Peak oilers right about Saudi Arabian production

Kjell Aleklett of Uppsala University had to politely endure a calculated put-down from Dr Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency when Aleklett dared to question the IEA’s compulsively gung ho projections for oil production during a presentation in Stockholm this week.

This weekend, Aleklett is presenting his analysis of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2012 at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, in Texas.

There’s a lot of good stuff in the article linked above but the following quote just nicely puts the IEA’s position over the years into context:

Eight years ago, when I began to criticise the WEO projections, WEO-2004 predicted oil production in Saudi Arabia of 22.5 Mb/d in 2025. Now WEO-2012 paints a completely different picture. In 2011 Saudi oil production was 11.1 Mb/d and the IEA now predicts this will decline to 10.6 Mb/d by 2020 before growing to 10.8 Mb/d in 2025! Then production will continue to grow to reach 12.3 Mb/d by 2035. In the criticism that I advanced in 2004 I said that 22.5 Mb/d for Saudi Arabia in 2025 was completely unrealistic. The IEA’s current prediction of 10.8 Mb/d in 2025 shows that I was correct.

They’ve halved their projection for Saudi output in just eight years but still they tell us that everything will be just hunky dory for at least the next 25. Yeah right.

We won’t run out of oil in my lifetime or my kids’. But we’re already running short of the flow rates we need to keep our economy from stagnating.

And that’s a situation that no amount of friendly bluffing from the good Dr Birol can disguise for much longer.

A fool in a fool’s paradise

Somewhere in his book Whoops, John Lanchester writes that “the western liberal democracies are the most admirable societies that have ever existed.”

My instinctive reaction as a confirmed Long Emergenista was “oh no they’re not. They are fool’s paradises where objectionable elites dose unwitting masses with atrocious pabulum in an ultimately-doomed attempt to preserve the unsustainable.”

Then I thought about it for a moment and had to admit that the western democracy I live in is actually pretty admirable and paradisical by almost any historical standard.

Admirable if only for the freedom of speech it allows the great majority of citizens (for what that’s worth when everyone is talking and no one is listening). And paradisical because …well look around. Guaranteed warmth, medical care and food for a higher proportion of the population than ever before. And on top of that there are myriad diversions, from the internet to easy travel to anywhere in the world, that are cheap as chips when they’re not actually free.

Joe Bageant’s hologram is taking over the world. Simultaneously seductive and repellent, it permeates the mass psyche through the medium of a billion LCD screens.

Knowing it to be an imposter, an aberrative artefact of fossil-fuelled machine consciousness, is no defence. Resisting its pull is exhausting: eventually you long for the sleep that eventually claimed every last living person in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and to wake up reprogrammed to consume with the contented persistence of a grazing herbivore.

Is this how things looked to the citizens of post-peak Rome? It was obvious that the empire was crumbling and their economy cannibalising itself. But their magnificent, modern city was surely eternal, and anyway why worry while the bread kept coming and the circuses just got better every week?

Probably. But hey, my new 7-inch tablet has finished charging. And I feel so tired. Maybe I’ll just have a little nap. Then I can stop worrying until I wake up. As a fool in a fool’s paradise.

We’re getting poorer

We are all getting poorer by the day.

Who says so? Matthew Parris, Times columnist and one-time MP does.

He should know. He’s well-connected. He seems to understand the powerful forces stopping us getting richer the way we used to.

After all, his dad was an electrical engineer in what we used to call the Empire. Later, we called it the colonies. Now it’s “other people’s countries.”

Anyway, the young Parris got to watch the run-up to the global peak of energy and resource extraction from a front-row seat.

His dad wired up South Africa, Cyprus, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Jamaica. It was the high point of the 19th and 20th centuries’ development tube. We put fossil energy in one end. Wealth and consumption (and hundreds of millions of consumers) came out the other.

Now it doesn’t work so well. Net energy is going down. Someone’s got to lose. Most days it’s those of us in the richest part of the world.

Mr Parris thinks that we Brits are handling this very well. After all, we’ve been doing decline as an international power for 100 years.

“All’s well with our democracy; all’s well with our politics,” he wrote on Saturday. “We’re skint, that’s all.”

