ASPO VII - first day

The VII International Conference on Oil and Gas Depletion was the first in many ways: the first after the death of Ali Samsam Bakhtiari; the first after record oil prices; and the first after serious economic difficulties hitting the OECD. Right from the beginning there was a feeling in the air that circumstances had changed and a new era had arrived.

Crossposted at the European Tribune.

For the background of each speaker please visit the conference's website.

This year's conference took place in the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona in Catalonia, The city itself is a living example of the arrangements in urban planning we might have to undertake to answer Peak Oil. Throughout the days spent there I felt quite comfortable, in a place worth living and caring for, even if expensive in some aspects (well, public bicycles are free for half an hour).

The typical “ruler and triangle” Barcelona neighbourhood. The blue P sign marks places were a public bicycle can be picked up or left.

The conference took place at the city's World Trade Centre, by sea side, in a well equipped theatre that even provided simultaneous translation, allowing for addresses in Catalan, Castellan and the obvious English. Just outside the hall there was a suitable location for the usual sideline discussions during coffee breaks, complete with a display of posters and brochures.

Ali Bakhtiari

The first day started with the usual opening ceremony, this time hosted by the Catalan minister of Innovation, University and Enterprise. Then followed Kyell Alleklett with a welcoming address. He remembered Ali Bakhtiari, and how important he was for the start up of ASPO, and the risk he took in associating with the organization. He stressed that the concept of Peak Oil is yet not well understood by all and told us about his bet with BP's Tony Hayward, that world oil production in 2018 will be below today's rate. Going on with his address on “Peak Oil and Economic Growth in Africa”, Kyell pointed that without Oil, a country cannot have political strength. Production is growing in sub-Saharan Africa, and will reach a peak over 7 Mb/d, but the West and China are taking that resource away. He concluded that we should be helping Africa use that Oil and not stealing it away.

Carlos de Castro, from the University of Valladolid, presented an approach to modelling the future of the world's energy and economy using systems dynamics. He pointed out that both geologists and economists are looking at the problem considering a restricted set of variables, thus having a limited view. All the main variables considered by these two groups must be taken into account as well as the feedbacks among them. Two different scenarios were laid out. In the first (the optimistic one), the world would enter a long plateau in energy supply after which coal, fusion and a few other new sources would put growth back on track. Carlos stressed that such period of energy use stagnation coinciding with strong population growth is unprecedented. He went on to the second scenario where an additional linear feedback was included from GDP to alternative energy; in such case world energy usage enters an irreversible decline.

Following was Salvador Pueyo from the Catalan Institute for Climate Sciences who presented an “Epidemic” model of Oil Depletion. He recalled how the logistic is based on Verhulst's model of population growth, for which the Plague of the XVII century is a classical example. He made the equivalence of the biologic SIR framework to oil production: the Susceptible population being Oil in the ground; the Infected, oil in production; and the Removed, old oil fields. He quoted TOD several times, where a discussion about the correctness of this approach has remained for more than three years, specifically this post by Khebab. He then applied the Linearisation method (which corresponds to the assumption that the growth rate increases linearly) to several regions, avoiding an assessment of the world.

After a coffee-break came Jean Laherrère and Jean-Luc Wingert showing how the world's liquids production will evolve in the face of serious economic constrains. Jean showed his familiar comprehensive graphs. First he noted important inconsistencies with publicly available data (especially with BP's), and then went on to forecast an unconstrained peak liquids by 2015 with 2 Tb for the Conventional Oil ultimate (excluding extra-heavy) and NGPL following the Natural Gas profile. But Jean thinks that a bumpy plateau is more likely than a clear peak, and we may already have entered such a plateau 3 years ago. Then came Jean-Luc to present two scenarios based on Jean's assessment of reserves and flows, but this time considering economic constrains in light of previous crisis: the 1980s world crisis and Argentinian crisis. In case of a Hard crisis production falls visibly but later rebounds strongly, possibly surpassing the previous maximum; if that's the case, it is possible that Peak Oil might fade into obscurity for some years. In case the crisis is not so severe (the Soft scenario), production a less pronounced fall is expected, possibly resembling the “bumpy plateau”.

At the end of this talk Jean declared that this was his last address at an ASPO conference. According to him, it is now time for new generations to emerge, and hence his presence accompanied by a younger ASPO member. Jean-Luc is certainly a worthy receiver of such responsibility, but I don't think Jean will stop drawing graphs.

To finish this first morning came Mariano Marzo to address Gas Supply Security in Spain. This state is the 7th largest importer of Natural Gas in the EU (representing 32% of internal consumption), and the 3rd largest importer of LNG (68% of consumption). Spain is expected to be the fastest growing consumer of Natural Gas in the EU for the next 5 years, with most of this additional demand officially expected to be met with projects in North Africa and the Middle East that do not yet exist (and require many billions of dollars to take shape). But even with those projects, world re-gasification capacity will almost double liquefaction capacity for the next decade, casting serious doubts over such expectations. A shift in priorities is needed in Spain where an Energy revolution will have to take place.

After lunch the first address was by the Hon. Edward Schreyer, who dispensed with the traditional slide presentation. It was a different effect, showing that words can be at least as moving as nicely crafted graphs. Mr Schreyer started by exemplifying: according to the NAFTA agreement, Canada is not obliged to increase its energy supply to the USA, only to maintain the level of supply of the previous three years. Energy supplies to the USA have been growing simply because of Canada's greed. He went on to explain why the House of Commons has such name. It should be the place where the Common Property and Common Resources should be defended and managed; unfortunately the “infinitude” of the early New World shaped the psychic of the North American people making such task now difficult. The closing remarks where a call to reason of the leadership: the EIA/IEA scenarios that are optimistic to the point of irresponsibility, must now come down to reality; every country not working for harnessing all the renewable energy sources possible is being irresponsible.

I was supposed to close the morning session, but technical difficulties prevented so: I use OpenOffice but the pulpit's laptop only had Microsoft software; when I loaded my presentation some fonts where not being rendered. Fortunately, Mariano Marzo was kind to change places with me and Chris had brought his laptop so we could set all the text bits to plain Arial. My address didn't deviate much from the material presented here at TOD. The main update was the inclusion of preliminary assessments for Nigeria and Iraq, which even though optimistic, do not change the overall picture. Due to the fast depleting time available for speakers, I gave the presentation faster than would be advisable, and my English abandoned me a few times. Still I think the message got through: Exports have already peaked and nothing seems capable of changing that picture. For most states of the EU Oil has effectively peaked.

Then came Andrew MacKillop in his unique style. He showed that the OECD countries are the most vulnerable to depletion due to their high Oil and Gas intensity. Up to now, market-driven growth as failed to deliver Renewable Energy alternatives. Andrew claimed this was due to more and more money being spent on buyouts and asset refinancing, casting doubt on the usefulness of these alternatives. He proceeded to present what he called an energy Bretton-Woods agreement, a new international Framework with new institutions, e.g. an International Energy Fund substituting for the International Monetary Fund. He would conclude that the OECD needs NegaWatts, not MegaWatts.

I had to skip Chris Skebrowski's talk, so I could give a few interviews, but Chris provided a few notes:

Chris Skrebowski is a regular contributor to ASPO conferences. His message is familiar to many and growing every more convincing. A very best case scenario of a global peak is in 2011-12 at around 93 mbpd. This represents a geological potential coupled with the world’s oil companies making investments and working as hard as is plausible. A global depression changes the situation.

Skrebowski presented the following international picture:

  • OECD production peaked in 1997 and has now declined by 2.2 million b/d (10.4%)
  • Non-Opec, non-FSU production peaked in 2002, has now declined by 771,000 b/d (2.15%)
  • North America/Mexico peaked in 1997
  • North Sea - UK/Norway/Denmark peaked in 2000 now declined by 1.6 million b/d (25.4%)
  • Around 28 significant producers in decline
  • About 35% of global production from decliners

Followed by the corporate picture showing how production from the top 5 majors peaked in 2004: Chevron 2002, Shell 2003, Total 2004, BP 2005 and ExxonMobil in 2006.

Dozens of new projects started up over the last few years, bringing 2.5 mbpd of new oil the market in 2005, 3 mbpd in 2006 and over 3 mbpd in 2007. However during this period global flows remained flat. Skrebowski suggested an underlying decline rate of the fields already in production of 4.5% or around 3.7 bmpd. The important point to note is that this figure is three times the demand growth – depletion of supply is the main story in the global demand supply balance, not demand. This amount is also greater than all non-conventionals, and Skrebowski said the decline was increasing at 0.3-0.4 mbpd. per year.

