Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Display:
Yes, but the point of taking account of EROI is to avoid counter-productive solutions. It is a contestable metric, but an empirically based one.

It seems unlikely to me that a pure carbon-tax solution, i.e. eliminating all subsidies and feed-in tariffs (which is what I suppose you are advocating) is anything like an optimal solution. Solar and wind could not have been kick-started without subsidies and tariffs. "The market will provide" is an interesting concept, but not actually how the world works.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:05:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is power generation counter-productive? It certainly has a negative EROI. Is driving to work counterproductive? Is eating a steak dinner counterproductive? The EROI is not impressive...

There certainly needs to public financing of basic research, and there are often useful spin-offs from applied government research. Just like at aircraft, or nuclear power. No one in mainstream economics disputes this.

Still, I'm sure wind and solar would have become useful even without subsidies, if you just had carbon taxation. Recall that if renewables were undeveloped, they would be expensive, and hence we'd need a higher carbon tax to avoid reaching 450 ppm, which in itself would spur the development of renewables, just in a more efficient way than a mishmash of variable subsidies.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:11:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Productive processes are thermodynamic wonders. They work splendidly while input energy flows are accelerating.
by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:19:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Still, that doesn't make EROI a useful concept, except on a very generalized level, as in "we need net energy to run civilization".

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:27:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Once the civilization is at thermodynamic limits, the game is different. There are then plenty of useful, "indespensible" processes - but if we cannot put enough attention and energy into them, that's too bad.
by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:34:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but that's what I'm saying above. EROI-theory can deliver these kinds of very wide, sweeping and self-evident prononucements, but it's not useful in any really practical way.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:36:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Low EROI is a signal to switch to decline managament.
by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:50:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of what?

Let's say I have this oil-field (or biofuel-field) with an EROI lower than 1. Still, I make a handsome profit, because I use low-value energy sources as input and get high-value liquid fuel as an output. My margins are so healthy that I consider expanding my business. But should I rather start considering "decline management"?

I think I'll wind down the business when it becomes unprofitable, instead.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:56:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of the society.

Your profit is not a problem for you, of course.

by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:59:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All comments above are, as mentioned, seen from the view of internalised externalities. That is, I either do not hurt anyone else through my business, or if I do (through for example CO2 emissions) I pay a tax for this to compensate others.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 03:19:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But if we hoped to rely on such oil for over half of our transport fuel source, since it is an energy drain rather than an energy source, the presumption at the field level that the energy inputs would simply be available will have difficulty scaling up to attempting to use such fields to provide liquid fuel to run over half the transport in an industrial economy.

So no serious investor should consider making that investment unless they had worked out the analysis as to why they could be confident that the energy inputs required for those kinds of oil fields at the contemplated scale would be available.

That hypothetical EROI flags a risk exposure that conventional oil fields have never been exposed to, since to date conventional oil fields have all been substantial energy sources.

Now, in practice, such an oil field is unlikely to be as wildly profitable as you hypothesize without substantial cost shifting or hidden costs. Certainly corn ethanol at an EROI of 1.01 would not be profitable if the full economic cost of production were to be charged to its producers, even though it is, as you say, taking something (corn starch) that is not a very useful energy source in its original form and turning it into a much more useful liquid fuel.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:55:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe that current US corn ethanol production relies entirely on government subsidies for the various profit margins along the way while driving up the cost of corn as human food and as a feedstock for livestock. It may be a triumph for lobbying but it is a disaster as policy.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jul 28th, 2013 at 01:12:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Forcing externalities to be internal costs time and resources (in a general, society-wide sense). In the current developments, no one is investing in the internalization. And that won't improve when an EROI bottleneck approaches.

I am surprised with the dismissal of EROI here. Yes, the power plants usefully burn oil for less electric energy. They are thermodynamic machines already, not energy sources. What will we have to replace "easy" oil on the same energy output magnitude, really? If we would generate the same "necessary" output with decreasing EROI, we still have to increase the net energy yield with harder work just for that. Recourse consumption will grow exponentially, and we won't notice how soon energy bankrupcy will approach.

by das monde on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 05:33:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What we have to replace oil at its current EROI of around 20 is wind energy. Its not a plug-in replacement by any means, however, since oil is most readily refined into liquid fuels and chemical feedstocks and wind energy is more readily converted into electricity.

