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Murray Grimwood outlines why and how be believes our relationship with, and understanding of, energy must change

Public Policy / opinion
Murray Grimwood outlines why and how be believes our relationship with, and understanding of, energy must change

By Murray Grimwood*

Despite submissions and articles, this Government – all the way up to the PM – is still peddling hydrogen, hot air and hopium.

The official story is that we will run a growing economy on renewable energy, including using renewably-sourced energy to create hydrogen. We are even contemplating exporting this ‘green’ hydrogen to ‘make money’. On many levels this is fantasy; it’s time we discussed energy – and its relationship with money – honestly. 

Big-picture, all economic activity is dependent on energy. No energy, no work; no work, nothing done. Nothing extracted/processed/proffered, so nothing purchased/trashed. And in that scenario, money would be worth? 

Here in its simplest form, is the big picture; the real story; the true narrative: 

Notice that energy isn’t really ‘produced’; we collect it, use it, discard it. It cannot be destroyed, but every move reduces its quality. Eventually it becomes the low-grade thermal energy in the diagram; irretrievable because the retrieving would use more energy than it would return.

All life requires energy. The basics being food and a survivable temperature-range. Beyond fundamental needs there is ‘surplus energy’; firewood and stored grain being humankind’s earliest examples (exogenous examples that is; we’ve always stored energy in our body-fat).

Every stage of human progress, so often recorded as a societal and technological advancement, can be compared with a graph of contemporary energy-use; the tracks overlay almost perfectly. Put differently, every quantum step-up of human progress thus far, has piggy-backed on an energy step-up.

Now, happening for the first time at global scale, we are entering an energy step-down. We are traversing from fossilised-sunlight energy (fossil fuels, which we are rapidly drawing-down the stocks of) to renewable energy, from which we aren’t going to get nearly so much bang for our buck. This is an orders-of-magnitude game-changer, exacerbated by overpopulation.

Growth

Everyone - politicians, businesspeople, bankers, the elite, the disenfranchised - wants growth. But growth is dependent on energy-supply growth – or on endless efficiency-gains; a thermodynamic impossibility - and that graph is heading down. We avoid this unwelcome possibility by hanging onto the every word of a ‘discipline’ which evolved to study only what happens inside the box in the above diagram: Economics. To continue validating itself, Economics has had to ever-more-stridently deny the existence of the circle outside the box. Trouble is; without the circle we are dead.

New Zealand

In blunt terms, the current level of energy-use in NZ is spilt; 60% fossil, 40% electricity. Let’s not delve into how much of the electricity infrastructure was built using, or is being maintained by, fossil energy. Let’s also ignore peak-load fossil energy. Roughly speaking, we are betting on a future level of activity – a rate of work – requiring an extra grid-and-a-half. We are going to have to build the infrastructure using the only energy we use to build stuff with; fossil energy. Maintained then by? Nobody has built and maintained renewable infrastructure, using renewable infrastructure. 

EROEI

The reason renewable infrastructure doesn’t build infrastructure – and the problem with the likes of hydrogen - is EROEI; Energy Return on Energy Invested. It is a simply-understood equation; if a wolf chases a rabbit but the chase expends more energy than the eating of the rabbit returns, the wolf dies. No exceptions. Plump rabbits, close, are the better target; scrawny ones at a distance, not so much.

In energy terms, we stumbled on an underground store of rabbits, 200 years ago. And fed ourselves as fast as we could, plumpest/closest first. We are about half-way through that one-off store; scrawniness is showing up as fracking, tar-sands, deep-water drilling. Distance, as pipelines, tankers, and energy-sapping wars.

Simply put, it is taking more of the energy we extract, to do the extracting and delivering. In net energy input, global society has almost certainly peaked. 

Not only is it taking more energy to obtain energy; it is taking more of that energy to obtain mineral resources. Where it once took the removal of 10 tons of ‘overburden’ to get at a ton of copper, we are now removing 400 – using the lower-EROEI oil to do so. Litres expended per ton obtained - obviously - gets worse rapidly, being a product of both exponentially decreasing trends. 

Entropy

Entropy is the flow of energy from left to right in the diagram. It flows from low entropy (high quality) to high entropy (low quality – usually low-grade heat). You leave the air behind you a little warmer as you walk – traceable from sun to crop to food to digestion to muscles to friction/radiation/evaporation (sweat). But – and it’s the but of all buts – you would expend more energy going back and scooping it up, than it would give you. 

Entropy also shows up as decay, it’s why we can judge people’s age visually. Decay requires parrying; meaning energy being applied to maintenance. There has never been more infrastructure on the planet, all decaying exponentially, all competing for an exponentially-reducing energy supply. The graphs cross; triage, there will be. 

Geopolitics

Geopolitically, there will be escalating conflict over energy-supplies. Our social narrative regarding conflict – too often regurgitated unquestioningly by our journalists and historians – concentrates on persona; on ‘dratted others’. They were bad, we are good. The histories are largely written by the winners; the truth is that the winners get access to the best resources – which for the last 200 years, have included fossil energy. And the wish to feel good about themselves makes winners avoid inconvenient truths. 

The Holy Grail

Globally and locally, the UN Sustainable Development Goals go unchallenged. But human overpopulation, coupled  with the finite supplies of energy and resources of a finite planet, render half the SDGs unattainable, and expose at least one as a total oxymoron. There can be no guaranteed ‘rights’ for an unfettered population within the confines of a Bounded System; the assertion was an unfounded anthropocentric arrogance.

Money, aka forward betting

Given that global energy-supply has probably peaked, forward bets are increasingly in danger of becoming invalid; they were, after all, bets on more energy in the future, and on more future resources to apply it to. Pension-expectations, savings, investments, even cash, they’re all forward bets. And if there’s going to be ever-less available energy (and of lower EROEI, compounded by the ever-worse quality of the remaining resources it will be applied to) then expect increasing supply-chain disruptions.

Expect incurable inflation (for a while, at least). Expect contention as to which currency energy is traded in. (The media, blinded by economic/social thinking and thus failing to understand the primal importance of energy, has missed this global chess-game. It’s: ‘That dratted Putin’, rather than ‘Watch thou for the Petro-Ruble, our debts will be exposed.) All sounding familiar? 

Reconciling our current collection of forward bets with reality, would be better than collapse of the system. Maybe it cannot be done – but the appraisal will have to be done by folk who think beyond the box in the diagram. Which rules out the current economics-trained echelon.

Flawed narrative

In a nutshell, our entire social narrative is putting its cart before its horse. We assume business as usual will continue as usual, but it was never usual; it was never more than a temporary fossil-energised hiatus. Having made that fundamentally-flawed assumption, we have made matters worse by making heroic bets on the system growing; exponentially and forever. This within a bounded system (Earth) which is already demonstrably under stress; go figure!

