Monday, January 26, 2015

Kansas City area getting huge new electric car charging network - 1000+ charging stations, including fast charging

The Kansas City metropolitan area is one of America's Big Cities, but for some reason it's electric car charging network has been limited in number, with very few fast charging stations.  All that's about to change thanks to a new joint announcement from ChargePoint and Kansas City Power And Light.  KCP&L is committed to installing more than 1,000 charging stations, with more than 2,000 charging ports, in the Greater Kansas City area, making it the largest deployment of charging stations by an electric utility (to date) in the U.S.

The laws in Kansas and Missouri must be a little different California's.  In California it's a breakthrough thing that some electric utilities are planning to directly own public charging stations, while the press release for the KCP&L deal describes this as normal.  In addition, browsing the PlugShare map for Kansas I see that Westar Energy owns several public charging stations between Kansas City and Wichita.  What's normal there is ground breaking in California?

Anyway, back to the KCP&L Clean Charge Network, as they call it.  Here's the map.

This is showing great coverage additions to the core of Kansas City Missouri, and in Johnson County Kansas, along with strings of charging station coverage for some outlying cities.  Marysville is quite a ways north of the KC area.

A much-needed thing is the addition of several fast charging stations in the region.  Currently, according to PlugShare, the whole area has one single solitary fast charging (CHAdeMO) station.

The new stations include 15 fast charging stations, supplied by Nissan.  I've asked for clarification of this next bit, because it's confusing when they say "which will charge any model of electric vehicle on the market".  In theory those words mean these stations will support both the CHAdeMO and Combo Charging Systems charging protocols.  But it's Nissan who is providing the equipment, a company that's in the CHAdeMO camp.  On the other hand Nissan's representatives say in public that we need to deploy dual protocol equipment for the betterment of the whole industry.  Perhaps they mean what the words say, and these are dual protocol stations.  I've sent ChargePoint a query for clarification, and will post it when that's available. UPDATE: ChargePoint responded saying that yes, indeed, the fast chargers will support both dual protocol CHADEMO and ComboCharging System.

According to the press release these stations will already have begun - "Installation of the charging stations began in late 2014" - and will be finished this summer.  This isn't KCP&L's first charging station deployment. In 2011 they deployed 10 charging stations, working with the Kansas City Regional Clean Cities Coalition, and since then their Smart Grid experiments have resulted in further charging station deployments.

According to the map all the fast charging stations will be next to well known destinations like the main library, the Plaza garage (the Plaza is a major shopping area), other shopping like the Price Chopper  in Blue Springs or the Starbucks in Olathe.


Oil bomb trains coming to backyards across America says 350.org at meeting in San Jose CA

A big deal is being made over approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that's meant to carry tar sands oil from Alberta down to the Gulf Coast for refining and shipping to the global oil market.  Environmental groups like 350.org are raising a stink about the project, saying that it will a "carbon bomb" because the tar sands oil is the most carbon intensive oil resource on the planet.  A sideshow to that project is not other pipelines, but the other methods oil companies are using to ship oil from both Alberta and the fracking fields of North Dakota to market.  Such as the mile-long oil trains hauling DOT-111 tanker cars full of crude oil.

In some circles these trains are known as bomb trains, because when the trains derail (as happens from time to time) they have a tendency to blow up with devastating consequences.  

Because bomb trains are set to start rolling through San Jose and other areas of the SF Bay Area, today I attended a meeting, sponsored by 350.org and ForestEthics.org, which discussed those plans.

The concern is a proposal by a Phillips Petroleum refinery in San Luis Obispo County that wishes to start importing crude oil from either the Bakken or Alberta Tar Sands, refine it, then sell it to the global oil market.  Under the plan the refinery will receive 5 oil trains a week, each hauling 80 tanker cars of crude oil.

You might ask, where does the SF Bay Area fit into this picture?  Why do we care what San Luis Obispo County does or doesn't do?

