Green jobs

One of our local papers did a better job of reporting this issue than I have seen from any of the big guys, in part because the reporter started with the question that I think everyone should be asking: what does it mean to create a green job? Here’s what I said:

If you have two people making the same amount of energy that one person used to make, would you want to describe that as creating one new job? I would say no, you’re significantly reducing productivity. Ultimately, creating jobs has to do with promoting productivity….
We might well make a decision that we want to be promoting economic growth in a way that’s more friendly toward the environment. That’s a fine decision to make, but I don’t think we ought to be doing it under the pretense we’re creating jobs for people.

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48 thoughts on “Green jobs

  1. aaron

    What’s the difference between energy and Green Energy?
    Green Energy doesn’t need to be sustainable to make a profit.

  2. matt wilbert

    I cannot agree. Two bad jobs is two jobs. One good job is one job. We might prefer the latter, but two is still more than one. And it is a lot more than zero, which is how many jobs you have when you run out of whatever you were extracting.
    Productivity is very important, but it isn’t the same thing as employment, and I think it is misleading to imply otherwise. Assuming a shift to more sustainable energy production is made, no doubt productivity will go up over time in that sector just as it tends to do in general.

  3. GK

    It is amazing how many seemingly sane people actually want to reduce productivity to keep or create jobs.
    Another example is the surprising resistance to tax simplification. The excuse? “The tax accountants would not have jobs”…
    What the..!?!?!?!?
    Why not remove all agricultural equipment to employ farm hands then? Why not make sure every elevator needs an elevator man to operate it? Why not get rid of card access for buildings to employ doormen?
    People are stupid.

  4. d4winds

    “If you have two people making the same amount of energy that one person used to make, would you want to describe that as creating one new job? I would say no…”
    True enough. Externalities do not exist, of course.

  5. bkelly

    Prof. Hamilton,
    Your position seems to assume certain things about net energy, or Energy Return On Investment, (EROI).
    What is the EROI of PV? Wind? Concentrating thermal? What has the trend over time looked like for alternates like these?
    What is the EROI of oil? Gas? What has the trend over time looked like for traditional sources like these?
    IMO, the answers run contrary to your rhetorical question.

  6. Tom

    I agree with you about “creating jobs”. Whenever I hear politicians say “creating jobs”, I remember the Soviet phrase “obespechit rabochikh mest”. Economic progress is all about productivity, not creating useless busywork.
    But let’s pose a different question. If 10 people could extract oil using a method that destroyed the livelihoods of 100 people living in the area, whereas 20 people could extract the same oil in a way that preserved those 100 people’s livelihoods, which is more efficient?
    The point is, the number of labor hours per energy unit created is not the only efficiency issue. Carbon emissions are a cost, they are slowly poisoning the globe. The unusual thing about this cost is, we don’t feel it directly – it mainly impacts nature conservation, such as polar bears and coral reefs, and though it’s already pretty clear the long-run impacts are likely to be devastating to future generations, we’ll all be long dead by then, so it’s easy not to care or to choose to disbelieve the science.

  7. DickF

    It amazes me that otherwise sane people pontificate about spending trillions on lowering the temperature of the world by a few degrees while totally closing their eyes to one million deaths every year due to malaria.
    There has not been one documented death in recorded history from global warming and as a matter of fact periods warmer than our current period have been great periods of prosperity as growing cycles increased.
    The whole argument is a fantasy. But that is actually another issue.
    Thank you professor for having the courage to speak the truth even when you will be accused of blaspheming our national religion.
    The ignorance of people concerning energy production drives me crazy. What is the comparitive footprint of an oil well versus a wind farm? Which produces the most energy?
    Thermodynamically there is no debate. Nuclear, then hydrocarbons, store more energy than any other source. Both solar and wind, the darlings of the environmentalists, require a vast footprint to generate energy. Many claim that as methods are improved that the energy production will increase. This is a pipedream. Both solar and wind are at best a direct one for one conversion of solar energy, but that is sporadic. Both nuclear and hydrocarbons store more energy. It is virtually a mathematical impossibility for solar and wind to every generate even half the energy output of these fuels.
    But some people persist living in a fantasy world.

