Peak oil is NOT peak energy

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mihaibarsan's picture
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Joined: Jan 7 2009
Posts: 15
Re: Peak oil is NOT peak energy

Ray, don't you find it funny that:

- 1000 years ago, when one would prophesize apocalypse, people would worry, although it was very unrealistic that any man-made apocalypse could occur

- in the last 70 years, the end of the world became perfectly possible at the touch of a button, but now people scoff at the idea

 Unrational beings we are, Ray...

Damnthematrix's picture
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Joined: Aug 10 2008
Posts: 3998
Re: Peak oil is NOT peak energy
 from ASPO-USA PO Review, 26 Jan 2009
One-third of the US corn harvest was dedicated to creating ethanol, which makes up just
4.5 percent of our gasoline supply but only offsets roughly 2 percent of our oil consumption.
The University of Texas at Austin found that producing corn ethanol consumes 28 gallons
of water per mile travelled. (1/22, #19)
comment: This implies 2.5 of the 4.5 is subsidised by petroleum use
and the ERoEI would be 1.8 .
In reality the ERoEI of corn is more like 1.1
so 4.1 of the 4.5 is subsidised by petroleum use
and the offset from using ethanol is only 0.4% of petroleum consumption.
It is amazing to see the consumption of water per mile travelled.

sunson's picture
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Joined: Jan 29 2009
Posts: 42
Re: Peak oil is NOT peak energy

joe2baba: I agree.

"Arrogant 30 somethings driving maseratis around wall street" is well put. However, I think its an inherent flaw due to the way evolution has shaped us. What an exorbitant waste of 'energy' are the colours and appendages of birds of paradise. When energy is available in plenty, species use it for their reproductive advantage. I guess the arrogant 30 something isn't any different.

Mitigation Shmitigation. We're a speck of dust. Life will move on. The selfish gene will do amazing things.

gregroberts's picture
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Joined: Oct 6 2008
Posts: 1024
Re: Peak oil is NOT peak energy

Our current situation in regards to PO reminds me of this part of the movie "Apollo 13"

- Gene, Gene. We gotta talk about power here...

- Whoa, whoa, guys! The power's everything. Power is everything.

- What you mean?

- Without it they don't talk to us, they don't correct their
trajectory, they don't turn the heatshield around... we gotta turn
everything off. Now. They're not gonna make it to re-entry.

- What do you mean everything?

- With everything on the LM draws 60 amps. At that rate in sixteen
hours the batteries are dead, not 45. And so is the crew. We gotta get
them down to 12 amps.

- Whoa. 12 amps!
- How many?
- You can't run a vacuum cleaner on 12 amps, John.

we gotta turn
everything off. Now.! or at least cut way down.

TheEnd of the World as we Know it


Damnthematrix's picture
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Joined: Aug 10 2008
Posts: 3998
The energy trap

I'm revisiting this thread since finding this amazing blog post at

Having read this, it is obvious that Peak Oil IS Peak Energy......

Arresting the Decline: Take 1

Let’s say that our nation (or world) uses 100 units of fossil fuel energy one year, and expects to get only 98 units the following year. We need to come up with 2 units of replacement energy within a year’s time to fill the gap. If, for example, the replacement:

  • has an EROEI of 10:1;
  • requires most of the energy investment up front (solar panel or wind turbine manufacture, nuclear plant construction, etc.);
  • and will last 40 years,

then we need an up-front energy investment amounting to 4 year’s worth of the new source’s output energy. Since we require an output of 2 units of energy to fill the gap, we will need 8 units of energy to bring the resource into use.

Of the 100 units of total energy resource in place in year one, only 92 are available for use—looking suddenly like an 8% decline. If we sit on our hands and do not launch a replacement infrastructure, we would have 98 units available for use next year. It’s still a decline, but a 2% decline is more palatable than an effective 8% decline. Since each subsequent year expects a similar fossil fuel decline, the game repeats. Where is the incentive to launch a new infrastructure? This is why I call it a trap. We need to exacerbate the sacrifice for a prolonged period in order to come out on top in the end.

The figure above shows what this looks like graphically, given a linear fossil fuel decline of 2 units per year. The deployment steps up immediately to plug the gap by providing an additional 2 units of replacement each year, at an annual cost of 8 units. While the combination of fossil fuels and replacement resource always adds to 100 units in this scheme, the ongoing up-front cost of new infrastructure produces a constant drain on the system. In terms of accumulated energy lost, it takes 7 years before the energy sacrifice associated with replacement starts to be less than that of just following the fossil fuel slide with no attempt at replacement. This timescale is beyond the typical horizon of elected politicians.

Another aspect of the trap is that we cannot build our way out of the problem. If we tried to outsmart the trap by building an 8-unit replacement in year one, it would require 32 units to produce and only dig a deeper hole. The essential point is that up-front infrastructure energy costs mean that one step forward results in four steps back, given EROEI around 10:1 and up-front investment for a 40 year lifetime. Nature does not provide an energy financing scheme. You can’t build a windmill on promised energy.

We can mess with the numbers to get different results. If only half the total energy invested is up-front, and the rest is distributed across the life of the resource (mining and enriching uranium, for instance), then we take a 4% hit instead of 8%. Likewise, a 40-year windmill at 20:1 EROEI and full up-front investment will require 2 years of its 2-unit gap-filling contribution to install, amounting to an energy cost of 4 units and therefore a 4% hit. It’s still bigger than the do-nothing 2%, which, remember, is already a source of pain.  Anyone want to double the pain? Anyone? Elect me, and that’s what we’ll do. Any takers? No? Wimps.


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