The Decline of Fossil Fuels and Limits of Renewable Energy

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  • #90059 Reply

    Meanwhile the mainstream too often falls into the same hand waving misdirection trap, blaming whoever disputes that human carbon emissions are the main driver of climate change, such as ‘Big Fossil’ interests, are aiming “to sow enough doubt to delay real climate action“.

    What “action” is that?
    National Resources Defense Council: “NRDC works to dramatically scale up renewable power around the world.

    But this requires burning even MORE fossil fuels! Are these people stupid? Ignorant?

    Or frankly is the mainstream gaslighting us?

    And so, with their profit margins very much on the line, these [Big Fossil] interests have ​​replaced outright denial with spreading climate misinformation meant to undermine climate science and solutions.

    What solutions? Burn more oil to make windmills? Mine more copper? etc….

    #90060 Reply

    Addressing Climate Change Will Not “Save the Planet” – by Christopher Ketcham (The Intercept, 3 Dec 2022)

    The dismal reality is that green energy will save not the complex web of life on Earth but the particular way of life of one domineering species.

    According to the co-authors of a Conservation Letters piece, we are “dangerously ignoring” this [global resources and habitat destruction overshoot] reality and instead doubling down on the “distortion” that climate mitigation is all that matters to protecting wildlife. Over the last 30 years, the proportion of scientific papers closely tying climate change and global warming to changes in patterns of biodiversity has “steadily increased,” according to their analysis. Media coverage of climate change in relation to biodiversity has followed suit, repeating and compounding the error. The net result of this “misguided focus on climate change” has been the undermining of conservation science “as an evidence-based scientific discipline.” As Dobson put it to me, “If conservation biologists don’t take a balanced look at the evidence, they can’t claim to be evidence-based.”

    The crux of the problem is that mainstream environmentalists have siloed climate change as a phenomenon apart from the broad human ecological footprint, separate from deforestation, overgrazing of livestock, megafauna kill-off, collapsing fisheries, desertification, depleted freshwater, soil degradation, oceanic garbage gyres, toxification of rainfall with microplastics, and on and on — the myriad biospheric effects of breakneck growth. Climate change is “but one symptom of an environmentally dysfunctional system of constant growth of economies and populations,” ecologist William Rees, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia.

    #90073 Reply

    “fossil fuel bonanza will be gone and this pale blue dot will only be able to sustain even fewer humans than when it began”… ‘yes Jim, it’s old Malthusian wine in new bottles’… ‘GUARANTEED’…_

    #90074 Reply


    “Someone called Malthus once made a specific prediction that didn’t come true, therefore humanity is invincible”.

    You’d never guess there have been five mass extinctions on this planet. Populations can and do crash. Two minutes searching:

    The sheep exhibit a phenomenon known as overcompensatory density dependence, in which their population never reaches equilibrium. The population growth is so great as to exceed the carrying capacity of the island, which eventually causes a dramatic population crash, and then the cycle repeats. For example, in 1989, the population fell by two-thirds within 12 weeks.

    Note that this is common enough to be a named phenomenon, yet among a certain vocal minority (who typically deny certain parts of science), “Malthusian” is used as a term of dismissal and derision.

    #90075 Reply


    “environmentalists have siloed climate change as a phenomenon apart from the broad human ecological footprint…”

    This appears to be your own assumption. First paragraph from the current Extinction Rebellion homepage:

    “Life on Earth is in crisis. Our climate is changing faster than scientists predicted and the stakes are high. Biodiversity loss. Crop failure. Social and ecological collapse. Mass extinction.”

    and from Extinction Rebellion’s First Demand:

    1. Tell the truth – Governments must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency…

    Natasha, it’s the corporatocratic media that always miss out the “ecological”. Don’t form your opinions about activist groups from neoliberalism’s mouthpiece. Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain are single-issue campaigns, but at least they’re keeping the pressure on.

    #90076 Reply

    So yes, the so-called “mainstream media” (which represents big money, not the mainstream of people) is indeed gaslighting us. Of course it is; when did it ever do otherwise? How could it do otherwise? It is funded by advertising, so it has to preach economic growth. So it leaves the ‘ecological’ out of the crisis, substitutes “emergency” as if the crisis hadn’t been predicted for decades, and makes out that all will be solved by “green” energy and billions of electric cars. Delusion.

    But the activist groups aren’t making that mistake, no matter how many times the corporatocratic media misrepresent us as “climate campaigners”.

    #90081 Reply

    When I meet a sheep with a Doctorate I’ll view them as having human abilities to adapt to change.
    Until then I will continue to enjoy their company with roast potatoes, gravy and two veg…_

    #90082 Reply

    DiggerUK unlike ‘poor dear Oscar’ I detect no intelligence from your sarcastic contribution “the lowest form of [t]wit” mocking the trajectory of fossil fuel depletion:-

    “… ‘yes Jim, it’s old Malthusian wine in new bottles’… “

    I’m waiting for you to now please give us here in a few sentences some engineering and thermodynamically competent replacement strategies for high energy density fossil fuels that will maintain 8 billion humans alive globally without fossil fuels … ?

    I’ve been reading, researching, writing, building small engineering experiments, political organising, and occasionally teaching this topic for 25 or so years, and if you’ve found out something I’ve missed then why not please share it here with us?

    For example, please ‘Do The Maths’ – i.e. try reading this link Finite Feeding Frenzy and tell us where the good Dr. Tom Murphy is drinking “old Malthusian wine in new bottles”?

    Or how about enlightening us about how the FAN Initiative has got it wrong?

