Energy and Mankind part 3

If you look back at the history of Energy and Mankind,  in 1950, nuclear power was the energy source of the future. The only power source that could not just rival FF but was superior to it. The future has not yet arrived and we need to hope that it has not been cancelled altogether.

My essay on Energy and Mankind grew to over 5000 words. In this the third and final part I look into:

  • The concept of energy slaves
  • Past energy transitions
  • No such thing as a free lunch in the energy world

Part 1 of the essay is here.
Part 2 of the essay is here.

Energy Slaves

Early in the development of human society, Man discovered that if “he” could harness the work of others “he” could live in greater comfort than living by the sweat of his own brow. Slavery has been an endemic part of human society for thousands of years, as rife today as at any time in the past. The trouble with slaves is they need to be fed and cared for and over the centuries Man subsequently learned to use draft animals to work fields, to haul timber or carriages and to use early machines to harness the natural energy flows of wind and water. A man with a horse and plough could, theoretically, do the work of 21 men (Figure 8) and this laid the foundation of harnessing energy to create a food surplus in society. It was no longer necessary for everyone to work at tending fields or gathering fire wood creating time for individuals to engage in other activities: the soldier, the merchant, the teacher  the scholar and so forth. Throughout the second millenium AD wood still provided most of the energy used by Man for heat and for cooking and material for construction of buildings and ships (Figure 9). But trouble was brewing. Mankind’s success and mastery over his environment was leading to ever-greater numbers of Men (and women) putting pressure on the supplies of trees upon which prosperity was based. Continue reading

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Blowout week 29

Wind power is very much in the news again from flaming turbines to loss making wind investments. I kick off with the half yearly report from Prof Bruno Burger at the Frauhhofer Institue. Germany’s electricity exports are growing, a clear sign that they cannot consume all they produce. What will happen if this is replicated throughout Europe?


The electricity exports increased in 2014. In the first half of the record year 2013, the export surplus to the neighboring European countries was 14.4 TWh. During the same period in 2014 already approx. 18 TWh were reached. If this trend continues until the end of the year, Germany will achieve a third record in a row in electricity exports. The bulk of the exports are sent to the Netherlands, followed by Austria, Switzerland and Poland. Some of these countries transmit the electricity directly to third party countries. For example, the Netherlands acts as a transit country for Belgium and the UK, Switzerland transmits electricity mainly to Italy.

Hat tip A. C. Osborne; sizeable pdf. The EM news gathering staff are on unpaid leave, but there is still an eclectic mix of 18 links + below the fold. Continue reading

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Energy and Mankind part 2

In this second part of my essay on Energy and Mankind I look into:

  • The origins of usable energy on Earth
  • Energy stores and energy flows in relation to human behaviour
  • Energy quality

Part 1 of the essay is here.

Origins of Usable Energy on Earth

All to often it is erroneously assumed that all of the energy on Earth is derived from the Sun. In fact, a significant portion is derived from the supernova precursor to our solar system. All of the heavy elements on Earth, including uranium and thorium, were created in that supernova which is, therefore, the parent of all nuclear power. Natural radioactivity, mainly from the decay of uranium and potassium isotopes, also gives rise to the heat within the Earth, the source of geothermal energy. This heat engine also drives plate  tectonics, without which we would have no mountains or hydroelectric power.

Figure 4 The Sun and the supernova precursor to our solar system combined provide most if not all the energy available on Earth that is used by Mankind and other animals and plants.

Continue reading

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Energy and Mankind part 1

Much of the energy debate at present is based around the risks associated with energy procurement systems; emissions from burning fossil fuels (FF) and radiation hazards linked to nuclear power. New renewables (wind, solar and wave power) are presented as a risk free alternative to FF and nuclear. However, what is systematically overlooked by renewables advocates are the risks associated for individuals or for society not having access to affordable energy when it is needed.

FF and  to a lesser extent nuclear power created the developed world that most of us live in; they created society’s surpluses we know as savings, pensions and wealth; they created prosperity beyond the wildest dreams of 19th Century citizens; they have created health, longevity, security, well-being and comfort for billions. It is true that this road to fabulous prosperity has come with costs mainly linked to population growth and environmental degradation that should not be ignored. And FF also provide the energy to conduct modern warfare. But for today’s political classes to turn their backs on the primary source of succour for the Human Race is a hazardous course to set. This is not yet self evident or understood since, contrary to all the hype and propaganda, the world still runs on FF.