Hence, shifting large movements of freight over subcontinental and transcontinental distances from diesel road freight to electric rail freight makes sense, especially given that the substantial increased efficiency in the mode switch means that it can be done on an interest-subsidy basis with the original capital cost refunded by user and access fees.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:30:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the replacement can be physically done on the global sale? Building materials won' t get more tight, the building process won't get more consuming?
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 01:03:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An extremely small fraction of the output of our economies is consumed by the construction of power plants, or railroads for that matter.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:21:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And that fraction is decreasing? Well. we are just catabolizing the 20th century infrastructure. Hardly anyone is preparing for the enegy-interesting future, as if that is not worth it.
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:47:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Look, the required investments are huge. But the size of our economies are absolutely immense. Spending as little as 1% of GDP extra on these kinds of investments for a decade or two will make extremely large headway.

Indeed, if politicians started studying macroeconomics they might understand that we could get these investments for free as long as we're struggling to get out of the liquidity trap.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 10:03:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So we will wait till the politicians start to educate themselves (and their PR departments). After 2-3 decades of de-education.
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 10:14:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Better that than not building useful things because they have low EROI, or builing useless things because they have high EROI (hello breeders).

And I hardly think it will take as long as 2-3 decades, unless energy prices stay very low. But if they do that, the problem has kind of solved itself.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 10:18:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Better waiting than not building...??

The political economy cardinally changed. Before the 80s-90s, the states were silently building infrastructure for marginal financial returns - that equates to "useless" by today's paradigms, I guess. Now we pretend that anything "useful" and essential can be build by commercial transactions without any coordination by social interest, with handy profits to investors foremost. The problems will kind of solve themselves indeed.

by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 10:44:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a problem - but a problem which has little to do with my criticism of EROI theory.

I don't know much about the situation in Germany, but in Sweden the state still spends considerable amounts of tax money on infrastructure (even if we have had a few notorious run-ins with public-private partnerships). The vast majority of these resources are spent on projects which are not profitable from a strict corporate point of view, but which are profitable when the external effects on society as a whole are taken into account (defined as "samhällsekonomisk lönsamhet", literally "societal economic profitablity").

Ironically, this is pretty close (even if not identical) to my argument that it's far better to internalise externalities and then look at costs and profits (which comes pretty close to the defintion of "samhällsekonomisk lönsamhet"), than to look at EROI.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 11:51:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... the decisions made that determine whether or not a given ROI calculation comes up build or not build.

Markets, despite the assumptions of many mainstream economists, are not natural systems, they are social institutions, and the specific market rules and the decision of which decisions are left to private actors looking to market gain and which decisions are made under other instititutions can easily flip one decision from built to no-build, and another from no-build to build.

You cannot ask the question what institutions should we have based on any ROI figure, since ROI figures depend fundamentally on what institutions we have.

While EROI can only aid in addressing the question of what instititions we should have, since no complex system can be encapsulated in any single index number without discarding relevant information, that still makes it useful in a way that ROI can never be when talking about choice of institutions, since EROI is exogonous to the choice of institution and ROI is endogenous to the choice of institution.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:53:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This industrial civilization did not directly deal with the limits of growth, industrialization, population yet - except perhaps around the World Wars. The WWI marked the transition from coal to oil, as we know.

My guess is that institutions of a more mature civilization will consider EROI very seriously, if only because the ratios won't be 40:1 broadly.

by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 04:55:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This industrial civilization has never had to ... as the piece argues, there is little substantial difference in Net Energy Yield between an EROI of 20 and an EROI of 100, and this industrial civilization gone from the 8+ EROI of coal from the Industrial Revolution of access to newly productive coal mines once mechanized water pumping was established, through to the 80-100 EROI of the big oil fields discovered in the 1920's-1950's.

Except in wartime, its not been presented with the fundamental challenge, and since institutions are past-bound, of course it doesn't have institutions developed to cope with the challenge.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 12:12:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Reading a sentence that starts "if politicians realized" does not require presuming them coming to that realization on their own. Typically politicians realize those things by people building movements that understand those kinds of things and then some entrepreneurial politicians decide to act as if they understand those things in order to attract the support of those movements.

It was, after all, the intellectual ferment in the progressive, populist and granger movements that provided the actual policy content for "FDR's New Deal" ... FDR provided the political skill that built the political coalition that was the natural governing coalition in the United States from the 30's through the 60's. Even opponents of pushing the New Deal coalition agenda forward, like Eisenhower, did not see any point in wasting their political capital in fighting with the New Deal defenders in Congress over dismantling what they had already won.
 