  8. PPM

    A couple of points (last one is the most important):
    (1) There is enormous uncertainty in the price of gasoline. This produces huge problems in making decisions. My wife and I are considering moving: should we move to the suburb, a 40 minute drive away for good schools, or into the city, where we will probably have to pay for private schools but can walk to work? The price of gas sits at the decision point. Anyone want to take a guess where it will be?
    (2) The balance of trade is ~50% from oil imports. How much stronger would our economic position be if we had not been sending $20B a year overseas?
    (3) Spin-off technology. Remember in the Graduate when the old dude tells Dustin Hoffman that he should get into plastics? That wasn’t such bad advice. Plastics are a huge sector of our economy. The plastics economy derives directly from the petroleum industry. Just as we started by making simple fuels from petroleum and built a huge industry around the spin-offs, so too we will build a huge industry around the spin-offs from biofuels.
    Right now we are at the birth of the bioengineering industry. All we can make is ethanol by fermentation. We’ve been doing this for thousands of years, but what changed in the past 2 years or so is that we can now ferment new starting material. Waste material. Fermentation is not rocket science. Go to your local brewer and look around, its really not rocket science.
    To start with plant waste requires either a bit more process engineering or a good bit of bioengineering.
    To jump start this industry we need lots of production. Demand for fuel will provide the impetus to get the industry started (and also decrease greenhouse gas emissions and help the balance of trade). What will this new industry look like? I don’t know. Who would have guessed how much plastics have become a part of our daily lives in 1945?
    These spin off industries will not replace plastics. Plastics are too cheap for a fledgling industry to try to compete head to head. So, it wont be bioplastic bags v. plastic bags. Much more likely to be pharmaceuticals, pesticides, or other bulk enantiopure chemicals. Then things like e-paper and photovoltaic thin films.
    I’m a biologist who wondered for years why Biotech was called biotech, biotech is just making pharmaceuticals a new way, boring (sort of). There is a whole industry that has been waiting to happen for 20 years. It needs a large market for the low end stuff (hooch for the family car) to get going making the transformational products and technologies that are just round the corner. And dang don’t I wish I’d stuck with the bioengineering and suffered 20 years on the margin, just to take part in what is happening now!

  9. DaveR

    The terms “green jobs” and even to some extent “alternative energy” often annoy me because they can have so many different interpretations that they are basically meaningless. Much of the stimulus money is actually set aside for construction companies to contract for large-scale retrofits to make buildings more energy efficient and for R&D companies to develop greater capacity factor capabilities for renewable energy. These measures are cost-effective and can create jobs. They also satisfy long-term and short-term goals. The article is misleading because it focuses almost exclusively on solar energy installations, which is a small piece of the stimulus pie. And the quote from the article that “wealth will be sacrificed to protect the environment” is simply erroneous. It just depends how the money is spent.
    An energy policy that, right now, uses money to encourage solar energy and advanced biofuels deployment, in the context of short-term job creation and reducing carbon emissions, is a colossal waste of money at this point in time. (Especially the quote about the solar-powered car…the conversion efficiencies with PV are so low, that the idea of a solar-powered car is simply ridiculous.) But the stimulus bill isn’t designed to promote only (or even largely) solar energy, as suggested by the Weighing the Merits section. I don’t understand how efficient use of existing fossil resources and R&D for next generation renewable energy is “sacrificing wealth.”
    I personally do not think it is wise to have solar tax breaks or spend $600 million on photosynthetic algae, but the article uses two “alternative” technologies with some of the lowest returns on investment to make his case that “green jobs” won’t save the economy or the environment.

  10. Yuan

    “It is virtually a mathematical impossibility for solar and wind to every generate even half the energy output of these fuels.”
    And some people are scientifically illiterate.

  11. Rick

    DickF,
    I’m afraid you are also living in a fantasy world. The Global Humanitarian Forum, NRDC, World Health Organization all say climate change causes hundreds of thousands of deaths annually in addition to hundreds of billions of dollars. Additionally, the IPCC, EPA, U.S. Global Climate Change Science Program, and thousands of other independent scientists have an abundance of both observational evidence and scientific models which would suggest the existence of climate change as a matter of fact.
    I have worked in science and economic fields for two decades, and honestly, I do not know who is more arrogant, scientists or economists. I would be inclined to say economists because at least scientists concede their backgrounds limit themselves to the field in which they are trained, while economists believe they know more about science than scientists do. You fit that mold nicely.

