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#1 2019-08-22 11:26:18

Calliban
Member
From: Scotland, UK
Registered: 2019-08-18
Posts: 36

Is the world doomed to economic collapse

Well worth a read.  If this assessment is correct, then none of the ambitions for space colonisation that this board was founded upon, have any hope of being achieved.

https://www.resilience.org/stories/2017 … -collapse/

The world economy is basically a thermodynamic machine.  What we call wealth, is really just the result of energy used to transform matter into valuable products and services.  The problem is that most of this energy comes from fossil fuels and with each passing year, the Earth's stock of high grade fossil fuels is progressively depleted.  This suggests that we are ultimately heading towards economic collapse in the not too distant future, because increasing proportions of refined energy must be reinvested in the extraction process.  This leaves less available to power the production of goods and services that aren't related to primary energy.  Given that GDP is really just a function of energy use; declining profitability of fossil fuel energy will increasingly crush human prosperity in years ahead.

Last edited by Calliban (2019-08-22 11:29:04)


Interested in space science, engineering and technology.

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#2 2019-08-22 14:25:33

RobertDyck
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From: Winnipeg, Canada
Registered: 2002-08-20
Posts: 5,748
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Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

The wild appeared to hit peak oil before the US developed fracking. As 3rd world countries develop, trying to achieve the same lifestyle as modern Western countries, they will demand more oil. The wild doesn't have enough to supply everyone. But that assumes all energy must be fossil fuel. We are developing alternate energy sources.

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#3 2019-08-22 15:18:56

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 3,062
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Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

The real problem isn't energy production, it's storage. Solar has a high enough energy return on investment (EROI) before storage is accounted for, but you can't run an economy on solar if you don't have lots of storage. Batteries are out - world lithium reserves are only enough for five hours of energy use at current rates, and lithium is the most abundant option. We could, potentially, extract it from seawater, but that would kill the EROI and make solar non viable. Non battery options exist, but the most common one, pumped hydro, requires flooding vast amounts of land, and there may not be enough sites. Flywheels could work, maybe.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#4 2019-08-22 16:03:38

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 3,062
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Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

Okay, there *may* be an option, if we don't try all living like Europeans.

Iron-Brass batteries

There should be enough zinc and copper resources to provide a day of energy storage for the worlds current consumption. Include some biofuel generators for cloudy spells and seasonal variation, and we can switch entirely onto renewables.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#5 2019-08-22 17:20:02

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 15,806

Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

What we do not have for solar is a system to transmit the energy around the world on a grid as its DC voltage and not AC. The conversion of solar to be useable else where would require a new power movement grid to be able to use the high frequency which is not the same as low frequency AC.

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#6 2019-08-22 17:23:26

Calliban
Member
From: Scotland, UK
Registered: 2019-08-18
Posts: 36

Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

Declining EROI has been exerting an increasing drag on the global economy since the turn of the century.  Soaring commodity prices, especially energy, were an important contributor to the 2008 great recession.  The more complex, wealthy and energy intensive an economy is (and those three things do tend to go hand in hand) the more vulnerable the economy is to declining net energy.  However, EROI of fossil fuels has now declined to the point where developing countries are encountering problems too.  The Chinese economy is stalling largely because its domestic coal production has levelled off.

Tim Morgan explains in this primer exactly why 21st century economic problems can be directly traced to declining EROI of the world's energy sources.

https://surplusenergyeconomics.files.wo … onomy2.pdf

Gail Tverberg on why renewable energy sources are unlikely to replace the energy provided by fossil fuels:

https://ourfiniteworld.com/2019/07/31/r … -mandates/

Global fossil fuel average EROI remained high until the 1990s, because new technology and globalization was developing previously inaccessible resources.  But we ultimately hit limits around the turn of the century when all of the best global resources were already under development.

Last edited by Calliban (2019-08-22 17:28:36)


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#7 2019-08-22 17:39:44

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
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Posts: 15,806

Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

There is a limit to what people can afford and its seems to be around $2.50 a gallo in parts of the US and when it climbs as it did earlier in the year the ecoomy did slow and people stop spending there extra money as they needed for more gas price increases. The years of 2008 had even higher costs for fuel and that was were the shale oil helped to lower its costs to the customers at a gradually lowering the price at the pump as the oil was extracted.

