Jun 262017
 
 June 26, 2017  Posted by at 11:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee Ghost of a Genius 1922

 

The Automatic Earth has written many articles on the topic of EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) through the years, there’s a whole chapter on it in the Automatic Earth Primer Guide 2017 that Nicole assembled recently, which contains 17 different articles.

Still, since EROEI is the most important energy issue there is at present, and not the price of oil or some new gas find or a set of windmills or solar panels or thorium, it can’t hurt to repeat it once again, in someone else’s words and from someone else’s angle. This one comes from Brian Davey on his site CredoEconomics, part of his book “Credo”.

It can’t hurt to repeat it because not nearly enough people understand that in the end everything, the survival of our world, our way of life, is all about the ‘quality’ of energy, about what we get in return when we drill and pump and build infrastructure, what remains when we subtract all the energy used to ‘generate’ energy, from (or at) the bottom line.

Anno 2017, our overall ‘net energy’ is nowhere near where it was for the first 100 years or so after we started using oil. And there’s no energy source that comes close to -conventional- oil (and gas) when it comes to what we are left with once our efforts are discounted, in calories or Joules.

The upshot of this is that even if we can ‘gain’ 10 times more than we put in, in energy terms, that won’t save our complex societies. To achieve that, we would need at least a 15:1 ratio, a number straight from our friend Charlie Hall, which is probably still quite optimistic. And we simply don’t have it. Not anymore.

Also, not nearly enough people understand that it has absolutely nothing to do with money. That you can’t go out and buy more or better energy sources. Which is why we use EROEI instead of EROI (Energy Return on Investment), because the latter leaves some sort of financial interpretation open that doesn’t actually exist, it suggests that a financial price of energy plays a role.

First, here’s Nicole from the Automatic Earth Primer Guide 2017. Below that, Brian Davey’s article.

 

 

Nicole Foss: Energy is the master resource – the capacity to do work. Our modern society is the result of the enormous energy subsidy we have enjoyed in the form of fossil fuels, specifically fossil fuels with a very high energy profit ratio (EROEI). Energy surplus drove expansion, intensification, and the development of socioeconomic complexity, but now we stand on the edge of the net energy cliff. The surplus energy, beyond that which has to be reinvested in future energy production, is rapidly diminishing.

We would have to greatly increase gross production to make up for reduced energy profit ratio, but production is flat to falling so this is no longer an option. As both gross production and the energy profit ratio fall, the net energy available for all society’s other purposes will fall even more quickly than gross production declines would suggest. Every society rests on a minimum energy profit ratio. The implication of falling below that minimum for industrial society, as we are now poised to do, is that society will be forced to simplify.

A plethora of energy fantasies is making the rounds at the moment. Whether based on unconventional oil and gas or renewables (that are not actually renewable), these are stories we tell ourselves in order to deny that we are facing any kind of future energy scarcity, or that supply could be in any way a concern. They are an attempt to maintain the fiction that our society can continue in its current form, or even increase in complexity. This is a vain attempt to deny the existence of non-negotiable limits to growth. The touted alternatives are not energy sources for our current society, because low EROEI energy sources cannot sustain a society complex enough to produce them.

 

 

Using Energy to Extract Energy – The Dynamics of Depletion

 

Brian Davey: The “Limits to Growth Study” of 1972 was deeply controversial and criticised by many economists. Over 40 years later, it seems remarkably prophetic and on track in its predictions. The crucial concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested is explained and the flaws in neoclassical reasoning which EROI highlights.

The continued functioning of the energy system is a “hub interdependency” that has become essential to the management of the increasing complexity of our society. The energy input into the UK economy is about 50 to 70 times as great as what the labour force could generate if working full time only with the power of their muscles, fuelled up with food. It is fossil fuels, refined to be used in vehicles and motors or converted into electricity that have created power inputs that makes possible the multiple round- about arrangements in a high complex economy. The other “hub interdependency” is a money and transaction system for exchange which has to continue to function to make vast production and trade networks viable. Without payment systems nothing functions.

Yet, as I will show, both types of hub interdependencies could conceivably fail. The smooth running of the energy system is dependent on ample supplies of cheaply available fossil fuels. However, there has been a rising cost of extracting and refining oil, gas and coal. Quite soon there is likely to be an absolute decline in their availability. To this should be added the climatic consequences of burning more carbon based fuels. To make the situation even worse, if the economy gets into difficulty because of rising energy costs then so too will the financial system – which can then have a knock-on consequence for the money system. The two hub interdependencies could break down together.

“Solutions” put forward by the techno optimists almost always assume growing complexity and new uses for energy with an increased energy cost. But this begs the question- because the problem is the growing cost of energy and its polluting and climate changing consequences.

 

The “Limits to Growth” study of 1972 – and its 40 year after evaluation

It was a view similar to this that underpinned the methodology of a famous study from the early 1970s. A group called the Club of Rome decided to commission a group of system scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore how far economic growth would continue to be possible. Their research used a series of computer model runs based on various scenarios of the future. It was published in 1972 and produced an instant storm. Most economists were up in arms that their shibboleth, economic growth, had been challenged. (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, & BehrensIII, 1972)

This was because its message was that growth could continue for some time by running down “natural capital” (depletion) and degrading “ecological system services” (pollution) but that it could not go on forever. An analogy would be spending more than one earns. This is possible as long as one has savings to run down, or by running up debts payable in the future. However, a day of reckoning inevitably occurs. The MIT scientists ran a number of computer generated scenarios of the future including a “business as usual” projection, called the “standard run” which hit a global crisis in 2030.

It is now over 40 years since the original Limits to Growth study was published so it is legitimate to compare what was predicted in 1972 against what actually happened. This has now been done twice by Graham Turner who works at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Turner did this with data for the rst 30 years and then for 40 years of data. His conclusion is as follows:

The Limits to Growth standard run scenario produced 40 years ago continues to align well with historical data that has been updated in this paper following a 30-year comparison by the author. The scenario results in collapse of the global economy and environment and subsequently, the population. Although the modelled fall in population occurs after about 2030 – with death rates reversing contemporary trends and rising from 2020 onward – the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline. (Turner, 2012)

So what brings about the collapse? In the Limits to Growth model there are essentially two kinds of limiting restraints. On the one hand, limitations on resource inputs (materials and energy). On the other hand, waste/pollution restraints which degrade the ecological system and human society (particularly climate change).

Turner finds that, so far it, is the former rather than the latter that is the more important. What happens is that, as resources like fossil fuels deplete, they become more expensive to extract. More industrial output has to be set aside for the extraction process and less industrial output is available for other purposes.

With signficant capital subsequently going into resource extraction, there is insufficient available to fully replace degrading capital within the industrial sector itself. Consequently, despite heightened industrial activity attempting to satisfy multiple demands from all sectors and the population, actual industrial output per capita begins to fall precipitously, from about 2015, while pollution from the industrial activity continues to grow. The reduction of inputs produced per capita. Similarly, services (e.g., health and education) are not maintained due to insufficient capital and inputs.

Diminishing per capita supply of services and food cause a rise in the death rate from about 2020 (and somewhat lower rise in the birth rate, due to reduced birth control options). The global population therefore falls, at about half a billion per decade, starting at about 2030. Following the collapse, the output of the World3 model for the standard run (figure 1 to figure 3) shows that average living standards for the aggregate population (material wealth, food and services per capita) resemble those of the early 20th century.(Turner, 2012, p. 121)

 

Energy Return on Energy Invested

A similar analysis has been made by Hall and Klitgaard. They argue that to run a modern society it is necessary that the energy return on energy invested must be at least 15 to 1. To understand why this should be so consider the following diagram from a lecture by Hall. (Hall, 2012)

eroei

The diagram illustrates the idea of the energy return on energy invested. For every 100 Mega Joules of energy tapped in an oil flow from a well, 10 MJ are needed to tap the well, leaving 90 MJ. A narrow measure of energy returned on energy invested at the wellhead in this example would therefore be 100 to 10 or 10 to 1.

However, to get a fuller picture we have to extend this kind of analysis. Of the net energy at the wellhead, 90 MJ, some energy has to be used to refine the oil and produce the by-products, leaving only 63 MJ.

Then, to transport the refined product to its point of use takes another 5 MJ leaving 58MJ. But of course, the infrastructure of roads and transport also requires energy for construction and maintenance before any of the refined oil can be used to power a vehicle to go from A to B. By this final stage there is only 20.5 MJ of the original 100MJ left.

We now have to take into account that depletion means that, at well heads around the world, the energy to produce energy is increasing. It takes energy to prospect for oil and gas and if the wells are smaller and more difficult to tap because, for example, they are out at sea under a huge amount of rock. Then it will take more energy to get the oil out in the first place.

So, instead of requiring 10MJ to produce the 100 MJ, let us imagine that it now takes 20 MJ. At the other end of the chain there would thus, only be 10.5MJ – a dramatic reduction in petroleum available to society.

The concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested is a ratio in physical quantities and it helps us to understand the flaw in neoclassical economic reasoning that draws on the idea of “the invisible hand” and the price mechanism. In simplistic economic thinking, markets should have no problems coping with depletion because a depleting resource will become more expensive. As its price rises, so the argument goes, the search for new sources of energy and substitutes will be incentivised while people and companies will adapt their purchases to rising prices. For example, if it is the price of energy that is rising then this will incentivise greater energy efficiency. Basta! Problem solved…

Except the problem is not solved… there are two flaws in the reasoning. Firstly, if the price of energy rises then so too does the cost of extracting energy – because energy is needed to extract energy. There will be gas and oil wells in favourable locations which are relatively cheap to tap, and the rising energy price will mean that the companies that own these wells will make a lot of money. This is what economists call “rent”. However, there will be some wells that are “marginal” because the underlying geology and location are not so favourable. If energy prices rise at these locations then rising energy prices will also put up the energy costs of production. Indeed, when the energy returned on energy invested falls as low as 1 to 1, the increase in the costs of energy inputs will cancel out any gains in revenues from higher priced energy outputs. As is clear when the EROI is less than one, energy extraction will not be profitable at any price.

Secondly, energy prices cannot in any case rise beyond a certain point without crashing the economy. The market for energy is not like the market for cans of baked beans. Energy is necessary for virtually every activity in the economy, for all production and all services. The price of energy is a big deal – energy prices going up and down have a similar significance to interest rates going up or down. There are “macro-economic” consequences for the level of activity in the economy. Thus, in the words of one analyst, Chris Skrebowski, there is a rise in the price of oil, gas and coal at which:

the cost of incremental supply exceeds the price economies can pay without destroying growth at a given point in time.(Skrebowski, 2011)

This kind of analysis has been further developed by Steven Kopits of the Douglas-Westwood consultancy. In a lecture to the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy in February of 2014, he explained how conventional “legacy” oil production peaked in 2005 and has not increased since. All the increase in oil production since that date has been from unconventional sources like the Alberta Tar sands, from shale oil or natural gas liquids that are a by-product of shale gas production. This is despite a massive increase in investment by the oil industry that has not yielded any increase in “conventional oil” production but has merely served to slow what would otherwise have been a faster decline.

More specifically, the total spend on upstream oil and gas exploration and production from 2005 to 2013 was $4 trillion. Of that amount, $3.5 trillion was spent on the “legacy” oil and gas system. This is a sum of money equal to the GDP of Germany. Despite all that investment in conventional oil production, it fell by 1 million barrels a day. By way of comparison, investment of $1.5 trillion between 1998 and 2005 yielded an increase in oil production of 8.6 million barrels a day.

Further to this, unfortunately for the oil industry, it has not been possible for oil prices to rise high enough to cover the increasing capital expenditure and operating costs. This is because high oil prices lead to recessionary conditions and slow or no growth in the economy. Because prices are not rising fast enough and costs are increasing, the costs of the independent oil majors are rising at 2 to 3% a year more than their revenues. Overall profitability is falling and some oil majors have had to borrow and sell assets to pay dividends. The next stage in this crisis has then been that investment projects are being cancelled – which suggests that oil production will soon begin to fall more rapidly.

The situation can be understood by reference to the nursery story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks tries three kinds of porridge – some that is too hot, some that is too cold and some where the temperature is somewhere in the middle and therefore just right. The working assumption of mainstream economists is that there is an oil price that is not too high to undermine economic growth but also not too low so that the oil companies cannot cover their extraction costs – a price that is just right. The problem is that the Goldilocks situation no longer describes what is happening. Another story provides a better metaphor – that story is “Catch 22”. According to Kopits, the vast majority of the publically quoted oil majors require oil prices of over $100 a barrel to achieve positive cash flow and nearly a half need more than $120 a barrel.

But it is these oil prices that drag down the economies of the OECD economies. For several years, however, there have been some countries that have been able to afford the higher prices. The countries that have coped with the high energy prices best are the so called “emerging non OECD countries” and above all China. China has been bidding away an increasing part of the oil production and continuing to grow while higher energy prices have led to stagnation in the OECD economies. (Kopits, 2014)

Since the oil price is never “just right” it follows that it must oscillate between a price that is too high for macro-economic stability or too low to make it a paying proposition for high cost producers of oil (or gas) to invest in expanding production. In late 2014 we can see this drama at work. The faltering global economy has a lower demand for oil but OPEC, under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, have decided not to reduce oil production in order to keep oil prices from falling. On the contrary they want prices to fall. This is because they want to drive US shale oil and gas producers out of business.

The shale industry is described elsewhere in this book – suffice it here to refer to the claim of many commentators that the shale oil and gas boom in the United States is a bubble. A lot of money borrowed from Wall Street has been invested in the industry in anticipation of high profits but given the speed at which wells deplete it is doubtful whether many of the companies will be able to cover their debts. What has been possible so far has been largely because quantitative easing means capital for this industry has been made available with very low interest rates. There is a range of extraction production costs for different oil and gas wells and fields depending on the differing geology in different places. In some “sweet spots” the yield compared to cost is high but in a large number of cases the costs of production have been high and it is being said that it will be impossible to make money at the price to which oil has fallen ($65 in late 2014). This in turn could mean that companies funding their operations with junk bonds could find it difficult to service their debt. If interest rates rise the difficulty would become greater. Because the shale oil and gas sector has been so crucial to expansion in the USA then a large number of bankruptcies could have wider repercussions throughout the wider US and world economy.

 

Renewable Energy systems to the rescue?

Although it seems obvious that the depletion of fossil fuels can and should lead to the expansion of renewable energy systems like wind and solar power, we should beware of believing that renewable energy systems are a panacea that can rescue consumer society and its continued growth path. A very similar net energy analysis can, and ought to be done for the potential of renewable energy to match that already done for fossil fuels.

eroei-renewables

Before we get over-enthusiastic about the potential for renewable energy, we have to be aware of the need to subtract the energy costs particular to renewable energy systems from the gross energy that renewable energy systems generate. Not only must energy be used to manufacture and install the wind turbines, the solar panels and so on, but for a renewable based economy to be able to function, it must also devote energy to the creation of energy storage. This would allow for the fact that, when the wind and the sun are generating energy, is not necessarily the time when it is wanted.

Furthermore, the places where, for example, solar and wind potential are at this best – offshore for wind or in deserts without dust storms near the equator for solar – are usually a long distance from centres of use. Once again, a great deal of energy, materials and money must be spent getting the energy from where it is generated to where it will be used. For example, the “Energie Wende” (Energy Transformation) in Germany is involving huge effort, financial and energy costs, creating a transmission corridor to carry electricity from North Sea wind turbines down to Bavaria where the demand is greatest. Similarly, plans to develop concentrated solar power in North Africa for use in northern Europe which, if they ever come to anything, will require major investments in energy transmission. A further issue, connected to the requirement for energy storage, is the need for energy carriers which are not based on electricity. As before, conversions to put a current energy flux into a stored form, involve an energy cost.

Just as with fossil fuels, sources of renewable energy are of variable yield depending on local conditions: offshore wind is better than onshore for wind speed and wind reliability; there is more solar energy nearer the equator; some areas have less cloud cover; wave energy on the Atlantic coasts of the UK are much better than on other coastlines like those of the Irish Sea or North Sea. If we make a Ricardian assumption that best net yielding resources are developed first, then subsequent yields will be progressively inferior. In more conventional jargon – just as there are diminishing returns for fossil energy as fossil energy resources deplete, so there will eventually be diminishing returns for renewable energy systems. No doubt new technologies will partly buck this trend but the trend is there nonetheless. It is for reasons such as these that some energy experts are sceptical about the global potential of renewable energy to meet the energy demand of a growing economy. For example, two Australian academics at Monash University argue that world energy demand would grow to 1,000 EJ (EJ = 10 18 J) or more by 2050 if growth continued on the course of recent decades. Their analysis then looks at each renewable energy resource in turn, bearing in mind the energy costs of developing wind, solar, hydropower, biomass etc., taking into account diminishing returns, and bearing in mind too that climate change may limit the potential of renewable energy. (For example, river flow rates may change affecting hydropower). Their conclusion: “We nd that when the energy costs of energy are considered, it is unlikely that renewable energy can provide anywhere near a 1000 EJ by 2050.” (Moriarty & Honnery, 2012)

Now let’s put these insights back into a bigger picture of the future of the economy. In a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas, Charles Hall showed a number of diagrams to express the consequences of depletion and rising energy costs of energy. I have taken just two of these diagrams here – comparing 1970 with what might be the case in 2030. (Hall C. , 2012) What they show is how the economy produces different sorts of stuff. Some of the production is consumer goods, either staples (essentials) or discretionary (luxury) goods. The rest of production is devoted to goods that are used in production i.e. investment goods in the form of machinery, equipment, buildings, roads, infrastracture and their maintenance. Some of these investment goods must take the form of energy acquisition equipment. As a society runs up against energy depletion and other problems, more and more production must go into energy acquisition, infrastructure and maintenance. Less and less is available for consumption, and particularly for discretionary consumption.

hall

Whether the economy would evolve in this way can be questioned. As we have seen, the increasing needs of the oil and gas sector implies a transfer of resources from elsewhere through rising prices. However, the rest of the economy cannot actually pay this extra without crashing. That is what the above diagrams show – a transfer of resources from discretionary consumption to investment in energy infrastructure. But such a transfer would be crushing for the other sectors and their decline would likely drag down the whole economy.