    “Feeling a sense of impending doom? In the face of converging and growing crises, civilization is at risk and the planet suffers. The FAN Initiative provides the science needed to help understand and navigate through the threat of biospheric and societal collapse. A strong response from humanity is required.”

    Until you supply us here with such refutations, together with details of what you propose as fossil fuel replacements – and drop the sarcasm – the case remains robust that as fossil fuels deplete over the next 100 or so years, most of the humans they have enabled to be alive over the last c250 years be gone. This pale blue dot will only be able to sustain even fewer humans than when it began in the c1750s – yes : GUARANTEED.

    #90084 Reply

    Sure, humans can eat other animals, therefore we are gods and will survive the mass extinction we are causing.

    This couldn’t possibly be a comfortable but warped perspective indulged in by the last generation to experience the rising side of the fossil fuel consumption curve…

    Do the Math: The Ride of Our Lives (5 Jul 2022)

    #90085 Reply

    Clark writes:

    “Don’t form your opinions about activist groups from neoliberalism’s mouthpiece. Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain are single-issue campaigns, but at least they’re keeping the pressure on.”

    How to Beat Propaganda: the Grokking Strategy is how I form my opinions.

    “We CAN beat propaganda, but it takes some effort to avoid falling prey to the simple, yet effective, methods that the powers that be (PTB) use to control us. You need first of all to understand that there is no such thing as an “authoritative source.” All sources can be wrong, and many are there to trick you into believing that something is true when it is not. So, you need to listen to everybody and trust nobody. In this way, you can “grok” your information and not be grokked by the PTB.”

    “but at least they’re keeping the pressure on” – such indiscriminate easy pressure we’ve seen from XR and Just Stop Oil – e.g. causing traffic jams and gluing yourself to stuff – is misinformed, manipulated, manipulative, as I have detailed many times here above. Briefly:

    a) the reliance on business as usual magically enabled by so called re-newables i.e. harvesting low energy density solar energy flows, as if thermodynamics doesn’t exist, to
    b) justify aiming for voluntary global reduction of fossil fuel use, but this would
    c) simultaneously disable any possible re-newable scale-up,
    d) without XR, JSO, and the ‘Green’ movement offering an adult acknowledgement of CERTAIN society civilization and population collapse due to Hubbert depletion mechanisms:

    … is irrational and dishonest, and destined to fail as it punishes everyone when activists may be better ‘Blowing up Luxury Carbon‘ !!

    “The problem with upsetting the orderly conduct of life with attacks on fossil fuel infrastructure in the developed world […] is that it threatens to disproportionately punish those who can least afford it: poor and middle class fuel oil and gasoline consumers.”

    “[…] a more tantalizing project, because politically it is more feasible, is for saboteurs to strike at the absurd, obscene carbon gorging of elites – to disrupt unnecessary luxury demand that could be cut off with no pain to people who already have too much. “If we have to cut emissions now,” [Andreas Malm ‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’] argues, “we have to start with the rich.” He cites the pivotal distinction, formulated by philosopher Henry Shue, between luxury and subsistence emissions: “The former happen because rich people like to wallow in the pleasure of their rank, the latter because poor people try to survive.”

    In cities, SUVs are loathed by everyone except the people who drive them; and in a city the size of London, a few dozen people could in a short space of time make the ownership of these cars effectively impossible, just by running keys down the side of them, at a cost to the owner of several thousand pounds a time. Say fifty people vandalising four cars each every night for a month: six thousand trashed SUVs in a month and the Chelsea tractors would soon be disappearing from our streets. So why don’t these things happen?

    #90087 Reply

    Natasha, there are such actions as the ones you recommend eg. recently various A22 groups disrupted the terminals of private jets; there have been multiple actions against London City airport (over 80% business passengers), disruptions at investment banks and AGMs of various companies; JSO actions at Harrods and Aston Martin. Regarding SUVs, there are the Tyre Extinguishers.

    I agree that disrupting luxury carbon is best, but I think you’re being overly critical and expecting too much. Direct action is hugely demanding upon one’s life; people prepared to go so far are in a small minority, and extremely valuable. Andreas Malm’s pipeline sabotage also would hit poor and rich alike. Campaigns like Insulate Britain make perfect sense.

    Something I would very much like to see is convergence between the anti-emissions movement and the anti-war movement. Of all the obscene wastes of fuel and production of avoidable emissions, military activity is one of the worst. But preventing such convergence seems to be George Monbiot’s special mission:

    Jonathan Cook: How the left became cheerleaders for US imperialism (27 Oct 2022)

    Jonathan Cook: A disavowal of George Monbiot’s witch-hunt (27 Apr 2017)

    #90088 Reply

    “a) the reliance on business as usual magically enabled by so called re-newables i.e. harvesting low energy density solar energy flows, as if thermodynamics doesn’t exist,”

    Natasha, you frequently refer to thermodynamics as a limiting factor. My understanding of solar panels is that it takes a certain amount of energy to fabricate them, approx 200kwh per 100watt panel, and produce approx 1.5kwh per day. After a relatively short time of 133 days they will have paid their energy debt and any energy produced thereafter is “free” from energy debt. I’m not quite sure that that fabrication energy required includes the mining and processing of all the materials required as it’s kinda hard to find that information, at least from my casual Sunday afternoon searching.

    Can you elucidate further on the thermodynamic limiting factor you refer to?

    I get the fact that I won’t be boarding an electric-powered long haul flight anytime soon due to the energy density of battery stored power but for running my fridge I don’t need energy density. Indeed, most people’s car journey requirements could easily be met by electric vehicles 99% of the time.

