Bad news on the global climate

Carbon dioxide emissions rose strongly last year after several years of a near plateau. It appears that the main factor was increased use of oil, mainly as motor fuel. I’ll try to do a more detailed analysis later, but the central element of the required response is obvious. Just like coal-fired power stations, petrol-driven motor cars need to be phased out, as quickly as possible. Australia, as an oil importer with no domestic car production is in a position to pursue this target aggressively. We should, as others have done, commit to a date, say 2030, after which all new cars sold would be zero emission.

58 thoughts on “Bad news on the global climate

  1. “I’d get energy to build new renewable capacity from the same magical place you’d get energy to build new coal power plants.”

    Ronald, that’s exactly my point. An unavoidable continuation of present practise mining those pots of black gold hidden beneath the rainbow.
    “Given how long past transitions took surely a transition from fossil fuels will take generations. And since the inertia of existing massive and expensive energy infrastructures and the transportation system can’t be replaced overnight, there will surely be a large component dependent on fossil fuels for many decades. Indeed the transition will likely take much longer than past transitions, because renewables require a much larger physical area than fossil fuels and producing much less energy dense power, while past transitions added increasingly dense high power coal and oil to the energy mix, and yet these transitions took decades as well..”

  2. Svante, did you know Australians buy nearly 2 million vehicles a year? We spend about $50 billion a year on them. The power output of 2 million vehicles is 200 gigawatts. We could instead spend one year’s worth of new cars on 50+ gigawatts of solar power or 65+ gigawatts of wind power or 25 gigawatts of pumped storage. Or a combination of 17 gigawatts of solar 32 gigawatts of wind and 12 gigawatts of pumped storage. But we will choose not to.

    Never forget, we are drowning children in Bangladesh and burning up people in bush fires in Australia because we choose not to act. Not because we can’t.

    We are not weak, but lazy and cruel. This is not a judgement. It is an observation.

    If you want to help, vote for the best politicians. Or failing that, the least worst ones. Put solar panels on your roof. Economize. If you buy a car buy the most fuel efficient one possible. Buy a bicycle instead if you are less lazy than most.

    But I beseech you, in the bowls of Christ, don’t pretend we can’t do anything or can’t act quickly. We are more powerful than that. It is only a question of will we stop being quite so lazy and quite so cruel.

  3. Svante,

    Coal mining was originally performed with human and animal muscle energy. Men went into bell pits and then primitive shafts with pick-axes. Ponies were used to haul the coal. A person observing this at the time might well have written, “The recovery of coal will always depend on human and animal muscle power.”

    This is just as you are writing now; “The recovery of solar power will always depend on coal and oil power.” Just because such statements are true initially, before technology boot-strapping kicks in, this does not mean such statements will remain true for all of subsequent technological history. Equally, it does not guarantee that technology boot-strapping will or can occur in all cases.

    The case of solar power is yet to be fully decided. However, the rapid improvement of solar PV in the last decade (or more) has made the case much stronger that solar power can bootstrap itself up from coal and oil power and then supersede them.

    Energy cannibalism is a real issue. However, given our massive waste of energy currently on discretionary, recreational and military uses, a diversion of a proportion of that energy would easily satisfy the energy cannibalism requirements.

    Our real concern is that overall we have left energy conservation and conversion to renewable energy too late in relation to climate change. In the last two or three decades, we doubled down on running an extremely wasteful and maladaptive capitalist economy system when a statist research, conservation and conversion program would have been far more successful at revolutionizing our energy systems in time to meet the climate crisis.

  4. Svante @6:14 PM The point of focusing on wafers is that they are the electricity-intensive bit. The idea that you should treat the entire cost of the module as an energy input is standard mistake made by Ferroni and other users of “expanded EROEI”.

    Also, a quick check reveals that the Yao et al (2014) paper cited by Ferroni et al is itself based on a 2007 I-O table for China, which is so far out of date as to be irrelevant.

  5. PV modules are now 27 US cents a watt. Coal is $100 US a tonne. One watt of solar panel on an Australian roof will generate around 36 kilowatt-hours over its life and 27 cents will purchase 2.7 kilograms of coal. So even if the entire cost of the solar panel was spent on coal it would only buy enough to generate around 2.7 kilowatt-hours of electricity in Australia. Note: The entire cost of solar panels does not go towards paying for coal. That would obviously be silly. Only a small portion does.

  6. JQ, the point about wafers is that they may be the more electricity intensive bit, but are only a fraction of the total cradle to grave energy embedded in the pv system. Real world studies of cradle to grave pv systems have shown this, for instance, that of Ferroni 2016 where this exchange effectively began. Wafer energy equivalence ends up being a small part of the energy cost to society of an operating pv power system when considered in its entirety.

    JQ, I take it you haven’t read the Ferroni (2017) paper rebutting that of Raugei (2017) you had referenced in your earlier post (

    Re: Yao et al (2014) “a 2007 I-O table for China, which is so far out of date as to be irrelevant”. Have you a later more “correct conversion protocol” (Ferroni 2017)? BTW, if it matters, much that Raugei references is also old, and much of that is repeated self referencing.

    “The idea that you should treat the entire cost of the module as an energy input is standard mistake made by Ferroni and other users of “expanded EROEI”.” That is not so. Rather that you don’t is where Raugei et al mislead.

    Re “expanded EROEI”. Which one? There are several. See ref #38 there, from the founder of EROI:

    “EROI values that do reflect technological improvements are calculated by combining “top-of-the-line” technological specifications from contemporary commercially available modules with the energy output values obtained from experimental field data. Other researchers contend that values derived using this methodology do not represent adequately the “actual” energy cost to society and the myriad energy costs associated with this delivery process. For example Prieto and Hall, 2012 calculated EROI values that incorporate most energy costs, with the assumption that where ever money was spent energy too was spent. They use data from existing installations in Spain, and derived EROI values of roughly 2.4:1, considerably lower than many less comprehensive estimates. Similarly low EROI values for roof top PVs with battery back up were found by Palmer (2013), although it should be noted that the outputs of both systems were higher quality electricity. Nearly all renewable energy systems appear to have relatively low EROI values when compared with conventional fossil fuels. A question remains as to the degree to which total energy costs can be reduced in the future, but as it stands most “renewable” energy systems appear to be still heavily supported by fossil fuels. … Alternatives such as photovoltaics and wind turbines are unlikely to be nearly as cheap energetically or economically as past oil and gas when backup costs are considered. In addition there are increasing costs everywhere pertaining to potential climate changes and other pollutants. Any transition to solar energies would require massive investments of fossil fuels. Despite many claims to the contrary—from oil and gas advocates on the one hand and solar advocates on the other—we see no easy solution to these issues when EROI is considered. If any resolution to these problems is possible it is probable that it would have to come at least as much from an adjustment of society’s aspirations for increased material affluence and an increase in willingness to share as from technology. Unfortunately recent political events do not leave us with great optimism that such changes in societal values will be forthcoming.” – Hall, Lambert, & Balough 2013,

    The limited LCA/IEA EROI and “expanded EROEI” arena is far from settled. However, in fact Ferroni’s first paper, and his second, the rebuttal of Raugei in 2017, clearly describe the methodology of the Extended EROEI used in Ferroni’s 2016 study, for example, from his 2017 paper:

    “2. Methodology used for the ERoEI extended (ERoEIEXT)
    Raugei et al. claim that our methodology of the extended ERoEI (ERoEIEXT) “…. shifts the goal of the analysis from the (comparative) assessment ….to the assessment of the ability of the analysed system to support the entire societal demand for the type of energy carrier it produces.. and makes inappropriate comparisons”. This claim is incorrect.