Over the last few years, central banks have had a policy of quantitative easing to try to keep interest rates low. The economy cannot pay high energy prices AND high interest rates so, in effect, the policy has been to try to bring down interest rates as low as possible to counter the stagnation. However, this has not really created production growth, it has instead created a succession of asset price bubbles. The underlying trend continues to be one of stagnation, decline and crisis and it will get a lot worse when oil production starts to fall more rapidly as a result of investment cut backs. The severity of the recessions may be variable in different countries because competitive strength in this model goes to those countries where energy is used most efficiently and which can afford to pay somewhat higher prices for energy. Such countries are likely to do better but will not escape the general decline if they stay wedded to the conventional growth model. Whatever the variability, this is still a dead end and, at some point, people will see that entirely different ways of thinking about economy and ecology are needed – unless they get drawn into conflicts and wars over energy by psychopathic policy idiots. There is no way out of the Catch 22 within the growth economy model. That’s why degrowth is needed.

Further ideas can be extrapolated from Hall’s way of presenting the end of the road for the growth economy. The only real option as a source for extra resources to be ploughed into changing the energy sector is from what Hall calls “discretionary consumption” aka luxury consumption. It would not be possible to take from “staples” without undermining the ability of ordinary people to survive day to day. Implicit here is a social justice agenda for the post growth – post carbon economy. Transferring resources out of the luxury consumption of the rich is a necessary part of the process of finding the wherewithal for energy conservation work and for developing renewable energy resources. These will be expensive and the resources cannot come from anywhere else than out of the consumption of the rich. It should be remembered too that the problems of depletion do not just apply to fossil energy extraction coal, oil and gas) but apply across all forms of mineral extraction. All minerals are depleted by use and that means the grade or ore declines over time. Projecting the consequences into the future ought to frighten the growth enthusiasts. To take in how industrial production can hit a brick wall of steeply rising costs, consider the following graph which shows the declining quality of ore grades mined in Australia.

mining-australia

As ores deplete there is a deterioration of ore grades. That means that more rock has to be shifted and processed to refine and extract the desired raw material, requiring more energy and leaving more wastes. This is occurring in parallel to the depletion in energy sources which means that more energy has to be used to extract a given quantity of energy and therefore, in turn, to extract from a given quantity of ore. Thus, the energy requirements to extract energy are rising at the very same time as the amount of energy required to extract given quantities of minerals are rising. More energy is needed just at the time that energy is itself becoming more expensive.

Now, on top of that, add to the picture the growing demand for minerals and materials if the economy is to grow.

At least there has been a recognition and acknowledgement in recent years that environmental problems exist. The problem is now somewhat different – the problem is the incredibly naive faith that markets and technology can solve all problems and keep on going. The main criticism of the limits to growth study was the claim that problems would be anticipated in forward markets and would then be made the subject of high tech innovation. In the next chapter, the destructive effects of these innovations are examined in more depth.

 

 

Feb 042017
 
 February 4, 2017  Posted by at 2:43 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Esther Bubley Boy who rides to school daily on Greyhound bus, Washington Court House, Ohio 1943

 

It’s been a while since the Automatic Earth featured an article from Energy Matters, the site run by our longtime friend Euan Mearns, Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Aberdeen, and his co-conspirator Roger Andrews, a British engineer/geophysicist, semi-retired in Mexico. But I read a piece by Roger yesterday that I like, because it allows me to rant against all the false claims emanating from countries and companies about the share of renewable power in their total energy consumption.

Roger focuses on the railway system in the Netherlands, run by NS, which recently claimed that it operates on 100% wind power. This is of course, if you know anything about electricity generation and the grid, a preposterous claim, and that the company has the guts to make such a claim can only serve to prove how little the general public knows about the topic. Or they wouldn’t dare. Green is still so sexy in certain circles, and actual knowledge so poor, that companies like the NS feel no scruples about stretching their ‘greenness’ into absurd theater territory.

Google does something similar. And you might be inclined to think that the topic is so important for both the companies and the people they seek to please with their claims that grossly exaggerating the numbers would be out of the question, but not so. Instead, “Google announced that it will purchase enough renewable energy to match 100% of its operations in 2017”. And that is not the same as running on renewables, which is what is being suggested (in carefully cherry-picked terms). I like this assessment by electronicdesign.com:

Is Google’s Renewable Energy Plan What It Seems?

“Essentially, Google is contracting for green energy from places that can never reach its data centers. If it were as simple as Google claims, it would be easy to build a renewable power sector. New York City could execute a massive number of contracts with wind farms in upstate New York because they are on the same grid.“ [..]

Google is promising to buy—on an annual basis—the same amount of megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable energy as the amount of megawatt-hours of electricity that it consumes for its worldwide operations. This approach will benefit the renewable energy market even though it is still generating the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions with or without its 100% renewable energy purchasing plan.

Google ‘buys renewable energy’ in various places around the world, but its servers don’t run on it. It’s exactly like companies buying carbon permits from poorer nations; an excuse to keep polluting. As both the permits and the renewables are traded in markets where prices are low and/or heavily subsidized. As for the scale involved, “In 2015, Google consumed 5.7 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, which is nearly as much electricity as the city of San Francisco.” And don’t forget it keeps consuming ever more as the company grows. That’s a lot of fossil fuels. The medieval ‘principle’ of absolution inevitably comes to mind.

As for the Netherlands’ railways, Roger concludes below, after explaining why, that “the Netherlands’ electrified railways continue to be powered dominantly by fossil fuel electricity. The “Harried Dutch commuters” who are “travelling on one of the most environmentally friendly rail networks in the whole of Europe, if not the world” are being sold a bill of goods.”

 

I would like to add that because of continuing issues related to intermittency and baseload, which are nowhere near being solved, the very grid itself that is used to deliver the ‘renewable’ electricity couldn’t exist without fossil fuels. Or, in other words, if there were only ‘green’ sources of electricity, there would be no grid. How much can be moved towards ‘green’ sources is still somewhat debatable, but just like solar panels and wind turbines cannot build themselves but need fossil fuels to be produced, there is a limit far far below the 100% both Google and the Dutch railways are (deceitfully?) toying around with. Here’s Roger:

 

 

a target=”new” href=”https://euanmearns.com/do-the-netherlands-trains-really-run-on-100-wind-power/”>Do The Netherlands’ Trains Really Run On 100% Wind Power?

This question generated a number of comments in the last Blowout so I thought I would take a quick look at it. I find that the electrified portion of the Dutch railway network (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, or NS) runs on grid electricity that comes dominantly from fossil fuel generation (natural gas and coal). NS claims 100% wind power because it has a contract with various wind farms to produce enough energy to power its rail system, but this is just an accounting transaction. Only a small fraction of the power delivered to its trains actually comes from wind.

First some details on the Netherlands’ electricity sector. As shown in the table below installed capacity is dominantly fossil fuel, with natural gas making up 61% of total installed capacity and coal 15%. Wind contributes 4,117MW, representing 13% of the capacity mix. (Data from ENTSO-E ):

No details on the current generation mix are readily available, but as shown in Figure 1 gas and coal supplied around 80% of the Netherlands’ electricity between 2000 and 2013 and it’s likely that this percentage still applies.

Figure 1: The Netherlands’ generation mix 2000-2013. Data from Frontier Economics

How much of the Netherlands’ electricity is supplied by wind? According to Cleantechnica
wind power in the Netherlands generates 7.4 billion kWh (7.4TWh) of electricity annually, and according to BP the Netherlands’ total electricity generation in 2015 was 109.6TWh. However, wind power consumption in the Netherlands in 2015 was 12.5TWh, indicating that about 5TWh of wind power was imported during the year. So while wind contributes about 7% to the Netherlands’ electricity generation it contributes about 11% to the country’s electricity consumption. Either figure comfortably exceeds the amount of electricity NS uses to power its electric trains, which is variously quoted as either 1.2 or 1.4TWh/year.

The Netherlands imports wind power basically because it’s falling behind its EU renewable energy targets. But how does NS know the power it imports is wind? Because Eneco, which contracts to supply NS with wind power, gets a “Guarantee of Origin” from the exporter under which the exporter confirms that the power came from wind and assigns the rights to it to NS. As Cleantechnica puts it: “the GoO system allows for the transfer of the rights to call electricity green from those who actually generate renewable energy to those who don’t but want to classify their power as such. The actual amount of green energy produced is unaffected.”

There is, however, a problem. For NS to use only wind power from wind farms to power its rail system the wind farms must be connected directly to NS’s railways. (Figure 2: Note the dotted lines showing non-electrified track. According to LJ Electrical only 2,231km of NS’s total 3,223km of track is electrified):

Figure 2: The Netherlands’ railway network.

And of course no such connections exist. The two Dutch wind farms that have contracted to sell power to NS (Noordoostpolder and Luchterduinen) are both connected directly to the Dutch grid, along with all the other power plants in the country, and NS draws its power from the grid:

Figure 3: The Netherlands’ electricity grid. Grid connections for the Luchterduinen and Nordpoostpolder wind farms (locations approximate) are shown in black.

