General introduction to the links of David Scharztman:
1. Linking a third party blog called “bountiful energy” (abundant energy, to say so) to debunk our book on solar PV EROI seems a little bit sarcastic with the general subject for which I was initially quoted: “An Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela: A Solar Communist Horizon for the World”, which supposedly treats to change the energy present paradigm in Venezuela for two main reasons: a) the global warming and Climatic Change problems associated to the burning of fossil fuels at 10,000 Mtoes/year rate and b) because more than 50 oil producing countries are already in post peak situation, at least of regular conventional oil and Venezuela is clearly one of them.
2. Quoting a third party link to refute my position, would need further clarification, because I do not know if David Schwartzman assumes all the points of these links or only some of them.
3. The blog author is not well identified. The blog only offers in what is called “view my complete profile” the name (Tom), the place where he lives (California) and a very brief profile indicating: “I study economics. I thought my knowledge of economics might be useful in analyzing doomerism and energy decline arguments”.
It seems something really poor and not much credible, both for the author and for the person that quotes him and gives that articles for granted. It gives the impression that he is one of the typical neoclasssic economists, absolutely opposite to biophysical economists, which I respect a lot, from Howard T. Odum, Solow, or here in Spain, Jose Manuel Naredo, Joan Martínez Alier and now Óscar Carpintero. I cannot resist here to quote Kenneth Boulding, a famous common sense economist: ” Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.”
Now, some introduction to the cases of EROIs, EPBTs and LCAs
The studies of LCA’s and EPBT’s, or for the case, of EROI’s with different types of solar PV modules can be conducted in many different forms.
As for the automobile industry, one can be interested in reaching a consensus and common grounds defining and providing some technical specs. And the industry may reach a reasonable form of giving consumption for private cars in terms, for instance, of liters/100 Km (or miles per gallon in the US) and even define modes of consumption: urban/extraurban or combined; giving acceleration in 0-00Km/h: x seconds or even CO2 emissions in grams/km or mile of each specific vehicle of each specific brand. The measurements conditions being usually controlled, closed and best paved flat circuits, with brand new models and little load.
But there may also be possible trying to understand the global or national behavior of private cars, when in real life, to observe how they behave when in traffic jams, bumpy, steep or also empty roads and streets and to learn how they really serve to the community, beyond the marketing specs provided by car manufaturers. And one can look for different sets of data, equally interesting or perhaps even more interesting and discover how many passengers per car are really being transported in average, how much time they spend idle in traffic lights, consuming in ticking over or how much passengers*Km or Kg*Km of load are resulting in a given country to serve this community.
I could not say that the second procedure is a mistaken one or that is generalizing only negative experiences in a given country. Much on the contrary, I would rather say that the first agreed methodologies are basically good for the car industry marketing campaigns (in this sense, much more mistaken), but contribute very little to understand how private cars are really serving a society in terms of helping to transport humans and loads from origins to destinations to fulfill a function in different countries. Or even less, to check if they do these tasks more or less efficiently than public transportation by road, by train, subway or by plane or ship.
Up to the last years of 20th. century and the first five years of the 21st century, the experience of solar PV systems (not only modules) was certainly limited. Therefore, studies trying to advance and forecast how a given PV system could theoretically behave in the future were of some interest. Tens, if not hundreds of papers were published with LCA’s EPBT’s or EROI’s of a given, specific solar PV technology (a-Si μm-Si μm-Si CdTe CdTe CIGS CIGS, etc.) or a specific topology (fixed, one or two axis trackers) and assuming a given insolation/irradiance.
But in the final part of the first decade of the 21st. century, we have already a well gained real life experience of massive PV systems deployed in real life and working for several continuous yearly cycles.
For instance, we have observed enormous differences in energy generated, depending on the study selected. In most of the papers on LCA, EPBT or EROI, the expected energy generated over a life cycle are based on insolation/irradiance of 1,700 kWh/m2-yr.
But if we go to the real world, that has already deployed over 140 GW, we observe that most of these PV systems have been installed in countries where the irradiance is much less than this. Depending on what to pick (theoretical selected irradiance or real life), results may differ considerably. That is why we decided, I believe for the first time, to make the study on a massive deployment (4 GW) generating over three complete yearly cycles. We selected Spain, because it is the country in which I have worked more, because it is the best irradiated country in Europe, so that we tried to be in the safe side and also because we had one of the most complete and official data sets of installed power and recorded energy outputs, using real and very accurate proven data given by the Ministry of Industry. In fact, countries, like Germany or Switzerland have about half of the Mwh/Mwp installed than Spain.
Our experience in Spain, where most of the installations are ground mounted, is that they give better figures in energy output (energy generated) than rooftop mounted systems ( a second safeguard trying to be conservative). The reason that Germany is generating about half of the Mwh/Mwp is not only lower irradiation, but precisely also the poorer efficiency when rooftop mounted, because in many cases, in rich countries, aesthetics prevail on best orientation and tilting. Also because installations are carried out, generally speaking, on already existing roofs that were not designed and built from the beginning with the best orientation and tilting and for having panels on top with the best position. Or because they may have shadows. Maintenance in scattered installations is always poorer than when there is a multimegawatt installation ground mounted, with better and more professional monitoring and easier access.
What we did, for the energy output (Eout) of the whole was to measure the real life production of about 4 GW nominal -4GWn- of grid connected solar PV Systems installed to date as considered by the Spanish Ministry of industry (and were absolutely conservative when calculating), converting, very conservatively, into the equivalent Gwp and recorded all the data of three continuous years (2009 through 2011). The measures were the official figures delivered and made public by the Ministry of Industry in month by month series with respect to the installed base of each month. The energy generated was taken from the official sealed digital meters (between 45,000 and 60,000) and summarized by the Ministry. No room for biasing or cheating ourselves playing solitaire here in the energy output (in real life). I do not think we were mistaken or committing errors in doing that.
