Excuses, Excuses: California 2020 vs. Jevons 1865By Robert Bradley Jr. -- August 27, 2020 4 Comments
The first great requisite of motive power is, that it shall be wholly at our command, to be exerted when, and where, and in what degree we desire. The wind, for instance, as a direct motive power, is wholly inapplicable to a system of machine labour, for during a calm season the whole business of the country would be thrown out of gear.
– W. S. Jevons, The Coal Question (London: Macmillan, 1865), p. 122.
If only the legion of energy experts and specialists in the colleges and universities, U.S. Department of Energy labs, and environmentalist organizations understood William Stanley Jevons of the 19th century and Vaclav Smil today. If so, they would understand why:
- Renewable energy is failing at times of peak demand (see the Duck Curve post this week).
W. S. Jevons on Energy Efficiency (Memo to Biden, Part IV)By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 23, 2020 1 Comment
It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth. As a rule, new modes of economy will lead to an increase of consumption, according to a principle recognized in many parallel instances. (Jevons, below)
The long-ago insights of William Stanley Jevons profoundly inform the current debate over energy efficiency and energy-conservation policy, not just to the debate over the role of renewable energy in modern society.
Jevons’s The Coal Question (London: Macmillan and Co., 1865) made the case that renewables (windpower; waterpower, biomass, and geothermal) could not substitute for coal. (Jevons underestimated the possibilities of crude oil and natural gas as substitutes for coal, but that is another story.)…Continue Reading
W. S. Jevons on Coal (Memo to Biden, Part III)By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 22, 2020 No Comments
Coal, in truth, stands not beside but entirely above all other commodities. It is the material energy of the country—the universal aid—the factor in everything we do. With coal almost any feat is possible or easy; without it we are thrown back into the laborious poverty of early times. (Jevons, below)
Each renewable energy, W. S. Jevons explained, was either too scarce or too unreliable to fuel the new industrial era (see previous posts on windpower and on waterpower, biomass, and geothermal).
The energy savior was coal, a concentrated, plentiful, storable, and transportable source of energy that was England’s bounty for the world.
There was no going back. Coal–and that included oil and gas manufactured from coal–was the new master of the master resource of energy in the 18th and 19th centuries.…Continue Reading
W. S. Jevons (1865) on Waterpower, Biomass. and Geothermal (Memo to Biden, Part II)By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 21, 2020 No Comments
We cannot revert to timber fuel, for ‘nearly the entire surface of our island would be required to grow timber sufficient for the consumption of the iron manufacture alone.’
The internal heat of the earth … presents an immense store of force, but, being manifested only in the hot-spring, the volcano, or the warm mine, it is evidently not available. (Jevons, below)
W. S. Jevons in his early day recognized a central problem of windpower for powering machinery–intermittency. The wind does not always blow, and it cannot be known when this will occur, making an even flow of power (as from conventional sources) impossible short of cost-prohibitive battery backup.
What about the other renewables of the day: water power, biomass, and geothermal? And what 19th century wisdom applies to the Green New Deal of the 21st?…Continue Reading