ASPO VII - second day

After a rather gloomy day of forecasts of conventional energy supplies, the second day was more promising: alternative energy was the main dish. Economics and Finance would also be on the table. It was a heavily scheduled day with some Q&A sessions omitted to make room for all the speakers.

Crossposted at the European Tribune.

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

Victor Brenstein opened the day with an address on Peak Oil and its implications for Politics in Latin America. It was a different perspective of the geopolitics of Oil. Being a part of the world where social injustice is profound, Energy has a greater social dimension in Latin America. “So far from God and so close to the US” is a popular saying in Mexico that expresses many of the problems the region faces today. Victor went on to say that the US has always considered Latin America to be its backyard, something well exemplified by the creation of Panama, a buffer around a vital commercial route. Oil Nationalism is part of the Latin American ideology. Because of this, defending a country's oil is equivalent to defending its sovereignty. Mexico nationalized its oil industry back in 1916. In the 1990s, the US tried to liberalize the energy market in Latin America under the concept, “We will sell it for you.” This was to a great extent a failure.

Then came Colin Campbell with his traditional talk “A Turning Point to Mankind”. There was nothing really new in it, but it is always a pleasure to hear Colin, who is an excellent speaker. He manages to capture the audience's attention with humorous easy logic associations like “Draining a barrel is different from milking a cow, the former will eventually dry out”. He pointed out that it was cheap energy that afforded the Flat-Earth Heresy and then moved to the discussion of reserve growth due to economic reasons in the West and for political reasons in OPEC. He then summarized three tools that help us to better understand Peak Oil: the Creaming Curve, the Parabolic Fractal Law and Hubbert's Linearization Method. Colin finished by stressing once more that the date of peak is not that important. More important is the vision of the long decline that follows. We have a huge challenge ahead, but he showed that part of the answer is possibly not in the physical plane.

Next was an address many looked forward to, entitled “Speculation and the Energy Market” by Luca Barillaro. He started by giving some numbers: the amount of contracts that are traded every day at Nymex is about 300 thousand with the other exchanges (ICE, etc) trading around 250 thousand contracts; this means that paper oil exceeds physical oil by a factor of five. A trader can acquire one contract by paying just 8% to 10% of its value, using what is called margin. In day trading, this value can be as low as 3% to 5%; thus the equivalent of one day of the world's oil consumption can be traded with just $400 million. The up tick in oil prices from $90 to $147 was unnatural and disruptive. Commercial companies hedging their business (e.g. airlines) got scared away; since last August the market has been in forced liquidation, with speculators selling and commercials buying. Then Luca went on to show that in the last 3 days of trade each month, the number of contracts goes down to 2000 per trader, and speculation moves to the months ahead. Luca pointed that in Europe it seems that everyone is now liberal and Liberalism the only way of thinking. We indeed need free markets, so that companies can hedge their businesses, but we also need new rules to avoid volatility, caused by reduced position limits and higher margin requirements. He finished by saying that in the end it was Speculation that brought depletion to the spotlight.

And then came Jérôme to talk about Wind Power. This has been the energy source of choice in Europe during the last few years, and has now reached 40% of new installed capacity. Investment in Wind has now surpassed any other energy source in Europe. Although there are at present some growth constraints (demand has overwhelmed supply), in a few years the sector should be increasing by 1.5 GW to 2 GW of new installed capacity per year - just in offshore Europe alone [thanks for the correction Jérôme]. Wind now makes economic sense (it's not about emissions or sustainability), and promises to be a major part of the answer to fossil fuel depletion. The details of Jérôme's presentation can be read in this post.

Charlie Hall addressed EROEI and Economics. He started by explaining that the study of Peak Oil and resource depletion in general has been going on for many decades. Contrary to popular belief, the scenarios laid down by the seminal work The Limits to Growth have proven correct. So far Economic Theory has worked because we pumped more and more oil from the ground to make it work; Economics as conceived today is not a science based on hypotheses tested against facts. He then explained how the traditional Cobb-Douglass function of Growth is missing Energy, by considering solely Capital and Labour. Charlie left EROEI to the closing part of his address, stressing that markets do not increase efficiency, with all the major energy sources used by mankind following declining EROEI paths identified decades ago. All development has been done by simply applying more energy to our societies; once that influx stops growing, declining EROEI will immediately translate into declining discretionary spending, as more and more energy is used to maintain ageing sources and/or kick starting new ones. Charlie's presentations are always fun and interesting, keeping the audience close to him and usually ending with the picture of a man trying to push a big round rock over a hilltop with “Neoclassic Economics” written on it.

Next came another interesting address with a good amount of humorous content, Biofuels by Mario Giampietro. He started by showing some examples of the Biofuel Folly, advertisements for corn stoves (that are actually more efficient than using ethanol in internal combustion engines), and a man that proposes to go around the world on a boat powered by diesel synthesized from human fat obtained by liposuction. He showed several flow charts comparing the amount of energy and time used by society to produce food now and in the past: right now we are able to produce about 67 kg of food per hour, whereas before the Industrial Revolution that figure was about 1 kg per hour. Another interesting figure he presented related to sugar cane ethanol: using data made public by the Brasilian industry, EROEI can be calculated at 2:1, casting serious doubts on much higher figures presented in the past. So why the Agro-fuel Folly? Mario presented three main reasons:

  • they are an easy solution;
  • there are many non-experts in the field;
  • they are the last hope of the agonizing Industrial Agriculture.