On the other hand, let’s look, for instance, to a paper titled Life Cycle Assessment of High-Concentration PV systems (Fthenakis, V.; Kim, H. C.) in which the conclusion on the EPBT of a North American system, Amonix 7700 PV, is calculated as 0.9 years, presuming a given output of the system. It should be convenient and advisable a review of that study 5 years later, to check how are they performing in real life.
To the best of my knowledge some of these type of plants have found that many organic Fresnel lenses (crystalline Fresnel lenses should be prohibitive for these uses) are in fact brittled in about 7 years and would hardly support a heavy hail storm; that the secondary focus (a silver plated inverted trunk pyramid) unstick very often; that expansion/contraction processes of the thick cavities to keep the focal distance between the lenses and the high efficiency cells, developed interstices allowing water or moisture entering or condensation affecting the matrix. The big sail constituted by the precision tracker with so many modules of the system accuracy tracking the sun with <1º precision, forces the tracker to put itself in flag position with winds of 40 km/h, thus generating zero even if it is a sunny but windy day. Winds over 20 Km/h create vibration in the tracker and reduce the accuracy of pointing to the cells and therefore, the nominal power. A minimum haze reduces generation in much higher values than for conventional modules. Clouds lead to virtually zero production, even if they are not so dense. One single faulty photomatrix, forces the whole 25 to 50+ kW tracker to stop for sometimes an hour, to replace the damaged one. Cranes or elevators (fossil fuel built, transported and powered) are needed to reach photomatrixes for repair or cleaning, even in horizontal position. The ratio of faulty modules for failure of copper solderings in 5 years may reach incredible high values. In summary, that this US system has not yet proven to be as efficient as the report of energy invested recovered in 0.9 years suggested. Nothing of these problems appeared in the theoretical study of these reputed scientists. The fact that after seven releases of the Amonix devices (any ideas where to place all these energy input costs?), since early nineties of last century have not got any minimum market and that several of their plants have been dismantled five to seven years from installation, is very telling on where the biases of certain studies may lay.
Coming back to our study on Spanish PV installed power, promoters and plant owners finally decided to install the PV systems wherever they found more convenient in Spain (or elsewhere), in general, much more in the best insolated parts of the country (mid South of the Iberian peninsula and in the archipelagos). This is a rather different and much more realistic approach, in my opinion, than the theoretical methodology of applying 1,700 kWh/m2/year given usually for granted in conventional LCA, EPBT or EROI papers. Just to give an example, Germany, with about 8 times more installed solar PV power than Spain has already also several years records of producing about half the energy in Mwh/Mwp installed than Spain. As mentioned before, should real life be applied to the calculations, the LCA’s, EPBT’s or EROI’s would have yield a very different result.
The PV systems considered in our study for Spain, were exactly the same used by any other country in the world and at the state of the art of these years, freely elected and selected by the promoters and buyers from all over the world (Spain as module manufacturer and exporter also included), from individual plant owners, to promoters, national and international investment funds, industrial corporations, cooperatives, banks, etc. We assumed that investors in Spain, that poured several billions of euros in the solar PV business, had made (at least I did them) the corresponding professional due diligences, carefully studied the Performance Ratios, made cautious and prudent engineering processes and assessments, and were not much dumber than in other European countries or in the US to have obtained negative experiences only here. No much room neither for having negative experiences with respect to technologies (exactly the most well known PV manufacturers and technologies) that had not occurred in other countries, at least.
As for the energy inputs required for an energy system to be up and running.
There are different ways to consider these energy inputs. In general, most of the LCA, EPBT or EROI studies have included some of the energy inputs to get Si fedstocks and subsequent processes to obtain the ingot/crystal, the wafer, the cell, the laminated glass, the framing, mounting nd cabling of the module and in some cases, the energy inputs of the inverter (see, for instance, the paper of de Wild-Scholten, Mariska: Energy payback time and carbon footprint of commercial photovoltaic systems) or even some metallic infrastructure.
We have never objected basically these data, procedures and methodology. We even gave for good the averaged resulting EROI’s of some studies of these type till 2010, but considered that there are many other energy input expenses, usually ignored in most of the existing LCA, EPBT or EROI papers and methodologies that are CONDITIO SINE QUA NON for these energy systems to be up and running over their operational life. What it has been called “extended energy input boundaries”
Among them, we had to calculate some of these expenses, as Dr. Hall suggested, by using I/O tabls, in knowing their monetary value as energy equivalent (follow the money), more directly and easy than its direct use of energy which no doubt involves any type of monetary expense. I take advantage here to note that the growing divorce between EPBT’s going to few months, while economic paybacks still resisting (will all the ingredients included) in more than 10 years, cannot last for much longer, before we will be forced to reconcile money and energy (the first being much more unreliable to measure than the second).
As Dr. Hall has already mentioned, these studies haven been also carried out for other alternative fuels LCA’s, EPBt’s or EROI’s, but I will focus here on the ones affecting solar PV systems. However, I believe it is immediate to discover that if our global society is where it is today, it has been possible for a high EROI provided by fossil fuels (still today at 82% of our global primary energy), allowing to these energy systems to clearly breed themselves and BESIDES to shift a big bulk of surplus energy to many discretionary functions; among them universities, theaters, leisure, modern tourism, etc. And also to power and/or underpin some other energy sources, like hydro or nuclear (and not the vice versa), but also modern renewables until now.
