Oil and Water

In the late 1980s and early 1990s California experienced a protracted drought. This condition lasted so long that the various governments across the northern part of the state began public relations campaigns to encourage citizens to find new ways to conserve.

Some policy changes were enacted as well – toilets in new construction were required to have lower water usage, upon sale of an existing home toilets were required to be upgraded to the new home standard, shower heads for sale in California were limited to 2.5 gallons per minute (about 10 liters per minute for the rest of the world). And, of course, all of this helped.

But in the end, it was found out that there was a little problem with all of this civic mindedness. it turned out that if all of the people in CA used NO water for personal use this would save 10% of the total water used in the state. The rest went to industry and agriculture. And most of that went to agriculture.

So if you could save 10% of the agriculture it would be substantially more than if all of the citizens saved 20-30% which is quite a bit for each person!

One more point here is that water costs for personal use and for industrial use are substantially higher than for agriculture. So much so that some have compared the costs of water for agriculture versus that of other industries. In California it 1 acre-foot of water ( = 386,000 gallons or 1200 cubic meters) will produce $60 of revenue for the state if used to grow cotton or alfafa but $980,000 if used in a semiconductor factory! So the efficiency gain is 16,000x!

Now having been involved with my daughter in this exercise when she was in 3rd and 4th grade about 15 years ago, I had to think about what was really going on today in regards to oil consumption. Sounds like a pretty distant link right?

The question i asked myself – What if all of us in the USA stopped using oil today entirely or just saved 30%; such a savings would be very difficult for most of us to achieve quickly. But suppose we could do this over some short time like a few years. What would that do to the price of oil? And my conclusion is that it would have very little overall affect. Because we are increasingly a smaller part of the overall use total. China and India are growing and becomeing 1st world citizens so quickly and with such impact that their combined 2.3 billion consumers will dwarf our pun 0.3 billion citizens.

Does this mean that we should not bother to conserve, convert to solar, wind and other alternatives. No, it rather further emphasizes how important this conversion is and how deep we must take it to truly achieve real independence from the fate that awaits others who cling to the past and the inevitable price rises that still will follow.

To the extent we can not just cut back on oil consumption but really change energy consumption from oil based sources to electricity that is generated from renewable sources this can be game changing for our country and its competitiveness. Inexpensive resources are key to industrial competitiveness – for a country, a state, even a rather local region.

At the individual and family level, this means that we need to consider changing how –

  • we heat water from primarily natural gas to solar with electricity or gas providing the backup
  • we heat our homes to have more reliance on geothermal, heat pumps and solar and less on gas and oil
  • we purchase new cars with a greater emphasis on hybrid technology and the use of the electrical grid to charge batteries for shorter trips
  • we individually participate in creating more energy locally by having solar PV on our roofs
  • we understand where our energy uses are in our homes many of which can be trimmed through us just being aware and making small changes.

The ultimate impact of all of these changes (talked about endlessly elsewhwere) can be that we do not have to participate in the wars that others will fight over who gets what share of a resource that is already scarce.

But, now I am going to let you in on a secret. If you do this even yourself or with your family, you will be more competitive in comparison to your neighbors. Think about this. If you drive a Prius, combine trips, turn off lights, make some of your own energy, get off the oil addiction – then you are simply more competitive on a growing basis year by year. Gas today at $4 is not headed back to $2 … ever. We are more likely to see $6 or $10 before the end of this decade.

So put together a plan now. Find ways to really understand your energy usage and start changing it in ways that are easy but really do not change how you live. You will be surprised how easy this can be done. And every thing you save is likely to be savings that you continue to reap month after month, year after year.

Posted in Green Perspectives

  1. bobby markowitz says:

    I think you should add water to your tableau — how much of this ESSENTIAL resource is not being managed and quantified; how individuals can and need to wrap their minds around the water issue.

  2. Bob says:

    Your prediction for the price of gas (not headed back to $2) shows how futile such predictions can be in view of the situation that has developed in the world economy in just 4 months since your prediction was made. Market forces can take the price in unpredictable directions and it behooves the government to stabilize the prices (through taxes) at levels that encourage people to purchase fuel efficient vehicles. Ultimately the auto industry will be forced to produce more fuel efficient vehicles to satisfy consumer demand.

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