Echoing Luis’ point on exports, the international trade in oil peaks before global production. Looking at where oil is used and therefore where impacts are felt and responses needed, road ransport sticks out. 55% of oil is used in road transport (compared with 25% in other transport, 10% for heat and 10% in non-fuel application). These simple numbers really frame the problem as one of road transport; there is hope in significantly reducing the vehicle miles driven whilst dramatically improving efficiency.

And then came another oildrummer, Ugo Bardi, to talk about the future of Mining. Ugo presented a comprehensive pictorial version of his posts on mining: Earth is a special planet where its geological activity created deposits of ores. By Mining, Man has been able to move ores from highly concentrated deposits to dispersed deposits. We don't face the risk of running out of minerals, but are facing the prospects of running out of energy to cross the Minearologic Barrier. Worldwide production of many metals is presenting maxima in profiles that seem to follow bell shaped curves. These kinds of curves can be justified assuming that part of the mining process profits are invested to increase production. Ugo ended with an interesting quote: “Energy is the ultimate raw material”.

Closing the final session of the day came Marcel Corderch with an address entitled “The Nuclear Illusion”. He started by showing a set of graphs depicting the growth of Nuclear power in the US: ordering of new reactors stopped in 1973, and after that year no new reactor was commissioned from scratch and completed. The Three Mile Island event had no visible impact on the US Nuclear program: apparently what killed Nuclear in the US was the first Oil Crisis. At the moment no reactor vendor is offering price stability, and hence the difficulties in growing the installations worldwide. Then came some numbers of a hypothetical Nuclear program: a Nuclear reactor has a mean life of 40 years and reaches break-even energy-wise in 7.9 to 14 years of operation (numbers from US academia), resulting in an EROEI around 3:1. If a program is put in place with the build up of 1 new reactor per year during 20 years, break even only arrives after 27 years (up front energy invested compounds). For a larger program with 20 new reactors per year during 20 years (totalling 400), the break even moves back to 32 years.

The day closed with Dick Lawrence summarizing the ASPO-USA conference. TOD covered it with several posts, so I'll just say that as with this conference, the work provided by TOD is highly regarded.

This was a gloomy day, with most graphs pointing downwards. Jérôme was an especially frustrated man: “Why complicate? Wind works,” he'd say often. In spite of being one of those responsible for the gloomy numbers, I shared that same frustration; a dinner among friends discussing the future was just the perfect finish for a stressful day.

This was a gloomy day, with most graphs pointing downwards

What's gloomy about the end of the oil era? I find myself wishing for peak oil every day, fervently. Only then can Nature perhaps take a breather from our relentless assault.

Since the problem is not oil but population density. When will you do your bit to "give nature a breather from YOUR relentless assault" ?

In other words : when are you planning on comitting suicide ? It's the only semi-legal answer.

no, it is not. suicide is a cowardly act. if we believe that mankind is on track for overshoot and collapse, your suicide only postpones the crash and makes it worse.

it does this because it reduces competition for whatever resources you and your descendants would have claimed. therefore, a larger number of people will attain higher total consumption before the inevitable crash, leaving less for humanity's future.

a moral person would first try to educate others about the problem. if that doesn't work, a moral person would try to consume as many resources, as quickly and wastefully as possible, such that the crash occurs sooner, when it is more easily dealt with.

If you are the one saying population is a problem, then you should be the one knocking yourself off - not some other guy.

I don't think population is the problem at all.

To avoid more than 2C global warming, we need to get to under 15% of 1990-level emissions by 2050.

Australia & the USA = 5% of world population, 25% of emissions

Thus, 5% of the world's population could give us catastrophic global warming all by themselves. The other 95% of the world could disappear overnight and we'd still be in trouble. The world can only sustain a population 193 million people living like Australians and Americans.

On the other hand, India has 17% of the world's population but only 4.9% of its emissions. So the world can sustain 3.5 billion people living like Indians - some very well off, some miserable, some in between like in Kerala.

Or the world could sustain about 10 billion people living like Hondurans.

Or perhaps we could sustain 9 billion or so (the most we're likely to ever see on the Earth, says the WHO and the UN) with some more ecotechnic way of life, with renewable energy and the like. We don't know, nobody's tried it. It seems worth a go.

Population: it's not how big it is, it's what you do with it.

I think homicide will be far more popular than suicide. Even given the motivation and means, suicide is still an intrinsically self-limiting proposition, and one that goes against natural selection. Homicide, if sufficiently selective, could improve Darwinian success and offers massive scaling opportunities.

This comment is intended to be darkly tongue in cheek, but I do think homicide is a better fit with human nature.

That must be why we're selling uranium to the Indians, so they can return it to us someday the way the Japanese returned Australian pig iron to us...

Nuclear plant life 40 years, EROEI 3(!).. let me guess: It all points back to the Storm-smith stuff.. and clearly means that French electricity exports are an illusion.

No, those are numbers by an American university. I'm sorry I didn't write down which.

The point is that because of the upfront fossil fueled energy investment you don't get net energy return from nuclear for a number of years - the faster you ramp up capacity the less net energy in the early years there is, so if we are indeed post peak oil you need an accelerating use of the declining fossil fuel flows, the ELM with 'knobs' on.

The same is true of windmills or any alternative that requires upfront use of fossil fuels (batteries, electric cars etc.)

Do we have a take on the time to nuclear energy payback when taking into account ramping up the fuel supply for a doubling (and doubling again, etc) of world fleet of nuclear? Not just payback on the concrete and steel?

The following is one analysis for wind turbine embodied energy.
Embodied energy over a lifetime for wind turbines is low compared with energy return, but even so, in scenarios quoted in above linked paper there is a 8-fold difference between MJ/kWhe of best 'wind' location for turbine made from re-cycled steel in Brazil and same turbine made and located in Germany.

Could we ask him?
Dr. Marcel Coderch
(edit: check spelling)
Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia
Telecommunications and Information Science Engineer
Vice-President of the Telecommunications Market Commission
Secretary of the Association for Energy Resources Research

Figures in the same ball park for nuclear EROI have been bandied about around here before, and have invariably drawn on Storm-Smith, just re-hashing slightly.
They are proof that GIGO is alive and well.

So does that mean that the American nuclear industry is to be believed when it claims an overall EROEI of 8:1?

Here is the result of the most comprehensive study of the EROI that has been done:

So the Forsmark Plant produces 93 times more energy than it consumes. Or put another way, the non-nuclear energy investment required to generate electricity for 40 years is repaid in 5 months. Normalized to 1 GigaWatt electrical capacity, the energy required to construct and decommission the plant, which amounts to 4 Peta-Joules (PJ), which is repaid in 1.5 months. The energy required to dispose of the waste is also 4 PJ and repaid in 1.5 months. In total this is less than 0.8% of the all the electrical energy produced by the plant.

Whilst an immense number of quibbles may be made about details, and have been by those who are entirely opposed to nuclear energy in the first place, the broad picture is that the EROI of nuclear is just fine, just as it is for solar power, certainly for the thin film versions including thin-film silicon.
Wind power is a little more doubtful, and that is one reason why it is best to consider it as part of a total energy system.

Where EROI is doubtful is in oil sands, and it reaches absurd levels in ethanol from corn.

Here we go again with the EROEI numbers being widely and wildly at variance...3:1, 8:1 and if my eyes do not deceive me 93:1!!! We cannot have a serious discussion of alternative energy sources without numbers of EROEI we can trust. Is it not possible for intelligent people to sit down and devise a methodology of arriving at a EROEI framework that has putative validity and utility that we can use to formulate policy and useful discussion?

Not whilst some who have an ideological objection to nuclear power are deliberately trying to stuff the figures up you can't.
Precision in EROI calculations is anyway difficult, and provide immense opportunities to fiddle the figures.
There are also real difficulties, like the fact that your figures are very different if you assume reprocessing or if you don't, and that by itself would account for a substantial amount of the difference between the Swedish figures and the US figures where they don't reprocess.
If they are using old processes to make the initial uranium into fuel in the US figures, that might account for most of the rest.
Except where it is a plainly daft situation, such as in ethanol from corn, you don't usually have to bother as the dollar figure gives you a good estimate of whether something is worthwhile.

Just about everyone here on the site aside from David has acknowledged that the 93:1 number is completely bogus.


"Is it not possible for intelligent people to sit down and devise a methodology of arriving at a EROEI framework that has putative validity and utility that we can use to formulate policy and useful discussion?"

No, it is not possible. Intelligent people disagree widely regarding what inputs to include and how to value externalities & opportunity costs. There is no non-arbitrary way to arrive at such valuations. Hence, EROEI analytic methodology can't be agreed upon & hence isn't very meaningful.

If the 93X return were true, utility companies would be immensely profitable and would be building nuclear reactors as fast as possible. The fact that there are only occasional new ones built suggests a number closer to 8X.