    #90095 Reply

    “engineering and thermodynamically competent replacement strategies for high energy density fossil fuels”

    ….In the here and now there is no viable substitute for fossil fuels when working out how to electrify the planet, or provide for its energy needs.

    My energy survival plan?…. Nuclear in the main. There are many other ways to neutralise nuclear shortcomings.
    Top up with geothermal…. expensive, hydro…. not globally available, tidal…. prohibitively expensive and untested at scale, turning North Africa into a giant solar farm…. geopolitically unstable, air/ground heat exchangers not always applicable.

    In the here and now shortfalls can only be made up with fossil fuels. Beyond pumped hydro and storage heaters there is no viable, time tested, economic, heat/energy/electric storage reservoirs.

    Like it or lump it, we cannot have adequate and reliable electricity or energy supplies without fossil/carbon based fuels in the mix.

    The shortcomings of intermittent, unreliable, wind and solar make them unacceptable in the modern world. It’s as daft as employing workers who are allowed to turn up for work as and when they feel like it.

    Again, like it or lump it, citizens of this planet don’t want a sackcloth and ashes existence. Neither will the poorer, deprived citizens of this planet tolerate being denied what everybody else has.

    Carbon dioxide, both anthropogenic and anthropomorphic, is a non existent threat…_

    #90097 Reply

    Clark & Natasha, thanks for an informed discussion, despite your differences, it’s good to see you both considering a very complex issue with grace and impeccable manners. That’s not always the case these days. Natasha, thank you also for the link to Tom Murphy’s blog, which reminds me of Ronald Wright’s essays and the subsequent film – Surviving Progress – only with more maths. Of course, James Lovelock was perhaps the first to caution us on the risk to humanity of atmospheric contaminants and the impact to the biosphere in his Gaia books during the 1970s, but I recall feeling a sense of despair when he announced shortly after that there was nothing we could actually do to avert disaster. As Wright observed, once we degrade the biosphere so that it can no longer sustain us, nature will merely shrug and conclude that letting apes run the laboratory was fun for a while but in the end a bad idea.

    If we could only use our collective imagination and intelligence and work towards a series of monumental changes in the way we exist, then perhaps the down side need not be so traumatic, but the last three years with the pandemic has clearly shown that even with an tangible existential threat, humanity remains divided and destructive. It’s astonishing that we invest so heavily and creatively in military applications designed to cause great harms, but we neglect the other side of the coin so readily. We are indeed the architects of our downfall.

    I doubt that there is a solution other than a sudden and severe depopulation event, which in itself carries significant risks, but I still indulge the fantasy of a utopian future from time to time, where we can enjoy this garden of Eden and replenish the fruits without trashing it for future generations to enjoy. I’m very much with Clark on organised protest, but observe that, in the UK at least, it is not without significant risk to one’s liberty. A fellow inmate during my recent misadventure was convicted after organising a protest in an ancient woodland being felled for HS2. He was a maths PhD graduate with no previous convictions, but is now serving a 4 year anti-terrorism sentence after a police search of his flat revealed a chapter of the Anarchist’s Cookbook on his laptop, that had been emailed to him by someone in the USA. We live in interesting times.

    #90112 Reply

    ET asks:

    “Can you elucidate further on the thermodynamic limiting factor you refer to?”

    Yes. In a nut shell we have to perform whole system analysis, which most fail to do.

    Usually due to ignorance, and/or a desire to corrupt messages to suit various ‘interests’ – for example: “Jeremy Leggett is founder and chairman of Solarcentury, a solar solutions company currently the UK’s fastest growing private energy company” whilst being founding member of the “Green New Deal” a UK based political lobbying group pushing the ‘Zero Carbon’ agenda appealing to magical renewable energy infrastructure to be built on UK land that does not exist, with imported hardware made from materials that do not exist in any quantity, (even building sand is in critical sort supply globally) to create electricity that can’t replace the the fossil fuels necessary for renewables to scale up & be built out, and even if these limits do not apply, relying on massive fossil fuelled electricity power generation back-up, or batteries made from lithium that does not exist, for when the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow, further rendered silly because the GND crew are all fevered anti-nuclear electricity too! I’ve written a long illustrated essay – see sections 12 to 15 for details and references.

    A solar cell array thus can’t and doesn’t exist in the real world only as a sum of its input materials and often vastly underestimated land usage calculations ~vs~ how many days of sunshine somehow pays that debt back, and then magically claiming its ‘free energy‘ from the sun after that date.

    In other words we have to do honest whole system EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) calculations, not piecemeal ‘infinite externalities’ corpora£e ma$$aging – hold you hands up Mark Z. Jacobson (see section 11 of my essay):-

    Failed Lawsuits : Dozens of Climate & Power-Grid experts judge Non-Nuclear 100% Wind Water and Solar power study “riddled with errors”

    Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson [[131]] is one of the most infamous of the lobbyists ‘voices’, who’s “outspokenness and solo style … captured the public imagination” [132] following a series (2009 – 2018) [133] of controversial studies. In 2011 Jacobson began vigorously promoting non-Nuclear ‘Roadmaps’ for 139 countries worldwide via campaigning network [134] [135] and The Solutions Project. [136]

    In 2017 Jacobson filed, then later withdrew a well publicised “unprecedented” lawsuit, demanding $10 million in damages [137] [138] against a group of eminent scientists (Clack et al.) for their study [139] [140] published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) showing that the ‘Roadmaps’ contained “nonsensical” assumptions, with a “staggering scale of modelling errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions […] seriously impeding the move to a cost effective decarbonized energy system.” For example they “overstated by roughly a factor of ten the ability of the United States to increase its hydropower output” and would require “more than 1,500 square meters of land for wind turbines for each American … a territory nearly twice the size of California” which “render it [Jacobson’s ‘Roadmaps’ ] unreliable as a guide about the likely cost, technical reliability, or feasibility of a 100 percent wind, solar, and hydroelectric power system.” [141]

    #90115 Reply

    ET asks:- “Can you elucidate further on the thermodynamic limiting factor you refer to?”

