What do I think, What can I do?

Archive for May, 2012

EROEI, another strange word

I recently met twice this interesting concept, EROEI, I do not intend to give a better definition than wikipedia so I quote it:

energy returned on energy invested (EROEI or ERoEI); or energy return on investment (EROI), is the ratio of the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy expended to obtain that energy resource

The easy and rough way: how much energy you need to get a unit of energy.

  • How much energy is neccessary to drill holes for getting oil, and then tranporting, refining,.. before final consumption in form of gas.
  • How much energy is needed to build a wind farm and the electricity net associated.

I like this concept because it is very physical and physicists love those things. Apart from that it is something that does not depend on economic circumstances or the influence of big companies in prices, or subsidies… The economy is more prone to account for short term interests and factors, so a more pure measurement system to compare different energy sources is welcomed. Of course it does not substitute the actual prices because nobody will accept it straightforward but it is another tool to takelong term decisions and understanding what’s going on. These 3 links go deeper in that concept, here, hear, and here. And finally this article in neofronteras that explains it very clearly in Spanish, as usual in that blog.

The calculated EROEI valujes range from 100 for oil almost in the surface to almost 1 or even less than one values for cases where the needed energy is more than the obtained.  It is considered that values below 10 are doubfully profitable and cases close to 1 should not be profitable at all but could be due to econonomical circunstances. Another factor is the time, that is not considered in this calcaulation and has led to other indexes as EIRR (last figure).

However, actual EROEI figures are not as pure as the concept and differ seiously from one source to other, you can check it in the figures below. Wind mills are ussually in the 20 values, quite good, there is also a coincidence about the lowering value of oil, but nuclear and coal prsent several different values. Photovoltaic is ussualy near the 10 limit. I do not know the cause of the divergence, I suppose it is not easy to calculate or maybe the same factors affecting energy economy are present here too, I will have to check it better.

At least, I agree with the idea that in the long term it is difficult to maintain a cheap low EROEI energy system, it would not be sustainable in any sense.

Another EROEI calculation, source, Searching for a miracle, but obtained from neofronteras.

Some EROEI calculations , source: Wikipedia

EIRR and EROEI from ococarbon.wordpress.org

EIRR and EROEI from ococarbon.wordpress.org

Risks of wind turbines

As I recently commented I think the the success of wind mills is one of the greatest driving forces for the frequent skeptical criticism. I want to study it more thoroguhtly but today I will just mention a good example:    This post in a portuguese skeptical blog really surpases most of the others.

Wind turbines are suposedly killers because there was a terrible car accident in Brazil in which a bus driver made a horrible mistake and crashed against the truck bringing a part of the wind mill. Almost 20 people were killed. The question is that the suposed killed could have been a big rock, a building, another bus, a truck with swines or even a gas truck, any big thing in the way of that poor bus. Because the bus invaded the other way.

Indeed, the blogger could have thought that the problem was the trafic and that a new transport concept with lower carbon footprint could help to avoid this fatal accidents, or that any other big energy structure could have been involved (a nuclear plant, a carbon power plant, hydro power,…). But, no it was the wind turbine, just because it was big and was there.

What really surprises me is how the get to know this kind of news. I sincerelly admire this research capability. Not so the later interpretation of the facts.


Windmills have been really succesful last years.

Windmills are maybe the main flagship for renewables (if we forget hydropower, ussually excluded by all parts from the discussion). They have been the cheapest renewable energy so the cost argument should be less important for them. However, they are one of the favorit targets for skeptics (here for example). Why?

Maybe becuse wind powers success, next figure shows the strong upwards slope in the world in last years.

Figure of Global Wind Power generating capacity, source: World Watch Institute

In Spain it produced more than 5000 GWh in April, more than 25% of total electricity, getting a maximun of 61% of total electricity production at 1:30 hours of April 19th;in the whole 2012 it is a 17.5% up to now. Really important figures that worry deniers and make me hopeful. Some renewables are not only getting actual producers, they are getting important shares in electricity production.


A real world electric car, more or less: Twizy.

Real Twizy photo

A photo of a real twizy of someone I know

Transportation produces roughly one-third of our CO2 emissions. And as we are not going to stop travelling or getting products from other parts of the world (for the moment), one reasonable way to reduce our emissions is to change our vehicles,  optimize them, or both at the same time.

In this sense, hybrid cars leaded by my beloved Prius were a good first step that is getting some success in the last years, at least in my home city, Bilbao. However electric cars seemed to be further from real world use, competing with the weakening hydrogen cars. I mentioned a nice project some time ago, but it was just that, a nice project. In this context I got very positively surprised to see that the company that makes succesful F1 engines is able to sell a small but cheap electric real car in normal car market. It is called Twizy and I know a real user close to me (the photo is taken thanks to that). His main complain is about the charging time of the batteries, yea this problem is not solved, and the low vehicle range neither but it is a first step, and all the great developments were done in far from perfect real steps. One nice solution from Renault for the price reduction is to hire the batteries, it is a kind of loan from the company, payable with the low fuel expenses.

