The Energy Cliff Revisited

22 10 2014

Gough Whitlam died yesterday.  The whole country seems to have paused for thought, many media outlets are even saying things like “where to from here”, and the cluelessness abounds.  Where to from here indeed……  Today, our politicians are elected to office based on false promises.  They promise things they can’t deliver, and we continue to be perpetually shocked when they don’t deliver.  We never seem to get tired of this game, we always lose.

I have spent little time posting here, mainly for fear of simply repeating myself.  As I am doing now, really…. but once you ‘get it’, what else is there to say?  As the price of oil fell to $80 last week, much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth occurred on the subject of how long the unconventional oil drillers of oil would last….  while some commentators were despairing at the thought that cheaper fossil fuels would mean the end of the current push for renewables, if you can still call it that.

When I pointed out to these people that the fossil fuel companies were actually going broke, I was met with the derision I am now accustomed to.  I’m getting quite immune to that now, if you don’t believe me, it’s your problem, not mine…  mind you, as we approach ‘the knee’ of the energy cliff curve, it is baffling as to why the price of oil dropped so much, when it should have in fact risen, and risen substantially.  The answer of course is that the global economy is on its knees.  Growth is fetid at best, and in Europe, things are going from bad to worse, even prompting some people to predict that ‘the big one’ was going to occur on the 27th anniversary of the Black Monday crash.  Didn’t happen, unfortunately…..  but the ducks have all lined up in waiting.

Most of us here have surely heard of the seven stages of grief…. Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Guilt, Depression, Acceptance. Where are we in our journey through these stages when it come to the financial crisis, and to growth? There’s only one stage that even remotely sounds right: Denial. We’re not even close to Anger yet, not when it comes to the larger population.  Me, I’d like to add another stage:  REACTION….!

justwalkawayIf enough people just walked away, the whole mess would end.  Any time people post whinges on FB these days, I reply with that picture.

Apart from denial, there is of course ignorance.  The concept of the energy cliff is foreign to just about anyone who doesn’t follow blogs such as this one.  It occurred to me that we have been sliding down the edges of the energy cliff for a very long time.  At the beginning of the oil era, when the ERoEI was 100:1, everything was easy.  We just had to invent it, and we had so much surplus energy that we could fumble our way around and build outrageous cars and airplanes, steel skyscrapers, huge ships, growth was easy…..  and when the ERoEI of oil dropped to 50:1, who noticed?  We still had 100:1 oil to make the equipment needed to get that oil (which, let’s face it, was still amazing value…)http://www.terrysmithblog.com/.a/6a0120a5f40b9d970b01347fbc85dd970c-400wi

As the easy pickings were exploited, it was still easy to burn 25:1 and even 15:1 energy sources…. but it is at this stage that we approach ‘the knee’ of the nett energy curve, and start falling off its cliff.

Building 5:1 solar energy gizmos with 15:1 oil, let alone with more 5:1 PVs or those appallingly inefficient tar sands and shale oil suddenly becomes a struggle.  This is what people who argue that we don’t need fossil fuels to make renewables do not understand.  Bad ERoEI compounds when you use one low source to get another.  Social complexity utterly relies on surplus energy.  It was with surplus energy that Europe’s cathedrals were build during the middle ages, and the same applies to building wind and solar farms.

If you are new to these concepts, I urge you to watch the video below from Chris Martenson’s excellent crash course series, a must watch program of videos for anyone who doesn’t yet know why the world is going to hell in a handbasket……  NOTE:  This video shows solar as having an ERoEI somewhere around 20:1.  This is because it was made in 2009, and in the intervening 5 years, it has been established that it is fact less than 5…. maybe even less than 3!  This is displayed more accurately in the more recent chart above……

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7 responses

22 10 2014
Daniel

Nice…….I like the way you started with mentioning the Gough. Having been born after the time of Comrade Whitlam and not having had much education on him I did some reading. I came away with tears in my eyes for how he was stabbed in the back and a question, was he aware of the need to sure up Australia’s resources? not for economic gain but rather for the purpose of building a “smarter” nation that could survive when those resources where gone……? I also noticed that there is a correlation between liberal government, British influence and the stealing and selling of said resources. Renewables are the key to the future.

22 10 2014
mikestasse

Renewables are the key to the future.

Daniel, did you READ what I wrote………..?? After I mentioned Gough?

22 10 2014
Daniel

Sorry sir, should have made it clear that it was a sarcastic remark! I think you’ll find Whitlam was keen on obtaining a “loan” from the Middle East “petrodollars” but was essentially scammed by Khemlani. The money was to be used for the future, to sure up Australia’s resources not selling them to the highest most powerful bidder.

22 10 2014
bev

today you say politicians are voted in on their lies by imbecilic underage voters and more, got news for you, in the 40 years I have been voting they all get voted in on their lies, it will never be any other way

22 10 2014
samsavvas

Hi Mike,
Do you have a really well researched graph that shows where we are right now in terms of net energy EROEI? Susan Krumdiek reckons it’ll all start to fall apart at the seams around 10:1…
Sam.

22 10 2014
mikestasse

Trouble is Sam, ERoEI numbers are always contentious because they depend on what’s left in or out….. which is why solar enthusiasts believe PVs have an ERoEI more like 10 to 20:1…

Prieto and Hall said it was 2.45:1 if my memory serves me right…

19 03 2016
Explaining the energy cliff | Damn the Matrix

[…] While doing mindless tasks on the Fanny Farm, like dragging Macrocarpa branches around to clear the deck for the house building and stacking it on the back of the ute for removal, I tend to do a lot of thinking to keep the brain engaged…… and it occurred to me that very few people ‘get it’ when it comes to the predicament we here at DTM know as the Energy Cliff. […]

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