Renewables

Is a 100% Renewable Energy World Possible?

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on May 19, 2016

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A poll among experts…and YOU TOO!

Take the Renewable Energy Survey HERE

 

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I am reporting here the results of a small survey that I carried out last week among the members of a discussion forum; mainly experts in renewable energy (*). It was a very informal poll; not meant to have statistical value. But some 70 people responded out of a total of 167 members; so I think these results have a certain value in telling us how the experts feel in this field. And I was surprised by the remarkable optimism that resulted from the poll.

This is what I asked the members of the list

The question is about  the possibility of a society not too different from ours (**) but 100% based on renewable energy sources, and on the possibility of obtaining it before it is too late to avoid the climate disaster. This said, what statement best describes your position?

1.  It is impossible for technical reasons. (Renewables have too low EROEIs, need too large amounts of natural resources, we'll run out of fossil fuels first, climate change will destroy us first, etc.)

2. It is technically possible but so expensive to be unthinkable.

3. It is technically possible and not so expensive to be beyond our means. However, it is still expensive enough that most likely people will not want to pay the costs of the transition before it will be too late to achieve it, unless we move to a global emergency status.

4. It is technically possible and inexpensive enough that it can be done smoothly, by means of targeted government intervention, such as a carbon tax.

5. It is technically possible and technological progress will soon make it so inexpensive that normal market mechanisms will bring us there nearly effortlessly.

As I said, it was a very informal poll and these questions could have been phrased differently, and probably in a better way. And, indeed, many people thought that their position was best described by something intermediate, some saying, for instance, "I am between 4 and 5". Because of this, it was rather difficult to make a precise counting of the results. But the trend was clear anyway.

Out of some 70 answers, the overwhelming majority was for option 4, that is, the transition is not only technologically possible, but within reach at a reasonable cost and fast enough to avoid major damage from climate change. The second best choice was option 3 (the transition is possible but very expensive). Only a few respondents say that the transition is technologically impossible without truly radical changes of society. Some opted for option 5, even suggesting an "option 6", something like "it will be faster than anyone expects".

I must confess that I was a little surprised by this diffuse optimism, being myself set on option 3. In part, it is because I tend to frequent "doomer" groups, but also on the basis of the quantitative calculations that I performed with some colleagues. But I think that these results are indicative of a trend that's developing among energy experts. It is an attitude that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but the experts are clearly perceiving the rapid strides forward of renewable technologies and reacting accordingly. They feel that there is a concrete chance to be able to create a cleaner world fast enough to avoid the worst.

I understand that this is the opinion of just a tiny group of experts, I understand that experts may well be wrong, I understand that there exist such things as the "bandwagon effect" and the "confirmation bias." I know all this. Yet, I believe that, in the difficult situation in which we find ourselves, we can't go anywhere if we keep telling people that we are doomed, no matter what we do. What we need in order to keep going and fight the climate crisis is a healthy dose of hope and of optimism. And these results show that there is hope, that there is reason for optimism. Whether the transition will turn out to be very difficult, or not so difficult, it seems to be within reach if we really want it.

(*) Note: the forum mentioned in this post is a private discussion group meant to be a tool for professionals in renewable energy. It is not a place to discuss whether renewable energy is a good thing or not, nor to discuss such thing as the incoming near term extinction of humankind and the like. Rather, the idea of the forum is to discuss how to make the renewable energy transition happen as fast as possible; hopefully fast enough to avoid a climate disaster. If you are interested in joining this forum, please write me privately at ugo.bardi(zingything)unifi.it telling me in a few lines who you are and why you would like to join. It is not necessary that you are a researcher or a professional. People of good will who think they have something to contribute to the discussion are welcome.

(**) The concept of a society "not too different from ours" is left purposefully vague, because it is, obviously subjected to many different interpretations.Personally, I would tend to define it in terms of what such a society would NOT be. A non-exhaustive list could be, in no particular order,
 

  • Not a Mayan style theocracy, complete with human sacrifices
  • Not a military dictatorship, Roman style, complete with a semi-divine imperial ruler
  • Not a proletarian paradise, complete with a secret police sending dissenters to very cold places
  • Not a hunting and gathering society, complete with hunting rituals and initiation rites
  • Not a society where you are hanged upside down if you tell a joke about the dear leader
  • Not a society where, if you can't afford health care, you are left to die in the street
  • Not a society where you are worried every day about whether you and your children will have something to eat
  • Not a society where slavery is legal and the obvious way things ought to be
  • Not a society where women are supposed to be the property of men
  • Not a society where most people spend most of their life tilling the fields
  • Not a society where you are burned at the stake if you belong to a different sect than the dominant one
 
Many other things are, I think, negotiable, such as having vacations in Hawai'i, owning an SUV, watering the lawn in summer, and more.

 

 

 

 

Epiconomics 102 : The Sunlight Economy

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 15, 2016

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"It is green capitalism, we admit, but the gene expression for capitalism must and will change."

 

 

 

 

The adoption of The Paris Agreement by 195 countries on December 12, 2015 marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping 90 percent or more of remaining coal, oil and gas in the ground. The final text still has some serious gaps, and the timetable will have to speed up, but the treaty draws a red line on atmospheric CO2 we cannot cross. As science, economics and law come into alignment, a solar-powered economy is barrelling at us with unstoppable force.

Nafeez Ahmed, a former Guardian writer who now blogs the System Shift column for VICE’s Motherboard recently pondered the Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) problem with renewables and came up with something that might form the basis for smoothing the transition.

First, you have to get a sense of the scale of the driving force behind this change. Ahmed observed that since the crash in oil prices (underlying causes here) and the Paris Agreement, more than 65% of the world’s oil companies have declared bankruptcy. The Economist puts the default at $2.5 trillion. The real number is probably much higher. Following Paris, Goldman Sachs surveyed over $1 trillion in stranded assets out in the fracking fields that will never be booked. Carbon Tracker puts the likely cash that will be thrown down bad wells by the still standing 35% of fossil industry dinosaurs — and never-to-be recouped — at $2.2 trillion.

In our book, The Paris Agreement, we described why the fossil shakeout is likely to liberate huge cashflows into renewable energy, but with one giant caveat. There is significantly lower net energy (EROEI) in renewables than the fossils provided in their heyday. That augurs economic contraction no matter how you slice it.

Degrowth is already happening. Carbon Tracker identified Peabody Coal as one of those energy giants unable to pass a 2C stress test. Peabody scoffed. Six months later, Peabody went bankrupt.  There are now more solar installers than coal miners in the US and the gap widens each month.

Mark Harrington, an oil industry consultant, tells his clients now the cascading debt defaults will shake the global economy by late 2016 or early 2017 and could make the 2007-8 financial crash look like a cakewalk. Utilities are the new housing bubble.

The EROEI on Texas Spindletops was 100 to 1. The net energy produced from Canadian tar sands or Bakkan shale is less than you can get from green firewood, maybe 3 to 1. Oil rig count in the Bakkan as of this morning: zero. Lost investment exploring and drilling there? billions.

Nafeez Ahmed says:

The imperative to transition away from fossil fuels is, therefore, both geophysical and environmental. On the one hand, by mid-century, fossil fuels and nuclear power will become obsolete as a viable source of energy due to their increasingly high costs and low quality. On the other, even before then, to maintain what scientists describe as a ‘safe operating space’ for human survival, we cannot permit the planet to warm a further 2C without risking disastrous climate impacts.

Staying below 2C, the study finds, will require renewable energy to supply more than 50 percent of total global energy by 2028, “a 37-fold increase in the annual rate of supplying renewable energy in only 13 years.”

Let us leave aside the 2C discussion for now. Two degrees is in the bank and 5 degrees is what we have a slim chance of averting, assuming we can muster the collective will to plant enough trees, make soil, and stop dumping carbon into the atmosphere. Whether 4 degrees, which is likely to be reached by about mid-century, give or take 10 years, is survivable by mammals such as ourselves remains an open question. The odds do not favor our collectively recognizing the risk in time, all of us must acknowledge.

Those odds get even longer once President Trump, taking advice from the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney and Mitch "Black Lungs Matter" McConnell, appoints an Energy Task Force sometime in the first hundred days. Within a few months, Congress will attempt to bend energy economics around their political gravity well. They will superincentivize coal, nuclear and fracked gas and raise even more impossible hurdles for solar power, responsible biomass waste conversion and energy efficiency. Chances then of humans surviving another century: nil.

Trump's tweet has now been retweeted 27,761 times.

Last year the G7 set the goal of decarbonization by end of century, which, like Trump, is a formula for Near Term Human Extinction. At the Paris gathering 195 countries agreed to bounce the date to 2050, with a proviso that it could even accelerate more if needed. More will be needed.

The Bright Shining Hope

Analysts like Stanford’s Tony Seba say that solar power has doubled every year for the last 20 years and costs of photovoltaic power have dropped 22% with each doubling. If you believe these numbers, eight more doublings — by 2030 — and solar power will provide 100% of the world’s electricity at a fraction of today’s prices with significant reductions of carbon emissions. But there is a hitch.

The EROEI of solar power is not improving as quickly as the price. Energy efficiency, especially the embodied energy of components like turbine towers and rooftop arrays and the mined minerals for crystal manufacture, is substantially less than the concentrated caloric punch of oil and coal. Fossil sunlight is to sunlight as crack cocaine is to coca leaves.

And a decarbonated SMART is not your daddy’s muscle car.

That is not to say a civil society living on sunlight can’t still be very nice, and nicer, in fact, than the dirtier industrial civilization, especially if you only have a generation or two left before you go extinct to enjoy it.

All of this revolution could be accomplished, and paid for, simply by a small epigenetic hack in the DNA of central banks. They need to express the gene that prints money. As Ellen Brown explains:

"The combination of fiat money and Globalization creates a unique moment in history where the governments of the developed economies can print money on an aggressive scale without causing inflation. They should take advantage of this once-in-history opportunity . . . ."

Don't panic, and it might be a good idea to follow Ford Prefect's example of carrying a towel, in the unlikely event that the planet is suddenly demolished by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Despite the paucity of intelligence in the throne room of the Empire, there is, however, a faint glimmer of light coming from a corner of the dungeon, should we peer farther. Ahmed latches on to Eric Toensmeier’s new book, The Carbon Farming Solution, that quotes a Rodale Institute study:

Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’… These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.

As we described in our books, The Biochar Solution and The Paris Agreement, it is possible to unleash the healing powers of the natural world — not by tampering further but by discerning and moving with its flows the way indigenious peoples did for eons — that doesn't just halt climate change but restores it to the pre-industrial. By using a permaculture cascade — regenerative cropping to food, feed and fiber; to protein and probiotic extracts (from waste byproducts); to biofuels (from waste byproducts); to biochar and biofertilizers (from waste byproducts); to probiotic animal supplements and industrial applications like fuel cells (from biochar) — bioeconomics can transform a dying planet into a garden world. But, again, there is a hitch.

Ahmed says:

According to a 2011 report by the National Academy of Sciences, the scientific consensus shows conservatively that for every degree of warming, we will see the following impacts: 5-15 percent reductions in crop yields; 3-10 percent increases in rainfall in some regions contributing to flooding; 5-10 percent decreases in stream-flow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and the Rio Grande, contributing to scarcity of potable water; 200-400 percent increases in the area burned by wildfire in the US; 15 percent decreases in annual average Arctic sea ice, with 25 percent decreases in the yearly minimum extent in September.

The challenge climate change poses to bioeconomics is where epigenetic agents come in. There is a permaculture army waiting in the wings. We have been training and drilling for 30 years. Cue marching entrance, stage left, with George M. Cohan’s arrangement of Yankee Doodle Dandy.

 

 

This will require more than Busby Berkeley. First, as we described here last week, we will need a change of the command switches that express civilization’s genes. This is unlikely to come from Hillary Clinton, central banks, the G7 or the International Monetary Fund — just witness the debacle at Doha in April.  It will more likely arise spontaneously from the grass roots, led by regenerative farmers, treehuggers and degrarians, but funded — massively — by institutional investors in search of safe havens from petrocollapse and failing confidence in a stale, counterproductive paradigm.

It is green capitalism, we admit, but the gene expression for capitalism must and will change.

"If you think about it, economic growth could happen through dematerialization," says Jack Buffington, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and author of Progress, Technology and Seven Billion People: A Solution to Save Capitalism and The Recycling Myth: Disruptive Innovation to Improve the Environment.

"Think about all the different things your smart phone can do that 20 years ago you had a computer, you had a telephone. you had an alarm clock…. So, I think there is a way to transform things through the use of materials to dematerialize while at the same time leading to economic growth. Even if you tried to stop innovation you won't. What we have to push for is a model that between the environment and the economy is complementary, so we achieve goals of improving people's lives at the same time as improving the environment."

A bioeconomy is coming. Fast. There are demonstrations of it, large and small, popping up all over the world. The DNA for the global financial marketplace — our social customs for nations, currency systems and trade — has not changed. What is being transformed is the histone that occupies the space between the helices and flips the switches to turn expressions on and off. Who are the radical free agent proteins that are moving in to transform the histone?

You are.

 

How much for the sustainable energy transition?

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on May 7, 2016

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A "back of the envelope" calculation

 

 

Image source. "Back of the Envelope" calculations are a tradition in science and often turn out to be able to provide plenty of useful information, at the same time avoiding the common pitfall of complex models, that of being able to fit anything provided that one has enough adjustable parameters.

The world's economy can be seen as a giant heat engine. It consumes energy, mainly in the form of fossil fuels, and uses it to produce services and goods. No matter how fine-tuned and efficient the engine is, it still needs energy to run. So, if we want to do the big switch that we call the "energy transition" from fossil fuels to renewables, we can't rely just on efficiency and on energy saving. We need to feed the big beast with something it can run on, energy produced by renewable sources such as photovoltaics (PV) and wind in the form of electric power.

Here are a few notes on the kind of effort we need in order to move to a completely renewable energy infrastructure before it is too late to avoid the double threat of climate disruption and resource depletion. It is a tall order: we need to do it, basically, in some 50 years from now, possibly less, otherwise it will be too late to avoid a climate disaster. So, let's try a "back of the envelope" calculation that should provide an order of magnitude estimate. For a complete treatment, see this article by Sgouridis et al.

Let's start: first of all, the average power generation worldwide is estimated as around 18 TW in terms of primary energy. Of these, about 81% is the fraction generated by fossil fuels, that is 14.5 TW. This can be taken as the power that we need to replace using renewable sources, assuming to leave everything else as it is.

We need, however, also to take into account that these 14.5 TW are the result of primary energy generation, that is the heat generated by the combustion of these fuels. A lot of this heat is waste heat, whereas renewables (excluding biofuels) directly generate electric power.  If we take into account this factor, we could divide the total by a factor of ca. 3. So, we may say that we might be able to keep the engine running with 5 TW of average renewable power. This may be optimistic because a lot of heat generated by fossil fuels is used for indoor heating, but it is based on the idea that civilization needs electricity more than anything else in order to survive. In terms of indoor heating, civilization survives even if we turn down the thermostat, wear a multi-layer of wool, and light up a small wood fire.

Renewable installations are normally described in terms of "capacity", measured in "peak-Watt" (Wp), that is the power that the plant can generate in optimal conditions. That depends on the technologies used. Starting from the NREL data, a reasonable average capacity factor a mix of renewables can be taken as about 20%. So, 5 TW of average power need 25 TWp of installed capacity. We need to take into account many other factors, such as intermittency, which may require storage and/or some spare power, but also better efficiency, demand management, and storage. On the whole, we may say that these requirements cancel each other. So, 25 TWp can be seen as a bare minimum for survival, but still a reasonable order of magnitude estimate. Then, what do we have? The present installed renewable capacity is ca. 1.8 TWp; around 7%. Clearly, we need to grow, and to grow a lot.

Let's see how we have been doing so far. (The values in the figure below appear to exclude large hydropower plants, which anyway have a limited growth potential).

 

 

 

Image source

 

As you can see, we have been increasing the installed power every year. According to Bloomberg, the installed capacity reached about 134 GWp in 2015. If this value is compared with the IRENA data, above, we see that the growth of installations is slowing down. Still, 134 GWp/year is not bad. The renewable energy industry is alive and doing well, worldwide.

Now, let's go to the core of the matter: what do we need to do in order to attain the transition, and to attain it fast enough? (*)

Clearly, 130 GWp/year, is not enough. At this rate, we would need two centuries to arrive at 25 TWp. Actually, we would never get there: assuming an average lifespan of the plants of 30 years, we would reach only about 4 TWp and all the new installations would be used to replace the old plants as they wear out. But we could get to 25 TWp in 30 years if we could reach and maintain an installation rate of 800 GWp per year, about 6 times larger than what we are doing today. (note that this doesn't take into account the need of replacing old plants but, if we assume an average lifetime of 30 years, the calculation remains approximately valid from now to 2050.)

We may not need to reach 100% renewable power by 2050; 80% or even less may be enough. In such case, we could make it with something like 500 GWp/year; still a much larger rate than what we are doing today. And if we manage to arrive to  – say – even just 50% renewable power by 2050, then we will have created a renewable juggernaut that will lead to 100% in a relatively short time. On the other hand, as I said before, 25 TWp may be optimistic and we may well need more than that. On the whole, I'd say that 1TWp/year is as good as it can be as an order of magnitude estimate of the energy needed for the survival of civilization as we know it. Approximately a factor of 8 higher than what we have been doing so far.

This back of the envelope calculations arrives at results compatible to those of the more detailed calculations by  Sgouridis et al. That study makes more stringent and detailed assumptions, such as the need of increasing the supply of energy for a growing human population, a lower capacity factor, the need of a gradual build-up of the production facilities, the need of oversized capacity to account for intermittency, the energy yield of the plants (*) and more. In the end, it arrives at the conclusion that we need to install at least 5 TWp per year for a successful transition (and, by the way, that, if we do so, we can avoid crossing the 2 degrees C warming threshold). That's certainly more realistic than the present calculation, but let's stay with this scribbled envelope as a minimalistic approach. Let's say that, just in order for civilization to survive, we need to install 1 TWp per year  for the next 30 years, how much would that cost?

Let's see how much we have been spending so far, again from Bloomberg:
 

Image from Bloomberg Global clean energy investment 2004-15, $bn

 

As you can see, investments in renewable energy were rapidly increasing up to 2011, then they plateaued with the value for 2015 only marginally higher than it was in 2011. However, if we compare with the previous figure, we see that we have been getting more Watt for the buck. In part, it is because of previously made investments, in part because of the improvements in renewable technologies that have reduced the cost per kWp. But note that technological improvements tend to show diminishing returns. The cost of renewable energy in terms of watt/dollar has gone down so fast and so much that from now on it may be difficult to attain the same kind of radical improvements, barring the development of some new, miracle technology. Take also into account that technological improvement may be offset by the increasing costs of the mineral resources needed for the plants.

 

We said that we need to increase the installation rate of about a factor of 8 in energy terms. Assuming that the cost of renewable energy won't radically change in the future, monetary investments should of about the same factor. It means that we need to go from the present value of about 280 billion dollars per year to some 2 trillion dollars/year. This is a lot of money, but not an unthinkable: amount. If we sum up what we are investing for fossils (about $1 trillion/year), for renewables ($300 billions/year) and nuclear (perhaps around $200 billions/year) we see that we are not far from there, as we can see in the image below. The total amount yearly invested in the world for energy supply is about 2% of the Gross World Product, today totaling about US$78 trillion.

 

And there we are. The final result of this exercise is, I think, to frame the transition as a "mind-sized" model (to use a term coined by Seymour Papert). Basically, it turns out that, barring technological miracles, a smooth transition from fossils to renewables is probably impossible; simply because the current way of seeing humankind's problems makes it impossible even to conceive such a massive shift of investments as it would be needed (noting also that investments in renewables have not been significantly increasing from 2011 – that's bad).

This calculation also tells us that it is not unthinkable to advance in the right direction and attain a transition that would allow us to maintain at least some of the features of the present civilization. That is, if we are willing to invest in renewable energy, our destiny is not necessarily that of going back to middle ages or to hunting and gathering (or even to extinction, as it seems to be a fashionable future in certain circles). The transition will be rough, it will be difficult, but it will not necessarily be the Apocalypse that many predict.

In any case, some kind of transition is unavoidable; fossil fuels just have no future. But civilization may still have a future: all the investments in renewable energy we can manage to make today for the transition will make the difference for the future. This is a choice that we can still make.

(*) Note: In this simplified calculation, I haven't specified where the energy needed for building the new infrastructure will come from and I haven't used the concept of EROEI (energy return on energy invested). It is taken into account in detail in the calculations by Sgouridis et al in terms of the concept of the "Sower's Strategy", that is assuming that fossil fuels provide the necessary energy during the initial stages of the transition, then they are gradually replaced by renewable energy. 

 

Tiny House Electrics

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on February 20, 2016

ELECTRICAL LAYOUT FOR TINY HOUSE_html_m5d1ba832

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Electrical layout for a tiny house design

Geoffrey Chia February 2016

It no longer makes economic sense for a new house owner (who does not need airconditioning) to purchase their electricity from the ever more costly (and expensive to maintain) fixed grid. Not only have the prices of solar panels fallen dramatically, the costs of lithium battery arrays (large enough for household purposes) are also plunging as a result of several factors. Economists who cite this as a triumph of "free market forces" are, as usual, deceitfully distorting the truth to claim undeserved credit for their bogus field of pseudoscience. The huge price drop of solar PV panels over the past couple of decades was in fact due to the decision by the central communist party of China to massively ramp up PV manufacture in response to their problems of domestic pollution and their political intent to achieve worldwide industrial dominance in this field. Their increased output of high capacity lithium batteries (mainly for electric cars) was based on similar motivations. The much hyped but as yet unavailable "Tesla wall" battery has played no part in any of this so far.

In order to preserve the electrical grid and delay the demise of their (soon to be) stranded assets, the threatened "big electricity" vendors, in collusion with governments, are pursuing the following agenda, at least in Australia:

Firstly if you live in a metropolitan or urban zone, they have made it illegal for home owners not to connect to the electrical grid. They do not care whether you actually consume their electricity – their only interest is that you keep paying for grid upkeep and upgrades, whether this benefits the consumer or not. This is how the electricity vendors and local councils will ensure their ongoing income, in the new commercial environment where it will be cheaper and more sensible for the householder to go completely off grid. So much for the economists' so-called "free market", which is employing heavy handed edict to obstruct the consumers' option to go off grid.

Secondly TPTB are now introducing schemes by which they will lease high capacity lithium batteries to individual households which have solar PV. These households will then be able to export electricity back to the grid instantaneously on demand, even at night. Previously, the only electricity sources which could quickly respond to sudden additional grid demand were hydro and gas turbine generators. "Boiler" based coal fired generators are slow moving dinosaurs, only good for baseload.

Household lithium batteries are indeed a game changer and could lead to the creation of a proper "smart grid". With sufficient widely distributed lithium electrical storage, the fluctuating nature of renewable sources such as solar and wind will no longer be an issue. Renewables can then be ramped up rapidly and coal fired electricity can be well and truly killed off. If vested fossil fuel interests had not actively sabotaged such initiatives over the past few decades and if the system of smart grid + 100% renewable electricity had been implemented years ago, this could have made a real difference to staving off catastrophic climate change. Unfortunately it is now too late and climate change has spiralled out of control.

