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Sunday Train: Net Energy Yield and the Steel Interstate Energy Revolution

by BruceMcF Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 03:44:13 AM EST

crossposted from Voices on the Square


In the online support for the April, 2013 Scientific American article on Energy Return on Investment (EROI), Scientific American online interviewed Charles Hall, developer of the EROI concept, on whether Fossil Fuels will be able to maintain economic growth. In one of his answers, Charles Hall responds to the question:
What happens when the EROI gets too low? What's achievable at different EROIs?

He says:

If you've got an EROI of 1.1:1, you can pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If you've got 1.2:1, you can refine it and look at it. At 1.3:1, you can move it to where you want it and look at it. We looked at the minimum EROI you need to drive a truck, and you need at least 3:1 at the wellhead. Now, if you want to put anything in the truck, like grain, you need to have an EROI of 5:1. And that includes the depreciation for the truck. But if you want to include the depreciation for the truck driver and the oil worker and the farmer, then you've got to support the families. And then you need an EROI of 7:1. And if you want education, you need 8:1 or 9:1. And if you want health care, you need 10:1 or 11:1.

Civilization requires a substantial energy return on investment. You can't do it on some kind of crummy fuel like corn-based ethanol [with an EROI of around 1:1].

A big problem we have facing the alternatives is they're all so low EROI. We'd all like to go toward renewable fuels, but it's not going to be easy at all. And it may be impossible. We may not be able to sustain our civilization on these alternative fuels. I hope we can, but we've got to deal with it realistically.

front-paged by afew


Disclaimer: Written for an American site, so all standard US-centric qualifiers and apologies apply.

Energy Return on Investment versus Net Energy Yield

When looking at EROI, it is easy to get lost in the woods of arguing whether an EROI is 50 or 30, whether something is left out that should be included, whether something is included that should be left out. However, an important point is raised in an 2011 Oil Drum article, The Energy Return on Investment Threshold, which begins with the statement:

Hall and Day (2009) report that the EROI for coal might be as high as 80 and that for hydropower, EROI is 40. Does this mean that coal is twice as `good' as hydro? The answer is no ...

Don't worry about the next paragraph if you aren't comfortable with algebra, as you will see, the problem has already been worked out for you.

How could 80 fail to be twice as good as 40? Well, EROI looks at energy out for each one energy input used up. That uses the amount of energy you lose along the way as the measuring stick, when for a lot of issues, that's the thing we want to measure. To give a useful measure of how much energy is used up in producing the energy, you need the concept of net energy. Net Energy is measured in absolute units (Watts, Joules, etc), but you can also take it as a percentage of the energy produced, to give the Net Energy Yield:
  • EROI = Energy Out / Energy In
  • Net Energy = Energy Out - Energy In
  • Net Energy Yield = (Energy Out - Energy In) / Energy Out
  • So: Net Energy Yield = (EROI-1)/EROI

And the figure on the right plots the EROI versus the Net Energy Yield (which it calls the "% Energy Out"). And that is why an EROI of 80 is not twice as good as an EROI of 40. The Net Energy Yield comparison for EROI of 80 vs 40 are yields of 98.75% vs 97.5% (79/80 vs 39/40), so the same energy flow results in 1.25% less energy available.

Its when we get down to the level marked on the figure as the EROI threshold that the differences start to buy. Instead of comparing EROI 80 vs EROI 40, what happens when we compare EROI 8 vs EROI 4? That is 87.5% vs 75%, a loss of 12.5% less energy available. Indeed, lets look at the Net Energy Yield for the hypothetical values in Charles Hall answer (EROI ~ Net Energy Yield %)
  • 1.1 ~ 9%
  • 1.2 ~ 17%
  • 1.3 ~ 23%
  • 3 ~ 67%
  • 5 ~ 80%
  • 7 ~ 86%
  • 8 or 9 ~ 88%-89%

Indeed, he sets the threshold for a modern industrial society with the long childhood education required for a highly skilled workforce at just about the same point that David Murphy places the threshold for the "cliff" when drops in EROI start to really bite into our available Net Energy Yield.

What are the Sustainable, Renewable Net Energy Yields Available?

Just as the Big Oil funded Heritage, Cato and Reason foundations churn out reports on why providing Americans with any freedom of choice to pick an alternative to gasoline fueled cars and diesel fueled buses is a bad thing ~ since they are self-identified libertarians, and nothing says "liberty" like denying Americans choice ~ there seems to be a cottage industry in pushing the idea that a fully sustainable, renewable energy economy is an impossibility. Google for "Can the World Run on Renewable Energy" and "negative case" and you'll find several different revisions and country-specific versions of one of these arguments.

However, when we consider available resources and the EROI threshold of 8, the negative case is on shaky ground.

First and foremost comes wind power. In a meta-study of wind power EROI studies from 1997-2007, Kubiszewski, Cleveland and Endres (2009) find an average over 60 operational studies of 19.8, for a net energy yield of 95%. And this will, of course, rise over the coming decade, since advances are still being made in the energy efficiency of wind turbines at relatively low wind-speeds. Clean Technica covered a press event by General Electric last month introducing its newest model wind turbine. According to GE Wind Products General Manager Keith Longtin:
"We've made incredible gains since acquiring the property," Longtin stated, pointing out that today's GE turbines are operating at close to 98% availability (97.6%), the same as a thermal coal plant. Furthermore, he continued, "with the introduction of the 1.6-100, we've also improved the capacity factor (a measure of energy efficiency) from 35% ten years ago to over 50% today." Over 50% capacity factor is far above the capacity factor that most people think of when they think of wind turbines. Clearly, very significant strides have been made to get to such a high percentage.

Contributing to the boost in turbine availability and efficiency, GE's Brilliant 1.6-100 captures and converts more wind energy at lower (Class 3) wind speeds, which, by definition, blow at 7.5 meters per second (m/s).

The 1.6-100 integrates short term grid scale battery power storage. About 7% of wind power currently available to installed wind turbines is lost because of the fact that the grid cannot accept power increases from wind turbines as rapidly as the wind turbines can provide the power, and with short term grid scale battery power, that ramp up of power availability can be matched to the grid bottleneck. The batteries play a similar role when ramping down the wind turbines. It makes sense to integrate this scale of battery storage with the wind turbines, since they can use the power transformer that the wind turbines require in any event.
Kubiszewski, Cleveland and Endres (2009) also cite meta-studies of EROI estimates for other power sources. Notable among them are:
  • Photo-Voltaic Solar with an average EROI of 6.7, though primarily from simulation studies rather than operational studies;
  • nuclear with an average EROI of 15.8-9.1, depending on whether studies that omit the energy cost of one or more stage of fuel processing are included;
  • and dammed hydropower with an EROI of 12, though as noted with limits to our ability to increase dammed hydropower

They do not include estimates of corn ethanol fuel, singled out by Charles Hall as an example of a fuel with an egregiously inadequate EROI. The basis for his remarks can be seen in David Murphy, Charles Hall and Bobby Powers (2011), which considers EROI studies of corn ethanol fuel, ranging from estimates of EROI of 0.8-1.5. We don't really need to wade into the details of their average estimate of 1.01 (a net energy yield of 1%), since an optimistic EROI of 1.5 is a Net Energy Yield of only 33%.

It is important to distinguish corn ethanol from sugar cane ethanol. Corn ethanol requires substantial energy-intensive fertilizer inputs to get maximum yield for a plant creating a protein-intensive cereal grain, with so much of the plant discarded in the production of corn ethanol. Indeed, a major part of the difference between low EROI at the top end and extremely low estimates at the bottom end are whether the cogeneration of byproducts of corn ethanol biomass is counted, or whether the byproducts are treated as a product that must be returned to the field to sustain fertility.

The other extreme of a liquid biofuel that is often cited is sugar cane ethanol, with a plant that is specialized to produce a relatively large amount of simple carbohydrates, and which can grow and regrow two to three times per planting. An EROI figure of 8 for Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is often cited, but as Robert Rapier notes in the 2008 Oil Drum EROI round-up, this is a specialized figure focusing just on oil independence:
The oft-cited Brazilian EROEI is really a cousin of EROEI. What is done to arrive at the 8 to 1 sugarcane EROEI is that they only count the fossil fuel inputs as energy. Boilers are powered by burning bagasse, but this energy input is not counted. (Also, electricity is sometimes exported, and credit is taken for this). For a true EROEI calculation, all energy inputs should be counted. So what we may see is that the EROEI for sugarcane is 2 to 1 (hypothetically) but since most inputs are not fossil-fuel based the EROEI based only on fossil-fuel inputs is 8 to 1.


An EROI of 2 is still substantially better than an EROI of (optimistically) 1.5 for corn ethanol, since that is an energy yield of 50% rather than an energy yield of 33%. However, it still relegate currently produced ethanol to the status of a secondary fuel source for specialized applications where the portability of a liquid fuel justifies reliance on such a low EROI fuel.