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#8 2019-09-01 21:46:13

kbd512
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Registered: 2015-01-02
Posts: 2,883

Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

Every time this ridiculous "limited pie" theory rears its ugly and ignorant head, it turns out not only to be wrong, but absurdly wrong in every sense of the word.  How the cretins who peddle this nonsense continue to get anyone to buy into it is beyond my comprehension.  Humanity has been advancing in living standards, some societies faster than others, but this requires more energy and better energy usage efficiency to continue doing it.  Even so, we're in no danger at all of ever running out.

Some of what I read in that is profoundly ignorant, but I attribute that to stupid people with stupid ideas coming to stupid conclusions to further their own stupid agendas.  The notion that America was most economically productive in the 1930's, for example, is mind-blowingly dumb.  It's almost as if the idiots who wrote that hit every branch on the stupid tree before they nose-planted into the mountain of their own brain droppings.  It's also why we tend to ignore such cretins until they seize power and begin implementing their stupid agendas.

Quote from the article covering the idiocy of these two idiots- Victor Court and Florian Fizaine:

Insight: The US economy, he shows, appears to have reached "the peak in productivity in the 1930s, the same period in which the EROI of fossil fuels reached an extraordinary value of about 100."

People were starving to death in the 1930's because they had no jobs and no food.  Nobody starves to death in the US today, except by choice.  To this day, we still can't fix stupid.  The people I see begging for change on the roadside today have beer guts.  Good luck finding photos of poor people from the 1930's who were morbidly obese.  Yes, these morons are as derp-tastic as they come.

Anyway, let's diverge from nearly always wrong zero-sum thinking here.  We've already mined all the natural resources required to provide a modern motor vehicle to every last man, woman, and child on the planet, along with a minimal modern dwelling with modern amenities and enough food to make diabetes far more probable than starvation- not that most of us are content to live in Japanese-style hotels.  Powering all of them is another story, but we're working on that and always have been.  In many places, the population density is so high now that providing everyone with a car is impractical, if not counter-productive.  I never owned a car when I lived in Japan, for example, and only rode in one once as a passenger in 3 years time.  However, I did take trains and buses, as required.  To merely go to work here in Texas, I drive a vehicle every single day.  There's no other practical way to ensure that I get to work on time every day.  They've been talking about building train lines here in Houston for years.  Apart from spending a lot of our tax money, we have nothing else to show for it.  Owning and using a car doesn't make either one of us more "well to do" than the other, just "different".  In short, life will not be the same everywhere for everyone at all times- and that is A-OK.

Since we already have the technology and materials and money to provide a cell phone and tablet (the new personal computer) and electricity to power it to every person on the planet, I think we're in much better shape than anyone on the planet would have ever dreamed of being in the 1930's.  We can educate virtually everyone on the planet, if we were interested in doing that and they were actually interested in learning.  That aspect of modern life more or less guarantees better outcomes for the vast overwhelming majority of humanity- even if everyone everywhere doesn't benefit equally from it at all times.

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#9 2019-09-02 13:52:37

Calliban
Member
From: Scotland, UK
Registered: 2019-08-18
Posts: 36

Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

kbd512 wrote:

Every time this ridiculous "limited pie" theory rears its ugly and ignorant head, it turns out not only to be wrong, but absurdly wrong in every sense of the word.  How the cretins who peddle this nonsense continue to get anyone to buy into it is beyond my comprehension.  Humanity has been advancing in living standards, some societies faster than others, but this requires more energy and better energy usage efficiency to continue doing it.  Even so, we're in no danger at all of ever running out.

Some of what I read in that is profoundly ignorant, but I attribute that to stupid people with stupid ideas coming to stupid conclusions to further their own stupid agendas.  The notion that America was most economically productive in the 1930's, for example, is mind-blowingly dumb.  It's almost as if the idiots who wrote that hit every branch on the stupid tree before they nose-planted into the mountain of their own brain droppings.  It's also why we tend to ignore such cretins until they seize power and begin implementing their stupid agendas.

Quote from the article covering the idiocy of these two idiots- Victor Court and Florian Fizaine:

Insight: The US economy, he shows, appears to have reached "the peak in productivity in the 1930s, the same period in which the EROI of fossil fuels reached an extraordinary value of about 100."

People were starving to death in the 1930's because they had no jobs and no food.  Nobody starves to death in the US today, except by choice.  To this day, we still can't fix stupid.  The people I see begging for change on the roadside today have beer guts.  Good luck finding photos of poor people from the 1930's who were morbidly obese.  Yes, these morons are as derp-tastic as they come.