The issue is that those trains will travel along tracks that go through the heart of San Jose.  The same tracks carry the local AMTRAK lines, some commuter rail services, and various freight trains.  The route goes through other parts of the SF Bay Area, across the Central Valley, then north either through the Dunsmuir gap or the Feather River Valley.  The last two are in the mountains, with Dunsmuir being just south of Mt. Shasta, and the Feather River Valley being one of the routes across the Sierra Nevada Mountains and into Nevada.

Both the Dunsmuir and Feather River rail lines have seen numerous train derailments, some of which have been serious ecological disasters.  The Feather River feeds Lake Oroville, which supplies water to 25 million Californians, and contains some old creaky ancient rail infrastructure built in extremely rugged terrain.   The Dunsmuir route is in a river valley feeding Lake Shasta, which itself supplies water to many Californians.

The risk - an oil train explosion in Downtown San Jose for example, or above Lake Oroville, or anywhere - begs a question - how likely is this to happen?  I don't have figures for the rate of train derailments, but I do know that shipping crude oil by train has jumped 4000% between 2008 and 2013.  In 2013 there were about 10,000 rail cars of crude oil shipped by train and in 2013 it was 407,000 rail cars.  With that increase in shipping oil by train, the number of oil train derailments will also increase.  Further, the continued success with blocking oil pipeline projects means the oil companies can only turn to oil trains to get their product to market.

It's already been clear the oil companies will just find other ways to bring tar sands and Bakken oil to the market if the pipelines are blocked.  Oil trains are just one of those methods.

To give an idea of the extent of oil shipments by rail look at these maps which come from a website created by Forest Ethics - http://explosive-crude-by-rail.org/


These yellow lines are train routes being used (or will be used) by oil trains.  This is going EVERYWHERE .. in back yards all across America.


This is the California and Nevada exposure to the oil trains.

Then to see what the concern is about we zoom way in, and also show the legend at the bottom.  The red zone is a 1/2 mile radius from the track which would see a huge exposure during any oil train accident (and therefore be subject to mandatory evacuation) while the yellow zone will have a smaller impact.

It's not clear from the website - but these maps are probably not showing actual current oil by rail shipments, because there aren't shipments currently occurring through the SF Bay Area.  But, Forest Ethics has an inventory of proposed and approved projects that would require oil by rail shipments.  Therefore these maps must be the potential extent of the proposed system.

 In any case, take the map on their website and zoom around the country.  You'll see oil train routes through major metropolitan areas - downtown Chicago for instance, and elsewhere.

The meeting I attended today had the flavor of a "Not In My Back Yard" (NIMBY) outrage.  The sort of meeting where a group of local citizens ban together to block a project from ruining their back yard.  But the extent of these oil by rail shipments affect the backyards of tens of millions of people across the U.S. and Canada.

The problems with this are:

  • Continues the pattern of investment in fossil fuel resources and infrastructure - hence the continued dependence on fossil fuels
  • Grave effects when these trains derail and explode

The crude oil coming from the Alberta Tar Sands and the Bakken is more explosive than regular crude oil, according to a report from August 2013.  Some oil processing companies are worried about the corrosive chemicals being used could damage the equipment.

Even if an oil train derailment doesn't result in an explosion and fire, you are talking about a spill of crude oil that's more toxic than normal.  Normal crude oil is already poisonously toxic with a witches brew of carcinogenic chemicals.  As we just noted, this crude oil contains even more toxicity.

The danger is amplified by the sort of rail cars being used.  The DOT-111 rail cars weren't designed for shipping crude oil, and the U.S. Dept of Transportation has been trying for yeas to get the rail industry to stop using these cars.  It's well known that in accidents the DOT-111 cars are prone to breaking, leaking, their contents, and when the contents is a highly explosive liquid fires and explosions can easily occur.

But the rail industry has refused .. because .. wait for it ... it would be too expensive to switch to safer rail cars.