The most promising biomass energy source that is proven technology (though not currently widely deployed) is biocoal. As Engineer-Poet wrote in 2006, in a long article worth setting aside time to read from beginning to end:
... [A] whale of a lot of energy is lost in conversions. The average refinery makes gasoline with 83% efficiency, but engines are so inefficient that more energy goes to refining losses than pushing the vehicle. An ethanol engine is potentially more efficient than the gasoline equivalent, but the conversion from biomass to ethanol loses so much that it takes more biomass energy than crude oil to do the same job! Biomass gasification may be more efficient than Iogen's hydrolization and fermentation, but even a 70%-efficient process yields barely 18% end-to-end efficiency at best. Still, the available energy from biomass looks to be several times the energy we actually use from crude oil. The conclusions are inescapable:
  1. There is sufficient biomass energy to replace motor fuel and then some... if the energy is not wasted.
  2. Using bio-ethanol in piston engines means taking between 4/5 and 9/10 of the captured energy and throwing it away.
  3. Even burning biomass as a replacement for e.g. coal in conventional powerplants means 60% losses or more.
  4. It looks impossible to grow enough biomass to take that path.
  5. The old paradigm won't work any more. A new systems approach is required.
  6. The essence of a successful system will be fewer conversions and minimizing losses.

Engineer-Poet's solution to reducing conversions and minimizing losses is biocoal: charcoal produced through partial burning in a sealed chamber that allows capturing the exhaust gases. The sealed chamber is the biggest difference between old-fashioned charcoal and biocoal production, since the exhaust gases can be used directly generate electricity. Assume that:
  • ...
  • 53.5% of the energy is yielded as charcoal (30% by weight).
  • 88% of the remainder is yielded as chemical energy in hot gas (11.1 quads gas + 1.51 quads reaction heat + recycled heat).
  • The gas can be converted to electricity at 50% efficiency.

Then the charcoal and the medium-BTU thermal gas has a crude energy loss of 12% of 47.5%, or 5,7%, so those products have an energy yield of 94.3%, and an EROI of 17.5. This is the figure that is directly equivalent to the EROI for creating various liquid biofuels.

Now, if all of this is converted to electricity, the EROI and energy yield is lower. The net energy yield for electricity is much lower if the biocoal is burned in conventional coal powered plants at an efficiency of about 33%, while the medium-BTU is converted into electricity at the production site using Solid Oxide fuel cells at an efficiency of 50%, then the electrical net energy yield is 38% (18%+20%), or an EROI of 1.6, However, if the biocoal is converted into electricity using Direct Carbon Fuel Cells with an efficiency of about 75%, then the electrical net energy yield is 60% (40%+20%), or an EROI for the electricity of 2.5.

Of course, the wind power and photovoltaic solar power is created as electricity, so do not suffer the energy losses when converting solid and liquid fuels to electricity. At the other extreme, any thermal power plant that burned a coal or sugarcane ethanol fuel would operate at a negative net energy yield, acting as a net consumer of energy rather than as an energy source.

Current nuclear technologies are primarily Light Water reactors consuming uranium fuel without recycling. We have on the order of 70 years of usable uranium fuel sources at current rates of consumption, and as we work through our richest uranium fuel sources, the EROI and net energy yield of existing Light Water technology will continue to decline as the energy input for fuel enrichment continues to climb. (Note that a recent diary on EROI at daily kos citing nuclear EROI of 75 from a paywalled study, appears to be a case of either rigging the study by ignoring fuel enrichment energy costs, or else based on simulations of hypothetical nuclear technologies under development.)

There are technologies that recycle fuel using side-effects of the nuclear chain reaction, to substantially reduce the energy cost of fuel enrichment, and these may offer EROI of 15 to 25 over a longer period of time, but most of these technologies carry a risk of nuclear proliferation. However, the thorium fuel cycle, which was not been pursued intensively in the United State precisely because it is less useful than many rivals in the generation of weapons-grade nuclear materials, does offer a prospective recycling fuel cycle that might well offer useful supplementary source of electrical power.

EROI of a Sustainable Energy Portfolio

The first main element that matters for the maintenance of an advanced industrial economy is not the EROI and Net Energy Yield of specific components of the energy portfolio, but the overall EROI and Net Energy Yield of the total portfolio of energy sources.

It has been noted that the US could move to 20% windpower without requiring substantial changes in the way that we manage and regulate electricity generation. All that would be required would be some investment in long distance electricity transport from the Great Plains to population centers east of the Mississippi. No substantial investment in energy storage would be required, since shuffling around the operation of existing hydropower and existing gas-fueled peak power plants would cope with the volatility of wind power.

This could be used to argue that "we can use at most 20% windpower for our electrical needs", but that would be assuming that we are incapable of adapting our electrical supply system to cope with new types of power sources. That is a shaky assumption, since after all we were not handed our current system full-formed from some extra-terrestrial civilization, but rather developed it to cope with the capacities and limitations of fuel-powered electricity supplies.

More importantly, though, this ignores portfolio effects. Solar power and windpower generation tend to peak at different times of the day, and the peak of solar power generation is well correlated to peak power demand. So 30% wind with 10% solar is easier to integrate into the grid than 20% wind alone. At the same time, for both, high production periods at a specific wind farm or solar producing region tends to be correlated with lower production in the other technology, and with wind farms and solar producing regions in other areas.

So the 20% "wind power threshold" based on integration of a specific wind resource into a specific grid interconnect can be reasonably projected to a 40% wind plus 20% solar threshold for a broadly distributed set of wind and solar power resources ... plus 40% of "something else.

Assume that half of that "something else" is catering to specialized needs where EROI gives way to other factors, for which I'll give an EROI of 1 and a net energy yield of 0%, and 20% of biocoal and biocoal production electrical generation (and note that the generation of power as a by-product of charcoal production can be scheduled to coincide with peak demand periods), at an EROI of 2.

What would be the end result? 40% (wind) of energy consumed in energy production has an EROI of 19, 20% (solar PV) has an EROI of 5.7, 20% (biocoal biomass) has an EROI of 2, and 20% (specialized/portable power sources) have an EROI of 1. That is a weighted average of 13.42, or a net energy yield of 92%, comfortably above the net energy cliff.

The Transport Challenge

However, this presents the US transport system with a substantial challenge.

To the extent that we can efficiently transport things using electricity, we know that it will be feasible to transport them using sustainable renewable power. And if the electrically powered transport can be done with a sufficient efficiency gain, we can pursue electrical transport and the development of sustainable electrical power sources in parallel, since the electrically powered transport automatically inherits any improvements to the sustainability of the electric power grid as they occur. By contrast, most fueled transport require some form of conversion to shift from an unsustainable to a sustainable power source.

Local electrical passenger transport and Active Transport alternatives include walking, cycling, ebikes, neighborhood electric vehicles, electric freeway-capable cars, trolleybuses, light rail and heavy rail. Many of these have local freight delivery versions, including freight cycles, neighborhood electric delivery vehicles, and electric conventional vans and light trucks, while a trolleybus, light rail or heavy rail corridor could also be used for local freight. Given advances in battery technology, an electric truck operating along a trolleybus route and departing from it to complete its trip on the public right of way could be readily integrated into a trolleybus corridor system.

Further, whatever our supply of high energy density liquid fuel may be, we can prioritize local freight shipments and allocate a given budget of low-EROI liquid fuels to performing those tasks.

However, if we consider the alternatives for long distance freight transport, to provide the 1,000mile+ freight movements that our economy relies upon, the list of alternatives drops away. Air freight and long distance highway freight consume large amounts of high energy density liquid fuels, using energy-intensive means of transport, and production of those fuels from sustainable energy sources imposes substantial energy losses from the conversion.

Long distance electric freight rail does not discriminate between unsustainable and sustainable sources of electricity, and we have ample potential for sustainable electricity sources to support electric freight rail.

My version of the Steel Interstate proposal extends this to also operate the Steel Interstate electric freight rail system as Electricity Superhighways. This provides an essential complement to wind and solar power since, as already discussed, an ability to draw on wind and solar power from multiple regions results in a more stable total supply of renewable energy, and substantially eases the task of integrating wind and solar power into the grid.

A Transport Revolution

Where the Steel Interstate is most revolutionary, however, is in its efficiency.

The "energy cliff" argument of Charles Hall revolves around how much net energy yield we require to operate a modern industrial economy. This is a substantially different thing from the "energy cliff" argument of David Murphy, that observes an EROI threshold of about 8, where it becomes critical to be aware of the EROI of our energy sources.

David Murphy's threshold is simply arithmetic, and as such it does not in fact tell us what Net Energy Yield we need to maintain our industrial economy.

And Charles Hall's argument is surely correct regarding some level of Net Energy Yield, what level we need to maintain our industrial society surely depends on whether we rely on efficient or inefficient ways to do what we need to do.

And it is here where the Steel Interstate promises efficiency gains compared to our present reckless waste that are substantial enough to be called revolutionary. Long distance rail freight is substantially more efficient than diesel truck freight, even with the same diesel fuel source. And long distance electric rail freight is substantially more efficient than diesel rail freight. When the two efficiencies are combined, electric freight rail, consumes less than 10% as much energy per ton-mile as long distance diesel truck freight.

