More on the thermodynamic black hole…

12 10 2016

I recently wrote about the thermodynamic black hole; articles about ERoEI keep popping up in my in tray that truly baffle me…… As Alice Friedemann told Chris Martenson in the podcast I discussed in the aforementioned blog post, “everyone disagrees on what to leave in or out of their ERoEI analyses”….

I was pointed to another blog called Ramez Naam where the following was published…:

There’s a graph making rounds lately showing the comparative EROIs of different electricity production methods. (EROI is Energy Return On Investment – how much energy we get back if we spend 1 unit of energy. For solar this means – how much more energy does a solar panel generate in its lifetime than is used to create it?)

This EROI graph that is making the rounds is being used to claim that solar and wind can’t support an industrialized society like ours.

But its numbers are wildly different from the estimates produced by other peer-reviewed literature, and suffers from some rather extreme assumptions, as I’ll show.

Here’s the graph.

eroi-of-solar-wind-nuclear-coal-natural-gas-hydro-800x630

This graph is taken from Weißbach et al, Energy intensities, EROIs, and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants (pdf link). That paper finds an EROI of 4 for solar and 16 for wind, without storage, or 1.6 and 3.9, respectively, with storage. That is to say, it finds that for every unit of energy used to build solar panels, society ultimately gets back 4 units of energy. Solar panels, according to Weißbach, generate four times as much energy over their lifetimes as it takes to manufacture them.

Personally, I think these figures are a bit on the optimistic side, yet the author has a problem with them for being too low…!  Ramez Naam, who was born in Cairo, Egypt, and emigrated to the US at the age of 3 is a computer scientist, futurist, angel investor, and award-winning author, who also worked for Microsoft.  Enough said?  And what on Earth is an angel investor?

Anyhow, he further writes…:

Unfortunately, Weißbach also claims that an EROI of 7 is required to support a society like Europe. I find a number that high implausible for a number of reasons, but won’t address it here.

I’ll let others comment on the wind numbers. For solar, which I know better, this paper is an outlier. Looking at the bulk of the research, it’s more likely that solar panels, over their lifetime, generate 10-15 times as much energy as it takes to produce them and their associated hardware. That number may be as high as 25. And it’s rising over time.

I have seen others, like Susan Krumdieck claim that to keep our complex matrix going, an ERoEI of at least 10 is needed, so it’s interesting that Weißbach aims lower.

What I’d like to know is, how can anyone claim “ it’s rising over time.”?  Last time I looked, all renewables were entirely made using fossil fuels, and their ERoEI is plummeting…

Remember the “Twilight of the age of oil” series published here some time ago? One of the charts in that series of article resurfaced on another blog (through Zerohedge)……

The Coming Thermodynamic Oil Collapse Is Worse Than I Realized

Last week, I spoke with Bedford Hill of the Hills Group about their “Thermodynamic Oil Collapse” model.  What an interesting conversation it was.  Bedford Hill was the project manager of a group of engineers that put over 10,000 hours in designing their Thermodynamic Oil Collapse model.

Bedford told me that after they ran the model, the results were so shocking, they sat on the damn thing for two years before publishing.  I asked him did any of the engineers that worked on the model disagree with the results?  His answer was, “Not a single one disagreed.”

It has taken me some time to digest this new energy information as well understand the details by talking with Bedford Hill and Louis Arnoux of nGeni.  Again, I will be interviewing these gentlemen on this Thermodynamic Oil Collapse model and the implications shortly.

EROI levels

Anyone interested in reading the Hills Group work, you can go to their website, thehillsgroup.org, or check out their detailed report.

The rapidly falling EROI – Energy Returned On Invested is gutting the entire U.S. oil industry and economy.  Instead of the United States enjoying real fundamental growth based on increased energy consumption, we have turned to inflating electronic digits as an indication of our wealth.

As I explained in the beginning of the article, U.S. energy consumption has been flat for the past six years, while U.S. GDP has increased nearly 25%, as our supposed net worth has jumped 54%.  Again, this goes against any sound fundamental economic theory.  We have totally removed ourselves from reality.

While the Fed and Central Banks will continue to prop up the markets by printing money and buying bonds and stocks, they can’t print barrels of oil or energy BTU’s.

There lies the Rub…

So I ask…….. how can the ERoEI of anything, let alone solar power, go up, when the primary source of energy to do all those thing, mainly oil, is falling off a cliff?

