EROI Post - A Response from Charlie Hall

On Tuesday we ran Part 1 of a 6 part series of EROI posts by Professor Charles Hall and his energy students. Professor Hall (to my surprise) read through all theoildrum comments and sent me an email with his responses and some summary comments, which I have posted below.

In addition to being interesting and insightful, Charlies comments, in a rough draft sort of way, reminded me how powerful the internet could be in academia if leveraged correctly. Real time 24 hour peer review. Of course, many of our posters are anonymous, and the standard deviation of commentary is very high. Still, the timing of Peak Oil, and the potential steepness of the post-peak decline rate, suggest that the normal 12-24 month turnaround time for the traditional academic review process will not keep pace with events, and would best be supplemented by something faster...something viral. I guess thats one of the things we are attempting here at TOD.

Charlies response below the fold. (Next Tuesday will be his draft paper on oil and gas EROI.)

To: TOD responders to Charles Hall’s EROI post
From: Charles Hall (With assistance from Graduate Student David Murphy and thanks to Nate)
RE: Your posts

I am rather blown away by the response to my post, both the many attacks and the equally many folks who have come out of the woodwork to my defense, or rather the defense of the validity of the EROI approach. I thank you all, for I think we need more discussion of this issue. I regret only that since I am a very fully employed professor, teaching four courses this semester (2 more than “required” in order to try to get energy/environmental/economic analysis properly placed in our curriculum), my responses will be more limited than would otherwise be the case. In addition this is advising week, we hope to get a new energy major approved by the faculty next week, and I have many graduate students to work with. A telling comment on this whole process came from my equally busy faculty wife who asked, upon hearing me read aloud many comments “How come these people have so much time to do this stuff” to which I answered “Because we still have surplus energy”.

The main thing I get out of all of this is that Nate is right, there just are different camps, just as there are differing favorite political candidates (including none of above). OK. Please just sit happily in your camp. Carp if you must. I will ignore those who confuse conversion efficiency or material extraction with EROI (See Science June 23 2006) or who think that markets solve all problems. If you wish, however, I might introduce the latter to the Easter bunny.

I am an ecologist (but not of the tree hugging variety). All this EROI stuff comes out of my spending most of my life measuring and attempting to understand energy flows in natural ecosystems. There is no money in these systems, but there are perfectly good economies. If e.g. a trout does not maintain appositive EROI he does not survive, and if he or she does not make a substantial energy profit that trout or system does not go into the future. Likewise societies (Tainter).

For those like Mr. Barton who question my energy bona fides my graduate training under Howard Odum, certainly one of our great energy thinkers, was about energy every day, and included courses in energy and engineering as well as chemistry and biology. I did a post doctorate under George Woodwell at Brookhaven and Oak Ridge National Laboratories (basically energy laboratories) and partook in many energy-related activities with physicists, economists and so on there and later at Cornell University where I was professor for 13 years. Most of my 200 plus publications and 7 books are explicitly or implicitly about energy. I do not know everything about energy but I think few have been more consistently trained or involved, and I do not especially appreciate comments that because I am an ecologist I do not know about energy.

In mid career I became turned off by theory in ecology so I went to study economics which I thought was much more rigorous. Instead I found most of economic theory even further removed from reality than ecological theory. All this is chronicled in my various publications and my present efforts to construct Biophysical Economics. In both ecology and economics I have found a vast confusion between mathematical rigor and scientific rigor, but energy is something I can sink my teeth into and can believe. If you cannot, then it will be difficult for you to understand what we are trying to do.

But let’s get some basics down. The really sorry thing is that I believe that we asked and mostly answered most of these questions 30 years ago when a substantial portion of academia and government were really engaged in doing this kind of analysis and when we had some fine programs within which to do it at Cornell (where I was with Cleveland and Kaufmann as my students), at Florida (where my advisor H.T. Odum was still very active), at Illinois (where very comprehensive energy analyses were undertaken and published), at Berkeley and a few other places. There were national meetings, a lot of personal energy, and all the same questions as we see here. It is frustrating that in a sense we have made no progress in the last 30 years during which energy was off most people’s radar screens. (I have summarized this history in a paper with John Day just submitted). My students now look very hard to find any real energy programs to apply to that excite them beyond engineering and the development of silver bullet non solutions. Additionally, and except for ASPO and the private sources listed in my acknowledgements (thank you!), there is essentially no place at NSF or DOE to even apply for funds. As those who have attended my presentations know the top ten energy analysts I know have not been funded AT ALL, and tell me they do their work “on the weekends”, “pro bono”, “after retirement “ and so on. The point of all this is that these issues are old, have been pretty thoroughly hashed over long ago, and we should have made much more progress in deriving and promulgating and undertaking sensitivity analysis of EROI than we have. But there has been neither financial support nor, except amongst the faithful out in the wilderness, activity. And, as Nate says, rather than arrogantly publishing formally the work I have done I am somewhat humbly approaching all of you to get your input. An interesting point to add to this was made by one of my graduate students about our TOD discussions so far: “Lots and lots of discussion but no new hard numbers.” Well we hope that will change.

OK Let me respond in a very general way to the most frequent issues:

1) Are there problems with EROI analysis? Yes, of course. But in my opinion far less of a problem than with e.g. conventional economics (See Hall et al. 2001 Bioscience. All my important papers downloadable from my web site, See also Cleveland’s Boston University site). I have never advocated making decisions just from EROI but, as is clear in my post, think it a damn useful tool in our toolbags. Thank you Nate and others for clarifying the essential issue. I think in time EROI will largely drive the economics, and we have, I believe, saved some investors a lot of money on e.g. corn-based ethanol even when market signals had been the opposite. Some says that EROI analysis is useful only at very low EROI values. I think instead that the qualitative and quantitative analysis synthesized in the balloon graph shows, even with the considerable uncertainties, some important histories, some good and some bad ideas about future possibilities and a pretty good road map of what we have to do if we are to replace gas and oil.

2) “EROI has not considered the different qualities of energy”. Get real. Energy quality always has been central to most EROI analysis since its beginning (Odum as given in yesterday’s postings, Hall and Cleveland 1981, Cleveland et al. 1984; Hall, Cleveland and Kaufmann 1986, Hall et al. 2003). These papers are published in our “best” Journals (Science, Nature, BioScience) and are available in any good library. Now of course determining exactly what “quality” means can be difficult. Our method has been normally to simply weigh primary electricity as 3 times fossil fuels (i.e. that is the conversion efficiency and roughly the economic cost differential) and do the analysis with and without this quality correction. Cleveland prefers the price-based divisia index, and we are exploring that more.

3) EROI does emphasize and include many issues missed in conventional economic analysis but its cost boundaries are as subject to discussion and opinion as are those in economics. I for one like to do the analysis with various inclusion of e.g. indirect, environmental, labor and so on and let the reader take his or her choice. We have done that in the past. But without much financing that is pretty tough to do these days.

4) Howard Odum and Mark Brown have considered all of the “Earth energies” in their emergy (with an m) analysis, which attempts to include e.g. the sunshine used to lift and purify the water used, the Earth energy to make the oil and so on. I have avoided this issue because of the considerable uncertainty in estimating the “transformities” required but like the approach conceptually and believe it is a more or less upper energy cost approach. Mark Brown, Mathis Wackernagel and I have used comprehensive economic, emergy and ecological footprint analysis to examine the issue of sustainability in Costa Rica (in Hall 2000). Fortuitously or not our answers were similar.

5) My own assessments have always been based on the actual, the here and now, the energy flows now occurring (which are about 40 percent oil and 25 percent natural gas in the US), time series that have examined trends, and, sometimes, extrapolations into the relatively near future. I accept things as they are: oil rigs normally use oil or gas because this is what is available and cheap to them, coal extraction uses mostly diesel or electricity either from the grid or occasionally from dedicated coal plants because that is what they do. Manufacturing uses the general mix of energy in society unless we have more specific information, which is rare. I do not find the idea of dedicating the output of a given source to constructing more of that source except as an exercise in what that might mean because that is not what we do.

6) Yes we need more explicit protocols. I gave a paper on that at ASPO Boston, which suggested what some of those protocols might be, and wrote it up, but its completion has been delayed for reasons beyond my control

7) Oil prices do not respond just to EROI but also overall availability relative to demand, which was high in e.g. the 1990s.

8) Ok the full oil and sub prime issue. Oil was cheap, $3.50 a barrel, at the start of 1973. The US was the world’s largest producer. Peak oil had just occurred but no one noticed. Demand kept growing, US supply fell, foreign suppliers gained leverage. Political events and bulldozer accidents intervened. The price increased by a factor of ten, to $35 a barrel. The proportion of GDP that went to buying oil increased from about 4 percent to 13 percent, restricting discretionary spending for all. All around the world oil that had been found but not developed (as it had not been worth much) suddenly became profitable to develop, and it was. By the 1990s the world was awash in oil, and the real price fell to nearly what it was in 1973. The proportion of GDP that was energy fell to about 5 percent, essentially giving everyone a sudden free extra 8-10 percent of their incomes to play with. Many invested in the stock market, but the burst bubble of 2000 cured many. Real estate was a “safe” bet, so many invested into what was really a huge surplus square footage of McMansions etc. Just as my mother recounted to me about 1929, speculation became rampant. Then as energy prices have increased over the past 6years an extra 5 to 10 percent “tax” has been added to our economy, and that much of the surplus wealth disappeared. Speculation was no longer desirable or possible as everyone was tightening their belt because of increased energy costs. This may or may not be accurate and it certainly is not a sufficient explanation by itself sufficient (we would have to add in the failure of Allen Greenspan etc to do their regulatory job) but two of my energy-savvy financial friends say “that just about captures it”. In systems theory language: the endogenous aspects of the economy, that the economists focus on (Fed rates, money supply etc.) became beholden to exogenous forcing functions that are not part of their training.

9) As shown in our paper in press on investments, markets DO NOT resolve the oil and gas issue. Historically, when scarcity occurs (1970s, now) drilling rates increase BUT THERE IS NO INCREASE IN FINDING/PRODUCTION RATES. We just waste more money/energy drilling foolishly. EROI gives better information on this than does markets. There are many other examples.

Short notes:
a) My eyeball tells me that Gail’s prices are more or less ranked inversely in order of EROI.
b) It would be good to do: “food chain” analyses for energy from the mine mouth to the use, “efficiency balloons” etc Good ideas. As noted I have said since 1975 that efficiency (i.e. insulation) is the best investment, but that is not what I am doing here. Hope someone wants to do that. Or find me the money and I shall get students to sweat it out. Not my thing. Anyone who thinks I am a tool of industry certainly does not know me.
c) Efficiency has been improving, but so has energy use per household. Efficiency is in a constant race with depletion, and the empirical result is that it seems that depletion (and increased consumption and Jevon’s paradox) is winning. Efficiency increases have not resulted in energy saved overall. Mario Giampietro et al. have a new book on Jevon’s paradox.
d) As I said in my original post I am not in a position to judge the nuclear claims one way or another. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than I can pull this together. Sorry to offend with my misinterpretation of the French nuclear cycle (given with appropriate wiggle words I would say) but I think that the final rendition, such as I can interpret from the postings, indicate that maybe I was not too far off. (I think, arguments are hard to follow). I have promoted for many years the Carlos Rubia’s possibility of a cyclotron-triggered thorium reactor, but no one has stepped forward to build it. Why? To the pro nuckies: if you are so smart why aren’t you rich? And have you looked into the plumbing costs at Chalk River or the investment balance sheets of Clinch River or Super Phoenix lately? Nice ideas, but let’s analyze them when/if they are operational. I appreciate the web sites and I will see what I can get from them. Maybe nuclear energy surplus is much higher, maybe not. We need a good analysis by someone good with no preconceived position. As for fusion, Karl Ekdahl showed me fusion, or something like it, at Cornell in 1970 when commercial fusion was 30 years away. Now it is 40 years away. Do the math…?

Renoir said of his paintings “If you don’t like them, don’t look at them”. Until the EROI police come and make our national energy decisions based on EROI then I think that those who wish to try to undertake and refine these methods, get better data, and undertake sensitivity analysis on the results should not be so bothersome to those who seem so exercised by their attempts. But that is just my opinion. I end with the last posting I saw (at 198) by clifman. Hey, that’s the basic issue!

Charles, I also worked at ORNL too. Among the ecologist I worked with were Jerry Olsen and Robert V. O'Niell. Perhaps you meet them while you were at ORNL. Both Jerry and Bob were very fine scientist, and I have mentioned Jerry in my blog. I learned a lot from both of them. One of the things I learned was echologists have a different approach to energy than nuclear scientists. I doubt that either would have offered themselves as experts on nuclear energy. I judged your qualifications on the basis of your CV, which did not reflect the sort of expertise on energy related topics that I would expect. Working at ORNL does not in itself qualify you as an energy expert in my book.

If you worked in the ORNL Environmental Science Division before 1977, you might also have also known my father.

I would point out that simply being a nuclear scientist does not make one an overall energy "expert", as no expertise is evident in hydro, wind, solar, geothermal or other commercially viable energy source. Perhaps if you had been less abrasive, you would have been given more consideration. Don't assume everyone who doesn't think the same way as you right this minute is 'incompetent'.

UPDATE: Now I see that you are a "retired counselor" who worked in the "Communications and Media" industry. That gives us a basis for considering your 'contributions'.

"That gives us a basis for considering your 'contributions'."

No it doesn't. If any of us really WANTS to find a way to discredit someone's comments, we will surely find a way to do so. Sorry Will, but it's bad money after bad.. it just perpetuates the 'oh, yeah?' level of the conversation..

Yes. Shall we all submit our CV here for the privilege of posting? That would cut down on the comments nicely. Let us judge each comment on its merits.

You missed the point completely. The 'basis for consideration' on this topic is that of a layman for Charles. YMMV.

No, Will.
You did the same thing he did. You Question the validity of his point of view by pointing out his professions and pointing towards his age (retirement) to insinuate his fitness to be part of the conversation. It doesn't change the fact that this is exactly what he has been doing with Dr Hall, and continues to. Two wrongs don't make a right.

'Lay-people' (a term that means Non-clergy, of course, while the implication is clear enough) are welcome to challenge experts, as far as I'm concerned.. you can be intelligent and more importantly curious- without carrying the right degree or credentials. We are all invested in this as it is our future.

Sorry to continue on this point, but to me, it is central to keeping a productive conversation. Try to break the cycle of Ad-homs, ok?


> You did the same thing he did. You Question the validity of his point of view by pointing out his professions and pointing towards his age (retirement) to insinuate his fitness to be part of the conversation.

I made no such insinuation about age; the fact that it has meaning to you describes your perspective, not mine.

> It doesn't change the fact that this is exactly what he has been doing with Dr Hall, and continues to.

And have you called him on it, or are you just picking on me?

>'Lay-people' (a term that means Non-clergy, of course, while the implication is clear enough)

Good grief, a 'layman' means someone who is not an expert in a the field in question. I have no idea what implication you refer to.

> are welcome to challenge experts, as far as I'm concerned.. you can be intelligent and more importantly curious- without carrying the right degree or credentials.

Curious is one thing; caustic without merit is another. If its fine for you, then why bother responding here? Many others are obviously repulsed by his acidic style, just read the comments following his posts.

You are obviously free to give considerable weight to the opinions of any schmuck with a keyboard; don't expect the rest of us to be undiscerning.

"..have you called him on it, or are you just picking on me?"

No. I'm just picking on you. I made the point that I thought both were wrong. Yes, I didn't like his style at all.. so why perpetuate it?

I don't expect any of us to be undiscerning, but if 'Counselor' and 'Media Whatever' is what you're trying to discern by, it makes your critique look as shallow as his did.

