Guest Post: The Really, Really Big Picture

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity,

[Many longtime followers of the Crash Course have asked Chris to update his forecasts for Peak Oil in light of the production increases in shale oil and gas over recent years. What started out as a modest effort at clarification morphed into a much more massive 3-report treatise as Chris sifted through mountains of new data that ultimately left him more convinced than ever we are facing a global net energy crisis despite misguided media efforts intended to convince us otherwise. His reports are being released in series over the next several weeks; the first installment is below.]

There has been a very strong and concerted public-relations effort to spin the recent shale energy plays of the U.S. as complete game-changers for the world energy outlook.  These efforts do not square up well with the data and are creating a vast misperception about the current risks and future opportunities among the general populace and energy organizations alike.  The world remains quite hopelessly addicted to petroleum, and the future will be shaped by scarcity – not abundance, as some have claimed.

This series of reports will assemble the relevant data into a simple and easy-to-understand story that has the appropriate context to provide a meaningful place to begin a conversation and make decisions.

Since completing the Crash Course in October of 2008, much has gone as I anticipated in the way of money printing, official neglect of the main predicaments we face, and generally higher petroleum costs (2012 was the record so far on a yearly basis).

What has not changed is the general trajectory of liquid fuels becoming increasingly expensive and more difficult to produce.  I know that this runs counter to virtually every news article that has come out recently.  It is time to separate the data and facts from the hype.  Much has recently been either muddied or presented so far out of context as to be more distortive than helpful.

This entire body of analysis is so large that it will be broken into three pieces. 

The first is a general world outlook for petroleum that presents the macro picture, provides some necessary clarifications on definitions, and illustrates that all of the data is consistent with the idea that the world is on a plateau of oil production.  Here we note that exactly zero of the major energy outlooks provided by the IEA, the EIA, PB, and especially the inexcusably sloppy piece put out under the auspices of Harvard (the Maugheri report of 2012) all failed to make any mention of the declining net energy provided by any of the new unconventional oil finds.  This is a crucial oversight.

The second report will focus on natural gas in the U.S., with a particular emphasis on shale gas, the supposed game-changer that we have read so much about.  There are some very important elements to this story, but the punch line is that there's nowhere near "100 years" of this magic fuel, it costs more to produce than it is being sold for at present here in early 2013, and – once we include the idea of future increases in consumption – there may only be in the vicinity of 20-30 years of proven and probable reserves. And that is if and only if prices rise by a factor of 2.5x or more from the current $3.30 per therm market price. 

The third will focus on tight oil, often called shale oil (not to be confused with oil shale, a very common mistake), and make the case that, while it may have some modifying effect to the Peak Oil story, it lacks the ability to return the world to anywhere near its prior glory years of ~2% per year growth in global oil output. 

The summary of all three reports leads to the conclusion that all efforts to cram the world full of fresh rounds of new debt lending are going to end in failure because the requisite net energy is simply not there to support continued debt accumulations running several-fold faster than actual economic productive output.

Enormous risks are continuing to build in the world's financial landscape, and the continued unwillingness to confront the truth about our global energy predicament is both puzzling and frightening. The conclusion is that our future resilience as individuals, corporations, or countries will hinge to a very large degree on whether or not we heed the warning signs and adapt our lives and habits to the actual circumstances.

The Really, Really Big Picture

The really big picture goes like this:  Humans discovered about 400 million years worth of stored sunlight in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas, and have developed technologies that will essentially see all of that treasure burned up in just 300 to 400 years. 

On the faulty assumption that fossil fuels will always be a resource we could draw upon, we fashioned economic, monetary, and other assorted belief systems based on permanent abundance, plus a species population on track to number around 9 billion souls by 2050.

There are two numbers to keep firmly in mind.  The first is 22, and the other is 10.  In the past 22 years, half of all of the oil ever burned has been burned.  Such is the nature of exponentially increasing demand.  And the oil burned in the last 22 years was the easy and cheap stuff discovered 30 to 40 years ago.  Which brings us to the number 10.  

In every calorie of food that comes to your table are hidden 10 calories of fossil fuels, making modern agriculture and food delivery the first type in history that consumes more energy than it delivers.  Someday fossil fuels will be all gone.  That day may be far off in the future, but preparing for that day could (and one could argue should) easily require every bit of time we have.

