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American Energy Policy IV: The Price of Transition

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DOE knows that it's lying about lithium ion batteries, but it's following orders from above. See

Cutler J. Cleveland has a Web site that goes into these net energy analyses in some depth, including one on wind systems that I found informative. His Encyclopedia of the Earth is a magnus opus of some import. His findings are conservative. Ours were more accurate. The EIA has industry-by-industry tabulations of energy use which correlate well with the energy use for manufactured goods.

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I performed net energy analysis for MITRE for NSF and DOE back in the '70's with consultants such as Edward Teller, Marcel Barbier, and others on all known energy technologies at the time.

Our earlier work at MITRE was buried by DOE during the Reagan years. Our findings about ethanol, photovoltaics and nuclear power were not well-received. All have negative energy ROI. It takes more energy to build, operate, and retire these facilities than they produce during their lifetimes. No one has yet successfully torn down a nuclear plant and fully disposed of the carcass of the nuclear generator and its waste materials and spent fuel. No one. Not a single nation has yet to finish out its Faustian Bargain. The closest is the Germans who are tearing one down along its northern coast. It has taken 15 years so far and 5 billion euro. It's about 2/3 done. The US has a nuke disposal fund with $23 billion to close down the 104 nukes in our fleet. They average 35 years of age. Think that'll be enough?

Most net energy analyses are quite conservative in that they do not consider the energy used by the workers who created the equipment and installed it, their families, the energy used by the workers who support the logistics of the people who are directly involved, or the entire multiplier effects of non-manufacturing jobs which stand on the shoulders of the folks doing the work. When all the beans are counted, if the EROI is less than 8:1, the economy shrinks when that technology is chosen. Examples of those choices are nuclear (5:1), fracked natural gas in the US (7:1), oil and tar sands (5:1), geothermal (5:1), photovoltaics in the sunbelt US (3:1) and elsewhere (1:1), ethanol based on non-ag sources (3:1) and ag (1:1), biodiesel (4:1), algae (4:1), and secondary oil in the US (5:1).  

These are all losers. Not one nickel should be wasted on any of them.

Sadly, that's where all the money was and is being spent.

The best choices are those with an EROI significantly higher than 10:1 -- offshore wind, land-based wind in class 5 areas or better, ocean thermal in the tropics, and solar thermal in high insolation areas, receive almost no help.

As for electric vehicles, they depend on a backbone of antiquated power plants and a distribution network dating back over a century. They also depend on non-existent materials and manufacturing processes for the nextgen batteries and very limited rare earth elements that do not have a large supply. Depending on these selections reflects poor judgment.

And yes, ammonia is the only answer left for transportation fuels. It can be made from air and water and ANY SOURCE of heat and electric power. If you're smart, you'll use one that has an EROI higher than 8:1. Right now that is the short list of renewables above, imported gas from cheap international sources, and coal. If you care about the environment it's a really short list.

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Designed first all-solar home for Ryland Homes in 1974. At MITRE, led a group of 35 of the best minds in the world (including Dr. Edward Teller, among others) who performed detailed engineering, scientific, socio-economic, and political analyses (more...)

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