Almost all the cost of nuclear is in building it, and fuel costs make up only a fraction of total cost.
Interest rates as almost all the cost is upfront and the cost of fossil fuel as a competitor are the significant factors, and the EROI of nuclear power had nothing to do with it.

Like Darwinsdog, I feel that boundary conditions are too difficult to specify to make most EROI calculations very useful, and they have chiefly been used for polemical purposes because they are so imponderable.

Given that these exact same calculations are performed daily by most competent chemical engineers and that any sort of chemical plant is terribly expensive including simpler ones such as refineries and yes believe it or not refineries are fairly simply as far as chemical plant go.

And further given these are horribly expensive and tough to build profitably I'd suspect that Nuclear Power plants suffer all the same problems as any other chemical plant. The fact the final reaction is a nuclear transformation just makes them different.

You have countries like Iran that are unable to build refineries to support their own internal needs for example yet claim to be building nuclear power for independence. A fairly trivial blocked would render them in serious trouble in short order as they ran out of gasoline.

Mexico is another example of a country that does not have enough refining capacity.

The point is Nuclear power plants fit in well with other complex chemical plants and have all the same issues and more.

Embedded energy is useful when talking about materials that have been shipped in but in all the cases a very well defined process was used at each step and all thats needed is a fairly strait forward analysis to determine the overall energy embedded in a given product.

Surprisingly or I suspect not so surprisingly these calculations are not made public.

Try and find the real embedded energy in steel and concrete.

Thus done correctly it should be fairly trivial to determine the embedded energy in any chemical plant and if its for energy production calculate the break even point.

We can do quite well for costs the energy calculation is almost identical.

I have no doubt that calculations are possible, and indeed have quoted the Vattenfall figures which were done under the sort of conditions you describe.
However, it is always possible to argue against any given set of boundary conditions, and that is the usual approach by those who don't like the results of this actual, detailed breakdown.
For engineering purposes this will be the type of breakdown used.

The public domain things put out by opponents to nuclear power area very different kettle of fish, as the ones I have seen contain laughable inacuracies - see the quotes and links I have already given.
Other techniques to demonstrate a low EROI include specifying old, energy intensive methods of refining the fuel, assuming no reprocessing etc.

I don't have anything against EROI calculations when used for engineering purposes and where the boundaries are clearly stated, but I dislike it when they are used for fundamentally polemical purposes.

It is easy to see that the 93:1 number is not an EROEI estimate from the link. They ignore the energy needed to enrich the fuel. What they are trying to do is to hide associated carbon emissions, but a few people who have very little notion of how energy works have interpreted one form of dishonesty to be something even more incredible, that energy invested can be ingored in an EROEI estimate. It is really very silly that this even comes up.


Interesting. They claim 0.026g uranium consumed per kWh electricity generated; they don't tell us whether this is yellowcake, enriched uranium, or just U-235. Since 1kWh = 3.6 x 106J, we find that they achieve at best

3.6 x 106J / 0.026g

or Energy out = 1.38 x 108J/g

Their spreadsheet gives interesting values for extraction, conversion, enrichment and so on of "uranium in ore": 0. That seems a bit low.

They tell us that "some" of their uranium comes from Olympic Dam - they don't say how much or where the rest comes from, except that some comes from another mine in Namibia - presumably if the rest came from mines which produce uranium more efficiently, they'd want us to know?

Anyway, Olympic Dam tells us that their operations go through,

fossil fuels, 5.477 x 1015J
uranium ore, 8.887 million tonnes, but producing only
yellowcake, "up to" 4,500 tonnes [source], which is 4.5 x 109 grams

Thus the energy going into producing yellowcake is,

5.477 x 1015J / 4.5 x 109g

or Energy in = 1.217 x 106 J/g

Energy out / Energy in = 1.38 x 108J/g / 1.217 x 106 J/g = 113:1

That is, the fossil fuel energy used in mining and refining, not accounting for shipping and transportation, is paid back 113 times over in electricity from the plant. I suppose the other 21 ratio must come from the other stuff.

The equation becomes worse for the plant if the 0.026g of "uranium" per kWh refers to U-235, to enriched uranium, rather than to yellowcake.

When you turn yellowcake into enriched uranium fuel rods, you lose about 90% of the material, so if the "0.026g uranium consumed" refers to fuel rods, the EROEI would drop from 113 to about 11 or so.

U-235 is about 0.7% of yellowcake, so if they were only talking about that then the EROEI would be... 0.8:1.

That's the difficulty with the EROEI figures - or anything else - for nuclear. More than any other energy source it seems to attract partisan work. People begin by loving or hating it, and making assumptions which will give them the conclusions they want, and they're deliberately vague about areas which could give less than the impression they want.

Something about nuclear, for both supporters and detractors, attracts a load of old bollocks.

I agree that proper EROI calculations are difficult, depend critically on what assumptions are made, and provide ample opportunities to fiddle them.
They are not unlike company accounts in that respect, of which we have recent experience of the figures given being there to deceive, with junk rated as AAA assets.
If many of these calculations were serious, the least I would expect when for instance a figure is givn for 'nuclear EROI' is a range statement to take account of whether re-processing is used.
Many of the calculations floating around also assume that the old-fashioned process is used to refine the fuel in the first place, which is far more energy intensive.
That is fine and can be justified on the grounds that it expresses historic ratios, but these blanket figures are then used to counter arguments for more nuclear build, when anyone in their right mind will use the far less energy intensive modern refining processes.
Overall they make about as much sense as statements of bank solvency, and it would be a full time job to sort out all the misrepresentations involved, with some of the stupid assumptions which have been laid bare I can only conclude that they mostly represent polemics, rather than serious attempts to calculate EROI.
Unlike many other forms of energy, the potential is certainly there in nuclear at least on the technical level to greatly increase energy efficiency, and that is by huge amounts, which also makes it more unwise to draw conclusions about the advisability of future nuclear build from these calculations.
BTW, my remarks should be taken as applying to pro nuclear calculations to nearly the same extent, although I much prefer an approach which looks in detail at a single plant rather than attempts to make sweeping statements for the whole nuclear industry.

Where nuclear is concerned - surely the largest part of the problem
is the 'Garbage Out' both during a reactors working life and also
during decommissioning.

Your comment is wholly irrelevant to a discussion on EROI, and is perhaps indicative of why EROI calculations from those with a prejudice against nuclear contain such gross inaccuracies.

On the actual issue, here is an example of some of the lengths that have been gone to in the attempt to 'prove' a low EROI for nuclear:

This paper also grossly over-estimates the energy cost of mining low-grade Ores and also that the efficiency of extraction of Uranium from reserves would fall dramatically at ore concentrations below 0.05%. Employing their calculations predicts that the energy cost of extracting the Olympic Dam mine's yearly production of 4600 tonnes of Uranium would require energy equivalent to almost 2 one-GigaWatt power plants running for a full year (2 GigaWat-years). You can follow this calculation here. This is larger than the entire electricity production of South Australia and an order of magnitude more than the measured energy inputs.

This kind of argumentation is convincing only to those who have already made up their minds on ideological grounds.

Where nuclear is concerned - surely the largest part of the problem
is the 'Garbage Out' both during a reactors working life and also during decommissioning.

is answered with

Your comment is wholly irrelevant to a discussion on EROI, and is perhaps indicative of why EROI calculations from those with a prejudice against nuclear contain such gross inaccuracies.

How so? The energetics of the entire life cycle are relevant, from mining to decommissioning and storage and disposal. How can it not be relevant?

And not just energetics, but damage to ultimate resources, soil, water, etc. These considerations apply to ALL alternative sources.

Nuclear presumes the continuation of societies that are able to maintain and support a high level of technological and physical infrastructure. It's a huge gamble, one that more and more it looks like we'd lose. We could leave our heirs a huge mess they will not be equipped to handle.

BTW, what's the distinction between "ideological" opposition to nuclear and "ideological" support for it?

The comment was not on the EROI of waste disposal, but on the fact that there is waste with it's alleged problems.
I would favour burning the waste in reactors designed for that use, so further improving the EROI.

The distinction between ideological opposition to nuclear power and support for it is that most of us who are pro-nuclear are quite happy to consider and use other energy sources as appropriate in addition to nuclear power, and so our consideration of alternative energy sources in any given situation is ideology free.
For instance I am quite happy to use solar as and where it is appropriate, whereas some oppose nuclear in every location and assert that renewables should be used, ignoring the fact that by their nature renewables are location specific - it is a good idea to chose a sunny location if you want to use solar, for instance.

