The path to decarbonization

Over the fold, another draft section of the climate chapter of Economic Consequences of the Pandemic. As always, comments, compliments and criticism appreciated

The response to the pandemic, in the US and many other countries, has been less than successful. But even leaving aside the disastrous impact of the Trump Administration, it must be conceded that the pandemic posed an incredibly difficult challenge. When it broke out, we had no cure, no vaccine and a very limited understanding of the virus and the way it was transmitted. Now that vaccines are entering production, and given competent government, we can hope for much better outcomes in the future.The contrast with the climate crisis is striking. We have had decades of warning and devoted millions of hours to researching every aspect of the problem. Yet, emissions are still increasing. This failure has come despite the fact that we have have nearly all the technology to decarbonize the economy, at relatively modest cost, and with little disruption to our daily lives.

To stabilize the global climate with less than 2 degrees of warming will be a massive task. It will require not only the elimination of nearly all greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries by 2050 but active measures to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. To see what needs to be done, it’s useful to start with the big picture. At present, around 85 per cent of all primary energy is generated by burning oil, gas and coal. Of the remaining 15 per cent, hydroelectricity and nuclear power (which are unlikely to grow substantially) account for 10 per cent. Solar PV and wind account for only 5 per cent.

The process of decarbonizing energy supply is already underway, but the pace of change is far too slow. Technological progress over the last twenty years has drastically reduced the cost of two carbon-free energy sources, solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind power [fn. I will use the standard term ‘renewables’, although it reflects an obsolete perception of the energy problem, dating back to concerns about the possible exhaustion of ‘fossil fuels’ like oil and coal. When dealing with climate change, the sooner low-cost carbon-based resources become scarce, the better]. Other potentially promising options including geothermal energy, tidal power and biofuels, didn’t work out and have been quietly forgotten (I’ll discuss nuclear power a little later). More recently, improvements in battery technology have effectively eliminated the variability problems associated with solar PV and wind, and have also undermined the case for gas-fired power as a ‘bridge’ to carbon neutrality.

Improvements in battery technology are crucial to the next major step in the process, electrifying transport. Electric cars, buses and trucks are already on the market, and have a lifetime cost of operation only a little higher than that of comparable petrol and diesel vehicles. A modest expansion of existing subsidies would be sufficient to make electric vehicles cheaper. However, the shift to electric vehicles can yield a substantial reduction in emissions only if electricity generation is already largely decarbonized.

The last important piece of the puzzle is hydrogen. In principle, hydrogen produced by electrolysis (splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen) can replace carbon-based fuels in most industrial uses. Examples include the replacement of blast furnaces for steel with DRI and the production of ammonia, the main feedstock for a variety of chemicals, which is currently made using hydrocarbons. Large-scale investment in the production and use of ‘green hydrogen’ (as opposed to current production methods based on lignite) is just beginning, but could be accelerated rapidly given the political will to introduce the necessary supporting policies.

The moderately good news is that the supply of energy from solar PV and wind is growing at around 10 per cent per year, which implies a doubling every seven years. If this trend were were consistently until 2050, and total energy demand was unchanged, the carbon-free share of energy demand would by above 60 per cent.

The positive trend was driven almost entirely by the electricity sector. Coal-fired electricity generation is in sharp decline in most developed countries. This process was already underway before the pandemic,

BP Statistical Review states that in 2019

Renewables provided the largest increment to power generation ( 3 4 0 TWh), followed by natural gas (220 TWh). These gains came partially at the expense of coal generation which fell sharply (-270 TWh), causing the share of coal in power generation to fall by 1.5 percentage points to 36.4% – the lowest in our dataset (which goes back to 1985).

Another way to look at the aggregate numbers is to ask what changes would be need to begin a sustained reduction in energy-related emissions

The BP Statistical Review notes that, in 2019, clean energy accounted for 40 per cent of the growth in primary energy. One way to think about this is that if the rate of additions of renewables were doubled, and the rate of growth of primary energy demand were reduced by 20 per cent, all growth in primary energy would be delivered by clean energy. Given that gas would expand at the expense of coal, this would imply the end of growth in energy-related emissions.

The shift away from coal has accelerated during the pandemic, particularly in less developed countries. Coal-intensive energy strategies have been abandoned or sharply modified in several countries, including Bangladesh, India, the Phillipines and Vietnam. At the same time, China, South Korea and Japan have committed themselves to a zero net emissions target (2060 for China, 2050 for the other two).

Commitments to decarbonization have not, as yet, been matched by concrete policy measures. But the goal of zero net emissions by 2050 is entirely feasible and would, if achieved, stave off most of the worst consequences of climate change.

95 thoughts on “The path to decarbonization

  1. Svante, Joe Bliw, nG, Geoff and all,
    Trying to decide if we will go extinct or sign cooperative agreements – in time with enough support – has led me to this “Table of Solutions”. We ALL may be surprised where our favourite ‘remove ghg’s solution’ hobby horse [knowledge + biases + first world zeitgeist] sits against other solutions. I will post comment later this arvo  re “timelines and proxy for agreement signatiries to prove effective’ which will bolster my proxy. And introduce air conditioning. Hint – The Varian Rule.  (Doesn’t JQ do all this for us? 😀)

    Before you peek, what solution is ahead of, in gtco2 saved, of ANY electricity generation? And, where do electric cars come in at, compared to other solutions for example? ( And please, for the point of the excersize, relax re ‘sequestration’. I haven’t delved into fine print. You can and report back.)

    See “Table of Solutions” at link.

    SOLUTION SECTOR(S) SCENARIO 1 *SCENARIO 2
    * Gigatons CO2 Equivalent Reduced / Sequestered (2020–2050) Scroll down to peek.

    1. *Reduced Food Waste
    2. Food, Agriculture, and Land Use / Land Sinks
    3. Health and EducationHealth and Education
    4. Plant-Rich DietsFood, Agriculture, and Land Use / Land Sinks
    6. Refrigerant ManagementIndustry / Buildings
    7. Tropical Forest RestorationLand Sinks
    8. Onshore Wind TurbinesElectricity
    9. Alternative RefrigerantsIndustry / Buildings
    10. Utility-Scale Solar PhotovoltaicsElectricity
    11. Improved Clean CookstovesBuildings
    12.Distributed Solar PhotovoltaicsElectricity
    13. SilvopastureLand Sinks

    “Project Drawdown uses different scenarios to assess what determined, global efforts to address climate change might look like. Both scenarios shown here are plausible and economically realistic. Drawdown Scenario 1 is roughly in-line with 2˚C temperature rise by 2100, while Drawdown Scenario 2 is roughly in-line with 1.5˚C temperature rise at century’s end.

    “The results shown here are based on projected emissions impact globally. The relative importance of a given solution can differ significantly depending on context and particular ecological, economic, political, or social conditions. We invite a deeper dive into the many particularities and nuances of all of these solutions.”
    https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/table-of-solutions

    And I’d like to see against this list, a ‘feasibility of uptake’ metric as well. Such would assist in immediate support or strengthening activities. And, linked to politicians voting records, who to vote out!

    1 & 2 – Food waste & Education eh! ymmv.

  2. David (re your comments at DECEMBER 4, 2020 AT 10:35 AM),
    Thanks for your thoughts. I presume your comments are in response to my earlier comments (at DECEMBER 3, 2020 AT 11:24 AM). You may wish to see my later comments to nG, just before yours.

    You state: “I believe human behaviour only changes substantially in response to trauma.”

    Agreed – see my comments in the thread “Monday Message Board – Nov 23, 2020” at NOVEMBER 23, 2020 AT 6:23 PM

    You state: “Human’s will only move away from burning fossil fuels when they are forced to do so. Maybe that could be in response to climate change, or lack of remaining resources to burn – it’s hard to predict accurately.”

    Yep – climate change or resource depletion, or both. Either humanity finds a way to get off all fossil fuels within the next decade (for coal & gas) or two (for oil), or human civilisation collapses. The clock’s ticking!

    You state: “Moving from a higher density to a lower density energy source is against the genetic imperative of any living thing to expand as a species.”

    Fossil fuels are a finite, one-time gift with a sting in the tail. Humanity needs to find other non-destructive ways or collapse.

    You state: “We only have such a global population of 7 billion because we burn so many fossil fuels.”

    I’d argue principally due to the highly versatile ‘premier fuel’ petroleum oil. Without it, I’d suggest global food production and the global food supply chain would not have enabled the human population to double from 2 billion to 4 billion and almost double again (estimated 7.8 billion as at Dec 2020) in less than a century. The dark irony is that fossil fuel GHG emissions are increasing the risk of multiple breadbasket failures.

