Reality Blind - Vol. 1

Renewable Energy Point #1: The Invisible Triangle

That big red triangle on the left represents all the energy that has gone into past infrastructure and systems. We don’t think about it, but it’s a huge consid eration: the embodied energy in past-built infrastructure is the “invisible triangle” which we tend to ignore. Summary: Energy profit (net usable energy) dictates the type and scale of activities a society might engage in, because the “energy cost” of procuring energy is deducted from what may be used for other stuff. A 100:1 payoff on a dense liquid fuel offers significantly more cultural options than a 3:1 payoff on a heat investment. The above diagram to the right of the dashed line labeled “A” shows the energy investments in a technology over time (in red), compared to the energy payoff to consumers in the blue triangle. The blue minus the red represents the ‘energy gain’ of this technology to society. Using similar metrics and life cycle assessments, many types of modern energy tech show reasonably high energy gains. Solar in the range of 4:1-15:1, wind around 20:1 and the like. 202 But, using a wider lens, (including the part to the left of the dotted line labeled B), new investments in solar, wind, (and nuclear, coal and oil) all depend on previous high-energy-gain investments in modern infrastructure. This larger red triangle of sunk-cost investments will always be necessary to


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