The Real Lesson of the Energiewende is that the German Economy uses Too Much Energy

6 02 2018

For a long time Germany’s attempt to grapple with atomic power, climate change and energy issues through its so called “Energiewende” (Energy Transformation) has been inspirational to many green activists and seen as a process to learn from. The priority given to “clean energy”, to wind and solar in its electrical grid, incentivised by feed in tariffs and favourable prices has taken wind and solar added together to 3.5 % of its energy supply and 16 % of its electrical power generation.

However, there is a long way to go to 100% green energy. 58% of power generation is still by fossil fuels and fossil fuels are still predominant in 78% of energy consumption that is not electrical, for example for transport fuels and non electrical space heating.

No problem, just a matter of time? A lot of activists probably think this but sadly it is not likely to be true. Yes, there are things to learn from Germany’s attempt to make an Energy Transformation. Unfortunately these things are that it will not be easy and it will probably not be possible at all without a considerable reduction in overall energy consumption and/or major new technological breakthroughs in energy storage. Such breakthroughs currently do not look very likely and/or would involve very high costs. Such costs would cripple the German economy in its current form.

This anyway is the conclusion that I draw from a study by one of Germany’s leading economists, Hans Werner Sinn, that appeared in the European Economics Journal, in the summer of 2017. I was alerted to his article, published in English, by a weblink which connected to a lecture that Sinn gave at Munich University just before Xmas. The lecture, in German, contains much the same material as the article with one or two small differences.

Before I go further I think it important to say that Sinn is not a climate denier. He acknowledges climate change as real and in need of addressing. It is important to be clear that the issue of whether climate change is real is completely independent from how easy or difficult or costly it will be to develop a renewable energy system. There are no guarantees that just because humanity has a serious problem there are easy and cheap engineering solutions. In any case Sinn does not address these issues – he is addressing the practicalities and limits of the Energiewende.

Whether in German or English the data he presents is bad news because it is about the difficulty of storing electricity for the German economy at its current scale of energy and electricity use – and storing energy is going to be necessary to further expand renewable generation without having fossil fuel based generation to back it up.

This is because under current conditions the coal and gas generators in Germany are necessary complements to balance the volatility of wind and solar and the variable nature of electricity demand. When the wind is not blowing and the sun not shining – the coal and/or gas generation must step in to provide the power. Or perhaps there is wind and solar power but not enough as the demand for power rises. It is the fossil fuel generators that must step in and provide the buffer between them and if fossil fuel generated electricity is going to be driven out then some other means must be found to buffer between fluctuating supply and demand. There is a missing technology needed to make this possible – electrical storage.

What gives Sinn’s article and lecture credibility is that they are based on real world intermittent data for wind and solar power generation in Germany in 2014 as well as data from an EU research project called ESTORAGE. ESTORAGE set out to find Western Europe’s potential for pumped hydro power – by finding all the locations where it could conceivably be developed along with how much electricity could be stored altogether.

The use of real world data from Germany in 2014 completes the picture because it enables Sinn to show how much storage is needed over a year to balance the grid at different levels of penetration by renewables. This volume is then compared to what is available in potential pumped hydro sites.

Pumped hydro is a way of storing electric power by using surplus electricity to pump water uphill into a storage lake, that can then be released through turbines downhill later, when electric power is wanted. Its significance is that it is by far the cheapest and easiest way of storing electric power on a grid scale. The findings of the ESTORAGE project therefore enables Sinn to explore if there is enough pumped storage capacity in Germany, in Germany and Norway and in an energy union between Germany, Norway, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland. The figures are sobering – firstly there is no way that Germany has enough undeveloped new sites where it could develop sufficient pumped hydro storage on its own territory to balance its grid without fossil fuel generation doing buffering. The furthest it can get in the direction of an entirely green electricity supply is 49% of power generation by renewables, if it is in an alliance with 4 other countries which have the best pumped storage options – assuming they are prepared to develop these options.

Sinn does consider other storage methods in his lecture but considers them too expensive and impractical for storing electric power – for example lithium ion batteries are practical up to a point for powering electrical cars but it would require the batteries of 524 million BMW electric vehicles to balance the German grid and the cost of storing a kilo watt hour in a lithium battery is 50 times the cost of storing a kilo watt hour using pumped hydro. Sinn also considers storing energy by using surplus electricity to generate hydrogen or methane but again considers them too expensive particularly because of the “round trip” power conversion losses from power to methane and back to power (only a quarter of the power left) and with hydrogen only a half of the power left. (Added to which hydrogen is a very corrosive stuff to work with.) This is a thermodynamic problem first studied by Carnot for which there is no pat solution.

There is also the option of shifting demand. The problem with wind and solar is that what is generated must be made to match what is demanded – but can this done by shifting demand around so that, for example, the washing machine is switched on when the wind is blowing? To explore the magnitude of what is possible Sinn again uses real world data. He calculates how much buffering storage could be reduced by shifting demand around during the course of each day. He also calculates how much storage could be reduced by shifting demand during the course of a week and shifting demand during each month. His results are disappointing. Shifting demand during a month it is only possible to reduce the need for energy storage by 11%. This is because energy storage is mostly needed between seasons and the amount of storage required would be astronomically expensive to achieve without pumped hydro. Switching the washing machine on when the wind is blowing is one thing – you cannot wait till summer to switch a heater on in winter when there is no wind and it’s the middle of a cold night.

There are in fact three ways of balancing a grid rendered unstable by intermittent renewables. One is a double structure where fossil fuel generation balances the grid but we want to go beyond that. Another is storage which we have seen is expensive with not enough options – but what about just continuing to expand wind and solar capacity – more installations at each place and over a wider area. This is the strategy of “over extension”. If its not windy or sunny everywhere it will be somewhere so one just has to have enough kit there to capture enough of the wind and/or the sun.

In fact Sinn considers this option too. He has a “thought experiment” in which a greater and greater percentage of the German grid is supplied by renewables and a smaller and smaller % of electricity is balanced by fossil fuel generation. At 89% wind and solar generation the German grid would in fact be 100% green energy since 11% would be electricity from hydro power and through burning biomass. (He ignores those who question whether biomass is really “renewable”). But at this point of 89% wind and solar the average efficiency of wind and solar generation would be 39% and the marginal efficiency would be 6%. Put in another way 61% of all electricity would on average have to be dumped or curtailed because there would be too much power for the demand. To say the marginal efficiency is 6% means that to extend renewable energy by 1% of the overall capacity at this point you would need to dump or curtail 94% of the extra generated electricity.

I hope this is clear – you can extend wind and solar more and more but in order to have power all the time, including those times when there is not a lot you need to develop a capacity that, in the face of intermittent wind and solar, is most of the time oversupplying.

Any way you look at it you have a lot of cost.

Now to my own comments. What Sinn does not explore is if the German energy demand were only half its current size or even smaller. His figures suggests that renewables can maximally supply a balanced grid for only half the current power supply in the 5 country association. But what if only half the energy were needed?

I do not think that Hans Werner Sinn is an exponent of degrowth…far from it….but that is what we should be looking at.

The aim is not unreal or unrealisable if we start thinking about “energy sufficiency” (rather than energy efficiency). In a recent article titled “How Much Energy do we Need” in Low Technology Magazine Kris de Decker explores the many opportunities for reducing energy consumption once we adopt a sufficiency approach. He writes

“In principle, public service delivery could bring economies of scale and thus reduce the energy involved in providing many household services: public transport, public bathing houses, community kitchens, laundrettes, libraries, internet cafés, public telephone boxes, and home delivery services are just some examples.

Combining sufficiency with efficiency measures, German researchers calculated that the typical electricity use of a two-person household could be lowered by 75%, without reverting to drastic lifestyle changes such as washing clothes by hand or generating power with exercise machines. Although this only concerns a part of total energy demand, reducing electricity use in the household also leads to reductions in energy use for manufacturing and transportation.

