How Renewable Energy Models Can Produce Misleading Indications

The energy needs of the world’s economy seem to be easy to model. Energy consumption is measured in a variety of different ways including kilowatt hours, barrels of oil equivalent, British thermal units, kilocalories and joules. Two types of energy are equivalent if they produce the same number of units of energy, right?

For example, xkcd’s modeler Randall Munroe explains the benefit of renewable energy in the video below. He tells us that based on his model, solar, if scaled up to ridiculous levels, can provide enough renewable energy for ourselves and a half-dozen of our neighbors. Wind, if scaled up to absurd levels, can provide enough renewable energy for ourselves and a dozen of our neighbors.

There is a major catch to this analysis, however. The kinds of energy produced by wind and solar are not the kinds of energy that the economy needs. Wind and solar produce intermittent electricity available only at specific times and places. What the world economy needs is a variety of different energy types that match the energy requirements of the many devices in place in the world today. This energy needs to be transported to the right place and saved for the right time of day and the right time of year. There may even be a need to store this energy from year to year, because of possible droughts.

I think of the situation as being analogous to researchers deciding that it would be helpful or more efficient if humans could change their diets to 100% grass in the next 20 years. Grass is a form of energy product, but it is not the energy product that humans normally consume. It doesn’t seem to be toxic to humans in small quantities. It seems to grow quite well. Switching to the use of grass for food would seem to be beneficial from a CO2 perspective. The fact that humans have not evolved to eat grass is similar to the fact that the manufacturing and transport sectors of today’s economy have not developed around the use of intermittent electricity from wind and solar.

Substituting Grass for Food Might “Work,” but It Would Require Whole New Systems 

If we consider other species, we find that animals with four stomachs can, in fact, live quite well on a diet of grass. These animals often have teeth that grow continuously because the silica in grass tends to wear down their teeth. If we could just get around these little details, we might be able to make the change. We would probably need to grow extra stomachs and add continuously growing teeth. Other adjustments might also be needed, such as a smaller brain. This would especially be the case if a grass-only diet is inadequate to support today’s brain growth and activity.

The problem with nearly all energy analyses today is that they use narrow boundaries. They look at only a small piece of the problem–generally the cost (or “energy cost”) of the devices themselves–and assume that this is the only cost involved in a change. In fact, researchers need to recognize that whole new systems may be required, analogous to the extra stomachs and ever-growing teeth. The issue is sometimes described as the need to have “wide boundaries” in analyses.

If the xkcd analysis netted out the indirect energy costs of the system, including energy related to all of the newly required systems, the results of the analysis would likely change considerably. The combined ability of wind and solar to power both one’s own home and those of a dozen and a half neighbors would likely disappear. Way too much of the output of the renewable system would be used to make the equivalent of extra stomachs and ever-growing teeth for the system to work. The world economy might not work as in the past, either, if the equivalent of the brain needs to be smaller.

Is “Energy Used by a Dozen of Our Neighbors” a Proper Metric?

Before I continue with my analysis of what goes wrong in modeling intermittent renewable energy, let me say a few words about the way Munroe quantifies the outcome of his energy analysis. He talks about “energy consumed by a household and a dozen of its neighbors.” We often hear news items about how many households can be served by a new electricity provider or how many households have been taken offline by a storm. The metric used by Munroe is similar. But, does it tell us what we need to know in this case?

Our economy requires energy consumption by many types of users, including governments to make roads and schools, farmers to plant crops and manufacturers to make devices of all kinds. Leaving non-residential energy consumption out of the calculation doesn’t make much sense. (Actually, we are not quite certain what Munroe has included in his calculation. His wording suggests that he included only residential energy consumption.) In the US, my analysis indicates that residential users consume only about a third of total energy.1 The rest is consumed by businesses and governments.

If we want to adjust Munroe’s indications to include energy consumed by businesses and governments, we need to divide the indicated number of residential households provided with energy by about three. Thus, instead of the units being “Energy Consumed by a Dozen of Our Neighbors,” the units would be “Energy Consumed by Four of Our Neighbors, Including Associated Energy Use by Governments and Businesses.” The apparently huge benefit provided by wind and solar becomes much smaller when we divide by three, even before any other adjustments are made.

What Might the Indirect Costs of Wind and Solar Be? 

There are a number of indirect costs:

(1) Transmission costs are much higher than those of other types of electricity, but they are not charged back to wind and solar in most studies.

A 2014 study by the International Energy Agency indicates that transmission costs for wind are approximately three times the cost of transmission costs for coal or nuclear. The amount of excess costs tends to increase as intermittent renewables become a larger share of the total. Some of the reason for higher transmission costs for both wind and solar are the following:

(a) Disproportionately more lines need to be built for wind and solar because transmission lines need to be scaled to the maximum output, rather than the average output. Wind output is typically available 25% to 35% of the time; solar is typically available 10% to 25% of the time.

(b) There tend to be longer distances between where renewable energy is captured and where it is consumed, compared to traditional generation.

