EROEI Calculations for Solar PV Are Misleading

The Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) concept is very frequently used in energy studies. In fact, many readers seem to think, “Of course, EROEI is what we should be looking at when comparing different types of energy. What else is important?” Unfortunately, the closer to the discussions of researchers a person gets, the more problems a person discovers. People who work with EROEI regularly say, “EROEI is a tool, but it is a blunt tool. An EROEI of 100 is good compared to an EROEI of 10. For small differences, it is not so clear.”

Because of the idiosyncrasies of how EROEI works, different researchers using EROEI analyses come to very different conclusions. This issue has recently come up in two different solar PV analyses. One author used EROEI analysis to justify scaling up of solar PV. Another author published an article in Nature Communications that claims, “A break-even between the cumulative disadvantages and benefits of photovoltaics, for both energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, occurs between 1997 and 2018, depending on photovoltaic performance and model uncertainties.”

Other EROEI researchers with whom I correspond don’t agree with these conclusions. They recognize that in complex situations, EROEI analyses cannot cover everything. Somehow, the user needs to be informed enough to realize that these omissions result in biases. Researchers need to work around these biases when coming to conclusions. They themselves do it (or try to); why can’t everyone else?

The underlying problem with EROEI calculations is that EROEI is based on a very simple model. The model works passably well in simple situations, but it was not designed to handle the complexities of intermittent renewables, such as wind and solar PV. Indirect costs, and costs that are hard to measure, tend to get left out. The result is a serious bias that tends to make the EROEIs of solar PV (as well as other intermittent energy sources, such as wind) appear far more favorable than they would be, if a level playing field were used. In fact, published EROEIs for solar PV (and wind) might be called misleading. This issue also exists for other similar calculations, such as Life Cycle Analyses and Energy Payback Periods.

Some Background on EROEI

Proposed types of energy alternatives are often analyzed using Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) calculations. For each type of energy product that is produced, a ratio of the energy output to energy input is calculated. A high ratio gives an indication that the particular approach is very efficient, and thus is likely to produce an inexpensive energy product. Coal is a typical of example of a fuel with high EROEI. Wood cut using a hand saw would also have a very high EROEI. On the other hand, a low ratio of energy output to energy input, such as occurs in the production of biofuels, is expected to be high cost, and thus is not suitable for expanding.

A derivative concept is “net energy.” This is defined as the amount of energy added, when “Energy Input” is subtracted from “Energy Output,” or variations on this amount.There are many other related concepts, including “Energy Payback Period” and “Life Cycle Analysis.” The latter can consider materials of all sorts, not just energy materials, and can consider pollution issues as well as energy issues. My discussion here indirectly also relates to these derivative concepts, as well as to the direct calculation of EROEI.

The actual calculation of EROEI amounts varies a moderate amount from researcher to researcher. On the input side, the researcher must make decisions regarding exactly what energy inputs should be included (manufacturing the solar panel, transporting the solar panel to the construction site, building the factory that makes the solar panel, disposing of toxic waste, etc.). These energy inputs are then all converted to a common base, such as British Thermal Units (Btus). On the output side, amounts are fairly clear when the production of fossil fuels is involved, and the calculation is “at the wellhead.” When output from a device such as a solar panel is involved, there are many issues to be considered, including how long the solar panel is expected to last and how many hours of solar output will actually become available given the solar panel’s siting (which may not be known to the researcher). In theory, the energy costs of ongoing maintenance should come into the calculation as well, but will not be available early in the life of the panel when the calculations are made.

Two Kinds of EROEI: Return on Fossil Fuel Energy or Return on Labor

The type of EROEI we generally hear about today is what I would call “energy return on fossil fuel energy invested.” This is a concept developed by Charles Hall in the early 1970s, shortly after the book The Limits to Growth was published in 1972. In fact, it sometimes includes other kinds of energy in the denominator as well, such as hydroelectric. Most people who follow today’s academic literature would probably assume that this is the only kind of EROEI of interest when discussing today’s energy problems.

In fact, there is a different kind of EROEI analysis that preceded fossil fuel EROEI. This is return on the labor of an animal, a theory that now goes under the name Optimal Foraging Theory. Falling return on labor for animals represents the situation in which an animal has to walk (or fly or swim) increasingly far, or is required to swim increasingly upstream, to find the food it needs. Animal populations tend to collapse when their EROEIs fall too low. Prof. Hall taught ecology, so is well versed in the issues of energy return on animal labor.

There is also a parallel analysis of the return on human labor. Return on human labor has been studied for many years, and is documented in books such as The Upside of Down, by Thomas Homer-Dixon. In fact, Homer-Dixon talks about falling EROEI with respect to human labor being the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire.