Looking ahead

If we project forward, say, 50 years; NZ will be doing very well indeed if it is running on 50% of the energy it currently enjoys. Globalism – clearly disintegrating now – is gone, export and import volumes mere vestiges of the past. Physical growth is history. The biggest headache has been increasing infrastructure maintenance; all will have been triaged, much discarded, anything remaining will be locally-maintainable. Given the scarcity of energy, it will be used very carefully, very efficiently; driving kids to soccer in the SUV is… unlikely. And on what road-surface anyway? (Fossil feedstock being what roads are made of, and by). 

We will be collecting solar energy directly, and indirectly via hydro and wind. Rivers, windmills, remnant PV panels, water-heating panels, thermal mass (in buildings), food-production, timber, maybe biofuel crops; these will be the collectors. Storage will be in dams, trees, crops, thermal mass, batteries or hydrogen (the latter two being energy-losing propositions).

If we are still thinking environmentally, water-at-height (lakes, ponds, tanks) will be seen as the most benign active-energy storage option. 

Via the efficiency imperative, we will be attempting to access energy as close to its source, with as little transmission, alteration and storage, as possible. Electric and bio-diesel/electric trains are possible; private hydrogen/battery cars – reliant on global supply-chains and unlikely grid upgrades or massive local-generation build-outs – are probably not. Local solar capture – food, house-heating, water-heating, maybe electricity – is valid, meaning that three-storey urban cramming (too many people per sunlit area) is not.

A migration from urban cramming to food-producing land – the logical reverse of the fossil-energised rural-to-city migration over the previous two centuries – is inevitable. (Cities are not ecologically benign, in the same way that ‘economies’ don’t really decouple from their impacts; both demand production and pollution ‘somewhere else’. Cities are really just giant heat-engines; only economists – purloining physics terms in an attempt to self-legitimise – call them ‘engines of growth’). 

Leadership

In attempting to prolong the un-prolongable, Government, aided by a substantive portion of the Green voice (think: urban cramming, electric vehicles and carbon sequestration) is advocating anything promising plug-and-play replacement for fossil energy. The impossibility of unfettered growth, the overshot state of our own species, the unprecedented degradation of our only home, go uncounted. Thus we get enthusiasm for turning water-at-height into electricity, turning that into hydrogen, attempting to contain that smallest of molecules and export it - to ‘make money’. 

False conclusions are the inevitable result of beginning with false assumptions, and we are running out of time to base our assumptions on correct ones. We may, indeed, have already run out of time. Leadership in a period of status-quo is done by those who favour the status-quo.

Leadership in the face of inevitable change, requires Churchillian bravery. Covid was an ideal time for a reset; we extended and pretended. Ukraine was another; yet again, we extended and pretended.

Given the enormity of the change and the speed at which events will come upon us, we need much braver leadership. The problem has been known of for at least the 50 years since Forrester’s team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology released World3 (made famous in the Club of Rome publication Limits to Growth, see below via Nate Hagens). 

The problem is simple; given the fossil energy left, we need to ascertain what living on, say, 50% less energy in a post-growth world, would look like for New Zealand. We need to ascertain what infrastructure is worth pursuing (to Onslow or not to Onslow?) – and what would be a waste of the remaining time, energy and resources.

As it is energy and resources per capita, which is the valid measure (true poverty being a lack of both), a smaller population will be wealthier individually than a large one (another point those inside-the-box economists got totally wrong). So we need to have a discussion about maximum desirable population; a reasonable assumption being that it will be less than current, due to the reduction of energy/resource inputs. Better we go there proactively, than waiting for the natural overshoot/collapse sequence. 

It is obviously better that we retain some form of social cohesion during the period ahead. The reduction of surplus energy, coupled with the ever-more of it required to maintain what we’ve already built, will threaten such cohesion. This too, has to be clearly understood; promise folk the undeliverable and they just get angry; at best they end up on your Parliament grounds in tents. At worst? But promise them ‘Blood, toil, tears and sweat’, being brutally honest about it, and they might just come with you. 

It’s worth a shot; we won’t get it all right, but it would better than flying blind. The discussion will be distorted/prolonged by status-quo-vested interests; Pied Pipers promising ‘a joyous land…just at hand’. We need to be beyond that; we need to raise our game, see a clearer picture, have a more thoughtful societal discussion. Bring it on, we’re late already. 

Useful reading:

https://advisory.kpmg.us/articles/2021/limits-to-growth.html
https://sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/about/honoraries-and-associates/honoraries/dr-graham-turner
https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Economics-for-the-future-%E2%80%93-Beyond-the-superorganism-Hagens/ebb923b7a032c0df0419df1c45ea20a69ac3555c
https://escholarship.org/uc/energy_ambitions
https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/
https://peakprosperity.com/the-trouble-with-money-3/
https://consciousnessofsheep.co.uk/
 


*Murray Grimwood comments on interest.co.nz as powerdownkiwi.

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90 Comments

Is Murray PDK?

 

Good summary btw, thanks for writing/posting it.

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Yeah, he's  had a few articles published here before.

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We owe thanks to Interest.co. for journalistic bravery.

This article was sent to Newsroom - no acknowledgement, not even a ' no thanks'.

It was sent to Kim Hill, Kathryn Ryan, Bryan Crump and Jim Mora - collectively the journalism end of RNZ. I'm picking there will be no reply, and no coverage (will edit this post should that happen).

My question to all those folk, is this: If this article contains the truth of our predicament (rebuttal invited); how do we describe journalism which avoids the topic? What, indeed, is the difference between silence and falsehood-peddling?

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PDK -thanks for an informative piece and excellent precie of the problems sadly lacking solutions, perhaps that will be a future article, I hope so as there is much progress on alternatives and we have to survive until they become practical and economic.   

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Thanks PDK - much easier to read here in one go, rather than picking bits out of all other discussion threads.

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An excellent article and summary thank you PDK! 

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I for one am glad to have this PDK summary - troubling as it is.

Can solar harvesting get efficient enough? let us use the "outside the circle" energy?

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THE LARGE-SCALE RENEWABLES

And then there are the very large-scale projects and proposals based on renewable sources of energy. There is desert solar: the building—already started in several of the world’s deserts—of arrays of solar concentrators, producing electricity to be transported by cable around the world. And there is the proposal for large-scale offshore wind, which would supply much of Europe with energy generated from fixed and floating turbines in (for instance) the North Sea and North Atlantic.E193

Whether such projects are developed in practice on the needed scale depends primarily on factors beyond the reach of the technologies themselves—notably money, materials (especially copper) and time. If there were no prospect of an energy crunch in the near future, then the construction of such massive-scale proposals could be feasible. But they need to be based on an economy which is thriving and competent, able to sustain its capital, its ability to plan, and a transport system which reliably gets people into work. It also needs to have a power grid in full working order and large infrastructures for construction and maintenance.