Heil Bob, Thought Nazi

Professor Hall,
Thank you for your efforts.
You’ve spent 30 years accumulating the data. I’ve spent 5 years accumulating understanding. We both “get” the issue. Chances of finding a solution for the world situation on TOD are nil, but I certainly hope you succeed. Please just answer a few questions:

What should an average American working Joe with a family do?
What should I teach my children?
With your understanding and insight, what are YOU doing for you and yours?

You are a scientist of great stature in my mind. You are Churchill, Washington, Arthur, or King David. Stand up from your throne and pronounce your judgment. Even though there are still 100’s of advisors petitioning for audience, it’s time to say, “Enough!”

No pressure now. I’ll understand if you say, “I don’t know.”

I discovered Peak Oil in December 2002. In March I wrote a note to my children. Now, five years later, everything I wrote in the note still holds true. Time does not always grant wisdom. If thirty years of academic research hasn’t granted you wisdom and vision that you did not already possess 29 years ago, then it is time I stop looking. When there is no truth to be found, no truth will set me free.

Cold Camel

I grew up in Gainesville, Florida. I could have walked into Professor Odum’s office and asked, “What should a person do?” Of course I never did.

That’s why I hope that you will stick your neck out and suggest personal mitigation strategies, and let us know what you are doing personally.

Unfortunately, most elders that somewhat “get” this issue choose to ignore the future and live in the now. With grown children, they feel no obligation to pass on wisdom. Then they die.

That seems to me to be a copout. Even if their own children don’t “get” it, they should spread wisdom far and wide, hoping that some of the wisdom might land back on their own offspring.

Thanks in advance.

Cold Camel

With all due respect, whatever else he may be doing, Dr. Hall did THIS. He has been writing on this and related topics for three decades, telling not only his kids, but his people, through his students. And, as he tells us, many of the questions around EROI were dealt with then, only to sink into obscurity and require relofting and reconvincing today. Truly Sisyfean task.. discouraging, probably, and a rough expense of their/our energy, to boot.

What if you discovered that he drives a Suburban? Does that change the issues in his research? My mom just bought an SUV, cringing at the choice, but it was the vehicle which would carry the tools and the wood to/from our land, and would also carry my 4 yr old on the days when she has her. It was the 'averaging' of her Honda and her Partner's Van.

Dr. Hall might have a very good list of 'what we all should be doing', but I'd bet you've seen that list before, as have I. We all have tasks to take up, we all also get to do some of the thinking, and to try out some brash notions that might not even work, because we have to try.

The Messengers are out there trying to do their job. Hansen, Gore, etc.. We might have to just make a decision ourselves as to what our jobs will be.

Bob Fiske

Very well said.

I can't speak for Dr. Hall, but I doubt he, nor any of us have all the answers. ALL the answers require that we have macro, mezzo and micro scale recommendations and strategies. Though I internally know its a longshot, TOD is working at the macro scale - trying to educate people about the really big picture, with hopes this has large scale changes on the regional and national and levels. Down at the ground level is a different discussion entirely - TOD has not gone that route in its postings, though many of the commenters circle around that local/individual strategies.

We are conditioned to support and rally around the 'in' group, whatever that group may be. The more I learn about human behavior, both from reading, and observing, I think the only true hope for changing things on the macro/global scale with respect to resource depletion and climate change is to make us all part of the same 'in' group. I can't imagine anything that would do that short of an alien invasion. Even nasty climate change or peak oil blackouts, etc. would pit country against country for resources, etc. We need collective action on the grandest scale, yet under the surface it will remain every man, neighborhood, region, country for itself. Just imagine once net energy analysis and biophysical economics make it into national politics - we are going to go through ALL these same arguments again. One hopes there is starting to be a cadre of energy/environmentally literate folks around the world, perhaps from reading websites such as this one - because as you say, each of us has to make a decision of what our jobs will be to steer our paths, collectively and individually.


What Prof. Hall is "doing" is educating the next generation of workers, managers, environmentalists, and (yikes!) politicians. He challenges all of his students, from all backgrounds, to consider the future restraints in energy availability in all of their disciplines and future work. He not only is teaching students about peak oil, EROI, limits to growth, etc. but gives them the tools to challenge others, especially those with dogmatic neo-classical economic beliefs. He challenges students to question what "sustainability" truly means, and his work on the nation of Costa Rica demonstrates the difficulty in maintaining population "sustainably" even for a relatively small agricultural country.

My fellow students in class want the same answers from him as you do. Many of them (including myself) occasionally walk away agreeing in principle, but searching for answers.

Dr. Hall learned about Peak Oil in the 1970s and decided not to have children (see his bio on his site). He doesn't advocate this for everyone, but noted his personal choice in the matter. Certainly him having no more children has a significant impact on the world, and negates the argument above.

Debating who can call call them self an "expert" is a game of "whose CV is longer", and is a waste of time in my eyes. I suggest that you read his efforts on biophysical economics.

I for one am happy to take part in the discussions in his classroom. In a way I wish the type of conversation that is taking place here could be done face to face. It is easy to flame someone anonymously, it's another to be able to defend your position in a discussion.

Excellent reply!
He’s educating- the next generation. Yes!
Sustainability- it’s not easy. Yes!
He’s used to questions for answers. Yes!
No children- Now I know.
He’s an expert- Agreed.
Face to face discussions- I strongly agree.
I hope my comments were not perceived as flames. Argumentative, maybe, but I try to learn from just about everyone. I envy your classroom time with Dr. Hall. I’ll put my hand down now.
Cold Camel

Bob and Nate,
Spot on brothers!
Bob, I would find it quite interesting to find that Dr. Hall was driving a Suburban, in a very non-judgmental way. (I have no idea what he drives) My personal judgments often vary dramatically with TOD group wisdom, his might also.
In my opinion, Dr. Hall did such a good job thirty years ago; he is wasting his time to cover the same material again today. But I eagerly await his discoveries, as a moth to the flame.
I personally believe that I should quit reading the comments on TOD. I haven’t learned anything useful in two years, other than that I pretty much know everything I need to know. TOD sucks my brains out and leaves me exhausted. With all due respect to the TOD intellects, both TOD and the TV are brain and time sucking machines.
Nate, I find data useful. I’m full up with analysis. You guys run circles around me, so I take your conclusions and run with them. I enjoy stretching models into the the fuzzy where I can contribute.
Here’s one: Jarvons Paradox works both ways. I’m not just talking about the decline in EROI that will exceed technological improvements, but rather a decline in consumption efficiency. Get it?
Jarvons Paradox in reverse: That as total production of a resource declines, the efficiency with which that resource is used will also decline. This is a big rut-roh that will be supported by observations.
Amory Lovins is wrong. Each barrel of oil produced during the decline will provide less happiness than before. Hording is a perfect example.
Cold Camel

Hello Cold Camel

The questions were for not for me but let me answer them.

(Q) What should an average American working Joe with a family do?
(A) An average american and for that matter any average/ordinary person living anywhere in world at this time should accept the reality that the high life style of 20th century cannot continue for long, he should do what his ancestors were doing since past 12,000 years ago that is farming. Buy for yourself and family atleast one and atmost four acres of farm land somewhere where there is there is good supply naturally by rain, canal etc and make your house there. You not have to move there in one go, instead take your time, visit there first at vacations and then more as price of oil and with it everything increase making it harder and harder to live in city, learn basic skills such as how to grow fundamental crops like wheat, rice, pulses, how to handle farm animals, start with goat and then move to cow, plant some trees now so that later on it is able to give you fruits when you can't buy it from city market, plan to permanently settle down at your farm by the end of 2012.

(Q) What should I teach my children?
(A) If they are still in O-levels or below don't invest on their high school education because by the time they get a degree those skills would no longer be needed. Instead teach them basic skills such as farming, animal keeping etc.

(Q) With your understanding and insight, what are YOU doing for you and yours?
(A) I might not have that kind of indepth knowledge about economics, ecology and systems as professor has but I do have very good indepth knowledge about history which teach me that all civilizations fall sometime and when they fell the best place to live is farm, not city. What I am doing for myself (I not have children yet) is to slowly invest time, energy and money in both possessing farmland and animals and learning skills to operate them.

God is merciful to us. He provide the essential requirements of life in abundance and free, sunlight, rain and air is all free. We can use the same farm to grow crops for us and our children for thousands of years by recycling animal and human manure. Its our greed that make us tie to unsustainable life styles and make us work slaves for our bosses.

Great Post, Pakistan.

Very Sensible. Thanks.


My wife and I have been down this road. My 2c on what to do:

What should an average American working Joe with a family do?
> plant a food garden - great experience for the kids
> slow down spending and get rid of debt
> learn to freecycle and recycle
> if you are living in the burbs or other at risk area, seriously explore moving to community where there is a good growing climate, plenty of fresh water, alternative transport options (bus, train, bike), and an active sustainability movement
> if your job is in a discretionary part of the economy, start learning a new trade or skill.
> stop watching TV and get reacquainted with your yard and your neighbors. Join or start a neighborhood community group.

What should I teach my children?
> that they belong to the earth, not the other way around
> how to grow food
> to train for a job in the non-discretionary part of the economy
> how to work with almost anybody
> how to find and assess information

With your understanding and insight, what are YOU doing for you and yours?
> my wife and I relocated out of CA (just as prices were nosing over) and bought a home and rental in OR with no mortage.
> the home we purchased was heavily insulated in the 80s. We use our wood stove insert to heat the house during winter (house has electric ceiling panels). We are now taking advantage of current tax writeoffs to add solar PV and solar water heating.
> my wife has retooled her education and received her permaculture certificate, master gardener certificate, and is now working on master food preserver. I've gotten a master recycler certificate and training on community building skills. With the exception of the permaculture class, all other classes were one evening a week type classes.
> we live on 1/2 acre about 4 miles from downtown, and grow a lot of our own food, keep 4 chickens, and a beehive. We found a small local farmer where we purchase our meat, knowing the animals are treated humanely and without drugs.

That's impressive !

I'm reevaluating my present location, particularly since I'll be entering a new career field in December (trade).

I must give credit to TOD for raising my awareness. My wife and I had been studying peak oil, climate change, and related issues since 2005. We had started growing some food on our limited plots in CA, and had started a postcarbon outpost (see We developed a 8 year plan to move, at the time when my wife was fully vested in her state pension.

In August 2006 we were invited by a member of another postcarbon outpost to attend a permaculture conference in Oregon. After the conference, and after 12 consecutive days of 100+ temperatures (a record) in CA, we made the decision to move right away. We had a lot of prior investment in CA, homes, family, friends, and my wife's pension. Leaving friends and family was the hardest part.

In any event, we had been preparing and researching options, such as intentional communities (which we decided to pass on, as they are notoriously prone to failure). I can't emphasize enough the importance of community in our process. We found our ideal site via the post carbon community, ruled out options by exploring other communities, and located ourselves in an area the community is highly aware of sustainability, peak oil, climate crisis, permaculture, etc.

To the pro nuckies: if you are so smart why aren’t you rich?

Natural gas today closed at $5,270 per uranium-kg-equivalent,
inclusive of several hundred dollars in royalties,
not inclusive of end user tax.
A kilogram of the real thing costs less than $200,
and at that price has been being prospected
at ten times the rate of use.

So City Hall* doesn't like what uranium has been doing
to its oil and gas income, and correctly doesn't anticipate
that anything will lessen the pain any time soon.
We "pro nuckies" are saying it should increase.

How shall driving gain nuclear cachet?

* shorthand for all levels of government combined.

Thanks for sharing.
However the data you have presented so far seems pretty weird.

Is your nuclear EROI based on Storm-Smith data, where apparently they estimated the energy cost of extracting uranium from low-grade ores at around 60 times the actual figure from the Rossing mine?

Information from this source shows that using data from Storm van Leeuwen & Smith one gets annual energy costs for three major uranium mines of 5 PJ for Ranger, 60 PJ for Olympic Dam (both in Australia) and 69 PJ for Rossing in Namibia. These mines report their energy use as 0.8 PJ, 5 PJ and 1 PJ respectively, with that at Olympic Dam including copper production (only about 20% of value of output is uranium). Rossing mines very low-grade ores, but its energy cost is overestimated sixty-fold or more by Storm van Leeuwen & Smith and the figure they predict is more than that for the whole country (c 50 PJ).

Are you using, in what you confidently state, is the EROI of nuclear power, the figures for the centrifuge method of processing?
Or do you actually mean that that is the EROI if you use a really, really inefficient method of processing?

Did you include CANDU reactors in your statement?

In short, are you talking about a particular fuel cycle, or are you asserting that that is the potential energetic efficiency of nuclear energy?

In my view, the figures I have seen so far presented spread more heat than light.

He hasn't presented any nuclear numbers yet, other than repeating a conversation where people disagreed - the nuclear post is in 2 weeks.

If that is so, apologies - I was thinking of the graph, which indicated a really poor EROI for nuclear - am I mistaken?

oh ok - I thought you meant the nuclear comments. the graph is a hodgepodge of existing research that was put together to show how EROI X Scale compares on different resources over time. The nuclear, coal, etc. balloons are existing studies (many of which have not been updated in some time or represent a range). Creating updated and more accurate numbers for these 'balloons' is one of the objectives of Dr. Halls research.

Boundaries are critical though - as someone pointed out, coal at the minemouth might be 100:1, but what does that mean Nat Gas is at the wellhead (e.g. before it is piped)?

Perhaps I am over-interpreting - the graph was labelled 'Cleveland and Hall' so I assumed it represented figures they broadly agreed with.
If the balloons represent a range, they don't seem to have very effectively encompassed data which show an EROI for nuclear of around 93:1

Dr. Hall, correctly, calculates for the here and now when producing a graph for the here and now. When we look to the furure, what is occuring presently is important to understand, but so also is what might be expected. We see new oil discoveries in places where drilling will be more difficult so we might expect oil to trend down. Dave Rutledge has been pointing to a similar possibility with coal because the easy coal is used first. We've been reading here that more pipes are needed now per unit of gas delivered. It would be worth knowing how run of the river hydro compares with our current approach. A few options are still exploiting their scale gains on cost. Wind will likely get another factor of two in EROEI and solar PV may get upto another factor of nine and certainly a factor of three above 30. Scale may also assist concentrated solar thermal on cost and possibly on EROEI. The potential for composite material use for heliostats could also boost EROEI. Nuclear power is changing its form of enrichment but would likely need to retain diffusion facilities were it to grow. The range of estimates of its EROEI tend to be affected by this. Right now, most fuel used in the world was enriched using diffusion because of the influence of stockpiles but more of the uranium currently being enriched is probably being enriched using centrifuges or will be soon. Here on TOD, there has been a great deal of confusion because the value 93 has been often proposed but it turns out to be based on a misunderstanding of EROEI. Here and now estimates have to take a lower value than this in any case, and those who would rely on estimates made outside of the industry must take a much lower value while acknowledging that industry secrecy impedes accurate appraisal. It is clearly the case that nuclear power will see an infulence from the effect of all the easy uranium being used up just as we see now for oil, but assessing the effect is also controversial here with standard methods which predict a large effect within the lifetime of a reactor built now being countered by a few present examples which may show economic selection from the overall pool of ore at that grade. We could get more clever at mining uranium or coal as well just as what seemed impossible for the Bakken play is now growing rapidly in the case of oil. It is also possible that vast renewable resorces could be thrown at the problem should the waste and safety issues be solved and nuclear power could become a sort of battery technology as it basically is now in the case of naval reactors. We would take the advantages of stealth and reduced logisitcs requirements that naval reactors provide regardless of EROEI I think. The same could be said of oil, which already is using wind power in some off-shore applications. There are a lot of "dry" wells in Texas that could be pumped at low EROEI if wind were in surplus. But, once we start doing that, it is a conversion rather than a gain process.


The same could be said of oil, which already is using wind power in some off-shore applications.

Chris -I was unaware of this -do you have any links?

There are a lot of "dry" wells in Texas that could be pumped at low EROEI if wind were in surplus. But, once we start doing that, it is a conversion rather than a gain process.