The authors are talking about productivity growth rates, not productivity per se.  They are not arguing that life is harder now than in the 1930s; something that is clearly not true.  Productivity was growing more rapidly throughout most of the 20th century than it is today.  Average productivity is the integral of the productivity growth rate curve.  This makes sense when you consider that our ability to perform useful work depends upon investments of energy embedded within infrastructure made in previous times.  Ahmed should have been clearer about the difference between productivity and productivity growth rate when he discussed their work.  The difference in this case is far from trivial - because of his gaffe you completely misunderstood the article.  It shows the importance of proof reading.

Productivity growth rates hit record high values in the two decades between 1920 and 1940.  This was the period in which abundant, storable and portable energy in the form of oil products; allowed rapid growth of low-cost road and rail transportation.  This improved the mobility of labour and finished products and the large US population, allowed huge economy of scale to be realised in factory production.  Factories were able to take advantage of cheap coal based electricity and the growth of hydropower.  Steel and refined materials also became cheaper as they exploited oil based energy in mining and coal based energy in their manufacture and cheap transport allowed them to develop their own economies of scale.  Ultimately, America grew into the world foremost industrial power by exploiting a solid resource base of fossil energy.  That is the source of the wealth that you and I enjoy to this day.  The UK did the same thing in the previous two centuries by exploiting coal based energy.  These facts are uncontroversial, but economists don't generally talk about the economy in physics terms, so it sounds a little unfamiliar to consider it in this way.

The problems that Ahmed alludes to stem from the fact that the quality of our energy resource base is now degrading, in that for each unit of energy we get out, a growing proportion must be invested in the extraction process.  The most striking example is shale oil, which requires very high drilling rates to maintain production and produces lower quality crude that must be blended prior to refining.  It is the continuation of a trend that has been growing since at least the 1960s; but had not reached levels that would choke economic growth until the early years of the 21st century.  It is noteworthy that even though oil prices have tripled since 2000, shale oil producers are unprofitable and have run up hundreds of billions of dollars of debt.  The situation is mirrored across the globe; it is now impossible to find a price that is both affordable to consumers and profitable for producers.  If Court and Fizaine are correct, then EROI will soon decline to the point where productivity growth rate will become negative.

Globalisation allowed the effects of fossil fuel depletion to be mitigated for at least a couple of decades, by allowing energy intensive industry to relocate to Asian countries (especially China) with low cost coal production and cheap labour.  This aggravated problems of inequality in western countries.  The effects of energy resource depletion are aggravated by depletion of other resource sets, such as metal ores.

I don't think there is anything ignorant or moronic about thermodynamic models of the economy; that is simply the way it works.  What we call wealth is simply the effects of surplus energy (that is energy harnessed, minus the energy used in its production) transforming or manipulating matter into things that we want.  It is a giant machine that we are all part of and the laws of physics govern it in the same way they govern any other machine.  The problem in a nut shell is that it takes a certain amount of energy to produce a unit of GDP.  If you want a cup of coffee, it takes 100KJ to boil the water.  If you want a tonne of steel, you need 30GJ to heat the ore and reduce it.  There are certain irreducible energy requirements that need to be input to generate goods and services.  Hence an energy intensity to GDP. So there are limits to what we can afford to pay without going into debt. 

The question ultimately is what, if anything, we can do about this.  Since the 2008 recession, global debt burden has more than doubled.  Interest rates in all major economies have been beneath inflation for a decade.  Quantitative easing has flooded the world with cheap money that has so far failed to stimulate economic growth, because the crisis has nothing to do with a shortage of money.  It results from physical resource depletion.  The solution, so far as I can see is to expand humanity's resource base.  We can start by rapidly expanding the use nuclear power and bringing in new sources of rare elements from near earth asteroids.  But ultimately, we need to leave the Earth behind.

Last edited by Calliban (2019-09-02 14:29:12)


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#10 2019-09-02 16:00:45

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 3,062
Website

Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

If someone here can access the paper, please could you tell me what's in it? Junkyard battery.

Okay, so more information is available without access here. The brass was 67% Cu/33% Zn, and the batteries achieved 20 Wh/kg. What I want to know is how much copper and zinc is needed per kWh of storage. It's very exciting, since we have on the order of a billion tonnes of recoverable copper according to the USGS, though only ~250 million tonnes of zinc, so that gives us 750 million tonnes of brass for the batteries. World energy consumption is ~15 TW, so 18 billion tonnes of battery would be needed. Eh, it might work, depending on how much they need and whether they can be improved (probable).