The expectation that the energy crunch will come before such projects are able to make a serious and useful contribution is not really an argument against making the attempt. But large-scale visions—including nuclear energy—cannot be seen as reasons to be diverted from a radically different energy strategy. We must frankly recognise that the large energy sources on which our society depends face the same collective risk of failure as the other conditions for sustained global industrial growth. Large-scale connectedness is intrinsically and critically vulnerable.

No dismissal of desert solar is implied in the observation that the climacteric—itself partly the product of the converging failure of the large energy establishments—will shortly be upon us, and will demand a profound rethink with regard to resilient energy supply. The alternative to these large-scale technologies is to choose, instead—starting now—to make something quite different happen: deep planned reductions in the energy we use, along with brilliance about how to respond to the challenge of doing so. That is, to think lean.

 

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Poldark - short answer yes at leaast partially, I have researched solar for h/hold and there is much progress in panel efficiency but at best 30% increase from a 20% efficient panel so a 400 watt panel may produce 500 watts peak in ideal weather. My current 7kw system produces about 4kw a day in winter on a clear skies day much more in summer when my demand is lower and the sun at a better angle and for longer so a long way to go for this to be the answer but widespread adoption plus better insulation would reduce h/hold electricity demand and possibly reduce fossil fuel use in generation allowing renewables - hydro - to supply a great % of energy use.

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Well written Murray. It's like reading The Long Emergency in ten minutes. 

You make the statement that energy supply has probably peaked. The trouble is we have been told that for many years now, and the average punter hasn't seen any hard evidence of it happening. Electricity and oil is still very cheap (compared to what it will eventually become) and is always available here. So to tell them blood sweat and tears is in their near future will fall on deaf ears mainly. If you were the PM, what would you change right now?, and would you get re-elected?

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I'd tell them that I'd had an epiphany; that I'd realised what underwrites money. I'd tell them that our 'nuclear-free moment' isn't Climate Change - as I'd been led to believe; that that is just the exhaust-pipe manifestation of our problem. And I'd give them a rough plan - Moses kept it to 10 bullet-points on one A4.

No, probably not. Maybe we only elect Churchills post hoc? 

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I am fairly certain all the issues in your article will come to pass, eventually. When, I don't know. 

I will quote Carlos67 from another thread today where he sums up the leadership problem better than I can:

"Sorry to sound like a DGM but the whole planet is on a downward trajectory and no generation is prepared to even discuss the really tough moves required to turn that around because if they did they would never get into power in the first place. The human race are going to fly straight into a brick wall, the only question is when."

It will take a dictatorship along the lines of Orwells 1984 to turn the plane around. 

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As a long time lurker on interest.co.nz..

This is fantastic and well written article - succinctly summarizing your usual commentary in a clear narrative.

Thanks for putting it together PDK. You are a real asset to this site!

 

How can we collectively bring this conversation to light at the leadership level of both NZ and the global scale?

It seems clear grass-roots movements are growing in this space, but meaningful change is going to require more than a select few.

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Murray and I are part of the Wise Response society, which makes submissions such as this one to the Infrastructure Commission... 

https://bit.ly/3yk7dmm

At this point, though, after years of trying (have a look back through the submissions we've made), all I can say is they seem immune to reality. 

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PDK always ignores nuclear and technological advancement in his grim predictions of the future.

"However, the oceans of the world contain 4.5 billion tons of uranium dissolved in seawater. That’s enough to last something on the order of 6,500 years. The uranium in the oceans is being topped up by rivers, which deliver uranium at a rate of 32 000 tons per year.

...In addition, the technique can even use waste fibers for a greater cost savings and that analysis shows that seawater extraction could be competitive with land mining at present prices."

https://newatlas.com/nuclear-uranium-seawater-fibers/55033/  http://withouthotair.com/c24/page_164.shtml

  • Had Germany spent $580 billion on nuclear instead of renewables, and the fossil plant upgrades and grid expansions they require, it would have had enough energy to both replace all fossil fuels and biomass in its electricity sector and replace all of the petroleum it uses for cars and light trucks.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/09/11/had-they-b…

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Thanks for those links .... yes indeedily , the future need not be seen as bleak , but as golden with opportunities  .... I'm a big nuclear  & solar fan myself ... though NZ is sadly missing much of its geothermal potential ... a 6500 year supply of uranium does give us enough to go on with for the time being ... I'll begin worrying and gloomerising after that ...

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Good to see you reading Pielke I've been linking. He talks a lot of sense.

This article aptly demonstrates the climate emergency is a social engineering project - and if people truly believed the hype a nuclear power plant would be built every day. France has already demonstrates how to go nuclear quickly. Could it be our nuclear moment or is climate change (TM) not that important?

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There are about 10000 cities in the world. One nuclear plant each over the next 50 years would do it.

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Overlay your 50 years, onto the second (LTG) graph in the article.

:)

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Why provide a reckon when you have clearly not read the article?

 

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Techno-hopium at it's finest. Are you going to filter the oceans yourself?

Factor in a 3.5% growth rate and it's all gone in less than 300 years btw. Along with us too I would think.

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Yes, yes I am, going to filter the oceans myself. Next question?

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You don't need to do anything so complicated, even if we run out of Uranium-235 we can just stick a fertile material, like Uranium-238, into a breeder reactor. Because Uranium is so cheap currently we only extract about 1% of the potential energy from it.

All that said though it's very messy, Thorium reactors appear more likely to be the future presently.

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I'm not worried about us running out of uranium - I'm just trying to placate the poor hand wringers. Any hey it might improve the economics of desal plants.

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profile,

You keep me amused, if nothing else. The uranium link was written some 4 years ago. Has it progressed since? I will take the cost estimates with a large pinch of salt if you don't mind. The technical problems of scaling will inevitably turn out to be much greater than assumed. Just think of the effort that has gone into tidal arrays with as yet, very little to show for it.

Where I diverge from pdk is more a matter of degree. i am more optimistic than he is, but a good deal less so than you are. Much of what he says is incontrovertible-like the long downwards trajectory in EROI and I have little doubt that the general picture he paints is sadly, accurate.

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It doesn't need to progress given there is plentiful land based uranium. Uranium exploration investment in the past 50 years has been pitiful. Wringing hands over some perceived lack of uranium/energy is wasted emotional energy. 

 

 

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The point profile, is how to extract that uranium? We don't have magic wands. It would require a hell of a lot of infrastructure, which you need to build, then maintain using fossil fuels. And that's what PDK is trying to point out. 

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PDK's goalpost shift from energy to Pielke's net zero article supports the fact nuclear can be rolled out, there is no lack of resources to build nuclear power plants. If governments thought we were short of resources they would not be building intermittent offshore windmills with idling back up power plants!