What galls me at this stage is that all of the pronouncements of additional oil being squeezed, fractured, and otherwise expensively coaxed out of the ground are being delivered with the message that there's so much available, there's nothing to worry about (at least, not yet.)  The message seems to be that we can just leave those challenges for future people, who we expect to be at least as clever as us, so they'll surely manage just fine.

Instead, the chart above illustrates that on a reasonably significant timeline, the age of fossil fuels will be intense and historically quite short.  The real question is not Will it run out? but Where would we like to be, and what should the future look like when it finally runs out?  The former question suggests that "maintain the status quo" is the correct response, while the latter question suggests that we had better be investing this once-in-a-species bequeathment very judiciously and wisely. 

Energy is vital to our economy and our easy, modern lives.  Without energy, there would be no economy.  The more expensive our energy is, the more of our economy is dedicated to getting energy instead of other pursuits and activities.  Among the various forms of energy, petroleum is the king of transportation fuels and is indispensible to our global economy and way of life.

To what do we owe the recent explosion in technology and living standards?  To me the answer is simple: energy. 


Because a very large proportion of our society was no longer tied up with the time-consuming tasks of growing their own food or building and heating their own shelter, they were free to do other very clever things, like devote their lives to advancing technology.  

When energy starts to get out of reach either economically or geologically, then people revert to more basic things, like trying to stay warm – such as this fellow:

Greeks Raid Forests in Search of Wood to Heat Homes

Jan 11, 2013

EGALEO, Greece—While patrolling on a recent cold night, environmentalist Grigoris Gourdomichalis caught a young man illegally chopping down a tree on public land in the mountains above Athens.

When confronted, the man broke down in tears, saying he was unemployed and needed the wood to warm the home he shares with his wife and four small children, because he could no longer afford heating oil.

"It was a tough choice, but I decided just to let him go" with the wood, said Mr. Gourdomichalis, head of the locally financed Environmental Association of Municipalities of Athens, which works to protect forests around Egaleo, a western suburb of the capital.

Tens of thousands of trees have disappeared from parks and woodlands this winter across Greece, authorities said, in a worsening problem that has had tragic consequences as the crisis-hit country's impoverished residents, too broke to pay for electricity or fuel, turn to fireplaces and wood stoves for heat.

I think it is safe to assume that all of the people in Greece who are chopping down trees to stay warm are not simultaneously working on the next generation of technology.  Energy first; everything else second.  In other words, our perceived wealth and well-being are both derivatives of energy. 

Like every other organism bestowed with abundant food – in this case, fossil fuels that we have converted into food, mobility, shelter, warmth, and a vast array of consumer goods – we first embarked on a remarkable path of exponential population growth.  Along with these assorted freedoms from securing the basics of living, we also fashioned monetary and economic systems that are fully dependent on perpetual exponential growth for their vitality and well-being.  These, too, owe their very sustenance to energy.

It bears repeating:  Not just energy is important here, but net energy.  It's the energy left over after we find and produce energy that is available for society to do all of its complicated and clever things.

Not only is the world struggling right now to increase global oil production, but all of the new and unconventional finds offer us dramatically less net energy to use as we wish. 

Where We Are, in Three Simple Charts

One narrative that is being heavily marketed right now is that the shale plays are true game-changers and there's really nothing to worry about for the foreseeable future.  Heck, the story says that the U.S. will soon exceed Saudi Arabia in oil production and become energy independent, that it has so much natural gas that it might as well build export terminals, and that there's 100 years of natural gas just waiting to be used.

Unfortunately, none of this is really true.  Here's how I can make the case for that assertion using just three charts. 

This first chart comes to us from the EIA courtesy of one Mr. Sweetnam, a former director at the EIA who was promptly reassigned to a distant position when his superiors discovered that this chart revealing declines in existing conventional oil fields had been released to the public.

What this graph shows is the projected decline of all known projects in 2009 (so this does not have the U.S. shale 'revolution' baked into it, but I'll get to that shortly), and it shows that those projects are going to slip from delivering 85 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil to just 45 million bpd between 2012 and 2030.  In other words, 40 million bpd will go missing.  But it's worse than that, because demand is expected to grow, leaving a gap of more than 60 million bpd by 2030.

