The Global Reality Freak Show

2 09 2014

Originally posted on Collapse of Industrial Civilization:


“Mother nature is a brutal bitch, red in tooth and claw, who destroys what she creates.”
~ Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

The root of the problem

Despite modern man’s unparalleled ability to gather and synthesize mountains of data on climate change and other growing dangers, he is helpless to stop the inevitable and well-worn trajectory that all previous complex societies have followed. This time, however, is different in that the scale of environmental overshoot is planet-wide – the world’s oceans are becoming too acidic to sustain life, the soil too eroded and degraded to grow food, and the atmosphere too polluted with heat-trapping gasses. As the green mantle of the Earth is swallowed up in the geologic blink of an eye, eon-long processes of plant and animal evolution are stopped dead in their tracks. Of all the horrors modern civilization has brought forth, the most damaging and longest-lasting legacy is the wholesale loss of genetic and species diversity. Global ecocide is certain suicide. 

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Divestment is Dangerous

2 09 2014

A guest post by Ben Pennings.  Originally posted on his Generation Alpha website, Ben argues that’s divestment campaign is dangerous. 

In truth, we need a panacea of ‘solutions’. Divestment on its own, like active onsite protest on its own, will not cut it. I also believe that, finally, the entire system of capitalism is on its knees, and could fail any day. It is that ill and that fragile……

This is why I tend to agree with both David Homgren and Nicole Foss, even though they disagree with each other! Divestment fits in with Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand” scenario, and I think the more people divest themselves of mining shares the better. No it won’t have an effect of its own accord, but it’s baby steps.

Like Holmgren, I also believe that simply ‘opting out’ will help too. He believes that if 10% of the middle class did this, then the Matrix would collapse.

I also agree with Nicole. She believes the financial sector, through corruption, greed, and a total absence of links to reality is doomed to fail anytime. I personally don’t believe anything serious will stop the madness until we either have a financial crash, or we run out of affordable fossil fuels. Literally a race to the bottom.

We can only hope that race plays out to a satisfactory finish line (such as it might be satisfactory..) before it’s all too late, and catastrophic climate change becomes inevitable.

I’d love to know what DTM readers think of this…

Ben Pennings is a 25-year veteran of environmental and social justice movements, and the founder of Generation Alpha. His activism has ranged all the way from direct action to directly lobbying at the State Cabinet table.  He has sailed on The Rainbow Warrior II, sung for The Dalai Lama and written a book of profiles on people who have experienced homelessness. Ben is happily married with 2 children and 2 step-children. He coordinates Generation Alpha’s campaign to stop coal mining in Australia’s Galilee Basin and is planning to publish a deep green anthology.

My internal dialogue about all the coal divestment material I see has been getting angrier, more passionate, more desperate. Words like dodgy, diversionary, delusional and just plain dumb emotionally escalated last night to “what the fuck are these corporate stooge lying fuckers doing to our movement”.


The impetus? An email by

I get that divestment can be used as a long-term awareness-raising tool. I’ve never got how it can be a successful tactic though, a way to actually stop the ‘extraction’ and burning of fossil fuels in the time we have left. A while back Generation Alpha gently invited to written debate on the value of the divestment in combating coal expansion in Australia. We never got a reply.

The price of coal is currently very low due to a glut in the market. It is easy for banks to say they will not finance projects that aren’t particularly profitable. In the likelihood the price rises again though, banks will be falling over themselves to lend money for coal developments. Their job is to make money for shareholders, first and foremost (with some obscene bonuses for executives on the way). Some banks with a retail brand may decide not to finance coal if there is enough customer pressure. However, there are many other non-retail banks ready to invest in pretty much anything that will turn a profit.

Banks finance landmines, depleted uranium shells, cluster bombs and any number of unspeakable weapons. Because they are profitable. All sorts of ‘respectable’ industries get finance for products and developments that involve child slavery. Child slavery increases profit. Animal experimentation and torture? Profitable too.

Divestment attempts to ‘humanize’ or ‘green’ capitalism. It will fail, just like every attempt previously. Capitalism is bigger, uglier and more destructive than ever. It is stripping the planet of life with greater efficiency, turning the natural world into money with increasing speed. It relies on mass slavery, mass poverty, the destruction of cultures and communities. It is doing all this with increasing government compliance.