The whole story is another example of how our collective dependence on fossil fuels are causing immense problems.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

BMW, VW, ChargePoint East-West-Coast fast charging network won't solve standards war against Mitsu, Nissan, Kia and Tesla

Why should Tesla Model S owners be the only EV owners capable of taking long distant trips?  What's needed is fast charging infrastructure located along highways between major cities supporting cars other than Tesla's.  Existing DCFC infrastructure for the rest of us is only been located inside cities, and not between cities (with few exceptions).  For example, by my calculation driving a CHAdeMO vehicle like my Kia Soul EV from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles is possible, but the trip would require 18 hours because the first CHAdeMO station is in Santa Barbara.

Today an announcement from BMW, Volkswagen and ChargePoint aims to change all that.  The companies are teaming up to deploy a DC Fast Charging network along corridors between major cities on the East Coast and West Coast.

In essence it would take the "West Coast Electric Highway" concept, extending it beyond Oregon and Washington State.

The plan is to install about 100 DC Fast Charging stations, for a start, then expand it later, it seems.  The relevant sentence in the press release isn't quite worded well, but it makes sense they wouldn't stop at 100 stations.  Tesla Motors is certainly demonstrating the large number of fast charging stations required to cover the country.

The regions to start with are:

  • East Coast: the I-95 corridor between Washington DC and Boston, 
  • West Coast: the metropolitan areas stretching from San Diego to Portland.  (sounds like the I-5 corridor)
West Coast locations are already being installed, with one having already been built in San Diego. They expect to use convenient locations such restaurants, shopping centers, rest stops, and more

There will be two kinds of installations - 50 kW stations and 24 kW stations.  The latter will be the BMW-designed units unveiled last summer.

Let's get to the pink elephant standing here which the press release does not cover: CHAdeMO.

Since it is BMW and VW teaming up with ChargePoint, all the verbiage in the press release and the accompanying pictures show the BMW i3, VW e-Golf, and ComboCharging System charging ports.  The question is whether they'll ignore CHAdeMO and build CCS-only infrastructure.

According to ChargePoint, the answer to that depends on the charging equipment at each location.

The 24 kW stations, which will be located in "towns ... away from the main corridors", will only support the Combo Charging System.  That's because the 24 kW units are the ones designed by BMW, which can only support CCS.

The 50 kW stations are what will be installed on the primary highway corridors.  These will be hardware which supports multiple charge cords, probably ABB's charging stations.  Meaning, that the 50 kW stations will be capable of supporting CHAdeMO.

That means a glimmer of a possibility that the infrastructure will support CHAdeMO.  But we shouldn't take it as a given until the hardware starts being built.

The problem is the long standing battle over DC Fast Charging standards.  Where the industry settled on a common level 2 charging protocol, there are several fast charging standards.   CHAdeMO is the most widely deployed, has the largest number of compatible EV's in the field, and is adopted primarily by the Japanese EV makers.  Tesla's SuperCharger is adopted only by Tesla Motors, and the company is building out stations across North America, Europe, China and Australia (so far).  The Combo Charging System was standardized by the SAE, is largely adopted by the German and U.S. EV makers, and has so far seen little deployment and there aren't many CCS-compatible cars in the field.

As VW, BMW and other car makers finally get around to selling CCS-compatible cars we expect the market numbers to tilt to CCS.  Maybe.  Depends on a lot of factors.

Because of these battling fast charging standards, the DC Fast Charging infrastructure isn't as useful as it could be.  An EV owner cannot just go to any fast charging station, they have to understand the difference between different charging cords, and choose the correct station for their car.

The disunity between CHAdeMO and CCS had been somewhat acceptable because ABB and other charging station makers have designed dual-protocol units.  That meant an EV owner can drive up to a fast charging station and use the appropriate cord.

But - if BMW and VW don't allow CHAdeMO cords on the 50 kW stations, the EV owners won't have the flexibility of being able to use the appropriate cord because it simply won't be there.

This move by BMW and VW, to make it CCS-preferenced infrastructure, doesn't help the overall problem.  Rather than reducing the number of fast charging systems on the market, it cements the current situation of competing standards in which EV owners lose.

