My rating: 86/100
See Book Notes for other books I have read. If you like my notes, go buy it!
Key principles and facts I’ve taken from this book, ordered relatively by importance:
- There are no strong links between energy usage and personal happiness or well being. Societies that focus on human welfare rather than economy have happier citizens.
- Economic depressions act as a trigger for innovative activity.
- The technical weakness of dominant designs, the high construction costs of nuclear plants and chronic delays in their completion, the unresolved problem of long-term disposal of radioactive wastes, and widespread concerns about operation safety (including, even after 60 years of commercial experiences, some grossly exaggerated claims of possible health impacts) have prevented further rapid growth of the nuclear industry. The West has essentially given up on this clean, carbon-free way to electricity generation.
- The industry’s [photovoltaic] growth has not been a gradual, organic process but a promotion driven by government subsidies.
- The challenges presented by the transition from fossil fuels to renewables are generally insufficiently appreciated.
- The energy cost of energy (often called energy return on investment EROI) for coal is between 10 and 80, oil and gas ranges from 10 to far above 100, large wind turbines may approach 20 but are mostly less than 10, photovoltaic solar cells are no higher than 2, and biofuels at best are 1.5 and often below 1 (net loss).
- The U.S. invasion of Iraq was not because of oil. China is the biggest importer of Iraqi oil, did the U.S. go into Iraq to secure Chinese oil supply?
- Coal generates more CO2 per unit of released energy than any other fossil fuel – the rates are typically more than 30 kg C/GJ for coal, about 20 kg C/GJ for liquid hydrocarbons, and less than 15 kg C/GJ for natural gas – its future in a world concerned about rapid global warming is uncertain.
- Oil is the single most valuable traded commodity.
- The global production of liquid biofuels reached about 75 Mt of oil equivalent in 2015, accounting for about 1.8% of energy extracted annually from crude oil. Scaling this industry to supply a significant share of the world’s liquid biofuels is, bluntly put, delusionary.
- The Mayan population declined from 3 million around 800 CE to just around 100,000 by ~1500 CE.
- Draft animal population in America peaked in 1918 at 26.7 million.
- Most adult men can sustain useful work at 75-120 W.
- Fireplace heating efficiencies were poor, typical performance at just around 5%.
- The efficiency cost of walking increases both below and above the optimum speeds of 5-6 km/h (3.1-3.7 mph).
- When Usain Bolt set the world record for 100m at 9.58 seconds, his maximum power was 2,619.5 W, that is about 3.5 hp.
- The Great Pyramid construction was completed in 15-20 years.
- The often repeated claim that the Romans were the first builders to use concrete is inaccurate. It was technically called lime mortar.
- Every major transition to a new energy source requires significant energy from the old energy source type. For example, the transition from coal to oil required significant inputs of coal energy.
- It is a mistake to think of nineteenth century economic growth primarily due to steam.
- The best large diesel engines rate just above 50%, double the rate for gasoline engines.
- The production of iron is the world’s largest energy consuming industrial sector. Aluminum requires six times the energy of iron; titanium roughly three times aluminum.
- As the population of a city doubles, economic productivity goes up by an average of 130%, with both total and per capita productivity rising.
List of Primary Sources
On my mind recently has been the topic of primary sources. I want to hone my skills of researching and finding accurate resources for information. Rather than relying on the interpretation of others, it seems that the industry experts read reliable, direct sources for information. I hope to join the population of such experts someday, so I need to begin doing as they do. On that note, this book has been a wealth of new resources (the bibliography is 67 pages) , and I put together a short list of them here for my and your reference. Not surprisingly most of them are governmental organizations.
- USBC – U.S. Bureau of Census https://www.census.gov/library/publications.html
- USDA – U.S. Department of Agriculture www.usda.gov
- USDOE – U.S. Department of Energy https://www.energy.gov/
- USDOL – U.S. Department of Labor https://www.dol.gov/ Here you can find statistics such as employment by industry sector over time, unemployment, demographics, consumer spending, productivity, wage trends, and industry statistics. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/statistics
- USEIA – U.S. Energy Information Agency https://www.eia.gov/ Find trends in energy usage in each sector – oil, coal, etc. Imports/Exports, storage and storage capacities, reserves, and up to date pricing. They also provide reports on other countries, such as China: https://www.eia.gov/international/analysis/country/CHN
- USGS – U.S. Geological Survey https://www.usgs.gov/ Information on earthquakes, water, volcanoes, landslides, and the commodities market. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/nmic/commodity-statistics-and-information
- WHO – World Health Organization https://www.who.int/ Life expectancy, road traffic injuries, alcohol usage, diseases, nutrition, violence, and a slew of other health related data. https://www.who.int/data/gho/publications/world-health-statistics
- WNA – World Nuclear Association https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library.aspx Power reactor requirements, generation by country, reactor database, country profiles, economics of nuclear reactors, and reactor types.