  12. Buzzcut

    I’ve got the ultimate green job: paying people to bike on stationary bikes hooked up to generators hooked up to the utility grid.
    Of course, you can’t pay these people anything close to the minimum wage to make electricity. And they’ll need to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, like some modern Roman Navy rower from a bad Charlton Hesston movie.
    But it will be green! The human body is the most energy efficient mechanism on earth, putting all other energy sources to shame.
    And these people will at least be in good shape!

  13. Steve Kopits

    The Professor’s calculations are sound.
    There are reasons to invest in renewables. These include research and development for more economical solutions, portfolio diversification (risk management), national security, and a subjective desire by a population to live green or sustainably.
    However, given the current productivity of renewable energy, green jobs (excluding efficiency-related) require on-going government support and do not constitute a long-term path for sustainably increased US employment.

  14. CoRev

    Rick said: 1) “…all say climate change causes hundreds of thousands of deaths annually in addition to hundreds of billions of dollars….” AND
    2) “…which would suggest the existence of climate change as a matter of fact.”
    Your first claim is for weather not climate change.
    Your second claim is obviously true. When has climate not changed?
    Both your claims appear to be based upon ignorance of the Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change/Climate Crisis subject. There has been much alarmism published in the MSM, but little has stood up to real scientific review.
    Back on subject, the Spanish study has shown that 2.2 regular jobs have been lost for each green job gained. Moreover the green jobs were at great Govt subsidy. This study has been attacked by the Team AGW supporters, and to be fair to date not replicated anywhere else.
    CoRev, editor
    http://globalwarmingclearinghouse.blogspot.com

  15. Mattyoung

    If returns to scale increased dramatically in other economic sectors such that generally surplus labor was had for energy development, then yes, it is theoretically possible.
    If energy was the constraint then we might likely have this result; greater energy conservation in consumption and more devotion to energy development. Even doing this, if the consumer saved energy with intelligence such that the household kept the standard of living, then it is positive growth.
    A planned changeover to less labor productivity would not be profitable. The profitable effect comes from an unexpected improvement in consumer efficiency. In our case,it is the sudden realization that technologies use oil more efficiently; causing energy to accept lower labor productivity in the short run, because the long run value of oil actually rises.
    As innovation enables more groups of consumers to live with $100/barrel oil, then those wind farms look a bit more profitable. Total energy consumption actually rises because it is a less constraining input.

  16. GK

    Global warming is such a scam. I am glad that India and China are not getting duped by this creation of the Western media.
    What indisputably IS due to man is the rising incidence of mercury in the ocean. This IS due to man, but environmentalists don’t care.
    They would rather believe that something that is far less likely to be due to man can be controlled.
    It is part of the god-complex arrogance that leftists have.

  17. Ivars

    “Much of the stimulus money is actually set aside for construction companies to contract for large-scale retrofits to make buildings more energy efficient and for R&D companies to develop greater capacity factor capabilities for renewable energy. These measures are cost-effective and can create jobs. They also satisfy long-term and short-term goals.”
    Exactly. Saving energy is creating jobs that pay for themselves via saved energy. Insulation of houses (retrofitting) is among the few GREEN measures that pay for itself, and rather fast. The good thing is , the more expensive the energy, the bigger the positive effect in future.
    The best form of alternative energy is the energy that is NOT USED.
    The problem with retrofitting is that it is distributed and requires effort to persuade/educate people. It is therefore not so easy to advance, but the total aggregate result per country could be HUGE.
    No wonder, all companies that make business on USING more energy have built influential science bodies that promote usage of energy instead of saving.

  18. j

    Green energy is being sold to the American public under false pretenses, that it will “create” jobs. Prof. Hamilton rightly says that it is legitimate to sacrifice economic growth to environmental protection, but it should be done openly and honestly.
    Yes, but in politics things are not done like that, and it cannot be done like that.
    If we agree with the idea, then we should accept the rethoric too. It is done pour le gallerie.
    I would also call your attention to the fact that those green subsidies are in a way industrial policy, they are trying to artificially develope an industry. Industrial policies assume that bureaucrats or politicians make better decisions than entrepreneurs. It is condemned to fail, to waste resources.
    Maybe I am wrong, and from the algae cultivation some new unexpected bonus industry will grow. Lets hope, although today (It is tisha be av, a mourning day for us Jews) I am pessimistic.