When wind power is fed into a grid it becomes inextricably mixed with all the vibrating electrons from other generation sources to the point where there is no way of knowing where any power taken from the grid came from. Grid power in fact reflects the overall generation mix, which in the case of the Netherlands is dominantly gas and coal with only a small contribution from wind. How much wind? Over the course of this year the average will be around 11%, equal to wind power’s share of the Netherlands’ annual grid electricity consumption.

And only half of the wind power NS has contracted for comes from the Netherlands. The other half comes from “newly built wind farms in …. Belgium and Finland”. Wind power now supplies about 10% of Belgium’s electricity, so power imported from the Belgian grid will be about 10% wind. Wind power from Finland can be discounted. Only about 2% of Finland’s generation mix is wind, and by the time it passes through the Finnish, Swedish and German grids on its way to the Netherlands it will effectively have disappeared. Imports from the German grid, however, will contain about 14% wind power, although not wind power that NS has contracted for. Putting these numbers together indicates that only 10-15% of the electricity consumed annually by NS’s electric trains will come from wind, with the rest a mixture that includes mostly Dutch gas and coal plus a small amount of Belgian and German coal, nuclear and lignite – and maybe even a little German solar.

The supply of wind power to the Dutch grid will also not be constant. I have no wind records for the Netherlands but P.F. Bach supplies data for Belgium, which should be a close analogy, and Figure 4 shows Belgian wind generation for September 2014:

Figure 4: Belgian wind generation, September 2014

With an installed capacity of around 1850MW in this month the overall wind capacity factor was 11% and there were a number of occasions on which wind generation fell effectively to zero for hours on end. During these periods wind generation in the neighboring Netherlands would also have fallen to low levels. Were these conditions to repeat themselves now, and if NS’s trains were powered exclusively by wind, they would almost certainly come to a halt. (Although Eneco, NS’s wind power procurer, claims that its “wind farm portfolio guarantees sufficient capacity to cover such eventualities” . Apparently Eneco can make the wind blow to order.)

So how does NS justify the claim that all Dutch trains run on 100% wind power? Well, it actually claims that only the electrified portion runs on 100% wind. Only the Guardian has seen fit to publish a correction:

An earlier version said all Dutch trains were now 100% powered by wind-generated electricity, according to the national railway company NS. The company said all electric trains were now powered by wind energy. (my emphasis)

And how does NS justify this lesser claim? According to Railway Technology because it has a:

“green energy contract – thought to be among the largest yet signed in Europe – between power supplier Eneco and VIVENS, an energy procurement joint venture comprising Netherlands Railways (NS), Veolia, Arriva, Connexxion and rail freight firms”, and because

“NS and Eneco have carefully selected a list of wind farms that fulfil their criteria of being traceable, sustainable – or renewable – and additional, or new”, and because

“This partnership ensures that new investments can be made in even newer wind farms, which will increase the share of renewable energy. In this way, the Dutch railways aim to reduce the greatest negative environmental impact caused by CO2 in such a way that its demand actually contributes to the sustainable power generation in the Netherlands and Europe.”

The first two are “feel good” justifications that have no practical impact. The third – that by purchasing wind power that would otherwise have gone elsewhere NS is leaving the door open for more wind projects and more CO2 reductions – is the only one that offers any tangible benefits. But there is no guarantee that the unfilled demand will be met by renewables, and in any event the 1.2-1.4TWh/year consumed by NS represents barely more than 1% of the Netherlands’ annual electricity consumption and a totally negligible fraction of European consumption. This is hardly enough to make a big deal about.

And meanwhile the Netherlands’ electrified railways continue to be powered dominantly by fossil fuel electricity. The “Harried Dutch commuters” who are “travelling on one of the most environmentally friendly rail networks in the whole of Europe, if not the world” are being sold a bill of goods.

 

 

Dec 162016
 
 December 16, 2016  Posted by at 5:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Parisians duck down to evade German sniper fire following Nazi surrender of Paris, 1945

 

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.

Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.

These fine gents probably actually believe that this is perfectly in line with our knowledge of, say, human history, of evolution, of the laws of physics, and of -mass- psychology. All of which undoubtedly indicate to them that we can and will defeat the problems we have created -and still are-, literally with the same tools and ideas -money and profit- that we use to create them with. Nothing ever made more sense.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Profit, or money in general, is all these people live for, it’s their altar. That’s why they are successful in this world. It’s also why the world is doomed. Is there any chance I could persuade you to dwell on that for a few seconds? That, say, Bloomberg and Carney, and all they represent, are the problem dressed up as the solution? That our definition of success is what dooms us?

Philosophers, religious people, or you and me, may struggle with the question “what’s the purpose of life?”. These guys do not. The purpose of life is to make a profit. The earth and all the life it harbors exist to kill, drill, excavate and burn down, if that means you can make a profit. And after that you repair it all for a profit. In their view, the earth doesn’t turn of its own accord after all, it’s money that makes it go round.

 

The worrisome thing is that Mark and Michael will be listened to, that they are allowed a seat at the table in the first place, whereas you and I are not. A table that will be filled with plenty more of their ilk, as the announcement of Bill Gates’ billionaire philantropist energy fund says loud and clear:

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a group of high-profile executives are investing $1 billion in a fund to spur clean energy technology and address global climate change a year after the Paris climate agreement. Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund on Monday along with billionaire entrepreneurs such as Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos. The fund seeks to increase financing of emerging energy research and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to help meet goals set in Paris, according to a statement by the investor group known as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Yes, many of the same folk and/or their minions were sitting at the table with Trump on Dec 14. To see if there are any profits to be made. When a profit is involved they have no trouble sitting down with the same guy they insulted and warned against day after grueling day mere weeks ago. They have no trouble doing it because they insulted him for a potential profit too. It’s business, it’s not personal.

Billionaires will save us from ourselves, and make us -and themselves- rich while doing it. What is not to like? Well, for one thing, has anybody lately checked the energy footprint of Messrs. Bloomberg, Gates, Ma, Zuckerberg, Bezos et al? Is it possible that perhaps they’re trying to pull our collective wool over our eyes by pretending to care about those footprints? That maybe these ‘clean energy’ initiatives are merely a veil behind which they intend to extend -and expand- said footprints?

The ones in that sphere who wind up being most successful are those who are most convincing in making us believe that all we need to do to avert a climate disaster is to use some different form of energy. That all the talk about zero emissions and clean energy is indeed reflecting our one and only possible reality.

That all we need to do is to switch to solar and wind and electric cars to save ourselves (and they’ll build them for a subsidy). That that will end the threat and we can keep on doing what we always did, and keep on growing it all and as the cherry on the cake, make a profit off the endeavor.

 

None of it flies even a little. First of all, as I said last week in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity, there are many more problems with our present lifestyles than ‘only’ climate change, or the use of carbon. Like the extinction of two-thirds of all vertebrate life in just 50 years leading up to 2020. There’s -close to- nothing wind and solar will do to alleviate that.

Because it’s not oil itself, or carbon in general, that kills; our use of it does. And the rush to build an entire new global infrastructure that is needed to use new energy forms, which will depend on using huge amounts of carbon, is more likely to kill off that globe than to save it. “Carbon got us in this, let’s use lots more of it to get us out”.

The trillions in -public- investment that are would be needed will make us all dirt poor too, except for the gentlemen mentioned above and a handful of others who invent stuff that they manage to make us believe will save us. Still convinced?

 

The lifestyles of the last 10 generations of us, especially westerners, are characterized more than anything else by the huge increase in the use of energy, of calories and joules. As we went from wood to peat to coal to oil and gas, the energy return on energy investment kept going higher. But that stopped with oil and gas. And from now on in it will keep going down.

“Free carbon excess” was a one-off ‘gift’ from nature. It will not continue and it will not return. Different forms of carbon have offered us a one-time source of free energy that we will not have again. The idea that we can replace it with ‘clean energy’ is ludicrous. The energy return on energy investment doesn’t even come close. And you can’t run a society with our present levels of complexity on a much lower ‘net energy’. We must dress down. No profit in that, sorry.

We built what we have now with oil at an EROEI of 100:1. There are no forms of energy left that come remotely close, including new, unconventional, forms of oil itself. Peak oil has been a much maligned and misunderstood concept, but its essence stands: when it takes more energy to ‘produce’ energy than it delivers, there will be no production.

This graph is a few years old, and wind and solar may have gained a few percentage points in yield, but it’s still largely correct. And it will continue to be.

 

 

We have done with all that free energy what all other life forms do when ‘gifted’ with an excess of available energy: spend it as fast as possible, proliferate to speed up the process (we went from less than 1 billion people to 7 billion in under 200 years, 2 billion to 7 billion in 100 years) and, most of all, waste it.

Ever wonder why everybody drives a car that is ten times heavier then her/himself and has a 10% efficiency rate in its energy use? Why there’s an infrastructure everywhere that necessitates for every individual to use 1000 times more energy than it would take herself to get from A to B on foot? Sounds a lot like deliberately wasteful behavior, doesn’t it?

The essence here is that while we were building this entire wasteful world of us, we engaged in the denying and lying behavior that typifies us as a species more than anything: we disregarded externalities. And there is no reason to believe we would not continue to do just that when we make the illusionary switch to ‘clean’ energy.