The many reasons ‘Big Green’ groups stick to safe predictable tactics that pose no threat to this abusive system of living has to be left for another article. But what these groups and tactics definitely do is take energy, creativity and resources away from grassroots groups that actually wish to change our abusive system of living rather than power it in a slightly greener way. Groups that understand that we must consume less, populate less, live differently. That the only green energy is less energy.

So back to this email from in Australia. It was about a campaign called Banking On The Reef. The email said that the companies wanting to mine the Galilee Basin and ship coal through the Great Barrier Reef “need the support of major Australian and international banks” and that “we need to show our banks that we don’t support them financing climate and Reef destruction”. The email implores Australians to contact their banks (through of course) and tell them such.

There is a problem though, a key mistruth. The companies wanting to mine, strip, ship, dredge and pillage do not need the support of Australian banks at all. Australian banks haven’t financed anything thus far and have shown no indication they will. The companies involved are not seeking finance from Australian banks and probably never will. know all this. They should also know in the likelihood the price of coal raises again there will be a suite of banks ready to finance this insanity, and there’s nothing any divestment campaign can do about it.

It’s hard to see the Banking on the Reef campaign as anything but empire building. Australians love the Great Barrier Reef and I’m sure will collect a lot more email addresses. These addresses may be used well or could be used for similar deluded campaigning that will do little than greenwash capitalism.

Maybe I shouldn’t be stunned by such tactics. are majorly funded by large corporate trusts and unlikely to challenge the hand that feeds them. They came to Australia with a patchy reputation from the US but I gave them the benefit of the doubt, as they were initially willing to support grassroots direct action. This new campaign is the last straw for me and I fear that will do little but empire build and co-opt grassroots action.

Of course I hope that I’m wrong. If wish to use their staff and resources to influence financial decisions about the Galilee Basin and Abbott Point, I’m happy to pass on a thorough list of companies and locations around the world that can be targeted through direct action tactics. This will create real costs and risk for companies right along the money chain. I’m also happy to pass on more specific tactics that cannot be detailed in print.

Generation Alpha is actively working to enact such tactics, to stop what would be the largest coal complex in the world. We’re planning to initiate active Earth First! groups in Australia, groups that will tell the truth and actively challenge power through effective direct action. We will help build a movement dominated by grassroots groups that will do what is effective and necessary, not ‘Big Green’ groups building safe and respectable empires.

Stay tuned for more on how you can really help stop coal mining in the Galilee Basin, really stop the Great Barrier Reef taking more abuse.  Sign up at the top right of this page for updates and you’ll see a true grassroots campaign launched with a bang later this year. Please agree, disagree or question us in the comments below. Contact us anytime.

And, we’re still up for that debate.

The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever

1 09 2014


Dan Kahan

Say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, or reason can provide the tools that people need in order to make good decisions. Originally published at Alternet, this article resonated with me, a lot, particularly following from the recent discussions on the viability of solar power.

Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law & Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School. His primary research interests are risk perception, science communication, and the application of decision science to law and policymaking.  His latest research paper is called “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government,” but you may as well call it “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.”  You sometimes see this occurring in the comments on even this blog!

Marty Kaplan, the author of this piece, writes:

Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly.  His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.” 

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.  

It’s obvious, really;  after decades now of trying to get people to alter their behaviour on all sorts of issues, I have failed.  OK, I may have bent a few people, myself included mind you, but on the whole nobody will change their belief systems, no matter the evidence.  When people are misinformed, giving them all the facts in the world to correct the errors of their ways only makes them cling to their beliefs more tenaciously.  I have witnessed this so many times now, I even know when to stop talking and wasting my time.  Flat Earthers will always be Flat Earthers.

Quoting again from Alternet…  here’s some of what else was found:
  • People who thought WMDs were found in Iraq believed that misinformation even more strongly when they were shown a news story correcting it.
  • People who thought George W. Bush banned all stem cell research kept thinking he did that even after they were shown an article saying that only some federally funded stem cell work was stopped.
  • People who said the economy was the most important issue to them, and who disapproved of Obama’s economic record, were shown a graph of nonfarm employment over the prior year – a rising line, adding about a million jobs.  They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down or stayed about the same.  Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.
  • But if, before they were shown the graph, they were asked to write a few sentences about an experience that made them feel good about themselves, a significant number of them changed their minds about the economy.  If you spend a few minutes affirming your self-worth, you’re more likely to say that the number of jobs increased.