Over our long History, Mankind has learned how to make food with oil. Making oil with that food is thus a very bad idea. After all this talk about food, it was a good thing that we headed for lunch.

The afternoon session started with an important address by Bob Lloyd entitled “The Growth Illusion”. Mankind is not addicted to Oil but to Growth. Even if we make the transition to Renewable Energy, Growth will stop and there is no solution to this problem in the physical world. Unfortunately, Growth has long been promoted as the solution to all of our problems, especially by free markets; but Economic growth implies growth in resource consumption, which is not a given. The concept of Sustainable Development is itself a blunder (no growth is sustainable); to be sustainable we have to become poorer-–people simply don't like it. People accepted the Growth Folly because the human brain was not conceived to cope with today's problems (we evolved as hunter gatherers.) Homo Sapiens haven't had the time to evolve to cope with the scientific problems posed by Peak Oil and Climate Change. There might be a genetic pre-disposition towards growth: breed to grow population and gather resources to increase the probability of breeding. Bob ended with a disturbing assertion: the reptile area of our brains might be actually leading us to collapse, because it is at those times of distress that that area of the brain works better.

And then came José Luís Garcia from Greenpeace-Spain to talk about an Energy Revolution that would take Spain to 100% Renewables in 2050. After Bob's address this presentation seemed like an anti-climax, or maybe as an immediate example of the problems he had previously raised. Early in the presentation José Luís told a startled audience that Spain can generate 50 times its present energy demand from renewable sources. Soon after, I stopped taking notes. There were no references to such problems as declining EROEI, how to run the present Transport system with electricity or load balancing, just the good old businesses-as-usual scenario: grow baby grow. For an institution with such influence and self imposed responsibility towards our future, Greenpeace seems to have little contact with reality.

Next came a presentation that I very much enjoyed: Gonzalo Piernavieja came to show how the Island of El Hierro in the Canaries is planning to address peak oil. The island has a population of about 10,500 and presently generates its electricity with oil products, but now wants to completely phase out its oil use by 2015. The task is not huge, and is made easier by sustained winds that buffet the island, allowing for more than 4,000 hours of base load. A handful of turbines will be erected on a favourable plateau and backed by a set of two cascading water reservoirs, connected by a pipeline allowing for back-pumping. It is an interesting microcosm of the arrangements we can make in the short/mid term in the face of fossil fuel depletion. But the plan also displayed a major weaknesses in coping with peak oil: as far as I could understand, the plan doesn't deal with Transport. Naturally on such a small island, there aren't many miles of roads, but the connections to the outside world all rely on fossil fuel, whether the transportation is water-borne or air-borne. As with the Canary Islands, many other islands face similar challenges. Those near us include the Madeira Islands, the Azores, and even the Mediterranean Islands–-they can became very vulnerable places. Their main industry, Tourism, will likely implode and possibly force a re-structuring of their entire economy.

Richard Meyer came from Germany to address the Potential of Solar Power. This was another presentation that was probably too much on the bright side of things, but had interesting content. Richard sees plenty of options in Renewable Energy to cover the demand gap left by Peak Oil. He primarily addressed three forms of solar power: Photo-Voltaic, Solar Heating and Cooling, and Concentrated Solar Power. For each one of them, he showed examples of development and installed infrastructure. There was no direct mention of EROEI, economic feasibility, or the traditional concerns with raw materials. In Portugal, solar heating has been commercial for decades and probably hasn't grown more because cheap Natural Gas came along in the early 1990s; solar cooling is just now entering the market, and the return on investment is attractive (four years to break even with subsidies). As for Photo-Voltaics, a panel is not yet able to pay for itself during its life-time without subsidies. In certain aspects Solar seems to be still an immature energy source, luckily trailing Wind just a few years back along the growth curve.

With the Conference coming to an end, Juan Requejo came to bring a Geographic dimension to fossil fuel depletion. He started by remembering that during the hauliers' (truckers) strikes in July it was possible to bring the Car Manufacturing industry to a halt in just two days. This is an example of an era that is now ending in which all decisions were made on an economic basis (e.g. just-in-time); a new era will emerge where all decisions will be made on a net energy basis. He went on to show several examples of present urban layouts; among them were pictures contrasting the incredible long distances of North-American suburbs with the Chinese high-rise “in-urbs”. These are two extreme examples of highly energy intensive infrastructure created by urban plans that won't last without fossil fuels. New cities are needed based on old pre-automobile villages built on a de-centralized energy generation infrastructure.

And to finalize the conference, came one of the hosts, Pedro Prieto. He talked about Spain's experiences with Solar and Wind, and the implications these experiences have for the rest of the World. He started by noting that what we call Renewable Energies today are in fact non-renewable systems capturing renewable energy. The renewable infrastructure being built uses a great deal of fossil fuel inputs that need to be taken in account. He then addressed Wind, which is unpredictable and hard to balance on the grid. While Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe (after Switzerland), it has little pumped-storage potential to deal with a massive scale-up of wind energy. He also cast doubts on the ability of the non-developed world to reach our standards in renewable energy. Since this was the last presentation of the conference, the audience perhaps needed to end on a more optimistic note, but Pedro raised important questions. The most important point he made was that we won't make the transition away from fossil fuels by simply concentrating on electricity generation. Some sectors are still heavily reliant on fossil fuel products (e.g. Transport, Mining) and industries like Wind in turn rely heavily on these fossil-fuel dependent industries. The Energy Policy for the XXI century will have to reach many (all?) sectors of our society in an integrated, coordinated manner.