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 12:07:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, the replacement can be physically done on a global scale. Bear in mind that the energy inputs of the construction is part of the EROI number, so if declining energy abundance or profligacy (whichever comes first) pushes up the relative cost of the building, it also increases the value of the output.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 01:18:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the increased value will be out of reach for everyone except perhaps for some disinterested 1%.
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 04:58:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the increased value is in the reach of some of the 1% in the form of financial returns, the "disinterested" part doesn't seem a lock.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:41:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So only financial returns interest the 0.1%? They must be pretty aware that their financial returns and the deflating economy allow them to buy the world several times over. They are only pretending to be still money crazy, so that the others would follow and keep the value of money up. With all their wealth, they are looking for control (not necessarily overt), and yes - secure future most probably. Their ways of securing own future on this planet look mysterious, but they might have methods from their peculiar experience or perception. Expanding useful infractructure would interest or disinterest them only from that angle.
by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 01:45:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't it interesting that the 0.1% are so clear eyed and rational? It's as if they're not actually human.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 01:50:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That position has certain perks. You are not hazed by self-interested stories of others, for example.
by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 03:24:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What about your own self-interested stories?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 03:27:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's the game! Aren't reptilian aliens cool?
by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 03:31:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Past a certain points, money is points for keeping score, and those who rise to the top of the game by gathering more points than the opposition can either (1) keep playing or (2) step aside and let someone else chase the points.

So among the top 0.1%, there will indeed be aggressive pursuit of more financial return.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 04:16:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At the extreme, if just one player gathers all points, the rest are theoretically totally indebted to him. But the rest might say: screw your points, we can do without you. So no one of the 0.1% wants to get close to this pure situation.
by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:19:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The real rub is that maintaining a position as one of the richest in the world is a very non-trivial task that even more money will not necessarily solve, especially on an inter-generational time scale. Up to 90% of the power an oligarch accumulates is typically lost at the oligarch's death, and almost certainly within another generation or two. Even if mighty foundations live on they may or may not represent the interests of their creator and even if the main corporation survives intact they may pursue policies that would revolt the founder. During his life most assumed that it was pretty much usless for a Jew to apply for work at Disney. Walt's attitude was that they had the other studios. Having Eisner as the CEO was a major change for Disney.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 09:28:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Above a certain level, fortunes tend to be self-perpetuating ... just not the extraordinary individual power that a handful of the ultra-elite accumulate during their lives.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 11:36:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fresh millionair families certainly have that problem. But the "know how" might evolve. Relative obscurity, appearing lower could be useful tricks.
by das monde on Sat Jul 27th, 2013 at 01:51:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're making a profit from your bio-fuel business because of high carbon taxes, then you continue, it's good business for you.  If the EROI is that low, it's a good indication that it is very bad business for the economy as a whole, because you are being paid to destroy energy. This would tend to undermine your assertion that a carbon tax and free market are the answer to the energy question.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 07:13:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, both of those are quite bad deals for society: the fossil fuel is a non-renewable resource and valuable chemical feedstock in its own right. Consuming energy to turn it into fuel so that it can be destroyed and its potential usefulness as a chemical feedstock lost forever is quite insane.

And an energy source that is being subsdized on the basis of being considered as sustainable, renewable energy source that is not, in fact, an energy source but is only an energy transmission medium is a swindle, a con-game, that should be put to a halt, since the fuel provides energy that is neither sustainable nor renewable.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:14:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But still the problem is getting repeal of ethanol requirements for gasoline past Cargill and ADM. The problem is finding a way to get past powerful economic incumbents with destructive practices via our corrupted political process. Probably the only way is by mobilizing other powerful economic incumbents by convincing them that the destructive incumbents have to be forced to change so that all can survive. Meanwhile mainstream discourse is corrupted by paid shills in the MSM.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, the EROI analysis does nothing as far as working out what objectives are politically feasible, or indeed if the minimum necessary is politically infeasible how to restucture the political system so that an industrial economy remains viable.