Presumably the challenge of replacing oil and gas in a low carbon way in a very short order is not difficult enough, so it is deemed a good idea to come up with objections to the only low carbon source of energy proven to be able to provide most of the electricity for a society at large scale, however fanciful many of the objections might have to be.

I am putting it to you that the waste issue is an EROI issue: that is: waste disposal, decommissioning, storage must all be included in EROI if it's to mean anything. You're telling me that the waste-burning reactors will leave behind something not needing further processing, not needing storage, not needing decommissioning? And I'm putting it to you that the mining, refining, the soil and environmental destruction, insofar as it can be cured with energy, and it cannot all be, must also be included. The key thing, again, is complete life-cycle calculations -- for ALL alternatives, not just nuclear.

And again I'm putting it to you that some estimate of the likely future infrastructure capabilities, however difficult that may be, must be included. Engineers can (let's say) guarantee safe and proper operation of nuclear reactors if certain procedures are followed. Can they guarantee that these procedures will be followed in the possibly diminished societies that will inherit these reactors? Or, might there be lapses in times of decay?

And I am putting it to you that almost all of this 'concern' over the EROI of nuclear power comes from people who would not want nuclear if it had an EROI of 1000:1.

This is because, as darwinsdog has remarked in this thread, the boundary conditions are so difficult to determine that you can pretty much come up with most figures, although some of the contortions the low EROI camp have had to make to make their claims go beyond daft.
EROI has mainly been used for polemical purposes because it is a measure which allows a great deal of confusion to be created, and it has mainly been used for this purpose.

The link I gave to the Vattenfall figures did include an estimate for waste disposal, I believe.

In any case,t he notable thing about nuclear waste is that the really nasty stuff decays very quickly, that is why it is nasty, and after that it is a perfectly acceptable solution to put it in a barrel, which in my view is the correct place to store it as it will be very valuable as a fuel in the future, and the energy used in doing that is tiny.
The decay to below the radioactivity levels of the ore it came from is also a relatively quick matter.

If you want to worry about something, worry about all the waste like mercury left laying around - that has a half life of infinity.
Coal, which has always been the real as opposed to fancied alternative for base load generation, even after it has spewed out enormous quantities of pollutant whilst being burnt, including uranium, leaves vast mounts of waste behind, and the getting of the coal is laying waste to mountains and streams in West Virginia.

Ah, but I totally agree with you on coal. My alternative is a staged retrenchment to sustainability.

I have no idea which country you live in, but presumably you envisage this society being powered by renewables.
Your somewhat heroic assumption is that everywhere renewables can do the job, when by nature renewables vary from area to area, as does the population they have to support.
Not content with the challenge of transitioning from oil and gas, which incidentally is the resource which currently makes the contribution of renewables possible as it covers intermittency, you want to run the lot everywhere on resources which currently provide only a tiny fraction of world power, and to do that in a big bang so that massive amounts of power are provided everywhere.

Your staged retrenchment will be rapid and total collapse, with the vast majority of the population dying. Please differentiate between serious engineering proposals and fancies which depend on progress in technologies which are uncertain and would take years to scale.

At the moment we can use coal and nuclear, and wind power can help to some extent.
That is it regards engineering we can do right now.
You have not got an alternative, you simply have a theory, and it is not in any way realistic.
So by your reckoning you can discard all of the major energy sources which currently keep up going, and replace them or trade down whilst the economy is collapsing.
Please, get real.
It simply means mass death, which rather puts the 'concerns' about the safety of nuclear power in perspective.

I'm something of a nuclear agnostic, but even ignoring the EROEI question of nuclear, it does seem to me that as we fumble along on the plateau, the upfront fossil fuel investment in nuclear is a major issue in cost terms. We speak about nuclear or renewables becoming cost competetive all the time, of course, but most recently, that ability to compete has come because the cost of fossil fuel driven electricity has risen heavily across the board. Given that all nuclear plants require massive subsidies from taxpayers, the fact that the cost of the energy they produce may be prohibitive in the future seems at a minimum, an under-addressed question (note, I realize this applies to most potential sources of electricity in the future, perhaps more so to most renewables - and I think the question bears regardless).

In a volatile market, where nuclear plant costs may involve huge overruns, and require an enormous upfront energy investment, the question becomes in part whether, regardless of all other critiques or claims about nuclear, whether nuclear power in the US built now will ever provide affordable electricity. With almost 20% of all US utility customers in debt to their utilities already, it seems worth asking whether we are prepared to subsidize electricity across the board, or whether our best investment is in any electrical system that is largely unaffordable to a chunk of our population in a lower energy and probably poorer world.

I don't actually claim to know the answer to this - but I'm wary of what I see as potentially a tiered energy system in the US and other nations, where more and more people (and perhaps the most strapped regions and public services) simply can't afford to pay for electricity for their own use, while enormous national subsidies that come out of their pockets then subsidize nuclear electricity for the wealthy.

Just a thought,


I'd be concerned that in the US financing power plants, in particular nuclear and perhaps renewables, will be very difficult.
The EROI concerns on nuclear are pretty manufactured.
See my links above.
For example, they typically include old technology to produce the fuel, when they know full well that using the latest technology reduces this massively.
As a couple of quick points to show the extremes which have been gone to to produce this 'concern', consider that simply re-processing as they do in France routinely would greatly increase ERO1.
Technologies are also available to greatly increase burn.
They haven't done so chiefly because fuel, above all in it's unprocessed state, costs a fraction of total costs.

The real massive subsidies have always been for the fossil fuel industries, which externalises almost all of it's costs, and should this continue then more coal plants are the likely result, and hang global warming.

DaveMart, I admire your comments here, but my own reading (and again, this is a subject on which I'm genuinely agnostic, and still forming an opinion) suggests that at the very least, it isn't quite as simple as "all the low numbers come from ideological opponents of nuclear power manipulating figures for an agenda." Honestly, I don't think that claim makes a balanced pro-nuclear case more compelling - rather the opposite.

I'm curious - why do you think funding will be particularly difficult in the US? I would think that the UK's financial situation is probably at least as shaky, right at this moment, and utility price rises there, are from what I'm reading, quite a concern. Whatever mechanisms we use to resolve this are going struggle, in much of the world, from lack of money - at least for a while.

No argument here that fossil fuels have received enormous subsidies - and I don't, in principle, have any serious objection to subsidizing useful technologies that have a lower impact. But I do object to subsidizing increasing inequity - that is, to funding the development of secure electricity for the wealthy, while the poor have no power and no infrastructure for living without power.

One subject I've never seen explored is this - given existing nuclear power plants, and money to keep them going, existing hydro, and existing renewables (Am I remembering correctly that that's about 13% of total electrical production in the US? I'm away from my desk and can't look it up) how much of our existing public infrastructure could the US (and it would be interesting to ask this question for other nations as well) could we maintain? That is, if, in the end, we don't have the money to do a massive build out, what kind of infrastructure would we be left with if we prioritized our resources for public needs?

Merely curious.


Hi Sharon, admiration returned manyfold! - I think some of your contributions on trying to keep people eating are outstanding, and am increasingly more interested myself in trying to figure out just how to keep people warm by insulating one room and so on, rather than debating theoretical objections to this and that with people who have an absolute ideological objection to nuclear power.
In my view, as things get tougher they will simply be marginalised, although the damage has already been done.

As for why I emphasise difficulties in raising finance in the US and not the UK it is certainly not because I feel that the UK will find it any easier to raise the money.
It is because the UK does not have a realistic alternative, and the US does to a large extent.

For instance, the wind resource in the States is far larger, with plenty of possibilities of generating power on land, which is much cheaper than at sea..
Now I feel that the problems of providing over 20% or so of the grid are far larger than proponents indicate, but that still means that the US can vastly increase the use of that resource, and the much quicker build time makes it much easier to finance than nuclear, although it does imply a still substantial natural gas burn to make up for intermittency, but the US in fact still has substantial but not infinite NG supplies.

If I were American, the first priority after conservation would be strengthening the national grid, which Gail has rightly emphasised.
In the UK, my fist priority is certainly to get on and build some nuclear stations, as you can't support 60 million in the UK climate without.

In America combined power through the use of biogas, solar and wind may also be possible in rural areas, as this German experiment showed:

I am also a big fan of Nanosolar's approach to solar power:
Using this approach you build on the ground, where it is cheap and easy to maintain, and the size of the units of 2-10MW is also pretty optimal for maintenance, but at the same time you don't need to transmit it long distances or even step it down.
Combined with the use of biogas and wind that should meet a large amount of the US need.
Trying to use solar other than residential solar thermal in the UK or in specific off-grid applications is frankly batty.
It is too far north, and too cloudy, so when you need it most in winter you have absolutely minimal power at a huge installed cost, so you would have to run natural gas plants anyway, and I really don't think the UK will have access to the gas to do so.

