Observing the renewable energy transition from a European perspective

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

IEA – World Energy Outlook 2012

The IEA recently presented its World Energy Outlook report for 2012. Kjell Aleklett, chairman of Peak-Oil club ASPO took a look at it and discussed the report in an article linked to below. Aleklett challenges the findings of the report and instead believes that “During the coming 50 years the production of oil will fall by half“. The IEA believes that global oil production will rise until 2035, with contributions from main players as follows, where the plusses (Iraq, Brasil, Kazakhstan, Saudi-Arabia, Canada, USA, Venezuela) dominate the minusses (Russia, China, UK, Norway):

The IEA believes that this will be the future of US oil and gas production, with large increases in production of unconventional oil and gas:


The prediction made by the IEA is that by 2020 the US will overtake Saudi-Arabia in oil production.

It is interesting the see the IEA’s development of predicting SA’s output for 2030 in time:

World Energy Outlook ……. 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
Scenarios for 2030 (Mb/d)….22.5* 15.6 15.6 13.2 11.4

Implicit message from the IEA to the world: “do not take our predictions serious“. Message from us to the IEA: “we won’t“.

[] – more about the IEA.

Global Energy System 2010

Overview of the global energy flows from source to destination in 2010.


RUSTEC – Russian Wind Energy For Europe

The Murmansk area in north-western Russia is known for high average windspeeds and thus suitable for windturbines. Potential for the region is estimated to be 2000 MW. The Dutch company Windlife is involved in a project.

Statement by Dutch ministery of economic affairs dating from 2010 about the realization by Windlife and Ecofys to build six windparks of 600 turbines with a total capacity of 1.200 MW in 2015. Investment volume 1.2 billion euro.

Last week the Moscow Times reported about the project that still seems to be alive and Windlife is still involved. The company expects to present a feasibility study by the end of this year. Maybe this article?

About the current state of wind energy in Russia []

[google maps – Murmansk]

The Future Of Saudi-Arabia

Saudi-Arabia announced it wants to invest massively in solar energy. Saudi-Arabia knows best how much oil it has (or rather does not have)… and is voting with it’s feet, away from oil towards solar energy. Lawrence of Arabia probably never realized how much potential solar energy gold is stored in deserts when he was underway securing oil for his masters in London, knowing that the days of the Ottoman empire were almost over.

We calculated earlier that it is enough to cover an area like Spain (500,000 km2) with solar panels in order to completely replace the planet’s energy needs. Everything: electricity, gas, oil, coal, uranium, cars, industry, everything. How big is Saudi-Arabia? More than four times Spain (2,250,000 km2), largely ‘useless’ desert. Saudi-Arabia now has two choices: sell their oil to the last drop or invest their remaining oil capital into a desert filled with solar panels… and export electricity to the West, China, India, etc. Or convert electricity into liquid fuel or gas. CH4/NG could be produced from CO2 and H2O from the atmosphere, reducing global warming. The Saudi’s could even demand a subsidy from the industrialized nations for this effort. It is the only use a desert could possibly have. And in contrast to Egypt or Algeria, Saudi-Arabia has the capital to convert this potential into (partial) reality. Maybe some Saudi smarties thought of that also and decided to make a start. There is a large uncertainty about how much oil Saudi-Arabia in reality has left. Maybe 270 billion barrel. It would take 120 billion barrel to setup a complete replacement of the world’s energy needs and Saudi-Arabia could continue to play a crucial role as the world’s energy hub. Cutting down on oil deliveries would have the additional advantage that oil prices would skyrocket. That would be bad news for western consumers, but good news for the future of the planet if these additional resources would indeed be used to set up a new solar energy based world economy. Obviously it is not to be recommended that all global solar energy production would be concentrated in the Saudi desert, but Saudi-Arabia at least has the (oil) capital to make a significant start, securing a prominent place for itself after the end of the oil age. The popular Arab saying: “My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son flies a jet-plane. His son will ride a camel“, could be replaced with: “My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son flies a jet-plane. His son will be a solar energy entrepreneur“. Other suitable places would be Australia, the Gobi desert in China, Arizona and New Mexico, the Kalahari in South-West Africa, large parts of Spain as well as the Sahara.

Why not use google maps (satellite mode) to explore the SA desert to verify it is empty.