The implications for contentious issues, like climate change and limits to growth are enormous.  If I hear one more time we have enough oil to last us another 500 years……  I may go berzerk!  Studies of how our minds work, such as this one, suggest that the political choices people make are impervious to facts that contradict us.  How else, for instance, can one even explain the election of our Prime Moronster?

Climate Change denialism implies a psychological disorder.  Denial can only be described as business-as-usual for our brains;  more and better facts don’t convert badly informed voters into better thinking citizens.  It just makes them more committed to their faith and beliefs.  In the entire history of the universe, no Murdoch Press readers ever changed their minds because of anything they might read here……  When there’s a conflict between faith and beliefs, and plain evidence, it’s the beliefs that win.  Once a believer in nuclear power, always a believer.  The power of emotion over reason isn’t a bug in our human operating systems, it’s a feature says Kaplan

Peak Aviation anyone…?

30 08 2014

I wasn’t going to write another post this weekend….  we are trying to get our property ready for Sustainable House Day which starts next weekend, and I shouldn’t be at this keyboard, again…..  However, this very interesting piece of news just landed in my newsfeed, and it got me thinking, again…..

It all started with this week’s announcement that QANTAS lost almost 3 billion dollars this last financial year.  Then Virgin Australia (a smaller airline) lost 388 million dollars.  I’m not exactly surprised.  The last two times I flew to Tasmania, it cost about $400 return, or half what I remember paying 20 years ago when oil was only $10 a barrel!

Then Malaysian Airlines, which admittedly has had its fair share of bad luck, has just announced it will cut 30 per cent of its workforce, trim routes and replace its CEO as part of a restructuring that will cost $2.03 billion…..

And if that wasn’t enough, along comes this other piece of news:

The lowest seasonal supply of jet fuel on record is pushing prices higher and leading to voluntary restrictions in the New York region as the nation’s busiest air hub prepares for a holiday rush.

Spot jet fuel in New York Harbor, the trading center for the U.S. East Coast, jumped to 22.5 cents a gallon above diesel futures this week, the biggest premium in three years. Stockpiles in the region fell to 8.83 million barrels last week, the lowest for this time of year since at least 1990, government data show. Airlines received an industrywide request yesterday to limit the fuel they take from John F. Kennedy International airport.

 How could this be happening, you may ask, as the US is producing more oil than it ever has in at least a decade?  Well my dear reader, if you actually think about it, to produce all that oil, a fair bit of which is low ERoEI shale oil, you have to use a lot of that other stuff, the high ERoEI oil still coming out of conventional oil wells.

What they do you see, is that they add up the production of the good stuff with the production of the awful stuff, and a really good number comes out of the spreadsheet.  Trouble is, that total is NOT nett energy….  There is actually way less REAL energy available to put in those planes than the numbers tell you.  So the people who leave comments on this blog saying ERoEI is irrelevant, here is proof that it is!

Peak aviation may well be with us already.  And I expect the cost of fuel and flying and driving may well be on the cusp of a sudden price rise, as Peak ALL liquid fuels is due to occur sometime around the end of this year, +/- 3 months.  If you look at that error number…..  it may have started right now!

Solar. So what now?

30 08 2014

When I started this blog over five years ago, I was very enthusiastic, even waxing lyrical, over our solar power.  Even though, in retrospect, our first system, as configured at the time, really was a complete waste of time and effort thanks to a badly designed and very expensive inverter.  Live and learn….  Fifteen years ago, I was campaigning like crazy over the prospect of millions of Aussie roofs being plastered with panels feeding the grid.  My faith in the technology was overwhelming, we could save the climate if only the political will came to be.  And it did.  Now millions of roofs are covered in grid feeding PVs.  I take zero credit for this, make no mistake.  Today however, I have a much deeper understanding of these issues, and I have made a remarkable turn around.  So what now?

