Life in a Realm of Scarce and Expensive Energy

In one of the Hornblower novels, set in the early 1800s, the protagonist is staying in a hotel. Thinking about the bill he is going to have to pay on checking out, he realizes that there is going to be a significant item for ‘light’…ie, candles.  I believe this is historically accurate–candles were expensive enough that they could not just be given away free with the room.

Whereas for most of the last 100 years in America, you could just turn on the lights in your hotel room without worrying about what the added charge on your bill was going to be.  And–much more significantly in terms of energy use–you could adjust the heater or air conditioner to suite your temperature preference, again without worrying about added charges.

With the unrealistic energy plans of the Biden administration and of most European governments, such luxuries may soon be a thing of the past.  I doubt that you will actually have to pay extra for keeping the lights on, but it’s entirely possible that you may have to pay extra if you want it cooler than, say, 78 degrees in summer or warmer than 64 degrees in winter–perhaps with those thresholds adjusted according to the balance of total grid power demand and availability, so that an extreme air-conditioning surcharge kicks in at 88 degrees on an especially hot and windless day.

And not just in hotels. It’s likely that stores, restaurants, etc will get significantly cooler in winter and warmer in summer.  And unless you can afford to not worry about your electricity bill very much, you will likely have to adjust your home temperatures to fit the current supply/demand profile on the grid–indeed, in some jurisdictions, it may be prohibited to violate the required limits no matter how much you are willing to pay.  (With likely exceptions for certain ‘public servants’.)

Above and beyond the impact on individual citizens and families, you can expect that many kinds of energy-dependent businesses, especially manufacturing businesses, will become increasingly uncompetitive in the US.  Again, there will likely be an exception for certain politically-well-connected businesses. But overall, expensive US energy will likely drive a new wave of offshoring.

And I haven’t even talked about transportation.

The above is not carved in stone, of course, there is still a good chance to escape it, as people begin to perceive (from experience) the realities behind all the idealistic talk, theories, and harangues.  But it will be a close-run thing.

Heuristics for Ukraine (and other places)

NB: some of the following is from a recent videoconference that included our own Trent Telenko, who is very much the man of the hour, but some of it is more publicly available, not to mention common sense. First, though, as is my wont, a quadrant diagram to organize my presentation …

I. Theater “Hardware” (physical assets/consequences)

Read more

Deliberate Disempowerment

Here’s the great French scientist Sadi Carnot, writing in 1824:

To take away England’s steam engines to-day would amount to robbing her of her iron and coal, to drying up her sources of wealth, to ruining her means of prosperity and destroying her great power. The destruction of her shipping, commonly regarded as her source of strength, would perhaps be less disastrous for her.

The wealth and power of a country are strongly related to its energy resources, whether those resources take the form of human slaves, steam engines, hydroelectric dams, oil and gas wells, or nuclear reactors.  The fact that Russia possesses energy resources on which many other countries depend has been an enormous factor in that country’s ability to invade Ukraine and in Putin’s belief that the world will let him get away with it.

Wealth and power are sought, in one form or another, by most people.  Showing James Boswell around the Boulton & Watt steam engine factory in 1776, Matthew Boulton summed up his business one simple phrase:

I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have–POWER.

Yet the leaders of the West have, with few exceptions, chosen to reduce the relative power of their countries through their opposition to fossil fuel production and use combined with hostility toward further development of nuclear energy—or even the continued operation of existing nuclear plants.  There has been little evidence of serious thinking about realistic limitations of intermittent power sources, even as countries have rushed to make themselves dependent on such sources…nor is there much evidence of serious thinking about the critical-mineral dependencies created by a large-scale switch to wind, solar, and batteries.

So what explains the choice of this path? Has mechanical power ceased to be an important factor in political power, in the destinies of nations?  Hardly, as the Russia/Ukraine example makes clear.  Or do we somehow have a generation of leaders who don’t care about political power?  That, clearly, is also not the case…at least as far as the personal political power of those leaders goes.

I think there are several factors at work:

First, there is the widespread scientific and technical ignorance among political leaders and influential media people.  I’ve noticed, for example, that American media coverage of energy storage projects almost always refers to kilowatts, megawatts, and gigawatts as if these terms indicate the storage capacity of a battery or other storage system. They do not.   (A 100 megawatt storage system may provide 1 hour, 4 hours, or 20 hours worth of 100-megawatt electricity depending on its megawatt-hour rating. Measuring electrical storage capacity in megawatts is like measuring the capacity of your car’s gas tank in horsepower.)   More generally, there is a widespread failure to comprehend just how difficult and expensive it is to store large quantities of electricity and an assumption that if we invest enough in wind and solar, the power will be available on winter nights and in the middle of prolonged snowstorms, ‘somehow’.

Second, there has been a general de-emphasis on the physical attributes of the economy under the belief that we are now in a ‘digital’ or ‘virtual’, or ‘post-industrial’ age. Enterprises and people dealing with physical things have lost political power relative to those that deal in words, images, and code. The Western leaders of 1950, or even 1970, would have been a lot more cautious about deliberately creating energy dependency on a likely-hostile power.

