Net gain for alternative energies??

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davidm's picture
davidm
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Net gain for alternative energies??

 I just read this at Life afterthecrash.net :

In short, the so called "alternatives" to oil are actually "derivatives" of oil.
 
I take this mean that it ultimately takes more energy (from fossil fuels) to manufacture and maintain PV, wind, and hydroelectric systems than they produce in their lifetimes, creating a net energy loss.
 
Is this true? Does anyone know? Has this been studied? Does anyone have any sources to look into this?
 
If it is true, I am totally demoralized. I can see a happy LOW energy future, but I can't see a happy NO energy one.
 
Thanks.
David 
MA, USA
p.s. Is this the best forum for this question? Does anyone ever cross-post?
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SagerXX
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Re: Net gain for alternative energies??

I don't think it's a net loss for PV, wind, hydro et al., but I'm not an expert.  But it does take FF to make this stuff (esp. the PV -- I imagine one could make the hydro & wind generators with a minimal FF input).

Viva -- Sager

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csstudent
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Re: Net gain for alternative energies??

 I don't know for sure if that is correct or not.  I do know that Chris talks about energy returned on energy invested in the Crash Course and it's definitely lower for renewables.  I'd have to go back and watch the video to get you a better number.

Your question also brings up something I was wondering about.  I read the following article a few months back about a solar farm being planned for Arizona: http://www.ecofuss.com/biggest-solar-farm-coming-in-arizona-by-2011/

The thing that I find interesting about this article are the following facts mentioned - "The solar farm will cover 1,900 acres, will create 1,500 jobs" and "its purpose will be to produce 280 megawatts".  When you factor in the 1900 acres being used, 1500 people working there and presumably mostly driving gasoline powered cars to work, and the energy required to build/maintain/run this, is there really a net energy gain from this?  I sure  hope they don't get too many cloudy days there.

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Damnthematrix
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Re: Net gain for alternative energies??

The critical point in all of this is whether, given the Peak Oil and Global Warming scenarios that require we reduce fossil fuel consumption immediately, we can build enough of ANY technology to replace fossil fuels, without putting the population on such a strict fossil energy diet that it is politically impossible. You have to look at how much energy it takes up front to get a particular technology up and running.

This is covered in excruciating detail for solar photovoltaics at http://www.peakoil.org.au/news/index.php?energy_profit.htm

You can also download the spreadsheets that support the various scenarios of nuclear and its competitors, both fossil and renewable, courtesy of ISA and Prime Minister and Cabinet at http://www.peakoil.org.au/isa.nuclear-calculator.xls and http://www.peakoil.org.au/isa.fossil_and_renewables_calculator.xls

Mike

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Lakhota
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Re: Net gain for alternative energies??

Damnthematrix,

A curious name, but fitting given the topic and forum we are in.  Hau kola.

Pilamaya ye, thank you, for the links you provided.

One way or another, Ina Maka will tell us that our rates of consumption of oil and other resources are over, independent of the desires of politicians.  Then we will be forced to find another way or that way will find us.  At that point in time, it is likely that we will be using far less energy than previously, so whatever our solution is, it should exceed our pace.  We can only hope that we will have learned our lesson and will be happy living simpler lives.

 

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davidm
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Re: Net gain for alternative energies??

 I read through those charts by chance yesterday, Damnthe, thanks. That math looks grim. One of the troubling things to me about PV is that the EROEI might only be in the 3s, which makes the it tougher to pull off and less viable as an alternative. But perhaps there will be improvements in technology that will raise the EROEI. We'll see.

I agree with Lakhota, though I am guessing at what Ina Maka is. The oil diet will be imposed by price. 

We still have a lot of oil. Maybe as much as we have already taken. It will be lower EROEI oil, but it's there and there is also nat gas and coal. Projections of use at current rates are preposterous. Growth will soon be a thing of the past. The global economy will shrink. There will be increasingly less consumption. People will do with less travel, fewer cars, less tvs, less communications, smaller houses, less entertainment, less imported food, etc. We will all be cutting back where ever we can. Power, natural gas, and heating oil will get very expensive. People building new houses will demand higher efficiency. Manufacturing will demand the same. Profit potential in alternative energy will increase, and so will those infrastructures and the technology. Somewhere a government will invest as well. It could well become a mad dash.