You are correct. That would make EROI, as is, even more confusing. What do you mean if wind were in surplus? Directing wind generated electricity from an exogenous source towards these wells? Why not put up a wind turbine near each field if it's economical? I'm guessing intermittency would be the problem but don't know enough about it.

Hi Nate,

Here is a company that provides this service:

There is quite a bit of transmission going in in Texas. Berkshire Hathaway is involved. I'm guessing that it will extend to Georgia before we see wind power in a position where it can't be accepted by the grid. This is one reason I'm skeptical that the TVA is going to get much of a chance to screw up any more nukes. But, once there is more wind than can be accepted (say) 10% of the time, there'll be an opportunity to get it for next to nothing. At that point, you might hook up tapped out oil wells as a demand management strategy. The TVA has some pumped storage, so that might get first dibs, but given the size of the resource and the enthusiasm for developing it, I think that there will be times when there is stranded Texas wind in the next 15 years or so and not because of lack of transmission. Aready, it is probably profitable to run productive wells with electricity rather than oil if there is nearby transmission since you get to sell the oil you didn't use at a premium these days.

Note: I say get uranium out of your cranium, leave the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole and the gas in the grass. This is just an economic look at things. High EROEI allows you to be foolish so we need some schooling on the climate issues.


ERCOT is an isolated electrical island that covers about 86% of Texas. It thus escapes regulation by FERC (aka F**CKING FERC by those it regulates).

ERCOT will be VERY reluctant to transmit power out of state and put themselves under FERC regulation.

And not enough wind can be transmitted to make up for the coal that TVA burns today in the next few decades.

I hope that TVA not only finishes Watts Ferry 2, but also starts building Bellefonte 1 & 2 with new reactors and existing containment structures.

Best Hopes for Some New Nukes,


Arizona seems to be having trouble making its own decisions these days.
I see the hand of Bill Richardson in this. New Mexico probably wants to get its solar out. So far as I can tell, New Mexico has enough for the whole country and more. Do you think Texas will run out of wind?


Do you think Texas will run out of wind?

During the summer months, yes.

Electricity is MUCH more than MWh, and wind (and solar) lack those attributes (hydro is the best power source, with geothermal also pretty good).



My contention is that the resource is large and is being enthusiastically developed. It will likely run into a situation where there is stranded wind from time to time even as it supplies Georgia and and the TVA grid. This stranded wind will likely find use in Texas oil fields if it can be had for next to nothing. I think it was pretty clear that you were speaking of resource size and I was asking about why you thought the resource was too small. Is there only enough wind fo Texas?

Summer tends to produce quite a bit of solar power so there is an interesting coincidence between wind and solar.
As I've pointed out before, electrification of transportation gives a very good running start on storage. So, if you want to raise that issue, I think you need to reread this:
and say where the numbers are incorrect.


My own analysis is that even with massive investments in HV DC and pumped storage, the best grid that we can hopes for at anything near current costs (and near current reliability) is still 25% nuke and 10% FF.

Wind and solar cannot handle the load alone. To a certain extent, geothermal can supplant nuke in the west.


I think then that you are neglecting distributed chemical storage which is essentially cost free for the energy delivery system. This strongly diminishes the need for your massive investments. Renewables really will be less expensive than the current grid.


The capital costs, efficiency losses, safety issues with distributed "chemical energy storage" and limited capacity (you run out without a grid back-up) make that choice an economic no brainer.

Your preferred path would be an order of magnitude more expensive than mine. Simply unaffordable, and unsafe.

I would rather live a dozen miles from a nuke than in a neighborhood full of "distributed chemical storage". And my bill would be affordable with the nuke.


Apparently you have not read the link I provided. In short, electrification of transportation provides 0.5 days of stationary storage of total electic use. This comes at low cost because the bulk of the investment is made specifically for transportation. This works because electrification reduces the cost of transportation. The storage provides power to the grid. Because you want to do things the expensive way, you have come up with a system which is economically unrealistic. Electricity is going to be cheaper, not more expensive. If you are not going to read the link, don't bother to comment about safety. Really Alan, I expect more from you. Here is the link again:


Vehicle to Grid is a flawed and unproven concept. Due to consumer behavior, I do not think it will work as planned.

And you hypothesize batteries that are not here yet (in costs etc.)

Typically for batteries, life is measured in discharge cycles. People will sacrifice a multi-thousand $ battery to "help the local grid" ?? I will not !

The costs of your vision are MUCH higher than mine, for comparable results in several dimensions. And mine can be built with technology available today.

I live about a dozen miles from a nuclear power plant, and I fear the electrical fires in my area from large numbers of EVs & PHEVs more than I do Waterford III.

Your link went to a post about trees being cut by developers, Dr. Suess' intellectual property rights, etc. and I failed to see the relevance of it.

Perhaps a bad link ?


Brief Synopsis for Florida.

HV DC triangle between Central FL, wind in Western Oklahoma and pumped storage near Chattanooga (also a spine of HV DC from Canada (Alberta to Manitoba) to Texas to even out wind). Perhaps 10 GW /line capacity. 20 GW import capacity into FL (shortcut HV DC from Chattanooga to Birmingham AL so pumped storage can pump in 20 GW)

Enough FL nuke to exceed demand after 11 PM till 6 AM, excess sent to Chattanooga.

Enough solar PV in FL to exceed demand (+ nuke) at solar noon most days to send surplus to Chattanooga.

Early morning demand, later afternoon and evening demand requires imported power (solar poor at 7 AM, 6 PM, zero at 8 PM). From Western OK if wind is blowing then and they have a surplus, otherwise from pumped storage. Surplus wind is either stored in pumped storage or wheeled to West Coast (4 hour time delta with FL).

Florida coal fired plant has a pile of both charcoal and coal for emergency use. Likewise an NG plant. Kept off-line most years.

Conservation, intelligent meters, etc.

A workable and economic vision,

Best Hopes,


Ah, well, just read the abstract if you can't be bothered. That's what they are for. That is not V2G storage, it is aftermarket, which is why it is so cheap and large. If you do get around to reading it, you'll find that it is analysis rather than vision. But, since you still have not read the link, let me just say that your safety concerns are off base owing to your inaccurate preconceptions.

Texas is quite a way ahead of Oklahoma on wind. It's potential resource is 5 times its consumption and larger than that of OK. You might want to revise your vision to reflect this reality. Further, there is little need for Florida to have a lot of transmission in or out since the storage will be available within the state. Essentially, because the renewables will be much cheaper than TVA nukes, those will eventually have to be shut down. So, the transmision will be built out of Florida, but to displace everything the TVA does other than hydro. Hope we're not left holding the bag because of those fooolish loan guarantees for new nukes.


My apologies, I only read the first couple of paragraphs and concluded that you had made an error in linking (something I have done on occasion). Sorry.

A side note. I support direct electrification of transportation from the grid, via trolley wires (or 3rd rail). Batteries will have no role in inter-city transportation (except perhaps short spurs) but overhead wires will power electrified trains.

Likewise, I would like to see tens of thousands of miles of Urban Rail, running off of the grid. The battery requirements of GEM cars are minimal. The same is true of eBikes and eTrikes.

More at

I also hope/anticipate a large scale reduction of motorized travel miles.

This reduced reliance on EVs and PHEVs also beens far fewer batteries and reduced resource issues on materials for whatever battery type triumphs (Stuart Staniford assumes lithium, I am less sure). It also means an inherently much more energy efficient society.

We are decades away from the widespread availability of used batteries on the scale that you assume. We do not know the type of battery, the demand, the life-cycle, cost, etc. The number of unknowns far exceeds the knowns, making an insoluble problem.

So until MUCH more is known, I would not count on used batteries for grid storage on a large scale.

All types of renewables except geothermal (and to a lesser extent hydro, with an annual variance of + or - 30% and biomass) cannot be relied upon for local demand. A cloudy week in Florida, a windless high pressure system settles over Texas (and Dallas goes to 49 C), etc. This means large scale transfers of power (HV DC being the only practical means) and storage for daily and even weekly (barely) cycles by pumped storage. Seasonal transfer of power seems unlikely except by ammonia or similar.

The use of nukes for baseload + a small late night surplus for storage greatly reduces the power transfer requirements in the 0.05% case (worst).

in my modeling of options, I could not figure out a way to make an all renewable grid work with known tech (or even near horizon tech) without incredible amounts of pumped storage and HV DC transmission (as it is I am pushing the envelope).

I got to 25% nuke and 10% FF grid and called that a good "Phase I" and let them figure out phase II in 2025 or 2035 as we approach completion of Phase I.

BTW, Texas is a better source of power for Phoenix, Southern California & Las Vegas (if ERCOT issues can be resolved), but wind power can be transmitted over the Wind Export Belt "spine" HV DC to western OK if need be (or from Alberta, etc.)

Dakotas, MN, IA & Canada (SK MB) to MidWest & NorthEast (Northeast also from Atlantic Provinces).

Alberta, Montana and Idaho > S. CA, PHX and LV as well as SF.

NB, KS, MO > MidAtlantic States

OK plus some Texas > Lower Southeast

With a N-S Spine (Canada to Texas) of HV DC to transfer from large wind surplus areas as needed.

Localized production is good, and is the backbone of the approach (where possible) with pumped storage and HV DC to smooth out and balance the daily/weekly cycle and the gaps between local production and demand.

I hope that explains better,

Best Hopes,


Watts Bar 2 should be completed for $2.5 billion (stopped work @ 60% complete), a good value. Any new nukes (if we build them at a measured pace as I suggest) should avoid the outrageous cost overruns that killed TVA nukes decades ago.


It is possible that we could go with a battery technology that dies instananeously, but it seems unlikely. Transportation grade batteries are so much superior to other kinds that and extended afterlife as stationary storage is very likely. Your plan tends to require a lot of new rail while plug-in hybrids can continue to use existing roads. Thus, you need to get the rail paid for, and with a transition, taking over the current right-of-ways will be tricky. That means at least some eminent domain which takes time. With the Volt coming out next year, the timescale for electrification using the plug-ins looks to be shorter. I think that moving freight back to rail has some chance of proceeding quickly but the rail companies are not all that organized. My area has been pushing for mass transit for a long time and we are parked behind the apparent failure of the Dulles extension. There are many many pieces that have to come together and a great deal of opposition in Congress and in the administartion to providing any funding. I'm not saying that the overall cost of rail is not cheaper, it is just that the funding of roads is well greased.

I don't see seasonal transfer of power being a big issue with the Architecture 2030 goals. These are being looked at pretty seriously for building code models, and that tends to spread pretty quickly. I'm working on a retrofit method now that seems like it will turn out to be a money saver. Eliminating heating and cooling demand removes most seasonal variation and more than half of residential energy use.

Finally, I would say that we get about a weeks notice or more on large scale weather patterns, so there is not that much need to have huge transmission increases. One can shift energy more slowly in anticipation, and we will have a mostly mothballed fossil fuel infrastructure to fill in if there is a real problem. That can be sourced renewably
as well.


most fuel used in the world was enriched using diffusion because of the influence of stockpiles but more of the uranium currently being enriched is probably being enriched using centrifuges or will be soon

No new diffusion facilities will be built as the current ones are legacies of the cold war. If there is a nuclear buildup, it will use centrifuge enrichment. That puts the correct EROEI number to use up around 100.

It is clearly the case that nuclear power will see an infulence from the effect of all the easy uranium being used up just as we see now for oil

You need to prove that. Most of the low grade sources in the US were abandoned because very high concentration vein sources went into production in Canada and Australia, like Cigar Lake at 210,000 ppm. We are still producing mainly from easy sources and there is no reason to believe we are running out. There has been less than 1/100,000 the exploration intensity for Uranium as oil in the relevant crust. We are very early in the world production curve for Uranium, not nearing peak.


Thanks for addressing this important subject here. As a principal engineer at a major R&D firm, I can recognize the value of EROI in our energy choices now and down the road. Keep up the good work, and collect and sift out the valuable comments that are bound to come through here.

Thanks for your response. I am looking forward to reading your articles. Thank you for agreeing to share them with us.

Please just sit happily in your camp. Carp if you must. I will ignore those who confuse conversion efficiency or material extraction with EROI (See Science June 23 2006) or who think that markets solve all problems. If you wish, however, I might introduce the latter to the Easter bunny.

(Well, you can't get blood out of a turnip.)

Thanks for making the case for the value of EROEI, Professor Hall!

... no hard numbers ...

After much work, I can state that, in an oil constrained environment (oil $200 to $300/barrel) that an investment of $250 to $400 billion in electrifying and expanding USA railroads (some 100-125 mph service in limited corridors, rest 60 to 79 mph) can attract 67% to 85% of current and future heavy truck volumes. Not just volumes, but rail can meet or beat truck speed and reliability. If oil supplies are interrupted, electrified rail can carry on.

End use trade is 17 to 20 BTUs of diesel for one BTU of electricity (lower ratio for semi-high speed service) when freight is shifted from truck to electrified rail. Many potential sources of the electricity, but conservation is the best choice.

How does this trade/conversion rank with other alternative investments ? An ecological analogy, is that this investment creates a FAR superior metabolic pathway vs. low or high calorie food sources.

More after a night's sleep.

Best Hopes for Good Investments,


In the near future USA, people will be confronted with using their limited money on choices such as:

1) Buying more gasoline each week
2) Selling their SUV for less than they owe on it and buying a used Prius
3) Selling their Exurban house at a loss (and less than they paid for it) and buying another close to work and shopping.
4) Quiting work and living off savings at home, with far less demand for VMT and gasoline.

On an individual level, these choices will be made on monetary terms.

But on a societal level, I think the EROEI concept could be expanded to aid in deciding the relative priorities of each.


5) Emergency expansion of bus-lines to suburbs.
6) Getting an el cheapo moped/scooter that gets ~100 mpg and some proper clothes for unfortunate weather.
7) Car pooling.
8) Sleep over at work, taking only one trip to and from work every week.(possibly longer and fewer work days to make it more bearable).
9) Telecommuting where it makes sense.
10) Getting a new job closer to home.

11) Searching for work....

Thanks for raising these issues in such a comprehensive fashion. I have been interested in the ramifications of peak oil for decades but this series should inspire deeper study and greater understanding.

-- You dispute the thesis that markets solve all problems.

"... or who think that markets solve all problems. If you wish, however, I might introduce the latter to the Easter bunny."

--Is there a political or economic system that will solve most if not all problems?

--Is there a political or economic system that will solve most if not all problems?

Probably not. But the current one seems to be taking us over a cliff, so we might have to start taking some risks and explore the alternatives -- no matter what. They would all have the common feature of not putting profits ahead of everything else.

--Is there a political or economic system that will solve most if not all problems?

Actually our political and economic systems are up to the task, they just need a few revisions. Democracy is arguably the best political system, but in this country, the US, our democracy is very poorly utilized. And free markets, or a market economy as delineated by Adam Smith does regulate in the best interest. HOWEVER, the economic system that we have, capitalism, bears little resemblance to a market economy.

In a market economy small and medium sized actors, businesses, compete against each other by lowering prices and increasing quality. The consumer possesses complete information about all the products and businesses and the producer pays the entire cost of producing the good.

In capitalism uber giant corporations compete against their multinational rivals by externalizing cost, things like air pollution, in a market seriously confused by disingenuous advertising. The situation is further distorted by corporate involvement in democracy, things like lobbyists and campaign finance. And that's before one gets to trade barriers, taxes and tax breaks, subsidies, bribes, etc.

The trick is getting back to a market economy. I think two revisions would get us most of the way.

1) WestTexas's ELP model which is explained elsewhere on this site. This would return markets to the small and well informed variety.

2) Replace corporations with worker owned businesses. The change in ownership structure would effect the behavior of the business and spread the wealth more evenly. The daily practice with democracy at the workplace would allow citizens to better utilize democracy. And the elimination of stock would reduce market demands for short term returns yielding a longer view of things.