A special announcement was scheduled for the end of this last day. Pedro called Jean Laherrère and Colin Campbell on stage and Dániel brought out two wooden boxes. As he offered the boxes to them, Pedro told a story:

I was in Bagdad in 1990 when Saddam Hussein ordered the distribution of "air-raid early warning systems." I became very curious to know what those systems were. So here we present you with two "Peak Oil early warning systems" commemorating the 10 years passed since the publication of your seminal article in Scientific American.

Jean and Colin opened the boxes and took from them two golden bells.

After all the laughs, the final item on the schedule came: the projection of the movie Petroapocalypse Now?. I didn't enjoy it much. The content was good, with many interviews, including our own Jeffrey Brown (westexas) and Fatih Birol (a lucid man that should be at an ASPO conference one of these days), but the format was terrible. It was very high speed, with each interviewee saying just one or two sentences at a time, and all accompanied by a soundtrack taken from a 1980s video-game. A theme like Peak Oil must be laid down in a way that leaves room for the spectator to reflect on the consequences of what he's being told, and to re-assess many of his concepts about life. “The End Of Suburbia” probably set the standard too high in this task, and will be hard to be out-done.

The day was drawing to a close; the following morning I'd have to head back home and to regular life.
But there was still time to share a rare evening with a set of wonderful people concerned with our common future.

Las Ramblas.

ASPO VII - first day

The task is not huge, and is made easier by sustained winds that buffet the island, allowing for more than 4,000 hours of base load. A handful of turbines will be erected on a favourable plateau....

I always wonder what sort of longevity wind turbines have, in comparison to a more static technology like concentrated solar. For how long will humanity be able to service these huge whirling metal machines, themselves the products of an oil-rich society? How sustainable and viable, in terms of the centuries to come, are these giant contraptions? Would it not be better to use the tech with the lowest maintenance and replacement profile?

I understand that gearbox reliability is a problem. Obviously, gearbox is not needed. One way is to just put a crank on the mill to pump water directly, and store the output from any number of windmills to run over one big water turbine-alternator sitting nice and safely on the ground in the middle of the huge field of wind turbines, Big water turbine-alternators are very simple, very efficient and very reliable.

There we are, problem solved. Next?

PS, Think water will freeze? try freezing megatons of water being pumped around a multimegawatt loop.

PPS Always wondered why our noble arctic explorrers who ended up dead did not use all that wind they kept complaining about. Even one little one could have kept them toasty. Stronger the wind, toastier the toast. Without imagination, the people perish.

PPS Always wondered why our noble arctic explorrers who ended up dead did not use all that wind they kept complaining about.

They certainly use the wind for ski-sailing :)

Onshore wind projects have been commissioned with a projected 20 year lifetime. Here in Portugal the companies working in the business are saying that the infrastructure will surely last much more than this, although large they are simple in concept and don't show signs of degradation after more than a decade of operation. Changing the gearbox oil is essentially all the service they need.

The big dependence of fossil fossil is during the erecting stage, after that things go relatively smoothly. Farm operators say that a wind farm is easier to maintain that a solar farm that often requires cleaning.

As for offshore I'd say it might be too early to have a good idea of what the maintenance will be.

None of the solar/wind stuff will last even 20 years. When the highways fail due to a lack of maintenance, which is due to VERY expensive oil, then we can't maintain the power grid, and down goes Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

And the wind/solar stuff just generates electricity, which we now have plenty of, as the malls, stores, airports, and factories are closing.

There is tons of scientific data to show all of this, but most of the conference participants and folks on this site apparently have not read it.

Most of us will live to see the whole shebang collapse, and then we can look at those useless solar panels and wind turbines sitting idle, after wasting much fossil energy in their manufacture, production, distribution, and maintenance. They will be a permanent monument to our collective stupidity!

Oh, do you say electric transportation will save the day? Too late folks, Peak Oil is here today.

Oh, do you say algal diesel? Sniff sniff, er... I smell gas.

It is time to think about Surviving Peak Oil, instead of trying to squeeze more energy out of Mother Earth.


Cliff Wirth

Morning Cliff,

Sorry you're grumpy today.

When the whole shebang collapses I'll come around and collect those worthless solar panels from you. I'll have to use the electric car, hard to carry panels on a scooter. Grid going down? 40 years of electricity from those panels should serve me well. It may look like the panels are just sitting idly, but they'll be working.

Various electric gizmos should be cheap, and I'll have enough panels to do just about anything I please. Heck, I could just sit around making Hydrogen.

Batteries aren't so great but they are optional, and I read some good stuff here about long term storage of battery components. Pull the crap out of your basement, mix together, and voila, more batteries.

I'm not sure why you're so down on viable personal solutions. Highways and the grid? Who cares, maybe it will be nice to have them gone, I'm not going to fight to save them. I'll be at the beach enjoying Mother Earth's free wave energy.


And just what will you do with electric power without the grid?

When the highways fail due to a lack of maintenance, which is due to VERY expensive oil, then we can't maintain the power grid, and down goes Humpty Dumpty.

Oh, Woe, if only it was possible to invent a more energy efficient means of transport than road and vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, as the fact that any more energy efficient transport system is physically impossible has such dire consequences.

Would you mind sending over your resources to me if you have given up?

For how long will humanity be able to service these huge whirling metal machines, themselves the products of an oil-rich society?

