Energy from Wind: A Discussion of the EROI Research

This is a guest post by Cutler Cleveland. Dr. Cleveland is a Professor at Boston University and has been researching and writing on energy issues for over 20 years. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Earth, Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Energy, the Dictionary of Energy and the Journal of Ecological Economics. He has particular interest and expertise in the field of net energy analysis.

As the world transitions from fossil based energy systems to a larger portfolio of renewables, the tradeoffs between energy quantity, energy quality and environmental impacts will increasingly need to be compared using meaningful metrics. Wind energy seemingly provides high returns, high quality energy (electricity) with minimal large scale environmental impacts.

The post below the fold is Dr. Cleveland's and Ida Kubiszewski's 2006 meta-analysis on wind, "Energy Return on Investment (EROI) for Wind Energy".**


Wind energy is one of the fastest growing energy systems in the world. In Europe and the United States, wind-powered generating capacity increased by 18 percent and 27 percent, respectively, in 2005 alone. While the rate of increase is impressive, wind still accounts for less than one percent of the world's electricity generation.

The surge in wind energy is due to a combination of factors, including reduction in the cost of wind turbines, volatile prices for conventional forms of energy, the demand for non-carbon forms of energy to mitigate the effects of climate change, and generous government subsidies such as feed-in tariffs in Europe and the production tax credit in the United States.

One technique for evaluating energy systems is net energy analysis, which seeks to compare the amount of energy delivered to society by a technology to the total energy required to find, extract, process, deliver, and otherwise upgrade that energy to a socially useful form. Energy return on investment (EROI) is the ratio of energy delivered to energy costs. In the case of electricity generation, the EROI entails the comparison of the electricity generated to the amount of primary energy used in the manufacture, transport, construction, operation, decommissioning, and other stages of the facility's life cycle (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Comparing cumulative energy requirements with the amount of electricity the technology produces over its lifetime yields a simple ratio for energy return on investment (EROI):

EROI = (cumulative electricity generated) / (cumulative primary energy required)

This article reviews 112 wind turbines from 41 different analyses, ranging in publication date from 1977 to 2006. This survey shows average EROI for all studies (operational and conceptual) of 24.6 (n=109; std. dev=22.3). The average EROI for just the operational studies is 18.1 (n=158; std. dev=13.7). This places wind energy in a favorable position relative to conventional power generation technologies in terms of EROI.

Methodological Issues

System Boundary

The choice about system boundaries is perhaps the most important decision made in most net energy analyses. One of the most critical differences among the diverse studies is the number of stages in the life cycle of an energy system that are assessed and compared against the cumulative lifetime energy output of the system. These stages include the manufacture of components, transportation of components to the construction site, the construction of the facility itself, operation and maintenance over the lifetime of the facility, overhead, possible grid connection costs, and decommissioning. Energy systems have external costs as well, most notably environmental and human health costs, although these are difficult to assess in monetary and energy terms. No study as yet attempted to assess the environmental costs of wind energy in energy terms.


Three types of net energy analysis techniques are used to calculate the net energy derived from wind power: process analysis, input-output analysis, and a hybrid analysis. The assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses of these approaches are discussed here.

Operating Characteristics

Many analyses must make important assumptions regarding the operating characteristics of wind turbines. These include power rating, assumed lifetime, and capacity factors. Changes in the assumptions made about these factors, or deviations in actual operating conditions from assumed conditions can have a significant impact on results.

Conceptual versus Empirical Studies

Some studies use the theoretical or ideal operating characteristics of a wind turbine that are derived from simulated or assumed costs and operating conditions, e.g., a wind turbine of a given power rating, costing a certain dollar amount, in a location with an assumed wind power density, with an assumed capacity factor, and so on. Of course, actual operating conditions always deviate from assumed conditions. Empirical analyses rely on actual costs, operating conditions, and energy outputs, and thus provide a better metric of an energy system's contribution to a nation's energy supply. This article focuses primarily on empirical studies based on actual operational data.


The above table provides the detailed technical results of the wind studies. The data include the year and location of the study, key technical assumptions such as load factor, power rating and lifetime, system boundaries, the type of net energy method used, and the EROI. The table also distinguishes between studies based on actual performance of a wind system and conceptual studies based on theory or simulations.

The average EROI for all studies (operational and conceptual) is 24.6 (n=109; std. dev=22.3). The average EROI for just the operational studies is 18.1 (n=158; std. dev=13.7).


EROI and Turbine Size

One of the striking features of the studies is that the EROI generally increases with the power rating of the turbine (Figure 2). This is probably due to several reasons: first, smaller wind turbines represent older, less efficient technologies. The new turbines in the megawatt (MW) range embody many important technical advances that improve the overall effectiveness of energy conversion. Although larger turbines require greater initial energy investments in materials, the increase in power output more than compensates for this.

Figure 2: EROI vs. wind turbine power rating.

Second, larger turbines have a greater rotor diameter, which determines its swept area, which probably is the single most important determinant of a turbine's potential to generate power. A turbine with respectable power rating but a rotor diameter so small that it can't capture that power until the wind speed reaches very high velocities will not produce a reasonable annual energy output. Again, larger rotors require greater initial energy investments in materials, but the increase in power output more than compensates for this.

These conclusions are consistent with the finding that commercial wind farms have moved towards larger turbines that are less expensive with regard to installation, operation, and maintenance. The greater cost efficiency of larger turbines is largely attributed to economies of scale and learning by doing. Accordingly, under a similar assumption, larger turbines have a greater efficiency in respect to EROI.

Another reason that larger turbines have a larger EROI is the well-known "cube rule" of wind power, i.e., that the power available from the wind varies as the cube of the wind speed. Thus, if the wind speed doubles, the power of the wind increases 8 times. New turbines are taller than earlier technologies, and thus extract energy from the higher winds that exist at greater heights. Surface roughness -- roughness determined mainly by the height and type of vegetation and buildings -- reduces wind velocity near the surface. Over flat, open terrain in particular, the wind speed increases relatively fast with height.

Influence of Production Country

EROI is affected by the location of a turbine's manufacture and installation. An anaysis of the EROI of conceptual wind turbines produced and operated in Germany and Brazil shows a range of 5 to 40:1. Such a large range in wind turbine EROIs is a function of differences in the energy used for transportation of manufactured turbines between countries, the countries' economic and energy structure, and recycling policies.

Production and operation of an E-40 turbine, standing 44 meters high in a coastal region in Germany requires approximately 1.39 times more energy, or 3.9 times more input energy per kWh of output energy, than the production and operation of the same turbine in Brazil. This assumes that Brazil's conversion efficiency in the electricity generation system being above 90% is the main reason for the difference in energy inputs, showing that the production scenario has a greater influence upon the magnitude of input energy than site conditions or transportation.

Comparison with other power systems

The EROI for wind turbines compares favorably with other power generation systems (Figure 3). Baseload coal-fired power generation has an EROI between 5 and 10:1. Nuclear power is probably no greater than 5:1, although there is considerable debate regarding how to calculate its EROI. The EROI for hydropower probably exceed 10, but in most places in the world the most favorable sites have been developed.

Figure 3: EROI of various electric power generators.

Challenges facing wind energy

Does the high EROI for wind power presented here guarantee that wind will assume a major role in the world's power generation system? There are a number of issues surrounding wind energy that require resolution before that happens.

The dramatic cost reductions in the manufacture of new wind turbines that characterized the past two decades may be slowing. Part of the slowing may be due to transient factors such as short-term increases in raw material prices; unfavorable exchange rates; insufficient global and domestic manufacturing capability (exacerbated by short-term uncertainty in government subsidy policies); and exercise of market power by the consolidating manufacturing industry. It also is possible that the industry is experiencing diminishing returns to cost reductions via learning-by-doing.

The uncontrolled, intermittent nature of wind reduces its value relative to operator-controlled resources such as coal, gas, or nuclear generation. Intermittency impacts include the seasonal and diurnal match or mis-match to regional energy demands; the contribution of wind energy to capacity reserves for meeting regional reliability requirements; and the lost value to wind plant owners in surplus generation that occurs when wind power saturates the flexible dispatch portion of grid operations.

Wind energy also affects the overall reliability of the electric power system, which is represented in part by the system reserve margin -- that is, a margin of total installed capacity above projected peak load. The capacity credit of an isolated wind plant is generally equal to its capacity factor during the system's peak load period, which normally is less than an operator-controlled source. As more wind capacity is added to a system within a finite geographic area, it becomes increasingly likely that an "outage" at any given facility will be temporally correlated with an "outage" at a nearby (or even not-so nearby) plant. This tends to reduce the average capacity credit for a wind plant as more such facilities are added in a region.

Much of the wind resource base is located in remote locations, so there are costs of getting the wind from the local point-of-generation to a potentially distant load center. This cost is distinct from the cost of simply interconnecting the site to the nearest transmission line. Even at the relatively low current levels of wind penetration on regional grids, long-distance transmission has already proven to be a significant issue for new wind development in some regions. For example, wind plants in Texas have had to curtail output during hours when regional trunk lines are at physical capacity, and Minnesota and California are currently examining ways to alleviate transmission congestion as more development is proposed in their best wind resource areas. These costs are not reflected in most EROI analyses.

The remoteness of the wind resource base also generates the cost of developing land with difficult terrain or that which is increasingly removed from development infrastructure (such as major roads, rivers, or rails capable of transporting the bulky and heavy construction equipment). To the extent that local roads or bridges cannot accommodate blade shipments in excess of 50 meters (over 160 feet) length or nacelle shipments of 50 tons or more, they must be upgraded, rebuilt, or (retroactively) repaired as a part of the plant development process. Little is known about the extent of these costs.

At about 6 or 7 megawatts per square kilometer of net power potential, wind plants are necessarily spread-out over a significant land area. Thus, wind plants must compete with alternative uses of these land resources. In some cases such as agricultural land, multiple simultaneous use is possible. In other cases the competition is stiff. The value of some lands for other types of development (such as urban or housing development) has limited and will limit wind power location options. This is especially true when the land is a signficant source of aesthetic and/or recreational value.

Another issue confronting wind energy is the uncertainty of future government subsidies. Much of the recent growth on wind energy around the world has been made possible by government subsidies such as the wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) in the United States and feed-in tariffs and renewable portfolio standards in Europe. While there is strong support in many nations for such support, shifting political winds can create uncertainty for manufacturers and utilities. For example, the wind PTC in the United States was scheduled to expire on December 31, 2005, but was extended to December 31, 2007 by a federal energy bill. The PTC provides a 1.9 cent-per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) tax credit for electricity generated with wind turbines over the first ten years of a project's operations, and is a critical factor in financing new wind farms. The inconsistent nature of this tax credit has been a significant challenge for the wind industry, creating uncertainty for long-term planning and preventing faster market development.

There is also concern about the impacts of wind energy on birds and bats. Early research on the avian impacts of wind energy at places such as Altamont Pass, California, suggested that the wind turbines killed significant numbers of raptors and other birds. In 2004, a large number of bats were killed by a wind farm in West Virginia. The issues surrounding avian and bat mortality have just begun to be studied, so the full potential risk is largely unknown.

Further Reading

Cleveland, Cutler and Ida Kubiszewski. 2006. "Energy return on investment (EROI) for wind energy." Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Peter Saundry. (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [Published October 13, 2006; Retrieved October 14, 2006].

As I delved into the Peak Oil concept, I didnt see any outs, and I still don't see any on the consumption side (which I'll soon be writing about). However, as Ive learned more about wind energy, I think it does give us a hopeful mitigation option, if (as in the case of oil) the 'best-first' planetary areas are quickly scaled, complete with storage and distribution infrastructure.  Though there will still likely be liquid fuel shortages, the greater chunk of the transportation system we can replace with electricity as fast as possible, the smaller the supply/demand gap will be.

Clearly people are making money (implying high EROIs) on wind. If the concept of oil depletion (as opposed to oil substitution) became more widely understood, perhaps we could generate momentum to use the global wind 'harvest' as a core part of societies future energy portfolio.

Wind gives me hope.  But the turbines and parts are built in factories using oil and transported on vehicles using gasoline - so we need to scale quickly.  Since wind has a very long economic (and energetic) life, as energy prices increase, built capacity with long life should increase in value (however you measure it) more than a shorter lived energy technology. I think if more people made decisions optimizing energy instead of dollars, the electrical infrastructure might happen on its own.  

Im sure the informed reader will note that the average EROI for wind is higher than for new oil/gas exploration. What a clue. Lets get started.

What kind of hope does this give you, Nate?  Wind is a localized resource, it only works well in certain areas and energy can't be transported long distances very efficiently.  We also don't have good storage technology so you need some kind of backup power generation (biomass?) even in areas that have good wind potential.  And there doesn't seem to be the political motivation to start building a large network of electric trains before its too late.  Then there is the little problem of food production when fossil fuels decline.  

So I'm not sure what kind of solution you are looking for.  How large a population do you think can be supported on wind power?

He hasn't said that wind will be the only source, and I can't imagine that he would.

We've got our work cut out for us, for sure.  But I see wind as a very hopeful part of that work. Solar, too, of course.  I hope tidal has some breakthroughs, too.  It's basically a massive form of 'pumped storage'.  All these natural sources that are periodic have the rep of being 'inconsistent', but I think that their patterns will start looking a lot more reliable to us, when the curve is clearly on the downslope.

 The train issue will be some serious teeth-pulling in the US, which has developed such a strong idea of 'doing it on my own', anything as collective as rail transport threatens a lot of people's sense of 'privacy', I think.


What kind of hope does this give you, Nate?

The short answer, in that Im in Logan Airport, is 'more than I had before'.  The longer answer has to do with the electrification of transportation system and a larger baseload for communities from combination wind/solar

How large a population do you think can be supported on wind power?

I think the confluence of water, energy, and environmental events will one day show that we are near the peak in human population. I will make no predictions of how much smaller it will be in 20-30 years, but irrespective of the number,  wind will be a larger part of the energy mix for those people than I originally envisioned.

In a sense, society has been using a one-time subsidy in the form of oil - we now need to wisely use whats left to create systems able to regularly harness a repeating subsidy of solar energy - wind will play the largest part of that. I agree with you that storage tech and backup are issues - at this stage of development if Peak Liquid Fuels is within 5 years then wind wont make much of a difference -if its 10 years out, wind could be huge. The high EROIs of wind basically mean that a hungry society has found a bounty of renewable cows, but as yet does not have milkers, milking machines, buckets or butchers.

And for the record, I have been reasonably freaked out by what I see on the horizon for several years, so please allow me some hopeful angles...:)

"Wind is a localized resource, it only works well in certain areas "

It's available in most places, and in the US it's available in all parts of the US.  See

"energy can't be transported long distances very efficiently"

It can be transported pretty far:  a quick search found references to 700 mile long transmission lines to California, and 800 km long lines in this discussion:

Anyone have more info on transmission distance, esp HVDC?

"don't have good storage technology"

You don't need storage under roughly 15% market share. OTOH, there are some very good storage methods.  Alanfrombigeasy has calculated that wind could provide up to 51% of the grid.  Alan, could you share the calc's?

"a large network of electric trains"

Electric vehicles are about 8 times more efficient than your average gasoline vehicle (1,600 watt-hours/mile vs 200 whrs/mile), and actually more efficient than electric trains (though electric trains have other benefits, like supporting urban living).

" the little problem of food production when fossil fuels decline"

Tractors can be electric.  Fertilizer is a small % of FF use, and could come from biomass.

"How large a population do you think can be supported on wind power?"

All of it.  See the first reference above.  OTOH, that would be an expensive way to go.  Much better would be a mix of wind, solar, hydro, biomass, wave, etc.

What technology in particular are you talking about for electric vehicles?  8x the energy consumption even in the same-aerodynamics chassis?

What are the 'very good storage methods'?

I seem to remember pumped storage being about $50/kwh in today's dollars for the Racoon Mountain system, and flow batteries costing around 3-4x that in large installations (though they aren't site-limited).

HVDC seems to be an evolutionary improvement, rather than a disruptive technology, over HVAC - around 5% loss per 1000km rather than around 8%.  Land use is much lower, but the loss improvements are nothing compared to, say, HTSC lines.  HVDC is naturally suited to large-capacity dynamic load balancing (as slow transformers don't need to be involved) and DC power sources like solar.

IMO, even removing a 20% loss to the farthest parts of the country won't suddenly make a particular technology viable - We CAN move power long distances efficiently with current technology.  Though being able to pack 3x the conductors into the same right of way in urban areas (without ELF health nuts) might help.

"What technology in particular are you talking about for electric vehicles?  8x the energy consumption even in the same-aerodynamics chassis?"

The question I was answering was: could the grid support the replacement of all light duty (cars, SUV's, pickups) gasoline vehicles with EV's?  I used efficient EV's (Tesla) and HEV's (Prius) and compared them to the current fleet average. The comparison helps answer the intuitive question: "isn't that a lot of energy for the grid to supply?"  The answer is that it's not really as much energy as you might expect.  OTOH, if you compared within the same class of aerodynamics chassis the ratio might be 4-6:1.

The Tesla uses 215 wh/mile, outlet to wheel, and it's optimized for speed, not efficiency.

"What are the 'very good storage methods'?"

I'm mostly thinking of the same things: off-setting hydro, pumped storage, flow batteries, EV planned charging and Vehicle to Grid.  "very good" might have been a little strong - "good enough" is probably better, though Alan feels very strongly about the effectiveness of hydro & pumped storage, and I think PHEV & EV's will be very, very useful.

If I understand you, you feel that if wind is otherwise viable that transmission won't be a barrier to it's use.  Is that right?

I feel that in the many orders of magnitude of technology improvement necessary to shift to a sustainable energy future,  a 25% energy loss to transmit electricity from as far as Seattle to Boston is a pittance.  The many years of wind capacity growth of ~25% only needs an extra 1 year if you were producing it all in Seattle and bringing it to Boston.  Which you're not.

That sending your solar produced in Texas to Los Angeles  probably has less of of an energy footprint than storing it in pumped storage in Texas for later use in Dallas is helpful.

A good portion of industrial use can be tempered to low-usage times.  Smelters don't have to operate at 4:30pm when everyone at once turns on their AC.  That and EV planned seem like they'd have a lot bigger effect than vehicle to grid, which is hopelessly decentralized + inconveniant IMO.

Yeah, V2G would be pretty complicated to implement in a largescale way.  Using it for household backup might be easier.

OTOH, these days cars are pretty much computers that happen to have wheels, and communication & control through intelligent meters might not be difficult to do in the long run.  Things will change a great deal in the next couple of decades, I think.

"Using it for household backup might be easier."

I meant household demand management & time shifting. Though I have seen somebody use a Prius as a household UPS....

I feel that in the many orders of magnitude of technology improvement necessary to shift to a sustainable energy future...
I think you've overestimated the problem here.  It appears that less than 1 order of magnitude in conversion from biomass to energy will do to replace all petroleum motor fuels.  There are energy-positive structures being built; with continued improvement in their cost structure (a large part of which will be economies of scale) and increasing price of fossil fuels, and they'll be cheaper than conventional structures too.
Smelters don't have to operate at 4:30pm when everyone at once turns on their AC.
Actually, many industrial processes require continuous control.  Thermal cycling of the insulation in a smelter is bad; blast furnaces are often rebuilt after each shutdown.
That and EV planned seem like they'd have a lot bigger effect than vehicle to grid, which is hopelessly decentralized
Many commentators consider decentralization a virtue.
Many commentators are going to be pissed when they find their new EVs half charged because it wasn't very windy today(though PHEVs have a bit of an advantage here).  Vehicle to grid requires perfectly sinchronized 60hz invertors at every house with near zero drift.  It requires intelligent load balancing across a network of vehicles so prone to break down that you have a repair shop within a few miles of your house.  I'm all for solar decentralization, perhaps inverted at the neighorhood level. But load balancing based on a vehicle that's driven off the grid, needs to be reliably kept at a high charge percentage, and which relies on battery tech with limited charge/recharge cycles, doesn't seem like a good way to use resources.   Even solar-to-grid is rather difficult - preventing islanding and keeping in phase with good power factor and such are hard.  It's simply much easier to drive the grid waveform from a single or few highly managed sources.  Using car batteries for distributed storage requires very smart management that isn't possible with our current grid.

Shifting charging demand over to certain times is much, much easier.  It's trivial and self-regulating to setup a wifi or wimax network and send out an expected power price over time chart, then have a locally smart charger fill that up with the cheapest juice.


I wasn't really talking about short-term demand, though I guess I'm a bit out of my league here.  Would changing the standard electricity-intensive heavy industry worker over to a night shift be possible as a means of deflecting demand from peak periods?


Sorry I was rather vague in the first statement - I should have stuck to wind capacity.  A ~10% or so average hit in transmission costs from the nearest rural area populated with wind turbines is nothing, compared to the many thousands of percent that would be needed to shift most of our energy production over to wind turbines.

It means that yes, if we wanted to we could built an underwater nuclear complex in the center of the south pacific thousands of miles from the nearest human, and shift over all the energy to our homes at a cost of increasing the complex size by a paltry 50% or so over what we could build right here.


why is the synchronization at 60 Hz with system wide phase coherence difficult ?

i'm worked on R&D teams where phase locked loops were up in the 200 MHz ballpark.

there's got to be a way to synchronize phase at 60 Hz.


he many thousands of percent that would be needed to shift most of our energy production over to wind turbines.

Your cost estimates are WAY off.  With no economic value attached to GW today, the zero GHG grid that I proposed would likely raise rates 50% to 75% (which would happen anyway).

A steady rise in carbon taxes would push us towards that sort of grid anyway (nukes need pumped storage as well to neet anything more than peak load).  Depending on costs associated with nukes (remember costs of the last dozen finished in the US, and the new Finnish one seems in trouble early) and just how steep the decline is in WTs and other renewable costs (WT electricity will be cheaper in 2012 than today,  Not so for nuke) the mix will be somewhere between 23% nuke and ~/2.3rds nuke on strictly economics alone.

More than 2/3rds nuke begins to run into significant problems.  France is able to get up to 90% nuke becasue they sell power all night long to ALL of their neighbors.  Swiss utilites buy night power from several French nukes and save their water for selling back to the French, Germans, Italians at peak (at 3 to 5 times the price).  Perhaps we can do the same with Canada.

Also nuke is VERY risky to build a society on because of common design flaws.  Any design can have a hidden flaw, which, when discovered, requires shutting down ALL reactors of that type for months tp years.  It has happened several times already and will happen again.  No one reactor type should IMHO supply more than 4% of national power.  Unexpectedly losing 4% of your generation is a blow, but it can be worked around with luck.  More than 4% ?  Nope.

"many industrial processes require continuous control."

EP, I'm surprised at your emphasis here.  A LOT of industrial power is shifted to the night to take advantage of lower rates.  Heck, I have a steel mill a mile from my home that shifts into overdrive at night...

Look I hate to be a party pooper because I can see we have some real wind enthusiasts here but GET REAL people.  How many years and how many dollars would it cost to construct all these wind turbines we would need to even make a dent in our power consumption.  And then we have what 200 million gasoline and diesel powered cars and trucks here in the US and you want to convert them all over to electric?  How many years and how much money would that take?  

You are talking about a major societal transformation here for wind power to make any impact on mitigating the fossil fuel crisis.  And peak oil is within five years?  

It's too late for this.  

" How many years and how many dollars would it cost to construct all these wind turbines we would need to even make a dent in our power consumption."

We're there now.  Wind is supplying 43% of planned new generation in 2007 in the US.  It can easily ramp up to supply all new demand growth (2% per year) within 5 years. Wind can handle demand growth replacement of existing plants that are planned for replacement, and substitution for depleting nat gas if we made a modest societal commitment to using it to the exclusion of coal.  Actually replacing existing power plants before their planned end-of-life, and replacing existing coal usage are more difficult questions: those would be expensive, and require a major societal commitment that we're not yet close to.

"How many years and how much money would that take?  "

Keep in mind that we don't have to replace all 210M vehicles: newer vehicles get much higher useage (something Hirsch didn't take into account), and there are only 100M households.  Probably 5 years US vehicle production (85M vehicles) could replace 60% of miles driven.

There are two different questions: is there enough power for the grid, and is there enough portable power for transportation.  I think unquestionably the grid will be ok with only relatively modest investments in infrastructure.  Transportation?  That could be painful.  There will certainly be enough for key needs such as transporting wind turbines, but visiting mom in Florida, or commuting to distant low wage jobs, may get expensive.

A long time--despite the impressive growth, wind is less than 0.5% of global power generation.
Don't forget that we are talking about exponential growth for renewable energy. Today it is in the <1% range (excluding hydro), a decade from now it will be several %, two decades from now it will be tens of percent and four decades from now it will be close to 100%. You can check adoption curves for other disruptive technologies (bronze, iron, steel, railways, cars, computers) and you will inevitably find the same laws at work. Just because it takes decades to get something started does not mean it will take centuries for it to take the lead. Quite the contrary. Soon we will have to worry about keeping environmental effects of renewables under control. See the issues with wind energy.
As indirectly noted by InfinitePossibilities above, wind is growing in the US very fast.  It's roughly doubling every two years, and as I have noted elsewhere, it accounts for 43% of planned generation in the US for 2007 (after adjustment for capacity factor) - see page 8

To me that says wind has "arrived".  What do you think?

There is no "law" that guarantees wind's acension.  Bronze, iron, steel, railways, cars, computer, etc. replaced the status quo technologies because they were superior in multiple ways.  Wind has some advantages (good EROI in good locations, low CO2/MW) and some disadvantages (intermittent, far from load) centers.

Wind at 100% of power generation in 40 years?  No way. Remember, in the US wind competes against baseload coal, gas, hydro and nuclear.  System operators look at the *relative* value and cost when they dispatch power.  Coal is abundant and cheap.  Gas is less abundant but also pretty cheap. Wind is also cheap in terms of operating cost, but it is a not under operator control and is variable based on weather conditions.  From the system opeators this reduces the value of wind energy, it reduces its contribution to reserve margins that are dictated by regulations, and it reduces the
value to wind plant owners in surplus generation that occurs when wind power saturates the flexible dispatch portion of grid operations.

These are not insurmountable prolems, but they are formidable barriers.

The EIA wind experts told me that if the 1.9 cent production tax credit goes away, wind energy goes into a deep stasis in the US.  What does that say about its viability?

To me it says the obvious, unless electricity prices double, which they will.
It strikes me that to calculate an 'honest' EROI for wind, one must take into account the energy necessary to build and maintain a storage system. Obviously this would vary depending on a lot of factors such as the base load flexibility in a given grid. But just to count the raw power output of a turbine with the energy needed to build the turbine doesn't yield a very useful figure in terms of substituting one form of energy for another.

I suppose it really would make more sense to figure the EROI of a 'black box' which delivers the amounts of energy we want when it is needed. Within the 'black box' would be a mix of wind, solar, nuclear, etc. It may be useful for starters to have the figures for individual sources, but real world applications need more complex analyses.

