How sustainable is this…?

7 12 2017

A news article caught my attention; it shows that with fossil fuels you can do anything, but you have to ask yourself, just how long will it take for these wind turbines to repay their embodied energy?  Furthermore, as I keep saying over and over, none of the carbon emitted in these exercises is ever removed by the wind turbines. Emissions are cumulative. That is, for those who do not, or refuse to understand, they add up. The fact that these turbines do not emit CO2 (much) in their operation, does not negate the fact that their installation already has increased the atmosphere’s CO2 content. As George Monbiot said, everything Must Go…….  and that includes these monsters.

turbineblades 1The 65m long (2/3 the length of a football field) blades were individually trucked 530km from Port Adelaide in South Australia to Silverton, NSW, near Broken Hill….  that’s three trips adding up to nearly 1600km or a thousand miles for you American readers…. and I bet they weren’t cruising at normal highway speed either, almost certainly worsening fuel consumption. And I almost forgot the many pilot and escort vehicles per convoy…….

Worse, a new road was built to bypass Broken Hill and avoid some roundabouts…… now Iturbineblades 3.jpg.jpg realise the cost, both financial and environmental, of the road will be amortised over the total 58 turbines planned for this site, but all the same same….. it takes a lot of fossil fuels to build roads…. especially that far from civilisation.

“There will be relatively constant deliveries from the start of the new year all the way through to about May.” states the ABC News website. If all the bits have to be trucked that far, three blades, a tower in at least two pieces, the nacelle (assuming it can be trucked in one piece), and god knows what else, I make it out to be almost 185,000km of truck miles, not counting getting cranes and reinforcing steel and concrete there. Oh and did I mention the trucks had to go back from where they came…?  Make that 370,000km, or more than nine times around the Earth….. or almost the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

turbine foundation3.5MW turbines require 400 tonnes of concrete in their foundations. This is 29 truck loads, each load having to do a 50km return trip from Broken Hill. To pour all 58 foundations means those concrete trucks will have to travel 84,000 km, or roughly equal to twice around the Earth…. which doesn’t include the concrete pumps. Nor the energy needed to make 23,000 tonnes of concrete, one of the worst greenhouse emitters. And I worry about the concrete in my house…!

The parts for the turbines also come from all over the world, with components for the General Electric turbines being manufactured in Germany, Spain and Korea.

Like I said…..  with fossil fuels, you can do anything. Oh and I nearly forgot…..  AGL, who will own this windfarm, are going to supply the locals with solar panels and water tanks, and AGL would contribute $50,000 to efforts to improve mobile reception in the area. just to make it all look sustainable and shut the locals up.

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46 responses

7 12 2017
seawork

I cannot follow your reasoning on this.
Do you mean that we should keep on using ( and building ) fossil fuel power stations?
Do you mean that we should just give up and mot have electricity?
Do you mean that we should go nuclear, even though a large amount of CO2 is generated by the mining, processing and transporting of the ore?
In other words what are your proposals?

7 12 2017
mikestasse

NO, we should give up using wanton amounts of energy. energy is what we use to destroy the planet, we hardly need more. In any case, the energy cliff is coming…

10 12 2017
Respect Silence

The end of economic growth and modern luxuries is what you people really fear. You can’t fathom the idea of leaving nature intact (as much as possible) and would rather tarnish what’s left of Earth’s scenery with these obscene machines, even though the evidence (the whole point of this article) shows they barely help reduce carbon. The upshot is an uglier AND warmer world.

Any place in a “wind resource zone” and not officially protected is fair game unless locals protest new projects. That also includes the entire viewshed that these machines impact, not just where they’re directly planted. Wind turbines are unique that way because they must be big to be (somewhat) efficient. It’s still a huge mass turning a relatively small generator. From an engineering standpoints it’s really quite crude.

Wind power proponents have little to say about how MANY of the blasted things it would actually take to “save the planet” while trouncing its natural grandeur, along with birds, bats and human well-being. One popular estimate is 3.8 million of them, from the widely criticized Mark Jacobson study. He’s now suing his detractors, in the style of a salesman, not a scientist.

http://cutt.us/blight_for_naught

12 12 2017
Rosalynd Pio

If wind power is not chosen, there are solar and tidal options open. The tidal option is the least polluting and most profitable. All countries with sea coasts can adopt it and we could leave fossil fuels in the ground, and start reducing the massive over-heating and pollution of our atmosphere.

13 12 2017
mikestasse

There are actually very few places on Earth where tides are big enough to generate the humungous amounts of energy our effluent society desires…. Most tdes are of the order of only two metres, and two meters is not what’s required, you need at least ten. I visited such a place in Canada a long time ago……. you can actually SEE the tide coming it!