(c) Renewable electricity is not created in a fossil fuel power plant, with the same controls over the many aspects of grid electricity. The transmission system must therefore make corrections which would not be needed for other types of electricity.

(2) With increased long distance electricity transmission, there is a need for increased maintenance of transmission lines. If this is not performed adequately, fires are likely, especially in dry, windy areas.

There is recent evidence that inadequate maintenance of transmission lines is a major fire hazard.

In California, inadequate electricity line maintenance has led to the bankruptcy of the Northern California utility PG&E. In recent weeks, PG&E has initiated two preventative cut-offs of power, one affecting as many as two million individuals.

The Texas Wildfire Mitigation Project reports, “Power lines have caused more than 4,000 wildfires in Texas in the past three and a half years.”

Venezuela has a long distance transmission line from its major hydroelectric plant to Caracas. One of the outages experienced in that country seems to be related to fires close to this transmission line.

There are things that can be done to prevent these fires, such as burying the lines underground. Even using insulated wire, instead of ordinary transmission wire, seems to help. But any solution has a cost involved. These costs need to be recognized in modeling the indirect cost of adding a huge amount of renewables.

(3) A huge investment in charging stations will be needed, if anyone other than the very wealthy are to use electric vehicles.

Clearly, the wealthy can afford electric vehicles. They generally have garages with connections to electrical power. With this arrangement, they can easily charge a vehicle that is powered by electricity when it is convenient.

The catch is that the less wealthy often do not have similar opportunities for charging electric vehicles. They also cannot afford to spend hours waiting for their vehicles to charge. They will need inexpensive rapid-charging stations, located in many, many places, if electric vehicles are to be a suitable choice. The cost of rapid-charging will likely need to include a fee for road maintenance, since this is one of the costs that today is included in fuel prices.

(4) Intermittency adds a very substantial layer of costs. 

A common belief is that intermittency can be handled by rather small changes, such as time-of-day pricing, smart grids and cutting off power to a few selected industrial customers if there isn’t enough electricity to go around. This belief is more or less true if the system is basically a fossil fuel and nuclear system, with a small percentage of renewables. The situation changes as more intermittent renewables are added.

Once more than a small percentage of solar is added to the electric grid, batteries are needed to smooth out the rapid transition that occurs at the end of the day when workers are returning home and would like to eat their dinners, even though the sun has set. There are also problems with electricity from wind cutting off during storms; batteries can help smooth out these transitions.

There are also longer-term problems. Major storms can disrupt electricity for several days, at any time of the year. For this reason, if a system is to run on renewables alone, it would be desirable to have battery backup for at least three days. In the short video below, Bill Gates expresses dismay at the idea of trying to provide a three-day battery backup for the quantity of electricity used by the city of Tokyo.

We do not at this point have nearly enough batteries to provide a three-day battery backup for the world’s electricity supply. If the world economy is to run on renewables, electricity consumption would need to rise from today’s level, making it even more difficult to store a three-day supply.

A much more difficult problem than three-day storage of electricity is the need for seasonal storage, if renewable energy is to be used to any significant extent. Figure 1 shows the seasonal pattern of energy consumption in the United States.

Figure 1. US energy consumption by month of year, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration. “All Other” is total energy, less electricity and transportation energy. It includes natural gas used for home heating. It also includes oil products used for farming, as well as fossil fuels of all kinds used for industrial purposes.

In contrast with this pattern, the production of solar energy tends to peak in June; it falls to a low level in December to February. Hydroelectric power tends to peak in spring, but its quantity is often quite variable from year to year. Wind power is quite variable, both from year to year and month to month.

Our economy cannot handle many starts and stops of electricity supply. For example, temperatures need to stay high for melting metals. Elevators should not stop between floors when the electricity stops. Refrigeration needs to continue when fresh meat is being kept cold.

There are two approaches that can be used to work around seasonal energy problems:

  1. Greatly overbuild the renewables-based energy system, to provide enough electricity when total energy is most needed, which tends to be in winter.
  2. Add a huge amount of storage, such as battery storage, to store electricity for months or even years, to mitigate the intermittency.

Either of these approaches is extremely high cost. These costs are like adding extra stomachs to the human system. They have not been included in any model to date, as far as I know. The cost of one of these approaches needs to be included in any model analyzing the costs and benefits of renewables, if there is any intention of using renewables as more than a tiny share of total energy consumption.

Figure 2 illustrates the high energy cost that can occur by adding substantial battery backup to an electrical system. In this example, the “net energy” that the system provides is essentially eliminated by the battery backup. In this analysis, Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) compares energy output to energy input. It is one of many metrics used to estimate whether a device is providing adequate energy output to justify the front-end energy inputs.

Figure 2. Graham Palmer’s chart of Dynamic Energy Returned on Energy Invested from “Energy in Australia.”

The example in Figure 2 is based on the electricity usage pattern in Melbourne, Australia, which has a relatively mild climate. The example uses a combination of solar panels, batteries and diesel backup generation. Solar panels and backup batteries provide electricity for the 95% of annual electricity usage that is easiest to cover with these devices; diesel generation is used for the remaining 5%.