Renewable are still in a tough spot in the US though, as like nuclear all their costs are up-front.
I suspect that more coal plants may be built instead, as much of the costs there are running costs and they have been incredibly successful in externalising their true costs.

As for market share, renewables have around 10% of the US market, nuclear around 12%:

Most of the renewables is big dams, with wind expanding rapidly.
Run of river is one to watch out for, as it has a lot of potential and is currently hindered by regulation, and like a lot of the other idea mentioned here would take some of the strain from Gail's grid! ;-)

The really neat thing about nuclear power is that it fits in very well with renewables, as it is good at some of the things that are difficult for renewables, like providing base-load power.
Much of the cost in the US is also as much regulatory as anything, I believe - I don't follow the US as closely as the UK.
Should the present 100 reactors be replaced with modern twin 1600GW designs, they could basically take care of the entire baseload of the US.

I don't know the answer to your question about how much infrastructure could be retained with existing nuclear and renewables, and doubt that much calculation could be done on it, as too many things would change in the process.
For a start, most of the roads, and certainly many lanes of highways, would not be needed, and most houses in that scenario would simply have to be abandoned.
Also it would make no sense to try to keep existing reactors going indefinitely, as at some stage replacement would cost less than repair, and that applies however broke the society is, as for the 100 reactor sites maintenance would cost enough for all of them that at some stage some would be sacrificed to build one new one, and they are much bigger than most current reactors.

Finally, to get back to your question on my statements on EROI and some of the calculations made, the fundamental problem is that as darwinsdog notes elsewhere, it is almost impossible to set the boundary conditions to attain any general agreement on them.
This means that they are a bit of a happy hunting ground for those seeking to confuse the issue, as well as providing scope for genuine disagreement.
In particular for nuclear power you come up with radically different figures if you just assume re-processing, which just about everyone save the Americans use.
The assumptions in the calculations that I have seen which give low EROI though go way beyond that, and make such extreme assumptions that I can only assume that they intentionally seek to mislead.
Here is a link I quoted earlier:
As you can see here, they manage to come up with figures:

The Rossing mine has a lower Uranium concentration (0.03% vs 0.05% by weight) than Olympic Dam and the discrepancy is even larger in the case of Rossing. Here SLS predict Rossing should require 2.6 Giga-Watt-Years of energy for mining and milling. The total consumption of all forms of energy in the country of Namibia is equivalent to 1.5 GigaWatt-Years, much less than the prediction for the mine alone.

Now this is such a gross error that I can't imagine that it is just an oversight.
A more recent 'estimation' of a low EROI for nuclear published the actual assumptions used in very obscure place, whilst bruiting the alleged low EROI of nuclear very loudly.

In addition, increasing the fuel burn of reactors is not difficult, it is just that uranium has been so cheap it hasn't been worth the bother.

I notice that the people who are apparently so concerned with the low EROI are not using that to suggest more efficient burn in better reactors, but are pretty much the usual suspects who would not want nuclear if it had an EROI of 1000:1

In short, EROI is a dubious measure often wilfully misapplied.

Clearly a case of people talking past each other at angles, rather than to each other. It would appear that there are a vocal minority who will never accept that nuclear generation is viable, no matter what facts may be presented.

1) Using a 40 year life figure for nuclear generating stations is ridiculous. Given standard refurbishments every 20 years, as now common practice, there appears to be no economic reason to every retire a nuclear plant once commissioned. Refurbishments, though economically costly (and already costed in product sell prices), involve relatively little energy input.

2) Most of the above assumes never reprocessing fuel for re-use, a ridiculous assumption IF world generating could ever get its act together and standardize unit design and operation, eg. France.

3) Most of above assumes never using breeders/thorium/whatever-in-future, again a ridiculous handicap.

I personally am convinced that large central solar-thermal-transmission combined with distributed solar-thermal-CHP is already sufficiently developed and proven with the capability to bring the entire world up to the economic standards of the OECD, including transportation, and with very little negative consequences environmentally, so don't really care about the nuclear issue either way. What I DO care about is the doomer/defeatist promotion of "reversion to hunter-gathering" basis for much of the anti-nuclear sentiment. Oponents of nuclear are clearly well-divided into two camps. One is people who think, as I do, that society can maintain a decent standard of life for everyone but are willing to "get there" slower by making solar bootstrap its own development energy (which I would prefer to use nuclear for). Two is those who for some unstated reason want all society everywhere to revert to some unanalysed dream world of pre-industrial utopia (which I adamantly oppose, correctly identifying it as an attempt to grab power by people who are for various reasons disfunctional in present circumstances).

From now on I will require opponents of nuclear to identify their position on the "ideal outcome" question before any further consideration. Everyone else in the debate should do so as well.

My ideal scenario (say 50-100 years hence):

- Energy use per capita for the world at or higher than US levels today.

- This coming mainly from nuclear breeder reactors (U and Th); personal transport mostly EVs.

- Also including renewables (Wind, solar CSP, hydro), with the goal of always generating more electricity than required, and balancing the grid by variable-usage plants producing liquid fuels, ammonia and the like.

- Most food prodiction to be part-synthetic (Vat grown meat and basic carbs, for instance); much less land devoted to agriculture.

- Real efforts to develop off-world colonies.

- CO2 emissions reduced to near-zero; all industrial processes to be as closed-cycle as possible.

I'm in the 'I want to stay warm and keep the light on' camp, and willing to use whatever is practicable to do so! :-)

I would disagree with you about the present readiness of solar thermal to provide base load for reasons of intermittency.
This is not referring to storage for night-time power, as that is possible to overcome, although it should be noted that the technology to do so is still not fully developed, for instance if you wish to use molten salt technology to provide the storage then they are still testing and refining this, in Spain, for example. The problem is that you have to make darn sure it doesn't freeze, which it does at a couple of hundred degrees centigrade, so then the sun is not shining you have to keep the pipes warm.
Similar issues apply to other storage technologies, and it should be noted that it is one thing to have a large pilot plant running, which still has to be done for most of the technologies, and quite another to obtain the operating experience to reasonably go ahead with a world wide roll-out to provide many GW of power.

Nevertheless, I am confident that this can be done, but we don't have the technology actually to hand at this moment.

The big issue for all except equatorial locations is annual variability.
To take a very favourable location, Cairo, which is at around 30 degrees North, for a start you only have fewer daylight hours in midwinter compared to midsummer:
and then even at peak the power availabl3e is only around 70% of the maximum available in midsummer:
If you skim through to the relevant chart, the problem is clear.
This maximum is also maintained for a much briefer period, and the 'apron' of relatively high isolation is much shallower in the winter months.

Without going through a detailed calculation, it is clear from the above that even in so favourable a location as Cairo, only around 30% or so of the power available in the summer is available in the winter.
Things of course get worse as you go further from the equator.

The Mohave, for instance, is at around 34% north.
Two more factors need taking into account, on opposite sides of the ledger:
In winter there is more cloud cover, and that is critical for solar thermal, as it does not work in overcast, some other forms such as amorphous silicon are more tolerant.
As against that, in these very hot regions the highest use in in hot weather, with demand only being around 70% of summer demand.

It is therefore clear that in non-equatorial regions the use of solar thermal for baseload would require a very large overbuild, and that schemes to transport this power to heat the northern states in midwinter when their demand is highest are absurd.
In this context it should be noted that the TREC proposals to provide power from Algeria to Europe are in fact proposals at this time to provide natural gas, with a small solar component:

All of these difficulties disappear if you use solar energy for what it is currently good at, peaking power, and provide your base load by nuclear.

It should also be noted that in some areas, particularly rural, a combination of wind, solar and biogas looks like it can do the job:
I'd hope for grid parity for PV by 2015, and certainly expect a really major contribution from solar, but I don't feel that the present costs of solar thermal are anything like good enough to allow for the degree of overbuild needed in most places to use solar thermal for baseload.

I hope you find some of the data in this rather long post interesting!

In winter there is more cloud cover, and that is critical for solar thermal, as it does not work in overcast,

Actually not likely, and definitely not in any northern climate where drastic temperature drops take ABSOLUTE humidity down to very low numbers. I know for example that in Northern Minesota (sp?) a solar collector with vacuum insulation gains nearly as much energy-per-day average in winter as in summer (and it's presently economically viable throughout, both for direct heat and for CHP with a stirling engine). The trick, IF you want low cost as the only goal, is to mass produce a viable collector system in such large quantities that complete robotic manufacture is justified. Or being a good economic protestant you could alternatively, keep the price a bit higher and make a lot of people work to manufacture them. Just a matter of choice of economic organization.