Cutler, you have been in this business for a while. Do you know of anyone who has done, even on an abstract level, this type of 'composite' EROI analysis? I suspect it might surprise us that the mix could be far better than the individual sources. Whole greater than the sum and all that.

Good point about the storage--I have not seen an EROI for wind that accounts for this.  However, the point may be moot.  In the US at least, no one is even considering building storage systems for wind--way to expensive (an hence lower EROI).  Wind power will be dumped on to the grid--hence the reliability issues I mentioned.
Based on the costs to build a wind farm from Pacca and Horvaths (summary of article below, sorry it doesn't format properly), consider a windmill composed of steel and concrete.  A windmill farm in the Escalante desert, built to produce 5.55 TWh of power, would require 13.8 million pounds of aluminum, 2.8 trillion pounds of concrete, 639 billion pounds of steel, etc.  The wind farm would occupy over 189 square miles.   Pacca & Horvath don't give the capacity factor for these windmills, but an often used number is 30% (i.e. wind blows hard enough 30% of the time), so a 5.55 TWh wind farm might serve around 175,000 to 350,000 people, depending on the wind speed and how close people were to the windmills, since power is lost via transmission over long distances.  

In 1992 such a wind farm would cost 200 million dollars, which doesn't include labor and maintenance costs, and would serve less than one percent of the United States population.  It would cost over $200,000,000,000 to build enough windmills to generate electrical power for everyone (though of course, you couldn't, since not all areas have enough wind).  With energy prices many times higher now than in 1992, the cost would be far more expensive.


Summary of Sergio Pacca and Darpa Horvath 2002 Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Building and Operating  Electric Power Plants in the Upper Colorado River Basin

There is a large area of research devoted to figuring out how much material, energy, and cost is required to build various types of power plants.  To estimate the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the life cycle of a plant, Pacca and Horvath used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a method that calculates materials extraction, manufacturing and production, operations, and the disposal of the materials at the end of the life of the power plant.

As you can imagine, this isn't easy. There are two main LCA models -- Pacca and Horvath chose the EIOLCA approach, which uses a large commodity matrix that tries to identify the entire chain of suppliers of the raw materials, and then this matrix is multiplied by another one containing emissions and energy use per dollar.

Because dollars fluctuate in value, a better method would be to calculate the energy used at every step of the chain, but still, these dollar amounts give a rough idea of the embedded energy.

The study compares the Glen Canyon dam with four other types of power plants, all figures are scaled to each plant producing 5.55 TWh of energy per year.

This kind of study could help decide which direction a future energy Manhattan project should.   This study rules out a Photovoltaic power plant, which is not possible now -- it requires 4118 MW of power, but the total world production of PV modules up to 1997 was only 125 MW, less than 3% of what's required for just this one plant.  The PV plant also displaces an enormous ecosystem, about 20 square miles.

This study does not cover nuclear power plants.  Another study states "nuclear fission energy requires small inputs of natural resources compared to most other fossil and non-fossil energy technologies. When we consider net electricity generation (e.g., net electricity after subtracting consumption by internal plant loads and by uranium enrichment plants), the life-cycle resource inputs for non-fossil power sources are dominated by construction materials, most notably steel and concrete. The construction of existing 1970-vintage U.S. nuclear power plants required 40 metric tons (MT) of steel and 190 cubic meters (m3) of concrete per average megawatt of electricity (MW(e)) generating capacity. For comparison, a typical wind energy system operating with 6.5 meters-per-second average wind speed requires construction inputs of 460 MT of steel and 870 m3 of concrete per average MW(e). Coal uses 98 MT of steel and 160 m3 of concrete per average MW(e); & natural-gas combined cycle plants use 3.3 MT steel and 27 m3 concrete" (1).

Below are two tables summarizing the data.
GWE: Global Warming Effect is the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in MegaTons of CO2 equivalent, which is calculated by adding CO2 + CH4 +N2O together  
MT = MegaTon = 1,000,000 Metric tons.  1 MT = 2,204.62262 pounds

Here's just wind since it didn't format properly below:
Construction     Farm      
Input            Total MT  
---------------  ---------  
copper.............. 1,569
electricity MWh..1,691,678
excavation m3    

(1) Peterson, P. F. Will the United States Need a Second Geologic Repository? The Bridge 2003, 33 (3), 26-32.  

                 Hydro      PV          Wind      Coal      Nat Gas  
Construction     Plant      Plant       Farm      Plant     Plant
Input            Total MT   Total MT    Total MT  Total MT  TOTAL MT
---------------  ---------  ---------   --------  --------  --------
aluminum                67    177,788      6,275       624        230
cement                      2,222,356
concrete         9.906.809             1,266,172   178,320     71,270
copper                  90    480,029      1,569
electricity MWh             7,556,010  1,691,678
excavation m3    4,711,405
glass            1,066,731                 4,930  
oil                                          448
plastics                                  20,169
sand                                       9,412      
steel               32,183  4,600,276    289,987    62,200     51,130

Operational Inputs
coal combustion                                    2,336,000
coal extraction                                    2,336,000      
transportation by railroad                         2,336,000    
natural gas combustion                                 1,560,300,000 m3
natural gas transportation                             1,560,300,000 m3          
natural gas extraction                                 1,560,300,000 m3

TABLE 2: COST, GWE (Global Warming Effect), and Area required

                        Total Cost                  Area
                        (1992 $)          GWE       required
                        -----------       ------- --------------
Coal Power Plant        149,772,446    90,000,000    n/a
Wind Farm               206,881,416       800,000 489,580,000 m2
Natural Gas Plant       374,033,481    50,000,000    n/a
Hydroelectric Dam       503,240,216       500,000 651,141,400 m2  
Photovoltaic Plant    3,578,457,990    10,000,000  51,386,400 m2

NOTE: the cost in 1992 dollars doesn't include labor, installation, or maintenance costs.

Photovoltaic Plant 100-W panels of dimensions 1.316 x 0.66 m with array units of 3 x 10 panels, each having its own concrete foundation, for a surface area of 3.9 x 6.6 m, sited at 30° latitude, at a 30-deg tilt (approximately 1.2 m of additional width is needed to account for shading by the array due to the sun's angle). There is 0.9 m between each of these array units for personnel access. Each adjacent unit covers a land area of 37.44 m2 and has a capacity rating of 3 kW. Some 1,372,500 of these 3 kW units are required.
Wind Farm    location: Southern Utah, at 7,000 feet.  average windspeed 6.5 m/s turbine: 600 kW in 4480 turbines
Hydropower: As the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has suggested,  "upgrading hydroelectric generator and turbine units  at existing power plants is one of the most immediate, cost-effective, and environmentally acceptable means for developing additional electrical power".

4480 turbines of 660kw?

Modern turbines are c. 1MW (1000kw).

4480 turbines of 660KW.

I had trouble with the units in what you posted, but 2.8 trillion pounds of contcrete is

2.8X10EE12 pounds of concrete
or 1.27 X 10EE12 kgs of concrete
or 1.27 X 10EE9 tonnes of concrete

or 283,482 tonnes of concrete per turbine?

That is basically as much concrete, per turbine, as you would use to build a substantial skyscraper.

That number looks really wrong.  Similar for all the other raw materials numbers quoted.

Just on Load Factor, for any power plant it means the per cent. of the rated capacity you will achieve.

So for a wind turbine, 30% means 30% of the time it will blow at 100% of rated capacity, or 100% of the time it will produce at 30% of rated capacity.

Nukes typically run in the low 80s (distorted a bit by the fact that every few years they have a complete maintenance shutdown).  All other power stations run below that level (because nuclear and hydro produce most of the baseload).

My own calculations from the problem set above

5.500 TWhr = 0.1% ish of US power consumption

5500 GWhr requires 6278MW of capacity at 100% Load Factor (divide by 8760 hrs pa)

So therefore at 0.3 LF 20,926 1 MW turbines (actually 1.2-1.4MW/ turbine is more like it).

Cost would be about $20bn.  

Cost to do that in nuclear would be about $16bn (assuming 3rd Gen technology ie 4X1650MW units at $4bn each) + whatever price you care to put on waste disposal and long term decommissioning.  Gas or coal would be less than $10bn but you would then have fuel cost.

So if you did that 800 times you would cover the entire US power consumption.  For $1.6 trillion.  Which is about 15% of US GDP now, or about equal to what the US spends on fixed commercial assets every year (capital spending by companies).

So over 20 years, 5% of US capital spending to cover the entire US energy consumption.

The estimated total cost of the war in Iraq is between 1 and $2 trillion (that was actually a 2004 estimate, so I am assuming the current costs of $15bn a month or so are offset by no rise in future costs).

Now there are a few other factors: depreciation (but that affects the turbines much more than the structures), growth in power demand (however GDP would also grow), the fact that you wouldn't use wind for all that capacity (because of grid issues).

But it's a measure of what one can achieve.

The amount of concrete is right.  I'm assuming 200 cubic yards per windmill because that's what was used on this project:

If concrete weighs about 100 pounds/cubic foot * 27
= 2700 lbs/cubic yard

200 cubic yards times 2700 pounds = 540,000 lbs

540,000 / 2,000 = 270 tons per windmill foundation

270 tons times 4480 windmills = 1,209,600 tons for this windmill farm, which is within 5% of what Pacca and Horvath use (1,266,172)

Here is what their paper had to say about windmills:

A wind farm producing 5.55 TWh of electricity per year was assumed to be in southern Utah, at an elevation of 2134 m (7000 ft), close to the Escalante Desert where the average wind speed is 6.5 m/s (35). A turbine of 600 kW (36) was used as the unit for the farm's total of 4480 turbines that would occupy an area of 489 580 000 m2 (37). The total cost of materials and construction of the facility would amount to $206,881,000 (in 1992 dollars) without labor/installation and maintenance costs. Given a range of prices between $250 and $1200 per ha, the required land would add an additional $12,000,000-59,000,000 to the cost. Given the large area, land between the turbines could be used for other activities such as agriculture. No NEP loss was anticipated. The contribution of construction materials and energy to theGWE of the wind farm after 20 yr of operation (800 000 MT of CO2 equiv) is shown in Table 3.

It was assumed that after 20 yr of operation all turbines had to be replaced (but not the concrete foundations) and that the required construction energy was 30% of the original electricity and 100% of petroleum used. The electricity output of the facility remained constant. The refurbishment resulted in 900,000 MT of CO2 emissions, two-thirds of the original emissions from manufacturing and constructing the plant (1,300,000 MT of CO2).

I thought about analyzing this, and realized it was pointless.  The costs of wind farms have fallen so much since 1992 that any data from that time is really, really out of date and unrealistic.
Really?  The cost of the Bay Bridge has tripled from 2 billion to 6 billion dollars because of the high cost of concrete and steel.  Which costs exactly have come down?
In the last 14 years there has been a revolution in wind turbine design.  Massively larger (often following the cube/square law for greater efficiency i.e. increase physical dimensions, square materials required, cube output) and better designs in all areas, blades, generators, gearboxes (Vestas has some problems there recently) and even towers are better.

Any 1992 wind turbine data is of historical interest only.  Simply not relevant to today or, even more, tomorrow.


I hardly know where to start.  First, wind turbine size has risen sharply (power output is the square of size, and cost is linear, so cost drops proportionately to size). As noted by Valuethinker, nobody uses 600KW turbines now - they range from 1 to 3 MW. Also, manufacturing cost has dropped dramatically in the last 14 years largely due to operational experience and improved methods, despite the jump in material costs in the last 2 years.  

Second, either something is seriously wrong with this study, or wind was already a lot cheaper in 1992 than any other source of electricity: 5.55 TWhr per year, at $.10/kwhr, is worth $555 million. If this windfarm costs $200 million, then that's a 4 month payback and a return on investment of about 300% per year.  In other words, this windfarm would have generated electricity at a cost of about a half penny per kwhr.

Don't be confused by the difference between my answer and Alan's.  I was talking about the relationship between blade length and swept area, and he was talking about increased wind speed (due to higher turbines) and wind power.
What that tells you is that we allow CO2 emissions for free!

It's called a negative externality in economics.

Essentially we allow polluters to pollute without restriction, the most dangerous industrial pollutant of all-- the one that could trigger the end of human life on this planet (or, more likely, make our current civilisation unsustainable).

If you charge $100/tonne for Carbon emissions ($28 per tonne of CO2) the economics of coal look very different.  European permit prices under the emissions trading scheme have reached those kinds of levels.

There is actually no economic case for allowing coal fired power, without carbon sequestration, given the potential damage of those CO2 emissions.

The fossil fuel industry, world wide, is a major recipient of government subsidies, implicit or explicit.  From the destruction of natural habitats for which there are tax allowances for any restorative work (or the work is just not done) through to the high human cost of an industry with a very high mortality rate.  (I won't mention lung cancer from particulates emission).

The nuclear industry is itself the recipient of massive government subsidies.  The Price Anderson Act provides insurance which would not be available in private markets, limiting the liability in the case of an accident.  The R&D was paid for by governments.  The future waste storage liability is undertaken by governments when we have a solution.

No nuclear utility operates in a pure 'merchant power' context.  British Energy tried, selling into the pool, and when the pool price crashed, it went broke and the government had to stump up £3.5bn to refinance it (to prevent a renationalisation).

Nuclear utilities across the world are either state controlled or have arrangements with the regulators that allow their cost of production to be loaded onto the consumer (effectively a guaranteed floor price).

The Bush Energy Act and the proposed British nuclear restart both provide for explicit price subsidies for new nuclear facilities.

The UK decommissioning liability for existing nuclear plants is £70bn present value.

In the arms race ahead of us of escalating prices of energy and high environmental externalities - energy will always be worth more than ecosystem services - they will both continue to go up, but until we cant breathe or drink water or something with an incredibly steep discount rate, energy will win. Because we've evolved to 'over'value the present moment.
Remember, in the US wind competes against.... nuclear......  
The EIA wind experts told me that if the 1.9 cent production tax credit goes away, wind energy goes into a deep stasis in the US.  What does that say about its viability

Golly Geee.  What happens to Nuclear fission if Price -Anderson were to "go away"?

Looks like one of your 'base loads' is not viable without that government handout.

All energy sources receive subsdies.  Nuclear power probably receives the most, but it will be among the least likely to go away due to the powerful lobbbies behind it.  Wind subsidy is much more tenuous in US.  Nuclear power would go away with insurance indemnification subsidy.
Exactly.    If your argument against wind is the fed tax credit while saying 'fission is a base load source'....there is a disconnect in your position.

If there was no 'protection' like with Price-Anderson , there would be no commericial fission power generation.  Given how well the saftey net of government has re-build the WTC complex and helpped the people of New Orleans .....would the government help the people who would be effected by a fission failure, or just say 'too bad'?

What is the EROEI of fission failure?  What is the EROEI on the failure of a wind machine?

I am not arguing for or against wind or nuclear.  Utilities look at the financial landscape as it is presented to them, and choose among alternative investments accordingly.  Subsiidies are part of the equation.  A catastrophic failure for a nuke ar a wind turbine obviously push the EROI below one for that facility--consequences obviously are greater in the case of nukes.

Now certainly this might be construed as an insurance subsidy, but we cant conclude that commercial fission power wouldn't exist in the US without it. Specifically:

"According to the United States Public Interest Research Group the subsidy to the nuclear industry has been estimated at between $366 million and $3.5 billion annually, or $3.5 million to $33 million per reactor per year"

Which is certainly affordable on the lower end. Even without this protection, the risk to an individual reactor of a major accident is so low, it might simply be prudent to run naked of insurance.

The insuarance indeminification issue is simple:  the government susbidy is there because no private insurance cover would issue a policy for  anuclear power plant.  No subsidy, no insurance, no industry.
Given how sparingly its been used and the total cost of outlays, I somewhat doubt that. Insurance can still be purchased, and there are other countries not covered by Price-Anderson that still have competitive commercial nuclear industries. And a company can still spin off LLCs to diversify risk.

At best, this is in the realm of specualtion, unless you have citations that indicate no insurance provider will cover nuclear power plants.

At best, this is in the realm of specualtion, unless you have citations that indicate no insurance provider will cover nuclear power plants.
"At the time of the Act's passing, it was considered necessary as an incentive for the private production of nuclear energy. This was because investors were unwilling to accept the then-unknown risks of nuclear energy without limitations on their liability."

No in every other country the government takes on the full risk of nuclear energy.

After all, in most countries, the government owns the utilities, or they are so tightly regulated as to be de facto government entities.

The government also guarantees the price the nuclear generator receives-- when the Pool price plummeted in the UK, British Energy, the privatised nuclear operator, defaulted on its loans.  The government had to step in and bail it out to the tune of £3.5bn.

No insurer would sign on to an unlimited liability for nuclear power.  It would be another asbestos death spiral.

Remember the liability for nuclear power will run to hundreds of years.

There has been NO payouts under Price-Anderson - never in almost 50 years.

Nuke owners maintain private liability insurance plus have a big risk pool arrangement.  These two private pools covered the public liabilities for the Three Mile Island neighbors and those were exclusively for evacuation costs and some "mental anguish" cases.  Owners also have some "comprehensive" coverage for their own assets.

If you do not maintain insurance coverage, the NRC will lift your license and you will be shutdown.

For as long as I can remember, the nukes I've worked at have gotten full premium refunds - with interest.


Price-Anderson says, to me, more about the economic inefficiencies of American tort law than about nuclear safety.  Any company doing any nuclear work demands some limitation on private liability since without it, a contract is "you bet your company."

There has been NO payouts under Price-Anderson - never in almost 50 years.
"Since Price-Anderson was enacted, nuclear insurance pools have paid out some $151 million"

Price-Anderson says, to me, more about the economic inefficiencies of American tort law than about nuclear safety.  

And yet, if the cost of the failure modes were not so high, the law would not be in place.

If oyu feel the fission industry is so safe, then by all means ask for Price-Anderson to be repealed.

In fact, have the fission industry pay for its protection from the terrorists that the citizens are being told lurk around every corner and are waiting to attack a plant.   Surly, if fission is so safe, the payments to the military and other security measures should still keep fission power cheap....right?

Paying to protect from terror, paying the full insurance   rates, AND paying for long-term dispoasl of waste should be cheaper than the payments to The Government....and be more effective....right?  

Oh, and be sure to include the cost of moving the 'entombed disposal' to dry land when sea waters rise due to global warming.

You need to scrutinize Wikipedia more closely.  Self-funded insurance pools have had some payouts but those are NOT federal Price-Anderson payments.  They also cover users of radioactive materials like industrial radiographers and well loggers.  Their workers are much more accident-prone.

The fact remains that NO member of the public in the US has EVER been over-exposed from a civilian nuclear power plant.

Please, let's keep our facts straight.

Taxes paid by all citizens provide for the common defense.  That remains the Federal government's responsibility to ALL citizens.

Individual nuclear plants employ extensive armed guards and security equipment.  Meeting Federal regulations are the responsibility of the owners.  That is a cost of doing business.

I'm no lawyer but American tort law infamously reaches into the  deepest pocket for any portion of shared liability.

The notion of how catastrophic a nuclear accident might be was first estimated in the late 50's and it was intended to be bounding.  Fifty years of research into severe accidents have shown that off-site consequences are much, much less severe than previously thought.

Relatively small enhancements have made huge reductions in risk.  For example, the concrete under the TMI reactor vessel was made of crushed limestone as the aggregates.  "Core on the floor" scenarios (beyond the TMI event) would cause its decomposition into non-condensable gases which overpressurize and fail containment.

My new reactor has a 5 foot thick layer of alumina refractory under the core so that a meltdown would be contained and stopped - no more China Syndrome and no containment failure.  No containment failure means no off-site consequences.

There have been calls to reform tort law but the trial lawyers have successfully block them.  Make the general reforms and we can rethink Price Anderson.  Besides, once Congress confers a benefit, it is really hard to take it away.

Self-funded insurance pools have had some payouts but those are NOT federal Price-Anderson payments.

So you are claiming that these payouts were not under the Price-Anderson and follow-up laws?

Exactly HOW is that possible, given the law is what influences the policies that exist.

If there are no payouts underthe law, then why have the law?

The fact remains that NO member of the public in the US has EVER been over-exposed from a civilian nuclear power plant.

This is your answer to the question about the risks of having a fission reactor?   Why are you limiting the DEMONSTRATED downside ERORI costs of fission to just the US of A?  

Is your next position going to be to bring the US of A government, regulation and engineering to other lands so this safty you are claiming can be everyones?

Taxes paid by all citizens provide for the common defense.  That remains the Federal government's responsibility to ALL citizens.

Interesting position.  Corporations are citizens.  And if some citizen creates more risk, ENYERONE has to pay VS that citizen paying for the risk they are creating.  

Looks like taking money from the common good to benefit the 'citzen' with the fission reactor.

 Meeting Federal regulations are the responsibility of the owners.

Don't the regs exist to provide safety?  If so, why do all these 'safe' places keep paying fines for not following the fed regs?

Make the general reforms and we can rethink Price Anderson.

Price Anderson exists because fission is risky.   You are claiming there is no risk - so trying to claim 'tort reform'  makes it look like you don't really believe in your safety message.

Besides, as you've stated "I'm no lawyer " and you ARE claiming you know all about how safe fission is.

My new reactor has a 5 foot thick layer of alumina refractory under the core so that a meltdown would be contained and stopped - no more China Syndrome and no containment failure.  No containment failure means no off-site consequences.

And hows that design gonna work on the coasts and the coasts go underwater with sea level rising?   I noticed how you ignored the EROEI of taking the entombed reactors along the coast and moving them to high ground if the water rises.



You're going off the deep end in your post about rising sea levels.

To clarify the insurance issue, nuke owners maintain private insurance, much like automobile comprehensive, that covers public liability and their own equipment.  The amount of liability is capped at some big number, maybe $500,000,000 - I don't have that figure at my fingertips.  This is because insurance pools want to limit any on-time hit.  There is just not a much bigger market of liquid capital for insurance.  The payouts in wikipedia you linked to came from this private insurance pool.

The payouts for the evacuees at TMI for temporary housing and "mental distress" came from the private insurers and hence from the premiums paid by the owners.

Above and beyond the capacity of the private insurance pools comes government insurance for liability in the form of Price-Anderson.  There have been no claims against the government Price-Anderson coverage.  There would be private liability insurance for some level of coverage whether or not Price-Anderson was in effect.

Price Anderson is a put option, held by society against the government, for future nuclear liabilities.

Put it another way, it is a put held by the nuclear industry against the government.

It has infinite time value.  If you look at any option pricing textbook, even an out of the money put has a monetary value.

Would Warren Buffet issue a 'cat' bond (a bond which only pays out on a certain, low probability event) against the nuclear industry?  I don't think so.  He is very averse to open ended risks.

On sea levels and nuclear reactors the problem has already come up.

The UK wants to license new reactors on existing sites where there were operating stations, however the Department of the Environment has pointed out to the Government that many of those sites may be underwater by 2050.

The other GW impact on nuclear has been the super hot summers we have been having.  The French have had to shut units down, because there was not enough cooling water in the rivers.  tant pis, as they say.

And yet you still cant buy much in the way of meteor insurance either, yet business still functions.
If a meteor hits, who you gonna sue?

If a jury finds that a company is 10% liable for an accident (of any kind), the"deep pockets" can wind up paying 100% of the damages plus "pain and suffering" plus attorneys' fees.

I won't say that Price-Anderson is essential to the continued health of the nuclear industry but I don't expect it to go away since arguments otherwise are not compelling.

There would be no civilian industry without the Price Anderson Act or its foreign equivalents.

It's not an unknown principle, for example the UK government insures major art exhibits.  Without such insurance, there is no way Old Master paintings (of the quality of a major art museum) would ever be exhibited in the UK (the cost of a theft or a fire could easily be £500m+).

But it's wrong to say it is not a cost.  It is a Put Option, held by the future claimants in a nuclear accident, against the UK (or US) taxpayer.

That Put Option has value, because it has infinite time value (the volatility is unknown).  Even though it is 'out of the money' (not exercisable).

In addition, markets have made it clear they will not finance new nuclear facilities unless the power price is guaranteed.  No utility would build such capacity (the Finnish government negotiated long term power contracts wiht big industrial users):

  • so the British government stumped up to renationalise British Energy (to be precise, avoided its insolvency by diluting the existing shareholders by 95%)

  • the Bush Energy Act explicitly subsidises new nuclear power, on the same basis as wind power
Bah. Options with long time horizons are often valueless when the probability of them being in the money is low enough. You wont be able to find a buyer for a 20 year put of VTI being at $1.00.

You say its required, I say it isn't. Open your company as an LLC and be done with it. Bet your company and you'll be fine.

Given the thousands of reactor years of experience, its a safe bet. And stop erecting the strawman of implying Price-Anderson as a subsidy without cost.

No matter the justification (or lack thereof), I don't expect the nuclear industry to give up Price-Anderson.

It does offer some perceived shareholder value and its retirement would probably cause some slight downward pressure on stock prices.

Would the nuclear industry go on without it?  Probably but I'm a bit of a traitor to say so.

BTW, that's about 10,000 reactor-years of experience for LWRs.

"Wind at 100% of power generation in 40 years?  No way. "

hmm.  I'm not sure if anybody is suggesting that - certainly not me.  Alan, I and other posters have been suggesting that the optimal mix for wind in the longterm is likely between around 20% and 55%.

"The EIA wind experts told me that if the 1.9 cent production tax credit goes away, wind energy goes into a deep stasis in the US"

Are they really wind experts?  It's easy to take a superficial look at the relationship between wind investment and the credit in recent years and assume that the credit is necessary.  

I would argue that even if wind was competitive price-wise that any sane developer would delay construction if the PTC had expired in the current year, and there was a reasonable expectation of it being revived in the next year - why get a modest ROI if you can wait 6 months and get a greate ROI?

Finally, would you agree that it's likely that natural gas prices will continue to rise, and there is a pretty good chance of some sort of carbon tax or trading system that will reward wind and penalize coal?

What would you estimate as current costs for coal and wind as a rough average?

To answer the questions you pose, you do not need to be a wind expert--you need to know electricity markets and how power is dispatched.  The EIA folks are good-not perfect.
I'm not sure I understand you.

Let me take a different approach.  What I'm saying is that I think that even without subsidies wind was cheaper than natural gas generation for a while this last year, and it's likely be cheaper again for the longterm as gas production declines, and prices rise again. Further, carbon taxes and/or CO2 sequestration, combined with continued declines in wind costs will (if GW is the threat it seems to be) in the long term likely make wind cheaper than coal.

What do you think?

You need to look at the cumulative online entrants for the five year period (2006-2010). You are picking a peak year. I didn't calculate the total, but it is obviously less 20%, excluding nuclear. It is also not clear that the data reflects realistic ouptut versus peak capacity.

I am sorry, but ... give a subsidy and they will come.