    Yes see this essay I wrote sections 11 – 15

    #90118 Reply

    The links to the essays and solar arrays don’t work, Natasha.

    #90126 Reply

    Hi Shibboleth, The links I gave above (to <> where I published my essay) all seem to work OK from my computer i.e. I can view the .pdf file online in my browser – I just checked them again today … ?

    Here’s a link to download the .pdf where all the other links I gave above are, which all work, (unless the content linked to has been removed since I wrote the essay in 2019)

    Atomic Humanism – The Case For Nuclear Power

    #90284 Reply

    Fortescue looks toward greener mining with 240-tonne electric truck.
    Seems some mining companies are looking at their mining infrastructure and looking for ways to electrify the huge trucks.

    #90355 Reply

    Thanks ET,

    The “15-tonne prototype power system” (battery and electric engine) being tested by Fortescue in its T264 mining truck delivers 1.4-MWh = 1877-BHp. An empty T264 mining truck weighs 176 tonnes and can carry 240 tones of payload.

    The “2,700-hp diesel engine” (D9812 Diesel motor) that is being replaced weighs 8.6 tonnes and delivers a peak 3620 BHp.

    The “prototype power system” is thus twice the weight (15 tonnes ~vs~ 8.6 tonnes) for half the power (1877-BHp ~vs~ 3620 BHp) i.e. about a quarter the energy density of a diesel motor.

    This will not improve since battery energy density is near maximum allowed by the laws of physics.

    Since Fortescue fail to tell us (i.e. rendered and invisible externality) where or how the “prototype” electricity is generated or delivered for remote location recharging, they appear to be exhaling the “net zero” PR propaganda myth machine smoke and mirrors game that John Deere Electric Swarm Tractors ignited a few years ago!

    #90358 Reply

    Natasha, your comparison is not quite fair; you’ve quoted the +peak+ power for the diesel engine, but the +rated+ power for the electric; the diesel engine will surely fail if used continually at its peak power. And you’ve calculated the energy density for only the power systems rather than the truck as a whole.

    I’m actually rather impressed with the electric truck’s advertised figures (though the reality may well fall short, of course). There is also the simplicity and increased working life of electric systems to be considered.

    None of this makes the solution to humanity’s predicament simple or easy. However, it may be feasible, so let’s try <3

    #90359 Reply

    Natasha, this seems to have cheered up our good professor Tom Murphy a bit:

    Finally, a PLAN

    I hope it will bring you a little optimism too.

    #90366 Reply

    Thanks Clark, Yes it was a back of envelope calculation using quoted figures I could readily find online. The broad point stands: electricity “storage technologies” are close to electrochemical energy density limits (~ 2 MJ/Kg), and are an order of magnitude or so less energy dense than fossil fuels (~40 MJ/Kg), and don’t scale up in size: batteries are OK for physically small devices like mobile phones, that deliver low power loads but are still more than 50% battery by mass.

    I’m aware of PLAN (Planetary Limits Academic Network) not sure they can effect any change of direction in world affairs much different to the crash of civilization by end of this century – but hopefully bend the trajectory to the least harm and pain possible for all …

    #90376 Reply

    Mixed sizes of crushed rock can range from 1.6 to 2.2 tons per cubic meter.

    The “15-tonne prototype power system” (battery and electric engine) being tested by Fortescue is being fitted into a T264 mining truck that can carry 240 tones of payload = circa 2 tons / m3 = 120 m3.

    The D9812 Diesel motor being replaced by the “prototype power system” = circa 10 m3 (cubic meters) (2.661 x 1.777 x 2.125 m) = 8% of payload volume (plus fuel tank).

    The “15-tonne prototype power system” (battery and electric engine) = circa 14 m3 (cubic meters) (3.6 x 1.6 x 2.4 m) = 12% of payload volume.

    #90395 Reply

    So what Natasha. It can’t run for as long on a “full tank” and takes longer to refuel/recharge and its payload is a little reduced. Electrical power can replace diesel power with some compromises and a few advantages, maintenance being one.
    The obvious question is where will the electricity to power it will come from. My own answer to that is that it has to be mainly nuclear but that’s not a popular view.

    Also, Natasha, I asked you previously to define what you mean by the term “Thermodynamically Competent.” Now, I am imagining you rolling your eyes at this impertinent question but I have searched and found no comprehensive definition. You may think that the term speaks for itself but I disagree. Obviously, I can comprehend what it might purport to mean but I would like to know what you mean by it, in your own explanation without referring me to what others say or links to websites.

    #90396 Reply
    Bob (not OG)

    Crushed rock. What’s really been crushed is the public’s capacity for critical thought. Forget maths being taught up to eighteen, critical thinking is what should be taught (but then, that’s the last thing the PTB want).
    Coupled with a rudimentary grounding in physics, it would obviate the need for drawn out debates such as this one.
    The problem with this thread is that one poster is up against an array of, shall we say, less-informed contributors.

