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Another failure of scientific peer-review: a wrong paper on the energy return of photovoltaic energy manages to get published

Another failure of scientific peer-review: a wrong paper on the energy return of photovoltaic energy manages to get published thumbnail

Theoretically, whatever is published in a scientific journal should go through a rigorous review process that ensures that it is correct and reliable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

If you follow the debate on renewable energy, you know how important is the question of the energy return (or EROEI) of the various sources. An EROEI lower than one would make the source – PV, wind, or whatever, an energy sink, not a source. And this is exactly what Ferruccio Ferroni and Richard Hopkirk have been claimed with a paper recently published in “Energy Policy” that arrives to results that are completely different than to those of all the other studies on the subject.

The paper by Ferroni and Hopkirk is simply wrong. You can read below a complete demolition of their arguments performed by Maury Markowitz. But, no matter how wrong is the paper – and it is wrong – this story raises some disturbing points about how scientific information is validated and diffused.

1. Any paper, no matter how bad, poorly conceived, and ultimately totally wrong, can be published in a scientific journal if the authors are persistent enough and try many times. This is the complete failure of the peer review system in science

2. There is no way to correct the mistakes of a wrong paper once it is published. The journal will retract it only if it is possible to prove that the authors are guilty of evident fraud or plagiarism. But “simple” mistakes, things such as wrong citations, misinterpreted data, inappropriate data treatment and the like are not sufficient to force retraction.

3. The only way to protest against a wrong paper is to ask to the journal to publish a rebuttal. They will do that with the same degree of willingness that you feel about having a tooth pulled, but they will do that, asking also to the authors of the original paper to write a counter-rebuttal. The whole task is long, painful, and ultimately useless as it may end up giving more visibility to the initial paper.

4. Mark Twain is reported to have said that “A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes”. That’s exactly what happens when a wrong paper sees the light in a scientific journal. It will spread fast with the people who are seeking for whatever can help them with their confirmation bias. And the rebuttals will be considered as proof of the conspiracy by the PTBs to suppress the Truth.

That’s exactly what’s happening with the F&H paper, gleefully paraded around as proof that photovoltaic energy is a scam and a waste of money. A rebuttal to the paper is in preparation by a group of scientists, but it will arrive late and will do little to correct the wrong information already diffused on the Web. The problem is that this information affects choices that will determine our future: we can’t afford to base them on wrong studies that somehow managed to get published.

So, how did we find ourselves into this mess? Who created a scientific review system that has no quality standards, no independent quality control, no audits, no nothing? I have no idea, but it is clear that the system badly needs a serious reform.

Here is the demolition of the Ferroni and Hopkirk paper, reproduced from Markowits’s blog


From Energy Matters by Maury Markowitz

Another PV ERoEI debacle May 17, 2016

Posted by Maury Markowitz in balonium, solar.
Tags: , trackback

Your face should have this expression when you read Ferroni and Hopkirk’s paper.

recent report by Ferroni and Hopkirk explores the energy balance of solar power, and concludes that using PV is energy negative. That is, building PV requires more energy than the panel will produce over its lifetime.

Claims like these pop up from time to time, and normally end up being based on definitional tricks on the part of the authors. This example is no different in that respect, but in this case they also add a liberal dose of bad data.

The paper is so filled with errors and omissions that’s it’s almost breathtaking. Once again, dear reader, it’s time for the deep dive.

The sincerest flattery

While googling myself (I can’t remember my URL any more than you can) I found to my delight that the name of this blog has been taken up by a pair of bloggers from Aberdeen. How I never came across this previously is something of a mystery; I guess the web is deeper than one would imagine.

In any event, a May 9 post by one of the authors pointed me to the paper that is the topic of the rest of this article. After stating that the topic of ERoEI is new to the blog, he goes on to note that when he came across this paper, “the findings are so stunning that I felt compelled to write this post immediately.”

When I come across a study in the renewables field with findings that are “stunning”, I normally hold it at arm’s length until I can run the numbers myself. That’s because the field is utterly filled with bogus information from thinly disguised coal company shills to the nuclear true believers.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s just as much BS going the other way, from the usual suspects to the space heads, which is all the more reason to be super-skeptical. While Mr. Mearns does make some comments about the validity of certain inputs in theoretical terms, in the end, he quotes the bottom line:

Solar panels will produce only 0.83 times the amount of energy they take to produce… If correct, that means more energy is used to make the PV panels than will ever be recovered from them during their 25 year lifetime.

That’s a big “if correct.”

And guess what, it’s not correct.

Start bad…

So let’s get into the meat of it. The paper starts with the authors having examined 28 other papers on the topic and found they had a wide variability of Cumulative Energy Demand (CED), the amount of energy used by a product over its lifetime. They conclude that “the authors … were not following the same criteria in determining the boundaries of the PV system.”

Now getting the CED is important, because the overall energy balance, ERoEI,i s basically energy out divided by energy in. So you’re going to need to have a good value for that CED, and there’re all over the map. So their solution is to define an entirely new version – yay!

But now they change gears, and work on the other side of the equation, the total energy produced.

And they attempt to do this in per-square-meter terms.

Now stop right there.

The industry, and I mean the entire power industry here, not just the renewables industry, measures everything in either per-watt or per-kilowatt-hour terms. That’s because the physical mechanisms of the generators differ wildly, but a watt is a watt, so when you convert to those terms you have a real apples-to-apples comparison.

