[p2p-research] Earth's carrying capacity and Catton
Paul D. Fernhout
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Aug 22 16:20:08 CEST 2009
Michel Bauwens wrote:
> No doubt solar has a great future ahead of itself,
Another pass at this after thinking about it. :-)
Agreed. :-) And a great present. :-)
> but come on Paul, whenever did corporate press releases become accepted as
> the truth,
> if you want to engage with the serious critics, you have to come up with
> third party material ...
> corporate PR may not be outright and full lies, but they are 'massaged' are
> they not, and unless there is transparency, difficult to verify,
That's a fair criticism of many of my points, but not all.
I've pointed to a SEC filing about solar being cheap in a year or so from
First Solar. I've pointed to houses in Germany (a cold cloudy climate
sometimes) that have no furnace.
Industry analysts show: "Solar Energy demand has grown at about 30% per
annum over the past 15 years (hydrocarbon energy demand typically grows
between 0-2% per annum)."
That is exponential growth. No matter how small it is now, with growth rates
like that, solar will an a couple decades dominate the field. There is no
obvious reason solar growth can not continue (people will point to some
limited supply of this or that, but ultimately, whatever people point to,
there is a lot in the Earth's crust.)
Again from that industry analyst:
"A residential solar energy system typically costs about $8-10 per Watt.
Where government incentive programs exist, together with lower prices
secured through volume purchases, installed costs as low as $3-4 watt - or
some 10-12 cents per kilowatt hour can be achieved. Without incentive
programs, solar energy costs (in an average sunny climate) range between
22-40 cents/kWh for very large PV systems."
Now, note that those press releases claim costs at $1 per watt for Nanosolar
and First Solar now. With other installation costs, that puts solar at grid
parity about now without subsidies. However, production still needs to ramp
up. But the USA has 10% unemployment (some say 20% unemployment) and many
empty factories, so there is a lot of room here to switch fast.
> you have a belief in abundance, which to my mind goes like this:
> - abundance is a possiblity
> - therefore achieving it is trivial
Well, I would not put it so extreme, but let me agree anyway in the sense
that it is trivial relative to our national and global resources. I've cited
one study that suggests $420 billion spread over forty years would be needed
for the USA to go solar, *but* that is less that half of one years US
defense budget. So yes, in that sense, going solar is trivial and is only
slowed for ideological reasons, because as Amory and Hunter Lovins pointed
out in 1982 in Brittle power, the market even prefers renewables, but
government policy has been against them (those subsidies for solar mentioned
above are tiny compared to past subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear).
> - but in fact, it's already there, could have been achieved decades ago
Yes. Brittle Power points out how in the 1980s we could have gone all
renewable and it would have been cheaper.
If the USA had gone renewable, even at a cost of a trillion dollars in the
1980s, would that not have saved a lot of money on health care (asthma from
bad air, mercury pollution from coal plants) plus avoided the war in Iraq
and other geopolitical problems? So, going solar back then, which was quite
possible with thermal solar (power towers, etc.) and passive solar was
possible. President Carter set the nation on that course; it took President
Reagan to destroy it. It is a tremendous tragedy. I have papers from that
time in the renewable energy field, and it was so exciting a time around
1980, till the renewable field was systematically destroyed by Reagan and
cohorts implementing tragically bad policy.
> - so if it's not there, it because people are activitely fighting it,
> including those who come with those pesky detailed questions ...
No, there are vested interests that have been fighting it for decades, same
as vested interests fight peer-to-peer in various ways, like the recent
government investigation into whether peer-to-peer was compromising national
security via LimeWire when here we are trying to build an intrinsically
I would love it if you were asking pesky detailed questions. IMHO you are
If you were looking at details, you would see more of what I see, IMHO. :-)
"The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory NREL has estimated that by 2020
electricity could be produced from power towers for 5.47 cents per kWh.
Google.org hopes to develop cheap, low maintenance, mass producible
heliostat components to reduce this cost in the near future."