Figure 1 Humans harnessing fire set us apart from all other species and on the energy course we still find ourselves on today. Fire provided heat and light, security from wild animals, a means to cook meat, enhancing calorie intake, and a means to manufacture tools and weapons. These early humans had calculated that the risk of burning a hand was outweighed by the aforementioned benefits of having fire. Wood is a solar energy store that can be burned when we identify the need of its benefits. Continue reading

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Renewable Energy Growth in Perspective

Guest post: Roger Andrews

Renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, continues to set records for electicity generation and installed capacity in many parts of the world, and as shown in Figure 1 wind and solar growth in recent years has indeed been quite spectacular (the data used to construct this and following Figures are from the 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy):

Figure 1: Electricity Generated from Solar and Wind, 1965-2013

Continue reading

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Blowout week 28

For readers who may have forgotten that my energy roots are in peak oil and pending energy scarcity, I kick off this week’s Blowout with a story that Russia sees a near term decline in oil production and exports. That is followed by a story of on-going woes in UK oil production that is now laced with politics surrounding our independence referendum and a story about Total’s frustration at not being able to find a giant oil field.

There are a lot of other interesting stories this week, notably that climate might just be subject to natural cyclic variation. And a theme for this week on Energy Matters will be the relative importance of fossil fuels and new renewables in the World’s energy mix.

Russia is worlds second largest oil producer and a major exporter to Europe: Russian oil production expected to drop

An anticipated drop in oil production by 2016 is expected to hurt the Russian economy, the Russian Finance Ministry said Monday.
The ministry said Monday it expects a $4.5 billion decline in oil export revenue because of an anticipated 6.3 percent drop in oil production from 2014 figures.

Continue reading

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Brazil – Samba Energy

  • In Brazil (2013), 29% of all energy consumed and 69% of electricity consumed came from hydroelectric power. Biofuel and other renewables contributed a further 10% to renewable energy consumption bringing the renewables total to 39% making Brazil one of the world leaders in renewable energy.
  • Since 1965, energy consumption has always run slightly ahead of energy production making Brazil a net importer of energy – oil, gas and coal. The aspiration to become an oil exporting nation suffered a set back in 2012 and 2013 with oil production falling and consumption rising. Energy independence still seems a way off.
  • Brazil’s energy consumption has proceeded in lock step with indigenous energy production which together have provided the engine for economic and population growth. Herein lies a risk to the economy. Should Brazil fail to grow energy production in future the economy may either stagnate or the country will have to import more energy placing trade balance and currency at risk.

[The post is written in a style where the Figure captions are an integral part of the text. Data sources are detailed at the end of the post. I intended to have this post on Brazil written in time for the start of the World Cup. Better late than never. ]

Figure 1 Brazil is a significant oil producer with 2.1 million barrels per day (mbpd) in 2013, but for such a large country with vast offshore areas this is not an unduly large amount. It is one of the few countries in the world where liquid biofuel production is significant and stood at 317,000 bpd in 2013. In 2006, the discovery of vast oil resources in the sub-salt strata of the Santos Basin generated huge excitement. But ultra deep water and sub-salt setting has created enormous technical challenges that translate to high costs and the new play has yet to deliver to expectations. Continue reading

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Blowout week 27

UK energy news this week was dominated by the publication by DECC of the last strand of their energy policy. The document and its attachments struck me as preposterous (see first link below). Does anyone believe that £2 per household will buy 53 GW of back up generating capacity? Does anyone believe that the UK has superior energy security to Canada? I did a bit of digging to find out who lies behind this drivel emanating from DECC:

Edward Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, first class BA degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford.

Michael Fallon, Minister of State for Energy, MA in classics and ancient history from St Andrews.

Baroness Verma, Junior Minister at DECC, attended school and university. A successful business woman she “started her first business at the age of 19 in high fashion, supplying high street multiples”.

Cameron needs to get a grip and replace this trio with individuals appropriately qualified for the job. He could start with an engineer.

Canada in trouble as UK takes top security spot: Britain’s energy security strategy now fully in place

Ed Davey said: Britain is a world leader in energy security – leading in the EU and ahead of every other G7 country. Today’s announcement – coupled with our record amounts of investment in renewables and electricity infrastructure, our revival plans for the North Sea and the most healthy pipeline of investment projects in new generating capacity and interconnectors ever – means we will remain a world leader.

Continue reading

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Do We Have Enough Uranium To “Go Nuclear”?

Guest post by Roger Andrews:

Lulled by the power of e=mc2 I had always assumed that the world had enough uranium to support almost any level of nuclear power expansion. I mean, when one miserly kilogram of U generates 37 MWh of electricity, resources must be effectively inexhaustible, right?

