes helps
opinion leaders and decision-makers at all levels to see how the energy
problem will become the energy crisis if action is not taken quickly.
Hayes was the coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970. He has
been a Visiting Scholar at the Smithsonian Institution, and more recently he served as director of the state Energy Office in Illinois. His
experience with environmental and energy issues and his skills as an
analyst have been bolstered by travel in France, Saudi Arabia, India,
Australia, and Japan, where he discussednational energy strategies and
alternative energy sources with political leaders and energy experts.
This book is part of a much broader effort by the Worldwatch
Institute to identify and focus public attention on emerging global
problems. Certainly the transition to a post-petroleum world must rank
high on any such list. &ys of Hope, the second Worldwatch book,
follows Losing Ground: Envkonmental Stressand World Food [email protected]&r, by Erik Eckholm (W. W. Norton, 1976). Portions of it were
published in Worldwatch Paper 4, “Energy: The Case for Conservation”; Worldwatch Paper 6, “Nuclear Power: The Fifth Horseman”;
Worldwatch Paper 11, “Energy: The Solar Prospect”; BioScience;Natura2Histow; and the New York Times.
Worldwatch Institute
nonfiction books, this one is not the
product of a single intellect. .My debts are numerous, large, and widespread.
I was particularly fortunate to have the full support of the Worldwatch Institute in this effort. Lester Brown’s unfailing enthusiasm,
broad experience, and stimulating ideas were of inestimable value
throughout the project. The entire manuscript was critically reviewed
by Erik Eckholm, Patricia McCrath, Kathleen Newland, Frank Record,
Linda Starke, and Bruce Stokes, and their many helpful comments were
gratefully incorporated. My editor, Kathleen Courrier, clarified my prose
and helped establish a coherent structure for the manuscript. Frances
Hall’s fast and accurate typing kept the work proceeding smoothly, while
Blondeen Duhaney, Marion Frayman, and Trudy Todd helped with
some of the secretarial load.
Many outside reviewers helped shape portions of the manuscript.
Various chapters relating to energy supplies profited from reviews by
Wilson Clark, Dean Abrahamson, M. Ring Hubbert, Chester Cooper,
Carlos’ Stern, David Comey, and Jim Benson. Frank von Hippel provided an invaluable critique of the chapter on nuclear power, while the
comments of Alan Poole, Roscoe Ward, and the reviewers for
Bio-Science magazine strengthened the chapter on organic energy
The chapters on energy use were improved by the suggestions of
Erik Hirst, Joel Darmstadter, Lee Schipper, and Clark Bullard. Many
of the economic portions of the manuscript were scrutinized by C. Fred
Bergston, Herman Daly, and/or Talbot Page, while Leon Lindberg and
David Orr assessedthe final draft through the lenses of political scientists.
During a trip around the world to gather material for this book, I
received invaluable assistance from a large number of people. Among
the most helpful were Paul0 Krahe, Charles Watson-Munro, John Price,
Neal Barrett, J. J. Kowalczewski, Prince Saud al-Faisal, Prince Mohammed al-Faisal, Prince Turki al-F&al, Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani,
Farouk Akdar, Masao Kunihiro, Jean Robert, R. C. Bhargava, Arjun
Makhijani, H. R. Srinivasan, M. C. Cupta, R. B. Ajgaonkar, C. R. Das,
M. K. Gopalakrishnan, Tom Mathew, Mans Lonnroth, and Lars Josephson.
The general orientation and thrust of the book owes much to searching conversations over the years with Bruce Hannon, Amory Lovins,
John Holdren, Grant Thompson, Jeremy Stone, and Sam Love. Every
section of the manuscript profited from the detailed and thoughtful
comments of my wife, Gail Boyer Hayes. Any remaining errors of fact
or judgment are my responsibility alone.
D. H.
Worldwatch Institute
I 776 Massachusetts Ave., N. l.Y
Washington, D. C. ~0036
Rays of Hope
The Trarasition to d Post-Petroleum World
and poor alike, the energy patterns of the
past are not prologue to the future. The oil-based societies of the industrial world cannot be sustained and cannot be replicated; their spindly
foundations, anchored in the shifting sands of the Middle East, have
begun a long, irreversible process of erosion. The agrarian world’s reliance upon firewood has proved similarly precarious as forests recede and
even disappear entirely. Although the oil crisis dominates the headlines,
hundreds of millions are affected by the shortage of firewood.
Until recently, most poor countries eagerly looked forward to entry
into the oil era, with its ubiquitous automobiles, airplanes, and diesel
tractors. However, the recent fivefold increase in oil prices virtually
guarantees that the Third World will never derive most of its energy
from petroleum. For two decades,the rich countries have proceeded on
the belief that the oil era would be superseded by the nuclear age.
However, it now appears increasingly unlikely that nuclear power will
ever become the industrial world’s principal source of commercial energy.
The entire world thus stands at the edge of an awesome discontinuity in its production and use of energy. The range of possible energy
options is narrowed by factors other than just the scarcity of certain
fuels. Long before all the earth’s coal has been burned, for example, coal
use may be halted by the impact of the rising atmospheric carbon
dioxide levels on climate. Solar energy will not run out for 10 billion
years, but some solar technologies will be limited by a scarcity of the
materials needed to build devices to capture and store the energy in
Rays of Hope
In both the Third World ar.d the industrial world, various physical
limits on energy growth have begun to assertthemselves. Mountains are
denuded by scavengers in a desperate quest for firewood, and everhungry draft animals have little surplus energy for tilling the fields. The
growing demands of an expanding population push traditional energy
systemspast their carrying capacities-leading in some casesto ecological collapse. !a the developed nations, a lack of water in the American
West, a scarcity of suitable land in the Netherlands, and a lack of
healthful air over much of Japan have all acted as brakes on energy
In addition to such physical limits, energy supplies are also influenced by social factors. Despite the best efforts of powerful supporters
in all quarters, energy growth is already pressing against social limits in
much of the industrial world. Farmers are opposing strip mines; environmentalists are fighting petroleum refineries; and skyrocketing construction costshave led to the cancellation of plans for many nuclear reactors.
Every energy source is under the heels of both physical and social
constraints. Some such limits are absolute-when natural gas runs out,
natural gas consumption must stop-but more often they manifest
themselves as increasingly severe hindrances on growth. Depending
upon the mix of technologies employed, different types of constraints
will come into play, but at some point accumulated constraints will halt
further energy growth completely.
Heat: The Ultimate Limit
The earth has passedthrough many climatic epochs, ranging from
ice ages to ice-free ages. The global climatic system appears to be
delicately balanced; rather small alterations can trigger vast changes
because certain basic physical processescan accelerate the effects of a
periurbation. For example, ice and snow tend to reflect sunlight instead
of absorbing it as heat. When an outside heat source melts the ice and
snow on the ground, both the runoff and the bare ground itself absorb
additional heat from the sun, melting still more ice and snow. Because
small events appear capable of causing large climatic changes-some of
which may be irreversible on any time scale of interest-even small
changes must be executed with utmost caution.1
Twilight of an Era
The constant flow of power from the sun, averaged over the surface
of the rotating earth, amounts to about 340 watts per square meter.
More than half this sunlight is reflected and scattered by clouds and
airborne particles, so the earth’s surface finally absorbs about 160 watts
per square meter. Energy use by human beings now totals less than one
ten-thousandth of the solar influx, and the global heat impact of this
level of use seems to be negligible. The local effects of human energy
use are sometimes quite significant, however.
Electrical power plants, industrialized cities, and various other energy-intensive sites each radiate several times more heat than they receive
from the sun. Such “hot spots” affect local weather; they can help
determine the frequency of snow, hail, thunderstorms, and even small
tornadoes. Consequently, the number of energy facilities that can be
built in any one area must be limited. However, the direct thermal
effects of human energy use do not appear to be a cause for global
concern unless such use increases severalfold above its current level.
Carbon dioxide (COZ), a by-product of all fossil fuel combustion,
posesa greater problem. Adding CO2 to the air raises the earth’s temperature by retarding the radiation of heat into space-a phenomenon
known as the “greenhouse” effect. Since CO2 can linger in the atmosphere for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, the impact of CO2
emissions is cumulative. Total atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased
at least 10 percent in the last three-quarters of a century. Quite probably,
future fossil fuel consumption will be limited by atmospheric tolerance
for carbon dioxide long before the world fossil resource base has been
exhausted. Between 1900 and 1975, CO2 emissions grew from 2,000
million to 18,000 million tons per year. In late 1976, the Scientific
Committee on Problems of the Environment, a leading independent
group of international environmental experts, reported that it eonsidered atmospheric CO2 to be the world’s foremost environmental problem.
Particulates, bits of matter so small that they can remain suspended
in the air for lengthy periods, present another environmental problem.
Though many natural processesproduce particulates, fuel combustion
is thought to account for about one-third of the total created annually.
Particulates are believed to counteract the warming effects of carbon
dioxide by reflecting incoming sunlight back out to space, and by in-
Rays of Hope
creasing the density of cloud cover. But calculations about the net effect
of such phenomena are rife with uncertainty.
In the popular media, it is often asserted that the cooling effect of
particulates and the warming effect of CO2 are balancing one another
out. The implication is that we therefore have no cause for worry. But
even if some such balance exists, it will almost certainly be upset eventually by the fundamental differences in the distribution and longevity of
the two substances.
Any balance between the effects of carbon dioxide and those of
particulates is delicate indeed. Carbon dioxide is circulated around the
world’s atmospheric system, while particulates blanket only the Northern Hemisphere. The global north is experiencing a cooling trend, while
the Southern Hemisphere is simuhaneously warming up-bearing out
the “greenhouse” hypothesis.2 Moreover, CO2 will remain in the atmosphere much longer than particulates; to the extent that particulates
temporarily hide the long-term warming effects of COZ, they may
prompt us to allow fuel use to exceed a level that informed prudence
might dictate.
Climatic problems are incredibly cbmplex. Before all the variables
are entirely understood, human energy use could trigger far-reaching
consequences. A decision to retard the rate of energy growth would
reduce the chance of making 3 dreadful mistake. Such a decision would
have to be made in the face of much uncertainty, but the consequences
of not doing so could prove irreversible.
Pollution-Troubled Waters
All conventional energy sources-even the so-called “clean” ones
like natural gas and geothermal power-generate pollution. As the use
of such sources increases,the problems of pollution control grow more
formidable. While a 90 percent effective control might be sufficient for
a small source of pollution, a 99 percent effective control may become
necessarywhen that source grows tenfold. But the incremental costs of
each additional degree of control increase disproportionately: co capture
the last few percent often costs many times as much as to capture the
first 90 percent.
The world’s experience with oceanic oil illustrates some of the risks
and costs pollution entails. About 6oqwo metric tons of oil enter the
Oceanevery year from natural seeps,all of which the ocean has successfully assimilated through the ages.But as oil came to play an increasing
role in human affiirs, the volume of oil entering the ocean multiplied
manyfold. Two-thirds of all the oil produced in the world is now shipped
by sea.Although transportation practices have been improving over the
years, these improvements have not kept pace with the growth in the
volume of oil shipped. More than 6 million metric tons now flow into
the seasannually, more than one-third of which comes from such routine tanker operations as spilling while loading and unloading, discharging ballast, and cleaning tanks. The floating lumps of tar that can be
found on all the oceans and on many beaches bear witness to this
calamitous trend. 3
Lessapparent, but in the long rtin perhaps more dangerous, are those
portions of the petroleum that disappear into the sea. No one knows
what all this oil will ultimately do to marine fisheries or to the complex
ocean ecosystem. A UN report has noted that “the fact remains that
once the recovery capacity of an environment is exceeded, deterioration
can be rapid and catastrophic; and we do not know how much oil
pollution the ocean can accept and still recover.“4 Yet many standard
projections show the volume of ocean oil traffic expanding up to six times
before world petroleum production peaks and begins to decline.
In addition to the general threat to the oceans,a more specific threat
already plagues narrower stretches of water. Although tanker accidents
account for lessthan 5 percent of all marine oil, a large spill concentrated
in a single area can be more devastating than a multitude of smaller
dispersed discharges. At the end of World War II, the world’s largest
oil tanker could carry about 18,ooo tons. About a decade ago, a race of
giant tankers emerged; the capacity of a single oil carrier grew to 100,ooo
tons and even 250,ooo tons and larger. The Globtic Tobo carries
483,664 metric tons-some 3.6 million barrels of oil. Requiring twenty
minutes and three miles to stop, these unwieldy supcrtankers invite
accidents, and severalhave broken up in heavy storms. As Eugene Coar~
of the Sierra Club observes,“If you have an accident with a very large
ship, you’re likely to have a very large accident.”
Similar phenomena beleaguer other forms of energy growth. To be
sure, increasingly stringent controls can be applied, but the costs of
Rays of Hope
enforcing and complying with such controls eventually operate as a
capital constraint. Pollution controls now commonly cons?itute more
than one-third of the total cost of a new energy facility, and in many
xxs it is far from clear that such controls are adequate. Moreover, some
kinds of pollution, such as carbon dioxide, simply cannot be controlled
except by burning less fossil fuel.
Material Constraints
Scant attention has been paid to the material requirements of various energy technologies. While we now have a reasonably clear idea of
the energy requirements of steel production, we have no similarly detailed accounting of the steel requirements of energy production. Yet
various types of steel will be absolutely necessaryfor the construction of
oil wells in the Middle East, pipelines across the Soviet Union, power
plants in Europe, transmission facilities in Brazil, and virtually every
other energy-related device.
Different energy technologies demand different materials. Gallium
arsenide photovoltaic cells, used to generate electricity from sunlight,
require gallium; ultra-efficient cryogenic electrical transmission systems
need helium. The most efficient fuel cells yet developed use platinum
as a catalyst; the amount of platinum that such cells would require
annually if half of all U.S. electricity were produced with fuel cells would
exceed the present yearly world production. Titanium may prove to be
the limiting factor on ocean thermal electrical plants, and even copper
production seemsunlikely to keep pace with the extra demands of new
energy technologies.5
Politics as well as general scarcity may lead to material shortages.
Scattered unevenly through the earth’s crust, some crucial minerals are
concentrated in relatively few lands, many of them Third World nations. Such countries have for yearsbeen selling in a competitive market,
but buying from what they perceive as multinational cartels. In the wake
of the OPEC success,and in the midst of calls for a new international
economic order, the mineral-rich nations may well decide to turn the
Various material shortages may hinder energy growth in different
ways. For example, although water is obviously in great global abun-
Twilight uf m Era
dance, a lack of sufficient local water makesthe construction of synthetic
fuel facilities at otherwise suitable sites impossible.6 Sometimes a lack
of spare parts, of manufacturing capacity, or of transportation equipment will delay production temporarily. Coal production in the ‘United
States may be limited for the next ten years by a simple lack of railroad
The most intractable limits are those posed by needs that no known
materials can satisfy. The materials needed for the “first wall” of fusion
reactors must be able to withstand conditions so extreme that no existing
test facilities can simulate them.
Financial Constraints
Capital represents the “seed corn” of all economies, the capacity for
sustained production. A society that eats its seed corn-in this case,by
spending too much of its income on goods and services, and saving too
little for investments in future production-has a bleak future. The
argument over whether the world faces a capital crisis has generated
almost enough heat to solve the energy crisis. The issue is complex, and
contrary opinions are rooted in different assumptions about economic
growth, government spending, inflation, business cycles, and a host of
other variables.7
Capital, by its very nature, is limited. Within a finite capital budget,
tough choices must be made. Such choices are usually evaluated in terms
of cost per unit of productive capacity. One automobile plant, for
example, is compared with another in terms of how much investment
each requires per car per day. nor energy investments, an analogous
figure is the investment needed to produce-or to save-the energy
equivalent of one barrel of oil per day. When the capital cost of producing one barrel of oil exceedsthe capital cost of conserving it, the most
productive inve&ments will be those made to heighten efficiency.
From the end of World War II until quite recently, the capital cost
of producing fuel remained low. For example, the investment needed
(in wells and pipelines) to produce Middle Eastern oil at the rate of one
barrel per day ranges from $50 to $250. Amortizing these investments
over the lifetime of the field reduces the cost of oil to just a few cents
per barrel. In contrast, oil from the North Sea is expected to require an
Rays of Ho#e
investment of $10,000 per daily barrel; Arctic oil and gas will require
between $ro,ooo and $25,000 per daily barrel; and synthetic fuels from
coal will demand an investment of from $20,000 to $5o,ooo per daily
bzrrel.8 To obtain the thermal equivalent of a daily barrel in the form
of electricity from a new power plant requires an investment in excess
of $loo,ooo.
The capital costs of fuel production, which include the costs of
extraction and of combustion, increase greatly as higher environmental
standards and tighter health and safety regulations are put into effect.
Generally, however, this merely means that prices are being adjusted to
“internalize” costs that were previously inflicted on society but were not
explicitly accounted for. The higher prices reflect the cost of preventing
black lung diseaseamong coal miners or of decreasing the likelihood that
a catastrophic accident will take place at a nuclear power plant.
The costs of oil, coal, and shale-derived oil can only rise. When the
Alaskan oil pipeline was proposed in 1969, the estimated cost of the
project was $900 million; before it was completed in 1977, total costs
had soared to nearly $8 billion. The cost per ton of underground coal
mining capacity has doubled over the last five years. Atlantic Richfield
bowed out of an oil shale complex when its projected costs tripled in
three years.
The electrical utility industry is the most capital-intensive of all
industries-requiring, for example, four times as much investment per
dollar of revenues as the steel industry.9 And recent escalations in
construction costs have dealt the industry a staggering blow. Construction costs for nuclear power plants have more than quadrupled in recent
years. During the thirteen years that the Kaiparowits coal-fired plant in
the American Southwest was under consideration, its projected size was
cut in half while its projected costs soared sevenfold. A recent report to
the U.S. Federal Power Commission concluded that a 6 percent electrical growth rate would require at least $650 billion for new facilities over
the next fifteen years, compared with $145 billion over the last fifteen.
As long as conventional sourcessupply most of the energy the world
uses, upward cost trends are here to stay. Fuels will not become more
plentiful and accessible; on the contrary, the best deposits will be exhausted. And as the biosphere becomes more saturated with pollutants,
even more rigorous and expensive environmental controls will have to
be imposed.
It is sometimes argued that renewable energy sourceswill provide an
escape from the rising costs associated with the depletion of finite
resources.The sun is expected to provide the earth with a rather steady,
free flow of energy for billions of years. However, such reasoning is a
little too simplistic. Only a limited number of choice solar sites exist:
areaswith three hundred days a year of unclouded sunlight, with steady
winds of 30 mph or more, or with large volumes of falling water. Most
such sites lie far from the areas that currently demand energy, and as
more remote sites are employed, costs will rise.
Renewable energy sourcesalso tend to be expensive to tap. Just how
much the new equipment will cost when it is manufactured by mature
industries enjoying the economies of massproduction is hard to say. But
it is unlikely to be cheap. Today, photovoltaic cells are several times as
expensive per peak watt as nuclear power plants. The cost of wind power
appears to be roughly comparable to the cost of nuclear power. The
expenses entailed by different bioconversion options vary, but most
appear to be at least as costly as processesusing coal.
Enormous sums of capital would be required to build enough new
energy facilities to meet all projected demands. Two trillion dollars is
considered by some to be a conservative estimate of the combined
energy-related capital needs through 1985 of Europe, Japan, and the
United States if conventional options are pursued. On the other hand,
much of this capital could better be used to refashion our living environments, redesign our transportation systems, and reshape our industries
to obviate the need for much of this energy. Becausecapital is limited,
huge investments in energy supplies may be taking money away from
far more productive investments in increased efficiency?O
Political Limits
Every unit of energy, regardlessof its source, entails costs, and the
true costs are often not borne by the beneficiaries. The losers in the
trade-off have grown restive in recent years, and energy battles are now
being fought in every comer of the political landscape. Nuclear power
plants, strip mines, oil refineries, deepwater ports, hydroelectric facilities, and high-voltage power lines are both the issuesand the plunder
of a struggle that transcends traditional ideological boundaries.
The opposition is both private and public. Carolyn Anderson, a
Rdys of Hope
Wyoming rancher whose land lies over a rich coal vein, draws the line
clearly. “Don’t underestimate us,” she says. “We are descendants of
those who fought for this land, and we are prepared to do it again.” The
governor of Colorado, a state rich in coal and oil shale, was elected on
a platform that promised Coloradans that their state wouldn’t “become
the nation’s slag heap.”
Fuel use harms the environment more than any other human activity does; it scarsthe landscape, heats the atmosphere, generates tons of
pollutants, and creates dangerous radioactive by-products. When energy
is used for necessarypurposes,some such costs can certainly be justified.
But to increasing numbers of people, the costs of continued energy
growth now seem to outweigh any perceptible benefits.
Opposition to the expansion of fuel facilities is most pronounced in
the industrial countries. Building a centralized energy facility anywhere
in Europe, Japan, or North America has become difficult indeed. Although a majority of the citizens in those regions would probably not
ask for zero energy growth, very few want a new power plant in their
neighborhood, and every possible site is in somebody’s neighborhood.
In effect, the developed world has run out of space: geographical
space,environmental space,and psychological space.Where once many
activities could grow independently, now each one can grow only by
impinging on the others. Illinois provides a telling case study of the
competition among different kinds of spatial needs.11With more bituminous coal than any other state in the United States, Illinois also has
much of the country’s best agricultural land. But land cannot simultaneously be a strip mine and a cornfield, and the same water cannot be
used by a coal gasification plant and by farmers to irrigate fields. Some
evidence suggeststhat effluents from energy facilities may already be
affecting the state’s agricultural production negatively; with continued
growth, production shortfalls are an eventual certainty. Illinois agriculture is as energy-intensive as any farming system in the world, and
farmers have traditionally favored energy growth. But many have now
begun to draw the line, fighting strip mines, dams, nuclear power plants,
and any other developments that will take additional fertile land out of
While energy forecasters plot their demand curves toward infinity,
people throughout much of the industrialized world are demanding an
Twilight of an Era
end to open-ended growth. Few would phrase it like that. They do not
oppose the useof gasoline; they just oppose this particular refinery. They
do not oppose nuclear power; they merely feel that this particular reactor
is poorly sited and unnecessary.But when such attitudes are widespread,
every refinery and every reactor will be opposed. Whereas civic boosters
used to talk of luring new power plants to an area to “capture the
benefits of growth,” they now increasingly must beseech residents to
“responsibly shoulder the burdens of growth.” But most people are less
enthusiastic about shouldering burdens than about receiving benefits.
The resulting political self-adjustment, which includes weighing total
costs against total benefits and rejecting further growth, may well prove
to be among the most important limiting factors in energy development.
The Coming Energy Transition
During the last twenty-five years,world fuel consumption tripled, oil
and gas consumption quintupled, and electricity use grew almost sevenfold.12 Clearly, such trends cannot be sustained indefinitely-nature
abhors exponential curves as well as vacuums.
The world has begun another great energy transition. In the past,
such transformations have always produced far-reaching social change.
For example, the substitution of coal for wood and wind in Europe
accelerated and refashioned the industrial revolution. Later, the shift to
petroleum altered the nature of travel, shrinking the planet and completely restructuring its cities. The coming energy transition can be
counted upon to reshape tomorrow’s world. Moreover, the quantity of
energy available may, in the long run, prove much less important than
where and how this energy is obtained.
Most energy policy analyses do not encompass the social consequences of energy choices. Most energy decisions are based instead on
the na’ive assumption that competing sources are neutral and interchangeable. As defined by most energy experts, the task at hand is simply
to obtain enough energy to meet the .projected demands at as low a cost
as possible. Choices generally swing on small differences in the marginal
costs of competing potential sources.
But energy sources are not neutral and interchangeable. Some energy sourcesare necessarilycentralized; others are necessarily dispersed.
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Some are exceedingly vulnerable; others will reduce the number of
people employed. Some will tend to diminish the gap between rich and
poor; others will accentuate it. Some inherently dangerous sources can
be permitted unchecked growth only under totalitarian regimes; others
can lead to nothing more dangerous than a leaky roof. Some sourcescan
be comprehended only by the world’s most elite technicians; others can
be assembled in remote villages using local labor and indigenous materials. In the long run, such considerations are likely to prove more important than the financial criteria that dominate and limit current energy
Appropriate energy sources are necessary,though not sufficient, for
the realization of important social and political goals. Inappropriate
energy sources could make attaining such goals impossible. Decisions
made today about energy sources will, to a far greater extent than is
commonly realized, determine how the world will look a few decades
hence. Although energy policy has been dominated by the thinking of
economists and scientists, the most important consequences may be
After consideration is paid to the myriad constraints facing energy
growth, and to the sweeping social consequences produced by energy
choices, few attractive options remain. For reasons that will be elaborated in chapters 2 and 3, the long-term roles of fossil fuels and nuclear
fission are likely to be modest. Geothermal power is already proving
useful in Italy, Iceland, New Zealand, and the United States as a means
of generating electricity and as a source of space heating. However, the
exploitable global geothermal potential appears to be rather small, and
the environmental impact of geothermal operations is larger than most
people assume.l3
Nuclear fusion is popularly envisioned as a clean source of virtually
limitless power. But the reality belies the ideal. 14 William Metz has
noted “a gap . . . between what the fusion program appears to promise
and what [it] is most likely to deliver.” While some advanced fusion
cycles-most notably those that would fuse two deuterium nuclei or that
would fuse a proton with a boron nucleus--could theoretically provide
a nearly inexhaustible source of relatively clean power, such reactions are
very much more difficult to achieve than the deuterium-tritium reaction
that is the focus of almost all current research. For example, the hydro-
Twilight of an Era
gen-boron reaction requires temperatures of 3 billion degrees Centigrade, whereas the deuterium-tritium reaction can take place at 100
million degrees.When scientists speak of building a commercial nuclear
fusion reactor within twenty-five years, they are referring to a deuteriumtritium reactor, a reactor that does not share all the idealized zharacteristics associatedwith nuclear fusion. The D-T reactor’s fuel supply would
not be limitless; tritium is derived from lithium, an element not much
more abundant than uranium. The D-T fusion power plant might well
be even larger (and hence more centralized) than current conventional
facilities, and the energy produced could be much more expensive than
that derived from current sources. The reactor would certainly require
maintenance, but the intense radioactivity of the equipment would
make maintenance almost impossible. Although cieaner than nuclear
fission, a large fusion reactor might nonetheless produce as much as 250
tons of radioactive :vaste annually.
Even though a deuterium-tritium fusion reactor would be much
“easier” to build than a device employing a more advanced fuel cycle,
the pursuit of D-T fusion still represents the most ambitious engineering
undertaking In human history. Current experimental fusion devices are
enormous energy “sinks” that consume far more energy than they produce. Becauseof the exceptional difficulties involved in achieving a net
energy gain from fusion, the first generation of fusion reactors may not
be designed to optimize power production. Rather, they may be hybrid
fusion-fission devices designed to convert non-fissionable uranium into
plutonium fuel fcl fission reactors. This hybrid technology, now being
pursued by the Soviet Union and under active consideration in the
United States, would combine the most unattractive features of nuclear
fission with the incredible complexities of nuclear fusion. It would be
tragic if the resulting mix were marketed as “safe, clean nuclear fusion.”
Renewable energy sources- wind, water, biomass, and direct sunlight-hold substantial advantages over the alternatives. They add no
heat to the global environment and produce no radioactive or weaponsgrade materials. The carbon dioxide emitted by biomass systems in
equilibrium will make no net contribution to atmospheric concentrations, since green plants wil! capture CO2 at the same rate that it is
being produced. Renewable energy sources can provide energy as heat,
liquid or gaseousfuels, or electricity. And they lend themselves well to
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production and use in decentralized, autonomous facilities. However,
such sources are not the indefatigable genies sought by advocates of
limitless energy growth. While renewable sources do expand the limits
to energy growth, especially the physical limits, the fact that energy
development has a ceiling cannot ultimately be denied.
The highest energy priority in all lands today should be conservation.
Investments in saving energy, whether to double the efficiency of an
Indian villager’s cookstove or to eliminate energy waste in a steel mill,
will often save far more energy than similar investments in new power
facilities can produce. The cheapest and best energy option for the
entire world today is to harness the major portion of all commercial
energy that is currently being wasted.
A transition to an efficient, sustainable energy system is both technically possible and socially desirable. But 150 countries of widely different
physical and social circumstances are unlikely to undergo such a transition smoothly and painlessly. Every potential energy source will be
championed by vested interests and fought by diehard opponents.
Bureaucratic inertia, political timidity, conflicting corporate designs,
and the simple, understandable reluctance of people to face up to far. reaching change will all discourage a transition from taking place spontaneously. Even when clear goals are widely shared, they are not easily
pursued. Policies tend to provohe opposition; unanticipated side effects
almost always occur.
If the path is not easy, it is nonetheless the only road worth taking.
For twenty years, global energy policy has been headed down a blind
alley. It is not too late to retrace our steps before we collide with
inevitable boundaries. But the longer we wait, the more tumultuous the
eventual turnaround will be.
TheFntwe ofFossil
HEN COLONEL E. L. Drake set up a drilling rig in 1859,
near Titusville, Pennsylvania, the townspeople thought him unbalanced.
Others before him had struck oil while drilling for water, but Drake was
consciously seekingthe nearly uselessmuc Oil could only be peddled
as a medical cure-all or burned in kerosene mps, and most folks at that
time preferred whale-oil lamps.
Drake’s pioneering oil well proved successful. Not long after his
strike, the American Civil War choked the nation’s supply of whale oil,
and history began to saunter unsuspectingly toward the petroleum era.
The kerosene business evolved into the oil industry, which eventually
produced a dozen petroleum-based fuels and thousands of petrochemicals.
Children of the petroleum era tend to forget how brief this period
has been. Just fifty years ago, 80 percent of the world’s commercial
energy came from coal and a mere 16 percent from oil and gas. Even
as recently as 1950, coal still provided 60 percent of the world’s commercial fuel. For the next two decades, oil and gas consumption grew
rapidly, passing coal use in 1960. Today oil and gas comprise two-thirds
of the world’s commercial energy budget.1
Oil and gas, like all other fossil fuels, are in finite supply. The actual
size of the supply, and its likely rate of depletion, have become matters
of controversy. Making a case study of the United States, where these
issuesfirst arose, is one way to gain insight into this continuing controversy.
Raysof [email protected]
The American Experience
The oil industry correctly advertises that “America runs on oil.” But
what they do not broadcast is that any country that “runs on oil” must
eventually run out of it. Nineteenth-century oil producers were aware
of the limits of their known resource base,but with the 1901 Spindletop
gusher in southeast Texas, heady successoverpowered prudence. The
inevitability of oil exhaustion became an abstraction-hard to grasp and
comfortably remote-as huge discoverieswere made in Oklahoma, Louisiana, California, and Alaska. In recent decades,cheap, plentiful oil has
been substituted for capital, for labor, and for other materials, influencing the shape and behavior of modern America as no other commodity
has. As more and more oil was pumped into the veins of American
manufacturing, commerce, and transportation, the oil industry came
into unprecedented economic and political power.2
At mid-century, few critics were ready to challenge the oil companies. But in early 1956 a blow was dealtfrom within. M. King Hubbert,
a geologist with Shell Oil, was then at work on an addressto a conference
sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute. Worried about the
exponential increase in the rate of U.S. petroleum consumption, Hubbert resolved to use his speech at the oil industry’s forum to make public
his concern.
In 1956, the ultimate recoverable petroleum resource base of the
United States was commonly pegged at about 150 billion barrels. Since
the nation had consumed only 50 billion barrels of oil during the industry’s hundred years of operation, an ultimate resource base three times
that large was generally believed to afford the country a comfortable
margin of time in which to find petroleum substitutes.
But Hubbert demonstrated that geological exploitation follows a
predictable pattern, that “in the production of any resource of fixed
magnitude, the production rate must begin et zero, and then after
passing one or several maxima, it must decline again to zero.”
In his key illustration, Hubbert drew a production curve for petroleum on a grid, with each rectangle representing 25 billion barrels of oil.
The curve representing all U.S. oil production-yesterday and forever
-could cover only six rectangles, or 150 billion barrels. As of 1956, the
7%eFuture of Fossil Fuels
oil represented by two rectangles was already spent. When three rectangles were covered, half the oil would be gone and production would
begin to decline. Hubbert calculated that the third rectangle would be
covered within ten years. If the U.S. oil resource base turned out to be
200 billion barrels instead of 150 billion-an
increase equal to the total
content of eight oil fields the size of the mammoth east Texas findthe halfway point in production would be delayed only five years. In
essence, Hubbert demonstrated that U.S. oil production would “peak
out” in ten to fifteen years, and then begin a slow, steady decline back
to zero.3
When executives at Shell read over Hubbert’s prepared remarks,
they were understandably horrified. Minutes before his San Antonio
presentation, Hubbert received a telephone call from headquarters asking him to delete the “sensational” portion of the address. He refused,
and the great American oil controversy began.
Hubbert’s chart caught everyone off guard, but no one effectively
challenged its logic. Although the shape of the curve could be altered
somewhat by changes in consumption rates, the fact of the curve would
remain inviolate. Retarding the consumption growth rate would postpone the date at which maximum oil production was attained, but not
by more than a few years. Moreover, no one, least of all the oil industry,
was ready to crimp the oil consumption growth rate in 1956.
However, the day of reckoning could be put off. If the total area
under the curve, the estimated oil resource base,were found to be larger
than was commonly believed, the apex of the depletion curve would be
shifted rightward on the time axis accordingly. Predictably, every major
oil-related institution in the United States began re-examining its estimates of the nation’s petroleum resource base.
To understand the figures that the petroleum industry came up with,
it is necessaryto understand the difference between resources and reserves. “Reserves” are deposits of minerals in known locations that can
be recovered profitably with existing technology. They represent the
industry’s immediate working stock, and are not an index of the total
resource base. Without this understanding, a person looking at U.S. oil
reservesover time would have to conclude that oil is being manufactured
in the earth’s bowels. No matter how much fuel is consumed, we always
seem to have ten more years’ supply in reserves.In fact, new discoveries,
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technological advances,and rising prices simply put more resourcesinto
the “reserves” category. “Resources,” on the other hand, include not
only all reserves,but also all fuel that is known to exist but that cannot
be recovered at current prices and with current technology, and an
estimate of fuel deposits as yet undiscovered.4
Even the concept of “recovery,” as energy students soon discover,
may also require a word of explanation. Oil fields are popularly misconceived as underground lakes of fluid petroleum. Actually, oil fields are
oil-soaked sand and rock, generally harder and less porous than set
concrete. Bringing the oil to the surface is not a simple matter of
inserting a straw and sucking. Commonly, about 10 percent of the oil
in a field can be forced to the surface by reservoir pressure. Another 20
to 25 percent can be pumped up. Additional oil can be extracted only
by using secondary and tertiary recovery practices-heating the area,
and flooding it with fluids and chemicals. Complicated, expensive, and
energy-intensive, such practices have so far been less than successful.5
Estimating undiscovered resourcesis necessarily a speculative enterprise. Oil resources are particularly hard to gauge, for oil can only be
found with a drill. Until the bit actually strikes oil, all is guesswork.
However, the guesswork has grown impressively sophisticated. In the
industry’s early days, wildcatters depended primarily upon oil seeps to
track down reservoirs. Later, prominent geological formations were
“read” to locate undiscovered oil. Today, the gravity meter, the airborne
magnetometer, and the reflection and refraction seismograph are the
tools of the search. However, most clues still lead into blind alleys. One
hundred new-field wildcat wells are sunk in the United States today for
each new field of one million barrels or more discovered-yet one
million barrels will sustain the United States for only ninety minutes.
Oil prospecting remains detective work largely because“strike” conditions can vary so wildly. Oil deposits have been found within one
hundred yards of the surface and more than three miles beneath it.
Reservoir widths range from a few hundred yards to more than a hundred miles. When an oil deposit is buried far underground, and especially when the ground itself lies beneath a quarter mile of seawater,
examining the resource to establish its volume and quality posesobvious
difficulties. Thus, even after a reservoir is discovered, years of uncertainty often intervene before its true extent is “proved.”
7’heFuture of Fossil Fuels
The whole field of petroleum resources estimation is charged with
controversy. Competent, well-intending authorities, armed with different assumptions and methodologies, splash their numbers all over the
board. In the furor that followed Hubbert’s 1956 speech, a rash of higher
estimates of the petroleum resource base appeared. Claims that oil
resourcesamounted to 204,250, 372,400, and even 590 billion barrels
were made over the next few years.
To the outsider, a total lack of agreement among the experts in their
estimates strongly suggeststhat the experts don’t know what they are
doing. Or at least that some of them don’t. In fact, no one “knows” how
much oil is down there, or where it is. Estimates of undiscovered resources depend upon inferences from objective information: mountainous piles of data on geological formations, seismic tests, total number of
wells attempted, total feet drilled, volumes of oil discovered, and so on.
Creative forecasting, which consists of putting key variables together in
ways that lend insight into how much oil remains to be discovered,
involves great inductive leaps.
Most of the evidence accumulated in recent yearsappearsto support
Hubbert: U.S. oil production did peak in 1970, as Hubbert had predicted fifteen years earlier, and began a steady decline. A Geological
Survey study issuedin May of 1975 indicates that the undiscovered U.S.
oil resource base lies within the range of 50 to 130 billion barrels, with
a 95 percent probability at the lower figure and a 5 percent probability
at the higher one. A National Academy of Sciences report released
earlier that year reached similar conclusions.6
Regrettably, America’s oil is now almost certainly half gone. The
optimists who expected oil production to increase for so many decades
that there was no need to worry about the eventual decline are now few
in number. Instead, most oil watchers currently believe that the 1970
production peak in the forty-eight contiguous states was indeed a onetime peak. The present clash of views centers largely upon how rapidly
the United States will slide down the far slope of the oil depletion curve.
The downhill pace will be determined by the extent of the Alaskan
resources, the quantities of oil obtained from the continental shelves,
and the rate at which advanced oil recovery technologies are developed
and implemented. The authors of the Project Independence report in
1974 thought that these three factors could lead to a brief production
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increase by 1985. Indeed, their prophecy might even be fulfilled if
enough money is poured into the single-minded goal of increasing the
rate of oil extraction. But such a policy would provide precious little
energy per dollar of investment and would only make the post-1985
decline that much more precipitate.
The total quantity of undiscovered oil will not be known until it has
all been discovered. But nobody is down there brewing more oil. And
the more that is learned about the size of the ultimate U.S. oil resource
base, the smaller that base appears to be.
The United States houses most of the international oil industry, as
well as many of the world’s most distinguished schools of petroleum
geology. No other large land masshas been as extensively probed as has
the United States, where oil-together with natural gas-comprises
fully three-fourths of all commercial fuel used. With about 10 percent
of the world’s potential oil-bearing areas,the United States has a drilling
density about seven times higher than the world average.Thus, examining the U.S. experience can provide a basis of comparison for analyzing
world oil resources.Even rough agreement on the extent of the remaining U.S. oil supply was not achieved until a full five years after oil
production had peaked. Yet, compared with what is known about U.S.
oil deposits, information about the fossil fuels in the rest of the world
is downright sketchy.
World Oil and Gas
Most estimates of the world petroleum resources, like the U.S.
estimates discussed above, are based on a combination of historical
discovery patterns and geological analogies. The score of published estimates, and additional unpublished estimates that have been produced
since 1950, mostly range between 1.2 trillion barrels and 2.5 trillion
barrels. Most relatively recent estimates have tended to cluster between
I .8 trillion and 2.0 trillion barrels.7
Though disagreementsarise over the ultimate volume of recoverable
oil, a general consensus exists about how the oil is distributed. The
Middle East has roughly 30 percent of the world’s oil, of which onetenth has been consumed. The Soviet Union has about 25 percent, of
which one-twelfth has been consumed. The United States and Africa
The Future of Fossil Fuels
each have about 10 percent; one-half of the U.S. oil has already been
consumed, while all but one-twentieth of Africa’s remains in the ground.
Latin America is generally believed to have 8 percent of the world total,
of which about one-fifth has been consumed.8 Western Europe, including the North Sea, has less than 4 percent of the expected world total,
of which an almost negligible amount has been consumed. (The enormous attention focused on North Sea oil is more a consequence of the
resource’s location than of its size.)
The United States, Western Europe, and Japan face an immediate
oil squeeze. Most other areas have ample oil to meet their domestic
requirements for some time yet. But the oil-short areasencompassmost
of the world’s industrial base, and they all expect to import prodigious
amounts of oil from the oil-rich regions.
In 1973, the growth of petroleum consumption was interrupted by
the Arab boycott. Such growth is unlikely to resume. A fivefold increase
in oil prices has already cut deeply into the growth rate, and further price
increases are certain.
Oil price rises have political causesand economic effects. Much of
the remaining supply of easily obtained oil is in single-resource nations
that intend to stretch their income from this source of wealth as long
as possible. Moreover, at least some oil-producing countries understand
that oil has more value as a petrochemical feedstock than as a fuel, and
these countries can be counted upon to saveas much of their petroleum
as possible for non-energy purposes.9 With effective monopoly control
held by a few major producing countries, global oil use will probably not
be allowed to grow exponentially to logo-when, if past rates of production increase were to conti!nre, world oil production would probably
peak-and then plummet as more and more wells run dry. World oil
output is more likely to rise for three or four more years, and then to
stabilize at that level for severaldecades.The Middle East might temporarily slow down production to buffer any brief surges (of rather highpriced oil) from the North Sea and elsewhere.
The problems of estimating recoverable oil resources reflect the
difficulties surrounding the extraction of oil from reservoirs. Natural gas
exhibits no such problems. Once tapped, it surfaces. Gas estimates do,
however, entail many other problems.
A fixed quantifiable relationship between gas and oil is presumed to
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exist, and gas resource estimates are generally derived from oil resource
estimates. But the historic gas/oil ratio may be changing. Further, more
gas fields that are unassociatedwith oil fields are now being discovered,
and, as drilling rigs capable of probing deeper and deeper have revealed,
the ratio of gas to oil seems to increase at the lower depths.
Even though the magnitude of total oil resources remains in question, gas resourcesare predicted by using this controversial estimate in
conjunction with a dubious gas/oil ratio. The resulting estimates obviously vary tremendously. The world total for natural gas is commonly
hypothesized to be about 12 quadrillion cubic feet, although the most
recent authoritative study-done for the Ninth World Petroleum Conference--claims that the resource base may be only half this large.10
(Current world consumption of natural gasis about 15 trillion cubic feet
a year.)
Another much smaller source of fuels and petrochemical feedstocks
is to be found in the natural gas liquids. If presumed ratios of natural
gas liquids to natural gas (the reader no doubt recognizes that we are
beginning to presume ourselves uncomfortably far out on a limb) prove
to be accurate, the world resource base totals about 400 billion barrels
of natural gas liquids, or roughly 2 percent of the estimated volume of
Coal: A Transitional Fuel
Coal, the world’s most plentiful fossil fuel, has been used for at least
two thousand years. The Chinese burned coal, and evidence suggests
that the classical Romans did as well. Coal consumption increased
steadily in Europe from the fourteenth century on, as the brick, glass,
and iron industries became coal burners. By the mid-sixteenth century,
England was mining about 200900 metric tons of coal a year, and with
the advent of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, coalfired operations increased dramatically. By 1925, the world was producing 1.3 billion metric tons of coal a year. By 1975, the figure reached
3.25 billion metric tons, of which Europe accounted for about 36 percent, the Soviet Union for about 23 percent, the United States for
approximately 17 percent, and the People’s Republic of China for about
14 percent.
TheFuture of Fossil Fuels
Because solids are easier to measure than liqui& or gases,coal resource estimates are probably more reliable than oil and gas estimates.
Total world coal resources most likely amount to between 7 and 10
trillion metric tons. If all that coal were potentially available-which it
certainly is not-the world fuel resource base would be bountiful. Even
if our current rapid rate of growth continued, coal extraction could not
peak until some time after 2200 A.D. Annual production would then be
about 24 billion tons a year--eight times higher than the present output.
All this coal will never be mined, however. Much of it rests in beds
too thin or too deep to be mined. Moreover, at some point more energy
is used to extract the last bit of coal from deep in the earth than the
coal itself contains. Long before this point is reached, the economics of
coal production will prove impossible.
A reasonable estimate of the recoverable coal resources-yet one
that still takes major advances in extraction technology and substantial
price increasesinto consideration- is about 2 trillion metric tons. This
amount of coal could support the world’s current level of coal use for
almost a thousand years, or it could sustain current world levels of
consumption of all fossil fuels for over two hundred more years. But
environmental alarms are likely to halt coal combustion long before
then. In particular, the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will
almost certainly prove intolerable long before all the world’s recoverable
coal is consumed.
Although no worldwide coal shortage threatens, some geographical
areasare in comparatively poor shape. Europe faceswhat could be a coal
crisis. European coal extraction, for example, now constitutes 36 percent
of the world total, but Europe has only 6 percent of the world’s remaining coal. In contrast, both Latin America and Africa face another kind
of resource pinch. Together, they have less than 1 percent of the world’s
total coal. Since both areas have low coal consumption rates, their
present problem is that of limited potential rather than of impending
Three countries contain more than 80 percent of the world’s estimated coal supply. The Soviet Union’s share, 56 percent, is enormous,
while the United States owns a hefty 19 percent and the People’s
Republic of China has about 8 percent. As production of other fossil
fuels peaks and declines, this skewed distribution of coal may prove
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politically significant. The Soviet Union, for example, has a much higher
percentage of the world’s coal than the Middle East has of the world’s
Coal, despite its geographical concentration, is a relatively bountiful
fuel. Becauseit is lessvaluable than petroleum as a chemical feedstock,
over the long term the substitution of coal for fuel oil where possible
makes sense.Coal is likely to play a prominent role in the coming energy
transition, and this role will expand to the degree that the projected
expansion of nuclear power is successfully halted. But coal should be
viewed strictly as a transition fuel. Over and beyond ultimate resource
constraints and the climatic alterations associated with increased
amounts of atmospheric COZ,coal holds but faint attraction as a longterm energy option.
Formidable environmental problems attend both the extraction and
the combustion of coal. Underground mines may cause surface lands to
subside; they may entail drainage problems (11,000 miles of American
streams are afflicted); and they pose serious threats to the health and
safety of the miner who faces slow death by black lung diseaseand quick
death in a cave-in. While all these dangers can be mitigated, none can
be eliminated.
A l,ooo-megawatt power plant annually consumes the production
from twenty miles of a surface mine with a zzj-foot wide bench and a
three-foot coal seam. The reclamation of land sacked by surface mines
has in many parts of the world been the exception rather than the rule.
Capitalizing their profits while socializing their costs, American coal
companies left behind 20,000 miles of unreclaimed strip mine benches
in Appalachia alone. The Germans, on the other hand, have an outstanding record of strip mine reclamation. They are even reclaiming the
“world’s biggest hole”-a four-square-mile 1,ooo-foot deep lignite mine
near Bergheim that is moving north at a relentless three feet a day. But
even reclaimed land, while ransomed from aesthetic oblivion, is often
worth less in its rejuvenated than in its virgin state. Under ideal conditions, reclaimed land c&r often support only pastures, not more valuable
row crops. In arid and semi-arid regions, reclamation of any sort is nearly
impossible. 11
Coal combustion produces emissions of fly ash, sulfur oxides, toxic
metals, and carcinogenic organic compounds. It entails the release of
T%eFuture of Fossil Fuels
more mercury than any other human activity does. Precipitators can
remove up to 99 percent of all ash, but can catch only half the minuscule
ash particulates that are most injurious to human health. Lead, cadmium, antimony, selenium, nickel, vanadium, zinc, cobalt, bromine,
manganese,sulfate, and certain organic compounds cling to these small
particulates, against which evolution has provided the human respiratory
system with no satisfactory defense.12
Considerable evidence now suggeststhat the sulfur in coal is most
troublesome in two forms: as sulfuric acid or as sulfate salts. Acid rains
have been a recognized problem for decadesin Scandinavia, where they
kill fish and reduce agricultural and timber harvests; similar rains now
fall in many other parts of the world. The only entirely effective sulfur
control program to date has entailed a switch to low-sulfur coal-an
approach with obvious long-term limitations. Other approaches have
included erecting tall stacks (some approaching the Empire State Building in height) to dilute the pollutants, using intermittent controls (reducing or even halting combustion when atmospheric conditions are
poor), installing scrubbers (to physically remove sulfur from flue gases),
and employing a variety of other techniques to remove sulfur from the
coal before or during combustion.
Tall stacks and intermittent controls do not provide a long-term
answer to a growing problem; if more power plants are built, concentrations will again leach hazardous levels. Moreover, tall stacks may, counterproductively, enable sulfur dioxide to remain airborne longer, increasing the likelihood that some percentage of it will oxidize into sulfuric
acid. Scrubbers are expensive and energy-intensive, and have been riddled with technical difficulties. Most current scrubbers produce 8 or 9
cubic feet of sludge per ton of coal burned, so a r,ooo-megawatt plant
fueled by high-sulfur coal would have to dispose of 80,000 cubic feet a
day. A new power plant in Pennsylvania plans to fill a five-mile stretch
of valley four hundred feet deep with sludge over the next twenty-five
years. The long-term ability of such sludge deposits to withstand, for
example, bacterial attacks that could release hydrogen sulfide gas is
unproven. Regenerative scrubbers, which produce sulfuric acid or elemental sulfur and reuse their scrubbing agent, are under development,
but these are expected to cost much more than the variety now in- use.
Over the long term, removing sulfur from coal before or during
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combustion probably makes most sense. Since sulfur is more easily
removed from gasesand liquids than from solids, much coal research has
centered on gasification and liquefaction. Some such technologies produce products that can be substituted for natural gas and petroleum,
albeit at far higher prices. More than 150 companies around the world
manufactured coal gasification equipment in the 192os, and wartime
Germany ran much of its economy on synthetic fuels derived from coal.
The world’s only working plant that produces liquid fuels from coal is
located in South Africa; this refinery produces a variety of products,
including gasoline, but does so rather inefficiently. Energy inefficiency,
in fact, plagues ail processesfor deriving synthetic fuels from coal; net
lossesof from one-third to one-half of all the energy originally in the coal
are sustained during the conversion. Although the sulfur content of
synthetic fuels can be reduced to acceptable levels, fuel conversion
plants are exorbitantly expensive to build, often require enormous quantities of water, and are ensnared in environmental problems of their
Fluidized-bed combustion appears to be the most attractive coal
technology at this time, though it probably doesn’t deserve the unqualified praise sometimes heaped upon it. In a fluidized bed, air flows
up through the boiler, suspending a hot bed of coal and limestone.
Because its efficient heat transfer allows it to operate at relatively low
temperatures, the fluidiz:ed-bed processdoes not produce the melted ash
and nitrogen oxides that plague other coal technologies. However, the
current generation of fluidized beds removes only about 90 percent of
the sulfur in coal, and removes it in the form of calcium sulfate, which
itself posesa disposal problem. In addition, the extent to which the use
of large fhridized beds will control particulates is not known. Fluidizedbed technology should be relatively cheap, compact, and efficient when
compared to conventional boilers with scrubbers.
A 3o-megawatt fluidized-bed boiler began operations in West Virginia in late 1976, and the Tennessee Valley Authority has announced
plans to build a zoo-megawatt unit. Many smaller commercial models
have been operated successfullyin Europe, and have proven effective for
use in small-scaledecentralized electrical generation and in the districtheating of buildings. Our knowledge of the potential of this promising
technology for large-scale application should expand in the next few
T%eFuture of Fossil Fuels
The clean coal-combustion technologies should be temporarily embraced by societies with ample coal. But exotic new coal technologies
should not lure vast sumsof money away from investments in sustainable
energy sourcesthat hold far more appeal over the long term. Coal should
be viewed as an interim fuel, to be used efficiently to smooth the
transition from the petroleum era to the solar age.
Oil Shale and Tar Sands
Bituminous sands,also known as heavy-oil sandsor tar sands,contain
a heavy, viscous raw oil mixed with grit. The geological origins of
bituminous sandsare disputed, but the oil they contain is from the same
chemical fimily as petroleum. .
Deposits of bituminous sands have been found in ten countries on
all continents. The largest and best-mapped deposits are in northern
Alberta, in Canada, although preliminary evidence suggests that Colombia also has large deposits. The Athabasca and other Canadian
deposits are thought to contain about 100 billion barrels of recoverable
synthetic crude oil. Oil recovery from bituminous sands has been attempted in the Soviet Union, Romania, Albania, and Trinidad. Great
Canadian Oil Sand, Ltd., has been in operation since 1966, using openpit mining. None of these efforts, however, has turned a significant
Oil shalewas formed in large, shallow, semi-stagnant bodies of water.
The hydrocarbon content appearsto be derived from algae, pollens, and
waxy spores and takes the form of a solid known as kerogen. It differs
markedly from petroleum in chemical composition, and poses special
refining problems. The chemical energy bound in the earth’s oil shale
deposits is enormous-perhaps equal to 5 trillion barrels of oil. However,
such grossfigures mean nothing. While high-grade shale may yield more
than 100 gallons of oil per metric ton, poorer grades may contain almost
no recoverable oil.
In the Soviet Union and in China, some oil shale is crushed and
burned directly under boilers. Limited quantities of synthetic oil have
been produced from shale in Scotland and Estonia since the midnineteenth century, and related research efforts have long been under
way in the United States, Brazil, and other countries. Yet no large-scale,
commercially viable processeshave yet been developed. Shale mining
Ruysof Hobe
and refining pose formidable environmental problems, and require enormous amounts of water and energy. Much shale lies in dry areas,remote
from energy markets. And because of its relatively low fuel content, a
sizable fraction of the world’s shale could probably be mined and processedonly at a net energy loss. Most estimates of the recoverable oil
shale range below 200 billion barrels. Although more oil shale may be
obtained over time, especially as a feedstock for petrochemicals, economic and environmental factors will limit the amount produced in any
oqe year to small quantities.