Tidal power generation plants are costly to build in the first place, so should not be even imagined unless these conditions are met at the locations where they are intended to be set up. In any case, as we approach peak everything – not least the ability to actually PAY for these things – our ability to continu manufacturing these things will simply vanish.

7 12 2017
king1394

So is the alternative to burn more coal? or to somehow make the population cease to use electricity?

7 12 2017
mikestasse

We have to stop the way we do everything. It will anyway, whether you like it or not. By 2100, virtually nobody will have electricity, because all the fossil fuels will have been used up, all the wind turbines will have worn out, and all the solar gear will be producing nothing…. because all the inverters and batteries will be dead, and none of it will be replaceable. There won’t even be any use for electricity! There will be nothing on TV and the internet will have long gone….

So WHY waste the remaining fossil fuels on something with no future, wrecking the climate in the process…? It’s INSANITY…

10 12 2017
Rare 27

Making that population stop populating is a better idea but you know it’s unworkable until a collapse ensues.

We could just accept that “sometimes bad is bad” as Huey Lewis once wrote. Everything does not have a solution on the micro or macro scale. All people die, for example. I’ve gone a bit Rust Cohle here but it’s just logic.

7 12 2017
William Hall

As more renewable generation capacity is built, an increasing fraction of the energy used to build new wind/solar/wave/etc. generation will come from the earlier generations of renewable energy generators. I assume someone has done the budgeting to show how long a particular generator will have to run before it has amortized the energy cost of building it. Only if there if there is no payoff over the lifetime should it not be built, and obviously we should focus on installing technology that has the quickest payback time.

7 12 2017
mikestasse

I doubt it because we are fast running out of time as we go over the energy cliff…… and besides, there are still no ways of mining all the resources needed to make all this stuff up. Elecricity is only ~20% of energy use, and most of it is still generated with FFs…..

12 12 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Electricity final energy *consumption* is 18% of total gross primary energy *production*. But fully 42% of that primary energy production goes towards electricity generation — you aren’t accounting for thermal losses in generation. The same applies to all thermal combustion energy used in engines: the energy we *use* in the form of mechanical torque is far less than the energy released in combustion to push pistons and spin turbines; depending on the way the engine is used, between 60% and 90% of the thermal energy is discarded along the way.

There is no looming “energy cliff”. There is a threat of some scarcity of petroleum, ie. that production will peak and fall, but there is not a threat that petroleum production will fall suddenly to zero. The size of the remaining petroleum resource is still enormous, and this is also the case for high-ERoEI gas and coal, and of course for high-ERoEI wind and moderate ERoEI solar.

10 12 2017
Respect Silence

It’s unreaistic to mine, smelt resultant metals, fabricate parts, log mountaintops, blast mountaintops, grade roads, truck and assemble these leviathans with weak/intermittent electricity or battery storage.

Read critiques of Tesla’s new semi truck, for example. The extreme battery charging cycle makes a mockery of efficiency. The costs of those trucks and batteries are also prohibitive. We’d need “luxury trucking” to take over the bulk of fleets.

The “100% renewables” people seem willfully ignorant about the concepts of energy density, portability and scaling. And that’s just one problem with wind. I think the worst factor is their terrible aesthetics and wildlife deaths.

http://cutt.us/windschmerz

7 12 2017
Jeff

Every single energy or food production enterprise costs a significant amount of energy before there is a payoff.
I can just about imagine you seeing a group of primitive hunters setting out on a long trek to catch prey, and you saying NO you’re wasting too much energy with all that exercise.
Yes it may cost 50% say of the final payoff, but it is still worthwhile.
If an enterprise costs more than the profit, it tends to go bankrupt in the end.
But I think you are exaggerating the costs sometimes.

7 12 2017
mikestasse

It’s not the costs that bother….. it’s the CUMULATIVE emissions….

7 12 2017
Jeff

Increasing processes that produce CO2 means an increase in the processes that consume CO2, like photosynthesis in plants.

7 12 2017
wingedelmfarm

It reminds me of a person who finds out they have diabetes. In response they begin to eat “healthier” junkfood, pop-tarts made with organic sugar. Never any discussion of just changing the diet.
The response of many to this piece serves as a reminder of why we have so many “diabetics”. We are just going to keep shoveling the planetary store into our mouths, until the shelves are empty.

