* To establish feasibility, it is necessary to include some items in the energy invested term that are normally not thought of as investments. For example, the cost of sequestering such carbon dioxide as will be produced by the energy technology under investigation should be added to the energy invested term because feasibility requires that our society be sustainable (until astronomical events intervene). In this thought experiment, the support of an alternative energy technology would be the sole concern of every citizen.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Accounting for Indirect Energy Costs:  A Possible Misunderstanding

The following paragraphs are my response to Gail Tverberg's latest post on Our Finite World.  You may well ask, "Why all this fuss about Gail Tverberg?"  The answer is that she has the attention of a rather large audience for a Peaker* or a Doomer** and I do not.  It strikes me as my duty to influence principally those who have the best chance to influence others, examples of which are Jay Hanson and, of course, Gail.

Certainly, the ERoEI for the principal energy technologies are too low to support an American-type economy.  Certainly, this accounts for pressure on the financial system that manifests itself in other monetary difficulties listed by Gail Tverberg, to wit:

Primary problems

1.   Funds are not available to pay for fossil-fuel subsidies for renewable energy projects.

2.  Wages consistent with financial solvency and private profit are too low.

3.  Energy production companies, especially heavily front-loaded renewable energy production such as photovoltaic solar energy installations, need to borrow money that the credit system can no longer supply.

4.  There are insufficient financial returns to pay taxes desperately needed by governments.

Secondary problems

1.   Private profit from energy production is seen as inadequate by corporations.

2.  Rent cannot be paid for land used in energy production. This cost might be highest in biofuel operations, but it belongs to every process that harvests sunlight in real time.

3.   Insufficient funds are available to prevent pollution and mitigate its effects.  These costs are never paid unless mandated by law – if then.

4.  Energy production companies do not pay to prevent mineral depletion and degradation of soil or even try to nor do they pay fines for failure.

5.  Energy producers do not account for limitations in so-called free energy.  For example, there ought to be a cost premium charged to the process for using limited coastal or off-shore wind power sites.
Please notice that every monetary burden has an associated energy cost that should be added to the energy invested term of every energy technology or – and this is the hard part - to the combined energy technology of an entire economy after the matching problem has been solved using appropriate transformities in the sense of Odum.  This was discussed at length many years ago in Chapter 2 of On the Preservation of Species, the open-ended book in which I recorded my principal ideas for many years almost as a stream of consciousness.  Changes in the text came in the form of dated notes until I began to think that all of the mistakes had been found.  The other day, Dave Kimble noticed that the equation for the expected value of the information in my section on entropy was garbled; therefore, I must review the discussion of the matching problem and the determination of feasibility in that document before entering it in this discussion.  Nevertheless, I can address two possible sources of misunderstanding with respect to that methodology at this time: (i) the approximate nature of much of the data and (ii) the seemingly endless recursion necessary to include every level of indirect costs, i. e., indirect costs of indirect costs of indirect costs etc.  Is this a convergent process?

Undoubtedly, it will be a painful task to determine and to maintain the proper values for transformities and emergies that are necessary for an in-depth analysis of direct – and, with greater difficulty, indirect – energy costs.  Indeed, the values, once attained, must be maintained because energy extraction and conversion and manufacturing processes are constantly changing.  Moreover, the matching problem must be solved and resolved to account for the latest information.  Clearly, these calculations cannot be made with infinite precision.  There will be estimates and approximations.  This is true of all scientific computations and does not render them useless.  An approximate ERoEI that accounts for the cost of government, the standards of living of the participants, the prevention or reparation of environmental impact, the maintenance of stockpiles of essential materials by moth-balling, recycling, and mindful manufacturing etc. is better than a wild guess as to how high it needs to be. 

Finally - and this is the point alluded to in the title – although one should expect to encounter many levels of indirect costs, that is, indirect costs for indirect costs to the Nth degree, the process must come to an end because the total number of person-hours is finite as is the total energy budget (TEB) of the world.  A monotonically increasing Energy Invested term that grows as each indirect energy cost is added to it must finally stop growing because it is bounded above by the TEB.  I like to carry out the contribution of human labor by dividing the population into salary cohorts and employing average standard of living data.  As is often said, individual human behavior is unpredictable but aggregate human behavior is not.

One of my next posts will discuss how to solve monetary problems.

* A Peaker is a person who accepts Hubbard's theory of Peak Oil.

** A Doomer is a Peaker who believes that Peak Oil will result in "the end of the world as we know it" (TEOTWAWKI).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A word to readers of the Wikipedia  

I added a link to this blog on the Energy Returned on Energy Invested page of the Wikipedia today.  It's too bad that the essential characteristics of ERoEI* (pronounced ER over EI star) are not gathered together on one page for the convenience of the reader.  I expect to remedy this defect very soon; but, I ask the reader to bear with me temporarily and read the individual posts until the concept is clear.  I believe I can handle all of the objections to ERoEI analysis one normally hears by enunciating three or four fundamental principles each of which will cover a multitude of sins.  The Principle of Substitution might be one such.  For example, if the energy product under analysis (Product A) cannot be delivered to a particular place at a given time, the total energy costs of supplying a substitute energy product must be added to the energy costs for Product A.  Many similar situations can be covered by substitution.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My final exchange with Gail Tverberg and others on Gail's blog

My final exchange with Gail Tverberg and others on Gail's blog

 I suppose I should document the last few exchanges on Our Finite World   culminating in Gail telling me what she really thinks of me.  It reminds me of what the Wikipedia told Ann Arbor Alan Lewis about me when he tried to start a page on dematerialism:  "He is insufficiently notable."  Never mind that dematerialism or not is the most likely determinant of extinction or not of humanity and many other species.  Wikipedia, the People Magazine of on-line encyclopedias. :-) (I still support them financially.)  While Charlie Hall is getting his name up and can speak on EROI anywhere he wants, I remain the only worker who has anything useful to say about it.   I have enough in my life to keep me happy; but, being ignored is just a little painful, don't you suppose?  I am a monster who still retains a few undesirable characteristics of humans.  But, now for the thread.  (If you think I included your reply unfairly, improperly, or illegally, simply sue me or complain to the attorney general.)

Thomas Wayburn is worried.. . .
Well, It’s about time!
Now, Thomas, what are you going to do about the issued I raised.. . .
Other than your crude attempt to discredit the messenger.. . .
Hmmmm.. . .
What are you going to do about 400 ppm CO2??? Hmmm????? Shoot the messenger????
What are you going to do about the methane fountains off the Russian Arctic Coast, which now cover hundreds of sq kilometers?? CH4 is 49 times more effective as a
green house gas than CO2!!!
What are you going to do about the pending extinction of all marine shell fish and corals due to acidification???
What are you going to do about the pending extinction of marine plankton???
What are you going to do about the near term drop in O2 concentration in the atmosphere, because the purification organisms have been driven into extinction?
What are you going to do about the imminent extinction of honeybees due to indiscriminant use of pesticides in agriculture, with the concomitant loss of key food crops, which BTW has required manual pollination in China?
You finally are worried!
About time!!!
  • Scott says:
    If that list was not long enough, someone posted this on the blog which I picked up on, this is not my but pasted in from another friend on this site.
    Annual decline in oil production
    Increase in bio fuels use
    Fraking production levels
    Increasingly lower quality of fuels extracted
    Increasingly lower quality of other ores and resources
    Differing refinery needs of various crude oil extracts
    EROEI (thermodynamic), limiting feedback loops
    Financially (investment), limiting feedback loops.
    Export Land Model
    Price of Oil per barrel, and willingness or ability to pay
    Devaluation of dollar
    Crude bought in other currencies (including gold)
    Technology benefits, to increase efficiency of processes and use less energy
    Individual personal reduction in energy use
    Shift of energy use from, say, oil to gas or electric for a variety of processes and transportation.
    Population increase
    Energy shift through demographics ( older society )
    The shift from agriculture to manufacturing
    The shift from manufacturing to services
    Population shift from villages to cities
    Climate shift, changing energy use needs
    Immediate culture shifts due to oil scarcity ( Cuba effect )
    Infrastructure degradation and replacement needs
    Value shift of trade, in things that matter, such as oil, food, clothing, rather than flat screen TV’s and cell phones.
    Currency devaluations
    Financial implosion, globally
    World health determinants, ( loss of antibiotic performance, pandemics, fertility)
    National protection and security, and the energy costs of providing this
    And the last fader on the mixing desk ~~~ Black Swan events !
    Gail’s sharp and considered articles, point to the way to how many of these sub routines, are likely functioning, but the sheer number of variables, and the probable resultant ‘final mix’ maker me realise, that it is no wonder that we are all searching for answers in the dark, as to how this is going to pan out?
  • Tom Wayburn says:
    You know damn well that I am worried about you and what you and your institute are doing and not doing. I am not trying to discredit you. I am trying to save you. Years ago, on a very young Yahoo! Peak Oil Forum – perhaps Running on Empty 2 – the possibility was raised that, under the circumstances that obtained at the time, energy and environmental conservation might allow the population to grow to the point that the Die-Off, when it came, would be a much greater catastrophe than otherwise. It’s interesting that you have raised the issue of business as usual because that’s what I have been afraid you are up to. I have suspected for many years that Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute are responsible for greater fossil fuel use rather than less. The question is this: Is it possible for renewable energy technologies to be truly sustainable without a fossil fuel subsidy and without diminishing the stores of non-renewable resources and without additional environmental degradation in a commercial setting embedded in a market economy? Many people on the Peak Oil forums do not believe that there exists a renewable energy technology that is truly sustainable. Why do you? Why not be sure?

