The Phaserl


Will Our Grandchildren Wonder Why We Didn’t Build a Renewable Power Grid When It Was Still Affordable?

by Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds:

In the logic of the market, it makes no sense to sacrifice trillions of dollars in current energy and income to build something we don’t yet need.

Anyone seeking clarity on the energy picture a decade or two out is to be forgiven for finding a thoroughly confusing divide. On the one hand, we have reassuring projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) that assume current production of fossil fuels will remain steady for decades to come. Coal will continue to decline as a share of total energy consumption, and renewables will rise modestly. In other words, everything’s hunky-dory, there’s nothing to worry about.

The EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2017 (64-page PDF) lays out the all-is-well, no-worries projections.

If you want to really dig deep into energy consumption, then the EIA has a treat for you: a detailed 390-page PDF report: Energy Perspectives 1949–2011 (link to 390-page PDF).

But just when you conclude fossile fuels will remain cheap and abundant until 2040 and beyond, you read this: Civilization goes over the net energy cliff in 2022, which references a 65-page PDF report that details a much different view of energy that will actually be available to us, as opposed to estimates of reserves awaiting extraction: Depletion: A determination for the world’s petroleum reserve (65-page PDF)

Here’s an excerpt:

Determining the depletion state of a resource is, however, not merely a matter of determining how much of the resource remains in the ground. A resource’s depletion state has as much to do with the efficiency with which it can be extracted and used as it has to do with the quantity of resource remaining in the ground. To define oil’s depletion state it is necessary to look at the efficiency with which crude oil can be extracted, processed, and used. Therefore it is necessary to understand why petroleum is produced, and then be able to analysis the entire production process; not just the extraction portion. The Quality Control Engineer defines this as determining “fitness for use”. To define crude oil’s depletion state we must first determine the quantity of it that is “fit for use”.

Every barrel of oil on average, has required more energy to extract and process than the barrel that came before it. Since the specific exergy of a unit of oil is, and always has been the same, less and less energy per unit remains for use by the end consumer. The “fitness for use” of crude oil must also then be dependent on variables relating to its energy delivery capabilities.

In other words–we cannot project future energy available for consumption without factoring in a host of other variables: not just the cost of extraction at the well head but of processing and transport. If this report is correct, the energy left over for consumption after we deduct the energy required for extraction, processing and transport is declining, as the easy-to-extract, easy-to-process, easy-to-transport oil has largely been depleted.

What’s left is costly to extract, process and transport.

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