    You state: “Respectfully disagree with your analysis that “renewable” energy is now cheaper than energy generated by fossil fuels.”

    Are you disagreeing with Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE 14) and Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Storage Analysis (LCOS 6)? Are you disagreeing with CSIRO/AEMO’s “GenCost 2019-20”? What’s your evidence, David?
    https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2020/

    You state: “A barrel of oil contains around 4.5 years of human labour or around 1700 kilowatt hours of energy. This is simply the most dense form of energy that humans have ever found, which is why it now dominates the world economy.”

    Incorrect. There are other energy resources that are more energy dense. What I suspect you may mean is petroleum oil is the most versatile energy resource found.

    Specific energy densities of various fuels:
    Hydrogen: _ _ _ _639,780,320 MJ/kg fusion reaction

    Plutonium-239: _ _ 83,610,000 MJ/kg heat produced in fission reactor
    Plutonium-239: _ _ 31,000,000 MJ/kg electricity produced in fission reactor
    Uranium: _ _ _ _ _ 80,620,000 MJ/kg heat produced in breeder reactor

    Hydrogen: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 141.86 MJ/kg heat released from combustion
    Methane gas: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 55.6 MJ/kg
    LPG (propane): _ _ _ _ _ _ 49.6 MJ/kg
    LPG (butane): _ _ _ _ _ _ _49.1 MJ/kg

    Gasoline / petrol: _ _ _ _ _ 46.4 MJ/kg combustion in ICE, 25-40% thermal efficiency
    Diesel fuel: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 45.6 MJ/kg combustion in ICE, 25-40% thermal efficiency
    Jet fuel – kerosene: _ _ _ _43 MJ/kg in aircraft turbine engine
    (Wikipedia – Energy density)

    You state: “There is almost a 1 to 1 correlation between the wealth of a country and how many fossil fuels it burns.”

    That needs to change quickly or human civilisation will collapse later this century as catastrophic climate change renders planet Earth increasingly more hostile (for humans and our food production capacity) and many regions becoming potentially uninhabitable. A post- ‘peak oil’ supply world is also likely in play.

  3. Geoff,

    Appreciate your comments, but I’m afraid you’ve missed the point. Increasing climates may well render human civilization greatly more unstable later this century, although completely ceasing to burn fossil fuels in 10 or 20 years would also lead to the collapse of human civilization as we currently know it and is sadly complete fantasy.

    The sources of energy you all mention are derivatives of oil, other than hydrogen (which currently is simply a storage of energy – needs to be generated elsewhere) and the radioactive materials. Sadly nuclear power has not delivered anything like the energy return of investment compared to fossil fuels despite the density due to the huge costs of the reactors, mining the materials, enrichment, decommissioning etc. It may be used to a greater extent in the future as more fossil fuels are depleted.

  4. It is the truly extraordinary EROI on fossil fuels that most concerns me; for every bit of heat from burning them we get about 100 times that amount of heat added to the global climate system. Speaking of a multiplier effect.

    Whatever the benefits derived from fossil fuel use so far, the harms (that don’t really come into play until widespread use and dependence is already well developed) are going to linger. If we do not get out of fossil fuels all the economic benefits from using them will be swamped by the accumulating and irreversible climate consequence – and we know enough to know that having abundant energy without fossil fuels is entirely feasible. This is not a challenge we can afford to fail – or, if you like, it is an experiment we cannot afford not to run. The alternative being letting that other experiment, in climate change, run it’s full course unimpeded. Welcome to the test tube.

  5. David (re your comments at DECEMBER 4, 2020 AT 2:28 PM),
    You state: “Appreciate your comments, but I’m afraid you’ve missed the point. Increasing climates may well render human civilization greatly more unstable later this century, although completely ceasing to burn fossil fuels in 10 or 20 years would also lead to the collapse of human civilization as we currently know it and is sadly complete fantasy.”

    I’d suggest you’ve missed my point – the great challenges facing humanity are:
    – catastrophic climate change (+3.0 °C above pre-industrial or more before 2100) on current GHG emissions trajectory; OR
    – energy resource depletion (i.e. post- ‘peak oil’ & post- ‘peak gas’ supply world), OR
    – both.

    Either humanity finds a way to get off ALL fossil fuels within the next decade (for coal & gas) or two (for oil), or human civilisation collapses. The clock’s ticking! That’s the dilemma – find a way or billions (plural) die within the next few decades.
    See “Climate Reality Check 2020” by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt: https://www.climaterealitycheck.net/
    Or Professor Will Steffen – see my comment: https://johnquiggin.com/2020/09/28/no-planet-b/comment-page-2/#comment-229280

    You state: “The sources of energy you all mention are derivatives of oil, other than hydrogen (which currently is simply a storage of energy – needs to be generated elsewhere) and the radioactive materials.”

    Hydrogen is an “energy carrier” when used for combustion. Hydrogen is an energy source if used for fusion – for example, the Sun, and if (and it’s a big if) and when fusion reactors become a practical reality.

    You state: “Sadly nuclear power has not delivered anything like the energy return of investment compared to fossil fuels despite the density due to the huge costs of the reactors, mining the materials, enrichment, decommissioning etc. It may be used to a greater extent in the future as more fossil fuels are depleted.”

    You have already highlighted some of the reasons why nuclear fission is a bad idea. What makes you think it will get better, David?

    The evidence I see indicates nuclear fission technologies:
    – are too expensive – significantly more expensive than gas, coal and renewables – nuclear fission is unviable without significant subsidies;
    – uninsurable by commercial entities – only governments will indemnify;
    – are too slow to deploy – for an inexperienced nuclear power country like Australia, 15-20 years estimate;
    – are reliant on finite fuels – naturally occurring fissile U-235, naturally occurring fertile U-238 needs to be transfigured to fissile Pu-239, naturally occurring fertile Th-232 needs to be transfigured to fissile U-233. At current rate of consumption, known high-grade uranium reserves would be depleted by the end of this century.
    – haven’t yet established a ‘sustainable’ thorium fuel cycle;
    – create a toxic waste legacy that will long outlast any energy benefits gained.
    See my Submission (#096) to the Australian Parliament House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy inquiry into the Prerequisites for Nuclear Energy in Australia.

  6. From a blog Economics from the Top Down, is a piece by Blair Fix posted Nov 16, headlined “Peak Oil Never Went Away”:

    “Perhaps the most rigorous prediction (to date) for conventional oil production comes from John Hallock Jr. and colleagues. In 2004, Hallock estimated the conventional oil reserves in all of the major oil-producing countries. Based on the range of these estimates, Hallock then created different scenarios for future oil production. In 2014, Hallock and colleagues revisited these scenarios to see which one was correct. Global oil production, they found, was following the low-end estimate. Figure 5 shows Hallock’s low-end model. It’s shockingly accurate. For the last 20 years, the model has predicted the global production of conventional oil to within 2%.”
    See: https://economicsfromthetopdown.com/2020/11/16/peak-oil-never-went-away/

    The US oil and gas rig count fell to it’s lowest point on record to 253 in the week ending Jul 17. That was 701 rigs, or 73%, below this time last year.
    The latest rig count at week ending Nov 25, was at 320, which was 482 rigs below this time last year.

    Record low drill rig counts earlier this year means US total oil production will significantly decline next year. It takes roughly one year from starting new drill rig contracts to fracking to first production, and a further several months to ramp up production to offset declining legacy production.

  7. Geoff,

    I am not denying that the Earth’s climate is changing and will continue to do so.

    What I am pointing out to you and the author of this blog is that complete abandonment of burning fossil fuels in 20 years is not feasible without pretty much complete collapse of modern civilization.

    The only way to build a lot wind turbines and solar panels is to burn a lot of fossil fuels in the process – since the energy return is much lower (despite the claims of many promoters which is more akin to religious belief than an analysis of scientific principles). This defeats much of the purpose of building them in the first place.

    Burning fossil fuels is not part of the modern economy. Burning fossil fuels IS the economy. From experience most economists lack much of an understanding of the central role that oil plays in the modern economy in performing most work.

    The solution you advocate would see an at least 80% decline in living standards, shut down of most functions of modern economies, huge unemployment, crime and social problems, depopulation of cities, billions starving to death once modern fossil fuel based fertilisers and agricultural equipment had to be abandoned, much more wars, refugees etc. Most modern governments would collapse as they see an 80% or more real decline in their tax base.