I'll expand more on point 2 tonight, I have to go to work.

Poorly. Indeed.

Actually our political and economic systems are up to the task, they just need a few revisions. Democracy is arguably the best political system, but in this country, the US, our democracy is very poorly utilized. And free markets, or a market economy as delineated by Adam Smith does regulate in the best interest. HOWEVER, the economic system that we have, capitalism, bears little resemblance to a market economy.

Please, do expand on those revisions. Adam Smith I think was up to the task. Since I've been reading a bit of Smith, Mill and Malthus I see they've been taken with as much understanding as "Limits to Growth", eg NONE. Do it right or close to right and you get MORE LEVERAGE HERE than anywhere else. Hive mind.

F**K the job. Get back to real work. Expand. Incorporate Mill, Dawkins, Goebbels, Frank Bryan, Lirkpatrick Sale, Vermont, and Ray Bradbury. That's NOT a trivial question.

Enemy of the State, cfm in Gray, ME,

Sorry about the delay,

I was recently promoted to store manager of an organic foods Co-Op so my job and the real work are pretty closely related.

So, There are lots of little benefits to replacing corporations as the dominant actors in the economy with worker owned businesses. Here are the three principle reasons.

1) Broader distribution of wealth. In our present situation wealth tends to concentrate in a smaller number of hands over time but by changing the nature of ownership in the means of production the income distribution and eventually wealth would broaden and the level disparity between the top and the bottom would decrease.

A broader distribution of wealth is very beneficial for society and is commonly measured in political science with the gini coefficient. There is a cool map of global economic equality on the link, you might notice a correlation between equality and quality of living. In general, economic inequality produces social inequality and makes democracy difficult.

The operating theory of communism is that everyone is in it together. Motivated by the common good everyone pitches in and nobody cheats on the system. Well, that didn't work out so well.

The operating theory of Capitalism is that everyone is in it for themselves and the invisible hand sorts everything out. We are presently watching that system fail, in particular with the financial markets, and over a longer scale with global warming and peak oil.

The reality is that for groups of people the common good and the individual good are both important. A broader distribution of wealth means that individuals are more closely aligned with each other's needs. The more closely people align with each other the better democracy works.

2) Responsibility and long term planning. Worker owned businesses would take a longer, more responsible view of things because the decisions are made democratically and the decision makers are vested in the business.

The democratic process will change the decisions that businesses make by changing the way decisions are made. I always give the example of a lead smelter. If I own a lead smelting plant in Arizona and I live in Maine then I will be more concerned with the profit then the pollution. However if I and 136 of my coworkers own a lead smelter a couple of miles outside of town then me and my coworkers are going to be very concerned about the mercury emissions that our kids are breathing.

The fact that the employees own the business will change their relationship to that job. The difference here is a simple as owners vs. renters. There is a quote on the top right sidebar that pops up from time to time that I don't remember verbatim: "We live as renters, tearing up the front fence to burn as fire wood, not as if we actually owned the place."

Social pressure will have a profound impact. The same peer pressure that makes teenagers do stupid things would force adults to make responsible choices about the business's impact.

3) Utilization of democracy. We are taught in grade school that democracy works. It's a beautiful thing and it solves so many problems. Unfortunately we aren't taught how to work a democracy. It is presented to us as a fact, not a process. The lesson goes a little something like this:

There are three branches of government. Here is how a bill becomes a law. Memorize the state capitals. That's all the time we have today. So in conclusion, Democracy works, go to college, get a job.

The problem is that the lesson doesn't tell us how to operate this fantastic form of government. Some of us get fired up with political activism in college or later in life because the state wants to put a coal fired power plant in the back yard, but for most of us democracy is a passive event. A spectator sport that requires going to the polls once every four years and talking incessantly about it over coffee.

The problem is that we have no experience with democracy, we never practice at it, and as a consequence this brave experiment in self governance is failing. Everyone knows that an individual's influence is greatest in local election yet they have the lowest voter turnout. If people had daily practice with democracy at work, where they spend the majority of their waking life, then they would be better able to utilize the democracy that is already in place.

Those are the main reasons that I'm for a worker owned economy though there are many other little reasons, but it's late and I've taken up enough space already. So a closing thought and a thought experiment.

Last thought: I don't think that a worker owned economy can be implemented in time to mitigate peak oil or global warming. We are committed. we are going over the cliff. However, I do think a worker owned economy would be a good framework for any post peak system.

Thought experiment: This coming work week think about what your job would be like if it was a worker owned business. What would the policies be? How would the business behave? If you have a suggestion to make would it find a better audience amongst current management or a jury or your peers?

-Peak oil and global warming are not the problems. They are the symptoms, the problem is a collective action problem and an inability to make good long term plans.

Thanks Charlie, for your response to the issues raised regarding the utility & validity of ERO(E)I analysis.

Howard Odum and Mark Brown have considered all of the “Earth energies” in their emergy (with an m) analysis, which attempts to include e.g. the sunshine used to lift and purify the water used, the Earth energy to make the oil and so on. I have avoided this issue because of the considerable uncertainty in estimating the “transformities” required but like the approach conceptually...

Thank you for stating this explicitly. I think it's unfortunate that you have avoided these issues because "the considerable uncertainty in estimating the 'transformities'" lies at the heart of the problem. Until these uncertainties are addressed and quantified I continue to see little value in EROI analysis.

...the endogenous aspects of the economy, that the economists focus on (Fed rates, money supply etc.) became beholden to exogenous forcing functions that are not part of their training.

Perhaps economists aren't trained to consider these real world externalities but common sense should have inspired them do so anyway. Specialization shouldn't equate to narrow mindedness.

As for fusion...

As an ecologist can't you see that cheap abundant energy would only allow the ecocidal ape to expand its bloated census number in even greater excess of K, and appropriate even more of primary productivity away from essential ecosystem support services and to its own ends? Can't you recognize that peak fossil fuels is the best thing that could happen for the biosphere, given Anthropus ecocidus' rapaciousness? But then, you aren't the "tree hugging" type of ecologist, are you?

(Slightly edited version from what I posted on original thread)

Thx for the hat tip, Doc. As much as I have harped at times here at TOD about the importance of us grokking EROEI and the implications thereof, it wasn't until I was working up my last post that the order of magnitude issue occurred to me. We basically began a century ago with a resource that provided us with a 10,000% return. We exploded in population, infrastructure and wealth (as measured by economists) based upon that return. As the millennium turned, we were operating said infrastructure and population on about a 1,000% return (very roughly speaking here, of course). Of course most people are oblivious to the imminent decline of oil extraction, nat. gas extraction on this continent, and perhaps coal not far behind (decades, rather than the centuries that get bandied about). But even among those of us who see peak oil and all that it means, too few seem to recognize the bounty that ff's have been with respect to anything that is proposed to take their place. That we are debating among alternatives that appear to have in the neighborhood of a 100% return, two orders of magnitude less than the resource with which we built and populated our industrial economy, appears to me to be a bit of a major issue, to put it mildly. (In fact, thinking of it in those terms kind of scares the heck out of me.) Inverting those percent returns gives me this very rough approximation of the portion of human activity that must go toward procuring the energy which then allows for all other activity - at EROEI of 100:1, about 0.1% (one-tenth of one percent) spent on energy procurement, at EROEI of 10:1, about 1% of activity required for procurement, at EROEI of 2:1, 10% of society must work solely to procure more energy. From there, as we approach unity, we approach 100% of all effort going toward acquiring more energy. Of course there won't be anything like a society or civilization down at that 2:1 or 1:1 level. As you point out, once the trout has to spend all its effort just to feed itself, the trout population does not perpetuate. So where are we on this negative parabola? (hope I have that right, I'm not a math nor physics guy) I look forward to learning some defensible numbers regarding the EROEI of crude and its potential replacements.

I agree completely. We use 4 cubic kilometers of oil every year ( 4Km^3 ), from an effort 10,000 times less. So not only is the energy gain huge the absolute value of energy obtained is huge. Consider also that oil is free, it is there underground already, all we have to do is find it and extract it, we didn't have to make it first.

I agree.

One thing is that all nonrenewable resources have a declining curve. They all start out at some favorable level and decline toward 1:1. The low hanging fruit is always easiest to pick.

Secondly, the shape of this curve, as you say, is more a negative parabola; no straight lines here.

This is really an energy accounting question so I find it easier to think in accounting terms. Apply this to oil and the formula for each barrel of oil produced is simply ER less EI equals net energy (ER - EI = NE). Another way of describing a 1:1 EROEI is that it is a zero net energy case; we are spending all of what we earn at 1:1.

At one time we had a 100:1 EROEI for oil. Depending on who is estimating we now are somewhere between 10:1 and 6:1. We are experiencing roughly a 3.5% rate of decline in EROEI which when converted to the accounting formula means that costs are doubling about every 20 years for each barrel produced. Consider this little table depicting the accounting (using ER - EI = NE ) for these declining EROEI's:

100:1 (1 - .01 = .99)
50:1 (1 - .02 = .98)
25:1 (1 - .04 = .96)
12.5:1 (1 - .08 = .92)
6.25:1 (1 - .16 = .84)
3.125:1 (1 - .32 = .68)
1.5625:1 (1 - .64 = .36)
.78125:1 (1 -1.28 = -.28)

Who would have even noticed the minor change in net energy when we went from 100:1 to 50:1 (over 20 years). Instead of having 99 barrels left out of 100 barrels produced, we had 98 barrels, hardly noticeable. But if we are now near 6.25:1 in the above table, and the 3.5% rate of change continues we go to 3.125:1 over the next 20 years, and we will go from having 84 barrels left out of 100 produced to having 68 barrels or a loss of 16 additional barrels. And then just look at the next two steps in the table. Costs are doubling every 20 years and cost cannot practically exceed what we produce. That last doubling is something else. It is a massive understatement to say that the end of cheap oil is here.

So if you ask where we are in the curve, the answer is sometime around mid century, the oil age is over, not because of peak oil, but because of declining EROEI. Each source of nonrenewable energy is and should be following a similar pattern. They each seem to have a built in self destruct mechanism with all the destruction seemingly coming out of nowhere as we approach 1:1.

I've been trying to figure out how to post an image (can anybody help?) Because I find this a case of a picture being worth a thousand words. Here's where Euan posted the pertinent chilling graphic:

This one?

img src="link location here" end img tag

You can use "copy link location" on the right click menu in FireFox to get the image location if the image is already posted.


The chart you posted cuts off to the right when I view it, I suppose because it is in a response to a previous post. I posted a slightly different version of your chart as a new reply which is now near the bottom of the comments section.

Right click on the chart then click "view image."

I will ignore those who confuse conversion efficiency or material extraction with EROI (See Science June 23 2006)

OK, I might be on the same page with you here. If I had a subscription to Science, I might be able to check that page.

Our method has been normally to simply weigh primary electricity as 3 times fossil fuels (i.e. that is the conversion efficiency and roughly the economic cost differential) and do the analysis with and without this quality correction.

This whole multiply-by-three approach really bothers me. Since you're checking numbers both ways it is certainly possible that I just don't know how you apply this. I'll wait for an example. Others posting on TOD seem to be using the factor of 3 improperly, IMHO.

... no hard numbers ...

Our method has been normally to simply weigh primary electricity as 3 times fossil fuels (i.e. that is the conversion efficiency and roughly the economic cost differential) and do the analysis with and without this quality correction

Factually wrong, except for coal and perhaps oil.

Combined cycle natural gas is about 60% efficient, not 33%. This sparked the massive NG expansion of electrical generation in the US and UK.

There is no large scale economic use for falling water, blowing wind, geothermal or nuclear heat and 99% of sunshine except to generate electricity. One can look to the capital and operating energy costs to capture these types of energy, but they have no value for any other purpose. Water can flow over Niagara Falls at 3 Am (when no one is watching) or it can generate electricity.


This statement deserves to win some kind of prize:

There is no large scale economic use for falling water, blowing wind, geothermal or nuclear heat and 99% of sunshine except to generate electricity.

No "large scale economic use" for the hydrological cycle, for atmospheric circulation, for the radiogenic heat that drives plate tectonics, huh? And sunshine is only economically useful for generating electricity! I guess that agriculture isn't economically useful. I guess that keeping the oceans thawed isn't important. Sheesh... Now I guess I'm beginning to understand the level of discourse on this board.

You failed to read properly. I said "large scale ECONOMIC use".
That excludes the other issues except agricultural. 75% (roughly) falls on water, not all crop land is covered all year by leaves, any that falls on bare ground has no ECONOMIC input (winter, between rows, fence rows, ...). Upon reflection, perhaps I should have said ~95% instead of 99%.

And as to the level of discourse on TOD, if you want to leave it will raise the level of discourse here.


75% (roughly) falls on water

So the oceanic fisheries that depend on marine productivity have no economic use? If you had any sense, you would realize that there would be NO economic activity whatsoever without the ecosystem support services all this "useless" solar energy provides. But then, you live in NOLA and can't be expected to have any sense. There's a hurricane coming and it has your name on it. :)


The quibble should have been with your meaning of falling water (down a slope, not from the sky). Rain in the winter is important to crops in the spring. It stays in the soil and provides a source for transpiration.


Hi Chris;
Of course, ultimately it was clear that while Alan made a somewhat overbroad statement, that Darwin's Dog has been taking pains to fail to try to follow the point of a statement, and is more than content instead to pick it apart. Clearly, Alan doesn't disparage the deep value of Sun or Rain, but was commenting on it purely from the vantage of energy capture ('economy'), and only someone in DD's state of mind would bother to extrapolate that Alan would compromise the life of all our oceans in order to access it.

DD is still waiting to see if anyone has eaten an apple from a tree planted from an apple seed, for example.

(Understand, this is not a snark at your comment at all, Chris. I don't doubt that you are confident of Alan's sensibility in such things..)


Of course, ultimately it was clear that while Alan made a somewhat overbroad statement, that Darwin's Dog has been taking pains to fail to try to follow the point of a statement, and is more than content instead to pick it apart.

I get it, one should only respond to what someone meant to say, rather than what they said. Superficial mindlessness is actually coded profundity. Incoherence is excusable so long as you like someone. And yup, I am waiting to see if anyone has actually tasted an apple from a tree grown from seed. Inappropriate metaphor is excusable so long as you're a member of the OD in-group, I take it. Such loyalty to the clique is touching.

No. You don't get it. I can't tell if you want to or not.

'Superficial Mindlessness' is the taking of a literal statement with the sole purpose of finding the faults in it, instead of the intention. Language is frequently imperfect, and it takes a willing mindFULLness to discover another person's meaning.

Alan put that paragraph into enough of a context to see what he was going for, if you had any desire to understand what he was getting at.

I know you are feeling like you are getting excluded from the 'club', but believe me, it's only a club inasmuch as people are trying to communicate points with each other.. not that they toady to each others' conclusions. Your clear path towards isolation is self-inflicted.

Try to break the cycle of Ad-homs, ok?

Practice what you preach, Bob. I see you picking on Will Stewart, on Camel, on me... Who appointed you Thought Nazi in here? If you don't like my posts, don't read them. You're nothing but a hypocrite.

Sorry you feel that way.

What I've taken issue with is your statements and mode of communicating on these threads. That might be 'Ad-hom', but it's relevant to the discussion at hand. It's not trying to cast you or discredit you according to your group, your profession or industry, or some other extraneous definition of you. It's a reaction only to what you've said here.

I'm not opposed to arguments, even heated ones, while the more exothermic they get, usually the less effective.. but sometimes that's what happens, as it is here. But I do try to avoid namecalling. If "Superficial Mindlessness" sounded like namecalling, maybe it was, but it was the name placed in your previous post, so I thought it would make sense to have another perspective on what such a term might mean. You might give a second's thought about your comment to Alan from Big Easy, declaring that he's stupid for living in New Orleans. Is there really a point to saying that?