The Figure 2 example could be adjusted to be “renewable only” by adding significantly more batteries, a large number of solar panels, or some combination of these. These additional batteries and solar panels would be very lightly used, bringing the EROEI of the system down to an even lower level.

To date, a major reason that the electricity system has been able to avoid the costs of overbuilding or of adding major battery backup is the small share they represent of electricity production. In 2018, wind amounted to 5% of world electricity; solar amounted to 2%. As percentages of world energy supply, they represented 2% and 1% respectively.

A second reason that the electricity system has been able to avoid addressing the intermittency issue is because backup electricity providers (coal, natural gas, and nuclear) have been forced to provide backup services without adequate compensation for the value of services that they are providing. The way that this happens is by giving wind and solar the subsidy of “going first.” This practice creates a problem because backup providers have substantial fixed costs, and they often are not being adequately compensated for these fixed costs.

If there is any plan to cease using fossil fuels, all of these backup electricity providers, including nuclear, will disappear. (Nuclear also depends on fossil fuels.) Renewables will need to stand on their own. This is when the intermittency problem will become overwhelming. Fossil fuels can be stored relatively inexpensively; electricity storage costs are huge. They include both the cost of the storage system and the loss of energy that takes place when storage is used.

In fact, the underfunding issue associated with allowing intermittent renewables to go first is already becoming an overwhelming problem in a few places. Ohio has recently chosen to provide subsidies to coal and nuclear providers as a way of working around this issue. Ohio is also reducing funding for renewables.

 (5) The cost of recycling wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries needs to be reflected in cost estimates. 

A common assumption in energy analyses seems to be that somehow, at the end of the design lifetime of wind turbines, solar panels and batteries, all of these devices will somehow disappear at no cost. If recycling is done, the assumption is made that the cost of recycling will be less than the value of the materials made available from the recycling.

We are discovering now that recycling isn’t free. Very often, the energy cost of recycling materials is greater than the energy used in mining them fresh. This problem needs to be considered in analyzing the real cost of renewables.

 (6) Renewables don’t directly substitute for many of the devices/processes we have today. This could lead to a major step-down in how the economy operates and a much longer transition. 

There is a long list of things that renewables don’t substitute for. Today, we cannot make wind turbines, solar panels, or today’s hydroelectric dams without fossil fuels. This, by itself, makes it clear that the fossil fuel system will need to be maintained for at least the next twenty years.

There are many other things that we cannot make with renewables alone. Steel, fertilizer, cement and plastics are some examples that Bill Gates mentions in his video above. Asphalt and many of today’s drugs are other examples of goods that cannot be made with renewables alone. We would need to change how we live without these goods. We could not pave roads (except with stone) or build many of today’s buildings with renewables alone.

It seems likely that manufacturers would try to substitute wood for fossil fuels, but the quantity of wood available would be far too low for this purpose. The world would encounter deforestation issues within a few years.

(7) It is likely that the transition to renewables will take 50 or more years. During this time, wind and solar will act more like add-ons to the fossil fuel system than they will act like substitutes for it. This also increases costs.

In order for the fossil fuel industries to continue, a large share of their costs will need to continue. The people working in fossil fuel industries need to be paid year around, not just when electrical utilities need backup electrical power. Fossil fuels will need pipelines, refineries and trained people. Companies using fossil fuels will need to pay their debts related to existing facilities. If natural gas is used as backup for renewables, it will need reservoirs to hold natural gas for winter, besides pipelines. Even if natural gas usage is reduced by, say, 90%, its costs are likely to fall by a much smaller percentage, say 30%, because a large share of costs are fixed.

One reason that a very long transition will be needed is because there is not even a path to transition away from fossil fuels in many cases. If a change is to be made, inventions to facilitate these changes are a prerequisite. Then these inventions need to be tested in actual situations. Next, new factories are needed to make the new devices. It is likely that some way will be needed to pay existing owners for the loss of value of their existing fossil fuel powered devices; if not, there are likely to be huge debt defaults. It is only after all of these steps have taken place that the transition can actually take place.

These indirect costs lead to a huge question mark regarding whether it even makes sense to encourage the widespread use of wind and solar. Renewables can reduce CO2 emissions if they really substitute for fossil fuels in making electricity. If they are mostly high cost add-ons to the system, there is a real question: Does it even make sense to mandate a transition to wind and solar?

Do Wind and Solar Really Offer a Longer-Term Future than Fossil Fuels?

At the end of the xkcd video shown above, Munroe makes the observation that wind and solar are available indefinitely, but fossil fuel supplies are quite limited.

I agree with Munroe that fossil fuel supplies are quite limited. This occurs because energy prices do not rise high enough for us to extract very much of them. The prices of finished products made with fossil fuels need to be low enough for customers to be able to afford them. If this is not the case, purchases of discretionary goods (for example cars and smart phones) will fall. Since cars and smart phones are made with commodities, including fossil fuels, the lower “demand” for these finished goods will lead to falling prices of commodities, including oil. In fact, we seem to have experienced falling oil prices most of the time since 2008.