World Fossil Fuel Resourcesin Perspective
The recoverable energy in the world’s fossil fuels is probably on the
order of 1023 joules, of which 68 percent is found in coal, 30 percent
in petroleum and natural gas, and 2 percent in oil shale and bituminous
sands.Fossil fuels are currentiy being consumed at the approximate rate
of 2.8 x 1020 ioules per year. Thus, were fossil fuel use to continue at
its current level, the w&id’s resource base would not be exhausted for
more than three hundred years. However, such lump-sum figures are
First, fossil fuel consumption simply will not level off at the current
rate; growth seems certain, for a while at least. Only one country,
Sweden, has officially even looked into the probable consequences of
zero energy growth. A few other countries have halfheartedly examined
the possibility of reducing their energy growth rates modestly. Even if
the industrialized countries were, voluntarily or forcibly, to opt for zero
energy growth, the less developed nations could hardly be expected to
follow suit.
Second, fossil fuel resourcesare unevenly distributed. About a third
of the world’s oil is in the Middle East. More than 45 percent of all fossil
fuels are located in the Soviet Union. This Soviet hegemony may, in the
sweepof history, far overshadow the current market disturbances caused
by OPEC. In any case, the most vulnerable fuel “have-nets” will be
Europe and Japan.
Third, all fuels are not created equal. Some are easily accessible;
others are buried in the arctic tundra. Some can be cheaply transported
and stored; others require much more costly handling. Some are excep-
The Future of Fossil Fuels
tionally clean; others are dreadfully dirty. Such flagrant differences
among fuels naturally determine the usesto which various fuels are put.
For use in producing aviation fuel, for example, a low grade of Siberian
coal with a high sulfur content ranks as a last resort at best. Yet oil and
gas--choice fuels-are being consumed rapaciously and often unnecessarily.
Fourth, the most sensible fuel conservation strategy does not involve
burning all fuels. Instead, much of this wealth should be husbanded for
use as chemical feedstocks. Although many oil-based chemicals can
theoretically be synthesized from materials other than petroleum--even
from elemental carbon and hydrogen-such alternatives entail great
expense and enormous energy investments.15 For example, far more
energy is required to assemble a petroleum molecule than is released
when that molecule is burned.
A final qualification must be placed on these fuel estimates: they
refer to gross energy stored in a fuel deposit and nof to net energy
available to perform work. In recent years, concern has mounted among
energy analysts over the increasing energy investment required to produce, process,and deliver valuable fuels. Energy is needed to open mines
and wells, to build and operate power p!ants and refineries, and to
transport fuels and electricity from remote locations to major markets.
This energy investment must be subtracted from the gross energy in
unmined fuel to yield net available energy, the only energy that
The most accessibleenergy sourceswere tapped first, and increasing
energy investments will be required to obtain the remaining fuel. Oil
drilling goes deeper into the ground and farther into the oce2,nseach
year. Secondary and tertiary oil recovery techniques require prodigious
energy investments. Only a small fraction of coal can be strip-mined;
deep mines require larger energy investments to extract a smaller fraction of the coal in a deposit. When coal or oil shale is converted into
synthetic oil or gas, a major part of its gross energy is lost during the
Energy analysis, the new discipline that wrestles with net energy
issues, provokes considerable controversy; the field is just beginning to
attract the serious attention it deserves. One such controversy stems
from different energy accounting practices various energy analysts use.
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All analysts agree that the amount of energy used and lost at a coal
conversion facility should be subtracted from the gross energy total.
Most would further concur that the energy invested in building the
facility-in refining its metals, and fashioning them into the end struc#true-should also be subtracted. 3ut some argue that the energy needed
to train and support the plant’s workerb, Tnd even their families, should
be subtracted as well. The drawing of such boundary lines is largely
judgmental, though several conventions have been proposed.
A more difficult problem arises from the fact that energy has a
qualitative as well as a quantitative dimension. Two-thirds of the energy
in coal is lost in the processof producing electricity, but that electricity
can provide more and better illumination than can a simple lump of
burning coal. A warm lake contains far more energy than a small battery,
but it is difficult to power a pocket calculator with a warm lake. Such
realizations have led energy analysts to consider enthalpy and entropy,
the qualitative dimensions of energy, as they make their calculations.
Historically, fuel consumption rises have followed doggedly on the
heels of new discoveries, though with a lag time between discovery and
use. Each year more fuel is discovered than the previous year; after a lag
time, the consumption rate catches up. This pattern of rapid growth
pushes all mineral exploitation into the bell-shaped curve that Hubbert
plotted for U.S. oil extraction two decadesago. As long as production
increases regularly every year, those extracting the resource become
accustomed to growth and base their future plans upon expanding
mineral wealth. But when production peaksand then begins to taper off,
a society can be thrown into turmoil. If the decline is utterly unexpected,
the consequencescan be ruinous.
In 1492, the monarchs of Spain financed the explorations of Christo
pher Columbus to the New World. In the following century, mineral
wealth from these newly found lands catapulted Spain to the height of
its glory. Beginning in the r 52os, the flow of precious metals to the
Iberian Peninsula grew more or less regularly for seventy-five years,
making Spain one of the dominant states of Europe.17
In 1598, King Philip II died after a reign of forty years. Although
the nation had a heavy burden of debt, resulting from stalemated war,s
with England and Holland, the debt was not onerous in the face of
7&e Future of Fossil Fuels
Spain’s rapidly increasing prosperity. When Philip III assumed the
throne, Spain’s prospects seemed bright. Unbeknownst to the Spanish
rulers, however, the flow of gold and silver had already peaked: the next
seventy-five yearswere yearsof rather steady falloff in production. However, traditional Spanish agriculture and small industry had languished
during the nation’s yearsof aggressiveascendancy,and were not successfully restored. The flow of precious metals had given Spain a golden
moment in the sun, but the unanticipated decline in looted treasures
brought the country to rts knees.
The Spanish experience may hold special meaning for the contemporary world. The industrial nations have been shaped by the availability
of cheap, plentiful oil at least as much as Spain was by the flow of gold.
Unlike Spain, we can see the end ahead, and can choose to begin a
voluntary transition, but failure to do so will lead to a fate much like
The influence of our actions upon the future fossil fuel consumption
curve is a weighty issue, an issue involving the value we attach to our
progeny. Some fuel should certainly be saved for the future. But how
much? We are certain to run out someday. Should we consume at a rate
that will allow us to continue for fifty years? A hundred years? Five
hundred years?
Economists who try to answer questions like these do so by applying
a “discount rate” to their calculations. The higher the positive discount
rate, the less valuable future consumption is considered to be vis-&vis
present consumption. Most energy decisions are made using fairly high
positive discount rates. For example, a barrel of oil today is valued much
more highly than a barrel of oil scheduled for delivery a year from now.
A barrel of oil one hundred years from now has essentially no present
value. Little oil may be left in one hundred years, but the economists
assume that something else-such as synthetic fuels derived from coal,
or chemicals made from trees-will have replaced it. In fact, of course,
nothing may have satisfactorily replaced it, and in 296 our greatgrandchildren might be willing to pay a great deal for a barrel of oil.
However, since no one is willing to buy that barrel of oil today and to
set it aside for them, it will instead bc oought for $13 and consumed
immediately. This price, although five times as high as the prevailing
price a few years ago, is still low enough to ensure that global oil
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production will peak and begin its decline during our lifetime.
Of course, we are not in a free market situation. The oil cartel,
OPEC, has already decided not to produce oil as rapidly as is physically
possible. OPEC prefers to act as a rational, farsighted monopolytranslating long-term scarcities into short-term scarcities. At some point,
some of the oil-rich nations will find themselves with more income than
they can reasonably spend or invest. Indeed, some prominent Saudi
Arabians feel their country has already passed this point.
In addition to economic discounting, energy resource decisions are
influenced by what might be termed “political discounting.” Many
elected politicians consider the next election to be the most important
of all horizons; anything that produces ill effects beyond the next election matters little. Thus, all tax cuts precede elections, and consequent
i.&tion follows them. Votes are won by ensuring the greatest possible
current prosperity at the lowest possible prices, and political decisions
that impede consumption are exceedingly rare, while those that encourage rapid exploitation are the rule. The jingle of the cash register can
drown out the voices of the unborn.
While the world as a whole faces no current shortage of fossil fuels,
those areasin which energy demands have already outstripped domestic
supplies should immediately begin a transition toward use of renewable
sources. With only slightly less urgency, the remainder of the world
should follow suit. Unless we undergo a revolutionary change of direction, 8o percent of all the oil and gas on earth will be consumed by the
current generation. The cry “Aprds moi Ze d&Zuge” sounds as insane
coming from a single generation as from a single monarch.
THE 1950s and early 1960s~the U.S. Air Force invested
over $1 billion attempting to build a nuclear-powered airplane. Some
critics pointed out that it would be too heavy and cumbersome to be
militarily useful, others that radioactive debris would be scattered over
the countryside if the plane crashed. Still the Air Force pushed relentlessly on until 1962, when President Kennedy finally ordered the project
For two decades, commercial nuclear power has grown steadily,
spreading to more than twenty countries. It has acquired strong advocates in corporate boardrooms, labor union headquarters, and governmental energy bureaucracies. Nonetheless, a potent worldwide political
constituency has come to view commercial nuclear power as President
Kennedy viewed the nuclear airplane-an idea that just isn’t going to
flyIn the mid-195os, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and
France all began operating nuclear reactors to generate electricity. The
Federal Republic of Germany began reactor operations in 1960, Canada
and Italy joined the club in 1962, and Japan and &eden followed in
1963. Also in this period, the People’s Republic of China began limited
weapons-related reactor operations, exploding its first nuclear bomb in
By 1970, the list of nations with commercial nuclear facilities had
lengthened to include Switzerland, the German Democratic Republic,
the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, and India. Sirire then, Pakistan, Taiwan, Czechoslovakia, Argentina, and Bulgaria have joined the ranks,
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bringing the total to twenty-one. In 1976, nuclear power accounted for
21 percent of all electricity generated in Belgium, 18 percent in both
Sweden and Switzerland, 13 percent in Great Britain, and 9.4 percent
in the United States.
By 1977, the world’s 204 commercial reactors had a combined capacity of 94,841 megawatts of electricity-up more than tenfold in ten
years. Planned additions would quickly multiply that capacity almost
eightfold to 569,544 megawatts, derived from 682 reactors. By the end
of the century, fifty or more countries could have a combined generating
capacity of more than 2 million megawatts.1 However, such development is beginning to look exceedingly unlikely.
In much of the industrialized world, the future of “the peaceful
atom” has grown cloudy. In the spring of 1973, the Swedish Parliament
called a halt to nuclear power development while the government initiated a public education program. By the time of the final governmental
decision on May 29, 1975, a majority of Swedes opposed the construction of more reactors. A parliamentary coalition voted f u limit future
nuclear construction to two reactors beyond those already planned at the
time of the moratorium.2 In September of 1976, a strongly anti-nuclear
new prime minister, Thorbiom Falldin, was elected.
The number of reactor orders annually placed in the United States
reached a peak of 36 in 1973, declined to 27 in 1974, and plummeted
to 4 in 1975. As of mid- 1976, no new reactors have been ordered.
Indeed, cancellations and deferrals outpaced new reactor orders in the
United States by more than 25 to 1 in 1975. Even as numerous states
debate nuclear moratoria and other restraints, a de facto national moratorium appears to be in effect.
Nuclear development has hit shoals all around the world. In Japan,
it has been snagged by a series of lawsuits ard by widespread protest
rallies. Japan’s first nuclear-driven ship, the Mutsu, developed a widely
publicized radiation leak during a trial run in September of 1974. To the
south, an Australian coalition of environmental groups and trade unions
has brought nuclear development to a standstill. Australia has no plans
to build domestic reactors, and the public is debating whether the
country should even export uranium. Widespread nuclear opposition has
also surfaced in England, France, Germany, Austria, Denmark, and
New Zealand, and evidence suggeststhat quiet opposition exists inside
the Soviet Union.
Nuclear Power
The Canadian government continues to laud the virtues of its
CANDU (Canadian Deuterium Uranium) reactor, but public opposition has mounted rapidly in recent years. Much opposition arose in
response to India’s decision to construct nuclear explosives out of
plutonium produced in a reactor supplied by Canada.
In the early 197os, as nuclear construction faltered in much of the
developed world, nuclear vendors turned to lessindustrialized countries.
Corporations seeking to recoup enormous research investments entered
into fierce competition for Third World reactor orders. Yet, for most
poor countries, a capital-intensive, highly centralized, and technically
complicated source of electricity is a tragically inappropriate investment.
A generally accepted guideline is that no single power plant should
represent more than 15 percent of the capacity of d power grid. Otherwise, the shutdown of a single power plant can imp;lir the entire system.
By this rule of thumb, only those countries havmg at least 4,ow megawatts of installed capacity on a single transmission network should even
consider a single small ((!&-megawatt) ractor. Argentina, Brazil, Egypt,
India, Korea, Mexico, and Venezuela are the only (developing countries
that could currently support even one such nuclear plant. Nuclear vendors are hungry for new markets, however, and are therefore willing to
offer much more liberal credit arrangements than would generally be
available for alternative technologies. The U.S. Export-Import Bank, for
example, has made loans of about $3 billion in support of American
nuclear salesin eleven countries. The largest credit ever approved by the
Eximbank was in support of the recent sale of a Westinghouse reactor
to the Philippines.3
International nuclear sales are generally made \on the pretext of
fostering energy independence. But far from freeing poor countries from
OPEC’s influence, nuclear power will make poor countries even more
dependent upon rich ones for fuel and technology, since the global
distribution of high-grade uranium ore is even less equitable than the
distributioil of oil. Eighty-five percent of non-Communist uranium reservesare concentrated in just four countries: the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Australia. Access to enrichment and reprocessing
technologies appears certain to be increasingly restricted.4 And nuclear
power is incomparably more complex and lesslabor-intensive than other
energy sources.As the Third World comes to appreciate fully the social
and economic consequencesof nuclear development, this growth mar-
Raysof Ho+
ket is likely to become limited to only those nations who seek commercial nuclear power as a step toward nuclear armaments.
In recent years, many nuclear problems have been widely debated.
Nuclear opposition originally arose during a dispute over the carcinogenic properties of ionizing radiation. With the passageof time, nuclear
opponents expanded their attacks to encompass problems of waste disposal, economics, fuel availability, and the safety of breeder reactors.
The literature on these issues fills volumes and grows daily. Several
comprehensive reviews exist, and this discussionwill therefore be limited
to a brief description of the crux of each argument.
Three new issues,however, warrant more attention. Although they
have not figured prominently in most national nuclear debates, all are
of paramount importance internationally, and none appears to have a
technical solution. First, the proliferation of commercial nuclear power
will almost inevitably lead to the widespread possessionof nuclear weap
ons. Second, it will heighten humankind’s vulnerability to terrorism.
And, third, it will foster the evolution of highly centralized technocratic
and authoritarian societies.
The environmental threats posed by the nuclear power cycle cannot
be fully measured without an understanding of the effects of radiation
on life at the molecular level-an understanding that is at present far
from complete.5 The radiation associatedwith nuclear power is emitted
through the spontaneous decay of reactor-produced radioactive materials. In addition to its 100 tons of uranium oxide fuel, one large modern
reactor contains about two tons of various radioactive isotopesdne
thousand times as much long-lived radioactive material as the Hiroshima
bomb produced.
,4s subatomic particles of radiation (X rays, gamma rays, alpha
particles, beta particles, and neutrons) shoot out from decaying atoms,
they collide with other matter, generally FTJjihelectrons. In such collisions, so-called “ionizing radiation” frequently jars the electron free
from the atom of which it is a part; this electron loss transforms the atom
into a positively charged ion.
Nuclear industry workers are exposed to more radiation than is the
Nuclear Power
general public. The need to make repairs on radioactive equipment poses
a particularly intractable risk. Any single worker can tolerate only brief
exposure; as many as six men have reportedly been required to remove
one nut from one bolt. Consolidated Edison, a New York utility, required a few minutes of work from each of 1,500 skilled workers to weld
and insulate six hot-water pipes at its Indian Point Number One plant.
When an accident partially destroyed the core of Canada’s Chalk River
facility in 1952, one of the imported technicians-each of whom worked
ninety seconds at the irradiated Chalk River reactor-was a young
American navy officer and nuclear engineer named jimmy Carter.
Should a nuclear accident occur, however, the public as we!! as the
workers could be imperiled by radionuclides. Even routine emissions
from a normally functioning fuel cycle may pose dangers. Lacking an
understanding of the molecular effects of radiation, we don’t even know
whether very low exposurescausedamage or whether there ii a threshold
below which exposure to radiation is harmless. Nuclear advocates say
that no danger has been proven; nuclear critics respond that safety has
not been proven. Both are correct.6
Radioactive Waste
No country has yet devised an adequate solution to the problems
posed by high-level radioactive waste. Such waste is of two basic types:
fission products and actinides. Fission products, which include strontium 90, cesium 137, and krypton 85, are produced when atoms of
uranium or plutonium are split in reactors. The principal fission products
have half-lives of thirty yearsor less,so 700 years from the time they are
produced only a negligible one ten-millionth remains. Actinides, such as
actinium, neptunium, americium, and einsteinium, are formed when
atoms of uranium or thorium absorb neutrons from the splitting of fissile
fuels. All actinides are highly toxic and have exceedingly long half-lives.
The most common actinide, plutonium 239, has a half-life of 24,700
years. The actinides are more toxic but much less radioactive (for the
first 500 years or so) than the fission products.
The principal nuclear waste accident to date occurred in 1958 at the
Soviet repository in the Ural Mountains near Blagoveshchensk. An
unexplained explosion blew radioactive materials sky-high, and strong
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winds distributed them over hundreds of miles. Soviet biochemist
Zhorzs Medvedev writes, “Tens of thousands of people were affected,
hundreds dying . . . *” though the Soviet government has never officially
admitted the incident.7
Most waste strategies are based upon the assumption that all types
of high-level wastes will be disposed of together. For the time being,
wastes are kept in surface repositories from whence they occasionally
leak, to the consternation of people living in adjacent areas.Radioactive
wastes from U.S. military operations have proven particularly troublesome. More than 4w,ooo gallons have leaked from the waste repository
at I-Ianford, Washington; smaller leaks have occurred at the Savannah
River facility in Georgia.
All long-term disposal strategies reflect the assumption that highlevel wastes will eventually be stored in solid rather than liquid form.
Mixed with twice its volume of inert material in a glasslike solid, the
high-level waste from a 1,ooo-megawatt reactor fills about 100 cubic feet
a year. The United States plans to store such waste in steel canisters,
each of which measures 3 meters long and 0.3 meters in diameter. If
current growth projections prove true, the American nuclear industry
could produce 80,ow such canisters over the next twenty-five years.
Orbiting satellites, arctic ice caps, and deep salt mines have been
suggested as permanent repositories for nuclear waste. The United
States government was forced to abandon its plan to create a dump for
high-level nuclear wastes near Lyons, Kansas, after the local salt mine
proved to have copious leaks. Salt-bed storage is currently being investigated by West Germany and Canada, while Sweden is experimenting
with disposal in granite and Italy favors disposal in clay.
Even low-level nuclear waste is proving troublesome. The volume of
low-level waste scheduled for production in the United States alone by
the year 2000 will, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, amount to about one billion cubic feet-enough to cover a
four-lane coast-to-coast highway one foot deep.8
Burial grounds for low-level waste have been selected without first
making hydrological and geological studies. Moreover, according to a
disturbing study by the U.S. General Accounting Office, “there is little
or no information available on the chemical or physical nature of the
wastes.” In early 1976, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Nuclear Power
found plutonium percolating through the soil at the burial grounds for
low-level waste at Maxey Flats, Kentucky.9
Much low-level radioactive waste is currently cast into the ocean.
Before 1967, this dumping went unsupervised. Between the mid-1940s
and the mid-r95os, the United States occasionally dumped radioactive
rubbish into both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, while Britain has
used the Atlantic as its dumping ground. Controls have been gradually
strengthened since the mid-#&, but the problem persists. In 1975, the
Nuclear Energy Agency supervised the dumping of 4,500 tons of lowlevel European nuclear waste into the Atlantic, 1,300 kilometers due
west of France. These drum-packaged wastes joined 34,740 tons of
nuclear waste previously dumped at this location.10
Nuclear Economics
Global nuclear development was initially spurred by the belief that
fission would provide a cheap, clean, safe source of power for rich and
poor alike. However, the dream of “electricity too cheap to meter” has
Nuclear power is not cheap. Donald Cook, chairman of American
Electric Power-the largest privately owned utility system in the United
States-believes that “an erroneous conception of the economics of
nuclear power” sent U.S. utilities “down the wrong road. The economics that were projected but never materialized-and never will materialize-looked so good that the companies couldn’t resist it.”
The costs of nuclear power are mostly at the front end-in research
and development and capital construction. Consequently, such power
facilities will necessarilybe at a severedisadvantage in a time of general
capital scarcity. And while all capital costs have been increasing dramatically in recent years, the cost increases of nuclear construction have
outpaced the risesin the construction costsof other power facilities. The
per ki1ow;iI.t price of U.S. nuclear facilities rose two-and-one-half times
as much between 1969 and 1975 as did that for coal-fired power
The true cost of nuclear power has been confused by the quasi-public
nature of much nuclear research and development. The costs of decommissioning radioactive facilities, the costs of regulation (including effec-
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tive safeguards),and the cost of safe disposal of wastes are all generally
ignored. Moreover, the typical reactor produces power at just over onehalf of its designed capacity, owing to shutdowns and slowdowns for
safety reasons. A study of nuclear costs by physicist Amory Lovins
revealed that nuclear power requires a total investment of $3,000 per
kilowatt of net, usable delivered electric power. In other words, lighting
a single loo-watt bulb by nuclear power requires a $300 investment.12
Projected nuclear growth in the United States through the year zoo0
could require more than one-fourth of the nation’s entire net capital
investment. In some developing countries, the cost of a single reactor
may exceed the amount of the nation’s total annual available capital.
Such investments represent grievously injudicious use of scarce capital.
Uranium Availability
Uranium is not a plentiful substitute for scarce oil and gas. Total
non-Communist uranium resources available at $60 per kilogram have
been estimated in a 1975 study by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency
and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at about 3.5
million tons-about half of which was reasonably assured.Three countries control 80 percent of current non-Communist production: the
United States, with 9,mo tons per year; Canada, with 4,700 tons; and
South Africa, with 2,600 tons. Eighteen other countries have discovered
small uranium deposits, but the total from these countries represents
only 15 percent of the non-Communist resource base. (Public information is not available on the uranium resourcesof the Soviet bloc or of
the People’s Republic of China.)13
The 236 reactors currently operating or planned for construction in
the United States will consume at least 1 million tons of uranium oxide
over their lifetime. The 800 U.S. reactors sometimes projected to be in
operation by the year 2000 will cumulatively demand over 2 million tons
through that year, and will demand 4 million tons altogether during
their operating span. These fuel demands-projected by the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration, and challenged as far
too low by others-outstrip the economically recoverable reservesof all
known non-Communist uranium suppliers.
What holds true for the United States is, in this instance, even more
emphatically true for the world. While cumulative demand for uranium
oxide in the United States could total 2 million tons by the year 2000,
cumulative non-U.S. demand is expected to exceed that amount. Proposed non-U.S. reactors will themselves have a lifetime demand far in
excessof the world’s known deposits of economical uranium. Low-cost
ores over and beyond those now postulated may well be unearthed; on
the other hand, most of the estimated resource base is hypothetical, and
actual deposits could easily fall short of the estimates.
Without breeder reactors, known uranium reserves obtainable at
reasonable prices will not long support nuclear development. Of course,
as prices rise, the amount of uranium recoverable will also rise. But
exploiting low-grade ore incurs heavy noneconomic costs. In the United
States, uranium is now mined from westerr%sandstone, in which it
comprises 1,000 parts per million. In the lower-grade Chattanooga shale,
uranium constitutes only 63 to 80 parts per million-less uranium than
the tailings currently being discarded from uranium milling operations.
Of that minuscule amount of uranium, less than I. percent is fissionable
U 235; the rest of the uranium cannot be split to release energy.
The energy cost of extracting so little fissile fuel from so much ore
may topple the nuclear industry. Although one preliminary study suggests that a net energy gain is still possible, such a gain may not be worth
the effort and may not represent a judicious investment of manpower
and capital. Ton for ton, Chattanooga shale contains less energy than
does bituminous coal, and the environmental costs of uranium extraction from such ore will be high.
Reactor Safety14
A 1,~megawatt reactor, after sustained operations, has about 15
billion curies of radioactive material in its core. The heat of decay from
this material constitutes about.7 percent of the reactor’s thermal output
(the other 93 percent coming from the fission reaction).15 While the
fission processcan be regulated, radioactive decay cannot. The decaying
core can only be cooled. Uncooled, the core would grow so hot that it
could melt through its containment vessel,and would then continue to
melt its way down into the earth. This “loss of coolant accident”
(LOCA) has been the focus of most of the reactor safety controversy.
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There is no question but that such accidents can occur. The questions,
rather, are how dangerous a meltdown would be and how frequently a
meltdown would be likely to occur.
A once secret 1957 report prepared by the Brookhaven National
Laboratory for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission concluded that the
worst possible reactor meltdown could kill 3,4oc1people, injure 43,ooo,
and cause$7 billion damage. By 1964, larger reactors were on the market
and an updated Brookhaven report upped the estimated toll, claiming
that 27,000 people could die, that $17 billion worth of damage could
be done, and that an area the size of Pennsylvania could be contaminated. A study conducted by the Engineering Research Institute of
the University of Michigan for the owners of the Enrico Fermi reactor
outside Detroit found that the worst accident likely to occur with this
relatively small breeder reactor could cost 133,000 lives.
None of these studies dealt with the odds of such an accident
occurring. In 1972, the United States AEC sponsored yet another reactor safety study. 16 Known by the name of its principal author, the
Rasmussen study traced the sequences of events that could-as the
analysts saw it-lead to a LOCA, and assigned a probability to each
event and then to the sequences.The Rasmussenreport claims that a
core meltdown will occur a’bout once every 17,cm reactor years for
33,000 yearsfor boiling
pressurizedwater reactors, and about once .,ca’ery
water reactors. These calculations reflect the presumption that neither
God nor terrorists will intervene with unscheduled events and the belief
that Rasmussen’sthousands of assumptions about reactor components
are all correct. For example, the report maintains that the emergency
core cooling system (ECCS) will work successfully unless some pump,
valve, or other component fails. However, many experts doubt if the
ECCS can prevent a meltdown eYen when working perfectZy, and the
system has never been tested. 17
Doubtless, the most publicized result of the Rasmussenstudy was
a chart comparing the relative odds of a person dying from a nuclear
accident, being struck by lightning, being struck by a meteor, and so on.
Nuclear power, unsurprisingly, was found to be wondrously safe. The
catch, however, is that these charts consider immediate deaths only.
Professor Frank von Hippel of Princeton University points out that an
accident that causesonly 10 early fatalities by Rasmussen’scalculations
would subsequently cause 7,ooo cancer deaths, 4,000 genetic defects,
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and 60,000 thyroid tumor cases.It would also contaminate 3,000 square
miles of land.
Most of the immediate danger to human life posed by a serious
reactor accident arisesfrom the cloud of radioactive material that would
be released if the reactor containment vesselwere breached. The number of people exposedwould depend upon the population density in the
surrounding area, upon climatic conditions, and upon the effectiveness
of evacuation procedures. Sixteen million people live within a forty-mile
radius of the three reactors at Indian Point, New York. In February,
1976, Robert Pollard, the safety official directing regulatory activities at
Indian Point, resigned and announced on national television that Indian
Point Number Two was “almost an accident waiting to happen.”
The likelihood of a successful rapid evacuation of a congested area
containing several million people is equal to that of an apple falling
upward, and this is frankly admitted by the state officials. ‘What’s my
plan to evacuate Chicago?” asks the nuclear chief of the Illinois Office
of Civil Defense. “I don’t have one. There’s no way you can evacuate
Chicago.” In few reactor accidents has the public even been informed
that a potential danger existed until after the critical period had passed.
The head of civil defense in the Browns Ferry area didn’t hear about
a $100 million fire that incapacitated two r,zoo-megawatt reactors until
two days after the fire was put out.18
In November of 1973, a Swedish radio program describing a fictional
reactor accident in southern Sweden was broadcast. The resulting public
panic recalled the s’hock created by Orson Welles’ The War of the
Worlds some four decadesearlier. The phone system broke down under
the stress of calls, within ten minutes an enormous traffic jam had tied
up the countryside, and frantic citizens were reluctant to believe official
assurancesthat no accident had taken place.
The nuclear safety debate has been a source of great confusion to
the layman. One team of experts is lined up against an equally expert
opposing team, each armed with computer printouts and technical
jargon. Each tries to “prove” its case. But most nuclear issuesare not
amenable to proof; they are matters of judgment. It is impossible to
eliminate all risk, and determining the level of acceptable risk is an
ethicaI rather than a technical exercise.Consequently, the final decisions
are not scientific, but are, rather, social, political, and philosophical.19
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Breeder Reactors
Rhapsodie Fortissimo, Phoenix, and SNEAK are some of the names
given to prototypes of an exotic new technology that would produce
more fuel than it consumes.Breeder reactors perform a certain alchemy,
transforming atoms with no potential as fuels into entirely different
elements whose energy can be exploited. The leading breeder candidate
is the liquid metal fast breeder reactor (LMFBR), designed to transform
uranium 238 (the non-chain-reacting isotope that constitutes more than
99 percent of all uranium) into plutonium 239, a reactor fuel. Other
proposed breeders would convert thorium into fissionable uranium
The “doubling time”- the amount of time needed for a breeder
reactor to accumulate twice as much fissionable fuel as its initial inventory contained-is a critically important aspect of breeder development.
-----~ The more rapid the doubling time, the larger the amount of useless
U 238 the breeder will convert into valuable plutonium 239 during a
given operating period. Becausethe breeder converts otherwise valueless
material into fuel, it in effect increasesthe size of the uranium resource
base: more energy is obtained per unit of fuel mined, and lower grades
of fuel can be economically mined. If nuclear fission is viewed simply
as a stopgap or supplementary power source, the meager known resource
base of fissile fuels may be adequate, and the breeder may be justifiably
characterized as an expensive extravagance. If, on the other hand, nuclear fission were to become a major long-term energy option, breeder
reactors-with all their attendant problems-would be indispensable.
Fast neutrons causea vast atomic stir inside a LMFBR. This neutron
bombardment creates voids in the crystalline structure of metallic fuel
rods, swelling both the metal cladding and the fuel itself as a consequence. If fuel pins bow and touch as a result of this swelling, temperatures increase greatly at the contact points. Under some circumstances,
this heat could spread to other parts of the core and initiate melting.
The current breeder safety debate centers on whether or not the fuel
could become arranged in an explosive configuration during a core melt
(a condition known as “recriticality”) and blow the reactor apart (or, in
technical jargon, cause a “rapid disassembly”). Just how much energy
such an explosion would release is not known.21
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The easiest “solution” to the swelling problem is to design more
space (filled with sodium) between the fuel pins so that, even if they
bend, they won’t touch. However, the sodium flowing between the pins
slows down the neutrons and reduces the breeding rate. The contribution of the breeder to fuel supplies will be marginal unless the breeding
time is brought down substantially from the present forty-to-sixty-year
range. Thus, safety and speed are at loggerheads, for a cut in the
breeding time will require a closer fitting of fuel pins unless there is a
breakthrough in fuel technology.
In October of 1966, instruments on the Enrico Fermi reactor in
Lagoona Beach, Michigan, began to behave erratically. An LMFBR,
Fermi was the world’s first commercial breeder reactor. Suddenly, the
reactor’s radiation warning device registered an emergency. It was impossible to tell what was occurring in the reactor core, but the instrument readings supported the hypothesis that at least one fuel subassembly had melted. Safety was of special concern at Fermi because4 million
people resided within thirty miles of the reactor.
The Fermi reactor was successfully shut down. During the next
several days, experts were flown in from all over the world to speculate
upon what might be happening in the reactor’s core. The greatest fear
was that a damaged subassemblymight collapse into other parts of the
core, causing a secondary nuclear accident of catastrophic dimension.
Slowly, the deIicate operations were begun. More than a year and a half
of careful work was required before the cause of the accident could be
discovered: a triangular piece of metal installed as a safety measure had
worked loose, clogging the flow of coolant and causing four fuel subassemblies to melt. Tragedy was only narrowly averted.
Perhaps the greatest fear that breeder reactors inspire is that nothing
will go wrong, that the plants might be commercialized in a timely
manner and in an economical form, and that they might operate without
mishap. In this case, the world could come rapidly to depend upon
plutonium as a principal fuel. Some consequences of such an unholy
addiction will be explored in the next three sections.
Weapons Proliferation
In August, 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin
D. Roosevelt of the United States. “Some recent work by E. Fermi and
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L. Szilard which has been communicated to me in manuscriptform
leads me to expect that the element Uranium may be turned into a new
and important source of energy in the immediate future.”
The letter led to the Manhattan Proiect-a multinational undertaking that gave birth to the first atom bomb. Some idealistic supporters
of the project dared to believe that their efforts would lead to world
peace. With the threat of nuclear weaponry looming grotesquely in the
background, war would become unthinkable.
Since the explosion of the first nuclear device, the world has experienced scores of regional wars, and has twice set foot on the brink
of nuclear holocaust. During this period, the international nuclear arsenal grew to absurd proportions, desecrating the hope that our future will
be less war-tom than our past.
Today all five permanent members of the UN Security Council have
exploded nuclear bombs. So has India. Approximately fifteen more
countries are in what could be termed “near nuclear” status; they could,
no doubt, quickly produce nuclear weapons if they chose to do so.22
Virtually all nations agree that the widespread dissemination of
nuclear armaments would gravely jeopardize not only global stability but
perhaps even the survival of the human species. In the event of an
accidental or intentional nuclear war, the incredible impact of the initial
conflagration (the world’s nuclear arsenalstoday contain the equivalent
of 20 billion tons of TNT) would be followed by long-term radiation
damage, ozone depletion, and, possibly, major climatic shifts. Our ignorance of the effects of such a massiveassault on the global environment
is nearly total.23
After the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the United States and the
USSR became more acutely aware of the fragility of the nuclear age.
The following year, the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed.
In 1967, the Treaty of Tlatelolco prohibited the development of nuclear
weapons in Latin America. And on March 5, 1970, the Treaty on the
Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) went into effect.
Written by the United States and the Soviet Union, the NPT treaty
makes a good deal of sense from a superpower perspective. Both countries retain their vast arsenals,and each continues to manufacture about
three hydrogen bombs a day. Non-weapons states, however, are prohibited by the treaty from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Non-
Nuclear Power
weapons states are subjected to IAEA inspections; the nuclear powers
are not. The superpowers’ sole obligation is to make good faith efforts
to-ward nuclear disarmament. Virtually no non-nuciear power believes
that such efforts have actually been made.24
“If I had known in 1968 how little the nuclear powers would do over
the next six years [to control the arms race],” remarked one highly placed
senior dipiomat of a non-nuclear country, “I would have advised my
government not to sign the treaty.” Countries that have not signed the
treaty include India and Pakistan, Argentina and Brazil, Egypt and
Israel, China, South Africa, and France.
The regrettable fact is that the NPI offers nothing, or less than
nothing, to its non-weapons participants. None of the nuclear exporting
nations is willing to limit its nuclear exports to states agreeing to place
1a- AF
-da A- re-.vbuur..u,
a potential sale.Thus, parties to the NPT voluntarily relinquish a degree
of sovereignty, while non-parties have nuclear vendors beating down
their doors with offers of nuclear hardware.
The general disillusionment with NPT may be gauged by the record
of the long-awaited Five-Year Review Conference held in Geneva in
May, 1975. The prelude to the conference deserves note. India had
detonated her first nuclear device on May 18,1974. In June of that year,
the American president offered 6oo-megawatt reactors to Egypt and
Israel-two fiercely antagonistic non-NPT states. And the 1974 Vladivostok agreement between the United States and the Soviet Unionfar from upholding the superpowers’ NPT obligations to bring the arms
race to a timely conclusion-was widely perceived as a slightly modified
set of ground rules for the continuation of that race.25
Some of the flavor of the Geneva conference may be captured by
tracing the fate of an exceedingly modest proposed protocol under
which the nuclear powers would have agreed not to use nuclear weapons
against countries not having nuclear weapons, to assist non-nuclear
countries that were threatened or attacked with nuclear weapons, and
to encourage negotiations to establish nuclear weapon-free zones. The
nuclear powers refused this protocol out of hand-a traditional posture
for the United States, but a new one for the Soviet Union. Thus,
non-weapons countries that agreed to become parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty were unable to obtain assurancesthat the nuclear powers
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would not launch nuclear strikes against them! At about this time, James
Schlesinger, the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Nixon administration, publicly reaffirmed his nation’s willingness to use nuclear weapons
in response to a conventional attack.
The nuclear weapons states at the conference dismissed all proposals
made by developing nations, calling such proposals “political” in nature,
and urged instead that the conference limit itself to the technical problems of NPT implementation. By this, they meant the strengthening of
safeguards on nuclear material. But the nuclear powers provided no
concrete proposals as to how security might be tightened. They supported the concept of international nuclear power centers, but offered
oniy vague ideas about how these might be handled. Regional centers
able to serve Argentina and Brazii, India and Pakistan, Israel and the
Arab states struck many observers as problematical.
The conference, viewed from any perspective, was a failure. Shortly
after the meeting adjourned, West Germany announced its $4 billion
sale of a complete nuclear fuel cycle to Brazil, a non-party to the NPT.
Brazil had already proclaimed its intent to develop nuclear explosivesfor
“peaceful purposes” only, but Fred Ikle, head of the U.S. Arms Control
and Disarmament Agency, has noted that a very sophisticated warhead
could be tested in a “peaceful” explosion designed to build a dam.26
Adherence to the NPT holds no advantage for any country other
than a superpower, and development of nuclear explosivesarguably does.
China, virtually ignored by other governments until it exploded its bomb
in October of 1964, has since obtained a seat on the UN Security
Council and has become a respected force in the community of nations.
The Indian bomb, far from eliciting international opprobrium, evoked
only 3 spate of political cartoons and short-lived censure from two or
three countries. In India, the explosion greatly strengthened the domestic stature of the ruling Congress Party and of its leader, Indira Gandhi.
U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, visiting India five months after
the blast, asked only that India act responsibly on the export of nuclear
technology. Small wonder that in April of 1975, while introducing a bill
calling upon his country to construct an atom bomb, one Argentinian
legislator stated that “recent events have demonstrated that nations gain
increasing recognition in the international arena in accordance with
their power.”
Nuclear Power
The existence of nuclear weapons in some lands leads almost inexorably to their development in others. The Chinese bomb arguably
spawned the indian device, and the Indian explosion seems likeiy to
beget a Pakistani bomb. Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
growled that he will “never surrender to any nuclear blackmail by India.
The people of Pakistan are ready to offer any sacrifice, and even eat grass,
to ensure nuclear parity with India.” Even among the Japanese-the
only people ever to have suffered a nuclear attack-a broad consensus
holds that the advent of a Korean bomb would turn Japaneseantinuclear public opinion around overnight. Israel is widely believed to
have between ten and twenty small nuclear weapons. South Africa is also
thought by some to possessa modest nuclear arsenal. The ruling military
governments in many lands are no doubt aware of the strategic signifir9nre
rwml~~ -#ap;;s.
Y. ..YC.
There is almost certainly a threshold number of nuclear nations, the
existence of which would serve to convince holdout countries that continued abstinence is purposeless.At that point, wherever it is, the NPT
dam will break and the world will go nuclear. “I’m glad I’m not a young
man, and I’m sorry for my gmndchildren,” says David Lilienthal, the
first chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Such concerns
can only deepen: the reactors that U.S. manufacturers alone plan to sell
internationally over the next decade will produce enough plutonium
eQchyear to make 3,000 small bombs.
With so many near-nuclear states not parties to the NPTi with the
future of that treav clouded by uncertainties, and with the nuclear
exporting countries engaged in fierce competition for international markets, the future worth of the IAEA safeguards program is highly questionable. However, if only becausenuclear proponents generally express
great confidence in IAEA policing activities, the safeguards program
requires a brief examination.
Conceded by even its strongest admirers to be a shoestring operation, the IAEA safeguards program conducts inspections m 92 NPT
countries and in non-treaty states that have agreed to such inspections.
(All nuclear vendors except France now demand such inspections as a
condition of sale.) To accomplish this trying task, the IAEA employs 70
technicians and has a budget of about $5 million. The organization’s
primary regulatory activity is auditing records. The occasional on-site
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examinations it sponsors are ordinarily announced well in advance.
Besides its exceedingly modest scale and budget, four other major
problems hamstring the IAEA. First, a nation violating its commitments
would have to be remarkably inept to be caught in an auditing error.
When volumes of flssile materials are large, even a small margin of
uncertainty can lead to significant losses;and bomb-sized gapsare simply
not covered by existing safeguards.One percent of a pound of plutonium
won’t make a bomb, but one percent of a ton wi!l. When material is
converted to and from gaseous,liquid, and solid states-as the fuel cycle
requires- lossesand inaccuracies are inevitable. The United States probably has the finest nuclear safeguardsprogram in the world, yet cumulative US. losses of fissile material could fill an enormous arsenal. The
most significant lossesoccurred in the early yearsof the nuclear program,
but, as recentiy as December of 1975, a fuei fabrication piant in Erwin,
Tennessee, reported an auditing discrepancy involving 2o-40 kilograms
(44-88 pounds) of fully enriched uranium.
The second problem with the internationa :afeguards program is
that coups, revolutions, and other government upsets will often invalidate all agreements made by previous leaders. The United States flew
a secret team of experts into South Vietnam to de-fuel and then demolish that country’s only reactor shortly before the fall of the Thieu
A third weaknessof the NPT safeguardsprogram is that the IAEA
has no authority to take any action against violations other than to
announce them. Indeed, most countries consider occasional inspections
to impinge upon their sovereignty; few, if any, would grant an international police team the authority to confiscate bomb-grade material.
Finally, selling hardware necessarily means selling knowledge. Sales
of nuclear hardware are subject to safeguards, but duplicate facilities
built by the recipient countries will not be. Brazil, for example, is less
apt to build a bomb by sneaking material out of the German-built
facilities than it is to openly build similar facilities of its own for the
avowed purpose of developing peaceful nuclear explosives.Brazil’s rival,
Argentina, has ordered a large CANDU reactor from Canada. The
Canadian government required a pledge that CANDU-produced
plutonium would not be used for weapons. “It’s really a little silly,” states
a spokesman for the Argentine Embassy in Ottawa. “We’ll sign the
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agreement all right. But how do they expect to enforce it? Besides, we
wouldn’t dream of building a nuclear bomb-unless Brazil does.”
Six countries have now exploded nuclear devices. At least fifteen
other countries have the fissile materials and the technical competence
to manufacture bombs. Widespread weapons proliferation is sure to
foilow the rapid growth of commercial nuclear power facilities.
Nuclear Terrorism
Three materials with weapons potential play prominent roles in
nuclear power fuel cycles. Plutonium 239, made inside all existing commercial reactors, is highly toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, and expiosive.
Uranium 235 is the fuel of most existing commercial reactors, and
uranium 233 is prodllfier’
’ reactors containing thori-um. Spheres of
ub u m
Pu 239, U 235, and U 233, encased in a beryllium neutron reflector,
have critical massesof 4 kilograms (under 9 pounds), 11 kilograms, and
4.5 kilograms, respectively.27 Sophisticated implosion techniques can
lower the critical massrequirements considerably; for plutonium used in
implosion bombs, the official “trigger quantity” is about 2 kilograms. A
skilled bombmaker would require slightly less than these official figures
suggest.An amateur bombmaker could make a lesssophisticated weapon
employing correspondingly larger amounts of fissile material. A recent
report by the “watchdog” agency of the U.S. Congress, the General
Accounting Office, found that “even minimal and basic security precautions had not been taken” to protect plutonium. The report cited,
among other examples, “an unlocked and unalarmed building containing plutonium scrap . . . within 15 feet of an unalarmed fence.“28
Until ~970, the United States government purchased all the
plutonium produced in U.S. reactors. In 1970, the government got out
of the business, and private companies began stockpiling the material.
If reliance on nuclear power grows at the rate commonly projected, far
more plutonium will be produced in commercial reactors in the next
couple of decadesthan is now contained in all the nuciear bombs in the
world. Theodore Taylor, a nuclear safeguards expert, estimates that by
the year 2000 enough fissile material will be in circulation to manufacture 250,ooo bombs. If U.S. Atomic Energy Commission growth projections for nuclear power through 2020 were to be met, Arthur Tamplin
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and Thomas Cochran have calculated, the cumulative flow of plutonium
in the United States alone would amount to 200 million kilograms (MO
million pounds).
Once assembled,nuclear weapons could be rather convenient to use.
The dimensions of the Davy Crockett, a small fission bomb in the U.S.
arsenal, are 2 feet by r foot (0.6 meters by 0.3). The smallest U.S. bomb
is under 6 inches (0.15 meters) in diameter. Such bomb miniaturization
is well beyond the technical skill of any terrorist group, but no wizardry
is required to build an atom bomb that would fit comfortably in the
trunk of an automobile. Left in a car just outside the exclusion zone
around the U.S. Capitol during the State of the Union address,such a
device could eliminate the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the entire
line of successionto the presidency.
With careful planning and tight discipline, armed groups could
interrupt the fuel cycle at several vulnerable points and escape with
fissile material. The high price likely to be charged for black market
plutonium also makes it attractive to organized crime: sophisticated yet
ruthless, modern criminals have close links with transport industries in
many parts of the world. Perhaps most frightening is the inside thiefthe terrorist sympathizer or the person with gambling debts or the
victim of blackmail. A high official of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission had, it was discovered in 1973, borrowed almost a quarter of a
million dollars and spent much of it on racing wagers.
Quiet diversion of bomb-grade material may have taken place already. Plutonium has often been found where it should not have been,
and, worse, not been found where it should have been. Determining
whether or not weapons-gradematerial has already fallen into the wrong
hands is impossible. Charles Thornton, former director of Nuclear
Materials Safeguards for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, claims
that “the aggregate MUF [materials unaccounted for] from the three
U.S. diffusion plants alone is expressible in tons. No one knows where
it is. None of it may have been stolen, but the balances don’t close. You
could divert from any plant in the world, in substantial amounts, and
never be detected. . . . The statistical thief learns the sensitivity of the
system and operates within it and is never detected.”
It was long and incorrectly believed in the United States, as it is still
believed elsewhere, that building a bomb from stolen materials would
require “a small Manhattan project.” But Theodore Tay or, formerly the
leading American atom bomb designer, has described at length where
the detailed instructions for building atomic bombs can be found in
unclassified literature and how the necessary equipment can be mailordered. An undergraduate at MIT, working alone and using only public
information, produced a plausible bomb design in only five weeks.
Even if fissile materials could not be diverted, the operation of a
nuclear fuel cycle affords terrorists exceptional opportunities.29 In November of 1972, three men with guns and grenadeshijacked a Southern
Airlines DC9 and threatened to crash it into a reactor at the Oak Ridge
NationaI Laboratory if their ransom demands were not met. In March
of 1973, Argentinian guerrillas seized control of a reactor under construction, painted its walls with political slogans, and departed carrying
the guards’ weapons.
A former official in the U.S. Navy underwater demolition program
testified before Congress that he “. . . could pick three to five exunderwater demolition Marine reconnaissance or Green Beret men at
random and sabotage virtually any nuclear reactor in the country.
. . . The amount of radioactivity released could be of catastrophic
One visitor to the San Onofre reactor in California recently pulled
a knife marked “lethal weapon” and a bottle of vitamin pills marked
“nitroglycerine” from his pocket when his tour was next to the control
room, to demonstrate how easily the reactor could be penetrated. Various magazine articles have described how a saboteur might initiate a core
meltdown in a reactor.
Werner Twardzik, a parliamentary representative in West Germany, joined a tour of the ~~megawatt
Bilbis-A reactor carrying a
6a-centimeter (z-foot) bazooka under his jacket. He toured the world’s
largest operating reactor with the weapon undetected and presented the
bazooka to the power plant’s director when the tour e
Threats to destroy a reactor in such a way as to release much of the
radiation in its core numb the mind. Yet two French reactors were
bombed by terrorists in 1975, and several other facilities were bombed
in 1976. Between 1969 and 1976, ninety-nine separate incidents of
threatened or attempted violence against licensed nuclear facilities were
reported in the United States alone. A nearly completed nuclear plant
Rays of [email protected]
in New York was damaged by arson. A pipe bomb was found in the
reactor building of the Illinois Institute of Technology. The fuel storage
building of the Duke Power facility at Ocone was broken into. Seventysix additional incidents took place at government atomic facilities.
If the radioactive iodine in a single light water reactor (LWR) were
uniformly distributed, it could contaminate the atmosphere over the
lower forty-eight United States at eight times the maximum permissible
concentration to an altitude of about ten kilometers (six miles). The
same reactor contains enough strontium 90 to contaminate all the
streams and rivers in the United States to twelve times the maximum
permissible concentration. These materials could not be distributed so
uniformly, but the figures serve to indicate that every reactor holds the
perils of Pandora’s box.30
A large fuel reprocessing plant, in addition to being a handy source
of plutonium, would contain up to 500 times as much radioactive strontium as a reactor holds. If such concentrated and vulnerable sourcesof
radioactive material became the target of a nuclear explosive+delivered
by either a terrorist group or a hostile power-the deadliness of the
resulting hybrid would be formidable.
In addition to the perils inherent in the physically discrete stagesof
the nuclear fuel cycle, problems surround the transport of potentially
dangerous materials from stage to stage. Today such transportation is
frequently global in scope-witness the British agreement to reprocess
4,cmo metric tons of Japanesefuel. In 1974, in the United States alone,
1,532 shipments involving about 50,000 pounds of enriched uranium
and 372 shipments totaling about 1,600 pounds of plutonium were
made. The record of transportation foul-ups is legendary, and the future
danger from either accidental or willful mishaps is commensurate. Moreover, the security accorded even plutonium and highly enriched uranium
has been unpardonably lax.
In the general transport of non-nuclear goods, a loss rate of about
1 percent is common. A 1 percent loss of bomb-grade materials could
jeopardize world stability; 1 percent of the cumulative expected
plutonium flow through the year 2020 would be enough for 4oo,ooo
small bombs. Improvements are being made-including blast-off wheels
to incapacitate trucks in case of hijackings, and heavy containers that
are difficult both to steal intact and to break open. To prevent diversion
by skyjacking, some nations have decreed that no airplane may carry
enough fissile materials to create a bomb. Even today, however, intemational shipments of bomb-grade materials and nuclear wastes generally
travel unguarded and are subject to accidents or sabotage.
In time, the volume of transportation may be reduced thorough
greater regionalization. The constmction of huge self-contained nuclear
parks, each housing twenty or more reactors, has even been suggested.
In such parks, the entire nuclear fuel cycle could be contained within
well-guarded boundaries. Although this setup would reduce transportation problems, it would do so at a high price in terms of both the
vulnerability of such centralized facilities and their environmental impact.
Guarding against terrorism requires impossible foresight. Who in
1975 expected a group of South Moluccan extremists to hijack a train
in the Netherlands in order to bargain for the independence of the’
Moluccan Islands from Indonesia? Protecting ourselves against future
terrorism means nothing less than building a nuclear system able to
withstand the tactics of future terrorists fighting for a causethat has not
yet been born.
Nuclear Power and Society
The increased deployment of nuclear power facilities must lead
society toward authoritarianism. Indeed, safe reliance upon nuclear
power as the principal source of energy may be possible only in a
totalitarian state. Nobel Prizewinning physicist Hannes Alfven has
described the requirements of a stable nuclear state in striking terms:
Fissionenergyis safeonly if a number of critical deviceswork as they should,
if a number of peoplein key positionsfollow all oJftheir instructions,if there
is no sabotage,no hijacking of transports,if no reactor fuel pro&sing plant or
wasterepositoryanywherein the world is situatedin a regionof riots or guerrilla
activity, and no revolutionor war--even a “conventional” one-takes place in
these regions.The enormous quantities of extremelydangerousmaterial must
not get into the handsof ignorant peopleor desperados.No acts of Cod can
he permitted.
The existence of highly centralized facilities and their frail transmission tendrils will foster a garrison mentality in those responsible for their
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security. Such systems are vulnerable to sabotage, and a coordinated
attack on a !arge facility could immobilize even a large country, since
storing substantial amounts of “reserve” electricity is so difficult.
The peacetime risks would be multiplied in times of war. With the
proliferation of nuclear power facilities, risks that were previously restricted to atomic arms accrue to conventional weapons. Dr. Sigvard
Eklund, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency,
described the situation to the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1973:
I emphasizethat the maintenanceof peaceis a condition sine qua non for the
widespreaduse of nuclear power which is foreseen.A situation where power
reiMors abzveground wou!dbe the object of warfarefrom the air would have
unthinkable con&quences,as would, for that matter, fighting action among
someof the loo-odd warshipspropelled by nuclearpower.
Nuclear power is viable only under conditions of absolute stability.
The nuclear option requires guaranteed quiescence-internationally and
in perpetuity. Widespread surveillance and police infiltration of all dissident organizations will become social imperatives, as will deployment of
a paramilitary nuclear police force to safeguardevery facet of the massive
and labyrinthine fissile fuel cycle.
Widespread nuclear development could, of course, be attempted
with precautions no more elaborate or oppressive than tbse thai k-.-,Q
characterized nuclear efforts to date. But such a courr;e would assurean
eventual nuclear tragedy, after which public oF;nion would demand
authoritarian measuresof great severity. OrweiIian abrogations of civil
liberties might be imposed if they were deemed necessary to prevent
nuclear terrorism.
The capital-intensive nature of nuclear development will foreclose
other options. 31 As governments channel streams of capital into directions in which they would not naturally flow, investment opportunities
in industry, agriculture, transportation, and housing-not to mention
those investments in more energy-efficient technologies and alternative
energy sources-will be bypassed.
