Energy Problem

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[ THE CONSERVATION IMPERATIVE ]

SEARCHING FOR
A MIRACLE

by Richard Heinberg
Foreword by Jerry Mander

A Joint Project of the International Forum on Globalization and the Post Carbon Institute. [ False Solution Series #4 ]
September 2009

S EARCHING FOR
A MIRACLE

‘Net Energy’ Limits & the Fate
of Industrial Society

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This document could not have been produced without the great help of several people. I particularly want to thank Prof. Charles Hall of Syracuse University, who has been a pioneer in developing the concept of “net energy,” (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) that is at the heart of this report.We also drew directly from his published research in several aspects of the document. Jerry Mander and Jack Santa Barbara of the International Forum on Globalization helped conceive of this project several years ago and stayed involved throughout, reading several drafts, and offering detailed editing, shaping and writing suggestions. Dr. David Fridley, Staff Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, read a later draft and gave valuable technical advice. Suzanne Doyle provided needed research and fact checking, and drafted the footnotes as well as several paragraphs. Alexis Halbert and Alina Xu of the IFG gathered many of the research materials on net energy, and engaged in some original research, and Victor Menotti of IFG offered important information on the state of climate negotiations.A special appreciation also goes to Asher Miller, my very supportive colleague, and ED of Post Carbon Institute. My profound thanks to all. Finally, I must acknowledge the pioneers who first understood the many profound dimensions of the relationships between energy and society; without their prior work this document could not even have been imagined: Frederick Soddy, Howard Odum, and M.King Hubbert. —Richard Heinberg

Designer: Daniela Sklan
Editor: Jerry Mander
Editorial contributions: Jack Santa Barbara, Anne Leonard,Victor Menotti, Alexis Halbert, Alina Xu Proofreader: Elizabeth Garsonnin
Diagrams,Tables, and other research: Suzanne Doyle
Additional assistance: Kate Damasco, Claire Greensfelder, April McGill Cover Photo: iStock
Printer: ChromaGraphics

F UNDING S UPPORT:
We offer very special thanks to the Max and Anna Levinson Foundation and the Santa Barbara Family Foundation for their very generous financial support for IFG’s “False Solutions” publications project.

C ONTENTS

Foreword: Which Way Out? by Jerry Mander

1

One: Overview

7

Glossary of Terms
What is Energy?
Two: Nine Key Criteria: Comparing Energy Systems, and their Limits

15

1) Direct Monetary Cost
2) Dependence on Additional Resources
3) Environmental Impacts
4) Renewability
5) Potential Size or Scale of Contribution
6) Location of the Resource
7) Reliability
8) Energy Density
a) Weight (or Gravimetric) Density
b) Volume (or Volumetric) Density
c) Area Density
9) Transportability
Three: The Tenth Criterion: “Net Energy” (EROEI)
Returns on Investments (EROEI)
Replacement of Human Energy
Heyday for Fossil Fuels
How EROEI Shapes Society
EROEI Limits Energy Options
EROEI: Distinct from Efficiency
Net Energy Evaluation: Imprecise but Essential for Planning

23

Four: Assessing & Comparing Eighteen Energy Sources

31

1) Oil
2) Coal
3) Natural gas
4) Hydropower
5) Nuclear
6) Biomass
7) Wind Power
8) Solar Photovoltaics (PV)
9) Active (concentrating) Solar Thermal
10) Passive Solar
11) Geothermal Energy
12) Energy from Waste
13) Ethanol
14) Biodiesel
15) Tar Sands
16) Oil Shale
17) Tidal Power
18) Wave Energy
Other Sources
Five: Toward a Future Energy Mix

56

A Process of Elimination
Common Carriers: Electricity and Hydrogen
Energy Storage and Transmission
Transition Plans
Six: The Case for Conservation
References
Bibliography
The International Forum on Globalization
The Post Carbon Institute

65

I S TO C K

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