Figure 3. Inflation adjusted weekly average Brent Oil price, based on EIA oil spot prices and US CPI-urban inflation.

It is hard to see why renewables would last any longer than fossil fuels. If their unsubsidized cost is any higher than fossil fuels, this would be one strike against them. They are also very dependent on fossil fuels for making spare parts and for repairing transmission lines.

It is interesting that climate change modelers seem to be convinced that very high amounts of fossil fuels can be extracted in the future. The question of how much fossil fuels can really be extracted is another modeling issue that needs to be examined closely. The amount of future extraction seems to be highly dependent on how well the current economic system holds together, including the extent of globalization. Without globalization, fossil fuel extraction seems likely to decline quickly.

Do We Have Too Much Faith in Models? 

The idea of using renewables certainly sounds appealing, but the name is deceiving. Most renewables, except for wood and dung, aren’t very renewable. In fact, they depend on fossil fuels.

The whole issue of whether wind and solar are worthwhile needs to be carefully analyzed. The usual hallmark of an energy product that is of substantial benefit to the economy is that its production tends to be very profitable. With these high profits, governments can tax the owners heavily. Thus, the profits can be used to aid the rest of the economy. This is one of the physical manifestations of the “net energy” that the energy product provides.

If wind and solar were really providing substantial net energy, they would not need subsidies, not even the subsidy of going first. They would be casting off profits to benefit the rest of the economy. Perhaps renewables aren’t as beneficial as many people think they are. Perhaps researchers have put too much faith in distorted models.


[1] This is my estimate, based on EIA and BP data. With respect to electricity, EIA data shows that in the US, residential users consume about 38% of the total. With respect to fuels that are not used for transportation and not used for electricity, US residential users consume about 19% of these fuels. Combining these two categories, US households use about 31% of non-transportation fuels.

With respect to transportation fuels, the closest approximation we can get is by looking at petroleum use, divided between gasoline and other products. According to BP data, on a worldwide basis, 26% of petroleum is burned as gasoline. In the United States, about 46% of petroleum consumption is burned as gasoline. Of course, some of this gasoline usage is for non-residential use. For example, cars used by police and sales representatives are typically powered by gasoline, as are small trucks used by businesses.

Furthermore, the US is a major importer of manufactured goods from China and other parts of the world. The embodied energy in these imported goods never gets into US energy consumption statistics. In theory, we should add a little energy consumption by foreign manufacturers to supplement total reported US energy consumption.

The selection of “about a third” is based on these considerations.










1,605 thoughts on “How Renewable Energy Models Can Produce Misleading Indications

  1. “it is still only a matter of time before some shock triggers a new recession, possibly followed by a financial crisis, owing to the large build-up of public and private debt globally.

    “What will policymakers do when that happens?

    “…They will be under intense political pressure to prevent a full-scale depression and the onset of deflation. If anything, then, another downturn will invite even more “crazy” and unconventional policies than what we’ve seen thus far.

    “In fact, views from across the ideological spectrum are converging on the notion that a semi-permanent monetisation of larger fiscal deficits will be unavoidable – and even desirable – in the next downturn…

    “[However], fiscal and monetary loosening is not an appropriate response to a permanent supply shock. Policy easing in response to the oil shocks of the 1970s resulted in double-digit inflation and a sharp, risky increase in public debt. Moreover, if a downturn renders some corporations, banks, or sovereign entities insolvent – not just illiquid – it makes no sense to keep them alive. In these cases, a bail-in of creditors (debt restructuring and write-offs) is more appropriate than a “zombifying” bailout.

    “In short, a semi-permanent monetisation of fiscal deficits in the event of another downturn may or may not be the appropriate policy response. It all depends on the nature of the shock. But, because policymakers will be pressured to do something, “crazy” policy responses will become a foregone conclusion. The question is whether they will do more harm than good…”

    • “…central bankers have already shown signs that they are willing to get creative to force interest rates lower which, if successful, will exacerbate the dilemma that long-term investors face: accept lower returns or seek out higher yields in riskier assets?

      “A danger here is that investors attempt to maintain their portfolio’s yield by taking on a greater amount risk… This is at odds with what investors should generally do amid a deteriorating global economy.”

      • “…the tide of angst about the unintended consequences is rising… Concerns have focused on the pain negative rates might be inflicting on the banking system… Yet the real damage is surfacing in another corner of the financial system.

        “The pension industry is caught in a tightening vice of lengthening life expectancies and falling expectations for investment returns. It is this pension predicament that may also explain why sub-zero interest rates are not having the stimulative effect central bankers intended.

        “Bonds are the bedrock upon which large parts of the global pension system is built. Although the rally in bonds and stocks since the financial crisis has lifted the value of pension funds’ holdings, what they really care about is generating the returns to match their future liabilities. With bond yields beaten down and equity markets having rallied for years, the ability to harvest those returns looks grim.”