    The facts are not open to interpretation.
    As has been stated, ad nauseam, it comes down to:
    ⦁ the far superior energy density of fossil fuels (FF) compared to renewable energy (RE)
    ⦁ the vast number of products (medicines, fuels (petrol, aviation and especially, diesel), plastics, industrial chemicals, paints, fertilisers etc.) derived from oil, which RE will be unable to replace
    ⦁ the finite nature of FF (millions of years to create, mere years to use up)
    ⦁ the insanity of continuing to pursue infinte economic growth on a finite planet
    ⦁ psychopaths running the show

    The system itself is irredeemably corrupt. Although it might seem so now, it’s not inevitable that we end up being governed by psychopaths. When the sole driving force behind everthing in society is profit, the result is what we see today. Massive environmental pollution and destruction, grinding poverty contrasting with obscene wealth for a tiny minority, ‘democracy’ being bought by the highest bidders, increasing censorship and blanket MSM propaganda, ever expanding laws restricting citizens’ rights. Public utilities (state owned, i.e. owned by us) being sold off, thus changing their goal from public service to private profit. An increasing reliance on ‘experts’, worshipped by the ‘news’, whose word is to be taken as gospel by the plebs (this, together with the influence of Big Pharma, is what led to the ‘covid’ panic). A pathetic faith that RE will save our profligate way of life. A delusion.

    After it’s all over (decades?), it will be up to the survivors trying to rebuild to ensure that no psychopaths are allowed anywhere near the wheel.
    Such societies exist (Native Americans, various indigenous tribes etc.) so there’s no reason it can’t be done. In the meantime, get some tins of food in, bottled water, candles, tools – and popcorn.

    #90397 Reply

    Lapsed Agnostic, instead of off topic empty insults and misrepresentation on a different post by Craig Murray if the arguments and references you claim to have posted here above are so certain (that windmills 2% and solar panels 1% of global energy can scale up to replace 85% supplied by fossils without the global population crashing to half a billion by end of century whilst the ecosphere is trashed mining it for metals and rocks needed to build ultra low energy density solar energy flow harvesting processing and distribution infrastructure) then you can do it in half a paragraph and we can all shut up and think about something else:-

    Please tell us how Associate Professor of Geometallurgy at the Geological Survey of Finland, Simon Michaux – Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely Replace Fossil Fuels – has got it wrong? He writes:-

    “In conclusion, this report suggests that replacing the existing fossil fuel powered system (oil, gas, and coal), using renewable technologies, such as solar panels or wind turbines, will not be possible for the entire global human population. There is simply just not enough time, nor resources to do this by the current target set by the World’s most influential nations. What may be required, therefore, is a significant reduction of societal demand for all resources, of all kinds.”

    “This implies a very different social contract and a radically different system of governance to what is in place today. Inevitably, this leads to the conclusion that the existing renewable energy sectors and the EV technology systems are merely steppingstones to something else, rather than the final solution. It is recommended that some thought be given to this and what that something else might be.”

    “Preliminary calculations in the current study indicates the required number of units will require more minerals, metals and materials than is in current known global mineral reserve inventories. The disparity is so large that exploring for new mineral deposits, with the sole objective of opening more producing mines in the required time frame, cannot be the only solution. […] All indications suggest that the planned renewable energy systems need to be considered merely as a steppingstone to something else. […] a reliable energy source that is available to most of the human population with an ERoEI ratio of something like 50:1 is required (or even higher). Existing fossil fuels are not effective enough, nor appropriate. Renewable technologies on their own are not enough to meet these requirements. A fundamental restructuring of how we see energy, how we harness it and how we use it is required.”

    #90398 Reply

    ET, in my own words:-

    Net energy gain (~ 10:1 or above) in a whole system account = “Thermodynamically Competent”.

    Hence my “crushed rock” maths (above example) to further expose (as part of a net energy account in a whole system analysis) electric power trains (~12% of payload volume) in mining trucks as being about one third larger by volume than diesel power trains (~8% of payload volume) – in addition to raw energy density of batteries (~ 2 MJ/Kg) being one tenth that of liquid hydrocarbons (~40 MJ/Kg).

    You ask “So what Natasha”? Well, these energy density numbers above alone guarantees electricity can’t support mining = NOT “Thermodynamically Competent”.

    Then in addition you answer yourself (!): “The obvious question is where will the electricity to power it come from” to power remote mining activities ?

    Like you I support nuclear electricity, BUT in remote mines electricity distribution is magical thinking. = NOT “Thermodynamically Competent”. Hydrogen is stupid, erm… sorry: NOT “Thermodynamically Competent”. Nuclear electricity to make hydrocarbon Synfuel is, erm… NOT “Thermodynamically Competent” either: its too inefficient (for decades at least) PLUS nuclear is barely 4% of global energy and there isn’t enough uranium or thorium let alone no where near enough new plants being built for decades if at all.

    Best option for nuclear in the UK is fast breeder PRISM reactors to burn all the nuclear waste at Sellafield – enough for UK electricity for hundreds of years **

    ** HELLO Scottish Independence Supporters – electricity independence and control of net electricity exports is just sitting there waiting to be exploited.

    ** Become a world leader in a nationalised nuclear electricity supply infrastructure build-out by burning nuclear waste rendering it safe as background radiation in 300 years instead of 300,000 years too!

    Win Win WIN !