 

Notwithstanding the noble, albeit belated, goal of 100% renewable electricity, there are several factors which are likely to foil the realisation of this technically feasible smart grid. First is the problem of scaling up: we do not know if there are sufficient lithium salts worldwide which can be easily harvested for the production of lithium batteries on the scale intended. Second is the problem of funding: the fraudulent Ponzi stockmarket and overleveraged banks are now on the brink of collapse. When economic collapse does occur, there will be no capital or credit to fund anything (unless the BRICS countries can establish their own financial/banking system in time and drive this project themselves, completely sidelining the Industrial West). Third is the problem of energy constraints: we need fossil fuels and petroleum in particular to manufacture and distribute solar panels, wind turbines and lithium batteries. The ultimate hope would be that renewable energy can itself eventually be used to manufacture more renewable energy generators in the future – which is yet to be proven and highly doubtful. The current low price of oil hides the fact that we are fast falling down the precipice of high net energy conventional oil availability. Below the EROEI of 10:1, complex industrial activities can no longer take place and the establishment of centralised, gridbased 100% renewable energy will not occur. This dream would have been entirely feasible if it had been commenced, say, 10 years ago, but now seems almost impossible. The worst thing about the "big electricity" advocates is that they fail to adequately emphasize the importance of energy efficiency – they want consumers to continue being addicted to high consumption lifestyles which is the cornerstone of their business model and is in my view criminal.

I personally do not see any point opposing plans of "big electricity" because even though, in view of the constraints above, the prospect of centrally provided 100% renewable energy is now almost impossible, it is not absolutely impossible. I rate the chance of their future success around 0.1%. There is however a better, proven strategy with a 100% guaranteed likelihood of success which can be done right now. It is also suitable (in more modest iteration) for people in poorer countries who can technologically "leap frog"over being tied to the grid and proceed directly to electricity independence, just as they have leap frogged over the need for fixed telephone lines and proceeded directly to mobile smart phones.

For those who are willing and able, the only sensible plan at this time is to ruthlessly pursue energy efficiency and to establish your own completely off-grid domestic electrical system, which is in fact super easy to do. For some, this may involve the construction of a tiny house on wheels in the metropolitan area where you live, which in the first instance can be connected to the grid while the industrial system still functions. This house can be rapidly moved to a remote location when TSHTF and then happily switch to off grid mode. The low prices of electrical components and (semi) intact industrial economy at present mean that there is no better window of opportunity to grasp than right now.

The fact that items such as solar PV panels and LED lights can easily last more than 20 years means that you will continue to enjoy a high quality of life well after the rest of the world has descended into the stone age. Even conventional lead acid batteries can easily last 15 years if depth of discharge is kept minimal each cycle. Even if your batteries and inverter ultimately fail, with a DC system you can run your fridge directly off the solar PV panels during the day. "Eutectic" mixtures (eg concentrated brine – which has a freezing point well below zero degrees C, which is frozen during the day when the compressor is running), kept in containers in the freezer, can keep the night time unpowered fridge icy cold. Repositioning your fridge to a cool shaded location outdoors will increase its efficiency. A little bit of creativity can go a long way to maintaining a high level of comfort and convenience over a long duration.

As mentioned before the first three principles of electricity management are efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. Only after that should you consider the questions of solar PV panel and battery capacities.

 

ELECTRICAL LAYOUT for a tiny house design (please refer to the diagrams)

This is configured for a particular design: http://www.resilience.org/resource-detail/2544932-building-a-tiny-house

I initially planned to have two lead acid battery arrays indoors, which I then changed to a single lithium array located in an outdoor shed (wired to an "electrical shelf" under the stairs). However in my final iteration I am opting for a single lithium array located under the front deck, wired to an "electrical shelf" in a nearby cupboard.

Whereas these days the risk of spontaneous combustion of lithium iron phosphate batteries is extremely low, it is still more prudent to store the batteries outdoors (furthermore the batteries also function more efficiently in a cooler, shaded, well ventilated outdoor environment).

 

Basic design:

ELECTRICAL LAYOUT FOR TINY HOUSE_html_m73e64f88

Ground based solar panels feed wires to MPPT regulator (located under front deck) which feed the battery array (24V Lithium Iron Phosphate) which then send thick 24V DC cables into tiny house (location of electronic shelf has been changed from under stairs to top shelf of cupboard in updated diagram).

In tiny house, 24V DC bus (with fuses) feeds 24V wiring to DC appliances (fridge/freezer, ceiling fan, kitchen exhaust fan, shower exhaust fan, water pump), as well as various DC sockets which sit beside AC sockets

24V DC bus also feeds pure sine wave inverter which then goes to 240V AC panel with circuit breakers. This panel then feeds the washing machine and the AC sockets.

Safety cut off device is also incorporated.

The 240V AC panel can also be supplied directly by a mains electricity plug-in supply (switch toggles to either mains supply or battery supply from inverter)

*MPPT regulator and battery sit on heavy duty cargo trolley (with fireproof, waterproof covering) which can easily be wheeled in and out, from under the timber dec
 

APPLIANCES

WM = Washing machine

FF = Fridge/Freezer

SEF = Shower exhaust fan

TEF = Composting toilet exhaust fan (12V DC fan)

REF = Rangehood exhaust fan

WP = Water pump

Ceiling fan as labeled

 

LED strip lights:

These are all "warm white" and of the latest type where the light output is diffuse along the strip (not able to see focal bright points, unlike the old type)

1 = On ceiling, illuminates both staircase and head of loft bedroom

2 = On ceiling, illuminates both foot of loft bedroom and West end of lounge

3 = Above windows, under shelf

4 = Above windows, under shelf

5 = Weatherproof outdoor LED striplight above panoramic door / window

6 = Above kitchen counter at junction of wall and ceiling

7 = three small strip lights on underside of cross beams

8 = At top edge of mirror cabinet

 

LOCATION OF SWITCHES (red letters A, B & C):

  • Switchpanel A is located on the wall above the kitchen counter here and has switches which control lights 1 and 7, and another switch for the water pump

  • Lights 6 and 8 have their switches immediately adjacent to them

  • Switchpanel B is located on the side of this storage cupboard around chest height and has five switches which control lights 2, 3, 4 and 5 + ceiling fan

  • Switchpanel C is located at loft entrance, on the side of the headboard cupboard, situated low down near the loft floor and has two switches which control lights 1 and 2

  • Switches for exhaust fans (in showerstall or rangehood) are next to / on those appliances.

  • Exhaust fan for composting toilet has no switch, it is merely unplugged

Please note: light 1 can be turned on and off from BOTH switchpanel A or C

light 2 can be turned on and off from BOTH switchpanel B or C

 

LOCATION OF SOCKETS:

  • Loft bedroom sockets are located on the wall as indicated, just above height of headboard

  • Kitchen sockets are above level of kitchen counter (just under cabinet)

  • Indoor lounge sockets are located in wall about 10cm above floor

  • Outdoor sockets are low and towards eastern edge, out of swing radius of opening lounge door

There is great pressure from the commercial sector these days to force you to wire your offgrid dwelling with an AC system only (whether 240V 50Hz as in Oz or 110V 60Hz as in the US). This is certainly the easiest option – it is what conventional electricians are familiar with and are comfortable with. However it means your entire electrical system will be completely dependent on the flawless performance of one single device which must be constantly kept running 24/7: the DC to AC inverter. Even though inverters are cheaper and more reliable these days and it is not difficult to purchase a spare, for many other reasons my preference is to have dual wiring (240V AC and 24V DC) and to run the frequently used appliances (LED lights, fridge, fans) on 24V DC. As such, the inverter will only need to run intermittently for devices such as the washing machine, thus vastly prolonging the inverter's lifespan. Furthermore if you lose the function of the washing machine it is not the end of the world – a toilet plunger and bucket can work just as well (the main hassle being wringing out the clothes).

Supplemental charging after many overcast days can be devised according to your particular circumstances, whether by wind microturbine, pumped water storage with microhydro, or even by diesel generator while fossil fuels are still available.

The keys to the longevity of any system are reliability, durability, simple design (minimising the number of potential points of failure) and redundancy. These principles have been illustrated in both my plumbing and electrical layouts. If the tiny houses in your community are designed to utilise standardised components (whether they be evacuated solar hot water tubes or MPPT chargers or 24V DC devices etc), if you purchase numerous spare parts a priori and if you have the expertise within your group to perform regular maintenance and repairs (ideally the folks who built those tiny houses should live within your community), you will create a robust and resilient situation which will enable your comfortable lifestyles to be maintained for two or more decades after the collapse of centralised services. Furthermore in the post collapse situation, the salvage economy will become vitally important. The restoration or repurposing or cannibalisation for spare parts from old devices (whiteware, electronic goods etc) will enable those with a practical inventive streak to breathe new life into what we nowadays regard as discarded junk. For example, the electric motor of an old washing machine can be repurposed to become an electricity generator powered by stationary bicycle, enabling supplemental charging of your batteries while simultaneously providing you with healthy exercise.

 

GC Feb 2016

 

ADDENDUM: UPDATE ON HOT WATER PLUMBING

 

For thermosiphoning to work properly, it is important to purchase an indirect hot water cylinder with a large calibre internal heat exchange coil which has been purpose designed for this function. One example is the AGA cylinder from www.gasapplianceguide.co.uk Copper cylinders are not prone to electrolytic corrosion, hence there will be no need for a magnesium anode. Obviously if you are not prone to frost then the way to go is with a direct cylinder which makes things simpler and cheaper.

The simplest way to deal with excessive heating of the hot water, causing overflow, is according to this diagram:

4 ConventionalSystemUsingMicroprocessor&SensorsThe signal that overheating is occurring will be water spilling out of the external overflow pipe from the header tank, which will be visible from both within the house (through the end window) as well as from the outside if you are working in the field. The response to this will be to simply cover the evacuated solar tube array. Regular overheating of the water in the hot water tank will in fact be desirable, to kill off any prospect of harbouring Legionella.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exxonomics 101

surfer-girl-2gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on the Peak Surfer on November 8, 2015

PeakSurfer

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"You don't need 100,000 marines to secure windmills in North Dakota."

 

 The New York Times, which is quickly becoming to print media what Fox is to television news, has done what no first year news stringer should do. It buried the lead. 

It buried the lead on what is likely to become one of the most important stories of all time.

Hidden in the science section of its November 6th daily edition is this headline from a story by Clifford Kraus: More Oil Companies Could Join Exxon Mobil as Focus of Climate Investigations.  Kraus's lead is:

HOUSTON — The opening of an investigation of Exxon Mobil by the New York attorney general’s office into the company’s record on climate change may well spur legal inquiries into other oil companies, according to legal and climate experts, although successful prosecutions are far from assured.

The story goes on to describe the fraudulent activities undertaken by Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other oil majors from 1990 to 2001, using astroturf fronts with names like Global Climate Coalition and the American Legislative Exchange Council. The writer, and presumably the Times editorial team, assumes the reason NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is investigating is because the companies spent millions or billions on a disinformation campaign, purchasing no fewer than four U.S. presidents and vast numbers of Congressmen and Senators. These disinformation campaigns cast doubt on climate science by parading shill pseudoscientists before legislative committees. The purchased politicians then went before the public and parroted the oil company line: "Climate Change? Nothing to see here, move along."

The Times seems to think the NYAG is after some kind of conviction for perjury or advertising fraud.

By now this spin on the story is so old and been told so many times, we are surprised that it is still considered news. Maybe that is why it got bumped to the science page. Everyone knew, despite the feigned shock of Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and others, that Exxon had extensively researched the subject in the 1970s, concluded by the mid-80s that climate change was a serious threat, and then killed its own research program and financed opposition.

The real news story is something else. It is not what the investigation is but where it is. The New York Attorney General's office peers from its eyrie in Albany down the Hudson River, across the white plains and palisades to lower Manhattan, but it is only one of two such offices that watches. The other is located closer to the action, in the Federal Courthouse just below Wall Street, where dwells the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a Mr. Preet Bharara. If you bike by there, however, you see that dog is chained by a very long chain that runs all the way to the back porch of a big white house in Washington. Lest we forget, the nation's last Attorney General came from and went back to Wall Street's Covington & Burling, after 6 years of hearing nothing, seeing nothing and saying nothing as the nation's top law enforcer.

Why should Exxon and Chevron be worried? That would be because what is of interest to a NYAG watchdog is not about buying politicians or suborning perjury. It's about stock manipulation. After a decade of pretty good in-house science, Exxon and the other majors knew by the 80s that the pace of global warming was accelerating and that very soon there would be a massive, increasingly desperate effort underway to shift from fossil fuels to carbon-free renewables in order to escape Cauldron Earth. The hotter it gets, the more frenzied this effort will become, and the less likely Exxon will be able to cash in its balance sheet of fossil assets.
 

Meadows, et al, 1971 Limits to Growth with overlay of
Bates 1990, Climate in Crisis

If you were a CEO of one of these companies, the math would trouble your mind. It would cloud your thinking as you set up for that long putt on the 8th green. It would creep into your internal dialog as you are eyeing that cocktail waitress at a swank restaurant. Your worth as a company, the basis for the company's share price, and your own compensation and stock option packages, all depend on the estimated and proven reserves of oil and gas still in the ground. If, for some reason, those reserves could never be withdrawn – never be burned – then you have a serious problem. Your company is overvalued, and likewise the share price, and your own personal net worth. This is what interests the NY Attorney General. It's the math. Its also the mens rea – your state of mind; what you knew and when you knew it.

It is one thing to have a company whose worth exceeds not only that of any company on Earth but also of any company in history. It is another entirely if that worth is overstated, perhaps by a factor of 100, 1000, or one million times. That becomes the biggest stock fraud in history. For a young or politically ambitious AG, it is a ticket to glory.

On Thursday the Times reported:

Attorneys general for other states could join in Mr. Schneiderman’s efforts, bringing far greater investigative and legal resources to bear on the issue. Some experts see the potential for a legal assault on fossil fuel companies similar to the lawsuits against tobacco companies in recent decades, which cost those companies tens of billions of dollars in penalties.

Potential fines and imprisonment don't begin to tell the story here. Devaluation of the stock – mark to market – is the real penalty. Is Exxon, whose shares are held by teachers' credit unions, public employee pension funds, and more people than almost any other stock, too big to fail? Whether it is too big to jail is irrelevant. Once that asset is devalued, something huge will be set in motion: a trillion dollar switch away from fossil investment, and just coincidentally, an end to the leading justification for military adventurism, support for Israeli hardliners, the puppet regime in Kiev, the ISIS black op and Saudi Arabian feudalism, among other pastimes.


That whole shooting match in Syria, driving millions of refugees into Europe, is about whether Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Russia and Iran and a proponent of a gas pipeline from Iran across Kurdistan to the sea, will be deposed by ISIS terrorists trained by CIA in the Colonel Kurtz style of spectacular horror and funded by the Pentagon so that the US could instead build a pipeline to European markets through Syria from Iraq. The Russian Air Force, with a new generation of fighters that can fly circles around anything built by Lockheed Martin, is looking like it will decide that one. It is pulverizing ISIS.

You don't need 100,000 marines to secure windmills in North Dakota.

That is the story the Times is missing.

In the Thursday story, the Times had a link to a 29-page Exxon report for its shareholders. The company essentially ruled out the possibility that governments would adopt climate policies stringent enough to force it to leave its reserves in the ground, saying that rising population and global energy demand would prevent that. “Meeting these needs will require all economic energy sources, especially oil and natural gas,” it said. Here is an image from that report. We especially enjoyed the absurdity of their idea of what better farming looks like.

 

World population is going to grow by 3 North Americas in 15 years.

In their report, Exxon predicts that the world will add 2 billion more people in the next 15 years, or roughly four more North Americas if you include Mexico and Canada. This tracks similar assessments by the UN and the World Population Council. That increase is baked in the cake just from the number of adolescents reaching childbearing age in these coming years. Exxon believes GDP will grow at 3 times the rate of population if energy supply is adequate. "We see the world requiring 35 percent more energy in 2040 than it did in 2010."
 

"In analyzing the evolution of the world’s energy mix, we anticipate renewables growing at the fastest pace among all sources through the Outlook period. However, because they make a relatively small contribution compared to other energy sources, renewables will continue to comprise about 5 percent of the total energy mix by 2040."


While we don't buy the whole package, we find ourselves agreeing with Exxon about one thing. Business as usual is not possible with an all-renewables portfolio. We wonder where even the finance for such a build-out would come from? More debt? The world financial system came with in a hair's breadth of financial collapse in 2008. Since then the balloon has reinflated and stretched bigger. China just arrested its free-falling stock market by issuing even more debt. But sooner or later loans have to be repaid, with interest, and in a shrinking resource economy they cannot be. When the day of reckoning eventually arrives, our chances of avoiding collapse are very slim. Gail Tverberg says,  "The change … is similar to losing the operating system on a computer, or unplugging a refrigerator from the wall."

Where we part company with Exxon is that Exxon thinks governments will choose to keep heating the planet and we think they will dispense with business as usual. Only time will tell, although the issue will be up for serious debate this December in Paris.

Business as usual will not be an easy thing to give up.

In terms of energy conservation, the leaps made in energy efficiency by the infrastructure and devices we use to access the internet have allowed many online activities to be viewed as more sustainable than offline.

On the internet, however, advances in energy efficiency have a reverse effect: as the network becomes more energy efficient, its total energy use increases. This trend can only be stopped when we limit the demand for digital communication.
 

***

In recent years, the focus has been mostly on the energy use of data centers, which host the computers (the “servers”) that store all information online. However, in comparison, more electricity is used by the combination of end-use devices (the “clients”, such as desktops, laptops and smartphones), the network infrastructure (which transmits digital information between servers and clients), and the manufacturing process of servers, end-use devices, and networking devices.  

Low Tech Magazine

By 2017, the electricity use of the internet globally is expected to rise to between 2,547 teraWatt-hours (low case) and 3,422 tWh (high case). The high case is made more likely by underdeveloping nations bypassing wired communications to go directly to smart phones and other devices, which are increasingly dependent on cloud services. Under these circumstances electricity use for internet will likely double every 5 years, to 110000 tWh (110 petaWatt-hours) by 2040. This would add another USA in electricity consumers every 5 years  three more USAs in 15 years. That, of course, assumes that cloud computing doesn't follow the exponential growth its proponents seek.

Can renewables meet this demand? Right now in the US, renewables account for 13.2 percent of domestically produced electricity. Wind turbine capacity is 65 GWe installed (0.07 tWe), but because of wind and load intermittency, the mills only turn about 32% of the time, producing about 180 million kWh last year (180 GWhr, or 0.2 TWh). That was one ten-thousandth of what was used globally by the internet. To build out renewables to power just the internet by 2040 would require 110 pWh, or more than a million times all the renewable electricity produced by the USA today.

How probable is that? Exxon is completely accurate in labeling it fantasy.

And speaking of fantasy, imagine for a moment that Mr. Schneiderman gets his teeth into Exxon's stock fraud and won't stop shaking until the company restates its book value, sans proven reserves. There has been a recent fall in oil price (owing less to fracking, as the popular narrative has it, than to China's deflationary spiral that has tanked world demand), but if you are a shareholder, this might be a good time to sell.

Or you could take your advice from the nation's paper of record and assume everything is hunky dory. 

Our Electricity Problem: Getting the Diagnosis Correct

City Lights 2012 - Flat mapgc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on October 14, 2015

City Lights 2012 - Flat map

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What is really wrong with our energy system, particularly as it relates to electricity and natural gas? Are there any mitigations available? I have been asked to give a talk at an Electricity/Natural Gas conference that includes both producers and industrial users of electricity and natural gas.

In this presentation, I suggest that the standard diagnosis of the problems facing the energy system is incomplete. While climate change may be a problem, there is another urgent problem that attendees at the conference should be aware of as well–affordability, and the severe near-term impact affordability can be expected to have on the system.

My written summary of this talk is fairly brief. I have not tried to repeat the information shown on the slides. This is a link to a copy of my presentation: Our Electricity Problem: Getting the Diagnosis Right

Slide 2

 

 

 

 

Slide 2

A finite world is one that is subject to limits. Its economy cannot grow forever for many reasons.

Slide 3

 

 

 

 

Slide 3

Let’s look at some examples (Slide 4) of how limits work in finite systems. Often there seems to be a change of direction.

Slide 4

 

 

 

 

Slide 4

The standard story that we hear says that energy prices can rise and rise, indefinitely. But as I look at the data, this doesn’t seem to be true in practice. At some point, there is a problem with affordability, because wages don’t rise as the price of energy products grows.

Slide 5

 

 

 

 

Slide 5

In many ways, the problems that overtake the economy are similar to ailments that beset a human being. A person can have multiple ailments, some of which grow in severity over the years. The catch, of course, is that if an early ailment becomes severe, it may kill the patient, eliminating the need to fix the later ailments.

The way I see the economy, there are many hurdles that have the potential to inflict severe damage on the economy. Slide 6 shows a few of them. Some examples of other issues include lack of fresh water and erosion of topsoil.

In my view, we are right now reaching an affordability crisis. One way it manifests itself is as high commodity prices that fall and thus become low commodity prices. Falling commodity prices are likely to cause debt-related problems because of all of the debt incurred in their production. We may find financial problems, much worse than those experienced in 2008, back again.

Slide 6

 

 

 

 

Slide 6

Many others have focused on climate change. In their view, we can extract pretty much all of the fossil fuels that are in the ground, because prices will rise higher and higher, allowing this to be done.

If, in fact, prices fall after a point, then there is a good chance that we must leave most of them in the ground because of affordability issues. If this is the case, the situation may be very different: we may lose fossil fuel production in not many years because of disruptions caused by low prices.

We often think of affordability in terms of what a gallon of oil costs or in terms of how much a kilowatt-hour of electricity sells for. While these costs are one part of the problem, a big part of the affordability problem relates to big-ticket items, as listed in Slide 7.  If customers cannot afford these big-ticket items, such as homes and cars, the economy loses both (a) the energy use that would be required to make these big-ticket items, and (b) the later energy use that these big items would require.

Slide 7

 

 

 

 

Slide 7

If we look at the data, we find that inflation-adjusted median income for families has been falling.

Slide 8

 

 

 

 

Slide 8

Part of this lower family income involves a smaller share of the population working.

Slide 9

 

 

 

 

Slide 9

When a person looks at the labor force growth split between men and women, there is a very different pattern. Men show a small downward trend over time; women increasingly joined the labor force, but this trend topped out in 1999, and became a decline since 2008.

Slide 10

 

 

 

 

Slide 10

Something we all are aware of:

Slide 11

 

 

 

 

Slide 11

Many fewer homes are now being built in the United States.