If we assume that similar reductions are possible in other domains, then the German households considered here could do with roughly 800 kgoe per capita per year, four times below the average energy use per head in Europe. This suggests that a modern life is compatible with much lower energy demand, at least when we assume that a reduction of 75% in energy use would be enough to stay within the carrying capacity of the planet.”

Suddenly we are back in the realms of practicality IF, that is, it is politically practical to adopt a sufficiency agenda – but perhaps that is what will have to happen anyway as the decline of the oil and gas industry accelerates.

In conclusion. It looks very as much as if before “over developed” countries like Germany can hope to develop an all-renewables power system, let alone an all-renewables based energy system including non-electric energy uses, it will have to dramatically reduce its power consumption. Even though studies based on energy sufficiency show that most people could probably live a comfortable enough life the changes in economic organisation and thinking would or will have to be massive for that to happen. I therefore doubt that this is going to happen as a result of well-meaning policy intiatives any time soon. The inertia will in all probability be too great.

That said countries like Germany are not just under pressure to change their energy system because of climate change – Germany and other countries too must respond to the global trend to depletion of fossil energy sources and the rising cost of extracting them. While it is true that renewable energy together with energy storage would be expensive if attempted above a limited scale, it will be expensive in the future to extract fossil fuels too. As we reach the limits to growth we are probably looking at economic contraction anyway- and no doubt a good deal of political turmoil because politicians and the German (and world) public will be disorientated and not really understand that is happening.

There is an irony here. The best chance of developing grids adapted to renewables will probably be in countries where electricity demand and energy use is currently very low and where it can develop “organically” without having first to go backwards in a retreat from “overdevelopment” before it can again “go forward” in conditions of much depleted resource availability.

If humanity survives the next few decades of turmoil – and it is a big IF given the collective psychosis likely in heavily armed countries thrown into economic contraction – IF… then the best chance for technologies to evolve into 100% renewables-based systems are in what are today regarded as poor countries. Then the last would be first and the first last. That at least is something to hope for.

Sources

Hans Werner Sinn in European Economic Review “Buffering Volatility. A study on the limits of Germany’s energy revolution” – on his website at http://www.hanswernersinn.de/dcs/2017%20Buffering%20Volatility%20EER%2099%202017.pdf
Hans Werner Sinn “Wie viel Zappelstrom verträgt das Netz? Bemerkungen zur deutschen Energiewende” Lecture in German for the IFO institute at the University of Munich 18.12.2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3397&v=ZzwCpRdhsXk
Kris de Decker in Low technology magazine – “How Much Energy do we Need?”
http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2018/01/how-much-energy-do-we-need.html

Featured image: A. Source: https://www.freeimages.com/photo/autobahn-1441758

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The Future of Renewable Energy

19 10 2017

I 60% agree [ED: I only 10% agree…!] but have severe reservations with carrying the analogy too far. There are some real differences that make the two “revolutions” largely non-comparable:

(1) The digital revolution has brought us many new products that do things we couldn’t do before – computers, mobile phones, the internet. That makes it attractive to people and companies and has sped adoption. The energy revolution does not bring new final end products – the end products are electricity (and heat and motion) which we already had. What it brings are many new ways of generating electricity (and heating and moving things).

(2) To pay for the energy revolution people must pay once for the new technology that generates the energy source (mostly as electricity) and once for products that are adapted to this new energy source (eg a petrol or diesel car to an electric car) – and perhaps a third time for the back up or storage to cope with intermittency in the renewable power source.

(3) To supply electricity, heat and motion reliably and at demand will be incredibly expensive – there are good reasons to believe that current cost reductions in the energy generation arrangements for wind and solar will not be sustained when the fossil fuel back up (ie natural gas power stations ) that is the current back up have to be replaced by renewable energy back ups or energy storage infrastructures. In other words it will get more difficult over time when fossil fuel back up has to be closed down.

(4) Over the decades while the digital economy was being developed household, corporate and government debt started out much lower and has grown massively. At the start of the energy technology revolution the economy is maxed out on debt which is only sustainable with very low interest rates. Rising interest rates are not going to make it easy to fund the capital/equipment costs of a new technological revolution.

(5) Over the last few decades conventional oil production has peaked and depletion in coal and gas, as well as a variety of minerals that will be needed for another technological revolution are becoming more costly to extract because they are in depletion too, with lower ore quality being tapped. Depletion in the oil and natural gas sector are driving that sector into bankruptcy because the sector cannot recoup its rising costs from rising prices – a stagnant economy cannot charge rising energy prices without crashing the economy. Developing a new energy system takes energy – a renewables infrastructure is first of all dependent on fossil fuel based energy to build it and if the fossil fuel industry is in trouble at an early stage in the development of a renewable system that is going to be a serious problem.

All these things can be summarised as saying that the digital revolution occurred while the global economy still had expansion capacity. It had not yet reached the limits to economic growth – although for some time now the global economy has been in overshoot and running down resources and “natural capital” (I do not like the term, however I use it here as a shorthand).

The energy revolution has to be made in totally different and much more difficult times – while the global economy is in retreat. It will be difficult to bring a new energy sector into existence when the economy is stagnant and people will struggle to afford expensive innovation. Paradoxically in these circumstances it is likely to be many older technologies that will make sense again – perhaps in a reworked form. That is what makes the work of Kris de Decker written up in the Low Technology Magazine and its companion, the No Technology Magazine so important – rediscovering a multitude of solutions from history.

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/
http://www.notechmagazine.com/

Below are links to two fantastic articles written by Kris de Decker in Low Technology Magazine – well researched, clear and easy to understand and full of relevant technical data.

What they show is that trying to build an electrical energy system mainly with wind and solar that would be able to meet the demand for electricity at all times as we have now is a futile endeavour. It would be way too expensive in money, resources and energy. We must get used to the idea of using electricity only when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing (enough).

In practical terms that means that

“…. if the UK would accept electricity shortages for 65 days a year, it could be powered by a 100% renewable power grid (solar, wind, wave & tidal power) without the need for energy storage, a backup capacity of fossil fuel power plants, or a large overcapacity of power generators.”

I dare say a similar conclusion would be drawn for Ireland.

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2017/09/how-to-run-modern-society-on-solar-and-wind-powe.html

The second article develops in more detail the idea of running the economy on renewables when the energy is there and is an important complement to the first article.

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2017/09/how-to-run-the-economy-on-the-weather.html#more





No Soil & Water Before 100% Renewable Energy

7 09 2017

Hot on the heels of my last post from someone else who has given up campaigning for renewable energy, comes this amazing article that defines why it’s all a futile effort…. I am beginning to think it is all starting to catch on…..

After all, excessive energy use got us into this mess, more energy will not get us out. As Susan Krumdieck says, the problem is not a lack of renewable energy, it’s too much fossil fuel consumption…….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Many say we can have 100% renewable energy by 2050. This is factually incorrect.

We can have 100% renewable electricity production by 2050.

But electricity production is only 18% of total world energy demand.

82% of total world energy demand is NOT electricity production.

The other 82% of the world’s energy is used to extract minerals to make roads, cement, bricks, glass, steel and grow food so we can eat and sleep. Solar panels and wind turbines will not be making cement or steel anytime soon. Why? Do you really want to know? Here we go.

TWED = Total World Energy Demand

18% of TWED is electrical grid generation.

82% of TWED is not electrical grid generation.

In 20 years, solar & wind energy is up from 1% to 3% of TWED.

Solar & wind power are projected to provide 6% of TWED by 2030.

When you hear stories about solar & wind generating
50% of all humanity’s electrical power by 2050,
that’s really only 9% of TWED because
100% of electrical production is 18% of TWED.

But, it takes 10X as much solar & wind energy to close 1 fossil fuel power plant simply because they don’t produce energy all the time.

Reference Link: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n6/full/nclimate1451.html?WT.ec_id=NCLIMATE-201206

Reference Link:
https://citizenactionmonitor.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/renewable-energy-hope-or-hype/

That means it will take 10 X 18% of TWED to close all fossil power plants with intermittent power.