Mattmark Hydro Power Plant

– Location: Mattmark, Saas-Almagell/Wallis/Switserland, 2197 m above sea level. Power is mainly generated down the valley in Stalden at 715 m.
– Capacity: 77,500,000 m3 or 254.5 GWh (the energy content of the lake is worth ca. 51 million euro/66 million $ consumer electricity, consumer endprice assumed to be 20 euro cent per kwh). Or alternatively: the lake energy content represents the equivalent of one million man year of hard physical labour, assuming one man day = one kwh (in reality it is less). Adding a non-working woman and two children to the equation to replace the worker after two generations, the energy stored in this lake represents the labour equivalent of a nation like Denmark. In other words: it would take one million Danish men one year of carrying water from Stalden (715 M) to Mattmark (2197 m) in order to fill an empty lake. Come to think of it, we doubt if a Dane is able to lift 77.5 mm3 over 1200 m in a years time. Assuming three climbs per day of 33 liter each makes 0.1 mm3 per day or 775 days non-stop working for 77.5 m3. Swap Denmark for Sweden and you have the real picture: this relatively small power plant generates as much energy as all adult Swedish males combined can produce by muscle power. Figures likes these make it clear why energy can no longer be taken for granted and that real wealth is represented by kwh and not paper money. The Gordon Gekko’s of the future will be those who understand the true meaning of the Mattmark hydro power plant in particular and energy in general rather than money and interest.
– Power: 130.3 MW, both in Stalden and Zermeiggern (Saas-Almagell), fully integrated in pan-European network. Yearly production 665 GWh, meaning that per year slightly more than twice the content of the lake is converted into electrical energy. A mini-reservoir in Zermeiggern is used to store energy by pumping water upwards to the Mattmark lake at times of low demand. The dam was built between 1960-1965, but was interrupted for two years because of the largest accident in Swiss building history, as 88 men were killed after a piece of a gletscher broke off.



Pictures from holiday trip to Mattmark:

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Silver Price

Author of the article points to an often forgotten relationship between the silver price and energy market. Core message article: silver demand only just got started. Reason: investment demand has overtaken industrial demand, the public wants silver coins, not in the least because of a deteriorating confidence in paper money. Between 2002 and 2011 the percentage of silver investment as compared to industrial application rose from 9% to 58%. In short: institutional and retail investors have been the predominant force in pushing silver from an average of $4.60 an ounce in 2002 to averaging over $35 an ounce last year. LBMA in London is the largest physical gold and silver market in the world and there has been strong US silver export to Britain to meet rising investor demand. But additionally silver production is highly energy intensive, because the ‘low hanging fruit’ (where did we hear that expression before?) has already been picked. In six years time the silver content of ore declined 34%. The author suggests to see silver as a store of energy. Now that peak conventional oil is upon us and shale likely a fata morgana, oil and gas. This implies that the ‘energy content’ of silver will increase and thus the price. People increasingly turn away from any kind of paper values (fiat money, metal certificates) and demand the real stuff. What we see happening is a bank run on the LMBA. With declining energy liquids supply, silver production will decline. The author concludes: “Get ready. As the forces for pushing silver over $100 have just begun.


Market for Solar Panels in the Netherlands

Out of curiosity here the results of a web search concerning the market of solar panels in the Netherlands. Result: panels cost ca. 1 euro/peakwatt. Add an AC-DC converter to your panels so you can actually use the generated electricity, as well as sell excess electricity to the grid, and you have to pay € 6.950,- incl. BTW (VAT) for a 5000 Watt system, consisting of panels, converter and assembly materials, no battery storage. Mechanical mounting can be done by a skilled hobbyist, but the electrical work has to be done by a professional (549,- euro). All-in professional installation (mechanical + electrical): 1865,- euro.
For a 3000 Watt system the prices mentioned above change to: 4250,- / 349,- / 1229,- euro
For a 1500 Watt system the prices mentioned above change to: 2350,- / 289,- / 959,- euro
Powergarantee 90% after 10 years and 80% after 25 years.


Relationship between EROEI and Civilization

According to Charles Hall the following relationsship exists between the cost of energy (EROEI at the wellhead) and the level of your civilization:

1.1 – pump the oil out of the ground and look at it.
1.2 – you could also refine and look at it.
1.3 – also distribute it to where you want and look at it.
3.0 – build and maintain the truck and the roads and bridges required to use it
5.0 – grow grain and put it in the truck and deliver it.
8.0 – to support farmers and truck drivers and their families.
9.0 – if your want to give your children an education
12.0 – if you want health care
14.0 – if you want arts in your life
No moonlanding included so far.