But I don't believe in silver bullets, so I never advance any analytical tool on the premise that its a silver bullet that resolves all problems.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:44:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The comment was certainly not intended as a criticism, but rather as a statement of a dismal fact that we have to deal with. Part of the comment derived from an observation by David Yglesias on industrial opposition to bank involvement in physical ownership of metals.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 07:37:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the EROI is that low, it's a good indication that it is very bad business for the economy as a whole, because you are being paid to destroy energy

A power plant is a business operation which is paid to destroy energy. So is a refinery. Should we ban power plants and refineries and consider them examples of things which are very bad for the economy, when they are actually the very opposite of that? These are the kind of  strange conclusions you get from EROI theory.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 03:22:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are plenty of questions EROI doesn't tell you anything useful about. But unless you assume the problem of energy scarcity away EROI will not be entirely useless. Certainly less arbitrary than market prices.
It doesn't matter that we wouldn't have energy scarcity for quite a while if we had started a sensible investment program in time.
by generic on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:35:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I do not worry that much about energy scarcity. While oil is an immensely large and important source of energy, its crucial job is as an energy carrier for the transportation sector. In other words, see my signature.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:43:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, the energy crisis is that the energy sources that we have built our industrial society on turn out to be a climate suicide pact.

It would, however, be taking on a foolish technology risk to build a system that is immune to the coming liquid fuel crisis in our transportation system that would in turn have to be shut down if opponents of Climate Kamikazes get the upper hand, when established and effective technologies that opponents of Climate Kamikazes would be fine with are at hand.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:46:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They would be the strange answers you would get from EROI if you decided to use it as a business tool for making energy production plant investment decisions.

But as nobody proposes doing that, it seems rather a moot  point.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 04:41:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bullshit. It is, at most, a signal to switch to less finite resources. And we have those. Dams work. I see no reason why desert solar should not work. Nuclear reactors work. Nuclear breeder reactors work. The russians will happily sell you a breeder which is ready to be hooked into the grid right now. And the EROI of a breeder reactor is ridiculously high.
by Thomas on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 08:16:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
fukushima cleanup cost - Google Search
  1. Fukushima clean-up costs expected to swell to Y5.81 tril < Japan ...www.japantoday.com/...fukushima-nuclear-clean-up-costs-expected-to-s...14 hours ago - The clean-up after the Fukushima nuclear disaster could cost five times more than estimated, figures have revealed, as Tokyo Electric...
  2. Fukushima cleanup could cost up to $250 billion - News On Japannewsonjapan.com/html/newsdesk/article/89987.phpA private think tank says the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could cost Japan up to 250 billion dollars over the next 10 years. The estimate is ...
  3. Fukushima disaster cleanup - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaen.wikipedia.org/wikiFukushimadisastercleanupJump to Costs of the clean-up operations - [edit]. Mid December 2011 the local authorities in Fukushima had spent already around 1.7 billion yen ...Overview - ‎Scope of cleanup - ‎Working conditions at the plant
  4. ASIA - Fukushima nuclear clean-up costs rise as steam seen againwww.hurriyetdailynews.com > WORLD > ASIA1 day ago - The clean-up after the Fukushima nuclear disaster could cost five times more than estimated, figures have revealed.
  5. Fukushima nuclear clean-up to cost $58 bn | Politics - Before It's Newsbeforeitsnews.com/.../fukushima-nuclear-clean-up-to-cost-58-bn-2537228....Fukushima nuclear clean-up to cost $58 bn.

ever do the numbers on fukushima EROI?

what a joke...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 08:28:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sigh. you need to think your logic through. I was suggesting that society will go fission before it powers down. In that context - where the alternative is going without energy - the response to nuclear accidents would be to ignore them. The average life expectancy in energy starved societies is below 40. living in the chernobyl exclusion zone would take less off your life expectancy than that. Living in the area evacuated around fukushima would cost you less adjusted life years than living in wales. So if the alternative is no juice, fission will get used and when it goes wrong, people will eat iodine tablets and make morbid jokes.
by Thomas on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:28:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... are not the sole alternatives in reality, so society can only be limited to the choice between nuclear power and powering down by institutions that prevent alternatives from being deployed.

And those in society who would rather power down than go nuclear have the alternative of pressing for the fracturing of the institutions preventing the deployment of alternatives, instead.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:41:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Firstly, people who prefer powerdown over nukes are crazy. Power is civilization. Everything that seperates us from the slaving patriarcal assholes of the medieval ages depends on it. More, without power, agriculture fails, all things get eaten until the ecosystem collapses and then we all die.