  19. K

    Didn’t you hear? Vegetables and Plants everywhere have hired a lobbying firm to promote the INCREASE of CO2 emissions. Apparently, they consume the stuff to make food and spit out noxious O2 gas. They take offense to being associated through the word “green” with the global attempt to eliminate their livlihood.
    PS – maybe if we got congress to legislate away the laws of thermodynamics, we might get somewhere.

  20. Joseph Somsel

    Try this thought experiment – what if an energy source was truly free? What if NO labor or capital was required to capture it and put it to use? Everyone could then be employed DOING something useful (or frivolous) with the energy.
    On the other extreme, imagine an economy where everyone had to do nothing but labor to provide just their own sustenance level of energy as in food?
    Which would be the wealthier, more advance civilization? While the former case has not existed on earth (maybe in the Garden of Eden), the latter case is well-represented amongst the poorest societies on earth. They have no excess energy and are stuck in the Malthusian equilibrium.
    Labor required per unit output is a good stand-in for EROEI; not perfect but it does show how much excess energy is available to share per job.

  21. Lord

    The lameness here is to look at the past and current situation as if it has any bearing on the future. It reminds me of all those economists saying there was nothing wrong as late as 2006.

  22. markg

    The most productive way to dispose of nuclear waste is to dump it in a river. Is it “worth” the productivity loss to dispose it safely? And should the jobs created in disposing it be counted?

  23. Rick

    CoRev, No I am not confusing weather with climate. As one example, read:
    “Impact of regional climate change on human health” by Patz et al, Nature 438, 310-317 (17 November 2005.
    Also, where are you getting your information on your blog? Your UAH graph of climate data is in conflict with obervations from NOAA (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/gcag/index.jsp), but I guess they’ve been developing a liberal agenda since 1880. Get some facts before you call someone ignorant. I encourage you to check these statistics and perhaps look beyond 1979. I think you are more confused with the difference between climate and weather.
    GK, what is your evidence to call global warming a scam? You have listed a conclusion with no scientific evidence whatsoever, which gets back to my point in my original post.

  24. JDH

    markg: I believe it is a good idea to try to dispose of the nuclear waste safely. But I do not pretend that the justification is all the jobs created for the people needed to do that.

  25. DJones

    PPM:
    Your plastics analogy is worth exploring. The use of plastics expanded when they became the most cost effective solution available. No one had to take massive amounts of hard-earned money from taxpayers to “jump start” the plastics industry. As DickF points out, nuclear and hydrocarbon rule the current energy markets due to the fact that they are currently the most cost effective solutions to our energy needs.
    You complained about the volatility in gasoline prices, but gasoline prices are much more stable than the various forms of alternative energy would be if you take away the government tax dollars and mandates.
    Sure, bioengineering/solar/wind has potential that?s worth exploring, but to pretend that alternative energy production is some kind of free lunch is wrong. Energy use in any form is going alter our environment. We need to get over the ?oil/nuclear bad, everything else good? mentality. Science has the potential to improve our use of current energy sources just as well as develop new ones.
    Eventually, we will likely transition to different types of energy, but that transition should be driven by market forces rather than the government fantasy of ?Green jobs?.

  26. Seth

    GK:
    Why do you say environmentalists don’t care about mercury in the oceans? Can you provide any evidence of that?

  27. Buzzcut

    From a public choice perspective, who benefits from this push for “green jobs”?
    Would mechanical engineers be net beneficiaries? Would more ME jobs be created in the green sector than are destroyed in other sectors that employ MEs?
    For once, I think that I’m going to advocate an issue purely on what it does for me personally. I think swapping proven technology like coal fired power plants for unproven wind turbines and whatnot is a boon to MEs. But I could be wrong. What do you guys think?