I notice that our friend from Eclipse now has just published this article:

Is Solar PV even a source of energy when one considers trying to ‘buffer’ it with storage? Does the energy cost of building the solar PV AND the storage render solar PV a net energy SINK rather than energy source? Or, in other words, do you pour more coal and gas and oil into building solar PV + storage than you get back as ‘clean’ energy? Apparently so! Not only this, but we need a minimum of 12 times the energy return on energy invested (ERoEI) to run the modern world. Solar thermal + storage only gives us 9, and that’s the best performing! Sorry folks. The ERoEI of a renewable grid + storage seems to be too low. Nuclear has an ERoEI of about 75. It’s nuclear or it’s climate change. The science says so.

So there you have it folks.  Solar is uneconomical (we already discovered this… plus that data is for Germany, and let’s face it Europe is not exactly a fantastic source of solar energy!) and nuclear is the only way to go…….  except of course, this takes no account of the fact we are heading into financial meltdown, oil companies are going bankrupt, leaving us no money and no oil to even decommission the old nukes, let alone maintaining the grid. Besides, it seems you can justify any stand you wish to make with any set of data available.  The pro-nuclear folk over at Brave New Climate may like to think nuclear has an ERoEI of 75, but plenty of other researchers disagree, just look at the chart above….  just TEN!  So who do you believe?

The grid itself will become the Achilles’ heel of future energy, not the source, and not storage.  What we need is new thinking, a total revolution in the way we do things.  The old system is irredeemably broken, we should not add any more ‘stuff’ to it, and we should definitely not spend any more money on it.

Much gnashing of teeth and hand wringing is currently happening in Australia over the dismantling of the RET (Renewable Energy Target).  The long-awaited review of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target has been released and, as widely predicted, has recommended winding back or even scrapping the various parts of the scheme.

The Conversation had this to say on the matter:

The report’s executive summary recommends two alternative options:

  • Closing the scheme to new renewable power stations, while continuing to support existing projects until 2030, or
  • Ensuring that new renewable power generation makes up just half of any future growth in electricity demand.

Separately, it also recommends:

  • Ending the system of financial incentives to households that install solar panels, solar hot water systems and other small-scale renewable technologies, either immediately or in 2020.

Of course, one would never expect a report commissioned by our Abbott government (well…  any government actually!) to recommend closing down commerce and industry to save the remaining fossil fuels for a rainy day when renewable energy production will become extremely difficult and part of our nation’s survival strategy.

There are campaigns up on the internet to fight the Warburton Report’s recommendations to slash the RET and incentives for rooftop PVs to continue as they are.  But at the same time, we have to leave the coal in the ground, or guarantee catastrophic climate change.  There are no choices here.  Every time we consume anything, whether it’s PVs or wind turbines or any other techno-fix…….  CO2 ends up in the air, stays there for a thousand years, and none of the techno fixes remove the CO2.

We squandered the best oil and the best coal in the 20th Century for trivial pursuits, and all we have left now are the scarps..  We used those precious fossil fuels to build freeways, huge cars, airplanes, skyscrapers….  and for what?  Just look back, and most of those things no longer exist even!  there are more cars on the scrap heap than on the roads.  Ditto with airplanes.  The current system is merely a means of turning resources into waste.  It’s really that simple.  And the powers that be want to continue this idiotic concept going to our final days of civilisation.  The time for revolution has truly arrived.  In many ways, I agree with the Warburton Report, but for completely different reasons.  I hope I have made this very clear!  The current campaigns against the Warburton Report are the wrong campaigns.

My old 500Ah battery bankI have no idea how to start the right campaigns.  People everywhere, particularly some solar installers, are already starting to have a go at me for becoming anti solar.  I don’t know that I have…..  I feel that if we were smart about it, and reduced consumption to the levels I have proven possible here where we currently live, and stopped doing everything else, with a new economic system, new thinking, new attitudes, we could still “have our cake and eat it”, only it has to be a tiny cake.

Finally, I thought I would put into perspective just how amazing fossil fuels are.  See that old battery bank of mine, which I sold when my first inverter died?  It’s 2.4m long, 0.6m high, and 0.3m deep.  That is a cubic capacity of 430 litres.  It weighed 900 kilos.  How much energy did it store?  24kWh when fully charged…….  or about as much as 2.5L of petrol/gasoline.

