Podcast

PeakProsperity.com

Dr. Charles Hall: The Laws Of Nature Trump Economics

It's all about Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI)
Monday, March 5, 2018, 1:59 PM

Dr. Charles Hall may not be a name you instantly recognize, but it should be.

Now a Professor Emeritus of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Dr. Hall is a rigorous researcher of energy, oil, biophysical economics -- and was a critical early pioneer in developing the key resource metric of Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI).

Here's how Hall describes EROEI in layman's terms:

These energy investment ideas are everywhere in nature.

Certainly business people know about investments, but you've got to realize that anytime that you're investing, you investing not only money, you're investing energy. And, in fact, we consider money to be a lien on energy, a promissory note on energy.

So, if, for example, you buy in New York City a bagel for $1, that bagel cannot possibly get there without the use of a considerable amount of energy. And that energy is, for example, energy used in Louisiana to take natural gas and turn it into nitrogen fertilizer. And then it's put in a barge and barged up  the Mississippi River to Nebraska. And then a tractor spreads in on a field. And then it plows up the field and plants wheat seeds. And then later comes along and tills the soil and maybe takes care of the weeds or whatever and certainly harvests it. And then more energy is used to take the harvested wheat and grind it up and turn it into flour. And then they put it in a sack and put it on a railroad train and ship it to New York City. And there somebody boils a pot of water to cook the bagel. Oh, and they use electricity to mix the batter. And then you have a bagel.

That would not have taken place without the use of energy at every step.

And that same is true for everything that goes on in our economy. Everything that goes on in our economy requires energy for it to take place. And so we've examined that for a long, long time. Using the concept of energy return on investment and then later we've developed this into a whole approach called biophysical economics.

After a life's career of looking at the world through the lens of EROEI, Hall is very concerned that, as a global society, we are hurtling towards an energy crisis that will forcefully (and likely painfully) downshift our standard of living within the lifetime of the current generation. And yet, our current economic models remain blind to the possibility of resource limits -- so we are highly likely to be caught completely unprepared by this approaching crisis:

Economics is practiced in the United States as a social science. When I first looked into economics I was astonished that it's not consistent with the law of conservation of energy nor the second law of thermodynamics nor the laws of conservation of mass. All of those things do not enter into the basic economic models. In fact, the basic economic models, as far as I'm concerned, just make no sense if you have a background in the natural sciences(...)

I think that we're likely be really blindsided by the decline of oil and gas in near future. The people who have examined the long-term future of fossil fuel availability predict this well within a generation. We're probably going to be faced by severe restrictions in all of our fossil fuels – in oil, in gas, and even coal. We may live in interesting energy times(..)

It's just astonishing what I read in newspapers about people who don’t understand the importance of resources and the physical world in everything we do. Now, it is true, there has been a pretty health dose of examining climate and its relation to economics, and I think that's good. But
I think that's, at most, half the story because I think resource limitations are likely to be at least as important as climate change going into the future, and then we have to think about them at least as much as we have been doing with climate. We have to think about the resource issues much better than we have.

Somehow people think the resource issues have been resolved by the market, but that's not true at all, although, you know, I guess as long as the price of gasoline is fairly cheap, people don’t worry. They think the issue's been resolved. The issue has not been resolved at all. The Limits To Growth and everything associated with that – they're not been proven wrong. One might argue that their timing was not on the money, that things that are taking a little bit longer than was anticipated, but that doesn't mean that the chickens aren't coming home to roost. And I see them coming home rapidly and especially in the poorer countries of the world – they're just getting creamed by the interaction of population growth and resource limitations. And depletion of oil wells and depletion of soils and on and on and on. It's just a terrible situation for many countries.

Those interested in learning more about Dr. Hall's work after listening to this podcast should consider purchasing his new book Energy and the Wealth of Nations; An Introduction to Biophysical Economics

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Dr. Charles Hall (61m:23s).

Transcript: 

Chris: Welcome, everyone, to this Peak Prosperity podcast. It's February 7th, 2018, and I am your host, Chris Martenson. Energy is everything. My background as a scientist from the biologically oriented field of neurotoxicology allows me to see this very clearly. All organisms grow into their available energy. You see that in how trees apportion their canopies and light gathering strategies. How predators and prey balance themselves out, and how yeast and bacteria exponentially exploit their culture media. Are humans really any different? No, we're not.

What we've done is take hundreds of millions of years of ancient sunlight and very rapidly converted that into extremely useful mechanical and food energy to drive our own population expansion in industrial growth given that between ten and twenty or more calories of fossil fuels are secretly hidden in each calorie of food that you or I eat. We really should have a crisp, clear plan for how and when we're going to either run out of, or self-wean from, fossil fuels. Now, as soon as you look into this topic with even a tiny bit of curiosity or rigor, all sorts of very tricky questions and worrisome complexities pop up. Now, one of the most critical and central of all questions concerns the energy that we get back from our energy extraction efforts.

Today, we're going to be talking with Dr. Charles Hall, Professor Emeritus of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and a critical early pioneer and rigorous researcher of energy, oil, biophysical economics, and especially energy returned on energy invested. His career has been so productive that his Curriculum vitae is 39 pages long. It's packed with publications, books and awards. I cannot overstate the importance of the body of work that Dr. Hall has bestowed to the world. Dr. Hall, I'm beyond excited to welcome you to the program today.

Dr. Hall: Well, that's pretty flattering, Chris. Thank you. I'm just a regular guy who likes to trout fish like you, but I was trained well. I would like to say that – I was trained well in my undergraduate days at Colgate, and especially by my Doctoral advisor, Howard Odem [PH]. So you can – that's one thing a teacher can tell you that you can take some rather ordinary play, and get a good advisor, and it can make a hell of a difference. And that certainly happened with me.

Chris: Well, fantastic. Since we've met, can I call you Charlie?

Dr. Hall: Sure, sure. Everybody does.

Chris: All right. Charlie, most of my listeners, they're already familiar with the idea that energy returned on energy invested, or EROEI, or Eroei, is important, but for everyone's benefit, familiar or not. Can you please explain EROEI and why it's important?

Dr. Hall: Sure. I might start by discussing, briefly, how the concept came about. I'm an ecologist. I was trained as an ecologist and as a natural scientist – physics, chemistry, geology, all that kind of stuff – and biology, of course. And I did my PhD on the energetics of fish migration. I worked in a small stream in Duke Forest, North Carolina. I was at University of North Carolina. And at that time, the idea was that fish had home ranges, and they didn’t move. And I put what they call weirs or fish traps into the streams and found that the fish were moving like crazy. So I came up with a process for looking at how much energy the fish used in their migration, and how much they or their descendants would gain from the process of migration. I later extended this to salmon moving out in the ocean and so forth.

What I found was that for every calorie, or jewel, that the fish invested in migration there would be a return of at least about five calories or jewels from the process. In other words, it looked like a good energy investment. Now, [audio failure] study for this, but it got me thinking in terms of organisms investing energy into their life history processes and that's true. Everywhere you look, once you're a little bit trained to do so – for example, if you walk on a path in a pine forest and if you look at where the boughs of the tree are, you normally find that in the path or road that you're walking on, the boughs are much lower on the tree than on the other side. In other words, when a bough on a pine tree cannot pay for, through photosynthesis, it's cost of being there, the tree clips it off. And you can see this very clearly if you go out in almost any forest and especially in the evergreen forest it's very clear.

Now, the point is that these energy investment ideas are everywhere in nature. They're not just here, and they're not just there. And in my books, I give many other examples. Now, I was fundamentally an ecologist interested only in nature, but I had a really good undergraduate named Cutler Cleveland when I was a young professor, and we applied these ideas to looking for oil and gas. And I was astonished to find out that it would take, for the United States oil and gas industry, your energy return on energy investment was not that high and declining rather rapidly, even back then in 1980. We were even on the first page of The Wall Street Journal with this paper that we wrote that was published in Science.

And so this began my process of looking at the energy cost of all kinds of things, and the energy gain from that investment because that's what organisms do, or that's what humans do. Certainly business people know about investments, but you've got to realize that anytime that you're investing, you investing not only money, you're investing energy. And, in fact, we consider money to be a lien on energy, a promissory note on energy. So, if, for example, you buy in New York City, a bagel for a dollar, what that has meant is that that bagel cannot possibly get there without the use of a considerable amount of energy. And that energy is, for example, energy is used in Louisiana to take natural gas and turn it into nitrogen fertilizer, and then it's put in a barge and barged up the Mississippi River to Nebraska, and then a tractor spreads in on a field, and then it plows up the field and plants wheat seeds and later comes along and kills the soil and maybe takes care of the weeds or whatever and certainly harvests it. And then more energy is used to take the harvested wheat and grind it up and turn it into flour. And then they put it in a sack and put it on a railroad train and ship it to New York City. And there somebody boils a pot of water to cook the bagel – oh, and they use electricity to mix the batter, and then they put the bagel into a pot of boiling water to cook it. And there you have a bagel.

Now, that would not have taken place without the use of energy at every step. And that same is true for everything that goes on in our economy. Everything that goes on in our economy requires energy for it to take place. And so we've examined that for a long, long time. Using the concept of energy return on investment for getting the fuels to start with and then later we've developed this into a whole approach to economics called biophysical economics, and I'll put in a plug for my new book, Energy and the Wealth of Nations; An Introduction to Biophysical Economics that's available from Springer. And it will be out almost as we speak. And all of these concepts are developing in excruciating detail there.

Chris: All right. So this idea that it's – it seems very basic; it seems really intuitive; it seems fairly obvious once it's laid out. This idea that you're spending more energy, whether you're a salmon or a potato farmer, then you are returning from that effort, you starve. You end up going bankrupt energetically at some point. So this idea of energy returned on energy invested seems exceedingly important and it seems completely obvious, and yet having read you bio and looked at your work and all of that, you’ve not found it an easy path, say, to get research funding to garner interest around this. Is that a fair way to characterize that?

Dr. Hall: Absolutely. Well, first of all, economics is practiced in the United States as a social science. And when I first looked into economics I was astonished that it not only doesn't use, it's not consistent with, for example, the law of conservation of energy and the second law of thermodynamics and the laws of conservation of mass. All of those things do not enter into the basic economic models. In fact, the basic economic models, as far as I'm concerned, just make no sense if you have a background in the natural sciences. So, to start off with, I would say one thing that we need to do is to turn economics into a real science.