"Another issue confronting wind energy is the uncertainty of future government subsidies. Much of the recent growth on wind energy around the world has been made possible by government subsidies such as the wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) in the United States and feed-in tariffs and renewable portfolio standards in Europe. While there is strong support in many nations for such support, shifting political winds can create uncertainty for manufacturers and utilities."

In high gas price countries, wind is now competitive, without subsidy, with CCGT.  Ireland in particular.

If you believe in Peak Oil, then you believe in Peak Gas, and you believe that US gas prices won't fall below some threshold, long run.

(at the very least, given the depletion curves for US and Canadian gas, US gas prices long term won't fall below the $6/mcf entry price for LNG if the LNG facilities can get built in time.  At that point, wind is not cheaper than gas, but certainly within spitting range, or rather some wind is cheaper than some CCGT).

The case for wind is the same one as the case for nuclear, which is

  • the capital cost is high

  • with lower real interest rates, the capital cost falls (more dramatic effect for nuclear since they take much longer to build)

  • the fuel cost is very low (free in the case of wind) and the operating costs should be low (they've never quite made it in nuclear)

  • the CO2 output is negligible (again a little more tendentious for nukes, because of the mining and reprocessing cycle)

We can't feasibly run an entire grid on wind without some new departures in energy storage technology.

Conversely we can certainly supply 20% of our Terrawatt Hrs from wind (US or UK) and if we practice active demand management to smooth the load curve, significantly reduce the CO2 emissions from our electric power system.

We can't feasibly run an entire grid on wind without some new departures in energy storage technology.

No.  You can't "run the grid" the way people have been USED TO.   The level of service you are used to (throw the switch and stuff works) and the pricing (same rate no matter if it the middle of the night or in 120 deg F heat, or if the wind is blowing brisk and the grid has excessive load) will change.

A 'wind doesn't work' position is looking from the lens of 'we have to keep what we are used to'.  Guess what?  There's gonna be some changes made....

I don't think VT was arguing against wind.

I think Alan, I and other posters have been suggesting that the optimal mix for wind in the longterm is likely between around 20% and 55%, and that other renewables, and only a moderate amount of storage, would be needed.

I can get to 20% wind in my head, with existing technology and tweaking of the grid.

beyond that is hard.  On current grid requirements, you need 1GW of fossil fueled backup for every 5GW of wind.

Once you are over 20% wind, you might need more.  

And obviously, if you are at 33% wind, say, you are also retaining 27% (5/6ths) of the fossil fuel, so you are building a much bigger reserve margin. The cost of that starts to rise very fast at those levels.

With new storage technologies, more long distance power transmission and more aggressive demand management, who knows?  40 or 50% wind might be possible.

"On current grid requirements, you need 1GW of fossil fueled backup for every 5GW of wind."

That's too high - in effect you seem to be assuming that wind provides no capacity credit at all.  Even the British Isles are big enough that there is a great deal of leveling of output due to geographical diversity.  See this analysis for Ireland:

"This study indicates that the growth in wind generation will require additional operating reserve, but that this increase may not be substantial. "

There are an enormous range of strategies for balancing, which have been barely touched.  The most important is probably geographical diversity, followed by new offshore mounting technologies which would take advantage of much more consistent off-shore wind.  My personal favorite is dynamic charging of EV's, because that's one the average person could get involved in.  It reminds me of people I've heard saying that watching their net-metering meters run backwards was more fun than watching tv...

I happen to agree with you.

however I am quoting to you what Transco, a privatised company that owns the National Grid, (and in the States, Niagara Mohawk Power) has replied to the government as the capacity credit it will award wind generation.

hmph. It seems like utilities vary enormously in their attitude to wind, and the capacity credits they give to it.  Here's a source that says that UK wind should contribute about a capacity credit of about 50% it's capacity factor (17% credit in the conventional way of putting it).

The Royal Academy of Engineering did a study, of which this is the executive summary:

I was struck by the very low price of gas assumed, and the very high cost of backup generation for wind.  I noticed that the RAE is only 32 years old - do you know how reputable it is?

Wasn't there a recent study that found that in the UK there was remarkable overall stability of wind levels?  Why do you think Transco is so negative about wind?

NGC (Transco) is habitually conservative.  They run the grid, and people who run grids are conservative people.  But note they are not huge fans of nuclear power either.   Everybody gets marked down.  A grid engineer wants 100% reliability, and really only gas turbines can provide that.

The RAE study is simply old (2003) and so uses 2002 gas prices.

AFAIK, any Royally accredited body is credible/reputable but of course they have axes to grind.  A lot of the old power engineering types I have met (including one of the UK's senior venture capitalists) told me that wind is just an economic nonsense.

Which is itself completely inaccurate.  It's like when I meet a lot of scientifically trained people who now work in business who tell me 'global warming is a problem for your grandchildren'.  They just haven't kept in touch with the latest scientific developments since they did their masters and doctorates 10,15,25 years ago.

On the anti wind brigade they inevitably want more nuclear power.  The historic problems of nukes (3-5 times cost overrun, radioactive release at Dounreay, Windscale/Sellafield etc.) are put down to the history (or not mentioned).  Nuclear power provides the bright new future, just as it did in the 1960s.  But it always has, and it has never delivered on that promise.  And it won't be built without significant state subsidies-- that has been accepted implicitly by the British government, and explicitly by President Bush in his Energy Act.

(I'm always fascinated to see UK capitalists, who despise France in just about every way, talk in glowing (pun ;-) terms about French nuclear power-- ie a big arrogant statist bureaucracy called EDF imposing a solution on consumers ;-).

Whereas wind is now, works now, is built on now technology (which is steadily improving), and is only subsidised because carbon emissions are currently (almost) free.

Paradigm shifts are never easy.  In the case of wind, because of the visual impact, it will be fought every step of the way in local planning applications, public inquiries etc.

Makes sense.

"Paradigm shifts are never easy.  In the case of wind, because of the visual impact, it will be fought every step of the way in local planning applications, public inquiries etc. "

The UK seems to have more local opposition due to visual impacts.  I'm hopeful that floating offshore wind platforms will allow invisible installations that will help solve that problem.

"You need to look at the cumulative online entrants for the five year period (2006-2010). "

I should have explained about that.  The key thing here is the planning window: wind's window is short, and so this kind of table, which shows only current plans (rather than some kind of projection) is going to be misleading if you're not aware of it's limitations.  You can see that every form of generation has a peak, and that the peak varies depending on the planning window which depends on the time for planning and construction.

As noted elsewhere by Professor Cleveland, every form of energy has it's subsidies (direct and indirect - direct pollution, GW, security, occupational hazard, etc).  He suggests that nuclear has the highest of all.  I would argue that those for wind are the lowest, and that wind's costs are the lowest when ALL costs are taken into account.

Nuclear receives more subsidies per MW than wind? That I find hard to believe.

Wind costs less than nuclear per MW? You have to be an Enron accountant to prove that one.

Well, I think Professor Cleveland's including things that people don't ordinarily think of.  Certainly nuclear advocates don't like to include them.

They include the Price-Anderson liability limit, the enormous military and DOE investment in R&D, and possibly the security costs of proliferation and decommissioning costs.

Price-Anderson is the clearest: the insurance industry considers the possible costs of a nuclear accidents as too high for them to afford.  Nuclear advocates like to point out that the liability shield has never been used.  Of course, the US FDIC could have made a somewhat similar argument before the S&L meltdown of the 80's.

Finally, currently the next 7 (?) new US nuclear plants will get exactly the same subsidy as wind - that's a pretty clear subsidy.

Of course, he can explain himself most clearly.  Professor, any comments?

The nuclear power industry is today a taxpayer, big time.  From each MW-hr sold, $1 goes to the US Treasury so that a big nuke can pay $1,500 every hour of full power operation.  Add property tax, corporate income tax, hidden excise taxes, and nuclear is a revenue source, not a sink. The savings on our imported oil bill is even larger.

The development of civilian nuclear power by and in the US has been a great example of a successful industrial policy.  True that it piggybacked on military applications but the taxpayer allocations for development and spread of the technology have been repaid many times over.  If I ever get a PH.D in economics, I'd do my dissertation on the subject.

We Republicans frown on "industrial policies" because they too often get politized in ways that are wasteful and misdirected.  Our current industrial policy toward wind and solar are just such examples of stupid ideas corruptly executed.  

I'm hard put to defend the nuclear production tax credit except that the remaining risk is political and this credit is putting the government's money where its mouth is.

And if Price-Anderson is such a huge subsidy, how come it has had a price tag to the taxpayers over the last 50 years of exactly ZERO? Remember that the owners of nuclear power plants have BILLIONS of dollars at risk in each plant that is not covered by Price-Anderson.  They are motivated to keep their plants safe.

Just to give you an idea on what we spend alone for gasoline in the US, its about 4.533 billion a day!
Well, while were talking, let me ask you some basic questions:

Any estimate of what those military and DOE investment in R&D have been, and how one would allocate them to the civilian industry?

Any thoughts about Iranian and Korean proliferation?

What about decommissioning costs?

A put option, even if unexercised, does not have zero price.

It is wrong to say the P-A act has had zero cost.  What it is in an infinite put option on the nuclear sector, never exercised.


There is no way that the subsidy required by nuclear power is just for political risk.

What the financial markets are saying is: 'you have completely loused this up before in the 70s and 80s, why should we trust you now?'.

These are massive unit risks, even for the largest utilities-- $4-5bn a pop.  One of these goes wrong on the scale that previous nuclear projects went wrong in terms  of cost overrun, licensing, etc. and the utility goes bust.

The very low cost of nuclear power is exactly equivalent to writing off the capital cost of a windfarm, and announcing the power is free, except for maintenance.

Except of course there is the nuclear waste liability.  Which is, for practical purposes, infinite (since it will be an issue 1000 years from now).

If the US has a second nuclear renaissance, it will be because of government action, and I can see it getting to 20% of consumption (say 60 new reactors, vs. the 84 now they will replace).  Beyond that?  You could make a case for 25 or 30%.

It's not a low cost solution, but in a world where Carbon is a taxed pollutant, it is a competitive solution.

I put it into the category of Carbon Capture and Sequestration-- it doesn't solve the problem of global warming, but it buys us time.

As pointed out the Bush Energy Act is explicit.

New nuclear stations will get the same subsidy as wind stations.

Wind costs are certainly proximate with nuclear.  The technology is massively less complex, no containment vessel, etc.

That's on a per MW basis.  Of course you need 2.67 MWs of wind capacity for 1 MW of nuclear capacity (roughly).  The argument is wind Load Factors are much less than nuclear but whilst current nuclear LFs are 80%+, there are 2 wrinkles:

  • LFs are taken per annum.  Historically what happens with nuclear stations is they get taken down for major maintenance over their lifetimes.  This is often unplanned: 7 /8 of British Energy's stations are working below capacity due to cracks in the pumps.  Japan has had similar problems.  Some designs of reactor also cannot be refueled during operation-- more downtime.

  • historically LFs for nuclear stations have been far, far worse.  We've never built a 3rd Generation reactor, so we don't know yet what the LF will be.

Comparing existing nuclear power to wind now is like comparing your existing car to a new car.  Your existing car will always be cheaper (because you are not counting depreciation cost)-- you are just looking at the operating cost.  And the new car (a new wind farm) will always look more expensive, because you are looking at the total cost of ownership.

The real killer on nuclear power is the cost of decomissioning and long term waste disposal.  Of which no one has a figure, but in the case of the UK the estimate (present value) is £70bn.  At which point, nuclear is not cheap on any measure.

The argument for nuclear has to be a low carbon one.  In a low or zero carbon generation portfolio, a nuclear baseload is useful (given that 4.30am power demand is typically about 1/3rd of 5.00pm power demand, that suggests a nuclear baseload of around 30% in a well balanced portfolio).

It is not a cost argument.  Fully costed, nuclear power is the most expensive energy there is. (assuming no cost for CO2 emission).

Why do Uk have such a runaway decomissioning cost for its nuclear pwoerplants? Is it much harder to cut a graphite moderated gas cooled reactor into small pieces, sort and store them then dismantling a PWR or BWR?

Has it to do with the ordinary heavy maintainance of light water reactors giving the industry knowledge usefull scrapping a powerplant? I rember the wow factor of reading about workers doing inspections and repairs inside the Oskarshamn 1 BWR reactor vessel.

Btw, Studsvik AB in Sweden has started series dismantling of used steam generators from PWR:s where the radioactive part of the steel is removed and the rest is reused as ordinary scrap.

I don't have a specific answer to you


it was a runaway technology, sloppily managed since the 1950s.

At each stage, the Official Secrets Act was used to hush it up.  The Windscale fire in the 1950s, disposal of atomic waste by pipeline into the Irish Sea, etc.

(if you sign the OSA as a government worker, you are liable to long stretches in prison for revealing anything the government deems secret for as long as you live).

So Britain has (24?) reactors sitting in various stages of operator, phase out, dormancy, plus the mess at Windscale (Sellafield).

£70bn is the estimate given to Parliament by the nuclear industry.


When the 1985 coal miner's strike was on, and the country was days away from power cuts (power cuts had brought down the government in the previous strike in 1973), the nuclear workers were told to 'not worry about cataloguing the waste, just get on with producing power'.

The result is there are these pits, full of radioactive something but we don't have any exact notion of what that something is.

This anecdote dont make sense, how could such an order help the powerplant production?
Waste piles up, you stick it in a pit and forget about it.  Spent fuel, contaminated work gloves, high and low level waste product.  The works.

Everything was focused on keeping the reactors on 100% of the time.

It's roughly doubling every two years ... To me that says wind has "arrived".  What do you think?
According to EIA figures, wind took three years to double, from 2000 to 2003. Growth has been sometimes high, but erratic. Since 2000, actual generated power from wind has grown annually at 20%, 53%, 8% and 26%, up to 2004. At 26% growth, it would take 3 years to double.

In 2000 wind generated 0.14% of the electricity in the US. In 2004, it generated 0.31% of electricity in the US. So a 252% increase in actual wind output, produced an increase of 221% in its proportion of all electicity generated.

It's an impressive growth, but it still hasn't made much inroads into the generated electricity. It would have to maintain the high level of growth, to start to make a significant impression. It would take 6 to 10 years to reach 1% of electricity generation, at current growth rates, in relation to the growth in all electricity generation. Someone mentioned 4 decades to replace all electricity generation. That seems a tad optimistic. It could do it, if it maintained the growth seen between 200 and 2004, but the chances of having the land and resources to do that for 4 decades seem small.


On pricing, double the wholesale price of power (which is what we are talking about) takes you to 8-10 cents/ kwhr.  The retail price (which is twice that ie c. 8-9 cents) would go to 14 cents.

I'm not convinced in the long run wind power means electricity prices are higher.

In terms of the necessary materials:

Land - trivial.  The US is a huge country (the world's 4th largest I believe).  Since farmland with wind on it is still farmland, there isn't a conflict of use.

Probably long run half the world's wind power capacity will be offshore in any case.  The centres of demand are cities, which tend to be on the coast.  For example London is building a 1000MW unit at the mouth of the Thames.


  • steel?  The world produces 101m tonnes per month of steel.  A wind turbine is less than 10 tonnes of steel?  So 2 million wind turbines would be 20% of one month's production of steel.

  • turbines?  it's a well proven technology, there is no magic about who can build this stuff-- the Chinese have indeed already started, and so have the Indians.  2 million wind turbines of 1 MW each is hardly going to stress the world's manufacturing systems, long run.

grid capacity etc. most of it has to be built anyway.

There's actually far more complexity and challenge in producing 1,000 passenger airlines pa, and Boeing and Airbus manage that.

2 million turbines at 1MW each (the latest offshore are going to be 5MW).  40,000 such turbines a year (pace something like 10k now).

Cost $2 trillion.  About 4% of world GDP so 0.16% pa over 25 years.  Something like 1% of world fixed capital investment in that time period.

Of course you are using an American number.

The real story in wind is out there in the rest of the world: notably Germany, Spain, India.

China is starting to move.  So is the UK.

US electricity consumption

roughly 5000 TWhr pa

10GW of capacity

10 X 365 X 24 = 87,600 GWhr

X .27 Load Factor = 23.652 TWHhr (0.28 is the UK load factor for sites that have had a full year of operation)

= 0.47% of US electricity consumption.

In a steady state, that is what you would expect US wind power to produce in 2008 (actually the US will have somewhat more than that capacity, from memory about 12GW at that point).

If the US adds 6GW pa after that, by 2010 it would have 24GW, so comfortably over 1% of total consumption.

"US electricity consumption roughly 5000 TWhr pa"

Where did that come from?  My understanding is that it's about 3,860 TWhr pa, or an average of 440TW.

I believe that the US has a higher wind capacity factor, around 30%.

I believe US capacity will be about 12.3 at the end of 2006 (which is pretty near): 9.1 at end of 2005 plus 3.2 in 2006.

That gives .84% of US electricity consumption.  Given that there's 11.8GW of wind planned for 2007, I think we can expect to hit 1% within the year.

There's a pretty good chance we'll hit 2.5% by 2010, and with a serious (but realistically possible) effort we could hit 5%.

Good point, my number is too high (I was working from memory).

US is about 800GW of capacity, I think, and 4,000TW of consumption (ie 3,860).

Load Factor will fall, as the best sites are used up, but I was being deliberately conservative.

Load Factor for offshore sites might be as high as 35%.

Peak capacity is about 905, average about 440.

The US is a different animal from Europe: we have so much wind potential, that we're very far from starting to use marginal sites.  In fact, we have very little off-shore and turbines are getting bigger, so the average is more likely to rise than fall.

I agree.  I expect new WTs to have higher productiuon that currently installed WTs.  1% to 2% rise is "within reason".


But 10 times that in certain countries (Denmark, Spain).

Worldwide wind capacity is doubling every 2 years, roughly.

After the USA, the number 2 or 3 wind installer is actually India.

In 10 years time, wind is going to be a significant chunk of change.

I don't like this attitude. Renewable energy is beautiful. Those turbines will save many tons of fossil fuels. We should expand solar too. Just because the sheeple waste energy now some day they will understand conservation is important too. We will never be able to keep doing things the way we are now. Many changes must be made but wind turbines are a step in the right direction and should be encouraged.
You are a little bit too pessimistic. First of all... in the US we can save 50% energy without giving up anything ESSENTIAL about our lifestyle. Everywhere else in the world they never wasted this much to begin with.

Currently US citizens consume something like 100,000 trillion BTU annually. If I am not mistaken that is a continuous use of 5kW per capita. We can safely assume that we really only need half of this and that we also have a thermal to electrical/mechanical power conversion factor of 0.4 in there, so that means, we can get away with a constant 1-2kW electrical source to power all of our needs.

The US probably owns the prime real estate for PV. So how much solar area do we need for that? We can get approx. 20Wc (continuous) out of one square meter of PV with 15% conversion efficiency. To get to the required amount of continuous power, with today's technology, all it takes are 50-100m^2 of solar cells per person.

And that is not such a big deal, considering the fact that close to 40% efficiency has been demonstrated in the lab and  will easily be achievable within a few decades in residential installations. In which case we can satisfy all our energy needs with not much more than PV on the roof of our homes.

Not to mention that we will continue to have hydro, wind, some coal, some gas and some nuclear energy at our disposal.

I don't see a bleak future at all. I see a bright one. Cornucopia? Yes, but without today's waste.

Right.  I use about 1/4 as much energy as my friends, and don't feel any pinch at all.  I could easily cut my energy usage in half.  My electric bill is $22/month.  Half of that is wasted in lazy things like not turning off lights.

I am a gadget inventor (thermal machines) and see plenty of possibilities for more and more fun making better machines that do more for less.

BUT- nothing works if population keeps doubling every x years, no matter what x is.  Right now in the US x is 70 for going to 2N from N.  All we have to do is to turn it to 1/2N in 70 instead of 2N in 70 and we can take it easy, and my grandkids might be able to go fishing in Tennessee creeks the way I did when I was 6 years old.

So, what invention do we do to make that happen?  I have already suggested super sexy sterile robots, but people didn't like that idea for some reason.  OK, so suggest something.

The problem is  not population.

1 billion Indians burn 1/10th the resources of 300m Americans.

The problem is the standard of living, and particularly the way in which we choose to consume energy and produce environmental pollutants, in particular CO2.

The US population is doubling every 70 years, but it is the only industrialised country that is growing that fast.  Some, such as Japan and Italy, are actually shrinking.  So is Russia.

A significant chunk of that growth is the direct (or indirect) effects of migration.  Basically, Hispanics move to the US from points south, and have large families for a generation or two, before they drop to the US average.

But in Mexico, the birth rate is in turn plummeting, Mexico is fast acquiring a 'developed world' population growth rate, as well as a burgeoning middle class.

Actually, the fertility rate in the US is right at replacement, which means that it's growth right now is just demographic overhang (a baby boom echo).  If we had no immigration we'd be in a sweet spot: the fertility rate would be slightly below replacement and we'd be at ZPG pretty soon, without an unduly weird age distribution.
Aw, come on, people.  I am talking simple arithmetic here.  If ANYTHING keeps doubling, we got trouble-unless it's  wisdom, and not much fear of that doubling any time soon.

And, sure, IF we had no immigration, then---.  But we do have it.  A lot of it.  And all my friends say that's great.  And when I ask them how much is enough, they have no answer except those stupid ponzi scheme vaporizings about needing more young people to support us old geezers.

So I say, at maybe age 20, you sign a contract to live at a certain income to maybe 80.  And at that age, you suddenly find yourself not here any more, and so much for that.   Me? I'm gettin mighty close. There's a plenty of people around as good or better than I ever was, so no loss.

"So I say, at maybe age 20, you sign a contract to live at a certain income to maybe 80.  And at that age, you suddenly find yourself not here any more, and so much for that"

hmmm.  I'd rather make the commitment to drive an EV, eat a sustainably produced vegetarian diet, live in an urban condo, and otherwise live lightly on the land.  Seems a lot easier and more enjoyable!!

Yeah, NIck, that's what I was getting at.  And then after that good life  lived lightly on the land, a good disappearance.
People over 80 aren't usually big burners of resources, anyways.

They don't commute, they downsize their housing.  They may travel, but certainly 80+ is not a big age for travel.

The big burn of money is health care and long term residential care.  Which is a societal issue, but certainly not a big environmental issue.

Slogan:  "We are swimming in energy, but most of us will only drink it well-aged."
that's inspired EP...
Expect to see it again.
200GW of wind capacity would cost $200bn or thereabouts (more for offshore, less for onshore).

That is approximately what 40 nuclear reactor units would cost (with a capacity of c. 64GW but higher production because they would run 80% of the time).

In terms of US consumption, at a 27% load factor that 200GW would produce

200 X 0.27 X 24hrs X 365 days = 473,040 GWhrs ie 473 terrawatt hours.

Which would be about 12% of current US energy production.

Right now the US is installing about 6GW per annum (and stretching world capacity to do it).  So increasing that to say 12GW pa and installing that over 16 years is certainly feasible.

There is nothing inherently difficult from an engineering point of view.

We'd probably want to have at least 50% more than that, perhaps 3 times that much - if we put as much effort into salting energy away as ice for A/C, fully-charged EV's and PHEV's, hot water in DHW tanks and so forth as we do towards storing gas and oil and whatnot, we might be able to absorb that much.

If we find ways to manage it easily, it's time to expand our sights again.  "Some people push the envelope, some just lick it, and some can't even find the flap!"  Let's bust all the way out of that envelope.

Long term I would agree with you.

2020 that is what I think is (eminently) doable.

Renewables could certainly be 20-30% of the US power demand (not including hydro).  If good storage options become available, much much more.

If nuclear is another 20-30% (which requires a build programme that I think stretches the politically possible) then you still have 40% fossil fueled-- without sequestration I don't see how we can allow that.

The real problem is the likes of TXU applying for 10 coal fired plants.

That is going to create a massive CO2 increment, which will be very hard to unpick.

Arguably they are doing it so they will have the plants in place, when restrictions on CO2 emissions come.

About to go to bed :-)

Assume a continent wide HV DC network and demand 80% of today (conservation, far fewer electric water heaters, etc.)  Add 5 GW hydro in Manitoba, finish James Bay in Quebec, many small run-of-river schemes, etc.

Geothermal is reengineered from base load to peaker by drilling many more wells and adding more turbines.

I keep changing numbers by a few %.

I think the following is doable for US & Canada.  All measured by annual energy contribution to electrical grid.

53% wind
12% hydro (small tidal % ?)
-19% Pumped Storage
+15% Pumped Storage
23% nuke
16% other renewable

That 16% other renewable could/might be
4% geothermal (including some "hot rock" w/o natural steam)
3% biomass (much in CHP).
5% solar thermal in desert SW
4% solar PV

Nameplate % would be widely different.

The 4 hour time delta from East to West coast would work in favor of leveling the load.  Geographic differences in climate would help as well.

A small fossil fuel (sequestered coal ?  CCGT ?) backup would be kept in mothballs for extremes of climate or shortfalls in renewables (drought for hydro, calm for wind, cloudy for solar).  Nameplate perhaps 8% of peak load ?

I think that this system could work and match load with generation.  I cannot see how to do it without nuclear providing a good % of baseload demand.

I keep looking at seasonal shifting via pumped air storage (~60% cycle efficiency).  Only pumped air into depleted NG reserviors and similar would have the capacity to shift meaningful amounts seasonally.

Best Hopes,


On first cup of coffee.  

Let me list the nameplate for each type as a % of peak + required reserve (required reserve are units to available but not producing.  They are there "just in case").  % of annual energy in brackets.

Assume summer peak, but with increased use of geothermal heat pumps that may be wrong.  On a seasonal average, average daily peak is maybe 80% of seasonal peak.  Daily minimum 2/3rds of daily peak, average load 4/5ths of daily peak (remember 4 time zones/5 in Canada "smear" the peak).

4% Interruptable Power (mainly industry that agrees to be shut down when supplies are tight) [0%]

~210% wind (discussion below) [53%]

~38% hydro (not all available upon demand)  Add turbines to existing plants for more peak power [12%]

45% Pumped Storage (discussion below) [15%]

21% nuke (refueling & maintenance scheduled for off peak months)  Positioning of nukes helps weak renewable areas like South Florida [23%]

14% Geothermal (rebuilt as peakers from baseload today.  Add more wells & turbines, on average 1/3.5th of the time).  Mainly West Coast & Rocky Mountains [4%]

8% Backup Fossil Fuels for unusual years (building extra capacity for drought years, unusual wind calms, cloudy days is uneconomic per tonne carbon saved). [0% in average years]

38% Solar PV & Thermal (need to check ratio of nameplate to actual, any help ?)  Thermal only in desert SW, PV mainly in southern areas but some "everywhere" but NW.

8% Biomass Used mainly for peaking or for central heat & power plants (winter mainly).