The question is not whether they were developed in an oil-rich society, but whether they have sufficient energy return on investment to be self-sustaining in an oil-poor society.

It is the normal state of things that the bits and pieces that are the foundation of a new status quo are, inevitably, originally developed under the status quo ante.

This seems to be an effort to take the only way that change normally takes place, and turn it into an argument of change being impossible ... the fact that we originally put equipment harvesting renewable energy with the infrastructure we have, which is oil-dependent, somehow implying that we could not conceivably continue to put up equipment with substantial EROI.

to be sustainable we have to become poorer doesn't jibe with the notion of a Steady State Economy recently lauded on TOD. Maybe population has to shrink to replicate 'our' current lifestyle (ie that of the existing middle class) but who will tend the neglected transmission lines and the potholed roads?

Interesting to see Greenpeace and others challenged on their assumed role as the new vanguard.

What we have now is not sustainable. I would assume that the comment would mean we have to accept a lower living standard than our current high unsustainable standard.

we have to accept a lower living standard than our current high unsustainable standard...

a room at the HOTEL EUROSTARS GRAND MARINA, close to la rambla and the trade center, goes for USD 260 per night.

it would be nice if some of our leaders, who are so valiantly trying to convince us to lower our standard of living, would lead by example.

...not to mention the fact that i couldnt seem to cash in enough beer cans to afford the plane fare and convention fees to attend the meeting in amsterdam.

$2000... for plane fare and convention fees.

maybe next year... provided i dont die of alcohol poisoning first.

He started by noting that what we call Renewable Energies today are in fact non-renewable systems capturing renewable energy.

This is a very interesting point and one which the proponents of wind rigerously deny. A few years back I asked the BWEA for some energy payback calculations for wind energy, and they sent me a paper written, I think by David Milborrow. I was at the time optimistic towards wind power, and to some extent I still believe it may be our "best chance renewable", certainly in the UK.

On face value an energy payback of 30:1 is clearly possible, which makes wind totally sustainable. After a few years attempting to digest our energy dilema, I have thought longer and harder about whether we really understand the total energy subsidy given by fossil fuels.

The calculations for wind energy pay back were based on the specific energy consumtion per unit weight of products of the various industries involved in both materials and components.

Did it include all the fuel used for the workers driving to factories to make the components? I never found out.
Did it assume Epoxy resin was made from oil or the electricity from the turbine via chemical synthesis? I never found out but the difference in energy input must be significant.
Does it include the energy required to make the infrastructure to support these devices?

My only conclusion is no one really knows and will will find out the hard way.

Fossil fuels, regardless of EROEI, have currently been available and able to supply nett energy at a rate we have required it. This is equivalent to an "Infinite Busbar". Once the energy system cannot meet demand, the word infinite has to be removed and replaced by "finite" ! Wind turbines are a finite busbar until you have installed more capacity than you require for your nett energy requirements.

On face value an energy payback of 30:1 is clearly possible, which makes wind totally sustainable.

5:1 would make it totally sustainable ... the importance of the figure 30:1 does not rest on whether it is precise to three significant digits, but the degree of leeway it provides.

The most optimistic corn-starch ethanol gross EROI estimate that I saw in 2006 was shy of 180%, and the most pessimistic was around 80%, or a net EROI of (-20%).

Suppose that the energy input into a wind turbine system is underestimated by a factor of 2, as critics of corn-starch ethanol would charge about the more optimistic estimates for corn-starch ethanol.

In the case of corn-starch ethanol, it reduces the EROI from a very low level to a net energy drain. In the case of a wind-turbine, being off by the same factor means a ratio of 15:1 instead of 30:1, which is still quite comfortably compatible with a renewable, sustainable system.

I thought it was interesting that there was a speaker on the role of speculation on the price of oil. The speaker, Luca Barillaro, seems to have comments that are consistent with what I have seen elsewhere. It sounds like there was at least some push by speculators on the way up. Now that it has been going down, the margin calls and other changes that are causing hedge funds to sell are causing downward pressure on prices.

And maybe there is some push by speculators on the way down too? Speculators can go short as well as long...


It is possible that you are down on Greenpeace and Jerome and others because you have not studied the issue enough. Solar and wind can pretty much ignore EROEI issues at this point, both being above the EROEI of imported oil today. So, there is not a lot of point in belaboring that in a talk. Switching to renewables means increased prosperity compared to today. The main issues are ultimate scale and timing which the speakers seem to understand according to your report. Pretty clearly, the question of ultimate scale does not look to be a limiting factor if an industrialized country can get 50 times or more of its current energy consumption from renewables. Saying this does not mean advocacy for using that much energy, it just says that there are no immediate limits to growth on the energy side. I know for sure that Greenpeace does not advocate for unlimited growth so it seems a little snarky to imply that they do.


there are no immediate limits to growth on the energy side. I know for sure that Greenpeace does not advocate for unlimited growth

Energy [R]evolution is the only energy scenario that shows how the world can cut emissions, phase out nuclear power, save money, and maintain global economic development ...

greenpeace website

nobody in greenpeace has heard of "limits to growth"...

...or malthus


the real solution is to nuke everyone who wont surrender their oil at $5 a barrel, then burn it all, heat the planet enough to cause massive methane burps... at which point the planet will warm up enough so the oceans become algae soup again, and after a few million years of tectonic action, we can start over again... hoping in the meantime that nature comes up with an intelligent species.

