Monday, February 11, 2008

Our Dangerous Infrastructure II

The real purpose of war - perhaps unintended benefit would be better phrasing - is to destroy aging infrastructure and produce a justification for spending the massive amounts of money required to rebuild or replace it. This is the intent behind war reparation payments, the victor paying for the reconstruction for the vanquished.

Under peacetime conditions governments and industry seem reluctant to commit the necessary funds and resources needed to properly maintain or replace aging infrastructure. In Europe and Asia the emphasis has been on maintaining old, well-built infrastructure. In America and the neo-west the emphasis has been on controlled demolition and replacement. Europe and Asia build infrastructure to last in perpetuity. In the neo-west we build with a designed life-span, usually not more than fifty years, then try to see how far beyond that lifespan we can go.

Most of the modern world as we know it, visible and invisible, has been built since the conclusion of WWII. Europe, like a phoenix, rose from the ashes of that war and integrated the massive amount of new replacement infrastructure with those bits of the old that had evaded the bombs. Japan and much of southeast Asia had to do the same. But North America - and Australia for that matter - has not had a war to purge it of its aging infrastructure in well over a century. Like Europe, new has been integrated with the old, though that old is much less old than European old.

The core of the unseen and taken-for-granted infrastructure underlying all North American cities large and small, however, is well over a century old and has long exceeded its designed lifespan. Even the shiny new suburbs with their modern infrastructure are tied to and equally dependent on the century-plus old infrastructure at the core of the cities they surround and to which their infrastructure is integrated, e.g. integrated water systems, electrical systems, telephone systems, transportation systems, and more.

Despite the fact infrastructure maintenance is consistently underfunded and maintenance is woefully inadequate - the prefered strategy is most often being to wait until it breaks down because the emergency created makes it easier to justify the extraordinary funds needed to fix or replace it - prodigious amounts are, nonetheless, spent on that maintenance. And that cost rises with each passing year, as does the gap between maintenance required and maintenance performed.

Underappreciated in all of this is that maintenance and upkeep of the massive infrastructure on which our society is built requires equally massive amounts of highly specialized technology and equipment for its maintenance. And therein lies my primary concern and the reason I keep returning to the issue of infrastructure in this blog. As we approach, arrive at and pass peak oil this issue will become increasingly important. Our undermaintained infrastructure, the vast bulk of which has been built in the sixty years since the end of World War II with a designed lifespan generally of fifty years, will be entering a period of terminal decay at the same time as the energy resources of the world, on which their maintenance depends, enter a period of terminal decline. The technology required to maintain that infrastructure will be increasingly unusable as it too decays and as replacement parts or replacement technology are increasingly unavailable. Much of this equipment is specifically designed, engineered and built as a one-off to satisfy the needs of a particular piece of infrastructure. The infrastructure which underpins our society which has always been a societal asset will increasingly become a massive and dangerous social liability.

Our communities, most particularly our cities, are seriously unnatural environments. In order for such large numbers of people, or any species, to live packed together at such close quarters in one place requires all manner of judiciously maintained infrastructure to prevent those places becoming health and environmental death traps. There are very few species that naturally live together in one place in large numbers, and even fewer in the numbers that human communities reach. Ants, bees, termites, corral and bats are a few that come to mind. Ants, bees and termites have worker classes whose job it is to keep the community - the bee hive or the ant hill or termite mound - clean and maintained. Bats live at the top of caves while their waste is dropped to the bottom of the caves where it is used by countless insects and micro-organisms. And corral rely on various species of fish and other marine organisms and the movement of ocean currents to clean away their refuse. Most animals living together in large numbers live in herds that are constantly on the move from one place to another, never staying in one place long enough for their waste to become a problem for the herd. But the safe maintenance of the living environment for community-based species is an ongoing battle for all of them and requires that their communities be frequently abandoned and new communities started. I would very much doubt that we could find an anthill or termite mound or beehive that has been a continuous site of occupation for thousands or even hundreds of years.

The greater the amount of infrastructure there is on which a community relies the greater is the reluctance to abandon it. The more you have, the more you have invested, the more there is to lose in doing so. And for we humans, the longer a community exists the greater the intangibles, such as history and the arts, that are also lost in abandoning the community. The longer we stay in one place the more reluctant we are to move on. Nowhere, it seems, is that moreso than with our cities. Our attachment and commitment to our cities, in fact, is far stronger it seems than our sense of nationalism and patriotism, both of which must be artificially reinforced. Our sense of kinship and belonging with our community seems far more natural, almost tribal by comparison.