      • Dear Gail

        Please allow me again to disagree. We do not need creative solutions, because that is how we became trapped in this narrow passage. We need old solutions, tried and tested: sound money, honest banking, self denial, and thrift. That worked for the Most Serene Republic, and it would still work, if enough of us had the courage to try it.

      • “We really do need some creative solutions.”

        We know where some of the creative solutions will come from. Nanotech, AI, and biotech possibly fusion are near the top of the list. There is also a chance that serious life extension will come along. Nanotech and AI are what it takes for a Vinge type singularity. Kurtzweil thinks that’s going to happen by around 2045.

        Is he right? No way to be sure, but he has the trend line graphs and a track record making him hard to ignore.

        Will civilization hold together long enough?

        Again, no way to be certain, but it seems possible, especially if you include the Chinese.

  2. Revenge of the Power Grid
    The number one cause of collapse will be power grid failure. To understand why we face inevitable collapse, you need to know where we are, where we are going, and how we got here. Vaclav Smil has said that nation wide electrical grid upgrades will take trillions of dollars and decades to make themselves ready for intermittent renewable energy. We don’t have trillions of dollars and decades to effectually do this, because emissions must go down 50% in 10 years.
    How Baby Boomers Broke America – May 17 2018
    – Although the U.S. remains the world’s richest country, it has the third-highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), behind only Turkey and Israel. Nearly 1 in 5 American children lives in a household that the government classifies as “food insecure,” meaning they are without “access to enough food for active, healthy living.”
    – America’s airports are an embarrassment, and a modern air-traffic control system is more than 25 years behind its original schedule. The power grid, roads and rails are crumbling, pushing the U.S. far down international rankings for infrastructure quality. 
    – Among the 35 OECD countries, American children rank 30th in math proficiency and 19th in science.
    The “New Energy Economy”: An Exercise in Magical Thinking – March 25 2019
    – After 30 years of trying, wind, solar, and batteries, provide about 2% of the world’s energy and 3% of America’s. Emissions went up 60% during that time.
    Why Renewables Can’t Save the Planet – Feb 27 2019
    – We are slowly building energy systems for a grid that can’t handle it.
    – France shows that moving from mostly nuclear electricity to a mix of nuclear and renewables results in more carbon emissions, due to using more natural gas, and higher electricty prices, to the unreliability of solar and wind. Costs more does less.
    – Oil and gas investors know this, which is why they made a political alliance with renewables companies, and why oil and gas companies have been spending millions of dollars on advertisements promoting solar, and funneling millions of dollars to said environmental groups to provide public relations cover.
    Dilapidated World Power Grids Can’t Handle The Current Climate, Never Mind Renewables
    U.S. Electrical Grid on the Edge of Failure – Scientific American Aug 26 2013
    – Facebook can lose a few users and remain a perfectly stable network, but where the national grid is concerned simple geography dictates that it is always just a few transmission lines from collapse.
    The extreme vulnerability of power grids –  Nature Physics Aug 25 2013
    America’s infrastructure is decaying – Business Insider Feb 5 2019
    – Power interruptions could become more common if more attention isn’t given to the US energy system, according to this report. 
    – The majority of the transmission and distribution lines were built in the mid-20th century and have a life expectancy of about 50 years, meaning that they are already outdated. 
    America’s Electrical Grid Is Falling Apart – Sept 1 2017
    – America’s electrical grid is a product of the 1930s, hardly viable for delivery of 21st Century energy.
    The Challenges and Requirements for a New Power Grid – June 2016
    – As the United States economy and society have become more reliant on the uninterrupted flow of electricity, the power grid upon which it depends for that supply has experienced deteriorating reliability. The grid loses power 285% more often today than in 1984.
    List of major world power outages – Wikipedia
    Revenge of the Power Grid – June 15 2019
    – Climate change amplifies the frequency of heat waves, which increases electrical load, which puts greater pressure on infrastructure. At the same time, it increases the likelihood of superstorms that can cause flooding, fire, and other disasters that might disrupt nodes in the network. When utility operators designed their equipment years or decades ago, they made assumptions about load, storm surge, and other factors. Those estimates might no longer apply. Worse, planning and implementing updates to those systems is often stymied by paltry funding, strained political will, or other accidents. 
    South America blackout: Power grid failure leaves 40 million in dark – June 16 2019
    – Argentina’s power grid is generally known for being in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years. An independent energy expert said that systemic operational and design errors played a role in the power grid’s collapse.
    Why It’s So Hard to Restart Venezuela’s Power Grid – May 12 2019
    – Re-energizing a dead grid, a process known as a black start, is challenging under any circumstances —a problem exacerbated by aging infrastructure.
    What would happen in an apocalyptic blackout? – Oct 24 2019
    – In June this year, almost all of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay were hit by a power outage that left nearly 40 million people without electricity. In August, almost a million people in the UK were left without power, These events, however, are minor in comparison to the kind of power outages that experts fear could be in store in the future. Growing demand on our electricity supplies from rising populations and new technologies like electric cars will face increasing instability as we shift to more renewable, but intermittent energy sources like wind and solar power. 
    Blackouts: a sociology of electrical power failure – 
    – Electricity fuels our existence. It powers water purification, waste, food, transportation and communication systems. Modern social life is impossible to imagine without it. Power generation systems are identified as critical infrastructures. They are more fragile than is commonly supposed, and the argument is made that they are getting frailer.
    My father in-law is 85 yo, he grew up when power grids were new, and built for a purpose they can’t serve today, let alone tomorrow. About 10 years ago, I told him I want to get a generator for my deep woods home, he laughed at my foolishness, and balked at the expense. Since then, that generator has proved itself a life-line for me. He grew up in a time where prolonged power outages were unheard of. Don’t be fooled by his age, many people in their 40s can’t imagine it either.
    Time spent researching this post = 1 hour
    Electrical costs for this post = maybe 2 cents, value of this post = priceless.