The return on human labor can drop too low in several ways:

  1. If resources deplete or erode. For example, if topsoil becomes too thin, or energy supplies become depleted.
  2. If population rises too much, relative to resources. We are really interested in things like arable land per capita, and barrels of oil per capita.
  3. If a disproportionate share of the return the economy receives goes to some elite group, so the workers themselves don’t receive enough.

Falling return on human labor is very similar to falling wages. This falling return affects those at the bottom of the employment hierarchy most, such as young people just out of school and workers without too much education. These wages may or may not fall in monetary terms; what is important is that the goods and services that these wages buy fall on a per capita basis. Once falling return on human labor starts happening, the whole system starts unraveling:

  1. Governments cannot collect enough taxes.
  2. Businesses lose the economies of scale that they previously had.
  3. A large share of debt cannot be repaid with interest.
  4. Individual citizens find that they cannot afford to get married and start new families because their wages are too low, and they have too much debt.
  5. In earlier times, epidemics became more common because workers could not afford adequate diets.

I would argue that falling return on human labor is the primary type of falling EROEI that we should be concerned about, because it represents the summation of all of the types of returns that the economy is getting. It might be considered the Societal Return on Energy Invested.

I would also argue that Societal EROEI, defined in this way, is already too low. One way this can be seen is through the higher unemployment rate of young people in many countries. Another is a delayed rate of starting new families. Another is wages of many of the less educated workers rising less rapidly than inflation.

The key things that make the calculation of EROEI of human labor and EROEI of animal labor “work” as intended are

  1. Clear boundaries on what is to be included. The boundary is per animal, or per human being.
  2. Very close timing between when the energy is consumed (food or other) and when the output is available (animal energy used or goods and services consumed by humans).
  3. There is an easy way of adding up diverse inputs and outputs, namely using the financial system to count the worth of human labor, or an animal’s energy system to determine whether the food input is sufficient.

The one thing that doesn’t entirely “work” in this model is the fact that the actions of humans can have an adverse impact on other species, but this is not directly reflected in the EROEI of human labor. This is not handled by the wage system, but it can be somewhat handled in the tax system. Of course, if taxes are used to compensate for the adverse impact that humans are having on the ecosystems, the higher taxes will tend to reduce the return on human labor further, and thus bring about collapse more quickly.

Fossil Fuel EROEI as a Cost Estimate

When Prof. Hall developed the concept of EROEI, the concept was intended to be a rough cost estimate. If a particular type of alternative energy required a lot of energy to be created, it would likely be a very expensive type of energy; if very little energy was required, it likely would be inexpensive. When making one energy product using other energy products, energy is usually a major item of input. Thus, it seems reasonable to expect that EROEI calculations will work at least as a “blunt tool” for pricing.

The problem in making EROEI more than a blunt tool is the fact that none of the three characteristics that make EROEI on human labor work as expected is present for fossil fuel EROEI. (1) Fossil fuel EROEI boundaries can be made wider by making the list of energy inputs counted longer, but they always remain short of the entire system. (2) Timing is a huge issue, leading to a need for capital and a return on that capital, but there is no adjustment for this in the calculation. (3) The fact that energy quantities rather than prices are being used to add up inputs means that we can never determine something that is comparable to the overall cost of the complete supply chain. Furthermore, similar to the problem with humans adversely affecting other species, intermittent electricity adversely affects both the electric grid and the pricing of other types of electricity. EROEI calculations leave out these impacts.

The fossil fuel EROEI system ends up being similar to a system that compares tops of icebergs, when these icebergs are floating at somewhat different levels, and we can’t measure the relative levels well. Furthermore, our measuring tool is restricted to only one type of input: energy that can be counted somewhere in the cycle. Adverse impacts, such as damage to the grid or to the electricity pricing system, are not counted at all.

The danger with EROEI comparisons is that a person ends up with “apples to oranges” comparisons. Generally, the more similar energy types are, the more likely EROEI comparisons are likely to be truly comparable. For example, EROEIs for the same oil field, made with data a year or two apart, are more likely to be more meaningful than a comparison of EROEIs for fossil fuels with those for intermittent electricity.

Specific Problems with the EROEI of Solar PV

(1) Prospective EROEI calculations tend to have a bias toward what is “hoped for,” rather than serving as a direct calculation of what has been achieved. If the EROEI of an oil field, or of a hydroelectric plant that has been in operation for many years, is desired, it is not terribly hard to find reasonable numbers for inputs and outputs. All a researcher needs to do is figure out pounds of concrete, steel, and other materials that went into the initial structure, as well as inputs needed on a regular basis, and actual outputs; with these, a calculation can be made. When estimates are made for new devices, the bias is always toward what is hoped to be achieved. How much electricity will a solar panel produce, if it is properly sited, properly maintained, maintenance costs are very low, the electric grid can actually use all of the electricity that the panel produces, and all parts of the system last for the expected life of the solar panel?