Research says it will take 4 X 82% of TWED for a 100% renewable energy transition. But then again, whoever trusts research?

10 X 18% + 4 X 82% = 100% Renewable TWED.

CONCLUSION:
We require 10X the fossil electrical grid energy we use now just to solve 18% of the emissions problem with solar & wind power. This also means that even if we use 100% efficient Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) for all the world’s electricity generation, we would still only prevent 18% of our emissions. 100% efficient CCS is very unlikely. Switching to electric vehicles would only double electrical demand while most of our roads are made out of distilled oil sludge.

These figures do not include massive electrical storage and grid infrastructure solar & wind require. Such infrastructure is hundreds of millions of tons of materials taking decades to construct, demanding even more energy and many trillions of dollars. With that kind of money in the offing, you can see why some wax over-enthused.

Solar & wind systems last 30 years meaning we will always have to replace them all over the world again 50% sooner than fossil power plants.

Solar and wind power are an energy trap.

It takes 1 ton of coal to make 6-12 solar panels.

Business As Usual = BAU

In 15 years 40% of humanity will be short of water with BAU.

In 15 years 20% of humanity will be severely short of water.

Right now, 1 billion people walk a mile every day for water.

In 60 years humanity will not have enough soil to grow food says Scientific American. They call it, “The End of Human Agriculture.” Humanity’s soil is eroding and degrading away at 24 million acres per year.  And, when they say 60 years they don’t mean everything is wonderful until the last day of the 59th year. We will feel the heat of those words in much less than 30 years. Soil loss rates will only increase with severe droughts, storms and low-land floods. Here’s what BAU really looks like.

50% of humanity’s soil will be gone in 30 years.

50% of humanity will lack water in 30 years.

50% of humanity will go hungry in 30 years.

100% TWED transition takes 50 years minimum. It is a vastly more difficult and complex goal than you are told.

Reference Link:
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/12/four-billion-people-face-severe-water-scarcity-new-research-finds

Reference Link:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/

We are losing earth’s soil and fresh water faster than we can effect 100% renewable TWED.

In 25 years civilization will end says Lloyds of London and the British Foreign Office.

In my opinion, in 30 years we won’t have enough fossil fuel for a 100% renewable TWED transition.

This is the most important fact I’ve learned:

Renewable Energy is Unsustainable
without massive energy demand destruction

Humanity will destroy its soil and water faster than we can switch to renewable energy with BAU. We cannot sustain economic growth with renewable energy. Without massive political-economic change, civilization will collapse with 100% certainty. But, don’t worry, I like to fix things.

Animal Agriculture = AA

Humans + Livestock = 97% of the weight of all land vertebrate biomass

Humans + Livestock = 80% of the cause of all land-air extinctions

Humans + Livestock = 50% of the use of all land surface area

Humans + Livestock = 40% consumption of all land plant growth *
* Net Primary Production.

50% of the soy grown in South America is shipped over to China to feed their pigs. Rainforests and deep-rooted scrub are cleared to grow animals & feed so that their required fresh water is in reality a sky river exported in boats to China and Europe leaving little moisture in the air to reach São Paulo. Since rainforest roots are so thick they don’t require very much, or even good, soil;  this leaves rainforest soil so poor and thin that it degrades and erodes faster when exposed to the elements.

The Himalayan mountains are heating 2X faster than the planet and many fear that China will run out of water in 15 years by 2030.

50% of China’s rivers have vanished since 1980.

60% of China’s groundwater is too poisoned to touch.

50% of China’s cropland is too poisoned to safely grow food.

Animal Agriculture will destroy our soil and water long before we can effect 100% intermittent TWED transition with BAU.

BAU means 7 billion people will not stop eating meat and wasting food without major $$$ incentive. Meaning a steadily rising carbon tax on meat. Just saying that can get you killed in some places.

Without using James Hansen’s 100% private tax dividends to carbon tax meat consumption out of the market earth will die. 100% private tax dividends means 100% for you, 0% for government.

100% for you, 
    0% for gov.

The funny thing is that meat and fire saved our ancestors from extinction and now meat and fire will cause mass extinction of all the life we love on earth. Survival is not an optional menu item as is eating meat. We have to act now, not 5 years from now, or forever be not remembered as the least greatest generation because there’ll be no one left to remember us.

Michael Mann says we will lock-in a 2 degree temperature rise in 3 years for 2036 with BAU. Ocean fish will be gone in less than 25 years simply because of the BAU of meat consumption. The BAU of fishing kills everything in its path producing lots of waste kill. We are stealing all the Antarctic Ocean’s krill just to sell as a health supplement. You can learn a lot about fishing by watching “Cowspiracy” on Netflix.

We cannot let governments get control of carbon markets like how Sanders, Klein and McKibben want government to get 40% of your carbon tax dividend money. Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben are funded by the Rockefellers. Klein’s latest video about herself was funded by the oil-invested Ford Foundation. This is 100% in direct opposition to James Hansen’s tax dividend plan and immoral. Hansen said that governments should get 0% of that money, not 40%.  I strongly believe your carbon dividends should be in a new open-source world e-currency directly deposited to your phone to be phased in over 10 years. But, I’m kinda simple that way.

Google: Rockefellers fund Bill McKibben. Believe me, the Rockefellers don’t fund 350.org out of the kindness of their hearts. To learn why they would do such a thing, you can watch the educational video at the bottom of this page.

Reference Link:
Rockefellers behind ‘scruffy little outfit’

Reference Link:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/12/04/can-climate-change-cure-capitalism/

James Hansen repeated at COP21 that his 100% private carbon tax dividends would unite Democrats and Republicans because government would be 100% excluded. Socialists like Sanders, Klein and McKibben want government to control 40% of that money. They are divisive and Republicans will never accept their revolutionary rhetoric. We don’t have time for this endless fighting. Forget the Socialist vs. Capitalistmentality. We barely even have time to unite, and nothing unites like money. Environmentalism in the 21st century is about a revolving door of money and power for elite socialists and capitalists. Let’s give everyone a chance to put some skin in the game.

Reference Link: http://grist.org/climate-energy/sanders-and-boxer-introduce-fee-and-dividend-climate-bill-greens-tickled-pink/

What humans & livestock have done so far:

We are eating up our home.

99% of Rhinos gone since 1914.

97% of Tigers gone since 1914.

90% of Lions gone since 1993.

90% of Sea Turtles gone since 1980.

90% of Monarch Butterflies gone since 1995.

90% of Big Ocean Fish gone since 1950.

80% of Antarctic Krill gone since 1975.

80% of Western Gorillas gone since 1955.

60% of Forest Elephants gone since 1970.

50% of Great Barrier Reef gone since 1985.

40% of Giraffes gone since 2000.

30% of Marine Birds gone since 1995.

70% of Marine Birds gone since 1950.

28% of Land Animals gone since 1970.

28% of All Marine Animals gone since 1970.

97% – Humans & Livestock are 97% of land-air vertebrate biomass.

10,000 years ago we were 0.01% of land-air vertebrate biomass.

Humans and livestock caused 80% of land-air vertebrate species extinctions and occupy half the land on earth. Do you think the new 2-child policy in China favours growth over sustainability? The Zika virus could be a covert 1% population control measure for all I know. Could the 1% be immune? I don’t know, but I know this…

1 million humans, net, added to earth every 4½ days.

http://www.vox.com/2016/1/30/10872878/world-population-map





Collapse is underway……

5 06 2017

(By the Doomstead Diner)

Due to my High & Mighty position as a Global Collapse Pundit, I am often asked the question of when precisely will Collapse arrive?  The people who ask me this question all come from 1st World countries.  They are also all reasonably well off with a computer, an internet connection, running water and enough food to eat.  While a few of us are relatively poor retirees, even none of us wants for the basics as of yet.  The Diner doesn’t get many readers from the underclass even here in Amerika, much less from the Global Underclass in places like Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

The fact is, that for more than half the world population, Collapse is in full swing and well underway.  Two key bellweathers of where collapse is now are the areas of Electricity and Food.