    • “The number one cause of collapse will be power grid failure.”

      You may very well be correct. And California will lead the way in the US!

      Also, when all electricity is long distance and there is no charge for long-distance distance, what motivation do local areas have for adding more production (other than subsidies)?

      How do we get the economy to pay for the huge cost of this upgraded grid? Doesn’t the high cost collapse the rest of the system?

    • When I look at the US EIA data for state carbon dioxide: 1990 total; 5054 Million metric tons of carbon dioxide, 2017; 5166. Please explain 60% increase cited(only 28 years but …), I was unable to find it in your ref.
      summary spreadsheet

      I really do not like the metric as land usage calculation is … interesting.

      The US due to size and government factors things are different in different places(part of my problem with PG&E and CA Regulators). As I generally, motorcycle camping, lap the US for months each summer (avoiding cities and CA mostly) differences in locales is rather obvious. normally 10-20k miles.

      I look out the window and see brand new power poles and power lines that were recently installed, replacing old stuff. (Then again go 2 or 3 counties over and they are not as good.)

      Not to mention all the rebuilding of the local interstates, roads and such. Which has been on ongoing thing since the 70’s at least.


      • BP numbers for US total CO2 generation are similar to yours. They tend to run a little lower:

        1990 BP 4946.6 EIA 5054
        2017 BP 5014.4 EIA 5166

        I am not sure what you are asking me to explain. I haven’t been talking much about CO2 emission numbers. I have mostly been using numbers ending in 2018, not in 2017.

        Countries decided to outsource a lot of their heavy manufacturing to China, India, and some other countries about 1990. This helped emissions growth rates look much better for Europe, US, and other countries doing the outsourcing. This allowed the countries to look good in emissions calculations, which are on a country by country basis. For the world, it wasn’t helpful at all.

        According to BP, China’s emissions increased as follows between 1990 and 2018

        China CO2
        1990 2311.5
        2018 9428.7
        % Increase = 308%

        World CO2
        1990 21,290.1
        2017 33,242.5
        2018 33,890.8
        1990 to 2017 % increase = 56%
        1990 to 2018 % increase = 59%

        I don’t know where the 70% came from. Perhaps a different base year?

        • Not your comment Gail. I mostly agree with both this one and the previous one. Especially the outsourcing of manufacturing.

          I was questioning this statement.

          lokisrevengeblog says:
          “– After 30 years of trying, wind, solar, and batteries, provide about 2% of the world’s energy and 3% of America’s. Emissions went up 60% during that time.”

          Though the 59% from 1990 to 2018 explains it in your follow up. Thank you. I parsed it wrong. Oops! 🙁

          Thank you again,

      • Thanks for the llink and numbers. I looked for the reference too, couldn’t find it, It came from a Kevin Anderson YT video a while back, Will be looking again.

    • Agreed. Electricity was last to develop and will be first to decline. California is an excellent example the rural periphery will experience ever greater and more frequent blackouts because the cost of maintenance for the few customers will be prohibitive. There may be some efforts by locals to maintain and repair their own powerlines but many will need to move closer to population centers because transportation will become prohibitively expensive. How will this effect house values?

      After the power is gone there will still be oil and gas for a little while. But will there be food?

      Seems Olduvai Theory is pretty close to correct.

      • I spent a little time this morning writing to Bloomberg about the electricity transmission issue. A day or two ago, I wrote a letter to Bloomberg complaining about a report they published claiming that intermittent sources had reached grid parity, when this analysis did not consider the higher transmission costs for renewables. When they wrote back (saying that of course they are right), I gave them details regarding the need for more transmission for renewables, and the fact that this transmission causes fires.

        We will see if this prompts them to do a little more investigation.

        • It against their best interests. They need believers to keep the market growing. Solar and wind are dead out of the gate but they are a tradable commodity. They have no real world value but they have large economic value. Bloomberg has a cognitive bias that profit equals value. If there’s profit they’d eat next years seed. Like student loans.

