The Decline of Available Energy to Society

Over the New Year’s Day weekend The Oil Drum put out a call to its community of analysts for chart submissions. What’s been created there over the past 72 hours is a kind of museum of data covering population, energy, growth, and the economy. Do check out the post, Chart of the Year, which is still expanding. Amongst all the various entries, I found this following nugget from a paper by Alan Dechert:

Quantification of the decline of available energy, which results from the increased cost of energy extraction, is difficult. Instead of trying to quantify EROEI (energy return on energy invested) Dechert uses the proxy of inflation-adjusted dollars to obtain his result. I think the answer is valuable, and his graphic here is a more complete look at energy expenditures in the US than my own chart from late last year. What I like about the Dechert chart is that he tracks BTU consumption and shows that this levels off as the cost of that consumption soars. This may appear obvious, but the decline of energy available to society–the energy available after one has spent energy to obtain it–has a forceful and direct impact on the economy. What’s anomalous is that in our age of trailing fossil fuel wealth, we simply don’t recognize the transition. In Dechert’s chart, however, you can very clearly see that we have crossed a threshold.

-Gregor

Graphic: Safe Energy Association: from What’s It Going to Be Like on the Downside of the Curve?, page 21, Dechert.

  • http://earlywarn.blogspot.com Stuart Staniford

    Hey Gregor: how about you extend the chart back to 1980 and add in 2009 and then see how much it looks like crossing a threshold. What’s happening in 2004-2008 is primarily a function of the oil spike in those years.

    Not to say energy isn’t going to get more expensive for quite while here, but it will be up and down, and this chart overstates the issue.

  • gregor.us

    FYI to commenters: comments are not appearing on DISQUS today. It could be a problem with the blog, or with DISQUS, or both. 15:55 EST Monday 3 January.

    G

  • gregor.us

    FYI to commenters: comments are not appearing on DISQUS today. It could be a problem with the blog, or with DISQUS, or both. 15:55 EST Monday 3 January.

    G

  • Richard

    We just need completely new laws and regulations. Not only does falling EROEI prove on the one hand that the laws of thermodynamics and matter do limit material progress, the attempts by the other hand to use these laws to describe and regulate such progress have been a failure!

  • gregor.us

    Test: 4 JAN 09:48am

  • gregor.us

    Retrieving lost comments which did not post to DISQUS:
    ______________________________________________

    2011/01/03 at 7:22 AM

    Stuart Staniford
    earlywarn.blogspot.com

    Hey Gregor: how about you extend the chart back to 1980 and add in 2009 and then see how much it looks like crossing a threshold. What’s happening in 2004-2008 is primarily a function of the oil spike in those years.

    Not to say energy isn’t going to get more expensive for quite while here, but it will be up and down, and this chart overstates the issue.
    ______________________________________________

  • http://twitter.com/ecosutra ecosutra

    This is the road map to forecast the planets direct intervention on society.

  • gregor.us

    Hi Stuart: yes I agree with the big decline that will be shown in 2009 data, and I’ve already prepped something in that regard while waiting for the data to come in. The chart here was not made by me, however, but I found it useful as I think the 2-3 decades that it covers is meaningful and will not be ameliorated even by 2009 data. And then of course there is the pending 2010 data. :-)

    G

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  • Anonymous

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