This chart was around 16 years ago when I first became a peaknik….

In his seminal 1996 Paper The Olduvai Theory: Sliding Towards a Post-Industrial Stone Age, Richard Duncan mapped out the trajectory of where we would be as the years passed and fossil fuels became more difficult and expensive to mine up.  Besides powering all our cars and trucks for Happy Motoring and Just-in-Time delivery, the main thing our 1st World lifestyle requires is Electricity, and lots of it on demand, 24/7.  Although electricity can be produced in some “renewable” ways that don’t depend on a lot of fossil fuel energy at least directly, most of the global supply of electric power comes from Coal and Natural Gas.  Of the two, NG (NatGas) is slightly cleaner, but either way when you burn them, CO2 goes up in the atmosphere.  This of course is a problem climatically, but you have an even bigger problem socially and politically if you aren’t burning them.  Everything in the society as it has been constructed since Edison invented the Light Bulb in 1879 has depended on electricity to function.

Now, if all the toys like lights, refrigerators big screen TVs etc had been kept to just a few small countries and the rest of the world lived a simple subsistence farming lifestyle, the lucky few with the toys probably could have kept the juice flowing a lot longer.  Unfortunately however, once exposed to all the great toys, EVERYBODY wanted them.  The industrialists also salivated over all the profit to be made selling the toys to everyone.  So, everybody everywhere needed a grid, which the industrialists and their associated banksters extended Credit for “backward” Nation-States all over the globe to build their own power plants and string their own wires.  Now everybody in the country could have a lightbulb to see by and a fridge to keep the food cold.  More than that, the electricity also went to power water pumping stations and sewage treatment plants, so you could pack the Big Shities with even more people who use still more electricity.

This went on all over the globe, today there isn’t a major city or even a medium size town anywhere on the globe that isn’t wired for electricity, although many places that are now no longer have enough money to keep the juice flowing.

Where is the electricity going off first?  Obviously, in the poorest and most war torn countries across the Middle East and Africa.  These days, from Egypt to Tunisia, if they get 2 hours of electricity a day they are doing good.

The Lights Are Going Out in the Middle East

Public fury over rampant outages has sparked protests. In January, in one of the largest demonstrations since Hamas took control in Gaza a decade ago, ten thousand Palestinians, angered by the lack of power during a frigid winter, hurled stones and set tires ablaze outside the electricity company. Iraq has the world’s fifth-largest oil reserves, but, during the past two years, repeated anti-government demonstrations have erupted over blackouts that are rarely announced in advance and are of indefinite duration. It’s one issue that unites fractious Sunnis in the west, Shiites in the arid south, and Kurds in the mountainous north. In the midst of Yemen’s complex war, hundreds dared to take to the streets of Aden in February to protest prolonged outages. In Syria, supporters of President Bashar al-Assad in Latakia, the dynasty’s main stronghold, who had remained loyal for six years of civil war, drew the line over electricity. They staged a protest in January over a cutback to only one hour of power a day.

Over the past eight months, I’ve been struck by people talking less about the prospects of peace, the dangers of ISIS, or President Trump’s intentions in the Middle East than their own exhaustion from the trials of daily life. Families recounted groggily getting up in the middle of the night when power abruptly comes on in order to do laundry, carry out business transactions on computers, charge phones, or just bathe and flush toilets, until electricity, just as unpredictably, goes off again. Some families have stopped taking elevators; their terrified children have been stuck too often between floors. Students complained of freezing classrooms in winter, trying to study or write papers without computers, and reading at night by candlelight. The challenges will soon increase with the demands for power—and air-conditioning—surge, as summer temperatures reach a hundred and twenty-five degrees.

The reasons for these outages vary. With the exception of the Gulf states, infrastructure is old or inadequate in many of the twenty-three Arab countries. The region’s disparate wars, past and present, have damaged or destroyed electrical grids. Some governments, even in Iraq, can’t afford the cost of fueling plants around the clock. Epic corruption has compounded physical challenges. Politicians have delayed or prevented solutions if their cronies don’t get contracts to fuel, maintain, or build power plants.

Now you’ll note that at the end of the third paragraph there, the journalist implies that a big part of the problem is “political corruption”, but it’s really not.  It’s simply a lack of money.  These countries at one time were all Oil Exporters, although not on the scale of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.  As their own supplies of oil have depleted they have become oil importers, except they neither have a sufficient mercantilist model running to bring in enough FOREX to buy oil, and they can’t get credit from the international banking cartel to keep buying.  Third World countries are being cut off from the Credit Lifeline, unlike the core countries at the center of credit creation like Britain, Germany and the FSoA.  All these 1st World countries are in just as bad fiscal deficit as the MENA countries, the only difference is they still can get credit and run the deficits even higher.  This works until it doesn’t anymore.

Beyond the credit issue is the War problem.  As the countries run out of money, more people become unemployed, businesses go bankrupt, tax collection drops off the map and government employees are laid off too.  It’s the classic deflationary spiral which printing more money doesn’t solve, since the notes become increasingly worthless.  For them to be worth anything in FOREX, somebody has to buy their Government Bonds, and that is precisely what is not happening.  So as society becomes increasingly impoverished, it descends into internecine warfare between factions trying to hold on to or increase their share of the ever shrinking pie.

The warfare ongoing in these nations has knock on effects for the 1st World Nations still trying to extract energy from some of these places.  To keep the oil flowing outward, they have to run very expensive military operations to at least maintain enough order that oil pipelines aren’t sabotaged on a daily basis.  The cost of the operations keeps going up, but the amount of money they can charge the customers for the oil inside their own countries does not keep going up.  Right now they have hit a ceiling around $50/bbl for what they can charge for the oil, and for the most part this is not a profit making price.  So all the corporations involved in Extraction & Production these days are surviving on further extensions of credit from the TBTF banks.  This also is a paradigm that can’t last. The other major problem now surfacing is the Food Distribution problem, and again this is hitting the African countries first and hardest.  It’s a combination problem of climate change, population overshoot and the warfare which results from those issues.

Currently, the UN lists 4 countries in extreme danger of famine in the coming year, Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.  They estimate currently there are 20M people at extreme risk, and I would bet the numbers are a good deal higher than that.

World faces four famines as Trump administration [and Australia] plans to slash foreign aid budget

‘Biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II’ about to engulf 20 million people, UN says, as governments only donate 10 per cent of funds needed for essential aid.

The world is facing a humanitarian crisis bigger than any in living memory, the UN has said, as four countries teeter on the brink of famine.

Twenty million people are at risk of starvation and facing water shortages in Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen, while parts of South Sudan are already officially suffering from famine.

While the UN said in February that at least $4.4 billion (£3.5 bn) was needed by the end of March to avert a hunger catastrophe across the four nations, the end of the month is fast approaching, and only 10 per cent of the necessary funds have been received from donor governments so far.

It doesn’t look too promising that the UN will be able to raise the $4B they say is necessary to feed all those hungry mouths, and none of the 1st World countries is too predisposed to handing out food aid when they all currently have problems with their own social welfare programs for food distribution.  Here in the FSoA, there are currently around 45M people on SNAP Cards at a current cost around $71B.  The Repugnants will no doubt try to cut this number in order to better fund the Pentagon, but they are not likely to send more money to Somalia.

Far as compassion for all the starving people globally goes in the general population, this also appears to be decreasing, although I don’t have statistics to back that up. It is just a general sense I get as I read the collapse blogosphere, in the commentariats generally.  The general attitude is, “It’s their own fault for being so stupid and not using Birth Control.  If they were never born, they wouldn’t have to die of starvation.”  Since they are mostly Black Africans currently starving, this is another reason a large swath of the white population here doesn’t care much about the problem.