I am very aware that a) fossil fuels have, like any other limited source of energy, a declining EROI; b) burning fossil fuels has plenty of undesirable (and likely irreversible) effects on our environment and c) that these environmental costs are ignored environmental externalities in many cases and not included in the studies. But precisely for that, it is of essence to take seriously all the possible and reasonable energy input boundaries of each energy source (EROIext) and how much are they underpinned in fossils without a reasonable time frame to get rid of them.
Because if the conclusion is that these modern renewable energy sources are just simply “fossil fuel extenders” (Gail Tverberg) or, as we discovered, the resulting energy input of our EROI of was composed of about 2/3 of these energy input extended boundaries and only 1/3 as the energy considered in the modules and its components + inverters, we will not progress much in trying to shake off the fossil fuel environment impact and reducing the environmental externalities. And the hailing of price reductions in solar PV modules in the last five years will have a minor impact in improving the solar PV EROIext (maximum one third in our study) to a level in which we could dream of having breeding solar PV systems able to additionally maintain, with their surplus, the present consumerist habits of the fossil fueled society.
Finally, I leave to your consideration to conclude if the below energy inputs are needed for the solar PV systems or not.
Nota bene. For the sake of clarity, not all the below listed energy inputs we calculated were derived from monetary costs. Some of them were directly calculated in energy terms as well, whenever possible.
Here follows the considered ones, additionally to energy used off-site to manufacture ingots/wafers/cells/modules and some equipment, like modules, inverters, trackers and metallic infrastructures (labor excluded):
- Accesses, foundations, canalizations and perimeter fences
Energy investments of evacuation lines and rights of way
Operation and maintenance energy costs
Module washing and/or cleaning
Self consumption in plants
Security and surveillance
Transportation. From local manufacturers to China
Premature phase out of unamortized manufacturing and other equipment
Associated energy costs to injection of intermittent loads: pump up costs and/or other massive storage systems
Fairs, exhibitions, promotions, conferences, etc.
Municipality taxes, duties and levies (2–4% total project)
Cost of land long term rent or ownership
Circumstantial and indirect labor (not included in direct labor activities)
Agent representative or market agent
Equipment stealing and vandalism
Communications, remote control and management
Pre-inscription, inscription, registration bonds and fees
- Electrical network/power lines restructuring
Faulty modules, inverters, trackers
Associated energy costs to injection of intermittent loads: network stabilization associated costs (combined cycles)
Force majeure acts of god and others: wind storms, lighting, storms, flooding, hail
We are open to reexamine and analyze these costs that certainly have changed (and will continue changing) over the time. Some of them have certainly decreased. Some others, however, have increased and presumably ill tend to increase more in the future, specially if they rely heavily in our fossil fueled society (circumstantial low oil prices excluded).
Some of these energy inputs have been improved/reduced by human ingenuity. Some others, like transportation, have worsened since we made (energy direct) calculations, considering a big number of solar systems arriving to the sites from Spain itself or from Europe, whereas, today, most are coming from China. Taxes, levies and duties have severely got worse, as governments entered into the big economic and financial crisis and squeeze funds from wherever they can. The associated energy costs to injection of intermittent loads: pump up costs and/or other massive storage systems cost were left intentionally aside, even knowing that this is a key energy input cost, because they could in themselves deserve a book and could have weighted so much as to deviate from our purpose to just start opening the boundaries and looking from a more holistic point of view. These effects of injecting intermittent loads in electric networks requiring stability is still being debated seriously all over the world. Some articles of Dr. Euan Mearns in his ‘Energy Matters’ blog are clarifying and highly recommended.
Force majeure energy input expenses were also left aside, despite having seen whole big plants flooded; others destroyed by winds; others affected by hail or lightening, because insurance companies did not release the required information.
Some countries, no doubt, could perhaps yield better results than Spain, but I believe that most of the countries could get much worse results than Spain, when entering into the business massively. The network stability in Spain, for instance, being better than that of the United States (MIT Report) and the Control Center of Red Eléctrica Española a world pioneering entity in managing the injection of high percentages of intermittent loads in the national grid.
Although in the previous statements are contained most of the answers to Tom’s Blog, I would take the effort to answer him in some of his article “Six errors in EROI calculations”:
Error 1. Energy consumption and energy investment. If we include all the energy consumption as energy investment in the universe, we will certainly have an EROI of <1:1, including fossil fuels and solar from the sun. We do know very well the thermodynamic laws, but we are not talking about that. We are living and considering a limited time frame in the history and the use of energy and in a given type of society. What it gives our present society the status it has today, is not the whole universe entropy trends, but a specific use of some type of energy in a limited period of time, excluding some energy factors, but not others. The whole industrialization has not taken into consideration the general entropy laws and has created a temporal and geographical limited “order” (i.e. EROI >>1:1) by ignoring the higher “disorder” sent to the rest of the closed system we are analyzing.
Therefore, the use of solar energy concentrated in 150-200 million years in the form of fossil fuels in just 150-200 years, is ignoring and excluding the externalities affecting the climate or the embodied energy from the sun we are taking at one million times faster than replacement rate. This obviously gives our moderns society more energy than it spends in extracting, refining and transporting the fossil fuels. Depending on the externalities (energy inputs considered) and the type of sources and depletion considerations or extra costs of using more and more unconventional fuels, we may have EROIs for fossil fuels from 100:1 in the first oil rich and accessible high quality deposits to 10:1 for oil or even lower (all the closed ones going to EROIs lower than what the present industrial and technological society demands as a minimum.