  28. CoRev

    Rick, your question re: the UAH graph is telling in that you don’t know the sources for GMST. You do know there are other groups than NOAA? Don’cha?
    As to the report you cited, I am not familiar with it, but I am familiar with this site: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/07/hurricane-damage-by-enso-flavor.html The cogent piece is referenced at the end of this article.
    There has been much alarmism in this ongoing debate, much of it associated with the impacts of CC. To date few of those predictions have proven nearly as dangerous as projected/predicted. The one often cited, increases in number and power of Atlantic Hurricanes. Has been disproved several times over.
    There is little question that climate changes. Always has, and in those changes somethings are negatively impacted, but what is missed is that somethings are also positively impacted.
    BTW, few argue whether the planet is warming. The debate centers upon why and how much is natural versus caused by man, AND WHAT ARE THOSE PROCESSES. We still do not fully understand how climate works.
    Thanks for visiting my site. Now let’s get back on topic.

  29. Joseph Somsel

    Here’s another idea for creating “green energy” jobs. Let’s ban self-service service stations and require that we have a pollution control expert do the refueling.
    In theory, that should reduce pollution and the escape of hydrocarbons to the atmosphere.
    But would it be worth it?
    Commenters raise the issue of externalities. All energy sources have them but determining the RELATIVE external costs is impossible to do objectively. Just look at the differences between the 1,000,000 design life of Yucca Mountain and the bird kills from wind mills. Talk about apples and oranges! Ultimately, it is a political decision and political decisions are subject to corruption.

  30. GK

    GK, what is your evidence to call global warming a scam? You have listed a conclusion with no scientific evidence whatsoever, which gets back to my point in my original post.
    For starters, wine was grown much further north in the Roman era, than today.
    Plus, haven’t you noticed that the weather is cold this summer?
    Needless to say, your ‘support’ of global warming is quasi-religious, as you did not acknowledge my Mercury in the ocean point at all. It does not fit the narrative.
    Kudos to India and China for not getting duped by this scam from the Western Left.
    Seth,
    Why do you say environmentalists don’t care about mercury in the oceans? Can you provide any evidence of that?
    One almost never hears it mentioned in contrast with ‘global warming’. That is because the latter is a vehicle through which to worship Al Gore and others.
    Gore and Friedman both have houses that are over 15,000 square feet, BTW.

  31. markg

    JDH,
    What is the justification for any job created? I believe any job created that improves our living standard should be counted. At the micro level somethings can or cannot be afforded. You or I may not have the money to pay our electric bill when the cost of disposing nuclear waste is factored in. But at the macro level, the cost of safe disposal of nuclear waste is having the resources to do so. That is true for other areas too, such as health care. With unemployment at nearly 10% we can afford to improve our living standard at the macro level, unfortunately at the micro level we cannot. I can understand why the typical person has trouble making the difference between micro and macro, but economist….

  32. Steve

    Ok, forget the science and the economics! Let’s use common sense and intuitive thinking. We have too much labor available for too few jobs. If we continue on the current path, it leads to social unrest and upheaval. History is important to look at and those who discount it are prone to failure. When the farms became massively productive, we had a similar increase in labor with nowhere to run and plenty of food to grow more labor. As a society we got together and said this an opportunity to develop new areas of endeavor and, boom, the age of industry was born. It was not pretty, people struggled and labor was cheap, but once the wheels began to move, it produced the greatest expansion of civilization known to mankind. Now today we have produced to the point of diminshing returns. We must lay a new foundation, even if it means lower wages for a while and yes Government subsidy, until renewable energy takes hold and begins to show the way. Anything less than this will land us in an age where a few have the lions share and the rest are left to stew. If that happens we will have political chaos as the masses come together in revolt. It is time, right now, to come together get past the current nonsense and use government, private capital and the labor that is beginning to idle and move forward toward a renewable, sustainable future! The alternative is just too ugly, I do not want a Stalin, Lenin or Hitler coming to power and that is what we are looking at if we do nothing!

  33. DickF

    MarkG and JDH,
    If nuclear fuel was allowed to be used to its maximum rather than removed after only partial use there would be virtually no nuclear waste. France has had no problem at all storing their nuclear waste. In the US if nuclear was allowed to be fully exploited we would not need storage facility like Yucca Mountain.
    The whole issue has been exaggerated by environmentalists who create waste conditions by forcing through regulations that only make nuclear waste more dangerous.

  34. Drew

    Extremely strong advocasy for the use of nuclear energy will be “canary in the coal mine” on the AGW debate. When the enviros are REALLY worried about global doom, they’ll drop this nonsense about returning to cave man lifestyles or exotic alternatives and demand something that could work: an immediate Manhattan Project-like development of nuclear energy.
    Until then, you’ll know its all politics.

