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Graham Palmer: “Energy Storage and Civilization: A History”

September 6, 2023

(Conversation recorded on August 1st, 2023)

Show Summary

On this episode, Nate is joined by Graham Palmer, a scholar and engineer in the field of energy. While this show frequently covers the importance of energy itself, this discussion focuses on how the ability to store and access energy has critically shaped societies. From agriculture, to wood, to coal, to oil, each transition has marked a new way for humans to interact with the world around them. What would it mean for economic growth if we no longer have access to these storable energies? What does the necessity of storability mean for electricity – an inherently flow-based energy form? Would human societies moving back to a flow-based energy system also mean once again becoming in-sync with the Earth and her ecosystems?

About Graham Palmer

Graham Palmer is a researcher at Monash University, with an industry background as an engineer and researcher in manufacturing, HVAC and electronics. He has published in the area of biophysical economics, renewable energy, life-cycle analysis, and energy-economic modeling. Graham obtained his PhD in the area of energy-return-on-investment (EROI) of electricity supply. His current research interests include the future role of emerging energy storage systems.

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Show Notes & Links to Learn More

00:40 – Graham Palmer works, info

Recommended Reading from Graham Palmer:

Will Fossil Fuels Be Able to Maintain Economic Growth? A Q&A with Charles Hall – Scientific American

Why Don’t Well-Educated Adults Understand Accumulation? A Challenge to Researchers, Educators, and Citizens Matthew A. Cronin

02:16 – EROI

02:28 – Energy Storage and Civilization: A Systems Approach

04:38 – Wes Jackson5 Pools of Carbon

06:51 – Disease increased with the agricultural revolution

07:54 – James Scott Against The Grain

09:09 – Joseph Tainter + TGS Episode

10:35 – !Kung Bushman in the Kalahari Desert

11:24 – Bill Gammage How Aborigines Made Australia

17:16 – Energy quality of oil

17:55 – Shale oil

21:40 – Electricity is a flow, which is what makes it difficult to store

22:36 – TV Pickup

24:43 – Nate’s paper EROI of nuclear and wind handicapped on their storage ability

25:24 – Sharpe Ratio

28:55 – Material intensity of scaling batteries to meet demand

29:39 – Snowy Hydro in Australia cost double or more what expected

31:27 – Challenges of hydrogen

32:33 – Sodium batteries, other battery alternatives

33:41 – Technology lock-in

34:17 – Lifetimes of batteries and other renewable tech

35:05 – Recycling renewable and battery materials

37:02 – Increase in the use of all rare earth metals

41:54 – Australia’s energy transition, energy composition + AEMO Integrate Systems Plan

43:41 – Household Solar Photovoltaics: Supplier of Marginal Abatement, or Primary Source of Low-Emission Power? | Graham Palmer

45:30 – Simon Michaux + TGS Episodes Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 + work on energy storage and material requirements

50;04 – Buckminster Fuller

51:02 – Sun Cable Project

56:50 – Australian housing crisis

59:59 – Care economy

1:02:03 – Sam Alexander and Josh Floyd

1:02:34 – Technocrat movement

1:03:45 – Vaclav Smil

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens is the Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) an organization focused on educating and preparing society for the coming cultural transition. Allied with leading ecologists, energy experts, politicians and systems thinkers ISEOF assembles road-maps and off-ramps for how human societies can adapt to lower throughput lifestyles. Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He teaches an Honors course, Reality 101, at the University of Minnesota.

Tags: building resilient societies, energy storage, history of civilization