- UNDP – United Nations Development Programme https://annualreport.undp.org/ They publish a yearly Human Development Report.
- REN21 – Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, publishes an annual report on the status of renewables. https://annualreport.undp.org/
- OPEC – Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – who gets what from imported oil? www.opec.org They publish a monthly oil market report.
- NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration www.noaa.gov Find trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
- J.P. Morgan publishes A Brave New World: Deep Decarbonization of Electricity Grids https://energyforhumanity.org/en/resources/reports-en/brave-new-world-deep-decarbonization-of-electricity-grids/
- IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – Take a look at their report Global Warming of 1.5 deg C https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
- IMF – International Monetary Fund – https://www.imf.org/ Find the cost of energy subsidies. https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2015/09/28/04/53/sonew070215a
Chapter 1 Energy and Society
If the planet had been a mere 1% farther from the Sun, virtually all of its water would have been locked in glaciers.
The mastery of fire greatly extended our range of habitation and set us further apart from animals.
Average daily food needs for most moderately active adults is 2-2.7 Mcal, or about 8-11 MJ, and 10 MJ could be supplied by eating 1 kg of whole wheat bread.
Consuming 8 MJ of food a day corresponds to a power rate of 90 W, less than the rating of a standard light bulb (100 W). A double toaster needs 1000 W, or 1 kW; small cars deliver around 50 kW; a large coal-fired or nuclear power plant produces electricity at the rate of 2 GW.
Cities had to draw on nearby areas at least 30 times their size for fuel supply.
Photosynthesis converts less than .5% of incoming solar radiation into new phytomass.
About 9% of energy in natural gas ends up as light, a 90 fold gain since the late 1880s
Among the commonly used materials, aluminum and plastics are highly energy intensive, while glass and paper are relatively cheap, and lumber (excluding its photosynthetic cost) is the least energy intensive widely deployed material.
The energy cost of energy (often called EROI, energy return on investment, although EROEI, energy return on energy investment, would be more correct)
For coal production they range between 10 and 80, while for oil and gas they have ranged from 10 to far above 100; for large wind turbines in the windiest locations they may approach 20 but are mostly less than 10; for photovoltaic solar cells they are no higher than 2; and for modern biofuels (ethanol, biodiesel) they are at best only 1.5, but their production has often entailed an energy loss or no net gain (an EROEI of just .9-1.0).
I will use 2 MJ/day in all approximate calculations of net daily expenditures in foraging, traditional farming, and industrial work.
Chapter 2 Energy in Prehistory
Homo erectus began 1.8 M years ago.
The first Homo sapiens bones are dated at 190,000 years ago.
It was only 10,000 years ago that the first small populations of our species began a sedentary existence based on the domestication of plants and animals.
The first evolutionary departure that eventually led to our species was not a larger brain size or toolmaking but bipedalism, a structurally improbable yet immensely consequential adaptation whose beginnings can be traced as far back as 7M years ago.
After measuring energy expenditure in walking chimpanzees and adult humans, found that human walking costs about 75% less energy than both quadrupedal and bipedal walking in chimpanzees.
The average encephalization quotient (actual/expected brain mass for body weight) is 2-3.5 for primates and early hominins, while for humans is a bit higher than 6.
Increased meat consumption also helps to explain human gains in body mass and height, as well as smaller jaws and teeth.
The date of the oldest known stone toolmaking to about 3.3M years ago.
Earliest date for a well attested use of controlled fire … the fossil record suggests that the consumption of some cooked food took place as early as 1.9 M years ago.
Outstanding rates of human heat dissipation provided a notable evolutionary advantage that served our ancestors well.
Running turned humans into diurnal, high-temperature predators that could chase animals to exhaustion.
My note: Humans can sweat a lot!
There was a widespread hunting preference for large and relatively fatty species.
For some groups the total foraging effort was relatively low, only a few hours a day. This finding led to foragers being portrayed as “the original affluent society,” living in a kind of material plenty filled with leisure and sleep. … This conclusion, based on very limited and dubious evidence, must be – and has been – challenged.
The highest productivities in complex foraging were associated with the exploitation of aquatic resources.