Ugo Bardi; ETP; Charles Hall; Future of Civilization
A lot of noise but very little light has been generated in arguments about the EROEI (extended) studies by Charles Hall, the detailed EROEI for PV systems in Spain by Hall and Prieto, Ugo Bardi's complaints about the EROEI studies, how the ETP model treats both well-head EROEI but also the larger societal issues dealt with by Hall in his extended EROEI studies. When I have made informal comparison, I find Hall's work to be reasonably consistent with Bardi's work. However, I do believe we need to take seriously the notions Bardi puts forth that it may be possible to build a decent civilization on solar and wind and other systems of harnessing energy.
If we are looking at a mature civilization at some given point in time, we should expect to see that it exhibits Maximum Empower: http://prosperouswaydown.com/principles ... m-empower/
Oversimplified, the society will have developed as much complexity as is consistent with its resources. In terms of a commodity like oil, it will mean that it has, over time, increased the amount of GDP it can generate with a given amount of exergy from oil.
Looking at our rapidly disintegrating global system, we might expect to see that we are in overshoot, and are in the process of resetting to a lower level of complexity. But resetting to a lower level of complexity has few friends in high places, and so political impediments in defense of entrenched powers and the use of debt to paper over the disconnects will be common. We should expect to see cognitive dissonance in the population at large.
What does Maximum Empower tell us about calculations of extended EROEI or the total economy equations in the ETP model? They tell us that the world will likely be balanced on a knife edge, using all the oil exergy it can manage, all the time. Therefore, extended EROEIs will tend toward 1. Likewise, when we look at Robert Ayres or the MacArthur Foundation calculations of the efficiency of automobile transportation, from the oil reservoir to the street in Paris, we should expect the efficiency to be very low and perhaps negative. The Ayres and MacArthur esteems of 1 percent efficiency should be understood in this light.
Is there some other internal combustion engine system which might have a higher efficiency from the pump to the wheels turning on the street? Well...consider motor scooters. Mass conversion to motor scooters would have the effect of making a gallon at the pump go farther. The new society would still reflect the Maximum Empower principle, but there would simply be less resources to use.
The ETP model raises not only the 'complexity' question that Hall's extended EROEI raises, but also the question: can we get petroleum products from the reservoir to the pump with a surplus of energy? The question can be divided into two parts: short term and long term. For the long term, it is not adequate to produce oil which cannot be replaced. And so the ETP model considers as a 'cost' of producing a barrel of oil today the cost of replacing the oil with new reserves. We have to be careful how we use the numbers, because an oil company which was content to simply maintain a stripper operation might show a profit for a long time after they had abandoned the search for new reserves.
The ETP model has curves which predict that 'maximum complexity' occurred around the turn of the 21st century while the production of oil (and its replacement barrels) turned negative around 2012.
The signs of social and economic stress lead me to believe that the ETP model is broadly accurate...more accurate than any other model I know about. We are seeing exactly what Howard Odum would expect to see.
Where does this leave us with Ugo Bardi and his claims that the extended EROEI concepts as quantified by Hall are either misleading or worthless? Suppose that the world descends into chaos and existing political and social structures (the complexity) are destroyed. But there exist some PV panels and windmills from the previous civilization. Then, left to their own devices, humans will figure out a way to embody the Maximum Empower principle. That is, they will construct a new social and conic order which makes maximum use of the solar and wind devices.
We should not give a huge sigh of relief, and assume that the Maximum Empower principle is going to save us, as surely as The Invisible Hand got us into the mess to begin with. Civilizational collapses do an awful lot of collateral damage. I don't argue with Bardi that a homestead which survives through the turmoil that has a PV panel and some rudimentary DC household appliances will be a lot better off that a homestead which is reliant entirely on things like spring houses and open fireplaces. But it is, in my opinion, very wrong to assure people that 'life will go on as before'.
I hope that this excursion through Howard Odum's work may shed some light on the current controversies.