Slide 12

 

 

 

 

Slide 12

There has been a very different trend in auto purchases in the United States, Europe, and Japan compared to the rest of the world. In the developed areas, interest rates have been very low, and lenders have increasingly offered loans to subprime buyers. An increasing number of the loans are 7-year loans, and the loan to value ratio is often 125%. We seem to be creating a new subprime auto bubble. Based on our experience with subprime housing loans, this is not a sustainable pattern.

Slide 13

 

 

 

 

Slide 13

I am convinced that most economists have missed a basic principle regarding how economic growth takes place (Slide 14). I define efficiency in terms of what it takes in terms of human labor and resources to produce finished output, such as a barrel of oil or a kilowatt-hour of electricity. Are these finished goods becoming cheaper or more expensive in inflation-adjusted terms?

On Slide 18, note the change in the size of the output boxes, compared to the input boxes. Increased efficiency produces more output compared to the resources used; increased inefficiency produces less output compared to the resources used.

If an economy is becoming increasingly efficient, a given number of workers and a given amount of resources can produce more and more goods. This is good for economic growth. Growing inefficiency is a problem, because it quickly uses up both available worker-time and available resources. Many economists never seem to have gotten past the idea, “We pay each other’s wages.” Yes, we do, but if those wages are being used to encourage the use of increasingly inefficient processes, we go backwards in terms of economic growth.

Slide 14

 

 

 

 

Slide 14

If we look back historically, we can see a growing efficiency pattern with electricity, in the 1900 to 1998 period. As the price dropped, both consumers and businesses could afford more of it (illustrated with rising black “demand” curve). Part of the lower cost came from increased efficiency of electricity generation during this period.

Slide 15

 

 

 

 

Slide 15

If we look at the oil sector, since about 1999 we have had exactly the opposite pattern taking place. The cost of oil “exploration and production capital expenditures” has been rising at a rapid rate. This is an issue of diminishing returns. We have already extracted the easy-to-extract oil, and as a result, we need to move on to more difficult (and expensive) to extract oil. Thus we are becoming increasingly inefficient, in terms of the cost of producing the end product, oil.

Slide 16

 

 

 

 

Slide 16

As we move on to more expensive oil, the higher cost tends to squeeze budgets. The thing that is important is the fact that wages don’t rise sufficiently to cover the cost increase; in fact, the images I showed earlier seem to suggest that in the recent era of high prices, we have seen unusually slow growth in wages. The amount of wages is represented by the size of the circles in Figure 17.  The wage circles don’t grow.

Slide 17 shows that as workers need to spend more for oil, and for the things that oil is used to make, such as food, the discretionary portion of their budgets (“everything else”) is squeezed. This shift in discretionary spending is what tends to lead to recession. The same principle works if consumers suddenly find themselves with higher electricity bills–discretionary spending is again squeezed.

Slide 17

 

 

 

 

Slide 17

The problem that squeezes all commodities at the same time is falling discretionary income. The amount of debt that can be borrowed also tends to fall as discretionary income falls. The combination leads to falling affordability for expensive goods, like new autos and new homes.

The price patterns for commodities of many types move together, reflecting a combination of rising cost of oil (because of higher extraction costs) and falling ability of consumers to afford the high prices of these goods. I have not included food on Figure 18, but many food prices have recently fallen as well.

Of course, the costs for producers creating these commodities have not fallen proportionately, and many have huge amounts of outstanding debt. Repayment of debt becomes difficult, as prices remain low.

Slide 18

 

 

 

 

Slide 18

Back at Slide 14, I talked about increased efficiency leading to economic growth, and increased inefficiency causing economic contraction. Because our leaders have not looked at things this way, they have encouraged increased inefficiency in many areas, as I describe on Slide 19. To some extent, this increased inefficiency is required. For example, as population grows in areas with low water supplies, the need for desalination grows. Also, pollution problems increase as we use lower qualities of coal and oil.

Slide 19

 

 

 

 

Slide 19

What are the expected impacts on the electricity industry and on natural gas? Are there any workarounds?

Let’s look at a few implications of the problems we now see.

In my view, low oil and natural gas prices are likely to be a huge problem for the natural gas industry, leading to the bankruptcy of many natural gas suppliers.

We cannot expect natural gas supply to grow. In fact, we cannot expect a coal to natural gas transition because the natural gas price won’t rise high enough, for long enough.

Slide 21

 

 

 

 

Slide 21

If we look at the history of US natural gas prices (using Henry Hub data), we see that prices have tended to stay low, after the 2008 spike. This was a great disappointment to those who built new natural gas extraction capability. They expected prices to rise, to justify their new higher costs. In my view, the continued low natural gas prices to some extent already reflect affordability issues.

Slide 22

 

 

 

 

Slide 22

The Marcellus Shale was perhaps the most successful of the new natural gas production, but it seems to now be topping out because of low prices (Slide 23).

Many producers will have their lending terms reevaluated using September 30, 2015 data. This reevaluation is likely to lead to bankruptcy of some producers, and cutbacks of production of other producers.

Slide 23

 

 

 

 

Slide 23

Coal use has been declining, as shown in Slide 24. Coal has some of the same problems as natural gas, as I will explain on Slide 25.

Slide 24

 

 

 

 

Slide 24

The basic issue is that coal prices are too low for most producers. Even if a particular producer has low extraction costs, this benefit is not enough to keep producers from bankruptcy. The problem that occurs is that coal companies are locked into high cost structures because of patterns that continue to persist from when prices were high. Lease costs are high; taxes and royalties are high; often debt was entered into, assuming that revenue would remain high in the future. Now revenue is lower, and there is no way to fix the “hole” that results from low prices. Production stays high, because each producer must produce as much as possible, to try to avoid bankruptcy for as long as possible.

Slide 25

 

 

 

 

Slide 25

Coal is in a sense ahead of natural gas, in terms of bankruptcies, with big bankruptcies already starting.

With prices as low as they are, there is little chance for a new producer to come in, buy the production facilities at a low price, and restart operations. A big issue is ongoing costs such as royalty payments that cannot be eliminated. Another is debt availability to support the new operations.

Slide 26

 

 

 

 

Slide 26

Bankruptcies are likely to interrupt supply chains as well. Part of the problem may simply be the excessively high cost of credit, for those members of the supply chain with poor credit ratings. Once a supply chain breaks, replacements parts may not be available. Other services that a company contracts for with outside suppliers may disappear as well.

As I note on Slide 27, customers may have financial difficulties. Those who remain in business will tend to buy less, so demand is likely to be lower, rather than higher. Companies producing electricity should not be misled by the rosy forecasts of the EIA and IEA regarding future demand amounts.

Slide 27

 

 

 

 

Slide 27

Slide 28 shows that industrial consumption of energy products has been falling since the 1970s, as industrial production has moved overseas. Now the dollar is high relative to other currencies, encouraging more of this trend. On a per capita basis, residential energy consumption is down, and commercial energy consumption is level. It is hard to see that this mix will provide very much of an upward trend in natural gas and electricity consumption in the future. (Note: Slide 28 shows energy of all types combined, including both electricity and fuels burned directly. This approach is used because there has been a shift over time to the use of electricity. This method shows the overall trend in energy use better than, say, an electricity-only analysis.)

Slide 28

 

 

 

 

Slide 28

The major ways subsidies for wind and solar PV are available are through greater government debt or through higher costs passed on to customers. There are now getting to be pushbacks in both of these areas.

Slide 29

 

 

 

 

Slide 29

In Europe, the cost of intermittent electricity tends to be passed on to consumers. Dr. Euan Mearns put together the chart shown in Slide 30 comparing price of electricity with the per capita wind and solar PV generation installed for European countries. There is a striking correlation. Countries with more installed wind and solar PV tend to have higher electricity prices for the consumer.

Slide 30

 

 

 

 

Slide 30

Given the problem with commodity producers not being able to collect high enough prices for their products, and the large number of resulting bankruptcies, a person comes to the rather startling conclusion that the ideal structure for electricity providers in today’s economy is that of a vertically integrated utility. In other words, an electric utility should directly own its suppliers, as well as transmission lines and everything else needed to produce and distribute electricity.

Utilities have traditionally had the ability to price on a cost-plus basis. With vertical integration, the utility can use its pricing ability to keep prices for fuel producers from falling too low, and thus sidestep the problem of bankruptcies. To the extent that the required price for electricity keeps rising, it will tend to pressure discretionary spending. (See Slide 17.) But at least grid electricity will be among the last to “go” under this structure.

Slide 31

 

 

 

 

Slide 31

Black Hills Corporation lists the many electricity-generating facilities it owns (coal and natural gas), and the places it has arrangements to sell this electricity as a utility. The Black Hills Corporation indicates it has had 45 years of dividend increases. This increase in dividends is in stark contrast to the many coal and natural gas producers that are currently near bankruptcy, as a result of low coal and natural gas prices.

Slide 32

 

 

 

 

Slide 32

How does one resolve the conflict between industrial companies wanting to generate their own electricity (for a variety of reasons) and the need to have an electric grid for everyone else? It seems to me that we have to keep in mind that having an operating electric grid for everyone else is absolutely essential. Without the electric grid, gasoline stations would stop pumping gasoline and diesel. Transportation would stop. Electric elevators would stop. Treatment of fresh water and sewage would stop. Companies everywhere would lose their consumers. The economy would quickly come to a halt.

With our current affordability problems, we are in danger of losing the electric grid. That is why it is essential that those who opt out not be given too large a credit for providing some or nearly all of their own electricity. The credit given to industrial companies should reflect the savings to the system, no more.

Slide 33

 

 

 

 

Slide 33

One concern is the bankruptcy of peaker plants, if their use is significantly reduced by, for example, the use of solar PV. If these peaker plants continue to be needed for balancing purposes, this may be a problem. Another concern is the rising cost of grid transmission for those who continue to get their electricity from the grid.

Slide 34

 

 

 

 

Slide 34

To sum up, the story we read from most sources is so climate-change focused, a person wonders if there aren’t other issues that are important as well. Most observers have overlooked the importance of low commodity prices, and the impact that they can have on coal and natural gas producers’ ability to produce the fuels that are needed by electric utilities.

Too much faith is being placed in natural gas, as the fuel of the future. And too much faith is being placed on intermittent renewables, without fully understanding their costs and limitations.

I haven’t tried to address the many indirect problems arising from many bankruptcies. These may be severe.

Slide 35

 

 

 

 

Slide 35

The Volkswagen Scandal

 

vw-crash-beetle-2gc2smOff the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on September 22, 2015

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Say goodbye to the internal combustion engine!

By now, I guess that everyone in the world has heard of how Volkswagen cheated consumers by falsifying the results of the emission tests from their diesel engines. It is a true witch hunt unleashed against Volkswagen. Maybe there are good reasons for it, but I think it is also something that should be taken with caution. A lot of it.

I have been a consultant for the automotive industry for some 20 years and I think that I know the way they operate. And I can tell you that they are not equipped for "cheating", intended as willingly ignoring or breaking the law. They just don't do that, they understand very well that the result could be something like what's happening to Volkswagen nowadays; something that could lead to their end as a car manufacturer. On the contrary, carmakers tend to be extremely legalistic and apply to the letter the current laws and regulations.

This said, it is also clear that car makers are there to make a profit and their managers are supposed to "get results". So, if the laws and the regulations are not clear, or do not explicitly say that something is forbidden; then, if that something is supposed to provide some advantage to the company, it may be done.

This is, I think, what happened in this case. It is very well known that the results of the pollution tests made in the lab are always much better than those made on the road. And it is very well known that the performances of cars as measured in standardized tests are always much better than those of real cars. It is all very well known and documented: look for instance here and here. (h/t G.Meneghello).

So, if cheating is so diffuse, why was Volkswagen singled out in this scandal? Maybe they were doing something especially bad, but I would be surprised if they were to turn out to be the only ones using the trick they have been accused to use for hiding nitrogen oxide emissions. Besides, I am sure that, before doing what they did, they checked with their legal department and got some kind of green light: possibly reasoning that if it was not explicitly forbidden it was not illegal. Anyway, I leave to conspiracy theorists the obvious implications that could be derived from this story.

Rather, I would point out something that I learned in my work with the automotive industry. It is that the story of pollution abatement in internal combustion engines is a good example of the diminishing returns of technology. And not just that, it also illustrates very well how good intentions can easily conflict with reality and actually backfire.

It is a long and fascinating story that, here, I can just sketch it in its main lines (*). Anyway, the concept of "pollution" became popular in the 1970s and it quickly became clear that a major culprit were the emissions from car engines. That led to a major debate: some thought that it was necessary to get rid of internal combustion engines and replace them with electric motors, others that it was possible to reduce pollution from engines to acceptable levels. The latter position won (do you remember the "who killed the electric car" movie?)  and that led to a long series of legislative actions, especially in Europe, aimed at the development of less polluting and more efficient engines. On the whole, the results appear to be good (see, e.g. here).

However, what the Volkswagen scandal tells us is that, likely, most of the recent improvements may have been obtained, if not by cheating, at least by a creative interpretation of the rules. An especially telling point, here, has to do with the specific point that led to incriminate Volkswagen: the abatement of nitrous oxides. The problem is especially nasty because it arises from conflicting needs. One is of having low pollution, the other high mileage. To have high mileage, you need to increase the efficiency of the engine, and this can be done using diesel engine instead of the conventional gasoline engines. Diesel engines work at higher temperatures and pressures, and that makes them more efficient. But that makes them also produce more nitrous oxides. It has to do with the thermodynamics of combustion and you should know that if you try to fight thermodynamics, thermodynamics always wins. The problem is basically unsolvable, at least at costs compatible with the price of a normal car. And when you face an unsolvable problem, often the reaction may be to cheat. This is, evidently, what happened with the automotive industry and the results have been exposed by the Volkswagen scandal.

But, if it is true that we cannot win against thermodynamics, it is also true that we don't need to fight against it. A battle against the combustion engine was lost in the 1970s, but the war can still be won: the electric car is making a spectacular return. Electric motors do not produce any gaseous pollution, they are much more efficient than internal combustion engines, and, in addition, they are compatible with renewable energy. What can we ask more? This time, let's try to avoid the mistakes we made in the past.

 (*) this is something that I hope to be able to describe in detail in a new book that I am working at. 

Of Squirrels and Bicycles

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 21, 2015

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We were biking on a backcountry lane this week when we surprised a squirrel about to cross the highway.

Observing the interaction between squirrel and machine, we noted that the maladaptive squirrel did not take a straight line to escape the sudden appearance of the bicycle, a perceived predator, because to do so would conflict with its genetically hard-wired fight-or-flight survival response.

Countless generations of dead squirrels had, by process of elimination, coded a certain wisdom into our squirrel's sudden reaction, which was to zig away from the bike, then zag back into the path of peril, then zig away again.

For millennia this randomized algorithm of zigs and zags thwarted the astute calculus of hawks, owls, eagles, foxes, cougars, coyotes and other cagey hunters of squirrel who put themselves on a perfect intercept trajectory, only to find the quarry gone when they arrived. Who can parse a random algorithm? It defeats both speed and angle of attack, putting the contest into one of nimbleness, stamina and availability of cover.

Against automobiles and other fast-moving machines, the program is utterly maladaptive. Having escaped the danger zone, the squirrel rushes back into the path of oncoming death. In a significant percentage of encounters they find themselves occupying the same position in time and space as the rotating tire of a car. Remnants of squirrel smeared on pavement, a boon to turkey buzzards and other scavengers, attest to a failed algorithm that should have been retired half a century ago. Similarly maladaptive to the automobile age are the defense strategies of opossums and armadillos.

But on the other hand, a mere half-century of paving progress is just a bat of evolutionary time's eyelash for a squirrel. The 100-year auto age may be a passing fad, and in not so many years (already Peak Oil+10 at this writing) the fox and hawk may assert prior rights to the average country squirrel.

We have been speaking recently of the energy calculus of renewables and whether they can be brought on line fast enough to avert catastrophic climate change and save our civilization. We hold the humble opinion that while renewables must indeed replace our self-destructive addiction to oil, gas and coal, there is no possible way that such a switch could save our profligate and bloated civilization. Just do the math.

Nonetheless, switching back to sunlight is our only option, climate change or no, and assigning reality-based costs to fossil fuels, or merely removing their obscene trillion-dollar subsidies, should be done immediately.

But we need to realize that while we can move some sectors of the energy economy to renewables, not all of them will follow, and not most of the really big ones that a globally industrialized economy requires. We can easily electrify cars but not steel mills, cement factories, container ships or airplanes. We can replace agrochemical farming with bioenergy-to-carbon-storage (BECS), but we cannot as easily dry the grains, transport, process and package them unless we are prepared to relocalize farming to a scale last seen before World War II, when the world's population was about 12% of present.

Our maladaptive civilization model is not in the position of the bicycle or the automobile here, it is the squirrel. We race to and fro in a desperate attempt to escape our fate, but odds are roughly even in any given encounter that our fragile economy will wind up under the tire, and splayed across the pavement. The tire missed it in 2008. That may or may not happen again next time, and dumb luck will have a hand in the outcome.

We are happy to report that in our case, we did not waiver in our bicycle's trajectory. The squirrel escaped unharmed.

Kondratiev Goes Surfing

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 17, 2015

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"Excursions from the comfort of the normal to the uncertainty of the new typically happen brutally and violently."
 

 

 

  We read recently in a Southern California newspaper that climate change may wreck the shape and direction of waves that make for some of the world's best surfing beaches. We wondered if it might have a similar effect on Kondratiev cycles.

Our species now has to focus on three overarching tasks:

  • switching away from fossil energy and onto renewables;
  • degrowing industrial dependencies and shedding our profligate ways in a very resource-constrained new environment; and
  • mending the damage we've done by undertaking massive works of ecological restoration – returning us to a garden planet and restoring Gaia to her full health.
 

Among collapsologists, the surfing analogy works at several levels. Instead of passively observing tsunami-size Kondratiev and Elliott waves pound civilization to rubble, we can get out and ride those waves. We are not destroying anything to have our fun. Its renewable energy. We are degrowing our footprint, which is growing hope in inverse proportion. Surfing hits our dopamine receptors. With newfound friends, in ecovillages and organic farming collectives, this big wave surfing can be a lot of fun.

"Surfing is a very experiential or 'now' activity," a surfer recently told the San Jose Mercury News.  "When waves die in one spot and pick up in another, you move to that spot." This is the phenomenon Kevin Kelly described as "scenius," observing that throughout history certain geographical areas attract creative human energies, often passing into and out of their heyday with unexpected suddenness. As Benoit Mandelbrot says, "Wave prediction is a very uncertain business."

Most demographic moves of populations around the planet are reactive. Typically people are fleeing political, social and environmental crises, not rushing somewhere to find a nexus of like-minded individuals. Witness the nomadic invasion of Europe. Many of these waves of refugees reflect, in the mirror, a desperate and very brutal grab of Western countries for control of dwindling oil. Tent cities of refugees extend from Jordan across to North Africa. As they seep into the old stone cities of Europe, they raise their tents under bridges or bargain with farmers to camp in exchange for work. Soon enough, climate refugees will follow. They will be looking for places to escape the heat.

Excursions from the comfort of the normal to the uncertainty of the new typically happen brutally and violently. A rare event  invasion, terror bombing, freak storm – forces a lurch for equilibrium.

In these movements there is an asymmetrical agency issue, which is the problem that those who make decisions bringing about such horrendous consequences suffer disproportionately less because they have insulated themselves from the downside. Think of how well endowed a Senator's health care plan is in comparison to the average citizen's. There is also the issue of asymmetrical informational opacity, in which not only the decisions themselves and how they are made, but the qualitative value of the information predicating them is kept secret from outside scrutiny.

Take for example the book tour of discredited New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Miller, we may recall, was Dick Cheney's handmaiden for stovepiped and fabricated intel on Iraqi WMD,  and her planted NYT stories went on to be cited by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Dubya as proof that the rape of Iraq was justified to prevent more 9-11s "in the shape of a mushroom cloud." Interviewers with the attention span of an Alzheimer's patient now toss softballs at Miller, letting her rewrite history to her advantage, in much the same way Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Dubya are given a pass on the Middle East and thus Jeb Bush is taken seriously as a presidential candidate for 2016. This is asymmetrical informational opacity.

For those causing the problems there are no consequences. There is only a large upside for them and the greater downside is confined to distant and powerless victims. The same can be applied to the average US citizen, who bears ultimate responsibility for silently assenting to the outrage in unleashing high-tech weaponry on pastoral societies like Vietnam, Grenada, Afghanistan or Yemen for the sake of cheap fuel for their Hummers and retirement communities with golf courses. Many USAnians, goaded by asymmetrical and captive information diets, are more than willing to wreak havoc on a third of the world, mindless of consequences.

Of course there are no consequence-free zones, ultimately. Refugees are only the first wave of consequence for Fortress America. Asymmetrical warfare, as the pentagon has so aptly called it, invariably returns from the powerless to be directed at the would-be insulated. Wield asymmetric technologies at your peril.

In the near term, when large, national or transnational companies abuse, everybody except the culprit ends up paying the cost. Between 2000 and 2010, the US stock market lost two trillion dollars for investors but made scores of new billionaires among the top fund managers. Or take nuclear energy (please!), whereby the bulk of the costs – cancers, expensive cleanups, diverted weaponry  are foisted off on future generations while the current generation of electric ratepayers enjoys all the benefits of "cheap" electricity.

But this asymmetry is a function of scale. Opacity is seldom possible at local scale, and feedback is quick. In a less isolated system, such as a city mayor's office, abuse by authority is more likely to be kept in check by the proximity of the victims and the likelihood their voices will be heard when the next election rolls around. A small retailer who sells a product that harms one of his customers is likely to destroy his business. Retribution is quick.

Degrowing industrial dependencies and shedding profligate ways in our resource-constrained new world returns the scale of practical work from global to local and cuts straight through opacity and insularity.

Surfing is not a team sport requiring large stadiums. It is performed by semi-autonomous actors observing the patterns of nature and blending with them. Done well, it accomplishes nothing, and a great deal. 

The Oil Crash: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on May 11, 2015

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The recent oil price crash signals the impending demise of the oil and gas industry as a major world energy producer. That should be a good thing, in principle, but something wicked may still come out of the process.

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With the ongoing collapse of the oil prices, we can say that it is game over for the oil and gas industry, in particular for the production of "tight" (or "shale") oil and gas. Prices may still go back to reasonably high levels, in the future, but the industry will never be able to regain the momentum that had made its US  supporters claim "energy independence" and "centuries of abundance." The bubble may not burst all of a sudden, but it surely will deflate.

So, what's going to happen, now? The situation is, to say the least, "fluid". A great rush is ongoing to convince investors to place their money where there is still some chance to make a profit. I think we can identify at least three different strategies for the future: 1) more of the same (oil and gas) 2) a push to nuclear, and 3) a push for renewables. Let's see to examine what the future may have in store for us.

1) A push for more gas and more oil. The oil&gas industry has not yet conceded defeat; on the contrary, it still dreams of centuries of abundance (see, e.g. this article on Forbes). It seems unthinkable that investors would still want to finance uncertain enterprises such as squeezing more oil from exhausted fields or, worse, from difficult and expensive technologies such as coal liquefaction. But you should never underestimate the power of business as usual. If people feel that they absolutely need liquid fuels, then they will be willing to do anything to get liquid fuels.