There are all sorts of social and economic reasons why this problem spiraled out of control, having mainly to do with the production of cheap food through Industrial Agriculture and Endless Greed centered on the idea of Endless Growth, which is not possible on a Finite Planet.

More places on Earth were wired up with each passing year, and more people were bred up with each passing year.  The dependency on fossil fuels to keep this supposedly endless cycle of growth going became ever greater each year, all while this resource was being depleted more each year.  Eventually, an inflection point had to be hit, and we have hit it.

The thing is, for the relatively comfortable readers of the Doomstead Diner in the 1st World BAU seems to be continuing onward, even if you are a bit poorer than you were last year. 24/7 electricity is still available from the grid with only occasional interruptions.  Gas is still available at the pump, and if you are employed you probably can afford to buy it, although you need to be more careful about how much you drive around unless you are a 1%er.  The Rich are still lining up to buy EVs from Elon Musk, even though having a grid to support all electric transportation is out of the question.  The current grid can’t be maintained, and upgrading to handle that much throughput would take much thicker cables all across the network.  People carry on though as though this will all go on forever and Scientists & Engineers will solve all the problems with some magical new device.  IOW, they believe in Skittle Shitting Unicorns.

That’s not going to happen, however, so you’re back to the question of how long will it take your neighborhood in the UK or Germany or the FSoA to look like say Egypt today?  Well, if you go back in time a decade to Egypt in 2007, things were still looking pretty Peachy over there, especially in Tourist Traps like Cairo.  Terrorism wasn’t too huge a problem and the government of Hosni Mubarak appeared stable.  A decade later today, Egypt is basically a failed state only doing marginally better than places like Somalia and Sudan.  The only reason they’re doing as well as they are is because they are in an important strategic location on the Suez Canal and as such get support from the FSoA military.

So a good WAG here for how long it will take for the Collapse Level in 1st World countries to reach the level Egypt is at today is about a decade.  It could be a little shorter, it could be longer.  By then of course, Egypt will be in even WORSE shape, and who might still be left alive in Somalia is an open question.  Highly unlikely to be very many people though.  Over the next decade, the famines will spread and people will die, in numbers far exceeding the 20M to occur over the next year.  After a while, it’s unlikely we will get much news about this, and people here won’t care much about what they do hear.  They will have their own problems.

The original article can be found at the Doomstead Diner here: Dimming Bulb 3: Collapse Has ARRIVED!


A very interesting article by the folks at Doomstead Diner.  While their forecast of collapse could be off a few years, it seems as if they are looking at the same time-frame the Hills Group and Louis Arnoux are projecting for the Thermodynamic oil collapse.

Lastly, people need to realize COLLAPSE does not take place in a day, week, month or year.  It takes place over a period of time.  The folks at Doomstead Diner are making the case that it has ARRIVED.  It is just taking time to reach the more affluent countries will good printing presses.

So… it is going to be interesting to see how things unfold over the next 5-10 years.





On the Thermodynamic Black Hole…..

23 09 2016

I recently heard Dmitry Orlov speaking to Jim Kunstler regarding the Dunbar Number in which he came up with the term ‘Thermodynamic Trap’. As the ERoEI of every energy source known to humanity starts collapsing over the energy cliff, I thought it was more like a thermodynamic black hole, sucking all the energy into itself at an accelerating pace… and if you ever needed proof of this blackhole, then Alice Friedemann’s latest book, “When the trucks stop running” should do the trick.

alice_friedemann

Alice Friedemann

Chris Martenson interviewed Alice in August 2016 about the future of the trucking industry in the face of Peak Oil, especially now the giant Bakken shale oil field in the US has peaked, joining the conventional oil sources. This podcast is available for download here.trucks_stop_running

Alice sees no solutions through running trucks with alternative energy sources or fuels. I see an increasing number of stories about electric trucks, but none of them make any sense because the weight of the batteries needed to move such large vehicles, especially the long haul variety, is so great it hardly leaves space for freight.

A semi trailer hauling 40 tonnes 1000km needs 1000L of liquid fuel to achieve the task. That’s 10,000kWh of electric energy equivalent. Just going by the Tesla Wall data sheet, a 6.4kWh battery pack weighs in at 97kg. So at this rate, 10,000kWh would weigh 150 tonnes….. so even to reduce the weight of the battery bank down to the 40 tonne carrying capacity of the truck, efficiency would have to be improved four fold, and you still wouldn’t have space for freight..

There are not enough materials on the entire planet to make enough battery storage to replace oil, except for Sodium Sulfur batteries, a technology I had never heard of before. A quick Google found this…..:

The active materials in a Na/S battery are molten sulfur as the positive electrode and molten sodium as the negative. The electrodes are separated by a solid ceramic, sodium alumina, which also serves as the electrolyte. This ceramic allows only positively charged sodium-ions to pass through. During discharge electrons are stripped off the sodium metal (one negatively charged electron for every sodium atom) leading to formation of the sodium-ions that then move through the electrolyte to the positive electrode compartment. The electrons that are stripped off the sodium metal move through the circuit and then back into the battery at the positive electrode, where they are taken up by the molten sulfur to form polysulfide. The positively charged sodium-ions moving into the positive electrode compartment balance the electron charge flow. During charge this process is reversed. The battery must be kept hot (typically > 300 ºC) to facilitate the process (i.e., independent heaters are part of the battery system). In general Na/S cells are highly efficient (typically 89%).

Conclusion

Na/S battery technology has been demonstrated at over 190 sites in Japan. More than 270 MW of stored energy suitable for 6 hours of daily peak shaving have been installed. The largest Na/S installation is a 34-MW, 245-MWh unit for wind stabilization in Northern Japan. The demand for Na/S batteries as an effective means of stabilizing renewable energy output and providing ancillary services is expanding. U.S. utilities have deployed 9 MW for peak shaving, backup power, firming windcapacity, and other applications. Projections indicate that development of an additional 9 MW is in-progress.

I immediately see a problem with keeping batteries at over 300° in a post fossil fuel era… but there’s more….

Alice has worked out that Na/S battery storage for just one day of US electricity generation would weigh 450 million tons, cover 923 square miles (2390km², or roughly the area of the whole of the Australian Capital Territory!), and cost 41 trillion dollars….. and according to European authorities, 6 to 30 days of storage is what would be required in the real world.

The disruption to the supply lines of our ‘just in time’ world caused by trucks no longer running is too much to even think about.

Empty supermarket shelves, petrol stations with no petrol, even ATMs with no money and pubs with no beer come to mind. I remember seeing signs on the Bruce highway back in Queensland stating “Trucks keep Australia going”.  Well, oil keeps trucks running; for how much longer is the real question.

 





Another sublime article on ERoEI

26 05 2016

ERoEI for Beginners

Not sure if I can come to terms with the concept of kite flying with wind turbines, but there you go……  doesn’t make renewables look good, that’s for sure.  Reblogged from Euan’s excellent website…..

The Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI or EROI) of any energy gathering system is a measure of that system’s efficiency. The concept was originally derived in ecology and has been transferred to analyse human industrial society. In today’s energy mix, hydroelectric power ± nuclear power have values > 50. At the other end of the scale, solar PV and biofuels have values <5.

It is assumed that ERoEI >5 to 7 is required for modern society to function. This marks the edge of The Net Energy Cliff and it is clear that new Green technologies designed to save humanity from CO2 may kill humanity through energy starvation instead. Fossil fuels remain comfortably away from the cliff edge but march closer to it for every year that passes. The Cheetah symbolises an energy system living on the edge.

I first came across the concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) several years ago in Richard Heinberg’s book The Party’s Over [1]. I had never contemplated the concept before and I was immediately struck by its importance. If we used more energy to get the energy we need to survive then we will surely perish.

Shortly thereafter I joined The Oil Drum crew and had the great pleasure of meeting Professor Charles Hall,  the Godfather of ERoEI analysis who developed the concept during his PhD studies and first published the term in 1977. ERoEI would become a point of focus for Oil Drum posts. Nate Hagens and David Murphy, both Oil Drum crew, have now completed PhDs on ERoEI analysis aided and abetted by the conversation that the Oil Drum enabled.

