The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Charlie Hall and EROEI

"Energy Return on Energy Invested" that is. (corrected per comments; unfortunately we are stuck with the URL)

Thanks to John Mashey who linked to this fascinating presentation [eww, MS PowerPoint] in a conversation on Grist on carbon capture and sequestration.
(As you will see, David has been rubbing me the wrong way on this. I am doubly appreciative of John's coming to my defense because of the fascinating bubble chart on slide 22. Is the nuclear bubble right, though?)

Anyway, there's more great stuff linked from Charles Hall's home page. I don't know why peak oil folks have such a bad sense of design, but anyway the stuff is good if you look past the nasty color scheme and slapdash layouts. Mostly I appreciate that Hall actually thinks about economics like a scientist. That's as opposed to trying to look scientific, as the usual misguided application of thermodynamic entropy by other critics of classical economics do.

6 comments:

John Mashey said...

Uh, it's EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) or (as I used) EROI (Energy Return On Investment).

sherry said...

You've piqued my curiosity with your throwaway comment re lame entropic critiques of classical economics. What kind of thing did you have in mind?

John Mashey said...

Well, actually, Charlie is:
- not a "peak-oiler"
- a scientist, so writes like one :-)

and it is well worth reading:

http://www.ker.co.nz/pdf/Need_to_reintegrate.pdf

and by Ayres & Warr:
http://www.iea.org/Textbase/work/2004/eewp/Ayres-paper1.pdf

Basically: wealth ~ energy (largest component); neoclassical economics seems disconnected from real world.

tidal said...

Hello gentlemen,

First, w.r.t. to the EROEI discussion, I would like to recommend Vaclav Smil's new text:
Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems http://tinyurl.com/2jk8jf .... does an excellent job of detailing the energy costs of concrete, buildings, computers, crops, metals, etc., as well as an excellent discussion of "all things energy" - photosynthesis, fossil fuels, etc. An excellent text, heavily referenced...

Although Smil is deeply concerned about climate change issues, afaict, he is not in the 'peak oil' camp - fwiw... Further (to John in particular) he provides a critique of Ayres work that is not supportive but worth the read... The title is self-explanatory, and the book can serve as an excellent baseline/reference/reality check for other disucssions re: alternative energy, etc...

Michael, - I still don't "get" the slag on thermodynamics as a lens for modelling economic/ecological systems... or your opinion that it is non-scientific... You've not really articulated why it isn't... In any event, you might want to engage Dr. Hall on this point... fwiw, I've pointed to some of his work earlier ( a visual reminder here: http://www.eroei.com/images/econ_sys_large.gif , expanded on here w.r.t. thermodynamics: http://www.ker.co.nz/pdf/Need_to_reintegrate.pdf )

Sure, the "thermodynamic" lens may be "impractical" for current purposes, and I'm not interested in wasting others' cycles suggesting that we need to near-term adopt "emergy" or "exergy" or the like as policy metrics given the urgency of everything else we need to do... but long-term, we're not likely going to be able to simply wave it away as "unscientific"... Further, consider that at gristmill.org today, Sean Casten http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/2/2/7478/26723 was bemoaning the fact that existing pollution laws for SOx and NOx have actually encouraged GHG emissions... I'm just using that as a handy example suggesting the need for a more encompassing metric to incorporate into mainstream economics... Without "something" as a broad proxy, we could eventually be cap&trading A-to-Z-to-CFC-to-Pb-to-CO2-to-etc., which would lead to just the kind of "command&control" economics we need to avoid... So, I would agree that what that "something" is perhaps "ahead of its time"... but I am unpersuaded that Ayres, et al, are "unscientific"... sorry...

Chuck said...

The EROI for nuclear power can basically be whatever you want it do be, as different people calculate it differently depending on what answer they want.

Part of this is due to the fact that many military applications have negative EROI, so how one considers dual use or military reactors has a large effect on what number you generate.

Also, handling energy requirements of long term storage is hard when long term storage plans are unknown.

There is also the problem that safety standards decrease EROI, so if you live dangerously your reactor can be very efficient.

For actual numbers, the pro-nuclear World Nuclear Association puts the EROEI at 59 (higher than anything but hydro):
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf11.html

In contrast, a study commissioned by European green Party found the EROEI to be 4 using high-grade uranium ore, and negative for low grade ore.
http://www.stormsmith.nl/

If anyone want to figure out where that order of magnitude+ difference comes from, be my guest.

David B. Benson said...

I prefer, in principle, EROI in that all the investment costs are supposed to be included, included the cost of capital.

My observation is that 'most' large engineering projects come in over cost and time estimates. A most notable exception is the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which is being finished under cost estimates!

So a projected EROI generally has to be viewed as an optimistic upper bound.