Consider an example; if I tell you a hydro dam cost $2/Watt and a new wind turbine costs $1.50/W,well, there you have it. Now what if I told you that the dam cost $2 per square meter and the turbine $10? Well, does that area include the reservoir? Does the turbine include all the area around it, or just the actual footprint on the ground? See the problem? Area is tough to pin down. Dollars are not.

So why would the authors pick such an odd unit? I can’t say for sure, but in the abstract they mention something about how “solar radiation exhibits a rather low power density”. Well, sure, and that’s important why? Apparently it’s not, because it only figures in very peripherally in the calculations, and has no effect on the bottom line.
Whatever, let’s get to the numbers at hand:

The data are available in the Swiss annual energy statistics … and show an average value of 400 kW ht/m2 yr (suffix “t” means “thermal”) for the last 10 years. This is an indication of the rather low effective level of the insolation in Switzerland. … The uptake from the incoming solar radiation is converted into electrical energy by the photovoltaic effect. The conversion process is subject to the Shockley-Queisser Limit, which indicates for the silicon technology a maximum theoretical energy conversion ef- ficiency of 31%. Since the maximum measured efficiency under standard test conditions (vertical irradiation and temperature below 25 °C) is lower, at approximately 20%, the yearly energy return derived by this first method in the form of electricity gen- erated, amounts to only 80 kW he/m2 yr.

Ok, if you don’t really know much about solar power, you might not immediately see the problem with this statement. What they’re doing is a double conversion – they’re not calculating the amount of energy produced by a PV panel, they’re taking the amount of heat collected by a thermal panel, then applying a formula to convert that to expected electrical power production.


But that conversion is totally wrong. The Shockley-Queisser Limit doesn’t work on thermal energy, it works on the original solar energy. And no, the thermal energy is not a good proxy for the original solar energy. The main contribution to the losses in PV, the SQ limit, is wavelength, which doesn’t come into play in thermal collectors at all. And the main contributor to losses in thermal collectors is ambient temperature, which has a minor effect on PV.

The two are just not the same, you can’t do that.

But more to the point, why would they do that? Because the same source they quote for the thermal value publishes actual electrical output figures as well, which they then go on to quote:

According to the official Swiss energy statistics (Swiss Federal Office of Energy, 2015), an average for the last 10 years of 106 kWhe/m2 yr is obtained for relatively new modules.

This number is 30% higher than their calculation based on thermal, a discrepancy they don’t even try to explain.

Beyond that, any number that is “an average for the last 10 years” is, by definition, not talking about “relatively new modules”. Ten years ago the average panel was about 160 Watts and cost about $5.00/Wp. Today they’re around 280 Watts and cost about $0.45/Wp. The vast majority of the world’s PV was installed in the last three years, so any calculation based on data older than that is just plain wrong.


And even this number, 106, is significantly lower than

I would expect given that Switzerland has fairly average insolation for mid-latitude Europe. So what’s up with that?

Well when I checked the cited source I found that no such number is actually reported. One can only find total output numbers and then work back from there, but the authors fail to give their calculation. And those totals  -wait for it- go back over a decade, so we’re right back to that problem again.

Which is all the more funny when you consider that such data is trivially available on the ‘net. Anyone who wants do to do this calculation should do what we all do; use NREL’s PVWatts. It has highly accurate weather data going back 30 years taken only from first-class sensors.

I typed in Zurich for the location, and selected the TMY3 data set. For the system size, I considered a typical modern 280 Watt panel at 1.6 m², or 175 W/m², and typed 0.175 into the System Size. I also changed the tilt from 20, which is good for California, to 30, which is good for Zurich. And here it is:

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 10.05.02 AM.png

They said 106. We’re at the very first number in the paper, and they’re already off by a factor of 60% from what the industry standard tool suggests.No attempt is made to explain this, except for dismissive comments about industry calculators.

 …get worse…

Now the authors turn their attention to expected lifetime of the panels, which is needed in order to calculate the overall lifetime energy production. They do so in a rather convoluted fashion, starting by considering the amount of panels recycled in Germany:

This was 7637 t. A module of 1 m2 weighs 16 kg and 1 kWp peak rating needs 9 m2 and consequently, scaling this up, a 1 MWp module will weigh approximately 144 t.

Hmmm. A SolarWorld 280, a typical modern panel, masses 17.9 kg. That’s 17.9/1.6 = 11.2 kg/m². I really have no idea where they got their value, and they don’t include any sort of reference. A 1 MWp system using these panels would require 1 million / 280 ~= 3570 panels, or 3570 x 17.9 = 63,903 kg = 64 t. So now we’re at calculation number two, and we find they’re off by another factor of two.

The paper goes on to use these numbers to suggest a real lifetime is about 17 years. Now the problem is that if older panels are heavier, then the number on a per-kg basis is automatically skewed towards older panels again. Or to put it another way, if you had 10 panels from each year since 1990 and scrapped one from each year, when measured by weight it would seem that more older panels are dying.

And once again I’m left scratching my head why they would use this convoluted magic, when one can find real values in seconds. In fact, one of the most quoted examples is right up the road from them on the LEEE-TISO buildings. The vast majority of these panels, apparently the first grid-tie system in the world, are still running fine after almost 35 years now. They calculate the losses at 0.2 to 0.5% a year, which corresponds to a panel lifetime on the order of 60 years.