Piellke from PDK's net zero link - "Technology reduces emissions. Can we hit net-zero by 2050? The scale of the challenge is huge, but that does not make achieving the goal impossible."

France also demonstrates how fast nuclear can be rolled out as a real world example.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerpielke/2019/09/30/net-zero-carbon-dio…

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Great read and all just the undeniable facts about the realities of our place in a finite planet. I think sometimes PDK downplays our ability to adapt, but I fully agree that our adaptation will need to take place within the limited bounds of what the planet can accomodate.

When PDK tries to educate people here on the realities of a finite planet I can’t escape the thought he is attempting to teach advanced calculus to the remedial math class. 

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... advanced calculators  ... ... what's that all about , then ?  ... sounds great ... 

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Remedial maths, ahhh the memories.

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The presumption behind this and your earlier comments on the breakfast briefing have one glaring and false assumption. 
 

Fossil fuels aren’t some golden energy source sitting atop a pyramid of inferior options. Fossil fuels were easy (technologically to tap). Not as easy as firewood or horses but pretty easy. But ease isn’t the same as efficiency. Look at horses, easy to tap but ultimately less efficient. Same with firewood.

The earth has more energy than we will need, at least for the foreseeable future. You’ve pointed out all energy comes from the sun, of which we tap effectively nothing. Your idea of the most efficient energy process is the sun hits trees, trees grow, are buried by some geological process, become fossil fuels and are then harvested, burnt, turned into thermal energy/kinetic force, drive a machine and then you have ‘energy’.

Per your thinking this is at a fundamental level more efficient than harvesting solar/wind/tidal power. The conversion of those forces being significantly more direct.

The point you’ve missed is that fossil fuels didn’t start off efficient. No Diesel engine from the 19th century or 18th century steam engine is competitive today. These processes have evolved in their century+ of dominance. I’m sure Diesel engines have increased materially in efficiency in just the last 10-20 years, their 11th and 12th decades. 
 

Solar power has seen huge reductions in cost in the last decade, more than anyone predicted. Just a small portion of the surface of the earth can collect the power we use today, just from solar. And we have more than that - wind, hydro, geothermal, nuclear. The more of these we use, the cheaper they will get. As an example of potential innovation - peskovite could allow significantly cheaper panels. This may not pay off but while you can’t predict the specific breakthrough the trend is towards significantly lower cost solutions.
 

Storing energy is a challenge but batteries are also dropping in cost rapidly and with the surge in electric cars and the investment that comes with it I expect massive breakthroughs in the future. 
 

The conversion of oil to energy is actually rubbish. What 30% efficient? The path from solar panel => battery => driving is more direct and more efficient. All we need to do is reduce the manufacturing costs which is perfectly feasible.  

 

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Fossil fuels aren’t some golden energy source sitting atop a pyramid of inferior options

Actually they are. This professor goes into the pros vs cons of all of the energy options. You can clearly see the superiority of fossil fuels and the challenges / trade-offs of other energy sources. His take home message is that we have to start transitioning to alternatives early or we'll be screwed. 

https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2012/02/the-alternative-energy-matrix/

 

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Fossil energy was of a much higher EROEI than solar. We didn't have to do - or pay for - the aeons of compaction and cooking; that happened before we evolved:

https://euanmearns.com/eroei-for-beginners/

Perhaps divest 'costs' from 'resource availability' in your thinking?

https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/tag/ecoe/

 

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You are talking about EROEI of different sources as if it’s fixed when it is variable. As the efficiency of solar goes up, the EROEI improves. It’s obvious looking at the fundamentals that it is possible for solar to be superior to oil, to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

Oil has had 120 years of massive investment in R&D and the opportunity to operate at massive scale - yielding economies. Solar (and other alternatives) are still nascent, but all signs point to rapidly reducing costs. 
 

Saying well the EROEI of the tech today is worse so therefore the the EROEI will always be worse is an obvious strawman. 
 

By the way, if we are doing strawman arguments, if I spend X energy making solar and installing solar panels in the sahara and I spend the same energy building a diesel generator, extracting oil from the ground shipping it to the diesel generator and running it to generate power, are you saying the diesel generator would have a better EROEI?

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And you're talking about efficiency as if it's a continuous thing, rather than subject to diminishing returns (not to mention the rebound effect). 

The rapidly reducing costs you're referring to are an artifact of mass scale manufacturing (limited by resource quality which is declining as Murray notes re ore concentrations, and supply rate, at the input end, and limitations on automation, etc at the factory), and bigger panels (limited by practical shipping and installation constraints). The actual efficiency of silicon solar panels has increased only in small increments, and is already at or near its practical limit. 

The point on the EROEI of a diesel generator vs panels if we're making it now is an interesting one. It comes down to defining the boundary you're considering. It may well be true that traditional boundaries for the diesel supply chain have been too narrow, and given the declining quality of the crude and distillates we're refining into diesel, the examples you cite are probably closer than many would imagine at this point. I don't think that was the case historically, when the oil resource quality being exploited was much higher.

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There are two types of efficiency.

The efficiency of the panel in operation, and the efficiency of the production of the panel - this is approximated by cost. The total being cost per kwh.

Yes, sometimes it’s just same materials faster but that represents savings in something that uses energy since by your own theory everything used distills to energy used.

Take batteries as example. Some materials are expensive - cobalt, nickel, lithium - it’s possible that a better chemistry will replace these with more common materials. Like batteries based on sodium. You can’t discount the future innovation. That is how the Malthusians missed the green revolution.

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The apparent cost efficiency of production is an artifact of the hidden subsidies granted the mining and fossil energy companies through their success at 'regulatory capture'. 

And the battery chemistry is as good as it gets with lithium. That's why we use it.... https://bit.ly/3vN1AeI 

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What a silly thing to say. That is like someone 200 years ago saying a horse is the fastest means of land transportation possible because that is why we use them.
 

Fundamental science discoveries take a long time to be commercialised. There are a host of identified battery chemistries potentially superior to lithium ion. A number of these bypass the more expensive components. The trick is balancing the deficits and scaling them to be able to produce them efficiently. 

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The Green Revolution happened off the back of natural gas via the Haber process, I hope you appreciate the irony of your comment.

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I fully appreciate it. I also appreciate that those fossil fuel processes are not a unique way of creating fertiliser.

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You're oversimplifying: 

Yes, on a day to day 'flow' basis, the earth receives far more solar energy than we use. The challenge is building infrastructure to harness it. IF we'd continued at scale the efforts that begun in the 1970's, we'd be a lot further forward than we are now. Neoliberal idiocy put paid to that opportunity though, and we're half a century further into the non-renewable (on any meaningful human timescale) resources that we'd need.