What happened to the 1 million EV's by 2015 promised by Obama?

In the 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama boasted that we'd have 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015.  As I noted in my last post, it's 2015 and we're nowhere near that goal.  What happened?

I think Obama over-reached ... but there is this little matter of a 2012 Dept of Energy report saying the manufacturing capacity was there to produce the EV's needed to reach the goal.

The DoE report suggested that by 2012 GM would be selling 100,000 Volt's a year, Nissan selling a similar number of Leaf's a year, and there would be some other vehicles on the market as well.    If that woulda happened, we'd be a lot closer to 1 million BEV's and PHEV's on the road, than the 280,000 estimated to have been sold in the U.S. so far.

Sales of the Chevy Volt are shrinking, with lots fewer sold in 2014 than in 2013.   I (and others) have noted that GM's marketing of the Volt is an abysmal failure.  Between that and the Spark-EV-compliance-car and Cadillac ELR both selling in minuscule quantities, one has to wonder if GM is at all interested in any kind of leadership position in electric vehicles.

The Volt did see a lot of political backlash in 2011-12 - being made into a Presidential Politics football.  It's a good car and doesn't deserve this treatment.  Then there was the matter of the single Volt car fire following a crash test, which became part of that political firestorm.

At the time neither issue seemed to affect Volt sales - they increased from 2012 to 2013.  Whatever caused the falloff occurred after 2013.  Maybe it's expectation of the Volt2 that dried up interest?  Or relative price benefit of the all-electric Leaf?  At a 20,000 Volt's per year the sales rate is a far cry from the 65,000 per year former GM CEO Dan Akerson predicted, or the 100,000 per year predicted by the DoE.

The Nissan Leaf is in a different situation, having steadily growing sales figures.  There was a stumble in 2011 when, in the aftermath of the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear plant meltdown, Nissan had trouble building Leaf's and keeping up with worldwide demand.  In 2013 the company not only revamped the Leaf, giving it some much-needed improvements, they also began manufacturing operations in both Europe and Tennessee.  That gave a price advantage allowing Nissan to offer the Leaf at reasonable prices.

But the 30,000+ per year sales rate isn't enough to have reached a 1 million total this year, or any time soon.

Of the other automakers, only Tesla (Model S) and BMW (i3) are selling a significant number of electric vehicles.   The Model S was delayed from its initial launch date, and the company is pushing for sales in countries around the world rather than solely in the U.S.  BMW is taking great strides with the BMW i3, though it just began deliveries in early 2014.  We should look to this car to increase the total rate of EV sales.

Getting back to the question at the top - Why are we such a long ways off from the 1 million EV goal?

On one hand it's clear the automakers weren't all as enthusiastic about that goal as President Obama.  Tesla and Nissan are on board, but can we say this about the others?

The automakers can't sell cars if the customers aren't there.  As I noted the other day, car buyers have high expectations for electric vehicles, and the current crop of cars don't meet those expectations.  Only Tesla Motors delivers an electric car with the range and charging speed desired by car buyers, but at a price few people can afford.  In a way it's surprising that Tesla's cars are selling so well given the limited market because of their price.

If we think back to the uptake of the Toyota Prius - it's now a highly popular car, but that wasn't true for the first generation Prius.  It wasn't until Toyota unveiled the GenII Prius that sales took off.

The same could well be happening in the BEV and PHEV market.  The current crop of cars are still the first generation, and the second generation vehicles aren't due until 2016-17-18.  The second generation should have the 200ish mile driving range and fast charging to satisfy car buyer expectations.

At the same time, Obama is no longer pounding his chest about electric vehicles and green technology like he'd done in 2009-10.  Instead, the last couple years he's been boasting about oil production increases coming from fracking.