But here is the thing, even at current prices, if you consider the cost to
the USA of being dependent on foreign oil in terms of military presence (a
big chunk of a trillion dollars a year), and even ignoring huge health
costs, then oil already costs US$200 a barrel for decades. So, yes, this is
all a huge tragedy, precisely because people are *not* asking pesky detailed
questions about our economy.
Even the conservatives are seeing this:
"The True Cost of Oil: $65 Trillion a Year?"
Milton Copulus, the head of the National Defense Council Foundation, has a
different view. And as the former principal energy analyst for the Heritage
Foundation, a 12-year member of the National Petroleum Council, a Reagan
White House alum, and an advisor to half a dozen U.S. Energy Secretaries,
various Secretaries of Defense, and two directors of the CIA, he knows his
stuff. After taking into account the direct and indirect costs of oil, the
economic costs of oil supply disruption, and military expenditures, he
estimates the true cost of oil at a stunning $480 a barrel. ... Due to the
enormous military cost of protecting Persian Gulf imports, the hidden cost
of oil from that region amounts to $7.41 per gallon of gasoline. The
cheapest gas out in my part of the Bay Area is $3.11 a gallon for regular.
Add them together, and the true cost of my gas is probably around $10.52 a
But here is the thing -- none of this is new knowledge. This was known when
Reagan took office. In that sense, his presidency is one of the worst in the
USA because of this one thing. Who cares about the USSR, which had internal
problems and would have transformed anyway? So, both the USSR and the USA
lost the Cold War IMHO. It is just it has taken the USA longer to fall.
However, Clinton also demonstrated a failure of leadership on this issue,
even with Al Gore as VP.
Now, Obama shows, relative to the problem, a lack of leadership. Why is not
Obama telling the people this? Why is in not front page news that oil relaly
costs US$480 a barrel and has for a long time?
> I suggest an other approach:
> - there's a polarity between abudance and scarcity, with many shades in
> between, and we must carefully distinguish them; none of these distinctions
> are purely objective, social structures, cultural constraints, political
> struggles are involved in defining/achieving them
> - every abundance creates its own scarcities ( such as mutual media creating
> attention scarcity), and they need to be carefully assessed
To a degree, OK. But really, these form a network of culture, and many
things are self-limiting if you do assume demand is finite (as I've made
> - where abundance is possible: 1) how can it be engineered, which is a long
> and messy business;
Print solar panels on printing presses. We print the New York Times every
day for millions of people. Printing solar panels is not that much
different. You are making a mountain out of a molehill in that sense :-)
Have you ever held a newspaper? Well, it could have been a solar panel. How
many newspapers or magazines have you held in your life?
There are many types of production and printing on presses is generally the
cheapest in quantity (saw an article on this once) -- 3D printing is
something different from this. Nanosolar and others are essentially printing
solar panels the way others might print newspapers on presses.
All the studies you site are completely out of touch with these details.
> 2) what are the politics in which this technology is
> embedded, i.e. which actually determines which options are chosen and how
It the USA, the market is a central place much of this is decided. From the
1980s on, we would have shifted to renewables by now if people had had to
pay the true cost of fossil fuels and nuclear.
"Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security is a 1982 book by
Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, prepared originally as a Pentagon
study, and re-released in 2001 following the September 11 attacks. The book
argues that domestic energy infrastructure is very vulnerable to disruption,
by accident or malice, often even more so than imported oil. According to
the authors, a resilient energy system is feasible, costs less, works
better, is favoured in the market, but is rejected by U.S. policy. In the
preface to the 2001 edition, Lovins explains that these themes are still
> I feel that many of our discussions turn around because you proceed much as
> the transhumanists do
As above, we'll see who is not paying attention to details. :-)
> there reasoning is mostly:
> 1) there are interesting technical and scientific leads and possiblities;
> let's assume they are all achieved together already, or just around the
Sure, the world will be amazing technically in thirty years.
"The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed. "
So, I can point to cell phones, netbooks, solar panels, 3D printers,
reverse-osmosis water filters and UV water sterilizers, robots, organic
gardens fertilized with ground up rock dust -- what will the world be like
when everyone on the planet has these things?