Nate Hagens (Murray references him in the article) has written a comprehensive book, 'Reality Blind' which includes a reasonably concise discussion on why you're wrong to assert that we can build out sufficient renewables / nuclear / etc. It's the scale of the effort required: 

"What is referred to in common parlance as "renewable energy", then, is the notion that there are devices humans can make which will channel and concentrate useable flows of energy for us more or less indefinitely from the ongoing diffuse flow of fusion energy from the sun. And not just a little bit, but (a) in amounts comparable to what we are now getting by burning fossil carbon and hydrocarbons, and (b) with a relatively smooth societal transition." 

That turns out not to be the case, for many reasons. We realize that pretty much everyone in society is telling you otherwise, which is why we also have chapters on the evolutionary basis of human delusion. Nor are we opposed to fossil-energy extending technology; your authors both use it and are campaigning to lower total CO2 emissions. But the way these “alternate” technologies are presented these days leads to some unrealistic expectations.

These technologies utilize physical mechanisms to tap solar power, wind power, wave power, geothermal power, fission power, fusion power (which doesn’t yet exist), and hydroelectric power. With the exception of some ancient water and wind powered grain mills and small dams, none of these facilities have ever been built in any other way than burning coal, oil, and gas to provide the required infrastructure. They require materials which are irretrievably lost each time they are built. They depend entirely on the existing fossil-fueled global extractive, shipping, processing and manufacturing system. They generate environmental pollutants which are harmful. They are built of materials which in some cases will be exhausted in a fairly short time. Many of them provide only intermittent power, and they all eventually break down and need to be built again from scratch.

But built how? All these methods generate only electricity. We do not have a global electric mining, processing, and shipping infrastructure. Yes, it's theoretically possible to build a replacement global infrastructure based on electricity, using fossil energy, but it'd take a long time and would use the energy we're now using to do all the other stuff we do. And it probably wouldn't supply as much energy as we're used to. It would require huge storage batteries, and these wouldn't be the trendy Tesla lithium batteries, for the world has far too little lithium. They'd have to be built out of much more common elements, meaning lower charge density and higher weight. And those batteries and that electrical infrastructure itself would have to be replaced every decade and every several decades respectively. It is far from clear that this can be done at all, but entirely clear even on first-blush analysis that it won't be done to the
scale of fossil-fueled industry today.

Since it exists in the deep background of our day-to-day lives, it's hard to realize just how extraordinary the built infrastructure of the last several centuries is, and the degree of complexity and interacting systems it takes to extract, say, a pound of neodymium from mines in China, refine it, and make it into a wind turbine magnet halfway around the world. It's not just the wind turbine factory which must exist, but the entire infrastructure which supports it, and that is a fossil-fueled system. (Moreover, the very phenomenon of world trade requires that all parties maintain confidence in the webs of currency and guarantees continuing, and that they remain on good terms with one another.)

If a billionaire set out to build "renewable" energy devices of any kind using electricity only, avoiding all inputs which directly or indirectly relied on fossil energy, and doing it at a net energy gain, it is likely he or she would fail. Indeed, we hereby make that challenge. It's not an obscure demonstration: it's what the entire world seems to be relying on. Those riding near the top (and bottom and middle) of the amoeba all assume that it'll be easy, and it won't be. It's not entirely clear that it can be done, because many things which are - at least in theory - physically possible are not financially and politically possible. And then the next test for our billionaire: using only the equivalent power from the devices he or she builds, build their replacements.

This includes the mining, refining, transportation, manufacturing, labor, administrative overhead and other necessary factors. That is, a microcosm of the ostensible "renewables" Plan A for the world. Except that not only would it need to be done, it would then need to be scaled up at warp speed to supply an existing civilization which has evolved to require growing energy inputs each year to prevent it
from crashing into fiscal depression.

It's easy - and common - to find experts who can rhetorically handwave any problems away. Everyone, after all, likes to hear good news, and today’s experts are generally highly specialized in a single field. But if one actually looks at the scale of energy now used, and does even simple calculations of replacing fossil energy with nuclear or other energies, the number of required facilities is daunting. Where will the energy come from to make them initially? Clearly, that'll be fossil energy, and energy diverted from other parts of our society and economy. Will we sacrifice to build them for all the world's poor, or maybe just sacrifice enough to build them for the wealthiest
societies?

What about time lag? If we, for instance, decide we need tens of thousands of fission reactors, or billions of PV systems with batteries, how and when does that happen past the writing of the sentence? And what will the resulting societies look like? Today we drive fossil-powered cars and trucks on roads made of asphalt (made from oil), over bridges constructed when oil was cheap, now rusting and not being replaced.

Harry Houdini used to thrill crowds by having his hands and feet locked in chains, then being locked in a barrel, and then being dropped in a river. The thrill was in seeing him somehow survive and emerge unscathed. This is not a bad metaphor for our current energy situation.

On the energy required to make the transition, Josh Floyd, an Energy Researcher from Aussie put together an inquiry into this a few years back and states in his summary: 

This shift in focus to ‘power return’ recognises that societies are dependent for their continued functioning on sufficient instantaneous rates of energy supply (energy supplied per unit of time), as a separate consideration to the quantity of energy available from a given source over its operating life. While most transition discourse focuses on changes in the sources from which energy is made available for human use, less attention is given to how equivalent rates of energy use can be maintained across the course of the transition. Here it becomes important to think in terms of how much power supply capacity can be made available from a new energy source, for a given investment of power from currently available sources. If we attend only to life-cycle energy return for a source, then this more immediate issue will be obscured. Any energy source that has a higher upfront energy requirement than incumbent sources will by its nature have a lower power return on investment. But even energy sources with relatively favourable upfront energy requirements can give low power return on investment during an unusually rapid turnover of the supply stock.

This insight is a direct result of shifting from a static to a dynamic view of energy transition. This alone could be viewed as proving the case for the importance of the dynamic view. It suggests fairly strongly why net energy considerations should be taken into account in assessing the feasibility of transition pathways.

You need to think in systems, and dynamically, to get this point, and it's not easy from a conventional perspective. It is however essential to making useful comments... 

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I have long accepted the fundamental science and system dynamics that Murray presents here very well.

But as in so many things, timing is very important.

The limits to growth (LTG) philosophy unfortunately lost credence over time among the general population, or alternatively stated, failed to build momentum,  because it ignored technology and therefore misjudged timing issues rather badly.

In applying LTG principles to Aotearoa New Zealand, a starting point is to recognise that although we are blessed by extensive supplies of solar energy which can be  captured with hydro-electricity, wind and solar, plus we have been endowed with geothermal resources, we are not well endowed with other resources. Our soils are naturally deficient in key minerals (such as phosphorus and others) which we have to import. And our landscapes, topography and oceanic climate constrain food-growing options.