Have you got any links for that, at all?
The information I had referred to the large scale set-ups such as solar towers and mirror arrays, which I understand do not like cloud cover at all.
AFAIK the vacuum tube collectors are mainly used on residential solar thermal set-ups, where I certainly support them.
Someone who has a vacuum based residential set-up also said on this site the other day that on cloudy days in winter, the efficiency plummeted, which surprised me, whereas it was fine on bright, cold days in winter.

BTW, I would favour building solar thermal as fast as we can anyway, as they are great for peak load in hot areas, and it will be ages before we have to worry about any difficulties in supplying base load with them.
However, base load supply will not be easy by this means, and the way to go would seem to me to be to use other sources for this.

Note on this set of data, Fairbanks, AK gets better insolation than any place in NY state which is much further south.

Its true that all solar plants currently being built are in areas of the highest insolation available, eg. AZ and CA where they are presently achieving approx. $0.12/kwh presently, planning to get to $0.05 / kwh once orders for 8.2 GW are in hand, and why go to AK if a market exists in AZ, but the differences from there to most other places in the USA are not insurmountable, eg. from Tucson AZ to Schenectedy NY simply increases the collector aperature / kwh required by 6.55 / 3.55 = 185% (at about $500 / kw now, sb. $350 / kw future).

Sure more storage too, but latest plants are using a non-freezing thermal fluid and large tanks of sand and gravel (cost basically zero) for thermal storage.

See. Assessment of Parabolic Trough and Power Tower Solar Technology Cost and Performance Forecasts - Sargent & Lundy LLC Consulting Group Chicago, Illinois

Agreed, would still need some fossil fueled backup heat burners to heat the thermal fluid for long periods when sun doesn't shine, but that would be best done using a cheap peaker turbine generator as the burner, with the exhaust heat creating steam for the solar station's turbine. We have enough natural gas to do that for a LONG time, and eventually can use eg. stored hydrogen or etc. from solar or fusion energy for that.

I don't really see how this relates to either the performance of solar thermal under cloudy conditions or the main thrust of my critique of the use of solar thermal for base load.

From you link to the stats for Fairbanks, it is apparent that just the length of the day is far shorter than in the summer, and then you have to take into account the profile of how much weaker it is even when it is shining, to attain a profile similar to the one I have provided for Cairo.
It would then be readily apparent that the amount of solar isolation on an average mid-winter day is a small fraction of that in summer, so you have very little when you most need it.

As for the other pdf link, present solar thermal stations are built for peak load, and simply run natural gas when it is not available.

The storage methods you mention are fine, for coping with diurnal variation and it should be noted that I have explicitly said that that is possible, but can't conceivably make up for the variation between winter and summer.

I should have stated that solar thermal is fine for some intermittent cloud, and much better than PV, as the thermal mass takes time to cool, but it runs into difficulties during protracted periods of cloud, as is common in many locations.

The main point though is simply the one of latitude.
You don't get much sunshine in the winter compared to the summer, and so you either have to vastly overbuild to make up for that, or burn gas instead, and in northern regions the winter is when demand peaks.

Agreed, the data offered doesn't illustrate northern winter v.s. summer as I was looking for, will keep looking for that data, I have seen it.

Not quite what I was looking for, but relevant, discussing Ireland.

Placing the solar panel flat on the ground, leads to an output which is negligible in winter, however any angle over 60° gives a excellent winter output (70° is optimum), by further increasing the angle up to 90° reduces spring output, but also significantly reduces summer excess heat.

These outputs can be scaled, e.g. at 60° 5 square meters of panels will give 105 kWhr a month in January, (equivalent to 3.4 kWhr per day, or the immersion heater on for just over 1 hour).

Point here is that a LOT of what you've probably seen out there MAY be based on non-tracking collector systems, or worse on "raw insolation" data which doesn't correct for the increased ground surface area per unit insolation as one goes further from the poles.

Agreed winter days are shorter, and that can't be entirely beaten, but is compensated quite a bit by reduced ABSOLUTE atmospheric humidity in very cold weather.

Len, none of this addresses the basic issue, which is the difference between winter and summer sunshine, not the absolute efficiency of collection.
An adjustable system would also perform better in the summer as well as in the winter, so you would still need an overbuild to supply power in the winter, relatively small although still large in the southern desert areas such as the Mohave, particularly as winter use is relatively low in Southern California where the problem is more staying cool in summer than heating in winter, but massive as you go further north.

All these problems are avoided if different sources are used where they are most appropriate, and they aren't made to be a square peg in a round hole.

At the moment solar thermal looks as though it is on the edge of being the cheapest way of generating peak power in hot, fairly cloud free areas, although it is by no means a done deal there as actual costs so far in Spain in their set-ups are way higher than US grid costs, and as that is the most suitable location it should be borne in mind that water for cooling is a real issue in those areas - dry cooling may be possible, but adds to cost and again engineering experience would be needed for a massive run out.
You have to cool nuclear and coal too, but neither inherently has to be located in a water stressed area.
PV in these dry areas is best in this respect, if costs can be reduced.

I am all in favour of a solar thermal build, but present capabilities should not be over-estimated.
We haven't even got solar thermal plants running which are cheapest for peak power, let alone base load.
It should also be noted that economics mean that instead of overbuilding, the difference would be made up by natural gas burn in the winter to make use of the installed equipment - exactly as is being done in Algeria, which I linked to earlier.

One of the best fixes for latitude issues is Extra High-Voltage DC transmission, eg. at +- 765 VDC or more is is VERY viable to transmit electricity >1,500 km or more, which for eg. Europe would get most northern population covered with solar from Spain or even the Sahara. If the question is "die in the dark" or "build a 3,000 km DC transmission line", which would you choose?

The other advantage of long DC transmission lines is how neatly they can tie regions together to share supplies when cloudy days interrupt. It's a LOT less distance to tie a generating station in Jordan to a generating station in Morroco if they each have been provided transmission lines straight north to Lat. 50 first.

I also meant to add that I advocate a REALLY smart grid system to complement this build of solar generation, where customer meters are connected via continuous communication links to a central independent market database of electricity suppliers, prices changing according to supply and demand on 15 minute intervals, and the meters themselves are made smart enough that they can send signals into the home to control cycles of AC units, fridges, heat pumps, PHEV vehicles etc. according to temperature settings and market prices. IMEUC. It will do a great job of matching loads to availablility according to actual market conditions, keeping dumb politicians and laywers thumbs off the scales.

Independent Market for Every Utility Customer - Preliminary Business Case

Independent Market for Every Utility Customer - Part 2 - Market Operation

Independent Market for Every Utility Customer - Part 3 - Alternative Market Operation

Energy Central Blogs - IMEUC - Independent Market for Every Utility Customer

In Tucson there is not more cloud cover in winter than summer. That probably holds for the entire Sonora Desert. I don't have any objection to nuclear powered baseload and solar powered peakers, but it is going to be a long time before we have enough solar electric to worry about it. I don't have an opinion on the best way to heat northern homes in the winter. Seems like showing solar power is not the way to heat homes in winter is attacking a strawman. Who said it was? I would guess better insulation and burning wood pellets or a heat pump or a ground exchange loop is the way to go but it isn't my area of expertise.

Robert a Tucson

My info on some of the issues comes from someone who is in the solar energy industry in Southern California, so I don't really have extensive links.
I understand that there may be some issues with cloud cover in SoCal, but that is not really the main point, as it is annual variation that makes it so difficult to use solar for baseload.

There are plenty of people who are trying to argue that solar power is the way to heat northern homes in winter, see for instance the subsidies in Germany for solar or the SciAm article:

I completely agree that we can and should try to make progress with building solar thermal and that it will be a long time before we have to worry about using it for baseload.
My objection to arguments that it is currently practicable is because it is often used as an argument for why nuclear power is supposed to be not needed.
I want to go as fast as we can on both, and to do so we need to remain clear and focussed on what both can do at the moment.

Please note that this is not an ideological objection, as I am perfectly fine about using as much solar as is reasonable.
Should something like this work out:

then the cost might be so low that solar energy could be used for baseload in hot areas in spite of the need to overbuild it, but we should not count on it ahead of time, and even if something like this worked it is a real stretch to imagine northern areas being powered in winter this way.

If I use rainfall as a proxy for cloud cover, the Mojave gets most of its rain from winter Pacific storms. The Eastern Sonora gets most of its rain in the Summer and the western Sonora desert is half and half. Southern California is not the whole world.

I didn't see in the Scientific America article where they suggested using solar energy to heat homes. It looks like their plan is to make solar electricity first and then solar transportation second. Of course, it's a loooong article.