To begin with, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says there’s no such thing as clean energy. So stop using the term. Second, that we call wind and solar ‘clean energy’ means we’re already ignoring externalities again. We pretend that producing windmills and solar panels does not produce pollution (or we wouldn’t call it ‘clean’). While enormous amounts of carbon are used in the production process, and it involves pollution, loss of land, loss of life, loss of resources (once you burn it it’s gone).

 

An example: If we want to ‘save’ the earth, we would do good to start by overthrowing the way we produce food. It presently easily takes more than 10 calories of energy -mostly carbon- for every calorie of food we make. Then we wrap it all in (oil-based) plastic and transport it sometimes 1000s of miles before it’s on our plates. And at the end of this process, we will have thrown away half of it. It’s hard to think of a more wasteful process.

It’s a process obviously devised and executed by idiots. But it’s profitable. There is a profit to be made in wasting precious resources. And there is a key lesson in that. There is no profit in producing food in a more efficient way. At least not for the industries that produce it. And perhaps not even for you, if you produce most of your food – it takes ‘precious’ time.

It would still be hugely beneficial, though. And there’s the key. There is no direct link between what is good for us, and the planet, on the one side, and profit, money, on the other. What follows from that is that it’s not the people whose entire lives are centered around money who are the most obvious choices to ‘save the planet’. If anything, they are the least obvious.

But in an economic and political system that is itself as focused on money as ours is, they are still the ones who are allowed to assume this role. It’s a circle jerk around, and then into, a drain.

 

Mankind’s only chance to not destroy its planet lies in diverging from all other species in that not all energy available to it, is used up as fast as possible. But that’s a big challenge. It would, speaking from a purely philosophical angle, truly separate us from nature for the first time ever, and we must wonder if that’s desirable.

We would need to gain much more knowledge of who we are and what makes us do what we do, and why. But that is not going to happen if we focus on making a profit. Using less energy means less waste means less profit.

Yes, there may be energy sources that produce a bit less waste, a bit less pollution, than those that are carbon based. But first, our whole infrastructure has been built by carbon, and second, even if another energy source would become available, we would push to grow its use ever more, and end up initially in the same mess, and then a worse one.

 

 

I stumbled upon an excellent example of the effects of all this today:

The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature

Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed. The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air. The impact of roads extends far beyond the roads themselves, the scientists said, by enabling forest destruction, pollution, the splintering of animal populations and the introduction of deadly pests.

An international team of researchers analysed open-access maps of 36m km of road and found that over half of the 600,000 fragments of land in between roads are very small – less than 1km2. A mere 7% are bigger than 100km2, equivalent to a square area just 10km by 10km (6mi by 6 mi). Furthermore, only a third of the roadless areas were truly wild, with the rest affected by farming or people.

The last remaining large roadless areas are rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia and the tundra and forests in the north of Russia and Canada. Virtually all of western Europe, the eastern US and Japan have no areas at all that are unaffected by roads.

 

 

It’s a good example because it raises the question: how much of this particular issue do you think will be solved by the promotion of electric cars, or windmills? How much of it do you think can be solved for a profit? Because if there’s no profit in it, it will not happen.

One more for the philosophy class: I know many people will be inclined to suggest options like nuclear fusion. Or zero point energy. And I would suggest that not only do these things exist in theory only, which is always a bad thing if you have an immediate problem. But more than that: imagine providing the human race with a source of endless energy, and then look at what it’s done with the free energy available to it over the past 10 generations.

Give man more energy and he’ll just destroy his world faster. It’s not about carbon, it’s about energy and about what you yourself do with it. And no, money and profit will not reverse climate change, or any other detrimental effects they have on our lives. They will only make them worse.

Oct 222016
 
 October 22, 2016  Posted by at 7:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Why The Global Economy Will Disintegrate Rapidly


Pamir, Last Commercial Sailing Ship To Round Cape Horn 1949

 

We have written little on the topic of energy lately, other than related to oil prices going up and down, empty OPEC ‘promises’ to cut oil production, and the incredible debt load threatening to crush US -and Canadian- unconventional oil and gas. It’s a logical outcome of focusing more on finance than energy, because we feel the former has a shorter timeline than the latter. Something that harks back to our Oil Drum days.

But that doesn’t mean that the idea and/or principle of peak oil has disappeared, or that we have completely forgotten it. It has just been snowed under by the financial crisis (and by unconventinal oil and gas). And while we continue to find that the financial world will dump us into a bigger crisis sooner than energy will, it’s useful to look at oil et al from time to time.

Please note: we don’t wish to deny that oil depletion has its own dynamics, but in our view those dynamics will be hugely affected by the financial crisis that is looming big and will strike first. A crisis that, by the way, will affect not just oil and gas, but solar and wind just as much. You can get only as much ‘alternative’ energy as you can pay for, and that is before we even mention solar and wind’s EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Investment).

What the world needs to do, but we very much doubt it will voluntarily, is not to look for other forms of energy to replace oil and gas, but to look for ways to use much less energy (90% or so) while still maintaining societies that function as best they can. We doubt this because man is no more made to volunteer for downsizing than any other species.

The interview below with Louis Arnoux by the SRSrocco Report, combined with an article Louis wrote in July on the site of our old friend Ugo Bardi (is Florence really 6 years ago already?), is an excellent opportunity to catch up on energy issues.

The discussion of energy relative to finance will no doubt continue, and Louis doesn’t seem to have the exact same view as us, but that’s fine, or at least it shouldn’t deter us from listening. This graph from his work, for instance, contains a great depiction of what EROEI really means, and how it works out, and that is important to know.

And yes, we are aware of the contradiction between the provocative title of this post (borrowed from SRSrocco Report) and our own view that it’s not energy that will bring the economy down; the internal dynamics of finance don’t need any help on their way towards crashing the system. But it’s a great title nonetheless.

 

 

First, here’s the SRSrocco Report interview, below it you’ll find the article. Note: this is part 1, links to parts 2 and 3 are provided.

 

 

 

Louis Arnoux: Some reflections on the Twilight of the Oil Age – part I:
Alice looking down the end of the barrel

 

 

This three-part post was inspired by Ugo’s recent post concerning Will Renewables Ever ReplaceFossils? and recent discussions within Ugo’s discussion group on how is it that “Economists still don’t get it”?  It integrates also numerous discussion and exchanges I have had with colleagues and business partners over the last three years.

Introduction


Since at least the end of 2014 there has been increasing confusions about oil prices, whether so-called “Peak Oil” has already happened, or will happen in the future and when, matters of EROI (or EROEI) values for current energy sources and for alternatives, climate change and the phantasmatic 2oC warming limit, and concerning the feasibility of shifting rapidly to renewables or sustainable sources of energy supply.  Overall, it matters a great deal whether a reasonable time horizon to act is say 50 years, i.e. in the main the troubles that we are contemplating are taking place way past 2050, or if we are already in deep trouble and the timeframe to try and extricate ourselves is some 10 years. Answering this kind of question requires paying close attention to system boundary definitions and scrutinising all matters taken for granted.

It took over 50 years for climatologists to be heard and for politicians to reach the Paris Agreement re climate change (CC) at the close of the COP21, late last year.  As you no doubt can gather from the title, I am of the view that we do not have 50 years to agonise about oil.  In the three sections of this post I will first briefly take stock of where we are oil wise; I will then consider how this situation calls upon us to do our utter best to extricate ourselves from the current prevailing confusion and think straight about our predicament; and in the third part I will offer a few considerations concerning the near term, the next ten years – how to approach it, what cannot work and what may work, and the urgency to act, without delay.

Part 1 – Alice looking down the end of the barrel


In his recent post, Ugo contrasted the views of the Doomstead Diner‘s readers  with that of energy experts regarding the feasibility of replacing fossil fuels within a reasonable timeframe.  In my view, the Doomstead’s guests had a much better sense of the situation than the “experts” in Ugo’s survey.  To be blunt, along current prevailing lines we are not going to make it.  I am not just referring here to “business-as-usual” (BAU) parties holding for dear life onto fossil fuels and nukes.  I also include all current efforts at implementing alternatives and combating CC.  Here is why.   

The energy cost of system replacement


What a great number of energy technology specialists miss are the challenges of whole system replacement – moving from fossil-based to 100% sustainable over a given period of time.  Of course, the prior question concerns the necessity or otherwise of whole system replacement.  For those of us who have already concluded that this is an urgent necessity, if only due to CC, no need to discuss this matter here.  For those who maybe are not yet clear on this point, hopefully, the matter will become a lot clearer a few paragraphs down.

So coming back for now to whole system replacement, the first challenge most remain blind to is the huge energy cost of whole system replacement in terms of both the 1st principle of thermodynamics (i.e. how much net energy is required to develop and deploy a whole alternative system, while the old one has to be kept going and be progressively replaced) and also concerning the 2nd principle (i.e. the waste heat involved in the whole system substitution process).  The implied issues are to figure out first how much total fossil primary energy is required by such a shift, in addition to what is required for ongoing BAU business and until such a time when any sustainable alternative has managed to become self-sustaining, and second to ascertain where this additional fossil energy may come from. 