My main criticism about this car is that is not really a car, it has not windows, it is more of a hybrid between car and motorcycle and only admits one passenger. OK, but it is a first step, an electrical vehicle in the streets that gets energy from standard plugs.

One last thought, some complain about the risks of its lack of noise. How used are we to the problems of combustion engines! I hop we will have to adapt.

The coldest May

Photo in the train near Bilbao

I have taken this photo today in the train in Bilbao, the weather was quite hot and the discussions about air conditioning pasionate.

17 of the last posts in ClimateRealists refer to the “coldest may” for example in this one. I was surprised to read this forecasts about the whole month from April 25th?. But who knows, maybe they are starting to believe in models.
In some of those posts they make clear they refer to UK but not in all. So today, after suffering this hot weather during two days, I decided to take this photo to show that some parts of the world are not so cold, because when we talk about climate change, it refers to the planet climate, not to somewhere’s weather. If this is the coldest may, I don’t want to imagine the hottest one.
Anyway, we will know better at the end of the month, because data matter, don’t they?

Another small energy battle, this time in Bolivia

Two weeks ago Agentinian government decided to expropiate YPF, causing a bitter diplomatic dispute and showing once again the importance of fossil fuel control in current politics. This week another example, smaller but with some common points, was published: Bolivian government expropiated TDE, electrical distribution company owned by spanish REE. REE is the Spanish electrical distribution company, partially public and offers very detailed data about production and consumption of electricity. The difference with Argentinian case is fundamentally the size,  Repsol and YPF are the biggest companies in their countries while REE and TDE not; the calculated values of the assets is 100 times smaller for the later. And the attitudes between the governments not very aggressive. Besides, it is not the first case of expropriation from Evo Morales and at the same time it has assured Repsols position in Bolivia to sell gas to Argentina, closing this funny circle. The common ground is the claim from Bolivian government for more investment in the poor Bolivian electricity distribution.

Bolivia is a poor country, but rich in some resources as gas and lithium for batteries. I spent one summer there and remember that electricity was not found in every house. Bolivia was quite active in Durban talks asking for a stronger commitment by rich countries towards CO2 emission reduction, whereas Bolivian electricity production was %48 hydroelectric and the other %52 from fossil fuels in last year. It can be said that half of its electricity is renewable but it is also true that their effort in wind or solar energy has been null. Nevertheless, the important data is the CO2 per capita emissions, and Bolivia has a very low value: 1.4 tons per capita in 2008. It is also a gas seller, getting a very important income for the national economy.

So, once again I do not have a clear opinion about the fact and I do not intend to, however I have some thoughts about the context:

  • Bolivia is poor and has the right to improve its weak energy services. At the same time it is vulnerable to climate change and has the right to ask the main emitters for a strong commitment for CO2 reduction.
  • But at the same time Bolivia also has the great opportunity to built a low Carbon economy from the beginning and get a moral bonus this way. The straightforward use of their great fossil fuel resources is very tempting and will have to be done to some extent but a wise combination with renewables will be more reasonable in the long-term in spite of short-term higher costs, even more remembering the great amount of lithium in the Salar de Uyuni. Electric car industry is waiting for it.
  • I think that all have to make some effort, not the same, I agree. We do not have to remember climate change only in the great meetings;  Bolivian new energy strategy may be a good example of that, it is in their hands now.

Climate Change and Science fiction: Artificial Intelligence

Last week I watched in the TV this film from the beginning of this millennium (2001) Artificial Intelligence. .

As usual, I enjoyed the film. The concept of the robot wanting to become human and the limits of humanity is always a fruitful subject. It was brilliantly covered in Asimov’s novella Bicentennial Man, filmed two years before; although loaded in this case with the emotional charge of a child and the cruelty of a bunch of fearful humans towards the robots (the scene of the mix between roman circus and rodeo with the only amusement of destroying undefended old robots).

The final robot victory does not seem a consequence of any war but just a better adaptation to difficult circumstances, making it more interesting. Two personal comments: the role of the film for me is the teddy bear, and the robots are too perfect, even too perfect to be human.

Regarding climate change (this is the reason of this post) it has an indirect but noticeable presence, as Manhatan is underwater at the initial time in the film. So dramatic sea level increase is supposed more or less in 2100 (this is my educated guess). The “small contradiction comes just later, when all this water over Manhattan freezes in an apparent very cold climate. How it is possible to have everything frozen in New York but at the same time a sea level of a very warm climate, and all this in a 2000 year period. The only reasonable explanation is that Hollywood loves freezing New York.

The end could also be correlated with climate change somehow. The humans have disappeared leaving the planet to very polite robots. They do not seem angry with humans nor interested in their destruction, so it seems only a question of adaptation to catastrophic circumstances, and surely there have been severe climate changes as shown in Manhattan. So the film could suggest a complete destruction of human beings by climate change, or maybe it was necessary to get rid of the humans to get the final recognition of humanity for the robot-child.