That does not assume anything new.
> 3) therefore, there are no real problems in the world that could not
> be solved soon by miracle transhumanist technologies
There is not real problems in this world (in terms of energy, food, water,
shelter, increased leisure, etc.) that could not be solved now by the
application of existing technologies such as in the above list. Seriously.
Socially, yes, we have problems. The P2P movement is part of helping solve
those social problems.
> Again the reality there is: 1) there are interesting leads, but most of them
> will never be achieved;
Solar panels work now.
Organic gardening with rock dust works now.
Water filtration works now.
3D printers work now.
Netbooks and cell phones work now.
Robots work now -- they milk cow, prune grape vines, etc.
How can I get you to consider this? :-)
> and most of the assumptions of their achievement are
> terribly reductionist and ir-realistic;
Maybe many transhumanist assumptions are perhaps, agreed. :-)
But I'm pointing to all sorts of people saying off-the-shelf technology can
handle all current global problems related to the basics.
> 2) the ones that are achieved at all
> it will be through a long social and technical process of human adaptation;
As in the adaptation of using existing off-the-shelf technologies to solve
global problems? Sure, but that is not what you mean. :-)
Will it take time to ramp up solar panel production? Sure. But lots of
products, including cell phones and netbooks have gone from nothing to
market saturation in a few years. The speed that is happening is increasing.
> 3) real technologies exist today which could solve many human problems but
> are not adopted because of value choices and the political weakness of the
> majority who would benefit from them
Yes, there is a lot of truth to that. That is a central point.
And many people are upset about that situation:
"#1. The People Are Not Bamboozled ... Based on these findings, it seems
likely that everyday people don't opt for social change in good part because
they don't see any plausible way to accomplish their goals, and haven't
heard any plans from anyone else that make sense to them."
But here I am outlining all sorts of ways to solve global problems
technically, and you throw up massive resistance and say these solutions do
not exist, even when I point to products for sale, like Nanosolar's panels.
> There is a Pleasure principle of easily attaining a perfect world responding
> to one's desires;
Interpreted broadly (pleasures from sensuality, from helping others, from a
sense of flow, from humor, from novelty, from preserving patterns important
to us, etc.) and watching out for "the Pleasure Trap":
> and there's a Reality Principle, and between it, the
> difficult path of Ananke ...
Except that some people are now printing solar panels essentially the way
other people are printing newspapers.
"Solar Panel Printing Press"
"Awesome Video of Solar Printing Press in Action "
Those references are two years old.
And we could have had this technology decades ago if our society has
invested in developing it instead of fighting over oil -- but no, we let
Chronar go bankrupt instead of pouring a billion dollars into it instead of
building a couple of bombers.
There is not that much to it in many ways -- lots of details, but we could
have had it a long time ago. And even without it, solar thermal and passive
solar were around in the 1970s. They are easier now with new materials, but
they were possible then.
Why is it you are happy to project forward doomster trends (in forty years
total economic collapse from lack of oil) but you seem completely reluctant
to project forward abundance trends (in forty years a completely solar
economy from exponential growth of solar)?
And note -- for the sake of this discussion, I'm not even asking you to
accept you might print your own solar panels at home in your own 3D printer
in twenty years or so. If 3D printers can also print 3D printers, using
common raw materials like water and organic plant materials and dirt, within
a few years we might see a complete exponential transition to global
abundance for energy and material goods. But, again, I'm not asking you to
believe that. I'm saying, look at what we have right now. :-)
> To me this means:
> 1) immaterial abundance could be achieved in many areas, but the hard and
> continuous struggle for free culture shows many obstacles to that
> 2) the material world is determined by hard choices of cost-recovery and
> resources that are mostly limited,
What resources (besides helium) are limited? Name one and what you want to
use it for, and I will give you three alternatives to meet that need. :-)
What do you mean by cost-recovery? Energy recovery? Solar panels do that now
in a year or so and last thirty years or so.