…a little more…

They then ignore their previous calculations, and use a 25 year lifetime. So apparently all of that was for nothing! And that brings us to this:

Experience has shown that, on average, efficiency and hence performance de- gradations of around 1% per year of operation must be expected (Jordan and Kurtz, 2012).

Now we go from bad to terrible. They claim this 1% number comes from a paper by Jordan and Kurtz. Well that paper is available online, and actually states the measured rate varies widely, from 0.23% to as much as 2%. And the mode among that data is between 0.4 and 0.5%, which you can see on page 4 of the paper.

So if the paper they quote says it is 0.5%, how do they get 1% from the same report? Because they chose the figure on the right of page 4, which includes low-quality data. And what is the difference between the two? Well, the low-quality data is:

very sensitive to several sources of error that could skew the results. Soiling, maintaining calibration and cleanliness of irradiance sensors, module baseline data (nameplate vs. flash test), and not appropriately accounting for LID are just a few major sources of data errors.

In other words, the high-quality data is based on controlled measurements, where they account for these effects and report only the actual panel degradation. In contrast, the low-quality data does not account for these issues, so it includes all sorts of external environmental effects. They fail to mention any of this, they knowingly use the bad data.

They also fail to mention that while the 1% value was indeed used by the industry in the past, they number the industry now uses is 0.5%. And that’s because a number of long-period studies demonstrated 1% was too high. In particular, a NREL study found that panels made before 2000 had a degradation rate of 0.5%, and those after 2000 fell to 0.4%. That indicates the sorts of improvement processes that continue to this day. And, of course, they have the LEEE-TISO numbers, which strongly agree with both of the sources quoted above.
Ferroni and Hopkirk then claim:

There are also other, external factors, which can reduce PV module lifetime, for instance the site, the weather and indeed climatic conditions. These aspects do not appear to have been treated in the scientific literature in connection with photovoltaic energy usage.

Oh come on! They actually talk about these factors in the paper they’re quoting! These sorts of effects are also considered in every tool that predicts output, including PVWatts. And what, do they think their weather would be any different than the LEEE-TISO install down the road from them? Ugh.

…which brings us to…

Ok so now all of this feeds into this equation:
Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 10.46.51 AM
What this does is add up all the yearly power production figures over the lifetime of the panel to produce the total energy output of the panel. And using their figures they get 2203 kWhe/m².

Ok, just for funzies, let’s run the exact same equation,but we’ll use NREL’s 30-year climatic data, and the industry-standard 0.5% degradation. That gets you 3795 kWhe/m². Almost double.
And I need to point out that I’m using industry standard numbers, and in one case, from the same paper they quote. Their result is lower simply because they have selected worst-case-scenarios for all of these numbers. Normally one would indicate this with error bars or using the mode or mean values, like I’m doing here, but they haven’t done that. They just say these numbers are correct. They aren’t.

So, now, the other side of the equation

Ok, so the authors have now developed a number for the total output of the panel, now it’s time to consider the total energy input. And that starts like this:

The average weight of a photovoltaic module is 16 kg/m2

As I noted earlier, the SolarWorld example I linked to above is 17.9 kg for 1.6 m², or 11 kg/m². I assure you this is typical, but feel free to Google “solar panel weight” if you don’t believe me. And then they go on to state:

and the weight of the support system, inverter and the balance of the system is at least 25 kg/m2

25 kg for every square meter? I’ve installed a number of crazy systems, and I can assure you, we never came even close to that. Invariably the heaviest part was the panel.

So let’s check on their sources. Well, first of all they don’t actually quote the original source for those numbers, they quote a University of Toronto thesis from 2009 where you’ll find that:

Support structures for PV panels are made from aluminum or steel, with the majority of systems using steel.

The majority use steel? Uhh, no. And the 25 kg/m² figure in there? It comes from two even earlier papers from 2007. And when I looked there, the one that did have the 25 figure was quoting that from the other, which didn’t have that number in it. I really have no idea where it comes from.

There’s only so much time we can spend on that madness. So let’s just use the power of the internet to find modern values. Check out page 6 of this fairly modern product guide to mountings, which puts the total weight of mounts and panels at 16 kg/m². If we use the modern figure of 11 kg/m² for the panel, that puts the weight of the support structure at 5 kg/m². That same guide also includes values up to 50 kg/m², but that’s for ballast on flat roofs, which are concrete blocks, not steel. This is not used on sloped roofs or ground mounts, but as it might represent as much as 15% of the market, you can factor that in as you wish.

Ok, let’s keep going.

16 kg (module) + 25 kg (balance of plant) + 3.5 kg (significant chemicals) = 44.5 kg/m2

Ok, let’s use our numbers from real sources instead: 11 + 5 + 3.5 = 19.5 kg/m²
Which brings us to:

Since the total lifetime energy return is 2203 kW he/m2, we obtain a material flow of 20.2 g per kWhe

Maybe. Or maybe it’s 19,500 / 3795 = 5.1 g/kWh? Once again, using numbers from the industry I get a number four times “better” than they do.

Now why is this important? Because that number is basically how you calculate the energy needed to make the panel and rest of the system. So much weight of steel takes so much energy to make, and so forth. So if you reduce that by four, you’re almost reducing the CED by four, right off the bat.

Show me da money!

So now the authors move onto the “use of capital.” The basic idea here is that money embodies energy, in a way. Basically everything requires energy to build and ship to you, so if you spend $1 on something, some of that is paying for that energy. So, on average, you can say that a dollar of capital has a certain average energy content, which for convenience, we’ll express in kWh.