If that sounds like a lot, it is, but that's just an assumed rate of production decline of 4.8% per year, which is right in the midzone of expert estimates.  Some estimate decline rates as high as 6.5%, which would really amplify the drop and the resulting gap.

The top line is showing how much oil demand would grow if it was going to expand at the usual historical rates.  The gap between those two modeled states is 43 million barrels.  To put that in a U.S. shale context, the EIA projects that the domestic shale plays might deliver as much as 3 million barrels per day by 2020, which is nothing to sneeze at, but even with that there's a projected 40 million bpd shortfall

The second chart I want you to look at is this one which shows total world crude oil production over the past 12 years:

Between 2004 and 2012, the total supply of global crude oil + condensates (a definition which excludes the non-transportation fuels known as natural gas plant liquids and biofuels) has just flopped around in a tight band with only 5% wiggle.

It bears noting here that the 2004 average spot price for crude oil (using the Brent contract, as that better defines the 'world oil' price) was $38.35/bbl, while the average 2012 spot price was $111.63, or 2.9 times higher than the 2004 price. 

Despite this near tripling in price, the global supply is just sitting there stuck on a plateau.  Economically speaking, this is not supposed to happen.  What is supposed to happen is that suppliers will react to these higher prices and deliver more to the market, and then prices will settle down.  But that hasn't happened, which indicates that global oil supplies are, as expected, constrained by something other than market forces.

This brings us to the third chart of global spending on oil projects:

What also happened during the time that global supplies of crude oil were undulating along that 5% plateau?  Global expenditures on oil projects jumped by 100% from $300 billion per year to $600 billion.  With a 100% increase in capital spending by the petroleum industry, we saw petroleum supplies remain more or less stuck in the exact same spot. 

I am of the impression that $600 billion a year is a lot of money and that the people dedicating that capital are applying it to the very best projects available.  I make the further assumption that when a project is identified and pursued, it is brought on line as rapidly as possible.  There are not that many ways to look at this data other than noting that we are spending more and more to get the same...for now.

If you want to know why oil costs over $110 on the world stage, the last two charts above give you the answer:  There's just not that much of it to go around.

Despite all of this effort and expense, the world is basically treading water with respect to overall production.  The reason for that is contained in the first chart out of these three:  The race is now on to bring new projects on line quickly enough to offset the losses from existing fields. 

Petroleum is neither a U.S. issue nor any other specific country's issue, but rather a global commodity of immense importance. While the development of the shale plays in the U.S. is of domestic importance, it has not altered the global dynamic of static oil production – at least not detectably in the global supply charts. Not yet.

Conclusion (to Part I)

In Part II: How Energy Woes Will Trigger Financial Crisis, we look at the latest global petroleum supply and demand data and see clearly that cheap oil has become extinct. That era is over for humankind. 

My prediction is that the underlying rates of depletion will continue to fight the recent production gains in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world until they soon come to a standstill, eventually swamping even heroic efforts. 

Steadily rising energy costs and decreasing net energy yields will simply not be able to fund the future economic growth and consumptive lifestyles that developed nations are depending on (and that developing nations are aspiring to). In fact, the persistent global economic weakness we've been experiencing over the past years is an expected symptom of the throttling constraint decreasing net energy places on growth.

If you care about the future of the economy, your standard of living (or that of your children), and/or your quality of life, you need to fully understand this relationship between growth and net energy. Your individual future (and our collective one) depends on it.

Click here to read Part II of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

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Matt's picture

Corruption, once in place, always grows, never recedes on its own accord. If corruption costs 5% efficiency one day, it will eventually be 10%, 50%, etc. until the system collapses. Other forms of efficiency are flat or grow in a linear fashion.

I think the only reason society has kept running is because increase in energy input has been equal to or greater than the rate of increase in corruption, until 2005. 

secret_sam's picture

     Corruption, once in place, always grows, never recedes on its own accord.

I reject your premise.  This would require a heckuva proof. 

trav777's picture

Scandinavia works.

But this is politically incorrect because they aren't diverse

Flakmeister's picture

Tribes do stick together.... we are hard wired for that...

secret_sam's picture

Maybe you're correct, but there are tons of places which aren't diverse which frickin' SUCK.  Do you have a CASE, other than "it's the negroes"?

akak's picture

No, he doesn't.  With Trav, it is all about race, the group, and collectivism more generally.  He refuses or is incapable of seeing people as individuals, preferring to simplisticly lump them all together in Bell Curve statistics and then attempting to justify his overt, hate-filled racism as "science".  He is, quite simply, evil.