But recently I have received this via email from Nate:

10 years on the same questions and issues are being addressed – (and maybe 40 years on for Charlie). A new tier of people are aware of EROI but it is still very fringe idea?

Are we wrong to believe that ERoEI is a fundamentally important metric of energy acquisition or is it simply that the work done to date is not sufficiently rigorous or presented in a way that economists and policy makers can understand. At this point I will cast out a bold idea that money was invented as a proxy for energy because ERoEI was too complex to fathom.

And I have this via email from my friend Luis de Sousa who did not like the Ferroni and Hopkirk paper [3] nor my post reviewing it:

On the grand scheme of things: PV ERoEI estimates range from 30 down to 0.8. Before asking the IEA (or whomever) to start using ERoEI, the community producing these estimates must come down to a common, accepted methodology for its assessment. As it stands now, EROEI is not far from useless to energy policy.

And while I disagree with Luis on a number of issues, on this statement I totally concur. So what has gone wrong? Professor Hall points out that it is not the concept that is at fault but non-rigorous application of certain rules that must be followed in the analysis. In this post I will endeavour to review the main issues and uncertainties, and while it is labelled “for Beginners”, I will flirt with an intermediate level of complexity.

What is ERoEI?

ERoEI is simply the ratio of energy gathered to the amount of energy used to gather the energy (the energy invested):

ERoEI = energy gathered / energy invested

Note that in common vernacular the term energy production is used. But in fact humans produce very little energy, but what distinguishes us from other species is that we have become very efficient at gathering energy that already exists and building machines that can convert the energy to goods (motor cars, televisions and computers) and services (heat and light and mobility) that collectively define our wealth.

This began by gathering fire wood and food and progressed to gathering coal, oil and natural gas. This led to gathering U and Th and learning how to convert this to enormous amounts of thermal and electrical energy. And now we attempt to gather solar energy through photovoltaics, wind turbines and liquid biofuels.

The prosperity of humanity depends upon the efficiency with which we gather energy. 100 years ago and 50 years ago we hit several jackpots in the form of vast coal, oil and gas deposits. These were so rich and large that energy virtually spewed out of them for next to no energy or financial investment. Examples include the Black Thunder coal field (USA), the Ghawar oil field (Saudi Arabia) and the Urengoy gas field (Russia) to name but a few. But these supergiant deposits are now to varying degrees used up. And as global population has grown together with expectations of prosperity that are founded on energy gathering activities, humanity has had to expand its energy gathering horizons to nuclear power, solar power and energy from waste. And it is known that some of the strategies deployed have very low ERoEI, for example corn ethanol is around 1 to 2 [2] and solar PV between 1 and 5 [2,3] depending upon where it is sited and the boundaries used to estimate energy costs. Consider that an ERoEI greater than 5 to 7 is deemed necessary to sustain the society we know (see below) then it is apparent that we may be committing energy and economic suicide by deliberately moving away from fossil fuels.

Low ERoEI is expected to correlate with high cost and in the normal run of events investors should steer clear of such poor investment returns. But the global energy system is now dictated by climate concern, and any scheme that portends to produce energy with no CO2 is embraced by policymakers everywhere and financial arrangements are put in place to enable deployment, regardless of the ERoEI.

Net Energy

Net energy is the close cousin of ERoEI being the surplus energy made available to society from our energy gathering activities. It is defined simply as:

net energy = ERoEI-1

If we have ERoEI = 1, then the net energy is zero. We use as much energy to gather energy as energy gathered. The “1” always represents the energy invested. If ERoEI falls below 1 we end up with an energy sink. Low ERoEI systems are effectively energy conversions where it may be convenient or politically expedient for us to convert one energy carrier into another with little or no energy gain. Corn ethanol is a good example where fertiliser, natural gas, diesel, electricity, land, water and labour gets converted into ethanol, a liquid fuel that can go in our cars. But it does leave the question why we don’t just use liquefied natural gas as a transport fuel in the first place and save on all the bother that creating corn ethanol involves?

The Net Energy Cliff

Many years ago during a late night blogging session on The Oil Drum, and following a post by Nate Hagens, I came up with a way of plotting ERoEI that for many provided an instantaneous understanding of its importance. The graph has become known as the net energy cliff, following nomenclature of Nate and others.

Figure 1 The Net Energy Cliff shows how with declining ERoEI society must commit ever larger amounts of available energy to energy gathering activities. Below ERoEI = 5 to 7 such large numbers of people would be working for the energy industries that there would not be enough people left to fill all the other positions our current altruistic society offers.

The graph plots net energy as a % of ERoEI and shows how energy for society (in blue) varies with ERoEI. In red is the balance being the energy used to gather energy.

It is the shape of the boundary between blue and red that is of interest. If we start at 50 and work our way down the ERoEI scale moving to the right, we see that energy invested (red) increases very slowly from 2% at ERoEI=50 to 10% at ERoEI=10. But beyond 10, the energy invested increases exponentially to 20% at ERoEI=5 and to 50% at ERoEI=2. At ERoEI = 1, 100% of the energy used is spent gathering energy and we are left with zero gain.

This is important because it is the blue segment that is available for society to use. This pays for infrastructure, capital projects, mining and manufacturing, agriculture, food processing and retailing, education, healthcare and welfare, defence and government. In fact it is the amount of net energy that powers everything in society as we know it today. The net energy from past energy gathering has accumulated to create what we identify as capital and wealth. Nothing could be more important, and yet the concept remains on the fringe of energy policy and public awareness. One of the problems is that measuring ERoEI consistently is difficult to do. One problem is retaining objectivity. If you manufacture PV modules you are unlikely to claim that the ERoEI is less than 5, and there are a multitude of variables that can be adjusted to provide whatever answer is deemed to be good.

This depiction of Net Energy is also useful in defining that all energy and labour can be divided into energy and labour used in the energy industries and the industries that support them and energy and labour used by society that consumes the surpluses produced by the energy industries. More on this later.

It has been assumed by many that ERoEI > 7 was required for the industrial society we live in to function although the source of this assertion remains elusive. But the blue-red boundary provides a clear visual picture of why this may be so. Below 7 and humanity falls off the net energy cliff where a too large portion of our human resources and capital need to be invested in simply staying alive to the detriment of the services provided by net energy such as health care, education and pensions.

System boundaries

Energy Inputs

One of the main uncertainties in ERoEI analysis is where to set the system boundaries. I have not found a simple text or graphic that adequately explains this vital concept.

Figure 2 A simplified scheme for an energy system divided into construction, operation and decommissioning with accumulated inputs and outputs. Graphic from this excellent presentation by Prieto and Hall

Figure 2 provides an illustration of the life cycle of an energy system divided into three stages 1) construction, 2) operation and 3) decommissioning. Energy inputs occur at each stage but energy outputs will normally only occur during the operational phase. It should be straight forward to account for all the energy inputs and outputs to calculate ERoEI but it isn’t. For example many / most of our energy systems today are still operational. We do not yet have final numbers for oil produced from single fields. And the decommissioning energy costs are not yet known. Most wind turbines ever built are still operational, producing energy and the ultimate energy produced will depend upon how long they last. And then perhaps some turbines are offered a new lease of life via refurbishment etc.

Energy inputs can normally be divided as follows [2]:

  1. On site energy consumption
  2. Energy embedded in materials used
  3. Energy consumed by labour
  4. Auxiliary services

Moving from 1 to 4 may be considered expansion of the ERoEI boundary where energy embedded in materials and energy consumed by labour are added to on-site energy consumption. There follows some examples of ambiguity that remains in deciding what to include and what to leave out. These examples are given for purely illustrative purposes.