I think my post to Camel was factual and respectful. It may have sounded terse, but I didn't mean it that way. I appreciated his post, but did want to put the ball back into his (and our) court a little. His initial posts did sound a little accusative, sort of demanding that Dr.Hall tell us what to do about it all, but I didn't take that to be aggressive as much as just the kind of fear coming out that many of us are going through with these heavy topics. He sounded alright with it, too.

Thought Nazi.. no, sometimes I'm a 'Communication Critic', but I think there may be New Nazi's coming soon. We'll probably have a chance to compare me with them and see how I measure up.

No, I've definitely been pouring it on, cause you've really been irritating me. Totally pushing my buttons. But I don't think I've said anything I have to take back.


Thanks for your efforts, jokuhl.

I actually find your approach quite valuable and it's interesting how you state your cases in this medium.

I appreciate that.

I'm really not trying to be a jerk, but I know how easy it is to mis-read the tone in text posts, and how quickly myself or any of us can stray into self-righteousness and indignation.

I'm sure I post more on communication challenges than on energy ones.


Well stated, and reasoned :-)

Best Hopes for More of Both,


Language is frequently imperfect, and it takes a willing mindFULLness to discover another person's meaning.

As a language teacher, I fully agree with Bob. I spend a great deal of energy attempting to understand what people are trying to say vs. what they actually produce. This makes me rather critical of those who either intentionally or through some deficiency fail to read between the lines, as it were. As you have obviously done: The quote from him above leaves no room for you to claim hypocrisy. He stated a fact, in fact.

All that said, Bob's almost certainly wasting his time trying to educate others on this. It almost never succeeds on-line. The lack of human connection prevents people from giving a flying frick what you think of them, their intelligence or their style.

I do applaud his smack upside the head, in spite of the above statement, but encourage him to consider: now we are wasting space and time talking about *you* instead of the topic. This is always the case.


i think he is including transmission losses

Nobody said markets will solve all problems. But markets are the reason why shale keragen is just pie in the sky, why cellulose ethanol is limited to demonstration plants, and why the Jack field has not yet been developed. Markets are the main reason there is so much investment in battery and electric vehicle development. Markets may not give you the same answer as to whether a project with an EROI of 5 is better than one with an EROEI of 3, but they will generally give the same answer when the EROEI is 1 or less. Markets won't keep the Canadian firms from permanently trashing the tar sands, but then neither would EROEI analysis, until they have to process the 8% ore.

Prof. Hall says he is an ecologist. He cites the trout that will not survive if it does not have a positive EROI. I submit that human civilization and survival are much more evolved than that simple model.

The trout does not organize itself into complex societies where some are energy consumers and some are energy producers. To suppose the the world view of the trout can be applied to unique localities is one of the major short comings of EROI analysis among many others. I cite the situation where the high EROI for oil in the world in general is used to critique ethanol for a locality.

For countries that import all or a large share of their oil, the high world EROI for oil does not apply. The price that is paid for imported oil is it's energy value. When an importing country acquires oil the refining, distribution and consumption of that oil are all energy users. The importing country gains oil's economic value which the trout and EROI do not recognize.

That gain in economic value, if high enough, can be used to buy more energy for the the country which the trout can not do. True there will be a struggle among countries for survival, but what else is new? This has been the fate of the world since history began being written down.

But the EROI is negative. If that country also produces some of its own oil the EROI will be less negative. If it imports a large percentage it will still be negative. EROI is a simple minded concept which may apply to trout but ignores real world complexities like price, utility, renew-ability and locality.

Ethanol critics like Prof. Hall point to the low EROI of ethanol and compare it to the high oil EROI for the world. For an individual locality like the United States this is an invalid apples and oranges comparison. EROI for oil in the United States is negative since we import most of it. The low EROI often cited for ethanol is above oil for the United States but below oil for the world in general.

Ethanol critics then like to switch criteria to a concept outside of EROI and that is corn's utility as food. EROI does not take into account utility due to its simplistic approach, but never mind, according to ethanol critics it is still valid and useful.

Prof. Hall seems to be bogged down in numbers, data and complex theory as I suspected. We shall see for sure in his future posts. Simplistic applications of EROI are full of logic errors and no better than letting the market and politics work out or fail in dealing with Peak Oil. To use Prof. Hall's trout example, there is no guarantee that it will always have a positive balance of energy and may well die. All we can do is grab at the next available bug that looks tasty and hope that we survive a little longer. The trout that is fussy about getting the very best bug or one that is not searching for something to eat at all will not survive for sure.

I think most people haven't read this completely mistaken post.

I just wanted to point to one of the errors in this paper which actually made me laugh :

"EROI for oil in the United States is negative since we import most of it."

If x means EROEI, then I don't see how EROEI can be negative because if the energy invested in importing would be in excess of the heat content of oil, I wonder how oil could arrive in the US in the first place !

'x' is the commenter formerly known as 'practical' and is a corn farmer in Iowa. I have nothing against corn farmers, in fact I am (becoming) a farmer myself. But despite being shown the academic papers on why individuals can profit from lower energy gain systems while society as a whole deteriorates, he continues with the same misguided commentary over and over again. I am quite sure that no matter which scientists or which facts we display, if the data suggests that corn ethanol is a bad thing, 'x' will create some sophistry against it. Its sad - because as a land owner, he has much more to contribute to society, and to his own welfare, than industrial corn, which is not only a poor energy return, but more importantly, is drawing down our stocks of other vital materials.

Clearly he doesn't understand EROEI either. In that sense, 'peer review' here fails, as we bog down the machine responding to stuff like this too often. Greshams Law....

Same for me, I live in a rural area, and some of the farmers around my place are very concerned. They know that they hold the keys for the future.

As Alan would say, best hopes for the negentropic forces of laughter to help to expose absurdity and repel for once bad money in favor of good money.

Clearly he doesn't understand EROEI either. In that sense, 'peer review' here fails, as we bog down the machine responding to stuff like this too often. Greshams Law....

Either you 'get' it or you don't?

That's disappointing.

There are somethings that can't be taught to hopelessly morally compromised corn farmers...or nuclear engineers...or chemists ...engineers, but are still
obvious to entymologist(Pimental), ecologists(Hall,Cleveland) and social scientists(Constanza, Kaufmann) from Cornell University (to suggest otherwise would be sophistry).

Nevertheless, I hope Professor Hall at least links to a site which explains the derivation of EROEI and its practical application.

I am fine with explaining things to people with open ears. I've responded to Practical/X about 40+ times in past 2 years. He does seem to grasp that US has a problem, but still conflates net energy with economics. And in the dozens of EROI posts on theoildrum, many written by myself (there are links on my name), there have been dozens of links to papers that explain the derivation of EROI and its applications. My point is that each time we put up a new post, we spend a good deal of time reinventing the wheel over and over again. And Professor Hall implies this has not only happened in the 3 years on TOD, but in the 30 years he's been working on these issues!!

In other words, we need a perfect storm. We need a crisis, but not THE crisis, to get peoples steep discount rated attention spans focused on the energy problem instead of American Idol or their year end bonus, AND we need the science AND we need the discussion grounds AND we need the resources to tackle the problem, and most importantly we need the political willpower - in the end that will be the toughest problem to solve - because special interest groups are likely to drown out scientific consensus, even if there were such a thing.

In other words, we need a perfect storm. We need a crisis, but not THE crisis, to get peoples steep discount rated attention spans focused on the energy problem instead of American Idol or their year end bonus, AND we need the science AND we need the discussion grounds AND we need the resources to tackle the problem, and most importantly we need the political willpower

The problem with this model is storms that are worthy of notice are still destructive.

Combined with others trying to figure out how to turn that suffering into profit - many times by picking paths that maximize profit that are not the best solution to the problem.

I just picked up a half dozen issues of "The Farm" from the mid-50's. Every page, every advertisement is about EROI (or the abuse thereof). Fascinating. Huge tractors, terraforming/farming. And then, at my Master Gardener class today we were discussing fertilizers, black plastic and so forth - what it takes to get a quart of blueberries. I fear declining EROI is not going to go well; it's going to result in massive environmental destruction. Working harder, to do more of what doesn't work didn't help Easter Island.

Seems to me we grossly underestimate the EROI issues. Prof Hall writes this:

Then as energy prices have increased over the past 6years an extra 5 to 10 percent "tax" has been added to our economy, and that much of the surplus wealth disappeared. Speculation was no longer desirable or possible as everyone was tightening their belt because of increased energy costs. This may or may not be accurate and it certainly is not a sufficient explanation by itself sufficient (we would have to add in the failure of Allen Greenspan etc to do their regulatory job) but two of my energy-savvy financial friends say "that just about captures it". In systems theory language: the endogenous aspects of the economy, that the economists focus on (Fed rates, money supply etc.) became beholden to exogenous forcing functions that are not part of their training.

I've been making that same argument for a while on intuitive and a sort of philosophical thermodynamic/economics basis. I hope we can get into an unwinding of this linkage in the future articles. This is a wonderful series, thank you.

cfm in Gray, ME

EROEI does show that the trout that swims up the ethanol stream will soon die of starvation.

Your critique of EROEI still makes no sense after the second reading.

Even if you assume autarky rather than comparative advantage trade, a nation that tries to power itself on corn based ethanol will soon starve to death. The T21 model showed that a maximum effort for corn based ethanol will result in 1) 22% increase in liquid fuels 2) a 4% increase in total energy available to the US economy and 3) a halt to all US food exports. Going beyond 22% and 4% will come out of the diets of Americans.

I consider such a trade, in whole or in part, to be stupidity and poor public policy of the highest order. EROEI is a useful tool to discern this truth.


I submit that human civilization and survival are much more evolved than that simple model.

Since all Terran life appears to be monophyletic, no species is "more evolved" than any other. All have been evolving for the same amount of time from the common ancestor. Why is this simple concept so difficult to understand?

No one "produces" energy. Go back and review your jr. high school physical science. Especially the part about the 1st Law.

But the EROI is negative.

EROI is ALWAYS negative, when ALL the inputs on the I side are counted. Review the 2nd Law while you're at it.

This is not helpful. We understand you are a very bright man and know about thermodynamics. Clearly you think the deck is stacked that we will either go extinct or have a large dieoff and this is a natural phenomenon and to be expected and even welcomed. Some of us care not only about our own lives, but those of other creatures that share our biosphere, and at least a smidgeon about future lives yet to be born. Net energy analysis tells us what we have and what it costs in energy terms, on a human time scale. To back it all the way to the solar energy input into the oil molecules, of course definitionally there would be a heat loss - there always is - but other than doing some academic proof, that fact helps no one. Allocating some of our remaining fuel to a 2:1 or a 20:1 technology, externalities being equal, does help people, and by extension buys us time to solve the greater problems. I share with you a concern that more energy may be a bad turn of developments, unless its married with new consumption paradigm, but I also don't want to see people with machetes on the news in Arizona.

Nate, on the one hand you say:

TOD is working at the macro scale - trying to educate people about the really big picture, with hopes this has large scale changes on the regional and national and levels.

Then on the other you say:

Net energy analysis tells us what we have and what it costs in energy terms, on a human time scale. To back it all the way to the solar energy input into the oil molecules, of course definitionally there would be a heat loss - there always is - but other than doing some academic proof, that fact helps no one.

It seems to me that you may be trying to educate people about the big scale, but not about the really big scale. There are three pertinent scales: the human, the biotic, and the ecosystematic. The latter includes abiotic factors including the sun. You allude to micro-, mezzo- (meso-), and macro- scales; most posters including yourself seem to focus on the human (micro-) scale on this board. You should appreciate me for stressing the eco- (macro-) scale, rather than telling me that doing so is "not helpful." Alan would like for me to stop posting. Would you?


We do not have a system that will enable us (humans) to plan on any sort of extended timescale. Money/politics are short term yet the problems we face require action over decades. EROI is a very useful tool to tell us what we can do over decades. If you want to talk geologic time then emergy is probably part of the toolkit but for the situation we find ourselves in today eroi is the crucial important first step.

babies and bathwater. you do understand the current system is wrong/broken, comparative eroi studies can tell us what is possible. this of course is the problem, eroi studies need to be comparative, use the same boundaries for each study then we will have at least a good indication of the actual benefit to society as a whole thus what we can realistically aim at.

CAS Hall is at least trying even though even he shies away from the conclusions of his work.

Thanks Mastodon. Good post. You are probably right, so far as it goes. I would expect those doing EROI analysis to at least be explicit about the inputs they have decided to exclude, and to provide their rationale for excluding them. In terms of biofuels, at least, excluding solar energy inputs is irrational, as there are short term "opportunity costs" involved. The same thing may not be true of fossil fuels or fissile isotopes on the short or meso- term, but there are costs to the environment that very much need to be quantified and included. I'm not sure that anyone knows how to quantify these costs. I haven't ONLY been talking about the sun here.

Nate is right, your post (as with many of them over the last few days) was not helpful, either to the poster or to the general conversation. It was repeatedly condescending, and intentionally didn't even try to pick up on what 'X' was trying to say.

"More Evolved.." and you go back to the common ancestor. Aside from being simplistic on an evolutionary basis, you're simply being argumentative and demeaning. In terms of how we access and apply energy so we can as a species continue on, we are certainly more evolved than a trout, which lives 'fin to mouth' eating the food that his environment offers on that day.. not that our evolved solutions are necessarily superior, but our history of 'Artificial Selection' has certainly changed and made more intricate the way we get our suppers onto the plate..

Nevertheless, It doesn't call for telepathy to understand that X may well be saying more INvolved, or to intuit that we have a complex, worldwide arena of specialized jobs and industries, trade and global relationships that make our energy uses in a given specific locale, as opposed to where the trout is finding his dinners, such that an energy evaluation of the two is, necessarily, different.

I'm sure that Dr.Hall is well aware of this, while X doesn't.. The issue for me, though, is that you take up a couple of imperfect word-choices that leave an opening for a dagger-thrust and then tell people to go back to high school.

You say you're offering to give a look at the Macro-picture, yet while you allude to the Laws of Thermodynamics and the broader needs of the environment, all I see in your comments is the criticism of other people's analyses, and not what you would replace them with. You demand that they provide ALL inputs in order to arrive at a valid conclusion, while these extreme demands seem to be the insistence on rounding to infinity.

What is it you want to see? Where do you want to take this? Because so far, the continual challenges are not really showing what you advocate, just what you oppose. As Nate said, 'It's not helpful.'

Deja vu, all over again..

Since all Terran life appears to be monophyletic, no species is "more evolved" than any other.

DD, have you read Villarreal's Viruses and the Evolution of Life?

I think you'd really like it.

Thanks, Barrett808, for the book recommendation. No, I haven't read Villarreal. $107.65 tho.. Yikes!

Transposable elements are common in the genomes of most organisms; viruses appear to be collections of such "jumping genes" that have "escaped" from individual genomes, allowing them to replicate more profusely than they ever could confined to a single host individual. As such, they are relatively neoteric and have little pertinence to the question of the monophyly of life, if this was what you meant to imply.

I recommend this book to anybody with an interest in evolutionary biology. There are a couple of things in this theory that made me almost fall out of my chair when I read them, but the big take-away is that speciation is largely driven by viral infection. Each "punctuated equilibrium" event starts with a host species being colonized by a new virus. This is typically lethal to most of the host population, but the survivors develop an endemic infection and become a new species.

Believe me, it's worth the money. If you live near Seattle, I'll loan it to you.

...the big take-away is that speciation is largely driven by viral infection. Each "punctuated equilibrium" event starts with a host species being colonized by a new virus. This is typically lethal to most of the host population, but the survivors develop an endemic infection and become a new species.

Interesting hypothesis. There could be some validity to it but what comes to my mind (not having read the book, mind you) is that most speciation is allopatric and allopatric populations would have little opportunity for interpopulational viral transmission, unless a vector could carry the virus from one population to another over the intervening distatnce. Polymorphy in susceptibility to viral infection could be a mechanism of sympatric speciation but sympatric speciation is rare in nature (if it occurs at all).

Gould is dead and the debate over "punctuated equilibrium" is cold; it's a dead horse that's been beat to a pulp but since you mentioned it I'll comment on it. The fossil record does indeed look punctuated but this is largely an artifact of the record's incompleteness and of time averaging. Gould initially said as much himself but in latter papers Gould & Eldridge's stance on punctuation "hardened" with them saying that the fossil record looks punctuated because evolution IS punctuated. Neontological research has found examples of punctuation - Caribbean brachiopods, for instance, but punctuation appears to be rare. Extreme gradualism is rare also; rates of evolution fall along a continuum with punctuation and gradualism representing the poles. Most populations evolve at rates somewhere in between.

What typically happens is that a population becomes split by some vicariance and the smaller isolated population diverges from the larger parent population due to selection under new conditions and drift (if the isoleted deme is small enuf). Later the small divergent population expands and comes back in contact with the parent population. Most often, gene flow resumes between populations and genetic novelty becomes swamped. If reproductive isolation has evolved, preventing gene flow, then speciation has occured. If the new species outcompetes the parent species (perhaps in some instances due to acquired immunity to parental species' viral pathogens) the parent species may become extinct. When this replacement occurs in the fossil record, it looks like punctuation altho the evolution of divergent traits in the new species that replaces the parent species occured gradually. Since the isolated population was small, at least initially, it is improbable that fossils of transitional forms will be found. It's the replacement that occurs rapidly, not the evolution of novel phenotypes or speciation itself.

Thank you for the educational comments; I'll read them over a few times to make sure I get it.

I can't do justice to the Villarreal hypothesis, but here's his site at UC Irvine:
Center for Virus Research.


You can also find a (slightly more user-friendly) discussion of viral infection as a driver of speciation in science journalist Matt Ridley's book The Red Queen (1993). It's probably available at your local library or used bookstore for less than $10.

There's also Dawkins' angle, where our bodies are more or less carriers for the genes and it's the survival of the genes that matters, not the survival of we, the host, the otherwise empty and meaningless vessel. Merde.

cfm in Gray, ME

[blockquote]EROI is ALWAYS negative...[/blockquote]

I also happen to dislike this simplistic EROI model, for it doesn't count for more dynamic reasons and approaches. But please, if you people are so bright, PLEASE, stop calling EROI as "negative".

There is no such thing as a negative EROI!

Review the laws of maths while you're at it.

Maybe the reason for the mixed reception is cultural.

I came of age in the 70s so I must have absorbed ecological thinking by osmosis. When I encountered H.T. Odum's work and EROEI in the last 10 years, it felt like coming home - like the most obvious thing in the world. It fit right in to my interests in gardening and natural history.

I've found Odum and EROEI provide a conceptual framework that's essential for understanding energy issues and sustainability. They've also been the inspiration for fruitful thinkers and movements. Permaculture, for example, owes some of its basis to Odum, through permaculture co-originator David Holmgren.

As Hall mentions above, this way of thinking seemed to have dropped out of sight during the last 2-3 decades, receiving little support and funding. Is it any wonder that mainstream U.S. can't think intelligently about biofuels or energy alternatives?

When it comes to discussing EROEI, as in the thread following Halls' first post, it seems difficult to make progress (it hurt my head to try to follow the comments). The thread had all the earmarks of a "war of the paradigms" -- the disagreements are deep with psycho-social roots. It's like trying to get Libertarians and Leninists to sit down for a productive chat.

Sometimes I think it's a better strategy to have the discussion in a group that shares the same basic worldview, or at least is open to the concepts.

Paradigm wars are won NOT by convincing opponents with detailed arguments. New paradigms win when they come up with successful and fruitful projects. And the time has to be right.

For Odum and EROEI, the time is ripe for a revival.

Bart Anderson
Energy Bulletin

Two Odum books are soon to be re-issued.

For details on a new edition of Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-first Century, plus links to many online resources to Odum's work, see New edition of H.T. Odum's classic

For a more approachable work, there is Odum's last book co-authored with his wife Elizabeth, A Prosperous Way Down. See second entry in Deep thought - Jan 30.

This paper is based on one of H. T. Odum’s special projects: the future of human civilization. He put together facts, explanations and predictions in many papers and the book we wrote together, A Prosperous Way Down (Odum and Odum, 2001).

Instead of anticipating a crash, a possible, hopeful, view of the future is predicted. These discussions and conclusions are based on two hypotheses.

The first, with which most scientists agree, is that we (the world and our economy) are going down (there will be fewer resources to live on).

The second, less considered, is that the lower energy future can be prosperous and happy - depending on our human actions. Our plans and activities must include the world environment as well as the economy...

Bart Anderson
Energy Bulletin

Has the idea of energy values for ideas changed? I had issues with the part of the model where ideas had a computational value that (in my reading) did not change over time/subject to mass production effects.

Perhaps the reason it dropped out from public view was that, to put it politely, many of the alleged 'calculations' were complete cobblers, with figures fudged up to support a particular ideological standpoint.

They largely operate on the principle that if your grounds for a case are weak, try to confuse the argument.

Boundary conditions are so vague that you can come up with almost any number you choose.

I don't know. I think you are partially right about cultural issues.

"It's like trying to get Libertarians and Leninists to sit down for a productive chat." Such a chat would be confronting two world views, based on premices which have a similar logical value at the start. On the contrary, the discussions in the thread about EROEI are more like darwinists versus creationnists or ecclesiasts versus scientists in the middle-ages.

I saw two kinds of issues :

1) people who don't get it because of a lack of culture, some because they can't get to abstract notions like energy, measurement and such, others because they haven't yet measured the scope of the whole EROEI problem

2) lobbyists trying to push a specific agenda who try to deride the EROEI issue because they want to get money for a specific activity. Those most use ad-hominem attacks, pseudo-logics (see the apple-oranges issue), mystification and trolling behaviour.

I came of age in the 70s so I must have absorbed ecological thinking by osmosis.

Trouble is that much of the '70s era ecological thinking was grossly simplistic if not completely wrong. That's the problem with many of us oldsters here: we're operating out of the information paradigm current 30 years or so ago, when we were in college. If we haven't kept up on the literature there's a good chance that much of what we think we know is badly out of date.

For Odum and EROEI, the time is ripe for a revival.

Reviving past ecological thinking - no matter how much we may be enamored with it - might not be such a good idea. We need to move forward, not retreat to the outdated ideas of out youth.

Reviving past ecological thinking - no matter how much we may be enamored with it - might not be such a good idea. We need to move forward, not retreat to the outdated ideas of out youth.

To revive something - it would had to have been used.

Have you read Odum's book before passing judgment?

I agree with Bart, and I would heartily encourage prof. Hall NOT to "avoid the transformity issue".

It is critical that Odum's work be continued and expanded, or at the very least made more accessible, if we are going to have any hope of modeling viable energy descent pathways. I would go even further and advocate that Odum's work be made the fundamental basis upon which all other energy analysis should rest because I personally believe anything less is probably just going to be a waste of time, at best, if not a fatal waste of precious resources.

Case in point: One of the authors of the recent Sci. Am. article on the so-called "Solar Grand Plan" left a comment at the Dot Earth blog that he had read Odum's work, but didn't understand it! Absolutely beyond belief! Here are presumably intelligent people proposing that we invest mind-boggling amounts of energy, time, money and resources (all of which are increasingly in short supply) in a massive (fossil-fueled) build out of energy infrastructure, and yet they freely admit they don't have the first clue what an eMergy analysis of their project would yield. Nope. Sorry. No idea. Next question? God help us!

Frankly, I was every bit as shocked that prof. Hall's first EROEI article made no mention of Odum or eMergy, and as such my initial reaction was "oh great, another waste of time", although I refrained from commenting to that effect in the hope that future articles/comments would be an improvement.


*** (or somebody) help us indeed! When I saw the "Solar Grand Plan" I wondered where the authors thought all the energy was going to come from to build it all. Your Dot Earth reference explains that they had no idea. No better way to say it than you did - beyond belief!

This is not a pipe (This --eROeI-- is not the World)

eROI is just a number.
It is not the World.
It is an appealing simplification that blinds us to the complexity and unpredictability of reality.

So people, why all the fuss over the eROI number?

The number does not change the fact that we are like microbes living on a small pebble in the midst of a rushing river.

The river is the rush of solar energy flowing past our little pebble of a world, with a tiny bit of that energy flow momentarily halting as it impacts our rock.

We microbes feel so smart and smug now that we have come up with a number (eROI) to describe our simplified understanding of our situation.

Nothing is "renewable". It flows past once and then it's gone.

Step back - thanks for your trademark illustrations.

I agree that one number isn't going to help us much. We first need to figure out our demand needs, the 'ends' as it were. Once we have that, there will be various physical tools that quantify the magnitude of ecosystem services we have and at what cost(all renewable energy is an ecosystem service, and one could argue that fossil fuels are as well). A number like EROI is not a rifle, but more like a shotgun. The point is that its better than the air-gun (economics) that we are currently using. But a man in the wilderness with just a shotgun, will still perish. It's just a tool. But to me, this tool tells us we have less time than we even some of the pessimists think, because an increasing amount of our high quality reserves will be spent on maintenance, and energy production, putting pressure on the rest of society to get more energy - without any 'tools', we will grab whatever shape, taste or form this 'power' comes in, whether it be large scale corn ethanol, or turning cow dung into methane. Without even a basic tool, we will just waste our dry powder and bullets faster. It's nothing more than that - but to me that's pretty important.

But a man in the wilderness with just a shotgun, will still perish.

A man who only knows how to use the shotgun as a club will most likely perish. One who has ammunition and is discriminating in how he uses it, may live for a while.

you ever try to skin a pig with a shotgun?

this is like saying : why talking about depression, we have Prozac ...

Providing a hypothetical solution for the future isn't going to make away the present problem. Even if photovoltaïcs had a better EROEI (in the 10-20 range at best, *in present conditions*, and *without storage*), you will have to show that this is going to offset the conditions created by the declining EROEI of present day hydrocarbons. As clifman pointed out, will you be able to replace an infrastructure made with an EROEI of 100:1 in the alloted time frame ?

Is EROEI still so useless ? Yes it is a simple notion, as simple as saying that I need 1800 calories to sustain myself. However, if I don't provide my needed calories, I won't able to discuss the of course very real infinite complexities for long, believe me. It is as simple as that.

"It is an appealing simplification that blinds us to the complexity and unpredictability of reality."

Isn't that what concepts are all about?

ouch, this could lead us far away.

I don't really think that concepts are made to "blind" us from reality. Either human intelligence enables us to sort out principles which help us to understand what our limits are (or what is predictable if you want a more dynamic view), and then EROEI is a useful number in a the given context of energy processing, either it is not, but then no need to argue here. Then of course, as I wanted to say, a number alone isn't enough. You need to know the context and what is behind a concept. We don't need useless reductionism, but we don't need overcomplexification either. Some principles and laws of nature do work indeed (at least in my view).

I think they have the the tendency to blind when we mistake them for reality(which is not a concept).Yes they can be helpful, they are tools but they can lead us "far away".I think you have to ask are you using concepts or are concepts using you.I will stop now as this is already bordering on the mystical.

eROI is just a number. It is not the World. It is an appealing simplification that blinds us to the complexity and unpredictability of reality.

Spot on post. This is what I've been trying to say in a nutshell - and apparently have been annoying people by saying it.

It seems finding a new,even "renewable" energy source,if one could be found,to satisfy the appetites of 6 billion ppl or at least the industrial portion of those, would not help and would only encourage the continued destruction of remaining ecosystems through continued human growth. I know usgs ecologist and he talks about different methods of counting salamanders and such to determine the health of the ecosystem and it seems totally absurd to me. The system is healthy to the extent your not f*cking with it and will heal and eventually reach climax relative to the amount of time you don't f*ck with it.I think "time heals all wounds"applies to ecosystems and is in fact all that can be done , witch is nothing."save the planet" means to let it alone.But we are many and we get hungry 3 times a day.

I am new to peak oil and tod. given the little knowledge i have about these issues and human nature it is hard to imagine things working themselves out in anything but horrible and catastrophic ways.Regardless i cant help myself .i have a couple question for the wicked smat ppl who post here.

1)if energy is the currency of ecosystems and climax ecosystems are the highest order of those. what is the nature of there economy and could we emulate it and what would life look like then?American Indian? are the f*cking primitives right?

forgive me if my questions are redundant or irrelevant. Im a self edumacated dolt.

'life is a sexually transmitted disease with a hundred percent mortality'.

given your moniker as an 'ex-addict', have you read this post?

great article thnx.the observation u made about the many forms of addiction is not easy to see unless one has been there and come back.we're all whores for a little bit of dope amine.I have say alot more to say but a feel nauseas.thanx again ,your wicked smat.

... a sexually transmitted disease with a hundred percent mortality


Yes I was hinting at that and more when I signed off with:

"Nothing is "renewable". It flows past once and then it's gone."

Life itself is a one-way time arrow whose trajectory takes us on a parabolic "growth" spurt from birth through adolescence and into the middle ages.

Then we "peak" and begin an irreversible decline toward the abyss. There is not much we can do to prevent it. Instead we can try to make the most of our downward glide path. If we panic too much at the peak (panic ourselves into a midlife crisis), we may end up in a premature precipitous dive toward oblivion rather than in a smooth glide to a graceful landing.

Energy too, is a one-way time arrow. Almost all the energy we use started as solar radiation that momentarily paused (in the form of oxygen separated from carbon or H2) on our planet before continuing its journey into the outer reaches of space.

It doesn't matter whether we analyze our world in terms of "money" or "eROI" or some other singular number. Those single numbers delude us into believing in some kind of mathematically "pure" answer when in fact there is no clean coal answer. Life is a dirty business.

Those who have studied eROI understand that it suffers from a boundary problem. There is no way to draw standardized boundaries around a system before you start calculating its eROI. So eROI is a fictionalized measure whose value depends on where you draw the boundaries.

I'm not saying eROI is useless.
It's a tool. It's a tool for trying to simplify our view of the world around us.

Money is also a tool.
It's a tool for trying to simplify our view of how we "value" each other and the resources around us.

When it comes to eROI and money, all I'm saying is let's not lose sight of the bigger picture. Let's not make a religion out of these one dimensional numbers.

Energy too, is a one-way time arrow.

Yep. Elements recycle but energy does not. "Renewable energy" is an oxymoron.

" "Renewable energy" is an oxymoron."

No, it's not. It's actually Renewable. You will continue to try to create new universalized definitions for whatever you choose, but luckily the OED won't take much notice.

That the sun and the wind and hydrologic processes are, for our purposes- ongoing and part of the life of this planet, we collect some of it, use it, and then can collect some more tomorrow, since the source Does continue to flow around us, so our collection can be 'Renewed'. No-one here is pretending that we are getting the same exact Photons that we got yesterday, or that the Sun will burn exactly the same in perpetuity.. but for our practical purposes, for the forseeable lifespan of our kind, these things are actually perennial and reliable sources of energy.

We have ways of catching this energy that seems, so far, to be reasonable and worth continuing. Used to extremes, of course, we can get in trouble with these as well. You can drown in milk.

But WHAT is your problem? What is your actual objection? Make your point already.

Renewable perhaps, Jokuhl, but not independent of what we take an how we change the environment. As ex-addict notes above thread, when we reach the point of causing a measureable change in environment because of man's actions, we have passed one measure of sustainability. Though, like a clutch on a car, we have not hit a tipping point and stalled. I went to a water conference at Bates last weekend where Maude Barlow touched on how we have begun to alter hydrological cycle in a big way. I knew some places were wetter and some drier, but I'd not thought of it in quite such macro terms. That picture in a child's textbook of the cycle of water.

