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


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

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%

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%

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%

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%

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

Surviving Earth theatrical trailer 2014

28 08 2014

Ross Garnaut: China to reach ‘peak coal’ for electricity by 2015

26 08 2014

The Conversation

By James Whitmore, Editor at The Conversation

Originally published here:

China’s use of coal for electricity could peak as early as next year, then decline until 2020 in a turnaround of “global importance”, according to economist Ross Garnaut in a lecture presented at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne.

The shift means the world has a much better chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C — the internationally-agreed guardrail against dangerous climate change.

Slowing economic growth, increasing energy efficiency and growth in low-carbon electricity sources are driving the trend.

The Chinese economy grew strongly between 2000 and 2011 by 11% each year, but has slowed to around 7% each year since. Combined with increasing energy efficiency, this is driving down growth in energy demand — to around 4% each year.

At the same time, low-emissions electricity sources — hydro, wind, nuclear, solar and gas — have grown strongly, by around 4% each year. Because these sources are cheaper to use than coal, this has led to a “dramatic decoupling” of coal from economic growth, said Garnaut.

Solar energy has recorded the fastest growth since 2010 — generation capacity of solar increased by over 140% between 2012 and 2013. But solar is difficult to predict, and Garnaut expects growth to slow up to 2020. Even so, low-carbon sources will continue to grow strongly until 2020.

Wind power grew by nearly 40% between 2012 and 2013, and is forecast to grow by 18% each year until 2020. Over the same period nuclear grew by 14% and hydro by nearly 5%, and both are expected to grow at similar rates each year until 2020.

Gas was more difficult to predict, due to uncertainty over domestic gas finds, but is forecast to grow by 25% each year.

“Non-coal sources of energy account for virtually all the growth in electricity demand,” Garnaut said.

While Garnaut based his “conservative” projections on the electricity sector, he said he would not be surprised to see total carbon emissions in China peak by 2020. “It makes it possible to think realistically about the world reaching a 2C target.”

While China would need to do more between 2020 and 2030, the projections suggest China has turned the corner.

Garnaut based his projections on targets and policies already in action. He acknowledged that vested interests in coal, as in Australia, could slow the transition from coal to other energy sources, but said that the new model for economic growth was currently winning.

Responding to the Warmth

24 08 2014

More inspiring stuff from our friend Steve the Potter…..

Tonight my Fingers Smell of Garlic

I have been back in the pottery making pots again. Now that all our winter firing workshops are finished. I have my kiln back to myself. I am throwing more pots for my own firing. As the weather warms up, pots don’t take quite so long to firm up as they were taking a couple of months ago. On a few days it is cold enough to light the pot-belly stove in the pottery. It’s nice in here with the fire going. I respond to its warmth. It’s an old, solid, cast iron thing that we have been using continuously for the past 35 years. I have given it one overhaul about ten years ago as all the joints were creeping apart. The original bolts had long since corroded away and it was more or less held together by the rust and friction. It had never had the correct flue…

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