With much of its capital tied up in nuclear investments, a naticn
wil!l have no option but to continue to use this power source, come what
may. Already, it has become extremely difficult for many countries to
turn away from their nuclear commitments. If current nuclear projec-
Nuclear Power
tions hold true for the next few years, it will be too late. Falsified reports
have been filed by nuclear-powered utilities seeking to avoid expensive
shutdowns. When vast sums are tied up in initial capital investments,
every idle moment is extremely costly. After some level of investment,
the abandonment of a technology becomes unthinkable.
In a world where money equals power, large investments in nuclear
technology will cause inordinate power to accrue to the managers of
nuclear energy. These managerswill be a highly trained, remote technocratic elite who make decisions for an alienated society on technical
grounds beyond the public ken. They will test C. S. Lewis’s contention
that “what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power
exercised by some men over others with nature as its instrument.” As
nations grow increasingly reliant upon exotic technologies, the authority
of the technological bureaucracies will necessarily become more complete. Some energy planners now project that by the year 2oaa most
countries will be building the equivalent of their total 1975 energy
facilities eyery f/rree Yeats. Although central planners may have no difficulty locating such a mass of energy facilities on their maps, they will
face tremendous difficulties siting them in the actual countryside of a
democratic state.
A nuclear world would lead to increased technological dependence
among nations, especially as the nuclear superpowers conspire to keep
secret the details of the fuel cycle. Worldwide dependence upon nuclear
power could lead to a new form of technological colonialism, with most
key nuclear personnel being drawn from the technically advanced countries. The enormous costsof reactors will result in a major flow of maney
from poor countries to rich ones.
As the finite remaining supply of petroleum fuels continues to
shrink, the need for a fundamental transition grows ever more urgent.
The nuclear Siren is at present attracting much interest, but it is to be
hoped that her appeal will prove short-lived. Vigorous conservation
efforts aeezompaniedby a heroic commitment to the development of
benign, renewable resources would be a more judicious course.
It is already too late to avoid widespread dissemination of the engineering details underlying nuclear power. What can still be sought,
however, is the international renunciation of this technology and all the
grave threats it entails. Although the nuclear debate has been dominated
Raysof Hope
by technical issues, the real points of controversy fall in the realms of
values and ethics. And the heart of the issue is the threat of ho?ocaust.
Commercial nuclear power was viewed by many of its key developers
as a way of atoning for the sin of nuclear weaponry. For two decades,
peaceful nuclear power enjoyed almost entirely favorable media coverage. Only in the last few years has it become clear that reactors and
bombs are inextricably linked. As Jacques Cousteau has written,
“Human society is too diverse, national passions too strong, human
aggressivenesstoo deep-seated,for the peaceful and warlike atom to stay
divorced for long. We cannot embrace one while abhorring the other;
we must learn, if we want to live at all, to live without both.”
Even today, many optimists view nuclear power as an obvious, necessary, and desirable step forward. But when civilization stands at the edge
of a cliff, a step forward doesn’t make much sense.
An Enemy-EficientWorld
investments in increasing the energy efficiency of buildings, industries, and the transportation system
will save more energy than expenditures on new energy facilities will
produce. This applies to both rich lands and poor. Continued growth
in per capita fuel consumption can only imperil the developed world,
and “anticipatory conservation” should be a keystone of Third World
development. Ironically, the fossil fuels we now devour at an astonishing
rate are composed of the leftover food of that prime example of immoderate growth-the dincaur. Rather than learning from history’s mistakes, we are burning the evidence.
Most countries assumethat their fuel requirements will continue to
grow for the foreseeable future.1 If the need for an eventual energy
ceiling is admitted, the day of reckoning is always thought to lie beyond
the horizons of official projections. In chart form, the expected growth
in fuel requirements is frequently depicted as an expanding wedge, still
winging exponentially skyward in the last year of the forecast.
Such studies, and there have been scores, do not cap an in-depth
examination of a spectrum of alternative policies. They make no attempt
to grapple with the question “What can be?” They ask only “Where
do we seem to be heading?“2 Projections are judgments made today
about tomorrow using data generated yesterday. If the smooth flow from
yesterday to tomorrow is disrupted, the projection will prove erroneous.
Economist Thomas Schelling has identified this problem as “a tendency
in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable.” Schelling says that “the contingency we have not considered looks strange;
Rvs of Ho#e
what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not
be considered seriously.” An Arab oil boycott, for example, was considered too unlikely to warrant a place in anyone’s calculations until history
made it a fact.
Because fuel supplies have been fairly flexible, past predictions
tended to be self-fulfilling. A high level of demand was forecast; the
necessary power plants and refineries were built to meet the posited
demand; the fuel and electricity were consequently made available; and
the forecast was borne out. Current forecasts, however, have cantilevered such enormous projections of future usage off such small factual
basesthat the ceilings must eventually topple. To meet these projected
levels of demand, thousands of nuclear reactors, countless miles of strip
mines, and a large fraction of all available capital would be required. The
inevitability of such projections coming true has, therefore, been met
with increasing skepticism. Most official forecastscontinue to claim that
twice as much fuel will be “needed” fifteen years hence as is used today.
But more and more people are beginning to ask: Needed for what?
Energy consumption and human well-being do not go hand in hand
like Jack and Jill.3 This common misconception is based upon a presumed relationship between fuel consumption and Gross National Product, and it suffers from three faults. First, the GNP has been largely
discredited as a measure of social welfare; second, fuel consumption is
a woefully inadequate index of energy use; and, finally, the relationship
between GNP and fuel use is remarkably variable among countries and
over time.
The GNP-the quantity of goods and services produced and exchanged in the marketplace-is widely accepted as an economic indicator. It is the measure of national economic growth in Nepal as well as
in West Germany. However, it provides only partial insight into the
well-being of a society. The GNP is a strange agglomerate of goods and
evils, of servicesand disservices-all of which have nothing in common
except that they causemoney to change hands. The GNP measureswith
the same inhuman eye the costs of school systems and the costs of
prisons for those the schools fail, the costs of nuclear weapons and the
costsof diplomatic efforts to persuadepeople not to use them. The GNP
is not reduced by the terrorist bombing of a crowded airport, but it grows
as the bodies are buried or mended and the bricks reassembled. It does
7?ieCasefor Conservation
not shrink along with unique ecological habitats or non-renewable resources,or pale as pollutant wastesare disgorged into the public air and
water. The GNP provides no indication of how goods and servicesare
distributed-probably the single most important dimension of social
welfare. Nor can a GNP reflect the vital signs of a nation: the pulse of
its institutions, the wisdom of its public servants, the strength of its
families, the freedom and happiness of its people. In Herman Daly’s
phrase, the GNP measures “only what can be counted, not what
Just asGNP ignores the qualitative dimensions of life, fuel consumption statistics exclude important qualitative aspects of energy transactions. Discussions of energy requirements in terms such as “barrels of
oil-equivalent” can be misleading because, while fuel is consumed, energy-so the First Law of Thermodynamics says-is not. Energy is
merely used to perform work. After being used, it still exists. After a unit
of fuel has been consumed, the energy it contained takes another form
(e.g., electricity, light, motion, or heat). However, use itself does render
energy somewhat less useful.*
As energy is used, it degenerates into lower-grade heat. Television
sets get hot; light bulbs get hot; automobile engines and tires get hot.
Heat flows from warmer to cooler objects in a relentless pursuit of
equilibrium, becoming ever more dilute and disorganized. As physicists
say, its entropy increases.This inexorable increase in entropy is the crux
of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law thus explains
why a given quantity of concentrated, highquality (low-entropy) energy
is more useful for some types of work than is an equal amount of
law-quality energy.
Most studies of energy use deal only with its quantitative dimension.
They consider the flow of Btu’s (or calories or joules) used in a given
process,but they do not distinguish among relative entropy levels. They
thus ignore the most important aspect of the energy flows they analyze.
Even if one valued the purely quantitative notions of fuel eonsumption and GNP as analytical tools, the relationship between the two is
too ambiguous to be used in policymaking. The amount of fuel needed
to produce one dollar’s worth of GNP varies by a factor of more than
loo, depending upon what good or service is being produced.6 Energy
itself--electricity, oil, and gas-is obviously the most energy-intensive
Raysof Hope
of goods, followed by products such as cement, aluminum, and miscellaneous chemicals. Medical servicesand mechanical repairs, on the other
hand, require relatively little energy for each dollar spent. Energy-intensivenessvaries with both the mix of goods and services in a country’s
GNP and the efficiency with which that mix is produced. Sweden and
West Germany, with about the same GNP per capita as the United
States and Canada, use about half as much fuel per capita.7
From the end of World War II until 1974, the amount of fuel
consumed per unit of GNP has generally decreasedin the industrialized
world, even though the real cost of fuel declined. Technological innovations and shifts in the kind of outputs comprising the GNP account in
large part for this trend. In 1920, fully 141,000 Btu’s were needed per
dollar of GNP in the United States. But by 1973 only 89,000 Btu’s were
associatedwith each dollar of GNP. The ratio of fuel use to GNP could,
concludes -nomist John Meyer in a study for the Conference Board,
continue to fall by 2 percent per year without injuring the economy.8
The Energy Policy Project of the Ford Foundation contends that if U.S.
fuel consumption were to level off in 1985, the GNP in the year 2000
could still be within 4 percent of what it would be if fuel use grew at
its historic rate.
Energy is just one of many largely interchangeable factors that
contribute to economic production. Much of the recent exponential rise
in fuel consumption was causedby cheap fuel being substituted for labor
or materials. Fuel use can be cut substantially, without affecting the
GNP, if only this substitution is reversed.
#Like certain vitamins, energy is invaluable to a point, sometimes
neutral in its effects after that point has been reached, and actually
harmful in large quantities. Eventually, such hidden costs as environmental deterioration, resource exhaustion, and structural unemployment begin to heavily outweigh the marginal benefits.
Energy and Equity
In 193 1, John Maynard Keynes followed a long tradition among
economists-a tradition that encompassed both Mill and Marx-of
distinguishing between those economic products that are truly needed
and those that are merely desired:
The Casefor Conservation
Now it is true that the needs of human beings may seem to be insatiable. But
they fall into two classes--thoseneeds which are absolute in the sensethat we
feel them whatever the situation of our fellow human beings may be, and those
which are relative in the sensethat we feel them only if their satisfaction lifts
us above, makesus feel superior to, our fellows. Needs of the second class,those
which satisfy the desire for superiority, may indeed be insatiable; for the higher
the general level, the higher still are they. But this is not so true of the absolute
needs-a point may soon be reached, much sooner perhaps than we are all of
usawareof, when those needsare satisfied in the sensethat we prefer to devote
our further energies to noneconomic purposes.
Perhaps two billion people around the world are still striving to meet
Keynes’ first category of needs.Satisfying the absolute needsof all should
be the first order of business in a humane and just world. Fortunately,
to the extent that these absolute needs require energy, it can be readily
provided from easily tapped natural flows.
Above this level, poverty is a matter of wants rather than needs, of
spirit rather than body. This is not to say that this kind is less legitimate
or less important to people-merely that it is distinguishable. Persons
suffering a poverty of wants are “poor” only in comparison with others
who are “rich.” If someone earns !$5,ooo and everybody else on the
street earns $so,ooo, that person is poor. But if someone earns $5,000
and everybody else in the neighborhood (or city or nation) earns only
$500, that person is rich. Thus, any legitimate “cure” for poverty will
have to alter the relative distribution of income and wealth.
It is often held that growth will make redistribution painless. During
his Great Society days, President Lyndon Johnson once told his cabinet,
“Boys, there’s going to be enough for everybody, and that means the
folks we have to take a little from won’t miss it so much.” Yet during
this period when fuel consumption and almost any other material indicator signaled enormous growth, precious little income or wealth changed
hands in the United States. Consequently, the absolute gap between
rich and poor-measured in deflated dollars-grew larger.
A handful of countries, chiefly European, have used the fruits of
growth to advance the relative well-being of the disadvantaged. However, none has had the distributional successof China, which had little
or no per capita growth during its period of leveling. In most countries,
the wealthy prosper most during periods of growth. In agrarian countries
Raysof Hobe
the poor often find themselvesworse off in absolute terms during periods
of rapid national economic growth. If poverty is the enemy, only political weapons can fell it: confiscatory inheritance taxes, universal floors
and ceilings on income, and other social and economic levelers.
Growth as an Institutional Force
Within some limits, a commercial enterprise can be adjusted to
achieve any or several different goals: it can maximize profits, employment, output, or security. The energy industries have largely sought to
maximize growth, often at the expenseof other objectives. To encourage
growth, rates and prices have been structured in ways that reward high
consumption. They have conveniently ignored most environmental and
health costs.
From the viewpoint of the energy producer, investments in growth
have a substantial advantage over investments in conservation: new
facilities produce a tangible, salable product. Although the sameamount
of money invested in conserving energy would often save more energy
than can be produced by investments in new facilities, this conserved
energy (which would otherwise be wasted) is energy that has already
been counted by the producer as sold. The energy company and its
stockholders, for whom a dollar burned is a dollar earned, are generally
unenthusiastic about “returned merchandise.”
The understandable drive to sell increasing amounts of energy has
unfortunate consequences.For example, electric utilities have no incentive to match energy types with appropriate uses.Becausethey sell only
electricity, electricity is hawked for all uses. Utilities first encouraged
extravagant consumption for appropriate usesof electricity (e.g., lighting). Later, as the “live better electrically” campaign took hold, they
couldn’t resist pushing inappropriate uses (e.g., space heating) as well.
For most artificial lighting, no better energy source than electricity
exists. But artificial lighting itself often becomes too much of a good
thing. Lighting requirements were minimal until the industry lobbied
tirelessly to shed more and more light on things. William Lam, a Massachusetts architect and lighting consultant, has described how lighting
standards for U.S. schools rose from three foot-candles in 1910, to
eighteen by 1930, to thirty by 1950, to between seventy and 150 today.
7fie Casefor Conservation
Similar increases took place in office buildings, hospitals, and other
public buildings.
Lights give ofi more heat than illumination. The most efficient
fluorescent lamps convert only about 20 percent of the electricity they
use into light, casting off the remainder directly as heat. And incandescent bulbs are only about one-third as efficient as fluorescent ones. By
the late 195os, so much heat was being generated by the lights in some
commercial buildings that air conditioning was needed even in winter.
The sales manager of the Georgia Power Company has explained why
this phenomenon warms his heart along with buildings:
_. . if we can get the heating, the other loads come rather easily. If we sell high
level lighting, we’ve got the heating. We also have a much bigger air conditioning load than we otherwise would have had. We also have a high load factor
heating system that operates all year long! The air conditioning will operate all
year long! me current lighting standards] will get you the totally electric job.
. . . It is the inside track, the sure thing we have been looking for.
Fuel shortages, enviror\mental constraints, political opposition, and
a growing unwillingness to commit most of their discretionary capital
to the construction of new energy facilities have forced many nations
to question whether burgeoning Btu consumption is in their best interest. In virtually every country the search has begun for comprehensive
energy-conservation strategies.
A society intent upon reducing its fuel consumption can turn to both
technical solutions and social solutions. Technical solutions require essentially no behavioral alterations-merely changes in the types of machinery we utilize, or in the way we use it. Social solutions, on the other
hand, require changes in the way people live and act.
Technical Approaches9
Two basic kinds of technical approaches are leak plugging and machine switching. Leak plugging eliminates the waste in existing technologies, while machine switching involves the replacement of existing
devices with more efficient ones. To insulate a house is to plug a leak;
to replace an electrical resistance furnace with a heat pump is to switch
machines. To tune up a car is to plug a leak; to trade it in for a more
fuel-efficient model is to switch machines.
Raysof Hope
A lessobvious kind of technical solution involves the careful thermodynamic matching of the task at hand with the energy sourcesbest able
to perform it &hout generating waste. Initial “compatibility” studies
in several countries have uncovered enormous inefficiencies; high-grade
useful energy is habitually treated 3s a waste product and discharged into
the environment. A group of physf+ts who scrutinized the efficiency
of U.S. energy use in terms of the Second Law of Thermodynamics for
the American Physical Society pesged the country’s over-all thermodynamic efficiency at between 10 and 15 percent.‘c Cars were found to
be 10 percent efficient, home heating 6 percent, air conditioning 5
percent, and water heating only 3 percent efficient.
A thermodynamic eiiiciency of 100 percent is an idealized and
impossible standard. Moreover, decisions cannot be made on the basis
of thermodynamic efficiency alone; economic costs, environmental
costs, and the costs of human time must a9 be balanced in a wise
strategy. Nonetheless, an efficiency as low as 10 to 15 percent should
raise eyebrows. Doubling it to a mere 20 or 30 percent would cut the
U.S. energy budget in half without changing anything other than the
usefulness of machines and processes,and recent studies confirm that
such a move is practical.”
Every country uses most of its energy as heat. In many, heat comprises ever 90 percent of energy demand, while in the United States the
figure ranges closer to 60 percent. In industrialized countries, much of
this heat is obtained by burning fossil fuels at moTe than 1,000 degrees
Centigrade+ften to heat water or air to lessthan 100 degreesC. Even
worse, these fuels are often converted at 40 percent efficiency or lessinto
electricity, which, after transmission and distribution losses,is used in
domestic hot-water heaters. Using electricity to heat water is akin to
killing houseflies with a cannon; it can be done, but only with a lot of
messy,expensive, and unnecessaryside effects. It would be much more
thermodynamically efficient to reserve the high-temperature heat and
electricity for tasks that require them, and to use residual heat for
lower-grade purposes, like heating water. Alternatively, low-grade heat
could be pumped from another source and upgraded just the last few
degrees by burning fossil fuels.
Finally, finite fuels can be replaced by sustainable energy sources,
drawing upon the natural flows of energy that will circulate through the
The Casefor Conservation
biosphere whether or not they are tapped by human beings. At present,
we tend to ignore the sun and the wind as power sources,or to use our
fossil fuels to resist their effects. Instead, we could harnessthem to meet
human energy requirements.
Probably the strongest single impetus for technical approaches to
conservation has been economic. In both industrialized and rural societies, a dollar invested in energy conservation can make more net energy
available than a dollar invested in developing new energy sources. Eric
Hirst calculates, for example, that investments in improving air conditioner efficiency can save ten times as much electricity as similar investments in new power plants can produce. Arjun Makhijani has shown
how a $10 investment in improved stove e6ciency can cut an Indian
family’s wood consumption in half-saving $10 to $25 per year. Neither
example entails a loss of benefit or comfort. Both save far more energy
per dollar than investments in new energy sources could produce, and
the energy saved is just as valuable as new energy produced.r2
The economic advantage of such conservation speaksfor itself, especially in a period of general capital shortages. Roger Sant, former assistant administrator of the U.S. Federal Energy Administration, has argued that a $500 billion investment in energy conservation would save
the United States twice as much energy as a comparable investment in
new supplies could produce. Of course, every society has large investments sunk in existing buildings and machialery, and sizable savingscan
be achieved through conservation only gradually, as existing capital is
replaced by newer, more efficient items. But such investments should
not blind us to the ad*ran+
.,,.,ages of beginning the gradual changeover to
wise energy management now.
Social Approaches
The most elementary of the “social” approaches to energy conservation might be thought of as belt tightening. This conservation tactic
generally refers to minor changes in life style that are mostly neutral in
their effect on people but that are occasionally inconvenient or irritating.
Belt tightening involves, for example, such things as turning off unnecessary lights, driving cars more slowly, and using commercial or residential
herting and cooling systems more sparingly.
Raysof Hope
Social approaches might also include cooperative endeavors: car
pools, public transit systems, apartment buildings, joint ownership or
rental of infrequently used items, and so on. A four-person car pool uses
only about one-fourth as much gasoline as do four cars driving the same
distance, and most apartment house walls, since they are shared, retard
heat loss to the outdoors.
The final social approach to energy conservation involves exchanging
energy-intensive devices for those that require lessenergy. The evolution
of living habits is already evident in the general shift of most industrial
societies from an emphasis on goods to an emphasis on services.It could
lead to the substitution of low-energy activities like gardening or education for high-energy activities like skydiving. Their proponents frequently call low-energy life styles ways of “living lightly on the earth.”
Undertaken by entire societies, such social changes could cut fuel consumption down to size by reshuffling the components of the GNP.
The Politics of Conservation
The case for conservation is compelling. This does not, however,
mean that effective programs will inevitably or even probably take
shape.13 In fact, in a report entitled “Energy to the Year 1985,” the
Chase Manhattan Bank claims that there is no scope for conservation
whatsoever, even in the United States.
It hasbeenrecommendedin somequartersthat the United Statesshouldcurb
its useof energyas a meansof alleviatingthe shortageof supply.However,an
analysisof the usesof energyrevealslittle scopefor major reductions without
harm to the nation’s economy and its standard of living. The great bulk of the
energy is utilized for essential purposes-as much as two-thirds is for business
related reasons.And mostof the remainingthird servesessentialprivate needs.
Conceivably,the useof energyfor suchrecreationalpurposesasvacationtravel
and the viewing of televisionmight be reduced-but not without widespread
economic and political repercussions.There are some minor usesof energy that
could be regarded as strictly non-essential-but their elimination would not
permit any significant savings.
This statement, and others like it made by the energy industry and
its financial backers, simply ignores the physical and technical
phenomena of the world around us. Because those who draft such
7he Cise for CMLvation
reports assum#an efficient marketplace has elimirLated all waste, they
fail to note l#ky buildings, inefficient machinery, and workers’ disinclination to s&e money for management. They also ignore the fact that
credit c&&a systematically channel capital to big projects (like power
plants) &her than to small ones (like home insulation)-even when the
small $es would bring a higher energy yield.
The fundamental flaw in the Chase statement is that it confuses
energy conservation with curtailment. Curtailment means a cold house;
conservation means a well-insulated house with an efficient heating
system. Curtailment means giving up automobiles; conservation means
trading in a seven-mile-per-gallon status symbol for a forty-mile-pergallon commuter vehicle. Energy conservation does not require the
curtailment of vital services;it merely requires the curtailment of energy
Recent economic history, especially in the industrialized world, has
been molded by Chase-style thinking. And the past is widely presumed
to be prologue to the future. This presumption guides the elaborate
computations of most modem forecasting, and it underpins much of our
conventional wisdom. But, as RenC Dubos has written, “Trend is not
destiny.” Calamities and booms can intrude upon e smooth curves of
extrapolation; people and nations can rethink the direction and alter
For students of energy policy, the future is not what it used to be.
Consumption patterns for commercial fuels, after two decades of unbroken exponential growth, have changed radically over the last two
years. Even more fundamental discontinuities seem likely to appear in
the near future. Momentous conflicts loom between habits and prices,
between convenience and vulnerability, between the broad public good
and narrow private interests.
A comprehensive program of energy conserva on initiated today
will allow the earth’s limited resource base of big -quality fuel to be
stretched. It will enable our descendants to shar in the earth’s finite
stock of fossil fuels. It will make an especially critical difference to those
living in underdeveloped lands where the marginal benefit per unit of
fuel used is far greater than it is in highly industrialized countries.
Energy conservation will allow a portion of the fossil fuel base to be
reserved for non-energy purposes:drugs, lubricants, and other materials.
Rtzysof Hope
The energy cost of manufacturing such substances from carbon and
hydrogen when our existing feedstocks have been exhausted will be
Energy conservation will allow us to minimize the environmental
degradation associatedwith all current energy conversion technologies.
It will decreasethe odds that we will crossclimatic thresholds, triggering
consequencesthat may be devastating. It will provide the opportunity
to avoid reliance upon objectionable energy sourceswhile the search for
safe, sustainable sources continues.
Energy conservation could lead to more exercise, better diets, less
pollution, and other indirect benefits to human health. An enlightened
program of energy conservation will substantially bolster employment
levels. And the security of a modest energy budget is more easily assured
than that of an enormous one that depends upon a far-flung network of
Recognizing that circumstances have changed fundamentally, the
world can undergo the transition into a new era without tumultuous
upheavals.But should we fail to come to grips with the new energy status
quo now, the world may permanently forfeit that chance. The newly
recognized potential for energy conservation is a challenge and an opportunity. In the past, conservation was viewed as a marginal activity of
dogooders. Today, saved energy is the world’s most promising energy
5 WdttsfOrDinner: FoodmzdFzlel
person usesabout as much energy
each day as a steadily glowing loo-watt bulb. This energy, measured as
the calories in food, is in fact stored solar energy. Like all other animals,
Homo sapiens cannot capture sunlight directly and must depend upon
plants to gather radiant energy and to make it “edible.”
Through photosynthesis, plants convert sunshine into chemical energy. Using only about one-sixth of the energy it captures to sustain
itself, a plant stores the remaining five-sixths in chemical bonds. Sooner
or later, these bonds are broken by animal metabolism, fire, or the slow
processesof decay.
Human beings cannot use all the energy available in the chemical
bonds of plants. For example, less than half the dry massof a corn plant
is grain. Most of the energy in the portion that can be digested is not
retained by human beings either; most passesthrough and remains
stored in excrem,Fnt.About to percent of the potential energy in digestible food is all human beings usually retain.
The sunlight plants capture works its way through the animal kingdom along food chains, losing energy at each level. The longer the chain,
the lower the percentage of original energy available at its terminus. The
energy lossesalong one such food chain have been described by Lamont
For example,1,ooocaloriesstoredup in algaein CayugaLake canbe converted
into protoplasmamounting to 150 calories by small aquatic animals. Smelt
eating theseanimalsprcduce30 caloriesof protoplasmfrom the 150. If a man
Rays of
[email protected]
eats the smelt, he can synthesize six calories of fat or muscle from the 30. If he
waits for the smelt to be eaten by a trout and then eats the trout, the yield shrinks
to 1.2 calories.
Human beings stand at the top of many food chains. We eat other
animal and vegetable species, but are rarely ingested ourselves. As we
grow more prosperous, we tend to select the components of our diet
from farther up the food chain. As we ascend, the energy indirectly
contained in our diet risesas well. Postwar Japan saw a great rise in meat
consumption; a comparable phenomenon now appears to be emerging
in some oil-exporting countries. Similarly, per capita intake of beef in
the United States has more than doubled in recent decades.As a general
rule, the wealthier the country, the more energy its typical diet contains.
In terms of energy efficiency, the history of agriculture has been a
story of near constant decline. Hunting and gathering societies, as anthropologist Marshall Sahlins observes,invest less energy in’ obtaining a
unit of food than do societies with planned cultivation. Indeed, domesticated food crops can become so dependent on human intervention
that some cannot even disperse their own seed or compete in a natural
ecosystem. Such crops require planting, cultivation, fertilization, and
In the early days of agriculture, the energy put into cultivation was
all derived from human muscle. Human beings, in turn, culled all their
energy from food. Unless the agricultural system had produced more
food energy than was expended in muscle power to grow the crops,
agriculture would have perished, and with it the first farmers. No creature can persistently spend more bodily energy to acquire its food than
it derives from that food; it must at least break even.
To the extent that a foraging animal, or a fuel-driven engine, was
substituted for muscular energy, the ratio of human energy invested to
food calories acquired diminished. At the same time, the ratio of tot2
energy invested to food calories acquired swelled. But since people could
not eat grassor oil, and since both seemed to be plentiful, total energy
accounting was not, until recently, given serious attention by farmers.
Ratios of food production to units of land, labor, fertilizer, or seedswere
often noted, since these factors obviously limited production. But fuel
was not considered a limiting factor and food production increaseswere
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generally achieved through the use of additional fuel. Today, Professor
David Pimental of Cornell University calculates, the average U.S.
farmer uses the energy equivalent of 80 gallons of gasoline to raise an
acre of corn1
As people moved off farms into cities, food had to be stored for
longer periods and transported farther. For example, as America became
increasingly a leisure society, the popularity of food became directly
related to its easeof preparation. Today, a vast food infrastructure, built
in large measurearound the food processing industry, delivers more than
three-fourths of U.S. food pre-washed, precooked, or otherwise prepared. The corporate kitchen has taken over many tasks traditionally
performed in the home-substituting fuel and machinery for human
Farming now accounts for less than one-fifth of the total energy use
in the American food system. The remaining four-fifths are used to
process,distribute, and prepare the food.2 Almost twice as much energy
is used to processfood (33 percent) as to grow it (18 percent). Another
30 percent of U.S. food-related energy is used for stoves, refrigerators,
trips to and from the supermarket. Wholesaling and retailing use 16
percent, while commercial transportation accounts for 3 percent. In
industrial countries, by far the greatest savings are to be made in food
processing and marketing, and in household preparation. However, the
farm also holds great scope for increased efficiency and for increased
reliance on sustainable energy sources.
Farm Energy
Two twentieth-century phenomena greatly expanded world food
demand: population growth and rising prosperity. Of the so-million-ton
annual increment in world grain consumption in recent years, 22 million
tons is swallowed up by population growth, while 8 million tons reflects
rising affluence. Roughly one-third of the world grain harvest is now
channeled into feedlots to fatten cattle, even though feedlot beef has
more saturated fats and less protein than grass-fed beef.3
Coping with outbreaks of starvation in the developing world has
become a principal focus of global humanitarian efforts; in 1966 and
1967, for example, more than one-fifth of the entire U.S. wheat crop was
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shipped to India to ward off famine. Such efforts-necessary in a crisis,
but unsatisfactory in the long run -seem particularly superficial since
virtually every country in the world has the physical resourcesto provide
its present population with an adequate diet. Serving the goal of a
hunger-free world, in part by initiating necessary land reforms, would
seem a natural and popular course for governments to pursue. However,
the record is dismal. Although every continent except Western Europe
produced a net food surplus in the 193os, continent after continent fell
into food deficit over the next forty years. Only North America and
Australia have surpluses today.4
Grain farmers in North America and Australia produce as much as
they do in part because they use so much fuel. North America and
Australia both use severaltimes more energy to produce, process,retail,
and prepare the food they grow than the food itself contains. Yet none
of the energy in the fuel is actually transferred to the food. Fuels used
in the food system merely substitute for labor, land, capital, rain, and
so forth-not for the sunshine from which food energy issues. If the
entire world ate food grown, processed,and distributed in the American
style, the global food system would consume most of the world’s total
fuel production, leaving little for industry, transportation, or even home
heating. Yet most of the world aspires to the American diet, and the
techniques used to produce the world’s food are becoming ever more
The problem of feeding the wodd’s hungry
- _ has sometimes been
misperceived as a technical problem, for which a technical solution is
nicely in hand. The last decade has seen a rapid global proliferation of
high-yielding varieties of grains (HYVs) and the energy-intensive cultivation methods these varieties require. This agricultural phenomenonoriginating in the industrial world, but widely applied in the Third
World-is commonly referred to as the Green Revolution.
Taking full advantage of the new miracle grains requires large
amounts of energy. High yields can demand chemical fertilizers and
pesticides, irrigation equipment, and farm machinery-all energy-intensive to make and use. Transforming traditional agriculture also demands
considerable up-front capital, so the primary benefits of increased productivity tend to flow to those with land, money, or political influence.
The Green Revolution originally appeared to many to be a timely
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answer to widespread hunger in an age of cheap, abundant fuel. Undeniably, it staved off certain starvation for millions of people. But in recent
years fuel has been neither cheap nor abundant. Instead, energy shortageshave constrained agricultural productivity increasingly. For international agriculture, fhe implications of this change can scarcely be exaggerated.
Rising demand for food in a world with limited naturally watered
fertile cropland is leading farmers everywhere toward energy-intensive
changes in their traditional practices. Chemical fertilizers are substituted for land, and irrigation is substituted for rainfall. While energyefficient practices must be encouraged, and the use of sustainable energy
sources promoted, all is futile unless population growth and rising meat
consumption can be con trolled.
As virgin agricultural land has grown scarce, farmers have begun to
use more and more chemical fertilizers to boost production on existing
farmss Since chemical fertilizers-and nitrogen fertilizers in particular
-are highly energy-intensive, energy consumption has risen with fertilizer use. U.S. corn farmers, for example, now use more energy per acre
in fertilizer (940,800 kilocalories) than in tractor fuel (797,ooo kilocalories). Fertilizer prices, unfortunately, have escalated steeply, since they
bear the imprint of oil and gas price hikes.
Natural gas, which is used in the manufacture of most nitrogen
fertilizer, is plentiful enough at the moment. In fact, the amount of gas
flared-that is, wasted-worldwide each year is twice the amount
needed to maintain the current world output of nitrogen fertilizer.
However, gas production in the continental United States peaked in
1974, and world gasproduction is expected to peak before the year 2000.
The price of natural gas has already begun to climb, reflecting this
long-term sc-ircity.
Responsi penessto large dosageso[chemical fertilizers is the premier
advantage of hrgh-yielding varieties; without such fertilizers, HYVs yield
little more per acre than do traditional crops. Hence, with the spread
of high-yielding ‘varieties has come the rapid expansion of chemical
fertilizer use. Fertilizer increments would bring the greatest returns in
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poor countries where little is now used. However, most poor nations
cannot easily afford to increase their use of fertilizer at the new high
prices. In 1975, American agriculture used about 20 million tons of
chemical fertilizer. By comparison, India, with about the same amount
of farmland and with two and a half times as many people to feed, used
only 3 million tons.
Substitutes for and complements to chemical fertilizers abound.
Traditional agricultural practices that were abandoned during the era of
cheap energy could, for example, be revived. Some are today making a
comeback deep in the U.S. breadbasket. Richard Thompson, who operates a 285-acre midwestern farm without using chemical fertilizers, uses
manure from his cows, and sewagesludge from nearby Boone, Iowa, to
enrich his land. He also plants and then plows under “green manure”
-legumes such as soybeans,alfalfa, and clover, which have nitrogenfixing bacteria in their root nodules. He carefully rotates his crops in a
regular cycle of corn, soybeans,corn again, then oats and hay-a practice
that also helps control insects and diseases.
When a team of scientists from Washington University studied
fourteen pairs of crop-livestock farms in the U.S. corn belt, it found that
over-all production on fourteen organic farms was lo percent lower than
production on fourteen farms that used chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The organic farms required about I 2 percent more labor per unit
of market value, but only half as much energy as their counterparts. The
financial returns were about the same for both groups of farms, largely
because of the savings on fertilizers.6 Many of Richard Thompson’s
neighbors, for example, invest as much as $80 per acre in chemicals, an
annual extra expense of $23,000 for farms the size of Thompson’s.
Seemingly newfangled, Richard Thompson’s farming practices have
two hundred years of “field tests” behind them. By the mid-eighteenth
century, Edinburgh, Scotland, was operating a sewage farm, and by
mid-nineteenth century extensive sewage farming had begun in Paris
and Berlin.7 In Wassmannsdorf, Germany, a system was devised in 1920
to pipe sewage sludge to farms, using pumps powered by methane
produced by the anaerobic digestion of the sewage. Today, Tel Aviv’s
sewage helps support fruit and vegetable production on the Negev
desert. Sewage has long been valued as a fertilizer in several Asian
countries, and in China nutrient recycling now approaches maximum
efficiency. (In an effort to furthe: boost yields, China has become the
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world’s largest importer of nitrogen fertilizer, and is currently building
ten giant fertilizer plants. However,’ chemical fertilizers always complement-rather than replace-organic fertilizers in China.)
Since nitrogen constitutes 80 percent of the earth’s atmosphere,
nitrogen shortagespose no threat. The trick is to remove nitrogen from
the air in a form that plants can use and that farmers can afford. In
natural systems, microorganisms that grow on the roots of some major
food plants, including soybeansand alfalfa, perform this task. A Brazilian scientist, Johanna Doebereiner, succeeded in cultivating these organisms on corn roots, a feat recently duplicated at the University of
Wisconsin. Such laboratory breakthroughs lead to speculation that corn
and other crops might someday satisfy much of their craving for nitrogen without using chemical fertilizer. While not without costs and risks,
such an approach could yield iarge energy savings if it proved successful.
In 18oq20 million acres of the world were irrigated. Over the next
century, the total swelled to about loo million acres. By 1950, about 260
million acres were irrigated, and by 1970 the total had increased to 470
million acres. The rate of expansion of irrigated land thus actually
outpaced the rate of human population growth.
The appeal of irrigation is obvious. Pumped water can allow parched
land to be cultivated, can parry the risk of drought, and can boost crop
yields. Virtually all crops benefit from a bountiful predictable supply of
water, and some of the more productive new crops need water at specific
times, making irrigation a necessity.
Where agricultural lands have underground water of reasonable
quality, tube wells should replace or complement streams and reservoirs.
Tapping the local water table directly, tube wells are not subject to
siltation, a processthat limits the life spans of dams and reservoirs and
that is kept under control in irrigation canals only through extensive
maintenance. However, tube wells can be abused. When water is withdrawn from a water table more rapidly than it collects, the table ceases
to be a renewable resource. In central Arizona, where industrial and
residential users meet farmers at the wellhead, the water table is falling
ten to twenty feet a year.
Water is heavy, and lifting it can require prodigious amounts of
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energy. Electricity use on U.S. farms rose from 15 billion kilowatt-hours
in 1950 to 39 billion kilowatt-hours in 1975. About three-fourths of the
1975 total was used for irrigation. Although modem irrigation systems
rely mostly upon non-renewable fuel sourcesfor power, they can also be
powered with renewable sources.The oldest of these faithful and everlasting sources is gravity, which captures rain at higher elevations and
tirelessly channels It downhill. Some two-thousand-year-old Roman
aqueducts still function admirably without ever having consumed a drop
of oil.
China, .with about 40 percent of the world’s total irrigated land, has
also put gravity to work. Four-fifths of its irrigated land depends upon
gravity-fed or animal-powered systems. These systems, usually constructed by agricultural laborers during the winter off-season,often lack
the capacity to sustain intensive cultivation, but they do protect the land
from moderate droughts.
A wide variety of renewable sources can be harnessed to lift water.
Simple wind power was the technology of choice until the advent of
cheap fuel and electricity. Today, windmills are enjoying a revival in
many countries. Traditional windmills are being modified to take advantage of modem aerodynamic theory and to utilize local materials.
Two other power options can be used in conjunction with irrigation
systems. Solar pumps, productive on hot days when water demand is
highest, are now being used in Mexico, Brazil, and Senegal, though
current designs remain economically uncompetitive except for areas
exceedingly remote from other power sources. Biogas, a mixture of
methane and other gasesproduced from animal excrement and crop
residues, may be a significant new fuel; already some conventional
pumps in India use this fuel.
Much more water is delivered to most irrigated fields than is needed
to sustain crops. As fresh water becomes scarce in more and more parts
of the world, irrigation techniques that use water more efficiently must
be devised. One possibility is trickle irrigation, a method in which 3 small
amount of water is delivered in a measured amount to each plant.
Trickling is costly, but it saveswater and energy and it offers an altemative to the profligate technologies that could well leave the world high
and dry.
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Farm Machinery
U.S. agriculture prides itself on its enormous productivity per
worker. Today, each American farmer feeds fifty of his fellow citizens
and, in addition, produces a surplus for export. Only one-tenth of one
percent of the world’s population works on U.S. farms, but they produce
almost one-fifth of the world’s grain.
If we consider agricultural labor as the amount of time spent to
produce a unit of output. a New York farmer spent 150 minutes producing a bushel of corn in the early twentieth century. In 1955, it took him
just 16 minutes. Today, he spends less than 3 minutes per bushel.
Worker productivity grew largely because fossil fuels were sub
stituted for human labor. In the United States, this development-at
least in its early stages- was fortuitous. Mechanized Farming reduced
the need for agricultural labor at the same time that industry required
an expanded work force. Between 1920 and 1950, the proportion of the
population involved in agriculture decreasedby half. In 1962, it halved
again. Now it has shrunk by almost half again, and more than 50 percent
of the remaining farmers hold second jobs off the farm.8
When Great Plains farmers traded in their draft animals for tractors,
they no doubt made a wise move. But the introduction of large-scale
mechanized farming in poor countries today can be economically inefhcient and socially disruptive. When the peculiar needs and conditions
of the recipients are ignored in a technology transfer, the “solutions” the
new technology produces may prove more troublesome than the problems it was supposed to solve. In those many countries in which 80
percent of the work force is engaged in agricultur 2, the objective must
not be to make every employed laborer as productive as possible, but
rather to make the most productive possible use of the entire labor pool.
The substitution of fuels and machines for labor in poor countries
has been frequently and understandably condemned. However, the situation is more complex than many critics have acknowledged. Because
: agriculture is a cyclical activity, the demand for labor ebbs and flows
throughout the year. Rice transplantation and grain harvesting, as just
two examples, demand an enormous labor pool, but demand it for only
relatively brief periods. The wide fluctuations in labor demand can be
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smoothed out with multiple cropping, which often requires irrigation.
But even a seriesof regular employment peakswill leave the bulk of the
labor force underemployed for much of the work year. Even as electrical
generating facilities in developed countries build the capacity to meet
brief peak periods of demand for electricity, so farmers throughout
much of the world raise families large enough to meet their peak labor
needs. The careful employment of appropriate technologies to shave
some of the labor demands from these peak periods would help to
smooth out the employment peaks, increase average labor productivity,
and reduce one major impetus to continued population growth. In many
cases,such technologies would also increase over-all food output.9
The suitability of a particular technology can be measured by its
impact on a culture. Accordingly, the purchase of sophisticated equipment may represent a misuse of scarce capital in developing countries,
However, use of such devices as the “walking tractors” or two-wheel
power tillers common in Japan and Taiwan, and a new Chinese invention for mechanically transplanting rice, may benefit an entire society.
As we approach the end of the petroleum era, the designersand users
of farm equipment must accord fuel efficiency a high priority, even as
they begin the transition to the use of alternative energy sources.Farming, more than any other commercial activity, has the capacity to become largely energy self-sufficient. The sooner the groundwork is laid for
agricultural fuel conservation, the more oil and gas will remain for other
Crop Drying
A final mafor use of energy on the farm is grain drying, a technique
that permits farmers to minimize field lossesby harvesting their crops
before they are dry enough to be placed in long-term storage. Highspeed grain drying can sometimes use more fuel than tilling, cultivating,
and harvesting the grain. Fuel consumption for U.S. tractors and combines generally ranges between five and fifteen gallons per acre. By
comparison, reducing the moisture content of 100 bushels of corn from
25 to 15 percent moisture content (from the harvesting stage to the
safe-storagestage) in high-speed dryers can require up to twenty gallons
of propane fuel. Solar energy can usually be employed for such grain
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drying, and suitable solar techniques are being developed in many parts
of the world.
Dying posesa particular problem in countries attempting to harvest
two rice crops during one monsoon. The first crop must be harvested
during the heavy rains. Since there is little sun during the monsoon
season, grain-drying equipment may have to be powered by methane
generated through anaerobic digestion of field residues and other organic matter.
Home Gardens
Home gardenshave proliferated throughout Europe and America in
recent years. City planners in many parts of the world are now incorporating garden-sized tracts in their designs. In New Bombay, for example, planners hope that each family will raise some fraction of the food
they eat. Two Indian journalists reported from China in mid-1976 that
wherever they went, they “did not spot even a tiny piece of earth which
was not put to use. Gardens attached to houses, even land between
telegraph poles and beside the railway track, all of which lie waste in
India, were cdtivated.”
As energy prices, and consequently food prices, soar, more back yards
and vacant lots in the industrial world are also being converted into
gardens. &ManyAmerican companies, churches, and schools have set
aside plots for private gp &s; half of all Americans now grow some of
their own vegetables.10The English tradition of public land allotments
has been revitalized; over half a million gardeners each have a 3oosqtnre-yard allotment in Britain, and each plot produces around $300
worth of vegetablesa year. Personal greenhousesare also making a rapid
comeback in the temperate zone as a means of lengthening the growing
A home vegetable garden saves energy in three important ways.
First, the gardener’s labor (called “recreation”) is substituted for gasoline. Second, compost piles provide rich fertilizer while simultaneously
reducing the amount of organic residential garbage to be hauled away.
Third, growing food at home eliminates much of the need for fuel for
processing, packaging, retailing, and transporting the farm-grown commodities. In addition, home gardens require fewer pesticides, partly
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because crops can be mixed to provide a less attractive target for pests.
Home gardens also cut down food waste; people who would not buy a
blemished tomato will eat one out of their own garden.
Non-Farm Energy Use
What happens to food after it leaves the farm affords the best
opportunities for saving energy in the food system. In the industrial
world, the food passesthrough an elaborate infrastructure in which it
is inefficiently processed,transported, stored before being prepared and
eaten by the consumer.11 In the Third World, the storage and preparation cf food by the consumer entail the greatest inefficiencies.12
The food processing industry, like other industries, grew up in an era
of cheap fue! prices. As a consequence, it usesenergy inefficiently. Most
of the energy it consumes is used in the form of low-grade heat, much
of which could be provided by elementary solar technologies.
One of the oldest of the food processing technologies is refining.
White flour was once universally considered superior to whole wheat
flour, as was refined sugar to unrefined sugar. When it was discovered
that white flour lacked basic nutrients contained in whole wheat flour,
the industry restored some of the lost nutrients to “enriched” flour.
Now, however, the evidence is mounting that this enriched flour is still
inferior, becausethe missing fiber content performs a vital health function. Energy is expended refining and then enriching white flour, yet the
final ?rJuct remains in many ways inferior to whole wheat flour.
The food processing industry must also take responsibility for the
“fast toad” concept. Once food was purchased at a store, taken home,
and cooked. Fast foods, however, are cooked at a factory, placed in
aluminum trays, sealedwith foil, quickly frozen, folded into a paper box,
shipped by freezer cars to supermarkets, stored in frozen food bins,
driven home, placed in the consumer’s freezer, and then eventually
cooked again in an oversized, under-insulated oven. The energy used on
the food after it leaves the farm is several times greater than that used
on the farm.
Food processors must shoulder blame for an explosive growth in
unnecessarypackaging too, a waste even more pointless than the circular
flour “enrichment” process.According to the U.S. Environmental Pro-
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tection Agency, “The consumption of food in the United States increasedby a.3 percent by weight on a per capita basisbetween 1963 and
1971. In the same period, the tonnage of food packaging increased by
an estimated 33.3 percent per capita, and the number of food packages
increased by an estimated 38.8 percent per capita.”
Packaging has doubtless reached its apex at the modem American
hamburger stand. There, a hamburger comes wrapped in cellophane,
surrounded by a circular strip of cardboard, and inside a multicolored
cardboard box that is itself placed inside a bag. This tawdry swaddling
is usually chucked into a plastic-bag lined garbage can (along with the
plastic containers for catsup and mustard, the paper containers for salt
and pepper, the paper napkins, and the salesslip) before the hamburger
is five minutes old.
Although over-refining, over-processing, and over-packaging should
be eliminated, the food processing industry can serve a legitimate function in an urbanized society. But enormous scope exists for improving
the energy efficiency with which this function is fulfilled.
Food retailing suffers from some of the same energy inefficiencies
that plague other commercial enterprises. Space heating and cooling
fixtures are poorly contrived; open entrances and exits are constant
drains on space conditioning systems, and so on. Other food retailing
problems are unique, including the energy drain of open-topped food
freezers, and the strain such freezers place on a store’s heating system.
Like “fast food,” the supermarket has altered energy tastes and
appetites. When neighborhood markets prevailed, trucks delivering food
had to make more stops, but the food was then purchased by people who
usually carried it home on foot. Now trucks deposit the food at a central
supermarket, and hundreds of two-ton private automobiles each transport thirty pounds of food and packaging from supermarket to home.
In the United States, cooking, refrigeration, home freezers, and car
trips to the grocery store account for about 30 percent of the total energy
expenditures on food-so percent more than farming does. In fact,
more than half the total electricity spent on food is used in homes to
power food-related appliances. While some domestic energy use has
been transferred to the food processing industry, many frozen foods now
require more energy use at home than did their unfrozen predecessors
-in addition to the energy used by industry to process them.
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Third World families also waste energy on food storage ard preparation. indeed, as a West African saying goes, “It costs as much to heat
the pot as to fill it.” Severe shortages of wood for cooking have grown
common in many poorer countries. In much of the Third World, the
wood each person uses for cooking in a year contains between 5 and 7
million Btu’s. By comparison, the energy content of the coal burned
annually to generate electricity for a typical electric stove in the industrial world totals about 3 million Btu’s, while gas stoves*without pilot
lights require only about 1 million Btu’s. The widespread use of more
efficient wood stoves could substantially reduce the escalating demand
for wood in the Third World. Biogas stoves could achieve even higher
efficiency, and small, cheap solar cookers need no fuel at all. Solar
cookers are being promoted in more than a dozen countries; one Indian
model, 1.4 meters in diameter, retails for $6.70. Pressure cookers, too,
require much less energy than do standard pots, and cheap, locally
produced pressure cookers could greatly improve fuel efficiency.13
The Distribution Problem
The current vogue in some circles is to reduce the food problem to
a single dimension: distribution. There is no question but that distribution is vitally important. The much heralded Chinese agricultural success,for example, may be correctly viewed as primarily a distributional
success.Though the per capita food available in the People’s Republic
of China in 1976 was only modestly greater than the amount available
in 1950, virtually no Chinese seem to suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Brazil, with a per capita CNP three times as high as China’s,
appears to have far more underfed people than China, especially in the
desperately poor northeast region. Hunger, a sign of extreme poverty,
reflects the inequitable distribution of a nation’s wealth aswell asover-all
Redistribution of land as much as redistribution of food is necessary
to alleviate global hunger. 14Land reform will grow even more important
as fossil frre!sbecome more expensive. Small decentralized farms afford
a great many options not available to latifundia, or agri-business conglomerates. Biggest may have been best i,nan era of cheap, concentrated
fuels, but a smaller plot holds more advantages in an age of increasing
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reliance on such diffuse energy sourcesas wind and crop residues. Biogas
plants and nutrient recycling are most effectively accomplished on a
family farm. And the employment that small farms offer can slow or
even reverse the mass migration of the rural poor to the cities.
Studies in many countries have found that small, labor-intensive
farms tend to produce more per unit of land than do giant farms. In
many Third World countries, an increase in the food produced per acre
is far more important than an increase in the number of acres a farmer
can cultivate. A wise land reform strategy can result in higher total food
production as well as more equitable distribution.
in North America, one- and twoperson farms large enough to take
advantage of mechanization have been found to be as efficient as, and
in some instances more efficient than, giant corporate farms. ihe love
the individual farmer has for his land, his capacity for the hard work
John Kenneth Galbraith calls “self-exploitation,” the intimate knowledge he acquires over decades of living on the soil, are simply not part
of daily life on the huge estates that are increasingly dominating world
agriculture. Viable small farms are also an attractive alternative to mushrooming urban complexes that depend utterly upon fossil energies.
While redistributing land would help eliminate hunger, it would not,
at current production and population levels, improve most diets beyond
mere adequacy. Much agricultural production has its roots in delicate
environments that cannot long sustain it. Growing populations and
declining fossil fuel sourceswill strain these limits more intensely. If the
rural poor are to move from survival to security, if they are to exchange
“get-by” meals for well-balanced, interesting diets, if they are to acquire
the surplusesand the diversification to ensure that their children will live
more comfortably, more than land ownership will have to be reformed.
The population explosion must be defused, renewable energy technologies must be widely disseminated, and environmentally sound, sustainable farming practices must be adopted.
Energy is rapidly becoming the most critical variable in the world
food system. Little good unused agricultural land remains to be brought
under cultivation. Farming marginal lands brings dire, and sometimes
irreversible, ecological consequences. Yet the productivity of existing
farmlands can be increased only through wise energy use.
Farmers should turn to renewable energy sources for an increasing
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fraction of their energy budgets, and should increase the energy efficiency of their operations wherever possible. But farming utilizes only
a few percent of all commercial energy, and far greater savings can be
made in other parts of the food system. Processing and retailing should
be made more efficient, and unnecessary processing should be eliminated. Energy used to transport, store, and cook food should be slashed
However, a more crucial human activity than the growing and preparation of food cannot be named. If the future allows us to choose
between using fuel for large automobiles or for farm tractors, between
building glassskyscrapersor irrigation systems,we must naturally choose
to do what we can to grow the food we need to survive.
travels farther and faster than the previous one. The sheer volume of transport-the movement of people and
freight-has swollen many traffic arteries to the bursting point. This
growth has been accompanied by a systematic shift of people and goods
to lessenergy-efficient modes of travel. Both trends have been somewhat
more dramatic in industrialized counties than in agrarian states, and
both are much more pronounced in cities than in rural areas. However,
to some degree the general patterns hold throughout the world. The
United States, where transportation now accounts-directly and indirectly-for 42 percent of dZ2energy use, is leading this trend. Transport fuel alone represents 25 percent of the American energy budget,
and an additional 17 percent is used to build and care for vehicles, to
construct and maintain roads, and so on.
This heavy commitment of energy resources to transportation is
troubling in itself, but the situation looks even more disturbing when the
nature of our energy resources is considered. Petroleum, the fuel that
existing transportation networks run on and the fuel that we are running
out of most quickly, is the most politically vulnerable of our principal
energy sources.More than 90 percent of all transportation in the industrial world depends upon petroleum products. With the end of the
petroleum era suddenly in sight, world transport must soon change
fundamentally. The problem of fitting transportation into our energy
budget is not merely one of designing more efficient systems; we need
new systems designed to survive the aftermath of the oil age.
The coming metamorphosis in transportation will involve more than
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trading in our present technologies for new ones. The contemporary
world has been shaped, to a greater extent than is generally realized, by
transportation systems based upon cheap oil. Our present patterns of
industrial development, of urban organization, of agricultural .: Y+;-..
tion, and of recreation are all petroleum products. As oil grows more
expensive, eventually becoming too dear to burn, change will be inevita-Y
ble. The only question is whether such change will be anticipated and
brought about smoothly.
A gentle weaning from petroleum will not be possible as long as
people tend to view increasesin transportation volume as signs of progress. Measured this way, the world has made enormous advances in
recent decades On a finite globe, however, it is possible to go only so
far before one begins running in circles. “The prime purpose of passenger transportation is not to increase the amount of physical movement,”
according to urbanologist Lewis Mumford, “but to increase the possibilities for human association, cooperation, personal intercourse, and
choice.” Futurist Hazel Henderson goes one step further, suggesting
that the volume of transportation may serveas an index of dysfunctional
social organization. In a well-planned society, people should not have to
travel long distances between their homes and their workplaces, favorite
shops, and recreational centers.