Yes, there is better battery technology than that on the horizon, but it doesn’t even come close to the energy density of petroleum derivatives.  Just imagine what we could have done with stuff like that if we hadn’t wasted it all….  we could have kept a comfortable and sustainable low impact, low population civilisation going for a thousand years instead of less than a hundred.  Now we’ve eaten most of the cake, and we have to deal with the crumbs.  If you want my advice, get your panels and batteries now, along with a supply of inverters and other replacement electronics to ensure redundancy before it’s too late.  Because the bastards in charge will do whatever it takes to stuff everything up.

Leaked UN Report Shows Failure to Swiftly Act on Climate Change Results in Catastrophic Harm

29 08 2014

Originally posted on robertscribbler:

Over the past week, various sources have leaked information passed on to them by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The reports highlighted stark consequences for continued failure by policy makers to act, providing a general view of rapidly approaching a terrible and very difficult to navigate global crisis.

Dancing on the Edge of a Global Food Crisis

The first weak link for human resiliency to climate change may well be in our ability to continue to supply food to over 7 billion people as weather and sea level rise takes down previously productive agricultural regions. And the leaked UN report hints at a currently stark global food situation in the face of a risk for rising crisis.

For the Mekong Delta, as with more and more agricultural regions around the world, by August of 2014, global warming was already a rampant crop killer.

The Vietnamese government this…

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The energy dynamics of energy production

29 08 2014


Dave Kimble

Dave Kimble

The more I delve into the unsuitability and/or unsustainability of solar power as a replacement for the current energy Matrix, now reinforced by Ozzie Zehner’s presentation, the more convinced I am the whole Beyond Zero Emissions concept is a total load of rubbish.  For years, I argued with Dave Kimble over this, and struggled with my faith in solar……  but no more.  I make no bones about it now, the only reason I will still use renewable energy in Tasmania is as a means of surviving the collapse, and even then, I have no doubt that at some time in the future nobody (including our children, sadly) will have electricity, as entropy takes over and the one off endowment of the amazing fossil fuels we have squandered vanish….

This is a guest post by Dave which was originally published on his own site.  As a scientist, Dave has a solid grip of the scientific method and modelling methods.  I’m reproducing it here in a vain attempt at convincing the masses to pull their horns in.

When people talk about buying solar photovoltaic (PV) panels they usually want to know how long it takes to repay the initial outlay with the subsequent savings on electricity bills. This is called the financial pay-back time.

However if you are getting into PV because you want to help save the environment, you should also be interested in the energy pay-back time – that is the amount of time it takes the PV panels to repay the energy that was used in their manufacture. This is important because it takes time before you can say your investment has made an energy profit, and is therefore “helping to reduce the greenhouse effect”. Also, the price of energy can change, and what can make financial sense after government subsidies, will not necessarily make ‘energetic sense’ in quite the same way.

To work out the energy pay-back time, someone needs to prepare an energy ‘balance sheet’, showing all the energy inputs and outputs. This would include not only the electricity bill at the PV factory, but also the embodied energy of all the materials used – purified silicon, copper (for wiring), aluminium (for the frame), toughened glass (for the top plate), lots of ultra-pure water and organic solvents, and so on. On top of this, one also needs to know the energy spent in transporting the various materials to the factory, from factory to retailer, and retailer to your house, and the energy cost of building and equipping the PV factory.

The energy output depends on the nominal peak power of your PV panels (measured in Watts), the lifetime of the panels (typically 25 years), the location of your house, and the orientation of the panels on your roof. From these factors it can be worked out how much energy will be captured by the panels over their lifetime.

For the PV panels available today, the energy output will be approximately three times as much as the energy input. Opinions vary on the precise value of the ratio Energy Returned over Energy Invested (ERoEI), depending on thescenario chosen and the optimism of the person choosing the input values. (The manufacturers of PV panels are, unsurprisingly, particularly optimistic about the thing they want to sell you.) The numbers used in this article are only indicative, and are drawn from the work of University of Sydney’s ISA team [ 1 ] .

