According to the Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2005, BP, using the 2004 data, the United States (and coastal waters) has 29.4 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and that we are currently using oil up at 6.873 billion barrels per year. This indicates that, without any imported oil, we would use up all of the American proven reserves of oil in just 4.28 years! FOUR YEARS usage is all we have, ever!
Using the 2004 data from the same Report, the United States has 5.293 trillion cubic meters of proven reserves of natural gas, and that we are currently using natural gas up at 0.647 trillion cubic meters per year. This indicates that, without any imported natural gas, we would use up all of the proven American reserves in just 8.18 years! EIGHT YEARS usage is all we have, ever!
The situation regarding known American supplies of Uranium is even more dire. We essentially already mined virtually all of it by the mid-1990s and ALL the Uranium mines were closed down! Coal seems to be the only fossil fuel that we have in relative abundance, where it would last us for around 250 years, if we remained at current consumption levels.
My web-page on those statistics is at Published Actual Energy Supplies, Coal, Oil, Natural Gas, Uranium http://mb-soft.com/public2/energysu.html
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A group of respected researchers announced in late 2007 that the ENTIRE North Polar Ice Cap will have melted by the summer of 2013!
But you can see from the figures above, we will certainly have catastrophic shortages of any or all of those energy supplies, before Congress even gets around to thinking about doing something!
So, as individuals, we will have to do it ourselves!
As an example, near Chicago, the average annual temperature is around 53°F, meaning that the deep soil will normally be near that temperature, and a "cave" down there would also naturally be around that temperature. If a house in summer is surrounded by 90°F air, and the interior house air is near that, by circulating the house air through "the cave" it can come back into the house at the 60°F (and 40% relative humidity) which is the design output of a standard air conditioner system. The same standard wall thermostat can control a blower that pushes air through "the cave" (actually clean PVC plastic sewer pipe tubes!) and the comfort level in the house is EXACTLY the same as if a conventional central A/C system were being used. You just wouldn't have to hear the noise of that fan outside and wouldn't have to watch the electric meter spinning around so fast!
In the winter, that house near Chicago sometimes has to draw in outside air that is below 0°F to heat it up to the 120°F that it might send out the warm air registers to the rooms. If the "cave" air at 53°F was heated instead, only around half the heating effort (and heating fuel) would be needed for the same comfort.
This system (and much more) is presented at:
Free Home Air Conditioning (1978, December 2000)
Now consider this: My living room, which I tend to also use as an office, is fairly large, 14 feet by 20 feet with an 8.5 foot ceiling. This is around 2400 cubic feet of air. The (giant) blower on my standard furnace circulates 2100 cubic feet per minute, and the warm air from the furnace comes out at around 120°F, nice and warm. Now, say that when I am NOT in that room for many hours (as when at work or when sleeping in a bedroom), I allowed that room to (naturally) cool down to around 45°F. And say that I greatly increased the size of the house warm air branch ducts (NOT the furnace!) and room warm air registers, and I installed "electric or pneumatic solenoids" to be able to direct ALL the furnace's 2100 cfm of warm air to that one room! You can probably see that I would only need to send around (2400 * (70 - 45) / (120 - 45) or 800 cfm of furnace air into that room to get the air temperature up to an average of 70°F! And it would only take the furnace (800 / 2100) or 0.38 minute, or 23 seconds, to do that!
See the point? On most days near Chicago, virtually NO heating is necessary to keep a room in a well-insulated house at 45° or higher, so ZERO heating fuel is involved, for the 8+ hours at work or the 8+ hours in bed in the bedroom. When first entering that (large) room, yes, there can be up to 23 seconds while the room feels cool or cold, but by 35 seconds, the room feels extremely cozy because it is actually "too warm" for a little while! (This is necessary because the new warm air in the room needs to warm up the furniture, walls, carpeting, etc in the room, and everything gets up to proper temperature quicker if the air is briefly warmer than normal. It is actually a very nice sensation, to be in a large room, in winter, that is extremely cozy!
Experience has shown that at least one bathroom should always be kept fully warmed, but all the other rooms can be "intermittently heated" in this way. The fuel savings can be amazing! If only 1/4 of the house is being heated at any one time, then only around 1/4 of the heating fuel is consumed! This means that heating bills are FAR less. Even better, only a small fraction of the fossil fuels get burned, and therefore there is less dependence on foreign fuel supplies and FAR less contribution to sending carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which is the primary cause of global warming. A win-win-win situation!