Third, many politicians–and many of the academics and other “experts” advising them–simply do not identify closely with their own nations and with the people and culture of those nations. This is also true of a high proportion of influential media figures.  There is a strong thread of belief in the U.S. Democratic Party that America is too wealthy, too powerful, too dangerous–that it is country that is “just downright mean,” in the words of a former First Lady. The same is true of much of the Left in other Western countries.  And if you think these things about a country and its people, you’re not likely to want to increase–or even sustain–its power.

That’s true especially if you decouple the power of your country from your own personal power and well-being. And I think “progressive” politicians, and many members of academic and even business elites, often do see themselves as inhabiting a transnational space in which their personal well-being is not strongly coupled to that of their countries.

Fourth, in a world in which organized religion has become increasingly marginal, there are a lot of people looking for causes in which to believe. ‘Green energy’ is such a cause, and the specter of Climate Change gives it apocalyptic power.  And when people believe they are facing the apocalypse—that the planet is soon going to burn—they’re not likely to look too carefully at those things advertised to avoid the burning.

Fifth, societies across the western world have become much more risk-averse.  The question of why this shift has occurred, and of its positive and negative attributes, merits a separate article—but it’s pretty obvious that it has happened.  And the consequences for energy development have been very significant, particularly in the case of nuclear energy.

Read more

The Hash-Tag War

I’ve been cynically amused over the past couple of weeks at how efficiently the Laptoperati and Twitter-fixated media Powers That Be have swung to “Russia Bad-Ukraine Brave & Noble!!! Eleventy!!” since the Russian invasion-attempted-occupation-re-occupation of the place began in a big way nearly two weeks ago. How can it now be World War III already, when we still have our Covid-19 decorations still up? Watching practically every media outlet swing into action in being all sympathies for Ukraine and all-hate on Russia is … astonishing. All the parties who would have been lighting candles, holding vigils for peace, and lecturing us about how war is not good for children and other living things, and no blood for oil have changed tune without missing a beat, hardly. Suddenly Vladimir Putin is the enemy of all that is good and decent, and everyone is rushing to declare sympathy with and support of the Ukraine, declare anything Russian to be double-plus-ungood, and throwing Russian cats out of cat shows, Anna Netrebko out of the Met, and vodka with a Russian-origin brand-name down the drain. Celebrity fools with pretensions to adequacy issue hysterical demands that Russia be thrown out of NATO, or that NATO enforce a no-fly zone over the Ukraine – never mind that Russia wasn’t a member of that organization and instituting a no-fly zone would almost instantly involve the United States. The turn-around is purely astonishing to behold; a hashtag/social media war on steroids.

Read more

Ukraine Thread Part 3 – Day Eight of the Russian Column Held Hostage (by the usual Russian incompetence) –

Welcome to the third installment of the Russian invasion of Ukraine series.  Since Napoleon stated that the moral is to the physical what ten is to one.  After the situation map (below) we are going to start the post with a look at the moral dimensions of the current fighting. Follow it with my impressions of the current fighting.  Then close with a counterfactual of the Ukraine-Russian fighting based on the works of Trevor Dupuy.


I have posted on twitter about the Russian Army columns North of Kyiv decaying into immobile blobs due to the Rasputitsa, poorly maintained Chinese truck tires and shear “follow the plan” Russian incompetence.

The head and first dozen or so kilometers of the southernmost column north of Kiev have been stuck there for EIGHT DAYS.  The Russians have since rammed more and more vehicles into this monster traffic jam (idiotically “following the plan” Soviet-style) so the whole thing is now 65-70 kilometers long (almost 40 miles).

And, because the trucks can’t go off-road due to the Rasputitsa mud and tire problems, they’re stuck on the roads and the roads’ shoulders three vehicles wide for the whole @40 miles.   That means fuel and resupply trucks can’t move on or off road to deliver anything to anybody.

So all the columns’ heads are now out of fuel and battery power.  They can’t move north, south or sideways, and everything behind them is stuck because of the mud, and rapidly running out of fuel and vehicle battery charge too (assuming they haven’t already).  Nor can any of those columns defend themselves because they’re too densely packed.  They’re just targets waiting for the Ukrainians to destroy them.

Only the Ukrainians had something better to do.  They opened the floodgates of reservoirs around those columns to flood them and turn the surrounding areas into impassable quagmires for months – probably until July or August.  (See photo below) Probably several thousand Russian vehicles in those columns will be irrecoverable losses.  Hundreds of Russian soldiers might have drowned.

Image As correctly pointed out by some of you, Ukrainian troops seems to flooded the area north of Kyiv. That’s the reason why the Russian advance is stagnating there. #Ukraine #UkraineRussiaWar #Kyiv

This was not just a debacle, but an EPIC one. About 1/5th of the Russian force in Ukraine is now flooded or trapped, and are definitely out of the war for good.

Now to the moral dimension.  The 1242 Battle of the Neva, where the Teutonic Knights fought Alexander Nevsky, is one of the founding myths of Russia.


The Battle on the Ice, 1242 – Teutonic Knights vs. Alexander Nevsky 

President Zelensky’s drowning of Putin’s minions in the Battle of the Kyiv reservoir may be as central to modern Ukraine’s founding national identity going forward, for similar reasons, possibly with Zelensky as modern Ukraine’s Alexander Nevsky.

Reddit and other Meme generating sites are going to have a glorious time redoing Stalin’s Alexander Nevsky movie by putting Zelensky’s face on the actor playing Nevsky.

Read more