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Energy and Climate paper - renewables, fossil, nuclear, hydro - the issues of dstribution
An interesting [long] read: https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/13/18/4839/htm

You might care to not read the opinion below (or the article). Sorry for the noise if so.

Opinion: I've always thought that #goinggreen was just an unacceptable 'cash cow' for vested interests to get rich on the back of poorly thought out political driven policies lacking in scientific rigour. If the 'planet is going to burn' without reducing fossil and moving to renewable, then anything 'we' do ought to be not for profit and for the world arguably.  PM Johnson's latest [and foolish?] bet on wind turbines (with all it's current and eventual revalations) and generally the pushing at all costs of  unfriendly battery EV and other tech (there must be better even if there are other challenges to over come) is just set to continue the ever increasing cost on the public purse for arguably little gain and more worryingly more 'damage' and for generations. It doesnt help when I recently read that there are surreptitious plans being considered to allow power gens. to turn off consumer power as and when they see fit  e.g. when it is likely many will be charging their EV cars  [rolls eyes in dismay].  They will do this by enforcing 3rd gen smart meters 'properly' connected up to allow this to happen.  If the current political nonsense and propoganda we have witnessed over the last 8 months or so relating to health, gets a hold in climate change (and how to address it and it probably already has) then perhaps the game is already up.

Rhetorically: Is nuclear the best bet for the planet at the moment (especially if ever they can crack clean[er] fusion). There are challenges to HFC based tech, but as it stands for EV and local power cell, it appeals more to me if the brilliant minds can sort it out. Is battery EV tech going to cripple us on many fronts. Can the UK grid cope. Wind turbines and solar come with so many ifs and buts they should not be relied on. Is this post in the wrong forum ! (apologies if it is - still the link above is related).

Best regards. Habs


 
27 Replies
Andy Millar
1799 Posts
I may be wrong, but I get the impression that the authors of this paper aren't fully convinced that there's a problem, if that is the case it would explain some of their conclusions. My main concern is that they don't seem to even consider energy efficiency, and the are really not very creative in considering how we use the energy we do use. There's a long debate elsewhere on these forums about the use of hydrogen, and the fact that it is "inefficient" (which, strictly, it is) but when you couple hydrogen generation with intermittent solar and wind - which this paper somewhat dismisses as unusable because they are variable - you start getting something interesting. Yes in pure energy terms it's inefficient, but it's not creating CO2 which is the point. (But yes there are complicated environmental issues with solar and wind.) 

What is quite fun is that they get into Mathusianism, so the first argument is that we will run out of resources, and then the counter argument is that this is not a problem because we will (and have in the past) developed system and/or technology to cope with this. So therefore we don't need to consider developing solutions to combat climate change because we will develop solutions to combat climate change. Errr....

Re Battery EV, and indeed all forms of transportation, I think the other question is - will we actually keep travelling around as much as we did pre-Mar 2020? (Hard for me to admit since I work in transportation!) If we actually paid the full cost, including saving towards the cost of coping when climate change hits, would we see society change such that the use of vehicles simply dropped? The idea that it's normal for the majority of the population to get in a car and drive to work (or children to school) has grown up in my lifetime - and I'm still of working age -  it's not set in stone as much as we might think it is. And that was before home working was possible for so many.

But yes, I suspect you're right that in the short term nuclear probably is the only feasible answer.