A good starting point in charting a path forward would be a debate on population policy.
KeithW

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And there is the crux of it, the population question, the taboo subject.  Higher population + higher levels of consumption leads to resource loss and a change in our biosphere.  On the one hand technology has allowed more of us to live longer than ever before thanks in large part to fossil fuels, the Haber process and medical science and yet on the other hand we need to think seriously about the sheer number of us and an optimum level of people who will consume an optimum amount.

Having that conversation in Aotearoa is one thing but globally!  On a lighter note, fewer people would ease the housing supply issue.

This always takes me back to the Sid Meier 'Civilization' game on pc in the 90's and how the endings generally went, nuclear war or spaceship to alpha centauri and fireworks.  Doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that we're closer to the former than the latter.

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I disagree. I think it has held up remarkably well.

MSSI-ResearchPaper-4_Turner_2014.pdf (unimelb.edu.au)

We should also remember it wasn't supposed to be an accurate prediction but rather to show trends that demonstrate that ongoing exponential physical growth must end. Still amazed it even needs to be said.

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This! So much denial about the accuracy of the World3 scenario and its implications... 

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 From Keith W's post "philosophy unfortunately lost credence over time among the general population, or alternatively stated, failed to build momentum,  because it ignored technology and therefore misjudged timing issues rather badly." 

 It didn't actually lose credence for any other reason than global power brokers buried it! Economists, industrialists, the media they own and the politicians they also own, were the reason LTG disappeared from discourse. Now, here we are entering the age of consequences.

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Malthus's ideas - who first analysed the limits of growth - are available for anyone who wants to read them. 

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... we get a daily dose of them here @ interest.co.nz courtesy of PDK ... 

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Timmyboy,
I accept the point that the LTG authors themselves were not particularly explicit as to timing.
But I think there was a total failure to identify at that time the prospect of the huge economic growth that has actually occurred over the last 50 years.
I recall discussions with my own economics professor at the time about the role of technology, which he foresaw in generic terms beyond what I could see.

In 1974,  I spent a year in South America, and my perspective was that it would be impossible for South American countries to achieve so-called 'Western' living standards.   Well, I was wrong. The previous year I had visited China which was just starting to emerge from the Cultural Revolution.   I don't think anyone foresaw the growth path that China has subsequently managed to achieve.

There is an old saying that the only people who believe in ongoing exponential growth are madmen and economists. And at some point Malthus will indeed be proven right. 

Back in the 1970s one of my mountaineering mates was both a geologist and an amazing wildlife photographer. He saw no future for his photography skills, because he said we were about to run out of the silver needed in developing the photographs.

The Green Revolution as it affected food production was absolutely amazing, but it is something that those of us outside agriculture have minimal knowledge thereof.  Indeed many people within agriculture have no insights about it. In essence, it was a combination some remarkable plant breeding combined with new technologies to produce nitrogen fertilisers.  There won't be another 'green revolution' as such but what else is there that we are not foreseeing?

None of this is to argue that there will be a smooth path ahead. And none of it is to argue that Malthus got it wrong in terms of the fundamental logic. My own starting point in among all of the uncertainties, and focusing down on Aotearoa New Zealand, is that population policy is a good place to start.
KeithW

 

 

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The point to remember, is that with finite resources, you can push growth (of extraction) and attempt to get the graph towards vertical (as all exponential graphs trend). But the more you try and turn a gaussian trend (think: climbing up a left-hand-side of a bell-curve) into a vertical, the area you are creating early, has to come from somewhere - the area under the graph being finite-limited. That 'somewhere' has to be the right-hand end of the gaussian/bell-curve; the more you force the 'up', the steeper becomes the inevitable 'down'. Bardi calls it the Seneca effect, or the Seneca cliff.

Which means, in hindsight, that applying ANY finite resource to agriculture, was... misguided.

The Seneca thing also means that 'it hasn't happened yet' is no cause for comfort - particularly so if the reason for the 'not yet' was a forcing of the graph, towards vertical.

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200+ years after Malthus published his depressive limits to growth theories , modern   depressives still steadfastly adhere to his failed philosophies .. limpits on the rock of doom ... the " silent spring " folk ... bless them , their dedication to a failed cause ...

... somehow , mankind just keeps progressing  , and plodding on , science as ever , at the core of our success ...

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....half the wild animals gone in the last 40 years... depleted fish stocks... rivers of cow pee..seas full of plastic..ahhhhhhh progress....

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Speaking of that - one statistic I came across recently really sticks in my mind: that being a calculation of the mass of all animals in our biosphere:

Domesticated animals = 67%

Humans = 30%

Vertebrate Wildlife - 3%

My first thought was descriptions I've read about buffalo in such masses that they darkened wide expanses of land in the US - like swarms of locusts that darken the sky.

Stats taken from this excellent lecture (from Royal Society of Australia) - @12.23 in, but I recommend the whole lecture;

The Anthropocene: Where on Earth are we Going? (Full) - YouTube

 

 

 

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Invertebrates? More of them than the rest put together.....locusts etc....

And fish....which reminds me to get a cod fillet outta the chest freezer.

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And the moral of the story is...

when we can no longer power factory boats at sea and feed domesticated stock with synthetic fertiliser - the invertebrates will save us!!!!

Somehow, I think the Old Testament might have had the locust (invertebrate) story more right :-).

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USA: And the sky went dark when the flock of passenger pigeons flew over. Africa: the herd of buffalo went by at a gallop at least a dozen abreast and it just kept going all day.  NZ: Tuatara used in butchers' shops to kill flies.  And similar stories for apparently limitless whales and cod. I used to work with a former Scottish fisherman who spoke of Lowestoft harbour being physically full of Scottish fishing vessels that had followed the herring shoals down the North Sea. When they are gone they are gone.

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I am sure that Malthus will be right some day. I am not sure that PDK will be the guy that correctly predicts that day though. 
In my opinion Malthus correctly wrote this all up over 200 years ago. I do not think PDK has added any details of value. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthusianism

 

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Timing isn't the issue, Brendon - suffering is.

A super-volcano might take most of us out tomorrow, but if it doesn't - and maybe if it doesn't for the next 200 years, why would we consciously force such a sea of human misery on the planet in the meantime?

Don't get caught up in when - ask yourself why instead.

   

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The funny thing about the Limits to Growth modelling is that it has been reviewed and rerun in the early 1990s (by Donella Meadows), in the 2000s and 2010s (eg https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/02/limits-to-growth-…) and the same modelling results are obtained each time.

It all turns bad in the 2030s.

 

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Excellent article.

To those who may be interested in more energy content:

Here is a podcast between Nate Hagens (mentioned by PDK) and Daniel Schmachtenbeger.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bxzo79SjpE

And here is a Blockworks podcast from today surrounding energy.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WruFHykUxCo
 

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Great article Murray, very informative and thought provoking. 