Thank you for the compliment. I exort you to show how you can Spain build up the infrastructure to be generating 50 times the energy it consumes today. I also would like to know when "I was down on Jérôme".

You should be careful when issuing comments on a something you did not witnessed. The address was clearly made towards business as usual growth, nothing else.

On EROEI I recomend this post.

Prospects for GDP growth have increased considerably compared to
the previous study, whilst underlying growth trends continue much the
same. GDP growth in all regions is expected to slow gradually over the
coming decades. World GDP is assumed to grow on average by 3.6%
per year over the period 2005-2030, compared to 3.3% from 1971 to
2002, and on average by 3.3 % per year over the entire modelling
period. China and India are expected to grow faster than other
regions, followed by the Developing Asia countries, Africa and the
Transition Economies. The Chinese economy will slow as it becomes
more mature, but will nonetheless become the largest in the world in
PPP terms early in the 2020s. GDP in OECD Europe and OECD
Pacific is assumed to grow by around 2% per year over the projection
period, while economic growth in OECD North America is expected to
be slightly higher. The OECD share of global PPP-adjusted GDP will
decrease from 55% in 2005 to 29% in 2050.

This does not sound to me like BAU growth, especially when you consider how much primary energy consumption is cut in their scenario.

Did anyone say Spain should build out such an infrastructure? Obviously, from the Greenpeace study, Spain will need less primary energy not more. Again, the point of this is that energy is not the limiting factor. If you were shocked, it is because you have not looked to see what the renewable resource is. And, as I pointed out in the comments in your link, the EROEI of solar PV should be taken to be about 30 these days:, higher than for imported oil without even considering the superior energy quality of electricity over oil.


Are you taking into account that electricity is not being stored today (except for tiny amounts through pump&turbine), and that in the Greenpeace scenario there would be some kind of electric storage?

The main storage in the study is re-configuring existing hydro-storage, CSP thermal storage and geothermal "storage" though there is some mention of an adiabatic gas pressure storage set up that is 80% efficient. Damand management is a big part of their scenario. I am finding it pretty facinating.
You might as well.


Is this subthread a pro-nuke, anti-nuke argument?

If it is, "storage" is a bit of a non-sequitur, given that a grid without relatively low capital cost, high energy content fossil fuel power for peak power is going to involve a substantial increase in demand management and interim power storage for scenarios from all-nuke through some-nuke to no-nuke.

I wonder if, when Greenpeacers discover PO, they'll abruptly become advocates of nuclear energy? Too funny.... "Ok you guys, if you get in an interview and you don't know the answer to how many new nuclear plants we need to support our conference trips, hotels and communications environments, just make up a very big number. By the time anyone figures out that you were wrong, the press will have broadcast YOUR number widely and everyone will have lost interest before any corrections can be published."

november 1999, CHENEY speaks of peak oil at the london institute of petroleum, saying that oil consumption is rising, production will not keep up.

may 2001, CHENEY calls for 1300 to 1900 new nuke plants to be built, which averages out to as high as 38 new nuke plants per state

it just so happens that it will take maybe 1500 nuke plants to make enough hydrogen to replace the petroleum now used for motor fuel in america... BUT... since cheney signed onto the PNAC oil acquistion project, he's quit yapping about peak oil, and he's quit yapping about the "hydrogen economy".


there are 100 nuke plants making electricity in the US now, and they produce 1/10th of the electricity consumed in the usa, which means we have to build nine hundred nuke plants just to generate the electricity now being generated by oil, natural gas, coal and hydro.

2/3 of oil consumption goes to transportation. if the remaining 1/3 of oil consumption now goes to power generation, and if we need nine hundred nuke plants to replace the oil-fueled power generation alone, that means we need another 1800 nuke plants to provide the fuel for transportation.

if nuke plants cost 7 billion to build, that means we need to spend a cool 18 trillion to replace the oil.

and how much will the infrastructure conversion cost? how much will it cost the car companies to convert to hydrogen cars?

how much will it cost to dispose of the waste? how much will it cost to guard the thousands and thousands of truck- and trainloads of waste as they travel across this al qaeda-infested country of ours?

pretty damn easy to see why the easiest way out, for the time being, is just steal oil at gunpoint... which may explain why the PNAC/AEI boys needed "a new pearl harbor" as a pretext...

...and seeing as how the project has bogged down so bad already, maybe that explains the continued intermittent whining for a new new pearl harbor.


assuming we're all grownups, we have to acknowledge the fact that, if someone needs something to happen, they have motive to make it happen.

"The time being" is the operative phrase there ...

... when it is assumed that the purpose of the United States is to defend its overseas base network, a "smash and grab" approach to energy is a quite obvious approach ...

... however if it was instead assumed that the purpose of the overseas base network is to defend the US, given that the threat to the US due to the cost of the network exceeds the benefit, the most immediate place to turn for resources to ramp up sustainable, renewable energy supply would be the material waste of the base network and the military capability required to support it.

Historically, as we have made the transition from one fundamental basis for the economy to the next, some leading economies have kept up, and some leading economies have fallen behind, replaced by rising new powers. Each of the core economies of the world today must face up to the challenge of making that transition, or becoming another "once was wealthy" nation.

2/3 of oil consumption goes to transportation. if the remaining 1/3 of oil consumption now goes to power generation, and if we need nine hundred nuke plants to replace the oil-fueled power generation alone, that means we need another 1800 nuke plants to provide the fuel for transportation.