Cheers,

Andy
Jon Steward
20 Posts
Im no expert but Nuclear energy is what is needed.
pv cells will be a problem at end of life as they have lead and cadmium to recycle. 
ev batteries are full of rare cobalt bound for landfill.
hydrogen cells are inefficient, high pressure explosives.
Maybe all this new tech is politically driven by vested interests.
CO2 is not a problem.
We should first use our coal and gas then nuclear. And invest time in tech that cleans up pollution.
mapj1
2467 Posts
It is worth recalling how much fossil fuel we have and how much we are using.
If there were no concerns with acid rain, mercury emissions, CO2 &c. then there would be enough (of the dirty sort of) coal to keep the world turning all- electric for perhaps a century, reserves  between 1 and 2 thousand billion (1 or 2 *10^12) tonnes.
Right now we burn a bit slower than that - about 9 billion tons a year (or if you prefer a million cubic feet for every person on the planet, per year )-  mostly in Asian power plants, rest of world consumption is lower and falling. However, absent another planet to pump the smoke into, reverting to all coal is not very practical. Oil is cleaner, which is why as a species we burn about 5 billion tonnes (a cubic mile of it, roughly) every year - which does not sound so much does it? There is still enough oil (well so long as you include the harder to refine tarry stuff with lots of heavy metals and sulphur compounds) to keep us rolling at that rate for several decades.  But it is in places harder to reach, and in some cases politically unstable (not just the US and Russia....) Here we had to rely on British coal or oil, we would soon be (politely) snookered, we used to pump 3 bl/yr in the 1980s and late 1990s from the north sea, now down to about a third and falling while  the amount we pump on land in Hants and Dorset is negligible.
Gas (methane), as a planet there is quite a lot left, but we are not so sure how much, and  a lot of the stuff under the ice in Russia is being released as the ice melts and cannot be captured. From the UK only perspective we are a net importer, and have been since the early 2000s - we are on a plateau at the moment of about half of what we consume, and the rest is piped from Russia, or comes by tanker from Qatar or perhaps places like Turkmenistan (though even they have stopped giving their citizens free gas a few years ago).  Iran has plenty, but for political reasons we do not buy it.
Even if you do not buy the climate change argument, you must realise that there are resource limits that will bite  in the lifetime of current school children, and by the time their children are fully grown, will be very serious.
Given that we are still using Victorian sewers, and in some places pre-war electrical distribution, and half UK housing was built in the 1950s or earlier, we do need to be longer sighted than just looking at profit over a couple of decades.
And personally, I'd add that if there is any chance at all of us stuffing up the planet, we should err on the side of cautious, or all that money will be worth nothing.
Nuclear has a role to play - and if we were less worried about the present and more about the future maybe we could make better use of spent fuel by using as hot rocks to heat water for swimming pools and so on.
Opinion again: On one aspect, hydrogen cells, it is true there is a lot of 'scientific propoganda' (ha!) as to it's current unsuitibility. Well, I dont mind being a [perhaps poor] conspiracy theorist at times, as conspiracy is only a conspiracy until it isnt  (one cant prove God does not exist, just as one cant prove God does.. etc, though some argue.  I digress), so for me there are huge attractions to HFC tech and therefore there will be vested interests to stop that happening or simply lesser interest, unless power control and profit is in it (part of the unfortunate human flaw perhaps).  So lets adopt the obnoxious unfriendly battery EV and related tech, the wind turbine with limited lifetime blades and most likely then to landfill, the gross amounts of public money commited for these expensive options in vain hope, in the interim, instead of going at the best we can (whatever that is), or are those all we can muster.  Any way, line 100 'clever' folk up and there will be a split opinion on the best way to proceed. To succeed, it would appear the world has to pool its resources and come together with its great minds with input from all sides to get the best plan. That's a tough ask.

I stand down.

Now then, where was that twin and earth I was looking for.  All the best folks. :-)
Chris Pearson
1763 Posts
There are no two ways about it - fossil fuel is running out so either we (that is the "developed" countries) must use less fuel overall or we have to use something else. Wind and solar may be marginal now, but we have to start from somewhere. I'd like to see more nuclear power, but home-grown please.

At some stage, hydrocarbons will be reserved for flying and then when it gets really scarce, military flying. Shipping will, presumably, revert to sailing.
I forgot to add a link I intended in my lastr -  it matters not about scrutinising (or 'peer' review etc) it...its just meant to show other views. (I still dont like the idea of batteries as even the article mentions them ,but accept it seems a here and now favoured option by many).  https://www.respectmyplanet.org/publications/fuel-cells/debunking-dr-bossels-anti-hydrogen-thesis
"I'd like to see more nuclear power, but home-grown please." I agree with that sentiment.
All these are good points and we have a problem which can be solved by nuclear power. However, the "Greens" object to this too, and do everything they can to make it unavailable! It takes a huge length of time to build nuclear, partly because "proper" nuclear (the British type) has huge amounts of "safety" built-in, and is also hugely expensive to build. However, the cost of the power is low. Britain used to lead the world in nuclear reprocessing, but again this has been run down because the "Greens" (shorthand for the Marxist left environmentalists) want no nuclear bomb materials to be available to Britain, although they do not object to Russia and China having them! They object to reprocessing, storage, or anything else vaguely nuclear and Governments of all persuasions seem to become frightened they might lose votes.