This is the message that sustainable transport advocates have been trying to get through to people. Unfortunately, you can see how that goes down in New Zealand ... Council is stealing our carparks ... who cares about cyclists anyway?... We need more and wider roads and motorways ... Electric cars will save us ... let's dig a massive tunnel under Dominion Road because running it on the road would mean we need to take some space from cars.  The challenge we're facing goes completely over most people's heads 

It's so frustrating seeing some solutions get knocked down because people think they can continue to drive and park everywhere. Heartbreaking when I see the limited resources we have going into building even more roads, in a few years we will not even be able to pay to maintain  what we have already built let alone all the new investment like Transmission Gully 

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Thanks for taking the time to write this PDK.  A lot of good thinking and research.

As you may remember from our exchanges in the past I am interested in technology that will extend our energy use window such that we can have enough time to resolve a lot of these issues.

Your opening diagram has the answer, the Sun and it's near limitless energy is the perpetual energy system's answer to these issues. The other element is not in your diagram.  Human innovation.

The problems you are correctly identifying in regards to the current restrictions we have with regards to renewables will be solved (I have committed my time here to this endeavour) but not without significant investment.

Although I do not agree with your view of this being a zero-sum game I do thank you for "keeping it real" 

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Interesting view.

I guess I'm just a romantic about such considerations believing that ingenuity is the well that will never run dry. It might not be renewables but fission, fusion or something else that will be the future but there is an abundance of cheap energy out there.

Every civilisation falls eventually but I don't think our time is nearing yet.

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You might want to consider optimism bias, and reconsider your thoughts... 

https://read.realityblind.world/view/388478403/58/#t=NjAsbGVmdCw0NDcuMD…

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Hopium is not an energy source in and of itself. Humans are just lucky planet Earth has such amazing buffering abilities mitigating our destructive tendencies. That luck has limits! There is 40 billion light years of mostly radiation soaked, 0degK, vacuum between us and the edge of the currently observable universe, which sort of puts the importance of human hope into scale related perspective.  Earth is a gem that deserves respect, not trashing!

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Intuitively we know this is so, but meantime???

Personally I witness peoples in 3rd world countries, who consume less than 50% of our energy consumption, still manage a happiness score well beyond us generally grumpy West.

i grew up a privileged young "bwana" in Kenya and was posted to school in England.  Inspite of all the difficululties of Kenya's development, they were clearly the more joyous people.  Sadly I haven't the smarts to identify why, but clearly there is more to life than abundant energy and a constant 9-5 ritual.

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As best I can tell, the whole thesis is based on the flawed assumption that since fossil fuels are used to produce renewables, you cannot make renewables without fossil fuels, therefore renewables are unsustainable.

I haven’t read anything in these comments or the article that establishes a process that cannot be run via renewables, nor have I seen any refutation of the idea that renewables will become more energy and cost effective.

Finally there is a lot of bandying around of EROEI assuming that fossils fuels have the best EROEI and renewables are terrible and can never exceed the fossil fuel gold standard. To which I say show me some numbers and show me some trends in the relationship. 

I think some people missed the classes on how innovation happens and what drives changes in efficiency over time. Of course the most used tech will look the most efficient, doesn’t mean it would be the most efficient if there was more investment in the alternative.

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The only time we used renewables to lever energy, was about the time of Newcomen. And we promptly left them behind.

Please forget cost-effective; it's energy-effective we need - EROEI,to be precise.

Efficiencies follow a law of diminishing returns, never reach 100%, and usually entail complexity.

Nobody has done transport, or fought wars, on renewables, for some time. Nor have we done industrial  production. There might just be a reason for that.

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Cost is a proxy for energy efficiency. If cost is the sum of the value of all inputs and all inputs are at their root energy, then the cost is a linear function of energy. This is by your own argument. Something that is lower cost must use less energy otherwise.

You are saying X isn’t done with renewables and I’m saying yes I understand it hasn’t been but that is not the same is it can’t be. Generally the efficiency of a process changes with the scale of doing it so if 95% of task is fossil fuel based and 5% renewable based then all other things being equal the fossil fuel process will be more efficient. You have to imagine the change from changing the scale.

As for innovation/efficiency. You also don’t seem to understand how this works. Sometimes it is diminishing returns but that is not how it works all the time. Take food production. If you looked at a graph of the efficiency of food production from 20,000 years ago to now what would you see? When was the greatest increase? About 50-70 years ago, whenever the green revolution was. Innovation moves in fits and starts and is unpredictable.

Now Im sure you’ll say well that didn’t increase efficiency it just increased energy use. Well maybe but that’s not a problem because we can collect energy more efficiently. How do I know? Because it’s happened and continues to happen.

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About 50-70 years ago, whenever the green revolution was. Innovation moves in fits and starts and is unpredictable.

The Green Revolution was about largely about applying fossil fuel derivatives to increase crop yield. Where do you think the hydrogen comes from to fix nitrogen? Natural gas. What are most herbicides and pesticides derived from? Petrochemical precursors. I find it amusing that you use this as an example of 'human progress' when really this was just leveraging fossil fuels to increase food production. 

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Great article,  thank you PDK, now to find a politician that can read , much harder than it should be. While labours flaws are there for all to see national and act totally fail to address any of these issues,  especially not the population one . The greens fail to stick to the subject and are sidetracked on to socialism. Voters despair at the choices as far as climate and environment goes .

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Yes, the Greens are one of our biggest environmental problems. Flogging unpopular social agendas instead of looking after the planet. Labour's massive win last election is proof of that...the increased vote they got was all about keeping the Greens away from the levers of power. I think if they focused purely on environmental issues then both National and Labour voters would be comfortable with them being the kingmaker at the Cabinet table.

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But isn't allocating limited (energy) resources among the populace basically a social agenda issue - i.e. being green requires a social agenda?

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Yes it could be , but it would also require talk of population control in that case,  this is the subject the greens studiously avoid . Every country should limit its population according to it's own sustainable boundaries not rely on exporting their surplus. This is what the greens should be about. 

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As is usual with PDK, there is zero mention of three energy sources:

  1. Nuclear, which in off the shelf SMR form is perfectly capable of powering awkward areas such as Rakiura, Chatham, Great Barrier etc.  Spent fuel disposal: the nearest subduction zone, where that awesome Green Lady in the Meridian ads will recycle it for future generations. Wearing a wetsuit and flippers, of course.  Those high heeled green shoes won't cut it.
  2. Chemical.  Place two appropriate materials in proximity and electrons flow.  Being a boating sort, PDK will be well aware of the damage that can be wrought on a hull without a sacrificial anode.
  3. Mechanical to electron movement e.g. the piezo effect.  Every BBQ, gas stove and later injected engines, have these devices.