The main problem with this idea is not so much its technical feasibility. By throwing every resource at hand at the task (and beggaring the whole economy in the process) it would not be impossible to fool peak oil for a few more years. The problem is a different one: it is with climate change and with the fact that we are running out of time. If we keep burning hydrocarbons, we just can't make it: the industrial society cannot survive the resulting warming and the associated troubles. That is true if we keep burning at the "natural" rate, that is along the bell shaped curve. Imagine if we try to keep growing, instead (as all politicians in the world say we should).

All this is becoming well known and, as a result, a push toward further hydrocarbon production (or, God forbid, more coal) will be possible only if accompanied by a strong propaganda campaign destined to silence climate science and climate activism. Some symptoms that something like that is in the making are evident enough to be disturbing. Consider that none of the Republican candidates for the US 2016 elections supports the need for action on climate change, that in Florida government employees are not allowed to use the term "climate change" or "global warming," that NASA has been defunded on anything that has to do with climate change, and more. Then, a certain logic starts to appear: "muzzle the science and keep on burning". Something very wicked this way comes…..

2. A new push for nuclear. This option would not be so bad as the first, more hydrocarbons. At least, nuclear plants do not directly generate greenhouse gases and we know that it is a technology that can produce energy. Nevertheless, the hurdles associated with its expansion are gigantic. The first and foremost problem is that the uranium mineral production is not sufficient for ramping up nuclear energy from a few percent of the world's primary energy production to a major fraction of it – to be able to do that would require investments so large to be mind boggling. To say nothing about the need for rare minerals in nuclear plants: beryllium, niobium, hafnium, zirconium, rare earths, and more; all in short supply. Then, there are all the nightmarish problems of nuclear waste disposal, safety, and strategic control.

Nevertheless, if it were possible to convince investors to pour money into nuclear energy, then it would be possible to see an attempt to restart it, despite the various problems and disasters that have given to nuclear a bad name. An attempt to do just that seems to be in progress. President Obama is said to be considering a massive return to nuclear and investors are told to prepare for a gigantic surge in uranium prices. Will it work? Unlikely, but not impossible. Something wicked this way comes……
 

hafnium as a neutron absorber, beryllium as a neutron reflector, zirconium for cladding, and niobium

 

 

 

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2011-05-nuclear-power-world-energy.html#jCp


3. A big push for renewables. Surprisingly, the renewable industry may have serious chances to take over from a senescent oil industry, leaving the nuclear industry standing still and gasping at the sight. The progress in renewable technology, especially in photovoltaic cells, has been simply fantastic during the past decade (see, e.g., the recent MIT report). We have now a set of methods for producing electric power that can compete with traditional sources, watt for watt, dollar for dollar. Consider that the most efficient of these technologies do not need critically rare materials and that none brings the strategic and security problem of nuclear. Finally, consider that it has been shown (Sgouridis, Bardi, and Csala) that the present renewable technology could take over from the current sources fast enough to prevent major damage from climate change.

It looks like we have a winner, right? Indeed, the atmosphere around renewables is one of palpable optimism. If renewable energy picks up enough momentum, there will be nothing able to stop it until it has catapulted all of us, willing or not, into a new (and cleaner) world.

There is a problem, though. The renewable industry is still tiny in comparison to the nuclear industry and especially in comparison to the oil and gas industry. And we know that might usually wins against right. The sheer financial power of the traditional energy industry may well be enough to abort the change before it becomes unstoppable. Something wicked may still come……. (*)

(*) "Something wicked this way comes" is mainly known today as the title of a 1962 novel by Ray Bradbury. Actually, it comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth..

Update on US natural gas, coal, nuclear, and renewables

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on August 25, 2014

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On August 6, I wrote a post called Making Sense of the US Oil Story, in which I looked at US oil. In this post, I would like to look at other sources of US energy. Of course, the energy source we hear most about is natural gas. We continue to be a net natural gas importer, even as our own production rises.

Figure 1. US natural gas production and consumption, based on EIA data.

US natural gas production leveled off in 2013, because of the low level of US natural gas prices. In 2013, there was growth in gas production in Pennsylvania in the Marcellus, but many other states, including Texas, saw decreases in production. In early 2014, natural gas prices have been higher, so natural gas production is rising again, roughly at a 4% annual rate.

The US-Canada-Mexican natural gas system is more or less a closed system (at least until LNG exports come online in the next few years) so whatever natural gas is produced, is used. Because of this, natural gas prices rise or fall so that demand matches supply. Natural gas producers have found this pricing situation objectionable because natural gas prices tend to settle at a low level, relative to the cost of production. This is the reason for the big push for natural gas exports. The hope, from producers’ point of view, is that exports will push US natural gas prices higher, making more natural gas production economic.

The Coal / Natural Gas Switch

If natural gas is cheap and plentiful, it tends to switch with coal for electricity production. We can see this in electricity consumption–natural gas was particularly cheap in 2012:

Figure 2. Selected Fuels Share of US Electricity - Coal, Natural Gas, and the sum of Coal plus Natural Gas

Coal use increased further in early 2014, because of the cold winter and higher natural gas prices. In Figure 2, there is a slight downward trend in the sum of coal and natural gas’s share of electricity, as renewables add their (rather small) effect.

If we look at total consumption of coal and natural gas (Figure 3), we find it also tends to be quite stable. Increases in natural gas consumption more or less correspond to decreases in coal consumption. New natural gas power plants should be more efficient than old coal power plants in producing electricity, putting downward pressure on total coal plus natural gas consumption. Also, we are using more efficient lighting, refrigerators, and monitors for computers, holding down electricity usage, and thus both coal and gas usage. Better insulation is also helpful in reducing home heating needs (whether by electricity or natural gas).

Figure 3. Layered US consumption of coal and natural gas, based on EIA data.

Another factor in the lower electricity usage (and thus lower coal and natural gas usage) is fewer household formations since 2007. Young people who continue to live with their parents don’t add as much electricity usage as ones who set up their own households do. Low household formations are related to a lack of good-paying jobs.

Coal Production / Consumption

US coal production hit its maximum level in 1998, with production tending to decline since then. US coal consumption has been dropping faster than production, so that exports (difference between production and consumption) have been rising (Figure 4).

Figure 4. US coal production and consumption based on EIA data.

In 2012, about 16% of coal produced was exported. This percentage dropped to about 10% in 2013, with greater US coal usage.

Coal tends to cause pollution of several types, including higher carbon dioxide levels. It also tends to be less expensive that most other fuels, so world demand remains high. Worldwide, coal use continues to grow.

Nuclear and Hydroelectric

Hydroelectric is the original extender of fossil fuels. Hydroelectricity using concrete and metals became feasible in the 1800s, when we began using coal to provide the heat necessary to make metals and concrete in quantity. The first hydroelectric power plants were put in place in the US in the 1880s.  As recently as 1940, hydroelectric provided 40% of the United States’ electrical generation.

Nuclear electric power was the next major extender of fossil fuels. The first nuclear power was added to the US energy mix in 1957, according to EIA data. The big ramp up in nuclear began in the 1970s and 1980s. Similar to hydroelectricity, nuclear requires fossil fuels to build and maintain its plants making electricity.

If we look at the US distribution of fuels, we see that in recent years, nuclear has been a much bigger source of energy than hydroelectricity.

Figure 5. US Energy Consumption, showing the various fossil fuel extenders separately from fossil fuels, based on BP data.

The above comparison includes all types of energy, not just electricity. The grouping GeoBiomass is a BP grouping including geothermal and various forms of wood and other biomass energy, including sources such as landfill gas and other energy from waste. Note that GeoBiomass, Biofuels, and Solar+Wind are hard to see on Figure 5, because of their small quantities.

If we look at hydro and nuclear separately for recent years (Figure 6, below), we see that nuclear has tended to grow, while hydro has tended to fall, although both now seem to be  on close to a plateau. Hydro tends to be more variable than nuclear because it depends on rainfall and snow pack, things that vary from year to year and month to month.

Figure 6. Comparison of US nuclear and hydroelectric consumption, based on EIA data.

The reason why hydro has tended to decrease in quantity over time is that it takes maintenance (using fossil fuels) to keep the aging power plants in operation and silt removed from near the dams. Most of the good locations for dams are already taken, so not much new capacity has been added.

Nuclear power plant electricity production has grown even since the 1986 Chernobyl accident because the United States has continued to expand the capacity of existing nuclear facilities. I do not expect this trend to continue, for a variety of reasons. Not all such capacity expansions have worked out well. The capacity expansion of the San Onofre plant in California in 2010 experienced premature wear and is now being decommissioned. Many of the nuclear plants built in the 1970s are reaching  the ends of their useful lives. Unless we add a large number of new nuclear plants in the next few years, it seems likely that US generation of nuclear electricity will be falling over the next 20 years.

Other Energy Types

It is easier to see other energy types if we look at them as a percentage of US total energy consumption. The following is a graph of “renewables” as a percentage of US energy consumption, using EIA data:

Figure 7. Renewables are percentage of US energy consumption, using EIA data (but groupings used by BP).

A person can see that over the long haul, hydroelectric has tended to shrink as a percentage of energy consumption, as energy needs grew and hydroelectric failed to keep up.

The GeoBiomass category is BP’s catch-all category, mentioned above.1 It (theoretically) includes everything from the wood we burn in our fireplaces to the charcoal briquettes we use to cook food outdoors, to home heating with wood or briquettes to the burning of sawdust or wood pieces in power plants. It also includes geothermal, which is about 6% as large as hydroelectric, and is increasing gradually over time. Based on EIA data, biomass isn’t growing either in absolute amount or as a percentage of total energy consumed.

Biofuels are liquid fuels made from biomass used to extend oil consumption. In the US, the major biofuel is ethanol, made from corn. It is used to extend gasoline, generally up to 10%.  A chart of production and consumption shows that US biofuel production “topped out,” once it hit the 10% of gasoline “blendwall”.

Figure 8. US biofuel production and consumption, based on EIA data.

Biofuels now amount to 5.7% of US petroleum (crude oil plus natural gas liquids) consumption. In recent years, the US is a slight exporter of biofuels.

Corn ethanol currently takes about 40% of US corn production, according to the USDA (Figure 9). Greater corn plantings would put pressure on land usage for other crops.

USDA corn use, from USDA site.

If someone figures out how to make cellulosic ethanol cheaply (perhaps from wood), it presumably will cut into the market for corn ethanol, unless the blend wall is raised to 15%. Without additional ethanol coming from a source such as cellulosic ethanol, such an increase in the maximum blending percentage would likely be problematic.

Wind and Solar PV

Wind and Solar PV are sources of US electricity, so really need to be compared in that context. If we compare nuclear, hydroelectric, and all renewable electricity other than hydro (including electricity from wood, sawdust, and waste, and from geothermal, in addition to wind and solar) we see that in total, all other renewables are approximately equal to hydro electricity in quantity:

Figure 10:  Hydroelectric, other renewables, and nuclear as a percentage of US electricity supply, based on EIA data.

If we look at the pieces of other renewables separately, we see the following:

Figure 11. Wind, solar/PV and other renewables as a percentage of US electricity, based on EIA data.

Wind energy has indeed grown in quantity. Solar/PV is growing, but from a very small base. The remainder, which includes geothermal, wood and various waste products, is growing a bit.

A major issue with wind and solar is that we badly need a “solution” to our energy problem, so these are “pushed,” whether they are really helpful or not. Some issues involved:

(a) Cost effectiveness. Studies (such as by Brookings Institution, Weissbach et al., Graham Palmer) show that wind and solar PV are not cost-effective for reducing carbon emissions. If we want to reduce carbon emissions, conservation or switching from coal to natural gas would be more cost effective.

(b) Peak supply or peak affordability (demand in economists’ language)? The peak oil “story” often seems to be that because of inadequate supply, oil and other fossil fuel prices will rise, and substitutes will suddenly become competitive. This story is used to support a switch to wind and solar PV and high priced biofuels, since the expected high prices of fossil fuels will supposedly support the high cost of renewables.

Unfortunately, the story is wrong. High prices of any fuel tend to lead to recession because wages don’t rise to match the high prices. Also, a country using the high-priced fuel tends to become less competitive compared to countries that don’t use the high-priced fuel. The net effect is that prices don’t rise very much. Instead, manufacturing moves to countries that use less-expensive fuels. Oil prices may fall so low (relative to the cost of oil production) that oil producers sell their land and increase dividends to shareholders instead; in fact, this seems to be happening already.

(c) Hoped for long-term life. If fossil fuels have problems, can “renewables” have long life-spans in spite of those problems? Not that I can see. It takes fossil fuels to maintain the electric grid and to produce any modern renewable, such as wind, or solar PV or wave energy. Wind turbines need frequent replacement of parts, and solar PV needs new “inverters.” Wood and biomass will have long lives, if not overused, but these won’t keep the electric grid operating.

(d) Apples to oranges cost comparisons. There are a few situations where wind and solar PV are used to substitute for oil–for example, on islands, where oil is used to operate electricity generation. In these cases, wind and solar PV are likely already competitive, without subsidies. In these situations, per capita use of electricity can be expected to be very low, because exports made with such high-priced electricity will be non-competitive in the world market-place.

The confusion comes elsewhere, where substitution is for natural gas, coal, or nuclear energy. Here, the savings to an electric company is primarily a savings in fuel cost, that is, the cost of the natural gas, or coal or uranium. The plant’s manpower needs and its cost of electric grid maintenance will be the same (or higher). There may be costs associated with monitoring the new sources of electricity added to the grid or additional balancing costs, and these need to be considered as well.

If we want to maintain the electric grid so we can continue to have electricity for a variety of purposes, the “correct” credit for intermittent renewables is the savings to the power companies–which is likely to be close to the savings in fuel costs, or about 3 cents per kWh on the mainland United States. This is far less than the “net metering” benefit (offering a benefit equal to the retail cost of electricity) that is often used for grid-tied solar PV. It is also generally less than the “wholesale time of day” cost of electricity, often used for wind.

Germany is known for its encouragement of wind and solar PV, using liberal funding for the renewables. This approach has adverse ramifications, including high electricity costs, less grid stability, closure of some traditional natural gas power plants, and rising carbon dioxide emissions. A recent article called Germany’s Electricity Market Out of Balance by the Institute for Energy Research summarizes these issues.

Summary

It would be great if we had a solution for our non-oil energy issues, but we really don’t. The closest we can perhaps come is scaling up natural gas consumption some, and reducing coal’s current portion of the electricity mix. We currently have a large amount of coal consumption relative to natural gas consumption (Figure 3), so we ourselves have good use for rising natural gas production, if it should actually take place.

The “catch” in scaling up natural gas consumption is a price “catch.” If the price of natural gas price rises too high relative to coal, then electricity production starts switching back to coal. If, on the other hand, natural gas prices don’t rise very much, not much of an increase in production is likely to be available. Producers would like to export (a lot of) natural gas to Europe, as a way of jacking-up US natural gas prices. This seems like a pipe dream. See my article The Absurdity of US Natural Gas Exports.

Nuclear is a big question mark. If the United States starts taking much nuclear off line, it will leave a big hole in electricity generation, especially in the Eastern part of the US. Germany and recently Belgium are starting to experience the effect of taking nuclear off line. It is hard to see how wind and solar PV can play a very big role in offsetting the nuclear loss.

Politicians need to have a “solution” they can call an energy savior, but it is hard to see that renewables will play more than a small role. Biofuels seem to have “topped out” for now. Wind and solar PV are still growing, but it is hard to justify subsidies for them, as part of the electric grid system. Solar PV does have uses off grid, if citizens want their own source of electricity, with their own inverters and back-up batteries. There are also business uses of this type–for example, to operate equipment in a remote location.

I have not tried to cover all of the various smaller items. There may also be growth possibilities for items that I have not discussed, such as solar thermal for heating hot water, particularly in warm parts of the United States.

Note:

[1] I have used BP’s GeoBiomass grouping for convenience, but I am adding together EIA data amounts. What is included in the “biomass” portion of GeoBiomass seems to vary from agency to agency (BP, EIA, IEA), because of different definitions of what is included. For example, is animal dung burned as fuel included? Is fuel that is gathered by a family, rather than purchased, included? I am using EIA data for US renewables in Figure 7, since its long-term data series is probably as good as any for the US.

Eight Energy Myths Explained

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on April 23, 2014

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Republicans, Democrats, and environmentalists all have favorite energy myths. Even Peak Oil believers have favorite energy myths. The following are a few common mis-beliefs,  coming from a variety of energy perspectives. I will start with a recent myth, and then discuss some longer-standing ones.

Myth 1. The fact that oil producers are talking about wanting to export crude oil means that the US has more than enough crude oil for its own needs.

The real story is that producers want to sell their crude oil at as high a price as possible. If they have a choice of refineries A, B, and C in this country to sell their crude oil to, the maximum amount they can receive for their oil is limited by the price these refineries are paying, less the cost of shipping the oil to these refineries.

If it suddenly becomes possible to sell crude oil to refineries elsewhere, the possibility arises that a higher price will be available in another country. Refineries are optimized for a particular type of crude. If, for example, refineries in Europe are short of light, sweet crude because such oil from Libya is mostly still unavailable, a European refinery might be willing to pay a higher price for crude oil from the Bakken (which also produces light sweet, crude) than a refinery in this country. Even with shipping costs, an oil producer might be able to make a bigger profit on its oil sold outside of the US than sold within the US.

The US consumed 18.9 million barrels a day of petroleum products during 2013. In order to meet its oil needs, the US imported 6.2 million barrels of oil a day in 2013 (netting exported oil products against imported crude oil). Thus, the US is, and will likely continue to be, a major oil crude oil importer.

If production and consumption remain at a constant level, adding crude oil exports would require adding crude oil imports as well. These crude oil imports might be of a different kind of oil than that that is exported–quite possibly sour, heavy crude instead of sweet, light crude. Or perhaps US refineries specializing in light, sweet crude will be forced to raise their purchase prices, to match world crude oil prices for that type of product.

The reason exports of crude oil make sense from an oil producer’s point of view is that they stand to make more money by exporting their crude to overseas refineries that will pay more. How this will work out in the end is unclear. If US refiners of light, sweet crude are forced to raise the prices they pay for oil, and the selling price of US oil products doesn’t rise to compensate, then more US refiners of light, sweet crude will go out of business, fixing a likely world oversupply of such refiners. Or perhaps prices of US finished products will rise, reflecting the fact that the US has to some extent in the past received a bargain (related to the gap between European Brent and US WTI oil prices), relative to world prices. In this case US consumers will end up paying more.

The one thing that is very clear is that the desire to ship crude oil abroad does not reflect too much total crude oil being produced in the United States. At most, what it means is an overabundance of refineries, worldwide, adapted to light, sweet crude. This happens because over the years, the world’s oil mix has been generally changing to heavier, sourer types of oil. Perhaps if there is more oil from shale formations, the mix will start to change back again. This is a very big “if,” however. The media tend to overplay the possibilities of such extraction as well.

Myth 2. The economy doesn’t really need very much energy.

 

We humans need food of the right type, to provide us with the energy we need to carry out our activities. The economy is very similar: it needs energy of the right types to carry out its activities.

One essential activity of the economy is growing and processing food. In developing countries in warm parts of the world, food production, storage, transport, and preparation accounts for the vast majority of economic activity (Pimental and Pimental, 2007). In traditional societies, much of the energy comes from human and animal labor and burning biomass.

If a developing country substitutes modern fuels for traditional energy sources in food production and preparation, the whole nature of the economy changes. We can see this starting to happen on a world-wide basis in the early 1800s, as energy other than biomass use ramped up.

Figure 1. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects and together with BP Statistical Data on 1965 and subsequent

Figure 1. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects and together with BP Statistical Data on 1965 and subsequent

The Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s in Britain. It was enabled by coal usage, which made it possible to make metals, glass, and cement in much greater quantities than in the past. Without coal, deforestation had become a problem, especially near cold urban areas, such as London. With coal, it became possible to use industrial processes that required heat without the problem of deforestation. Processes using high levels of heat also became cheaper, because it was no longer necessary to cut down trees, make charcoal from the wood, and transport the charcoal long distances (because nearby wood had already been depleted).

The availability of coal allowed the use of new technology to be ramped up. For example, according to Wikipedia, the first steam engine was patented in 1608, and the first commercial steam engine was patented in 1712. In 1781, James Watt invented an improved version of the steam engine. But to actually implement the steam engine widely using metal trains running on metal tracks, coal was needed to make relatively inexpensive metal in quantity.

Concrete and metal could be used to make modern hydroelectric power plants, allowing electricity to be made in quantity. Devices such as light bulbs (using glass and metal) could be made in quantity, as well as wires used for transmitting electricity, allowing a longer work-day.

The use of coal also led to agriculture changes as well, cutting back on the need for farmers and ranchers. New devices such as steel plows and reapers and hay rakes were manufactured, which could be pulled by horses, transferring work from humans to animals. Barbed-wire fence allowed the western part of the US to become cropland, instead one large unfenced range. With fewer people needed in agriculture, more people became available to work in cities in factories.

Our economy is now very different from what it was back about 1820, because of increased energy use. We have large cities, with food and raw materials transported from a distance to population centers. Water and sewer treatments greatly reduce the risk of disease transmission of people living in such close proximity. Vehicles powered by oil or electricity eliminate the mess of animal-powered transport. Many more roads can be paved.

If we were to try to leave today’s high-energy system and go back to a system that uses biofuels (or only biofuels plus some additional devices that can be made with biofuels), it would require huge changes.

Myth 3. We can easily transition to renewables.

On Figure 1, above, the only renewables are hydroelectric and biofuels. While energy supply has risen rapidly, population has risen rapidly as well.

Figure 2. World Population, based on Angus Maddison estimates, interpolated where necessary.

Figure 2. World Population, based on Angus Maddison estimates, interpolated where necessary.

When we look at energy use on a per capita basis, the result is as shown in Figure 3, below.

Figure 3. Per capita world energy consumption, calculated by dividing world energy consumption (based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent) by population estimates, based on Angus Maddison data.

Figure 3. Per capita world energy consumption, calculated by dividing world energy consumption (based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent) by population estimates, based on Angus Maddison data.

The energy consumption level in 1820 would be at a basic level–only enough to grow and process food, heat homes, make clothing, and provide for some very basic industries. Based on Figure 3, even this required a little over 20 gigajoules of energy per capita. If we add together per capita biofuels and hydroelectric on Figure 3, they would come out to only about 11 gigajoules of energy per capita. To get to the 1820  level of per capita energy consumption, we would either need to add something else, such as coal, or wait a very, very long time until (perhaps) renewables including hydroelectric could be ramped up enough.

If we want to talk about renewables that can be made without fossil fuels, the amount would be smaller yet. As noted previously, modern hydroelectric power is enabled by coal, so we would need to exclude this. We would also need to exclude modern biofuels, such as ethanol made from corn and biodiesel made from rape seed, because they are greatly enabled by today’s farming and transportation equipment and indirectly by our ability to make metal in quantity.