This is going to be a serious social conundrum as we slide down the back side of Hubbert's Peak. Those cities, at least the large ones of over a half million population, are simply not going to be sustainable or supportable in a post-peak world. They exist in a virtual vacuum critically dependent on the outlying areas that surround them for their very survival. They will ultimately have to be abandoned but there will exist a passionate reluctance to do so. Serious time and critical resources will be wasted trying to make them survivable and sustainable. There will be powerful voices that remind us of the strong and long-surviving city states of the past like Athens, Rome, Chichen Itza and Machu Pichu. But there is no comparison between them and our fragile, technology-dependent cities of today. As their massive infrastructure decays and becomes increasingly dangerous, that hanging-on will become increasingly dangerous as well.

Even those great city states of the past were abandoned, some many times over the course of history. They also generally relied, it must be remembered, on a significant slave population who, like the workers in the ant colony and bee hive, were responsble for maintaining with brute force the infrastructure of those city states. To expect to take a modern day New York or London or Los Angeles or Tokyo back to the type of city state that existed in the past is folly in the extreme. It simply is not possible, even with slave labour. Our modern cities require armies of highly trained, technically proficient workers to keep them maintained. It can't be done with shovels and hammers. Just as the equipment and technology required to do the maintenance will become unusable because it can't be maintained or replaced, so too will the knowledge base for doing the maintenance begin to disappear as the institutions for training that army of maintenance specialists disappear. One way or another all of that infrastructure will ultimately simply be left to decay.

But what happens as it does? Dams burst. Bridges collapse. Glass fronted steel towers rain down showers of glass shards. Elevators plummet to the sub-basement. Tunnels flood or collapse. Sewers break and release toxins into surrounding soil. Water systems break and cause serious flooding before they eventually stop working all together. Concrete reinforced shorelines break down and weakened soil begins to wash away. Elevated highways collapse. And on and on. When our infrastructure begins to break down for the last time it will not be an "oh well" event. Each of those individual breakdowns will potentially be catastrophic events. The breach of a single dam on any of our rivers is very likely to cause cascade failures of every other weakened, under-maintained dam downstream from the original collapse. Any community in the way will be defenseless.

We do not know exactly when peak oil will be, or if it has already happened. We do not know how rapid the decline in global energy supplies will be on the other side of that peak. But we do know we have a global society based on expansion of the money supply through credit as the underpinning to an economic paradigm of perpetual growth. And we can reasonably surmise that when the global energy supplies go into decline so too will that global economy for industrial growth will stop. When it does it is very likely that the current luke-warm commitment to infrastructure maintenance will all but totally disappear as cost-cutting becomes the primary tool for attempted survival. The rate of decay of that already over-aged infrastructure will accelerate dramatically and there will no longer be the funds, the resources, the commitment, the energy nor the technology to upgrade it or replace it.

And yet our politicians continue to base our short-term and long-term plans on more growth, more new infrastructure, always more. They continue to operate as though our society as it exists can and will go on forever, or at least until they are out of office and it becomes someone else's problem. We cannot and must not allow them to keep leading us further down that path.

We cannot enter this future in such a way that that infrastructure will simply be left to decay. Any infrastructure than can not be maintained in a post-oil, post-technological age must be decommissioned before that age is thrust upon us. We don't need more dams. We need to be decommissioning those that already exist. We don't need more highways, more skyscrapers, more bridges, more of everything. We need to seriously evaluate the maintainability of every piece of infrastructure once we pass peak oil and if it is deemed unmaintainable once we enter that age it must be disposed of now, while we still have the funds, the energy, and the technology to do so.

Infrastructure and infrastructure maintenance are invisible issues to most of society. They are not at all sexy, certainly not the type of stuff that election platforms are built on. We must, however, somehow force them to become just that. We must demand of our politicians a vision and a platform that deals with the reality of peak oil and global energy decline. And that vision and platform must incorporate a strong component of how our aging infrastructure will be dealth with once they are elected. If we do not demand this of our politicians then we are condoning their taking us on a sleepwalk into a very dangerous future of terminal infrastructure decay. I don't want to see that for our children. They deserve better from us.

1 comment:

Yehuda Draiman said...

Energy Independence begins with Energy efficiency - It's cheaper to save energy than to make energy (“Out of Oil, Here Comes the Sun”)
Why high oil prices haven't cut demand.
As oil nears $100 .
Bigger economic incentives needed to conserve energy
Driving habits little changed by gas prices
May 12: American motorists continue to fork over more money at the pump and are not changing their driving behavior despite rising fuel prices.
Despite higher fuel prices, demand hasn't fallen as it did after the 1970s oil shocks. Energy researchers say it will take greater economic incentives to boost energy efficiency and cut consumption. Accelerate the implementation of renewable energy generation, Solar, Wind, etc..