7 12 2017
Charmian Larke

Wind turbines, including their roads and access etc take about 1- 1.5 years to pay back their energy cost of manufacture and installation. It does of course depend on the windspeed at the site chosen. In addition many renewable energy manufacturers are using renewables for their factories, as are companies such as a copper mine in Chile. Over time this means the requirement for fossil fuels to power our civilisation is reducing, the main question is can we reduce our demand as well as change rapidly enough to renewables to avert the climate chaos coming soon.

8 12 2017
Chris Harries

Charmian, the verdict is no, we can’t avoid a significant disruption to society. I think we all know this but can’t face up to it. It’s better to address this openly rather than to futilely try to keep the whole show going through desperate measures.

The worst mistake our civilisation could take when it saw the writing on the wall was to try to make dilute energy sustain what dense energy (fossil fuels) has been able to create. A grossly unsustainable civilisation. But that is the course that society has decided to take. We should be taking a different course.

Most citizen consumers want to press the accelerator, not the brake.. They really want to believe that they can slip from behind the wheel of their IC car and jump into a brand new EV and keep powering along and nothing much else will change.

The problem that Mike is identifying here isn’t so much just the wind turbines and their reliance on fossil fuels. It is the very idea that we can change the technology that drives society without changing the core cultural drivers that are making our civilisation unsustainable. What Albert Enstein referred to as: trying to solve a problem without changing what caused the problem in the first place.

I love lots of new technology, but refuse to present it as a panacea, as most people do. Without attending to more important matters all this shiny, promising infrastructure will do is push society further and further into a corner from which there is no escaping.

8 12 2017
mikestasse

Yes, it has been pointed out to me that a copper mine in Chile uses electricity to mine copper……

https://www.reuters.com/article/antofagasta-chile/chiles-antofagasta-moves-to-renewable-energy-ceo-idUSL2N1N11R6

But this is all done with fossil fuels of course……. and it’s all imported because Chile does not make renewable energy systems. And every time more FFs are burned to make more renewables, more CO2 is ADDED TO THE ATMOSPHERE, NEVER TO BE REMOVED by our precious renewables… and every extra tonne means more climate chaos……

As I write, California is on fire, IN WINTER….. barely two weeks from Christmas. WHEN will it start to become obvious we cannot afford any more industrialisation, let alone mining copper in Chile to be shipped with even more FFs half way ’round the world to make more stuff to destroy the planet with??

10 12 2017
Rare 27

Wind turbines never pay back the scenery they kill or the species that blunder into them, but one can’t be a proper progressive these days without ignoring that. Sooner or later they see it’s a Faustian bargain for the soul of man. We’ve already built far too much junk.

11 12 2017
Respect Silence

The sheer ugliness of wind power aside, can you explain in detail how we’d use only electricity to mine and smelt metals, grade roads, log mountaintops and fuel semi trucks and cranes, plus all the rest that goes into industrial wind turbines?

If you’re banking on the Mark Z. Jacobson plan, check out various critiques of it, e.g. http://www.pnas.org/content/114/26/6722.full

http://cutt.us/blight_for_naught

12 12 2017
Jonathan Maddox

There is no need for a detailed plan to use “only electricity”. Electricity is simply the most readily convertible form of energy, and switching from fossil-fuelled heat engines to sun- and wind-powered electric motors is a massive win in terms of consumption efficiency.

It’s not so easy to store electricity, nor to carry it around without wires. But batteries do exist and are improving. This change is already underway.

Electric energy can additionally be used — albeit at a heavy efficiency cost — as the energy input to synthesise liquid fuels from water and carbon dioxide feedstocks; this is sufficient “existence proof” that fossil petroleum is not required to do the things for which we now use it.

As for smelting metals — this can certainly be done with electricity; it is already done using electricity for aluminium, there are techniques in development for electrolytic smelting of ferric metals also.

12 12 2017
mikestasse

Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that. AFAIC, electricity is best at electronics, heat pumps, lighting and stationary motors…… anything else is a waste of time.

8 12 2017
9 12 2017
W Shawn Gray

Mike’s question “How sustainable is this” is more accurately cast as two competing aspects fight for control of the same question. The first aspect is the [BAU] Business As Usual mentality, or the myth that more technology will fix any problem we encounter. Mike critique is spot-on, the BAU & magic techno-fix mindsets that got us into this mess are not sustainable by any delude imaginings.
The second aspect is the EROEI budgeting. Which per Charmian Larke (21:42:53) {Comment above} is theoretical plausible in this particular case sustainable. But sadly it is all too easy to think of shiny project that in times of desperate PR cycles are anything but sustainable. {eg, Sydney’s Second Airport at Badgery Creek}.