  35. Alexis Madrigal

    @DickF, @DJones, @Drew:
    From DJones: “nuclear and hydrocarbon rule the current energy markets due to the fact that they are currently the most cost effective solutions to our energy needs.”
    Is that really why nuclear is part of the story? I think you all should look back at the history of nuclear expansion. Perhaps look at the history of subsidies that the industry received. Indemnifications, guaranteed markets, government sponsored demonstration projects.
    You don’t have to take my word for it, read economist Steve Cohn’s examination of the nuclear industry: Too Cheap to Meter.
    Note: I’m not saying any of that stuff is necessarily wrong. I mean, the hydrocarbons industry has also enjoyed tremendous tax treatment through time, as well as other types of government support.
    Our government subsidizes our energy industries. This is just true. And it has been.

  36. beezer

    “We might well make a decision that we want to be promoting economic growth in a way that’s more friendly toward the environment. That’s a fine decision to make, but I don’t think we ought to be doing it under the pretense we’re creating jobs for people.”
    I’m with the commentators who point out this statement is, at best, incomplete. Certainly in terms of productivity when one considers the extra green job might well improve productivity in another part of our economy.

  37. beezer

    Bartlett’s Choice.
    The professor was Albert. A Bartlett, Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado. His point that I want to use was quite straightforward: We can choose an energy path that relies first on the assumption that we will be able somehow to produce more energy in sufficient quantities for future generations; Or we can choose an energy path that relies first on conservation of energy and doesnt assume that we can continually increase energy levels for future generations.
    Heres Bartletts precisely accurate assessment. There is a rational way to choose. If the path we choose turns out to be the correct path, then theres no problem. The problems arise in case the path we choose turns out to be the wrong path. It follows then that we must choose the path that leaves us in the less precarious position in case the path we choose turns out to be the wrong one.
    So there are two possible wrong choices that we must compare. If we choose the Conservative Path that assumes finite resources, and our children later find out that resources are really infinite, then no great long-term harm has been done. If we choose the Liberal Path that assumes infinite resources, and our children later find that resources are really finite, then we will have left our descendents in deep trouble.

  38. Buzzcut

    If we choose the Conservative Path that assumes finite resources, and our children later find out that resources are really infinite, then no great long-term harm has been done.
    Wrong. You’re not taking into account opportunity cost.
    Take the late ’90s IT boom. To what extent did the IT boom occur because of the Asian financial crisis, the resulting commodity collapse, and the cheap energy that was the ultimate result. We all could spend our money on Pentiums instead of petroleum.
    The increase in productivity from the Pentiums was exponential. Wheras wind turbines actually lower productivity.

  39. Joseph Somsel

    Bottom Line:
    Any subsidies of the civilian nuclear power industry have certainly paid off. That was the correct decision.
    Any subsidies that the photovoltaic electric business gets for retail, grid electricity is a wrong choice. Same for windmills – bad idea.
    Today, nuclear power is a cash cow for government, paying big taxes and taken them in turn from the electric consumer. It also is a reasonable cost provider with very, very small externalities.
    Justifying renewables as a jobs creation program is just to advocate another WPA or CCC but with rent seekers taking a cut of the cash flow. It is a corrupt argument for a corrupt program.
    The worst damage is in leading the public to think that renewables will really be a adequate substitute for coal and nuclear. By the time the facts are evident in power shortages, the damage will be 10 years too late to rectify.

  40. Mike25

    This is what you call good reporting?
    “But some experts in economics and the energy industry say having more people work in alternative energy will actually lower our standard of living, by making energy more expensive. They say the public will need to balance how much wealth they’re willing to sacrifice to protect the environment.”
    How much wealth they’re willing to sacrifice?…
    This must be the Dumbest comment ever published in this blog.
    You’ve got Coal Sludge piling up across all 50 states, fish so polluted with mercury, you can’t eat it, and a Southwestern State Water Shortage, called a Drought, a National Drought, and a Global Drought. This is from Just a 2 Degree temperature increase. And you think oil is Cheaper? You must be INSANE.
    Oil is Not Sustainable.
    Beside the fact that the OPEC oil cartel is pumping at Full Capacity, and Oil has already Peaked in 60% of the oil producing nations.