    The goal of our analysis is the determination of ERoEIEXT for calculating the quotient: Energy Return on Energy Invested, considering thereby all energy contributions to both numerator and denominator. Therefore, there is no shift in the goal of the analysis. No energy input should a priori be excluded. We have considered additional energy contributions that are excluded from the “mainstream” analysis, which follows the recommendations of the IEA. The IEA guidelines reflect rather the position of the PV industry and offer false and misleading results through erroneous calculation of the energy invested and do not provide a comprehensive examination of the value of PV to our society. As a consequence, the societal benefits of PV turn out to be wrongfully amplified.

    The concept of ERoEIEXT applied specifically to photovoltaic systems has been treated in two books. The first one is entitled “Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution – The Energy Return on Investment “ (Prieto and Hall, 2013) and the second one “Energy in Australia – Peak Oil, Solar Power, and Asia’s Economic Growth“ ( Palmer, 2014). In addition, the investigations performed by Weissbach in Germany (Weissbach et al., 2013) include some energy contributions in the ERoEIEXT.

    Therefore, the concept of ERoEIEXT is not new and is quite independent of the standardized method used in the LCA. The main question should be to know whether the photovoltaic energy for regions of moderate insolation like Switzerland and Germany is a net energy source or a net energy sink and how much it contributes to human welfare. Where is our energy going to come from as we rely less on fossil fuel? What operating energy systems are replaced by the new energy sources? This is a task for ERoEI researchers and not for Life Cycle analysts, who often confine themselves within unrealistic boundaries.

    Furthermore, we should like to add that energy contributions due to labour and servicing the capital (not the capital itself) are already considered in standard analyses of the cumulative energy demand in the building industry. The financial interest that society demands for servicing the principal sum of a loan represents additional capital, which flows from the activity for which its principal is used and which is paid to the lender. This additional capital has its equivalent in an amount of energy. The engineers involved in such analyses in the civil construction sector are probably unaware of any IEA guidelines, but apply common sense in considering labour and servicing the capital. The fact that Raugei et al. entirely disregard such contributions indicates the narrowness of their boundary conditions and their reluctance to seriously deal with subjects outside the strict IEA fence.

    Our study has demonstrated that important contributions were previously not accounted for in most of the published literature on PV systems. The breakdown and the details of our methodology (ERoEIEXT) are given in our original paper (Ferroni and Hopkirk, 2016) under chapter 4.

    Because of the different methodologies, it is necessary before comparing our results with those of other analyses to first consider the details of the system boundaries and the climatic conditions. As we shall see, the “mainstream” methodology considers only about 30–50% of the total invested energy and this is an important source of misconceptions and errors.

    Since the concept of the extended ERoEI can be applied to other methods of energy conversion, we recommend such analyses be performed with current electrical generation methods in order to understand the consequences of selecting specific techniques and their influences on the net energy provided to society.

    Furthermore, we base our data regarding the energy return and the energy invested on the actual state of the art of photovoltaics, anticipating that in the near or medium term future only incremental or purely technical improvements may be expected from industrial systems for large-scale deployment. We discard non-validated projections into the future.

    The claim by Raugei et al. that we present “inappropriate comparisons” is therefore unjustified.”

    Further to that, elsewhere Ferroni noted several components of ERoEIEXT excluded from their study in the interests of clarity and/or due to a lower standard of data available that if included would have lowered pv EROI even further in the case studied.

  7. Ronald, wow, looking at those numbers you really need to tell us who in Australia installs rooftop bounded pv systems so cheaply. Sign me up.

    “Note: The entire cost of solar panels does not go towards paying for coal. That would obviously be silly.” No, what is silly is not to see that all contributing forms of lifetime embedded energy in the ‘renewable’ system entirity, including financial, are interconvertible and together all sum to the total.

  8. Hi Svante. I see you didn’t understand my point. That’s okay. I’ll explain it again in more detail.

    The cost of Solar panels in Shanghai is now around 27 US cents per watt for a typical panel. This puts an upper limit on limit on how much energy went into making them since energy costs money and solar panel manufacturers prefer to make money rather than loose money.

    Do you follow what I am saying now and do you agree with that basic point?

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