April 1, update: Criticism of Prieto and Hall I was at a net energy conference at Stanford University the past two days. The hoped for outcome is a new net energy think-tank that would standardize net energy by having a specific way researchers must conduct their studies, which LCA or other data tables are most-up-to-date and should be used, what assumptions they must state, and so on. Yet even at the conference several EROI papers were not clear about their boundaries. Long after the artificial photosynthesis presentation it came up that the outside boundary was set at feet outside the factory gate.
Earlier they said the best guess EROI was 1. The researcher implied that trying to combine the hydrogen with CO2 to make liquid fuels would be negative at this stage. By the end of the conference I was a bit frustrated at the lack of discussion of boundaries. This has been the main problem for 40 years and one of the big reasons why studies come up with such different results. So I asked the panel what they thought should be done about the boundary issue.
For example, ethanol studies using narrow boundaries found higher EROI values than those with the widest boundaries, which often found a negative EROI. And what would that electric delivery truck look like anyhow? I had the strong impression this was not a welcome question.
No one leaped to answer, and finally one of the panelists said that the boundaries ought to be wide but that this question was best talked about over a glass of wine. He told me it was so bad that several scientists had tried to prevent Springer from printing it. I told Raugei that I had looked very hard for any criticism of the book but had not been able to find any rebuttals, so what exactly was wrong with it? When I asked Raugei to tell me more about what was wrong, he said that it was inconsistent in so many ways, not defensible the way economic inputs were converted from money to energy such as the insurance figures, some air travel expenses, too haphazard, inconsistent in method and goal, not clear enough in stating that this is just one snapshot moment in time in Spain and that it used an ill-advised subsidy scheme, that the EROI is not the same in other countries and parts of the world, and that the goals should have been more explicitly explained.
What goals? I assume he thinks they try to come up with low EROI figures, which is outrageous, they have no special interests in pushing the result up or down. If anything, Prieto ought to be skewing results towards a high solar PV EROI since he built some of the solar plants he writes about in the book.
He could make more money by touting solar PV rather than by criticizing it. Hall certainly has no dog in this fight. EROI is the only rational way to look at energy contraptions and to reach the right conclusions about what should be done. What I did not appreciate is that no one wants to know that they may be working on a senseless project, such as industrial hydrogen from algae.
I despair seeing the rapid corruption and sovietization of American science without the Soviet strengths in basic sciences , but can do little about it. The first thing is to confirm that no EROI studies can be taken seriously if the range of results varies so wildly. So it is quite a sensible approach to try to reconcile the different studies and methodologies. Having said that, the prevailing methodology is what fails, specifically in the case of Solar PV analyses, but also in others.
Experts in solar PV will have more and more available data as time passes from global installations. Until now, we had seen many studies on different solar PV technologies with different typologies and topologies. Springer appeared, there were already many variances and divergences. Even works of Fthenakis or Raugei have contemplated significant variances in the EROI results over time and with different studies of solar plants. But they all had a methodology in common: they generally used, as you have correctly pointed out, the best material recovery, the best theoretical solar PV system in each case, the best irradiated areas, the assumption that systems will operate in full along the lifetime with no problems.
In summary, a methodology that has helped or served as documentary support or reference to many to reach global conclusions on the long term ability of modern renewables to replace, take over or substitute fossil fuels, from a given particular plant analysis extrapolated massively. That was the case, for instance, of Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucci in their studies on how modern renewables could replace fossils and supply the present global consumption.
This is a traditional bottom-up approach. After my experiences of several years in the field with different technologies, typologies, topologies, latitudes and state of development countries and confronting with the real world results, Charles Hall and myself, after having had a pint of beer in an Irish Pub in Cork commenting these issues, in the ASPO International Conference held there in , decided to embark in a study on solar PV.
But we tried to do it in a radically different form. It took us several years of back and forth, discussions, checks and double checks, consulting with other experts and so on. The study, as many of you may already know, was on a real world installed plant in the best irradiated country in Europe Spain , with the official and very accurate energy production records of the Ministry of Industry read by telemetry to more than 40, digital sealed meters in each of the respective individual plants over a period of three complete years That was the main innovation: a top-down analysis and the huge scope of the solar PV plants working in the real world, rather than theoretical academic bottom-up approaches.