Ah, you a member of Greenpeace by any chance? ;<]

why would i be a member of an organization that seems to have lost its grasp on reality?

no, i'm not a member of greenpeace.

...this al qaeda-infested country of ours...

i will point out that i consider the threat from al qaeda to be about the same size as the threat of a martian invasion.

the following quote from my post upthread is just flat wrong... i dont remember where i got these numbers, since they're from a post i made on a different forum a couple years ago...

there are 100 nuke plants making electricity in the US now, and they produce 1/10th of the electricity consumed in the usa, which means we have to build nine hundred nuke plants just to generate the electricity now being generated by oil, natural gas, coal and hydro.

2/3 of oil consumption goes to transportation. if the remaining 1/3 of oil consumption now goes to power generation, and if we need nine hundred nuke plants to replace the oil-fueled power generation alone, that means we need another 1800 nuke plants to provide the fuel for transportation.

if nuke plants cost 7 billion to build, that means we need to spend a cool 18 trillion to replace the oil.

anyhow, just to simplify things, apparently 104 nuke plants provide about 8% of the energy consumed in the US.

so, we'd need 1300 nuke plants to produce the energy now consumed in the US, at a construction cost of 8 trillion dollars, assuming 7 billion per plant.

i apologize for the bad information.


none of the above, though, changes the fact that cheney, before he signed onto the PNAC project, wanted 1300 to 1900 new nuke plants built in the next 20 years, nor does it change the fact that he warned of peak oil in 1999, while he was still CEO of halliburton.

You've got your ratios reversed: electricity is much more useful than that.

Another 100 nuclear plants powering EVs could replace 50% of our oil consumption.

I wonder if, when Greenpeacers discover PO, they'll abruptly become advocates of nuclear energy?

If you read the study in question, you'll find that it is completely compatible with PO and supports a phase out of nuclear power.

Why the anger at Greenpeace? Is it because they have it figured out and you don't? Better to read and learn I think.


how is greenpeace gonna prevent energy wars that waste the resources necessary to achieve this energy [R]evolution™?

No anger, I just find them funny. A joke in fact. At one time i was an online member of the group, until I found out more about them.

Chris- Greenpeace is actually involved in action, and members put their bodies on the line for their commitments. This makes the armchair thinkers and mental masturbators fill with penis envy, so they must attach and diminish them.
Cowards are like that. Greepeace does not have perfect analysis or solutions, but is hated because it goes against the current suicide economy.

Actually, I find Greenpeace reports cover the bases. They tend to hit the most crucial things. Reports that I have found helpful are 1) the study on scaling up solar PV manufacture to 500 MW and the cost savings involved, 2) a report on the problems with siting nuclear plants in the UK next to a rising sea and 3) this report. REC is now going for a 1.5 GW solar maunufacturing plant to sell to India. The UK government is beginning to look a little harder at their assumptions about siting nuclear plants and is talking about building extra protection. The present report looks as though it will be very influential as well.

I know others have found their studied of environmental toxins to be very good work. It is not direct action alone, but also good scholarship that marks their work.


Until I have seen an EROEI calculation based entirely on inputted renewable energy I shall remain sceptical of the sustainability of quoted figures. Breakdowns are often current cost-based or energy-based working on the assumption of energy equivalence across sources. But this is not valid, the energy quality of oil and sunlight, for example, are miles apart.

It would be interesting to see a calculation based on renewable energy used to extract, refine, construct, transport, erect, service, maintain and decomission wind turbines. Of course any such calculation will neccessarily be theoretical as to date such a process has not actually been carried out. But to talk about wind having an EROEI of 30 may only have meaning in a world where fossil fuels provide much of the input.


I'm not sure what you are trying to get at here. Are you worried that energy is not conserved?


I'm sure he knows energy is conserved, the point he is making is the same that I am making above. What amases me is the lack of consideration of a very simple point, we have had centuries of clever mathematicians and scientists, used wind and solar energy also for centuries, yet until we discoverd fossil fuels we got nowhere fast.
If the potential for wind and solar was so great, we should have never needed to bother to exploit fossil fuels in the first place. The ICE is another example, it has so many claimed flaws that it should have been an immediate failure, yet it overtook battery, fuel cell and steam technology like a hare overtakes a tortoise despite the fact they all came well before the ICE. Sorry, but reality speaks for itself.

What amases me is the lack of consideration of a very simple point, we have had centuries of clever mathematicians and scientists, used wind and solar energy also for centuries, yet until we discoverd fossil fuels we got nowhere fast.

If the potential for wind and solar was so great, we should have never needed to bother to exploit fossil fuels in the first place.

I'm going to assume that this is not the substantial argument ... it would be extra-ordinarily re-assuring if this is the most substantial argument, since this argument doesn't hold any water.

The exploitation of fossil fuels did not happen because we had this fossil fuel technology lying around for a few centuries, and then we got into a bind where we needed to use it. We exploited fossil fuels about as fast as we worked out ways to get fossil fuels to do work in place or in amplification of the work of people.

Not only was the EROI of fossil fuels very high, but from quite early on, they were very directly the source of the energy input ... the first steam engines were, after all, to drain water from coal mines.

And in high-income economies, a substantial share of energy use is not because we "need" to use it, but because it was so readily available. The suggestion, proposed in elsewhere in this comment thread, that the current energy cost of transporting workers to the job is somehow a binding constraint on the production of wind turbines is more than a little silly ... especially in the US.