So if we’re going to start down that road, we need to have some sort of value for how much capital we need. Here’s the relevant part:

The actual capital cost for a sample group of fully installed PV units, 2/3 roof-mounted and 1/3 free-field-mounted, in Switzerland lies at or above 1000 CHF/m2 with large cost variations of up to 30%, due principally to the uncertainty in the price develop- ments of PV modules. The NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. DOE) reports capital cost for fully installed PV units in the lower end of the price range given above. The 1000 CHF/m2 cost, translated into specific cost for installed peak power is 6000 CHF/kWp and is a result of personal experience of the authors.

Ok ok, let’s take this bit by bit. First they have a 2/3 roof and 1/3 field split. They don’t provide a source,of course. I’ve never seen numbers anything like this, and it is trivially easy to find industry values that show the opposite.

For instance, even in Germany where the majority of installs were residential, they represent only 35% of the total buildout. In the US, where the split used to be about 50/50, utility installations now far outnumber residential. Now I mention this because utility installs are ground-mount, so according to these recent sources, the total installed base should be at least the opposite of what they use in this paper.

And this is important, because the capital cost of the system is roughly double for roof mounts, especially residential. That’s because you’re installing far less panels per job, so setup and administration is a lot more on a percentage basis. And for that reason, utility scale installs are dwarfing residential these days, a move that continues to accelerate every year.

Which brings us to the second number, the actual capex value they will use from here on in. That number is 1000 CHF/m2, but that translates into 6000 CHF/kWp based on the “personal experience of the authors”?!

Really. In a peer reviewed paper, we’re being told just to take their word for it. Wow.

Well they can’t be bothered to cite their numbers, but I’ll cite mine. I will refer to the most comprehensive and up-to-date industry-measured values one can easily get, the yearly Lazard LCoE report. And that number, averaged across the western world, is found on page 11, and it is $1500/kWp for utility and $3500/kWp for residential.

Using the modern 1/3rd residential, 2/3rds commercial split, that gives us (3.5*.33)+(1.5*.66) = $2145/kWp average. Now to make a kWp of panel using those SolarWorlds, we need 1000 / 280 = 3.57 panels, and since each panel is 1.6 m², we need 3.57 x 1.6 = 5.7 m², so on a per-m² basis that’s $2145 / 5.7m² = $376 / m².

That’s less than 1/3rd the number they’re quoting, although they do so out of thin air. Even this number overestimates the contribution of residential installs moving forward. I prefer to use the utility rate as more indicative of the real capex of PV; $1500 / 5.7m² = $263 / m².

Working in a coal mine

The paper then moves onto breaking out the various components of that cost and calculating the energy value of each one. They start with labour. After quoting four year old figures, they say:

Based upon the authors’ experiences for typical local labour costs per square meter of PV module are: project management (10% of capital cost), installation (506 CHF per m2), operation for 25 years, including insurance (1.67% of capital cost per year for 25 years) and decommissioning (30% of installation). The total labour costs amount to 1175 CHF/m2.

Now in case it’s not obvious, I want to point out that all of these measurements are based on the capital cost. So if your capital cost is off, this is too. And their capex is off by a factor of three to four. Because, once again, it’s just “the authors’ experiences”.

And to make my point, consider that value in the middle, the installation costs. They’ve already said that the total capex for the system is 1100 CHF / m², and here they say that installation labour is over 500 of that, roughly half.

Really? According to these numbers, published only months ago, all soft costs put together cost around 52% of the system price. And you’ll note that number puts all-in prices at 1300 Euro, basically identical to the Lazard number at $1500 US, and, once again, 1/4 the number Ferroni and Hopkirk create out of thin air.

So for the moment, lets ignore their made-up numbers and use these industry standard ones. They calculate 505 kWhe/m² based on 1175 CHF/m² of labour. Using these figures we see that all the soft costs are 52% of 1300 Euro per kWp, or 748 CHF/kWp, or 209 kWhe/m².

But what’s another factor of two between frenemies?

And finally, in section 5.5.3, the duo calculate the energy value of the capital itself. Basically the idea here is that if you have to borrow the money (or you can flip that to opportunity cost, same thing) then you could express that in terms of panels you could have bought with that interest (so to speak). You can think of that as “lost energy” in a way…

  • Using their rate of 1100 CHF/m², they get a value of 420.
  • Using the industry rate above, 1300 Euro/kWp, that gets us around 120.

Show me da money (again)!

Which brings us, finally, to their totals in Table 4:
Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 12.13.34 PM
Now let’s do the exact same thing using the numbers we’ve calculated:

CED 1300
Integration 349
Labour 209
Faulty equipment 90
Capital 120
Total 2068

So basically, just considering the known-good, widely-available capex number, we’ve reduced the “energy investment” by 22%.

All of this goes back to the original claim. They claim that the ERoEI is 2203/2664 = 83%. But a whole lot of that is made up by the cost of capital, based on a bogus number. By changing that one number to the one actually measured in the field, we get 2203/2068 = ERoEI 1.06.

And if we instead insert NREL’s number for the insolation, and use the industry standard degradation, it becomes 3795/2203 = ERoEI 1.7. That’s better than fracked oil in the US.

And we haven’t even touched that CED number, which, as you can see above, is based on some rather odd numbers about system weights.

That’s not all folks…

Now we come to the issue of recycling. In the calculations in the paper, the authors consider the panels to have a 30% decommissioning fee, which is added in the labour term.