    Any government leader who adopted such a policy would be assassinated/overthrown well before they were able to implement it and perhaps some elements of humanity would keep civilization alive under something more resembling feudalism in sparsely populated areas of good agricultural potential.

    Humans will only stop burning fossil fuels when circumstances force them to do so and it will not be in the next 20 years, saving some kind of apocalypse.

  8. Svante: as you don’t want to engage further, there seems little reason for us to do so, and I certainly don’t want to force you through another exhausting round of discussion you have no interest in, I will also leave the conversation here. As it hasn’t been very productive, I will, I think, refrain from any future discussion with you at all – it seems unlikely it will be fruitful for either of us. Thus, I just wanted to take the time to thank you for the recommendation of Hall’s excellent book (I’ve already read it and found it very useful in shaping my ideas regarding the importance of societal changes, but the thought is much appreciated). Regards,

  9. Geoff Miell asks David : “Are you disagreeing with Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE 14)…?” Can’t speak for David of course, but I do.

    The issue is the cost of capital. In a footnote in very tiny print to the headline comparison chart (top on the web page, page 6 in the pdf), Lazards state: “.. analysis assumes 60% debt at 8% interest rate and 40% equity at 12% cost. Please see page titled “Levelized Cost of Energy Comparison—Sensitivity to Cost of Capital” for cost of capital sensitivities.” Persevere and follow the link (page 6 in the pdf, not on the web page) and you will see that the baseline case assumes a 9.6% raw WACC, 7.2% after tax breaks. The sensitivity chart does go down to a raw WACC of 5.4%, 4.2% after tax.

    Even these numbers are wholly unrealistic. As JQ points out, prime borrowers like Alphabet can borrow for 30 years at 2% nominal, effectively nil real. Berkshire Hathaway and Oersted aren’t quite in that class, but they won’t be paying more than 4% for long-term secured debt. I dare say most homeowners can borrow at 5% for a long-lived home improvement like solar panels or heat pumps. In an era of cheap capital, the true cost of renewables is *half* Lazards’ headline figure.

    The cost of other generating options is also lower. But new nuclear and coal are too pricey to compete regardless, and the cost of gas generation is dominated by the fuel, which doesn’t go down. There is no gas futures market 25 years ahead. Along with tax breaks, this all explains why developers are making money on wind and solar PPAs considerably lower than Lazards’ LCOEs.

  10. Geoff Miell: Thanks for your productive comments. I don’t want to sidetrack, so will only quickly reply. I agree that EROIext is going to be an important consideration – though I suspect that improved lifetime and recycling, combined with the move to more readily available elements, will help here quite a bit (I did some back-of-envelope calculations which looked promising, but I am not an expert and the recent conversations have convinced me this is not the best forum to discuss these ideas). Indeed, the dynamic modelling from I. Capellán-Pérez, et al. illustrates even further the magnitude of the issue facing a green energy transition, and you are quite correct that for renewables to be truly sustainable the must replicate along every step where they are deployed.

    Land transport is, of course, quite a promising area (Jeff Dahn’s work on long-lifetime batteries has been excellent here in making EVs quite attractive). Of course, EVs won’t really be useful if the power behind them is not also GHG-free. One advantage of electrical energy is that the delivery mechanisms, once deployed, seem to have far less continuous GHG output than those for fossil fuels – but that is just an opinion. For this, I think that it will be quite important to look at micro vs macro grid, and consider how localized vs large scale renewables will fit into this. It may also be worth considering that, in many ways, renewables are a bit more “portable” – the use of batteries in areas with zero infrastructure is pretty well established, and temporary and redeployable renewables might be quite useful to reduce transportation issues. My impression is that the ability to make power distributions more on site has not been overly considered as an advantage though, so perhaps none of this really matters.

    Given the general tone within the comments, I think I shall continue to read from time to time for more insights (I am always keen to improve my understanding where possible) but I will not post again – it seems my materials and development focused experience is of little value or interest to the broader brushstroke discussions here, and that any input from my area of focus is neither welcome nor encouraged.

    So, since I won’t comment here again, I will just thank you for the recommended reading material.

  11. Geoff Miell: one last addendum (for some reason I forgot to include, and just wanted to correct that a bit). Since I have complained about the lack of references, it would be hypocritical of me not to note my own. As I don’t want to make a liar of myself and comment here again, I will just note I have found the work by de Castro quite informative regarding updated EROIexts (DOI 10.3390/en13123036), and certainly the positive values (though small!) are interesting to me. I’d welcome the thoughts of any interested in reading though, but will now (much to the relief of everyone, I’m sure) bow out.

  12. The unsustainability of the electric car

    Margarita Mediavilla Khaled Diab | 5th October 2020 | Creative Commons 4.0

    https://theecologist.org/2020/oct/05/unsustainability-electric-car

    ..In a study we recently published in a peer-reviewed journal, we focused on one of the most critical sectors of the energy transition: transport, whose greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by 90 percent by 2050, according to the European Green Deal.

    The results show that the scenario with a high concentration of electric vehicles (‘EV-high’), which bets on wide-scale electrification but does not change our current mobility patterns only manages to reduce by 15 percent the greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 2050.

    This is far from the goal we set for this study – an 80 percent reduction compared to current emissions – but is significantly better than what we would achieve if we continue with present trends, since, in that case, global emissions would increase by 20 percent.

    Ambitious

    A second, more ambitious scenario is ‘E-bike’, which models a radical change in mobility where cars are largely removed in favour of electric motorcycles (60 percent), electric bicycles (20 percent) and non-motorised modes (eight percent), with only 12 percent of private vehicles being electric four-wheelers by 2050.

    Despite these ambitious changes in mobility, the reduction in emissions by 2050 would only be 30 percent compared with current values.

    This is partly due to the difficulties encountered by freight transport, aviation and shipping in finding electric alternatives, but above all, it is due to the rebound effect caused by the dynamics of economic growth.

    In order to achieve an 80 percent reduction in emissions (which is 10 percent lower than that envisioned in the European Green Deal), we have to design a scenario where, in addition to the measures outlined in ‘E-bike’, we add a drastic reduction in demand for transport (especially air transport), combined with a stabilisation of world economic activity at a level 23 percent lower than present.

    This ‘Degrowth’ scenario is the only one we found to be compatible with ambitious decarbonisation and realistic technological development paths.

    Repercussions

    This is because if economic activity continues to grow, energy demand will almost inevitably rise too, as the complete decoupling of economic activity from energy consumption has not occurred and is unlikely to occur in the future, as research has repeatedly shown.

    This means that it will be impossible to achieve the emissions reduction targets necessary to limit global warming, unless we rely on the very unrealistic hypotheses of the tech-optimists that are far removed from current technical reality, or unless the economic framework changes completely.

    The MEDEAS-World simulations also show that, if recycling rates do not grow enormously by 2050, the reserves of copper, lithium, nickel and manganese in existing mines will be exhausted and much of the depletion will be due to the batteries required by electric vehicles…

  13. This detailed explainer is linked from the above ECOLOGIST article, “The unsustainability of the electric car”. Thoughts?

    WHAT IS BIOPHYSICAL ECONOMICS?

    IN SHORT:

    Biophysical economics is the study of the ways and means by which human societies procure and use energy and other biological and physical resources to produce, distribute, consume and exchange goods and services, while generating various types of waste and environmental impacts. Biophysical economics builds on both social sciences and natural sciences to overcome some of the most fundamental limitations and blind spots of conventional economics. It makes it possible to understand some key requirements and framework conditions for economic growth, as well as related constraints and boundaries.

    Learn more about:
    What biophysical economics is not
    Why biophysical economics matters to policy makers and civil society

    IN MORE DETAIL:

    Conventional economic ‘science’ analyzes the economy on the basis of a limited set of functions and parameters that are internal or ‘endogenous’ to the economic process. In fact, ‘mainstream’ economics typically envisions the economy as the process of producing goods or services using essentially two ‘factors of production’: capital and labor. Ever since the advent of ..

  14. Svante:
    From the linked article:
    “…. average of 10 KWh battery for plug-in hybrids compared to 20 KWh of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) …”

    Let’s see. Here’s a database of 130 currently available EVs. https://ev-database.org/cheatsheet/useable-battery-capacity-electric-car Just *three* (all Smart city microcars) have battery capacities under 20 Kwh. The other 127 have more, up to 200kwh for the Tesla Cybertruck. The unweighted average is 59.4 Kwh. Weighted by sales? Not available but here are a few popular models:
    Tesla 3 : >47.5 Kwh
    Renault Zoe: >52.0 Kwh
    VW ID3: >45.0 Kwh
    Nissan Leaf: 36.0 Kwh
    This motivated ignorance does not inspire confidence in the rest of the analysis.

  15. James,

    “Let’s see. Here’s a database of 130… ” Oh sure, but but how sustainable are they? Maybe those are mostly a case of still last century no limits dreaming.

    See Leaf further down the paper at:

    3.2.4. Mineral requirements of electrical batteries
    …An average value of energy stored of 21.3 KWh for purely electric cars batteries is assumed taking as reference the Nissan Leaf EV [123]. Hybrid vehicles need much smaller batteries, and the overview of the main hybrid models in Refs. [127] shows an average battery for hybrid light vehicles of 1.43 KWh. Heavy vehicles and buses require larger batteries, while two wheelers required substantially smaller ones. The battery mass for different electric transportation modes is estimated taking the light electric vehicle as a reference and comparing it with the average weight of the different electric transportation vehicles from Sanz et al. [114], as shown in Table 2.

    Leafs:

    A 21.3 Kwh battery in the first model 2011/12 Leaf with also a 24Kwh option.
    Capacity increased about every two years, but it seems variant 24Kwh was an option with the 30Kwh.
    Seems 40Kwh got to be the large size, but then 62Kwh model options from 2019..

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Leaf#Model_and_production_history

    Two thoughts on this…
    1) Tight funding so an early model 2nd hand Leaf?
    2) Newer car but small battery still an available option.
    3) Small battery range suitable for many Europeans.
    4) Very concerned with extra energy expended to move any more mass than absolutely necessary.
    5) Very concerned with all quantities of incorporated and external energy and materials and depletion of same eg, “reserves of copper, lithium, nickel and manganese”. Small is beautiful…
    6) Currency of references accessed, eg, ref 127 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_vehicle_battery they accessed in 2017, but still today it shows: Nissan Leaf I: 24–30 kWh Nissan Leaf II: 24-60 kWh. So at worst a 2.7Kwh difference. 11%. No biggie.
    7) They have scaling factors, see table 2:
    Household LV 1 0.10
    Cargo LV 1.52 0.15 …

    Motivation?
    “This motivated ignorance does not inspire confidence in the rest of the analysis.”
    That was pretty quick off the mark, James. I don’t think this is about sexy trophy cars nor Mum’s bau shopping trolley. It’s about tolerable survival. That said, by the look of it their E-bike might initially cramp any true nature’s child style!

  16. Mostly that study is pointless in the sense that if you want to decarbonise the transport sector, you obviously can’t ignore trucks, ships and planes.

    Actually, about half of freight transport is associated with moving fossil fuels around. There is a lot of coal, oil and gas at sea.

    Degrowth really is the only serious answer at the moment for the air transport sector though.

  17. Ben,

    how can you say that? The transport sector is not ignored in the least. Search the ScienceDirect paper on ‘freight’ 23 hits in the body, 6 in refs! That is just on freight.

    Gee, I’d like a chance to read the paper closely, but my impression even from the mag article wording was that heavy transport was a harder problem so other transport modes, eg E-bikes and walks, had to do more from the start.

    To achieve the goal there is lots of “heavy lifting” required outside of the heavy transport sector! 23% degrowth over 30 years is a mother of a redefined recession. From the magazine piece:

    “Despite these ambitious changes in mobility, the reduction in emissions by 2050 would only be 30 percent compared with current values.

    This is partly due to the difficulties encountered by freight transport, aviation and shipping in finding electric alternatives, but above all, it is due to the rebound effect caused by the dynamics of economic growth.

    In order to achieve an 80 percent reduction in emissions (which is 10 percent lower than that envisioned in the European Green Deal), we have to design a scenario where, in addition to the measures outlined in ‘E-bike’, we add a drastic reduction in demand for transport (especially air transport), combined with a stabilisation of world economic activity at a level 23 percent lower than present.”

  18. Svante: The article you cite got it completely wrong on the typical capacity of EV batteries: not by a little, but by a factor of two. They don’t know what they are talking about.

    Nor on mineral reserves. The only primary source cited in the article is the USGS, which we can agree is a high-quality and professional operation. This is what they have to say about the definition of mineral reserves (https://pubs.usgs.gov/periodicals/mcs2020/mcs2020.pdf, Appendix C):

    “Reserves may be considered a working inventory of mining companies’ supplies of an
    economically extractable mineral commodity. As such, the magnitude of that inventory is necessarily limited by many considerations, including cost of drilling, taxes,
    price of the mineral commodity being mined, and the demand for it. Reserves will be developed to the point of business needs and geologic limitations of economic
    ore grade and tonnage. For example, in 1970, identified and undiscovered world copper resources were estimated to contain 1.6 billion metric tons of copper,
    with reserves of about 280 million tons of copper. Since then, almost 560 million tons of copper have been produced worldwide, but world copper reserves in 2019
    were estimated to be 870 million tons of copper, more than triple those of 1970, despite the depletion by mining of more than the original estimated reserves.”

  19. I have my share of pessimism but I am not declaring a transition to low emissions a lost cause. We may have gotten solar and wind as solution by default – “you care so much, you fix it” – but I think if solar really were too energy expensive to they would be too expensive to sell and not all the subsidies in Australia could make power companies take it up. Scientists and inventors and engineers and entrepreneurs have made them work – not climate activists. But we needed our climate activists or else the early support for low emissions tech would not have been there.

    Sure, we got set on the wind and solar renewables path by a combination of empty gesture politics on one hand and give em enough rope politics on the other, but the potential for these kinds of energy sources was and is real. As is their potential to get a lot cheaper, make more energy and take less energy to make; the well of innovation is a long way from dry and solar especially is a long way from achieving best possible.

    Nuclear meanwhile has been on the wrong end of everyone’s politics but I think the pivotal moment was when their “best friends” doubled down on climate science denial; as long as these supposed friends remain willing to downplay global warming in order to NOT fix the problem they cannot use it’s seriousness to advocate for nuclear. Handing off the climate problem to the political fringe – encouraging the perception this is all about fringe politics rather than driven by decades of consistent top level expert advice – and expecting The Greens to enthusiastically support nuclear was never going to happen; nuclear needs the conservative right to take climate change seriously to become an actual policy rather than a rhetorical blunt instrument pro-fossil fuels advocates use for whacking at greenies. Even now nuclear for climate is not a policy of the LNP, just a complaint. “You care, you fix it” got followed by “Not like THAT”. That is not a policy alternative.

    Power companies now take wind and solar up without subsidy. Meanwhile the biggest energy subsidy of all – the de-facto amnesty on externalised climate costs, that, by the time they are paid in full will far exceed all other energy subsidies and potentially exceed the entire earnings ever gotten from them as well – is institutionalised cheating. Traditional or something.

  20. David (re your comments at DECEMBER 4, 2020 AT 9:27 PM),
    You state: “I am not denying that the Earth’s climate is changing and will continue to do so.”

    The reason the Earth’s climate is changing, at a rate (i.e. orders of magnitude) far faster than at any other time in the past 65 million years of geological history, is due primarily to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels by humans.
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130801142420.htm

    You state: “What I am pointing out to you and the author of this blog is that complete abandonment of burning fossil fuels in 20 years is not feasible without pretty much complete collapse of modern civilization.”

    David, it seems to me you don’t understand that if humanity doesn’t rapidly reduce GHG emissions from NOW on, to net-zero by 2040 (NOT 2050), and continues to extract and burn more fossil fuels beyond the next 20 years, then there will be a collapse of modern civilisation due to catastrophic climate change within this century.

    The current level of GHGs already in the atmosphere indicates a global mean of 1.75–2.4 °C of warming (at equilibrium) above pre-industrial age. 1.5 °C mean global temperature rise is inevitable and best estimates indicate it will most likely be reached in the year range 2026 to 2028. It’s looking increasingly likely 2 °C will be reached before 2050. The current GHG emissions trajectory is for 3–5 °C by 2100. More and more places will become uninhabitable and the risk of multiple breadbasket failures will increase – meaning global famine and clean water shortages.

    David, it seems to me you also don’t appreciate global oil production has most likely peaked (likely all-time peak in Nov 2018) and is heading into a steep decline. My earlier comment (at DECEMBER 4, 2020 AT 7:26 PM) refers to a post titled “Peak Oil Never Went Away” that includes Figure 5 showing projections that by 2040, global ‘conventional’ oil production will likely be back to 1960s levels – less than half what it is now. Humanity needs to leave oil before oil leaves us.

    You state: “The solution you advocate would see an at least 80% decline in living standards, shut down of most functions of modern economies, huge unemployment, crime and social problems, depopulation of cities, billions starving to death once modern fossil fuel based fertilisers and agricultural equipment had to be abandoned, much more wars, refugees etc.”

    I’d suggest you are describing what will happen if humanity cannot rapidly reduce GHG emissions. I repeat: Either humanity finds a way to get off ALL fossil fuels within the next decade (for coal & gas) or two (for oil), or human civilisation collapses. The clock’s ticking! That’s the dilemma – FIND WAYS/SOLUTIONS or billions (plural) die within the next few decades.

    You finish with: “Humans will only stop burning fossil fuels when circumstances force them to do so and it will not be in the next 20 years, saving some kind of apocalypse.”

    Barring major volcanic eruption(s), substantial meteor impact(s), or nuclear war, the Earth’s climate is locked-in for more global warming for decades. If humanity cannot begin to rapidly reduce GHG emissions within the next 5 years, the evidence I see indicates then human civilisation is on the path to collapse later this century.

  21. James Wimberley (re your comments at DECEMBER 4, 2020 AT 10:22 PM),
    You state: ““Are you disagreeing with Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE 14)…?” Can’t speak for David of course, but I do.

    The issue is the cost of capital.”

    Does that change the cost of technology ranking? Does it make renewables more expensive than coal, gas, and/or nuclear? I’d suggest not.

    You state: “In an era of cheap capital, the true cost of renewables is *half* Lazards’ headline figure.”

    So, if I understand you correctly, James, your quibble with Lazard is their analysis is showing renewables being more expensive than in reality. Maybe – by how much? – please show me the revised data/analysis.

    But that’s not what David was disputing. David stated: “Respectfully disagree with your analysis that “renewable” energy is now cheaper than energy generated by fossil fuels.”

    Please show me evidence/data/analysis that renewables are not cheaper than energy generated by fossil fuels. That’s what I was asking David to do.

    CSIRO/AEMO “GenCost 2019-2020”, published May 6 is available here: https://publications.csiro.au/publications/publication/PIcsiro:EP201952

  22. nG (re your comments at DECEMBER 4, 2020 AT 11:13 PM),
    You state: “I agree that EROIext is going to be an important consideration – though I suspect that improved lifetime and recycling, combined with the move to more readily available elements, will help here quite a bit…”

    I’d suggest ERoI is a CRITICAL consideration.

    EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) is defined as the RATIO of Energy Returned relative to Energy Invested to deliver that energy, and must be a POSITIVE number.

    EROEI (aka EROI – Energy Returned on Investment) is usually expressed as X:1.

    If X is less than or equal to 1 then the energy source is a net “energy sink”.

    If X is less than 6, then some studies suggest that industrial civilization is locked into a death spiral where an ever increasing fraction of its economic output (GDP) is spent on energy at the cost of an eroding standard of living.

    If X is less than 3, then the energy system is so poor that industrial collapse and regression of civilization to agrarian-age economics is an inevitable consequence.

    See Figure 3 in: https://uwaterloo.ca/complexity-innovation/sites/ca.complexity-innovation/files/uploads/files/kiefer-snake-oil31.pdf

    I recommend interested people watch the YouTube video titled “Peak Oil Postponed? – Charles A. S. Hall”, duration 36:35, where Professor Charles A. S. Hall speaks of his concept “Energy Return on Investment” (EROI) at a seminar arranged by think tank Global Challenge in Stockholm in 2012. From time interval 22:08 through to 24:52, Professor Hall discusses the concept of society’s hierarchy of ‘Energetic Needs’.

  23. That is a terrific video Geoff. I particularly like this idea about drilling a lot is inefficient. Just on efficiency grounds we want to be reducing oil consumption, ahead of peak oil reducing this consumption for us.

  24. Geoff, it’s nice you think that, because the world is not going to stop burning fossil fuels in the next 20 years for the reasons I have described. I would suggest that you start planning the remainder of your life accordingly ie. learning to be more self-reliant, growing food, learning new skills and living with far less energy consumption.

    I will not engage with you any further as you do not have an appreciation of the fundamental role of oil in modern economies and the principles of thermodynamics. If you believe that wind turbines or solar panels have a greater energy return than a barrel of oil then I would encourage you to go and design new devices such as passenger planes,ships, trucks, earthmoving equipment etc. that have greater performance than their current oil powered equivalents with no oil used in their manufacture or operation.

  25. Ben McMillan (re your comments at DECEMBER 5, 2020 AT 2:44 AM),
    You state: “Mostly that study is pointless in the sense that if you want to decarbonise the transport sector, you obviously can’t ignore trucks, ships and planes.”

    Yep.

    “Ships, trucks, and trains are the backbone of civilization, hauling the goods that fulfill our every need and desire.”

    “Virtually everything in our homes, everything in our stores, got there on a truck. Prior to that, 90 percent of those items were transported on a ship and/or a train. If trucks, trains, and ships stopped running, our global economy and way of life would stop too.”
    See: http://energyskeptic.com/2016/when-trucks-stop-running-so-does-civilization/

    You state: “Degrowth really is the only serious answer at the moment for the air transport sector though.”

    And I’d suggest consequently, degrowth is inevitable for intercontinental tourism and business travel, even if the COVID-19 threat diminishes. The overseas holiday and/or business trip will be only a memory for many.

  26. “Shuttering fossil fuel power plants may cost less than expected

    “Decarbonizing US electricity production will require both construction of renewable energy sources and retirement of power plants now operated by fossil fuels. A generator-level model suggests that most fossil fuel power plants could complete normal lifespans and still close by 2035 because so many facilities are nearing the end of their operational lives. 

    “My work shows that because a lot of U.S. fossil fuel plants are already pretty old, the target of decarbonization by 2035 would not require us to shut most of these plants down earlier than their typical lifespans.”

    “Of U.S. fossil fuel-fired generation capacity, 73% (630 out of 840 gigawatts) will reach the end of its typical lifespan by 2035; that percentage would reach 96% by 2050, she says in the Policy Forum article. About 13% of U.S. fossil fuel-fired generation capacity (110 GW) operating in 2018 had already exceeded its typical lifespan.

    “Because typical lifespans are averages, some generators operate for longer than expected. Allowing facilities to run until they retire is thus likely insufficient for a 2035 decarbonization deadline, the article notes. Closure deadlines that strand assets relative to reasonable lifespan expectations, however, could create financial liability for debts and other costs. The research found that a 2035 deadline for completely retiring fossil-based electricity generators would only strand about 15% (1700 gigawatt-years) of fossil fuel-fired capacity life, along with about 20% (380,000 job-years) of direct power plant and fuel extraction jobs that existed in 2018.

    “In 2018, fossil fuel facilities operated in 1,248 of 3,141 counties, directly employing about 157,000 people at generators and fuel-extraction facilities. Plant closure deadlines can improve outcomes for workers and host communities by providing additional certainty, for example, by enabling specific advance planning for things like remediation, retraining for displaced workers, and revenue replacements.”
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/12/201203144224.htm Journal Reference:

    Emily Grubert. Fossil electricity retirement deadlines for a just transition. Science, 2020 DOI: 10.1126/science.abe0375

  27. Both David and Geoff are right in different parts of the argument. But overall, Geoff is systemically correct.

    David is right that fossil fuels and fossil fuel products and derivatives run right through our modern system of production and that our system is heavily dependent on these fuels and products. Geoff is right that current use of fossil fuels, let alone increased use, will probably doom humans to extinction and certainly doom current global civilization to collapse.

    It’s a dilemma. Cut fossil fuel use too fast and potentially collapse civilization. Keep using fossil fuels too much, for too long, and potentially collapse civilization. The probabilities of collapse in each scenario are actually very high at the extreme ends of potential action. Ban fossil fuel use literally tomorrow and one could predict civilization collapse with at least 99.9% certainty. Allow untrammeled us of all our remaining reserves of fossil fuel and one could also predict civilization collapse with at least 99.9% certainty.

    That suggests an analysis needs to be run that assesses probability of civilization collapse at all rates of withdrawal of fossil fuels from “all tomorrow” to “none ever”. We need to find the point of given rapidity of withdrawal of fossil fuels which gives us the best chances. And everything which is non-essential needs to be withdrawn immediately or within a few years as a strong risk avoidance principle.
    Is it worth risking all civilization, or all viable local and regional civilization, for international tourism for example?

    The danger of closing down too much non-essential activity too soon is the danger of “over-saving the environment and climate”. Given the massive damage done so far and the need for recovery and remediation, the risk of “over-saving the environment and climate” at the present time seems vanishingly small.

    The danger of closing down “too little ” non-essential activity and doing it too late is the danger of destroying the environment and climate; of passing the point of no return, perhaps even before the point of no return can be accurately assessed. This, surely is the greater danger by far. Livelihoods made from high consumption, non-essential activities can be replaced by livelihoods which provide health, education, welfare and ecological services while using less real resources. This path is eminently possible.

    What profits it a person to keep his tourism and private automobile ownership “rights” if he should lose an inhabitable world? Those “rights” and greeds (not needs) are short-sighted madness given the rapid acceleration of global heating.

  28. Ikonoclast,
    You state: “David is right that fossil fuels and fossil fuel products and derivatives run right through our modern system of production and that our system is heavily dependent on these fuels and products.”

    It seems to me David (and perhaps you, Ikonoclast?) have ignored my comment to David (at DECEMBER 4, 2020 AT 12:41 PM):

    “I’d argue principally due to the highly versatile ‘premier fuel’ petroleum oil. Without it, I’d suggest global food production and the global food supply chain would not have enabled the human population to double from 2 billion to 4 billion and almost double again (estimated 7.8 billion as at Dec 2020) in less than a century. The dark irony is that fossil fuel GHG emissions are increasing the risk of multiple breadbasket failures.”

    David accuses me in his latest comments (at DECEMBER 5, 2020 AT 1:09 PM) that:

    “I will not engage with you any further as you do not have an appreciation of the fundamental role of oil in modern economies and the principles of thermodynamics.”

    I guess some people will see only what they want to see and ignore other things that are inconvenient to their narrative.

    I also understand this is a dark subject and some people just don’t want to contemplate the real possibility of civilisation collapse and the potential consequences of suffering and untimely deaths for them and their loved ones. Unfortunately, a head in the sand approach won’t make this diabolical challenge go away.

    You state: “That suggests an analysis needs to be run that assesses probability of civilization collapse at all rates of withdrawal of fossil fuels from “all tomorrow” to “none ever”.”

    The timetable is already set, Ikonoclast, based on the latest climate science, unless you want to argue that the climate science is wrong? Begin a rapid decline in GHG emissions NOW, 50% reduction before 2030, and reaching net-zero before 2040 – that’s the timetable.

    FIND WAYS/SOLUTIONS. It looks to me that Professor Blakers has a (partial) plan (that I’ve linked to previously) to reduce up to 75% reduction within the required timeframe – it seems to me it’s a good start. Are there any better alternatives? Sure, trucks, aviation and shipping and some other things Blakers mentions are tricky. What I fear is we just go around and around in circles arguing on what is or isn’t a solution, or whether it’s going to be disruptive or not, and we fail to achieve the primary goal of emissions reductions in the required timeframe, and everybody ultimately loses.

    Fail to meet that timetable and human civilisation is at grave risk of collapse later this century. It’s not a question of failing to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement – we will shoot past 1.5 °C warming before 2030, and probably overshoot 2 °C warming around 2050 – that’s not meeting ‘Paris’. It’s now a question of whether we fail further and overshoot 3 °C warming in the second half of this century, which means catastrophe – getting to 3 °C warming is what we/humanity must avoid at all costs.

    “Avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable” – Professor Schellnhuber.

  29. Geoff if you are ever at a loose end, with nothing much to do, I think you should listen to a podcast by Robert Kiyosaki, interviewing an analyst called Marin Katusa. October 26 2020. At first they come across as being dubious of green energy. When in reality they are big boosters. But I think there are very many things in that interview that has big implications for policy.

  30. Geoff,

    I don’t disagree with you at all. In other words, I would certainly agree that we need a timetable of the order of “Begin a rapid decline in GHG emissions NOW, 50% reduction before 2030, and reaching net-zero before 2040.” It might even be that we need even more draconian and rapid reductions than that.

    I’m simply not underestimating the difficulty of doing it. That will be a massive energy transition and there are also a whole host of other products we need to transition away from, the chief among them being plastics, petrochemicals and other chemicals. All these things are so embedded in our production and consumption system it will be like weaning the worst junky in the world off the worst addiction in the world.

    But using the difficulty itself as a reason not to try is certainly the wrong tack and I don’t agree with that at all. The problem is that influential people keep soft-soaping the public about it, giving or allowing the impression that we can just wait for the so-called free market and technological developments to solve everything. That is green-washing of the worst kind and its gives destructive consumption capitalism a free pass to keep on wrecking the planet. We can see so far that nothing changes year on year on year while we stick to unfettered capitalism. There will be no saving the planet if we don’t put capitalism and markets into a straight-jacket with heavy statist measures and stringent regulations. The whole economy has to be on the equivalent an existential crisis, democratic socialist footing to make the necessary changes in time.

  31. Ken: I would say the world got where we are with wind/solar due to pretty massive state subsidies, mostly in the USA and Germany, as well as earlier direct research funding in various places.

    Especially for PV in Germany, this was a huge financial outlay; the cost of subsidising initially expensive PV systems was substantial, and still impacts on electricity bills. Much more than gesture politics. Generally Germany only pops up in discussions about climate when people want to whine about them shutting down their nukes, but their intervention on PV put a rocket under it worldwide.

    Australia obviously had a major role early on as a leader in PV research: as far as I recall, the head of the UNSW lab went off to found a major PV manufacturer in China.

    So I think it is a case of both real political power in favor of deploying solutions, as well as healthy science+R/D institutions. But mostly not in Australia: Oz is mostly freeloading on the countries that got these technologies to the point where they were cheaper than the fossil alternatives.

    Although at least SA is a world leader in terms of deployment of variable renewables: a higher percentage even than Germany. In the discussions of a decade or two ago, there were frequent claims that variable renewables could never be more than X% of generation, with X being 10 or 20. Now it is clear from experience that X is at least 60%.

  32. Also, this is interesting as a way of seeing pathways to decarbonisation, although it is UK-specific:

    https://mackaycarboncalculator.beis.gov.uk

    Given you a feel for the levers on emissions. e.g. for transport: you really have to do something about planes.

    The negative emissions side of things is questionable though… the IPCC scenarios have the same issue.

  33. A while back Geoff Miell asked me:
    “… your quibble with Lazard is their analysis is showing renewables being more expensive than in reality. Maybe – by how much? – please show me the revised data/analysis.”
    Lazards have already done most of the work in their sensitivity table on page 6. Compare the left-hand column (raw WACC 5.4%) to the central one (9.6%), a drop of 43%. The LCOE of wind drops from $40/Mwh to $34, down 15%. Solar PV drops from $37 to $28, down 24%. My contention is that 5.4% is still too high, and we should project the line further down. If we take a still conservative WACC of 4.9% (half the central case), crude extrapolation gives us a total drop in wind of 16% and 27% for solar. OK, I was overdoing it with my rash claim of down by half. But we are seeing after-tax PPAs of $20/Mwh.

  34. David Gnarlsson,
    Thanks for your comments. Thanks for your reference to the Marin Katusa interview.

    You may wish to look at a YouTube video of a presentation by Dr Robert L Hirsch on 7 Nov 2012, titled “Dr. Hirsch, “The Nexus of Energy and Risk in the 21st Century””, duration 30:48, included below.

    Clearly, the timing of global peak oil (total ‘conventional’ + ‘unconventional’) shown in the slide displayed from time interval 23:18 has proved to be incorrect. US shale oil has proved to be more productive than expected, even though it has lost many investors money.

    Global oil production may have reached an all-time peak of 84.7 million barrels per day in Nov 2018.
    https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/29458/peak-oil-decline-coronavirus-economy/

    From time interval 21:54, Dr Hirsch discusses the likely oil production decline rates:

    “If you take a look at the likely decline rate of world oil production, we’re talking about something of the order of 5%. Maybe it’s 4%, maybe it’s 6%. It’s going to be very complicated, depend on a whole variety of different parameters, and you assume that the best we can do (which is this world wide crash programme) is implemented. This is the kind of situation you’re talking about over a ten year period. And the reason for that, very simply, is the decline starts ahead of your mitigation. And so the things that you’re going to do to mitigate have to chase after something that’s in the process of decline.”

  35. Power of compound growth.
    You quite rightly point out John that with a growth rate of 10% per year for ‘renewables’, the share of renewables in total energy goes from 5% in 2020 to over 60% in 2050 assuming no growth in energy demand. (When you do the calculation exactly its actually 87% in 2050).
    But if we change the growth rate to 11% instead of 10%, renewables get to 114% of energy demand in 2050.
    11% a year is easy to achieve. So its a walk in the park to get to net zero by 2050.
    The problem is we need to do a lot better for that. So to get to net zero by 2040 requires an annual growth rate for renewables of 16% a year, which is a much more difficult ask, but is achievable.
    Note that getting to net zero by 2045 only requires an annual growth in renewables of 13%.

  36. Geoff Miell @ December 5, 2020 at 11:43 am

    As you seem compelled to continue the conversation with me, despite my saying I see little point in engaging on this forum, I will reply (damn, it appears I have been made a liar of after all!), but only very, very briefly. I am going to try to resist the urge to respond here again, and I would respectfully request you help me in this matter by avoiding directing any comments to me in the future.

    It is a continued bafflement to me why, when I responded to what I took to be a purely financial argument, my not shifting the topic to EROIs appears to have been taken as a sign I have no idea about the topic at all. While I certainly wouldn’t consider myself an expert, I have been familiar with the literature for the best part of a decade or so, so it isn’t exactly a new concept to me.

    Personally, these days I tend to think the most critical thing is actually the dynamic EROIext, for while the EROEI (and EROIext) of all renewables appear to be positive [1] (though, admittedly, dangerously low for many of the EROIext values), what is going to be even more important (IMO) is how that shifts in response to our actions (particularly rapid implementation [2]). Increasing improvements to EoL, decreased reliance on CRMs, etc. will help push the numbers up (as I said, I have thoughts on ways which this will happen, but won’t derail here). Increased extraction requirements, poor implementation, etc. will drive down. To my mind (and I’m not entirely certain we disagree here) while where we are in terms of EROI (good, and have been for a while now) and EROIext (a lot less good, but with some promising developments appearing to be coming relatively soon) is important, the response-driven changes would seem to me to be even more important – though, of course, feel free to disagree. I’d recommend reading the work from UoV (they seem to be trying to unify the methodologies, and good luck to them as that seems akin to bailing out the ocean), but as no-one here seems interested in anything I have to say I won’t waste my time further.

    While I do genuinely thank you for your attempt to engage, I am going to head over to other forums instead. I sincerely appreciate your replies – they are well considered and certainly designed to be helpful – but I would again respectfully request you don’t direct comments at me further. Please do continue posting – I will likely read – but as I have already seen pretty much all of everything everyone has suggested to me as things I should see, I am not finding the direct responses to me overly fruitful and taking too much of my time in responding. So, even if you reply again, I think I will drop the conversation here permenantly.

    Thanking you in advance for your kind understanding – nG (for the very, very, last time – promise!)

    [1] e.g., recent data: 10.3390/en13123036
    [2] e.g. 10.1016/j.esr.2019.100399

  37. nG (re your comments at DECEMBER 6, 2020 AT 11:28 PM),
    You state: “I am going to try to resist the urge to respond here again, and I would respectfully request you help me in this matter by avoiding directing any comments to me in the future.”

    nG, it seems to me it’s your choice to read (or not read) comments here at this blog, and/or add your comments to the discussion thread(s) as you see fit (within the limits of JQ’s Discussion Policy), or choose not to do so.

    Likewise, it’s my choice to do (or not do) the same.

    Even if you choose to no longer visit this blog or the threads within, I’d suggest other people may do. Even if my comments are specifically directed at you (or anyone else), my intent is to also try to inform others that may visit, that may not be aware of the issues.

    You state: “It is a continued bafflement to me why, when I responded to what I took to be a purely financial argument, my not shifting the topic to EROIs appears to have been taken as a sign I have no idea about the topic at all.”

    I’d suggest perhaps this is an argument about semantics – you stated: “EROIext is going to be an important consideration” – I state: “ERoI is a CRITICAL consideration”.

    I’d suggest strongly that the artificial world of human finance is subservient to the real world of energy and the Laws of Physics. Energy is what drives the economy. An energy starved world leads to economic decline. ERoI is *A* CRITICAL consideration for the energy transition away from fossil fuels and ultimately for the future of human civilisation.

    You state: “Personally, these days I tend to think the most critical thing is actually the dynamic EROIext, for while the EROEI (and EROIext) of all renewables appear to be positive…”

    nG, ERoI for an energy source cannot be NEGATIVE, so why do you say “all renewables appear to be positive”? – it cannot be anything else!

    Apparently, the ERoIs for renewables seem to be much closer to fossil fuels than fossil fuel proponents would have you believe.
    See my comment: https://johnquiggin.com/2020/12/06/the-full-court-press/comment-page-1/#comment-231461

  38. Geoff Miell:

    As I am aneurotypical, I do have a strong compulsions – one of which is to reply to people who are addressing me. I suppose technically I am free not to, but more in the sense an alcoholic is free not to drink. The best approach is to remove all temptation at all (by analogy you are the person insisting on giving an alcoholic a drink every time you see them and saying “well it’s their choice” – technically true, but hardly empathetic behaviour). I was hoping for a little understanding and basic humanity from those here (I now know much better!), and thought that asking people not to address me directly was not too much, but clearly I was too optimistic. I will, therefore now have to stop reading this blog entirely to avoid my compulsions – so congratulations, far from informing or adding to the discourse, you’ve managed to drive someone away from reading anything here entirely. Well done!

    I agree that the thermodynamics (and kinetics for that matter – sorry, just a little physcial chemistry joke!) are more important than finance. I was, however, responding to a financial claim – I was trying to correct a factually wrong statement about fossil fuels being cheap as the only reason renewables are cheap (which is incorrect). But, I suppose, to hell with me for pointing that out. What seems to have happened is now you have decided to continue very simplistically explaining the concept of EROI at me, as if I have never come across it before.

    So basically you’ve decided to try and lecture me about a subject on which I’ve contributed to research papers because you don’t like my choice of language? If you write much in the way of scientific papers, you’d realise it is typical not to be seen to be overstating matters – it is, perhaps, a bad habit, but after some decades in the business it is a habit which has creeped into my writing style. Likewise “positive” is often used as a synonym for “good”. But you do have my sincere apologies for not having read your mind and used your preferred synonym – clearly the fault is entirely mine.

    Yet, interestingly enough, for all the energy you are happy to expend on arguing over my word choice (apparently you’ve never come across the saying “don’t mistake the map for the territory”), I notice you didn’t actually address any of the points about the science – for someone so keen to “inform others”, you seem curiously adverse to actually examining the current literature.

    So, allow me to explain to you. The EROI is a measure of energy out of energy in, as it dips below 1 it means you are putting in more energy than you get out. That is “not good”. When it is above 1, you get more energy out than you put in. That is generally considered to be “good”.

    If you’d bothered to read the papers I cited (and given these are both open access, you really don’t have an excuse), you’d see that the estimated EROIst of all renewables is “good”: i.e. 28.4 (hydropower), 13.2 (Wind onshore), 8.7 (Wind offshore), 7.8 (pv), 2.6 (CSP). However, this only measures the “standard farm-gate”, and what is ideal is to also consider all the energy used (including indirect energy investments). There we see that while EROIext for hydropower is still “good” (6.5), and that for pv (1.6) it is still above 1 which is “not as good, but still good”, that of CSP is now not above one (0.8) or “not good”. Thus, while the EROIext values for the majority of renewables is “getting out more than put in”, for CSP the latest data suggests it is not. I would recommend you read the paper, and consider it in terms of the EROIext values required to support civilisation to varying degrees – but I suspect that is wasting my breath.

    My point about the dynamic EROIext (which you’ve ignored, so I suppose I needn’t had bothered with that either) is that the energy “systems” are not static. There can be positive feedback and negative feedback loops within this which will effect the downstream EROI/EROIext. To put it very very simplistically, for example, if synthesis conditions are found via a low-energy route, that will help increase the EROIext (“good”). If, on the other hand, it is required to extract increasingly difficult-to-find minerals, the energy required to extract and transport the required minerals will increase – decreasing the EROIext (“bad”). Recycling of materials is often less energy intensive, so increased recycling can often increase EROIext (“good”). Etc. etc.

    So, while the EROI and EROIext are valuable tools (or critical, as you insist), also important/critical/insert your preferred synonym here is how this is going to change with respect to what might broadly be considered as advances in technology, and to what might broadly be considered to be “decreasing factors” (for example, increasing renewables demand may actually decrease the EROIext, as noted in the second paper I cited).