Secondly, while I agree it is a false choice - because there are ways other than fission to power civilization that are feasible engineering wise...

How to put this. This is going to seem rude.

 a lot of people that call themselves renewable advocates  and greens do not actually seem to believe that a society powered by alternative energy is feasible. Not in their bones.
If they did, they would not talk about powerdown. At all. Ever. Because given the choice between enlarging the solar array in the north african desert by another square mile and harsh energy austerity, no sane society would ever elect to use less power.  

by Thomas on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 03:00:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Going at it from the fundamental equation of sustainability, which is:

sustainable+unsustainable=unsustainable

... then clearly based on current technology, a genuinely sustainable renewable system requires massively less power throughput, because of the ecological impacts of the waste associated with the current technology.

But on the other hand, our economies have never "tried" to do it, in the sense of operating under rules of behavior that reward ecological sustainability and punish ecological unsustainability ...

... so the premise that we haven't done it yet so we can't do it ever is not one that I buy.

Rather, its an open question. We have to get to sustainability all around to get to sustainability, and its an open question whether we can. Given the alternatives, of ecosystem crash and of power down, I favor pushing ahead on all fronts and trying to get there.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 03:36:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, locally we have examples (both good and bad) of trying to deal with lower consumption of raw materials and energy, or at least lower civilian consumption of raw materials and energy. I am mainly thinking about war times, but blockades serves as well.

For example, the Swedish response to the lack of oil during WWII included rationed oil, wood gasifiers, but also promotion (and I think expansion) of public transport and promotion of biking (saw a lovely little piece of propaganda where the husband does not want to bike because "I am a grown man, biking is for boys", but the wife pushes it with patriotism and health arguments. Wife wins of course and husband becomes stronger and healthier - indeed more manly then before).

Promoting and expanding public transport and biking can be done (and should be done). In addition city planning can be done to decrease commutes and spreading services so that basic services are within walking distance. These actions would save energy (wheter for powering down or using for something else) as well as promoting health, public interaction and human scaled neighbourhoods.

Hm, going of on a tangent apparently. What I meant to say is that decreasing power use while increasing utility is very possible indeed, and there are examples of it being done.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 03:01:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... silver bullet solutions, to kill the (evidently magical) beast with one hit.

I think we need to pack our shell with as many silver BB's as we can, blast away, then pack another round.

So I am all for pursuit of task efficiency of across the board, and if the end-result is neither power-up nor power-down but rather power-stabilize and improved standard of living through technical improvements ...

... well, if its powered by sustainable, renewable power, fine with me.

In these discussions, the "all eggs in one baskets" types have the forum discussion advantage of always knowing the answer, since their silver bullet is always the answer to every question, but I don't believe that complex systems are amenable to single solution answers.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 12:00:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
hmmm so all those who don't share your trust in fission (and your faith in fusion) are crazies. Civilization-hating doomers.

Cue a Lolcatz "what could possibly go wrong?" meme.

The thing about electricity is that it turns out to be quite expensive (new build nuclear in the UK is just about competitive with CURRENT wind, i.e. considerably more expensive than wind by the time it actually gets built). A lot of people prefer a distributed network with lots of smaller-scale generation based on different technologies, rather than a hyperconcentrated, technocrat-dominated system of a few too-big-to-fail, what-could-possibly-go-wrong systems. Crazies?

A lot of people are also able to countenance the idea that the rapidly-fading past of ridiculously-cheap energy being behind us, we need to weigh up costs and benefits of energy use, and reorient away from things that cost ridiculous amounts of energy for very little benefit. This is not the end of civilization. Or if it is (i.e. if your postulate is that civilization requires ridiculously-cheap energy) then civilisation is already effectively over. I think this is crazy.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 04:44:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
.. lets divorce things a bit from nuclear power, because it is distracting. I like using it as a proof of concept that energy is not limited, but that is probably a mistake on my part, because it just gets everything else I am saying ignored.

Every time you talk about powerdown, the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the green project hears is

"We do not actually think renewable energy can sustain civilization, and are okay with dismantling industrial civilization in its entirety"

This is not a persuasive pitch. In fact, that is a pitch that makes you look like Hostis humani generis.

We need a vision which is better than that. We need a vision of a future which is better than the present. Buying into the austerity on green grounds is every bit as toxic as buying into it on economic grounds, because it is a toxic idea.