Chris: I read a very important booked that helped shape my opinions around economics. It was called The Origin of Wealth by Charles Beinhocker – no, sorry, Eric Beinhocker. And what Beinhocker pointed out there was that they have this Santa Fe institute was convened first in 1995. They bring in all the best people from all the major disciplines. And when the physicists and chemists and other hard science people start down across from the economists they had to stop themselves from snickering because they said, "Oh, my goodness. You're still using closed form equations. Those went out the window with the discovery of the second law of thermodynamics. You're using 1795 original calculus that some guy named Walras, a Polish economics early researcher used." And so, what this means for those listening is when you try and develop a closed form system, you're saying, "We think we can solve what's happening in our system as if nothing from the outside is going to intrude on it. It has a stable point of equilibrium if we can just get that right. We work out some math and it's all going to work"

But, of course, economics is an open system like the earth is. If the earth is an open system, it depends on sun's energy streaming in. If that sun's energy stops, we suddenly discover the earth is very much dependent of that in it's complexity and order and interesting, less dependent on this energy flow coming to and through it. Economics, as its orthodoxy and dogma is currently practiced and preached in places like Chicago and elsewhere, really seems to – it's easily disproved that it's a useful model for the world. And yet it's very dominant and, of course, people don’t really want to look into too hard. Charlie, why is that? Is it simply because once you take the biophysical approach you understand there are things called limits and you can't run and exponential, infinity money system with that concept?

Dr. Hall: Well, I've been struggling with that question for 40 years, and what can you say? That you think a whole discipline is based on sand. Many people have said that in our book and elsewhere that we quote many of the people, starting with the Nobel Prize Winner in economics, Wassily Leontief, and he said, "How can people in other disciplines continue to allow this splendid isolation of economics?" I don’t know why it's the case. Many recent Nobel Prize winners in economics have come up with basic theories that undermine this or that part of economics. But, from my perspective, the whole thing is a house of cards. Now, I think – who was it – oh, who was the great journalist, like not Munchkins, but…

Chris: Murrow? Edward Murrow?

Dr. Hall: No, back in the 1930s. I'll probably think of it as soon as we hang up. But anyway, he said, "Never expect people to understand something who's job it is to not understand it."

Chris: Oh, Sinclair. Upton Sinclair, the journal…

Dr. Hall: Oh, is that what he – yeah, I guess probably it was him. And so, we've built a whole system that requires people not to understand reality and to understand – I mean, the models that are built using these closed forms mathematics, as you say, is ludicrous. And you get tenured economics, I understand, not from coming up with good concept, but from doing elegant math. And to do math that's appropriate for the complexity of modern systems, you have to do it on a computer with simulation because you can't solve these things analytically. But economists continue to sort of burrow along in the same direction. I don’t know why they do so.

It's true that some economists like Piketty criticize some of the social aspects of how we do conventional economics This is often called neoclassical economics, and they do this – they may criticize certain social aspects of it because, in fact, these models are used to, in my opinion and that of many, is to oppress other people. But they don’t criticize the foundation, the scientific foundation that we're dealing with.

Chris: Well, indeed. And with Piketty, as good as his criticisms where in showing wealth and equalities, all of this, the core thing is that all of economics is founded around the kind of money that we have which is this debt based, fiat money which is, itself, and exponential machine. As long as it's growing exponentially, it's happy. And so biophysical economics, if we could just make it simple, says infinite growth on a finite planet is a very stupid idea. We need to have a different system. We seem to be at that crossroads, do we not, Charlie, where we're turning out – like it's becoming increasingly obvious that limits apply. And we're hitting that bumpy plateau of energy output on a total basis. It's getting really harder to get net energy out the system at this point, and we desperately need a new form of economics for the next phase of human history. Is that a fair way to look at it?

Dr. Hall: That's what I think, and that's why we wrote this book. And I think anybody who thinks they know economics, may I invite you to take a look at our book, Energy and the Wealth of Nations and come to the guaranty – if you buy it and you don't think it's worth it, I'll buy it back from you for whatever you paid for it. So how many books have you got in economics that come with a guaranty?

Chris: That would be one, now. All right, well listen, Charlie, you know, I just keep pounding my internet fist on this virtual table. I write articles about oil, declining discoveries, falling investments, terrible cashflows, capital returns in the oil industry, even at $60 a barrel oil prices, and all the rest. But I'm swamped by a flood of news articles that all point in the opposite direction towards a future with so much oil that we'll collectively be deciding to stop using it. That's the – it'll be peak demand, not peak oil. Please give us your views on this subject.

SH Well, let me give you two sides of the coin here. People have been talking about peak oil for a long time. I mean, they were even talking about it back in 1910. But it's been a bit elusive. And the economists said that technology would come along, and we had peak oil in the United Stated, the most oil ever produced even to today, approximately, was produced in 1970, and then it stared to decline. But then we discovered Alaska and the Prudhoe Field in Alaska, and that saved our ass for several decades. It was a lot of oil. And that and other things. But the production of oil kept going down, down, down.

Now we have this fracking revolution which is generating just unbelievable thousands and thousands of new wells that may last only for a few years, get most of their oil right off the bat, and then decline very rapidly. We don't fully know where that's taking us. I'm writing a paper with the person I think knows about oil in the world, John Larare [PH], and our guess is that – well, two things.

First of all, this fracking revolution has kept the world from being squeezed for oil. That's just the fracking revolution in the United States has made a huge different. No question. And that's new technology, and it's just like the conventional economists said that if the price is right, new technologies will come along and take care of a declining resource. Well, that happened.

But now, most of these regions, especially the older ones such as the Barnett Shale, but also essentially all of them, are showing signs of ageing already even after less than 10 years of production. So what it turns out is very important is that most of the oil is coming out of what's called sweet spots, out of the best places. And this is true for all of the areas that we are producing. You have Eagle Ford and Bakken and we can go on and on with all the names. And we're examining the trends. And what happens is that the sweet spots are so important that they are not doing what's called infill drilling. They're drilling between existing wells, robbing Peter to pay Paul in a certain sense, to try to get a little bit more oil out of the sweet spots. And there doing that, for example, in Montrose County in North Dakota, rather than going to Williams County or to other counties that are the next best counties because the next best is a lot worse, apparently, then the best counties. And so what people don’t understand is that we're just skimming the cream off of these, and I don’t know how long we can maintain this oil production from these frack regions.

And if the data that is supplied to me by John Larare is correct in which we are writing up together as a paper, if that data is correct, and I think it is correct, we're going to be in big trouble in perhaps as soon as five years, or certainly a decade. Where the official estimates are that we will continue to have lots and lots of oil from these frack sites indefinitely for 25 or more years. The US Energy Information Agency, for example, our official energy agency, makes such predictions. But they're just not consistent with the state when you look at it more carefully. I don’t know what's going on. And they don’t give the US EIA doesn't do what's called peer review publications and they don’t' give the techniques by which they come up with their predictions, so it's pretty hard as a scientist to understand what the hell's going on.

Chris: Yeah, I totally agree. There was an MIT study that came out that faulted the EIA for their methodology and they noted that the EIA had confused something very basis. They had confused a fall in the price of the drilling because the service companies were so squeezed by the downturn in oil prices – they confused that with technology advances, and then extrapolated those as technology advances far into the future. And the history says no, every time the price of oil goes up and there's a scramble for these services companies, their prices end up going back up. It's not a – it's not the same as a technology gain. That, in fact, Art Berman says that when you parse this out and you separate the two factors, 85 percent of the so-called technology gains were due to price cuts by service companies and 15 percent is yeah, we're doing better. We're doing, you know, 80 stage fracks. Were putting 30 million, 50 million pounds of sand down there. You know, 4 million gallons of water. We're drilling 10,000-foot laterals.

Those are the things we're doing, but those all collectively are not so much technology, it's just doing more of the same. And what Art shows is that, yeah, you get more oil out of the ground a little bit quicker, but the decline curves are also a little bit steeper, so we're not – the data seems to suggest that we're just getting it out the ground faster, and we're not getting more out of the ground, so lots of complexity here. My concern, Charlie, is that my country seems to have based an entire future strategy on the idea that nothing's going to change in this story. We'll always get more oil out of the ground because we're plucky, courageous entrepreneurs.

Dr. Hall: Well, I think that concept is simply not true. And we can show in many different ways how that's not been true in the past. And in the oil industry, it goes back to what's called – you ever hear of the Zapp hypothesis?

Chris: No. What's that?

Dr. Hall: By Hubbert. M. King Hubbert was the original guy who analyzed the long-term production of oil, and Zapp was a – that was really the guys name who had come along before him. And he was a pretty good oil analyst. But he had assumed that – this is back when there was just conventional vertical wells, and he had assumed that the wells would continue to produce, or that we would continue to find oil at the same rate, barrels per foot – say, 120 at that time, that we had in the past. And Hubbert said, no, no, that's not true because we got the best stuff first. And if you look at how many barrels we find per foot, it's been declining over time, and I would guess it will continue to decline which, in fact, it did.

But now, in effect, the people who are making the estimates of oil and gas from the fracked areas are assuming we will continue to find oil and gas at the rate that we found it in the past where, in fact, the data indicates the opposite. So this means a declining energy return on investment and lower and lower returns which has got to be reflected eventually in lower economic returns and unless the price of oil goes way up. Now the price of oil, you know, that can go up indefinitely, but at some point, you got to realize that every time you use more money to get a barrel of oil, you're using more energy to get a barrel of oil. And what that means is at some future point it's going to take you a barrel of oil of energy to get a barrel of oil out of the ground. And, obviously, that's not – it's going to long before that that is no longer an adequate time to continue with your production of oil. And what happens then?

Now, it's not that I know these things for sure, although there's an awful lot of people that I have a lot of respect for that are doing these analyses, it's that this concept is not taken into consideration by our official energy experts. And what's really hurting me is the maintenance of the data that we rely on to understand what's going on in the oil industry is becoming poorer and poorer as we have less committed people, or fewer committed people, who really know what they're doing maintaining the data sets in, for example, US Bureau of Census. So we need – it's not a lot of money, but we need some millions of dollars invested into maintaining good data, and then analyzing it properly. And this is probably the most important thing about the future of the US economy, how much energy we have available. And we don’t have good people in our government or in our private industry that are well funded by the government that are analyzing these sorts of things.

What's happened is that there has been a selling of neoclassical economics of market economics as if this were the only answer. That all you have to worry about is let the free market do it's thing, and then everything will be somehow perfect or the best of all possible worlds or something like that. And this is absolute crap. And so I don't know, the United States, I feel, in many, many ways has been sold a bill of goods about the virtues of the market system. That's a different discussion. I think you should probably interview Jules Secura [PH] sometime on that issue, but that's a different thing.

Chris: I've noted that. And to turn potentially to a country that handles things a little bit differently, I've been serving on a UN panel on sustainable energy, handing out and award. And what's important about that story is there are a number of Chinese nationals on this panel. And I can tell you the quality of the conversations I have with them is very, very different. They're very scientifically literate. They're trained. They understand that things like limit happen, and they understand how important this is. And I know you’ve coauthored a book titled The Chinese Oil Industry History and Future. And in 2017, two of your coauthors on that book released a peer reviewed report issued form the China University of Petroleum in Beijing that projected a permanent peak in oil output for China beginning this year, 2018. The report made a huge impact on me, Charlie, immediately. The implications are enormous. What can you tell us about this report and the state of energy awareness in China?