While the climate fries, Obama boasts he's the Fracker in Chief, barely mentions clean energy technology

The other day, President Obama gave the 2015 State of the Union speech before Congress, the newly Republican Controlled Congress.  Where Obama focused on the value of middle class economics, that is focusing on the needs of the middle class and strengthening the middle class, did he talk the things we care about on The Long Tail Pipe?  Electric vehicles and clean energy technology?  Not really.

Before we get to that let's take a not-quite-detour into Obama's boasts about success in the War on Terror.  That war is really a part of the global oil war, because the terrain being fought over has large oil reserves.  The people of the Middle East are, after all, upset angry etc at the U.S. (and generally speaking The West) over our meddling with their politics, our occupation of their lands, and the practices used by Western Military in Iraq and elsewhere.  For example the egregiously horrible torture regime at Abu Ghraib and other facilities horrified and angered the Middle East.   Our purpose for invading the Middle East, toppling the Government of Iraq, etc, was about gaining access to oil fields in Iraq for Western Oil Companies.

With that in mind consider the rebuttal of Obama's boasts by MSNBC Chief Foreign Correspondant Richard Engel.  He was of course on camera from somewhere in Turkey, and pointed out that Obama wasn't describing the reality-on-the-ground in the fight against ISIS but at best was describing his aspirations.  Obama said we're not being dragged into another ground war in Iraq, when the truth is, as Engel pointed out, there are now 2000+ newly landed US Troops in Iraq.   And about having success at stopping ISIS, that's not true either.  For every ISIS soldier killed by Western Bombing of ISIS, Engel cited military sources to say ISIS was recruiting two new soldiers.

This fight in the Middle East, over access to oil fields, is just one of the many reasons that we collectively need to abandon the use of fossil fuels.  It is a moral weight on all of us.  We are collectively responsible for the pain and suffering being inflicted on the people in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.  That pain and suffering is in the name of bringing gasoline and other fossil oil products to Western countries.

Obama boasted "we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years" and of "booming energy production" while at the same time the economy is booming and gaining jobs faster than any time since 1999.   How did that come about?  Fracking.

He suggested we could "reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet".  How?  My preference for that combination of results is to eliminate fossil fuel consumption while switching to electric cars and electrifying everything else that relies on fossil fuels and massive scale adoption of renewable energy technology.  But that's not what Obama meant.

Instead:  "And today, America is number one in oil and gas."  How?  Fracking.  Oh, yes, he did say also "America is number one in wind power.  Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008."   But he immediately returned to oil industry successes saying "And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save about $750 at the pump."

That was the sole mention of renewable energy technology - sandwiched in between two big boasts about improvements in fossil fuel production.

As we noted a couple weeks ago, lower gasoline prices isn't due to any action of any branch of the US Government, it's due to OPEC deciding to not reduce oil production and flooding the market with oil.  Why?  To engage in a global price war to try and bankrupt the companies which frack for oil.

Maybe Obama didn't mention electric cars because then he'd have to face up to the reality of the rate of adoption.  Back in 2010 or so Obama exuberantly called for 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015, right?  Well, it's now 2015 and we're a little short of the mark.  It's more like 250,000 plug-in electric cars (BEV and PHEV) on American roads.

Yes, Obama made an important statement about Climate Change.  Last year, 2014, was the warmest year on record, following several other warmest years on record.  Climate change threatens to wreak havoc around the world.  It's a serious issue and we need there to be serious action to change our ways quickly to avert a major crisis.  He said all that, and it was a good statement.

That means, Mr. Obama, that instead of boasting about huge increases in fossil fuel production and falling gasoline prices, that you should be ashamed over that result.  You should be hanging your head in shame over not promoting the green energy green jobs revolution as you did in 2009.  

That the rate of solar power systems and wind power systems installation is going up is a good thing.  Those are jobs desperately needed in America.  The result is exactly what we need, and we need more of this.  The last thing we need is increased fossil fuel production, because it's fossil fuels that are causing huge problems.  