I see the raising price of FF as the savior of the planet. Most people won't suffer any inconvenience if they don't have to. That's apparently human nature. But raise the price of gas and oil and it's a whole different story. So let's cheer on raising fuel costs. It's exactly what we need.

Now, I don't mean to sound pie in the sky about it. The financial "infrastructure" needs to be there, and clearly ours is in severe danger of not surviving continuous economic contraction. Same around the globe. But after some miserable, painful years, I gotta figure that will work itself out, though I don't really understand how that might look.

And there is the very real threat that governments, such as the US, will blame the high prices and economic woes on terrorists and oil rich nations, and we will go out in a blaze of full scale nuclear war.

BUT, the prospect for renewable energy and the hope of a decent low energy future seems, to me, totally dependent on the EROEI of these alternative energies. If the other energy forms can't produce a net gain, you can pretty much bet on full scale war.

David

MA, USA

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Damnthematrix
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Re: Net gain for alternative energies??

The ERoEI of PVs is utterly dependant on location.  If you live in a constantly cloudy place, of course it will take years to pay back the embodied energy, but here in sunny Australia, my panels have already more than paid for themselves over the past (almost) four years they've been in service.  Just looked at the meter. they have now generated 5.8 MWhrs.

Mike

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RayTomes
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Re: Net gain for alternative energies??
davidm wrote:

 I just read this at Life afterthecrash.net :

 

In short, the so called "alternatives" to oil are actually "derivatives" of oil.
 
I take this mean that it ultimately takes more energy (from fossil fuels) to manufacture and maintain PV, wind, and hydroelectric systems than they produce in their lifetimes, creating a net energy loss.
 
Is this true? Does anyone know? Has this been studied? Does anyone have any sources to look into this?
 

I live in New Zealand. Most of our electricity is produced by hydroelectric systems. I can assure you that they are not net consumers of energy. Companies here are also making windfarms and they are viable alternatives although not as efficient as hydro. However the best hydro spots have been used and the environmental effects of hydro are greater, hence the switch.

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Damnthematrix
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Re: Net gain for alternative energies??

For Release Nov 13 2009

Tod Brilliant
POST CARBON INSTITUTE
[email protected]
707-823-8700 x105

ARRESTING NEW THINK TANK STUDY CONCLUDES: NO COMBINATION OF ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SYSTEMS CAN REPLACE FOSSIL FUELS

Santa Rosa, CA (13. November 2009)

An alarming new study jointly released by two prominent California-based environmental/economic think tanks, concludes that unrelenting energy limits, even among alternative energy systems, will make it impossible for the industrial system to continue operating at its present scale, beyond the next few decades. The report finds that the current race by industries and governments to develop new sustainable energy technologies that can replace ecologically harmful and rapidly depleting fossil fuel and nuclear technologies, will not prove sufficient, and that this will require substantial adjustments in many operating assumptions of modern society.

The new study (“Searching for a Miracle: Net Energy Limits & the Fate of Industrial Society”) is the first major analysis to utilize the new research tools of “full life cycle assessment” and “net energy ratios” (Energy Returned on Energy Invested, EROEI), to compare all currently proposed future scenarios for how industrial society can face its long term future.

The report analyzes 18 of the most viable power production alternatives, from traditional fossil fuels and nuclear, through wind, solar, wave, geothermal, biomass, et. al. to identify their “net energy” ratios—the amount of energy that must be invested in them vs. the amount of energy they will be able to produce---as well as their environmental, social and geopolitical impacts. It also considers such important factors as resource and materials supply, resource location, transportation, waste disposal issues, and others to create a full life cycle picture of each technology’s impacts.

“Searching for a Miracle” was published by the International Forum on Globalization (IFG). The content was largely provided by the Post Carbon Institute, a think tank that works toward a transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world.

The principal author of the report is Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow of Post Carbon Institute, and the best-selling author of such books as “The Party’s Over”, ““Peak Everything”, and “Blackout”. The editor of the project--part of the IFG’s False Solutions program--is San Francisco author Jerry Mander, who is Founder and Distinguished Fellow of IFG. His previous popular books on economics and technology include: “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television”, “The Case Against the Global Economy”, and “Alternatives to Globalization”.

Following are a few of the main conclusions of this report:

✦ As the world’s higher-quality fossil fuel reserves rapidly deplete, no combination of alternative energy sources is likely to be sufficient to sustain industrial society at its present scale. Energy supply problems, perhaps severe, are likely during the coming decade, worsening as primary fuels become scarce and costly. Major adjustments will be required in industrial production and personal consumption; attention will need to be paid to stabilizing and reducing population levels over the long term.