My objection to nuclear power goes to its cost. While photovoltaic may currently be even more expensive a) PV replaces retail electricity so the proper comparison is to what the utilities charge me b) The cost of PV is well controlled. The cost of a new nuclear plant is a black hole. c) PVs will get cheaper going forward. Nukes more expensive.

In a place like Tucson, I worry about the water consumption of a nuke. Palo Verde operates on Phoenix's waste water. We use our grey water to water golf courses so I wouldn't even count reclaimed water as surplus.

New nukes might be necessary right now. I don't know.

I did not say SoCal was the whole world, but it is one region where a number of solar thermal plants are being considered or built.
I am not sure that rainfall is an adequate proxy for cloud cover, as in many areas cloud may pass over desert regions, only shedding their rain when they hit the mountains, which may well be the case in SoCal.

The electricity in the Sci-Am article was to power the country, which would include heating the houses presumably.

As and when PV drops in price enough to be practical I am perfectly happy that it should be used, and indeed have posted elsewhere in this thread on a number of schemes to bring that date forward as much as possible.
Water problems are even worse for solar thermal, as by definition they work best in areas where water shortage is most acute.
PV of course is better than either for this.

At the moment though we have oil rapidly disappearing, and no chance that gas can replace it.
What we actually know how to do is build nuclear power for base load, so I would suggest that it is a good idea to do so until a better alternative comes along, as well as wind where that is a good resource.

Davemart: If your read my posts above you'll see that I support nuclear for baseload IF THE CHOICE IS EITHER NUCLEAR OR FOSSIL FUELS. Two issues with nuclear at present however. 1) the power from it is going to be more expensive than we're presently used to, well above $0.10 / kwh wholesale for 24 hr average. Which means in a deregulated market it will charge >$0.14 / kwh during daytime and <$0.04 / kwh at nite in order to compete in the dispatch order because the power is almost useless then. See my articles referenced above. At $0.14 / kwh, we can certainly start immediately to build at least the "8.2 MW by 2020" Sargent & Lundy's engineering report (above) states is necessary to get the price down to $0.05 / kwh "when the sun shines". 2) I have almost no faith in present estimates of cost to build new nuclear. Given present estimates place the average cost / kwh 24/7 at >$0.09 ($0.14 on-peak, $0.04 off-peak) I'll bet it will actually come in at >$0.15 once the lawyers get done with it. At that point, I say start building solar thermal ANYWHERE, if you need water then move there.

It is more cost-effective IMHO. But don't wait for my approval, go ahead and build nuclear. I won't buy shares though, and won't support government direct investment unless max. effort goes into solar thermal first.

If you read my posts above you will see that I am totally in favour of building solar thermal as fast as can be done, and the demand just from producing peaking power in hot areas mean that this will keep everyone concerned busy for a long time.

What concerns me is when solar thermal is presented as a currently practicable alternative such that nuclear is not needed.
I don't seek to imply that you do so, but from our discussion I feel that you are overestimating the present capability of solar thermal in non-residential applications.

I doubt that new power either solar thermal, nuclear or wind will come in at under $0.15kwh when all costs are taken into account.
The only reason coal does so is that it has suceeded in externalising most of it's costs.

Power prices will rise, but $0.15 is still way less than Europeans pay.
Decent building standards and the use of things like air heat pumps should make that OK in terms of total cost.

In the UK the problem is likely to be having energy at all, so you guys are still pretty lucky.
It should be noted that as and when better alternatives became available, the build could always be switched.
If things don't pan out though it is nice to still have power, even if it does cost more than people in the US are accustomed to.

WOT ME WORRY (Alfred E Neuman etc)

I Intuit that the intellectuals are starting to live a double life already. One exploiting the present system to the full and one where all the things are in place to go nomadic.

The Stoic, Seneca advocated in 30AD that every rich man had better spend a few days each year living as a poor man, because it could easily be so.

Anybody who is not already making long term plans for declining oil and adjusting their lifestyle by 180*, gets no sympathy from me when it all happens.

Like Musical-chairs we never know when the music will stop. Famous last words are things like: "Well I will save just one more year before I decide. As soon as I have paid for this (House, car) I will start changing for the future. As soon as the kids leave home I can plan for a different future and etc".

This latest Credit crunch has proven that the world can go to hell in a very short order.

Now is decision time, and if Hell never arrives, that is even better.


I thought that the comments on natural gas in Spain were interesting.

If we put Spain's problems with natural gas together with the ones Rune wrote about in the last few days for UK, we are looking at the possibility of fairly major problems in Europe, very soon. Natural gas is used for electrical generation, so one worries that there will be electrical outages, if insufficient planning is done.

If you think that that's bad, try looking at Ireland - massive import dependance, main source of imports.. the UK!

I understand that the domestic supply of NG is basically inviolate - turning it off or depressurising it would be extremely dangerous and quite possibly result in a lot of older home heating systems failing. Industrial customers will lose supply first, then electricity generation; I'd guess that you'd see peak-time rolling blackouts.

The cheapest, quickest option for some areas in Europe bordering France may be to pay for more interconnects with the French grid, and for air-source heat pumps in French homes, who with cheap electricity have little incentive to install them themselves, although the Government there is planning to install 5 million over a few years, presumably by incentivising their uptake.
Solar water heaters could also be installed in France, especially the South.

The 'negawatts' thus created would then be available for export, to northern Spain, to northern Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and the UK.

That's a sharp remark Gail, Natural Gas poses us more problems than Oil. But in Spain's particular case things are not that grim, because that projected growth will never happen. Simply put, the state's house boom is over and with it will go the incredible growth in energy consumption.

Another point to consider is that Spain and Portugal get all their piped Gas from North Africa, not from the East. So we are to some extent insulated from the problems arising from the increasing demand on Russian Gas. At the moment the most vulnerable states are those in the British Isles and Italy. France is also at the pipe's end, but is far less reliant on Natural Gas.

Not withstanding, our reliance on LNG is a different story, especially if declining EROEI forces the US to enter the market seriously. In such case all states of the EU can suffer.

Some hard facts about Italy and nat gas;

  • 39 % of primary energy consumption from nat gas as of 2007
  • Indigenous production covering 11 % and in sharp decline
  • 86 % (72,5 Gcm in 2007) imported by pipeline approximately 23 Gcm from both Russia and Algeria in 2007
  • 3 % (2,4 Gcm in 2007) imported as LNG

Recently new supply agreements were entered into with Gazprom.


It would seem like North Africa is a safer source of piped imports than Russia - not so far and less competition from other countries. Also, we may be heading into a cold winter, but I don't think that will affect North Africa much.

I don't see the US as a serious LNG importer for quite a while. We are not willing to pay the high prices LNG has been commanding recently. If the UK is seriously short of natural gas, I would think that could compete sooner.

Some hard facts about Spain and nat gas;

  • 21 % of primary energy consumption from nat gas as of 2007
  • Negligible indigenous production
  • 31 % (11 Gcm in 2007) imported by pipeline
  • 69 % (24,2 Gcm in 2007) imported as LNG


I was once asked to create a guest post regarding Hungary that I sent a month or so ago. The picture was even less rosy. Unfortunately my post (sent in an e-mail) may have been lost somewhere on the TOD server, because I never received any response (and before that I was communicating frequently with some of the staff).

But all this having happened during the financial meltdown I fully understood all this. Things more concerning to you have happened in that period.

Anyway, the Eastern European countries and Hungary especially are in far greater trouble than Italy or Spain. Or even the UK. That much I can say in this single post. :-)

Some few hard facts about Hungary and nat gas;

  • 43 % of primary energy consumption from nat gas as of 2007
  • Indigenous production covering 10 %+
  • 67 % (7,9 Gcm in 2007) imported by pipeline from Russia in 2007, 15 % from Germany

The high reliance on nat gas from Russia in many easterly European countries makes these interesting for a closer look.
Many of these countries have tried to diversify their nat gas supplies by trying to enter into agreements with Norway.

84% of our gas comes directly or indirectly from Russia. (Germany being the indirect path.)More than 80% of our oil is coming from Russia. 100% of our Uranium comes from Russia, our atomic power plant is 30 years old and Soviet made. We cannot buid new reacctors ourselves, we cannot enrich Uranium. (Some 35% of our electricity comes from our APP.) we have some Uranium but cannot even mine it succesfully. The rights have recently been given to WildHorse, an Australian company.

We have high and ever increasing debt, the country is fairly close to going bankrupt. Furthermore, we have worse political ties with Russia than ever before in the last 20 years.

We import about 90% of our energy, mainly coming from Russia. We have no hopes of other pipelines, Nabucco is a (pipe)dream and we are not part of the Russian-backed energy corridor. We have no army to speak of.

Speaking of renewable energy... we are dead last in Europe. Some hard facts.