We must continue to use gas, oil, and coal (of which we still have large reserves, although little is mined due to H&S rules), and shutting down our very clean coal power stations is just plain idiocy. We get some very expensive electricity from wind and solar, but it is very unreliable and runs at very low capacity utilisation on average, because of the weather and seasons, which we cannot control.

We need reliable power all the time to operate our society as it is. I know some people would like to wreck that too, but that is another story. I hate this new term, "demand management". That is simply code for restricting usage by some external power to wreck our society. The climate debate continues, despite Covid having given us solid proof that CO2 levels are NOT controlled by fossil fuel burning! The theory has never been very good, but it is the centre of a huge money grab industry, particularly by academics who just want the money. The same result can be seen with Covid, "give us money and we will cure all known ills". Someone might but it will take a long time, equals money forever for making out that it is extra serious, worth wrecking the economy for, it isn't. We need to start another 10 or more nuclear builds at once, sort out Sellafield and scrap HS2 to pay for it. That is how much HS2 is costing, our entire energy supply for the next 50 years. Get a grip, Boris!!!
I had to come back to post this, seen in an earlier announcement:

"National Grid ESO

Replying to
@ng_eso
Unusually low wind output coinciding with a number of generator outages means the cushion of spare capacity we operate the system with has been reduced. We’re exploring measures & actions to make sure there is enough generation available to increase our buffer of capacity [2/3]"


 
OMS
719 Posts
Good job we are looking at small modular reactors (SMR's) then.

The Gubmint has just ploughed several more million in the consortium, led by Rolls Royce and including some big "nuclear" players, so we should see a few with bloody great Union Jacks on them coming to a bit of wasteland near you

It will probably be a world leading design - and then we'll DFUQ it up commercially in that uniquely British fashion and end up buying them from the Chinese a generation later.

Regards

OMS
The problem OMS is that we are not really looking at small modular reactors. and the H&S boys are doing their best to make them impossible. Rolls Royce are doing some work I hear, and the nuclear subs prove that they are both very safe and practical. However, I can hear the fuss now if I put one on some spare land near my house, even if I paid for it myself. There would be a level of shouting which would make BLM look like a picnic. Large normal reactors are the way to go, but time is against us. Perhaps we should start an IET reactor group to push them forward?
Simon Barker
737 Posts
But large conventional reactors take years to build, at a ridiculously large cost.  Then after a few decades, when they are to old to keep going, you have to pay another fortune to get rid of them.  And we still don't know what to do with all the nuclear waste they create.
There's got to be something better. 
Jon Steward
20 Posts
Sizewell C 3200M/We takes 9-12 years to build at approx. £20 Billion and completes in 2031
Hinkley C same bit of kit as Sizewell in 2025 and forecast to last for 60 years
Good timing as the PV's installed in the last decade or so will be failing in there masses at huge recycling costs. (not so Green!)
Turbine blades last 20 years. 
Huge future bills!
Not saying nuclear doesn't have huges end of life costs, EV, PV and Wind all have huge costs too.
Coilín
5 Posts
Andy's remarks misrepresent the contents of the paper.

Energy efficiency is in fact discussed in section 4.1. 

The discussion of Malthusianism versus cornucopianism is also worth reading. Andy's summary is nonsensical. 

The authors make no apologies for a lack of creativity. We are researchers, not novelists. We have focused on those technologies that have received huge sums in the name of climate change expenditure, rather than emerging technologies such as hydrogen. 