Dr. Hall: Well, first of all, one of their students, Yuan [PH] Hugh [PH], came and studied with me for a year, and she was really, really good. And we wrote a lot of that material in much of that book. And then her advisor, Leon [PH] Jung [PH] and I don't know quite know how to pronounce it Feng, F-E-N-G, he's a really, really competent guy, and has come to our – we have meetings in biophysical economics, and he's come to a number of them, and so I know him quite well. And he's extremely competent.

The thing is, as you say, as you said earlier in this interview, these things are just bloody obvious. Except apparently to somebody toilet trained in economics. I don't know what they do to give their economists this faith, indefinite faith in technology and markets to solve all the problems. That's just crap. And so I don’t know if there's anything we can do until we teach a new generation of economists how to deal with the real world which is, of course, what our book, Energy and the Wealth of Nations attempts to do.

But anyway, you take some smart people from China, and there's lot of them there, and you expose them to data and facts and truth and it makes a big difference. But I don’t know what data and facts and truth means relative to our government at the moment. Certainly, there's a lot of discussion about that. But it's certainly science in so many layers you would have to peel away before you got to using science in how we make decisions in our government. It's ludicrous. And the only thing that keeps us floating along is we're resource rich in a relatively low population country. So we can skate along for a while anyway. And, of course, we're doing it increasingly on debt and who knows what that means.

Chris: Well, absolutely. So turning back to this study then, you know, the implications of it, that really – I thought it was carefully worded, but reading not that much between the lines, it said, hey, we're looking to import twice the amount we're currently importing by 2030. That's just 12 years away. We don't know where those supplies are going to come from. It remains to be seen how this will be resolved, but, wink, wink, this is either saying very soaring prices or there's going to be skirmishes over this. We recently saw Saudi Arabia visit Beijing and also Moscow, so big geopolitical realignments. All of this is going on. What did you make of this – to me, I guess here's the substance of the question. Charlie, I was shocked that China could announce peak oil, that it's this year, and that it literally had zero traction in the U.S. media.

Dr. Hall: Surprise, surprise.

Chris: Zero. That's big news, isn't it?

Dr. Hall: Uh, sure. You know, we used to talk about ostriches hiding their heads in the sand, or the elephant in the living room. Sure, these are real things and they're happening. And they have huge effects. You know, peak oil may or may not have occurred for the entire world, it's not quite clear, but it certainly has occurred country by country. And I've done work with a former student, John Hallick [PH] on this, and you could just -we made models of the future oil production and published them back in 2004, and we come back and look at them now, and for something like 38 out of 42 countries, they’ve already gone through a Hubbert curve. They’ve already had a peak, and they're one the decline. And they fall pretty much what's called the Hubbert curve – sort of a bell shaped curved in increase in production and the decline. And our predictions for 38 or 42 countries were just essentially right on the money. So it's happening. It's occurring all around the world. And it hasn't happened yet for the biggest countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia, but it could any day. And then what? We don’t have a plan B.

And for these countries where it's occurring, there's a really fine book by a guy named Nafese [PH] Amon [PH] of what are the political implications of these patterns, of these physical patterns. And so where you had a peak in oil in Egypt and Syria, in Venezuela, in Nigeria, just for example, and there are other countries, political chaos follows. It's just a really amazing analysis. And so what we're having all around the world, and even Thomas Freeman who I don’t – he's a journalist who writes for The New York Times, I don’t always like what he says, but he had a really good one on Iran just a few days ago with respect to water. And he said, well, you know, if you want to understand the Middle East you got to study Arabic, you got to study Parsee, you got to study, you know, and he listed languages, and he says, but you also have to study environmental science because that's what's going on. That's what's driving what's going on over there. And it's only going to get tighter with respect to energy, with respect to water, with respect to soil. You’ve got huge population increases, and you don’t have any more fertile land, so you don’t have anything for young men to go, and they're just going to find trouble. And he develops this beautifully in his book, and I think he's right on the money. So what's going to happen as this spreads to more and more countries around the world. Well, I think you can guess.

I think a mistake that's been made in the past is as if all these resource crunches were going to happen to the world as a whole. No, they're playing our one country at a time, and I think we see the results. And it's just making more and more of the world unstable, especially where population continues to grow. So, for example, in a country like Syria or Egypt which were, you know, medium oil producing countries during the time period when the production of oil was increasing, this brought a lot of money into to government and to the economy as a whole, and times were good, and people had large families, and they had lots of kids, and they didn’t realize that the prosperity was due to the increase in the amount of oil that allowed their economy to operate better and better and grew some more food, etc., etc.

And then when you reach peak oil and it starts to go down the other side, you get the rug pulled out from under you. The oil production increase had, in a sense, put the rug under you and made life comfortable, relatively so, and the response of humans is always to have more children. And then when that rug is pulled out from under you, people are really pissed off, and then you get all the trouble that we have where we look all around the world and find these highly populated people with very unstable circumstances. And it means that, where in the past different ethnic groups could live together in relative peace, increasingly, when there's not enough land because there's just more and more people, then the ethnic tensions are enhanced. It's terrible.

Chris: And so a lot f people, Charlie, pin their hopes on alternatives. We're going to go to renewables. I want to ask you now, and it's specifically about solar photovoltaics. People thinks there's a future filled with clean and abundant energy if we can just use solar. You and Pedro Preado [PH] extensively studied Spain's massive photovoltaic system and came up with a rather dour conclusion about the true energy return of that system. What did you find there?

Dr. Hall: Well, first of all, Spain is a very sunny country. Second of all, it has a quite sophisticated engineering structure. And so it's a country where solar energy should work. And Pedro had been chief engineer on a number of projects, large solar projects. One in particular he had kept every receipt. In other words, he had to sign for everything that came in to his site to make the site work. Every load of gravel, every truck full of water, every photovoltaic array that was made either in Spain or China or whatever. So he had all this information. And what we did was follow the money. We started with the assumption that any time you spend money you're also spending energy, and I think that's true. It's a little bit different, perhaps, for a work of art like a Picasso or something, but basically anything that is produced or any GDP that takes place requires energy to have that occur, and so we followed every dollar that was used to produce a one-gigawatt solar facility in Spain.

And it was amazing. We found that – and then we assigned an energy cost to each of these things. Now, this is not precision science, but I think we got it about right. We did it by several different methods which agreed with each other. And then we looked at the – it was supposed to last for 25 years, and so we estimated how much energy would be produced by this facility over 25 years. And we compared it to the energy that it costs to make everything that was used, including business services and bulldozing and fences and security systems and all of this stuff. How much was used to generate the facility? And found that the energy return on investment over the lifetime of the project was only about 2.4 to 1. It was not very productive over the lifetime of its existence.

Now, some people have argued, some people I respect, have argued that we should multiply the electricity by three because if you're putting in fossil fuel to make everything that you use – oil and gas and coal – and you're producing electricity, then you should weight the electricity accordingly. Well, that would give you – if you accept that argument, and I'm not sure about it, but it's a possibility – then you'd get about a 7.5 to 1 energy return on investment. But that doesn’t yet include for the fact that the sun doesn't shine half the time, or more than half, because of clouds. And what do you do during that time period? So you have to build back up systems or storage. And this is true also, or maybe even more so for wind turbine systems. And when you do this, the energy return on investment is positive, but it's not really great.

So I think an important question for the future will be to sort out these questions. Can a renewable system replace oil and gas? Quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t think so. Can it replace a quarter of our energy? Maybe. Right now, you have to realize that all the wind turbines and photovoltaic systems we have produce only about 2 percent of the energy used by the US and in the world. And in the meanwhile, while we're building all of these solar systems, which are very energy intensive to build, and you have to put in all the energy up front, or most of it. At the same time, our use of fossil fuels continues to increase. It's little bit irregular, and maybe it's slowed down a bit and maybe it hasn't, but it's not clear that we're displacing our fossil fuel systems with solar or just adding to the mix. These are questions that we need to be thinking about much more seriously.

The problem with energy analysis that you hear out there, and maybe including this one, I don't know, is that people tend to already have their conclusions, and then they use science or something like science to defend the position that they take. But good science works by generating and testing hypotheses. And so you might have a hypothesis that renewable energy systems can replace fossil fuel systems or replace a quarter of them or whatever you want to say, and then approach it as examining the hypothesis rather than having your answer beforehand and arguing that it's this way or that.

So, quite frankly, Chris, I don't know for sure. I think that we're likely be really blindsided by the decline of oil and gas in near future. The people [Audio] [PH] who have examined the long-term future of fossil fuel availability, we're going to be well within a generation. We're probably going to be faced by severe restrictions in all of our fossil fuels – in oil, in gas, and even coal. And the same people buying [Audio] [PH] peak coal in China because there's lots of coal left, but it's in deep mines and then seams. It's very hard to get at. So I don’t know. We may live in interesting energy times.

Chris: Well, that's certainly true. I recently, very recently, read another EROEI study on the solar arrays in Northern Europe. It was by Ferroni and Hopkirk. Came to even more dire conclusion than you did in Spain. Now, this is Northern Europe, of course. They came up with a net EROEI of less than one, clocking in at .82. I liked the study. They had pretty broad boundaries. They included all sorts of things that most people overlook. It's not just how much went into the panel versus how much came out, but, of course, the installation, the maintenance, some of them break, they have to be cleaned, the need a security guard, there's a fence around this place, all that stuff, right.

And so that's for every solar array installed in Norther Europe. Presumably any place else with similar insulation levels – it means humanity actually loses ground. These are energy wasting not generating systems. We feel good, we plug our Tesla's in, we tell ourselves a nice story that this is going to save us all, but, you know, this study and yours and others that are coming out are really starting to give me a consensus that says, solar is not a slam dunk. We have to really understand that it doesn't make sense in some areas at all, and I don't know yet that we've proved that it makes sense anyplace, really.

Dr. Hall: Well, I have colleagues that are pro-solar who would argue otherwise. And we met last summer and agreed on procedures to try to reduce our differences in our analysis. I personally come down that solar can be [Audio] can make a modest contribution, but it will not be cheap, it will not be easy, and there will be really big problems with intermittency. I quite frankly think this is another question that hasn't been well resolved yet. And my colleagues who have this view agree with me on that, that we don’t really know the answer to this. There are some people at Stanford University, Jorgensen and Delucci, I think, who think it's a piece of cake to replace all energy with renewables. And there have been a whole group of very distinguished scientists – 120 of them – signed something saying that the world should not be fooled by their analysis, that there are many problems with the analysis that they did. I mean, here's really, really important science for the future on mankind, and it's hidden off in corners of academia, and it's not particularly supported or not at all supported by government research, and it's just insane that we are not paying a lot more sophisticated attention to this.

Chris: I complete agree, and I'm surprised that the Department of Energy seems to have no interest in this, and I'm surprised that most US agencies don’t have a liquid fuels emergency plan. It just a willful blindness that says, you know what, we don’t even want to look at that, so we actually don’t want to ask the questions because then we might have answers we're uncomfortable with.