I believe in a future where the industrial cycles of matter are closed. - where waste gets recycled by any means necessary up to and including vaporizing them into plasma and then distilling them back down into base elements - Where energy production does not have intolerable externalities, and flows abundantly to every mothers child.
A future in which all 7 billion of us are have lives that benefit from and contribute to the Common Project.  In which we all have electricity, water, housing, education and culture. This is not utopian. The physical universe bends to human effort -  and there are so many hands and minds looking for worthwhile employment right now. Billions of them.

by Thomas on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 06:42:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Where energy production does not have intolerable externalities, and flows abundantly to every mothers child.

Well, I don't have much time for utopians, especially when they don't have any viable pathways to propose. It may be that there is a vast conspiracy of dark powers who are preventing us from benefiting from too-cheap-to-meter fusion or thorium or whatever power. But I have a problem with suspending disbelief on such theories. On balance, I think it's likely that such technologies are actually quite hard, and will turn out to be quite expensive anyway.

The reality is that cheap energy has been overwhelmingly fossil. With the exception of hydro, which is intrinsically limited, it seems likely that sustainable energy sources are fairly expensive overall. Getting to sustainability will be hard graft.

I was more of a science fiction fan when I was younger.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:02:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is it true that sustainable sources are expensive?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:09:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
.. Expensive is a relative term. Try looking up the inflation adjusted price of electricity for any locale which has been electrified for a long time. You do not have to go back very far before you get numbers that are a lot higher than current renewable, even including pumped storage, let alone the cost of nukes.

Electricity is valuable because it is a huge multiplier on human effort - lighting, cooling, mechanization, ect, ect.
 I am not assuming power to cheap to meter, I am assuming that people will pay the meter.

by Thomas on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:21:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh well, there you go. We agree. Renewables are not expensive (historically speaking). This is a clear indication that we can, indeed, go renewable without breaking civilisation, and without needing "free energy" pipedreams.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 09:43:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Every time you talk about powerdown, the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the green project hears is

"We do not actually think renewable energy can sustain civilization, and are okay with dismantling industrial civilization in its entirety"

The way to industry dismantling is paved by irresponsible indulgence in "max power now". I am all for maximal useful industrial metabolism given coming energy flow plateau. But other thinkers have the freedom to act without discussing with someone like me. Dismissing powerdown or climate change means even less pretense to influence industrial adaptation in a not-so-long term.

Positive thinking has limits. Mindful observance and non-judgemental anticipation are better recomendations.

by das monde on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 07:27:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your efforts to find some common ground are very appreciated.

We need a vision which is better than that. We need a vision of a future which is better than the present. Buying into the austerity on green grounds is every bit as toxic as buying into it on economic grounds, because it is a toxic idea.

The underlying assumption of a better future is a future with "growth". I argue that one of the fundamental battles of our time is precisely to defuse that idea.

Human beings exist on earth for a long time and there is no reason to believe that "growth" has increased happiness (as a blanket statement).

Surely, I appreciate having a decent health system and surely I appreciate having the Internet. But, after fundamental desires have been satiated (food, security, housing, basic education, health) growth actually does not bring nothing that is fulfilling to our species.

The current materialistic view of society has put on the backburner issues that are actually more important for human happiness and are being destroyed in the name of growth. For example: the ability to find a job close to your loved ones. For example: The fear and stress inducing properties of extreme income insecurity (today I might have more than enough, tomorrow I might be bankrupt and food-insecure).

We do not need nothing more than we have. Actually many of modern gadgets (mobile phones) are mostly increasing stress without bringing nothing fundamentally important.

What we really need is to have a vision where satiation of real human needs takes precedence. And that has more to do with re-distribution, social cohesion, reduced fear. And less with a view of more growth.

I like to believe that satiation of human needs is compatible with what the planet can provide (though population size might be a issue - I very much doubt that middle class western consumption can be sustainable for all humanity) and that it can be politically supported by large segments of the population (it is difficult political issue in the current setting, but not unsurpassable based on anything innate to humanity).

Desiring for more material wealth (after basic needs) is inherently supportive of more inequality. That is not needed.

by cagatacos on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 08:31:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I like using it as a proof of concept that energy is not limited, but that is probably a mistake on my part, because it just gets everything else I am saying ignored.

Every time you talk about powerdown, the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the green project hears is ...