I am operating under the assumption that wind is the cheapest (all factors) power source and that, in some respects, the solution to low summer winds is more WTs. Wide geographic distribution, even in areas with marginal wind resources if they help balance the load.  The result is overbuilt winter generation (is pumped air the solution for seasonal shifting, or just build more WTs ?)  The advantages of surplus winter power (promote geothermal heat pumps) make more WTs better than pumped air storage.

Pumped Hydro Storage has two capacities. One is the common MW peak generation, determined by # of generators and tunnel diameter.  The other is MWh, determined by the size of the upper & lower reserviors.  Some geographically restricted pumped storage projects (see Texas) may have a lot of MW for limited MWh.  However, the overall average should be about 120 MWh for every MW.  This is a LOT of pumped storage !

Three more units can be added next to Raccoon Mountain near Chattanooga TN, etc. but the Upper Penisula of Michigan may be the best center for massive pumped storage (Lake Superior & Michigan as lower reserviors).  Manipulating the Great Lake levels (within natural bounds), sacrificing Niagara Falls tourist potential (in part) and turning Niagara Falls into a peaking plant with as much as 20 GW (more in St Lawrence downriver).

In some ways, very active pumped storage units (over half the time either pumping or generating at part load) are, with HV DC transmission, the key to this system.  Fortunately, pumped storage projects are multi-century investments (rebuild generators every 40-50 years unless technology improves).

Properly done this will require an extraordinarily complex computer simulation.  What I have done is to use my knowledge of MANY "bits & pieces" and stitch them together using my judgment and much reflection.  The goals are minimal carbon emissions from electrical generation, lowest economic costs, and grid stability slightly worse than today (which I consider acceptable).  Any blackouts will be short due to the large # of pumped storage units (ideal for black start).

Best Hopes,


Good stuff!

I was thinking South Florida could be good for renewables-- because offshore wind works well?

The real problem is that you have storms and hurricanes, and you have to shut down.  Indeed, as we found with Katrina, you might be seriously damaged.

This is going to become an issue, and since off the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas is a great place for wind power, a serious one.  Unfortunately with a dovetail with global warming (higher surface temperature of water => worse storms).

One addendum

Wind 55% (up from 53%)

going to

-2% Pumped Air Storage

This is long term storage in depleted natural gas reserviors.  In an "average year", this stored energy will not be tapped.  basicly winter surplus wind power (perhaps no new turbines for this extra 2%) is stored in pumped air (cycle efficiency ~60$).

Best Hopes,


Electric vehicles are about 8 times more efficient than your average gasoline vehicle (1,600 watt-hours/mile vs 200 whrs/mile), and actually more efficient than electric trains (though electric trains have other benefits, like supporting urban living).

This is probably an illusion created by comparing moderate-speed EVs with ultra-high speed rail. Moderate-speed rail (around 100 mph or so) is inherently more efficient than personal passenger vehicles or even buses, by a factor of at least 2, even if we compare diesel automobiles with diesel rail. With electric rail we have the advantage of not having to drag around the stored energy and being able to reinsert the kinetic energy to the grid with regenerative braking. I believe that modern moderate-speed electric passenger rail is the most efficient land-based mode of passenger traffic.

Ultra-high speed rail does not compete against personal vehicles, it competes against airline traffic and thus is a winner if it can outperform air traffic efficiency-wise while not losing too much on time.

Do you have numbers handy?  All of this is easier if you refer to numbers and sources, so you know what you're referring to.

Electric vehicles are much more efficient than diesel vehicles, by a factor of roughly 4 to 1. Ultra-high speed rail does indeed use more energy than moderate speed rail, but urban rail (light or heavy) also uses more than EV's:

APTA's 2006 Public Transportation Fact Book, Table 55, "Bus and Trolleybus National Totals, Fiscal Year 2004", that Heavy Rail (e.g. New York subway, Washington Metro, BART -- Table 81) carried 14,354,281,000 passenger miles or 3,683,674,000 kWh, for a whrs/mile of 257 (light rail and trolleys were higher, but accounted for only 11% of "rail" miles).

257 whrs/miles is about (or a little higher than) what the Prius and Tesla use, and doesn't account for the ratio of # of passengers to vehicle, which would lower the energy use per passenger mile for EV's.  That's what I'm thinking about.

I agree that transit-oriented development, growing usage, lighter chassis's, better scheduling etc, will increase efficiency.  OTOH, EV/PHEV efficiency is also a moving target:  Toyota intends to make the next Prius roughly 25% more efficient, with more efficient batteries and other stuff.  The Tesla is optimized for acceleration, not efficiency.

Finally, I see marginal electrical efficiency as not that big a deal, as I don't see an electricity shortage.  Peak oil is really just a liquid fuels problem, at least in the US.  GW is a factor, but EV/PHEV's work really well with wind, in fact they support wind with a multiplier effect, so that as you add more EV/PHEV's you decrease BOTH liquid fuel usage AND coal usage.

I just don't see an energy efficiency rationale for promoting rail over EV/PHEV's.  Now, I see a lot of other reasons: congestion, speed & convenience (for SOME uses, though definitely not for some others), promotion of urban lifestyle (though to me rail seems to work almost as well with suburbia as it does with urban life), safety, lower stress, etc.  are all good reasons to like rail over personal electric vehicles.  Just not energy efficiency.

The major propaganda point of the 'sustainable revolution' propped up from Collins and Co. include 50-70% of the US population relocating to major industrial areas 'inner cities' and being bused out during the day to work and till the now carbon neutral farm lands.  In such a system, mass transit is the only feasible way to accomplish their goals of tearing down suburbia.

If you don't think the goal is to tear down suburbia, you need to see a shrink.

'Permaculturist', and by that I mean TOD brand of permaculturist', aren't willing to accept that we just might not have to tear down suburbia at all, and that we can actually live within our means with minimal modifications to our current lifestyles.

I wonder if any of them ever bothered to investigate how much energy/resources/money it would take to accomplish their goal of undoing what 50 years of progress has done when compared to massive Solar/Wind generator buildup and converting our auto fleet to EVs and PEHVs.  Remember: to meet Heinberg and Collins goal of sustainable farming via 50-70% of the US population, we HAVE to tear down suburbia and use that land for farming again!!  I'd be willing to wager it would take far less to do the later then the former! :P

Per Hirsch, Bezdek & Wendling report for the Dept of Energy, it will take well over $5 trillion (US national debt minus holdings of Social Security & Federal Reserve is less than $5 trillion, but GW should get it there before leaving office) over twenty years on CTL, oil shale, enhanced oil recovery and better fuel economy to generate enough oil to preserve suburbia.

And the side effect of massive Global Warming.

Offical US Gov't policies succeeded in destroying almost every downotwn in the nation and "trashing" much of our pre-existing housing from 1950 to 1970.

Peak Oil (with assistance from the housing bubble) can do even more than VA loans "small print", Insterstate highways and white flight to transform our urban form.

We did it once, we shoudl do it again.

Absent taxing the viable parts of our cities to subside suburbs and exurbs (for example building one new road is a subsidy for the suburbs sinc esome city taxes are involved), the suburbs will fall of their own weight.  Boards will cover suburban windows and doors as they once did inner city homes 40 years ago.

How many "For Sale" signs do you see in your neighborhood as you walk (oops) drive around ?

that we can actually live within our means with minimal modifications to our current lifestyles

I use 6 gallons of diesel per month.  I can easily cut down to 4 gallons/month, perhaps 3 gallons without major strain.  What about you ?

Best Hopes (but not for suburbia)

Alan Drake

I see the same ratio of homes for sale in my neighboorhood today that I saw when I as a kid growing up and when I was in HC.  Honestly, are you trying to suggest that all areas of the country are now flooded with Homes for sale and that that is a sign that suburbia has come to an end?

"Peak Oil (with assistance from the housing bubble) can do even more than VA loans "small print", Insterstate highways and white flight to transform our urban form."

Your right.  We can all learn to use our energy more efficiently and finally kick our ICE habit and change over to EVs and PEHVs.  We're doooooooooomed!

We're doooooooooomed!

Not "we".  Just suburbia (absent subsidies to prop them up from the viable sections).

The rate of change is quite likely to prevent a 15 year changeover (starting in, say, 2012) to widespread EVs and PIHVs with associated improvements in the electrical grid & generation (don't raise MY bill to subsidize suburban EVs !)

Yes, there will be a housing bust in suburbia.  We made a bad investment of several trillion $, subsidized it heavily.  Now is the time to "pull the plug" on subsidies for suburbia and let economics take it's toll.

Let us create (and let suburbia subsidize it :-) and better (in all ways) urban form for former suburbanites to escape to.

Nothing overt like VA loans for suburban houses but NOT for pre-WW II housing.  (although adding a "risk premium" of 0.5% onto every new mortgage for a suburban house sounds good !  Turn about is fair play after all).

Best Hopes (but not for post WW II Suburbia)

Alan Drake

BTW, you will be perfectly free to stay in your suburban house between the boarded up ones.

I just had an idea.  The biggest single subsidy for suburbia and sprawl has been the mortgage interest deduction for income taxes.

Interest on any mortgage issued after 1/1/8 cannot be deducted from the taxpayer's federal income taxes.  Interest on existing mortgages in force as of 12/31/7 can still be deducted until paid off.  Any refinancing of a qualifying mortgage will remove the qualification unless the refinancing reduces the principal by at least 5% or shortens the term by at least 3 years.

i) Interest on mortgages issued on primary residences after 1/1/8 can still be deducted if the tax payer can show that the front door or 3/4 of the property mortgaged is within 1 mile of an electrified Urban Rail stop or station (measured from the closest loading platform).

Change the date to 1/1/01 or even 1/1/15.  The effect will be the same :-)


Alan, I don't see any great need for changes to the grid to accomodate EV's or PHIV's. Even if all light duty vehicle (car, SUV, pickup) miles were converted to EV miles that would only mean a 13% increase in electrical demand, mostly at night.  The current grid could handle that easily.  I know you have concerns about convenience of charging at night, but surely putting a timer on a charger (something that could be built into the car) is easier than selling your home at a (big) loss and moving to more expensive, smaller urban accomodations which you originally left for a reason.

The average suburban commute is less than 30 miles round trip.  A plug-in hybrid with a 50 mile range would handle that, and anything beyond that is long-distance travel that is the same for urbanites.  PHIV's would need only minor modifications to current hybrids.  The only barrier is that batteries are currently sufficiently expensive that they can't compete with cheap gas.  OTOH, right now they only add $.10 per mile to travel costs (over current cheap gas), and in 5 years they almost certainly will be cheap enough to add less than 5 cents per mile.  Is $1.50-$3.00 per day additional cost going to push people to the city?

You only need to convert about 50% of the vehicles to capture 75% of miles traveled (there are 210M vehicles, and only 100K households - there are a lot of vehicles getting very little use). You're talking probably only 105M vehicles, or 6 years production.  As noted above the engineering is trivial - it's really a matter of retooling factories and ramping up battery production, which could be done in less than 5 years.  

It seems to me that 11 years is fast enough.

Don't mistake me.  I like the city, and rail.  I live in the city, and take rail every day.  But, I don't really see expensive gas coercing people to move to the city.

What do you think of the foregoing analsis?

oops. "analysis"

Location, location, location.

Living in Iowa we have great wind many days of the year, but not every day.  We also have good solar gain many days, but not all, particularly in fall and winter.  Interestingly a lot of overcast days in Iowa are very windy.  And calm hot days in the summer are clear with 15 hour solar gain vs less than 8 in winter.  Biomass is useful because it is independant of both wind and solar to some extent, but is very seasonal with respect to harvest and yields.  And the EROI is a bit suspect sometimes.

So in aggregate all these approaches can compliment each other if designed to do so.  They all have their place and should be considered and optimized, for the particular location.  Solar doesn't work real well in Seattle for instance (300+ days with overcast if memory is correct).  And for Iowa, hydro-electric isn't even considered.  We are too flat without enough fall or stream flow to make the economics work.

But in aggregate none of these systems is going to replace all of the energy we currently derive from burning fossil fuels (at least I can't make the numbers add up).  So the key is what structures can we put up that will last a long time and provide acceptable power over their lifetime?  And that might improve the ecosystem rather than destroy it?  And paying close attention to what works, where, rather than what works everywhere is key.  Fossil fuels work everywhere, 24/7.  Not so with renewable sources.  We have to re-learn to capture and store some excess energy when Mother Nature gives us a chance.  And we have to re-learn that we can't always have unlimited power at our finger tips 24/7.

"in aggregate none of these systems is going to replace all of the energy we currently derive from burning fossil fuels (at least I can't make the numbers add up). "

I see 72 TW from wind, and 100,000 TW from solar, versus about 4.5 TW in human consumption world-wide.

What are your numbers?

"In theory, theory should come out like the real world, in the real world, it doesn't"

  I'm all for Solar and Wind, et al, but I think supply and demand are going to end up meeting in the middle somewhere.  I don't believe we can expect a supply of renewables that will outstrip the kind of power we consume today.  I think we'll see the population follow the oil curve, but I don't insist that it will all be bloody revolutions.. prob. a bunch like the sad misadventures we're watching now, between things like Iraq, Katrina and the Tsunami, where great loss of life may not be replaced as briskly (if at all) as it was a couple decades ago.  We'll fight it over there, we'll fight it here.. regardless of rhetoric or campaign promises.

  That said, I think we should be installing just prodigious numbers of solar water heating systems at this point.  The tech can be dead simple, (you don't have to have evac tube collectors, for instance)  at which point we'd be collecting a fine amount of our calories, freeing up grid power, nat gas and #2 oil.. (and by extension, a whole bunch of coal and carbon emissions).. it's just not sexy and urgent enough yet.. sad to say.



Apologies for not responding yesterday. The job calls.

The problem with your numbers is that they are planet wide distributed energy.  But the energy consumption is not uniformly distributed.  The U.S. uses 1/4 of all the oil alone.  That means individuals and households consume more energy than can be generated on site, or even near site, for most of the U.S..  I have tried to figure out how to capture enough energy from renewable sources to replace my own energy footprint.  I can't put up enough solar and wind capture to do that on my 1/4 acre lot.  

It isn't about how much energy I can get from the sun and wind, it is about how much energy I (and my family) consume.  Transportation and heating are the big killers.  In the summer, if I don't need to go anywhere, I could capture enough watts to run all the appliances, electronics and lights.  Driving anywhere though requires a huge excess of electricity going into batterries for a plug in hybrid.  

Winter is a whole other issue.  I can't generate enough electricity on site to feed my demand, and I am pretty energy efficient compared to the average American.  So I extrapolate that daily energy capture through wind and solar in the U.S. is not going to be enough to replace current energy usage for electricty, heat, and transportation.  Most of the high energy consuming people are not where most of the energy can be captured.

Why would you assume it would be done 'on site'?

The world has moved away from 'on site' energy since at least Thomas Edison.

(arguably before: gas lighting, coal for heating etc.).

I think your question is:  How can renewables provide enough power, when I can't do it with a 1/4 acre lot?  It just doesn't intuitively feel like it will scale up.

I think a big part of the answer is that solar PV is still much more expensive than the alternatives: greater efficiency, the grid, etc.

There's more than enough sunlight on your lot: a 1/4 acre is about 10,000 square feet.  By the most conservative calculations that would produce 100,000 kwhrs per year, far more than you would ever need.  The problem is that all that PV would cost a million dollars right now.

Also, you're not likely to have optimal wind, and a tiny wind installation isn't particularly cost-effective.

So, it's less a question of adequacy of supply, and more of cost and location (which are solveable).  Does that answer your question?  I can give more info on cost, if you want.  

I bet you could take that 1/4 acre (1000sq.m) and cover it with a Luz type line focus vapor solar system, or even a selective absorber flat plate, and get way more watts/dollar than with PV.  How come so many megabucks into expensive PV when Luz' simple system beats it so badly and could be improved by very well known methods?

Whatsamatter with you guys, thinking all in a herd all the time, hey?

Carbon Sequestration.

Not maybe the ideal solution (what is?) but certain to be a big feature of coal fired and gas fired generation post 2020.

The problem is we may need it sooner.

"the turbines and parts are built in factories using oil and transported on vehicles using gasoline"

The nice thing about a high E-ROI resource is that as energy prices rise, the value of the resource also rises (even disproportionately) and it will always be able to preferentially attract the investment & energy inputs it needs.  Other forms of demand may be squeezed out, but there will always be enough for something like wind.

Folks, don't forget, if you like this article, spread it around so that it gets more eyeballs by using the link farms and link referral services.

What we mean by this is sending and rating these links at reddit, digg,, /., fark, stumbleupon, metafilter, and the like.  Reddit, Digg, and are available up in the little icons under the title.  

These services only take a moment to sign up please, if you liked this piece, make sure to spend a few seconds and help this information get spread around.

I find it very interesting that PV does so well compared to nuclear, coal, etc even at this early stage of development. I'm sure new approaches like Unsolar's thin film amorphous roll-to-roll process and Evergreens new thin film process have a significantly better EROIE than shown there.
Funny how nuclear was (and sometimes still is) considered to be a free energy source. As if. That EROEI chart is a great piece of statistical work, I'll be referencing it a lot in the future.
To say, as the author does, that "there is considerable debate regarding how to calculate its [nuclear's] EROI," is to make an understatement.

I've NEVER read or heard of a reputable study giving nuclear a 5x EROEI.  The numbers that I'm familar with are more like 50X to 100X.

If today's nuclear power plants are making 20% of US electricity, did they need 4% of US electricity (and energy equivalents) to build and operate  when amortized over their 10 year contruction period and 60 year operational life?  That little sanity check would say that a 5X EROEI is grossly incorrect.

Another sanity check is to compare the portion of GDP consumed during contruction of the current fleet.  GPD and energy use are closely correlated.  The answer would be that US spending on nuclear construction was only a trivial portion of GDP.

This also shows where EROEI analysis and standard financial analysis part ways - time.  There is a time value to money and resources that is completely ignored in the above EROEI studies.

I made a judgement call on the veracity of nuclear EROI studies that are out there.  Most are junk.  There is no study of merit that shows an EROI of 50 to 100:1--not even close.
I agree that most nuclear EROEI studies are junk.

But how about the sanity check I proposed?  While a nuclear power plant is a big investment, it isn't THAT big.

The big nuclear build was between 1970 and 1985 (very roughly).  I don't have any numbers (yet) of what portion of the workforce was involved in nuclear construction or support, but I know it was a very, very small portion of the population.  The capital requirements, while substantial, did not crowd out other investments.

Yet today, 20% of our electricity comes from those nuclear plants and 8% of our energy consumption is via electricity (according to EIA). The unrivaled energy QUALITY of electricity gives it leverage making it much more important to the GDP than those numbers suggest.

A 5X nuclear EROEI just does NOT make sense when looked at from macroeconomic history.

I've NEVER read or heard of a reputable study giving nuclear a 5x EROEI.  The numbers that I'm familar with are more like 50X to 100X.

Feel free to post links to them.

If today's nuclear power plants are making 20% of US electricity, did they need 4% of US electricity (and energy equivalents) to build and operate  when amortized over their 10 year contruction period and 60 year operational life?  That little sanity check would say that a 5X EROEI is grossly incorrect.

And you seem to be ignoring the costs of mining/processing the fuel.  And the costs of processing the waste.

But agian, feel free to post links.

Since fuel costs are a very minor part of the cost structure for nukes, they can't be a major energy consumer.   Analyses using dollars and using BTUs are different but not completely uncorrolated.  In fact fuel + O&M for nuclear is roughly equal to O&M for hydro, at least on the PG&E system - according to the rate filings I've seen.

I've yet to see a study using GDP investment vs. output contribution as a sanity check on EROEI calcs.  I'm going to talk with a colleague at NEI and see if 1) if this has been done before or 2) if we might team up on it.

According to this site, sponsored by the University of Melbourne, the EROEI for nuclear power is over 90:

I don't find a referenced source for the EROEI of 5 mentioned for nuclear power.   Also, the only debate I have heard positing a low nuclear EROEI is based on a single source (Storm & Smith), a source of questionable quality, IMHO.

My back-of-the-envelope analyses aren't horribly reliable, but they're consistent with that.  Attempts to count matters such as the use of gaseous diffusion for enrichment (which would be immediately replaced with centrifuges if energy efficiency rather than cost of capital were the deciding factor) as "carbon outputs" because the nearby powerplants are coal-fired are just shoddy bookkeeping.

The problem with nuclear isn't the EROEI, it's the planning horizon and construction delay.

Yeah, PV E-ROI has been increasing very quickly.  Energy inputs are still a very small % of PV costs, but shortages of purified silicon (which is where most of the energy is used) have pushed manufacturers to greatly reduce the Si used, and that has cut energy inputs greatly.  You also have to remember that the energy inputs for PV (process heat) are lower quality than the outputs, which are peak electricity.

I guesstimate that PV E-ROI averages at least 20 now.


"I find it very interesting that PV does so well compared to nuclear, coal, etc even at this early stage of development."

Exactly correct.  To me, one of the greatest victories by the fossil fuel industry has been convincing bankers, investors, and home builders that PV is somehow a future "out on the horizon" technology, and thus getting most people to dismiss it as not a usable resource in the near future.

I am as guilty as anyone on this.  If you had asked me only a couple of years ago about PV I would have said, "well, yeah, maybe someday..."

What I failed to see was the fast emerging convergence between need as carbon release and energy price issues came into contact with a very innovative technical/investor class fresh off their advances in silicon valley, and how the know how of the computer chip industry could transfer to the PV industry.  Along with the nanotech revolution, this creates the environment for VERY explosive advances in PV, many of which are coming MUCH faster than originally envisioned.  

The rapidly dropping EROEI invested of fossil fuels, with the rapidly increasing of EROEI of PV and wind have been astounding.  This is the cutting edge.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Hey Cutty! We were in the same high school class. Still hanging with Avis? (: I've been starting to think about how to transition from guitar building to wind turbine installing for about a year now...
I think that EROEI should include a factor called the Inverse Population Effect.

Quite simply, if an effective energy alternative is developed that allows population to continue its upward growth, you must divide the EROEI by that growth factor.

Lets say your windfarm provides energy for a community of one thousand. Because of this energy, population growth business as usual continues and we add another 250 mouths to feed and energize: a quite reasonable number given our current growth rate.

As you may notice, the amount of energy produced does not increase, and the amount of energy availble per capita decreases. The standard answer is build more windmills. That requires resources including land, more energy to build the mills, metals, etc. We continue to grow our population, but if you follow the trend out to its logical conclusion, we must reach a balance point where population needs cannot be met if more windmills are built. At this point we have a moment of decision.

Either we control population, or we let the quality of life erode. (The question of what constitutes an appropriate definition of a satisfactory quality of life is another interesting issue.) Obviously more windmills will not solve the problem of insufficient arable land or potable water.

Again, the desire by the technos to keep the techno ball in the air precludes rational thinking. Overpopulation is the problem -- not the potential fall of our toy obsessed, growth addicted, and infotainment driven, energy drunk civilization. The greatest minds in our brief rise as a thinking creature lived in a pre-energy rich society. The best art we have ever created came about without the help of the Internet or 250 channel cable.

Yes, pre-hightech lives were often tougher, but not because they lacked technology per se. Their lives were tougher because they did not know how to control population. Or, they did not know that they needed to control it. We know. And, yes, that knowledge comes thanks largely to this tech bubble, but that does not mean we need to hold onto this beast forever. Think Daedalus and Icarus.

Because engineers are such short term thinkers, I doubt that my presentation of rock solid, indisputable facts will sway them. They cannot see the limits. What they know is that they can build a boat in the basement. They just won't have an "ah-hah" moment until the last nail is hammered into the last plank on their boat and they look up and realise they must disassemble the boat to get it out of the basement. Let's hope there is a world outside their closed-minded inner world for them to reassemble the boat in.

You have to keep in mind that population is already stabilizing. Outside of Africa world population is likely to stop growing in absolute terms in the next 20 years. More energy won't make a bit of difference to pop growth rates.

Africa is a whole different world.  High population growth continues due to poverty and social disintegration.  They need better education, healthcare and economies to reduce pop growth.  More energy would only help that.

Better healthcare, education, and economy has reduced population  growth very strongly in most nations and areas, except one: heavily Muslim countries.

There, the effect appears to be lower.  For example, Saudi Arabia is now obviously far wealthier than many African nations and yet still has very high population growth.

What's the reason?   I suspect that the direct effect is not specifically from education and economy, but specifically by women's liberation which have accompanied education and improving economies.  

This is impeded (though not eliminated) by cultural factors in Muslim nations more than other places.  This isn't necessarily permanent (at one point Latin American nations had high population growth and were orthodox Catholic-dominated), but the current cultural suspicion of Westernism makes it far more more difficult.

This fact has a clear impact on Peak Oil problems as net exports may decline more rapidly than one might expect by models which correlate domestic birth rates with economic growth in oil exporting nations.

hmmm.  Some ME countries have had their fertility rates plummet.  I think Jordan is one.

I'm sure lack of feminism has an impact. OTOH, I wonder how evenly the wealth is distributed in SA?  If one quarter of the population is wealthy, and the rest as poor as the rest of the undeveloped world, that would begin to explain it..

Morocco is another country that has transitioned to 'first world' demographics.

The key is the female literacy rate.

In a sense, Saudi Arabia is the anomaly, rather than the majority of moslem countries (Turkey for example).

On Africa the problem is development is running backwards, because of the impact of AIDS.

I see this error all the time. World population growth has slowed. It has not stopped. It is not "stabilizing."

Check out this chart from the UN.

The only region that has gone to 0 growth is Europe (and much of that is generated by the actual decline in population in Eastern Europe. You are correct about Africa being the region of greatest growth, but that doesn't change the facts. Even with the slowed growth, current estimates are that we will top 9 billion by 2050 -see here

You've hit on the difference between Total Fertility Rate and Birth Rate. The TFR has been dropping on a world wide basis since about the early 80s and after 2000 this drop has picked up momentum and is seen in virtually every nation, including the Muslim nations. TFR is a leading indicator of Birth Rate and this is why the UN demographers are continually revising downward their estimate of peak world population. My own take on this is that the human race is reacting to overcrowdedness in a sensible way. There is the strong likelihood that it is too little too late because of fossil-fuel induced overshoot, but nevertheless it must be the most significant demographic trend in the history of the human race.
Sounds reasonable.

That's what I mean by stabilizing.  You'd have to really drastically reduce birthrates to get ZPG right this second, and then you'd have a really weird age distribution.

The planet is hardly overcrowded.

What we have is many people want to live in desirable places but also to sprawl out from them.

Put Los Angeles with the population density of Singapore or Hong Kong, and you have a small very dense city on the Pacific, less than a 5th the current size surrounded by mountains and desert.

You do get problems of soil exhaustion and water shortage, but that has more to do with the poverty of the places in question, than the absolute numbers of people.

Bangladesh certainly is overcrowded by most measures.  And yet the Dutch live just as tightly packed, in one of the world's most advanced societies.  And Bangladesh is hardly a basket case, compared to sparsely populated (but horrendous) places like Somalia.