If we were to compare electric rail freight powered by sustainable electricity with an average EROI of 13 to long distance diesel truck freight, that would be equivalent to a oil with an EROI of over 130 ...

... while the large oil fields discovered before the 1960's with EROI in the range of 80-100, sustainable electric power with an EROI of 13 is effectively more abundant for the task at hand than the big oil fields of West Texas and Saudi Arabia.

And those big oil fields are increasingly exhausted, with petroleum EROI falling toward 20 and sure to continue to fall.

That's what I call the Steel Interstate Energy Revolution.

Conversations, Considerations and Contemplates

As always, rather looking for some overarching conclusion, I now open the floor to the comments of those reading.

If you have an issue on some other area of sustainable transport or sustainable energy production, please feel free to start a new main comment. To avoid confusion among those who might be tempted to yell "off topic!", feel free to use the shorthand "NT:" in the subject line when introducing this kind of new topic.

And if you have a topic in sustainable transport or energy that you want me to take a look at in the coming month, be sure to include that as well.

Display:
... and that cannot be stolen

We follow in the steps of our ancestry, and that cannot be broken.




I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 22nd, 2013 at 07:01:44 PM EST
The EROI for solar electric panels of 6.7 seems low. At a minimum there should be a lot of room to increase the EROI of these panels by optimizing the production process. And that figure is probably based on the standard 5 hours per day of effective use for fixed solar panels. With feasible tracking systems 5 hours could be increased to 7.5 hours averaged yearly. That should be a 50% increase, which could bring the EROI to 10 for existing panels.

Also the time over which energy is returned from solar panels is often not adequately accounted in many measures. Energy Payback Time is the primary original merit factor, but Richards and Watt argue for use of energy yield ratio, EYR, instead, as it allows capture of the full lifetime of the panel. With 30 year lifetimes EYR can increase to >13, especially in areas of high insolation.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jul 22nd, 2013 at 10:14:52 PM EST
... but by their nature, a meta-study of Solar PV EROI will lag technological progress, since it has to cover a sufficient period of time to collect an adequate number of EROI studies, and then it goes through its own publication process, which also takes time.

Just as with the EROI on Wind Power, I am taking it as a conservative floor estimate on EROI of the technologies over the coming decade rather than as a center-point estimate. That is, after all, the crux of the argument: that if we pursue the Steel Interstate now, we won't be left stranded because we banked on forthcoming successful technological research and development that never took place.

Contra that "what if the current technological progress hits a roadblock and this is the best we get" challenge, based on what we already know about technology we already have, we in the US can be confident of the technical feasibility of a renewable, sustainable Electrical power supply with an EROI of 13 or better, which is comfortably above the threshold of the EROI "cliff".

At the same time, petroleum and near petroleum substitutes continue to advance toward that cliff.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 22nd, 2013 at 11:01:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I will also note that the effective EROI of the portfolio might be increased by surrendering some of the solar component EROI by fixed installations that orient the solar panel to the southwest (in the Northern hemisphere) or northwest (in the Southern hemisphere) if that results in an average power generation curve that better matches peak consumer demand, if that means less of the portfolio energy production is lost in storage conversions.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 22nd, 2013 at 11:28:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or develop cost effective tracking ability for the panel arrays.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jul 23rd, 2013 at 02:54:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cost of panels could well drop faster then labor cost of maintenance of tracking.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jul 23rd, 2013 at 08:02:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To elaborate on that comment ...

This point is drawn from a paper about how many analysis of grid integration of sustainable, renewable power both exaggerate the problem and lay the blame for the inflexibility of "baseload" production at the feet of the sustainable, renewable power, when the inflexibility is the fault of the baseload power generator.

From the perspective of a member of a sustainable, renewable portfolio, the greatest benefit of solar PV is in the provision of peak power, and in most countries, the daily average power peak tracks the peak of daily average solar availability.

So the problem of optimizing a fixed location for delivery of power for sale to the grid is a different problem from optimizing a fixed location for delivery of power to a bank of batteries in an off-grid installation.

Even with a simple rotator tracking system, the optimal vertical angle of the solar array for the power needs of the grid may well not be the same as if optimizing total power delivery.

In other words, the assumptions by which simulations maximize simulated power production by the solar cells may also simultaneously make the challenge of integrating the solar cells into grid supply more difficult than it need be. A reorientation that improves the value of the power supply to the grid would reduce the individual EROI but either, if it allows less fossil fuel back-up, reduce total climate impact or, if it allows less storage to be used, increase the total EROI of the sustainable, renewable, energy portfolio.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:45:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have done some analysis of the solar potential of the roof of my shop. Removing some trees to the south west of the shop would keep the roof in sunlight from 9AM to 4PM even on the winter solstice - 7 hours. A compound tilt mechanism that tilts the entire array up 20 degrees on the west in the morning and in the east in the evening, combined with individual panel tilt of up to 15 degrees in either direction would keep the entire array in its optimal zone for five hours a day and allow the array to operate at > or = to half efficiency for another two hours per day. But the ability of the existing structure to support such a system and the durability and maintainability of such a structure over 20 years of wind and rain by myself is highly questionable, given my present age of 70. :-) But it would offer about a third more generation which would be highly significant for off grid type applications. Too bad the wind resource is not greater locally.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 10:42:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... "for off grid installations".

For off grid installations where the solar power is feeding a battery bank, increasing the performance of the solar panels on a marginal sun day can be a quite important benefit, since marginal sun days often come one after the other, and too many in a row can deplete the battery bank.

For on grid installations, given that wind power and possibly run-of-river hydro is likely offsetting your drop in daily solar peak supply, better to just have an UHVD line to a grid that has an independent complement of sustainable, renewable resources so that you can buy some from them when you are short ... because then you can sell to them when you have a surplus.

Which makes the simplicity of a fixed installation oriented to the average best performance for the needs of the grid quite appealing.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:48:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I feel very uncomfortable with the EROI-concept.

First, there is no common view on methodology. You have lots of different studies getting radically different results for the same energy processes, which means that EROI is a pretty useless tool for policymakers or managers.

Secondly, while EROI makes sense in a generalised top-down way ("we need net energy to run our civilization") it says absolutely nothing about if we should use a specific energy source or process at all.

Imagine an oil field with an EROI of less than 1. EROI-theory tells us this is useless, we are better off leaving the stuff in the ground. But this is only due to the simplification that all energy sources are made equal, which they obviously aren't. Liquid fuel is far more useful than solid or gaseous fuel, for example, and we could have access to almost limitless amounts of carbon-free electricity if we felt like it.

So it might actually make perfect sense to exploit an oil field with an EROI of 0.5, if we could use another less useful sort of energy to get at the liquid stuff (say coal, gas, or even electricity). After all, we are absolutely dependent on a process with an EROI of 0.3-0.4, namely the combustion of fuels to make electricity. I don't think anyone argues we should stop that, despite the low EROI...

All in all, we have a far more useful tool with which to decide if a project should go forward or not: the pricing system of the market (augmented to the best of our ability to internalise external costs).

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:41:02 AM EST
Market price is at least as arbitrary as EROI. The little detail of pricing of externalities is the giveaway.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 05:04:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Like debt, EROI does not matter. Until it does.
by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 05:21:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a point I tried to make. "One point extra EROI" is quite uninformative, since the difference between 39 and 40 is the difference between a net energy yield of 97.44% and 97.5%, while the difference between 3 and 4 is the difference between a net energy yield of 67% and 75%.

EROI is important when a substantial change in EROI implies a substantial change in Net Energy Yield. We are not at that point yet with most of our status quo systems, but we are approaching that point. Natural Gas is already on the edge of the threshold where difference in EROI starts to become pragmatically imoprtant, according to this Scientific American infographic:

... and coal at a current ERIO of around 18 is under threat of heading that way if climate-change oriented policies fail to keep coal in the ground and we hit peak coal in the coming decade.

And that is an important point. For peak power, solar PV and Natural Gas are coming close in terms of EROI, and solar PV EROI is heading up while Natural Gas EROI is heading down, due to a larger reliance on fracking versus natural gas co-produced from conventional oil production. For nighttime power, coal and windpower are close in terms of EROI, and windpower EROI is rising while coal EROI must inevitably decline.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:59:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But that is not a theoretical issue. We know how we should design a good system: market pricing and carbon taxation. Hell, if the entire world enacted a carbon tax which was only half the current Swedish carbon tax, this should be enough to avoid going above 450 ppm/2 degrees, at least according to that big McKinsey study on the global cost curve of CO2 emissions.

The problem here isn't that we don't know what to do, but that there are special interests and inertia in the way.

With EROI, the problems and flaws are on a more fundamental level: not even the theory works.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 05:55:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the point of taking account of EROI is to avoid counter-productive solutions. It is a contestable metric, but an empirically based one.