Dr. Hall: I think that one of the reasons is that there has been – when I grew up, well, actually, in the 60s and the 70s, there were – there was a lot of faith in government agencies and professionals and so forth that I based in part on this "success" of the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb, that, you know, we could do a whole lot with government funding and putting the brightest people to work on these sorts of things. And that has been lost due to the weaning of the public or the governmental trust, for some reason. And it's a complicated issue. The economists who say, oh, all you got to do is let the market decide. That's nothing else you have to do. There's no need for additional information beyond the market. And I think that's a really, really scary concept that's applied increasingly in our entire society.

Chris: Well, editorially, Charlie, first you have to have a market. We don't have actual markets anymore in the sense that we have constant intervention my monetary authorities who are going to set the price of money. And, of course, if you think you have a small crew of people who can set the price of money on which everything is based, you don’t have a market. So it's this whole conceit that there is such a thing as market that can decide things is kind of silly. And I'm particular, when you have a government saying, we're going to support this source of energy, and we're going to hamstring that one, you don't have a market.

Dr. Hall: Not to mention that fact that if consumers are making the decisions, then our whole economy is being driven by the desires of 14-year-old teenagers in our malls. It's just ludicrous. And, in addition, their tastes are being manipulated by advertising. To think that we have a free market is ludicrous.

Chris: I know. I know. So Charlie, I'm really interested in how people can follow your work, you know, buy your books, of course find those. Or any of those of your colleagues or prior students who are advancing your fields of inquiry. Where should people go who are now intrigued and say, yeah, I should know more about these topics?

Dr. Hall: Okay, the first thing you can do is just Google Charles Hall Energy, and it connects with a bunch of my stuff. We have a new society called The International Society for Biophysical Economics, and these Chinese folks are very much involved with that, so you can email me [email protected] and we'll put you on the mailing list of that. I have both an energy list serve, and a biophysical economics list serve. And obviously, we put everything we've got into a big book called Energy and the Wealth of Nations; An Instruction to Biophysical Economics by myself and economist and economist Kent Klitgaard, and so it's all there. And we have a smaller book that's called Energy Return on Investment, a means of integrating biology, economics, and sustainability, and that's only a little bit more than 100 pages and gives you the essence of all of these arguments. And we have a journal called Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality. We call it BERQ, Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, and I'm a co-editor of that, and so we've got relatively up to date papers there.

There is – I have to day, Chris, that there is a lot more research that's being done on this stuff recently. I get some very interesting email about EROEI and somebody supplying it for their PhD thesis or something in Europe or something else. I get an email several times a week – sometimes I think every day. This is my third interview this week, for example. So I don’t know, I can't – as I told my 102-year-old mother a few years ago I said, I've become a micro celebrity. So that's about all I want to be, thank you, so I hope you're not too successful. But it doesn’t mean that it – there's a lot of people that once you read this, once you get it, you think, like you say, duh, it's so bloody obvious, you know. It's very straight forward, what we're doing. Now, the details can get complicated, but it's very straight forward. So you can get your access.

Okay, let me summarize what I just said. You can join our society, you can google Charles Hall Energy, and that leads you to all kinds of stuff. Join our society, buy our two books, look at the journals we have. I will certainly answer any email that's sent to me. I'll try to. It's getting a little bit ridiculous sometimes. And there are many other people that are beginning to think this way.

A problem has been that we thought we were putting all of this together in something called the International Society of Ecological Economics, not biophysical economics, but ecological economics but I feel that this society and the journal sort of turned away from asking very fundamental questions about how we do economics and focused mostly on putting a price tag on nature in various ways. Now, I don’t say that I think this is bad, but I don’t think this is the main question that we should be dealing with.

One of the things that's pretty interesting to me is that in our international society of biophysical economics, we have an increasing number of people from the financial world joining with the scientists and environmental people to ask these questions because many people in the financial world are unhappy with the economic tools that they have at their disposal and are coming to our meetings to try and learn about how we go about doing biophysical economics.

Chris: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Charlie Hall, for first pioneering the field of energy return and energy invested, and for persisting, even though the funding was a challenge through the years. And please know that I and all my listeners deeply value your contributions here, and your work will stand the test of time. And I want you to enjoy your well-earned retirement. I wish you all the best with trout fishing and thank you so much for being on our program today.

Dr. Hall: Okay. You're welcome. Bye-bye Chris.

Chris: All right. Good bye.

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52 Comments

AKGrannyWGrit's picture
AKGrannyWGrit
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Thunbs Up Interview

Dr. Hall described himself as being "well trained" which generally doesn't impress me.  However, Dr. Hall is not only well trained he has common sense, is a deep thinker and has a sense of humor as well.  A delightful interview with an "oh shit" kind of message.  Would welcome an interview with Dr. Hall anytime and will check out his book.

Great choice!

AKGrannyWGrit

 

Brunel's picture
Brunel
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Dr. Tim Morgan

A very good discussion and no disrespect to Dr. Hall but I'd really appreciate it if you could ask Dr. Tim Morgan on another podcast to discuss EROEI and the development of his own SEEDS appraisal.

His work "Perfect Storm" at Tullett Prebon and subsequent publications ("Life After Growth", "SEEDS" etc.) are my go-to resources whenever EROEI are mentioned.  The bloke's a genius - find him, hunt him down with hounds if necessary.... he's worth his weight in gold!!

Nobody has the answers or a timeline - but Tim Morgan has more understanding of EROEI than anyone else (IMHO!).

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
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My thoughts exactly, Granny!

Just one of the many things to get your knickers-in-a-knot over. However, I tend to be more sanguine (sorry, if I repeat myself):


davefairtex's picture
davefairtex
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spain's solar EROEI

I'd be curious to see how the EROEI analysis on Spain's solar plants change as we reduce the costs on the panels.  The wiki page on Spain says that half of the panels were installed by 2008, back when panels were about $3.20 per watt, and now they've dropped to $0.50 per watt.  Of course a lot of the costs of a solar plant isn't the panels - but certainly a fair amount of it is.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Spain

So would an 85% reduction in panel costs end up doubling the EROEI?  Less?  More?

And how about rooftop solar?  No need for transmission, fences, etc.

A lot of these analysis were done back in the days of Oil Drum.  I'd like to see them updated for the latest cost structures.

Ideally we get a spreadsheet where we can play with the cells ourselves!

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
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No Morgan Interview
Brunel wrote:

A very good discussion and no disrespect to Dr. Hall but I'd really appreciate it if you could ask Dr. Tim Morgan on another podcast to discuss EROEI and the development of his own SEEDS appraisal.

His work "Perfect Storm" at Tullett Prebon and subsequent publications ("Life After Growth", "SEEDS" etc.) are my go-to resources whenever EROEI are mentioned.  The bloke's a genius - find him, hunt him down with hounds if necessary.... he's worth his weight in gold!!

Nobody has the answers or a timeline - but Tim Morgan has more understanding of EROEI than anyone else (IMHO!).

Tim Morgan heavily "borrowed" from the entire crash course book and video series (ideas, graphics, flow, and phrases) for his 'perfect storm' report and then failed to attribute anything to myself or Peak Prosperity.  This was not inadvertent, but happened after he'd found the Crash Course, congratulated me on it by email, and asked a few follow up questions.

Later when a book of his came out it turned out that he did this same thing to several other authors (lifting and "borrowing" without attribution, passing off the ideas, phrases and graphics as his own), two of whom contacted me to see if I was interested in joining an action they were planning to take against the publisher to force a retraction or even recall of all outstanding books.  The plagiarism was extensive and obvious.

I am a very forgiving person, but proper attribution is a must in my world, and I can't really bring myself to shine light on Mr. Morgan even though his message is the same as mine.

I suppose I should be sincerely flattered by the imitation, and thankful that however inelegantly it was done the Crash Course message was picked up and carried elsewhere, and I am on some levels, but I'm still not terribly interested in promoting Morgan's career.

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
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A more recent solar ERoEI analysis
davefairtex wrote:

I'd be curious to see how the EROEI analysis on Spain's solar plants change as we reduce the costs on the panels.  The wiki page on Spain says that half of the panels were installed by 2008, back when panels were about $3.20 per watt, and now they've dropped to $0.50 per watt.  Of course a lot of the costs of a solar plant isn't the panels - but certainly a fair amount of it is.

I talked about this next solar EroEI analysis in the podcast, but it was revealing enough to me that I should include it here.

I found this recent study to be quite extensive and treading on some new ground, after building off of Hall’s work as well as many others.

The major features are that you have to use real results, not calculated (face plate) potential returns of solar systems.  In the temperate regions, where a lot of solar is installed, it turns out that the down time is significant (because of clouds, low sun angle for half the year, etc.) and that when you add it al up these authors discovered that the ERoEI return for solar is below 1.

For those with the passion for it, this study is a great read because it fully explores the extended boundaries that have to be included for a full life cycle ERoEI analysis.  Examples include the ‘upstream’ costs of generating purified silicon, shipping the modules from plant to installation site, etc.

Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) for photovoltaic solar systems in regions of moderate insolation

July 2016

(Lots and lots of geeky math and explorations of study boundaries removed here…)

Conclusion

The calculated value for ERoEI is dimensionless, constituting the energy return (2203 kW he/m2) divided by the energy invested (2664 kW he/m2) – a ratio of 0.82.

It is estimated that these numbers could have an error of ±15%, so that, despite a string of optimistic choices resulting in low values of energy investments, the ERoEI is significantly below 1.

In other words, an electrical supply system based on today’s PV technologies cannot be termed an energy source, but rather a non-sustainable energy sink or a non-sustainable NET ENERGY LOSS. The methodology recommended by the expert working group of the IEA appears to yield EROI levels which lie between 5 and 6, but which are really not meaningful for determining the efficiency, sustainability and affordability of an energy source. The main conclusions to be drawn are:

  • The result of rigorously calculating the “extended ERoEI” for regions of moderate insolation levels as experienced in Switzerland and Germany proves to be very revealing. It indicates that, at least at today's state of development, the PV technology cannot offer an energy source but a NET ENERGY LOSS, since its ERoEIEXT is not only very far from the minimum value of 5 for sustainability suggested by Murphy and Hall (2011), but is less than 1.
  • Our advanced societies can only continue to develop if a surplus of energy is available, but it has become clear that photovoltaic energy at least will not help in any way to replace the fossil fuel. On the contrary we find ourselves suffering increased dependence on fossil energy. Even if we were to select, or be forced to live in a simpler, less rapidly expanding economic environment, photovoltaic technology would not be a wise choice for helping to deliver affordable, environmentally favourable and reliable electricity regions of low, or even moderate insolation, since it involves an extremely high expenditure of material, human and capital resources.
  • Research and development should however, be continued in order in future to have more efficient conversion from sunlight to electricity and a cheaper, more reliable PV-technology offering increased efficiency and a longer, failure-free lifetime. The market will then develop naturally.