Updated January 31, 2008
by Yehuda Draiman, Energy Consultant

Sustainability - "We strive to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

Today’s energy industry is perhaps the world’s most powerful. Energy is the basis of this entire world’s wealth, and for perhaps earth’s entire history, the sun’s energy has fueled all ecological and economic systems. If early humans did not learn to exploit new sources of energy, humankind would still be living in the tropical forests. Without the continual exploitation of new energy sources, there would have been no civilization, no Industrial Revolution and no looming global catastrophe.

In order to insure energy and economic independence as well as better economic growth without being blackmailed by foreign countries, our country, the United States of America’s Utilization of Energy Sources must change.
"Energy drives our entire economy.” We must protect it. "Let's face it, without energy the whole economy and economic society we have set up would come to a halt. So you want to have control over such an important resource that you need for your society and your economy." The American way of life is not negotiable.
Our continued dependence on fossil fuels could and will lead to catastrophic consequences.

The federal, state and local government should implement a mandatory renewable energy installation program for residential and commercial property on new construction and remodeling projects, replacement of appliances, motors, HVAC with the use of energy efficient materials-products, mechanical systems, appliances, lighting, insulation, retrofits etc. The source of energy must be by renewable energy such as Solar-Photovoltaic, Geothermal, Wind, Biofuels, Ocean-Tidal, Hydrogen-Fuel Cell etc. This includes the utilizing of water from lakes, rivers and oceans to circulate in cooling towers to produce air conditioning, increase the use of outside air for ventilation and cooling (which also reduces indoor pollution and healthier), and the utilization of proper landscaping to reduce energy consumption. (Sales tax on renewable energy products and energy efficiency should be reduced or eliminated) (Construct new transmission lines and renewable energy zones) (We should also utilize solar energy for ocean water desalinization to alleviate the increasing water shortages – the scientists are claiming ocean levels are elevating – population, economic advancement and technology are increasing which increases demand)
The implementation of mandatory renewable energy could be done on a gradual scale over the next 10 years. At the end of the 10 year period all construction and energy use in the structures throughout the United States must be 100% powered by renewable energy. (This can be done by amending building code)

In addition, the governments must impose laws, rules and regulations whereby the utility companies must comply with a fair “NET METERING” (the buying of excess generation from the consumer at market price), including the promotion of research and production of “renewable energy technology” with various long term incentives and grants. The various foundations in existence should be used to contribute to this cause.

A mandatory time table should also be established for the automobile industry to gradually produce an automobile powered by renewable energy. The American automobile industry is surely capable of accomplishing this task. As an inducement to buy hybrid automobiles (sales tax should be reduced or eliminated on American manufactured automobiles).

This is a way to expedite our energy independence and economic growth. (This will also create a substantial amount of new jobs). It will take maximum effort and a relentless pursuit of the private, commercial and industrial government sectors’ commitment to renewable energy – energy generation (wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, geothermal, energy storage (fuel cells, advance batteries), energy infrastructure (management, transmission) and energy efficiency (lighting, sensors, automation, conservation) (rainwater harvesting, water conservation) (energy and natural resources conservation) in order to achieve our energy independence.

For the benefit of mankind, maintain the quality of life and preserve the tranquility of world population. Water resources must be preserved to sustain humanity. We should utilize solar and or other source of renewable energy to operate desalinization projects from the oceans. As world population increases the scarcity of water will become a cause for conflict, unless we take steps now to develop other sources of water for drinking, rainwater harvesting and graywater utilization.
To preserve the future generations sustainability, we should look into urban farming – vertical farming. The term "urban farming" may conjure up a community garden where locals grow a few heads of lettuce. But some academics envision something quite different for the increasingly hungry world of the 21st century: a vertical farm that will do for agriculture what the skyscraper did for office space. Greenhouse giant: By stacking floors full of produce, a vertical farm could rake in $18 million a year.
I believe what America needs are cool headed government leaders who understand how markets function and can work with consumers, voters and oil industry leaders to develop a viable energy strategy that will help and not hinder as our nation transitions to our new energy reality.
For German Homeowners Renewable Energy is No Longer a Choice
All new homes built in Germany from January 1st 2009 will be required to install renewable energy heating systems under a new law called the Renewable Energies Heating Law
"To succeed, you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality."

Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA. 91324
January 31, 2008

P.S. I have a very deep belief in America's capabilities. Within the next 10 years we can accomplish our energy independence, if we as a nation truly set our goals to accomplish this.

I happen to believe that we can do it. In another crisis--the one in 1942--President Franklin D. Roosevelt said this country would build 60,000 [50,000] military aircraft. By 1943, production in that program had reached 125,000 aircraft annually. They did it then. We can do it now.

"The way we produce and use energy must fundamentally change."
The American people resilience and determination to retain the way of life is unconquerable and we as a nation will succeed in this endeavor of Energy Independence.

The Oil Companies should be required to invest a substantial percentage of their profit in renewable energy R&D and implementation. Those who do not will be panelized by the public at large by boy cutting their products.

Solar energy is the source of all energy on the earth (excepting volcanic geothermal). Wind, wave and fossil fuels all get their energy from the sun. Fossil fuels are only a battery which will eventually run out. The sooner we can exploit all forms of Solar energy (cost effectively or not against dubiously cheap FFs) the better off we will all be. If the battery runs out first, the survivors will all be living like in the 18th century again.

Every new home built should come with a solar package. A 1.5 kW per bedroom is a good rule of thumb. The formula 1.5 X's 5 hrs per day X's 30 days will produce about 225 kWh per bedroom monthly. This peak production period will offset 17 to 2

4 cents per kWh with a potential of $160 per month or about $60,000 over the 30-year mortgage period for a three-bedroom home. It is economically feasible at the current energy price and the interest portion of the loan is deductible. Why not?

Title 24 has been mandated forcing developers to build energy efficient homes. Their bull-headedness put them in that position and now they see that Title 24 works with little added cost. Solar should also be mandated and if the developer designs a home that solar is impossible to do then they should pay an equivalent mitigation fee allowing others to put solar on in place of their negligence. (Installation should be paid “performance based”).

Installation of renewable energy and its performance should be paid to the installer and manufacturer based on "performance based" (that means they are held accountable for the performance of the product - that includes the automobile industry). This will gain the trust and confidence of the end-user to proceed with such a project; it will also prove to the public that it is a viable avenue of energy conservation.

Installing a renewable energy system on your home or business increases the value of the property and provides a marketing advantage. It also decreases our trade deficit.

Nations of the world should unite and join together in a cohesive effort to develop and implement MANDATORY RENEWABLE ENERGY for the sake of humankind and future generations.

The head of the U.S. government's renewable energy lab said Monday (Feb. 5) that the federal government is doing "embarrassingly few things" to foster renewable energy, leaving leadership to the states at a time of opportunity to change the nation's energy future. "I see little happening at the federal level. Much more needs to happen." What's needed, he said, is a change of our national mind set. Instead of viewing the hurdles that still face renewable sources and setting national energy goals with those hurdles in mind, we should set ambitious national renewable energy goals and set about overcoming the hurdles to meet them. We have an opportunity, an opportunity we can take advantage of or an opportunity we can squander and let go,"

Solar energy - the direct conversion of sunlight with solar cells, either into electricity or hydrogen, faces cost hurdles independent of their intrinsic efficiency. Ways must be found to lower production costs and design better conversion and storage systems.

Disenco Energy of the UK has announced it has reached important
milestones leading to full commercialization, such as the completion of
field trials for its home, micro combined heat and power plant (m-CHP).
The company expects to begin a product roll out in the second quarter of
Operating at over 90 percent efficiency, the m-CHP will be able to
provide 15 kilowatts of thermal energy (about 50,000 Btu’s) for heat and
hot water and generate 3 kilowatts of electricity. The m-CHP uses a
Stirling engine generator and would be a direct replacement for a home’s
Running on piped-in natural gas the unit would create some independence
from the power grid, but still remain connected to the gas supply
Whereas heat is supplied only when the generator is running (or
conversely electricity is generated only when heat is needed) a back-up
battery system and heavily insulated hot water storage tank seem
eventual options for more complete energy independence.