As I have mentioned before, it is not true that other energy sources, namely fossil fuels, have not considered for the EROI studies some extended energy input boundaries (Charles Hall and some of their former students and scientists, likeCleveland or Murphy), giving much lower EROIs than when excluding these extended energy input boundaries. It istherefore naïve to claim that EROI for fossil fuels did not consider that. Just as a simple quote of many, please read “EROI of Global Energy Resources. Preliminary Status and Trends”byJessica Lambert, Charles Hall, Steve Balogh, Alex Poisson, and Ajay Gupta. State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
In this context of the last 150-200 years, I suppose nobody would argue that fossil fuels would have had an EROI lower than 1:1, because we would simply not be here with this society. The criticism that we have considered the embodied energy in fences or security and this is not made in fossil fuels EROIs does not resist a minimum analysis. All the industry protects itself with fences or walls, uses security, travels, etc. etc. and send armies to the Middle East or wherever they deem it convenient to their consumerist interests. And besides that, the fossil fueled society is obviously able to pay (energetically) for our energy big global consumerist party (Richard Heinberg: The Party’s Over), includingincidental and dispensable activities, leisure time, etc., subsidizes (energetically speaking) the nuclear industry, and of course the modern renewables industry. I suppose David Schwartzman would not argue that without fossil fuels, we could not even dreamed to have 1 MW of solar PV systems or modern offshore wind power, with no horizon to be able to self-breed in a reasonable time frame. At least for the time being, we cannot say the same for modern renewables. The possible energy interdependencies are absolutely asymmetric. Ones are absolutely underpinned in others. Others are not underpinned in ones.
It is obviously unacceptable to state as a critique that in calculating EROI of oil, Hall it includes the energy cost of freeways, automobiles, and so on and concluding “That is a mistake, because those things are energy consumption, not energy investments to obtain energy”. If we do not invest energy in erecting the world infrastructure (asphalted or paved roads and motorways, trucks, ships, machines, buildings, etc., etc. -societal expenses-), how on Earth could we obtain the energy we are using today? This is a very peculiar and biased form of understanding energy investments separated from energy consumption, when both are and indissoluble part of the same equation. In the energy world, each piece of energy spent to create and maintain the societal infrastructure used by the energy systems to generate energy is both an energy expense, but also an energy investment required to produce energy. And this does not necessarily mean, at least in the case of fossil fuels in the last 150 years period considered, that EROI will be lower than 1:1, if we place that in the due context and ignore (as society is doing) that this is concentrated solar energy for 150-200 million years.
Who could extract a single barrel of oil or install a single module if a society would not spend energy in having a legal system to sign and make respect contracts, for instance?
Error 2.Lifetime estimates are incorrect. No one has considered here that solar modules last strictly what the guarantees of the modules specify, but neither give for granted as it does the Task force 12 Group of the EIA about solar PV methodologies, that they last 30 years when there are clear signs and massive deployments proving the contrary. However, I believe we were quite conservative in admitting 25 years life span.
This is key because EROI very much depends on the life cycle considered. Of course, there are modules than we know have lasted 30 years, as well as we all know there are Ford T’s still running after 100 years, but our aim and interest was more to see how the world (or a given national) car park behave in terms of real life average life of cars, replacement rates by industry, availability of spares making impossible some maintenances, etc., than to please ourselves generalizing with vintage cars to the world park. In the roof of the pioneering Instituto de Energía Solar (IES) in Madrid we know there are modules that have worked well for more than 30 years, but now we have massive deployments and it seems reasonable to double check the averaged modules lifespans.
In this sense, it calls our attention and we cannot ignore that most manufacturers offer 25 years in guarantee of power and 5 to 10 years in material guarantee. When asked what will happen if a module fails in year 6 or 11, they would invariably answer that the promoter or buyer will have to pay for a new one, because the material guarantee supersedes the power guarantee, which is only considered if the modules does not fail, but cannot deliver the output power as specified. In fact, in real life, most of the companies that offered guarantees from 2005 through 2013 are not existing anymore, which gives little confidence in honoring the theoretical guarantees offered. Or in the best case, they may, after a long claiming process, accept to replace, but by a new generation module that may not fit in the old array/string in terms of Voc, Isc, etc. and other required matchings, forcing the owner to change a whole array and adjust the inverter.
The data we have recorded of faulty modules and modules damaged for various reasons are indicating, as pointed out by Dr. Hall, that our estimates were already conservative for 25 years. In fact, in 2014, more than 40 MW were dismantled in Spain, as much as the installed power in this year. The reasons may differ from one country to the other: in many countries, the reasons may be lack of proper maintenance or spares or skills; in others climatic conditions (lightening, hail or windstorms, floods, etc).
In some other countries, like Greece, soon in Portugal, Spain or even Italy, for lack of money to payback credits to the banks and keep the maintenance and other costs going on due to financial or economic crisis; this is also affecting physically to the life cycle assessments, if we want to stick to reality and with over 140 GW installed worldwide, we have plenty of data of what is going on with abandoned or poorly maintained solar PV plants), but again, we have to decide whether we take theoretical 30 years lifespans, like the ones accepted by the IEA Task 12 Group, which we sincerely doubt, or we take references from real world, which already offers us very real data from massive deployments.
I would humbly suggest, not to pointing to Spain as a an unreliable country to take measurements or suggesting it is poorly managed in this respect or the only one having negative experiences, because there are more and more signs that similar problems appear, of course, not only in the 180 countries less developed than Spain, like Morocco, where whole projects have been abandoned much earlier than the rosy 30 years lifespan. Even in most developed and incontestable countries we are finding problems.
For instance, the European Association PV CYCLE (PV CYCLE – Operational Status Report – Europe) calculated the weight of modules, which have failed during transport, installation or operation and have been collected by the responsible for disposal of the failed or exhausted modules. They amounted at the end of January, 2015 to 10,565 tons. If we reasonably translate this weight into installed power, this leads to a considerable number of premature failed MWp. Considering that most of the installations had less than 10 years on the reported data, the data can be translated into some kind of noticeably shorter lifespan than 30 years. TUV Rheinland in its “Quality Monitor, 2013”, stated that 30 % of the modules installed in Germany have serious deficiencies. Similar problems are appearing in Switzerland.