The problem is the environment cannot take the degree of effluent and disruption we are putting out into it.

That is not a problem of population per se, it is a problem of how we choose to live on the planet.

Please take a look at the chart. It is not measuring either fertility rate or birth rate. It is measuring absolute population growth. That is all.

UN demographers, and others, are projecting lower "peak" populations because they are following trends and projecting them indefinitely into the future. They did the same thing back in the 70s and came up with 12-15 billion. Now the numners are usually 9-12 billion. But these are just trend extrapolations.

We do not know that the decreasing birth rates we've seen in the last decade or so will continue to decline (indeed, we can't know with certainty, though we can make arguments both ways). Also recognize that global population growth rates have been dramatically impacted by the collapse of the former Soviet Union. As these countries get back on their feet, we are likely to see changes in those countries.

And even if these projections are absolutely correct, we are still going to be adding 3 billion more people in the next 45 years a nearly 50% increase. So you'll excuse the insult, but anyone who thinks the population problem is solved is bonkers.

You missed my point.
Population growth is a simple global measure of birth rate vs death rate. Birth rate is usually expressed in terms of number of births per 1000 population. Total fertility rate is expressed in terms of number of children a woman of child bearing age will have during her child bearing years, usually expressed as a simple number like 2.1 (the US) or 2.4 (Mexico). Obviously demographers extrapolate trends. Obviously the trends might not continue, but a trend that has manifested itself over the past 20 years and has increased is worthy of note.

The birth rates have not decreased, the fertility rates have. In the numbers I note above (US & Mexico) we see that the typical size of family between the US and Mexico is not that much different. What is different is the median age of the Mexican population (somewhere around 25 years) and the US population (somewhere around 37 years) which means that there are proportionately many more Mexican families in child bearing years than American families, hence a higher birth rate even though each family is not much bigger.

I don't think it is unreasonable at all to extrapolate a trend that has been going on for 20 years and intensifying. I don't think the collapse of the USSR has anything to do with this worldwide demographic trend. And, lastly, I never said I thought the population problem is solved so no, I won't excuse the insult, especially since it is made out of pure ignorance. Do your homework.

The trend you identify has been going on for over 100 years, so I feel confident it will keep going.  The interesting question is whether Spain, Italy et al are the harbingers of the future, or whether fertility can actually go lower still?

Also it doesn't matter what happens in the industrialised world except to the extent that we keep emitting pollutants at our current rate.  Even if European population growth rate recovered, adding another 5 million people to the world (1% growth rate) wouldn't make a huge difference.

There is only one big jump in fertility in the history of the industrialised countries: US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand 1945-65.  Arguably that is because things were  so bad 1929-1939, (1 in 4 American males unemployed), and then there was a war, that this was a 'catch up' by society.

There is little or no prospect the Russians will turn it.  If they do, it will be to European norms, not to third world ones.  (the problem in Russia being the male mortality rate-- I think the TFR is actually reasonable by European standards).

Now to the world with 9 billion people.  If you took world GDP now, divided it by 9 billion people you would have a GDP per head of roughly $4,500, which is enough for everyone to live on an OK life (it's twice as rich as China, now, and 50% richer than Brasil).  That's assuming no economic growth between now and the 9 billion.

So the world has enough money in aggregate.  What it doesn't have is an ecosystem that can take the emissions we are already pumping into it.  At least on the evidence of rising CO2 levels.

Back to overpopulation.  Some countries are despoiling their ecosystems at a frightening rate, leading to soil exhaustion and a downward cycle of poverty and famine.  And some countries the population growth is outpacing economic growth, so they are running backwards.

those countries have a population problem (the former Soviet muslim states, for example).

But the world in general?  Only if one assumes (perhaps not an unreasonable assumption) that the billion people at the top keep the distance they have currently, from the other 5 billion.

You have touched on a paradox that I have discussed often here - the multiplier effect of high energy gain systems. If you deposit $10,000 in a bank, the bank then makes $100,000 of loans and 'creates' money out of thin air(due to 10% reserve requirement), then that $100,000 is spent on all sorts of products. The same thing with high EROI technologies - they solve (or partially solve) the supply side issues but demand continues unchecked, replete with ecosystem degradation and profligate waste on non-essential goods that dont make us happy.

If a wind entrepreneur develops a new turbine system that has a 20-1 lifetime energy payoff, this will translate into a hefty 'windfall' for his company as well as energy savings for all the purchasers of the turbines. Lets assume the 20-1 energy payoff, when translated to dollars, is split 50/50 between entrepreneur/company and the customers. Unless the entrepreneur is an admirer of Herman Daly and the steady-state economy, he/she is likely to buy a yacht, or jet, or castle or any other peacock-imitatiting human displays of wealth (relative fitness).  The customers, who once were paying sky high heating bills due to increasingly scarce natural gas and heating oil, now have large monthly savings which can now be spent on X-box's, Cheerio box's and box seats.

The demand plan needs to be developed hand in hand with the supply one. I doubt we will see much of the following behaviour "here neighbor, my wind turbine has a higher EROI - you take it".

Nate, do you have some good data on conspicuous consumption?

Some of my random obervations suggest that it may be exaggerated.  For instance:  AFAIK, many perhaps most people who raise large families in large single family homes don't keep that large home.  After the kids leave they recognize that it's too large for them, and they downsize.  For another, the number of cars per person in the US has been pretty stable for the last 30 years, despite much higher per capita incomes, which suggests that despite the example of Jay Leno most people buy pretty much what they need.

Research I have seen clearly indicates that resource consumption levels off in affluent societies, and that our major problem is accomodating very large developing countries that want to reach the same level.  This is a big problem, but not the same as unending growth in resource consumption.

Have you seen good data on this?

What I've seen was the opposite: in the USA in the recent 30 years the number of cars per person has gone way up, and the miles driven gone up, and certainly the size of the average house has gone up while the average number of people in a household has gone down.

On the other hand, if the effects of Peak Oil are as dire as many expect, the effect of some high-EROI mitigations will not be Jevon's paradox, rather a partial reduction in misery.  A windmill owner will not sell the power for what it costs to generate, but rather at the market rate - much higher than it is now.  In other words, most of us will still be forced to conserve drastically.

Yeah, consumption per person of some things has risen.  The question I was trying to answer is: does consumption of some things level off as people satisfy their needs for them?  I think you could argue that some consumption has gone up for reasons of real (if marginal) need, rather than consumption for it's own sake.

I would be interested in seeing good stats for some of the things you mention.  I suspect that miles driven hasn't gone up much per-capita, and that much of any remaining increase is related to increased commuting.  I believe new-car sales per capita has been remarkably flat - granted, there are more old cars floating around, being used by marginal drivers like teenagers.  The size of the average house has certainly risen sharply, and household size has gone down.  I think you could reasonably argue that the average house 50 years ago was pretty cramped, and that household size has gone down because family size has gone down.  Certainly there are some people who buy McMansions, but I think the majority of people don't want more than they need, if only because they don't want to have to clean it....

"If you deposit $10,000 in a bank, the bank then makes $100,000 of loans and 'creates' money out of thin air(due to 10% reserve requirement), then that $100,000 is spent on all sorts of products. "

A quibble: the bank only makes the loan if a qualified borrower applies for it.  IOW, the money supply only increases if there's more economic activity.  This means that the potential for an increased money supply does indeed enable expanded activity, but it doesn't CAUSE it.  As I discussed in my other reply, I'm not sure that removing energy supply limits will necessarily cause more resource consumption.  As noted elsewhere, it certainly won't cause more population growth.

I'd greatly prefer to see rational planning for resource limits (such as carbon taxes to deal with GW) than reliance on peak oil (which is likely to push us to coal).

the bank only makes the loan if a qualified borrower applies for it

- he he, that was the case before the Housing Bubble!

removing energy supply limits ... certainly won't cause more population growth

- it certainly didn't have that effect in the last 200 years, uh?

Well, sure it did up till about 50 years ago, when, among other things, contraception was greatly improved.  See my related post on the topic...
Well, we are running into limits on crop yield, and food production is the primary population driver. Unlimited energy does not cover technological improvements required to continue increasing world food production.
Right, and additionaly peak oil-per-capita already happened - in 1979.
It's hard for me to see mass starvation.  We currently produce about 5 times what we would need if we ate a vegetarian diet.  Wouldn't that diet solve just about any food production limitation?
For which Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize.

Starvation is not caused by shortage of food, it is caused by a failure of the system to provide affordable food to the people who need it most.

See the Irish Potato Famine (1/6th population dead, another 1/6-1/3rd migrated), or the Bengali famine in 1944 under British occupation.

Or for that matter the Ukrainian famine of 1933- 10 million dead (because Stalin put soldiers around the food stores and shot anyone who tried to break in).

Or the Chinese Great Leap Forward (as many as 10 million dead).

Or the North Korean famine of the mid 90s (1 million dead).

In 1981, Sen published Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, a book in which he demonstrated that famine occurs not only from a lack of food, but from inequalities built into mechanisms for distributing food. Sen's interest in famine stemmed from personal experience. As a nine-year-old boy, he witnessed the Bengal famine of 1943, in which three million people perished. This staggering loss of life was unnecessary, Sen later concluded. He believed that there was an adequate food supply in India at the time, but that its distribution was hindered because particular groups of people--in this case rural labourers--lost their jobs and therefore their ability to purchase the food. In his book Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981), Sen revealed that in many cases of famine, food supplies were not significantly reduced. In Bengal, for example, food production whilst down on the previous year was higher than in previous non-famine years. Thus, Sen points to a number of social and economic factors, such as declining wages, unemployment, rising food prices, and poor food-distribution systems. These issues led to starvation among certain groups in society. His capabilities approach focuses on positive freedom, a person's actual ability to be or do something, rather than on negative freedom approaches, which are common in economics and simply focuses on non-interference. In the Bengal famine, rural laborers' negative freedom to buy food was not affected. However, they still starved because they were not positively free to do anything, they did not have the functioning of nourishment, nor the capability to escape morbidity.

In addition to his important work on the causes of famines, Sen's work in the field of development economics has had considerable influence in the formulation of the Human Development Report, published by the United Nations Development Programme. This annual publication that ranks countries on a variety of economic and social indicators owes much to the contributions by Sen among other social choice theorists in the area of economic measurement of poverty and inequality.

I'll agree with valuethinker. Most poor nations that have to import food will starve before the first world backs off meat production. We will only start "eating lower on the food chain" when first world populations are threatened.

I don't think we'll see mass starvation for quite a long time, and if/when it does come it will be a problem of overshoot and resource depletion, not the distribution problem valuethinker raised. Phosphate and potash, needed for fertilizer, have to be mined. Like any mineral they are a finite resource. Disturbingly production peaked in the 80's for both, but I don't know if they are in terminal decline (it's something I'm studying). Nitrogen (as ammonia and related compounds), the other big fertilizer component, relies on cheap fossil fuel availability as it is manufactured from nitrogen in the air and hydrogen gas, which is created from fossil fuels (primarily natural gas). Therefore it will over time only become more expensive to produce.

Deffyes mentions phosphate.  I think you can extract it from sea water though (depending on having the free energy!).

Actually if we have starvation it is because prices will soar.  We may keep eating meet longer than poor people can keep buying bread.

The other possibility, which you allude to, is that the 'Green Revolution' will turn out to be false-- based on high cost artificial inputs.

The PM of India has commented how desparate things are in rural India.  This may be a harbinger.

hydrogen can certainly be produced with water and electrolysis using renewable energy - it doesn't depend on fossil fuels.  That may be a bit more expensive than nat gas, but there is a limit to how expensive it will become.  Also, I believe there's an analysis at the ergosphere blog on deriving fertilizer from biomass which found it very feasible.
The tech is there, sure, but when it costs 100x as much because you have to electrolyze it instead of using a fossil fuel as a feedstock, we're all going to be a lot poorer, if not starving.

Much like our energy consumption, of course, there are radically more efficient ways of doing agriculture with current technology. Growing corn year after year on the same land utilizing enormous amounts of nitrogen fertilizer is a terrible waste of energy (not to mention an ecological disaster).

I haven't gone the chemical reactions, but I my reading tells me that electrolysis is about 50% as efficient as direct transformation of, say, natural gas into hydrogen.

Now, if you have lots of half-price electricity at night from wind and/or nuclear then it's no more expensive than fossil fuels.  The next problem is distribution and storage: this is very difficult for transportation fuel needs, but fertilizer is very easy to store and distribute.

I agree, there are much more efficient ways of growing food than corn.  We americans have an odd attachment to corn, which is bad for us in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that corn oil is heavy in omega-6 and very light in omega-3.  This imbalance causes an imbalance in the prostaglandins made by the body from these essential fatty acids (cox-2. etc), and this causes chronic inflammation in the body, which in turn causes heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, etc.

We wouldn't need fish oil quite so much if we'd quit eating so much corn in everything.

Jeavons' paradox only applies in an expanding economy.  A 10% increase in energy costs equates to a 2% reduction in GDP.  Demand reduction will be a given in a world of spiraling oil prices.  Technological progress could slow down this decline but not reverse it.  
I wonder if there is really any reliable African population data.  Doubt anyone conducted a census in the areas of the three genocidal civil wars that have killed millions. People probably see the crowded cities but not the depopulated hinterlands.  An AIDS website does state that there is negative population growth in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.  
You may be thinking of Albert Bartlett's discussion of population and exponential grwoth published in 1978.

The thing to keep in mind here is that things have changed a lot in the last 30 years.  When he wrote his concerns were perfectly valid.  Since then population growth has clearly stabilized.  

It surprised a lot of demographers, but it has happened, and not because of resource limits.  On the contrary, it happened because of the combination of birth control, education, better late-life income, women's liberation, etc.  In a word, it happened because of progress, both technological and economic.

Here goes discussion of a taboo topic!  Yippee.

Stabilized population growth is still population growth.  

The world adds population equivalent to something like a city the size of San Francisco every 2-3 days, or a Chicago every couple of weeks.  

UN forecasts that a full demographic transition will give us around 9 billion people.  These forecasts assume economic growth (e.g., more oil consumption) in order for societies to lower fertility levels.

However, societies undergoing rapid economic growth tend to have higher fertility levels, followed by a delayed decline in fertility levels after new per capita consumption patterns have become familiar to the population, meaning expectations of high resource levels allocated per child.  Sound sustainable?

I would not assume that any standard human demographic model is correct, since resources and pollution are externalized.  As a biologist, I find these models lacking any scientific justification.  

In my opinion, it is better to look at the World3 model or the GUMBO model for more reasonable population scenario developments since these models at least have sound premises.

"delayed decline in fertility levels after new per capita consumption patterns have become familiar to the population"

The post to which I responded suggested that greater energy resources would increase population growth.  It appears that you agree that in recent history greater energy resources have reduced population growth, and would be likely to continue to do so, if available.  Am I right here?

"meaning expectations of high resource levels allocated per child.  Sound sustainable?"

I agree: it's going to be tough to support 9B people, especially at first world economic levels. OTOH, more rewewable energy would only help the situation: lower pop growth, more resources to clean up water, less GW.

Would you agree with the distinction I drew between Africa and roughly the rest of the world?

"I would not assume that any standard human demographic model is correct, since resources and pollution are externalized"

Could you explain that further?  I don't see how pollution has affected pop growth so far.  Of course, famine and 20 meter sea level rises could sharply raise death rates - is that what you mean?

Nick: You are correct to assume that it would be difficult to support 9B people at first world standards since we are having trouble supporting maybe 1.5 B people at first world standards currently (at peak oil).  
"It appears that you agree that in recent history greater energy resources have reduced population growth, and would be likely to continue to do so, if available.  Am I right here?"

Not exactly what I mean.  There are two parts to this:

  1.  I believe greater energy resources lead to increased population growth initially, especially if those resources are used to support basic public infrastructure like clean water and sewage treatment, public hospitals, etc. and/or are used to produce or import more food.  Population will expand according to the carrying capacity available.  

  2.  With some delay, and after population has usually exploded beyond any local sustainable capacity, a high energy society will have a low fertility rate and a low mortality rate that may balance out to zero population growth.  But I don't know of any society that has done this without going into massive ecological debt, calling into question the long-term viability of this form of "development."  

"Would you agree with the distinction I drew between Africa and roughly the rest of the world?"

Africa is the only major region of the world that is a food importer.  Without that, it would be in a population decline.  I tend to follow the biological variables in places where I am not sure what people are thinking.    

"I would not assume that any standard human demographic model is correct, since resources and pollution are externalized"

"Could you explain that further?  I don't see how pollution has affected pop growth so far.  Of course, famine and 20 meter sea level rises could sharply raise death rates - is that what you mean?"

Looking at food availability per capita, there's still plenty and so the population can expand.  Also, while emerging diseases are causing a lot of trouble, they haven't gone into the sort of plague mode that decimates a huge proporation of a population (e.g., Black Death).  While air pollution in cities is horrible, decent food supplies are keeping people healthy enough to cope, overall.  I do believe life expectancy is starting to decline in many countries now, i.e, failed states, economic depressions, public infrastructure breaking down, etc.  

Standard demographic models never look at food or energy as variables for population change.  They consist of life tables, with variables such as number of people of a given age, and the fertility and mortality rates of each age group, then assumptions about how those variables will change over time.  These assumptions are key.  Any standard analysis by an ecologist would connect those fertility and mortality rate changes to measurements of the environment, e.g., carrying capacity based on habitat quality and quantity, interactions with competitors, parasites, etc.  This just is not done for humans.  We are exempt from those considerations.

Kerala.  Kerala (west coast of India) and Costa Rica.

Relatively low GDP per head.  Very high levels of literacy and high life expectancy.  Someone born in Harlem has a lower life expectancy than the average person born in Kerala.

Relatively low Total Fertility Ratios, populations are stabilising.  There is a direct correlation between TFR and female literacy.

The other country that has pulled it off is Cuba.

Believe it or not, socialism (Kerala has a Communist government, Costa Rica had a social democratic one for decades, Cuba we know about) works, at least in the early stages of economic development.

If the planet follows the Keralan model, we will get to 9 billion people, population will stabilise, and consumption will not overtax the environment

however the developed world has to do something about global warming.


Relatively low GDP per head.  Very high levels of literacy and high life expectancy.

translation:  overeducated people living a long time in low-wage low-productivity jobs beneath their abilities.

overeducated people living a long time in low-wage low-productivity jobs beneath their abilities

Could be paradise. At least my vision of paradise would fit that model. Of course it depends on what you mean by "job". If it means something one does just to pay for food and shelter, or to acquire tools and supplies required to be able to keep working at the job, then my paradise would involve as little of that sort of thing as possible.

The real test, for me, is whether people have the freedom and opportunity to pursue activities higher up Maslow's hierarchy.


Very high life expectancy.  Being a schoolteacher in Kerala isn't radically different from being a schoolteacher in America.  Or being a school janitor.

You've got to understand what an incredibly poor country most of India is.  300 million people live on less than $1/day.  Some states (Bihar) have the human development of Britain in about 1550.  We see the high tech end, but that is a tiny fraction of the economy-- only 1 million people work in the whole IT sector out of a country of nearly 1 billion.

The point is we can bring the benefits of the modern world to very poor people.  The problem is not the population of the planet, it is how we choose to live.

Most people in most economies don't have 'fulfilling' work lives.  We just imagine we do, but actually what we do 9-5, (or 9-9), is pretty meaningless and sometimes damned tedious.

That is a good translation into USA MaterialistSpeak!

However, having spent some time in Costa Rica, I would argue that Ticos living a "low-wage low-productivity" lifestyle are FAR happier than the average US "high-wage high-productivity" worker drone. The worker drone's high production produces cars and freeways so the drone can sit in his car on the freeway for 2 hours a day, and work another 2 hours a day to pay for the car/freeway! BFD! And he can talk on his cell phone while he sits in the stop-and-go. BFD!

Meanwhile the Tico is chilling with friends and family, with 4 more hours of leisure a day.

This is more a question of philosophy than peak oil, but there are more things to do with education than produce widgets (written as I sit in cube in Dilbertland, helping produce widgets, but not forever).

And of course, there is the small problem of how we get the world to follow the "Keralan model."
It would help if our advice to those countries wasn't completely slanted in the opposite direction.

To an extent, the likes of the Gates Foundation are trying to bring that more human-focused development model into being.

If we can bring global carbon emission trading, then there are all sorts of potential for people in very poor places to make money selling their pollution rights to us.

However, societies undergoing rapid economic growth tend to have higher fertility levels, followed by a delayed decline in fertility levels after new per capita consumption patterns have become familiar to the population, meaning expectations of high resource levels allocated per child.

I really doubt this line of reasoning. The countries with the highest birthrates aren't the ones that are increasing their economic growth.

The top five on the number of birth for 1000 people are:

        * Niger         50.7  
        * Mali          49.8
        * Uganda        47.4
        * Afghanistan   46.6
        * Sierra Leone  45.8

Look at this map of birthrate figures for countries   to see that Africa is having a population explosion. Which results in an increasing flow of immigrants form sub-Sahara countries to Europe.

The biggest national security threat to developed nations is not terrorism, but rampant population growth in many poor nations.  Population increases were curtailed throughout history by disease, famine, and war. Efforts by modern nations to curb deaths in the undeveloped world have been successful, yet poor nations cannot absorb the resulting population explosion. The World Health Organization (WHO) and various worldwide relief agencies try to eliminate premature deaths, which results in chaos among the billion people on Earth who cannot read or write, and do not even understand what causes pregnancy. As a result, they continue a tradition of women giving birth as often as possible to strengthen their family and tribe.

But there is a well trod path in this.

First the death rate of babies drops.

Then the birth rate drops.

The second follows the first by c. 20 years, less in some cases.

There are very few exceptions: Saudi Arabia in particular.  Conversely Morocco, a country with greater ties to Europe, is following the European trend.

The key correlation is with female literacy rates.

A few countries have had higher fertility rates as infant mortality has increased due to war and privation.  Palestine most notably.

Japan's birth rate dropped in the early 60s, Korea in the late 60s, China was already headed down when the one-child policy hit in the late 70s.

The same thing happened in the USA in the period 1900-1950 (a steady fall in fertility from a very high level) with 2 distortions: the Great Depression led to a drop in the birth rate (coincides with a number of court cases which allowed pharamacists and doctors to supply family planning materials and condoms to married couples-- 1931 was the breakthrough Supreme Court case as I recall*).

Then after WWII, there was a sudden and sharp rise in the birth rate, peaking in 1956, and then a very steady falling away.

The Pill went on sale in late 1962, 9 months later the birth rate dropped sharply.

In Canada, the Pill didn't go on sale until 1963, and the birth rate didn't drop until 1964.

Out the other side you get the disappearing countries: Italy, Spain and Russia, most of Eastern Europe.  Spain is having an immigration boom from Latin America, but the other countries are going to be drastically smaller by mid century.  Ditto Japan.

* the same thing happened in Ireland, but the pivotal Irish Court case was in the 1980s.

PS population increases are curtailed through history by women deciding not to have babies.  They do so, primarily, by marrying later but also by using birth control.

This pattern first emerged in England at the end of the Middle Ages, and has spread across the world.  But even aristocratic Roman women didn't have as many children as poor Roman women.

The key dynamic is literacy amongst women, and how long women spend in education.

Wars and famines increase populations, because the survivors have lots of babies.  This was not the case with France after WWI, but was certainly the case in most other countries, most other times.

"It surprised a lot of demographers, but it has happened, and not because of resource limits."

This is debatable. It could be argued that the main reason why birth rates have dropped in many industrial countries is due to the immense cost of raising children in affluent societies. Like it or not, lack of having enough money to raise children marks a lack of resources, especially given that money is a reasonable (though far from perfect) proxy for energy flow. If resources were truly unlimited, then, perhaps, families in affluent countries wouldn't be as small as they tend to be.


". It could be argued that the main reason why birth rates have dropped in many industrial countries is due to the immense cost of raising children in affluent societies."

hmmm.  I've never seen it argued by a professional demographer....

First, I've seen no evidence that the cost of raising children has risen relative to income or even absolutely.  People are choosing to use more expensive market services rather than rely on extended families because they can afford to move out, hire a cleaning service, pay for child care,  pay for education, rather than put up with oppressive mothers-in-law, limited privacy, etc.

A movement from a poor agricultural society, where people are forced to live on the farm and support their parents whether they like or not has been replaced by mobility, pensions, etc.

The most affluent countries are seeing dramatic drops in fertility, like the US and Japan.  Japanese women don't have kids because have education, careers, freedom and they don't want to put up with salarymen who hang out in bars rather than come home, and oppressive mothers-in-law.

It's a lot easier to have children in the US than it was 50 years ago!  If people were still willing to live in 900 sq ft houses for 5 people, it would be as cheap as it was then...

Gary Becker.  Nobel Prize Winning economist University of Chicago.

The paradox is 'why do rich people have so few children, and poor people so many?'

Basically Becker's argument is that children are an opportunity cost.  Particularly to educated women, who have much greater opportunities to work and otherwise earn economic value.  It's the opportunity cost of children, not the direct costs.

I've never seen a better argument about what is going on.

If you look at the very rich countries where the birth rate has rebounded, it is Scandinavia-- Sweden is 2.0 TFR so almost replacement.  Why?  because in Scandinavia work arrangements are decidedly family-friendly-- people are not expected to work long hours, and flexible working is common.

This is markedly different from North America or UK, and indeed middle class Scandi women seem to have as many or more children than middle class (non religious) women in the US and UK.

The UK and US have relatively high white fertility rates, in part because we have very high levels of teenage pregnancy (the US level is something like 5 times the Swedish level).

In addition, in Scandi men take up a relatively large proportion of childrearing-- as much as 1/3rd of all time spent.  People bring their babies to the pub to watch the footie.

Contrast this to more traditional advanced societies like Spain and Italy.  There TFR is below 1.3, far below replacement rate.  Men in those countries don't take a big role in child rearing (same thing in Japan, where they are expected to be out every night drinking late with the boss).  Indeed wives are expected to look after aging in-laws as well.  It is normal to live with your family, even after marriage.

Thus, Italian and Spanish women tend to have one child, or to never marry.

Add to this.

US fertility is high:

Hispanic women - 3.0 TFR

black women - 2.2 TFR (I would query that number when I saw it, because black women have had the most rapid fall in fertility)

- white women - 1.9 TFR

US and UK are very high relative to other 'white' countries (like Canada especially Quebec) because of the very high incidence of teenage pregnancy.

Of developed countries, France and Scandinavia have TFRs close to the replacement level (2.1)-- I think Sweden is actually slightly over it.  All those countries have massive programmes to make it easier to be a working mum.

The US benefits from having recent immigrants, who tend to have larger families than 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants.

The other factor which I think is there, but I have never seen documented, is that religious people have more children.  I know this is true amongst Jews, and believe this is true amongst Mormons and evangelical Protestants.  The US has a much more churchgoing population, on average, than any other developed country.