If the ERoEI of PV panels works out to be 3.0 , and the lifetime of the panel is 25 years, then the energy pay-back time is 25/3 = 8.3 years, in other words it takes over 8 years for the panels to pay back the energy used in their manufacture. Another way of expressing that is to say that a PV panel can only pay back 12% each year of the energy needed to build it. It is clear from this that a PV factory cannot be self-sustaining in energy until it has been in operation for over 8 years, and until that point, it needs an energy subsidy from another, presumably fossil-fueled, energy source or sources.

Modelling the PV factory’s energy budget

How much fossil-fuelled energy does it take to establish a PV industry that is big enough to have a substantial impact on the nation’s energy mix ? The dynamics of supplying energy to a growing PV industry does not seem to have been studied before, and it produces some surprising, almost counter-intuitive results.

This study is based on a simple spreadsheet model, which you can download from here . However I am pitching this article at an audience that will probably shy away from looking too deeply into the entrails of the model. Consequently I am going to try and describe the model in plain English, and you only need to understand the model if you want to try out your own scenarios.

Essentially what is happening in the model is that, using the example data above, in the first year the PV factory will spend 8.3 units of energy on building a panel, and then for each of the next 25 years, that panel pays 1 unit back. This gives us a series of numbers : -8.3, +1, +1, +1, …. +1 which you can see in the spreadsheet table highlighted in blue. (In practice, the PV factory will be building millions of panels, but we will be scaling the production numbers up later.) The units used are strictly “panel-years”, that is, 1 panel operating for 1 year is counted as 1 unit.

In the second year the PV factory builds another panel, so the net energy profit for the second year is -8.3 +1 = -7.3 units, that is a loss of 7.3 units. In the third year, the factory makes another panel costing 8.3 units, and gets 2 units back, for a net loss of 6.3 units. This process is continued for 50 years. In the tenth year, the energy cost of -8.3 units is exceeded by the production of the 9 earlier panels, and the factory makes a net energy profit for the first time. After 25 years, the panel made in the first year is assumed to die of old age and makes no further contribution.

The calculations are summarised in a chart.

The ‘no growth’ scenario

Chart for ERoEI=3 Lifetime=25 Growth=0

In this scenario, the PV factory’s production remains the same at 1 panel per year.

The blue line represents the energy profit for the current year, measured against the blue scale on the right of the chart. You can see that it starts off at -8.3 and increases by one each year for 25 years. At that point, the first panel dies off, and the new panel therefore only replaces the output of the old one, so from there on the annual profit remains steady at +16.7 units.

The red line represents the cumulative energy profit/loss since the PV factory started, measured against the red scale on the left of the chart. It starts off at -8.3 units and dips lower and lower for 8.3 years, then rises for 8.3 years until it breaks even in 2024, then it moves into positive territory, representing a real cumulative energy profit.

At its lowest point, the cumulative energy loss is 39 units. This means that if your factory is making 1 million panels per year, it will need an energy subsidy that builds up to 39 million panel-years by the ninth year, and isn’t fully paid off until the seventeenth year.

This energy subsidy already takes the output of the panels themselves into account, so it can only be supplied by some other energy source. This new demand for energy, at a time when we are hoping to cut down on energy demand, represents an “energy barrier” to the broadscale introduction of PV panels. If this energy barrier is ignored (as it is currently being ignored) then everyone will be surprised to find that the big push for more solar energy actually causes a big push for other kinds of energy in the short and medium term.

Scaling up the production level

The above example uses a PV factory with a production rate of 1 panel per year. How much energy is that in familiar terms ?

Let us assume the panel is the largest one (and best value) currently available – rated at 175 Watts peak power [this was written before the advent of the now common 250W panels. DTM], and that it is located in Sydney (an average location for Australia) on a roof facing north and tilted at an angle equal to Sydney’s latitude, 34°, and taking average cloudiness into account. Under these circumstances, the panel produces 1 kiloWatt.hour (kW.h) per day, so 1 ‘standard’ panel-year is equal to 365 kW.h . Other locations will produce different results – see [ 2 ].