More important than determining the relative merits of buses and
subways,or of diesel motors and Stirling engines, is the need to structure
societies in ways that reduce the need for travel. Some insight into this
potential can be gained by comparing two industrial nations with different transportation mentalities. West Germans log only hdf as .many
passengermiles per capita as Americans. Since German fuel consump
tion wr passengermile is also about half that in the United States, West
Germany uses only 27 percent as much fuel per capita on passenger
transport as does the United States. Moreover, although American
freight transport useslessfuel per ton-mile than the German system, the
United States ships five times as many ton-miles of freight per capita
as does West Germany. The sheer volume moved in America overwhelms the advantage in efficiency.1
Such volume is desirable only if it is unavoidable. Societies could be
fashioned to minimize trancmdm
uP.ration needs. But for the last several
decades, cheap transportation has been substituted for thoughtful design.
Energy and Transportation
Modem cities, for example, have been built on the evanescent foundation of cheap oil. Roads, garages,parking lots, service stations, and car
dealerships occupy more than half the land in most large metropolitan
areas. The Wowof food, clothing, medicines, and other goods is lubricated by oil. Not accidentally, the greatest growth of the world’s cities
occurred in lockstep with the expansion of the world oil trade. Enormous
investments undergird these cities that, unfortunately, grew out of the
conditions of yesterday and are maladapted for tomorrow.
The price of oil, corrected for inflation, declined between the late
1940s and the early 1970s. The price of urban real estate shot up like
a balloon without a string during the same period, owing to migration
from rural areasand to the growth of central businessdistricts.’ As cheap
oil was substituted for expensiveland, people found it economical to live
in distant suburbs where land was cheaper and to commute long distances each day. Those who could not afford to live in the suburbs were
crowded into peripheral slums in numbers greater than the water, sewage, education, and transportation systems could handle. The average
distance traveled from home to work stretched. Urban expansion occurred in concentric rings that could not be efficiently served by public
transportation systems; swollen thoroughfares formed thromboses of
individual vehicles that threatened the survival of downtown areas.
Large, sprawling cities are not, by most lights, attractive places in
which to reside. Pollution, congestion, trafic perils, and frayed nerves
are synonymous with urban life the world over. As public transit deteriorates, those who cannot afford carsare left more stranded than ever. Too
much of what should be free time is spent trying to get somewhere.
Although cities can offer attractive economies of scaleand extnordinary
opportunities for human interaction, these features characterize cities
much smaller than most of the world’s principal metropolitan areas.The
energy costs and the myriad other problems of life in the big city often
grow faster than the population (and the tax base), creating a vicious
vortex of urban disintegration.
One alternative to continued unplanned urban expansion is the
conscious development of “new towns.” A recent study for the U.S.
Council on Environmental Quality indicated that planned communities
require only half the gasoline of typical “sprawl” communities. New
* b-ha-+e
nw,~+ LIUI~l
LA-. +L
towns afford a fresh start , P
L” yru1rr
Ulb mistakes of the
past and to experiment with new types of human settlement.2
Rays of Hope
In the new Swedish city of Jarvafaltet, industrial and other employment opportunities are confined to a linear area seven kilometers long
and one kilometer wide. This lengthy “downtown” is flanked on both
sides by parallel strips of housing interspersed with recreation and shopping facilities. Workplaces thus do not intrude into living areas,but each
house is relatively close to the narrow employment corridor. Travel
inside this corridor is easily accomplished by public transit. Spinal
growth is organic, and in linear developments the corridors can be
lengthened, easily and incrementally, as the city outgrows its strip.
Jarvafaltet has not banned cars, but it has consciously eliminated the
advantages of car-owning.3
A radically different approach is being taken at Milton Keynes, an
English new town. Elaborate computer simulations indicated to the
Milton Keynes planners that dispersed, as opposed to centralized, employment would hold many advantages for the townspeople. In a decentralized city, each person could reside in the immediate vicinity of his
or her job, and have the necessitiesand amenities of life clustered close
at hand. And at Stevenage, located thirty miles from London, living,
working, and shopping areas have been successfully integrated with
twenty-five miles of bikeways and a town center reserved strictly for
pedestrians. Studies have shown that Stevenage residents travel much
less than people in conventional English cities. Three out of four trips
in Stevenage cover less than two miles-a handy distance for walking
or biking. Only one out of ten trips exceeds five miles.
Transportation requirements can also be minimized by substituting
communication for travel. The energy needed to complete a telephone
call is a trifiing fraction of the energy needed to transport a person by
car or jet. A 1975 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce found
that 16 percent of urban automobile transportation in the United States
could be replaced by the use of existing telecommunications. New
techniques, including facsimile transmission, computer zommunications, and closed-circuit television can often be substituted for transportation when information rather than materials needs to be exchanged.
Some communications visionaries see recent technical advances as
the leading edge of a fundamentally different form of social organization. Marshall McLuhan writes of a “global village” and Peter Goldmark
advocates a %ew rural society”; each of them envisions more decentral-
Energy and Transportation
ized forms of social organization in which information, education, businesstransactions, and cultural events1can all be transmitted to and from
the far comers of the earth. Many of the apparent advantages that led
to the growth of major metropolitan centers pale in the light of new
communications possibilities. Shoulld the theorists prove correct, new
social organizations requiring lesstransportation and offering opportunities for greater utilization of solar energy resources may evolve over the
coming decades.The return of large numbers of people to small, rural
communities has become an important trend in many industrial countries, and a governmental objective in much of the Third World.
Of course, urban redesign and “global villages” provide few shortterm solutions to the problem of limited transportation energy. Even in
the long term, regardlessof how intelligently we restructure our cities,
or how assiduouslywe substitute communication for travel, substantial
transportation requirements will remain. These needs cannot long be
met by gasoline-powered internal-combustion engines; remaining petroleum supplies are too meager, and synthetic petroleum substitutes will
be too expensive. Nevertheless, the gasoline-powered automobile is not
likely to disengage its clutch overnight. Therefore, opportunities for
increased energy efficiency in automobiles-improved mileage and increased occupancy- need to be examined, as do future alternatives to
the automobile.
The automobile is the basic unit of the modern, industrial transportation system. This chrome-bedecked symbol of affluence is being embraced worldwide as rapidly as rising national incomes permit. Even the
People’s Republic of China is negotiating to manufacture a German
Between 1960 and 1970, the world’s population increased less than
20 percent, but the number of automobiles increased more than loo
percent. With a quarter billion cars, we now l-9
IIave one car for every
sixteen people inhabiting the earth.
That 100 percent growth spurt was not geographically even. Europe
and North America accounted for nearly three-fourths-the rest of the
world divided the remainder. Nearly as striking as the differences among
countries were the differences between urban and rural areas. Bangkok
has three-fourths of the cars in Thailand; Nairobi has 60 percent of
Kenya’s cars; and Teheran has half the cars in Iran. SBo Paulo, with one
Rays of Hope
car for every six persons, has about the same car-people ratio as New
York City.
The car cult has reached its zenith in the United States. Today the
United States has more licensed drivers than registered voters, and two
cars are delivered for every baby born. Motor vehicle and allied industries account for one out of every six jobs. In one way or another, the
automobile absorbs more than one-fifth of the total U.S. energy budget.
Detroit’s enthusiasm for big, powerful, full-optioned cars is easy to
understand.4 Car manufacturers do not sell transportation; they sell
vehicles: the more expensive the vehicle, the greater their financial
return. Price has traditionally been correlated with size, and no effort
has been spared to persuade Americans to trade up to larger, more
impressive machines. No particular rationale supports this pricing pattern. The principal costs of manufacturing-labor and overhead-are
almost the same for all cars, large and small. But a tradition developed
of selling large cars at high profits, and until recently much of the public
had been confused into equating size with quality.
For the last t,,.vo decades, the American automobile industry has
steadfastly bred behemoths. Consequently, when the Arab oil embargo
was announced, Detroit had no new small cars on its drawing boards.
General Motors borrowed a mini-car already in production in Europe
and South America and rushed it into the 1976 domestic lineup as the
Chevette. The thrifty Chevette soon became the modern equivalent of
an earlier American fue!-saver,the Tennessee Walking Horse. Bred for
an efficient gait, the animal was sold with the slogan: “A Walker goes
further, faster, and savesenough oats to get back again.”
The ; ltomobile has changed little in the past half century, even
though the world through which it travels has changed + .drmously.
Compare, for example, that new Chevette with a pre.iecessor.A typical
moderately priced 1915 car weighed a ton or less, ?nd had a fourcylinder, four-stroke, water-cooled, front-mounted engil-e that powered
the rear wheels through a drive shaft. It had a manual transmission with
three forward gears and reverse.All these were standard features on the
1975 Chevette. With the exception of the automatic transmission,
introduced on London buses in 1926, the automobile industry has not
come up with a major innovation in the last sixty years. The Chevette’s
engine is larger, of course, but the 1915 car could exceed all of today’s
Energy and Transportation
speed limits. Indeed, an automobile race held in 1908 was won by a car
averaging 128 miles per hour.
The evolution of the automobile, considered from the viewpoint of
energy efficiency, has been almost entirely maladaptive. Cars tend to be
oversized, overpowered, and encumbered with a multitude of accessories, most of which consume lots of fuel to help the driver avoid trifling
muscular or mental exertions. For example, to avoid occasionally moving
their feet and hands a few inches, many drivers pay extra for automatic
transmissions that decrease gasoline mileage by 10 percent or more.
The car facilitated modem metropolitan sprawl, but it is not always
beloved in the world it helped to make. As the urban environment has
gradually changed, hostility to the traditional automobile has mounted.
The respected French opinion poll SOFRES found that 62 percent of
the French favored banning cars from central cities. More than a hundred European cities have created auto-free downtown shopping areas.
Yet, what would we do without cars? It is hard to imagine Turin
without Fiat, Wolfsburg without Volkswagen. Ninety percent of the
families of Coventry, England, rely upon the manufacture of cars and
car parts for a livelihood. Closely linked to such other industrial giants
as the oil and steel industries-with change in one rippling through all
-the automobile industry has become one of the strongest conservative
forces in modem society.
Dramatic change is in the wind; faltering oil resourcesguarantee it.
Yet to date the automobile industry does not appear to recognize its
altered circumstances or to be preparing seriously for the post-petroleum
age. Some legislatures, on the other hand, are mandating minimum
levels of fuel economy, and a political debate over how far the shift
toward increased mileage can be pushed has begun in several countries.
The physicist’s conception of the efficient vehicle is one that operates without friction. At a steady speedon a level road, it would consume
no energy. Energy used for acceleration would be recovered during
braking; energy used for climbing hills would be recovered when descending. In the real world, of course, friction cannot be avoided: engine
parts rub one another; tires encounter road resistance; and the chassis
must push its way through resisting air. But car manufacturers could
approximate the physicist’s ideal much more closely than they do-
1( 112
Rays of Hope
witness the 377 miles per gallon achieved in the Shell Mileage Marathon
for automobiles.
Abandoning automatic transmissions would saveone-tenth of automotive fuel use.Switching to radial tires would saveanother tenth. Since
fuel consumption decreasesabout 2.8 percent for each loo pounds of
weight reduction, reducing the size of the average American vehicle
from 3,400 pounds to 2,700 pounds would save one-quarter of the
United States’ present gasoline use.A further reduction to 1,800 pounds
would reduce automobile fuel needs by nearly half. These smaller cars
would require smaller engines, which would cut fuel requirements still
more. s
A number of strategies and devices could be used to curb fuel waste
without curbing vehicles entirely. Streamlining automobile bodies would
greatly reduce air drag. For trucks, the potential fuel savings from
improved aerodynamic design alone have been estimated at from 20 to
30 percent. Slowing down on the highway will produce much the same
result, since air resistance increases exponentially when vehicles travel
at high speeds.Installing better ignition systemscould save much of the
7 percent of all automobile gasoline now wasted while cars idle. Moreover, csing new technologies such as flywheels could help us savemuch
of the fuel (30 percent of all that is used in urban driving) that is
dissipated in braking. Avoiding rapid acceleration and quick braking
would be even better, for calm, steady driving conserves fuel.
Room for similar improvement in automobile options abounds. For
example, cars are at present so poorly insulated that they require air
conditioners capable of cooling a small house. Insulation should be
substantially improved, and absorption air conditioners for automobiles
should be designed to run on waste heat from car engines.
A great many improvements, some of them quite imaginative, have
been suggested for the internal-combustion engine. Regardlessof such
first aid, however, this inefficient and inherently polluting engine faces
a bleak future. Eventually, it will run out of gas. Before then, it must
be replaced with a more efficient engine that does not guzzle a petroleum-based fuel.
One alternative to the internal-combustion engine that has captured
intermittent attention since the beginning of the auto age is the Rankine cycle, or “steam,” engine. Few external-combustion engines use
water these days, and research is proceeding on various other fluids with
superior operating characteristics. Now only its relative bulkiness and
long warm-up time need to be reduced. Unfortunately, because the
steam engine failed to compete effectively many decades ago, none of
the major auto manufacturers takes the Rankine cycle seriously today.
The Brayton cycle, or gas turbine, engine can run on almost any
combustible liquid. Already widely used on modem airliners, the Brayton cycle could be scaled down for use in personal transport. Existing
turbines require expensive precious metal alloys for some key parts, but
these may be replaced by ceramics. Researchon the gas turbine has been
most vigorously carried out by the Chrysler Corporation.
The Stirling engine has improved significantly since it was patented
in 1816 by Robert Stirling, a Scottish clergyman. Most recent advances
have been tied to the research of the large Dutch company, N. V.
Philips, which has outfitted several Swedish buseswith Stirling engines.
The engine employs an external flame to heat gas in a closed system,
which expands to power a piston. In the new improved version, heat is
then removed from the gasby a regenerator and stored to reheat the gas
during the next cycle. The efficient reuse of heat gives the Stirling
engine its fuel efficiency, and the clean external flame produces far fewer
emi-ssionsthan the explosive firing of the internal-combustion engine.
The New Concepts Research affice of the Ford Motor Company has
become intrigued with this “old concept,” and Ford executives hope
that their company will produce a commercial Stirling no later than
Some believe that Ford and its competitors are purposely dragging
their feet. A detailed technology assessmentmade in 1975 by an independent team of senior engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of
the California Institute of Technology urged that a billion-dollar transition from internal-combustion engines to Stirling and gas turbine engines be made rapidly. The conversion of the U.S. automobile fleet alone
could savetwo million barrels of fuel per day by 1985, the study found.
If the fuel savedwere gasoline, the savingswould amount to more than
$8 billion a year at today’s fuel prices. Either the gas turbine or the
Stirling engine is expected to cost only about $200 more than an internal-combustion engine of the same size, and this investment would be
rapidly recovered in fuel savings. Moreover, both engines could operate
Rays of [email protected]
on fuels ranging from peanut oil to perfume, including such possible
gasoline substitutes as ethanol, methanol, and hydrogen.
Hydrogen looks particularly attractive as a transportation fuel. It can
be obtained by breaking down water using several different renewable
energy sources, and its combustion residue is pure water. However,
hydrogen is hard to store for use in cars: it is difficult to liquefy, so large
volumes of hydrogen gas are needed if much energy is to be stored.
Interesting research is now being done on storing hydrogen as hydrides,
metallic compounds that release the gas when heated.
Electric cars have champions more powerful than they are, including
most of the electrical utility industry. Utilities at present need to make
major capital investments that produce power to meet “peak” daytime
demand but that remain idle at other hours. Widespread adoption of
electric cars would mitigate this problem, as most cars would operate on
their batteries during daylight hours and be recharged at night when
there is idle capacity. However, cost estimates for electric cars generally
neglect the fact that batteries are “consumed,” that they wear out, and
that their depreciation generally costs more per kilowatt-hour than electricity. A study by the Stanford Research Institute found that batteries
used in electric cars cost about ten cents a kilowatt-hour to run, excluding the cost of recharging.
Widespread use of electric vehicles would confine pollution to the
power plant and free us from dependence upon petroleum fuels. But,
to date, such cars have limited battery storage (hence limited range),
perform poorly in cold weather, reach only modest speeds,and accelerate slowly. New generations of batteries, including lithium sulfur and
silver zinc batteries, may overcome these difficulties. In 1974, for example, a motorcycle powered by a silver zinc battery set a speed record of
160 miles per hour. But many of these new batteries are prohibitively
Batteries are particularly attractive for delivery vehicles, because
conventional motors waste much of their fuel while idling. American
Motors has a contract to provide the U.S. Post office with 352 electric
delivery vehicles, and about 50,000 electric vans are operating in Great
Britain. Various hybrids of electric cars with other auxiliary motors have
also been proposed.
Flywheel propulsion is yet another way to go. Now found in devices
Energy and Trunsportation
ranging from sewing machines to spacecraft, flywheels smooth out uneven power cycles by providing steady momentum. The principle of the
flywheel is simply that a turning wheel with low-friction bearings stores
mechanical energy. When energy is put in, the wheel turns faster; after
energy is withdrawn, the wheel turns more slowly. The amount of energy
stored is a function of the weight of the wheel and the rate of rotation.
Since the storage capacity increases exponentially with the rotation
speed, a little more spin stores a lot more energy. Flywheels can be used
as brakes, storing the energy that would otherwise be lost as a vehicle
decelerates, and then feeding power back out when the vehicle gets
under way again.
Most American innovation has been associated with the aerospace
effort, although a couple of recent projects brought flywheels back to
earth. The U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration
funded a $2oo,om
project to apply flywheels to automobiles, and the
U.S. Urban Mass Transit Administration invested about $2 million in
applying flywheels to subway trains and trolley buses.The Soviet Union
has also done extensive flywheel research.
Most carsare as inefficient as a person who sleepstwenty-three hours
a day. Automobile commuters pay a sizable fraction of their disposable
income for vehicles that may be used one hour or less each day; for the
rest of the time each car unproductively occupies as much land area as
a standard office. Taxis are one partial solution, and jitneys-cars or
small vans that follow a fixed route at frequent intervals--are another.
In 1915, about 6o,oo0 iitneys operated in U.S. cities. Streetcars eventually forced them out of business, and taxi companies have successfully
lobbied to keep them out. In many other countries, however, jitneys
frequently provide a cheap and relatively efficient form of public transit.
A bolder solution to the problems of under-utilized vehicles is the
Witkar, designed to ameliorate the traffic problems of Amsterdam. This
seven-hundred-yea&d Dutch city predates not only the automobile but
also the horse and buggy era. The resulting traffic problems defy the
imagination. Of the 35,000 automobiles that enter Amsterdam every
day, only 4 percent are moving at any time; the remainder are parked
along the streets and in lots. The Witkar is designed to keep vehicles
in circulation through joint ownership and use. The electric-powered
vehicllescan be picked up at any recharging station by anyone who has
Ruys of [email protected]
paid his $10 lifetime membership fee. The rider is charged about four
cents a minute for the vehicle until he returns it to another recharging
station. The Witkar, as at present designed, has a top speed of 18 mph
and a range of about two miles. It seatstwo comfortably with additional
room for packagesor a small child. Currently, only thirty-five Witkars
and five recharging stations are operating, but three thousand people
have already paid their lifetime membership fees. The Witkar is only
an expe-iment, and its future is not assured even in Amsterdam.
Nonetheless, it is an example of the surge of bold innovation desperately
needed by cities everywhere.
The best all-round alternative to the automobile for short trips is
probably the bicycle. Cycling is several times more efficient than walking: a cyclist traveling at 10 mph usesonly loo Btu’s per passenger-mire,
while a pedestrian walking at 2.5 mph uses 500 Btu’s per mile. The
cyclist obtains the energy equivalent of 1,wo passenger-milesper gallon
-noticeably better than mast sub-compacts-and consumes food, not
petroleum. If, following Ivan Illich’s suggestion, we attribute to the
automobile not only the time spent behind the steering wheel, but also
alI the time spent earning money to purchase, maintain, fuel, and insure
a typical car, and compare that aggregate figure to an equivalent number
for a bicycle, the bicycle emerges as considerably faster for all urban
Perhaps the most bicycle-conscious country is the Netherlands, with
1I million bicycles for 13 million people. Five million Dutch students,
workers, and others bicycle daily, rain or shine. Although bikes are much
more popular in rural areasthan in cities (where cyclists fear the dangers
of pollution and heavy traffic), former Dutch Transport Minister William Drees believes that “the bicycle could return as the main means
of urban transportation in six to eight years.” What would be required,
in Drees’ view, are overpassesand special lanes to protect cyclists from
motorists. In Rotterdam, bicycles already account for more than a quarter of all trips made using any form of transport&on.
The advantages of bicycles speak for themselves. A bicycle requires
only one-thirtieth the spaceof a large car-a crucial factor in congested
urban settings. It provides an opportunity for exercise, thus helping the
rider relax nervous tensions, shed excesspoundage, and maintain good
health. Bicycles consume no non-renewable resourcesand they produce
no pollution.
Energy and Transportation
The bicycle is an elegantly simple device. Developed in its modern,
chain-driven form less than a century ago, the technology has been
transferred around the world with almost unique success.Inexpensive
and easily maintained, it is equally at home in elite suburbs and pleasant
pathways. It can carry formidable loads, especially in such three-wheeled
variations as the Trishaw and the Vendor. Bicycles can generally exceed
most urban speed limits.
Unfortunately, the contemporary city was built around automobiles,
and bikers compete at their peril. An estimated one million bicyclists
require medical attention in the United States each year, many for
accidents involving automobiles. Eleven hundred U.S. bicyclists were
k&d in 1973. Millions of other cyclists temper the beneficial health
effects of cycling with the risks of accelerated respiration of air rich in
lead, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and asbestosparticulates. Meanwhile, the population at large enjoys the cleaner air made possible by
those who cycle instead of drive.
In the rain, cycling can be miserable. First, the bicycle has no roof.
Second, modem science has been unable to produce a bicycle brake that
is reliable in wet weather. These factors discourage bicycle use where it
would otherwise appear attractive. As a leading Bombay transportation
planner told me, “Our people are too poor to buy vehicles they cannot
use for one-third of the year. There are few bicycles on the street today;
when the monsoon comes, there will be none.”
If the bicycle is again to play an important role in the transportation
field, its drawbacks must be lesser& TT?most new towns, exclusive
bicycle lanes are incorporated in the over-all design. In some existing
cities, whole streets have been dedicated to bicycles. The weather problem is less easily solved. Besides rain gear, proposed answers include
canopied bike paths and lightweight two--personpedicabs with roofs.
A bicycle-motorcycle hybrid, the moped, is popular in Europe and
in some Asian countries. Over 32 million have been sold worldwide. The
moped is basically a bicy& .&L Up -*ii: 2 E- VI z-horsepower engine,
capable of powering the vehicle at 20 to 30 mph. It costs under $500,
and runs up to 200 miles on a gallon. European accident statistics
suggest that mopeds are less safe than bicycles, but less perilous than
More than half of all automobile trips are less than five miles long,
even though automobiles perform at their worst in the short stint be-
Rays of Hope
cause cold engines are relatively inefficient. Some studies suggest that
fuel mileage on four-mile trips is lessthan two-thirds that obtained when
the engine is warm. For such short trips, bicycles and mopeds would
hold a substantial advantage, if only our cities were designed so that they
could be safely and comfortably used.
Although the energy ei&iency of individual vehicles is undeniably
important, vehicle occupancy may deserve even more attention. In the
United States, intercity cars contain an averageof 2.4 persons, intracity
cars hold an average of 1.4 persons at a time, and rush hour commuter
vehicles carry an average of only 1.2 passengerseach. Fifty-six percent
of all American commuters currently drive to work alone, while 26
percent sharecars with others; 14 percent use public transportation; and
4 percent walk, bicycle, or use other means. Automobile passengerlists
have persistently shrunk. Former U.S. Environmental Administrator
William Ruckelshaus once iokingly predicted that “at existing rates of
automobile passengerdecline, by 1980 one out of three operating vehicles will not have a driver.”
Meaningful statements about comparative modes of transportation
cannot be made without first making some assumptions about vehicle
occupancy, known among transportation planners as the “load factor.”
Almost overnight, conservation-minded, automobile-dependent countries could double or triple the average load factor of automobiles.
Commuting lends itself particularly well to such car pooling.7
If other modes of transport replace the automobile, considerable
savingscan accrue. A switch can be made to twelve-passengercommuter
vans or mini-buses that operate as car pools or group taxis but that carry
more passengersper mile than either. Such vehicles are widely and
successfully used in Peru. Scores of U.S. companies provide commuter
vans for their employees, and these ;re proving economical and popular.
The companies find that it is cheaper to buy a van than to maintain
parking spacesfor a dozen individual vehicles; the commuters find that
the operating expensesthey assume are much lower than the expenses
car ownership entails.
Demand-responsive transportation systems are also being tried in
many cities. Dial-a-Ride, Dial-a-Bus, Telebus, and others are all similar
in operation. Riders telephone a control center, giving their location and
destination. They are then grouped with other riders with similar origins
Energy and Transportation
and destinations. A radio-dispatched vehicle picks them all up and takes
them from doorstep to doorstep mare cheaply and efficiently than could
a taxi carrying only one passenger.Such systemsare being used in forty
American and Canadian cities.
The U.S. Department of Transportation encourages the development of “people movers,” or personal urban rapid transit systems. People movers consist of many small automatically controlled vehicles that
carry passengersalong a fixed track. Now used widely to carry passengers
between airline terminals and sightseersaround zoos, the people mover
is a sort of horizontal elevator. The passengerclimbs aboard the vehicle,
punches a button to indicate his destination, and a central computer
sends the car on its way. For short runs along fixed routes, personal rapid
transit systemsare probably inferior to rail transit lines that can haul ten
times as many passengersduring peak hours, and can adjust to non-peak
demand by shortening the train and running less frequently. A demonstration unit built at Morgantown, West Virginia, has been plagued
with operating difficulties and expensive cost overruns.
In Europe, the trolley is a traditional and long popular form of
transportation. In the United States, home of the world’s most famous
streetcar, the trolley has just about disappeared. In 1932, the General
Motors Corporation formed a subsidiary for the purpose of purchasing
streetcar companies, tearing up their tracks, dismantling their power
lines, and replacing streetcars with GM buses that do their polluting
downtown. Over the subsequent two decades,GM, with help from the
oil and tire industries, “motorized” electric rail-trolley bus lines in fortyfive cities, includi:?g New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, and
Los Angeles.8 To&y, the trolley, reincarnated as the light rail vehicle,
is staging a comeback. With a much lower carrying capacity than railroads and subways,trolleys are best suited to cities of one million or less.
Vienna’s superb trolley system is serving as a model for Milan and
other Italian cities. Mexico City’s 250 streetcars and 550 trolley buses
carry 250 million passengersa year. Boston and San Francisco recently
placed orders for modern trolleys, and Dayton, Ohio, is planning a
comprehensive new trolley system.
The comparative merits of different public transit systems are a
matter of continuing controversy. A number of glittering generalizations
can be made, but, even when true, they can be wildly misleading. For
Rays of Hope
example, buses are about twice as energy-efficient per seat-mile as automobiles, but not, as one might suspect, becauseof their weight. A bus
with the same luggage capacity per passengeras an automobile weighs
more per passenger seat than do small automobiles; a commuter bus
with no luggage compartment weighs only slightly less. The principal
advantagesof a bus are its high-pressure tires and its small diesel engine.
But automobiles could, of course, be equipped with harder tires and
smaller engines, as many now are.
Rail systems might be expected to be much more efficient than
either busesor cars. The rolling resistanceof a steel wheel on a steel track
is many times less than rubber on asphalt, and the aerodynamic drag on
a train is less than for cars. However, these theoretical advantages are
generally lost in practice. Rail systems tend to achieve much higher
speedsthan busesand cars, and to lose the energy spent on acceleration
in braking. Speed also increasesaerodynamic drag (which is proportional
to the square of the velocity, so doubling the speed quadruples the
resistance). Drag is also much greater in subway tunnels than on the
surface. Moreover, the heating, cooling, and lighting requirements for
rail systems are substantial. About half of all energy used in the San
Francisco BART system is for heating, air conditioning, and station
lighting. indeed, BART consumes about as much energy per seat-mile
as a typical automobile.
Public systems might be expected to have higher load factors than
automobiles. During peak periods, they do. The Tokyo subway system
pays uniformed men to shove rush hour commuters into jammed cars
so that the doors can close; in winter, jackets and overcoats worsen the
crunch but provide the small comfort of a cushion. In Bombay, the load
factors of rush hour commuter trains have been estimated at about 500
percent of designed capacity. However, calculating load factors is tricky.
Automobiles leave one area with all their passengersand arrive at a
destination with their passengersaboard. Public vehicles start out empty
and gradually fill up during the course of their route. The “average” load
factor may be only 50 percent. After they arrive downtown during the
morning rush and discharge their passengers,they often have to return
to the outlying area nearly empty. Public systems must operate during
non-peak hours, and averageload factors are.much lower then. Although
data are somewhat sketchy, several U.S. studies indicate that public
Energy and Transport&ion
transit load factors average between 18 and 25 percent of capacityroughly comparable to automobiles.
To be sure, things other than energy must be considrfed. Riding on
BART is more comfortable than riding in most automobiles; it is several
times faster than commuting by car; and it doesn’t pollute the downtown area. On the other hand, this pleasant, high-speed transportation
option may encourage people to live farther away from their workplaces
than they otherwise would. BART serves only 4 percent of Bay Area
commuters and does so at a substantial subsidy. Equally sobering, the
development it triggered in downtown San Francisco drove up realestate prices, forcing more urban residents, particularly poor people, to
move to the outskirts and become commuters.
If designed to utilize their technical potential to save energy, if
operated at high load factors, and if coupled with a successfulcampaign
to eliminate the one car/one driver syndrome, public transit systemscan
enhance urban life. But they can do so only within the context of a
comprehensive transportation plan that has as one of its highest priorities the minimization of over-all transport volume. In the past, too many
partisans have mistakenly viewed masstransit as a simple solution to all
urban transportation problems. Any “solution” must be as much social
and political as technical. The federal government of the United States
expects to spend about $12 billion on masstransit and about $20 billion
on highways between 1975 and 1980; other countries will also invest
enormous sums on transportation. These investments represent great
commitments of scarcecapital, and they will shape the world’s cities for
years to come. Thus, such spending must be guided by a comprehensive
vision of how we want those cities to look.
Intercity travel can also be made more economical and more efficient. Throughout much of the world, in fact, a rather energy-efficient
rail transportation system is now being built. IIbwever, in the United
States during the 196os, railroad passenger traffic declined by half,
automobile mileage increased by half, and air passenger traffic tripled.
Clocked only in terms of miles per hour, trains cannot keep up with
airplanes. But for shorter trips of up to four hundred miles, railroads can
actually save travel time. Picking up and delivering passengersright
downtown, trains eliminate the need for costly, time-consuming taxi
rides to and from airports. In addition, trains never circle a city waiting
Rvs of Hofie
for inclement weather to pass, nor are they ever diverted to a landing
strip a hundred miles away from their intended destination by a snowstorm.
Where railroad systems have been made a national priority, they
have proven effective. Japan’sbullet trains race back and fort’. between
Tokyo and Osaka sixty times each day, averaging 101 mph and topping
125 mph for some portions of the journey. The Japanesehigh-speed rail
network is beitig expanded-it already stretches to Hiroshima-and is
being engineered to accommodate speeds of up to 155 mph.
Western Europe is served by forty-four plush Trans-Europe Express
trains connecting 185 cities in ten countries. Three-fourths of all German track is welded rail, and France has 3,000 miles of welded track,
to allow the use of high-speed trains. French trains averageover 9o mph
between Paris and Bordeaux, and a line scheduled to be opened in 1982
between Paris and Lyon will average more than 130 mph. Italy is
completing a rail link between Rome and Florence, on which l-mph
trains will run.
A problem for some railroad or airplane travelers with rural destinations is a transportation tie-up at their journey’s end. In rural destinations, rental cars and taxis are expensive. One solution to this problem
is to place their carsaboard au&passenger trains. At the destination, the
driver’s personal car is unloaded as he disembarks from the coach.
France has fifty-seven such auto trains.
For trips longer than several hundred miles, railroads are at a disadvantage for people who value their time. But for vacations, travel by
train can be relaxing.
The least &ergy-efficient mode of transport between cities is by
supersonic jet or by private “executive” jet. The Anglo-French Concorde bums somewhat over 5,5ao gallons of fuel an hour, while carrying
fewer than a hundred passengers.Unable to fly long distances, impractical for short flights, banned from flying at supersonic speedsover most
land areas,and perhaps contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer,
these intermediate-range “pr&ige” planes are the ultimate example of
transportation technology run amuck. Executive jets, because of their
small load factors, require about as much fuel per passenger-mileas the
Concorde. Large conventional jets, scheduled at reasonable intervals to
ensure high load factors, are a far preferable form of high-speed travel.
Energy and Transportution
In addition to moving people, the transportation system also hauls
goods. The energy efficiency of freight transport varies widely among
modes-hovercraft and helicopters rank lowest, while supertankers,
barges, and pipelines are several times more energy-efficient than
trucks.9 In the United States, trucks haul lessthan one-fifth of all freight
but consume about one-half of all fuel expended on freight transport.
Pipelines, waterways, and railroads carry more than 80 percent of all
freight but consume less fuel combined than do trucks alone.
Of course, waterways and railroad tracks do not extend to most
neighborho department stores, or even to many regional warehouses.
But an ideal freight-hauling system would assign each task to the mode
that performs it most efficiently. Packing cargo in containers allows such
intermodal transfer to be accomplished rather easily, and in other cases
the “piggybacking” of truck trailers on railroad flatcars is an efficient
aitemative. Unfortunately, in much of the industrialized world, trucks
have been replacing trains even for long-distance hauls, for which they
are poorly suited. Between 1950 and 1970, the percentage of total
ton-miles hauled by U.S. railroads declined from 47 to 35 percent, while
the equivalent figure for trucks rose from 13 to 19 percent. The fastestgrowing sector (although still a comparatively minor one) has been air
freight. While air transport has no equal when speed is essential, its
increasing use for shipments having no time constraints is inexcusably
Creative freight transport experts have suggested resurrecting old
technologies. For certain transport tasks, airships (dirigibles) appear to
have significant energy advantages. Because they expend no energy
keeping themselvesand their cargo aloft, airships require a small fraction
of the energy needed by airplanes. A study by the Southern California
Aviation Council indicated that airships could haul freight for 2,000
miles at loo mph at a cost of 4.4 cents per ton-mile: cheaper than air
or truck, but more expensive than railroads. Ghana is currently experimenting with a German-built zeppelin devised to haul freight to inaccessible locations. Airships can deliver directly to any destination, hovering
overhead as their cargo is unloaded. However, world supplies of helium
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are limited, and the i-lindenburg disaster dramatized the danger of
replacing helium with large volumes of combustible hydrogen.11
For ocean freight, modem sailing vesselsmight be quite competitive
with conventional boats. During the last two decades, international
seaborne trade has increased about sixfold, and shipping now consumes
more than 100 million tons of petroleum each year. Future volumes will
almost certainly shrink as petroleum reservesdwindle and as nations or
groups of nations necessarily become relatively more self-sufficient in
both energy and food. Nonetheless, oceangoing vesselswill be the most
energy-efficient means of conducting essential international trade.
Hence, we must find a replacement for petroleum as a source of power
for seagoing vessels.
Most of the writing on petroleum substitutes has focused on nuclear
power. However, a nuclear-powered merchant marine would have technical and political difficulties. The Japanesehave had wavesof recurrent
difficulties with their first nuclear-powered ship, the Mutsu, leaving
many other countries leery of such vessels.With anti-nuclear sentiment
seemingly on the rise around the world, nuclear ships would also run the
risk of being banned from certain ports and waterways. Finally, the
nature and costs of nuclear reactors make them attractive possibilities
only for mammoth vessels,and they thus have little potential for use in
small and intermediate ships.
Marine history may well repeat itself. Coal was once the marine fuel
of choice, and it could again become significant. But in the long run coal
supplies will also be exhausted. Fuels derived from biomass, such as
methanol, may offer some promise. But the most fascinating suggestion
is doubtless the return of the sailing vessel.The wind carried wayfarers
acrossthe oceans for millennia before steamships displaced sailboats in
the early twentieth century. Although the most rapid development of
sailing vesselsoccurred in the nineteenth century, under competitive
threat from steamships, they were eventually doomed by a lack of reliability. But now, incorporating the knowledge of commercial sailing
acquired during the last century, recent developments from recreational
sailing, and advances in the fields of meteorology, aerodynamics, and
control engineering, a modem commercial sailing vessel(with auxiliary
power for calm periods and for maneuvering in harbors) could compete
well against oil-powered ships. Studies at the University of Hamburg,
Energy and Transportation
the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and the University of Michigan
found that large modem sailing ships, driven by vertical aerofoils and
taking full advantage of modem weather- and wave-forecasting capabilities, could transport freight speedily and reliably while consuming only
5 to 10 percent as much fuel as a conventional vess,!.l2
Transportation is an exceptionally difficult held in which to implement new ideas.13 A free marketplace often leads individuals to gratify
their immediate self-interest, at group expense,thereby creating a situation in which all suffer. Governmental subsidies, incentives, and regulations--each with its supportive private vested interest-so thoroughly
riddle most transportation networks that bureaucratic reform requires
great political muscle. The problems of different modes are generally
approached in a piecemeal fashion, and comprehensive transportation
plans thus fail to take shape.
Often transportation innovations fall short of their objectives, and
sometimes they fall flat on their faces. For example, the rationale most
frequently given for the construction of masstransit systemsis to reduce
the volume of automobile traffic. Yet experience indicates that most
mass transit riders are not former automobile drivers but former bus
passengers,walkers, automobile passengers,and homebodies. Two years
after the Mexico City subway opened, it was overloaded. Yet street
congestion was not improved, becausemost transfers came from buses.
In addition, new businesseslocated along the subway line greatly increased over-all travel demand along that corridor.
The central goal of an ef5cient urban transportation system should
be to eliminate, or at least control, the one-person-to-a-car system. A
variety of cures have been suggested.An increase in the price of fuel will
probbly be slow to make itself felt. Prices will rise automatically as
petroleum supplies decline, or they can be raised through taxation. In
Sweden, a 6a-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax has been rather successfulat
reducing one-person vehicles to a minimum.
Gas rationing accomplishes the same result with a somewhat heavier
hand. If a central authority reduces the amount of gasoline available by
one-third, car drivers will consume one-third less. Rationing does cost
money to administer, unlike taxes which raise revenue. But neither
gasoline taxes nor gasoline rationing discriminate against a particular
time of day, type of vehicle, or number of passengers(although both
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measurescould reasonablybe expected to lead to smaller cars and higher
load factors).
Congestion pricing has been tried successfully in some situations.
When all traffic must passthrough a specific corridor, such as a bridge
or a tunnel, it is possible to collect a toll and to vary the charge with
the time of day and/or the number of passengers.In San Francisco and
New York, variable bridge tolls have proven viable. In Singapore, a
different kind of congestion pricing is used. A limited number of rather
expensive stickers, which allow automobiles free access to otherwise
restricted sections of the city, are sold. Any vehicle in those areas not
displaying a sticker is fined. This effectively places a ceiling on vehicle
use in congested sections of town.
Designated lanes limited to use by car pools and buses have also
effectively encouraged higher load factors. They motivate drivers grinding their teeth in traffic jams to switch to one of the multiple-passenger
vehicles whizzing past in exclusive adjoining lanes.
Parking controls are still another means of restraining automobile
use. Some businesses have banned the use of their parking lots to
employees not using car pools, and many have arranged their lots so that
single-driver vehicles must park far afield. Some cities have imposed stiff
parking lot taxes-San Francisco’s is 10 percent and Pittsburgh’s is 20
percent-in an effort to reduce the number of commuter automobiles
entering the downtown area. Parking taxes also allow cities to recover
some of the indirect costs of commuter automobiles that otherwise fall
on urban taxpayers.
A final resort is to ban automobiles altogether from certain streets
or sections. Nagoya, Japan, a city of two million, uses this approach (in
combination with preferential treatment for public transportation vehicles) with great success.Many smaller cities and towns around the world,
including many of the medieval towns of Italy, have enacted limited
bans on automobiles. Travel in the car-free areas is limited to pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transportation vehicles, all of which flow
smoothly and rapidly instead of inching their way through snarled traffic.
While discouraging use of the automobile in which the driver is the
sole passenger,the transportation system must provide alternatives for
those who have abandoned their cars. Transit systems should be attractive, reasonably priced, and intermeshed in terms of both physical hook-
Energy and Transfiortation
ups and timetables. Controls over land use must also be vigorously
exercised in order to make living near work a practical possibility.
An integrated approach to transportation is needed-one that eliminates unnecessarytravel while using a multitude of incentives and penalties to make necessarytravel efficient. This will not be easyto accomplish
as we simultaneously begin to wean ourselvesfrom oil. The processmust
be begun, and quickly, unless the world is to grind to a standstill at the
end of the petroleum era.
Energymd Sheher
ARE fragile creatures, dependent more upon wits
than physical endowment for survival. Although the surface temperature
of our planet fluctuates more than 150 degreesCentigrade, we cannot
endure more than a fivedegree variation in blood temperature. Birds
migrate and bears hibernate to cope with chill winds. People insist on
businessas usual, and build shelters against the storm, the sun, the rain,
the wind, and the cold.
From earliest recorded history, we have sought refuge from the
elements in shelters, over which we have gradually learned to exercise
a high degree of control. In times past, this control was a response to
nature; it encompassedthe careful use of appropriate building materials
and proper orientation to natural features, including the sun,,prevailing
winds, and local terrain. But in recent decades we have begun to use
massiveamounts of energy to control interior space. Between 1950 and
1970, for example, the energy requirements per square foot in new office
buildings in New York City more than doubled. All buildings-north
and south, mountain and desert-now tend to resemble one another;
moreover, they are nearly identical on all four sides, seeming to ignore
entirely the existence of the sun. Only in the entrails, in the relative sizes
of furnaces and air conditioners, is the external world taken into account
at all.
Shelters warm and illuminate our winter nights, cleanse and chill
polluted summer air, and shield us from spring rains. But such necessary
protections are increasingiy purchased at an unnecessarily extravagant
energy cost. The American Institute of Architects has estimated that:
Btu ‘s and Buildings
If the U.S. adopted at high-priority national program emphasizing energy efficient buildings, we could by 1~ be saving the equivalent of more than 12.5
million barrels of petroleum per day. . . . We are now investing vast quantities
of increasingly scarcecapital resourcesin strategieswhich have lesspotential, less
certainty and longerdelayed payoffs than the proposed alternative strategy emphasizing a national program for energy efficient buildings.
Elsewhere, the AIA explicitly notes that “the decision is not whether
to modify hnctimd demand or behavior or level of comfort; rather it
is whether to invest capital to waste energy or to utilize that same capital
to conserve energy.“’
Energy is seldom a criterion in the selection of building materials,
though use of lessenergy-intensive materials need not entail sacrifice of
either strength or durability. Stainless steel, for example, can often
substitute for aluminum. Although somewhat more steel than aluminum
is generally required for most building @urposes,the energy cost of
refining a pound of steel is only one-fifth that for a pound of aluminum;
Richard Stein, chairman of the New York Board of Architecture, calculates that the 2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity needed to refine
enough aluminum to sheathe a building the size of Sears Tower in
Chicago could be cut by two-thirds with a switch to stainlesssteel. Glass,
a terrible insulator, may be the least desirable building material from an
energy vrewpoint. Even double-par& glass, if not exposed to sunlight,
can lose ten times as much heat as a well-insulated wall; lossesthrough
a single glazed window could be twenty times as great. Additionally, the
windows in most glass buildings cannot be opened, so the energy cost
of introducing fresh air is hefty.2
The priority concern in designing energy-efficient buildings is to
minimize the transfer of heat between the structure and its environment. Comprehensive efforts to reduce heat transfer have resulted in
fuel savingsof up to 80 percent in some buildings. Attempts to control
heat lossand heat entry must take into account the three ways that heat
mo.vesin and out of buildings: through conduction, convection, and
radiation. Each requires a different heat-management technique.
Conduction refers to heat transfer in solids. If one end of an iron
pipe is placed in a fire, the other end soon grows hot. Heat is carried
along the pipe’s length by conduction. Since heat lossesand heat gains
are directly proportional to the amount of surface exposed, the ratio of
Rays of Hope
external walls to internal space should usually be kept at a minimum.
And, since heat transfers by conduction are inversely proportional to the
thickness of the conducting material, doubling the thickness of a wall
cuts the potential amount of heat it can transfer by half.
Materials that conduct heat poorly can be used as insulation. Because the transfer of heat between solids is directly proportional to the
temperature differences of the two surfaces, the larger the temperature
gap between the interior and outside air, the more insulation should be
installed. Most buildings in the temperate zone are under-insulated, and
too many-especially among the dwellings of poor people-have no
insulation at all. Investments in insulating such structures will-dollar
for dollar-generally save several times as much energy as investments
in new mines and power plants will produce.
Convection occurs when air circulates between a building and its
exterior environment. Pressure differences-caused, ior example, by
wind, furnaces, or ventilation equipment-force air (and thus heat) in
and out of the structure. The amount of heat that air can carry off is
astonishing: a quarter-inch crack along a three-foot attic door can cost
more than 20 gallons of fuel oil during a moderatv winter. In almost all
U.S. houses;more than one-half of the building’s volume of air escapes
each hour; often the leakage rate is two or three times higher. Air
seepagearound doors and windows can be reduced by weather stripping,
caulking, storm doors and windows, and double-glazed glass.In commercial buildings, installing vestibules or revolving doors will often provide
warmer welcomes and reduce both air circulation and fuel bills. Many
public buildings ventilate several times more air than is necessary to
maintain irrternal freshness.New air must be either heated or cooled and
is often also “scrubbed” to remove pollutants. All incoming air is superchilled and then partially reheated as necessaryin many large buildings
-a technique known as “terminal reheating” that usesfar more energy
&cm ilecessary.Since the object is to heat and cool buildings, not cities,
the flow of air through such ill-begotten buildings should be kept to a
Radiant sunlight is the boon or the bane to the “climate” of most
buildings, depending upon how it is used. It can be captured by solar
collectors and used to regulate the building’s temperature as desired, or
it can be admitted carelessly, especially through windows, shackling
fuel-consuming temperature-control equipment with an extra burden.
Btu ‘s and Buildings
Unwanted soiar radiation can be screened by keeping window areas
small, using awnings or shutters, planting shade trees, using tinted or
reflective glass,or employing light colors on roofs and walls. Adjustable
exterior window shields called Rolladen that are a hybrid of shutters,
Venetian blinds, and awnings shelter the windows of many European
Energy conservation measures are often thought of as add-on expensesthat can be amortized over many yearsthrough reduced fuel bills.
However, some practices savemoney right from the start. For example,
the Toledo Edison Building uses double-paned glass with a chromium
coating to reflect heat; it cost $z 22,ooo more to install than standard
quarter-inch plate glass. However, the energy-conserving glass enabled
engineers to reduce the building’s heating plant by 53 percent, the
cooling system by 65 percent, and the distribution systems by 68 percent, for a gross initial savingsof $123,000, and a net savingsof $1,000.
Even more attractive in economic terms, annual operating costs are
$~,ooo lower than they would have been had conventional glassbeen
The two hundred energy-saving houses constructed in Arkansas
under a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development cost no more to construct than two hundred houses built using
standard construction techniques. Annual heating and cooling bills for
these dwellings, however, were only one-fourth the size of those for
comparable conventional houses in the neighborhood.3
A $3o,cm investment in one five-story building at Ohio State University reduced the structure’s subsequent natural gas consumption by
78 percent and its electricity use by 43 percent, for an annual savings
of $6o,ooo. The repayment period was six months.
Sometimes the basic choices that determine energy use levels involve
no cash outlays at all. Choosing to live in buildings that share walls and
thus have lower energy requirements than detached structures is just one
example. A recent report compared the energy budget of a typical
suburban “sprawl” community with the energy needs of a planned
community having mostly town houses and apartments. With reduced
spatialneeds and fewer exposedwalls, the planned community required
only half as much natural gas and two-thirds as much electricity as did
the sprawl community.4
Buildings, like transportation systems, have “load factor” energy
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efficiencies. Five passengersin a single automobile can each travel to and
from work far more economically than a solitary driver can. Similarly,
a fully occupied building is more energy-efficient than one that goes
mostly unused. Yet more than half the office space built in New York
in recent years remains empty. Employees who work overtime in huge
buildings with centralized services can impose particularly dire drains;
a worker who insists upon air-conditioning his hermetically sealedoffice
in the World Trade Center must cool thirty-one floors on that face of
the building. In like manner, many families heat and cool large areasof
unused residential space.
Regardless of how thriftily a building is designed and operated, it
will, of course, require some energy. A number of rather sophisticated
systems,district heating operations among them, have been designed to
provide this energy as efficiently as possible. Widely used in Europe,
district heating schemesallow the centralized use of fuels such as coal
and garbage that could be difficult to burn cleanly in individual urban
structures, and transfer the heat efficiently to where it is used. About two
hundred European cities warm buildings with the heat from incinerated
trash; many more use coal. Geothermal district heating is used in parts
of Iceland, New Zealand, and France.
District heating provides a wise use for the large quantities of waste
heat cast off by electrical power plants and by some industries. Its basic
design is that of a closed loop that takes hot water from a power station
to a consumer and returns it to the main plant for reheating. The water
coursed through the loop might reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit at the
station, register 206 degrees when it arrives at the consumer’s heat
exchangers,leave the consumer at I 32 degrees,and arrive at the central
plant at I 30 degrees,where it is reheated to 2 12 degrees. Such a system
provides two or more times as much building heat per unit of fuel
consumed as do setups that generate electricity or synthetic gas to run
electrical resistance heaters or gas furnaces.
Total energy systems, which generate on-site electricit; and use
“waste” heat to both heat and cool buildings, can be even more efficient
than district heating. Among the advantages they confer is a degree of
independence from centralized power grids. Moreover, becausethe electical generation takes place near where the electricity will be used,
transmission costs and losses can be slashed.-During the large-scale
&u’s and Buildings
electric blackout of the northeastern United States in 1965, many newspapers ran a photograph of one cluster of well-lit buildings amidst the
darkness of Queens. The buildings in the island of light were served by
the RochdaIe Village Cooperative’s 20,mkilowatt total energy system.
Modular integrated utility systems(MIUSs) are a refinement of the
kind of total energy system that weathered the blackout in New York.
They attempt to integrate ali utilities-electricity, heating and cooling,
waste disposal, and water- into one efficient package. Whereas most
total energy systemsare custom designed, MIUS systemswill consist of
interchangeable and mass-producedmodules. A JerseyCity, New Jersey,
MIUS system powered by five Soo-kilowatt generators provides electricity, heat, air conditioning, and hot water for six large apartment buildings, a school, and a 5o,ooo-square-foot commercial building.
Clearly the ideal source of energy for building operations is direct
sunlight. Since the overwhelming bulk of the averagebuilding’s energy
requirement-70 percent or more-is for low-grade heat, rather elementary solar equipment will suffice. Literally hundreds of different techniques can be utilized tc harnessdiffuse solar energy to meet a building’s
Solar heating systems for buildings can be either “active” or “passive.” In active systems, fans and pumps move air or liquid from a
collector first to a storage area and then to where it is needed. Passive
systems store energy right where sunlight impinges on the building’s
structural mass;such systems are designed to shield the structure from
unwanted summer heat while capturing and retaining the sun’s warmth
during the colder months. Passive solar buildings act as “thermal
flywheels,” smoothing the effects of outside temperature fluctuations
between day and night-a principle as old as the ancient thick-walled
structures of Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley and the adobe Indian
pueblos in the American Southwest. Although more money and attention has been lavished upon active systems, many of the world’s most
successful solar buildings employ simple, inexpensive passive designs.5
In the latitudes that girdle the earth between 35 degrees north and
35 degrees south, roofs of buildings can be built to serveas passivesolar
storage devices. For this region, American designer Harold Hay has built
a “sky-therm” house, the flat roof of which is covered by large polyethylene bags filled with water. By adroitly manipulating slabs of insulation
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over the roof during the day or night, Hay can heat the house in the
winter and cool it in summer. A. K. N. Reddy and K. K. Prasad at the
Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore have suggesteda similar but less
expensive design for poor countries; their model uses rooftop ponds of
In latitudes above 35 degrees either north or south, a flat roof can
catch less zt:d less of the low winter sun. Vertical walls and steep roofs
are more &&ztive solar collectors in these regions than are flat roofs. In
France, Felix Trombe and Jacques Michel have built several solar
houses, each with a glass wall facing south and a thick concrete wall
located a short distance inside the glass. Openings near the top and
bottom of the concrete walls create a natural circulation pattern as hot
air rises and moves into the Iiving areaswhile cool air flows through the
bottom opening into the solar-heated space between the glass and the
concrete. During the summer, when additional heat is unwanted, the
top air passagesare closed and the rising air is channeled outside. This
same approach has been successfullyemployed by Doug Kelbaugh in his
passive solar house in Princeton, New Jersey.
Steve Baer, one of the cleverest American solar inventors, has incorporated a unique passivesolar system that stores sunlight in barrels in
his New Mexico house.6 On the indoor side of a glass wall, Baer has
stacked 91 metal barrels filled with 4,800 gallons of water. The drums
store considerable heat, and an interesting pattern of sunlight enters the
room around their edges. Outside the vertical slab of glass, Baer has
placed another wall, made of lightweight insulation sandwiched between
sheets of aluminum. This outer wall is hinged at the bottom and can
be easily raised or lowered. When erect, sayon a winter night or summer
day, the outer wall can keep heat either in or out of the building. When
lowered to allow the sun to strike the barrels, the inner aluminum sheet
acts as a reflector, causing sunlight that would otherwise strike the
ground to rebound against the drums.
In addition to such passive approaches, hundreds of active solar
heating systemshave been built, using a variety of collectors and storage
systems. Each technology stressescertain features-good performance,
rugged durability, attractive appearance, or low cost-each of which is
often achieved at the sacrifice of others. The U.S. effort has been by far
the most expensive and ambitious, though important work has been
Btu k and Buildings
done in the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Australia, Japan, Denmark,
Egypt, and Israel.