++++++++++

While there’s a lot of methodology involved, the summary table of the primary energy inputs for temperate latitude solar installations gives an indication of where the pressure points lie if we are to substantially improve solar’s possible gains.

In summary, ‘cheaper’ panels is not going to solve anything if cheaper does not also means ‘substantially less energy went into their construction.’

Also, even if the energy input into the components dropped to zero, according to the above table that would only account for about half of the energy costs and so the ERoEI of solar would then only rise to a little less than 2.

Perhaps there’s a lot wrong with this analysis, I cannot say.  But if there were serious policy makers in the world, they’d immediately fund an even more exhaustive study to determine if this is true or not.  Why?  Because “investing” tons of public money into solar is a public policy disaster if the EroEI is below 1.  Heck, probably a disaster and a waste if it’s below 3, or even 5. 

We just don’t know, and that’s the issue.  We really should.  It’s among the most important questions of our era.

Phaedrus the younger's picture
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strong interview, with a headscratcher..

Enjoyed the discussion very much and highly respect Dr Hall's immense contributions to the field!   Excellent choice.

The head scratcher for me was their use of $'s (fiat currency) as the proxy for "energy in".  It seems pretty loose to use a measure that is inherently volatile and subject to all kinds of short and long term forces.  Compounding this currency volatility, as Dave Fairtex observed above, the price of components also are subject to a life-cycle where the cost of new products are high until maturity and scale are reached. 

Given all that, it would seem helpful to attempt to normalize the proxy measure to minimize all this noise so that the EROEI that isn't a 'point in time' measure.  Although harder to get at, using joules, watts or BTUs would seem to be a materially better way to determine EROEI.   Perhaps I'm missing something.

davefairtex's picture
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insolation

So a rough calculation shows that southern california has about double the insolation level of Germany.  Presumably, that puts the EROEI at - perhaps - 1.6.  Still not great from a society point of view.

If we toss them on a roof instead of onto the grid, that helps.  Likewise, if they are used to charge up your electric car, there's no need to worry about intermittent issues since your car itself is the buffer.

Is it wrong to assume that the production $$ cost is a "rough overall proxy for the energy going into production?"   Certainly it reduces capital costs, which definitely helps EROEI.

It is interesting to note that while a panel is $0.50/watt right now, the all-in cost for rooftop solar is $3.20/watt.  Panel costs are a small factor at this point.

Might I ask why solar and wind are - perceived - as beating natural gas from the viewpoint of new power generation?  Is that all about subsidies?  Certainly the vast bulk of new installations are solar and wind - so much so that it has single-handedly caused GE stock to crash.  Apparently the sale of the gas generating plants has fallen through the floor, much to the surprise of the GE executives.

From the standpoint of "self-insurance against rising electric prices during a time of possible future fossil fuel scarcity" (and as an alternate power source for your electric car/bike/goped), solar seems like a no-brainer investment for an individual.

macro2682's picture
macro2682
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Madness of men...

I wouldn’t want to live in it, but I could imagine a world where energy at least begins to separate from economic production.  Perhaps “tools” like VR take off in a social revolution.  What starts as an expansion in telecommuting becomes a cultural vice for avatars and ‘non real’ products to adorn people in their virtual world.  The opioid epidemic and social media revolution show that we are ready for this kind of sad existence.  The real world would just be a handful of pop culture characters and politicians.  Robots do the manufacturing, and the value add jobs are virtual.  The wasteful consumption of consumer products would be virtual as well.  There are certainly some solutions out there for food production (aquaponics) but that’s probably the hardest industry to develope. I’m sure we would have years of falling diet quality before we turn to solutions like that. 

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
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Limits to Growth Did Not.Miss by Much

Considering the infancy of computer modeling, in the early 1970s, Limits to Growth was unbelievably accurate, so far.

 

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
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So what's the backup plan, Chris?

I happen to be fortunate that I live in an area blessed with an abundance of fossil fuels and forests. I can supplement my heating bill by burning wood, using dead fall or infected trees rather than healthy stands of available source wood. The ERoEI for these trees is fantastic, from a human perspective. However, there are bigger issues that can exacerbate the predicament facing the planet. Take you pick from the list. Here is just one that has a potentially huge effect on the future direction of where to invest our time and money; if we have enough time! This can apply to any part of the country facing the effects of climate change. I'm sure we can afford the 2 + minutes for more revelation! Enjoy?

https://globalnews.ca/news/2666423/albertas-hot-dry-forests-face-major-threat-from-miniature-bugs/

Matt Holbert's picture
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ERoEI on Passive Solar

First a housekeeping note... Return is misspelled in the title of the article...

I noticed the other (sunny) day that the solar panels on the local food coop were covered with snow. Obviously they were not functioning or someone would have cleared the snow. This same store is certified LEED platinum or gold but the designer placed the checkout stands too close the the entrance/exit doors. The doors open and shut continually as customers check out. Apparently (I asked) they could not adjust the sensor on the doors. Bottom line: this one common sense item voided all of the energy savings from the rest of the store. It should be noted that the ability to get the LEED certification in the first place was made possible due to the largess of someone who had the good fortune to be the (sole?) nephew of the childless co-founder of UPS. If we truly lived sustainably there would not even be a need -- or a dramatically reduced need -- for delivery services such as UPS. Most of what we do with respect to sustainablity is at the margins only.

It doesn't take a lot of thought to realize that passive solar has a far higher ERoEI than using solar panels. On a sunny 20 degree or so day (when there are no "contrails") my house temperature will increase from the set temperature of 63 degrees to 69 or 70 degrees without the furnace coming on. However, my observation is that very few people open the blinds on their south facing windows. (Possibly because all their neighbors and folks passing by can see what drivel they are watching on TV. Screens are so big that I can easily determine what the neighbor 100 feet across the street is watching.) We'll only have "serious policy makers" when people wake up to the fact that our future is so screwed.

On a related topic... Is anyone aware of a study that has looked into how detrimental "contrails" are to plant yields?

 

Matt Holbert's picture
Matt Holbert
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The backup plan...

Uncletommy-

I saw this link (https://globalnews.ca/news/4045344/vancouver-lamborghini-snow-dirvers/) when looking at your globalnews link. The backup plan can be found in the last photo of the article. Bicycles.

My spouse is Canadian and was living in Kamloops BC when we got married 30 years ago. It has been stunning to see the devastation of the pines in the area. One used to be able to look in any direction and see a forest of green. No longer. All the trees have died and been logged. I'm somewhat surprised that we have not been impacted here in Spokane.

skipr's picture
skipr
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the massive elephant in the room

Everyone keeps dancing around the gigantic elephant in the room: overpopulation.  It's my opinion that planet earth is massively over populated with us "humanoids" and a 90% reduction would still not be enough since the oceanic life has already been reduced by roughly the same amount.  When I fly over the midwest I see every square inch covered with farms.  What do think will happen when the ground water and fossil fuels (aka fertilizer) finally runs out?  A while back I read that the state of Vermont was almost completely clearcut 100 years ago for charcoal, and that was with a much smaller population.  One way or another there will be a depopulation.  It's our choice whether we do it in the least painful (and economically most painful) way. 

Our present lifestyle and economy is like a Keynesian ecology.  Keep "printing" people until the entire planet goes bankrupt (aka sterile).

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peroron2000
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It seems like we have been hearing this for a while

Hello,

I am just a casual observer to the peak oil/ peak energy story. I first became interested in the topic back in 2006 When I discovered movies that introduced the concept of peak oil.  This lead me to books such as the Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler and Peak Everything by Richard Heinberg as well as many others.  All of these videos and books seemed to all claim that an energy crisis was just around the corner and that very soon we would be seeing energy shortages and shocks to the system etc.  

At first these stories seemed to be playing out as predicted such as when oil went up to $147/barrel in 2008.  But then, the prices dropped back down and they seem to have stayed there ever since.

During this time, these advocates seem to all continue to say that a crisis is looming over the next horizon.  At first it was 2010, then 2012 then 2015 now we are here in 2018 and the trains seems to continue on.

Can anyone tell me why this seems to be the case?  Is this a case of needing to sell books and videos and therefore needing to scare people into being interested?

I just wish that I felt like the story could somehow be more accurately tied to the data.  I think all of these books and videos would have been just as effective if they said this is a problem that is coming and we will start to see the effects in 2020 or 2030 or whenever the real crisis is likely to hit us.

I feel that if that were how it was presented, a person could then feel more confident preparing for it.

At the moment it seems like preparing may just be a waste of effort and resources.

Does anyone else feel this way?

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skipr wrote: Everyone keeps
skipr wrote:

Everyone keeps dancing around the gigantic elephant in the room: overpopulation.  It's my opinion that planet earth is massively over populated with us "humanoids" and a 90% reduction would still not be enough...

No, most at Peak Prosperity don’t dance around overshoot. I believe you are addressing this criticism to the wrong group.

 I certainly don’t.  My opinion on the subject was published two days ago in the Arizona Star (Tucson).  

However, I would argue that the Earth can still support more than the 750 million that you propose, granted at a much more conservative lifestyle.

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A More Recent Solar ERoEI Analysis... from experience.

many people think we can mitigate the “Limits to Growth” with technology, but that is a fool's errand we attempt at our own demise. the reality is that "magic green" intermittent energy capturing devices cannot exist without the underlying, unsustainable, fossil fuel powered, mining and manufacturing industrial infrastructure.

i just finished a 35 year career designing, installing AND MAINTAINING solar electric systems and i can assure you they are neither "green" or "renewable". most people promoting "clean, green" solar, have not lived with it long enough to experience the lifecycle costs. in my personal case, my oldest working module is from 1987. it is severely delaminated but still making usable power and is a part of my grid tied with battery backup system... BUT there is the issue of the mean time between failure of inverters which is around 5 to 7 years. batteries and charge controllers also have similar, finite lifetime realities. if i had to pay for someone to do the repairs, the system would never make enough money in reduced power bills (@ .17/kWh) to pay for the ongoing maintenance.

so basically a typical solar electric system is a bunch of expensive, high tech, fossil fuel created equipment that every few years needs more expensive, high tech, fossil fuel created replacement parts to keep operational. 

another sad reality is solar retailers and installers make more money installing larger systems, which incentives waste. add to this is the fact that no one is interested in reducing their consumption or changing their behavior, so energy audits are a thing of the past. this means solar is basically about enabling waste and justifying non-negotiable lifestyles. 

that being said, while incredibly expensive to purchase and maintain (a clear net loss), i do enjoy the resiliency they provide our "lifeboat". without solar pv, in a "no-grid" scenario, we would not be able to pump water for food growing operations.

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solar life span

I think this varies alot. What has been your experience on reliability ? Did the better inverters last longer than the new ones made overseas ? What about solar panels ? So, given your experience, has anything stood out as being overall much better or overall much worse ?

