Thursday, June 26, 2008

Understanding the Issues and the Solutions

We are in a period of great confusion about energy issues and their solution. The need to switch energy sources because of global warming is somewhat abstract. The case is simple, If we don't switch to non carbon energy sources there will presently be hell to pay. There is nothing new about this. Edward Teller told the American Chemical Society about the dangers of Anthropogenic Global Warming in 1957.  Scientist have had the information for a long time.  But politicians and the public don't operated on 50 year time frames.   Reader's Digest might have told us all about it all two generations ago, but who believed that such information is actually important for us?   Energy companies like the deplorable EXXON have payed millions for hacks to spread doubt and confusion about the science of global warming, and the cost of solutions.  

In addition we have the issues of Fossil Fuel supply.  M. King Hubbert told us 50 years ago that we were going to run out of oil.  No one listened, no one believed.  So now the price of Gasoline creeps up ten cents a month, and people are still confused about what is happening.   People and politicians are still not ready to believe that we are going to run out of oil.  Well we are, and natural gas too, soon enough.

So we are still very confused about our energy future, and energy consequences.  The era of fossil fuels is ending, and it will profoundly effect our world.  Eve  peoplewho abstractly understand that still don't fully understand all the implications.  

It is widely believed that solutions for our energy problems are going to come from renewable energy sources.  Yet we have an amazing amount of confusion about renewable energy.   Renerwable energy is costly, far more costly than its advocates are willing to admit.  Renewable energy has significant limitations.  In theory there are ways to overcome the limitations of renewable energy, but it practice, those fixes are going to be very expensive, so expensive that they probably will not be practical.  

Mone of this information is getting out to the public or the politicians.  This confusion has real consequences for the future.  Germany has 38 per cent of the global capacity in wind energy. It has set an ambitious target of obtaining 25 per cent of its electricity from wind by 2025. In reality Germany has run out of wind resources. Each new German wind installation produces a smaller percentage of its rater power than the last. So 38% of the world's wind generating capacity produces 5% of Germany's electricity and it is never going to get much better. Similar problems are found in Italy, where all of the productive wind sites have been used, and the remaining sites are of little value, but government policy requires new wind installations.

I have also Included a post on a new study on UK government policy on Wind Energy from the Centre for Policy Studies, a British "Think Tank" linked to the Conservative Party. "Wind Chills" argues, I think successfully, that the present Labor Party's policy on wind is bad policy, and further it is an unpopular policy with the British public.

I have noted that detailed information on the cost and productivity of solar generating facilities id difficult to obtain. This lead me to rummage through press releases for snippets of information which gave hints and clues about the information I sought. From the limited information I was able to obtain the reason for the difficulty obtaining information. Solar installation cost are higher than solar advocates have claimed, and performance figure are clearly unimpressive. (Consult my posts on solar power over the last couple of weeks if you doubt this contention.)

Cyril r recently responded to oneof my posts on the cost of Solar power with this comment:
"Ah, the capacity factor fallacy. Levelised cost is the most objective measure of societal cost. Wind is lower than nuclear because of longer build times for nuclear in general, leading to higher costs, in combination with higher interest rates for nuclear projects due to the higher investment risk profile of nuclear to wind. Offshore is a bit of an exception, but here in the US, there's plenty of high quality land resources that make the argument moot. Longer plant lifetime is not a big advantage for nuclear in the world of financing, because the non-linear nature of the time value of money in our current financing methods imply substantial diminishing returns with longer lasting investments. At best it's 15% benefit, not enough to negate the higher cost of nuclear due to longer build times and the higher investment profile."

I responded by noting there that there were other ways to count social cost:
"cyril r, here in Texas we would consider it a social cost if people died because the cheap windmills produce only 2% percent of their name plate capacity on hot summer afternoons. Here in Texas old people fallaciously depend on our air conditioners to survive the summers. Of course it is fallacious to want electricity on demand, and fallacious to think that reliability and capacity matters, Thank you for the lesson in logic!"

We are not talking about abstract issues here. In Europe a few years ago, during an unusual, Texas like heat wave, 50,000 old people died, because governmental energy policies did not include provisions to supply them with electricity for air conditioning.

3 comments:

donb said...

Even leaving aside the the arguments about greenhouse gases and running out of fossil fuels, there is still a strong case for nuclear energy, that being the cleanliness of nuclear energy.

I also believe we should build renewable facilities so that we can learn about their advantages and disadvantages. I have to thank the Germans and Danes for showing us how not to do it. The correct level of renewables should be set by the market. There are some people (myself included - put your money where your mouth is) who are willing to pay a premium for at least some of their electricity to get it from renewables (I would also pay a premium for nuclear power if it were offered, though I don't think this would be necessary given development investments and a more reasonable regulatory environment).

The business of financing megaprojects like 1 GW nuclear power stations is interesting. Most if not all of the nuclear electric generating stations in the USA are probably paid off. And now they continue to crank out kilowatt-hours, and many will do so for decades to come. We have been left a valuable legacy by our parents. It seems that conventional financial thought can't wrap its mind around this.

Anonymous said...

Charles,

You say:

"Energy companies like the deplorable EXXON have payed millions for hacks to spread doubt and confusion about the science of global warming, and the cost of solutions."

Please tell me the names of the 3 or 4 most effective "hacks" being paid by Exxon.

You are badly misinformed if you think the skeptics community is dominated by oil money. On the contrary, the "warmers" are dominated by grant seeking scientists and eco religionists.

I am a GW skeptic and I know of many very credible scientists who are skeptics. I don't mind using using fear of co2 to promote LFTR but you go to far.

CharlesH

Charles Barton said...

donb, I have previously mentioned the Texas air conditioner test. The test is simple. If it cannot deliver electricity to Texas air conditioners at 10:00 PM on a 100 degree windless summer night, it isn't worth a bucket of warm spit.

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