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Energy, Ecology, and Economics, by Howard Odum (Part 4)

Part 1 here, and Part 2 here, and Part 3 here


I just added an edit to yesterday's "Part 3" post, on point number 13 regarding the net energy value of solar photovoltaics:


edit, 6/25/11:

I found a good piece from 2006 (Energy Payback of Roof Mounted Photovoltaic Cells) that helped me get clear on my own position that Odum, Holmgren, and Greer are wrong in saying solar pv will never yield net energy.  Colin Bankier and Steve Gale analyzed numerous other studies, fond what they think is the best one, and further refined its findings.  When they included Odum's methodologies, they found that the average rooftop system will tend to have a positive energy payback in about 4 years.

Odum had done a study in 1996 of a centralized solar power plant that showed solar pv used twice as much energy as it provided in its lifetime.  So centralized solar power plants may be a bad idea; however decentralized, distributed solar pv installed on rooftops of already existing buildings is net yielding.]


Odum's Original 1973 article here: Energy, Ecology, and Economics


  1. Nuclear energy is now mainly subsidized with fossil fuels and barely yields net energy.

It is good to note here that Odum was at one time the Chief Scientist at the Puerto Rico Nuclear Center.  I won’t try to summarize Odum’s point here, because after much time had passed since writing this article, Odum observed a gradual increase in the efficiencies of nuclear power.  In 2001, he wrote, “We conclude that nuclear fission reactors are highly competitive for the part of the U.S. energy budget that needs to be in the form of electricity.” (A Prosperous Way Down, p. 159)

I will take this opportunity, however, to mention that Whatcom’s own John Rawlins, a retired nuclear physicist and peak oil activist, wrote a column for the Whatcom Watch entitled “Nuclear Power No Solution to Peak Oil.” He wrote, “I would no more invest in a new nuclear plant than I would leap from an airplane. No country in the world has yet succeeded in actually disposing of any spent fuel or high-level nuclear waste. The U.S. spent-fuel-disposal program chose disposal criteria that I believe are inherently impossible to meet.”

  1.      Substantial energy storages are required for stability of an economy against fluctuations of economies, or of natural causes, and of military threats.

“The frantic rush to use the last of the rich oils and gas that are easy to harvest for a little more growth and tourism is not the way to maintain power stability or political and military security for the world community of nations as a whole. World stability requires a de-energizing of capabilities of vast war, and an evenly distributed power base for regular defense establishments, which need to be evenly balanced…a two year storage is required for stability of a component.”

Alas, these many years later, we are still in that frantic rush to use existing resources and continuing vast wars. Witness the recent decision to release storages from the strategic petroleum reserve.

  1.      The total economic health of a country relative to others depends on the relative net energy of that country including its natural and fuel-based energies minus its wastes and nonproductive energies.

Some countries are rich in natural resources, but do not have the infrastructure to produce much value added goods from those resources.  Other countries have become resource poor but have abilities to produce value added technical goods and services.  The country with the strongest position is one that is rich in energy resources and also has internal sources of developed structure and information based on the energy.  


Conclusion coming in Part 5...

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