The end of the Oil Age is now


If we had a whole century ahead of us to transition, it would be comparatively easy.  Unfortunately, we no longer have that leisure since the second key challenge is the remaining timeframe for whole system replacement.  What most people miss is that the rapid end of the Oil Age began in 2012 and will be over within some 10 years.  To the best of my knowledge, the most advanced material in this matter is the thermodynamic analysis of the oil industry taken as a whole system (OI) produced by The Hill’s Group (THG) over the last two years or so (https://www.thehillsgroup.org). 

THG are seasoned US oil industry engineers led by B.W. Hill.  I find its analysis elegant and rock hard.  For example, one of its outputs concerns oil prices.  Over a 56 year time period, its correlation factor with historical data is 0.995.  In consequence, they began to warn in 2013 about the oil price crash that began late 2014 (see: https://www.thehillsgroup.org/depletion2_022.htm).  In what follows I rely on THG’s report and my own work.
Three figures summarise the situation we are in rather well, in my view.
Figure 1 – End Game
For purely thermodynamic reasons net energy delivered to the globalised industrial world (GIW) per barrel by the oil industry (OI) is rapidly trending to zero.  By net energy we mean here what the OI delivers to the GIW, essentially in the form of transport fuels, after the energy used by the OI for exploration, production, transport, refining and end products delivery have been deducted. 
However, things break down well before reaching “ground zero”; i.e. within 10 years the OI as we know it will have disintegrated. Actually, a number of analysts from entities like Deloitte or Chatham House, reading financial tealeaves, are progressively reaching the same kind of conclusions.[1]

The Oil Age is finishing now, not in a slow, smooth, long slide down from “Peak Oil”, but in a rapid fizzling out of net energy.  This is now combining with things like climate change and the global debt issues to generate what I call a “Perfect Storm” big enough to bring the GIW to its knees.

In an Alice world


At present, under the prevailing paradigm, there is no known way to exit from the Perfect Storm within the emerging time constraint (available time has shrunk by one order of magnitude, from 100 to 10 years).  This is where I think that Doomstead Diner’s readers are guessing right.  Many readers are no doubt familiar with the so-called “Red Queen” effect illustrated in Figure 2 – to have to run fast to stay put, and even faster to be able to move forward.  The OI is fully caught in it.

Figure 2 – Stuck on a one track to nowhere

The top part of Figure 2 highlights that, due to declining net energy per barrel, the OI has to keep running faster and faster (i.e. pumping oil) to keep supplying the GIW with the net energy it requires.  What most people miss is that due to that same rapid decline of net energy/barrel towards nil, the OI can’t keep “running” for much more than a few years – e.g. B.W. Hill considers that within 10 years the number of petrol stations in the US will have shrunk by 75%…  

What people also neglect, depicted in the bottom part of Figure 2, is what I call the inverse Red Queen effect (1/RQ).  Building an alternative whole system takes energy that to a large extent initially has to come from the present fossil-fuelled system.  If the shift takes place too rapidly, the net energy drain literally kills the existing BAU system.[2] The shorter the transition time the harder is the 1/RQ.  

I estimate the limit growth rate for the alternative whole system at 7% growth per year.  

In other words, current growth rates for solar and wind, well above 20% and in some cases over 60%, are not viable globally.  However, the kind of growth rates, in the order of 35%, that are required for a very short transition under the Perfect Storm time frame are even less viable – if “we” stick to the prevailing paradigm, that is.  As the last part of Figure 2 suggests, there is a way out by focusing on current huge energy waste, but presently this is the road not taken.

On the way to Olduvai


In my view, given that nearly everything within the GIW requires transport and that said transport is still about 94% dependent on oil-derived fuels, the rapid fizzling out of net energy from oil must be considered as the defining event of the 21st century – it governs the operation of all other energy sources, as well as that of the entire GIW.  In this respect, the critical parameter to consider is not that absolute amount of oil mined (as even “peakoilers” do), such as Million barrels produced per year, but net energy from oil per head of global population, since when this gets too close to nil we must expect complete social breakdown, globally. 

The overall picture, as depicted ion Figure 3, is that of the “Mother of all Senecas” (to use Ugo’s expression).   It presents net energy from oil per head of global population.[3]  The Olduvai Gorge as a backdrop is a wink to Dr. Richard Duncan’s scenario (he used barrels of oil equivalent which was a mistake) and to stress the dire consequences if we do reach the “bottom of the Gorge” – a kind of “postmodern hunter-gatherer” fate.

Oil has been in use for thousands of year, in limited fashion at locations where it seeped naturally or where small well could be dug out by hand.  Oil sands began to be mined industrially in 1745 at Merkwiller-Pechelbronn in north east France (the birthplace of Schlumberger).  From such very modest beginnings to a peak in the early 1970s, the climb took over 220 years.  The fall back to nil will have taken about 50 years.

The amazing economic growth in the three post WWII decades was actually fuelled by a 321% growth in net energy/head.  The peak of 18GJ/head in around 1973, was actually in the order of some 40GJ/head for those who actually has access to oil at the time, i.e. the industrialised fraction of the global population.

Figure 3 – The “Mother of all Senecas”

In 2012 the OI began to use more energy per barrel in its own processes (from oil exploration to transport fuel deliveries at the petrol stations) than what it delivers net to the GIW.  We are now down below 4GJ/head and dropping fast.

This is what is now actually driving the oil prices: since 2014, through millions of trade transactions (functioning as the “invisible hand” of the markets), the reality is progressively filtering that the GIW can only afford oil prices in proportion to the amount of GDP growth that can be generated by a rapidly shrinking net energy delivered per barrel, which is no longer much.  Soon it will be nil. So oil prices are actually on a downtrend towards nil. 

To cope, the OI has been cannibalising itself since 2012.  This trend is accelerating but cannot continue for very long.  Even mainstream analysts have begun to recognise that the OI is no longer replenishing its reserves.  We have entered fire-sale times (as shown by the recent announcements by Saudi Arabia (whose main field, Ghawar, is probably over 90% depleted) to sell part of Aramco and make a rapid shift out of a near 100% dependence on oil and towards “solar”.

Given what Figure 1 to 3 depict, it should be obvious that resuming growth along BAU lines is no longer doable, that addressing CC as envisaged at the COP21 in Paris last year is not doable either, and that incurring ever more debt that can never be reimbursed is no longer a solution, not even short-term.  
Time to “pull up” and this requires a paradigm change capable of avoiding both the RQ and 1/RQ constraints.  After some 45 years of research, my colleagues and I think this is still doable.  Short of this, no, we are not going to make it, in terms of replacing fossil resources with renewable ones within the remaining timeframe, or in terms of the GIW’s survival.
Next: 

Part 2 – Enquiring into the appropriateness of the question

Part 3 – Standing slightly past the edge of the cliff

 

 

Bio: Dr Louis Arnoux is a scientist, engineer and entrepreneur committed to the development of sustainable ways of living and doing business.

 

 

Aug 152016
 
 August 15, 2016  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC R.P. Andrews fire, 628 D Street N.W, Washington, DC 1912

Younger Generation In UK Face Overwhelming Pensions Bill (G.)
British Millennials Are ‘Collateral Damage’ as Pension Gap Grows (BBG)
A Simple Test to Dispel the Illusion Behind Stock Buybacks (NYT)
The Bank of Japan’s Unstoppable Rise to Shareholder No. 1 (BBG)
Japan’s Economy Stalls In April-June, Casts Doubts On Abe’s Policies (R.)
China Is Hoarding Cash At The Fastest Pace Since Lehman (ZH)
China Signals Growth, Not Political Disputes, Should Dominate G20 (R.)
Cheap Money Fuels Boom In Germany, But Fails To Lift France And Italy (CNBC)
Enough Austerity. More Fiscal Stimulus, Please (BBG Ed.)
London Set To Bear Brunt Of Post-Brexit Downturn (G.)
Give Us EU Visa Freedom In October Or Abandon Migrant Deal, Turkey Says (R.)
Britain’s Vast National Gamble On Wind Power May Yet Pay Off (AEP)

 

 

“.. it leaves young people paying twice, saving for their own pensions while also paying for the pensions of older generations through taxation.”

“Since 2007, the real disposal income of pensioners has risen by almost 10%. Those over the age of 65 have harvested fully two-thirds of that £2.7tn increase in national wealth. By contrast, since 2007, working-age households with children have achieved income gains of only about 3%, while the incomes of those without children have fallen by 3%,” he said.

This can only go horribly wrong, there is no other possible outcome, but it’s a topic politicians either don’t understand or don’t want to touch. Which is why I wrote Basic Income in The Time of Crisis a month ago. There is not much time left.

Younger Generation In UK Face Overwhelming Pensions Bill (G.)

Older people have saddled the younger generation with an excessive bill for state pensions while grabbing an ever-greater share of NHS spending, according to a report that calls for intergenerational rebalancing. The report from the Intergenerational Foundation (IF) said spending promises on state and public sector pensions are “overwhelming young people’s prospects”. The thinktank is calling on the prime minister, Theresa May, to abandon triple lock protection, which promises that the state pension will rise each year by whatever is highest out of inflation measured by the consumer price index, average earnings growth or 2.5%. The former pensions minister Ros Altmann has called for the triple lock to be scrapped. The Department for Work and Pensions has declined to rule out a review of the “totemic” policy in the coming months.