(2) All energy is given the same “weight,” whether it is high quality or low quality energy. Intermittent energy, such as is produced by solar PV, is in fact extremely low quality output, but there is no adjustment for this fact in the calculation. It counts the same as much better quality electrical output, such as that provided by hydroelectric.

(3) There is no charge for the use of capital. When capital goods such as solar panels are used to produce energy products, this has several negative impacts on the economy: (a) Part of the energy produced must go to pay for the interest and/or dividends related to long-term capital use, but there is energy cost assigned to this; (b) A country’s debt to GDP ratio tends to rise, as the economy is required to use ever-more debt to finance all of the new capital goods; and (c) The wealth of the economy tends to become ever-more concentrated in the owners of capital goods, leaving workers less well off. EROEI calculations don’t charge for any of these deficiencies. These deficiencies are part of what makes it virtually impossible to scale up the use of wind and solar PV as a substitute for fossil fuels.

(4) EROEI indications tend to be misleadingly favorable, because they leave out hard-to-estimate costs. EROEI analyses tend to focus on amounts that are “easy to count.” For solar PV, the amount that is easiest to count is the cost of making and transporting the solar PV. Installation costs vary greatly from site to site, especially for home installations, so these costs are likely to be left out. Indirect benefits provided by governments, such as newly built roads to accommodate a new solar PV installation, are also likely to be omitted. The electric utility that has to deal with all of the intermittent electricity has to deal with a whole host of problems being dumped on it, including offsetting the impact of intermittency and upgrading the newly added electricity so that it truly meets grid standards. There are individual studies (such as here and here) that look directly at some of these issues, but they tend to be omitted from the narrow-boundary analyses included in the meta-studies, which researchers tend to rely on.

(5) Precisely how solar PV at scale can be integrated into the grid is unclear, so costs required for grid integration are not considered in EROEI calculations. There are a number of approaches that might be used to integrate solar PV into the electric grid. One approach would be to use complete battery backup of all solar PV and wind. The catch is that there is seasonal variation as well as daily variation in output; huge overbuilding and a very large amount of batteries would be required if the grid system were to provide electricity from intermittent renewables throughout the winter months, without supplementation from other sources. Even if storage is only used to smooth out daily fluctuations, the energy cost would be very high.

Another approach would be to continue to maintain the entire fossil fuel and nuclear generation systems, even though they would run only for a small part of the time. This would require paying staff for year-around work, even though they are needed for only part of the year. Other costs, such as maintaining pipelines, would continue year around as well.

A partial approach, which might somewhat reduce the energy needs for other approaches, would be to greatly increase the amount of electricity transmission, to try to smooth out fluctuations in electricity availability. None of these costs are included in EROEI calculations, even though they are very material.

(6) Solar PV (as well as other intermittent electricity, such as wind) causes direct harm to other types of energy producers by artificially lowering wholesale electricity prices. Wholesale prices tend to fall to artificially low levels, because intermittent electricity, including solar PV, is added to the electric grid, whether or not it is really needed. In fact, solar PV adds very little, if any, true “capacity” to a system, so there is no logical reason why prices for other producers should be reduced when solar PV is added. These other producers need the full wholesale cost of electricity, without the downward adjustment caused by the addition of intermittent energy sources, if they are to obtain a sufficient return on their investment to make it possible to continue to provide their services.

These issues tend to drive needed back-up electricity generation out of business. This is a problem, especially for nuclear electricity providers. Nuclear providers find themselves being pressured to close before the ends of their lifetimes, because of the low prices. This is true both in France and the United States.

In some cases, extra “capacity payments” are being made to try to work around these issues. These capacity payments usually result in the building of more natural gas fired electricity generating units. Unfortunately, these payments do nothing to guarantee that the natural gas required to operate these plants will actually be available when it is needed. But gas-fired generating units are cheap to build. Problem (sort of) solved!

(7) Electricity generation using solar PV cannot be scaled up very well. There are multiple issues involved, including cost, debt, difficulty in handling the variable output, and the adverse impact of the intermittent electricity on the profitability of other carriers.

What Should Be Done Next? 

It seems to me that a statement needs to be made that EROEI was a preliminary pricing method for various fuel types developed back in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, it is a blunt tool, and is not really suitable for pricing intermittent electricity, including solar PV, wind energy, and wave energy. It presents a far more favorable view of adding these energy types to the electric grid than is really the case. Hydroelectric energy is sometimes considered intermittent, but is really “dispatchable” most of the time, so it does not present the same problems.