Error 3. Not counting embedded energy which is recovered.
I would have to repeat here that 2/3 of our analyzed SINE QUA NON energy input expenses for a solar PV system to be up and running, were not the module frames or the module immediate infrastructure, but other societal energy inputs. It is amazing and very touching to observe how it is so easily extrapolated that aluminum or any other material (gallium, indium, copper, silicon built to tempered glass, silicon build to solar grade, dielectric of the capacitors, semiconductors in IGBT’s, and some thousands etc. etc.) will be recycled without problems (or minimum or even negligible energy costs) in the next 25-30 years. This is quite biased view, when considering the world as a whole. When we see that even in an abundant and cheap energy society, we are having global problems with non treated waste. It is a sign of limitless faith in the Business as Usual (BAU) way of living, in the very discussion of trying to change the paradigm. It is also hiding or ignoring that we have now 140 GW installed worldwide but that we would need several TW of installed power, that would have to be extracted from mines and not from recycling. Even techno-optimists but respected colleagues, like Antonio García Olivares, a member of CSIC in Spain, still struggling trying to make possible a world 100% renewable, admits severe problems with several (not just one, not just aluminum) row materials, as per the known world proven reserves if we had to go massively to the deployment of these systems.
Error 4. Waste heat losses are counted as energy returns
This is a recurrent argument for those trying to discredit our calculations from the very beginning. I will try to explain here.
We have used scientific conversion terms to make energy equivalents. We did not invent them. They are in all the physic books and even in the BP statistical yearbook. We do know very well the thermal losses of the thermal electricity generating systems and we also know very well the limits of the Carnot cycle in the Internal Combustion Engines (ICE’s).
In our lengthy discussion with the groups calculating EROI in the previous conventional form, they claimed that every module producing 1 Mwh will save the equivalent, more or less, to 3 to 4 equivalent Mwh of thermal, polluting fossil fuels
We had no problems in admitting that, should this be the reality in a world that is not replacing but just adding, for the time being. In fact, this is the consideration of what I call direct transformity (David Scienceman, Hoard T. Odum), as follows:
In the above figure this is an approximation of the global primary energy consumed, which goes today to produce electricity. Certainly, if our intention is to “solarize” the electricity networks only and we place a solar PV module or a wind generator in the right side, this will contribute o avoid burning 3 units of primary energy per each unit of energy equivalent in electric form from these devices. We even can ignore how much fossil fuel energy has been spent up front in the first year or two to balance it with the energy that these systems will generate in 25 years term. About 170 EJ/year (or some 4,000 MToes/year) come from fossil or nuclear origin to generate electricity at global level.
But if we try to change the paradigm (what I understood was the origin of this communist horizon for the world), then we have to look with some more perspective.
The electricity is today globally a mere 15% at the output of the generation system and spends 38% of the primary energy to be produced, about 34% of it from fossil or nuclear origin.
This means that the world we are aiming at changing, is operating mainly in a NON ELECTRIC form as it is shown in figure 2 above, taken from IEA Sankey Diagram.
And here we cannot ignore, so bulky it is the amount of energy, the human activities carried out in a non electrical form and the impact of trying to replace them with electricity from modern renewables.
Here, contrary to the big thermal losses claimed by the stalwarts of solar energies, the changes required would operate exactly the other way around; exactly the opposite.
Figure 3 below tries to explain the most common processes to be carried out and the approximate losses we would have to incur in to make the “solarization” of the whole society, a la Jacobson and Delucchi.
In figure 3, trying to replace the 284 EJ of energy that consume many human essential activities with solar devices, would require the use of carrier systems (i.e. hydrogen generation, massive electric storage systems, etc.) and the losses will be, very likely and despite the wishful thinking of Mr. Jacobson et al, much higher than the 3:1 in the example of direct transformity in the bigger case of inverse transformity.
This assuming it will be technically possible, something which is quite arguably. Time and facts are discrediting enough the papers of Jacobson or also the documents of Greenpeace (renewables 100%, renewables 2050, etc.). Blaming to big fossil fuel corporations (no doubt they are bad for society as capitalists and the priorities they look for), or to lack of will of our governments does not help to seriously revise the real possibilities to undertake the huge changes we all need.
To conclude, I believe we ere much more than conservatives in selecting the conventionally accepted energy conversion factors and trying to avoid playing with thermal games to bias on a given result. The objective of our study was not only replacing the electricity generated in the world form fossils or nuclear, but replacing the whole fossil fuel chain that is going to either be declining soon and then be exhausted and because it may spoil the whole planet in the meanwhile.
Error 5. Outdated figures are used.
We do not feel affected by this error, because we used for our calculations the state of the art technologies used in 2009-2011 period and to the best of our knowledge, it has not been a single breakthrough that could have put the renewable world upside down. Even more, as mentioned above, some of the factors we calculated may have gone down in costs, but many others have gone up and obviously, as the society grows in complexity and fossil fuels start to be scarce and with lower quality, will tend to grow to make good the Jevons Paradox, that has been perfectly valid for the global consumption and also basically in per capita consumption since he wrote “the Coal Question” in 1865.
Error 6. Invalid comparisons are made
Another recurrent criticism. Of course, the comparisons are different than those carried out up to the moment by most of the papers published on the matter, as we explained above.
The real question here is to analyze which one is more correct if the methodology used by Task 12 Group of IEA (basically Fthenakis et al) or our methodology, extending the energy input boundaries to some SINE QUA NON energy inputs for the systems to be up and running.
The first , ignores and excludes from the energy costs many which we consider relevant and undoubtedly tied to the solar systems.
