Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is net energy peaking?

My latest column on Scitizen entitled "Is Net Energy Peaking?" has now been posted. Here is the teaser:

When most people think of fossil fuel supplies, they think in terms of barrels of oil, cubic feet of natural gas and tons of coal. But in evaluating how much energy in the form of finite fossil fuels the world has left, these are no longer adequate measurements....Read more


Henry Warwick said...

Sorry chief, but ya lost me on this one.

If oil was at 100:1 in 1930 and it has been in decline ever since, and peak net energy from coal was in 1998, then that only leaves natgas. But it behaves differently - it doesn't peak and then gradually fades, it simply stops not long after extraction peaks. It does take more and more energy and effort to get the stuff (shale gas etc., but that's been an ongoing issue for quite some time. Therefore, one might conclude we hit peak net FF energy a loooong time ago - quite possibly in the 1980s. (?)

Kurt Cobb said...


The simplest way I can respond is to say that one way to overcome the drop in EROI is to vastly increase gross extractions. We've been doing that. So net energy may have been rising quite smartly until recently. EROI and net energy are two different measures. EROI is a ratio, but doesn't tell us anything directly about the absolute amount of energy produced in society. Net energy refers to the absolute amount of energy available to the nonenergy sector of the economy. It is likely, of course, that EROI peaked very early in the history of fossil fuel use. We got the easiest of the easy stuff out first. But technological advancements have enabled us to vastly increase gross extractions and that has so dwarfed that effect of falling EROI that net energy continued to grow smartly for a century and a half.