The report estimates that workers are paying £2,846 a year each to cover the cost of paying state pensions. Public sector pension liabilities, for schemes such as retired civil servants, have risen by 12% to nearly £44,000 per worker, with total liabilities at £1.4tn, it added. Angus Hanton, the co-founder of IF, said: “Public sector pensions represent one of the largest unfunded burdens for younger taxpayers, who will not retire at the same age, or on the same terms, while having to contribute more to their own pensions. “Increasing retirement ages and moving to career average pensions will not be enough to stall the pension burden avalanche that is bearing down on the young.

Auto-enrolment is an apparent success, except that it leaves young people paying twice, saving for their own pensions while also paying for the pensions of older generations through taxation.” But charity Age UK said the vast majority of pensioners have contributed throughout their life to the state pension, which remains lower than the amount paid in many other western countries. Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, pointed out that 1.6 million older people live in poverty in the UK. “A strong pensions system that provides a decent quality of life in retirement is central to a civilised society and in the best interests of us all,” she said.

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“Postal-service operator Royal Mail said last week it may not be able to keep its program running beyond 2018. That’s because its annual contributions could more than double to over £900 million.”

British Millennials Are ‘Collateral Damage’ as Pension Gap Grows (BBG)

Britain’s millennials, already suffering for the economic mistakes of the past, now face the prospect of having to pay for the country’s future. Pension-fund liabilities in the U.K. increased to a record £1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) after the Bank of England’s interest-rate cut this month, hurt by quantitative easing and razor-thin yields. It’s Britain’s version of what Duquesne Chairman Stanley Druckenmiller calls “Generational Theft” in the U.S. Plunging bond yields have caused pension liabilities to balloon and it could get even worse because the BOE will probably reduce interest rates further this year. Deficits for defined-benefit-pension funds already rose by more than 40% in the two months through July, following the vote to leave the EU and the central bank’s subsequent decision to increase quantitative easing, according to consulting firm Mercer.

“The Bank of England clearly believes that the effect on our pension system is acceptable long-term collateral damage” to prevent a short-term recession, said David Blake, professor of pension economics at London’s Cass Business School. Younger workers will “have to save more – which they appear reluctant to do – or be prepared to work much longer.” The increased bond-purchase program has had a relatively limited impact on pension deficits, according to the minutes of the BOE’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting on Aug. 3. While the fund managers have to move into riskier assets, that helps to support the economy, Governor Mark Carney said Aug. 4. “That makes it less likely that we will have a very long period of high unemployment, low output, and very low interest rates,” Carney said.

Money managers, however, appear to be unwilling to offload their higher-yielding gilts because they’re worried about generating enough returns to pay their members. The BOE last week failed to find enough investors who were prepared to sell their longer-maturity gilts, a slice of the credit market dominated by pensions and insurers. Companies that run defined-benefit pension funds are also starting to worry. Postal-service operator Royal Mail said last week it may not be able to keep its program running beyond 2018. That’s because its annual contributions could more than double to over £900 million.

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“..who really wants to own a company in the process of liquidating itself?”

A Simple Test to Dispel the Illusion Behind Stock Buybacks (NYT)

Stock investors have had one sweet summer so far watching the markets edge higher. With the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index at record highs and nearing 2,200, what’s not to like? Here’s something. As shares climb, so too do the prices companies are paying to repurchase their stock. And the companies doing so are legion. Through July of this year, United States corporations authorized $391 billion in repurchases, according to an analysis by Birinyi Associates. Although 29% below the dollar amount of such programs last year, that’s still a big number. The buyback beat goes on even as complaints about these deals intensify. Some critics say that top managers who preside over big stock repurchases are failing at one of their most basic tasks: allocating capital so their businesses grow.

Even worse, buybacks can be a way for executives to make a company’s earnings per share look better because the purchases reduce the amount of stock it has outstanding. And when per-share earnings are a sizable component of executive pay, the motivation to do buybacks only increases. Of course, companies that conduct major buybacks often contend that the purchases are an optimal use of corporate cash. But William Lazonick, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and co-director of its Center for Industrial Competitiveness, disagrees. “Executives who get into that mode of thinking no longer have the ability to even think about how to invest in their companies for the long term,” Mr. Lazonick said in an interview. “Companies that grow to be big and productive can be more productive, but they have to be reinvesting.”

[..] The net profit test, said Gary Lutin, a former investment banker who heads the forum, “cuts through to the essential logic of comparing a process that grows a bigger pie – reinvestment – to a process that divides a shrunken pie among fewer people: share buybacks. “It’s pretty obvious,” he continued, “that even mediocre returns from reinvesting in the production of goods and services will beat what’s effectively a liquidation plan.” Investors may be dazzled by the earnings-per-share gains that buybacks can achieve, but who really wants to own a company in the process of liquidating itself? Maybe it’s time to ask harder questions of corporate executives about why their companies aren’t deploying their precious resources more effectively elsewhere.

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And if companies don’t buy stocks, central banks will. It’s the only way left to delay a giant crash.

The Bank of Japan’s Unstoppable Rise to Shareholder No. 1 (BBG)

The Bank of Japan’s controversial march to the top of shareholder rankings in the world’s third-largest equity market is picking up pace. Already a top-five owner of 81 companies in Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average, the BOJ is on course to become the No. 1 shareholder in 55 of those firms by the end of next year, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg from the central bank’s exchange-traded fund holdings. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda almost doubled his annual ETF buying target last month, adding to an unprecedented campaign to revitalize Japan’s stagnant economy. While bulls have cheered the tailwind from BOJ purchases, opponents say the central bank is artificially inflating equity valuations and undercutting efforts to make public companies more efficient.

Traders worry that the monetary authority’s outsized presence will make some shares harder to buy and sell, a phenomenon that led to convulsions in Japan’s government bond market this year. “Only in Japan does the central bank show its face in the stock market this much,” said Masahiro Ichikawa at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management. “Investors are asking whether this is really right.” While the BOJ doesn’t acquire individual shares directly, it’s the ultimate buyer of stakes purchased through ETFs. Estimates of the central bank’s underlying holdings can be gleaned from the BOJ’s public records, regulatory filings by companies and ETF managers, and statistics from the Investment Trusts Association of Japan. Forecasts of the BOJ’s future shareholder rankings assume that other major investors keep their positions stable and that policy makers maintain the historical composition of their purchases.

[..] Japan’s government bond market offers a guide to the risks of further intervention in stocks, said Akihiro Murakami, the chief quantitative strategist for Japan at Nomura in Tokyo. JGB volatility soared to the highest level since 1999 in April, while trading volume has slumped as the central bank’s holdings swelled to about a third of the market. It’s still buying at an annual rate of 80 trillion yen. “If the BOJ does not sell stocks, then liquidity will disappear,” Murakami said. “As liquidity falls, the number of shares you can buy starts to decline – the same thing that’s happening in the JGB market.” The central bank owned about 60% of Japan’s domestic ETFs at the end of June, according to Investment Trusts Association figures, BOJ disclosures and data compiled by Bloomberg. Based on a report released on Friday by the Investment Trusts Association, that figure rose to about 62% in July.

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Abenomics is way beyond doubts.

Japan’s Economy Stalls In April-June, Casts Doubts On Abe’s Policies (R.)

Japan’s economic growth ground to a halt in April-June after a stellar expansion in the previous quarter on weak exports and capital expenditure, putting even more pressure on premier Shinzo Abe to come up with policies that produce more sustainable growth. The world’s third-largest economy expanded by an annualized 0.2% in the second quarter, less than a median market forecast for a 0.7% increase and a marked slowdown from a revised 2.0% increase in January-March, Cabinet Office data showed on Monday. The weak reading underscores the challenges policymakers face in putting a sustained end to two decades of deflation with the initial boost from Abe’s stimulus programs, dubbed “Abenomics,” fading. “Overall it looks like the economy is stagnating. Consumer spending is weak, and the reason is low wage gains.

There is a lot of uncertainty about overseas economies, and this is holding back capital expenditure,” said Norio Miyagawa, senior economist at Mizuho Securities. “The government has already announced a big stimulus package, so the next question is how the Bank of Japan will respond after its comprehensive policy review, which is sure to lead to a delay in its price target.” On a quarter-on-quarter basis, GDP marked flat growth in April-June, weaker than a median market forecast for a 0.2% rise. Private consumption, which accounts for roughly 60% of GDP, rose 0.2% in April-June, matching a median market forecast but slowing from a 0.7% increase in the previous quarter. Capital expenditure declined 0.4% in April-June after a 0.7% drop in the first quarter, the data showed, suggesting that uncertainty over the global economic outlook and weak domestic markets are keeping firms from boosting spending.

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One word: FEAR.

China Is Hoarding Cash At The Fastest Pace Since Lehman (ZH)

The last few months have seen trillions of dollars of fresh credit puked into existence in China to enable goal-seeked growth numbers to creep lower (as opposed to utterly collapse). The problem is… the Chinese are hoarding that cash at the fastest pace since Lehman as liquidity concerns flood through the nation. China’s M2, a broad gauge of money supply including savings deposits, rose at the slowest pace in 15 months and trailed the government’s full-year target of +11% in July. But, as Bloomberg details, by contrast, M1, the total of cash, checks and demand deposits, rose at the quickest pace in six years…

That shows companies “are holding all this cash, but investment returns are low and there are few options for projects,” said Liu Dongliang, a senior analyst at China Merchants Bank Co. in Shenzhen.