EROEI calculations are in a sense the output of a very simple model. What we are finding now is that this model is not sufficiently complex to deal with the way intermittent electricity affects the system as a whole. What needs to be substituted for all of these EROEI model results (including “net energy,” Life Cycle Analysis, and other derivative results) is real world cost levels using very much wider boundaries than are included in EROEI calculations.

Euan Mearns has shown that in Europe, countries that use large amounts of wind and solar tend to have very high residential electricity prices. This comparison strongly suggests that when costs are charged back to consumers, they are very high. (In the US, subsidies tend to be hidden in the tax system instead of raising prices, so the same pattern is not observed.)

Figure 1. Figure by Euan Mearns showing relationship between installed wind + solar capacity and European electricity rates. Source Energy Matters.

Figure 1. Figure by Euan Mearns showing relationship between installed wind + solar capacity and European electricity rates. Source Energy Matters.

Even this comparison omits some potential costs involved, because intermittent electricity concentration levels are not yet at the point where it has been necessary to add huge banks of backup batteries. Also, the adverse impact on the profitability of other types of electricity generation is a major issue, but it is not something that can easily be reflected in a chart such as that shown in Figure 1.

It seems to me that going forward, a completely different approach is needed, if we want to evaluate which energy products should be included in our electricity mix. The low energy prices (for oil, natural gas, coal, and electricity) that we have been experiencing during the last 30 months are a sign that consumers cannot really afford very high electricity prices. Analysts need to be looking at various scenarios to see what changes can be made to try to keep costs within the amounts consumers can actually afford to pay. In fact, it probably would be helpful if building of new generation could be reduced to a minimum and existing generation could be kept operating as long as possible, to keep costs down.

The issue of low wholesale prices for electricity generated by nuclear, gas, and coal needs to be analyzed carefully, since, for example, France cannot easily get along without nuclear electricity. Nuclear energy is generally a much larger provider of electricity than wind and solar. Somehow, the financial returns of non-intermittent providers need to be made high enough that they can continue in operation, if they are not at the ends of their normal lifetimes. I am not sure how this can be done, short of banning intermittent electricity providers, including those currently in operation, from the grid.

A Long-Term Role for Solar PV 

It appears that our civilization is reaching limits. In fact, it seems likely that our current electric grid will not last many years–probably not as long as people expect solar panels will last. We also know that in past collapses, the only thing that seemed to partially mitigate the situation was radical simplification. For example, China transported goods in animal-powered carts prior to collapse, but changed to transporting goods in wheelbarrows, after it collapsed about the third century A. D.

Building on this idea, the place for intermittent renewables would seem to be off the electric grid. They would likely need to operate in very small networks, probably serving individual homes or businesses. For example, some homeowners might want to set up 12 volt direct current systems, operating a few LED lights and a few specially designed 12 volt direct current appliances. Businesses might want to do more. The problem, of course, comes in maintaining these systems, as batteries degrade and other parts need to be replaced. It would seem that this type of transition could be handled without huge subsidies from governments.

The belief that we can maintain our current electric grid system practically indefinitely, using only wind + solar + hydroelectric + biomass, is almost certainly a pipe dream. We need to be looking at the situation more realistically, and making plans based on what might actually be feasible.


[1] In defining net energy, some would say that Energy Input should be multiplied by a factor of three before the subtraction is done, because input energy is only partially counted in most calculations. Another variation is that the calculation varies by energy product, and whether EROEI has been calculated using a “wellhead” or “point of use” approach. These variations further add to confusion regarding exactly which amounts are comparable to which other amounts.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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1,372 Responses to EROEI Calculations for Solar PV Are Misleading

  1. dolph says:

    You are thinking of Mexicans, and Latin Americans in general, in some sort of halo light, they are coming to America and are great people, hard working, will make great Americans, etc.

    This is the incorrect way to think about it. Which is not to say that the racist, nativist way of thinking is correct either. Rather, think of Latin Americans as the “barbarians at the gates” storming into a dying system.

    It’s America that’s dying! All these Mexican workers are doing is propping up a terminal system with their labor. They get just enough money to make them do it, and not a penny more. Like I said, that’s the way to keep the system going. Keep the workers showing up.

    At some point down the line, and nobody knows when, all of these immigrants will realize they’ve been duped and they might have been better off staying at home. Though that’s a difficult question as well.

    • Yoshua says:

      The minimum wage in Mexico is $5 a day. It takes 12 days of work to fill the gas tank… if you can afford a car.

      It is almost as if the west is living on a different planet. I don’t know how they do it. I just know that if everything was dependent on me, we would not even have invented the wheel.

      The Chinese motto was: Don’t invade the barbarians, keep them out. Will Trumpolini’s Great Wall keep the barbarians out ?

      In Europe the muslim refugee flood is the hottest political topic today. No one is talking about the end of civilization yet due to thermodynamic death.

      • DJ says:

        A million or two migrants a year almost destroys europe, soon 500M will be looking for a new home.