Related material:
Lots of EROEI studies here.

EROEI Estimates For Shale Oil

Results of a quick search on the web:

Wikipedia – Oil Shale – Study from 1984 indicates EROEI values between 3-10.

Executive summary refers to study by Adam Brandt, giving EROEI values like 2.5 for shale oil.

– European Commission quotes study that rejects oil from shale as not viable, based on low values of EROI. [source]

– APPENDIX D TAR SANDS/OIL SANDS – M.C. Herweyer, A. Gupta [source]
“Reported EROIs (energy return on investments) are generally in the range of 1.5-4, with a few extreme values between 7-13.”

Willem Barentsz Comes Full Circle

Dutch movie trailer with english subs of Willem Barentsz trying to find the northern sea route to east Asia in 1594. He failed but at least he had a sea named after him. More than four centuries later, the voyage is becoming routine. Now the first ever tanker loaded with liquid natural gas (LNG) sails the Northern Sea Route with gas from Norway to energy hungry Japan. Thanks to global warming causing rapid melting of sea ice.


Shale Considerations

We are no friends of shale gas/oil as it has the potential to poison the lands exploitation is practised on. But that does not garantee it is not going to happen. Here is why. But first we consider what a barrel of oil factually represents. Imagine you have a hometrainer with metal grips and a display as shown in the picture. You click your iPad in a holder so you can watch a number of youtube videos you have collected during the past few days and off you go. You have configured the apparatus such that the effort is high, but not that high that you can’t concentrate on the videos. The room where the hometrainer is located is not heated, which means that the temperature in the winter is ca. 10 degrees Celcius. After five minutes the display says pulse = 100 and generated power = 100 Watt. By that time you pull off your shirt as you have generated enough internal heat to no longer feel discomfort from the 10 degrees Celcius room temperature. After an hour you are finished, a little tired, but not exhausted. You produced 100 Watt * 1 hour = 0.1 kWh. Market value in the US: 1 dollar cent (double that in Europe). In order to produce 1 kWh it would require you to sit on the thing for 10 hours, that’s much more labour than any western trade union would allow to happen. Market value of the electricity fruits of your labour: 10 dollar cent for a hard days work. How many kWh are contained in a barrel of oil? Answer: 1628.2 kWh. A year has 240 workdays. We just figured out that a man can produce slightly less than a kWh per day. This means that one barrel of oil contains the amount of energy the equivalent of which would require you to be glued to your hometrainer for a whopping eight years. Market price one barrel of oil ca. 100$.

Back to shale. If a team of say 20 drillers is able to produce 500 barrel a day, then they convert 20 man days of physical labour into 4000 man year of physical labour equivalent, that is a (redefined) EROEI of zillion. Take into consideration additional labour to produce the drilling equipment, the drivers of trucks carrying all that water and fracking fluids and allow for a factor of three (we are guessing here) and we still have a (newly defined) EROEI of zillion. In the end all costs are labour costs as mother nature does not charge for resources, at least not in dollars. That is the proper way of looking at it and not the volatile financial side of it, which to a large extent consists of high labour costs. If you consider that an average Ukrainian makes 500 dollar a month and an American oil worker maybe 5000$ a month… and both survive… and that Americans are not ten times as good/productive/efficient as Ukrainians, then it is not difficult to guess that after a great default American oil workers could also make 500$ a month (in present day value) and that from that moment on the price of shale oil could come down considerably with collapsing wages. Moral: the question whether shale oil will be exploited or not is determined by EROEI in terms of human physical labour equivalent and not volatile finance. The only hope that remains for fracking not to be applied on a grand scale is that the cost of solar and wind will be lower than that of fracking, otherwise we are ummm… fracked.

P.S. these considerations only apply if one can ‘harvest’ more energy than it takes to produce the harvest. In fact the energy costs for the production of shale oil are relatively high. Wikipedia cites a study from 1984 estimating EROEI values for shale oil 3-10. A more recent study by Adam Brandt even gives a figure of 2.5. We don’t know where the EROEI tipping point is, below which nobody will bother to extract the shale oil from the ground… 2? 3? 5? But considering the enormous energy content of a single barrel of oil, that EROEI value will not be very high. By that time you will certainly not be driving 50 miles to a house party. The scarce amounts of oil will be used for more pressing tasks like ploughing and harvesting.