But they totally ignore the salvage value of the panels. Panels are basically glass, aluminum, some silver and some copper. People pay for these things, which is precisely why the Europeans have a recycling program for panels.

Given an average 50% energy recovery for recycling, we can reduce the CED of a 2nd generation panel to 650. Running the same calculation gets us 1419, so 2203/1419 = 1.55, or 3795/1419 = 2.7.

And if you do consider the recycling as a potential revenue stream, then the labour line is reduced by some portion of that 30%, which brings the denominator to 1340. And that gives 2203/1340 = 1.64 or 3795/1340 = 2.83.


So in the end

Consider this: the calculation they use in their paper would produce different results if the interest rate changes, the FX rate between the Yuan and Swiss Franc changes, or the price of installations continues its astonishing downward fall.

So, what exactly is this figure measuring?

It’s certainly not measuring anything like the “embedded energy content” of the panels. That wouldn’t change just because someone types a number into a Bloomberg terminal. Yet that’s precisely what happens using their calculation.

And finally, I need to point out the glaring fact that the authors don’t run the same calculation on any other power source. Given that sources like nuclear are far more capital intensive than PV (which is why no one is building them) their calculation of “ERoEI” is worse.

This paper is just plain bogus. The entire methodology is based on numbers that have no physical reality (money) and the authors deliberately cherry pick data to make those numbers “prove” their point, or just make up values out of the air. All of this is glaringly obvious, and is simply yet another example of the sorts of attacks renewables face at the hands of the true believers in the nuclear field.

 Cassandra’s legacy by Ugo Bardi

41 Comments on "Another failure of scientific peer-review: a wrong paper on the energy return of photovoltaic energy manages to get published"

  1. CAM on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 1:11 pm 

    Am I missing something? Is an EROEI of 2.83 really good? Can we run an industrial society on that?

  2. Ghung on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 1:29 pm 

    Since industrial society is the snake that eats its own tail, and is clearly on the way out, the question is; “What can we run on so-called ‘renewables’?”

  3. Dredd on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 1:59 pm 

    Theoretically, whatever is published in a scientific journal should go through a rigorous review process that ensures that it is correct and reliable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.”

    10-4 Rubber Ducky (Questionable “Scientific” Papers – 11).

  4. HARM on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 2:36 pm 

    “Can we run an industrial society on that?”

    Given the rate at which we’re reproducing, poisoning the planet and driving other species extinct, I sure hope to God we *can’t*.

  5. Davy on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 2:58 pm 

    I am going to try to write in Putin when I go to vote. I think he could easily run both nations at once.

  6. Apneaman on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 3:12 pm 

    So what? Am I supposed to believe the fate of humanity rests on this one paper? Am I supposed to believe that public policy is science based? Bahahahahaha. Am I supposed to believe most will make their personal energy choices based on science and reasoning and not politics? Bahahahahaha x 2. Maybe I am supposed to believe the biggest bullshit myth of all that consumers are all “rational players”?

  7. Hawkcreek on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 3:14 pm 

    +1 here.
    Got to be better than the liars and thieves that seem to be the best that both parties can come up with.

  8. Anonymous on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 6:21 pm 

    Professor Bardi is right here. Leaving aside the issue of whether solar or wind can run the drive-shop-credit bubble economies and resource extraction we’ve all come to know and love,( a whole different quesion), ‘science’, like he says, has a few problems.

    ‘Peer-review’ as a concept is sound. After all, its modeled on how people decide what works and what doesn’t, but referencing the experiences, and knowledge of others.

    But you can immediately see the problem with the ‘peer-review’ model. Its only as good as the peers doing the reviewing, if it gets reviewed at all, and that, is a core problem. And I dont think its a new one either. It pretty clear the case Prof. Bardi describes above is neither new or unique. But what to do? We live in an age that pretends to respect, even venerate rational, reality based observations and modes of thinking, yet there is virtually no penalty, for publishing, or openly stating known falsehoods.

    Thats a question isnt it?

    It does not seem to all that difficult to appropriate ‘Science’ to promote corporate or ideological causes, and often is.

  9. Survivalist on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 7:19 pm 

    Dr Bardi posted this guest post on his web site.

    It contains this statement

    “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 (”

    I’d be interested in hearing some peer review inspired perspectives from Dr Bardi on the contents of the eTP report.

    Which can be found here

  10. Davy on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 8:25 pm 

    In a way it does not matter if solar is sink or a source. Society is a sink as it is. Anything society produces is a sink if society is a sink. Within the sink of society solar is a good value building a skyscraper is not. If solar is a real source of energy it is not much of one from a macro systematic point of view. In other words it is likely that solar or combinations of renewables together will not replicate and sustain modern civilization on their own. Many claim this is possible but it appears to me only theoretically. More likely it is just fantasy of a shiny world of human progress not the reality of our human world of decline and decay. I am seeing nothing that indicates an energy breakout of an energy transition is near. Without fossil fuels the whole process loses its potency and fails.

    The whole price issue is a messy one too. How can you put numbers on the economics of it all? If China is building solar devices below cost then what is the true number? If the extraction and manufacturing processes are not accounting for their environmental damages what about those costs? What is the true cost of oil that transports all the solar stuff and finished material? What about the financing with low interest within financial markets full of liquidity and dangerous leverage? How does economic costs and price equate to the real value of a sink or a source? This is all too messy to me.