      • A Real Black Person says:

        “one is talking about the end of civilization yet due to thermodynamic death.”
        No one is talking about it because no one understands it.
        The average person’s understanding of technology is synonymous with magic.
        The average person thinks civilization can be saved by having the right mindset, whether that mindset involves submitting oneself to an ideology.

        I’m still trying to understand out why Gail thinks the Earth will be a cold, icy planet long before the sun burns itself out. I thought the world was destined to end in fire. From what I have read, the Earth is destined to be vaporized by Sun when it becomes a red giant star in another five billion years.

        • and when it happens

          i can guarantee there will be a smartass finite worldster on hand to say:

          There—I told you so!!!

          • Joebanana says:

            Right on Norman! I’ve already stopped brushing my teeth and am fully stocked up on beans and Beano so nobody will suspect I have the beans! I think I have it all covered.

      • Someone calculated that the relative number of refugees in Europe was no higher than the annual number of immigrants to the US, many of whom are also refugees. I think the problems are in some ways parallel.

  2. JT Roberts says:

    Bitcoin mining.

    I’ve been researching this alternative digital currency. Initially I thought it was free but it has a carbon footprint. So digital currency has a cost.

    Here’s the rub digital currency may accelerate energy consumption. I’ll share more as I can quantify it. But digital currency might crush the energy system.

    • Joebanana says:

      Bitcoin mining takes enormous amounts of power. Most people are very surprised to learn it is much like mining physical gold in energy terms. Bitcoins are “mined” where energy is cheap and plentiful.

      • JT Roberts says:

        Then here’s the conundrum. Price is based on cost of production not supply and demand that’s a false premise. So bitcoin has a real value. Energy. Same as Gold and Silver. So the flight we’re seeing into bitcoin is a speculative bubble. But I think if we move to a fully digital currency we may see a heavy energy cost associated with it.

        • Joebanana says:

          Absolutely. Any “currency” like bitcoin has the advantage of being able to set up a “mine” where the energy is cheapest to produce but will still suffer the problem of requiring more and more real energy to get it, so it would have a deflationary bias on the economy over time. Maybe little Iceland will hold the worlds reserve currency before it is all over;-)

          • JT Roberts says:

            I’m moving to Iceland 😁

            • edwinlloyd says:

              When the energy dies bitcoin vanishes, gold and silver will still be there. The third party with bit coin is the grid. Yea, I know each coin has a ‘ number’ that is unique. Without the communication of the net, who will be trading?

        • If we lose electricity, the value of Bitcoins will be $0.

          • Greg Machala says:

            I don’t suppose dollars would be worth much either if we lost electricity. I really don’t think gold or silver would be worth much either in that case. To me, what would have real value if our energy and finance system collapsed is: weapons, drugs, food, water, shelter and clothing.

        • A Real Black Person says:

          This is the same situation facing all “high tech”. Virtually all of them don’t have the ability, at present, to “scale”, to meet demand because they are too expensive.

          I had a brief conversation with an older man. I told him that I didn’t think I’d live to see his age. He said that “with the technology we have right now…” I should expect to.

          I didn’t ask him for clarification on what technology he was referring to.
          I hope he wasn’t referring to the expensive drugs and healthcare services that are only available to 20% of the global population. I hope he wasn’t referring to non-existent biotech. Biotech advocates have promised revolutionary “personalized medicine” that has yet to materialize. No one has grown an effective and affordable product with stem cells in any industrialized country since the Human Genome Project concluded and I don’t think it’s because of legal concerns.
          The older man I spoke with seemed to be oblivious to the fact that current healthcare technology is becoming more expensive as it is offered to more and more people, with the exception of vaccines.
          To quote a doctor in the link below, “At some point, our economy can’t support this.”

          Here’s another question for you know-it-alls ot OFW (I’m teasing),

          Why are the prices for some prescription drugs soaring in the U.S. only?

          • The technology usually involves devices. These devices need to be financed in some way. This is addition to all of our existing devices. The financing of all of these devices quickly becomes a major problem, unless the energy output is in a useful form, and greatly exceeds the energy input.

        • “Price is based on cost of production not supply and demand that’s a false premise. ”

          No, cost is cost and price is price. If the cost is higher than the price, supply falls. If price is much higher than cost, supply increases. Of course, there is latency, and people make mistakes, and speculation occurs, but all in all markets work better than central planning.

          Cryptocurrencies are quite energy intensive, so can only succeed in a world where total energy consumption is continuously growing. New energy is only needed to add new gold to the total supply. Energy is constantly needed to maintain the value of all existing units of cryptocurrency.

    • DJ says:

      “But digital currency might crush the energy system.”
      It would be extremely humourus if we went down because of “mining” fake money.