Some prefer to ignore that a module manufactured in inland China, transported by trucks to Tianjing, then by vessels to Valencia, then by track again to Huelva to be installed there, through a complex web of paved and well asphalted roads, with the heaviest byproducts of oil mixed with gravel previously grind with fossil fueled machines and then compacted by roadrollers and painted and protected with fences and metallic guides and metallic signals and petrol stations all the way, and all these infrastructures having to be maintained frequently are energy expenses allowing solar systems to be generating electricity. We do not.
I do not think we need rocket science to understand that the present world infrastructure, from roads, ports, airports, cities, mines, mechanized agriculture, space programs, labs, universities, concert halls, hospitals, schools, armies, and so forth, are here, because the ability of fossil fuels to build and maintain them and before and besides, to spend the energy to extract, refine and transport the energy surplus left to serve the global society.
I do not think we need to explain much further that this implies, whatever is the calculation methodology, that fossil fuels had an EROI in the last 150 years much higher than 1:1.
Nor that they were able to power humans to build, operate and maintain, with all its imperfections, the present world infrastructure in the last 105 years by going from 500 to some 14,000 Mtoe/year in consumption
Fossil fuels are now or will be soon in decline and with declining EROIs also, but it is not needed to demonstrate that they had a high EROI until now.
So please, avoid to talk of comparing pears with pears, but meaning in reality that we all have to abide to the Task 12 Group of the IEA rules, measuring just the modules and inverter embodied energy and try to understand what is at stake, that is much more than a dispute on solar EROI methodologies to avoid losing face, after having published hundred of papers reassuring that modern renewables will cope with what fossil fuels are doing today.
Partial off-topic on energy subsidies
When trying to support modern renewable energies, many mention the fact that fossil fuels are receiving much more “subsidies” than renewable energies. Just some words to debunk this as a fallacy.
In the Webster opinion, a subsidy is either:
a *:* a sum of money formerly granted by the British Parliament to the crown and raised by special taxation
b *:* money granted by one state to another
c *:* a grant by a government to a private person or company to assist an enterprise deemed advantageous to the public
Therefore, for a grant of money to a given project, there must be, previously to it, the accumulation of physical wealth (goods and measurable services) in excess over the own current needs of the lender that can be represented by money to be lent.
If we look to the world in biophysical terms, rather than in fiat money financially oriented terms, we can only lend to someone else if we have previously created a surplus on our own needs (and not of fiat or paper money, but of money representing physical existing goods or measurable services in excess).
That is why, when the IEA says WEO 2014 pages 314 through 321) that fossil fuels are “subsidized”, I sincerely smile. If we look, for instance, to the graphs of the mentioned IEA concept of subsidy (WEO 2012, pages 71 and 508):
we discover that for the OECD watchdog “subsidy” is, basically, whatever fossil fuel is below the prices that OECD riches can pay. This is what they would like: mainly producing/exporting countries, to raise their own domestic prices of fossil fuels (this is what they understand for eliminating the “subsidies”), so that their internal consumption is tightened and there is more fossil fuel energy available to the world market, where the riches (in this case, the OECD), will benefit and prevail.
However, from my point of view, “subsidy” is to grant some resource to other to do a certain activity.
If we consider that only those physical persons or legal entities that have previously ocultada wealth in excess are the only ones in capacity of lending something.
If we consider that +90% of the goods and services existing today in the world (in general wealth, hereinafter) were created by a global society using fossil fuels (mainly oil), saying that fossil fuels are “subsidized” are an enormous oxymoron.
Who on Earth and from the energy point of view, can subsidize oil, or gas or coal? A person or even a multitude with their draft force? To me it is like if I say that I can subsidize with my left pocket where I have the money of my salary earned, to my right pocket to go to the cinema. I could “subsidize” my children to go to the cinema with my money, but I cannot subsidize myself.
I understand perfectly, that the mining of some brown lignites of poor quality could be “subsidized” to pay miners to keep the social peace in the coal basins in Spain for doing something antieconomic. But always from a fossil fueled society. I could admit that kerosene for aviation could “somehow” be subsidized by our fossil fueled society by eliminating the
taxes for kerosene for civil aviation in airports. It is obvious that global society has collected wealth through taxes and this wealth has come from highly profitable fossil fuels as the main source of energy and activity, like gasolines or fuel oil for cars or trucks.
But I cannot admit, in general that fossil fuels are “subsidized”. By whom, by what entity and with what resources has those entities created the surplus to be lent?
So, in this sense, I could also admit that nuclear energy is energetically subsidized by fossil fuels (otherwise, without smelting factories, fossil fuel transport, fossil fuel uranium mining, etc. etc. the nuclear power plants could have
never dream of existing.
I could say exactly the same for modern renewables, which could have never reached the level of being manufactured and produce electric energy, if previously a very powerful fossil fueled society could have not provided the means to make it feasible as fossil fuel extenders.
Once I have clarified my position on subsidies from a biophysical point of view, then in my opinion, it is not only question of pouring more money into an energy system to make it feasible.
The irreversibly declining EROI of fossils and the increasing rate of decline is of essence here.
As somebdy said in ASPO, the day when extracting a barrel of oil from the ground would cost 1 barrel of oil, you can put the barrel at 25,000$ and no one single barrel will be extracted from the ground. And sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani would be right in other sense: the era of oil will not be finished by the lack of oil…but most likely by the lack of enough EROI to extract and use it.
And in a complex society like ours, the deadline will be much higher than an EROI of 1:1. That is why, in my opinión, the EROI methodology has to change from looking exclusively a specific and controlled system and have a more holistic view as depicted in graphs 6 and 7 below . We need that to avoid cheating ourselves with probably the last silver bullet.