    #90401 Reply

    “Net energy gain (~ 10:1 or above) in a whole system account = “Thermodynamically Competent”

    Which is why I can’t relate to the term. Natasha, I get the point you are trying to make. However, “thermodynamically” has no place in that concept. To me thermodynamics refers to the physics of the system, the energy transfers etc. Every thermodynamic system is competent except perpetual motion machines (which don’t exist so therefore can’t be described as “incompetent” merely non-existant). What you really mean is the worthiness or not of pursuing extracting energy where the gain is less than ten times the energy put in to extract it. That is NOT thermodynamics. That is an economic or valuation of effort viewpoint not a thermodynamic (physics) viewpoint. As such, I suggest the term “Thermodynamically Competent” is incompetent in itself. It’s not that I don’t understand where you are coming from but it turns me off like an electioneering slogan does. It’s an incompetent slogan.

    #90402 Reply

    “the far superior energy density of fossil fuels (FF) compared to renewable energy (RE)”

    I get that Bob, but the thing is, continuing to burn fossil fuels is producing huge amounts of CO2 which is contributing to an unprecedented global warming. Should we just ignore that? Even if you disagree with anthropogenic climate change you state that fossil fuels will run out or become non-viable in terms of energy return. So either way, we need to be working on that problem.

    “the vast number of products (medicines, fuels (petrol, aviation and especially, diesel), plastics, industrial chemicals, paints, fertilisers etc.) derived from oil, which RE will be unable to replace”

    Plastics are way overused and are a pollution problem all of themselves. I don’t need my vegetables or meats wrapped in plastic. I definitely don’t need the ridiculous packaging that a lot of our stuff comes in, all for the cause of security in retail outlets. There is a lot of scope to reduce unnecessary plastic usage. Where there is no viable replacement for plastics, there is a case for continuing to process fossil fuels to continue manufacturing it.

    ” the insanity of continuing to pursue infinte economic growth on a finite planet”

    I don’t think you’ll find anyone here disagreeing with you on that point.

    #90410 Reply

    ET, I disagree. The term “Thermodynamically Competent” in the context of whole system analysis of “solar energy flow harvesting machines” is an appropriate description of the output options from such an analysis using inputs of “the physics of the system, the energy transfers etc.” as you put it.

    I agree that then setting the ratio (e.g. 10:1) on those physics outputs is a choice based on the externalities you raise “economic or valuation of effort viewpoint” – but that does not invalidate the physics needed prior to applying whatever ratio threshold is most informative.

    “Thermodynamically Competent” is a phrase used by Dr John Constable, Net Zero Watch and the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

    One may well note that the Skeptic awarded the GWPF its 2022 Rusty Razor award as part of its annual presentation of Ockham Awards, naming the foundation as “the year’s worst promoters of pseudoscience” for its “prolific attempts to weaken and undermine public and political will to tackle climate change”.

    And then shriek “CLIMATE DENIER!” and run off feeling better about the world.

    But the Skeptic is regurgitating somewhat childish misrepresentations: the GWPF are driven to influence short term government spending not on debunking climate science, although their director still thinks taxes fund government spending when the central banks have expanded money supply! In the US it went from about $1 trillion in the early years of this century to about $2 trillion, then $4 trillion after the 2008 Financial Crisis, and now it is over $9 trillion dollars. Same pattern in most wealthy nations.

    Indeed the definition of science according to Karl Popper is that scientific knowledge is provisional – the best we can do at the moment – until new data and /or ‘black swans’ arrive. That is science should attempt to disprove a theory, rather than attempt to continually support theoretical hypotheses.

    Thus GWPF & NZW are simply pointing out that mainstream media and political discourse holding so tightly to wealthy nations’ Net Zero targets is according to Popper’s definitions anti-scientific – in other words those who cry out “black swan” should be respected and have their data analysed not rejected as “Rusty Razor” freaks.

    Further, the GWPF & NTZ basic conclusion upon which all their subsequent policy recommendations are based, is that the economic viability of solar energy flow harvesting infrastructure to scale up from 4% of global energy supply to replace fossil fuels 77% in 28 years is at best deeply misguided bovine excrement – a conclusion shared by a rapidly increasing number of scientists and others (linked to above numerous times) who have looked at the maths, physics, engineering and geology of the task set by ignorant politicians to chase the Net Zero unicorn trying to build “thermodynamically incompetent” infrastructure, and concluded that its unlikely to happen and that chasing this unicorn will become an increasingly more expensive mistake.

    #90411 Reply
    Bob (not OG)

    ET, you are right, we need to be working on some sort of transition to RE, but it will have to involve a sudden reduction in our use of fuel, products… everything. That will require a radical change in the mindset of the population which is not realistically going to happen. (E.g. no politician would ever get elected with that message.)
    It’s a shame we’ve ended up in this mess, due to short-term thinking and profit seeking by our MIC psychopathic rulers, enabled by their propaganda arm, the mainstream media.

    #90412 Reply

    I have been trying to work out just how many solar panels would be required to produce the energy used by, for example, Ireland in a year. I have rounded up Ireland’s total energy consumption (not just electricity) to 200 TWh (terrawatt hours) per annum. It’s not quite that but close enough. 1 TWh is 1,000,000,000,000 watt hours or 1 Bilion Kilowatt hours (KWh).

    A 350 watt solar panel with 3.5 hours sun a day produces 1.225 KWh a day. That’s a favourable estimate for Irish weather conditions but for an estimate let’s go with it. So, 447.125 KWh per year. Ireland would need 447,302,208 three hundred and fifty (350) watt solar panels, heading towards half a billion. That would be 81.3 350 watt solar panels per man, woman and child in Ireland (approx). Let’s say the cost for the panel, installation, all the inverters etc equates to 1000 euro a panel. That’s not far off 500 billion euro which is Ireland’s total GDP for 2022 more or less.