In the past two centuries, we have learned quite a bit about power generation, materials science, and aerodynamics that we did not know in 1800.

And it may well be that had we not passed through the coal and oil economies, we might not have accumulated all of that knowledge on all of those areas.

However, that knowledge does not require continued consumption of petroleum in order to keep knowing it. And that accumulation of knowledge is the foundation of the big technological leap in capabilities of wind turbines.

This is an excellent and logical reply. I have found that the best way to stimulate a sensible discussion is to say something ourageous.

The only thing that concerns me is we had sufficient knowledge of aerodynamics 50 years ago to exploit wind power, but we didn't. Instead we built an aircraft industry that exploits oil. We should have built a wind turbine industry that produces energy, not an aeroplane industry that consumes it. I wonder why it happend this way?

Because airplanes adequately served a unique transport need while turbines sub-optimally addressed an already filled energy production need?

Economics isn't everything, but it is SOMEthing!

In part because airplanes served critical strategic roles both as weapons platforms and in support arms in WWII, in which role the high energy content per weight of fossil fuels compared to battery power was critical.

At one time, a critical technological hurdle in drilling for oil was preventing the oil from gushing to the surface. Now a critical challenge is how to get "oil" that is not all that far from the consistency of the stuff they use to fix potholes in the road to flow up to the surface.

As long as we had the abundant, cheap, easily stored, easily transport energy available just for the going and getting it, it was almost certain we were going to use it. Now its roughly half used up, at which point we can no longer expect ongoing expansion of supply ... and at the same time we are beginning to understand the external costs of dumping all that CO2 into the atmosphere ...

... so now we need to advance from a "pioneer" energy ecology to a more mature energy ecology, with lots of little niches filled by lots of solutions that fill their own niche well, and enough overlap to give a resilient energy economy.

That's why the search for "plug and play" replacements for the various parts of the existing system is likely to be mostly fruitless ... we need to increase the intensity of design and advance from growth-oriented, energy inefficient, "one size fits all" systems to sustainable, energy efficient "each size fits its task" systems.

Hi Chris

Yes I'm familiar with conservation of energy (or, more accurately, mass/energy). My thinking about EROEI has been tweaked by reading some of Odums work about energy heirarchy and transformability. I know his stuff is controversial but it's still IMO worthy of consideration. For example, he shows how a unit of energy emitted by a lightbulb required over a million units (I forget the exact number) of incident sunlight when the process goes via fossil fuel. This energy transformity approach tries to take into account all the original energy inputs, and all processes, when calculating EROEI. I found it an enlightening way of looking at what is a very complex multi-body problem.

I just think it would be interesting to carry out a calculation of EROEI using only renewable sources and applying Odums approach. Does modern technology allow for a high EROEI for wind without FF use? I honestly don't know (I've attempted the calculation but get bogged down by not having, or being able to obtain, enough required knowledge/information) but believe such an approach would add value.


The nature of the energy invested is pretty much hidden by the fact that it is numerically energy. For solar PV, most of the energy going in is in the form of electricity when it is used. For wind, it will depend on how the steel is made. Usually coal is used but sometimes electricity is used. In the latter case you might figure out what you want. I still don't understand how this affects EROEI. The best thing to do would be to read some Life Cycle Assesements to see if there are places where you see a problem. Here is one for wind:
Here is one for PV:


Hi Chris

In order to understand what I'm referring to regarding the impact of energy source on EROEI you would probably need to go to some of the original work by Odum, e.g.;

The full scope of his thesis is beyond anything I could lay down here and, to be honest, a good deal of it is beyond anything I could put down anywhere! But I understood enough to grasp the (admittedly controversial) concept of 'emergy' or 'embodied energy' which is used to define how much incident (usually solar - electricity is not a primary energy source) energy has gone into the formation of different energy sources. For this reason EROEI can change according to the fuel source because the emergy of different fuels is different - often radically so.

LCA's for renewables do not acknowledge any difference in the energy quality (related to Odum's emergy or 'transformity') of different fuels. They tend only to look at total energy used regardless of the source. If Odum is correct then this could paint a very misleading picture of the true EROEI picture if renewable energy had to be produced entirely from renewable sources.


Well, so far as I can tell, emergy is useful for evaluating living systems. I don't quite know how it would come into an engineering kind of evaluation. Looking at this link:

There appears to be an objection to solar because too many engineers have had to think about how to make it work. This is an error since all of that thinking time gets diluted at scale. I doubt also that one can really quantify those kinds of services. The Royal Astronomer Martin Rees once compared his thinking to that of a super computer modelling the coalescence of two neutron stars. The computer was much faster, but Rees got to the answer sooner. Is the food eaten by Rees more or less valuable than the food you eat of the electricity consumed by the computer?

I think the LCAs give you what you need to pursue your question.


Information is of the highest energy transformity and is part of the real capital that humanity has built up over generations. I agree that it would be wrong to factor in all the emergy in the information for an ongoing EROEI calculation. To borrow from economics, it is more relevent to look at cash-flow (energy flow) than at the balance sheet (which contains capital accumulated from previous flow surpluses). As long as incomings match outgoings then we have balance and a sustainable system.

But I still don't think current LCAs answer the question of what EROEI would be, from the POV of human input, if all FF inputs were subbed for renewable inputs. Is the amount of ongoing human labour (the ultimate measure of cost) the same if oil is replaced by renewable energy for the mining of minerals to make turbines? And what about the huge cost of building and maintaining the capital infrastructure to enable this process? I have never seen a LCA that even attempts to address this - instead they tend to include FF's as just another input, whose energy content is equivalent to any other source.