It seems unlikely to me that a pure carbon-tax solution, i.e. eliminating all subsidies and feed-in tariffs (which is what I suppose you are advocating) is anything like an optimal solution. Solar and wind could not have been kick-started without subsidies and tariffs. "The market will provide" is an interesting concept, but not actually how the world works.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:05:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is power generation counter-productive? It certainly has a negative EROI. Is driving to work counterproductive? Is eating a steak dinner counterproductive? The EROI is not impressive...

There certainly needs to public financing of basic research, and there are often useful spin-offs from applied government research. Just like at aircraft, or nuclear power. No one in mainstream economics disputes this.

Still, I'm sure wind and solar would have become useful even without subsidies, if you just had carbon taxation. Recall that if renewables were undeveloped, they would be expensive, and hence we'd need a higher carbon tax to avoid reaching 450 ppm, which in itself would spur the development of renewables, just in a more efficient way than a mishmash of variable subsidies.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:11:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Productive processes are thermodynamic wonders. They work splendidly while input energy flows are accelerating.
by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:19:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Still, that doesn't make EROI a useful concept, except on a very generalized level, as in "we need net energy to run civilization".

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:27:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Once the civilization is at thermodynamic limits, the game is different. There are then plenty of useful, "indespensible" processes - but if we cannot put enough attention and energy into them, that's too bad.
by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:34:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but that's what I'm saying above. EROI-theory can deliver these kinds of very wide, sweeping and self-evident prononucements, but it's not useful in any really practical way.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:36:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Low EROI is a signal to switch to decline managament.
by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:50:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of what?

Let's say I have this oil-field (or biofuel-field) with an EROI lower than 1. Still, I make a handsome profit, because I use low-value energy sources as input and get high-value liquid fuel as an output. My margins are so healthy that I consider expanding my business. But should I rather start considering "decline management"?

I think I'll wind down the business when it becomes unprofitable, instead.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:56:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of the society.

Your profit is not a problem for you, of course.

by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:59:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All comments above are, as mentioned, seen from the view of internalised externalities. That is, I either do not hurt anyone else through my business, or if I do (through for example CO2 emissions) I pay a tax for this to compensate others.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 03:19:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But if we hoped to rely on such oil for over half of our transport fuel source, since it is an energy drain rather than an energy source, the presumption at the field level that the energy inputs would simply be available will have difficulty scaling up to attempting to use such fields to provide liquid fuel to run over half the transport in an industrial economy.

So no serious investor should consider making that investment unless they had worked out the analysis as to why they could be confident that the energy inputs required for those kinds of oil fields at the contemplated scale would be available.

That hypothetical EROI flags a risk exposure that conventional oil fields have never been exposed to, since to date conventional oil fields have all been substantial energy sources.

Now, in practice, such an oil field is unlikely to be as wildly profitable as you hypothesize without substantial cost shifting or hidden costs. Certainly corn ethanol at an EROI of 1.01 would not be profitable if the full economic cost of production were to be charged to its producers, even though it is, as you say, taking something (corn starch) that is not a very useful energy source in its original form and turning it into a much more useful liquid fuel.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:55:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe that current US corn ethanol production relies entirely on government subsidies for the various profit margins along the way while driving up the cost of corn as human food and as a feedstock for livestock. It may be a triumph for lobbying but it is a disaster as policy.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jul 28th, 2013 at 01:12:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Forcing externalities to be internal costs time and resources (in a general, society-wide sense). In the current developments, no one is investing in the internalization. And that won't improve when an EROI bottleneck approaches.

I am surprised with the dismissal of EROI here. Yes, the power plants usefully burn oil for less electric energy. They are thermodynamic machines already, not energy sources. What will we have to replace "easy" oil on the same energy output magnitude, really? If we would generate the same "necessary" output with decreasing EROI, we still have to increase the net energy yield with harder work just for that. Recourse consumption will grow exponentially, and we won't notice how soon energy bankrupcy will approach.

by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 05:33:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What we have to replace oil at its current EROI of around 20 is wind energy. Its not a plug-in replacement by any means, however, since oil is most readily refined into liquid fuels and chemical feedstocks and wind energy is more readily converted into electricity.

Hence, shifting large movements of freight over subcontinental and transcontinental distances from diesel road freight to electric rail freight makes sense, especially given that the substantial increased efficiency in the mode switch means that it can be done on an interest-subsidy basis with the original capital cost refunded by user and access fees.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:30:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the replacement can be physically done on the global sale? Building materials won' t get more tight, the building process won't get more consuming?
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 01:03:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An extremely small fraction of the output of our economies is consumed by the construction of power plants, or railroads for that matter.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:21:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And that fraction is decreasing? Well. we are just catabolizing the 20th century infrastructure. Hardly anyone is preparing for the enegy-interesting future, as if that is not worth it.
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:47:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Look, the required investments are huge. But the size of our economies are absolutely immense. Spending as little as 1% of GDP extra on these kinds of investments for a decade or two will make extremely large headway.

Indeed, if politicians started studying macroeconomics they might understand that we could get these investments for free as long as we're struggling to get out of the liquidity trap.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 10:03:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So we will wait till the politicians start to educate themselves (and their PR departments). After 2-3 decades of de-education.
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 10:14:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Better that than not building useful things because they have low EROI, or builing useless things because they have high EROI (hello breeders).

And I hardly think it will take as long as 2-3 decades, unless energy prices stay very low. But if they do that, the problem has kind of solved itself.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 10:18:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Better waiting than not building...??

The political economy cardinally changed. Before the 80s-90s, the states were silently building infrastructure for marginal financial returns - that equates to "useless" by today's paradigms, I guess. Now we pretend that anything "useful" and essential can be build by commercial transactions without any coordination by social interest, with handy profits to investors foremost. The problems will kind of solve themselves indeed.

by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 10:44:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a problem - but a problem which has little to do with my criticism of EROI theory.

I don't know much about the situation in Germany, but in Sweden the state still spends considerable amounts of tax money on infrastructure (even if we have had a few notorious run-ins with public-private partnerships). The vast majority of these resources are spent on projects which are not profitable from a strict corporate point of view, but which are profitable when the external effects on society as a whole are taken into account (defined as "samhällsekonomisk lönsamhet", literally "societal economic profitablity").

Ironically, this is pretty close (even if not identical) to my argument that it's far better to internalise externalities and then look at costs and profits (which comes pretty close to the defintion of "samhällsekonomisk lönsamhet"), than to look at EROI.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 11:51:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... the decisions made that determine whether or not a given ROI calculation comes up build or not build.

Markets, despite the assumptions of many mainstream economists, are not natural systems, they are social institutions, and the specific market rules and the decision of which decisions are left to private actors looking to market gain and which decisions are made under other instititutions can easily flip one decision from built to no-build, and another from no-build to build.

You cannot ask the question what institutions should we have based on any ROI figure, since ROI figures depend fundamentally on what institutions we have.

While EROI can only aid in addressing the question of what instititions we should have, since no complex system can be encapsulated in any single index number without discarding relevant information, that still makes it useful in a way that ROI can never be when talking about choice of institutions, since EROI is exogonous to the choice of institution and ROI is endogenous to the choice of institution.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:53:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This industrial civilization did not directly deal with the limits of growth, industrialization, population yet - except perhaps around the World Wars. The WWI marked the transition from coal to oil, as we know.

My guess is that institutions of a more mature civilization will consider EROI very seriously, if only because the ratios won't be 40:1 broadly.

by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 04:55:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This industrial civilization has never had to ... as the piece argues, there is little substantial difference in Net Energy Yield between an EROI of 20 and an EROI of 100, and this industrial civilization gone from the 8+ EROI of coal from the Industrial Revolution of access to newly productive coal mines once mechanized water pumping was established, through to the 80-100 EROI of the big oil fields discovered in the 1920's-1950's.

Except in wartime, its not been presented with the fundamental challenge, and since institutions are past-bound, of course it doesn't have institutions developed to cope with the challenge.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 12:12:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Reading a sentence that starts "if politicians realized" does not require presuming them coming to that realization on their own. Typically politicians realize those things by people building movements that understand those kinds of things and then some entrepreneurial politicians decide to act as if they understand those things in order to attract the support of those movements.

It was, after all, the intellectual ferment in the progressive, populist and granger movements that provided the actual policy content for "FDR's New Deal" ... FDR provided the political skill that built the political coalition that was the natural governing coalition in the United States from the 30's through the 60's. Even opponents of pushing the New Deal coalition agenda forward, like Eisenhower, did not see any point in wasting their political capital in fighting with the New Deal defenders in Congress over dismantling what they had already won.
 