    What we should be finding value in is survival. We should be pointing to the important combination of alternative energies along with EV’s combined with the existing fossil fuel energy and infrastructure that can extend modern society. We have invested huge amounts in a solar industry it needs to be utilized or it will definitely be a sink because economies of scale will not have been realized. How long this energy combination will extended modern society is debatable but it is likely we can buy some time before we fall flat on our collective faces or asses. This is going to do nothing for climate change of course but even if we found a way to significantly lower human’s carbon contribution nature is set to let lose huge amounts of carbon from her carbon cycle we disturbed.

    Solar is a good value whether your analysis says it is a source or a sink. It does not matter how you quantify solar because it has value to society as something once produced it will provide useful energy. There are issues of limits and diminishing returns. There are issues of sustainability and replication. Yet, what is important is it can help us survive if we combine solar with declining fossil to power our way along until we can’t. Solar is a sink because society is a sink but solar is less of a sink than most of what society produces. A significant amount of what humans produce and consume is junk. Modern humans are organic entropic devises. We take good energy and turn it into landfill material or floating garbage in the oceans and rivers. I am not a physicist or an engineer. My math is limited. But I have been following this a long time. My first wakeup call was Tom Murphy doing his math on renewables way back in the Oil Drum days. I have yet to see anything to lead me to believe renewables will power a modern civilization far into the future. We are doomed but that doom can be delayed by solar and other great technologies.

  11. Apneaman on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 8:50 pm 

    They better get on that build-out because we are going to need it for A/C since our planetary A/C is disappearing. All the AGW jacked rain bombs really tear up the infrastructure, but it’s the heatwaves that are the big people killer.

    Arctic sea ice is at a record low and could, in spurts, disappear within our lifetimes

    “Sea ice extent in the Arctic is as low as it has ever been measured in late October, and air temperatures are at a record warm. Sea ice experts say it is difficult to project what the current ice depletion means for the next year, but the unmistakable long-term trend toward less ice is troubling.”

    ““Even though the sun has gone down and the atmosphere is trying to cool, the ocean still has a lot of heat,” he said. “That ocean heat is gradually being transferred to the atmosphere, which warms the atmosphere. Until the ocean reaches the freezing point, sea ice won’t form.”

    “Meier said that even though many people tend to focus on the projected milestone of the first ice-free year, it’s more of a symbolic milestone because the effects of shrinking Arctic ice have already begun.”

    “… troubling”? That’s scientist code word for we’re fucked.

  12. Boat on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 9:00 pm 

    The next 3+ years will clear up a lot of myths about renewables. Those 7-8 MW turbines will be rolling out destroying market share for coal, nuclear and nat gas. If Hillary gets her 500 million panels installed some experts believe residential solar installations will ROI in 5 years. Think 2018-2019.
    Then we have the hills group doomsday model. In three years that theory will vetted. Don’t let me be right. You won’t like my in your face gloating.

  13. Alice Friedemann on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 9:09 pm 

    Without long-haul, construction, logging, and other trucks, civilization ends, and since oil, coal, and natural gas are finite, biomass doesn’t scale up and has a negative at worst to very low EROEI at best, that leaves electricity. And I don’t see any way for battery, hydrogen fuel cell, or catenary electric trucks to happen (see posts in electric trucks at And if it is possible, then what if a 100% electric grid isn’t possible(see my book “When Trucks stop running”). Either way, you’ve wasted energy on electricity contraptions that could have been used to insulate homes, clean up nuclear and industrial waste for thousands of future generations, relocated anyone willing to move to the midwest where most of our food is grown (80% of calories but 80% of people live within 200 miles of the coast). If Ferroni & Hopkirk’s paper is wrong, it doesn’t matter since electricity doesn’t solve the energy crisis. This is a liquid fuel transportation crisis only solvable with a cheap drop-in replacement diesel fuel that can flow in existing oil pipelines (biodiesel can’t).

  14. makati1 on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 10:17 pm 

    Alice, you cannot win with Boat. He is deaf, dumb and blind and deeply in denial of the real world. Physics, finance or ecology are not in his dictionary. He is one of those who will die of ignorance asking why it happened to him. So be it.

  15. dave thompson on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 10:24 pm 

    To bad no one is listening! This message is for you Friedemann and Bardi. We know we are fucked. BAU goes on until………

  16. Boat on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 10:55 pm 

    Alice Friedemann on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 9:09 pm

    1 billion = 1000 million. The world uses around 97 mbpd. That’s 10 years of oil per billion.

    Proven oil reserves are those that have a reasonable certainty of being recoverable under existing economic and political conditions, with existing technology.

    Google proved oil reserves 2016, if you dispute their estimates then get back to me when you think were out of oil.

  17. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 11:35 pm 

    @boat. Are you retarded? Obviously you didn’t finish grade 10.

    97 million barrels per day multipled by 365 days in a year equals approx 35.4 billion barrels per year.

    35.4 billion per year multiplied by 10 years is 354 billion barrels of oil.

    Math is hard for boat. Lol dumb ass thinks that a billion barrels last 10 years.

  18. GregT on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 11:42 pm 

    @ Boat,

    “1 billion = 1000 million. The world uses around 97 mbpd. That’s 10 years of oil per billion.”

    97 million barrels per day, times 365 days in a year, works out to thirty-five billion four hundred and five million barrels per year.

    1 billion barrels of oil are currently being consumed every ten days.

    Fuck are you ever stupid.

