Friday, April 3, 2009

Worst-Case Scenario: Solving the Energy Problem

Most of the current thinking about post carbon energy does not make allowances for contingencies. Future circumstances are of course unpredictable. While one should, of course hope for the best, a prudent planner should make sure that his or has plan has ample contingency allowances for Worst-Case Scenarios. My argument has been that the Aim High Plan can and should be tailored to produce the lowest possible ample power at the lowest possible cost. We can, of course hope that the generation long period between 2020 and 2050 will be one of unprecedented prosperity for both the world's and the American economy, but this should not be our assumption. In deed our assumption should be that of desperate economic circumstances. If a plan that will yield desired results under the worst possible circumstances, then it will work under better circumstances as well.

The Worst-Case Scenario for the United States would be national bankruptcy, the collapse of the dollar as a medium of exchange for international trade. Under such circumstances it will be discovered tat the United States lacks the capacity to produce the goods it uses and cannot pay for them in the international trade system. Under such circumstances, the standard of living in the United States would drop significantly, and prices of manufactured goods would rise greatly. Such circumstances, while perhaps extreme and unlikely are clearly not impossible. A good plan thus would be one that could work under such highly adverse circumstances.

The circumstances I have described would require the greatest possible economies in creating a post carbon energy system. At the same time the deployment of such an energy system would be part of an economic recovery plan and the plan should provide for ample amounts of low cost electricity in an amount that would fulfill the energy needs of a prosperous economy. The Worst-Case Scenario should take into account the desirability of limiting energy input into the deployment scheme.

I believe that the following factors are of major importance in any new energy deployment scheme:

1. Materials input required to fulfill goals.
2. Labor input required to fulfill plan goals.
3. Energy input required to fulfill plan goals.
4. Plan surface area footprint.
5. Energy Return on Energy Invested.
6. Ongoing resource use under plan to be consistent sound environmental principles.
7. Plan technology consistent with principles of Green Engineering.
8. Plan comprehensiveness.
9. Plan simplicity.
10. Mid range (over 1000 years) sustainability.
11. Plan flexibility.
12. The distribution and size of energy generation facilities under the plan.
13. Energy reliability.
14, Missing peaces.
15. Deployment possible under the worst case scenario.

I have generated a long list. No doubt conceptual reordering is possible. I am simply thinking about what we have to know before we can say if an energy plan is a good plan

My mid term sustainability criteria might raise some eyebrows, but a limited sustainability horizon has some advantages in the present circumstances. First the most sustainable option available today might not be the best option in terms of other criteria. Long term sustainability might a goal for a society in less pressing circumstances. A second justification might argue that a scheme might believed to offer long term sustainability, but the research required to establish this might be very expensive, and would delay the plans deployment. In such a case, it might be wise to go with a promising technology that offers firm evidence for a mid term sustainability and reason to hope for longer term sustainability rather than to adopt a plan which offers long term sustainability coupled with several disadvantages.

Other factors, for example the distribution and size of generation units might also raise eyebrows, but quite apart from any connection to Amory Lovins, important issues are attached to it.

In later posts I intend to at least clarify the listed factors, and to point the way toward criterion for their application to the evaluation of future energy plans.


Anonymous said...

We need to make more goods that will appeal to the international market in this day of world economy. Nuclear reactors that produce power at a cost competitive with dirty coal and electric automobiles should be the focus of our efforts. We do needed to make our health care system more cost competitive in order to attain the above goal.

The top ten economic interrelated issues in the United States are listed below.
1 Energy & Minerals
2 Population & Aging
3 Education Standards
4 Manufacturing vs. Service
5 Health Care
6 Growth & Lending
7 Immigration Unchecked
8 Sustainability
9 War & World Police
10 Debt & Fiat Currency
This country is overpopulated with technically under-educated people compared to other industrialized countries. We are turning out 40% less science and engineering students than Europe in a rapidly expanding technological world.
The United States must import one-half to two-thirds of its energy and minerals because it cannot sustain itself with the exception of farm grains. This results in debt and a flight of capital to other countries. John Tjostem

Anonymous said...

As I have stated previously, the “plan” must pass an unconditional threshold condition that must absolutely be met.

No matter how poor and destitute the county gets, no matter how many are sleeping on the floors of soup kitchens, or eating garbage out of dumpsters, no matter how many newborns are abandon in the snow; no plan will proceed unless there is “no perceived proliferation danger”; economy as well as any other conceivable characteristics of the plan notwithstanding.

Light water reactors without waste reprocessing meet this threshold in certain limited circumstances together with pebble bed reactors; also renewables.

Natural gas, coal, oil in all cases meet it even if a runaway green house effect turns the earth into another Venus.

Why do Peterson and Forsberg now exclusively use TRISO fuel in their reactor designs? They understand the “first commandment” of reactor design and deployment.

If applicable, the most pressing “plan” sales point is proliferation resistance.

So point ONE on the list is as follows

1 Highly proliferation resistant.

Remember, it's not "socialism" or "communism", unfair or unjust, unreasonable or crazy … it’s more Biblical and as old as the mountains. The golden rule of the societies of man …”them’s that got the gold makes the rules”.


Charles Barton said...

Axil "Unconditional"and "aboslutely" for conditions that contribute nothing to the goalof the plan? Get a grip. The current long range Indian nuclear plan, the Indian plan for a thorium economy "absolutely" and "unconditionally"ignores the sort of proliferation dangers that you believe are such an impediment to American nuclear technology. Not only are the Chinese not nearly as obcessed proliferation as you think our countries leaders are, but Chinese warhead designs are available to rogue powers from illegal sources for the right price.

I will describe how the criteria for determining if a future energy plan is a good one, but I have no intent to include crazy impediments in the evaluation of the energy plan. I do not advocate crippling nuclear technology in a vain attempt to prevent proliferation. Iintend to offer rational criteria, not insane demands for national self destruction. I have the power to describe what I believe is rational. I do not have the power to force others to act rationally. I can only say what I believe to be rational.

Anonymous said...

I know what you are saying. I have trouble dealing with insanity; I am trying my best to grab hold.

Al Gore and his fellow wing nuts have the mojo right now. They really need to change their thinking. One force that can crack their hold on the ear of the ruling elite is fierce and killing computation for the other nuclear powers such as France or Russia and especially China to corner the world energy market by satisfying the growing demand in third world countries for nuclear reactors. The US favored IAEA top guy failed to win election in favor of a third world favored candidate. The winds of change are afoot.

France is independent and will ignore the irrationally of the US policy makers. They will do what they need to do. For example, there is a 40 billion dollar contract up for grabs for reactors sales in the UAE. China and France are in hot pursuit. Competition is a powerful force and tends to focus the mind. Gore will lose credibility if too many deals like that get away. It’s only a matter of time.

If the US wants to control events, they need to do a 180 and put their nose to the nuclear grindstone. But at the same time Al Gore is a powerful force and it will take a lot to overcome his influence.


David Walters said...

Actually, the Japanese/US combine Westinghouse is quite in the running for many of these reactor projects. climate skeptics out there...yes, when the Earth was covered from pole to pole in vegetation, the atmosphere was about 27% O2. And, about 3% CO2. Both poisonous.



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