It's not just the climate change and the moral weight of the wars we are inflicting on the oil producing regions.  Also in the news right now is another large oil spill in the Yellowstone River in Montana.  That's the second spill into that river over the last five years, each from a burst oil pipeline.  This time, because it's winter, the river is frozen over complicating efforts to stop the oil from spreading.  The side effect is that water supplies to many towns along the river are now fouled, and they're having to truck in bottled water from elsewhere.

Mr. Obama - we did not elect you to be the Fracker In Chief, we elected you because of a promised clean energy revolution, green jobs, green technology and electric vehicles.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Prospective electric car buyers want longer range, faster charging, and no price premium

Is the electric car inevitable?  With lower gasoline prices currently I'm seeing news articles going both ways, some predicting the rate of electric car adoption will be hurt, while others say lower gasoline prices won't harm the adoption rate because there are other advantages.  Who can predict the future?  However, over the years many studies of consumer adoption preferences have been conducted which give some insights into the eventual inevitability of electric cars.

I'm interested in this question currently, and am starting a series of posts reviewing of some of these studies.

Tonight I have a study from 2011 by Deloitte and Touche.  It's a global survey of consumer expectations about electric cars and the reality (as of 2011) of their technological capabilities.

Of course a lot of EV history has gone under the bridge since 2011, the survey period was November 2010 to May 2011 matching up with the initial launch period of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt and Mitsubishi i-MiEV.  While that was a long time ago in EV years, the survey results still have some relevance to today's market.


The survey had a truly global scope, and it's interesting to ponder the relative interest shown in various countries.  Turkey has such a huge interest, more than in the U.S.?

Who are the likely EV buyers?  It's the highly educated people who know more about them than the average person.  In other words, the Early Adopters.  Over time the EV market has to move on to the Fast Followers, which may already be underway.

Range:  While it's well known average daily driving (in the U.S.) is about 40 miles per day, prospective EV drivers think the range has to be at least 300 miles.

Charging Time: We need charging time to be as fast as possible, and that's what the survey showed.  Most desire 2 hours or less charging time, with a significant number expecting a 30 minute or less charging time.

Purchase Price and Price Premium:  The survey showed that consumers are not willing to pay a price premium, and therefore want electric car prices to match the price of equivalent gasoline cars.

Fact is that between government subsidies (tax credits) and the cost savings (electricity is a far cheaper fuel than gasoline) from owning an electric car, the price premium mostly evaporates.  But the complexity of that discussion is hard to convey in short chunks.  I ended up writing 1500+ words the other night on that very topic - after cleaning it up, I hope to get that out sometime soon.

Gasoline price:  The study shows that consumers are more interested in EV's when gasoline prices are high.

Fact is, however, that electricity as a fuel equates to about $0.80 a gallon gasoline.  This is another topic that's hard to convey in a short chunk, however.  While gasoline prices have fallen a lot, they're not going to $0.80 a gallon, meaning electricity is a lot cheaper a fuel still.  But the more gasoline prices the smaller the gap between electricity and gasoline fuel costs, and the less an advantage EV owners have.  Until the gasoline price flies upward again, as it will.

Fuel Efficiency: Governments around the world are mandating increased fuel efficiency, and the automakers are working to get ahead of the mandates.  They see the writing on the wall, and would rather be writing their own destiny than having governments pushing them with mandates.  The survey showed that as fuel efficiency rises consumer interest in electric vehicles wanes.

Taken together, Deloitte claims that given the limitations and price of the current crop of electric vehicles, only 2-4% of car buyers would find EV's acceptable.  Okay, sure, we understand that.  In fact it would be way cool if 2-4% of current car buyers were buying electric vehicles, because that would be a huge jump in adoption by itself.  It also shows the distance the EV market has to go in improving the technology to meet consumer expectations.

At the end of the day humanity needs to fundamentally change transportation, switching away from fossil fuels.  That means convincing a lot of people to adopt these things, which in turn means either educating the population as to what they really need, or developing EV's to where they satisfy consumer expectations.  Not all of the consumer expectations named above are rational, but people still want the driving range and recharging experience to match gasoline cars.