With more than GW of installed plants worldwide, and several complete yearly cycles of operation of many of them, it is going to be increasingly difficult for some authors to continue with the academic approach, to verify real behavior of the EROI.
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Now, about the energy input boundaries. Of course, if we focus only on the energy inputs of the solar modules and their composition glass, aluminum frame, connection box, copper or silver soldering, doping materials, silicon, ingots, wafers, cells, etc. This is what has been generally considered in most of the studies carried out to date and what is proposed by some authors as the recommended methodology. But this is just one of the factors we looked into when we decided to analyze the energy inputs of a complete solar PV system, not just what appears in the marketing pictures of the solar plants.
We differentiate some 24 factors and additional analysis that was not absolutely complete nor exhaustive, but proven and existing. None of these factors had been considered or hardly appeared in but few of the analyses made by the most renowned solar PV EROI authors. Your study of our book already identifies some of them and I have mentioned them on many occasions. One of the factors, a7 the energy input required for modules, inverters, trackers if any and metallic infrastructures, labor excluded , was precisely the EROI as usually calculated by many authors.
We decided not to judge the different results of this universe of conclusions but to accept a sensible average of the range of many publications that gave us an EROI in itself for this concept of ; that is, for 25 years of lifespan an Energy Pay Back Time EPBT of 3. Or an energy input cost equivalent to 0. Some of these factors may certainly have diminished with time. Many others, have certainly increased over time. Taxes, for instance, have raised sharply. Stealing in Spain, for instance, is not relevant, but in many countries of the world it is a problem.
We mentioned and developed a little of the associated energy costs of the injection of intermittent loads, by pump up or other massive electric energy storage systems, because we knew it was going to be fundamental and relevant and did not want to open any more the old wounds in an already meager EROI. These costs are still today in a fierce debate in Spain and in many other countries, but they are certainly relevant, should the modern renewables have to replace the present fossil fueled global societal functions.
No one critical of our book, could say, to the best of my knowledge, that any of these briefly listed factors was not a real one and was not needed to have at least in Spain a solar PV system up and running along its lifetime. But for some strange reason they had never considered them. What they did, then, was to use a multiplying factor on the order of 3 for solar PV, arguing that it has a logic, when comparing equivalent systems and using an equivalent methodology.
But the world is not behaving in this way, as scientists like Raugei and Fthenakis must know. New renewables just enter into the energy equation to simply provide more energy to the global system. Above all, the most important flaw in this assumption is that the world also consumes about EJ in non-electrical uses, like aviation, civil works, mining, transportation, merchant fleets, armies or agriculture eating fossil fuels, Dale Allen Pfeiffer.
And it happens that if we would pretend to use electricity from renewables to replace the fossil fuels used for these global activities, likely through an energy carrier like the eternal hydrogen promise, the pretended multiplication factor used by Carbajales et. I will not enter into this debate further, because I find it futile. And makes it possible to move it. This is the final proof.
Nuclear, hydro, solar PV, solar thermal or wind energies are underpinned or absolutely underpinned by a fossil fueled society, not the vice versa. The global society has been making its growing economic, industrial and technological life basically without those energy sources. But we could not imagine these sources working and feeding themselves in all the complex value chain, and besides giving an important net energy surplus to the global society.
Not now, neither in a foreseeable horizon. That is, we can not ignore this crucial fact: biomass helped initially to coal to develop, but 60 years from the first massive use of coal, this fossil fuel had already passed biomass in volume and versatility of use and became quite independent of biomass.
Then came oil, much more dense and versatile than coal. It took oil again about years to pass coal and biomass as the main global energy source. But gas or nuclear have not passed oil as the prime energy source.
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And we have to wonder why, if they were discovered and tried to be used massively more than 60 years ago. Quite the contrary, we are moving fast, because of peak oil, back to the possibility of coal surpassing oil again in a decade or so, as the main energy contributor, but this time, probably at a lower global consumption level and probably with a world population still growing in numbers and in poverty.
The first two big energy transitions biomass to coal and coal to oil were made with the surpassed energy source still growing and helping to initially boost the coming one, but soon proved to be quite self sufficient to feed a growing and demanding global society, well after paying for their own energy inputs in the exploration, mining or drilling, extraction, transporting, refining and distributions processes WITHOUT ANY DOUBT, because nobody will doubt the evolution of the last century and the role of the fossil fuels on it.