      • I think Olduvai theory missed all of the coal production from China after it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. That kept world energy consumption per capita up far longer than forecasters had expected.

  3. After 20 years of trying, offshore wind turbines provide 0.3% of world energy, but are they worth it? The closer we get to collapse, the more outlandishly ridiculous headlines will get. This claim is made by the same guy warning us about peak oil by 2011, back in 2007.
    – Offshore wind turbines wear out nearly twice as fast as onshore wind turbines. They only last 12 – 15 years compared to 25 years on land. This is because wind turbine blades actually move much faster (80 km/hr) than they appear to, and offshore ones are pelted by micro-particles, sleet and rain at high speeds. These particles puncture the petrochemical blades with ever growing holes, and their petrochemical finish flakes off into the sea for the little fishies to eat.
    – All wind turbines generally produce 90% of the stated power rating only 25% of the time. When you compare how much energy they actually produce compared to their power rating, you find that in their first year of operation, offshore wind turbines produce 25% of their rated power, and in just 15 years, they produce 11% of their rated power. To close a 400 megawatt fossil plant requires 4,000 megawatts of solar/wind power. A 10:1 ratio.
    – Not only do the blades literally dissolve into the sea, but the stress factors on newer larger turbines is debilitatingly enormous. They break down faster and more often. Renewable energy takes 1,000 X more space per watt than conventional energy. Offshore wind turbines use 1,000 X more copper than onshore turbines.

    • I looked and was having a hard time finding anything newer specifically relating to the life expectancies of offshore turbines.

      I did find the latest US government report on US wind turbines. These are pretty much 100% onshore turbines. One thing it says is,

      A new trend is that of partial wind project repowering, in which major components of turbines are replaced in order to access favorable tax incentives, increase energy production with more-advanced turbine technology, and extend project life. . . Upgrades and refurbishments often lead to increased rotor diameters and the replacement of major nacelle components, with fewer changes to tower heights and nameplate capacity.

      I think that part of the problem with updated reports on life expectancies of wind turbines (whether onshore or offshore) is that while we think about a wind turbine having a specific life expectancy, these wind turbines are really the collection of a lot of parts, each with a different life expectancy. Some parts are less expensive and are replaced frequently. Some parts are replaced (and sometimes upgraded) at longer intervals. So, after a point, we don’t have our original wind turbine; we have one with a lot of new parts and new favorable tax credits. Thus, a single “life expectancy” isn’t wind turbines work any more. Maybe what we want to know is how long until the next tax credit is triggered.

      If business as usual stops, even being unable to replace the frequently replaced small parts will be a problem. Thus, the life expectancy of wind turbines after the economic system fails is quite short. It is not much different than for any other kind of energy production.

    • In the 2018 Wind Technologies Market Report I referenced previously, I found this chart regarding the operation of US wind turbines by number of years after beginning commercial operation. These turbines are on shore turbines. There is a clear drop off after 10 years, which is the point when the Production Tax Credit ends.

      Perhaps owners are less diligent about maintenance after that date. Of course, this doesn’t say anything about Offshore Wind Turbines.

      • “Perhaps owners are less diligent about maintenance after that date. Of course, this doesn’t say anything about Offshore Wind Turbines.”

        Currently there is only one commercial offshore wind farm in the US.

        Block Island and in Dec it will be 3 years old. I believe it took the Investment Tax Credit not the Production Tax Credit. So it will be informative. At 24.4¢/kW·h with 3.5% annual inflation adjustment would seem to make maintenance a priority.

        2018 was much better than 2017. Though still not up to what was promised. Pretty close to many of the plains numbers from the report. For what little it is worth.

        My spreadsheet on it. I update it monthly(around when EIA monthly data comes out), mostly. Hopefully my math is right.


        • “At 24.4¢/kW·h ”

          Wow. On land, wind power is down around 4 cents per kWh. PV is one spot in the Mideast is a bit under 1.7 cents per kWh.

  4. “They’ve been keeping the U.S. economy afloat for over 12 months, according to analysts. However, the U.S. consumer may not be able to maintain the burden much longer.

    “Non-housing debt in the U.S. has experienced 20 consecutive quarters of increase, and is at the same level as its last peak, in the third quarter of 2008. For most analysts, the consumer slowdown is simply a matter of time. “

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  6. Hello. I have a naive question I wish to submit :

    We assume (consider, believe, think, understand) that money is a token for net energy, or that money is a promise for a future good or service (as energy is what it takes to transform natural resources in goods or services), whether it is bread I intend to buy tomorrow or a car I intend to buy in a couple of years.

    So, in this assumption, doesn’t it make sense that we have now negative interest rates, for tomorrow there will be less net energy available ?

    • if tomorrow means the coming decades–10 20 years then yes there will be a lot less net energy available because we can only obtain raw energy by utilising energy, —drill rigs, mines and so on.

      We have to spend money drilling, mining. Money is an energy token, so the more we have to spend getting hold of it, the less there is available to use on other things—our ‘life luxuries’.