What is involved for YOU to do this? Not a lot, really. You do NOT have to get a new furnace! But MOST of the house warm air duct system and room registers would have to be replaced. You have probably seen (in your basement) some very large shiny ducts up along the ceiling (called main distribution ducts) which are often 8" high and 20" wide. You may have also noticed that they have lots of LITTLE (round) ducts branch off of them which go to the various room registers. All those little ducts would need to be replaced with the "giant" rectangular main distribution ducts (and suitable giant registers provided in the rooms). The duct system needs to have a way to send ALL of the warm air the furnace can provide to a single room, to be able to heat it up really fast!
You probably realize that each room then also needs its own wall thermostat, absolutely standard products. The only remaining part of the system are the "gates" that need to get put inside the ducts, to block off heat from going to most of the rooms and to only open when you want a room heated. It turns out that all automobiles use a wonderful method of accomplishing that! When you slide the dashboard heater control to Heat, or Defrost, or Fresh Air, or A/C, there are actually "pneumatic" (air-powered, or actually vacuum-powered) dampers that open and close the necessary air paths. This technology is at least 50 years old and well developed! Adapting it to the much larger house ducts is not difficult, and quite inexpensive! There are also other ways to do the same thing. Electrical solenoids could be used (since just a yes/no airflow is desired) but some solenoids can make loud noises due to their rapid and powerful motions, but they are only a few dollars each. A very expensive way to go would be to use commercial damper actuators (at $100 or more each), which we do NOT recommend due to the cost. Such devices are silent and open and close air paths slowly, but they are primarily intended for installations where ducts may need to stay partially open. That is not necessary for this system!
Now, I have found that a couple of added features make this system a lot more user-friendly! I found that sensors on doorknobs, to initiate the heating of the room, get medium-sized rooms nicely heated in just the 6 or 8 seconds between touching the doorknob and sitting down in a chair in the room. This minimizes the sensation of being briefly chilly. I found that it is a good idea to delay (completely) shutting off the heat to a room for at least 2 to 5 minutes, for when you go to the kitchen for a snack during TV commercials or need to use the bathroom!
There are a few disadvantages to this system. Live house plants do NOT like the great temperature ranges they would have to endure, and they don't! Most pets do not seem to mind too much, but the fact that doors to rooms all normally stay closed for this to work limits their movements, and they generally seem to enjoy staying in a warmed room. The pet owner would need to decide if one room should stay heated while at work during the daytime, which otherwise would not be necessary.
There is a POSSIBLE disadvantage that could be more serious. It may be useful to repaint the interiors of all the rooms! There is a special shellac-based type of primer paint which stops all moisture from penetrating the wall surfaces (and then normal can be painted over the top of that shellac Primer. The reason this can be important is not necessarily obvious. When the walls of a room are rather suddenly heated from 45°F to 70°F or above, on a regular basis, the Indoor Relative Humidity can change very rapidly in the room, which could force moisture either into or out of the walls. If such moisture were allowed to regularly be penetrating the wall surfaces, combined with a slight expansion and contraction of the wall materials with the heat changes, it could be possible that hairline cracks might form between sheets of drywall. By using the shellac-based primer paint, this possibility should be eliminated, and also house humidity levels should be more easily maintained, too.
There is another effect which can be minor or major. The room that you are normally in has air where moisture has been added. It is healthy to keep the IRH (indoor relative humidity) above 30% and even near 40%. This IRH value is true at the warmed air temperature in that room. When some of that air goes into other (unheated) parts of the house, for scientific reasons, the IRH rapidly increases. If enough of that humidified air is able to get into an unheated room, the IRH can get to be 100%. You have seen this happen in a basement in summer, when warm air from outdoors gets near the cold basement walls or floor, and there is condensation that occurs. Under certain conditions (which can be avoided), such condensation could occur in unheated rooms as described above.
It is a separate building that is used to provide enough heat (through underground passages) to the house for most or all of the house's heating needs.
That system also provides for all the air conditioning the house could possibly need! Best of all, it is absolutely invisible, being entirely UNDER the basement floor! (That storage could actually store heat from many different energy sources, and not just natural summer solar energy, such as a woodstove.
C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago