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More on the thermodynamic black hole…

More on the thermodynamic black hole…

I recently wrote about the thermodynamic black hole; articles about ERoEI keep popping up in my in tray that truly baffle me…… As Alice Friedemann told Chris Martenson in the podcast I discussed in the aforementioned blog post, “everyone disagrees on what to leave in or out of their ERoEI analyses”….

I was pointed to another blog called Ramez Naam where the following was published…:

There’s a graph making rounds lately showing the comparative EROIs of different electricity production methods. (EROI is Energy Return On Investment – how much energy we get back if we spend 1 unit of energy. For solar this means – how much more energy does a solar panel generate in its lifetime than is used to create it?)

This EROI graph that is making the rounds is being used to claim that solar and wind can’t support an industrialized society like ours.

But its numbers are wildly different from the estimates produced by other peer-reviewed literature, and suffers from some rather extreme assumptions, as I’ll show.

Here’s the graph.


This graph is taken from Weißbach et al, Energy intensities, EROIs, and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants (pdf link). That paper finds an EROI of 4 for solar and 16 for wind, without storage, or 1.6 and 3.9, respectively, with storage. That is to say, it finds that for every unit of energy used to build solar panels, society ultimately gets back 4 units of energy. Solar panels, according to Weißbach, generate four times as much energy over their lifetimes as it takes to manufacture them.

Personally, I think these figures are a bit on the optimistic side, yet the author has a problem with them for being too low…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Negative energy return of solar PV in Northern Europe

Negative energy return of solar PV in Northern Europe

Preface.  I once yanked this paper after huge blow back, but in the past few years, I have no reason to doubt Ferroni and Hopkirks methods, boundaries, or conclusions, so I’m putting this post back.

An ERoEI of less than 1 means there is a net energy loss. In this paper Ferroni and Hopkirk found the EROEI of Solar PV to be negative, just .82 (+/-) 15%) in countries north of the Swiss Alps.

The problem with EROEI is that there is endless arguing over the boundaries.  For example, Prieto and Hall’s 2013 book, “Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution-The Energy Return on Investment” had energy data for over 20 activities outside the production process of the modules, typically NOT included in EROEI studies. But these steps are necessary, or the solar PV installation won’t happen, and Pablo Prieto built several large installations and was in charge of the finances, so he knew everything required — the road built to access the site, the new transmission lines, the security fence and system and more that EROI studies typically don’t include.

This paper goes beyond Prieto and Hall’s boundaries because it includes labor, the costs of the energy required to integrate and buffer intermittent PV-electricity in the grid (i.e. storage via pumped hydro, batteries, natural gas or coal backup plants), and the energy embodied in faulty equipment.  If Prieto & Hall had included these then their paper would have found a negative EROI, as Prieto wrote here. Though Prieto and Hall’s EROI of 2.6 : 1 in sunny Spain is still far less than the EROI of 10 to 14 many scientists believe necessary to maintain our current civilization.

Another important finding of this paper is that based on recycling rates of PV in Germany, solar panel lifespan is closer to 17 or 18 years than 25.  And that doesn’t count the solar panels that are abandoned or tossed in the trash…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The implications of collapsing ERoEI

The implications of collapsing ERoEI

Judging by the relatively low level of interest the past few articles published here regarding the collapse of fossil fuel ERoEI (along with PV’s) have attracted, I can only conclude that most people just don’t get it……. How can I possibly fix this……?

When I first started ‘campaigning’ on the issue of Peak Oil way back in 2000 or so, 2020 seemed like a veoileroeiry long way away. I still thought at the time that renewables would ‘save us’, or at the very least that energy efficiency would be taken up on a massive scale. None of those things happened.

Way back then, I gave many public powerpoint presentations, foolishly thinking that, presented with the facts, (NOT alternative facts like we have today…) people would wake up to themselves. I even foolishly believed that the Australian Greens would take this up as a major issue, because after all the ‘solutions’ to Peak Oil also happen to be the ‘solutions’ for Climate Change. Now you know why I have turned into such a cynic.

In that presentation, there was one important slide, shown above. It is indelible in my memory.

I’ve now come across a very similar chart, except this one has dates on it….. and 2020 no longer seems very far away at all….



I have selected three years; 2017, in red; 2020 in black; 2025 in green.

Each year has two lines. One for how much energy is being extracted, and the lower one of the same colour shows the net energy available from that extraction. The ‘missing’ energy, lost to crashing ERoEI, is the difference between the two lines of the same colour….  Already, in 2017, we probably only have the amount of energy that was available mid 1980.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Where Energy Modeling Goes Wrong

Where Energy Modeling Goes Wrong

There are a huge number of people doing energy modeling. In my opinion, nearly all of them are going astray in their modeling because they don’t understand how the economy really operates.

The modeling that comes closest to being correct is that which underlies the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows and others. This modeling was based on physical quantities of resources, with no financial system whatsoever. The base model, shown here, indicates that limits would be reached a few years later than we actually seem to be reaching them. The dotted black line in Figure 1 indicates where I saw the world economy to be in January 2019, based on the limits we already seemed to be reaching at that time.

Figure 1. Base scenario from 1972 Limits to Growth, printed using today’s graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in “Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil,” with dotted line added corresponding to where I saw the world economy to be in January 2019, based on how the economy was operating at that time.

The authors of The Limits to Growth have said that their model cannot be expected to be correct after limits hit (which is about now), so even this model is less than perfect. Thus, this model cannot be relied upon to show that population will continue to rise until after 2050.

Many readers are familiar with Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) calculations. These are favorites of many people following the Peak Oil problem. A high ratio of Energy Returned to Energy Invested is considered favorable, while a low ratio is considered unfavorable. Energy sources with similar EROEIs are supposedly equivalent. Even these similarities can be misleading. They make intermittent wind and solar appear far more helpful than they really are.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Invisible oiliness of everything

The Invisible oiliness of everything

Preface.  Even a simple object like a pencil requires dozens of actions to make and dozens of objects that took energy to make.  This is why it is unlikely wind, solar, or any other contraption that make electricity, have a positive return of energy, or energy returned on energy invested.  If you look at all of the energy of the steps to create a wind turbine or solar panel, they don’t produce as much energy as it took to make them, and certainly not enough extra energy to replace themselves.  Besides, electricity is only about 15% of overall energy use, with fossils providing the rest transportation, manufacturing, heating, and the half a million products made from fossils as feedstock as well as energy source.


Just as fish swim in water, we swim in oil.  You can’t understand the predicament we’re in until you can see the oil that saturates every single aspect of our life.

What follows is a life cycle of a simple object, the pencil. I’ve cut back and reworded Leonard Read’s 1958 essay I Pencil, My Family Tree to show the fossil fuel energy inputs (OBJECTS made using energy, like the pencil, are in BOLD CAPITALS, ACTIONS are  BOLD ITALICIZED).

pencils“My family tree begins with … a Cedar tree from Oregon. Now contemplate the antecedents — all the people, numberless skills, and fabrication:

All the SAWS. TRUCKS, ROPE and OTHER GEAR to HARVEST and CART cedar logs to the RAILROAD siding. The MINING of ore, MAKING of STEEL, and its REFINEMENT into SAWSAXES, and MOTORS.


BUILDING of LOGGING CAMPS (BEDS, MESS HALLS). SHOP for, DELIVER, and COOK FOOD to feed the working men. Not to mention the untold thousands of persons who had a hand in every cup of COFFEE the loggers drank!

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Great EROEI Scam: Are renewables a good idea?

The Great EROEI Scam: Are renewables a good idea?

The cheetah in the figure knows very well that it cannot spend more energy in chasing the impala than the impala can provide once eaten (in other words, the cheetah needs an energy return on the investment (EROEI) >1). Carnivores make no calculations about that question, they only know that, if they want to survive , they have to run. And this is our destiny, too. If we want to survive, we need to build new energy sources to replace fossil fuels and to that before depletion or climate change (or both) destroy us. But, unlike lions and cheetahs, we tend to discuss a lot on the subject and, sometimes, to get it completely wrong. This is the problem with the recent movie “Planet of the Humans” and its totally wrong evaluation of renewable energy (image by Nick Farnhill, creative commons license)

Years ago, when I discovered the concept of “EROEI” (or EROI), energy return for energy invested, I was both delighted and elated. “Here is,” I thought, “an objective way to evaluate and compare the efficiency of energy technologies. No more shaky financial calculations, no more ideology, no more politics, only facts. And everyone has to agree on the facts.” And the beauty of the concept was that if the EROEI is smaller than one for a certain technology, then it is an energy sink, not an energy production system.

I was wrong more than I could have imagined. From when the idea of EROEI was first proposed, in the 1980s by Charles Hall, the concept was stretched, squashed, squeezed, twisted, and shaken until it became a useless mongrel. Ideology took over from physics and EROEI became a support for preconceived ideas rather than an evaluation tool.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Energy Dominance Isn’t Just a Trump Obsession

Energy Dominance Isn’t Just a Trump Obsession

Energy Dominance should be the catchphrase of the day. It’s on the minds of every political figure, and the focus of every economy.

This is especially true of those vulnerable to a change in the status quo, namely Saudi Arabia.

While some continue to believe the gyrations of the oil market over the past few months are evidence of our running up against the limit of the petroleum based global economy, I disagree. 

The world is awash in decades of easily-extracted oil and gas. The supply of it has been kept off the market due to its centrality in the grand game of geopolitics. But, it has nothing to do with the amount of oil and gas out there.

Peak oil has become a religion among its adherents. Decrying the U.S. shale boom, rightly, for its profligacy has more to do with it being a consequence of disastrous central bank inflation rather than some grand plan of the ‘cabal’ because we passed peak EROEI some time ago.

When you drop interest rates to zero and flood the world with liquidity that can only find a home in equity markets, the natural result is malinvestment into unsustainable business practices.

The first wave of the shale boom in the U.S. occurred during this period and created the dynamic we have today. It’s groundwork was laid when oil prices spiked during Greenspan’s post-9/11 reflation and the Iraq War took a lot of marginal supply off the table. 

That sparked a gold rush mentality and a huge boom occurred as oil prices kept rising after “Bernanke saved the world” with trillions in liquidity and multiple rounds of QE. 

Properties were bought based on sky-high valuations which were the result of searching for yield in a yield-free world. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Paying the True Costs of Living

Paying the True Costs of Living

We’re in trouble. We as in the people of the Earth, which is all the people there are, notwithstanding theories of extraterrestrials munching their popcorn equivalents while watching us flail about. Our planet is only so big and has only so much in the way of natural resources to offer us. Think of The Giving Tree. As we cruise to a 7.7 Billion human population, the rest of the Earth and its species aren’t doing so hot (anthropological climate change aside), with a few notable exceptions such as starlings, cockroaches, and rats. This represents one of the unquantified costs of living, the impact of our increasing population and activities on the global ecosystem. Not to mention the ever decreasing EROEI (energy return on energy invested) that is signalling the end of capitalism as we know it. Gulp!

For example, flying insect biomass has been found to have decreased by over 75% in Germany over the past 27 years. Insects are one of the foundations of our ecological house, with some 10 quintillion (1 with 19 zeroes after it) bugs in existence on Earth at any given time. Well, maybe 2.5 quintillion these days. Regardless, the fate of these lowly arthropods is an indicator of the fate of higher organism and our fate as well. Other animals eat these bugs and are themselves eaten, the whole circle of life thing. Such as in Britain where farmland birds have declined by 50% since 1970. The world has been made aware of hive collapse syndrome in our hard working bees for hire which pollinate so many of our food crops. But what about all those wild bugs that pollinate for free? Can we lose 75% of them and maintain a functioning ecosystem? 85%? 95%?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why The Coming Oil Crunch Will Shock The World

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Why The Coming Oil Crunch Will Shock The World

And why we need a new energy strategy — fast.

My years working in corporate strategy taught me that every strategic framework, no matter how complex (some I worked on were hundreds of pages long), boils down to just two things:

  1. Where do you want to go? (Vision)
  2. How are you going to get there? (Resources)

Vision is the easier one by far. You just dream up a grand idea about where you want the company to be at some target future date, Yes, there’s work in assuring that everybody on the management team truly shares and believes in the vision, but that’s a pretty stratightforward sales job for the CEO.

By the way, this same process applies at the individual level, too, for anyone who wants to achieve a major goal by some point in the future. The easy part of the strategy is deciding you want to be thinner, healthier, richer, or more famous.

But the much harder part, for companies and individuals alike, is figuring out ‘How to get there’. There are always fewer resources than one would prefer.

Corporate strategists always wish for more employees to implement the vision, with better training with better skills. Budgets and useful data are always scarcer than desired, as well.

Similar constraints apply to us individuals. Who couldn’t use more motivation, time and money to pursue their goals?

Put together, the right Vision coupled to a reasonably mapped set of Resources can deliver amazing results. Think of the Apollo Moon missions. You have to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there to succeed. That’s pretty straightforward, right?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…



As the U.S. and global oil industry continue to cannibalize itself just to stay alive, the market is totally clueless because investors are being misled by the fallacy that technology will solve our peak oil crisis.  While technology has allowed more oil to make it to the market, it has done so at a very high cost.  Unfortunately, a significant percentage of the increased cost to produce this high-tech oil was subsidized by debt from unsuspecting investors.

Hundreds of billions of Dollars were invested in the U.S. Shale Energy Industry by investors who were looking for a higher return on their money than they could receive from banks or other financial institutions.  Sadly, most investors will not see the return of their funds as the U.S. Shale Energy Industry isn’t making the profits to pay back this debt.

However, many resource analysts aren’t able to understand the ramifications of the falling EROI – Energy Returned On Investment and Thermodynamics in the energy industry.  Thus, they believe in the fantasy of unlimited oil production and economic growth on a finite planet.  Analysts and the public believe this nonsense due in part to claims of new revolutionary energy extraction technology.  Once such company is Petroteq Energy that claims that it can produce oil sands at a low-cost of $20 a barrel.

Over the past several months, I have received countless emails from followers who provided links to articles promoting these amazing new energy technologies:

Clean Oil That Only Costs $20

Why The Next Oil Boom Will Be Fueled By Blockchain

This Revolutionary Technology Could Deliver $22 Oil… In A $70 World

Interestingly, all of these articles were promoting the same company… Petroteq Energy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dr. Charles Hall: The Laws Of Nature Trump Economics

It’s all about Energy Retun On Energy Invested (EROEI)

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.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our only hope for long term survival

Our only hope for long term survival


Language warning: Many may find the following article offensive, such as:
  • Technocornucopians – eg geoengineering and carbon drawdown fantasists, blinkered university academics and engineers, TZM, Elon Musk etc
  • People who think reducing population and/or consumption are sacred cows which should never be mentioned
  • People who are shocked by and reject the idea that billions will die this century
  • Economists – who know the price of everything but the value of nothing
  • The Pope (who jumped on the bandwagon too late, but nice dress though)
  • Christians and other religious types
  • Global warming deniers
  • EconomistsCreationists
  • Politicians
  • Most Americans (they are mad)
  • Kim Jong Un (slightly less mad)
  • NBL fanatics (not referring to the basketball league here)
  • Economists
If you take umbrage at this article please consider the possibility you may be a fw rather than a sp

I agree entirely with Dennis Meadows that climate change should be regarded as a symptom or complication or side effect of our overshoot. Climate chaos will relentlessly worsen to become the worst problem threatening our very existence, but it is not the core problem. Furthermore it is not the most urgent problem right now. Despite many areas having been hit by severe weather events, global industrial civilisation is not immediately at risk of being brought down by climate change1. Financial and economic collapse, which are intimately linked with the depletion of “easy” (high EROEI) oil and the looming net energy cliff (which will cause all resource outputs to fall off their respective Seneca cliffs) are much more immediate threats.

I assert that those who endeavour to study our predicaments should categorise threats according to what is worst, what is at the core and what is most urgent. Climate change is just one manifestation of the Limits to Growth and is not a core problem. Trying to address climate change in isolation is and always was futile. Solitary focus on “fixing” climate change alone will result in:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The ERoEI of Mining Uranium

The ERoEI of Mining Uranium

In 2009, in the comments to this post on The Oil Drum we stumbled upon a mine of information on the operation of the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia. The data table provided numbers for the amount of energy used on site together with the amount of uranium mined. This provided an opportunity to calculate the energy return of the mining operation. Simply put ERoEI = energy contained in the U / the energy used to mine and refine it. There are some complexities but back then I calculated an ERoEI of 1200:1 The data has been updated and fresh calculations are presented below.

First a few words about Rossing. The mine is operated by Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies. Discovered in 1928, operations began in 1976. According to Wikipedia Rossing is the 5th largest U mine in the world. The uranium ore is mined, milled and refined at Rossing and the energy numbers here reflect energy used to go from rock to yellow cake (U3O8 inset image up top).

Figure 1 Rossing mine.

Figure 2 Location map from Rio Tinto. Rossing is by Arandis (red dot)

The performance table provides data over 5 years:

Figure 3 Performance table from Rio Tinto.

My calculations are based on 2016.

The first important number to pick out is the energy use on site: 2,528,000 GJ [1]

The second is the uranium oxide produced: 1,850,000 kg [2]

The atomic mass of U = 238 and O = 16. U3O8 = 842 amu. U/U3O8 = 714/842 = 0.848

The third important number is uranium metal produced = 1,850,000 * 0.848 = 1,568,880 kg [3]

We can now calculate the fourth important number which is energy used to mine 1 kg = 2,528,000 GJ / 1,568,880 kg = 1,611 MJ/kg [4]

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Will the World Economy Continue to “Roll Along” in 2018?

Will the World Economy Continue to “Roll Along” in 2018?

Once upon a time, we worried about oil and other energy. Now, a song from 1930 seems to be appropriate:

Today, we have a surplus of oil, which we are trying to use up. That never happened before, or did it? Well, actually, it did, back around 1930. As most of us remember, that was not a pleasant time. It was during the Great Depression.

Figure 1. US ending stocks of crude oil, excluding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Amounts will include crude oil in pipelines and in “tank farms,” awaiting processing. Businesses normally do not hold more crude oil than they need in the immediate future, because holding this excess inventory has a cost involved. Figure produced by EIA. Amounts through early 2016.

A surplus of a major energy commodity is a sign of economic illness; the economy is not balancing itself correctly. Energy supplies are available for use, but the economy is not adequately utilizing them. It is a sign that something is seriously wrong in the economy–perhaps too much wage disparity.

Figure 3. U. S. Income Shares of Top 10% and Top 1%, Wikipedia exhibit by Piketty and Saez.

If wages are relatively equal, it is possible for even the poorest citizens of the economy to be able to buy necessary goods and services. Things like food, homes, and transportation become affordable by all. It is easy for “Demand” and “Supply” to balance out, because a very large share of the population has wages that are adequate to buy the goods and services created by the economy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

WORLD’S LARGEST OIL COMPANIES: Deep Trouble As Profits Vaporize While Debts Skyrocket

WORLD’S LARGEST OIL COMPANIES: Deep Trouble As Profits Vaporize While Debts Skyrocket

The world’s largest oil companies are in serious trouble as their balance sheets deteriorate from higher costs, falling profits and skyrocketing debt.  The glory days of the highly profitable global oil companies have come to an end.  All that remains now is a mere shadow of the once mighty oil industry that will be forced to continue cannibalizing itself to produce the last bit of valuable oil.

I realize my extremely unfavorable opinion of the world’s oil industry runs counter to many mainstream energy analysts, however, their belief that business, as usual, will continue for decades, is entirely unfounded.  Why?  Because, they do not understand the ramifications of the Falling EROI – Energy Returned On Invested, and its impact on the global economy.

For example, Chevron was able to make considerable profits in 1997 when the oil price was $19 a barrel.  However, the company suffered a loss in 2016 when the price was more than double at $44 last year.  And, it’s even worse than that if we compare the company’s profit to total revenues.  Chevron enjoyed a $3.2 billion net income profit on revenues of $42 billion in 1997 versus a $497 million loss on total sales of $114 billion in 2016.  Even though Chevron’s revenues nearly tripled in twenty years, its profit was decimated by the falling EROI.

Unfortunately, energy analysts, who are clueless to the amount of destruction taking place in the U.S. and global oil industry by the falling EROI, continue to mislead a public that is totally unprepared for what is coming.  To provide a more realistic view of the disintegrating energy industry, I will provide data from seven of the largest oil companies in the world.

The World’s Major Oil Companies Debt Explode Since The 2008 Financial Crisis

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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