This is consistent with what I know, and it's interesting.  But, it's not the same as arguing that low fertility is due to resource constraints.

The earlier question was: can animal models, where population growth only slows when it hits resource constraints (i.e, starts to starve), explain the stabilization in population growth?  I think the answer is clearly no, and I think the opportunity cost explanation supports that: it's a failure of social organization to adapt to women having better options than having a miserable time staying home alone raising children.

I agree.

It's not that being at home and having children is a bad life (I live in the land of posh, 'yummy mummies'-- they have a ball) it's just that the opportunity cost is higher.

One important way women reduce their TFR is to marry later-- TFR is directly related to the age at which a woman has a first child.  If you go to college and have a job, you are likely to marry later than if you start work at 18.

See above.

It isn't the direct costs of having children which fall relative to income.

Hence the economic quandary 'why do rich people have smaller families?'

It's the opportunity cost of having children, especially for women relative to education, working, having fun, whatever.

Well, you may believe that Dr. Bartlett's ideas are outdated, but he doesn't think so...
Maybe you missed this one a couple of days ago...
BTW, Bartlett specifically states that the US has the worst population problem on the planet, simply because we use so much more energy than anybody else.

Really, Nick, to use the fact that world population is stabilizing over a long period of time (it will take until at least 2050 to peak, and much longer after that to decline) to downplay the need for the world and the US in particular to mightily reduce both our energy usage and our populations verges on being misleading.  You've admitted before (in so many words) that the medium UN projection of 9 billion by 2050 is too many.

I heart Al.  I saw that DP story...worth reading.
The problem with the US is the amount of environmental pollution it emits.

Most strikingly CO2-- CO2 to sustain the lifestyle and standard of living.

that is the 'problem' with the US having 300 million people.  No one sensible could argue that the US as a whole has too many people- -what it has is too many quarter acre lots with monster homes, too many cars.

The solution is to allow Americans to live that lifestyle, but at a lower environmental cost.

Houses can be built that don't need forced heating or A/C.  Cars can be made that release a fraction of the existing CO2.  Alternatives to flying can be found.

hmmm.  Maybe I have given the wrong impression.

I agree that overpopulation is an enormous problem, and that it makes everything else worse.  I feel that the extension of family planning, and the promotion of women's education and ability to limit their child-bearing are crucial issues.

The point though, is that what we are seeing now, except for a minority of places like Africa and SA (and Africa's pop stats are dubious, given their social chaos & HIV deaths) is not unending, exponential growth.  Bartlett seems to be deliberately misunderstanding the whole concept of the demographic transition, and is unwilling to admit the complexity of the situation: he seems to be coasting on his work of 30 years ago. He writes the following: "As I read the 1978 paper in 1998, I am pleased to note that the arithmetic that is the core of the paper remains unchanged, and I feel that there are only a few points that need correction or updating."  Population issues have changed dramatically since 1978, and even since 1998.

The question is, what is to be done?  The methods of dealing with the situation which are most humane are those I described above: empowering people, especially women, to limit their child-raising.  But what if people choose to have children at the replacement level?  To do otherwise, to force people to have fewer, is not necessary to eventually bring pop growth to a halt. Further, it would create a really weird age distribution.  Finally, and most importantly, it would be an incredibly hard, painful, polarizing fight. I have occasionally thought that people really ought to need a license to have children - surely it's more important than a driver's license - but on a practical level I think it's much, much easier and effective to tackle the sustainability issues which from another point of view (as discussed by Valuethinker) are really more important.

China is the only country I know of that has made a sustained effort to reduce fertility, using law and censure.  You pay a fine if you have 2 kids, and a crippling fine if you have 3.

(India had forced sterilization under Indira Ghandi.  The result put all of efforts at family planning into disrepute, and was counterproductive).

Now when China did this (late 70s) it was by no means clear China was going to have an economic boom.  It was a very poor country (it still is, but the economy is more than 10 times the size it was then).

Probably now they are starting to regret it.  They still have an enormous problem as labour is forced off agriculture but they cannot grow manufacturing employment fast enough to employ them all-- this risks political instability.

Also they have a generation of spoilt 'only children'.

That said, China has the world's biggest, and fastest growing cities.

The real crunch comes 2030+ when the favourable demographics (few dependents, lots of workers) starts to reverse as the 1960s generation retires.

"Also they have a generation of spoilt 'only children'."

Was that ever proven as a problem?  It always sounded to me like an authoritarian culture being afraid that kids might get enough attention and love that they developed minds of their own....

A real problem: abortion of females, so that many men now can't find wives.

China is going to be facing a 4-2-1 problem at around 2030.  That is there will be one worker that has to support 6 people on the socialist system: 2 parents and 4 grandparents.  If you dont see this as a problem, then please, share your thoughts with every western european nation, as I'm sure they'd love for you to single handedly solve one of the biggest problems they face in the next 20 years.
Hey!  I am an old grandparent.  Do my kids support me?  Absolutely not, quite the other way, and that squared for my 4 grandkids.  I support myself, them, and them.  I do it by having done a lot of good during my working days, and got  rewards for it.  And I am NOT  talking here about playing vaporware games on the stock market, but actually thinking up things that worked and keep working and that allowed others to work- sustainably.

To say that one worker has to support 2 parents and 4 grandparents presupposes that the old folks never did (and do)  anything to support themselves.  False!

And the other side of that coin.  If you are not gonna cut down on population, and you keep having more and more younguns to support the old ones, WHERE DO YOU STOP????  My  view- shoulda stopped before I was born when the USA had less than half the people it has now.
sure- I know that means I probably wouldn't be here at all.  Good enough.  Just think of all the people who ain't here at all- would fill a couple of cigar boxes of nothing at all.

The Chinese papers (English language ones) are full of this complaint.

Compared to a western society, Chinese society is very hierarchical.  So it might be a societal complaint.

I don't think it is just a governmental one.

Whether it is true or not might well be 'eye of the observer'.

Cherenkov, perhaps you can clarify some things for me. From where I sit, anthropological research has already proven that modern society's "rational man" (the lynchpin of modern economics) is a fallacy. Thus the choices and decisions we make regarding consumption, etc., are purely cultural artifacts. This implies, to me, that other human civilizations could arise that would have completely different value systems that result in completely different behaviors. Now, your posts consistently seem to slam technology. But from what I said previously, it would seem possible for a civilization to arise that was technologically oriented, controlled its population, and was environmentally friendly.

So when you slam the technophiles, are you really slamming the current incarnation of technological civilization? Or are you making the broader attack and asserting (I would say wrongly) that no possible technological civilization of any sort can exist post-peak?

Note: I already agree that population is a core problem. I already have publicly stated that I do not think the current civilization can survive the coming problems that will be induced by population, resource depletion, and climate change. But I do believe that some sort of technological civilization is possible, especially if it can learn to control its own population and minimize wasteful consumption. To summarize, I don't think technology is our problem. To me, the culture we have built is the problem. Technology is just one tool among many that has enabled destructive behavior. However, it doesn't have to always do just that.

Don't know if this helps, but Toynbee identified 27 different civilizations, all with "completely different value systems that result in completely different behaviors." Though I should not that, if memory serves me, he increased that number to 31 late in his life.

Obviously there can be any defined situation that works with technology/not technology as long as there is a a true balance of input and output.

But the phyics equation must be balanced. Yes, short term we can cook the books and come up with any number of tech solutions that "solve" our problems, but does that mean that we will magically come up with infinite resources? Of course not.

This is a one shot, one time deal. After we have burned up the accumulated solar wealth, the game is over. We must deal with day to day solar income. As a physicist, the question is not moral, political, social or religious. It is solely a matter of what energy is available for the energy needs of the population on hand.

I'm looking not just at the short term extreme fluctuations in our economy (A fictitious construct that cannot exist without fossil sunlight), but also at the two hundred to one thousand year outlook. We have the last half of this legacy available to implement powerdown. We could use this energy savings from the ancient past to create an energy methadone program and ease our species into a methodical, rational program of scientific population control and environmental integration, or we can deny the inevitable and try to go further out onto the cliff hoping that some "magic" techno solution comes along to save our butts.

I prefer science. Wishful thinking only creates unrealistic expectations.

I suggest that people think beyond the typical human thought horizon of their own lives, and consider humanity as a project that needs at least a one thousand year outlook.

Does that mean we need command and control government? YES. Absolutely. Does that mean that free market people are the architects of misery and humanity's doom? YES.

They are no better than Hitler.

Sorry, if the truth hurts.

Doomerbation at its best!!
Easy, buddy. Cherenkov merits more thought than that. So do you. Step Back. Rethink. I just say this for your benefit. The rest of us know who Cherenkov is. We are just getting to know you.
I suggest that people think beyond the typical human thought horizon of their own lives, and consider humanity as a project that needs at least a one thousand year outlook.

We are not those large headed omniscient aliens from Star Trek - our mammalian limbic systems care about donuts, and beer, and novelty and sex. When resources become scarcer, we will care about these things even more. In other words, as resources available per capita decline, our wiring will access our limbic(emotional) system even MORE than it does today, at the expense of our rational, thinking neo-cortex. (Because we will be stressed, and our bodies will generate stress responses)

Id like to think of humanity (and other species like polar bears and Wood-star hummingbirds) in a thousand years, but hyperbolic discounting suggests that anything after three years ahead of me has close to zero weight in my actions.

Because engineers are such short term thinkers...
Smile when you say that, pardner.
God that made me laugh...

my father built infrastructure: dams, powerplants, before that transport.

Every morning on the way to work, I walk by flood control doors he installed in the London Underground (subway) in 1950.

He doesn't even live in the same country any more.  Hasn't for 50 years.

Dams he built in Latin America in the early 50s are still producing power.

Power plants he built in the early 70s are still keeping the lights on.  the dams he worked on were designed to last 250 years.

Engineers build with enormous safety margins.

What's your definition of 'long term'?

I was poking fun at Cherenkov.  I think in terms of 100 years minimum on energy matters (at least as far as can be projected - you can't foresee what route scientific discovery and technological development will take).  Even in the ephemeral world of software, I try to anticipate issues that won't be seen until the second or third generation of installations and try to make everything work as it should.

I personally think we should be demanding battery-agnostic PHEV's from our manufacturers.  We might get them with Firefly Energy lead-acid cells from the factory, and upgrade to A123Systems Li-ion at the second replacement; reprogram the voltage and current curves (perhaps just read them from a chip in the battery module itself) and away you go.  Voila, future-proof PHEV car.

I think about the future a lot.  I intend to spend the rest of my life there.

Actually we need to be a lot more short term than this.

(software is a weird one.  Software that was written when I was in high school in the 70s still stitches together any number of organisations, like US Social Security.  No one expected that code I would write in 1985, would still be in use today)

The challenge is getting through the next 50 years, without destroying the ecosystem.

If we can get that far, I am sure we will still have big problems, but we will also have far greater technology and wealth to address them.

It's really the next 20 years that counts.


It's ironic that the future the doomers face is one filled with EVs and PEHVs!!

Kárahnjúkar has a 400 year design life.

Cutler / Nate.  Interesting post which goes some way to resolving confusion I have had about EROI for wind.  Previously I had three sources of data - two sources giving EROI of around 2 and the third a value of around 30 (Vestas technical data).  So this much larger data set with a range from <1 to >70 and mean of 25±22 seems to show two things - first either a serious problem in measuring EROI or a genuine vast range; second it seems that good wind sites can give EROI of around 25 - this is quite amazing if true.


My feeling is that short time scale variance in energy out can be solved by balancing with other generating sources - hydro and coal and interconnectors, and an array of energy storage strategies - pump storage, batteries, electro-chemical reactions, flywheels etc.

Dealing with long term variance - e.g. flat calm on continent scale for a week or more, is more problematic.  I am wondering now if the answer is not to have a 70+% back up from coal.  It seems that coal can be cycled up and down - so basically you keep it ticking over - providing some base load - and ready to be ramped up when needs be.  A < doubling of electricity prices doesn't seem much to pay.

Are you confident that EROI of 25 is reasonable for good wind sites and modern turbines?

Finally, the chart shows Vestas stock price - they have struggled to make money.  So I'm still a bit wary.

wolf - Ill let Cutler answer if he visits here.
Regarding Vestas - they make the wind turbines - as energy prices rise, its the people that are locking in annual flows at todays low rates that will make the "EROI". In other words, the steel and fiberglass frames that make up the turbines themselves are bought at some typical corporate profit - harnessing the flows by utility companies or individuals in strong wind regimes is where the larger payoff lies.

Interesting note: I know a wind entrepreneur that is developing a new technology for small (single family) sized turbines - two of the most important components of his turbines are only made in China and Korea. Kind of shows how oil makes its way into all of these analyses.

The large range in EROI probably is not due to problems with the EROI methodology--there are issues but it is hardly rocket science.  Rather, the range reflects big differences in turbine size, age of turbine, and location--it is a highly variable resource base.  Thanks for the comment.
So is EROEI of 25 reasonable for windy on shore sites in Scotland inhabited by 2 MW turbines?
Hard to say--what does "windy" mean in terms of wind power class (accounts for speed and duration of winds)?
Burgandy = most windy place in Europe,

Well given that, I would guess that the EROI for a new 2 MW turbine at site would be above the mean in our study (18).
? Burgundy is east of Paris?

On that map, it looks light blue or light green.

I think he means Brittany, which is indeed windy.
Guys - I was meaning the burgandy / maroon colour which covers most of Scotland - but I am a bit colour blind.
On the map that is gunmetal grey.  Britanny is the maroony brown.

There's 2? forms of colour blindness-- you probably have the red-green-brown one.

Note that colour blindedness means your ancestors were uniquely well adapted hunters-- a colour blind hunter can see through animal or human camouflage.  That's why (it is supposed) men have 20 times the colour blindedness incidence of women.

We used to play paintball with a colour blind friend (his great dream was to be a fighter pilot, nixed by that-- he is an astrophysicist now).  He was deadly, because you would be 'hiding' in the bush, and he could see straight through.  Still smarting from the pain at the memory!  ;-).

Vestas has had 4 profit warnings so its not surprising the stock is ropey.

Clipper UK is doing well.

GE's wind power division is going from strength to strength.

In the early days of very fast growing markets, you tend to have lots of companies (North America had over 100 car makers, and over 100 PC makers at another point), which then consolidate.  A lot of those companies are not profitable, and close.

The summary of the bat-kill report indicates that thermal imaging shows the bats investigating the moving turbines specifically.  Whether this is a artifact of their particular sonic resonance, a thriving bat community under the turbines(the study hypothosizes that using forested ridgelines in general is to be avoided), or a general attraction for all bats to all turbines is unknown.  It is noted that most of the fatalities were at a time when the wind was at low speed, but the blades were kept spinning through adjustive pitch at around the maximum RPM - I seem to remember that this produces very little power.

We do have 6 endangered bats in the US.

"The dramatic cost reductions in the manufacture of new wind turbines that characterized the past two decades may be slowing."

Or they may be masked by the price rationing we're experiencing currently, caused by demand rising much more quickly than supply.

There are a number of improvements being developed.  They include bigger turbines; better automation of blade manufacturing; better materials for blades; modular support bases for easier transport; offshore floating support structures, which are based on proven oilrig technology - they'd greatly reduce costs, sharply raise reliability and capacity factors, and take care of visibility problems; and kite-based turbines, which I believe will be faster to install, can take advantage of stronger & more reliable high winds, and have reduced structural costs - they're still in R&D, though, and more speculative.

Hello Nick,

I like your thinking.  Kite turbines flying high in the jetstream, both onshore & offshore, should provide the highest ERoEI:

  1.  Flying above birds and bats will eliminate this enviro-kill problem.

  2.  Solves the NIMBY problem of noise and view obstruction.

  3.  Steady, reliable winds at high altitudes, no turbulence from ground effects to reduce power.

  4.  Smaller kite sections could be built at a factory, then the kite section could be 'kite-flown' from the factory, by a big, heavy truck and/or boat to be joined to the systemic aerial turbine at its final anchoring point--this would overcome the current limitation of designing wind turbine parts to road-radius constraints.  Also one land-based anchor point is much less disruptive to the ecosystem than the current practice of building roads and tower pads all over the place.  Mountain or ridgeline roads and tower pads are very energy intensive to build, disruptive to the wildlife, and cause much soil erosion.

  5. If winds start to decrease where the kite wants to descend: a built-in overhead 'helicopter' rotor that normally generates power, could be grid-fed electricity to hold the kite aloft until winds pick back up again.  Or if it is really easy to quickly disassemble into sections: pull in and safely land small kite sections until wind picks back up again.

  6. If winds start getting too high, the anchor cable can pull it down to a safer altitude, or let it fly really high where it can be above the damaging winds.

  7. I don't think there will be too many airplanes flying in the future, so thousands, millions? of these kite-turbines should not pose much of a problem.

  8.  If maintenance/repairs are required: run a cable up to that section, unbolt that section from the main kite, then reel it in to repair on land, or a floating barge.  If the surface breeze is insufficient to relift, then a cable lowered from the main kite can lift the small section up till it can catch enough breeze to be safely flown to rejoin the major kite.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?
Every doubling of the total world capacity has seen an 8-15% fall in costs, since the early 1980s.

There is no reason to think this won't continue.  Of course, as the world capacity gets bigger, doubling it will be harder, so the rate of cost fall will fall (second derivative).

We haven't even begun to look at innovative architectures like vertical axis technology.

Of course, growth is still accelerating.  14 years to build the first GW of capacity in the UK, 14 months to build the second.

There's an ongoing debate here in Vermont (and elsewhere, I'm sure) regarding the placement of large wind turbines on the highest ridges.  The opposition is due to scenic and environmental impacts.  If the EROI is indeed 20-30 up there, then using suboptimal sites (lower ridges and flatter highlands) would still give a pretty good EROI (10-15), better than coal according to the chart above.  Add to that the extra costs (in money and in energy) of building on the highest ridges (access roads, longer transmission lines), and the limited area on the highest ridges (meaning that  for significant power we'd need to build elsewhere anyway), isn't the obvious answer to go ahead and build in the much more common lower-but-closer areas?

(My assumption of a 2x reduction in EROI in the suboptimal locations is based on perusal of some wind resource maps and only going for the next-lower class of locations.  Of course the really low spots give much less wind power than that, as the power is proportional to the average wind speed cubed.)

Actually, average power is proportional to the average of the cubed wind speed, not the cube of the average wind speed.  Those are quite different when the speed is variable.  (They're the same only where the wind has just two speeds: some and none.)  Why is it that this difference seems to be glossed over in publications that I've seen?
They're glossed over because it's the sort of thing that the average person doesn't have the education to understand, and if you bring it up their eyes will glaze over.

Sort of like people who write "kilowatts per hour".

Here in California, we are prohibited from placing transmission lines on or over ridge lines.

How that squares with no windmills is another mystery of the regulatory mind.

It is interesting that the focus is on the actual generation ability of free fuel and low O&M costs, when there is another part of the equation that almost always is not discussed - Transmission.
"..long-distance transmission has already proven to be a significant issue for new wind development in some regions.... These costs are not reflected in most EROI analyses."
It is yet another interesting dynamic of wind developments, where the asset owner has the incentive to dump every megawatt when the wind is blowing onto the grid only to be able to generate the green credit/income to make the facility economic.  The inverse economic cost to the grid (read...the plasma TV watcher and Internet surfer) will (is) growing greater as more intermittant resources (see graph - 6 days of wind) are forced onto a system that must be managed reliabily.   Simply, this intermittant nature means all wind generated megawatts must be backed by other gas/oil/nuke fired generation.  The interesting study to be done is how many of these wind megawatts are just being put into the ground rather than incur the start/stop and management costs of running resources to fill in the dips with the wind doesn't blow.  Because of this resource backstop, wind generation will likely cost all of us more when fossil fuel prices are higher.
In the near term, come 2008, the PTC subsidies will be politically transferred from the government directly to a cost to the grid (read...the plasma TV watcher and Internet surfer).  This tax, when combined with the economics of transmission imbalances and the overabundance of wind generation supply in locations far away from the load will put a burden that most electricity users will not bear.  
Thank goodness government mandates are coming that require utilities to purchase renewables.  
You've raised 3 points:

Transmission costs:  My general understanding is that it is common for generators to not bear the cost of transmission, wind or not, and that most generators are at least some substantial distance from their customers.  Do you have any data on the magnitude of relative transmission costs for different generators?

Subsidies:  again, all forms of generation have subsidies and non-internalized costs (pollution, GW, security, occupational health costs, etc).  Do you have any data on relative amounts?

Intermittence:  utilities are used to dealing with peak loads that are 2-3 times the level of minimum loads, and they've handled it for years.  Here is informed analysis, which generally concludes that intermittence is a solvable problem:

What you describe seems to be speculation drawn from anti-wind sources (some of which, like Lovelocke, are fundamentally opposed to the visual impacts of wind, some of which seem to draw their support from rival industries).  Is it actually based on anything?

Transmission costs are set (and published on utility websites: by regulated tariffs in each control area.  Costs are incurred from system fees, losses and any imbalances (electrons sent to the systems over what is anticipated and scheduled).  Wind magnifies these costs due to the long distances required to reach loads and the intermittent nature of breezes.  

The PTC subsidy of $19/MW is much more direct and greater percentage of the true market value of the electrons produced by alternative sources.  Take that away and it would be like developing oil sands in a $15/bbl environment....not going to happen unless someone is required to buy the output.

There is a similarity between a utility dealing with load peaking where generation units are resourced at a greater cost when hot weather hits.  Wind though is a generation resource that most people see as solving energy needs, and my point was that the nature of wind power is that for every MW of wind planned into a system, an equal amount of MW from traditional sources must be maintained, and that as your links describes..."In this case, when the wind is not blowing, the system must rely on existing dispatchable generation to meet the system demand."....fossil fuel generation (or hydro if you have it in the area) solves the intermittant problem.  Costs of this backup should be considered in the wind equiation, and most time is not (EROI analysis for example).  
Help me find the analysis of where the electrons from the wind farms actually go, my cynical view is not too far past the meter that counts the green credits.

Capacity credit for wind is c. 20%.  (UK data)

For nuclear it is about 60%, CCGT about 90%.  The credit is calculated based on historic average availability.  The grid is designed around the fact that capacity can (and does) drop very suddenly eg unscheduled nuclear maintenance.

UK National Grid Co (they also own Niagara Mohawk Power) has stated that 25GW of wind power displaces 5GW of other capacity.

Now there are a couple of wrinkles:

  • no one has tested in scale but given that wind doesn't tend to be of the same intensity across the UK, there are reasons to think this is too conservative

  • active demand management cuts it by even more ie should raise the capacity credit.  In Ontario, the utility has the right to interrupt my parents' air conditioning and/ or water heating for 30 minutes every 2 hours

  • fossil fueled power lasts a lot longer if you are not running it.  Most of that capacity already exists so it is a sunk cost

  • we haven't even begun to explore the potential for energy storage
"the nature of wind power is that for every MW of wind planned into a system, an equal amount of MW from traditional sources must be maintained"

As Valuethinker and others discuss, this really isn't true.  I think you've been misled by anti-wind websites, which tend to endlessly repeat that phrasing.  If you look more carefully at my sources, you'll see that they don't support that idea.

First, you have to relate the capacity credit to the capacity factor.  Unlike other sources, wind is not expected to produce at 100% very often.  Instead, an optimal capacity credit would equal the capacity factor.  So, when someone says that wind has a 25% capacity credit, that means it's very near the capacity factor, and almost optimal.

As a % of capacity factor, utility assumptions for capacity credit range from 10% to 100%, with the most innovative and serious utilities finding numbers at the higher end of the range.

No one has 100% capacity credit.

CCGT has 90%.  Coal has about 75% I think.  Nuclear is c. 70% (UK grid data).

There is also a difference between power station and system availability.

The grid runs a portfolio of solutions, and draws on them at different times of the day, and the year.  In practice this means if you have a portfolio of wind farms, which are available at different times, you are less worried about one not being available.

"No one has 100% capacity credit."

Well, what I said was "As a % of capacity factor".  What I meant was that if your capacity factor is 30%, and your cap credit is 20%, then the credit is 67%  - as a % of capacity factor-.

Do you see what I mean?

I'm struck by the low UK credits for coal and nuclear.  I believe that nuclear is very close to 100% in the US for peak capacity credit.

I'd have to look up the exact figure, but the reason the capacity credit is low is that nuclear is actually quite unreliable.

Actual load factors for nuclear stations are more like 80%.

Coal because of the firing up time, the grid doesn't give it a huge credit.

The Nuclear Energy Institute in the US claims that average plant load factor is about 90%:

and that during the summer that the factor is closer to 100%, because planned shutdowns are scheduled at other times, spring & fall I believe.

They say that most of the very long plant closures were some time ago, and don't reflect current experience.

What do you think?

In addition to concern about bats and birds, wind opponents note that the clearing of large areas of forest around each  large wind turbine has the effect of turning deep woods into shallow woods.  Animals that thrive under the canopy are more exposed to predators in shallow woods.

Also, the number of wind turbines required to match the electrical output of a coal-fired plant is truly staggering.

   "We can never do merely one thing."

                    Garrett Hardin

I am reading James Lovelock's The Revenge of Gaia. I was surprized to learn that he is generally not in favor of wind energy, for some of the reasons you mention. He does seem to consider wind energy in some locations to be OK, however, such as in the ocean, and where turbines can co-exist with agri-business. He notes that wind can be only a small part of the total because of variability of wind supply. He also notes the issue of keeping turbines serviced if they are in remote locations.
That whole book is written round his support of nuclear energy.

He basically closes down any resolution that doesn't include lots of nuclear energy.

He thinks in 2100 there will be 200 million of us, living in a nuclear powered civilisation on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.  This is what he has said more recently.

"He notes that wind can be only a small part of the total because of variability of wind supply."

This phrase should be he "claims" wind can be only a small part of the total. This claim is flatly contradicted by Denmark's current 20% plus wind power. After 20% modifications in the grid need to be made, such as hydro storage, flow batteries, demand management, long-distance HVDC transfers,etc., etc. There are plenty of studies showing higher wind percentages are technically and economically feasible.

"notes" implies recognition of a fact, rather than declaration of an incorrect opinion.

Also, the number of wind turbines required to match the electrical output of a coal-fired plant is truly staggering.

Well what are we missing here - the EROI of wind is higher than coal in the above paper and if that includes environmental externalities (which Im guessing it does not) then wind beats coal by even more.

What this entire thread tells me is two things:

  1. wind has a pretty decent energy return, with caveats
  2. we need dollars and bodies and urgency thrown at comparing alternative energy technologies from energy quantity (EROI), energy quality (what society needs) and environmental externality standpoints - we need systems analysts to determine apples and apples comparisons of all these options on local, regional, national and perhaps global levels. Each individual technology and the money behind it are not interested in the whole pie. Who is going to fund and assess an analysis of the whole pie? And when??
Most wind will presumably be built on open land.  Or open water.