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 12:07:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, the replacement can be physically done on a global scale. Bear in mind that the energy inputs of the construction is part of the EROI number, so if declining energy abundance or profligacy (whichever comes first) pushes up the relative cost of the building, it also increases the value of the output.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 01:18:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the increased value will be out of reach for everyone except perhaps for some disinterested 1%.
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 04:58:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the increased value is in the reach of some of the 1% in the form of financial returns, the "disinterested" part doesn't seem a lock.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:41:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So only financial returns interest the 0.1%? They must be pretty aware that their financial returns and the deflating economy allow them to buy the world several times over. They are only pretending to be still money crazy, so that the others would follow and keep the value of money up. With all their wealth, they are looking for control (not necessarily overt), and yes - secure future most probably. Their ways of securing own future on this planet look mysterious, but they might have methods from their peculiar experience or perception. Expanding useful infractructure would interest or disinterest them only from that angle.
by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 01:45:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't it interesting that the 0.1% are so clear eyed and rational? It's as if they're not actually human.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 01:50:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That position has certain perks. You are not hazed by self-interested stories of others, for example.
by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 03:24:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What about your own self-interested stories?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 03:27:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's the game! Aren't reptilian aliens cool?
by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 03:31:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Past a certain points, money is points for keeping score, and those who rise to the top of the game by gathering more points than the opposition can either (1) keep playing or (2) step aside and let someone else chase the points.

So among the top 0.1%, there will indeed be aggressive pursuit of more financial return.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 04:16:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At the extreme, if just one player gathers all points, the rest are theoretically totally indebted to him. But the rest might say: screw your points, we can do without you. So no one of the 0.1% wants to get close to this pure situation.
by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:19:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The real rub is that maintaining a position as one of the richest in the world is a very non-trivial task that even more money will not necessarily solve, especially on an inter-generational time scale. Up to 90% of the power an oligarch accumulates is typically lost at the oligarch's death, and almost certainly within another generation or two. Even if mighty foundations live on they may or may not represent the interests of their creator and even if the main corporation survives intact they may pursue policies that would revolt the founder. During his life most assumed that it was pretty much usless for a Jew to apply for work at Disney. Walt's attitude was that they had the other studios. Having Eisner as the CEO was a major change for Disney.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 09:28:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Above a certain level, fortunes tend to be self-perpetuating ... just not the extraordinary individual power that a handful of the ultra-elite accumulate during their lives.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 11:36:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fresh millionair families certainly have that problem. But the "know how" might evolve. Relative obscurity, appearing lower could be useful tricks.
by das monde on Sat Jul 27th, 2013 at 01:51:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're making a profit from your bio-fuel business because of high carbon taxes, then you continue, it's good business for you.  If the EROI is that low, it's a good indication that it is very bad business for the economy as a whole, because you are being paid to destroy energy. This would tend to undermine your assertion that a carbon tax and free market are the answer to the energy question.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 07:13:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, both of those are quite bad deals for society: the fossil fuel is a non-renewable resource and valuable chemical feedstock in its own right. Consuming energy to turn it into fuel so that it can be destroyed and its potential usefulness as a chemical feedstock lost forever is quite insane.

And an energy source that is being subsdized on the basis of being considered as sustainable, renewable energy source that is not, in fact, an energy source but is only an energy transmission medium is a swindle, a con-game, that should be put to a halt, since the fuel provides energy that is neither sustainable nor renewable.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:14:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But still the problem is getting repeal of ethanol requirements for gasoline past Cargill and ADM. The problem is finding a way to get past powerful economic incumbents with destructive practices via our corrupted political process. Probably the only way is by mobilizing other powerful economic incumbents by convincing them that the destructive incumbents have to be forced to change so that all can survive. Meanwhile mainstream discourse is corrupted by paid shills in the MSM.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, the EROI analysis does nothing as far as working out what objectives are politically feasible, or indeed if the minimum necessary is politically infeasible how to restucture the political system so that an industrial economy remains viable.

But I don't believe in silver bullets, so I never advance any analytical tool on the premise that its a silver bullet that resolves all problems.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:44:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The comment was certainly not intended as a criticism, but rather as a statement of a dismal fact that we have to deal with. Part of the comment derived from an observation by David Yglesias on industrial opposition to bank involvement in physical ownership of metals.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 07:37:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the EROI is that low, it's a good indication that it is very bad business for the economy as a whole, because you are being paid to destroy energy

A power plant is a business operation which is paid to destroy energy. So is a refinery. Should we ban power plants and refineries and consider them examples of things which are very bad for the economy, when they are actually the very opposite of that? These are the kind of  strange conclusions you get from EROI theory.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 03:22:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are plenty of questions EROI doesn't tell you anything useful about. But unless you assume the problem of energy scarcity away EROI will not be entirely useless. Certainly less arbitrary than market prices.
It doesn't matter that we wouldn't have energy scarcity for quite a while if we had started a sensible investment program in time.
by generic on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:35:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I do not worry that much about energy scarcity. While oil is an immensely large and important source of energy, its crucial job is as an energy carrier for the transportation sector. In other words, see my signature.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:43:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, the energy crisis is that the energy sources that we have built our industrial society on turn out to be a climate suicide pact.

It would, however, be taking on a foolish technology risk to build a system that is immune to the coming liquid fuel crisis in our transportation system that would in turn have to be shut down if opponents of Climate Kamikazes get the upper hand, when established and effective technologies that opponents of Climate Kamikazes would be fine with are at hand.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:46:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They would be the strange answers you would get from EROI if you decided to use it as a business tool for making energy production plant investment decisions.

But as nobody proposes doing that, it seems rather a moot  point.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:41:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bullshit. It is, at most, a signal to switch to less finite resources. And we have those. Dams work. I see no reason why desert solar should not work. Nuclear reactors work. Nuclear breeder reactors work. The russians will happily sell you a breeder which is ready to be hooked into the grid right now. And the EROI of a breeder reactor is ridiculously high.
by Thomas on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 08:16:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
fukushima cleanup cost - Google Search
  1. Fukushima clean-up costs expected to swell to Y5.81 tril < Japan ...www.japantoday.com/...fukushima-nuclear-clean-up-costs-expected-to-s...14 hours ago - The clean-up after the Fukushima nuclear disaster could cost five times more than estimated, figures have revealed, as Tokyo Electric...
  2. Fukushima cleanup could cost up to $250 billion - News On Japannewsonjapan.com/html/newsdesk/article/89987.phpA private think tank says the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could cost Japan up to 250 billion dollars over the next 10 years. The estimate is ...
  3. Fukushima disaster cleanup - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaen.wikipedia.org/wikiFukushimadisastercleanupJump to Costs of the clean-up operations - [edit]. Mid December 2011 the local authorities in Fukushima had spent already around 1.7 billion yen ...Overview - ‎Scope of cleanup - ‎Working conditions at the plant
  4. ASIA - Fukushima nuclear clean-up costs rise as steam seen againwww.hurriyetdailynews.com > WORLD > ASIA1 day ago - The clean-up after the Fukushima nuclear disaster could cost five times more than estimated, figures have revealed.
  5. Fukushima nuclear clean-up to cost $58 bn | Politics - Before It's Newsbeforeitsnews.com/.../fukushima-nuclear-clean-up-to-cost-58-bn-2537228....Fukushima nuclear clean-up to cost $58 bn.

ever do the numbers on fukushima EROI?

what a joke...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 08:28:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sigh. you need to think your logic through. I was suggesting that society will go fission before it powers down. In that context - where the alternative is going without energy - the response to nuclear accidents would be to ignore them. The average life expectancy in energy starved societies is below 40. living in the chernobyl exclusion zone would take less off your life expectancy than that. Living in the area evacuated around fukushima would cost you less adjusted life years than living in wales. So if the alternative is no juice, fission will get used and when it goes wrong, people will eat iodine tablets and make morbid jokes.
by Thomas on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:28:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... are not the sole alternatives in reality, so society can only be limited to the choice between nuclear power and powering down by institutions that prevent alternatives from being deployed.

And those in society who would rather power down than go nuclear have the alternative of pressing for the fracturing of the institutions preventing the deployment of alternatives, instead.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:41:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Firstly, people who prefer powerdown over nukes are crazy. Power is civilization. Everything that seperates us from the slaving patriarcal assholes of the medieval ages depends on it. More, without power, agriculture fails, all things get eaten until the ecosystem collapses and then we all die.

Secondly, while I agree it is a false choice - because there are ways other than fission to power civilization that are feasible engineering wise...

How to put this. This is going to seem rude.

 a lot of people that call themselves renewable advocates  and greens do not actually seem to believe that a society powered by alternative energy is feasible. Not in their bones.
If they did, they would not talk about powerdown. At all. Ever. Because given the choice between enlarging the solar array in the north african desert by another square mile and harsh energy austerity, no sane society would ever elect to use less power.  

by Thomas on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 03:00:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Going at it from the fundamental equation of sustainability, which is:

sustainable+unsustainable=unsustainable

... then clearly based on current technology, a genuinely sustainable renewable system requires massively less power throughput, because of the ecological impacts of the waste associated with the current technology.

But on the other hand, our economies have never "tried" to do it, in the sense of operating under rules of behavior that reward ecological sustainability and punish ecological unsustainability ...

... so the premise that we haven't done it yet so we can't do it ever is not one that I buy.

Rather, its an open question. We have to get to sustainability all around to get to sustainability, and its an open question whether we can. Given the alternatives, of ecosystem crash and of power down, I favor pushing ahead on all fronts and trying to get there.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 03:36:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, locally we have examples (both good and bad) of trying to deal with lower consumption of raw materials and energy, or at least lower civilian consumption of raw materials and energy. I am mainly thinking about war times, but blockades serves as well.