Read the full study on greentransportation.info.

What do you think?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fracking, as a peak oil symptom, dictates complete financial collapse unless "we" wean ourselves off fossil fuels

What's the driving force of the economy?  That is, what is it that gives value to our money?  Yes, the value of money is based on agreements such as international money exchanges through FOREX desks, but what's the underlying force giving value to money?  Let me suggest that it is oil and other fossil fuels.

In our current societal structure - oil and other fossil fuels are what drive the machines that cause the economic activities that create profits for corporations, taxes for governments, and wages for the workers.  Money wouldn't have value if it wasn't the token of economic activities that are enabled by fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are a leveraging of energy to extract more energy from fossilized hydrocarbons.  The energy expenditure to extract raw fossil fuels is repaid with an immensely larger quantity of energy, thanks to the very high fossilized hydrocarbon energy density.  The phrase is:  Energy Return On Investment (EROI)

Well -- that's true for traditional fossilized hydrocarbon sources.  For example the old oil fields where you metaphorically stick a straw in the ground out comes a bubbling crude - oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.  You find a gusher and it doesn't matter if you're a hillbilly from the sticks, you get your mansion in Beverly Hills.  Or, so went the hype.

But, that myth is slowly becoming false.

The process is called Peak Oil, and it also applies to natural gas, or coal, or any other extractively consumed resource.  Copper has become expensive, for a similar reason.

Namely, as "we" consume a resource it is the easiest-to-extract sources that are tapped first.  In the Oil Age that was the big oil fields in Texas, the Persian Gulf, and some other places.  But as oil is pumped out of an oil field, there comes a tipping point where it becomes hard to extract that oil.  "Hard" as in it takes more work to extract the same amount of oil -- "work" meaning energy.  The tar sands, the deepwater drilling, the fracking, all that is very energy intensive.  The ratio of energy gained to energy expended starts to shrink.  Further, as this plays out over all the oil fields in a region or around the world you can build a statistical model that looks like a mountain.

Until 2006 or so the worlds oil companies were climbing the slope of oil production, increasing the production rate to meet demand every year.  But around 2006 they were no longer able to continue increasing production, from normal oil fields, using normal oil production technologies.  That point is the peak of oil production.

Since then, to keep increasing total oil production the oil companies have had to turn to ever more difficult, energy intensive, methods like deepwater drilling and fracking.

A similar story has occurred in the natural gas industry.  In 2005 the pundits were saying natural gas was doomed to declining production.  But now thanks to fracking the U.S. is so much awash in natural gas that liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals are being built, and the government wants to use LNG from fracked fields as a political tool to undermine Russia's dominance over the natural gas market in Europe.

But that these companies are turning to expensive energy intensive technologies like fracking is a symptom of resource depletion.  Further the ratio of energy gained to energy expended is shrinking.

It's that ratio - the energy gained from extracting fossil fuels - that drives the engine of the economy.  The investment to extract fossil fuels isn't giving the same payoff we enjoyed a few years ago.

Hence, can we expect more economic problems as fossil fuels become ever more difficult to extract and more expensive?  Is it a coincidence that we've had nonstop global economic trouble since 2006?

But wait, you're saying, in early 2015 as I write this, the price of gasoline has fallen to the lowest point in many years.  Doesn't that prove me wrong?

No.

The current price of gasoline in early 2015 is due to OPEC price manipulation in an effort to destroy the companies that are fracking.  OPEC is flooding the market with oil causing the price to fall, just like a price war between feuding gasoline station owners.  At these low prices the companies depending on fracking can't compete, and are folding up shop.  I'm confident that by 2016-7 OPEC will change its tune and oil prices will go back up.  Further, the facts of oil extraction I laid out above dictate that over the long term the price for fossil fuel resources is only going up.  There may be short term price manipulations, as is going on now, but it's the long term trend that dictates our future.

Our future is that fossil fuels will become scarce and expensive.

And therefore the economy will become worthless unless the economy unhooks itself from fossil fuel dependency.