All’s well? Really? In an country that’s still got a long way to fall before it stops being a consumer economy, skint consumers are of little consequence to their rulers.

Today our old Etonian prime minister will call for wartime-scale abandonment of checks and balances on messing around with our built and natural environments.

He’ll say it will get Britain growing. He’ll tell the people that they need to get out of the way.

How did that work after WWII? City centres were ruined and areas like the Mendip hills were handed over wholesale to quarrying.

Wartime rules that stayed in force for several years after the war meant that ‘people’ had no say. They often knew nothing until it was too late.

We’re starting to find out what getting poorer is really all about. There’s a lot more to it than voters merely putting up with being skint without starting riots.

No friends for electric cars

That fizzling noise in the marketing-o-sphere is the sound of something terminal happening to Electric Cars 1.0.

By now, the UK’s roads were supposed to be filling rapidly with the silent swooshing of a juiced EV market. Instead, the EV scene is flatter than an iPhone 4 battery at 2.30 in the afternoon.

Leasing companies are lining up to tell their customers not to waste any more time on mains powered motors.

“Slow burning” is how the kindest commentators in the fleet car sector are describing battery-powered cars’ potential. After all, what is the commercial point of acquiring them for fleet use?

On a coalface-to-wheel basis, EVs emit more CO2 than dozens of more-capable combustion models. Functionally, they’re pants. In return for costing a small fortune to buy, their pathetic range is designed to keep a driver on tenterhooks most of the way from London to (nearly) Swindon – or Newbury if it’s cold, dark and raining.

Cargo cult

QuadRanting has always averred that current EVs are simply a cargo cult response to the withdrawal of the cheap liquid fossil fuel that enabled the Age of Happy Motoring; facsimiles of real cars.

Driving an EV is not a happy thing to do. The EV-makers’ latest throw of the dice – the Tesla S – is said to be good for 300 miles on a charge. But so what? Buying the additional 140 miles-worth of batteries adds £15,000 to the price of the 160-mile base model, which already costs thirty grand.

You could buy an equally roomy, year-old, ex-demo Passat or A4 with 12,000 miles on the clock for that £15k and then, if you wished, spend the £30k you’d saved by avoiding the Tesla on approximately 230,000 miles worth of diesel.

OK, so the Tesla’s a luxury car but, again, so what? If the answer to EVs’ shortcomings is to make toys for rich boys at the meagre rate of 12,000 units a year, that’s the biggest ‘sod off’ to the herd since Marie Antoinette urged starving commoners to switch to cake.

Trick question

So, if EVs are neither cheap nor cheerful nor plentiful nor environmentally sound, what are they for? It turns out that the answer to that question is the same as the response the trick question on QI: nobody knows.

The makers, who are being sucked into a monster whirlpool of overcapacity and disappearing demand for combustion cars in Europe, can barely give their pricey, heavy, range-crippled EVs away.

Nissan has sold 12,000 Leafs so far instead of the 44,000 p.a. it was counting on. It is planning to sell a ‘budget’ version of the car next year at a £4k discount to the current tag of £30,000 after we taxpayers chip in for the £5k Government subsidy per car.

Look dearie, if I wanted a budget Nissan that’d only do 70 miles before needing a good rest, I’d buy a knackered £950 Micra with two gallons of petrol in its tank.

Plain stupid

That’s the circle that EVs in their current form cannot square. If the proles are being priced out of conventional cars by the global debt implosion and peak oil, it’s plain stupid to try offering them super-pricey, barely functional EVs instead.

The future of mass vehicle ownership is in 2-wheelers and microlight cars – a shift the manufacturers are resisting as furiously as you’d expect of corporations with billions tied up in the wrong products.

Even so, I reckon we’ll see the first Ford scooters and GM microlight prototypes before 2020. Of course, this will require a complete rethink of road rules and infrastructure design to accommodate millions of lightweights among the legacy of conventional cars.

Ironically, by then Europe will have shovelled trillions of euros into perpetuating the current, doomed automotive infrastructure as it tries to stimulate its way out of GD2. It’s going to be interesting.