I have included wind and solar in the “Biofuels” category for convenience. They are so small in quantity that they wouldn’t be visible as a separate categories, wind amounting to only 1.0% of world energy supply in 2012, and solar amounting to 0.2%, according to BP data. We would need to exclude them as well, because they too require fossil fuels to be produced and transported.

In total, the biofuels category without all of these modern additions might be close to the amount available in 1820. Population now is roughly seven times as large, suggesting only one-seventh as much energy per capita. Of course, in 1820 the amount of wood used led  to significant deforestation, so even this level of biofuel use was not ideal. And there would be the additional detail of transporting wood to markets. Back in 1820, we had horses for transport, but we would not have enough horses for this purpose today.

Myth 4. Population isn’t related to energy availability.

If we compare Figures 2 and 3, we see that the surge in population that took place immediately after World War II coincided with the period that per-capita energy use was ramping up rapidly. The increased affluence of the 1950s (fueled by low oil prices and increased ability to buy goods using oil) allowed parents to have more children. Better sanitation and innovations such as antibiotics (made possible by fossil fuels) also allowed more of these children to live to maturity.

Furthermore, the Green Revolution which took place during this time period is credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. It ramped up the use of irrigation, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, hybrid seed, and the development of high yield grains. All of these techniques were enabled by availability of oil. Greater use of agricultural equipment, allowing seeds to be sowed closer together, also helped raise production. By this time, electricity reached farming communities, allowing use of equipment such as milking machines.

If we take a longer view of the situation, we find that a “bend” in the world population occurred about the time of Industrial Revolution, and the ramp up of coal use (Figure 4). Increased farming equipment made with metals increased food output, allowing greater world population.

Figure 4. World population based on data from "Atlas of World History," McEvedy and Jones, Penguin Reference Books, 1978  and Wikipedia-World Population.

Figure 4. World population based on data from “Atlas of World History,” McEvedy and Jones, Penguin Reference Books, 1978
and Wikipedia-World Population.

Furthermore, when we look at countries that have seen large drops in energy consumption, we tend to see population declines. For example, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were drops in energy consumption in a number of countries whose energy was affected (Figure 5).

Figure 6. Population as percent of 1985 population, for selected countries, based on EIA data.

Figure 6. Population as percent of 1985 population, for selected countries, based on EIA data.

Myth 5. It is easy to substitute one type of energy for another.

Any changeover from one type of energy to another is likely to be slow and expensive, if it can be accomplished at all.

One major issue is the fact that different types of energy have very different uses. When oil production was ramped up, during and following World War II, it added new capabilities, compared to coal. With only coal (and hydroelectric, enabled by coal), we could have battery-powered cars, with limited range. Or ethanol-powered cars, but ethanol required a huge amount of land to grow the necessary crops. We could have trains, but these didn’t go from door to door. With the availability of oil, we were able to have personal transportation vehicles that went from door to door, and trucks that delivered goods from where they were produced to the consumer, or to any other desired location.

We were also able to build airplanes. With airplanes, we were able to win World War II. Airplanes also made international business feasible on much greater scale, because it became possible for managers to visit operations abroad in a relatively short time-frame, and because it was possible to bring workers from one country to another for training, if needed. Without air transport, it is doubtful that the current number of internationally integrated businesses could be maintained.

The passage of time does not change the inherent differences between different types of fuels. Oil is still the fuel of preference for long-distance travel, because (a) it is energy dense so it fits in a relatively small tank, (b) it is a liquid, so it is easy to dispense at refueling stations, and (c) we are now set up for liquid fuel use, with a huge number of cars and trucks on the road which use oil and refueling stations to serve these vehicles. Also, oil works much better than electricity for air transport.

Changing to electricity for transportation is likely to be a slow and expensive process. One important point is that the cost of electric vehicles needs to be brought down to where they are affordable for buyers, if we do not want the changeover to have a hugely adverse effect on the economy. This is the case because salaries are not going to rise to pay for high-priced cars, and the government cannot afford large subsidies for everyone. Another issue is that the range of electric vehicles needs to be increased, if vehicle owners are to be able to continue to use their vehicles for long-distance driving.

No matter what type of changeover is made, the changeover needs to implemented slowly, over a period of 25 years or more, so that buyers do not lose the trade in value of their oil-powered vehicles. If the changeover is done too quickly, citizens will lose their trade in value of their oil-powered cars, and because of this, will not be able to afford the new vehicles.

If a changeover to electric transportation vehicles is to be made, many vehicles other than cars will need to be made electric, as well. These would include long haul trucks, busses, airplanes, construction equipment, and agricultural equipment, all of which would need to be made electric. Costs would need to be brought down, and necessary refueling equipment would need to be installed, further adding to the slowness of the changeover process.

Another issue is that even apart from energy uses, oil is used in many applications as a raw material. For example, it is used in making herbicides and pesticides, asphalt roads and asphalt shingles for roofs, medicines, cosmetics, building materials, dyes, and flavoring. There is no possibility that electricity could be adapted to these uses. Coal could perhaps be adapted for these uses, because it is also a fossil fuel.

Myth 6. Oil will “run out” because it is limited in supply and non-renewable.

This myth is actually closer to the truth than the other myths. The situation is a little different from “running out,” however. The real situation is that oil limits are likely to disrupt the economy in various ways. This economic disruption is likely to be what leads to an  abrupt drop in oil supply. One likely possibility is that a lack of debt availability and low wages will keep oil prices from rising to the level that oil producers need for extraction. Under this scenario, oil producers will see little point in investing in new production. There is evidence that this scenario is already starting to happen.

There is another version of this myth that is even more incorrect. According to this myth, the situation with oil supply (and other types of fossil fuel supply) is as follows:

Myth 7. Oil supply (and the supply of other fossil fuels) will start depleting when the supply is 50% exhausted. We can therefore expect a long, slow decline in fossil fuel use.

This myth is a favorite of peak oil believers. Indirectly, similar beliefs underly climate change models as well. It is based on what I believe is an incorrect reading of the writings of M. King Hubbert. Hubbert is a geologist and physicist who foretold a decline of US oil production, and eventually world production, in various documents, including Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels, published in 1956. Hubbert observed that under certain circumstances, the production of various fossil fuels tends to follow a rather symmetric curve.

Figure 7. M. King Hubbert's 1956 image of expected world crude oil production, assuming ultimate recoverable oil of 1,250 billion barrels.

Figure 7. M. King Hubbert’s 1956 image of expected world crude oil production, assuming ultimate recoverable oil of 1,250 billion barrels.

A major reason that this type of forecast is wrong is because it is based on a scenario in which some other type of energy supply was able to be ramped up, before oil supply started to decline.

Figure 8. Figure from Hubbert's 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

Figure 8. Figure from Hubbert’s 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

With this ramp up in energy supply, the economy can continue as in the past without a major financial problem arising relating to the reduced oil supply. Without a ramp up in energy supply of some other type, there would be a problem with too high a population in relationship to the declining energy supply. Per-capita energy supply would drop rapidly, making it increasingly difficult to produce enough goods and services. In particular, maintaining government services is likely to become a problem. Needed taxes are likely to rise too high relative to what citizens can afford, leading to major problems, even collapse, based on the research of Turchin and Nefedov (2009).

Myth 8. Renewable energy is available in essentially unlimited supply.

The issue with all types of energy supply, from fossil fuels, to nuclear (based on uranium), to geothermal, to hydroelectric, to wind and solar, is diminishing returns. At some point, the cost of producing energy becomes less efficient, and because of this, the cost of production begins to rise. It is the fact wages do not rise to compensate for these higher costs and that cheaper substitutes do not become available that causes financial problems for the economic system.

In the case of oil, rising cost of extraction comes because the cheap-to-extract oil is extracted first, leaving only the expensive-to-extract oil. This is the problem we recently have been experiencing. Similar problems arise with natural gas and coal, but the sharp upturn in costs may come later because they are available in somewhat greater supply relative to demand.

Uranium and other metals experience the same problem with diminishing returns, as the cheapest to extract portions of these minerals is extracted first, and we must eventually move on to lower-grade ores.

Part of the problem with so-called renewables is that they are made of minerals, and these minerals are subject to the same depletion issues as other minerals. This may not be a problem if the minerals are very abundant, such as iron or aluminum. But if minerals are lesser supply, such as rare earth minerals and lithium, depletion may lead to rising costs of extraction, and ultimately higher costs of devices using the minerals.

Another issue is choice of sites. When hydroelectric plants are installed, the best locations tend to be chosen first. Gradually, less desirable locations are added. The same holds for wind turbines. Offshore wind turbines tend to be more expensive than onshore turbines. If abundant onshore locations, close to population centers, had been available for recent European construction, it seems likely that these would have been used instead of offshore turbines.

When it comes to wood, overuse and deforestation has been a constant problem throughout the ages. As population rises, and other energy resources become less available, the situation is likely to become even worse.

Finally, renewables, even if they use less oil, still tend to be dependent on oil. Oil is  important for operating mining equipment and for transporting devices from the location where they are made to the location where they are to be put in service. Helicopters (requiring oil) are used in maintenance of wind turbines, especially off shore, and in maintenance of electric transmission lines. Even if repairs can be made with trucks, operation of these trucks still generally requires oil. Maintenance of roads also requires oil. Even transporting wood to market requires oil.

If there is a true shortage of oil, there will be a huge drop-off in the production of renewables, and maintenance of existing renewables will become more difficult. Solar panels that are used apart from the electric grid may be long-lasting, but batteries, inverters, long distance electric transmission lines, and many other things we now take for granted are likely to disappear.

Thus, renewables are not available in unlimited supply. If oil supply is severely constrained, we may even discover that many existing renewables are not even very long lasting.

Shooting the Elephant

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on April 14, 2014

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When I started penning this blog a few years ago the idea that we might have reached some fixed limit of oil production and all that entails for our rapacious industrial civilisation seemed rather preposterous to most people. What’s changed in the interim? Not much, by most accounts. Those who accept the reality did so ages ago, and those who tune out reality continue to do so, lumping anyone who mentions ‘peak oil’ into the same mental category as Space Lizards and Mayan prophesies.

There aren’t many rewards attached to being a blogger writing about the grinding reality of the limits to growth and pointing out the presence of a large elephant in the middle of the sitting room becomes quite tiresome. Cornucopian believers send you poisonous emails, friends quietly get married without telling you and you spend those small hours before the sun’s rays lighten the eastern horizon wondering quietly “What if I’m the mad one and you can have infinite growth on a finite planet?” After all, the newspapers are full of pronouncements of ‘the recovery’, with more people buying new cars than ever before, m/b/trillionaires thronging the streets of London and the stock markets testing ever greater heights. Yes, there are the occasional dark clouds in an otherwise sunny sky, such as the recent NASA-funded report concluding that industrial civilisation is doomed, and the latest IPCC report which stated that … ummm, global GDP may be reduced by a tiny fraction by 2100 due to global warming (so, actually let’s not bother doing anything then!)

So anyway, amidst all of the white noise perhaps it’s time to sweep away the clutter from the desk and get back to basics with a pared-down recap of the situation we face and why it actually matters.

Peak oil snuck past us

Let’s deal with peak oil first of all. Yep, that old bugbear that won’t go away – no matter how much guff is pumped out by the mainstream media who take their cues from industrial PR flacks and lobbyists. Listening to it, we might imagine that there’s enough oil to go round for the next few decades or centuries. But they’re wrong. As Kurt Cobb points out, actual production levels of regular ol’ crude oil hit a plateau of 67 million barrels per day in 2005 and, despite a bit of minor fluctuating, was at the exact same level in 2012, the latest year we have figures for. And that is despite the ‘boom’ in tight oil in the US and, more importantly, more money being flung at the industry than the average person can imagine.

So, in the last eight or so years, despite rocketing demand from China, India et al. combined with the throwing of mega sums of money at the industry, the amount of crude we can get out of the ground has remained stuck, while the price has risen several fold. How did they get away with hiding this? Simple – they just included all sorts of ‘oil-like fuels’ such as biodiesel into the mix and hoped nobody would notice. Let’s not forget that oil companies always like to inflate their figures so as to attract new investment. An honest oil company who says ‘Actually we didn’t produce as much as we said we had, and next year it will be even lower,’ is an oil company that will shortly be out of business.

Conclusion: Big fat industry lies can only mask reality for so long. Peak oil has been hidden from our view for too long.

High oil prices matter

For the last century or more, economic growth has occurred on the back of cheap oil. We, a single species among millions, have burned through most of the Earth’s accessible store of cheap fossilised sunlight. 99.9% of economists never thought that this would matter because they barely gave it a thought. Instead, we built a global civilisation that simply cannot continue to function unless it is constantly growing on the back of cheap fossil fuels. Now that the oil price seems stuck at around $100 a barrel, meaningful growth has stopped. Instead of productive economic activity we now simply have the growth of the money supply. Some countries, such as the UK, have managed to create the illusion that their economies are growing, but if you strip out the billions added in quantitative easing, Chinese and Russian casino money and the dubious gains of the stock market then an entirely different and more honest picture emerges.

There are now about 99 dollars/pounds/yen of credit/debt for every ‘real’ dollar/pound/yen. It is the mother of all credit bubbles and even if it partially pops it will take down a huge chunk of the global economy with it. The question is not if but when it will pop.

But because all of our economic systems have no reverse gear, this means future payments will not be honoured, no matter how much they are promised. In reality, negative economic growth means no new lending for business, no investments and no pensions for the masses. What will you do if your pension is sharply reduced or taken away just before you retire?

Conclusion: Economic growth is dead for most people and living standards are declining accordingly. The ‘recovery’ is simply the paper wealth rich getting richer at the expense of everyone else, as well as the entire system they depend upon for their wealth. You will probably not get a pension and your kids will be slaves to debt. This is what peak oil looks like.

Peak oil hits

‘So what?’ say environmentalists. Oil is evil and solar panels are good. We can transition to a world of clean energy and life can continue much as it has but everything will be more pleasant. Except that it can’t and won’t. Peak oil means that from now on in there will be less and less energy available to us. And like a falling tide that reveals all the rocks hidden on the beach, falling energy supplies mean that those who control power will do their best to consolidate that power. This means more privatisations of institutions that were previously considered off-limits, more squabbles over resources and more self-cannibalisations of societies.

Furthermore, we face diminishing complexity in our techno-obsessed cultures. Less concentrated readily-available energy means business slows down and companies go bust. The thousands of components that make up a tablet computer, for example, are produced in a web of specialised factories spanning the globe. Add a credit crash, a currency war or a bog-standard economic panic and the whole ultra-complex just-in-time model for producing an iPad shatters into a million little useless pieces.

What is a million times more complex than an iPad? A national electricity grid. To keep all that electricity flowing from the wall sockets takes an enormous amount of complexity and the whole system relies on global supply chains functioning perfectly. Add renewable power into the mix and we’re okay for a certain percentage, but beyond that the grid becomes unstable due to the inevitable unwillingness of wind, sun and waves to conform to our precise human desires. An unstable electrical grid means industry is unable to operate and relocates, causing more economic damage as it does so. In actual fact, it may not even be possible at all, because renewable energy systems rely on a very high level of socio-economic complexity – the kind that only concentrated forms of energy can provide.

Conclusion: Renewable power is great on a small scale, but we can’t power an industrial scale civilisation on it. 

Too high, too low – but never just right

What does peak oil look like from the top? At the moment we are existing in a kind of oily no-man’s land. Oil prices are too high to allow economic growth to happen, but too low to make it profitable to produce the stuff in the first place. That’s why big companies such as Shell are walking away from the North Sea, the Arctic and the US. All of the low-hanging fruit has been picked and it is just the hard-to-reach stuff at the top of the tree which is available. Oil companies cannot make a profit if it costs them $150 to extract a barrel of oil using all the latest technology and drilling techniques, which they will then only be able to sell for $100.

Conclusion: Expensive oil kills economies. Cheap oil kills oil companies. Dead oil companies don’t produce oil. Less available oil kills growth-based economies. Rinse and repeat and this is what peak oil looks like.

Grabbing what’s left

As the US struggles with a moribund economic situation, unpayable debts, high-level corruption and falling access to real energy supplies – it is becoming ever more desperate. Just like George Orwell shooting an elephant in Burma to maintain face in front of a mocking crowd:

“I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing — no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.”

Is there any way of seeing John Kerry posturing over Ukraine or Obama with his red lines not looking like Orwell’s ‘hollow posing dummy’? Because Ukraine is not about freedom or democracy or any of the other words that are subject to the laws of diminishing credibility, but about energy. Ukraine is all about getting a natural gas fix to Europe’s needy energy markets and the power play between east and west threatens to crush Ukraine like a nut between two grind stones. The US didn’t spend all that money installing a friendly government only to see it be overthrown – even if it did mean cosying up with some unsavoury people. And Putin may be the largest shark circulating the floundering figure of Uncle Sam, but he is not the only one.

We must ask ourselves – would we be willing to risk a major war over fossil fuels if those same fossil fuels were as abundant as many claim they are? Just why are US energy majors such as Chevron and Exxon salivating about fracking natural gas in Ukraine?

Conclusion: Increasing hostilities over who has access to the remaining fossil fuels, combined with a changing worldwide power dynamic as one big growling dog faces down another is the new reality. This is what peak oil looks like.

What to do about it

As I’ve been writing here on these pages for a while, there is no single action that you or I can take which will steer this ship away from its suicidal course. Our systems of governance are a system for ensuring that we are only ever ruled by sociopaths, so the best course of action to take is to avoid them and the systems they have created. This system is not reformable, so the best thing to do is help build a new paradigm that can run in parallel until the old one inevitably expires. What this means in practice is disassociating yourself as much as possible from a global economic system that is collapse-prone and which does not have your interests at heart. You need to learn to cover the basics of food, fuel and shelter for you and your family, and learn new ways of living that are in harmony with nature as much as possible.

This doesn’t mean, as I’ve repeatedly said, filling a bunker with tins of corned beef and guns, but instead requires that you get out there and make some friends with a community of people who share the willingness to put in the work rather than just talking about it on internet forums. Get hold of a bit of land, if you can, and practice permaculture. Share stuff. Teach what you have learned to others. Write about it, talk about it, but most importantly do it. Every day thousand more are tossed onto the scrap heap by an economic system which is isn’t fit for purpose. Try not to join them.

If you find that depressing – don’t. There are some silver linings to this cloud – such as our inability to fry the atmosphere. If you come along for the ride then you’ll likely be fitter, happier and your brain will not be frazzled by working a 60 hour week to pay off endless debts with no prospect of an easy retirement at the end of it. That, at least, has to be worth something.

A Forecast of Our Energy Future; Why Common Solutions Don’t Work

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on January 29, 2014

oilwell

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

In order to understand what solutions to our energy predicament will or won’t work, it is necessary to understand the true nature of our energy predicament. Most solutions fail because analysts assume that the nature of our energy problem is quite different from what it really is. Analysts assume that our problem is a slowly developing long-term problem, when in fact, it is a problem that is at our door step right now.

The point that most analysts miss is that our energy problem behaves very much like a near-term financial problem. We will discuss why this happens. This near-term financial problem is bound to work itself out in a way that leads to huge job losses and governmental changes in the near term. Our mitigation strategies need to be considered in this context. Strategies aimed simply at relieving energy shortages with high priced fuels and high-tech equipment are bound to be short lived solutions, if they are solutions at all.

OUR ENERGY PREDICAMENT

1. Our number one energy problem is a rapidly rising need for investment capital, just to maintain a fixed level of resource extraction. This investment capital is physical “stuff” like oil, coal, and metals.

We pulled out the “easy to extract” oil, gas, and coal first. As we move on to the difficult to extract resources, we find that the need for investment capital escalates rapidly. According to Mark Lewis writing in the Financial Times, “upstream capital expenditures” for oil and gas amounted to  nearly $700 billion in 2012, compared to $350 billion in 2005, both in 2012 dollars. This corresponds to an inflation-adjusted annual increase of 10% per year for the seven year period.

Figure 1. The way would expect the cost of the extraction of energy supplies to rise, as finite supplies deplete.

In theory, we would expect extraction costs to rise as we approach limits of the amount to be extracted. In fact, the steep rise in oil prices in recent years is of the type we would expect, if this is happening. We were able to get around the problem in the 1970s, by adding more oil extraction, substituting other energy products for oil, and increasing efficiency. This time, our options for fixing the situation are much fewer, since the low hanging fruit have already been picked, and we are reaching financial limits now.

Figure 2. Historical oil prices in 2012 dollars, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 data. (2013 included as well, from EIA data.)

To make matters worse, the rapidly rising need for investment capital arises is other industries as well as fossil fuels. Metals extraction follows somewhat the same pattern. We extracted the highest grade ores, in the most accessible locations first. We can still extract more metals, but we need to move to lower grade ores. This means we need to remove more of the unwanted waste products, using more resources, including energy resources.

Figure 3. Waste product to produce 100 units of metal

There is a huge increase in the amount of waste products that must be extracted and disposed of, as we move to lower grade ores (Figure 3). The increase in waste products is only 3% when we move from ore with a concentration of .200, to ore with a concentration .195. When we move from a concentration of .010 to a concentration of .005, the amount of waste product more than doubles.

When we look at the inflation adjusted cost of base metals (Figure 4 below), we see that the index was generally falling for a long period between the 1960s and the 1990s, as productivity improvements were greater than falling ore quality.

Figure 4. World Bank inflation adjusted base metal index (excluding iron).

Since 2002, the index is higher, as we might expect if we are starting to reach limits with respect to some of the metals in the index.

There are many other situations where we are fighting a losing battle with nature, and as a result need to make larger resource investments. We have badly over-fished the ocean, so  fishermen now need to use more resources too catch the remaining much smaller fish.  Pollution (including CO2 pollution) is becoming more of a problem, so we invest resources in  devices to capture mercury emissions and in wind turbines in the hope they will help our pollution problems. We also need to invest increasing amounts in roads,  bridges, electricity transmission lines, and pipelines, to compensate for deferred maintenance and aging infrastructure.

Some people say that the issue is one of falling Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI), and indeed, falling EROI is part of the problem. The steepness of the curve comes from the rapid increase in energy products used for extraction and many other purposes, as we approach limits.  The investment capital limit was discovered by the original modelers of Limits to Growth in 1972. I discuss this in my post Why EIA, IEA, and Randers’ 2052 Energy Forecasts are Wrong.

2. When the amount of oil extracted each year flattens out (as it has since 2004), a conflict arises: How can there be enough oil both (a) for the growing investment needed to maintain the status quo, plus (b) for new investment to promote growth?

In the previous section, we talked about the rising need for investment capital, just to maintain the status quo. At least some of this investment capital needs to be in the form of oil.  Another use for oil would be to grow the economy–adding new factories, or planting more crops, or transporting more goods. While in theory there is a possibility of substituting away from oil, at any given point in time, the ability to substitute away is quite limited. Most transport options require oil, and most farming requires oil. Construction and road equipment require oil, as do diesel powered irrigation pumps.

Because of the lack of short term substitutability, the need for oil for reinvestment tends to crowd out the possibility of growth. This is at least part of the reason for slower world-wide economic growth in recent years.