    In short, the EROI and EROIext values are far more “good” than fossil fuel proponents (or a certain commenter on this blog) would indeed have us believe. However, that is not a universal truth, and the nature of how the system will change is also important to consider. I am certainly happy for you to continue informing people, but would suggest you might want to read some of the contemporary literature. Or not – it is, of course, absolutely your choice.

    As you appear to have been incensed by my request for you to respond in a more general sense, I apologise for having had the temerity to make such appeal. So, please do continue arguing over semantics and ignoring the peer reviewed science, and generally behaving as you will – sadly I won’t be able to see it as I will have to avoid this site from now on.

    Regards, etc.

  39. I would also make a note that I don’t hold these papers to be the definitive word (though they are from a group who’s work is generally solid), and include my usual caveats about exploring the literature as a whole.

    I would also explain that asking someone to make their responses and comments more general rather than a direct reply is by no means suggesting that they should stop commenting – it is a fairly mild request to avoid triggering compulsions which would actually require less effort, and would have been a way you could continue making your points without frustrating other people (but clearly the wellbeing of others is not a particularly high priority for you).

    There are a lot of things, I suppose, I could comment on – but frankly, after the general tone of your “responses”, it is clear to me you are not someone with whom fruitful dialogue is possible.

    You “win” I suppose – though quite what is beyond me (it certainly isn’t a win for rational discourse or data-driven discussions).

  40. James Wimberley says: DECEMBER 5, 2020 AT 7:23 AM
    “Svante: The article you cite got it completely wrong on the typical capacity of EV batteries: not by a little, but by a factor of two. They don’t know what they are talking about.”

    James,

    I apologise for getting back late on this, and for not being satisfactorily informed enough as yet to comprehensively refute all the issues you raised concerning the paper, including the first of the two above.

    I’ve not yet had opportunity to read the paper other than skimming over it. Previously I had searched the text for particular info for an answer to points you had raised initially. However a response, briefly, to this first point of yours (and the second) shows that I did not need even to skim the paper again. A refutation jumps out upon skimming, but also a look back just now over this conversation to the post of mine that you were replying to reveals I had included already therein the relevant paragraph from the paper, that skimming also quickly turned up, which reveals your issue here is a (reflexive, motivated?) misreading of my points and the first sentence of the snippet I’d pasted from the paper, to wit:

    Svante says DECEMBER 5, 2020 AT 2:29 AM

    James,

    “Let’s see. Here’s a database of 130… ” Oh sure, but but how sustainable are they? Maybe those are mostly a case of still last century no limits dreaming.

    See Leaf further down the paper at:

    3.2.4. Mineral requirements of electrical batteries
    …An average value of energy stored of 21.3 KWh for purely electric cars batteries is assumed taking as reference the Nissan Leaf EV [123]. (…)

    That simply is not a statement nor is it an assumption about what may be the “typical” capacity of EV batteries today.

    It is clearly an assumption of a size average to plug into the examined mobility models for mandated EU Green Deal and generally resource constrained future scenario targets that the paper deals with. A handy existing (small) Nissan Leaf is assumed suitable to be taken apart for the purpose of examining a modelled possibly permissible average LV (light vehicle; car) in a number of future scenarios.

    I’ve roughed out a longer reply including for those last great hold out deniers at USGS, C20 hangover cornucopian bias, big personal BEV low occupancy clunkers, and so on for other quibbles, but I do want to absorb this excellent future mobility paper fully as time permits, and some others it references. Back on this later.

    https :// biophyseco.org/biophysical-economics/what-is-biophysical-economics/

  41. John Goss says:
    DECEMBER 6, 2020 AT 10:16 PM
    “Power of compound growth….

    “But if we change the growth rate to 11% instead of 10%, renewables get to 114% of energy demand in 2050.”

    Good call John Goss.

    156 refs + code to run yourself.

    “Stringent mitigation substantially reduces risk of unprecedented near-term warming rates

    …” However, the near-term benefits of mitigation are generally thought to be less clear because forced surface temperature trends can be masked by internal variability. Here we use observationally constrained projections from the latest comprehensive climate models and a simple climate model emulator to show that pursuing stringent mitigation consistent with holding long-term warming below 1.5 °C reduces the risk of unprecedented warming rates in the next 20 years by a factor of 13 compared with a no mitigation scenario, even after accounting for internal variability. Therefore, in addition to long-term benefits, stringent mitigation offers substantial near-term benefits by offering societies and ecosystems a greater chance to adapt to and avoid the worst climate change impacts.”

    Article Published: 07 December 2020
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-00957-9

    Note: full code available to run your own scenarios at:
    “Code availability
    “The FaIR model is available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3588880 (ref. 156). FaIR version 1.5 is used for all simulations in this paper. The code used to set up the FaIR simulations, analyse the data and produce the figures is available athttps://github.com/Priestley-Centre/Near_term_warming with the identifier https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4252506 (ref. 86). Python/Matplotlib was used for all coding and data visualization; for some figures, the vector graphics editor Inkscape (available athttps://inkscape.org/) was used to combine different figure parts into one file.”

  42. As I finished posting above which includes much re mosquitos in US & Africa, this from Australia appears in my inbox ….

    “Reflections on a highly unusual summer: bushfires, COVID-19 and mosquito-borne disease in NSW, Australia

    …” While the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic unfolded, NSW experienced increased activity of mosquito-borne Ross River virus. All these extreme events created many challenges for managing the pest and the public health risks associated with mosquitoes, from maintenance of mosquito monitoring and control programs through to unique challenges of communicating mosquito bite prevention advice to local communities.

    “There are important lessons to be learned in situations where extreme weather events may influence the risk of mosquito-borne disease through driving changes in the abundance and diversity of mosquito populations, while also influencing the abundance and distribution of native wildlife that represents important local reservoirs of arboviruses. Similarly, supporting the maintenance of mosquito monitoring and management programs while local authorities face competing priorities due to extreme natural disasters and/or public health events is critical.”
    https://www.phrp.com.au/issues/december-2020-volume-30-issue-4/bushfires-covid-19-and-mosquito-borne-disease/

    Cameron E Webb
    Published 9 December 2020.https://doi.org/10.17061/phrp3042027 
    Citation: Webb CE. Reflections on a highly unusual summer: bushfires, COVID-19 and mosquito-borne disease in NSW, Australia. Public Health Res Pract. 2020;30(4):3042027

  43. The long road to decarbinization has many turns, some a market furphy. “”All of this is firmly within market orthodoxy. That’s the core of the bargaining stage, after all: ”

    “Carbon offsets are bullshit
    By Cory Doctrow

    …” … corrupting the largest environmental charity in America: The Nature Conservancy, a 69-year-old nonprofit that buys up endangered lands and prevents them from being logged or despoiled.

    Buying and preserving endangered lands generates carbon credits, and those carbon credits can be sold onto the world’s worst polluters, which generates more capital to put into buying and protecting endangered lands. Sounds good, right?

    https://bloomberg.com/features/2020-nature-conservancy-carbon-offsets-trees/

    But you can generate even more carbon credit profits by cheating: taking land that’s not endangered and falsely claiming carbon credits for it, then flogging them to the oil, travel, and finance industry as imaginary offsets for very real planet-destroying carbon emissions.

    Last year, the Nature Conservancy generated $932m in revenues. As Ben Elgin writes for Bloomberg, that’s more than the next three largest US environmental charities combined.
    ….
    ..” Maybe you’ve heard that cruise ships are destroying the planet, but if Disney Cruises promises you that the offsets it bought from the Conservancy more than make up for it, the cruise starts to look pretty good.

    “Disney and the Conservancy know the offsets are bogus, but you don’t. Market trufans call this “information asymmetry” and understand that over time, it leads to a “market for lemons” in which only defective goods are bought and sold.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Market_for_Lemons

    “It’s not a new idea. Gresham’s Law (1860) says that “bad money drives out good” – the credits generated by “preserving” land that no one was going to log anyway are cheap to produce.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gresham%27s_law

    “Meanwhile, good credits – like those that Stripe gets from Climeworks AG for carbon sequestration at $775/ton – cost more than fake ones for not logging a forest that no one was ever going to log.

    “Incentives matter. Gresham’s Law produces a market for lemons.

    “All of this is firmly within market orthodoxy. That’s the core of the bargaining stage, after all: “Can’t we just keep doing exactly what we’ve always done and hope for a better outcome?”

    “Nope.”
     https://pluralistic.net/2020/12/12/fairy-use-tale/#greenwashing

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