Flat-plate solar collectors suffice for normal heating purposes, and
can either be made by the builder from available materials or massproduced rather cheaply. For very high temperatures, such as those
needed to power some absorption air conditioners, costlier collectors
that use selective surfacesor focusing devices to track the sun acrossthe
sky are needed. After heat has been collected and then transported to
storage reservoirs, most active solar heating systems use conventional
technologies (water radiators or forced-air ducts) to deliver it to the
living areas as needed.
Storing heat for a couple of days is not difficult; heated water or
gravel will do the job if a large insulated storage bin is used. Eutectic
salts, substancesthat absorb prodigious amounts of heat when they melt
and then release it when they m-solidify, can reduce the minimum
storage volume needed by a factor of six. The most serious problems
plaguing the storage of heat in phase-changing eutectic salts have been
overcome, according to Dr. Maria Telkes, a leading American expert in
solar thermal storage.’
In the 194os, the Japanese built an energy storage system that
worked on an annual cycle. During cold months, heat was pumped from
a large container of water; by the end of the winter, a huge block of ice
had formed, into which excessbuilding heat was dumped during the
summer. The Japaneseconcept was recently revived by Harry Fischer
of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Fischer found that
when combined with a solar collector, a radiator, and an efficient heat
pump, such an annual storage system can perform admirabl;: over a wide
range of climates. Fischer’s prototype worked so well that severalprivate
companies decided to develop the concept further.8
Many simple solar technologies can be used to cool buildings. Simple
ceiling vents may suffice to expel hot air, at the sametime drawing cooler
air up from a basement or well. In dry climates, evaporative cooling can
be used to chill the air. In more humid areas, solar absorption air
conditioners may be needed. The logical successorsto contemporary
cooling units, solar air conditioners are currently being developed in
Japan and the United States. While early solar air conditioners required
heat at about 120 degrees Centigrade for optimum performance, a
R zysof Hope
Japanesecompany has developed a unit that operates satisfactorily at 75
degrees Centigrade-a temperature any commercial solar collector can
easily muster. Fortuitously, solar air conditioners reach peak cooling
capacity when the sun bums brightest, which is when they are most
needed. Consequently, solar air conditioners could reduce peak demands
on many electrical power grids. As cost-effective solar air conditioners
reach the market, the over-all economics of solar systems will improve
because the collectors will begin providing a year-round benefit.9
It is harder in temperate than in tropical regions to provide with solar
technologies 100 percent of the heat buildings need. It is generally
cheaper at present to get supplementary heat during long cloudy periods
from conventional fuels, wind power, biogas, or wood. However, when
solar equipment is mass-produced, prices should plummet, while fossil
fuel prices can only climb. Moreover, major improvements in the design
of collectors, thermal storage systems,and heat-transfer mechanisms are
being made. Indeed, the day is dawning when heating and cooling
self-sufficiency will be an economical option for most new buildings.
Solar heating systemsare most attractive when considered in terms
of “lifetime costs”; the initial investment plus the lifetime operating
costs of solar systemsoften total less than the combined purchase and
operating costs of conventional heating systems. For example, recent
U.S. studies have shown solar heating to be more economical than
electrical heating except in competition with cheap hydropower.10
Investments in solar technologies can be mortgaged at a steady cost
over the years,while the fuel costs of alternative systemswill rise at least
as fast as genera1infIation. In fact, the initial cost alone of solar heating
systemsoften amounts to lessthan the initial cost of electrical resistance
heating, if the cost of the building’s share of a new power plant and the
electrical distribution system is included. However, the cost of a solar
heating system must be borne entirely by the homeowner, while a utility
builds the power plant and strings the power lines. The utility borrows
money at a lower interest rate than the homeowner can obtain, and it
averagesthe cost of electricity from the expensive new plant with power
from cheap plants built decades earlier so that true marginal costs are
never compared.11
Solar-heated buildings are now commercially viable. However, largescale changes in the housing industry are not accomplished easily-
and Buildings
witness the 30 .oooautonomous building code jurisdictions in the United
States. The buiiding industry is locaiized. with evm tb giant construetion firms producing fewer than one-half tiE one percent of all units.
Profit margins are small, and salability has traditionally reflected the
builder’s abilirj* !T !-eep purchase prices low. Nonetheless, a respected
market researchorganization, Frost & Sullivan, predicts that 2.5 million
U.S. residenceswill be solar-heated and cooled by 1985, and the American Institute of Architects has urged an even more ambitious solar
development program. 12
Solar heating becomes even more attractive when it is crossbredwith
other compatible technologies. Its happy marriage to absorption air
conditioners and heat pumps has already been mentioned. Greenhouses
too can be splendid solar collectors, producing much more heat than
they need in even the dead of winter, if they are tightly constructed, well
insulated, and fitted with substantial thermal storage capacity. Whereas
many old-style attached greenhouses placed demands on the heating
system of the main house, inexpensive solar greenhouses can actually
furnish heat to the living area while they extend the growing seasonfor
home-grown vegetables.A program to build greenhousesfor low-income
families in northern New Mexico out of local materials, low-cost fiberglass, and polyethylene has already proven successful.
Solar photovoltaic celle: which generate electricity directly from
sunlight, are still too expensive for most homeowners. Prices have
dropped precipitously in recent years, however, and many specialists
predict that these non-polluting, decentralized units will compete
economically with centralized power plants within a few years.Photovoltaic cells can convert only about one-fifth of the energy in sunlight into
electricity, but the remaining four-fifths need not be wasted; a photovoltaic cell can be used in tandem with an active solar heating system,
which can collect the remaining energy as heat. Highly thermodynamically efficient, a cor&ncd system also consumes no fuels, produces no
pollution, and relies upon no large utility grid.
Although most of the energy used in buildings goes for heating and
cooling, almost 30 percent servesother purposes. In commercial buildings, lighting usually claims most of the remainder, with a variety of
machines accounting for the rest. In residences,food storage and preparation command a significant fraction. Pilot lights on gas ovens, which
Rt~ysof Hope
ought sensMy to be repiaced by electric igniters, account for more than
40 percen’ af the fuel such ovens consume. Stoves can make things hot
for refrigerators, and should be placed at some distance from their
antagonists. Similarly, placing the refrigerator against an exterior wall
(but not in direct sunhght) allows waste heat to be easily vented outside
in summer or to be retained inside during the winter.
The electrical use in most visrble need of improvement is lighting,
which in the United States consumes abci:t a fourth of all electricity
;-old. Some controversy exists over iust Fsvhatlevel of illumination is
necessary 2nd desirable, but some enlightened thinkers suggest that
prevailing standards are almost always higher than those necessary for
optimal performance. Corroborating this view is the fact that lighting
levels in the home, where personal choice can be exercised, are far lower
than the average levels in commercial buildings and schools.
Compounding the waste of radiant light is the widespread tendency
to light unused space. Lights are seldom focused solely on work spaces;
instead, large rooms-or even whole floors of buildings-are unnecessarily lit up. Joseph Swidler, former chairman of the New York Public
Service Commission, oncenoted that the corridor outside his office had
“more than eno;tgb !nght for fine needlework, mir. :ature painting, or
engraving counterfeit money, although ? was used on y for walking from
office to office. ”
Since fluorescent bulbs deliver three to four tin-‘es as much light per
unit of electricity as incandescent bulbs ao, t ,,3~ 3us amounts of energy
could be savedby switching from filament to fluorescent ?+bs. But even
fluorescent bulbs convert only about one-fifth of the electricity they use
into light. A NATO-sponsored scientific committee on energy conservation reported tI:rat there is “no fundamental theoretical reasonwhy a 100
percent conversion efficiency” could not be attained.
Light bulbs shed the electricity that they do not convert into light
directly as heat. Reducing the lighting level in buildings and switching
to more efficient bulbs thus reduces the size of the needed cooling
system, and lowers the initial cost of installing light fixtures and wiring.
For an air-conditioned building, every two watts of unnecessarylighting
necessitates the use of one additional watt for cooling. Over half th,e
air-conditioning load in many office buildings is needed to combat the
heat generated by lights.
Btu 3 and Buildings
The appearance of sustainable new fuel-conserving technologies on
the market is, of course, of little interest to people who cannot a&d
even the old technologies. Xerxes Des&, former general manager of the
Indian “new town” of New Bombay, notes, “You can’t save much
energy in Bombay’s buildings. We don’t require heating, and the fraction of our population that can afford any kind of air conditioning-solar
or otherwise-is microscopic.”
It is difficult to exaggeratethe differences in the options available to
the rich and poor. Today, the fraction of Americans who have air
conditioning use more electricity for that one purpose than 800 million
Chinese use for everything. The United States lavishes more electricity
on lighting than is generated by the continents of Africa, Asia, and
South America combined
Although much of the Third World is located in climates that
require no heating, other parts-especially mountainous regions-depend heavily upon the burning of firewood and dung for warmth. People
in all climates, of course, need fuel to cook and to heat water. Elementary solar technologies based on devices easily made and easily maintained can, along with biogas and wind and water power, provide even
the poor with th* beginnings of energy self-sufficiency, especially if they
live in small towns or rural areas. An efficient stove for cooking and
heating, topped by a simple pressure cooker, could double or triple the
benefits many poor families squeeze from existing fuel supplies. Even
among the poorest, efficiency must be a prime concern, and they must
be given the chance to be efficient.
Energy is destined to play an increasingly visible role in the shelters
of all people everywhere. While some are utilizing the latest advances
in photovoltaic technology, others will be reasserting the ancient wisdom of planting shade trees and windbreaks, of harnessing prevailing
winds for ventilation, and of relying on thick ceilings and walls to even
out daily extremes in temperature. The most successful in all cultures
will be those who realize that we have reached the end of an era, and
who design shelters to work with nature instead of defying it.
scientists may exaggerate or underestimate planetary limits, most of them understand that such physical limits
exist. Economists, on the other hand, tend to reject the concept out of
hand. This difference of opinion is understandable in light of the way
the current generation of economists has invested its intellectual capital.
Most economic analysesblur the important distinctions between economic growth and physical growth. Yet economists, few of whom have
paid serious attention to the social and physical constraints on energy
growth, make virtually all energy demand forecasts.
Economic growth and physical growth are not synonymous. The
physical growth with which chemists and biologists concern themselves
is measured in physical terms: grams, meters, watts, joules, and so on.
But the growth with which economists are concerned is the increase in
the v&e of commodities and services. Thus, economic growth is not
limited by the finite nature of the physical world. Growth can be accomplished by changing designated values, or even by redefining terms. By
taking into national income accounts the goods produced by do-ityourselfers, or by valuing the services performed by housewives, or by
charging admission to a park that was previously free, or by selling
pollution control equipment that merely remedies a cost that was previously borne unwittingly by society, one can argue that economic
“growth” has occurred.
Total growth in the production of goods and serviceshas tended to
outpace growth in the use of fuels and materials, partly because economic growth in many developed nations is occurring most rapidly in
the economic sectors-service0>-that are dominant in a “post-industrial” state.1 Services, which include leisure activitzcs, education, and
health care, tend to require far less energy and far fewer materials than
the production of goods. Another more subtle part of the explanation
is that mu& economic growth is attributable to the assignation of
monetary value to the ‘*quality” of the factors of production. Because
of improvements in this qualitative dimension (e.g., better-trained workers, more productive technologies, innovations in management, etc.),
2: :rtry can now obtain more units of output per unit of, input.
To the extent that economic growth refiects only growth in value,
it can continue almost indefinitely. But to the extent that economic
growth is rooted in a physical dimension, it will be subject to physical
limits. Economic analysesbased on historic relationships between fuel
consumption and economic growth will prove to be increasingly in error
as these limits begin to assert themselves. Economic growth can continue indefinitely only if it can be successfully divorced from energy
Industrial Energy Use and Abuse
Industrial forecastersoften mistake rearview mirrors for crystal balls.
Their tomorrows look remarkably like yesterday-only bigger. Hindsight
seems to carry more weight than foresight in planned as well as in
capitalist economies, in many small firms as well as in behemoths. Not
surprisingly, then, those seeking to transform energy policy generally
view industry as an enemy to progress.Applied to those industries whose
business is to whet and then to fill the nation’s growing appetite for fuel,
this view is accurate. Yet other industries may wind up playing a positive
role in the coming energy transition.
More than most other parts of society, industry carefully analyzesthe
long-term implications of its expenditures, often in thirty- to fifty-year
time frames. It watches lifetime as well as initial costs hawkishly, and
dares to make sizable investments when those investments reduce its
operating costs.2 Finally, industry values security highly, and, consequently, values an energy source whose reliability and price can be
predicted for the foreseeable future. Thus, self-interest alone may well
Rays of Hofie
prompt industry to embrace renewable energy resources, and energyconserving measures.
Coal will doubtless play a vital role for industry in the, transition
period. Becausecoal is relatively bountiful and has 1~s value than petroleum as a chemical feedstock, the substitution of coal for fuel oil makes
sense in many industrial processes.In addition, new combustion technologies, including fluidized beds, will reduce the environmental consequences of burning coal. However, wide-scale coal use entails grave
inherent problems, and this fuel should be. gradually phased out as
renewable energy sources become available.
Shifting industry to dependence upon energy supplies derived from
renewable sources will require significant adjustments. But these
changes will be much less painful than those made necessaryby major
nuclear electrification programs or by growing dependence upon synthetic fuels made from coal or shale. Energy sources will have to be
deftly matched with appropriate uses; production will become more
labor-intensive; plants will be more decentral’zed than at present; and
most production materials will be reused or recycled. Such changes may
easily be viewed as desirable in themselves, apart from their importance
in the shift to the use of renewable sources.
Industrv has lc?1the way in world energy conservation efforts over
the last few year?. When the efficacy of full-scale sustainable energy
systemshas been proven to their satisfaction, industrial decision-makers
may welcome the i;ew teCJ)nologiesmuch more rapidly than is commonly expected.
Energy Efficiency in Industry-Enlightened Self-Interest
.*\~~r;t~.~nal ecocomi:;t who has
Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen,an iEnL,,=,
assessedthe role of energy in economic producticE, rates that “there
is a difference between what goes into the economic processand what
comes out of it.” Since the process cannot create matter or energy, the
“difference” is that matter has been rearranged to serve human needs
or wants. Such work requires the use of energy, but the energy actually
requiredis ordinarily a small fraction of that now spent. Lamentably, the
thermodynamic efficiency of U.S. industry is only about 25 percent.
Things could be different. The West German steel and petroleum
Energy md Econonxk Growth
indlistries use !sn;y two-thirds as much energy per ton of product as do
their American counterparts; the German paper industry uses only 57
percent as much per ton as the U.S. paper industry. Yet the scope for
improved energy efficiency even in German industry is enormous.4
Comparisons between countries and between different facilities in
the same country make it clear that reducing industrial fuel consumption need not reduce economic output. Consumption cutbacks require
only the increased use of fuel-efficient industrial machinery and the
improved operation and maintenance of this machinery. Cutbacks may
also lead to the substitution of labok,and capital for fuel and to a shift
in the mixture of goods and servicesproduced. For the past fifty years
in the iridustrialized wor!d, the amount of fuel consumed per dollar’s
worth of goods and servicesproduced has fallen-despite declining real
energy prices. With rising energy prices a near certainty for the foreseeable future, this trend could accelerate dramatically.
Energy conservation has traditionally been among industry’s lowest
priorities.5 Fuel has been so inexpensive that extravagant fuel use has
gone unquestioned; moreover, energy prices (adjusted for inflation) fell
steadily for decades, and popular mythology held that future sources
would eventually be “too cheap to meter.” Industrial energy efficiency
has nonetheless improved over the years, mostly through rather unimaginative advances. Energy conservation has simply not attracted
large numbers of the most talented researchers. Charles Berg, former
chief engineer of the U.S. Federal Power Commission, has noted that
4‘. . .
the application of greater insulation on water-cooled furnace skid
rails to savefuel is unlikely to stimulate greatly the curiosity of the young
student physicist or engineer, or his professor.” Rene Dubos, the microbiologist and philosopher, goes so far as to argue that the industrialized world’s current “overuse of energy tends to interfere with the
adaptive and creative mechanisms of response that are inherent in
human nature and external nature.”
Conserving industrial energy used to mean just eliminating embarrassing waste. For example, when it had infrared photographs taken of
a facility to detect heat leaks, the Dow Chemical Company discovered
that a sidewalk heating system used to clear pathways of snow had been
left on in summer. The company “conserved” energy by flipping a
switch that had been left on by accident. Other companies accom-
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plished major savings by repairing broken windows and closing huge,
two-story factory doors.
The biggest opportunities for fuel savings, however, req+e mart:
sophistication. 6 Devices such as recuperators, regenerators, heat wheels,
and heat pipes, for example, help conserve the heat generated in industrial plants, heat that would otherwise be used once and discharged or
removed directly with the flue gaseswithout having been used at all.
Particularly impressive gains can be made in the primary metals
industries.7 Energy savingsof over 50 percent can be made in the steel
industry if older plants are gradually replaced by more efficient facilities.
For example, continuous casting holds a large energy advantage over
ingot pouring, and major differences exist in the efficiencies of different
types of blast furnaces. In addition, hot coke is at present often
quenched with water-a method that wastes energy while producing
enormous amounts of air and water pollution. In plants in Europe and
the Soviet Union, coke is cooled with a recycled inert gas, and much of
its heat is recaptured to perform useful work.
The manufacture of aluminum is so energy-intensive that the industry has generally situated its major installations near sources of large
amounts of cheap electricity. Technical advancesin the traditional Hall
aluminum refining process can reduce energy requirements by more
than a fifth; Alcoa is now building a major facility using R new chloride
processthat is expected to reduce energy needsby almost one-third. The
Aluminum Research Corporation of New Orleans is developing a new
chemical processthat should use even lessenergy than the Alcoa process
The paper and cement industries also waste energy. The most efficient paper-manufacturing technologies require 50 percent lessfuel than
other commonly used methods need. If, in addition to embracing more
efficient conventional technologies, industry were to use wood wastesas
fuel, Swedish-style, some paper factories’ demand for fossil fuels could
be slashed by an astonishing 75 percent. In cement manufacturing in
the United States, an averageof 1.2 million Btu’s is used to decompose
enough limestone to produce a barrel of cement. In some European
plants, where waste heat from cement kilns is recaptured to preheat the
limestone feedstock, only 550,ooo Btu’s are needed per barrel.
An important part of increasing the energy efficiency of industry will
Energy and Uccxzomic Chwth
be matching energy sources of differc;nt qualities to appropriate uses.
The lower-grade heat that remains after high-grade energy is used shou!d
be recaptured ar..d used to perform other work. This process of using
energy at each of the thermodynamic stages of decreasing risefuiness
through which it passesis sometimes termed “cascading.”
At present, electricity fulfills much of industry’s energy demand. In
the United States, electricity constitutes about one-third of all industrial
energy, and most of this electricity is purchased from large centralized
power plants. The averageefficiency of American power plants is below
30 percent; fully 70 percent of the energy originally contained in the fuel
they use is discharged into the environment as low-grade heat. But
factories have many needs for low-grade heat, needs they now meet by
burning high-grade fuels. If electrical generation took place inside facto
ries instead of at remote power plants, the waste heat could be efhciently
cascaded through multiple uses.
For an industry producing high-pressure steam, the amount of additional fuel needed to produce electricity is only half that needed to
generate electricity in a central power station. A study performed for the
National Science Foundation recommended that the United States
install at least 50,000 megawatts of industrial co-generation capacity by
1985. The study pointed out that such investments produce a minimum
annual return of 20 percent, and require only half as much capital per
unit of energy produced as do investments in new centralized power
Industrial energy conservation is not always cheap to implement.
The capital required for major retooling in industry can, on the contrary,
sometimes be substantial. Because society does not have an endless
Supply of capital, major investments of one type necessarily foreclose
other options. Consequently, competition exists between the financial
requirements of new energy facilities and the capital needed for improvements in industrial energy efficiency. For example, the original
United States proposal for Project Independence would have required
$1 trillion by 1985, four-fifths of which would have been earmarked for
new, rather than replacement, energy facilities. This commitment
would have claimed a full two-thirds of all new net capital investment
during that period-money that would otherwise have been spent on
other industries, transportation, housing, and so forth. Major invest-
Ra>lsof Hofie
ments must be made in all these sectors if they are to convert to more
energy-efficient processes.The pool of available capital is limited, and
large-scale investments in new energy facilities can be made only by
using money that could more fruitfully be invested in increased efficiency. If, as Gregory Bateson contended, capital is the “stored flexibility” necessaryfor any structural transformation, society would greatly
narrow its industrial options by investing too heavily in new energy
Energy versusJobs
Major investments in new energy facilities, it is often said, will
contribute to full employment. The Executive Council of the American
Federation of Labor has cal!ed for sustained energy growth to promote
“high employment, a dynamic economy, and a satisfying way of life.”
However, new energy facilities are among the least labor-intensive investments a society can make. Capital diverted from nuclear reactors,
coal gasification facilities, and petroleum refineries will produce more
employment if invested in almost any other enterprise. Insulating homes
provides far more jobs per investment dollar than building petroleum
refineries to produce heating oil does, and the money the homeowner
savesevery year on fuel bills will provide additional employment when
spent on food, clothing, recreation, or health care.9
By utilizing techniques that substitute skilled labor for energy, great
fuel savings can be built into the construction industry. Richard Stein,
chairman of the New York Board for Architecture, has criticized the
current “trend toward construction techniques which substitute masses
of material for more careful design and construction.” Stein calculates
that the electricity used in manufacturing unnecessarycement alone
amounts to about 20 billion kilowatt-hours a year-over a fourth of the
electricity prcduced annually in India. With the employment of more
and better labor to mix and place cement correctly, use of this material
could be halved.10
The factors of industrial production-labor, energy, materials, and
capital-are, within limits, interchangeable, and can thus be arranged
in various combinations. The relative productivity of any factor varies
with its cost. The argument over whether labor is productive because
Energy and Economic Growth
it is high priced or high priced because it is productive is academic. If
labor is expensive compared to capital and energy, machinery and megawatts will be substituted for muscle wherever possible. The history of
industrial development has been, in large measure, a history of the
substitution of energy, capital, and materials for labor.
As a general rule, the more energy-intensive a product is, the less
labor-intensive it will be. As another general rule, services (other than
transv:r’iat;c;n) require more labor and less energy than do physical
commodities. Fuel and electricity are, of course, the most energy-intensive commodities on the market. They provide more energy per dollar
-and fewer jobs per dollar-than anything else for sale. Thus, to the
extent that industry conserves fuel and spends its fuel budget on anything else, employment will rise.
“Over the years we have substituted energy-powered capital equipment for people because the work can be done more efficiently and at
a lower cost,” notes John Winger, Executive Vice-President for Energy
Affiirs at the Chase Manhattan Bank. Winger then concludes that “we
can’t turn back; we couldn’t afford to.” But his conclusion is not seifevident, and the end of the development tunnel--of which his vision
is a partwuid
be dark.
“The Coming Age of Automatic Factors,” an article printed in
Techno& R&m in early 1975, predicted that “complete manufacturing systemsgoverned by central computers will be demonstrated by
1985.” The magazine quotes a leading automation company executive
as stating that if present trends continue, only 2 percent of the U.S.
labor force will be engaged in manufacturing in the year 2~00. With 2
percent of its labor force engaged in manufacturing, the United States
would obviously have a great many jobless citizens. Obviously, such
projections are absurd, and a prime rationale for an aggressiveenergy
conservation program might be to avoid just such massunemployment.
Substituting labor for energy would save workers from more than
unemployment. As workers have been displaced by machines, a growing
economy has in the past been able to provide jobs for most of them. But
these jobs, though “productive,” tend to lack a qualitative dimension
that is important to human dignity. E. F. Schumacher argues that “the
type of work which modem technology is most successful in reducing
or even eliminating is skillful productive work of human hands, in touch
Rays of Hope
with real materials of one kind or another.” Schumacher believes that
“modem technology has deprived man of the kind of work he enjoys
n1ost . . . and given him plenty of work of a fragmented kind, most of
which he does not enjoy at all.” Saving energy should not be used as an
excuse to resurrect dreary, unrewarding forms of manual labor, like
ditchdigging, that are best left to prideless machines. But where human
skill, intelligence, or craftsmanship have been replaced by automation,
they should again be given reign.
If we continue to expand the use of raw materials at present rates,
the extraction and processing of minerals and other natural resources
would exert ever-increasing pressure upon our energy supplies. In the
past, high-grade deposits could be exploited using relatively little energy,
but now we are *being forced to use lower-grade reserves.Copper, for
example, is mined today from ore containing only two-tenths of a percent of the metal, which means that 500 tons of rock must be processed
to obtain one ton of copper. The extraction and processing of raw
materials, Harvey Brooks estimates, now account for about two-thirds
of all U.S. industrial energy use, or about 25 percent of all U.S. energy
At present, resourcesare commonly used once and then discarded.
In the wealthier countries, these one-way streams have swollen into
veritable floods. The American trash heap grows annually by more than
r I million tons of iron and steel, 8o0,ooo tons of aluminum, ~OO,OOO
tons of other metals, 13 million tons of glass, and 60 million tons of
paper; some 17 billion cans, 38 billion bottles and jars, 7.6 million
discarded television sets,and 7 million junked cars and trucks contribute
to the totals.
We thus have the option of turning to our garbage dumps for an
increasing amount of raw material.11 The advantages of doing so are
manifest. The energy required to produce a ton of steel from urban
waste-including separation, transportation, and processing-is only 14
percent of that needed to produce a ton of steel from raw ore. For
copper, the figure is about 9 percent; for aluminum, only 5 percent as
much energy is needed to recycle the metal as to refine the ore initially.
Energy arid Economic Growth
Even greater savingscan generally be realized by repairs and reuse than
by recycling.
The XCyCling 0f :r.nn, copper, and aluminum in the United States
at levels that are nc~v economically practical would save the energy
equivalent of 3.3 billion gallons of gasoline each year. Complete recycling would save roughly twice as much Recycling all steel cans would
save the Ur+d States as much energy as eight soo-megawatt power
plants pro&T: rer;+ciing all paper could, in principle, saveenergy equal
to the a!rr?.rra!production of sixteen goo-megawatt plants. If ail glass
containers were reusedsix times, the need for nine s-megawatt power
plants would be eliminated.;”
Using materials again and again reduces environmental wear and
tear in many ways. Recycling just one ton of steel, for example, has
far-reaching effects. The 200 pounds of air pollutants and 102 pounds
of water pollutants associated with refining 2,cmo pounds of steel are
never released.In addition, the 2.7 tons of mining wastesassociatedwith
each ton are never generated and the 6,700 gallons of water needed to
refine each ton are never sullied.13
Some countries have begun to take advantage of the promise inherent in recycling technology. Leningrad recycles 580,000 tons of garbage
each year, producing metal, chemicals, and compost. The Russiansplan
to expand the facility sixfold by 1~2.;. &e deposits must be paid on
glass containers in the Soviet Union; and bottles ard iais are reused
several times. In Denmark, 80,000 tons of oil and &m;A wastes are
processedannually at a huge, centralized wasie treatcjclrt plant. Marc
than 45 percent of paper production in Britain and West Germany now
entails use of recycled fibers.
The greatest energy savings occur when unneeded products arc
taken out of production. For example, a large fraction of all urban
trash in industrialized countries consists of packaging that served no
useful function before being discarded. Eliminating unnecessary bags
and boxes makes far more sense than merely recycling their tattered
remains. A cabinet-level report released by the French Minister of
Commerce in July, 1975, notes, “It is preferable to incorporate energy and raw materials in an object that lasts a long time rather
than manufacture a dozen things to be thrown away almost immediately.” The report calls for high taxes on goods with short life spans,
Rqs of Hope
including ail packaging, and would require manufacturers to supply
spare parts for their products.
Decentralization-A Social Frontier
Industries can easily obtain ail the energy they need from renewable
sources. But direct sol2
-r energy, wind and water power, and biological
energy sourcesare more diffuse than conventional fuels. Thus, the high
costs of collecting renewable energy and of transporting it to a central
location argue for the construction of many small facilities instead of
outsized complexes.
It is often said of competitive modern manufacturing that size is of
the essence.This misapprehension is doubtless rooted in the fact that
large corporations control much of the world’s economy. Company size
should not, however, be confused with plant size: large firms are almost
always clusters of small facilities. As Barry Stein points out, “The very
same plant or retail store in a community, depending on whether it is
owned by a local entrepreneur or an international conglomerate, shifts
in classification from ‘small’ business to ‘large.’ ” From an energy standpoint, who owns a faciiity matters less than how big it is.
A surprising fraction of existing manufacturing facilities are relatively small. In the United States, for example, although just 3 percent
of all corporations own one-sixth of ail plants and employ about threefourths of all workers, the number of employees in each of these plants
averagesonly 203. If a few assembly-line industries (such as the automobile and electrical equipment manufacturing concerns) are excluded,
plant employment among these large multi-unit companies averages
about 100. To say that either giant plants or economies of scale don’t
exist is preposterous. But giant plants are not the norm in most industries, and economies of scale can generally be enjoyed in plants of
modest size.l4
While the question of ownership has little to do with the transition
to renewable energy sources, other social advantages do attend decentralized ownership and control. Small firms tend to diversify both wealth
and social power; they also seldom wield disproportionate influence over
governments. Small firms often provide more room for innovation and
for genuine worker participation in decisions, and they tend to be a more
Energy and Economic Growth
integral part of their surrounding communities than their larger counterparts. Smaller firms also tend to have fewer strikes, better worker-safety
records, and less sabotage than large firms. Perhaps partly as a result of
all these trends, small firms also tend to generate higher net returns.
The processof industrial decentralization is already well under way,
spurred mostly by the desire of people everywhere to escape the pollution and the myriad social ills that blight congested urban areas. An
effort toward decentralization in Japan in the early 1970s~ prompted by
former Prime Minister Tanaka’s best-selling book, Restructuring the
/uDaneseArchipehgo, would have created dozens of new industrial
towns of 250,acm people each at a projected cost of $1 trillion. The
program stalled when it became public knowledge that the Prime Minister stood to prosper personally from resulting shifts in land value.
Nonetheless, decentralizing industry remains one of Japan’s top domestic priorities. Similar decentralizing trends are visible in France, where
the government offered industry a wide range of incentives to locate
outside Paris, and in the move of American companies away from the
Northeast into the “sun belt.” Although such moves are not now being
made for the purpose of tapping renewable energy resources, they will
make the coming energy transition much easier.
Decentralization is not an economic cure-all. China’s abortive experience in the Great Leap Forward should inspire other nations to look
before they decentralize certain heavy industries, such as steel. But the
steel industry’s size requirements make it a special caserather than a test
case. In afuture powered by renewable sources,energy may be lesseasily
transported than capital, technology, or skilled labor. Industry will consequently relocate toward those parts of each country-and, indeed,
those portions of the world-where renewable energy sources are in
greatest abundance.
A BOUTONE-FIFTHof all energy used around the world
now comes from solar resources:wind power, water power, biomass, and
direct sunlight. By the year 2000, such renewable energy sources could
provide 40 percent of the global energy budget; by 2025, humanity could
obtain 75 percent of its energy from solar resources. Such a transition
would not be cheap or easy,but its benefits would far outweigh the costs
and difficulties. The proposed timetable would require an unprecedented worldwide commitment of resources and talent, but the consequences of failure are similarly unprecedented. Every essential feature
of the proposed solar transition has already proven technically viable; if
the fifty-year timetable is not met, the roadblocks will have been political
-not technical.1
Our ancestorscaptured the sun’s energy indirectly by gathering wild
vegetation. Their harvest became more reliable with the revolutionary
shift to planned cultivation and the domestication of animals. As civiiization developed, reliance upon the sun grew increasingly circuitous.
Slaves and draft animals provided a roundabout means of harnessing
large quantities of photosynthetic energy. Breezes and currents-both
solar-powered phenomena-drove mills and invited overseastravel.
In earlier eras, people were intensely aware of the sun as a force in
their lives. They constructed buildings to take advantage of prevailing
winds and of the angles at which the sun’s rays hit the earth. They built
industries near streams to make power generation and transport easier.
Their lives revolved around the agricultural seasons.In the fourteenth
century, coal began to contribute an increasing fraction of Europe’s
Rdysof Hope
energy budget-a trend that accelerated greatly in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. During the past seventy-five years, oil and natural
gas became the principal energy sources in the industrialized world. In
the fossil fuel era, the sun has been largely ignored. No nation includes
the sun in its official energy budget, even though all other energy sources
would be reduced to comparative insignificance if it were. We think we
heat our homes with fossil fuels, forgetting that without the sun those
homes would be -240 degrees Centigrade when we turned on our
furnaces. We think we get our light from electricity, forgetting that
without the sun the skies would be permanently black.2
About 1.5 quadrillion megawatt-hours of so!ar energy arrive at the
earth’s outer atmosphere each year. This amount is 28,ooo times greater
than all the commercial energy used by humankind. Roughly 35 percent
of this energy is reflected back into space;another 18 percent is absorbed
by the atmosphere and drives the winds; and about 47 percent reaches
the earth. No country usesas much energy as is contained in the sunlight
that strikes just its buildings. Indeed, the sunshine that falls each year
on U.S. roads alone contains twice as much energy as does the fossil fuel
used annually by the entire world. The wind power available at prime
sites could produce severaltimes more electricity than is currently generated from all sources.Only a fraction of the world’s hydropower capacity
has been tapped. As much energy could be obtained from biomass each
year as fossil fuels currently provide.
How easily and cheaply these vast energy sources can be harvested
is disputed. Opinions naturally rest heavily upon the questions asked and
the assumptions made. How much distance can separate an energy
facility and its potential users? Will people and industries migrate to
take advantage of new energy sources?Should only huge, utility-scale
sites be considered or should individual and community-sized sites be
counted as well? What limits will environmental, political, and aesthetic
factors impose?
Past efforts to tap the solar flow have been thwarted by unreasonable
economic biases. The environmental costs of conventional fuels, for
example, have until recently been largely ignored. If reclamation were
required of strip mining companies, if power plants were required to
stifle their noxious fumes, if oil tankers were prohibited from fouling the
oceans with their toxic discharges, if nuclear advocates were forced to
Turning toward the Sun
find ;1safe wzy to dispose of long-lived radioactive wastes, conventional
power sources would cost more and solalarequipment would be more
economical’ * competitive. As such costs have been increasingly “internalized,” conventional sources have grown more expensive and solar
alternatives have consequently become more credible.3
Moreover, fuel prices long reflected only the costs of discovery,
extraction, refining, and delivery; they failed to include the value of the
fuel itself. Over the years, improvements in exploitation techniques
drove fuel prices relentlessly downward, but these low prices were
chimerical. Although, for example, U.S. oil prices (corrected for inflation) fell 37 percent in the twenty-five years between 1948 and 1972,
the nation was !iving off its energy capital during this period-not its
interest. The world has only a limited stock of fuel, and it was only a
matter of time before that fuel began to run out.4
Unlike finite fue?s,sunlight is a flow and not a stock. Once a gallon
of oil is burned, it is gone forever; but the sun will cast its rays earthward
a billion yearsfrom now, whether sunshine is harnessedtoday for human
needs or not. Technical improvements in the use of sunlight could lower
prices permanently; similar technical improvements in the use of finite
fuels can only hasten their exhaustion.
The current world economy was built upon the assumption that its
limited resourcescould be expanded indefinitely. Instead of OPEC-style
severance royalties when oil was removed from the earth, depletion
allowances were granted to those who exploited it. Instead of a reasonable “scarcity rent” for fuels, the needs of future generations were
discounted to near zero. Now that the world’s remaining supply of easily
obtainable high-grade fuel is mostly in the hands of single-resource
nations with legitimate worries about their long-range futures, prices
have increased fivefold in five years. As a consequence, solar energy is
rapidly shaking off the false economic constraints that previously hindered its commercial development. In 1976, the United States produced
one million square feet of solar collectors; in 1977, the figure is expected
to triple. 5
Since sunlight is ubiquitous and can be used in decentralized facilities, many proposed solar options would dispense with the expensive
transportation and distribution networks that encumber conventional
energy sources.6The savings thus obtained can be substantial; transmis-
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sion and distribution today account for about 70 percent of the cost of
providing electricity to the average U.S. residence.7 In addition, line
lossesduring electrical transmission may amount to several percent of
all the energy produced, and the unsightly transmiss:on tendrils that link
centralized energy sourcesto their users are vulnerable to both natural
disasters and human sabotage.
Probably the most important element in a successful solar strategy
is the thermodynamic matching of appr,opriate energy sources with
compatible uses.The quality of energy sought from the sun and the costs
of collecting, converting, and storing that energy usually correlate directly: the higher the desired quality, the higher the cost. Sources and
usesmust therefore be carefully matched, so that expensive,high-quality
energy is not wasted on jobs that do not require it.8
The energy currently employed for 1arious tasks is often of far higher
quality than necessary. For example, roughly 34 percent of end-use
energy in the United States is employed as heat at temperatures under
loo degrees Centigrade; much of this energy heats buildings and provides hot water. Another 24 percent is for heat at temperatures of loo
degreesCentigrade or higher, much of it for industrial processes.Thirty
percent of end-use energy is employed to power the transportation
system; 8 percent is used as electicity and 3 percent as miscellaneous
mechanical work. In Canada, a somewhat higher percentage is used for
low-grade heat and somewhat less is used for transportation. Although
both countries are highly industrialized, highly mobile, and have high
energy use4NP ratios, most cd the energy budgets of both could easily
and economically be met usirlg existing solar technologies.9
Cheap, unsophisticated collectors can easily provide temperatures
up to 100 degreesCentigrade. Selective surfaces-thin, space-agecoatings that absorb much sunlight but re-radiate negligible heat-greatly
increase the temperatures that collectors can attain. Because air conducts and convects heat, high-temperature collectors are often sealed
vacuums. Focusing collectors,, which use lensesor mirrors to focus sunlight into a small target area, can obtain still higher temperatures. The
French solar furnace at Odeillo, for instance, can reach temperatures of
about 3000 degrees Centigrade.
Solar thermal-electric plants appear economically sound, especially
when operated just to meet daytime p ’ k demands or when crossbred
with existing plants that use other fuels 9-or nighttime power production.
Turning toward the Sun
Ocean thermal facilities may be a source of base-loadelectricity in some
coastal areas.Decentralized photovoltaic cells will be the most attractive
source of solar electricity if tile cost reductions commonly projected
Wind power can be harnessed directly to generate electricity. But
because electricity is difficult to store, some wind turbines might best
be used to pump water into reservoirs or to compress air. The air and
water can then be released as needed to generate electricity or to perform mechanical work. Energy from intermittent sources like wind
machines can also be stored as high-temperature heat or in chemical
fuels, flywheels, or electrical batteries.
Biological energy sources, which include both organic wastes and
fuel crops, could by themselvesyield much of the world’s current energy
needs. Such sourcescan provide liquid and gaseousfuels as well as direct
heat and electricity. Particularly attractive in a solar economy would be
the use of biomass for the co-generation of electricity and industrial
process steam.
While no single solar technology can meet humankind’s total demand for energy, a combination of solar sourcescan. The transition to
a solar era can be begun today; it would be technically feasible, economically sound, and environmentally attractive. Moreover, the most intriguing aspect of a solar transition might lie in its social and political ramifications. lo
The kind of world that could develop around energy sourcesthat are
efficient, renewable, decentralized, simple, and safe cannot be fully
visualized from our present vantage point. Indeed, one of the most
attractive promises of such sources is a far greater flexibility in social
design than is afforded by their alternatives. Although energy sources
may not dictate the shape of society, they do limit its range of possibilities; and dispersed solar sources are more compatible than celrtralized
technologies with social equity, freedom, and cultural pluralism. All in
all, solar resourcescould power a rather attractive world.
Solar Heating
Solar energy is most easily captured as low-grade heat. Development
of the flat-plate collector that is used to catch such heat is generally
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credited to the eighteenth-century Swiss scientist Nicolas de Saussure,
who obtained temperatures over 87 degreesCentigrade using a simple
wooden box with a black bottom and a glasstop. The principle used by
Saussureis simple: glass is transparent to sunlight but not to the radiation of longer wave lengths given off by the hot coliector itself. Sunlight
flows easily through the glasstop into the collector, where it is trapped
as heat. The modern flat-plate collector operates on this same basic
principle, although improved materials achieve much higher temperatures and are more durable. Simple and easy-to-make solar collectors
could supply heat now provided by high-quality fuels. More than onethird of the energy budget of all nations is spent to produce heat at
temperatures that flat-plate solar collectors can achieve.11
The simplest task to accomplish directly with solar power is heating
water, and solar water heaters are being utilized in many countries. More
than two million have been sold in Japan, and tens of thousands are in
use in Israel. In the remote reaches of northern Australia, where fuels
are expensive, solar water heaters are required by law on all new buildings. Until replaced by cheap natural gas,solar water heaters were much
used in California and in Florida; Miami alone had about 50,ooo in the
early 1950s. Since 1973, interest in solar water heaters has rekindled in
many parts of the world. In poorer countries, cheap hot water can make
a significant contribution to public well-being: hot water for dishwashing
and bathing can reduce the burden of infectious diseases,and clothes
washed with hot water and soap outlast clothes beaten clean on rocks
at a river’s edge.
Sunlight can also be used to heat buildings. All buildings receive and
trap radiant energy from the sun. For warming a home on a winter day,
this heat may be desirable; but it can constitute indecent exposure,
broiling and embroiling the occupants of an all-glass office building, in
midsummer. Solar buildings, designed to anticipate the amount of solar
energy available in each season,put sunlight to work. To harnessdiffuse
solar energy to meet a building’s needs, options that vary in efficiency,
elegance, and expense can be employed. 12
Solar collectors are being used in diverse locations to heat buildings.
The town of Mejannes-le-Clap in southern France has announced plans
to obtain most of its heat from the sun. Several U.S. solar-heated communities, as well as individual schools, meeting halls, office buildings,
Turning toward the Sun
and even hamburger stands, are now under construction. Saudi Arabia
plans to build a new town at Jubail, using sunlight for heating, cooling,
and for running water pumps; the Saudis are now also building the
world’s largest solar-heated building-a 325,oo~square-foot athletic
field house-in Tabuk.
In addition to warming buildings, low-grade heat from simple solar
devices can also be used to dry crops-a task that now often consumes
prodigious amounts of propane and methane gas. Solar dryers are now
being used to remove moisture from lumber and textiles, as well as from
corn, soybeans,alfalfa, raisins, and prunes. The sun has alwaysbeen used
to dry most of the world’s laundry.
For more than a century, solar advocates have gathered crowds by
cooking food with devices that use mirrors to intensify sunlight. Now
that firewood supplies are growing scarce in many parts of the Third
World, solar cooking is being taken more seriously. Although solar
cookers proved popular in some village experiments in the 196os, their
high cost, as much as $25 each, prohibited widespread use. Today,
however, cheap new reflecting materials like aluminized mylar can be
stretched over inexpensive locally made frames. In poor countries, solar
cookers will be only supplementary devices for now, since these mechanisms cannot function at night or in cloudy weather and since storing
high-temperature heat is expensive. But if heat-storage technology advances, solar stoves and ovens may play an increasingly important role
in rich and poor countries alike.
Solar technology now also encompasses desalination devices that
evaporate water to separate it from salt. In the late nineteenth century,
a huge solar desalination plant near Salinas, Chile, provided up to 6,000
gallons of fresh water per day for a nitrate mine. Recent research has
led to major improvements in the technology of solar desalination,
especially to improvements in “multiple-effect” solar stills. Today this
sundriven process holds great promise, especially in the Middle East
and other arid regions. A small Soviet solar desalination plant in the
Kyzyl-Kum Desert in central Asia now produces four tons of fresh water
a day.r3
Relatively low temperature sources of heat can also be used to
operate pumps and engines. In the 186os,Augustin Mouchot, a French
physicist, developed a one-half-horsepower solar steam engine. In the
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early twentieth century, more efficient engines were built using ammonia and ether instead of water as the working fluid. In 1912, Frank
Shuman constructed a so-horsepower solar engine near Cairo to pump
irrigation water from the Nile.
Scores of solar devices were built around the world in the early
decadesof this century, but none withstood the economic competition
of low-cost fossil fuels. In recent years, with fuel prices soaring, solar
pumps have begun to attract attention again. In 1975, a 4o-horsepower
solar pump of French design was installed in San Luis de la Paz to meet
this Mexican town’s irrigation and drinking needs. Mexico has ordered
ten more such pumps; and Senegal,Niger, and Mauritania have installed
similar devices. At present, solar pumps make economic sense only in
remote areaswhere fuel and maintenance costs for conventional systems
are extremely high. But, many authorities believe, the costs of solar
pumps could be dramatically reduced by taking advantage of the
findings of further research and the economies of mass production.14
Solar energy can be used directly in various industrial processes.A
study of the Australian food-processing industry found, for example, that
heat comprised 90 percent of the industry’s energy needs; almost all this
heat was at under 150 degrees Centigrade, and 80 percent was below
100 degrees. Such low-temperature heat can be easily produced and
stored using elementary solar technologies. Similarly, a study of an
Australian soft-drink plant found that enough collectors could be retrofitted onto the factory’s roof to provide 70 percent-of all the plant’s
heat requirements.15
A recent study of U.S. industrial heating demands concludes that
about 7.5 percent is used at temperatures below 100 degreesCentigrade
and 28 percent below 288 degrees. However, direct solar power can be
used to preheat materials from ambient temperatures to intermediate
temperatures before another energy source is employed to achieve the
still higher temperature demanded for an industrial process. Such solar
preheating can play a role in virtually every industrial heat application.
If preheating is used, 27 percent of all energy for U.S. industrial heat
can be delivered under loo degrees Centigrade and about 52 percent
under 288 degrees.16
Much of the energy used in the residential, commercial, agricultural,
and industrial sectors is employed as low-temperature heat. In the recent
Turning toward the Sun
past, this demand has been filled by burning fossil fuels at thousands dt
degrees or nuclear fuels at millions of degrees. Because such energy
sources were comparatively cheap, little thought was given to the obvious thermodynamic inefficiency of using them for low-grade heat. Now
that fuel costs are mounting rapidly, however, demands for heat will be
increasingly met directly from the sun.
Electricity from the Sun
It was long believed that nuclear power would replace the fossil fuels.
Because nuclear power is best utihzed in centralized electrical power
plants, virtually alI energy projections therefore show electricity fulfilling
a growing fraction of al! projected energy demands. Some solar proponents advocate large centralized solar power plants as direct replacements for nuclear power plants to meet this demand. However, solar
technologies can provide energy of any quahty, and remarkably little of
the world’s work requires electricity. A sensible energy strate,gydemands
more than the simpleminded substitution of sunlight for uranium.17
Electricity now comprises less than 20 percent of energy use in
virtually all countries. If energy sources were carefully matched with
energy uses, it is difficult to imagine a future society that would need
more than one-tenth of its energy budget as electricity-the highest
quality and most expensive form of energy. Today only 11 percent of
U.S. energy use is electri&y, and much of this could be met with other
energy sources.To fill genuine needs for electricity, the most attractive
technology in many parts of the world will be direct solar conversion.
Two types of large, land-based solar thermal power plants are receiving widespread attention. The “power tower” is currently attracting the
most money and minds, although a rival concept-the “solar farm”is also being investigated. The power tower relies upon a large field of
mirrors to focus sunlight on a boiler located on a high structure-the
“tower.” The mirrors are adjusted to follow the sun acrossthe sky, always
maintaining an angle that reflects sunlight back to the boiler. The boiler,
in turn, produces high-pressure steam to run a turbine to generate
electricity. The French, who successfully fed electricity into their national grid from a small tower prototype in January of 1977, plan to have
a lcrmegawatt unit operating by 1981 and have been aggressivelytrying
Rays of ffope
to interest the desert nations of the Middle East in this effort. The
United States is now testing a small prototype involving a do-acre mirror
field and a zoo-watt tower in New Mexico, and it plans to put a lomegawatt power plant into operation by 1980 at Barstow, Califo;r,ia
An electric utility in New Mexico plans to combine three 43o-foot
power towers that generate a total of 50 megawatts wit3 an exia+ing
gas-fired power plant at Albuquerque. The proposed complex would
utilize the existing generators, turbines, condensers, switchyard, and so
on. The resulting hybrid, which would cost $60 million and cover 170
acres, would have no heat storage capacity; it would simply heat its
boilers with gas when the sun failed to shine. A survey by the utility
identified 600 existing power plants in the :Imerican Southwest (with
about 40,000 megawatts of electrical generating capacity) that could be
retrofitted with solar power towers.18
The “solar farm” concept would employ rows of parabolic reflectors
to direct concentrated sunlight onto pipes containing molten salts or hot
gases.Special heat exchangerswould transfer the 6oo-degree Centigrade
heat from the pipes to storage tanks, filled with melted metal, from
whence it could be drawn to generate high-pressure steam to run a
Both the solar farm and the power tower approaches required direct
sunlight because their concentrating mirrors cannot use diffuse light.
Both will also probably be feasible only in semi-arid regions with few
cloudy days and little polhrtion. One objection raised to such facilities
is that they would despoil large tracts of pristine desert. However,
proponents point out that the area needed to produce 1,000 megawatts
of solar electricity is less than the amount of land that would have to
be strip-mined to provide fuel for a similar-sized coal plant during its
thirty-year lifetime and that the solar plant’s land could be used forever.
In fact, according to Aden and Marjorie Meinel, a 1,ooo-megawatt solar
farm on the Arizona desert would require no more land than must, for
safety reasons,be deeded to a nuclear reactor of the same capacity.19
Large, centralized solar electric plants consume no finite fuels, produce no nuclear explosives,and hold no ecological punches. With development, such plants should also be economically competitive with fossil
fueled, fission, and fusion power plants. However, they produce only
electricity and they are subject to all the problems inherent in central-
Turning toward the Sun
ized high technologies. To the extent that energy needs can be met with
lower quality sources or decentralized equipment, the centralized options should be avoided.
As a power source in countries where land is scarce or where cloud
cover is frequent, solar electric plants are less promising; efficient longdistance cryogenic electrical transmission may prove technically feasible
but will probably be extremely expensive.Proposalsto tap North African
deserts for power for Western Europe or to course Mexican sunlight
through New York’s power grid are therefore unlikely to bear fruit. A
more likely consequenceof solar thermal-electric development would be
the relocation of many energy-intensive industries in sunny climes. In
fact, Professor Ignacy Sachs, director of the International Center for
Research on Environment and Development in Paris, has predicted that
a new solar-powered industrial civilization will emerge in the tropics.
Land-based solar electric plants must bow to one incontrovertible
fact: it is alwaysnight over half the earth. If such facilities are to generate
power after the sun sets,oversized collectors must be built and the excess
heat retained in an expensivestorage facility until it is needed. But ocean
thermal-electric conversion (OTEC) plants, which use the ocean as a
free collector and storage system, are unaffected by daily cycles. Because
the ocean’s temperature varies little, OTEC plants can be a source of
steady, round-the-clock power.
The temperature difference between the warm surface waters of
tropical oceans and the colder waters in the depths is about 20 degrees
Centigrade. In 1881, J. D’Arsonval suggested in an article in Rewe
scientifique that this difference could be used to run a closed-cycle
engine. In the 192os, another French scientist, Georges Claude, persuaded the French government to build a number of open-cycle power
plants to exploit these ocean thermal gradients. After World War II, the
French government built severalOTEC plants (the largest of which had
a capacity of 7.5 megawatts) in the hope that such plants would provide
inexpensive energy to France’s tropical colonies. French interest in the
project crumbled along with its overseasempire, but the idea of ir2messing ocean thermal gradients to generate power lingers on.20
Because of the small temperature differences between deep and
surface waters, OTEC’s potential efficiency is severely limited. Moreover, as much as a third of the power an OTEC facility produces may
Ruys of Ho#w
be required to pump the enormous amounts of water needed to drive
the cycle. Despite these difficulties and the additional problem of transporting power to users on the shore, OTEC proponents contend that
the system will be cheap enough to underprice competing sources of
electricity. However, this contention is untested, and estimates of an
OTEC unit’s cost range from about $450 to almost $4,000 per installed
kilowatt-excluding the costs of transporting the electricity to the land
and the costs of any environmental damages.The real cost will probably
fall between these extremes, but early models, at least, will likely veer
toward the high end.21
The OTEC concept does not involve any new basic technology. Its
proponents tend to downplay the technical difficulties as simply matters
of “good plumbing,” even though the system would require pumps and
heat exchangers far larger than any in existence. Because they do not
consume any fuel, OTEC systemsare largely insured against future cost
increases that could affect nuclear or fossil fueled plants. On the other
hand, with so much of their costs as, literally, sunk investments, the
viability of OTECs will depend entirely upon their durability and reliability-two open questions at this point. Unexpected vulnerabilities to
corrosion, biological fouling, hurricanes, or various other plagues could
drive costs up dramatically.
Intensive deployment on the scale urged by OTEC’s most ardent
advocates could also possibly engender a variety of environmental problems that a few scattered plants would not provoke. An increase in the
over-all heat of substantial bodies of water and the upwelling of nutrientrich waters from the ocean bottom could both provoke unfortunate
consequences. Ocean temperature shifts could have far-reaching impacts on weather and climate, and displacing deep waters would disturb
marjne ecology. In addition, physicist Robert Williams of Princeton
calculates, the upwelling of carbon-rich water from the ocean bottom
could cause atmospheric carbon dioxide to increase substantially.22
OTECs, like other large centralized sources of electricity, have costs
that multiply rapidly when large numbers of plants are built. This
technology should probably be limited to a modest number of facilities
in ocean areas where conditions are optimal.
The most exciting solar electric prospect is the photovoltaic cellnow the principal power source of space satellites. Such cells generate
Turning toward the Sun
electricity directly when sunlight falls on them. They have no moving
parts, consume no fuel, produce no pollution, operate at environmental
temperatures, have long lifetimes, require little maintenance, and can
be fashioned from silicon, the second most abundant element in the
earth’s crust.23
Photovoltaic cells are modular by nature, and little is to be gained
by grouping large massesof cells at a single collection site. On the
contrary, the technology is most sensibly applied in a decentralized
fashion-perhaps incorporated in the roofs of buildings-so that transmission and storage problems can be minimized. With decentralized
use, the 80 percent or more of the sunlight that such cells do not convert
into electricity can also be harnessedto provide energy for spaceheating
and cooling, water heating, and refrigeration.