All government buildings, Federal, State, County, City etc. should be mandated to be energy efficient and must use renewable energy on all new structures and structures that are been remodeled/upgraded.
"The government should serve as an example to its citizens"

A new innovative renewable energy generating technology is in development. The idea behind Promethean Power came from Matthew Orosz, an MIT graduate student who has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the African nation of Lesotho. Orosz wanted to provide electric power, refrigeration, and hot water to people without electricity. He and some MIT colleagues designed a set of mirrors that focus sunlight onto tubes filled with coolant. The hot coolant turns to pressurized vapor, which turns a turbine to make electricity. The leftover heat can be used to warm a tank of water and to run a refrigerator or an air conditioner, using a gas-absorption process that chills liquid ammonia by first heating it.
New Solar Electric Cells - 80% efficient
Mr. Marks says solar panels made with Lepcon or Lumeloid, the materials he patented, ... Most photovoltaic cells are only about 15 percent efficient. ...
In late July 2007 University of Delaware researchers Honsberg, 40, and Barnett, 67, set a world record for solar efficiency, converting 42.8% of the sun's radiation into electricity with their prototype cell. That's almost three times as efficient as commercial solar cells. "We think we can do 50%," says Barnett. He and Honsberg are working to build practical devices by 2010, with support from the U.S. military and an industrial group led by DuPont
A major increase in daily petroleum output is deemed essential to meet U.S. and international oil requirements in 2020, and so we should expect recurring oil shortages and price increases. Only by expediting the diminishing our day-to-day consumption of petroleum and implementing of efficiency and renewable energy policy can we hope to reduce our exposure to costly oil-supply disruptions and lower the risk of economic strangulation.
Quick Facts
 Energy is vital to every sector of the U.S. economy. As our economy grows, the demand for energy rises.

 Total energy consumption is projected to increase 35 percent by 2030.

 Energy-efficiency improvements have played a major role in meeting national energy needs since the 1970s, relative to new supply.
ULTRACAPACITORS - But what if you could harness a technology that would enable you to drive 500 miles round-trip on a 5-minute charge?

That's the promise of U.S. Patent No. 7,033,406 which promises, maybe even threatens, to do away with the internal combustion engine, and the traditional car battery, all in one swoop.
The patent is the property of Austin-based startup called EEStor, which touts "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries." In layman's terms, that means you could use the EEStor technology to drive from Boston to Philly and back without a drop of gasoline.

The Vertical Farm is a concept that seeks to address the major concerns of the environmental degradation of the modern city by composting, recycling waste and farming in a standard tenement building. The "ecological footprint" of the city will be lessened and therefore the city will become a more sustainable setting. The reduction of wastes and the production of foods for consumption will in turn increase the quality of life for all those within the city and its surrounding area. The reduction in transportation of both wastes and of food products and the use of abandoned buildings will directly increase the quality of the urban settling.
Inverse Offshore Pump Accumulation station (IOPAC). The concept is a relative (and sort of the inverse) of onshore pumped storage hydroelectric facilities where water is pumped to high elevation ponds with surplus power, then released when needed for peak power demands on the grid.
THE BATTLE FOR YOUR ELECTRIC BILL Private-equity buyout funds are targeting electric power companies in deals that generate massive debt, stop the building of better plants and jack up rates. They take the profits and stick consumers with the cost.
In three detailed future scenarios, the SRA describes concrete outcomes of sustainable chemistry in health care, energy efficient housing and industrial bioprocesses.
The energy-generating home scenario demonstrates how smart materials and energy management can, for instance, help reduce heat loss, improve energy efficiency and transform kinetic energy into electricity. These technologies will turn tomorrow’s home into an independent mini power plant capable of exceeding its own energy requirements.
Personalized health care to meet the growing demands of an ageing society are another application of SusChem’s SRA. Using future nano and biotechnologies and materials, sustainable chemistry will help accelerate intervention using remote monitoring and intervention systems, improve diagnostics through advanced medical imaging techniques, and reduce the intrusiveness of the medical treatment overall.
A Guide for the Survival of Humankind, and Improving the World, Society, and Yourself!
Yet who can the world trust to be idealistic and moral enough to help all of humanity and the environment, and at the same time, be practical enough to make extremely difficult decisions that can and will harm a great deal of people?

A California firm “Nanosolar of San Jose” says it is producing solar panels for 30 cents per watt. If true, then a power plant made from these solar panels should produce electricity cheaper than a coal plant.
Nanosolar’s cells use no silicon, and the company’s manufacturing process allows it to create cells that are as efficient as most commercial cells for as little as 30 cents a watt. “You’re talking about printing rolls of the stuff—printing it on the roofs of 18-wheeler trailers, printing it on garages, printing it wherever you want it,” says Dan Kammen, founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. “It really is quite a big deal in terms of altering the way we think about solar and in inherently altering the economics of solar.”
Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV). ERV is the technology that completes an HVAC system. The "V" in HVAC can no longer be ignored and higher ventilation loads require a new design approach. Whether you are a home owner, business owner, building administrator or engineer, it is essential to realize the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) and fresh air ventilation. It reduces the cooling load and saves energy.
Yehuda Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA 91324

Posted on: 2/2//2008