  41. CoRev

    Mike25 made this rant: “You’ve got Coal Sludge piling up across all 50 states, fish so polluted with mercury, you can’t eat it, and a Southwestern State Water Shortage, called a Drought, a National Drought, and a Global Drought. This is from Just a 2 Degree temperature increase. And you think oil is Cheaper? You must be INSANE.
    Oil is Not Sustainable.
    Beside the fact that the OPEC oil cartel is pumping at Full Capacity, and Oil has already Peaked in 60% of the oil producing nations. ”
    So, which of these problems does the current “renewable energy” policy solve? And, how? And, at what cost? And, at what ROI?
    I commend your passion, but I’m not so sure about your logic.

  42. anonoui

    I am not sure about energy/worker as the measure of value? For nuclear energy I first need a whole bunch of capital to build a secure nuclear plant (not clear from the article whether this was included in the calculation of Mr. Somsel; do we include the labor in the production of the capital etc. etc.), then I need a bunch of engineers with enormous human capital. (Slightly different, then include also the small probability of significant disaster etc. in the costs, which I am sure Mr. somsel has not done either) As a caricature: for solar I might need one unschooled security guy afterwards, to check on the panels — I would not compare the engineer to the security guy.
    I am still not sure why it’s not better to measure cost effectiveness as dollar cost p. Joule or KWh (knowing that this also does not take all externalities into account). If prices b/c gov intervention are not clear, they can still be inferred from alternative uses, hopefully in the market.

  43. Unsympathetic

    Two problems with even considering switching to non-oil energy production.
    One, nuclear is the ONLY option. The only one. EROEI – energy returned over energy invested – is the metric. Sudden Debt is the blog which goes into far more detail than this post. Suffice it to say that all alternative energy (INCLUDING biofuels) have an eroei less than one. That is, it takes MORE energy to create one gallon of ethanol than the energy contained within that ethanol gallon. Nuclear is the only energy source with an eroei greater than one.
    Two, oil will always be needed – to power tractors used on fields, to power standalone diesel generators, to power push lawnmowers, etc. It’s these unavoidable oil uses which we can for the long run power with places like the alberta tar sands.. not cost-effective now but when gas is high enough, the ROE of many projects becomes positive.

  44. Joseph Somsel

    To anonoui above.
    You are correct that the energy of the hardware inputs is a factor.
    I directed the reporter to work by Professor Per Peterson of UC Berkeley who did calculations on the various amounts of raw materials used for the construction of the various generation sources in terms of their lifetime usable energy output. Peterson’s work is summarized here:
    http://www.citris-uc.org/system/files?file=CITRIS_Peterson_06.ppt#11
    My contribution was for the construction, operations, and maintenance labor costs. I assumed 2,000 workers for 5 years (10,000 man-YEARS) at a two unit nuclear site with an operating staff of 600 people over 60 years. This is roughly what the EIRs for new nuke applications are saying.
    For a 3 kW photovoltaic system, I used 5 man-DAYS for delivery and installation of a home PV system with 1 man-DAY a year for cleaning and the occasional maintenance activity over 20 years.
    I had advanced the notion that labor man-years were a reasonable stand-in for EROEI. Unfortunately, calculating EROEI is maddeningly difficult – consensus has been impossible to obtain. The reporter only wrote about my on-site labor costs. You are also correct that not all workers are alike but I would say that there is not much difference in the energy consumption of a nuclear engineer or an electrician or of a typical American homeowner with a PV system.
    However, that doesn’t change the overall EROEI conclusion – nuclear is the best alternative to oil and gas and that “green jobs” is another government make-work program.
    In the long run, we will have to use nuclear reactors to make synthetic transport fuel from water and coal. With a little development work, the pebble bed reactor can get us there.

  45. derrida derider

    Yep the whole “create jobs”or “preserve jobs” framework is nonsense. It all rests on the lump of labour fallacy – that there is a fixed amount of work to be done in an economy.
    There’s an old anecdote about this. A development economist visited a dam site in India in the early 1950s. To his amazement, there were thousands of people with shovels excavating the site. After a quick calculation, he told his host “But it would be much cheaper, even at these low wages, to get a steam shovel in”. The official replied “But then the people would have no jobs”. “Oh” said the economist, “I thought you wanted a dam. If it’s about providing jobs give them teaspoons instead of shovels.”

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