Energy ScoreBoard
Natural Gas
Global Warming

A Protocol for Mitigating Oil and Gas Depletion

In the face of increasing energy costs and international conflict, we have been bombarded with a flurry of energy alternatives. From the hydrogen miracle to cellulosic ethanol, from perpetual motion to cold fusion and zero-point energy, many proposals side-step, ignore or violate the laws of physics.

A protocol is proposed to put these popular (or obscure) options to the test, to provide clarity and reason in light of the substantial societal risk of betting on the wrong horse. If we choose a suite of technologies which precipitate a string of unintended consequences (nuclear war, global warming, destruction of biodiversity, or depletion of even more vital materials), millions will suffer. If these technologies are insufficient and we discover this only after exhausting our "seed corn" of fossil fuels, civilization may collapse.

Under the protocol, a scoreboard is established by a respected neutral party. A preliminary set of parameters and metrics is defined, and a literature search is conducted to suggest how all pertinent energy technology measure up to each other. Once a scorecard is in place for any given alternative, interested parties may endorse or challenge the scores in a rigorous fashion.

Description and Examples

Below is a list of factors which define the viability of energy alternatives in the face of oil and gas depletion. Suggestions are welcomed for culling, augmenting, and/or refining this list. The examples are mostly generalizations which must be made rigorous before any specific claims of scientific veracity are made.

Item Description Examples
Net Energy How much energy does it take to produce the energy? also called EROI, EROEI, Yield per Effort...
  • Corn ethanol delivers net negative energy. Cellulosic ethanol has net energy of 1.5:1, meaning it would take 3 hectares of wood or switchgrass to produce the energy embodied in 1 hectare of biomass.
  • Tar sands yield perhaps 2:1. In other words, the energy to produce 1 net barrel requires another barrel equivalent (currently mostly energy from natural gas).
Renewability Is it a renewable or an exhaustible resource?
  • Oil is peaking globally
  • Coal has peaked in many countries, it will peak in the 2020's or 2030's in most countries.
  • Solar cells (Photovoltaics) can be based on common elements and once built, could provide the energy to make more of the same (effectively a "self-breeding" technology
Efficiency How does its efficiency compare with other options?
  • Photosynthesis can be ~1% efficient; energy conversion to fuel or electricity might be ~30% efficient. 1% * 30% = 0.33%. Photovoltaics and Solar Thermal are 5% to 40% efficient -- up to 100 times better.
Equity Who wins? Who loses?
  • If it's Fuel vs. Food, does it make any sense? See what Fidel Castro says about this.
Economics Before and after subsidies, how does it compare with the alternatives?
  • Nuclear is not economic if future costs are included.
Scalability Can it ramp up soon enough to matter? What percentage of need can it meet?
  • To achieve 85 million barrels per day equivalent, cellulosic ethanol would require the equivalent of 15 million square km, 10% of all land area.
Climate impact Does it contribute to greenhouse gases?
  • Coal, oil, tar sands, shale produce prodigious amounts of CO2, accelerating global warming.
Environment Does it preserve or destroy important habitat?
  • China cannot sustain 46 square km for chopsticks, so how could cars be fueled from woodlots?
  • Coal, oil, tar sands, shale impact land use, water pollution.
Substitution Will it directly replace an existing technology or does it imply a new paradigm?
  • The existing global auto fleet is unsustainable and must be transformed, with a new source of energy (electricity) and a new configuration (e.g., the automobile replaced by Personal Rapid Transit, PRT).
Addiction Is it to meet necessity or to indulge gluttony?
  • We may need fuel for cars but certainly not for SUVs.
Reality Check Is it fact or fiction?
  • Hydrogen is down the road and around the bend.

Projects for Developing, Debating and Testing of Energy Alternatives Claims

New Energy Congress, a part of PESWiki.

Mission Statement: The New Energy Congress is an association for the purpose of reviewing the most promising claims to up-and-coming clean, renewable, affordable, reliable energy technologies, in order to come up with a weighted list of recommendations of the best technologies...

[In turn,] PESWiki is a community-built 'free energy' website sponsored by PES Network, Inc. Focusing on alternative, clean, practical, renewable energy solutions." New Energy Congress -- Technology Review Criteria

"The following are criteria used by New Energy Congress in reviewing and assessing claims to clean energy technologies.

"These criteria are prioritized and weighed. All qualifying technologies will be considered for review.

"This is an early draft, and is sure to be upgraded over time. The first draft, archived elsewhere, was unanimously approved with one abstention by NEC on Feb. 4, 2006. This page is a working draft for continual modification and improvement. Feel free to modify it as requisite."

ScoreBoard by energy source

Unrelated to the above initiatives, below is a very preliminary scoring for a number of general technologies by the Editor. Some of the metrics may be reasonable, some are very approximate, some are far too vague or just plain wrong. The objective for the moment is to lay out a framework and some examples to inspire a collaborative effort by a group which, as implied above, has credibility and sufficient organizational skills to garner human, financial and technical resources sufficient to the task. Much higher resolution is also necessary. For example, "Solar" below would logically be divided into perhaps a dozen sub-categories, and beyond that, each of many manufacturers might submit individual scorecards.

One person who has done a credible job of ranking various technologies with respect to climate change, air pollution and energy security is Professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford University. See his Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security (pdf), presentation slides (pdf) and briefing to Senator Jeff Bingaman, Chairman, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (pdf)

Item coal oil natural gas nuclear tar sands geothermal biomass hydro solar wind hydrogen
Net Energy need better data 3-50 & declining 10-30? some declining, some good 4-10 & declining. Need better data 2 10? <1 - 2 for liquids; up to 50 for firewood 10 10-50 30-80 <<1
Renewability Global Peak 2030? Global Peak now or soon Global Peak by 2020? Uranium in decline. Current fuel from recovered bomb material ~1 T barrels, high carbon renewable renewable renewable renewable renewable renewable
Efficiency 30%? 5-30% I.C.E. low? 50%+ combined cycle 15%? 20% <1% 50%? 5%-40% 50% theoretical 25%-50%
Equity   costly to 3rd world   Major powers determine country eligibility located in few countries       accessible in all countries    
Future discounted highly subsidized   highly subsidized poor okay highly subsidized okay subsidies needed now, not later best costly
Scalability yes but at what price for the future? In depletion phase Yes but at what price for the future? No. 10,000 needed to meet demand. Insufficient uranium. Longlasting but limited to small percentage of need Already exploited, expansion limited Already exploited, expansion limited Already exploited, expansion limited Yes but requires political will to invest for long term Yes but requires political will to invest for long term Some limited applications
Climate impact Worst GHG Second most GHG GHG but best of fossil fuels GHG in contruction, fuel extraction GHG ok some GHG ok ok ok does not exist except from sources; impact depends on source
air pollution, acid rain, land degradation spills best of fossil fuels; some toxic gases disasters in the making land degradation toxic biodiversity disaster depends -- river disruption, silting up ok some bird kills does not exist except from sources; impact depends on source


(e.g., relative to transportation)

Coal-to-liquid GHG implications Depletion compression or gas to liquid inefficient Electric grid exists, requires electric fleet No changes required Electric grid exists, requires electric fleet Substitution claimed but at what cost? Electric grid exists, requires electric fleet Electric grid exists, requires electric fleet, storage Electric grid exists, requires electric fleet, storage Complete infrastructure change required
Addiction yes & dangerous due to GHG yes & dangerous due to depletion yes & dangerous due to depletion yes & dangerous due to depletion (see oil) ? biosphere already overtaxed ? ? ? ?
Reality Check yes yes yes no limited yes limited yes yes yes no

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