That for me is the real challenge, to take a whole system approach, replacing FF's with renewable inputs, and then determine EROEI from a human perspective. And I think we need to be careful dismissing Odums approach as only relevent to living systems. We are part of a living system and any energy taken from that system will have effects, and induce feedbacks, throughout the whole ecology. These will be different if we are drawing down past energy capital (FF's) or using renewable sources.


Since we can expect solar power to be with us for a long time, it is hard to know how much energy will ultimately be generated using it. This makes figuring out how to aportion the effort spent in developing it uncertain. With oil or coal or uranium we can say something about the total resource and thus know something about how to aportion such things. Most likely, if you are working on solar power, you are doing the most leveraged work there is in terms of energy. But, a quick end to civilization could make those efforts less fruitful than they might be.

It is pretty clear that human effort to build turbines is very leveraged with non-human energy inputs. Thus, we are missing very little in an LCA.

Since fossil fuel infrastructure is impermanent, the cost of replacing it is something that must be paid in any case. When the (LCA based) EROEI of renewbales exceeds that of fossil fuels, then it is time to make the change. This is where we are at now. We should halt all further investment in in oil and coal at least since these investments now have too high an opportunity cost. Because we have neglected this principle, we may need to continue with gas for a bit. But, there is a chance that gas infrastructure could be reused with renewable energy so this may turn out for the best.


Just a correction: the 1.5-2GW number is just for offshore wind in Europe, not for wind overall.

Damn notebook, it's too slow to register that stuff correctly. We are talking of 400 new turbines per year, impressive.

Could someone explain the comment about the reptile area of the brain, that works better in time of distress. What does the reptile area of the brain lead us to do?

first of all, it constructs legends and myths that allow us to commit whatever atrocities are necessary to ensure our survival.

The fight-or-flight response to stress is supposed to be controlled by the R-complex.

I'm not sure it works better in times of distress but it is more likely to be given control.

Hope that helps,


Happy to see that Colin Campbell is talking about the Parabolic Fractal Law and Creaming Curves.

I have no idea whether the Parabolic Fractal Law is simply a heuristic or a real law.
It looks like something that Laherrere has used quite a bit without explaining its origins.
In my opinion, it is neither a law nor a perfect heuristic. In the last couple of weeks, I have spent quite a bit of time deriving the statistics of field size distribution. I contend that it comes from a Dispersive Aggregation of sources where the sources "discover" one another via a distribution of varying migration rates. The math is very simple and it actually follows from the Dispersive Discovery model that I have posted before on TOD. (As I am discovering, lots of things are explainable by what I call "dispersion theory").

Part 1:
Part 2:

Below is a graph of North Sea data as the blue data points. The data on top is the Dispersive Aggregation model, in both Monte Carlo and analytical form). The key thing to note is that the Parabolic Fractal Law would never generate the fast downslope of sizes near the origin (which makes it a rather poor heuristic IMO), but the Dispersive Aggregation model does.explain the entire curve.

At some point we have to go beyond the heuristics and actually understand what is going on, wouldn't you think?

On Creaming Curves see the last link above. This ties the size distribution and reserve growth observations together. Either this is some weird concordance or maybe it gives the complete unified picture.

Regarding Pedro Pietro's comments about wind's dependence on fossil fuels, I cannot help but notice how much interdependency there is among fuel sources.

I was just reading today about gasoline shortages near London. When I read the story, the reason is because of a refinery outage, due to a power failure. If London has natural gas shortages that lead to power shortages, these could thus lead to shortages of petroleum products. Taking nuclear plants off line could produce the same problem.

And of course, as Pedro Pietro points out, wind production is dependent on oil products, both to build the turbines and to maintain the turbines and the transmission wires.

This conference has been ignored by the Spanish newspapers, El País/Madrid (there's a Barcelona version) is notable for the lack of awareness on PO, in spite of Spain being a big maker of cars -or used to be!

PetroApocalypse Now?
Luis - I'm sorry you didn't enjoy my film. I was hoping that some people would comment on the content, to be honest i am very pleased with it and consider it the only film out there that actually addresses the 'Optimists' points of views. I also believe it's revelations on Kuwait are the first time this has been done on TV. As far as the editing style, i realise it may not be in some people's taste, but this year I cut one of the most popular programmes on British Television - (young) people have very short attention spans nowadays and pace in absolutely necessary to keep them watching. The music was composed by one of the world's top 'Techno' DJs. The programme has now been shown in more than 30 countries on 6 networks including Sweden and Canada's leading stations. Kyle told me at ASPO-USA that he would post a preview on the oildrum site when I am ready which should be about December. If anyone else has seen the film I would appreciate your views. Thanks, Andrew Evans

Put it on YouTube, O Technically Proficient One! Blogs are so 2008!

The music was composed by one of the world's top 'Techno' DJs.

Well, I don't play video games any more, so I'm not up to date on computer generated sounds ;). I'm more into mellotrons, moog synthesizers and music composed and interpreted by living organisms ;).

As I said the content was good, from Fatih Birol to the field workers, from peakers to cornucopians (the scenes with John Browne are impressive). If the format was intended for young people then I understand, but it really didn't work for me.

But by no means take me as a model viewer :).