... in that I expect that there are people who could write:

"I like using it [power-down] as a proof of concept that the issue is not the amount of energy but how we use it, but that is probably a mistake on my part, because it just gets everything else I am saying ignored.

Every time you talk about nuclear, , the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the nuclear project hears is ..."

Criticizing those who talk about power-down because of what people like you hear whatever they actually are saying about it ...

... and then countering power-down with the most divisive, controversial relatively low carbon electricity source there is ...

... seems like you are setting one threshold of widespread appeal for the message that must be met by those you disagree with, and setting a substantially lower threshold of widespread appeal for your own message.

Indeed, for those power-down advocates who are convinced of the ecological and/or social un-sustainability of nuclear, using nuclear rather confirms them in their existing power-down conclusions.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 11:54:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Every time you talk about powerdown, the message  everyone who is not already a true believer in the green project hears is

"We do not actually think renewable energy can sustain civilization, and are okay with dismantling industrial civilization in its entirety"

This is not a persuasive pitch. In fact, that is a pitch that makes you look like Hostis humani generis.


This presumes that industrial civilization requires energy profligacy.

That is an untested hypothesis, since industrial civilization has never been faced with any substantial energy challenge before. And has therefore had no occasion to optimize for energy efficiency.

The remarkable ability of industrial civilization to optimize for manpower efficiency and farmland efficiency would seem to indicate the existence of tradeoffs within what is still broadly speaking industrial civilization.

Of course, industrial civilization isn't actually faced with any substantial energy challenge, unless you insist on idiocies like personal automobiles running on combustible fuel. Absent such gratuitous stupidity as burning perfectly good chemical feedstock, we will run out of fun things to do with electricity before we run out of harmless ways to harvest it.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 02:58:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good luck is needed to switch on a sufficient scale and get all EROI uncompromised. And some people, institutions doing the switching.
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 08:41:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
More than luck, however ~ it also requires benefits available to some existing vested interests.

Which is why high efficiency gains like the Steel Interstate are promising places to get started, as those efficiency gains can yield benefits to be distributed among existing vested interests.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 03:38:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The vested interests are quite a drag - they will ask to be bribed just to let you do something. Eisenhauer's Interstate Highway System was build without the need to deal with that. If they are in the habit of capturing almost all efficiency gains, how much benefit (relative to the price) will be there for the common society? And what is the risk of not geting the full network?
by das monde on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 05:06:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In what sense was Eisenhower's Highway System built without that? An interstate highway system as such would not require the urban on-ramps and off-ramps to allow it to be used for intra-urban driving, those are there for the speculative profit of property developers.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 26th, 2013 at 11:44:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Breeders are another good example of why EROI doesn't make any sense. Breeders have an insanely high EROI. Does that mean we should build breeders, and that we'll be better of economically with breeders?

No, because breeders are ridculosly expensive. We're much better of ignoring EROI when we're investing, and rather take a look at old-fashioned ROI.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 09:24:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your argument seems to be that because EROI is not a single number that answers all questions, it is useless.

But a single number that answers all questions does not exist, so what we need are numbers that help answer the range of questions we have.

"When we're investing" is a question down toward the end of the queue, after a long set of questions regarding how we regulate interactions between energy producers and energy consumers and what activities we subsidize and what activity we tax are answered. There is in general no answer to "what do we invest in" independent of "how do we organize energy markets?" and "how gets to stick their snout into the public trough?", and "who gets to have some of their income destroyed to stabilize the economy?".

So its silly to argue as if "what do we invest in" is the fundamental question. It doesn't have any clear answer until the fundamentals are settled.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 01:23:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wind power works. Run of river hydro works. Indeed, versus Chernobyl and Fukushima, both seem to work a bit better than nuclear in terms of working within real social managerial capacities.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 25th, 2013 at 02:42:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Removing a subsidy from a con-game and transferring it to a genuine provider of the desired public goods would be a quite practical use.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:16:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Power generation is a step in the process. If looking at the EROI of various potential electricity sources, you wouldn't split out generation from the source of heat or mechanical power. So you wouldn't separately consider generating losses converting the rotation of the wind turbine rotor into electrical power, nor the generating losses converting the heat of burning coal into electrical power ... rather, the generating losses would be automatically taken into account given that the Energy Out you would be measuring is electricity.
 

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 09:06:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Display: