Counting the cost of alternative energy sources

A nice piece by Don Aitkin looking at the full cost of renewable energy.

There’s not as much hype as there once was about electric cars, but I recall my surprise on learning that you would have to run one of them for 90,000 kilometres before all the CO2 created by the energy used in making it had been offset by the CO2 savings generated in using it.

And if a dam is used for hydro-electricity, how long does it take for the CO2 created by building it and running it to have been offset by the CO2 saved by generating electricity that way instead of through burning coal? A very long time, but it happens. A lot depends, of course, on the details of the dam we are talking about.

Now someone has done this for all forms of generating electricity, and I find both the methodology and the results quite fascinating…It is all based on a formulation called Energy Returned on Energy Invested, which is shortened to EROEI. I’ve seen it before, but not enquired further. More on that in a moment. Morgan says that, with respect to alternative energy forms, the much-discussed storage problem (how can you best store solar energy for use at night, or wind energy when it’s not needed by the grid?) is not the real problem: there is not enough surplus energy left over after construction of the generators and the storage system to power our present civilization.

What he means is that there is simply not a large enough return on investment in the alternative energy source to allow it do it anything much.

And a cute picture of Lord Monckton!

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30 Responses to Counting the cost of alternative energy sources

  1. JC

    ….there is not enough surplus energy left over after construction of the generators and the storage system to power our present civilization.

    Bilby Numbnuts? You around?

  2. nerblnob

    We simply can’t, on these figures, run a modern society on alternative energy alone, and that is a message that the alternative energy believers find impossible to accept.

    Indeed.

    They won’t accept the message and won’t accept the figures unless they tell them what they want to hear.

  3. billypilgrim

    From an article in the Australian on the RET and how companies are all afraid of the funding flow (Other People’s Money) reducing.

    I love this line, quoted twice.

    Technician Bard Davy at the Snowtown wind farm in South Australia. ‘It’s been good for everyone,’ he says.

    No Bard, it’s been really bad for taxpayers actually, good for all the moochers though, no argument there.

  4. Blogstrop

    Climate Change and Renewable Energy.
    The dual deception of the enemies of the West.

  5. Tel

    Driving 90,000 kilometres over the lifespan of a car isn’t that much. You would expect to get at least twice that I would think. Mind you, I have to question Don Aitkin’s attention to detail because he cites 90,000 miles in his other article.

    I agree with him that LPG is probably a better choice for the time being, but we should consider electric drive train as at an experimental research project. Something we have discovered is that compressed natural gas (CNG) is a poor choice for vehicles, because of the safety issue:

    http://www.cleanmpg.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7555

  6. Bruce of Newcastle

    The other problem is that wind and solar don’t actually save much if any CO2.

    The operating saving for wind in South Australia is only 4% of theory, because of the inefficiencies forced on the backup power systems due to intermittency. It also gets worse with time as the best wind sites are taken first. All with a cost of legions of birds and bats killed by the turbine blades.

    Solar panels are even worse. If you banned them the world greenhouse gas emissions in CO2e would actually go down because of the SF6 and NF3 emitted during their manufacture.

    If the Greens were serious about CO2e emissions they would ditch these energy options and go for nuclear.

  7. entropy

    I am not Gainey the concept of electric cars. From all accounts a tesla, for example is very well made and has awesome acceleration.
    If the could solve these three: price, range, and recharge time, I would be in.

    And they can’t cheat on the price criterion by forcing the long suffering taxpayer to shed more Other Peoples’ Money for most of it.

    So for the ti e bing hybrids are the I ly realistic option. I would love the top end new Volvo XC90, on the specs seen so far. Yet to see how it fairs as a tow vehicle though.

  8. entropy

    If the Greens were serious about CO2e emissions they would ditch these energy options and go for nuclear.

    Yeah but the greens these days are really watermelons hung up on the glory days of the seventies when the anti nuc movement was little more than a front to corral the useful idiots in order to hamstring the west for their soviet masters.

  9. Gab

    The other problem is that wind and solar don’t actually save much if any CO2.

    Wonder just how much CO2 is “saved” by using the comparatively expensive non-incandescent light globes that leech mercury into the environment. What a farce.

  10. buckshot

    I agree with Tel and Entropy. I don’t think electric vehicles should be written off on the basis of CO2 emissions. This is just the greenies trying to conscript as many ideas as possible. I like the idea of EVs because:
    1. The induction motor in an EV is inherently more efficient than an internal combustion engine – 90% versus around 27% at best for an internal combustion engine (as low as 8% in peak hour traffic). I know you also have to factor in the energy conversion efficiency to get the electricity, but it still works out less overall.
    2. The fuel cost is cheaper (electricity vs petrol), although governments may find a new way of taxing it.
    3. The energy for an EV can come from any fuel that can generate electricity and is not limited to either petrol or diesel or LPG.
    4. The ’emissions’ are at the electricity generator, not out of the tail pipe. While catalytic converters have reduced internal combustion engine emissions a lot, it is still easier to manage the pollution at one stationary source away from population centres (the electricity generator), than in thousands of mobile sources on the street (vehicles).
    5. Australia is rich in just about all forms of energy, except those that run the internal combustion engine. Last time I looked we spend about $20 billion on imported petroleum. Our oil refineries are ageing and are in the process of being replaced by larger, more efficient refineries in other countries, which source most of their crude oil from the Middle East. So from a balance of payments, and energy security point of view EVs would win out also.