      • JT Roberts says:

        Let’s see what Modi does next.

      • greg machala says:

        At a fundamental level, fake money is no different than anything else we manufacture. Most all of what we make, modern housing,cars, plastics, boats, pavement, processed foods, etc is all artificial as it does not exist in nature. So, in a sense most of our modern world could be considered to just as fake as the money that flows through it.

        • Volvo740 says:

          Screwdriver with plastic handle and screwdriver with wooden handle. Does either make the real list?

    • Keeping energy “demand” at a high enough level is important. So if there is a way that bitcoin producers are siphoning off funds to pay for all of this electricity, it is in a sense, helpful to keeping the system from collapsing from low prices.

  3. JT Roberts says:

    So near as I can tell an average bitcoin costs 3MWH to produce. Current production is estimated at 7200 per day. So 21600 MWH which is twice the power needed to run NYC. It produces absolutely nothing tangible. At least Gold retains the embedded energy. If any on this sight still believe technology will solve the problems created by technology they need some therapy of some sort. Even if we say this activity is increasing demand that keeps prices up to maintain the system we have to accept that we are far past overshoot and are grasping at straws as the whole thing is spiraling out of control.

    • bandits101 says:

      Yes agreed but technology Per Se has never been a problem. The technology exists to make use of helium-3, the technology exists to use power satellites and mine uranium or gold from seawater. Our existing technological capabilities right now are likely greater than most realise.

      Technology is not the tallest building, the fastest CPU or sports car or even best aircraft. It was in the distant past, a simple stone hand axe.

      It is the engineering that realises the potential of technology. Science theorised the plutonium and hydrogen bomb, their construction only made possible by engineers with access to adequate resources…….including funds.

      To summarise humans have been engineering since time immemorial. Our engineering abilities are exactly why we are in the predicament we now find ourselves, yet throughout OFW, in every new post there are advocates of more engineering to save the situation. Some of those advocates have been and are the most dangerous humans that walk or have walked the earth. Of course they and 99% of others would categorically deny it and that’s why we’re doomed.

      • The problem with technology is that it tends to produce an increasing dichotomy between rich and poor. We need to produce more devices. Some people own them, and get the benefit of them, but others do not. Some people obtain education to work in the more complex world, but others do not. When the poor can no longer afford the output of the economy, the economy tends to crash from lack of buyers.

        • Artleads says:

          But I find that one can have zero tech savvy but a good liberal education–the ability to think critically,etc. To me that’s an advantage over tech people who lack that background. Maybe I’m describing a temporary transition from a world that had the luxury for liberal education toward one that doesn’t. With the “benefits” being temporary as well.

        • Greg Machala says:

          I have been thinking about ways to extend and pretend our economic situation. What if the Fed came out with a program whereby the too big to fail banks would get money with negative interest rates to loan to home buyers at 0% – 1% for 40 or 50 years? The 0% loans for Veterans (and anyone who signs up for the military). The 1% loans for the rest.
          Combine that with a law capping property tax rates (with the promise that there will be more property tax payers). I think this could potentially get millions of Millennials into homes and buying stuff on the credit cards to fill the home. Then perhaps they would even buy a car too. Kinda like the Ghost cities of China but people will actually live in these homes for a while.

      • Stefeun says:

        Technology is a tool that helps us burn more energy.
        It co-developed with the amount of energy dissipated and the layers of complexity added, in a sort of positive feedback loop.
        To run, this tool requires energy itself, as well as some matter to work on. Take away one of those and the tool becomes useless.
        Technology helps us solve precise problems, with no regards for the externalities it generates. Our problem today is to deal with externalities, not technology (which cannot help us in this purpose, more of the same poison doesn’t heal).

    • Agreed! This seems like a stupid use of electricity. But if people in China can use it on a short term basis, when they are concerned about falling Yuan values, I suppose that there is a market for it. Somehow, the cost needs to be priced into the system.

    • Stefeun says:

      Upstream, it looks like the main difference between crypto-currencies and printed fiat money is the astounding amount of energy used to produce it, and that is definitely lost (not exactly “embedded”, but definitely totally stupid, unless the ultimate purpose is to burn as much as possible, not only by using the money, but by producing it as well).
      The other difference being to avoid taxes, but after a second thought I’m not so sure that printed money generates so much taxes either.

      Downstream, I don’t know, because both crypto and printed money seem to be used for financial purposes only, and never go down to the real economy.
      Probably there are some uses that help the global finance stand up a while longer..?
      I didn’t ask him, but I doubt my baker would accept bitcoins against my daily baguette.

