Friday, November 21, 2008

Scenarios on a Page - Draft PDFs

Here is the first cut of the updated summarise in PDF format. Any feedback or further ideas for headlines always welcome.

Business as Usual - the four miracles required
Enlightened Transition - a graceful transition to sustainable energy
Fair Shares - a slow and chaotic transition
Enforced Localisation - economic collapse

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Energy Return on Investment vs. Price

In response to the statement "As the oil price increases, the tar sands and oil shales will become commercially viable", I heard myself say firmly "It's not the price of oil that is the issue but energy return on investment" a little voice inside was saying "but......."

The Energy Return on Investment (EROI) argument goes "it's the energy you have to put in, in order to get energy out that is important". Natural gas is used to heat the oil shales, thus melting the small amount of bitumen they contain which can then be extracted. So you are effectively converting Natural Gas into oil, with a return on investment of about 5-10% in energy terms.

That argument holds good if the energy being used to produce the new source of energy has an equivalent price. (Or if one type of energy production gets tax benefits.)

A nuclear power station requires ongoing amounts of uranium (180 tonnes/pa per GigaWatt) and mining and processing uranium takes a substantial amount of energy. Depending on how much of the mining, processing, enrichment and work to decommission open cast mines is included. EROI is between 1.86 and 60. There have even been claims that nuclear has a negative EROI. Suppose you believe in the negative number but the uranium is produced in a country that also has cheap, low grade coal. This country sells the enriched uranium to another country with high electricity prices for their nuclear power plant. You can therefore have a negative EROI but a positive commercial return for both the uranium producer and the power plant operator.

So next time I answer in their, I shall instead start with the more careful "Well it's not as simple as that...".

New IEA Forecast - And changes since 2004

The World Energy Outlook 2008 was launched last week and is going to be presented in Dublin by Fatih Birol today. There have been some interesting changes since 2004:
(data in million barrels a day)

2004: Total oil, including new discoveries about 120mbd by 2030
2008: Total oil AND natural gas liquids, which weren't included before, just over 100mbd by 2030, oil less than 80
That is a drop in estimates of a third for oil!

New discoveries still at approx 20mbd by 2030 and that is conventional crude oil, not tar sands or oil shales. Given that world discovery levels have been falling since 1965, this seems optimistic.

What hasn't changed, and what leaps out at me, given the credit crunch, the current drop in oil price and the lack of development taking place in the oil industry, is the sharp drop in current production that starts about now. Regardless of when peak oil occurs based on oil left in the ground, peak production is happening now without significant investment in undeveloped fields. According to the 2008 graph, these newly developed fields need to be providing about 5mbd by 2010 and 15 by 2015. That is just to maintain output of crude at current levels for the next decade.

More details here

Monday, November 17, 2008