3. In the crowding out of growth, the countries that are most handicapped are the ones with the highest average cost of their energy supplies.

For oil importers, oil is a very high cost product, raising the average cost of energy products. This average cost of energy is highest in countries that use the highest percentage of oil in their energy mix.

If we look at a number of oil importing countries, we see that economic growth tends to be much slower in countries that use very much oil in their energy mix. This tends to happen  because high energy costs make products less affordable. For example, high oil costs make vacations to Greece unaffordable, and thus lead to cut backs in their tourist industry.

It is striking when looking at countries arrayed by the proportion of oil in their energy mix, the extent to which high oil use, and thus high cost energy use, is associated with slow economic growth (Figure 5, 6, and 7). There seems to almost be a dose response–the more oil use, the lower the economic growth. While the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) are shown as a group, each of the countries in the group shows the same pattern on high oil consumption as a percentage of its total energy production in 2004.

Globalization no doubt acted to accelerate this shift toward countries that used little oil. These countries tended to use much more coal in their energy mix–a much cheaper fuel.

Figure 5. Percent energy consumption from oil in 2004, for selected countries and country groups, based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy. (EU - PIIGS means "EU-27 minus PIIGS')

Figure 6. Average percent growth in real GDP between 2005 and 2011, based on USDA GDP data in 2005 US$.

Figure 7. Average percentage consumption growth between 2004 and 2011, based on BP's 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

4. The financial systems of countries with slowing growth are especially affected, as are the governments. Debt becomes harder to repay with interest, as economic growth slows.

With slow growth, debt becomes harder to repay with interest. Governments are tempted to add programs to aid their citizens, because employment tends to be low. Governments find that tax revenue lags because of the lagging wages of most citizens, leading to government deficits. (This is precisely the problem that Turchin and Nefedov noted, prior to collapse, when they analyzed eight historical collapses in their book Secular Cycles.)

Governments have recently attempt to fix both their own financial problems and the problems of their citizens by lowering interest rates to very low levels and by using Quantitative Easing. The latter allows governments to keep even long term interest rates low.  With Quantitative Easing, governments are able to keep borrowing without having a market of ready buyers. Use of Quantitative Easing also tends to blow bubbles in prices of stocks and real estate, helping citizens to feel richer.

5. Wages of citizens of  countries oil importing countries tend to remain flat, as oil prices remain high.

At least part of the wage problem relates to the slow economic growth noted above. Furthermore, citizens of the country will cut back on discretionary goods, as the price of oil rises, because their cost of commuting and of food rises (because oil is used in growing food). The cutback in discretionary spending leads to layoffs in discretionary sectors. If exported goods are high priced as well, buyers from other countries will tend to cut back as well, further leading to layoffs and low wage growth.

6. Oil producers find that oil prices don’t rise high enough, cutting back on their funds for reinvestment. 

As oil extraction costs increase, it becomes difficult for the demand for oil to remain high, because wages are not increasing. This is the issue I describe in my post What’s Ahead? Lower Oil Prices, Despite Higher Extraction Costs.

We are seeing this issue today. Bloomberg reports, Oil Profits Slump as Higher Spending Fails to Raise Output. Business Week reports Shell Surprise Shows Profit Squeeze Even at $100 Oil. Statoil, the Norwegian company, is considering walking away from Greenland, to try to keep a lid on production costs.

7. We find ourselves with a long-term growth imperative relating to fossil fuel use, arising from the effects of globalization and from growing world population.

Globalization added approximately 4 billion consumers to the world market place in the 1997 to 2001 time period. These people previously had lived traditional life styles. Once they became aware of all of the goods that people in the rich countries have, they wanted to join in, buying motor bikes, cars, televisions, phones, and other goods. They would also like to eat meat more often. Population in these countries continues to grow adding to demand for goods of all kinds. These goods can only be made using fossil fuels, or by technologies that are enabled by fossil fuels (such as today’s hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, and solar PV).

8. The combination of these forces leads to a situation in which economies, one by one, will turn downward in the very near future–in a few months to a year or two. Some are already on this path (Egypt, Syria, Greece, etc.)

We have two problems that tend to converge: financial problems that countries are now hiding, and ever rising need for resources in a wide range of areas that are reaching limits (oil, metals, over-fishing, deferred maintenance on pipelines).

On the financial side, we have countries trying to hang together despite a serious mismatch between revenue and expenses, using Quantitative Easing and ultra-low interest rates. If countries unwind the Quantitative Easing, interest rates are likely to rise. Because debt is widely used, the cost of everything from oil extraction to buying a new home to buying a new car is likely to rise. The cost of repaying the government’s own debt will rise as well, putting governments in worse financial condition than they are today.

A big concern is that these problems will carry over into debt markets. Rising interest rates will lead to widespread defaults. The availability of debt, including for oil drilling, will dry up.

Even if debt does not dry up, oil companies are already being squeezed for investment funds, and are considering cutting back on drilling. A freeze on credit would make certain this happens.

Meanwhile, we know that investment costs keep rising, in many different industries simultaneously, because we are reaching the limits of a finite world. There are more resources available; they are just more expensive. A mismatch occurs, because our wages aren’t going up.

The physical amount of oil needed for all of this investment keeps rising, but oil production continues on its relatively flat plateau, or may even begins to drop. This leads to less oil available to invest in the rest of the economy. Given the squeeze, even more countries are likely to encounter slowing growth or contraction.

9. My expectation is that the situation will end with a fairly rapid drop in the production of all kinds of energy products and the governments of quite a few countries failing. The governments that remain will dramatically cut services.

With falling oil production, promised government programs will be far in excess of what governments can afford, because governments are basically funded out of the surpluses of a fossil fuel economy–the difference between the cost of extraction and the value of these fossil fuels to society. As the cost of extraction rises, the surpluses tend to dry up.

Figure 8. Cost of extraction of barrel oil, compared to value to society. Economic growth is enabled by the difference.

As these surpluses shrink, governments will need to shrink back dramatically. Government failure will be easier than contracting back to a much smaller size.

International finance and trade will be particularly challenging in this context. Trying to start over will be difficult, because many of the new countries will be much smaller than their predecessors, and will have no “track record.” Those that do have track records will have track records of debt defaults and failed promises, things that will not give lenders confidence in their ability to repay new loans.

While it is clear that oil production will drop, with all of the disruption and a lack of operating financial markets, I expect natural gas and coal production will drop as well. Spare parts for almost anything will be difficult to get, because of the need for the system of international trade to support making these parts. High tech goods such as computers and phones will be especially difficult to purchase. All of these changes will result in a loss of most of the fossil fuel economy and the high tech renewables that these fossil fuels support.

A Forecast of Future Energy Supplies and their Impact

A rough estimate of the amounts by which energy supply will drop is given in Figure 9, below.

Figure 9. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

The issue we will be encountering could be much better described as “Limits to Growth” than “Peak Oil.” Massive job layoffs will occur, as fuel use declines. Governments will find that their finances are even more pressured than today, with calls for new programs at the time revenue is dropping dramatically. Debt defaults will be a huge problem. International trade will drop, especially to countries with the worst financial problems.

One big issue will be the need to reorganize governments in a new, much less expensive  way. In some cases, countries will break up into smaller units, as the Former Soviet Union did in 1991. In some cases, the situation will go back to local tribes with tribal leaders. The next challenge will be to try to get the governments to act in a somewhat co-ordinated way.  There may need to be more than one set of governmental changes, as the global energy supplies decline.

We will also need to begin manufacturing goods locally, at a time when debt financing no longer works very well, and governments are no longer maintaining roads. We will have to figure out new approaches, without the benefit of high tech goods like computers. With all of the disruption, the electric grid will not last very long either. The question will become: what can we do with local materials, to get some sort of economy going again?

NON-SOLUTIONS and PARTIAL SOLUTIONS TO OUR PROBLEM

There are a lot of proposed solutions to our problem. Most will not work well because the nature of the problem is different from what most people have expected.

1. Substitution. We don’t have time. Furthermore, whatever substitutions we make need to be with cheap local materials, if we expect them to be long-lasting. They also must not over-use resources such as wood, which is in limited supply.

Electricity is likely to decline in availability almost as quickly as oil because of inability to keep up the electrical grid and other disruptions (such as failing governments, lack of oil to lubricate machinery, lack of replacement parts, bankruptcy of companies involved with the production of electricity) so is not really a long-term solution to oil limits.

2. Efficiency. Again, we don’t have time to do much. Higher mileage cars tend to be more expensive, replacing one problem with another. A big problem in the future will be lack of road maintenance. Theoretical gains in efficiency may not hold in the real world. Also, as governments reduce services and often fail, lenders will be unwilling to lend funds for new projects which would in theory improve efficiency.

In some cases, simple devices may provide efficiency. For example, solar thermal can often be a good choice for heating hot water. These devices should be long-lasting.

3. Wind turbines. Current industrial type wind turbines will be hard to maintain, so are  unlikely to be long-lasting. The need for investment capital for wind turbines will compete with other needs for investment capital. CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will drop dramatically, with or without wind turbines.

On the other hand, simple wind mills made with local materials may work for the long term. They are likely to be most useful for mechanical energy, such as pumping water or powering looms for cloth.

4. Solar Panels. Promised incentive plans to help homeowners pay for solar panels can be expected to mostly fall through. Inverters and batteries will need replacement, but probably will not be available. Handy homeowners who can rewire the solar panels for use apart from the grid may find them useful for devices that can run on direct current. As part of the electric grid, solar panels will not add to its lifetime. It probably will not be possible to make solar panels for very many years, as the fossil fuel economy reaches limits.

5. Shale Oil. Shale oil is an example of a product with very high investment costs, and returns which are doubtful at best. Big companies who have tried to extract shale oil have decided the rewards really aren’t there. Smaller companies have somehow been able to put together financial statements claiming profits, based on hoped for future production and very low interest rates.

Costs for extracting shale oil outside the US for shale oil are likely to be even higher than in the US. This happens because the US has laws that enable production (landowner gets a share of profits) and other beneficial situations such as pipelines in place, plentiful water supplies, and low population in areas where fracking is done. If countries decide to ramp up shale oil production, they are likely to run into similarly hugely negative cash flow situations. It is hard to see that these operations will save the world from its financial (and energy) problems.

6. Taxes. Taxes need to be very carefully structured, to have any carbon deterrent benefit. If part of taxes consumers would normally pay to the government are levied on fuel for vehicles, the practice can encourage more the use of more efficient vehicles.

On the other hand, if carbon taxes are levied on businesses, the taxes tend to encourage businesses to move their production to other, lower-cost countries. The shift in production leads to the use of more coal for electricity, rather than less. In theory, carbon taxes could be paired with a very high tax on imported goods made with coal, but this has not been done. Without such a pairing, carbon taxes seem likely to raise world CO2 emissions.

7.  Steady State Economy. Herman Daly was the editor of a book in 1973 called Toward a Steady State Economy, proposing that the world work toward a Steady State economy, instead of growth. Back in 1973, when resources were still fairly plentiful, such an approach would have acted to hold off  Limits to Growth for quite a few years, especially if zero population growth were included in the approach.

Today, it is far too late for such an approach to work. We are already in a situation with very depleted resources. We can’t keep up current production levels if we want to–to do so would require greatly ramping up energy production because of the rising need for energy investment to maintain current production, discussed in Item (1) of Our Energy Predicament. Collapse will probably be impossible to avoid. We can’t even hope for an outcome as good as a Steady State Economy.

7. Basing Choice of Additional Energy Generation on EROI Calculations. In my view, basing new energy investment on EROI calculations is an iffy prospect at best. EROI calculations measure a theoretical piece of the whole system–”energy at the well-head.” Thus, they miss important parts of the system, which affect both EROI and cost. They also overlook timing, so can indicate that an investment is good, even if it digs a huge financial hole for organizations making the investment. EROI calculations also don’t consider repairability issues which may shorten real-world lifetimes.

Regardless of EROI indications, it is important to consider the likely financial outcome as well. If products are to be competitive in the world marketplace, electricity needs to be inexpensive, regardless of what the EROI calculations seem to say. Our real problem is lack of investment capital–something that is gobbled up at prodigious rates by energy generation devices whose costs occur primarily at the beginning of their lives. We need to be careful to use our investment capital wisely, not for fads that are expensive and won’t hold up for the long run.

8. Demand Reduction. This really needs to be the major way we move away from fossil fuels. Even if we don’t have other options, fossil fuels will move away from us. Encouraging couples to have smaller families would seem to be a good choice.

Waste Based Society: A Renewable Future

Off the keyboard of A. G. Gelbert

Published on the Doomstead Diner on July 3, 2013

SEGS-solar-thermal-california

Discuss this article at the Waste Based Economy Table inside the Diner

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I actually hope my views on this are off.  I want to find some positive good news to rally on.  I’m hoping you have a more nuanced positive spin on this for me to examine.

Well sir, as a matter of fact, I am a bit more hopeful, but not on the horrendous weather coming our way that will destroy crops and infrastructure, bake the shit out of part of the planet, flood the shit out of the other part and kill a large part of aquatic life as well. That weather is pretty much baked in.  :emthdown:

However, I have a different, and very positive, view of the energy capturing and using devices in our civilization.

First, I agree that EROEI is declining in FOSSIL FUELS and NUCLEAR POWER. The reason is that the EROEI numbers were tricked up in the beginning to subtracting including environmental and infrastructure AND ADDING government subsidy FREEBIES on the taxpayer dime.

If you think the EROEI numbers Professor Hall from the SUNY energy study have jack shit to do with real world energy use and the laws of thermodynamics, I have a time share in a black hole at the center of the Milky Way to sell you. :icon_mrgreen: I won’t go into details here but, as an engineer, you understand what enthalpy is. It is a convenient method of BOILING WATER (NOT IN THE COMBUSTION CHAMBER OF AN ICE) to measure the energy density of a fuel. THIS IS INFANTILE. But it is the industry standard BULLSHIT that enables people from Exxon to say that gasoline has a higher EROEI than ethanol.

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The energy density per mole in a high octane gasoline is assumed to be lower due to the higher energy of activation. This is a half truth. This half truth is used by the EROI experts to claim ethanol, which has a high octane rating, has a lower EROI than gasoline. Simply changing the compression ratio in an engine to a high compression makes ethanol equivalent in MJ/L to gasoline. But, of course, the Hall study arbitrarily stopped at the octane rating “energy of activation” differences between gasoline and ethanol with zero discussion of high compression engines. That was very convenient for gasoline EROI and very inconvenient for ethanol EROI.

http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/blog/2012/07/17/hope-for-a-viable-biosphere-of-renewables/

Roamer, it’s a LIE. But let’s get past ICE fuels for a second. WHY? Because they are only about 20% efficient. Yes, I know the big steam engines in power plants can get up to 60% through capture of second stage energy but the POINT is that the ICE is a ridiculously inefficient way to get mechanical energy. It’s STUPID. It ALWAYS WAS STUPID.

And NOW that the poisoned chickens are coming home to roost in the form of atmospheric heat, higher manufacturing and maintenance costs for high temperature alloys AND 400 ppm CO2, OF COURSE the gamed EROEI numbers for fossil fuels AND nuclear energy are starting to look like the bullshit they always were.

ENERGY means absolutely nothing until it makes some work happen, right? I am telling you right here and now that you were taught to deny the enormous inefficiencies downstream from combustion because it suites the fossil fuel pigs for engineers to do so. Your world view as an engineer includes the FALSE belief that the ICE is an efficient way to convert the energy in a fossil fuel to mechanical energy. It isn’t. It never was.

Did you know that in 1940, ONE THIRD of all the electricity in the USA came from about 1,500 hydroelectric power plants? Did you know you can make a hydroelectric power plant WITHOUT damming up a bunch of water? Oh, I’m sure you have looked at the ‘horrendously weak” energy potential in stored water and what a “poor” substitute for “high energy density” CRAP like fossil fuels that gravity power is. Look again. Look here.

http://cleantechnica.com/2013/07/01/moving-mountains-storing-energy-tedx-talk/

The technology is there. It involves a giant piston head (no connecting rod or link to a crank shaft) inside a cylindrical shaft that goes deep into the ground. The piston requires some type of giant O-rings so it can take about 10 bar pressures. Excess power from wind and or PV during the day causes water to be pumped UNDER the piston (which is EXTREMELY HEAVY).  When not enough wind or sun can service the grid, valves open for instant power as the piston descends. The quickness of this response FAR EXCEEDS the quickest thing available now which is natural gas fired power plants.

What’s the efficiency? It’s INCREDIBLY HIGH and has little or no thermal waste ANYWHERE in the energy distribution chain. If all vehicles are EVs (including ships), a  MASSIVE amount of heat energy never hits the atmosphere. See the video above for details.  :emthup: :icon_sunny:

Can civilization make a million of these gizmos all over the earth? Sure. This is OLD technology! We know all about hydraulic forces. Will it be done? Maybe not. But not because of thermodynamic law limitations and the energy required to run the planet.

Did you know there is a SUCCESSFUL CSP power plant that is THIRTY YEARS OLD!!?


Solar Energy Generating Systems solar power plants III-VII at Mojave Desert, California.
Image & Caption Credit: Alan Radecki Akradecki

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The longest running concentrated solar power plant in the US is about to reach its 30th birthday , and the end of its power purchase agreement – but its owners are not about to pack it up and take it home. They are now looking at the next 30 years, and storage is likely to form a major part of the equation.

CSP (also known as solar thermal) is often branded an emerging technology,  :evil4: but the first plants have been around for decades.  :o The 14MW SEGS I and 30MW SEGS II plants near Daggett in the Mojave Desert in California were built in 1985. (SEGS stands for Solar Energy Generating System).

Read more at http://cleantechnica.com/2013/07/02/30-year-old-concentrating-solar-power-plant-looking-to-upgrade-add-storage/#Fh7fvrvi1MpPGJE4.99

CSP is MUCH MORE EFFICIENT than ICE power plants. CSP has a very high EROEI DUE TO THE FACT THAT IT USES zero fossil fuels.

Tell me, do you think our government and scientists DIDN’T KNOW THIS IN 1985!!? Just like using gravity in more efficient ways, CSP uses the sun more efficiently. Today, with sophisticated Fresnel lens CSP and super heated salts, they run for 24/7 (i.e. the new ones in Spain among others). Granted, these DO put out a lot of waste heat but MUCH LESS than an ICE power plant.

A 100% Renewable Energy civilization was DOABLE IN THE 1970S! It hasn’t been done because the fossil fuel fucks didn’t want it to happen. They are still at it doing THIS:

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Phase 1 – Belittle & Deny the Renewable Energy Option

Phase 2 – Denounce & Mobilize Against the Renewable Energy Option

Phase 3 – Spread Doubt & Misrepresent the Challenges in the Disguise of General Support

(Note: reaching Phase 3 doesn’t mean that Phase 1 & 2 will disappear.)
Full Enlightening Article covering modern day sophisticated mendacious propaganda techniques geared to simultaneously defend nuclear power and attack renewable energy HERE:[/i
http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/forum/index.php?topic=1489.msg25443#msg25443[/color][/size]

Roamer, we have a political problem caused by the oil oligarchy. We do not have an energy problem, a technology problem or the inability to transition to 100% or better (for bioremediation) Renewable energy.

There are other technologies that can harvest MASSIVE  amounts of energy 24/7 from underwater turbines just a few miles from the majority of the largest cities on the planet along ocean coasts. There goes the “unacceptable transmission losses from long distances” argument against renewables from the fossil fuel lackeys for the big cities.

And as to EROEI, even with the gamed formula, PV is INCREASING it’s EROEI as the efficiency has gone from 10-15% early on to 33-44% now. Wind turbine EROEI is also going UP because they now are replacing (on a ONE giant new turbine for every THREE old ones upgrade) old wind turbines for new, taller ones. One turbine generating the power of three with ONLY the maintenance costs of a single turbine UPS the EROEI. :emthup:

ALL the renewable energy technologies (including hydro with the piston!) are increasing their EROEI with innovation. That’s just not possible for fossil fuels.

And increasingly efficient electric motors are multiplying the efficiency of captured renewable energy.

The Solar Revolution is being enhanced by a revolution in Electric Motor Efficiency

Electric motors, already over 70% efficient, are now being made with cast copper rotors (instead of Aluminum) using a new process. Billions of electric motors in thousands of applications from EVs to household appliances to manufacturing will now benefit from a radical INCREASE in efficiency accompanied by a DECREASE in thermal waste. This means, for a given amount of energy output, the motors will last more than twice as long and weigh less as well as previous electric motors. This amounts to massive energy savings worldwide and another step in eliminating the internal combustion engine (ICE) pollution and heat scourge from civilization.

All the above said, I agree that the corrupt authorities are doing an awful lot to keep renewable energy in the starting gate. It won’t work this time.

WHY?

Because the horrendous weather will persuade them renewable energy AND a return to 350 MAXIMUM ppm of CO2 is NOT OPTIONAL. :icon_mrgreen:

Listen to me. Solar City is going to eat a lot of utilities alive with their business model. If TSHTF scenario from nuclear war or some other insanity doesn’t happen, working on a corporation like Solar City, Tesla or any CSP power plant will keep you in the cutting edge of new technology as well as keep you fed, housed and clothed.

Think about it. Mechanical Engineers are not a dime a dozen. You have skills. Market them in renewables. California, Arizona or Texas seem like the hottest growth areas now.

If we have a future, renewable energy will play a prominent role in it. Think about it. ;)

Hope for a Viable Biosphere of Renewables

Off the keyboard of A.G. Gelbert

Why They Work and Fossil & Nuclear Fuels Never Did

Discuss this article at the Energy Table of the Diner

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The biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems. It can also be called the zone of life on Earth, a closed (apart from solar and cosmic radiation) and self-regulating system.[1]

 

File:Seawifs global biosphere.jpg

This is a “Big Picture” article about energy resources and use by humanity. In the article I question the most basic assumptions that have become “common wisdom” in our culture in regard to the celebrated “cost effectiveness” of fossil and nuclear energy products and the view that renewables are not a suitable replacement due to alleged “low” EROI (Energy Return on Energy Invested – sometimes shown as EROEI in the literature). I even question the assumptions used in the EROI methodolgy for quantifying exothermic chemical processes (how much energy is released when rapid oxidation, otherwise known as an explosion, occurs in a given energy product). I will prove that the EROI methodology is, not simply flawed, but unscientifically skewed to narrowly define energy input and output boundaries so as to favor fossil and nuclear fuels and simultaneously delegitimize renewable energy product cost effectiveness. It is most telling that the EROI documents and discussions at The Oil Drum web site are the ones that first show up when you do an EROI google search for fossil fuels and/or renewables. The claim of scientific objectivity in regard to fossil fuels at a web site called The Oil Drum can only be considered acceptable in a country like ours where the oil and nuclear lobbies control much of the narrative and just about all of the governmental policies energywise. Tell me, dear readers, would you consider taking advice on the efficacy of a vegan diet from the owners of a steak house? Do you think they would celebrate the fact that rice and beans provide a balanced protein intake that covers all essential amino acids? Do you think they would, after you provided evidence of the facts, offer chickpeas, which are equivalent in protein density to meat without the fat, as a replacement for the kiddy burgers?