  4. dolph says:

    All of this constant talk about doom raises the important question, how will you actually know it’s the end? This is not a trivial question, I’ve thought about this and haven’t come up with an answer.
    Remember there were many people who thought the world had ended during WW2. Later, people thought we would blow each other up with nuclear weapons.
    Neither of these was true. So how do we know now? I suppose one can only say that my world has come to an end, rather than “the” world has come to an end.
    Personally speaking, has my world come to an end? The answer is yes, but I’ll spare you the details. Very few people will admit this, even unto death, being broke and dying in a hospital, nobody will admit it.

    • jeremy890 says:

      Dolph, good question! I ask myself “Do I even know the person I was a quarter century ago?
      Thomas Merton, Hippie Radical Trappist Monk, wrote he did not recognize the person who penned ” The Seven Storey Mountain”, which he finished at the age of 31, when he reached age 50.
      Suppose ones self identity is not as eternal as we wish or our psyche demands?
      If that is the case, perhaps a load of clinging with the fear of the end once we embrace the “what is”.

      • dolph says:

        Yes I’m afraid we must constantly re-evaluate life and where we find ourselves.
        The ugliness of the world in general now convinces me to be pessimistic. Including the fact that we are all becoming identity-less, which is the expressed wish of global capitalism. Despite what Trump may say, they need you without identity, without nationhood, because then you will substitute consumption for lack of identity.

    • I don’t think that anyone’s end comes before they are dead. There are always opportunities of many kinds–to see another sunrise, to greet a friend, to enjoy a good meal, to do good to someone else. Even a person who is in pain, or lacking for food, has some opportunities.

      It is easy for people to become depressed because things haven’t turned out according to their expectations. I think that we need to change our expectations, and do our best to make things work out.

    • dolph says:

      It reads like satire, though it’s probably just fluff for the sake of it.

      Here is my response:
      -by 2025, the breakdown of global trade, the separation of the global economy into regional blocks, and the collapse of America into civil war will be within view; nobody will be thinking of technological utopia, they will be thinking, how do I hang onto this crap job so I can feed myself

    • This list is totally absurd–which no doubt is the reason you posted it.

    • Greg Machala says:

      After reading those 2025 predictions, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. None of it will happen though.

  5. jeremy890 says:

    Read this post in an article of radioactive bacon….I mean wild boars near Fukushima.
    Is this comment factual?

    You all do know that the radiation from Fukushima Japan is from coast to coast here in The United States? We are above safe levels in most of this country.. The government has raised our radiation safety limits in our drinking water 27,000 times and changed the acceptable death rate from 1 in 10,000 people to a new acceptable rate of 1 in 23 people. At one time out normal counts per minute was 4 to 20 CPM and 50 CPM was known to be abnormal 100 CPM was an alert/warning level and 300 CPM was an evacuation/hazmat level … and now… all I can say is WOW..

    Gun control heartburn: Radioactive boars are amok in Fukushima

    there is the problem with the meat. In short, there is no good way to make caesium-137 infused pork a balanced part of your complete meal without the diner glowing in the dark, no matter how much BBQ sauce you use.

    In Japan, they have to incinerate the carcasses (at 1,771 degrees Fahrenheit) then obliterate the fragments left over with hammers and box them up. Carefully.

    Furthermore, the animals are very smart.

    “They are the most adaptable animals that you’ll ever find: we call them the ‘opportunistic omnivore,’” says Smith
    Oh well, something has to take our place…

  6. Lastcall says:

    Then there is this….just because we can doesn’t mean we game playing with targets creates false this is not a positive outcome, but to some the replacement of coal is the narrow focus of their efforts.

    “Each month, about 1 million tons of tree trunks and branches from southern U.S. pine plantations and natural forests is being turned into pellets and shipped to European power plants, mostly to Drax power station in the U.K. The growing transatlantic trade is being financed with billions of dollars in European climate subsidies because of a regulatory loophole that allows wood energy to count as if it’s as clean as solar or wind energy, when in reality it’s often worse for the climate than burning coal. Only the pollution released when wood pellets are produced and transported is counted on climate ledgers. Actual pollution from the smokestack — by far the greatest source of carbon pollution from wood energy — is overlooked.”

    Also overlooked is the fact that neither wind or solar are clean energy but oh well…

    • Artleads says:

      I’m the most optimistic person in the world, but this and Jeremy’s post above are testing that optimism beyond the limits. Anyway, let me show you an el primo piece of optimism on my part. Please don’t laugh!

      Wouldn’t it be nice if a systems thinking approach were used to energy procurement? Aren’t there some cases where mining coal is less harmful to water than fracking? What I mean to say is that it seems fracking is more universally harmful to water, while coal can be just as harmful but not in all cases. I don’t know the answer. But Trump could help some of his coal-country constituents by enabling careful mining in optimal places, while shutting down fracking? A possible trade off that makes him look good? Also, there’s so much history to coal mining that coal tourism might be tried as a way to add income while taking some pressure off the actual rush to mine ever more coal.

