Home > Uncategorized > Graphics from 4 empirical muckrakers – 2. Vaclav Smil — The Energy Oracle

Graphics from 4 empirical muckrakers – 2. Vaclav Smil — The Energy Oracle

from Blair Fix

Vaclav Smil is by far the most prolific energy muckraker out there. I’m not going to try to summarize his research. Just look at his list of publications here.

But I will leave you with a beautiful chart of Smil’s data. Gail Tverberg has used Smil’s data to make a fantastic series of charts on world energy consumption. She uses Angus Maddison’s population data too. See the whole series here. Below is Tverberg’s chart for energy use per capita. Credit to Tverberg for such a pretty chart, and credit to Smil for muckraking the energy data.

Gail Tverberg’s chart of world energy use per capita. She uses data from Vaclav Smil. (Source)
  1. Ikonoclast
    November 22, 2019 at 9:39 pm

    This whole topic is fraught with difficult issues.

    (1) The graph appears to leave out solar power and wind power. This may be due to Smil’s data or Gail Tvergerg’s graphing.

    (2) Gail Tverberg is heavily biased against the prospects of renewable energy and talks it down at every opportunity. She takes a doomer line that we have to burn fossil fuels or collapse soon and that if we burn fossil fuels at this rate we will collapse a bit later due to the finite limits of easily accessible fossil resources. I am not sure if she is worried about climate change. She seems to see collapse from energy shortage happening before climate change gets severe. In a strange way her site is advocacy for BAU (business as usual) even though she sees this leads to collapse. She simply sees collapse happening faster if we try to use renewables because she sees renewables as an energy sink.

    (3) Gail uses outdated solar and wind power data on EROEI (energy return on energy input) to arrive at her conclusion that they represent an energy sink. Her stance on alcohol as fuel is correct. It is an energy sink. See Pimental. Gail also heavily emphasizes the intermittency of solar and wind power and again refuses to acknowledge advances in energy storage and indeed advances in load management (of a smart electric grid).

    (4) Gail’s Limits to Growth realism and renewable energy skepticism is nevertheless a useful brake on over-optimism re the energy revolution. There are enormous obstacles to overcome and the transition must involve moving to a lower energy use future. Gail seems to regard the current money system, energy system and capitalism itself as as all non-negotiable and that we cannot survive without it now, yet it also is programmed to collapse. She is right that this system is programmed to collapse. She is also right that capitalism is non-negotiable in the sense that the oligarchs and plutocrats of the system will not permit it to be changed while they are in power.

    (5) Enormous adjustments will have to occur in ending the “endless” growth of capitalism and of global population, in creating a stable, renewable, circular economy, in reducing overall energy consumption and in ending the use of fossil fuels. Renewable energy (specially solar and wind) can play a role. Enormous technical advances have been made in those fields. In addition a fully electrical economy does not need the fossil fuel minimum of 20:1 EROEI to run successfully. A fully electrical economy could run on an EROEI of 5:1. This is because a fossil fuel economy converts about 20% of its energy use to useful work whereas a fully electrical economy could convert about 80% of its energy use to useful work (and the fuel itself is free). These last points are not at all understood by renewable energy critics.

  2. Ken Zimmerman
    November 25, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Smil is a smart man and a good scientist. However, I’ve always been reluctant to accept the numbers he publishes at face value. Here’s a graph of world energy production by source that is, in my view more accurate and useful than the one above.

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