    Ireland produced in 2021 25 TWh from wind, 2 TWh from hydro and less than 1 TWh from solar.

    None of the above includes cost of contingency for when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, the cost of storage facilities (ie. batteries of some kind), the grid infrastructure to distribute it or the cost of converting everything to run on electrical power. I haven’t considered where all the material for making those panels would come from or the energy costs of manufacture.

    #90413 Reply

    Any village or town that has a decline in topography towards a river or lake, has the potential for a hydro battery/pond/lake to be created.

    The Dutch drained the Fens via windmills, old fashioned but not to be dismissed. A simple windmill, old or new, can generate electricity/mill corn, or run other machinery via a belt. That electricity pumps water into our hydro battery.

    When the wind stops blowing, the sluice gate to the modern turbine at the bottom of the hill, even if it is not steep, will produce electricity. With a clever electronic switch, the demand could operate the sluice gate, shutting it when there is no demand.
    Such an arrangement is sustainable, does not require lithium or rate earth elements, and can very likely be put together using existing parts and electrickery already in existence, although it may not supply enough for high energy users, who need electricity to dry cloth or mow lawns and power space heaters.

    Our university’s motto was ‘Do different’.

    #90414 Reply

    Part 1. Harmonizing “point of use” calculations.

    In December 2022 Ugo Bardi offered his readers “The Miracle of Renewables” celebrating “a much-needed update and harmonization of the EROI literature” by D. Murphy et al (2022)

    To enable more rigorous comparisons between different fuels (fossils, bio-derived, and electricity), the authors “harmonise” supply chains to derive “point of use” EROI numbers for each of them. They compare “usable fuels at point of use (e.g., petrol or diesel at the pump, or heavy fuel oil at point of delivery)” with electricity from “renewable technologies”, fossils, and nuclear, to calculate comparative EROI values (aggregating 31 out of 113 previous studies) to make them “consistent with respect to the process chain boundary […] (namely: preparation, transmission, refining, purification, and distribution).”

    Whilst the authors acknowledge that “the argument has been made for EROI practitioners to adopt the more formal methodological framework established by the life cycle assessment (LCA) community”, they don’t specifically acknowledge that before “renewable technologies” arrive at “point of use” distribution infrastructures, compared to fossil fuels or nuclear electricity, low energy density, solar energy flow harvesting infrastructure requires significantly more land area use i.e. more “Extractivism”.

    For example PV solar farms, due to their very low comparative energy density, require about 60 times more land (~19m2 / MWh), and wind farms about 300 times more land (~100m2 / Mwh), than nuclear (~0.3m2 / MWh) and natural gas plants (~1m2 / MWh).

    Additionally, post “point of use” impacts of end-of-life disposability / re-cycling energy footprints between different fuel use technologies will also vary significantly.

    Life Cycle Assessment’s (LCA’s) have four phases, the second is the Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) analysis, which involves creating an inventory of “flows from and to nature (ecosphere)” for a product system. LCI is the process of quantifying raw material and energy requirements, atmospheric emissions, land emissions, water emissions, resource uses, and other releases over the life cycle of a product or process. In other words, it is the aggregation of all elementary flows related to each unit process within a product system. The overall LCA goal is to identify the alternative that has the least cradle-to-grave environmental negative impact on land, sea, and air resources.

    Crucially, “the life cycle assessment (LCA) community” appears to not reference the fact that the planet has finite quantities of land, sea and atmosphere, only in deriving comparisons as if there were no overall limits. Since ‘they’re not making anymore of it’ using finite land for low energy density “renewable technologies” will lower whole-system energy availability for other uses.

    Comparative land use impacts were accounted for in only one of the 18 studies (available to non-institutional readers – full texts are usually hidden behind paywalls) referenced by the authors for PV solar and wind calculations: “Global available solar energy under physical and energy return on investment constraints”, but not in comparison to any other energy types.

    If “renewable technology” electricity, needing 60 or 300 times more land – both pre and post “point of use” – were to replace the 85% of global energy supplied by fossil fuels, they would need to scale-up 5 or 6 times from the 9% to 15% (depending on data source) of global energy consumption electricity now supplies. On a finite planet “renewable technology” scale-up is not even remotely likely.

    It is a significant flaw to render as externalities under LCA analysis “Flows from and to nature (ecosphere)” and “Extractivism” because both significantly lower whole-system energy availability for other uses.

    #90415 Reply

    Part 2. Post “point of use”

    Even if the impacts of limits to resources like land, sea and air on finite planet have indeed been accounted for by the “LCA community” or are otherwise not relevant, calculation only up to “point of use” are far from the full story. For example, to deliver benefits to humans, different fuels – post “point of use” – require different types of fuel consumption technologies to be manufactured, each requiring different types and quantities of limited raw materials and energy inputs – including land use – to complete “point of use” fuels’ final transformation into waste heat.

    Whilst the “much-needed EROI update” study is specifically not concerned with post “point of use” comparative technological efficiencies, in their ‘Discussion and Conclusions’ the authors go beyond this self-imposed restriction writing that “a significant increase in the penetration of renewable technologies into the electricity grid mixes will have to be accompanied by a concomitant deployment of electrical storage [but] high temporal resolution grid balancing algorithms […] indicate that the additional energy investment for electrochemical energy storage does not significantly affect the overall EROI of the resulting electricity mix.”