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#11 2019-09-02 16:46:23

Calliban
Member
From: Scotland, UK
Registered: 2019-08-18
Posts: 36

Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

Terraformer wrote:

If someone here can access the paper, please could you tell me what's in it? Junkyard battery.

Okay, so more information is available without access here. The brass was 67% Cu/33% Zn, and the batteries achieved 20 Wh/kg. What I want to know is how much copper and zinc is needed per kWh of storage. It's very exciting, since we have on the order of a billion tonnes of recoverable copper according to the USGS, though only ~250 million tonnes of zinc, so that gives us 750 million tonnes of brass for the batteries. World energy consumption is ~15 TW, so 18 billion tonnes of battery would be needed. Eh, it might work, depending on how much they need and whether they can be improved (probable).

Batteries are a poor solution for large-scale energy storage.  They are poorly efficient, have limited cycle life and significant embodied energy.  Maybe the solution is to ditch the batteries all together.  The most successful electric vehicles in the world are grid connected.  It would appear improbable that the battery electric car is a scalable solution.

https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/01 … s-o-1.html

https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/07 … trams.html

For long-term energy storage, heat is a good option.  Deposit heat in rock or gravel using heating elements and convert it back to electric power using a boiler working on an S-CO2 cycle.  Efficiency is about 50% but embodied energy and capital cost per unit power are low.


Interested in space science, engineering and technology.

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#12 2019-09-02 16:47:29

kbd512
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Registered: 2015-01-02
Posts: 2,883

Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

Calliban,

In the 1930's, the US economy was abhorrent by any rational person's metrics, irrespective of how easy and inexpensive it was to access energy resources.  The unemployment rate didn't fall to 10% until 1941.  IIRC, it reached 25% in 1933.  Furthermore, using a World War as an indicator of economic productivity is, quite frankly, a little sophomoric.  The only reason the US economy did well during and after WWII was that nobody else in the world had a functional industrial base.  Every other industrialized nation was utterly destroyed during the war, either through loss of infrastructure or workers or both.

Your assertion that the quality of shale crude is lower than that of other sources is backwards.  We down-blend shale oil with lower quality crudes from other sources because the shale oil is of such high quality that we can't readily process it using our existing refinery infrastructure and still obtain all of the cuts we want.  Our refineries were set up to process lower quality crude than what we get from shale and we're not going to spend the money to completely rebuild them to exclusively process shale oil.  The tar sands in Canada, for example, provide a lower quality crude that we can blend into our shale oil to produce a crude that provides all of the cuts we want (everything from gasoline to tar).  Venezuela also provides low quality crude.

We keep drilling to continually expand reserves, not because the resource provides less usable product.  However, we only extract when we can maximize profitability.  That's why the business is operated at a loss at certain times.  If it wasn't profitable, then we wouldn't still be doing it.  At current consumption rates, we'll need a bare minimum of a few more centuries to run out of easily extractable product at today's rates.  We drill as much as we can today because labor rates, insurance rates, and environmental regulations are sure to cost us more tomorrow.  Shale oil cost more to extract in the recent past because the technology was brand new and we had to figure out how to refine it.  Both problems have now been solved.  In the past, we lacked the technology required for precise directional drilling and that was why we didn't do it.

Globalization had nothing to do with mitigating EROI effects and everything to do with lower labor costs through exploitation of destitute communists who had their living standards intentionally depressed by their oppressive governments.  The environmental regulations and labor costs have been the major cost drivers in this century, as it pertains to the extraction and consumption of carbon-based energy resources.  And yes, newer / faster / better technology nearly always costs more money.  When someone says something is "better", the first question you should ask is, "In what way?"  Better for the seller's bottom line?  More economical for you?

I suppose there's nothing ignorant about what those two wrote if we flippantly ignore every other factor driving economies and pretend that all the increasingly draconian environmental regulations and increasing labor costs have no effect whatsoever on what is or isn't profitable.  I would expect someone who specializes in macroeconomics to take that into consideration, but I think ideology overpowers reason more often than not.  The Chinese are building new coal-fired power plants at an astonishing rate.  If there wasn't cheap and abundant coal available to burn in them, then something tells me they wouldn't waste their time.  There's no shortage of cheap energy, only a shortage of people willing to use what they have available to achieve the goals they say they want to achieve.