No one should question that the electricity used by a PV factory should be included. But do you include electricity / energy used to heat or cool the factory? Or just the electricity used to run the machines? Including heating or cooling  introduces a site specific variable which will mean that the energy inputs to a PV panel may vary according to where it was manufactured. There are many such site specific variables like transport, energy costs, labour energy costs, health and safety energy costs etc, which when combined in our globalised market has made China the lowest energy cost centre for PV manufacturing today.

It is clear to me that the energy cost of all materials used in the energy production process must be included. And this should include materials consumed at the construction, operational and decommissioning stages. In the oil industry this will include the materials in the oil platform, the helicopter and the onshore office. In the solar PV industry this will include all the materials in the panels, in the factory, and in the support gantries and inverter. As a general rule of thumb, massive energy gathering systems that contain a huge amount of materials will have reduced ERoEI because of the energy embedded in those materials.

It is also clear to me that the energy cost of all labour should be included in the ERoEI analysis for construction, operation and decommissioning. But it is far less clear how it should be calculated. The energy consumed by labourers varies greatly from country to country and with time. Should we just include the energy consumed by a labourer on his/her 8 hour shift? Or should we include the full 24/7? Should the energy consumed by labourers getting to and from work be included? – of course it should. Should the energy consumed on vacations be included? – not so clear. And how can any of this be calculated in the first place?

The standard way to calculate the energy cost of labour is to examine the energy intensity of GDP. For most countries, the total amount of primary energy consumed  is roughly known and the total GDP is known. This provides a means of converting MJ to $ and we can then look at the $ earnings of a labourer to get a rough handle on the notional energy use that may be attributed to his salary scale. This is far from perfect but is currently the only practical method available.

Auxiliary services become even more difficult to differentiate. Some argue that the energy cost of the highway network, power distribution network and services like schools and hospitals should be pro-rated into new energy production systems. My own preference is to generally exclude these items from an ERoEI analysis unless there are good reasons for not doing so. I think it is useful to go back to the question are we expending energy on energy gathering or are we expending energy on society and most of the infrastructure upon which new energy systems depend was built using prior surpluses allocated to society. In my view it becomes too complex to pro-rate these into an ERoEI calculation. The power grid delivering power to the PV factory already existed. But if a new power line needs to be built to export renewable electricity then that should be accounted for.

Energy Outputs

One might imagine that measuring the energy output would be more straightforward, but it is not so. Many earlier studies on the ERoEI of oil set a boundary at the well head or on site tank farm. And it is relatively straightforward to measure the oil production from a field like Forties in the North Sea. But crude oil itself is rarely used directly as a fuel. It is the refined products that are used. To actually use the oil we need to ship or pipe it to shore and then on to a refinery. The energy cost of transport may add 10% to energy inputs and refining may add yet another 10%. It has been suggested that one approach is to calculate ERoEI at Point of Use. Crude oil on an offshore platform is of no use to anyone. Gasoline in a filling station is what we want and all the energy inputs involved in getting the gasoline to the forecourt need to be counted.

But here we meet another dilemma. The refinery may produce paraffin and gasoline. The ERoEI of both are likely to be similar at the refinery gate. But the gasoline is burned in an engine to produce kinetic energy used for transport and in so doing about 70% of the energy is lost as waste heat. The paraffin may be burned in a stove with near 100% conversion efficiency to space heating. Do we reduce the ERoEI of gasoline by 70% to reflect energy losses during use?

This introduces the concept of energy quality where we know that final energy conversions are in three main forms 1) heat 2) motion and 3) electricity that has a myriad of different uses. Is it really possible to compare these very different energy outputs using the single umbrella of ERoEI? The routine followed by ERoEI analysts to date is to adjust ERoEI for energy quality though I’m unsure how that is done [2]. Another option that I like is to hypothetically normalise all outputs to a single datum, for example MWh of electricity (see below). But this again gets to a level of complexity that is beyond this blog post.

There are some other important energy quality factors. Dispatch for electricity is one. Producing a vast amount of electricity from wind on a stormy Sunday night has little to no value. While the ability to produce electricity on demand at 6 pm on a freezing Wednesday evening in January (NH) is of great value. Curtailed wind should clearly be deducted from wind energy produced in the ERoEI calculation. Just like the oil spilled from the Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico should not be counted as oil produced from the Macondo field.

External environmental factors may also have to be considered as part of the energy quality assessment. It is clear that the oil spilled from the Deep Water Horizon had to be cleared up immediately and the energy cost of doing so almost bankrupted BP. But it is less clear that the energy cost of eliminating CO2 emissions needs to be borne by the energy production industries. For example, the cost of carbon capture and storage would fall on the consumer and not the energy producer.

Using energy proxies

In ERoEI analysis direct energy use can normally be measured, for example gas and diesel used on an oil platform or the electricity used in a factory. But the indirect energy consumed by, for example materials and labour, are less easy to measure and are often based on proxies.  It is nearly impossible to measure the energy embedded in an offshore oil platform. Instead the mass of steel and the number of man days of labour used in construction can be estimated and from these the energy expended and now embedded in the platform can be estimated.

As already discussed, the standard way of estimating the energy cost of labour is to use the energy intensity of GDP data from the countries in question combined with workers salaries.

For materials Murphy et al [2] provide this useful summary (Figure 3)

Figure 3 The estimated energy content of common materials [2]

From this the most striking feature is the vast range within certain materials and between materials. For example aluminium ranges from 100 to 272 GJ/tonne. Steel 9 to 32 GJ/tonne. Part of this will be down to methodological differences in the way the numbers are derived. But part of it may be down to real differences reflecting different energy efficiencies of smelting plants.

ERoEI of Global Fuels and Energy Flows

So what is the current status of ERoEI in the global energy mix? Hall et al 2014 [4] provide the following summary table which is the foundation of the summary graph below.

Figure 4 Summary of the ERoEI for a range of fuels and renewable energies.

Figure 5 Placing main energy sources on The Net Energy Cliff framework shows that hydro-electric power, high altitude kites and perhaps nuclear power have very high ERoEI and embracing these technologies may prevent humanity from falling off the Net Energy Cliff. The new bright Green energies of bio-fuels, solar PV and buffered wind (see below) are already over the cliff edge and if we continue to embrace these technologies human society may perish as we expend too large a portion of our energy endowment simply getting energy. Fossil fuels remain comfortably to the left of the cliff edge but are marching ever closer towards it with every year that passes. Eeq = electricity equivalent (see below).

In order to compare fossil fuels with electricity flows on a single diagram it is essential to reduce all of the energy types to a common datum. Its quite simply not valid to compare the ERoEI of coal at the mine mouth with nuclear power since in converting the coal to electricity, much of the energy is lost. The easiest route is to rebase everything to electricity equivalent (Eeq) where I follow the BP convention and adjust the ERoEI of  fossil fuels by a factor of 0.38 to account for energy conversion losses in a modern power station.

In an earlier thread, Owen posted a link to a pre-print by Weisbach et al [5] who follow similar methodology reporting all data as electricity. To a large extent their numbers are similar to those reported here with the exception of nuclear that is quoted to be  75. Weisbach report values for solar PV and wind that are “buffered” to include the energy cost of intermittency. This reduces the ERoEI for solar PV by about half and wind by a factor of 4. “Buffered” ERoEIs are therefore also included in Figure 6.

The inclusion of high altitude kite is based on a calculation provided by site sponsor KiteGen. I have checked the calculation and am satisfied that the ERoEI is potentially >>50. This will be the subject of another post. But suffice to say here that wind speed at altitude may be double that on the ground and power increases by the cube of wind speed. And the mass of the KiteGen structure is a small fraction of a large wind turbine. Hence it is theoretically straightforward to reach an ERoEI at altitude that is many multiples of the ERoEI of a wind turbine.

Figure 6 At altitude the wind speed may be double that on the ground. Accessing that kinetic energy resource provides potential for a 2 to 4 fold uplift in the power available for wind generation. This calculation does not include further uplift from higher capacity factor and reduced intermittency at altitude.