We recommend that people read the paper for yourselves, rather than relying on Andy's inaccurate remarks. The whole paper is meticulously referenced, citing the research in engineering, environment, energy and climate policy. 
Jon Steward
20 Posts
Coilin
I agree with you
Andy doesn't mention that all the new tech uses masses of fossil fuels to manufacture and deploy and will do again in the future when it comes to disposal. And makes no case for the poor souls mining the Cobalt and Lithium
I'm no expert but my gut feeling tells me this whole CO2 reducing tech is bonkers and one day will be seen as exactly that. Anyway I read that by far the largest green house effect comes from water vapour.
Simon Barker
737 Posts
Jon Steward:
Coilin
I agree with you
Andy doesn't mention that all the new tech uses masses of fossil fuels to manufacture and deploy and will do again in the future when it comes to disposal. And makes no case for the poor souls mining the Cobalt and Lithium
I'm no expert but my gut feeling tells me this whole CO2 reducing tech is bonkers and one day will be seen as exactly that. Anyway I read that by far the largest green house effect comes from water vapour.

But the "masses" of fossil fuels required to create wind turbines or solar panels are vastly less that the fossil fuels that would be burned to generate the equivalent amount of energy.
But the people who hate renewables will keep coming up with bogus statistics in order to justify their hatred.

" ...coming up with bogus statistics in order to justify their hatred"

That's a very common challenge and use of words observed these days - bogus, hatred etc- and levelled sometimes at competent and expert folks, when differences of  opinion or contention arise that don't fit the personal or 'chosen' mainstream narrative/causes where no other opinion but that is allowed.

The way forward for me is to listen to *all* competent 'sides' and form a view from there. Wisely (or not) I tend not to just accept the spoon fed narratives or populist stuff one hears in the mainstream media etc on a lot of issues.

Nuclear and hydrogen [fuel cell] make a lot of sense over [warning, opinion] a lot of current and poor renewables which seem extremely costly for little return (other than for the those profiteering*) and have current and/or latent environmental issues themselves.

*Then there is the issue of vested interest profiteering on all new energy tech, when stuff like this ought to be not-for-profit and given to the world at cost if its cause is about 'saving' it.

Peace.
Habs
Andy Millar
1799 Posts
Coilín:
Andy's remarks misrepresent the contents of the paper.

Energy efficiency is in fact discussed in section 4.1. 

The discussion of Malthusianism versus cornucopianism is also worth reading. Andy's summary is nonsensical. 

The authors make no apologies for a lack of creativity. We are researchers, not novelists. We have focused on those technologies that have received huge sums in the name of climate change expenditure, rather than emerging technologies such as hydrogen. 

We recommend that people read the paper for yourselves, rather than relying on Andy's inaccurate remarks. The whole paper is meticulously referenced, citing the research in engineering, environment, energy and climate policy. 

Ref efficiency, maybe I should have said "not as emphasised anything like as much as I would have done". Fair enough.

Re Malthus, obviously I disagree with you on this, and personally I consider it is incredibly important to question the assumption that Mathusian catastrophes will always be avoided by "someone else's" action.

(I do admit on re-reading it that my paragraph on this was unnecessarily sarcastic in tone, and I certainly apologise for that.)

But absolutely people should read this paper for themselves, amongst many others.

And question solutions by all means, no issue in the field of environmental issues has a simple solution. But I personally feel that questioning existing solutions implies a need to propose an viable alternative, which is where the creativity comes in, otherwise it's back the status quo which is not a good place to be. However, of course you can disagree by all means.

I don't intend to take any further part in this discussion, I think I've made the points I wanted to make and have no interest in having a row for the sake of having a row. It's just very frustrating that it feels like every time these forums start discussing potential solutions to reduce CO2 emissions they get shot down by statements that "that won't work" without ever proposing an alternative (not really true, there have been some interesting ideas come up, it just often feels that way). I think what you saw in my post was that frustration coming out...and please, better an imperfect solution than no solution...

Andy

Coilín
5 Posts
I hereby challenge Simon Barker to identify any "bogus statistics" in this paper.

As first author, I spent many many hours searching in Google Scholar, through hundreds of research papers, to find objective answers to our questions about the properties of all of the common energy technologies, comparing estimates of carbon emissions, power density and environmental impacts of each one. I also searched diligently for papers arguing an intense tug-of-war regarding the feasibility of different proposed pathways to decarbonization, and read this rigorous debate very closely, back and forth from one perspective to the other. The results of this literature review are presented in figures and tables, with detailed discussion of all the pros and cons in the text. Every statistic and statement in the paper is referenced, with a total of 255 citations. 