For example, the Swedish response to the lack of oil during WWII included rationed oil, wood gasifiers, but also promotion (and I think expansion) of public transport and promotion of biking (saw a lovely little piece of propaganda where the husband does not want to bike because "I am a grown man, biking is for boys", but the wife pushes it with patriotism and health arguments. Wife wins of course and husband becomes stronger and healthier - indeed more manly then before).

Promoting and expanding public transport and biking can be done (and should be done). In addition city planning can be done to decrease commutes and spreading services so that basic services are within walking distance. These actions would save energy (wheter for powering down or using for something else) as well as promoting health, public interaction and human scaled neighbourhoods.

Hm, going of on a tangent apparently. What I meant to say is that decreasing power use while increasing utility is very possible indeed, and there are examples of it being done.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 03:01:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... silver bullet solutions, to kill the (evidently magical) beast with one hit.

I think we need to pack our shell with as many silver BB's as we can, blast away, then pack another round.

So I am all for pursuit of task efficiency of across the board, and if the end-result is neither power-up nor power-down but rather power-stabilize and improved standard of living through technical improvements ...

... well, if its powered by sustainable, renewable power, fine with me.

In these discussions, the "all eggs in one baskets" types have the forum discussion advantage of always knowing the answer, since their silver bullet is always the answer to every question, but I don't believe that complex systems are amenable to single solution answers.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 12:00:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
hmmm so all those who don't share your trust in fission (and your faith in fusion) are crazies. Civilization-hating doomers.

Cue a Lolcatz "what could possibly go wrong?" meme.

The thing about electricity is that it turns out to be quite expensive (new build nuclear in the UK is just about competitive with CURRENT wind, i.e. considerably more expensive than wind by the time it actually gets built). A lot of people prefer a distributed network with lots of smaller-scale generation based on different technologies, rather than a hyperconcentrated, technocrat-dominated system of a few too-big-to-fail, what-could-possibly-go-wrong systems. Crazies?

A lot of people are also able to countenance the idea that the rapidly-fading past of ridiculously-cheap energy being behind us, we need to weigh up costs and benefits of energy use, and reorient away from things that cost ridiculous amounts of energy for very little benefit. This is not the end of civilization. Or if it is (i.e. if your postulate is that civilization requires ridiculously-cheap energy) then civilisation is already effectively over. I think this is crazy.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 04:44:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
.. lets divorce things a bit from nuclear power, because it is distracting. I like using it as a proof of concept that energy is not limited, but that is probably a mistake on my part, because it just gets everything else I am saying ignored.

Every time you talk about powerdown, the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the green project hears is

"We do not actually think renewable energy can sustain civilization, and are okay with dismantling industrial civilization in its entirety"

This is not a persuasive pitch. In fact, that is a pitch that makes you look like Hostis humani generis.

We need a vision which is better than that. We need a vision of a future which is better than the present. Buying into the austerity on green grounds is every bit as toxic as buying into it on economic grounds, because it is a toxic idea.

I believe in a future where the industrial cycles of matter are closed. - where waste gets recycled by any means necessary up to and including vaporizing them into plasma and then distilling them back down into base elements - Where energy production does not have intolerable externalities, and flows abundantly to every mothers child.
A future in which all 7 billion of us are have lives that benefit from and contribute to the Common Project.  In which we all have electricity, water, housing, education and culture. This is not utopian. The physical universe bends to human effort -  and there are so many hands and minds looking for worthwhile employment right now. Billions of them.

by Thomas on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 06:42:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Where energy production does not have intolerable externalities, and flows abundantly to every mothers child.

Well, I don't have much time for utopians, especially when they don't have any viable pathways to propose. It may be that there is a vast conspiracy of dark powers who are preventing us from benefiting from too-cheap-to-meter fusion or thorium or whatever power. But I have a problem with suspending disbelief on such theories. On balance, I think it's likely that such technologies are actually quite hard, and will turn out to be quite expensive anyway.

The reality is that cheap energy has been overwhelmingly fossil. With the exception of hydro, which is intrinsically limited, it seems likely that sustainable energy sources are fairly expensive overall. Getting to sustainability will be hard graft.

I was more of a science fiction fan when I was younger.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:02:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is it true that sustainable sources are expensive?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:09:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
.. Expensive is a relative term. Try looking up the inflation adjusted price of electricity for any locale which has been electrified for a long time. You do not have to go back very far before you get numbers that are a lot higher than current renewable, even including pumped storage, let alone the cost of nukes.

Electricity is valuable because it is a huge multiplier on human effort - lighting, cooling, mechanization, ect, ect.
 I am not assuming power to cheap to meter, I am assuming that people will pay the meter.

by Thomas on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:21:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh well, there you go. We agree. Renewables are not expensive (historically speaking). This is a clear indication that we can, indeed, go renewable without breaking civilisation, and without needing "free energy" pipedreams.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 09:43:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Every time you talk about powerdown, the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the green project hears is

"We do not actually think renewable energy can sustain civilization, and are okay with dismantling industrial civilization in its entirety"

The way to industry dismantling is paved by irresponsible indulgence in "max power now". I am all for maximal useful industrial metabolism given coming energy flow plateau. But other thinkers have the freedom to act without discussing with someone like me. Dismissing powerdown or climate change means even less pretense to influence industrial adaptation in a not-so-long term.

Positive thinking has limits. Mindful observance and non-judgemental anticipation are better recomendations.

by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:27:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your efforts to find some common ground are very appreciated.

We need a vision which is better than that. We need a vision of a future which is better than the present. Buying into the austerity on green grounds is every bit as toxic as buying into it on economic grounds, because it is a toxic idea.

The underlying assumption of a better future is a future with "growth". I argue that one of the fundamental battles of our time is precisely to defuse that idea.

Human beings exist on earth for a long time and there is no reason to believe that "growth" has increased happiness (as a blanket statement).

Surely, I appreciate having a decent health system and surely I appreciate having the Internet. But, after fundamental desires have been satiated (food, security, housing, basic education, health) growth actually does not bring nothing that is fulfilling to our species.

The current materialistic view of society has put on the backburner issues that are actually more important for human happiness and are being destroyed in the name of growth. For example: the ability to find a job close to your loved ones. For example: The fear and stress inducing properties of extreme income insecurity (today I might have more than enough, tomorrow I might be bankrupt and food-insecure).

We do not need nothing more than we have. Actually many of modern gadgets (mobile phones) are mostly increasing stress without bringing nothing fundamentally important.

What we really need is to have a vision where satiation of real human needs takes precedence. And that has more to do with re-distribution, social cohesion, reduced fear. And less with a view of more growth.

I like to believe that satiation of human needs is compatible with what the planet can provide (though population size might be a issue - I very much doubt that middle class western consumption can be sustainable for all humanity) and that it can be politically supported by large segments of the population (it is difficult political issue in the current setting, but not unsurpassable based on anything innate to humanity).

Desiring for more material wealth (after basic needs) is inherently supportive of more inequality. That is not needed.

by cagatacos on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 08:31:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I like using it as a proof of concept that energy is not limited, but that is probably a mistake on my part, because it just gets everything else I am saying ignored.

Every time you talk about powerdown, the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the green project hears is ...

... in that I expect that there are people who could write:

"I like using it [power-down] as a proof of concept that the issue is not the amount of energy but how we use it, but that is probably a mistake on my part, because it just gets everything else I am saying ignored.

Every time you talk about nuclear, , the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the nuclear project hears is ..."

Criticizing those who talk about power-down because of what people like you hear whatever they actually are saying about it ...

... and then countering power-down with the most divisive, controversial relatively low carbon electricity source there is ...

... seems like you are setting one threshold of widespread appeal for the message that must be met by those you disagree with, and setting a substantially lower threshold of widespread appeal for your own message.

Indeed, for those power-down advocates who are convinced of the ecological and/or social un-sustainability of nuclear, using nuclear rather confirms them in their existing power-down conclusions.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 11:54:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Every time you talk about powerdown, the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the green project hears is

"We do not actually think renewable energy can sustain civilization, and are okay with dismantling industrial civilization in its entirety"

This is not a persuasive pitch. In fact, that is a pitch that makes you look like Hostis humani generis.


This presumes that industrial civilization requires energy profligacy.

That is an untested hypothesis, since industrial civilization has never been faced with any substantial energy challenge before. And has therefore had no occasion to optimize for energy efficiency.

The remarkable ability of industrial civilization to optimize for manpower efficiency and farmland efficiency would seem to indicate the existence of tradeoffs within what is still broadly speaking industrial civilization.

Of course, industrial civilization isn't actually faced with any substantial energy challenge, unless you insist on idiocies like personal automobiles running on combustible fuel. Absent such gratuitous stupidity as burning perfectly good chemical feedstock, we will run out of fun things to do with electricity before we run out of harmless ways to harvest it.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 02:58:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good luck is needed to switch on a sufficient scale and get all EROI uncompromised. And some people, institutions doing the switching.
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 08:41:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
More than luck, however ~ it also requires benefits available to some existing vested interests.