September 5th., 2015
Y nueva respuesta de David Schwartzman:
First my name is David Schwartzman, not “Scharztman”. Pedro’s detailed response to the critique provided in the blog is appreciated but I suggest he post it on the blog itself, to get the author’s response! I don’t know the author of the blog either but the content is surely more important than who is providing it. Raugei et al. (2012) make similar critique of the Hall and Prieto analysis.
A few short comments.
The embedded energy/costs/subsidies for fossil fuels is immense, and not counted in Prieto and Hall’s analysis, in spite of Pedro’s arguments below. The Pentagon/NATO is the oil (and strategic metal) protection service for the Military Industrial (Fossil Fuel Nuclear State Terror and Surveillance) Complex with global military expenditures now totaling nearing $2 trillion per year. Demilitarization of the global economy is likely a necessary requirement for a full and robust transition to wind/solar power and termination of fossil fuel consumption, which is really the only alternative to the catastrophic path now facing humanity.
Now just considering wind power which alone could supply the world with several times the present primary energy consumption equivalent to 18 trillion watts (Lu et al., 2009). Consider the following example, suppose 5 MW capacity wind turbines supply all this energy, with a 35% capacity factor. Then 36 TW, double the present primary energy consumption would require 21 million wind turbines produced in 25 years, assuming the lifespan of this technology exceeds this timespan. This production is within the technical capacity of the global economy, noting that 90 million cars and commercial vehicles were globally produced in 2014 alone (http://www.oica.net/category/production-statistics/http://www.oica.net/category/production-statistics/
The debate about EROI ratios will surely continue, with fossil fuel/nuclear power advocates continuing to downplay the potential of wind/solar power, another example of TINA. But Charles Hall himself, Pedro’s co-author of the study critiqued by the blog, cites an EROI of 18 from a comprehensive review dated 2010 (Hall et al., 2014), although more recent studies give significantly higher ratios (I have already cited the sources). But lets be very conservative and assume the present EROI of wind power technology is 15. Our modeling demonstrates that even with this ratio of EROI (equivalent to EROEI) in 25 years twice the primary energy consumption can be supplied globally
using an annual input of 6% of present energy consumption and a feedback of 10% of wind power energy delivery to make more of itself (solar calculator, Schwartzman and Schwartzman, 2011, available at www.solarutopia.org
). And of course as EROI ratios for wind and solar power technologies grow with R&D, this transition will technically become even easier to accomplish.
Finally, the EROI ratios for photovoltaics are growing with R&D, significantly higher than what Hall and Prieto claim; see Dale and Benson (2013) and Bhanderi et al. (2015).
Bhanderi et al. (2015) Energy payback time (EPBT) and energy return on energy invested (EROI) of solar photovoltaic systems: A systematic review
and meta-analysis. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 47: 133–141.
Dale, M. and S.M. Benson (2013) Energy Balance of the Global Photovoltaic (PV) Industry – Is the PV Industry a Net Electricity Producer?
Environ. Sci. Technol. 2013, 47, 3482−3489.
Hall et al. (2014) EROI of different fuels and the implications for society. Energy Policy 64 (2014) 141–152.
Lu, X., McElroy, M.B. and Kiviluoma, J. Global Potential for Wind-generated Electricity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 106 (27), 10933–10938 (2009).
Raugei et al., 2013, The energy return on energy investment (EROI) of photovoltaics: Methodology and comparisons with fossil fuel life cycles.Energy Policy 45: 576–582.
Y otra vez Pedro Prieto:
I wrote the name of David Schwartzman three times; only one with a clerical error. Apologies for that.
I made a general answer to David critique on my book, not only to the blog of the anonymous author you quoted. If I answered the points of that blog, is because you quoted him as an authoritative critique to my book and comments to the energy proposals made in ‘An Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela: A Solar Communist Horizon for the World’. I leave to Saul Quincy to either delete or ignore my previous post or to include it with this last one in the debate he uploaded in the CNS website, but I will never post in a blog whose author hides in the anonymity.
As for the new references to Marco Raugei to our solar PV analysis, we have already had several direct exchanges on the subject, when the critiques have been made public and known to me or they had the deference to copy me. Just as an example, I have published one of the several exchanges we had some time ago. They were made public for its interests among the readers of my blog ‘Crisis Energética'(in my opinion a much more adequate title than ‘Bountiful Energy’ to deal with the problem if we are supposed to change the energy paradigm, because we have an energy problem)
Here it is the link of the debate (the introduction in Spanish; the exchanged comments in English) for those having time and interest:
Otra vuelta de tuerca a la TRE fotovoltaica
With respect to the embedded energy spent in exploring, drilling or mining, extracting, processing, refining and transporting, I have no any doubt that they are immense. We did not have to count them in our analysis, simply because our analysis was on solar PV, not on fossil fuels, although we do know that solar PV is today absolutely underpinned in fossil fuels.
But we should never confuse or mix these enormous amounts of energy spent in the above functions (sort of Ein for fossil fuels) with the ‘subsidies’ claimed the fossil fuels need.
I believe I have already explained that in detail in my previous post and I will not get into more details. Just to make clear that even the Ein amounts of energy spent in the fossil fuel industry are gigantic, they are NECESSARILY coming basically from ….FOSSIL FUELS! which move more than 80% of our world today and are vital for the remaining 20% (nuclear, hydro and even biomass today) to be generating.
Therefore, it is nonsense to insist that fossil fuels are ‘subsidized’, at least, in energy terms. What type of force or energy could ‘subsidize’ or help thesefossil fuels to reach to our society ready for use (net)? Human muscular force, or draft animal force? Hydroelectric energy, perhaps? Nuclear power or modern renewables?
