What about alternatives to oil? Can’t we just switch to different sources of energy?

Unfortunately, the ability of alternative energies to replace oil is based more in mythology and utopian fantasy than in reality and hard science. Oil accounts for 40 percent of our current US energy supply and a comparable percentage of the world’s energy supply.  The US currently consumes 7.5 billion barrels of oil per year, while the world consumes 30 billion per year.

None of the alternatives to oil can supply anywhere near this much energy, let alone the amount we will need in the future as our population continues to grow and industrialize.

When examining alternatives to oil, it is of critical importance that you ask certain questions:

1.  Is the alternative easily transportable like oil?

2.  Is the alternative energy dense like oil?

3. Is the alternative capable of being adapted for transportation, heating, and the production of pesticides, plastics, and petrochemicals?

4. Does the alternative have an Energy Profit Ratio (EPR) comparable to oil?
Oil used to have an EPR as high as 30. It only took one barrel of oil to extract 30 barrels of oil. This was such a fantastic ratio that oil was practically free energy. Some oil wells had EPRs close to 100. In fact, at one point in Texas, water cost more than oil!

Cheap (high-EPR) energy has formed the basis upon which all of our economic, political, and social institutions and relationships have formed. Live in the suburbs and commute to work? You can only do so as long as we have cheap energy to fuel long-distance transportation. Met your spouse at a location more than a one hour drive from your home or work? Never would have happened without cheap energy. Eat food shipped in from all around the world? Can’t do it without cheap fossil-fuel powered transportation networks.

None of the things we have become accustomed to in the industrialized world would have existed if the EPR of oil had been as low as the EPR of the alternatives we hope to replace oil with.
5. To what degree does the distribution, implementation, and use of this alternative require massive retrofitting of our industrial infrastructure? How much money, energy, and time will this retrofitting require?

6.  To what degree does the distribution, implementation, and use of this alternative require other resources which are in short supply? Do these other resources exist in quantities sufficient enough that the alternative is capable of being scaled up on a massive level? Are these resources located in highly unstable parts of the world? To what degree are the discovery, extraction, transportation, refining, and distribution of these resources dependent on cheap oil?

7. To what degree does the distribution, implementation, and use of this alternative require massive upfront investments in money and energy, both of which will be in short supply as the world begins to suffer from severe oil shocks?

8. What are the unintended consequences of the distribution, implementation, and use of this alternative? 

We have an energy infrastructure which is incredibly mammoth, intricate, and volatile. It is inextricably intertwined with economic, political, and social systems equally mammoth, intricate, and volatile.

When you are dealing with systems this complex, even a minor change can set off a ripple of unintended and destabilizing effects. Attempting to make fundamental changes, like where you get energy from and how much you pay for it, can have disastrous effects, regardless of how well-intended the attempts are.
Copyright 2004, Matt Savinar: All Rights Reserved
This is an introduction, for further reading on this subject please go to: http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/Introduction.html