    I hear you talk about the merits of solar technology and the demerits of fossil fuel technology, but I don’t hear you speak to population stabilization and shrinkage, to economic de-growth, to political change, etc. I have suggested what you need to do to be sure that solar technology really does produce positive net energy when all of her energy burdens (your word) are counted, including the standards of living of those she supports. Don’t talk about me. Talk about that.
    Also, I would like to know more about your institute and your personal hopes for it. What sort of world do you want? You are not just the messenger, right? What is your role at the institute? The website speaks of much too much for one man to do – perhaps too much for many people to do, How many people are involved? The website itself is vast.
    • I am one of those people who does not think that current renewables are possible outside a fossil fuel system. They are just add-ons, that allow us to get a bit more out; they couldn’t possibly function on their own.
      • I tend to disagree with you on this Gail, basically because a PV panel is really a very simple device on its own – and requires very little maintenance once its created. The problem is ofc what you use the power output from a PV for, but we made electrical motors 100 years ago with very crude tools compared to what we have now. I am sure that the current infrastructure for making PV and associated electrical transport and use is not sustainable and very fragile because it relies too much on fossil fuels – but I still feel that its possible to transition to a simpler set of tools to maintain and produce this kind of technology.
        Another one of these technologies is the concentration of the suns energy into solar cookers or heat towers or pipes where you warm up water or anything else (you can even melt metal/rocks). This is a very useful and rather simple way of concentrating the power from the sun into another usable form. The technology involved in these kind of contraptions will not go away very fast and I am sure that a lot of the things we have learned over these past 100 years of fossil fuel glut will still be usable in another form. But it wont be as abundantly available as before so these will have an essential function into providing the people an essential function that is made much simpler by the remaining technology and energy sources. I never ever believed these to replace our current energy consumption habits.
      • Tom Wayburn says:
        So, we have Gail who believes that renewable energy technology is NOT sustainable and George (Indy) who is quite sure that it is even without further technological breakthroughs. But, neither of you knows for certain because the most respected analysts upon whom the world relies do not carry out their computations sufficiently far to determine sustainability. This is the situation I tried to correct quickly with instant internet publication while avoiding the corporate-controlled, peer-reviewed publishing system employed by academia and government and corporate labs that would have rejected such conclusions as did not favor the corporate agenda. Now, most of us on the Peak Oil discussion forums claim that we are against this agenda, but you don’t embrace my work, which, by the way, can be validated by every reader by his or her own efforts and reasoning abilities – assuming they exist. You can provide your own “peer review”. Why not do the right thing?
        Demand that the concepts inherent in ERoEI* be employed in the analysis of every alternative (renewable) energy technology in the earliest stages of its implementation. If you have the ability and the tools, do the analysis yourself. Otherwise, demand that others do it. Reject incomplete work. It can prevent the economic changes we need and mask such subsidies of renewable energy as probably do arise. If fossil fuel absolutely must be consumed to bootstrap drastically front loaded solar technology, for example, be sure that the deficit will be repaid and never recur. This would truly amount to the use of fossil fuel to end the use of fossil fuel rather than an ongoing subsidy if and only if ERoEI* is greater than 1.0. Begin by reading http://eroei.blogspot.com/ and http://dematerialism.net/eroeistar.htm after which I don’t care if you assume that the ideas were yours all along.,
        • Tom Wayburn says:
          I might just as well discuss the case of quasi-sustainability (nearly sustainable) here. (I will add this comment to the above comment on the eroei blog.) Temporarily and in case of dire necessity only we may diminish the storehouse of critical materials somewhat and increase the load on the environment slightly to bootstrap renewables to 100% in a world that has already rejected consumption and growth and embraced the changes required to achieve a steady or shrinking population and economy.
        • The minimum ERoEI has to be a whole lot higher than 1.0. I am not sure what the right number is. I suspect it is something close to 9.0; certainly at least 5.0. The calculation leaves out way too much. In particular, it does not properly charge for energy which is generated by front-end inputs (it does not handle timing at all). It does not consider the need to generate a high enough return to support the need for government.
          The idea of moving an economy to lower and lower ERoEI does not work. This is what leads to collapse.
        • Tom Wayburn says:
          Obviously, you have not read the material I have made available. Until you do, it is unfair, misleading, and wrong to make these kinds of comments. All of that is taken care of, even the energy costs of the technology’s share of government. The Principle of Substitution covers many of your objections. Yes, absolutely, sustainability is possible for ERoEI* = 1.0. This is the case of the Autonomous Alternative Energy District supporting itself and exporting nothing. Do you think I would make a mistake about this? Of course, I did not cover every detail; but, you can see how to handle anything that comes up by how it has been done in some other category.
        • I told Charlie Hall (in my talk at the Biophysical Economic conference at the University of Vermont this week) that the current average EReEI of society is too low–it is leading to collapse in the near term. If we are to prevent collapse (which I don’t really think is possible), we need to be raising the average ERoEI. The current average ERoEI of society is clearly a lot higher than 1.0, no matter how it is defined.
          I don’t know where you are coming from, but it doesn’t make sense to me. As society becomes more complex (what Tainter talks about) the cost of government becomes greater both absolutely and relative to other costs. This strongly suggests that after a certain point, average ERoEI needs to be increasing to prevent collapse.
        • Charlie doesn’t understand either. It seems that many people have trouble getting their heads around this idea. I think, if you read this very short piece a couple of times, you will get it. I am not that much smarter than the rest of you. Part of the problem is that I put a number of items in the energy-invested term that are not strictly investments. In fact, normally, analysts do not debit the process for inconveniences of time and space, or the necessity to convert some portion of the energy produced to another form with a low efficiency process. They do not charge the process for environmental degradation or resource depletion.