Hungary is also a EU member and recently turned to IMF for loans,

Europe Faces `Huge Threat' as Emerging Markets Slide (Update2)

Eastender, you are not understating the challenges facing Hungary and other nations in a similar position.

I'm fully aware of the loan issue.

But why do you think I don't understand the challenges we face? (I may indeed not, but why do you think I don't? I think I do. What have I said that made you think I don't understand something?)

I am sorry if my wording came out a little clumsy.

I used the word understate NOT understand.

What I intended to express was that Hungary's energy challenges are indeed severe.

You are right, sorry. I misread what you wrote.

However, I didn't want to UNDERSTATE our problems. My gut feeling is that we (Hungary) as a country face enormous problems that simply cannot be solved. We are at others' mercy.


That was exactly what I tried to express.

There are several central/easternly European countries who are in the same position. That is they are heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies.

And I agree this is absolutely worth posts and discussions on TOD E.

A Polish energy comapany recently established themselves in Stavanger, Norway and is trying to get (that is buy) shares in Norwegian oil and gas fields as efforts to diversify their supplies.

I'll resend my post next week then. Maybe this time it will make it. :-) (Should we face another financial meltdown, it will have to be rightfully ignored again, though.)


Could you copy me when you send the post? I know I haven't seen it.

GailTverberg at comcast dot net

I'll sure do. Not before Monday though, I'm on a different machine at the moment.

Rune, I believe Eastender was referring to the UK being last in renewable energy, and not trying to say that Hungary's overall position is better.
We are both pretty screwed overall, but I fancy Hungary's chances of keeping it's people eating as better than ours.

In fact I was saying that HUNGARY is dead last in Europe.

When using the words 'our' and 'us'... I meant HUNGARY. And I think we are in a MUCH worse condition than is the UK. Do we have a better chace to feed ourselves than you in the UK? Possibly.

But the way thigs are going here I'm not sure.

I found your handle of 'eastender' a touch confusing! :-)

Sorry for that.

Having lived in the UK for a little while, I assume you have a part of London on your mind. When choosing the handle I had Eastern Europe on mine. :-)

At any rate, the UK is in dire straits, indeed. But Hungary is no better trust me.

I don't know if you have come across this English language blog on Hungary:

The IMF conditions, as usual, are likely to make things worse rather than better.
Turkey is quite right in my view to do anything at all rather than go for an IMF loan.
Funny how the right answer for the US and other big economies is held to be more liquidity and bigger budget deficits, whilst the IMF lays waste to the smaller economies.

We should never have applied for such a loan, let alone accept the conditions proposed. However, the way things have been going lately, I have no doubt we will sign it. It will not help one bit, BTW. I know. But what can one do?

I have already bought some agricultural land and a small house. I secured the family's food supplies for a year or so. And in the meantime, I run a company engaged in critical infrastructure, giving advice to large firms and the government... only to be ignored of course.

That's the way life goes, I guess.

There is a tendency to assume that the same level of fossil fuel must be used for every new plant, forgetting the cascade effect. One nuclear plant can provide all of the energy needed to build the subsequent nuclear plants. If small modular pebble bed reactors are feasible, they can supply the energy for mining. The same concept applies to solar and wind. Fossil fuel only has to supply the seed energy. Murray

No one wants energy anyway.
What they want is what you can do with it.
Vast amounts of energy go on space heating and cooling, and the installation of heat pumps means that the efficiency can be raised by 3-4 times.

That's great.

And that will be £500 for using my picture of Ali Bakhtiari without permission!! ;) :P

This picture was originally hosted at without credits. You should be more carefull, someone stole it from you a long time ago. :P

Once upon a time I created my own version of oil depletion. I found the aggregate decline rate to be 5.7% in 2008. This number is increasing: it was 4.5% in 2006 and I project it to be 6.5% next year.

The model is fairly simple, and I made several posts about it a few months ago. My results were in good agreement with past and present production data. I had max flow rates (aka: peak oil) in 2010 and C&C production to be 60 mbpd by 2015. I also had a model of westexas' and Khebab's ELM, creating different goups out of the countries. Some of you may remember all this.

However, I would like to point out something else now.

When creating the aggregate decline rate, I was working with 3 main variables:

  • production in a given year (Y1)
  • megaproject becoming operational (actual production increase) in that year
  • production the next year(Y2)
  • Then I calculated a decline rate for each year (the difference between production in the two years minus the megaprojects, divided by the amount produced in Y1), and went on to calculate a moving average. I arrived at 5.7% in 2008. To finally get to the point I'd like to make, this figure (i.e.: 5.7%) is rather theoretical in nature: in the sense that one is unable to measure it - it can only be calculated. It has to be the wighted sum of the declining production of the individual wells.

    Older fields tend to decline 8-10% in my opinioin (w/o EOR)
    Newer fields are closer to 2-4%
    Deepwater fields: 12-15%

    The question is: What happens if developments come to a halt?

    1) There will be more and more aging fields
    2) There will be less and less newer fields
    3) EOR will be less pronoundced, due to it being uneconomical (though feasible)

    It all results in rapidly accelerating deline rates, very close to 10%. Which is effectively a 7 mbpd production loss each year. It (moving from 4.5 to 7 mbpd) can all happen in a mere 2 years. After that point, the world would need to replace 7 mbpd each year to stay even, compared to 4.5 mbpd today. That task cannot be done however hard one tries: there were not enough discoveries in the past, we simply do not have the inventory.

    To summarize all this: in case we fail to develop the fields NOW, we will not be able to do it later. GDP declines, economies struggle and it will become even less economical than it is now. I have to think that in case energy prices remain low for another 6-9 months, we will have hit the point of no return by then.

    Some sobering conclusions. Glad to see you posting again, eastender, and hope to see some more analysis from you in the future.

    And thanks, Louis de Sousa, for posting this summary of ASPO VII. Very informative.



    I read TOD more or less every day, but most of the time I don't feel like posting. There are way too many bright folks here, and I won't be posting something for the sake of posting alone. When I (rightly or wrongly) feel I have something useful to add, I write a few posts. At other times it's much better staying silent.

    That being said, thanks a lot for your response.

    In the future I may analyze things the way I see them from the Eastern European perspective, again. I'm sure it's awkward enough - due to it being different - for some of you to be interested. :-)

    Following was Salvador Pueyo from the Catalan Institute for Climate Sciences who presented an “Epidemic” model of Oil Depletion. He recalled how the logistic is based on Verhulst's model of population growth, for which the Plague of the XVII century is a classical example.

    Unfortunately Mr. Pueyo, the logistic model as applied to oil depletion has absolutely nothing to do with non-linear differential equations as applied to population growth.
    It actually comes about from dispersion of discovery rates, with nary a non-linear effect in sight.

    See this TOD post for the groundbreaking explanation :)

    Regarding both OpenOffice and PowerPoint, I find that a successful strategy is to create presentations in OpenOffice and then export them to PDF files (this functionality is built into OpenOffice). Virtually everyone has a PDF viewer, you can put it into full screen mode and it works as you'd expect, and it's *way* more reliable than PowerPoint during presentations...

    Yep, that's the best way to do it. The problem was that I had some animations...a lesson for the future.

    Am I the only one who see's the continuing discussion(s) focusing on centralized energy production and/or vast geographical distribution?

    We seem mentally stuck. For example I do not believe that we have reduced our per-capita energy consumption in the last 38 years here in the USA. We have only shifted the import point to China and other overseas manufacturing. Do you hear this anywhere? I bet net totals have gone up not down.

    In the USA we are going to "minimize" our energy use by first trying every alternatives to maintain and use our current investment in the infrastructure of suburban auto-utopia. Looking at that massive investment solely based on cheap and non renewable essential fossil fuels to make auto-utopia work, you have to wonder about our collective intelligence.

    With consumerism making 72% of GDP then we are headed, like it or not, toward deep fundamental changes. The financial/energy storm will only intensify with time as we try to hang on to the luxury of what cheap energy has given us. That is what it is - luxury. You can still wash clothes by hand, cut wood by hand, travel by walking. You can argue successfully that this isn't economic or practical in today's paradigm, and I will agree with you. However, we are headed for a paradigm shift.

    The question I have is..
    Are we so ingrained with our concentrated energy investments that we do not look at end use as the place to start? I do not see this discussed except by perhaps Amory Lovins. We need to change our way of "doing", or should it be our way of "doing" will be changed for us.

    All I see are discussions on keeping as much as we possibly can going of what we have currently grown accustom to. Conservation is worth how many nuke plants? How many coal plants? How many windmills? The price of energy needs to rise to make conservation happen. The economic pain that this will cause is a natural element in the process. May we live in interesting times.