> and require abandoning any belief in
> easily achieved permanent abundance and waste ...
That just came out of left field. :-)
Why do you say this?
> the very basis of infinite
> growth thinking in capitalism;
Not really. Any biological system can self-replicate to fill an available
niche for it, given the right conditions and time. So, there is a nature
aspect to exponential growth and effectively infinite growth by today's
standards (if you accept we could build space habitats to support
quadrillions of people in the solar system if we wanted to with 1970s
> nevertheless, there is the objective
> possiblity of giving the whole humanity a decent material basis,
> but again
> this will not happen automatically ...
Yes, market forces have been thwarted by defective policy captured by
special interests according to Amory and Hunter Lovins. :-)
But with that said, there are things about the market (negative
externalities, centralization of wealth) that are problems and help explain
why we do not have renewables.
> The argument that we can do this is powerful, and shows that social
> structures are geared against it, and it shows how the latter must be
> changed before achieving the former;
Well, I'll agree up to a point. But, as above, solar production is
increasing 30% a year. Are you saying this will not continue? I'm saying it
will accelerate, just by existing trends.
> but the argument that natural abundance is just around the corner, because
> of infinite oil and sunshine is fallacious, an expression of the pleasure
Agreed; abundance is here already, but most people can't see that. :-)
And unfortunately, it is a bit of a self-fullfilling prophecy. Because
people in the 1980s, US leadership could not see abundance, they built a
stealth bomber instead of invested in Chronar. Today, rather than build
solar panels faster, the government leadership bailed out banks and auto
companies and invaded Iraq all to a cost of many trillions, or many times
more that what it would cost to go entirely solar.
Or, to look at this ironically, with better technology, basically, every
single *day* the New York Times probably does enough physical printing of
sheets of material to solve the entire energy crisis they go on and on
about, if they were printing post-scarcity solar panels instead of scarcity
> On Mon, Aug 17, 2009 at 3:55 AM, Paul D. Fernhout <
> pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>> Ryan Lanham wrote:
>>> Paul Fernhout wrote:
>>> Are you saying all these people are either stupid or lying?
>>> Others here have brought up nanosolar claims. So far they are hype. No
>>> science, no product. If they produce something that comes in at a wide
>>> scale implementation cost under 0.25 USD, I'll start to listen. For now,
>>> is lots of industrial waste, short-term burn out, and a lot of marketing
>> So, this press release from 2007 is a lie?
>> "Nanosolar said Tuesday it has begun production at its San Jose, Calif.,
>> facility and has shipped its commercial thin-film panels to its first
>> customer, Beck Energy."
>> And they lie on their web site about shipping products?
>> # Nanosolar Utility Panel™.
>> Specifically designed for utility-scale power plants, Nanosolar Utility
>> Panel™ is the industry-best solution for MW-sized PV systems.
>> A high-power, high-current panel, the Nanosolar Utility Panel™ features
>> proprietary cell and panel design innovations that enable our panel product
>> to have an entire factor more power and to carry 5-10 times more current
>> than typical thin-film panels.
>> Available wholesale to select system integrators and electric utilities.
>> # Nanosolar SolarPly™.
>> Light-weight solar-electric cell foil which can be cut to any size.
>> Non-fragile. No soldering required for electrical contact.
>> Available wholesale to strategic partners.
>> And the people who just invested US$300 million dollars in them (beyond an
>> earlier US$200 million) just now are just complete gullible idiots?
>> "As part of a strategic $300 million equity financing, Nanosolar has added
>> new capital and brought its total amount of funding to date to just below
>> half a billion U.S. dollars. ... Last December, we introduced the Nanosolar
>> Utility Panel(TM) to enable solar utility power — i.e. giving utility-scale
>> power producers the solar panel technology to build and operate cost
>> efficient solar power plants. The tremendous demand for our unique product
>> was matched by the desire to support us in scaling its availability even
>> more rapidly and ambitiously. ... The new capital will allow us to
>> accelerate production expansion for our 430MW San Jose factory and our 620MW
>> Berlin factory. (Earlier, Nanosolar secured a 50% capex subsidy on its
>> Germany based factory.)"