Now, we have to face the third big energy transition, in the highest level of energy consumption and population and with the main energy fuel, oil, in depletion. This is exactly what is happening with the energy sources and its properties and qualities: they can all be measured in EJ or in TWh or whatever, but some are more equal than others. It is a sort of energy fallacy, from my point of view. If the global society has resources to subsidize anything, it is because it has previously gotten a surplus of resources from somewhere.
For instance, kerosene for aviation in the airports, which is tax exempted in many countries, when compared with gasoline. From a strict energy point of view, fossil fuels are subsidizing basically the whole present world activities. What in reality the OECD watchdog does is a mystifying operation. Coming back to the energy input expenses in extended boundaries, we also left out the financial costs, despite knowing that they were quite large and generally also a sine qua non factor.
I firmly believe that finance is a form of using a pre-stored available resource in a fossil fueled society, coming from fossil fuel related activities to erect or put in place and operate a given system. In that case, an energy system. Labor energy input costs were also left aside, even we had a very good set of data from industry in Spain, classified by categories, skills and full time and part time employees in the sector.
The reason was that some of our factors may have had already included part of this labor in, to avoid some limited duplicities. In fact, it is very surprising how they criticize the methodology we used to evaluate the financial data which they did not question basically in numbers , by stating that the conversion of monetary into energy units is not adequate and do not conform to conventional input-output methodologies.
Our methodology is clear in these conversion units and reflects a quite direct relation between GDP and total primary energy spent in Spain or between active labor and energy spent per laborer or any given and specific related industrial activity or service rendered. Without these incentives, the rest of the world is a renewables wasteland. Promoters are virtually not investing with few exceptions in volume worldwide in modern renewables, if there are no such incentives.
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So, I am not surprised, Alice, that some experts, having in their records tens of papers published with high solar PV EROI results, would have shown some annoyance at your question on our book. I have kept silent until now on what I consider a very regrettable behavior now made public by Raugei, as per your comments. It is true that they dared to write our publisher asking him to stop publishing the book when it was in a draft version in a sort of censorship I had not seen since several centuries in medieval Spain.
The recommendation came after somebody took the draft from our publisher without our consent some time before the release and they tried to stop the publication, even threatening that they would discredit it, as they have been doing since it was published, if it were published. I have never seen such a type of behavior, even less in the academic instances. The reason they gave first is that we missed our final EROI being quite conservative and I reaffirm myself more and more as years are passing by an order of 3.
That was precisely the Raugei view on the penalty to be imposed on fossil fuels, if a clean electricity source could replace every kWh of fossil fuel origin, considering that in conventional fossil fuel or nuclear plants for the case we need about 3 units of primary energy to get out 1 unit of electric energy. We tried to clarify this in some posts, but unsuccessfully.
Fortunately, the publisher did not consider this a direct threat and the book was finally published. Just look at the acknowledgements of the book. Two professors in Physics from different universities did review the book and produce sensible comments. Charles Hall, the coauthor, is an institution in EROI, that is here questioned with superficial comments. Besides, I understand that publishing a book is a free decision, that does not necessarily require peer revisions, yet despite that, we did have our work reviewed. Perhaps what Raugei wanted to say is that the peer review was not made by the usual reviewers in an endogamis game.
I have been observing that in the academic world, things are getting unfortunately tougher. Some of the technical papers have sometimes more pages of references than pages of content see more of my comments on the article below. Perhaps what disturbed Raugei about our book is that we also skipped somehow from these habits and did not leave to the usual teams a review that, with all probability, would have ended in the basket. Of course, Raugei is right when he presumes that our case is perhaps valid for Spain and for the 4 GW installed within the period Because should we had considered Germany and its public production of solar PV systems within the same period, the Energy Return in terms of MWh per MWp installed would have been less than half of those of Spain.
I am now retired and happily growing my organic farm. Not now or since , when I left working for a telecom corporation, have I had any interest in discrediting or crediting solar PV systems. I am not making my life by publishing papers and trying to gain credibility on a given subject. I have also cooperated with projects in some Latin American and African countries and I have worked as director of Development of Alternative Energies for a listed Spanish company for a couple of years within the period.
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