Another stinker (must be at least 37° again today), and it looks like another storm in the offing. In the end, we only got 26mm last night, more lightning than rain…. but all donations gratefully accepted!
There’s so much hype these days about how America will become energy self sufficient because of all the shale deposits being mined. It’s hard to explain to people new to the energy cliff exactly how much difference good and bad ERoEI makes to the running of our civilisation. Everything, not least the maintenance of all the stuff that is already here, relies on available surplus energy to keep our living arrangements humming.
Before we discovered energy dense oil and coal and how to exploit it to the max, everything was done by hand. Or hoof. I always have to laugh when people say to me it’s impossible to run society on 100% renewable energy. Exactly how do they think we got to here before oil and coal were exploited to death? Magic? Yes my friends, 200 years ago, everything ran on renewables…. biomass for food and firewood, wind and water for power to grind grains, and biomass powered by solar energy.
Speaking of firewood, you would be amazed at how much curry I get from some quarters for burning the stuff in the AGA. I’m not surprised that some people equate firewood with smoky pollution, because a lot of people who burn wood in places like Launceston and Armidale really are environmental criminals, or just plain lazy sods…. so when I found this chart below (source), I was just staggered…
It’s very obvious with just a cursory glance at this why the industrial revolution was so successful. With coal at 80:1 and the oil discovered prior to the 1930′s at 100:1, who in their right mind would do heavy work with muscle power? The jump to less than half that in the next three bars, hydroelectricity and post US Peak petroleum, also clearly shows why there was an energy crunch in 1973 and 1980. All of a sudden, some 50% of all surplus energy disappeared….. and it all had to be replaced with ever more imported oil (at least in the US, by far the biggest economy of the time).
But what really caught my eye was the bar for firewood…….. Firewood has today the same ERoEI as imported oil in 2005, the largely accepted year global Peak Oil occurred…! I cannot wait for the next time some clot starts sparring with me on some ABC forum about my firewood habits; I’ll be able to tell him that firewood is more efficient than NUCLEAR…! That’s so amazing, even I have difficulty believing it. Except of course that firewood is used exclusively to generate heat, unlike electricity, an energy source that is unequalled for running computers, lights, TVs and charging your iGadgets, but terrible for making heat….
When you think of how electric heat is made, by burning a fossil fuel a long way away to heat water up and make steam to drive a turbine that drives a generator, and feeding the resulting electricity down some long wires, through 1, 2 and sometimes 3 transformers to your house where you re convert it to heat is complete stupidity. Compare that to using a gas stove where the fossil fuel is lit directly under the saucepan, and it’s a no brainer as to which method is best.
Enter firewood, which is renewable (it grows on trees!) and, if sustainably replanted, is also Carbon neutral, and yes I can see why firewood has such a high ERoEI. Just don’t expect to run your laptop off it.
Anyhow, this chart doesn’t have a bar for shale oil, but I expect if there was, it would be right next to the tar sands one….. The future will not run on shale oil and tar sands, those two terrible fuels are only possible while we still have that good stuff from before 2005…… and after that? Better start planting lots and lots of trees.