Recently it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to confirm that this is in fact the case, so I ran some numbers – and found to my surprise that in fact it may not be the case. Sure, we have enough uranium to last for many decades at modest rates of growth and every prospect of finding more. But what if the world suddenly decided to decarbonize global electricity generation by expanding nuclear, which may indeed be the only way of doing it within the time-frames specified by the present generation of emissions reduction plans? Do we have enough uranium to support the massive increase in demand this would entail?

Continue reading

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Bill Gates on the High Cost of Being Poor

Guest post by Andrew McKillop

Energy Energy Energy

Bill Gates has rotated and swiveled 180-degrees from his former self-righteous stance on the Global Warming issue, or “threat”, and the instant no brainer elite solution of using a lot less energy. Fossil of course. Now he says poor countries must use more energy but we could take the “US paradigm”. The US is a very long way from being an oil exporter and is still a long way from being a natural gas exporter – but is a large and growing coal exporter. The US exports energy! Exporting coal along with Windows (whose constant “upgrades” are always more difficult to beat into usable shape) makes economic sense. This coal is cheap energy – very cheap energy.

Gates says he has discovered that energy is the Big Thing but if he wants to know about the role of coal in economic development, all he has to do is try China. Now the world’s biggest industrial nation it also chokes on the urban smog produced by it burning 3 billion tons of coal a year – one half of the world’s total consumption of coal. Coal was 100% essential to China’s economic takeoff.

Electricity generation in China is dominated by conventional thermal and that is dominated by coal.  But with the opening of the Three Gorges Dam power scheme, hydroelectric power has grown to a very significant 17% of the total.
Continue reading

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Oil Exports from the Middle East and the Price of Oil

Oil exports from the Middle East Gulf States amounted to 19.6 million barrels per day in 2013 [BP] equivalent to 22.6% of total global oil production and 43% of OECD oil consumption. The importance of the region to the well being of the global economy cannot be overstated. It is therefore pertinent to ask what risk ISIS presents to the stability of the region and its oil supplies. History has some clues.

The response of the oil price to “the crisis” has so far been muted. That is because, so far, oil supplies have not been put at risk. In fact, the pending independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and the opening of new export routes via Turkey has in the interim enhanced oil supplies from the region.

What happens next is of course difficult to predict. Three scenarios are envisaged that may lead to a disruption of oil supplies but only unrest in Saudi Arabia is seen as a risk to oil prices. A fourth scenario is that the ISIS advance peters out and Iraq returns to being the home of chronic sectarian and tribal violence that has little impact on oil exports from the north and south of the country.

Figure 1 Oil exports from the Gulf states in 2013. While most of the exported oil is loaded onto tankers that must then pass through the vulnerable Straits of Hormuz there are alternative export routes marked by arrows and grey numbers. Iraq has for many years had an export route through Turkey for oil from the Kirkuk Field and this is now joined by a second pipeline from Kurdistan. Saudi Arabia has a 5 mbpd export route that crosses the country to the Red Sea and the UAE have recently built a pipeline to the Gulf of Oman. In the unlikely event that Hormuz becomes unpassable, there are therefore options totalling 8.5 million bpd available. There are other pipelines that are all currently out of action. Continue reading

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The balancing capacity issue: A ticking time-bomb under the UK’s Energiewende

Since 2006 I have claimed that the perfect dispatchable unit for balancing purposes has not yet been invented. P-F Bach [0]

Guest post by Hugh Sharman, extended bio at the end of this post.

1.    Thumbnail summary

The UK Government’s ambitious renewable electricity targets are likely to be met. Unfortunately, the effort and financial subsidies that have done so much to cause huge quantities of wind power to be built has not been matched by the serious effort nor finance needed to deliver commensurate quantities of balancing power to keep the electricity system stable and the “lights on” for when the wind does not blow.

The 30 GW of combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) that were listed by DECC as operational as of May 2013[1], even generating plant that was delivered as recently as 2010, are proving unequal to the task of balancing wind power because this task requires greater flexibility, faster start-up and stopping times and relative robustness to frequent starts and stops. These attributes are physically beyond their capability.

The case of Ireland, where wind penetration reached 18% in 2013 and where CCGTs also deliver nearly all the balancing power, demonstrates that these are performing badly, having a fleet efficiency of roughly 40%, compared with its name-plate rating of or over 55% and which in any case suffers accelerated heat rate deterioration when units are ramped up & down. This low and deteriorating fleet efficiency is accompanied by abnormally high rates of wear and tear[2]. The case of Irish CCGTs is a sort of “canary in the coalmine” warning of things to come in UK.