✦ Fossil fuels and high-quality uranium ores are depleting rapidly; world oil production may already have peaked. Present expectations for new technological replacements are probably overly optimistic with regard to ecological sustainability, potential scale of development, and levels of “net energy” gain—i.e., the amount of energy actually yielded once energy inputs for the production process have been subtracted. Technologies such as “carbon capture and sequestration” and “4th generation” nuclear power remain largely hypothetical and may never be deployed on a large scale, while the prospects for oil shale, tar sands, and shale gas have been overstated to varying degrees.

✦ Certain energy production systems suffer from low or negative net energy gain; these include most biofuels, hydrogen systems, oil shale, tar sands, and biomass, some of which also present unacceptable environmental problems (as is also true of conventional fossil fuels and nuclear power). So far, the best prospects for large-scale production and net-energy performance remain wind energy and certain forms of solar, but these still face important limitations due to intermittency of supply, remoteness of the best resources, materials needed for large-scale deployment, and scale potential. Tidal and geothermal power—which can have high net-energy yield but suffer from a low potential energy production capacity—will prove marginally useful in a diverse future energy supply mix.

✦ Limits to future energy supply are more dramatic if environmental impacts are considered— including accelerating climate change, fresh water scarcity, destruction of food-growing lands, shortages of minerals, and threats to wildlife habitat.

✦ Given the above, it is necessary to prepare societies for dramatic shifts in consumption and lifestyle expectations. It will also be necessary to promote a new ethic of conservation throughout the industrial world. A sharp reversal of today’s globalization of commercial activity—inherently wasteful for its transport energy needs—must be anticipated and facilitated, and government leaders must encourage a rapid evolution toward economies based on localism especially for essential needs such as food and
energy. The study remarks that this is not necessarily a negative prospect, as some research shows that, once basic human needs are met, high material consumption levels do not correlate with high quality of life.

✦ The emphasis by policy makers on growth as the central goal and measure of modern economies is no longer practical or viable, as growth will be limited by both energy shortages and by society’s inability to continue venting energy production and consumption wastes (principally, carbon dioxide) into the environment without catastrophic consequences. Standards for economic success must shift from
gross metrics of economic activity, to more direct assessments of human well-being, equity, and the health of the natural world.

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✦ These factors must all be taken very seriously by policy makers in all countries, and by global institutions that have thus far failed to be realistic about what will be required to avoid future social and economic breakdowns and geopolitical crises, as countries and peoples compete for dwindling energy resources, raw materials, and agricultural space. While it is not yet too late to change course, the opportunities to avoid catastrophic economic, environmental, social, and political impacts are few and quickly dwindling.

For further information, or additional copies of the report, please contact the organizations below:

POST CARBON INSTITUTE
500 N. Main St., Suite 100
Sebastopol, CA 95472 USA
Tel: +1.707.823.8700 • Fax: +1.866.797.5820
http://www.postcarbon.org[email protected]

THE INTERNATIONAL FORUM ON GLOBALIZATION
1009 General Kennedy Avenue, Suite 2
San Francisco, California 94129 USA
T: +1.415.561.7650 • F: +1.415.561.7651
http://www.ifg.org[email protected]

ABOUT POST CARBON INSTITUTE
Post Carbon Institute provides individuals, communities, businesses, and governments with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated economic, energy, and environmental crises that define the 21st century. PCI envisions a world of resilient communities and re-localized economies that thrive within ecological bounds.

In addition to Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg, PCI Fellows include Bill McKibben, Majora Carter, Wes Jackson, David Orr and 23 others. Full list of PCI Fellows.

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Phildo
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Re: Net gain for alternative energies??

Hey David,

I would recommend not getting to tied up into the EROEI claims numbers of any particular source or method.

The general calcs behind many EROEI are pretty questionable at best once you get into the details.

Money value may be a more accurate approach to reflect what can and cannot work well into the future.  

It is also a little unclear what you are fully asking about as you have mixed over from Oil in your first post to "Fossil" which generally includes Coal.  

A method that is likely to move into and over Coal is Solar -- but not PV, as you are discussing, but more like Solar Thermal.  I did not see that on your list, but here is a backgrounder, if you not familiar.  >>>

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy

 

 

 

 

 

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