    I’m not sure how far away an economic EV is, but progress is being made. For the above reasons I think the R&D should be subsidised through universities and other research grants, but not the end product.

  11. Tintarella di Luna

    Lord Monckton is obvisouly trying to downplay a quite a substantial sporran.

  12. Gutho

    How many wind turbines does it take to smelt the metal required to make a wind turbine.

  13. Tintarella di Luna

    How many wind turbines does it take to smelt the metal required to make a wind turbine.

    Indeed Gutho and another question is how devastating is the extraction of the rare mineral needed to make a wind turbine and how many Chinese people does it affect?

  14. AP

    80,000 miles (original article) is not 90,000 kilometers (pasted text). Someone has made a boo boo.

  15. nerblnob

    I think buckshot might be onto something. EVs can be made viable in Australia if they go for broke with cheap coal-fired power stations. Everybody’s happy!

  16. john constantine

    Fan of hydro, but the numbers show that hydro dams built where the reservoir has ‘shallow shelving’ , where the shallow shelves can be recolonised by vegetation in the tropical dry, then when the dam refills in the wet, the vegetation decomposes in an anaerobic enviroment. generating methane–these dams are ‘bad, m’okay’.

    This argument will be used to attack dams in australias tropical north.

    Funny enough, dams in gorges in cool tasmania are perfect for low methane production, but thanks to bob brown and the greens, we managed to put a stop to all that renewable energy rubbish down there.

  17. .

    And if a dam is used for hydro-electricity, how long does it take for the CO2 created by building it and running it to have been offset by the CO2 saved by generating electricity that way instead of through burning coal? A very long time, but it happens. A lot depends, of course, on the details of the dam we are talking about.

    They have not mentioned how much is sequestered by the dam (creating an aquatic ecosystem over the top of the boreal one). Nor have they considered low emissions rock and earthfill.

  18. .

    This is a good discussion and if you take into consideration everyone’s points, is a good summary for why we should let the market decide.

  19. Leo G

    Noting that Aitken has corrected the carbon offset point for electric cars to 130,000 km, and considering that the even for Australian cars as a whole that the annual avg distance is 14,000 km, average age 10 years, average lifetime less than 8 years, it appears that electric cars used in Australia, on the whole, don’t completely offset the ‘carbon’ in their production.
    Not surprising, even without taking into account the premature obsolescence of newer-technology electric cars.

  20. 70sPlayboy

    Slightly off topic but worth noting as we always like to find new ways to laugh at the Green Left – has anyone done a comparison between the attendance at Redfern Oval yesterday to cheer on the mighty Souths (5,000 est) and the turnout at the Sydney Climate Rally a couple of weeks ago (1,000est)?

    A vivid demonstration of the priorities of ordinary Australians.

    Go the bunnies!

  21. .

    A vivid demonstration of the priorities of ordinary Australians.

    Supporting shit teams that rightfully ought to go under, and let the self martyring fans go and support a team they deserve, the Swans?

  22. cohenite

    Windmills can’t produce enough energy to build other windmills and neither can solar panels. What else do you need to know?

  23. hzhousewife

    Windmills can’t produce enough energy to build other windmills and neither can solar panels. What else do you need to know?

    Theres an idea. Legislate that new windfarms can only be built using energy
    from a pre-existing windfarm.

  24. cohenite

    Theres an idea. Legislate that new windfarms can only be built using energy
    from a pre-existing windfarm.

    And that Green electorates can only source green energy.

  25. Bruce of Newcastle

    has anyone done a comparison between the attendance at Redfern Oval yesterday to cheer on the mighty Souths (5,000 est) and the turnout at the Sydney Climate Rally a couple of weeks ago (1,000est)?

    They both like colours green and red?

    Speaking of EV’s and hybrids, they’re fine if you like such creatures, but they don’t make economic sense (but then Ferraris don’t either). A mass produced 4 cylinder car should get you around 6.5 L/100 km. A Prius will get you maybe 5 L/100 km at $37,766 vs say a Mazda 2 at $15,990. It would take you 223,343 km of driving for you to save enough petrol at $1.50/L to make up for the price difference. Add in the insurance cost differences and you’ll never make up the differential.

    As it happens my old car still gets 6.7-7.0 L/100 km as a 1.6 L, and has just clocked up 226,000 km. Poor old thing is 22 this year. So if you buy a Prius now and drive like I do, you will be ancient by the time you break even. Of course you’ve replaced the battery twice in that time, but hey what is an extra cost if you can adhere to your religion. I wonder how Tim Flannery’s Prius is going?

  26. 70s Playboy

    They both like colours green and red?

    Very witty Bruce.

    On the energy requirements of wind turbines – aren’t they supported by massive underground concrete pillars. How many turbines would be required to make the concrete to support the turbine to make further concrete for more turbines?

  27. 70s Playboy

    Supporting shit teams that rightfully ought to go under, and let the self martyring fans go and support a team they deserve, the Swans?

    Sounds like a bitter Melbournite who didn’t have the good fortune to be born in Sydney.

  28. 70s Playboy

    Mind you not all hybrids have to be total crap. Check out the BMW i8

    Supercar performance and 135 mpg

  29. Rafe

    Stop knocking the Swans because they played like bunnies in the most important game of the season!

    Any team can have an off day. Even the Mighty Demons!!

  30. 70s Playboy

    they played like bunnies in the most important game of the season

    Say that to Greg Inglis

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