Excuses, Excuses: California 2020 vs. Jevons 1865

By 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:

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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.)…

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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.…

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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?…

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W. S. Jevons (1865) on Wind (Memo to Biden, Part I)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 20, 2020 2 Comments Continue Reading

Motor Trends: More Cars, More Miles, Less Usage per Mile (Jevons Paradox at work)

By -- September 16, 2014 No Comments Continue Reading

The Conundrum – by David Owen (Jevons' "rebound effect" enters the New Yorker mainstream)

By Josiah Neeley -- May 2, 2012 9 Comments Continue Reading

ECONOMIST Debate on Renewable Energy (Part I: W. S. Jevons Lives!)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- November 9, 2011 11 Comments Continue Reading

W. S. Jevons and UK Coal Revisited (worth re-reading weekend)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- June 20, 2009 No Comments Continue Reading

W. S. Jevons (1865) on Energy Efficiency (Memo to Obama, Part IV)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 2, 2009 3 Comments Continue Reading