Globo-renewables all electric future touted again
Still requires population freeze + universal poverty
Analysis Another American environment professor has asserted that the entire world can easily power itself using only pure-green generation methods - "wind, solar and water". As with other recent plans, the idea would seem to be to keep the developing world in misery - and the developed world in penury.
The new scheme comes to us courtesy of Mark Jacobson, a hard-green environment professor at Stanford. Jacobson and his colleague Mark Delucchi at UC-Davis have drafted an article outlining their thoughts which is to be on the cover of Scientific American next month.
To begin with, Jacobson and Delucchi assert that shifting everything onto electricity - electric cars and trucks, electric trains, electric heating and hot water and industry, electric ships etc etc - would reduce the amount of energy the human race required, by a matter of 32 per cent. This is about the only new thing the two bring to the global energy debate.
It's actually a bit of a no-brainer, though. Any reasonably well-informed person knows that an electric car uses energy supplied to it more efficiently than a fossil-fuelled one; it has to, as it can't hold anything like as much energy. Domestic use of electric power for heating, hot water etc also tends to be more efficient - in terms of energy for results, if not money for results - than burning hydrocarbon in the home. These are not new facts.
In fact the 32 per cent reduction also seems a bit of a fudged no-brainer, as there are quite a few things which can't be or aren't yet done using electricity - aviation, space, various important industrial processes. Jacobson and Delucchi propose that any applications of this sort use hydrogen produced using electricity instead, but this is liable to introduce a lot of inefficiencies.
Hydrogen is difficult to store and transport - hydrogen-fuelled aircraft, for instance, would be mostly fuel tank. Economy-class air travel would probably disappear; long-distance travel would, as it was in the days before airliners, become a luxury for the rich only. Ordinary folk might travel the world on occasion, but only to migrate or to go to war. There would be other consequences - concrete would become enormously more expensive than it now is, for instance, and this plan calls for a hell of a lot of concrete.
But skip that - take the enviro-profs at their word and assume that an electric- and hydrogen-powered civilisation would require only 68 per cent as much energy as today's. They calculate that this means a global energy demand of just 100 petawatt-hours annually, as opposed to say 150. They then go on to happily (and meaninglessly) assert that building wind turbines and solar plants on "just 1.3 per cent of the world's land area" would meet such a demand.
Problem solved, eh? That's cover-story stuff in SciAm, all right.
Not so much. World power demand in the 100-150 PWh range ignores an uncomfortable truth: that most of the world's population currently lives in conditions that Westerners - and often enough the people themselves - consider quite rightly to be abject misery. Luxurious powerhog Americans, for instance, each use 91 megawatt-hours per year. Even relatively restrained Europeans require 46 MWh/year. These figures, if applied to the whole human race, equate to global demands in the 600+ PWh/yr range.
Let's assume that the world's population magically stabilises at 7 billion people (a big ask, but let's assume). Let's further assume that these people - including us - deserve to have some of the finer things in life: lighting, regular showers, clean laundry, habitable homes, enough personal mobility and industry to have a job other than shovelling muck. In other words let's say they deserve as much energy as Europeans, but not Americans.
Dishonest, ignorant or lazy?
I can't decide which of these best describes large portions of this article.
Let's start with "Renewables simply aren't cheaper than fossil or nuclear. That, after all, is why we live in a fossil and nuclear powered world". Hmm, that is a very interesting analysis.
Would it be fair to say that fossil fuel genration has been subsidised, both directly to maintain jobs in the extraction industries and indirectly by allowing the externalisation of the majority of the environmental costs.
And that was the difficult one. Nuclear has received unimaginable amounts of (global) government hand outs. In the early days, the nuclear power industry was the poster child used to hide - things like the primary reason for Calder Hall and Chapelcross was to produce weapons grade plutonium. Even today we see that while a private nuclear operator may have to pay the majority of costs of construction and operation of new nuclear build, the major costs (waste management, insurance and decommisioning) appear to be a burden for the public purse.
Yes, renewables have received susidies too but these are virtually negligible compared to the sums pumped in to nuclear.
Now lets look at
"A modern nuclear powerplant can sustain more than three quarters of a million electro-European future citizens. If a seven-billion-strong human race lived at that standard, there'd be a need for approximately 10,000 such plants, which could be located anywhere. (There are already many more power stations than that in existence. We are talking about less infrastructure than now, not more.) There'd no longer be a need for any world-spanning supergrid or massive redundant backups or new transport routes across the Sahara, etc."
Now if the author was an expert on nuclear power he would be aware that an LWR is taken completely off-line, for 2-3 months, every 3 years for re-fuelling. So at any time, you are looking at 1 in 12 reactors producing zero power so you need to provide a guaranteed 8% over-capacity in the local grid. And god forbid a reactor scram, something that can take a reactor 2 days to recover from - so you need local (non-nuclear) over-capacity... or some kind of super-grid?
I'll just pick at the low hanging fruit that haven't been pointed out already.
@ Paul 4
There are excellent reasons to doubt why this could be achieved with nuclear power.
Do you believe the nuclear industry's costings? They have consistently shown to be woefully optimistic and the industry just can't survive without government subsidies and bailouts. I can recommend this paper if you're interested in reading more about the economics of the nuclear industry:
Even in its wettest of wet dreams, the nuclear industry isn't considering anything like 10,000 nukes.
On the other hand we will ultimately be able to draw on geothermal; energy, onshore, offshore and high altitude wind, solar thermal (both for electricity generation and hot water) and solar pv, tidal, wave, hydro, OTEC, biomass, biogas and liquid bioufuels for heating and electricity generation via CHP. All of these are rapidly scalable, something that nuclear power is most definitely not.
And this is just supply side. What the nuclear boosters such as Lewis can't get their heads around is that energy efficiency is the natural first step. It's far far easier and cheaper to cut demand than it is to install supply.
Which is the safest strategy...
...for energy security, long-term cost, and err, safety?
The answer is in Dr Mark Barret's (UCL) study of 2006
Clue, it aint nuclear.
PS: Its pretty obvious the price of electricity is going to go up. As a result consumption, both domestic and commercial, is likely to drop significantly, and the incentive to "grow your own" will similarly increase. The economics can take us there, but good planning can get us there sooner. Bad planning will cost us a lot, in money, time, and competiiveness.