Fundamental physical constraints limit the theoretical efficiency of
photovoltaic cells to under 25 percent. Numerous practical problems
force the real efficiency lower-for silicon photovoltaics, the efficiency
ceiling is about 20 percent. To obtain maximum efficiency, relatively
pure materials with regular crystal structures are required. Such near
perfection is difficult and expensive to obtain. High costs have, in fact,
been the principal deterrent to widespread use of photovoltaic cells.24
Cost comparisons between photovoltaic systems and conventional
systemscan be complicated. Solar cells produce electricity only when the
sun shines; conventional power plants, on the other hand, are frequently
shut down for repairs or maintenance. Depending on the amount of
sunlight available where a photovoltaic array is located, the cells might
produce between one-fourth and one-half as much power per kilowatt
of installed capacity as an average nuclear power plant does. Adding to
the costs of photovoltaics is the need for some kind of storage system;
on the other hand, the use of photovoltaics may eliminate the need for
expensive transmission and distribution systems.
Depending upon who does the figuring, photovoltaic cells now cost
between twenty and forty times as much as conventional sources of
base-load electricity. However, as a source of power just during daylight
periods of peak demand, photovoltaics cost only four to five times as
much as conventional power plants plus distribution systems.Moreover,
the costs of conventional power plants have shot steadily upward in
recent years while the costs of photovoltaic cells have rapidly declined,
Rays of Hope
and several new approaches are being pursued in an effort to further
diminish the costs of photovoltaic arrays. For example, focusing collectors that use inexpensive lenses or mirrors to gather sunlight from a
broad area and concentrate it on the cells are being employed. The
Winston collector can obtain an eight-to-one concentration ratio without tracking the sun; “tracking” collectors can obtain much higher
multiples, but at far greater expense.
Another approach to cutting the costs of photovoltaic cells has been
to use lessefficient but much cheaper materials than those usually used;
amorphous silicon and a combination of cadmium sulfide and copper
sulfide are strong candidates. Although the required collector area is thus
increased, total costs may be less. Conversely, another approach has
been to improve the processing of high-grade materials for photovoltaic
cells. Currently, each cell is handcrafted by artisans who use techniques
not unlike those employed in a Swiss watch factory. Simple mechanization of this processcould lead to large savings.The costs of photovoltaic
cells, which amounted to $2~~oao
per peak kilowatt in 1959, have
already fallen to about $r3,000 per peak kilowatt and most experts
believe that prices will continue to fall rapidly.25
Increased production is of paramount importance in lowering the
prices of photovoltaics. In an eighteen-month period of 1975-70, U.S.
purchasesof photovoltaic cells for earthbound purposes doubled and the
average price per cell dropped by about 50 percent. Price reductions of
from lo to 30 percent for each doubling of output have been common
in the electrical components industries, and photovoltaic production
should prove no exception to the rule.
The objective of the Low-Cost Silicon Array Project of the U.S.
Energy Researchand Development Administration is to produce photovoltaics for lessthan $500 per peak kilowatt, and to be annually producing more than 500 megawatts by 1985. This program, contracted
through the California Institute of Technology, involves a large number
of major corporations. A general consensus appears to be developing
among the participants that the goals are reachable and may even be far
too modest. Under the auspices of the government’s “Project Sunshine,” Japan has undertaken a similar research effort.26
From a “net energy” perspective, photovoltaics are appealing. Detailed studies of the energy needed to manufacture such cells shows that
Turning toward the SWZ
the energy debt can be paid in less than two years of operation. With
more energy-efficient production processes,the energy payback period
could, theoretically, be reduced to a matter of weeks. If the energy some
cells produce is fed back to produce more cells, photovoltaics can become true energy “breeders”- making more and more energy available
each year without consuming any nonrenewable resources. In fact, Malcolm Slesser and Ian Hounam have calculated, an initial l-megawatt
investment in photovoltaic cells with a two-year payback period could
multiply in forty yearsto provide 90 percent of the world’s energy needs.
These calculations may be a bit optimistic, and the world does not want
or need to consume 90 percent of its energy in the form of electricity;
but photovoltaics, like other solar technologies, hold up well under net
energy analysis.27
A variety of options are available to produce electricity directly from
the sun. Several of the approaches sketched here-all of which have
been technically demonstrated-are now economically competitive with
fossil fueled plants under some conditions. Prices can be reasonably
expected to fall dramatically as more experience is gained. Although
solar electricity will probably never be really cheap, it is doubtless worth
paying some economic premium for a source of electricity that is safe,
dependable, renewable, non-polluting, and-in the caseof photovoltaics
-highly decentralized.2a
Jetsand trucks cannot run directly on sunbeams.At night, of course,
nothing can. Solar energy is too diffuse, intermittent, and seasonally
variable to harness directly to serve some human needs. Of course,
interruptions of various kinds plague all energy systems, and storage
problems are not unique to renewable power sources. Electrical power
lines snap, gas and oil pipelines crack, dams run low during droughts,
and nuclear power plants frequently need repairs and maintenance. A
wind turbine on a good site with sufficient storage capacity to handle
a ten-hour lull could, Danish physicist Bent Mrensen has shown, deliver
power as reliably as a typical modem nuclear power plant. Reliability is
thus a relative concept.29
Sometimes the intermittent nature of an energy source causes no
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problems. For example, solar electric facilities with no storage capacity
can be used to meet peak demands, since virtually all areas have their
peak electrical demands during daylight hours. Some users, such as
fertilizer producers, may find that an intermittent energy source satisfies
their needs. And sometimes two intermittent sources will complement
each other. For example, wind speedsare usually highest when the sun
is not shining, so wind and solar devices can often be effectively used
in tandem.
Often, however, energy must be stored. One option is to store energy
as heat. Low-temperature heat for warming buildings, for example, can
be temporarily stored in such substances as water or gravel; in fact,
substantial short-term heat storage capacity can be economically designed into the structural mass of new buildings. For longer periods,
eutectic (phase-changing) salts are a compact, effective storage medium.
Higher temperature heat, suitable for generating electricity, can be
stored in hot oil or perhaps in melted sodium. A 1976 report for the U.S.
Electric Power Research Institute rated thermal storage (along with
pumped hydro-storage and compressed air storage) as the most promising options for centralized utilities.30
Many solar enthusiasts are intrigued by hydrogen storage systems.
The distinguished British scientist and writer J. B. S. Haldane predicted
in a lecture given at Cambridge University in 1923 that England would
eventually turn for energy to “rows of metallic windmills working electric motors.” Haldane then went on:
At suitable distances, there will be great power stations where during windy
weather the surphs power will be used for the electrolytic decomposition of
water into oxygen and hydrogen. These gaseswill be liquefied and stored in vast
vacuum jacketed reservoirs,probably sunk in the ground. . . . In times of calm,
the gaseswill be recombined in explosion motors working dynamos which
produce electrical energy once more, or more probably in oxidation cells.31
Little has been done to advance large-scale hydrogen usage since
Haldane startled Cambridge with his vision more than a half century
ago. The reason for the pause is easyenough to fathom; fossil fuels were
for decadesso cheap that hydrogen could not be made competitive. In
recent years, interest in hydrogen has revived, partly because this fuel
has been used so successfully in space exploration programs and partly
Turning toward the Sun
because natural gas companies have gradually begun to awaken from
their “pipe dreams” of endless natural gas supplies.
Under some grand schemes,hydrogen would someday substitute for
all natural gas,replace all automobile fuel, and satisfy much of industry’s
total energy demand as well. But the most farfetched of such plans for
a “hydrogen economy” strain the imagination. The easiestway to make
hydrogen (other than by reforming fossil hydrocarbons) is by electrolyzing water; the United States would have to triple its present electrical
generating capacity in order to substitute hydrogen for the natural gas
it now uses-even if it were to devote all its electricity to the task.
Hydrogen production poses a technical problem but it is one that
may eventually yield to a cheap technical solution. In fact, some promising research is now being conducted on biological production processes
and on techniques for using high-temperature solar heat to split water
molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. In the meantime, hydrogen recommends itself for use in storing and transporting energy from intermittent
sources of power. Easily stored as a pressurized gas, as a super-cooled
liquid, or in metal hydrides, hydrogen can also be transported long
distances more economically than electricity and can be used in fuel cells
(where it can be efficiently converted into electricity in decentralized
facilities). Pressurized hydrogen tends to embrittle some metals and
alloys, but the importance of this problem has probably been exaggerated.32
Pumped hydra-storage involves using surplus power to pump water
from a lower reservoir to an elevated one. Then, when power is needed,
the water is allowed to flow back to the lower pool through a turbine.
Pumped hydro-storage is already used with conventional power plants
around the world; in the future it may be crossbred with wind-power
technologies. The use of wind energy declined in Denmark a half century ago in part because“wind muscle” could not compete economically
with cheap, surplus Swedish hydropower. Now that demand for electricity has increased in both countries, both are seriously considering investing in a hybrid system. Danish wind power could replace some Swedish
hydropower when the wind blows, and any surplus wind power could be
used to pump downstream water back into some of Sweden’s reservoirs.
Sweden might also pursue wind power independently. The Swedish
State Power Board has determined that 5,ocm megawatts of wind-power
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capacity could be linked with current hydroelectric facilities without
providing extra storage. Such a combination of wind power and hydropower would make sensein many places: when a dam has excesscapacity
and could generate more electricity without adding more turbines if only
it held more water, a hybrid system fits the bill. The Bonneville Power
Administration is considering the integration of wind turbines into its
extensive hydroelectric system in the northwestern United States.
Another form of mechanical storage involves pumping pressurized
air into natural reservoirs (e.g., depleted oil and gas fields), man-made
caverns (including abandoned mines), or smaller specially made storage
tanks. Air stored in this manner is released as needed to drive turbines
or to run machinery. For almost four decades, designers have studied
large-scale pumped-air storage proposals, but the first commercial unit
is just being completed. Located in Huntorf, West Germany, the system
will store the surplus power generated by nuclear reactors during periods
of low power demand.33
Still another approach to mechanical storage involves rapidly rotating flywheels in environments that are almost friction-free. Recent major
advances in materials now allow the construction of “super-flywheels”
whose higher spinning speeds enable them to store large amounts of
energy in rather small areas.Flywheels could, in theory, be made small
and efficient enough to propel individual automobiles. They have already been used in pilot projects on trolleys and buses to recapture the
energy that would otherwise be lost during braking. Although superflywheels seem attractive at first blush, significant problems remain; and
these devices are some yearsaway from widespread commercial application-34
Electricity can be stored directly in batteries. Existing batteries are
rather expensive, have low power and energy densities, and do not last
long. However, experimental batteries, some of which may prove economical and feasible when used with intermittent energy sources, may
soon enter the market. Metal-gas batteries, Iike the zinc chloride cell,
use inexpensive materials and have relatively high energy densities. Alkali-metal batteries perform very well, but operate at high temperatures,
and existing models suffer from short life spans. A number of other
battery possibilities are being investigated and some promising preliminary research results are now emerging.35
Turning toward the Sun
Base-load sources of electricity, such as coal plants and nuclear
plants, also require storage. Such facilities cannot be geared up and down
to follow the peaks and valleys of electrical usage; they produce power
at a steady rate, and surplus power from non-peak hours must be stored
for the periods of heaviest demand. For base-load plants, the cost of
storage varies with the degree to which consumer usageis not constant
twenty-four hours a day. For solar sources, the storage costs vary with
the eitent to which usage does not coincide with the normal daytime
sunlight cycle. Wind power is less predictable but at choice sites tends
to be quite constant. Storage problems with hydropower and biomass
systems are minimal. Over all, the storage requirements for a society
lb bnergy
sources may prove comparable to those of
based on renewab’m
an all-nuclear society.
Sunlight is abundant, dependable, and free. With some minor fluctuations, the sun has been bestowing its bounty on the earth for more
than four billion years,and it is expected to continue to do so for several
billion more. The sun’s inconstancy is regional and seasonal,not arbitrary or political, and it can therefore be anticipated and planned for.36
Different solar sourceswill see their fullest development in different
regions. Wind-power potential is greatest in the temperate zones, while
biomass flourishes in the tropics. Direct sunlight is most intense in the
cloudless desert, while water power depends upon mountain rains. However, most countries have some potential to harnessall these renewable
resources, and many lands have begun to take advantage of some of
them. In many small ways in many diverse places, the solar transition
has already begun.
10.Winded IKiterPower
Catching the Wind
that envelops the earth functions as a 2o-billioncubic-kilometer storage battery for solar energy. Winds are generated by
the uneven heating of our spinning planet’s land and water, plains and
mountains, equatorial regions and poles. The idea of harnessing this
wind to servehuman needsmay have first occurred to someonewatching
a leaf skitter acrossa pond. Five thousand years ago, the Egyptians were
already sailing barges along the Nile. Wind-powered vesselsof one sort
or another dominated shipping until the nineteenth century, when ships
driven by fossil fuels gradually easedthem out. A few large cargo schooners plied the east coast of the United States until the 193os, and the
largest windjammers were the greatest wind machines the world has
The windmill appearsto have originated in Persia two millennia ago.
There, vertical shaft devices that turned like merry-go-rounds were used
to grind grain and pump water. After the Arab conquest of Persia, wind
power spread with Islam throughout the Middle East and to the southem Mediterranean lands. Invading Mongols carried the windmill back
to China. Returning Crusaders likewise appear to have transferred the
technology to Europe-though the tilt (30 degrees to the horizontal) of
the axesof early European mills have led some scientists to believe that
the device may have been invented independently by a European. Eventually, horizontal-axis windmills with blades that turned like Ferris
wheels were developed, and they spread throughout Europe.2
Wind and Water Power
By the seventeenth century, the Dutch had a commanding lead in
wind technology and were already using wind power to saw wood and
make paper. In the late nineteenth century, the mantle of leadership
passedto the Danes, who had about roo,ooo windmills in operation by
1~. Under the leadership of Poul la Cour, Denmark began making
significant investments in wind-generated electricity and by 1916 was
operating more than 1,300 wind generators.
The windmill played an important role in American history, especially in the Great Plains, where it was used to pump water. More than
six million windmills were built in the United States over the last
century; about 150,000 still spin productively. Before the large-scale
federal commitment to rural electrification in the 1930s and 194os,
windmills supplied much of rural America with its only source of electricity.
After World War I, cheap hydropower and dependable fossil fuels
underpriced wind-power plants. However, research in many parts of the
world continued, and many interesting windmill prototypes were constructed. In 1931, the Soviet Union built the world’s first large wind
generator near Yalta. Overlooking the Black Sea, this loo-kilowatt turbine produced about 280,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. In
the 1950s, Great Britain built two r-kilowatt
turbines. In 1957, Denmark built a aoo-kilowatt turbine, and France constructed an 8ookilowatt wind generator. In 1963, a r ,ooo-kilowatt wind turbine was
built in France.
The largest wind generator ever built was the 1,25o-kilowatt
Grandpa’s Knob machine designed by Palmer Putnam and erected on
a mountaintop in central Vermont. It began generating electricity on
August 29, 1941, just two years after its conception. However, the
manufacturer had been forced to cut comers in his haste to finish
construction before the icy hand of wartime rationing closed upon the
project, and the eight-ton propeller blades developed stress cracks
around their rivet holes. Although the cracking was noticed early, the
blades could not be replaced becauseof materials shortages. Finally, a
blade split, spun 750 feet in the air, and brought the experiment to a
crashing conclusion. The private manufacturer had invested more than
a million dollars in the project and could afford to risk no more.3
Despite the enthusiasm of occasional wind-power champions in the
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federzl government, no more major wind generators were constructed
in the United States until 1975. Then NASA began operating a lookilowatt prototype near Sandusky, Ohio, that resembles a huge helicopter mounted sideways atop a transmission tower. The next major step
in the American program will be a 1,5oo-kilowatt wind turbine to be
built jointly by General Electric and United Technology Corporation in
Before the GE-UTC turbine begins operating, however, it may have
slipped into second place in the size sweepstakes. Tvind, a Danish
college, has nearly completed a 2,ooo-kilowatt wind turbine, at a cost of
only $350,000. (Doubtless the most important factor in holding down
expenses for the Tvind generator is that the college staff paid for the
project out of their own pockets. If successful,Tvind will hearten those
who hope that major technical accomplishments can still be achieved
without reliance on central governments or big business.)4
The Tvind wind machine, like virtually all large wind turbines today,
will have only two blades. While more blades provide more torque in
low-speed winds (making multiple blades particularly useful for purposes
such as small-scale water pumping), fewer blades capture more energy
for their cost in faster winds. A two-blade propeller can extract most of
the available energy from a large vertical area without filling the area
with metal that could crack or split in a storm.
Since power production increaseswith the square of a turbine’s size,
large wind machines produce far more energy than do small ones. Moreover, wind power increases as the cube of velocity, so a ro-meter-persecond wind produces eight times as much power as a S-meter-persecond breeze does. Consequently, some wind-power enthusiasts limit
their dreams to huge turbines on very windy sites. In particular, a recent
survey of large U.S. corporations conducting wind-power research disclosed that only one company had any interest in small or intermediatesized turbines. *
However, the “think big” approach does not necessarily make sense.
The crucial question for windmills is how much energy is harnessed per
dollar of investment. Increases in output are desirable only if the value
of the additional energy extracted exceedsthe extra cost, and economic
optimization does not necessarily lead to the construction of giant turbines. Smaller windmills might lend themselves more easily to mass
Wind md Water Power
production and might be easier to locate close to the end-user (thus
reducing transmission costs). Small windmills can produce power in
much lower winds than large ones do and can thus operate more over
a given time. Smaller-scaleequipment also allows a greater decentralization of ownership and control, and the consequences of equipment
failure are not likely to be catastrophic. Finally, wind turbine development will probably be constrained by practical limits on propeller size.
Large turbines place great stresseson both the blade and tower, and all
giant turbines built to date have suRered from metal fatigue.
On a small scale, wind power can be cheaply harnessed to perform
many kinds of work. The Valley of Lasithi on Crete usesan estimated
lo,000 windmills, which catch the wind in triangular bands of white
sailcloth, to pump irrigation water. Similar windmills built of local
materials have recently been erected in East Africa. The New Alchemy
,J Instittite of AgriculInstitute in Massachusetts,working with +a.&ra,ian
tural Research and the Indian National Aeronautical Laboratory, has
developed a 25-foot sail-wing pump for rural use; employing the wheel
of a bullock cart as the hub and a bamboo frame for the cloth sails, this
simple machine could provide cheap power to Indian villages. The Brace
Research Institute in Canada has designed a Savonius water pump that
can be constructed from two 45-gallon oil drums cut in half. Already
used in the Caribbean, the device costs about $50 to make and will
operate at wind speeds as low as 8 mph.
Traditionally, wind has been used primarily to pump water and to
grind grain. Windmills can also produce heat that can be stored and
used later in spaceheating, crop drying, or manufacturing processes.A
particularly attractive new approach is to compress air with wind turbines. Pressurized air can be stored much more easily than electricity,
a fact to which virtually every gasoline station in the United States
attests Stored air can either be used as needed to directly power mechanical equipment or releasedthrough a turbine to generate electrici’ty.
On a large scale, pressurized air can be stored in underground caverns.
The modem wind enthusiast can choose from many options: multiple-blade propellers, triple-blade props, double-blade props, single-blade
versions with counterweights, sail wings, crosswind paddles, and gyromills. In some wind turbines, the propeller is upwind from the platform,
while in others it is located downwind. Some platforms support single
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large turbines; others support many small ones. A machine with two sets
of blades turning in opposite directions is being tested in West Germany-6
One of the most interesting multiple-blade devices for small and
moderate-sized generators is under development at Oklahoma State
University. This mill resembles a huge bicycle tire, with flat aluminum
blades radiating out from the hub like so many spokes. Instead of the
generator’s being geared to the hub of the windmill, the Oklahoma State
machine operates on the principle of the spinning wheel: the generator
is connected to a belt that encircles the faster-moving outer rim.
The Darrieus wind generator, favored, by the National Research
Council of Canada and by Sandia Laboratories in New Mexico, looks
like an upside-down egg beater, and turns around its vertical axis like a
spinning coin. The Dar&is holds several striking advantagesover horizontal-axis turbines: it will rotite regardlessof wind direction; it does not
require blade adjustments for different wind speeds; and it can operate
without an expensive tower to provide rotor clearance from the ground.
Aerodynamically efficient and lightweight, the Darrieus might cost as
little as one-sixth as much as a horizontal-shaft windmill of the same
capacity. In early 1977, a zoo-kilowatt Canadian Darrieus wind turbine
began feeding electricity into the 24,ooo-kilowatt power grid that serves
the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. If this machine lives
up to its economic potential, other Darrieus turbines will be installed.7
Intriguing new approaches to wind power may well be gestating.
Little money or effort has been put into wind turbine research over the
last two decades,although aeronautical engineering has made enormous
strides over the same period. With interest in wind machines gathering
force, new approaches might well emerge. For example, a “confined
vortex” generator being developed by JamesYen steers wind through a
circular tower, creating a small tornado-like effect; this generator utilizes
the difference in pressurebetween the center of the swirling wind and
the outside air to drive a turbine.8 Large amounts of electricity could,
theoretically, be generated by relatively small turbines of this type. The
U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration recently
awarded Dr. Yen $200900
to develop this idea further. However, the
viability of wind power does not depend upon scientific breakthroughs;
existing wind technologies can compete on their own terms for a sub-
Wind and Klater Power
stantial share of the world’s future energy budget.
Estimating the probable cost of wind power is a somewhat speculative undertaking. The cost of generating electricity with the wind can
be measured in two different ways-depending upon whether the system provides “base load” power or only supplementary power. If wind
generators feed power directly into a grid when the wind blows, and if
other generating facilities have to be constructed to handle peak loads
W&II the wind isn’t blowing, the averagecosts of building and maintaining such windmills must compete with just the cost of fuel for the
alternative power plant. Obviously, this calculation hinges not only on
how much a windmill costs to construct, but also on how long it lasts
and how reliably it functions. Conclusions are premature until experience has been gained, but many studies have suggestedthat intermittent
electricity could be generated today from the wind for considerably less
than the cost of merely providing fuel for an oil-fired unit. Moreover,
wind-power costs could diminish significantly as more experience is
acquired, while oil costs will certainly rise.9
If the wind is used to provide constant, reliable power, then the cost
of building a wind generator plus a storage facility must not exceed the
total cost (including the environmental cost) of building and operating
a conventional power plant. Used in conjunction with a hydroelectric
facility with reserve capacity, wind turbines should already have a substantial cost advantage over conventional power plants. For other storage setups, cost calculations remain unsubstantiated, but studies of analogous technologies suggest that such base-load wind systems will be
economically sound. When social and environmental costs are included,
the case becomes even stronger. Accordingly, such systems should now
be built and operated so that these calculations can be proven.
The rate and extent to which wind power is put to work is much
more likely to be a function of -political considerations than of technical
or economic limits. The World Meteorological Organization has estimated that 20 million megawatts of wind power can be commercially
tapped at the choicest sites around the world, not including the possible
contributions from large clusters of windmills at sea.10By comparison,
the current total world electrical generating capacity is about 1.5 million
megawatts. Even allowing for the intermittent nature of the resource,
wind availability will not limit wind-power development. Long before a
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large fraction of the wind’s power is reaped, capital constraints and social
objections will impose limits on the growth of wind power.
Well-designed, well-placed ‘wind turbines will achieve a high net
energy output with an exceptionally mild environmental and climatic
impact: wind machines produce no pollution, no hazardous materials,
and little noise. In fact, the principal environmental consequencesof
wind power will be comparatively modest ones associated with mining
and refining the metals needed for wind turbine construction-ill-effects
associatedwith virtually every energy source. Windmills will have to be
kept out of the migratory flyways of birds, but these routes are well
known and can be e-.sily avoided. Where objections to wind technology
on aesthetic grounds arise, windmills could be located out of the visual
range of populated areas, even a few miles out to sea. Moreover, some
wind machines, such as the Darrieus, strike many as handsome. All
things considered, a cleaner, safer, lessdisruptive source of energy is hard
to imagine. l l
Falling Water
Numerous surveysof the world’s water-power resourcessuggestthat
a potential of about 3 million megawatts exists, of which about onetenth is now developed. The figure is unrealistic, however, since reaching the -j-million-megawatt potential would require flooding fertile agricultural bottomlands and rich natural ecosystems.On the other hand,
none of the surveys include the world’s vast assortment of small hydroelectric sites. By even the most conservative standards, potential hydropower developments definitely exceed 1 million megawatts, while current world hydroelectric capacity is only 340,000 megawatts.
Industrialized regions contain about 30 percent of the world’s hydroelectric potential as measured by conventional criteria but produce
about 80 percent of all its hydroelectricity. North America produces
about one-third, Europe just a little less, and the Soviet Union about
one-tenth. Japan, with on!y 1 percent of the world’s potential, produced
over 6 percent of all its hydroelectricity. In contrast, Africa is blessed
with 22 percent of all hydroelectric potential, but produces only 2
percent of all hydroelectricity-half
of which comes from the ‘4swan
High Dam in Egypt, the Akosombo Dam in Ghana, and the Kariba
Wind and Water Power
Dam on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Rhodesia. Asia (excluding Japan and the USSR) has 27 percent of the potential resources,
and currently generatesabout I 2 percent of the world’s hydroelectricity;
most of its potential lies in the streams that drain the Tibetan Plateau,
at sites far from existing energy markets. Latin America, with about 20
percent of the world’s total water-power resources, contributes about 6
percent of the current world output. Nine of the world’s fifteen most
powerful rivers are in Asia, three are in South America, two are in North
Am&a, and one is in Africa.12
The amount of hydropower available in a body of moving water is
determined by the volume of water and by the distance the water falls.
A small Imount of water dropping from a great height can produce as
much pc~er as a large amount of water falling a shorter distance. The
Amazon carries Z--z times as much water to the sea as does the worlds
second largest river, the Congo; but because of the more favorable
topography of its basin, the Congo has more hydroelectric potential. In
mountainous headwater areas, such as Nepal, where relatively small
volumes of water fall great distances, numerous choice sites exist for
stations of up to loo megawatts each.13
Used by the Romans to grind grain, waterwheels reached their
highest pre-electric form in the mid-r 7oos with the development of the
turbine wheel. The Versailles waterworks produced about 56 kilowatts
of mechanical power in the eighteenth century. In 1882, the first small
hydroelectric facility began producing 125 kilowatts of electricity in
Appleton, Wisconsin, and by 1925 hydropower accounted for 40 percent of the world’s electric power. Although hydroelectric capacity has
since grown fifteenfold, its share of the world’s electricity market has
fallen to about 23 percent.
Early hydroelectric development tended to involve small facilities in
mountainous regions. In the 193os, emphasis shifted to major dams and
reservoirsin the middle and lower sections of a river, such as the Tennessee Valley dams in the United States and the Volga River dams in the
Soviet Union. The world now has 64 hydroplants with capacities of
1,000 megawatts or more each: the Soviet Union has 16, the United
States has 12, Canada has I 1 (the United States and Canada share
another), and Brazil has 10.
The environmental and social problems associated with huge dams
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aiid reservoirsfar outweigh those surrounding small-scale installations or
projects that use river diversion techniques.14 Moreover, the increments
by which small facilities boost a region’s power supply are manageable.
In contrast, a tripling or quadrupling of a power supply in one feel1swoop
by a giant dam can lead to a desperate search for energy-intensive
industries to purchase the surplus, dramatically upsetting the politics
and culture of an area.
Much of the extensive hydroelectric development in Japan, Switzerland, and Sweden has entailed use of comparatively small facilities, and
such small units hold continuing promise for developing countries. In
late 1975, China reportedly had 60,000 small facilities that together
generated over 2 million kilowatts-about 20 percent of China’s total
hydroelectric capacity. The Chinese facilities are located in sparsely
populated areas,thereby neutralizing the prohibitive transmission costs
of sending electricity from huge centralized facilities. Local workers
build the small earth-filled or rock-filled dams that provide substantial
flood control and irrigation benefits as they bring power to the people?
Nevertheless, building enomious facilities to capture as much power
as possible while taking advantage of the economies of large scale is
tempting. Although this approach has been used extensively and rather
successfully in the temperate zone, many of the remaining prime locations are in the tropics, where troubles may arise. The Congo, for
example, with a fIow of 40,ooo cubic meters per second and a drop of
nearly 300 meters in the final 200 kilometers of its journey to the ocean,
has an underdeveloped hydroelectric potential of 30,000 megawatts. But
experience in other warm areas indicates that great care must be taken
in exploiting such resources.
The Aswan High Dam provides a textbook caseof the problems that
can encumber a major hydroelectric development in the tropics. So
trouble-ridden is Aswan that its costs largely offset its benefits. Although
Aswan is a source of electricity, of flood and drought control, and of
irrigation, the dam’s users and uses sometimes conflict. For example,
Aswan provides more than 50 percent of Egypt’s electrical power, but
its production is highly seasonal;during winter months, the flow of water
through the dam is severely diminished while irrigation canals are
cleaned.. This reduced flow causes power generation to drop from a
designed capacity of 2,000 megawatts to a mere 700 megawatts. Fur-
Wind and Water Power
thermore, lack of money for an extensive transmission grid has meant
that efectricity does not reach many of the rural villages that had hoped
to benefit from the project.
Aswan saved Egypt’s rice and cotton crops during the droughts in
northeastern Africa in 1972 and 1973. Irrigation has increased food
production by bringing approximately 750,000 formerly barren acres
under cultivation, and by allowing farmers to plant multiple crops on a
million acresthat had previously been harvested only once a year. These
timely boosts have enabled Egypt’s food production to keep pace,
though just barely, with its rapidly growing population. On the other
hand, the dam has halted the natural flow of nutrient-rich silt, leaving
downstream farmers to rely increasingly upon energy-intensive chemical
fertilizers; and the newly irrigated areasare so plagued by waterlogging
and mounting soil salinity that a $30 million drainage program is now
needed. In addition, the canals in some areas rapidly clog with fastgrowing water hyacinths.
The Aswan has also given a new lease to an age-old health hazard
in Egypt. Schistosomiasis,a diseasecausedby parasitic worms carried by
water snails, has long been endemic in the Nile delta where most of
Egypt’s population is concentrated, but in the past it was rarely found
in upstream areas.Since the construction of the large dam, infestations
of this chronic and debilitating affliction are also common along the Nile
and its irrigation capillaries in Upper Egypt. Many of the major problems associatedwith Aswan should have been anticipated and avoided.
Even now, Aswan’s worst problems probably can be either solved or
managed. But after-the-fact remedies will be costlier and less effective
than a modest preventive effort would have been.
The inevitable siltation of reservoirs does more to spoil the use of
dams as renewable energy sourcesthan does any other problem. Siltation
is a complex phenomenon that hinges upon severalfactors, one of which
is the size of the reservoir. For example, the Tarbela Reservoir in Pakistan holds only about one-seventh the annual flow of the Indus, while
Lake Mead on the Colorado can retain two years’ tlow. The life expectancy of the Tarbela is measurable in decades; Lake Mead will last for
centuries. The rate of natural erosion, another factor in siltation, is
determined primarily by the local terrain. Some large dams in stable
terrains have a life ?axpectancyof thousands of years; others have been
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known to lose virtually their entire storage capacity during one bad
storm. Logging and farming can greatly accelerate natural erosion too;
maay reservoirs will fill with silt during one-fourth their expected life
spans because these and other human activities ruin their watersheds.
Siltation, which affects the dam’s storage capacity but not its powergenerating capacity, can be minimized. Water can be sluiced periodically through gates in the dam, carrying with it some of the accumulated
silt. Reservoirscan be dredged, though at astronomical costs. By far the
most effective technique for handling siltation is lowering the rate of
upstream erosion through reforestation projects and enlightened land
Dams cannot be evaluated apart from their interaction with many
other natural and artificial systems.They are just one component, albeit
a vital one, of river basin management. Locks will have to be provided
on navigable rivers, and fish ladders (one of the earliest victories of
environmentalists) must be installed where dams block the spawning
routes of dnadromous fish. If a dam is located in a dry area, power
generation must be coordinated with downstream irrigation needs. If a
populated basin is to be flooded, the many needs of displaced people as
well as the loss of fertile bottomland must be taken into account. Unpopulated basinsare politically easier to dam, but in unsettled areascare
must nevertheless be taken to preserve unique ecosystems and other
irreplaceable resources.
Dams are vulnerable to natural forces, human error, and acts of war.
The 1976 collapses of the Bolan Dam in Pakistan, the Teton Dam in
Idaho, and a large earthen dam outside La Paz on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula serve as emphatic reminders of the need for careful geological
studies and the highest standards of construction.
Dams recommend themselvesover most other energy sources.They
provide many benefits unconnected to power production; they are clean;
and their use does not entail the storage problems that plague so many
other renewable sources.Indeed, using dams as storage mechanisms may
be the most effective way to fill the gaps left by solar and wind power.
In addition, the conversion of water power into electrical power is highly
efficient--85 percent or more. Finally, dams can be instruments of
economic equity; the greatest potential for future hydropower development lies in those lands that are currently most starved for energy.
Wind and Water Power
Turning the Tides
Like wind power and hydropower, tidal power was first harnessed to
mill grain. English tide mills built at Bromley-by-Bow in 1100 and at
Woodbridge in 1170 functioned successfully for eight hundred years.
Tide mills were built in Zuidholland in the thirteenth century, and
Dutch colonists built similar mills in New York in the seventeenth
century. All, however, were miniature operations.
The use of tidal power to generate large amounts of electricity has
captured the popular fancy periodically over the last half century. In
1966, the French constructed the first commercial total power facility.
The Saint-Ma10 plant on the Rance River, with a capacity of 240
megawatts, usesreversibie bulb turbines to generate power both when
the tide rises and when it falls.
Without droughts to plague it, tidal power has a seasonaladvantage
over hydroelectricity. Governed by the earth’s rotation and the gravitational force of the moon, tides are comfortingly predictable. However,
their periodicity causesformidable problems for those who would integrate tidal power into electrical utility systems. High tides occur about
once every thirteen hours, and their peak power potential seldom coincides with peak power demand. The range between high and low tides
changes on a semi-monthly cycle of forceful “springs” and weaker
“neaps.” At the Rance River plant, about four times as much power can
be generated on the spring tides as on the neaps. Factoring this variable
power source into an electrical system requires skillful planning and
Although its potential is limited to a small number of bays and
estuaries with unusually high tides, tidal power has devoted followers
around the world. The French are considering a 6,ooo-megawatt plant
on the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel. The Russians,having built a successful pilot plant at Kislaya Guba, are now exploring possible sites for
several larger facilities. Canada and the United States are continuing
their half-century study of the feasibility of exploiting some of the
3o,ooc+megawatt potential of the Bay of Fundy. Potential tidal sites
have been identified off the shores of twenty-three countries, including
Australia, Argentina, China, and Korea, though severalof these sites are
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at a considerable distance from current major energy markets.
Over the long term, tidal power probably constitutes one of the more
environmentally sound energy sources. But siting limitations will
severely restrict its importance, and tidal power can never provide more
than 1 or 2 percent of the world’s electrical capacity. While several
proposed projects merit development, tidal power cannot, in the global
scheme of things, be considered a major energy resource.
REENPLANTS began collecting and storing sunshine more
than two billion yearsago. They photosynthesize an estimated one-tenth
of one percent of all solar energy that strikes the earth. Somewhat more
than half of this fraction is spent on plant metabolism; the remainder
is stored in chemical bonds and can be put to work by human beings.
All fossil fuels were once biomass, and the prospect of dramatically
shortening the time geological forces take to convert vegetation into oil,
gas, and coal (roughly a third of a billion years) now intrigues many
thoughtful persons. Dry cellulose has an averageenergy content of about
4 kilocalories per gram-& percent as much as bituminous coal-and
the hydrocarbons produced by certain plants contain more energy than
coal does. Biomass can be transformed directly into substitutes for some
of our most rapidly vanishing fuels.
Becausegreen plants can be grown almost everywhere, they are not
very susceptible to international political pressures. Unlike fossil fuels,
botanical energy rewurces are renewable. In addition, biomass operations involve few of the environmental drawbacks associated with the
large-scale use of coal and oil.
The ultimate magnitude of this energy resource has not been established. Measuring the earth’s total photosynthetic capacity poses difhculties, and estimates vary considerably. Most experts peg the energy
content of alI annual biomass production at between fifteen and twenty
times the amount human beings currently get from commercial energy
sources,although other estimates range from ten to forty times.1 Using
all the vegetation tb~+ grows on earth each year as fuel is unthinkable.
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But the energy that could reasonably be harvested from organic sources
each year probably exceeds the energy content of all the fossil fuels
currently consumed annually.
Two important caveats must be attached to this statement. The
first qualification concerns conversion efficiency. Much of the energy
bound in biomass will be lost during its conversion to useful fuels.
These losses, however, need be no greater than those involved in
converting coal into synthetic oil and gas. The second catch is geographical: the areas with the greatest biomass production are wet
equatorial regions- not the temperate lands where fuel use is highest
today. The full biological energy potential of the United States, calculated liberally, probably amounts to about one-fifth of current
commercial energy use; in contrast, the potential in many tropical
countries is much higher than their current fuel consumption levels.
However, many equatorial nations will be hard pressed to secure the
capital and to develop the technology needed to use their potential
plant power.*
Organic fuels fall into two broad categories: waste from nonenergy processes (such as food and paper production) and crops
grown explicitly for their energy value. Since waste disposal is unavoidable and often costly, converting waste into fuels-the first option-is a sensible alternative to using valuase land for garbage
dumps. However, the task of waste collection and disposal usually
falls to those who cling to the bottom rungs of the economic and
social ladder and, until recently, waste seldom attracted either the
interest of the well-educated or the investment dollars of the wellheeled. But change is afoot, partiy because solid waste is now often
viewed as a source of abundant high-grade fuel that is close to major
energy markets.
The wasteseasiest to tap for fuels may be those that flow from food
production. Bagasse,the residue from sugarcane,has long been used as
fuel in most cane-growing regions. Cornstalks and spoiled grain are
being eyed as potential sourcesof energy in the American Midwest. And
India’s brightest hope for bringing commercial energy to most of its
6oo,ooo villages is pinned to a device that produces methane from
excrement and that leaves fertilizer as a residue.
Plant Power
Wastes as Fuels
Agricultural residues-the inedible, unharvested portions of food
crops-represent the largest potential source of energy from waste. But
most plant residuesare sparselydistibuted, and some cannot be spared:
they are needed to feed livestock, retard erosion, and enrich the soil. Yet,
wisely used, field residues can guard the soil, provide animal fodder, and
serve as a fuel source.
’ Agricultural energy demands are highly seasonal,and usagepeaksdo
not always coincide with the periods during which residue-derived energy is most plentiful. In agricultural systems still largely dependent
upon draft animals, this problem is minimized: silage and hay can easily
be stored until needed. On mechanized farms, energy storage poses a
somewhat more difficult problem.
Animal excrement is another potentially valuable source of energy.
Much undigested energy remains bound in animal excrement; and cattle
feedlots, chicken coops, and pigsties could easily become energy farms.
Indeed, animal dung has been burned in some parts of the world for
centuries: in the United States, buffalo chips once provided cooking fuel
to frontiersmen on the treeless Great Plains. In India today, about 68
million tons of dry cow dung are burned as fuel each year, mostly in rural
areas,although more than CJJpercent of the potential heat and virtually
aI1the nutrients in excrement are lost in inefficient burning.3 Far more
work could be obtained from dung if it were first digested to produce
methane gas; moreover, all the nutrients originally in the dung could
then be returned to the soil as fertilizer.4
In May, 1976, Calorific Recovery Anaerobic Process(CRAP), Inc.,
of Oklahoma City received Federal Power Commission authorization to
provide the Natural Gas Pipeline Company annually with 820 million
cubic feet of methane derived from feedlot wastes.Other similar proposals are being advanced. Although most commercial biogas plants
planned in the United States are associatedwith giant feedlots, a more
sensible long-term strategy might be to range-feed cattle as long as
possible and then to fatten them up, a thousand at a time, on farms in
the midwestem grain belt. Cow dung could power the farm and provide
surplus methane, and the residue could be used as fertilizer. In addition,
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methane generation has been found to be economically attractive in
most dairies-an important point, since more than half of all U.S. cows
are used for milk production.5
Collectible crop residues and feedlot wastes in the United States
contain 4.6 quadrillion Btu’s (quads)-more energy than all the nation’s
farmers use.6Generating methane from such residues is often economical. However, developing a farm that is totally energy self-sufficient may
require a broader goal than maximizing short-term food output.
Human sewage,too, contains a large store of energy. In some rural
areas, particularly in China and India, ambitious programs to produce
gaseousfuel from human and animal wastes are under way. Unfortunately, toxic industrial effluents are now mixed with human waste in
many of the industrialized world’s sewagesystems,and these pollutants
make clean energy recovery vastly more difficult. If these pollutants were
kept separate, a large new energy source would become available.
The residues of the lumber and paper industries also contain usable
energy. A study conducted for the Ford Foundation’s Energy Policy
Project found that if the U.S. paper industry were to adopt the most
energy-efficient technologies now available and were to use its wood
wastes as fuel, fossil fuel consumption could be reduced by a staggering
75 percent. The Weyerhaeuser Company recently announced a
$75 million program to expand the use of wood waste as fuel for its paper
miIIs; “We’re getting out of oil and gas wherever we can,” commented
George Weyerhaeuser, the company’s president. Sweden already obtains 7 percent of its total energy budget by exploiting wastesof its huge
forest-products industry.
Eventually, most paper becomes urban trash. Ideally, much of it
should instead be recycled-a processthat would savetrees, energy, and
money. But unrecycled paper, along with rotten vegetables,cotton rags,
and other organic garbage, contains energy that can be economically
recaptured. Milan, Italy, runs its trolleys and electric buses partly on
power produced from trash. Baltimore, Maryland, expects to heat much
of its downtown business district soon with fuel obtained by distilling
1,000 tons of garbage a day.
American waste streams alone could, after conversion losses are
subtracted, produce nearly five quads per year of methane and “char oil”
-about 7 percent of the current U.S. energy budget. Decentralized
agrarian societies could derive a far higher percentage of their commercial energy needs from agricultural, forest, and urban wastes.
Energy Crops
The second plant-energy option, the production of “energy crops,”
will probably be limited to marginal lands, since worldwide population
pressures are already relentlessly pushing food producers onto lands
ill-suited to conventional agriculture. Yet much potential energy cropland does exist in areas where food production cannot be sustained.
Some prime agricultural land could also be employed during the offseason to grow energy crops. For example, winter rye (which has little
forage value) could be planted in the American Midwest after the fall
corn harvest and harvested for energy in the spring before maize is
Factors other than scarce land can limit biomass growth. The unavailability of nutrients and of an adequate water supply are two. Much
marginal land is exceedingly dry, and lumber and paper industries will
make large demands on areaswet enough to support trees. The e-ergy
costs of irrigating arid lands can be enormous, reducing the net energy
output dramatically.
Yields from energy crops will reflect the amount of sunlight such
crops receive, the acreage devoted to collecting energy, and the efficiency with which sunlight is captured, stored, harvested, transported,
and put to work. Ultimately, they will also depend upon our ability to
produce crops that do not sap the land’s productivity and that can resist
common diseases,pests, fire, and harsh weather.
The most familiar energy crop, of course, is firewood. A good fuel
tree has a high annual yield when densely planted, resprouts from cut
stumps (coppices), thrives with only short rotation periods, and is generally hardy. Favored species for fuel trees are eucalyptus, sycamore, and
poplar--an intelligently planned tree plantation would probably grow a
mixture of species.
Forests canopy about one-tenth of the planet’s surface and represent
about half the earth’s captured biomass energy.’ A century ago, the
United States obtained three-fourths of its commercial energy from
wood. In the industrialized world today, only a small number of the rural
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poor and a handful of self-styled rustics rely upon fuel wood. However,
the case is emphatically different in the Third World. Thirty percent
of India’s energy and 96 percent of Tanzania’s comes from wood.8 In
all, about half the trees cut down around the world are burned to cook
food and to warm homes.
In many lands, unfortunately, human beings are propagating faster
than trees. Although much attention has been paid to the populationfood equation, scant notice has been given to the question of how the
growing numbers will cook their food. As desperate people clear the land
of mature trees and saplingsalike, landscapesbecome barren, and, where
watersheds are stripped, increasingly severe flooding occurs. In the
parched wastelands of north central Africa and the fragile mountain
environments of the Andes and the Himalayas, the worsening shortage
of firewood is today’s most pressing energy crisis.9
A variety of partial solutions have been suggested for the “firewood
crisis.” In southern Saudi Arabia, some tribes impose the same penalty
for the unauthorized cutting of a tree as for the taking of a human life.
China has embarked upon an ambitious reforestation program, and
many other nations are following suit. Some forestry experts advocate
substituting fast-growing trees for native varieties as a means of keeping
up with demand. 10 However, the vulnerability of a forest of genetically
similar trees to diseasesand pests calls the application of such agricultural techniques to silviculture into question.
Improving the efficiency with which wood is used would also help
alleviate the firewood shortage. In India, using firewood for cooking is
typically less than 9 percent efficient. The widespread use of downdraft
wood-burning stoves made of cast iron could, S. B. Richardson estimates, cut northern China’s fuel requirements for heating and cooking
by half. 11 0th er efficient wood-burning devices can be made by local
labor with local materials.
Wood can be put to more sophisticated usesthan cooking and space
heating. It can fuel boilers to produce electricity, industrial process
steam, or both. The size of many prospective tree-harvesting operations
(about 800 tons per day) is well tailored to many industrial energy needs.
Decentralized co-generation using wood would also fit in well with
current worldwide efforts to move major industries away from urban
areas. In particular, the creation of forest “plantations” to produce fuel
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for large power plants at a cost comparable to that of coal has been
recommended .l* However, some researchers argue that the cost of
transporting bulk biomass should lead us to think in terms of energy
“farms” of a few thousand hectares or less.13
Trees are not the only energy crops worth considering. A number
of other land and water crops have their advocatesamong bioconversion
specialists. Land plants with potential as energy sources include sugarcane, cassava(maniac), and sunflowers, as well as some sorghums, kenaf,
and forage grasses.Among the more intriguing plants under consideration are Euphorbia &!znrs and Euphorbia timcalli, shrubs whose sap
contains an emulsion of hydrocarbons in water. While other plants also
produce hydrocarbons directly, those produced by Euphorbia resemble
the constituents in petroleum. Such plants might, Nobel laureate Melvin Calvin estimates, produce the equivalent of 10 to 50 barrels of oil
per acre per year at a cost of $10 or lessper barrel. Moreover, Euphorbia
thrives on dry, marginal land.14
Several different crops could be cultivated simultaneously, a report
by the Stanford Research Institute suggests,and side-by-side cropping
could allow year-round harvesting in many parts of the world. Such
mixed cropping would also increase ecological diversity, minimize soil
depletion, and lower the vulnerability of energy crops to natural and
human threats.15
Enthusiastic reports by NASA National Space Technology
Laboratories have focused attention on the energy potential in water
hyacinths. Thought to have originated in Brazil, the fast-growing water
hyacinth now thrives in more than fifty countries; it flourishes in the
Mississippi, Ganges, Zambezi, Congo, and Mekong rivers, as well as in
remote irrigation canals and drainage ditches around the world. The
government of Sudan is experimenting with the anaerobic digestion of
thousands of tons of hyacinths mechanically harvested from the White
Nile. However, a recent Batelle Laboratory report discounts the potential commercial importance of water hyacinths in the United States, in
part because of their winter dormancy.16
Algae are another potential fuel. Some common types of this
scummy, nonvascular plant have phenomenal growth rates. However,
current harvesting techniques require large inputs of energy, the use of
which lowers the net energy output of algae farming. Although solar
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drying would improve the energy balance, engineering breakthroughs
are needed before impressive net energy yields can be obtained.
One of the more fascinating proposals for raising energy crops calls
for the cultivation of giant seaweedin the ocean. As Dr. Howard Wilcox, manager of the Ocean Farm Project of the U.S. Naval Undersea
Center in San Diego, points out, “Most of the earth’s solar energy falls
at sea, becausethe oceans cover some 71 percent of the surface area of
the globe.” The Ocean Farm Project, an effort to cultivate giant California kelp to capture some of this energy through photosynthesis, at
present covers a quarter acre. But the experimental operation will, Wilcox hopes, eventually be replaced by an ocean farm 470 miles square.
Such a sea field could theoretically produce as much natural gas as the
United States currently consumes.17
Biomass can be transformed into useful fuels in many ways, some of
which were developed by the Germans during the petroleum shortages
of World War II. Although one-third to two-thirds of the energy in
biomass is lost in most conversion processes,the converted fuels can be
used much more efficiently than raw biomass. The principal technologies now being explored are direct combustion, anaerobic digestion,
pyrolysis, hydrolysis, hydrogasification, and hydrogenation.
In the industrialized world, organic energy is often recovered by
burning urban refuse. To produce industrial processsteam or electricity
or both, several combustion technologies can be employed: waterwall
incinerators, slagging incinerators, and incinerator turbines. Biomasscan
also be mixed with fossil fuels in conventional boilers, while fluidizedbed boilers can be used to burn such diverse substancesas lumber-mill
wastes, straw, corncobs, nutshells, and municipal wastes.
Since trash piles up menacingly in much of the urban world, cities
can afford to pay a premium for energy-generating processesthat reduce
the volume of such waste. Urban trash lacks the consistency of coal, but
its low sulfur content makes it an attractive energy source environmentally. Following the lead set by Paris and Copenhagen fifty years ago,
several cities now mix garbage with other kinds of power-plant fuel to
reduce their solid waste volume, to recover useful energy, and to lower
the average sulfur content of their fuel. A $35 million plant in Saugus,
Massachusetts,bums garbage from twelve towns, producing steam that
is then sold to a nearby General Electric factory that hopes to save
73,ooc1 gallons of fuel oil per day o,n its new fuel diet.
The next easiest method of energy recovery is anaerobic digestion
-a fermenting process performed by a mixture of microorganisms ‘in
the absence of oxygen. In anaerobic digestion, acid-forming bacteria
convert wastes into fatty acids, alcohols, and aldehydes; then methaneforming bacteria convert the acids to biogas. All biomass except wood
can be anaerobically digested, and the process has been recommended
for use in breaking down agricultural residues and urban refuse.18 Anaerobic digestion takes place in a water slurry, and the process requires
neither great quantities of energy nor exotic ingredients. Anaerobically
digested, the dung from one cow will produce an average of 10 cubic
feet of biogas per day-about enough to meet the daily cooking requirements of a typical Indian villager.
Many developing and some industrial nations are returning to this
old technology, anaerobic digestion, for a new source of energy. Biogas
generators convert cow dung, human excreta, and inedible agricultural
residues into a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide that also contains
traces of nitrogen, hydrogen, and hydrogen sulfide. Thirty thousand
small biogas plants dot the Republic of Korea; and the People’s Republic
of China claims to have about two million biogas plants in operation.19
India has pioneered efForts to tailor biogas conversion to small-scale
operations. After the OPEC price increasesof 1973, annual gobar (the
Hindi word for cow dung) gas plant salesshot up first to 6,560 and then
to 13,000. In 1976, sales numbered 25,000. “We’ve reached takeoff ,”
says H. R. Srinivasan, the program’s director. “There’s no stopping us
In addition to methane, other products can be derived from the
biogasification of animal wastesand sewage.The residue of combustion
is a rich fertilizer that retains all the original nutrients of the biomass
and that also helps the soil retain water in dry periods. At Aurobindo
Ashram in Pondicherry, India, wastesfrom cows, pigs, goats, and chickens will be gasified; the residue will be piped in to ponds supporting algae,
aquatic plants, and fish grown for use as animal fodder; and treated
effluents from the ponds will be used to irrigate and fertilize vegetable
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gardens. Experience with biogas plants in “integrated farming systems”
in Papua New Guinea suggeststhat the by-products of such controlled
processescan be even more valuable than the methane.20
In developing countries, decentralized biological energy systemslike
that planned in Pondicherry could trigger positive social change. For
small, remote villages with no prospects of getting electricity from central power plants, biogas can provide relatively inexpensive, high-grade
energy and fertilizer. Ram Bux Singh, a prominent Indian developer and
proponent of gobar gas plants, estimates that a small five-cow plant will
repay its investment in just four years.21 Larger plants serving whole
villages are even more economically enticing. However, where capital is
scarce, the initial investment is often difficult to obtain. In India, the
Khadi and Village Industries Commission promotes gobar plant construction by granting subsidies and low-interest loans. The Commission
underwrites one-fifth of the cost of individual plants and one-third of the
cost of community plants. In the poorer areas,the Commission pays up
to loo percent of the cost of cooperative plants.
In efforts to hold down the cost of gobar plants and to conserveboth
scarce steel and cement in developing lands, researchersare producing
new materials for use in digester construction. For example, a large
cylindrical bag reinforced with nylon and equipped with a plastic inlet
and outlet can be installed in a hole in the ground and weighted down
in about one hour. The total cost can be as little as 15 percent of that
of conventional digesters. Other experimental models are now being
made out of natural rubber, mud bricks, bamboo pipes, and various
indigenous hardwoods. In general, the ideal biogas plant for poor rural
communities would be labor-intensive to build and operate and would
be constructed of local materials.
The principal problem plaguing Third World biogas plants is temperature shifts, which can slow down or halt digestion. Low temperatures are particularly troublesome in Korea and China, where gas production slumps in winter when energy demands are highest. Possible
remedies include improving insulation, burying future facilities to take
advantage of subterranean heat, and erecting vinyl or glassgreen houses
over the digesters to trap solar energy for heating. Alternatively, some
of the gas produced in the digester could be used to heat the apparatus
Alan Poole, a bioconversion specialist with the Institute for Energy
Analysis at Oak Ridge, estimates that methane produced at the rate of
100 tons per day in a U.S. biogas plant would cost less than $~.CXI per
million Btu’s, which approximates the expected cost of deriving commercial methane from coal.22 In industrial countries, however, the recent trend has been away from anaerobic digestion. In 1963, this process
was utilized in 70 percent of the U.S. wastewater treatment plants, but
today it is being replaced-especially in smaller cities and towns-by
processesthat use more energy than they produce. The switch, which
is now taking place at a capital cost in excessof $4 billion annually, was
prompted largely by digester failures. Although poor design and operator
error can both lead to pH imbalances or temperature fluctuations, the
principal cause of unreliability appears to be the presence of inhibitory
materials-especially heavy metals, synthetic detergents, and other industrial effluents.
These same industrial contaminants can also cause serious problems
if the digested residuesare used as fertilizer in agriculture. Some oJ these
inhibitory substancescan be separated routinely, but some will have to
be cut off at the source and fed into a different treatment process if the
excrement is to be anaerobically digested.
Anaerobic digestion produces a mixture of gases,only one of which
of value. For many purposes,the gas mixture can be used
without cleansing. But even relatively pure methane is %a:‘:;,f(~ obtain.
Hydrogen sulfide can be removed from biogas by passing it over iron
filings. Carbon dioxide can be scrubbed out with lime water (calcium
hydroxide). Water vapor can be removed through absorption. The remaining methane has high energy content.
Biogas plants have few detractors, but some of their proponents fear
that things are moving too fast and that large sums of money may be
invested in inferior facilities when significant improvements may wait
just around the comer. A recent report to the Economic Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific said of the Indian biogas program that “the
cost should be drastically reduced, the digester temperature controlled
during the winter months through the use of solar energy and the
greenhouse effect, and the quality of the effluent improved,” before
huge amounts of scarcecapital are sunk in biogas technology. To these
misgivings must be added those of many in the Third World who are
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afraid that the benefits of biogas plants may fall exclusively or primarily
to those who own cattle and land-accentuating the gap between property-owners and the true rural poor.23
To quell the fears of those with reservations about biogas development, most government programs stresscommunity plants and cooperative facilities; and many countries are holding off on major commitments
of resourcesto the current generation of digesters. But, whether small
or large, sophisticated or crude, fully automated or labor-intensive, privately owned or public, biogas plants appear destined for an increasingly
important role in the years ahead.
While hundreds of thousands of successfulanaerobic digesters are
already in operation, many other energy conversion technologies are also
attracting increased interest. Hydrolysis, for example, can be used to
obtain ethanol from plants and wastes with a high cellulose content at
an apparent over-all conversion efficiency of about 25 percent. The
cellulose is hydrolyzed into sugars, using either enzymes or chemicals;
the sugar, in turn, is fermented by yeast into ethanol. Though most
research on hydrolysis has thus far been small in scale, Australians have
advanced proposals for producing prodigious quantities of ethanol using
eucalyptus wood as the base and concentrated hydrochloric acid as the
hydrolyzing agent. Ethanol so produced could substitute for a large share
of Australia’s rising oil imports.24
Pyrolysis is the destructive distillation of organic matter in the abstnce of oxygen. At temperatures above 5~x1degrees Centigrade, pyrolysis requires only atmospheric pressure to produce a mixture of gases,
light oil, and a flaky char-the proportions of each being a function of
operating conditions. In particular, this process recommends itself for
use with woody biomass that cannot be digested anaerobically.
True pyrolysis is endothermic, requiring an external heat source.
Many systemsloosely termed “pyrolysis” are actually hybrids, employing
combustion at some stage to produce heat. Three of the dozen or so
systems now under development are far enough along to warrant comment. The Garrett “Flash Pyrolysis” process involves no combustion,
but its end product (a corrosive and highly viscous oil) has a low energy
content. The Monsanto “Langard” gas-pyrolysisprocesscan be used to
produce steam with an over-all efficiency of 54 percent. The Union
Carbide “Purox” system, a high-temperature operation with a claimed
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efficiency of 64 percent, uses pure oxygen in its combustion stage and
produces a low-Btu gas.25
Hydrogasification, a processin which a carbon source is treated with
hydrogen to produce a high-Btu gas, has been well studied for use with
coi& But further research is needed on its potential use with biomass,
since, for example, the high moisture content of biomass may alter the
reaction. Similarly, fluidized-bed techniques, which work well with coal,
may require a more uniform size, shape, density, and chemical composition than biomassoften provides. Experimental work on the application
of fluidized-bed technologies to biomass fuels is now being conducted
by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in Brucetown, Pennsylvania.
Hydrogenation, the chemical reduction of organic matter with carbon monoxide and steam to produce a heavy oil, requires pressures
greater than loo atmospheres. The U.S. Energy Researchand Development Administration is paying for a $3.7 million pilot plant at Albany,
Oregon; at the Albany plant, hydrogenation will be used to tap the
energy in wood wastes, urban refuse, and agricultural residues.
Choice Fuels and Fuel Choices
The selection of energy systemswill be partially dictated by the type
of fuel desired: the ends will specify the means. In a sense,the development of biological energy sources is a conservative strategy, since the
products resemble the fossil fuels that currently comprise most of the
world’s commercial energy use. Some fuels derived from green plants
could be pumped through existing natural gas pipelines, and others
could power existing automobiles. Nuclear power, in contrast, produces
only electricity, and converting to an energy system that is mostly
electric would entail major cultural changesand enormous capital expenditures.
Biomass processescan be designed to produce solids (wood and
charcoal), liquids (oils and alcohols), gases (methane, hydrogen), or
electricity. Charcoal, made through the destructive distillation of wood,
has been used for at least ten thousand years. It has a higher energy
content per unit of weight than does wood; its combustion temperature
is hotter, and it llci 1G:: -more slowly. However, four tons of wood are
required to produc,: :.r;e‘?‘tn of charcoal, and this charcoal has the energy
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content of only two tons of wood. For many purposes-including firing
boilers for electrical generation- the direct use of wood is preferable.
Charcoal, on the other hand, is better suited to some specialized applications, such as steelmaking.
Methanol and ethanol are particularly useful biomass fuels. They are
octane-rich, and they can be easily mixed with gasoline and used in
existing internal-combustion engines. Both were commonly blended
with gasoline, at up to 15 to 25 percent, respectively, in Europe between
1930 and 1950. Brazil recently embarked upon a $50~1million program
to dilute all gasoline by 20 percent with ethanol made from sugarcane
and cassava.Meanwhile, several major U.S. corporations are showing
keen interest in methanol. These alcohols could also fuel low-polluting
external-combustion engines.26
The gaseousfuels produced from biomass can be burned directly to
cook food or to provide industrial process heat. They can also be used
to power pumps or generate electricity. Moreover, high-quality gases
such as methane or hydrogen can be economically moved long distances
via pipeline. A “synthesis gas” consisting of hydrogen and carbon
monoxide was manufactured from coke in most U.S. towns at the turn
of the century; known popularly as “town gas,” it was piped to homes
for lighting and cooking. A similar “local brew” might make sensetoday
for areas rich in trees but poor in the biomass needed for anaerobic
digestion. Synthesis gas can be further processed into methane, methanol, ammonia, or even gasoline.
The price in constant dollars for oil-based fuels declined during the
1950s and 194os, partly becauseuseswere found for more and more of
the by-products of the refining process. Similarly, as the residues of
biological energy processes find users, the production of fuels from
biomass will grow more economically attractive.
Many biomass schemesreflect the assumption that er.c;gi crops can
supply food aswell as fuel. Even the plans to cul+ivate islands G! deep-sea
kelp include schemes for harvesting abalone in the kelp beds. Many
energy crops, including water hyacinths, have proven palatable to cattle
and other animals, once solar dryers have reduced moisture to appropriate levels.
More sophisticated by-product development has also been planned
by students of chemurgy, the branch of applied chemistry concerned
Plant Power
with the industrial use of organic raw materials. In the 193cs, George
Washington Carver produced a multitude of industrial products from
peanuts, while Percy Julian derived new chemicals from vegetable oils.
And, for the record, the plastic trim on the 1936 Ford V-8 was made
from soybeans.
Organic fuels can bear many different relationships to other products. Sometimes the fuels themselves are the by-product of efforts to
produce food (e.g., sugar), natural fibers (e.g., paper), and lumber or
wood chemicals (e.g., turpentine). Sometimes the residues of fuel-producing processesmay be turned into plastics, synthetic fibers, detergents, lubricating oils, greases,and various chemicals.
Biological energy systemsare free of the more frightening drawbacks
associated with current energy sources- They will produce no bomb
grade materials or radimctive wastes. In equilibrium, biological energy
sourceswill contribute no more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than
they will remove through photosynthesis; and switching to biomass
conversion will reduce the cost of air pollution control, since the raw
materials contain lesssulfur and ash than many other fuels do. Indeed,
some biological energy systems would have positive environmental impacts. Reforestation projects will control soil erosion, retard siltation of
dams, and improve air quality. One type of biomass, water hyacinths,
can control certain farms of water pollution, while others remove many
air pollutants.
Without wise management, however, biological energy systems
could engender major environmental menaces. The most elementary
danger associated with biomass production is robbing the soil of its
essential nutrients. If critical chemicals in the soil are not recycled, this
“renewable” energy resource will produce barren wastelands.
Recycling nutrients can, alas, bring its own problems. First, if industrial wastes are included in the recycled material, toxic residues may
build up in the soil. Some evidence suggeststhat certain contaminants
-especially such heavy metals as cadmium and mercury-are taken up
by some crops. !3econd,some disease-causingagents, especially viruses,
may survive sewagetreatment processes.Many of these potential infectants found in wastescan be controlled simply by aging the sludge before
returning it to the soil. But during outbreaks of particularly virulent
diseases,human excrement will have to be treated by other means, such
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as pasteurization, before being applied to agricultural lands.
Because of the relatively low efficiency with which plants capture
sunlight, huge surfaceswill be needed to grow large amounts of biomass.
If biological energy farms significantly alter existing patterns of surface
vegetation, the reflectivity and the water-absorption patterns of immense tracts of land could change. Moreover, new demands I’m gigantic
tracts of land may eventually intrude upon public reserves,wetlands, and
wilderness areas.
Ocean farming can go overboard too. The surface of the deep ocean
is largely barren of plant nutrients, and large-scalekelp farming of the
deep ocean might entail the use of wave-driven pumps to pull cold,
nutrient-rich water from the depths up to the surface. A loo,om-acre
farm might require the upwelling of as much as 2 billion tons of water
a day, with unknown consequencesfor the marine environment. Deep
waters also contain more inorganic carbon than surface waters do; upwelling such waters would entail the releaseof carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere. (Ironically, a classicdefense of biological energy systemshas
been that they would avoid the buildup of atmospheric CO2 associated
with the combustion of fossil fuels.) All these effects might be somewhat
mitigated if ocean farms were located in cooler regions to the north and
*p waters and
south, where the temperature difference between surfa,,
deep waters is less.
If the quest for energy leads to the planting of genetically similar
crops, the resulting monocultures will suffer from the threats that now
plague high-yield food grains. Vulnerability to pests could necessitate
widespread application of long-lived pesticides. An eternal evolutionary
race would begin between plant breeders and blights, rots, and fungi.
Moreover, biological energy systemsare themselves vulnerable to external environmental impacts. A global cooling trend, for example, could
significantly alter the growing seasonand the net amount of biomass an
area could produce.
Using biomass conversion requires caution and respect for the unknown. If the expanded use of biological energy sources in equatorial
countries resulted in the spread of harvesting technologies designed for
use in the temperate zone, dire effects could follow. If the biomass fuels
became items of world trade instead of instmments of energy independence, the sacking of Third World forests by multinational lumber and
paper companies could be fatally accelerated.
Plant Power
The broad social effects of biological energy systemsdefy pat predictions. Biological energy systems could, for example, be designed to be
labor-intensive and highly decentralized, but there is no guarantee that
they will evolve this way of their own accord. Like all innovations, they
must be carefully monitored; like all resources, they must be used to
promote equity and not the narrow interests of the elite.
Photosynthetic fueis can contribute significantly to the world’s commercial energy sspply. Some of these solid, liquid, and gaseousfuels are
rich in energy; and most can be easily stored and transported. Plant
power can, without question, provide a large source of safe, low-polluting, relatively inexpensive energy. But all energy systems have certain
intractable limits. For photosynthetic systems, these include the availability of suniight and the narrownessof the radiation range within which
photosynthesis can occur. Access to land, water, and nutrients will also
set production boundaries. And, at a more profound level, we must ask
how much of the total energy that drives the biosphere can be safely
diverted to the support of a single species, Homo sapiens.
Ddwn ofd New Em
W E ARE not running out of energy. However, we nre
running out of cheap oil and gas. We are running out of money to pay
for doubling and redoubling an already vast energy supply system. We
are running out of political willingness to accept the social costs of
continued rapid energy expansion. We are running out of the environmental capacity needed to handle the waste generated in energy production. And we are running out of time to adjust to these new realities.
For two decades,we have pursued a chimerical dream of safe, cheap
nuclear energy. That dream has nearly vanished. Nuclear fission now
appearsto be inextricably bound to weapons proliferation and to a broad
range of other intractable problems. Every week new evidence buttressing the case against nuclear power is uncovered; every week worldwide
opposition to nuclear power grows stronger. Nuclear fission now appears
unlikely ever to contribute a large fraction of the world’s energy budget.
Humankind is consequently no closer today than it was two
decades ago to finding a replacement for oil. Yet the rhetoric that
public officials in the world’s capitals lavish upon the energy “crisis”
is not being translated into action. Most energy policy is still framed
as though it were addressing a problem that our grandchildren will
inherit. But the energy crisis is our crisis.. Oil and natural gas are our
principal means of bridging today and tomorrow, and we are burning
our bridges.
Twenty yearsago, humankind had some flexibility; today the options
are more constrained. Al1 our possible choices have long lead times. All
new energy sourceswill require new factories to produce new equipment
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and large numbers of workers with new skills. Energy conservation
programs will similarly require decades to implement fully, as existing
inventories of energy-using devices are slowly replaced. Inefficient buildings constructed today will still be wasting energy fifty years from now;
oversized cars sold today will still be wasting fuel; ten years down the
If the energy crisis has no “quick fix,” neither is there any long-term
deus ex machina. Great progress has been made on coal conversion
technologies in recent years,but environmental and resource constraints
necessarily limit coal to a transitional role. Goal can and should be
substituted for oil and gas in many instances, but coal cannot replace
the 75 percent of all commercial energy these fuels now provide.
Nuclear fusion, if feasible at all, would be expensive, incredibly
complex, and highly centralized. For technical reasons,the first generation of fusion reactors would probably consist of fusion-fission hybrids
designed to breed plutonium. Such devices would lead the world into
an unconscionable “‘plutonium economy” and will therefore be vigorously fought by a formidable array of opponents. While “pure” fusion
deservescontinued research support, it holds no immediate potential,
and even over the long term there is no assurancethat it will become
a commercially viable source of power.
Although no easy answers exist, some solutions clearly outshine
others. Of the supply technologies in hand today, solar, wind, water, and
biomass sources appe;ir most attractive. And for years to come, the
world’s greatest opportunities will lie in energy conservation.
Priorities for a Post-PetroleumWorld
The energy crisis demands rapid decisions, but policies must nevertheless be formulated with an eye to their long-term implications. In
making each of hundreds of discrete decisions, we would be well advised
to apply a few basic criteria. Thrift, renewability, decentralization, simplicity, and safety should be the touchstones. Using these, we might
judge whether a given action will move us closer to, or further from, the
type of energy system we ultimately seek.
Both rich industrial countries and poor agrarian ones can cull far
more benefits in the immediate future from investments in increased
of a New Era
efficiency than from investments ii, new energy sources.In fact, because
they are unable to afford to make the necessaryinitial investments that
conservation sometimes requires, the poor frequently waste a higher
fraction of the energy the:/ use than do the well-to-do. By eliminating
waste and by matching energy sources carefully with appropriate uses,
people can wring far more work from every unit of energy than is now
the case. A sensible energy strategy will help accomplish this sensible
Energy is a means, not an end. Its worth derives entirely from its
capacity to perform work. No one wants a kilowatt-hour; the object is
to light a room. No one wants a gallon of gasoline; the object is to travel
from one place to another. If our objectives can be met using a half, or
even a quarter, as much energy as we now use, no benefit is lost.
Investments in conservation must mesh with plans for a rapid switch
from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources.An intelligent strategy will
lead to dependence upon energy derived solely from perpetually reliable
sources.Solar technologies alone can provide us with as much energy as
can be safely employed on our fragile planet.
In establishing priorities for the post-petroleum period, foremost
attention should be given to basic human needs-to food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education. Fortunately, such needs either require
comparatively little energy or have energy requirements that can be met
with renewable energy sources. Indeed, for most of history Homo sapiens has been entirely dependent upon renewable energy sources, and
could not have survived if renewable sourceshad not met the most basic
The industrial world, powered mostly by renewable energy sources
a mere hundred years ago, now runs almost entirely on fossil fuels. The
agrarian nations still obtain more than two-thirds of their fuel from
sustainable sources-mostly firewood and forage for draft animals.
These two worlds consequently face different problems, and may honor
different priorities during the coming transition.
Q In the Third World, enormous strides can be made with relatively
modest investments if those investments are made wisely. For example,
2 percent of th e world military budget for iust one year could provide
every rural Third World family with an efficient stove-doubling overnight the amount of useful work obtained from fuel wood, and reducing
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the pressure on the world’s forests accordingly. If, in addition, armies
were mobilized in major tree-planting campaigns, the firewood crisis
could eventually be alleviated. ”
In the industrial world, the situation is arguably more precarious, and
dramatic steps are in order. However, such steps are not being taken.
For example, a responsible energy policy reflecting the urgency of the
necessarytransition would require that nil new automobiles average at
least 35 miles per gallon within three years, and that the transition to
non-petroleum vehicles be well under way within a decade. If the energy
transition were proceeding on a reasonable timetable, tens of millions
of solar water heaters would be produced annually; current production,
by contrast, is in the thousands. While the generation of electricity from
high-temperature industrial steam is the cheapest and most attractive
new power source in many countries, institution:! factors have caused
this technology to be slighted all over the world.
It is virtually impossible to develop a list of global energy priorities.
Each country must pursue those options most compatible with its conditions and its aspirations. But in general, conservation investments will
prove more immediately productive than new source development, and
genuine necessities, such as food, must always take precedence over
frivolous trimmings.
Suitable Energy Technologies
Historically, many important inventions have consisted of no more
than ingenious new applications of existing knowledge. In recent
decades,however, large teams of specialistswielding complex and expensive researchtools have been increasingly rubbing against the boundaries
of knowledge Nowhere is this phenomenon more clear than in the
industrial world’s response to the energy crisis. Research is currently
focused on the liquid metal fast breeder reactor, with fusion reactors and
coal conversion technologies vying for the remaining funds. Sourcesthat
don’t cost billions of dollars to develop seem almost unworthy of serious
consideration. The “hard” technologies obtain the most funds, attract
the brightest researchers,kindle the greatest public interest, and accrue
the most glamour. They do not, however, necessarily represent the
wisest choices. Nuclear fusion research may well yield a Nobel Prize
someday; no plausible line of research on biogas plants seems likely to
win a trip to Stockholm. Nevertheless, biogas plants will almost certainly
provide more energy to those who need it most than fusion reactors ever
Energy funding continues to be apportioned as though big were
beautiful, and the reasonsfor this are understandable. “Those in power
always want big accomplishments-scientific breakthroughs and politically visible facilities,” explains M. C. Gupta, director of the Thermodynamic Laboratory .at the Indian Institute of Technology. “But those
things aren’t what India needs most. The needs of our neediest can only
be met by small, inexpensive devices that use indigenous materials and
are easily maintained.”
Even researchon direct and indirect solar sourceswill not necessarily
produce devices that meet the diverse needs of the world’s peoples.
Every technology embodies the values and conditions of the society it
was designed to serve. Most significant research on sustainable energy
sources has been performed in industrialized countries. Technological
advanceshave therefore reflected the needs of societies with temperate
climates, high per capita incomes, abundant material resources,sophisticated techni::al infrastructures, expensive labor, good communication
and transportation systems, and well-trained maintenance personnel.
Such societies are wired for electricity-indeed, two-thirds of the U.S.
solar energy research budget is devoted to the generation of electricity.
Clearly, some of the findings of this research are not easily or wisely
transferred to societies with tropical climates, low per capita incomes,
few material resources, stunted technical infrastructures, cheap labor,
poor communications, and only fledgling maintenance forces. Most
people in the world do not have electrical outlets or anything to plug
into them. What they need are cheap solar cookers, inexpensive irrigation pumps, simple crop dryers, small solar furnaces to fire bricks, and
other basic tools.
With the traps of technology transfer in mind, some argue that a
major solar researchand development effort on the part of the industrialized world is irrelevant to the true needs of the poorer countries. This
argument contains a kernel of truth in a husk of misunderstanding.
Countries can choose to learn from each other’s experience, but each
country must view borrowed knowledge through the lens of its own
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unique culture, resources, geography, and institutions. The United
States and China can trade knowledge to good purpose, but little of what
they trade can be transplanted intact.
The differences between such industrialized lands as Japan and
France merit note, but the differences between two Third World countries may be more striking than the similarities. Surinam (with an annual
per capita income of $810) has energy problems and potential solutions
to those problems that bear little resemblance to those of Rwanda (with
an annual per capita income of about $60). 14nd national wealth is not
the only feature in an energy profile. The tasks for which energy is
needed vary from country to country. In some, the most pressing need
may be for pumps to bring water from a deep water table to the parched
surface. In lands with more abundant water supplies, cooking fuel may
be in desperately short supply. The availability of sustainable resources
may also differ. One region may have ample hydropower potential,
another strong winds, and a third profuse direct sunlight. Successful
technology transfers require a keen sensitivity to such differences.
Some disillusioned solar researchersin both industrialized and agrarian countries contend that the major impediment to solar development
has been neither technical (the devices work) nor economic (many
simple devices can be cheaply made). Instead, they claim, the problems
have social and cultural roots. Many Third World leaders did not want
to settle for “second-rate” renewable energy sourceswhile the industrial
world flourished on oil and nuclear power. Often, officials who found
themselves in charge of new technologies, such as windmills, were unable to find technicians who could maintain and repair them. Occasionally, people who were given solar equipment refused to use it because
the rigid time requirements of solar technology disrupted their daily
routimps or becausethe direct use of sunlight defied their cultural traditions.
Many of these attitudinal impediments may now be vanishing as the
global south begins developing its own researchand development capacity. The indigenous technologies born of the new capability may prove
to be more compatible with Third World needs than borrowed machines and methods. Brazil’s large methanol program, India’s gobar gas
plants, and the Middle East’s growing fascination with solar electric
technologies can all be read as signs of an interest in renewable energy
LXtwn of u NW Era
resources that bodes well for the future. At the same time, the Third
World, stunned by a simultaneous shortage of firewood and petroleum,
may be more willing than it was a few years ago to adopt solar solutions.
In much of the global north as well, solar technologies are being
embraced as important future options. In Japan, the Soviet Union,
France, and the IJnited States, renewable resources are increasingly
being viewed as major components of future energy planning. Some of
the innovative research in these countries could well be of global significance.
Energy and International Equity
The world’s most lamentable social problem is doubtless the enduring hypocrisy of poverty. Although well-publicized conferences periodically issue calls for “development decades,” foreign aid “targets,” and
other high-sounding programs, the gap in the absolute income between
rich and poor countries grows steadily wider.
Decisions on energy sourcescan dramatically affect the international
distribution of wealth. High-priced oil, for example, has brought a flood
of dollars-mostly from the rich industrial countries-to what had previously been some of the world’s poorest lands. The rest of the Third
World, although itself hard hit by rising oil prices, has rather steadfastly
maintained its solidarity with the oil exporting countries; rising prices
for raw materials are viewed as crucial components of a far-reaching new
economic order, and oil is currently the world’s most important raw
material. Other countries that export natural resources hope that
OPEC’s successful price hikes will blaze a trail they can follow.
Although the new economic order is generally defined in terms of
commodityprices and monetary reforms, its successmay hinge on the
choice of a post-petroleum energy source. Whereas complex technologies w&d divert a major stream of scarcecapital to the industrial world,
the development of safe sustainable sources could cause investment
dollars to flow in the other direction. Direct and indirect solar sources
thus appear to hold a double economic promise for the Third World.
Investment funds tend to become availab!e where energy is available. Industries compete vigorously for the right to build plants in the
Middle East, less to penetrate the region’s small markets than to be
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assuredof a supply of fuel. As renewable sourcesattract more adherents,
hard currencies can be expected to flow to the world’s richest sources
of sunlight, wind, water, and biomass, and most of these are located in
the Third World.
Foreign investments can hold pitfalls for the unwary. Ghana, for
example, was able to attract British and American financing for the
Volta River dam only after Kaiser Aluminum entered into a long-term
contract to buy 310 of the 540 megawatts produced by the dam. This
arrangement permitted Ghana to finance the development of an important renewable energy source,but the coststo Ghana were steep: relocating 80,ooo people dislocated by the reservoir and battling the rampant
parasite disease schistosomiasis. Kaiser’s aluminum refinery uses more
than half the electricity produced at the dam, and the benefits to Ghana
are few: the plant produces little employment, and the refined aluminum is shipped out as ingots, not as manufactured goods. Ghana, despite
its large bauxite reserves,does not even derive a secondary benefit as a
raw material vendor, since Kaiser imports all its ore from mines in the
West Indies. Far from being the centerpiece of a comprehensive national development strategy, Ghana’s dam is little more than a means
of harnessing African water power to serve the needs of the industrial
If resourceexporting countries are to enter fully into a new economic
order, they must be able to process much of the material they produce,
tapping locally available flows of energy. In an era of diffuse energy
resources,the enormous use of energy that now characterizes the industrial world would be spread out over the entire globe. Instead of shipping
ore to Europe for refining, the producing country would ship refined
metal. Containing “embodied” energy derived from natural sources,the
refined metal is worth much more than ore, so the exporting country
would achieve a more favorable balance of trade. As an industrial infrastructure takes shape, the exporting country would also be able to produce and sell more manufactured products.
Poverty is, of course, a matter of people as much as of countries.
Almost all poor countries have some rich people, and all rich countries
have poor people. Increases in national income do not necessarilymean
that the new wealth will be shared. In some oil producing countries,
rising revenues have left tl:z rich richer and the poor untouched.
Dmvn of a New Em
If vigorous conservation is to lead eventually to an energy ceiling,
population growth must be constrained as energy is equalized. The
alternative is to divide a constant amount of energy among an everincreasing pool of people. Population stabilization is imperative both in
the industrial world, where non-renewable fuel consumption per person
is twenty to thirty times higher than in the Third World, and in the
Third World, where burgeoning population growth is outstripping traditional energy sourcessuch as firewood. Like energy itself, population is
a global problem, and it requires a worldwide solution.
The development of renewable energy sources cannot itself abolish
poverty-nly widespread social and political change can. But decentralized sourcesof energy are compatible with a development strategy that
grows from the bottom up, rather than one that merely permits a few
benefits to trickle down to the masses from the elite in control of
centralized high technologies. The useof appropriate energy sourceswill
facilitate a more equitable distribution of wealth and power both within
and among nations, by transferring control from distant corporations
and bureaucracies to more responsive local units.
Energy and the Human Prospect
For twenty years, the world has pursued a dead-end path. This
energy route cannot be changed without fundamentally altering society.
Some alternatives are better than others because the changes they dictate are relatively attractive, but there is no way of avoiding some form
of pervasivechange. If, for example, the world were to opt for harmonious, small-scale, decentralized, renewable energy technologies, few aspects of modem life would go unaffected.
Farms would begin to supply large fractions of their own energy
through wind power, solar heaters, and technologies for harnessing the
energy in agricultural wastes.Such self-sufficient farms would tend to be
smaller and to provide more employment than those that prevailed in
the oil era. Food storage and preparation would slowly be shifted to
solar-powered technologies. Meat consumption in the industrial world
would drop and the food processing industry would become more energy-efficient and less pervasive in its impact on diets,
In the new energy era, transportation would be weaned from its
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petroleum base even as improved communications and intelligent city
planning began to eliminate pointless travel. Energy efficiency and load
factors would become important criteria in evaluating transport modes,
and would be reflected in the costs of travel. Bicycles would begin to
account for an important fraction of commuter traffic as well as of other
short trips. And freight transport would be transferred wherever possible
to more energy-efficient modes, especially trains and ships.
If we were to opt for the best renewable energy technologies, buildings could be engineered to take full advantage of their environments.
More and more of the energy needed for heating and cooling would be
derived directly from the sun. Using low-cost photovoltaics that convert
sunlight directly into electricity, many buildings could eventually become energy self-sufficient. New jobs and professions would develop
around the effort to exploit sunlight, and courts would be forced to
consider the “right” of building owners not to have their sunshine
blocked by neighboring structures.
While industry would doubtless turn to coal for much of its energy
during the transition period, eventually it would also draw its primary
energy from natural flows. Thus, energy availability would play an important role in determining the locations of future factories. The sunshine-rich nations of the Third World, where raw materials and renewable energy sources are most plentiful, could become new centers
of economic productivity. The across-the-board substitution of cheap
fuel for human labor would be halted. Recycled metals, fibers, and
other materials would become principal sourcesof raw materials. Seen
as energy repositories, manufactured products would necessarily become more durable and would be designed to be easily repaired and
Using small, decentralized, and safe t’echnologies makes sensefrom
a systems management point of view. Small units could be added incrementally if rising demands required them, and they would be much
easier than large new facilities to integrate smoothly into an energy
system. Small, simple sourcescould be installed in a matter of weeks or
months; large, complex facilities often require years and even decades
to erect. If gigantic power plants were displaced by thousands of smaller
units dispersed near the points of end use, economies of size would
become relatively less important vis-a-viseconomies of massproduction.
Technology would again concern itself with simplicity and elegance, and
vast systemswould become extinct as more appropriately scaled facilities
To decentralize power sourcesis in a senseto act upon the principle
of “safety in numbers.” When large amounts of power are produced at
individual facilities or clusters of plants, the continued operation of these
plants become crucial to society. Where energy production is centralized, those seeking to coerce or simply to disrupt the commumty can
easily acquire considerable leverage: for example, a leader of the British
electrical workers recently noted that “the miners brought the country
to its knees in eight weeks,” but that his co-workers “could do it in eight
minutes.” Disruption need not be intentional, either. Human error or
natural phenomena can easily upset fragile energy networks that serve
wide areas, while use of diverse decentralized sources could practically
eliminate such problems.
The societies that will develop around efficient, renewable, decentralized, simple, safe energy sourcescannot be fully visualized from our
present vantage point. Indeed, one of the most attractive promises of
such sources is a far greater flexibility in social design than is afforded
by their alternatives. Though energy sources may not dictate the shape
of society, they do limit its range of possibilities, and diverse, dispersed
energy sourcesare more compatible than centralized technologies with
social equity, freedom, and political participation.
Societies basedupon natural flows of energy will have to wrestle with
the concept of limits. Endless and mindless growth is not possible for
nations living on energy income instead of capital. Such societies will
need public policies and ethics that disparage rather than whet the
appetite for frivolous consumption. Materialism, which gives sanction
to what Voltaire saw as humanity’s perpetual enemies-poverty, vice,
and boredom-will need to be replaced by a new source of social vitality
that is less corrosive to the human spirit and less destructive to the
collective environment.
The attractions of sunlight, wind, running water, and green plants
as energy sourcesare self-evident. They are especially appealing in their
stark contrast to a world of nuclear garrison states. Scarce resources
would be conserved, environmental quality would be maintained, and
employment would be spurred. Decentralized facilities would lead to a
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more local autonomy and control. Social and financial equity would be
increased, within and among nations.
Had industrial civilization been built upon such forms of energy
“income’ instead of on the energy stored in fossil fuels, any proposal to
convert to coal or uranium for the world’s future energy would doubtless
be viewed with incredulous horror. The current prospect, however, is the
reverse-a shift from trouble-ridden sourcesto more attractive ones. Of
the possible worlds we might choose to build, an efficient solar-powered
one appears most inviting.
Chapter 1. Introduction: Twilight of an Era
L. Stephen H. Schneider with Lynne E. Meisrow, The GenesisStrategy: Climate and
Gfobul Sutiu/ (New York: Plenum Press,1976). Bert Bolin, Energy und C&n& (Stockholm: Secretariat for Future Studies, 1975).
2. Paul E. Damon and Steven M. Kunen, “Global Cooling?,” Science, vol. 193, no.
e52 (Aug. 621976).
3. The most comprehensiverecent study of oceanic oil is U.S. National Academy of
Sciences,i+&ofeum in the Amine Environment (Washin n, D.C., 1975). The special
loitation are explored througv a case study in Scotland in
prnblems of offshore oil
Pameh L. Baldwin and M7 corn E. Baldwin, Onshore Phmning for offshore Oil (Washington, D.C.: Conservation Foundation, 1975). Some of the international political implications of oil spillsare explored in Sheldon Novick, “Ducking Liability at Sea,” Environment, Jan.-Feb., 1~. Probably the best over-all introduction to the problems of oil
supertankers is N&l Mostert’s [email protected]#(New York: Knopf, 1974).
4 M. Blumer, “Oil Contamination and the Living Resourcesof the Sea,” presented
to the FAO Technical Conference on Marine Pollution and Its Effects on Living Re0). The pollution of the world’s waterways by
sourcesand Fishing (Rome, Dec. 9-18,l
7 e of the environmental burdens of increasing
oil is, of course, only an illustrative examp
energy use. For a comprehensiveoverview of the broad issue,see Paul R. Ehrlich, Anne
H. Ehrlich, and John Holdren, P~puhrfion, Resources,i%vironment (San Francisco: W.
H. Freeman, 1977).
5. Richard S. Claassen,“Materials for Advanced Energy Technologies,” Science, Feb.
20, 1976.
6. U.S. Water ResourcesCouncil, W&r for Energy Self-Sr&eiency (Washington,
8. M. Carasso et al., The Energy SupptV Planning Mode& PB 245-382 and PB
245-383 (Springlield, Va.: NTIS, Aug., 1~;).
Notes (pages 22-37)
9. Carol J. Loomis, “For the Utilities, It’s a Fight for Survival,” Fortune, March, 1975.
IO. John E. Gray, Financing Free World Energy SuppZyand I/se (Washington, D.C.:
Atlantic Council, Feb. 11, 1975).
I I. David L. Ostendorf with Joan E. Gibson, Illinois Land: 7;he Emerging Conflict
over the Use of Land for Agricultural Production and Coal Development (Carterville, Ill.:
Illinois South Proiect, 1976). John C. Doyle, Jr., Str$ Mining in the Corn Belt: The
Destruction of High Ca/rabifity A ricultural Land for Stri~Minable Coal in Illinois
(Washington, D.C.: Environmenta f Policy Institute, June, 1976).
12. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, W&d Energy Supplies: ~950-1974
(New York: United Nations, 1976).
13. Robert C. Axtmann, “Environmental Impact of a Geothermal Power Plant,”
Science, vol. 187, no. 4179 (March 7, 1975).
14. An overview of the major components of the U.S. fusion program can be obtained
from the Energy Research 2nd Development Administration, Fusion Power by Magnetic
Confinement Program Plan, ~01s.I, II, III, IV (Washington, D.C., July, 1976). For an
exceIlent survey of the technical problems faced by fusion written from an optimistic
viewpoint, see David J. Rose am’ Michael F&tag, “The Prospect for Fusion,” Technology
Review, Dec., 1976. For a more :kepticaI appraisal, see the three-part series by William
Metz, “Fusion Power: What Is the Progi;m Buying the Country?,” Science, June z ,
1976; “Fusion Research: Detailed Reactor Studies Identify More Problems,” Science, Jury
2. 1976; “Fusion Research: New Interest in Fusion-Assisted Breeders,” Science, July 23,
The Future of Fossil Fuels
1. Joel Darmstadter, with Perry Teitelbaum and Jaroslav Pollach, Energy in the World
Economy: A Statistical Review of Trends in Output, Trade, and Consumjnion since I 925
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press for Resources for the Future, 1971). Department of
Economic and Social Affairs, World Enera [email protected]@ies: 1950-1974, StatIstical Papers, ser.
J, no. 19 (New York: United Nations, 1976).
2. Robert Engler, The Politics of Oil: A Study of Private Power and Democratic
Directions (Chica o: University of Chicago Press, 1961).
3. M. King Hui bert, “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels,” Drilling and Production
Practice (American Petroleum Institute, 1956; reprinted by Shell Oil Company).
4. An unusually lucid discussion of resource terminology can be found in V. E.
McKeIvey, “Mineral Resource Estimates and Public Policy,” American Scientist, Jan.Feb., 1972. A different perspective is presented by D. C. Ion in his recent, comprehensive
volume, Availability of World Energy Resources (London: Graham & Trotman, 1976).
. Congressional Research Service, Secondary and Tertiary Recovery of Oil, a report
to t ii e Subcommittee on Energy of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on
Science and Astronautics (Washin on, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 19 ).
6. Betty M. Miller, Harry L. T/r omsen, Gordon L. Dalton, Anny B. Cou , R omas
and Katharine L. Vames, “Geological Estimates of Undiscovered Recoverab7 e Oil and
Gas Resources in the Uni%l States,” U.S. Geological Survey Circular 725. Comrate,
Minera! Resourcesand the Environment, report prepared by the Committee on Mineral
Resources and the Environment, Commission on Natural Resources, National Research
Council, National Academy of Sciences (Washington, D.C., Feb., 1975).
7. The fuel resource figures used in this chapter were derived from D. C. Ion, op. cit.;
Sumfry of Energy Resources,by World Energy Conference, Detroit, 1974; and M. King
Hubbert, “Energy Resources,” in Resources and Man, for the National Academy of
Sciences (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1969.
8. Bernard Grossling of the U.S. Geological Survey believes that Latin American
resources may be more than twice this size. Latin America’s Petroleum Prospects in the
Energy Crisps, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1411, 1975.
9. In my conversations with the Saudi Arabian foreign minister and petroleum minister, these themes came up repeatedly.
Notes (pages38-5 1)
10. T. D. Adams and M. A. Kirby, “Estimate of World Gas Reserves,” IX W.P.C.
Preprint, P.D. 6( 1), 1975, cited in D. C. Ion, op. cit.
1I. Environmental Studies Board of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences,Rehabilit&m Potential of Western Coal Ldnds, report to the Energy Policy Project of t’he Ford
Foundation (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1974) Robert Stefanko, R. V. Ramani, and
Michaei R. Ferko, An Analysis ofStrip Mining Methods and Equipment Selection, report
to the U.S. Office of Coal Researchunder Contract No. 14-01-acwr-390,
May 29,1973.
E. A. Nephew and R. L. Spore, Costs of Cool Surface Mining and Reclamation in
A lachip, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Report No. ORNL-NSF-EP-86, Jan., 1976.
Tl?e political dimensionsof this issueare explored in Marc Kamis Iandy, The Politics of
Environmental Refom Cor&&zg Kentucky Strip Mining (Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future, 1976).
12 R. R. Ruth, H. J. Gldoter, and N. F. Shimp, Occurrence and Distribution of
Potentially Volatile TraceElements in coal, Environmental Geology Notes, No. 72, Aug.,
1974, Illinois State GeoIogical Survey. D. F. S. Natusch et al., “Toxic Trace Elements:
Referential Concentration in Respirable Particles,” Science, vol. 183 (Jan. 18, 1974).
13. SynfueIs Interagency Task Force, Draft EmGmnmentaZImMct Statement on Sjnt&iiz Fuels Commerciabktion Apgrmn (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing
O&e, Dec., 1975). U.S. Federal Energy Administration, Draft Environmental Im#cf
Statement on a Coal Conversion Rngram (Jan., 1975).
14. Earl Cook, “Limits to Exploitation of Nonrenewable Resources,” Science, vol.
191, no. 4228 (Feb. 20, 1976).
1 . Arthur M. Squires, “Chemicals from Coal,” science, vol. 191, no. 4228 (Feb.,
16. P. Chapman, G. bch, and M. Slesser,‘The Energy Casts of Fuels,” Energy
Policy, Sept., 1974.
17. Arthur M. !+ires used the Spanish gold metaphor in “Coal: A Past and Future
King,” Ambio, vol. 3, no. 1 (1974).
Nuclear Power: The Fifth Horseman
I. Atomic Industrial Forum, “Nuclear Power Plants outside the United States,” June
World Envimnment Report, June 9,1 5 (special nuclear issue).Market Survey
for Nucfetzr Power in L&v&$ing Countries 91r
( ienna: International Atomic Energy
A n.umberof studies have shown that, owmg to the large energy investto bdd and fuel a nuclear power plant before 1t can begm operations, such
a rate of nuclear growth would result in a net energy drain for the next [email protected] years.
See, for exam le, John Price, “Dynamic Energy Ana is and Nuclear Power, ’ in Amory
B. mns an8 John H. Price, Non-Nucleur Futures (k mbridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1975).
z. An overview of the Swedish position can be found in Lenrqrt Daleus, “,4 Monte
rium in Name Only,” Bulletin of the Atomic &ientists, Oct., 1975; U.S. figures were
Report, Jan. 5.1975;
obtained from Atomic Industrial Forum, op. cit., and WwkJy En
the /u&m rimes has given much coverageto nuclear issues,and in? onnation on the Mutsu
wasobtained from the Jan 16,1 ,19,22, and Feb. 11,17,1976 issues;most other national
data are from variousissuesof N7ot Mmt ApmS a publication of the U.S. branch of Friends
of the Earth, and from the New York 7%nesand Washington Post
3. In 1975, nuclear exports amounted to $3.6 bilhon, -thirds
of which were U.S.
sales(Ectmomik& Dec. 6,1975). William Casey, president of the Export-Import Bank,
rs nuclear technology will become the U.S.
predicts that “within the next three
. . . ‘s biggest export item.” By far dir most comprehensiveanalysisof nuclear exports
Lard J. Barber Associates,L.D.C. NwlewPowerPms
ts, lg75-:m
(Springtield, Va.: NTIS, 1975). For insight into the atti tucre of the American business
community on this issue,seeTom Alexander, “Our Costly Lxinq Battle against Nuclear
Prolifemtion,” Fortune, Dec., 1975.
4. The most common rea&rs-hght
water reactors-require “enriched” uranium,
fuel that is 3 to 4 percent U 235. Yet natural uranium contains only 0.7 percent U 235.
Notes (pages 5 1-5 5)
Further, this isotope is chemically identical with the far more common form, U 238, and
cannot be separated by simple chemical reactions. Elaborate physical enrichment pre
cessesthat can distinguish between atoms on the basis of weight are needed to separate
U 238 atoms, which constitute 99.3 percent of all natural uranium, from the infinitesimally lighter U 235 atoms.
For the past two decades, the United States has dominated the world market for
enriched uranium, with production from three large gaseousdiffusion plants at Oak Ridge,
Tennessee; Paducah. Kentucky; and Portsmouth, Ohio. But now numerous other countries are experimenting with several new enrichment technologies. Four general enrichment processes are in differing stages of development: gaseous diffusion, centrifuge,
nozzle, and laser.
in centrifuge enrichment, uranium hexafluoride gas is fed into a spinning centrifuge.
Here U 238 is spun toward the walls while the lighter U 235 passesinto an upper chamber.
The principal advantage of centrifuge enrichment is an energy requirement equal to about
IO percent that required by the gaseous diffusion process.
Centrifuge enrichment has been successfully developed to the ilot-plant stage, and
Urenco, Ltd.. a British-Dutch-West
German collaboration, is buil c!in one small facility
at Capenhurst, England, and another at Almelo, Holland. In the Unite f States, the federal
government is constructing a slightly larger centrifuge facility at Oak Ridge, using a
different technology, and three U.S. corporations are also seeking to enter the field.
In nozzle enrichment. a jet of uranium hexafluoride cas is squirted into a low-pressure
tank. The heavier U 2 8 tends to flow strai ht to a “paring” tube on the other side of
the tank, while the iig h ter U z 5 tends to ?Irift to the side.
Nozzle enrichment was devetoped in West Germany in the mid- I 950s. Nozzle enrichment facilities should be comparatively easy to engineer, although their total energy
requirements will be rather high. South Africa has done much of the commercial development of nozzle enrichment, and West Germany has contracted to build such a plant in
Laser enrichment, the least develo d of all enrichment technologies, is based on the
fact that laser beams can sometimes se$ectively excite individual isotopes. Excited isotopes
enter into chemical reactions that allow them to be separated from other isotopes of the
same elemer,t. If laser enrichment technology becomes well developed and widespread,
the impact could be enormous. The energy requirements are comparatively slight; little
space is required; and the cast will be trivial. Laser enrichment could rnake weapons-grade
material available to any government and to any determined organization.
Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe, a forceful advocate of commercial nuclear wer. has
expressed the hope that, when developed, laser enrichment technology will be r ept secret
for as long as possible-perhaps even twenty or thirty years. However, this seems to be
wishful thinking. Ground-breaking work has already been done in several countries, and
important advances in the field of laser enrichment are even now being reported in
unclassified publications.
5, The most lucid discussion I have seen of the radiation issue is in JoMartin Brown,
“Health, Safety, and Social Issues of Nuclear Power,” in W. C. Revnolds, ed., The
C&omticr Nuclear Initiative: Analysis and Discussion of the Issues (lnsiitute for Energy
Studies, Stanford University, 1976).
6. The standard reference in this difficult area is by the Advisory Committee on the
Biological Effects of ionizing Radiation (BEIR), 77zeEffects on Po~ulutions of Exposure
to Low Levels of fonixing Radiation (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences,
7 Zhores Medvedev, “Two Decades of Dissidence,” New Sc;entist, Nov. 4, 19 6.
8. Testimony by Hem-y Eschwage, director of the Resources and Economic Deve 7opment Division of the U.S. General Accounting Office, before the Subcommittee on
Conservation, Energy, and Natural Resources of the House Committee on Government
Operations, Feb. 23, 1976.
9. U.S. General Accounting Office, “Improvements in the Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste-A Problem of Centuries,” 1976.
Notes (pages55-60)
lo. Norma Turner, “Nuclear Waste Drop in the Ocean,” New Scientist, Oct. 30,
1975; Weekly Envimnment Report, June 23, 1975.
II. Irwin C. Bupp et al., “The Economics of Nuclear Power,” Technology Review,
Feb., 1975.
12. Amory B. L,ovins, Scale, Centralization, and Electriftcution in Energy Systems,
paper prepared for a Symposium on Future Strategies of Energy Development, at Oak
Ridge Associated Universities, Tenn., Oct. 20-21, 1976.
1 . The Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Devef opment, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Uranium: Resources, Production, and LIemand (x975); similar estimates are provided by cha . 7, “Nuclear Resources,” in World Enet Conference Surveyof Energy Resources PNew York: World
Energy Conference, 1974$ ; Robert D. Nininger, “Uranium Resources,”ERDA statement
to the House Subcommittee 01; Energy and Environment, June 5,197~; and Committee
on Mineral Resourcesand the Environment, National Academy of Sciences,Supplemenbqv [email protected] Reservesand Resources of umnium in the United States, ISBN o-3o9-20423
(Washington, D.C.: NAS/NAC, 1976).
14 For a lirst-rate summarv of the principal nuclear accidents to date by a thoughtful
and knowledgeable nuclear c&ic, see Walter C. Patterson, Nuclear Power (Harmondsworth, En nd: Penguin Books, 1976 .
wt en the U 235 nucleus is sp1it, its components (92 Dr&ms and 143 neutrons)
rearranged in two smaller atoms and severalsubatom’ic particles. Less “bindin
energy” is needed to hold together the nuclei of the severalsmall atoms than was neede!
to bind the subatomic particles in the one la e atom. When the lar e atom is s lit, the
excessbinding energy is released,captured asP eat in the reactor, an%used to boi4 water.
When a U 23 atom is split into smaller atoms, neutrons not incorporated in the new
elements ily off. &Jme of the free neutrons strike and split other U 235 atoms, Musing
a self-sustainingchain reaction. Many of the neutrons, however, do not encounter U z
atoms. Some are absorbedby the modemtor in the reactor core; some bombard the wafi5s
and other parts of the reactor vessel,causing them to weaken and become radioactive; and
some neutrons encounter atoms of non-fissionable U 238.
Under certain circumstances, a U 238 atom will “capture” a stray neutron. This
addition changes the stable U 238 atom into an unstable uranium isotope that quickly
decays into plutonium 23 . Plutonium 23 is itself a fissile fuel, which can be split to
power a reactor, giving 0rp Lee neutrons tIa t serve to continue the chain reaction. All
uranium-fueled reactors transform some U 238 into plutonium. As soon as plutonium is
formed, it begins contributing to the reactor’s fissions.By the time fuel is removed from
a light water reactor (LWR) about half the fissionsare of plutonium. A I,CXX-megawatt
operating at full power, will produce about 375 pounds of fissionable plutonium
1t!=. 6.S. Atomic Energy Commission ” Reactor Safety Stud : A.n Assessmentof
Accident Risks in U.S. Commercial Nucle& Power Plants,’ WAS k -1 ilt;n19gv&‘;
critique of the techniques employed by the Rasmussenstudy, see 114”
Review of the Reactor Safety Study (Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Corporatan,
17. Daniel F. Ford and Henry W. Kendall, An Assessment of the Em ency Core
Cboh Sptems R&making Hearings (San Francisco: Union of Concern3 Scientists
and Friends of the Earth, 1974).
18. The cost of repairing actual tire damage was about $7 million. The cost of idle
investment in the two shutdown reactors,according to the TVA public information office
(ApriJ 9, ld), was about $10 million per month.
19. Amory 8. Lovins and John H. Price, Non-Nucleur Futures: The Case for an Ethical
Energy Sfrutegv (Cambri e, Mass.: Ballinger, 1975).
20. An exceptionally2 oughtful and provocative assessmentof the breeder can be
found in the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s sixth report, Nuclear Power
and the Environment (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery O&e, Sept., 19 6). Another
excellent, somewhat more technical reference ti Tbws I3 Cnrhnn, ?Bs 3,iquid Metdl
Notes (pages 60-80)
Fast Breeder Reactor: An Environmental and Economic Critique (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press for Resources for the Future, 1974).
21. Richard Webb, in 73e Accident Hazards of Nuclear Power Plants (Amherst:
University of Massachusetts Press, 1976), calculates that the explosive force would be
more than ample to destroy any plausible containment structure.
22. Leonard Ross, “How ‘Atoms for Peace’ Became Bombs for Sale,” New York Times
Magazine, Dec. 5, 1976. George H. Quester, “Can Proliferation Now Be Stopped?,”
Foreign Affairs, Oct., 1974; Lincoln P. Bloomfield, “Nuclear Spread and World Order,”
Foreign Affairs, July, 1 75; Frank Bamaby for the Stockholm International Peace Institute, 711eNuclear Age PCambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1975); Mason Willrich, ed., Civil
Nuciear Power and Intemutionrrl Security (New York: Praeger. 1971). An especially provocative paper on recent international changes is “What’s New on Nuclear Proliferation?,” prepared by George H. Quester for the 1975 Aspen Worksho on Arms Control.
23. Committee to Study the Long-Term Worldwide Effects o1! Multi le Nuclear
Weapons Detonation, National Academy of Sciences, Long-Term Worldwi Be Effects of
Multiple Nuclear Weapons Detonations (Washington, D.C : NAS/NAC, 1975).
24. Barry Schneider, “Big Bangs from Little Bombs,” Bulletin of the .4tomic Scientists,
Sept., 1975; William Epstein, Retrospective on the NPT Review Conference: Proposals
for the Future (Muscatine, Iowa: Stanley Foundation, 1975).
25. William Epstein, “Failure at the NPT Review Conference,” Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists, Sept., I 75; E stein, Retrospective on the .VPT Review Conference.
26. A tort
critique opthis “! ack-door” approach to nuclear weapons can be found
in Alva Myr al, “ ‘Peaceful’ Nuclear Explosions,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May,
27 Mason Willrich
and Theodore B. Taylor, Nuclear Theft: Risks and Safeguards
(Cambridge, Mass: Ballinger, 1974).
28. Report to Congress by the General Accounting Office, “Improvements Needed
in the Program for the Protection of Special Nuclear Material” (1973).
29. An excellent international survey of the potential for nuclear terrorism is by the
Mitre Corporation, “The Threat to Licensed Nuclear Facilities,” MTR-7022 (1975).
30. John P. Holdren, “Hazards of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists, Oct., 1974.
31. This theme is carefully developed by Amory B. Lovins in “Energy Strategy: The
Road Not Taken?,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 55, no. I (Oct., 1976).
Chapter 4. The Case for Conservation
1. A notable exception is Sweden, where the attempt is now being made to reduce
the annual growth rate of fuel use from 4.5 percent to 2 percent through 1985. By 1986,
Swedish fuel use would, under this plan, reach a plateau, where it would remain indefinitely.
2. Herman E. Daly, “Energy Demand Forecasting: Prediction or Planning?,” Americm institute of Planners /our&, Jan., 1976.
3. Energy Policy Project of the Ford Foundation, A Time to Choose (Cambridge,
19 4).
ec7 Toward a Steady State Economy (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman,
197 ). Ezra J. M\sh& The Costs of Economic Growth (New York. Praeger 1967). K.
Wrl!/iam Kapp, SociaZhosts of Private Enterprise rev. ed. (New York: Schocken 1971).
Fred Hirsch, Social Limits to Growth (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Universi& Press,
5. Barry Commoner, The Poverty of Power (New York: Knopf, 1976).
6. Bruce Hannon, “Energy, Growth, and Altruism,” First Prize-winning paper at the
Limits to Growth Conference, 19 5.
7. Lee Schip r and A. J. Lit i: tenberg, Efficient Energy Use and We!l-Being: The
Swedish Exdmp re (Berkeley: Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. April, 1 76). Richard
L.. Goen and Ronald White, [email protected]’son of Emrgy Consum~iiot! 8eiween West
Notes (pages 80-l lo)
Gemrany and the United St&es (Menlo Park: Stanford Research Institute,. June, 1975).