Fusion Does Not Want Us

The NYT is pleased to let itself being used as a free advertising board for nuclear fusion. We are less convinced and happy to point out that mr. Prager is a partisan, with vested interests in the business and that he has designs on your wallet for that purpose.


Lets make a deal… solar and wind exist and work. Why not install these devices first so we at least can survive the end of the carbon age. Garanteed. Once we have safely made it to the other side of the energy Rubicon we can always spend our scarce resources on this fusion hobby horse. The fusion fairy tale has had fifty years now to prove itself, that should be enough. It failed. Any guy who sends roses to a girl for half a century without ‘return on investment’ is rightly considered an idiot. Fusion does not want us. There are other girls.

Amsterdam 1952

James Howard Kunstler brings us his familiar rant about the unsustainability of modern life and by and large he is right. Sure Japan can be the first nation to abandon modernity and return to its life style of before 1854, when an imposter named commodore Perry opened up Japan by force, but we have less drastic views for the future, at least for Europe. Here is Amsterdam 1952. Few cars, no aviation, no television, no fridges, no divorces, no broken families, no haste, women are women, men are men, nobody is obese (meat once a week is the norm for many), no immigrants. Holland just recovered from the war and the economy is slowly picking up again. National debt is still at 160%, but rapidly declining. No state pensions for all yet (1957). Men on average die at 68. Six workdays a week (five from 1960 onwards), for men that is, most women stay at home and have children, many of them four or more. Entertainment… no video games, but instead a game of chess. When we were young in the sixties, we studied chess openings with our fathers, analyzing great matches of Botwinnik, Aljechin, Euwe and others. According to many of the older generations that period was the happiest time of their lives. Afterwards materialism destroyed community and family lives. We do not see why that kind of life could not return after the end of the oil age instead of Olduvai Gorge style total collapse. With a few goodies to stay as a leftover from that age, like a fully developed low energy footprint IT-infrastructure to streamline business transactions and information exchange.

Read more…

On Hawaii 44% Electricity From Solar

The US as a whole may be far lagging behind Denmark and Germany when it comes to the application of renewable energy, there are bright spots in the US nevertheless. Take Hawaii… friendly tax credits, the highest average electricity rates in the nation and the most aggressive renewable energy program adopted by any state have sent homeowners scrambling to install photovoltaic systems on their roofs. So much so that engineers responsible for the grid are worried about too much electricity fed into the grid from private electricity producers. The grid can hardly cope. Seems to us like a luxury problem that can be solved. The way things are going now Hawaii could produce 100% of its electricity as early as 2020. With prices for solar panels coming down fast, there is no reason wy the US Sun Belt (see map below) could not accomplish the energy transition fast, as far as private electricity needs are concerned.


Renaissance for Pumped Storage in Europe

If renewable sources of energy are going to be deployed on a grand scale, the necessity arises to provide for a buffer that can level off intermittent supply of energy from sources like wind and solar. Consulting company Ecoprog anticipates more than 60 new pumped-storage plants with a total capacity of about 27 GW will be built in Europe by 2020, with the market particularly booming in Spain, Switzerland and Austria.

[Norway wants to become Europe’s battery pack]

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Siemens – The Next Big Step

Since the development of fire a technological breakthrough has been waiting to happen. Now the time has come. Wind Power. The Next Big Step:


Oil Shale In Pictures


Pictures can probably be better viewed on the original site.

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Peak Oil Files

Video by Matt Beer, his site here.

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Oil Shale, Shale Oil and Tight Oil

A little bit of nittpicking here, but to preempt possible confusion, here the difference between oil shale, shale oil and tight oil:

Oil Shale

Oil shale, also known as kerogen shale, is an organic-rich fine-grained sedimentary rock containing kerogen (a solid mixture of organic chemical compounds) from which liquid hydrocarbons called shale oil (not to be confused with tight oil—crude oil occurring naturally in shales) can be produced. Shale oil is a substitute for conventional crude oil; however, extracting shale oil from oil shale is more costly than the production of conventional crude oil both financially and in terms of its environmental impact.[1][2] Deposits of oil shale occur around the world, including major deposits in the United States of America. Estimates of global deposits range from 2.8 to 3.3 trillion barrels (450×109 to 520×109 m3) of recoverable oil.

[Oil Shale]
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Massive Russian Order For Siemens

695 locomotives (2.5 billion euro) to be made by Siemens for the Russian railways, strengthening geopolitical ties between Russia and Germany.


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