Maybe this is a UK thing, but we don't have that much forest anyways.

Coal fired plant 650MW/unit.

Availability c. 75%.  Assuming you run coal in base load (which you normally don't do).

8760 hrs pa X 650 X .75 = 4,270,500 MWhrs

Equivalent wind (Load factor 0.27.  0.28 is the current UK average on suboptimal locations, offshore will be closer to 0.35)

8760 hrs X 1800MW X .27 = 4,257,360

So between 1,000 and 1,800 turbines in an onshore configuration.  Big but not insurmountable.  The largest new offshore fields are c. 1000MW capacity and 5MW designs are on the boards for offshore use-- in a world that comfortably builds deepwater oil drilling platforms, this is not impossible.

There is a limit to how much wind we can have, but it is at least 20% of demand: with some cleverness, it could be a lot higher (demand management, energy storage, pumped storage etc.).

1GWhr of coal fired electricity is 0.5 tonnes of Carbon emitted, I believe (1.8t of CO2).

We are killing our natural environment by burning coal.  There is a real question whether human life can continue on this planet into the 22nd century if we continue with 'business as usual' in the next 50 years.

The problem with these types of studies is I think they unfairly promote industrial wind farms. Since the focus in on efficiency. And the gloss over the problem to some extent this one is better then most.

If your looking at long term solutions you need to focus on local power solutions first. For example building a multi story building that say houses a few families makes a nice trade of in resources vs privacy. Basically at about 4 houses or so per group you get pretty good efficiency.

Next this housing group can readily support solar power on the roof and a reasonably size wind turbine. You can also look at the requirements for local recycling of waste water.

By compacting a bit from the suburb sprawl you now have enough land for green houses and a vegetable garden that can supply the group.

If the members of the house group don't want to maintain the
generators and garden as a collective they can afford to higher one gardener and house maintenance technician.

Considering what a lot of people pay in housing association fees and taxes getting a direct benefit from the collective is more effective.

And of course the building is highly efficient.

Finally common land used for wood playground etc can be associated with each group. And potentially a shared wind generator solar array along with say pumped storage  tanks or ponds.

If we can work through in detail the space/energy requirements to localize living costs to direct renewable we
the load on larger and larger collectives drops.

So by working from a minimum sized renewable block towards larger groups you end up with a system that does not require mega-project support but if at each level the group can produce a small excess in power or renewable carbon energy you finally end up with plenty of energy for the whole.

This communistic approach to basic energy and food needs is in my opinion far better then alternatives.

And these collective mini farms/generators should produce enough excess if coupled with a few large commercial farms/generators to support a far sized city that has a population density too high to be self sufficient.

In the city you can of course put solar cells and turbines on each of the buildings and if they are tall say 40 stories
you will get pretty good  collection.

Taking this approach even though the direct eroi might be lower creates a far better scalable solution.

Next the EROI can be boosted by using kites instead of turbines for wind. And using say evaporation based solar collectors instead of expensive panels. They may end up being less efficient but  since your looking at distributed system the cost per unit is important to allow installation in the first place.
Solar cells today suffer from this. We could put solar cells on every roof but they are simply to expensive. A simpler solution that was cheaper to deploy even if it is less efficent is better since your choice is either no collection of energy or inneficient collection.
I think this last issue is ignored way to often.

All very good ideas. I like this kind of vision.
Only one thing missing - how to get people to do it.
Actually at least 2 things are missing.

Zoning in most US cities prohibits this type of multifamily dwelling almost everywhere. I live in supposedly progressive Boulder, Colorado and have been discussing with friends converting our overpriced single-family homes into a green multifamily dwelling and we are finding this kind of landuse and density is prohibited in the vast majority of the town. Uniform Building Codes and zoning make the "eco-condo" very difficult to build in most of the US.

The old '3 Deckers' in New England (eg South Boston) were like this.

The landlady (often a widow) lived on one floor, and rented out the other 2 floors, thus having an income to support herself into old age.  East end of Montreal was like this, too.

It was a societal adaptation that, post 1945, has been ruled out in most places in North America (trying to creep back).

Since household sizes are smaller and smaller, and more and more of us spend years on our own, it would be a very well adapted form of urban living.

So by working from a minimum sized renewable block towards larger groups you end up with a system that does not require mega-project support but if at each level the group can produce a small excess in power or renewable carbon energy you finally end up with plenty of energy for the whole.

Why not then extend that larger---the deployment of concentrated technical ability and capital goes further with large utility-scale generation.  How many people have to be allocated to mantaining so many small generators?

The one very nice property about electricity is that it can be distributed very rapidly, and most of the infrastructure to do so is there.

The central problem with collective living, which many have discovered by experience a condo homeowners association, is the politics of petty tyrants with nothing better to do.   A few can make life miserable for the many.

Take the problems with leaky roofs and noise and now imagine that your electricity generation were dependent on these same amateurs.  What happens when there's a three week outage (and $100k of necessary repairs) due to some microscale screwup or argument?   And what about critical safety problems?   High power engineering isn't like baking cakes.

One advantage for centralized utilities is that they take care of maintenance up to a point and can deploy large amounts of capital to fix localized problems, more than the immediate neighbors would be able to pay for, and generally they are technically competent.  

Even the most ideologically compatible socialist kibbutzim in Israel have all run into those conflicts.  They are in human nature, not only "industrial capitalism".

I think locally generated power (especially low-maintenance photovoltaics) is fine but almost all will be better off managing through the grid with knowledgable utilities running it.

Next the EROI can be boosted by using kites instead of turbines for wind.

That is quite an unproven technology and is certainly unfeasible in densely populated areas (where do the kites and electrical lines land when the wind stop?  what about aircraft navigation?)

Why not then extend that larger---the deployment of concentrated technical ability and capital goes further with large utility-scale generation. How many people have to be allocated to maintaining so many small generators? The one very nice property about electricity is that it can be distributed very rapidly, and most of the infrastructure to do so is there.

Reducing maintenance needs for these types of generators is important or making them cheap enough to be replaces easily and recycled. Thus my preference for kites over windmills. Also you lost a lot of power in transmission lines so local generation can be more effective.

As far as communal living its the norm outside the US. Next I suspect pragmatism will become more important in the US. I think few people will be able to live the extravagant lifestyle we live today. Also of course sound proofing and design can easily provide privacy in a compact environment.

Finally its just my gut feeling that decentralization and community control will become very important once travel becomes expensive. Once the easy travel and resulting isolation is removed people will become willing to form communities and respect privacy.

I think locally generated power (especially low-maintenance photovoltaic) is fine but almost all will be better off managing through the grid with knowledgeable utilities running it.
The system would still be connected but the local power supply needs would be met before transmission this way you avoid transmission losses. I can't see why the power network can not be fully automated except for emergencies. I suspect our power grid needs far more maintenance then would be required if we built one with today's technology.

As far as kites go its a shame they are not being looked at now I'm sure at some point they will be investigated. They make a lot of sense. And as far as airplanes once you have electric rail travel the number of airports needed drops dramatically and the need to reserve airspace will be lessened. Next its easy enough to put simple aluminum foil reflectors or even more complex rfid tags in the kites so they respond to a weak radar signal. This information could also be transmitted via the kites base station. Or even simpler you can record it.

The one issue you may have is with emergency helicopters but this can be dealt with.

Finally as far as the kit falling when the wind fails. First sensors are easy enough to create to detect failing wind conditions regionally and locally. Next if you need to bring in the kite in a structured environment you can attach a balloon to the kit to keep it afloat as you reel it int the same can be done with launching.

And like I said its a lot better if we can figure out minimal blocks of land people and energy collection systems that are not only self sufficient but produce at least a small excess. This makes the energy budget available for non survival usage obvious.

The rail corridors for example could be lined with solar cells and kites to offset the rail usage who knows it may be enough energy that the rail corridors are actually energy positive.

The local rail probably will need to be supported from other sources.

And most important I that this approach is investigated to determine if its feasible. Actually I'm pretty certain that this is the approach that will be taken in Asia/Europe since they basically have this design today. My gut feeling is that large centralized wind farms with long transmission lines will not be a solution that we will adopt long term.

If you think about it power-down from oil is really about reforming self sufficient communities that support the basic needs of the populace with whats locally available the central wind farm does not really fit in this type of society and I'm pretty sure that with work decentralized solutions can be refined to the point they are competitive.

It won't be us that actually create this society for the most part but our children I'm pretty certain my kids will probably reject the society we have built around cheap oil and go a different direction. I can see a huge gulf develop in concepts and approaches between the "oilers" and their children and I'm pretty sure that local control and self sufficient communities will be very important to our children. I think the current isolated survivalist will not last long if they ever become important.


I appreciate the line of thinking here.  I have friends who are in 'co-housing', and dealing of course with many of the interpersonal challenges that come with communal living schemes, but there are so many ways to make efficient living choices with a bunch of people.  There are car-sharing systems popping up around the country, where you sign one out when you need it, but not burdened by it otherwise.  My wife and I are in a shopping group, and meet a Semi at someone's yard every month to unpack a couple pallette's worth of groceries for our 4-5 families.  For AltEnergy, there are designs for 'networked neighborhood grids' and the like.

  As your first respondent reminded us, it's getting along with each other that might be the bigger bump in the road, but we might as well learn how to be neighbors again, I suppose.  TV has been getting pretty awful anyway.


The EROI for getting along with people is very high :)

Seriously though when energy is really scarce I think you see that co-op will have a lot more power and wealth than isolated individuals trying to maintain their castles.

And I'm pretty sure the co-ops are going to focus on generation of power for themselves not supporting people that are not willing to join the coop. Think about the way Isreali Kibbutz's work.

I just don't see that there will be the will to support building these wind farms to subsizise people that don't want to convert to the new lifestyle.

The exeception is of course electric rail but as I said if you look at placing smaller  turbines and solar panel along the track you don't need large remote windmills.

The only place that you would potentially be energy negative is with a local electrified trolly system. It would need more power than can be gained from nearby sources.

You would have to work through the numbers but if you assume that the buildings where built using the best approaches for natural heating cooling and efficiency and they were plastered with solar panel. And you add in solar panels along the tracks system. And add medium size windmills on the roof. And finally pumped storage. I think you will end up energy neutral for  a dense city of say building averaging less then say 20 stories.

I think white leds will be avialable soon enoug that they can be consided for illumation. And pepple can go back to going home when its dark we don't have to work into the night.

It does seem that with some investigation optimum density vs power collection for energy neutral or even even energy postive cities can be determined. Its intresting that you want to be closer then we are today but since your limited by how much energy you can collect via solar/wind this constrains the density.

I think we could actually support population densities about the same as we have within say 200 miles of major cities
just distributed differently.
The east coast and southern cal are probably the only two places that we have actually exceeded the carrying capacity of the region if you considered population spread in a sustainable manner described above.

If you add in intensive logical agriculter then sure this number drops but if you consider cutting the population in these regions by 50-75%  you could easily support the remaining population I think and be both energy and food neutral.

Anyway I think that the number one goal of our childrens society will be to develop a culture that allows people to live in a slightly energy/food/goods positive life style.
The positive outputs will not be used I think for traditional growth but to subsidize increasing the efficency
of the system and to support the research/engineering efforts needed to improve the quality of life and say support real space exploration.

If you think about it we waste enourmouse amounts of our productivity and growth building one more McMansion or SUV instead of quality increases. Instead in a low energy fairly dense society quality/efficiency and art will become the primary focus for growth. So there are lots of ways to grow and economy without simply popping out x more cheap plastic widgets.

Thanks, Memmel.
  Great post!

I think these points are all very sensible.  I know there are many who will say they are 'unrealistic', or 'just won't happen' with the way the American people are, but that kind of response always seems to paint the country as being one kind of person, just because 'a lot' seem to fit the mold.  There will be many who will keep trying to reinvent their towns, homes and technologies to fit with the changes that are coming.

I have been thinking about the train suggestion myself.  It seems sensible that you have a lot of Right-of-way with the train lines, which could/should coincide with the Long-distance Grid connections, to be available to an electrified rail system, so why not use that land for PV and wind, also.  As far as security goes, the equipment might be vulnerable, except that you would theoretically have more train service, so less time to scavenge Panels.. and there are probably not-too-difficult ways of sensing and locating any intrusions.

Anyway, thanks for the hopeful thoughts.  I'm right with you!

  (The Negative Eroei of Human Relationships.. no doubt it's so, but the costs are of course repaid in forms immeasurable on a Voltmeter)

Bob Fiske

Your kids won't have time to worry about cheap oil.

They will be too busy worrying about global warming.

The virtue of big scale wind is:

  • cost - lowest economic cost of power.  Hence more resources do do other things

  • grid stability - the lights stay on in Ohio, because of wind farms in Nebraska

'local power' is something of a distraction if the energy efficiency of centrally generated power (when delivered to the point of use) is higher.

Most Americans live in big suburbs ('exurbs').  As the US population is still rising, this will be ever more the case.  Local power doesn't work so well in that context.

It would be nice to see the US use Combined Heat and Power for district steam heating, as they do in Europe but I don't see it-- houses too spread out, the infrastructure is not in place, and the local pollution problem (no one wants a power plant in their back yard, even if it burns straw).

No, you do not want district steam heating. It is easier and cheaper to distribute hot water, lightly preassurised hot water if you want to go above 100 degrees C.

An intresting historical facti is that district heating over here in Sweden had one of its original selling points as an efficient reducer of local air pollution. A central modern hot water boiler heating a city block with more efficient combustion and a higher chimney made a large air quality improvement when it replaced smaller boilers in every house burning coke or oil.

Fair point.

Toronto has district steam heating (commercial district) and that is what I was thinking of.

We could put hot water district heating here in the UK but we will not.

I wonder about the efficiency of central vs. distributed.

Heat is dissipated very meter of piping (which cost money).  Pumping losses.  Additional personnel to monitor central vs. automated local units.

In air conditioning the most efficient units are residential (sales of millions/yr vs. sales of tens of thousands/yr for larger commercial units).

The most efficient residential gas furnaces are 96+% efficient.  Hard to beat with centralized CHP.

Best Hopes,


We would probably not have had as much district heating in Sweden if natural gas had been dirt cheap and people had thought it would last for ever or at least several decades.
Instead we started with cheap oil and then changed fuel to garbage and biomass while continuing the expansion of the district heating networks.

How far it pays to transfer the heat depends on the heat source. Heat from garbage incinerators and industrial waste heat can be profitable to transfer tens on km.

I didn't know that home AC was more efficient than central AC.  I had assumed the reverse (because the latter is a larger unit scale).

I suppose given there is a minimum scale for a ground source heat pump, that if you are using GSHP that is not the case?

implication is you are right:

District energy was originally used to gain access to fuels, which individual consumers could not easily do themselves. In the mid-1960's the industry slowed down with the use of heavy oil. And by the 1970's, it became increasingly difficult to promote district energy in Canada because gas companies made gaining access easier.

is one of the most innovative solutions (an air conditioning plant running under Lake Ontario).  I think the figure I have been quoted is a 25% efficiency saving for the average user.

Innovative technology first appears in the residential market,  Some people are willing to pay extra there and the volume justifies the engineering work.

I helped install a simple a/c into a friends home.  A bit over 15 SERR (not the tops, but good) 4 ton a/c.  It is hard to get commerical equipment with over 10 EER (slight delta between SEER & EER with SEER almost always higher).

For our metric friends, divide EER by 3.413 and get cool out for electricity in.

How does the EU measure cooling capacity/output ?  We use tons (12,000 BTUh).

Best Hopes,


How does the EU measure cooling capacity/output ?  We use tons (12,000 BTUh).


Ok, 1 kW electricity > 15 SEER air conditioner (operating at test temperature & humidity, they like our high New Orelans humidity, effiency goes up) = 15/3.413 kW of cold air or 4.4 kW.

The temperature difference between 22 C & 33 C is less than between 22 C and 0 C.  So air conditioning, if done right, need not be a massive energy drain.

Best Hopes,


except no one leaves the blo-dy door open on a cold day,

but people cool their garden patios by sliding the door open on a hot summer's eve!

And stores leave their front doors open on a hot day so people don't think they are closed.  At least here in la-la-land aka London.

I was lucky enough to grow up during the energy crisis, but training my partner to shut off the light when she leaves the room...


It's always great to talk to you, because you are an optimist who sees solutions.

I see solutions, but no interest in implementation.

I see short-sighted environmentalists, who object to wind turbines because it ruins the landscape and kills bats, who object to nuclear power because its nuclear, who object to economic growth because its economic growth.

And I see libertarians, and big businessmen who pretend to be libertarians (but really have very cosy relationships with government), who think that global warming cannot be a threat, because doing something about global warming would compromise their precious rights and freedoms (property rights and freedoms, I might add).

And I see politicians who talk change, but when it comes to actually forcing the electorate to make hard choices, they won't.

And I see the mass of the electorate which is interested in which leader is 'strong', and who is on top on Big Brother/ Survivor, but thinks climate change is 'difficult' and something to do with our grandkids.  Or who read Michael Crichton and think its a conspiracy.

Civilisations die, because they cannot or will not adjust to environmental change.  I have a sinking feeling (no pun intended) that ours is in that category.

As I have said before, predicting the details of the future is a "wrestling with jello" problem that has little practical utility.  The Greeks created the archtype of Cassandra, a role I prefer not to replay.

I prefer to point towards where a solution, in whole or in part, might lie.  I do believe in the power of a good idea.  No one in power is going to listen to me, but a good idea can be one of the straws grasped in desperation.  I am hoping for an "Ah hah !" from someone at the ASPO conference, who passes on my handout to another, who gets it into the short attention span of a policy maker or well known analyst.  They bring it to another policy maker, etc. and person after person says "this makes sense".  The idea and not I would convince.

What are the odds ?

Low, but, as I pack for Boston and prepare for my Saturday workshop, they are better than the 1% to 3% I estimated when I started. I looked at all the Peak Oil sites and chose TOD to establish a presence in, as a means to an end.

It is a struggle, but a struggle worth making !

I am conflicted as I live in my disaster zone, turning my back on some direct opportunities to help in order to work on this abstract.  I split my time between local work, where my passion lies, and national (solve the US problem and the problem of the rest is half solved).  I would that I had more time and more energy !

Perhaps living in a city 80% destroyed and sharing laughter, good times and help with others every day; people whose struggles dwarf mine, has colored my perspective.  We do not ask for a complete solution here, we see a mountain of debris and destruction and start on one small corner of it instead of running away to another US McCity.

All that you say is true, I agree.  But I chose to struggle against this truth, seeking a leverage point and trying to fashion a lever to move the world !

That is why I started, after Katrina, to sign my eMails and letters,

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

Give me somewhere to stand, and I will move the earth. *
Archimedes (287 BC - 212 BC)

By small things, can we change the world.  A butterfly's wings, flapping, can cause a hurricane.  You could well be that butterfly.

Jared Diamond makes this point very well.  The only difference we have from previous civilisations, is that we have more openess, and greater knowledge, and an ability to learn from the past and each other.

Environmentalism was crushed in the old Soviet Union.  In places where freedom of the press prevails, it is harder.

(that is one of the underlying themes of the John Sayles satire 'Silver City' about a GWB-like campaign run in Colorado.  The old media, controlled by magnates, will not publish the story.  But the internet gets hold of it.  Just about any film by John Sayles ('Sunshine Coast', 'City of Hope') is worth watching for his insights into modern America)

Of course the GW denial crowd has used the internet very effectively to undermine collective action.

* one of the great books of modern philosophy is Karl Popper 'The Open Society and its Enemies'.  Popper's principle of science is falsifiability: we can never actually prove anything true, we can only prove it false.  So no scientific theory is ever 'true', it just waits for the next iteration (everything I knew about particle physics 28 years ago is now wrong, pretty much).

Popper wrote as communist and fascist totalitarianism were sweeping the world, and were seen by intellectuals as 'the answer'.  His point was that by being open, by constantly questioning itself, a democracy has the ability to alter its course and improve itself, in the way a totalitarian system does not.

Therefore democracy is inherently a healthier system of government.  It doesn't pretend to have the right answer, it just has the best answer until the next paradigm comes along.

Katrina and New Orleans was a 'canary in the coal mine' for the problems of global climate change.

The story of government incompetence and neglect, predictable and well predicted catastrophe, inadequate response, and human courage and fortitude (and damned human decency) will be repeated again and again.

It already is, in Africa every day.

PS God bless you.  And Godspeed.


(lbsgrad2003 (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk)

Ok, 1 kW electricity > 15 SEER air conditioner (operating at test temperature & humidity, they like our high New Orelans humidity, effiency goes up) = 15/3.413 kW of cold air or 4.4 kW.

The temperature difference between 22 C & 33 C is less than between 22 C and 0 C.  So air conditioning, if done right, need not be a massive energy drain.

Best Hopes,


What a breath of fresh air...thank you.  The wind cheerleading and the "don't worry, we can handle the exponential growth" section of TOD was getting just a bit stifling.
Especially when it ruins your doomercentric worldview!! :P
You walked into a tough crowd. This was a minefield in many ways for you. I hope you learned. I hope you're not dead.

Come find me tomorrow. These guys are good. A lot of them are right. I'll teach you some things.

Doom is one thing. If you are dead you are gone.

Fool with the best, die like the rest.

Learn from the Best. Learn from the Beast.

Bring a weapon.

The table of EROEI values looks impressive and is said to incorporate load factors.  However I think we must use system integrated values for wind power that include costs of backup or storage. An EROEI of 20 is just a line ball proposition if the utilisation is only 5%.  Another criterion is system reliability. It particularly strikes me that during heatwaves when every a.c. is turned on that large wind farms are becalmed while dirty energy is maximised. We need some of the proposed load balancing ideas to go prime time.  
One thing that would significantly help with load balancing is to combine solar and wind power into a comlimentary integrated system.  

The rationale is that in most regions the average daily wind power tends to be at a maximum during the winter and at a mimimum during the summer; whereas with solar it is just the opposite, with  minimum average daily solar power during the winter and the maximum during the summer. Thus, a combined system will tend to have a smoother power delivery that either system by itself.

Nor should it be too hard to arrive at a carefully optimized ratio of solar to wind power capacity, taking into account site-specific variations in wind velocity and insolation, relative capital costs, etc.  

This of course won't eliminate the need for energy storage, but it should help reduce the peaks and the valleys of power generation.

The same pattern of complementary production applies to heat waves, like the one recently in California where wind production fell.
This is an interesting article, but it appears to me that the EROI calculation is a bit on the optimistic side. Not all electricity has the same value. It should be obvious that electricity that can be turned on and off at will is more valuable than electricity that is available only when the wind happens to blow.

In order to come up with a reasonable EROI for wind generation, I think that you should include provision of backup/storage facilities in the calculation. Otherwise, wind power can only be used for a small proportion of generation capability in an electrical system with a number of other higher quality power generation options (coal, nuclear, hydro, etc.)

Wind generated power is a valuable resource when used in conjunction with other power sources, but the fickleness of the wind makes electric power generated by the wind more difficult to manage and so less valuable than more easily controllable power sources.

Said in a different way, the mean EROI in the study of 18, only really represents 18:1 if it is part of a broader energy portfolio - 18:1 at certain times is its contribution. If it is the sole source, then the dispersion of the 18:1 detracts from the energy quality and it needs to be penalized. That makes sense
OTOH, much of the energy input is low-value process heat (concrete, steel), while the output is high-value electricity, so the E-ROI should be up-rated for that.
The issue of energy quality in terms of inputs and ouputs is paramount as you indicate.  The wind EROI studies do not account for this.  I have written on the energy quality issue here:

see section 4 therein

I am reminded of a graphic from a presentation at HydroVision confernce.

A comely barmaid presented an ice cold beer with a good head of foam in a frosty mug.  Labeled "Hydro".

A plastic cup of warm, flat beer on a metal bench was called "Wind".

Both are beer, but one has all the extras (but one it turned out).  The one wind advantage is that the annual variance of wind is roughly half the annual variance of hydro.

People are talking about the EROEI "hit" that wind takes from added transmission lines and pumped storage projects.  However, the life time of both is quite long (and transmission towers and wires are easily & efficiently recycled).

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

The cost delta between solar PV and wind is SO great that summer wind PLUS pumped storage is cheaper than solar PV alone in most areas.

And in the winter the gap widens into a chasm.

As the economics for solar PV improve, so will wind economics.  I have no real hope of solar PV ever catching up.

Best Hopes,


Does it have to catch up? I see them as complimentary, not exclusive technologies. The issue of energy payback is not the same as cost. If the energy payback is good, we should invest in it. Wind economics might always exceed PV, but where I live in California, I can put solar on my roof and get tremendous output without transmission loss. I couldn't have a windmill on my property, plus we don't have reliable wind. PV is expensive, but competetive with electrical rates at the higher tiers. As electrical rates go up, eventually it will be competitive without subsidy.

But this is apart from the environmental concerns, which clearly argue for PV and wind and many other technologies to all be maximized. In most cases here, PV is far better for on site generation and helps stabilize the grid. In some ways, cost is simply an artifact of production & material issues, and says nothing about the overall long term benefit or usefulness of the technology. In addition, my panels are guaranteed for 25 yrs to produce 85% of their output and should go on much longer with lesser output - all without any real maintenance (I'm not as confident about the inverter but it is perfect so far). I don't think anyone expects turbines to last over 25 years with that kind of output.

PV ... helps stabilize the grid

I am surprised at that assertion.  I see PV solar as a problem for the grid that must be worked around if widely used.

Islanding* is a problem best solved with more distribution wiring and would still have PV solar creating some localized blackouts on occasion.

And the waveforms generated by the cheap inverters homeowners have will create issues with the grid.

Trivial amounts of PV solar generally avoid these issues, which is what we have to date.

*Islanding is were a, say, subdivision creates almost exactly the power it needs for an extended period.  Zero amps over some stretch of wire.  The new electrical island drifts out of phase with the rest of the grid.  Then someone turns on an air conditioner and the two out of phase grids suddenly interact.

Solar PV might help a bit if transmission capacity is undersized.  Conservation (say higehr efficiency a/c) is a better and cheaper solution.

Best Hopes,


Aren't a lot of these issues the result of using AC for the grid and power in general. A switch to DC would eliminate most if not all of these issues. Your left with simple voltage conversion.

I just assumed we would switch most of our network over to DC if we went with distributed power.

I will discuss this question with my friend who manages the grid for SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility district). Your comments are the first I've seen that suggest this magnitude of a problem in this regard. There are entire housing developments in the area where most or all homes have PV, and I am certain that on a comfortable June afternoon with no AC that whole area is generating at least twice what it's consuming and feeding a lot into the local grid. I have never heard your concern voiced in regard to these projects. You have me curious.
I had no idea California had gone so far in terms of renewable energy.

We sit here in Europe and deride the USA, and forget when you do move, how far and how fast you go.


- Archimedes

Its a big country and for its size sparsely populated.