10 12 2017
david higham

It’s not only the materials and energy requirements for building all the renewable infrastructure. (see ‘Cubic Mile of Oil’ on Wikipedia for relevant numbers of world requirements ) The killer is entropy. Industrial civilisation has immense quantities
of embedded energy from fossil fuels in all of our human-constructed world.
None of it lasts forever. Most of the concrete made today,with steel reinforcing,lasts around 100-150 years (from memory.I have a link to this but
can’t find it at present) The mineral ores being used now are declining in concentration,which means that the energy requirements for obtaining a given quantity of metal increase over time. All recycling requires energy,
and the amount of energy required to renew all of the energy and other infrastructure would be immense. Most people exist in a fairy-tale world of their own construction, thinking that the population of the planet can continue to increase,the human demands on the natural world can increase, and that
the universe will conform to human demands.

11 12 2017
Michael

So you’re basically a rac—st, because certain cultures on this Earth just don’t want to cease making babies.

Re Article: Yeah, it is a conundrum how those giant blade swingers are touted as sustainable, when all processes producing them aren’t. It is also clear as a crisp morning dusk to any sci-fi connoisseur how and for whom those renewable grids are built. Not for the masses, but for the oppression machines, the Internet, the automated surveillance, refrigeration and the cooling chains for only the big cities.

11 12 2017
david higham

The standard Pavlovian response from the brain-dead:
That person mentioned population limits,hence he/she must be a racist.

11 12 2017
W Shawn Gray

A couple of links to underscore David’s previous comments.
“According to a recent colloquium at the Getty Center, the average life span of a conventionally built building (masonry and wood) is about 120 years. But for modernist buildings (reinforced concrete and glass curtain wall) it’s half that: 60 years.”

A longer heavier article about research efforts to extend steel reinforced concrete beyond 100 years and non-reinforced concrete to 100 years.
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11 12 2017
W Shawn Gray

Sorry folks I will try this again as WordPress did not like how I previously included the links.

A couple of links to underscore David’s previous comments.
“According to a recent colloquium at the Getty Center, the average life span of a conventionally built building (masonry and wood) is about 120 years. But for modernist buildings (reinforced concrete and glass curtain wall) it’s half that: 60 years.”
That URL is http://brandondonnelly.com/post/128489870433/the-life-expectancy-of-buildings

A longer heavier article about research efforts to extend steel reinforced concrete beyond 100 years and non-reinforced concrete to 100 years.
That URL is https://www.nbmcw.com/concrete/566-designing-reinforced-concrete-structures-for-long-life-span.html

11 12 2017
Jonathan Maddox

“I continue to be amazed just how low the embodied energy use of solar, wind and nuclear power is, in comparison with others,”

https://www.carbonbrief.org/solar-wind-nuclear-amazingly-low-carbon-footprints

“a full decarbonization of the global power sector by scaling up these technologies would induce only modest indirect greenhouse gas emissions – and hence not impede the transformation towards a climate-friendly power system.”

https://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/press-releases/transformation-to-wind-and-solar-could-be-achieved-with-low-indirect-greenhouse-gas-emissions?set_language=en

11 12 2017
Jonathan Maddox

And (also from the second link): “During the transition to clean power supply, the additional life-cycle emissions for building up wind and solar capacities are much smaller than the remaining emissions from existing fossil power plants before they can finally be decommissioned. The faster the low-carbon transformation of power supply is accomplished, the lower is the overall remaining carbon burden for the climate.”

11 12 2017
Michael

This is for sure true in a world without bean counters, but there is a problem: Those new power stations are all financed and financialized, not paid by kickstarter type schemes. That money has to be paid back or serviced as debt, but the debt service relies on an economy like we have now, not the economy a more renewable installed base causes, i.e. almost none possible, as debt enforces growth.

11 12 2017
mikestasse

Anyone who comes up with those numbers has NOT done his sums right……. may I remind you that Pedro Prieto, an expert in this field and someone who worked for decades in the renewables industry first came up with an ERoEI of 2.45, but then decided even that was too high….

https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/tilting-at-windmills/

https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/pv-eroei-may-be-negative/

11 12 2017
Jonathan Maddox

You may of course remind us, and I’ll remind you that we’ve discussed this MANY times before (including in an extensive comment thread on the newer of those posts — I wasn’t subscribed to Damn the Matrix in 2014 so I didn’t weigh in then, but I might have) and I am not alone in considering Prieto’s numbers very wrong indeed, both because he draws his net far too wide in collating the energy inputs for solar energy — converting money wages, rents and taxes to energy equivalents and counting that as energy input — and because he uses figures from a subsidised “pump priming” phase of a technology which was intended and expected to boom, and has indeed boomed, as a result of that subsidy.