 

My system was installed in 1998, and is doing great. The original panels are Astro Power ( the cells are made from reject wafers from semiconductor manufacturing), the inverter is a Trace SW4048 and the charge controller is Trace. Maybe I have been lucky, or maybe this era of products is especially durable. You are right that the main benefit would be water pumping in a long term grid down, although it would be cheaper to just have a dedicated panel direct to a DC well pump if someone did not have a system yet. I changed out the well pump when I did this to be a 120V lower horse power pump that runs great off of the inverter. My system was put in when smaller system were being done as my original panels were 24 of the Astropower panels, for 2.4kW label, which was considered 2kW actual. About 9 years ago I added a couple evergreen panels and another charge controller for the 2nd input to the inverter, only 3 panels which is total 630W label rating.

Batteries generally do not last. One and a half years ago I upgraded to a new, long lived battery technology, Aquion. These batteries have little environmental downside, no weird metals, etc.... are very robust in terms of temperature and can be run down to almost no charge. This particular battery technology could be rebuilt easily, so last forever, as the thing that wears out is the synthetic cotton layers in the cells, the cells come apart easily and these could be rebuilt. Unfortunately, the company did not have enough funding to get thru the initial growth phase, and they are not in manufacture right now. They were very easy to use even in my old set up. No maintanence, works great. It all is going great with never a repair. But, you are right, at some point that inverter is going to break ( given the cobwebs and temperatures it is doing great). Hard to say on the panels, so far, so good. Probably give out a bit less power

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Other types of solar power

Have similar studies been done on mirror/turbine based solar, where the light is concentrated with mirrors onto a central tower where the resulting heat is used to boil water (or some other liquid) to feed turbines?

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It's a common feeling

Yes, the dire predictions haven't yet materialized.  It's a combination of things.  The shale "miracle" has temporarily driven down the cost of oil. However, the price of oil is highly dependent on the marginal cost of supply.  Consumption doesn't radically scale with price so if you can boost production slightly above demand the price plummets. 

Ordinarily the OPEC countries would reduce production and get the price back up.  They haven't done so.  It wouldn't take much of a cut in production to drastically increase price.  The reduction in revenue from selling less would be more than offset by the higher price they get for what they would sell.  Besides, they would be able to sell the oil they save at a later date and get even more income.  Personally, I believe various geopolitical factors have prevented that: principally the desire of those in control to destabilize Russia and Venezuela.  They've failed at the first, they may be successful with the second.  Just my opinion.

As for the looming crisis, the longer we artificially reduce price by subsidizing shale oil production with printed money the bigger the pain will be when the shale oil finally does run out.  It won't be pretty.

That said, the folks talking about the crisis do miss the fact that massive price increases will cause a reduction in demand (people will lose jobs, there will be serious relocation, society will break down, etc.)  This will likely cause prices to drop again.  They won't stay down.  The most likely scenario is a cyclic behavior in price with an underlying increase each cycle.

LesPhelps posted graphs from Limits to Growth above (I've posted them in other threads).  They predicted the crisis around 2020.  So far their projections have been amazingly prescient (the book was written in 1972).  Based on how things look here in 2018 they may have nailed it.

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2020

Based on their graphs 2020-2025 is going to really suck.

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How do we renew the renewable?

Even if we manage to build out enough renewables to go from 2% to 25% of current energy consumption, where will the energy come from to renew the renewables every 25 or so years ? Ans. We can't when all the fossil fuel is gone.

The only possible reason to roll out renewables @ eroei > 1 is to give us extra time in which to voluntary reduce our population to our long term (sans fossil fuel) carrying capacity, something that mankind refuses to countenance.

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It seems like we have been hearing this for a while

Peroron: ...an energy crisis was just around the corner...first it was 2010, then 2012 then 2015 now we are here in 2018 and the trains seems to continue on. Can anyone tell me why this seems to be the case?

Heh. Yep, it's human nature. Facts don't matter; we never let "data-driven" failed predilections get in the way of making new ones!

Look, this claim of a future energy crisis goes back to the 1970s, and the corresponding stockpiling of beans, bullets, and gold. Nothing has changed since then (except a lot of people got rich).

What is really interesting? How much economic growth has occurred since then due to technology advancement. For example, China has pumped more cement in 4 years (2011-13) than the US did in the entire 20th century. The world has never been so wealthy, nor lived so well, as today.

More interesting? We in the US should be the very last people to be concerned about energy, since we have so many natural resources (especially energy resources). Coal, NG, nuclear, etc. We're the breadbasket. In the event of a real crisis we will have ample warning as the resource short nations like Japan, England, Germany, etc. will look like Venezuela long before the US looks like Mexico.

Even more fascinating? Most of the US energy dependence is wasted on unneeded transportation! We could just get out of the suburbs and start living close to town, or use NG cars, or use public transport - hell, we could cut our oil usage in half without even trying very hard or impacting GDP.

I could go on and on, how the internet is probably more important than the printing press for economic growth, how information technology allows us to cut back on consumption without loss of quality of life, how the US has already peaked in electric consumption a decade ago, how we could all plant gardens rather than lawns and live healthier than we do now...but this would ruin the beans, bullets, and gold romance, right? Which I confess I enjoy myself :-)...

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davefairtex
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while you are going on...

MKI-

I could go on and on, how the internet is probably more important than the printing press for economic growth, how information technology allows us to cut back on consumption without loss of quality of life, how the US has already peaked in electric consumption a decade ago, how we could all plant gardens rather than lawns and live healthier than we do now...

While you are going on, could you tell us the amount of time it would take for everyone to transition to the new lifestyle you describe?  And while you're at it, describe what happens during this transition period.

I'm sure it's all puppies and ice cream, flip a switch, it happens overnight, right?

I'm going to suggest it is exactly during this transition period that we need the beans, bullets, and gold.

Here's the thing.  Its easy to paint a picture of where nirvana is.  It is a bit more difficult - and is the job of a responsible engineering manager - to nail down the task list, cost, and schedule for each item on the list.

As a former engineering manager, you sound exactly like my optimistic crew of engineers that imagined they could get just about anything done in about two weeks.  Of course when I got them to break the task list down, it turned into a six month schedule.

You do know that people need to eat every single day during this transition, right?

Just curious - were you ever in management?  Did you ever have a budget, a crew of people working for you, were you responsible for delivering the project on time?

If you have this skillset - it isn't even slightly evident in your posts!

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cmartenson wrote: I suppose
cmartenson wrote:

I suppose I should be sincerely flattered by the imitation, and thankful that however inelegantly it was done the Crash Course message was picked up and carried elsewhere, and I am on some levels, but I'm still not terribly interested in promoting Morgan's career.

Thanks for pointing that out, what a ****!  He's off my xmas card list!

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Special Period

Cuba experienced just a collapse. Theirs is called the Special Period where petrol became unobtainium. It's a quick and easy study. I study their agricultural changes to influence My farm management.

check it out, Robie

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Great interview, and thanks

Great interview, and thanks for the links at the end to join the group.

I think one of the reasons there is little interest in this in the mainstream is that people have lost faith in academia. I have even heard people say on forums (forums on which people understand that the system is failing) that we should now have less emphasis on science because it has failed us!! Instead we should bring in more <I'm not sure what> <maybe faith or superstition>? The problem is that science education is so poor these days and people just don't understand what science is and how it works. I think people think that science is about complex math and stuff they can't understand, but science is actually just a method of sorting through the world and testing hypotheses to see what isn't true, and from this we are left with what we PRESUME to be true (until it can be disproven). So science is more relevant today than it ever has been. I think what is happening is that people are actually mistaking the complex jargon and math of economics as science, which could not be further from the truth. Science is clearly pointing out that most economics is complete nonsense. There was the technocratic movement in the early 1900's which aimed to replace politicians and economists with scientists and engineers but it hasn't held much traction. I guess we are its modern form.

And thanks for the specifics on EROEI for solar. I have been wondering what it is, I'll look into it more. My first impression is that you should not include the energy needed for the labour to install it because we are talking about how much energy solar panels provide to society as a whole versus if they weren't installed and society kept on "keepin' on" without them. And the guys (and gals) who install these things aren't just brought into existence for the purposes of installing solar panels, then they disappear from the world again afterwards. They would need to be fed and supported regardless of whether they install solar panels or did something else. So I think the crucial part of doing accurate EROEI calculations is to be very careful about what is included and what is excluded in the calculation, exactly comparing what the input energy situation is with them, versus without them. I don't think simply just tallying up all the receipts for a project and converting this into an equivalent energy number is a very robust way to do this, especially since my gut reaction says that a lot fo the money in society is "recycled" through velocity so I'm not sure they can all just be arithmetically added to each other. But it will be interesting digging into the specifics of this to see what I come up with.

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davefairtex wrote: As a
davefairtex wrote:

As a former engineering manager, you sound exactly like my optimistic crew of engineers that imagined they could get just about anything done in about two weeks.  Of course when I got them to break the task list down, it turned into a six month schedule.

lol, interesting comment. I'm an engineer doing the detailed stuff for bringing a gold mine back on line. We had a project manager last year who though we could do all the calculations and checks in a few weeks. We suggested that it was more like months. Here we are, 9 months later and we're finally wrapping up. 

 

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while you are going on...

DFT: If you have this skillset - it isn't even slightly evident!

No need to be personally disparaging. I was just answering peroron2000's question (a relevant one that everyone else here just ignored). If you see something specifically wrong with my answer, address it.

DFT: Did you ever have a budget, a crew of people working for you, were you responsible for delivering the project on time? If you have this skillset - it isn't even slightly evident!

Sheese. If it makes you feel better. Yes. But this has nada to do with my points.

While you are going on, could you tell us the amount of time it would take for everyone to transition to the new lifestyle you describe?  And while you're at it, describe what happens during this transition period.

First, a war (say 1941), dirty bomb (say 9/11), or disease (say flu 1918 style) is more likely to create rapid economic havoc than some "sudden" crisis due to energy. But assuming said energy crisis occurs? It's pointless to predict, and the US is in the ideal position to hunker down and self-sustain until we re-adjust to the "new normal" anyway, which would almost surely be better than 99.9% of how humanity has lived to date. I'm not speaking theoretically: I live at 1/10 GDP by choice right now. Try it: Walk don't drive. Hunt. Fish. Garden. Gather. Own a small home with a hand pump well. As CM would say: focus on being. Then invest in our growing economy without fear (keep 10% in physical gold just in case). Hell, it's just money and life is too short to live in fear.

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davefairtex
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professional, not personal

No need to be personally disparaging. I was just answering peroron2000's question (a relevant one that everyone else here just ignored). If you see something specifically wrong with my answer, address it.

Right.  You interpreted my criticisms as personally disparaging.  They aren't.  Personally disparaging comments would look something like this:

  • "You're an idiot"
  • "You are clueless"
  • "You haven't the sense that God gave an ox."

I didn't say anything like that.

I suggested that, if you had any experience managing projects and timelines, this experience was not in evidence in any of your posts.  That's professional disparagement.  If you take it personally, that's not my problem.

Now then, on to my point, which I have made before, and I'll make again since you keep ignoring it.