The complete absence of suitable generating plant that is needed to deliver stable balancing power to the stochastically operating renewables will extend the electricity supply crisis by another decade, at the least and cost many £billions of further investment that are not presently recognised by the UK’s policy makers. During the six years remaining before 2020, the quality of supply will worsen. The fact that no proper financial provision has been made for balancing so much stochastically available electricity will also drive up the price of power to the general public. Continue reading

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Blowout week 26

This week’s blowout is top heavy on stories from Iraq. For those not familiar with why this is so important, I hope to have an article on oil exports from The Gulf later in the week. My fried Luis, writing At The Edge of Time, has a crop of stories and his own commentary on Iraq. Rather than reproduce all that here, interested readers can go over to The Edge of Time to see what Luis Has to say: “Iraq is finished”

“Iraq is finished,” he said. “Maliki is nothing. Baghdad is finished. Now there will only be a Shiite-stan, Sunni-stan and Kurdistan.” Peshmerga officer to Mitchell Prothero of McClatchyDC.

And James Howard Kunstler has a hard hitting piece on Iraq called Heads, You Lose

It all happened pretty quickly last week, but in case you haven’t noticed, Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall over there. The bonehead American news media affects to be too stunned to even ask the pertinent questions, starting with: is that all it took to undo eight years and — what? — maybe two trillion dollars in US-sponsored nation-building? Oh, plus 4,000 US dead and 50,000 wounded. So, my question would be: when do the political recriminations kick in? Pretty soon, I reckon, and when they do, expect them to be fiercely perverse. The theme of who lost Iraq? may cost more than who lost Vietnam?

30 odd stories below the fold including: UK and European energy; Russia and Ukraine; net energy analysis; climate change etc, but the focus is on Iraq. Continue reading

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ISIS, Iraq, Kurdistan and the control of Oil

News broke on UK terrestrial television on Tuesday 24th of June that Kurdistan forces (The Peshmerga) had captured Kirkuk, a city in northern Iraq that sits on top of the supergiant Kirkuk oil field. This news broke on the WSJ days before.

John Kerry was in Kurdistan trying to persuade The Kurds to lead the way in cementing the new Iraq apparently oblivious to the fact that the Kurds have been working flat out to leave Iraq since the semi-autonomuous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was formed.

Persecuted and gassed by Saddam, Kurdistan gained semi-independence in the wake of GWI in 1992. Since then, the whole region has been licensed for oil and gas exploration to foreign oil companies. Several billions of barrels of oil have been found, a pipeline built through Turkey to the Mediterranean Port of Ceyhan and oil exports have newly begun. None of this has the approval of the Iraqi government that looks set to fall in the weeks ahead.

In the same time frame, Iraq has endured GWII, Sadam was captured and hung and western companies have struggled to redevelop the giant oil fields in the South of the country.

Figure 1 Kurdistan in green and Kurdish areas in grey. The pipeline exporting oil from the supergiant Kirkuk oil field crosses into Turkey at a very narrow border crossing that most likely will already be in Kurdish hands. Click to enlarge. Map from Genel Energy, pdf alert.

[Note: this is a reposting of a post lost during the transfer to a new site host.] Continue reading

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Site News

Energy Matters has just changed to a new host. The site was copied by the new host on 24 th June and activated there on 26 th June. The activation process is not instantaneous everywhere, was initiated at 11:00 am in the UK but can take over 24 hours to propagate throughout the world. For all of yesterday I was seeing a ghost version of my site but got transferred to new version around 10 pm yesterday. I’m guessing that over 95% of the world is now seeing the site on the new host, but I know of some individuals who are not. If you cannot see this post then you are still seeing a ghost of the old host ;-)

During the transition period there are two versions of the site on the go. Unfortunately all content generated between the time of copy and the time of going live is lost including the post called “ISIS, Iraq, Kurdistan and Oil”. I have a copy of this that I am away to re-post. I’m afraid a few comments have been lost during this process and I apologise for that.

Site traffic has been growing steadily but it is a Hell of a lot of work. At some point I need to raise significant funds to buy in site maintenance and marketing help. The top posts so far have been:

What is the real cost of shale gas? 6097 reads
UK North Sea Oil Production Decline 3868 reads
Parasitic wind killing its host 3000 reads

Thanks to all readers and commenters with a common interest of trying to restore some common sense and pragmatism to the energy world. And many thanks also to my guest posters and to those who have already found their way to the donate button ;-)

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The New Global Dictator

Last week I attended an energy conference in Aberdeen. Getting away from my desk, and the virtual world I live in, it allowed me to mix with real energy professionals and I got to wondering why it was that I disagreed with so much that was said. University professors got up and read from the renewable energy or global warming scripts and seemed to believe this was leading edge energy research.