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Chickpeas have 361 calories per 100g, and are a good source of protein containing about 20 percent in content, which is equivalent to meat.

 
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Rice and beans are both nutritious yet inexpensive foods that, when combined, form a complete protein.

Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/351077-the-protein-in-rice-beans/#ixzz20d8EofWj
Somehow, I think you will agree that the steak house owners are just a tiny bit biased in favor of meat and will attempt to undermine the vegan diet by the following reactions: 1) Ignore it. 2) Ridicule it. 3) Attack it with false propaganda. Provided enough people can be kept in the dark about the benefits to the body and the pocketbook of a vegan diet, the steak house owners and the entire chain of profit generating meat production facilities from raising cattle, hogs and chickens to every fast food burger joint in the country can continue to enjoy the status quo and their profits. I am not a vegetarian. I bring this example to you (remember the time Oprah had to back down on her claim that red meat was bad for you because of the cattle rancher outcry? – She was referring to scientifc studies but the beef industry prevailed anyway – truth be damned when profits are threatened is the predatory capitalist motto) simply because it shows how mendacity is used to defend a bias, regardless of the truth. I will prove here that the same mechanism has corrupted, not only our government energy use, subsidy and research and development grant allocation policies, but the very mathematics used by scientists to define energetic exothermic processes. The Procrustean Bed gaming of the boundaries for the EROI methodology is where we begin. I am not a mathematician but I can add, subtract, divide and multiply. Regardless of the calculus formulas or other advanced mathematics and statistical tools used by the scientists doing the EROI math, I will show that every energy cost they leave out favors the fossil fuel and nuclear energy industries in their flawed EROI comparison with renewables.  At the end of the article, after having  presented the case which, not simply justifies, but requires a switch to 100% renewables in order to guarantee a viable biosphere, I will point you to some excellent videos from Germany (you have to go to the German web site to see them – they are free but they sell the DVDs of the videos for those who wish to spread the word) where renewables providing power to industrial processes, as well as consumer energy demands, are paving the way to an energy future free of disruptions,  price gouging from contrived fuel shortages and price shocks/hikes from wars (mostly contrived as well) and/or speculators. Parts of this article may be a bit boring. Please try to remember that your thorough understanding and use for dissemination of the data here to others out there may enable you, after you verify it’s veracity, to effectively counter some status quo victim of brainwashing in the “follow the herd” school of “that’s how the world works and we just have to live with it” tradition. Your efforts to wade through this and digest it’s contents will, I firmly believe, help attain a sustainable future. An unsustainable world is a world that  isn’t “working”. What I want is for it to work.
ENERGY RETURN ON ENERGY INVESTED (EROI or sometimes EROEI)
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Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrustes Measuring the EROEI of a single physical process is unambiguous, but there is no agreed standard on which activities should be included in measuring the EROEI of an economic process. In addition, the form of energy of the input can be completely different from the output. For example, energy in the form of coal could be used in the production of ethanol. This might have an EROEI of less than one, but could still be desirable due to the benefits of liquid fuels.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_investedThis is the general formula: EROEI = Usable Acquired Energy (output) DIVIDED BY Energy Expended (input) The formula appears pretty straightforward, does it not? If you get less energy out than you put in then you will get a number below “1” (i.e. 1/2 = 0.5 EROI not good, 10/1 = 10.0 EROI good). Since the units in this formula are energy units, let’s define those:

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Because energy is defined via work, the SI unit for energy is the same as the unit of work – the joule (J), named in honour of James Prescott Joule and his experiments on the mechanical equivalent of heat. In slightly more fundamental terms, 1 joule is equal to 1 newton-metre and, in terms of SI base units:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Units_of_energy What’s a newton-metre? What are SI units? Don’t worry about it. Anybody that wants to do an in depth discussion in the comments of how scientists came up with the units from observing the heat effect of lots of energetic molecules in a measured volume of some gas, liquid or solid is free to do so. In the meantime, readers only need to remember that more Joules (J) = more energy.
So taken with the “fabulous fossil fuels” are some people out there that they have the audacity to start using “barrel of oil equivalent” and “ton of oil equivalent” to measure energy rather than sticking with Joules (J).

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In discussions of energy production and consumption, the units barrel of oil equivalent and ton of oil equivalent are often used.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Units_of_energyTo the credentialed scientists in the EROI study published at The Oil Drum’s credit, they appear to have used Joules and MegaJoules(MJ) in their energy units. Use your own imagination as to how objective it would have looked to claim EROI in ethanol and other renewables is too low in terms of “barrel of oil equivalent” units. Okay, so we’ve decided to use “J” units as the input and output energy units in the EROI formula. How do we know how much energy is in a given measure of gasoline? For you oldy goldies here, do you remember leaded gasoline? Gasoline was goosed (increased octane rating) by adding tetra-ethyl lead. Lead hurt the environment and caused serious health issues and developmental disorders for humans (and surely a lot of animals that were never considered in the studies) so unleaded gasoline became the norm with the lower octane rating. The reason I bring this up is because changes in octane rating change the activation energy needed to start the chemical reaction/explosion. A low octane gasoline technically has more energy than a high octane gasoline does because a lower octane rating requires less energy (lower energy of activation) for the reaction to begin. The energy density per mole in a high octane gasoline is assumed to be lower due to the higher energy of activation. This is a half truth. This half truth is used by the EROI experts to claim ethanol, which has a high octane rating, has a lower EROI than gasolene. Simply changing the compression ratio in an engine to a high compression makes ethanol equivalent in MJ/L to gasoline. But, of course, the Hall study arbitrarily stopped at the octane rating “energy of activation” differences between gasoline and ethanol with zero discussion of high compression engines. That was very convenient for gasoline EROI and very inconvenient for ethanol EROI. Furthermore the Hall study studied oil and “conventional” natural gas together in computing EROI:

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Oil and conventional natural gas are usually studied together because they often occur in the same fields, have overlapping production operations and data archiving.

 

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.. authors also estimated through linear extrapolation that the EROI for global oil and conventional natural gas could reach 1:1 as soon as about 2022 given alternative input measurement methods

 

Sustainability 2011, 3, 1796-1809; doi:10.3390/su3101796 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability The authors of the above study made a reasoned assumption that the energy density per mole of global oil and conventional gas is, for all practical purposes, identical. Though one is a gas and the other a liquid, after processing inputs and putputs with similar infrastructure costs, that appears to be a logical approach. The problem with this approach is that the petroleum industry energy density numbers which predictably apply quite well to hydrocarbons result in bad data (low EROI) when applied to a renewable like ethanol. There was a study done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory: “BIOMASS AS FEEDSTOCK FOR A BIOENERGY AND BIOPRODUCTS INDUSTRY: THE TECHNICAL FEASIBILITY OF A BILLION-TON ANNUAL SUPPLY”, Perlack, Wright, Turhollow, Graham, Stokes and Erbach – 2005. The conclusion of the Oak Ridge study was that the U.S. could meet at least 30% of its transportation fuel needs from biomass sources by 2030 “…with relatively modest changes in land use and agricultural and forestry practices.”. But the Oak Ridge Laboratory study, assumed, in error, that biofuels (specifically, ethanol) should be compared to petroleum fuels (specifically, gasoline) on a heat content basis (e.g. British Thermal Units) when estimating fuel efficiency. The Heat Value of ethanol is 65% of that of gasoline. Almost all researchers on this subject assume that ethanol’s fuel efficiency is 65% of that of gasoline. Even the U.S. Dept. of Energy thinks this is a valid assumption. Perhaps this is because so many of the studies pertaining to biofuels feasibility are done by individuals with economics backgrounds. The property of fuels known as the Octane rating indicates a fuels capacity for being combusted under pressure without pre-igniting. This is of great importance because fuels with higher octane ratings can be burned at higher combustion chamber pressures and produce more power which results in more work output (i.e. miles per gallon) than a fuel  with a lower octane rating that cannot be consumed at higher combustion chamber pressures. Ethanol has an octane rating of 115. Gasoline‘s is 93-95 for high test gasoline. This means that ethanol can be burned in a higher compression engine or an engine with combustion chamber pressures boosted using turbocharging or supercharging. The Department of Energy continues to base its estimates of fuel efficiency (and greenhouse gas emissions) for ethanol based on the Heat Value of ethanol relative to gasoline. This is entirely in error as it does not recognize the importance of octane rating and the characteristics of the engine the fuel in question is used in. The fact is, ethanol’s higher octane rating than gasoline enables it to be consumed in a higher pressure combustion chamber and obtain comparable (or better) fuel efficiency than that obtained with gasoline. This also means that the estimates of how much of the fuel supply we can meet using ethanol are significantly low. The estimate of the Oak Ridge study assumes ethanol can only achieve fuel efficiency relative to gasoline that is equivalent to ethanol’s “heat value” relative to gasoline’s or 65% of gasoline’s. But in actuality, ethanol used in an engine that takes full advantage of ethanol’s higher octane achieves comparable fuel efficiency to gasoline’s and thus the amount of the fuel supply that can be met with ethanol is not 30% but 46% (1/.65). So, returning to the EROI numbers published by the SUNY ESF study at The Oil Drum, you can see that they are way too low (from 1.29–1.70 )  because they low balled the OUTPUT in Joules of ethanol. Output is the top number on the EROI equation. I refuse to believe that these math wizards over there did not know that ethanol’s higher octane rating would result in equal or greater energy output than gasoline given a proper engine combustion chamber. This was a deliberate attempt to undermine the EROI of the corn ethanol renewable in the service of fossil fuels. The EROI number for sugar cane ethanol (8.0) that Brazil has achieved would be even higher if the output energy was corrected to the level of gasoline in the EROI formula. Furthermore, corn is a really poor choice for biomass because it requires so much energy to prepare the ground, fertilize chemically and harvest. This biomass crop may not have been deliberately set up to fail as a bonafide competitor to gasoline, but it has certainly worked out that way. The precise point where The Oil Drum continues to have it wrong on ethanolis this assumption which totaly ignores the FACT that gasoline ONLY has more useable energy than ethanol if you use it to boil water in a lab! In an internal combustion engine the effective MJ/L difference used to transform heat energy to mechanical energy is NEGLIGIBLE:

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“New Perspectives on the Energy Return on (Energy) Investment (EROI) of Corn Ethanol,” Adjusting for the lower energy content of ethanol (21.46 MJ/L etoh vs. 34.56 MJ/L gasoline = 0.62), we calculated that the net energy from ethanol is roughly 0.99 billion ‘‘gasoline-equivalent’’ liters.

http://www.countercurrents.org/murphy100810.htm The actual figure, since ethanol’s high octane rating makes it equivalent to gasoline in an easy to obtain higher pressure combustion chamber in internal combustion engines, should be 34.56 MJ/L as a minimum. I say this because ethanol burns much cleaner than gasoline and reduced costs in simpler catalytic converters (or none at all) for cars would, in a sane world, increase EROI for ethanol from cleaner burning and increased mileage per liter. Now add to this the other biomass crops out there like Lemna minor (Duckweed) that grow 8 times faster than corn with no tilling and cheap harvesting as well as many perennial grasses that can be converted to ethanol and you have an irrefutable argument for replacing gasoline with ethanol. But there’s more. Scientific assumptions about energy release during rapid oxidation are surface or substrate dependent as well as temperature dependent. We all know that when you strike a match, the chemicals on the match head increase to what is called kindling temperature. At the molecular level, what is occurring is that the Oxygen molecules floating around the match head combine with the match head chemicals as soon as they are all expanded (that’s what heat does to them) sufficently to combine. Once the “energy of activation” is achieved, the chemical reaction proceeds at a previously, scientifically measured and predictable rate. Think of it as pushing a boulder off a cliff. You need some exertion (small amount of heat) to get the boulder to begin falling and accelerating at 32 feet per second squared until terminal velocity (air friction prevents further acceleration) is achieved (a lot of heat is produced until it reaches a self sustaining oxidation which then proceeds until all the reactants are oxidized). The “cliff” can be a vertical drop (very explosive) or a gentle slope (slow oxidation with a gradual heat release). Rust is an example of slow oxidation. What I ‘m trying to get across to you is that the fossil and nuclear fuel industry never want to talk about is that the reaction can be slowed down or speeded up by controllling the distance from each other and distribution of more molecules of the fuel and oxygen. You can also introduce a catalyst which reduces the energy needed to “push” the “boulder” off the “cliff”. This means you need less heat to get the reaction going. In this case you end up with a higher energy output for a given amount of input. Surely you see how this can affect the EROI formula. But once again zero attention is paid to any renewables using catalysts to increase the energy output by these EROI studies. No, the standard everything must be measured from some thermodynamic straight jacket for a given simple exothermic rapid oxydation. This is ridiculous. But it makes criticizing the current fossil fuel and nuclear paradigm difficult because the numbers are quite accurate for hydrocarbons and also nuclear fission heat release. If a more scientifically broad view of thermodynamics in exothermic processes was embraced, the EROI formulation would have to be modified to favor the separate, but slower energy producing processes of e.g. biomass products from crops that are presently considered waste. The added energy input from using all of the crop for, not just ethanol, but heat from “waste” would raise the EROI. The mono mania with a long hydrocarbon chain like petroleum has pushed the “experts” into always attempting to discard multiprocess approaches to determining EROI for one crop. I don’t think it’s because they can’t count to two or three; I think it is because of fossil and nuclear fuel bias. These people are not stupid; they are compromised by the EROI Procrustean Bed that arbitrarily has excluded inputs that lower fossil and nuclear fuel EROI and included outputs that raise it. I have mentioned only fossil fuels in regard to the gaming of the EROI but nuclear fuel is a far more blatent example.

 

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The SUNY ESF study summarized the EROI of nuclear power from previous studies [26]. The review concludes that the most reliable information is still from Hall et al.’s [7] summary of an EROI of about 5–8:1 (with a large part of the variability depending upon whether the electricity is corrected for quality), and that the newer studies appear either too optimistic or pessimistic with reported EROIs of up to almost 60:1, to as low as even less than 1:1.

 

Sustainability 2011, 3, 1796-1809; doi:10.3390/su3101796 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Since nuclear fuel has a foot in the grave and another on a banana peel, I won’t spend much time on it except to say that the EROI is a blatent falsehood. That nuclear fuel EROI can be 1.0 or higher is pure fantasy. In order to run a nuclear reactor, you need to build and insure it. These costs can certainly be  converted to energy inputs but are excluded from nuclear EROI. The energy required to store used nuclear fuel rod waste and other nuclear waste generated at the plant and keep it from overheating or contaminating the environment for centuries is not included in the EROI either. Then there’s the energy to mine, concentrate and mill the uranium followed by manufacturing the fuel assemblies with multiple rods and the uranium pellets in them. Nope, not included. The day to day operation of the nuclear plant is included, period. This is ridiculous. Add to that the energy used in cleaning up nuclear pollution and you have an energy black hole combined with a horror story in negative health impact to the population. Finally, there are many studies that have clearly proven that the uranium fuel cycle is not carbon neutral so any attempt to claim nuclear power plants are “green” and CO2 free energy sources is a pure fiction.

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A big 1,250 megawatt plant produces the equivalent of 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year during its life.

 


http://pec.putney.net/issue_detail.php?ID=15
What about gas fracking energy costs?  I ask you all reading this who just watched the above video, how do the EROI  experts, like the one I had some trouble with when I complained (Stoneleigh – this means you) that she left out aquifer poisoning in her EROI calculations, separate the science from the emotion?  How can these people fall back on a formula that so narrowly defines energy inputs and outputs that they can blithely ignore the energy costs of cleaning up aquifers and dispensing health care to cancer victims?  WTF is wrong with these people? The article I complained about on unconventional fuels not being a game changer was an insult to the intelligence of any thinking human being that knows anything about gas fracking. Don’t let anyone tell you that gas fracking has an EROI of 1.0 or better. It’s another Procrustean Bed fabrication. Gas fracking is an obsenity.

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Alongside the growth in drilling, reports of fouled water, bad odors and health complaints also have increased. In the few places where basic environmental sampling has been done, the results confirm that water and air pollution are present in the same regions where residents say they are getting sick. Last spring, the EPA doubled its estimates of methane gas leaked from drilling equipment and said the amount of methane pollution that billows from fracking operations was 9,000 times higher than researchers had previously thought.

 
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In Colorado, the ATSDR sampled air for pollutants at 14 sites for a 2008 report, including on Susan Wallace-Babb’s property. Fifteen contaminants were detected at levels the federal government considers above normal. Among them were the carcinogens benzene, tetrachloroethene and 1,4-dichlorobenzene. The contamination fell below the thresholds for unacceptable cancer risk, but the agency called it cause for concern and suggested that as drilling continued, it could present a possible cancer risk in the future. Even at the time of the sampling, the agency reported, residents could be exposed to large doses of contaminants for brief “peak” periods.

http://www.propublica.org/article/science-lags-as-health-problems-emerge-near-gas-fieldsHow did we get this fracking nightmare besides the spineless lackeys that do happy EROI calculations for gas fracking? In the video above these frontmen for predatory capitalism were mentioned: Hill & Knowlton. They are famous for the Tabacco commercials in the 50s. Nothing has changed. Fracking and the Gas & Oil Industry

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In 2009, members of ANGA (America’s Natural Gas Alliance), a lobbying organization for the gas industry, spread $80 million in funds across several agencies that included Hill & Knowlton to try to influence decisions on the process of gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing[15] Similar to the strategy used for the pro-cigarette campaigns run in the 50s and 60s, the tactic the company is using for the issue is to simply raise doubt in the public’s mind about the dangers of the fracking process.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_%26_KnowltonDo any of these EROI experts figure what the following does to EROI numbers for fossil fuels or is this more stuff that doesn’t fit in the Procrustean Bed?

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Duke Energy CEO Bill Johnson resigns after one day, gets $44 million in severance For his eight-hour tenure as top dog at Duke, Bill Johnson made a cool $44.4 million.

 

http://grist.org/news/duke-ceo-bill-johnson-resigns-after-one-day-gets-44-million-in-severance/I haven’t mentioned the tar sands EROI but these “unconventional oil resources” are estimated by Professor Charles Hall to be abot 5.0 or less. Try a lot less, professor; less than 1.0 when all the energy costs in cleaning up the horrible mess they are creating in Canada come due. Oh yeah, you don’t include that in the formula, do you? What about those huge EROI numbers (up to 100.0!) that the EROI experts claim were the norm in fossil fuels when oil was easy to get out of the ground and you didn’t have to destroy so much land and lop off mountain tops to get to the coal? Yeah, the EROI experts lament all these added MJ/L of energy inputs needed these days and celebrate the good old days. Those were the days before automobiles when Rockefeller would flush his waste (gasoline, among other refinery poisons) products from refining into the rivers at night. Those were the days well into the early 20th century when coal miners worked for slave wages and suffered from myriad lung diseases. Those were the days when miners got shot for wanting to work in decent conditions with decent pay. Those were the days that the heat energy overload on the biosphere began and the CO2 pollution began in earnest. I firmly believe that the huge EROI numbers for early fossil fuel of nearly 100 are inaccurate because many energy input costs, energy extracted from the public in form of subsidies and handed to oil corporations, energy to build infrastructure and energy to care for an increasingly sickened population from fossil fuel pollution as well as energy to clean polluted lands was, right from the start, offloaded from the fossil fuel balance sheets and on to we-the-people. Fossil fuels were never cost effective. The captains of industry stifled renewables in their infancy in the late 19th century. Writers, even back then, were discussing the possiblity of clean and renewable energy from electrolysis of water to use hydrogen as fuel. Sure, the technology needed to be refined and developed but the subsidy money went to oil. There was a real interest in electrification through renewables. Cleveland had wind generators in the late 19th century. Scranton, the town incorporated as a city of 35,000 in 1866 that is now facing bankruptcy from financial shenanigans of predatory capitalism, became known as the electric city in 1880. Electric trolleys were all the rage in many U.S. cities. Had these avenues been pursued, we would not be saddled with this polluted world. Now, despite the flawed EROI methodolgy which produces numbers above 1.0 for fossil and nuclear fuels, some people in the engineering field are waking up to the fact that the writing is on the EROI wall for them and renewables are the future.

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Our society faces the colossal challenge of rapidly developing alternative energy sources that generate sufficient surplus energy to replace fossil fuels. Otherwise, material standards of living will decline – beginning with those of poorer people – as ever more resources have to be devoted to generating useful energy rather than to producing other goods and services. EROI figures indicate that the future lies in renewables like wind and solar, not unconventional hydrocarbons.

 

http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/energy-return-on-energy-invested-2012-06-15 So, to summarize all the above, the following “Energy Expended” inputs (the bottom part of the EROI formula*) have been arbitrarily left out by those EROI experts like Professor Charles Hall and the people from The Oil Scum (sorry, I meant the Oil Drum – really) web site: 1) Energy required to bioremediate pollution impacts from energy resource extraction. 2) Energy required to ameliorate negative health effects due to dangerous working conditions. 3) Energy required to counter negative effects on national GDP from slave wages. 4) Energy expended in wars to defend fossil fuel resources in foreign countries. 5) Energy equivalent in government subsidies taken from the populace and given to fossil and nuclear fuel producers. * If you get less energy out (top of the formula) the than you use to get the finished product (bottom of the formula) then you will get a number below “1” (i.e. 1/2 = 0.5 EROI not good). Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrustes The Procrustean bed “real world” of these experts is, and always was, a predatory capitalist, destructive and inhuman contrived “world” that they and all the lackeys that have benefited at the expense of the overwhelming majority of the human race and the biosphere cling desperately too by claiming it’s “the way the world works and we just have to live with it”. No, (Ashvin, Stoneleigh and Ilargi: pay attention) that is not “the way the world works”; That is “how a predatory capitalist con works”.  Any mathematician worth his salt can, given a standard upstream and downstream time frame from energy extraction of e.g. ten years before and ten years after, quantify all the above Energy Expended Inputs in Mega Joules per Liter. But because that would shrink the EROI numbers for all fossil and nuclear fuels to a fraction of 1, well below any justification there ever was for making use of these poisons, they won’t do it.  Furthermore the improper use and interpretation of thermodynamics by arbitrarily assuming that things that go boom (rapid explosive oxidation) are the gold standard in defining energy per se, they have made important “energy of activation” and “reaction velocity” variables seem irrelevant. The science of hydrocarbon chemistry and nuclear fission benefits from this flawed view that the more HEAT density in an exothermic process, the greater the potential EROI. That’s certainly true with hydrocarbons and nuclear fuels. That is NOT true with renewables. The best example I can think of is the internal combustion engine. The purpose of this machine is to use the energy of the explosions in the combustion chambers to drive a piston and produce mechanical energy. An electric motor produces mechanical enegy without wasting over 80% of the energy input on useless heat. The internal combustion engine, not only loses massive amounts of heat energy in the burning of fuel, but also must use part of the mechanical energy from the combustion to cool the engine. The EROI experts will certainly acknowledge that an internal combustion engine is only about 20% efficient but they flat refuse to see that the electric motor, because it doesn’t produce all that useless heat energy, can do the SAME AMOUNT OF WORK FOR LESS ENERGY. They may counter that I’m playing thermodynamic games here and the electricity to power the electric motor is coming from a fossil fuel or nuclear power plant so I’m just passing the energy buck, so to speak. Again, that shows the prejudice of these EROI experts to polluting fuel sources. In the subsequent paragraphs I will show how world electrification complete with electric motors being the motive force in industry and transportation, can achieve exactly the same amount of “useful work” (at a minimum) now produced by fossil fuels with less energy inputs because the resource is PV, geothermal, wind and wave. You would NOT have all the useless heat energy now contributing to an overheated planet. Along with all the CO2 and other greenhouse gases, we sure don’t need billions of engines spewing 80% useless heat energy into the biosphere. Combustion has it’s place with the use of ethanol in furnaces to provide heat in winter where ALL the heat energy output is made use of. Biomass ethanol used as fuel in high compression engines should be seen as a step in weening us away from gasoline but the whole approach to energy systems that is married to the “more heat is is better forever!”  view is scientifically bankrupt because it refuses to address the damage to the biosphere that waste heat imposes. As I said in a previous article, nature paces living energy systems with enzymes that lower the energy of activation and control the biochemical reactions to avoid overheating living tissue. It’s high time the EROI experts accepted that the future lies in an  energy extraction paradigm that does not go boom (explosive, rapid oxidation). We need, for our very survival, to use direct and indirect solar and geothermal energy in a manner so fine tuned that there is zero waste heat. We need to electrify all mechanical energy systems and provide them with electricity from renewable and truly efficient, non explosive energy processes.
Let us now see what our global  energy requirements are and how renewables can satisfy them. Remember that our new paradigm has a huge energy debt from all the pollution caused by fossil and nuclear fuels,  the chemical industry pollution and many dirty industrial processes. Even as we begin to power the world cleanly, we will need to be expending a LOT of Mega Joules per Liter to bioremediate the mess the dirty fuel industries have left us with. Note: The EROI reference below is stated as EROEI but it is the same thing. The “10:1” number convention is a way of stating an EROI of 10.0 with a reference value of “1” as signifying that  1.0 EROI equals equivalent inputs and outputs.  All the EROI numbers I have mentioned previously have the “:1” implied after the number so I have simply left them out.