      The down slope is relentless.

      Eventually we must reach the point where there is effectively no spare energy at all to support of expected lifestyle.

      It won’t be a ‘sudden end’ rather a situation where living gets harder and harder, while the denial of the inevitable gets more and more volatile.

      Effectively that is what we are seeing right now. Oilwars in the middle east, or homeless on the streets is effectively the same thing—a shortage of cheap surplus energy.
      The superwealthy are grabbing what they can while they still can, under the delusion that cash can be substituted for energy

      Their ‘expected lifestyle’ will crash just like anybody else’s.

      • I would say that, if we expect to have less net (surplus) energy in the future, we have to destroy money. I see 3 ways to do so, increasingly more “efficient” :

        . First way, slowly, and in a few quantity : negative interest rates. It’s soft, almost unseen, rather discrete.
        . Second way, faster and more massively : asset bubble explosions : stocks, real estate, …
        . Third way : debt cancelations : this would be, I guess, the final abdication, leaving no more denial.

        • as energy depletes, money will destroy itself because governments will keep printing it as a form of denial

          eg Zimbabwe was a net energy producer

          then stupid politicians destroyed that source of energy production, (farms) as a consequence the value of the $zim evaporated.

          They kept printing money blindly, in the belief that it had value and would buy stuff

          a failure to understand energy economics

          • Norman, the dudes who ran the farms were white and the dudes who destroyed the farms were black, which in progressive circles makes your comment race-ist!!

            Fortunately, we are a bunch of fossils on this site so we get your drift and we won’t be calling for your deplatforming just yet. 🙂

            • Tim, I am forced by reality to state that white guys are different (on average) from black guys. The white guys (and the Chinese even more) have been selected for business traits as Gregory Clark worked out. This says nothing about a particular person, but groups who have been subjected to brutal selection are different from other groups.

              It’s like the tame Russian foxes. Nobody thinks they are the same as wild foxes.

    • I think so, especially in the countries with negative interest rates: most of Europe, Japan and maybe a few others. Interest rates are still positive in the US.

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  8. A TEN YEAR PLAN….Now that’s what I’m talking about! These guys just don’t when to STOP!
    And I was worried about my retirement…Those with little FAITH…Silly me…So Sorry…
    Conoco Ramps Up Cash to Be Antithesis of Shale Sector
    (Bloomberg) — ConocoPhillips posted higher-than-expected third-quarter earnings as the world’s largest independent oil producer generated almost $1 billion of free cash flow despite lower crude prices.
    The Houston-based company followed BP Plc on Tuesday in surpassing analysts’ projections, partly due to its U.S. shale production, which rose 21 percent from a year earlier.
    Chief Executive Officer Ryan Lance is preparing to unveil a 10-year strategic plan to investors next month. Conoco, which was forced into a painful dividend cut during the 2014-2016 oil price crash, is trying to position itself as a steady cash generator, the antithesis of the struggling U.S. shale industry, by focusing on returns to investors over production growth.
    “This quarter extends our successful track record of performance since we reset our value proposition in 2016,” Lance said in a statement.
    Profit excluding one-time items was 82 cents a share, higher than all of the analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg, its eighth earnings beat in nine quarters. That shows the company can keep generating “robust” free cash flow, analysts at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. said in a note.
    Conoco gets a high proportion of its oil from assets in Alaska, Asia and the Middle East that have production that’s declining relatively slowly. But it’s also focused on growing its shale output, especially in the Eagle Ford and Permian Basin, albeit at a slower pace that pure-play rivals. Unconventional production rose 21 percent to 379,000 barrels a day compared with a year earlier

    The funny thing is I think they will pull it off!…there will be a host of collateral and friendly damage of SHTole countries and so called “allies”, but this is Business….there is Ethics and there is Business Ethics.

  9. Perhaps for the first time there seems to be significant sale on (serious) electric car ever.
    VW’s electric Golf is now EUR6.5k off, so now it goes for ~25.5k, because there will be no further e-Golfs on the incoming Golf 8gen (2020) platform as VW is pushing new separate family-dedicated platform for EVs called “ID”. That makes this Golf a bargain vs. Tesla (yes different league: 2-3x the price and performance or others VW/Audi upscale, Daimler, Jag, ..) but also its more direct rivals vs. Hyundai/Kia or lesser quality-specs Nissan-Renault offerings..

    It’s not much OFW/Surplus dynamic related, they are likely just trying to get rid off older parts in warehouses. Or perhaps it is related afteral, because up to this point all things EV were (pre)selling like hotcakes, long waiting lists etc.. So a clear out sale for some reason..

      • Unfortunately, my lengthy detail answer got deleted..

        I guess it’s more related to large fleet customer abruptly canceling order.
        Another possibility is that VW Group must move some vehicles in order to satisfy gov emission mandate etc.

        Anyway, it’s a very good deal for this price today.
        People waiting for other mid segment EVs will have to wait beyond 2020s and pay north of ~35k, or even way more for Teslas and other “luxurious” brands..

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