As a nation, it will take time, energy, effort, and investment to transition between the current lifestyle we have, and the lifestyle you describe.  This transition effort was laid out in the Hirsch Report back in 2005.

In the meantime, during the transition period, people need to eat every single day.

It is my assessment that you are glossing over a large number of important, costly, time-consuming steps that anyone who has actually managed a complex project would have been able to sort out all on their own, without me having to go into the weeds about, and then presenting us with your specific lifestyle that, once attained nationwide, would indeed bring about the nirvana you describe.

Put more simply, here is your transition project plan, as I see it:

1) We are here, in this high-energy place.

2) [implied] An instantaneous, cost-free, casualty-free miracle occurs

3) And now we're in much lower-energy nirvana.  Gosh, wasn't that easy?

In the old days, we used to call it "a whole lot of hand-waving."

Funny thing is, I agree with much of what you say.  I just don't like the hand-waving, because it leaves out some really, really important details.  Like time, cost, and the likely body count.

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MKI wrote: First, a war (say
MKI wrote:

First, a war (say 1941), dirty bomb (say 9/11), or disease (say flu 1918 style) is more likely to create rapid economic havoc than some "sudden" crisis due to energy. But assuming said energy crisis occurs? It's pointless to predict, and the US is in the ideal position to hunker down and self-sustain until we re-adjust to the "new normal" anyway, which would almost surely be better than 99.9% of how humanity has lived to date. I'm not speaking theoretically: I live at 1/10 GDP by choice right now. Try it: Walk don't drive. Hunt. Fish. Garden. Gather. Own a small home with a hand pump well. As CM would say: focus on being. Then invest in our growing economy without fear (keep 10% in physical gold just in case). Hell, it's just money and life is too short to live in fear.

The problem is, people won't have jobs, so they can "hunker down" all they like but they won't be able to feed themselves. 20 million people in greater LA will not be able to "Hunt. Fish. Garden. Gather. Own a small home with a hand pump well." I guess they could focus as you say on "being" hungry. I think you have a skewed understanding of how modern society works, being form Alaska with lots of wild lands to support you.

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Correction?

Does anyone besides me see a need to correct the Crash Course section on EROEI https://www.peakprosperity.com/video/85855/playlist/92161/crash-course-c....

The EROEI for solar in the chapter is given at 21:1 and for wind 30:1. In light of this interview perhaps someone should revisit and revise the material in that chapter. Or maybe dispute the numbers presented in the interview.

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We'll catch that on the next update
Mohammed Mast wrote:

Does anyone besides me see a need to correct the Crash Course section on EROEI https://www.peakprosperity.com/video/85855/playlist/92161/crash-course-c....

The EROEI for solar in the chapter is given at 21:1 and for wind 30:1. In light of this interview perhaps someone should revisit and revise the material in that chapter. Or maybe dispute the numbers presented in the interview.

Thanks for pointing that out.  Surprisingly, that was the best available data back in 2014 when the last main revision of the on-line Crash Course was undertaken.

There will have to be lots of updates for oil, money printing, debt levels....

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A skewed understanding of how modern society works

MBC: people won't have jobs, so they can "hunker down" all they like but they won't be able to feed themselves.

Many can't feed themselves nor find jobs right now - ever notice the number of people on public assistance? This doesn't change the fact America is the world's largest food exporter! We also have lots of NG for fertilizer, enough for the rest of our lives. So if we get into trouble with our bread and circuses? Well, the rest of the world will be in full fledged civil war by then. So in this supposed crisis the US will merely continue to hand out free food to people who don't have jobs. Same old same old.

MBC: you have a skewed understanding of how modern society work

My "understanding of how modern society works" is exactly what allows me to live differently. Look, this isn't debatable: I've been empirically proven accurate on this subject over the last three decades (to my profit). It's my interlocutors who have something to prove. But there is certainly nada preventing others from doing the same except sloppy ways of thinking leading to poor understanding. Especially the 20 million in LA; what a great climate and opportunity for anyone with the right way of thinking (which is in very short supply today, I'm afraid). Every location has it's strengths and weaknesses; it's the people and their thinking that are the problem. It's why Japan is rich and Venezuela is poor. One is resource poor yet smart and hardworking, while the later is resource heavy and dirt poor. It's not about resources. It's about understanding, which is the most important "resource" a people has.

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Scotland must be sunnier than the place studied

Hi Chris

I agree that EROEI for solar panels is not as great as it might be but I'm not convinced by these sceptical figures (and note that the paper seeks to make disparaging comparisons of PV versus nuclear generation). Even if we accept energy costs like 505kWh/m² for invested labour (and that means about 500 man-days of work per square metre or 800 days for a standard 1.6 x 1m panel because one kilowatt-hour is about what a fit labourer can output during a working day), the output figures that I am achieving on my small home array is significantly more than 2M2Wh/m² noted in the extract above.

I have 17 panels rated at 185W (Sharp NU185) measuring approx 1m by 1300mm, or about 1.3m² each and therefore a total of 22m². Installed in Jun 2011, they have averaged over 2M7Wh per year or over 120kWk/m² per annum. Even if the 2M66Wh/m² figure is correct for the embodied energy, that is a payback period of 22 years, which is fine. They have shown no measurable performance drop-off to date and are guaranteed to produce at least 90% of rated output by year 20 (from memory). I fully expect them to last at least 30 years, by which time the EROEI will be over 1.3. I know that this is not great but it is certainly not less than unity as Ferroni & Hopkirk's paper tries to make out.

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Gas (and other fossil fuels)

Gas (and other fossil fuels) have been (and still are) significantly subsidised, which is why gas turbines have been a cheap way of producing electricity. Wind and solar (along with the other 'renewables') have no fuel cost, which is why new installations are almost certainly better value (using whatever metric) than fuel-burning generators.

If I were you, I would ask around for other quotes as $3.20/Watt installed is too expensive and you should be able to get better than that; certainly under $2/W.

Solar PV is a reasonable investment as you say and solar thermal even better.

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Rev Malthus was incorrect in

Rev Malthus was incorrect in his analysis and the problem is not the number of people on the planet, it is the consumption and waste of [some] people. 

Check out: https://overpopulationisamyth.com which robustly analyses the various arguments around overpopulation and debunks them.

Until we are all thinking more carefully about what we eat (whether it embodies fertiliser and fossil fuels), buy, how we work, travel and live, we can't be pointing the finger at others saying that they shouldn't exist.

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Energy and exergy

An interesting part of the discussion was when Dr Hall started adding in 'fudge factors' to correct for the fact that electricity is more useful than many other forms of energy and therefore the EROEI needs to be adjusted accordingly. This is exactly what Exergy tries to account for. In a practical sense, it's much harder to use but in these types of analyses is much more meaningful.

Exergy takes account of the entropy and evaluates the usable content of the energy. Hence, 1kWh of electricity can achieve more than 1kWh of oil or gas, which in turn is more useful than 10 litres of boiling water, which is more useful than 100 litres of tepid water.

This is how heat pumps achieve their 'magic' of providing two to seven kWh for each kWh input. This is also why electric vehicles can travel three or four times as far with 36 kilowatt-hours of charge as an internal combustion engine car can drive on a gallon of petrol.

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MKI wrote:Many can't feed
MKI wrote:

Many can't feed themselves nor find jobs right now - ever notice the number of people on public assistance? This doesn't change the fact America is the world's largest food exporter! We also have lots of NG for fertilizer, enough for the rest of our lives. So if we get into trouble with our bread and circuses? Well, the rest of the world will be in full fledged civil war by then. So in this supposed crisis the US will merely continue to hand out free food to people who don't have jobs. Same old same old.

Exactly. That's what I addressed in a comment a few interviews ago:

Quote:

I think there may be a possible "positive" way out of this crash scenario. Since America is self sufficient in producing food, there is no fundamental need for people to starve. So the challenge would be getting the food to the people when unemployment hits 80% and they can't buy it. If the government / military set up a basic universal income system, or food stamps for everyone, and tasked the military with taking over food production and delivering it to the cities and dispensing it, then potentially we could avoid mass chaos. But this would be eerily communist and I don't think it would be very stable, certainly not a nice outcome.

I do not see this as simple as the magic wand waving you seem to be endorsing. History tells us that monetary crashes happen quickly, usually less than a year, and sometimes in a day. I am expecting this one to take in the order of days or possibly weeks, because it is so unstable and overstretched. Furthermore, it is the solvency of the US government (and all western governments) that will be lost. Currently, food stamps are paid for by the US Government, I presume (I'm not an American on food stamps so I don't really know). So the first problem is, where is the government going to get the funds to pay for food stamps to private food companies in exchange for food? Maybe a new arrangement will be made, but that will take significant time, much longer than the average person can go without food. Secondly, it's one thing to provide food stamps to 15% of the population, or whatever it is today, versus 80%. How is it going to be distributed? Is the military set up for this? Even if it was, can we look to other examples through history of countries with the government / military feeding the population from the back of trucks? That's the kind of social chaos we can expect. You are glossing over some monumental problems like it's a cartoon.

Quote:

I've been empirically proven accurate on this subject over the last three decades (to my profit). It's my interlocutors who have something to prove. But there is certainly nada preventing others from doing the same except sloppy ways of thinking leading to poor understanding. Especially the 20 million in LA; what a great climate and opportunity for anyone with the right way of thinking (which is in very short supply today, I'm afraid). Every location has it's strengths and weaknesses; it's the people and their thinking that are the problem. It's why Japan is rich and Venezuela is poor. One is resource poor yet smart and hardworking, while the later is resource heavy and dirt poor. It's not about resources. It's about understanding, which is the most important "resource" a people has.

Your successful investment strategy over the last decades is almost entirely a result of 1) US dollar reserve currency status with trade deficit, and 2) unprecedented money printing over the last 10 years which has directly resulted in a stock market bubble culminating with absurd P/E ratios over 200 for companies that actually lose money every year based on a true accounting measure.

Comparing Japan to Venezuela is not going to get you very far. Anyone who has spent time objectively studying Venezuela knows that the reason their currency collapsed is because they stood up to the western banking cartel and attempted to set up a gold backed currency and oil trade system outside of the US dollar. The western cartel retaliated. Venezuela does not have the ability to print money. On the other hand, Japan has been America's lap dog since the end of WW2 and has fully participated in the western gold cartel. They not only have the ability to print money, but they do it right along with the Fed, taking over this role in times when the Fed tries to convince the world that it is scaling back its money printing; when in fact all it's doing is telling Japan to do it instead for a while.

If I was to hedge my bets about where would be a better place to be after the currency collapse, I'd choose Venezuela over Japan.

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Mark_BC
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Andy_in_Hawick wrote: Rev
Andy_in_Hawick wrote:

Rev Malthus was incorrect in his analysis and the problem is not the number of people on the planet, it is the consumption and waste of [some] people. 

Check out: https://overpopulationisamyth.com which robustly analyses the various arguments around overpopulation and debunks them.