Which is why high efficiency gains like the Steel Interstate are promising places to get started, as those efficiency gains can yield benefits to be distributed among existing vested interests.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 03:38:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The vested interests are quite a drag - they will ask to be bribed just to let you do something. Eisenhauer's Interstate Highway System was build without the need to deal with that. If they are in the habit of capturing almost all efficiency gains, how much benefit (relative to the price) will be there for the common society? And what is the risk of not geting the full network?
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 05:06:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In what sense was Eisenhower's Highway System built without that? An interstate highway system as such would not require the urban on-ramps and off-ramps to allow it to be used for intra-urban driving, those are there for the speculative profit of property developers.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 11:44:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Breeders are another good example of why EROI doesn't make any sense. Breeders have an insanely high EROI. Does that mean we should build breeders, and that we'll be better of economically with breeders?

No, because breeders are ridculosly expensive. We're much better of ignoring EROI when we're investing, and rather take a look at old-fashioned ROI.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:24:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your argument seems to be that because EROI is not a single number that answers all questions, it is useless.

But a single number that answers all questions does not exist, so what we need are numbers that help answer the range of questions we have.

"When we're investing" is a question down toward the end of the queue, after a long set of questions regarding how we regulate interactions between energy producers and energy consumers and what activities we subsidize and what activity we tax are answered. There is in general no answer to "what do we invest in" independent of "how do we organize energy markets?" and "how gets to stick their snout into the public trough?", and "who gets to have some of their income destroyed to stabilize the economy?".

So its silly to argue as if "what do we invest in" is the fundamental question. It doesn't have any clear answer until the fundamentals are settled.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 01:23:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wind power works. Run of river hydro works. Indeed, versus Chernobyl and Fukushima, both seem to work a bit better than nuclear in terms of working within real social managerial capacities.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:42:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Removing a subsidy from a con-game and transferring it to a genuine provider of the desired public goods would be a quite practical use.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:16:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Power generation is a step in the process. If looking at the EROI of various potential electricity sources, you wouldn't split out generation from the source of heat or mechanical power. So you wouldn't separately consider generating losses converting the rotation of the wind turbine rotor into electrical power, nor the generating losses converting the heat of burning coal into electrical power ... rather, the generating losses would be automatically taken into account given that the Energy Out you would be measuring is electricity.
 

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:06:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Confusion about EROI might have the same source: special interests. The "energetic" inertia as well.

Counting EROI as a fraction of the Net Energy Yield is like counting debt as a fraction of GDP. Both fractions look great when the denominator is large. But then oops happens...

... we could have access to almost limitless amounts of carbon-free electricity if we felt like it.

... we are absolutely dependent on a process with an EROI of 0.3-0.4, namely the combustion of fuels to make electricity. I don't think anyone argues we should stop that, despite the low EROI...

So are we free to do what we "feel like it", or are we "absolutely dependent"?

Any process with EROI < 1 is a part of metabolism, not the input. The question is: can we grow when the input starts to stagnate or decrease?

by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:13:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Confusion about EROI might have the same source: special interests.

I'd rather avoid the conspiratorial thinking, especially as a friend of mine has written a paper about this very thing.

So are we free to do what we "feel like it", or are we "absolutely dependent"?

We are absolutely dependent on electricity generation, and free to expand it as much as we feel like. There isn't really any practical limits on how much wind, solar and nuclear electricity we could generate, if we decided to.

Any process with EROI < 1 is a part of metabolism, not the input.

Still, this doesn't help the policy-maker at all. Should we exploit that 0.5 EROI oil-field or not? Sure, let's just call it metabolism then. Who cares what we call it when it still gives us a valuable product which can be sold for more than the cost of production and gives us a nice margin at our current cost of capital?

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:26:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd rather avoid the conspiratorial thinking...

It is basically clear by now that "conspiracy" runs the politics and makes economic decisions - without any effective opposition. There is more brainwashing on more crucial political and economic issues - why would energetic issues be exempt?

by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:40:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Conspiracy theory" mostly is the cover academia uses to avoid having to look at a reality that they cannot challenge while retaining their positions, a la Sinclair Lewis. It is a band-aid over wounds to personal integrity. There are certifiable nuts who indeed espouse insane conspiracy theories, but the term is grossly overused and over applied - under the cover of suborned Academia.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:54:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Conspiracy theory is when we look at the fact that the establishment institutions reproduce the status quo and assume it has to be the conscious and deliberate work of some small group of powerful and influential men deliberating in some secret hidden meeting that decides everything.

When we look at the work and conclude that powerful vested interests work to maintain their position, and since they became powerful vested interests in the contest of the current established status quo, that normally tends to reproduce that same established status quo ... that's no conspiracy theory, its normal social science.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:26:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, comparing the net energy yield to GDP is a useful comparison.

The other way to write (EROI-1)/EROI (the simplest way to compute it on a hand or simulated hand calculator, since you can subtract 1 in your head) is 1-(1/EROI), which actually makes it clearer what it consists of.

1/EROI is the input energy relative to the output energy, equivalent to depreciation.

So 1-(1/EROI) is basically a steady state energy yield, energy output after returning energy consumed in energy production back to the energy production system.

Just looking at energy output from various energy producing systems has the same flaw as just looking at GDP and assuming that changes in GDP tells us about changes in standard of living, since both explicitly accounted for depreciation and also the hidden depreciation of shifted and hidden costs of production means that the Real Net Domestic Product can be declining even as the GDP is rising, if the rise in GDP is at the cost of an even greater increase in hidden or shifted costs of production.

On any reasonable value of the benefits to us of the ecosystem support services provided by a hectare of rain forest, biodiesel palm oil plantations in Indonesia planted through destruction of the rain forest is an example of a contribution to Indonesia's GDP that is a net subtraction from Real global NDP, so any subsidies that encourage that production would be global acts of vandalism.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:32:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes EROI only tells us whether it makes sense to society to do something over the long term ... given a particular distribution of sunk investment into consumers of a particular fuel and shifted and hidden costs, it could very well make sense for the individual producer to producer that field with an EROI less than 1.

But that just tells us that a business should make decisions on what is profitable by considering the bottom line, which we already knew.

Knowing whether it makes sense to society to do something over the long term is actually a useful thing.

As far as the often bewildering confusion of different scopes for what is includes in EROI and the different specific forms of EROI that is being performed ... that is what the meta-studies are for. Behind that often bewildering confusion, there is the fact that new information is being brought to light, and having people study the studies and inform us of what is being the differences is quite helpful. Without the meta-study of the EROI of nuclear power from researchers at Lawrence Livermore & Penn State, it would have taken me much more time (and a substantial amount of money I do not have) to determine that the big 70-80 EROI numbers that are sometimes cited for LWR nuclear are studies that leave some part of the energy costs of fuel provision out of the study. That is important, because uranium mining and processing into useable fuel is an energy intensive step in the whole process.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:02:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
First, there is no common view on methodology. You have lots of different studies getting radically different results for the same energy processes, which means that EROI is a pretty useless tool for policymakers or managers.

There is no common single "view" on methodology, but if you go to the original seminal work on EROI, the point that there are different types of EROI each of which are most suitable for distinctive questions is there at the outset.

The three most common seem to be external EROI, final EROI, and emergy. External EROI is the situation referred to in the piece regarding cane sugar ethanol, where the EROI 8 is an external EROI of 8, and its that high since unlike corn starch ethanol, the bagasse from the crushed sugar cane can be burned to heat the production of fermentation for distillation. For a country facing an oil price shock and with a sunk investment in gasoline powered vehicles, the external EROI of 8 is a good indicator of how effective it is in terms of shifting away from petroleum ~ which is dramatically more effective than corn ethanol (with its heavy upstream reliance on fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, mechanized agriculture and harvest drying) is every going to be.