I have no vested interest. I challenge all comers to identify any erroneous or misleading detail. But here's the real challenge: You've got to read the research before you can say what's so. 

 
mapj1
2467 Posts
Small and fast is relative - both Russians and Chinese have demonstrated  nuclear reactors of 12-25Meawatts, that can be put together and got going in a matter of weeks, rather than decades. I'd be interested in knowing what the UK idea of a fast timescale for fast is.


 
Coilín
5 Posts
Andy,
Thanks for your very gracious response.

The authors agree with you regarding the importance of energy efficiency. 

The paper allows room for the reader to make up his or her own mind about neo-Malthusian scenarios, and to consider potential solutions, albeit within the bounds of the conflicts that arise between different policy priorities, e.g. decarbonization versus abundant energy for economic development. 

I certainly agree with your recommendation to read this and many good papers on all aspects of the challenges and proposed solutions posed to energy and climate policy in the years immediately ahead. 
 
Simon Barker
737 Posts
Coilín:
I hereby challenge Simon Barker to identify any "bogus statistics" in this paper.
 

I never said there were any bogus statistics in the paper.  No one source of electricity is the perfect source to all our energy needs.

My complaint is about people who very selectively pick out figures to criticize renewable energy sources, while quietly ignoring the equivalent costs and environmental issues with fossil fuel or nuclear power sources.  It's quite clear that they have an agenda, and will only look at those figures that suit that agenda.

This paper is very balanced in it's approach to the subject. It is all very complex, and therefore difficult to explain, particularly to the layman. The economic aspects are treated very well, and illustrate the mega-problem with the idea of 100% renewables, even if this could be engineered. The economic cost of a move to renewables is very large indeed, and the one point which is not really discussed is whether it is necessary at all. It also points out that the energy density of biofuel production is very low, but does not point out that we cannot afford this area which could otherwise be used for food production, when the world is overall short of food. The USA production of bio-ethanol to add to petrol has caused a large increase in world food prices for some crops, particularly maize, a staple food in Africa. Many "Greens" would find this paper useful to temper some of the more exagerated claims which are often made by the media.
Coilín
5 Posts
davezawadi (David Stone):
This paper is very balanced in it's approach to the subject. It is all very complex, and therefore difficult to explain, particularly to the layman. The economic aspects are treated very well, and illustrate the mega-problem with the idea of 100% renewables, even if this could be engineered. The economic cost of a move to renewables is very large indeed, and the one point which is not really discussed is whether it is necessary at all. It also points out that the energy density of biofuel production is very low, but does not point out that we cannot afford this area which could otherwise be used for food production, when the world is overall short of food. The USA production of bio-ethanol to add to petrol has caused a large increase in world food prices for some crops, particularly maize, a staple food in Africa. Many "Greens" would find this paper useful to temper some of the more exagerated claims which are often made by the media.

Thanks, David! 
Glad you can see the point of the paper, and find it well balanced. 

The question of whether the energy transition is necessary at all is beyond the scope of this paper, although it does refer to another paper that estimates the time frames for decarbonization if we accept the IPCC reviewers' range of estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity (being a measure of magnitude of effect of greenhouse gases on mean surface temperature). The overall aim is more to document and discuss the conflicts that arise between different policy priorities, assuming that climate mitigation is among them. 

We agree with your point that biofuel production competes for land with food production. We had written a brief review of the literature on this very important topic for an earlier draft, but had to edit it out to focus more on the engineering and environmental aspects. In fact, wind and solar also tend to compete for land with other uses, via "energy sprawl", but biofuels are particularly likely to compete for agricultural land, while the others do not sprawl quite as much and can more readily be sited on land of little agricultural potential. 

We agree that "Greens" - meaning any party, NGO or individual activist or advocate with a special interest in environmental issues - would be well advised to take account of the environmental impacts of each energy technology, as reported in the research literature. Contrary to popular media narratives, now promoted even by some of the oil majors, the impacts of the supposed "green" energy sources can actually be very severe. 
 

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