Perhaps as we heat up planet, that will increase our average windspeed and make windmills more productive. Talk about messing with stuff we don't understand. If a butterfly flapping its wings changes the weather, what of windmills? What of acres of solar panels. Scale, scale, scale. Our scale is way too big.

cfm in Gray, ME

That's completely reasonable, Dryki.
I have been loosely suggesting lately that our scale as a species has simply been a 'function' of the outrageous EROI and energy density of oil, and that after a bit of an inertial lag, population will mirror that EROI as it balances back. Hopeful Doomerism, I suppose. As Diesel and Gas gets more precious, I'm hoping that this constrains the cost-benefits of stripping the Rainforests, so that they have a chance to reclaim some territory over the coming decades. Who knows?

I am definitely guarded in my hopes for Wind and Tide power, which could be a useful source of power, but if we approach that build like we have with Coal Mountaintop Removal, it could be yet another Bandoliero jabbing Gaia. I propose that it doesn't have to be, but it can only go hand-in-hand with a range of commitments and awarenesses that we are killing the beating heart that keeps us all alive.. that we are supposed to be Symbionts or Member-Cells, not Saprophytes and Parasites.


The verb is "enjive", from today's WMPG fundraiser. CONTRIBUTE:

It's a paradigm shift. We need a paradigm shift for the species to survive and we need a paradigm shift for the *genes* to survive. I'll be taking that to the Maine Legislature Monday AM when then try to "compromise" (read cave) on RealID Monday AM. [Will they understand? Maybe subliminally, because otherwise they wouldn't bother to make some absurd case against.]

Unless those bastards pass shit like this over the weekend under cover of media darkness, that is.

Genes, however, do NOT need a paradigm shift. So what if 99.995 of the human species vanishes. Does that matter to our gene pool?

Hopeful Doomerism. Sign Me up! Because of course we will rip the top off.

If we cannot overcome this individual fuck-you thing, then is it possible we might attain a fuck-you status short of hot rocks or nuclear wasteland?

Is that my job? Is is my job because it only gets more difficult for anyone after me?

cfm in Gray, ME

Energy is a conserved quanity and thus Monday's energy is no different than Tuesday's energy. The time labeling is irrelevant. What you are describing is a change in entropy from low entropy sunlight to high entropy "earthlight." It takes many more photons to carry the energy away from Earth than to bring it in so that the density of states increases during the energy's sojourn. Since the low entropy energy is always renewed it does not have much to do with time. The change in entropy may have everything to do with time.


Since the low entropy energy is always renewed it does not have much to do with time.

Always renewed, huh? Day by day H is fused to He in the sun and entropy increases inexorably. The energy the Ocean Planet receives from its star today is NOT the same as arrived yesterday. Sol is a typical middle aged yellow star. There are billions like it in the galaxy. It is exhausting its H and will someday exhaust so much of its nuclear fuel that it becomes a red giant & expand its circumference to beyond the orbit of Mars. "Always" indeed!

renewable is oxymoronic


I can't believe this started a debate. It should be self evident from laws of thermodynamics (#2) that energy is constantly flowing from a concentrated hot zone (Sun) towards the cold emptiness beyond our solar system. To Pluto and beyond.

As someone up-thread noted, some days I think TOD is a mind-sucking, time-wasting black hole.

It should be self evident from laws of thermodynamics (#2) that energy is constantly flowing from a concentrated hot zone (Sun) towards the cold emptiness beyond our solar system. To Pluto and beyond.

Exactly. Energy flows in one direction, it isn't renewed. The energy that flows from the sun today isn't the same energy that flowed yesterday. The sun's energy is finite. We all should have learned this in the 8th grade.

As someone up-thread noted, some days I think TOD is a mind-sucking, time-wasting black hole.

I'm coming to the same conclusion. There seems to be a clique of argumentative, mean-spirited cronies here who attempt to dominate the board. This might not be so bad if they knew what they were talking about. Nate has told me that I was wrong when I stated the most elementary truisms concerning the 2nd Law, then he backtracked and conceded that altho I may be correct, my comments "aren't helpful." Alan has been nothing but nasty since I pointed out how the Mississippi watershed has been grossly mismanaged by the Corp of Engineers. Bob has been an asshole not only to me but to several posters; an asshole even the moreso by the way he phrases his nastiness in such a "nice" manner. What this board needs is an ignore function. The scientifically poorly educated clique who attempts to dominate the board I'd gladly iggy, if the foremat allowed.

What this board needs is an ignore function.


We got the thread-collapsing minus sign up there in the left corner.
Have you ever played around with AutoHotKeys (AHK)? You can automate a lot of stuff that way, including minusing out those you don't like. :-)


The point is that energy does not have a time label. You may percieve a difference based on you experience of time, but your knowledge of the evolution of stars comes from explaining the H-R diagram, not from clock-ticks in the solar output, or it could come from realizing that the energy has to come from somewhere. But, it is still just energy. Let's consisider a situation where we stop the change in the Sun's entropy. We arange perfect mirrors over 4 pi and reflect back the light (time reversal of the flow). The region within the cavity heats up until there is sufficienct heat balance to reduce the density at the center to halt fusion. From that time on, entropy is constant. It does not matter if you do this today or tommorrow, the result will be the same. Today's photons are just as good as tomorrows. In fact, they are indistiguishable except by counting the order in which they arrive, in other words, with a clock. So, the clock provides a separate measurement, not an energy measurement.


energy does not have a time label


but it does have an entropy tag attached to it.

point is that when newly arriving solar energy hits the Earth and is converted into diffuse thermal energy, it changes in terms of usability except for what little that is captured by the plants.

Which was kind of my original point. It is entopy which is entwined with time. You'll notice that part of the entropy increase includes the lifting of large amounts of fresh water from the oceans as well, and distributing the desalinated water on land. Removing salt from water reduces entropy, but overall, the entropy is increaing. It is not just the separation of oxygen from carbon dioxide that is parasitic in this transformation.



It is insights like yours ("lifting of large amounts of fresh water ... Removing salt from water reduces entropy") that make reading TOD worthwhile. Thanks.

If knowledge is an entropy parasite, what is insight?



Then we "peak" and begin an irreversible decline toward the abyss. There is not much we can do to prevent it.

Great, another doom-poet wannabe. Perhaps the answer to your diatribe is timing: when will that irreversible decline toward the abyss happens?

Five years from now?


Five hundred million?

Five hundred billion?

Last time I checked, the universe and the ammount of energy it contained was pretty big.

For decades I have listened to political pundits argue over society's problems as if physics, chemistry, and biology don't exist. For them its all about who profits and who pays and essentially ignore non economic issues. Solutions to things like crime can be found when it is recognized that men in prison lack certain enzymes which clean toxic metals out of the body way out of proportion to those of the general population. For politicians the only numbers that count are poll numbers. Poll numbers are as mathematically rigorous as those of any other statistical science. The math used by astrologers is also flawless and just as connected to reality as poll numbers and economic theories. That certain things are more important than economics and short of all out war those things don't matter to the powers that be. Their control of mass media as well as school curriculum means that the overwhelming masses of men cannot understand that their fates are intimately connected to physics, chemistry, and biology. in prison lack certain enzymes which clean toxic metals out of the body...

I know of NO metabolic mechanism for clearing heavy metals from the body, and I know animal physiology fairly well. Heavy metal toxicity is cumulative. Do you have any specific info about this alleged enzymatic process for metal ion excretion?

Perhaps 'clean' was the wrong word. Perhaps the enzymes block the absorption of toxins. An article published in Environmental Research May 2000 showed a statistical relationship between childhood exposure to lead and crime rates 20 years later. I read an article some years ago where a scientist working at Argonne National Lab was doing volunteer work at a nearby prison. He did the blood tests on the prisoners and discovered the enzyme deficiency.
The main point is that so many problems society copes with could be solved by the hard sciences but our politicians, being mostly lawyers, simply cannot accept these hard science based solutions when they conflict with their ideology. Lawyer logic is different than science logic in that lawyers rely on an adversarial approach to finding truth, either through the preponderance of evidence in civil matters or beyond reasonable doubt, in which both sides deserve equal treatment. Science on the other hand is based on testable hypotheses and repeatable experiments. Mass media prefers lawyer logic over science logic and rejects the idea that there are not two sides to every issue. Just look at the man made climate change debate. Among climate scientists is the debate over how quickly things are getting worse because of what mankind is doing. In the media is the debate is over whether mankind is the cause, a question long ago settled in the mind of scientists.

I'm new here too ex-addict. As is to be expected, there is a culture with norms here, replete with cliques & all the other trappings of any human culture. Being new, we don't know what those norms are and therefore inadvertently violate them, which tends to upset the oldtimers. You are absolutely on the $$$ about any "new" or viable alt energy sources only exacerbating all the problems caused by human population being in gross excess of K, by allowing population to exceed K that much further. Regs here with vested interests in maintaining the status quo don't want to hear that. I'm afraid they're all going to come to steal my spuds on their electric trikes powered by thorium fission once the house of cards comes tumbling down. They would rather play with their numbers & economic simulations while Rome burns, than figure out what they need to do to survive the collapse of civilization.

One quibble: "climax" ecosystems don't really exist. In the majority of cases, disruption occurs long before the system can attain any sort of equilibrium. Even systems that seem to be stable for significant amounts of time relative to the generation time of species that dominate them seldom return to their initial states following disturbance. Nature tends to be in constant disequilibrium and the notion of the "climax" is a mere relict of 20th century ecological misunderstanding. The term is as archaic as an ecological concept as it is as an euphemism for orgasm.

One more thing: Native Americans, even so-called "Paleoindians," were technologically sophisticated big game hunters and "ecosystem engineers" who stormed onto the biomes of the Americas only about 15K yrs bp or less. They initiated a horrendous mass extinction pulse and radically altered ecosystem structure from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. The "pristine" condition of the Americas upon Euro arrival is every bit as much a myth as is the notion of the "climax" community.

""climax" ecosystems don't really exist. In the majority of cases, disruption occurs long before the system can attain any sort of equilibrium."

ok. .but right now we are a huge disruption. how could we live so we were not or at least much less.can we reach homeostasis of some kind and what would it look like?

"The "pristine" condition of the Americas upon Euro arrival is every bit as much a myth as is the notion of the "climax" community."

relative to today was pretty damn pristine.of course we can't live here and not affect the eco but what would the sane society look like? is it possible.perhaps you cant go forward by going back. i dont know . . i have Utopian fantasy's .y'know if energy consumptoin stays below production .i am to old to be this naive probably.

ok. .but right now we are a huge disruption.


relative to today was pretty damn pristine.

Agreed again. I have no idea what a "sane society" would look like. Perhaps the term is as oxymoronic as "renewable energy." We probably all have Utopian fantasies but I doubt that any of them would be viable. I don't have any answers and I doubt that there are any. Don't despair, as they say "It won't mean a thing in a hundred years." Hell, I doubt that it will mean anything in ten. ;)

Informative, interesting, enjoyable response. Thx to Dr Hall.

On the way to ‘proper’ - sensible, meaningful, comprehensible, rational - accounting, that tallies not only Man’s relation to Man, excuse caps, but to Nature, that is, our present scientific description of it, and the measurement of various parameters within that vision, resting on imperfect technics and likely a narrow scope.

The flaws, blind spots, dead ends, or errors may be:

a) conceptual - pertinence, understanding, systemics, science, etc.

b) material (poor research, trivial results),

c) nitty gritty technical (muddled measures and math),

d) intrusions of other paradigms - the sacro-sanct economy, dollar, yen. etc. worship

e) politics with its control of scientific discourse, more evident today than in the 19th century.

The last two points are the most important. No wonder everyone is all over the board (sic)...

EROEI, as one of the few measures that attempts some integration, deserves much more discussion.

Long way to go yet, Best Hopes, as Alan would say.

Not directly useful I know.

It seems like EROEI isn't so much a classical thermodynamic concept as an expression of Odum's maximum power principle and Lotka's mathematics, used in food/ population studies by biologists.

I suppose that the goal of EROEI is to substitute Odum's maximum power principle for classical economics.

In that case, I would agree that I don't have enough knowledge about population ecology theory and the validing studies to understand it and how all that actually relates to our culture.

Is energy the 'food' of our civilization? Less energy = less civilization? We may not have to wait long to find out.

Is energy the 'food' of our civilization? Less energy = less civilization? We may not have to wait long to find out.

Yes. Yes. And I concur.

Actually, Maximum power principle is an important and related concept but different from EROI. Net energy analysis had its origins (as Charlie points out in the trout example but doesnt explicitly mention, from Optimal foraging theory

I suppose that the goal of EROEI is to substitute Odum's maximum power principle for classical economics.

Interesting thought. But 'power' in nature, is different than power in human civilization. Currently we would measure power as number of digits in a bank account. To have $1 billion and be able to wire it instantly in the world and buy all kinds of goods, labor, resources, stuff is the ULTIMATE in power - but it wasn't always the case and may not always be so in the future that dollars equate with power. We might collectively try to maximize something else.

And I thought that "power" in the "maximum power principle" means energy per unit time (e.g., watts or horsepower) - nothing (directly) to do with political power, etc.

When I first heard about the "maximum power principle" I was aghast - and still am. Because what I see humans doing is exactly that: use all the energy resources as fast as possible, without any thought about the future. It's all "me" and "now". This "principle" may work out for many natural systems that only use the ongoing flux of solar input, and have checks and balances in the form of predation, parasites, disease, and so on. But humans have broken away (temporarily) from any such limits and are thoroughly destroying the planet.

So if the "maximum power principle" is indeed a common organizational principle in natural systems, our only hope is to break ourselves free from our slavish adherence to it. Similarly we need to break free from serving our "selfish genes", e.g. in unchecked reproduction, if we want a tolerable future for our descendents. Biology is not necessarily destiny - or is it? Natural selection (blind genetic competition) does not work for the good of the species - nor the planet. But we can choose to, perhaps.

BTW, I am sorry that my comment about "energy quality" in the previous thread was hijacked for the purposes of the nuke and ethanol lobbyists. I was only saying that in a general introduction of the EROI concept, energy quality should be mentioned. If we are to use EROI as a comparative tool, which others here have noted is probably its best use, then it should measure things in a "common currency" to enable the comparisons. And it goes both ways: electricity used in mining coal, for example, should be counted as more than just that many BTUs. In the larger picture, after all, "waste heat" still holds all the original energy, but is far less useful - although sometimes still of some use, e.g., co-generation, using the waste heat from electrical generation for heating buildings in a cold climate.

I think that is what the 'system ecologists' are saying.

The maximum power principle can be stated: During self organization, system designs develop and prevail that maximize power intake, energy transformation, and those uses that reinforce production and efficiency. (H.T.Odum 1995, p.311)
...the maximum power principle ... states that systems which maximize their flow of energy survive in competition. In other words, rather than merely accepting the fact that more energy per unit of time is transformed in a process which operates at maximum power, this principle says that systems organize and structure themselves naturally to maximize power. Systems regulate themselves according to the maximum power principle.

It's not about thermodynamics at all but about self-organizing systems.
For example, ethanol will never be implemented by society when a higher EROEI source like gasoline is around.

I don't find this to be very compelling after all why not make both ethanol and gasoline depending on how much feedstock is available.

So EROEI is not a yardstick of an energy process but instead a yardstick of society or populations.
As somebody put it, humans=yeast(not too flattering).

I wish the EROEI proponents could provide serious studies of this principle.

Thomas Homer-Dixon is a political scientist and security expert.