[Image: WSW facing solar panels in the shade of a tree, University of Aberdeen. It is unlikely that badly mounted panels at this latitude will ever produce enough electricity to recoup the energy used in their manufacture.]

New energy research is being directed by policy and diktat that has been decided in advance of the research being conducted. In Europe, this has origins in the 20 20 20 policy that was decided in 2007 that itself has roots in the Kyoto Protocol and the desire to reduce global CO2 emissions. The 20 20 20 policy has the following aims to be met by the year 2020:

  • A 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels;
  • Raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20%;
  • A 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency.

Continue reading

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Blowout week 25

A crazy set of stories this week: the evolving and confusing situation in Iraq; the  Ukraine – Russia – Europe gas crisis that is hand made in Ukraine; global warming doctrine continues to unravel; the fantasy worlds of UK and European energy policies and regulation. 39 stories in total this week, posted Sunday evening and updated on Monday morning.

Readers’ attention is drawn to Luis’ commentary on Iraq below the fold:

One of the reasons floated by the US media for this hesitation is a lack of intelligence regarding the geographic lay out of the Sunni command hierarchy. Quite ironic, one year after Edward Snowden’s revelations – it seems the US has wired the whole world, except for those that really matter wiring.

Ukraine cut off, Europe not?: Russia cuts off gas to Ukraine as Kiev orders border secured

Russia cut off gas to Ukraine on Monday in a dispute over unpaid bills that could disrupt supplies to the rest of Europe and set back hopes for peace between the former Soviet neighbours.

After the weekend loss of 49 troops when pro-Russian rebels shot down a military transport plane, Ukraine’s new president ordered his forces to retake full control of their border with Russia – saying this could then pave the way for negotiations.

Continue reading

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Estimating Global Solar PV Load Factors

Guest post by Roger Andrews:

In the recent Efficiency of Solar Photovoltaics post Euan Mearns presented some solar PV load factors calculated from BP 2012 installed capacity and generation data that made no sense, such as 7% for the US and 30% for Spain. So I did some work to find out whether these numbers were isolated instances. I calculated more load factors using 2012 data from other sources, such as Wikipedia, Observ’ER and Photovoltaic Barometer, added a few more countries and plotted the results against latitude. They are all over the map (Figure 1):

[Image - World's northernmost solar PV system – Kotzebue, Alaska. Latitude 66.9N, load factor 8.9%] Continue reading

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Russia Ukraine Gas War

Guest post by Andrew McKillop:

Russia’s gas giant OAO Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Ukraine on Monday 16 June, after days of negotiations with the Kiev interim government presided by ‘Chocolate Billionaire’ Poroshenko. This specially concerned gas prices for future deliveries, and payment arrears on gas supplied to Ukraine over many years, dating as far back as the 1990′s but especially since 2009.

The exact amount of these arrears is “controversial” and a major subject of dispute. They range from estimates by the IMF and European Commission of amounts less than 2 billion US dollars (about 1.4 billion euros) to estimates by Gazprom and Russian ministry sources of more than $4 billion. Continue reading

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Global Energy Trends – BP Statistical Review 2014

The 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy was published yesterday updating global energy statistics to the end of 2013. The home page is here and the XL workbook can be downloaded here.

I have made a few charts and make the following key observations:

  • Global primary energy supply has continued to grow, mainly fossil fuels (FF), mainly coal. FF supply was up 183 million tonnes oil equivalent (mtoe) in 2013 while new renewable supply was up 42 mtoe from 2012.
  • In 2003, FF accounted for 87% of global primary energy consumption. In 2013, FF accounted for 87% of global primary energy consumption. This is testimony to the absolute failure of energy policies aimed at reducing CO2 emissions.
  • In 2003, new renewables (wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels etc) accounted for 0.82% of total primary energy and by 2013 this had grown to 2.69%. In 2003, nuclear power accounted for 6.01% and this fell to 4.40% in 2013. The 1.87% growth in share of new renewables almost matches the 1.61% fall in the share of nuclear power. On the CO2 account, low emissions nuclear power has been replaced by low emissions renewable energy. The actual energy substitutions are a little more complex.
  • Oil consumption has been on a gently rising plateau since 2005 (Figure 1) and oil is declining in importance in the global energy mix (Figure 2). The fall in oil’s share has been picked up by coal and the only simple way for this substitution to occur is for oil fired power generation to close. Once all oil fired generation has been closed, expect severe upwards pressure on the oil price.

Figure 1 Global energy consumption growth has continued unabated into 2013 which is a good thing for the short-term welfare of the growing population but perhaps not so good for the environment in a broad sense.  Continue reading

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