The key and fundamental observation from Figure 6 is that three energy sources potentially have ERoEI >> 50 making them vastly superior to all others using this metric. These are hydroelectric power, possibly nuclear power (depending upon whose numbers are believed) and possibly high altitude wind power once the technology matures.

These primary high ERoEI sources are followed by coal and natural gas which are the most viable and easily accessible energy sources for electricity today. And yet energy policies are dictating that coal be phased out. This will not matter for so long as natural gas remains plentiful at high ERoEI. The high ERoEI group may also include nuclear power depending upon whose ERoEI numbers one believes.

Biofuels are already over the net energy cliff and should never have been pursued in the first place. Solar PV is at best marginal, at worst an energy sink.

There is a vast range in estimates for nuclear power from 5 to 75 [4, 5]and it is difficult to make sense of these numbers. Nuclear power either sits close to the cliff edge or is a high ERoEI low carbon saviour of humanity. Oil will not be used for electricity production and the fact it sits close to the cliff edge today in Eeq form does not matter too much since the energy quality of oil has a special status as an essential transport fuel and this will unlikely change much in the decades ahead.

Concluding thoughts

The concept of ERoEI is vital to understanding the human energy system. 50 years ago, our principal sources of energy – oil, gas and coal – had such high net energy return that no one need bother or worry about ERoEI. Vast amounts of net energy were simply available for all who had the level of technological development to build a power station and a transmission grid. It is part of human nature to “high grade” mineral deposits targeting the richest seams first. In economic terms these return the biggest profit and in energy terms when it comes to oil, gas and coal, they return the highest levels of net energy. An inevitable consequence of this aspect of human nature commonly known as greed is that we have already used up the highest ERoEI fossil fuel resources and as time passes the ERoEI of new resources is steadily falling. This translates to a higher price required to bring on that marginal barrel of oil.

At the present time, our energy web comprises a myriad of different resources. The legacy supergiants – Ghawar, Black Thunder and Urengoy et al – are still there in the mix supplemented by a vast range of lower ERoEI (more expensive) resources. The greatest risk to human society today is the notion that we can somehow replace high ERoEI fossil fuels with new renewable energies like solar PV and biofuels. These exist within the energy web because they are subsidised by the co-existing high ERoEI fossil fuels. The subsidy occurs at multiple levels from fossil fuels used to create the renewable devices and biofuels to fossil fuels providing the load balancing services. Fossil fuels provide the monetary wealth to pay the subsidies. Society is at great risk from Greens promoting the new renewable agenda to politicians and school children whilst ignoring the thermodynamic impossibility of current solar PV technology and biofuels ever being able to power human society unaided. The mass closure of coal fired power stations may prove to be fatal for many should blackouts occur.

Wind power, and in particular high altitude wind power, may be different although in the case of ground-based wind turbines care must be taken in moving offshore to ever larger devices that consume ever larger quantities of energy in their creation. And to be viable, ground based turbines must be able to prove they can deliver dispatchable power without subsidies.

It is proposed that money was invented as a means of exchange for the work energy does on our behalf. If we lived in a society with a single global currency (the EJ) and without taxes or subsidies, then money may represent a fair proxy for ERoEI although distortions would remain from the different efficiencies with which that money (EJ) was spent. However, in the real world, different currencies, interest rates, debts, taxes and subsidies exist that allow the thermodynamic rules of the energy world to be bent, albeit temporarily. We are at risk of exchanging gold for dirt.

Acknowledgement

The post was much improved by comments provided by Prof Charles Hall.

References

[1] Richard Heinberg: The Party’s Over – oil, war and the fate of industrial societies. Pub by Clairview 2003

[2] David J. Murphy 1,*, Charles A.S. Hall 2, Michael Dale 3 and Cutler Cleveland 4: Order from Chaos: A Preliminary Protocol for Determining the EROI of Fuels (2011): Sustainability 2011, 3, 1888-1907; doi:10.3390/su3101888

[3] Ferruccio Ferroni and Robert J. Hopkirk 2016: Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) for photovoltaic solar systems in regions of moderate insolation: Energy Policy 94 (2016) 336–344

[4] Charles A.S. Hall n, Jessica G. Lambert, Stephen B. Balogh: EROI of different fuels and the implications for society: Energy Policy 64 (2014) 141–152

[5] D. Weißbacha,b, G. Ruprechta, A. Hukea,c, K. Czerskia,b, S. Gottlieba, A. Husseina,d (Preprint): Energy intensities, EROIs, and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants





Tasmania’s electricity woes

8 01 2016

Before putting my dear other half on a plane back to Queensland, I took her for a tour of the North West. We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to visit the Tarkine, so we’ll have to do it again some time when Glenda returns to Tassie.

We drove through the high country hydro electric network as part of the sight seeing trip, and made some interesting discoveries. Not least that Tasmania could be in a whole lot of strife thanks to a prolonged drought following what I think was the driest winter on record. No climate change here though, move right along…. the drought is so bad, there’s a huge hay shortage for this season’s animal feed, and hay bales are going for three times the normal price, causing, apparently, some thieving to occur. There’s even talk of importing feed from Indonesia, causing some concern for Tasmania’s bio-security…. and if all the farmers start destocking at the same time, the price of lamb and beef will probably collapse.

The alarming thing we saw though was just how low the dams are. We stopped at Lake Burbury for a break, and saw a brand new concrete boat ramp probably one hundred metres long recently built to the water line which is now at least twelve metres below the maximum (and I expect normal) water line…..

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Lake Burbury, way down at the water line

When I worked for the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission at the start of my working career, I used to manually calculate the capacity of various water reservoirs and plot this volume against the depth of the water. Half the capacity resides roughly in the top 20% of the dams, so it comes as no surprise to me to be told Tasmania’s dams are at 24% capacity today.

As a result of such low dam volumes, Tasmania has been importing dirty brown coal power from Victoria. This wasn’t supposed to happen, in fact the opposite of this was the whole idea behind Basslink, Tasmania was supposed to export clean hydro power to Victoria….. but there you go, the future is now, and it’s full of surprises.

You see, Bass Link is broken. “TASMANIA’S electricity highway has come to a costly standstill because of a fault in the $800 million Basslink ­undersea cable” says the Mercury. All this technology everyone so foolishly believes in has its problems, and they can be costly to fix. This could go on long enough that the powers that be have decided to stall the sale of a gas powered back up power station up North in the Tamar so that it can be restarted to bolster generation capacity. Where’s the gas coming from? Well, not Tasmania, let me tell you….

I have to admit though that the hydro infrastructure is mightily impressive; and much older than I realised. I guess Tasmania must’ve had electricity for most of the 20th Century, but I had not really thought about when all this stuff was built.

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Waddamana Hydro Museum

I knew from visiting the Waddamana museum two years ago that the 7MW hydro power station was built in 1910, for a Zinc smelter no less. But much of what has since been built happened during the depression…. which is when the 90MW Tarraleah station was built. About as close as you can get to smack bang in the middle of Tasmania, this 80 year old bit of technology still impresses. The penstocks feeding the turbines down below on the Nive River fall over 200 metres, accelerating the water to a staggering 270 km/h…. it’s a wonder any of it holds together still!

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Tarraleah Station on the Nive R

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Tarraleah penstocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, listening to the radio down here in the far South, you can hear the electricity industry’s captains of industry moaning about the high cost of the feed in tariff, all 8c/kWh of it!

These people are clearly not interested in generating the clean power we all think we have to have, they’re only obsessed about the profits they can derive from it. Obviously, this is what happens when you privatise essential services. And still the majority votes for the capitalist parties. It’s mind blowing, really.

Back on my own in Geeveston now, it’s back to the grind as soon as I save this post. More tree clearing to be done, black currants to harvest, cherry trees to de-slug, getting chooks today; and tomorrow I’m finally meeting the structural engineer for our house building, and Monday hopefully will see an order put in for our double glazing before the economy tanks. The signs aren’t good, this early in the year too. Wish me luck!