>> OK, a lot of investors are sometimes idiots, I'll agree. :-)
>> But then are the twenty jobs listed here perhaps just for show?
>> So, let's say Nanosolar is just hype. Lots of companies have raise hundreds
>> of millions or even billions on hype, sure, though generally in the dot com
>> bubble. Lots of companies have shipped product that later were defective or
>> that did not perform as expected. Anybody can put up a web site that says
>> anything, especially a private company. OK, so for the sake of argument,
>> let's say it is just hype.
>> And let's say that the Google billionaires who funded Nansolar are unable
>> to do any sort of due diligence like from using a search engine or hiring
>> someone to do it for them. Billionaires invest in all sorts of nutty things
>> like "Cheap Access to Space (CATS)" instead of "Design of Great Settlements
>> (DOGS)". :-) And investing in green energy is, admittedly, great PR for
>> Google. So, maybe it is just that.
>> So, now that we have dismissed Nanosolar as hype, :-) consider what this
>> publicly traded company (First Solar) is saying:
>> "By enabling clean, renewable electricity at lower costs, First Solar is
>> providing a sustainable alternative to conventional energy sources. This
>> goal has driven First Solar to become one of the fastest growing
>> manufacturers of solar modules in the world. First Solar FS Series 2 PV
>> Modules represent the latest advancements in solar module technology, and
>> are rapidly driving the cost of solar electricity to rates comparable with
>> traditional fossil fuel-based energy sources."
>> Sure, some weasel words there "comparable" and "rapidly". Could be twice as
>> much in fifty years, right?
>> Or pundits:
>> "The quest for inexpensive solar panels continues, with cadmium telluride
>> generating enthusiasm among investors and hopeful followers of the advance
>> of alternative energy technologies. Over at IEEE Spectrum, Richard Stevenson
>> speculates that First Solar might beat over 80 competitors to achieve
>> manufacturing costs low enough to market solar panels at less than $1 per
>> Watt, the target considered necessary for solar to compete with coal-burning
>> electricity on the grid."
>> And they have 84 jobs listed here in our job-meltdown economy:
>> Is that because everyone is leaving First Solar too because of hype? :-)
>> And while you are at it, you might as well edit their Wikipedia page to
>> reflect whatever you know to be the correct figures for this part:
>> The manufacturing cost per watt reached $1.23 in 2007 and $1.08 in 2008. On
>> February 24, 2009, the cost / watt broke the $1 barrier with .98 cents a
>> watt. First Solar is contractually bound to reduce price per watt by 6.5%
>> per year and plans to be competitive on an unsubsidized basis with retail
>> electricity by 2010. 
>> From the referenced SEC document:
>> "Our objective is to become, by 2010, the first solar module manufacturer
>> to offer a solar electricity solution that generates electricity on a
>> non-subsidized basis at a price equal to the price of retail electricity in
>> key markets in North America, Europe and Asia."
>> So, are you are basically saying, all this is "Lies, ALL LIES", as Frau
>> Farbissina did in Austin Powers? :-)
>> If so, maybe you should go to the SEC with your misgivings about First
>> Solar? :-)
>> I know, they did not listen to several people about the Bernard Madoff
>> Pyramid scheme either, so why bother, right? :-)
>> And I know, we saw it all before in the 1980s with the failure (sabotage?)
>> of Chronar, right? I literally was in a laundry room in some grad student
>> housing at Princteton when someone who worked there told me about "short
>> I still have one of their small panels for car battery trickle charging.
>> "September 17, 1990 PRINCETON, N.J. - Without an immediate injection of
>> cash, Chronar Corp. may be forced to suspend its operations and seek
>> protection under federal bankruptcy laws. ..."
>> People really seem determined to fight abundance to the end. :-(
>> Fossil fuels have been a physically dirty business for a long time, but
>> they have also been an economically dirty business for a long time. Why
>> should now, at the end, be any different?
>> --Paul Fernhout
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