8. John G. Myers. “Energy Conservation and Economic Growth-Are They Compatible?,” Conference Board Record Feb., 1975.
9. A s lendid exammation of the opportunities for technical conservation can be found
in Lee SCR ipper, “Raising the Productivity of Energy Utilization,” in Jack M. Hollander,
ed., Annual Review of Energy (Palo Alto: Annual Reviews, inc., 1976).
IO. American Physical Society, Efficient Use of Energy: A Physics Perspective (Washington, D.C., 1975).
r 1. Marc H. Ross and Robert H. Williams, “Assessin the Potential for Energy
Conservation” (Albany: institute for Policy Alternatives, Juf y 1, 1975).
‘un Tviakhitani, Energy PoZieyfor the Rural Third World (London: International
Ins&e 9 or Environment and Development, 1976).
13. Richard A. Walker and David B. Large, “The Economics of Energy Extravagance.” Ecology Law Qnut&rZy, vol. 4 no. 963, 1975 (reprint).
Watts for Dinner: Food and Fuel
1. David Pimental et al., “Food Production and the Energy Crisis,” Science, Nov. z,
2. Eric Hi&, “Energy Use for Food,” ORNL-NSF-EP-57, Oak Ridge National
Labordtory. Oct.. 1973.
3. Lester R. Brown, with Ecik Eckholm, Ey Bread Alone (New York: Praeger, 1974).
4. Lester R. Brown, ‘litte Politics and Responsibility of the North American BreadFu,$; Worldwatch Paper No. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, Oct.,
5:David Pimental et al., “Land Degradation: Effects on Food and Energy Resources,”
Science, vol. rp4, no. 4261 (Oct. 8, 1976).
6. William Lockeretz et al., ‘Organic and Conventional Crop Production in the Corn
Belt” (St. Louis: Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Washington University,
Jonathan Allen, “Sewage Farming,” Environment, vol. 15, no. 3 (April, 1 73).
ii : Carol and Jchn Steinhart, Energy: Sources, Use, and Role in Human Afairs sNorth
Scituate, Mass : Duxbury Press, 1974).
9- Aqiun Makhijani, in collaboration with AJan Poole, Energy and Agriculture in the
7Xrd World (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballin er, 1975).
lo. New York 7?mes, Aug. 2 , 197 d .
I 1. Gerald Leach, Energy ORl? Food I’roducfion (London: International Institute for
Environment and Development, 1975).
12. Roger Revelle, “Ener
Use in Rural India,” Science, June 4, 19 6.
13. Aiun Makhijaru,’ 50~ r E nergy and Rural Development for the A ird World,”
BuZfetin of the Atomic Scientists, June, 1976.
14. Keith Griffin, Lund Concentrution und Rural Poverty (New York: Holmes &
Meier, 1976). Edgar Owens and Robert Shaw, kvelopment Reconsidered (Lexington,
Mass.: C&ngton
Books, 1972).
Chapter 6. Energy and Transportation
1. Richard L. Goen and Ronald K. White, Comp4rison of Energy Consumption
between West Germany und the United Sties (Menlo Park: Stanford Research Institrrte,
Rea4 Estate Research Corporation, The Costs of $mtwZ, GPO 41 I l-cm023 (U’ashington, DC., A ril, 1974).
3. Wilfred &a en, Transportatioq Energy, and Community Design (Washington,
D-C.: International Institute for Environment and Development, March, 1975).
4. Emma Rothschild, Pumdtie Losk The LkcZine of the Auto-Zndustrikl Age (New
York: Vintage Books, 1974).
Notes (pages1I 2-36)
5. American Ph sical Society, Eficient Use of Energy: A Physics Perspective(Washington, D.C., 1975 3.
6. Eric Hi&, Energy CIsefor Bicycling, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Feb., 1974.
Nina Dougherty and William Lawrence, Bicycle Truns#nwtution, U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, Dec., 1974.
7. Lee Pratsch, [email protected] and Buswl Mdtching Guide, 4th ed., U.S. Department of
Transportation Jan 1 5.
8. Bradford C. ‘sng A merican Ground Transport, presented to the U.S. Senate
Committee on the Judi&ry, Feb., 1974.
9. Richard A. Rice, “System Energy and Future Transportation,” TechnologyReview,
Jan., 1972.
IO. Eric Hirst, Energy intensivenessof Passengermtd Freight TransportModes: I 95~s
2970, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, A ril, 1973. .
11. Tom
“A New
Outb ld Of z??+
Ja&. Alexander,
Forhme* P%* 1973.
in Shrppmg. Wmd Powered Ships, Department of Nava Arc rtecture and Shrpb ding, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
13- Eric Hirst, “Transportation Energy Conservation Policies,” science, April z, 1976.
Btu’s and Buildings: Energy and Shelter
1. American Institute of Arcbite&, Energy and the Built Environment (Washington,
DC., 1~s). American Institute of Architects, A Nution of Energy [email protected] Buildings by
1~ (Washington, DC., 1~5).
2. Richard Stein, “A Matter of Design,” Environment, Oct., 1972.
3. Owens-Coming Fibe&ss, Eneqp-&ving Homes: 77zeArkansas Story, June, 1976.
4. The Real Estate Research Corporation, The Costs of Sgmd, GPO 41 r 1-00023
(Washington, DC., April, 1 4).
5. John A. Duffie and Wi%a’ m A. Beckman, “Solar Heating and Coolin ,” Science,
Jan. 16, 1976. A fine photographic survey of several U.S. solar homes can %efound in
Norma Skurka and Jon Naar, Oesign for u Limited P&met (New York: Ballantine, 1976).
A more comprehensivesurvey is W. A. Shurcliff Sb’ut Heuted Buildings: A Brief Survey,
13th ed. (San Diego: Solar Energy Digest, 19771. Active approachesto solar heating are
described in W. A. Shurcliff, “Active-Type Solar Heating Systemsfor Houses:A Technology in Ferment,” B&tin of the Atomic S&ntits, Feb., 1976. Passivesolar design is
explained in Raymond W. Bliss, “‘Why Not Just Build the House Right in the First
Place?” Bull&in of the At omit &ientists, March, 1976, and by Bruce Anderson, “Low
Impact Soh~tions,” So&r Age, Sept., 1976.
6. Steve Baer, Suw& (Albuquerque, N.M.: Zomeworks, 1975).
in Sodium Thiosulfate Pentahydrate,” resented to
7. M. Telkes, “Therma! Sto
Energy GommwjlonT ngineering Conference, University of DePaware, Aug.
’ S.%?C. Fischer cd Summmy of the Annual ele Enw System Workshop I (Oak
Ridge, Term.: Oak ‘Rid& National Laboratory, July, 1976).
Complete information on and specifications for this air-conditioning system are
a ‘ble from the Yazaki Buhin Company, Ltd., 390, Umeda Kasai City, Shizuoka
Prefecture, Japan.
lo. The Mitre Copration, An Economic Analysis of Sakw Water and SpaceHeating
and Development Administration, Nov., 1976);
e conomics of Solar Home Heating, re ared for the Joint
Economic Committee o&e U.S. Congress (Washington, D.C.: U. !zo
. vemment Printing Oilice, March 13, 1~).
1I. This is the most persuasiveargument available to those who favor utility investments in solar technologies and conservation.A utility should in theory be willing to make
electricity-saving investments uptothe high mar&al cost of new power lants, whereas
the consumer will want to make only those investments that are sensiblein Pight of uveruge
Notes (pages 136-56)
electrical bills. Arguments against such utility involvement are generally based on the
assumption that the utility will charge high prices for equipment and labor while demanding an exorbitant rate of return on its investment. In parts of the world where utilities
are government re lated, this argument loses much of its force.
12. Frost & Sulf ivan, The U.S. So& Power Market, Report No. 348, New York, 1975.
Frost & Sullivan estimates the total annual U.S. solar market for 1985, including wind
wer and biomass, at $10 billion. In its A Nation of Energy-Eficient Buildings by 19 o
r Washington, D.C., 1975). the American Institute of Architects calculates that an amlzitious program of conservation and solar development could save the United States the
uivalent of 12.5 million barrels of oil a day in 1 . The institutional obstacles such rapid
e% r development would have to overcome areT iscussed in R. Schoen, A. S. Hirshberg,
and J. Weingart, New Energy Technology for Buildings (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger,
Chapter 8. Energy and Economic Growth
1. J. K. Galbraith. The AfjIuent %cie& (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958).
John G. Myers et al., Energy Consumption in Manufacturing: Report to the Energy
Policy Reject (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1974).
Law and the Economic Process (Cam3. Nicholas Georgescu-Koegen, The En
bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 19“p’I .
4 U.S. Federal Energy Administration, E om&nison of Energy Consumption between
West Germany and the United States, Conservation Paper No. 33, Washington, D.C.,
5. Charles A. Berg, “Conservation in Industry,” Science, April 19, 1974.
6. Charles A. Berg, “Potential for Ener Conservation in Industry,” in Jack M.
Hollander, ed., Annual Review of Energy (P3 o Alto: Annual Reviews, Inc., 1976).
7. The next several exam les are drawn from E. P. Gyftopoulos, L. J. Lazaridis, and
T. F. Widmer, Potential FuePEffectiveness in Industry, report to the Energy Policy Project
of the Ford Foundation (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1974).
8. Dow Chemical Corn ny, Environmental Research Institute of Michigan, Townsend-Greenspan & Co., anr Cravith, Swaine & Mclore, Energy Indust& Center Study,
report to the National Science Foundation (GEP74--20~4z), 1975.
9. Richard Grossman and Gail Daneker, /ohs and Energy (Washington, D.C.: Environmentalists for Full Employment, 1977).
10. Richard Stein, “A Matter of Design,” Environment, Oct., 1972.
11. S. L. Blum, “Ta ping Resources in Municipal Solid Waste,” Science, vol. 191,
no. 4228 (Feb. 20, 197 l ).
12. R. Stephen Berry, “Reducing the Energy Demand,” New York Times, Feb. 12,
13. Boyce Rensberger, “Coining Trash,” New York Times Mugazine, Dec. 7, 1975.
14. Barry Stein, Testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Small Business,
Dec. 2, 197s.
Turning toward the Sun
1. By far the largest fraction of current commercial solar usage is of human biomass.
In many Third World countries, firewood, dung, and crop residues constitute 90 percent
of all energy use. Calculations regarding the magnitude of this usagecan be found in Arjun
Makhijani and Alan Poole, Energy and Agriculture in the 77zird World (Cambridge, Mass.:
Ballinger, 1975). and D. F. Earl, Forest Energy and Economic Develo#ment (Oxford:
Ckrendon Press, 1975). Hydropower ranks next, providing more than one-fifth of all
electricity and about 3 percent of all end-use energy. See United Nations, World Energy
Supplies: 1950-1974 (New York: Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 1976).
2. Insight into the many vital but unnoticed functions performed for humankind by
Notes (pages 156-62)
the sun can be gleaned from Frank von Hippel and Robert H. Williams, “Solar Technologies,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov., 1975, and Steve Baer, “Clothesline Paradox,” Elements, Nov., 1975. The temperature estimate for a sunless earth was provided
in Vincent E. McKelvey, “Solar Energy in Earth Processes,” Technology Review, April,
3. John V. Krutilla and R. Talbot Page, “Ener
Policy from an Environmental
Perspective,” in Robert J. Kalter and William A. VogeYy, eds., Energy Supply and Govemment PoZiey (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976); John S. Reuyl et al., ii
Preliminary Social and Environmental Assessment of the ERDA Solar Energy Program,
1975-2024 Vols. I and II (Menlo Park, Calif.: Stanford Research Institute, 1976), found
solar technologies to be environmentally attractive compared to the alternatives.
4. Hans H. Landsberg, “Low-Cost Abundant Energy: Paradise Lost?” (Washington,
D.C.: Resources for the Future Re rint No. 112, Dec., 1973).
The U.S. Federal Energy A Bministration publishes a semiannual Survey of Sofar
Co ?factor A4anufacturing Activity; the 1977 estimate is by Ronald Peterson, director of
Grummon Energy Systems, one of the largest manufacturers of solar collectors.
6. Largely becauseconventional fuels pose costly transportation and distribution problems in remote areas, the largest immediate market for expensive photovoltaic cells ma ,
rest countries. Charles Weiss and Simon Pafc,
strangely enough, be in the world’s
“Developing Coun
Applications o p”Photovoltaic Cells,” presented to the ERDA Natio11aI Solar Photovo
‘r taic Program Review Meeting, San Diego, Calif., Jan. 20, 1 76.
7. M. L. Baughman and D. J. Bottaro, Electric Power Transmission and Distri Bution
Systems Costs and 73eir AZZocation (Austin: University of Texas Center for Energy
Studies, July, 1975).
8. An excellent explo:ation of the concept of thermodynamic matching is in “Efficient
Use of Energy: A Physics Perspective,” American Physica! Society, Jan., 1975 (reprinted
in U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Science and Technology, Part I, ERDA
Authorization Hearings, Feb. 18, 1975). Simpler explanations can be found in Barry
Commoner, 7Xe [email protected] of Power (New York: Knopf, 1976), and Denis Hayes, Energy:
7%e Case for Conservation (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, Jan., 1976).
9. Amory B. Lovins, “Scale, Centralization, and Electrification in Energy S stems,”
presented to a Symposium on Future Strategies of Energy Development, Oa II Ridge,
Term., Oct. 20-21,
1976. The Canadian data is in “Exploring Energy-Efficient Futures
for Canada,” Conserver Society Notes, May-June, 19 6.
10. These issuesare thoughtfully explored in John s . Reuyl et al., A Preliminary Social
and Environmental Assessment of the ERDA Solar Energy Program, I 975-2020; Amory
B. Lovins, “Ener
Strategv: The Road Not Taken?,” Foreign Affairs, Oct., 1976; and
less directly by Ru%l s E. Miles, Jr., Awakening from the American Dream: 7?zeSocial and
Political Limits to Growth (New Yorir Universe Books, 1976); Bruce Hannon, “Ener ,
Land, and Equity,” presented to the 1st North American Wildlife Conference, Was5i ington, D.C., March 21-25, 19 6; an1 E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics
us if People Mattered (New Yorz : Harper and Row, 1973); and William Ophuls, Ecology
und the Politics of Scarci?, (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 197 ).
1I. Among their other virtues, flat-piate collectors have a hig 73 net energy yield. A
conventional collector will deliver enough ener in less than one year to pay back the
energy used in its manufacture. Moreover, if cof ectors are recycled, the energy requirements are reduced dramatically. See the various statements on net energy in SoZarNews
and views (International Solar Energy Society, American Section, Richmond, Calif.) Jan.
and April, 1976.
12. W. A. Shurcliff, Sokr Heated Buildings: A Brief Survey, 13th ed. (San Diego: Solar
Energy Digest, 19 7). See also Philip Steadman, Energy, Environment, and Building
(Philadelphia: Acaaemy of Natural Sciences of Pennsylvania, 1975).
13. Multipleeffect
solar stills are described in “Solar Desalting Process Breakthroughs,” Solar Energy Digest, June, 1976.
14. “French Solar-Powered Irrigation Pump Installed in Mexico,” Solar Energy Digest,
Feb., 1976.
Notes (pages 16249)
15. D. Proctor and R. F. White, “The Application of Solar Energy in the Food
Processing Industry,” presented to a meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Sections
of ISES, Melbourne, Australia, July 2, 1975.
16. Malcolm Fraser, Analysis of the Economic Potential of Solar Thermal Energy to
Provide industrial Process Heat (Warrenton, Va.: Intertechnology Corp., 1977). A consolar collector can quite easily obtain a temperature of 288°C.
8 e energy demand projections used by the U.S. Energy Research and Developmeit7Administration to justify a massive nuclear power program were carefully analyzed
by Frank von Hippel and Robert WiIIiams, “Energy Waste and Nuclear Power Growth,”
BulZetin of the Atomic Scientists, Dec., 1976. The authors found that the projections
demanded the use of electrici for virtually everything. The most egregious example of
electrical “padding” was for in r ustrial processheat. Virtually no electricity is used this way
today; et the projections show the 2020 electrical demand for process heat to be larger
than ali electricity used throughout the entire U.S. economy in 1975. Fraser, in Analysis
of the Economic Potential, found that half of this ener could be provided by direct solar
heating; most of the remaining half can be more eas’Py met with biomass or other fuels
than with electricity.
18. The utility, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, hopes to make the first
such hybrid conversion of its Person power plant in Albuquerque.
19. Aden Baker Meinel and Marjorie Pettit Meinel, Power for the People (Tucson,
Ariz.: privately published, 1970).
20. Arguments for closed-cycle OTECs can bc found in U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Energy of the Committee on Science and Astronautics, Solar Sea
7?zennuI Power, Hearings, May 23, 1 74. Open-cycle OTECs are advocated in Earl J.
Beck, “Ocean Thermal Gradient Hy it raulic Power Plant,” Science, July 25, 1975, and
Clarence Zener and John Fetkovitch, “Foam Solar Sea Power Plant,” Science, July 25,
21. An excellent series of papers was prepared under the auspices of the American
Society of International Law for the 19 7L Workshop on Legal, Political, and Institutional
Aspects of Ocean Thermal Energy Co1.Yenion. For a more optimistic assessment of
OTEC economics, see Clarence Zener, “Solar Sea Power,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan., 1976, or George Haber, “Solar Power from the Oceans,” New Scientist, March
10. 1977.
22. R. H. Williams, “The Greenhouse Effect for Ocean Based Solar Energy Systems,”
Working Paper No. 21, Center for Environmental Studies, Princeton University, Oct.,
23. An excelIent introduction to photovoltaics can be found in Bruce Chalmers, “The
Photovoltaic Generation of Electricity,” scientific American, Oct., 1976. For a more
detailed treatment, see Joseph A. Merrigan, Sunlight to Elect&&
Prospects for Solar
Energy Conversion by f%otovoftclics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1935).
24. A recent technical survey of photovoltaic materials and techniques can be found
in the twevolume Proceedings of the E. R. D.A. Solor Photovoltaic Program Review Meeting,A
. 34, 1976 Springfield, Va.: National Technical Information Service, 1976).
Tee for exampI e the testimony of Paul Rappaport and others in Sohr Photovoltaic
H&rings befoie the Subcommittee on Energy of the House Committee on
Science and Astronautics, Washington, D.C., June 6 and 11, 1974.
26. A useful overview of the Japanese program is provided by Akira Uehara, “Solar
Energy Research and Development in Quest for New Energy Sources,” Technocrat, vol.
9, no. 3. See also /@an’s Sunshine hject
(Tokyo: MIT1 Agency of Industrial Science
and Technology, 1975).
27. The *year
payback period (for cells with an expected lifetime of more than
twenty years) has become conventional wisdom among the silicon photovoltaic specialists.
See, for example, Martin Wolfe, “Methods for Low&t
Manufacture of Integrated Solar
Arrays,” and P. A. Iles, “Energy Economics in Solar Cell Processi,1g,” both in Roceedings
of the Symposium on the Material science Aspects of Thin Film Systemsfor Solar Energy
Conversiorr, May 20-24, Tucson, Ariz. (Washington, D.C.: National Science Foundation,
Notes (pages 169-7 2)
1974). The calculations by Slesser and Hounam based upon a two-year payback are in M.
Slesser and I. Hounam, “Solar Energy Breeders,” ‘Vaturn, July 22, 1976. E. L. Ralph,
vice-president for research at Spectrolab, claims that his company’s cells now have a
payback period of 87 days, and that the theoretical minimum would be on the order of
30 hours, according to a personal communication with Dr. Peter Glazer of Arthur D.
28. Photovoltaics could, of course, also be used in highly centralized arrays in areas
of high insolation. The advantages of decentralization are more social than technical. At
the extreme are proposals to obtain large amounts of energy from photovoltaic cells on
orbiting satellites, with the energy beamed down to earth via microwaves. The idea was
first suggested by Peter Glaser, “Power from the Sun: Its Future,” Science, Nov., 1968,
and has more recently been popularized by Gerald K. O’Neil, “Space Colonization and
Energy Supply to the Earth,” Co-Evolution Quarterly, Fall, 1975. The concept appears
to have no insurmountable technical Baws,but is of dubious desirability. Simple, decentralized terrestrial uses of photovoltaics have far more to recommend them.
29. Some argue that storing energy from renewable sources would require people to
change their life styles to conform to the riodicity of such sources. However, life-style
adjustments would attend a switch to nut rear as well as solar substitutes for oil and gas.
Storage costs will motivate users of solar energy sources to schedule their energy-using
activities for daylight hours. Similarly, the cost of storing nuclear power will encourage
consumers to even out their daily energy use. In neither case is the requirement absolute,
but in both peop l e will be rewarded for tailoring their demands to fit sup lies.
The Sorensen estimate can be found in Bent Sdrensen, “Dependabi Pity of Wind
Energy Generators with Short-Term Energy Storage,” Science, Nov. 26, 1976.
30. Public Service Electric and Gas Company of New Jersey,An Assessment of Energy
Storage Systems for I/se by Electric I/t&ties (Palo Alto, Calif.: Electric Power Research
Institute, 1976).
31. Clark, Energy for Survival.
32. A comprehensive recent article by some of the foremost proponents of a “hydra en
economy” is D. P. Gregory and J. B. Parghorn, “Hydrogen Energy,” in Jack M. Hollan d er,
ed., Annual Review of Energy; a somewhat more skeptical appraisal is in J. K. Dawson,
“Prospects for Hydrogen as an Energy Source,” Nature, June 21, 1974. An excellent
quarterly technical journal, the International /oumal of ,4ydrogen Energy, is available
through Pergamon Press, Ltd., Oxford, U.K.
The fuel cell is a device that produces electricity directly from fuel through electm
chemical reactions. Invented in 1839 by Sir William Grove, the he1 cell has been put to
practical use in the space pro ram. The United Technologies Corporation has embarked
upon a $42 million research eif ort to develop a commercial fuel cell, and U.S. utilities have
already signed options for the first 56 units produced. Vigorous research is also under way
in many other countries.
Fuel cells have several major advant;:,;:esover conventional technologies. They involve
no combustion and hence virtually no t;llutants. Sixty percent conversion eficiences are
common, and 75 percent efficiences c1ave been reported. Unlike conventional power
plants, fuel cells are as efficient with a partial load as with a peak load. Moreover, their
modular design shortens construction lead times, since new modules can be added as
needed. The use of decentralized fuel cells would also save expenses of constructing
long-distance power lines from huge generating facilities, and would allow waste heat to
be productively employed. Fuel cells are quiet, and they conserve water.
33. H. C. Herbst, “Air Storage-Gas Turbine: A New Possibility of Peak Current
Production,” Froceedmgs of the Technical Conference on Storage Systems for Secondary
Energy, Stutt art, Oct., 1974. For a broad overview of this technology, see also A. J.
Giramonti an& R. D. Lessard, “Exploratory Evaluation of Compressed Air Storage PeakPower Systems,” Energy Sources, vol. I, no. 3, 1974; and D. L. Ayers and D. R. Hoover,
“Gas Turbine Systems Using Underground Compressed Air Storage,” presented at the
American Power Conference, Chicago, April z9-May 1, 1974.
Notes (pages 17 2-79)
4. Fritz R. Kalhammer and Thomas R. Schneider, “Energy Storage,” in Jack M.
Ho rider,, ed., Annual Revieu~of Energy. See also Julian McCaull, “Storing the Sun,”
Environment, lune, 1 76. Much interesting material concerning flywheels and other
stora e devicescan he Pound in J. M. Savino,YC!.,Wind Energy ConversionSystems,First
Wor Eshop Proceedings(Washington, DC.: ~\;~5onalScience Foundation, Dec., 5973).
35. A good survey of current battery pros ts is in Kalhammer and Schneider,
“Energy Storage.” An interesting new battery ir ea is described in M. S. Whittin ham,
“Electrical Energy Storage and Intercalation Chemis ,” Science, June r 1, 197
found in Farrin on Daniels,
36. Corn rehensive overviews of solar energy can
Direct Use oPthe Sun’s Energy (New York: Ballantine, 1974), and B. J. Brinf!ivorth, Solar
Energlvfor Mm (New York: Wiley, 1972). Two more recent articles in TechnologyRtiew
provide excellent analysesof the solar tential: Walter E. Morrow, Jr., ‘Solar Ener :
Its Time Is Near,” Dec., 1973, and Jor n B. Goodeno h, “The Options for Using tf e
a renewable energy technolo ‘es
Sun,” Oct.-Nov., 19 6. The most exhaustivesurvey of “&
remains Wilson Clarz , Energy for Sutvivcll(Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubl ex y,
1974). A recent surveyof U.S. corporate interest in severalof these technologies is Stewart
W. Herman and JamesS. Cannon, Energy Futures (New York: Inform, Inc., 1976). An
overview of current international solar researchefforts can be found in F. de Winter and
J. W. de Winter, eds.,Description c,f the Solar Energy R 6 D Programsin Many Nations
(Santa Clara, Calif.: Atlas Corp., Feb., 1976). And an extreme1 readabk &oduction to
many of the world’s leading solar researchers,and to the technorogies they are developin ,
is Daniel Behrman, Solm Energy: 7Xe Au&erring Science (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976f .
Chapter lo. Wind and Water Power
I. The largest of these sailing vesselscaptured about four megawatts of power from
the wind. 1 am indebted to ProfessorFrank von Hippel of Princeton University for several
ideas in this chapter.
t. Surveysof the history of wind power can be found in Volta Torrey, Wind Cutchers
(Brattleboro. Vt.: Stephen Green Press,1976); E. W. Gelding, The Cenerution of Electici& b Wind Power (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955); John Reynolds, Windmilksand Watends (New York Praeger, 1970); A. T. H. Gross, Wind Power Usagein
[email protected] (Springfield, Va.: National Technical Information Service, 1974).
3. Palmer C. Putnam, Power from the Wind (New York: Van Nostrand, 1948).
4. Don Hinrichsen and Patrick Cawood, “Fresh Breeze for Denmark’s Windmills,”
New scientist June 10, 1976.
Fuhrres (New York: Inform,
5. Stewart W. Herman and JamesS. Cannon, En
Inc., 1976); seealso Marshal F. Merriam, “Wind Energy
Y or Human Needs,” Technology
Rtiew, Jan., 1
ridge, Wind .%&rchinesWashington, DC.: U.S. Government Printing
6. Frank El8/7
O&e, 1976 ; J. M. Savino, ed., Win 6 Energy Conversion Systems:First Workshop
Aocceditrgs I Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printin Office!,1973); Wind Energy:
Hearing before the Subcommittee on Energy of the U.S. b ouse Committee on Science
and Astronautics (Washington, DC.: U.S. Government Printing O&e, May 21,1974).
7. J. A. Potworowski and B. Henry, “Harnessing the Wind,” Consm So&y Notes,
Fall, 1976. The cost estimate is from R. S. Rangi et al., “Wind Power and the VerticalAxis Wind Turbine DeveloPedat the National ResearchCouncil,” DME/NAE Qu&erly
No. 1 74(z). A good introduction to the Dar&us turbine can be found in B.
B. BlackweBan8 L. F. Feltz, ‘Wind Energy: A Revitalized Pursuit” (Albuquerque, N.M.:
Sandia Laboratories, March, 1 ).
8. J. T. Yen, ‘TornadoType % ind Energy Systems:BasicConsiderations,” presented
to the International Sympcsiumon Wind Energy Systems,St. John’s College, Cambridge,
Sept. 7+,&.
Administration, Boiect Zndepn9. Cost estimates can be found in Federal En
dence Final Tak Force Report on S&r Energy (F ashington, D.C.: U.S. Government
Notes (pages 179-88)
Printing Office, 1974); somewhat more optimistic estimates are in David R. lnglis, “Wind
Power Now!,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Oct., 1975, and Bent Sgrensen, “Wind
Energy,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Sept., 1976.
10. Edward N. Lorentz, The Nature and Theory of the General Circulation of the
[email protected] (Geneva: World Meteorological Organization, 1967).
11. A small fraction of the planet’s wind produces some 150 million square miles of
Ocean waves. Britain’s Department of Energy is spending a million dollars a year on
experimental efforts to tap the waves that constantly break along Britain’s long, stormy
coasts. Smaller fledgling programs are under way elsewhere too, notably in Japan and the
United States. More than a hundred different mechanical and hydraulic wave power
devices have been proposed. Mechanical devices include the lopsided “ducks” designed
by Stephen Salter of Edinburgh to obtain the maximum possible rock from passing waves,
and the stlings of contouring rafts, which work on the same principle, that Christopher
Cmkerell (the inventor of the Hovercraft) has proposed. The Japanese use an inverted
box to capture wave energy hydraulically. When waves rise, air is pushed out of holes in
the top of the box; as the wave falls, air is sucked in. These air currents are now used to
power Japanesenavigation buoys, and strings of such boxes may well be multiplied into
power sources of commercial value in the near future. See S. H. Salter, “Wave Power,”
.-;thre, June 2 1, 1974, and Michael Kenward, “Waves a Million,” New Scient& May
6, 1976.
12. Hydropower resource estimates are clouded by uncertain data and ambiguous
definitions. For example, such estimates typically measure either the maximum generating
capacity that is usable 95 percent of the year or else the capacity usable under conditions
of avera e annual flow. Although these figures can differ by as much as 300 percent, those
who ma&e hydropower assessmentsoften fail to state which figure they are using.
This paper employs the more conservative 95 percent fi re and then reduces it sharply
to reflect new constraints being imposed by environmenta Yand agricultural interests, and
also to reflect the futility of damming silt-laden streams that drain geologically unstable
The most comprehensive of the conventional hydropower resource estimates can he
found in World Ener Conference, Surged of Eneru Resources (New York: privately
published for the WorT d Energy Conference, 197 ).
13. Fine surveys of small-scale hydropower teeR nologies appear in Robin Saunders,
“Harnessing the Power of Water,” Energy Primer (Menlo Park: Portola Institute, 1974),
and Ken Darrow and Rick Pam, Appropriate Technology Sourcebook (Stanford, Calif.:
Volunteers in Asia Press, 19 6). An intriguing approach to “low head” hydroelectricity
is discussed in Yvonne Howe r1,“New Straight-Flow Turbine,” Sunworld (published quarterly by the International Solar Energy Society), Feb., 1977.
Peter H. Freeman, Large Dams and the Environment: Recommendations for
rev: 4&nent Planning (Washington, D.C.: International Institute for Environment and
Development, March, 1977).
15. Vaclav Smil, “Intermediate Technology in China,” Bulletin of the Atomic S&enfists, Feb., 197 .
16. Erik ECzholm, Losing Ground: Environmental Stress and World Food Prospects
(New York: Norton. 1976). See also Ambio, Special Issue on Water, vol. 6, no. 1, 1977.
Chapter 11. Plant Power: Biological Sources of Energy
1. I-I. Lieth and R. H. Whittaker, eds., Pn’mav Productivity of the Bios#&ere (New
York: Springer-Verlag, 1975); E. E. Reichle, J. F. Franklin, and D. W. Goodall, eds.,
Productivity of World Ecosystems (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences,
E. E. Robertson and H. M. Lapp, “Gaseous Fuels,” in Proceedings ofa Conference
on Capturing the Sun through Bioconversion (Washington, D.C.: Washington Center for
Metropolitan Studies, 1976).
2. Alan Poole and Robert H. Williams, “Flower Power: Prospects for Photosynthetic
Notes (pages 188-99)
Energy,” Bulletin of the Atomic scientists, May, 1976; Arjun Makhiiani and Alan Poole,
Energy and Agriculture in the Third World (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1975).
3. P. E. Henderson, India. ?i%eEnergy Sector (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1975).
4. Roger Revelle, “Energy Use in Rural India,” Science, June 4, 1976.
5. W. J. Jewel], H. R. Davis, et al., Bioconversionof Agricultural Wustesfor P&g~n
Control und Energy Conservation (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976).
6. Poole and Williams, “Flower Power.”
7. R. Ii. Whittaker and C. M. Woodwell, prodar~tivi?,
of Forest Ecosystems(Paris:
8. D. F. Earl, Forest Energy und Economic Develqbment
9. ErikEckholm, 77re other Energy Crisis: Firewood (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, 1975).
10. J. S. Bethel and G. F. Schreuder, “Forests Resources:An Overview,” Science,Feb.
1I. S. B. Richardson, Forestry in Communist Chinu (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press,
12. G. C. !&ego and C. C. Kemp, “The Energy Plantation,” U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Energy of the Committee on Science and Astronautics,
Hearings, June 13. 1974.
13. J. B. Grantham and T. H. ElIis, “Potentials of Wood for Producing Energy,”
of Forestry, vol. 72. no. 9, 1974.
14 Melvin Calvin, “Hydrocarbons via Phot
thesis,” presented to the 110th Rub
her Division Meeting of the American ChemicalYL iety, San Francisco: Oct. s-8, 1976.
Available from the American Chemical Society.
15. J- A. Alich and R. E. Inman, Effective Utilization of Solar Energy to Produce Cfeun
Fuel (Menlo Park: Stanford Research Institute, 1974).
16. B. C. Wolverton, R. M. Barlow, and R. C. McDonald, [email protected] of Vascular
&uuti~? Phnts for Pollution Removal, Energy and Food Production in a Biofo icuf system
(Bay St. Louis, Miss.: NASA, 1975); B. C. Wolverton, R. C. McDonald, and J. Gordon,
&conversion of W&r fiucinths into Methune Gus: Puti I (Bay St. Louis, Miss.: NASA,
1975). The “p” rt voicinf skepticism about the U.S. potential is A. C. Robinson, J. H. ,,
&rman, et a ., An Ana ysis of MmRet Potential of Water Hyacinth-Bused Systemsfor 1
Municipcll Wustewater Treutment (Columbus, Ohio: Batelle Laboratories, 1976).
17. H. A. Wilcox, “Ocean Farming,” in Copturing the Sun through Bioconversion.
For a lesssanguine appr%al of the large ocean-farm concept, see John Ryther’s remarks
in the same volume.
18. J- T. Pfeffer, “Reclamation of Ene from Organic Refuse: Anaerobic Digestion
presented to the Third Nationa
s Congress on Waste Management and Re. Alan Poole, “The Potential for Energy Recovery
source Recovery, San Francisco, r
from Organic Wastes,” in R. H. irt i iams, rd., The Energy Conservution Pu#ets (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1975). A good annotated bibliography of do-it-yourself books on
biogasplants appearsin Ken Darrow and Rick Pam, Appropriate Technology Sourcebook
(Stanford, Calif.: Volunteers in Asia Press, 1976).
19. VacIav Smil, “Intermediate Technology in China,” Bulletin of the Atomic S&nt&s, -Feb.. 1977.
20. Report to the Pre#ratory Mission on Bio-gas Technology and Uifi&on.
21. Ram Bux Singh, Bio-Gus Pfunt (Ajitmal, Etawah, India: Gobar ResearchStation
Publication, 1971).
22. Poole and Williams, “Flower Power.”
C. R. Prasad, K. K. Prasad, and A. K. N. Reddy, “Biogas Plants: Proswts,
Pro2 ems, and Tasks,” Economic und Politicul Weekly, vol. 9, no. 32-3
24. R. N. Morse and J. R. Siemon, Solat Energy for Austruliu: The Ro4l ~f9~~~fogi~af
Conversion, presented to the Institution of Engineers, Australia, 1975.
25. G. C. Floueke and P. H. McGauhey, “Waste Materials,” in Jack M. Hollander,
d., Annuuf Review of Energy, vol. 1 (Palo Alto, Calif.: Annual Reviews, Inc., 1976).
26. For a good overview of the Brazilian ethanol program, see Allen L. Hammond,
“Alcohol: A Brazilian Answer to the Energy Crisis,” Science, Feb. 11, 1977. American
interest in methanol is surveyed in Edward Faltermayer, “The Clean Synthetic Fuel
That’s Already Here,” Fortune, Sept., 1975.
Abalone hawsting. 200
Acid rains, 41
Actinides. 53
Actinium, 53
Agricdture. &g-log
crop drying. W
use, 89-93. lcm-102
farm machinery, 97-98
fertilizers, 93-95
food processing, 89-9o, 91, 100-102
home gardens, gp-100
irrigation, 95-96
meat consumption, po
problem of distribution, 102-4
Air conditioners, 128.132:. 138
$iys 135-36
iim .l~
AIas+ oil pipeline, 22, 35
.Qw biag,
Aluminum Ikearch -75 onxxation. 1~
Arnerjcan Electric Power-Company, ‘5;s
Arncman Federation of labor, 146
American Institute of Architects, 128Am&
Motors Corporation, 114
Amer$an Pet$eum I?stitute. 32
Anaerobic &&ion,
194, 195-98
Andefson. Caroh
Anipd &cr&t.~ l&-lji
37.78, 110
Arctie pii and gas, 22
Baer, Steve, 134
Bagasse. 188
BART May Area Rapid Transit) system, 120,
Batelle Laboratory, 193
Bateson, Gregory. 146
Beef! U.S. per capita intake, 90
Beklum, 49, 50
Berg, Charles, ‘43
Beryllium, 6
B+to, Zul i kar Ali. 65
&~ycles, 116-17, 118
99. 102. 195+
B!oPogLa1 energy sources, 159, 187-203
biomass technologies, 194-99
enertv cro , 1 1-94
fuels and R:R
el c oices, 199-203
wastes as fuels, I
sann, oi&p from, 43-44
Bonneville &we, Administration, 172
Brae Research Institute (Canada), 177
Brayton cycle (gas turbine) engine, 113
Braatil, 20, 43, 51, 63, 64, 66, 67, w, l+lo,
181, 193, 212
Breeder reactors. 57, 6c-61
Bridge tolls, 126
Bromine, 41
Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Brooks. I-Iarvey, 148
Btu’s. 79. 116
CNP and, 80
64.66-67, 185
Aswan f-hi D&. &J, 182-83
Atlantic Rich&Id Corporation. 22
Austdia, 54
engines, 112-14
evolution of, 110-I 1
one-person-per-car, I 25-27
135. 160, 162.
x08, 1orp18. 120.125-26
automatic transmission, 110, 112
Cadmium, 41
California Institute of Technology, I I , 16b
Calorific Recovery Anaerobic Process t CRAP),
Calvin, Melvin, 193
Cambridge University, 170
49, 158, 181, 185
(CANDU), 51.66
Car pools, 126
Carbon dioxide, 15, 17-18. 20. 27.40, 202
See also “Greenhouse” effect
Carter, Jimmy. 53
ChsIh;; C$xge Washington. 201
Chalk River nuclear reactor, 53
Charcoal, 199-200
Chase Manhattan Bank, 86,87, 147
Chattanooga shale, 57
China, 81.98. 109. 139, 185, 196
bio s plants, 19
coar resour~, 33, 39
fuel from wastes, 190
Great Leap Forward, 151
hydroelectric capacity, 182
nuclar -#wer. 49.63.65
nutrient recycling, 94-5
oil shale uses, 43
per capita food available in, 102
reforest&ion program, 192
Chrysler Corporation, 113
Claude, Ceorges. 165
Coal, 15, 142
consumption (U.S.), 38
European resources, 39
fhridixcd-bed combustion, 42-43
fuels from, 42
low-sulfur. 41-42
toxic emissions, O-41
as a transitional tu cl. 38-43
Coan, Eugene, 19
i2z21141~ornas 68
Cole, Gnont, 89&
Columbus, Christopher, 46
Concorde jet plane, 122
Congestion pricing, 126
Conservation, 7748
economic advantages of, 85
equity, 80-82
GNP and, 78-80.86
industry and. 142-46
institutional investment growth, 82-83
politics of, 86-88
social approaches to, 85-86
technical ap roaches to, 83-85
Consolidated Bdison, 53
Cook, Donald, 55
Coustau, Jaques. 74
Crop drying technique, 98-99
Crop rotation, 94
Cuban missile crisis (1962). 62
Czechoslovakia, 49
lhms and reservoirs, I
7 17
Dmieus wind generator,
Davy Crockett (fission bomb), 68
Decentralization. industrial, 150-51, 217-18
;:‘d 149. 171. 175
(D-T) fusion power, 26
transportation, 118-19
Direct combustion technologies, 194
Doebereiner, Johanna, 95
Dow Chemical Company, 143
Drake, Col. E. L., 31
Drees. William, 116
Dubos, Reni, 87, 143
Duke Power facility, 70
Economic growth, industrial efficiency and,
conservation, 142-46
decentralization, 15o-5 I
electricity in power plants, 145
employment, 146-48
recycling, 148-50
self-interest, 141-42
Economic Social Commission for Asia and the
Pacific, 197
Egypt. 51.63, 135, 180. 182-83
Einste$ Albert, 6 142
Einsteinium, 53
Eklund, Sigv=rd, 72
Electric ars, 114. 119
in buildin s. 1 8-39
on farms rU.S.3,96
hat and electrical power plants, 17
industrial power plants, 145
institutional growth and, 82-83
solar, 163-69
Energy crops, 191-94, 200
watei plants, 193-94
Energy efficiency. 75-15 1
agriculture, 89- 10
conservation, 77-88
industry, 14-5 1
shelters, 128-39
tGU’ISPOrt;ltiOn, 105-27
Energy industries, 82-8
Energy Policy Project t Ford Foundation), 80.
efficiency in, 75-151
fossil fuels, 31-48
hat impact, 16-18
limits and constraints, z-25
nuclear power, 4*74
pollution, 18-20
prospect for, 205-18
safe sustainable sources of. 153-203
transition, 25-28
Engineering Research institute (Ur.:v. of Michipan). 58
England. See Grat Britain
Enrico Fermi reactor, 58, 61
Estonia, 43
Ethanol, zoo
Euphorbia, 193
Hippel, Frank von, 58-59
Hirst, Eric, 85
Home gardens, ~100
Hounam, Ian, 169
Hubbert, M. King, 32-33, 35> 46
Hunger, 102
Hydrogasification, 194. 1~
Hydrogen, 17 1
Hydro enation, 194. 1~
Hydrc Pysis, 194, 198
Fglldin, Thorbjom, 50
Farm energy, 91-93
Farm machinery, 97-98
Federal Power Commission, 189
Fermi. Enrico, 61
Fertilizers, chemical, 93-95
Firewood, 15, 16, 191-92
Fischer, Harry, 135
Fluorescent lighting, 83, 138
Flywheel propulsion, I 14-15
Food processing, 91. 1o+102,
“enrichment.” GO-~O~
Ikle, Fred, 64
Illich. Ivan, 116
Illinois coal fields, 24
Illinois Institute of Technology, 70
Illinois Office of Civil Defense, 59
Incandescent lighting, 83
India, 49,51.62,63,85,9~,
94, 139. 188, 190.
100, 101
* 101
Foun %a lion. 8o, 190
Ford Motor Corn ny, 113
Fossil fuels, 31-4 r
American experience. 32-36
195. 156 212
oil shale, 43-44
perspectives, 44-48
world resources.-, 26-28
France. 49. 50.63,65,
185, 212
Freight transport.
56.63. 65.6
Irrigation, 95-96
Israel. 63. 94, 135, 160
Italy. 49
bvo “tr ;tiOn,
Japan. 23.37,49,70, go, 98, 135, 151, 160, 16%
180, 182. 212
Chbtic Tokyo (ship), 19
G&r plank. 195-96
Goldmark, Peter, 108
Grain farmers, 91-93
Grat Britain, 49,50,70, d, 114. 135, 149
Great Canadian Oil Sand, Ltd., 43
pea; 2
15 1
International Center for Research on Environment and Development, 165
tnt;mlagnal equity. energy and, 2 I 3- 15
Gandhi ‘Indira 64
Gas raioning, ‘125-26
General Electric Company. 176
General Motors Corporation, 1IO, 119
Georgescu-Roegen. Nicholas. 142
Gear . Power Company, 83
Cent r ermal district heating, 132
Ce. thermal power, 36
49. 5o*%
43. 149. 172
Ghana, 123, do.214
Institute of Agricultural Research, 177
Institute of Science, 134
Institute of Technology, 2 1 I
National Aeronautical Laboratory, 177
Villa e Industries Commission, 196
Indian Foint. N. Y., 53. 9
Institute for Energy Ana Tysis, 197
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),
“Greenhouse” effect, 17, 18
Greenhouses, 137
Gross Nat&al Product (GNP),.78-8o. 86,158
Cup& M. C., 21 I
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Calif. lnstitute of
Technology), 113
Johnson, Lyndon, 81
Julian. Percy, 201
Kaiparowits plant, 22
Kariba Dam, 180-81
Kelbaugh. Doug, 134
Kelp beds, zoo
Kennedy, John F.. 49
Kenya, log
Keynes, John Maynard, &81
Kissinger, Henry. 64
Korea, 51.65. i85, 195, 196
J. B. S.. 170
Hamb*ug, University of, 124
Hay, Harold, 133
Hat, effects of, 16-18
CO2 emissions. 1 -18
electrical power pZJl ts. 17
solar hat,
Helium, zo
Henderson, Hazel. 106
High-yielding grains (HYVs), 92.93
(airship), 124
Lam, William, 82
Iand. redistribution of, 102-3
La Paz Dam, 184
Latin America, 37, 39. 181
Law of Thermodynamics, 79, 84
Lead, 41
Lewis, c. s.. 73
Li ht water reactor (LWR), 70
Llf* ‘en&al, David, 65
Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, 62
Liquid metal fast breeder ractor (LMFBR), 60,
Loss of coolant accident (LOCA). 57-59
Low-Cost Silicon Array Project, 168
McLuhan. Marshall, 108
kkhi jananArtm, 85
ManTt ttan’Proiect, 62
Marx, Karl, &
Mauritania, 162
Meat consumption, 90, 2 I 5
Medvedev. Zhores. 54
Meinel. Aden and Mariorie, 164
Methanol, zoo, 212
hIek, William, 26
Mexico, 51.99. 162
Modular integrated utility systems (MIUS), 133
Mopeds, 117
Mouchot. Augustin. 161-62
Mumford. Lewis, 106
Mutsu (ship). 50, 124
N. V. Philips Company, 113
National Academy of Sciences. 35
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA), 176, 193
National Research Council of Gnada, 178
National Science Foundation, 145
National Space Technology Laboratories. 193
Natural Gas Pipeiine Company. 189
Neptunium, 53
Netherlands, 49
New Alchemy Institute, 177
Newcastle. University of, 125
New Concepts Research OlIice (Ford Motor
Company). ii 3
“New towns,” 107-8
New York Board of Architecture, 129. 146
New York Public Service Commission, 138
New Zealand. 50
Nickel, 46
Niger, 16x
Nitrogen fertilizer. 93, 9
North Atlantic Treaty dr pnization (NATO),
North Sea oil, 21-22, 37
Nuclear Energy Agency, 55. 56
Nuclear fusion, 262 . 208, 210-11
Nuclar Materials Sa7eguards (AEC), 68
hdear power. 4~74
breeder ractors, 6&1
economics of, 55-56
facilities and technology, 4~52
projected growth, 56
radiation, 52-53
radioactive waste, 53-55
reactor safety controversy, 57-59
society and. 71-74
terrorism, 67-7 1
uranium availability, 56-57
weapons proliferation, 61-67
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 69. 135
Ocean Farm Project, 194
Ocean farming, 202
Ocean thermal-electric conversion (OTEC)
plants, 165-66
Ohio State University, 131
beginning of (U.S.), 31
from bituminous sands. 43-44
future prospects. 3 i-48
price rises, 37, 157, 2 13
resources vs. reserves, 33-34
“strike” conditions, 34
U.S. Geological Survey on, 35
world resources and, 36-38
Oil shale, 43-44
Oklahoma State University, 178
Organic farms, 94
Organic fuels, 201
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OPEC). 20, +t. 48, 51. 157. 195, 213
Packaging, tood, 101
Pakistan, 49, 63
Parking taxes, 126
“People movers” (vehicles), 119
Peru, 118
Philip II. 46
Philip III, 47
Photosynthesis, 89, 187-88, 201
Photovoltaic cells, 166-69
“Piggybacking,” 123
Pimental, David, 91
Plutonium, 53. 55, 60. 66, 67, 68, 70
Pollard, Robert, 59
Pollution, 18-20, 107, 114, 116, 201
Poole, Alan, 197
Poverty, 81, 82, 102, 214
Prasad. K. K., 134
Project Independence report (1974).
Putnam, Palmer, 175
Pyrolysis, 194, 198-99
Radiation, 52-53, 62
Radioactive wastes, 53-55
Radionuclides. 53
Rail-trolley bus lines. 119
Rankine cycle (steam) engine, 112-13
Reactor safety controversy, 57-59
Recycling, 201
economic growth and, 148-50
Reddy, A. K. N., 134
Reforestation, 192, 201
the /apanese Archipelago
Richardson, S. ‘B5.r192
Rochdale Village Cooperative, 133
Romania, 43 Roosevelt, Franklin D., 61-62
William, 118
Sachs, Ignacy, 165
Safe sustainable (energy) sources, I 53-203
biological, 187-203
solar, ‘5 -73
wind and water, 174-86
Sa!&ns. Marshall, 90
Sandia Lab&tories, 178
Sant, Roger, 85
Saudi Arabia. 192
Saussure, Nicolas de, 160
Schelling, Thomas, 77-78
Schistosomiasis, 183
Schlesinger, James.64
Schumacher, E. F., 147- 8
Scientific Committee on $ roblems of the Environment. 17
Scotland, 43
Selenium, 41
w, 162
Sevwe. 4, 190
Shell Mi Pcage Marathon, I 1I
shell oil Company, 32-33
Shelters, 128-39
building materials, 129
conduction of heat, 12~30
electricity and lighting, 138-39
-saving construction, 13I
“hi 8-faCtOr,” 13 l-32
SOkU &ting,
Waste heat. 132-33
Shuman. Frank. 162
Siberia, 45
Sierra Club, 19
Singh, Ram Bux, 196
Slesser, Malcolm. 169
SOFRES (opinion poll), i 11
Solar energy, 89. 155-73. 196, 211
desalination, 161
electricity. 163-69
heat. 16-17. 132-38. 159-63
irrigation, 96
limitations 15
stowe. 1473
S+nsen, Bent, 169
South Africa, 5 I, 63
South Vietnam, 66
Southern California Aviation Council, 123
Soybeans, 201
Swin, 49
Spindletop oil well, 32
Srinivasan, H. R., 195
Stanford Research Institute, I 14, 193
Steel production, 20
stein, Barry, 150
Stein, Richard, 129, 149
Stirling, Robert, 113
Stirling engine, 1I 3
Strip mines, 40
Strontium. j 3
Su rcane 188
41’; 12
Sweden, 44. 49, jo. 59, 72, 80, 108, 125, 144,
171-72, 182
Swidler, Joseph, I 38
Switzerland, 49, 50, 182
Szikrd, Leo, 62
Taiwan, 49, 98
Tam lin, Arthur, 67-68
Tana!a (prime minister), 15 1
Tanzania; ‘92
Tarbela Reservoir (Pakistan), 183
Taylor. Theodore, 67, 69
Tekhnology Review; 147
Telkes, Maria, 135
Tennessee Valley Authority, 161
Terrorism, nuclear, 67-7 I
Teton Dam, 184
Thailand, log
Thermodynamic efficiency, 8‘4
Thieu, Nguyen Van, 66
Third World, 15, 16, 20, 5 I, 77. 1
139. 192. ‘96. 197+8. 202,
103, ‘09,
-10, 213,
ThoAkZon, Richard 94
Thorium, 5 ,6o, 6;
Thornton, E ha&s, 68
Tidal power, 185-86
Tide mills, 185
Titanium, zo
Tlatelolco, Treaty of, 62
Toledo Edison Building, I 3 1
Tram-Europe Express trains, I 22
Transportation, 21 I, 215-16
automobiles, 108. 109-18, 120, 125-26
bicycles, 116-17, 118
communications, 108-q
Dial-a-Ride, I 18-19
efficiency, 77
ener and, lop-27
fre’ ff t transport, 123-27
fue?for 105-6
“new tdwns,*’ 107-8
“people movers,” 119
rail systems, 120-22
transit systems, 1i 8-20
troltey cars, 119
and urban design, 109
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear
Weapons (NPT), 62-63,64,65
Trinidad, 43
Trinitrotoluene (TNT), 62
Tritium, 27
Trolley cars, 119
Trombe, Felix, 134
Tvind (Denmark), 176
Twardzik, Werner, 69
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 20, 135,
149, 181, 185
Union of Sovret Socialist Republics (cont.)
coal resources, 39. 39. 40
flywheel research, r 15
fossil fuel resources, w
hydroelectric power, 180, 181
nuclear opposition in, 50
nuclear power, 49. 62
nuclear waste accident (1958), 53-54
oil industry, 36
cil shale, 43
wind power generators. 175
United Nations, 19
Security Council, 62.64
United States. Arms Control and Disarmament
Agency, 6.t
At;c$c Energy Commission, 58, 65, 67,
B$au of Mines, 199
Council on Environmental Quality, 107
Department of Commerce, la8
Department of Housing and Urban Development, i3i
Department of Transportation, t 19
Electric Power Research Institute, 170
Energv Research and Development Administratjon. 56. I 15, 168. 179, IW
Environmental Protection Agency, 54-55.
Export-Import Bank, 51
Federal Energy Administration, 85
Federal Power Commission, 22, 143
General Accounting O&e, 54
Naval Undersea Center, 194
Urban Mass Transit Administration, I I 5
United Technology Corporation, 176
Uranium, 27, 50. 53. 60. 62, 67
availabili , 56-57
sources 07 , 5 1
Urban design, 109
Utility companies, 82-83
Vanadium, .+1
Venezuela, 5 I
Versailles, I 8 1
Vladivostok a reement, 63
Volga River 4’ ms, 181. 214
War of the Worlds, The (Wells), 59
Washington University, 94
Wastes as fuels, 189-q I
Water power. See Wind and water power
Weapons proliferation, 6 1-67
on-site examination, 6546
Welles, Orson, 59
West Germany. 64
Weyerhaeuser Company, 190
Wheat crops, 91-92
Wilcox, Dr. Howard, 194
Wind and water power. 159, 174-86
probable cost of, 179
Windiammers, 174
Windmills, 96, 174. 176-77
Winger, John, 147
Witkar (vehicle), I 15-16
World Meteorological Organization. 179
World Petroleum Conference, 38
Yalta wind generator,
Yen, James, 178-79
Zero *energy growth, 44
Zinc, 41, i 14
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