Trav is the flip side of the AnAnonymous "US 'american' citizenism" blameplacing broken record.  The fault is ALWAYS somebody else's, and not just somebody, but a collective --- Americans for the Chinese troll, Blacks for Trav.  Birds of a hateful feather flock together.  Make me laugh.

Matt's picture

The problem is that the statistics support discrimination. Have you looked into the rape-rates in Scandinavian countries lately?

66% of the rapes in Oslo and 85% of the rapes in Sweden are commited by black and arab immigrants:

Acet's picture

It's not a question of race, it's a question of shared social expectations.

I'm Portuguese and lived in Holland several years after my adulthood and am now living in England.

One of the things I noticed was that a lot of social systems and solutions in Holland work reasonably well because the locals all share similar social behaviours and values, so for example the Dutch seem far more likelly to care about how one's own actions affect society that people in other societies. A lot of the things that work in Holland would never work in Portugal, because in the later there is no tendency by individuals to worry about how one's actions impact society (in fact, in Portugal one is almost expected to take advantage of the system).

However, in Portugal there is a shared, let's call it ethic, that you don't hurt other people (to the point that we Portuguese call ourselves "The people of mild mores" and during the 1974 revolution almost no shots were fired), with the interesting result that there was no significant violent crime (outside passion crimes) until the country was invaded by gangs from Eastern Europe who would "shoot to kill" during robberies (a thing which, until then, was almost unheard of in Portugal and which the police at first did not know how to handle).


It's similar in England, for example the English (especially high class ones) have this huge tendency to not say what they thing, so they're not openly critical and tend to given undeserved praise and exagerate any praise they give. For example, if an englishman says something "was nice" it actually means "not good", "good" means "so, so" while "superb or excelent" actually mean "good". So say that somebody who hasn't been raised under the same social convention says to an englishman that something is nice (i.e. better than average) it often received as a criticism, while saying it was "so, so" it's pretty much a slap in the face. In reverse, when I receive what to my ears sounds like high-praise for something I believe was mediocre, it just make me feel like the other person is being hypocritical or sneaky.

However two people raised here will totally understand what the other means and use the right level of praise, since they share the same social conventions.



So the problem is not the colour of the immigrants' skin or their religious beliefs, the problem is when the immigrants do not adjust or at least respect their hosts' social conventions, stick to a different set of conventions and even start demanding "respect for their beliefs" from the hosts.

This is the problem that I saw in Holland with the later waves of muslim immigrants (the earlier wave were Turkish and they mostly adopted Dutch values) - while the Dutch gave the immigrants the freedom of having whichever values they wanted because tolerance is one of the major Dutch social conventions, the immigrants themselves (or, mostly, their sons and daughters) were intolerant towards the Dutch, all this ending up in the murder or Theo Van Gogh (for making a film about how muslims treated women), which caused a huge shock in Dutch society.

Seer's picture

The offshore data may not be completely apples-to-apples with previous data sets in that the offshore stuff is newer technology.  BUT, this does agree with what you know to be true: newer technologies just enhance depeletion rates - Jevons Paradox at work.

"We have to start being able to have adult conversations.  Not to harp on the topic, but this means a lot of people have to de-energize their mental third rails and start facing the TRUTH about humans."

Paper-Rock-Scissors is going to take on a rather adult theme I'm afraid...

undateable's picture

So you're saying the Winter Storm Brutus explanation is bogus?

otto skorzeny's picture

wait-we're embroiled in the mid-east because of oil?

Seer's picture

Peak Consumption.

Folks in the "first world" countries won't have to pay for diet programs any more!

Matt's picture

I think you are confusing "calories" with "food". As contradictory as it may sound, obese people tend to be deficient in food, due to ingesting too much empty calories.

If you eat and you are still hungry, it could be either a psychological issue, or a nutrients deficiency.

As we continue down the path we are on, I bet we will see more obese people, not less, as foods worldwide are more and more reinforced with sugar, glucose-fructose, omega-6 fatty acids, and other empty calories, while real food gets more and more expensive.