          Let us suppose that a group of people representing all of the trades and professions wishes to support itself completely by relying on a single alternative, renewable energy technology for all of its energy needs. Let us suppose further that all of the natural resources necessary to do this are available within the Autonomous Alternative Energy District (AAED) [and the repositories of such natural resources can be retained at steady state from the detritus of the AAED including superannuated installations of the technology].

          Nothing is imported from outside the District whereas energy and only energy is exported. If a man needs a car to drive from his home (in the District) to his job (in the District), the car is built, maintained, and fueled in the District. If his wife is sick the doctor in the District will treat her with medicine made in the District from chemicals produced there from raw materials mined there and subsequently recycled agressively. The ERoEI of the new energy technology is the total energy produced, ER, divided by the quantity ER minus the quantity EX, where EX is the energy exported; i. e., EX = ER – EI. If the District is able to export any energy at all the ERoEI ratio exceeds one and the technology is feasible – at least.

          In the case of a single energy technology, the energy produced by each technology can be assigned a transformity of unity and the value of emergy is quantitatively the same as the Gibbs availability, which, at room temperature, is the Gibbs free energy. I prefer to report emergy values in units of emquads rather than quads, emjoules rather than joules, etc. Thus, the units of transformity are emquads per quad, for example. [snip]

          If this doesn’t make sense to you, think harder. I mean it. This is important. If you don’t understand it, you don’t understand sustainability. There are a lot of people addressing the multitudes who don’t know what they are talking about. Don’t be one of them. I heard a lot of silly stuff in Austin at the ASPO conference. I couldn’t begin to speak as there is too much they don’t know. The finiteness of the world is just the beginning. You must close the energy balance in terms of consumption as well as production. If the AAED does not export energy, ERoEI* is at most equal to 1.0. If the District needs to import energy to keep going, ERoEI* is less than 1.0. Thus, if all of society is in the collapse phase, it is because the composite ERoEI* for all energy technologies properly matched is less than 1.0.
        • Its possible to make a lot of nice calculations around utopia like distribution of energy and resources, but I do believe Gail is more rooted in our current predicament for the finiteness we encounter in the industrial civilization. That the current set of living arrangements will hit a steep decline curve soon due to our misuse of resources. I also think she is sober in the way that she knows you can’t really turn enough people to believe in this utopia when so many of us cant even embrace simple ideas within socialism and sharing of wealth. I do believe many of us here knows whats wrong with the system and have all kinds of ideas how to improve it – but there is no chance we will be able to implement a fraction of these before a complete and utter collapse. Small pockets within society might find a better lifestyle more in pact with the limits of nature and approach some sort of equilibrium with how much you take out of it and how much you give back.
          From a mathematical point of view there is also the unavoidable concept of entropy which cannot be left out in any processing of resources. Stuff rust and decay, and take a form that is very hard to recycle unless you have a fantastic device that gathers atoms and reassemble them in a clean form. The best engine for recycling today is the organic one with how soil, plants, animals interact with water and air. Any single species impact on his planet has been fine tuned over millions of years shaping synergies where the nature is somewhat self sustainable as long as no single species “take over”. Homo Sapiens (a name we don’t deserve) has basically been raping and pillaging this natural world for resources in a way that is just insanely destructive on a planetary scale. We have also bred our