Until we are all thinking more carefully about what we eat (whether it embodies fertiliser and fossil fuels), buy, how we work, travel and live, we can't be pointing the finger at others saying that they shouldn't exist.

Are you serious? You actually take those videos seriously? LOL I wouldn't call them "robust" and I wonder what their true motivation is and who paid for their production.

Entirely omitted is a mention of the amount of fossil fuel energy embedded in every calorie you eat, something like 10 calories of external energy for every 1 of food energy (they gloss over it with the term "modern agricultural methods", which aren't modern at all because they are dependent on ancient fossil fuels). This is the reverse of what it was back in Malthus' time where agriculture was a net supplier of energy.

Malthus' problem was that he did not anticipate and factor in these external energy inputs, which basically cream off 100 million years of the planet's net primary production in the form of concentrated fossil fuels, and cram it into a couple centuries.

The question is, when fossil fuels run out, which they inevitably will at some point (or merely peak, which is currently the focus of discussion), will there be another energy source that can step in and take over their role in subsidizing food production? This website spends a lot off time analyzing that and it seems that the answer is definitely "no" without some miraculous new technology emerging which seems "unlikely".

The "facts" (unlike the "facts" those videos show) is that without fossil fuels, agricultural production would be less than what it was in Malthus' day and the world would be even more overpopulated than he expected it to be.

The "fact" is that, in the end, animal populations always revert back to the long term carrying capacity of the ecosystem supporting them. The long term carrying capacity of Planet Earth does not include inputs from fossil fuels.

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treebeard
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Complex Issue

Seems we are just scratching the surface of a very important topic.  The difficulty with such the subject of how we should be living our lives and what the future holds for us, is that everybody has strong opinions, yet the amount of information collection and processing needed to draw definitive and accurate conclusions is nothing short of mind boggling.  This is certainly not the beginnings of an argument that the future is unknowable at any level, but that the belief that we can know the texture and timing in detail of future events is somewhat absurd (Thank god that is true, imagine an existence where the future is already known).

 Most often opinions about future events seem to be driven by justified anger and frustration about the current state of affairs and the future retribution we would like to see, rather than an objective view of what facts we can manage to assemble and digest to create a series of possible scenarios.  That is certainly a forgivable sin, one which I have been guilty of many times. Worse though, I think, are those who are to lazy to think deeply about life and the future consequences of current actions, who rely on the accuracy of others prognostications to determine what might be around the corner waiting for us.  Or perhaps more likely, may feel guilty about the message some prognostications carry, and use the inaccuracy in timing to justify their own inaction.

And why all the emphasis on the timing of events anyway?  Have we all turned into bankers, sitting on the sidelines, trying to connive a way to profit form events, regardless of what happens?  Do we believe in anything any more?  What about fighting for a lost cause, that may never come to pass, because it's the right thing to do in our own opinion?  Is that a waste of time?

I do believe that modern industrial agriculture is one of the most destructive inventions human beings have ever come up with.  Its EROEI is definitely in deeply negative territory, forget about 0.8, its probably way south of 0.1.  The idea of taking a large swath of the biosphere and trying to run it on nonrenewable energy to produce food is the definition of insanity,  especially when we have models that are much more productive and sustainable to boot, without exploding human health consequence driven by the current system.  Talk about an elephant in the room, that is the biggest one in the room by a wide shot.  If I made a prediction that half of all food produced by the year 2050 would be coming from smaller scale farming operations that were founded on sustainable principals and was wrong would it mean that sustainable farming was a bad idea?

Which gets me around to the topic at hand.  The needed EROEI of any technology is deeply dependent on the society in which it is embedded.  If large swaths of the population are living in McMansions, driving long distances in SUV's to destructive nonprodcutive (in the true sense of the meaning productive, not just income producing) jobs, and the rest of your population have the consumptive habits, trying to mimic that same lifestyle, then your energy producing technology better have a pretty high EROEI, probably north of 10 (that's a wag of course). You'll have of host of other problems that energy will not solve of course.  But if you have a population that aspires to live sustainably and gets close to that goal, then EROEI's just north of 1.0 may be just fine, even less than one in some limited instances.  Think about a small rural farming family that is a net producer of energy, maybe at a ration of 5:1, then perhaps reducing their net output to 4:1 and having excess energy investing in electrical energy generation, even at a loss may make perfectly good sense.

And how this transition will play out, who knows, and how important is that knowledge anyway.  We all have plenty to do right now. Anybody sitting around because you don't know what's going to happen in ten years?  And if people are living a frivolous life without meaning, is scaring then about the future going to work, I'm not so sure.  Those who think that population is a problem, well you can always take the problem into your own hands

Lets debate how we get rationally to next month, to next year and then beyond, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And any step in the right direction, is well, a step in the right direction, lets celebrate that, and motivate each other to do more.

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Mohammed Mast
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Numbers

So just where did the numbers come from that are in the CC? Seems like a huge disparity to me. Did things get that bad in such a short time or were the numbers bad to begin with? 

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Empirical Spiritual
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https://www.pop.org/simple/ou

https://www.pop.org/simple/our-mission/

Overpopulation is a Myth is run by Population Research Institute. These guys seem to be a Catholic-based group with a pro-life mission. I have plenty of sympathy with their aversion to governments meddling in people's lives and that seems to be much of their concern (China's one child policy etc).

However, I am not aware of any of the major religions being concerned with overpopulation or carrying capacity of the planet etc. Genesis speaks about, go forth and multiply...fill the world etc. When this was written in the Bronze Age that would not have been much of a problem, as nature kept populations in check. The math today is completely different with 7.6BN people in the world.

 

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Question

Dr. Hall stated "Now, some people have argued, some people I respect, have argued that we should multiply the electricity by three because if you're putting in fossil fuel to make everything that you use – oil and gas and coal – and you're producing electricity, then you should weight the electricity accordingly."  I don't quite understand this argument. 

Can someone kindly elaborate and explain?  I would highly appreciate it.  Thanks.

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Mark_BC
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fkhalichi wrote: Dr. Hall
fkhalichi wrote:

Dr. Hall stated "Now, some people have argued, some people I respect, have argued that we should multiply the electricity by three because if you're putting in fossil fuel to make everything that you use – oil and gas and coal – and you're producing electricity, then you should weight the electricity accordingly."  I don't quite understand this argument. 

Can someone kindly elaborate and explain?  I would highly appreciate it.  Thanks.

The efficiency of making electricity from burning stuff is only 30-60% of the energy you get out of burning the fossil fuels due to thermodynamic laws. The difference is waste heat. 3x seems a bit excessive, maybe 2x is more realistic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_efficiency

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Uncletommy
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Efficiency of Battery-operated-battery chargers

When you consider a ton of coal has about 7500 Btu's in it, which will be converted into electricity at, on average, 33%, that works out to around 2200 KwH's (if I did my math right). Now add in all the associated costs of getting it to the power plant and you will scratch your head when you realize how blest we are having the abundance of cheap energy to power our electric tooth brushes! (Sorry for the sarcasm).

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Cariolian Starfighter's picture
Cariolian Starf...
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Wrong study?

Chris, did you link to the wrong study?  This one tears up the analysis that says EROI is <1, and puts it at 7-8.  In any case, it shows how complicated this all is, and how there is not good agreement between experts.

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Right Study
Cariolian Starfighter wrote:

Chris, did you link to the wrong study?  This one tears up the analysis that says EROI is <1, and puts it at 7-8.  In any case, it shows how complicated this all is, and how there is not good agreement between experts.

Nope. 

I linked the correct one.  No confusion.  

To assure no confusion, I even quoted the entire conclusion of the study.

Here it is again.

Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) for photovoltaic solar systems in regions of moderate insolation

July 2016

(Lots and lots of geeky math and explorations of study boundaries removed here…)

Conclusion

The calculated value for ERoEI is dimensionless, constituting the energy return (2203 kW he/m2) divided by the energy invested (2664 kW he/m2) – a ratio of 0.82.

It is estimated that these numbers could have an error of ±15%, so that, despite a string of optimistic choices resulting in low values of energy investments, the ERoEI is significantly below 1.

In other words, an electrical supply system based on today’s PV technologies cannot be termed an energy source, but rather a non-sustainable energy sink or a non-sustainable NET ENERGY LOSS. The methodology recommended by the expert working group of the IEA appears to yield EROI levels which lie between 5 and 6, but which are really not meaningful for determining the efficiency, sustainability and affordability of an energy source. The main conclusions to be drawn are:

  • The result of rigorously calculating the “extended ERoEI” for regions of moderate insolation levels as experienced in Switzerland and Germany proves to be very revealing. It indicates that, at least at today's state of development, the PV technology cannot offer an energy source but a NET ENERGY LOSS, since its ERoEIEXT is not only very far from the minimum value of 5 for sustainability suggested by Murphy and Hall (2011), but is less than 1.
  • Our advanced societies can only continue to develop if a surplus of energy is available, but it has become clear that photovoltaic energy at least will not help in any way to replace the fossil fuel. On the contrary we find ourselves suffering increased dependence on fossil energy. Even if we were to select, or be forced to live in a simpler, less rapidly expanding economic environment, photovoltaic technology would not be a wise choice for helping to deliver affordable, environmentally favourable and reliable electricity regions of low, or even moderate insolation, since it involves an extremely high expenditure of material, human and capital resources.
  • Research and development should however, be continued in order in future to have more efficient conversion from sunlight to electricity and a cheaper, more reliable PV-technology offering increased efficiency and a longer, failure-free lifetime. The market will then develop naturally.

I have literally zero idea where you got "EROI 7-8" from.  Perhaps you'd be so kind as to quote the appropriate text?

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Cariolian Starf...
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Different Article!

I see  - I read the wrong article at your link!  But this goes to show how complicated this all is, I think I would have to be an expert in Solar PV ERoEI to really be able to tell which paper I feel is correct (I said "feel", because despite being an electrical engineer, this is not my field).  It used to be very important to me to understand if solar can "save us" - but I've gradually moved into the doomer camp (I feel Alice Friedemann does a fantastic job of explaining this), and am (slowly) preparing my family for the future.

I was reading: Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) for photovoltaic solar systems in regions of moderate insolation: A comprehensive response

Conclusions:

Our revised EROI and EROIEXT values for PV systems in Switzerland,3 calculated according to the formula adopted by Ferroni and Hopkirk (i.e., as the ratio of the total electrical output to the ‘equivalent electrical energy’ investment), but based on the arguments and numbers presented in this paper are, respectively, EROI≈9–10 (when adhering to widely adopted ‘conventional’ system boundaries as recommended by the IEA (Raugei et al., 2016)) and EROIEXT≈7–8 (when instead adopting ‘extended’ system boundaries that also include the energy investments for service inputs such as ‘project management’ and insurance). It is especially noteworthy that even the latter EROIEXT range is one order of magnitude higher than 0.8 which was obtained by Ferroni and Hopkirk.

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