Second try:The relative merit of energy (Was- Hydrogen Powered BMW Turns Heads at World Summit)
- Denis Frith of Melbourne has a number of comments on the distinction between
an energy unit of solar insolation and an energy unit of gasoline, (where
the energy unit is the Joule.)
These are important issues that must be resolved in order for us to have any
effective understanding of what energy is and does in terms of our interests
now and on into the future.
Anyone wanting to add to the comments, one way or another, are welcome to
My comments in answer to his comments are set off with >>TR*** <***
Denis Frith's comments are started with >Denis Frith> and end with >
>Denis Frith> Tom: I have raised this subject before without any resolution.I raise it again because I wish to be sure that I have not got the matter
out of perspective. I have inserted my comments in the relevant extract
from your post.>
--- Tom Robertson <t1r@...> wrote: >
> Instead, in a gush of blind technological optimism, they say "Thedue to using differnet terminology so I will comment on that as well as
> sun sends as much energy to the earth in an hour as mankind uses
> in a year." as if a Joule of current solar insolation is in any
> way the equivalent to a Joule of gasoline.
>Dennis Frith>I do not know how much our difference in view point is
the technical issues.
I presume that your 'Joule of gasoline' refers to the chemical potential
energy in the hydrocarbon compounds comprising gasoline. When
ignited, this Joule of energy becomes waste heat. The associated matter
the hydrocarbon compounds) become carbon dioxide and water. Generally,
useful work is carried out in that process but the result is the same.
A chemical compound from nature's store combines with oxygen in the air
to release the internal energy as waste heat eventually and the material
as gases and water vapor: an irreversible process.
"Joule of current solar insolation" is, I presume, a Joule of energy
in the incident solar photons. It is incoming continuously regardless
of whether it is captured by clouds, plants, water or a PV array. It
heats whatever it strikes. Essentially, it is heat that dissipates to
waste heat, often doing useful work in the process. The Joule has a
precise thermodynamic definition that is the same in each case.>
<<TR***The difference is one of energy concentration, where a Joule of
> gasoline, the product of substantial amounts of ancient sunlight,a
> processed by gravity and other forces over millions of years,
> is massively more concentrated than one of sunlight.>>***
>Denis Frith> By this, I presume that you mean that there are more Joules in
gallon of gasoline than in the solar energy incident on a large area.
I do not have even rough figures at hand but this certainly is a very
important indisputable point.>
<<TR***Based on data from teh National Renewable Energy Laboratory at the
following web site:
The highest (flat plate collecter) solar insolation in the United States is
in the Southwest states in June, when they get 7 to 8 kWh/m2/day which
equals 28.8 Million Joules per day.
A stripper well, which is about as low a fossil fuel energy producer as you
can find, produces less than 10 bbls of crude oil per day over the course of
a year. 10 barrels of oil per day amounts to roughly 65,463,900,000 Joules
A solar collector producing the gross output of that stripper well would
have to be 2337 square meters in size.
But that is not all.
A Joule is a Joule, whether it comes from a solar collector or a stripper
well, what makes the difference is the work each Joule of energy will do for
us and our economies.
In an Arizona desert, one Joule of heat has to contend with the fact that
the whole place has a pretty high relative temperature and so the power
gradient required to do any work is substantially reduced. Sure there are
technological tricks to get concentrated work out of each Joule in such
places, but it takes a lot of energy to do so.
On the other hand, wherever in the world that stripper well is found, and in
whatever season, the power gradient of that crude oil Joule is relatively
very high, in that you can burn that crude oil right on the spot and get
heat to boil water and run a turbine to produce electricity with at least
six and possibly many times more net yield than of that Joule of flat-plate
collected heat in June in a SouthEastern state of the U.S.
As for the so-called externalities, such as the depletion of limited
resources to polution from exhaust gases, etc. These are all important and
should be considered in any planning for what a place is and does. (Such
issues are easily incorporated into an Odum-based systems ecology model of
any place, with the energy systems diagram process being the primary means
of managing such complexity.)
However, because our main modes of competition are set by the market place
and very conventional ideas about energy that are innocent of knowledge
about depletion, those externalities are external to our ways of living and
In fact, not only are we ignoring the externalities, we should really pay
attention to the way all those market mavens are messing with the money
system, a la Enron et all.
And what we "ought to be doing" for any moral reason, simply does not cut
it, as well as I can tell. Listen to the outcome of the Johannesberg
conference--on top of all the conferences in the past. Do we seem to be any
closer to cleaning up the market signals that make us blow off limited
non-renewable resources with consumeritis compounded by all sorts of other
I do not think so. ***>>
>>TR***From above: "a Joule of gasoline, the product of substantialright
> amounts of ancient sunlight, processed by gravity and other forces
> over millions of years, is massively more concentrated than a Joule
> of sunlight.