Internally we are quite diverse with a healthy population of people concerned about peak oil global warming etc.
And even at 300 million we still have far more intrinsic wealth in land and resources and infrastructure than any place on earth. A bankrupt America probably has a value 10 times that of Europe. If you put together the real economic political block which is Canada/US/Mexico we are by far the most powerful. resource rich, and wealthy. Europe would have to get Russia under its heel to compete.

Also for example renewable wood furnace heating and central house fans and swap coolers are still used quite a bit in the south and central US. And homes build for the climate in south with large shade trees and high ceilings often don't use AC at all.

There are a lot of people in America that do conservation and are very intrested in it. Its just our political climate right now has swung far to the right.

I think you will see America swing the other way over the next few decades. The reason is we have failed in Iraq and sooner or later will pull out. When we do it means 2 million barrels of oil are going off the market. Plus major instabilities effecting the region eventually destabalizing KSA and Iran so regardless of geological consideratin political issues will result in decreased oil supply. This is going to lead to a focus on conservation and taxing big users electric rail etc. This is not a direction I think the right wing can take since it destroys the status quo.

I hope you are right about the swing in national mood, because you could indeed lead the world.

I have seen those old fashioned big houses you describe in Baltimore, but my impression is most houses that have been built in the last 50 years have air conditioning?

The 'urban heat island' stuff is fascinating.  They have done satellite studies of US cities, and have shown that urban tree cover has fallen by 25% since 1970.

I think some cities now have rules against black or dark coloured roofs.

If you look at the efficiency curve wind is much further down it than PV.

Solar heated water is, of course, much much closer to wind in economic terms.

Cost of PV is dropping 5% pa ie halving every 14 years. (because of silicon shortages, going up the last 2 years or so).  Wind isn't dropping as fast as that.  Solar is essentially a semiconductor, and we know what semiconductors have done in the past 50 years.  

Solar power right now is where transistors were in the mid 60s.

There are some breakthroughs out there in PV to come-- it's a great technology in that you either lower the cost or increase the conversion efficiency.

I think its 15-20 years before solar is directly cost competitive with wind, but it too, will come.

The first half of the 21st century will be about wind, carbon sequestration, maybe nukes.  The second half will be about PV and advanced energy storage, maybe hydrogen, maybe solar power satellites.  Wind will be a bit like coal now: integral, but not growing at the same rate (except in emerging markets).

In Africa and to some extent rural India, just as they have gone straight to mobile phones without having fixed line infrastructure, so they will go straight to wind and solar power, without spending time in fossil fuel.

What we have to do now is arrange for there to be a second half of the 21st century.

outlines both that tackling the problem is eminently do-able and the need for haste.

John Hawksworth concludes: "Our analysis suggests that there are technologically feasible and relatively low-cost options for controlling carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Estimates suggest that the level of GDP might be reduced by no more than around 2-3% in 2050 if this strategy was followed, equivalent to sacrificing only around a year of economic growth for the sake of reducing carbon emissions in 2050 by around 60% compared to our baseline scenario".

PV Solar has been the subject of R&D (varies from intense at times to low level) for almost 50 years.  I think further advances will be made, but at a measured pace (unlike IC chips).  I think you overrate the potential of PV solar.

The recent overwheleming demand for WTs has masked some of the gains made there.  There is a feedback loop in mechanical systems where operational experience (and problems) result in better 2nd, 3rd & 4th generation systems.  We have just started the learning curve for large WTs.  It will take time (5+ MW WTs are still in their infancy) to mature, but maturity will bring lower costs and higher EROEI.

Best Hopes,


Alan, both the costs of wind turbines and the costs for PV have a great deal of potential for cost-reduction, and for both current cost-reductions are masked by price rationing due to soaring demand.  For PV cost-reduction possibilities perhaps the best example currently is nanosolar.  PV research has been around for a while, but it is being cross-fertilized by research in other areas, like nano-tech, and it's getting dramatically more research & development than ever before.

Ultimately, though, I'm thinking that doesn't matter.  You see, it's the Balance of System costs that are more important.  

For PV that's installation, structural support, inverter, wiring, power electronics, etc.  Those are already around half the cost, so if the PV cells cost nothing you'd only have a 50% reduction.  A great deal of the potential cost reductions in PV come in BOS, where Building Integration and home-builder standard installation should slash these costs.

Similarly, for wind the BOS costs are transmission, storage, system balancing, etc.  These costs are harder to reduce, and rise at the margin.  At some point, perhaps around 30% to 55% of market, these costs will rise to meet the costs of other market players, including solar.

Also, solar insolation patterns look to be complementary with wind, and solar coincides almost perfectly with peak, so solar power is much more valuable per kwhr than is wind's.  Finally, as noted by Peakearl wind is a supply-side player, while solar is a consumer-side player, and unless electricity prices fall dramatically there will be a point where PV is cost-competitive with the grid, especially with time-of-day pricing.

All these things convince me that solar will be an important player, along with wind.

What do you think?

I admit to a bias towards the grid and centralized systems.  I think that this is good because:

  1. that is what we have today and changing over to a predominantly decentralized system is another systems adaptation in an economy & society that will be changing "more than is comfortable" and there will no slack for errors and "do overs" caused by political correctness (see ethanol).

  2. Most observers favor decentralized generation and some balance is needed in the debate.

That said, you have some interesting concepts that I have mulled over.

You will note that I allocated about 4% of my renewable energy grid to solar PV vs. 55% for wind.  So I see a relatively minor role for solar PV (although 4% of 80% of todays electrical generation is a LOT !)  123.5 TWh (very roughly).

Solar PV will be largely in new construction (which will be smaller and more stories in the future) for the reasons mentioned or in upscale consumers that are not pressed to meet monthly bills (a vanishing breed perhaps).  Add orientation issues, trees and local weather (NW & SF seem poor sites) with "hit or miss" installations in residential, industrial & commercial structures with good orientation.  New apartment buildings are unlikely to get solar PV.  Add to this that generation declines with age (4% becomes 3.5% in about 25 years) and dust and bird droppings.  Some will keep their collectors clean, others will not.  I could see a "paper 5%" generating 4% of US electricity due to ageing and lack of care.

I see widespread use of solar hot water heaters, much more limited installation of solar PV.  But you may be right, the economics may merge.  But even for equal economics, structural issues will favor more wind than solar PV generation.

BTW, solar PV is not close to peak.  Summer peak demand is usually bout 4 to 5 PM, spring & fall about 6 to 7 PM and winter "varies" but 6:30 AM to 7:30 AM or late evening are often the peaks.  Solar PV generation peaks at solar noon (usually ~1 PM daylight savings time).  The summer solar PV generation is likely to coincide with pumped storage generation, not storage.

Best Hopes,


Don't disagreee that much (although I do believe solar has more of a role than you do and should be put on every big box retailer and mall in Califonia), but thought I'd point out that in the summer our production at 4-5 PM is still very good, not much less than at 1 PM (savings time), so that the peaks really aren't that far apart. We're talking cosine of the sun angle here, so the initial few degrees departure from perpendicular don't matter much.
hmmm.  Some good points.  Either wind or solar will work, I suppose.  I suspect that standardization of PV products will simplify PV more than you expect.  At the moment PV is really a cottage industry of retrofits, astonishly immature as an industry.  Also, the ability of the consumer to reduce his/her own bills will be very attractive, I think.

re solar peak: I've been watching and it seems to me that aroudn 3:30 is more the peak (at least in California), a point at which solar is pretty strong.  Further, the summer A/C peak is caused by solar insolation, and the late afternoon peak AFAIK is an artifact caused by people turning on their A/C after work, and by flat pricing.  

I would think that time-of-day pricing could easily shift demand a little earlier to the solar peak.  OTOH, even without that, solar reduces the daily peak to a much shorter, slightly lower peak, which is a substantially smaller draw on other peak generation.

" The summer solar PV generation is likely to coincide with pumped storage generation, not storage."

I'm not quite clear what you mean.  If they coincide, wouldn't PV reduce the draw on the pumped storage generation?

"The summer solar PV generation is likely to coincide with pumped storage generation, not storage." ... If they coincide, wouldn't PV reduce the draw on the pumped storage generation ?

Yes, a "good thing" !

Upon reflection, in a pumped storage dominated grid, it matters not whether solar PV (or land fill gas, or geothermal) generates at exact peak or not.

If XX renewable generates when pumped storage in generating, it will displace PS and that saved PS can be used at peak.

OTOH, if pumped storage generates when renewable generation exceeds demand (3 AM summer and wind is blowing) then it will be stored in the PS (if PS is not full) and cycle efficiency will be a "tax" on the power (perhaps -19%).

So a plus for solar PV (except in the winter perhaps, when it is little needed).

Good thought provoking thoughts !  This has been a good & useful exercise !


Another thought - it may be misleading to assume that solar will be primarily on residential.  As the economics improve, cost-sensitive Industrial/Commercial building owners (who are much more likely to have time-of-day pricing, and who have a lot of roofspace in the aggregate) will increasingly integrate solar, especially with LEEDS requirements becoming more important.
Right now in CA, businesses pay at a higher rate for electricity and their economics are far better that for homeowners given PV subsidies. They can pay off their full PV  systems in less than 5 years of paying simply what their utility bill would have been anyway, then have years of "free" power. The barriers are the fact that generally businesses lease their buildings and pay for power, so there is less incentive for them or the builders to put in PV, and the traditional conservatism of these businesses. In my area, ironically, one of the main commercial enterprises using PV is the "Flyers" gas station chain. It is a family owned oil company and they have covered the fueling station's shade structure and convenience store roof of all their stations with PV from edge to edge. The economics can't miss here in CA for businesses. It's going up in many places and it pays off for them quickly.
Yes, this has been very interesting.

What would you estimate as the cost of pumped storage?

A less than perfect source via Google for the 1,060 MW Goldisthal

Due to be completed in 2002-3, Goldisthal is Germany's largest pumped storage power station and is estimated to cost $530 million.

Pumped Storage is measured in two ways; peak MW (based on turbines and tunnel diameter) and total MWh stored (Goldisthal can generate 1,060 MW for 8 hours; lower than average # of hours IMHO).

It is difficult to site pumped storage in Germany (they have some with a surface upper reservior and a cavern deep underground, with the power station) so I would consider this the upper bound for US installations.

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

Ok, so that's $62.50 per kwhr of capacity, and if you amortize it over 15 years (to take into account time value of $) and one cycle per day, and 19% losses  that would be $.0141 per kwhr.

So, pumped storage costs less than 1.5 pennies per kwhr!

From the point of view of conventional, very cheap fossil fuels, that's a pretty substantial penalty.  But from the point of view of a peak-oil pessimist, that's nothing!

jeez, louise, what's the big fuss about energy storage????

BTW, I didn't understand what you meant about the upper bound for the US.  Do you feel that an installation like Ludington, MI would be difficult to do larger than this scale?

No, Bath County, Raccoon Mt and Ludington MI would be substantially cheaper than Goldisthal if built today.

There are sites for 3 more pumped storage units on the same ridge as Raccoon Mt.  All almost the same price if needed.

Lakes Michigan & Superior make great lower reserviors.

Quite frankly 0.6 cents/kWh might be a good # for US pumped storage in "good" locations.  In Texas would be a different story.

Goldisthal would have been cheaper /kWh if they had installed 425 MW and a smaller tunnel that could run for 20 hours at full load.

Best Hopes,


Why 15 year amortization ?  Goldisthal and others will be working 200 years from now (if civilization does not collapse).  

"Why 15 year amortization ? "

I used the wrong word  - I should have called it payback period, or capitalization factor.

You have to include the time value of $, which I think might be 5% for a public utility, and 10% for an investor owned.  A 15 year payback is roughly the same as a $ time value of about 7%.

Pumped storage appears very cheap at .6 cents/kwhr.  Why aren't we using it more??
You need to be sure of a decades long significant cost delta in fuel costs + marginal operating costs between your base load generatio and peak load generation.  Not so long ago, NG was just slightly more expensive than coal and cost less to operate.

Significant wind penetration (surplus base load wind most nights for example) could supply that cost delta.

BTW, grid operators LOVE pumped storage.  100% capacity factor and great for black start units !

Best Hopes,


It's easy to forget how short a time it has been that we've been aware of problems with natural gas.  For a long time it seemed to be the ideal power source...
I do like pumped storage, but I will remind us that in CA there is not always water in the reservoirs due to recurrent drought years. That is why we MUST maxize what we can get from alternatives including both solar and wind. In reality we need it all and more. I would also argue that in summer in CA, PV is the most reliable source of energy, with almost completely predictable parameters, that we have excepting perhaps well-run nuclear.
I agree about solar - it's really pretty reliable in CA, and it's output matches consumption much better than any other power source (except nat gas turbines, of course).

Are you thinking of hydro, when you consider drought?

When I think of pumped storage, I am thinking of projects such as we have in CA where surplus power generated during the night (nuclear pretty much) is used to pump the water back into a higher reservoir so the energy can be recaptured during the upcoming peak. My father-in-law was an engineer on these projects. This works well as long as there is surplus power available at night and the water is there to begin with. A continuous flow of water has to continue down the river to the outlet for a multitude of reasons all year long. During our drought periods, not only is there much less head on the dam and water available for generation, but it also is much less available for the pumped storage.  That is why we need to focus beyond hydro in CA. Already 15% of CA electricity is hydro, and we are extremely vulnerable to droughts that tend to affect the whole state.

A closed pump storage system, however seems like would be alright, the trick being having the surplus energy without running fossil fuel plants all out at night. That would be a real waste.


Closed pumped storage would match nicely with wind.  And, Alan tells us that pumped storage is very cheap at about .6 cents per kwhr., which is no more than a 10% cost premium for 100% storage.  Probably you only need 25% storage for low wind market share (under 20%), and maybe 50% for over that.

A premium for clean renewables of only 5-10%!  Who'd have thought??

for california maybe - what about vermont or maine or massachusetts? vermont loses yankee nuclear and quebec hydro agreements in 2012
pumped storage is certainly feasible in Vermont-- if you are willing to tear up the landscape.  Vermont isn't any less hilly than Wales.

In fact, I expect them to renegotiate with Hydro Quebec, and to buy fossil fueled power from their neighbours.

you know about everything - you should change your moniker to  valueknower - pls email me if you get a chance
Remember to factor in cycle efficiency of perhaps 80% (82% on site, 1% transmission each way).

Still green IS affordable today !

A non-green approach will have negative long term impacts that will shrink the economy below what a "Green Today" approach would have.

If Green Power results in a larger, more robust with higher employment economy in 2025, is it really more expensive ?

Best Hopes,


The cost delta between solar PV and wind is SO great

I can put PV panels on my home.   I can not put up a wind machine in my back yard.  

So there is an oppertunity delta.

I cannot quantify in hard figures the energy inputs and outputs outlined above, or their financial equivalents, but their complexity and vast energy requirement convinces me that what is possible today, thanks to fossil fuels, will be practically impossible when the only energy available is the meagre supply produced, as electricity, by wind turbines and their like.

ERO[E]I is not rocket science, it is much less well defined than that.

Disagree--there is a vast literature that describe how to do NEA, inclding dealing with tough issues such as system boundaries, truncation errors, etc.

See summary here:

All the issues have been raised above, so I will try and supply some more evidence:

  • Yours is a meta-study and reliant on the data which is highly variable, and you don't have access to the assumptions embodied in the data.

  • The Germans (who have pracitacl experience of Wind Turbines) appear to disagree with your conclusions.
Connection costs do not appear to have been accounted for.

This has been widely reported (I don't speak German). 1/30/ixhome.htm,,1425850,00.html

"Wind energy is expensive. That's true. You can't dispute it," Stephan Kohler, the head of Germany's energy agency told the Guardian. "Conventional methods are cheaper. But you have to do both."

In the past 15 years Germany has constructed more than 15,000 turbines, half of them in the past five years. The number is due to double again by the end of the decade.

Wind is been driven by subsidy renewables obligation or tax breaks in the US.

But the biggest issue you seem to be missing is the intermittant nature of supply. You are not including backup costs. Alan (Drake) brought up Pumped Storage, when the wind generated electricity powers the pumps, but a spinning reserve kills wind power.

Royal Acadamy of Engineering.

Look at Onshore/Oddshore wind, with and without sandby:
Onshore:  3.7 and 5.4 repectively (p/kWh)
Offshore: 5.5 and 7.2 repectively (p/kWh)

The renewables sector already benefits from subsidies worth in the region of £485 million a year through the Renewables Obligation and concern has been expressed5 that Government
plans to offer further subsidies (e.g. reductions in transmission charges), through amendments to the Electricity Bill, will not lead to extra investment. This may also run counter to the spirit of the new European Electricity Directive aimed at promoting competitive energy markets and
could be regarded as further distortions to the market.
This examination of the costs of generating electricity is a foundation upon which discussion about future energy policy including subsidies and market mechanisms can be based.

2. A number of elements of the cost of electricity are hidden or shared throughout the system rather than allocated to specific generators. These are balancing costs and transmission costs which also deserve further examination

Table 1 summarises the cost of generating electricity for the different `base-load' plants considered by this study.
Table 1 Cost of generating electricity for base-load plant (pence per kWh)
Gas-fired CCGT 2.2
Nuclear fission plant 2.3
Coal-fired pulverised-fuel (PF) steam plant 2.5
Coal-fired circulating fluidized bed (CFB) steam plant 2.6
Coal-fired integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) 3.2

Renewables are generally more expensive than conventional generation technologies. This is
due in part to the immaturity of the technology and the more limited opportunity to take
advantage of cost savings brought about by economies of scale usually associated with more
traditional fossil-fuel types of generation. In addition, fluctuations in the energy source itself
may limit the output of generation available from these technologies and, thus, raise the unit
costs of the generator on two counts:
  • as capacity factor3 falls, unit costs of generation rise;
  • additional, fast response, standby generating plant may have to be provided to maintain system security as the energy source fluctuates.

Having said that:

Scotland, United Kingdom.

With an installed capacity of 322MW it will be Europe's largest wind farm. Total contract value is approximately € 350 million. Completion of the project is scheduled for summer 2009.

Huge turbines mounted on floating platforms could make wind power competitive with fossil-fuel-generated electricity. These advanced wind turbines, which are in development, could be situated far from the shore, too, avoiding battles with onshore residents who object to the presence of large wind farms.

GE has announced a $27 million partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop 5-7 megawatt turbines by 2009

10MW wind turbines may have a future offshore.

Everret posted this which contrasts with SLS and shows the problems with ERO[E]I. Also the Austrailians have come up with an enrichnment by Laser system which uses much less power than centrefuges.

No Comment:,71908-0.html


Everret posted this which contrasts with SLS (anti-nuclear) and shows the problems with ERO[E]I.

The Austrailians have come up with an enrichnment by Laser system which uses much less power than centrefuges.

"Yours is a meta-study and reliant on the data which is highly variable, and you don't have access to the assumptions embodied in the data."
--Not so--we went through every paper and the data associated with each

"The Germans (who have pracitacl experience of Wind Turbines) appear to disagree with your conclusions."
--the #s we reported are from acutal turbines operating in the field-how can you get more practical?
--what specifically do u think they disagree with?

The assumptions may not be explicit, or as you acknowledge they may have been excluded.

I can't speak meaningfully about the details of your study or of the German study, but they have potentially a much larger data set (15,000), and a much more systemic overview.

The implication is the the return on investment has been much lower than your study suggets. (much higher cost energy).

For example cable costs could have been excluded, or as you have also noted, costs associated with upgrading the infrastruture, to higher capacity.

Mr Wicks told delegates on Tuesday: "Grid connections are likely to form 10-15% of capital costs for the round two wind farms, given the considerable cable lengths involved.

Other hidden costs ?

The findings of the unpublished report were leaked to Der Spiegel magazine last week. They suggest that if Germany presses ahead with its plan to double the number of wind turbines, annual energy costs for consumers will rise from €1·4 billion to €5·4 billion (£1 billion to £3·7 billion), increasing the average annual household bill by €44 by 2015.

The report also states that the government will have to spend an extra €1·1 billion on laying almost 600 miles of new cable and that power plants will have to be replaced or adapted to cope with the inherently large fluctuations in wind-derived energy.

The research also cast doubt on one of the main arguments for wind power: that it cuts the amount of "greenhouse gas" polluting the atmosphere. The report says that almost the same effect can be achieved - at substantially reduced costs - by installing modern filters at existing fossil-fuel power plants.

You figure look out of line with other reports perhaps they need to be reduced by a factor of 5 in line with the National Grid's, Grubb 1988 & ILEX Energy Consulting 2002, replacement factor

Here is a report on the Sustainable Delevopment Comminssion,

Note the reference the real world costs are much higher then for other energy sources.

In such circumstances, one obvious recourse is to look at the real world - ie, not at theoretical cost calculations, but at the actual prices paid for wind power. These numbers are significantly higher. The current UK system of support for renewables is based on obligations which are tradeable in the form of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs). The ultimate cost to the consumer is effectively capped at a
premium which currently stands at a little over 3 p/kWh (in addition to the normal wholesale electricity price, recently around 3p) though in practice the cost of Certificates has often been higher. The total cost of offshore wind in the UK was calculated by the OIES at 8-8.5p/kWh2. Similarly the prices paid under Germany's support arrangements are much higher than the costs quoted by the SDC - the structure of support is complex but is equivalent to 4-5p/kWh or more for onshore wind and over 6p/kWh for offshore.

These figures are important because they represent the actual prices paid, ultimately by consumers.

Of course, all such calculations are highly assumption-dependent,

It is not for me to reconsile your results with the figures given in other studies or charges to consumers, other than to note that your results seem much too favourable for wind.

Here is the full RAE report (Previous post was a summary)

I have not studied wind energy, nor am I an expert in this field.

The key figure in this report is 1.3, with CO2 priced at £30/tonne (about £110/tonne of Carbon).

Now double those blue bars again, as a £60/tonne price is not unlikely before 2020.

of course, if you believe in Peak Oil, then the CCGT price would move up anyways (so would the coal price, as coal would substitute for gas).

Figure 3.1 has some (laughable) costs of fuel paid by UK generators to 2002.  The gas price in 2006 was 4 times that (it has come back down).

On nuclear they make some heroic assumptions: that plants take 4 years to build (historically they take 8-10, and the Finns are 18 months behind on their new plant).  Because of capitalised interest, this doubles the price of the KWhr.  Also they assume no cost for nuclear waste disposal or decontamination.

The upper limit they place is the cost of Carbon Sequestration, but until someone builds a coal fired plant with Carbon Capture and Storage we don't actually know what it would cost (nor does it solve the problem, as eventually the CO2 will reach the atmosphere).

The nuclear estimate is way too low with the historic experience of new nuclear plants-- it needs to be at least double that.

The research also cast doubt on one of the main arguments for wind power: that it cuts the amount of "greenhouse gas" polluting the atmosphere. The report says that almost the same effect can be achieved - at substantially reduced costs - by installing modern filters at existing fossil-fuel power plants.

This is so completely perplexing, I suspect a mistranslation.  It's basically entirely incorrect:

  • Carbon Capture and Storage is not yet a proven technology (all the bits exist, but we have yet to tie them together in one integrated coal plant, and figure out where to dump the CO2)

  • I think what they are talking about is the European Large Combustion Plant Directive, which isn't aimed at CO2 but at NOX and SO2 and particulates.
Of course wind energy is expensive. That is because fossil energy is still cheap. The point of doing an energy analysis instead of/in addition to an economic analysis, is we dont know how the shape of the acceleration of fossil fuel prices - too many variables. There is a much greater than zero chance that the price acceleration happens faster than the market can adjust.  People that choose to lock in 'expensive' wind energy now might look very smart once it becomes 'more expensive'.

And the German studies in Cutlers sample had lower EROIs on average - I wonder why that was.

Nate: I find Prof Cutlers figures hard to accept.

But if I have to invest in future energy generation, then I would invest in the capital intensive Nuclear Power, not in large wind farms.

Gas from Russia could be in short supply by 2010, and we expect peak oil by 2010 (if not before), the UK's own Natural gas is at 10% by 2010. But Nuclear power is not very sensitive to fossel fuel prices.

I remain to be convinced about Wind and Prof Cutlers figures look out of line.

two comments:

1) cutler is a highly respected scientist and his work is peer-reviewed - I too, was/am skeptical that wind can generate more energy per equal investment than dense light sweet crude oil can, but I have not done the studies, nor has anyone else. Cutlers group did, and until proved otherwise, those numbers are the standard. (and he did acknowledge many of the shortcomings)

2)your comment on nuclear EROI/investment brings up another issue not discussed on this (quite good) thread, -most life cycle analyses use wells to wheels type figures on EROI that include indirect energy costs as well as direct - however, few if any (Patzek and Pimental a sole exception) analyses include environmental costs when calculating EROI? How does one quantify scientifically a dollar or an energy cost comparing 1)bat deaths and scenery loss from wind to 2) increased marginal GHG from coal processing to 3)waste, weapons and toxin externality from nuclear?

EROI is important as is net energy analysis - but holistic systems analysis needs to incorporate things that are not easily packaged in integer values.

Even if you suck up the scale of subsidy we are talking about to make nuclear power pay?

Bush's Energy Act and the UK government have been quite clear that there will be explicit subsidies to create the '3rd Generation' nuclear industry.

I haven't benchmarked the Bush subsidies against the US tax credit for wind.

The reality is we need both, and in a hurry-- the world CO2 problem is not getting any better.

But I don't believe the UK will 'do a France' and be 75% nuclear-- at least not without renationalising the electric power industry so that the cost can be passed through entirely to the customer.

20% nuclear ie building 10 3rd Gen reactors to offset the closing ones, I could see.  Maybe 30% (15 reactors).  More?

Wind is a 20% no brainer. Basically the UK has the world's best wind resource, the technology is proven.  Why waste that opportunity?

 Beyond that is much tougher to see, but we may find tricks to make it possible.

One thing to keep in mind about Germany is that they have a relatively poor wind resource: their average capacity factor is HALF that of the US.

The Germans feel so strongly about green and domestically supplied energy that they're willing to pay a substantial premium, and pursue more expensive renewables.

So, the German experience is not very helpful as a guide for the rest of us.

And they are building new lignite power plants.  The worst form of CO2 emitter.

They are also shutting down their nukes as part of the agreement with the German Green Party, and buying power from Slovakia (Russian built nukes with inferior safety, and coal) and presumably France?

There is a lot of clean politics out there, and a lot of dirty air.

Germany buy a lot of nuclear power from France.

The sobering of enviromental policies and getting the problems sorted in the right order is going better in Sweden then in Germany. I hope this will give us an opportunity for building nuclear powerplants for energy exports to Germany before they reverse their policy, it could perhaps even be done with German capital.

A very naive look on the grid infrastructure makes it reasonable that additional HVDC links for 1000-3000 MW could be absorbed withouth lots of new cross country powerlines. This means one or two new EPR:s or equivalent and an ability to get more Swedish hydro to ballance German wind power.