But wait, there’s more…..   Geoff Chia sent me an email regarding an open letter he sent to the Doomstead Diner in which Louis Arnoux gets mentioned again….  Here’s what Geoff wrote…:

This open letter to The Zeitgeist Movement replaces an essay I originally promised to Diners, “Peak Oil Revisited Part 2: Why business as usual guarantees that global industrial collapse will be complete by 2030”. I have not had the time to elucidate all aspects of my argument in detail and Dr Louis Arnoux is probably doing a better job with his articles on this topic anyway. He is a true energy expert, I am merely a lay person trying to interpret the thoughts of the experts for the general public.

The other “Peak Oil Revisited” essay I promised, “Part 1b: Is an International Standardised Energy Dollar feasible?” has proved to be much more complicated than originally envisioned and is the lowest of my priorities at the moment. Even if an ISED is feasible it is unlikely to ever see the light of day for political reasons.

graph1-theelm-300x226As you know I ran sustainability meetings for doctors and scientists from 2006 to 2013. I note your Zeitgeist group is holding a meeting on sustainability on 10 September 2016. As a starting point for your discussion you may wish to display on your projection screen the letter I wrote earlier this year to “Doctors for the Environment Australia” . When I subsequently met with the Queensland DEA representative, Dr David King, he could not offer any factual or logical objections against my letter. His only comments were that although my views were consistent with those of many scientists, he felt he had to give DEA members “hope”. DEA are operating on the false hope they can fix rampant global warming which has now spiralled out of control. They have completely ignored more immediate energy and economic issues.

graph2-elm-over-netenergy-300x179Energy analyst Dr Louis Arnoux has informed me that world average1 EROI (energy return over invested, or to use the proper mathematical description for this ratio, energy return divided by energy invested) for petroleum fell below 10:1 a few years ago. Dr David Murphy’s figure for world average EROI of 17:1 for 2013 was an overestimate because Murphy himself wrote in his paper (published by the Royal Society) that his figure did not account for the energy costs of fuel refinement and transportation2.

graph3-net-energy-cliff-300x240According to other EROI luminaries, Drs Hall and Lambert3, a ratio of 10:1 is the minimum required for a complex industrial economy to function properly.

Some parts of the industrial world can continue to function at present because they have captured4 the few remaining high EROI (>10:1) sources for themselves. Others areas eg Southern Europe are losing or have lost access to such high net energy sources (“Hi-NES”)5, hence they are now deindustrialising and collapsing. The rest of the world will never industrialise. We have no significant liquid hydrocarbon replacements for conventional petroleum. Unconventional petroleum, with its woeful EROI of 3:1 or less, is an environmentally devastating scam and a stock market Ponzi scheme.

Decline in Hi-NES is the primary reason for the current global economic contraction6, a fact that conventional economists are too venal or too stupid to acknowledge. The present low price of oil is deeply misleading and is hiding the fact that oil has become less affordable/available for most people around the world due to demand destruction and deflation, temporarily freeing up more oil for “lucky” countries such as Australia.

Dr Jeffrey Brown’s export land model (ELM) shows that oil availability for oil importing countries will eventually fall off a cliff (see graph 1 from postpeakliving.com in which I have corrected a caption: the red line shows GROSS world oil production, which does NOT take into account the energy invested in that oil production. Hence the yellow circle is an overestimate of when zero oil will be available to oil importing countries). A more accurate curve on which to superimpose the ELM should be downslope of the Net Hubbert curve as shown in graph 2. Prior to me doing this, I do not believe anyone else has combined ELM and EROI concepts and it is high time someone did so.

A most vital concept to understanding why global industral societies will soon suddenly and catastrophically collapse, just as a teetering Jenga tower suddenly collapses, is the mathematical fact that the net energy available (= energy return minus energy invested) falls off a cliff when EROI declines to 5:1 (see graph 3).

Sudden catastrophic collapse is consistent with the view of Dr Ugo Bardi, one of the original “Limits to Growth” scientists, who calls this phenomenon the “Seneca cliff”. Dr Bardi is an incredibly smart scientist whose dire warnings over many years have been blithely ignored by all the stupid sheeple around him, hence he titled his blog “Cassandra’s Legacy”.

In human terms, plummeting EROI in the absence of any plan to transition to a post carbon lifestyle, will mean social breakdown, war, starvation7and mass die off on a monumental scale. No part of the world which depends on petroleum will be spared.