  19. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Thu, 27th Oct 2016 11:51 pm 

    1P means proven. 2P means proven + probable. 3P means proven + probable + possible. Get it? Look at the nimbler of words that start with the letter P.

    1P oil reserves are 381 billion barrels and 2P oil reserves are 655 billion. Look it up retard. World atlas .com lol what are you, 12 years old? Try something a little more professional you stupid fucking retard. Try Rystad. World atlas dot com fuuuuuuuuck is boat ever a fucking dumb ass.

  20. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 12:01 am 

    boat has said some stupid shit but that’s gotta be number one. Seriously boat, what the fuck is wrong with your mind? Do you drink a lot of booze? Didn’t finish junior high? Mom dropped you on your head when you were a kid? All of the above?

  21. GregT on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 12:02 am 

    “Google proved oil reserves 2016, if you dispute their estimates then get back to me when you think were out of oil.”

    According to your link Boat, at present rates of consumption, the world would completely run out of oil in 45 years, which is better than the IEA estimates from a couple of years back, that
    showed the world completely running out by around 2035. Of course it’s a tad bit more complicated than that. Those so called proven reserves will become completely useless once ERoEI drops below 1, or when our economies can no longer afford to pay for production costs. Given the economic malaise that we are already witnessing, I give it until somewhere around 2025,
    or 8 years from now. Of course a War between the US and Russia has the potential to rapidly speed the process up.

  22. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 12:07 am 

    Hey boat you stupid fuck, here’s a question for ya

    A faucet is turned on and water flows out at a rate of
    6 gallons per minute. The bath tub now has 20 gallons of water in it. How long in minutes and seconds has it been since the tap was turned on. If you can answer that I’ll give you your grade 8 diploma. Stupid fuck.

  23. sunweb on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 7:20 am 

    Alice – good to see you here. “Either way, you’ve wasted energy on electricity contraptions that could have been used to insulate homes, clean up nuclear and industrial waste for thousands of future generations, relocated anyone willing to move to the midwest where most of our food is grown (80% of calories but 80% of people live within 200 miles of the coast).”

  24. Davy on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 7:42 am 

    Civilization as we know it will likely end with or without fossil fuels and or renewables. The matter is scale with time and degree. How long does civilization as we know it continue before the degree of decay and decline becomes catastrophic. This will likely be a process with events that will someday culminate quickly or slowly in a new world, age, and reality. This is one of the possible future gradient of human life. We may be slow boiled in this process or seared like a fine piece of meat. You can argue this process but you can’t dismiss it because the facts are too large.

    What is existential value? Survival is inherently valuable to life especially complex life like ours that have intelligence that self reflects. Survival is instinct and it is intelligence with humans. We emotionally connect to survival. We ignore survival from apathy and neglect. There is value in society to ensure survival. It can be argued survival is why there is a society to begin with. The problem today is we cannot ensure survival for everyone because we are no longer within a stable and balance carrying capacity per our Ecos or our complex civilization’s requirements. We are now in clear overpopulation and clearly at risk of loss of cheap abundant energy to power complexity. Pollution and manmade ecological failures are dangerously close to causing our rapid decline.

    Instead our social narrative is one of progress and affluence in competitive cooperation. Competitive cooperation is an incongruous juxtaposition that when properly combine allows an explosion of productivity. When it is out of balance it is a disaster like today. Through markets and war machines we have competed ourselves into an existential catch 22. Our cooperation allowed this dangerous game to go on much longer than it should have. We can’t save everyone and we can’t make it alone. This will have to be a finely worked process to save some people longer than shorter if we fail. As-is with this social narrative of gross negligence and neglect we are speeding towards a die off of some sort. We are unchecked now and even our markets have been let loose of normal standards of sanity. Democracy has been hijacked. Our media is a shill. Our academics have been reduced to snake oil salesman. Religion has been likewise corrupted in the name of profit and power.

    With this existential hazard in mind we must ask ourselves what strategies can we have within this civilization of hazard to achieve better survival chances? We can embrace renewables as one strategy. They are being produced for the wrong reason now and that is to power a shiny new civilization that is likely fantasy. They are being produced to reduce manmade carbon but unfortunately these renewables require a dirty civilization to produce and maintain them. One strategy is producing as many renewables as possible before the global economy declines so much little else will be produced. This likely economic depression that is coming from a society crashing from limits, diminishing returns, and ecological failures can be survived better if we have renewables in place to offer power. This combined with what is left of our fossil fueled world will buy us time.

    This economic depression will likely be a process of events so we may have time to mitigate and adapt. It will come to the point where we will salvage any and everything available like a collective MacGyver. We are going to have to solve problems with leftovers from the age of affluence. If we have a critical mass of high quality devises and substances around we will be better able to cobble together survival. It will be those locations that have more of these that will adapt the best if those locations are near good water, food production, and habitual climate. There may well be “Byzantine” locals and or regions that survive the fall of our modern “Rome”.

    Renewables are a key part of this. Skyscrapers are not. Sports stadiums are not. We may be heading to a greatly reduce civilization that we had pre-fossil fuels. A civilization of multiple localized nutrient cycle settlements. This will likely be some kind of permaculture in direct relationship with our “Ecos”. We may end up a semi-nomadic hunter gather although we have killed off most of the life we could draw upon at least until all the domestic animals turn feral and wild. Our MacGyver civilization will eventually go medieval and possibly Native American. We will probably see both on our way to a possible extinction. We may scrap by extinction but modern civilization probably won’t. Renewables have a place in this process in the beginning. The first years of decline and decay renewables can buy us some time. Once an existential crisis of exceptional magnitude knocks people out of their affluence stupor we may make changes that enhance survival to live to die another day. Eventually all our complex devices will decay until all we have left is exotic materials from a strange age of old. We will be in a harsh climate with a destroyed ecosystem. Yet in the here and now we live let’s concentrate on that. Renewables have value per this story.