      • jeremy890 says:

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        Obama administration, EPA hid planned radiation exposure 1,000s of times Safe Drinking Water Act limits

        January 1, 2017 by legitgov

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        Obama administration, EPA hid planned radiation exposure thousands of times Safe Drinking Water Act limits –Radical Drinking Water Radiation Rise Confirmed in EPA Plan | 22 Dec 2016 | In the last days of the Obama administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to dramatically increase allowable public exposure to radioactivity to levels thousands of times above the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to documents the agency surrendered in a federal lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These radical rollbacks cover the “intermediate period” following a radiation release and could last for up to several years. This plan is in its final stage of approval

    • and sitting here in the uk—-i know that to be truly insane

    • Thanks for the link! That is a good article.

      One of the key points it makes is that wood energy accounts for nearly half of Europe’s renewable energy production. If the accounting slight of hand were abolished, it would reveal that Europe is falling short of climate targets. So they need to keep the credit, to make it look like Europe is being “responsible”, even though it is working on cutting down forests.

      Living in the Southeast of the US, I have heard that previously, we were cutting down wood from these forests to make paper. Now wood for paper is coming from clear cutting forests in Indonesia. All of the figures I have seen shows that the total portion of forest being cut down around the world keeps rising. No doubt this regulation contributes to this.

      If our real intent were to save the environment, Europe would repeal this legislation. It does help US GDP however. Anything that increases the use of resources seems to increase GDP.

    • Yoshua says:

      Perhaps we will have time to cut down all trees as well before we run out of fossil fuels ?

      One autumn I climbed pine trees and collected cones, which contains seeds for planting new pine trees. The forest industry then plants new pine tree “forests” in straight rows to replace the ones they have cut down.

      It was really hard work in the wind, rain and cold… and the pay was lousy. It was nothing at all like the ol’ bines !

      • Artleads says:

        Getting kids in one school to plant those pines would not require money; it would be how they learn science. But doing that in one school would make no impact whatsoever. If you did the same thing in ALL schools globally, however, that would be something different. It would make a recognizable buzz that would get parents and others to do more.

        • Yoshua says:

          A global tree week. It would unite all the children in the world for a week.

          We use child labour in the school cantina. I believe it makes them feel good. They feel that they are useful and can take part in the “adult” world.

  7. Greg Machala says:

    An interesting development Sunday. Apparently a US Destroyer fired warning shots at Iranian vessels in the Strait Of Hormuz:: . In a normal economic environment the oil price would almost certainly go up. But, oddly, the oil price fell this morning in early trading. Odd?

  8. JT Roberts says:

    The events of the 1590s had suddenly brought home to more thoughtful Castilians the harsh truth about their native land – its poverty in the midst of riches, its power that had shown itself impotent… For this was not only a time of crisis, but a time also of the awareness of crisis – of a bitter realization that things had gone wrong. It was under the influence of the arbitristas that early seventeenth-century Castile surrendered itself to an orgy of national introspection, desperately attempting to discover at what point reality had been exchanged for illusion….

    The arbitristas proposed that Government expenditure should be slashed…

    Most of the arbitristas recommended the reduction of schools and convents and the clearing of the Court as the solution to the problem. Yet this was really to mistake the symptoms for the cause. MartínGonzález de Cellorigo was almost alone in appreciating that the fundamental problem lay not so much in heavy spending by Crown and upper classes – since this spending itself created a valuable demand for goods and services – as in the disproportion between expenditure and investment. ‘Money is not true wealth,’ he wrote, and his concern was to increase the national wealth by increasing the nation’s productive capacity rather than its stock of precious metals. This could only be achieved by investing more money in agricultural and industrial development. At present, surplus wealth was being unproductively invested – ‘dissipated on thin air – on papers, contracts, censos, and letters of exchange, on cash, and silver, and gold – instead of being expended on things that yield profits and attract riches from outside to augment the riches within. And thus there is no money, gold, or silver in Spain because there is so much; and it is not rich, because of all its riches….’

    The Castile of González de Cellorigo was…a society in which both money and labour were misapplied; an unbalanced, top-heavy society, in which, according to González, there were thirty parasites for every one man who did an honestday’s work; a society with a false sense of values, which mistook the shadow for substance, and substance for the shadow.

    J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain: 1469-1716

  9. Interguru says:

    If anyone thinks that wind turbines can survive beyond BAU check out this video

    The video above was taken at the National Wind Technology Center, a research facility run by the Department of Energy outside Boulder, Colorado. In it, DOE’s Simon Edelman scales the inside of a 270-foot GE wind turbine, pointing out various features of the turbine and safety procedures for moving around inside it. Eventually, he pops out on top, making my stomach flip.

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