LongSoupLine's picture

I'm still not buying a Chevy fucking Volt...


Da55id's picture

Don't buy - lease one or buy used. Then run it on gas or electric. Fuel arbitrage. My equivalent cost per gallon is 75 cents on electric. My cost per mile is 0.02 -  no intervening maintenance costs whatever. In 2014 when the car comes off lease I'll decide to buy or turn it in.

I've used 8 gallons of gas in 6 months. 255 gallons not purchased/burned = $978 not spent. My utility burns natgas.

The car is fast, practical and really fun. Open minds are useful.

Flakmeister's picture

Re: open minds, indeed...

Well played...

Nothing To See Here's picture

"The car is fast, practical and really fun."

Gotta get another coffee after spilling it all over the place

DCFusor's picture

And so will I.  I just got back from running an errand in my Volt.  In fact, it was charged off solar, so I'm doing even better than Da55id in some regards.  And I regularly dust off "ricky rice racer" on the mountain roads around here.  Evidence:

That was piling into a 15 mph rated hairpin at 57, and putting the hammer down in the turn.  Try that with your piece of jap junk.  It really is a fun car to drive.  And pretty robust - I killed a deer with mine on the way home today (oops).  And here's a thread with a shot of the "damage".

Since I can't include pix here.  I don't buy that welfare shit one bit.  It doesn't work like that.  I just didn't pay as much taxes as I would have anyway, no one gave me a dime, for starters.  The fact that all the auto manuf's got the same subsidies, but hardly any of them made anything even close to as nice tells me I simply chose a winner, one that *I* paid for.  If you don't take advantage of a good deal when someone else offers it, what the hell are you doing on a stock trading board?

Oh, that's right, people here just boast they can trade, but in reality, they are all mentally and fiscally broke.

mayhem_korner's picture



Tell us what the installed cost of that solar "charger" is and how that translates into a "better deal" than Da55id's falsified 75 cents per gallon.  You paid a fat ideological premium and believe it gives you license to rant.  End of story.

[Edit: well done to deny the subsidization with the line 'I just didn't pay as much in taxes...'  It always humors me to hear such quips from folks who make less than I pay in taxes]

Da55id's picture

falsified? End of story? Why accuse me of lying? Why not instead ask for my backup numbers? Manners?



Nothing To See Here's picture

This is like Plato's Cave. Someone who never knew a fun car is likely to think that his Volt is a fun car.

2012 Chevy Volt specs :

Engine: 1.4L in-line four-cylinder DOHC with variable valve timing

Power (SAE): 149 hp and 273 ft lb of torque

Secondary power: 83 hp @ 4,800 rpm; 93 lb ft

Weights: published curb weight (lbs): 3,781

Independent front strut suspension with stabilizer bar and coil springs, semi-independent rear torsion beam suspension with coil springs


Compared with… let’s see… for an even cheaper price…:


2012 BMW 3 series



Engine: 2.0L in-line four-cylinder DOHC with variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder

Power (SAE): 240 hp @ 5,000 rpm; 260 ft lb of torque @ 1,250 rpm

Weights: published curb weight (lbs): 3,406

Independent front strut suspension with stabilizer bar and coil springs, independent rear multi-link suspension with stabilizer bar and coil springs

And unsubsidized by the American taxpayer.


I could run 2 laps and pit in between while you still wonder where the finish line is...

Flakmeister's picture

This is exhibit A in the question of redefining our values....

Da55id's picture

Current Chevy Volt owner who has owned 180 HP Volkwagon Beetle conversion, 350 V8 Camaro (pre smog controls), 280z, Olds Aurora dohc V8. Have driven 428 mach 1, corvettes, porche etc.

I continue to be amazed at the telepathy exhibited by comments authors who seem to know my history - not so much.

steve from virginia's picture




Unless yr Volt is a taxi or you deliver pizzas you can't pay for it by driving it. You pay by borrowing, your boss pays you by borrowing from his customers, his customers borrow from Uncle Sam or from overseas, we live in a daisy chain of loans.


The total cost plus (hidden) fuel costs are borrowed. All the infrastructure costs are borrowed. How does anyone think roads are built? Real estate 'developments'? Who pays for the Navy and Air Force? Who pays for the power stations? How are all these paid for? None of them pay for themselves or they would have done so already.