What is happening, as I mentioned in my previous mail, is that monetary terms are introduced on purpose and considered as ‘subsidies’ to these energy sources. This is common in the EIA WEO reports, in the conventional mainstream media, in the supporters of modern renewables and also can be observed in the comment of David, when attributing 2 trillion US$ military expenditures (and I suppose, when included in this debate, correlates them somehow to the fossil fuel industry).
The later only means, in any case, that our world is devoting 2/60 parts of its global GDP to armed forces (being GDP about 60 trillion US$). And in this respect, I fully agree with David that demilitarization is essential for our future and I will fight for that, as much as I can, although I do not see any trend towards this, but very much in the opposite direction, since I can record.
Wind Power. Once solar PV is left in this debate, it appears now that only wind could supply the world several times the 18 TW of power required and gives some examples and quotes for that.
For the sake of a minimum balance, I will quote a paper of the professors of the University of Valladolid, in the Systems Dynamic Group, published in Energy Policy.
Carlos de Castro, Margarita Mediavilla, Luis Javier Miguel, Fernando Frechoso. Energy Policy, vol. 39 (19), pages6677-6682. –
As it is a paywall document, see that shorter reference open to public:
GLOBAL WIND POWER POTENTIAL, physical and technological limits
Where these professors do a top-down analysis of the global wind potential, contrary to the most known and publicized studies, which are always made on bottom-up basis (given a turbine of 5 MW generating, for instance, 15 Gwh/year, just multiply by X , the number of turbines and there will be obtained X times the energy of one turbine). In the studies of the Valladolid Group, they conclude that the maximum theoretical power that could be harnessed globally is about TW, meaning about 5 TW of turbines (or the equivalent to one million 5 MW type turbines). This obviously greatly differs from Jacobson and Delucchi projections and upper global limits, if they recognize any.
I strongly recommend to pay a visit to the web of this Dynamic System Group of the University of Valladolid,
Grupo de Energía, Economía y Dinámica de Sistemas. Universidad de Valladolid.
because they have many other studies on upper global limits. Just to allow to have alternative views, before we embark in a massive deployment of modern renewables.
In the words of Carlos de Castro, one of the authors of the above studies, the ones who are clearly violating the thermodynamic laws are Jacobson et al.
1. I am not an advocate of nuclear energy. Much on the contrary, I have spent a lot of time making severe critiques in my all presentations and writings on this type of energy. So, I do not share any opinion in this respect with Weissbach or any other of the many pronuclear persons, instances or entities. I do believe that the approximate 450 nuclear power reactor in operation pose the biggest danger to our future, exception perhaps of a generalized nuclear war (also caused by the use of nuclear technology and being, in my opinion, the nuclear reactors for electricity production only a byproduct of the first). Apart that they will not be able to replace fossil fuels in time and volume, due to the scarcity of uranium proven reserves and the horrible EROI, if we precisely count (as I think and believe we must do) the energy input extended boundaries, always excluded by pronuclears, among them, the much higher than calculated rate of accidents always considered by the industry, the ever growing and limitless costs of severe accidents and the unsolvable problem of radioactive waste in terms of energy input costs.
2. for sure, the debate about EROIs or EPBT’s or LCA’s of the different energy sources will continue and I believe it is good and essential. Many authors will continue shifting their figures for the different energy systems, some upwards and some other downwards and many encouraged by the interests they serve (“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair). Having being a consultant for 30 MW of solar PV plants and owner myself of 50 kW and being retired, I feel really in a comfortable situation as a truly independent person in this respect.
That is why I thought it would be adequate to make some comments to the first document on ‘solarization’ of the country that I received from Jorge Riechmann about this Venezuelan group and I made them just to Jorge, even I gave him permission on his request to relay and reproduce.
I believe I have already explained in detail what my position is to the main critiques to our document on solar PV EROI in my previous post and in the links I have delivered and I will not comment further here. For those who can read, there are already alternative views and arguments.
3. Without undermining the merits of energy in any transition, I still stick to my recommendation to develop as soon as possible (energy will always be necessary for that, but can be taken from other discretionary and not essential activities) a self-sufficiency food supply chain for the Venezuelan people, of as close origin as possible and the creation of a large livestock of draft animals (I am proposing also this for Spain, not only for Venezuela and for any other country), as I believe this is the only long term sustainable form of living.
4. As for the possibilities to develop modern renewables in Venezuela, as in any other country, I would also humbly suggest, if finally deciding for that way, to try first the creation of a national industrial infrastructure to have the complete value chain of production of these technologies at massive level under control, as much as it is possible. A country so reasonably concerned about their sovereignty, should prioritize this, in my opinion This would or should include from mining and processing of the main elements, if available within that rich country, to all the secondary industries transforming them into ingots, wafers, cells or modules, pressurized clean chambers, micrometric air filters, etc., etc. in the case of solar PV or in the creation of aluminum or glass plated mirrors, the synthetic oil, the salts to create molten salt deposits or pump up reservoirs and the pipes and all elements for the CSP plants. Or the technologies for wind, from steel for the towers to copper for the wirings and coils, to materials coming from rare earths (praseodimium, neodimium, etc.), to glass fiber or carbon fiber for the blades and even big trucks for transport and vans and big cranes for installation and maintenance, so that developers get first acquainted with the implications of these so called renewable energies, the industrial and technological complexity, the interrelations of the industrial and technological complex web they imply and the dependence that would be created from alien countries, if these technologies are simply imported. They will also help to understand that, in reality, we are not talking about renewable energies, but rather about not renewable systems, able to harness some portion of renewable energy flows in a limited period of time, while they are properly maintained.
Finally, I would like to wish all the bests to this group dealing with an Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela and a Solar Communist Horizon for the World.
September 6th., 2015