species completely out of proportions so no matter how much you plan to conserve, recycle and aim for renewables – continued breeding will require a substantial number of us to become part of the soil again. No doubt for us to have any chance at all to find some sort of equilibrium with the planet again we need to cut our numbers dramatically. The question is whether we do it willingly or not – realistically I cant see any other option besides the finiteness of the planet forcing the population down. That might start with an oil or energy shock or it might be because of major climate change incidents as the Arctic is thawing and releasing massive amounts of methane and CO2 to the atmosphere.
        • Tom Wayburn says:
          Please do not assume that you know what I am going to say and that, therefore, you don’t have to read it. What I have said is very different from what you seem to expect. You made an unfair criticism of ERoEI* replete with numerous incorrect statements. An ERoEI* = 1 corresponds to the Autonomous Alternative Energy District of http://dematerialism.net/eroistar.htm supplying all of its own needs and exporting nothing. In my blog at http://eroei.blogspot.com/   I indicated how each of your objections can be handled. I didn’t specifically mention that the costs of government appear in the energy-invested term; but, you should realize how that would be done by analogy with the specifics of other details I offered as examples. I thought I answered your objections previously, but I can’t find my answer on your blog. Sorry if this is a repetition.
        • I am sorry but I do not have time to figure out your personal view of how things work, with definitions different from the standard ones. It is difficult enough dealing with standard definitions.
        • Tom Wayburn says:
          You are hopeless. You don’t want to learn anything you don’t already know and most of that is irrelevant or wrong. The rest of you know where to find me.
        • Jan Steinman says:
          Tom, if you need to have a superior attitude, at least you can be civil!
          Gail does a lot of good. Calling someone “hopeless” because they are unwilling to cater to your whims is hardly a way to make friends and influence people.
        • Scott says:
          Jan, I think Tom sees something that he is having trouble communicating to the group and perhaps he is frustrated by that. I wish I could understand all the things he has written, I get some of it but much of it hard for most of us to grasp. I noticed we do have several doctors of science writing on the site and I hope they stay with us so I can try to understand their thesis. Sometimes scientist fail to understand the human aspect of things since they are hung up on math and facts. I would like to understand Tom’s ideas and I hope he stays with us but try to post in a way that we can understand as I have very little college.
        • My definition of ERoEI* corrects all the defects of the standard definition which is what the critics of ERoEI usually complain about. But, you already know everything that you need to know. You don’t need no stinking scientific progress. I have been ahead of all you Peak Oil superstars no matter how late you jumped on the bandwagon. They tell me that I am hard to understand. What did you expect? It is always thus with true genius. I am afraid I shall have to give up on Gail Tverberg, the entertainer, who has no business addressing public policy. The rest of you know where to find me.


          And, that's the way it ends.  I suppose I should contact Jan Steinman whom I know from The Solution Magazine and its ancillary activities; but, I see a catering to "notability" there too and I am reasonably certain no good will come from that quarter.  They are not sincere.  I appreciate Scott's defense of me.  I am afraid I am writing for a rather select audience.  As time goes on, it seems that fewer and fewer understand me until, I suppose,  I shall be writing for no one.  By the way, I am not sure I am a "true genius".  But, I'm not sure I'm not.  As I said to Albert Bartlett, average intelligence is decreasing; but, the single highest intelligence, corresponding to the right-most point under the bell curve, is getting higher.  There must be many people much more intelligent than me.