We can understand why TPTB promote false hopes for the future to the clueless sheeple, using extravagant bread and circuses like the Olympics. Such theatrics keep the herd distracted and subdued. Be assured that once the masses revolt, the drones will be deployed.

On the other hand, offering intelligent people false hope for the future is in my view deeply inappropriate, especially if useful measures can be taken right now to mitigate impending hardships. Unfortunately the window of opportunity is closing fast. What is your transition plan?

You may vehemently reject my warnings and choose to ignore this letter because everything seems “fine” to you now, however denial will not make a looming catastrophe magically disappear.

One of your previous speakers promoted manned space travel to Mars. How useful, do you think, is that sort of meeting?

Regards

Geoffrey Chia, August 2016

IF you like further homework, I found some most interesting links on that SRSrocco website, including videos called the Hidden Secrets of Money made by Mike Maloney who was interviewed by Chris Martenson, and another articles on the collapse of the USA through analysing  its disintegrating infrastructure…..

It’s raining here, still, and I may go to the Community House to watch the hidden secrets of money there before I run out of bandwidth……

Enjoy!

Geoff Chia’s footnotes

Footnotes:

  1. Global “average” EROI of below 10:1 at present means that most oil fields now yield EROI below 10:1 (eg perhaps only 8:1 or 6:1). However there are a few oil fields which continue to yield a high EROI (eg perhaps 20:1), oil fields which the vultures are now circling.

  2. Murphy DJ. 2014 The implications of the declining energy return on investment of oil production. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 372: 20130126.

  3. Lambert, Jessica G., Hall Charles A. S. et al. 2014. Energy, EROI and quality of life. Energy Policy 64:153–167 “There is evidence…that once payments for energy rise above a certain threshold at the national level (e.g. approximately 10 percent in the United States) that economic recessions follow. “

  4. Such capture can be accomplished by fair means (eg providing useful products to the oil vendors in exchange for their oil), or foul (eg the criminal protection racket known as the Petrodollar).

  5. Being starved of credit

  6. In China, intolerable pollution has been a major factor for their economic slowdown, as well as the marked reduction in overseas demand for their industrial output

  7. Mass agriculture is crucially dependent on petroleum (also natural gas)

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12 responses

12 10 2016
batalos

“We can understand why TPTB promote false hopes for the future to the clueless sheeple, using extravagant bread and circuses like the Olympics. Such theatrics keep the herd distracted and subdued. Be assured that once the masses revolt, the drones will be deployed.

On the other hand, offering intelligent people false hope for the future is in my view deeply inappropriate, especially if useful measures can be taken right now to mitigate impending hardships. Unfortunately the window of opportunity is closing fast.”

– well I’m thinking on the topic of the global elites approach to our predicament for several years. That is quite a hard topic to discover to say the least. Quite harder than other topics like limits 2 growth, energy, peak oil, climate change, biophisical economic theory and so on…
It is impossible to tell the full truth now even if they want to. Any such a speech will be used by the global conservative elitarist arm of TPTB as a very strong weapon against more egalitarian global arm of them. Until the former is fully defeated the latter can do almost nothing without pretending those false hopes are true even if they wanted to tell the truth. The final battle is coming though… Quite probably – very soon.

13 10 2016
John Weber

This information underlines most of what I have researched. However, these paragraphs confuse me:

I’ll let others comment on the wind numbers. For solar, which I know better, this paper is an outlier. Looking at the bulk of the research, it’s more likely that solar panels, over their lifetime, generate 10-15 times as much energy as it takes to produce them and their associated hardware. That number may be as high as 25. And it’s rising over time.
I have seen others, like Susan Krumdieck claim that to keep our complex matrix going, an ERoEI of at least 10 is needed, so it’s interesting that Weißbach aims lower.
Hall agrees with Krumdieck on 10.

Were you quoting “generate 10-15 times as much energy as it takes to produce them and their associated hardware”?
Would they build arrays simply for replacement of devices? How would they sequester the energy. How about the buildings, etc.
Here is some of my research: http://sunweber.blogspot.com/2015/04/solar-devices-industrial-infrastructure.html
thank you.

13 10 2016
mikestasse

I didn’t write that John……. I was quoting the blog which I was criticising..