If Prieto thinks fossil fuels have a better ERoEI in any qualitative sense, he cannot possibly be comparing like with like. He is allowed to put his goalposts where he likes in coming up with his minuscule ERoEI figures, but nobody else is obliged to use the same system boundaries, especially if he himself does not put them in the same place when he compares against past and present fossil energy.

12 12 2017
mikestasse

“converting money wages, rents and taxes to energy equivalents and counting that as energy input ”

THAT is the whole point……. we take somplex civilisation for granted, but none of those things would be possible were it not for the fossil fuels revolution (aka the industrial revolution)

Absolutely everyone ignores the SURPLUS energy. you know, the stuff that allowed us to have social security and insurance schemes, large hospitals crammed full of hi-tech gear like CT scanners, and life monitoring computer screens at every bed, rah rah rah…….. have you watched the energy slaves video yet?

https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2015/03/12/losing-our-energy-slaves/

12 12 2017
12 12 2017
wshawngray

That carbonbrief.org paper is simply nuts. Simon Evans has got himself into a logic knot such as to clearly demonstrate he is well out of his depth.

1# “*The first stage of the work is to add up the energy needed to build power stations and to provide them with the fuel and other inputs they need to run. This is called “embodied energy use”.*” Okay he is calculating the plants Embodied Energy Use. I’m happy so-far.

2# I’m not at all sure about his next assertion. “*It *[Embodied Energy Use]* is the inverse of “energy return on investment” (EROI).*”

3# This where Simon loose the plot. “*that 11% of the energy generated by a coal-fired power station is offset by energy needed to build the plant …… is equivalent to saying that one unit of energy invested in coal power yields nine units of electricity*” Not so generating electricity does not create electricity it only transforms it from the chemical energy of the coal to a new more usable form. This EROEI miscalculation has omitted all the chemical energy in the source fossil fuel!

The part this that has me gobsmacked is that not one of the 15 learned commenters mentioned the howler, maybe they are simply all too polite. Rather focusing on Simon’s Embodied Energy Use, but if he could not get a simple EROEI calculation correct how can anyone have any confidence in his other figures??

12 12 2017
mikestasse

I have to say I was gobsmacked at how small his coal fired power station ERoEI numbers were……..

12 12 2017
mikestasse

Shawn, if your post doesn’t come up immediately, please don’t put it up three times…… they ALL went to trash, and I retrieved them all, then realised they were identical and dumped two of them. You’re just making my job harder that even WordPress intende…. 🙂

12 12 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Hi Mike,

Apparently I didn’t weigh in in the comments on your January post after all, we must have had the same conversation elsewhere about the same time, perhaps at The Conversation.

You can call complex civilisation as a whole an energy input for the energy industry if you like. That’s a philosophically legitimate place to put the goalposts, but it makes a useless nonsense of any ERoEI calculation: we need civilisation for ALL energy production, and ALL the energy we produce sustains civilisation, so 100% of energy production is an energy input to energy production, and ERoEI is precisely 1:1. In this view fossil fuels have precisely the same ERoEI as solar energy, and there is no surplus energy.

12 12 2017
mikestasse

Your logic has my head spinning…… because we need all the energy sources for complex civilisation, not the other way around.

17 12 2017
Mark

Having spent time in countries that do not have access to unlimited liquid fuels and electricity it is highly hoped that we either down size our economy or wear thick padded rubber pants when we hit the bottom.
But those in the huge houses with 3 phase aircons will ignore the issue until it bites them in the butt.

The placement of the wind farm has all the risks of distance & inadequate towers that was part of SA’s power issues some time ago.
I guess it will again be a case of no one could forsee the strength of the storm that bought the pilons down.

23 12 2017
Allan

Renewable energy quickly or we Die!
Pump Storage Systems and Solar Salt Furnaces
is the most Sensible Way To GO !

23 12 2017
mikestasse

Renewable energy quickly, and WE WILL die……. it’s ALL consumption that adds CO2 to the air, and NEVER removes it. CO2 emissions are cumulative……. I just do not understand why I’m seemingly the only one who does (with apologies to the few who do).

23 12 2017
Chris Harries

Most people see it in black and white. Either 1) fossil fuels or 2) renewables. Full steam ahead on one or the other. Nothing in between. They can’t countenance pulling back. They don’t understand tipping points. They think that renewable energy is free and inexhaustible. They don’t accept growth limits.

That’s why it’s good to put renewable energy into context. We use it every day when sun shines through our windows and warms us up and when the sun grows plants that we eat. Nobody is actually opposed to renewable energy per se. It’s the centralized / industrialised modus operandus that makes it totally unsustainable. The way in which it is being mainly deployed to support business-as-usual.

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