Energy Fueled Dreams
Jan 2024 -

J. Storrs Hall in “Where Is My Flying Car? A Memoir of Future Past” ascribes Western stagnation in innovation and productivity to the high cost of energy. The Henry Adams Curve shows exponential growth in energy production and consumption at an average rate of about 7% per year from the early 19th century until the 1960s.

Now, Energy has gotten massively cheaper as a percentage of GDP since the 1960s, but we in developped countries aren’t using more of it. We have stayed at 80MWh/cap since 1965 Apparently the energy demand is very inelastic. This violates the Jevons paradox?

(It works out differently when we factor in the cost in energy to produce energy: EROI. But that’s a deep and depressing rabbit hole. Politicized, hard to get trustworthy numbers.EROI of 20:1 to maintain civilization )

  • desalinate: We could stop draining natural aquifers. N.b. aquifer depletion causes localized climate change and sea level rise. In the San Joaquin Valley you see 10m land subsidence
  • decarbonize: just suck in air, scrape and store c02

Steve Keen, Robert U. Ayres, Russell Standish in “A Note on the Role of Energy in Production”:

Energy plays no role in the standard Cobb-Douglas Production Function (CDPF), and a trivial role in a three-factor CDPF where it is treated as a third input, independent of labour and capital. Starting from an epistemological perspective, we treat energy as an input to both labour and capital, without which production is impossible. We then derive an energy-based CPDF (EBCDPF) in which energy plays a critical role. We argue for the redefinition and measurement of real GDP in terms of exergy. We conclude that the “Solow Residual” measures the contribution of exergy to growth, and that the exponents in the EBCDPF should be based on cross-country comparative data as suggested by Mankiw (1995) rather than the “cost-share theorem”.

N.b. due to conversion limitations especially with Carnot engines, the typical efficiency for transforming thermal energy into mechanical energy is ~30%. Although certain applications like dual cycle steam turbines combined with the utilization of residual thermal heat in cogeneration plants, can achieve higher efficiencies, large scale modeling relies on the 30% benchmark which we see in e.g. Lawrence Livermore Labs' energy-flow Sankey charts, wheich assume 30% efficiency without explicit measurement.

End-use efficiency is estimated at 65% for the residential sector, 65% for the commercial sector, 21% for the transportation sector, and 49% for the industrial sector, which was updated in 2017 to reflect DOE’s analysis of manufacturing.