>>This is a fact that should be branded on the brain
> of every school kid on the planet, so they are not suckered into
> thinking that their future will be as easy and bountiful as our
> own, today.>>***
>Denis Frith> Ours has been easy and beautiful because we have presumed the
to draw down on nature's capital without any provision for the future>
>>TR*** This is also where H.T. Odum's eMergy analysis comes into play. In<<TR***Odum's transformity-based eMergy measure provides a relatively
> such analysis, the eMergy measure of a current unit of gasoline is
> the product of a "transformity" factor, in which the current Joule
> of gasoline is multiplied by an index for the total amount of energy
> it took to process that ancient sunlight+geological
> processing+extraction+processing+transport+marketing into today's
>Denis Frith> Like many, I cannot see the practical use of eMergy analysis.>
complete and consistent way of establishing the actual "wealth" (as
determined by the work it can do) of extracted resources.
I see eMergy measures in two ways. The first is that they provide us with
the only reasonable accurate means of establishing the present/future
"worth" of fossil fuels.
Second, however, is that simple energy measures are good enough for knowing
the relative merit of current circumstances, tendencies and options.
As for H.T. Odum, what he has done is give us a set of tools that will let
people figure out how and why they may want to deal with the future in a
more effective way.
While many are unable to see it, what eMergy analysis does is let us
determine an index value for available energy resources and the net work
they can do for us in the competitive processes involving our lives at
certain times and places.
You can bet that when folks find out the extent to which the operational
signal quality, e.g., "market measures" of energy and other resources are
messed up, they will be looking for something better. And there will be no
Noble prize for person who finds that it was obscurely sitting there in "not
yet ready for prime time" eMergy all along.
It is worth noting that the Nobel prize only deals in certain disciplines,
specifically in terms of this discussion, the study of "economics." It does
not award work in understanding energy, ecology or their systemic
Incidentally, the Crafoord prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of
Sciences by the same process that awards the Nobel for economics, etc., saw
fit to give their prize to H.T. Odum and his brother Eugene back in 1987.
They won the prize "For pioneering contributions within the field of
ecosystem ecology. The prize amount: $355 000 USD***>>
>Denis Frith> The factors for and against the use of gasoline are:For
*high energy density (as already discussed)
*relatively easy to store and transport
*source of high temperature heat that can do useful work in a
variety of engines
*requires relatively little embedded energy in the process of
finding the crude oil through to putting the gasoilne in the
*it is very cheap in terms of Joules/$ to the user because
present use is heavily subsidized by the future
*it is a draw down on natural capital that cannot continue
because the store is finite
*its use has enabled the foundations of industrialized
societies without provision for future upkeep or provision
of the infrastructure necessary for replacements
*society is so addicted to its use that sharing the remainder
around has been the subject of continuing disputation.>
<<TR***While it is sad and in many ways dangerous, the future does not vote
or play in today's market.>>**
>Denis Frith> Solar energyFor
*continuing input regards of human activities
*results in the radiation of low level heat to outer space
regardless of the use to which it is put:
<<TR***Nothing is non polluting, and some solar, such as corn/ethanol
biomass can be downright "dirty" in many ways.***>>
>Denis Frith> Against*low level energy that requires appreciable embedded energy
where it is required to provide goods or services
very limited potential to replace the use of gasoline>
<<TR*** In other words, low to potentially negative Energy Returned
on Energy Invested.
The bottom line.
We live in a competitive world, where one of the most critical aspects of
how things work has to do with the quality of information (signal quality)
we have and use to know our circumstances, options, and means of acting.
Economics is rapidly demonstrating that it is almost completely disconnected
from any physical reality, particularly to the extent that high-level
finance has created a balloon of money that is independent of any connection
to markets in goods and services.
This does not mean get rid of economics as is promoted for example by the
"Technocrats" but it does mean that economics needs to be put in its proper
perspective regarding the information quality we require in managing the
uncertainty of our times.
Like it or not, systems ecology, incorporating many of the concepts mainly
consolidated by H.T. Odum, allows us to put economics into a proper and far
more accurate context. In in addition, where the systems diagrams let us
manage complexity they also provide a coherent and consistent means of
communication, whereby folks with different points of view and interests can
see the extent to which their concerns are recognized by others, and vice
Thus, it is my guess (and my bet) that a "systems ecology" treated in terms
of W. Edwards Deming's concept of Quality, (constant learning, constant
testing of what is learned, and constant improvement on the basis of what is
learned and tested) will become the most important tool used by future
And for all those who shy at the idea of "competition" let me assure you
that the game is always and everywhere competition. What some offer as
"feel-good" options such as cooperation and altruism, are simply other forms
Thus, the only way you can get away from the pervasive and persistent
processes of competition is to lose and lose big time.***>>