Its final EROI which seems likely to be closer to 2 is a better index of how it would stack up against some other biomass source in a longer term view, looking at building toward a sustainable, renewable power source over a period in which one can consider shifting away from vehicles designed to run on gasoline to a different motive power source entirely. Planting the same fields in coppiced wood or some permanent nitrogen fixing grass such as switchgrass, harvesting that feedstock for biocoal, and putting it into a slurry for a hybrid electric / direct carbon fuel cell vehicle would generate far more vehicle miles from the same hectare. And since, given the flexibility of biocoal you have a very wide range of choice of feedstock, likely far more ecologically sustainable as well, since you are free to optimize for ecological sustainability.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:43:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Deloitte put up a series of report on energy:

Alternative thinking 2013: Renewable energy under the microscope

Oil and gas reality check 2013

Deloitte reSources 2013 Study

Are these worth looking at?

by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 05:37:19 AM EST
My only comment here would be that somebody else would have to comment ... I'm not focused at the moment on what good investment plays are in the energy field. My focus is more on policies that would if implemented ensure that renewable, sustainable energy was as good an investment play as it is a good deal on a full economic cost basis.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:11:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
great diary, good points excellently summarised, restrained use of graphs. :)

as masterplan it looks viable, solid, realistic and prescient, all the more so for not counting on some phantom new invention that will turn all these calculations into irrelevance.

the numbers don't lie, they portray simple common sense. people can nitpick about the details of how much EROI each solution yields, but the general picture is quite clear, freight by electric rail is a no-brainer, as is massive rollout of solar/wind and node-dispersion for a more robust grid ecology.

there's one thing that confuses me though. why on earth can't solar panels power their own tracking devices, or does the E needed to turn the trackers cost more sunlight than it gains? i get bruce's answer about PV panels' costs lowering so it's cheaper to slap on more panels than build trackers for them. there's so much flat roof space to cover before we'd need to argue much about that right away, but slapping more panels will infringe on more space, another 'externality'? 20-30 years from now we will be still looking at many superannuated PV setups, technically obsolete almost right out of the boxes, but still yielding electricity as new, better efficiency models spring up around and beside them.

excellent, professional work Bruce, fine comments too, 5 ET *** .

Thanks for a stimulating read!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:35:15 AM EST
Its an issue of capital cost and maintenance costs.

The economic problem with harvesting already available volatile renewable energy resources is that since there is no fuel cost, the bulk of the cost is capital costs. And much of the balance are maintenance costs that must be paid for the system to operate independent of the quantity of energy being harvested.

The widespread installation of solar power in favorable locations will reduce the cost of electricity, by reducing the periods that require the fire-up of peak power plants, so that the market clearing price will be coming from lower cost producers.

Anything that substantially increases the capital costs causes problems with the finance of the installation. And up-front costs are costs that get compound interest placed on top, relative to the refunding that takes place over time as the power is sold, or implicitly as the power replaced power that would have been bought.

Add in a need, if its a householder responsibility, to be able to get somebody in to maintain the tracking unit or, if its an organizational responsibility, to have a workforce of people trained to fix problems with tracking units, as well as secondary problems like wires fraying or working lose as a result of repeated motion stress on connectors.

... and tracking is not necessarily worth the cost.

Now, there are different types of tracking. There is path tracking, the most complex, there is horizontal tracking, which has a similar range of movement but is much simpler, and there is vertical tracking. And there is daily tracking and seasonal tracking, since the optimal fixed position is different at different times of year. And tracking can be active or time-based ... a household installation, the simplest tracking is having two settings for vertical angle and going up on the roof twice a year to shift the vertical angle, around spring and fall equinox

That's not to say that tracking shouldn't be evaluated, but it won't always be the optimal solution. In some cases, it may be better to simply buy more solar panels. And as the cost-efficiency of solar panels increases, and at a much more rapid rate than the cost-efficiency of tracking motors and the extra components to the framing, the number of installations for which tracking makes economic sense is likely to decline over time.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:41:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am afraid that makes no sense. The backup plant must be funded.
by oliver on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:29:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... "the backup plant must be funded" does not give any indication exactly what it is that you think makes no sense.

If solar power panels are installed to the orientation that delivers power when the grid most needs it, the average utilization of back up power goes down. There will still be some days with little or no solar power delivered, so the back up capacity is entirely unaffected by the difference between orienting to maximum average output per day, tracking to deliver maximum available output per day, and orienting to deliver power most useful to the grid.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:40:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maintaining the whole backup capacity means that prices must go up a lot, since power plants whose costs are dominated by fuel are very rare. And the trend is against them.
by oliver on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 05:44:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why do you assume that all backup capacity for a given grid must be provided by fueled power?

Also, how common natural gas peakers are is determined by how useful they are in a fueled power system, in which we imagine that the average minimum amount of power required over a day are special "baseload" electrons, which have to be provided for separately from "following load" electrons and "peak load" electrons. Some similar peaker plant, say ammonia peakers, could be as common as a complement to the balance as they are required to be.

Indeed, if it takes time to build up an appropriate capacity of Direct Carbon Fuel Cell for the more efficient use of biocoal, then since baseload power plants would be driven out of business by a 40:20 mix of wind and solar, we would have ample opportunity to pick the most useful of the shut down coal power plants to use for biocoal power production in the event of a shortfall of solar/wind. After all, about half of a given shortfall will be predictable a day or more in advance.

And this concern with issues of dispatchable sustainable renewable power to complement the volatile harvested renewable power seems to be difficult to understand in the context, since you answered my comment which was a a response to melo's question about why solar panels are so often installed without tracking units. I don't see the connection between how sustainable renewable dispatchable power sources and storage fits into the issue of whether or not solar panels have tracking.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:23:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I assume that because it is the most optimistic assumption for keeping costs down. You said that renewable sources can generate electricity cheaply. I don't see how that matters. The price of electricity must cover the cost of keeping the whole generation capacity operational.
Now you say that shortfalls will be predictable. I don't see how that is supposed to fix the basic problem. Unless the generation capacity is controllable you will need just as much backup. Or you need storage.
by oliver on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:12:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When you write
You said that renewable sources can generate electricity cheaply. I don't see how that matters. The price of electricity must cover the cost of keeping the whole generation capacity operational. Now you say that shortfalls will be predictable. ...

... it seems as if you are operating under the impression that harvesting of volatile sustainable renewable energy is the only available sustainable, renewable energy, so that when I talk about the predictability of harvested supply, that is talking about the entire sustainable, renewable supply portfolio.

You might infer that I was not assuming that all sustainable, renewable power sources involves the harvesting of volatile energy sources, otherwise "dispatchable sustainable renewable energy" would not exist.

However, the dispatchable sustainable, renewable power sources like dammed hydropower and biocoal tend to have a limited total supply, and a strategy that takes that into account is to integrate as much abundant volatile harvesting capacity into the grid as is practicable and organize the generation of power from the dispatchable energy sources around to firm the generation of that harvested power.

When you treat it is irrelevant that half of the variation in the harvesting of volatile sustainable renewable energy is predictable, you are ignoring that not all of the dispatchable sustainable renewable energy can respond to fluctuations in load as rapidly as dammed hydropower. If you are using biocoal in a conventional coal power plant, it requires a ramp up period. If you are using biocoal in direct carbon fuel cells, the biocoal slurry would not be used for long term storage but rather prepared on demand.

However, a day's advance notice is ample for bringing other dispatchable sustainable renewable power sources on line, so it make sense to reserve rapid ramp-up dispatchable power such as dammed hydropower (which can have their firming capacity extended with reverse pumped hydro, or, looking ahead, may be supplemented by ammonia peakers) for the non-predictable component of the supply gap between load and harvested supply.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:31:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gas-fired peakers are dirt cheap. They are really nothing but enlarged jet-engines. They can be profitable even if they are only run a few days or weeks per year. Especially as long as gas is cheap, and gas does seem to have a pretty bright future.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:27:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... burn natural gas because its the fuel available that's cheap enough to burn at the low efficiency of peaker plants.

The basic technology has a range of fuels that it can be adapted to work with, so fueling peaker plants adapted to some sustainable renewable fuel, whether biogas or some readily stored product produced with excess harvested energy supply is not tightly constrained in its fuel choice.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:38:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The coal bio-gas seems interesting but I find the discussion of the conversion and utilization of the various products unclear. It seems the hot gas, 47.5% of the total energy stream, can be converted to electricity at 50% efficiency, so that portion yields 25.75% efficiency for electric conversion, or an EROI of ~1.3. But the charcoal and medium hot gas providing an efficiency of 93% and an EROI of 17.5 is just confounding and relates to an entirely different calculation - effectively a dazzling aside - as when we return to converting this 52.5% of the total stream to electricity with different types of fuel cells we get 50% efficiency for part and 75% for the rest for a combined efficiency of 60% and an overall EROI of 2.5, which is not too inspiring.

But if all those processes could be scaled down so that they could be used to charge a battery in a moving vehicle directly it might be a solution to the mobile fuel requirement, even if it is more polluting than battery operation from electricity supplied by wind and/or solar.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 02:00:15 PM EST
Any EROI calculation depends on what you call the product. If you call the product of coal production coal, you get one EROI, if you call it electricity from a thermal power plant, you get another.

The thermodynamic losses from conversion of a biomass feedstock in a sealed, semi-pressurized container into biocoal and medium-BTU gas is very low.

Now, you may have a chemical process in which you can directly use warm medium-BTU gas, and another chemical process in which you can directly use charcoal, and for that situation, the EROI would be quite high, dominated by the energy investment into the production of the biomass feedstock, and given the flexibility to choose biomass feedstocks that require no artificial fertilizer or forced drying, the EROI of the production of those end-products would be quite high.

OTOH, you may be interested in electricity production, in which case the medium-BTU gases could be converted by already existing fuel cells at 50% efficiency and the biocoal into electricity at anywhere from 30% to 80% efficiency, but in any case a substantially lower EROI when electricity is the end-product than when biocoal and medium-BTU gas are the end-product.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 29th, 2013 at 06:27:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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