There is a reason the US is $55 trillion in the (rat) hole, it's at the end of your driveway.



trav777's picture

My NSX gets pretty good mileage LOL; it's a frugal V6

seriously, wtf is the point of living if you have to drive a volt?  One of my acquaintances got a Prius, I went for a VW Phaeton.  Forget living if it's eating rice cakes and waiting around for dooooooooom

Going Loco's picture

This is not a stock trading board. I keep saying this but nobody listens.

J in Vegas's picture

Yep....... I've put 3400 miles on my VOLT  and used 12.2ish gallons of gas. It costs about a dollar a day to charge. And it is quick.... not quick like my Subbie WRX... but quick enough for my daily commutes or random road trips. Yesterday, I went to Lee Canyon to go snowboarding and I drove about 120 miles round trip and used 2.7 gallons of gas, which isn't bad for going up 5000+ feet . I drove the car in electric going back down  and nearly charged half the battery coasting down the hill.(Regen braking/coasting). The only thing that sucks about the car is the shitty heater. It's garbage!!!

NotApplicable's picture

What's so open-minded about being a welfare queen?

Without massive amounts of theft, this car could not have ever been built, as no one would be stupid enough to actually pay what it cost for the benefits delivered.

All you're doing is making things worse by aiding and abetting criminal enterprises. Just think, millions of people would be better off not being impoverished all so that you could pretend to be smug, rather than just being ignorant about the underlying reality.

But then again, that's how the evil called politics prospers, as wishful-thinking is substituted for real analysis by the handful that benefit from a share of the loot.

mayhem_korner's picture




It takes about 35 kwh to deliver the same energy as a gallon of gasoline.  So what you are saying is that you are getting electricity at a little over 2 cents a kilowatt hour.  Delivered.  So that is either a subsidized answer or a lie.  Second, I wonder if you realize that electricity is the least efficient form of retail energy?  You do know that you only get about 25 - 30% of the original energy (Btu) content of the generation fuel delivered - due to losses in transmission, step-down, migration, and distribution - right?

Electricity as an "efficient" vehicle fuel is a complete and utter fallacy.  If "your utility" burns natural gas (by the way, there isn't one in the U.S. that burns only natural gas, even if it is the marginal fuel), then it is generating power for somewhere between $25 and $45 per MwH or 2.5 to 4.5 cents per kwh, depending on where it's located and whether its a combined cycle, simple CT or a co-generation unit with steam recovery. 

Open minds are useful.  Facts are even more so.

DCFusor's picture

Yes, facts are useful.  And you lied by ommision there.  An IC engine doesn't get all the energy out of a gallon of gasoline any more than a coal plant gets 100% conversion either.  It takes roughly 13kwh to fully charge a Volt from dead, and many of us owners have managed to break 50 miles on a charge, which at 10c a kwh, would be about a $1.30.  Still a hell of a lot cheaper than gasoline for 50 miles in any other car.

Most gasoline engines are doing well to get 20% conversion in normal driving, eg not perfectly on the torque peak on a dyno, but in real life - you get zero, yes, zero, at idle in traffic, and an open mind or even just a fair one has to average that in, as well as all those miles where you are using a 200hp engine to put out 20hp to cruise - they suck doing that re efficiency.  And I'd know, I use to be a racer, and we care about how many pit stops you have to make...

And my Volt is charged off solar panels I bought, not subsidized either.


Sorrry to call BS, but you're just dead wrong here, mayhem.

mayhem_korner's picture



So you are saving something like $1,200 / year by your math.  So it will take you, what, 15 years to recover the ideological premium of the car plus the solar charger?  Seems like a deal so long as you have an asbestos-lined cabin.  And all that to not really avoid any emissions - just imagine they don't occur because they are at a power plant and not your 'car'.  Must be nice to live in liberal utopia.

secret_sam's picture

You're nowhere near talking about the real issue.  This discussion appears to be some kind of red/blue thing in your mind.  It's not about cars--it's just straight up kneejerk jingoism.

css1971's picture

No most of the loss is Carnot efficency losses at the plant - 50-60% loss before it even hits a wire, assuming it's coal, gas or some other heat engine.