The other aspect studiously ignored is the non dispatchable and very diffuse nature of energy derived from both wind and sun.  This means that any competent assessment of LCOE has to account for:

  • Maintenance over wide and often severe environments e.g. marine wind turbines
  • Replacement at rather short intervals: 12 to 15 years for marine turbines, 25 for panels.
  • Recycling of panels and turbines blades.  The former have rare earths and heavy metals, the latter carbon fibres and resins.
  • Collection of the output: transmission, switchgear, for many, inherently small units of generation.
  • Storage for after dark and zero or too much wind circumstances.  This is a biggie.......
  • Controls, SCADA, and associated complexity.  Managing a grid with unreliable generation is a delicate and fraught business  requiring much software, linked to nuch hardware, and using machine learning to optimize the demand/supply equation.  Non dispatchable generation can go offline in seconds. Consumers generally prefer not to follow suit.

A good, but sadly limited, start to an Interesting conversation.

 

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Nuclear is indeed a steady supply, which is why Japan (and others) pump water uphill with it in the off-peak hours, an inefficient but better-than-nothing battery. The problems with nuclear are two; despite Profile's inevitable on-behalf spin, this is a finite resource. In real time, if we converted fossil energy to nuclear, we be through it all by 2100. We'd have to build a plant a day (competing for fossil energy) for decades, whereas only 400 plants have ever been built, all up, to date. And a lot of those need retired. We are too late already. And it - like most renewables - only does electricity (heat being very local by-product). It doesn't do transport, until turned into electricity, transmitted, then turned either into battery-charging or hydrogen-cracking. Neither of which is as energy-convenient as a tankful of fossil energy.

Secondly, nobody has solved the waste problem - Yucca Mountain (appropriate,really) never made it. That is essentially a deficit legacy to many, many future generations; they didn't get the energy, we did, but they will get the maintenance and clean-up bill, without the energy to do the work. That, inter-generationally, is theft. Done knowingly, I'd argue it's fraud. We need a Future Generation's Ombudsman/Commissioner.

The others, like thorium sieving, don't pass the EROEI test. If you could tap the ocean as a battery-component, we would have electrodes of something dipped into it along every city foreshore. You'd need insulated footwear as you exit the surf. Just nonsense; total fantasy, sorry. And you have to ask - at this stage in human over-dominance of planetary systems - just what you'd be changing in ocean chemistry? Already, just from the exhaust of our fossil-burn, we are compromising those aquatic life-forms relying on calcium carbonate to form shells etc. What would your hypothetical withdrawal of energy, initiate? Some state other than that in which the current aquatic cohort evolved, has to be the answer to that question.

 

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PDK - 84% of NZ energy is produced by renewables so your figures need some ammending. I agree Hydrogen at present is uneconomic but when the Toyotas /Hondas/Fords of this world are investigating and investing R& D into Hydrogen they have skin in the game and probably know a lot more than we do, so writing hydrogen off at this time is not too sensible. 

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Please do your homework, and re-read what I wrote.

84% of NZ's ELECTRICITY is (ostensibly) from renewable sources. NOT 84% of NZ's total energy.

As I said, that is a 60/40 fossil/renewable split.

Hydrogen is a negative energy return (as is the charging and discharging of a battery - hydrogen is just a bit worse, full cycle). Forget cost - money at this stage of the debt-issuance game is a red herring - capable of valuing sod-all. It is energy that is the prime value; without it nothing happens. By the time we are down to renewables, we won't be wasting hydroelectricity in several steps; we'll be wanting to access the hydropower as close to source as possible. Energy will be too valuable - as in 'sought after' - to squander in losses. 

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PDK does that 60% include energy embedded in imported products as well or is it just the energy we use in NZ to "do stuff"? 

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Just had a look through palmtree's link below and it seems not. 

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84% of our electricity comes from renewables, but only 40% of our total energy consumption comes from renewables. 

https://www.energymix.co.nz/our-consumption/new-zealands-consumption/

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pdk,

"f we project forward, say, 50 years; NZ will be doing very well indeed if it is running on 50% of the energy it currently enjoys".

Interesting that you should be looking 50 years ahead. That is not the message of Blip which clearly says that 2050 is effectively, The End, total collapse. Previously you supported that conclusion. I wonder what has changed.

"Exacerbated by overpopulation". Some might be interested in how you would propose that this problem might be solved.

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You'll wait and wait for actual solution suggestions from PDK.  General directions yes:

  • Subsistence farming
  • Existing on 200 watts of intermittent electricity
  • Self builds in rural lifestyle blocks 
  • Assumptions that metals, adhesives, electrical components and simple mechanical tools are available.

What's missing are the thorny human problems of:

  • Too many humans so how to reduce them and still Be Kind
  • Representation and politics,  total silence here.  Cohen summed this up (Democracy) as "from the homicidal bitchin'
    that goes down in every kitchen
    to determine who will serve and who will eat."
  • And it does not help that the suspicion is that us plebs would, in the end, be simply exchanging one set of elites, albeit some 'elected', for another but with much less or, worse, zero, opportunity to toss 'em out....
  • In short, how do we get There (wherever That is...) from Here.
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Nothing has changed.

;)

Waymad - I address what I can address, don't what I can't.

If you want the all-and-dirty, it has to include a discussion about defense. Because - either informally (as refugees) or formally (as a would-be empire) the chances are we will be invaded. The touchy-feely brigade miss this, the same way they miss most things - false narratives based on a false narrative. Globally there will be conflict, starvation, death. We cannot do much about that, but we have a fighting (intended :) chance to negotiate the bottleneck in NZ. It would be a pity if we threw away that chance.

Political cohesion - which (you may have noticed) I stated to be a good thing - is a product of societal sufficiency. Otherwise known as a goodly margin of surplus energy. I fear for the implosion - the loss of mandate - which a financial collapse might trigger. Better that possibility is pre-discussed, so folk are aware of the ramifications. A degree of selflessness will be required (Blood, toil, tears and sweat) of everyone, the reward for which is societal cohesion.

It probably cannot be achieved with an Elite, or at least, with too much stratification. It also requires the elimination of growth-causers - so interest/usury are out. Probably out too - via those previous two, are rentiers; folk who live off others. Maybe out - and up for discussion, is profit. After all, it's a growth-expectation - that one is a real head-scratcher!

Please remember that folk like me didn't cause this predicament by publicising it. It was a predicament first, without us. Just because there may be no perfect answer, doesn't mean the message is somehow false (is that what you are doing?).

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Wow. Stunning that Interest.co.nz would publish something written by him. 

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Excellent piece...and thanks to Interest.co for publishing....that decision convinced me to subscribe.

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Thanks Murray for that articulate overview. If you haven't already seen it, Steve Keen and the 'Ecocore' enterprise have put together a compelling case for a carbon rationing (not to be confused with carbon pricing) initiative - https://ecocore.org/proposal/

It is ambitious and radical (for econs most of all), but appropriate given the mountain we have to climb.

Interested in your thoughts.

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