13 10 2016
Chris Harries

Mike, you raise a question that I’ve been thinking of for some time. Does the plummeting cost of solar panels result in a lowering of ERoEI? At face value it would seem that it should. If production efficiencies are improved then that invariably means less energy input. Probably. But I’m not certain about that. Intuition tells me that resource depletion should signify a larger trend in increasing the amount of energy required to extract resources that are scant and difficult to get at, and since the inputs are largely fossil fuelled and ERoEI for those commodities are diving, then you would expect this factor to rise above the efficiency gains factor.

By the way, the top chart chart is seriously suspect. It shows nuclear power at 75:1 ERoEI. This is totally a odds with ERoEI figures that are determined by most academics in the field. A critical problem with ERoEI determination is who is producing them. In the case of the 75 figure, this is based on regenerative nuclear technology of the breeder type, where mining and extraction are removed from the calculations. But I think it’s even optimistic at that. Birth-to-death life cycle analysis usually places nuclear at a fairly similar level to that of solar voltaic.

13 10 2016
mikestasse

The energy and financial costs of PV must be separated…. the reason for the lowering cost of PV is, in my mind, entirely due to the panels being made with cheap labour. And let’s not forget that oil and coal have both been ‘cheap’ for some time now.

I totally agree with you re the ERoEI of Nuclear power…… I’m sure I’ve seen figures of 10:1. Breeder reactors are yet to prove themselves. I know they’re building ‘some’ in China, but with my experience of Chinese manufacturing, I sure wouldn’t want to live next door to one!

16 10 2016
JJ

There is a theory/therom ?? that when production critical mass is achieved the corresponding economies of scale bring about technological change that further reduces costs in advancements. That is the basis of the chinese solar industry. Forgot the name.

16 10 2016
mikestasse

The thermodynamic blackhole has nothing to do with economics (economies of scale) and everything to do with physics – nett energy.

16 10 2016
JJ

Yes that is right. Not disputing that.

Swanson’s Law is an observation that the price of solar photovoltaic modules tends to drop 20 percent for every doubling of cumulative shipped volume. At present rates, costs halve about every 10 years.

Moore’s Law is the prediction famously coined by Intel founder Gorden E. Moore in 1965, stating that the number of transistors on computer chips doubles approximately every 24 months. The prediction has held true to this day.

Simply that at a certain level of production there are gains in technological advancement to be expected, as in making the solar panel more efficient, and hence higher eroi over time. Just can’t recall the name.

That is whether it is computer chips, spitfires or whatever, a certain law of output states that advancement of technology occurs (not simply economies of scale) given a certain critical mass of units produced.

I read an article on this a few years ago explaining why China was saturating the market, for future dominance.

The more output of an invention, the greater opportunities for innovative modifications and advancement. Hence greater eroi opportunities the more solar panels are produced.

16 10 2016
Chris Harries

JJ, your last sentence doesn’t make sense. I think you are confusing energy with money. There’s not necessarily any relationship between the two.

If a product becomes cheaper to manufacture because primary energy is subsidised you could make that thing even if it produces no net energy at all. In fact, most manufactured products do not produce energy even though they may be very cheap to produce.

17 10 2016
mikestasse

I first studied renewable energy in the 1990’s. Virtually NOTHING has been improved as far as panels go, they may be 1 or 2 or 3% more efficient, but that’s all. Over the years, we’ve been promised all sorts of breakthroughs, but not one came to fruition; the panels I recently installed in my own system are virtually exactly what was available twenty years ago; with one exception…. today’s panels are physically much larger, and rather than being 64 to 100W, they are now 250 to 275W. That alone could make them cheaper, just through using less aluminium in the frames.

Where the biggest improvements have occurred is in the electronics. Today’s inverters are way better (at least the good ones are, there is a lot of crappy Chinese rubbish about) than what was made 20 years ago (when grid tied inverters were unheard of), and the maximum power point tracker I bought for my system is an electronic marvel…..

Furthermore, while panels prices have come down, the cost of the electronics have not……

13 10 2016
Ugo Bardi

Come on! “An incredibly smart scientist”???? I am just a dumb guy who tries to do his best. And I am not one of the original authors of “The Limits to Growth.” Geoff was decidedly taken by excessive enthusiasm! But thanks for the interest, anyway. The “Seneca Cliff” will soon be a book and I hope I can tell the story in detail

14 10 2016
mikestasse

Hi Ugo…. I think you’re way smarter than most people! And I look forward to the book….

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