Heating in a Post-Oil Age World

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Without oil and coal it could be rather cold prospects as wood is no longer plentiful and also does not have the same BTU as coal or oil.

While wood and peat was the heat source before coal and oil it was also a case of much fewer people on this Planet then compared with today and we would not have enough firewood to go around today to meet all the demand, for it is not just heating homes that is the issue.

So, what now?

And the truth is that I do not know the answer to this and thus will be playing with some issues and possibilities here, in the absence of a working crystal ball that could tell us the future and the how to do it without oil and coal.

All I can say is that wood, being probably basically the only heating material around after the oil and other fossil fuels are gone, will be unable to fulfill the needs of everyone.

Already in the winters of 2008/2009 and 2009/2010, in the UK, it was necessary to import firewood from as far afield as Poland and the Ukraine because our own woodlands could not supply the demand.

The main reason for that failure to be able to supply, however, was not so much a lack of suitable wood but the fact that the majority of woodland owners do not, presently, manage their woods in any way, shape or form. Thus the wood falls and rots and that's about it.

Actually, that too creates an environmental problem in that the decaying wood not only releases carbon back into the air but a gas many times more dangerous to the Planet; methane.

It is the woodland management – or lack of it – that needs changing first and foremost and even then we may still have problems unless we can get super-efficient stoves for cooking and heating.

There is a great deal of wood that could be used but which is not turned into firewood (or any other use for that matter). Instead it is left as the now discredited “habitat piles” or otherwise left laying about where it releases, as said, both the carbon that it has stored during the lifetime of the tree and methane, while it decays.

Therefore, even from an environmental standpoint it would be much better to burn it as a heat source as that way only carbon is released and not methane. The latter being reckoned to be up to 20x more dangerous a greenhouse gas than carbon.

When it comes to hating our buildings – homes, offices, etc. – after oil we also and foremost must insulate them so that the heat loss is reduced to an absolute minimum and that they retain heat. We may, however, have to redesign many of them.

Lots of glass, for instance, even if it is triple-glazed, does not make for an efficient building, as far as heat retention is concerned.

It was proven in a study done on old offices in Canada that the smaller, recessed windows are better in keeping the heat in in winter and also in keeping the buildings cooler in summer.

Looks a bit as if the architects of the 19th century knew more than we give them credit for. It is then time, I think, that we rethought the way that we design and build, pardon the pun, buildings.

Many years ago now I encountered some forestry houses in Britain and especially in Central Europe that were built to work well in cold and heat.

Heating was by wood, and on those houses in Central Europe, via a Kachelofen, a brick and tile built stove in the corner of the main room, and hot air was “piped” into every room via channels in the walls. And those walls were about two feet thick and windows were well recessed into the walls.

Those buildings were cool in the summer's heat a cozy warm in the deepest of winters.

Maybe our architects could take some lessens from how those old ones did things and designed and build houses and other buildings.

Let us remember that the old Romans already had underfloor heating in the fist century AD. Something that had to be “rediscovered” by us as all that knowledge was lost in the Dark Ages.

If we can insulate our building properly then keeping warm in a post oil world for all of us might work out; if not, I think, we are screwed.

As far as heat source, in the after oil and other fossil fuel age is concerned, firewood is one and a proven one but we must also find others and methane gas, produced via disgesters, might be one option.

Geothermal, if we really can make it work, could be an additional option in some places but whether it is a possibility in all areas is questionable.

We better get down to developing those options now and that rather pronto before things go south. Hanging about too long could leave us up the creek without a paddle and in a leaking canoe to boot and could cost the lives of many people.

As far as I can see geothermal is still a long way from being anything like really mainstream though waste incinerating combined heat and power plants (CHP plants) could be a viable option in and for the cities.

The end of oil, and other fossil fuels, could leave us very much out in the cold and in the cold even indoors if we are not careful and don't act now.

First of we need to insulate the buildings while at the same time developing additional sources of heating. Also at the same time we must develop our woodlands and bring them back into proper management and then we must develop the right kind of super-efficient wood heating and cooking stoves that will make it possible to use wood. Combine that with the other sources, such as methane gas production and we may just about get somewhere.

But, we must not lose any more time.

© 2010

To learn more about Peak Oil, how it could affect you and what a society post Oil Age might look like get and read the book “The End of Oil”. You can obtain the book via http://the-end-of-oil.blogspot.com/