Thomas Homer-Dixon [1] has recently suggested that societal collapse occurs as a result of a reduction in the Energy Return on Investment or EROI. This is the measure of the amount of energy needed to secure a source of energy. Societal collapse occurs whenever the EROI approaches 1:1. If it falls below 1:1, those attempting to harvest the energy source have insufficient energy to maintain themselves, and famine results. An EROI of more than 1 is necessary to provide sufficient energy for socially important tasks, such as constructing buildings, maintaining infrastructure, and supporting the social elite upon which a society depends. The EROI figure also determines the ratio between the number of people engaged in energy extraction compared to the total population. For example in the pre-modern world, it was often the case that 80% of the population was employed in agriculture to feed a population of 100%. In modern times, the use of fossil fuels with an exceedingly high EROI has enabled 100% of the population to be employed with only 4% of the population employed in agriculture. Diminishing returns of an unsustainable EROI, Homer Dixon proposes, leads to societal collapse.

I'll bet this wasn't what you originally thought EROEI was.

Thomas Homer-Dixon is a political scientist and security expert.

I'm thinking he'd call himself a political scientist and a systems analyst/engineer/scientist. Sure, security is all about compromised systems, but thinking of him as a security expert is going to mislead readers. He's more in the Tainter, Heinberg, resilience group.

cfm in Gray, ME

(off the cuff, to several posts above)

I thought the Lotka etc. view and studies was termed Thermoeconomics - wiki has an entry on it, which is OK as far as I can judge, not far, maybe, I see I hadn’t go it straight really, but the offshoots or descendants of a thermoeconomics take are very evident all over the place, on the Oil Drum for ex.

But 'power' in nature, is different than power in human civilization. Nate wrote.

For sure. As a group social animal, dominating through symbolism (language, maths, writing, science, technology) constructed thru the ages, we have been able to create a temporary advantage thru understanding Nature, to exploit and use it for our own ends. The power deployed, - smartness -, is socially and culturally constructed (education, social transmission, tools, e.g. tractors, steam engine, antibiotics, green revolution; but also TV, newspapers, ‘democratic’ Gov, etc.) but hits physical limits at a certain point (e.g. peak oil.) The power rests on group cohesion, a conception of a ‘reality’ that is shared (not competition, except insofar as it spurs action within the groups.) And then what?

Well, we will see. How exactly human power and Nature’s laws (constraints) mesh and meld in the future.

wiki thermoeconomics

I'm sure I'm not the only one hoping for details on definitions of EROI and implications - were all the questions we asked the other day also asked and answered 30 years ago as stated here? I have the same complaint about the explanation at this site:

-- it says everything was worked out decades ago, but has little in the way of precise definitions and numerical details to get a better understanding.

In particular, I don't see in Dr. Hall's response any addressing of the "comparing like with like" and process time issues that were in the discussion the other day, nor were they addressed or answered by anyone then. Here are some other questions I have based on the definition here:

This claims that, according to Figure 1:
* EROI = E_net / (E_self + E_purchased)
* Energy surplus = E_net - (E_self + E_purchased)

However, the treatment of E_self here doesn't make sense for a couple of reasons.

First, there is an additional input energy term, the stuff that comes "for free": E_gross (oil in the ground, or presumably sunlight falling on plants or solar panels, etc). In all these terms, by the way, "E" is not the physical definition of energy, but more like "free energy", "exergy" - as the site puts it: "Energy here is defined as the physical ability to do useful work, where useful work is done when a body is moved by a force.". So output (or input) thermal energy is not a consideration - fine.

Total input energy then is E_gross + E_self + E_purchased.
Total output energy is E_net + E_self

Physical net output = (total output) - (total input) = E_net - E_gross - E_purchased

i.e. E_self cancels from the physical net output. I can see that the "gross" input is free, so defining the surplus as

surplus = physical net output + "gross" = E_net - E_purchased

makes some sense. But why on earth is E_self then subtracted from this surplus in the definition of figure 1?

Secondly - E_self can only be defined if you can look into the internal workings of the process and decide how much is "self use of energy" as opposed to just waste heat or some other loss going from gross to net. Viewed as a black box, E_self could be as large or as small as you like, and you still have the same exchanges with the outside world. Yet EROI (and this definition of surplus) would change dramatically - why?

If I assume for a moment this system is intended to describe a uniform-in-time process (i.e. ignoring the distinctions between up-front capital and operating/maintenance/fuel costs) there's an ongoing efficiency independent of any time constraints, of:

Total Efficiency = (total output)/(total input) = (E_net + E_self)/(E_gross + E_self + E_purchased)

Since the "self" piece essentially cancels out though, I would argue the really meaningful number is the net efficiency:

Net Efficiency = (output to world)/(input from world) = E_net/(E_gross + E_purchased)

The only point of such a process is to convert some unusable form of energy E_gross, into something useful E_net, so one might also be interested in the raw conversion efficiency of a process:

Raw Efficiency = E_net/E_gross

-- that is the sort of number you typically see for solar panels (20% efficient etc.) but presumably is of interest for things like tar sands as well...

I can see some point in adding the E_self piece as a guard against using the simple extraction ratio as a criterion:

Extraction ratio = E_net/E_purchased

because obviously this ratio could be made as large as you like by rearranging the process to use its own output to grow itself, rather than produce net output. But the extraction ratio has actual useful financial meaning, and is directly related to the sort of Return on Investment definitions that are used in finance - there's no "self" term in the financial definitions (just as there's no meaning of "used up" for money either!) - but the constraint there has to be for a process over a fixed amount of time, or using a discount rate on the net output, to constrain such self-looping.

In any case, why do we have this huge emphasis on a number - EROI, that seems hard to define and not directly relevant to either physical or financing questions, when we have a whole bunch of other ratios that are more directly relevant, as listed here. What makes EROI a better measure than extraction ratio or one of the overall efficiency definitions?

Clifman & JonFreise,

Here is a little different version of that chart which shows the dramatic drop off of net energy as 1:1 EROEI is approached. If for example, we are now at 8:1 and the rate of change is 3.5% (cost doubling every 20 years) then in 20 years we will be a 4:1 and in 40 years we will be at 2:1.

Perhaps we should title this curve the "Death Curve" or the "Blindside Curve".

Henry (and/or Cliffman, JohnFriese),
Have you seen any empirical data suggesting at what rate eROI is changing? We could estimate this for oil from the bubble plot but what about for other energy sources.

That is a central question and one that this series of posts will be addressing. On Tuesday, we will show a summary table of EROIs of various fuels. US oil has gone from 100+:1 on 1930s to 30:1 in 1970s to range of 10-17:1 in 2000 to anecdotally less than that today. I wrote about that here, showing a graphical illustration of what US oil extraction EROI might look like following this historical trend

You can see my estimates natural gas EROI over time here:

EROI falls faster the faster we drill. This may be one of the reasons we end up with a Hubbert curve.

Much of the semantics squabbling over how much does the sun and other input/output vagaries mess up the value of EROI analysis can be cleared up by just looking at "the human time scale" factor as Nate points out.

The sun has always been continually interacting with our energy stuff here on earth. But for all practical purposes, and that's what net energy analysis is all about, you can take a particular point in time, say in 1859 when the first oil well was drilled, and say from that point on consider the earth a closed system and analyze, as the above chart says, where each barrel of oil goes. That analysis will be off by:

1. The fact that we use up all that oil in 150 years or so when it took umpteen thousand years for the open system to make it (a small percentage error)

2. The fact that we are continually adding solar, biofuel, wind, tide, and other renewables to our total energy supply from outside the earth's closed system (a small percentage error)

Since oil has become by far the primary, hard to replace driver of our energy supply, and net energy is a very big deal with it, oil's EROI analysis should be front and center, not dismissed by nit picking semantics.

Great. Just great.

After the Peak Oil Church enters, well, its peak, now it seems it is time for the "EROI Death Curve" Church!, or EDC anonymous paranoids for friends.

It's just a matter of time until the EDC blog enters its ten million unique pageviews and flatters itself about it.

Oh, Jeovah, please come back, you're completely forgiven!

Charlie, I just read part 1 where you said

There is a strong view held by myself and others (see references at end) that because our main economic concepts were derived during a period of our expanding ability to do everything – i.e. that more or less regardless of policy we were able to pump more oil out of the ground readily to implement whatever we were trying to do, that conventional economic approaches may have much less relevance during times of contracting supplies. In other words, are finances beholden to the laws of physics? I think yes.

Well said. The rules will have to be different because the game will have changed.

Much of our writing on peak oil is a warning to the mainstream that the game is changing, a message that mostly goes unheeded.

I would have thought that a +300% change in the price in the absence of a significant supply shock would do the trick, but it has not.

-- Dave

Prof. Hall, many thanks for your efforts.

An issue that I haven't seen addressed (although it might have slipped by my attention) is the important (perhaps obvious) fact that the nominal EROI ratio for different energy sources should be calculated using, as much as possible, the same methodologies and assumptions. Further, it makes sense to me anyway, that an EROI ratio makes the most sense when used in comparison with the ratios calculated for other energy sources, and not used as a free-standing number, especially given the many different methodologies used.

Do these assertions make good sense to you? Others?

Thanks for helping to provide a standard that is sorely needed.

I think we're, slightly, overestimating the importance of EROI (and, at the same time, underestimating the value of the Western World's ability to organize, cooperate, and innovate.)

How much good has that ultracheap oil done for the average person in Saudi Arabia, or Nigeria?

Also, you have to take into consideration how much more work a btu can accomplish, now, vs 40 yrs., ago. Or, ten, for that matter. Think dell laptop vs. 1950's Univac. Think Saab Biopower, or Prius vs. 59' Chevy.

Here a my graph of EROEI versus the ratio of process energy to output energy.

x=EROEI, y=Ep/Eoutput; Ep=Energy produced by a process, Eoutput=Energy output to society. As EROEI increases the Ep/Eo is asymtopic to 1 and almost all the energy delivered from the process goes to society as output.
As you move to the right of an EROEI of 1, the amount of energy delivered from the system must be much larger than the energy output to society-- or alternatively almost all of the energy produced goes into making more energy.

At an EROEI of 1, Ep/Eo=2 or for every unit of output, there must be two units of energy delivered to the process.

Great original post, and follow up. Thanks!

Sorry to come late to the discussion.

EROI seems primarily to be a tool aimed at characterizing net energy. So what we really want to see/forecast is a graph of net energy over time rather than a single data point associated with some specific process. I'm thinking that there are two critical rates that must also be included before we could conclude that some energy choice is attractive. Those rates would be the rate of developoment (e.g. 5yrs/plant) and the rate of deterioration of that development (e.g. 20yrs/plant). Combine EROI with these two rates on a graph and you can start to become interested in the slope of the resulting line.

I come back a bit late but this subject deserves some time.

I’ve been thinking the whole past week and this week-end about the EROEI problem, since I believe this is one of the more critical aspects of the coming energy crisis. One of its uses in my view is to compare energy sources and upgrading procedures, another is to sort out which processes are sustainable (EROEI >1) and those that are not (EROEI <1). But I felt that current methodologies are too different to be able to perform comparisons like in a meta-analysis for instance.

My confusion stemmed from multiple observations like Nate's “bagasse” problem with Brazilian ethanol, or the sustainability (at least in theory) of the "X"TL processes. I wanted to stay as close as possible to the "trout analogy" by Pr Hall.

The problem is : the trout eats x calories each day and has to spend y calories to access these calories (and to sustain it’s minimal metabolic expenses). EROEI is y:x. This is the basic EROEI problem as I have learned to see it. But some of the energetic procedures in our society are a bit more complex. We spend some energy X1 on extraction, X2 on transformation (mostly upgrading) processes and X3 on distribution. We get Y calories or BTU’s in various fuels as an output. EROEI is (X1+X2+X3):Y.

But what if, like coal, we use directly some of the extracted resources in our process to obtain the energy for the upgrading process (X2) ? In that case, if X2>Y the EROEI becomes <1 and the whole thing shouldn’t be sustainable. But intuitively the process can keep on going like in the case of coal to gasoline for instance, because of the assumed abundance of coal.

So I thought that we should adapt our methodology a bit. I think the problem in these complex cases is that we use an input which hasn’t been counted as an output before. In the case of the trout this can’t happen because it has to ingest all the calories first before using them and this is easily measured. The output of the trout’s behaviour is the total of calories ingested. But in the case of the energy infrastructure, we can use some calories in the system before we see them as an output (as if the system were able to digest calories before ingestion). See the CTL example below.

My conclusion is that we should adapt our methodology by including “hidden” energy inputs towards the infrastructure as an output. Thus EROEI is

(Energy output + Energy hidden) : Energyinput

So we could avoid the huge discrepancy between figures where these hidden inputs are either discounted or included with a wild varying result above or below breakeven. In this way we can also agree to include the whole energetical cost of the infrastructure, with construction, maintenance and operation or even dismantlement if required. There would be no problem to include bagasse into the EROEI calculations of Brazilian ethanol. Either the energy of distillation comes from bagasse, then the EROEI is better than if you use methane from an external source, but it is worse than if you don’t count it. But that reflects reality because in a general sense by making bagasse you have increased by a fraction the available energy instead of using some of already available energy elsewhere (and thus decreasing available overall energy).

A quick hypothetic, made-up example :

CTL in an old mine :

1000 BTU’s to mine and transport a total of 12000 BTU’s of coal
2000 BTU’s dissipated/lost
5000 BTU’s used for the fischer-tropsch process and other upgradings
5000 BTU’s in end fuels

EROEI publicised by CTL’plant owner : 5:1 (he uses 1000 BTU’s for coal extraction)
EROEI claimed by ecological extremist : 0.83:1 dreadful, not sustainable
My EROEI : 1.6:1. Still dreadful but definitely sustainable as long as the coal extraction requires the same energy input.

Of course my example is incomplete as there would be further energy input as in electricity from elsewhere, which would only count as input.

I have made a little illustration to better show my idea (and this applies only for the general situation, if it is applied to a particular energy source or fuel, one should add energy from external sources as well). Am I right here ?

Thanks to Nate and Pr Hall, for your incredibly informative posts from which I have always learned a lot.

Jeroen KOK
Bourg en Bresse, France

link to a better image (sorry)

I support bio-engineering a new metabolic pathway into the trout.

One that enables the fish to function well (swim, capture food, mate) but with a magnitude fewer calories. And to pass this new DNA down to his or her progeny for a century or more.

How does one adjust EROEI calculations into this ?

Perhaps take the calories required for the bio-engineering as the "energy invested" and the reduced caloric intake for the trout and successors for a 100 years as the "Energy Returned" ?

The numbers for a $400 billion upgrade and electrification of US freight railways give a staggering EROEI, well over 1,000 and approaching 100,000 as best as I can tell.

Best Hopes,


One that enables the fish to function well

Instead of trout, let's say we have two species of salmon:

Salmon A: eROI= 12:1
Salmon B: eROI= 6:1

Which species of salmon does better?

Well that was a set up for an irrational, false-choice answer. The correct answer is we don't know because eROI is just one number in a more complex world.

Salmon, of course, complete their life cycle by swimming upstream to mate and die. The nutrients from their bodies feed the next generation. So one would automatically conclude that the more energy efficient, A Group (eROI=12:1) does better.

But suppose there is a hidden "cost" to having this superior eROI. Suppose the A Group carries with it a toxin that severely damages the next generation rather than helping it. One could make an analogy to humans who deposit pollutants into the atmosphere while attaining a high eROI. The eROI "number" may be a good one, but the end result is the A-list species dies out due to the toxins.

I agree. EROI is certainly an improvement over GNP as a measure of "goodness" or "success," but to go further one would have to consider an estimate of entropy increase over a chosen neighborhood in space and time.

Luckily for us --- since such a measure would be very tedious to calculate --- evolution automatically responds to all such side effects in determining whether or not a species continues to survive and breed.

In pointing out that in the long run we are all dead, Keynes may have simply failed to consider that our descendants may possibly live on. (Or is it characteristic of even Keynesian economic thinking simply not to care about anything persisting beyond our own mortality?)

Ive written a paper with almost the exact conclusion you came up with, which of course means its robust...;-)
Shoot me an email and I'll send you a copy.

EROEI is a infinite recursive industrial life-cycle analysis in accounting/tabular form. Hope that clears things up :)