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Given the strong dependence of current technologically advanced economies on oil, Peak Oil may be a distress for entire economic sectors (Hamilton, 2009) if no alternative primary energy is made available during the next decades to take the place of fossil fuels (Hirsch et al., 2005). In a recent report, Heinberg (2009) defined four conditions that a future primary energy source substitute should satisfy: i. must be able to provide a substantial amount of energy— perhaps a quarter of all the energy          currently used nationally or globally; ii. must have an Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROEI) of 10:1 or above (see Appendix A); iii. cannot have unacceptable environmental (including climate), social or geopolitical impacts; iv. must be renewable. Moreover, as discussed in this manuscript, an additional requirement must be also considered: v. Must not depend on the exploitation and use of scarce materials.

http://www.imedea.uib-csic.es/master/cambioglobal/Modulo_1_03/Ballabrera_Diciembre_2011/Articulos/Garcia-Olivares.2011.pdf
The above authors are being too conservative. As of this writing, renewables already are at 19% of the global energy pie and that information is probaly somewhat dated due to the several month lag on data collection. Because renewable use and their technical efficiency is constantly increasing through added infrastructure and research and development, while fossil and nuclear fuels are in a state where their EROI numbers, even by the gamed formula standards, are heading below 1.0, the renewable percentage of the energy pie will probably increase exponentially, rather than linearly. The fact that renewables, in the early studies nearly a decade ago, had a mere 1% of the global energy pie is strong evidence that the growth is exponential. For those pathetic, parochial clingers to the status quo ante who arrogantly dismiss renewables and their 10.0 PLUS EROIs with the claim that renewables  are a mere drop in the world energy bucket, I suggest you get some metaphorical floatation gear because there is a renewable tsunami coming.  Let us now return to the world energy requirements study and how renewables can fill the gap:

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All combined, these authors assume that only 11.5 TW (the 68% of the total mean power) should be produced by the renewable mix to satisfy the 2030 demand of an electrified society. This is close to the 2010 production of 12.5 TW. Current electric generation is only 2 TW, so a six-fold increase is required.

Snippet 2:

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The potential primary power sources that remain after this first screening process are wind and concentrating solar thermal (CSP) devices. Besides, the engineering of both technologies is well known and understood and do not actually depend on rare earth elements (REE) and/or scarce materials.

Snippet 3:

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2.1. Wind, water and solar proven technologies Windmills of 3–5 MW are being currently built and installed; this is a proven technology in expansion.The EROEI of wind turbines has been estimated in the range 15:1–40:1 (Kubiszewski and Cleveland, 2007). The capacity factor (CF, i.e. the ratio of the power actually produced to the theoretical maximum) of commercial turbines has improved overtime, from 0.22 for units built before 1998, to 0.30 for units in 2000–2001, and 0.36 for those operating after 2004–2005 (US DOE, 2008, p.27). The EROEI of CSP stations is close to 20:1 (Vant-Hull, 1985). Parabolic trough stations are more extended and proven CSP technology.

 

Snippet 4:

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From now to 2030, plausible technology developments would permit colonising continental shelves up to 225 m depth with both founded and floating offshore windmills. In addition, two hybrid wind-wave systems could enhance the yield and power stability of offshore wind turbines: (i)attaching attenuator floaters at the base of windmills and (ii)deploying floating platforms with attenuators at the base and wind turbines above. An example of this technology is the Green Ocean Energy Ltd. prototype of 0.5MW (see: http://www.greenoceanenergy.com/index.php/wave-treader). Another example of attenuators is the Pelamis floaters, from Ocean Power Delivery Ltd. (Drewetal., 2009), which generate 0.75 MW with a 120 m long device. An example of the second approach is the Floating Power Plant prototype (see: http://www.floatingpowerplant.com/), designed to produce 10 MW, 56% from waves and 44% from three windmills.

 

Notice the use of hybrid energy systems to increase efficiency of energy collection. This is a giant paradigm shift from the mono mania that the fossil and nuclear fuel industries pursue with their   “one size fits all” approach to the detriment of the environment (this inefficient approach to energy extraction also simplifies EROI math.  ;D). Fossil and nuclear fuel advocates hate hybrid energy extraction techniques. I guess it confuses them or perhaps their predatory capitalist mindset is too consumed by monopolising one energy source in order to achieve price control and then squelch competitors. Whatever their flawed rationale, their modus operandi is unsustainable. Snippet 5;

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The three main advantages of hybrid installations are: increased energy return per square kilometre; reduction of maintenance costs of equipments and undersea transmission cables; and compensation of wind generation intermittency, as wind and waves are not necessarily correlated (with the exception of storms).

Quote

Fig. 2. Annual average (July 1983–June 2005) of incident insolation on a horizontal surface in kWh/m2/day. Data downloaded from the NASA Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy site (SSE, http://eosweb.larc.nasa.gov/sse/, release 6.0). Grey and blue dots have twice the real areas occupied by the CSP stations to improve the readability of the figure (see text for details). White lines represent main distribution grid lines. The length scale corresponds to latitude 45°N. (For interpretation of the references to colour in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

The above jpg shows where we will get much of our energy from renewables. As you all know, the sun, directly or indirectly, is our energy power source. We now have the technology, even in it’s infancy as to achievable levels of efficiency, that is proven, durable and being installed in the high renewable energy extraction potential points throughout the globe. This is no pipe dream; this is real, practical and happening, unfortunately, for financial reasons (cheap reliable energy free of price shocks) rather than our desperate global climate situation killing various lifeforms in our biosphere at an increasing rate. But even if it’s just being done for profit, my attitutde is, “Any Port In The Environmental Collapse Storm”. If the profit motive is needed to have a sane energy extraction standard, so be it.  This is a table of the proposed Energy infrastructure: Snippet 6:

Type Power fraction(%) Capacity factor Rated power (MW) Units
wind turbines 47.5-51 0.31 4.66-5 3,837,000
Stirling plants/air cooled CSP 28 0.25 300 50,460
Parabolic Stations, 12 h storage 12 0.4-0.75 300 9800
Hydroelectricity 9 0.88 1300 900
Attenuators 0-3.5 0.4 0.75 0-1,123,000

Table 1-Energy production mix proposed

 
I have, in a previous article, mentioned the roaring forties (area of the earth in the 40 degrees south latitudes with powerful winds and constantly turbulent seas). Take a look at the huge amount of wind power available sustainably there (there’s a lot in the North Atlantic too):
 
Quote

Fig. 1. Annual average of wind speed at 50 m above the surface of the Earth in m/s. Data downloaded from the NASA Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy site (SSE, http://eosweb.larc.nasa.gov/sse/, release 5.0). Light blue, blue and dark blue correspond to regions where the wind speeds are in the ranges 6–8 m/s, 8–10 m/s and >10 m/s, respectively. The red line delineates the 200 m isobath, representing the continental shelf.(For interpretation of the references to colour in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.) A. Garcı´a-Olivares etal./EnergyPolicy41(2012)561–574 563

Snippet 7:

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In addition to hybrid systems, other techniques are being proposed for power consistency: 2.4. Intermittency constraints The unwelcome power variability associated with renewable sources may be mitigated by: (i)   geographical interconnection (Zhou, 2009); (ii)  use of hydroelectric power to smooth out supply (Czisch and Giebel, 2006); (iii) using reversible Electrical Vehicle (EV) recharging as grid storage (Kempton and Tomic, 2005); (iv) using other electric storage systems, as for example, water pumping, air compression, batteries, hydrogen production and storage and (v)  using smart demand-response management and weather prediction to better match inflexible loads to the power supply (Delucchi and Jacobson,2011).

http://www.imedea.uib-csic.es/master/cambioglobal/Modulo_1_03/Ballabrera_Diciembre_2011/Articulos/Garcia-Olivares.2011.pdfThe study referenced above is thorough. So thorough that it lists every metal used in the energy infrastructure today as well as their uses in wind turbines, PV and CSP to list a few. They even project when these metals will be exhausted at current extraction rates. They warn that the renewable solution requires a steady state economy and not the continuous growth paradigm of capitalism and energy extraction corporations. In other words, it’s time to stop being pigs. We live in a finite world and pretending otherwise for environmental rape and predatory capitalist profits threatens human society and the biosphere. Yes, we can go full renewable and meet today’s total energy demands. Full electrification will reduce the unusable heat polluting the atmosphere from inefficient internal combustion engines that must go the way of the Dodo bird. The savings from newfound efficiencies with renewables will provide some limited room for growth in addition to a lower overall energy load for exactly the same mechanical energy previously used to run civilization because renewables don’t produce massive wastes in heat energy at all steps of the extraction and use process that fossil fuel and nuclear energy products do. Where I disagree with the authors is on their insistence that the renewable energy sources must be scalable. I believe that scalabilty of an energy source, unless it is a government utility (i.e. fully socialized and non-profit), will lead to unscrupulous short cuts and new externalized costs for the populace for the benefit of private power corporations. The promise of renewables must go hand in hand with decentralized power sources. The authors recognized PV panels could make a huge contribution but did not consider them cheap enough yet and voiced concerns with the future availability of the somewhat rare metals used to make them. This issue is being addressed and overcome so I believe the authors will be pleasantly surprised with the massive contribution PV will make to the total picture. The authors discarded alleged low EROI renewables for consideration because of their scalability bias. As I stated early in this article, biomass ethanol, if properly used, has an EROI of at least that of gasoline without the environmental baggage of gasoline. And other biomass products like Lemna minor (Duckweed), that grow eight times faster than corn without heavy industrial chemical fertilization or pesticides will certainly produce EROI numbers far above 10.0. Passive geothermal (also discarded by the authors because it isn’t scalable) and other renewable heat sources such as e.g. placing mirrors a short distance from the north side of house in winter to reflect sun onto the north facing wall to  drastically lower heating costs will play a very important role in the picture of total sustainability. In addition, decentralized renewable energy infrastructure provides jobs, not in the feast or famine pattern of ethics free, dog eat dog, vicious predatory capitalist “business” model, but in a sustainable, predictable and humane way. While we are busy bioremediating all the damage Rockefeller and the nuclear nuts have saddled us with, we will be dealing with violent and unpredictable weather for a century or more. Decentralized renewable energy infrastructure has the added bonus that it provides resiliency to communities in the event of a disaster because “something” is always going to be working and neighbors with some working renewable energy infrastructure will be able to help those without access to energy. Embracing sustainability is embracing a caring society and rejecting the mindless and destructive wars and erosion of trust that is destroying our civilization from the evil wrought by corporations and the psychopaths that run them. We must reject these human predators who constantly pit everyone against their neighbor for profit. There are still so many goodhearted, thinking people out there that take the stewardship of this planet seriously. We can do so much to live in harmony with the biosphere if we could only constrain the insanely greedy psychopaths among us. Just look at the beauty and harmony with nature we are capable of:

Overpass for Animals, Highway A50 in the Netherlands

 

Banff,Alberta,Canada

 

http://grist.org/list/these-beautiful-bridges-are-just-for-animals/
Germany is the world leader in turning the dream of a world 100% powered by renewable energy sources into a reality. I invite you now to proceed to this German web site and watch the following free videos. These videos are not about proof of concept or pilot programs. These videos are about nuts and bolts applications going on today. To show you how fast things are changing, the largest wind turbine available that is referenced in the above study about a year old has already been increased by over 1MW in energy generating capacity. The switch to renewables is really happening and these videos prove it: There are five videos.  They are all immensely enjoyable and filled with details of interest about several renewable energy technologies but if you are rushed for time, the last one on Wind Energy does a good job of putting them all together. Those new Wind turbines are BIG! When you click on the link below, scroll to the following sentence:

Quote

Watch the film online! If you are interested in watching the Spanish or French version please change the language-option of this website.

 

Below that sentence you can click and watch each video, one at a time. I recommend you watch them in sequence from top to bottom as they are listed. You won’t be disappointed.

Quote

Solar energy Hydropower Geothermal energy Bioenergy Wind energy

 

http://www.renewables-made-in-germany.com/en/publications/dvd-renewable-energy-technologies.html
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I am certain there are some people out there clinging to the status quo ante that will not be pleased. What will be the reaction from people with vested interests in the fossil and nuclear fuel bankrupt paradigm be? See the beginning of the article for the reaction of the Steak House restaurant owners to replacing the kiddy burgers with chickpeas. So prepare for the ignore, ridicule and attack sequence. The “Steak House” owners are not about to change their name to “Chickpea Heaven” or something like that. But, if all these people so invested in the horror that is fossil and nuclear fuels would sit down and really think that what they are doing will eventually kill their descendants and much of the biosphere, then “The Oil Drum” web site would morf to “Sustainability From The Sun” web site.  And maybe dear Professor Charles Hall and friends would stop their Procrustean Bed mathematics celebrating things that go boom and denigrating passive sustainable renewable energy processes that don’t. A big thank you to the Doomstead Diner web site and those that work it and comment on it. like Reverse Engineer (alias Josey Wales!) and Peter who designed an outstanding forum and thread architecture. Print this and plaster it everywhere you can. The planet Earth is our home and we need to do everything we can to save it. Challenge the deniers to argue the points made here. Demand proof rather than some huffy dismissal about not understanding the laws of thermodynamics, capitalism or free enterprise. Ask them how many Mega Joules per Liter will we expend in dealing with THEIR “GIFT” TO US of 400 parts per million of CO2, increased cancer rates, excess heat from internal combustion engines that are only about 20% efficient, erosion of democracy through monopoly oil corporation price control and purchase of of our representatives and laws and useless wars that get our children killed for their GOD DAMNED profits (no, I am not swearing; I am certain the creator is not amused by humans trashing his garden or those who, like some poor deluded souls, claim that this is the way the world works and we just have to live with it). And tell them to stuff it when they say we-the-people are responsible because we consumed their products. If they return all the profits and swag from subsidies made by big oil and nuclear, then we’ll consider that possibility but otherwise it was THEY who corralled us into consuming their crap so they could centralize riches and power and turn the USA into a plutocracy ruled by ruthless oligarchs. Call them cowards for drinking the koolaid. Force them to face responsibility for ruining the future for their offspring with ther blindness and greed. When the Biased Bums at The Oil Scum claim you don’t know what you are talking about when you claim that ethanol (otherwise known as ethyl alcohol) is a superior fuel to gasoline because it gets better mileage in high compression engines and burns cleaner translating to a GREATER effective EROI than gasoline, push this into their face and ask them why they never got the memo:

Quote

Ethyl alcohol in the early 20th century The following excerpt is from a Paper to the American Society for Environmental History, Annual Conference March 26-30, 2003 By William Kovarik, Ph.D. “Studies of alcohol as an internal combustion engine fuel began in the U.S. with the Edison Electric Testing Laboratory and Columbia University in 1906. Elihu Thomson reported that despite a smaller heat or B.T.U. value, “a gallon of alcohol will develop substantially the same power in an internal combustion engine as a gallon of gasoline. This is owing to the superior efficiency of operation…” (New York Times Aug. 5, 1906) Other researchers confirmed the same phenomena around the same time. “USDA tests in 1906 also demonstrated the efficiency of alcohol in engines and described how gasoline engines could be modified for higher power with pure alcohol fuel or for equivalent fuel consumption, depending on the need. The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) and the U.S. Navy performed 2000 tests on alcohol and gasoline engines in 1907 and 1908 in Norfolk, Va. and St. Louis, Mo. They found that much higher engine compression ratios could be achieved with alcohol than with gasoline. When the compression ratios were adjusted for each fuel, fuel economy was virtually equal despite the greater B.T.U. value of gasoline. “In regard to general cleanliness, such as absence of smoke and disagreeable odors, alcohol has many advantages over gasoline or kerosene as a fuel,” the report said. “The exhaust from an alcohol engine is never clouded with a black or grayish smoke.” USGS continued the comparative tests and later noted that alcohol was “a more ideal fuel than gasoline” with better efficiency despite the high cost.”

http://www.americanenergyindependence.com/alcoholengines.aspx

Quote

Ethanol Engine efficiency exceeds gasoline engines, giving greater miles per gallon (MPG) with ethanol fuel: High Efficiency and Low Emissions from a Port-Injected Engine with Alcohol Fuels— By Matthew Brusstar, Mark Stuhldreher, David Swain and William Pidgeon, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  size: 70 Kb – 7 pages

http://www.epa.gov/otaq/presentations/sae-2002-01-2743-v2.pdfWhen they fall back on the EROI formula Procrustean Bed with the claim that EROI only deals with energy density in fuels and not efficiency coefficients in different engine types, calmly remind them (hopefully, two by fours will be unnecessary to knock some sense into their heads but you never know) that gasoline is not customarily used for furnaces, room lighting, barbeque grills or to boil water; it’s used almost exclusively in the ICE (internal combustion engine). For these fossil fuel lakeys, water carriers and quislings to refuse to measure gasoline’s EFFECTIVE USABLE ENERGY when it is actually used in an ICE to do work is the height of duplicity. But this subterfuge by Rockefeller’s admirers is not new. As I have mentioned before, way back at the end of the 19th century, Rockefeller was flushing his gasoline waste product in the rivers by his refineries at night. He could not avoid producing gasoline in his refinery cracking towers (about 19 gallons of gasoline for every 42 gallon barrel of crude refined)*. When the automobile came out in the early twentieth century, the early car fuel called benzene had to be eliminated because that hydrocarbon is a carcinogenic. As you read above in the 1906 Edison lab study, ethanol was considered competitive energywise with gasoline. What did Rockefeller do? He lowered the price of gasoline (remember his cost was near zero because it had been a waste product of the refining process) so much that ethanol was priced out of the market**. It was a win-win for Rockefeller. It was only a matter of time before his nasty habit of flushing gasoline into rivers at night was going to get him and his refinery employees facing the wrong end of a shotgun from some irate farmer who noticed his horses and cows getting sick or dying when drinking the river water downstream of an oil refinery. So Rockefeller managed to change the flush operation from the rivers to the atmosphere and make a bundle out of it too. But this predatory capitalist wasn’t done killing ethanol yet. He gave millions to a temperance group that ultimately succeeded in Prohibition legislation banning the production and use of ethanol (ethyl alcohol), not just for drinking, but for ICE fuel as well (and you thought Prohibition was just the fundies not wanting you to get high on booze. Rockefeller USED the fundies to block ethanol competition). The reality was that the “cheap” gasoline was far, far more expensive than ethanol due to the atmospheric poisons introduced. It got even worse when tetra-ethyl lead entered the mix in the 1920s. It wasn’t until about 1973 that the severe damage from leaded gasoline was recognized and even so, to this day, unleaded gasoline is not mandatory in off road vehicles. Now that ethanol is out there and available once again as a competitor to gasoline, the fossil fuel enablers return with the familiar FALSE claims that ethanol is not competitive with gasoline and the poppycock that gasoline gets better mileage than ethanol. Call out these overeducated, Procrustean Bed, creative thermodynamics “geniuses” carrying water for the fossil fuel industry on their lies and distortions. Accuse them of being well aware of the above and deliberately distorting the fuel facts when they are actually applied to their use in engines. Tell them their Procrustean Bed EROI Bullshit isn’t going to fly anymore.

Quote

*On average, about 19.5 US gallons (16.2 imp gal; 74 L) of gasoline are available from a 42-US-gallon (35 imp gal; 160 L) barrel of crude oil (about 46% by volume), varying due to quality of crude and grade of gasoline. The remaining residue comes off as products ranging from tar to naptha.[4]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasoline

Quote

**The gasoline engine became the preferred engine for the automobile because gasoline was cheaper than alcohol, not because it was a better fuel. And, because alcohol was not available at any price from 1920 to 1933, a period during which the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol was banned nationally as mandated in the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment was repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment on December 5, 1933. In time to produce alcohol fuels during World War II. By the time World War II ended, the gasoline engine had become “entrenched” because gasoline remained cheaper than Alcohol, and widely distributed – gas stations were everywhere.

http://www.americanenergyindependence.com/alcoholengines.aspx Tell anybody with fried logic circuits that claims this is “the way the world works” that the REAL WORLD, not the predatory capitalist hell hole they so love, is the BIOSPHERE. That world has a set of rules and, for most of our human existence on this planet, we followed them. For over a century and a half, a level of insanity not seen in human history has produced a greed fest so blind, so stupid and so incorrigible that it can only be labelled what it is: EVIL. Fossil and nuclear fuel advocates and their pseudo scientific Procrustean Bed EROI happy number formulations NEVER WORKED. The backers of these poisoned energy sources lied about absolutely everything related to their extraction and use from day one and they are lying through their teeth now to sabotage the truth about renewable energy sources.
Renewable energy sources are practical, sustainable and healthy for the planet and humans. Fossil and nuclear fuels have brought us pollution, wars and corrupted democracy.

Renewable energy sources WORK!  Fossil and Nuclear Fuels NEVER DID.

 

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