We're in debt right now for three reasons:

1. Social welfare programs that have consistently failed, since the 1960's when they were implemented, to produce better economic outcomes for those receiving the handouts.  Ignorance, and I don't just mean ignorance on the part of the poor people, and/or an unwillingness to change, as required, is what keeps poor people poor.
2. Endless warfare programs that have consistently failed, since the 1920's when they were implemented, to produce better security outcomes for America.  There's no reason at all that we can't have the best military in the world at an affordable price, but that requires embracing the practical and ignoring the impractical.
3. Short-sighted thinking of businesses with executives who fail to grasp the national security implications of their behavior.  A steel company shouldn't be permitted to move their operations to China just to save a buck or two, nor should we permit cheap Chinese steel to be dumped on our market at a price below what it cost to produce, only to watch them jack up the prices as soon as they put their competitors out of business.

The cost of energy doesn't even factor into the equation.  Nobody is making us stay in Iraq and Afghanistan or a thousand other places across the planet except our politicians who don't have our best interests in mind.  Similarly, the politicians continually pushing for the expansion of the welfare state don't have anyone's best interest in mind, either.  They're suckering in poor people with promises of free crap that they know they can't deliver on.  Why?  Well, for some we seem to have a really hard time electing politicians who aren't evil little turds who want to control other people.

That's it.  That's all, folks!

I'm all for expanding the use of nuclear power, but we have too many ignorant people claiming to care about the environment to do that.  We'd have to either change their thinking, something which would require a minor miracle, or we'd have to elect politicians who actually care enough about our environmentalists to simply ignore their idiotic beliefs that solar panels and wind turbines will somehow solve all of life's energy problems, despite all evidence to the contrary.  France actually has clean electricity because they're intelligent enough to use nuclear power.  Germany is still paying lip service to the idea while they burn coal and guzzle gas from Russia and bankrupt themselves buying more solar panels and wind turbines.

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#13 2019-09-02 17:46:52

kbd512
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Registered: 2015-01-02
Posts: 2,883

Re: Is the world doomed to economic collapse

Calliban wrote:

Batteries are a poor solution for large-scale energy storage.  They are poorly efficient, have limited cycle life and significant embodied energy.  Maybe the solution is to ditch the batteries all together.  The most successful electric vehicles in the world are grid connected.  It would appear improbable that the battery electric car is a scalable solution.

Clearly, but the people you're arguing with over this point are transfixed by the promise of a magical battery technology that doesn't exist and in all probability won't exists within our lifetimes.  Energy density only has to increase by about an order of magnitude to compete with hydrocarbon fuels.  A magical new battery technology would be great, but we can't seem to make one at any cost.  We've been dumping money into this effort for decades, with very little to show for all the time and money spent.

My previously proposed solution was to start expanding the use of NH3 fuel cells and capturing the CO2 from the Haber-Bosch plants to make CF and CNT fabrics for lightweight but strong motor vehicles.  The C can be cleaved from the O2 in a single-step process that uses an EUV laser.  Thereafter, that Carbon powder becomes a high-purity salable product that requires a fraction of the energy required to dig it out of the ground and remove metal oxide impurities or oxidize fibrous material at extreme temperatures.  As always, easier to talk about than to industrialize at a global scale, but the basic process has already been proven to work.

Anyway, alkaline fuel cells use dirt cheap catalysts that we have in extreme abundance.  An alkaline NH3 fuel cell is roughly twice as efficient at converting chemical energy into mechanical work as a motor vehicle's internal combustion engine and only emits Nitrogen and water.  We probably can't use them everywhere due to Ammonia's toxicity and storage requirements, but there are plenty of heavy vehicle applications where they'd compare quite favorably to diesel or kerosene burners, such as buses / trains / airliners.  Lightweight CNT tanks would drastically improve the mass associated with LNH3 storage.

Calliban wrote:

For long-term energy storage, heat is a good option.  Deposit heat in rock or gravel using heating elements and convert it back to electric power using a boiler working on an S-CO2 cycle.  Efficiency is about 50% but embodied energy and capital cost per unit power are low.

I tend to favor molten salts and CO2 heated by solar concentrators or fission reactors with primary and secondary loops.  We already have commercial molten salt solar power plants driving supercritical CO2 through gas turbines with hot/cold side temperature deltas that never vary by more than 1F throughout a 24 hour time period.  These types of technologies work 24/7/365, unlike photovoltaic panels and wind turbines.

As I stated previously, I don't actually believe that our environmentalists want any practical solutions.

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