In fact, no matter what has been done since the Chinese stock market crashed, the Chinese have been hoarding cash…

In fact, the hoarding of cash in China corresponded with the top in 1999/2000, and the top in 2007…

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“..If people don’t feel like they are beneficiaries of economic development, if they don’t think their lot in life is improving, that’s when they start getting all kinds of ideas.” We wouldn’t want that, would we?

China Signals Growth, Not Political Disputes, Should Dominate G20 (R.)

China expects next month’s summit of the G20 which it is hosting will focus on boosting economic growth and other financial issues rather than disputes like the South China Sea, senior officials said on Monday. The summit of the world’s 20 biggest economies in the eastern city of Hangzhou will be the highlight of President Xi Jinping’s diplomatic agenda this year, and the government is keen to ensure it proceeds smoothly. The Sept 4-5 leaders’ meeting comes as clouds continue to hover over global growth prospects and worries about China’s own slowing economy. Last month’s meeting of G20 policymakers was dominated by the impact of Britain’s exit from Europe and fears of rising protectionism.

Yi Gang, a vice governor of the People’s Bank of China, said the summit will focus on how to stimulate sluggish global economic growth through open, inclusive trade and the development of robust financial markets. “We need to instil market confidence and ensure there are no competitive devaluations but rather let the market determine exchange rates,” Yi told a news briefing, adding this would be the first G20 to discuss foreign exchange markets in such detail. The G20 will also discuss how to better monitor and respond to risks presented by global capital flows, he said. Despite increasingly protectionist rhetoric around the world, the G20 is strongly opposed to anti-trade and anti-investment sentiment, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said.

“We really do need to make sure that the people, the public, benefit from economic development and growth. If people don’t feel like they are beneficiaries of economic development, if they don’t think their lot in life is improving, that’s when they start getting all kinds of ideas.”

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Why the euro is hammering the EU. And will be the end of it.

Cheap Money Fuels Boom In Germany, But Fails To Lift France And Italy (CNBC)

Germany, for example, does not want zero interest rates and those trillions of euros created through ECB’s massive asset purchases. Germany is a fully-employed economy with balanced public finances and an exploding current account surplus of 9% of GDP. With a 1.8% annual growth in the first half of this year, the economy is running almost an entire percentage point above its potential and noninflationary growth. [..] Now, for a sharp contrast, take a look at Italy. On a quarterly basis, there has been virtually no growth in the first half of this year. In fact, the economy has been declining and stagnating over the last four years, and is currently experiencing a price deflation. Italy’s 3 million of unemployed in June (10.6% of the labor force) are only slightly below that level in the same month of last year. A shocking 36.5% of the country’s youth is out of work.

[..] Germany, close to one-third of the euro area’s products and services, does not need, and does not want, the ECB’s extraordinarily loose monetary policy. But the hard-pressed economies of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece – another 50% of the euro area output – need that oxygen to survive. Easy money is all they got. Their budget deficits of 2-5% of GDP, and their rising public debt of 120-185% of GDP, leave no room for fiscal policy to support demand, output and employment. The EU authorities, whoever they are, have relented from imposing penalties on Spain and Portugal – and have looked the other way in the case of France – for transgressing the euro area budget deficit commitments. But they continue to insist on labor market deregulations and on other socially and politically sensitive measures that act as short-term growth and employment killers.

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Bloomberg editorials blow wherever the wind does.

Enough Austerity. More Fiscal Stimulus, Please (BBG Ed.)

Budget deficits may be coming out of retirement. With economies all over the world growing too slowly and little scope left for new monetary stimulus, governments are turning their attention back to fiscal policy. This shift in thinking is overdue. In many countries, though not all, fiscal expansion is not just possible but also necessary. A resumption of budget activism, if it happens, won’t be riskless, so caution will be needed. A stubborn commitment to fiscal austerity, though, would be riskier still. The immediate response to the 2008 crash included fiscal easing – sometimes deliberate and sometimes the automatic consequence (higher public spending, lower tax revenues) of slumping activity. In most cases, expansionary budgets lessened the impact of collapsing demand, but they also pushed up public debt.

Before long, governments started tightening their budgets to get debt back under control. With demand still lacking, the hope was that monetary expansion would be enough to support recovery. It wasn’t. Governments have found that monetary policy is losing its potency. Interest rates are close to zero in many countries, and in some even negative. Huge bond-buying programs – QE – have delivered an additional monetary punch, but again with diminishing effects, and with a growing risk of financial instability as well. So fiscal policy, despite the recent growth of public debt, is back on the agenda. Central banks have been leading the call. In June, Fed Chair Janet Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee that U.S. fiscal policy had “not played a supportive role.”

In July, the ECB’s chief economist, Peter Praet, said “monetary policy cannot be the only remedy to our current economic challenges.” Governments are responding. Following the U.K.’s decision to quit the EU, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has promised a break with his predecessor’s approach and says he will “reset” fiscal policy. Added investment in infrastructure is under consideration as part of a new industrial strategy.

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Blame it on the bubble, not the Brexit. That would be shooting the messenger.

London Set To Bear Brunt Of Post-Brexit Downturn (G.)

London could bear the brunt of a post-Brexit vote downturn, according to economic indicators in the weeks since the EU referendum pointing to job cuts, falling house prices and a decline in business activity in the capital. London’s economy was relatively unaffected by the previous downturn, compared with other UK regions, but early signs from the latest bout of turmoil suggest that it might not get off so lightly again, economists have said. This could have consequences for the government’s tax receipts and overall growth, given the city’s contribution to the UK economy. One key concern about the impact on London of the vote to leave the EU stems from the capital’s dependence on financial services.

London could lose its status as Europe’s financial capital if the UK leaves the single market and City banks are stripped of their lucrative EU “passports” that allow them to sell services to the rest of the bloc. Samuel Tombs, the chief UK economist at consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “London was unscathed by the last recession, but its dependence on finance now is its achilles heel.” He highlighted a potential change of fortunes for London in a note to clients after surveys showed that companies in the capital had taken a hit from the referendum result. London has been the UK’s growth star for the past two decades, outperforming the rest of the country, Tombs said. “Surveys since the referendum, however, indicate that the capital is at the sharp end of the post-referendum downturn.” added.

London was the worst performer out of 12 regions on one measure of business activity for the weeks following 23 June, the day of the referendum. Companies in the capital cut jobs and suffered the sharpest fall in output since early 2009, when the UK was mired in recession, according to the Lloyds Bank regional purchasing managers’ index. Clients appeared reluctant to commit to new contracts, London businesses said, leading to a slump in order books. “The capital was hit harder than any other UK region,” said Paul Evans, the regional director for London at Lloyds commercial banking.

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How deep a whole will Merkel dig this time around?

Give Us EU Visa Freedom In October Or Abandon Migrant Deal, Turkey Says (R.)

The EU should grant Turks visa-free travel in October or the migrant deal that involves Turkey stemming the flow of illegal migrants to the bloc should put be put aside, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a German newspaper. Asked whether hundreds of thousands of refugees in Turkey would head to Europe if the EU did not grant Turks visa freedom from October, he told Bild newspaper’s Monday edition: “I don’t want to talk about the worst case scenario – talks with the EU are continuing but it’s clear that we either apply all treaties at the same time or we put them all aside.” Visa-free access to the EU – the main reward for Ankara’s collaboration in choking off an influx of migrants into Europe – has been subject to delays due to a dispute over Turkish anti-terrorism legislation and Ankara’s crackdown after a failed coup.

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When Ambrose starts talking about energy -or anything other than finance, for that matter- I brace myself. He tends to go into cheerleading mode. In this piece, the only problem he sees is intermittency, and even that mostly as not a real issue. Advancements in technology, don’t you know…

Britain’s Vast National Gamble On Wind Power May Yet Pay Off (AEP)

Wind power has few friends on the political Right. No other industry elicits such protest from the conservative press, Tory backbenchers, and free market economists. The vehemence is odd since wind generates home-made energy and could be considered a ‘patriotic choice’. It dates back to the 1990s and early 2000s when the national wind venture seemed a bottomless pit for taxpayer subsidies. Pre-modern turbines captured trivial amounts of energy. The electrical control systems and gearboxes broke down. Repair costs were prohibitive. Yet as so often with infant industries, early mishaps tell us little. Costs are coming down faster than almost anybody thought possible. As the technology comes of age – akin to gains in US shale fracking – the calculus is starting to vindicate Britain’s vast investment in wind power.

The UK is already world leader in offshore wind. The strategic choice now is whether to go for broke, tripling offshore capacity to 15 gigawatts (GW) by 2030. The decision is doubly-hard because there is no point dabbling in offshore wind. Scale is the crucial factor in slashing costs, so either we do it with conviction or we do not do it all. My own view is that the gamble is worth taking. Shallow British waters to offer optimal sites of 40m depth. The oil and gas industry knows how to operate offshore. Atkins has switched its North Sea skills seamlessly to building substations for wind. JDR in Hartlepool sells submarine cables across the world. Wind power is a natural fit.

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