FrankDrakman's picture

  You do know that you only get about 25 - 30% of the original energy (Btu) content of the generation fuel delivered - due to losses in transmission, step-down, migration, and distribution - right?

I'm an EE, and I call shenanigans. No way you lose anywhere 75% due to those things. If you're burning fossil fuels, then maybe end-on-end that's what you're getting but most of that loss is from the inefficient burner, not transmission (6-7%) or transformation (2-3% total, step-up and -down ). We're mostly hydro/nuclear here in Ontario, and end-to-end power loss from Niagara Falls is about 10%, which includes transmission line losses and transformer losses.

And, as the OP points out, gasoline powered cars, especially in city driving, spend a lot of time getting zero miles per gallon AND a significant amount of the power the engine generates is wasted on the water pump and fan belt, cooling the damn thing down. Electric engines have none of those problems. Plus, electric engines at least recapture a little of their kinetic energy through regenerative braking, whereas gasoline cars just waste it again as heat.

I still believe a true hybrid - one that runs on batteries and can be recharged by plugging in, but also has a gas engine for extended trips - is the best solution for most (note: NOT ALL) urban/surburban drivers.

mayhem_korner's picture



Including generation losses, total energy value of electricity delivered is 30% or less of the original Btu content of the energy.  Look it up.  I get the point that gas engines work the same way - wasn't aware.

My point is that the ideologues who think we should all own electric powered cars are kidding themselves into thinking that we would be avoiding costs or emissions.  They draw their conclusions on variable costs, and forget about the premiums in the capital.  It's a well constructed farce.

Matt's picture

It is interesting to see the attacks on subsidies on hybrid cars, without people taking into equal consideration the subsidies on oil, including military operations, etc as well as other forms of subsidy. It would be nice to get a more fair comparison of unsubsidized fossil fuels versus home solar charging.

As well, it would be nice to compare the one-time per 25 years or so emissions for producing solar panels or other renewable energy production equipment, compared to the constant emissions from ground to refinery to car to air of fossil fuels.

Da55id's picture

Ideologues try to force others to their point of view. My Friend, I care not what kind of car you or anyone else drives. I just like my car.

Five8Charlie's picture

Most of the energy loss just comes with the basic design of an internal combustion engine.

The engine transfers the chemical energy to heat by burning, then to a pressure increse in the cylinders. The pressure increase is what turns the wheels (eventually). The heat that was used to increase the pressure is dumped into the atmosphere - that lost heat is where most of the losses in the engine are. Turbochargers help, since they can recover some of that dumped heat, but the laws of thermodynamics say you'll never get all of the energy back.

Jack Burton's picture

Agree completely! Too few people really understand electricity, generation, transmission and final delivery to the outlet. This electricity must be generated, transmitted and stepped down to the outlet. Gas delievered to your tank at the gas station is more efficient than electricity at your plug.

No, electric cars are no solution to anything, especially on a mass scale. Their advantages are mostly marketing gimics.

Freddie's picture

The Ob-MAO police state plans on opening our minds with 1.5 billion rounds of .40 hollow points.

AgAu_man's picture

I like my Mercedes E-class Diesel, running on bio-diesel.  Low cost, low maintenance.  Those German-Schwabians know something.

Matt's picture

I trust you maintain it yourself. Maintenance from a certified mechanic is a killer. And I'm just taking about an oil change. 

For those that don't know, Mercedes tend to have sealed oil pans and require a proprietary tool to extract the old oil from the pan. All the German car makers seem to have a real thing for using proprietary tools. 

AgAu_man's picture

Yes sir.  A family member worked for them for many years.  So I also get the lifetime "family price" (sub-dealer price) for new MB.  :-)

Dr. Engali's picture

So what you are saying is that humans will be the next fossil fuel. I believe that 500,000,000 people is the appropriate level to maintain the balance with nature. So a  lot of you fuckers have to go.

trav777's picture

we can sustain far higher than that but it is going to require abandoning a lot of behaviors we currently engage in.

Brave New World wasn't a dystopia.  Until you, unlike everyone who uses it as commentary fodder for their police-state criticisms, actually read and understand the work, you can't get what I'm saying here.

Dr. Engali's picture

Sheesh tough crowd. Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? You don't know a damn thing about me or what I read. Suggesting otherwise only makes you look foolish.