  25. Shortend on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 8:03 am 

    Anthony Weiner for President…we ought to give the guy another chance….
    Really…he gave up Twitting…

  26. Davy on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 8:33 am 

    “No more cursing, or I’ll bring this plane down,’ Duterte hears God say”

  27. Ghung on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 8:38 am 

    Alice said; “Either way, you’ve wasted energy on electricity contraptions that could have been used to insulate homes, clean up nuclear and industrial waste for thousands of future generations, relocated anyone willing to move to the midwest where most of our food is grown (80% of calories but 80% of people live within 200 miles of the coast).”

    That depends. If you’ve insulated and all that, along with reducing your consumption, money spent on those “electricity contraptions” is money that isn’t buying nuclear fuel and nasty coal going forward. I haven’t paid a power bill in twenty years. You? Which one of us is in wilful, ongoing support of the things you mention. And when things crash…..

    Point being, the best way to clean up nuke waste is to stop paying for it to begin with. If you have a power bill, you’re paying for it.

  28. dave thompson on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 9:52 am 

    Ghung sez “I haven’t paid a power bill in twenty years.”I ask; How much did you spend buying, installing, maintaining/replacing worn out parts, batteries and what all? Not trying to pick a fight mind you, just a question. Your whole system was built/manufactured, powered by industrial civilization in the first place so yes you did pay at least partially for the nukes.

  29. marmico on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 11:15 am 

    The only energy crisis is in the minds of innumerates.

  30. Boat on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 11:51 am 

    greggiet, Those so called proven reserves will become completely useless once ERoEI drops below 1, or when our economies can no longer afford to pay for production costs.

    So show me a chart of dropping eroei by year for oil. Then wind and solar. For example the price of fracking development is down maybe 30 percent along with increased production. What is the change in eroei. Wind development has reportedly dropped 65 percent in cost the last 3 years. Where are the eroei charts and numbers.
    If the world is doomed due to high energy costs and dropping eroei then show me. Show the world.

  31. Baptised on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 12:00 pm 

    97 million barrels a day times 10=970mbd.Close enough to 1 billion for me. Or 97mbd times 10.3=999mbd.

  32. GregT on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 12:21 pm 


    EROEI, (energy returned on energy invested) has nothing to do with cost. You are confusing EROI with EROEI.

    The lowest hanging fruit is always picked first. I don’t expect somebody as challenged as yourself to understand such a simple concept. A solid grasp of grade 4 arithmetic is necessary.

  33. GregT on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 12:32 pm 

    And also Boat,

    How you can consistently be so completely wrong on almost everything, is beyond rational comprehension.

    You aren’t firing on all cylinders Kevin.

  34. Boat on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 12:44 pm 


    The lowest hanging fruit is always picked first.

    Iran, Iraq, maybe Libya and Nigeria all have lower hanging fruit. Geo politics plays a huge role in supply and price volatility. You seem to love the idea of depletion while conflict seems to have played the bigger role.

  35. Apneaman on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 12:54 pm 

    Boat depletion is a fact regardless of one’s feelings towards it. Depletion started with the first barrel on the first day of extraction and goes on 24/7, 365 days a year until the well is done (except for maintenance and shutdowns). Does the amount of time spent in conflict match that? No, not even close. Bad logic and rationalizations……..again.

  36. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 2:12 pm 

    Hey boat, you can’t even do simply msth. You think anyone cares about your views on net energy flows through complex systems when you can’t even multiply 97 million by 365? Shut up already!

  37. Boat on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 4:12 pm 


    Well ape that’s opinion. Mine says much of shale and tar sands would have never grown to scale with no conflict in lower hanging fruit oil exporting nations. As these countries resume production they will simply replace higher cost oil.

  38. Apneaman on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 5:43 pm 

    No boat that is a fact of all non renewable resources. Depletion starts on day one. Also, take a look at ISIS oil inc. Are we sure all extracted barrels are being counted by the imperial counting agencies? Do you think the king of Turkey and his son are the only ones buying up so called black market oil? How much black market oil is there in the world anyway? Are we privy to every dirty deed done dirt cheap just because we have google?

  39. GregT on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 9:09 pm 

    “Mine says much of shale and tar sands would have never grown to scale with no conflict in lower hanging fruit oil exporting nations. ”

    Iraq and Iran have been producing oil for over a century Boat, Libya and Nigeria for over 50 years. Their low hanging fruit has long since been picked. If that was not the case, we
    wouldn’t be paying twice as much for oil as we have been for much of the last 100 years. ( In inflation adjusted dollars )

  40. GregT on Fri, 28th Oct 2016 9:27 pm 

    And also Boat,

    Those “oil exporting nations” that you so fondly talk about, have all, except for Iran, been destabilized and war torn by the Empire in order to sustain the unsustainable for a little while longer.
    That unsustainable Kevin, would be your standard of living.

  41. Sissyfuss on Sat, 29th Oct 2016 9:22 pm 

    I hear Boat and Marmi are appearing as a couple on the hit show,” Dancing With The Tards.”

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