Bruce Dale at Michigan State University has pried open the door to an important and overlooked aspect about energy and its relationship to us. You may recall that on this site the target is and will remain to maintain or improve people’s standard of living and spread that improvement around.

I tuned in to Mr. Dale at his closing comment “ . . . we need to develop metrics that provide proper and useful comparisons, rather than simply using analyses that are simple and intuitively appealing, but give either no meaningful information, or worse still, information that misleads us . . .” This is a recommended read. See:

Mr. Dale offers up the hard fact that “net energy” is a poor and misleading basis for analysis. The process of looking at a fuel product’s energy output after subtracting the fossil fuel input is fraught with inconsistencies and variables that make the concept useless for anything but sound bites or political correctness.

But I do take issue with the offered solution that is suggested to be “assessing how much petroleum [alternative] fuel each can replace, or by calculating how much CO2 each produces per km driven.” That’s a long way to a better solution but I suspect that it misses the point. The point needs to be, and it is and will always be the cost per kilowatt, cost per BTU and cost per gallon. All of us, and those in the science domain, are paying real bills.

Mr. Dale is exactly right when he asserts that the assumption posed by “all sources of energy have equal value” is wrong. One fuel’s value is going to be different by how it’s used. An obvious point finally made well. There is an enormous difference in a utility company buying several trains full of coal to make kilowatts of electricity and the hybrid gasoline buyer’s tank fill for so many miles. “Clear thinking,” he says. Exactly.

I just can’t get the logic in the next paragraph. The release states, “ . . .calculations indicate that every MJ of ethanol can displace 28 MJ of petroleum . . .” 28:1? This is why I have to ask where the logic is, as ethanol surely isn’t proportionally priced at 28 gallons equal to 1 gallon of gasoline. It won’t be, of course. But if consumers, writers, policy makers, producers and investors are going to get behind alternative fuels it’s got to make hard and understandable economic sense.

Mr. Dale takes the metric debate to a much higher level by taking “net energy” to task and offering a basis to think more clearly. I would ask that he keep at it and create some metrics that everyone can use to measure the impacts on things like cost of operations, and standards of living. Thanks Mr. Dale. More, deeper and clearer, please?


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