Australia’s electricity generation in 2006 was 257.8 TW.h [ 3 ] so that is equivalent to 706 million panels. That was an increase over the 2005 figure of 8.2 TW.h (3.3%), so just the annual growth in electricity generation is equivalent to 22.5 million of our standard panels. [note - electricity demand is now falling.  But this has at this stage minimal impact on the concepts described here.  DTM]

As we have seen above, each panel requires 8.3 panel-years to build it, so a factory producing 22.5 million panels will need an energy subsidy of 68 TW.h in the first year. This is equivalent to 26% of our total electricity production.

I would suggest that it is impossible for the nation to divert 68 TW.h of energy into PV factories merely so that they can build enough PV panels to meet the 3.3% growth in electricity consumption. This is despite the fact that in the long term (more than 17 years ahead) those panels will be making a handsome energy profit.

Production growth scenarios

Well, if it is not possible to start with producing 3.3% of Australia’s electricity, can we start smaller and grow the PV production capacity over time ?

The model allows us to enter a percentage growth per year factor, this is the chart from the scenario with 5% growth :

Chart for ERoEI=3 Lifetime=25 Growth=5%

As you can see, the annual profit now keeps growing, as when the first panel dies of old age, it is replaced by more than one new panel, due to the growth in production over the 25 years.

But note also that the cumulative energy break-even point has been pushed out to 21 years, and the maximum deficit is 54 panel-years’ worth of energy in the 12th year.

Because there are more panels being created in this scenario, you might think that the results wouldn’t have to be scaled up so much to meet the target, but what is the target exactly ? The zero growth scenario doesn’t make 100 panel-years profit until 2032, but the 5% growth scenario has only made a 75 panel-year profit by 2032, so if that is your target, then the growth model is worse. This is because more of the energy produced by the PV panels is being ploughed back into production in the growth scenario, and less is available as energy profit.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but the effect is real enough. And if the growth is increased to 10% per year, we get this scenario :

Chart for ERoEI=3 Lifetime=25 Growth=10%

Due to even more energy from the PV panels being ploughed back into new production, the cumulative energy break-even point has now been pushed out to 2040, and I hope you will agree that it is not wise to take on a project with such a delayed energy profit, even if the energy profits from that point on are spectacular. We are doing this to avoid fossil fuel emissions causing Climate Change, after all.

Since our PV panel can only repay 12% of the energy needed to build it each year, any attempt to grow the PV production rate at more than that amount will result in a permanent and increasing energy deficit :

Chart for ERoEI=3 Lifetime=25 Growth=13%

So you see increasing production each year does not help solve the problem. The thing that helps most is to stop producing panels altogether.

Improving the Lifetime factor

The model also allows the lifetime of the PV panel to be changed. This directly affects the Energy Returned (ER) over the lifetime of the panel, and hence it alters the ERoEI. However it does not affect the Energy Invested (EI), so the energy barrier, which has to paid in the early stages of the project, remains the same.

Improving the ERoEI factor

The ISA model of PV production that gives an ERoEI of 3 (range 1.5 through 6.0) is based on the scenario of a 100 MW solar farm, with associated electrical infrastructure, which will obviously be pretty heavy-duty (energy-intensive) equipment. Other scenarios will give different results for ERoEI. Even so, an ERoEI of 6 and Growth of 5% still has a 10 year wait before a Cumulative Energy Profit is achieved.

Chart for ERoEI=6 Lifetime=25 Growth=5%

Application to other energy sources

With PV solar, all the Energy Invested over the lifetime of the panel is invested up front, before any Energy Returned is seen. However other energy sources, particularly those needing fuel or on-going maintenance or expensive decommissioning, some of the EI is spent over the lifetime, and only a proportion spent up front.

In my next article I shall be introducing Energy Invested Up Front (EIUF) and the ratio EIUF/EI, which is 100% for solar PV. With suitable modifications to the model, and drawing on the ISA Team’s modelling data, we can look at other energy sources in the same way.


We have been living in an era of expanding energy availability, but Peak Oil and the constraints of Global Warming mean we are entering a new era of energy scarcity. In the past, you could always get the energy you wanted by simply paying for it. From here on, we are going to have to be very careful about how we allocate energy, because not only is it going to be very expensive, it will mean that someone else will have to do without. For the first time, ERoEI is going to be critically important to what we choose to do. If this factor is ignored, we will end up spending our fossil energy on making solar energy, which only makes Global Warming worse in the short to medium term.

Dave Kimble


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