    But scale-up of “grid balancing algorithms” (which tacitly acknowledge a huge scale up in needed numbers of small but massively distributed electricity generators) would require vast quantities of additional silicon wafers to run those “algorithms” upon, which are dependant upon helium for their manufacture, which is not replaceable, and is in critical short supply. Plus its extraction will almost certainly peak when production from the natural gas reservoirs containing economical amounts of helium peaks. Plus any scale-up will be severely limited by demands from other indispensable land-uses, such as agriculture and wild life.

    The authors continue: “Oil is widely considered the most important fuel for the economy, used mostly in the transportation sector. This means that oil delivers less net energy to society for each unit invested in extraction, refining, and delivery than PV or wind.”

    But again, since the authors’ analysis deliberately excludes post “point of use” inputs, thereby missing the whole-system perspective necessary for an honest and full evaluation of competing fuels uses – and their relative environmental impacts i.e. “Extractivism” – such projections in the “transportation sector” or any other sector, of “net energy to society” are somewhat unsubstantiated speculation and misleading.

    Why? Because oil and electricity, whilst they are being consumed by society post “point of use”, require significantly different technologies than “renewable technologies” do – with significantly different land use inputs causing environmental and social impacts – to yield useful work. For example, electricity “storage technologies” are close to electrochemical energy density limits (~ 2 MJ/Kg), and are an order of magnitude or so less energy dense than fossil fuels (~40 MJ/Kg), and don’t scale up in size: batteries are OK for physically small devices like mobile phones, that deliver low power loads but are still around half battery by mass.

    But for mining, agriculture and heavy transport uses, requiring much higher power loads than mobile phones, “storage technologies” can’t scale up to replace diesel, especially in remote locations far from charging infrastructure.

    In a mining truck prototype being tested this year, an electric power train (~12% of payload volume ~ 14 m3 ) is about one third larger than the diesel power train (~ 8% of payload volume ~ 10 m3 ) being replaced. Also, the raw energy density of batteries (~ 2 MJ/Kg) is one tenth that of liquid hydrocarbons (~40 MJ/Kg).

    The authors next suggest a future “transition to electric vehicles, according to these results, will actually increase the amount of net energy delivered to society (even more so when considering the higher efficiency of electrical power trains vs. internal combustion engines)” thus straying yet further beyond their papers’ self-imposed “point of use” limit. The scale up limits (one planet and batteries) described above, appear to have been rendered as invisible externalities by the authors, further compounding the self-inflicted whole-system-perspective flaws in their work, since both pre and post “point of use” equipment infrastructure is in practice entirely dependant – and always will be – for its manufacture and build out upon high energy density and high process heat provided by liquid and gas fuels with EROIs of “less than 10”.

    Thus the authors’ “renewable technology” EROIs of “about 30” at “point of use” may turn out to have significantly lower ‘whole system’ EROIs if combined with post “point of use” EROIs and ‘one planet’ finite land use’ competition demands, thereby accounting for the whole route to final waste heat, not just half way through to “point of use”.

    Forget “net zero” and “decoupling” – they’re shams.

    “There is another way. It is the way that knows that humans do not have the right to degrade Mother Earth […] A lopsided emphasis on humans by humans – the Europeans’ arrogance of acting as though they were beyond the nature of all related things – can only result in a total disharmony and a readjustment which cuts arrogant humans down to size, gives them a taste of that reality beyond their grasp or control and restores the harmony.”
    I Am Not a Leader”: Russell Means’ (1980).

    #90426 Reply

    Zion Lights is probably best remembered for her ‘difficult’ tv interview with Andrew Neil in October 2019. She was the speaker for XR and I can only admire her integrity she stood by her post and did her duty. She spoke a lot of tommy rot, but that was her job at the time.

    Not long after that she resigned and became an advocate for nuclear power.
    My acceptance of nuclear matches hers. I suspect we won’t see eye to eye that we can’t have reliable and adequate supplies of electricity without fossil fuels in the mix, but heyho nobodies perfect.

    Nuclear and fossil ain’t the danger, not having adequate electricity supplies is…_

    #90427 Reply

    Thanks DiggerUK, Zion Lights seems a sensible woman. I remember when she ‘came-out’ as nuclear and joined up with Michael Shellenberger Environmental Progress for 5 months then setting up ‘Emergency Reactor‘.

    In 2019 I wrote a long essay called ‘Atomic Humanism’ in response to XR protests, to Green MP Caroline Lucas urging the Green Party to adopt nuclear energy.

    I went to a local XR meeting with some leaflets with links to ‘Atomic Humanism’ urging XR to realise that if we ‘Just Stop Oil’ civilization would collapse, because climate change is a symptom, so lets talk about possible solutions, that might be doable, like nuclear rather than preaching doom. But the meeting was a fix-up of speakers chanting the cult doom message dominating the space and I was asked to take my leaflets away!

    MP Caroline Lucas wrote back calling me a ‘climate denier’ – same old trick as the Rodger Hallam cult!

    #90435 Reply
    Pigeon English

    Finally I found it! Video mentioning estimates at the current rate of global extraction to Renewable 100% demand. Sorry for bad description!!

    #90439 Reply

    Thanks Pigeon English, the video features Simon Michaux Associate Professor of Geometallurgy at the Geological Survey of Finland, who published – Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely Replace Fossil Fuels – concluding that “replacing the existing fossil fuel powered system (oil, gas, and coal), using renewable technologies, such as solar panels or wind turbines, will not be possible for the entire global human population. There is simply just not enough time, nor resources to do this by the current target set by the World’s most influential nations. What may be required, therefore, is a significant reduction of societal demand for all resources, of all kinds.”

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